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Every year, that resolution to deal with home messes gets made, and then ignored. Wonder why?

Dealing with disorder is mostly mental

A picture-perfect kitchen - is just that, staged for a photo. But organizing a pantry by foods can help with clutter.
A picture-perfect kitchen - is just that, staged for a photo. But organizing a pantry by foods can help with clutter.Read moreDashing Designs Inc.

If there isn't at least one part of your home that embarrasses you, you're probably the type who eats from the right food groups and flosses after every meal.

The rest of us aren't quite so perfect.

The wallpaper is creeping away from our baseboards. Bugs are trapped in the ceiling fan's light. Orphan socks are wedged between the dryer and the wall. And if you look really closely, you can see where we've touched up the finish on the dining room chairs with a black Sharpie marker instead of paint.

These demons nag at us, pointing to our imperfection. We'd sooner throw our bodies in front of our closets than have outsiders see the wreckage within. Yet somehow, months go by, years even, and nothing changes.

Why do we continue in our folly when it would seem a lot more sensible, especially in this season of resolutions, just to get cracking? Why don't we just clear, fix, repair, reorganize and cleanse our homes - and consciences - once and for all?

Turns out, it's not so simple. The problems may not be so much in our homes as in our heads.

Kerri Murphy, a 31-year-old project manager for a Blue Bell consulting firm, recalls how mortified she was when, during a recent visit to her home, her mother made a move toward her kitchen cabinet. Had Murphy not stopped her, mother would have seen an army of pretzel and cracker crumbs her daughter just can't seem to conquer.

"I know I could easily take care of it, but somehow, I don't," says Murphy, who is efficient in her job and other parts of her life.

Then there are her T-shirts. "I seem to have hundreds, but I only wear about 10 of them," she says. "I know it's crazy not to get rid of the excess, but I just can't seem to do it."

Marlton photographer David Michael Howarth, whose work frequently appears in regional magazines, considers the closet in his home studio an unmitigated nightmare. And, ironically, one of Howarth's specialties is photographing picture-perfect homes.

"I've done a lot of work since I moved into my townhome in 2005 - much harder things - but I can't seem to tackle that closet," confesses Howarth, 36. "Things are piled on top of each other, and mixed in with the photo equipment is my business stationery and papers. It's dangerous to reach for anything!"

Psychologist Judy Saltzberg, who has offices in Wynnewood and Center City and is an instructor in the master's of applied positive psychology program at the University of Pennsylvania, offers this reassurance: The odd drawer or closet in need of a clean-out doesn't qualify as an alarming example of procrastination pathology.

"It only becomes a real problem when and if it interferes with your functioning or your relationships," she says.

There's a simple explanation why we postpone dealing with things, even things that annoy us, Saltzberg says:

"We tend to tune in to our automatic thoughts: It's too hard. We don't know where to start. We don't have time to finish so we may as well not even start. . . ."

Most of us are overloaded, she says, and overload almost invariably leads to its kissing cousins, postponement and surrender.

"We tend to do things that are easy and immediate first," Saltzberg says. The junk-drawer procrastinator may be the very same soul who returns e-mails instantly. But when the impact is not immediate - when the drawer still opens and you still manage to find the spatula - chances are that the problem is diverted into a mental category that says, "This can wait."

And, oh, the guilt that accompanies those decisions.

Gari Julius Weilbacher of Lower Merion, a certified life coach trained to help others define life's stumbling blocks, hears a lot about guilt. And she tries hard to lead clients to some equanimity about life's big and little obstacles, the kind that erode conscience and confidence.

"The guilt and self-blame can be overdone," Weilbacher says. "Sometimes, you just need to step back and solve problems in the most practical way. If you're constantly unable to find your car keys, just getting a basket so that they can always be in one place might be the simple answer. That basket can actually be life-changing."

Seek the simplest solution, then apply it in manageable doses, she says. You can't get your whole life in order the weekend before New Year's.

"If you fixate on what you're not doing, you just add it to the list of 'things I'm not good at.' You've got to work at changing your own story without beating yourself up."

Sometimes, the nagging voice belongs to someone else - a trained professional, or maybe a loved one.

Cecile Frey despairs about the overflow of papers that her husband, Fred, emeritus professor of political science at the University of Pennsylvania, has carted along with him to their new digs at the Quadrangle in Haverford.

Cecile, a retired administrator in the Lower Merion School District, is a relentless purger. Fred is a saver - his wife insists that he has not thrown out a piece of paper in 30 years.

The professor acknowledges that "purging and filing papers that are not already in storage" is his high priority for 2008. That includes the items he has been clipping from newspapers for decades that he may "someday need."

But the mere act of stashing something away for years doesn't mean it will ever have value for you. Better to stem the paper tide before it overwhelms the house, says professional organizer Kim Tevis Elverson of Phoenixville.

She suggests a clearinghouse approach with mail, for example.

"You can . . . open it right over the trash/recycling containers so that the things you should toss never get beyond them," says Elverson. That way, the mail doesn't end up cluttering the kitchen, repository of many home messes.

Interior designer Marcy Dash, owner of Dashing Designs in Cherry Hill, is a pillow-fluffer and a neatnik who abhors clutter. Kitchen counters and desks, she reminds her clients, often become catchalls. Laundry rooms and mudrooms should be equipped with shelving, cubbies and backpack hooks, she advises.

Yet, she confesses, in her own home, when it comes to magazines and family photos, she is a sinner.

"The photos are now stuffed into bags and hidden under our kids' old desks, and the magazines - I'm convinced that they give birth and multiply at night!"

Perhaps the ultimate unfinished business is that one remodeling step that will complete a whole-house renovation.

Center City dwellers Debbie and Bob Fleischman have spent a decade transforming a former commercial property into a home for their family. They've tackled just about every room of the large property they share with their three children. But there have been some lurches and stops along the way.

The most recent stalled project is the last one, the grand finale of their ambitious undertaking - the rehabilitation of several bathrooms, with Bob, a lawyer by profession, acting as deputy assistant to the hired general contractor.

The cause of the delay? The contractor had a heart attack in the middle of the project.

"We figure we have a pretty good excuse, but meanwhile, there's chaos," says Debbie, a public-relations executive. "So 2008 is the year when we get some semblance of normalcy in our bathrooms - and in our lives."