Thursday, December 24, 2009

My Wish To You: Peace

It is the day before Christmas and I am sure for the majority of folks things are far from quiet. If you feel that you are battling the clock, look for some shortcuts.

Last minute gifts: contribute to a charity in the recipients name or a gift card for a service like a massage.

Last minute cleaning: There isn't time to deep clean so focus on the public rooms.
Put away what doesn't belong.
Wipe off the horizontal surfaces and vacuum.

Decorations: Less is more.
Pick one focus area. Use scented candles or scent diffusers for a sensory treat.

Meals: Complicated dishes take more time and energy than what's available.
A simple roast beef or turkey and simple veggies.
Pick up bread and dessert from the bakery.
Throw a tablecloth on the table.
Trim a few snippets from the tree and put them in the center of the table with a collection of candles.

Add an abundance of holiday music.

Breathe deep and enjoy.

I hope you have a peaceful holiday.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Stump the Organizer Saturday! Organize Spice and Mix Packets

No, my calendar didn’t break. Unfortunately, I had a bit of the flu this weekend and really could not do anything beyond an “autopilot” mentality. Thank goodness for vitamin C.

This week’s question comes from Dianne who poses “How can I organize spice and mix packets? I use a lot of Homemade Gourmet because my sister sells it. I have other mixes too. It drives me crazy when I can’t find what I want or I forget what I have. I tried a basket but it took to long to find things – if I could. I found a wire basket at Walmart (I think) but it is too small and I would need to get a lot of them to screw onto the cabinet door.“ Dianne added later that she has soup, appetizer, seasoning, dinner, and desert packets. She wasn’t sure how many she has for each category. Of all the categories, the seasoning packets are the smallest.

The first step is to sort the mixes into categories. Dianne named the categories so these are perfect to use for sorting. Another possible way to sort might be sweet versus savory. The latter might work for a smaller collection.

While you are sorting, toss out anything that is expired or you have decided you do not like.

Look at the physical size of each sorted category. Will a shoebox accommodate the collection or is something smaller better? The Container Store has different sizes of shoeboxes. I love using translucent containers for the visibility of the contents. Use a separate container for each category and toss the lids. If using a shoebox without its lid makes you really nervous, then sit the bottom of the box on the lid. A little double-sided tape will attach the lid to the bottom of the box. Label the narrow end of the box with the name of the category, and set the mixes in each box as though they were index cards. Alphabetizing the mixes will provide very fast access to a specific mix. Alphabetize by the general name of the thing rather than the exact name. For example, file the potato soup mix as “potato soup” rather than “Auntie Helen’s Creamy Potato Soup” because you will think “potato soup” rather than the exact name when you want it.

Cut out some poster board or cardboard to create dividers for each box. The width of the divider should be the same as the box. The height of the divider should be a little taller than the packets. Use a card for a range of the alphabet - A through E, for instance – to reduce the number of cards you need to make. Crafty folks will enjoy decorating the cards. It may be constructive to appoint a specific color to each set of cards – red for seasonings, for example.

I hope these ideas help you bring order to your mix collection. Dianne has nominated the Alzheimer’s Society for the end of year charity drawing.
Please send your questions for Stump the Organizer Saturday to Include the name of your favorite charity for our December 30th drawing for a donation. The winner of the drawing will be posted on the blog on December 31.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Stump the Organizer Saturday! Organize a Busy Desk

Thanks Rachel for your question for SOS. Rachel has entered the American Cancer Society for the charity drawing at the end of the year. Here’s how she described her situation: “Right now, I am working from a desk in our loft. But it is also used as our computer desk, filing area, etc...basically it's a HUGE mess.” She added that she’s pretty organized everywhere else in her life. Also the desk has no drawers or any other storage because her last desk had too much storage and that led to problems. The picture is of the desk area.
The key in this situation is to think beyond the desk, and create an office with different processing centers. Luckily, the basics for setting up an organized office area are already present. My first suggestion is to set up a chase perpendicular to the right side of the desk so that the chase fills in the corner and is the same height as the desk. This will give you an L-shaped surface area.
The chase will hold the printer so it can be moved off the floor. I’d put the printer at the end away from the desk. Move the vertical sorter to the left of the printer. The vertical sorter is my favorite tool for creating an action file. Each slot holds papers that need a specific action such as “to pay,” “to read,” “to write/email,” “to research”, or whatever suits your needs. However, I have found that “follow-up” is an essential category. “Follow-up” holds items that you need to revisit soon to make sure that someone else has completed their action. Align the vertical sorter so that the empty slots are facing you. Now you can label each slot with its specific action. The labels are absolutely necessary in keeping your action items organized. Now you can easily view and access papers that need action. When the needed action is completed for an item, just file it in the file cabinet. If there is room, place a tray to the left of the vertical sorter to act as an in basket.
Under the chase you will have room for the plastic drawer unit, a shredder, and a can for recyclables. There may even be room for the file cabinet at the end of the chase. Moving the file cabinet under the chase will create a paper processing area with left-to-right flow for paperwork. Good flow is efficient and has a comfortable feel.
The chase can be as simple as a finished board – like a bookshelf board - resting on the plastic drawer unit and file cabinet, or the board can be mounted to the wall with bookshelf brackets. The length and width of the chase depends on the dimensions of the area. From the photo it looks like a two-foot by four-foot board will fit the space nicely.
While you are picking up a board for the chase, pick up a narrow board that is the same length as your desk and two glass bricks. Use the bricks and board to make a shelf that will sit on the desktop against the wall. The shelf will hold the boom box, box of tissues, cup of pencils, and other necessary supplies that you need while you are at your desk. Raising these items off the desk maximizes the amount of space left for work. The glass brick allows light to reach the area under the shelf.
There are just two additional suggestions. Illuminate the area with wall-mounted lamps. Task lighting really helps make an area more comfortable. Label each drawer in the plastic drawer unit with the category of the items within it. Labels tell you not only what belongs where, but also what doesn’t belong.
The suggested changes are pretty easy to make but provide needed space for existing processes and defines what each space is. I would love to know how these suggestions work for you.
If you have a question to submit to Stump the Organizer Saturday! please email me at Please include your favorite charity for the drawing to receive a $10 donation at the end of the year.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Stump the Organizer! What Do I Do With These Off-Season Clothes?

“I thought I was really being organized when I took my summer clothes out of the closet and my drawer but I don’t think I thought everything through. Now they are in a pile on the floor. What do you suggest?”

Lu this is a great question. It sounds like this may be the first time you have stored off-season clothes, so we’ll go through the basics. By the way, I welcome everyone’s questions for Stump the Organizer Saturday (SOS). Let me know the name of your favorite charity with your submission. At the end of the year I will draw for a charity from your entries and make a donation – I’ll post the winning charity. Lu has entered the National Breast Cancer Foundation (

There are several good reasons to store your off-season clothes. Getting to the clothes you need is easier and faster if off-season clothes are out of the way. The extra space in your closet increases air circulation and prevents the wrinkling that results from clothes being pressed together. Your off-season clothes may actually last longer if they are protected from dust, bugs and moisture. Storing clothes is simple with a strategy and the right tools.

First decide where you want to store your clothes. The extreme temperatures and humidity of an unfinished attic and basement can be hard on clothing. A cool, dark, dry room place is ideal. If you are blessed with ample closet space consider dedicating an area to off-season storage. A spare closet is the next logical choice but it’s not always available. Create your own spare closet by setting up a wardrobe in an extra room or a finished basement. Wardrobes are available in a wide range of prices and styles. The most inexpensive wardrobes are garment racks that have a cloth cover. The most expensive wardrobes are fine furniture that contain drawers and shelves in addition to a garment bar.

Further protect your clothes with containers and bug repellent. Good clothes need to be stored in good containers. Fabric boxes and garment bags allow air to circulate and are the containers of choice for natural fibers, leather, suede and fur. Air circulation prevents trapped moisture that can lead to mildew.

Thankfully, bug repellent can be much more pleasant than poisonous naphthalene. Solid cedar blocks and hangers are a popular effective alternative. Give the cedar a quick swipe with some sandpaper every year to refresh it. Rosemary, thyme, mint, and cloves are among several herbs that are natural bug repellents. Place a handful of herbs in a cloth bag to create a sachet, and replace the herbs annually to insure potency. These natural bug repellents smell lovely, and you don’t have to worry about possible carcinogens.

Clean clothes are less likely to attract bugs than dirty ones. Before you store your clothes make sure the pockets are empty and they are freshly cleaned. Dirt and perspiration can irreversibly stain clothes if they are allowed to sit for a period of time. It is also worth mentioning that you only want to store items that you love and look good on you. This is a great time to bid so long to frumpy, uncomfortable clothes. Somehow the end of the season makes it easier to let go of the clothes that don’t serve us well.

Keep like items together – casual dresses with casual dresses, for instance. Packing is easier when like items are together. Hanging clothes in garment bags will prevent wrinkles, but may stretch knits out of shape. Neatly fold knits and loosely pack them in boxes. Use labels to identify the contents of the bags and boxes so you can easily find what you need.

