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 If they are on-line or something that is outdated, recycle them.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.

Could your family use some time-management?

While we’re taking time off from the TV, and because the weather is getting nicer, this is a perfect time to take a step back and look at how your family spends it’s time.

Are you constantly eating on the run? Living out of your minivan? Did you ever forget to pick up a child? Maybe your family needs a mini time management class. And I say “mini” because I know anyone with two or more kids does not have the time for an all day seminar on time management! So here are my 3 STEP PLANS for Family Time Management.  Creating routines and writing things down can really help you get a perspective on whether your family is running efficiently or not. Maybe less activities could also mean less stress for you – or creating routines could help you remember all you need to do.

If you have time to digest more on this information, check out my book, “Absolutely Organize Your Family” available on my website or through Amazon.

3 Steps to Monitoring Your Child’s time:

  1.  Fill in a weekly time sheet of how he/she spends time now. You don’t have to get too detailed. Just look at blocks of time after school and after dinner and before school if that applies.
  2. Identify what’s missing and what is too much. Too much computer? Not enough outside time? Doing homework too late in the day? Looking at how it is on paper can help you to plan a better routine.
  3. Talk with your child about what they need to be doing and what they want to be doing with their time. This is the beginning of teaching them to balance their schedules. School work, required practices and play time all have their value.

3 Steps to Time Planning:

  1.  Plan out a month with your child.  Prioritize school projects first and break them down into smaller tasks. Let them see the month at a glance.
  2. Plan out a typical week – including your child’s activities, chores and down time. You might want to make a colorful chart and post it on the refrigerator so they can look at it each morning.
  3. For middle school & high school students, help your child choose a day planner that makes sense to them.


3 Steps to Choosing Seasonal Activities:

  1.  Look at an entire year for your whole family by mapping out what activities happen in each month.
  2. Talk to your child about their favorite activities and help them choose one for each season.
  3. Before joining an activity, know the time commitment and talk to other parents about carpools.

3 Steps to Developing Routines with your family:

  1. Practice getting up at the same time each day. For each family member the time may be different depending on work & school schedules.  Do everything upstairs before coming down for breakfast. After breakfast, brush teeth and pack bags.  Use visual or tactile reminders if necessary.
  2. Create an after-school routine that allows time for homework, a family dinner and getting to activities. Designate a place for the children to put backpacks, coats and papers.
  3. Stick to a night time routine that settles the children down and allows everyone to get a good night sleep.  Go to bed at the same time each night.

This week is National TV Free Week – What can you do with that extra time?

My husband and I once changed all the interior doors of our home (a total of 15) over the course of two months just by doing two doors a week. We did this to break down the cost (about $80 a door) and to spread out the time it took to hang and paint the new doors. Normally we reserve big home improvement projects for the weekend. But as we get into spring and summer the weekends are busy with baseball and travel. I had a deadline that year which was motivating me to get rid of the brown flat doors in our older home and replace them with white paneled doors. I was hosting my sister’s wedding shower in August. We found that if we worked together we could hang the door and do one coat of paint at night from 7-9 pm. The next morning I would put the second coat of paint on two doors and we were set. The only thing we were giving up was about 2 hours of television! Amazing what you can fit in when you have a goal and not a whole lot of time.

So I started thinking, what other home improvement or organizing projects could I complete in just two hours? If you stop watching TV for a week, assuming you watch a couple hours after dinner, you’ll have 7 blocks of two hours where you could accomplish some of those little chores that you never seem to have time for. Here are a few things I’ve done on my own and with my clients:

  1. Organize a pantry – Taking all food out, checking expiration dates, wiping down the shelves and replacing good foods in categories.
  2. Organize a garage – Yes, believe it or not we do our garage twice a year in two hours. One hour to take everything out and one hour to put it back. We purge as we categorize everything we take out. Then we sweep or blow out the leaves and dirt and begin putting categories back. Of course we have 5 people doing this – my hubby and three kids. Although you know who does most of the work.
  3. Switch out your clothes – Take last season’s clothes out of your drawers & closet and replace with the next season’s clothes from storage. First I empty the drawers & closet putting everything on the bed that I want to store away. Anything that I haven’t worn in a year, or that doesn’t fit goes in a donation bag. Then I bring down the stored clothes and put them in the drawer or closet. Finally the out of season clothes are packed away into plastic bins or hung in a cedar closet.
  4. Clean out files at the end of the year. Take out whatever you saved for taxes and put aside for the accountant. Print end of the year statements from your bank or credit cards. At the end of a school year you can go through kids’ papers. Put artwork in a portfolio, awards & ribbons in a scrapbook and all else can be recycled.
  5. Do a “Great toy clean out” – This is another one you can involve the kids with. Have them bring all their toys into one room. Sort into piles. Here are some suggested categories: learning toys, outside toys, balls, games, arts & crafts, building toys. Anything that is broken, toss. Any toys that are no longer used go into a donate pile. Then collect any containers you have for storage and decide where all the toys will be kept. I recommend certain categories in the bedroom and others in a common room in the house.

Tell me what you’ll do this week instead of watching TV.

Could you use some Administrative Assistance?

One problem with being a solopreneur (and I’ve been one for nine years now) is we have no one to handle the administrative work.  With Secretaries Day approaching I am often reminded that I would love to be able to hire an administrative assistant.  Actually what I need is a scheduling secretary, but with three kids who are active and multiple clients every week, that person would have to follow me around and be inside my head at the same time.  Even more frustrating is that my accountant husband told me the income level I need in order to hire someone full time. Let’s just say I’m not there yet! So in the meantime I do it all: the writing, the scheduling, the social networking, the delivery of services, the invoicing and the promotion. Whew, I’m tired just typing this!

So what’s a control freak to do? Well, I’ve come up with interim solutions until I get to that income level where I can just hire someone to do my logistical work so I can concentrate on organizing, writing and speaking.

  • I have kids, so I’ve trained them.  This is not a sweat shop, but it’s not a free ride either. Since they were 5 years old, my kids have put away their toys, clothes and cleaned their places at the table.
  • I took the craziest time of day (4-6 pm) and delegated the duties. Someone walks the dog, another person sets the table, I make the dinner and we all sit down together for a family meal on most nights. After dinner my husband and I split the homework & clean up duties.
  • I realized I was spending half a day every week cleaning my house and that I could be making more money spending that half day working for a client. So I hired a cleaning person and although she comes every other week, I’m okay with that. If the house starts to look hideous in between I do a “quick clean.”
  • I hired someone to set up my social media connections. Last year I had an urgent need from my publisher to participate in a Twitter Party and I didn’t even have an account yet. I hired an old friend and had her do the set up and then give me a simple tutorial on how I could manage my Facebook, Twitter and Blog on a daily basis.
  • I hired someone to revamp my website and business cards to create a unique brand. Up until this year I’ve been maintaining my own website and functioning with basic white & blue business cards.  Now I have a style.
  • I’ve decided to swap services with a business coach. I need to build my business and she needs to get organized. It’s the beginning of a beautiful relationship.
  • I’ve agreed to teach someone how to become a professional organizer in exchange for helping me with some administrative work.

So you see there are alternatives when you can’t afford to hire a full time employee, and you can’t afford not to get some help. We all have our areas of expertise, admitting what you’re not good at is the first step, letting go of something you don’t need to handle is another. As a woman you may feel like you have to be Supermom with a great career and a perfect house.  Let your family pitch in, they will appreciate you even more. Be creative, make offers to other professionals and soon you’ll have a support team at home & at work that could take your business to the next level.


