Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Plan a Picnic

This holiday weekend you may be looking to get outside to enjoy some summer sunshine. Consider organizing a picnic to share with a loved one, family or friends.

First, choose your location. It may be in a park, on the beach, or even in your backyard. I'm planning our picnic at a favourite spot, next to the sights and sounds of moving water.

Packing for your picnic will depend on how you will arrive, whether by hiking, biking or driving. Utilize a traditional picnic basket (though any basket will do), a box, backpack and/or cooler to pack food and picnic accessories.

Your picnic essentials may include:

1. A blanket. Consider the size needed to accommodate your guests comfortably or so that you may be able to lie down on it, if desired. Look for something water resistant to keep everyone dry if the ground is damp.

2. Plates, cutlery, and cups. It's preferable to bring reusable dishware along. Pack them into re-sealable bags or lidded containers to transport the dirty items home.

3. Napkins. They're always good for quick clean ups too.

4. Cool beverages. On hot summer days it's important to stay hydrated. So bring extra! Try freezing some of your water or drink in bottles, using them as freezer packs to keep food fresh until you arrive. As they slowly melt drinks will stay cold and refreshing throughout the day.

5. Classic picnic foods. Think about finger foods when preparing your menu. I like to keep it simple. I prepare a selection of pre-cut bread, meats, cheeses, and pre-grilled vegetables to allow my guests to make their own sandwiches. Fresh fruit is always on hand for healthy snacking. Watermelon is the classic choice. There are no hard and fast rules when it comes to picnic foods. Tailor your menu to suit the guest list, bring your favourite dishes and enjoy!

Friday, June 25, 2010

Organizing Maintenance

I baked a cake for my husband on Father’s Day. I’ve had the recipe since 2003; it’s the first time I’ve baked the cake. Fortunately, it was delicious and will be made again. Two weeks ago I baked some oatmeal cranberry muffins. Horrible, squishy, chewy little lumps. Muffins into the green bin; recipe into the blue bin. This is especially disappointing because I’d had the recipe since 2000.
In my defence, my recipe hoarding began long before I was a Professional Organizer. I’ve learned a bit about my own behaviours since then: If I don’t make a new dish soon after acquiring the recipe, the likelihood of my ever making it diminishes with each passing day.
I have a great system for storing my recipes and fortunately, each piece of paper takes up no more than 1 mm of space. Fairly unobtrusive. But regardless of how little space my recipes need, there’s no point having a folder full of paper I will never refer to. My system is rendered ineffective if I don’t maintain it. Establishing the system is the first step. Using the system is the second. But step three, ongoing maintenance, may be the most important of all.
So, over the next couple of weeks, I’ll be getting reacquainted with the contents of my recipe folder. Old favourites will be returned to their labelled pocket. Recipes that intrigue me will be tried and judged. And those that make me think, “well, maybe . . .” will be immediately discarded. Because if I’m still on the fence, I’m never going to make it!

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Computer Filing Made Easy

Keeping track of electronic files can be a challenge even for Professional Organizers.  One solution is to let your computer do all the filing work for you.

Your computer reads files names from the left whether they include numbers or letters.  It will automatically file letters by alphabet.  Alpha filing is great when you have a few files so it is a good solution for folder names.

Consider labelling series of files such as minutes, agendas or regular financial reports by number and let your computer keep track of the order in which they ought to be files.  Try starting a monthly series of files with the numbers 1 through 12.  The beginning of your year - regardless of what month it starts - will always be at the top of our file list.  Using dates can accomplish the same thing.  If you have files that make up a series or are date sensitive, start the file name with the date rather than finishing the file name with the date.  Remember to put the yymmdd format so that the computer will file in chronological order.  Here are some examples:

  • 1 Financial Statements Jan 2010
  • 2 Financial Statements Feb 2010
  • 1 Minutes ABC School Council Jan 23, 2010
  • 2 Agenda ABC School Council Feb 18, 2010
  • 2 Minutes ABC School Council Feb 18, 2010
Let the computer do your filing work for you so you can get on with more important things!

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Arrive on time, with everything you need.

Early, early morning is not my favourite time of the day. When I have an early appointment, like this morning, I want to spend every possible extra second in bed that I can. To do that I need to prepare ahead and organize everything that I will need to take with me.

Starting the evening before:

1. Confirm the time and address of your appointment. Look up the location on a map or print if necessary from an online map search.

