Skip to main content

From the Archives: Pakistani Writer Bapsi Sidhwa.

Pakistani writer Bapsi Sidhwa (Bop-see SEED-wah). Her novel Cracking India," which tells the story of the Partition of India through the eyes of an eight-year-old girl is the basis of the new film "Earth." The director is Deepa Mehta. (REBROADCAST from 10/29/91)


Other segments from the episode on September 10, 1999

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, September 10, 1999: Interview with Julie Morgenstern; Interview with Bapsi Sidhwa; Review of the film "Stir of Echoes."


Date: SEPTEMBER 10, 1999
Time: 12:00
Tran: 091001np.217
Head: Interview With Organizing Expert Julie Morgenstern
Sect: News; Domestic
Time: 12:06

TERRY GROSS, HOST: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

Many of us are facing the new season up to our ears in clutter and mess left over from last season.

Take me for instance: There's piles of paper on my desk, bulging file drawers filled with material I probably don't need, books on the floor blocking my path to my desk while CDs are falling off their shelves.

Julie Morgenstern, is reassuring. She says those of us who don't know how to organize don't lack an innate ability, we just never learned how; that's where she comes in.

Since 1989, she's run a business called Task Masters which helps people organize their homes and offices -- and stay organized.

She is also the author of the bestseller: "Organizing from the Inside Out."

On this archive edition, we have an interview recorded last December. I asked her about some of the typical mistakes we make when we try to get organized.

JULIE MORGENSTERN, ORGANIZING EXPERT; AUTHOR, "ORGANIZING FROM THE INSIDE OUT": Getting organized is a very overwhelming chore. People don't know where to start and they don't know how to manage their way through it. So, often they sort of hack away at it haphazardly and frenetically and make no progress, and that's very discouraging.

For example, a lot of times the first thing people do when they want to get organized is they go out shopping for containers. They think that the right basket or bin or planner or divider or sorter is going to solve the problem.

And you can invest lots of money -- I mean hundreds to thousands of dollars in furniture that stores, and getting closets rebuilt, and if they haven't stepped back first and really analyzed, and what I call strategize their solution, they usually spend that money for naught, and, you know, within weeks the place is a mess again.

GROSS: So, you need a system before you do anything else?

MORGENSTERN: You need a system -- you need to analyze it. You need to really figure out what you've got, what's important to you, where you're trying to get to, and what's the purpose of the system that you're designing.

You can't skip over the purpose of it. It's not just to be neat, and it's not just to be quicker about things; it's what do you specifically want to accomplish; what are the tasks you're trying to accomplish, what are your goals in your job, what are your goals in your life. And if you define those first, you can then design a system to support that.

GROSS: I completely agree with you, but this is where I start to stumble in figuring out a system. It's hard to figure out a good system that's going to organize everything, and that you'll actually be able to follow through on.

MORGENSTERN: Yeah, well, you need to ask yourself some critical questions first, and I think people don't necessarily know what questions to ask, or they're impatient and want instant results.

But if you do step back and go through this process that I talk about in the book, the first step is to analyze. And I basically give you five questions that you should ask yourself that are critical for any organizing project. I would never work with a client without doing this.

GROSS: Well, let's go through the questions.

MORGENSTERN: OK, sure. First question is, looking in your space right now, ask yourself, what's working? Because usually there are, no matter how chaotic it is, a few systems underneath the pile and the rubbles that are working for you.

And if you can identify them. Number one, you can preserve them so you're not unnecessarily disoriented, which often happens when you get organized if you overhaul everything and then you start losing things again and it becomes a problem.

So, that helps. And also, you can study why it works for you. And that will give you a lot of insight into what kind of system you need to design for yourself. Is it the color of the container? Is it the location of it? Is it the size? You know, what is it about that system that works, and build upon that. So, it's the very first question that you ask.

The second question that you ask is, what's not working? How you know it's not working? The really long list is what's not working, and you need to make a thorough list of everything that's not working. And sometimes I recommend people just keep a log -- a notepad by their desk or in their living room or whatever the problem space is for a week.

And every time they can't find something, don't know where to put something, stumble over something; whenever there's a problem, write it down. And that becomes a master list of everything you need to fix in order to fully solve the problem.

