Monday, October 29, 2007

Pantry Press

Check out the News and Observer article Tricks and treats for your decor, where I offer advice on how to organize a pantry.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Coupon Crazy or Savvy Shopper?

The other week our local organizers group, NAPO-NC, had guest Faye Prosser of Smart Spending Resources speak to us about radical couponing (and how we can organize our own shopping for better savings and teach this to clients). This woman saves about 75% off retail on her household consumables bill (groceries, toiletries, necessary stuff). She feeds and cleans a family of four for $50/week. Yes, she's a homeschooling mom who made the choice to stay home and spends time saving money instead of bringing in income. That is, until she turned radical couponing into a business--double $$ whammy. Note: get her to come speak to your group--she's overflowing with good info and high-energy in a way that doesn't leave you exhausted.

You may have read an earlier blog entry that addresses my sister's tendencies toward disorganization which do not follow the family pattern. My sister has a family structure similar to Faye's and really has to watch her budget so I was curious if she used similar techniques.

What systems/tricks do you use to save money on your shopping?
I don't tell other local people how I get my coupons for free at the library because I don't want competition. Some of the local branches never put their "slickies", or what I call Sunday innards out at all because there have been fights (supposedly). The librarians divide that stuff up between themselves and the public never sees it in most branches. Thankfully mine see me several times a week and know that first thing when the doors open on Monday morning, I'm there for that stuff.

Walgreens is the best for free stuff. Every month they have an Easy Saver catalog in the store full of coupons and sales and free rebates and partial rebates. And the cool thing is, they'll accept two coupons per item, as long as it's one manufacturer's coupon and one store coupon. They also usually have a shelf or an aisle or a bin of stuff that has been discontinued. Like a few months back when Pantene changed their bottle type, everything on the shelves went into a shopping cart on clearance for $1-$1.50. If I had coupons on top of that price, it made them free or close. That wasn't just true at Walgreens, it was most of the local grocery and drug stores. Last month at Walgreens, they were offering some new kind of Pantene for free, one per household, by rebate. I had a $2 off coupon for that bottle so they paid me $2 to take it home, after the rebate. But it gets better. I also had a buy one get one free coupon, so I took two bottles home and they paid me $2 for it, after the rebate. The cool thing about their rebates, too, is that you don't have to cut any UPCs or send stuff to the manufacturer. It's one envelope per month, one stamp, one form, and your receipts. And one thing that's even better on this is that if you opt for a Walgreens card instead of a cash rebate, they'll add 10% to the card's balance when they send it to you, because it ensure you'll shop there with the money you get back. And that's fine with me because there will be toothpaste and toothbrushes and shampoo and stuff I'll want from there for free (after rebate) next month too. I have an entire drawer and two bins under my sinks full of deodorant and floss and toothpaste and toothbrushes and shampoo and conditioners... that I've gotten for free or almost free, and so I'm actually turning down chances to get free stuff sometimes because I don't have any more space to store it.
How do you organize your coupons? I'm interested to know more about your system. Did you see the binder system Faye has on her site? She had hers at the meeting and it was the kind where the binder rings are 3" in diameter, and when shut was about 5" thick. She practically needed a pack mule to carry it. Some of the organizers almost fainted.
I have a three ring binder with dividers in it. On the front cover is a zipper and that's where I stick all of the sales flyers when they come in the mail or that I take out of the Sunday paper. Each of the dividers inside has a pocket on each side of it, and I sort my coupons by what they are. There's one for food in general, one for dairy and meat products, one for pet stuff, one for health and beauty, one for misc (this is batteries and cleaners and "stuff" in general).

There are a few pockets that I use to keep store coupons too. I have old bookmarks with paperclips on them - one for each store. So when their system prints you out those coupons based on what you buy that day, which can only be used in THAT kind of grocery store, I clip them to that store's bookmark. Also, when I'm putting together my list for the week, what I'm getting where, I pull the appropriate coupons and clip them to the bookmark of the store I'm going to.

I go through the system once a month and pull expired coupons. Some expire during the month, but I'm not sorting the whole thing every week to catch just a few.

And when I clip them, I don't cut out the ones for Poligrip or Depends or Pampers, which I have NO use for. But if I like Pantene, but I wouldn't rule out buying some other brand of shampoo if the price was right, I clip those out too. If I have a drawer full of toothpaste I probably don't clip out any coupons for toothpaste for a while, either. That's how you keep the binder from being cluttered.

Also inside my binder I keep pens, a sharpie, scissors, paperclips... and in the binder rings I keep regular lined school paper and that's where I keep my shopping list. That way, when I leave the house, no matter where I might be going, I have absolutely everything I could possibly need to go to any store and buy anything. That way I'm not shooting myself when I wind up unexpectedly at the store, waiting for film developing or a pharmacy order, when I find something and wonder if it's on my shopping list. Or if its price is fabulous, I don't kick myself because my coupons are at home. If I'm going to the store, any store, I have it all with me, and there are no pack mules required. And yes, it's a fabulous system that works for me, but in the hands of someone a little less organized, it would turn into a disorganized mess, and utterly unusable. I'm sure you saw this coming. Like a cluttery person needs hundreds more little scraps of paper in their house or car, right?
I am surprised and not surprised. This is an example of how people can be hyper-crazy-organized in some areas of their lives while being less organized in other areas. My sister still claims to have organizing issues that she battles but my impression is that she's got a good grip on all of them and won't cut herself some slack for hanging on to some old magazines and some other stuff. I don't know because I haven't been to her house in a long time. But I'm really impressed when I hear about her shopping systems in detail.

Here's some of my own personal tips:
  • Know the difference between "buy one get one free" and "two for $x" at your store (definitions may vary).
  • Follow through on rebate offers.
  • Plan meals and shop from your list.
  • Buy cheese when it's on sale and freeze it (bags of shreds, not fine cheeses).
  • Same for meat.
  • Know what things cost at different stores so you'll know when there's a good deal (I keep this info, for maybe my top 25 most used items, in my head, or make a price book and store it on your PDA).

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Tips Featured in HGTV Newsletter

Some of my tips were featured this week in HGTV's Newsletter. Here is the front page of the story. Here are the pages (1, 2) with my tips.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Closet Featured In HGTV Newsletter

One of the closets I organized/designed/installed for a client was featured this week in HGTV's Newsletter. Here is the front page of the story. Here is the page showing my client's closet.

Friday, August 24, 2007

DIY Jewelry Box Modification

I don't have time to do crafts anymore. It doesn't rank too far up there on my priority list. Work, veg with husband/cats and sleep come first (wait, reverse those). Then cooking, yard, volunteer stuff, etc.

I do have a running list of craft/sewing projects that has been growing for about 5 years. Last weekend, I suddenly got the bug to customize my jewelry box. I bought it 4 or 5 years ago to replace my old one that I'd outgrown. I've been using both all this time.

I looked at readymade jewelry inserts and other things that could be modified to serve the purpose and couldn't find anything customizable that wasn't made of flocked plastic (tacky!). I came to the realization that I'd have to start from scratch.

As a bonus, doing this project has forced me to clean out the junk I no longer wear. There's a few consignable pieces I've been meaning to pull out for months now so it's even a money-making opportunity.

This project can be done with any jewelry box, apothecary style chest, old library card catalog, etc. Anywhere you need smaller compartments to keep pieces of jewelry separated.

Here's what I needed for the project:
  • Exacto knife
  • Ballpoint pen
  • Rotary fabric cutter and mat
  • Straight-edge and/or fabric ruler
  • Liquid adhesive
  • Spray adhesive
  • Paper to create a masked area for spraying adhesive
  • Tweezers
  • 1" foam from a fabric store
  • Wood BBQ skewer
  • Strips of 1/16" balsa wood from a hobby store
  • 1/2 yard of ultrasuede or short-nap velvet
  • Goo Gone
And these were the steps:

  1. The jewelry box has a hinged lid compartment. It's the easiest compartment to access so that's where my daily and favorite pieces will live. Several rings fall into these categories so I made a section for them. I marked 1-inch thick foam, every 3/4 of an inch with a ballpoint pen. This spacing is adequate to hold chunky cocktail rings comfortably.

