Monday, December 22, 2008

Tips for Organized Holiday Clean-Up

I know, we're just in the throws of the holidays, and no one wants to think about cleaning up...but it will all be over before we know it. So I wanted to share some tips for making set-up next year even easier.

Take your time with packing up. It can be tempting to throw everything into the nearest bin or box and toss it in the garage, but careful packing can protect your sentimental decorations and fragile ornaments and make it easier to find what you want next year.
  • Put "like with like" as you pack up. All of the ornaments together, lights together, tabletop decorations together, etc. Label your containers, or use clear storage bins.
  • Avoid a tangled mess (and frustration) with your lights next year with these handy cord wraps available at The Container Store.
  • Pack holiday gift wrap and accessories together and take the opportunity to do an inventory of what you have; make a list for yourself for next year, or take advantage of post-holiday sales now to stock up, and you won't overbuy next winter.
  • Spend time entering address updates from holiday cards into your database or address book and then toss the envelopes that you received this year. It may seem like a daunting task, but if you tackle it now, next year's holiday cards will be so much easier.
Happy Holidays!

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Pre-Holiday Purge

There's no better time than now to do a purge of your stuff to make room for the influx of holiday gifts - especially your children's toys. By setting - and sticking to - a "one in, one out" rule, you can maintain a comfortable volume of belongings and help control clutter. Your kids can be involved in the process, especially if you intend to donate unwanted items to charity. Letting them make the choices and understand that they'll be helping families in need can teach some valuable lessons and instill the true spirit of the holiday season.

If your kids are too young, you can make some decisions for them. If you're concerned about discarding a toy that they'll ask for later, try an "out box" system. Pack up the items and leave them out of sight for a period of time. If they don't ask within a few weeks, it's probably safe to let the items go.

And don't forget to go through your stuff, too. Charities are in need of warm clothing, food pantry donations, and basic household items throughout the year, but especially during the holidays.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Organized Gift-Giving

If you're anything like most people, your head is swimming with holiday to-do items and a mental shopping list. Don't let the spirit of the holiday escape you by getting stressed out and overspending this season. Leave time to enjoy time with your friends and family, doing the things that mean the most to you.

One surefire way to get in front of it all is to follow Santa's advice and create a list. I like to pick up a ziploc bag or pencil case and a notepad (small enough to fit in my purse) and use this as my shopping list for the season. All receipts go into the ziploc or pencil case together, so that it's easy to track what you've spent, and also easy to find the receipts for any returns or exchanges that might be needed.

I like to make a few columns in my list: Recipient Name, Target Budget, Gift Ideas, and Items Bought. This makes it easy to see what your target spending is, and what you have purchased at a glance. Also, as budgets are tight, you can prioritize shopping week by week to avoid one massive hit on the credit card.

The great news is that if you do save your shopping until the last minute, then you won't be as easily tempted by the impulse buy at the register for that Chia Pet or foot massager that no one really wants anyway.

Happy Holidays!

Sunday, November 30, 2008

How to Choose a Planner

As December rolls in and we switch over to the final month of the year, now is a great time to begin thinking about your planner for 2009. Personal planners can also make great holiday gifts, as long as you can outline some specifications so that you receive one that works for you. Here are some considerations as you research and select the right planner for you. Planners come in all types of styles, sizes, and layouts - and it's important to find one that works with your style, rather than trying to force yourself to use one that isn't appropriate for your needs.

  • Are you an electronically inclined person? Do you prefer to track appointments in Outlook and manage your tasks on the computer? In that case, a Palm or Treo device is probably more appropriate than a paper planner. But you may find you need to supplement with a paper-based system, even one that is fairly basic, to coordinate with other family appointments or on the go.
  • How compact/mobile does your planner need to be? Will you be carrying it in a purse or briefcase, or only using it at home? This will impact what sizes you should consider.
  • What types of appointments/commitments do you need to track? Do you have many meetings in a given day? The volume of appointments will dictate whether you need to view a page at a time, a week, or a month. For those who like to track tasks via written to-do lists, I often advocate a style that features a two-page layout for each day, with a monthly calendar behind. This way, you can add detail to your day while maintaining visibility on your monthly schedule at the same time. Travel to office supply stores and look at sample pages to see what appeals to you.
  • Are you a visual or hands-on learner? If so, choose an attractive planner that appeals to your senses. You'll be more likely to enjoy using it (and therefore more consistent with your entries.)
  • What is your budget to spend? Planners can range from very expensive to very inexpensive. In fact, you can even create your own by printing out calendars (monthly, daily, or weekly) and keeping them in a binder.
  • Do you need space for business cards or frequently called numbers? Many planners offer accessory pages with various compartments and add-ons that may or may not be helpful to you.
For great online resources for planners, visit:

Sunday, November 9, 2008

A Creative Solution for Cords & Wires

Anyone who has computer equipment, electronics, or cameras knows all too well that managing cables and cords is a real production. For most people, a simple solution of cable ties and labels can make taming the cords behind your TV or computer a breeze. Once again, I'll reference The Container Store as a source, though you can get cable ties and labels just about anywhere.

But I love the Cable ID product from The Container Store. Color-coded flexible ties wrap around your cords and can be labeled with any marker or pen.

I have one client who is a technophile and has her own publishing business. She has a number of gadgets including still cameras, video cameras, computer peripherals, GPS systems, etc. She wanted to get all of her extra cables organized and hung up somewhere, so that they'd be off the floor.

We obtained a wall-mount kitchen pantry grid system and grouped her cables by type before hanging them with hooks and caribiners. We were able to hang this in a closet area, so though it doesn't look pretty, it's out of main sight and gives her highly functional access to the cables that she needs - when she needs them. And the cables are hung safely so that they don't get damaged or tangled up with each other.