GROSS: Let's quickly get through the other questions.

MORGENSTERN: OK, what's working, what's not working, what's most essential to you? And that's a very important question because that's what are your priorities. What is it that you really have to accomplish in your job? What is it that you want out of your living room? What are the most essential items?

We use approximately 20 percent of what we own. We refer to about 20 percent of the things we have in our filing systems. So, sit down and really try to think about what those essentials are before you dig through the piles and it will help the sorting and purging process go much faster later.

Next question is, why do you want to get organized? It's very important to write your answers down now while you're at the height of your motivation so that later when you're going through the laborious job of making decisions you have a sort of motivation coaching tool to keep you going so you don't forget why you started this process when you get discouraged.

And the last question is what's holding you back? And I get into a lot of detail in the book about that because clutter and piles and messes can have many different causes, and it's critical that you pinpoint what's causing clutter.

Why are you accumulating all this stuff? Why is it that you can't create a system? Is it just sort of a mechanical, "I don't know how to set it up?" Is there some psychological resistance -- and there's quite a bit of that that we have.

A lot of psychological stakes in keeping the chaos even though we prefer to be organized. We sometimes have just external realities working against us, and you need to identify them in order to get beyond them.

GROSS: My guest is Julie Morgenstern, she's an expert in organizing and, that's what she does in her business is organize other peoples offices and homes. She has a new book called "Organizing from the Inside Out."

You suggest when you're starting to organize and to create a new system the first thing you have to do is sort through your stuff, you know, after you asked yourself all the questions and decided. So, you're sorting through your stuff and then you're throwing out the stuff that you don't need.


GROSS: OK, again, I agree with this in principle. Throwing out the stuff is really hard. Now, you suggest you use 20 percent of your stuff and the other 80 percent of you stuff you usually don't use.


GROSS: But there's that voice in your head saying, "but tomorrow, I might need it. Tomorrow this file might save the day. Tomorrow this shirt that I haven't worn in seven years might be just the thing. Tomorrow this insignificant object might have huge sentimental value to me so, I better keep it."

This is what I always go through I mean, how heartless are you in throwing things out?

MORGENSTERN: I'm not heartless at all. I probably take the opposite approach when I work with clients and actually encourage people if they're not ready to throw things out that is the one expendable step in the organizing process.

You can get organized without throwing a thing out. The key to organizing is to identify what's important and make it accessible to you. There's no point in saving all this stuff that might be valuable, and then you can't find it when you need it or you don't even remember that you have it when you need it, which is the common problem.

So, if you're really hesitant to get rid of anything and it all is really important to you, then just organize it, sort it, and give everything a home so that you can find it when you need it.

GROSS: But there are something things you should obviously throw out, right? In every chapter you have a list of no-brainers, things you should definitely just throw out. Run through some of the no-brainers for us.

MORGENSTERN: Well, no-brainers in an office would be, you know, multiple drafts or past drafts of a document that, you know, you kept changing. Get rid of all the old drafts. You already rejected the material in them, you don't need to save them in case you to go back and want to rewrite the article or rewrite the letter and tap into those ideas.

A lot of times we save incredible amounts of, like, literature and brochures; things that we're considering buying or services that we may use. And I say throw out all of the literature and just keep the source in a Rolodex; you can have a list of the potential sources you may use, and if you're ready to buy, then you just call them up and have them send you another brochure. I mean, why should you be their library?

A lot of times we buy things in some moment of madness, and a different personality comes out of us, and then we take it home and we never really like it -- we never use it. I don't think you should hold onto things because you spend money on them. I think you should really hold onto things that really have value to you.

Things that you either use or love is what you should keep. The things that you used to use or might use someday should go, for the most part, unless they have true sentimental value; true monetary value; not sort of, you know, vague -- you do have to be fairly brutal.

I often tell people to think of all that stuff that I might need some day. I used to use it. It was really valuable. Gee, I spent so much money on it. I know I haven't used it yet, but I should. All those things are basically a barrier between you and the things that you really need to use and get to.

GROSS: If you're just joining us my guest is Julie Morgenstern, and she's a professional organizer. She organizes people's homes and offices, she has a new book called "Organizing from the Inside Out." Julie, let's take a short break here and then we'll talk some more.

