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.