Monday, March 29, 2010

SOS! Organizing When Visual Reminders Are Needed

“I need lots of reminders where I can see them. How can I keep things organized but still keep things out where I can see them? If I don’t see something I will forget about it.”

Let’s start off with a little experiment. Turn on the radio and leave it on. Turn on the stereo with your favorite CD and leave it on. Turn on the news. Can you make out what the headline stories are? Can you understand the words of your favorite song’s refrain? Can you tell when a commercial comes on the radio? With everything bombarding your senses, discerning individual details is difficult at best.

This experiment is analogous to the effect of leaving everything out as a reminder. Leaving everything out creates a lot of visual “noise.” The noise prevents any specific thing from alerting you – ironic considering the intent of leaving things out is to act as a reminder.

Leaving everything out is counter productive and memory by itself is untrustworthy. What’s needed is a system of reminders that alert a person at the right time. The system needs to be easy to use so the reminders can be entered quickly and consistently. The system needs to be easily gotten so it’s accessible to everyone.

The tool of this system is the planner. A planner is more than a calendar. A planner provides its owner a place to integrate tasks, objectives and goals with the calendar. The planner has a place to record daily to-do lists. Need to renew your driver’s license? Put it in your planner. Need to fill out an application? Put that task in your planner. The planner becomes the one place to record what needs to get done It’s simpler to have one place to check than an entire tabletop.

The planner is just one part of the system. The other parts are to provide homes for the planner. plus the items that are sitting out and to set up a routine of consulting and using the planner. Designate a spot to put the planner when you are at home and in the office. Nothing else belongs in the planner’s home but the planner.Having a specific home for things eliminates guesswork. Carry the “homes” principle to the papers you need to act on. An action file is a great place to file them. I’ve written about action files before: Organize Bill Paying.

To develop a routine of using the planner, leave it open so you can see what is recorded. Establish several times during the day to check the planner: morning, lunch and evening, for example. Carry it with you when you go to appointments. When the planner is your constant companion then you always have your reminders with you organized in a way that is doable rather than overwhelming.

One planner can replace a whole tabletop of reminders -- making your space a lot more clear and peaceful and your to-dos a lot easier to get done.

Karol has nominated the Leukemia Society for the charity drawing.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Addition By Subtraction

Today is the Official Letting Go of Stuff Day. I spent the afternoon with a client and a carpenter changing and organizing her pantry. My client let go of three bags of groceries that will be a welcome donation to a charity food pantry. She also let go of cooking utensils that are no longer used. These items no longer fit her lifestyle.

Ironically subtracting these items from the pantry, added to it and to my client. What was gained:
  • Visibility. It's easier to see a specific item without all the visual noise of items that are not used.
  • Accessibility. Items don't have to be shuffled around to get what is needed.
  • Time. Items can be found faster and accessed faster.
  • A renewed commitment to healthier goals. By removing what no longer fit in her healthier lifestyle she removed distractions that could sidetrack her.
Certainly all of these gains are wonderful in themselves. But my client stated that the greatest gain was peace of mind. That comment certainly added to my day.

How did your "Letting Go of Stuff " day go? I'd love to hear about your experience with addition by subtraction.

As you know has sponsored a giveaway and today is the day to announce the winner. Congratulations Tim! You have won 500 custom business cards.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Letting Go of Stuff Day

Just a reminder: is sponsoring a business card give-away. Please see my 3/10 post for details. The last day to enter is 3/24 and I'll post the winner on 3/25.

In the meantime, March 25 is "Letting Go of Stuff Day." Here's my challenge to you: let go of some physical stuff and some emotional stuff, then comment about the experience here. I'll count your comments as entries to the business card give-away as long as you make them by 11:59 p.m. on March 24. 

The physical stuff: Box up some clothes or household items that you haven't used in two years to donate to your favorite charity. Please do this with the mindset that you are giving someone in need a present. Think about how you are making a real difference in someone's life.

The emotional stuff: Spend a few minutes thinking about some of the emotional stuff that creates a barrier between you and your goals. Identify one of the negative comments that you tell yourself about you. Let go of that negative thought by turning it into a positive one by prefacing it with "I used to believe that..." and ending it with "but now I know I can ..."

For example, if your negative thought is "I just can't get organized" the new positive statement is "I used to believe that I can't get organized, but now I know I can get organized."

Happy De-Cluttering!

Saturday, March 20, 2010

SOS! A Double Header: Organize A Functional Office In Your Car and Seasonal Sports Equipment Transitioning

“My sales job takes me from site to site. Even though I have an office my real working space is my car. I take client files, samples, my laptop, and attaché case. Is there a way to organize my car as a mini office? “ – Juanita

Yes, Juanita, your car can be transformed into a functional office without a whole lot of effort. As in organizing your home and the brick and mortar office, remember that that the right tools can make the job so much easier. However, the underlying principles and their application are the real key to organizing success.

While you are sitting in your car you are probably working on your client files; therefore, you need a way to store the files safely and within reach of the driver’s seat. A flat surface to write on and place the laptop on is a must as is a place to rest your cell phone. Samples, brochures, and marketing give-aways belong in the trunk where they can be easily grabbed before you enter your client’s office, but they won’t get in the way of your work. When space is tight you have to diligently protect it.

To transform your car cabin into an office you need a specialized car desk. These desks fasten into the passenger seat with the seatbelt. There is usually a generous niche for files, a non-skid surface to hold a laptop and provide a writing surface. Some models offer specialized attachments for a cell phone and even a portable printer. Car-go-desk and Mobile Office, Inc are companies that have a large number of desk options for the car.

One other tool that that will make a world of difference for you is a power inverter. A power inverter transforms the power from your car battery into AC power that your appliances use. One end of the inverter plugs into the cigarette lighter and the other end has one or more outlets. With an inverter you are not restricted by the battery life of your appliances.

Of course no office is complete without a trashcan, and auto supply stores have models that fit in your car.

Juanita has nominated the ASPCA for the charity donation drawing.