This is FRESH AIR.


GROSS: My guest is Julie Morgenstern, and she's written a new book about organizing homes and offices called "Organizing from the Inside Out."

One of your general principles in organizing is don't zigzag. Explain what you mean by that.

MORGENSTERN: Well, when you're going to organize any space, a lot of times people just sort of try to take the whole thing in at once, and they start in one corner or one room and they start sorting through their stuff and find something that belongs elsewhere.

Say you're on your desktop and you find a book that belongs on the bookshelf. Well, you go to take the book to the bookshelf, you look at the bookshelf and say: oh, my gosh, this is horrible. There is no place to put the book. I'm going to start organizing the books.

So, you start pulling the bookshelf apart, and say you find a file and you go to put in the file drawer. You open the file drawer, you scream. You say, I've got to organize these files. You start that, and you start zigzagging all over your space, starting and stopping on a million projects, and after three or four hours of that you turn around, you see no progress, you actually see a worse mess than when you started, and there's no reward for your efforts. And it is incredibly discouraging.

So, instead of working that way -- and this is a technique -- I will tell you, I developed this almost as a survival tool as a businessperson. When I started my business, people were paying me to organize them, and they don't see progress after four hours working for me, they're not going to have me back, right?

So, I developed this technique called "visible dramatic results." You start in one section and you complete it before moving onto the next, and then you go to the next section, you complete it before going on to the next. If you find anything that belongs elsewhere put it in a "belongs elsewhere" box or crate.

And then at the end of your organizing session, you can take that little box and deliver to -- you know, all these items to their various homes. And when you come back to your space, you'll see visible dramatic results for your efforts.

You'll see two sections of the room completely sorted and cleared out, and it will encourage you to continue the project because you've got to see those results in order to be motivated to continue.

GROSS: OK, now, you've got an order -- first you sort through things and put like things in like piles?


GROSS: Then you throw out what you don't need?


GROSS: Then you assign everything a home?


GROSS: And then you put things in containers or shelves?


GROSS: And then what?

MORGENSTERN: And then you do what I call "equalize." And that's adjusting your system and maintaining your system so that it stays current with your priorities so that you're constantly preventing it from getting it away from you.

And equalizing or maintaining is something that takes certain daily rituals. You've got to, on a daily basis, spend 10 minutes at the end of every day for example putting everything away from your desk, so that when you come into work in the morning, you can hit the ground running.

And in your home, make a commitment that before you go to bed or before you leave a room you put everything back where it belongs. And it should only take between three and five minutes in any organized space to clean up, no matter how messy it gets.

And then once or twice a year you want to sort of refresh or tune up your system. You know possessions grow like weeds, and you have to go through again and get rid of all the excess to stay on top of it.

GROSS: OK, let's tackle an office. Let's say that one of things that one of the things your office is overwhelmed by is papers; memos, letters, miscellaneous things.

Some of these you need to file, some of these you can throw out. One of things that trips you up right from the start is how do you know what it is, or if you need to keep it, or if it's important unless you've read it. And then you can get into this, like, marathon reading session that would never end. What's your advice?

MORGENSTERN: Well, my advice is that the first goal is actually to design a filing system. Most offices that are stacked up with papers just don't have a user friendly, easy filing system. So, your goal is actually to overhaul your filing system and create a system that makes getting information -- retrieving information very easy.

Remember, a filing system is about retrieval, not storage, which is the opposite of the way most people think. I've got to store all this stuff, where do I put it to get it off my desk?

Actually you want to think of filing as putting things away so that you can retrieve them when you need them quickly. You can always purge the contents of a file folder later; the most important thing is to figure out what categories of files you have.

GROSS: I want to stop you right there. How do you recommend figuring out good categories for files?

MORGENSTERN: Well, one -- first of all, you need to really go through your stuff. See what you've got; just sort it and see what emerges for you. I mean, that really is what happens, primarily, when I'm working with a client is we're going through the stacks -- this is a vendor file, this is a client file, this is a personnel file, this is an administrative file, and you just create these folders as quickly as you possibly can.

And, again, if you ask yourself that question in the beginning that's going to guide you. What's most essential? What's your goal? What's your job about? What are you doing in this job?

