Thursday, December 06, 2007

Magic For Getting Kids To Do Their Chores

It’s common knowledge that Santa keeps lists of who is naughty and nice, and it is that knowledge that inspires many children to be on their best behavior this time of year. Wouldn’t it be great if their good behavior lasted all year? Imagine if your child made his bed without grumbling or used “please” and “thank-you” without prompting? It’s possible through a little Christmas magic that will last all year and establish a lifetime of good habits. This magic is delivered to you through Santa’s sister, the House Fairy.
The House Fairy checks the children’s rooms unannounced. Her presence is made known by the sparkly fairy dust she leaves behind and the small prizes for good effort and progress. The House Fairy is not a perfectionist; her inspections focus on the progress that the child is making. She knows that it takes time to learn how to keep one’s room clean. Of course, a grumpy attitude or a lack of effort may inspire the House Fairy to leave a note rather than a prize.
I love the House Fairy program for families with young children. It is the most comprehensive program available for helping young children develop good habits and organizational skills while having fun. Plus it is ridiculously inexpensive to join – for just $10 you receive a two-year online subscription that comes with all kinds of downloads for parent and child. You can find the House Fairy at Pssst grandparents, this could be a great Christmas present for your young grandchildren.
Pam Young created the House Fairy when her three adult children were very young. You may recognize Pam’s name. She co-authored Sidetracked Home Executives: From Pigpen To Paradise with her sister, Peggy Jones. By the way, this book is “laugh-out-loud, tears-in-the-eyes funny.”
As much as I love House Fairy, Santa’s sister may not be inspiring to the teen or the preteen. But what if chores became missions to save the kingdom from peril? What if every good deed were part of a quest for all that is excellent and noble? Welcome to the mythos of Chore Wars.
With Chore Wars the Dungeon Master – the person who creates the online party – creates the chores and assigns them a value in experience points (XP), gold and treasure. Everyone in the party strives to earn these prizes through defined chores and missions. Along the way monsters may be encountered which the players may choose to battle. Getting injured in battle or losing the battle costs points. But earn 200 experience points and a character can change levels. Each player gets to choose his character and its avatar. The avatar choices add to creating the mythos of the Chore Wars world. Most of the avatars look like they stepped out of Lord of the Rings.
The creators of Chore Wars suggest that it can also be used in an office to help motivate your colleagues to complete a big project or the day-to-day work. The price for all of this will astound you: free. Optionally, you can purchase a gold membership for $10 that will eliminate the appearance of advertisements on the site, and allow you to keep a history of your party adventures indefinitely. You can log on to Chore Wars and start your own party at
Let’s face, don’t we do the fun stuff before we do the mundane? House Fairy and Chore Wars put a fun spin on chores by weaving them into a world created by imagination. Rewards reinforce getting the job done. Both sites offer parents a reprieve from being the taskmaster when it comes to chores. And that sounds like magic to me.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Best In Organizing Awards

NAPO-LA sponsors a "Best In Organizing" award ceremony -- it's something akin to the Oscars, but it's for all things organizing. The public is invited to vote on books, products, organizers, websites/blogs, and other things that set and promote the high standards organizing as an industry strives for. And like the Oscars, a big name hosts the event. This year's host is Sherri Sheperd of The View. It's an exciting evening held during January, which has been designated as "Get Organized Month."
So why should we in chilly St. Louis be concerned about an event in sunny L.A.? Well for one, this event celebrates and encourages excellence in organizing. And organizing helps promote excellence in life. The second reason is John Trosko, president of NAPO-LA, suggested that all of you in chilly St Louis can vote at on all the categories. Of course when it comes to blogs, well, let's just say you heard about it here.
Stay warm and think sunny thoughts!

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Hot News!!!

My favorite monthly newspaper, The Java Journal, published my article about some of the traits of organizing clients in their November issue. You can pick up your copy of the Java Journal at your favorite coffee shop or check it out online at Like latte, The Java Journal is always uplifting and always enjoyable.

Look for the January 2008 Sauce Magazine (yep, the new year is right around the corner)and check out my interview on kitchen organization.

