EAS­ING CHAOS OF TOO MUCH CLUT­TER

This or­ga­nizer’s method is un­con­ven­tional, but many celebri­ties treat her like a guru

Ottawa Citizen - - HOME LIFE - ME­GAN BUERGER

There’s an in­fa­mous scene in Mom­mie Dear­est, the 1981 cult film about Joan Craw­ford’s neu­roses, that strikes a chord with neat freaks. Craw­ford, played by Faye Du­n­away, dis­cov­ers a dress on a wire hanger and ex­plodes into a blind rage. “No wire hang­ers!” she screams at her daugh­ter. “Ever!” The out­burst — so spec­tac­u­larly vi­cious it sparked skep­ti­cism from crit­ics — made Craw­ford look down­right un­hinged. But those who share her aver­sion to clut­ter, well, they al­most get it.

“Oh, it’s ter­ri­fy­ing,” says Julie Nay­lon, a Los An­ge­les-based pro­fes­sional or­ga­nizer to some of Hol­ly­wood’s busiest writ­ers, direc­tors, pro­duc­ers and ac­tors, in­clud­ing Molly Shan­non, Rashida Jones and Adam McKay. “And ab­surd. But have I found my­self ut­ter­ing it while work­ing with a client? Yes. And is there a spe­cial place in hell for wire hang­ers? Yes. So, you know, I guess I don’t think it’s that crazy.”

What Nay­lon thinks that scene cap­tures best is the sense of des­per­a­tion, the grap­pling for con­trol. Many of us are feel­ing this deep down, she says, “suf­fo­cated by stuff that keeps pil­ing up,” such as junk mail, charg­ing cords, toys and plas­tic con­tain­ers, even push no­ti­fi­ca­tions.

The load can feel par­tic­u­larly heavy these days when com­bined with mount­ing po­lit­i­cal chaos, work emails and the pull to shop as a way to cope with stress. It’s no won­der or­ga­niz­ing evan­ge­lists such as Marie Kondo, Peter Walsh and the Home Edit’s Clea Shearer and Joanna Teplin are cul­tural sen­sa­tions, armed with books, TV shows, branded so­cial me­dia ac­counts and YouTube tu­to­ri­als that re­frame de­clut­ter­ing as an al­most spir­i­tual prac­tice.

Nay­lon’s ap­proach is dif­fer­ent. She has no breezy 10-step plan, no highly styl­ized In­sta­gram feed, no ecom­merce store full of handy or­ga­niz­ing gad­gets. She isn’t con­vinced spice jars and colour-cod­ing will solve our larger is­sues with clut­ter.

“Habits run deep,” she says, “real deep. Boxes cer­tainly help, but it’s like buy­ing new clothes be­fore you’ve lost the weight or changed your life­style. You need to start at the source.”

Nay­lon’s fo­cus is on per­sonal, ther­a­peu­tic meth­ods: In ses­sions that are of­ten emo­tion­ally ex­haust­ing, she asks her clients in­ti­mate ques­tions about re­la­tion­ships, ca­reer changes and how they ul­ti­mately want to live. Last­ing trans­for­ma­tions, she be­lieves, are in­side-out and never easy. This makes her less like a per­sonal trainer or stylist and more like a guru, sought out by clients who des­per­ately want to get or­ga­nized, but also to heal.

“Most peo­ple who con­tact me are shut­ting down,” Nay­lon says. “They’re be­yond want­ing an es­thetic trans­for­ma­tion. They need help.” For that rea­son, she isn’t big on be­fore-and-af­ter pho­tos and of­fers a non-dis­clo­sure agree­ment be­fore each project. “In this town, peo­ple ap­pre­ci­ate that level of trust,” she says.

She doesn’t view or­ga­niz­ing as one-size-fits-all; her strate­gies for each client are tai­lored to the is­sues they’re fac­ing and the kind of life they want. And she re­quires some de­gree of par­tic­i­pa­tion from all clients. “Peo­ple will ask me to clear out their garage and say, ‘What­ever you think. I trust you!’ But I don’t work like that. How do you im­ple­ment a sys­tem if you don’t know how the per­son wants to live?”

Nay­lon ini­tially wanted to be a showrun­ner — she moved to Los An­ge­les in 2000 af­ter grad­u­at­ing from film school in Chicago — but even­tu­ally, her pas­sions shifted. Af­ter years work­ing for en­ter­tain­ment in­dus­try ti­tans such as Jerry Bruck­heimer, Nora Ephron and Barry Son­nen­feld, she dis­cov­ered she had a knack for mak­ing dizzy­ing lives run smoothly. In 2008, af­ter help­ing McKay (who wrote and di­rected The Big Short and is a pro­ducer on HBO’s Suc­ces­sion) move his fam­ily across the U.S. and seek­ing ad­vice from Julie Mor­gen­stern, one of Oprah Win­frey’s go-to or­ga­niz­ers, Nay­lon de­cided to start her own busi­ness. She called it No Wire Hang­ers, a nod to her film ca­reer and her en­vi­ron­men­tally friendly views on stuff (in­clud­ing those flimsy dry-cleaner dis­pos­ables).

“These days, we’re more aware of our prob­lems with spend­ing and waste, but back then it re­ally felt like a blind spot,” she says. “Still, whether you’re buy­ing a bunch of stuff you don’t need or just hang­ing on to a bunch of stuff you don’t need, there’s a rea­son for that. Clut­ter is just post­poned de­ci­sions. I try to find out what’s hold­ing peo­ple back.”