  2. Next, I used an Exacto blade to cut along my lines, being careful to cut deeply but not all the way through the foam. Note: Please disregard the unfresh manicure (the project was going to ruin it anyway).

  3. After cutting a strip of black ultrasuede wider and longer than I would need to fit the foam, I put glue in each crevice, one at a time, and "walked" the foam along the fabric...

  4. ...using the skewer to make sure the fabric was pushed all the way into the crevices.

  5. Next, I made "walls" to divide up the space inside each drawer using 1/16-inch thick balsa wood. Score with the Exacto and snap along the edge of the table. The height of your walls will vary depending on the depth of your drawer and whether you want to create multiple layers within a drawer. Jewelry compartments don't need to be very deep. One inch is adequate for all but your bulkiest necklaces. Determine the length of your wall by holding the balsa strip just over the drawer and marking the balsa with the Exacto--this is more accurate than using a ruler to measure the drawer and mark the balsa. And, it's better to go long and end up trimming because the walls are held in place mostly by friction--a snug fit is essential.

  6. Hold the balsa wood with tweezers while coating both sides with spray adhesive. Use the spray over an area of the table masked off with paper or plastic. Then place the wood on your fabric strip.

  7. Fold the fabric, making a balsa sandwich. Trim the excess fabric around the edges of the balsa with your rotary cutter. Try gently wiggling the wall into place in the drawer. If the fit is too tight to create 90-degree angles with your wall without bowing the wall, trim off tiny slivers with your rotary cutter. I was amazed to learn that my rotary cutter would cut through two layers of fabric and thin balsa like butter.

  8. Place your walls in the drawer. You may want to put a line of glue along the bottom edge but the friction holding the pieces in place is probably enough. You can place more walls at a 90-degree angle to your first wall--just make sure there is friction to hold them in place--this means putting walls on both sides of your first wall so it isn't pushed out of place. A "+" configuration, made of one long wall and two shorter walls at a 90-degree angle works the best.

  9. Because I obsessed about using every cubic inch of space I made trays from 1/16" and 1/8"-thick balsa wood that allowed me to have two layers of compartments in a drawer. These are also covered in fabric. The details of how to make these inserts are complex. If you have questions about making them let me know.

  10. I placed the foam ring section against the wall of the top compartment, folding the excess fabric on the sides down. Then, I placed a wall next to it that holds it in place using friction.

Voila! A jewelry box that holds all my jewelry. Unfortunately there isn't much room to grow, even though I've maximized my space.

Oh, and be sure to clean all your tools and any glue overspray by using the Goo Gone and a paper towel.

In the process, I found jewelry I'd forgotten about, was able to place all coordinating pieces together, and have protected everything from scratches and tangling. The satisfaction of having my jewelry organized is the reward for the 8 hours and $20 I spent on supplies.

Thursday, June 28, 2007


I really appreciate nice packaging on products. I'm a fan of good design. But the down side is that my clients tend to hang on to nice packaging indefinitely because "it will be a good container for something someday." I'm OK with keeping packaging if we can actually put it to use for something specific and soon. For the most part I don't practice this in my own home, except for this one instance (that I can think of)...

It is a very rare occasion that I seriously consider asking a client for something they are getting rid of. Many months ago I spotted a Crown Royal bag in the depths of a client's closet. I had been keeping an eye out for one to give my mother-in-law for Christmas because she is an avid Scrabbler and was using a Ziploc for her tiles, which means you have to draw tiles while holding the bag behind your back. Crown Royal bags make excellent storage for Scrabble tiles. They are the perfect size and shape, the feel of the wood tiles in the flannel is very pleasant and the drawstring functions well.

Well, we never got to the closet until last week. I had forgotten about the Crown Royal bag because my quest for it was over--fortunately, I happened to find a flannel Sephora bag to give my mother-in-law for Christmas. But it was still good timing--I just got Rett a new Scrabble set for his birthday--the kind that rotates and has indentations for the tiles which make it more cat-resistant. Anyway, the synthetic bag or plastic pouch that comes with a Scrabble set these days barely functions and has an unpleasant tactile quality. So, I scored the bag for our new Scrabble set.Yes, it's visually quite tacky but perfect in every other way.

Friday, June 15, 2007

More Cable Control

Geralin Thomas sent me this link which shows a pegboard-based under-desk cord and gadget management system. Now if it just attached to the underside of the desk with a hinge so it could be folded up, out of view...

Thursday, May 31, 2007

June Press

Check me out:
  • Closet Control--in Triangle Home Improvement, a regional magazine. Some of the tips are from yours truly.
That is all.

Friday, May 18, 2007

How to Find a Husband

There's a retired couple that I've been working with for a couple years, who I frequently describe to people as "my favorite client", while maintaining their confidentiality, of course.

He has hearing aids but still may not hear you if you call him from across their apartment. Or maybe he is selectively hearing his wife calling him (there was a period of time recently when his old hearing aids had died, but his wife didn't know it yet, and I think he may have been intentionally blissfully unavailable when called).

At the end of our session yesterday, she pointed out the blue fob dangling from her husband's belt loop. She's an avid catalog shopper and had implemented a new system, courtesy of the Sharper Image, who I usually find to be purveyors of expensive crappy junk that you don't need. In addition to being able to find her TV remote and adjustable bed remote (which has gotten lost in the sheets and been found again after it had gone through the washer and dryer), she can now locate her husband by clicking the blue button on her "Electronic Locator".I never cease to be amazed by the clever solutions my clients come up with.

Organizing Cables

Last weekend we decided to fix some audio-visual problems--a few months ago the power to our surround sound and the subwoofer died. We've been listening to TV and movies through the speakers on the TV. Blechh! We're not audio freaks but had gotten used to our pretty decent surround sound setup.

One of the biggest challenges in this project that took all weekend, was keeping the cables in back neat. We introduced a new component into the mix, a receiver, that would be a central hub for the Media Center PC, satellite box, Xbox 360 and Wii. This is not very many components.

We systematically hooked everything up, grouping related cables together and coiling them so they didn't touch the floor, for vacuuming purposes, and to make sure you couldn't see the cables underneath the entertainment center. And yet, it still looked like this:
I've thought for a while that it might actually be impossible to make something like this look neat. If all cables were going from one general area to another general area, it could be neat. But this is never the case unless you're in some server room where things are daisy-chained together.

One improvement over previous similar projects included the use of little girls' hair beads, the figure-8 shaped rubberbands with two beads on them. These are perfect for holding coiled cables, better than twist-ties or unmodifiable rip-ties or expensive Velcro ties. I must give credit for this idea to Geralin Thomas, a colleague.

I guess I'm just glad that I rarely have to really see the back. The front looks like this:There are decorative trays on both sides of the center speaker to hold remotes and game controllers. The very few components are at the bottom. DVDs and games are in the chest on the left. Subwoofer's under the table on the right. And the umbrella at the top hides our HD antenna. We can close the doors to hide it all when people come over, since we don't tie our self-worth to the quantity of technology and media we can show off (heh, heh, we tie our self-worth to how well we can hide our technology and media).

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Matching Up Socks

I work in a world of mismatched socks. It seems that a lot of people find it easier to buy new socks than match up their old ones after they come out of the laundry. This practice, of course, adds to the accumulation of mismatched socks.

There are these sock rings out there that you can use to clip your socks together when you take them off. As they go from laundry basket to washer to dryer to drawer, they remain together.

Or you could fix the problem much earlier in the cycle. My husband and I both have chosen a primary type of sock we wear. We buy twelve pairs all at once. It is expensive (they're not cheap socks), but the whole collection lasts several years and since they are all identical you don't have to match them up. Just grab two out of the drawer. They all wear out at the same time.

