August, 2009 browsing by month


7 Tools for Paper Management

Wednesday, August 26th, 2009

This is a short post, a list really, meant to spur your thinking, “Do I have these basic tools?” and “Could having these in place save me time, money and frustration?”  Here goes!  The 7 tools that are must haves for effective paper management are:

  1. Extra Large Waste Basket (round file), emptied frequently to keep the mindset of “must fill it up” working for you.
  2. Cross-cut Shredder where you open your mail.
  3. Calendar, paper or electronic, to capture appointments, master and daily to-do lists
  4. Tickler File for date specific action reminders and ongoing permanent actions like “to call, to write, to pay”, etc.
  5. Action File system for current projects that have a beginning and an end.
  6. Contact Storage System to easily find personal and business contacts.
  7. Reference File system for long term storage of completed action files and legal/tax forms.

A last suggestion to keep paper piles to a minimum – take steps to reduce the influx of paper, especially via mail.  Two websites to start: – end unwanted mail order catalogs – stop unwanted credit offers

Less of anything is easier to organize.  Go forth and reduce!

Downsizing: Emptying Grandma’s House

Friday, August 21st, 2009

Grandma’s house. What images come to your mind when you say that phrase?  Do you smell tempting aromas of special family meals?  What lasting bits of advice ring in your ears?  Do you have the recipe for a traditional family favorite that takes you back in time when you take the first bite?

Grandparents are a rich source of history, tradition, wisdom, and unconditional love.  We wish their influence was unending, but time will not allow that.  At some point, grandma and grandpa’s children are faced with moving or emptying the contents of a home that is filled with memories.

As a professional organizer and a child who has both moved and emptied her parent’s belongings, these are a few suggestions for making that process easier.

  1. Plan the clean out day(s) ahead of time. Set the date, inform all family members, ask for RSVP.  Gather packing materials, markers, Ziplocs, and trash bags.  Choose a charity for unwanted items.  Be ready with drinks and a quick lunch for all.
  2. Take care to be both inclusive and sensitive. Each family member is dealing with strong  emotions.  Decide on a “time-out” signal that means “I/you need a break!” with no questions asked.  The message being – all are welcome, we care, and please respect the feelings of others.
  3. Decide on an equitable division of belongings. My mother let each child make requests for things that were meaningful to them before she moved.  Coded colored sticker s placed on desired items throughout the home, or a draft pick style event would also work
  4. Get an expert opinion on valuables. These are two appraisal organizations that can steer you to the expert you need:
    Appraisers Association of America –
    American Society of Appraisers –
  5. Make a deadline for pick up. Make sure everyone knows that anything left in the grandparents’ house by a certain date will be delivered to charity with NO exceptions.  Schedule a pick up of larger furniture items for donation on that date if needed.

With a little planning and a lot of patience, emptying the family home can be rich with memories and fun.  Take time during lunch to play, “I remember when…”   That is what family gatherings are all about.  It’s not about the stuff!

“I Can’t Get Organized!”

Monday, August 17th, 2009

I had breakfast with a friend recently who said when she hears the words “I can’t” it makes her want to gnash her teeth!   We both agreed that many times it is not a matter of inability to do something, as the word “can’t” implies.  Rather, that person chooses not to, is not willing to, doesn’t want to take the time to, is afraid to, doesn’t know where to start to… do whatever.

How does this apply to prospective clients I talk to in my organizing business?  Whether you need to get rid of piles of paper,  de-clutter your living space, or use storage more wisely you CAN get it done! That is really not the question, is it?  It’s the other “I ___________to’s” we spoke of that are the culprit.  Let’s examine each one.

1.  I choose not to get organized. If you are honest and instead of saying, “I can’t” you admit, “I choose not to”, that’s perfectly fine.  Each person gets to choose how to live as long as another person’s life is not negatively impacted.  My next statement may make some people angry. My opinion is that parents don’t have this luxury for that very reason.  We want the best for our children.  Chaos is not the best environment.

2.  I am not willing to be organized. Many artists and innovative people feel that being regimented by an organizing system will stifle their creative juices.  Talented writer, Virginia Woolf, said, “To enjoy freedom we have to control ourselves.”  A wonderful book for innovative folk is Organizing From the Right Side of the Brain by Lee T. Silber.  He believes that “to be truly creative you have to have some sense of order in your life.  Some structure is needed because we have so many things going on we would never be able to keep it all straight.”  Organizing actually frees your mind from having to remember trivial details that can be jotted in a calendar and enables you to pay your bills before you have late fees.  Your creativity is set free to soar without the weight of missed deadlines and missing tools.