Odds are if you are packing off-season clothes you are simultaneously unpacking stored clothes. Swapping everything in one session may feel overwhelming so consider swapping clothes in two or three sessions that are several weeks apart. Scheduling insures that the packing and unpacking gets done and provides you with a timeline for getting things mended, laundered and dry-cleaned. Since weather changes gradually, you will always have the most comfortable clothes handy.

Packing off-season clothes is an organizing task that yields great benefits. Taking the time to weed out unwanted clothes and packing clothes that are wrong for the weather generates space in your closet and drawers. Your clothes will look better longer because of the care in cleaning and storing them. And you will look like the sharp, organized person that you are.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Stump the Organizer Saturday! Organize Your Purses

Thanks Rhonda for your questions and your nomination of the Humane Society for the charity drawing. Rhonda hit the jackpot this week with two challenges:

“I have a lot of purses and bags that pile up on my closet floor and hang from every door knob in my bedroom and the hall closet. I switch bags a lot, but sometimes the things that are inside one bag don’t make it to another bag. This is a problem because I found a check the other day that was written to me over a year ago.”
First let’s look at what to do with your bounty of bags. Autumn is a great time to review and organize your bag collection because summer bags can be stored away until warm weather returns.

Grab some de-cluttering supplies: a trash bin, a stack of acid-free tissue paper, a pad of paper, a pen, an empty shoe box, and an empty medium-sized box for donations or items to sell. Gather all of your purses and bags in one place and check inside each one. Dump the trash. Toss the items you find into the shoebox until you have emptied each bag, then you can return those items to their proper home.

Once the bags are empty, it’s time to sort them. It’s easy to eliminate the purses that you no longer love or the purses that are worn beyond repair. It’s harder to eliminate the purses that are in great shape, but they just miss the mark for winning your love. Maybe they’re too tiny to carry what you consider necessary, maybe the color just isn’t right, or maybe getting in and out of them is a difficult, time-consuming task. Whatever the reason, collecting dust on the shelf will not redeem them; in fact, keeping these irritating fashion accessories around will just detract from the bags you do love. Your sanity is priceless – put the bag in the donation /sell box. Take note of every bag in the donation box if you plan to deduct the donation from your taxes.

The remainder of the bags can be sorted into off-season, everyday and special occasion. One of the principles of organizing is to store frequently used items, like your everyday bags, so they are quickly accessible. Special occasion bags can be stored so that they are close but not necessarily “front and center.” The seasonal items can be stored out of the way until it is time to switch for the seasons again.

There are several organizing tools that can keep your bags handy and out of a jumble on the floor. A purse cubby is larger than it’s cousin the shoe cubby but its larger size accommodates about ten bags. It sits on a shelf or on the floor. If you have about a foot of free bar space in your closet, a hanging purse organizer can hold a dozen or more purses, depending on the design. If you have just a few purses, they can be kept in order on your closet shelf by slipping shelf dividers between the purses.

Properly storing your purses can prolong their life. Put crumbled tissue paper in the purses you store to help preserve their shape. Protect a fine purse’s finish from dust and scratches by storing it in a pillowcase tied with a decorative ribbon. Loop the ribbon through a luggage tag holding a digital picture of the purse for easy identification.

Keep the inside of your purse organized and make it easy to switch purses with a purse insert. Two popular inserts are the Purse Pouchee and the Purse Purseket. These inserts are loaded with pockets to hold your purse’s contents. When it’s time to switch purses just lift the insert out of one purse and put it in the next purse. It’s fast and easy.

Organizing your purses can keep them off the dusty floor and accessible, plus you will preserve your investment. Keeping the inside of the purse tidy will preserve your sanity – and prevent checks from getting lost.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009


Once again the subject of hoarding has captivated the public’s attention. Every week the A&E show “Hoarders” spotlights the clean up of two different cases of extreme hoarding with the assistance of a professional organizer and a crew. Despite the unpleasantness of the deep clutter, rodents, insects and squalor our attention is held by the need to know why someone lives this way. What is clear from watching the program is the intensity and magnitude of emotional pain caused by hoarding for both the hoarder and his family.

No one willingly chooses to hoard. Psychological and emotional factors underlie hoarding behavior. Mental health workers have traditionally considered hoarding as a sub-type of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder; however, recent research seems to indicate that hoarding is a feature of many psychiatric disorders. While the research on hoarding has been fruitful, there is still a lot that is unknown.
The show’s opening displays the statistic that three million people in the United States are hoarders; however, the exact number is unknown. I have seen estimates as low as two million and as high as 20% of the population – about 61,528,000 people. Shame, embarrassment and fear contribute to the social isolation of hoarders and the difficulty in identifying them.

People who suffer with extreme hoarding behavior are adept at hiding. Friends, family, repairmen, utility workers – anyone wanting entry - are typically barred from the house. Such isolation can lead to further degeneration of behavior and of the home. In the most extreme cases, doors and windows blocked by clutter trap the occupants from escaping during a fire.

It is important to point out that hoarding, like many behaviors, follows a continuum. The National Study Group on Chronic Disorganization ( created the Clutter Hoarding Scale that is used to objectively describe clutter in place. The scale uses four factors to assess the level of clutter on a scale from one to five. The examined factors look at the integrity of the home’s structure, the pets and vermin present, household functions and cleanliness. Most lay people would describe a Level I home as messy and a Level V home as uninhabitable.

If someone you know and love hoards it is important to seek help. There are several organizations that provide information and forums. Children of Hoarders (, Messies Anonymous (, and Squalor Survivors ( are very good websites to visit. When speaking to someone about his hoarding use neutral and supportive language. Sometimes good-meaning friends and family decide to do a surprise cleanup of the cluttered house. Such gestures are usually not a good idea. How would you feel if a group of people came into your home and threw out things without your knowledge or permission? Respect and dignity are always important and appropriate when dealing with anyone, and provide the foundation for taking the first steps towards recovery from hoarding.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Stump the Organizer! Organize Bill Paying

“How do I keep track of bills so they get paid on time? Then how long do I keep them after they are paid?”
This is such a great question Cathy because it’s about a topic that affects everyone.
Unpaid bills need a home s so they’re easy to find when it’s time to pay them. Personally, I like to keep an action file that is organized by the category of action such as “to pay,” “to read,” and “to follow-up.” I like the action file because I like doing similar activities together. Some people like the tickler file system that is based on 43 files (1-31 for each day in the current month plus one file for each month). Bills and anything else that need to be processed on a particular date are filed under the appropriate day. Items for future months are filed under the appropriate month. Some people like how the tickler file creates a daily agenda.
Regardless of how unpaid bills are filed allow sufficient processing time. Payments need to be mailed seven to ten days prior to the due date to avoid late charges. Allow three to four days for processing when making online payments. Record the date to pay bills in your calendar, and use this date to file the bills if you are using the tickler file. I like to limit my bill paying to a couple of days during the month because the routine provides me with a certain amount of financial predictability. The dates chosen for the bill paying routine allow sufficient time for the payments to be received and processed.
Bill paying is a rather mundane task and it’s easy to put it off or forget about it. Schedule bill paying in your planner. Scheduling provides the time to get it done and a certain amount of importance.
The last step of the process is filing the paid bills. File the bills as soon as you are finished so you avoid making two tasks out of one. Using a month system to file paid bills is fast and easy. Bills paid in September are filed in September. In a year, just take out the old bills and shred them before filing the new bills. However, if your bills are tax-deductable you will need to file them with all of your tax-deductions for the year and keep them for seven years after filing taxes– or for the length of time your tax preparer recommends.
Organized bill paying involves providing a home for the paid and unpaid bills plus scheduling the bill paying. Once organized you may find you never pay a late fee again. It’s like money in the bank!

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Stump the Organizer! How To Organize A Large Jewelry Collection

“Can you suggest a jewelry box for me? My jewelry is not expensive but what I have means a lot to me. I mostly have earrings and necklaces.”
I too have a jewelry collection, and its value is more sentimental than monetary. As with any collection, make sure that you love each piece of it. Anything that does not make your heart sing will detract from that which you love. Bless someone else with the collection pieces that do service you.
The traditional jewelry box that sits on the dresser is inadequate for a large jewelry collection. In addition to being too small, most jewelry boxes do not keep the contents sufficiently separated to prevent knotting and general chaos.
Consider turning your jewelry collection into wall art. Put several Command hooks on a wall and hang your necklaces from them. I saw a clever wall-mounted jewelry rack on the Belle Dangles site ( Even though the Belle Dangles organizer is relatively small (it’s only 20” long), it holds a lot of jewelry. It can even hold accessories such as scarves, hair bands and purses. I love multi-purpose items!
One of my favorite multi-purpose items is the mirrored jewelry cabinet. The cabinet is a standing mirror that opens up to reveal hooks, bars and shelves for jewelry storage. Mine is pictured here. Laura Greiner designed this and other multi-compartment jewelry boxes (
An inexpensive multi-compartment solution is the plastic tackle box. Most boxes are made of see-through plastic that allows you to identify the contents immediately. A collection of several boxes allows you to dedicate each box to storing a specific type of jewelry. The lid helps keeps the contents orderly and clean. But if the extra step of opening the lid discourages you from returning items back to the box, cut off the lid.
Now the question is: what to do with that jewelry box that’s been sitting on your dresser? If it’s one that you love consider giving it another purpose. I inherited a lovely jewelry box from my grandmother that I use to store the extra buttons that come with new clothes. Trim small paper cups to fit in the box to keep things organized.
Of course if you don’t like your jewelry box, bless someone else with it.

