Showing posts with label organizing techniques. Show all posts
Showing posts with label organizing techniques. Show all posts

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Labeling with Pictures, Not Just Words

labels on baskets, using pictures and words

What comes to mid when you think of labeling? If you hadn’t just looked at the photo above, you’d probably think of text-only labels, perhaps on a file folder or on a storage bin in the garage. But there are all sorts of ways to label things so you can easily find them again — and know where to put them away.

The photo above is from the storage area at Colors of the Coast — Ellen Joseph’s gallery and gift shop in Half Moon Bay. My friend Ellen sells giclee reproductions of her paintings, as well as items such as mugs and mouse pads printed with her various paintings. So she quite reasonably made her labels with images of those paintings, so it’s easy to tell which basket holds which items.

clothing-shaped labels on a dresser drawer

The same idea can be applied to labeling the drawers where children’s clothes go. These labels come from Crafterhours. [via Parenthacks and Cool Mom Picks] You can get a similar product from StikEez.

stickers to label kitchen cabinets with words and pictures

And while these kitchen cabinet stickers from Hyundae Sheet, currently available from, may not have the exact categories you would choose, I still like the idea.

Related Posts:
Why You Really Might Want a Label Maker
Be Your Own Professional Organizer, Part 3: Label
One Person’s Organized Space: CDs and Labels

Monday, January 6, 2014

Buying Plastic Bins Won't Solve Your Clutter Issues

plastic bins being sold, with a sign that says: Clutter stops here.
Photo by organizer Deb Zechini, used with her permission.

As much as stores selling plastic bins might want us to believe it, clutter doesn’t stop when we buy the bins. Actually, the bins might become clutter themselves! Clutter gets stopped when we rid our homes and offices of the things that no longer serve us, and stop bringing more of this stuff into our spaces.

There’s certainly a place for the plastic bins and other containers, but until we’ve decided what we really want to keep, we don’t know what kind of storage we need: how many containers, what size, what style. Buying the perfect new containers can be a delight, but it’s best done after the de-cluttering. And sometimes we find we already have things we can re-use to provide the storage we need.

In his book Not for Packrats Only, Don Aslett writes about “junk bunkers” — the term he uses for “anything that creates space for more unnecessary stuff.” Here are some of his examples:
China closet: A piece of furniture that keeps dust off the stuff you never feed anyone out of.

Plastic crate: A petrochemical cage for questionable stuff.

Industrial shelving: A high-tech way to keep our boxes of useless stuff from being crushed by more of the same.
Now, of course, we sometimes have good reasons for having china cabinets, plastic crates and industrial shelving — but Don ’s point that we often find great ways to store not-so-great stuff rings true.

The temptation to buy more containers can be huge — especially when we’re in a store or on a website with really cool stuff, or when the containers are on sale. But none of us wants to wind up like David Lebovitz, who tweeted:
I don’t know why I bought 4 huge plastic containers today. Now I have to find something to fill them up with.

Related Post:
Organization is More than Storage

Monday, September 23, 2013

Strategies for Finding Lost Things: Phones, Keys, Etc.

Sombrero from

Let's say you weren't able to avoid losing your phone, your keys, or whatever. How do you go about finding your lost item?

The most comprehensive advice, involving 12 principles, comes from Professor Solomon. You can read his 12 principles online — and for even more information, you can get his free ebook. Here's an example of his advice, from Principle Seven:
Don’t be fooled. Your object may be right where you thought it was—but it has become hidden from view. Be sure to check under anything that could be covering your object, having inadvertently been placed on top of it.

I call this the Camouflage Effect. Among the most common offenders are newspapers and sombreros.
Gretchen Rubin explains a strategy that works for her:
Over and over, I’ve found, if I can’t find something, I just start tidying up. Almost inevitably, the lost thing turns up, even when I’m convinced that tidying won’t make any difference in the search process.

Maybe I engage more actively with my surroundings, maybe my vision is sharper — I’m not sure why.
Finally, Susan Krauss Whitbourne writes in Psychology Today about why we lose things, and also provides advice on finding them:
Instead of panicking, sit down and think. Reconstruct the series of steps you followed when you put the item down. Remind yourself of what you were thinking and feeling. Context-dependent memory, in which you put yourself in the same frame of mind, is your best friend right now. You need to reconstruct the entire scenario mentally, walking through it like a crime scene. Eventually little details will float to the surface of your memory and you will have that wonderful "aha" moment when you remember exactly where you put it.
There are gadgets that can help you find lost items, too — but that's the next post in this series.

