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A Place for Every Little Thing

Tuesday, February 26th, 2013

When you think “organized” what comes to mind? Do you think of a Martha-Stewart-beautiful room from a magazine? Do you think of the perfect closet organizing system? I wouldn’t mind having either of these dream spaces in my home, but don’t want to set the bar so high I can’t achieve the goal.

Instead, I would rather go with this definition as my aim: “Being organized means being able to find what you need when you need it.” Take the 5 Minute Quiz to find out just how organized you are.

The Problem? As one client put it, “I can’t find anything because every cupboard and drawer is just a mish-mosh, with no rhyme or reason to what is where.”

The Solution The key to finding what you need is having a designated storage place for distinct categories of “stuff”. For example, always keep a first aid container in only one closet/cupboard. Then when you need a band-aid there is only one place to look!


Choose a specific category of “stuff” to sort, purge and contain each month. Remember to store each category in only one place as much as possible and close to where used. These are hints to get you started:

  • January - Have children? Donate old toys to make room for new. No children? Purge old linens and purchase new if needed while sales abound.
  • February - Pull together tax papers. Toss last year’s receipts once year-end statements arrive.
  • March - Clean out plastic ware in kitchen cupboards. Keep 10-12 tubs and lids. Donate rest to Goodwill for recycle.
  • April - Go through warm weather clothes. Toss, donate, repair. Purchase new to fill holes in wardrobe while best sales going on.
  • May - Air suitcases. Assemble trial containers of favorite toiletries for travel. Toss toiletries not used in last 12 months.
  • June - Evaluate beach gear. Downsize or bump up as needed. Pack a “pool” bag with towels, sunscreen, and goggles; keep ready to grab and go.
  • July - Gather all first aid supplies into one container. Dispose of old prescription according to FDA Guidelines. Make a list of anything else you need and complete your kit.
  • August - Get school supply lists early. Scavenge what is in your house before making list to buy. Check out sales flyers, then purchase all at once where “competitor prices honored”.
  • September - Purge kitchen of odd mugs, glasses, chipped plates, etc.
  • October - Look at cold weather clothing – coats, hats, gloves, scarves – toss ratty ones, buy needed items.
  • November - Cull pantry items and pull out serving dishes to get ready for holiday meals.
  • December – Purge and contain Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year décor.

Once you have chosen storage containers and designated places, always put the “stuff” back where it goes. Little by little, you will be able to find anything in 30 seconds or less!

Why Can’t I Finish Anything?

Friday, February 1st, 2013


MARTHA: I asked my husband, Jeff, to lend a hand with this month’s newsletter. Jeff is a certified project manager and sees the world thru a PM’s eyes. Here are his thoughts on what can happen when you or I attempt an organizing project:

JEFF: Let’s say you want to do some housework, specifically dusting. You gather the dust rag and your favorite cleaner and start.

As you are working around the room, you notice that the floor needs vacuumed so when you finish dusting, you get out the sweeper and go at it.

You are tooling around the room cleaning the floor, when you become upset. You can see some spots on the baseboard that are quite unsightly and need to be touched up with paint. So, you finish sweeping and the break out the paint, paint brushes…

You can now see what is going on; your work is never going to end. Discouragement is just around the corner.

This is an example of “scope creep”. Your initial project scope (i.e. dust the room) has grown to include vacuuming and now painting!

When you start a project, make sure you identify the scope of the project. Define what you want to accomplish. Be sure it is realistic and attainable for the time and money you want to expend on it. And don’t let it grow!!

Almost always, if the scope of a project increases, then the time, money, and energy required to finish grow also. Plus you and your team members are in jeopardy of becoming discouraged. Good luck this month and watch for that scope creep!

NOTE: Jeff was kind. In his example, we finished the chore – the project – we initially intended to complete. Unfortunately, that is often not the case, especially when the project is not one we enjoy!



