phone: 707-268-8585
email: ClaireJosefine@wildblue.net













For My Fellow Organizers: Simplicity-Based Ethics

For Mental Health Professionals: How Can a Professional Organizer Help Your ADD Client--

A Brief History of Consumerism

Organizing as a Spiritual Art

The Spiritual Art of Being Organized -- An Interview

Thoughts on Time

The Ideal Office

Organizing Your Desk and Work Area

Organizing Your New Home

Ultimate Organization for Scrapbooking

Bulletin Boards


Storage Units

Organizing Your Estate

Advice for Packrats

Scaling Down



More Tips on Travel

Sailing Serenely through the Holiday Season

Organizing for the New Year

Stepping off the Resolution Merry-Go-Round

Book Reviews

Organizing by the Numbers: A Comparative List of Organizing Principles

Odd One Out: The Maverick's Guide to Adult ADD

The Complete Idiot's Guide to Organizing Your Life

Organizing Plain and Simple

The Organizing Sourcebook

Getting Started: 5 Books on Becoming an Organizer

Simplicity-Based Ethics

copyright © 2005 by Claire Josefine

Tell me what, what is success
Is it do your own thing
Or to join the rest--

Bonnie Raitt

I'm not in this for the money.

The best business advice I ever received came in my first year as a professional organizer. A financial consultant encouraged me to keep my focus on providing service, not on making money. Her reasoning was that potential clients can sense when you're trying to "sell" them, and no one likes to be "sold." Besides, she offered, if we focus on being of service, the money will follow.

In contrast, a speaker at a NAPO conference once asserted that, if we are settling for earning $60,000 to $100,000 a year, we are not really in business.


Let me back up a bit. In my book, The Spiritual Art of Being Organized, I wrote about the Kabalistic concept of Tikkun Olam, or Repair of the World. Embedded in this concept is the belief that we each have a duty to make the world a better place. Some rabbis explain this as it being our job to "be God's hands."

I believe we are each given talents to contribute toward this goal, and that it is our job to share these talents. As I wrote in my book, "we are social creatures, designed to live and work together toward our common -- as well as individual -- good. None of us can excel at everything. Instead, we each have strengths that we contribute to the whole. One of us bakes, another builds, another creates art, another rears children. By pooling our individual talents, we meet the needs of the entire community."

I teach, write, and organize. These are my gifts. My job is to share these gifts with people who need them. In return, I am fairly compensated, able to live a comfortable, simple life. To me this is an ethical issue, with ethics being defined as "a principle of right or good conduct." It is crucial that I relate to my clients as fellow human beings, not revenue streams. I am in this business for the work, not for the money.

Now, don't get me wrong. Money in and of itself is not evil. I don't mean to imply that there is anything wrong with becoming wealthy as a professional organizer. I mean only that riches are not my primary focus; service is.

Looked at another way, I prefer to replace the archetypically masculine approach to business with a more feminine one. (After all, ours is a predominantly female profession.) Focusing on the big bucks is a masculine business model: competitive, hierarchical, profit-driven. Isn't it time we bring women's wisdom to the table, creating a feminine business model that is woven around community and service--

Because profit is not my bottom line, interacting ethically with my clients is easy. I have no need to sell myself, nor to misrepresent myself in hopes of reeling in clients. My bottom line is service. If the client needs what I am able to offer, then I help them and they pay me. If they don't need my services, or if they need services I am unable to offer, I refer them elsewhere. If they need my services but can't afford me, I find a way to help them within their financial limits, whether by referring them to someone else or offering them a scaled-down version of my services.

What Can You Do--

Make Friends. Cultivate a cadre of folks to whom you can refer people. These folks might be bookkeepers, secretaries, personal assistants, eBay experts, feng shui consultants, or organizers with specialties other than yours. Comb through the Services Offered ads in your free weekly paper, or let your fingers do the walking through your Yellow Pages. Find people who offer these services, then invite them out for a cup of coffee. Get to know them, so that you can confidently refer people to them. Who knows, maybe they'll become good friends!

Set Boundaries. How much can you work each day, each week, and still be up to snuff-- My stamina expires after about 12 client hours a week -- four hours a day, three days a week. So I only schedule 12 client hours a week, no matter how tempting it might be to schedule more and make more money. I owe it to my clients to be at my best, and I owe it to myself to stay healthy.

