The Clutter Remedy

PC: Instagram @within_novaki

Remember the Nineties, when trendy new cable networks like HGTV featured reality shows about getting your life organized? A team of tough-as-nails psychologists worked with licensed neat freaks branded as ‘professional organizers’ to strategically put every piece of crap a person owned out on their front lawn for all of America to see. After those shows took off in popularity, our American lexicon included new phrases that changed our lives forever…

We need Three Piles: Keep, Donate, or Toss!”

Believe it or not, I became one of those organizers. I was …. (dun-dun-dun!) The Clutter Remedy.

I bought ads in the Yellow Pages (and now you know just how long ago this was), I had business cards and colorful letterhead professionally printed, and I was on the verge of actually hiring help when Hurricane Ivan came along and (quite literally) washed away all my business. It was very prosperous work while it lasted and, kind of like a florist, I was often somewhat of a superhero to the people who hired me. I helped them do what they were physically and emotionally unable to do on their own.

Client: Beverly

Beverly called me because she was a clothes hoarder. I arrived at her home and found every closet in her house stacked with suitcases full of dirty clothes. She never unpacked. Her bathtubs and showers were full of dirty clothes and every flat space in her home had clothes piled on top. Once they were dirty, she simply put them in bags, threw the bags in the closet and bought new everything, and had been doing this since she was in college. She called me to ask for help after opening her son’s closet one day and seeing that he had also thrown in a suitcase full of his own dirty clothes. She knew she needed to stop this cycle in her family.

PC: Instagram @throughthesprawl

I taught my clients about the magical Three Piles just like all the other organizers did back then, but I took my cleaning a step further. I tried to clean up their minds, too. I counseled my clients about why people keep things they don’t need. I explained that it was usually one of two things that caused their hesitation, and there were actually serious psychological reasons why they kept hanging on to stuff they didn’t need anymore: One is guilt and the other is fear, I said. I tried to get them to realize, just as one example, that if they could ever actually lose twenty pounds, they deserved to buy themselves all new clothes. I could usually walk them through the fear of giving away their old wardrobe if they had the hopefulness to imagine a closet full of newer, skinnier things to wear.

Client: Dan

Dan hired me to help him organize his garage, which was full of hobby items and sports equipment. Dan’s children had gone off to college and yet their family garage remained a shrine to the days of having two children playing three sports, with boating and traveling on the weekends. Expensive bats, footballs, tennis racquets, soccer goals, inflatable boat toys, surfboards and life jackets…items that hadn’t been used in years. But to Dan, they were tied to such wonderful memories of when his children still lived at home. He’d had a really hard time giving anything away because he said it felt like the was throwing away his children’s best memories. I had to get him to see the things for what they really were: just old toys.

At the end of our time together, I usually had a very happy, satisfied customer with a much cleaner, more sanitary, better organized and structured home. My clients always reported to me in follow-up that in addition to walking through their front door and into peace and tranquility when they arrived home each day, they also slept better at night and didn’t feel as much stress.

Once their physical clutter was gone, often their mental clutter went with it. Makes sense.

PC: Instagram @hellosimplejoy

Client: Susan

Susan asked me to help her organize her kitchen. She had run out of cabinet space and her dishes, pots and pans were encroaching on her diminishing counter space. We unloaded every drawer and emptied every shelf in her kitchen. Turns out that she had over 30 coffee cups, almost 50 Tupperware containers, more than three dozen drinking glasses and pots and pans that had belonged to both her mother and her grandmother. Her case was actually pretty simple. With my encouragement, she picked her eight favorite glasses, her four favorite coffee mugs, her eight favorite plates, her favorite skillet, her favorite saucepan and enough silverware for eight people…. and we donated everything else. She simply had never been told that you only need to have enough dinnerware to feed your immediate family and just a couple of guests at a time, even on a busy day.

Because of my experience in this area, I have never needed to be told to throw things away. I can do this effortlessly, and to a fault. (One particular bill-shredding session left me without my new Social Security card, so sometimes I admit I have to rein myself in). My house is not often squeaky clean but it is always organized and I know where absolutely everything is. In fact, I could inventory everything in my house simply by memory if I had too. I just don’t keep clutter, period. But, like many of you, I recently felt the stress of immense emotional clutter, especially on my social media. Yes, this is actually a thing. Twenty years ago when I was The Clutter Remedy, social media did not exist, so this addictive social media clutter has crept into my life and consumed my existence without me even noticing, until recently.