We also used clear shoeboxes and stored all of her extra equipment together by category, and labeled everything. Now, when she's ready to access her equipment, it's accessible and easy to find.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Time Management for Students

I recently spoke at a local elementary school PTA meeting on the topic of time management for children and students. While there's no silver bullet or magic answer, and while creating good habits takes a lifetime of effort, there are some tips and ideas you can try to work with your kids. Here's a summary of takeaways from the talk:

1. Watch for patterns in your child’s dawdling/procrastination. It may signal hunger, fatigue, a need for downtime, or a feeling of being overwhelmed about a particular issue or task.
2. Establish routines (as best you can) and consistent times for homework, bedtime, chores, etc.
3. Help your child learn how to estimate time required for tasks. Set timers and work with him/her to set achievable goals.
4. If your child is a perfectionist and needs approval/fears criticism, find out what teacher expectations are and help him/her work within realistic guidelines. Let your child know that perfection isn’t expected – only that the best effort is put forward.
5. If your child feels overwhelmed and doesn’t know where to start, break down large projects into manageable tasks and work side-by-side to offer structure and praise along the way.
6. A fear of failure or success can best be battled with open communication. Start conversations with “I bet kids who are really smart worry what their friends will think,” or “What’s the worst thing that could happen?”
7. If dawdling or procrastination is a result of anger, find out what the real issue is behind the behavior and focus on that first.
8. If your child is using procrastination to establish control, let them make some choices about how/when tasks get done. But set consequences and guidelines, and stick to them.
9. Keep track of your child’s homework and tasks yourself so that you can monitor progress and avoid surprises. But let them take ownership and responsibility as appropriate.
10. Set consequences and follow-through. Offer rewards, too. Reinforce positive behavior rather than negative behavior.
11. Use gentle reminders to keep them on task. Give them a heads-up 15 minutes before bedtime. Try using other descriptions of time, like “after this level on your game…” Put up job/chore lists and homework lists as visual reminders.
12. Resist the urge to “rescue” them. Don’t do tasks for them because it’s easier than chasing them. Ultimately, this only prolongs the procrastination problem.
13. Organize your physical space. A cluttered environment can lead to a cluttered mind.
14. Minimize morning mayhem by doing as much as you can the night before. Pick out outfits, pack lunches and backpacks, etc.
15. Establish good family communications to coordinate schedules and activities. A weekly family meeting is a great start. Also post a family calendar where everyone can see it.
16. Have patience. Establishing good habits takes lots of time and effort and won’t happen overnight.
17. Teach by example. If you exhibit issues with time management and procrastination, your child will pick up on those habits, too.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Refrigerator Makeover

For a quick, meaningful organizing project to make you feel accomplished, why not do a de-cluttering and cleanout of your fridge? Pre-holiday is a great time to clean out and make some room, and also to take stock of the staples that you have in your supply.

Start by pulling everything out and cleaning all of the shelves and drawers.

Store the least perishable items in the door; this space is most exposed to heat and isn't ideal for eggs, butter, etc. It's best for condiments and jellies. Review what you have and toss what's expired. Make a list of needed items, and also of items that you have that can inspire some recipes, so that you can use up food and avoid waste. Coordinate items on different shelves - sauces together, salad dressings, etc.

Next, toss out any mysterious/unrecognizable leftovers. Invest in clear containers for storing leftovers, and make use of masking tape and a sharpie to label (and date) items when they go into the fridge. Designate a shelf for these items. Square containers in various sizes will stack nicely.

The most perishable items - meats, seafoods, etc. - should be stored in the meat drawer, typically located low in the refrigerator where the temperature is the coldest.

Vegetables should be stored in the appropriate crisper with higher humidity.

Use the top shelf for items that shouldn't be stored in the door - eggs, dairy, butter, etc.

Some space-saving items in your refrigerator can help maximize your storage space. My favorite items from The Container Store include:

Egg Stay Fresh Container - $8.99
Beverage Can Dispenser - $4.99
Fridge Refresh: $8.99
Slimline Fridge Jugs: $7.99 - $9.99
DaysAgo Digital Counters: $7.99 - $9.99

Last but not least, don't forget to clear off the front of the fridge. Pictures, magnets, and artwork - while fun and personal - can create a cluttered look in the kitchen if they take up too much space. Leaving the doors of the refrigerator clean will make your kitchen feel cleaner.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Oprah wants you...

From Oprah's website:

BOSTON: Need to Declutter a Room?

Residents of BOSTON ONLY!!!

Organizational Expert, Peter Walsh is headed to Boston!

Oprah and He are looking for the messiest house, apartment, room, storage unit, office, desk, store, laundry room, anything! Turn someone in -- or tell us about yourself! What space in your life needs a MAJOR decluttering makeover? We'll be making our decision ASAP, so the sooner we hear from you, the better your chances!

If you're ready to come clean on National Television and finally get organized here's what you need to do:

1) Submit your story below. (Tell us why and how long your house has been cluttered, a little about your family, do you own or rent?, etc.)

2) Email photos of your clutter, exterior of your home, and recent photos of your family to

And please hurry! We're coming to Boston soon!

Here's the link:

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Reluctant Family Member?

All too often I get calls from people who want help organizing someone else's space or things. Unfortunately, there is no magic bullet, and any professional organizer will tell you that organizing someone's stuff without their involvement is a recipe for disaster.

So what to do, then, when a spouse or family member is reluctant to get organized?
  • Lead by example. Without a doubt, there are spaces that you can tidy up without "touching" the other person's stuff. By working on your own in your own space (or a space shared with others), you can create a more peaceful, functional environment and provide a great example of what is possible with some effort behind getting organized. Maybe you can tackle a linen closet or junk drawer and make it easier for everyone to find everyday items. Or set up a family message center or mail processing area that everyone can use.
  • Start with small, manageable projects. Getting some momentum going by tackling a smaller task or problem area can get everyone into the mood to organize and can make it feel less overwhelming.
  • Let them know how being disorganized is affecting you/making you feel. The important strategy here is to personalize the message and make it about you, versus putting blame on the other person. Instead of "your space is a mess and it's no wonder you always lose your keys," try "I feel out of control and stressed out because our office isn't set up well for us."
  • Recognize that organizational systems aren't one-size-fits all. Everyone has a unique learning style and works in their own ways. Some are visual and like to see everything in front of them; others like to put everything behind closed doors. Understand that what works for you organizationally may not make sense for your partner or family member.
  • Be non-judgmental. As difficult as it may be, try not to assign blame or make someone feel bad about their lack of organization. Positive reinforcement and support is what is required to get on the right track.
  • Be patient. Organization doesn't come naturally for many people, and it will take some trial and error, and constant effort to turn old habits around. Offer support, but realize that many people want to work at their own pace and not have others handle their things. Recognize the best times to work on organizing and know that just because you're in the mood doesn't mean your partner is. Learn to work at their peak energy times.

