declutter browsing by tag


More Space, Less Filling!

Tuesday, October 30th, 2012

One reason for clutter is that we have too much stuff and too littlespace. Is the lack of space the real problem?

If you agree to live in one of the new micro-unit dwellings that Mayor Bloomberg is proposing for New York City – 300 square feet of livingspace - you could truly claim a small space!

Most of us here in the U.S. have plenty of room for the essentials – what we need to live. We even have room for beauty to feed our soul – art, fabric touches, pops of color.


So, what is the rest of the stuff we have crammed into our homes until we cannot relax? As you look around, do you see…

  1. Inherited items valued by someone else? Ask yourself “Am I the owner this item deserves?” Often the answer is NO, the item needs someone who will enjoy ownership, rather than seeing it as a burden.
  2. Things that remind you of the past? If the reminder is a good one, find a way to keep the memory (take a picture) but lose the thing. Bad memory – let it go.
  3. Information you want to chew on? This may be in newspapers, magazines, or books. However, you know you can’t read it all. Make a rule for how long you will keep each item: newspapers must go out on Sunday; take magazines to your DR’s office after 2 months. Choose to read books on a Kindle or borrow from the library so books don’t stack up.
  4. Projects you have started but never complete? Find someone who loves that activity and let him finish it
  5. Lots of those things you love? That may be clothes, knick-knacks, dolls, stuffed animals, or CD’s, whatever. If it makes you happy and you have a place to store it, keep it all. If not start now to pare down your collection.

At some point, too many possessions cannot be tamed even with the best Rubbermaid organizers. Your home can be a calm retreat oncemore as you gift those items you don’t need or love to someone else. Let’s go for: More Space, Less Filling It!!



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.

February Freedom

Wednesday, February 8th, 2012

Did You Know…?? February 1st is observed as National Freedom Day.  On this day in 1865 President Abraham Lincoln signed the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which abolished slavery.  This Amendment was ratified on December 18th, 1865.

I am amazed that a separate amendment was needed to declare that men and women who came from another continent and who had a different color of skin were people who merited the freedoms our U.S. Constitution guarantees to “every man”.  Then another amendment giving women the right to vote as “equals” to men was not ratified until August 26, 1920 after a 72 year struggle! Wow!

Today I am standing, rejoicing in the freedom I enjoy as a result of tremendous sacrifice by so many others – military, civilian, parent, child, man and woman. Why, then, do I not always feel free?

In my life, the answer goes like this: “I have met the enemy and he is… Me!”  Perhaps you have experienced your world constricting and choking you as well.

  • You have a hard time saying, “No”, so volunteer for more than you can do well and on time.
  • The possessions you own really possess you in maintenance, repair, and space consumed.
  • Paper piles up faster than you can sort and make decisions on.
  • You fill your days until there is hardly time to breathe between the “must do’s”.
  • Mind clutter resulting from physical clutter around you is paralyzing; making it impossible to know where to start, what to do next.
  • You feel defeated in one area of physical well-being – health, finances – and it affects you daily.
  • Tyranny of the urgent crowds out the freedom you want to enjoy and use to make a difference.

The ironic thing is, to enjoy more freedom we have to impose limits… on ourselves!

To make this practical, choose one area you struggle with and feel stuck in:

  1. Physical surroundings
  2. Time schedule
  3. Health
  4. Finances
  5. Information management (paper or online)
  6. Other

As your personal organizer, I challenge you to write down 10 enemy actions you habitually commit in this area.

Now, next to each of your 10 self-defeating actions, write a limit you will impose as MANAGER OF (your name)’S LIFE. If a limit doesn’t make sense, name the exact opposite action to perform as your goal.

For example, the area you feel stuck in is Health, and specifically lack of exercise. A self-defeating action you recognize is spending more time driving than walking. You purpose as MANAGER to park at the far end of the lot at work so you will traverse that distance at least 4 times per day.

I will ask you to limit yourself to working only on that one area for the next month. Then take your freedom pulse again.

Email me and ask me what my area is. Accountability is a good thing!