You know, do you have to serve clients? You have to work with staff? Do you have to develop your own knowledge? What are the key activities of your job?

The key activities of your job will guide what the key categories of your files are. That's probably the best answer that I can give.

GROSS: Do you have a favorite type of filing system, I mean, the hardware? You know, what kind of file folders, file drawers?

MORGENSTERN: Yeah, I do actually. I highly recommend colored file folders. You know you have to have a system like three to five colors to your filing system based on the broad categories instead of a straight A to Z system. For example, you could have financial files are in green; and personnel files are in lavender; administrative files in blue; and marketing files in yellow -- something bright.

And I use reinforced tab file folders which are little sturdier, a little more substantial than just the plain file folders, and they hold up much longer, and they're very sort of -- they bring dignity to your system.

And I think that that's a very important subtlety, you know. If you've got all your files in these plain manila file folders with chicken scratch writing on them, and they're all dog eared, and they're slipping down in the drawer-- filing is boring anyway, you know. You need to spice it up. You need to give it some dignity.

This is the information that you've decided, Terry, that is so important to you; house it with some dignity and some style and some pizzazz, because it will encourage you to put things away.

So, I do recommend colors. I do recommend, you know, typeset labels or label maker labels, and I also recommend doing something that I call "straight line filing."

And that is -- we're used to zigzag filing. You know how file folders come with different tab positions, and we sort of painstakingly set up a system with left tab, right tab, center tab. Left tab, right tab, center tab. Left, center, right; left, center, right.

We spend hours setting up a system, and after a week we get rid of a folder, we add another one, and we start to lose our pattern. There are holes in it, you know, you lose the pattern -- it goes left, it skips the center, goes to right and you start to lose trust in your system.

So, I recommend straight line filing. Have all your files center tab, for example, or all set up left tab -- one lines up behind the next, behind the next, behind the next.

And it enables you to add or delete files without ruining a pattern. It really boosts your trust. It's very peaceful on the eye, it looks organized, and it's much easier to work with -- less intimidating. And that's a very important aspect to create -- designing a user-friendly filing system. It can't be intimidating, it has to be inviting and easy.

GROSS: I'll tell you what I think one of my big problems is in my office and in my home when it comes to filing papers; you get something, you're not really sure what you want to do with it, so you just put it in a pile to be worried about later.

And suddenly you have piles and piles of papers to be worried about later. And then you have to take, like, an entire day just to get through those piles.

MORGENSTERN: Right. If papers are stacked on your desktop, it's usually because either there's no home for them -- like you said, something comes in and it doesn't really have a category yet. You're not sure what you're going to do with it, you don't know where it belongs, it doesn't have a home so it just sits on your desktop; or you leave it out because it's something that you want to do.

GROSS: Right. It needs to be taken care of.

MORGENSTERN: Right. And those piles, as you said, just pile up and pile up and pile up; and we just ignore everything under the top layer of those piles after a short time. It's like -- it sort of becomes visual muzak, you know, it just blends in and you zone it out, you don't even notice those reminders.

I recommend that if you can get, as I said, more files within arm's-length of your desk chair so you don't have to get out of your chair to file. File every piece of paper no matter what its stage of completion, and keep a to do list either in your daily planner or even on just a notepad on your desk telling you what it is that you have to do.

And just put a little, you know, "F" with a circle next to it that says there's a file for this. And when you're ready to deal with that task you go to the file and you pull out the paper.

So, if you're in the middle of something you can file it and just write: got to finish proposal, got to finish letter, consider such and such, you know, bid. And file it no matter, as I said, what its stage of completion.

GROSS: Let's get through sorting through the mail. Maybe we'll go home for this one. The junk mail, that's easy, you throw it out. The catalogs, maybe you're saving, but you had a suggestion for what to do with that.

You're getting bills, right? You get lots of bills, and you don't have time to pay them now, but you need to remember to pay them before they're due. So, how do you suggest dealing with bills and other mail that has to be dealt with at home?

MORGENSTERN: Well, for bills, a really simple system is to just have two file folders; one that's bills to pay the 1st through the 15th and bills to pay 16th through the 31st. And you just have two days a month that you pay bills. One to take care of the ones in the first folder, and another day to take care of ones in the second folder. And as a bill comes in you just look at the due date and throw it into the appropriate file folder. And then twice a month you sit down to pay the bills. You just open up the folder, you pay all the bills and you're done.