Kathleen sent this question: “We are used to swapping seasonal clothing, but how do you organize other seasonal items? For example I have a bike and golf clubs for summer and skis and sled for winter. I don't really want to have to reorganize a closet each season, but I have limited space and need to get to my stuff. “

When space is limited it is really important to make use of walls and ceilings in order to preserve floor space. Mounted racks and brackets will keep the equipment off the floor, accessible and neat. has a variety of brackets to get bicycles off of the ground. When there is ample ceiling height, I like to use bicycle lifts. The lifts have brackets that connect to the ceiling and hooks that connect to the bike. Through ropes and pulleys, a little bit of strength can lift the bike off the ground. Wall mounted brackets require more upper body strength and coordination.

I like wall-mounted racks to hold ski equipment. The skis and poles stay upright without flopping around. Some racks also accommodate bulky ski boots too. Check out for the racks and for utility hooks to hang a sled. The Stud Grabber hook attaches to an exposed stud without tools and each hook holds up to 25 pounds.

Golf equipment storage racks are typically meant to sit on the floor, but they manage to store all of your golf equipment in a small amount of space. The storage racks at Stacks and Stacks can hold two golf bags, shoes and boxes of tees and balls.

Picture the golf equipment rack on the floor, just above it -- or to the side -- the ski equipment and the sled, and above all of it the bicycle hangs from the ceiling. Everything is easily accessible, stored neatly and fits in very little floor space.

By taking advantage of vertical space it is possible to avoid rearranging sports equipment during season transitions. It’s nice to have one less thing to do so you have more time to enjoy using your equipment.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Kaizen and Organization

A blog post by Tim McMahon in his "A Lean Journey: The Quest for True North" inspired me to resurrect this newspaper article that I wrote two months ago. In it I write about Kaizen from the perspective of a professional organizer. In Tim McMahon's post, "Organizing for Dummies" he writes about organizing from the perspective of a professional in manufacturing who is knowledgeable in kaizen.

After World War II, the American War Department brought experts in industry to Japan to help its recovery. The experts used statistical control methods to improve design, quality, testing and sales. These methods contributed what was to become kaizen.

Kaizen is a philosophy that focuses on continuous, incremental improvements that will result in the elimination of waste and inefficiency. Although kaizen typically applies to manufacturing and business management, it can easily be applied to life in general. In particular I find the kaizen 5S framework succinctly describes good organization.

Seiri or Sort. Eliminate what is unnecessary. Do things in the proper order.

Seiton or Set in Order. Provide a home for everything. Those items that are especially useful should be easily located where they are used. Other items can be stored. Label everything to avoid confusion.

Seiso or Shine. Return items to their place when finished with them. At the end of the day, tidy your space. Cleanliness is a routine activity rather than an exceptional activity.

Seiketsu or Standardize. Create consistent routines that accomplish much with little effort. Aim for best practices and keep items operating in their best possible fashion. Insure that all members of the team know their responsibilities and how to carry them out.

Shisuke or Sustain. Muster the discipline to maintain the processes and just as important, reflect upon the process to bring about improvements.

Organization is best accomplished when the process to achieve it is continuously applied, which is the focus of kaizen. After all, a disorganized space does not occur overnight. It is just as important to emphasis that the process is not static.
Our lives are constantly changing so it makes sense that the framework to maintain order requires discipline and flexibility. The 5S framework of kaizen accommodates change by routinely reflecting upon the process through shisuke.

In manufacturing, increased efficiency and decreased waste lead to an improved bottom line. In our personal lives increased efficiency and decreased waste can lead to more time for important activities, such as family time, and more recreation – which in turn lead to greater satisfaction. In both the business and personal worlds, Kaizen’s 5S framework provides the organization needed to obtain desired goals.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Countdown To Letting Go & Lightening Up

Will you be celebrating freedom from clutter this Independence Day? Enroll for the Letting Go & Lightening Up class series that starts on March 20 and this year's Independence Day can be a clutter-free celebration. Visit the Clear Spaces website to get more information. The Early Bird Discount and Friend Discount won't last long.

National Organize Your Home Office Day

Today is National Organize Your Home Office Day. About a third of the requests for help that I receive are related to the home office. Today we'll look at some of the common issues and what can be done to resolve them. There's a little treat for you at the end of this post.

Issue: Paper stacks. This is the most common issue in the office but it's actually a compound issue created by a couple of other issues - an inadequate filing system and cheap file cabinets.

Issue: Inadequate filing system. Many people label their files with little thought to how they need to file, access and use the information. When it's time to file, an inadequate filing system will leave them guessing which file to use and how long to keep the information.
Resolution: Consider using a packaged filing kit. A good kit explains how to file along with file labels. My personal favorite is FreedomFiler (

Issue: Cheap file cabinets. They're rickety, have sharp edges, and the drawers extend only half-way. No wonder no one wants to file!
Resolution: Invest in a good file cabinet. Look for a sturdy cabinet with full-extension drawers. You won't believe the difference a good file cabinet will make and it will probably be less expensive than you think. You might even look forward to filing! One of my favorite brands is Hon which is readily available at any big box office store.

Issue: No office. Your space is so small there is no room for an office so the bills are on the counter, and the coffee table,  the school papers are on the dresser, and the tax papers are ... where?
Resolution: Create a portable office and assign a place to store papers that need action. A file box with an insert to hold desk supplies or a file cart with drawers can be stored anywhere and offers portability when it's time to sit down and do a little work. The files can be labeled by the category of the action (call, pay, research, read, etc.) or set up as a tickler system (check out my earlier post "Tickle Yourself Into Action") By the way, just file papers as soon as the action is complete. Putting the paper in a "file" file doubles your work.

Issue: Missed deadlines. Bills don't get paid on time. Projects are late or never get done.
Resolution: A better planner. A planner that marries the to-do list with a calendar makes it easy to schedule things so they get done. Break large projects into smaller tasks and record these tasks in the to-do section of the planner. Record deadlines and due dates. Consult your planner several times a day to keep on top of your plan for the day. My two favorite planners are the Taylor planner ( and Planner Pad (

Issue: There isn't enough room on the desk to work because of the computer.
Resolution: Move peripherals off the desk. I like to use a shelf above the desk or a small table at a right angle to hold the printer. A keyboard tray will open up more desk space.

Issue: A stack of business cards - who are these people?
Resolution: When you receive a business card write down the date and the place you met on the back of the card. You might also consider jotting down why you might be interested in contacting that person in the future. Can't think of anything? Maybe you really don't need to keep that card after all. A Rolodex is a simple way to file the cards. Use one strip of tape on the left edge of the business card to tape it to the Rolodex card and you will be able to access the back of the card.

