By Frank Ready
It’s not the scaly, horn-ridden monstrosity that you were positive was waiting to gobble you up just as soon as the lights went out. Not the furry, sharp-toothed beast you made sure your parents performed a thorough search for each night before tucking you under the covers.
This is something much, much worse…
Still, without hesitating, Cabral plunges her hand into the space between a bedpost and bubblegum colored wall that could only belong to a teenager. Without missing a beat, she holds up the latest in a long line of rediscovered trinkets, placing it in plain view of the video camera that has been roving through this morning’s excavation, collecting footage for her show Organization Motivation, on WKTV in Utica.
“Oh, I love this stuff!” Cabral said to the camera.
For all intents and purposes, the jar of Nutella that she’s holding appears to be in good condition, a perfectly preserved memento of a midnight snack gone-wrong. Her client lets out a bemused groan of disgust, while the room’s teenage occupant stammers into a list of excuses involving a “visiting friend.”
It’s a scenario that will continue to replay itself throughout the annals of human history for as long as children continue to have both beds and mothers. Cabral just laughs it off with the practiced casualness of a woman who has built an empire slaying other people’s demons.
“You just have take it in bite-sized pieces. With any problem that you face in your life, whether it’s clutter, whatever it may be, bite-sized pieces. It’s manageable. And if you have someone there to be that coach, and affirm and give you support and guidance and motivate you, you can do anything,” Cabral said.
The self-styled DeClutter Coach has been helping people to put their homes, finances and businesses in order since March 2010, not long after a car accident cut short a promising career working within the corporate ranks. In the span of two- or three-hour sessions, the professional organizer burns bad habits and builds new strategies to streamline the lives of her clients, cleaning out a space for her own niche in a world where organizing a computer is easier than organizing a room, where digital trash cans see more use than their rubbery three-dimensional counterparts.
Your average goblin probably wouldn’t even be able to fit under most beds in the typical household, a space that by night may house some of the most gruesome creatures this side of a Universal Studios back lot, but by day becomes the poor man’s equivalent of a storage unit, containing everything from last year’s fashions to last night’s empty pudding cup. It’s a cacophony of clutter, a childhood nightmare that some never truly outgrow — at least not without a little bit of coaching.
Like the unsuspecting cast of a horror film, Cabral’s clients are people going about their daily lives— busy lives filled with meetings, little league games and dentist appointments — oblivious to the malevolent presence growing within their homes. It isn’t until a looming event like a wedding, an impending school season or visit from mom and dad that the screaming and begging for mercy starts. Cabral acts as an organizational ghostbuster, helping families to take back control of their homes.
In layman’s terms, a place for everything and everything in it’s place.
What started as a homegrown endeavor has turned into a multi-media enterprise, an organizational crusade that has given rise to a local television show, a magazine column and a book “Declutter Your Life Now,” to be released this month.
“I go into a home and see clutter and the people are depressed. I see a challenge,” Cabral said, who back in the teenager’s room wades through the clutter booby trapping the floor with a graceful ease.
She’s organizing the closet now, consulting with her young pupil about which pieces of clothing are worth saving, drawing a harsh line between items that will be hung on a new slim-line hanger and those that will be stuffed into a big, white garbage bag for Goodwill. A Justin Bieber T-shirt causes a moment’s hesitation, but ultimately makes the cut.
The rest of the process proceeds quickly and efficiently, with Cabral moving with the speed and skill of a woman who has seen more than her fair share of action on the laundry line of duty. As a child, she would shop with her mother on Long Island and almost compulsively begin to refold wrinkled shirts or rearrange hangers on a disorderly display.
“The efficiency thing, it’s genetic with me. I come from organized stock. My parents are very, very organized,” Cabral said.
She grew up as the oldest child in a household that was the mortal enemy of the dirty dish. Schedules were kept determining who was to be where and when, and chores like laundry and cooking dinner were evenly divided. It was the type of atmosphere in which productivity thrives, and Cabral has been working with the same frantic efficiency ever since she left it behind.
Her senior year of college she held down a full-time job while still completing classes, transitioning quickly into a career first as a claims handler at an insurance company, then in litigation, and then as a part of a special project team assembled to help her company go paperless. The team created a system from scratch designed to take day-to-day workings from paper to automation in the most efficient manner possible, with Cabral supervising and implementing training.
“A lot of it also entailed productivity analysis, workflow enhancements, in other words people were doing six things and how could we make those six things go to two or three … So that’s how my brain works,” Cabral said.
She was one of the lucky few, the people who manage to find a job that meshes perfectly with their personality and sense of identity. Deb Cabral, the same woman who willingly organized the kitchens of friends and family for fun, was building a solid career as the ultimate corporate organizer and wasn’t showing any signs of slowing down.
Actually the only thing that can slow her down was sitting against a bright purple wall in Camillus.