Keep it Simple. Beginning organizers sometimes wonder if it is really possible to make a living as a professional organizer. For me, the answer is yes, because I have chosen a simple lifestyle. By living simply, I need less money, allowing me to focus on providing quality service instead of on making ends meet.

Know Your Limits. Be honest about your skill level. If you know a job is out of your league, be honest with the client and refer them to someone better qualified. I wouldn't dream of -- say -- pursuing large corporate accounts because they're good money when I know zilch about organizing for corporations. Nor would I, when I first started organizing, advertise that I was an expert in chronic disorganization or ADD. It took me years of experience before I was qualified to help that specialized population.

Trust Your Intuition. If you feel uneasy about taking a job, don't take it. Money is never worth the problems that ensue from working with the wrong person.

Base Decisions in Love instead of Fear. Ultimately what that financial advisor was telling me was to remove fear from my marketing. I've learned that, if I offer true value and do the footwork, the money will be there.

So, what does it mean to be in an ethical relationship with my clients-- It means that I interact with clients from a position of service instead of profit. I represent my skill levels honestly, not pushing my more expensive services when less specialization is needed, being willing to refer clients to others, even if I'm not going to profit off the transaction. It means that I don't need to be afraid, I certainly don't need to be greedy, and I don't really need that much. I need only to live an honest, simple life.

As one bumper sticker declares, "Live simply so that others may simply live." And as the rabbis say, remember that we are God's hands.

If you are interested in networking with other organizers who share a Simplicity focus, please join our on-line group.  

Click here to join simple_and_sustainable_organizers
Click to join simple_and_sustainable_organizers


How Can a Professional Organizer Help Your ADD Client--

copyright © 2005 by Claire Josefine

We have something in common. As mental health professionals, many of you have ADD clients. As a professional organizer, so do I. I have been working with ADD adults, especially women, for over eight years. Typically these clients are bright, creative, and funny. As a consequence of their ADD-inspired disorganization, they also frequently believe they are flawed. Often, ADD clients have not been taught how to organize in ways that work for them. As a professional organizer, I provide concrete ways for ADD clients to experience order in their lives. In turn, this experience increases their effectiveness, self-esteem, and happiness.

Taking Time to Teach

Professional organizers have become popular recently, thanks to television shows like "Clean Sweep." However, the clean-sweep approach to organizing generally does not work, especially for someone with ADD. Having Mom clean our room (usually when she can't stand it any more) does not help us keep it clean. Similarly, having someone swoop through our home and "fix" it is gratifying, but does not teach us how to maintain the changes made, or how to extend the principles to new situations as they arise.

In order to be effective, I must teach ADD clients the basic principles of organizing, which includes modeling organized behavior. I also find it essential to introduce new systems at a rate conducive to learning. My goal is to educate clients, empowering them for the long term. However, as a professional organizer, I must be conscious not to overwhelm my clients with too many changes too quickly. Given these guidelines, I work with my clients in two-hour blocks over an extended period of time, with one- or two-week breaks between sessions to allow for new behaviors or systems to be absorbed. And I work with my clients, not for them. It is crucial that the client be fully involved with the organizing process.

Organizing the ADD Client

As a professional organizer, I understand that my ADD clients have special organizing needs. For example, many of my clients respond to visual cues, so they leave items out as a reminder. Unfortunately, one visual reminder usually gets buried under others. Using transparent containers such as wall pockets (preferably labeled) allows the client to keep things visible, accessible, and contained. Similarly, lack of follow-through requires that systems be simple, with a minimum of obstacles. The fewer lids to lift, doors to open, and drawers to pull, the more likely an item will actually be put away. Picture a laundry hamper. If it has a lid, chances are good that dirty clothes land on top of the hamper, not in it. (This assumes the hamper is close to where clothes come off. If it's in a different room, or even a different area of the same room, those dirty clothes don't make it off the floor.)

Because ADD clients can be easily bored, a savvy professional organizer will allow the client to be playful with her organizing systems. Where I would want to label a file "Taxes," my client might think of it -- and therefore be more willing and able to use it -- as "Uncle Sam."