Stump the Organizer! Organize The School Paper Deluge

I had to take care of an emergency over the last couple of weeks so I'm posting the responses to two different questions this week. Thank you for your patience and understanding.

“Help! I’m already overwhelmed by the papers the schools send home with the kids.”
It’s amazing how much paper the average student brings to and from school. But you need only three things to defuse the overwhelm and manage the school paper flow:
1. Homes for the papers,
2. A procedure to process the paper, and
3. An “appointment time” to do the processing.
To prevent school papers from scattering all over the kitchen counter, use an inbox to house everything that you need to review. You will also need a place to store papers that you are actively working on. I like using desktop file boxes or project boxes to hold active paperwork. These boxes hold several files so paperwork is easily organized. To determine the best place for your inbox and active papers, look at where the papers naturally land – for many families this is the kitchen counter. Keep your family calendar accessible so it’s easy to schedule new events.
As you go through your inbox, consider what your next action should be for each paper. You may need to update your calendar, fill out a form, or make a phone call. Generally, take care of an item immediately if the needed action takes less than a couple of minutes. If more time is needed, enter the needed action on your calendar and put the paper in an action folder. In my experience, schools send home a lot of papers whose sole purpose is to inform. Recycle these papers as soon as you’ve finished reading them. Bookmark your school’s website so you can quickly access information without storing a lot of paper.
Of course every family needs a special place to showoff the children’s artwork and outstanding assignments. A special bulletin board or a magnetic strip will creatively showcase your child’s work with a little more fun and attention than the front of the fridge. Keep a special portfolio for each child to store the really special items at the end of the display period. Be selective. Only keep work that reflects your child’s unique character and talents.
Processing the papers in the inbox should only take a few minutes, if done daily. Considering making the paper review a part of the end-of-school day routine. The review dovetails nicely with a conversation with your child about the day’s events.
With the evening ahead of you to process the information, you will find that you are in better control of your time and actions. The feeling of overwhelm will become a distant memory.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Hot Organizing News!

My article on setting a bedtime routine for school is featured on Would you please tell Parents how much you like the article by rating it? Click here to read the article on the site.

Got electronics to recycle? WITS is sponsoring some upcoming recycling events. The first one is this Saturday, August 29 from noon until 5 p.m. at Trinity Lutheran Church in Kirkwood. Please visit the WITS site for a complete list of recycling events (click here). It is important to dispose of electronics responsibly. While many items can be disposed off without cost, there may be a nominal cost to dispose of televisions and monitors. Please visit for more information.

Rubbermaid’s Easy Find Lids System: Efficiency Meets Versatility

Earlier this summer I was asked to review Rubbermaid ‘s Easy Find Lids System. The company sent me a twenty-piece All-In-One sample pack of four different food storage containers: Easy Find Lids, Lock-its, Produce Saver and Premier containers. All summer-long I put these products to the test, and I have to say I am pleased with the products.

I am impressed by how neatly the pieces stack together. In my small kitchen efficient use of space is vital. The square bases stack together nicely. The lids stack together, and then the lids snap to the bottom of the base containers. The lids and bases are interchangeable because a lid fits bases of different sizes. Hmm, how much time is saved by eliminating “hide and go seek” with food container lids?

The most valuable thing the Produce Saver containers has saved is my nerves. You know how it is; you start to put together a recipe that uses the produce you picked up a couple of days ago, only to find out it is has started to go bad. I hate that! But the produce I kept in the Produce Saver containers did last longer, so I didn’t have to worry about the state of my dinner ingredients…or my frustration level.

The Premier containers end another one of my frustrations: stained food containers. We like spaghetti. I usually make enough for leftovers, and usually it’s easy to spot which containers are used to store the spaghetti. They’re the ones that are an interesting shade of orange. The clear bases of the Premier containers did not stain, and they remained nice and clear after repeated use.

Another tough challenge is the transportation of soup to a potluck. Would the Lock-its lid stay on the base without leaking - despite being jumbled about? Yes, it did! The lid snapped on the base easily but stayed securely in place until it was snapped off. Happily, I did not need the strength of a weight lifter to get the lid on or off the base of the Lock-its – or any of the other products, for that matter.

The bases for all of the containers provide a good degree of visibility so it’s easy to identify their contents. I like to use a water-soluble marker to date the sides of the containers so I don’t have to guess the age of the contents. The marker quickly wipes off without staining the container.

If your house is like my house, food containers are used for a lot more that storing food. These containers store craft supplies very nicely. I put pony beads in one container, string in second container, plus scissors and needles in a third container. Then I snapped all three containers together, which made it easy to carry them to a scout meeting. Lock-its containers keep play clay pliable for a long time and did not leak the ooze that we created from starch and borax. I especially like the added visibility the Premier lid’s transparent panel provides.

Efficient space-use, durable, easy-to-use, versatile and effective – I believe that the Rubbermaid containers meet every need I could possible have in a container. Oh, did I mention they are affordable? In fact, if you visit you can get a coupon for your purchase.
The Rubbermaid site ( has all sorts of great product information, online shopping, and their “Adventures in Organizing” blog. Shop online to save yourself a trip to the store, and you’ll save10% on your new products when you enter coupon code 0902.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Stump the Organizer! Organizing A Home Library

"What do you suggest for organizing books? I have a room that is stacked with books. I love my books so don't suggest that I get rid of any of them."

Why not dedicate the room to your own library, complete with comfy chair and reading lamp?

Let's address the stacks. It sounds like you need book shelves and lots of them. This may sound obvious to some, but countless times I've seen people struggling with how to get five bookshelves-worth of books into two bookshelves. Line the walls floor-to-ceiling with shelves, if need be.

The organization of a book collection should support browsing and the ability to access a specific volume quickly - which is how public libraries are organized. Libraries typically organize fiction by the author's last name and non-fiction by categories. You may want to do the same. Categorize the non-fiction books by topics that makes sense to you. Imposing the Dewey Decimal System or the Library of Congress Classification System on a home library is a little like shooting a fly with an elephant gun. Not to mention your classification may differ from the library classification systems. For example, the Dewey Decimal System classifies some of my organizing books as "home economics," others as "psychology," and some as "business." In my mind, they are all "organizing books."

Do you still have a lot of books within the sub-categories? Alphabetize non-fiction by author or title within the sub-categories. Only organize to the point where it's helpful in locating specific books and browsing, but no further. Dedicate a shelf or a few to each category. Labeling each shelf with a category name will make it easier find a specific book or an area to browse.

With your books physically arranged on shelves, half of your organizing project is complete. The important project of cataloging your collection is yet to be done. The benefits of cataloging are
  • having an inventory that is suitable for the insurance purposes (think about how much money have your spent on your collection),
  • reducing or eliminating duplicate purchases,
  • and making informed decisions regarding the management of the collection.
Software can definitely make the job of cataloging much easier than it would be if done manually. Book Collector ( and Readerware ( are two software options that automatically populate your inventory database with comprehensive information on each book. All you have to do is scan or swipe a book's barcode and the software uses the barcode to fetch the data from different websites. Additionally, these software applications will track book loans and download your inventory list to your iPhone so you can access it anywhere. The cost of these software applications is under $45.

If you don't mind a little manual entry, the website Library Thing ( provides a unique combination of cataloging with a virtual bookclub. Enter the book's author, the title or the ISBN and the website fetches comprehensive information about the book from different websites which is then used to populate your inventory. The website offers social networking with other site members so you can chat about your latest read or get recommendations for the next. Joining Library Thing is free but there is a $10 /year fee - or $25/ life - to catalog over 100 books. It's an amazing amount of functionality for the cost.

Books are well-loved by many, including myself. Loving something is a reason to keep it, but treat it like you love it. Give it a place of honor and take care of it. You can have more space and energy for the things that are important to you by letting go of the things that you no longer love and no longer serve you.

One post script: the sites and also have cataloging software for other collectibles such as music and dvds.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Organize Your Breakfast?

In keeping with the theme "Morning Zoom," I asked Angelina Bertani if she would kindly contribute a post on how to get a fast and nutritious breakfast together. At the end of the post you'll find more information on Angelina and her website, which you'll want to visit after you read her ideas.

Yes that’s right, here are a few tips from Angelina Bertani, CHHC.

Why eat Breakfast?

1. How you start your day affects how you feel and think all day long, essentially if you don’t eat, you will not get as much done in your day.
2. Breakfast is like setting the thermostat in our bodies
3. Breakfast will assist your weight loss and reduce binges and cravings in the afternoon

There are a few places that you might be in regards to breakfast…

1. You are ravenously hungry shortly after breakfast (within 1 ½ hours). You are not having a substantial breakfast. It also may not be the correct type of breakfast for you. Some people need more protein for breakfast and others do better with a more carbohydrate rich breakfast. A good quality breakfast or lack there of is making you hungry instead of satisfying you. A good breakfast will last you at least 2-3 hours

2. You throw something in your mouth on the way to work. Like a balance bar? You may feel like there’s little time to spare. When you plan out a substantial breakfast you’ll actually be more productive and focused thourout the day so that you get more done. It’s important to learn to make time for breakfast.