Prepare For Holiday Guests

Will you be hosting houseguests this holiday season? Use this checklist to attend to the visit details. Writing down the details will make you feel more prepared and less stressed. Plus your guests will love that you thought of everything!

1) When are your guests expected to arrive?
a. Day ______________
b. Time______________
2) Will you need to pick them up at the airport?
a. Their airline and flight number: ____________________
b. Their expected arrival time: ______________________
c. Where will you meet them? ______________________
d. Check on the flight status before leaving for the airport.
3) When are your guests expected to leave?
a. Day_______________
b. Time_______________
4) Will you need to take them to the airport?
a. Their airline and flight number: ____________________
b. Their expected departure time: ______________________
c. The time they must check-in at the airport? Check with the airline and the amount of time to allow before departure. ______________________.
5) How will you accommodate your guests?
a. Where will they sleep?
b. Do you have enough pillows, bed linens, blankets and towels?
c. If not, what do you need? Put these items on your master shopping list.
d. _____________________________________________
6) Do your guest have any special dietary requirements or requests? What are they?
7) ___________________________________________________
8) Have you planned the meals and snacks to include these requirements and extra servings?
9) After tidying the guest room make sure there is a clock, a notepad and pen, tissues, and a good reading lamp by the bed.
10) Some magazines and a small bowl of sugar-free hard candy are a nice touch.
11) Have extra travel-sized toiletries available just in case.
12) What activities do you have planned? Do you need to make any final confirmations?
a. _____________________________________________________
b. _____________________________________________________
13) After your guests are settled, give them a tour of your home. Show them how to work the door locks, how to work the alarm system, work the stove and the coffee maker. Let them know if there are any special rules for the house – such as no table scraps for the puppy.
14) Give your guests a copy of the house key with a local map. Mark the location of your house – along with the address and phone number – and any interesting near-by sites.

Remember, everyone benefits from a little quiet time. Do not feel obligated to constantly entertain your guests. In fact, they may enjoy some time for solitary exploring.

Thursday, November 01, 2007


In the press: Clear Spaces owner Denise Lee was one of the featured women entrepreneurs in the October 26 West County, Mid-County and Webster-Kirkwood Journals. Check out the article here:

(OK, it looks like Blogger's web link is not working. So try this: go to then click on the Suburban Journals; once you get to the Suburban Journals page, search for my name, Denise Lee, and click on the article about women working from home-- sorry for the round-about way of doing things.)

More exciting news -- Clear Spaces owner Denise Lee is the only "NAPO In The Schools" program provider in the St Louis metropolitan area. "NAPO In The Schools" is a free program that teaches elementary school children about the benefits of organization and the fundamental principles of organization. NAPO anticipates a program for middle school and high school students will be release during the latter part of 2008.

Plagued by paper? Those in the St Louis metropolitan area can enjoy FREE shredding services courtesy of Commerce Bank on two upcoming days. You can bring up to 10 banker boxes of paper documents and Central Paper Stock Company will shred them for you. On Saturday, November 3 (1 p.m. to 3 p.m.) the following Commerce Bank branches will accept boxes of paper: Kirkwood, Town & country, Arnold and St Peters. On Saturday, November 10 (1 p.m. to 3 p.m.) the following Commerce Bank branches will accept boxes of paper: Florissant, Creve Coeur, Festus, and Wentzville.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Clear Desk = Empty Mind?

