When Peggy Gardiner teaches a community education class on how to declutter your home, she asks students how many of them can park their car in the garage.
Only about half of the students raise their hands.
"And most of them have two-car garages," Gardiner said. "Can you believe it?"
Believe it. As the new year sets in, and people aim to simplify their lives, consider the following statistics:
The U.S. Department of Energy reports that one-quarter of people with two-car garages have so much stuff in there that they can't park a car.
According to the National Soap and Detergent Association, getting rid of clutter would eliminate 40 percent of housework in the average home.
The National Association of Professional Organizers says we spend one year of our lives looking for lost items.
Harris Interactive reports that 23 percent of adults say they pay bills late (and incur fees) because they lose them.
Enter Gardiner, a professional organizer and housekeeper. The 63-year-old, who used to run estates for wealthy people, teaches classes on -- well -- how to sort through stuff.
You need a class for that?
Many people do, according to Gardiner, who in 2008 started teaching home organization though Modesto Junior College's Community Education Department. Classes are usually full or close to full.
Students run the gamut from people who, say, just can't bring themselves to clean out their closets to people who can't find a clear path through their house.
She offers some surprising tips -- "If you buy fancy underwear, don't let it languish in the drawer;" "If it's not a bill, it goes in the trash" -- things she learned in her years of managing large homes for wealthy people.
Gardiner, who was born and raised in Modesto, got into the estate management field when her husband, Richard, became ill and the couple was forced to close their real estate investment business.
Gardiner hopped online to research possible careers and eventually signed up to study at the Starkey International Institute for Household Management in Denver. There, she learned everything from how to cook and serve a sit-down dinner for 12 to how to keep track of plumbers, contractors, finances and the like.
She went on to work for three families. One skill she picked up managing their homes is how to control clutter. One employer, she said, went so far as to prefer empty drawers.
Gardiner, who lives in a very tidy home in Riverbank, is a firm believer in less is more. She advises a family of four get by on eight place settings of dishes and 12 place settings of silverware.
Closets should be sparse, too. Got more than 16 pairs of shoes? Upwards of four purses? Get rid of them, Gardiner said.
Not surprisingly, Gardiner eschews storage units. "People don't even know what they have in there," she said.
She shakes her head at the idea of buying plastic bins and cardboard boxes before you clean out a room. "A lot of people never get around to it," she said.
Instead, Gardiner recommends picking a room in need of attention. Give yourself a few hours and three trash bags -- one for garbage, one for things to put away, and one for things you plan to donate.
Do so the same day. That way, you can park your car in your garage.
Peggy Gardiner teaches classes on home organization, cooking and party planning though Modesto Junior College Community Education. For more information, go to www.mjc.edu/community/enroll/commed/commed-classes/index.html
Bee staff writer Kerry McCray can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2358.