Monday, October 19, 2009

Getting the Kids "To Do's" into "Got Done"

If you have school age children you are very familiar with agendas, projects, dictation, reading lists and the myriad of tasks that come home for the children to accomplish. You probably even monitor that your children sit down and do homework each evening in order to get through the list. Maybe you go as far as to check that they have the due dates in their agendas.

Have you ever taught them how to write the To List so that it gets done?

Try teaching your children to write their To Do's with action verbs up front. For example:

"Project Outline" becomes
"Write rough copy of project outline".

The task is clear and limited. You will both know what needs to be done and when it got accomplished.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Back From Summer Vacation?

How was your summer? Was it cold and wet like here in Toronto (Canada)? Did you run away from your clutter and chaos and get some vacation time in beautifully organized hotels? Maybe a trip to the cottage where organizing takes on a very relaxed form of archival collecting? I'd love to hear your stories.

And what did Wellrich Organizers do that left the blog pages silent for so long?

I took on the staging job of a lifetime. With the family farm sold off in the spring, the family house was next. I am pleased to say that a summer's worth of work paid off: new hardwood floor in the kitchen, new kitchen, stripped floors everywhere else, new carpet in the basement, one storage shed, innumerable bags of garbage and recycling - amidst Toronto's garbage strike - several contractors, the benevolence of soem very dear friends, a few shares in our local hardward store and the help of another stager, Pamela G& Co. The house sold within 48 hours of hitting the market for a very nice sum over asking thank you very much.

The experience has left me with a renewed appreciation for the emotional challenges that face anyone downsizing the family home. Forty-six years of accumulation is a struggle for even the most clutter averse individual. The family history contained in all that accumulation is bittersweet to review and overwhelming to confront.

We got through by chipping away one little bit at a time. The project to clear out the 46 years started several years ago and thank goodness it did. The sooner one starts to clear out the unused, unnecessary items around the house, the freer and easier one can live one's life today.

Does anyone else have family home downsizing stories?

Monday, June 1, 2009

Downsizing Dilemmas - Auctions

When it comes to the really big downsizing projects - from the family home to a 900 sq.ft. condo, sometimes there just aren't enough family members or grandchildren to absorb all the pieces of furniture - loved though they may be - that have accumulated over the years. Furniture consignment stores are popping up all over cities these days in an attempt to keep some of the items in circulation, make a little money for the original owner and establish a new industry along the way.

Another alternative is to auction off your unwanted items at a local auctioneer. Many of you are familiar with the names of high end auction houses; the names we sometimes hear about when a piece of artwork is sold, such as Waddington's or Ritchies. Do you know the names of local auctioneers in your neighbourhood or city who are familiar with the auctioning of estates, farm or recreational properties or just the accumulation of items that are no longer needed by someone?

Auction houses usually work on a percentage basis i.e. they keep a percentage of the sale price of your items after the sale and give you the balance. Some will pick up your items, usually for a fee. In some cases, if an entire home is on the auction block, the auction house will hold the auction at the home itself. In other cases, several estates or home contents (lots) will be sold off at a regular auction held by the auction house.

To find an auction house, check online for auctioneers in your area. In Ontario (Canada) you can also check with the Ontario Auctioneer Association.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Clutter vs. Collections

It's happening everywhere - garage sales abound as the spring cleaning bug hits neighbourhoods everywhere. A Saturday morning, coffee in hand, perusing the garage sales and flea markets can be a fun start to a spring weekend. Perhaps you pick up another book on old boats which you love so much, or an addition to your 1950's Irish stoneware.

Reality hits when you return home to find the bookshelf full and the china cabinet overflowing onto the counter, table and sideboard. "What was a thinking?" you ask yourself, "I'm surrounded in clutter but I love my collection."

You are facing a dilemma that is very common to many clients. Many, many of us have established collections of various items over the years. Whether one is downsizing, house clearing or just de-cluttering, the question of de-cluttering a collection is a difficult one.

One definition of clutter comes from the world of gardening. A weed is, for many gardeners, merely a plant growing where it is not wanted. Similarly, clutter can be defined as any item that is hanging around where it is not wanted. Perhaps the main difference between clutter and a collection is the relative value of the items to the world at large. A collection of stamps may have relative value in the world of stamp collecting. At the same time, if the stamp collection is collecting dust at your house, taking up space you wish to free for some other purpose, to you it may be merely clutter.

So, how does one downsize the collection of tea cups? The same way one purges any other group of items. Our collections usually arrive one or two pieces at a time and during their growth, we usually develop a few favourites amongst the group. Start with a photograph of the collection. Keep those few favourites to remind you of the fun your had collecting and the beauty you see it the items themselves. Free the rest to another collector who is still growing their collection or pass on a few more to friends who have admired your collection in the past. The items have a new lease on life and you have freed up your space.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Garden Shed Time - It's Spring

For Canadians, this weekend brings the long awaited Victoria Day Weekend - the first of our almost monthly summer long weekends and traditionally the weekend for cottage openings and annual plantings.

If you are heading for garden, this will be a great weekend to organize that shed. Here are some things to keep in mind:

  • Start by emptying the entire shed if feasible. Once it is empty, you will be able to start with a clean slate.
  • Sweep out the cobwebs, mouse droppings and other debris.
  • Review all your tools, shovels, rakes and hoes. Are there any that are broken, rusted or beyond repair? Throw out the unrepairable and fix what's needed.
  • Think vertical and you will find lots more fresh storage space that you may not have realized existed. The rakes, hoes, shovels can be stored on hooks or nails on the walls. This will get them out of the way and make them readily available when you are ready to rake.
  • Hang one shopping bag on another hook or nail to hold your digging and planting tools and a separate one for your garden gloves. The cloth recycled plastic bags readily available in stores are a great storage tool. Label with a permanent marker.
  • Seeds that are stored in a plaster or metal box will be out of temptation's way if rodents are a regular visitor to your shed. This is especially true of grass seed.
  • Review your solution bottles and know your pesticide by-laws. Many jurisdictions have outlawed the use of pesticides. Check with your municipality to see where you can take the pesticides for disposal. Then check out your local garden centre to find an environmentally friendly alternative.
  • Go vertical to store your plant food, insect repellent and anti fungal/bacterial agents. No matter how eco-friendly they may be, they are still not child friendly. Store them high on a shelf, clearly labelled.
  • Make sure your shed is childproof for entry. Kids love to play in beautiful gardens full of butterflies, colourful flowers and sweet smelling blooms. Consider a secure lock or latch for the shed and a separate toy box that the kids can use outside the shed.