3. You are not usually hungry for breakfast. Many clients who report that they have no appetite before 11am have adrenal fatigue. To support the adrenal glands through food one of the things that will help is to eat a small breakfast despite your lack of hunger, over time it helps to rebalance the body and strengthen the adrenals.

4. You unsure of quick and healthy breakfast options, so you just don’t take the time. Don’t worry I have just the thing for you below…CHOICES!

5. You find yourself eating the same things over and over and you’d like to know some more exciting choices that are easy. Don’t worry I have just the thing for you too! Join me at an upcoming cooking class

Smart Breakfast Options …in less than 5 minutes

o Smoothies – use frozen fruit to make several smoothie concoctions at
once – put in fridge or freezer and use through the week

o Homemade muesli (see recipe at end of blog) or whole grain cereal

o Make a batch of oatmeal or steel cut oats for the week and just heat up

o Sprouted grain English muffins or Ezeckial bread with almond butter and banana

o Fast Scramble - scramble 2 eggs with some baby spinach, hand-crumbled
mushrooms, and cherry tomatoes

o Yogurt, fruit, and nuts – (Try Fage brand Greek yogurt)

o Hard-boiled eggs (make a few at a time and keep them in the fridge), plus
a piece of fruit – or with/on sprouted grain English muffin or bread

Angelina Bertani, Holistic Health Counselor, Anxiety Free Weight Loss Coach, Author, Speaker, and Founder of Pure Nourishment, LLC. If you're ready to jumpstart your health, get your F*R*E*E tips now at

Thank you so much Angelina!

Friday, August 14, 2009

Stump the Organizer! Backpack Organization

"What can I do to prevent my daughter's backpack from becoming a cluttered mess?"

The backpack's purpose is to carry study material, homework and extracurricular items to and from school. However, many people - not just students - regard backpacks as a permanent home for things. From this perspective a backpack's design must include many sections and pockets to properly house items and be "organized." Once an item is put in the backpack it is "put away," and nothing else needs to happen to it. The "permanent home" perspective results in a stuffed backpack and things being forgotten. But if you consider backpacks as transition tools, the backpack requirements are much simpler and there will be a greater likelihood for order.

  • Smaller is usually better. The backpack should be just big enough to carry what is needed in the next 24 hours and not the contents of the locker.
  • Keep the design simple. Often two pockets or sections are enough in a backpack. The smaller pocket holds the small stuff like the pencil case and the lunch bag, and the bigger pocket holds the books and binders. Adding more pockets than what is needed will result in items getting lost.
  • Empty daily. Once the contents are out of the backpack it's easy to see what needs to be done and what needs to be put away. As homework is being completed, put it in the backpack. Once at school, put items in the locker and hang up the backpack. If your child has difficulty remembering what to pack in her backpack, attach a small laminated checklist to the backpack with a binder ring.

Dedicating the backpack to transporting items rather than housing them reduces clutter and lightens the load the student must carry. The student's back will thank you. Parents, as a twist read this article again substituting "briefcase" for "backpack" and "office" for "locker."

Monday, August 10, 2009

Morning Zoom

Are you always running late in the morning? Adopting a few organizing and time management strategies can help you start your day in good time.

Look ahead: Check the next’s day’s agenda at night and do as much as you can to prepare for the day.
• Pack what is needed for the next day in the backpack or briefcase and put the bag by the door.
• Choose an outfit and make sure it is in a wearable state. You may be spared a wardrobe malfunction in the morning.
• Pack the lunchboxes and make put them ready-to-go in the fridge. Consider getting a coffee maker with a timer. Waking up to a brewed pot of coffee is wonderfully motivating.

Eliminate distractions. Focus on getting ready and eliminate anything that prevents you from leaving on time and in good spirits.
• Don’t answer the phone. If you are concerned that the message will have immediate impact on your day, then you can always check voicemail before you leave.
• The computer and the TV are notorious for holding people’s attention hostage. Turn the TV off and get the news from the radio.
• If checking email is a must then use a timer by the computer to keep the session brief. Actually, you can use a timer with any activity to prevent time from getting away from you.
• Checklists are also useful for keeping you focused. A checklist posted on the door at eye level can help you remember what you need to take and what needs to be done to secure your house.

Simplify. Make things as easy as possible, and develop a morning routine that gets you and your family ready while leaving the home in a reasonable state.
• Put things away when you are finished with them. If you feel too rushed to put things away then wake up ten minutes earlier.
• Collect fast and nutritious breakfast items together in one spot. Skipping breakfast is not a time saver. Your plummeting blood sugar will interfere with your work.
• Streamline the morning shower by gathering the personal care items that you use daily into one basket.

The morning sets the tone for the rest of the day. Starting the day in a calm and prepared manner will empower you for the rest of the day.

Saturday, August 08, 2009

Stump the Organizer! Organizing A Lot Of Information

I can tell we are truly in the frenzied "Back to School" mode. There were no questions for the Stump the Organizer! post this week.

But visitors to my booth at the Spirit Seeker Summer Expo had some very good questions for me. Here is one of the more thought-provoking questions:

"I collect information. My interests are very diverse. How can I organize my information so I can find it?" In this gentleman's case, almost all of his information is paper.

Many people are naturally curious and collect information like this gentleman; however, we are living in a time when information is increasing in an exponential rate. In other words, information goes stale - or becomes misinformation - very quickly. "Simplify" is the best organizing principle to apply to the situation. Eliminate the paper that is a likely candidate for becoming obsolete soon.

Think of the billions of resources that are available on the internet. A well-constructed search can retrieve more information than we could possibly acquire in our own physical sphere. Google is one of the most popular search engines. To search scholarly works you can use Google Scholar.

That being said, sometimes there are unique and irreplaceable documents that are part of a collection and need they need organizing. Another organizing principle to apply: store items according to how they are used and accessed. The salient question to ask yourself is "What am I going to think about when I need this particular piece of information?" The answer to the question points you to the "keywords" that you would use to do a search on the internet for the information.

The keyword concept can be applied to the physical world as well. For each document think of several keywords to describe it. Build an index that assigns a file number to the document's title and captures the relevant keywords as well. Use your favorite spreadsheet software to create the index (Excel or Google Docs, for example). Make sure that you create a "Date" column as well so you can enter the document's date of printing. Label the physical file with the file number and put it in the file cabinet.

When you want to access all of your documents that contain a particular key word, refer to the index that you created and you will find the pertinent file numbers to retrieve from your file cabinet. The files are loading into the file drawer in sequential order by file number. Organizing the physical files by file number makes it easy to add files - just go to the next file number in the sequence - and delete files - just leave a hole in the file number sequence. But you will not be able to find specific files without the index.

A word about the date column. It's good to know how old the information is. After all, if a document is really old, you may want to question the validity of its information. Additionally, the date column can be useful in identifying very old files when it's time for a file-purging project. I like to format date as "YYYYMMDD." This format allows me to search for dates less than a chosen date. For example, if I want to locate all the files that are older than ten years I would search the spreadsheet column for dates less than "19990808."

For those of you who do not want to create your own index, there is a software solution: "Paper Tiger." Paper Tiger is highly regarded as an excellent organizing tool. You can find it at I could write another page listing the benefits of Paper Tiger, but I'll let you just visit their site.

In the next few days I will be posting some information for getting your students ready for school. Two local papers recently printed articles I wrote for "Back to School." Your can either pick up the Java Journal and the Spirit Seeker at your favorite establishment or visit them online at and, respectively.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Stump the Organizer! How To Organize Recipe Clippings

This week's question is from Betty:

"I like to clip recipes from magazines and the newspaper. Last year I saw an episode on one of those organizing shows where the organizer said clippings should be stored in a three-ring binder. But it seems like my clippings never make it to the binder and worst I don't even feel like trying out any of the recipes because of the disarray. What am I doing wrong?"
Betty, thank you so much for sending me this question.

I think your experience exemplifies one of the guiding principles of organizing: organizing strategies and tools must be individualized. So the short answer to your question, "What am I doing wrong?", is "nothing."

There are two "flavors" of recipe clippings, in my experience: "tried it and loved it" and "want to try it." The first thing to do is to separate the former group from the latter. You'll be able to find a loved recipe faster to make it again if it's not mixed in with the untried recipes. Let's face it, there are a lot more untried recipes than there are tried recipes, and the number of untried recipes increases regularly.

The simplest way to keep the number of untried recipes under control is to limit the size of the collection, and the easiest way to do this is by the size of the container. Promise yourself that you will clean out the recipe clippings if the container gets full. What to cull? The recipes that seemed like good ideas at the moment but upon reflection there is no way you'll make them, let along eat them. Recipes that are really old and still haven't been tried are also candidates for the recycle bin.