ADD clients are also easily distracted. While a non-ADD client could theoretically read a book on organizing and then independently implement what she's learned, my clients need my physical presence to help them become organized. In addition to creating tailored systems, teaching the underlying principles, and modeling organized behavior, I provide companionship and gently guide clients back to focus when they become distracted.

Benefits of Working with a Professional Organizer

An organizer who is unfamiliar with the special needs of ADD clients can inadvertently cause frustration and a sense of failure. On the other hand, an ADD-friendly organizer can provide many benefits. Working with a professional organizer provides concrete ways to experience order in their lives. According to my ADD clients, it taught them to:

  • clear clutter, thereby reducing distractions
  • learn what to toss and what to keep
  • organize their study and work materials
  • keep items visible, accessible, and neatly contained

  • In turn, these skills helped them to:

  • avoid potentially embarrassing situations (e.g. not being able to find their money after the checker has rung up their purchase)
  • improve their efficiency
  • enhance their success at school and work
  • feel confident and competent
  • reduce their stress ("Being organized frees up my gray matter for what matters because I don't always have to be thinking about where to put and find things.")

  • My ADD clients insist that they need the structure of working with a professional organizer in order to learn and implement the principles of organizing. They say that they simply couldn't (and wouldn't) have successfully undertaken the process on their own. The experienceof being organized has taught them the value of being organized. This, in turn, motivates them to stay organized and to organize other areas of their life. While their organizational skills aren't perfect, they are measurably improved. As a result of working with a professional organizer, my ADD clients move through the world with increased effectiveness, self-esteem, and happiness.


    A Brief History of Consumerism

    copyright © 2007 by Claire Josefine

    Once in a rare while, I'll venture into a K-Mart or Target or such, only to be astounded by the excess of consumer goods filling the shelves. (As an organizer, I find a plethora of these same goods cluttering people's homes.) Such material abundance didn't exist 100 years ago. So, what happened-- How did we get here, to a world suffocating under so much stuff--

    The stage was set during the industrial revolution, when our ability to produce goods magnified immensely. (The changes in production capacity brought up an interesting debate at the time: should we focus on producing more stuff, or on having more time-- More stuff won.) Then came The Depression, when people shut down and held back, went into scarcity thinking. They pulled into themselves, tight like a scrunched-closed fist.

    After WWII a number of things happened, encouraging people to sigh a collective "phew!" and open up into an expansive mode again. I call these phenomena The Four-Pronged Fork of the Fifties. It was this fork that fed our modern-era consumerism.

    Prong #1 was government programs. The Highway Trust Fund financed the creation of our Interstate Highway System, which fueled the development of urban sprawl. In addition to passing through downtown areas -- which encouraged automobile-oriented development patterns -- the expanding cobweb of highways made for easier distribution of foods grown by centralized, mass-production farming. This freed up farmland for suburban sprawl and shopping malls.

    FHA loans enabled people to buy those suburban houses. The G.I. Bill also helped people to purchase their starter homes. And all those houses, of course, needed to be fully equipped. As William Kowinski wrote in The Malling of America, "As they traded their ploughshares for power mowers, suburbanites created an ever-expanding market for consumer products. All those houses had their own kitchens and laundries, living rooms and dens, and typically a bedroom for each child. The suburban dream clearly included refrigerators and ranges, washers and dryers, plus all the detergents, polishes and other support and maintenance products."

    Prong #2 was the proliferation of television and advertising. Besides being a venue for advertising, television portrayed (and continues to portray) upper-middle class as normal, making us think that what the well-to-do have is what we should all be having and what's wrong with us that we don't-- Meanwhile, advertising started using psychology to create both fear and desire in us, compounding our sense of inadequacy.

    Prong #3 was personal debt. Suddenly, it became easy to borrow money. (What's that commercial-- "Life takes Visa." Or is it that Visa takes life--) Meanwhile, in conjunction with the Cold War, government and industry began equating democracy with the freedom to purchase, recasting materialism as patriotic. (And President Bush, in response to 9/11, encouraged the country to go shopping. Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.) Not long ago, if we didn't have the money, we didn't buy it. Now, if we want it -- and it's our patriotic duty to buy it! -- we just put it on the credit card.