Friday, September 20, 2013

How to Avoid Losing Your Keys, Phone, Etc.

Magnet with picture of two women; words are "I've spent 50% of my life looking for my keys"
Magnet from Mina Lee, found via Lelah Baker-Rabe

Lost or misplaced items are an ongoing problem for many people. How to deal with this problem is a big topic, so I'm beginning a series here today:
  • Strategies to avoid losing your keys, phone, etc.
  • Strategies to find things if they're lost.
  • Gadgets to help you find things.
  • Specialty tools to help with specific items people often lose.
  • Strategies for getting lost items returned.

So, how do you keep from losing things? Here are three of the most common strategies.

1. Assign a home to everything and send things home to live.Julie Bestry

Woman's Day quotes organizer Stacey Platt:
Most of the time we lose things because we don’t put them back where we found them. ... Everything needs a home. You can always find a fork because you always put them back in the same spot.
Stever Robbins (who I found via Linda English) explains it this way:
Create a place for your most important things, like your wallet and keys. Use a test run. Walk into your house carrying your things, and look for a place you’ll be able to put them every single time you get home. Your keys, for instance, could always go just inside the door in that priceless Four Dynasty Chinese Urn you found on eBay.
On Ask Metafilter, Daniel Beck explains his strategy:
Phone in right front pocket or in the charger by the bed, always. Keys in left front pocket or on the hook by the door, always. Wallet in back pocket or on the bedside table, always. No exceptions ever.

Adjust per your sartorial needs, of course; the important part is to stop putting the things down in random places.
And Ceiba says:
Establish a place for everything at all major stopping places. For example, when I had a car, there was only one place in the car that I was allowed to place my iPhone. In the office, the distance-vision glasses go on top of the computer and nowhere else.
And here's a very different example, from Dustin Godsey:
A sign that I'm either getting old or lazy: I always park on the top level of parking ramps now so that I don't have to remember a floor #.

2. When you leave a space, check to make sure you have everything.

Many people recommend pocket checks or pocket pats. Over on Ask Metafilter, Laen says:
When I leave the house, count the number of items I'm putting into my pocket. Usually that number is 3 (cellphone, wallet, phone). Whenever I stand up, I do a quick pocket count to make sure I didn't leave anything behind.
Two lights above the sea says:
I'm a fan of the "pat-down", as well. Keys-phone-wallet. Keys-phone-wallet. It has a nice ring to it. Do it where every you go. About to leave the house. About to leave the car. About to leave the store/restaurant, etc.
I do something similar whenever I leave a client appointment. I make sure I have my wallet and cell phone in my purse, and that I have my water bottle and my jacket. I know to always check for these four things. (My keys rarely leave my purse, so I don't need to check for them.)

3. Make things harder to lose, or leave behind.

Theora55 says:
Some things, like coffee mug or keys, can be a bright distinctive color. Teevee clickers should be blaze orange, for example. I put blaze orange marking tape on some things, and am more easily able to find them.
Gillian Kirby uses a similar strategy:
Phone - encased in bright green rubber case. ... Keys/travelcard - again, both are in bright colours so I'm less likely to put down and forget. ... Wallet - bright colours apply again. 
And David Lebovitz provides a very different example. He tweeted about his fear of leaving things behind:
Is there a word for "the fear of using a hotel safe, because you might leave, forgetting you put things in there"?
And Liz replied:
If you put a shoe in as well you won't forget passport etc. because you'd never leave with just one shoe.

Friday, May 31, 2013

May 2013 Organizing Tips and More

metal tree-shaped object for holding rolls of toilet paper

Here's a question I recently got via email: "I'm de-cluttering again. I never finished the original de-cluttering. What rules do you follow for throwing things out?" To read my answer, see my May 2103 newsletter! (Yes, I finally wrote a newsletter again!)