Having a little business card envy? The folks at can take care of that for you by printing up some snazzy new cards. is sponsoring a give-away so one lucky winner will receive some new business cards.
2.      The Prize:
500 Business Cards for One (1) Winner
Sizes:  2 x 3.5”, 2 x 3”, 2 x 2” (square card) or 1.5 x 3.5” (slim card)
Paper: 14 pt gloss cardstock, 14 pt matte cardstock or 13 pt recycled uncoated cardstock
Specifications: Full Color Both Sides; Offset Press; 3 Business Day Printing
Shipping: FREE UPS Ground Shipping
Eligibility: Limited to US Residents only
3.      Get more information about
4.     The Rules:
Give-away will end at midnight (Central) Wednesday, March 24, 2010 when an entry will be drawn.
One entry will be given when you become a follower of this blog.
One entry will be given when you become a fan of the Clear Spaces Facebook Fan Page.
One entry will be given when you become a Clear Spaces Twitter follower @ClearSpacesLLC.
One entry will be given when you reply to this post with your office organizing challenge to be featured in Stump the Organizer Saturday! Can't think of a challenge? Tell me your favorite organizing tip. Let me know if you have done the other things (follower, fan, tweet) too.
Visit back on March 25 to find out who is going to get some snazzy new cards free. Now go out there and be productive!

Thursday, March 04, 2010

The Secret LIfe of Objects

New York artist Corrine Botz is working on a special
project called "The Secret Life of Objects." Corrine
is exploring the emotional relationship we have with
our objects and the process of letting go. The blog 
will provide information and help collect research 
for "The Secret Life of Objects." For this project, 
people around the country donate objects along with 
the stories about the objects. Please visit the site
and follow along as the project unfolds. 

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

SOS! Organize Your Junk Drawer

"How do you organize a junk drawer so it stays organized?" - Mary Beth
Almost every kitchen has one: the junk drawer. In it you will find a wide variety of things necessary to being functional - and then some other stuff. As an organizer you would think that I would be categorically opposed to junk drawers. But I'm not. I think many of the items that are found in junk drawers are actually very utilitarian. What I am opposed to is the name: "junk drawer." Is it any wonder that "junk" collects here? How about changing the name to "utility drawer," remembering that labels indicate not only what belongs in a drawer, but also what doesn't belong?

To organize the "utility drawer" follow these steps, and make sure you have a trashcan handy:

1) Dump the contents - just make sure you have enough room so you can spread things out.
2) Sort the items into trash, relocate and stay piles. "Trash" is self-evident. "Relocate" items already have a home elsewhere. The "stay" pile belongs in the drawer.
3) Toss the trash and of course recycle anything you can.
4) Sort the "stay" items into categories. Make a little pile of paper clips, rubber bands, batteries, nails and whatever else you find in the drawer.
5) Put the items into the right-size containers with labels. There are "junk drawer" inserts but I prefer just using small bins because I can arrange them to my liking. Empty check boxes and small gift boxes work very well as containers. Ice cube trays and scrupulously clean egg cartons are great for organizing tiny things.
6) Put the "relocate" items away. At some point it might be a useful exercise to think about how these items ended up in the drawer and not in their home. There may be an undiagnosed organizing problem behind the item being misplaced in the junk drawer.

Just for fun, here are some of the items I have found in my clients' "junk drawers:" paperclips, staplers and staples, brads, coupons - mostly expired, receipts, scissors, widgets, magnifying glass, poster tack, glue, tape of all varieties, hammer, screwdriver, nails, picture wire, cup hooks, fast-food toys, fridge magnets, appointment reminder cards, bandages, back scratcher, sewing needles, thread, buttons, old cell phones, batteries, note pad, envelopes, pens and pencils, flashlight, stamps, catnip mice, small hardware leftover from building a piece of furniture, lip balm, keys to places unknown, ticket stubs and a school ring (which made the owner very happy when I found it). Some items are so useful that it makes sense to keep multiples.  Good items to keep multiples of are scissors, hammers, and flashlights. A few common nails, a screwdriver, and magnifying glass might also be worth duplicating.

Coupons need a home that can be taken with you to the store. Receipts need to be filed so they can be found when needed. Spare pieces from furniture construction can be taped to the warranty and filed, taped to the back of the furniture or tossed. Old cell phones can be recycled. Before tossing an item into the drawer, ask yourself if the drawer is really the best home for it. A little thought will go a long way in preventing your "utility drawer" from turning into a "junk drawer."

Thank you Mary Beth for your question and your nomination of The Cancer Society to the donation drawing at the end of the year.

Monday, February 22, 2010

SOS! Organize Under The Kitchen Sink

"I can not open the cabinet under my kitchen sink without being embarrassed and frustrated. How do people fit their cleaning supplies and plastic bags in that small cabinet?"

The trick to dealing with the small, dark and damp cabinet under the sink is to limit what is stored there. Think about what you are usually doing when you are at your sink. Washing dishes springs to my mind, so dish washing supplies are kept handy under the sink.  One of the rules of organizing is to locate items where they are used. Free-standing baskets or mounted, slid-out baskets bring the supplies to you so you don't have to dig around in the cabinet. The basket unifies the appearance of the supplies for an uncluttered look. As far as the other cleaning supplies go, keep them in a different location - like the broom closet.

When it's time to clean the house it's nice to grab the vacuum and the furniture polish at the same time. Keeping cleaning supplies in the broom closet is pretty handy. Door-mounted baskets efficiently hold all of your supplies and preserve the closet shelves for other uses. Contrary to what most people think, you do not need a huge collection of cleaning supplies to keep you home clean. Use multipurpose items as much as possible so you have fewer items to store. You'll probably save money and have less environmental impact as well. Less is more!

I have posted two pictures from my home. Under my kitchen sink I keep the garbage can so it's away from my dog's curious snoot. The can plus the garbage disposal severely limit amount of space in the cabinet. But the cabinet is a very convenient place to keep the can. The basket holds only the things needed to do the dishes and a can of scouring powder. The bag on the left door collects are recyclables. On the right door is a cork tile which has the county recycling guide on it for handy reference.