Considering the volume of new clippings, it is best to use simple containers. The sections of an accordion file provides some organization by category. Put the newest recipes in the front of each section so when it's time to cull recipes you can focus on the oldest ones. Some folks may not like "digging things out" of the accordion file though. Another solution, but a bit more restrictive, is to put the recipes in a magnetic sheet photo album. Use the glue-on tabs to organize the collection by categories. There really isn't a way to easily distinguish old recipes from new recipes if the photo album is used, though.

At the NAPO Conference this spring I saw a new product called Recipe Nest. Recipe Nest is a attractive binder-sized box that holds your recipe clippings. Dividers organize the collection by categories. Just toss in your clippings. Plus the box is ingeniously equipped with a clip on the front and a built-in easel on the back - so your recipe is easily read during a cooking session. One Recipe Nest for untried recipes and another for tried recipes and your entire clippings collection can be organized with a minimum of effort.

Back to the three-ring binder that Betty tried: I think the three-ring binder is a possible storage solution for the "tried it and loved it" collection. Add subject dividers to create recipe categories. The plastic page protector allows both sides of a recipe to be viewed. Artistic folks can decorate the binder. But if the binder leaves your artistic side unfulfilled, consider making a scrapbook of favorite recipes.

One of my clients created a tribute scrapbook to her grandmother complete with the grandmother's recipes from the "old country." The grandmother's handwriting in her native german added to the charm of the scrapbook. Photos and little momentos were part of the scrapbook of course, but the use of grandmother's apron as a scrapbook cover was brilliant and touching.

Typically the number of recipes that make it to the "keeper" collection is relatively small so this group lends itself to more complicated methods of storage. But recipes get clipped for trying pretty freequently so a fast, simple way to store them makes sense. The underlying organizing principle is the frequency of use is partially driving how an item is stored. Personal preference is also a factor, which is why organizing must be individualized.

The bottom line: Betty, don't feel bad about that binder! Maybe it should only be used for the recipes you love.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Clear Spaces To Be At The Spirit Seeker Expo This Weekend!

Exciting News! Clear Spaces will be at the Spirit Seeker Magazine's Summer Expo this weekend: July 31, August 1 and 2. The expo's theme is Connection, Celebration and Expansion. The Center for Spiritual Living hosts the expo the first night which is dedicated to workshops (we will not be at that venue). Saturday and Sunday's events will be held at the Orlando Gardens at the corner of Dorsett and McKelvey in Maryland Heights from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Please visit the expo's beautiful website: The lineup of speakers, musicians and vendors looks very impressive.
The Clear Spaces booth will feature information about our organizing services and the Letting Go and Lightening Up class series. There will be an ongoing "Stump the Organizer!" session for your organizing questions, organizing demonstrations and one lucky visitor will win a free organizing assessment package!
It promises to be a fun and informative weekend. We hope to see you there!

Friday, July 24, 2009

Stump the Organizer! How Do I Store and Organize Hats?

Here is this week's excellent question: " I have many hats. Of course the usual baseball caps and winter hats. But also many very nice hats for special occasions. Their boxes take up so much space! What else could I do?"

A hatbox is a dust-free way way to store a hat so that it maintains its shape. Unfortunately hatboxes are bulky and opaque so you can't see what it holds. If you have a really fine hat, a hatbox may be the safest way to store it. Take a digital picture of the hat which can then be attached to the side of the box. Store hats that you don't wear frequently on a high shelf. It is possible to nest hats in a hat box. Just remember to attach pictures of all the hats to the box.

I once organized the walk-in closet of a fashion-savvy elderly woman. She could not climb step-ladders, but her housekeeper could. We used the digital pictures to create an index of my client's extensive hat collection. The index was hung up like a poster in the closet. Each hat box was assigned a unique letter that was cross-referenced with the picture on the index. It was easy for my client to tell the housekeeper which box to remove from the high shelf.

Knit hats and berets are best stored in a drawer because they easily stretch if hung. A cedar block will prevent your hats from becoming a moth's lunch.

If hatboxes are just too bulky look to store fixtures for a solution. After all, a millinery store has lots of hats to store and display. A floor hat rack from Display Warehouse holds twenty hats in about a two-foot footprint.

The Jokari over-the-door cap rack holds eight caps on easy-to-access hooks. A loaded rack takes up very little room so you can put several on your door. carries the rack – as well as some lovely hat boxes. also carries the Stratford Hook. The Stratford Hook is a special coat/hat hook that will support the crown of a hat so that the hat lies horizontally on the hook. Several of these hooks on a wall could create an artistic display of a hat collection, and even further your enjoyment of your hats.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Stump the Organizer! Dealing With Toy Clutter

It's Thursday and time for "Stump the Organizer!" This week's question comes from Bonnie who has five year-old twins.

Bonnie emailed this question: "My children’s toys are everywhere! We thought making a playroom was the right thing to do but they hardly use it. Our house is small and there isn't a lot of room in the twin's bedroom. What can we do to keep the toy clutter from taking over our house?"

Young children want your company. I suspect the reason the toys are everywhere is your children follow you throughout the house with their companions, the toys. On the positive side, it's a whole lot easier making sure your children are happy and safe if they are following you. To keep the toy clutter from endangering your sanity follow these guidelines.
  • *Set up some areas as toy-free zones. There is no reason for toys to be in the adults' bedroom, the formal living room (assuming there is an informal family room) and the foyer. There may be other areas in your home that are not conducive to play. Setting limits allows you to keep control on the amount of toy clutter.
  • *Set up a small amount of toy storage in each kid-friendly room. Shelves, bins, storage ottomans, ans baskets are useful to hold toys and keep the surroundings clutter-free. Keep the storage simple so it's easy for your children to access and use. Keep the number of toys relatively small to avoid overwhelming your children with options - and to limit the amount to pick up. Turn-about is fair play: you can set up a special adult area in the playroom. A comfortable chair, good lighting and a table provide you a place to work on a small project or read a book while your children play happily supervised.
  • *Establish a routine for clean-up. Some children can, and will, put one toy away before they get out another one with gentle reminding. Some children need to get a lot of toys out at the same time, and will need a specific clean-up time - such as before lunch. Make clean-up as fun as possible by singing a song (that clean-up song sung by the purple dinosaur served our family well) or making it a game.
Usually the best organizing solution goes with the flow rather than fight a natural tendency.

Thank you Bonnie for the question. I hope this provides you with the information you needed.

Do you have an organizing question or issue? Either email your inquiry to or post it right here on the blog. Check here every Thursday for answers to your questions. You'll get information that you can use right now.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Stump the Organizer! How Do I Organize Shoes?

This week's question is "How do I organize shoes?" There are almost as many ways to answer that as there are types of shoes. For many people it's a good idea to sort shoes by frequency of use - everyday wear versus special occasion wear. Shoes that are worn daily need storage that allows quick and uncomplicated access.
My three favorite ways to store everyday shoes are the two-shelf shoe stacker, the tilting drawer shoe cabinet, and the under-the-bed shoe basket on casters. The two-shelf shoe stacker looks like a shrunken bookcase. It's easy to get shoes in and out of these stacking shelves plus everything is visible. Each shelf holds three large or four small shoes. You can stack multiple units - I've stacked up to four together - but a tall assembly should be attached to the wall for stability and safety. Label each shelf with a category such as work shoes, athletic shoes, casual flats, etc.
The tilting drawer cabinet is a stylish way to stash your shoes. Each drawer tilts forward to reveal one or two shelves between which shoes are placed. Depending on the size of the cabinet and shoes, you may be able to store two to four pairs of shoes between the shelves. Because these cabinets offer concealed storage they can be put out in the open. I have used these cabinets by front door because the top of the cabinet offers a nice "landing pad" for keys and mail, not to mention a place to swap the outside shoes for the inside slippers.
If the shoe collection is small and closet space is tight, then an under-the-bed storage basket offers efficient use of space. The casters make it easy to pull the basket out. Avoid the lidded bins for everyday shoes. Taking the lid off everyday is an extra step that our rushed lives don't need. The squishy under-the-bed shoe containers are difficult to use and not sturdy enough for everyday use. But for special occasion shoes a lidded bin may work just fine.
For the collection of really fine shoes consider storage that will protect your investment while providing accessibility. I like translucent shoe boxes that open like drawers or boxes with translucent drop-fronts. Both types of these boxes stack nicely on a shelf and the boxes do not need to be moved to gain access to the shoes.
In my experience, shoe racks made of bars do not hold flats well and require more time to delicately place the shoes than I can muster. The hanging pocket-type organizer requires a fair amount of careful placement as well (maybe I'm just a klutz!) and they get dirty easily. I love the hanging pockets for organizing craft supplies, mittens, scarves and a world of other things - just not shoes.
Remember, ventilation is important especially for everyday shoes. Putting athletic shoes in an airtight container will produce unpleasant memories of the high school locker room when you fetch you shoes.
If you have a clever or unique way to organize your shoes, I'd love to hear it. Just post your comment here!

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Organized for Travel

Asking yourself just three questions will help you prepare for and organize all of the details of travel:

1) How are we getting there and where will we stay?
2) What events do I need to plan and pack for?
3) What supports need to be planned for in my home and office?