Keep some sort of sorted and organized and right there. There are things where you have to take action on -- I have in my own home for my household papers near the door -- which by the way is a really common issue.

People have an office somewhere in an upstairs back guest room where they want to do all of their mail and they intend to do their mail, but it really ends up on the kitchen table or the dining room table.

And this is a key to organizing from the inside out. You need to store things where you use them. If you don't, you end up with piles. So, if you do your bills in the kitchen or the dining room, create storage for them right there. Don't try to retrain yourself to go upstairs to the back office, you're never going to do it -- you just won't. You've got to work with your natural habits.

If it's in the kitchen, get a couple of portable file boxes, clear out one cabinet that has all those appliances you never use -- empty that out, put in a couple of file boxes; and, you know, empty out your junk drawer and put in pens and pencils, and envelopes, and stationery, and stamps and create a little bill paying or home information center right where you do it - in the kitchen.

GROSS: Julie Morgenstern is the author of "Organizing from the Inside Out," her company Task Masters is based in New York. She'll be back in the second half of the show.

I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.


GROSS: This is FRESH AIR, I'm Terry Gross.

Back with Julie Morgenstern, who is a professional organizer. Her company, Task Master, helps people organize their offices and homes and get rid of the clutter. She's also written a new book called "Organizing from the Inside Out."

Some people -- well, I guess, "pack rats" is the common word that is used. Some people are just psychologically -- seem inclined to hold onto things, and to other people it doesn't matter, they could just throw things out. Do you get a lot into the psychology of your clients whose homes and offices you're organizing -- why some people need to hold onto things and others don't?

MORGENSTERN: I do, and what's interesting is I don't play psychologist. I don't go in and analyze them, but I do quietly sort of assess what I think is going on, and then I will adjust the way I work with them to accommodate that.

For example, I think some people really have a need for abundance. They have a lot of stuff because they need to have a lot of stuff around them. It gives them a certain feeling of wealth, or richness, or comfort, or security; because maybe they grew up poor, maybe they grew up deprived in some other way whether it was material things or they didn't have enough of something growing up.

So, they've filled their lives with lots of stuff. And if somebody is like that -- if I notice a client is like that, I will not push them to get rid of anything. I will just work with them to almost celebrate the abundance by displaying it, sorting and organizing it.

People who are like this often have all kinds of containers that they keep trying to get things sorted into, and -- I mean, I did this with a client who had an incredible amount of arts and crafts supplies -- could have opened a nursery school. And she had two kids, and she didn't need that much but I could tell that this was really important to her.

So we just cleared out a whole closet, and we kept it all; and we sorted it, and labeled it, and it was one bin for pom poms, and another one for sequins, and another one for yarn, and huge amounts of everything.

And we celebrated it, and she loved that. You know, she would go into that closet and just feel good every time she would look in there and see all her stuff so well organized. And eventually, she started to pare it down because she saw once it was grouped that she didn't need that much of each thing.

So, that's a way that you would tune in. Other times -- I mean, sometimes clutter actually serves as a cushion between a person and the outside world. When it gets so bad that you cannot have people over in your house -- you haven't had anybody visit you for years because it's so cluttered or your office -- people can't come in.

The clutter is sometimes just used as an excuse to keep people out for whatever reasons -- for whatever psychological reasons. And if somebody has sort of been retreating behind the chaos for years I will work with them very slowly, and we will just do one space at a time and let them live with it for months before we move on to the next, and the next, and the next.

So that maybe over the course of a year they can start to deal with a more open environment, and as far as I'm concerned, they can stay retreated. But if you're going to be retreated, you might as well be in a nice space. You know, just keep your door bolted and don't let anybody in, but be in a nicer environment. You don't need to use the clutter as the excuse, do you know what I mean?

GROSS: Yeah, yeah.

MORGENSTERN: So -- but you need to take that process more slowly. Other times it's just a distraction, you know, people just keep it. They don't want to deal with more difficult issues, more difficult projects. So they always have a pile to sort through, a closet to clean, a room to organize, and it fills their mind on a daily basis with: gosh, I've got to get organized, gosh I've got to get organized.

