Organizing After a Business Conference

We’ve all been there. You go to a business conference and you accumulate great ideas, business contacts and therefore business cards, as well as free products. No matter how organized you are, it’s a little overwhelming to re-enter your real world with all this new-found stuff and excitement!

As I recently came back from such a conference, I wondered how many days (or hours) on average it takes my colleagues to unpack their suitcases and put away all their new items? So I decided to test myself, do it in a day and document the process I used. So here it is, for all you other entrepreneurs and business travelers:

1. Compile receipts – Obviously this was a business related trip so you’ll need to save receipts for tax purposes. While I traveled I put all receipts in a pocket in my wallet. When I paid cash and could not get a receipt I wrote myself a note and put it in the same place. I also use one credit card for business so the receipts will get dumped in that credit card’s file folder and will be compared to the next bill. I also totaled them up for my own curiosity about the cost of the trip.

2. Connect with Business Contacts – I put business cards in one spot in my travel bag as I collected them. I also made some notes on the back of each card as to why I was saving it. Some people were company representatives, some were board members in my same position from another city and others were just personal acquaintances who I spoke to because of a common interest. When I arrived home, I sorted them, connected with each on Twitter and Facebook and will write personal emails to those who I would like to keep in contact with. Business cards can get filed, or scanned and saved into your contacts list.

3. Review Your Notes – If you’re lucky enough to actually learn something from your conferences like I do each year at the NAPO National conference, you’ll want to review your notes, highlight the gems and then create an Action list for tasks that you want to start working on immediately. Some courses might have been informational but you’re not going to use that information right now, so you can file it in a reference folder. Other info may not be useful to you ever, so recycle it. The conference you attend might also like feedback so fill out the survey after you have looked over your notes.

4. Gather your freebies – What is it with expos and trade shows that makes you want to pick up every free item someone is giving away? I like to think I avoid that temptation being a minimalist at heart. But sometimes I take items for my kids (cheap souvenirs) or my clients. So divvy up the goodies and either toss the rest or use some as prizes the next time you speak somewhere. I know my clients are always excited about another canvas bin, Command hook or file folder!

5. Start Fresh! Going to a conference can open your eyes to new possibilities in your business. You can’t do it all and change everything, but decide what goals you would like to set or new avenues you want to pursue and incorporate them into your business goals. Post your action list right in front of your desk so you can see it daily. Add the day to day tasks into your planner that will help you reach those goals.

One thing I learned for my next conference is to pack a small bag with wheels. That will save my shoulders in the airport and walking around the expo!

What take-away do you have from your last business conference?


Absolute #4 – If you don’t plan it, it’s not going to happen



Wow, how many times have you said, “we’ll get to that someday” or “we should get together and do lunch (dinner or coffee)?” The reality of today’s fast-paced, over-scheduled society is that if you don’t intentionally put something on your calendar and plan a date to do something, it’s most likely not going to happen.  And this applies to friendly get-togethers, big projects and even little tasks. Here’s five examples of how you can make it happen and bring some balance and satisfaction to your day, your week, your month and year!

  1. Have a standing date with your best friends or family. I have heard families say to me that every Sunday is dinner at mom’s. Whoever can make it does and mom always makes spaghetti and meatballs and the rest of us bring side dishes. How nice to know that if you want to see your parents or catch up with siblings, you know where they will be every Sunday. Likewise I have for years gotten subscription tickets to a local theatre so five times a year (every other month from Sept. to May) I have a date with my close friends. We go to dinner, catch the show and catch up with each other’s lives.
  2. Plan your year – When it comes to big goals, it’s a good idea to start the year off with some big plans. Whether that is a nice vacation with your spouse or family or it’s a big idea for your job or business. Set a few achievable goals that you can work on through the year. Too many will set you up for failure so stick to a max of three for each area of your life. If you reach those early – by all means, set some more! One year I decided I was going to write a book. I got started in January, did some research on publishers, read some “how to” books and although some of this was luck, I had a publishing contract by May! Imagine what you could do if you set your mind to it.
  3. Plan your month – I always start a month off by looking at what I’d like to do on a personal level and a professional one. I write those goals or projects down in my daily planner. Then when I plan my daily/weekly tasks I make sure they support the larger project. Or if I have an unexpected day or half day to myself and I just don’t know what to work on, I check the list. Anything not accomplished gets carried over to the next month. But it’s still in the plan!
  4. Little projects around the house – Putting work and professional goals aside for a moment, think about what you need and want to get done around the house. Month by month you can plan home improvements. For example, Spring & Fall are good times to clean out places like the garage or basement or closets. You may have to look at the weather but pick a Saturday to do the garage as a family and it will go quickly and may even be fun. Winter months are great times to do inside painting or renovations. Tax time is a great time to clean out the file cabinet and end of school is a great time to clean out kids paperwork. Put it in your planner or on the family calendar.
  5. Who or what have you been neglecting? Think about whom you haven’t spent one on one time with and make a date. If you’d like to continue, make that a weekly or monthly date. How about exercise? I’m sure a lot of us have that gym membership that is going to waste. The only way to get regular is to plan it. Look at your typical week and see where a little extra time can be found. Maybe it’s early in the morning before you have to shower and get off to work. Or maybe there’s some dead time in the evening (7-9 pm) where you could exercise instead of watching TV.  Try it for a few weeks and see if it doesn’t become a habit.

In the interest of work/life balance it’s a good idea to plan something that you enjoy doing every day, every week and every month.

“For in the dew of little things, the heart finds it’s morning and is refreshed.”

-Kahlil Gibran

Summer Sanity Savers – Review

The first thing I like about this book is that it’s short and to the point. Because as a work-from-home mom of three, who has time to read a 200 page How To book?

Prerna offers some great ideas for how to streamline your workload , which really apply to all year, not just the summer. And she offers some great suggestions for delegating, simplifying and prioritizing all the other tasks that go along with being a mom and having a home to run.

I agree that when you delegate to other people, and give your kids responsibilities in the home your business will grow as a result. Years ago I hired a cleaning person to come twice a month so now I just have to straighten daily with the help of my family and do basic cleaning on the in-between weeks. Financially it makes sense too because I pay her less per hour than I make. Less time cleaning = more billable hours for me. And I don’t worry about when I’m going to clean the house.

There are several applications and helpful links that Prerna provides. Personally I’m going to visit Quick Notice and WWSGD to help grow my contact list automatically and create some Canned Responses to emails. I think these will be great time savers for my business.

I love the meal planner sheets because although I sometimes do this in my head, it helps to write it down so that my kids and husband can see the list and we can do a “first one home starts the dinner” kind of approach. In my case, I do not work from home every day, but rather run a business out of my home.

The parenting and activity ideas were also good for pre-school children but the one thing she doesn’t address is the coordination of schedules when your kids are older and more active.  When you have more than one child and throw part-time jobs, summer camps and having friends over into the mix, it gets nutty. The author admits that her husband also works from home and they coordinate their time with their daughter – which is nice and tidy but not a reality for many moms. If she thought the summer with one three-year-old was tough to work through – my life would look like a battlefield in comparison! (Maybe this will be covered in a sequel.)

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Keep Only What You Use – rule #3


Those of you who read my first book might remember that I have 10 Absolutes of Organizing These are rules that organized people follow in all aspects of their life.

My third absolute is perhaps the motto of minimalists. Why keep something if it is of no use to you? Think about that for a minute. Especially if you are moving, why would you box something up, move it, and unpack it if you don’t USE it? Or, you’re in the midst of organizing and yet you want to hang on to something you haven’t seen or used in years for SOME reason. It may be guilt or wishful thinking or unrealistic expectations.

Here are some reasons I’ve heard from people for keeping something that they never use:

  • my mother(best friend, sister…) gave it to me
  • it’s worth a lot of money
  • some people collect these
  • I could turn that into a ___________
  • And the ever popular: I might need it someday

To which I say, “really?” Are you really going to do something with this item we found at the bottom of a box in your basement? Or if it is so valuable, why has it been hidden for so long? And if you’re only holding on to it because of who gave it to you, ask yourself the next question, “Do you like it?” or “Does it give you pleasure to look at it? If you answer yes to either of those then okay, keep it but put it somewhere so you can enjoy it. That might be a display shelf or a memory box.

I really don’t force clients to throw anything out, I just ask the right questions so they can take a realistic look at what they keep and what they toss.

When all is said and done, after you sort through a particular closet or room, you want to be left with those belongings that you use, you love and you want. Everything else can be donated, given to someone who really wants it, or recycled.

