November/December 2003
Vol. 1, No. 9

Tips & Inspiration for Organizing a Simpler Life

“Success is the sum of small efforts, repeated day in and day out. . .”
–Robert J. Collier, prominent publisher and early aviator (1876-1918)

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FEATURE ARTICLE: Ways to get organized in spite of yourself

Are you standing in the way of your own success?
What can you do differently that would help you to get organized?

Pick the one organizing challenge that causes you the most stress or grief. Do you pay bills late?
Do you have more clothes lying around your bedroom than in your closet? Do you waste a lot
of time looking for misplaced papers or files in your office?

I want you to try the ACT formula on your organizing challenge:

A – Assess your situation. Ask yourself: How did it get like this? Before you can change anything, you’ve got to accept responsibility for your role, but don’t beat yourself up about it. It’s okay. You’re okay. In fact, you may be more okay with it than other people who live in your house (or work in your office)! But if you’re not okay with it. . . if clutter is upsetting your
relationships or interfering with your job. . . it’s probably time to do something about it.

C – Commit to change. Getting organized comes down to changing your behavior. Because let’s
face it, if you keep doing things the same way, you’re going to keep getting the same results. So
try something different and commit to doing it every day for the next 21 days. That’s about how
long it takes to establish new behaviors. Change one thing such as what you do with your bills
when they arrive in the mail. Instead of leaving them in the counter where they are bound to get
lost in the paper shuffle, create a folder or large envelope labeled “Bills” and put all your
bills into it as they arrive. Do this for 21 days until it becomes habit. Or, if you’ve got too
much stuff because you spend all of your free time shopping, stay out of the stores for 21 days.

T – Tackle one area at a time. Have you ever attempted an organizing project that left you
with a bigger mess than when you started? What happened? You took on too much at once. It’s
understandable. Sometimes we get a burst of energy and just want to go with it. But you’ve
got to start small. I recommend starting with a single drawer or shelf or section of your clothes
rod. Or set a kitchen timer for 10, 15, or 30 minutes and stop organizing when the timer goes
off. You can always pick up tomorrow where you left off today. Even if you spend just 5 minutes
a day, that adds up to 2 hours and 20 minutes a month. And that’s progress.

I like the ACT formula because the acronymn, ACT, says it all. The organization fairy isn’t going to be stopping by any time soon. You’ve got to ACT.

Stop putting it off. . . just do it. Oddly enough, perfectionists are often among the biggest procrastinators. We put off organizing our files, for example, because we haven’t quite figured out the most perfect system. Well, being organized is not about being perfect.

When you are organizing your time and stuff, keep in mind that 80% done is perfect. The first 80% of the work provides the most reward with the least amount of effort. Save that last 20% to
work on when you get 80% of everything organized.

NEXT MONTH’S FEATURE ARTICLE: Setting realistic goals

To read back issues, go to:


November is officially “National Clean Out Your Refrigerator Month.” Hopefully, it won’t take you a whole month to do it!

Here are five tips for organizing your refrigerator while minimizing spoilage:

1. Designate certain areas of your refrigerator for storing leftovers. You’re less likely to
forget about them when they are all in one place.

2. Label and date leftovers so you know what’s in each package or container without having to open it. Consider storing some leftovers in the freezer instead of the refrigerator. Don’t store
leftovers if you never eat them.

3. If you have built-in trays for storing deli meats and cheeses, fruits and vegetables, use
them. These trays were specifically designed to help keep these foods fresh.

4. Add a carousel tray to one or more shelves. It makes it easier to see and reach what would
otherwise be hidden in the back of your refrigerator. Tip: Measure your shelves before
you buy so you can get one that fits. For online organizing resources, go to my Web site

5. If you have a lot of hungry mouths in your home, consider keeping one large container
labeled “Snacks” in your refrigerator. Use it to store hard-boiled eggs, string cheese, leftover
chicken or pizza, and other perishable snack items.

Want to get organized once and for all? Let me show you how. . .the plain and simple way! Check out my latest book, Organizing Plain & Simple.

