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The accumulation problem

Carly Poppalardo had blisters on her feet after she drove home from an eight-hour session of professional organizing, threw a bag of Trader Joe's pre-cut veggies and simmer sauce on the stove, flipped on "The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills" and sank into the couch.

"I was high on adrenaline," Poppalardo said, "but I was so tired I could barely move."

When she arrived at the client's three-story house at 9 o'clock that morning, the situation hadn't looked particularly dire. But she and the mother of three, a Southern woman with an affinity for matching dresses, managed to fill two truck beds and an SUV with four car seats, five bouncy chairs and enough toys to stock a preschool room.

One of the ironies of our age of excess is how the littlest among us come with such outsized equipment. Then there is the strange reality that Americans pay to store the things we cannot fit in our homes, driving demand for more than 78 square miles of rentable self-storage - more than three times the size of Manhattan.

The burden of sorting the stuff under our roofs increasingly has become the work of a professional, an outsourcing of the most personal nature with a humbling implication: Help me manage my life. Until the expert arrives, often we don't even know what we have. Poppalardo once uncovered 27 spatulas in one home and, in another, seven jars of saffron.

"Clients tell me I'm kind of like a therapist," Poppalardo said. "As we're getting rid of stuff, we're talking about why it accumulated in the first place."

The 27-year-old Catholic has no doubt there are spiritual ramifications to her work: a garage loaded with bulk items from Costco, a drawer stuffed with expired coupons, a "give" pile of clothes with tags.

"It's a rabbit hole," Poppalardo said. "People are looking to fill other needs when they buy things, especially when they overbuy. Once they develop that awareness, there's a mental shift, and they can focus on the more important stuff."

Hence, the statement on her Twitter profile: "I organize your life so you can live it."

Poppalardo makes a point to keep her own life in order, which is why you'll find her at the 10:30 Mass at St. Agnes Church in Arlington in her family's standard spot - right side, toward the back - for a weekly "re-grounding and regrouping."

It was her trust in God that emboldened her to take the leap into self-employment at 23, turning down a job offer from a public relations firm that once would've sounded like her dream job but felt more like a trap.

"I was miserable in the corporate world," she said. " The system didn't make sense to me: The interns were working 7 (a.m.) to 7 (p.m.) because they wanted to move up to be an assistant account executive to work even longer hours."

Since then, Poppalardo has successfully built up her business. Armed with bins, shelving and a label maker, there's no basement she can't conquer. She jokes about spotting the National Geographics - that recurring strip of canary yellow - and her 50 percent success rate of persuading owners to recycle them.

Nearly all her clients hug her when she leaves, describing the weight lifted off their shoulders. It's amazing how the sight of a bare counter can fill your lungs and clear your mind.

In this season of spring cleaning, of open windows and Alleluias, of the pontiff who preaches simple living, now is the time to de-clutter - time to travel light, to give freely, to be empty-handed and open-hearted.

Capecchi, whose website is readchristina.com, is a freelance writer from Inver Grove Heights, Minn.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2015