Monday, December 21, 2009

Whatcha gonna do with all this new stuff?

I was shopping the other day and glancing in carts of other shoppers. Wrapping paper, gifts, decorations, cards, party food, winter wear....Then the thought crossed my mind-
What are they going to do with all this new stuff?
Sure, the holidays fill our lives with joy, but they come with a large side order of new stuff.

I watch my clients stare at piles of paper and mail with fear, disgust, and anxiety. This month is filling their mailboxes with catalogs and greeting cards. Newspapers are fat with ads. Looming on the horizon is the tax-related documents of January. Recycle, my friends! Toss those LL Bean and Coldwater Creeks catalogs and Best Buy ads in the recycling bin. Enjoy the sentiments in the cards and letters, then decide to either recycle the paper ones, toss the glittery ones, and save (or toss) photos in a box labeled with the year. Make a folder or large manila envelop for the incoming tax docs. Dealing with a couple of inches of paper each day is way better than taming a paper mountain-that-ate-your-kitchen-counter later on.

Grab another envelop for the gift cards and monetary ones too or better yet put them in your wallet. There is nothing sadder that finding these after they have expired.

Be ready for Christmas morning by laying out scissors to wrestle the plastic sealed presents, and a couple bags- one for recycling and one for trash. A lawn/leaf paper bag is a good size and recyclable itself to tame the paper. Gift wrap is recyclable as are the boxes. Reuse what you can next year, of course! Keep an eye out for manuals for electronics and appliances
Write on cords with a white or silver marker to remember what belongs to what. We want to keep these cords from ending up in that box, that every home has, that is filled with the misfit cords and cables. Most of these belonged to gadgets that have long ago left the building.

Make room for new toys by cleaning playrooms and donate ruthlessly. It's a great lesson for kids and gives you a chance to purge the broken pieces-parts, the incomplete puzzles, and things that are no longer age appropriate. Your future son or daughter-in-law will be relieved if you don't save everything your child ever owned.

May your season be filled with love and wonder, your recycling can and hearts be overflowing and your new year be clutter-free.

For ideas on reducing catalog clutter, go to

Monday, November 2, 2009

Holidays Made Simple

Oh, it's beginning to look a lot like Christmas. As I write this, we have barely finished celebrating Halloween just a couple of weeks ago. We haven't paused a moment in November to be thankful for all we have and we are already thinking of acquiring more. I heard radio ads this morning about buying jewelry and stores are stocking everything you need for "Twilight" themed holiday giving. I don't want to miss a bandwagon, so here are some organizing ideas to ponder as we begin to inundated with Christmas joy.
Christmas is always on the 25th of December. With that in mind, make a time line for the things you really want to accomplish in your spare time. (Please note that I am fluent in sarcasm) Mailing 50 cards with hand written notes, making and/or shopping for gifts, baking trays of decorated cookies, wrapping gorgeous presents, decking the halls like Martha Stewart, hosting magnificent parties may be a few of the extras we want to add to our already full lives. Simplify and Enjoy. Make memories, not guilt. When there is less of something, it becomes more special.

If you really want to send cards -use your computer to create the card, or to compose an note for close friends. They too, are busy and understand the need to balance your time. Enter your address list into your computer and print labels. Use TV time or time spent waiting for kids at lessons to add stamps and return address labels. Give yourself a ship by date for cards and gifts that must be mailed.

Choose to make a couple cookies that are family favorites. Go for quality, not quantity. Put the bake date on the calendar. Bake with kids or a friend-these are great memories. I can still picture my daughters icing cookies and licking the knife between cookies.

Wrap simply. Gift bags --why did we take so long to invent these? Another simple solution is to use white or a solid color paper or gift bag, tie a simple brightly-colored shoestring bow, and write a to/from or greeting on the box itself with a silver or gold Sharpie. Pure and simple.