Also included in the newsletter:

- Product of the Month: PQTier from Presse Citron, shown above

- Organizing Quote of the Month

- Twitter Updates: little tidbits you might enjoy

large teddy pair made from a shirt

- Recycling/Reuse Idea of the Month: Tedi, from Mrs. Jermyn

If you'd like to get my newsletter by e-mail, you can subscribe.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Magazine Clutter. Filing Systems. Uncluttering Your Alcohol. And so much more!


Want to read even more suggestions from me?

Last month, I was honored join the team at Unclutterer, where I'm now writing a weekly article. My articles appears on either Tuesday or Thursday — Tuesday one week, Thursday the next.

So if any of these subjects appeal to you, click the links and head on over to Unclutterer to read more!

Nine things to organize before a tragedy
What would happen if you became seriously ill and a family member or friend had to make sure you and your household were properly taken care of?

Avoiding magazine clutter

Safe storage
You’ll usually want to store the things you use most often in easy-to-reach places — but please make sure you’re also storing things safely.

Are you constantly running late? Strategies for making appointments on time.

7 tips for maintaining an organized home
You’ve done it! Your home is uncluttered, with everything in its place. But then, a few months later, things aren’t quite the same. How do you maintain that organized space you so enjoyed?

Choosing your organizing products

Uncluttering alcohol: the shelf life of beer and liquor

Creating a personalized filing system

Is there any topic you'd specifically like to see me address, either here or on Unclutterer? Send me an email or leave a comment, and let me know.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Derek Brooks had 312 T-shirts. Now he doesn't.

Derek Brooks modeling one of his many T-shirts

Derek Brooks has a problem (and a solution to that problem) which many people will relate to — and he generously agreed to let me share his words and his photos with you.

As he explained to me, he tends to hold onto things that have sentimental value, and things he finds hilarious. And some things get kept just because he has the space to store a lot of stuff in his Iowa home.
However, a lot of these things in storage are completely useless to me. So I found that if I simply take a photo of whatever it is that I'm holding onto, it's much easier to get rid of.
And recently, he decided to do just that — with flair.
This recent organization project was really kicked off after returning from 15 months of living in small spaces in Chicago for work. Once I moved back to my home in Iowa, the amount of stuff we had (especially in closets) really started stressing me out. My wife and I began tearing through all of our closets, just purging stuff.

I've known that I've had way too many T-shirts for years ... almost as long as my idea to experiment with that stop motion video that I just made. So because of the sheer size of my t-shirt collection and the size of the task it'd be to clean out that closet while taking photos, I was basically blocking my own reorganization. 
As soon as I got time to actually sort through them and make the video, I did it. As I tried on each shirt, I took a quick photo, then threw it into one of three piles: the keep pile, the donate pile, and the "maybe" pile. My wife helped me go through the maybe pile, which resulted in a much larger donate pile.

Let's follow Derek along on his journey to a smaller T-shirt collection.

T-shirts on the floor of a closet

Derek says: "You'll probably appreciate (and by appreciate, I mean cringe over) a photo of what my actual closet looked like before I started the organization. This is really the point at which I was admitting having a problem a couple years ago."

T-shirts on shelves

Derek says that what this photo shows "was actually the first step of organizing. I pulled all of my shirts out of that pile in my closet and semi-organized them on these shelves (with wheels so I could move them out of the way)."

Then came the video, which is really fun to watch. Derek said he tried on 255 shirts — but he also had several dupes, which gave him a grand total of 312 shirts.

six bags of T-shirts going to Goodwill

And finally, here's the Goodwill pile.

Have your own T-shirt collection, or other sentimental stuff? Consider following Derek's lead: Take some photos and pass the items along.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

After a Death: Dealing with a Loved One's Possessions

My mom's beloved stuffed baby seal — one of my gifts to her, and one of the few possessions of hers that I kept after her death.

Someone you love dies, and you grieve. And somewhere amidst the overpowering grief, the question arises: What am I going to do with all of the person's stuff?

I've been reading what some of my wise colleagues and others have written, and their advice mirrors my own. Two recurring themes are:

1. If at all feasible, take your time in going through your loved one's possessions. Don't get rid of things before you're ready to.
2. When you are ready, consider keeping a small number of very special things.

Lisa Montanaro is a professional organizer who, sadly, has had to grapple with this recently — and has written a thoughtful piece about it. Here's a bit of what Lisa wrote about organizing after the loss of a loved one — and I encourage you to go read the whole thing. It's not long.
My best advice is to take it slow and go at your own pace. ... Some clients only needed a few months, while others waited years until they took on the task of organizing their loved one’s possessions. Indeed, some clients only took on the project due to necessity – moving, selling a house, clearing room for new family member to move in, etc. ...