Of course you may have multiple major categories of socks, but this will still work because all your sport socks will be clearly distinguishable from your dress socks, or whatever type of socks support your lifestyle.

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Is the Mailman the Devil?

It occurred to me, driving home tonight, that 100% of what the mailman brings to our homes is evil (when looking at things through the lens of an anti-clutter specialist). And why haven't we chopped down our mailboxes and replaced them with crucifixes? Here's what he brings:
  • Junk mail that may never get opened, is unnecessary, killed a tree, etc.
  • Magazines that pile up, that you'll never have enough time to read, and are so pretty that they begged to be kept eternally.
  • Catalogs that you must look at, otherwise it feels wasteful to just recycle it and you don't want to cancel it because one day you'll be in shopping mode.
  • Boxes of stuff from shopping channels that you didn't need in the first place and if the stuff doesn't work or fit, won't ever get returned.
  • Bank statements that remind you of how much money you don't have.
  • Bills--enough said.
  • Solicitations from charities who bribe you with free address labels.
  • Gifts that you don't like and feel guilty getting rid of.
  • Greeting cards and personal letters--yes, this is how the devil tricks you. These are the bait that keep you going to check the mailbox every day.

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Spring Cleaning

I'm writing an article about spring cleaning (my first article for pay). What does spring cleaning mean to you? What do you clean specifically in the spring?

Clutter and Dentistry

I just got back from the dentist for my 6-month cleaning. I told the hygienist, Christie, that I couldn't imagine doing her job of looking in people's mouths. That would gross me out. But then I started thinking, she probably would have no interest in looking in people's homes and scraping away the clutter that had built up over the past 6 months. Many people need clutter tune-ups on an ongoing and regular basis. But hopefully my tools are not as sharp as hers--at least clients tell me that I'm not too harsh.

Daily brushing/flossing and daily clutter maintenance get 90% of the job done. Special tools are required for the other 10% every 6 months.

I also told Christie that my childhood dentist had a treasure chest that I could pillage after I was sufficiently tortured. She said their office had one too. And I thought my old dentist was so clever--there is probably a dental supply catalog that offers such chests, with prizes included. But now, my take on the treasure chest is different--it's training children to fill their space with useless stuff. It's using material rewards instead of conveying that having your choppers when you're 70 is it's own reward (fingers crossed).

I do enjoy getting the adult bonus prizes. I use the toothbrushes for guests and can put the mini-toothpaste and mini-floss in my travel supply section, to be used on a future trip.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Travel Anxiety

I left home yesterday to fly to Minneapolis for my annual conferences
for NSGCD and NAPO.

I get easily stressed out when I travel--especially when I travel alone.
It took me 15 minutes to decide which jacket to bring that could serve
as a blazer and as outerwear.

I walked through every logical argument and still could not decide.
This is what happens when my brain chemicals start combining in
incorrect proportions (a stress response I suppose). This is also a
time when I remember to empathize with my clients.

This is where my pharmaceutical friend, the Happy Pill comes in. My
buddy HP could have saved me in the past, like the time I almost got
in a fight with a very large man who butted in line while I was
waiting to get on a Southwest flight (aka Cattle Air). Or when walking
through the xray machine too fast and the security employee raised her
voice and I lost it.

I become completely irrational during the packing phase and can't
balance packing exactly what I need and packing for every eventuality
(ultimate preparedness so I don't have to buy some toiletry at an
outrageous price).

HP makes me not care, like when the gravitationally-challenged woman
next to me on the plane spilled her diet coke on the blazer that I had
labored over and finally decided to bring on the plane 1) for warmth,
2) because it was too bulky to pack and 3) because I might need it when I
arrived in the northern clime. This was right after she dumped her
entire can of Pringles in the aisle right after the flight attendant
handed it to her, so I should've seen that coming.

Oh well. I also realized in transit that I forgot to pack pocket
kleenexes, and HP piped up and told me it wasn't going to be the end
of the world.

Friday, March 30, 2007

How to Choose Hangers

Most people need two types of hangers in their closet, one type for tops and one type for skirts and pants (although in some cases all the functionality can be found in a single type of hanger). Here are some things to consider when making your choices.

  1. Thicker is better. You may think you can cram more onto your closet rod with thin hangers but you just end up wrinkling your clothes. Joan Crawford may have been a nut-job but she was dead-on with the “No wire hangers!” policy. Also, the more three-dimensional a hanger is, the better—what I mean is that a hanger that is contoured front-to-back, or doesn't lie completely flat when horizontal, like most suits come with, is better.

  2. Matching hangers are good—no, I mean great. Yes, I do have tendencies toward “matchy matchy” in many areas of my life but matching hangers serve several purposes.

    1. Your closet will look less cluttered and more streamlined. Mismatched hangers are visually distracting, making picking out an outfit harder.

    2. They will not tangle as much. Matching hangers slide right up and right in next to each other without getting caught on one another.

    3. It looks pretty (or pleasing, if you're a guy). Enough said.

  1. Hangers with swiveling hooks drive me batty. But some people love them. Here are the cons and pro (I could only come up with one):

    • Con: They tangle like crazy.

    • Con: They're usually that clear plastic which just feels junk-y and has a connotation for me of really low-end discount shopping.

    • Con: Metal hooks on hangers feel rough and unfinished.

    • Pro: You can make your garments face the right way more easily, although it can be easy to develop the habit of putting things on in the right direction in the first place.

  1. Skirt hangers come in two major types, clip and clamp.

    1. Clips increase the tangle factor. Sliding a clip hanger next to another one is not a smooth process, especially when the clips are metal. Look for the lowest profile plastic (or high quality metal) clips you can find. But clip hangers often allow you to adjust the distance between the clips, depending on your waist size.

    2. Clamps have a low profile so they easily slide in and out of your skirt section. But if your waist is more than 18”, the edges of your waist band will droop down. Larger clamps are available but are more expensive.

  1. Pant hangers come in three major types, clip, clamp and bar.

    1. Like with skirts, there is the tangle factor. You can hang pants from the waistband or from the cuffs or hem, but doing the latter could leave crimp marks.

    2. Clamps can hold pants from the waistband or cuffs. Felt-lined clamps are less likely to leave crimps. And again, they don't tangle.

    3. Bars allow you to hang pants in a short-hang section of your closet. The thicker the bar, the less likely it will leave a crease across the knee. The crease factor depends on the type and thickness of the fabric.

  1. Hangers for tops should be multipurpose in a way that makes sense for your wardrobe.

    • If you have a lot of tank-style tops, your hangers should have loops or slots that fit the width of your tank straps.

    • If you have a lot of slippery fabrics or wide necks, hangers with grippy rubber or ridges on the shoulder work better.

    • If you have wide shoulders or larger tops you may want to get a large size hanger or one with sloping shoulders so you don't end up with what I call “pokey shoulders” or what a client once called “shoulder nipples” (that cracked me up so I must share it).

  1. Buy exactly as many hangers as will reasonably fit in your closet (with clothes on them). Ideally, there should be a minimum of 1/4” between every hanger. This defines the limit on how much can live in your closet while maintaining optimal closet function.

  2. Other things I avoid:

    1. Hangers with hooks designed to hold another hanger in a cascading fashion. Some people use these to hang outfits together. But to me that is an indicator that the wardrobe may not be flexible or mix-and-match enough, properties which apply to more streamlined wardrobes. And yet again, the tangle factor rears its ugly head.

    2. Hangers or hanging devices designed to hold multiple garments. This just makes putting things away and retrieving things a hassle. And it usually compresses the clothes into too small of a horizontal space.

Check out The Container Store and Hanger City. And, to answer a common question, the cheapest places to buy wooden hangers are Target and IKEA, ringing up at about $10 for 20 hangers. Happy hanger shopping!