    Prong #4 was planned obsolescence. This has three faces to it. One is where producers intentionally build things to fall apart. After all, there are only so many toasters you can sell before everyone who needs one, has one. If you want to continue selling toasters, you better make them chintzy and irreparable. The second face of planned obsolescence takes its lead from the fashion industry, where things go out of style long before they cease being functional. Witness automobiles, furniture, kitchen decor, technology... . The third face is one of manufactured scarcity. Jim Sinegal, CEO of Costco, was quoted in the Wall Street Journal as saying, "We try to create an attitude that, if you see it, you ought to buy it because chances are it ain't going to be there next time. You're going to come in and find that maybe we have some Lucky jeans that we're selling. You come in the next time and we don't have those jeans but we have some Coach handbags. That's the treasure-hunt aspect. We constantly buy that stuff and intentionally run out of it from time to time."

    The Four-Pronged Fork of the Fifties fed our culture to create the bloated, consumerist world in which we find ourselves today. But just because this is where we are doesn't mean we need to stay here. We are products of our culture, but we are not victims to it. We can choose to step out of mindless consumption and into simplicity. We can choose to live consciously, to take back our power and live in harmony with our values. We can choose to walk out of K-Mart and Target and such, empty handed. We can even choose not to walk in.


    Organizing as a Spiritual Art

    copyright © 2009 by Claire Josefine

    February 2005. The Spiritual Art of Being Organized had recently been published, and I was working on a talk to give at bookstores. Sitting at my computer, I found myself stuck, unable to decide what one thing I wanted to tell people, what that one kernel of wisdom was that I wanted people to know.

    So, I took my own advice and went for a walk to my favorite spot at the end of the covered bridge, where I watched the water swirl by. I listened to the gurgles and tinkles of the river, to the chorus of songbirds, the occasional frog, the foghorn. I looked out past the river to a vibrant-green pasture with a sprinkling of cows -- remember, this was early February, when we get our first tease of spring -- surrounded by redwood-covered hills and crisp blue sky. It was late afternoon, so the sun was doing its magical-light thing. And I thought -- this is it. This is what I want people to know. This is what organization is about, what it feels like. It's grounded and peaceful and connected.

    Organization is not what you see on TV. It's not about color-coordinated containers and indexed filing systems and someone coming in to do a "clean sweep" on your clutter, just so you can go out and buy more stuff and have somewhere to put it. It's not about quick fixes or control. Organization is about living simply, paying attention to your actions, making conscious choices. Simplifying our lives, restoring balance and meaning, feeling connected to a power greater than ourselves -- these are the core of being organized. This sense of connection and meaning is what we hunger for -- and mistakenly try to fill with things.

    Not that containers and filing systems should be cast aside completely. They are useful tools. But they are not the end goal.

    Being organized works on two levels, external and internal, physical and spiritual. Over the years, I've summarized the multitude of sundry tips that organizers throw at us into 12 Basic Principles. The first seven are external principles, the last five are more spiritual. I go into each of these principles in detail in my book, The Spiritual Art of Being Organized. For now I'm going to touch on just the spiritual ones.

    The first of these spiritual principles is

    Principle # 8 -- Slow Down and Pay Attention.

    Although each of the 12 principles is important, I think of this one as the keystone. Slowing down and paying attention is fundamental to implementing any organizational system. It's the Zen practice of being organized.

    I used to work as a bookkeeper and personal assistant for a high-end portrait photographer. She was an excellent photographer and a wonderful lady. She was also a whirlwind, always in a rush, tossing items down willy-nilly without thinking about what she'd just tossed, where. One day, one of her wealthier clients placed a $10,000 order and, after rejoicing, she panicked. She'd misplaced the negatives! It took her days to find them. Ironically, she had a place where the negatives belonged. You know, a place for everything and everything in its place? She just hadn't put them in their right place -- because she hadn't been paying attention.

    This is why I say that chaos is conquered as much by awareness, gratitude, and grounding as by a well-labeled filing system. My photographer friend had the external organizational systems in place, but she hadn't made the internal shifts needed to use them. And systems will not work if you don't use them.

    Slowing down and paying attention means that we stop rushing, that we slip out of crisis mode. When you feel yourself starting to "spin out," or catch yourself saying "I'll just" or "for now," -- stop. Take a deep breath. Exhale slowly, then take another deep breath. Keep breathing until you've come back to the present moment. Now, notice your surroundings and your situation. Calmly choose your next action. And keep returning to your breath as needed.