When you get those holiday decorations out, if you don't display it , donate it. Those things that don't give you the "ho-ho-ho feeling" --got to go-go-go.

Remember at parties, it's about the people more than matching napkins. People are generally glad to spend time together. For party decorations, I always choose red paper products. Good for Christmas, all patriotic holidays, Valentine's day and our local football team tailgating and I am never left with a few snowmen napkins.

Finally, give gifts of experiences. Movie tickets, gift cards to stores, restaurants, spa treatments, a night out for busy parents or tickets to an upcoming event are my favorites. Better yet, make a date to do these things with the recipient, giving them the gift of your time. I recently took my husband and family on a Zipline tour in the Hocking Hills as a birthday treat. These are moments of fun and luxury and they never need dusting or returning.

Monday, October 19, 2009

A Finite Number

Sometimes when I am taking people through the organizing process, they want to know how many of something they should have. The answer is a finite number. ( A definite number. Not infinite. In other words it could be measured, or given a value.) The quantity can be determined easily depending on the item in question. Enough math, already? Not quite yet. Just set a quantity that gets you through the wash cycle, a quantity that fits in the allotted space, and is in good condition. Here are a few of the items people have asked me about in the last few years.

Coffee cups are one of those cupboard breeders that left unchecked can fill several shelves in a few years. I find teacups that came with the set of dishes, gifts, commemorative, and themed coffee mugs stacked high in the back. Start with your favorite cup- most of us have one, and set that aside. Then ask yourself how many times will you drink a hot beverage until you do the dishes or run the dishwasher. One day? Three? Multiply times the number of people in your household drinking coffee and there is the number. Choose the ones without chips or cracks because you can do better. So it turns out that you really don't need thirty mugs. If thirty people come over for hot chocolate, odds are you will use disposables.

Underwear - just dump the drawer out. Weed out those that are stretched, torn, holey, stained, and don't fit, and toss them. How often is laundry day?- Even washing every two weeks, that is fourteen pairs. Give yourself a few more if it is worn under a particular outfit like shapewear or thongs. Even if you went on a three week vacation, you would most likely do laundry at some point.

Magazines- God bless Oprah Magazine for running an ad lately that asked people to recycle magazines. (Reuse, of course, is better so share with an art teacher, doctor's office or other waiting area). People save piles and piles because they haven't read them and they believe they must read them. The simple truth is if you had the time to read a few magazines at 100 pages per issue, you would have by now. After a while, the pile grows and now you have read 1500 pages or more. More homework? Be reasonable with yourself. Tear out the pages of extremely important information like recipes, and articles on organizing and file them away. Set a quantity rule like three issues per title and keep the piles in check.

The same principles apply for the other things that fill your cupboards, closets, drawers and cabinets. You only need a finite number of staplers, and other office supplies, cords and cables, toys, magazines, sheets, holiday decorations, greeting cards and craft supplies. Toss. Donate. Recycle. Never lose the function of your spaces because you have too many of anything.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Grocery Shopping TLC

Buon Appetito! While on vacation in Italy, we stayed in a house that was near the largest grocery in town. It had four aisles, and two of those were pasta. Our refrigerator was very tiny and so we had to plan each morning what we would eat for the day. We could only buy what we could carry. Less choices, no coupons, no problem. We were on vacation and had lots of time.
Here at home. It can be a little more intimidating. Grocery stores in the U.S. are mazes of seven foot shelves with endless varieties of food. You want soda? The possibilities are sugar or diet, caffeine or no caffeine, bottles or cans, six, twelve, or a case and so on. Then, there are sales and coupons. Paper or plastic? Here are a few things you can do before you leave the house to make your trip more organized.
Know Your Store
To begin with, write your list roughly in the order of the aisles at your favorite store. Going to different stores can make you walk an extra few miles to get forgotten items. For example, my favorite store begins with dairy, then paper products, cleaners, and winds through till you get to the produce. So, when we realize we need lettuce--we write it at the bottom of the list and yogurt goes near the top. This prevents backtracking to get items we missed.
The Basics
Make a menu of at least five or more meals you or your family like to eat. It can be as simple as mac and cheese, tacos, soup, spaghetti and chicken. Then, list the ingredients you need to make these. These are the basics that you want to have in your pantry. Build your shopping list with breakfast foods, stuff for lunches, and some snacks. More advanced: create a master list of food you use and laminate it. Place it on the fridge and highlight what you need to purchase.
Organize your Pantry (and Your Fridge)