Jeff Clouse has been managing projects for over 20 years at Federal, State and local government levels. He is a certified ProjectManagement Professional (PMP) who lives very happily in Columbus, Ohio, with his lovely wife, Martha


Book, Friend, Foe?

Tuesday, October 9th, 2012

Don’t you love checking out the bookshelves when you visit a home? The books that make the cut to “keepers” tell you a lot about their owner. When you recognize a book you love, there is an immediate feeling of connection to the other person! That makes for a great conversation starter.

With the Kindle and Nook, the day may come when we can’t be nosy anymore! Until then, you may struggle as I do with letting go of books you have collected along the way.

The approach I use at home and with clients is from Judith Kolberg’s book Conquering Chronic Disorganization. She advocates sorting books into three piles:

  1. Best Friends – Those books you love, refer to often, or plan on reading again (and again) are definite keepers.
  2. Acquaintances – These are the books you enjoyed at one time, but have no ongoing desire to revisit. Let a friend enjoy these?
  3. Strangers – Non-fiction you read half-way; fiction that one reading was enough. You have no problem saying goodbye and letting these go to another owner.

For book lovers, this personification of inanimate objects makes perfect sense!

Options for the books you don’t keep:

  • Share with friends
  • Sell at Half-Price Books
  • Donate to Better World Books   (shipping is prepaid)
  • In Columbus, OH area, call Rodger Williams of Crestview Books. He comes to you, makes an offer, then carts away the books you no longer need.

Now you are ready to put your friends back on your newly cleared shelves. Organize by size, subject matter, or author. A designer friend suggests shelving like-colored jackets as a group. Add photos or colorful accent pieces for eye appeal. Nice!

Be Smart During an Emergency

Tuesday, September 25th, 2012

Were you inspired to take action by the recent destructiveness of Hurricane Isaac? What if you suddenly find yourself in a drawn out emergency situation? Will you have what you need to survive for 72 hours without electricity or water? We usually say, “I should…” and then put off taking action as life happens. We are human after all.

Thankfully, September’s National Preparedness Month emphasis is a reminder of the small steps we can take to be more prepared. In our last newsletter, I outlined the three steps suggested on the FEMA website #1 Be Informed, #2 Make a Plan, and #3 Build a Kit.

If you have put off taking action, at least go to the interactive page and click on your state to identify the hazards you might expect for your area. While there, read about specific preparation for your top three disasters and how to get instructions when they happen. Ta Da! You have completed Step #1.

Today I want to explore best practices during and after a disaster. If disaster strikes, your best chance to escape harm is to:

  1. Remain calm and patient
  2. Put your disaster plan into action (assumes you have one – Step #2)
  3. Provide assistance to those with special needs in accordance with your plan
  4. Check for injuries
  5. Listen to local news for information and instruction.

Sounds like common sense, right? Harder to do in a life threatening situation, I’m sure!

These are more specific hints on how to deal with the most common hazards when they occur.



  • Only fight fires not in danger of blocking exit!
  • Use back of hand to check if doors are hot (more sensitive than palm).
  • Crawl under smoke.
  • If trapped, close door, hang a sheet from the window.
  • Once out of your home, meet at your designated spot.
  • Never re-enter a burning building.
  • Call 911 from a neighbor’s house.


  • During a watch, be attentive to weather conditions.
  • Take immediate shelter if a warning is issued.
  • Go to basement or internal hallway.
  • Avoid windows, glass or potential flying objects.
  • Leave windows closed.
  • Monitor media and follow directions from local officials.




  • During a watch, prepare to evacuate.
  • Fill empty containers and bathtub with water in case of contamination.
  • When a flash flood warning is issued, evacuate immediately using primary or alternate evacuation route.
  • Avoid flood waters and areas prone to flooding.
  • Never drive onto flooded roads.
  • Shut off liquefied petroleum tanks at source.
  • Monitor media and follow directions from local officials.