    I'll bet you've never thought of taking a deep breath as an organizational technique, have you? Usually we associate conscious breathing with mindfulness. But mindfulness is an organizing tool. Being conscious is probably one of the most powerful tools for being organized there is.

    By slowing down and paying attention, we bring intention back to our actions. We consciously place our keys in their bowl, instead of tossing them down mindlessly somewhere along our path. We consciously choose to schedule a meeting, instead of crowding our calendar with dates we don't really want. We consciously say yes to new acquisitions instead of automatically filling our homes with clutter.

    Principle #9 is to Adopt an Attitude of Gratitude.

    Much of our clutter comes from hoarding and holding on, keeping things "just in case." This is based in what's called "scarcity thinking," the belief that there isn't enough, that the world will not provide. Yet in this very moment, we have every thing we need. Right now, in this second, we are okay.

    The antidote to scarcity is abundance, and the quickest way I know to abundance is gratitude. Gratitude turns what we have into enough -- and more. It turns a meal into a feast, a house into a home. It teaches us just how rich we already are, how incredibly cared for we are. What's that saying? "Sometimes I go about pitying myself, and all the time I am being carried on great winds across the sky."

    The summer I turned 40, I headed out solo on what one friend called my walkabout and what I called my search for capital-H home. I grew up in western Sonoma County, lived in Berkeley/Oakland for 10 years, in San Rafael for five, all of which are beautiful places, but I always knew I wasn't meant to settle in any of them. The problem was, I didn't know where I wanted to settle. Like a compass, I was always wanting to point north, but north where?

    Anyway, it was 1998, my relationship had ended after several hard years, and I decided to take myself on a rafting trip in Idaho. My ex was a river guide, and I was determined to show (him or myself, I don't remember any more) that I could go rafting without him just fine, thank you. Looking at a map, I realized that the Grand Tetons were kind of close by, and I could go see them on the same rafting trip. And there was Yellowstone, which I'd never been to, and I'd often thought about packing it all in and hitting the road in a little RV, and... And it dawned on me: I don't have to come back. I can go anywhere and be anyone I want to be.

    So, I hit the road. I packed all my belongings into storage at a friend's, loaded up my 10-year-old Honda Civic, and started traveling north. Three-and-a-half months later I eventually settled in capital-H Humboldt County -- Home. (To enjoy a full account of my journey, read Following Raven, Finding Ground: A Road Trip in Search of Home.) For a good chunk of that trip, I was camping out of my little Honda, and much of that camping was in grizzly country. Camping meant setting up a tent and kitchen in each new location, putting the kitchen away every night, bear-proofing the site, heating water on the camp stove to wash dishes... Let me tell you, I was so immensely grateful when I moved into my little cottage in someone's back yard in Sunny Brae. Goodness, I had a roof over my head, hot running water, a refrigerator and stove -- and no grizzlies!

    My point is, we take so much for granted, forget what luxury we live in. LaoTzu reminds us:
    Be content with what you have;
    Rejoice in the way things are.
    When you realize there is nothing lacking,
    The whole world belongs to you.

    To help us remember, we can practice daily gratitude. Think of it as an exercise for our mind. The same way that curls strengthen our biceps, giving daily thanks strengthens our attitude of gratitude. The more we practice thankfulness, the easier it becomes to feel grateful and see abundance instead of scarcity.

    Principle # 10 is to Base Decisions in Love Instead of Fear.

    What does fear have to do with being organized? Whether it's having multiple copies of an item "just in case," (there's that just-in-case again) or leaving "important" items out so that they'll be remembered, fear generates decisions that complicate our lives. Just as abundance is the antidote to scarcity, love is the answer to fear.

    My original wording of this principle was "base decisions in faith instead of fear." But I substituted the word love for the word faith because, for many people, faith conjures up associations with which they are uncomfortable. Each of us holds different beliefs about the existence and nature of higher powers. Belief in God is not necessary to implement this principle. For that matter, belief in the goddess isn't necessary, either. What is required is a belief in goodness.

    Essentially, basing decisions in love instead of fear means shifting our focus. Instead of anticipating the worst, expect the best. It's the old half-empty, half-full glass. So, the next time we think "I need two of these! What if I lose one, or it breaks?" consider: What if you don't and it doesn't?