Friday, March 9, 2007

Addendum to Clothes Shopping Guidelines

I've thought of a couple more policies to add related to shopping online or from a catalog:
  1. If I see something I like, I mark it (add to my shopping cart or dog-ear the page of the catalog and place it back in my reading pile). If the image haunts me for a few days, I give myself permission to seriously consider buying it. If I think back to the catalog/site and can't remember the item in vivid detail, I shouldn't buy it and don't. Sometimes I don't remember the item at all and that's a really clear sign.
  2. Before clicking the "Buy" button I must accept that I am agreeing to pay $5-10 to try the item in my home. This fee is actually the shipping/return shipping fee. Paying this fee or putting forth the effort to ship a package back should be accepted as part of the price you pay for ordering by mail. It should never be a deterrent to sending back something that doesn't meet all the criteria posted previously. Once something is physically in your home it is in charge--so you'll have to wrangle control away from it. Of course, the exception to this is Zappos where you can basically try anything on for free and pretty easily ship it back.

Monday, February 26, 2007

My New Clothes Shopping Guidelines

I love clothes and am really into fashion (I actually started college at a fashion design school before switching to fine art), although you may not think it unless you see me out on a weekend evening. I'm typing this with fingernails painted with Chanel's Ceramic Noir and am happy that black nail polish is in right now for everyone, not just for the freaky.

We are trying to streamline operations here at the Crocker house. So, in an attempt to spend less money on clothes, I have tried to institute some new policies.

My first incarnation of the idea included the policy "Only buy expensive things". This may sound counter-intuitive. However, any time a big price tag enters the equation it forces me to be more discriminating. The most expensive things in my closet have been around a long time and I expect them to be around for a while, as they are more classic. I've gotten rid of a few expensive things and felt tremendous guilt that I didn't choose wisely in the first place--I don't want to experience that again.

I realize that the "expensive only" policy could work except that some of my favorite things come from Old Navy. Before you point out that they make clothes crappily, I admit that 90% of their stuff is cut very poorly as they are only interested in clothing stick-like teenagers who'd look good in a pillowcase with the seams ripped to make head and armholes. Yes, they fade and fall apart faster, but I wear the heck out of them. I've even thought about taking some of the pieces to a tailor and having them recreated in higher-end fabrics. I promise I'm not actually insane.

So here are the current policies:
  1. Consider whether I'd buy it if it was more expensive. A sale price should figure into the decision very little, if at all.
  2. Does it make me say "Wow, I look better" when I put it on? Pretty good is not good enough.
  3. Is it trendy? If so, it has to be pretty cheap. Money spent should correlate with the expected longevity of the garment.
  4. Does it fit perfectly? If not, do I like it enough to pay for alterations? I've discovered tailoring in the last few years, even for things like cheap jeans (it's like drinking cheap wine out of a Riedel glass).
  5. Does it need modification? Will I modify it (whether I do it myself or take it to a tailor)? Do I need another project like this?
  6. Will the fabric bother me in any way? I've learned not to buy any more wool or animal hair ever again. Well I do have a cashmere hat, but it's high-end enough that it doesn't itch.
  7. Does it require dry cleaning or hand-washing? I can handle a few things that are drip dry but every time I buy hand-wash-only things, I end up machine washing them accidentally or intentionally, but with fingers crossed. I am pretty good at knowing what fabrics can actually be laundered but have learned this through expensive experience. If it needs dry cleaning I have to think about how often I'll wear it (special occasion or weekly wear?) and calculate the dry cleaning costs for a year. Ouch!
  8. Don't drink and shop! Never shop after dinner that includes alcoholic beverages.
  9. Don't be seduced. Nordstrom has a mysterious seductive power, especially when shopping with my husband for clothes for him. Do they use aromatherapy or subliminal audio or what?
  10. Don't shop under duress. This is what happens when you realize you don't have appropriate shoes or something for an event. Unfortunately the antidote to this is either A) spend more time planning your wardrobe so it is well-rounded or B) shop recreationally--I must admit I find the best stuff when I'm not looking for anything particular. Any time I go looking for something specific, I can't find it. It's a paradox.
And I must remember the extra effort that comes with buying stuff:
  1. Coming home with a bunch of bags means unloading them, removing tags, figuring where you're going to put stuff in my already-full closet, putting the bags in the recycling (which can mean disassembling the plastic or fabric handles), figuring out whether to keep the extra button provided and where to put it.
  2. Buying a bunch of stuff means having to enter more receipts in my Quicken, reconcile more items on my statement.
  3. More stuff means cleaning out my closet more often. It's something I do approximately twice per year, and although it takes 15 whole minutes, I'll procrastinate about it for months.
  4. Shopping takes a lot of time. In the last few months we've gotten really good at Scrabble because we stopped going to the mall for recreation.
So, I'm sharing what I've learned with you. It's taken 35 years to figure out and is still hard to do but I'm trying.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Labelers Are All the Rage in the 5th Grade?

I got my eleven-year-old step-sister-in-law a label maker for Christmas. I was so proud that she wanted one. Of course, I think everyone should own one, especially aspiring young organized people.

I got this message from my step-mother-in-law (my step-sister-in-law's mom, in case you're having trouble with the wacky family titles).
I just had to tell you, you started a new trend in the 5th grade of "Y" Elementary. Anybody who is anybody has a cool labeler like "A". (I am not kidding!)
Before I got to the words "cool labeler" I thought she was going to say "cool pink-and-blue knee-highs with the skull-and-crossbones-and-hearts" (I thought it was time for "A" to enter her cutie-punk-rock phase). But, I'm just as pleased to hear this news.

Yay! More Press This Week

Have you seen Triangle Home Improvement magazine? The pick-up points aren't quite everywhere yet so you may have to hunt for it.

This month they featured organizing. Check out the article, with ideas from yours truly.

Lots of press about organizing at this time of year.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Inspirational Quotes For Business (Not Someting I Actually Use)

A friend who helps me with marketing sent me this idea, presumably for my email sig or something:

A quote for your biz. :-)

As Yoda once said, "Off the floor up pick your stuff from, Young Jedi."


And you thought I only blogged about serious stuff. I hope you appreciate a little Star Wars humor. I do.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Rebates are Designed With the Disorganized in Mind

I finally bought a new phone/pda (more on that later). Of course, there is a rebate. And of course, there are catches:
  1. The rebate only applies if you sign up for the most expensive plan associated with the phone and a long commitment.
  2. The rebate is for a Visa check card, not cash. The last time we got a phone from Cingular, this was also the case. I had forgotten. I also forgot that last time we had to jump through hoops to get the Visa card to actually work and had a couple of embarrassing moments trying to use it to pay for something and getting declined. And of course the Cingular people were no help. They claimed it was out of their hands. I don't remember exactly what we did to finally make it work, so I have that voyage of discovery to look forward to in 10-12 weeks. Just thinking about it makes my hackles raise.
  3. Getting your rebate is a very complicated process--intentionally so, I'm sure. It's interesting that the salesperson actually filled out my rebate form for me and attached the bar codes from the box as well as the receipt. I checked to make sure he stapled ALL of the necessary pieces together and filled out the information correctly (he misspelled my street address). Then, of course, he put it in the big bag with all the other stuff they give you. Since this phone requires a learning curve, I had to root through all the stuff looking for manuals and startup guides. Fortunately I found the rebate form, which I had already forgotten about, hidden amongst a lot of other paper. Despite his help (which I assume is meant to look like good customer service), there are still steps involved:
    1. Copy the form, receipt and bar codes.
    2. Mark the date I'm mailing it on the copies.
    3. File the copies under "pending".
    4. Put a reminder on my calendar to check the rebate status in 10 weeks.
    5. Address the envelope. For some, locating an envelope is difficult.
    6. Go to the post office and get a tracking number? This seems like overkill so I won't do it--I've personally never had a rebate get "lost in the mail" like many other folks.
    7. Mail it. For some, locating stamps is difficult.
  4. The deadlines for filing rebates are roomy enough that following through and sending it off seems not-so-urgent. Most people, I'd imagine, never get the rebate sent in time. And there is no flexibility on the end of the retailer. Rebates are designed to work this way. Companies would lose too much money to be flexible.
  5. It takes forever to get your money, 10-12 weeks. By then you've had to pay your credit card bill and cough up the extra $$ until the rebate "money" comes back.
  6. The "money" they send usually has a pretty short shelf life. It often expires within a few months.
Sources online say that between 15% and 40% of rebates go unclaimed. I'm really surprised the percentage is not higher. Of course, in my line of work, I find rebate paperwork that has not been completed about 98% of the time. All of these hurdles are by design. I am sure of it. And folks with organizing challenges are the biggest prey.