We have all seen the news with stunned survivors. The emotions following a disaster can be devastating. Some things to try toremember in the aftermath:

  1. Assess the condition of your house using a flashlight, not an open flame.
  2. Do not enter an unsafe structure.
  3. Smell for gas leaks, starting with water heater.
  4. Shut off any damaged utilities.
  5. Clean up any hazardous or flammable spills.
  6. Treat injuries.
  7. Notify local and out-of-town contacts, then only use the phone to report life-threatening emergencies
  8. Document damage for insurance claims.

I hope you and I never have to put these emergency preparations to the test. Still, ’tis better to be ready even if the worst never comes!

Let me know when you complete Steps 1-3 so we can dance a jig together. If you read this newsletter and looked at the FEMA sight about the risks for your area, you can check off #1. Yes! Now print the list for your Emergency Kit and begin gathering those items for #3 – Build a Kit – when you next go grocery shopping.

Congratulations! You are taking the necessary steps to keep your family safe in an emergency. Way to go!

Are You Wasting an Hour a Day?

Tuesday, August 21st, 2012

One of the biggest mistakes I see when working with my organizing clients is there is not ONE place to look for a particular category of items.

Say you want to find a black Sharpie® . There are often two or three (a dozen?) places you have to look. Can you see how this would be a problem?  You waste time looking and waste money to buy a second (or third) when you can’t find the first.  Multiply this a few times and you can see why you are stressed out/ frustrated with the whole process.

That’s why organizers want to:

  1. Sort belongings by category putting like with like.
  2. Designate “action zones” and store the supplies needed to get the job done within arm’s reach. Even if you decide to work elsewhere you instantly know where to find the supplies you need.
  3. Use containers to keep everything in order and visible in the defined spot.

Some “action zones” to establish in your home along with the corresponding supplies are:

  • Entertainment – TV, stereo, DVD/VHS player, CD’s, DVD’s,  remotes
  • Dressing – clothes, accessories, shoes, jewelry
  • Mailing  –  greeting cards, envelopes, stamps, pens, packing tape, Sharpies®
  • Housecleaning – Cleansers, sponges, rags, paper towels, broom, dust pan.
  • Reading – bookshelves and books, a comfy chair and ottoman, task lighting, a throw blanket, a side table with coaster for hot drink.

Once you have established these zones you can always have “outposts” – places where you keep a duplicate supply where you use it often. Just be sure to honor your designated main supply area.

Here’s your quiz. Set a timer and try to gather these items within 5 minutes:

  1. Your DVD remote
  2. 3 Rubber bands
  3. Tooth floss
  4. A pair of matching athletic socks
  5. A ruler
  6. Windex®  or other window cleaner
  7. A drink coaster
  8. A blank birthday card
  9. The dust pan
  10. That elusive black Sharpie®  or other black marker

Did you make it? The goal is for you to know the area where that category is so it takes you less than 30 seconds to locate any item in your home.

This statistic is from a 2004 survey: “The average American burns 55 minutes a day – roughly 12 weeks a year – looking for things he knows he owns but can’t find.”1 My desire for you is to not waste your time searching when you can be doing something you love!

Sure you can email and ask what my time was. Remember I live in a 2 bedroom condo so it’s not really fair. J


1Newsweek, 6/7/04. According to a Boston Marketing firm survey in 2004.

Tips for Getting Your Life in Order Starting NOW

Wednesday, July 11th, 2012

Today’s article is meant to be an uplifting “You can do it!” cheer from your biggest fan. No matter where you are or the problem you are facing, you can start now to get your life in order.



These are a series of actions you can take in one minute from Donna Smallin Kuper*, a wonderful organizer I have had the privilege of meeting at our NAPO conferences. Read through the list, select one or two, and just get started.

