Don Cohan considers himself an organized person. He keeps his desk in the game room clear, except for manageable stacks of recent mail and...

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Don Cohan considers himself an organized person. He keeps his desk in the game room clear, except for manageable stacks of recent mail and office supplies such a calculator or stapler that he likes to have within reach.

Sure, he knew he had to get rid of some paperwork that had accumulated since he retired and moved his office into the basement, but the mess didn’t cause him angst. He was fine with his work space.

But in his wife’s eyes, Cohan’s organized corner did not make up for the rest of the room. She saw documents, electronics and boxes stacked on a pool table that hadn’t been used regularly in years; a fireplace mantle crowded with old trophies; and baby toys cluttering a corner.

“The rest of us would walk in and say, ‘Whoa,’ and get out as fast as we could,” Linda Cohan said, referring to herself and their two adult daughters.

A cleanup in their Madison Park home was in order.

How to get organized


• Place clutter into piles first, to track what you have.

• Label piles.

• Don’t toss anything until you finish sorting. If the item belongs in another room, just put it outside the door and move it later so you don’t get distracted.


• Go pile by pile.

• Ask yourself whether you really use it, need it or love it. If not, donate it or throw it out.

• Memories don’t disappear when you throw away an object, professional organizer Christa Patchen says. Pictures, which store easily in boxes, are just as effective for remembering events.

• Make sure cords hook up to something useful. If not, get rid of them.

• Toss magazines you haven’t referred to in a month and newspapers more than a week old unless you are keeping them for a specific reason.

• Throw out recipes you haven’t tried in five years.

• Get rid of expired warranties, old instructions and expired insurance policies.


• Decide where items will go in the room.

• Put things where you need them. Items you use frequently should be easy to reach, while items you look at infrequently can be stored in less-accessible areas.


• Give everything a place.

Measure items that need containers to make sure you buy the right size.

• Buy containers that force you to organize, like a magazine holder. Once the holder is full, it’s time to clear it out.

• Buy containers that reflect your style.

• Label containers.


• When sorting new items, ask yourself: Do I love it? Will I use it? Do I have room?

Source: Christa Patchen, professional organizer

So, instead of cajoling her husband to do it, Linda Cohan turned to a professional organizer.

Christa Patchen already had organized the Cohans’ laundry room, changing it from the place where they dumped extraneous stuff that covered the floor into an orderly world, with shelving and labeled containers.

The clutter was stressful to Linda Cohan, but the task seemed too overwhelming to tackle on her own.

“I’d see it all the time and think, ‘ugh.’ I couldn’t do it,” Linda Cohan said.

So Patchen was called back into service to take care of the game room.

Patchen is efficient, energetic and works without pause when she’s organizing. She’s a member of the National Association of Professional Organizers, which now has more than 3,000 members.

“It’s exciting to me,” she said. “I love organizing.”

A session begins with a consultation, when Patchen determines what people want from a room and delicately navigates family opinions that might differ on the ultimate outcome of objects.

Her philosophy is to sort all items into labeled piles first, toss unnecessary items, give everything a home with containers, then maintain the organization.

Sorting creates a bigger mess, but it’s necessary to figure out what you want to get rid of, she said.

At the Cohans’ home, Patchen methodically picked through items on the pool table, underneath and on the sofa, making piles of art supplies and electronics. She also checked file drawers and cabinets and removed items from crowded shelves.

Patchen also discovered items Don Cohan hadn’t seen in years.

For example, she opened a box and found a stuffed frog wearing a judge’s robe that once sat on his law office desk. The frog eventually made it to a perch on top of shelves.

She also found four calculators, old pins and trial CDs from AOL. As she pulled out cords, a leather watchband and old insurance papers, she repeatedly asked Don Cohan, “Is this something you are going to use?”

Patchen busied herself with other boxes as Don Cohan examined old documents and magazines.

“I couldn’t do this,” he said. “It would take me a year.”

But with Patchen in charge, after the first eight-and-a-half-hour day, then six hours on a second day, the game room was transformed.

The baby furniture was gone. Three 64-gallon containers of paper were shredded. The pool table was clear.

Patchen lugged out an old computer monitor, to be disposed for a fee at Staples, and planned to recycle dozens of magazines and other papers. Most of the boxes that sat in a corner were gone.


National Association of Professional Organizers:

Savvy Solutions: Professional organizer Christa Patchen, 206-227-5792 or

Labeled boxes now hold mementos, household files and CDs.

And the result is a room that anyone could navigate — with enough space to play pool.

“It feels fresh and roomy and cozy,” Patchen said.

And unlike some clients, Don Cohan didn’t have trouble tossing old items, even sentimental ones.

It was worthwhile to bring in Patchen, who charges $50 to $75 an hour for residential organizing, Linda Cohan said.

“It helps to have a professional,” she said. “If I’d come down with him, we’d still be at the beginning.”

Nicole Tsong: 206-464-2150 or