5 Common Organizing Mistakes

Most people want to be organized to a certain degree. And most people think they can do it on their own. They “know” what to do. But as a professional organizer for almost 10 years, I have seen some common organizing mistakes that people make which prevent them from staying organized.  See how many you may have made:

1.  Mom makes the system, nobody gets it – This is where the frustration starts. Mom can be organized but if the rest of the family doesn’t know or follow the system, it falls apart. So mom, show they your system! Ask for their input as in, “Does it work for you to keep this here?” Then insist on a routine to get things back to normal.

2. Starting with a small area and not looking at the big picture – How many times have you organized a junk drawer? One cabinet? Or a stack of papers? But if you fail to look at the big picture it’s like arranging deck chairs on the Titanic. Look at the room, decide the purpose and make sure everything in it serves the purpose. Then you can create zones for different activities.

3. Buying the containers first – Many of all fall for this. The cute bins and boxes at a home store invite us to start an organizing project. You’re in the store or looking in the sales paper and think “Those photo boxes will get me organized!” But you fail to go through the photos first so you don’t know how big a container or how many you need.  Do the CPR process (Categorize, Purge & Re-Arrange) first so you know exactly what size, shape and quantity of bins or boxes you need before you go shopping.

4. Filing every piece of paper we have, instead of deciding what we really need to keep. – This goes against my “subtract before you add” absolute. Subtract papers that you don’t need to save. If they are on-line or something that is outdated, recycle them. Keep what you will absolutely reference again, then make a file for it. Files should be general unless it becomes so big that you have to create subcategories.

5. Building a bigger closet instead of keeping only the clothes we really wear. – Again this goes back to not doing the CPR process. Even paring down a little bit of one category will save you space. Purge first and then decide if you need a bigger closet. Remember we actually use 20% of our stuff 80% of the time.

Organize to De-Stress

Professional organizers often get called when a person is overwhelmed, at their wit’s end or when a situation has reached critical mass.  Their disorganization has caused them stress and they need an object third party to come in and tell them what to do. Everyone’s situations are different so my solutions are as varied as my clients.  However, there are some general rules or “absolutes” that I have found which organized people follow and disorganized people don’t.  I discuss these in my book “Absolutely Organized – A Mom’s Guide to a No-Stress Schedule and a Clutter Free Home.”  My reason for writing this book was to illustrate to people (specifically busy moms) that “You don’t have to live this way!”  If you are constantly running and never have time for yourself, if your house is in a constant state of disarray, if you are winging it every day without a clear idea of what happens next, know that it doesn’t have to be this way and you can change your situation.  Let’s talk about how and where to start.

The first thing you have to do is identify the worst or most out-of-control area of your life and start there.  Finish this sentence, “If I were more organized I could…” and let that become your goal and your motivation.  Write this down and post it somewhere you can see it every day. You may be motivated to have more quality time with your children, or have more time to yourself, or you may just want your house presentable enough to have company over, or organized enough to find what you need.  So decide what you want.  That’s the first step. Organized people are not afraid to make decisions and move on.

Secondly, make a plan. Mary Kay Ash said, “Plan your work and work your plan.” Jumping into a project without a complete plan is really just setting you up for failure. I find that even a few minutes of planning each day, saves a lot of anxiety and run-around in the long run.  If it’s time management – plan your week. If you have a house project or work project to tackle – plan the steps and write a list of what you will need.  Include other people to share the workload whenever possible.

Third, make an appointment and schedule enough time to work on this priority. Do you need a few hours every week? A few days set aside? Whatever time you need, schedule it in your planner. Nothing is going to happen by accident.

Fourth, remember your goal. When you are in the midst of a project and you are feeling disheartened, remember the goal.  It’s also a good idea to visually post your goal so you can remind yourself all the time what you are working towards.

Fifth, finish working on your project and move on. Don’t be a perfectionist. If it’s time management you need help with, try adapting one good habit at a time. Don’t try to change too much at once. If it’s a physical project, get the big stuff done first and then the finishing touches. Finish one project before you move onto the next.   Check something off your list and feel proud that you have accomplished it.  Reward yourself by doing something fun and relaxing.


5 Steps to a Simply Fun Summer Party

As many busy moms know, this is the season of party planning:  graduations, sacraments, and in our family, birthdays. What a fun and hectic time of year! I always considered myself a bit of a party planner. I love a good theme party and I love to have friends and family fill my house.

Over the years I’ve become all about simplifying and efficiency when it comes to throwing a party. Too many cooks, as they say, spoil the broth so I like to keep the food & drink simple and make sure that we don’t have an overabundance that will go to waste. I’ve also learned a few other lessons like: if you let the crowd take over your house, something is bound to get broken. And if you can’t find the time to make all the food from scratch, there’s nothing wrong with using a local caterer or deli to save you time and stress.

So here are my 5 steps to simplifying your party planning this summer.

