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Clutter cleanup
The Orange County Register

SANTA ANA, Calif. - (KRT) - The mess in the garage started innocently enough: a few unpacked boxes and some lamps from our move two years ago.

No worries. Straighten it out later.

But "later" never came.

Instead, the boxes multiplied. Christmas 2003 never got put away. Leftover newspapers never made it to the recycle bin. The junk mixed with the Goodwill-bound junque, reaching staggering proportions.

"We will never get through this," I said to my husband, Bob. "It's time to bring in the professionals."

In these days when we outsource everything from dog walking to gift wrapping, hiring professional organizers to clean out a garage makes perfect sense to me. All for about the cost of getting a tree pruned. And with no significant back pain or other injuries from lifting and lugging.

"You hired people to do what?" my son-in-law asked.

"You want to spend a weekend doing it with me?" I replied.

"On the other hand, thanks," he said.

We got economy of scale when we hired Penny Lambright, owner of Clutter Cleaners. In 4-1/2 hours, our garage was picked up, packed up and swept clean. The Christmas stuff and other boxes of memorabilia were stored in overhead rafters. The gardening tools were all in one place. So was the housecleaning equipment.

Cupboards were designated as a pantry, for extra dishes, for kitchen appliances and so on. The cost was $450 for three professionals who not only did the dirty work, but also hauled one truckload to the dump and another to Goodwill. They even got us a receipt for tax donations.

All Bob and I had to do was decide ahead of time what type of cupboards or bookshelves we wanted. And on the day of the cleanup, we had to finally decide what to do with stuff we had been carrying around for years, like boxes of slides and high school textbooks.

"You have to be ready to make tough decisions," Lambright said over the phone when I booked her services. "We're going to ask you to take a hard look at the stuff you keep in the garage."

But when she arrived with her team – Doug Neighbors and Chris Dumas – she revised her comments: "Oh, this is an easy job," she said, eyeballing my mess.

Much of Lambright's work is done with seniors, including preparing homes for estate sales and cleaning up clutter that violates city codes. Hoarding is a particular problem with older people, she said, especially the Depression generation that never wants to throw anything away.

Case in point: A few weeks ago, Lambright and her team found a 1970s Mercedes-Benz sedan buried under 30 years of old newspapers. The owner had pulled the car into the garage, refusing to pay the cost of a new part. He just kept piling papers around the vehicle and no one in the family knew it was there. "We spent about five days at that garage and we filled three large Dumpsters," she said. No wonder my clutter looked as easy as cake by comparison.

Hiring professionals has some real advantages, Lambright believes. "We don't have any history with your stuff," she said. "We try to look for things of value, make sure we sort them out, and we ask you to make the decisions on papers and other memorabilia."

Lambright charges $40 an hour for one professional, $70 for two and $100 for three. When cleaning up for code enforcement – which often means dealing with rodents, cockroaches or other vermin – the fee is $120 an hour for one person and $80 for each additional person. "We need to wear masks and gloves and we have different expenses," she explains.

We didn't have vermin. We just had old photographs and two extra coffee pots, bookcases we weren't using and fireplace tools we didn't need.

"You were going to use this when?" Lambright asked me, pointing to some congealed Halloween candy.

As the team dragged stuff out of the garage, people driving by would stop their cars and ask if we were having a sale. I sat in a chair going through boxes, consolidating, tossing and saving.

"Now for this, you need to do your homework," Lambright said. "Give yourself 15 minutes a day to go through this stuff. No more. Eventually, it will get done."

She organized Clutter Cleaners in 1999 after a long career as an administrator working in various industries. Organization has always been her thing, Lambright said.

"At an early age, I realized my penchant to take control of matters and began realigning my world to become more harmonious," she said. "This is a gift ... the idea stemmed into creating a business out of my talents of managing people and clutter."

Her job, she says, is not to get rid of everything but to introduce comfort and decrease stress. "But I can't change your habits," she said. "Me cleaning up your mess doesn't mean you won't create another one."

Ah, yes, but this time I'm starting from scratch. Should take me four or five years to reach a critical mess-mass again.

  • Realize that clutter keeps you in the past and makes you procrastinate.
  • Set priorities and break the cleanup project down to smaller tasks.
  • Some criteria for organization include having a box of items that require action, another for items to file, other boxes for personal mementos and items to read, and finally a box for trash.
  • Set deadlines.
  • Stop unwanted magazines and catalogs from arriving by writing to Stop the Mail, P.O. Box 9008, Farmingdale, NY 11735, or write to Mail Preference Service, Attn: Preference Service Manager, Direct Marketing Association, P.O. Box 3079, Grand Central, NY 10163.
  • You can get information and contacts from the National Association of Professional Organizers at [/list:u] For more information on Clutter Cleaners go to

    Article Source


*Realize that clutter keeps you in the past and makes you procrastinate.*

This is so true. I was trying to figure out why I just can't seem to get myself going to organize my apartment. It drives me crazy to be so disorganized and what I found after thinking about this awhile, was that all of my daughters belongings are here and she has been living in BC for 2 yrs. I have to move all of her stuff out to have room for mine. The final part of starting the forever empty nest.

Wish I had the extra funds to hire this lady!

Daniel E.
Some people have so much junk they need to move it outside just to sort it all out. This is what is often done in a cleanup show by the BBC. In that show, the people usually need a lot of handholding to rid of their junk. This includes a lot of crazy stuff like newspapers from each day of the last few years, etc.

I go by the motto, "when it doubt, throw it out," which is usually said of perishable food and expired medicines.


Daniel said:
the people usually need a lot of handholding to rid of their junk.
I go by the motto, "when it doubt, throw it out," which is usually said of perishable food and expired medicines.

I was listening to CBC radio today and there was an interview with this woman. I don't have cable tv but did see a show once of people going in and organizing someone's house. I thought it was like a house makeover thing and never thought people actually made a living at this. It's a good idea.

This woman sounds really good. She will hold items, dried flowers from a long lost boyfriend for example, for a week and they decide if they really missed the item. Most cases they don't but have a hard time seeing that the item is a waste of space.

I like your moto.

I just talked with my daughter to try and get something moving with her belongings. I mean, I have two apartments in one almost. I suggested that I get rid of the clothes that she probably would not want. No....she has to sort it herself. So the next, question is..when? Looks like she will plan to come the end of Feb and be prepared to take it or give it away.

Another 2 mths of procrastination. :~}
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