Catch a wave


Cynthia Townley Ewer, once a leading local legal researcher and daughter of the former director of the Nevada Historical Society, now runs and is author of several books, including The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Getting Organized and Houseworks (now reissued as Cut the Clutter or, in its German edition, Nie wieder Chaos).

Is there a term for your field?

Home management and home organization.

What is it?

It’s how you live your life in your surroundings. It’s about the relationship to your home, your activities and your stuff. A lot of times people think an organized home looks a certain way. And Ikea and Crate and Barrel and all those wonderful shelter stores really want you to believe that. But an organized home doesn’t look any way specifically. The way you adjust something is, How well does it work for you? Can you get out of the house in the morning without losing your keys, searching for a school paper, missing a briefcase? Are meals or making some meals available on a regular basis, or are you getting supermarket meals? … So home management is just the study of how to live at home in harmony with your surroundings, your activities and your stuff.

When you first got into it, did you expect it to take off as it has?

Absolutely not. This all got started back in 1990. I was a very early adopter of computer technology. I lived in the San Francisco bay area and there were computer current magazines on every corner and Build Your Own PC, and so I had a little PC. And [my husband and daughter] had a five-and-a-half-inch floppy disk with Prodigy online service on it. … We slid this little disk in, and we logged in to our very first online community. … It was old. It was slow. But it absolutely blew me away. Only about one in 10 users were female at that time and of those females not many of us were mothers with children. … I found this group, a very early [online group of] women, in 1990. I’m still friends with many of them today, 26 years later. We began encouraging each toter to make changes around the home, clutter. So I just started writing. Every Friday morning I’d get up, and Prodigy allowed six tiny screens, so I would write my six screens as articles and people liked it. [After working for several years for the operation of now-discontinued], I set up a little personal home page. Two months later, I get a slap on the wrist from Concentric, my provider: “Too many people are visiting your site. You have exceeded your bandwidth allowance.” So I said, well, fine. I registered a domain name in June of 1998. I set up … Well, nine months later, I wake up on a Sunday morning to find I have won the USA Today Hot Site award and my site had gone down because of the traffic. … I had to learn to be an administrator. So that’s when, rather than having a little tiny site. … I leased my own servicer. So in 2002, same thing. In my little basement office, a phone call: “Hello, this is ABC’s The View. We want you to be on the show.” I’d never seen the show until the day before I was on it. … This is very early in the whole let’s-find-a-blogger-and-put-them-on-TV. But it worked out well so I appeared on the show again about a month later. … 2003, I get a call about six in the morning. … “Hello, Cynthia,” says this English accent. “This is Mary Claude Shannon from DK Publications in London. We’re looking for an author to write a homemaking book and we love your blog. … Since then, it’s just kind of continued like that.