I often tell my clients to choose items that embody the person’s spirit, remind you of details of his or her personality, or that carry special memories. There is no magic number of how many items to keep, but remember that sometimes less is more.
This topic was also discussed on the Unclutterer forums. Among the many thoughtful comments, I especially resonated with those from Cole, a pastor, who wrote about his own experiences after both his father and his grandmother died. He wrote, in part:
Over time, you will be able to let go of more. Don't be frustrated by not being able to let go of certain worthless objects — I just now got rid of an old mirror from the 60s that was on my grandmother's door. She died three years ago. I was ready at certain times to say goodbye to certain things.
And, separately, Erin Doland of Unclutterer also addressed uncluttering after the loss of a loved one, saying in part:
You need to move at a pace that is right for you. Don’t feel pressured to part with things if you’re not ready.
Erin also suggests keeping a limited number of items (once you are ready to part with things):
Find the handful of his things that you value most and that best honor your memories of him. You will instantly recognize these special items when you see them. ... Find a way to honor the treasured items you decided to keep. Frame and/or display these things so you can enjoy them. Let these wonderful objects continue to bring you happiness.

Related Posts:
One Person's Story: Keeping the Memory of Our Loved Ones Alive
Not Clutter: The Odd Sentimental Items

Sunday, December 25, 2011

It's Really OK to Get Rid of Unwanted Gifts

Sweater from the Ugly Sweater Store

Did you receive some gifts this year that you just don't have any use for? No matter how much you care for the gift-givers, you really do not have to keep the gifts, as even Miss Manners will agree. She requires appropriate thank-you notes, but says you are not stuck with an item that doesn't suit you.
As long as the recipient does not come back with complaints or, worse, a demand that the giver exchange the item, she may do what she likes with it. The only requirement is to prevent the donor’s knowing that it has been rejected. No yard sales in the same neighborhood, for example. And no demanding a receipt.
Maxwell Gillingham-Ryan of Apartment Therapy concurs; he says, in an article I found though Discardia:
One can very gratefully accept someone’s giving and not have to live with their gift. You’re not doing yourself or your friend a service by hanging onto the thing they gave you that you don’t like. What you do owe them, however, is to move it on from your home discreetly.
Author Alexander McCall Smith explained his personal philosophy about such gifts in a series of tweets:
Tweet 1: Christmas brings a major moral problem: what to do with unwanted gifts. Initial reaction: one must pretend to like them. Thank you so much.

Tweet 2: You don't have to keep the present for ever, but you should not give it away immediately. Certainly not on Boxing Day.

Tweet 3: January 25th is about right. Thereafter the unwanted present may be disposed of, preferably given away. If sold, proceeds to charity.
Erin Doland of Unclutterer notes, in an article in Real Simple, that as much as she feared people would ask about the gifts she finally gave away, that wound up not being a problem.
My decorating tastes may change over time, but I am fairly certain I will never enjoy a home filled with a series of rhinestone-accented paintings of scary clowns. Yet I had hoarded these and other unattractive presents because I thought that was the decent thing to do. I also wasn’t sure what I would say if someone noticed his gift missing and asked why. Well, you know what? No one has. Not even the bestower of the scary clowns.
As feng shui expert Karen Kingston says, when it comes to unwanted gifts, "It’s far better to accept the love that was given with the gift and let the physical object go." She also notes that we might consider how we, in turn, feel about the gifts we give to others:
My own attitude is that if I give a gift to someone and it amounts to instant or eventual clutter in their life then I certainly don’t want them to keep it. I would much prefer they sell it, regift it or throw it away if necessary. I give the gift and let it go.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

One Person's Organized Space: CDs and Labels

Sometimes I see someone else's space and just gawk at the lovely way it's been organized — and today was one of those days. I was attending an open studio event when I saw Barbara L's CD collection — and got permission to take a photo and share it with you. (Actually, the whole studio was amazing, filled with lovely things, nicely displayed.)