    And remember, "Fear is always an anticipation of what has not yet come."

    Principle # 11 is to Remember That We Have Choices.

    Choice empowers us, takes us out of victim mentality and helps us move forward in our lives.

    This is particularly relevant to simplifying our lives. We live in such a materialistic culture, a culture of mindless consumption, of Buy! Buy! Buy! But we can choose to reclaim our lives -- to live a life of simplicity, connection, and joy -- by choosing what we bring into (and keep in) our homes.

    Wendell Berry wrote that: "We must use well the power we have as consumers: the power of choice. We can choose to buy or not to buy, and we can choose what to buy. The standard by which we choose must be the health of the community -- and by that we mean the whole community: ourselves, the place where we live, and all the humans and other creatures who live there with us. It is better to buy at a small, privately owned local store than from a chain store. It is better to buy a good product than a bad one. [And it is better to] not buy anything you don't need."

    This isn't always easy. Even those of us who live consciously find ourselves needing to get rid of items we no longer love or need. De-cluttering is a process of making choices, of deciding if something is still in keeping with our goals and values. One way to de-clutter is -- working one small area at a time -- to touch each item in that area and ask ourselves: Does this make me smile? If not, and if it isn't fundamentally useful -- like a toaster -- then pass it on. If we're not using it, there's someone out there who will love or need it, and I believe it's our duty to share the wealth with those in need, rather than hoard it ourselves. In fact, I'm pretty sure that every faith around the world has a tradition of sharing with those in need. In Judaism it's called Tzedakah -- or Justice. In Christianity, it's Charity. In Islam it's Zakaht; in Buddhism, Compassion. No matter what you call it, sharing with those in need is a universal mitzvah, a good deed.

    Remembering that we have choices also shows up in our language. I encourage people to replace "I can't" with "I choose not to," and "I have to" with "I choose to." After speaking at a bookstore, I received the following email from one of the women in the audience: "Dear Claire," she said...

    "I was the person who mentioned I had so many creative projects that I couldn't decide what to do. You very wisely reworded that to put the responsibility back on me -- that I wasn't deciding--and that non-deciding was a choice.

    You said exactly the right thing for me at the right time. I went home and wrote up a list of all the projects that are in my psychic space (and feeling like clutter). A key element that I asked myself -- really for the first time -- was whether I actually wanted to do any of these. I didn't mull this over at all... just wrote out the first impulse response to that direct question and I was quite surprised -- I knew the answer. I picked the top four projects and I'm now making some decisions about action items. The situation with these creative projects has long been a mess. I think that ultimately the issue was a psychological and spiritual one, of giving myself permission to do what my heart told me I wanted to do."

    I'm glad to have been of help. Which brings me to the final principle,

    Principle # 12 -- Ask for Help.

    Let's return to that covered bridge I mentioned earlier. Standing there, watching the river, I was the only person in sight. But I did not feel alone. I felt connected, part of a whole fabric of life.

    It's important to remember that we are not alone, that we don't isolate. We need to remember our connection, to sidestep the trap of self-sufficiency. We need to reach out for help, delegating, trading, or paying for the assistance if need be. Especially when it comes to getting organized.

    We hire mechanics, lawyers, accountants, gardeners, housekeepers... Yet so many of us balk at asking for help when it comes to organizing. Many people feel embarrassed, even ashamed, of their chaos and clutter. They believe there is something wrong with them, that they should be able to do this on their own. Yet being organized is not a moral issue; it's an educational one. We need to learn how to organize in ways that work for us, and we need to learn to let others help us.

    I received another email out of the blue one morning that made all the work of writing and publishing my book worthwhile. Serendipitously, I reached into one woman's life and gave her hope. She had recently been diagnosed with cancer, and was looking at the possibility of leaving a large home filled with 25-years of collecting for her family to deal with. She wrote:

    "You accomplished the impossible. You see, I have always detested neat, highly organized people. They are not like me. They made me feel faulty, inadequate, guilty, and so I pronounced them without creativity, spontaneity, or passion. But, from what I could learn about you from your writing, I began to like you, a person who alphabetizes spice bottles! This amazed me. When, about half-way through, I found you quoting Wendell Berry, I was totally won over.