I have failed to recognize the disorganization of my online life with the same paradigm as I have always viewed my home. I realized I needed to clean my social media house.

There are trends we outgrow and, yes, there are people we outgrow. There are clothes that no longer fit (and will never fit again) and there are people who no longer fit (and will never fit again). There are dirty places inside your house that need to be stripped bear and rebuilt and there are lists, groups, associations and relationships that quite frankly need to be deleted and renovated from the ground up.

I did this recently, so I am speaking from experience.

Was it scary? Yes. There are long tentacles of my life that reach really far back, and severing them, I knew, would come with serious repercussions.

Was I afraid? Absolutely. Afraid of hurting people, afraid of sending the wrong message, afraid of causing trouble. But I assessed these old social media connections and asked myself those essential Professional Organizer questions about those old relationships: Does it fit? Do you use it? Is it serving any positive purpose in your life at all? If the answer was no, no and no, the person was deleted, or unfriended, or unfollowed. Simple.

I liberated myself from having to know everything about their life once I realized I didn’t really care about that stuff anymore.

It has been the best thing for me. I am no longer seeing people, things and events that bother me. I am no longer reading content that I took way too personally. I am not continuously engaging with people I don’t really like. In much the same way I don’t try on clothes that are too small (and make me feel bad about myself) I don’t need to intentionally involve myself in someone’s life if it doesn’t bring me happiness. Eliminating those old Friends and Followers has cleared my mind and I can wholly attest to the fact that my Facebooking, Tweeting and Instagramming have become entirely more enjoyable.

PC: Instagram and

So speaking as your friendly neighborhood washed-up Professional Organizer, let me encourage you to clean house. Do it for your own sanity, especially if you find lately that getting online puts you in a bad mood. It’s not supposed to be that way. It’s supposed to be fun, inspiring and engaging!

Make your mental piles. Ask yourself the Three Essential Questions: Does this person fit me? Does this person make me happy? Does this person provide something useful in my life? If the answers are no, no, and no, then you don’t really need me or anyone to tell you what you need to do. (Chances are, you’ll be doing that other person a favor, too.)

Fill your home and your social media with as much joy and positivity as you can. Share boldly with one another, in all the magnificent ways the internet was designed to connect us to one another.

Be Brave, Live Clean.

The Fall of 1855

In the fall of this year, 1855, my sister and I went to boarding school in Richmond. Mr. Hubert Pierce Lifefors*, who was trained to the Jesuit Faith and destined for their ministry, by some incluence*, I know not what, departed from the religion of his fathers, escaped from his surroundings to Virginia where he soon rose from visiting master to the head of a female school (Mrs. Meeds.) He was a most accomplished and elegant man, being physically and mentally gifted. He was the best educator I ever saw. He left his Jesuit religion behind him in France and was a devoted Episcopalian. He had a wonderful school, having pupils from Southern states. When the Civil War came upon us, he moved to Montgomery, Alabama, but did not live very long. His first wife, Miss Mary Williams, was a relative of my mother. His second wife was a lady of Montgomery, who after his death moved to Baltimore, and had a fashionable school called Madam Lefebres*. My sister and I went together there and always stood at the head of the class, she first and I second. Our school days were happy and provitable.* I developed a fine voice, sung solos at all concerts and led choruses. My sister was a fine performer. We both played in all concerts. Excuse my part of this compliment, but alas, there is no one living to do it, so I simply tell the truth. After two years, my sister stopped school. I went two years more. It was the custom for girls to stop school at eighteen. Then when I reached the required age, my sister, Jennie, was out. We all three made many friends, some have been lifelong. Even now at 76, I have correspondents — Mrs. Charles H. Dummock, Lizzie Sedlen of Glancester County; Miss Sallie Coles of Albemarle, Mrs. Julia Randolph Sage — I have letters from them now in 1919. It would take a column to tell of my many friends there and probably interest no one but myself.

