Tips & Inspiration for Organizing a Simpler Life


FEATURE ARTICLE: What’s keeping you from getting started?

There’s really nothing complicated about organizing. For most people, getting started is the most difficult part. What’s holding you back? Following are some of the most common obstacles to getting organized and how to overcome them.

Do you put off getting organized because you don’t have the perfect solution? Or you feel that you don’t have the time or energy to do it perfectly?

Start by making a first pass. This first pass doesn’t have to be perfect. You can always fine-tune it later. For example, if you have papers strewn all over your home, gather them together in one place. Put important papers (generally financial papers) in one cardboard box or filing cabinet drawer and all the rest in another. In the second pass, you can begin to make individual files. Meanwhile, you’ve reduced clutter and you know where all your papers are.

Use this same strategy to organize your entire house. Work on getting things to the drawers, shelves, and containers where they belong. Then organize the contents.

Guess what? It really doesn’t matter! If you want to organize your home, you might start in the room where you spend the most time or the room that contains the most frustrating amount of clutter or disarray. Or, if your car is an embarrassing mess, start there.

You’ll be so pleased with the rewards of organization that you will be inspired to move on to the next room. In each room, start with the most visible clutter first, and then work on uncluttering the stuff that’s out of sight.

Unclutter first, and then organize. You will need four large boxes or trash bags. Label them: Give Away, Throw Away, Put Away, and Sell.

Start with a defined space, such as a drawer, shelf, counter, table or desktop. Empty that space of its contents. Then sort items into five categories: 1) Things you love and/or use, 2) Things you could give away or donate, 3) Things that belong in the trash, 4) Things that belong in another place or room, 5) Things you might be able to sell on consignment, on eBay, in a garage sale, or whatever. Use your boxes or bags to collect items that fall into categories 2-5.

Next comes the organizing part. Put back only the items in category 1 – the things you love and/or use. Contain like items; for example, in a junk drawer, you can contain all loose batteries in a plastic zippered bag or collect small hardware items in a recycled margarine tub. Later, if you have the time, money or desire, you can buy a junk drawer organizer.

No matter how hard you look, you will never find time to get organized – or anything for that matter. You have to make time. Here are four ways to do that:

1) Schedule weekly organizing appointments with yourself and honor those appointments the way you honor all other appointments.

2) Commit to spending just five minutes each day on organizing projects. Five minutes a day adds up to two hours and 20 minutes of organizing each month. You can accomplish a lot in that amount of time!

3) Try organizing while you are watching television. Remove a drawer from a dresser or cabinet and bring it into the family room. When the commercials come on, unclutter and organize the drawer. You might be able to unclutter several drawers in no time!

4) Take advantage of downtime. In your office, use telephone hold time to flip through files, discarding any papers that are no longer needed. Use a large paper clip to mark the file where you left off. In the kitchen, while waiting for water to boil or coffee to brew, spend a few minutes organizing a drawer.

Sandra Felton, founder of Messies Anonymous, says, “Be willing to take a risk that you may want later what you discarded. Also realize that it may cause temporary pain to throw something out. However, it also causes definite pain to keep it. Throwing it out is mild pain compared with the pain which comes from having to live helplessly with all the clutter than finds its way into the house.”

For help making decisions about what to do with each item, download or print a copy of the “Keep or Toss” quiz from my Web site (www.unclutter.com/keep-or-toss.html). Keep in mind that the harder it is for you to let go of things, the more attention you may want to focus on what you bring into your home! Think about it. (Next month’s feature article will focus on curbing your shopping.)


ORGANIZING TIPS: How to stop the avalanche of junk mail

I spoke with a woman recently who told me that she felt compelled to read all of the junk mail that comes into her house until one day, as she was going through it all, she came across an invitation to a very special event that began two hours ago.

Junk mail and catalogs are like door-to-door salespeople. Occasionally, you’re interested in what they’re selling, but more often, you’re annoyed at the intrusion. The difference is that you can be as rude as you like to junk mail and catalogs!

If you have piles of unopened mail offers, solicitations and catalogs, get rid of them. Don’t even give it a second thought, because you know you’ll get more!

Some people like to stuff the reply envelope to a direct-mail offer with lots of junk paper and send it back to the company that sent it as a message to cease and desist. While it may give you great satisfaction to do so, it’s not a very effective way to stop junk mail because only one company is getting your message (maybe).

To reduce the amount of unsolicited mail you receive, send a postcard or letter to the Direct Marketing Association, Mail Preference Service, P.O. Box 643, Carmel NY 10512. Ask to have your name removed from all of their members’ mailing lists. Be sure to include your name (with all of its various spellings) and address. Allow several months for the deluge to subside.