Companies that offer rebates should be required to post their prices in a format sort of like this: "$399*************" or "(NOT REALLY) $399". Otherwise, I think it should be considered false advertising.

Be aware, when you make the purchase, of what is really involved so you don't get victimized.

Monday, January 15, 2007

You Can't Buy This Kind of Publicity

I've been working with a reporter from the Raleigh News & Observer for the last month, helping her with content for her article which finally came out Saturday...

You never know how you'll come across in the media. Back in August I was quoted for an article in Carolina Parent (the story isn't online) and I evidently used the word "stuff" way too much. Or at least I was quoted that way.

This new article is huge, the first whole page of the Home & Garden section plus another whole page, and has giant before and after pictures (I organized three spaces for them).

I'm very pleased with the way it came out. Though, who knows if I'll get any leads from it. I was in the N&O a year ago and didn't get a single hit from it.

Read the article here.

Tuesday, January 9, 2007

Nature Conservancy, That's What You Call Yourself?

While sorting through paperwork, junk mail and legitimate mail at a client's house, we came across these two envelopes. They are two separate mailings to the client--one was addressed to her old name, one to her new name. The address was identical.
Let's examine the features of this mailing:
1) "Waste Not?" Really?
2) "Want Not?" No, I don't want to get this junk mail.
3) "Address Labels Enclosed" These things seem to multiply when you lock them in a dark drawer with free address labels from other charities. Many clients are overrun with these things. They nearly never get used fast enough to keep up with the influx, if ever.And on the back:
4) Their tag line at the top reads "Saving the last great places on earth" while using twice as many trees as necessary. I doubt this envelope is made from something easy to renew like bamboo.
5) "Free Gardener's Tote Bag", probably your "gift" for joining. It looks useful but is typical of the kind of stuff I see crammed in closets because it didn't magically turn the client's thumb green. Just say no to freebies. If it's free, it's not worth having!
6) "One of the world's most efficient and effective environmental organizations". So efficient they sent the letter twice.
7) "Recycled Paper" One out of 7 isn't so great.

The production value of this mailing shows they've got some bucks so why can't their database delete multiple entries for the same address? Why are they buying mailing lists that might lead to this unintentional excess? I guess they're ok with cutting more trees to process this white paper, if they can get more donations. In this case it didn't work.

Get rid of junk mail by generating form letters at New American Dream. Fill out the form and pay a buck to the Direct Marketing Association to get off their lists. Remove yourself from ADVO's list. Or join Greendimes--for a dime a day they'll stop junk mail and plant a tree for you.

Now that I've scanned in those envelopes I'm going to drop them in my mixed paper recycling bin.

Monday, January 8, 2007

My Mom on Being Organized

On Friday, I talked to my mom--we have a weekly (at least) phone call. Friday I emailed her with the premise for this blog entry and some questions for her regarding being organized over the course of her life. Here's what I wrote, asked and commented on:

I just got off the phone with my mom who has just finished her spring cleaning. It's January 5th. It's not spring yet. Not even close. She also sends out her Christmas letter early enough that it beats everyone else's. The only person who sent their holiday card to me earlier was another organizer, and it didn't count anyway because this year she sent a Thanksgiving card. I have not sent any cards or letters for 2006...yet...and maybe won't at all at this point.

My mom is very organized, as is my Dad, and presumably I learned a good bit about organizing and being organized from them. So I thought I'd pick her brain to get her impressions on some things. She's really into genealogy so hopefully she'll find the family-ties aspect of these questions interesting.

Question: Where do you think your sensibility about being organized came from? Nature? Nurture? Somewhere else?

My Mom: My parents always insisted we keep our rooms clean, beds made, clothes picked up, etc. Every Saturday we would "clean house" as a family. I feel it was definitely nurture! As I grew to adulthood and married, we lived in a small trailer while your dad finished his Ph.D. There wasn't a lot of room, so I immediately put my "organize and simplify" into action. When we moved into our first home, after his graduation, the "habit" just seemed to continue. By this time I had one child and we began "pick up the toys and put them back in the toybox before daddy gets home" attitude. This continued when you were born.

Question: What compels you to be organized and how would you feel if you were disorganized?

My Mom: My oldest daughter swears it's obsessive compulsive disorder. For me, I think it's that I just accomplish more when I am organized. My home is organized so both your dad and I can find most anything within a few minutes - or at least know in which drawer, box, etc it might be. When I go on a trip, I begin planning months - even up to a year - in advance. To me, the "planning" of the trip is half the fun, but the practical side is that when I get to where I'm going, I usually am prepared with maps, "necessities", adequate clothing, etc. If I didn't plan in advance I feel I would most certainly forget something important and an item impossible to find on our travels. When I cook I like to know where all my utensils are so when I need one I can grab it. If I'm making a series of recipes I clean up after each one before starting the next just so I can easily reach all my supplies and utensils. I guess I go by the old motto "cleanliness is next to godliness" - especially in my kitchen.

My Comments: My mom has been planning a trip to Alaska and has booked every aspect of it the moment she could (some hotels/airlines only let you book a year and in advance and stuff like that) and is mostly paying for it with various types of "points/miles" systems.

Question: Were you organized as a kid or do you think people just didn't have so much stuff back then?

My Mom: As a child, I didn't have a lot of "stuff". Everything I had stayed in my room. Our toys were in our room when I was little, and we always had things picked up from the rest of the house before my dad came home. As I grew to a teen, I didn't have a lot of material objects. Yes, my sister and I had our records and record player, etc which we kept with the family records in the downstairs family room. Anything else, I kept in my closet or in my drawers. As I mentioned earlier, our rooms were expected to be clean and tidy before we left for school each day, so everything had it's place. But, I must admit, I had a LOT fewer items to deal with than my children or for that matter my grandchildren.

Question: When Tina and I were kids, were you as organized as you are now (spacewise and timewise)? I don't remember us being overbooked with extracurricular activities and things seemed pretty balanced. You always had/made time to make dinner and come to our activities. I assume that Tina's dust allergies had a lot to do with your housekeeping but I don't know for sure. Was there any difference in your level of organization pre- and post- Tina being diagnosed with allergies.

My Mom: When Tina was 2, we learned she had severe allergies. After many tests, we discovered mold, dust, cat and dog dander were some of the worse culprits. Our pediatrician informed me it would be necessary to clean the bathrooms daily, dust and vacuum daily (or pull out all the carpeting) and if I didn't remove them, I would have to vacuum the curtains weekly, after they were sprayed with a special product designed to keep down dust. So, yes, Tina's allergies played a BIG roll in my organizing the house and keeping things up. After she had been on shots for about 5 years and her allergies improved, I tried to back off the "daily" regimen. By that time I was working full time, was scout leader for either Tina or you for 7 years running, then when Tina started playing junior high basketball and volleyball and then you were in high school tennis, I tried to be at every game/match. Unlike many families of today, we always ate dinner together (unless, of course, there was an out-of-town game), but we seemed to always pull things off. I think being organized gave me the freedom to feel I could go to work, attend your games and tennis matches and still have the house a "home". Of course, by this time you and Tina were young adults and pretty much in charge of your own things - I basically just had to keep the house "clean". I often referred to the house as my "kingdom" and you girls' rooms as your "castles". I insisted my kingdom was picked up, but couldn't always assume the castles would meet my expectations.

Question: How do you figure that Tina and I turned out with different tendencies toward organization?