(*unknown words, perhaps influence and profitable

My last year of school I was one of four roommates — Lizzie Selden*, Evelyn Cabell, Constance Cary (Mrs. Burton Harrison) and myself. We were all more than ordinary in accomplishments and beauty, We were “old girls” and consequently leaders. Having behaved ourselves for four years, we were allowed privileges. We would go on the street alone, spend nights with friends in the city and spend Friday evenings out. I will not attempt to write of this.

(*spelled Sedlen in the preceding paragraph)

My sister was in town as a young lady in society. I often went to visit the Pattons (cousins of my Mother) and the Grattans (cousins of my Father). I cherish their welcome and hospitality.

I would like to tell of my dear teachers, Madam Estana, a Hungarian exile, expatriated for political reasons. She wanted to adopt me, she was so pleased with my voice. She was allowed to return to Hungary. I never heard from her after that. Our French teacher, Mme. Villemet was a delightful woman. After Mme. Estana left we had Mme. Erben. I loved her. One summer we had her sister Marie. We enjoyed them. After Mr. Lepebore* went south they left for the north and I last heard of them in Boston. I have often wondered where they were.

(*this is suspected to be the same surname as Lifefors, mentioned earlier in the article, but not related to LeFebres, which was the name of the school)

My professor of music, Professor Thilow and Professor of Drawing, Mr. John Calys are dead. I liked them both. During one vacation we had house parties. Our parents were most indulgent. Our life was charming, our neighbors most delightful. I wish I could give a pen picture of each. Often there would be five or six carriages before our door and we would have them come for a week-end at a time, children and nurses.

The ministers Episcopalian and Presbyterian never failed to give us annually a two weeks visit with all their family. My mother was an Episcopalian and my father a Presbyterian. My father was elder and treasurer in his church. A unique church arrangement. We loved both and alternately attended them. We were seven miles from each. I remember our handsome horses and how they pranced and danced before the church doors. We accused the driver of encouraging them to show off.


Happy As a Seagull with a Cheeto

PC: Instagram @mvm_frankfurt

Spring Break when you live on the beach means you get to entertain a good bit of company. In my case, it was teenagers who live forty-five minutes and a quarter of a tank of gas away. I’ve had a lot of visitors this week…mostly sandy-footed shower-takers and sun-kissed beach-worshippers who need power naps, and yes I loved every minute of it. Read more

The Listmaker

PC: Instagram @jen.menard.victor

I’ve been thinking about becoming a runner pretty much all my life. At my age (46), isn’t it probably time to give up?

Like naturally talented singers, I think God gave runners a special extra “something…” discipline, maybe? When they’re born, they seem to have something equivalent to the drug addiction gene, only these lucky souls are addicted to something completely healthy. They’re born addicted to the “runner’s high.” What’s not to envy?!

Well, I didn’t get that gene. What I did get is a trait I call “Resolve.” I make lists and then I complete them, obsessively. I think up items for my list and then, sooner or later, I check them off. This can be as simple as get my car detailed, something more hobby-focused like learn to can vegetables, or it can be as intense as learn to speak Portuguese (all of these are actually real items on my List). Like the runner, I am addicted to checking items off this list, and it comes with a ‘high’ all its own. Some goals take longer than others, and some that I created way back in my past are taking a bit of an eternity, but I never give up on a goal once I resolve to reach it. Read more

What Jane Taught Me (Hint: Take the Weird Classes in College!)

Gombe, Tanzania – Jane Goodall watches as Hugo van Lawick operates a film camera. The feature documentary JANE will be released in select theaters October 2017. (Jane Goodall Institute)

On March 12th, National Geographic will premiere it’s new bio-documentary Jane, about the legendary and iconic Miss Jane Goodall, Ultimate Conservationist and Queen of Primatology. Thinking again about Goodall sent me spiraling back to memories from my college years when I first learned of her work, her pioneering studies on chimpanzee behavior. I can still rattle off a sizable list of absolutely useless things that I remember (the term ‘opposable thumbs’ comes to mind), nuggets of information that I still think are absolutely fascinating with regard to her life’s work.

View the trailer here: JANE.

…This was SO ME in my twenties!