To each of the reasons above, I say:

  • Don’t worry about the person who gave it to you. They have had the pleasure of giving and have most likely forgotten about it by now.
  • If something is worth a lot of money and you got your use out of it, so what? Pass it along if another can use it. A $300 dress from the 80’s is really not worth $300 today.
  • For collectibles, check into what the real value is today. Believe me the antiques market is not what it used to be even 20 years ago.
  • If you want to turn something useless into something else, make a plan to do that in the next 2 weeks – or let it go!
  • And if you think you might use it someday, think again. If you let it go and “someday” comes, will you be able to find that and afford it? If yes, then let it go. (think of the theme from Frozen and sing it to yourself as you do it!)


It’s not too late to get organized this year!

Every year around this time I receive calls of “help!” with regard to helping clients get their paperwork in order for taxes. Here are some basic filing tips that bear repeating:

Like Christmas, tax time comes the same each year so there’s no reason not to be ready for it. I know that circumstances change with homes, business, investments, etc. But if you have the usual numbers ready to go, getting the totals on your tax forms should not be that difficult.

  • First of all, ask your accountant what he/she needs and what back-up information you need to save. Don’t just give her/him everything that may be related to your taxes or everything you gave last year, because often people give the accountant way more than they ask for only to pay a higher price for the accountant to sort and make sense of it. So give him what he wants and no more.
  • Now make files for those categories. I’m a big believer in specific folders for: Business Expenses, Medical Expenses, Investment income, Income receipts, charitable contributions, etc. Think in terms of your line items.  If you have one filed just called “Tax Stuff” you’re going to have to sort it next year anyway. You can make these actually hard copy folders or folders on your computer. Simply drop in statements and receipts all year long. At the end of the year you can tally and staple these receipts together, voila – no more sorting for the accountant.
  • If you have your own business or you travel for business, keep a mileage log in your car. Or use a mileage app. For every appointment write down the starting and ending mileage, total mileage and purpose of the trip. At the end of the calendar year, tally up the mileages and take your deduction allowed by the IRS. You can also use an app on your phone to do this.
  • Again, if you have business expenses for your work, use one credit card for only business purposes. If you have a card that offers a year end statement – that’s perfect – they will categorize your expenses for you! For miscellaneous cash expenses for business, just remember to get a receipt and drop it in your Business Expense file.
  • If your family needs to keep track and itemize out of pocket medical expenses, have a folder for those receipts as well. Or you could make all medical payments on one credit card, and use those statements for the year so you don’t have to tally receipts. You can keep another Medical file for each member of the house which contains medical reports, labs, diagnosis, etc. That you keep forever. The expenses file you can clean out each year.
  • No need to keep weekly paystubs once you get a correct W2 form. And no need to keep ATM receipts if you are balancing your bank account every month. The monthly statements will support the transactions.
  • Finally, once you have your tax “back-up” ready, pull it out of the filing cabinet and put it in a manila envelope marked with the year. In some cases you may need a banker’s box. Give the accountant what he needs and then file the completed return with all the back-up info. As you put in this year’s, shred the tax file that is 6 years old. *

*always check with your accountant about what you can toss – everyone’s circumstances are different but 6 years is a general guideline.

Keep Purging Simple

Too often when someone starts to organize, they get bogged down in where everything is going. Some items may go to a friend or family member, others to a favorite charity, others you might keep if they fit, or can be fixed…you get the idea. Suddenly your sorting process has turned into seven different piles on the floor and you can’t quite remember which is which.

That’s why I try to help my clients (and my kids) focus on a simple decision. Is it a yes or a no? Thinking simply is what helps you get organized. Yes means it fits now, I wear it, I use it, I love it! No means there’s too many conditions or simply I don’t use it or want it anymore. This can apply to clothing, toys, memorabilia, household items, really anything you’re trying to organize. If you find you are so attached to things that nothing ends up in the “no” pile, try this trick: have a friend or family member sort with you. Let them physically hold up the item and you just say yes or no. Don’t take too long, just go with your gut instinct.

The yes items will stay and you’ll have to find a home for them, but on the positive side, these are all the clothes that make you look great or feel wonderful. They are the photos and memorabilia that bring you happiness. They are the practical, functional items that you use everyday.

If you say no to an item it means you don’t love it, it doesn’t make you feel good when you wear it, it brings you bad memories, or sometimes you don’t know where the heck you got it from or why you kept it this long! Let go of the no’s and you’ll feel lighter.

I know that life is not all black and white and that there are many shades of gray in making decisions but just for fun, the next time you sort through a category, try this black & white approach. Keep it simple and see if it doesn’t go faster and easier.

And if you need a place to take your “no’s” give me a call, I’ve got lots of resources.

Little Projects with Big Impact

Sometimes I’m amazed at how a little organizing project can have such a big impact. I have had clients overjoyed with a neat linen closet, weep over an organized pantry and hug me after organizing their coat closet. And I’ve even been excited over little projects I do at home like cleaning out the gift wrap/card organizer. So I thought I would share some little projects I’ve done that have a big impact.

Medicine cabinet: A couple times a year it’s a good idea to go through your medicine cabinet. Take everything out and sort it into categories: first aid, pain relievers, lotions, etc. As you do this, look at expiration dates and toss anything that is outdated. How you put things back depends on what you are using; a wall cabinet or a shelf in a closet. Either way, you can use plastic containers to keep like things together. The size of the container should be big enough to fit one category and to fit on the shelf. Label the containers so that everyone in your house knows where things go. When you are finished make a list of what you don’t have but need. Then go shopping

Benefit: seeing what you have, stocking what you need and being able to find the right meds at the right time.

Refrigerator: This could be a monthly project or just seasonally. I like to clean mine out before a vacation or after the winter holidays.  Take everything out one shelf at a time. Wipe down the shelves and any messy jars. Discard anything that is outdated, moldy or just plain old! Then designate one shelf for leftovers at eye level so you can see them and use them up. It’s also great to have shelves or bins dedicated to fruit, meats & vegetables, and ready snacks if you have kids (or snackers).

Benefit: Fresh food, easier to prepare a well-rounded meal, seeing what you have and what you need

Coat closet: A seasonal clean out here should be enough – once in the Spring and once in the Fall. You can put one person’s coats all together, getting rid of any that don’t fit. And you can create bins for each person’s scarves & gloves so all they have to do is grab the bin and get what they need. Hooks are very helpful on the sides and back of the closet. I use mine to hang umbrellas and tote bags. Slide a plastic boot tray in the bottom for wet shoes and you’re all set! I think it’s best to keep these closets simple with a hanging bar and a shelf.

Benefit: not being embarrassed when guests come over, having a place for everything

Wrapping Paper/Cards – It’s great to have all these gift wrapping supplies in one place. There are many types of organizers you can purchase from cardboard to zip up containers that fit under a bed to a stand up Rubbermaid container. Whatever you use, keep this in a location where you will most likely wrap presents.  Begin by pulling everything out. Trash the old, wrinkled wrapping paper. Put gift bags together by size or by occasion. (I like to keep all my Christmas bags together) And make sure that the rolls of wrapping paper fit in your container. Cards w/envelopes, scissors & tape, gift tags and a pen can go into a small container or a pocket in your organizer.

Benefit:  being able to find what you need and get birthday cards and presents out in a timely manner.


What small projects have you tackled with a  big impact?

New Year’s Day is a Clean Slate

If you like new beginnings, second chances and setting goals – this is a beautiful time of year. Never mind the cold, grey weather. Just sit down by your fireplace by yourself or with your loved ones and dream about how great this year can be. Better yet, grab a piece of paper or a white board or your computer and write down your plans! This is how all great projects get started.

Now think about what went wrong last year. For our family, lack of vacation time was a stress point. I’d like to correct that this year if possible. So we are planning a long weekend in the spring, some time at the beach in the summer and a fall weekend in the mountains. Not a lot of details yet but that’s okay. These are our goals for fun time.

My oldest child needs to make more money before she goes away to college. Instead of leaving this to chance, I suggested she decide on her summer activities and then sit down with her boss to discuss how often she can work. If one place cannot give her enough hours, she may have to look for a second part-time job.

My middle child needs to get more involved in extra-curricular activities so we’re setting a deadline for him to join something by January 15 or we are going to sign him up. Everybody is motivated differently and believe me, we’ve tried to urge him before.

Everyone in our family has deadlines and appointments so we selected a beautiful calendar to hang in our kitchen so we all know what’s going on from day to day. Individually we also have planners. Now is a great time to let your students select a planner – daily, weekly or monthly – that makes sense to them.

