Walk into clutter consultant Michelle Passoff's house just off West Shore Boulevard and you'll want to run home and purge the clutter. ¶ It's not only that the house is TV-commercial clean; it's also organized and beautiful. ¶ The three-bedroom, two-bath home built in the 1980s has been transformed by Passoff and her husband, French artist Andre Kupfermunz. Eclectic, modern and sophisticated, it's a showplace for her furniture finds from local haunts like Triage and Faye's Side Porch to a tiny garden shop — now gone — along West Shore, where she bought two high-backed vintage iron chairs for $15.
Passoff found her midcentury modern coffee table (from the home of a Detroit auto mogul) while window shopping in Ann Arbor; the tangerine patio furniture from a salvage yard in Pinellas County.
"I like to shop — but very deliberately," says Passoff, author of Lighten Up! Free Yourself from Clutter (HarperCollins) and an internationally known speaker on the subject. "I like to browse flea markets and antique stores, but it's always for a collection — and one that adds beauty."
For example, a wall of vintage floral paintings in original, 1930s mismatched frames quilt the walls of the guest bedroom. Passoff and Kupfermunz found them while traveling the eastern United States for years between New York City — where Passoff maintained an apartment on the Upper West Side — and Tampa, where the couple bought their home in 2004.
Passoff says it took a few years before they really got down to renovating and decorating. But when they finally did about a year ago, they transformed the 1,900-square-foot ranch-style house, making the entire space livable.
"Our decorating has really been driven by how we wanted to live in the space," she explains. "And it really has been tested at parties."
The couple, who love to entertain, threw a fundraiser for the husband of a student in Kupfermunz's weekly "Coffee and French Conversation with Andre" class at the John Germany Library. The event drew more than 100 guests and featured live music by local jazz luminary Rose Bilal.
"It's such a pleasure to see people move through your space and see that it works," she says. "But the real litmus test is, when I wake up in the morning, do I like being here?"
The answer is a resounding yes.
Book shares a name
Passoff, who ran a boutique public relations firm in New York that focused on home furnishings and fashion, launched her business "Lighten Up! Free Yourself from Clutter" (she named her book after it) in 1991. She decided to begin making a career transition after helping a friend pack and move out of her Manhattan apartment. She realized she was intuitively good at helping others streamline their lives and possessions. Her real fulfillment, she explains on her Web site, freefromclutter.com, comes from a deeper aspect of helping people shed what they don't need or use: "Cleaning clutter of all kinds ... freed people to invent their future and fulfill their dreams ...," she writes.
Passoff, who has held three garage sales this year with several of her Tampa clients, says that freeing yourself of clutter "brings you to your authentic self. It helps you get real."
Living their own lives free of clutter allowed Passoff, 54, and Kupfermunz, 64, to make a significant life change that required a significant time commitment and an organized household:
Last year, the couple embarked on a raw food diet and lifestyle after Kupfermunz was diagnosed with prostate cancer and studied at a world-renowned health institute in West Palm Beach that promotes a pure enzyme-rich diet and noninvasive therapies.
An impromptu lunch one recent spring afternoon featured an assortment of salads and cold dishes that included cabbage slaw, hummus, guacamole and sprouts that the couple grow in a closet off the living room.
Since they changed their lifestyle a few months ago, Passoff has lost 20 pounds, and Kupfermunz, 45.
Passoff calls it "the best thing that ever happened to us. It's a way of decluttering the body." Switching from a conventional diet to one rich in raw foods means investing in equipment like juicers and dehydrators, and having time to study (the couple takes classes at Hallelujah Acres in Plant City) and to shop for organic and locally grown vegetables. Weekly, they typically go through eight packages of kale, eight packages of celery, half a dozen avocados, and a dozen cucumbers, zucchini and yellow squash.
Passoff's kitchen cupboards — all designed with pull-out tiers — are an amazing example of food organization at its best. Recycled mason jars (purchased at the annual University of Tampa Chiselers sale) are stored at waist level for easy access and clearly labeled: wild rice, sunflower seeds, lentils, walnuts, pumpkin seeds.
Even in her own home, Passoff says a clutter expert can never be completely clutter free. But it's possible to tame and manage. A handful of gifts and bottles of wine in the guest bedroom are "on a path" to being packed for a trip the couple is taking to New York. In the light-filled office the pair shares — two custom Formica desks hold computers and look out to the large patio they use for entertaining and eating — Passoff maintains a highly organized filing system.
Paper clutter, she says, remains the No. 1 enemy for most of her clients.
She's also able to put her hands immediately on a business card for a craftsman she hasn't thought about in months.
Yet, she points out, there are papers and other working essentials piled near her computer. "It's an office!" she says with a laugh.
Clothes are another issue. Passoff says that women tend to wear the same five outfits over and over. When a contractor came to help them rehab their small master bedroom closet, she jokes, he assumed that Passoff had as many clothes as most women.
"Where's Andre going to put his clothes?" the man asked.
"I said: 'Right in here," she recalls. "I don't have very many clothes. And having lived in New York, I wear a lot of black."
Elizabeth Bettendorf can be reached at email@example.com.