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.