Last but not least, when your work is done, put up your feet and enjoy your garden!

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

The O-C Connection

.. And we are not talking Orange County here folks.

This is "end of year" season. The concerts, open houses, school events, choir performances, track meets are coming at me at such a fast pace my online calendar and handheld device can barely keep up.

Oh, that's right. It's May again. I should have known. It happens every May and September.

Sound familiar? When events collide all at once to load up our scheduling demands that "O" word often creeps into our vocabulary - Overwhelm.

Counter with with "C" word - control. The more control you can muster the more easily you will glide through this maze of events like an organizing time professional. Anticipation will help with the control. Look out to the next couple of weeks and see what's coming. The more you can anticipate the less likely things will catch you off guard and the more likely you are to feel in control.

Follow up with the "R" word - Relax. This too will pass. Summer is coming. And beside, the kids will only be young once. Enjoy.

Monday, May 11, 2009

The Ten Minute Challenge

The ten minute challenge is one of my favourite organizing techniques. It's great for getting kids involved in a daily clean up and when used regularly, is highly effective at keeping one's home organized.

Give each person in your home a bag - the new recycled shopping bags are great for this. Let everyone know they have 10 minutes to fill their bag with items that are not in their homes and need to return to wherever that home is.

A common variation on this strategy is to fill the bag with items that the individual is no longer using, no longer wants, fits etc. This is a great way to show children that items we are finished with can be cleared out regularly and passed on to other children.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Downsizing Dilemmas - Garbage and Recycling

I'm back folks - took a little break there. Back to those downsizing issues...

With almost every client I work, we end up purging out a significant amount of material that can not be re-purposed, is not suitable for sale or donation and therefore ends up in either the garbage or recycling. When clearing out a space, even just to reorganize to make the space function better, clients are often surprised how much debris has collected over the years which ends up no more valuable than the garbage bin.

If you are looking at a downsizing project, I recommend that you start your project armed with information about how to get rid of what may end up being a very large pile of garbage or recycling. Some of the material can go to your regular garbage pick up or disposal although most jurisdictions now carry volume limits on the service. Check into your service provider, public or commercial to find a) volume limits b) size limits or c) alternate places where you can take the material yourself. Most of these places will have a tipping charge. In the jurisdiction where I live, this charge is $10 per 100 kg or part thereof.

If you know there is going to be huge amount of material to garbage you may want to look into a junk removal company such as 1-800-GOT JUNK. In addition, you will need to have a "staging" area where the goods heading to garbage can be put while you continue to clear out your space.

"Even precious treasures left long enough, become garbage".
One of my favourite client quotes.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Downsizing Dilemmas - Books

If you or someone you know is involved in downsizing their home, or even a spring clear-out project, then you or they are familiar with the problems of finding homes for the things you once loved or used and which you are now ready to pass on. Some of these items truly belong in the garbage. As one client once said to me "Even good treasures left long enough become garbage." This next series of posts will address organizing for downsizing, particularly finding new homes or places to sell previously cherished and potentially valuable items.

Today's items are books. In one client's home we uncovered a storage room with many, many boxes of books. Some were over 100 years old. Some were mouldy. Some were signed by the authors.

Here are three websites to which I was directed to try and find the value in some of these books:

While it is sometimes hard to part with things we once loved and used, separation can be easier if we know the item is going to a good home. If time and simplicity are issues for you, consider finding a local book reseller or book dealer in your area. If all else fails, you will at least have found someone with compassion for your love of the written word.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Kids Grow - Clothes Collections Don't Need To

It's officially spring. If you live in the northern hemisphere, like me, your days are getting longer and warmer. If you live in the southern hemisphere (a big shout out to our African readers) your days are getting shorter and cooler. Whichever the case, the seasons are changing and so are our kids' clothing needs.

Have you noticed how children grow? We feed them, hydrate them, make sure they get to sleep on time, provide them with lots of hugs and kisses and presto - they grow. Have you ever noticed how the clothes don't grow with the children?

Very small children grow out of their clothes so quickly, you may find yourself clearing out the too small garments monthly for awhile. Soon it moves to every few months and then settles out at about every half year. There isn't a better time to do a major clear out than spring and fall.

Be ruthless, just like in your own closet. If your children don't like the clothes, won't wear them you might as well get them out of the way (the clothes that is) as they just become clutter. Here in Ontario there are several clothing resellers where "gently used" clothes and live a second or third life and provide you with some money for the next size required. If giving them away is your choice, find the benefactor that meets your needs and purge away.

If the clothes are to be stored for younger children be aware that children's tastes are different. I don't recommend what I did - and have become wiser for the experience. I stored my gender neutral daughter's clothes for her 6 year younger brother. I would have been better off selling them when she was done with them. The fabric ages and in 6 years the elastics were perished. Then there was to issue of style and taste!

Get the kids involved in reviewing the clothes so that they understand basic sorting, decision making and organizing strategies. You can make it a game, put a reward incentive at the end and get them to pick the benefactor of the too small items. They may not thank you today - but they will thank you for those skills later in life.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Photos and Mementos Link

If you are struggling to manage photos and mementos, I suggest you hop over to Org Junkie. This month Laura is dedicating to organizing photographs and keepsakes. These items are always a challenge for clients - they are even a challenge for me. She has recently collected a series of helpful links and resources.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Organizing to Maintain your Sanity - 5 Enjoy being Organized

You are looking at the title of this post and thinking to yourself "OK, Carolyn has lost it. Why would I go to all this work if I don't enjoy being organized?"

