The mess in the garage started innocently enough: a few unpacked boxes and some lamps from our move two years ago. No worries. We'll straighten it out later. But "later" never came...

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SANTA ANA, Calif. — The mess in the garage started innocently enough: a few unpacked boxes and some lamps from our move two years ago.

No worries. We’ll straighten it out later.

But “later” never came.

Instead, the boxes multiplied. Christmas 2003 never got put away. Leftover newspapers never made it to the recycle bin. The junk mixed with the Goodwill-bound junk, reaching staggering proportions.

“We will never get through this,” I said to my husband, Bob. “It’s time to bring in the professionals.”

We got economy of scale when we hired Penny Lambright, owner of Clutter Cleaners.

In less than five hours, our garage was picked up, packed up and swept clean.

Tips for reducing clutter

that clutter keeps you in the past and makes you procrastinate.

priorities and break the cleanup project down to smaller tasks.

a box for items that require action, another for items to file, other boxes for personal mementos and items to read, and a box for trash.


more and find an organizer from the National Association of Professional Organizers at

Source: Clutter Cleaners

The Christmas stuff and other boxes of memorabilia were stored in overhead rafters.

The gardening tools were all in one place. So was the housecleaning equipment.

Cupboards were designated as a pantry, for extra dishes, for kitchen appliances and so on. The cost was $450 for three professionals who not only did the dirty work, but also hauled one truckload to the dump and another to Goodwill. They even got us a receipt for tax donations.

All Bob and I had to do was decide ahead of time what type of cupboards or bookshelves we wanted. And on the day of the cleanup, we had to finally decide what to do with stuff we had been carrying around for years, like boxes of slides and high-school textbooks.

“You have to be ready to make tough decisions,” Lambright said over the phone when I booked her services. “We’re going to ask you to take a hard look at the stuff you keep in the garage.”

Much of Lambright’s work is done with seniors, including preparing homes for estate sales and cleaning up clutter that violates city codes. Hoarding is a particular problem with older people, she said, especially the Depression generation that never wants to throw anything away.

A few weeks ago, Lambright and her team found a 1970s Mercedes-Benz sedan buried under 30 years of old newspapers. The owner had pulled the car into the garage, refusing to pay the cost of a new part. He just kept piling papers around the vehicle and no one knew it was there.

“We spent about five days at that garage, and we filled three large Dumpsters,” she said.

Hiring professionals has some real advantages, Lambright says.

“We don’t have any history with your stuff,” she said. “We try to look for things of value, make sure we sort them out, and we ask you to make the decisions on papers and other memorabilia.”

We had old photographs and two extra coffee pots, bookcases we weren’t using and fireplace tools we didn’t need.

As the team dragged stuff out of the garage, people driving by would stop their cars and ask if we were having a sale.

I sat in a chair going through boxes, consolidating, tossing and saving.

“Now for this, you need to do your homework,” Lambright said. “Give yourself 15 minutes a day to go through this stuff. No more. Eventually, it will get done.”