My client ushered me into his office while chuckling “I had always believed that a clear desk meant an empty mind, but I guess this means my mind is overflowing!” Indeed his desk was stacked with papers, an extra keyboard – because the old one stopped working – books, and folders. The stacks had migrated to the floor and the credenza behind his desk. His tone turned solemn. “Seriously, I’m overwhelmed. I don’t know where papers are, and I feel like I’m on a slippery slope.”
Situations like this happen for a reason. It’s my job to discover the reasons and develop strategies to reach the client’s goals.
In Bob’s case (not his real name), a colleague’s recent move to another company meant his workload was doubled. In the past Bob’s systems barely kept him in control of his work. But with the increased workload, he was now drowning.
For Bob: out of sight means out of mind. Bob’s not alone. Approximately 60% of the population is very visual. For this group there is a tendency to leave items out in the open as reminders that some action is needed. You can appreciate why Bob would think that a clear desk was anathema to productivity. But when the “reminders” start to accumulate they form “visual wallpaper.” It is impossible to discern the individual tasks. The whole becomes a large, menacing “to-do.” It’s enough to paralyze the most stout of heart. The lessons in this case are valid for most of the population.
We started with a strategy of “divide and conquer.”
We spent the morning sorting through each stack. Eleven banker’s boxes were labeled with ”do it now”, “do it yesterday”, “file it”, “personal”, “shred”, “goes somewhere else”, and the name of each of the five projects he was currently responsible for. I picked up each item, and Bob assigned it to a box.
For Bob “do it now” and “do it yesterday” were more meaningful than “important” and “urgent”. Every label must be subjective in the way it prompts the user.
Setting up a box for items to shred or put to away elsewhere helped us remain focused on the task of categorizing. With the major sort into categories completed, we began the minor sort.
Starting with the “do it yesterday” box, the next action for each item was written down on each document’s upper right-hand corner and put in a stack of items with similar actions. In the end we had divided the urgent items into many stacks: “call”, “email”, “discuss”, “research”, “follow-up” and “read.” This exercise was repeated with the “do it now” and “personal” boxes. For the project files we noted the next action in planning.
An open desktop file box containing hanging folders was set up on Bob’s now cleared desk. Each folder was labeled with an action item category, and the tabs were arranged alphabetically. Arranging the tabs in a staggered fashion insured that every tab was visible. We added two more categories: “hang-on to these” and “file it”. The “hang-on to these” folder mainly holds reference items that will be needed soon: for example, the agenda for an upcoming meeting. Bob was able to prioritize within each category by putting the most urgent items at the front of each folder.
As Bob completed each action he noted the new next action, and he filed the item accordingly. Eventually all necessary actions would be completed, and Bob can note the name of the file under which the item should be filed. Now Bob’s assistant can do the filing with very few, if any, requests for direction from Bob.
The cycle of noting the next action and filing the item put Bob in control of his workflow. When he chooses to make calls, he has all the items that need calls grouped together at his fingertips. The open file box keeps work handy, organized and visible without cluttering the desk. Also it is easier for Bob to delegate work to his assistant.
All in all, Bob felt very satisfied with the system. And to his surprise he found that his clear desk encouraged focus, productivity, and planning.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Road Trip Ready

What’s summer without a road trip? A little planning and strategizing will minimize the whining and smooth out the bumps along the way.

A couple weeks before the trip get your car checked. Make sure the fluids, hoses and tires are in tip-top shape. Don’t forget to check the spare! Nothing wreaks a vacation faster than a breakdown – especially if the problem could have been avoided with a little proactive maintenance.

Prepare an emergency kit for your trunk. You’ll want to stash the tools and instructions to change a tire, flares or flashers, flashlights with fresh batteries, jumper cables, and a first aid kit. Personally, I like to add a can of “Fix-A-Flat” also -- I have a fear of changing the tire in the middle of the night on a busy interstate. A milk crate or a large canvas bag can hold your emergency supplies together in the trunk.

A few games to entertain the kids will keep everyone happy. Sure you can bring along the electronic games and the portable DVD player, but try a few old-fashioned games for fun and family bonding. There are the classic games: Twenty Questions; License Plate ID; Rock, Paper, Scissors; and Hang Man. There are also lingo games: come up with a phrase from the letters on the license plates you spot, for instance. More ideas can be found on and

Paper, crayons, safety scissors, and glue sticks can be blissfully entertaining for hours, but the logistics of using them in a cramped car can be a nightmare. I just saw these ideas in a trade journal, and I think they are brilliant. Use an inexpensive jellyroll pan as a desk (most of us call the jelly-roll pan a cookie sheet, but it has a lip that goes around the pan). Magnetic alphabet letters can be used for a game and for securing paper to the sheet. Corral craft supplies in a shower caddy with suction cups and mount the caddy to the window. Tote bags with long handles looped over the headrests can store books, paper and other supplies in front of your child’s seat. You can store the jellyroll pans in the bags or under the seats.