The second picture is of my broom closet door where I keep most of my cleaning supplies. You can probably tell from the narrow width of the door that my closet is tiny. But the door-mounted baskets provide me with plenty of storage. Plastic grocery bags are kept in a tote bag that hangs from a hook in a closet. When the tote bag is full, it comes with me to the grocery store so I can recycle the bags.

Keep the area under the sink organized by following three guidelines:
  •  limit what is stored there to only the items that you need when you are working at the sink,
  •  use baskets to provide easy accessibility as well as neatening the appearance,
  •  use the space on the doors for extra storage. 

Thank you Teresa for your question and the nomination of Backstoppers for the charitable drawing at the end of the year.

Don't forget we're giving away tickets to the home show. See the last past for the rules of entry, and good luck!

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Sticker/Label Give-Away

And the winner is....

Kathleen T! Congratulations Kathleen! You will receive the 250 stickers/labels courtesy of

This give-away was announced in the February 2 post.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

News for You! Give-Aways

Today is the last day to enter for the sticker/label give-away courtesy of Visit the February 2 Post - notice the cute picture of the groundhog - and enter a comment about your organizing plans for the spring. You will also find all the details of the give-away there.

Today is the FIRST day of the St. Louis Home & Garden Show Ticket Giveaway. I will select two winners who will each receive two tickets to the show on February 25 - 28 in America's Center and the Edward Jones Dome.
  • You receive one entry by leaving a comment about your next home project here.
  • You receive another entry by becoming a follower to our blog.
  • You receive another entry by becoming a fan to the Clear Spaces Facebook Page
  • You receive another entry by sending us a tweet @ClearSpacesLLC
I will select the two winners on Monday, February 22 and post their names here on Tuesday, February 23. Winners will need to contact me to arrange for ticket delivery.
A big thank you to Java Journal for providing the tickets for the give-away (

And now the sad(?) news: due to a schedule glitch for our classroom, the Letting Go & Lightening Up class series will not begin until Saturday, March 20. So if you haven't registered you still have time! And you can still be organized by July 1! The new dates for the classes in the series are March 20, April 17, May 15 and June 19. Is there a schedule conflict between your busy life and the class dates? Contact me and we'll see what we can work out.

SOS! Organize And Tickle Yourself Into Action

I went camping this past weekend with our Boy Scout troop. The event was called "The Freeze Out" and the weather was definitely cold. Since we're Scouts, we prepared by wearing layers and bringing the appropriate sleeping gear. My sleeping bag is rated to 15 degrees and I had a fleece liner which added another 10 degrees of warmth. By the way if you are an occasional camper always use a liner. Liners are easy to wash and keep the sleeping bag fresh. We enjoyed fresh snow, a beautiful - but brief - starry night, and lots of deer. (Oh, and much hot coffee for the leaders!) It was really lovely. Of course, there is no internet in the wilderness so I'm posting SOS! today.

LaRhonda asked "I have heard that tickle files are the way to get your office organized. What are they? Why are they so good?"

I'd like to preface the explanation by stating there are many ways to organize. There isn't a one-size-fits-all strategy for organizing. As long as a strategy works for you - that's super. Many popular techniques are, what I call, eighty percent techniques. The techniques work pretty well for about eighty percent of people, but they do not work for everyone. Sometimes it's necessary to try a couple of approaches before finding one that works well for you.

When it comes to organizing paper that needs action there are generally two ways to handle it: sort the paper by the category of action that's needed or sort it by the date the action needs to happen. I have discussed the merits of the former category frequently. When you set up files with names like "to pay," "to call," "to read," and "to follow-up" you are organizing papers by category of action.

But sorting paper by the date the action needs to happen leads us to the "tickler file." The other name for the "tickler file" is "43 folders" because a folder is set up for each of the twelve months and for each of the thirty-one possible days in a month. So if a bill must be paid on the twelfth of the current month it will be filed in the folder labeled "twelve" and that wedding invitation for June 5 can be filed in the June folder.

The tickler file requires the discipline to check the file each and every day. Daily action may seem like a lot of effort, but it probably will take about thirty seconds to check the file. Plus doing the same thing everyday means that activity will become routine - and that's good. Routine activities require less thought and energy than novel activities. Think about how exhausting it was to first drive a car. With practice, all the little things that are done to safely operate a car became routine, and driving required less emotional energy.

When filing things away remember that the due date is not the same thing as action date. The action date precedes the due date so there is enough time for the paper to go through the mail, or get processed by the bank or whatever needs to be done in order to be considered done. There may be a two to seven day difference between what you determine the action date to be and the due date.

Most of the clients I have worked with preferred the categorizing paper by action because it made intuitive sense to them. Tickler file systems seem to work well when there is a massive amount of paper to be processed. Whether you store your paper by category or date, it is vital that you provide a way to account for how you’ll process the paper. Although it’s nice to have tidy storage, the organization is pointless if you do not process the paper.

How to get the processing done? Schedule it! Put ten to fifteen minutes (or more, if needed) in your daily agenda for taking care of paper. That little appointment will “tickle” you into being in control of your paper flow.

Thank you LaRhonda for your question and the nomination of St. Louis Children’s Hospital Newborn Intensive Care Unit for the end-of-year charity donation.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Where Are You?

No, I'm not talking about your physical location. I'm referring to your progress towards your goals. With the end of the week approaching, it's time to review the goals you made at the beginning of the week. Oh no, can't find all the sticky notes listing everything you need to get done? Then recreate the list in your planner. If your list contains multi-step tasks, focus on recording the next action. The next step for a multi-step task like "talk to the newspaper about sales idea" might be to call the paper to find out who the appropriate contact is. Focusing on next steps keeps tasks manageable, very doable and in motion.

Commit to keeping track of your projects and tasks in your planner. Accomplishments don't just happen. A conscious effort must be made to find the time to work on your goals. The planner is the logical place to work out your schedule for appointments with others and with your goals.

By the way, have you thought about what you will do for you significant other on Sunday (Valentines Day, in case it slipped your attention)?

Saturday, February 06, 2010

Stump the Organizer Saturday! Organizing Boy Scout Stuff

The regularly scheduled Stump the Organizer! post will not be seen this week in order to bring you this special post. Thank you readers for your Stump the Organizer! questions and I promise to answer them next week.