  1. Insist on RSVP’s a week in advance. – With electronic evites now there is really no excuse for not responding. I know schedules are hectic but really, if people can click on Yes, send a text or god-forbid pick up the phone and call you, I would consider “un-friending” them.  They should take my class on time management. For those that don’t respond by the deadline, give them a friendly little reminder call.
  2. Keep the menu simple – If you are providing a meal, keep it to one or two entrees, a couple of side salads and a few snacks. That way, if people ask to bring something they can always bring a snack or dessert. Those are the items you can have a little or a lot of.  But you want to control the main dish so you have enough for everyone.  If there are kids coming, make sure you have at least one entrée that is kid-friendly and some sort of fruit or veggie dip to make the parents happy.
  3. Decide whether it’s an outside or an inside party. In the summer, many parties go both ways, but you can at least limit which rooms inside are going to be used. Close doors, put food and decorations where you want people to mingle and designate one bathroom for the guests. Put the liquor where you don’t mind the rowdy people hanging out!
  4. Invest in some re-usable party supplies – Every year our family has a Memorial Day picnic so it made sense to buy plastic platters and bowls with the red, white & blue theme as opposed to buying paper products each year.  You can also stock up on some classic themes like Happy Birthday signs, Hawaiian Luau decorations, colored plastic table clothes and a utensil caddy for plastic ware. Store these in the basement on a shelf.
  5. Set up & straighten up a few hours before – I don’t advise doing a thorough cleaning before a party. Yes, clean the bathrooms that your guests will be using. No, don’t vacuum and dust. Instead, straighten up the whole house. Tuck away valuable items and delicate things that you don’t want children getting into or breaking. Motivate your family to help. With a few extra hands you can do this in an hour. Save the deep cleaning for afterwards!

Organize in a Big Way or Not at All

As I was making my bed this morning I realized that how we make our beds is a good analogy for how we go about organizing. You can just pull a corner here, a corner there and make it look okay. But to really do a thorough job you’ve got to take off each layer, fluff it out and replace it neatly on the bed.  Some mornings all you have time for is a quick fix and that’s okay. But if you really want the bed to feel crisp and clean when you get into it at night, taking the sheet, blanket and comfortor off is the only way to go. So I recommend doing that at least once a week.


I find that a lot of people try organizing in this half-way mode or little by little. They’ll put things in a little box and think that’s organized. Or they’ll do one corner of a room today and not get to the rest of the room for a few weeks. The problem is, that in the meantime other things come into the room and pile up. The ONLY WAY TO ORGANIZE is to go through everything in a room. Categorize, Purge & Re-arrange (this is my CPR method). This means to take everything out of the drawers and closets, sort into categories and decide what needs to stay and what can go. Once you have piles of everything that stays in a room and you know that these are things you NEED, USE and WANT, then you can begin to put them back.  Sometimes you’ll need to purchase bins or organizers but you’ll know exactly how big a container is necessary. And on day 1 it’s not going to be perfect but you will be able to see what you have without all the clutter. Then you can play around with the best places to keep things. Use the system for awhile and then you can fine tune.

For planning purposes, figure that each room will take you 8 hours to organize completely. If you have a lot of clutter and lots of little things to go through, you may need to add another 4 hours.  Knowing how much time you’ll need takes the fear out of getting too far into a project that you can’t finish.

So, back to making the bed. It only takes about 5 minutes to do thorougly so why not do it every day? Your reward is a nice place to lay your head when the day is done. Anything worth doing is worth doing right.

If a picture paints a thousand words…

What are your family pictures saying? If they are buried in boxes or floating in cyberspace, I’m guessing not much!  If you want to enjoy your photographs you have to do something with them! Leaving them in their original envelope or on your phone or computer is not an great option. I recommend putting those pictures in a place where you and your family will enjoy them.

Like all organizing it starts with a decision. In this case, decide how you want to keep your photos or how you like to look at them. Here are some options:

  •  Slip-In Photo Albums – These seem to be the easiest to maintain and therefore a good starting point for people who have their photos currently in big boxes or in the original drug store bag they came home in.
  • Corkboard wall – This is a great place at Holiday time when many people send out family pictures and you just don’t know where to put them all. If you fill this area up quickly, you’ll have to remember to update it seasonally.
  • Collages – If you find a lot of your pictures are not centered or close enough to the subject, you can cut out only the important people and important sites from a certain occasion and put them in a collage.
  • Photo boxes – Many stores carry decorative storage boxes now. If you choose to use these, decide how you want to keep them: all family pictures chronologically, or separated by each child. Make sure you label each box accordingly.
  • Scrapbooks – Scrapbooking has become a favorite pastime of many mothers. The end result is beautiful and meaningful, especially when you “journal” or write little stories about what was happening during a particular event. The challenge with scrapbooks is that they take a lot of time and creativity to put together, and it is a project — not an everyday process.
  • On your computer – If you have a digital camera, I assume you know how to set up files of pictures on your computer. Here are 5 steps for organizing and using your digital photos:
  1. Name your files simply. If you upload pictures from your camera once a month, name the file with the month and year (ex. MAY07), if you upload less frequently, name the files by season and year (ex. WINTER07). Or name them more specifically by event (Disney07)
  2. Create digital photo albums on Web sites that you use for developing like Ofoto.com® or Shutterfly.com®. With this option, your photos are stored remotely and are protected against a hard drive crash on your computer. The albums also store the photos in a chronological order.
  3. Save your photos on a CDR disk, which protects them from anything that might happen to your computer. CDR’s take up a lot less physical space than photo albums but the photos are not as accessible to look at.
  4. Email copies of your pictures to family and friends rather than mailing them.
  5. Create a unique screen saver on your computer with your personal pictures, and update it frequently or load your latest pictures to a digital photo frame.