This may sound like another New Year’s resolution, and it is in a way. But if you found yourself stressed out over the last month, 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.

  • First of all, write down the categories of papers that your accountant asked for. Not everything you gave him, 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/her 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. 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 pay taxes quarterly, make monthly files for income/expenses. Get your First Quarter 2012 together now. It’s much easier to gather statments quarterly than annually.
  • Use one bank account and one credit card for business. 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. 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 years, 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.

Once a Week Organizing Tips

I had the pleasure of working with a teenage client the other day. My daughter warned me that it was going to be tough to get a high school student organized, but I felt up for the challenge. Even the mother who hired me warned that her daughter did not seem motivated to do anything. But that did not deter me.  Often it’s the tension between a parent and child that halts any progress towards organization. Suggestions from a third party often seem novel and interesting compared to a parent’s constant nagging to “clean up your room” or “get your schoolwork together.”  I’m happy to say the session went well and we were able to clean up her bedroom, schoolbag and even make a plan for upcoming school projects in a matter of three hours.

What I notice about teenagers is yes, they can’t be bothered with organizing for organizing sake. They have better things to do. So if I suggest some habits that only have to be done once a week, I am much more likely to gain compliance. If this works for teens, why not adults who can’t find the time to do tedious tasks every day?  So here are 10 simple habits you can do ONCE A WEEK to stay functionally organized and motivate your family to help you with a lot less stress:

  1. Go through your mail pile. Throw out envelopes, filler and sales offers you don’t want. Move reading materials to your magazine rack or favorite chair, bills and action items to your desk and receipts and statements to your filing cabinets.
  2. Straighten your bedroom. Put books on the bookshelf, wash the sheets, pick up clothes & shoes off the floor and move items out if they don’t belong there.
  3. Put your clean clothes away. In my house each person’s wash is done once a week so you only have to put it away once.
  4. Wipe down the bathroom sink and toilet, wash towels and washcloths.
  5. Clean out your pocketbook. Put make-up back in the bathroom; ATM receipts in your checkbook ledger or in a file and dump the trash.
  6. Clean out your car. Climb in the back of that minivan and see what the kids have left. Hopefully it’s not stuck to the carpet!
  7. Kids can clean out their backpacks on Friday. Give parents any papers they need, trash old assignments if you can. Put other study materials in the right subject folder.
  8. Go through your bills and put them in date order. Pay anything that’s due in 2 weeks.
  9. Take a basket and straighten the whole house, moving things to the right room. Start at the top and work your way down.
  10. Take your planner or calendar and plan out your week with your spouse & kids if necessary. I like to do this on Sunday nights.

What things do you do once a week just to stay on track? Leave a comment.

My 10 Absolutes or Rules of Organizing

Sure we all have our “spring cleaning” seasons where we throw out the old stuff, organize what we have and feel like we’re ready for a fresh start.  Then life happens and this leaves many of us wondering, “How can I maintain this newly organized room/area in my home or office?” I always say, first it’s a project and then it has to be a process. So here are my “absolutes” for organizing. If you think about them, and apply them to all facets of your life you may find you are a becoming a more functionally organized person.

  1. CPR is the method:  Categorize, Purge and Re-arrange – Believe me, it works. Whether you are talking about a junk drawer or an entire basement. The hardest part and sometimes the most time consuming is to categorize everything. Then you can see how much you have and begin to purge. Of course you can also purge as you go for obvious items. It’s like taking apart a car engine. The Re-arrange step is where you get the bins, baskets and organizers and put it all back together.
  2. Keep purging simple with “yes” and “no” piles – People often get bogged down with dividing up the stuff they want to give away. I hear, “This is donated, this goes to so and so, this will go to the church bazaar…” Keep it simple by only giving yourself 2 options: Yes or No. You can hammer out the details at the end of the project. Or if you’re lucky enough to be working with a Professional Organizer, let him or her take care of the distribution for you.
  3. Keep only what you use – Don’t keep something because of guilt or “just in case.” If you use it or really appreciate it like a special piece of art, then keep it. Life is a lot simpler this way.
  4. If you don’t plan it – it won’t happen – How many of us wait for “someday?” Or a day when there’s nothing to do and you’ll get on that scrapbook or clean out that closet? Really who has that kind of time these days? If you want to accomplish something the first thing you have to do is schedule it. Put it on the calendar, estimate the time it will take and then focus on that project, eliminate distractions and don’t let anyone keep you from holding that appointment.
  5. Keep like things together – Sounds elementary but you wouldn’t believe how many people don’t do this. It happens when we get too detailed in our categories. For example, lacrosse equipment goes in the mudroom, and baseball goes in the bedroom, but hockey goes in the garage. A better system is to put all sports gear in the garage & have different racks or bins for each sport. Again this works all over the house: kitchen, bedroom, family room, etc.
  6. Start with a good list – Whether you are shopping, planning a big project or packing for a trip, the list is essential. Put more time and thought into the list and your task will be easier.
  7. Subtract before you add – When re-doing a room, a closet or an office, the tendency is to buy organizers for everything that is in there first. But if you use CPR and pare down to what you really use and need, you may not need the organizers at all. Don’t mistake shoving everything in boxes or bins as organizing.
  8. Finish one thing before you start another – Again an elementary lesson probably learned in first grade, but how many of us pride ourselves on multi-tasking? Try mono-tasking. Things will get done more completely and in less time. You can also apply this rule to consumable items. Don’t open the new toothpaste until the old one is finished and in the trash – stop wasting.
  9. Organize from big to small – Don’t arrange deck chairs on the Titanic! If your whole house is a disaster, look at the big picture first. Establish the function of each room and make sure the only items in each room serve that purpose. Then you can go room by room and get it in ship shape.
  10. Daily routines are a must – Routines bring comfort, and help us remember what we need. Ever forget to brush your teeth? You probably broke your routine. Even a 15 minute routine at the end of your work day can set the tone for a better tomorrow. Place your TO DO’s on the left of the desk, file loose papers, clear all voice mail messages, take out your deliver-ables. Even if your day is chaotic, your morning & nighttime routines will help center you.


Organize for Your Health

People often assume that the goal of being organized is to have a nice house, or to be productive. But did you ever think about how your organizing skills can help you live a healthy life? I’m sure you have noticed that the opposite is true. Those who live in a cluttered home with no organizational skills can’t clean or cook a meal from scratch for obvious reasons. I mean, did you ever see the people on Hoarders? Do any of them look healthy?  So I started to think about what organizing can do to improve your health. I know it has helped me and my family in many situations. Starting with the most basic, leading to more complicated situations here are some motivations to get organized for your health:

  1. An uncluttered house is easier to clean. Clutter collects dust, holds heat and attracts grease in the kitchen, mold in wet areas. Some clutter can actually be a fire hazard. The less you have, the less you have to dust! And if you can’t see your rug, you can’t vacuum it either.
  2. A refrigerator that is packed so full you can’t see anything is not a healthy place to store food. Leftovers become moldy if you forget they are there. If grabbing a healthy snack from the frig is difficult, you may just go for chips. Not to mention you are probably buying too much of what you already have. Keep like things together so you can see what you have. Label clear square containers of leftovers and use them fast. Make it easy to grab a piece of fruit or make a salad.
  3. For kids with food allergies you’ve got to be organized about where you put food and who has access. When my son was younger and had 21 food allergies, he had his own snack drawer down low.  We also maintained a rotation diet with a chart on the refrigerator, and had clear instructions printed out for any babysitter.
  4. If anyone in your home has a chronic illness where medicine is required, it is vital to know when and how much to take on a daily basis. It’s also important to know when prescriptions need to be refilled. If you buy things in 6 month increments, you can mark your planner way in advance on when to restock or refill prescriptions. Expired medications should be tossed and all current ones kept together for easy access.
  5. For children with chronic conditions, medicinal and emergency instructions (especially for diabetics) should be printed up and carried with them and their supplies at all times. I know this from taking care of my sister who was diabetic and from my son’s friend in preschool. Taking blood sugars and dosing out insulin is a precise science.
  6. As far as preventative maintenance of your health, routines really come into play. Exercising, taking vitamins and going for check-ups all fall under healthy routines. If you don’t plan it – it’s not going to happen! With the summer months coming, add to that list:  using sunscreen (that has not expired) and checking for ticks are other healthy routines we all should adopt.
  7. When you do have a major illness or hospitalization your paper organizing skills will be challenged! Believe me, I had a heart operation last year and had to deal with the bills and paperwork a month into my recuperating. My husband’s idea was to sit on the bills for a few months. That wasn’t making me feel comfortable so I laid them all out on the table one night, put them in chronological order, got rid of duplicate bills and started to add up what we had to pay. Once my deductible was met, I didn’t pay anymore bills but rather called my insurance company and asked them to handle it.  It would have been very easy to just keep writing checks, but we would have paid way more than necessary.  I even called the hospital to get a sizeable refund which they were sitting on!

On a final note, when I was hospitalized and out of commission last year, it was nice to know that my family continued our weekly routines and my kids know how to do laundry, make a meal and take care of their own hygiene. If a mom does everything, the house falls apart when she is not there. It’s not perfect, but it is functional. I was proud that my kids and husband could function without me and I could just focus on getting well.

Memories…fill the corners of my home


Memorabilia, mementos, whatever you call them, they are the items you save for their sentimental value. Many people assume that we professional organizers don’t save anything and that we make our clients part with things that they have been saving. This is not the case. I have a memory box for each of my children and two for myself! In addition, my family makes scrapbooks every summer so that the children can put their awards, ribbons, pictures and ticket stubs in a nice book which I hope they will cherish for many years. The trick with memorabilia is to 1. Identify it in your home 2. Give it a place of honor so you can truly cherish it and 3. Have a plan for what to do with new memorabilia that you are accumulating.


Mementos I have found with clients have appeared in some unconventional places: kitchen cupboards, dresser drawers, pantries, china cabinets and of course the conventional brown boxes packed away in the attic or cellar. If yours are scattered all over the house you may discover them as you clean out one room, or you could do a treasure hunt and deal with them all in one day.  To give your memories of place of honor, here are a few ideas on what you can do to consolidate and display various kinds of items:


Mugs from your travels – hand them on mug hooks in wood beams on your ceiling, use as pen holders, or give them their own display shelf in your kitchen or bar area


T-shirts – cut out squares that show the insignia and make a quilt out of them, frame it or use it.


Ticket stubs – staple them side by side on bulletin boards, display in your man cave, basement or family room.


Kids’ handmade ceramics – color coordinate them with rooms in your home and use for display or practical uses like ring holders, cotton ball containers or spoon rests.


Kid’s newspaper clippings, awards, etc. – Even if your children are grown and out of the house, you can give their memories a place of honor by hanging a bulletin board for each one in a family room. Laminate the paper so it doesn’t get dusty & torn and make a collage for each child. You can reminisce about all their accomplishments as you pass it by each day. And the grandchildren might just get a kick out of it too!


For new accumulations you can place all flat memorabilia in a box or drawer until you are ready to scrapbook, while the bulky items can be placed in a decorative trunk or hope chest.  (Home Goods has a great selection of these) Place these “memory boxes” in areas of your home where you can look at them. When the box gets full it’s time to go through it and weed out what is no longer special to you.


I used my college steamer trunk as a coffee table and a nightstand before I retired it to the attic with all my high school and college memorabilia.  Now I have a wooden hope chest at the foot of my bed for all the new items that I want to save. So much easier to lift the lid and tuck something in, than it is to dig a plastic bin out of storage!


Plan Your Work and Work Your Plan

“He who every morning plans the transaction of the day and follows out that plan, carries a thread that will guide him through the maze of the most busy life. But where no plan is laid, where the disposal of time is surrendered merely to the chance of incidence, chaos will soon reign.”  – Victor Hugo

 I find it amazing that Victor Hugo’s quote is still applicable today. When we think of the disposal of time being surrendered today we might think of email, surfing the net and playing on Facebook. Do you go on your computer with the intention of sending an email and find yourself hours later sucked into a rapid series of responses to other people’s request? Have you ever logged off and realized you never sent the email you intended? I admit I have done this.

So what can we do to combat this magnetic pull of technology and other “time sponges” in our lives? I believe you have to start with a plan for your day, your weeks and your months. Take the proactive approach not the reactive approach and set a time if you need limits. Here are 8 Steps to Planning Your Work & Working Your Plan:

  1. Choose a daily planner in a size that works well for you. This could be an electronic organizer or a paper one. Include appointments on a monthly calendar and tasks on the daily.
  2. Group like things (or tasks) together – this is One of my Absolutes of Organizing. Do phone calls at one time, computer work all at once, outside errands at another, or on your way somewhere. Planning these out can save you hours a day.
  3. When you get on the computer, have a mission don’t just play unless all your work is done. Make a list and check it off. Then take time to respond to others’ requests. Have an analog clock or set a timer so you can see the passage of time or be buzzed when time’s up.
  4. Limit your list to the 5 most important things you have to do each day.  A longer list may be too overwhelming.  This will also help you focus on priorities. The daily planning process takes about 10 minutes to write down.  You can do this either first thing in the morning or right before you go to bed – whenever you can think clearly.
  5. Check your progress around lunch time and re-prioritize if necessary. At the end of the day, if something is not done, move it to tomorrow’s list or the next logical day that it could be done.  If all five things get done, you can add some less important items to the list or take the rest of the day off to do some things you want to do.
  6. Plan out the weekly household chores like cleaning, food shopping, doing the laundry and taking out the trash. Assign each to one day and divide the duties among family members. For working parents if you can pay less than you make per hour to clean, do it! You can also break the laundry down into loads per person in the family, doing one or two per night so it is not a huge task. Have each family put away their own clothes.
  7. You may have repetitive monthly tasks like paying bills or doing Quickbooks or writing your company newsletter. Assign these to a day or week so you get in a routine. The nice aspect of routines is that once the task is done, you can forget about it until next week or next month. This frees up space in your mind and on your calendar!
  8. Speaking of free space, if you need more time to yourself or with your friends, schedule it. Spouses with children can give each other a day off. Groups of friends can plan a regular monthly get-together. Because those of us who work hard, need to play as well.

What do you do to combat the time sponges in your life?

Five Steps for Spring Cleaning

 Spring is here and you know what that means…you can see every  smudge on your windows, every dusty baseboard and you need to dig out the garden supplies from your garage. So what’s a woman to do? Spring clean of course!

As a Professional Organizer you may think my home is always pristine and clean. Not so. I have three children and a dog so we deal with mud and dog hair just like everybody else.  And although I do have routines for straightening daily and cleaning weekly, it’s time for that third step: cleaning out seasonally.