Whether you realize it or not, Monday, February 8, is the official 100-year birthday of Boy Scouts of America. Scouting has a special place in my heart. I have been a scout leader for six years - first Cub Scouts and now Boy Scouts. My son is a First Class Scout and we're having a lot of fun in the Scouting program.

Boy Scouts is a boy-run program, and as such the boys have a lot of responsiblity. Keeping track of all of the achievements and paperwork is part of the experience. At least, the Boy Scout Manual makes it pretty simple to record all the achievements involved with rank advancement. But keeping track of everything related to merit badges can be a chore. To organize merit badge items, the Scout can use some standard organizing tools.

A file drawer or a file box are tools that every school-aged child needs. Filing is a life-skill and to learn it, it must be practiced. Place a hanging file for each school subject, one for warranties and manuals, and files for each extra-curricular activity in the file drawer. From the picture of my son's file drawer, you can see he has a file for scouting that is labeled "BSA."

My son has different handouts on scouting skills in his "BSA" file. If he needs to review how to use a compass, he can find that particular handout quickly. But the most important things he keeps in his "BSA" file are his merit badge cards, advancement cards, skill cards and patches.

Merit badge cards are the only acceptable proof that a scout has earned a merit badge. This proof becomes very important when scouts are working on their Eagle rank. In order to become an Eagle Scout, twenty-one merit badges must have been earned. There are many other requirements, but finding the merit badge cards seems to be a big challenge for many scouts. All of my son's merit badge cards are kept in a zippered sandwich bag and are filed safely away. The sandwich bags are used to contain the advancement cards, skill cards and patches too. The bags keep the small things together and offer visibility.

The shallow drawer in my son's file cart is where he keeps his current, active projects. He is working on two more merit badges right now. The merit badge books and the supplies he needs are handy when it's time to work on them.

Of course, there is much more stuff than paper in scouting. Camping, hiking, and fishing require plenty of stuff. We have a plastic set of drawers in my son's closet that is used to store the smaller things like the mess kit, compass, flashlights, tackle box, etc. His sleeping bag and back pack are stored next to the set of drawers. When it's time to camp, it's easy for my son to grab everything he needs because it is all stored together in a handy location.

One of the smarter things we did was put a couple hooks in my son's closet for his uniform. He has to wear his uniform for a meetings once a week - which isn't really long enough for it to get dirty. But my son is not likely to put his uniform back on a hanger. The hooks are the perfect solution: the uniform is off the floor and it takes little effort to use the hooks.

Scouting is a wonderful program for learning new skills and responsibility. It's so much more fun when all of the equipment and papers can be found effortlessly.

If you are interested in scouting please check out these websites: and During 2010 there will be many special events to commemorate the Scouting Centennial. It's an exciting time to be a Scout and a Scout Leader!

P.S. Don't forget the custom sticker/labels give-away. Enter your comments to the February 2 post - just look for the picture.

P.P.S. There is still space available in the upcoming Letting Go and Lightening Up class at a special reduced rate. Please visit the Clear Spaces website to enroll.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Warm Weather Organizing Plans and Label Give-Away

Today is one of my favorite holidays: Ground Hog Day. I just think it's so ridiculous that there is a day in honor of a sleepy rodent AND it's the basis for weather prediction. Only in America.

In St. Louis the weather was cold and gray - no chance for the groundhog to see his shadow. The St. Louis groundhog is not cheerful when he wakes up from a good hibernation so the our zoo officials let the local groundhog sleep in. Now I'm not sure if spring is around the corner or if we're doomed to freeze a little longer.

How I long for spring. In addition to some fine gardening plans to put in place, I want to organize our garage and basement. After remodeling the house and having the basement floor jack-hammered to put in some new pipes, our basement and garage are a mess. In addition to being messy, it's very cold down there. Warm weather will make the task so much more pleasant.

Do you have some warm weather organizing plans? I'd love to hear them. And if you have a question about those plans, share that too. Just reply to this post. I'll answer as many questions as I can.

To thank you for sharing, the folks at will give one lucky person 250 labels so you can label stylishly while organizing. I will select a winner at random from everyone who leaves a comment about their warm weather organizing plans. This giveaway closes February 17, 2010.

Here are a few details that you need to know about:
Giveaway Prize:250 Stickers/Labels for One (1) lucky winner
Sizes: 2” x 3.5”, 2” x 4”, or 3” x 3”
Paper: 70lb Label Matte
Specifications: Full color front, blank back; 4 Business Day printing
Shipping: FREE UPS Ground Shipping
Eligibility: Limited to US Residents only
I will notify the winner by email.

Need a little inspiration? Check out for the custom stickers and label printing.

Think warm thoughts and share them!

Monday, February 01, 2010

Get Organized and Save! Early Bird Discount Extended!

Great news! The Early Bird Registration has been extended to February 5! You will receive $50 off the price of the Letting Go and Lightening Up Class Series that normally costs $300. You can save an extra $50 for yourself and a friend when you both enroll together. Enroll with your friend by February 5 and you will only pay $200 each! Enroll at the Clear Spaces website:

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Will Your Home Be Cluttered Or Organized on July 1?

Every year millions of people resolve to organize their homes. But sadly most do not realize their goals. Overwhelm, confusion, lack of a plan, lack of structure and other issues sabotage their goals.

The Letting Go and Lightening Up class series is designed to help you organize your home by providing you with the information, structure and support that you need to get the job done. The class meets once a month so you have time between classes to work on the focus area.

What do you want you home to look like on July 1? Letting Go and Lightening Up might make the difference between feeling good about your newly organized home and being frustrated with another unrealized goal.

Early Bird Enrollment ends February 1. On February 2 the price goes up $50. Go to to enroll today!

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Stump the Organizer Saturday! Hanger Confusion

"There are so many different kinds of hangers these days. What is the best kind of hanger?" Micah nominated St. Jude's Hospital for Children along with his question.

Let's start by eliminating some hangers from the comparison. Wire hangers are great for getting your clothes home from the dry cleaner and that's about it. Wire hangers put creases in the shoulders of clothes and are just plain ugly. If your clothes are the least bit damp a wire hanger will leave rust spots on them. Most dry-cleaners will accept wire hangers back for reuse - take advantage of this policy.