Because people organize themselves for all kinds of reasons. Some of us like to be more in control of those parts of our lives that our within our control. Some of us are responding to the pressure from our spouses, our kids or - yup, even when in your own home - our parents. Some of us get ourselves reasonably well organized and then feel uncomfortable; its as if the clutter around us fills a void left by something else.

Whatever your motivation for organizing might be, a higher level of organization, supported by a daily 15 to 45 minute ritual as I presented in items 1 to 4, will help you spend time pursuing those goals that are really important to you rather than managing around, through, between, over or even under clutter.

So now that your home is in pretty organized shape, sit back and think about all the things you can focus on now rather than what you "should" be doing about the clutter. You've done it. Move on. In fact, you don't even have to look at the clutter any more since you cleared the floor, de-cluttered your entrances, set up for tomorrow and put things back in their homes. What is really important to you? Planning a favourite meal for your family? Reading a book? Studying for a "feels like its out of reach" university/college degree. Go for it. Make it happen. Enjoy your organization.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Organizing to Maintain your Sanity - 4 Go Home

To keep the organizing going, and the clutter at bay, every item needs to go back to its home. for a residential organizing project, next to purging and/or downsizing, much of the work is in establishing a home for everything in your home. Once an item has a home, it needs to return there when you finish using/playing with it.

Again, just a few minutes a day to scan through your home and put things away will take you a long way to a more organized existence. Teach your children from an early age to cruise through the house before bed and put away their toys/homework/books/video games. Assign them a time limit. Keep it simple and commit to completing this task daily.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Organizing to Maintain your Sanity - 3 Time

"If I had time", you say, "I would be more organized!" I know, me too. Unfortunately since none of us have figured out how to put an extra couple of hours into each day, we will just have to work with the 24 hours that we have.

Let's start with your calendar. Do you have one? Do you carry it with you all the time? If it is a paper calendar, can you put it into your purse, briefcase, computer bag? If it is electronic, can you carry it in your purse, briefcase, computer bag? Do you have a family calendar (if you have a family)?

Since this series is about maintenance tips I am concentrating on keeping organized (as opposed to the clearing out and sorting to get organized).

Ensure that today's appointments are in your calendar. Review tomorrow's appointments before the end of the day so that you have time to prepare for whatever is scheduled. If you have car service arranged, have you organized someone else to take the kids to swimming? It takes only a minute or two to review the appointments for tomorrow. It could take a lot longer to catch up if you miss something or it takes you by surprise. At the end of the week, review your appointments and plans for next week. Again, the anticipation will give you a chance to plan and prepare.

Once that is done, you can head for your evening knowing your plans for tomorrow and next week are already in place and organized. Aren't you clever!

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Organizing to Maintain your Sanity - 2 Entrances

Have you ever noticed the tendency to walk into a house, room or office and immediately put down on the first horizontal surface whatever is in your hands? It is such a common habit that we professional organizers find amongst our clients that if you are missing something, I would suggest you check the first flat surface you find in each of the rooms you have just visited.

To maintain your sanity and stay organized, the next habit to develop is to clear those flat surfaces just inside the threshold of each room. (Notice I didn't say "...and then get rid of the flat surfaces." Maybe later!). Take a few minutes each day - 15 to 30 should do it - and clear off those surfaces. Needless to say, once you do the big clear out the first time, each subsequent day will be easier and require less time. Concentrate on what is just inside the entrance way to the room. Include the entrance to your home. If this is a big undertaking, start with one room a day until they are all done. Each successive day, revisit the first location for the daily review.

This may feel like an overwhelming task at first. If you have a lot of clutter, break done each location into a couple of smaller tasks. Start with one small surface each day. Then move onto the next surface the next day etc.

This series of posts is all about maintaining organization in your home and life. The idea is to tackle a little bit each day that ends up as a huge accomplishment and a calmer environment for you in the long run.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Organizing to Maintain your Sanity - 1 The Floor

I am committed to education. Yes, the formal kind our kids attend; for my clients I am committed to educating them with new behaviours and habits to adopt to keep their lives organized. I have heard it said that insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. If my clients continue to do what they have always done - their lives will once again be full of the clutter that I help them control/purge/manage and they will be no more organized then before we started working together.

This week's posts will address basic, simple habits to help you keep the clutter at bay. Organizing does not have to be complicated. In fact, the less complicated your routines the more likely anyone - you, your spouse/partner, your children - are likely to follow them. Keep it simple and focused - keep the clutter away.

Habit 1 - Clear the floor.
Spend 15 minutes at the end of each day clearing away the debris off your floor. Start with your bedroom so that you can wake up each morning feeling in control of your clutter - if not your entire life. Put the clothes where they belong: dirty in the laundry hamper, clean back in the closet/bureau/shelf. Put the newspaper into recycling and the magazines/books back on their shelf. Finished with the magazines? Send them to a friend to read. Put away the shoes and boots. When in the kitchen, consider giving the floor a sweep to keep the crumbs and daily food litter under control.

If you have children, they can easily help with this exercise. Bear in mind, it does not need to be a lengthy one. Give the children 15 minutes to run through the house and pick up/put away their toys, books, homework items, sports equipment. Consider giving a reward when they are done like reading them an extra chapter of their book or a Popsicle.

There may be lots of clutter on the floor when your first start. That's OK. Try this for 28 days without a break and I guarantee you that by day 29 your house will be tidier and you will feel more organized and in control of the clutter.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Books - ADD-Friendly Ways to Organize your Life

If you or someone you know/love struggles to organize under with ADD then this is the book for you. ADD-Friendly ways to Organize your Life by Judith Kolberg and Kathleen Nadeau, is even written to hold the attention - but not the hyper focus - of individuals with ADD.