Group like items. (Can Organizers really say this enough?) Soup always goes here on this shelf, canned fruit here, cereal here, condiments in the fridge door. This makes it easy to see what is missing by the holes on the shelves when you take your list on a walk through the kitchen before you leave. It makes unpacking your groceries easier too.
Ready to shop?
Get your TLC- -reusable Totes, List, and Coupons!

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

The A-List (or stuff you need for a new apartment)

Our two daughters, Leah and Kelsey are both in college. My husband and I attended college. My little sisters attended college,. I worked at The Container Store helping families get ready for college and I have pack client's cars to send their kids to college. I am an expert on what one might need for a dorm room. I know what to buy cheap and what to invest in for the long haul. The college experience can involve more than eight trips moving in and out. I know girls will fuss more with color coordinating, and guys may feel pained by mom's questions and planning. The point is to remember is that your roommate is bringing nothing for you, so really focus on the personal items.
This year, my daughter Kelsey's new roommate Katie came up with a list that was helpful for them to check and compare what they each could bring to the apartment this fall. Apartments require more thought than a dorm. In an apartment there is a kitchen and all the measuring, storing and eating utensils to think about. You will need more cleaning supplies (theoretically) because you now have a bath and counters to clean and sanitize. A few basic tools like a couple of screwdrivers are helpful. With so much to gather for the trip to school, the list is essential. Pack in totes if you can because they stack in the car and can be brought home when you are unpacked. You really don't want to wait till you get to the college town if you can help it. Local stores tend to run out of needed items quickly.
I have posted Katie's list on my website as a beginning resource for planning what you might need.

Friday, August 14, 2009

All in the Name

Yeah-It's a junk drawer so that's exactly what you will put in it. Much of the contents will be junk-expired coupons, unidentifiable keys and assorted key chains, dried up pens, twisty ties, Taco Bell sauces, Chinese takeout chopsticks, paper clips, and bread crumbs in the corners. I've looked into plenty of junk drawers. If you want to be more organized, toss most of that stuff and change the name. The moniker I favor is "Utility drawer". Add a few drawer dividers and this is the place for a screw driver, glue, tape, paper clips, scissors. Use a two pocket folder for the take out coupons and menus and store this near the phone books.
The same goes for that Miscellaneous file in your file cabinet. If it is important enough to keep, give it a file and it's own name. Decorating ideas, Holiday crafts, Recipes, Party Ideas, Organizing Tips, and Vacation Spots are all legitimate file names. What's more, they are easier to find and more likely to be ever looked at again if they have their own file instead of being exiled to the dreaded Misc. file. Remember too, if the file has more than twenty-five pages, it should be broken down further.
So start making changes by changing the name. If you have a junk food cupboard...

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Organized Enough to be Gone

I recently took a class on helping heirs of the chronically disorganized, and they brought up a great point that I had never really considered, the concept of e-property. For example, my e-property would consist of my website, domain name, blog, photos, and social network pages. I began to think that I needed to make my husband aware of passwords so he would be able to handle dismantling these things as my executor. Should I make a list and seal it in an envelop with my Power of Attorney and Living Will?
I have worked with several widows in the last few years whose husbands had passed away very unexpectedly. We have sifted through boxes and files to find documents, keys, and even important accounts. Now many people have gone paperless for their statements on billing, banking and investments- how would we ever find those accounts? One husband had over-saved and we had to sift through mountains of redundant paper. It would have been ideal to have everything spelled out and accounts in a file in a filing cabinet clearly labeled.
Everyone has a different level of comfort with privacy and security. Some people shred every address label as though they are in the witness protection program and others have to rescue their birth certificate from the Target bag with coupons, and leftover party napkins. (I cannot make this stuff up-it really happens.) People are and should be protective of passwords. But how can we help those who come behind us? It's a new frontier. What will you do about your e-accounts? Are you organized enough to be gone?