You can also go the Web site of the Direct Marketing Association (www.the-dma.org) to begin the process of removing your name from direct mail and telemarketing lists. You’ll find an option for registering online at a cost of $5 for the direct mail opt-out service and $5 for the telemarketing opt-out service. Or you can simply print the forms and mail them for free. You may also register to reduce the amount of unsolicited e-mail you receive at home.

Getting off the DMA lists is a big step in the right direction, but it won’t stop all the junk mail you receive. Professional organizer, Jackie Plusch, has published a book called Junk Mail Solution that teaches readers how to 1) zap your name from junk mail lists, 2) stay off those lists, and 3) reduce telemarketing interruptions. The book includes handy, pre-addressed postcards that you can tear out and send to list distributors plus pages for recording when you submitted your request to these companies to remove your name. To order a copy of Junk Mail Solution, send a check for $10 to Clutter Cutter LLC, 8241 N. Central #31, Phoenix AZ 85020.


ORGANIZING PRODUCT REVIEWS: Adjustable closet organizing system

I was recently introduced to a closet organizing system that makes a lot of sense to me. It’s made by Schulte and it’s called freedomRail®.

Components are adjustable so you can reconfigure a section or the whole closet. You can even move it to another room! It’s ideal for a child’s room because you can easily adjust shelving as your child grows.

If you sell your house, the new owners can rearrange the components to suit their needs. Or you can take it with you! For more information, check out Schulte’s Web site (www.schultestorage.com). To find a dealer near you, call 1-800-669-3225.


ONLINE RESOURCES: Getting professional help

Did you know that there are people who organize for a living? They’re called professional organizers and there are thousands of them across the United States and Canada and around the world – all ready, willing, and able to help you organize every aspect of your life.

Following are three online resources for finding a professional organizer in your area (or becoming one):

1) The National Association of Professional Organizers (NAPO) is a non-profit organization with more than 1,400 members. Click on the link or go to http://www.napo.net and click on “Referral Request.”

2) OnlineOrganizing.com features a wealth of organizing information; products to help you regain control over your time, space, and paper; and free referrals to a professional organizer near you. Click on the link or go to http://www.onlineorganizing.com and click on “Organizer Referral.”

The Professional Organizers Web Ring is another organization with information for and about professional organizers. Click on the link or go to http://www.organizerswebring.com and click on “Find an Organizer.”


READERS WRITE: Where to donate furniture and rugs

Q. In our attempts to unclutter, we have furniture and rugs to donate but the most obvious organizations (like Goodwill) will not take large furniture. Do you have further suggestions?

A. Generally, Goodwill is a good place to start, but individual store policies do vary. Try The Salvation Army – they will usually come and pick up large items. Also try Big Brothers/Big Sisters. They often organize drives to collect items which they sell to thrifts stores.

Or contact thrift stores directly. Still no luck? Okay. Do you have one of those weekly papers (like the Pennysaver) that offer free classified ads? If so, try placing an ad with the heading FREE FURNITURE! List and describe your furniture briefly and honestly. Make the free offer contingent upon the taker picking it up. Another idea is to create and post “Free Furniture” signs on local bulletin boards. Good places to look include supermarkets and Laundromats.

If all else fails, haul the stuff to the curb and leave it there with a big sign that says FREE. (Plan to do this when the chance of precipitation is nil.) If your stuff is still there after a few days, you may have to resort to calling a refuse service to haul it away.


SHAMELESS PROMOTION: Organizing Plain & Simple hits Target

In January, Target bought out my publisher’s entire stock of Organizing Plain & Simple (www.unclutter.com/books.html). Since the book’s release in August 2002, more than 30,000 copies have been sold! Obviously, you are not alone in wanting to get more organized.

Recent press includes mentions in Redbook (December 2002), Seventeen (January 2003), The Washington Post, and Chicago Tribune. You also may have heard me speak with Pat Sinclair recently on CNN Radio.


ENTER TO WIN an autographed copy of my most recent book!

Do you have a question about uncluttering or organizing? Or a really great organizing tip that you would like to share with other readers? Click on the following link to send an e-mail to me. editor@unclutter.com

If your question or tip is used in a future issue of this newsletter, I will send you a free autographed copy of my latest book, Organizing Plain & Simple (www.unclutter.com/books.html)!

Congratulations to this month’s winners, Jim and Linda of Berkeley, California.


That’s it for this month. Until next month, keep it simple.