Start Your System Today

Once you have decided how you want to store or display your photos, gather the items you need to carry out your plan and start with current photos. Purchase your storage boxes or photo album or corkboard now, and then you’ll have a process for storing all the pictures you develop from now on.

Gather Your Backlog of Photos

If you have an area where you can spread them out or at least store a box of photos until your project is done, then move them into that room.

Categorize and Purge

Group them by child, or time of year, or era. As you sort through, purge any pictures that are ruined or dark or blurry. In other words, only keep the good ones!

Arrange or Re-Arrange your photos

Now for the fun part – it’s time to get your photographs where you want them. If you created a pile of photos for framing, start framing! If you decided you want them in an album, take a stack and start putting them in albums. This is something the kids or your husband can help you with when you’re all watching TV. If you want to make it really fun, give each child a stack of photos and a page or an album and see who can get their pictures in first.

Do you have any unique ways you display photos in your home?


May is Moving Month!

May is moving month so if you are one of the lucky ones making a fresh start in a new home, you might want to think about paring down what you have and only taking with you what you use, love and want in your new home. In fact, that is one of my absolutes about organizing.

Moving is one of those times that organizers love. It’s a great excuse to minimize, box up and label everything you have. While this exercise is daunting to many people, you really have to embrace it as an opportunity for a fresh start.  Here are 10 tips about how to approach the overwhelming task of packing up your home, no matter how big it is.

  1. Make a House Plan book for your new home. Take a simple copybook with you as you walk around the new place. Write down each room and what you intend to use it for.  For instance, a spare bedroom might be an office, a workout room or a craft room. Deciding now will help you with the set up later.  Also make notes on any improvements you need to make in each room. These may include: repairs, painting, overhead lighting or ripping up rugs.
  2. Decide which furniture will go into each room in the new house. Anything that doesn’t fit should be donated or taken to consignment. In my area of Philadelphia I recommend www.Phillyjunk.com for donations or trash and Consign and Design in Broomall for furniture Consignment. These items can be picked up close to the move date.
  3. Pack up storage first. Look at areas like the basement, garage and attic where you store things that are not used frequently. If you’re lucky, these things are already boxed and labeled. If not, take a look through, box what you still want and label them accordingly. Also write on the label the name of the new room where they will go. Of course, anything you don’t want can go to trash, donations or consignment.
  4. Box up what is in closets. These are items that you might still need until the day of the move, but when that day comes it’s easier to put a bunch of small bins in a big shipping box than it is to box loose items. You might even continue to use the bins in your new home.
  5. Plan on packing one room a night during the last two weeks before your move date. Take down wall hangings, curtains and display items. Live with the bare minimum for a few days before the move. In your kitchen, keep the everyday basics out but pack up the rest. If you have children, you may want to leave their rooms until the end. Moves are tough enough on kids; you don’t want them to feel like all their stuff is going away.
  6. During the last week before your move take a walk through your current house again and make sure that what’s left in each room has a box it can go into, and that you’re able to clear this room in about an hour. Check with movers or anyone who is helping you with the move to make sure you have enough man power and vehicles. Confirm the timing.
  7. The day before the move, box up all remaining items into labeled boxes. Plan on take-out food for breakfast, lunch and dinner that day. If you have helpers the easiest thing to do is have pizza and bottled drinks for the food break.
  8. If you have children it’s best to let them go to school if you are staying in the same area. If not, have a close friend or family member take care of them and keep them out of the move area for most of the day.  Bring them to the new home once their bed is set up and a few of their personal items are unpacked.
  9. In the new home, make sure each room is labeled with what you are calling it. “Tommy’s Room” or “Office” might make sense to you but not the movers. Make sure the room labels match what’s on the boxes.
  10. Unpacking is done in reverse. Unpack the everyday stuff first, and then eventually you can get to the storage boxes. One room at a time is the only way to take it – another one of my absolutes of organizing.

If you have a plan and you systematically pack up each room, taking with you only what you use, love and want, your move will be less stressful and you’ll be able to find what you need in your new home.