Do you loathe hearing “Mom, I don’t feel so good” on your trips? Be prepared. Pack a basket with paper towels, healthy snacks, and bottled water for the front seat. Stuff the paper towel tube with plastic grocery bags, and snap a large rubber band around the roll to keep the paper towels in place. Add a container of baby wipes and you’re ready for most predicaments.

An AC power inverter is a handy gadget to keep in your glove compartment to accommodate standard power cords. You won’t have to worry about draining the batteries of any of your electronic devices.

A few well-planned rest stops along the way are important for passengers and the driver. Try to avoid going more than a couple hours between stops. Breaks keep the fidgeting down and the attention span operating at peak efficiency. You can chart out your breaks with or with AAA. Who knows – you might even be able to take in a landmark or two along the way.

In the end remember it’s all about having fun and spending time together as a family. Keep it light with a little preparation and a few tricks of the organizing trade.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

What's New In Organizing?

I just returned from the annual National Association of Professional Organizers conference in Minneapolis. This year’s conference truly celebrated NAPO’s mission to “develop, lead, and promote professional organizers and the organizing industry.” NAPO gave the inaugural certification exam for professional organizers to a little over 200 people, who will learn of their results in mid-June. Certification is an important industry development as it sets a standard for skill sets in the professional organizing industry. There were about 900 attendees at the conference from all over the world who gathered to learn about the latest trends and resources in the organizing industry.

There are many societal trends affecting the profession of organizing. With these trends come new opportunities for professional organizers. Consider how the nature of “work” has changed. Technology has allowed us to accomplish more in less time, but it has brought a new set of problems. Managing email and electronic documents is a nightmare for many people. Mobile phones allow us constant accessibility regardless of our location, but the cost is the erosion of personal boundaries. Telecommuting and flextime may reduce the amount of time spent in the office, but personal time management issues may be exacerbated with the diminished structure. Additionally, the car has become the satellite office. The field of professional organizing has an opportunity to address these challenges by teaching how to be productive despite the shifting work landscape and how to invest productivity gains into rest and leisure.

Rapid technology changes affect children as well as adults. Schools today are different from the schools thirty or fifty years ago. Changes in the family structure can complicate and fragment the lives of children. In this shifting environment it may be difficult for some children to internalize organizational structures. The resulting disorganization affects school performance and home life. The goal of the emerging specialty of educational organization is to help children develop the organizational skills necessary for success in school and life.

Although many people are aware that learning disabilities affect children, few people realize that learning disabilities affect adults as well. Organizers who specialize in helping clients with learning disabilities and brain injuries can assist their clients in successfully working around their individual challenges with creative solutions and strategies.

One of the major societal trends is the “graying of America.” Downsized living and getting one’s affairs in order have created the need for organizers who are sensitive to the needs of the senior population and well-versed in the legal and ethical implications of the issues facing seniors. As baby-boomers enter retirement, the demand for organizers specializing in this area is expected to increase.

Recent weather-related disasters have created another specialty of organizers who assist their clients in navigating through the practical aspects of recovery. From filing insurance claims to managing the project of rebuilding, these organizers can provide real help when people are still shaking from the disaster.

Underscoring all of these specialties is the industry’s ability to respond to a wide variety of challenges with strategies that promote productivity and success while encouraging balance. The focus has gone beyond efficiency management to enhancing lifestyles through organizing principles. It really is an exciting time to be in the organizing industry.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

A Half-Dozen Exercises to Help You Become Organized

The real secret to becoming more organized lies in shaping your behavior. Here is a list of exercises that will shape up behaviors that will provide a great framework for developing organizational skills. They are simple and no sweating is involved!

1) Use the “RC Calendar” method to help stay on top of your schedule.

* Record all your commitments on the master calendar as soon as you learn of them. Remember to record special dates such as birthdays and anniversaries. If you loathe writing in the recurring commitments then use stickers or abbreviations to designate the activity. Let the calendar do the remembering so your brain is free for thinking.
* Check your calendar several times a day. It’s amazing what we can forget between breakfast and lunch! Take a peak at the upcoming week with an eye towards preparation. Are there birthday gifts to buy? Are there meetings to prepare for? Make sure you take care of those action items ahead of time to avoid last-minute panic.