A special thanks to The BB for posing for the obstinate family member image. Editors note: The BB is anything but reluctant and has made great strides. :)

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Packing Lists

My sister is getting married next weekend on the Cape, and I've started pulling stuff together for the long weekend. It occurred to me that as obvious as it seems, it might be a good reminder for people who might be planning a weekend away or a trip with the family. Creating a packing list and a staging area are great ways to reduce the stress of getting out the door on time, and making sure that you don't forget anything.

You can create packing lists by person, or by activity - whatever makes sense for you. And, if they are trips that you'll take again, you can save them on your computer to jump start the process next time.

I recommend starting this at least a week before your trip; that will give you some time to add to your list as you remember things each day.

You can either check off list items once they are in the staging area, or use your list as a final check as you pack your bags or the car.

In addition to packing lists, a list of errands that need to be completed (like get the BB's suit dry cleaned, and pick up prescriptions at CVS) can also be handy. Group tasks together that you can knock out in a short trip - and save time in the long run.

There are many "standard" packing lists online if you want to build off of one that exists.

Happy travels!

Monday, September 29, 2008

Shredding Resources

Until you are able to go completely paperless, shredding is a critical step in avoiding identity theft. Plus, it's a cathartic way to cut down on paper clutter in your space. There's nothing more satisfying than the grind of a shredder cutting up paper you don't need.

But, if you are in the midst of a big cleanout of your files or getting rid of paper back-log, the task of shredding can be overwhelming.

There are many shredding services available that will do shredding on-site at your home or office, or offer drop-off services. Here's a list of some Boston-area shredding resources. This was developed by a fellow professional organizer and distributed/shared through our NAPO-New England email list.

  • Mansfield Shredding Service (174 N. Main St., Mansfield, MA, 02048, 508 618-4222, Mon - Sat 9 - 3) is a non-profit storefront that charges $4-$5/box to benefit children with special needs.
  • Northeast Data Destruction will pick up papers to be shred and take them away (shredding is done at their facility) for a base price of $62 plus $5/box. Or, drop-off shredding services start at $75.
  • Shred-It in Woburn: 781-937-0888. Has on-site shredding at their facility for $150 for up to 10 boxes. On-site shredding is more expensive, starting at $350.
  • Shred King does on-site residential shredding in the Boston area. They are based out of Quincy. Fees start at $85 for 1-10 boxes.
  • ProShred has many upcoming community shredding events in the western part of the state.
Many communities sponsor town recycling/shredding days, so watch calendars for opportunities to bring your shredding to an event. Northeast Data Destruction will be participating in one with the Town of Arlington on Sat. 11/15 from 9-12. The cost is $10 and you can bring paper, bikes, DVDs/tapes, CDs, etc.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Guest Blogger: Organizing Your Books

Tonight we have a very special submission from my sister-in-law, who is probably the most organized person I know. She's a librarian by day and loves books, so she wanted to share some ideas and tips for making your book collection look great! Please leave us some comments and share your ideas, too. I'll take this opportunity to invite anyone who has an organizing question, idea, or tip to forward them along to be included in this blog! And a big "thanks" to Michelle for this great post.

There are many ways to organize your book collection. There are really only two rules... You should be able to find a book when you need it, and it should look neat!

Often it makes sense to separate Fiction (stories) from Non Fiction (facts), but it really depends on your personal collection. You can make up your own subject breakdown using the categories that make the most sense to you and that fit with your collection. If you have a large collection, alphabetizing by author might make sense, but if you're not someone who remembers authors, you could also alphabetize by Title.

For aesthetic reasons, it can also be nice to display certain special books in areas that lend themselves to that. On a coffee table, or a side table. You could even arrange books by size and/or color if it worked with your decor. There are many examples of this on the internet, one of my favorites can be found here:

Frequently used cookbooks should go in the kitchen, if possible, or near to it for easy access. Cookbooks you use less often can go with your other books.

When you've exceeded your book storage space, it's time to go through and let go of some of the titles. Libraries, used book stores, and thrift stores will take your gently used books in good condition. They will rarely take text books or other dated materials such as travel books; it's best to simply recycle those with your newspapers and magazines. It's good to leave your shelves with a little room to grow, and you can always put mementos on the shelves if you have a lot of extra room. (Wendy's note: Hands Across the Water is a great charity that will take books and send them worldwide. They have drop boxes in certain areas.)

As long as you're happy with it and you can find that copy of your latest book club title, you've done a great job!

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Disaster Preparedness Month: Creating an Emergency Supply Kit

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security is the best resource for emergency preparedness and planning.

Preparing an Emergency Supply Kit may not seem necessary, but in the event of a disaster, it's critical to not have to search your home for important medications, first aid supplies, lighters/matches, and emergency food and water provisions. By assembling a kit in advance, and keeping it in an easy-to-access, convenient area in your home, you won't have to give it a second thought.

For a list of recommended items to include in your Emergency Supply Kit, visit

Periodically check your kit to make sure items haven't expired and that supplies are in full stock.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Handling Donation Requests

Requests for financial donations throughout the year can become overwhelming, and it's difficult to say "no" when you are solicited by a charity. Here are some tips for keeping your charitable giving under control and organized:

1) Set an annual budget, and stick to it. Decide at the beginning of the year what you are comfortable giving, and then work within that number. Keep a tally of donations so that in September, you'll remember what you gave back in February. You'll feel good about what you have been able to give, and feel less guilty when you have to pass on an opportunity.

2) Choose your favorite causes, and give to those. If you feel passionate about one cause or another, put your resources towards something that really matters to you.