There's so much to like here, starting with the labeling — including the idiosyncratic "auditory pablum." But I also love how the carefully curated collection of shells and artwork shares the space with the CDs, and how these pieces serve as bookends. And I can see that the shelves are adjustable, so this piece of shelving can readily be used for something other than CDs if Barbara so desires in the future.

I find images like this to be much more inspiring than those you see, in magazines and on TV, of perfectly organized spaces —because it's real and has tons of personality.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Organizing Lessons from a Cabinet of Curiosities

wunderkammer shelf
Photo from Curious Expeditions, found on Flickr, licensed under Creative Commons.

Some months ago, my book group read Bicycle Diaries, by David Byrne. The book didn't do much for me — but the part about the Wunderkammer caught my attention.

What's a Wunderkammer? Wikipedia says:
A cabinet of curiosities was an encyclopedic collection in Renaissance Europe of types of objects whose categorical boundaries were yet to be defined. They were also known by various names such as Cabinet of Wonder, and in German Kunstkammer or Wunderkammer ("wonder-room"). ...

The term cabinet originally described a room rather than a piece of furniture. The classic style of cabinet of curiosities emerged in the sixteenth century, although more rudimentary collections had existed earlier.
And here's what Byrne had to say:
I reach the British Museum, where there is a show of curiosity cabinets. ...

The objects in the Wunderkammer — preserved creatures, odd books and treatises, antique carvings, sacred objects from foreign lands — were often grouped, by Sir John Sloane and other collectors of that period, by whatever criteria seemed appropriate, be it shape, material, or color. There would be, for example, a mass of bulbous objects from various parts of the world and then some sharp, pointy ones grouped together. Many of these objects had nothing to do with one another except for having similar shapes.

Hardly what one would think of as a rigorous, enlightened scientific method of categorization. But thinking back on it, I would suggest that yes, in a truly enlightened world, all green objects are in a way related somehow, more than just by being green, and maybe they are related in a way we don't understand yet, just as all hexagonal objects might share a common trait as well. These crazy groupings might someday be seen as not completely arbitrary.

And any kind of taxonomy might be as good or valid as any other.
And I love that — even if I'm not convinced that Byrne is exactly right — because it illustrates an important organizing principle: There's no one right way to group your things. Organizers often encourage people to group "like with like" — but there are many different ways things can be alike. Just one example: Some people like to group their books by color, while that would drive other people crazy. We all need to just use whatever groupings work for us.

Another interesting perspective comes from David Pescovitz, who writes:
Several years ago, I became fascinated with cabinets of curiosity. The Renaissance predecessor to modern day museums, these cabinets, sometimes entire rooms, were filled with a mish-mash of objects, both natural and artificial, that embodied the wonder of the world. (The German term for these collections, wunderkammer, literally means "chamber of wonders.")

Inside, you might find a mummy's hand, a "unicorn's horn," exotic seashells from distant lands, odd insects pinned and cataloged, and possibly even a two-headed lizard in a jar of formaldehyde. As Tradescant the Elder, one of the most notable cabinet keepers in history, requested in a letter to the Secretary of the English Navy in 1625, this was a quest for "Any thing that is strang."

fossils at Whitby Museum
hand of glory at Whitby Museum
First photo by rojabo / Jim Brodie; second photo by twiggles / Chris. Both found on Flickr and licensed through Creative Commons.

Reading this reminded me of my visit to the Whitby Museum, where much of the museum serves as a sort of cabinet of curiosities. How else can you quite explain a museum that has a fossil collection as well as a hand of glory?

But Pescovitz went on to say:
Many blogs, including the one I co-edit, have been described as virtual cabinets of curiosity — storehouses of unusual links, odd memes, fringe culture, and weird news.
So welcome to my very own cabinet of curiosities, which I've been creating for exactly five years now!

Monday, June 27, 2011

The Power of Using Checklists

book cover Checklist Manifesto

Checklists save lives. Dr. Atul Gawande makes that very clear in his fascinating book, The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Done Right.

Gawande focuses mostly on airline pilots and medical teams (ICU and surgical). Builders of skyscrapers and other complex structures, and managers of investment funds, also get some attention. (Van Halen and David Lee Roth make a brief appearance, too.)

Aviation checklists have proven their worth for many years now. Manufacturers like Boeing have become experts in creating effective checklists: precise and practical, and tested in flight simulators. Airlines then make customizations; Gawande tells us that "when airlines merge, among the fiercest battles is the one between the pilots over whose checklists will be used."

