Between all the Barbies, Legos, doll strollers and remote-control cars, Suzanne Roix could barely see the floor of the playroom, let alone find a particular toy.
She tried her best to keep it neat but never found the time. Finally, she just closed the door and vowed to get to it later.
When that day never arrived, Roix called in a professional organizer. "I knew I wasn't going to get to it,'' said the Largo mother of two children, ages 5 and 9. "I was so discouraged by that room, but you only have so much time.''
Roix hired Heather Lambie, owner of Your Home Editor in St. Petersburg. Two visits and six hours later, that same playroom today is a "peaceful'' place for playing and storing her children's favorite toys.
As people look for ways to simplify their lives and reduce wasteful spending, many are turning to organizers to declutter and streamline their homes.
"It's not that people have too little space, it's that they have too much stuff,'' said Lambie, who practices "tough love'' when helping people shed excess things.
Getting organized is one of the top New Year's resolutions, according to the National Association of Professional Organizers, which has about 4,500 members, including 194 in Florida.
But the experts say now is the time to get organized before the holidays and the influx of new stuff. Make room in your closets. Finish everything in your refrigerator. Get rid of broken and unwanted toys.
"Whatever you can do to get organized now will help you from being overwhelmed,'' said Standolyn Robertson, president of NAPO. "This is the holidays. It should be the most joyful time of the year.''
Residential organizers typically charge $50 to $150 an hour, with a three-hour minimum, although some charge by the job. Most get their training through on-the-job experience, books and the occasional course. Those with 1,500 hours of paid experience in the past three years are eligible to take a test to become board-certified.
Professional organizers have been around for years but recently gained attention thanks to TV shows, such as Mission Organization on HGTV and Clean House on the Style Network. Australian organizing guru Peter Walsh, author of Does This Clutter Make My Butt Look Fat?, is a big fan of Oprah Winfrey and often appears on her show.
In these penny-pinching times, organizers are finding that home- owners want better ways to make use of and enjoy their homes. They want an organized kitchen so they can cook more and eat out less. Or they want an organized office so they can work more from home. Many who planned to move into a larger space are staying put and working with their existing space.
"People are looking to keep what they have and make it more functional,'' said Tiger Newkirt, owner of Closet Tailors of Upper Tampa Bay, which designs and installs shelving and cabinets for closets, garages, home offices and other rooms.
Betty Arnold of Carrollwood started the Organizing Queen less than three years ago and already has three organizers working for her. She declutters all types of rooms and closets, but lately has had several requests to organize paperwork. One client had not opened her mail for a year, except for bills.
"Paper is everyone's biggest problem,'' she said. "I'll walk into every room of a house and there's paper. There shouldn't be.''
Letting piles of catalogs, Geico insurance ads and grocery circulars accumulate can prove cumbersome and costly. Lose your credit card bill in the stack, and you get socked with late fees.
Organizers recommend sorting through mail daily over the recycling bin as soon as you walk through the door. Take bills to a designated bill-paying area. Put magazines where you will read them.
The No. 1 rule for anyone trying to corral clutter: Find a home for everything, and you'll find your sanity.
"With the economy and things like they are, your home is something you can take control of,'' said Kate Newcomer, owner of All Things in Order in Odessa. "It should be a safe haven. It should be a place where you walk in and say, 'Ahh, I'm home.' ''
Susan Thurston can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.