And its distracting them from dealing with whatever they're really not ready to -- career issues, or marriage issues or whatever -- personal issues.

So, again, it's important to sort of identify what stake you may have in the clutter so that you can deal with it a little more directly and not use disorganization as your excuse.

GROSS: I want to spend a couple of minutes on the bathroom. I think you have some very good advice on bathrooms -- one of your more unusual suggestions, I thought, was to take all of your medicines and move them from the medicine cabinet into the linen closet. Why do you suggest that?

MORGENSTERN: Because that medicine cabinet is such perfect storage -- right where the sink is, where the mirror is, the things that you use daily should be stored there -- your cosmetics, your skin care, your shaving kit. You know, the things that you use on a daily basis. We don't use our medicines on a daily basis.

I mean, if you do, then keep them there -- you want them convenient. But most people have so many things in the medicine chest that are there in case they get sick. I will tell you that I've actually heard from a pharmacist who read the book and e-mailed me and said, you know, there's actually a medical reason to do that as well -- chemical reason.

The humidity in the bathroom can destroy the potency of medications as well, so she was really happy that I said that, though I didn't know that was another reason to do it.

So, you use your medicine chest, which is the most convenient storage area in your bathroom, for your daily grooming supplies, and move the medicines out into the linen chest or linen closet.

GROSS: What do you have actually stored on top of the sink?

MORGENSTERN: Personally?

GROSS: Yeah.

MORGENSTERN: I have nothing on top of my sink -- my toothbrushes are out. Well, I don't need it because I have all my cosmetics, and all my skin care, and all of that stuff inside a medicine chest right there -- I just open up the mirror door and there it is. There's no reason to keep it out on the sink top.

And then under the sink you can really make better use of that space with a couple of, sort of, stacking drawers or stacking pullout baskets, and you can really maximize that space which often is just a wasteland of junk.

GROSS: You have a lot of clients who've asked you to help organize their homes. Do you work with a lot of couples where one party is really neat and organized and the other isn't? Is that a source of friction within the marriage or the partnership?

MORGENSTERN: Absolutely. Absolutely. I have been called in to save many a marriage -- many a marriage.

GROSS: How do you do it?

MORGENSTERN: Well, the thing is I will only work with the disorganized partner if the disorganized partner wants to get organized and wants to change. That neat and organized person can't call me in and say, look, while my husband or wife is out at work, could you please do something here? Because they won't maintain it -- you have to want to do this yourself.

So, you know, you just sort of -- you have to design a system that works for that person, and sometimes you just sort of have to define safe zones or communal zones versus private zones. I mean, you can sort of sometimes negotiate that communal space -- the living room, the kitchen, the dining room -- you know, you design a system so that couple both understands the system.

But then the really messy person gets to have one room in the house, or one closet in the house, or one drawer, one set of cabinets that they can just throw all their junk into, that they can keep however they want as long as the door is closed. So, you need to negotiate it, but the key is what I call the uncooperative partner syndrome.

You know, one person is organized, the other person's not; that one who is not has to buy into getting organized or it's not going to work. There's nothing you can do -- nothing you can do. It is really difficult -- really, really difficult.

I got called in by a man whose wife was chronically, deeply disorganized. There was not, like, a visible surface in the entire apartment -- the kitchen table - nothing. They couldn't cook for years because there was so much junk everywhere in the kitchen, and the sofa was piled high with her clothes -- her current clothes, because the closets were filled with clothes that she used to wear when she was a different size, and she wasn't willing to get rid of them.

Which a lot of people suffer from that, you know, the smaller clothes stay in the closet because you feel you're going -- if you get rid of them then you're giving up on your weight loss efforts or something.

So, the house was really really dysfunctional and they had a teenage daughter, and she couldn't invite friends over, and he called me in and said, can you organize the house so that my daughter can have friends over?

And I said, I'd be happy to work with your wife if it's her stuff. And she was unwilling to work on it, and so I had to say no, because you can't force it. It would be a waste of everybody's time and money and efforts.