Such checklists aren't exhaustive, covering every possible issue; they focus on the "the killer items — the steps that are most dangerous to skip and sometimes overlooked nonetheless." When Gawande spoke to Daniel Boorman of Boeing, he learned that "even the look of the checklist matters. Ideally, it should fit on one page. It should be free of clutter and unnecessary colors. It should use both uppercase and lowercase text for ease of reading."

Unfortunately, the surgical checklist developed by the World Health Organization — Gawande was a key player in developing this list — has had much success, but has yet to gain anything close to complete acceptance. I just checked my own area, and many hospitals are actively using the checklist — but many are not. Gawande mentions how he started using the checklist himself, thinking it wouldn't be all the useful in his practice. "To my chagrin, however, I have yet to get through a week in surgery without the checklist's leading us to catch something we would have missed."

Checklists, Gawande argues, don't turn the users into "mindless automatons." Rather, a well-made checklist "gets the dumb stuff out of the way, the routines your brain shouldn't have to occupy itself with ... and lets it rise above to focus on the hard stuff." Both the aviation and the surgical checklists also help build the sense of teamwork needed to effectively deal with emergencies.

While many of us don't work in the complex environments that Gawande describes, checklists can still be useful tools. Reading this book made me appreciate them all the more.

Related Posts:
Organizing for Travel: The Packing List
Checklists: Chore Charts
8 Tips for Getting (and Staying) Organized When You Have Memory Problems

Sunday, March 27, 2011

The Uncluttered Closet: Keeping Only the Clothes You Love

I just finished a book about eccentric glamour written by a clever wit Simon Doonan who says throw out all your ordinary clothes and wear your most fun and fabulous things. -- Franke James; illustration used with her permission

How many of us have closets full of clothes we don't really love? If you're one of those people, head over to Franke James' blog and read her complete illustrated post about how she originally laughed at Doonan's advice - and then decided he might indeed have a point. "My closet will be so spare and uncluttered," she writes. "I will wear only my favorite clothes." You'll want to see the far-from-ordinary clothes and accessories she speaks about keeping!

And you'll be glad to know Franke wasn't considering actually throwing out the "ordinary clothes"; they would go to her sisters and their children, to Goodwill, or to her Freecycle community.

Some people thrive with a personal uniform; Doonan has a different approach which might appeal to others. They are two different strategies for reaching the same goal: closets containing only the clothes which truly serve us, be they functional or fabulous.

And on a personal note: You may have noticed I've not posted much the last two weeks. Sadly, this is because I was out of town visiting my dad; my stepmom just died last week.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Reader Question: One is Messy, One is Not

Photo by Tericee, found on Flickr; licensed under Creative Commons.

I follow your blog and I love to read it. I also help others with decluttering problems. One problem I am asked frequently is, how can I tidy when the person I live with is messy? I was looking in your archives and you don’t have any articles covering that subject. I’m wondering if you have any great tips you’d love to share in a future blog post?

Here's my advice on the subject - assuming we're talking about a normal amount of clutter, not a hoarding situation:

1. Show respect for the other person. Do not get rid of any of that person's things without permission. And both people might watch the language they use, avoiding phrases like "your junk."

2. See where both people are in agreement. Peter Walsh says, "Imagine the life you want to live" - and then imagine how you want to use the spaces in your home to support that vision. Are both people aligned?

3. Make sure both parties understand that there are different ways to be organized, and understand that one person's approach may not work for the other. I've seen someone who prefers that everything be put away in drawers try to enforce that style with her "need everything out where I can see it" spouse - and it just doesn't work. But you can have things out and still be organized - and tidy!

On a related note: Some people may be naturally less tidy, but you can make things easier on them by making it as simple as possible to be organized and tidy. For example, provide hooks for hanging up clothes, rather than just hangers. Provide an "in box" right where the person normally dumps the incoming mail, not where you'd ideally want to place it. Get off junk mail lists, so there's less mail to deal with.

And for files that both partners use, make sure the file titles make sense to both parties - so they can both easily put things away, and find them. I saw a shared home office where one person filed the home insurance under the name of the insurance company - which was not something the other person would have ever thought to look under. Filing it under Insurance - Home made things much easier!

