Saturday, January 02, 2010

A New Year!

Wow, it's been over a year since I've written.

It's been a busy, busy year, and I've been taking a little breather this past week to slow down and take stock. Every year around this time I do a little yearly review. I take stock of where I am and where I want to be in the following areas of my life:


One of my goals this year is to "clean up the past." I plan to complete and shut the door to anything in the past that is weighing me down in the present. This includes little things, like sorting through my summer clothes and getting rid of whatever I didn't wear this past summer, purging books I'm not reading. I've been updating my filing systems -- something I suggest everyone do at least once per year. Taking those old paints and broken electronics to the recycling center. It also includes bigger things, like finding the time to get back into that exercise routine, and seeking more balance in how I spend my time, and finding time for leisure.

You notice that leisure falls at the bottom of my list. I actually forgot to put in on the list until just now. This New York Times article explores the procrastination of pleasure.

It sounds odd, but this is actually a widespread form of procrastination — just ask the airlines and other marketers who save billions of dollars annually from gift certificates that expire unredeemed.

The death of my stepfather this year has woken me up a bit to my "pleasure procrastination." Tom was 61 and died one month after they discovered cancer had spread throughout his body. One day he was working and swimming, the next, he was bedridden and dying. It's very painful to watch someone in the midst of living be torn away from their grip on life. His wasn't an easy death, physically or mentally, in part because of the suddenness of it. There was no time for him to mourn the lost dreams, the lost hopes. The realization he wouldn't see his grandchildren grow up, wouldn't see another full moon, wouldn't feel the hot sun on his face or smell the freshly cut grass again. Death is the ultimate loss -- the loss of everything we know on this earth.

It reminds me of my favorite movie quote. The move was the Sheltering Sky (1990).

Because we dont know when we will die, we get to think of
life as an inexhaustible well, yet everything happens only a
certain number of times, and a very small number, really. How many
more times will you remember a certain afternoon of your childhood,
some afternoon thats so deeply a part of your being that you can't
even conceive of your life without it? Perhaps four or five times
more, perhaps not even that. How many more times will you watch the
full moon rise? Perhaps twenty. And yet it all seems limitless.

So in this new year, I am reflecting on those things that matter, that I want in my life, that I want to have seen or experienced or accomplished. Maybe it's time to stop procrastinating on redeeming those air miles....

Monday, December 01, 2008

Hoarding/Chronic Disorganization

NPR aired an interesting segment last week on one woman's experience with a husband who hoarded.

Hoarding is often associated with OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder). It is characterized by the amassing of possessions, often with no apparent use value. For example, a person might hoard used soda cans, or leaves, or newspapers. One standard definition of hoarding is

the acquisition of and failure to discard possessions that are useless or of limited value, resulting in clutter that renders living spaces unusable for their intended purpose, and causing significant distress and impairment. ...Clutter resulting from hoarding typically reaches a point where rooms cannot be used for their designated purpose, or where safety and hygiene are compromised.(from "Cognitive Approaches to Obsessions and Compulsions: Theory, Assessment, and Treatment," Randy O. Frost & Gail Steketee, eds.)

Simply being disorganized or having too much stuff doesn't mean a person is a hoarder. The diagnosis is dependent upon the degree to which regular life is impeded by the collecting, as well as other factors. I often get calls from new clients who think they or children or parents are "hoarders," when they are just "collectors."

True hoarding benefits from a team approach to treatment. I recommend working with a combination of a therapist specializing in OCD, a hoarding support group or treatment program, and an in-home professional organizer who is sensitive and knowledgeable about the issue.

As the close family member of a hoarder, I have learned first hand that it is very difficult for family to help a family member who hoards. The emotions run too high and power dynamics play out between family members that can impede progress.

Resources: -- They have lists of phone and in person free support --- The Obsessive Compulsive Foundation. They list a ton of resources, including local support groups, intensive treatment programs, therapists and others who specialize in OCD, books, online support, and more.

Please feel free to email me at, or call me at 773.343.2939 for more information on how professional organization can help.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

What to do with....? Donating/Recycling Obscure Items

Plastic grocery bags: Donate these to animal shelters for litter and dog poop scooping.

Prom dresses, bridesmaid gowns, or other formal dresses and gowns: Donate to the Glass Slipper Project (

Eyeglasses: Lions Clubs International operates what may be the largest used eyeglass collection program in the U.S. In 2004, the Lions Eyeglass Recycling Centers reported a collection of nearly 5.5 million pairs of eyeglasses, distributed to nearly 3 million people worldwide. All types of eyeglasses and sunglasses, prescription and non-prescription, are acceptable. Reading glasses are also very useful because many recipients are in need of visual correction to help them perform close-up tasks. Sunglasses are needed by people living near the equator in order to shield their eyes from the sun's damaging rays.
Most local Lions Clubs have collection boxes at various community offices and businesses. In the Chicago area, many organizations collect glasses for the Lions. The Lions have also established partnerships with Goodwill Industries and LensCrafters (which works through its charitable foundation, Give the Gift of Sight). Both have eyeglass drop-off boxes in all of their stores.

Business Clothing for Women in Transition:

Bridge to Success
661 West Lake Street, 3rd Floor South
Chicago, IL 60661
Phone: 312-715-1259
Fax: 312-715-1307

Shoes: Share Your Soles sends shoes around the world to desperately impoverished people around the world. Shoes are professionally washed and polished before sending. Boots and winter shoes are sent to Indian Reservations and Appalachia. Sandas and athletic shoes are sent to Central America, the Caribbean, and Southeast Asia. Dress and school shoes go anywhere children need shoes to be able to attend school.
Send shoes to
Share Your Soles
Processing Center
11801 S. Central Ave. (Rear)
Alsip, IL 60803

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Need an Excuse to Declutter? Join Me for a Treasure Hunt!

A lot of clients assume that I must have the neatest, most clutter-free home. Well, to tell you the truth, I'm not immune to collecting clutter. I am, however, committed to living as simply as possible. I don't like getting bogged down in clutter, so I make regular trips to various places around the city to drop off donations. I'm not worried about "needing it someday." Living without clutter right now is better than living for "someday."

A client recently told me that a friend of hers makes regular shipments to the Philippines which are dispersed to various charities there. I didn't realize the Philippines were so in need, but according to this woman, who is from Mindanao, the rural areas are extremely poor. In fact, she even sends basic food supplies like rice and corn meal, because even these are lacking there.

So I am initiating a collection of items in good condition to be sent: clothing, especially men's, unopened over the counter medications, sneakers and shoes, pots and pans, kids' school supplies, crayons and colored pencils, and anything else you think wouldn't create landfill or environmental hazards. Even though I regularly clean out my clutter, I went on a treasure hunt throughout the house and collected 2 big bags filled with clothes and shoes, towels, a wool blanket, greeting cards and note paper, pens and pencils, and other things.

