Sunday/Hemmed in by your stuff?

February 19, 2002

Hemmed in by your stuff?


Mary Fitz wasn't messy, but she was getting older and stuff - papers, containers, magazines - was accumulating.


"I was just having a rough time getting my things really organized," Fitz, 82, says. "When you get older there are so many things you should do. ... I just needed help."

She needed a clutter buster. Enter Cathy and Hilary Snesrud.

"We live in a world today where it is very easy to acquire things," Cathy Snesrud says. "Like the guy who has the shop with woodworking equipment who hasn't made a piece of furniture in three or four years. Or the guy who says 'I don't play tennis anymore but maybe I'll play again someday, so I'll hold onto that racket.'"

Clutter, clutter everywhere, with no respite in sight. Come home in the evening and drop new mail on the kitchen counter? Ever hold onto items - like boxes - in the hope they will be useful weeks, months or years down the road?


Welcome, then, to the clutter jungle, where cutting through the mess is more complex than tidying items into neat piles.

With facilitating neatness on their minds, the Snesrud's founded Get-It-Together four years ago.

For a nominal fee (determined on a case by case basis), the mother-daughter team will enter the home, evaluate clutter and create a plan to rid homeowners of their stuff.

Fresh off a failed secretarial gig a decade ago, Shannon McDonald began the Alexandria, Va.- based Clutter Begone, though getting started was harder than sweeping up a cluster of dust bunnies behind the television.

"Everyone was morbidly ashamed about having all of this stuff," McDonald says. "Senior citizens who wanted to leave their homes of 30, 40 years couldn't because of all this stuff. Even if they're not pack rats, most people can't really see all that they have."

Fitz could have taken care of the cleaning herself, but her life was made easier by turning to the Snesruds. They don't come often, but when they do, they help decide what items should stay and what should go.

Canceled checks are one item Fitz never knows whether to treasure or trash. The Snesruds point her in the right direction, even taking care of old magazines and recycling plastic, something her late husband would take care of.

"Things just have a tendency to accumulate. I do it, I know, the papers don't just walk in the door," Fitz says. "It gives me some clarity of mind, knowing that someone has come in and helped me get things straightened out."

Some people are predisposed to cleaning up after themselves - Cathy Snesrud says she is a neatnik, sure, but her daughter "is a clean sweep person. She'll walk through your kitchen and clean it up in two seconds, and you won't know what she did with it all."

What neither the Snesruds nor McDonald will do, however, is take clients out of the decision-making process. As unbiased, third-party observers of a situation, they can recommend junking a tattered mattress or donating a squadron of old sweaters, but the ultimate choice is up to the homeowner.

McDonald advocates revisiting situations repeatedly to wean yourself of acquired objects. She recalls one client who saved wrapping paper from gifts. The second, and then third time she looked at it she became more willing to part with the gift wrap.

Snesrud has similar stories, such as the client with 150 bottles of nail polish, talked down to 50 by the clutter busters. The same woman kept 60 or 70 pairs of shoes in her closet - each brown or black.

Despite their best efforts, the Snesruds couldn't talk the woman out of a single pair.

"There are a lot of things you can live without on a daily basis," Cathy Snesrud says, citing a paint sprayer as one. "How many times will you need a paint sprayer? Rent it, or borrow it from a neighbor. ... I think we acquire a lot of things thinking 'This will make my life easier.' Maybe not."

The trio pose variations of the same question to those who request their services: What do you realistically need to survive?

Most items, like the wrapping paper hoarded by one customer, can be easily obtained again. Homeowners, McDonald says, need to learn how to let go.

"People get out of the habit of making decisions. They've lost that sharp edge of discrimination," she says. "Very few people can just wave a wand and get rid of clutter. There wouldn't be a problem if they could."

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