4. Perhaps both partners can have areas which are entirely under their control (as long as that doesn't pose any health hazard) - and then agree on some ground rules for the common areas.

5. I don't like to sound self-serving, but it really can help to bring in a professional organizer. Having an informed neutral third party involved can make a big difference.

I've worked with couples where if Person 1 asks Person 2 if we can get rid of an item - find it a new home - Person 2 will almost always say no. But if I ask the same question - worded a bit differently, probably - about 50% of the time I'll get a yes.

And of course, an organizer can come up with all those different approaches mentioned above, too.

6. For more on this topic, head over to Unclutterer, where Erin Rooney Doland has some good posts:

Monday, January 24, 2011

January 2011 Organizing Tips and More

colorful storage bins for toys and more

My December 2010 / January 2011 newsletter is now available.

Tip of the Month: Decluttering as a Treasure Hunt

Update on My Own Decluttering: the file cabinets

Product of the Month: P'Kolino Play Kits, sold (among other places) at The Shelving Store.

Also: Organizing Quotes of the Month

If you'd like to get my newsletter by e-mail, you can subscribe.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Reader Question: Those Spare Buttons that Come with Clothes

Any suggestions on how to identify and organize those packages of buttons - and, with sweaters, those bits of yarn?

I just throw them into a container and never get back to them - but I'm not sure I would be able to identify them anyway!

Personally, my buttons are in their envelopes, in the bottom of my very-rarely-used sewing box. They aren't identified in any way, and I don't recall ever using one. So I went looking around to see what other ideas I could find.

It seems lots of people do something similar to what I do - there are lots of button jars out there! But for those who prefer a more organized approach, I found five techniques commonly in use.

1. Just throw them away.

Some people may want to save the buttons for crafts projects or their decorative value - but for those who don't, this can be a perfectly fine option.

On YouLookFab, blessed02 says: "I throw them all away! I’ve never had any occasion to even go looking for one."

And Lisa concurs: "I used to keep them all. At first I would label each button with the name of the item. Soon I progressed to putting them in a Ziploc bag. ... Now I just toss them out. I don’t recall ever using any of the extra buttons. If I did need one I’d just run to a craft store and pick one up now."

And Valleycat1 chimes in: "I throw them all out. ... I realized several years ago that I never have used the extra button OR sweater thread, so why accumulate them? If you have a large tin full, how would you ever track down the specific one you need? "

2. Sew them into the garment.

On YouLookFab, Amrita says: "Usually I sew them to a side seam or the hem of the garment. Got tired of digging through a button box trying to find the proper matching button."

Another advantage of this approach is that if you lose a button while away from home, a replacement is right at hand.

3. Label them, and put them in a box, bin or jar.

Over on GardenWeb, Molly says: "I attach the buttons to an index card stapled to the hangtags of the garment and add a description of it. Then I put the card in a small box that I keep just for this purpose. A number times this has saved the day for me."

And Pinktoes says: "Most of my new clothes come with spares in a tiny plastic or paper hang tag. I use those. For the paper ones I write what garment ... on the tag and it goes in a covered buttons box, which also holds tins of loose buttons. I also write the date of purchase and owner. Oh, and in my case, the SIZE. I remember the day I threw away the spare buttons for my wedding dress, which was a size 4. No use for those in the foreseeable future.

For the plastic bags I write up that description on scrap paper or an index card and insert it inside. Or use a small Ziploc bag (snack size)."

This is the same basic technique recommended by DwellWell.

And you've got to smile at what FetchezLaVache wrote on Mumsnet: "I write 'blue blouse from Next' or whatever on a small piece of paper, pop it in the little plastic bag, then mislay it."

4. Keep them in a business card holder (or something similar).

This is the Martha Stewart approach, as I learned from The Wannabe WAHM and Eternal Voyageur at YouLookFab. You can see a photo on the Martha Stewart web site.

Scarlett on YouLookFab does something similar: "I actually keep mine in a little booklet with pockets meant to hold business cards. Sometimes I include a note to remember what the button goes to. This works well for me, but it is not a large volume of buttons."

Joy on YouLookFab mostly uses the "sew it in" approach for her own clothes, but takes this approach for others: "For those that don’t get sewn in and most of DH’s extra buttons I’ve found my son’s abandoned plastic binder pages that held baseball cards to be perfect."