Capture your answers to these questions in a paper-filled binder with subject dividers labeled “Travel,” “Events and Packing,” and “Home and Office.” Use the subject dividers with pockets and you’ll have handy places to organize your travel documents too. The binder is easy to pack so all of your notes and documents will be quickly accessible during your trip.

It may be easier to print one of the great packing lists already available on the Internet rather than create your own packing list. Slip the list into the your binder, but bear in mind that you still need to plan your outfits. This is where your list of events comes in handy.

Pick out clothes that are appropriate for the events and activities for each day of travel. Make sure you can mix and match items so you can pack less. Three tops and three bottoms take up little space, but they will yield nine outfits when everything matches. Use the top of the bed to lay out the clothes with the accessories to create your outfits, and take notes in your binder. Clear plastic bags are classic tools for organizing clothes and accessories in your suitcase.

When it comes to planning your home and office support systems, think about what will happen to your pets, plants, mail, newspapers, appointments and work while you are away. Planning for all of the things that enter our lives on a daily basis may actually take more time than planning your travel itinerary! Allow yourself enough time to plan for and set up your support systems. Keep any documentation that pertains to these support systems in the pocket of the subject divider.

Planning and organizing prepares you for the adventures of travel and prepares your home and office for your absence. You’ll spend less time stressing and more time relaxing – which is the point of vacation after all!

And speaking of travel...

There were no questions for "Stump the Organizer" last week, which actually worked out well for me. We just returned from a trip to Mackinac Island, Michigan. What a beautiful - and chilly - place!

What organizing challenges have you perplexed? Send me your questions through email or by posting a comment here.

Just a reminder that the Letting Go and Lightening Up Class starts this Saturday, and yes there is room! Letting Go and Lightening Up is an approach that enpowers you to get organized and stay organized. Each of the four classes in the series focuses on a unique area. Between classes you put the lesson plan into practice, and if you need a little help you can make a support call to me. Go to my website to enroll today:

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Reminder: Last Day to Enroll at the Early Bird Rate!

Today is the last day for the early bird discount on the upcoming Letting Go and Lightening Up class series. Normally the twelve hours of class time (4 classes that are 3 hours each), the comprehensive workbook, and support calls cost $300. But you will get $50 discount if you enroll today. Enroll with a friend and you each will receive another $50 discount, bringing the cost of the class to $200!
The classes enpower you to let go of the clutter in your mind, your home, your office and your life. The first class meets on July 11. The class will meet on the second Saturday of each month with the final class meeting on October 10 -- you can be organized by the holiday season! You can get more information about the class and enroll on my website:

Tomorrow is Thursday which is "Stump the Organizer" Day! You can post your questions here or email me at I am looking forward to hearing from you! I will be on the road for most of the day but I will answer your questions as soon as I get an internet connection.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Stump the Organizer!

It's Thursday and it's time to post your organizing questions. Thanks to Cindy for posting her excellent question about meal planning. If you missed Cindy's question and my response, it' here: This afternoon I am headed down to Boy Scout camp to enjoy family night so I'll answer questions on Friday morning.
Don't forget about the upcoming Letting Go and Lightening Up class series. You can save up to one-third of the price if you act before July 1. Here is the link to my website to find out more about the class If you ever heard a friend say "I wish I could get more organized!" this class may be the answer she's looking for.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Freedom from Clutter!

I am really looking forward to my next Letting Go and Lightening Up class series that will begin on July 11. We had a wonderful time in our spring series, and feedback indicates the class really had a positive difference. The upcoming class series will help the participants get organized by the holidays.

How many holidays have you spent rushing around trying to put things in order, not to mention dealing with the extra tasks of holiday preparation? This year can be different if you enroll in our upcoming class.

The Letting Go and Lightening Up Class Series focuses on dealing with clutter in four areas: the mind, the home, the office and our lives. Letting go of the clutter in our mind is the essential first step to making decisions about the rest of our clutter. A student in the last class series called this the "peaceful power" step!

If you could use more "peaceful power" and less clutter in your life enroll in the next Letting Go and Lightening Up class series. . Complete your enrollment by July 1 and you will save $5o. Bring a friend and you will each save another $50! I expect the class to fill up quickly so don't delay your enrollment! Visit

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Got Organizing Questions?

It seems that organizing is on many people's minds these days. It's pretty common that I am asked questions about organizing in social situations.

Sometimes people know exactly what they want to do and how they want to do it, they just need a little validation. Validation can be really motivating. It can eliminate the fear that you are doing something wrong, or that there must be something unusual about you because you prefer to work in a way that's different from how your neighbor works.

Basically I've been asked just about every type of organizing question that I can think of. But I'm sure there's more out there. Let's hear them!

Every Thursday I will post the "Stump the Organizer" article. Post your organizing question on this blog. Based on the number of questions I get, I will either directly answer your question in the post or I'll summarize the questions to provide an efficient answer through a post.

So what's stumping you? What organizing question do you have that, when answered, will get you going on your project?

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Got Hazardous Clutter?

St. Louis County Residents! Do you have old paint cans, cans of insecticide, broken thermometers, florescent light bulbs, and other nasty stuff in your home?
Rejoice because you can get rid of that nasty clutter this Saturday (6/6/09) in an environmentally responsible way. St. Louis County will be at the South County Mall between 8:30 and 3:00 to take that clutter off your hands. Go to the parking lot south of Dillards and Sears. Visit for more information.
I'm sure my followers outside of St. Louis County are wondering where they can dispose of their hazardous items. The Missouri Department of Natural Resources may provide you with the information you seek. Go to for more information.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

The End Clutter Team Rocks At NAMIWalks

Saturday morning I woke up early to the sound of rain hitting the window. It was not the weather that I expected nor hoped for the NAMIWalks event. But I'm a Scout, so I put on my walking shoes, grabbed my poncho and headed out the door.
End Clutter team member Bev and I met on the Muny lot. Considering the hundreds of people at the event, it was pretty amazing that we linked up.
Thank you Bev for your company. We had a wonderful time talking about horses, houses, and all things organizing. The time really flew. I can hardly believe we walked three miles!
At the end of the walk I toured the information tables. The Bipoloar Journey (sponsored by AstraZeneca) was very interesting. The booth featured informational videos on diagnosing Bipolar Disorder and their campaign "SPEAK and Be Heard...Living With Bipolar Depression." You can visit their link for more information:
I also found out that a St. Louis company is doing research on mental illness. Mid-America Clinical Research LLC is in need of volunteers for clinical trials. Here is their link if you are interested:
I'm not associated with any of the companies mentioned here and their research. Nor am I endorsing them - I am just offering you the information.
The last booth I visited was sponsored by NARSAD Artworks which is a nonprofit corporation that supports the mentally ill ( As the name implies, NARSAD Artworks sells beautiful posters and cards created by artists who have been dealing with mental illness. They also offered silver ribbon pins that are the symbol for the Anti-Stigma, Campaign for the Brain. If you want your own silver ribbon pin, visit
I want the thank everyone who sponsored me and the End Clutter Team. Together we raised $221 for NAMI! If you missed the NAMIWalks event but would still like information on the works NAMI does, please visit

Friday, May 22, 2009

Clear Spaces Announces The Next Organizing Class Series

Are You A DIYer Who Wants To Get (and Stay) Organized?

Join Professional Organizer and owner of Clear Spaces, Denise Lee, on Saturday, July 11 for the beginning of her 4-class series, “Letting Go and Lightening Up – In Your Mind, Your Home, Your Office and Your Life.” By combining organizing systems with life-guiding principles, Denise will help you make conscious choices about what to let go of, what to keep and where to put it. All materials, a comprehensive workbook and a snack are included. The classes will meet the second Saturday of the month with the last class meeting on October 10. Be organized in time for the holidays!

Space is precious - enroll by July 1!

Saturday, July 11
1:30 – 4:30 P.M.
Subsequent classes meet the second Saturday of the month, same time.

Vitality Unlimited Spa (
29 West Moody Ave.
(in the rear meeting room)
Webster Groves, Missouri 63119


Call the Denise at 314-956-2282 or email

For more information:
visit or

Clear Spaces Participates in NAMIWalks

In about two weeks I will be participating in the NAMIWalks for the Mind of America, NAMI’s signature walkathon event that is being held in St. Louis, MO at Upper Muny Parking Lot in Forest Park on May 30, 2009.

One out of four families is affected by mental illness. Many of the people I work with face the challenge of mental illness. Sadly some of the challenge is getting affordable, quality treatment and dealing with social prejudices.

I would like to ask you to come and walk with me or to donate to support my participation in this great event. Visit my personal walker page to sign up: It features a link to my team's page where you can see who else is walking with me. There is also a link so you can donate directly to me online. Donating online is fast and secure, and I'll get immediate notification via e-mail of your donation.

NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, is the largest education, support and advocacy organization that serves the needs of all those whose lives are touched by these illnesses. This includes persons with mental illness, their families, friends, employers, the law enforcement community and policy makers. The NAMI organization is composed of approximately 1100 local affiliates, 50 state offices and a national office.

