Tips & Inspiration for Organizing a Simpler Life
August 2014 – Vol. 13 No. 5

A man is rich in proportion to the number of things which he can afford to let alone. ~Henry David Thoreau

One year down the road

Our home at Lone Rock on Lake Powell, AZ circa April 2014

A year ago last month, my husband and I sold our home and most of what we owned to hit the road as full-time RVers. And we both agree that it was the best decision we’ve made as a couple – apart from getting married in the first place!

I’m not going to say it was easy to let go of a lifetime of accumulation. We had to keep reminding ourselves that we had a choice. We could either have our stuff or have the adventure of a lifetime. But we couldn’t have both.

In the first month, the only thing I missed was a pie plate that I must have inadvertently sold in our estate sale. Speaking of estate sales, when we settle down someday, I fully intend to furnish our new home with previously owned items like the ones we sold for a fraction of the cost of new.

While visiting our oldest daughter and her kids this summer, I unloaded a full set of pots and pans that we retired when we bought a new induction cooktop. I also gave them a large metal gourd that I thought I couldn’t live without (I was tired of stubbing my toe on it) and a leather purse that I wasn’t ready to part with a year ago for reasons unknown to me today.

Even after selling most of my stuff, I have everything I want and need. And my life is richer and more abundant than ever.

Downsizing forces you to figure out what’s really important to you. I still have my piano (a full, 88-key digital keyboard) that I enjoy playing and my bicycle (I’m in training for the 2015 Senior Olympics). I also love to cook. So I kept all of my favorite appliances, including a full-size Cuisinart food processor and my Vitamix. And I have small pieces of artwork I’ve collected over the years.

I am proud to say that we are now virtually paperless. I sent all of my receipts and other tax documentation to my Shoeboxed account where I can access them at any time and from anywhere. I use the Shoeboxed app to upload photos of receipts as I receive them, so I can just toss the paper. (By the way, I contacted my friends at Shoeboxed and they set up a special 50% offer for you to get your own Shoeboxed account! Just click here.)

It used to take me two full hours to clean just the main floor of my sticks-and-bricks home. Now I’m done cleaning so fast that I often think I must be forgetting something!

There’s a real freedom that comes from letting go. With less stuff to take care of and manage, I have more time to meet new people and explore new places. One of my most memorable experiences this year was riding my bicycle past buffalo on the side of the road in Yellowstone National Park and spending two glorious days off the grid on a friend’s property in Montana. (If you want to read more about our life on the road, please visit our blog at

Many people tell us that we are living their dream. Ironically, it was never our dream to live and travel the country in a motorhome. But when my husband decided to take an early retirement, it was an option that we started exploring and it wasn’t long before we chose to take the leap. I recognize, of course, that living in a tiny home on wheels is not for everyone.

I wrote this post in hopes that our downsizing experience might inspire you to declutter your life to whatever degree feels right for you. If you were to do that, what might your life be like one year down the road?

(Footnote: I was interviewed recently for this podcast in which I share my story of selling our home and everything to become air-conditioned gypsies. Give a listen!)

Why didn’t I think of that? Reader tip…

I have a small white board on the refrigerator that I use for food inventory. When leftovers go in the fridge, I make a note of the date and the item (e.g. Sun, 07/6/14 chicken).

As items are used up, I cross them off the list. This way I know what leftovers we have without opening the refrigerator and the leftovers don’t get wasted because nobody remembered they were there.

After the board is full and all of the leftovers listed have been used up, then I erase the entire board and start all over again.

~Tonja Bender, Gwynn Oak, MD

Do YOU have a tip you’d like to share? Email

Favorite organizing products and resources

As a professional organizer for the last 14 years, I’ve used and recommended a lot of organizing products, services and resources. Every month, in this column, I share my favorites.

Enjoy unlimited access to your favorite magazines with the Next Issue app!

Last month, I introduced you to the Next Issue app that offers unlimited access to more than 140 of today’s best magazines – and all their back issues. Once you install Next Issue, you can read your favorite magazines on your tablet or computer – anytime, anywhere.

Three lucky winners were drawn at random to win a 3-month subscription of the Premium Account. Congratulations to Stepanie Hufton, Stephanie Kania, and Linda Walker! If none of those names is yours, you can still “win” by signing up for Next Issue’s 60-day free trial.

Finally! A perfectly organized purse.

This month, I want to re-introduce you to one of my all-time favorite organizing products. The Purse Perfector is an insert that transforms the inside of your purse from a black hole to a neatly organized interior. It comes in various colors and sizes to fit any purse – and makes it really easy to change purses. Just pull it out of one and pop it in another!

Company founder Lyn Marsteller, says, “I created the Purse Perfector as a labor of love as well as one of need. I wanted to be able to organize my handbags so that the items I carried would be easily found.” She’s offering the Purse Perfector for 15% off the list price through 9/5/14. Just use the coupon code USAMADE at checkout.

For a look at more of my organizing favorites, including some new favorites, visit

Shameless promotion: Making headlines

I just returned from a quick trip to New York City where I was invited to the Better Homes and Gardens studio to do six, 90-second video interviews on cleaning that will appear later this year on the magazine’s web site. That was fun! When the videos are published, I’ll be sure to let you know.

While in New York, I had the pleasure to meet with my favorite editor at Real Simple magazine as well as the magazine’s Home Director. We’ve worked on a number of stories this year including their August cover story on doing laundry. I also met with the Associate Lifestyles Editor at Parents magazine who was looking for some tips for an upcoming “get organized” story.

I generally spend a few hours each week responding to requests for cleaning and organizing tips from magazine editors and writers. I don’t get paid, but I enjoy being able to share what I know with hundreds of thousands of readers each month. Maybe that’s how you found my blog!

Here’s a timely article that was recently published on, featuring my garage organizing tips. I say “timely” because now is a good time to cross that organizing project off your to-do list before it gets too cold and snowy to get it done.

Finally, if you’ve been following me for awhile, you might be familiar with the first book I wrote – Unclutter Your Home in 7 Simple Steps. It’s actually out of print now, but over the summer, I spent a few weeks updating it and the updated version is being released next month as a Kindle book. I’ll get that link to you as soon as I get it!

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

FULL DISCLOSURE: Some links in this post may be affiliate links, meaning if you make a purchase through one of these links, I may earn a small commission which goes toward the continuation of this complimentary newsletter. Please note that I only recommend products that I would recommend whether I got paid or not.