    After several readings of your book, I realized that, while the totality of what I had to do remained overwhelming, I could handle beginning, and that in the process of incrementally imposing order on the chaos of my house, I would also be dusting out and re-ordering places in my own being that needed an equal amount of attention.

    I had always envisioned starting my clean-up process in my 'abandon hope all ye who enter here' attic, but decided instead to start on my spice cupboard. Here I found six half-used boxes of tapioca dating back over several years, each purchased after a search did not produce that box of tapioca I knew I had, but couldn't find. I began to laugh at myself.

    In more ways than I could begin to tell you, you wrote this book for me. I would not have been reached by a simple list of handy hints for organizing. What you had to reach was my deepest being, and you had to convince me to like you and trust you before I listened to you. That there was something in neat, organized, 'spice-jar-alphabetizing you' that connected on a deep spiritual level with messy, chaotic 'can--t find that box of tapioca' me, opened my mind.

    'Little by little,' the acorn said.

    Thanks to your extraordinary book, the best imperfect person I can be has begun."

    In Conclusion

    People ask me what being spiritual has to do with being organized. Spirituality dovetails with organization on two fronts. These principles -- slowing down and paying attention; adopting an attitude of gratitude; basing decisions in faith instead of fear; remembering that we have choices and aren't stuck, that life is fluid and we can make changes; that we are not alone, but are connected and can reach out for help -- these are all spiritual.

    I explain the second front as Tikkun Olam, or repair of the world. I believe that each of us is given talents with which to make the world a better place. Organizing helps us share those talents. The concept of Tikkun Olam comes from a Kabbalistic creation story. Naomi Newman, one of the founding members of the Travelling Jewish Theater in San Francisco, wrote a poem that I like to share, telling the story. She graciously gave me permission to include it in my book. I'd like to end with it here, too.

    In the beginning,
    before there were any beginnings or endings.
    there was no place that was not already God.
    We call this unimaginable openness
    Ein Sof,
    Being without end, world without end,
    Ein Sof.

    Then came the urge to give life
    to our world and us.
    But there was no place that was not already God.
    So Ein Sof breathed in to make room
    like a father steps back
    so his child will walk to him.
    We call this withdrawing
    Tzim Tzum.

    Into the emptiness Ein Sof set vessels
    and began to fill them with divine light,
    like a mother places bowls
    in which to pour her delicious soup.
    We call these bowls

    As the light poured forth a perfect world was
    being created.
    Think of it, a world without greed
    and cruelty and violence.
    But then something happened.
    The kaleem shattered.
    No one knows why.
    Perhaps the bowls were too frail,
    perhaps the light too intense,
    perhaps Ein Sof was learning.
    After all, no one makes perfect the first time.

    With the shattering of the bowls
    the divine sparks flew everywhere.
    Some rushing back to Ein Sof,
    some falling, falling,
    trapped in the broken shards,
    to become our world and us.

    Though this is hard to believe,
    the perfect world is all around us,
    but broken into jagged pieces,
    like a puzzle thrown to the floor,
    the picture lost,
    each piece without meaning
    until someone puts them back together again.

    We are that someone.
    There is no one else.
    We are the ones who can find the broken pieces,
    remember how they fit together
    and rejoin them.
    And we call this repair of the world
    Tikkun Olam.

    In every moment with every act
    we can heal our world and us.
    We are all holy sparks dulled by separation.
    But when we meet and talk and eat and make love,
    when we work and play and disagree
    with holiness in our eyes,
    seeing Ein Sof everywhere,
    our brokenness will end.
    Then our bowls will be strong enough to hold the light,
    and our light gentle enough to fill the bowls.
    As we repair the world together,
    we will learn
    that there is no place
    that is not


    The Spiritual Art of Being Organized -- An Interview

    The following interview by Geoff Rotunno was featured at www.thebooxreview.com a couple of years ago. It is no longer available at that web site, so I am republishing it here.

    Personal chaos got you down-- Step into our parlor, the online room of one utterly organized Boox Interview with author and professional organizer Claire Josefine, who spends some time explaining the hows and whys of instructing others in the spiritual art of acquiring order.

    Boox: Our initial take on The Spiritual Art of Being Organized was that it is a book that is completely right for the times. Assuming you agree, why would you say that is so--

    Josefine: Given the response to the book that I've been receiving, I'd have to agree with you.