If you’re not sure where to start, here is a 5 Step Approach for Spring Cleaning:

  1. Look up –Tops of cabinets, lighting fixtures, even walls. These often get neglected in the regular cleaning process. So take a long handled duster, sweep away those cobwebs and wipe the tops of cabinets & bookshelves. Put a little Windex on a paper towel and wipe the lights.
  2. Look down – Baseboards collect dust and mud all over your house. So fill a bucket with water, add a little Murphy’s oil soap and use a soft rag to wipe them down. You might be surprised that they are white – not grey! One person can’t do the whole house so have your family chip in. Let everyone do their own bedroom and share the common areas. Use a towel or cushion to sit on.
  3. Look out – First the windows. In the morning light you can see everything: hand prints, water stains. So take some time to go through the house and clean your windows inside and out. If you’re lucky enough to have the windows that tilt in, you can engage your family, give the kids chores to do their bedroom windows and divide duties for the common rooms. If you have older windows, you might need to hire someone to clean the outside -or bribe your husband.
  4. Look around – Take a walk around your house and make note of the outside projects. For example, picking up branches, mulching gardens, picking up leaves, trimming bushes. Then see if there are any repairs needed as a result of the winter: loose shutters, falling gutters, etc. Once you have the list you can prioritize projects and get quotes if necessary.
  5. Do the switch – In your garage, make sure lawn, garden and sports equipment are accessible. Tuck away the winter supplies. In your closets, put away the heavy wool clothing and blankets and bring out the lighter spring clothes & linens. Rubbermaid bins that seal are the best way to store clothing. And Space Bags are awesome for condensing big blankets in the linen closet.

Spring cleaning doesn’t have to be drudgery. Take it one step at a time and pace yourself over weekends and days off. Engage your family in the process so everyone can feel proud of their home. Motivate your family with a special treat when they are finished. Need a deadline to motivate you? Shoot for Memorial Day weekend so you can relax & enjoy it.

Cleaning Out When a Loved One Has Died

Recently I had the experience of helping a family not only clean out their basement but deal with the death of their mother. The message I want to convey here is that although the task seems overwhelming, it can be done! (probably quicker than you think.) There are a few key steps to take though if you want it done without drama, tension and chaos. I believe this family had the right combination.

First of all, the daughter contacted me last year, shortly after her mother passed away. She was one of seven children in a combined family from a couple marriages. Her main goal was to help her step-father deal with his loss by removing many of her mother’s things so that he wasn’t “living with a ghost.” We walked through the house and assessed each room and what needed to be done.  I came back for a couple visits with the step-father and we did some sorting and purging in the basement, which was the worst room at that point. The daughter lives out of town so it wasn’t until recently that she was able to get back for a weekend. But in the meantime she had time to grieve and was more emotionally ready when the time came. She was smart to bring her husband, mother-in-law and brother with her for a planned weekend of “cleaning out.” In the meantime a storage unit had been emptied and many boxes were dumped in the basement. With grown children there always seems to be a revolving door so needless to say the basement was worst than I last saw it.

We planned a full day on Thursday and a half day on Friday of me working with the family to sort and purge. We knew there would be trash, donations, consignment items and also some boxes that other members of the family would have to deal with. Sam, the daughter had a plan of attack before I even arrived. We tackled the basement again but this time quite thoroughly. It took 5 of us working 6 hours to complete the room. When we finished we had a driveway full of trash, two corners piled with donations and one corner of consignment items. I set up two pick-ups: Phillyjunk.com came on Saturday morning to take the donations and trash and Consign & Design from Broomall, PA came on Tuesday to pick up the consignment items. The second day, we took care of her mother’s personal items. Again we had donations, consignment items and two boxes for the daughters. After Day 1, Sam’s step-father was amazed at the transformation. After Day 2, Sam herself felt like a weight had been lifted off her shoulders. Every family has one child who feels responsible for pulling the family together and she’s it in hers. Her brother graciously let her put her name on all the consignments. It’s quite possible she’ll recoup the cost of my services for those days.

I have to say working with her family was a joy. No one fought over what they wanted, everyone kept the goal in mind and kept moving. We even had fun laughing at some funny things that were saved. Sam and her brother, Jeremy reminisced about crazy Halloween costumes that their mom had made. And yes, some tears were shed as they inevitably are at these times. But we let Sam have her moment, take the mementos that meant something to her, and the rest of us kept working.  I know they were exhausted by the end of the weekend but everyone was happy that they could go home feeling some closure and knowing that their step father did not have to face this daunting task alone. We will all be there someday and I think there is a lesson in this for all of us:

Key Steps

  1. Give yourself time to grieve first.
  2. Set a date and recruit helpers, don’t let it drag out or do it little by little.
  3. Have a plan of which rooms to do first, second, etc.
  4. Give all family members an opportunity to take what they want within a deadline.
  5. Use pick-up services whenever possible.

(For before & after pictures of this project, go to my Facebook)

How to Organize Your Garage

As a Professional Organizer I have organized a few garages in my day.  Some were in newer homes with nice walls and some in old homes in rural areas where they have a separate wooden structure.  Spring and Fall are great times to get your garage cleaned out primarily because you can take everything out, sweep it and put what you want back in.  Secondly you have a change of season where you might need new things brought to the front, others can be tucked away.

I think there are some common problems with garages that people share no matter where they live.

  1. A garage is not just for keeping cars – many people use their garage to store bikes, lawn equipment, sports equipment, extra raw materials (like pieces of wood…)wood for fireplaces, tools – all kinds of bulky equipment.
  2. The garage is an entrance way into the house for a lot of families – so you might keep shoes, recycles, and trash there. This might be your motivation for trying to keep it organized, because you walk through it all the time and don’t want to look at a mess!
  3. A garage is usually one big room which makes it hard to organize because there’s no pre-determined place to put things.  You have to create a system from scratch.

So if you’ve decided it’s time to tackle the garage, you can follow my CPR process that I discuss in my book ABSOLUTELY ORGANIZED. It works for any room.

  1. You’ve got to plan the time to do it and solicit some help either from your family or a friend. It’s not a one person job and it’s going to take anywhere from 3 – 6 hours the first time you do it. To make it fun, put on some music, give the kids a reward afterwards or promise your friend a meal that evening. As I always say, if you don’t plan it – it’s not going to happen.
  2. CATEGORIZE – Take everything out of the garage and put it in piles in your driveway or on your lawn.  Categories can be: sports equipment, lawn & garden, tools, bikes… And if one of those categories is really big: break it down further.
  3. PURGE – As you pull things out start to purge whatever is broken or disgusting, or anything you don’t use anymore.  For items you want to give away, I suggest you look online for places to donate, or give to a friend or just put at the end of your driveway and let people take it. For chemicals or gasoline call your township and find out about hazardous waste collections.
  4. RE-arrange -Now that you have piles of everything you’re keeping, start to think about what you use most often and make it accessible.  For the kids’ toys and sports equipment, use colorful plastic tubs on the floor.  For lawn chemicals, put them in plastic bins up on a shelf.  Keep things in their categories and create zones.  Even if you don’t have the right containers or shelves right now, put things back in temporary containers where you want them by the end of your organizing session.