3) Beware of charity scams. Not all organizations are truly charitable, and many will take a portion of your "donations" - even up to most of the money - and put it towards their own operating costs and profit. It's better to put money in a fireman's hat than fall victim to a phoned solicitation posing as a policemen's charitable group. Always research the charity or stick with the ones that are most established.

4) Toss repeat mailings and don't feel guilty about accepting unsolicited "gifts" (address labels, stickers, etc.) without making a donation.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Donate Your Wedding Gown

Is your wedding gown hanging in your closet or packed away in a box in the closet? Think about why you are keeping it. Chances are, styles will change before your daughter or anyone else gets to wear the gown again. If you think you can bear to part with it (and gain some valuable storage space), here is a great cause and resource.

Brides Against Breast Cancer is part of the Making Memories charitable organization, granting wishes to men and women who are terminally ill with breast cancer. By conducting national sales of donated wedding gowns, the organization is able to support families in a difficult time.

The organization is currently in need of contemporary gown styles (year 2000 and later) and accessories. They ask for a $40 donation in addition to the gowns to cover costs for cleaning and preparing the dresses for sale. Visit for full information on donating guidelines.

I donated my wedding gown here two years ago, and it made it easier to part with knowing that I could help a cause so important to me.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

The Bagster: A Dumpster in a Bag

I got a request to check in to The Bagster and provide any insights into the service.

For those of you not familiar, The Bagster is a waste disposal bag, available at most home improvement stores, for about $29.95. You set up the bag, and then fill it with up to 3,300 pounds of household junk, construction debris, or trash at your own pace. When you are finished and the bag is full, you arrange a pick-up, which costs about $140.

There are some limitations to what you can put into The Bagster - nothing hazardous, and in some cases, yard waste is not acceptable. The Bagster team disposes of the items at a licensed facility. The Bagster website has lots of tips about where to place your Bagster, how to fill it, and what can and cannot be disposed of.

I'd love to hear any first-hand experiences you've had using The Bagster. Leave a comment and let me know what you think of the service. To me, it seems like a convenient and affordable alternative to renting a traditional dumpster for home renovation and clean-up projects.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

National Preparedness Month: Creating a Family Communications Plan

September has been designated "National Preparedness Month," and while I don't typically follow designated topics-of-the-month, it does provide some fodder for some great ideas and suggestions for making sure your family is prepared in the case of an emergency. I'll be posting a few blog entries this month focused on disaster preparedness.

Sometimes it's easy to feel insulated from disasters, especially in New England where the weather doesn't get as severe as other parts of the country. But remember that a fire, flood, or power outage can happen at any time and anywhere.

When thinking about disaster preparedness, remember that being prepared empowers you and your family, so that you can react quickly and efficiently. It shouldn't be based on fear. When communicating with children about disaster preparedness, always keep a positive and calming tone.

One of the most important things you can do to be prepared is to have a family communications/reunion plan. This is a simple document to put together, but is often overlooked. September is a great time to put one together as the family gets settled into new routines for back to school.

A family communications plan should consist of the following types of information:
  • Key phone numbers for the family members - home phone, home address, parents' work numbers, cell numbers, day care providers, neighbors, and an out-of-town relative. Remember that sometimes it can be easier to make a long distance call than a local call in the case of an emergency, so an out-of-town relative can be a good point of contact. One other important suggestion is to use cell phones' ICE (in case of emergency) feature. Most cell phones now have an entry reserved for ICE and you should definitely program in an emergency contact. Most first responders and EMTs are now trained to look for an ICE number in the case of a car accident or other incident.
  • Pre-designated reunion spots in the case of an emergency. First location should be your home address; second should be a close neighbor (in case of fire, flood, etc.); third should be a community location (church, town hall, school, etc.); and a fourth and final choice should be an out-of-town relative or friend. You should go through various scenarios so that everyone understands the purpose of the different reunion spots.
Once your document is created, take the time to sit down with the family and review it together to make sure that everyone is comfortable with the procedures. You can also make wallet cards with the critical information for everyone to carry with them. Also - remember to communicate your plan with other people involved, including neighbors, day care providers, schools, and any out-of-town relatives/friends. If you make any changes to the plan, distribute new copies to everyone.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Great Products: Doorganizer from See Jane Work

For those of you unfamiliar with See Jane Work - check it out. It's a site full of stylish office supplies. My theory is that when you enjoy the way your organizing products look, you'll be more likely to use them!

Anyway, I wanted to highlight a great product that is on sale - the Doorganizer. As school gets back into session and we all adjust to new routines, this is a great way to remind yourself or family members not to forget critical things on the way out the door. Simply stuff it with your keys, sunglasses, permission slips, dry cleaning claim tickets, outgoing mail - the possibilities are endless! Right now the Doorganizer is just $9 which is a steal.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Organizing Checkup: One Year Later

I wanted to share with you an update on a project I took on a year ago - a bedroom for a teenage boy. (Click here for the original story.)

I was curious to hear whether or not the systems I put in place stood the test of time, so I checked in to hear the latest.

"Here are those pictures I've been promising you - Tim's room one year later. It was actually really easy to clean. He purged some clothes that didn't fit anymore and some school papers from last year. All the organization areas you helped him set up were all still working fine. This past year, he had acquired a lot of sheet music that he had loose around his room, and he grabbed an extra magazine rack (you had given him extras last year) to keep all the music together (totally his idea)! We did some heavy cleaning, added some new linens, and he is all set for the new school year!"
Not too shabby! Cheers to Tim, and let's hope this school year is his best yet. The real test would be a "sneak peek" when he's not expecting an inspection...we'll have to see what we can do.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Pantry Closet Makeover for Under $200

I drool over expensive closet systems as much as the next person, but sometimes it's not practical for a client. And sometimes, you can achieve organization by leveraging what you already have, and making some minor improvements.

Here's a pantry closet example. We cleaned this up for less than $200 and in less than two hours.

Before, the closet was packed to the gills and items were stuffed in wherever there was space. Food was mixed in with appliances, and plastic grocery bags and paper towels were plotting to take over the world.

However, the closet already had a decent shelving system and was deep enough to accommodate a lot of things.