Next to be eliminated are the cheap plastic tube hangers because they break so easily. The top quality tube hangers are heavier and will last longer; and, they only cost about a dollar apiece.

One of my favorite hangers is the skinny, plush-covered hanger. The skinny hangers take up much less room than other hangers and they are durable. The plush covering eliminates clothing snags and will grip the most slippery fabric.

Padded hangers covered in satin or velvet also protect the clothing's fabric. Usually pins are needed to prevent spaghetti straps from falling off - probably something you don't have to worry about Micah! Padded hangers typically have small shoulder spans which limits the type of clothes to be hung on them.

Wood hangers are heavy-duty. If the wood is cedar then the hanger also repels moths - super for woolen clothes. Often wood hangers have fairly large shoulder spans that accommodate men's clothing quite nicely. Combination wood hangers have features that accommodate pants or skirts as well as a shirt or jacket. Hanging two items in the space needed for one item is space efficient. Combination hangers contain either a bar (fixed or locking) for pants or a wire with clips with which to hang pants or skirts. Pants hangers that are like large clips are available in wood. These large clips allow the pants to be hung lengthwise by the cuffs. Wood hangers are the most expensive option at about two to four dollars apiece.

Plastic hangers are also available as combination hangers. A top quality plastic hanger is fairly durable and costs less than a dollar. The shoulders often have notches for spaghetti straps so the clothing doesn't fall to the floor. Plastic and wood hangers often have swiveling hooks which permit the clothes to be easily turned so they all have the same orientation.

So which hanger is right for you? If you are really short on closet space consider using the skinny plush hangers. Hang pants on the suit hangers and use a bar doubler to increase the hanging space. Clips for hanging skirts come as an accessory to the plush hangers.

Wood hangers are the choice for elegance. Wood hangers take a fair amount of space so make sure there's enough space in the closet to hold them. The different combination hangers accommodate a variety of clothing types. If you need the combination hangers but wood is outside of your budget, then plastic is your choice. Plastic takes a little less room than wood but more than the plush hangers.

Consider the amount of closet space, budget and aesthetics when choosing hangers. What ever your choice, stick to one color and your closet will have a uniform, uncluttered look without doing anything else. If only everything else was that easy.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Struggling to Get Organized? Try Letting Go & Lightening Up

How is your resolution to get organized doing? Maybe it's time to try a different approach. The Letting Go and Lightening Up class series is designed to help you get and stay organized.

The series offers:

* 12 hours of class room instruction
* A comprehensive workbook and class material
* Telephone support
* Snacks and drinks

Each three hour class thoroughly explores the focus subject in an interactive, relaxed atmosphere. The month between each class gives you the time to put what you learned into practice. The schedule follows.

February 20 Letting Go & Lightening Up in Your Mind
March 20 Letting Go & Lightening Up in Your Home
April 17 Letting Go & Lightening Up in Your Office
May 15 Letting Go & Lightening Up in Your Life

Each class is from 1:30 P.M. to 4:30 P.M. Our class will once again be held at the Vitality Unlimited Spa in Webster Groves.

Enroll by February 1 and the $300 series fee is reduced to $250. Enroll with a friend and you will both save an additional $50 - for a total savings of $100!

To enroll visit our website or call Clear Spaces at 314-956-2282. Put your intentions to get organized into action by enrolling today. The Early Bird rate is only good for one more week!

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Stump the Organizer Saturday! Organizing The Laundry Room

"My laundry room is really small and dark. My husband and kids leave their clothes all over the floor so it's hard to get the washer. I hate doing laundry but wading through stinky clothes is just gross. Any ideas to get my laundry room a little nicer?"

It sounds like one of the first things to do is tackle laundry collection. If family members are responsible for bringing their own laundry to the laundry room, then make it easy for them by putting a hamper right by the door. Also add a sorting hamper on wheels. Consider getting a hamper that has a hanger bar such as Whitmor's Supreme Laundry Center found at Stacks and Stacks. The addition of the bar over the sorting hamper provides a place to hang clothes directly from the dryer. Make sure the sorting hamper has wheels so you can move it around the room.

Ultimately, you will want your family to sort their laundry directly into the sorting hamper. Since your family is currently tossing their clothes on the floor, the first step is to simply encourage them to put the laundry into the hamper. After they master the first step, then teach them how to sort. Tell your family how helpful it is for them to put the laundry in the hamper - praise the positive a lot. Changing behavior in a step-by-step manner with praise is called shaping behavior, and it is a very powerful technique.

Of course if walking into the laundry room is like walking into the cave of doom, you'll need to lighten the place up. Light-colored paint and proper lighting can make a world of difference. Wall sconces will provide warmer lighting than the overhead florescent units and are much more attractive. Consider painting the floor with a paint specifically made for the basement floor (like an epoxy). One of my clients, an artist by trade, painted a window looking out to a field of flowers in her windowless laundry room. If a mural is beyond your painting skills, find a beautiful poster to hang on the wall. The point of the paint and the art is to transform the room into a place that you will feel comfortable in. The last creature comfort is a radio or small TV.

Yes, I am normally anti-multitasking, but you can get away with it when one of the tasks if fairly mindless and the other task is also simple. A little entertainment will make the time fly while you're working.

Make the room more efficient with a few additions.
* Add track shelves above the washer and dryer to hold laundry supplies.
* To preserve precious floor space, mount a drying rack on the wall over the sink. The Leifheit Telegant Mounted Clothes Dryer is sturdy and the rack disappears into the case when not in use (available at Amazon).
* An Elfa drawer system provides a place for each family member's clean laundry and the melamine top is the perfect place to fold laundry. The wire baskets can be removed so the clothes can be carried to each person's room. Use one drawer per person. Elfa is available at The Container Store. The annual Elfa sale is going on now so you can create your own custom drawer system and save 30% until the end of the month.

Truth be told, laundry is far from my favorite chore. I sort the laundry every day. If I see that one of the sorting bins is full, I do a load. Sometimes I do two loads and sometimes I have the day off (wa-hoo!). Dealing with a small amount of laundry on a daily basis is so much easier than dealing with a weekly mountain of laundry. I found the latter made me resentful while the former is just part of the routine.