The goals of the NAMIWalks program are: to fight the stigma that surrounds mental illness, to build awareness of the fact that the mental health system in this country needs to be improved, and to raise funds for NAMI so that they can continue their mission.

NAMI is a 501(c)3 charity and any donation you make to support my participation in this event is tax deductible. NAMI has been rated by Worth magazine as among the top 100 charities "most likely to save the world" and has been given an "A" rating by The American Institute of Philanthropy for efficient and effective use of charitable dollars.

I invite you to take action and be part of the positive change that NAMI is working for. Please join the Clear Spaces team or donate by clicking here now:

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

If Your Spice Tin Has Rust It’s Time To Toss It

Has spring inspired you to begin a few spring-cleaning projects? While you are in your kitchen, take a look at what is lurking on your spice shelf. Spices can sit benignly on the shelf for years. They really don’t spoil per say, but they do get old.

Identifying old spices is easy if the manufacturer has stamped a “Best By” date on the side or the bottom of the jar. Instead of a “Best By” date you may find a product code on the jar itself – this is not the number on the label by the UPC. Product codes can be translated into manufactured dates on some of the company sites.

McCormick uses both the “Best By” date and the product code. The McCormick website ( has an abundance of fun information about spices and herbs. Plus there’s a gadget that allows you to enter the product code along with the city of manufacture to get a manufacturing date. Durkee’s website ( has an FAQ page that tells you how to translate their product code into a manufacturing date. If you are in the Greater St. Louis Area and buy Schnuck’s store brand spices, you can figure out the pack date with the algorithm they kindly provided to me.

The first number is the year.
The letter represents the month, where “A” is January and “M” is December
The next two numbers is the day of the month.
The last letter represents the shift.

So Schnucks would represent April 1, 2009 (first shift) as 9D01A.

In the absence of “Best By” dates use the guideline below for freshness.

Ground Spices 2-3 years
Whole Spices 3-4 years
Blends 1-2 years
Herbs 1-3 years
Extracts 4 years – except for vanilla extract which lasts indefinitely

If the label is faded or there is rust on the tin, odds are your spice is way past its prime. If you use your own spice jars you will need to rely on the signs of aging: faded color, lack of aroma, and diminished flavor.

Toss old spices but before you rush out and replace them, consider if they are really needed. After all, the spice got old because you did not use it very often.

To make your life a little easier going forward, use an indelible marker to put an expiration date on your new spice bottles. I use “exp” before the date so I know it’s an expiration date. If you fill your own spice bottles, put a piece of tape on the bottom of the bottle before writing the expiration date on it. Spice Islands provides a spice registry on their website ( Enter the product code in the registry and the site will return the “Best By” date. Additionally, the site accumulates the names of every spice you enter in your own spice library. In one glance you can see your entire inventory of Spice Islands spices, and quickly peruse the recipes that use your inventory.

With age spices lose their flavor, aroma, color and vibrancy. Do you really want to add dusty flavor to food that you worked hard to bring to the table? Purge your old spices and herbs, and your taste buds will thank you.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Canine Capers

I take old sheets, towels and blankets to the Animal Protective Association of Missouri (APA) on behalf of my clients. The soft fabric helps make the homeless pets at the APA more comfortable. My clients feel good that the fruits of their decluttering are making a positive contribution to the world. You can also help the APA at two upcoming events.
On April 4 from 1:00 to 3:00 there is a Dog Easter Egg Hunt in Hanley Park (that's at 610 West Hanley Industrial Court in Brentwood). Registration begins at 12:15 and is $10 per dog. Be sure to keep your pup on a leash and remember the clean-up bags! I know my dog Koa is looking forward to finding some eggs and sharing treats with some canine buddies. The money raised by this event will benefit the APA and the Mid-County YMCA's youth programs.
You and your dog can work off those treats at the April 26 "The Fast and The Furriest 5K Run and 1 Mile Walk" in Tower Grove Park. Visit or call 314-645-4610 for more details.

Declutter, Do Good

Hello my fellow St. Louisians, I have a challenge for you. Grab an empty box and a timer. For the next twenty minutes tour your home looking for things that you don't use but felt like it would be a "waste" to get rid of them. That french-press coffee maker that you never used - in the box. The pressure-cooker that you received as a gift - in the box. That terracotta animal that can be coated in seeds that grow - in the box. We're going to give those items a purpose. Put the box in your car and drop it off at the Fairfax House at 9401 Manchester Road (in Rock Hill) between 9 a.m. and 1 p.m. on April 18 for an upcoming rummage sale.

The Rock Hill Historic Preservation Commisson is sponsoring the rummage sale that will be held on Saturday, April 25 between 9:00 a.m. and 3:00 p.m. The sale money will be used to fund the restoration of the Fairfax House. Your contribution will help to preserve our local history.

The Fairfax House was built in 1841 when Rock Hill was being settled. It is on the National Register of Historic Places and the Missouri Preservation's 2008 Most Endangered Historic Places list. The house is beautiful in its simplicity but it needs a lot of work if it is to survive.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Home Centers You Can’t Live Without

Do you dump the mail on the closest horizontal surface when you walk in your home? Is your coat draped over the closest chair to the door? Do school papers migrate from the backpack to a stack on the kitchen counter? Many of the homes I visit are troubled by the same challenging transitions. Transitions can create chaos unless you have systems in place to handle them.

The “launch pad” is the answer to “where to put it?” when you walk in the door. The launch pad should have a place to catch your keys, mail, coat, and purse when you first walk through the door. Add a shredder plus a recycle can and you have a very functional spot to catch everything including the dreaded junk mail. Now you will be able to shred and recycle that junk mail immediately. The launch pad elements are so simple that finding attractive pieces will be easy.

Use a table or a short shelving unit with proportions that fit the entry space. Use the tabletop to hold a basket or a tray for the mail. A smaller tray can catch keys or attach key hooks above the table. Tuck the trash and recycle cans under the table, and you will be able to remove the junk mail from the incoming mail before it even hits the mail basket.

If you do not have a coat closet, a coat tree or a coat rack is a necessity. Actually, I’ve set up coat racks in houses with coat closets. Hooks are much easier to use than hangers so people are more inclined to use them. It’s a simple solution for children and hurried adults who hate hanging coats. Use the coat closet to hang the coats that aren’t worn on a daily basis to avoid overcrowding the coat rack.

The “communication center” is the answer to how to broadcast schedules, phone messages and important snippets of information to everyone in the family. A message center, a calendar and a family satellite file are the bones of the family communication center. Set up your communication center in a place where family members frequent and everyone can see it. The kitchen is great location because usually every member of the family is there several times a day. But a mudroom or a family room may provide the best spot for your family.

Blackboards and whiteboards are great message centers. Unlike notepads the boards don’t get lost! Make sure the board has a ledge or clip to hold your writing instrument so it’s there when you need it. I also enjoy how these boards bring out the artist in family members who like embellish them with doodles or witty observations.

It’s a testament to our complicated lives that there are so many calendar choices. If you have younger family members you will probably need some sort of physical calendar in your communication center. In order to learn about time management, children need to have the tools to do so in an accessible manner. Seeing a calendar and discussing plans and schedules help children learn how to manage time. Post your weekly menu plan on the calendar and you might just spare yourself from hearing “what’s for dinner?” over and over again.

The busy adults and teens in the family may be better served by a web-based calendar that everyone can easily access and update from any location. A web-based calendar can save a lot of phone calls of the “what are we doing on such and such a date” variety. Look for a web-based calendar that interfaces with other scheduling software, such as Outlook, so individual calendars can be merged into a composite. I like Cozi ( because there are all sorts of other handy features in addition to its calendar. Google calendar is another choice. Both of these web-based calendars are password protected for security, and you can print your calendar if you need a hardcopy.

The family satellite file collects the stacks of paper that come from the children’s schools, clubs, and sport teams. Minimally a parent inbox is needed. All papers go into the parent’s inbox so the parent can review them daily (yep, daily), and take the necessary action. Some of those papers contain information that will likely be referred to in the near future by both the parent and the child – like a sports team schedule. In this case it may be useful to set up a satellite file system that is part of the communication center and is accessible to the children. The system keeps the papers handy, models organization and keeps the household’s main reference file safe from little hands. Set up a file for each child. As soon as the need for the paper is over, recycle the paper. The physical container for the satellite file should be relatively small and easy to access such as a vertical sorter, a narrow desktop file box or a set of desktop drawers that sit on a counter.

The home centers discussed here are designed to structure transition points and minimize chaos. Remember, “transition” is the operative word when it comes to these home centers. The papers and items are only meant to rest there for a short period of time so that you can transition to other things.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Got Shredding?

Mea Culpa! The shredding date is April 18 NOT March 18!

The BBB is sponsoring a shred day on Saturday, April 18 from 8 a.m. until noon. Grab that box of paper that needs to be shredded and head over to the southeast corner of the Galleria parking lot (the corner closest to highway 40). This shredding event is free!