7 Mistakes that Lead to Paper Piles, Part 2

Tuesday, October 25th, 2011

In the first part, you met 3 personalities who struggle with paper piling issues: The Visualizer who wants to keep everything in sight, The Generous Shopper who is now the best friend of charities and catalog vendors, and The Librarian who feels compelled to gather information.

The ethics of my profession require that I keep all client identities and foibles confidential. If that were not so, I would be able to describe the clients I have worked with who match these descriptions. I am not making this stuff up!

Perhaps you have already said to yourself, “How did Martha know to describe me so well?” The reason I can do that is you are not alone in your struggle with paper, or the underlying causes. If you haven’t recognized yourself, you may be one of the remaining 4 personalities.

    1. The Go Getter has many projects going on simultaneously. He doesn’t want to put away the projects he is working on because he “will just have to drag it all out again anyway!” Supporting documents become lost in the shuffle. Many times work is delayed because a vital piece has gone missing. Duplicated effort is required to get the project back on track.
      Remedy: First, ask the question – are you able to do an excellent job on all the projects, or are some slipping through the cracks? Which projects are you the best at and will generate the most value? Keep those, delegate others to the person who is better suited, and let the rest go entirely.Second, to keep current projects separated [a project is an activity that has a definite beginning, middle, and en end] use colorful, distinctive and roomy file jackets. Scoop all supporting documents for each project into its file each time you take a break for more than 20 minutes. Use an incline sorter on your desktop so you can find any project file at one glance.
    2. Scarlet O’Hara says “Tomorrow is another day.” She puts off deciding what to do with mail offers, when to pay the bills, what to do with important papers. Because she has no system, there are no homes for paper to land, and she can never find what she needs when she needs it.
      Remedy:A paper management system is simply making decisions ahead of time about homes for the three categories of paper that arrive in your mail/inbox:

      • Action – you have to do something with the information.
      • Finished – all action is done and you NEED this info in the future, so is reference material to be filed.
      • Shred/Toss – done, don’t need it, get rid of it.

When you don’t have a system for paper flow in place, you will essentially be asking yourself this same question over and over, “Where should I put this so I will know where it is?

  1. The Seeker wants to keep on top of the latest breaking news. He has too many subscriptions, no time to read all of the information that pours in, so it piles up. He intends to read each magazines, newspaper, or professional journal, but finds himself 2-4 months behind (or more!)
    Remedy:For non-professional material, decide on a set number of months of magazines, days of newspapers you may keep. I suggest two months per magazine and no more than a week of newspapers. On the first of every month go through your stash and recycle old periodicals. Better yet, if you never get around to reading that magazine, cancel the subscription.Professional material is a must-read, but contains advertising and reiteration. Scan each periodical when it arrives, remove the articles (with small exacto knife) that are key to keeping current. Make a “To Read” folder that you can put in a briefcase, or grab on your way out the door on a slow day.
  2. The Bottom Line Watcher refuses to take the time to deal with paper since there is no money or distinct benefit attached.
    Remedy:Take the time to calculate how much time you waste daily looking for papers you can’t find. (In a survey, executives admitted to wasting 6 weeks per year looking for documents.) Now multiply the time you waste by your hourly rate. Does that make solving your paper clutter problem a higher priority?If you can afford it, hire someone else to set up the system and come in regularly do the filing/follow-up. If you are IT, schedule appointments with yourself to do 30 minutes of filing 3x/week. Start with the current piles – on desk or counter – until they are gone. You can be much more productive on other tasks when that visual clutter no longer effects your concentration!

Paper is ubiquitous – it’s everywhere! You can win, with the right tools and mindset.

Drop me an email to let me know what your paper personality is and how you have cut your piles down to size. I love hearing the success stories!

7 Mistakes that Lead to Paper Piles, Part 1

Tuesday, September 13th, 2011

7 Mistakes That Lead to Paper Clutter

  • If the entire surface of your desk, kitchen counter, or dining room table is covered…
    you just might be a paper piler!
  • If you have magazines you haven’t read from a year ago…
    you just might be a paper piler.
  • If your filing system consists of “more recent” and “older stuff”…
    you just might be a Paper Piler!
  • If you put the event tickets in plain sight see so you won’t lose them, but now you can’t find them because they are totally covered…
    you just might be a paper piler.

