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Well sorted

Today you can even be cured of untidiness.

Ever been PO'ed? Not pissed off. That goes without saying. Professionally Organised.

The drive for efficiency leaches from the corporate spaces into our private cubby-holes. We have had motivational speakers, life coaches and now professional organisers - cynically defined as people who are so irritatingly organised that they have plenty of time left over to organise others.

Sydney, a few days after New Year's Eve. Michelle, a friend of a friend, is planning to get sorted. Not sorted as Brit band Pulp would have it - for their drugs of choice. She is paying someone to sort out her bedroom, her office and her life.

Michelle used to live where I'm staying. The consensus is that she could use some help, although the others are sceptical about outside help. Her ex-flatmate Rachel thinks the process would be terrifying. "I'd hate someone to see all the crap I've been hoarding," she says.

"Most of us could benefit from refining our environment," says Lissanne Oliver, professional organiser from Australian firm Sorted! The website describes her as "an angel in jackboots", and states that "her inspiration for offering this unique service is born from a natural talent and burning love of organising". It also says that she has studied "print and broadcast production, small business and teeny snails crawling around very slowly". She will charge Michelle $60 an hour.

"Mish must have money to burn," Marlon, another former flatmate, says. "I couldn't think of an easier way of throwing it away." That afternoon, Marlon can't find his passport. It's not as if he has an untidy room. He just can't see it anywhere.

"Car keys, library books, Tupperware containers with lids that fit," recites Oliver. "Disorganised people spend hundreds of hours a year searching for stuff." I nod as if I'm at an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting.

"Isn't disorder an expression of creativity?" I whine defensively. Left brain, right brain.

"It's not about being anal and tidy. You can live in a visually busy environment. You've just got to know where things are." (Must remember that: "Come in. Excuse the visually busy environment.")

Euphemism is the language of any new science. First, she will bring order, then together you start editing. That's sortspeak for chucking stuff out.

Oliver's golden rule: might is not good enough. If it might come in useful, it goes. Less is best. Use it or lose it. Honour the important things. And so on.

She is interested in the psychology of hoarding. "Your mum might have thrown out all your schoolbooks, so you keep everything. Or your dad was a packrat, so you throw everything out."

She had a teddy bear thrown out as a child, then started hoarding soft toys. Now she collects unusual clothing from second-hand shops and garage sales. Her sorting technique: she limits herself to 50 coathangers and keeps "whatever hits the washing pile".

We arrange to meet Michelle post-sorting at a pub in Bondi. You need photo ID to get in. Marlon still hasn't found his passport. There she is. No visible halo, but she knows exactly where her passport is. In a little travel bag in her bedside cabinet. She's effusive about PO.

"It's so cleansing."

Strangely, she says, her desk at work (she is a project officer for NSW Health) has always been immaculate. "It shouldn't be any different, though. Running your life should be like

running a business."

Just like a well-oiled pub, I thought. At the bar I hand over my credit card. They put it in an alphabetised file and hand me a tab card.

What was it like having a stranger sniffing through her stuff? "It was so nice to have someone there to encourage me. She found a Titanic poster. It was so tragic," Michelle says. I shuddered at the thought of what Oliver might find under my bed.

The end result - four rubbish bags full of junk. Four boxes of clothing. All in three hours. A cost of $180. "It was value for money. I feel better. I don't know if I'm a better person."

And what would it be like if we were all as organised as Lissanne Oliver? Finally a concession. "It would be a pretty boring world," says the professional organiser.

Now where on earth did I put my credit card?