5. Sort and store them by color.

Rather than labeling individual buttons, some folks (including a couple on Julie Morgenstern's Idea Exchange) choose to just sort them by color, so it's relatively to find the right button when you want it.

Anyone else want to chime in? What do YOU do with those buttons?

[photo by Sally Hunter (gingermaddy), found on Flickr, licensed under Creative Commons.]

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

July/August 2010 Organizing Tips and More: Photo Organizing, etc.

stool, with box that fits underneath

My July/August 2010 newsletter is now available.

Tip of the Month: Organizing the Photos

Product of the Month: The Cutter stool and box, sold by Mjölk and others

Also: Recycling/Donation Idea of the Month

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Is a Family Member’s Clutter Driving You Crazy?

I've raved about Naomi Seldin's Simpler Living blog many times before, and the guest post she wrote here was very popular with readers.

Naomi kindly offered me a chance to write a guest post on her blog - so go there to read strategies for dealing with someone else's clutter.

Monday, June 14, 2010

8 Tips for Getting (and Staying) Organized When You Have Memory Problems

Memory problems can result from all sorts of medical issues - so it's worth seeing a doctor if you have concerns about your memory.

But here are some suggestions on how to stay organized even when your memory isn't working at its best. (Note: These tips are intended for those with manageable memory issues, not severe issues that put someone at serious risk of harm.) Many of these suggestions are useful to those without memory issues; they just take on some added urgency if memory is a concern.

1. Declutter

If you do misplace something, it will be easier to find if your space isn't cluttered.

2. Have a place for everything - and label it.

This may include labeling the outside of dresser drawers and kitchen cabinets. The Remind and Find labels shown above were designed for just this purpose - and of course you can find others, or create your own. [via organizer Shannon Zipoy]

You'll want to be especially sure to have set places for your glasses, keys, wallet, medications and important papers.

3. Use routines and checklists.

If there are things you need to do repeatedly - every day, for example - consider creating a checklist. A morning checklist and a before-bed checklist work well for some people.

Specialized checklists for how to do specific tasks can be helpful, too. My mother used to have a checklist that told her exactly how to take her insulin, and it worked fine for her, even though she sometimes had memory challenges in other areas.

4. Use a calendar, a to-do list, and a message-taking notebook.

A single calendar or planner that lists all your appointments is a critical tool. Your to-do list could be noted on the calendar/planner or kept separately; some people like to use a whiteboard to keep their to-do items in front of them.

It can also help to have a notebook where you record all your phone messages and notes from conversations with others, so you don't wind up with random pieces of paper all over the place. With the single-notebook approach, you know that if you forget what someone said, you can easily go look it up.

An alternative (or supplement) to the notebook might be a voice recorder; this is another good way to capture notes to yourself.

photo phone

5. Use whatever memory aid products are useful to you.

Some of the most common memory aids are weekly pill cases; there are many to choose from. There are all sorts of pill dispensers and reminders, too; see MaxiAids and for some ideas. BIndependent has some advice about selecting the medication aid that's best for you.

Timers of all sorts can be useful, too.

But I've been amazed at the range of products available - such as the Clarity photo phones, found here and here. [Via BIndependent, which also sells this phone] A glance at the list of memory aids at Gold Violin and Dynamic Living might give you some ideas, too.

key finder

6. Consider tools that help you find misplaced items.

ADDitude Magazine lists a few of the many products available, including the Find One, Find All key finder shown above.

7. Let people help.

Sometimes just a little help is all someone needs. My brother or I loaded my mom's weekly pill cases each week - but she didn't need any help remembering to take the pills once they were in the pill cases. She had her routines, and they served her well.

8. Mix and match all of the above into a solution that works for you.

Everyone's needs are different; experiment and find out what works for your particular situation!

Anyone else have suggestions? If something has worked particularly well for you or someone you know, I'd love to hear about it.

Monday, March 8, 2010

March 2010 Organizing Tips and More

elephant coat rack

My March 2010 newsletter is now available.

Tip of the Month: 8 Ways to Tame the Maintenance Monster

Organizing Product of the month: elephant coat rack

Recycling/Reuse Idea of the Month: local theater companies

Also included: Organizing Quote of the Month and some Twitter tidbits