Piles of paper are the symptom, not the underlying cause of this frequent clutter problem.

We can try to blame the information explosion or the 49,060 pieces of mail we will receive in our lifetime.  To find a lasting cure, however, we must look closer to home.

What is your personal relationship with paper?

This is Part I of 7 Mistakes That Lead to Paper Clutter. See which one(s) best describes the way you relate to paper. Use the tips below to find a solution that works for you.

  1. The Visualizer is afraid that out of sight will mean out of mind.
    Bills to pay, party invites are left where you can see them and not forget to take action. Soon the “important” is covered by “everyday” and gets lost.
    Remedy:Visual/tactile people need to find a filing solution that is in plain sight, yet keeps paper contained. Two options are:

  2. The Librarian feels compelled to store valuable information.
    This person prints online research as well as emails to answer later, and has a hard time parting with newspaper articles and magazines.
    Remedy:Save only the information that is imperative to your job or that you think will be hard to replace. Think about scanning hard copies, bookmarking email sites on your browser, or noting the article URL on a resource list.Sally McGhee, author of Take Back Your Life, says we only use 15% of what we file. We never retrieve the other 85% – a waste of filing time and of valuable space.
  3. The Generous Shopper gives to charities and orders gifts from catalogs. Her name has been sold repeatedly so she now receives dozens of gift requests and catalogs.
    Remedy:One of the best ways to reduce paper in your home is to reduce the amount coming in. At home, the #1 paper dropper is the mailman. Always open your mail the day you receive it. Return unsolicited charitable requests to sender. Shred unwanted credit offers.Use these sites to opt out of catalogs and credit offers:

Four more common errors are yet to come in Part 2. Did you see yourself yet? Don’t worry, you will…

“Ask the Expert” Event Tomorrow: Register Now!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011 from 6:30 PM to 8:00 PM (ET) in Columbus, OH

Click here to register.

Stop the paper piles from multiplying with a proven self-purging paper management system, the FREEDOM FILER. Professional Organizer, Martha Clouse, has successfully implemented this system with dozens of clients. YOU bring your banker box full of paper piles to train and begin your personal FF system.

Learn ways to reduce incoming paper and practice your paper tossing technique!!

Materials FEE: $52 paid at time of class – this purchases your Freedom Filer which has a retail value of $99.

Class is also scheduled to be held on 9/29 from 9:30am – 11am. Tickets purchased above will be honored at all event times.


Organizing 911: Clear the Clutter!

Monday, August 29th, 2011

The best part about summer is spending more time feeling the sun on your face, feeling thankful for a gentle breeze, leaving your shoes off, and laughing with friends. You are outside as much as possible. Household chores take a backseat to fun. That’s the way it should be!

Then around Labor Day, reality hits. The vacation is over. The kids are back in school. You have to think about wearing long pants and shoes again. Taking a look around your living space, you want to call in a hazmat team – how did things get so out of control?!

Since we don’t have the luxury of a “super committee”, most of us will be attacking the clutter on our own. So today, I want to give you a plan of attack that you can put into practice immediately – even before Labor Day – so you can feel victorious, vainglorious, smugly accomplished!

  1. Pick a room to attack first. Gather 4 needed boxes and bins*. Set a timer for 1 hour. Don’t leave the room for any reason until #7.
  2. Put a black trash bag* in your largest trash can. Place in the center of the room and toss in anything you will not use again.
  3. Now set a laundry hamper* next to the trash can. Look around to see if there is anything that does not belong in this room. Stick those things in the hamper ready to be distributed to their proper homes.
  4. Get a copy paper box or plastic bin* (16 qt). Gather all papers and place in the box. DO NOT stop to read anything! For further instructions on paper, read this blog post on speed sorting or purchase my ebook 7 Tools to Conquer Paper Piles Forever.
  5. Make a pile of any magazines more than 2 months old. Black out your name & address and take to a shelter or hospital waiting room. (JamesCare in Dublin is grateful for any magazines.)
  6. Look around at what is left out of place. Pick up one item at a time and ask these 5 Questions to Clear Clutter:
    • Have I used this item in the past year?
    • Will I need it on a definite date in the future?
    • Would it be difficult to get another if I needed it again someday?
    • Do I need to keep it for legal or tax purposes?
    • Do I love it or find it beautiful?

