An Orderly Office? That’s Personal

Via The New York Times


BY the time I started looking for someone to help me organize my home office, where I work when I’m not out reporting stories, it was not a pretty sight: notebooks, papers, bills, cellphone chargers, books, digital cameras and tape recorders, batteries, stamps, magazines, Sweet’n Low and Splenda packets (where did they come from?) were piling up on my desk, the floor and the filing cabinet.

I found a few professional organizers on the Web and made some calls, without much success. One woman charged a minimum of $250 an hour (because, she said, “I can get it”); another suggested I consider going paperless, putting everything on the computer (not an option, in my mind).

Then one day Liz, the daughter of my longtime boyfriend, Lou Ureneck, came to visit us in our small two-bedroom apartment in Brookline, Mass. Liz, a struggling actress in New York who pays the rent with odd jobs — waitress, party caterer, freelance cupcake baker — hadn’t spent much time with us before, but I quickly noticed her extreme tidiness.

When she went into the kitchen to make a cup of tea, she never left the box of tea bags out for more than a minute; the used tea bag would disappear instantly into the garbage. And then, since she was already in there, she’d just clean everything, washing the dishes Lou and I had left in the sink, unloading the dishwasher, scrubbing down the counters for good measure.

I tried to thank her, but she shrugged it off. It was the just way she was.

I was awed, I was grateful. Liz was the one.

“Liz,” I said, leading her into my office, which was also the guest room in which she was staying, “do you think you might be able to help me with this?”

Within two days, she had waded through everything, consulting with me over what to toss and what to file under which category. We came up with dozens — Education Story Ideas, Bills, Manny Ramírez, Poems I Love, Expense Receipts, Letters from Mom and Dad — and she created a place for each, writing the headings onto manila folders that she dropped into hanging files in the double-wide, teak-finish filing cabinet I had bought at Ikea five years earlier, but had never made much use of.

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