Read more

The Summer of 1850

The summer of 1850 my father and mother took their northern trip. I don’t know what they would’ve done without our dear aunt who was so efficient in every way. I remember their account of their trip to Saratoga, N.Y. and to Niagara through the Great Lakes to Montreal. I well remember the lovely wax dolls which they brought us. We never had many toys, as children didn’t in those days, and had never seen a wax doll. Our delight was unbounded. Those wax dolls, oh the joy they gave us. Read more

A Manuscript for YOU and YOU and YOU!

It is with GREAT excitement that I am able to give each one of my students in all of my American history classes their very own printed manuscript of the new book, An Accidental Odyssey (formerly titled Where Do We Get Such Men?). They are totally devouring it, and already they want to meet Pops, they want to see the planes at the Pensacola NAS Museum, they want to learn the prisoner tap code (we’re doing that on Monday) and they want to know more about why I hate Communism so much. (Oh…and do I plan to tell them!) It is such an invigorating way to teach the history I love so much.

What more in the world could I ask for? #AccidentalOdyssey


Frank Abbott Photography, 2017

When I first joined The Facebook in 2008, for some reason I was under the impression back then that I needed to lay out a schematic for my entire moral belief system in the BIO section. It was revised over the years, quite a few times actually, as I grew angrier about the stresses of my career, or if I found enlightenment related to some deeply personal revelation, and certainly after I got a divorce. I poured my soul into writing it, I remember that much for sure, and at that time I think I catered it to people who might know me through teaching in the school system. In the years since I wrote it, I’ve mercifully found other outlets for my vent-writing besides Facebook. This blog is one such place. Yet recently, someone messaged me with kind compliments about my old manifesto, and to be honest, I’d forgotten about it. I jumped back over there and found it once again, revisiting my 2008-2011 self, amazed at how much I absolutely have not changed in all that time (although my life has actually changed quite a bit). It’s baffling to see oneself evolve in so many ways and yet still not look so very different in the mind, even after a whole decade has passed. So here it is for posterity, the inside parts of my brain that are apparently timeless, quintessential and entirely DQ. Read more

My Girlhood at Dungeness

My Girlhood at Dungeness

I do not remember what year we went to Dungeness. I stayed principally at Retreat with Aunt Polly and my Aunt Martha until the death of Mrs. Payne when we all, Aunt Martha and the servants of the household went to Dungeness, as Aunt Polly gave my father the personal property. The estate Retreat was by my Grandfather’s will to be sold to pay the legacies to his nephews and nieces. The house at Dungeness was a plain wooden one with only four rooms. I always wondered why the Randolphs did not have a better one, but we lived in it until I was fourteen and it was then remodeled and greatly improved. One little incident which happened I have not forgotten. My sister and aunt rode in the coach and four, we, like all children were exuberant at the change. She clapped her little hands and said, “Us is gong to us’s house!” I corrected her and said, “That is not the way to say it, Sister. You should say, “We is going to we’s house.” So many years ago, and yet I remember it!

In the time there had come a little girl, Jean Dandridge, and a boy named George Woodson, and another boy, John Lee. I think these three were born at Dungeness. If so, my father moved there in 1843, and my Grandmother died in 1847. I do not recollect anything of my life here until my school days except that my sister and I often went with my beautiful mother to dinners at the neighbors.

Hospitality was easy in those days of elegance and comfort, plenty of servants, plenty of food and no lack of money.

But to go to school days, all Southern homes had governesses and tutors. We had no public schools until after the Civil War. Our first governess was a Miss Morison, a Presbyterian and a fine woman, but delicate and cross. Number two was Miss May Laurence, an Episcopalian. Lovely as a teacher and intimate, she taught us two years. While she was with us there were two little girls, Ruth and Ella Watkins, who walked to school with us. They loved dearly to come and it was a great joy to us to have them. Their old colored mammy always brought their lunch and often our mother gave us our lunch with them. It was lovely, and how happy we were! It seems but yesterday. When I lie resting these pictures of the old days come so plainly. Our teacher was so lovely and sympathized in all our pleasures. We had a little box in the hollow of a tree, half way between the Watkins’ and our house, and although we saw each other five days out of the week we always found a letter. They never failed us nor we them.

