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The New York Times – March, 1998

RELATIONS

A Friendship That Ended The Clutter

Imagine being entrusted with another’s cherished heirlooms, only to discover that they are a pair of seven-foot naked dolls, male and female, and “anatomically correct,” as they say. Imagine having to drag them down Lexington Avenue to be cleaned, as passers-by stare at the spectacle. And after a nearly 20-block trip to the New York Doll Hospital, imagine having to drag them back when it turns out to be too expensive to bother.

Now that’s friendship, wouldn’t you say?

Well, yes and no.

“That’s my business, after all,” said Linda Rothschild, a professional organizer who helps people take charge of their disordered lives and possessions. “And I’ve had to deal with stranger things in people’s homes, like teeth that I’ve found lying around, or even kidney stones.”

Luckily, there were no kidney stones at the Upper East Side home of Kay Unger, a fashion designer who called Ms. Rothschild a few years ago in a moment of crisis. She and her family had to move on short notice from a large apartment to a smaller one and needed to sort out their things before they did.

“The first thing I said when I called Linda was that I needed a wife,” said Ms. Unger, who’s professional life left little time for the practicalities of the move. “Besides, I am more a visual person than a list person. I’d rather sit and sketch.”

So Ms. Rothschild listed, packed and supervised…and dragged those dolls, which had belonged to Ms. Unger’s mother. And the two women became friends, too.

“She has become part of my life,” said Ms Unger, as Ms Rothschild nodded. “We like each other.”

Perhaps that’s because they are almost polar opposites. “Kay’s idea of a list and mine are very different,” Ms Rothschild said. “Hers are outdated, dog eared and duplicated.”

Ms. Unger smiled. “It’s true,” she confessed. “I panic when I see a stack of papers. And I call Linda.”

Ms. Rothschild has done a lot for Ms. Unger since that first move. She has bought gifts for Ms. Unger’s friends and her children’s friends (“that Bar Mitzvah year,” Ms Unger said on the time her son has a part nearly every weekend). She has presided as telephone systems have been installed, and she once even inventoried every appliance in a new apartment and ordered the service manuals for them. Nowadays, actions like these are sometimes favors, although there are times when they are strictly business. Like when Ms. Unger and her husband recently separated.

“Linda was the one we called first, before the lawyers,” said Ms. Unger, whose friend promptly went to work for her estranged spouse.

Did that interfere with their friendship? No, both women replied. Ms. Rothschild explained that she also knew Ms. Unger’s husband, who had become comfortable with her. Besides, she said, she kept her work for him – moving him to a hotel and then to a new home – completely professional and impartial.

“I didn’t decide who got what,” she said. “I just kept track of it.”

BERNARD STAMLER