Would you like to join me on the treasure hunt? If you'd like to make a donation to be sent to the Philippines, contact me and we'll figure out how to get the stuff to this person to be sent. Weight is no issue as they have special big cargo boxes that can be filled for a flat $40 to the Philippines, regardless of weight. And if you'd like to sponsor the cost of shipment, that would be fabulous! Please email me at, or you can call me at 773.343.2939. Thanks!

Sunday, June 29, 2008

You Have Permission!

Today's client session reminded me of one of the magical forces of professional organization, that you might be able to replicate merely by reading this entry! This issue applies to people who have a hard time letting go of things.

It's so simple it's hard to believe the effect it has on people. I simply give clients permission to let go of unwanted objects. Gifts they never liked. Sheets that no longer match. Hand-me-downs their kids will never wear. They ask me what they should do with a particular object, followed by something like "it was a gift, and I never really liked it." What they are seeking is permission, and I give it to them, and it changes their relationship to their stuff!

Sometimes there's a latent sense of guilt behind holding on to something we no longer love or need. Maybe we feel guilty for not "using it up." Maybe it's our natural environmentalism. Or maybe it's Depression-Era survival skills passed down through the generations. Wherever it comes from, I'm here to tell you it's ok to let go and let someone else benefit from the dust-collectors and space-thieves in your home.

As one organizer wrote somewhere (I can't remember where), "is it worth the cost of your home? Because that's what it's costing you!"

You have my encouragement to let go of all the stuff you're not using, you don't like, or that doesn't fit into your current life. If you fear that this is wasteful ("I spent so much money on the stuff, just to give it away!"), remember, that thought is focused on regretting the past (how much money you spent), and by doing so, you waste the present. The present is this: clearing out the old, the unused, the disliked, will open space for the new, the loved, the unknown. It will simplify your life in ways you can't imagine. I'm not saying it's always easy -- we hold lots of emotions, fears, desires, fantasies, and memories in our stuff. Sometimes it's hard to let go of the past and the future and the fantasies that they hold. But creating space for the here and now is the only way to really be in the here and now. And that's all we have, really.

Of course, decluttering responsibly means making sure your unwanted things don't end up in the trash. For information on where to donate your stuff in Chicago, please scroll down and also refer to the menu at the right for an older entry on where to donate anything from books to eyeglasses to old blankets. Please also email me for information on donating designer items for a fundraiser to save the rainforest in Indonesia, home of the near-extinct Orangutan. Thanks!

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Where to Donate...

Someday (this season, I hope) I'll get to completely updating the "Where to Donate" list. In the meantime, I thought I'd share where I've been donating clients' stuff lately.

The White Elephant
Lincoln Park
2380 N. Lincoln Avenue
Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Thursday: 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Sunday: Noon to 5 p.m.

100% of the proceeds from sales benefit Children's Memorial Hospital. They take pretty much everything, even off-season clothing which can be hard to get rid of. For a complete list see

Sarah's Circle
4750 N Sheridan Rd # 220
Chicago, IL 60640
(773) 334-3096
Drop off between 9-4, M-F

They provide a panoply of daytime supportive services for homeless or almost homeless women. They are always in need of in-season clothing, including interview attire and new undergarments, new deoderant, toiletries -- travel sized only, books, magazines, and movies (for movie nights).

Cornerstone Community Outreach
4628 North Clifton Avenue
Chicago, Illinois 60640
phone: 773.303.0119

I am always impressed with this shelter and community center when I drop things off there. They treat their residents with dignity and respect, and they are very grateful for the donations I drop off. Check out the programs on their website, I'm sure you'll be impressed.

They take:

* Clothing (In good overall condition-please no stains, rips, or broken zippers-clothing should also be freshly laundered)
* Coats, Scarves, Hats, Gloves (coats especially for larger men and women)
* New Under Garments (socks, underwear, bras)
* Personal Items (soap, shampoo, toothbrushes, toothpaste, deodorant, disposable razors, shaving cream, sanitary items)
* Shoes (please attach shoes by the laces, leave in box, or rubber band them together in pairs)
* Accessories (please bring these in zip lock bags)
* For Baby (baby bottles, Enfamil formula with Iron, bottle brushes, diapers, baby shampoo, baby powder, Desitin or equivalent, baby clothes, blankets)
* Strollers (in good overall condition with no broken wheels or missing buckles)
* Baby Cribs and Vinyl Single mats (cribs should be within the current law and mattresses should be vinyl covered with no holes or rips in exterior)
* Child Car Seats (in overall good condition and not manufactured before 1996)
* Linens (blankets, sheets, pillowcases, new pillows, towels, washcloths (please no stains or rips-should be freshly laundered)
* Houseware (please no chipped or broken items. Also please keep sets together if possible-ziplock silverware, and separately box dishes)
* Computer hardware, software, peripherals (please no computer items manufactured before 1997)
* Furniture, small area rugs, pictures, mirrors, books, records, tapes, CD's, videos, small working tools
* Used appliances, and electronics (in good working condition-no repairs needed, if possible please twist tie cords) Microwaves – only 1995 or newer
* Toys, Sporting Goods, Games (in good overall condition with no missing pieces or broken parts-stuffed animals should still have a lot of love left in them and not be dirty)
* Art, office and school supplies (in generally good condition)
* Luggage (in overall good condition. Please clearly mark combinations to locks or attach needed keys)
* Building Materials

See the bottom of this page for what they do not take:

The Brown Elephant

All Brown Elephant Resale Shops are now open from 11:00 a.m. - 6:00 p.m., every day

3651 N. Halsted Street

5404 N. Clark Street

1459 N. Milwaukee Avenue

217 Harrison Street, Oak Park, IL


Proceeds benefit the Howard Brown Health Center which serves the glbtq population in Chicago. They take almost everything, see their website for details.

Of course, there's the Salvation Army, but I think they get more than they can handle, so I try to support the smaller organizations.

The Post Office provides plastic mailers, postage paid, for used cell phones and small appliances. Petsmart takes used printer cartridges in a postage paid mailer which benefits animal charities.

Read my older post "Where to Donate" for lots of other places. Be sure to call them in advance to make sure the information is up to date.

Happy decluttering!

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Inspiring Simplicity

The running theme of this blog is how to live more simply, so I thought I'd share the inspiring story of a new client who is committed to simple living.

This successful corporate executive is moving from Chicago to the east coast and hired me to help her pare down and organize her papers before the big move. Moves can be exhausting, stressful, complicated affairs, so I prepared my schedule with some flexibility to make sure she'd be covered.

Well, this ended up being the easiest move prep I've ever witnessed! The client was determined to fit everything she owned in one medium sized sedan.

Now granted, not all of us can afford to get rid of our wardrobes and start anew, but that's besides the point. This woman lives with a philosophy of having "enough" (see last post on the myth of scarcity), and she didn't feel the need to weigh herself down with things she might -- or might not --- use "someday."

Thursday, June 12, 2008

The Psychology of Financial Management

I took this picture in devastated New Orleans when residents had just returned after Hurricane Katrina. An industrious lady was offering "Cut + Coke" in her yard for $10.