So with a trip to The Container Store, we picked up the following supplies, and spent a total of $175:

This baby holds up to 30 plastic grocery bags - more than anyone should ever need.

By implenting this system, we took advantage of unused storage space on the back of the closet door, allowing for all of the food to be neatly stored in baskets.

3) Clear Storage Drawers, Medium, 4, $12.99/each
These drawers were narrow enough to stack next to the existing shelving unit, giving us space to tame the smaller loose items, like phonebooks, takeout menus, plastic cutlery, and kitchen wrap.

So by pulling everything out, discarding expired food, purging unused appliances, and putting everything into categories, we were able to put things away neatly for easy access.

Here is our final result. A more functional closet for just a little investment in time and money.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Taking My Own Advice

I'm sure people wonder if I can relate to the tough decisions that have to be made when it comes to cutting down on your stuff. Parting with treasured possessions isn't easy, and it can be easier said than done. Rationally, you might completely understand that it's time to let something go; but the emotional ties are often stronger than we think.

Case in point. The BB and I have acquired a number of furniture pieces from family, leading to a very eclectic household. Handmade tables from my father; an antique desk from The BB's grandmother; and our most recent additions, a hutch and buffet that belonged to my grandmother. We've discussed all of this furniture as we develop a household of our own, and we've decided that we really like how everything has meaning and history, and seems to come together nicely (despite the varied sources of it all). But the recent hutch and buffet influx has put me in a tough spot. It's time to part with some things that have been meaningful to me in the past, but don't have a spot in my future.

This hutch is as old as I am. It has been in my many homes for my entire life. As a child, I somehow knew not to open it and play with the breakable dishes my mom stored there. And when I was old enough to get my own apartment, she helped me paint it red and move it in. It has served me well, holding a lot of stuff and serving as a foundation for the rest of my decor. But now I'm looking at two hutches, and I'm making the tough decision to let this one go.

Sometimes we take hand-me-downs from family and friends out of a sense of obligation. The important thing to keep in mind is that furniture ultimately has to serve a functional purpose. Otherwise, it's just taking up valuable living space. So, faced with my dilemma, I realized that having two matching pieces from my grandmother would work better in our space. The BB and I carefully thought about it before taking the new (old) pieces in and made sure that we would be honoring them properly and enjoying them in our home.

This weekend my mom is picking up the red hutch. It turns out that she has the perfect spot for it in her dining room. So that made parting with it even easier. So, goodbye for now, old friend.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

My Tax-Free Holiday Weekend Treat

Here's what I am treating myself to this tax-free weekend in Massachusetts:

The elfa® Mesh Gift Wrap Cart. I have looked at it longingly for far too many months. With my NAPO discount and no tax, this will run me a cool $157. Don't tell The BB!

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Cool Stuff From This Month's NAPO Meeting

Every month, I attend a the monthly NAPO-New England chapter meeting. Last night's was packed with some great resources and products that I wanted to share.
A representative from Smead gave a one-hour presentation on exciting new products and smarter filing solutions for businesses. Among the highlights:

In addition, I heard about restoration and conservation services from Gentle Giant. They can repair water and fire damage to furniture and restore paintings.

Finally, if you need packing materials and boxes, try Box XPress. They will pick up and deliver, and sell used boxes, too, which is great for recycling and reusing materials.

$20 Credit from DIRECTV for paperless billing

The BB and I just signed up for DIRECTV (for the NFL Sunday Ticket, of course), and just for signing up for paperless billing, we've been given a $20 credit on a future bill. Not a bad incentive for something that I love to do anyway! I think more companies should be looking at creative ways to encourage people to step up and go paperless. It's good for the environment, AND it's easier to stay organized without a mountain of paper.

PS: Go Pats!

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Hire a Professional Organizer, or Go It Alone?

A common thing I hear from clients is, "why couldn't I just figure this out on my own?" In fact, many people wonder whether they actually need to hire a professional organizer, or if they can get organized on their own.

If you're having a similar debate, I offer up a few considerations. Working with a professional organizer can actually help you get organized faster. Sometimes a client will want me to get them started on a plan of action, and then he or she will work independently, with some checkpoints throughout the process. Though I have seen this work well in a few cases, it generally goes much slower if you are on your own.

  • Having a PO by your side will keep you motivated, focused, and on track. You'd be amazed at how much faster you can sort through clutter if you are being held accountable. Plus, you are financially invested in the time - which can be a strong motivator for making progress.

  • Even with the best of intentions, it can be difficult to get "homework" done in between check-in sessions with your organizer. Life gets in the way, and it's too easy to procrastinate or keep putting off your organizing effort.

  • A professional organizer will also offer you valuable tips and advice during your organizing sessions.

  • When you're on your own, it's easy to become paralyzed by the decision making process. I have seen clients decide to get rid of items, but then lose the ability to decide where they should go. Would the local church use the item, or should you save it for potential future use? Without someone by your side to insist on a decision, the clutter won't leave.

  • An organizer can help you work through your natural energy cycles and be most efficient with your time. I can sense when a client has had enough for the day, and I know that it will take us longer to deal with the process, so I will often suggest stopping for the day or moving on to a different task.

  • Ultimately, it's great to have an extra set of hands and a companion as you go. A professional organizer is a cheerleader, energy booster, confidant, accountability partner, and more.

No matter how you choose to proceed, remember that getting organized is an ongoing effort and takes continuous improvement and adjustments to your lifestyle and habits.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Makeup Drawer Solved!

Lucky Knitter sent in some before and after shots of her makeup drawer. "Hi Wendy, I took your advice and wanted you to see the results. I was at Joann's yesterday and I saw these small dividers and thought they would be perfect for my make up drawer. Total cost $2.00."
Nice job, knitter!

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Top Ten Yard Sale Tips

Another suggested post from the email for a successful yard sale.

As a professional organizer, and even in my life before this career, I've run yard sales a-plenty. And I've learned a lot along the way. Here are my top ten yard sale tips to make yours a winner.

