By: Jennifer Tung
When supermodel Naomi Campbell sold her apartment last July, she didn’t have time to look for a new place, pack up boxes or deal with movers. So she called Linda Rothschild, personal organizers to the stars and president of the New York concierge company Cross It Off Your List.
Not only did Rothschild pick out a new Manhattan apartment for Campbell, she also sorted through her belongings, organized them in dozens of piles, packed and labeled boxes, hired and oversaw the movers, switched over the phone and cable service and set up everything, from couches to clothes, in the new place.
“I know she gets a lot of bad press, but we worked really well together,” Rothschild says of the famously temperamental beauty.
It sounds like an elite service for the chaotic super-rich, but Rothschild is far from being New York’s sole sorter-outer. There are a hundred or so personal organizers in New York City (there’s a full column devoted to them in the Yellow Pages), and their clients are just as often the nonfamous as they are supermodels.
The truth is, it’s no longer embarrassing to admit to being untidy or too busy to file.
Barbara Fields, owner of the New York company Paperchasers, says: “The busier everyone gets, the more disorganized they get.
“People are becoming more aware of us and less embarrassed about calling us,” says Fields, former president of the New York chapter of the National Association of Personal Organizers (NAPO).
“Disorganization is a very big problem,” adds Terry Ward, owner of New York’s Get Your Act Together. “I have so many clients who are creative and brilliant but have trouble negotiating physical things.”
Ward, who started her company 11 years ago-after she met a man whose house was so cluttered, he couldn’t get through the front door-groups her clients into two main groups: those who are trapped in paper hell and those who are trapped in the past.
“Say your desk is piled three feet high,” says Ward. “You are incredibly distracted and you are losing things. I sit down with you and hold up every piece of paper and ask you, ‘Do you need this, or are you not sure”‘”
Ward then places objects-financial documents, photographs, unopened mail-in easy-access, magazine-width shelves from Hold Everything.
“It is a harrowing, exhausting process, but you see what you have and you can’t be in denial anymore,” says Ward. “And it is so painful, you never want to do it again.”
Then there are the sentimental types who just can’t let go-of high school memorabilia, children’s clothing or souvenirs of a deceased spouse. “For people like that, I bring nice boxes, bubble wrap and a big black pen, and I pack things up and give my client the option of storing the labeled boxes in the basement, a storage unit, or even under a covered table. People shouldn’t feel guilty because they can’t throw something out.”
For Rothschild, who has helped a number of models, actors and entertainment executives organize their lives, dealing successfully with emotional objects is all about retrieval.
“When someone can’t part with a ratty sweater from an old boyfriend, I put it in storage with a label on it. We inventory and photograph everything so I know exactly where to find things for them.”
Indeed, for overwhelmed clients, the sense of security an expert imparts is just as important as-if not more so than-the actual organizing he or she does.
Lynn, 40, a financial professional in Manhattan, has hired Ward several times over the past few years. “What I love about Terry is that she understands the emotional aspect of dealing with accumulated stuff,” she says. “She is super-supportive and nonthreatening. She never makes you throw anything out.”
“It’s the difference between working out on your own and having a personal trainer,” she adds. “You are obligated to meet with her, and she is capable and knows exactly what to do.”
It also costs about the same. Most personal organizers charge between $50 and $70 an hour.
But some clients require many, many hours.
There are extreme cases, says Ward, “where I have to walk sideways into the apartment because there is stuff piled to the ceiling and a pathway from the door to the bed.” (there is also the occasional rat or cockroach sighting.)
Ward once packed 500 boxes in the apartment of a graphic artist who clutter included high school yearbooks, unopened wedding presents from a failed marriage and all of his college term papers,” When they were all labeled and in storage, he felt like a million bucks.”
Some clients are fixated on one object. Ward one helped a woman who had an entire room devoted to catalogs. “She might never have the actual things in them,” Ward says, “but they represented the possibility of having them.” Another client horded shopping bags so that “she could always have a place to put her stuff.”
Still another called Ward in desperation when her fiancé refused to move in until she cleaned out her closet. “We got rid of 50 garbage bags of clothes, shoes and belts she had never worn,” says Ward. “I saw in the paper two weeks ago that she got married!”
But panicked young brides and hyperactive pack rats are certainly not the norm. Most people hiring personal organizers today simply don’t have the time to do it themselves-executives moving offices, young women starting their own businesses, overtaxed moms.
“The average client just needs help focusing, because organizing is boring,” says Ward.
“People need to know that they can change. There is nothing wrong with them; they just have an inconvenient habit.”
After all, if Naomi Campbell can admit it, so can you.