The massive dresser was the target of the next wave of decluttering. It was a nice piece of furniture, solidly constructed with a smooth wood finish and a mirror to help catch those pesky fly-aways. The unit’s several drawers were accentuated by a flourish of T-shirts and undergarments protruding haphazardly from random corners. Had the clothes been arranged with any sense of purpose in mind it would almost be artsy.
Cabral and her teenage student made quick work of every drawer, separating the contents of each into separate categories — socks, sweaters, shorts — which will then be carefully rearranged before being placed back in the dresser. The jewelry on top was untangled, divided according to frequency of use and placed back into separate containers. After a quick dusting, it was almost time to move on … There was just one missing piece.
The DeClutter Coach wants to place a lamp on top of the dresser, but the mammoth piece of furniture is pressed too tightly against the wall, obscuring the requisite power socket. After examining the situation, she turns to her cameraman, who up until now has continued to follow her step by step.
“Would you mind moving this? It’s too heavy for my back,” Cabral said.
Years ago, Cabral was out of town on a business trip when her car was T-boned by a young driver. The result: seven surgeries in her back, neck and wrist left her with constant pain and an artificial disc that sets off the alarm every time she enters Kohl’s. Despite warnings from her doctors to allow herself 12 weeks of recovery, Cabral, missing the daily grind, returned to work after only six.
The resulting surgery was the final nail in her corporate career. For the first time since she was 16, Cabral was unemployed. As a lady of leisure, she was free of the stresses and physical demands that had taken their toll on her injury and could simply sit back, relax and focus on getting better.
It didn’t suit her.
“When you’re in pain all of the time and your career, something you loved and kind of identified yourself with is stripped away from you, it was very difficult. I had to recreate something that I could be passionate and excited about,” Cabral said.
Her doctor, who she adores, told her that while she would never be able to work full-time again, she had to find something besides physical therapy that got her out of the house. Cabral’s friend had told her about professional organizers, a job that up until then she had been performing exclusively in exchange for spa gift certificates and favors from friends. Still, it seemed like the perfect fit.
She characteristically launched herself face first into the new venture, supplementing her existing organizational skills and training with every book she could find on the subject. Membership in NAPO, the National Association of Professional Organizers, followed soon afterwords by her first residential clients.
The DeClutter Coach was born.
Since March 2010, Cabral has juggled the demands of her residential and corporate clients with the needs of her own family, like an acrobat crossing a tightrope with a unicycle balanced on their nose. As a wife and a mother of three she practices what she preaches, running a fastidiously organized household that thrives under her admission that even she can’t do everything alone.
“As moms we try to be Wonder Woman. I did that when my older two were younger. You try and do everything and you really can’t,” Cabral said.
Instead, her household has been divided into set jobs that are assigned to each family member. Any leftover slack is willingly picked up by anyone available to help. At the beginning of each week, Cabral and her husband sit down and figure out who needs to get where and when, the details of which always end up on a color-coded calendar. Meals are planned in advance, with careful consideration given to how much time they have for dinner on any given evening.
According to the DeClutter Coach, it’s all an important part of setting an example for a child, of teaching them how to take charge of organizing their own lives. Call it a pre-emptive strike on clutter, if you will.
Back in teen central, Cabral is just about finished. She’s sitting on the edge of a freshly made bed with her client, waiting while her cameraman zooms in and out trying to find the perfect shot. It shouldn’t be too hard. There’s natural visual impact afoot, like stepping away from the scene of a hurricane only to return five minutes later and find everything in perfect working order.
Everything somehow seems bigger. The floor is clean, a chair has been miraculously excavated from the pile of clothes under which it languished, and there’s a lovely, lemon scented smell wafting through the air. It is the kind of clean image that television cameras love. Organization Motivation has been airing on WKTV in Utica since October 2011, the culmination of several on-air appearances Cabral made promoting the DeClutter Coach.
“I want it to really inform, so that when people watch the show I want them to learn something, and number two I want it to be entertaining. My personality is kind of a little out there, I like to be fun and outgoing, and so that comes across,” Cabral said.
The series is an extension of her day-to-day work, capturing her relationships with clients and approach to home and office maintenance. She produces two new episodes a month using her own in-house production team and is also coordinating with TLC’s Hoarding: Buried Alive to film an episode in Central New York. Her hectic schedule is a facet of both her desire to maintain full control over her work and a need to remain busy.
“I’m in pain everyday. I’m in pain right now, but you just don’t focus on it anymore. You’re thinking about how can I help my client and how can I help my business and you just don’t focus on it,” Cabral said. “If you have nothing else in your life but pain, then that’s what you focus on.”
Speaking of focus, the camera is finally ready to go. There’s a faint electronic beep as it starts recording and the cameraman counts softly backwards from three … two … one … Without missing a beat Cabral breaks into a broad grin, her honeyed voice booming and effusive. She’s a natural at this, a pro working in her element. A place for everything, and everything in its place.
For more information visit www.decluttercoachdeb.com.