It's seven chapters, including one with further Resources, are chock full of information, strategies, suggestions and ways to adopt new behaviours to make your life the organized world you desire. This book has been written in a light-hearted vein but addresses the seriousness of disorganization in the world that individuals with ADD know so well. Solutions are broken down into those that you tackle by yourself and those that require additional support from friends or professional sources.

Even if you don't struggle to organize with ADD, but are looking for a book full of strategies that have been proven to work for organizationally-challenged individuals, you will find this one a good read and a helpful manual.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Books - Clear your Clutter with Feng Shui

Today's book is a little lighter read. Clear Your Clutter with Feng Shui, by Karen Kingston is a handy feng shui and space clearing primer. It is an easy read with practical tips in language that is understandable even to those of us who usually get hung up on the direction finding side of feng shui. In addition Karen addresses the background of clutter and helps identify what it is and how it accumulates - all in 163 pages.

If you are in the Toronto area, you may be interested in the upcoming speaking tour of one of Karen's students. Tracey Stanton will be in Toronto April 18th to 20th and will be teaching space clearing and clutter clearing in a three day workshop. I have recently heard Tracey speak on clutter and space clearing and recommend this workshop to both professional organizers and their clients who are serious about understanding more of the underlying issues of clutter. For more information contact Cecilia Moorcroft at 416 535 6007.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Books - Buried in Treasures

For this week, I am focussing on organizing resources and for now, sticking with books.

I recommend Buried in Treasures by David Tolin, Randy Frost and Gail Steketee, for packrats and their friends or family. In the past month alone, I have received three phone calls from family members who are distressed by the hoarding or packrat behaviour of siblings. This is the book for you. The authors explain underlying issues associated with packrat behaviour, along with assessment tools and strategies to understand their degree of severity. In addition, they provide concrete strategies for changing behaviour.

This book is very readible and information rich. Hoarding and packrat behaviour in yourself or a loved one can be a stressful and heartbreaking situation. This book may let a little ray of hope shine through.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Books - Enough Already

Peter Walsh's most recent book Enough Already is now available on Amazon. I highly recommend this to those of you who are overwhelmed not only by your clutter, but by your life in general. True to his character, Peter handles not just the stuff in our lives but the issues of emotional and mental clutter.

Whether you are tackling little clutter, big clutter at home or at work, I recommend this read to you.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Spring into Action - But Where to Start

Starting to get organized is sometimes the biggest challenge of any organizing project. Where to start? Which pile of clutter will be demolished first?

There are two places in any home that typically have a big impact on one's outlook on life - picking up one's spirits and positive outlook. They are the front entrance home and the bedroom.

The front entrance is a place one's immediately upon entering or exiting the home - no matter how big or small. Since most of us do this at least twice a day, and many of us several times more often, each re-encounter with the freshly organized space will reinforce your ability to take back control of the level of organization in your home.

Your bedroom ought to be a sanctuary for you; a place where you go for respite, to refresh and relax. When you get a grip on your bedroom organization, you will go to sleep feeling more in control of your life and wake up feeling more organized. What a great way to start the day!

If possible, pick something in these two areas of your home with which to start your Spring into Action organizing project. The temperatures are rising. As you shed those heavy winter coats and feel lighter in the sunshine, so too will you feel lighter and more positive with an organized space.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Spring into Action - Getting Started

With spring just around the corner, I felt compelled to use the old cliche "springing into action". Hopefully the weather is at least sunny where you are reading this - as it is while I write, although still very cold - in order to set you in a spring organizing mindset.

One of the most important elements of organizing is to be confident about your ability to make a change in your life and/or space. To do that, it helps to visualize the space that you have chosen to organize and have a clear idea in your mind of what it will look like in its newly organized state.

Pick the space that you would like to organize. Start small. Look over the space very carefully and take in all the detail you can. Now close your eyes. Imagine each part of the space in its newly organized state. What does it look like, feel like, sound like? How will it work for you? How will your life be different when that space is organized? How will you feel when it is organized? Hang on to those thoughts, the picture and the feeling.

Now go for it. If you become frustrated or discouraged, close your eyes again and return to your vision. Revisit all the detail that your created in your vision of look, feel, sound and function. Then return to your task.

Your space will help you attain the organized life that you desire for yourself and your family.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

More on the Open and Closed Case

In visiting other exhibitors at the National Home Show, I have been very impressed with the quality of storage solutions available to home owners. In my mind I have chosen new clothes storage several times over in each of the styles available from each of the closet manufacturers.

It brings to mind, however, the difference in organizing styles the all of us have. Some of us are folders; others are tossers and droppers. Some of us like things quiet and all the same in storage styles which others, less visual by nature, don't even notice if one container is a different colour to the next.

If you are looking at storage systems for your clothes, try and figure out what your style is. Match up your new system to that style. There are no rules that say clothes have to be folder when put away. With my own two children, I'm happy if the clothes just end up in the drawers at all. Sliding baskets are great for the tosser and droppers so that they can toss and drop into the basket to their hearts content. Open storage is great for those of us who don't like to have to hunt for the right drawer for each object.

So make your life a little easier and match up your storage with your organizing style.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Clothes Dropping

Do you find that clothes end up on the floor regardless of how hard you try to keep them contained in their proper homes?

Take a close look at your dressing area, no matter how small or how big. Are your clothes all contained within the one area? Do you have to go from one side of the room to the other just to find all the pieces of clothing you need for the day?

The farther apart your clothing pieces are stored, the more likely they are to end up on a horizontal surface (bed, floor etc) while you are either dressing or undressing.

Try and get all your clothing storage in one area together, from now on referred to as your dressing area. It can be anything from 9 square feet (3 metres squared) to a room unto itself. It may be just a designated side of your bedroom - probably the side with the clothes closet. Get all your clothes in there and they are less likely to end up on the floor.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Labelling Digital Photos

Organizing photos on your computer can be a challenge. Many people handle the challenge by using photo management software. If you use such software, here is a tip for labelling your photos.