Think about what you loved last year:  A great vacation? The division of chores in your household? Projects that were completed? Repeat or expand on them this year. If you’re sprucing up your house, take one room per month and do what you can. A new coat of paint, rug or curtains can really update a room. You’ve got twelve months so if you budget your time and your money, you could have the house you’ve always dreamed of next year at this time! My method of project planning is to:

1. Brain storm

2. Prioritize

3. Budget

4. Write a task list

5. Get started

Cheers – to a great new year with all its infinite possibilities!

What do you have planned?

10 Tips for an Absolutely Awesome Holiday Season

  1. Set a budget and decide how you will pay for Christmas.  For some people it’s easier to take out the cash and only spend that.  If you do a lot of online or catalog shopping, maybe use one credit card or debit card.  If you use a credit card you may want to tuck away your budgeted money into a savings account until the bill comes.  This will prevent that post-holiday shock in January.
  2.  Make your list and check it twice.  In order to set your budget, you’ll need to make a list of all the people you buy for.  Include family, friends, teachers, charity donations and service people that you typically tip for the holidays.  Estimate how much you will spend on each.
  3. With kids, stick to a number of presents and not a dollar amount.  Typically the little toys are cheaper and the kids don’t know the cost anyway.  So if you spend more on your teenager it’s okay.  That one IPod might equal 5 V-tech toys but that doesn’t mean you have to buy them to be fair.  You could set a limit like:  3 toys, one outfit and one book per child so when the presents are un-wrapped it all looks even.
  4. Shop efficiently This could mean doing all of your shopping on-line.  Many companies offer free shipping in Nov & Dec.  Or it could mean going to a store only once.  If you go to Toys R Us for example, take your list and get all the toy gifts at that time. It could also mean buying the same thing for multiple people.  If you buy for your nephews, you could get each of them a sweatshirt in their favorite colors.  Before you go shopping, take all your retail coupons in an envelope with you and check the fine print before you buy so you get the best deal.
  5. Automate your holiday cards.  With so many digital photo companies now, it’s easy to make a great photo card for all your family and friends.  Make sure you do these early so you have them in time.  Also, if you don’t have your address list on the computer, this is the time to do it.  Printing labels is so much easier than writing.  Plus, you can have the children help you stuff and address the envelopes.
  6. Decide when and where the celebrations will take place Speak to both sides of the family and make sure you leave some down time for your immediate family to spend together.  This is a big cause of stress during the holidays – trying to make time for everyone else.  Think about what you want too!
  7. If you are hosting a meal, ask for help.  Most people are willing to make a dish or bring a bottle of wine to a holiday dinner so don’t be a martyr. You provide the entrée and one dessert and let the guests bring the rest.  If you make a big Christmas Eve dinner, then keep Christmas day simple and serve cold cuts.
  8. Remember the kids.  If you are traveling for the holidays even for a day trip to Grandma’s, remember to bring something for the kids to do.  Adults might be fine with having drinks, snacks and catching up with the relatives.  But the kids will be bored if that’s all there is.  Bring along a special craft or a holiday movie to watch.  Or even let them open a new toy when you arrive.
  9. Remember the reason for the season.  It’s not about the stuff you get. It’s more about the time with family and close friends, celebrating a wonderful season. It’s a little about what you give but don’t let that stress you out. Whether you like it simple and quiet or loud and fun, enjoy!
  10. Manage your time.  Like any other project, you have to set interim goals for the holidays.  Here’s a sample schedule:
  • Decorations – outside decorations up during the first weekend of December.
  • Shopping – use the first 2 weeks of December
  • Wrapping & sending cards – use the 3rd week of December
  • Food shopping – make a complete list and go the week before the holiday.
  • Christmas tree – decorate the week before on a Sunday night.
  • Baking and food prep – one or two days before Christmas.

Two bits of advice on de-cluttering

I’ve been sounding like a broken record lately with my clients so I thought I would put out this advice to the universe. With 10 years of experience in organizing and helping my clients de-clutter I’ve learned a few things that can save you some time and energy in the long run. Here they are:

DO NOT HAVE A GARAGE SALE TO SELL YOUR JUNK – Despite what you see on TV about people doing a clean sweep and getting lots of cash to redecorate, this is not the norm. Remember those shows have a TV production crew drawing people to their sale and most times, they come up short anyway. Yard sales & garage sales are a lot of work for the owner. You have to get up early,set your stuff out, price it, haggle about those prices with everyone, spend a day outside and then you have to do something with all the left overs at the end of the day. You also have to get people to show up which is no small task. My only “unless” would be that if your community or neighborhood is doing one big sale and it’s going to be social and someone else is doing the marketing for you or if you live in a heavily trafficked area, then go for it. It might be fun and you’ll earn some spending money in the process.

I told this to one client who was downsizing and her husband insisted on doing the sale. He and a friend looked forward to it. Then the Saturday came and it rained. They sat out all morning made about $50 and had to haul all the junk back to the house or put it in the trash. I went back on Monday and they said,”It really was a waste of time.”

DO NOT THINK YOUR OLD CLOTHES OR FURNITURE ARE WORTH $$$$$– Yes there are a lot of consignment shops popping up. Clothing consignment stores are very particular about the brand name, condition and style of clothing they will consign. Do not be offended if they don’t take your stuff. You many have paid $300 for a suit in 1985 but it’s not worth that today. Consignment shops sell stuff cheap. And even if your items get accepted by the store, there’s no guarantee they will sell.  Case in point. I have a client with well- made dresses from the 80’s. They served her well and she thinks they are worth something. Actually they were worth, on average, $40 a piece at a local consignment shop. But in two months, only one item sold. So now she wants them back to try to sell somewhere else. This could be a vicious circle, taking my time and hers to move clothes around that she does not wear anymore.

The same goes for old furniture and household items. As one auction director said to me, “It’s a simple case of supply & demand.” Just because your grandparents told you something was worth a lot of money, it doesn’t necessarily mean that is true today. People are not buying antiques the way they used to even 20 years ago. And the baby boomers are downsizing and flooding the market with this stuff so supply is high, demand is low. That’s the hard truth.

WHAT SHOULD YOU DO? Donate the items or don’t expect to make a ton of money. Be thankful to find someone who will come pick up all your unwanted household goods and clear out your house. Whether you’re downsizing or staying you will feel lighter once they are gone.

Clothing is the easiest thing to donate. Don’t be picky about where your clothes go. Trust that the homeless or less fortunate will appreciate your old clothes and put out some good karma. If you have a specific charity that helps people get back to work like Dress for Success or a half way house, they would love dress clothes – male or female.

Furniture is actually a little easier to consign. If you think you have some treasures, by all means have an auction house in to do an assessment. Get a couple quotes and then choose your best. Someone who will take the whole lot, not charge you for the pick up and give you one price is the most efficient way to go. It’s out in one day and you’ve got a little mad money in hand.

You can waste a lot of time second guessing your organizer, the auction house or consignment shop. If your goal is to eliminate clutter, downsize your home and move, then don’t loose sight of your goal. You’ve decided you don’t want or need these things so “Let it go!” What you see on Antiques Roadshow is not the norm.

Can anyone identify with what I’m saying? Please share your story.

Two Methods of Organizing

I get asked all the time, “How do I keep my house this organized?” especially right after I finish with a client. Organizng is a project first and then it’s a process. Many of you have probably taken a day or more to clean out a room in the house , only to find that a week  – the clutter is back! Life doesn’t stand still so neither does your stuff. The trick is to keep up with things like paperwork, cleaning, laundry, food storage on a regular basis. And if you want to keep up, I believe you’ve got two methods to choose from: The Full Barrel, or the Daily/Weekly Routine methods.

The Full Barrel – I love this term (which I borrowed from a book on food allergy reactions) because it’s so visual. You know what a full barrel looks like. And when it comes to organizing many people use containers (bins, baskets or boxes) to contain their clutter. So the method is that you contain one item or category to a container and when the container is full – you clear it out. That means sorting, purging and taking care of the items or putting them back where they belong. For instance, many people use this for laundry. You have a basket and when it’s full, you do wash. You can also think about a recycle container for newspapers. When its full you move it to the curb.

This system works well for visually motivated people and those who don’t like to live by a strict schedule. Be warned, however that the barrel may spill over at an inopportune moment. But you also don’t have to do any of these tasks until the bin is full so let it go and move on to something else!

The Daily/Weekly Routine – On the flip side, if you don’t want to wait for barrels to spill, and if you like predictability in your life, try the routine method. Invariably there are tasks that we all do every week like; food shopping, laundry, cleaning and taking out the trash. By assigning each task to a certain day you know that once a week these areas will be back to normal. This frees up your other days to do other things. For example, if you food shop on Sunday you can plan ahead for meals, lunches etc. and every week spend about the same money. If you run to the store every other day it’s more expensive. I also believe  if your family has seven outfits, it’s okay to do wash only once a week. Have somebody fold it and everyone can put their own clean clothes away. It’s not hard if it’s only once a week.