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

The Secret of Organizing

The secret to maintaining organization. Here it is... if a task takes 30 seconds or less, put it away, and do it now. That's it. Take the compost/trash out. Put the dish in the dishwasher. Sort the mail. Pay a bill. Take something upstairs or to another room. Start the washer. Together, these tasks can feel overwhelming, but broken into bite size pieces...they are done!
I recently worked with a teenage girl who kept leaving her towel on the floor in her room from swim team and showers. This damp mess made Mom nag and the daughter defensive. I asked the daughter if she would like her Mom to "back off" and she said "Of course". The answer is simple I said. Hang the towels in the racks provided in bath. I told her it would take less than 15 seconds to do this. Actually, she could probably do this 2-3 times in 15 seconds. less time than it takes to send check and send a text. Peace for the rest of the summer.
What little tasks can you accomplish to get them off your plate?

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Simple Solutions to Ordinary Problems

I was dinning with friends the other night and helping clear the dishes and leftovers. When I reached for the foil and plastic wrap, I noticed that the roll kept falling out of the box. I showed my hostess the small cuts at the end of the box that the consumer can push in effectively trapping the roll in the box. It's simple, and so many people do not know it was there. The rest of the dinner party came to the kitchen to see what she was excited about. So there it is. Pass it on.

A client was struggling with summer reading books from the library. They could never find the checkout receipt and never knew how many books were supposed to be returned. The answer is to always checkout the same amount -say ten children's books per week and keep them in the same bag.

A colleague of mine, Birdie, has the best tip about what to keep when it comes to children's school work. She advocates getting two pocket folders in different colors for each child. (These will be on on sale in August) Take a "Hello My Name Is" sticker and stick it on the cover. Let your child sign it and you have acptured their signature for that year. Inside add the final report card of the year, any certificates of acheivement, an example of math, art, writing and some photos of projects and class activities. Voila! You have scrapbooked. You can toss them on the table for the graduation party, and will not overwhelm your child by delivering tons of totes to their future home when they are 30.

We were frustrated at our house because we were failing to leave something to thaw for dinner and then choosing to go out to eat when we got home. My friend, Alicia, told me that she browns the burger/ground turkey when she gets home from the grocery and freezes it after.
Of course! Process first then freeze. I love it. Spaghetti, tacos, and casseroles made simpler. I am also a crock pot fan for pot roast, soups, pulled chicken etc. What other quick ideas make meal prep a breeze? Let me know.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Organized Vacation with Kids