There is much to say about this topic, but for today, I'd just like to address one particular issue relating to psychology and financial management that I see frequently in my organizing practice.

For some of my clients, handling bills and finances is an annoying and even distressing affair. At one extreme, I've seen years of bills stacked up, resulting in thousands of dollars in fees and ruined credit, even though resources had been there to pay the bills. Sometimes paying bills and dealing with paperwork triggers an anxiety response, and having a neutral, supportive presence to help guide the process and ensure follow-through is needed. (Of course there are many other reasons bills don't get paid for stretches of time! These include onset of severe illness, not having the money, etc. But for the purposes of this discussion, I am only referring to the psychological dimension of financial management.)

There can be many roots to this anxiety. A common one I believe is the development of habits of avoidance. These may have started years ago when there really wasn't enough to pay the bills each month on time. Opening bills that can't be paid can be extremely anxiety producing, provoking a flight or fight response. Avoidance makes perfect sense from an evolutionary standpoint, and it certainly is understandable when options for dealing are non-existent. But what I see oftentimes is that even when times change, and money is available, the anxiety and the avoidance response stick around. The anxiety of opening a bill -- followed by avoidance -- becomes a habit so that even when the money is there, the need to flee remains.

Another common issue I speak at length about in my clutter support groups is the "poverty mentality" I see frequently. This is a mindset that has nothing to do with one's actual resources. I've seen very wealthy extended families guided by a poverty mentality, and I've seen very poor people who do not live by its restrictions. It is based on the (oftentimes unconscious) assumption that there is not enough to go around. A person living with a poverty mentality might accumulate vast holdings of "stuff" -- sometimes more than their space can hold -- out of fear. I've seen people pay thousands of dollars per year in storage units for items that "will be worthwhile someday." I've seen others spend their lives accumulating "deals" -- items on sale or good deals from garage sales, with the idea that some day they will sell them. But instead, the stuff takes permanent residence cluttering up their living space, and the time spent accumulating and sorting becomes its own problem, if not nightmare.

The fear underlying this accumulation might be that one day the money won't be there to purchase the stuff, so they better hold onto it now. Or that one day it will be worth something, and that will be their only means for survival. The accumulations is not based on rational thought -- which will often reveal that the time and money it costs to hold onto to the stuff -- whether in lost rental revenue, or in lost clarity of mind, or in lost time spent shuffling everything around -- will never be repaid. It is based in fear.

In her book The Soul of Money, Lynne Twist uses her four decades of experience directing global initiatives to end world hunger to reflect on the relationship between money and leading a meaningful life. It's an inspiring book that I recommend highly. In her chapter titled "Scarcity: The Great Lie," she writes:

I have been engaged for all these years in the lives and circumstances of people, many of whom live in crushing conditions where the lack of food, water, shelter, freedom, or opportunity drives every move adn every conversation. Others, by every measure, have bounty way beyond their needs -- more money, more food, more cars, more clothes, more education, more services, more freedom, more opportunity, more of everything. Yet, surprisingly, in that world of over abundance, too, the conversation is dominated by what they don't have and what they want to get. No matter who we are or what our circumstances, we swim in conversations about what there isn't enough of.
I see it in myself. For me, and for many of us, our first waking thought of the day is "I didn't get enough sleep" The next one is I don't have enough time." Whether true or not, that thought of not enough occurs to us automatically before we even think to question or examine it.
....We live with scarcity as an underlying assumption. It is an unquestioned, sometimes even unspoken, defining condition of life. It is not even that we necessarily experience a lack of something, but that scarcity as a chronic sense of inadequacy about life becomes the very place from which we think and act and live in the world. It shapes our deepest sense of ourselves, and becomes the lens through which we expeirence life Through that lens our expectations, our behavior, and their consequences become a self-fulfilling prophecy of inadequacy, lack, and dissatisfaction. (pages 46-47).

She goes on to list the 3 toxic myths of scarcity:

Toxic Myth # 1: There's Not Enough

Toxic Myth #2: More is better

Toxic Myth #3: That's Just the Way it is

So what would our personal financial management look like if we approached it from the reverse mentality: there is enough. Less is better. I can change things -- in my life, and in the world. What would shift in your life?

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Suze Orman's Recommended Websites

I know a lot of people who seem organized until you look at their papers. And one of the causes of paper disorder is fear of facing one's finances square in the eye. In my next post I'll address the psychology of financial management, but here are some great resources to get you off on the right track.

I highly recommend Suze Orman's books on finance if you haven't read any of them, especially her latest revised one "The Road to Wealth: Suze Orman's Complete Guide to Your Money." In question-answer format, she addresses a wide range of issues beyond investing. For example, what key things should you have in your life insurance plan? And do you even need life insurance?

Here are some very useful websites I've collected over time from Suze's columns and books.

Socially Responsible Investing:

Life Insurance -- Compare Prices:

Health Insurance Quotes:

Check your fico score:

Compare Credit Card Offers:

Saving for College Tuition – 529 Savings Plan
No income limit, interest on invested money is tax deferred, and withdrawals for college costs are tax-free.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

6 Tricks for Getting Started

Oftentimes the hardest part of organizing is getting started. Here are a few tricks of the trade to get you going when that organizing project feels stuck.

1. Set a timer for 20 mins. and just commit to moving the whole time. If you have a lot of clutter, put 3 boxes in the room labeled "donate," "trash," and "not sure." Don't hem and haw over each item, just put it in "not sure" if it takes more than 30 seconds to decide. Try the 20 minute trick daily.

2. One of my clients came up with this useful trick: for each organizing session he shines a desk lamp on one area, and organizes everything that falls within the parameters of the light.

3. Enlist a clutter buddy and report your goals and accomplishments by phone or in person at regular intervals.

4. Tackle the low-hanging fruit first. Go for the easy projects to get your organizing muscle stretched.

5. Perfectionism is your worst enemy, and the way to beat it is to create manageable expectations. Saying you're going to clear up a mess that took 5 years to make in one weekend may cause you to want to throw in the towel before you even start. Setting up reasonable expectations that you can sustain over the long-term is a more productive approach.

6. If 6 months goes by and you haven't made any progress, it may be time to hire a professional to get you beyond the rut. A $150 investment can get you on track and past the blocks, and you will learn organizing skills that will last a lifetime.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Meditations on Wealth

Last weekend was Chicago's fabulous Green Festival, a two-day extravaganza of colossal proportions with dozens of speakers and endless booths centered on improving our planet.

The issue hits close to home, and to the heart of what I love about my work: helping people to live more organized, efficient lives, and therefore live more in alignment with their values and life purpose. When we're organized and really in tune with our purpose, we find we don't need so much stuff.

As a broke student putting myself through a private college in the early-90s I traveled throughout India for 4 months, and my image of myself as "poor" drastically shifted while there. I remember vividly seeing myself for the first time as very lucky and rich during an all-night train trip where I slept snugly on a windy berth in my warm sleeping bag. The bag wasn't just warm -- it had special drying properties, was lightweight, and stuffed into a miniscule little bag when not in use. Other local travelers had thin wool shawls, if anything, and shivered throughout the night. How rich I was to have such a fancy sleeping bag, it was almost embarrassing. And how poor I had been just a month earlier, thinking myself as lacking.