These little girls mother died and they went to live with their grandmother, Mrs. Elfresh. We never met again. They both married in Virginia, Ruth a Mr. Schot and Ella a Mr. Hannah. Ella was so pretty. I can see her flower-like face now. She has been dead a number of years. Ruth is living and is 77 years old.

After this digression, I go back to our third teacher, a Miss Jane Grubb, a most intelligent and clever woman. But again a digression which I can never forget. My twelfth birthday occurred while Miss Laurence was with us. My mother, always willing for our pleasure, decided upon a birthday party and I was to be queen of the May. Miss Laurence arranged it all, teaching us our parts. We had a favorite cousin, Hugh Patton of Richmond, Virginia who took part in the performance about two weeks before the 24th of May. I decided that I would not be “The Queen”, but that my sister had to be. Why this idea possessed me I know not. So we changed places, and everything went on well. My mother turned it into a society event, made lordly preparations, inviting friends from all over the country and from Richmond. I remember the handsome ladies and their admirers. But alas the day of the 24th was cold and with snow, so our fine outdoor performance had to be changed to an indoor affair. The throne was moved up to a side porch and the hall was our theatre.

Two of the most beautiful women were Miss Bettie Harrison of Elk Hall, afterwards Mrs. Douglas Gordon of Baltimore and Miss Julia Bolling of “Bolling’s Island”, afterwards Mrs. Philip Cabell. Others, though not so beautiful, were charming in mind and manners.

This affair has always been a treasure in my memory, not only for its pleasure, but the wonderful kindness shown me in my strange perversity.

I cannot close this subject without mention of a friend of my father, who in my mind and heart was a perfect man. He lived next to us at Rock Castle. A bachelor, his classic face and elegant appearance appealed to me as a child, and I thought his opinions golden. He came every day to see my father and mother. He was a lawyer of fine mind and gracious manners, and was our best friend. When I was about 14 he married a Miss Anne Roy of Gloucester, and I was frightfully jealous. I remember my sister and I wept over it, because we thought he would not love us anymore. But not so, for she proved our dearest friend, faithful through sunshine and shadow, even after he died. They had three children, Nannie, John and Helen.

Our friend, Mr. John Coles Rutherford, died a young man. His wife continued to live at Rock Castle and was ever a loyal friend, sympathetic and kind in “Weal and Woe”. I could write a volume concerning these dear people, both dead now. God grant I may meet them again. Their daughter Nannie, Mrs. Bradley Saunders Johnson, John, lawyer and Judge, live at Rock Castle, and Helen, Mrs. George Ben Johnston, celebrated physician of Richmond all live in Virginia.

Now comes our third Governess, Miss Jane Grubb, a very bright woman but dictatorial and aggressive. We did not love her as we did our dear Miss Laurence. She was a bigoted Episcopalian, the uncharitable type who thought only Episcopalians could get to heaven. We were instructed in catechism and well taught, but as our father was a Presbyterian, our grandfather a Presbyterian minister and our dear old uncle and aunt Presbyterians we could not agree with her in her heavenly limitations.

One circumstance in her stay with us. We had an old slave “Uncle Jacob”, a privileged character, as all old ones were, came every morning to the dining room door for “his dram”. He would say “good morning marster” and “marster” knew that meant the dram. Day after day Miss Grubb would argue with Uncle Jacob about the sin of drinking. At last the old man lost patience and drew himself to his full height, about six feet two inches, and said, “Miss Grubb, if you will examine yourself kurfully, you will find you have a corresponding sin to my infirmity.”

We could not help it, we clapped our hands as he turned with stately dignity out of the room. Miss Grubb was for a moment speechless, and then gave a lecture in impertinence of servants and children. We knew she meant the children part for us for our clapping for Uncle Jacob. Miss Grubb wished to stay another year and she did. She was a good teacher, so my parents allowed her to return. After her second year transpired, my father decided to add to the house. The family had several additions, a baby brother named James William who lived only a few days and then a sister, Ellen Lewis, born in 1850, a second James William in 1857, and Joseph David 1853.



PC: Instagram @beeandbloom

One of my favorite books, since I started having favorite books, is The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd. She did something fantastic, something that all of my favorite authors seem to do: she taught me something I didn’t know.  Read more

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