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In the News

Mind/Balance Makeover

Dorothy Foltz-Gray, Health 2004

Reader Debbie Mogg, 42, is overwhelmed by competing demands on her time and confounded by clutter. Our experts help her get organized and learn to say No.


The Details

OCCUPATION: Stay-at-home mom in San Jose, California; bookkeeper for husband’s restaurant-maintenance business; part-time salesperson; school volunteer.


FAMILY: Married to Ken Mogg, Debbie has two children from her first marriage-Steve, 23 and Christopher, 22. Ken has a son, Darrell, 21. Together they have Emily, 13, and adopted siblings Angie, 13 and Alexandria, 9. The Moggs are also guardians for Justin, 16. The household also includes 3 dogs, 4 cats, two pot-bellied pigs, and a snake.


PROBLEM: Years of juggling the needs of seven kids, two part-time jobs, assorted pets, a husband and volunteer work have taken their toll. Mogg feels she’s going nowhere fast, but she’s too tired to jump of the care-taking merry-go-round and too selfless to slow down. “I have no time to do the things I love,” Mogg says, “”and yet I’m not accomplishing anything. I’m a world-renown procrastinator swallowed by obligations.”


…Jeanne Smith, professional organizer

“Debbie knew things were chaotic, but she didn’t know where to start,” Smith says. How chaotic? Mogg could not find her bills, so she paid late charges. She didn’t keep a bank register; so more money was eaten by overdraft fees.


“My house is so disorganized that it’s easier to go out and buy scissors than it is to find them" Mogg says. “I love being a mom, but I feel I’m not as good a parent as I could be because I’m so distracted by things that aren’t getting done. I want to purge the unnecessary stuff from my life so that I can move forward.”


Mogg needed help in setting parameters and guidelines. Smith’s first recommendation: Cut down on volunteering. Mogg like being recognized for her work, but Smith noted that she could get that recognition in fewer hours. Smith coached Mogg on establishing limits by saying things like, “I’m trying to make changes. This is what I need, and here’s how you can support that.”


The next step was to tackle the physical chaos in Mogg’s house. The master bedroom served as an office and catch-all, which made organization a challenge. Mogg and her husband decided to divide the room into two areas, one for sleep and relaxation, the other for work. That helps Mogg feel more professional when she’s working.


Because Mogg’s papers were a jumble, Smith and Mogg set up a filing system that could manage information for the children, the household, Ken’s business, and her own work in sales. “There are four separate areas within one system, Smith says. “And it’s very clear what needs to be kept for each."


Smith also gave Mogg a list of “triage questions” for clutter: e.g. When was the last time you used this? Where can I put it so I remember I have it? Finally, she urged Mogg to designate an accountability buddy, someone whom she could tell each day what she was trying to accomplish, and who’d bug her to do it.


What she did

Mogg cut down her weekly volunteer hours to 5. “The first week I felt a little guilty,” she says. “Then I went for a walk, and it was so nice because it was just my time. And the school didn’t crumble because I wasn’t there, either.”


Mogg still struggles to say organized, but she no longer feels overwhelmed; she feels energized. She breaks tasks down into doable parts and schedules them. “Jeanne gave me permission to do parts of a chore at a time. That made everything less taxing emotionally.”


Smith’s full list of triage questions are posted in clear view. “Before, I’d keep everything, thinking that one day I would use it,” Mogg says. “But then I had so much stuff I couldn’t find what I needed.” Now what she does keep has a permanent home, which helps the family cut down on search time.


Perhaps the most important, Mogg now values what she does every day for her family. She’s also discovered the power of saying no without guilt. After her brother’s dog chewed through a sofa cushion, she announced that she could no longer puppy-sit. “I was afraid my brother would be angry, but he understood,” Mogg says. “What I’ve realized is that if I’m happier, everyone’s happier.”puzzle piece