5 things I learned when The Organizer paid a visit

The Organizer takes stock

My friend Heidi is a professional organizer, and when she heard that this month’s Life Experiment is all about Creating Order, she offered to get me started.

I jumped at the opportunity.

She arrived promptly at 8:15 am, full of reassurances. “I don’t make judgments,” she said, more than once. “It’s about you and how you live.  My work is very personal, and everything is confidential.”

I’d done little to prepare for the visit; Heidi wanted to see what things looked like when I hadn’t made a special effort. Before we got to work, I took her on a quick top-to-bottom tour—from my clothes- and book-strewn bedroom to my chaotic basement, a potter’s field for old electronics, work files, and memorabilia.

Over the next two hours, we made substantial inroads, far more than I would have thought possible for such a short session. We started out by going through piles on my dining room table, where I’d gathered some of my most challenging small organization projects.

For example: What do you do with that collection of random screws, nails, and other mysterious hardware items?

Answer: Your throw it out.

Now this might not be the case for someone who is handy and does lots of home improvement projects, but as soon as Heidi told me I could pitch this stuff, I felt instant relief.

And, as she explained it, that’s a big part of what a professional organizer does: Gives you permission to toss stuff that you can’t seem to toss on your own.  (Or, as she diplomatically put it, surveying my living room: “It’s my job to get you to think about things, so this sort of situation doesn’t ensue.”)

That being said, Heidi certainly didn’t pressure me; she mainly just asked questions.

“Why do you need the instructions to your blender?” she inquired.

I skimmed through the little booklet. “Look! There are recipes! I’m going to put this with my recipe books.”

She gave me a long look. “Really?” she said. Really?

After that she let it go, except for one final observation. “I’ll bet you never go to that blender thing to make a recipe out of it. (Chances are she’s entirely right, but for now, I’m still keeping it.)

This isn’t the first time I’ve made an effort to be more organized (over the years, as I recounted in Salon, I’ve spent thousands of dollars on storage), and some of Heidi’s tips—such as the adage to “put like with like”—were already familiar to me.

But other truths came as either novel insights or much-needed reminders. For the record, here they are:

1. No one wants your old cassette tapes.

No one. Absolutely no one.  After a rejection from Goodwill, I’d been planning to move on. Heidi told me not to bother.

2. You don’t have to be like your parents

“I’m sort of like my mother,” I explained, as I dithered over whether to discard some melted-down candle remnants.

Heidi’s matter-of-fact response: “You don’t have to be.”

3.  Just because something was once pretty doesn’t mean it still is.

“I loved this,” I said wistfully, gazing at my one-time favorite Vera Bradley tote bag, now torn and stained.

I wondered if I should keep it—until Heidi’s voice broke in. “You can’t donate that,” she said practically. “You have to throw it away.”

A scummy candle holder with a floral pattern elicited a similar response.

Me: “It’s sort of pretty.”

Heidi: “Not so much anymore.”

Bonus tip:  If something has sentimental value but no current use, think of taking a digital photo and discarding the object itself.

4.  Projects take less time than you think they will . . .

“It’s going to take me hours just to go through that,” I said gesturing to a pile of boxes on the stairway landing as we emerged from the basement.

Heidi stopped me right there. “Why?” she said.

“Oh, you know,” I said vaguely. “Lots of random things in various places, have to go through it all.”

“Well, let’s just see,” said Heidi.

And you know what? Most of those boxes were empty, except for packing materials. After five or 10 minutes, only a small stack of papers and binders remained to be sorted.

5.  Unless they take more

As she gathered up her things, preparing to leave, Heidi said: “You know you have a lot of work to do, right?”

The words brought me back to earth. I’d felt like we’d accomplished so much! And yet, this was just a beginning.

“How long do you think the whole house will take?”

“Well, it depends on how much time you spend but, maybe  . . . a month or so?”

Happily, one month is exactly the length of my Creating Order Life Experiment. Three days down, 27 to go. Yes, I’m just getting started.

Special offer: Heidi—whose full name is Heidi Robinson—is offering a two-hour organizing session for $50—that’s 50% off her usual rate—to the first five Northampton-area Plan B Nation readers to contact her. You can reach her by phone at 413-219-7433 or email her at heidilisa43@yahoo.com.

Why the New York Times was right to pick on Apple

Photo: Matt Wakeman

Days after the New York Times published a devastating exposé of the myriad human costs of our beloved iPhones and iPads—including one especially grisly and graphically detailed Chinese factory explosion fatality—Apple defenders swung into gear.

“[Apple CEO Tim] Cook has every right to be miffed about the Times report. His company is being singled out,” Larry Dignan wrote in ZDNet.

The second sentence is accurate. The first, to my mind, is not. Here’s why the New York Times was right to train its sights on Apple:

1.  We are wired to respond to stories.

We do not respond to the general. We respond to specifics. That’s why news features always focus on a single salient example, one compelling case that draws us into the larger story. Trial lawyers know this, marketers know this, and yes, reporters know this. And no, it isn’t rational, but we are not rational creatures. This singular recognition is what accounts for the ongoing decline of classical economics, along with the concomitant rise of its behavioral counterpart.

2. “All the kids do it” is not an excuse

Yes, the Times doubtless targeted Apple because “it’s the big dog on the tech block,” as Dignan puts it. But so what? Does that make its human rights infractions any less horrifying? No one is suggesting that we stop with Apple,  but it seems like a fine place to start.

3. Apple users care more.

Here, I will be shamelessly anecdotal. Based on personal observation—heavily informed by lines drawn when I consulted my Facebook network on the Apple vs. Windows purchase question—consumers of Apple products (who disproportionately hail from the creative economy) are more prone to outrage over human rights violations than are inveterate Windows users. Okay, I’ve said my piece. Let the flaming begin.

I have not been a big fan of the Times in recent months, with its tone-deaf features on “Manly Bags for the Weekend Warrior,” including a snappy little $2,550 Louis Vuitton number (at a time when our nation’s real warriors are returning home to record unemployment) and why the nation’s jobless oppose extending unemployment benefits (which, of course, and speaking from experience, is patently ridiculous).

In this case, however, the Times made the right call. Bottom line: You don’t get to flagrantly trade off human lives against profit. That’s why the notorious Ford Pinto memo was so scandalous—and why it sparked popular outrage along with a (later-reduced) $125 million damage award. (As some readers will recall, the memo employed a  cost-benefit analysis to predict that a given design change would save 180 lives but cost an extra $11 per car, with a total cost estimated at $137 million versus a $49.5 million price tag put on the anticipated deaths and injuries. Ford opted not to make the change.)

It’s true that, at the margins, choices do get tougher. Because, yes, life is risky and everything—even crossing the street—entails a certain risk. At the margins, we are forced to make tough decisions, to prioritize competing concerns. But that’s not the case with Apple. Right now, we are nowhere near those margins.

To add your voice to the thousands demanding that Apple improve global working conditions, please join me in signing this petition.