JUNE 2003

Tips & Inspiration for Organizing a Simpler Life

“It takes as much energy to wish as it does to plan.”
–Eleanor Roosevelt

FEATURE ARTICLE: Organizing photographs

There came a point in my life when I had to put a moratorium on taking photographs. “No more photographs until you start organizing the photographs you’ve got,” I said to myself.

Yes, me. I know. I’m supposed to be the organized one – and I am. But when it comes to organizing photographs, I had to learn the hard way.

How do you get started? That is the question. Following are eight “plain & simple” ideas that will help you to manage what may seem like an overwhelming project.

1)Work from today forward. Start a new album or photo box with your most recent photographs or the next roll you develop. Make it a habit to put new photographs in their place right away. If you really dislike organizing photos, you may prefer to take digital photos that you can store on your computer’s hard drive or a disk. You can then print only the photos you want in any number of formats.

2)Divide and conquer. If you have boxes and boxes of photographs to organize, start by dividing them into three to five broad categories. Categories might include friends,family, children, grandchildren, places you’ve lived, or places you’ve visited. Or you can categorize by events (graduations) or by time frames (college days) or family members.

3)Start sorting. Once you’ve created categories, label one box for each category and sort all photographs into those boxes. Next, starting with one box, sort photographs into sub-categories. For example, if your main category is “vacations,” sort photographs into separate vacations you’ve taken. A labeled shoebox or paper bag might work well for organizing these sub-categories.

5)Discard the bad and ugly. As you are sorting, throw away photographs that didn’t come out right or are very similar to other, better photographs. Also throw out duplicates or, if you can’t bring yourself to do that, put them into a separate box labeled “Duplicates.”

6)Make it a priority. Schedule a regular time each week to sort and organize photographs until you are caught up to date. Write it into your appointment book and honor the appointment as you would honor any other appointment.

7)Turn negatives into positives. An easy storage system for negatives is to keep them in their original processing envelopes and then, as you put new photographs into an album, put the negatives into a large manila envelope at
the back of the album. Another idea is to file them in plastic sleeves designed for storage in a three-ring binder. This second idea works for recent and older negatives. Don’t worry too much about organizing the older
negatives because you may never even need them.

8)Preserve your memories. Store photographs in the main area of your home, away from light, heat and humidity. To preserve photographs longer, use archival quality photo boxes or photo album pages.

NEXT MONTH’S FEATURE ARTICLE: Organizing storage areas (garage/attic/basement/storage shed)


June is National Safety Month. Following are some of my favorite “organizing for safety” tips:

Kitchen: Don’t store frequently used items in cabinets above the stove; you could be burned in the process of reaching for them while cooking.

Bathroom: Use caution when disposing of unused medicines, vitamins, cosmetics, and any potentially hazardous materials. Flush pills and liquids down the toilet; put all other items into a plastic bag secured with a twist tie and dispose of in a lidded trash can that children and pets cannot get into.

Family and living room: Allow air space around the television and stereo to prevent overheating.

Baby’s room: Position the crib well away from potential hazards; heaters, lamps, electrical cords, wall decorations, windows, and furniture that could be used to
climb out.

Office: Distribute weight in filing cabinets; opening a full top drawer with empty or partly filled bottom drawers can cause the cabinet to tip over.

Tips excerpted from the book, Organizing Plain & Simple, by Donna Smallin (Storey Books, 2002)


Last month, I asked “Which area of your home could use the most organizing help?” As promised, here are the results of that survey:

13% said: Kitchen
8% said: Bedroom
0% said: Bathroom
4% said: Living/family room
17% said: Office
8% said: Kid’s/play room
21% said: Garage/attic/basement
17% said: All of the above (esp. kitchen, family room,
0% said: None of the above
13% said: Other (sewing room, closets)

NEW SURVEY: What organizing tool do you use regularly to remember routine auto and home maintenance tasks? Reply to this e-mail with the word “Survey” in the subject line followed by a number (1-7).

(1) Paper calendar or date book
(2) Electronic calendar (PDA)
(3) Paper and electronic calendar or date book
(4) Memory alone
(5) Concurrent events (Ex. Change air conditioning filter on
the first of every month)
(6) Other (please specify in your response)
(7) I don’t use any type of reminder system

I will share the results of this survey next month.

READERS WRITE: Clearing out the house of a loved one

Q.My elderly parents died in 1999 and with the help of my son, I cleared out their belongings. This was very painful as I had been their caregiver for the past 10 years plus I am interested in family history and am emotionally attached to “things.”

With the help of my son, I was able to give and throw away many items, but kept boxes of pictures, cookbooks, letters, cards, etc. It took me three years before I could go through some of the boxes without crying and there is still much to go through. Every time I try to get rid of something, the memory attached to it makes it too hard for me. I feel that if I do get rid of something, it would be a betrayal, which I know is silly. Any suggestions?

A. It’s difficult enough to decide what to do with our own stuff, let alone things that once belonged to a loved one. Now that a few years have passed, it may be time to give yourself permission to make some decisions about the things you have inherited.

Since you have an interest in family history, perhaps you could organize the letters, cards, and photos and create a scrapbook or album that can be shared with the rest of your family and enjoyed by future generations.

But what about everything else? Consider inviting family members and friends to a “giving away” party thrown in honor of your parents. It will give everyone a chance to reminisce over favorite memories and also take away mementos of those memories. You can donate whatever is left to a charity that
will distribute items to those in need.

Here’s another idea: The cookbooks you mentioned could be sold to a used book store (or even an antiques dealer) and then you can donate the proceeds in the name of your parents to a charity they supported or would have loved to support. You could do the same with the proceeds from a garage sale.

Tell yourself that it’s okay to keep only what you really love and let go of the rest. It helps to remember that the most important things in life are not things. Even without the physical reminders of your parents, you will always
remember and love them.


I’m a lea-vin’ on a jet plane… for Seattle, Portland, Salt Lake City, Minneapolis, and Milwaukee/Madison. Last month, I gave you the dates. Now here are the locations and times of events in those cities.

6/3/03, 7:00 p.m. Book Signing
Barnes & Noble, 2700 NE University Village

6/5/03, 8:30 a.m. A.M. Northwest KATU (ABC)
6/5/03, 10:00 a.m. Good Day Lifestyles KPTV (FOX)
6/5/03, 7:30 p.m. Book Signing
Barnes & Noble, 1720 N. Jantzen Beach

Salt Lake City
6/6/03, 12:45 p.m. KUTV2 News at Noon (CBS)
6/7/03, 3:30 p.m. Utah State Convention of Business &
Professional Women

6/17/03, 9:15 a.m. KARE 11 Today (NBC)
6/17/03, 7:30 p.m. Book Signing
Barnes & Noble, 3225 W. 69th St., Edina

6/19/03, 7:45 a.m. TV6 Wake Up WITI (FOX)
6/19/03, 7:00 p.m. Book Signing
Barnes & Noble, 2500 N. Mayfair Rd., Wauwatosa

6/20/03, 12:15 News 3 at Noon WISC (CBS)
6/20/03, 1:30 p.m. Book Signing
Invest in Yourself Books, 6661 University Ave., Middleton

Come to one of my book signing presentations and I guarantee that you will get motivated to go home and unclutter, organize and simplify your life!

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.

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

Congratulations to this month’s winners, Kathy B. in Atlanta, GA for inspiring me to write about organizing photographs and Janet M. in Royal Oak, MI for her question about clearing the house of a loved one.

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