  • Think about your motivation. What do you stand to gain from getting organized? What do you stand to lose if you don’t?
  • Make today the day you decide to get organized. Tell someone about it.
  • Create a one-month plan. Choose five things you most want to organize in the next month. Number these items from highest to lowest priority.
  • Take immediate action. Pick a single organizing tip… and do it today. Or take 5 minutes right now to organize your sock drawer.
  • Start with today’s mess. Do whatever it takes to keep up with daily mail, dishes and laundry. Then set aside time to catch up.
  • Commit to spending a set amount of time everyday on uncluttering and organizing activities. Schedule your organizing sessions for a time when you are mentally fresh. Make an appointment with yourself and write it in your daily. Then honor that appointment as you would any other appointment.
  • Decide in advance what your reward will be for completing each organizing project or room. Ideas: Plan to buy yourself flowers, treat yourself to a pedicure or massage, or invite friends to enjoy coffee and dessert in your newly uncluttered family room.

“You don’t have to stop everything to get organized; you just have to start. Make organizing a part of your daily life. Do it first. Do it fast.”*


*This article consists of quotes from The One-Minute Organizer Plain & Simple: 500 Tips for Getting Your Life in Order by Donna Smallin Kuper, from Storey Publishing.

Donna Smallin Kuper is a nationally recognized author and speaker on uncluttering, cleaning, and simplifying life. Her organizational tips have appeared in Reader’s Digest, Woman’s Day and the New York Times. Find more of Donna’s tips on her website:

Are you clutching your plastic pearls?

Friday, July 6th, 2012

As I’ve considered topics for this week’s newsletter, I haven’t been able to get the illustration my pastor used in his sermon yesterday out of my mind. This is the short story with a message:

A little girl named Ruthie, around 4 years old, saw a plastic pearl necklace in a store display and thought it was so beautiful she had to have it. Ruthie brought her savings with her next time she want to the store with her mom and spent all of $2.25 on the necklace.

Ruthie loved the necklace and wore it everyday, everywhere she went. Her mother had to move it aside to wash her neck during her bath. Ruthie must have worn that necklace for 3 months straight.

One night, the little girl’s father was tucking her into bed. “I love you, Ruthie,” he said. “Do you love me?”

“Oh yes, Daddy, I love you!”

“Would you give me your pearls?” he asked.

“Oh no, Daddy, I can’t give you my pearls. I would give you my doll house and everything in it,” Ruthie cried.

“That’s OK, Ruthie. Goodnight and sleep well,” he said as he turned out the light.

Over the next few weeks, Ruthie’s father asked the same questions several times – Do you love me? Will you give me your pearls? – with the same answer. Ruthie would gladly give anything except the pearls to show her love for her father.

One night Ruthie was waiting on her father with a sad expression. Before he could ask why she was sad, she caught his hand and put her necklace in it. “I love you so much, Daddy. You can have my pearls.”

Her father hugged her with tears in his eyes. Then he said, “I love you, too, Ruthie, and want you to have this.” He pulled a long slender jewelry box from his pocket. When Ruthie opened it, her eyes opened wide. Inside was a real pearl necklace for her very own.

The original message was that the omniscient, caring Creator God wants to give us good things, but we may have to let go of lesser things first.

The more I think about this parable (a story with a message), the more I can identify with Ruthie. I want to hold onto:

  • The accolades I earned that show how good I once was at school/job/sports
  • Unfinished projects that I will never get to but don’t want to admit defeat
  • Leftover drafts and other obsolete souvenirs of a project I did complete that took days/weeks of concentrated effort (that’s a chunk of my life sitting there!)
  • Slights and grudges I can recount from years past (the perpetrator has definitely moved on)
  • Equipment and supplies for a hobby I have outgrown
  • The less-than-perfect way of life I know rather than the unknown possibilities

In order to move forward, there are some attitudes, feelings, fears, and other baggage I will have to chuck out the window.

What is the “plastic pearl necklace” you are holding on to? What would you rather experience in its place? We can only love others as much as we love ourselves. Let go of that ratty, fake, stringy thing and truly value yourself by opening your life to the possibilities!