It's very easy to fall into a poverty mindset, to see ourselves as wanting. I still do it all the time. But I also take time to situate myself in reality, in the reality of the entire world. Lack of access to clean water is one of the main causes of infant mortality around the world. I recently heard an interview on the NPR program Worldview where a man with a dancing troupe from Africa was visiting the US for the first time. He was asked what struck him most about the US, and he spoke of his surprise over the wide availability of water here. He was amazed that you'd sit down at a restaurant and they'd just bring you water. There, where he was from, you'd walk miles to collect dirty water from a contaminated river.

If we all brought that kind of awareness to each glass of clean water, imagine how rich in spirit -- the real kind of wealth -- we would be.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Frequently Asked Questions Regarding My Services

Here are some answers to the typical questions potential clients ask me:

I've never hired an organizer before. How does it work?

Typically we begin by surveying the problem areas. You show me what is working in the home, what isn’t, and we map out an action plan based on your priorities. I can work with you or on my own, but some interaction is necessary to achieve the custom organizing solutions that match your lifestyle, needs, and personality.

If you are so busy you can’t be around for much of the organizing, we agree on a plan of action and then I make as much headway as I can on my own. If purging is part of the action plan, I place things that might need purging in a box for you to go through. I consult with you by phone or email when questions arise. With your permission I will make purchases for supplies as needed.

Is my mess the worst you’ve ever seen?

Most likely not. My most challenging home contained little paths through 8-10 foot tall stacks. A path to a spot on the bed, to the sink and fridge, and to the toilet. Most clients have areas in the house they are more or less comfortable in, and areas they feel stuck in. I welcome the challenge and see it as an opportunity to help you create the space and life you want.

Are you going to pressure me to get rid of things?

No. My role is to support you in achieving your organizing goals. If decluttering is your goal, I ask you leading questions to help guide you in making the right decisions about what to keep and what to purge, but you ultimately determine the pace and direction.

How do I assure confidentiality?

I subscribe to a strict code of ethics as presented by NAPO (the National Association of Professional Organizers). When we begin our work, I provide you with a signed statement assuring confidentiality.

How many hours will it take?

This depends on many factors and is impossible to predict. Do you just want some basic systems to work with, or do you want your house to look like Martha Stewart moved in? Are you hoping to change lifelong clutter habits? If you need to purge, how quickly can you make decisions? How much stuff is there to sift through? Do you want me to give you follow-up tasks? Are you lacking storage space? Do you have boxes of papers to sort through (paper can take longer than other things)?

How do you charge?

Generally by the hour, although I can package my services and charge a single fee per project in certain cases. Please contact me for more information.

I’d like to do as much of the job on my own, but I need guidance and support. Is that possible?

Absolutely. There are two ways we can do this. We can work over the phone through coaching sessions where I guide you through the process and help you through any emotional bumps along the way. Or I can come on a regular basis for a few hours and give guidance and direction to the project. Some find this really helpful to keep the momentum going with a project that easily gets overwhelming on one’s own. I have clients who hire me once per week, once per month, or even every few months to make sure the organization systems we set up don’t fall apart. For large jobs, I find it most effective if we set up several organizing sessions to get the project off the ground, then I can coach by phone after that. Regular hourly rate applies to phone coaching.

Do you travel out of state?

Yes, for larger jobs I will consider traveling. I’ve had clients in New York, New Jersey, and San Francisco in addition to Chicago.

When do you work?

I generally work days and evenings, Monday through Saturday. Advanced booking is necessary for Saturday appointments. Special Sunday bookings can occasionally be accommodated.

I have to get organized in a rush, and it’s a big job. Is this possible?

Yes. Let me know your goals and time frame, and if necessary we will bring in a small crew to speed up the pace.

Do you shop for me?

Yes, if purchases are needed and desired, I will shop for supplies, shelving, etc.

My (husband/wife/parent/child etc.) is a packrat and it’s driving me crazy. Can you help?

Yes, I’ve helped many in this situation, but we’ll have to get the other one on board. We should all meet in a preliminary consultation to discuss goals.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Big Picture -- Little Picture

I can often group my clients into two categories: those who focus primarily on the big picture, and those who focus primarily on the details. Both types of thinkers have their strengths, but they also both have their challenges when it comes to organizing.

The big-picture thinkers have no patience for all the little doodads that tend to amass. I commonly find a few boxes in a client's house, never unpacked from a move, filled with miscellanous doodads. These are the boxes my large-picture clients want to avoid at all costs. They tell me we'll do those later, or, if they aren't prone to collecting, they might just dump the whole box in the garbage. To them it's too time-consuming to separate out office supplies from bathroom supplies from audio tapes. Making the little stuff go away is a short term strategy that sometimes leads one astray from their overall goal of household systems that keep the clutter from amassing in the first place. An organized home needs systems for both the big and the little stuff, and sifting through a box of miscellany is one great way to test out and expand upon your existing systems. My challenge for these large-picture thinkers -- especially those who find themselves at mid-age with MANY of those miscellany boxes and drawers springing up throughout the house -- is to cultivate the patience to go through the boxes and drawers, piece by piece, and make decisions about each little object. The decisions you make now will result in the development of your organizing systems. (See the section on Zoning before going ahead with this!)

Large picture thinkers also oftentimes think in "big" categories, rather than dividing things by usage. For example, I would divide a child's art materials by use -- markers together, glue and adhesives together, etc. A large-picture thinker has no problem with throwing it all together in one big tub, since that is how their brain processes the materials. This way of thinking is great when it comes to furniture layout -- they often get it pretty quickly -- but when it comes to the little stuff, the system outgrows itself almost immediately. One big problem that results is that the little stuff sifts to the bottom of the drawer or container, and everything just becomes a jumbled mess. Then when the container is full, they might start another one, filled with many overlapping categories as the first, but now housed separately. My role here as an organizer is to help break down these large categories into much smaller units.

The little-picture thinkers easily get mired in all the details. They hire me to help them see the forest through the trees, and also to keep them on track. If they are paper collectors, they will have a hard time resisting printing out every interesting article on the internet. Imagine being able to see the molecules of every object in your home. It would be overwhelming. Similarly, the extremely detail-oriented person can be overwhelmed by minutiae. They may have a gorgeous drawer system where the staples are separated from the paperclips and so on, but much of the house remains disorganized because their time was spent on creating the perfect systems.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Where to Donate....

Spatial Solutions Professional Home Organization
Phone 773.343.2939 Email
Please email with additions, updates or corrections.

De-cluttering is so much easier when you know your old treasures are helping those most in need. I compiled the following list after helping so many of my clients clear out their clutter and then, for the sake of efficiency, calling the Salvation Army to pick up the goods. I knew this wasn't the most effective way to help those in need, so I began researching alternate places to donate, and discovered there are myriad opportunities to give in Chicago! Many more organizations can be found online or by searching in your local yellow pages under “Social Service Agencies.”