Now you can go shopping for what you need like industrial shelves, wall cabinets, racks, etc. There’s a range of products for garages and you can spend thousands of dollars on a complete makeover, but you want to make sure it’s organized first, so you can measure the space for exactly what you need.  Rubbermaid has an inexpensive Track system if you want to do it yourself or you can go high-end to places like GarageTek.  I’ve even seen people put up old kitchen cabinets in their garage for storage. Whatever works!

To keep your garage organized, you have to straighten on a weekly basis. I suggest you teach your kids where things go and ask them to put things back to normal on Sunday. Then get the whole family in the habit of cleaning it out on a seasonal basis.  Our family has a pool so we do a Saturday clean out once in the late Spring to get the pool/beach stuff out and then once in the fall to put the pool stuff away and get the winter supplies out. Because we do this twice a year I am proud to say we do it now in LESS THAN 2 HOURS – so it’s not an all day hassle anymore.


How Organizing Compares To Dieting

No surprise that after a season of over-indulgence, two of the most common New Year’s Resolutions are: 1. to lose weight and 2. to get organized this year!

As a Professional Organizer, and as someone who has always watched her weight, I have noticed that the two objectives have a lot in common. So I thought maybe one can tackle both goals by applying similar strategies.

We all know that you can lose weight by taking the “fast & furious” approach. If you cut down your diet to liquids, carrots & celery and run a couple miles every day, in two weeks you’re bound to see some results. Likewise if you take the time to throw out half the clutter in a room, re-arrange the items that are left, put up shelves with bins or whatever you need to contain your possessions, you will have an organized room, even if the rest of your house is a disaster. We’ve all seen it on TV. And I think we can all imagine what happens after the dramatic make over. Visit those people or those rooms in a few months, and they’re right back where they started. So what strategies can help you sustaining the long-sought-after goals of being in shape and organized? I came up with five common principals that seem to be the key to success in these areas:

  1. You have to set realistic goals – Deciding what you want is half the battle. Are you shooting for an ideal weight or size? Or do you want your whole house organized? In each case, it didn’t take a month to get to this position so it’s going to take a long time to get out of these positions. It’s best to set interim goals that are realistic and measurable so you feel motivated to keep up with the progress however slow it might feel. For example, “I am going to hang all my clothes in my closet and whatever doesn’t fit, I will donate.” Or, “I will stop eating fast food for the next three months.” Achieve these little goals that will help you work towards the big goal by the end of the year. Don’t expect to lose 20 pounds in a month for that high school reunion. And don’t expect to have your whole house organized in a weekend. You’ll just set yourself up for failure.
  2. Daily routines will help you maintain – All the new shiny equipment in the world can’t help you if you don’t have healthy routines. I’ve seen it many times. Someone buys a new weight bench thinking, “This will help me get in shape.” Someone else buys a desk or closet “organizer” and thinks, “this will help me get organized.” Wrong. Only you can get yourself in shape and only you can get yourself organized. The equipment can help you, sure, but first you have to decide what you want and how you’re going to get there. Then buying the appropriate equipment will make sense. We’ve all heard the basic routines of dieting: eat healthy foods and exercise every day. For staying organized I recommend straightening daily, cleaning weekly and cleaning out certain areas on a seasonal basis. It’s also good to involve your family or whoever you live with so you’re not trying to do either resolution alone.
  3. Only put in what you will use – The more you shop, the more you have to organize. And the more you eat, the more you have to exercise. It’s a pretty basic concept. If you don’t put it in, you won’t have to take it out! In other words be particular about what you eat and what you buy. Both should be useful and should make you feel great. Other than that your just stuffing yourself and in the end you will not feel good about yourself or your environment.
  4. In all things, balance – As with the crash dieting you can’t be too extreme. You have to have a balanced diet just as you have to have a balanced life in order to be organized. The best example of a balanced schedule is one that is color coded. You can do this with many applications, including Google calendars. If you designate a color for work, exercise, family time, education, etc. you can see how balanced or not your weekly & monthly schedules are. Just as a healthy plate is full of color, so is a healthy schedule. And if there is no room in your schedule or no room on your plate – your simply doing or eating too much! So trim it down to reasonable portions.
  5. Reward yourself appropriately for reaching your goal. You can’t go out for a huge meal to reward yourself for losing weight. Just like you can’t go shopping to fill up a closet that you just pared down. Remember, “All things in moderation.” Reward yourself with a new dress or suit for getting to your ideal weight. And reward yourself with one decorative piece for organizing a room in your house. And that’s it. Don’t over-indulge or the cycle starts all over again!


What I Learned about Organizing from Children’s Television

To all those mommies out there who think your brain is going to mush from watching too much kiddie TV, I submit this idea. I have learned a few life-long organizing concepts from children’s television shows. Now, I’m showing my age by mentioning these shows but the lessons are timeless and I still impart these ideas to my clients today.

  1. On Blue’s Clues, Steve had his thinking chair. I now have a big chair and ottoman in my living room where I love to sit and read and yes, do my creative thinking! It’s been a long-time dream of mine to have my own “big chair” and I was only able to do this a few years ago when we redecorated my living room.  Before that, my chair was the glider rocker in my bedroom where I nursed and rocked my three children as infants. Not exactly “me” time. I believe every mom should have a little quiet space with a nice chair, a side table and a lamp. Go to this oasis when you need some time to think. And don’t forget to take advantage of it to keep up with your reading, to meditate or just to space out for 15 minutes before the kids come through the door in the afternoon. The Thinking Chair – what a concept for time management and keeping up with your reading pile!
  2. On The Big Comfy Couch they had the 10 second tidy. Ok, maybe it takes more than 10 seconds, but a quick tidy up around your house is a great idea first thing in the morning, after the kids have gone off to school or right before everyone goes to bed in the evening. To accomplish this you can use my favorite tool – the step basket.  I recommend straightening up the main floor of the house in the evening and the bedrooms in the morning. Use the basket to move things from room to room, floor to floor. You can even leave items in the basket if you are doing a quick tidy-up before company comes over.  Unlike the girl on Big Comfy Couch, I don’t recommend shoving things in the sofa cushions. The 10 minute tidy is a chance to get things back to normal.
  3. Sesame Street had a catchy song, “One of these things is not like the other…” I often say this to my clients when we find something that is totally out of place in their house. For instance, food or dishes in the office or tools in a linen closet. It’s a fun way of identifying categories. And all good organizers will recommend keeping like things together.  Yes, that is a bit subjective but some things are just obvious.  I also recommend limiting the number of categories in a closet to three. Any more than that and things tend to get out of hand.  You can limit the categories in a room by identifying the function of the room first. Again, stick to three functions and the stuff in that room should serve its purpose.  The next time you are trying to organize a shelf, closet or room trying categorizing first. If one of these things is not like the others – move it to the right place.
  4. Mr. Rogers had a routine. I love routines. They bring comfort, help you remember and keep you on task. He would come in the front door every morning; change into a comfy sweater and sneakers while singing his song.  So predictable, but strangely calming. He would do his show and then sing his ending song, put on the jacket and dress shoes and head on out the door. So I learned from him that it’s good to have a routine for transition times. I know this is valuable for my kids too. However, we do ours without the song – maybe this would help?! Usually it’s me reminding them to brush their teeth, make their beds and grab their lunches in the morning. After school they wash their hands, have a snack and unload the school papers. A simple routine when you come home from work can also help parents flip that switch in their brains from working person to parent. Take the 10-15 minutes each morning and evening, find your routine and see if you’re as relaxed as Fred Roger’s was in his neighborhood.
  5. Ernie & Bert had a tough time with moving around their stuff.  One segment I remember involves Ernie asking Bert to try a pot on his head. When he asks why, Ernie goes on to explain that he broke the cookie jar. So he put the cookies in the sugar bowl, consequently the sugar went into the flower…you get the idea. Finally he puts the goldfish in Bert’s cowboy hat so that’s why Bert needs to try on the pot!  A silly example but believe me, I’ve seen people do this. They find a bag or container and say, “Oh, I can put my X in there.” So they end up with lots of things in containers and bags, but nothing really organized. Instead I recommend grouping items together in categories, then paring the category down to what you really use, then find the right container. Moving items around does not solve the problem of clutter and it can leave you with ridiculous consequences like a pot for a hat!
  6. Finally I learned that music can make any task bearable. I use it when I ask my family to help clean out the garage twice a year. We use it when we’re decorating the house for Christmas. And I find my clients sometimes need upbeat music to keep our momentum going or soothing background music to calm their nerves. Yes, as Barney, Sesame Street, and the Wiggles demonstrate on a daily basis, life is better when set to music. Try it as you clean out your file for tax time!