2. Plan your route, with a possible alternative for those just in case scenarios. For example, this morning I was heading downtown on the subway and had to change my planned route due to a G20 security incident.

3. Calculate how much time it will take to get from A to B. Give yourself an appropriate buffer of time, depending on time of day. I calculated it would take me 40 minutes to arrive at my destination. I rounded up to 45 minutes and decided to try and arrive 10 minutes early. This gave me a definitive time that I had to leave by. By planning ahead I was able to make it to my appointment on time, even with the delay on route.

4. Pack your bag with everything that you will need. For me this included a charged cell phone, a refillable water bottle, a snack, and documents required for my appointment. For regular appointments consider having a bag reserved and always prepared with the basics you'll need.

5. Set your alarm time to accommodate your basic morning routine, and to get you out the front door at your definitive departure time.

Now, when the alarm goes off early, early in the morning there is little stress knowing that everything is ready to go.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Now You See It, Now You Don't

Have you ever looked at something, without really seeing it? I recently discovered that our dishwasher has a Delay button. We’ve had the dishwasher four-and-a-half years. It wasn’t until reading the manual that accompanied my mother’s new dishwasher, that I even realized dishwashers have a Delay button.

I’ve heard of washing machines having a delay feature. While I marvelled at the idea when I was first aware of it, I quickly started to wonder how that would be useful. Now that Time-of-Use (TOU) billing has been rolled out by my electricity provider, I get it. The benefits are two-fold: I can load my dishwasher after dinner, but set it to run when the lowest rate is in effect and I no longer wake up to a dishwasher full of dirty dishes, because I forgot to press Start before going to bed.

Mornings are better when I can focus on the things needed for that day. Who wants to start their day washing dishes that should have washed themselves, while trying to get breakfast on the table? There just isn't enough time for that in the morning.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

That Darn Paper

With the recent downsizing of my own parent, and the move of my SO to working from a home office, our house has a few too many boxes stashed in a few too many places.  SO and I have been making a serious attempt to empty, sort and purge the contents of those boxes.  I've become my own organizing client.  And just like everyone else, it is easier sorting someone else's stuff.

This week we tackled a backlog of paper.  What a surprise I had to discover, as we fought for any extra storage space we could find for SO's business files, many inches worth of old investment statements that were more than just a few years old.  Since many of the statements are available online, and they usually send us quarterly statements anyway, we chose to shred.  And shred.  And shred. Our recyble bin will be full this week.  Our filing cabinet has extra space and even a few shelves were liberated.  Goodbye paper.

Friday, June 11, 2010


Zoning does not pertain to city planning alone. This term is often used by interior designers when trying to delineate functions within a multipurpose room; the same concept can be applied to organizing. And guess what, you’re doing it. You may not realize it, but you’re zoning.

Manufacturers of kitchen appliances and accessories make zoning suggestions. The presence of a dairy compartment, crisper drawers and meat drawer are examples of zoning. If you use a cutlery drawer insert to separate the knives, forks and spoons, you are following the principles of zoning. Whenever a large space has been divided into smaller spaces, each with an intended function, zoning has occurred.

To achieve order and improve efficiency throughout your kitchen, continue zoning. With assorted containers and a bit of analysis it can be done. The greatest challenge will likely be indentifying your zones. Try these on for size: snacks, breakfast foods, hot drinks. Then keep on going. All items that belong within a category should then be placed together on a shelf or in a container. There are no right or wrong categories. It’s just about you, the contents of your kitchen and how you and the people you reside with use the space.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Alternatives To Plastic Bags

We’ve talked about recycling plastic bags but there are other approaches to keep your plastic bags from overflowing – reducing your plastic bag use with reusable containers. From cloth and nylon bags, to boxes and baskets, or backpacks and push carts there are many alternative ways to reduce the number of plastic bags accumulating in your home. The less you have the easier it will be to stay organized.

My favourite plastic alternative is the compact style that easily rolls up or folds into a pouch. I carry one or two of these in my bag. This way I’m always ready to say, “No thanks, I don’t need a bag.” For larger shopping trips, like the grocery store, collect a few reusable bags ready for the task. Reusable boxes or baskets are a great alternative to bags if you shop by car. After you unpack your groceries return your bags, boxes and baskets to the trunk, so you won’t forget them for the next shop! If you shop by walking through your neighbourhood consider utilizing a backpack or a push cart with reusable boxes layered inside.