3.  I don’t want to take the time to get organized. You may be thinking – it’s not that I don’t want to take the time, I just don’t have the time!   ‘ Stop Shuffling and Start Organizing’ is Tip 17 from Talane Miedaner’s book, Coach Yourself to Success.  She writes, “Take the time to invest in setting up systems to make your life even easier.  Many of my corporate and professional clients feel they don’t have time to organize; they are too busy. As a result, they work in cluttered, crazy, paper-piled environments.  Big mistake. What they don’t realize is that they will be twice as productive when they get organized.”  Time is gained, not lost, in making order that then saves hours in the long run!  I don’t know about you, but if I want to see a movie or go out to eat, I will always make the time to do it.

4.  I am afraid to get organized. Some clients fear that if stuff is “put away” they will forget something important.  For me, when I was younger I didn’t want to be seen as the meticulous math geek. The truth is, getting organized is not about hiding things or the stigma of being seen as a perfectionist. Organizing is finding a system for placing papers or possessions that enables you to retrieve them at will.  If you are a visual person, that system may include see-through files or another highly visible solution.  The important thing is to be able to find what you need when you need it!

5.  I don’t know where to start to get organized. This usually means the task seems so overwhelming that you don’t even want to think about starting. Find someone who enjoys this process who can help.  You will be so glad you did.  That organized person may be your sister-in-law, the author of a book from the library (see my resource list below for a few of my favorite organizers), or  my blog about Clearing the Clutter to just get started. If you want in-person help from a professional, the National Association of Professional Organizers (NAPO) has a list by city.

There is a sense of accomplishment and well-being that comes with getting a portion of your life/space organized.  Sometimes that first step prompts another, like when you paint your living room walls and then have to get a new chair ’cause the old one looks ratty now.  Seek out some of the great new organizing products or ask for help in the actual process. If you really do want to get your time under control and your space in order, you CAN do it!

Resource List Organizing authors I recommend are:  Julie Morganstern, Barbara Hemphill, Elizabeth Hagen, and Judith Kolberg.

Product Review: Double Hang Rods

Thursday, August 13th, 2009

August is the month to be thinking about organizing your closet.  Why? All the stores will be having their pre-fall sales this month.  You will want to have sorted/ cleared out what doesn’t fit or flatter so you are ready to fill in any holes in your wardrobe.

The best advice I can give in a short blog is to think of your closet as your “store”.  You want to be able to “shop your closet” just as you would at a retail establishment.  What does that mean in terms of organizing? Well, in the store all the short sleeved shirts/blouses are on the same rack. Slacks are hung together and grouped by color.  Shoes are in a separate department.  You get the idea.

Hopefully, when you get done weeding out and rearranging, you will be able to see what you have at a glance.  if you find that your clothes are still jammed in there, you may want to consider today’s product on review – the double-hang closet rod.  This is a quick fix to expand your hanging space without putting in an entire closet system.

Here are a couple examples.

Bed, Bath and Beyond


The product featured to the left from Bed, Bath & Beyond has limited adjustable ranges in both height and width, holds 40 lbs max, and sells for $14.99. If you get on their mailing list, you will get 20% off coupons every so often.

The right photo  shows a comparable rod from The Container Store, that  adjusts widthwise from 20-36″ and in height from 28-51″.  This version sells for $19.99 normally, but is on sale for $12.99 with the college dorm push going on now.

My advice is to purchase two rods and keep the width at the lower end for greater strength.  Hanging shirts/blouses on the top and skirts/slacks on the bottom makes sense in “shopping” but you make the final decision.

If you need help on where to start on your closet, my colleague, Elizabeth Hagen, is hosting a teleseminar on August 19th, 1 p.m. EST on “How to Organize Your Closet so you will get Dressed… Not Stressed!”  She is very good at walking folks through the organizing process step-by-step.  The seminar is not free, but is under $20.

Now you don’t have any more excuses.  Get crackin’ on that closet so you can go shopping while the good stuff is on sale. With your double-hang rods you can fit twice as much in there!