GROSS: I remember when I was a grade school that all the teachers -- who were, by the way, very neat. Used to say, a disorganized desk is a sign of a disorganized mind. Having seen your share of disorganized desks, do you think that that's true?

MORGENSTERN: No, I don't think that's true at all. I really don't. Some people are very visual people who are very organized, but very messy. If you know what's in all of those piles, and you can get your hands on any piece of paper when you need it, your organized. It may be messy, but you're organized.

And you need to stay strong on that, you know, don't let the powers that be come down and say, gee, you got to clean this mess up. I've refused jobs at corporations where they said, you got to clean up the mess because it's embarrassing to clients -- the art department is so messy.

But the people are doing their job, and they're highly productive, and they know where everything is in every pile, and I say, look, don't spend your money on me, invest in some beautiful screens and hide those people. And let them do their work in their chaotic style of organization.

You really have to define organization from a functional point of view -- are you functional? Can you find what you need when you need it, not how does it look? You cannot tell by looking at any space whether it is organized or not, ever -- ever.

Ten years in this business, and I can't tell when I walk into a space whether it's organized or not. I've had clients call me in: oh, I'm so disorganized, I can't find anything, it's such a mess. And I walk in to a beautifully appointed home or office. No clutter, clear surfaces, everything is gorgeous.

And I'm thinking, what am I going to do? How am I going to earn my fee here, you know? There's nothing I can say. And then we open up the drawers, and we open of the cabinets -- whoa, there is no system. Things never back in the same place. It's just a style where on the surface it looks organized, but underneath it's not. So, you can't tell by looking at a space whether it's organized or not.

GROSS: Julie, thank you very much for talking with us.

MORGENSTERN: My pleasure. Thank you, Terry.

GROSS: Julie Morgenstern is the author of "Organizing from the Inside Out" and the founder of the professional organizing firm: Task Masters. Our interview was recorded last December.

I'm Terry Gross and this is FRESH AIR.

This is a rush transcript. This copy may not
be in its final form and may be updated.

Dateline: Terry Gross, Washington, D.C.
Guest: Julie Morgenstern
High: Organizing expert JULIE MORGENSTERN. She is the founder of Task Masters, a New York based consulting company that tries to improve people's efficiency through better organizing skills. Her new book is "Organizing from the Inside Out" (Owl books)
Spec: Books; Organization; Morgenstern

Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright 1999 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 1999 FDCH, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to WHYY, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission.
End-Story: Interview With Organizing Expert Julie Morgenstern
Date: SEPTEMBER 12, 1999
Time: 12:00
Tran: 091002NP.217
Head: "Stir of Echos"
Sect: Entertainment
Time: 12:55

TERRY GROSS, HOST: The hit movie "The Sixth Sense" has some supernatural competition this week with the opening of the movie "Stir of Echoes," starring Kevin Bacon. Our film critic, John Powers, tells us if it measures up.

JOHN POWERS, FILM CRITIC: Apparently, it's not only human beings who are agitated by the upcoming millennium. The unliving are acting up too.

Go to the movies, and spooks seem positively inescapable. They're busy in "The Haunting," "The Blair Witch Project," "The Sixth Sense," and now "Stir of Echoes," a new ghost story that's better than its pretentious title might suggest.

It's based on a novel by Richard Matheson (ph), who seems to be a specialist in raising the dead. He also wrote "What Dreams May Come."

Here, Kevin Bacon stars as Tom Witzke (ph), a blue-collar guy from Chicago with a loving wife, Maggie, played by Catherine Erby (ph), and a son, Jake, who talks to an invisible little girl.

At a party one night, the skeptical Tom lets himself be hypnotized by his ditzy sister-in-law, Lisa. That's Ileana Douglas (ph). When he gets home, he discovers that his doors of perception have been thrown wide open.

He now sees the ghost that his son has been talking to, entering a world in which he can no longer tell his everyday reality from nightmarish dreams.

Initially freaked, he becomes obsessed by his visions, a change which sends his wife running to her sister, Lisa, for advice.


CATHERINE ERBY, ACTRESS: This is the first time he's been out of the house in a week. He hasn't gone to work, he sleeps, like, 12 hours a night. He's used up all his sick days. If he doesn't show up on Monday, they're going to start to dock him. And I can't get -- I can't get him more than six feet from the couch.


