Carly Poppalardo had blisters on her feet when she drove home from an eight-hour session of professional organizing last Thursday, threw a bag of Trader Joe’s pre-cut veggies and simmer sauce on the stove, flipped on “The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills” and sank into the couch.
“I was high on adrenaline,” Carly said, “but I was so tired I could barely move.”
When she arrived at the client’s three-story house at 9 o’clock that morning, the situation hadn’t looked particularly dire. But she and the mother of three, a Southern woman with an affinity for matching dresses, managed to fill two truck beds and an SUV: four car seats, five bouncy chairs and enough toys to stock a preschool room.
One of the ironies of our age of excess is how the littlest among us come with such outsized equipment. And then there is the strange reality that Americans pay to store the things we cannot fit in our homes, driving demand for more than 78 square miles of rentable self-storage – more than three times the size of Manhattan.
The burden of sorting the stuff under our roofs increasingly has become the work of a professional, an outsourcing of the most personal nature with a humbling implication: Help me manage my life. Until the expert arrives, the truth is we often don’t even know what we have. Carly once uncovered 27 spatulas in one home and, in another, seven jars of saffron.
“Clients tell me I’m kind of like a therapist,” Carly said. “As we’re getting rid of stuff, we’re talking about why it accumulated in the first place.”
The 27-year-old Catholic has no doubt there are spiritual ramifications to her work: a garage loaded with bulk items from Costco, a drawer stuffed with expired coupons, a give pile of clothes with tags.
“It’s a rabbit hole,” Carly said. “People are looking to fill other needs when they buy things, especially when they overbuy. Once they develop that awareness, there’s a mental shift and they can focus on the more important stuff.”
Hence, the statement on her Twitter profile: “I organize your life so you can live it.”
Carly makes a point to keep her own life in order, which is why you’ll find her at the 10:30 a.m. Mass at St. Agnes in Arlington, Va., in her family’s standard spot – right side, toward the back – for a weekly “re-grounding and regrouping.”
It was her trust in God that emboldened her to take the leap into self-employment at 23, turning down a job offer from a PR firm that once would’ve sounded like her dream job but felt more like a trap. “I was miserable in the corporate world. The system didn’t make sense to me: The interns were working 7 to 7 because they wanted to move up to be an assistant account executive to work even longer hours.”
Since then Carly has successfully built her business. Armed with bins, shelving and a label maker, there’s no basement she can’t conquer. She jokes about spotting the National Geographics – that recurring strip of canary yellow – and her 50 percent success rate of persuading the owner to recycle them.
Nearly all her clients hug her when she leaves, describing the weight lifted off their shoulders. It’s amazing how the sight of a bare counter can fill your lungs and clear your mind.
In this season of spring cleaning, of open windows and Alleluias, of the pontiff who preaches simple living, now is the time to de-clutter – time to travel light, to give freely, to be empty handed and open hearted.
(Capecchi is a freelance writer from Inver Grove Heights, Minn., and the editor of SisterStory.org.)