What are You Juggling?

Monday, August 10th, 2009

My husband and I went to the Ohio State Fair on Friday with his brother and wife.  We ate our way through melt-in-your-mouth-warm-mini donuts, Italian sausages, roasted ears of corn, and milkshakes. The best part of the day was watching the juggling act of Roberto the Magnificent.  Roberto was the consumate entertainer – juggling knives on a unicycle, golf clubs, even taught a youngster how to juggle,  a little. Obviously he had to be able to juggle a lot of different stuff while keeping up a conversational patter, or else we would all mosey on to the next food group.

What is our excuse? Why do we choose to juggle so many activities? Granted, jobs enable us to eat. What are some of the other reasons we try to jam so much into 16 waking hours? These are a few excuses I have identified in my life.

Click to continue »

Time Management Tip: Brains Leak, Write it Down

Wednesday, August 5th, 2009

Do you remember the line from the movie The Navigator? Aliens  abducted a pre-teen boy and tried to imprint maps of the universe in his brain. The plan backfired.  The talking spaceship told him he was being returned because, “Your brain leaked.”  I resemble that remark.  You, too?

I have to write things down.  It started as a memory device for the visual learner I am.  If I wrote it, I could throw away the piece of paper; it was in there.  Now if I lose the paper, I’m a goner. I also like to write things down because that act makes abstract goals and ideas more real.

Thankfully, I am not alone.  Leading efficiency and time management writers agree that writing tasks and goals is key. Here are some tricks to make this work for you.

What? Write to-do’s, facts, appointments  down as you think of them.  Keep a pad next to your computer and  in your purse/briefcase/backpack. Then you won’t have to keep repeating it to remind yourself.  Less brain chatter and leakage.

When? Now, especially when you are in the middle of a priority task. After you write it down, you can dismiss that thought and focus completely on the task at hand.

Where? Write directly in your day planner/computer calendar, if at all possible.  If not, transfer the info to your main data collection tool as soon as you have a chance. Then you will be able find it and act on it. Otherwise, the napkin or post-it note might disappear along with that thought.

Why? So you can live out and share your unique brilliance. We want to hear from you, meet with you for lunch, learn from your experience.

Make it easy on yourself. Don’t trust your leaky brain.  Write it down.  Then share it with us.

Beauty? Maybe. Function? Absolutely!

Monday, August 3rd, 2009

People ask me, “How do I know if I’m organized or not? Does my room need to look like a magazine layout?” No! The main goal in organizing (whether it’s an office, bedroom, or bathroom cabinet) is to be able to find what you need when you need it.

Each person’s solution will look different.  Personally, I am distracted by lots stuff lying about and will tend to hop from one pile to another with no real progress on anything.  I have to put away the things I am not working on right now.  Another person may work best with visual clues present at all times.  Thankfully, there are some really good tools for pilers these days.  The standard organizing principles still apply, with a few tweaks.  Here are three hints for starters.

1. Keep everyday use items close by.  Grooming items (shaving, make-up) will be in the front row in your bathroom.  The coffeemaker is on the counter only if you use it everyday.  Current work projects will have a priority spot in or on your desk (I prefer in, but be sure to contain if not, see #3!) The flip side of this principle is that you have permission to banish to some other side of your office or home those things that you only need on occasion.  Seasonal items, reference files, extra supplies… shall no longer take up prime real estate where you live and work everyday!

2.  Keep the same kinds of things together. Have fun with categories.  Office supplies can be sorted into: writing tools, adhesives (glue, staples, tape), mailing supplies, filing stuff, paper, etc.  Bathroom items can include products for hair, teeth, nails, skin/face, first aid, etc.

3.  Keep the “piles” contained. Once you have sorted, find containers that work for your space.  Whenever possible, use the same style containers to hold your different categories in a given area. This trick alone can fool your eye into seeing a pleasing order. Here is where the beauty comes in.  There are so many options for decorative containers these days! Target, Staples, The Container Store are all competing for your business.  Don’t forget to repurpose something you find beautiful to keep stuff contained in style.

When you get your area arranged, give yourself the 10 second challenge.  Close your eyes and think of one item you just put away using the three hints above.  Open your eyes and count to 10 as you search for it.  Find it before you said, “10″?  You found what you needed; you are organized.