“…a terrific handbook of clutter-control tips.”
–The Washington Post



Last month, I asked “What is your single biggest challenge in getting organized?” As promised,
here are the results of that survey:

16% said: Lack of time
13% said: Lack of energy
3% said: Lack of money
3% said: Other people
16% said: Don’t know where to start
3% said: Not enough space
26% said: Too much stuff
10% said: Not motivated
0% said: Tried before and failed
6% said: Other (overwhelmed by decisions, lack of time AND energy)

Surprise, surprise. One out of four people said that their main challenge is too much stuff.
Here’s what I suggest: You need to weigh the pain of letting go of stuff against the pain of living
with it all. Give yourself permission to let go of the things that are just taking up space. Ask
yourself: What’s the worst possible thing that could happen? Could I get another one of these
pretty easily and inexpensively if I do need it someday? In most cases, the answer is yes. For
more help with deciding what to keep and what to toss, go to http://www.unclutter.com/keep-or-toss.html.

For those of you who need help getting started, check out the February and September issues at

Okay, now. Who said they are not motivated to get organized? Don’t make me have to come over to your house! <grin> If you can afford it, I highly recommend hiring a professional organizer. It’s well worth the expense and you end up organizing in a way that will help you to stay organized. To find a professional organizer in your area and to compare rates and services, look under “Organizer Referrals” at:


Do you save your utility bills (gas, electric, telephone, cable) each month after paying them?
If so, why?

Please select only one answer:

a. It’s a tax-deductible expense for me.
b. For proof of payment.
c. I like to compare current bills to past bills.
d. Because I’ve always saved them.
e. Because you’re supposed to save them.
f. Because I love to file.
g. Other (please explain)

TO RESPOND TO THE SURVEY, Please DO NOT REPLY to this message.
Send an e-mail to editor@unclutter.com with the word “Survey” in the subject line and your answer in the body of the e-mail.

I will share the results of this survey in the next issue.

READERS WRITE: About toy clutter

My two children have acquired a lot of toys that are starting to clutter the house really bad. I want to get rid of a lot of them, but I have one problem: I don’t have the heart to get rid of them. I did at one time get rid of some, but I felt guilty about it and the kids were looking for them and I had to change the subject.
I need your help!
–Submitted by Laura M., Omaha NE

Here is a simple solution. Pack up about half the toys (or whatever amount feels right to you) and
put the box(es) away somewhere. That way, if the kids want something you packed up, you can pull it back out. Now here’s the important part: Use a marker to write today’s date on that box. If the kids haven’t missed anything in that box by this time next year, go ahead and donate the toys to your favorite charity. . . guilt-free!

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?
Send an e-mail to editor@unclutter.com with Readers_Write” in the subject line. (Please DO
NOT REPLY to this message.)

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. Check it out at

SHAMELESS PROMOTION: Meeting and greeting

I’m a little behind schedule this month, because I was invited to appear on the CBS Saturday Early Show November 1. You would not believe how much time and energy goes into preparing for a five-minute segment! It was worth it though.

My segment on kitchen organization was part five of a six-part series called “Organize This!”
There’s a recap of the organizing tips and products I presented at http://www.cbsnews.com.
You can also read a couple of excerpts from my book, Organizing Plain & Simple. Here’s the
longer link that will take you directly there:


I am also very excited to announce that I recently launched Organized Greetings – a line of
cartooned greeting cards and postcards with organizing themes.

Organized Greetings are actually designed for professional organizers to send. But I thought
you might enjoy this month’s featured product. It’s a holiday card with an original cartoon of
Santa getting organized by filing letters in “Naughty” and “Nice” folders. Take a peek at

WOULD YOU LIKE to get your holiday cards out without stressing out? The key is to break the
project down into steps and start early.

If you would like my “7 Simple Steps for Mailing Holiday Cards on Time,” let me know. Send an e-mail to me at donna@unclutter.com with “Holiday Cards” in the subject line. I’ll send it right out.

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