Then there are the daily routines like checking email, US mail, cleaning up the kitchen, walking the dog, etc. Delegate where you can so one person is not doing it all. Also set a timer for things like checking email so you don’t let that effect the rest of your day. Whatever is a priority do it first. For example, if you want to go to the gym and work out, don’t turn on your computer or answer the phone before that. Trust me, it will set your whole day off schedule!

Speaking of which, this system works well for people who like a schedule. If your life is such that you don’t have one – then make one! Be your own boss and set hours for certain things like exercise and reading if that’s what you want to do. When left to chance these things will not get done. But don’t forget to leave a little white space in your daily and weekly routines because if you’re over scheduled you’re over stressed!

What routines do you have that keep your home or office running smoothly? Leave a comment.

Organize Your Beauty Routine

Sure organizing can make you feel better. But can it actually make you look better? I submit that it can!

Take, for instance, your vanity or medicine cabinet or bathroom cabinet – wherever it is that you keep your lotions, potions and make-up. This is one area that can be quickly organized and cleaned up. I would give it 2 hours plus any shopping time for containers. When you have skin products and make-up that is organized, clean and fresh your skin is going to look world’s better wearing it!

If, on the other hand you have held onto make up for years, just because it’s not finished or if you have skin care products from various manufacturers, you are doing your face a disservice. Follow these steps for a beauty routine make- 0ver and see the results for yourself:

1. Take everything out of your cabinets and categorize – make-up, cleansers, moisturizers, toners, facial scrubs, perfume, bath soaps, specialty products, nail products, and brushes – for starters.

2. Toss anything that is discolored, watery, or has an expiration date that has passed. Bottles that are covered with dust might indicate that they’re pretty old too.

3. Take a second look & toss more. Even if you don’t have expiration dates, you know how old certain items are. In general, make-up is good for 6 months to a year. Eye products should be tossed after 3 months so the next time you buy mascara, put a label on it with your own expiration date! Lotions last about 1 year.

4. Look at your categories. How many cleansers do you have? One is enough! Using products from one skin care line is optimal because they are formulated to work together. For example, a Clinique cleanser can remove Clinique’s foundation. If you mix companies you might not get desired results or you might overload on one ingredient causing a reaction.Choose your brand and get the complete set.

5. Take the products that you use every day and put them in one drawer, bin or on one shelf. Then take other products by category and put them in their own container. Plastic is the best because canvas or wicker bins will get wet at some point.

6. Clean your brushes with soap & water then let them air dry. Repeat this once a month at least.

7. Put all your toiletries back in the cabinet from which they came. If you have travel size (admit it you’ve got a collection!) toss any old ones and keep more recent ones in a travel bag in the linen closet.

Stand back and be amazed by how clear your bathroom is, and how easy it is to do your routine the next morning. To be super efficient, put all your daily products on the left of the sink and as you use them, move them to the right. That way you won’t miss a step!

What’s the toughest part of keeping your cosmetics under control? Leave a comment.

Super Baby Food

Moms always say, “I wish there was a textbook for raising children.” Well, there isn’t one so most of us just “wing it” on a daily basis.

I like to think my book, A Mom’s Guide to Home Organization, is somewhat helpful in answering the question of how can mom’s juggle all their responsibilities and still maintain order in the house.  I even have a chapter on how to keep your baby on an eating and sleeping schedule. This little “how to” lesson was handed down to me from my mother who had a very authoritative pediatrician. He told her exactly what to feed us and when. This got me through the first year with my three children and I welcomed having more instruction than what my own pediatrician was saying, namely, “You can try a little cereal or some fruits…” She really left it up to me so I listened to my mother. Some people don’t agree with that schedule and that’s fine. It worked for me and my sisters and some of our friends.  My kids are healthy and awesome sleepers to this day.  But I have to say we did go through the picky eater syndrome that so many moms experience today. It’s a vicious cycle so how do you get out of that? I guess the answer is to never start with the fried, processed and salty foods that kids crave. Always give healthy options and they’ll have to eat something good.

If you have babies or toddlers it’s not too late for you! Try reading Super Baby Food by Ruth Yaron. It is the most comprehensive healthy eating guide that I have seen on the market. While I don’t consider myself a “crunchy granola” mom, I do appreciate healthy, all natural food but I’m sometimes intimidated by the amount of time I think it takes to make everything by scratch. That’s why I loved Ruth’s simple charts and instructions. Not only is she healthy but she’s efficient too. Surprisingly, Ruth did not start out as a nutritional expert; she was actually a NASA programmer! But when her twin boys were born premature, she became a determined mom. She wanted to give them the healthiest diet possible so she did her own research on nutrition and cooking. The result is this complete guide on choosing the right foods, preparing them, storing them and when to feed them to your babies.

Although my children are grown, I plan use the recommendations in this book to keep preparing healthy food for my family.  Even if you pick up a few of her techniques, recipes or preparation tips, I think you and your kids will be happy and healthier in the long run.

Although this book was originally published in 1996, it has just come out with its third edition. For more information, go to

Be Prepared for Anything!

September is National Emergency Preparedness month and to be honest, I never really thought about this too much. I’m not the type of person who panicked at the year 2000, in fact I laughed at people who basically stocked a bomb shelter days before New Year’s Eve that year. But as a Professional Organizer and someone who naturally plans ahead, it would make sense that I should know a little something about preparing for natural and man-made disasters. Since 9/11 our area certainly has had our share of them! And quite frankly, while we haven’t had real disasters, there have been plenty of times when my house and my neighborhood has been out of power for 4 days or more. Each time I vow there is something else I’m going to do to be prepared. So, I recently attended a class on this with my fellow organizers in Philadelphia and I’d like to share with you what I learned.

The Plan:

1. Verify the information you are receiving about any disaster. Lots of rumors spread among neighbors; make sure you are only acting on information from a credible source.

2. Have a list of emergency numbers posted in your home and on your cell phone. This may include: local Red Cross, School Info Lines, Power Company, Water Company, Telephone company. That way you can call immediately for an outage or to get up to date information on that utility.

3. Pick a safe room in your home in case you need to shelter in place. Choose a low room for a tornado, high for a flood, a bathroom for hurricane or earthquake.

4. Create an emergency plan/checklist for your family to help. One person can close windows, shut off water, gather pets, etc. so everyone is not running around bumping into one another. Locate water, electrical and gas shut off valves in your home and mark clearly.

5. Practice your plan just like you would a fire drill. Kids do this in school all the time now. It makes it calmer and easier to do in the real situation. If necessary, involve your neighbors in your plan so you can share resources.

6. Pick a meeting point for your family in case you get separated.

7. You can preserve refrigerated food with ice in a cooler, so it’s good to have an extra bag of ice in the freezer at all times.

The Emergency Supply Kit:

1. A gallon of water per person per day is the rule of thumb. Listen to authorities about whether or not it needs to be purified before consumed.

2. A battery operated radio to get news reports if no electricity.

3. Candles, flashlights and extra batteries, or a crank flashlight

5. Non-perishable food, and a manual can opener & plastic utencils

6. Medicine and/or baby  supplies for 3-5 days

7. Fire extinguisher, gas grill for cooking

8. Comfort & convenience supplies: blankets, sleeping bags, change of clothes, cash and credit card, medical insurance cards, important documents in safe box, simple games to pass the time in a black out.

The auto kit:

1. Blanket, coveralls or extra sweatshirt

2. jumper cables, flares, triangles

3. shovel, rock salt and sand (for snow)

4. tire repair kit

5. maps

6. AAA card if you are a member

Important numbers/resources:

(These are local numbers so make sure you have the ones for your area)

  • Fire/Police
  • Poison Control
  • Red Cross
  • Department of Health
  • Electric Company
  • Phone Company
  • Water Company
  • Out of town relatives/friends where you can stay if evacuated

Finally, I suggest you contact your county’s Department of Emergency Services for a list of instructions on what to do in the case of various natural disasters or emergencies. Keep it in a central location in the home where everyone knows where to find it. Or for more information check out willing, you will never need to use these resources but if you’re prepared, even a little power outage will not feel so devastating.

