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  • Catching Up: Santana, Taj Mahal and a déjà vu ‘Blue Christmas’

    Posted by Ben Fong-Torres

    By Ben Fong-Torres It’s short shrift time. I have a life that’s ripe (and slightly wrinkled) for blogs and tweeting; for facebooking and updating. I’m just no good at it. My last column here on AsianConnections was about the memorial in late July for my sister Shirley. My last posting on the authors’ site, Redroom, was about a radio promo tour I did (20 stops, all on the phone...

A New High: Getting Organized!

Ben Fong-Torres

Is your room a mess? You are not alone. Here's how Ben Fong-Torres cleared away 30 years of clutter. It's a neat article.

We are a nation of clutter. Just look at your closet. Your kitchen drawers. Your bathroom ca- binet. Your CD col- lection. The trunk of your car. Your home office. Your garage. Were a massive mess, and were always telling ourselves, Next weekend. Ill get to it next weekend, when I get a couple of hours. But those hours never come.

They are, how- ever, closer than you think. Armies of professional organizers have formed, all around the country, and theyre ready to force you to take that time and make that effort to get organized. You see them on the Home and Gardens network, and all the other channels that are doing home decorating shows. You get the ads in the mail for custom closets. You see the books on how to de-clutter your life. You are tempted. You know you should do it. And you think, Next weekend.

Well, my weekend arrived not long ago. Actually, it was a whole week, split up into parts of two weeks. It was a substantial investment of both time and money, and it required doing something brutally difficult letting go of pieces of my past but I did it, and Im glad I did.

The proof is in the photos. Before, my office at home was almost painful for my wife, Dianne, to walk into. Not for me; I knew where everything was, and, amidst the mess, things like CDs, DVDs and videotapes were actually alphabetized. My books were in categories. My receipts were in a basket. An overflowing basket, yes, but I knew, from the basket and the floor below, where to find receipts.

But the operative word was overflowing. I simply had too much stuff, built up from, what, 30 years? in various media work. Magazines, papers, clippings, mementos, audio and video equipment, from reel-to-reel tape machines to a portable karaoke system. Antique microphones and a brand-new, unopened shredder. Piles of cassettes with no logical home. CDs housed in about 10 racks and shelves scattered around the office. Wires and cords every which way, and loose.

Now that Im cataloguing the mess, Im beginning to feel Diannes pain.

But my office today is pain-free, thanks to a couple of Berkeley-based women who call themselves the Spruce Girls. In private, they call themselves Rachel Siegel and Tali Reicher. My friend Emerald Yeh, while she was a consumer reporter at KRON-TV, had profiled them, engaged their services and recommended them to us. We visited her homethe Spruce Girls had reorganized her kitchen and storage roomand, after a bit of stalling on my part, while I continued to harbor notions that I could take care of all this myselfif only I had a free weekendwe invited them over.

They looked over the piles, the files, the mountains of papers on my desk; the molehills of dust that had accumulated on various table surfaces over the years. Piece of cake. They shooed me out of the room, so that they could look things over more carefully and conceive a plan, and then, a few days later, submitted a proposal. It would require my meeting with them for several days to go over the stuff in my office, almost piece by piece, and to explain why I had to keep it. Otherwise, itd go to the dump, to a charity, to storage (neatly boxed and labeled), to Craigslist or to eBay. It was tough love, applied to everything I owned or, more accurately, hoarded, or felt I might need one day. (Youll find it when you need it, theyd say. On the Internet; in the library; in a store.)

After the three days of purging, during which Id take occasional breaks to silently curse Emerald Yeh, theyd kick me out of my office while they and a couple of helpers would do their magic. While I had a wireless network set up so that I could work on my computer upstairs in the kitchen, they moved furniture around, ordered and installed new storage units, got file boxes and holders for all my audio and video materials, and set up a second workstation I wanted, so that I could have separate computers for writing and for audio-video work.

While they finished up, Dianne and I left town. Wed previously scheduled a weekend in Portland, Oregon, to see friends, which meant that, although Id offered input about the shelving units and boxes, I had no idea how the office would actually look until we returned. All I knew was that I would avoid doing what Ive seen dozens of times on those home-improvement shows, when a person would walk into a made-over room and shout, OH MIGOD!

I resisted. But ohmigod , they did a great job. Theyd whipped me back to junior high school Wood Shop, where our teacher preached, A place for everything, and everything in its place. Thats what I have now. Not to mention a room that feels twice as large as before, with room for guests (maybe even Dianne), and with not one pile of anything anywhere. Rachel and Tali consolidated all those CD racks into one wall unit; redid one of my bookshelves so that a bunch of oversized volumes have become accessible. They handled my crazy-quilt of electronics, computers, phones and tech toys with aplomb. And they set upand taught mea system for dealing with incoming mail, bills and publications. Ive tweaked a couple of things, mostly having to do with the placement of artwork and memorabilia, and I shuffled a few project boxes and file folders around. Otherwise, it was as if Tali and Rachel got into my mindand cleared it up.

The acid test is yet to come. When I wade into some projects that are on the horizona book, a nationally syndicated radio show, and more magazine assignmentsthe Spruce Girls system of project file boxes will get tested.

But, of course, its up to me. So far, Ive managed to avoid letting newspapers and magazines pile up, unread. Ive continued to toss things out of the office, and to keep the countertops mess- and dust-free.

Im motivated, I guess, by how beautiful the office looksfor the first time since I moved in, some 20 years ago. And, Im sure, further inspiration comes from the sheer expense of getting the room to its current state. The Spruce Girls are not cheap. Theyre pros, and this process does take time and materials. (Go to www.sprucegirls.com and check under Hire Spruce for more info.) But its a worthwhile investment. A clean and well-organized workspace ultimately saves you time and reduces stress. At the same time, it increases self-esteem. Think of the contentment you feel when youve finished paying the bills (you have, havent you?) or got rid of some of that crap in your hallway. Multiply that feeling by about a thousand, and thats the feeling of having been Spruced. It is, as the commercial says, priceless.

No commercials in sight when you visit Ben Fong-Torres home page, at www.benfongtorres.com. Just lots of chillin-with-the-stars photos, samples of his writing, and ways to buy his books. Okay, so we were lying about the commercials.