Why shred? Identity theft is a growing problem in this country. People do and will go through your recycle bin to grab a pre-approved credit card offer or the volumes of checks that the credit card companies send us. Protect your identity and your credit rating by shredding.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

The Show, The Workshop, The Logo

What a week it has been! On Presidents' Day I was a guest on Great Day St. Louis. Carol Daniels, Niecy Nash and I talked about getting the clutter out of our heads as the foundation for successful organizing. Here is the link to our segment in case you missed it: greatday
Thanks to host Carol Daniels who made me feel so at ease. It was a lot of fun. I was surprised to learn how cold a TV studio is. I was freezing! But on the other hand, I didn't have to worry about a shiny nose!

Decluttering the mind is the focus of the first class of my upcoming workshop "Letting Go and Lightening Up." I am looking forward to a wonderful workshop. The people who have enrolled so far are so interesting and have a variety of gifts to bring to the table. Want more information? See

Another exciting development: we will be getting a new logo! Talented artist Tim Sternau has been working on a logo that captures the spiritual basis of the Clear Spaces mission: to help people live healthy lives with peace and meaning through organization. When the new logo is unveiled there will be a celebration! Look for it.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Clear Spaces Featured on KMOV

Is there mayhem in your life? Perhaps your TV can help. Denise Lee, owner of Clear Spaces, will be a guest on KMOV's Great Day St. Louis on Monday, February 16. We will discuss Denise's upcoming organizing workshop, Letting Go and Lightening Up. Joining the discussion will be the celebrity host of Clean House, Niecy Nash ( Tune in to what promises to be a fun and high energy show on KMOV channel 4 at 10 a.m. on Presidents' Day(

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Hey Buddy, Want A Good Deal On Elfa?

Most of my clients know that I am a huge fan of Elfa systems for a number of reasons. Elfa is strong, attractive and - with some many components - hugely flexible. Elfa introduced a freestanding unit last year which is perfect for the renter or someone who loathes drilling into brick or stone.

January is an excellent time to buy Elfa because The Container Store offers a 30% discount. What you may not know is the 30% sale will end on Friday, February 6 BUT if you buy an Elfa system during this time you may be eligible to purchase additional Elfa components until Presidents' Day. You will need to save the coupon and receipt from the original purchase to receive the extended discount.

So if you're not sure about how much you want to get, you have a week to try out your new Elfa system before adding some other components! Like I said - flexible.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Get Organized! Part Two

Last month I wrote about strategies for engendering lasting behavioral change as a generic framework for achieving any resolution. This month we’ll look at some strategies that specifically govern physical space. Although many of the strategies that will be discussed here also apply to time management, I find that covering these two aspects of organizing separately leads to a better understanding of each of them. It’s a little like eating a meal with small bites versus big gulps. The former leads to better digestion and is an overall more pleasant experience!

Then there’s the whole subject of maintenance. Maintenance is the key to keeping your environment organized. When done well, maintenance evolves with changes in our lives. Maintenance is a big subject and also deserves separate coverage.

1) Zone areas for use. Sure, the kitchen is for cooking, the office is for working and the bedroom is for sleeping. Within each room dedicate certain areas to specific activities. For example, in your kitchen you have a food preparation area, a food storage area, a cleaning area, a baking area, and -- if your kitchen is like mine -- a homework area. The activity determines zone.
2) Everything needs a home. Items that don’t have homes end up here, end up there, and end up everywhere! Items should be stored according to the activity they support and frequency in which they are used. In other words, put items in their appropriate zone. For example, all the items that you need to pay bills can be kept together and bill paying will become a relatively easy task.
3) The frequency of use determines where in the zone an item should be stored. Map each zone with a target of concentric circles. The bull’s eye is at the main activity center. To illustrate, the bull’s eye of the kitchen’s cleaning zone is the sink. Items that are used frequently in a zone should be stored at the bull’s eye. The dish detergent and the dishrag may be kept at the sink in our example. Items that are needed often, but not everyday, can be stored in the zone that is in the next “concentric circle” of space. For example, the cabinet under the sink is in this circle of space. Infrequently used items can be stored farther away from the bull’s eye so they do not impair access to the items you use frequently – which may be the very back of the under sink cabinet.
4) Every item must pay “rent” by being useful or emotionally significant; otherwise they are “squatters.” If you don’t like an item in your environment, you will think of that dislike every time you look at it. Negative emotions exhaust your energy. Plus the disliked item distracts attention from the items you like and impairs access to useful items.
5) Label everything. By labeling a space you declare what belongs and – just as important – what does not belong. OK you don’t necessarily need to go crazy with the label maker, but at least put a mental label on things. For example, I label the dining room table as the place where we eat; therefore, the daily mail does not belong there. In this example, I would argue that the daily mail is “homeless” and needs a place of its own to be stored. Obviously, I would not slap a physical label on my dining room table. But I probably would put a physical label on a series of containers so I can distinguish the contents of one from another.
6) Functionality must come first and then consider form. An organizing tool might be really cute, but if it doesn’t work with the way you think and you live it is clutter. I do believe that it is important to find items that are aesthetically pleasing, but if you start the search at what is functional for your lifestyle it will be easier to find something that you like. Just like aesthetics, functionality is very individual.

These half-dozen rules of organizing are fairly general, and you can apply them when organizing any area. Undoubtedly there are tricks and tips that can help in specific areas, but you are now in a good position for realizing that resolution to become more organized.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Are You Ready To Get (And Stay) Organized in 2009?

Exciting News!

Join Professional Organizer and owner of Clear Spaces, Denise Lee, on Saturday, March 7 for the beginning of her 4-part series, “Letting Go and Lightening Up – In Your Mind, Your Home, Your Office and Your Life.” By combining organizing systems with life-guiding principles, Denise will help you make conscious choices about what to let go of, what to keep and where to put it. All materials, lunch, and a snack are included. Space is precious - enroll today!

Saturday, March 7
1:30 – 4:30 P.M.

Wired Coffee Cafe (
3860 South Lindbergh Blvd.
0.5 mile south of Watson Rd.
Sunset Hills, MO 63127

Call the Denise at 314-956-2282 or email

For more information visit or

Monday, January 05, 2009

Get Organized! Part One

Is “get organized” on your list of resolutions for the New Year? If so, you’re not alone. “Getting organized” is one of the top ten resolutions that people make every year. Maybe “getting organized” is a perennial item on your resolution list.

You’ve heard me say this before: organization is more about behavior than it is tools. Oh tools are important – the wrong tool for the job can certainly make things difficult. The right tool can make a job easier and more fun. But tools by themselves will not make you organized.

Since behavior is at the crux of organization, getting organized will take time – it is not instantaneous. Why? It takes time to change behavior. To create behavior change we need strategies that encourage that change. Those strategies provide the framework for other changes that we wish to make.

The framework is generic in that it does not specify what is being changed. So if your resolution is to “get organized,” the organizing strategies are the “what” of the change. Concentrating on a generic framework for change may strike you as a digression. But in reality, creating a framework for behavior change allows you to approach any goal with more confidence, more focus and a better chance for success.

The steps that make up the framework are summarized below. Rather than think of steps in a linear fashion – you’re finished when you have accomplished step six - look at it as a circle. Once you have accomplished step six, take your changes to the next level and go to step one again.

1) Visualize the change. Visualization provides the direction needed to make changes. I often ask clients to create a collage of pictures that represent the look and feel of the goal they are pursuing. The collage – often called a dream board – helps bring focus to a goal and make it more tangible. When it is hung in a place that the client frequents it provides a constant reminder of the what the client wants to accomplish.
2) Write down your goals and visit that list often. Written goals have a much better chance of being actualized. Writing provides a way of formalizing goals. It doesn’t matter if you write your goals in a diary, a personal planner, or a poster as long as they are in a place that you refer to frequently. Because my goals shape how I spend my time, and I manage my time with my planner, I personally feel the planner is a fantastic place to record my goals.
3) Break the goal down into smaller goals with milestones. Change takes energy. Try to change too much at the same time and you will exhaust yourself. Refer to step two. Small goals make it easier to incorporate change, and as such will increase your likelihood of success. Reasonable milestones for achieving small and large goals can “light a fire” under us to motivate us toward success.
4) Track the changes. That which we measure tends to be reinforced. Check marking a calendar, putting stars on a chart, and keeping a journal are simple and effective ways to track your behavior. Choose what works for you. A word to the wise: if you have never tracked your behavior or used a journal before, you may want to spend a few weeks just doing that. Create the habit of self-reporting before engaging in any other changes.
5) Reward progress. In the beginning frequent, small rewards will help reinforce the changes you wish to make. A small reward might be ten minutes of reading a new book or an extra cup of coffee. Over time you can decrease the frequency of small rewards. Significant rewards at established milestones will help set a certain amount of excitement and help motivate you. A significant reward might be dinner out, a new pair of shoes, or maybe a whole afternoon pursuing a hobby.
6) Ponder, not punish, the setbacks. Life is full of challenges. When things don’t go as you had hoped, analyze what led to the setback. Use the analysis to take proactive measures when faced with a similar situation in the future or to accommodate changes in your life. In your analysis make sure you acknowledge what went right as well as awry. The balance helps combat all or none thinking.

Make the framework for change part of your life, and increase the odds for accomplishing your goals and resolutions. Make this year the best year for you.