1) Set your expectations appropriately.
This is probably the most important rule, and one of the most difficult to follow. Remember that the primary goal of your yard sale has to be getting rid of extra stuff - not necessarily "earning money." You're not likely to get the full value of your items at a yard sale, when people are looking to wheel and deal. If you have higher end collectibles or furniture to sell, put a price on them that you think is fair, and stay firm. Just realize that if the items don't sell on yard sale day, you'll have to bring them back into your space. Otherwise, explore consignment, ebay, or for other vehicles for selling valuable items.

Yard sales can be a lot of work, but they can also be an effective way of cutting down on your clutter and getting some money back to invest in your new space.

2) Advertise aggressively.
The key to a good yard sale turnout is effective promotion. List yours on and include photos of some of your big-ticket items to woo in the hard core yard salers. People who head out early on the weekends in search of the best deals like to do their research ahead of time. Don't forget to post signs. One safety tip is to not include your exact house number if you're worried about the early birds showing up and banging on your door or peeking in your windows. If you have specialty items available that attract a certain audience (e.g. craft supplies, tools, old toys, etc.), make sure you highlight those.

3) Get the neighbors on board.
Nothing gets a true yard sale fan more excited than the thrill of a multi-family yard sale. If you can line up some neighbors or family members to participate, then you can bill your event as a much larger sale. Plus, it builds camaraderie and can be a lot of fun. If you choose to set up your sale in the same area, color coded stickers are a great way to differentiate different families' items.

4) Organize your stuff ahead of time.
Collect yard sale items throughout the year, and store them in a staging area somewhere in your house - garage, basement, attic, etc. Price your items as you go, so that you're not left with a mountain of stuff to price the night before the sale. Or, just have everything set up and let people make you offers.

5) It's all in the merchandising.
By setting up your items in an organized fashion, you will appear to have higher quality stuff available for sale. Place furniture/big ticket items out in front, visible from the street for the slow-rollers who drive by and size up the quality of your sale from the comfort of their car. Try to categorize your items and set them up together, like "departments." Throughout the day, consolidate piles and break down empty tables so that the sale doesn't seem picked over.

6) Price strategically.
Decide what you're willing to take for each item, and then mark it a bit higher so that people have room to negotiate with you. Leave price tags on new/unopened items so that it's clear that they have never been used. Offer up smaller items in bulk, like 3/$1, to make it easier to process sales.

7) Pick your day carefully - and start early.
Yard sales are typically seasonal and often fall in the spring and fall. Choose a non-holiday weekend when people are likely to be in town. And despite what you might think, the more yard sales going on that day, the better! It's less about competition and more about leveraging the activity. People are likely to travel to multiple sales on a given day. Also, resist the urge to sleep in. Your best sales will happen before 11:00 am, so plan to start yours early - by 8:00 or 9:00.

8) Watch the weather.
Plan a rain date. Tent or no tent, a heavy rain can put a real damper on a yard sale. I've tried it in the rain and it just doesn't work.

9) Offer snacks & refreshments - a great way to earn some extra cash.
It's also a great way to have the kids involved.

10) Have fun!
It can be a bit exhausting to haggle with people over a quarter for your favorite pair of socks. Try to keep your emotions in check and enjoy the day. Make sure you have some friends and family out there with you to keep you company.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Great Products: Crosley® Songwriter Recordable Turntable

One of the great benefits of being a member of NAPO (The National Association of Professional Organizers) and NAPO-NE, the New England Chapter, is the collaboration and sharing of ideas that occurs amongst professional organizers.

Yesterday, on the NAPO-NE email list, an organizer recommended this product for transferring LPs and cassettes to CD. At about $400, it's a bit expensive - but a great gift idea for the audiophile in your life.

It's a great way to capture your favorite albums in a convenient digital format so that you can enjoy them anywhere. And who knows, maybe you can let go of some of those LPs and gain some much coveted storage space.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Ask The Organizer: Managing Your Makeup

Thanks to Lucky Knitter, I have my first "Ask The Organizer" question. I invite anyone who would like advice or a helpful tip on a particular topic to send an email to, and I'll address it here in a future blog post. Feel free to include photos of your space or challenge.

Now, on to the knitter's dilemma - the makeup drawer. Organizing your makeup can be done fairly easily, and without spending a lot of money. Step one is to review your makeup collection, and sort it into categories. Put "like with like" - all of your lipsticks in one pile, foundations, eye shadows, nail polish, etc. Next, purge items that you haven't worn or that are expired. For ideas on makeup shelf life, visit Essentially, mascaras are good for up to four months; concealer, foundations, cleansers, and nail polish will last a year; and eye shadow, lipsticks, lip liners, and powders will last longer.

Be sure to be honest with yourself. Are you really going to wear that "slightly too bold" red lipstick again? It can be hard to toss expensive products, but if you're not using them, they are just taking up valuable space. And unfortunately, letting them sit there won't get your money back. Avoid future impulse buys and make sure that you test colors before you buy them in the future.

Once you have pared down your makeup, the next step is to put things away in an easy-to-access place, so that you can quickly find what you are looking for when you are pressed for time (and not quite awake) in the morning. If you have a designated makeup drawer in your vanity, pick up an inexpensive drawer organizer with compartments. If the drawer is deep enough, try one that has multiple layers so that you can store your everyday items on top and special occasion items underneath. You can pick drawer organizers up anywhere - especially office supply stores or even Target.

If you don't have a makeup drawer, any type of caddy or container that will fit under your sink or on a shelf will do just fine. If you have sufficient counter top space and your bathroom is private, try a small "desktop" organizer to sort your everyday items so that they are in easy reach. This one is from The Container Store:

Finally, if you have extra items and do a lot of traveling, you can create a travel-only cosmetic case, pack it up, and you're ready to go at a moment's notice.

Remember to set limits for yourself and check expiration dates regularly.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Great Products: Game Savers™ Boxes

I think one of the secrets to my great marriage to The BB is our healthy sense of competition. We love games, and we're fairly evenly matched. (Though he does refuse to play Boggle with me for some unexplained reason.) I can credit my competitive streak to my childhood of playing games like Monopoly with my family. And as those who know me best will tell you, I hate to lose.