That of­ten takes heavy dig­ging, and ses­sions with Nay­lon can be in­tense. “She’s some­where be­tween a ther­a­pist and Mary Pop­pins,” says Field­ing Ed­low, a comic and writer who swears, only some­what jok­ingly, that Nay­lon saved her mar­riage when she, her hus­band and their two cats moved while Ed­low was preg­nant in 2011.

An­other client, lawyer Ta­mar Feder, echoed the psy­chol­o­gist com­par­i­son: “She asks you ques­tions that seem silly or in­con­se­quen­tial, but they turn out to be ge­nius.” Feder, who now lives in Is­rael, says Nay­lon gen­tly waded through ev­ery is­sue, in­clud­ing the be­long­ings that were hold­ing her back by tak­ing up too much “emo­tional space” (also: why she had five rain jack­ets). “Some­times you just need to hear your­self say things out loud,” Feder says, “but some­one needs to ask the right ques­tions.”

A decade of in­sight into peo­ple’s pri­vate spa­ces will make you prac­ti­cally im­mune to celebrity. Stars, Nay­lon in­sists, re­ally are just like us.

“Every­one is the same. We’re all hu­man. Be­hind ev­ery call is some­one who feels a lit­tle guilty or a lit­tle ashamed about their state of things, buried in the rub­ble. I tell them that there’s noth­ing to be ashamed of.”

More of­ten than not, Nay­lon’s de­clut­ter­ing projects are in­tensely per­sonal; clients tend to call for help with sort­ing through be­long­ings af­ter a death or di­vorce, or to down­size. She’s hand-de­liv­ered boxes to clients’ exes af­ter breakups, un­cov­ered doc­u­ments dur­ing a prop­erty dis­pute, even helped a cou­ple di­vide their be­long­ings piece by piece af­ter a di­vorce — with both of them in the room.

Such in­stances re­quire a par­tic­u­lar mix of com­pas­sion and pro­fes­sion­al­ism. In 2009, Co­nan O’Brien asked her to come on his show for an or­ga­niz­ing in­ter­ven­tion for one of his pro­duc­ers. “His of­fice is a fire trap,” he quipped. “We think there might be ver­min in his of­fice.” Nay­lon breezily shrugged it off. “I’ve seen ev­ery­thing,” she said.

In per­son, Nay­lon, 41, is noth­ing like Craw­ford’s hare­brained, loose-can­non car­i­ca­ture. You get the sense that noth­ing could shock her, surely a qual­ity you’d want in some­one you in­vite into your pri­vate spa­ces. And un­like her more high-life clien­tele, many of whom em­ploy chefs, house man­agers and dog walk­ers, Nay­lon is fairly down-to-earth. A work­ing mother and her house­hold’s bread­win­ner — long­time boyfriend Wes Wininger, a mu­si­cian, is a stay-at-home dad — she of­ten sees as many as three clients a day and works six days a week. She prefers to thrift rather than buy new, find­ing much of her fur­ni­ture on Craigslist, and is a firm be­liever in trust­ing our mem­o­ries rather than hand­cuff­ing our­selves to a stor­age locker.

“Peo­ple hold on to things be­cause they don’t want to for­get them, but I be­lieve we re­mem­ber what we’re sup­posed to re­mem­ber,” she says. For peo­ple who find that hard to ac­cept, she rec­om­mends tak­ing pho­tos. “If that sweater re­ally meant some­thing to you, you prob­a­bly have a pic­ture of your­self wear­ing it,” she says. “Keep that, and give the sweater to some­one who needs it.”

Her home, a 1932 Span­ish Re­vival in South Los An­ge­les, is airy, el­e­gant and min­i­mal. She and Wininger, 49, bought and re­stored it in 2016, keep­ing many of its orig­i­nal de­tails, like the quirky yel­low kitchen tiles and stained-glass sconces. With 3.2-me­tre-high ceil­ings, dark wood floors (dis­cov­ered un­der car­pet) and 1.8-me­tre­high win­dows that bathe the liv­ing room in light, it evokes a Zen feel­ing. Even her three-yearold daugh­ter, Maude, speed­ing around the house in a tutu, has a hard time dis­turb­ing the peace as she leaves a trail of tiny de­bris.

In re­cent years, Nay­lon has be­gun help­ing clients go paper­less. “Pa­per is the one thing every­one is drown­ing in,” she says. “Peo­ple don’t know what they can hold on to and let go of.” Nay­lon prides her­self on hav­ing only two pieces of pa­per — her birth cer­tifi­cate and car ti­tle — and keeps master spread­sheets for dig­i­tal de­clut­ter­ing, in­clud­ing manag­ing email, sub­scrip­tions and bills.

Chil­dren, she says, are the eas­i­est to teach. They haven’t de­vel­oped col­lect­ing habits and are less sen­ti­men­tal. When in doubt, re­frame the ques­tion. That’s how she ne­go­ti­ates with Maude. “Rather than say­ing, ‘Should we throw this away?’ I’ll say, ‘Do you want to keep these dolls or are you ready to pass them on to an­other baby?’ It’s her call, but you’d be sur­prised. Most of the time, kids like to give.”

Or­ga­nizer Julie Nay­lon’s no-non­sense ways have been de­scribed by one client as “some­where be­tween a ther­a­pist and Mary Pop­pins.”

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