Sunday, April 27, 2008

5 of My Favorite Organizing Tools

Tip of the Week, April 20, 2008

Having bins, baskets, folders, shelves, and gadgets does not in and of itself make anyone organized; in fact, buying supplies like these before you have a definite use for them means that they're bound to wind up as more clutter, which defeats the purpose. That's why I always recommend waiting to buy tools and supplies until you know where and how you'll use them in your organizing system and have a clear sense of what and how much you need them to hold.

Once you've answered those questions, you'll be ready to find the best tools for the job. Organizing supplies don't need to be expensive or elaborate to be effective--and sometimes the simplest options are the best. Here are five of my favorite organizing tools, all of which I've used and loved in my own home as well as with clients.

InterMetro Shelves
Good, solid shelves are a key component to many organizing systems, and one of my favorite shelving systems is InterMetro. These metal shelves are mix-and-match, so you can choose the pieces you want to create shelves that fit your space. They're great for kitchens, basements, garages, attics, and other areas prone to high (or low) temperatures and moisture; they also work well as stand-alone systems in closets, for those who can't or don't want to mount anything to the walls. I use a set of InterMetro shelves in my kitchen to buy myself storage space for small appliances (toaster oven, microwave, mixer, and food processor), cookbooks, and pantry items.

Stackable File Boxes
Having an organized filing system involves separating papers that are archival or that you rarely refer to (like old tax returns) from those you need on a regular basis. For many, finding a place to put those older files can be tricky. My hands-down favorite solution is to use stackable file boxes. I love them because they're clear (so it's easy to see what's inside), they have built-in file rails (so you can use hanging folders in them), they're much sturdier than standard banker's boxes, and, as the name implies, they're stackable. They also have tight-fitting lids and are plastic, so you can store them in a garage or attic without worrying about your files being ruined by pests or water.

Glass Storage Jars
I'm a big fan of keeping kitchen staples like pasta, rice, dried beans, flour, and sugar in glass storage jars. They're inexpensive, they're sturdy, and they prevent an avalanche of half-full bags and boxes in cabinets. You can find (relatively) fancy glass jars at the Container Store or your local home store, but you can also pick up good basic models at Ikea, or--more economical still--use plain old Mason jars. In my kitchen, a small wall shelf holds a line of pantry staples in matching Ikea jars, keeping my cabinets free for other stuff and adding some visual interest to the room. They're also great for things like crafting supplies, pens, and small tools.

M.O. File Folders
There's a file folder continuum in my world. At one end are beaten-up old folders that are bent, torn, and literally rough around the edges. In the middle are the basic manila folders you can find at any office supply store. And at the far end are the file folders made my M.O. You might think a folder is a folder is a folder, but I beg to disagree: these folders are heavier, sturdier, and better designed than any I've come across elsewhere. They can be labeled either along the top edge or along the side. They can take a serious beating without crumpling. Best of all, they have never given me paper cuts, which is more than I can say for every other type of file I've ever laid hands on.

3-Ring Binders
Last but not least are the tools with a thousand uses: 3-ring binders. Not just for school anymore, binders are a great alternative (or addition) to notebooks or file folders. I've used them with clients as a way to store and organize recipes, business cards and other contact info, To Do lists, event notices, medical records, articles and clippings, and bills to pay. In my own house, they hold chunky insurance-related papers, brochures and fliers on organizing supplies, credit card and bank statements for my business, and notes and ideas on the book I'm writing. With a 3-ring binder, sheet protectors, and a few divider tabs, you can create an organized way to store almost any type of paper that comes your way.

Remember, tools and gadgets alone won't make you organized. But once you've done your homework and are ready to bring in some supplies, these five are well worth considering.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Book Review: Home Therapy by Lauri Ward

Tip of the Week, April 13, 2008

Lauri Ward begins her book Home Therapy: Fast, Easy, Affordable Makeovers with an observation that explains why many of us embark on the adventure of getting organized in the first place. She says, "Our homes reflect who we are. When we invite someone into our living space, we're revealing ourselves, and if we're not happy with what we show, or if we feel it isn't a true reflection of who we are, we're uncomfortable." How many of us can relate to that?

Home Therapy profiles 25 of Ward's clients, all of whom hired her to help them create more comfortable, functional, enjoyable living spaces. The clients in Home Therapy range from young people to seniors, from working class to wealthy. While some of them choose to make significant changes and purchase new furniture, accessories, and decorative accents, most of them adhere to Ward's Use What You Have program, which, as the name suggests, involves finding better uses for the things the clients already own.

10 Common Mistakes
Ward begins the book with a chapter on the importance of a comfortable, customized home, followed by a detailed look at what she calls the ten most common decorating mistakes--from #1: Not defining your priorities to #10: Using lighting incorrectly. The subsequent chapters profile each client's situation, beginning with The Client and the Complaint, in which Ward introduces the client and describes what he or she disliked about their home.

Next up is The Diagnosis, with Ward offering an overview in words and pictures of the client's "Before" living spaces, including notes on which of the ten decorating mistakes the client has made. Finally, Ward gives us The Remedy, a words-and-pictures look at what the client's "After" spaces look like.

As an organizer, I saw some familiar scenes in these chapters: rooms crowded with clutter, insufficient storage space for the items clients really loved and wanted to keep, and the sense of unease and chaos that can come from trying to use too many different kinds of decor in a single room. In every single chapter, I was impressed by the solutions Ward came up with, many of which involved helping clients get rid of things they didn't want, need, or use, and all of which made the clients' spaces more livable.