If you want to check out the Ernie & Bert video, here it is:


Patriotic Christmas Shopping

I received an email the other day that really made me think. It was a little harsh but the message was good & timely so I’ve reprinted it here with my own edits and comments added. Author is unknown so I can’t give credit:

Each year as the holidays approach, giant foreign factories are kicking into high gear to provide Americans with monstrous piles of cheaply produced goods –merchandise that has been produced at the expense of American labor.

This year can be different. This year Americans can give the gift of genuine concern for other Americans. There is no longer an excuse that, at gift-giving time, nothing can be found that is produced by American hands.  Yes there is!

I was so glad to see on the internet the other day that Saturday Nov. 26th has been dubbed “Small Business Saturday.” You can celebrate by shopping local and supporting small businesses in your own neighborhood.

It’s time to think outside the box. Who says a gift needs to fit in
a shirt box, wrapped in foreign-made wrapping paper?

Everyone — yes EVERYONE gets their hair cut.  How about gift certificates from your local American hair salon or barber? Or a gym  membership?  It’s appropriate for all ages who are thinking about some health improvement.

And who wouldn’t appreciate getting their car detailed?  Small, American-owned detail shops and car washes would love to sell you a gift certificate or a book of gift certificates.

There are many family-run restaurants in your area– all offering gift certificates.  And, if your intended isn’t the fancy eatery sort, what about a half-dozen breakfasts at the local breakfast joint.  Remember, folks this isn’t about big National chains — this is about supporting your home town Americans with their financial lives on the line to keep their doors open.

How many people couldn’t use an oil change for their car, truck or motorcycle, done at a shop run by the American working guy?

Thinking about a heartfelt gift for mom?  Mom would LOVE the services of a local cleaning lady or a professional organizer for a day. I happen to know one who is offering a discount for gift certificates bought in December!

If you were looking for something more personal, local crafts people spin their own wool and knit them into scarves.  They make jewelry, and pottery and beautiful wooden boxes. Hit one of the many craft shows this November & December.

Plan your holiday outings at local, owner-operated restaurants and leave your server a nice tip.  And, how about going out to see a play or ballet at your hometown theater? Upper Darby Performing Art Center (www. Udpac.com) has several holiday shows in December.

Honestly, do you REALLY need to buy another ten thousand lights for the house?  When you buy a five dollar string of light, about fifty cents stays in the community.  Why not leave the mailman, trash guy or babysitter a nice BIG tip instead?

The Christmas shopping season doesn’t have to be about buying more for less, it can be about encouraging American small businesses to keep plugging away to follow their dreams.  When we care about other Americans, we care about our communities, and the benefits come back to us in ways we couldn’t imagine.  Besides, who needs more stuff? No one I know.

How do you feel about shopping local & small?

What laundry day looks like at my house

I often find that laundry is a major dilemma for moms. Either it’s never really done or there is clean and dirty laundry all over the house. I talked about this in my book but now I’m going to show you in pictures, my simple 4 steps to conquering the laundry mountains.

Because I have a flexible work schedule, I usually do this in one day when I’m working from home. If you work full time, you may want to do one person’s laundry at a time, or do the kids one night, the parents another. The point is, don’t do laundry everyday but definitely once a week at least!

Step 1: Bring it all in to one room & sort.

Step 2: Flip loads all day long

Step 3: Fold as you watch TV at night.

Step 4: Return laundry to everyone’s basket & have them put it away.

Organize Your Beauty Routine

Did you ever have one of those days where you stay in your pajamas and pound away at the computer until you finally look up and the kids are home from school? I’ve had those too. And sometimes they’re fun. But if you make a habit of those, you will eventually have to leave the house looking like you just rolled out of bed.

On the flip side, if you get up early enough to get a shower, put on some make-up and a decent outfit, you can feel more professional and put together before you have to walk out the door. This is one of my absolutes or organizing: start the day off right – on your terms. (from my book Absolutely Organized- A Mom’s Guide To a No-Stress Schedule and a Clutter-Free Home)  In order to do this, you’ve got to have a beauty regimen that is quick, easy and effective. As a mother of three who gets up at 6:30 am I know time is limited, and that’s why I have all the essentials at my fingertips and a method of getting ready in 20 minutes. So let me share my tips as both a Professional Organizer and a previous Mary Kay consultant:

  1. Use skin care products from one company: that includes your cleanser, moisturizer, any toners or masks that you may use and your foundation.  Skin care companies design these to work together and if you mix & match, you could have a chemical reaction right on your face.
  2. Clean out your make up on a regular basis. If you go to the dentist every 6 months, you usually replace your toothbrush, right? Use that day to replace your mascara and eye-liners too. You definitely don’t want any bacteria going into your eyes and that’s about the shelf life of these items.
  3. Check for expiration dates and if you can’t find them, use these basic rules of thumb for what to toss:
    1. Perfume or white creams that have turned yellow
    2. Sunscreen after one year
    3. Powders that have a shiny finish to them (from facial oils)
    4. Thick creams that have since become watery
    5. Anything you don’t remember buying!
  4. Brushes should be cleaned more frequently – about once a week. Think about this on a Sunday. Just run the brushes under warm water and rub them with soap, rinse and leave them in a mug or stand-up container to air dry. They’ll be good to go on Monday morning.
  5. Keep everyday items in one container in your bathroom – preferably in a drawer or cabinet. My everyday items include:  concealer, foundation, eyeliner, mascara and blush. Lipsticks usually stay in my purse and get applied before I leave the driveway each morning. That way you have them handy for touch-ups.
  6. Keep your refills in another drawer or in a plastic bin in the linen closet. I think people often make the mistake of buying cute canvas or wicker bins for the bathroom but they forget that most of these products leak! So plastic or vinyl is the way to go for bathroom products.
  7. For traveling, find a fold-up makeup bag with several sections. I pack my beauty products the morning of my trips. As I use each item, I put it in the bag. That way I don’t forget any of my essentials. The bag can lay flat so it’s the last item to go into the suitcase. When I arrive at my destination, it gets hung on the back of the bathroom door. No unpacking & losing little items!
  8. Once your products are cleaned out and contained properly, take a look at your method. I like to treat the beauty regimen like a recipe. I put all my ingredients on the left side of my sink. As I use each item, it goes to the right. That way, if I get interrupted I remember to use everything. (don’t you hate it when you forget the deodorant?)When I’m finished, everything goes back in its container under the sink.