Good luck Colleen! Thank you for your question. Colleen has nominated St. Jude's Children Hospital to the charity drawing.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Stump the Organizer Saturday! Packaging Clutter

"This might seem like a trivial problem but it's driving a wedge between my husband and me. What do you do with all of the boxes for the electronics and toys? I want to throw them away but my husband says we have to keep them. If something breaks it has to be shipped back in the original packaging. Is that true? How do people keep all of those boxes? Thanks for your help and our charity is any animal rescue."

Thanks for your question Sandy. Actually, the question of what to do with the original packaging is pretty common one for organizers. I imagine after the holidays there is a lot of packaging cluttering up people's homes. The problem can be solved with a little research on your part and a marker.

The first step is to read the warranty literature for the product. Does the warranty explicitly state that a product must be shipped back in the original packaging? No? Then toss that packaging in an environmentally responsible fashion. By the way, shipping stores like the UPS Store will recycle Styrofoam peanuts.

If the warranty does indeed state that the product must be shipped in the original packaging, the next piece of information you need is the length of the manufacturer's warranty - also in the warranty literature. Next extrapolate the warranty expiration date from the purchase date. For example, if you bought a cordless phone on 12/1/09 and the length of the manufacturer's warranty is ninety days, then the warranty will expire on 3/1/10. Write "Expiration Date" and the expiration date on the exterior of the original packaging. Store that box in some out-of-the-way location. Attics and basements are great places to store this sort of thing.

When you happen to be in the storage area and you see boxes with past expiration dates, you can in good conscience dispose of them. Writing the expiration date on the box is the key to keeping the packaging just long enough.

If the warranty does not indicate retaining the original packaging, then you have the option of asking a shipper to package the product for you, if needed. Shippers are experts at safe packaging. Of course if space is not an issue in your home, you can save the original packaging - just remember to use the expiration date.

The next logical question is what to do with the paperwork. Here are some options:
* Tape the purchase receipt to the warranty and file it all in your "Warranties & Manuals" file.
* Write the purchase date on the warranty which is filed in the "Warranties & Manuals" file. File the purchase receipt in the "Tax Deductible Equipment or Supplies" file (if you can deduct the product from your taxes) or in the appropriate month file. If you file the receipt separately from the warranty, write down the name of the item on the receipt. It will easy to locate the exact receipt if it is labeled. Also make sure that your purge schedule for your files is after the warranty expiration date.

I hope this information removes the wedge and the excess packaging clutter from your lives, Sandy.

Stumped by an organizing dilemma? Send an SOS! Email your question to me for our Stump the Organizer Saturday! post. Also send the name of your favorite charity which will be entered in our end of year drawing for a $25 donation.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Organize on Friday to Prevent Sunday Night Haunts

It's Friday, and for most of us the work week will come to an end. I know it's tempting to run out of the office as soon as the clock strikes five, regardless of the disorganization on your desk. After all, the weekend is calling. After a couple of days of fun, friends and fiestas, Sunday night comes along and your desk starts to haunt you.

When is the meeting on Monday and what action items were you supposed to take care of? How are you going to get the research done for the presentation on Wednesday? Did you turn in your time report?....

Sunday night desk haunts can seriously diminish the fun and relaxation of the weekend. I don't have to mention they do to your mood on Monday morning.

Instead of ruminating Sunday night, spend the last fifteen minutes in the office on Friday planning for the next week.

* Review next week's calendar.
* Capture all of your undone, open items on paper.
* Jot down the next action that you need to take on those items.
* Make a quick review of your calendar for this week to insure that all crucial items have been done.
* Put things away and leave your desk tidy.
* Leave your list of items with the next actions on your desk so you see it Monday morning.

Now you can leave the office with a clear mind. Putting things away on Friday is a ritualistic way of declaring the end of the work week. Writing things down almost magically banishes worry. Monday morning you will know exactly where you left off Friday evening. Well maybe after a cup or two of coffee.

Have a worry-free weekend.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Are You Ready To Get (And Stay) Organized?

Join Professional Organizer and owner of Clear Spaces, Denise Lee, for 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.

If “getting organized” has been a struggle for you, this workshop will empower you to create the lasting change you desire.

All materials, a comprehensive workbook, support calls and snack are included in the cost of the four three-hour classes: $300.

Early Bird Special: Enroll by February 1 and pay only $250. Enroll with a friend and you both receive another $50 off!

Saturday, February 20
1:30 – 4:30 P.M.
The remaining classes of the series will be held on
March 20, April 17 and May 15 from 1:30 – 4:30 P.M.

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

Call Denise at 314-956-2282 or email
For more information visit or

Sunday, January 10, 2010

National Clean Off Your Desk Day!

Did you know that Monday, January 11 is National Clean Off Your Desk Day? Is your desk buried under a stack of papers? Let’s liberate it from the clutter and turn you into the efficiency star in the office.
Grab the following items:
• The Trashcan,
• Folders,
• A Marker and
• If you can get away with it - some snappy music on your iPod to create the proper desk clearing mood.

One of the keys to keeping your papers straight is treating action items differently from reference items. Action items require you to do something. Common action categories are:
• To Pay
• To Call
• To Write/Email
• To Copy/Fax
• To Enter (as in data entry)
• To Read
• To Follow-up
• Future
My secret power categories are “To Follow-up” and “Future.” Items that need follow-up are currently being acted upon by someone else but for various reasons you may have a need to make sure that the action is completed satisfactorily. The real power behind the follow-up category is to make a note in your planner on a date you need to follow-up. Future is the place to store the items you need for an event in the future – like theater tickets. Use the marker to label some folders with action categories that apply to you.

Label additional folders with the names of your current projects. Papers will be filed in the appropriate project folders when there is no action needed on it and the information contained within it is not easily available elsewhere. So if a paper contains information that is available on a website, there may be very little need to keep it. The less you have to keep means the less you have to manage. Make good use of the trashcan.

Now you are ready to sort those papers into the folders and the trashcan. When you’re done, put the action folders in a vertical sorter or a slanted folder on your desktop. Put the project folders in the file drawer. Before you know it, your desk is cleaned off and you know exactly where all of your papers are.