My Mom: I ponder this question often and have NEVER come up with an answer!

Question: Do you have any thoughts about why a few of our family members have/had serious clutter/hoarding issues?

My Mom: Your paternal grandmother had a serious hoarding issue, but I think it can be explained. By the time the "clutter" started, she was pretty much house-bound. Her only enjoyment in life was ordering things that she thought she might one day take advantage of "when she was better". I think it was her way of holding out hope for returning to a normal healthy life.

I have an elderly first cousin, that has serious clutter issues. She tells me her mother was always a spendthrift, so I think she became the extreme opposite, spending very little and yet keeping EVERYTHING ever purchased.

My Comments: I believe my grandma was in the Level 2 range on the clutter hoarding scale. The cousin is probably a Level 2-3. I haven't seen her house but have heard about it in detail from my mom.

And now for some fun ones:

Question: Which would be worse: someone reorganizing your pantry without your permission? or someone turning your pantry into pure chaos?

My Mom: I REALLY have trouble with chaos. I might not like the way someone organizes, but at least there would be a pattern to it.

Question: By what date do you send out your yearly Christmas letter and are you actually trying to beat everyone else by being first?

My Mom: I always try to send our Christmas letter out the day after Thanksgiving, after all, that is when the Christmas shopping season begins. (I do have one cousin I try to beat - we have a lot of fun trying to be the "first".) Once my Christmas letters are in the mail I feel the holiday season has begun and then I can relax and enjoy, knowing I've gotten them out of the way. It's the same way with Christmas presents. I really dislike shopping in crowds and not being able to get what I want as a gift for someone, so I start early. For example, this year, I was able to relax, bake cookies, etc. because by the first of December my Christmas letters were out, my Christmas shopping done and wrapped. It was so relaxing to really be able to enjoy the holidays and not be stressing out.

Thanks Mom!

Wednesday, January 3, 2007

Organizing Industry Backlash

So, I'm finally responding to the organizing industry backlash that started on December 21st with the publishing of the article, Saying Yes to Mess, by Penelope Green, in the New York Times. I'll say upfront that I have not read the book A Perfect Mess by Freedman and Abrahamson. I rarely pay hardcover price, especially for something that would only frustrate instead of entertain. Well, maybe A Perfect Mess would entertain me with its apparent fictional components and bias.

I have excerpted parts of the article so you'll have enough context for my comments.
IT is a truism of American life that we’re too darn messy, or we think we are, and we feel really bad about it. Our desks and dining room tables are awash with paper; our closets are bursting with clothes and sports equipment and old files; our laundry areas boil; our basements and garages seethe. And so do our partners — or our parents, if we happen to be teenagers.

This is why sales of home-organizing products, like accordion files and labelmakers and plastic tubs, keep going up and up, from $5.9 billion last year to a projected $7.6 billion by 2009, as do the revenues of companies that make closet organizing systems, an industry that is pulling in $3 billion a year, according to Closets magazine.

This is why January is now Get Organized Month, thanks also to the efforts of the National Association of Professional Organizers, whose 4,000 clutter-busting members will be poised, clipboards and trash bags at the ready, to minister to the 10,000 clutter victims the association estimates will be calling for its members’ services just after the new year.
Well, any PR for my industry is good PR, even if our clients are being referred to as victims. And speaking of PR, the authors publicist is earning his/her fee, given the precision of the timing (during Get Organized Month, January, when people make their resolutions to get organized) and magnitude of all this.
But contrarian voices can be heard in the wilderness. An anti-anticlutter movement is afoot, one that says yes to mess and urges you to embrace your disorder. Studies are piling up that show that messy desks are the vivid signatures of people with creative, limber minds (who reap higher salaries than those with neat “office landscapes”) and that messy closet owners are probably better parents and nicer and cooler than their tidier counterparts. It’s a movement that confirms what you have known, deep down, all along: really neat people are not avatars of the good life; they are humorless and inflexible prigs, and have way too much time on their hands.
I'm not inflexible. I thrive on a combination of structure and flexibility. I get depressed with too much structure and don't get anything done with too much flexibility. And, if I was humorless, I wouldn't have any clients at all. Also, I've never met a person with too much time on their hands.
“It’s chasing an illusion to think that any organization — be it a family unit or a corporation — can be completely rid of disorder on any consistent basis,” said Jerrold Pollak, a neuropsychologist at Seacoast Mental Health Center in Portsmouth, N.H., whose work involves helping people tolerate the inherent disorder in their lives. “And if it could, should it be? Total organization is a futile attempt to deny and control the unpredictability of life. I live in a world of total clutter, advising on cases where you’d think from all the paper it’s the F.B.I. files on the Unabomber,” when, in fact, he said, it’s only “a person with a stiff neck.”
I think I want my doctor to be organized enough that she can easily review my recent medical history in the 30 seconds she has before entering the examination room.
“My wife has threatened divorce over all the piles,” continued Dr. Pollack, who has an office at home, too. “If we had kids the health department would have to be alerted. But what can I do?”
You can hire an organizer to help you, and possibly help your marriage in the process. Although couples counseling is where you might want to start (I know my boundaries).
Stop feeling bad, say the mess apologists. There are more urgent things to worry about. Irwin Kula is a rabbi based in Manhattan and author of “Yearnings: Embracing the Sacred Messiness of Life,” which was published by Hyperion in September. “Order can be profane and life-diminishing,” he said the other day. “It’s a flippant remark, but if you’ve never had a messy kitchen, you’ve probably never had a home-cooked meal. Real life is very messy, but we need to have models about how that messiness works.”
Of course I don't want people to feel bad--but many people cannot simply accept their mess and have it not affect them negatively.

