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Sometimes a mess is best left to the professionals

I work from a home office.

Wait. Scratch that. I haven’t actually worked from my home office since November. It’s too cluttered. I don’t know where anything is. There are piles of papers covering my desk. There are a half-dozen drawers of documents I haven’t looked at in years. The clock on the wall has read 7:16 since I borrowed the battery to power a Christmas gift.

So instead of working in my office I work at the dining room table. Which would be fine if it wasn’t for the fact that the pantry is exactly seven steps from my chair, which means I’m constantly distracted for "one more marshmallow" or "one last handful of Cheddar Jack Cheez-Its." (Oh my goodness. Have you tried the Cheddar Jack Cheez-Its? Heaven.) Also, my propensity for stacks of miscellaneous papers is starting to move to the dining room now. And, as my husband has reminded me, I have a perfectly fine office downstairs.

It was time to do something. I hired professional organizer Laurie Bennett.

My friend Michelle called a few minutes before Laurie was scheduled to arrive for her initial consultation. "What are you up to?" Michelle asked.

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"I’m lighting a candle in my kitchen so the organizer will think I’m ‘together,’" I said. "Last night I was up going through papers and dusting."

Apparently I wanted the organizer to think I was organized. But when Laurie arrived and took one look at my office, the jig was up. It was clear I’m a mess.

She immediately started to do an inventory.

"OK," she said, glancing around. "Do you have a file cabinet?"

"Yes," I offered. "But I don’t use it. I mean, I use it — but I don’t…. really."

She seemed to understand.

"And what’s in this?" she asked, pointing to a plastic three-drawer cart in the corner.

"I don’t know," I answered truthfully, opening the top drawer and rummaging inside. "Construction paper. Paid bills. A newspaper from 9/11. A drawing my son made in preschool. My 2001 taxes."

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We set an appointment for her return.

The next week, she entered my house carrying organizer baskets and boxes and file folders and a labeling gun. (Oh, how I learned to love that labeling gun.) We spent the next two hours going through the hundreds of papers stashed in my office. And this after I’d recycled at least five grocery bags full in preparation for her arrival.

While Laurie busied herself revamping my file cabinet, I sorted through a basket of what was supposed to be office supplies, but which actually housed a mixture of paper clips, Band-Aids, broken crayons, puzzle pieces and a petrified piece of Juicy Fruit.

During our third session (did I not tell you this was a formidable job?), we got through the file cabinet.

"Now… is that all the papers?" Laurie asked.

"Oh no," I answered, directing her to a second three-drawer cart in the closet.

Undeterred, she started sorting.

Every few minutes we’d have the same conversation: "Do you really need this?" "Well, I, uh…" "Have you used it in the last 6 months?" "Well, I, uh… ____." (Fill in the blank with "my friend gave it to me," "my kid made it," or "I might need it for a future article.") "You can throw it." "OK."

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It’s still a work in progress.

But once the final touches are complete — the paint is dry, the shelves are hung, the desk is clear — I’m going to adhere some quotes on my walls. You know, things that’ll motivate and inspire me.

I think I’ll start with this one: "Keep it clean."

Jennifer Koski is a freelance writer in Rochester. Her column appears Wednesdays. Send comments to news@postbulletin.com.

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