The problem with getting away from it all-is that you have to take some of it with you. The key to stress free packing is to remember that you are not going to the moon. There will be a Walmart or grocery where you vacation to replace most forgotten items. For convenience, it's always great to have your favorites with you.
Lotions and Potions: I pack a toiletry bag that never gets unpacked. It has been fine tuned over the years and the contents get refilled when I return home each time. Starting at the top of my head and working down, I think of the products I use to get ready each day--Shampoo/conditioner, moisturizer, makeup, q-tips, lip balm, toothpaste and so on down the body to my toe nail polish.
Save the day: Using the same process I think about maladies that could ruin a good time--Ibuprofen, antihistamine (pills and cream),decongestant, sunscreen, aloe, bandages, antibiotic cream, anti-diarrhea, antacid, motion sickness tablets and any personal medicines you need.
What to Wear:Kids will want souvenirs anyway so buy t-shirts a size larger and let it be their vacation jammies. I taught my children very young how to pack for a trip. First, they counted out enough underwear for each day and one extra and laid them across their bed or floor. Next, they place a shirt on top, followed by shorts, and then socks if needed. Each pile went into a ziploc bag and into the suitcase. Add an extra pair of jeans, beach shoes, tennis shoes, sandals and a jacket and they were ready. Toss in a large ziploc bag or a pillow case and you can sow laundry as you go.
Whistle while you wait- There is a portion of any vacation that makes you wait. Time at the airport or in the car is more tolerable if you are prepared. I always pack granola bars in each kid's backpack as well as my own. Delays can make meals irregular and a bite to eat can make everyone happier. Music, puzzles, small games, cards, yahtzee dice, and books will break up the time when you are tired of "I spy".
Memories- The best idea we ever tried was taking a spiral bound art pad as a travel journal. We decorated the cover by using old brochures or maps and sealed them with clear contact paper. Each child had a glue stick in their backpack (in a baggie) and used it to glue those lobby brochures of sites we had seen into the art pad. I encouraged them to draw and write to help remember what we had done later. The bags from their suitcases could hold treasures like seashells till we got home.
Unplug, relax, and enjoy!

Monday, June 8, 2009

My Few Cents Worth

I am always amazed at the amount of money I find when helping clients organize their homes. It's in drawers, old purses, pockets, jars, the floor, boxes-- you name it. Unlike collectibles and antiques -the things people save "because it might be worth something someday", money has actual value and can be redeemed at any bank.
At one client's home, just after Christmas, I found a bar of silver (like the Fort Knox kind). I asked her if this silver bullion should perhaps in a safe, and she told me that the safe was full. It was merely a sample of what the family members would be inheriting after her father died. In the rush to serve dinner, they had simply cleared the table and the silver bar was gathered with the other holiday debris and sent to the basement. In other homes, I have found envelopes with birthday checks, cash ($600 one time!), assorted gift cards, and travelers checks, probably adding up to several tens of thousands of dollars. According to Coinstar, a coin counting machine vendor, an 8 oz jar has over $14.
The church I attend recently put out a large jar and asked people to donate the loose change in their wallets and pockets of as a way to raise money for a project. They didn't ask for checks or big bills-- just the little stuff that was adding weight to the pockets and purses. They made over $500 in a couple weeks as people lightened their load and brought jars from home.
I wonder what would happen if this "change making change" began happening in other churches or for other charities. If people gathered their jars of coins, loose change in junk drawers and cleaned out their purses of old gum, tissues and pennies, it could all add up. Less coin clutter and more people blessed--it's a win-win.

Let me know about other efforts in coin clutter and donating.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Does anybody really know what time it is?

I recently had the opportunity to participate in a Job Boot Camp hosted by Channel 6 On Your Side here in Columbus. They took the stance that lots of people were hosting job fairs, but theirs was going to provide job seekers with expertise of job coaches, resume experts, schools, and so on. My role was to provide advice on organizing.
As the professional organizer, I gave handouts for projects to conquer when not interviewing, such as organizing photos, recipes, closets, garages and files. You know you are going to feel great when you have made great use of your time, and caught up on projects you never had time for when you rushed off each morning to work. When you do go to an interview and they ask what you have been doing, you can use words like "projects" and "organizing" which are valuable skills to employers.
The biggest surprise for me was that I noticed that many people who wanted to be taken seriously and wanted to be paid for their time were not wearing a watch. Many people just held out their cell phones and shrugged. This was the way they kept track of their time. I wondered --is someone who is checking their phone all day distracted? Are they checking the texts? Calling their Moms? Looking for stock quotes or any number of wonderful features that phones have to offer today? If an employer asks you to take a 20 minute break and you make a call, can you see how long you have been gone? Wearing a watch shows time management skills something else employers like to see in a job candidate.
Timex --Give me a call. I want to bring watches back.