Absolute #9 – Organize from BIG to small

Big – like a whole storage room garage



make up




Small – like your makeup bag

This absolute or rule of mine is another way of saying, “start by looking at the big picture.” I think many people are overwhelmed with the concept of organizing their home. They don’t know where to start so they start small. They fold clothes on shelves, clean out a junk drawer, put little pieces of toys in a bin. All of those exercises are worthwhile and can help you straighten up your home, but they don’t take into account the big picture. Here are some quick tips on how you can organize from big to small.

  1. If you want to organize your whole house, take a walk through it with a notebook. Write down the function of each room and then what needs to get out and what needs to stay in that room. Then move things to the right room.
  2. If you are tackling one room or area, categorize everything in there first. Start with what you see – items on shelves, table tops, floor, your bed, etc. Then dig deep into drawers, closets and pull everything out. You may be surprised at the biggest pile!
  3. Address each pile separately and purge what needs to go out: donate, trash, recycle and move to another room might be your sorts here.
  4. Now we get into the small stuff. What you have left in the room needs to find a home. That could mean a shelf, a drawer, a closet or new bins.
  5. If you are left with some itty bitty categories like jewelry, foreign money, craft notions, or baseball cards you can put those in a temporary bin, take them out of the room and do a mini categorize, purge & re-arrange. That can be done while watching TV.

By following these tips you will have done a thorough clean out. I’ve seen it work in all kinds of homes for the last 11 years. And if you want to re-arrange your sock drawer so be it. But starting small will take you a long time to get the whole house in order.

Little Projects with Big Impact

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


What small projects have you tackled with a  big impact?

Organize Your Beauty Routine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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.