So there you have it – eight steps to go from frumpy mom to professional woman! I think we all deserve a little time to take care of ourselves each day because when you look good, you feel good and that positive attitude will carry you through your day.

Whatcha gonna do with all those RECEIPTS?

Here’s a common problem I find when organizing paperwork: People don’t know what to do with receipts, but they don’t want to throw them out. Some save them in envelopes, some in hanging files, some even gather them all together and throw them in a box or drawer. But then what?

When clients ask me, how do I keep my receipts? I answer back with a question (not to be a smart alec but the answer is really “it depends”) What are you going to do with them if you save them?
All receipts are not equal in importance. Receipts for cash expenditures for example don’t need to be saved UNLESS you want to be reimbursed or it’s a TAX DEDUCTIBLE expense or you want to closely watch your BUDGET. So there, one receipt fall into 3 different categories!

Here’s a few of the most common reasons for saving receipts and suggestions for how to keep them under control. Note well that throwing them all into one box or drawer is not a permanent solution that any organizer (or accountant for that matter) would recommend. It may be a temporary solution to get them out of your purse & pockets and gather them all into one place & then sort into smaller categories later.

TAX PURPOSES -This is the most important reason people save receipts, because the IRS requires them. So before you start saving know what is deductible for your circumstances. Medical expenses, business expenses, and charitable contributions are some of the most common. So create a hanging file for each category and toss in receipts all year. At the end of the year gather them together, total them and keep them with your tax filing information. Mark them with the TAX YEAR and save for 7 years. No need to make new hanging folders each year, just re-use the same ones.

BANKING – Another type of receipt is your debit card or ATM card receipts for money withdrawn from your bank acoount. These are important to keep your account balanced. You can tuck them in the folder of your check book ledger and discard after you balance your checkbook with your statement each month. You are doing that, right? If there is a discrepancy, you now have a record that you can take to the bank. Shred after you balance.

BUDGETS – Some families and most small businesses have budgets that they want to track. For this reason you may want to save all your receipts and categorize expenses. You can do this manually or electronically with a receipt scanner like NEAT RECEIPTS. If you have a lot, try the electronic it’s much more efficient and fun! You can take your receipts from one month, scan them all in and the system categorizes them for you! You might even get one of your kids to do this once you set it up. (Go to www.neat.com for more information.) To save the receipts until you scan, have an envelope or hanging file for each month and empty it monthly. Shred after you scan and check.

CREDIT CARDS- Even if you’re not tracking a budget in detail, you may want to check your credit card statements against the receipts you have saved for a given month.  To do this, you just need a hanging folder for each of your credit cards. Toss the receipts in and when the statement comes in, check it staple receipts & statement together and keep in the file for a year. This serves 2 purposes: 1. making sure you’re not over paying for items on credit and 2. giving you a place to easily find receipts in case of return.

RETURNS – If you are giving lots of gifts (like around the holidays in December) or buying lots of home products (after a move or renovation) you may want to create a subject file like “Home Improvements Receipts” or “Christmas Receipts.” Keep them for a month or so, and then you can shred. Of course it’s always smart to get a gift receipt and just tuck it in the present so you don’t have to worry about someone else’s returns. For your own personal purchases, keep receipts either in your credit card file as mentioned above, or in a special envelope. When the envelope gets packed, clear it out and shred!

WARRANTY – For big ticket items like appliances, it’s a good idea to keep the receipt stapled to the warranty/user manual. That way if the item breaks within a year, you have a proof of purchase. Two options for where to keep these booklets/receipts: 1. close to where the item is stored (like a kitchen cabinet for instance) or 2. in a file marked “Warranties.”

Okay, I hope that helps. You can use one or all of these suggestions to keep your receipts under control.  If I missed a category, please chime in!


Where did I put that…

Americans spend on average 55 minutes a day looking for things they can’t find. These items include but aren’t limited to: car keys, paper files, gift cards, coupons, invitations and believe it or not – cash and checks!
Are you one of these people who are invariably looking for something? Or maybe it’s your spouse or kids who are constantly losing things and asking you where they are.

Here’s a simple organizing exercise you can do with your family in just a few minutes. It’s based on one of my absolutes from my first book, Absolutely Organized – A Mom’s Guide to a No Stress Schedule and a Clutter-Free Home. The rule is “Put it where you use it.”

  1. Identify those items you or your family are always looking for. If there’s a lot you may need to write them down.
  2. Decide where is it that you need this item. If it’s something the whole family needs, like batteries, you may need to compromise on the best place to keep them. First pick the room, then the container where it will be kept.
  3. Go put the items where you decided right now. Use what you have first (like bins, shelves or folders) Shop later for something better.
  4. Make the whole family responsible for putting things back where they belong. Make it fun by giving stickers for each time the kids find something out of place & return it to it’s home. Or make this part of your straightening up routine – whether that’s daily or weekly is up to you & your family.

Sometimes just getting all of one category in one place makes it easier to find what you need. Shoes & sports equipment are two categories that come to mind.

The motivation to do this: saving 55 mins a day, about 7 hours a week, 28 hours a month. That’s like adding one day to each month!

Here are some common items that people lose and suggestions on where to keep them:

■keys – bowl or hook in the front entrance of your home
■batteries – in a drawer of a hall table
■school forms – in a wall bin in the kitchen labeled per child
■coupons for retail stores – in an envelope in your car
■gift cards – top drawer of your desk
■birth certificates, Social Security cards – locked fireproof box
■Insurance policies – in a hanging file labeled appropriately
■invitations – pocket of your daily planner
What’s something that you’re always misplacing?


Life in the Slow Lane

If you are a Type A personality, like me, then you probably like living life in the fast lane. Go, go, go all the time, being a mover and shaker. But what happens when your life suddenly slows down? Do you go nuts or just enjoy it? Right now I’m stuck in the middle and trying to decide.

Back in May I was diagnosed with a heart problem that required surgery. So I was told by the doctors to take it easy, slow down. (Easy for them to say! But what about a mom with 3 kids, a dog and her own business?) I asked them to define “slow down.” Were we talking bed rest or no extreme makeovers for my clients? Obviously work had to take a back seat. I continued to do some without heavy lifting and I just focused on my motherly duties as much as I could do. Then there came a time when even food shopping was too much for my heart. I slowed down even more, although feeling very old and fragile at that point. I didn’t like it at all, and couldn’t wait for this saga to be over.

So the surgery went well and my friends and family were an enormous help with the day to day. People picked up my kids, made us dinners and even took my dog! It was heart-warming and overwhelming. I learned so much in that time about taking it slow. So this was how the other half lived. You know, the people who are always so calm? the type who take their time doing thoughtful things like sending friendly notes, baking cookies, going to the park? I had often envied these people. I wish I had the time and the temperment to take it easy, smell the flowers and enjoy nature. Well, after a few months on the injured reserved list, I had become one of these people. I read books, watched movies, went to the park with my son, had lunch with my daughter and played games with my kids.  But one of the most enjoyable things I have been able to do in the last 3 months is take the time to talk to my friends. Usually in our frenzied lives, it’s a quick email or Facebook message to keep in touch, or a call to plan a get-together that happens all too infrequently as our children get older. But now I was taking hours to sit and talk with my old friends and family members, and I stopped worrying about the next thing on my list! Because my list had disappeared. Stay well, get better and enjoy life at home were the only things on my mind.  Summer was a perfect time for this to happen. For now, I want to just “soak up the sun” for a few more weeks and the hustle and bustle can wait ’til the fall. I’m sure by then my Type A personality will resurface  and I will be ready for the change of season.