For those well-loved and slightly beat up board game boxes, a terrific solution is a Game Savers™ Box, available at The Container Store and other places.
Or, pick up any plastic container with compartments and store multiple small game parts together for even more consolidation or a handy travel kit.
Now...anyone for a game of Boggle?

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Five Organizing Ideas to Prep for Back to School

Can anyone believe that August is already upon us? While we're enjoying the final days of summer, here are some organizing ideas that you can do in small amounts of time and really feel accomplished and ready for back-to-school:

1) Sort through school supplies:
Gather up all of the loose markers, crayons, pens, pencils, rulers, notebooks, etc. and do a good sort and purge. You might find that on your annual trip to Staples, you can skip the paper clips and save some money.

2) Take a pass through your kids' wardrobes:
Decide what doesn't fit anymore or what's no longer in style or wanted. Realize that your son already has ten black t-shirts (even after you toss the faded ones) and probably should choose some different colors this year. Bag up clothing for donations, and drop it in a box on your way to Kohl's for back-to-school shopping.

3) Pare down the toys and games:
Chances are, there are toys and games that haven't been used for quite some time. This is a great opportunity to cut down and make room for the new things you will acquire this year. Thrift shops, schools, churches, and charities will usually take toys in good, clean condition with all of their parts intact.

4) Pare down the books:
Ditto on the books. It can be challenging to get rid of childhood favorites, so it's OK to keep a few treasured favorites. But making room for new books to come in really encourages kids to keep reading. For a shameless plug for The BB, bring them to The Book Rack or another used book store for store credit, and pick up some others. If the kids pick up reading again in August, they'll get a jump start on getting out of the summer slump in time for school.

5) Purge last year's paperwork:
If you have a pile of school papers, projects, artwork, essays - now is the time to pick your favorites and store them away. Then get recycle the rest. Set up an area for homework and for processing this year's paperwork.

Most importantly, take the time to enjoy these last few weeks of summer!

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Clothing Donations: Determining Value

"MONEY For Your Used Clothing" is a great booklet that provides IRS-approved values for used clothing so that you can itemize your charitable donations and save money on your taxes. Each year, a new book comes out with updated IRS figures, and the publisher guarantees that you will save at least $250 on your taxes by itemizing, or they refund the cost of the book.

The book typically sells for $25, but until 7/31/08, you can get one for $15 at

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Attack of the Product Packaging

The BB and I are getting ready to host the First Annual Book Rack Employee BBQ this weekend, so I'm running around a bit trying to tidy up. Recently, we bought a new multifunction printer for the office, which came in the world's largest box:

If it were up to me, the box would have gone out to recycling this week. But The BB (probably wisely) wants to hold on to it for a bit longer. So what's the right answer?

In general, a good rule of thumb is to hold on to packaging and boxes until you're certain you won't need to return the product to the store for any reason. But I see a lot of software boxes and other packaging as I help clients clean out their spaces, so I know that the temptation is strong to keep things longer. Reducing the amount of packaging that you are holding on to can save valuable space in your closets and basements. Pull out manuals, warrantee information, and important paperwork and recycle the box. This is especially effective for software programs. All that cardboard just to hold a simple CD! Make sure you cut off any bar codes required for rebates.

Larger boxes for appliances, computers, electronics can go out to recycling once you pass the 30 or 90-day return period. It may seem like holding on to a quality large box that "might come in handy someday" is wise, but be honest with yourself. Unless you're planning to make a homemade Halloween costume (a great idea, BTW) or have unlimited storage space, these are just too big to be practical. They get pretty heavy when you use them for packing

For now, I have stashed our box in the office (where else!) where I can shut the door for the party on Sunday.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Nag, Nag, Nag: Managing To-Dos

It's a real challenge to find an effective task-management solution, aside from the old standby paper-based "to-do" list. For those tech-savvy individuals out there who use the computer all day long, Outlook's Task Manager falls short.

The BB is the perfect example of someone who needs an effective task management tool that he can access from anywhere - home, the bookstore, on the road. And with a new business venture coming, he's going to be a very busy Book Baron!

Right now, the BB manages his tasks by using Outlook and flagging emails for Follow Up. But, he can only do this from his PC at home. If he's at the bookstore or on the road using webmail, he's out of luck. So he went on a search for some web-based task management tools, and found a couple of promising contenders. Nothing's perfect, and there's no single solution for everyone, but it seems like there are some different approaches out there that might be on the right track.

Remember the Milk lets you create tasks lists - in multiple categories if you want. This works out well if you have tasks in various categories like home, family, health, business, etc. The tasks lists are organized by tabs and you can share them with other family members ("Honey Do" list, anyone?). You can also subscribe to email reminders. The BB doesn't love the interface or ability to add details to the tasks and having multiple lists makes it difficult to identify what's most important or top priority. But, it's free.

The BB's frontrunner is Gootodo, despite its silly name. "Goo" doesn't allow multiple categories or lists, but that's by design. This tool is considered more of a productivity solution, in that you can better prioritize, move, assign tasks. Some of the highlights of this tool:

- You can easily drag and drop to prioritize tasks on a given day.

- By sending an email (or forwarding a message) to or or (month 3) or you can automatically add them to a specific date's to-do list.

- Get a daily email sent to you with your assigned "to-dos" for the day.

- Gootodo offers a free 30-day trial and is $3/month after that.

I would love to get some feedback from people who use these, so that I can pass along recommendations and thoughts to my clients. So sign up for a free trial for one of these and let me know what you think! Or, if you've heard of some other tools, let us know by leaving a comment.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Going Paperless

This morning I read in the Globe about a service called Pixily - and it's an interesting concept. Pixily is a service that scans and uploads your papers to a private website, allowing you to access your documents online. Using a Netflix-style service, Pixily provides envelopes and you pay a monthly subscription fee to mail in documents. They are then scanned, uploaded, and either mailed back to you or shredded. Once uploaded, you can add tags and search words to make finding your documents easy.

It's really an interesting idea; but the paranoid side of me worries about identity theft. It seems like there is just too much room for private information to escape during the process of mailing documents in, scanning them, and then shredding or return. That said, Pixily indicates on their website that the only time documents are seen by human eyes is during the scanning process; all employees go through an extensive background check; and no recording devices (including pencils) are allowed in their operations center.