This list is up-to-date as of May 31, 2006. I called almost every organization to verify and expand upon the information provided on their website. All donations are tax-deductible to the extent of my knowledge.


Sharing Connections
5111 Chase Avenue
Downers Grove, IL 60515
9am-3pm M-F, 9am-12noon Sat & Sun
Furniture pick-up within close distance. Must be on 1st floor. Driver will call the day before to confirm.

Accepts furniture, baby supplies, personal care items, cleaning supplies, appliances in good condition.

National Furniture Bank Association (NFBA)
Don Lawrence, Vice President, Communications
Phone (800) 576 0774

Links furniture industry with those in need.

HOME, Housing Opportunities and Maintenance for the Elderly
5414B West Roosevelt Road, Chicago 60644-1483
They pick up furniture


Sarah’s Circle (Uptown)
4750 N Sheridan Road, Room 220
Chicago, IL 60640-8061
Call 773-728-1991 before dropping off your donation.

Accepts household and kitchen supplies, office supplies, appliances, sheets and towels, computer programs, toiletries, vitamins, medicine. Always in need of business suits, gently used kitchen cookware, kitchen appliances, feminine products and depends. Large appliances by arrangement.

Offers daytime supportive services and a safe refuge for women who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless.

Brown Elephant Resale Shops (Four Locations)
3651 N. Halsted Street, Chicago
5404 N. Clark Street, Chicago
1459 N. Milwaukee, Chicago
217 Harrison, Oak Park, IL Hours 12-7 during week, 11-6 on weekends
All other locations open 11 am - 6 pm every day
Call 773-549-5943 with any questions, including piano and large furniture pick-up.

Accepts clean furniture, clothing, small appliances, toys in good condition, books, working electronics, computers faster than 486, household supplies

Brown Elephant shops benefit the programs and services of Howard Brown Health Center which services the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community.

White Elephant Resale Shop (Lincoln Park)
2380 N. Lincoln Ave
Call 773.883.6184 to arrange for a pick-up.
Mon. – Wed. and Fri. and Sat. from 10 a.m. - 5 p.m.; Thursdays from 10 a.m. - 7 p.m.; and Sundays from noon - 5 p.m.

Accepts clothing in good condition, furniture, appliances, books

Proceeds benefit the Children’s Memorial Hospital.

Lincoln Park Community Shelter (Lincoln Park)
638 W. Deming Place 60614
Chicago, IL
Call (773) 549-6111 to arrange drop-off.

Accepts toiletries, scrap paper (clean on one side), towels, sheets, blankets, men’s clothing, first aid equipment. For full list refer to their webpage.


Christopher House
2507 North Greenview, Chicago
Drop-off Monday and Tuesday from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m.

In high-need currently: baby clothes, baby toiletries and diapers, baby furniture and strollers, maternity clothes, linens, towels, school supplies, book bags and backpacks, individually wrapped snacks, chest freezer, blankets.

Christopher House's mission is to help children, families, and individuals in need help themselves through integrated social, educational, and human service programs.


Bottomless Closet (Loop)
445 N. Wells Street Between Illinois and Hubbard
Suite #301
Chicago, IL 60610
Phone: 312-527-9664
Accepts donations every second Sat. of the month except Jan. and Sept.
Drop off at loading dock in the back of the building, enter from Illinois or Hubbard, volunteers should be present to help unload

Accepts women’s interview and work attire and accessories (shoes, handbags, jewelry) and office supplies (markers, envelopes, paper).

They assist women in the Chicago metropolitan area re-enter the work force, helping them get off welfare and stay off welfare through job retention training and provide them with appropriate clothing for work.

YWCA Clothing Donation Boxes
Accepts clothing, shoes, and linens. Drop off in any of the drop-off boxes listed below.

Donations are picked up 6 days per week. A company called “Charity Clothing Pick-up Service, Inc.” provides the boxes and deliveries, then pays the charity (the YWCA Lake County in this case) by volume of clothing received. The clothes are sold in a thrift store in Humboldt Park. Whatever is not sold here gets sent to a third world country. The YWCA is actively seeking new locations for their drop boxes, if interested, please call Debbie Larker at 847-662-4247 ext. 102.

The YWCA Lake County focuses on women's economic empowerment/ education and training; women and adolescent girls' health; and after school youth leadership and development. The YWCA speaks out and is active on a national and local level to educate, raise awareness and change institutionalized systems that deny people access and opportunity for reasons of color, age, economic status, culture, ethnicity or gender.

Marathon 1706 Northwest Hwy Arlington Hts 3/17/06
Alamo Shoes 5321N. Clark St. Chicago 3/21/06
Citgo Gas Station/Subway Toughy and Sheridan Chicago 3/21/06
Curves 1409 Addison Chicago 3/21/06
Habetler Bowl 5250 Northwest Hwy Chicago 2/10/06
LaPalapita Milwaukee Chicago 2/10/06
Maytag Laundry 2949 W. Irving Park Chicago 1/27/06
Mortan Cleaners 5932 W. Irving Pk Chicago 1/27/06
Stanley's Fruit & Veg 1558 N. Elston Chicago 3/22/06
Columbus Foods 1651 E. Rand Rd Des Plaines 3/17/06
Crab Things 1249 S.Elmhurst Des Plaines 3/17/06
Gleason's Automotive 173 S. Wolf Des Plaines 3/17/06
Northwest Automotive 410 E Northwest Hwy Des Plaines 4/6/06
El Famous Burrito 904 N. York Rd Elmhurst 3/21/06
Bond Companies BOX#1 Main east of McCormick Evanston 2/10/06
Bond Companies BOX#2 Main east of McCormick Evanston Pending
Bryan's Garage 2829 Central St. Evanston 2/10/06
Mall East of Mc Cormick Home Depot, Oakton Evanston 2/10/06
Schwartzenhoff Cleaners 600 Oakton Evanston 3/17/06
Mobil 1280 W. Ogden Naperville 3/21/06
Olson Rug 988 So. Route 59 Naperville 3/21/06
Collectible Festival Antique Mall 1520 Aurora Ave. Napperville 4/6/06
Jun's Mobil 329 S. Lincoln Way (rt. 31) North Aurora 1-Jun-06
Staples 1551 Algonquin Rd Rolling Meadows 3/21/06
7-Eleven 2579 E. Ballard Rd Des Plaines 4/6/06
Golf Driving Range 1150 E. Golf Rd Des Plaines 4/6/06
Strip Mall Has White Hen Pantry and Nextel 1925 Washington Naperville 1-Jun-06
Marathon Tri C Automotive 3 N. Wilke Rd Arlington Hts 4/6/06
Lakeside Retail Center 2460 Eola Aurora 1-Jun-06
Citgo 3890 New York Rd Aurora 1-Jun-06
Marathon 1795 N. Farnsworth Aurora 1-Jun-06
ICI Paints 300 E. Indian Trail Rd Aurora 1-Jun-06
Aurora Fruit Market 1218 N. Lake St Aurora 1-Jun-06
Godings Marathon 1150 Prarie St. Aurora 1-Jun-06
Taqueria Los Cabritos 733 Aurora Ave Aurora 1-Jun-06
Chesterfield Center 722-750 Butterfield Rd North Aurora 1-Jun-06
Aurora Food Mart Strip Mall 370 Indian Trail Rd Aurora 1-Jun-06
Naperville Coin Laundry Laundry/ Quick Wash 409 Ogden Naperville 1-Jun-06
Park City Teen Center Tuske Blvd. Park City 1-Jun-06
Park City Car Wash Belvidere Rd & Knight Park City 1-Jun-06

Working Wardrobe
312 S. Westmore Road
Lombard, IL 60148
T (630) 691-1455
Donations accepted every second Saturday of the month.