Have you ever been forced to slow down? Did you enjoy it or fight it? Learn anything? Please share.


There’s a line from the movie Jurassic Park that I never understood as a kid, and now I get it.  Laura Dern’s character says,”We never had control, that’s the illusion.” She says this at the point where a few of them are safe in the dining hall and the old man still has hopes for getting his “Jurassic Park” approved by investors to open to the public. Meanwhile, the dinosaurs have run amock and people are being eaten alive!

As a professional organizer, I’m all about control. I help people take control of their surroundings & schedules. Some might even call me a “control freak.” Although, I believe I’m a recovering control freak. Yes, there was a time in my life when everything in my home was neat as a pin, my schedule ran like clockwork and life was 95% predictable. Then I got married and had children. And with each little baby I had to relinquish the reigns of control a little more. You probably know some control freaks, or you may be one yourself.  And if you dig deep there is probably some dark catalyst in your past that made you this way. Maybe you grew up in a chaotic household. Maybe you had an addictive parent or a tragic childhood.  When this happens people naturally seek to control everything about their life that they can. And the crazier things get, the more anal-retentive control freaks become. I once wrapped every bit of spare change in my house into coin wrappers and put every loose picture into a photo album while recovering from a miscarriage!

Recently I learned that although I try to take control of my life, my home, my health some things just happen and we have to deal with them. Like it or not. A major illness takes priority for awhile and other things fall by the wayside. And that’s okay, we can get back to those minor agenda items eventually.

Because, what can we mere humans really control? Most gurus would say we can control what comes into our home, what we put into our mouths, what we put on our schedules, what we do for enjoyment or exercise, and who we associate with. But not always. Sometimes we have to take things into our home because we are taking in a loved one. And sometimes we are restricted as to what we can eat because of allergies, or diseases. And what we do for exercise or entertainment is certainly limited by our pocketbooks, our geography and again our physical make-up. And sometimes we are forced to associate with disagreeable people because of work, school, neighborhood or our kids’ friends.

Wow! If you think about it, we really can’t control much. We can make our choices and do our best on a day-to-day basis. We can plan ahead and think through the big decisions in our life. We can opt to be friends with happy and positive people and choose our activities wisely. Being organized can help with that. Organization is really just a delicate balance of making choices, planning what we can, having contingencies and then accepting what we can’t control and moving on.

So I encourage you to control what you can.  Plan out your “to do’s”, your meals, your spending. Control your environment so it is efficient, peaceful and conducive to productivity.  Even if it’s just for today.

Do you have a loss of control story? Or would you like to come out as a control freak? I’d love to hear your story!

Just Do It! But when????

As a professional organizer I pride myself on good time management. I group like tasks together, have daily routines for the morning & dinner rush times at our house and have weekly routines for housework.  I also feel strongly about the motto, “just do it!” So many people talk about doing stuff more than actually doing it.  But something is missing in my life. I find time for work, kids, friends, volunteering and church but exercise? I can’t seem to fit that in on a regular basis! And I know the older I get the more I need this.

This has been perplexing me for some time so I thought I would pose the question to the blog world. I know there are busy moms out there just like me and they get to the gym or run or play tennis but WHEN?

Looking at my daily schedule I have two half hours free: 6-6:30 AM and 9:30-10 PM. And neither of those time frames is looking reasonable right now.  It’s all I can do to get out of bed at 6:30 to make lunches, set out breakfast, feed the dog, make the coffee, check my email, do my daily tweet, shower and get off to work by 9 am. I thought I was being pretty efficient getting all this done in 2 hours! And on the back end of the day, if I get home at 4 it’s time to make dinner, help with homework, drive kids to activities, and clean up the kitchen. And my husband helps so it’s not like I’m doing it all on my own.  But realistically this insanity ends when I put my littlest one to bed at 9 pm. I often crash with him or on the couch, then wake up and catch a half hour of something on TV. Then -as many of you know- it’s time to go to bed and wake up to get back on the hamster wheel tomorrow!  So now I’m looking for your advice. Moms with kids and work: When exactly do you find time to exercise? And what do you do with that time?

Making Room for the Good Stuff

I recently gave a workshop at the Main Line Times Women’s Symposium. It was a great energizing day with about 200 women gathered on a Saturday morning at the Villanova Conference Center. We heard from guest speaker Barbara Collins about discovering our authentic selves and reinventing our lives based on who we are and what we love. The theme of the day was, “Design Your Best Life.” Much like the theme of Oprah Winfrey’s show one year, it included information on health, distressing and how to make the most of your womanly duties at home. Organizing your home seemed to fit right into the underlying message of the day.  But as is typical for speakers, I left my lecture room thinking, “Darn, I forgot to tell that story about what happens when you make room for the good stuff  by clearing the clutter from your home and your schedule.” So I will tell it here.

Every year our family takes a week vacation at the beach in July.  May and June are busy months with children’s sacraments and family birthdays so our weekends leading up to vacation are often packed. One year, we saw an opportunity for a quiet weekend which just happened to be July 4th. “Let’s plan to do nothing,” I said to my husband.  I wanted some time to plan for packing and thought we could just wing it each day of the long weekend.  But by Friday afternoon all that went out the window. My father called and asked if I could do him a favor. My aunt and uncle were coming in from California with their two girls and were planning to stay with my parents.

“We’ve had a water main break and we have no running water right now. And probably can’t get a plumber in until Tuesday.” (July 4th was a Monday that year). So can they stay at your house for a night and mom & I will stay home?”

“Of course,“ I said, “and you and mom too. How can you stay in a house with no running water!?  We have plenty of room and we’ll make it work.”

After I hung up the phone my husband and I discussed arrangements. I got out the clean sheets and in one hour we were ready. Mom had already bought food and planned a menu for the weekend so she took care of that.  What happened that weekend was a wonderful whirlwind of sightseeing in our own city, relaxing by the pool with cousins that I hardly know and planning the day’s events with my aunt who was much more like me than I had remembered.  Our house was crowded but my kids had a great time and so did the adults. My parents and aunt and uncle were appreciative of our fast response and willingness to open our home to them.  It was a win-win situation.  I often think about that weekend as I look at my packed family calendar.  It’s amazing what you can make room for in your home and your life when you open it up and clear the clutter.

Do you have any stories of how planning to do nothing turned into a great experience? Please share.

The Benefits of an Organized Home

Sometimes people get too bogged down in the details, the process and the struggles.  If you focus on the goal, the outcome and the positive benefits, even a project like cleaning the kitchen can have a positive twist!

So let’s talk about the benefits of having an organized home. I can think of many reasons that keep me striving, not for perfection, but organization:

  1. When life is chaotic and schedules are hectic, in one day you can get it all back to normal.
  2. Broken items get fixed and projects are completed in  a timely matter.
  3. You can have friends pop by whenever they want!
  4. You can offer to host neighborhood get togethers for kids and parents so you are more social.
  5. You save money by not overbuying, paying bills on time and taking advantage of special offers/coupons.
  6. If something is lost, it’s in one of two places or it’s not in your house! You won’t waste time looking for it.
  7. There is a predictable flow to your day and your week.
  8. You can afford to shut down for a day and everything will be fine.
  9. You don’t stress. You plan and do.
  10. You look forward to coming home.

Have you realized any of these benefits in your home?