Computers don't read or count. They recognized yes or no. When labeling your files, the computer will automatically try and sort either alphabetically or numerically depending on the symbols you have chosen (letters or numbers). If you want a file sorted by it's name in a date order use a number to represent the date. Use "0" placeholder for single digit months i.e. Jan to Sept otherwise your computer will put October first in the list.

Date sorting is often the easiest and most intuitive sorting method for photos. Depending on your volume of photos, set up a file for each year and then for each month within the year. Use the above number method to label the months. Now you can sort your photos by whichever label you choose within the months.

Monday, February 23, 2009

TPOC at the National Home Show

The Toronto Chapter of Professional Organizers in Canada has a booth at this year's National Home Show. If you are in the area, drop by and check us out in Exhibitor section B, booth 3009.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009


Backsliding is a term used by professional organizers to describe a client's return to previous behaviour or habits that led to disorganization. Many, if not most, of my clients experience backsliding to some degree several times over the course of our work together. While not necessary, it is frequently experienced by many people as they try and get more control over the space, time and "stuff" in their lives.

You will know if you are backsliding. Horizontal services are filling up again with clutter. An area in your home or office that had been kept organized is starting to be disorganized. Perhaps you find yourself late for appointments more often after some time of prompt, timely arrival.

To handle backsliding, start by staving off the guilt. Admit you've had a backslide and get on with your life. We can give guilt about 30 seconds and then move forward.

Second, see if you can identify which behaviours you have returned to. Were you clearing the top of your desk each evening and have now stopped? Were you clearing the floor of your bedroom each evening and have now stopped?

Thirdly, see if you can identify why the behaviours have returned. It takes about 28 consistent repetitions to instill a new habit. Perhaps your 28 events were interrupted by illness, extra projects at work, a sick child or parent or an unexpected loss.

Four, practice the behaviour you would like to instill again. Try daily repetition at the same time of day.

Finally, give yourself a huge pat on the back and celebrate your success!

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Desktop Disco

What's dancing on your computer desktop? Virtual clutter can be just as bad as the stuff kicking around the floor of your office.

Do you habitually leave documents sitting on your desktop so that you can find them easily the next time you want to work with them? It's not a bad idea - until there are so many files or shortcuts on your desktop that you can't find any of them. That's right; just like the top of your physical desk.

Don't panic, the solution can be relatively simple. Set up folders as hot files on your desktop to house the material you are currently working on just like the hot files on your desk. Keep them specific and time limited. When the project is over or completed, purge the folders and move them off your desktop. By then there will be other files that need to be moved into hot files.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Energy for Packrats

If you are considered a pack rat, by yourself or anyone else, your home may be suffering from very stagnant energy. You, as a result, may also suffer from very low energy.

While I do not profess to be a specialist in feng shui, there is no doubt that a hall full of clutter does not allow the free movement of energy through the house.

Try clearing just one small space, no matter how small, and see what that does for your energy level. The table in a hallway is a great place to start since this is a classic spot for clutter to accumulate.

To help, try covering the space around the area you are clearing with a big sheet while you are clearing it. The sheet will cover up the items around and help you focus on the area you are trying to clear.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Valentines' Cards

Has your young son or daughter finished preparing their Valentine's cards for their class mates yet? Ever wonder what to do with the left over few cards from the box. Like many of us you probably wish you could hang on to them for next year so they could be used but don't want to add them to the paper clutter in your home. Here's a couple of different ideas. Hopefully one will fit your home.

  1. Store them with your craft supplies and use them for craft projects.
  2. Send them to your children's daycare so they can use them for craft projects.
  3. Keep a box of gift cards and greeting cards and add them to this box.
  4. If your Christmas decoration box is easily accessible, store them in there. They will be ready to pull out when you put next year's Christmas decorations away.

Is This an Open or Closed Case?

Have you ever found yourself trying to access or put away an item only to find yourself frustrated or irritated by the process? I had this experience just this morning putting away the clip closure from a now empty bag which I had discarded. I went to the drawer to the zip lock bag where the clips are stored. I opened the bag tossed in the clip and closed it up. Then I wondered,

"Why does this need to be closed? Do I think the clips are going to wander around the drawer when not in use and not be there when I want them? Why can't I just toss them into an open container and skip the opening/closing process?"

And why not? Does organizing have to be complicated or frustrating? No, it does not.

Open storage is great for tossing and dropping when the contents are not likely to wander around, when you might want to see the contents. The container doesn't travel - like a lunch box would - and the contents can't move on their own. Open storage is great for children and teenagers and anyone else in the toss and drop stage of life where opening and closing items are additional stages of organizing that will be missed at the expense of the item being stored. Think of toys on a shelf for children or a teenage girl's clothes in open sliding baskets rather than a cupboard. It is also great for a storage container that you can't see - such as the clips in the kitchen drawer.

Closed storage is best for when the items can get out by themselves - think of pulling the flour off the shelf and having it spill on the floor if the storage container is not closed. It is also good for protecting the contents, like the flour, from dust or other dangers. Closed storage is also good for just getting rid of the visual noise or the sight of the item being stored. Think in this case of putting a lid on a decorative box of children's toys that are kept in an otherwise elegant living room or reducing the visual noise of a box of spare computer cables in your office.

Closed storage is harder to get into - open storage is for grab, toss and drop activity. What's in your home or office that warrants change?

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Find Bill, File Receipt

This is a follow up post from the recent Where is Everything item.

Many of my clients, friends, family and acquaintances struggle with paper. It's everywhere despite our best attempts to go electronic. Organizing paper is probably the number one frustration of almost all my clients.

One of the paper challenges are receipts coming into the household that many of us keep to maintain our household accounts. Some of us have jars, boxes, baskets or folders to keep these daily deluge of little, bitty, annoying pieces of paper called receipts. If you are checking off your credit card bills to ensure all expenses are your own and legitimate then you have a collection of these receipts.