2) Always be prepared. It works for the scouts and it can work for you. In addition to checking your action items, start with a few other focus areas.

* Prepare for the morning before you go to bed. Check your calendar. Lay out your clothes. Put your packed book bag or briefcase by the door. Make lunch. Set up for breakfast.
* Plan your menu for the week or at least a few days a head of time. You’ll avoid the late afternoon panic of what to fix for dinner.
* Keep a ready supply of essential items, and check your inventory before heading off to weekly grocery shopping. Paper products, canned food, pet food, and coffee might be on your list of things you hate to run out of. Keep a list of essential items by your storage area to facilitate taking inventory.

3) Zone your home, and coordinate storage with the zones. With paper and pen in hand, walk through your home and take note of the types of activities that occur in each room. Some activities may be confined to specific areas of a room. Make sure that the items needed for the activity are stored in the same area of the activity.

We have a family room where we watch TV and play video games. The TV remotes are stored in a drawer next to the sofa. Our DVD collection is stored in the room’s closet on built-in shelves. The game system hardware and the games are stored on shelves along the side of the room. Because my husband loves to surf the net while watching TV, his laptop is also kept on the table. Since the room’s activities have been defined, we know what belongs – and what does not belong – in the room.

5) Everything needs a home with an address. Once you have established what kinds of items belong in a zone, determine exactly where an item belongs. Put items that are frequently used in very convenient spots near where they are needed. Items that are used less frequently can be stored in less convenient locations, such as the top shelf of the bookcase. It may make sense to label the item’s home so everyone knows exactly what belongs at that “address.” It’s much easier to put things away when everything is clearly labeled.

6) Practice the “Quick Tidy” at least once a day. Logically if you take something out, you should put it back. But sometimes things don’t always make it back to their homes. Spend 5 to 10 minutes every evening putting things back in their place. The “Quick Tidy” can be a family activity. Even the very young can participate, especially if it is treated as a game rather than a chore. Use a timer and see who can return the most items to their homes.

Saturday, March 31, 2007

Cage The Paper Tiger

Tax season is upon us. This time of year more than any other tests our paper management system. Have you been swallowed alive by the paper tiger? Read on. Below you will find some techniques for putting that paper tiger in the cage where he belongs.

Start by keeping all of your incoming paper in one place. An in-box – or some organizers call it a “to-sort” box – holds all the paper that needs your attention. I’d like to bust a myth right now: it is unrealistic to believe that you will handle paper only once. However you can minimize paper handling by focused decision-making when you sit down to manage your paper, which you should do often if not daily.

Really there are only three basic decisions that can be made about paper:
File: no action is needed or the action is complete
Act: these go into special act-on files
Toss: get rid of it!

Any paper containing information that you may need in the future can be filed as reference. Some examples of reference categories are: Insurance (one file for each type), Household Maintenance Records, Resume, Consumer Information, Child Care Information, Holidays, Income Tax, Home Inventory, and Retirement Information. It is quite likely you will have other reference categories as well. Ask yourself “Under what circumstances would I want this information?” Use the answer to help determine the file category. A few other guidelines are:
• Keep things simple, and use the most general category first. Only when the file becomes too bulky should you break it down into smaller categories.
• It is easier to look in a file with several sheets of paper than several files with one sheet of paper.
• File information according to how you will use it rather than its source. You will not remember the source of the paper, but the circumstances under which you would look for it will guide your search.
• Put an “expiration date” on the file. The expiration date will make cleaning out your files a snap. Remember that news articles have a relatively short lifespan but some information must be kept a long period of time – such as income tax returns.

Sort your act-on stack by the type of action that is needed. Here are some categories to consider: Call, Calls Expected (so when someone returns your call you have all the pertinent information in the file rather than trusting your memory), Pay, Discuss, Computer Entry, File, Special Events, Upcoming Meeting, Write/Email, Projects, and Tickler. The Tickler category is a way of incubating items until a specific date or until you receive additional information. One way to “tickle” your memory is to write notes in your calendar about when to follow-up with the items in this file. Of course you can add or delete categories according to your needs.

