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DISORGANIZED ORGANIZER SPREADS GOSPEL OF SIMPLICITY

By Polly Summar
of the Albuquerque Journal

Liz Davenport has five cats, two dogs, 10 finches, four hens and a rooster. The walls in her North Valley home and office range from shades of cantaloupe to chartreuse, and a china cabinet stuffed to the gills sits next to her desk.

This does not seem like the home of an organizational consultant — someone dedicated to getting rid of clutter and creating order from chaos. It seems much too warm and cozy and alive. But Liz Davenport is living proof that unruly creative types can get organized, and she wants to spread the gospel.

"The thing is: Organized people cannot tell disorganized people how to be organized," she says. "They're two different species." And Davenport has figured out the system.

"I'm the disorganized organizer," says the 5-foot-9-inch brunette. "I'm just like my clients." Now ... how could that be? Most disorganized types can't wade through the piles of clutter in their junk rooms — er, home offices — much less tell anyone else how to get organized.

But Davenport, 48, was born legally blind. "My vision is 20/360," she says. "What most people can see at a quarter of a mile, I can't see until I'm 20 feet away from it." As a child, she couldn't tell her Lincoln Logs from her Tinker Toys when they were scattered on the floor of her room. "So I always put my toys away," she says. "I had to have a home for everything or else I couldn't find it again. I can't 'look' for stuff. 'Looking' is a learned skill."

A correct diagnosis of her condition wasn't made until she was 30, when contacts helped correct her vision. Still, to read something, she has to hold the text 8 inches from her nose. But while her vision may be a bit fuzzy, her mission is not.

Today, those organizational skills she first learned in her bedroom have grown and developed into expertise that she uses to whip into shape clients that range from Intel and Coldwell Banker to your next-door neighbor in his home office "I just do offices," she says. "If you try to organize homes, you get into marital issues, family issues and then family-of-origin issues — they refuse to pick up after themselves because their mother made them do it."

Defining goals
The first thing she asks all her clients is: "Why am I here? What isn't working for you?" And the strategy has paid off. Davenport has parlayed her one-woman company, Order from Chaos, into a Web site (orderfromchaos.com) with related products for sale, classes that she's taught to more than 10,000 people and now, a just released book, "Order from Chaos: A 6-Step Plan for Organizing Yourself, Your Office, and Your Life." It's just that kind of fast-paced creativity that can cause organizational disasters.

"Those of us who are disorganized are creative geniuses," she says. "We are great optimists — we think we can run back to our offices and do everything in 60 seconds and then we don't. We go off and chase the next wild hair."

Taming her own creativity was something that happened gradually. As the child of a professional secretary and an artillery and tactics instructor in the U.S. Army ("he taught the fusiliers, those guys who marched and twirled guns — we called them Daddy's 'hup-hup' boys"), Davenport admits she may have had an edge on the subject of organization. But her parents simply expected her to explore and embrace life. "I just think it's in my DNA," she says. "Both of my parents were the only members of their families to leave their hometowns." Her mother, who died last year, was lauded in her obituary as "the heart and the historian" of the State Bar of New Mexico, where she had worked for more than 25 years. Davenport was a talented artist even as youngster — a pursuit she still follows today as a fine artist in watercolor and oils — and she continues to seriously explore fields that capture her interest like astrology and tarot.

After dropping out of the University of New Mexico during her first semester, Davenport logged stints as a pizza delivery person, professional dancer, cocktail waitress, bartender, hostess and artist's model. She also raised cotton and milo on a 750-acre farm in Deming, owned a Laundromat and, with her dad, a detail shop.

"I have a theory about the decades of a person's life," Davenport says. "From zero to 10, it's about finding out what the rules are; from 10 to 20, it's about breaking them; 20 to 30 is sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll; 30 to 40 is 'I'm different from everybody else'; 40 to 50 is doing something about that difference; and 50 to 60 — I haven't gotten there yet."

In her 30s, Davenport was busy defining herself. She began working at Intel in those years and while there, started and finished a bachelor's degree in business at the University of Phoenix campus here and a master's degree in adult education at the University of New Mexico. She started as a temp at Intel and when she stopped working there some 10 years later was in project management and scheduling.

In plain English, Davenport explains that job description. Imagine that a new factory needs be built, she says. That means new equipment has to be attached to a computer, which has to be attached to a main computer.

Equipment is arriving at different times and as it's arriving, the company wiring needs to be available at that spot, and that area has to be attached to the main computer. "You're talking acres of factory space," says Davenport. "So it's working with all the manufacturing people and construction people and making sure everything is working." And that's where she discovered her strong suit. "I found I was really good at getting things done in the shortest number of steps," she says. "Back in the '50s, they used to be called efficiency experts. I just kept doing it on a larger level." And what she found was this: "The further you got away from an individual, the less trying to organize things mattered." In other words, each individual's level of organization was the key. "Somebody, some person, was always the monkey wrench. "The biggest bang for your buck, as far as a company is concerned, is to organize the individual."

Changing direction
After she was laid off at Intel, and then rehired there as a consultant, she went into business as a free-lance project management trainer for other companies, continuing to work for Intel and other companies throughout the country. And then, in '93, two things happened that made her think of changing her business. "My father died and my mother wasn't comfortable with me flying all over the country," says Davenport.

At the same time, a good friend of hers, Loralee Makela, a feng shui practitioner, was working with an organization consultant who moved away. "I told her, 'Liz, you'd be good at that,' Makela recalls, adding that she thought Davenport would be great with clients. "She's funny and very flamboyant and very practical."

So Davenport called up the consultant to confer and came to the same conclusion. And now Davenport and Makela often refer clients to each other. "If somebody says, 'I don't like to be at my desk,' I might pull out my feng shui info and see if maybe it should be facing a different direction," says Davenport. "If that doesn't work for them, I might refer them to Loralee."

Makela, in turn, may see a client whose clutter seems out of control and suggest Davenport's help. Davenport recognizes that different strokes work for different folks. "The great thing about hiring women who are in their 40s," she says, "is that you not only get their technical wisdom, you get their life wisdom."

Hiring Davenport is like getting an earth mother to hold your hand, while calmly pointing out your blind spots. She once suggested to a client, whose office was piled high with notebooks, that a bookcase might be in order. "She said, 'Omigod! You're a genius!' I felt guilty for charging her."

Her "spousal unit," as he calls himself, Bob Tierney, says he was never surprised by Davenport's success in business. "She has a charm, a drive," says Tierney. "All good minds have this underlying drive to be the best and go from there."

Today, Davenport feels she has hit upon the thing, the talent, she has to contribute to the world. "My mission is to increase people's productivity while decreasing their stress," she says. She keeps a bust of Nostradamus in the place of spirituality and knowledge, per feng shui, on a tall cabinet behind her desk. "He's a symbol to me to not be too attached to anything I'm doing," she says. "If you're going to be successful in business, you have to stay on the bleeding edge of what's going on."

Davenport thinks that in time, the business of organizing will be called the simplicity movement. "And in a sense, that's what I'm doing now," she says, "telling people how to simplify their lives."

 

That alleviates 90% of the stress right there...
I have done most of the things that you suggested and I feel a lot better than I did before your class. I am not 100%, but I am doing better. The three things that have seemed to help me the most are the pending file, the hot file cart and the air traffic control task planner. I carry it everywhere and now I write everything down in one place. That alleviates 90% of the stress right there.

I will get better as I go along, but thanks for your support and keeping us on track.

Thank you,

 ~ Shannon Daniels, OfficeMax Commercial Solutions, Albuquerque, NM


 


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