Also, I cook something from scratch almost every night. I couldn't do it well or at all if my kitchen wasn't orderly and clean. In fact, I think this is the most important room to have organized if being healthy is a priority (it also helps if your exercise room is free of obstacles, but not everyone has an exercise room). Of course you have to get it messy in the process, but you complete the process by putting the kitchen back how it started so you can cook again tomorrow without impediments.
His favorite example? His 15-year-old daughter Talia’s bedroom, a picture of utter disorder — and individuality, he said. “One day I’m standing in front of the door,” he said, “and it’s out of control and my wife, Dana, is freaking out, and suddenly I see in all the piles the dress she wore to her first dance and an earring she wore to her bat mitzvah. She’s so trusting her journal is wide open on the floor, and there are photo-booth pictures of her friends strewn everywhere. I said, ‘Omigod, her cup overflows!’ And we started to laugh.”
I think it's useful for kids to create their own system of organization by a combination of learning from their own mistakes (trial and error is part of the process) and through the teaching of organizing skills (which are part of the life skills package). I figured out part of how to be organized on my own when I moved away to college and my mom was no longer there to pick up after me. Both nature and nurture contribute to a person's ability to organize.
Last week David H. Freedman, another amiable mess analyst (and science journalist), stood bemused in front of the heathery tweed collapsible storage boxes with clear panels ($29.99) at the Container Store in Natick, Mass., and suggested that the main thing most people’s closets are brimming with is unused organizing equipment. “This is another wonderful trend,” Mr. Freedman said dryly, referring to the clear panels. “We’re going to lose the ability to put clutter away. Inside your storage box, you’d better be organized.”
It's true that the organizing product industry is trying to make money, just like the authors of the book. Organizing consultants often tell their clients that expensive organizing products are usually not a necessity. We can prevent people from spending a fortune on products that aren't right for them.
Mr. Freedman is co-author, with Eric Abrahamson, of “A Perfect Mess: The Hidden Benefits of Disorder,” out in two weeks from Little, Brown & Company. The book is a meandering, engaging tour of beneficial mess and the systems and individuals reaping those benefits, like Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, whose mess-for-success tips include never making a daily schedule.
Kinda scary, given his line of work.
As a corollary, the book’s authors examine the high cost of neatness — measured in shame, mostly, and family fights, as well as wasted dollars — and generally have a fine time tipping over orthodoxies and poking fun at clutter busters and their ilk, and at the self-help tips they live or die by. They wonder: Why is it better to pack more activities into one day? By whose standards are procrastinators less effective than their well-scheduled peers? Why should children have to do chores to earn back their possessions if they leave them on the floor, as many professional organizers suggest?
I don't live or die by any self-help tips. I am a procrastinator. I know that I am deadline-driven, am a recovering perfectionist and am more likely to accomplish something if I'm accountable to someone besides just myself. Knowing that I work best in this framework, I make things happen. I also assumed, when I got into this business, that other organizers would fit the profile described. But, once I got to know other organizers, I found out they are more like me than than not. I question whether he has ever actually consulted with or worked with a credible professional organizer. And, I can't comment on the children's chores comment, since I don't have any kids, but I'm pretty sure that a parent's job is parenting.
In their book Mr. Freedman and Mr. Abrahamson describe the properties of mess in loving terms. Mess has resonance, they write, which means it can vibrate beyond its own confines and connect to the larger world. It was the overall scumminess of Alexander Fleming’s laboratory that led to his discovery of penicillin, from a moldy bloom in a petri dish he had forgotten on his desk.
Obviously that worked for Fleming. There's nothing wrong with that unless he missed other opportunities in his lab that we'll never know about.
Mess is robust and adaptable, like Mr. Schwarzenegger’s open calendar, as opposed to brittle, like a parent’s rigid schedule that doesn’t allow for a small child’s wool-gathering or balkiness. Mess is complete, in that it embraces all sorts of random elements. Mess tells a story: you can learn a lot about people from their detritus, whereas neat — well, neat is a closed book. Neat has no narrative and no personality (as any cover of Real Simple magazine will demonstrate). Mess is also natural, as Mr. Freedman and Mr. Abrahamson point out, and a real time-saver. “It takes extra effort to neaten up a system,” they write. “Things don’t generally neaten themselves.”
The narrative of a person comes from their actions in life, not the landscape of their desk. Also, the authors clearly miss the point that neat does not equal organized and mess does not equal disorganized. It seems that the whole of his work is based on this fundamental misunderstanding. It does take effort to “neaten up” and create a system in the first place, but substantially less effort to keep it organized. He may not realize that all these years his attempts to “neaten up” were actually disrupting a system he unknowingly had in place, the system that someone else convinced him was a “mess”.
In the semiotics of mess, desks may be the richest texts. Messy-desk research borrows from cognitive ergonomics, a field of study dealing with how a work environment supports productivity. Consider that desks, our work landscapes, are stand-ins for our brains, and so the piles we array on them are “cognitive artifacts,” or data cues, of our thoughts as we work.
Yup. I can usually tell the difference between a disorganized desk and a working desk, even though, to the untrained eye, they may both look like a mess. Though, in my case and in the case of many people who call me for help, disorder on the desk is reflected onto our brains, distracting us and inhibiting us from thinking clearly, sometimes killing productivity entirely.
To a professional organizer brandishing colored files and stackable trays, cluttered horizontal surfaces are a horror;
Aha. The organizer he has worked with walked in with stackable trays. 99% of the time stackable trays are a no-no, in my book. And also considering that the professional organizer exhibited horror, it's clear the author hired the wrong one. There are organizers who don't know what they are doing, just like there are financial advisers who don't grow your money and lawn guys who scalp your grass.
According to a small survey that Mr. Freedman and Mr. Abrahamson conducted for their book — 160 adults representing a cross section of genders, races and incomes, Mr. Freedman said — of those who had split up with a partner, one in 12 had done so over a struggle involving one partner’s idea of mess.
A whopping 160 people and the method by which they were chosen goes suspiciously unquoted. I'm surprised that only 1 in 12 split-ups involved a mess. I see disorganization factoring into ½ to ¾ of my clients' relationship issues. Of course, my study is as unscientific as theirs and, again, disorganization and mess are not equivalent.

I also want to mention Freedman's comments on Marketplace on NPR the other day. He said:
For example, most peole would tend to think of Microsoft — and let's think about Bill Gates too — as sort of a rigid kind of company. In fact Microsoft is really a mess. Bill Gates is famous for letting his teams pretty much run on their own, and I think Microsoft in fact does a great job of taking advantage of mess. On the other hand, Steve Jobs at Apple, he's really famously a neat freak — he pushes his teams to finish right on time, he has very specific ideas of what he wants them to do. Of course, Apple has tremendous and very vocal fans, it really is very much the minority in the marketplace.
First of all, letting teams run on their own is a management style, not a style of mess. Second, which product, Microsoft or Apple, is actually better and more innovative in the minds of those creative people who are supposedly being persecuted in our neat-freak culture?

Read or listen to the rest of the Marketplace story. Also, listen to Kathy Waddill, a well-known professional organizer, try to simply explain that the authors' premise is faulty when she appeared on Talk of the Nation last week.

To conclude my thoughts, it's reassuring that my industry is actually well-known enough now that there can even be a backlash. There are still a lot of people who don't know that professional organizers exist. Hopefully all this buzz (paid for by the authors to their PR firm) will inform people who are tired of/from being disorganized that help is out there.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Killing Two Birds With One Stone

We have a lot of books. They fill several large bookcases in our "Library", which is technically the formal living room. We bring new books in but almost none go out. I'm OK with the idea of only owning as many books as will reasonably fit on the shelves. Limiting ourselves this way would force us to refine our collection over time.

My husband, historically, has disagreed with this approach. So over the last five years that we've had these bookshelves in this house, I've been trying to shoehorn the new books in and maintain our categories and alphabetization.

With clients I propose that they keep a book only if they loved it so much that they will re-read it (or reference it somewhat regularly) or recommend/loan it to a friend. This usually works.

Not so much with my husband. He wants to have everything we've ever read so that if and when we ever have a kid, there will be plenty of material to recommend, read and discuss. He held this position even before he read in the book Freakonomics that kids turn out better when books naturally accumulate in their home (because the parents actually enjoy/crave reading). This future-kid will have to have a life that lasts beyond the normal averages to read all these books in his/her lifetime. If Ray Kurzweil's (whose books are on the husband's xmas list, by the way) "singularity" happens in 2020 or whatever, maybe there will be time. And what if the kid doesn't want to read only sci-fi, horror, feminist fiction, Harry Potter, Roald Dahl and Dr. Seuss?

I understand the concept of having a great library for the kid, as long as it fits into the already-defined, generous storage space.

So, this week we happened to make a breakthrough. We had to come up with gifts for one hard-to-buy-for person--the rest of the gifts had already arrived from Amazon. While trying to A) stick to our xmas shopping budget, for once, B) avoid the mall, C) and avoid paying for any expedited shipping charges, he had the brilliant idea of giving this person books from our collection. This was a bit of a jump forward for me (the person who has bought and loaned out at least four copies of Laurie King's The Beekeepers Apprentice just so I could make sure everyone I know has read it), knowing that we don't intend to replace them in our collection immediately, but maybe down the road if we feel strongly enough about them. I like it. And it felt pretty good--even more personal than if we had just bought new copies.

Now I just have to go and find more room in our non-fiction section to file Freakonomics, once I've read it, and the probably-forthcoming Kurzweil stuff.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Answers to Some Commonly Asked Organizing Questions

A reporter contacted me to provide some content for a local magazine. Here are some answers to her questions.

Where is the best place for homeowners seeking to become more organized to start?

Real self-starters may want to utilize tips from Real Simple magazine, their web site or email newsletter or from the web site or email newsletter. Reading tips from these sources regularly provides homeowners with a constant feed of information to build up their organizing knowledge. These folks can then figuratively "step back" and analyze the organizational challenges in their own home and implement new systems after sorting, purging, and categorizing.