Accepts ladies' career clothing in good repair can be donated

Working Wardrobe has been providing business attire and work preparedness assistance to women in need since 1998.


Most animal shelters are in need of these. You can find local shelters in the yellow pages. They are also always in need of cat litter, animal carriers, dog kennels, and laundry detergent. And, speaking of clutter, did you realize that 4 to 6 million cats and dogs are put to sleep every year in shelters because there are no homes for them? And each day, where 10,000 humans are born in the U.S., 70,000 cats and dogs are born, according to the Animal Rescue League in New Mexico. This is a problem created by humans, and I believe it can be reversed. Adopting from shelters and rescue groups rather than supporting breeding, and spaying/neutering your pet, are two actions you can take to help. We have some great shelters in Chicago -- PAWS, The Tree House Foundation (cats only), The Furry Friends Foundation, and The Red Door are just a few with very good reputations.


C/o Beyond Media Education
7013 N. Glenwood Ave
Chicago, IL 60626

Only accept paperback books. If you have books to donate, please email to arrange a time when they can be picked up or dropped off or stop by their space between 2-5pm on the first and third Sunday of each month. They are in Rogers Park at 7013 N. Glenwood, one block north of the Morse red line stop.

Most Frequently Requested Books:
* Self-help
* Recovery/addiction
* Meditation/yoga
* Daily affirmations
* Spiritual/religion
* Parenting
* Dictionaries
* Blank soft-cover journals
* Fiction by people of color
* Lesbian/queer fiction
* Crafts/crochet

Midwest Books to Prisoners
Book drop box location:
Quimby's Bookstore
1573 North Milwaukee Ave. PMB #460
Chicago, IL 60622
Free books to Midwest prisoners.

Soft-cover book donations only.

Most requested book topics:

English and Spanish DICTIONARIES
GED (English and Spanish)
Art Lessons
Medical (esp. hepatitis, diabetes, AIDS)
Real Estate
Wilderness Skill/Survival
Books by People of Color
Drug and Alcohol Recovery
Mens Health
Arts and Crafts
Abuse Issues
Queer Books
General Education
Beginning Language Books (Spanish, etc.)
Starting own Business
1 Book Encyclopedias (no sets)

Wish List:
Envelopes (all sizes)
Light bulbs
Donations for spring rummage sale
Broom and dust pan
File cabinet
Packing tape
Stamps (.37 & .02)

SCARCE (School and Community Assistance for Recycling & Composting Education)
Book Rescue
799 Roosevelt Rd.
Building 2, Suite 108
Glen Ellyn, IL 60137

Accepts children’s reference, story, and text books, cell phones and used ink jet cartridges. They just moved, refer to this link for updates:


Creative Pitch
Art supplies for schools and programs in Chicagoland:
NOTE: This program is on hold at the moment while they search for a storefront. They are hoping this will happen this summer (2006). Keep checking their website for updates.

For more information or to participate in this new program:
Contact Kelly Duffy at (773) 395-2500
Or email


Recycle Your Empty Inkjet Cartridges and Help Animals!
$2 for every empty inkjet is directly donated to Petsmart Charities. Obtain their postage-paid envelopes at any Petsmart location or email

Note: If cartridge body is white or gray, it should not be sent.


3411 W. Diversey Ave.
Chicago, IL 60647-1245
(773) 451-7133
To make a donation, e-mail or call 773) 451-7133.

Accepts computers and computer related hardware in any condition. If you are donating equipment that is known to be broken or a computer older than a Pentium I PC or PPC Mac, we do ask for a donation to help with our processing costs.

There is a $15.00 disposal fee per monitor, working or not, no exceptions (includes computers with built-in monitors).

Required Fee:
* Monitors ($15.00 ea.)
* Terminals ($10.00 ea.)
* Printers ($10.00 ea.)
* CPU/CRT combos ($15.00 ea.)

Suggested Donation:
* Computers ($5.00 ea.)
* External Modems ($2.00 ea.)
* Keyboards and Mice ($1.00 ea.)
* Fax Machines ($4.00 ea.)
* Media (no packaging please)
* Floppy diskettes ($2.00/total donation)
* CDs ($1.00/total donation)
* Computer cables ($1.00/donation)

FREE GEEK Chicago was founded in August 2005 as a collaboration of NPOTechs and Logan Square CTC to recycle computer technology and provide low and no-cost computing to economically disadvantaged individuals and not-for-profit and social change organizations.

Computers for Schools
3350 N. Kedzie, Chicago, IL 60618
Between Belmont and Addison just off the Kennedy (90/94).
Drop off at dock number 3. Ring green button to the left of dock no.3 to unload systems.
Warehouse Map:

Drop off Monday-Friday, 9:00am-5:00pm. They will accept all equipment regardless of specifications or functionality. Computers for Schools will re-use the computer hardware or recycle it responsibly.

Donations of retired computer equipment are refurbished for educational use and placed in schools, non-profits or need-based homes. CFS is able to reuse over 80% of donations. Technology equipment that cannot be reused is recycled responsibly.

Minimum Donation Requirements
266 MHz system units, 15" monitors, laser printers. Equipment with these minimum specifications and higher are accepted, all other equipment is accepted upon approval.

Time Dollar Tutoring
2209 East 75th Street, Chicago, IL 60649
Phone: (773) 233-4442
Warehouse drop-off:
(Go to “contact information” on their website for directions).
Open 10:00 AM to 2:00 PM, call to schedule

* Pentium I computers with cd-rom drives
* Pentium II compatible computers & up
* Working monitors, printers & 56k modems
* Working printers, fax machines & copiers
* Complete servers kits, cabling & software
* Software with licenses & manuals
* Cash donations to offset refurbishing costs

Provides computers to families in need in exchange for tutoring volunteer work.


Have you come across those big green bins asking for your clothing donations, labled “Gaia-Movement Living Earth Green World Action Inc.”? Sounds like a good cause, right? I did a little investigation and it turns out that Gaia, which is a project of Tvind Teacher’s Group, has been the subject of numerous investigations and negative press around the world, including by the Chicago Tribune and The Reader. At question is how much of their money actually makes it to charity. Abstracts and links to some of these articles can be found at

USEFUL WEBSITES: (online classified) (list anything you want to give away)

Compiled By Spatial Solutions Professional Home Organization
Please email with updates, suggestions, or additions:

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Featured on NBC News Channel 5 Tonight 10pm!

