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'Please, please, please help me'
Karen Wallace-McFaul's five-paragraph letter stood out as an urgent plea for help to put order into her messy bungalow
Sheila Brady
The Ottawa Citizen
Karen Wallace-McFaul, right, who won the Citizen's Clean Sweep contest worth $4,600, is shown with her beaming daughter Carrie Wallace amid the clutter in their McKellar Park bungalow.
CREDIT: Pat McGrath, The Ottawa Citizen

There were 195 tales of cluttered woe spread over the large boardroom table at the Citizen last week, yet Karen Wallace-McFauPs five-paragraph letter stood out as an urgent plea for help to put order into her McKellar Park home.

"Please, please, please help me," the 46-year old Ottawa nurse wrote in her entry to the Clean Sweep contest. "I don't even know how and where to start. To write this letter is very difficult, because not only do I have extreme clutter in my home, but now that clutter has carried over and affects my mind so much so that it's a big cycle of: I have to do something about this mess, but how do I find the time with my shift work? I'm afraid it's affecting my relationship with my family.

"My husband is patient, says nothing, but is fed up. My teenagers are embarrassed to bring friends home to watch TV. Our standing joke with our children's friends is: 'You might get lost trying to find your way to the TV corner.'

"As for my six-year-old, he can't have friends over to play inside because it might be unsafe. He says: 'I know. I know. I can have friends over when we get the basement cleaned up.' Meanwhile, precious time is passing by. I am going out on a limb to ask for help. To admit on paper the disarray of the two worst rooms in our home is a huge step for me. It is my hope that you will be able to create organization that will bring order to our lives."

Help is on the way.

Professional organizers and two of the judges in the Citizen's Clean Sweep contest were at the Wallace-McFaul house yesterday to start the $4,600 cleanup and organization of the master bedroom and the large panelled family room.

They are the clutter repositories in the modest bungalow that is stretched to accommodate an active family of six.

The closets are small and there is no garage, a natural dump site for life's usual clutter.

The brick home fits neatly into the neighbourhood and a backyard rink is a favourite for family and neighbourhood kids. On the inside, the comfortable home looks suspiciously neat during a visit. While she was at work, her three teens, six-year-old son and husband, Steve McFaul, took down the Christmas decorations.

The L-shaped living-dining room and kitchen were spic and span. They usually are, says Ms. Wallace-McFaul over a cup of coffee. "We toss the stuff into our bedroom and the basement family room is a mess."

Not for long.

Lynn Fanset and Susan Year-wood, the spark plugs behind Clean Sweep, will be working with a team of professional organizers and painters to sort through the many Rubbermaid tubs stacked along the walls of the family room and provide an organizational strategy to bring and keep the clutter under control.

There were several times after being told she won the contest, which attracted 195 entries from Pembroke to Kanata to Orleans and across to the Outaouais, that the petite blond second-guessed herself.

"I kept waking up last night, thinking, maybe I should not be doing this. Then I would say: This is a good thing. My close friends and family are very supportive and I won't worry about others.' Their opinion is not important.

"We will get through this. We will have organization," she says sipping more coffee. "We need it desperately."

Across the table, daughter Carrie, 17, smiles broadly. "This is awesome. It will be cool."

The mother of three teens, twins Carrie and Kristi, hockey player son, Michael, 19, and Connor, 6, readily admits she is a packrat who can't bear to throw things away. She has all of her children's report cards, most of their paintings and school projects in the bins, which fill a large chunk of the furnace room, an area doing double duty as a drying area for laundry.

The washing machine is usually humming. The teens do their own laundry and husband Steve does the rest because his wife's back is sensitive as a result of back surgery in the fall of 2OOO.

Neat piles of clean clothes take up valuable space in the family room, the real laundry room and the furnace room.

There is one bathroom on the main floor and a two-piece powder room in the basement, which has a bedroom for the family's junior A hockey star.

"We don't have enough closets or storage, but I am attached to the area," says Ms. Wallace-McFaul, who admits she finds it difficult to throw out a perfectly good piece of cardboard.

"I have a problem throwing out things because Connor might need them for a craft."

The bins also contain baby clothing and papers, which the couple didn't have time to sort when they moved into the house five years ago.

Ms. Wallace-McFaul was a single mother for 10 years, raising her three children. Her priorities were working, concentrating on the children, their activities and friends. There wasn't time to control the clutter.

The family moved into the bungalow, renting for a year and then buying it, knowing it had limited space for their family.

There were plans to divide the large family room and make a second bedroom for Carrie in the basement. However, a round of medical problems plagued Ms. Wallace-McFaul, including the need for a pacemaker in July 2001 and medical leave from her job at the Civic campus of the Ottawa Hospital.

Her energy waned, money was tight and stuff piled up in the master bedroom and basement.

Now I'm ready, says the woman, who wrote: "We need some professional organization. To help with either of these rooms would be a gift of peace - peace of mind for me and peace within our family."

Before leaving, this almost reformed clutterbug couldn't help sharing a victory. She swung open a closet to show off a blue canvas organizer from IKEA neatly holding everyone's shoes.

"We need to get another one."

Karen Wallace-McFaul and family weren't alone. Judges sorted through stacks of pictures and read through entries from bachelors, families and the newly divorced - all asking for help to put order back in their homes and lives. In mid-February, the Homes section will feature quick fixes to some of these messy spaces.

© The Ottawa Citizen 2004

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