Back to School Survival Tips for Moms

 Before the tide changes and we go from carefree summer days to the scheduled and often over-scheduled fall, take a moment to consider some of these organizing tips to get you and your family ready for September:

  1. Go through the kids’ clothes to find out what still fits.  Make a list of what they’ll need as far as shoes, clothes, jackets, etc. and go shopping for those items.
  2. Pull out the required school supplies list and see what you already have in house.  Check off what you have and take the list shopping to buy other supplies.  Put everyone’s supplies in their backpack or a separate bag.
  3. One week before school starts, (or at least a few days) practice going to bed on time and waking up when you would need to for school.  Use the extra time to spend outside in the morning, or catching up on things you wanted to do all summer.
  4. If you don’t have one, make a file for “School Information” and “Kids Activities” for each child.  This could be a hanging file or a pocket folder.
  5. Create activity bags for after school sports, lessons or classes. That way the kids can grab & go! Have hooks for these bags in a mudroom or front closet.
  6. Decide where & when homework will be done.  For younger children the kitchen or dining room table might work if they need help from parents.  For older children a desk in their room is better for concentration.
  7. Establish a morning routine for yourself and the kids. For non-readers you can make a pictogram of what they need to do in the morning:  get dressed, make bed, eat breakfast, and brush teeth.
  8. Hang a family calendar in your kitchen so everyone knows where they need to be each day.  Also mark half days and days off so you know when you need to be home for the kids or have a babysitter.
  9. Handle school papers and forms every day.  Go through the papers as the kids are doing homework.  Read each, trash it or put it in a “to do” or “to file” pile.  Mark significant dates on a Family Calendar and throw away the paper whenever possible.  Keep your To Do pile on a desk or hall table so you look at it every day until it’s done.
  10. When the kids are back in school – take a day off for yourself! Get a massage, a haircut or mani/pedi. Get together with other moms & celebrate – you survived the summer!

10 Steps to the Perfect Summer Party

I am currently winding down from a great Memorial Day weekend. The weather was great (although not as warm as I would have liked) and we had the perfect combination of things to do this weekend, including a play, some sports, our annual party and downtime.  If life could just be this perfect all year!

About 10 years ago my family decided that we would host a Memorial Day picnic and celebrate my two older kids’ birthdays at the same time. Their birthdays are mid May and mid June and to get this big gang together twice in the same month is a little difficult. Memorial day happens to land in the middle and we thought, “What a great way to kick off the summer season.” Because none of my family members have beach houses, this works perfectly. And the more we do this party, the easier it gets! I remember being frantic the first few times fretting about what food to serve, what kind of cake, where to put everything, and what if it rains? As an organizer, I strive for simplicity in all I do so a little experience and simplifying came in handy as we effortlessly had a party for over 30 people and still had time to enjoy our weekend. Now I can not take credit for all of this. It takes team work, and my husband and kids all chipped it to make this party go off without a hitch. Hopefully you can learn some tips to help you throw a great summer party this season:

1. Decide the date and start time and let everyone know via E-vite, text, or email. Ask for an RSVP 5-7 days prior to the party. This way you know how much food or drink to buy.

2. Decide on the menu, and opt for something that can be set out on a table, and then forgotten. Order food or purchase it a few days before the event. If it’s hot food, use a warming tray. Cold food – put a tray of ice underneath. If you have air conditioning, set up food and drinks inside so guests can help themselves. Don’t offer too many choices. Two entrees, two salads and a couple kinds of snacks are generally fine for any size crowd. Incorporate fruits & vegetables in a fun way so those who are vegetarians have options.

3. The day before or the morning of the party, do all food prep that can be done. Straighten the house – but only clean sinks and toilets. The floors will get dirty so clean those AFTER. If you have children or children are coming, put away anything valuable that you don’t want touched or knocked over.

4. One hour before the party, set up table cloths and serving bowls & trays. If someone is helping you with food, you can put a post it on each tray or bowl so they know where everything goes. Have one table for snacks/desserts another for main course and then tables with chairs for where people can sit and eat. Set up a drink area and label one cooler for beer/wine and one for soda if you are serving both.

5. Use disposable utensils and plates. Put a permanent marker with the cups so people can write their names on them and use one cup the whole day. Set up a regular trash can and a recycle can outside and label accordingly.

6. If you love theme parties, try It’s a great way to coordinate the menu, decorations, drinks and games all around a theme. Once you purchase your “party in a box” you can use it again and again. This year, instead of our usually patriotic flare, we went with a Hawaiian Luau which was left over from my daughter’s Sweet 16 party.

7. During the party do a sweep through the house and throw out any trash you see. If serving dishes are empty, refill them or put them in the sink. Don’t clean until guests have left! As you do your sweep, chat with guests in each room. Ask if anybody needs anything.

8. At the end of the night., ask kids to clean up the toys scattered all over your yard or playroom. Blow out any lit candles. Once the bulk of guests have left, put food away in plastic containers, get dishes to the kitchen and basically consolidate the mess.

9. Load the dishwasher and run it. If you’re not going to hand wash dishes, at least rinse them and put them in the sink. Wipe down plastic table clothes and let them dry over night.

10. The next morning survey the outside of your house, put everything in it’s place. Wash dishes & linens and sweep and mop the floors.

If there’s an extra serving of food or piece of cake – take that as your reward and take the rest of the day off!

What are some of your tips for a great summer party? Leave a comment.


Boomerang Kids: What to Do When Your College Grad Moves Back Home

Guest Post by Paul Benjamin

Paul Benjamin works for EZ Storage, a self storage company serving the Philadelphia area for over 40 years.

If you are one of the many who’s children have “re-nested” after going away to college, take heart. You are not alone:

  • The Pew Research Center reports that more young people between the ages of 25-34 live at home with their parents at the highest rate (20 percent) since the early 1950’s.
  • A recent study released by Northeastern University estimates that 53 percent of young adults under age 25 with a bachelor’s degree were underemployed or unemployed.
  • In late 2012, the Economic Policy Institute pegged the unemployment rate for high school graduates somewhere around 53 percent.

While these harsh realities say one thing to the young generation, they mean an altogether different reality for their parents. Many parents understand changing economic and cultural dynamics that make it necessary for grown children to move back home. They love their child and want to provide the support necessary to help him or her regroup and regain their independence.

Nonetheless, it’s critical to strike a balance between the desire to help an offspring and your peace, happiness and style of living to which you’ve become accustomed.

Here are some considerations that will aid you in making the transition:
1. Move-in and Exit Strategy

All parties involved need to have a clear understanding of the expectations prior to the scheduled move-in date. Many experts recommend that you establish a lease agreement that defines the “rental period” (i.e. month-to-month) and house rules. You should also charge rent.

It is also important that you set expectations or house rules that go beyond the lease agreement, such as:  assisting with chores, paying for groceries or entertaining friends.

Outline the exit strategy at the start. Define whether that means finding a job, returning to school or other situations.  Schedule a meeting to determine if they will be able to move-out at the end of the period or need additional time.

2. Handling Storage Issues

A child moving home from college or from their own apartment accumulates quite a few things over the years. Take steps to minimize the impact of having the person move their belongings back into your home, cluttering your space and well-organized home.

Before the move is made, encourage your children to go through their items and donate, sell or otherwise dispose of anything they no longer want or require.  If you need to create more storage space around the house find a place where they can store their things and not mingle them with your own. This could be a garage, attic, shed or extra bedroom.

Make good use of storage boxes. You can find stack-able boxes in all sizes, shapes and materials. Plastic containers provide protection against water mold and rodents.  Arrange the items —furniture, books, dishes, appliances— according to how or where you intend to store them and always clearly label the boxes.

You should also group and prioritize things according to frequency of access to reduced disorganizing the space when looking for things. For example, put the most used items on top or in the front of other boxes. Sturdy shelves to hold storage boxes also make it easier to remove one box at a time.

3. Renting Storage Space

In some cases, creating storage space in your home is not a workable option to accommodate the personal belongings of an adult child.  In this case, discuss renting a storage unit to store their furniture and belongings until they need them again.

Make a list of the items you want to store, which will help you get the correct size and plan the organization and associated costs.

The good thing about renting storage units is the flexibility. You can use this solution for one month, six months or an entire a year based on your situation. If you choose this option, consider the rental fee and what it includes,and also the firm’s policy for access.

Remember, when an adult child moves back home your primary objective lies in minimizing the impact on your finances, your lifestyle and the organization of your home. Ultimately, you want to facilitate the child regaining their independence while maintaining a harmonious home environment and relationship.

If you’ve got “boomerang kids” let us know the good, the bad, the ugly! Leave a comment:


Get Motivated to Organize!

Let’s play a word association game. I say “organize” and you think…Yuk? Boring? No time?