Keep your act-on files together, and keep your reference files together, but distinguish between these two types of files for ease of locating information. Use different colored folders or assign each type its own file cabinet drawer.

The real key to a paper management system isn’t what is kept but what is discarded. When going through your paper ask yourself the following questions:
• Is there a legal reason to keep this information? When in doubt, ask an authority!
• Would it be difficult to replace?
• Is this the only place the information is available? If the information can be obtained easily elsewhere then why keep it?
• Can you think of when this information would be useful? If you cannot imagine the circumstances under which you would need the information, then it probably isn’t applicable to your life. “Just in case” is not acceptable because there is no keyword to help you find the information later. If you can’t find it then it’s worthless to you.
If you are hesitant to toss that paper after answering “no” to all of the above questions, then ask yourself “What is the worst thing that could happen if I don’t have this paper?” If the consequences aren’t bad, then toss it.

According to Professional Organizer and author Barbara Hemphill “we never use roughly 80% of the paper we collect.” Make judicious use of the trashcan and you will lessen the amount of filing that is needed -- without negatively affecting your life. In fact, it will help you cage your paper tiger.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Perhaps you’ve read about it in magazines or seen it mentioned on the TV. Without a doubt, Feng Shui has captured the public’s interest. So what exactly is Feng Shui, and why should you be interested in it?

Feng Shui (pronounced fung shway) examines how energy flows in our environment and how objects and their placement affect that energy flow. Feng Shui also examines how the environment affects our personal energy flow. In turn our personal energy flow affects how we feel, think, act, perform, and ultimately succeed. Furthermore, with Feng Shui we can influence the energy flow for specific benefits in our life and to achieve harmony and balance in our environment.

At this point it is important to say what Feng Shui is not. It is not a religion, nor magic, nor a superstitious belief system. Feng Shui is not a “New Age” phenomenon – it has been practiced in China for thousands of years.

As with any ancient practice, regional areas gave rise to different ways of understanding the interaction of the environment and humans and to different techniques to affect the chi – the life energy. The regional differences formalized into the different schools. In the western world Black Hat, also known as Black Sect Feng Shui, is the most commonly practiced school.

Black Hat stresses that the organization of objects and the orientation of the space affect us according to their proximity to us – our most immediate surroundings affect us the most. Other schools of Feng Shui rely on directional energies, horoscopes, and astrology. Black Hat uses the bagua, or Feng Shui Octagon, to analyze the energy of a room, the house and the lot. The bagua is always aligned with the space’s entrance rather than north. Black Hat’s use of intention to increase the affects of Feng Shui cures is another point of departure from other Feng Shui schools.

The bagua maps the life energies to different areas of life through relative positioning. Align the bottom of bagua below so that it is parallel to the space’s main entrance. Objects in the different areas of the space will affect the corresponding Life Area.

(The blogger edits do not allow proper formatting so pay attention to the position statements in the parenthesis. Imagine each Life Area occupying a cell in a 3X3 grid)

Wealth(upper, left corner) Reputation (upper, middle) Relationships (upper, right)

Family (middle, left) Health (center) Kids, Creativity (middle, right)

Knowledge (bottom, left) Career (bottom, middle) Helpful People (bottom, right)

One of the guiding principles of Feng Shui is to avoid clutter. Clutter stagnates energy. Clutter can be defined as anything that you do not like or do not use, more items than the space can accommodate, items that are disorganized, and unfinished or broken items. So if you have clutter in your Health Area, you may be experiencing ill health. In the case of clutter, the Feng Shui cure is simple: remove it!

It is often the case that my clients complain of feeling stuck when we first begin our work. After some healthy sessions of decluttering, aspects of their lives that were problematic seem to smooth out. Suddenly, they are more energized and enthusiastic about their lives. According to the principles of Feng Shui the clutter that once trapped the energy has been removed so the energy can flow freely now.

Try a little decluttering in an area of your home and watch how it affects the corresponding Life Aspect. If nothing else, you will be proud of your decluttering efforts. At best you will see improvements in your life.