Other folks, those who have a library of books about how to organize but have not been able get organized, would be served well by utilizing an organizing consultant. Some folks just learn organizing skills better through one-on-one personal interaction. Scheduling time for organizing and getting personal help for organizing projects from an objective person, someone who does not live or work in their space, is the magic combination for some homeowners. Professional organizers can be found at the NAPO-NC web site in North Carolina, or the NAPO web site , nationally.

What are some quick and easy tips to become more organized?

* Schedule time to organize. Then, reward yourself after you keep that appointment.

* Set a manageable goal for each organizing session so that you have a finish line in mind. For example, clean out and reorganize one bathroom drawer.

* Organize at a time of day (or night) when you have the most energy and mental focus and the fewest distractions.

* Do whatever helps you stay on track: play music, get a friend to help, turn off your phone and email, plan a reward for yourself.

What are some common mistakes homeowners make when trying to organize their homes?

The single most common mistake that I see is clients buying containers or organizing gadgets at the beginning of the project. Purchasing these should be the next to last step in your project, following the sorting, purging, categorizing, evaluation of habits and design of systems, but just before the final implementation of the new system of which your purchases are a part. I understand how seductive the display windows at organizing stores can be but we must wait to buy until the time is right. Often, we'll find usable containers during the initial sorting process. These can be repurposed later for the new organizational system.

The other mistake I see is that people don't have realistic expectations. I understand that by the time people call me for help they are very frustrated and are hoping for a quick fix. Getting organized has a lot more to do with changing the way we think and changing our habits than putting our stuff in bins and labeling them. Changing our habits takes a lot of time and persistence. We are more successful if we chip away at the problem than if we hit it with a sledgehammer.

What are some of your best tips for organizing the different areas of your home?

* Most kitchens have come down with a case of gadget-itis. Unused kitchen tools and appliances that only perform very specific tasks take up precious space. Besides, most cooking could be done with only a knife, cutting board, a pot and chopsticks.

* Separate grooming tools and cosmetics into categories like lips, eyes, whole face, nails, fragrance, tweezers/clippers, and put categorized items into the small drawers of an apothecary chest.

* In the office, place stacking, horizontal paper trays near your printer. The only good use for horizontal trays is holding your paper stock, separated into categories like plain paper, photo paper, letterhead paper, holiday paper, sheets of printable labels, etc. Remove all packaging from the paper before placing it in the trays.

* Kitchen pantries are best served by shallow shelves (10 inches deep or less) that have adjustable height. This way, you can see everything you have and only stack items 2- or 3-deep. And you won't knock over the cereal while reaching past it for the chicken stock. Put food that you always keep in stock in uniform, clear containers, like Tupperware Modular Mates, and label them. Establish zones for snacks, baking, canned goods, drinks, etc. Remove as much packaging from items as possible before putting them away in the pantry--6-pack plastic rings, boxes that contain smaller boxes, shrinkwrap, etc.

* In any room match the size of the container to the size of the objects that go in it. Small items will get lost in a large deep drawer without any dividers.

* Install a clothes hanging bar in the laundry room so clothes can go directly from the dryer to hangers. Each family member's closet should have a valet rod where clean clothes can be hung temporarily while each item is put away in the correct zone: pants, tops, jackets, etc. When a garment is worn, place its empty hanger on the valet rod. On laundry day, carry all the empty hangers to the laundry room. Repeat.

What are the current trends in organizing in your area?

The North Carolina chapter of NAPO, of which I'm a member and on the board of directors, has recently put a campaign in motion for "green" (eco-friendly) organizing. As a group of organizers we are trying to heighten each others' awareness, as well as our clients' awareness, of the importance of recycling waste created in the organizing process, repurposing items that may have a new use within one's organizing plan, donating or freecycling items that are still useful to others who need them, reducing junk mail, and in my case, driving a hybrid car so that I don't create so many emissions while traveling from client to client.

Are there any new products on the market that make home organization easier?

Organizing product manufacturers are constantly evolving their product lines but there are few specific products that I consider to be must-haves. Instead, I think simple guidelines work the best for most people.

*Use sturdy, clear containers.

*Purchase an inexpensive label maker that has refill cartridges which are widely available. Or even more simply, use white labels in varying sizes from the office supply store and write legibly on them with a black marker.

*Always store papers in a vertical position, whether it is in hanging files or in a desktop vertical sorter.

*Use a single centralized information center to keep track of your calendar, contacts, note-taking and task lists--this could be a traditional paper planner, a PDA, a computer program or web-based solution.

*Avoid the least expensive wire and laminate shelving systems; in our area Schulte closets, available from Just Hangin' Around provide the best value, in my opinion. They are neither the most or least expensive.

Other well designed organizing products that I get a kick out of can be costly and I can usually help my clients improvise with less cash outlay. But, I do like Legare office furniture, IKEA closets, which are sadly, only available by mail order in our region, and MO office products.

I Didn't Actually Not Blog Last Week

Really, I did write a really long post about how people process information and then act (or don't) on it.

But I learned my lesson about not saving a draft (I was too focused on sorting out my ideas and attempting to describe them). The power surged and I found out the hard way that my UPS had died, presumably the battery is toast, shutting off my machine literally seconds before I was about to click "Publish".

I don't usually look to the universe for signs but I think I wasn't meant to write about that topic yet. I did spend a long time trying to make it make sense. So it's probably for the best.

I'll come back to it when I have more clarity on the subject.

Friday, December 1, 2006

Space Cadette on Space Bags

A client asked me an organizing question recently and I thought I'd share my response with you.

She asked: You know those bags that they have that you can put your clothes in and then vacuum out the air - do you think those are really useful or not so much? We have so many old random t-shirts that my husband refuses to get rid of, and I was thinking that maybe this would be a useful way to store them.

I replied: Space bags are great for some purposes and not for others. For storing old t-shirts that are sort of memorabilia, it is a good idea. Should you ever open the bag, the shirts will be somewhat wrinkled so if this matters, take it into account. Also, make sure the shirts are washed or not dusty before you pack them up.

Space bags are also good for bulky linens or pillows that are used only occasionally, like when guests come. I don't recommend them for storing seasonal clothing because that means twice a year when you open the bags everything will have to be pressed or washed and dried to get the wrinkles out. Bulky sweaters would probably be OK because the fibers will sort of re-puff on their own.

When you vacuum out the air, press down on the puffy spots in the bag as you vacuum so it will end up in a flat, uniform shape. Keep in mind where you will store it when choosing whether to use a few small bags vs. one big one. They have space bags that hang so you could hang it in the corner of the closet (I've also thought about using a regular space bag with a strong clip hanger to do this).

It is possible that your vacuum nozzle won't fit the vacuum port exactly. I've had one case where the person's attachments were a little too wide in diameter because you have to have a good seal between the nozzle and the rubber gasket on the one-way valve. If this happens to you it's likely that your neighbor's vacuum will fit. You'd think vacuum nozzle sizes would be standardized, wouldn't you?

Finally, the cheapest price right now is at Costco, a 14-pack for $25--but you may only need 2 or 3--split a box with a friend who has a Costco membership? Everywhere else they seem to be $5 - $10 each. The second best bet seems to be using a coupon at Linens'N'Things or Bed, Bath, & Beyond. Are you on their mailing lists? They send out 20% off coupons all the time and they don't actually expire and can be used interchangeably at the two stores.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Signing On For the First Time

So...blogging. All the cool kids are doing it these days. In my attempt to be hip like the young whippersnappers, I've started a blog. The idea has been cooking in the back of my mind for quite some time.

While not a trained writer by any stretch of the imagination, I write the occasional article for local newspapers and organizing web sites. They're usually between 300-1000 words and take a while to put together. The thing is, my brain is better suited, on a more regular basis, to shorter thoughts. I usually have them while I'm driving between clients, when inconveniently, I'm not in front of my computer. Which is why I'm thinking about getting a PDA/phone so I can send blog posts by text message. Of course I know that I can do this with my current phone, but with a new device will come a new mindset, I think.

We'll see where this goes. The main reason I haven't done this until now is I'm afraid I won't post very often. We'll see.