Well what if I told you there are some people who think it’s fun? Organizing is one of those things like exercising and paying taxes that we all have to do at some time in our life, so why not make it fun? And yes there is a small majority of the population that already enjoys organizing. Did you catch Sheldon Cooper on the Big Bang Theory recently? He begged Leonard, “Oh please, can’t I stay just five more minutes?” when he was organizing Howard’s closet. I like to believe you don’t have to be a geek to enjoy organizing.

So for those of you who don’t long to get your hands on a labeler and sorting bins, I offer the following motivation for you and your family to get motivated to organize and have some fun in the process.

1. Set a time limit. Don’t make an organizing project an endless weekend of drudgery, but then again don’t fool yourself and think you can answer the phone, or run out and do a quick errand in the middle of a project. Typical limits are 6-8 hours for a full room overhaul and about 2-3 hours for a typical closet. Set a timer and try to beat the clock. Turn off the phones & TV’s and any other distractions. Do put on some music with a fast beat, have a drink and a snack ready when you start. When time starts to run out, make the music faster and challenge yourself to get it done. (My family cleans out the garage twice a year and we can now get it done in 1.5 hours)

2. Enlist some help. If you have kids and a spouse, get them involved! Or if you’d rather, ask a girl friend to help you and then you can help her with one of her projects. Delegate duties based on everyone’s personality. A big burly husband can do the heavy lifting. A kid who can’t keep still can be the one to drag boxes or bags of donations out to the car. A person who likes to sit in one place can sort or shred papers or make labels. When the project is finished, take everyone out for a meal or a special treat. (pizza and ice cream are always crowd pleasers)

3. Treat yourself. When you’ve completed a room that could use a little sprucing up, go shopping for new curtains, a nice picture, a plant or throw pillows. (I love Home Goods for this stuff)Finish your closet and go shopping for clothes that you need, but not too much! It’s your reward for an organizing project well done. I say make room for the good stuff. Many of my clients tell me after a room is finished, they keep going back to it just to enjoy how it looks! When you finish your closet, it’s like getting a new wardrobe.

4. Make it a game. When my kids were toddlers, I would trick them into picking up the toys. We had different colored round tubs for each category: one for stuffed animals, another for balls and so on. I’d ask my daughter to pick up the stuffed animals, my son to pick up the balls and they would shoot them like basketballs into the right container. (Nothing like a little sibling competition to finish first or get the most in)

5. Make some money. The first time I had my boys clean out the toy bin, I sold their give-aways at a children’s consignment shop and told them they could keep the money. They each made $25 and they were more motivated to do it again the next year! Check out local consignment shops to see what you could sell from your unused clothing, household items and toys. Money is always a motivator.

Spring Greening Ideas

While everyone is talking about Spring Cleaning, why not consider “Spring Greening?” April 22nd is Earth Day and the sunny spring weather, popping plants and just being outdoors reminds us of the beauty of nature.  With so many negative reports on the hazards in our environment, I urge you to consider what you can do with your own carbon footprint to take better care of the earth.

Here are some ideas of how to organize around your house and also recycle, reuse and reduce while you’re at it.

1.  Clean out your closets – It’s an easy 2 hour project to take everything out of a closet, keep what  you use, need and love and donate the rest.  The hard part is knowing where to take the excess and then actually doing it.

  • Clothes – Goodwill, or any charity for clothing that is in good repair. Take a good look at what you give to others and make sure you are not passing on rags. Impact Thrift store actually will take rags for recycle but it’s nice to separate these out and mark them as such.
  • Food – find a local pantry, usually affiliated with a church, where you can take food that you don’t want or need.
  • Electronics – Some Goodwill stores and municipalities, or Best Buy & Staples will recycle old electronics, DVDs, CDs, and VHS tapes. If you want them out of the house, put them in the car and find the closest location for drop-offs.

2. Re-use fabric shopping bags – Make a bag of bags and leave it in your car. Take them out any time you go to a store. Not just for groceries but also for runs to the drug store, clothing stores, anywhere! Imagine all the plastic bags that you are preventing from going to a landfill.

3. Reduce your family’s waste and stop buying foods that are individually wrapped.  Instead of lunch size snacks, buy one big bag or barrel of snacks and pack your kids’ lunches using re-usable containers, cloth napkins, water canteens and re-usable fabric lunch bags. Make it cool to be green in school!

4. Recycle everything you can – We all know about newspapers and plastic or glass bottles, but what about paper plates, napkins, food boxes and mail? Make it easy to recycle by having a recycle bin in your house in a convenient location: right next to the regular trash can or out the back door are two suggestions.

5. Buy recycled products if you must buy more organizing products, check out the companies below:


6. Unplug – Teach your family to turn off lights as soon as they leave a room. But also unplug major appliances when they are not in use. Don’t leave chargers in the outlets. All these things use up electrical power unnecessarily. Develop a routine at night to do this. Put everyone in your family in charge of a room or two.

7. Buy local produce – As the farmers’ markets and produce stands open up in your town, support them! Buying local means less gas for everybody and it usually means you get fresher fruits and vegetables. That’s what I call win/win.

8.  Program your thermostat to go down at night or when no one is home.

9. Consolidate your errands and set up carpools for your kids’ activities to use less gas.

10. Plant flowers, trees or shrubs and celebrate Earth Day!

The Organized Home

When you are a professional organizer, you often get this question, “So is YOUR house really organized?”  To which I always reply, “Yes.” It’s not perfect, my spices are not alphabetized (in fact, neither are my files) but it functions well.

Recently my husband was asked that question and he replied “no” without hesitation! Really? I thought. All the work I do to keep this family running smoothly and you don’t consider our home really organized? Maybe he was just embarrassed to say yes. Or maybe he was thinking of his work space which is off limits to me.  Early on in our marriage I found out how much I could push him to be more organized and where I had to give in to the “systems” that worked for him.  He likes things out so he remembers them.  I like everything tucked away. So we decided to leave out what we use every day.  He has a plethora of reading material that I used to find piled up all over the house. I bought him a nice magazine rack for the living room.  When they started to pile up in the bathroom, I bought him one for that room too. It was like I was chasing him with containers!  But those seemed to work.  Likewise, when we had children and they started to accumulate big toys, I used a small room off the back of our house as a toy storage area. Toys could come out all day, but at the end of the day or whenever we wanted to clean up, they had a home.  When the kids got bigger and toys got smaller, I designated a “Little Stuff” bin for each child. All their little toys went into the bin at clean up time. When the bin got full we cleaned it out.

In addition to creating bins for all our clutter, I believe our home is organized for additional reasons, namely:

1. Everyone in the family knows where to find things here. From batteries to clean clothes to snacks, we do HAVE A PLACE FOR EVERYTHING.

2. We are on time for school, work, and activities. This is achieved by keeping a family calendar in the kitchen and HAVING MORNING & EVENING ROUTINES which give us a method for getting what we need to get out the door in the morning.

3. We pay our bills on time. Some people say “Never pay retail.” I say, “NEVER PAY A LATE FEE OR INTEREST.” We limit credit card purchases to what we can afford every month. (barring any crazy circumstances)

4. I can compile my business tax information in about 15 minutes. This is because I HAVE A SIMPLE FILING SYSTEM that has worked for me since I was out of college. Two file drawers: one for business one for personal. They get cleaned out once a year and finances are kept balanced monthly.

5. The weekly tasks of running a home like: laundry, food shopping, cleaning, and trash removal are all done on a schedule with all family members pitching in. Daily tasks are much the same.

So you will not find months worth of laundry all around my house, piles of papers with bills buried, or duplicates of sundries all over the bathroom in our house. Sure there are times when things get hectic, but with a few hours and our family routines, our home can get back to normal.

Not sure where my husband’s living but I am proud to say we have an organized home.  If it wasn’t, how could my clients trust my expertise?

Living this way keeps the chaos at bay and makes me happy to come home after a long days work or a vacation away. My home is my sanctuary and I’m happy to help others achieve this too!

What stresses you out about your house?  Leave a comment:




Avoid the Tax Rush

  If you find yourself stressed out this time every  year, trying to find papers and receipts to give to your accountant, you’ve got to be thinking, “There must be a better, simpler way!” And there is. Think about it. Like Christmas, tax time comes the same each year so there’s no reason not to be ready for it. I know that circumstances change with homes, businesses, investments, etc. But if you have the usual numbers ready to go, getting the totals on your tax forms should not be that difficult. It’s a matter of keeping good files all year long.