The best part about plastic bag alternatives is the choice. You can customize your bags and boxes to compliment the type of shopping that you do regularly, choose your favourite colours and style. Have fun with them and get creative. I would love to hear from you about your favourite plastic bag alternative.

If you would like to see some examples of plastic bag alternatives visit Please note this is a US based site, but they showcase several bags that may be available in your local area. In my neighbourhood several stores carry the Envirosax ( and Reisenthel ( brands. Whenever I can I try to shop local and support my community retailers.

Toronto Retailers

1934 Queen Street East Toronto

542 Danforth Ave Toronto

628 Queen Street West Toronto

2329 Yonge Street Toronto
See website for additional locations:

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Riding Boots RIP

Even professional organizers have to let go sometimes and yes, even professional organizers are known to have a few emotional items in their closets.  We like to think of these hiccups in our otherwise perfectly organized (NOT) lives as assurance that we are human and reminders of the struggles of our clients.  Right - human we are.  Straight face I have not.

So I was not surprised, if perhaps a bit amused, that my colleague, cyber-guru, professional organizer Jacki Brown, owner of J-organize, sent me an e-vite on Facebook to attend the funeral for her riding boots.  A little research revealed that the boots had served Jacki well for 25 years of equestrian pursuits, had now "blown up" and were no longer serviceable and that a significant recent purchase to replace the boots hastened their impending trip to the rubbish bin.  But not before they have been properly honoured for their years and years of memories, faithful service and, I well imagine, great comfort afoot.

Sometimes professional organizers encourage clients to take pictures of stuff ladened with memories that have to move to a life outside the front door.  Sometimes we suggest clients take off a piece of the object, (usually fabric) and stick it in with a picture.  Here's another option for you: have a funeral.  Honour the memories, herald the good times and move on to those new leather boots in the box.

Rumour has it one of the invitees to this particular funeral can't attend but is sending his work boots as his representative. I may have a conflict and think I'll send my pointe shoes.  Maybe I could attend on a horse.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Recycling Plastic Bags

When my local recycling program added plastic grocery and shopping bags to their list of acceptable recyclables I was so happy. People with bags of bags know what I’m talking about. Finally, there was an option for disposing all of those indestructible plastics, other than the landfill for the next 1,000 years.

To reduce your bag accumulation start by sorting out all of those with holes or rips and put those bags that can be recycled into the bin. Next chose one bag and fill it with durable bags that will be good for reuse. Use this one bag as a guideline for limiting your collection. Keep only what you can realistically use. Let go of the rest.

For local Toronto residents June 1, 2010 marked the first day that all retail plastic shopping bags must be recyclable in Toronto’s recycling program. This bylaw prevents retailers from offering plastic bags with metal detailing or grommets, rope or hard plastic handles and biodegradable or compostable bags. (For more information on the inclusion of biodegradable and compostable bags see

Next week, Alternatives to Plastic Bags

What’s Lurking in Your Fridge?

A meeting with a colleague ran overtime on a Friday afternoon a couple weeks ago. As I dashed out the door I said, “I hope dinner’s ready when I get home”. Unfortunately, that’s not how it played out. I arrived home to discover our fridge sitting in the middle of the kitchen. Our four-year-old fridge had died.
We learned that General Electric (GE) had identified a defect with the motherboard. The only course of action was to replace the part. Ironically, our nearly-fifty-year-old GE fridge at the cottage is just fine. (Please don’t tell the energy police we have a fifty-year-old fridge.)
So we spent an hour shuttling the contents of our fridge to the overflow fridge in the basement. I also spent about 20 minutes emptying jars and bottles. I probably threw out $50 worth of sauces. Some were the mainstream grocery store items that I got tired of and never noticed were way beyond their Best Before date. But there were lots of dips and marinades purchased at trade shows, markets, or from independent grocers. These gems don’t have a BB date displayed.
It’s really worthwhile to check for a Best Before date as you take an item from your grocer’s shelf. Worst case scenario, check when you’re unpacking your groceries. If the manufacturer hasn’t suggested an expiration date, grab your permanent marker and write the purchase date on the container. Not all foods get green and fuzzy if left in the fridge too long. If you can reference your purchase date, you’ve got a good jumping off point to determine if the food in your fridge is safe.