Hot Mess! One Woman's Tricks to Curing the Disorganized

Curing extreme clutter is no quick fix. Many Americans live happily in chaos -- paying no mind to a home teeming with junk.

The messy person may be blissfully unaware.

That is until someone makes the ultimate threat. Divorce.

Personal organizer Bonnie Cooper is familiar with the frantic e-mail.

"I'm usually the last resort," she said.

Cooper, a 54-year-old Arizona woman, moves in with the calming grace of a kindergarten teacher. She's about as far from strict and nitpicky as one could get.

"These people are an emotional trip," she said.

Cooper said she was born with the ability to organize, sorting her sister's bibs as a child. She says many personal organizers take on the job after overcoming their own messy habits, similar to a personal trainer who was once overweight.

But for Cooper it was a job that came naturally. She was a litigation adjuster with a college degree in psychology before a friend suggested she put her skills to use. She joined the National Association of Professional Organizer in 1995 and has been organizing ever since. She takes her time with clients, charging $90 an hour for a few hours each week. Her longest job took nearly a year.

Cooper promises not to be judgmental. She takes a tour of the home and they chat.

"A lot of times it's like a psychological session," she said.

That first meeting is usually the most painful. Some clients dive right in. It took one client an hour to build up the courage to let Cooper in the house, however.

"They're very embarrassed," she said.

But Cooper continues to practice patience. She has clients show her around their home. Then they plan the cleaning together. They'll work for a few hours -- and take plenty of breaks.

She says it's impossible to organize a truly messy person in a matter of days.

"It's overwhelming," she said.

She says the horror stories of true hoarding are absolutely real.

"I've seen things close to needing HAZMAT suits. It was a health issue," she said. "I insist they get help. Social workers. Psychologists. It's not just cleaning."

But Cooper also insists on working one-on-one. No matter how much time it takes.

"It's very traumatic for them even to call," she said.

But not every call is extremely serious.

There was the lady who collected rocks and a guy with drawers filled with condoms. Each wanted professional help getting their hobbies as organized as possible.

Her favorite job was organizing for a major league baseball player. He had 9,000 baseball cards, hundreds of trophies and truckloads of his memorabilia.

"It can be fun. You have to have the stamina. You have to have the patience," she said.

To learn more about Cooper and her personal organizing businesses visit

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