There are many possible solutions but here is one that most of my clients find helpful. Find an expandable file folder - plastic is best - with 13 divisions. They are readily available in a variety of price points at Staples, Grand and Toy and many other office suppliers. Try the local dollar store. Label the divisions by month and then the 13th for miscellaneous.

Presto. You have a place to put those annoying pieces of paper and you don't even have to sort them. When the credit card bill comes in, pull out the folder, check of the receipts. Now if, necessary, you keep the receipts, already organized by month. If not - shred.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Shopping Addiction Revisited

It seems more than a few people are becoming concerned, and now willing to discuss, the very real concern that is a shopping addiction. This recent Chatelaine article on Shopaholics, by Rebecca Caldwell (no known relation), is a healthy discussion on how this addiction looks in real life.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Where is Everything? - Bills Due

It's the end of the first week in February - do you know where your due bills are?

Do you pay your bills when they first come in the door?

Do you have a designated place to store them until they are due?

Are your due bills all in one room?

Can you find those bills when you go to pay them?

Is the designated place close to your bill-paying method: computer; cheque book and stamps?

Is the designated place easily accessible when you go to pay your bills?

Are the bills identified with the date that they are due?

How much do you pay in overdue bill fees? Would that help pay down your mortgage?

Thursday, February 5, 2009

First Term - Out

Has your high school student just finished first term? Is his/her home workspace cluttered with the remnants of first term study?

Do everyone a favour, especially your student, and help them purge out the first term to make room for second term. The longer you leave the remnant clutter hanging around, the less likely it is to be sorted and purged before chaos sets in. Help your student sort through the notes for relevant material to keep such as key assignments and throw out the rest.

Helping students purge on a timely basis helps them learn sorting and prioritizing skills for their "office" before material becomes clutter. In addition, you will be teaching them the value of a clear, uncluttered space. They will be able to focus on the task at hand (second term's material).

You'll both feel better.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Top 5 Series - Excuses Professional Organizers Hear

Over on Wellrich for Business, I periodically post on the Top 5 Series. While they generally address the small business or home office organizing issues, I felt this particular post would be of interest to my residential readership as well. Do these excuses sound familiar? Maybe some help from a professional organizer would be a good idea!

  1. "I don't have time to worry about tidy piles of paper". You don't, however, mind asking everyone else to wait while to try and find whatever it is you are all looking for?
  2. "I don't need to be more organized; I can find anything I want in my office". Except that it takes you three hours to find a single piece of paper or file folder and meanwhile, everyone else is held up.
  3. "I'm not disorganized, I just like to keep things in case I might need them, someday". Meanwhile you pay for a storage unit that you haven't accessed for months or years (would that money help pay off the mortgage?) You have rooms you can't use due to the clutter and boxes covered in dust i.e. they haven't been touched in years.
  4. "I am actually very organized. I know exactly where everything is". Have you noticed you are chronically late for appointments, submitting school forms, paying your bills (and therefore wasting money on late fees) and rushing for completion of tasks at the last minute. You think you're organized? Have you asked your family or friends recently?
  5. "I have my own style of organization. No one else would understand it". You might be correct - no one else can find anything in your home either. Some professional organizers are specifically trained to understand your particulary style of organizing, and help you to make it work for your life.

Are you children learning their organizing habits from you? Is this a good thing? Would you like them to live with the harried existence that you live?

Think about it.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Project Control - Put a Lid on It!

Have you got a big project underway at home that is getting the better of you? Is your organization falling apart as this project mushrooms all over the house?

Take a tip from the design world to help get a big project under control. Find a container big enough to hold all the bits and pieces and put the whole project into the container.

  • For a child's school bristol board project a clear garbage bag may do the trick. Use a clear one so that they remember what's inside and so that it doesn't end up in the garbage by accident.
  • For a sewing or craft project consider a box with a lid. The lid will keep the dust, cat and prying hands away.
  • For a project with odd shaped items, consider a basket, laundry hamper or other flexible container to accommodate the odd shapes.

When the project is finished the container can be used for the next project or repurposed elsewhere in the house - the laundry perhaps!

Monday, February 2, 2009

Mail Magic to Make it Disappear

Have you got a pile of unopened mail on your dining room table? Maybe it's in a pile on the counter. Here's some magic to make it disappear.

  1. Take all the mail offers and put them directly in the recycling bin. You can be sure, there are more on their way.
  2. Take all other enveloped articles and remove the envelopes. If you have to, staple the envelop contents together.
  3. Divide the remaining articles into three piles Act Now, Follow Up and Think About. Book time for the Act Now items. Most of the items in the Think About you can throw out. You will probably never think about them and they are probably not on your list of top priorities.

Presto! A small pile of items that really require your attention.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Right Brain Organizing - For Messies

Your best friends are engineers. You cringe at the thought of straight books on a shelf. Your world is full of colour and ideas - and mess. And you are tired of it. The mess that is (engineers are ok). How about tailor made organizing support for the right brain world.

Organizing for the Creative Person is just that. Dorothy Lehmkuhl and Dolores Cotter Lamping have captured the world of the right brained soul and provided clear, concise information on how to harness your gifts to end your world of mess. For a taste of their humour and understanding of the issues consider the following excerpt:
"The acronym 'PUT OFF' can be used to summarize the specific causes of procrastination:

  • P = Priority
  • U = Unknowns
  • T = Time

  • O = Overload
  • F = Fears
  • F = Feelings

An easy read, great suggestions for all you right brain creative folks who have fatigued of living with the mess. Enjoy.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Shopping Addictions

Professional organizers often find themselves with clients whose homes are filled with belongings. In many of these cases, the clients admit to suffering from compulsive shopping behaviour. Compulsive shopping, also known as shopping addiction , is as severe and debilitating as any other addiction. In some cases, it is even more difficult to manage; alcoholics can stop drinking. Individuals suffering from shopping addiction are still required to buy basic necessities for their lives.