    If the answer to all 5 questions is “No”, let it go! (give, toss, recycle, donate)

  7. Make a list of the items you will donate, put the donation box* in your car, ready to go.
  8. Carry out all boxes and bins. Distribute as necessary.
  9. Find homes in this room for the stuff that is left. I’m hoping you have cut this by at least 50%!
  10. Dust and run the sweeper. DONE!

Wow! Do you feel accomplished or what? Shoot me an email to brag on your progress.

If you are having a hard time pushing yourself to do this on your own, why not join my Clutter Management Program for the month of September? See details in What’s Happening. You choose the room; I provide motivation, support and accountability.

After you do one room, give yourself 2 weeks to practice keeping that room picked up. Then, repeat the process in another room. In 3 months tops, you should have your house or apartment under control! Whew, time to dream of summer again…

7 Big Mistakes that Keep Us Stuck in Chaos

Monday, April 4th, 2011
  1. Begin with a gigantic organizing project.
    “Yeah! The bigger chunk I bite off, the sooner I will be done!”
    This is a perfect way to ensure failure and disillusionment. Instead, start small to ensure immediate success. Choose one area – a drawer, counter top – that you see daily.
  2. Dive in without any thought of HOW to proceed.
    “I’m going to organize this space if it takes me all day!”
    With no plan, at the end of the day you will have simply rearranged a mess and made a bigger one. Use an organizing strategy that will walk you through the process one step at a time. You can use the steps on my blog post Clearing the Clutter or find an organizing book you like for a guide.1
  3. Jump around from one area to another.
    “It’s too boring to stand still in one place for too long.”
    This is what gets us into a mess in the first place – lots of unfinished projects and the latest organizing products waiting to be used. Determine that you will finish organizing one area completely according to your plan. Actually finishing what you start is a great boost to confidence and momentum!
  4. Put off distribution of giveaways.
    “At least the stuff is in a box or bag. It can sit there for a while.”
    Your goal is to have an orderly, usable space. Once you have identified things to let go, get them out of there within 2 weeks at the latest.
  5. Pile, stack, stuff items into their assigned home.
    “If it fits, it’s all good.”
    Container, container, container. When you have a place to put belongings/supplies that is customized to hold certain items, you will be much more likely to keep up your newly organized system. Find containers that are appropriate, label if necessary, so you automatically know what goes where.
  6. Organize large spaces back to back.
    “I’m on a roll, gotta keep going.”
    Psychologists say it takes 21 days to form a new habit. When you make changes in your environment, it may take you a while to get used to your new configuration. Choosing a room or area every other month will give you a fighting chance at maintaining your new organization.
  7. Go it alone.
    “I want to be totally independent and rely solely upon my own efforts.”
    Accountability helps. First, announce to a friend or family member that you plan to organize (choose an area) this month. Ask that person to quiz you by a certain date to see if you have started. It’s amazing how much more motivated you are if someone knows your intention.

Better yet, organize with a friend. Help with his/her project and then work together on yours. Both tasks will go twice as fast and be much more fun together.

If your job seems too overwhelming, contact a professional organizer who knows where to start and can keep you on task.
Lastly, don’t forget to build rewards into your organizing efforts. Celebrate each victory with an activity or purchase that holds special meaning for you. You did a great job!
Remember though, if you bring one new thing into your renovated space, let another go.

  1. For example: Organizing from the Inside Out, Second Edition: The Foolproof System For Organizing Your Home, Your Office and Your Life by Julie Morgenstern, Eliminate Chaos: The 10-Step Process to Organize Your Home and Life by Laura Leist, or Organize with Confidence by Elizabeth Hagen []