I'll be on the news tonight organizing news anchor Don Lemon's home as part of a segment on "Craigslist," an online classified community. If you're in Chicago, check it out! It airs tonight sometime after 10pm.


you can email me directly at

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Kids' Artwork

Before you know it, the whole house is full of it. How do you discern between the gems and the toss-able?

When helping clients sort through kids' art, I look for those pieces which show a kids' personality and development. This goes against some parents' intuition, which is oftentimes guided by a very "adult" idea of art. Parents often think the goal of a child's artistic development is to be able to create a similar rendition to the original object. A house that looks like a house. A person that looks like a person.

I disagree. Children's art provides an amazing window into a child's development at all levels -- psychological, spiritual, intellectual. Search for those gems that exemplify your child's development at that particular moment, not the art teacher's idea of a beatiful snowman.

The Command Center Continued

The typical command center will contain the following:

Files for:
Children's School (current)
Children's Current Activities
Children's Future Activities (file for each season for advance planning)
Family Leisure/Day Trips/Cultural Activities
In-Process (for example, waiting for a medical claim form to go through)
Immediate Attention
Bills to Pay
Files for Current Projects (some examples: Computer Search, Nanny Search, Current Trips, Vacation Planning etc.)
Menu Planning
Take-Out Menus

Then in stacking in/out boxes:
Incoming Mail
To File (in main filing system)


The purpose of the command center is to have at arm's reach those pieces of paper you come across frequently. It will hopefully make sorting and dealing with the mail a breeze, and will help you with advanced planning. You don't want this area to get cluttered, so be very selective as to what you allow here. All other papers should go in your main filing cabinet.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

For Busy Parents: The Command Center

One of my first questions for stay-at-home moms is "where do you sort the mail?" Generally this opens up a whole can of worms -- the billions of school memos, the catalogues, the bills to pay, the kids' craft supplies which have spilled over, the schedules, the myriad phone books (school, clubs, town...), and who knows what else has made it into the mix? Parents of today's children are like managers of a complex organization. Simple organizing systems of your pre-child days break under the complexity of parenting.

In every home I organize I try to create a command center -- a place for all of the in and out of paper, schedules, kids' memos, catalogues, and all the other "stuff" you need at your fingertips. This is generally separate from the home filing system, which is often off the beaten path tucked away in an office or a closet. Ideally, the command center would fit into the kitchen, laundry room, or mudroom, or somewhere else that you pass through multiple times throughout the day.

To find a location for your command center, reread the entry below on "zoning." You may think there is no room in your kitchen or mudroom for a command center, but open up all of the cabinets and ask yourself how often do I use these? If not every week, remove them from the high-traffic areas. I've never had a problem, even in the tightest of spaces, in finding a spot for the command center.

Next, determine what needs to happen here. Where do the bills typically get paid? How many catalogues do you tend to collect at a time? How complicated are the kids' schedules? What do you do with invites? Here's a typical set-up:

to be continued....

Tuesday, March 14, 2006


Closets, Part I

The steps for clearing out closets are the same for organizing in general: sort, purge, zone. Here you typically encounter more contraints than in your overall organizing. Closets are pretty fixed in size, they often have architectural limitations like a slanted ceiling or awkward shape, and if you live in an old home, they are probably much too small. You don't want to run around the house getting dressed, so even if there are extra closets in the house, they may not be in the right spot.

That being said, there is much you can do to maximize your closet space. Begin by sorting. First sort by season, then within the season, but clothing type. Within the clothing type, sort again by length. Short-length clothing should accomodate a shoe rack, drawer unit, or another rod for hanging more short to medium-hang.

If lacking in space, why not store your off-season clothing in bins elsewhere, or in those spacesaver vacuum-packed bags?

Next, hang the clothing back by length and type. Separate into categories such as evening wear, sports wear, everyday, housechore clothing. Folding saves space, but it can also create wrinkles. I prefer to fold sweaters so the shoulders don't stretch out. Hanging sweats, if you have limited closet space, is a bad idea.

While sorting with each item you should be asking yourself "when is the last time I've worn this?" If it's been over a year, challenge yourself to get rid of it. Keep no more than a couple worn, stained, or torn articles. Don't hang on to the idea that the "style will return." It never returns exactly the same, your dated piece will appear dated.

It really helps to enlist another person in this process. That person can reason with you when you try to hold onto the past, that yellow shirt you love but makes you look sickly, your favorite pants that are ripping at the seams, those unsightly sweatpants.

A color consulation is also fabulous investment for you and for your closet. If you know the colors that complement your skin and hair tones, you will save a lot of money from not buying the wrong clothing, and your wardrobe will be brought to a new level. Once you understand the principles of color, and your own palate, you will find it easy to purge many unflattering pieces. The key to color is NOT to buy colors just because you like them, but to examine how they work with your own coloring. I am a "winter," which means I need to wear darker hues. But I was drawn to all of the pastels, and it was not until a color consultant called me on my mistake that I realized how washed-out I was looking in the pastels. It's easy not to notice how wrong the color is when it's on you. I must have filled 3 bags of clothing for charity. When you learn your colors, you are less likely to be swayed by the fluctuating fashions and more likely to develop a wardrobe that compliments you.

Organizing Distilled into 3 Steps!

1). Sort like-with-like.

2). Purge!

3). Define zones for each category based on where and when the item will be used.


I. Sorting like-with-like
This step is simple and mindless, just take the time to do it. The trick is in knowing how detailed a sort you need.

II. Purge.
Purging yields the quickest satisfaction from organizing. You can get quick results and gained space, but the trick is being willing to part with things. Create your own rules as to what stays, what goes. It helps to have a clear vision of what you want out of organizing. If you have a mental picture of your de-cluttered house, purging will feel useful and productive rather than a sacrifice. Return to that vision every time you find yourself resisting your de-cluttering plan.

Here's an example of the rules you might want to create for yourself:

These things go:

  • Anything I haven't worn in 1 year, unless it's special occasion
  • All utility bills except the current ones (unless you itemize these on your taxes)
  • Any decorative objects that don't represent who I am and my taste right now
  • Kitchen items not used in the past year
  • Books I've read and won't be re-reading
  • Any ghosts from the past -- a cat carrier from a deceased cat who will not be replaced, for example
III. Zoning
I covered this issue in earlier posts. Your goal is to store your categories of things (which by now have been sorted by type), according to where and when you will use them. Infrequent-use items are stored away in the hard-to-reach cabinets and closets, frequent-use items are stored in your high traffic areas.

If you follow these three steps, and you really understand the concept of zoning, you'll be on your way to being organized. Paper management is the next big step, so I'll cover that soon.