Wikipedia describes the condition as oniomania and provides a summary of information and resources related to compulsive shopping. Individuals suffering from compulsive shopping may feel "good" when they shop and use the behaviour to help themselves feel better. Typically the shopping is then followed by feelings of guilt and remorse. The items are often never used and sit untouched with their tags still on.

If you think you may be suffering from a shopping addiction it is important to get help for yourself. In Canada, the Canadian Association for Mental Health can be helpful in directing you to the right resources.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Chronic Disorganization

As with most states of being, there are different degrees of disorganization. One can think of a continuum from very organized to severely disorganized. Chronic disorganization, however, is considered to be a different situation altogether.

People who are chronically disorganized likely live in a state of severe disorganization. They do not typically respond to conventional organizing practicies and strategies no matter how hard they try to make them work. They have three defining features as identified by Judith Kolberg in Conquering Chronic Disorganization:

  • They have been disorganized all or most of their adult life;
  • Being disorganized negatively effects their quality of life in some way everyday; and
  • Previous attempts to be organized have not been successful.

Chronically disorganized people think, learn and organize in ways that are unconventional and therefore conventional organizing strategies do not work for them. Fortunately Judith Kolberg and a number of colleagues have made it their business to understand how to help individuals with chronic disorganization. She founded the National Study Group on Chronic Disorganization which now provides education to professional organizers and related individuals on working with those who suffer from chronic disorganization.

So if you think you may be chronically disorganized check out the NSGCD website. The professional organizer directory on both Professional Organizers in Canada and National Association of Professional Organizers includes identification of those who specialize in this area.

You don't have to live with your disorganization.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Client Questions - Am I Alone?

Q "Now that you have seen my disorganization and mess, tell me, am I the worst that you have seen. Are there other people that are more disorganized than me and have more mess than me?"

A Yes. Always.

It often takes a lot of courage for a seriously disorganized person, or family, to let a professional organizer into their home. For that matter, many of my clients have not had anyone into their home for a very long time. They are too ashamed. Their embarrassment and concern that they will be chastised by friends and family ensure that those friends and family will never be invited over. Their embarrassment is expressed in a desire to know they are not the worst or most disorganized people I have ever worked with.

The reality is that there are a lot of people in this world with a lot of stuff they a) don't need b) don't use c) don't have room for and d) don't know how to manage or part with. The impact on their lives is no different than the impact on the disorganization in the life of the clients that express their frustration and embarrassment in the form of today's question.

If there weren't lots of disorganized people in Canada, the country would not support the growing roster of industry professionals such as the members of Professional Organizers in Canada , now with over 600 members, or its affiliate, the National Association of Professional Organizers in the United States.

More important, however, is how each individual or family, struggling with disorganization, gets a grip on their lives so that they too can live to their full potential, unencumbered by unnecessary activity or belongings; otherwise known as "stuff".

So if you are wondering if anyone else in the world suffers from disorganization like you do, the answer is yes. Lots of people. Now what will you do to manage it?

Friday, January 23, 2009

Anticipation - Plan Ahead

For many people the concept of anticipating what's coming down the road is hard to to grasp. We are all wired differently and not everyone has the same orientation to the future.

In this case, I find helping clients to plan ahead is more helpful. How far can you plan ahead? Many of us work with financial planners to plan ahead for our retirement. That's a form of organizing the future. Some of us plan ahead for our children's education with education funds. That's also a form of organizing the future.

How about planning ahead for summer activities? Have you thought about your children's activities for the summer? Have you booked the camps that they want to attend? Plan ahead to that you, and your family, are not disappointed by applying or acting too late.

How about planning ahead for the weekend? Have you made plans? Have you organized the gear that you might need for those plans? Are you using the weekend to plan ahead for the next week.

Try writing a list of a couple of things you need for tomorrow to make it an easier day. See if you can get those accomplished today before you turn out the light. That's planning ahead and organizating your life, one step at a time.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

What's Holding you Back?

When working with a new client, one of the first challenges I face is to understand why the client is disorganized. Our first visit together is an assessment session which helps me to understand the issues that they face and why they face them. Understanding reasons for disorganization is key to overcoming it. Without an understanding of the underlying isssues, it is very difficult to help an individual, family or business implement systems, structures, process and particularly behaviour changes to achieve a greater level of organization.

Julie Morgenstern, in her book Organizing from the Inside Out, offers a clear and simple discussion of the causes of clutter. She describes three levels of reasons and points out that "everyone struggling with disorganization suffers from at least one Level I cause, but may also be suffering from some Level 2 and 3 causes as well". I have summarized them here for you so that you might have insight into your own reasons for disorganization.

  1. Level 1: Tehnical Errors. These include the simple mistakes in your organizing systems, such things as items not having a home, inconvenient storage, more stuff than storage space, or complex, confusing sytems that are too complicated for you to use.
  2. Level 2: External Realities. These include factors in the outside world over which you have little or no control. Understanding how to manage these factors will help you to create realistic expectations for yourself. They include unrealistic workload, the speed of life and technology, life or business in transition, uncooperative partners or limited space.
  3. Level 3: Psychological Obstacles. These include hidden, internal forces that keep you disorganized no matter how much you might wish to be otherwise. Understanding these issues can help you either work around or through them to seek greater organization. They might include a need for abundance, craving the thrill of creating order from chaos, having unclear goals and priorities, being afraid of success or failure, feeling the need to retreat, having a need for perfection or distraction, and having sentimental attachments to items.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Packrat Behaviour

Managing the behaviour and characteristics of a packrat is a common reason that professional organizers are called by clients. Packrat behaviour is seen equally often at the office as it is in the home. The only difference is that at the office, there may be someone in a position of authority reminding you to keep your workspace in a professional state. The following behaviours and characteristics, modified from a list developed by Judith Kolberg and Kathleen Nadeau in ADD-Friendly ways to Organize your Life, may be familiar to you because of your own life or perhaps the life of someone around you:

  1. You hang on to things that you, or anyone else, hardly ever uses;
  2. You eagerly collect items regardless of whether you need them;
  3. You refuse to part with items because you think you will use them someday (but can't remember the last time you used it);
  4. You consider yourself a packrat;
  5. Your workspace or home is so cluttered it is hardly functional;
  6. You have difficulty making decisions about objects.