6 Tips to Organizing Your Files for Taxes:

  • Write down the categories of papers that your accountant asks for. Not everything you gave him last year, because often people give the accountant way more than they ask for only to pay a higher price for the accountant to sort and make sense of it. So give him what he wants and no more.
  • Make files for those categories. I’m a big believer in specific folders for: Business Expenses, Medical Expenses, Investment income, Income receipts, charitable contributions, etc. Think in terms of your line items.  If you have one filed just called “Tax Stuff” you’re going to have to sort it next year anyway. Put the files close to your desk and drop in statements and receipts all year long. At the end of the year you can tally and staple these receipts together, voila – no more sorting for the accountant.
  • If you have your own business or you travel for business, keep a mileage log in your car. For every appointment write down the starting and ending mileage, total mileage and purpose of the trip. At the end of the calendar year, tally up the mileages and take your deduction allowed by the IRS. You can also use an app on your phone to do this.
  • If you have business expenses for your work, use one credit card for only business purposes. If you have a card that offers a year end statement – that’s perfect – they will categorize your expenses for you! For miscellaneous cash expenses for business, just remember to get a receipt and drop it in your Business Expense file.
  • If your family needs to keep track and itemize out of pocket medical expenses, have a folder for those receipts as well. Or you could make all medical payments on one credit card, and use those statements for the year so you don’t have to keep receipts. You can keep another Medical file for each member of the house which contains medical reports, labs, diagnosis, etc. That you keep forever. The expenses file you can clean out each year.
  • No need to keep weekly paystubs once you get a correct W2 form. And no need to keep ATM receipts if you are balancing your bank account every month. The monthly statements will support the transactions.
  • Once you have your tax “back-up” ready, pull it out of the filing cabinet and put it in a manila envelope marked with the year. In some cases you may need a banker’s box. Give the accountant what he needs and then file the completed return with all the back-up info. As you put in this year’s, shred the tax file that is 6 years old. *

*always check with your accountant about what you can toss – everyone’s circumstances are different but 6 years is a general guideline.

What tips do you have to keep tax info easy to find? Leave a comment:


How to Organize Any Room

Like a magician who reveals his secrets, I’m about share with you my lessons  organizing. I have written two books on the subject (now combined into A Mom’s Guide to Home Organization) so you can read the book, follow the steps and then it as a reference for whenever you have your next organizing project. But think of this as the “Cliff Notes.”

1. Allow for 8 hours per room – Many people think an hour or two should do it, but that’s not a thorough organizing job. For a full room – a full day. Chances are it took several years to get into this current state of disarray. So now you have to find the time to make it better.

2. Pick a point and work clockwise – I usually pick the worst corner to tackle first. If the floor is cluttered, de-clutter it first so you have room to move and sort.

3. Clear surfaces first – Floors, counter tops, table tops and wall hangings should be taken care of first. Then get into closets, drawers & cabinets.

4. The process is CPRCategorize, Purge & Re-Arrange. Categories can go in boxes or on the floor. If one category is too big, you may have to sub-divide it. For instance, papers in an office might be divided by subject matter or  put into categories like: new mail, files, bills, work & personal, or reference material. Have trash bags or boxes ready for your purged items. These may be broken down into: trash, donations, recycle or move out of room. Do not re-arrange until you have gone through everything in that room and thought about a logical place and an appropriate container for each category.

5. Add your finishing touches – Once the CPR process is complete, you can make a shopping list of items you may need to add to the room. These would include pretty bins (which many people make the mistake of buying first to organize), decorative pieces or practical items like a trash can, hangers, or lighting fixtures.  Don’t forget to take measurements. If bins are going on a shelf or in a closet, measure the height, width & depth. Nothing is more frustrating than coming home with the wrong size organizing bin.

There you have it! With 8 hours and 5 easy steps you can now organize any room in your home. The trick is focus, perseverance and decision making.

Do you think you could do this trick on your own? Leave a comment.

5 Steps to Organizing Your Home-Based Business

So many parents I know are trying to do the same thing I am: have their own business so they can be at home when they need to be, have a flexible schedule and still make money. It’s a noble cause but one that takes extreme discipline and dare I say…organization.  Here are my five basic steps for organizing your home-based business.

1. Set Your Hours – Figure out when you like to work and when it’s convenient for your family. This might depend on the age of your children and what your spouse does for a living. Don’t make the mistake of letting your customers dictate your schedule. Many new entrepreneurs say, “I’ll do any job whenever someone will hire me.” That can cause a lot of chaos and stress. If you clearly state your hours on your websites you will find clients that are open those hours. Also, make your family aware of when you work so they don’t expect you to be at their beck and call either.

2. Keep finances separate and simple – When you start a business, you should open your own bank account for that business and a credit card account for the same. This will help keep your income and expenses separate from your personal ones.  Enter these numbers in Quick Books or an Excel Spreadsheet once a month. Also have a guideline for percentages of what you need to pay taxes, what you can take as an income, what you want to put back into the business. Here’s an example:

  • 25% for taxes
  • 30% back into the business
  • 30% to your savings
  • 15% for your personal draw or pay.

Play around with those percentages and tailor them to your needs and financial situation. Then each month when you do your books take out the savings and pay and put into the appropriate accounts so you don’t overspend for the business.

3. Provide excellent customer service – Your customers are the bread and butter of your business so keep them in mind always! Return calls or emails within 24 hours even if it’s to say, I got your message and I’m working on an answer. Send out a newsletter once a month and offer a special discount 4 times a year. Reward customers who give you referrals.

4. Create an office that’s productive – You’ll need

  • shelves for inventory or books
  • A desk with drawers for supplies and files
  • Open desk space for doing your actual work.
  • An “In-bin” or “TO DO bin” right on your desk so it’s always obvious what’s next on your list.
  • A bulletin board above the desk for urgent reminders or posting long term goals for motivation!

5. Track how you are getting your clients – A simple spreadsheet will do for keeping track of all your customers. Make a column for how they found you. This will help you evaluate all your advertising and marketing. If one has not brought results, drop it. If another brings you great results, keep going with it or increase it. Evaluate these at least every six month.

Finally, when you get in a rut in your office, take the time to clean it out & straighten it up. Don’t just close the door and move your stuff to another room. Take your laptop with you if you need a change of scenery. This may do wonders for your concentration. I often move my laptop when I am working on a creative project like writing or designing a new talk. But at the end of the day, it all goes back in the office and everything is in its place.

Do you have a question about organizing your home based business? Ask me here.

The Basement: The Last Frontier!

At one time, basements were the last frontier with regard to sprucing up a home. They were often damp, gray and only used to do laundry and store things that couldn’t possibly fit in your living space.

Nowadays, basements are often the focal point of a family’s living space. Newer homes are built with the intention that at least some portion of the basement will be used for a living, play or work area, but it’s often up to the homeowner to make it that way. If you find yourself in the position of wanting to refinish your basement, you must first organize what’s down there before bringing in a contractor to do the job.

 Step 1 – Sort It

The first step in any organizing project is sorting. That means looking at everything in your basement and putting it into a category. Depending on the amount of clutter in your basement, this could be an all day event, so engage the help of all family members.

Make sure you have big trash bags, empty boxes or plastic storage bins on hand to help you move things out of the basement. If you need to create some space to work, start with the biggest items first. For instance, you may have to make a decision about old furniture, exercise equipment, big tables, etc. Are you going to use them, donate them or sell them at a yard sale?

My rule of thumb for any cleaning-out project is to only keep what you use. If you’re not using it, someone else can. Take these big items and move them either outside or into the garage. Then continue to sort through all your other items, creating categories and purging as you go.

Don’t take too long on one item. If it’s obviously trash, then throw it out. If you have to think about it, put it into a category and move on. If there is paperwork in the basement, don’t get bogged down with reading every piece of paper. Put papers in their own category and go through them in detail at another time. The goal with the first step is to significantly organize, clear out trash and create space.

After moving out large items, clear out anything you have at the center of the basement floor. Next, sort through everything you have stored against the walls. To keep focused, pick a starting point and move clockwise around the room.

Typical categories of items found in basements include toys, laundry products, dry food, holiday decorations, tools, paint, big game tables, arts and craft supplies, memorabilia and old furniture. Everyone’s categories will differ, but make sure you label the box or area you are sorting into, so you don’t mix them up and have to redo the sorting. This is also helpful if several people are working together. What looks like a pile of toys to one person might actually be a donation pile.

When sorting, there are certain “no-brainers” you can throw out, such as expired food, games and toys that are broken or have missing pieces, broken furniture and anything that is moldy. Most people throw away more than half of the stuff they’ve been saving. It’s like the basement was a holding zone and these items were given one more chance to make it, but didn’t.

Step 2 – Purge

After you’ve sorted everything, it’s time to purge. That means remove everything from the basement that won’t belong in a newly-refinished basement.