It might be worth testing out for some non-sensitive material (receipts or utility bills).

There are other easy ways to go paperless, too:
- Get bank statements emailed in PDF form on a monthly basis
- Ask for electronic credit card, utility, phone bills
- Pay your bills with online banking
- Cut down on the amount of junk mail you get by registering with The Direct Marketing Association
- Opt out of unwanted catalogs at Catalog Choice

Friday, July 18, 2008

What's for dinner?

I have a good friend (who will remain nameless - but you know who you are) who's an amazing cook and baker. She puts the rest of us to shame with her cakes made from scratch. She keeps all of her recipes on the computer, and plans her meals well in advance. She will then publish the week's menu and post it on the fridge so her husband and son know what they'll be having each night for dinner. Then, she is able to print out her shopping list and head to the grocery store without any risky impulse buys. Clearly, she needs no help from me!

For the rest of us, who clip endless recipes out of magazines with the best intentions of trying every one, I have a more easily-implemented (and perhaps a bit more practical) solution: The Recipe Binder. You can get it together in no time, and you'll really feel like you accomplished something.

1) Pick up any standard three-ring binder, some clear plastic sheet protectors, and binder insert pages with 4 pockets to hold 3x5 cards. (Usually photo pages will do the trick.) You will also need a set of tab dividers.

2) Collect all of your loose recipes, clippings, magazine pages, printouts, and recipe cards. Divide them into categories of your choosing - breakfast, appetizers, poultry, grilling, etc. (If you're anything like me, dessert will be a disproportionally large category.)
Do a purge of the recipes that you are never going to use. (Let's be honest, do you really think you're up to the task of making Chateau Briande? Better stick with pot roast.)

3) Set up the tabbed dividers with labels for each category.

4) Punch holes in any full-size page recipes, or slip them into sheet protectors to save them from spills and stains.

5) Slip recipe cards into the pocketed pages.

6) Put everything together, and ta-da, you have a handy, organized recipe binder in no time.

Now if I could just try to make the Snapper with Spicy Pineapple Glaze instead of just ordering a pizza...where is that jar of cayenne pepper, anyway?

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

How Long to Keep Papers...

One of the most frequently asked questions I get as an organizer is "How long do I have to keep these papers?" It's a tough one to answer, especially since I cannot offer any financial or tax advice. I always tell clients to check with a financial planner or tax professional. But, I recently came across a great article that gives some guidelines. I'll be keeping printouts of this in my organizer toolkit!

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Perfection? Hardly!

When I enter someone's home or office for the first time, there's usually a slightly awkward period where they are apologizing for the mess, etc. I mean, a professional organizer must live in a Fortress of Tidyness, right? Hardly! It's not about perfection, people. It's about doing the best you can.

So, to illustrate my point, I thought I would share the reality of my home office. I share the space with my husband (we'll call him The Book Baron, or BB for short.) We in fact share a great T-shaped desk that was concepted by BB and put together with help from my very handy father. BB is a highly intelligent, creative individual. And I'm sure you can guess, I'm quite the opposite. Measured, anal, and a bit uptight. That leads to very different ideal workspaces.

BB's side of the office on a "good" day - complete with an extra/unused pair of computer speakers, his slippers, mail on the floor, and his jar of Flintstone's vitamins.

My side of the office...Real Simples all happily tucked in. Hey...who left that glass there?

The truth is, we've done our best to co-exist in our space and remain sensitive to each others' organizational preferences. I try to offer up gentle suggestions and bins from Staples, and BB tries to keep his piles contained to his side of the office. I figure as long as I don't become overbearing and chase him with the shredder and label maker, and he doesn't put any critical bills under a stack of expired coupons from Bob's Stores, then we're going to make it. Though I can turn around a client's messy office in a heartbeat, it's always tougher when you are working with your own spouse.

But when it gets too overwhelming, I retreat to the sanctuary of my delightful magnetic spice rack, metal containers all labeled and in a row on the fridge:

Sometimes a little perfection goes a long way.

Update: 9:30 pm
The BB loads his dirty glass into the dishwasher. I guess passive-aggressive blogging pays off.

Be Prepared: Home Inventory Made Easy

One of the great products I learned about at this year's NAPO (National Association of Professional Organizers) conference in Reno, NV is AnywhereVault, an online home and business inventory solution.

AnywhereVault makes it easy to inventory your home belongings and keep a log on a secure website, so that you can access it anytime. By simply taking photos or video, adding descriptions and estimated value, you can have a record of all of your belongings - critical information for you to have in case of a theft, fire, flood, or other disaster.

You can also use the system to store sensitive information, such as passwords or security codes. You can upload scanned receipts and instruction manuals for appliances, cutting down on the amount of paper in your home.

AnywhereVault is actually quite affordable, too, with costs ranging from $15 - $80 a year depending on the space required to store your information. I have joined on as an affiliate, offering home inventory services for clients. Enter referral code NPMA01.

Check it out - they have a great product tour online. Or contact me with any questions.

The Buddy System

Welcome to my new blog! My goal is to keep this up-to-date with musings, tips & tricks, stories, and my experiences as a professional organizer.

A trend that I am finding in working with my clients is that they are looking for what I will call a "clutter buddy." It's a daunting task to get started on an organizing project, and no one should have to go it alone. Often, as I stand side-by-side with a client as we sort through their stuff, they wonder "why can't I just do this on my own?" But the fact is, it's a lonely task. Part of the process of allowing yourself to get rid of something is to share the story of it before you let it go. I have listened carefully and with compassion as the history of a particular photo, home made costume, or child's craft project is revealed. It seems as though once the story is heard one more time, it's easier to let go.

In other cases, my clients are looking for companionship as they tackle the piles of clutter. Someone to help schlep a box or hold open a trash bag. It can make the time go by faster and keep the energy level going.

We all have that closet that needs a purging or that area in the garage that's getting a little bit out of control. (Yes, me included. Nobody's perfect!) Whether or not you choose to work with an organizer, try to find a clutter buddy to help you stay on track and meet your goals.