Sound familiar? The following strategies may help you get started on a healthier path.

  1. Try the "two for one" policy when bringing new things into your environment. If you bring a new book into your home, commit to removing two books already there that you can't remember the last time you touched.
  2. Ask someone you trust, a clutter companion, to commit to a day of clearing out. It will probably take more than one session but you will find even starting will be very rewarding.
  3. Clear a sorting table so that you have a clear space at waist height in which to sort. You will find this easy on your back and the sorting will feel easier.
  4. Choose items of better quality and let the quantity of objects diminish. If you find 4 staplers, keep the best one.
  5. Play the Friends, Acquaintances, Strangers game. Objects that feel like friends can stay. Acquaintances may or may not stay depending on their timeliness and utility. The strangers leave your space.
  6. Establish and maintain a commitment to yourself to live in a healthier lifespace. You deserve it.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Keeping New Year's Resolutions

Many of you have made resolutions for the New Year - big juicy goals for your excellent life that you are creating.

How is that going for you? Here's a site that might be helpful. offers a selection of articles on setting and keeping those resolutions. Here's one that I found particularly helpful by Wie Yin Yong. New habits can be a challenge to establish - as frustrating as old one's are to kick. This article on Making New Habits may be particularly helpful in anchoring the new bahiours in your life.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

The (Dis) Organized Teenager - Exam Time!

Here is comes folks. All us semestered families are heading for the last stretch of the semester and the big E word: Exams.

For some teenagers exams are just another opportunity to show off how much they know and how much fun they had studying. Not my teenager. She is having fun alright: at the swim meet, the ski hills and movie nights at a friend's house. So how do we instill the discipline to study and review all that must know information in order to encourage the best opportunity for success in our teens?

Here are some tips for your teen to set themselves up for success:

Step 1 - Establish a list of all the material that will be covered in the exam. If you aren't sure, check in with the teachers before the term is over. Once classes are out they are harder to find. Most curriculum is broken into units providing a natural way to organize and list the material. A term is likely about 10 - 13 units. Review the list and your notes. Do you have all the information you need to study? Do you need to pick up notes from a friend or teacher for classes you missed?

Step 2 - Break down the material into the time you have to review it. If you have 5 days to study for 4 exams and 4 hours a day, you may choose to use one hour a day per subject. For ten units that would be 2 units per day. Did I loose you on the math? Simplify: Break down the material into bite size chunks for which you have the time.

Step 3 - Remove all other distractions (cell phone, ipod), be rested, well fed and take frequent breaks. Most adults can concentrate for about 45 minutes. Expect your teen to get up and move at least every 45 minutes.

Step 4 - Review, repeat. Review, repeat. Familiarity will assist with recall.

Good luck!

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Client Questions - Going Vertical

Q It seems that every surface in my home has stuff on it. My home is cluttered but I have no other place to put things. What else can I do?

A It is human nature to put an object down or away in the place of least resistance or the most accessible spot when we are finished with it. For many people, that spot ends up being an empty flat surface. The result can be a cluttered space with every flat surface filled and, in worse case scenarios, several layers of objects on every flat surface.

Switch from horizontal to vertical storage strategies and habits. Vertical space is up and down space in your home. The floor, counters and table tops are horizontal space. Keep your horizontal space clear and your home will look and feel less cluttered and be easier to move around in.

Book shelves are great vertical storage and can be used to storage an array of items besides books. Putting similar items in containers such as boxes, baskets or other plastic containers on the shelves reduces the messy look of many objects. A hook on a wall is another simple and effective means of using vertical space, great for clothes especially in a child’s room.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Menu Planning Monday

Has your home settled down after the holiday activity? There is nothing like a little routine to get us all grounded and reorganized. If you haven't tried planning your menus, I highly recommend it. MPM comes from my colleague Laura over on OrgJunkie. She has posted some great links to gluten free recipes for those of you with special diets in your home.

In the meantime, what's on your menu this week? Here's our lineup:
Monday - Swim team: Fish, rice, frozen vegies, green salad
Tuesday - Swim team: Our traditional pasta night, meat balls, green salad, Italian bread
Wedneday - Swim team, choir: BBQ pork kabobs in marinade, rice, grilled vegies, cruditee salad
Thursday - Swim team/lessons: BBQ chicken in Diana sauce, spinach/raspberry salad with caramelized almonds
Friday - Ski night: Sandwiches on the road
Saturday - Supper for 9: Pasta with Tomato and Meat Sauce, spinach salad (again), Italian Bread
Sunday - Make your own pizza

Someday Syndrome & Someday Wishes

How often do we use the words "someday I will..." Occassionally? Frequently? Can anyone claim never?

I have a colleague who can claim "not any more". Alex Fayle, a professional organizer used to say "Someday I will live and write in the south of Spain". Like so many of us he had his share of someday wishes. Unlike the majority of us, Alex did something about his someday wishes and made them his reality.

Someday Syndrome is not only his story but a resource for anyone suffering from the procrastination syndrome. Does this sound familiar?

  • Someday My Ship Will Come In
    Waiting for, instead of pursuing, your dreams
  • I'll Get Around To It Someday
    Wasting your life with navel-gazing and other procrastination games
  • I Might Need It Someday
    Filling your life with stuff instead of achievements.
If you have ever suffered from procrastination, even mildly on a bad day, I recommend you to Someday Syndrome. Never was there a better time than the fresh beginning of a year to end those somdays and start creating your amazing life full of acheivements.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Happy New Year

I would like to wish all my readers a very happy, healthy and prosperous New Year!

Stay tuned for more organizing tips starting Monday January 5, 2009.