Lessons Learned
Though Home Therapy isn't exactly a how-to guide, I found that I was able to pick up several tips and ideas over the course of reading the book. For example, I discovered that using Ward's trick of pulling all of my books to the front of my bookshelves made the shelves seem much less cluttered and much easier on the eyes. I also found that adding a simple, inexpensive throw rug under the coffee table in my living room gave me an instant "conversation area," pulling together the sofa, chair, and ottoman that were there.

Home Therapy is a useful crash course in the essentials of spatial organizing--that is, arranging furniture, decorative pieces, and storage containers in ways that feel good, look good, and function well. It's full of Before and After photos, and is written in a straightforward, friendly, and nonjudgmental way.

The book also features some great tidbits of advice, such as what Ward tells a couple who have been literally tiptoeing around a carpet they've placed right in the middle of their living room: "[W]hile your possessions are important, they should never be so important that they possess you." For an interesting peek at how others have solved their organizing and decorating challenges--often with little more than ingenuity and some furniture rearrangements--Home Therapy is a great resource.

Monday, April 14, 2008

"Every Possession Is a Responsibility"

Tip of the Week, April 6, 2008

I recently read an article in the April issue of Real Simple about the causes of clutter and how to overcome them. While there were some smart ideas and plenty of words of wisdom, what struck me most was a quote from one of the organizers who contributed to the story.

What has guided her in both her professional and personal life, this organizer said, was something she'd heard long ago from her grandfather: "Every possession is a responsibility."

These few words say so much, and they help explain why surrounding ourselves with things--a practice that might seem like it will bring us fulfillment and calm--so often causes stress, worry, and discord. Each item in our lives requires some degree of thought, energy, effort, and time; the more stuff we have, the more of each of these vital resources we need to devote to our possessions and the less of each we have available for the people, hobbies, and pursuits that are important to us.

The next time you consider allowing a new object into your life, or consider holding onto something you might not use, want, or need, ask yourself whether you're really willing to take responsibility for that item. If the item isn't worth the thought, energy, effort, and time it requies of you, or if taking responsibility for it means adding more stress to your life, let it go.

Every possession is a responsibility. Items that don't reciprocate by being beautiful, useful, or truly enjoyable to you will only take up space, physical and mental. Let them go.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

5 Great Organizing and Productivity Blogs

Tip of the Week, March 30, 2008

Blogs (short for weblogs) are informal websites dedicated to any number of topics; they're sort of like a cross between a magazine, a bulletin board, and a conversation. I use a blog to archive past Tips of the Week; others use them to start discussions, share news and ideas, and post reviews. There are hundreds (or quite possibly thousands) of blogs about organizing and productivity. Here are five of my favorites, each with a different tone and focus.

Jeri's Organizing and Decluttering News
Jeri Dansky is one of my fellow Professional Organizers here in the San Francisco Bay Area, and she may be the most talented and dedicated web researcher I've ever met. If there's an organizing product, tool, or resource out there somewhere, Jeri's bound to find it (and if she can't, it might not exist!). Her blog, Jeri's Organizing and Decluttering News (, is a treasure trove of ideas and recommendations on all things organizing. Jeri features a lot of interesting and unusual products and supplies, many of which I can almost guarantee you've never seen before. But she's also a big believer in the idea that having organizing products doesn't make you organized, so she balances her product ideas with recommendations on resources for recycling and reuse, and with general organizing advice.

Your Life. Organized.
If you've seen Mission: Organization, you may have seen Professional Organizer Monica Ricci in action. Monica is based in Atlanta but travels far and wide in the name of organizing, and when she's not traveling or working with clients or speaking or volunteering with NAPO, she somehow finds the time to write a varied, interesting, and active blog called Your Life. Organized. ( How she finds the time or energy is a delightful mystery to me, but we're lucky that she does. Her blog is a fun encyclopedia of quotes, techniques, advice, products, events, and other organizing websites.

43 Folders
David Allen's book Getting Things Done has a loyal following (for good reason), and has inspired several blogs dedicated to the ins and outs of Allen's productivity techniques. One of the most interesting among them is Merlin Mann's 43 Folders ( Named for the setup of a tickler system (click here for an explanation of tickler files), the blog covers a wide range of topics, from those specific to Getting Things Done (or GTD) to general tips on productivity to ideas on how to use technology to your advantage (and how to know when it's getting in your way). Even if you haven't read GTD, you'll find Merlin's explanations of the book's central tenets easy to read and understand. But don't stop there. Browse for a while to get a sense of the true scope of what the blog has to offer.

Organizing LA blog
How do the rich, famous, and fabulous get organized? There's no better person to answer that question than John Trosko, the owner of Organizing LA and the guy behind the company's upbeat and interesting blog ( If there's a story out there about, say, what the inside of soccer star David Beckham's refrigerator looks like (hint: color-coded), John will find it, post it, and offer some insight into it. He also has an eye for new products, stores, and organizing-related events. The blog is worth a read even if you're nowhere near LA.

Written by several different people, each with a different perspective, Unclutterer ( features new organizing tips, techniques, ideas, and products each day. The blog bills itself as one aimed not only at those who need serious organizing help and have no idea where to begin, but also at those who are generally organized but want to be moreso, as well as those who are "looking to squeeze even more order into their lives." What I like best about Unclutterer is that these folks actively practice what they preach, and are open about where clutter and disorganization creep into their lives. And the satirical "Unitasker Wednesday" posts, which poke fun (gently) at gadgets designed to do only one thing--and therefore apt to become clutter almost immediately--is a highlight of the week.

Enjoy these five blogs, at least one of which I hope will find a spot on your list of Favorites. Is there an organizing or productivity blog you enjoy reading that I haven't listed here? Post a comment and let me know.