Sunday, March 05, 2006


So we've discussed how to set your home up in "zones," like a department store is set up in departments. The trick is to figure out where each zone should be. Here are some typical items I find in most homes which can be organized by zone:

* Home Repair etc. (anything you'd find at, say, Home Depot)

* Games (adult and kid)

* Toys

* Outdoor activities and toys

* Holiday stuff

* Off-season clothing

* Pet supplies and food

* Memorabilia & photos

* Gifts and gift wrapping supplies

* Office and computer supplies

* Music (tapes, CDs, I-pods, etc.)

* Film/Video

* Product manuals, warranties

* Crafts/hobbies

* Books

* Bulk food & household supplies (as opposed to your food in your kitchen or pantry -- this is that year's supply of green beans that you just bought at Costco)

* Cleaning supplies


The zones in your home must be organized according to when the items in them will be used.
This is the TIME ELEMENT to organizing. Store the infrequent-use items in the far from where you are everyday in the home. Dormant files don't need to be taking up valuable file drawer space. Bulk purchases from a wholesale outlet don't need to fill your kitchen cabinets.

Visualize your home's floor plan in sections. Color the areas of the home where you are EVERY DAY, most of the time, red. Color the areas where you are some of the time, say a couple times per week, blue. Now why is your entire costco purchase of paper towels in your kitchen, a red zone, when you only use one roll per week? Your prime real estate --- that is, where you are most frequently in the home -- should be used ONLY for the items you use on a weekly, or at least monthly, basis. The goal is to prevent you from zigzagging around the house seeking the items you need most regularly.

10 Ways to Cut the Clutter!

1. Make a rule: when one new thing enters the house, another item leaves.

2. Edit your clothing each season. Give yourself a deadline --- if you haven’t worn it in two years, donate it. If you don’t love it, out it goes. If the color is not complimentary, say goodbye. It helps to enlist a friend for this process. Leave yourself 2 outfits for house projects and getting dirty, toss the rest of those shirts with stains and pants with holes out.

3. Apply the same rules for everything else in your house! If you haven’t used it in 2 years, ask yourself: is keeping it worth more than the space you will gain by giving it away?

4. Is your pantry and fridge overflowing to the hilt? Even if you won’t stick to it 100%, make yourself a menu for the next 10 days, giving priority to the food already in the cupboards, and see how much you really need to buy each week at the grocery store. Don’t be lured by coupons and special offers to clutter up your cupboards! The pennies you gain cost much more in the loss of space.

5. This is THE MOST IMPORTANT THING YOU CAN DO TO DE-CLUTTER! Set aside time for decluttering! Each season. De-cluttering is a way of life, not a one-time project.

6. Purge books not used as reference.

7. Use the library!

8. Don’t bribe your kids with gifts.

9. Work room by room and evaluate each object. Do you love it? Are you using it? Does it hold memories? Are you keeping it “just in case?” Don’t!

10. Take stock of memorabilia and sentimental items. Is your house full of them? Do they cover the walls and tabletops? Consider that you might be stuck in the past, and giving these items away may unblock you from living in the present.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006


Hi! I'm starting this blog to give some guidance and inspiration to those on the path to decluttering and reorganizing their lives and spaces. Hopefully you'll be inspired enough to share your experiences and stories about organizing too! And I'd be happy to answer your organizing questions.

My name is Debra and I am a professional home organizer in Chicago (also traveling to New York and San Francisco). My business is called "Spatial Solutions" because in addition to organzing, I help clients with space layout, closet design, and any other problem with space. The premise is that our space reflects our emotions and our state of mind. Dealing with the physical clutter clears the mental clutter as well.

* * * *

Organizing issues usually stem from one or more of the following problems:

* Not enough space

* Not enough time

* Some event -- illness, birth of a baby, etc., took the person off track

* Don't know how to organize

* Compulsive hoarding and collecting (the "pack-rat")

* Fear of letting go of the past

* Fear of poverty (This takes the form of "I can't get rid of it because I may need it someday")

We'll go through each one of these in greater depth later on.

If you are truly lacking in time, I highly suggest you hire someone to help you implement systems that will ultimately save you time. Most of us have some combination of all of the above to a certain degree, and I hope that by sharing with you my strategies developed over the years as a professional organizer you'll gain the tools to really change your life!

Getting Started : Journal Exercise

1. Connect with your motivation. Why do you want to get organized? Go to a place where you can really relax -- in this Chicago winter, the best place might be a hot bathtub, with pen and paper. I want you to visualize what you really want and expect out of organizing. Write down the following:

a. Why I dislike being disorganized. (One client came up with a list that was over a page long! See how many reasons you can come up with). Here are some examples: "I can't have friends over. The clutter stresses me out. I waste so much time trying to find things. I pay so much in late fees because I can never find my bills. I never have enough space. I feel unproductive and inefficient."

b. How would being organized improve my life? (Here I really want you to spend some time in fantasy. Write all of the fantasies down -- these will be powerful reminders when you are overwhelmed.)

c. What are my fears about being organized?

Step 2: Identify the Problem & Strategize

Here's how I like to start with clients. I ask them, "on a daily basis, what about being disorganized causes you the most stress?" Usually they know right away. "Too much clutter." "The kitchen -- I can't cook anymore." "The front entry closet." "Papers."

If the primary stress is overall clutter, then we'll need to conquer that in steps. If it's a particular part of the house, then that is where I suggest you begin your organizing work.

Is your issue clutter or space layout? For many, it's both. But for the moment, we're just going to focus on the layout of your space, and how that effects your ability to cope with all of the stuff.

I strongly suggest that you think of your home in "zones." The easiest way to conceptualize this as you are organizing is to look at the department store as the model for an organized home. Things are placed in a department store according to usage. Office supplies are in one area, recreation another, clothing another. Your home should be divided up in the same way.

Not sold on the idea yet? Sound too simple? Let me give you an example. At any given time, I might be working on anywhere between 10 and 20 homes. On occasion, a client will call me in despair asking "do you have any idea where my such and such is?" There are times when I've never seen the such and such to begin with, but I can guarantee you that if I put it away, I can tell you exactly where it is in your house. How can I keep track of all of these houses and all of their belongings inside? Because every item is placed according to usage! All of the holiday stuff is together, separated by holiday. Anything you'd typically buy in a hardware store is together. Gifts to give and wrapping supplies are all together on one shelf. Outdoor toys and games are separated by season. Excess office supplies are all together. And so on.

** There is one little caveat to this simple system. Sometimes you need two or more zones for the same category. For example: you might have some light bulbs, a small tool box, some batteries and flashlights, and a few other hardware doodads in a convenient closet near the kitchen, but most of your hardware-related belongings are stored in the garage. So here you have two activity zones for the same category for convenience. Entertainment items may be spread throughout the house according to usage and season. Off-season clothing may be stored away from your closet (and I recommend this if you are short on closet space). But overall, these are just little exceptions to an overall system you can follow: each category should have it's own zone in the house.

Creating zones in your house is the first, and most important step to becoming organized. Defining WHERE each zone should be can be tricky, especially if you are low on closet space.
More on that later...