ERBY: That's where she appeared to him.

DOUGLAS: Oh. I'm not shocked that there's another woman. Course, the fact that she's dead gives one pause.

We are talking about a ghost here, aren't we, Maggie?


POWERS: "Stir of Echoes" was adapted for the screen by David Kepp (ph), best known for writing the script to "Jurassic Park." Kepp's own directorial debut, "The Trigger Effect," was a dire little number that showed almost no talent as a filmmaker.

He's made an enormous steep forward here, and for its opening hour, the movie is genuinely chilling, with an eerie hypnotism scene, unnerving time leaps a la "Don't Look Now," and sequences that so thoroughly blur the line between dream and reality that we're tense with disorientation.

As in "The Sixth Sense," Kepp anchors his story in a precisely observed physical reality, first creating an absolutely convincing blue-collar neighborhood, then persuading us that it's haunted by mysterious forces.

We could live in a place like this, we'd think, just as we can imagine being an ordinary guy like Tom. It's the veneer of normalcy that makes the movie scary.

What makes it disappointing is that the second hour does what horror movies shouldn't do. It fritters away its power by explaining too much. Even worse, the explanation is the usual song and dance about unrighted wrongs that runs through everything from "Poltergeist" and "Candy Man" to "Nightmare on Elm Street."

By the end, when the plot is finally resolved, with a real gun, "Stir of Echoes" seems closer to a crime picture than a horror film. It's a sad mistake. For what we want from a story of the supernatural is a sense of the uncanny, the feeling that we're tapping into something inexplicable.

One reason for "Blair Witch"'s huge success is its deliberate blankness, its refusal to explain or even show anything. And while "The Sixth Sense" does provide a kind of explanation at the end, in the form of its famous final twist, this twist isn't only brilliantly unexpected, but it gives us the neck-prickly feeling that nothing in the world is exactly as it seems.

A plot twist this neat inspires a kind of awed reverence. It seems to open up the world rather than close it down. Which is why so many people haven't ruined the movie for their friends by giving it away.

One of the best things about these current horror movies is that they're so pleasingly low-tech. Only "The Haunting" was laden with special effects, and it was a flop, a cheesy, overpriced carnival ride that didn't scare or excite anyone.

In contrast, neither "Blair Witch" or "Sixth Sense" use any effects at all. Instead, they treat their story with an earthbound gravity that only makes the unearthly stuff stronger.

The same is largely true of "Stir of Echoes," which has a few effects, but in its best moments does something exhilarating. It makes us feel that the world is a far richer and riskier place than we thought, that the world is inhabited by more souls than we ever dreamed.

GROSS: John Powers is film critic for "Vogue."

I'm Terry Gross.

This is a rush transcript. This copy may not
be in its final form and may be updated.

Dateline: Terry Gros, Washington, D.C.
Guest: John Powers
High: Film critic JOHN POWERS reviews "Stir of Echoes" the new film starring Kevin Bacon.
Spec: Movie Industry; Entertainment; Recreation

Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright 1999 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 1999 FDCH, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to WHYY, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission.
End-Story: "Stir of Echos"
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

You May Also like

Did you know you can create a shareable playlist?


Recently on Fresh Air Available to Play on NPR


Did the Trump camp help far-right militia groups plan the Jan. 6 attack?

New York Times journalist Alan Feuer says some members of Trump's inner circle have close ties to the Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers, whose leaders have been charged with seditious conspiracy.


Real life or satire? Novelist Mat Johnson says it can be hard to tell the difference

Novelist Mat Johnson believes that America has its own unique "flavor" of apocalypse. "It's hard not seeing the possible end of things in a variety of different ways," he says. Johnson's new satirical novel, Invisible Things, serves up one of those apocalyptic flavors.


A novelist's time in the MMA cage informed his book on memory loss and identity

"Really, the heart of the story is about misplaced loyalty and what we can do with memory and how fluid and malleable memory can be when we ... use it to fit the narrative that we've created in our mind," says novelist John Vercher.

There are more than 22,000 Fresh Air segments.

Let us help you find exactly what you want to hear.
Just play me something
Your Queue

Would you like to make a playlist based on your queue?

Generate & Share View/Edit Your Queue