One couple who refinished their basement said they could easily determine that everything they had stored down there was trash, so they simply rented a dumpster and that was the end of their organizing. A dumpster will cost between $300-400 a week to rent.

Another alternative to getting rid of a lot of junk quickly is to try This company will pick up unwanted items and sort through them to donate what is usable and trash the rest for a fee. To calculate how much this will cost, first put all items in one spot and measure the cubic feet. Then go to the company’s website and calculate your charge. A full truck is about 400 cubic feet and will cost about $600.

Where to Dispose of unwanted items:

For most of us, it’s not that simple. Trash and donations can also be broken down into categories. Here are some suggestions for disposing unwanted items:

Clothing and linens: Find a drop-off point in your area for Goodwill, St. Vincent DePaul Society, Leukemia Society or any charity. These usually look like dumpsters permanently placed in busy parking lots.

Arts and crafts materials: Donate to a retirement home, senior center, church, children’s hospital or school.

Big household items or furniture: Find a thrift store or consignment shop that offers pick-up.

Old paint cans: Let latex paint dry up and harden first before you put it in the trash. Speed up the drying process with Waste Paint Hardener™.

Broken or outdated electronics: Contact your municipality’s solid waste authority for places to drop off these items. Some even hold drop-off events a couple of times a year.

Step 3 – Rearrange

After you have purged all unwanted items, take a step back and look at what remains. It’s time to rearrange. Is there any category of items elsewhere in the house? For instance, tools and paint may move to the garage, holiday decorations to the attic and toys to bedrooms. Move those items and remember to keep like things together. Only keep things in the basement that will serve the new function of the room.

Step 4 – Store It

You’ll need to temporarily store items while refinishing takes place. I recommend plastic storage bins with lids that seal because they keep everything dry and dust-free and are easy to label. If you have a storage area built into your basement, you may be able to keep bins there and let the construction crew work around them.

If this is not possible, you may have to store these bins in a spare bedroom, attic or garage. Be careful not to put anything in the attic that will be damaged by extreme temperatures.

If your house is completely full, your last option is to rent a portable on demand storage (PODS®) container which will cost approximately $350 per month. This is a walk-in container, and although it’s not the most attractive thing to have in your yard, it will prevent basement items from cluttering up your whole house.

Once you have cleared and categorized your basement, you’re ready to start planning your new room!

Let Form follow Function

The most important question to ask yourself when you start to organize a room is, “What is the function of this room?”

If you don’t like the answer, then ask, “What would I like to use this room for?” Make sure that you’re not using it for more than 3 functions. Once you do, it begins to get cluttered. Just remember the power of 3! Same goes for a closet. Don’t store more than 3 categories in one closet.

Here’s a real life example from a couple who hired me to help get their home organized. One bedroom had been their daughter’s. She had moved away but left clothing and memorabilia in that room. The father was using the room for storage of books & paperwork but not really using it as an office.  The brother who was still at home was using it for electronic games and occasionally the family used it as a guest room. The mother also stored some memorabilia there.  Too much going on! So when we talked about what they wanted the function to be, it was decided that the room would stay a game room and guest room and because the family owned a lot of books, some books would stay there. With that decision made, it was easy to decide what should go out of the room and what should stay. Here’s what we decided:


  • sofa bed
  • game console & games
  • book shelf
  • dresser


  • desk
  • nightstand
  • father’s paperwork
  • mother’s memorabilia
  • the daughter’s stuff

Also, to save the mom some trouble we decided to consolidate her daughter’s things on one side of the closet and let her decide on her next visit home what to toss. Sometimes grown children who have moved out just need a deadline. If they don’t take it, then parents have every right to toss it or donate their clothes.

Now, sometimes a whole house project requires that you move things to a different room, sometimes crowding that room. That’s okay, as long as you have a plan to continue room by room until the house is completely organized. Usually this happens until you get to the basement where odds & ends are stored. And then the basement becomes the “Final Frontier.” But in the process you will find a home for everything and set up functional areas so you don’t feel like everything is everywhere!

What room do you find the hardest to organize?


10 Steps to Really Get Organized

It’s been 10 years now that I have been working as a Professional Organizer. On a day to day basis, I get caught up in my clients’ lives, listening to their problems, helping them create a plan to get organized and to achieve their immediate goals. So every once in awhile, I have to take a step back and look at what all these “disorganized people” have in common. This helps me focus on simple solutions. Let me summarize some common problems I see and steps you can take to really getting organized this year.

1. Set Priorities – You’ve got to clearly state what your priorities are. Not only with your big goals for the year, but with regard to what you need to get organized.  Most disorganized people focus on the little things they think HAVE TO get done but in reality, they miss the big picture. Often, they consider everything to be a priority. Once you say yours out loud to someone else, write them down to stay focused.

2. Take the Time – Organizing is first a project, then it’s a process. It probably took you many years to be in the disorganized state that you are. Don’t expect to dig out of it in 3-4 hours, even with a professional’s help. Plan on at least 8 hours per room and then you’ll have to develop daily & weekly routines to get everything back to order. In the long run, organization will save you time.

3. Focus – Pick a room or a category and stick with it. Once it is complete, move on to the next thing.  Your results will be far better if you do one thing at a time than if you do a hundred things in a rushed fashion.

4. Accept that you will have to change – I love clients that give me a long list of what WON’T work for them in the initial meeting. While it’s good to know your style, if you want to change your surroundings, you’ve got to change your habits. Be willing to try something new in hopes of new results.

5. For a dramatic change, take everything out of a room or off your desk. – This forces you to choose the most important & favorite things and only put those things back in the room on back on the desk. Basically everything else can be tossed or put away. Disorganized people tend to fear the big clean out and start only in small areas.

6. Make quick decisions  – Every piece of paper does not require a 10 minute explanation. Paper falls into 1 of 3 categories:  TO DO, TO READ, TO FILE. Anything else is trash. Same goes for clothing & household items (keep, donate, trash)If you keep that in mind your sorting will go much faster!

7. Put items where you will use them – Don’t focus so much on leaving everything out so you can see/remember it. Also don’t focus on shoving everything into little cubbies. You have to place items logically so you can read, react, and use them.

8. Organize papers into categories, then handle them. – Some people believe that reacting to every piece of paper as you see it is cleaning off your desk. But if you put a stack of “To Call” papers together, or “To do on computer” work together you will actually be more efficient with your time. Organize first then DO.

9. Limit what comes into your home – If paper work is your nemesis, stop the junk mail, subscriptions, etc. If you have tons of clothes, vow not to buy anything new until you clear out all closets and clothes in storage. The more you have, the more you have to organize.

10. If you hire a professional organizer – Remember that he/she is there to help you get yourself organized. Don’t rely on them to do things you don’t like to do. It’s your life and when the organizer leaves, you are going to have to live it on a day to day basis. Set up simple systems that you can maintain.

Which of these steps do you find the most difficult to do?




Are we having fun yet?

If the chaos of December is putting a “ba-humbug” in your holiday, it’s always best to start with a plan. There are little things you can do before, during and after the holidays to ensure you have it all under control.


    1. Start with a good list of who you need to buy gifts for and a budget for each person. Once you have gift ideas, make a list of stores where you need to shop so you can hit them each once.
    2. If you like to shop on-line, do it early and save the receipts in a folder marked, “Waiting On.” That way you can keep track of what should be delivered. It’s easy to forget in holiday rush!
    3. To budget your time, make a list of the eight most important things to get done for Christmas. Do two a week.


  1. If you’re sending greeting cards it’s easiest to have a file with mailing labels on your computer.  Then, as you receive your holiday cards you can make note of any changes in people or addresses right on your file so you’re ready for next year.
  2. If you’re hosting the holiday dinner, make the entrée and one side dish. Ask those who are coming to also make a side dish or dessert or bring the wine. Everyone sharing the load makes it a lot easier on the host and most people are happy to oblige!
  3. If you’re going to grandparents’ house, bring something for the little ones to do: a craft, a movie or one new toy.



  1. After the holiday shopping is a great time to clear out your pile of catalogs and magazines. Scan the magazines for any great ideas and place those in a folder or binder.  Recycle the rest and get ready for a whole new year of new ideas and things to buy.
  2. As you are packing away the holiday decorations, take a look at what’s left in boxes. Toss or donate the decorations you did not put up this year. Places to donate: schools, libraries, senior centers or local theatre groups.
  3. Make a “use it or lose it” date for your left-overs. Sure those turkey sandwiches taste great but a week or two later all should be gone. Give your refrigerator a fresh start too. I recommend square & clear containers for the refrigerator.

What do you do to keep the holiday peaceful?