Saturday, January 09, 2010

Stump the Organizer Saturday! Newly Diagnosed With ADHD

“Denise, my 15 year old grandson lives with me. After nearly flunking his first semester in high school his pediatrician diagnosed him with ADHD and prescribed Ritalin. My grandson has been taking the medicine for almost a month and let’s just say it’s not going well. His room is horrible. During his first week back from winter vacation he forgot his homework everyday so his starting the new semester with Fs. He has become surly. I see that you work with people with ADD. How can you help him? “ Name Withheld Upon Request

Watching someone you love suffer is not easy. No one wants to flunk. No one enjoys a surly mood – even the person afflicted with it.

I am not a mental health expert nor am I a doctor. But what I hear between the lines is a real concern for your grandson’s behavior – especially his change in temperament since beginning Ritalin. If you have not done so, please express your concern for your grandson’s well being with him in a way that he knows you are on his side. Please, please, please express these concerns with the pediatrician. There are many drugs used to treat ADD/ADHD. Some drugs work better for some than others. Doctors use patient feedback took ensure that patients receive the most effective treatment. It is important to know that drugs do not cure ADD/ADHD.

Dealing with the emotional impact of his diagnosis and learning behavioral strategies for coping with ADD/ADHD are the realm of a psychologist or licensed counselor. Your pediatrician should be able to make a referral so your grandson receives the help he needs.

I encourage you both to arm yourself with knowledge. “ADDitude” magazine ( is one of my favorite resources. Look into joining a group such as Children and Adults with Attention Deficit/ Hyperactivity Disorder ( or Attention Deficit Disorder Association ( These groups provide support and knowledge. Driven to Distraction (Hallowell & Ratey) is a great book – many of my clients really love it. ADD-Friendly Ways to Organize (Kolberg & Nadeau), Organizing Solutions for People with Attention Deficit Disorder (Pinsky) and The Organized Student (Goldberg) are excellent resources for organizing strategies.

Organizing strategies can make a difference in how effectively your grandson operates. Being more effective and productive may lead to a sense of greater control and calm. Here are a few organizing strategies you can put in place now.
* Make sure that your grandson has a student planner and he writes down his assignments and all of his social commitments.
* Use large, brightly colored sticky notes on the front door, bathroom mirror, and locker with checklists of routine things to remember.
* Strengthen his sense of time by using analog clocks and an analog timer. One of my favorite timers is the Time Timer (
* Set up acceptable working periods – such as 20 minutes – to encourage focus. If the activity is not completed in 20 minutes then take a couple minute break then set the timer for another 20 minutes.
* The Sonic Boom alarm clock ( a really loud alarm and vibrates so even the hard-to-wake wake up.
* Make everything as simple as possible and eliminate unnecessary steps.
I wish you and your grandson peace and understanding as you face this challenge in your lives.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Is Your Fridge Clutter Sabotaging A Healthy Diet?

One of my personal goals for 2010 is to improve my health with healthier meals and more enjoyable, vigorous activity. I am certain that millions of people have the same goal. One of the easiest ways to focus on healthier meals is to be sure your fridge, freezer and pantry have the ingredients to create healthy meals.Organizing the kitchen for efficiency, making healthy choices, and planning meals (and snacks!) nourish the goal of creating healthier meals (I couldn't resist the pun!).

Organizing the kitchen for efficiency is the subject for today, specifically the fridge. When was the last time you gave your fridge a thorough clean-out? This is a great time to open that fridge door and start tossing the junk food, the holiday food, the science experiments and the "what on earth was I thinking?" stuff. You want to eliminate the clutter and keep the food that is healthy and fresh.

Now let's organize that fridge. An organized fridge is more accessible and easier to work with than a fridge that has its contents thrown in without rhyme or reason. For information about organizing the fridge, I am directing you to "Let's Get Cookin'" blogger, Carla. Carla wrote a great post on organizing the fridge. I hope you enjoy it and the rest of her blog:

In addition to gaining an organized fridge, you will undoubtedly find a few good recipes to try on Carla's blog. Organizing the pantry and meal plans are the subjects for subsequent Clear Spaces posts.

Happy de-cluttering!

Saturday, January 02, 2010

Stump the Organizer Saturday! Start Getting Organized

"How do you get started getting organized? One of my resolutions this year is to be organized by the end of 2010."

Thank you Gail for opening the new year's "Stump the Organizer Saturday." January is "Get Organized" month and for good reason. "Getting organized" is perennially in the top ten New Year's resolutions.

When I first meet with my clients I ask them to describe their vision of organization. I write down the key phrases in their description. I encourage you to do the same. To capture the spontaneity use a digital recorder to capture your description and write your notes from the recording.

I also ask clients to create a vision board: a picture that captures the feel of the vision. You will need
* a small piece of poster board - about 9" X 11"
* a stack of magazines with pictures that you like
* a pair of scissors
* a glue stick
The process is fairly simple. Tap into the emotion that you feel when you think about your vision as you look for pictures. Find pictures in the magazine that resonate with your vision and cut them out. Create a collage with the pictures and glue them to the poster board. I encourage my clients to frame their vision board as a way of honoring their vision. Hang the vision board in a place that you view frequently so you have a constant reminder of the vision.

Recording your vision and capturing it with a vision board provides you a target for your efforts. Additionally, they will help pull you toward your vision when your enthusiasm peters out - which will happen. Put your notes in a folder and label it. Assign a handy home for your folder. You will need to access and add to the folder as you work on your project to get organized.

Obviously, setting up a folder and creating a vision board are not the only steps you will take to get organized. They are the first steps because you need to have a direction whenever you start something new.

I would love to see your vision boards. If you'd like to share, please email me a picture (a .jpg) of your vision board along with a brief description of your vision. Email me at Denise(at) I'd love to feature some vision boards on this blog.

Our Stump the Organizer Saturday posts need your questions. When you submit your questions, please send the name of your favorite charity. At the end of the year, I will draw from the entries for the charity to receive a $25 donation.

Friday, January 01, 2010

Winner of SOS

Happy New Year and welcome to the second decade of the 21st century!

As promised, I drew from the Stump the Organizer Saturday (SOS) entries for the charity to receive a $10 contribution. The winner is Cathy with her question of managing paper and paying bills. Cathy nominated the Humane Society to receive the contribution.

Thank you all for your questions. I look forward to a year of organizing questions from you.

May you and your family be blessed with health and prosperity in the new year.