    Spirituality and getting organized are both popular topics these days. But I believe The Spiritual Art of Being Organized speaks to a deeper need than current trends. Many of us, especially those who embrace the values of Voluntary Simplicity, are struggling to restore balance, connectedness, and meaning to our lives.

    Let me elaborate. We live in a culture that emphasizes acquisition and immediate gratification. Good consumers that we are, we mindlessly accumulate possessions (and rack up debt). Meanwhile, it often takes two incomes to support a household these days. We're working more and accumulating more. Which means we have less time and more stuff taking up our time and space. Is it any wonder that we wake up one day to find our homes crowded with meaningless clutter and our lives unsatisfying-- As Ken Blanchard says, "too many of us are spending money we haven't earned to buy things we don't need to impress people we don't like."

    So here we are, working too much to support too much stuff. And watching television to numb our minds. But wait! Look! Check out these TV shows where people are totally disorganized and an organizer comes in and fixes it all for them. Talk about immediate gratification! Wouldn't it be nice if we could hire a professional organizer to play Mom, to come in and clean our room for us, make it all better -- just like on TV--

    Except it wouldn't work. Professional organizers are invaluable -- they teach us how to organize; they provide support and encouragement and a helping hand. But the allure of having someone else come in to perform a clean sweep through our homes is just another version of our desire for immediate gratification, which is largely responsible for our mindless accumulation of clutter in the first place. Unless we shift our behavior and beliefs -- which includes suspending gratification while we make conscious decisions based on our values and goals -- we will simply re-create the clutter we've just purged. As I say in the book, chaos is conquered as much by awareness, gratitude, grounding, and breath as by a well-labeled filing system. Simplicity and order are valid -- even crucial -- choices. And they are found within.

    Boox: But in a culture that does place so much emphasis on acquisition and immediate gratification, how do we make that shift-- Do you talk about that concept during your consultations--

    Josefine: Not everyone is going to -- or even wants to -- make that shift. I have clients who will continue to conspicuously consume, and there's not much I can do about it. Yes, I can point out the physical limits of their space and ask them how many, say, tablecloths, they need. And I can encourage them to let go of their excess, to share it with those who truly need coats or bedding or tablecloths. But I can't force them to change their buying habits, to delay their desire for immediate gratification. I can't force them to have a spiritual awakening, an "aha!" moment.

    On the other hand, some of my clients have had that "aha!" moment where they wake up and say, "Wait, this is all wrong. What am I doing with all this stuff-- Where's the balance in my life--" With these clients, yes, absolutely, I talk about making the shift. These are the clients (and readers) who thirstily drink up the 12 Basic Principles of Being Organized, because the Principles provide the tools we need to simplify and organize our lives.

    How do we make that shift-- We begin by simplifying our lives. We learn to set boundaries, to make choices based in love instead of fear, that we are able to make choices. We learn to practice gratitude, which guides us to realizing how blessedly abundant our lives are. We slow down, pay attention to our actions, bring consciousness back into our daily lives. We bring a structural foundation of order and organization into our lives. And we learn to ask for -- and receive -- help.

    Boox: Of the benefits you list under your "Why Get Organized--" section, you state one good reason for attaining order is "to make money." How can getting organized lead to income--

    Josefine: I'm thinking of a client of mine who writes and teaches for a living. We organized all her newspaper clippings and her computer document files for the book she is currently writing. We also created a schedule, carving out specific, regular hours for writing. (Because she works at home, she was having trouble creating a routine and setting boundaries with her time.) These organizational improvements enabled her to find information quickly (instead of taking hours to hunt for it), and helped her to complete her manuscript on time (which allowed her to collect the first part of her advance on the book). It also freed up time for her to work on income-generating projects such as workshops, lectures, and fund-raising.

    Perhaps another way to look at this benefit is to see how being organized helps you avoid losing money. Let's look at a hypothetical independent consultant who's disorganized. Her disorganization can result in lost income because she forgets to invoice her clients (or follow up on collections), because she is unable to access information quickly enough to provide a timely and acceptable bid for a job, or because clients perceive her as unreliable and are reticent to trust her.

    Becoming organized can remedy these pitfalls, can remove obstacles to making money. We spend less time looking for our tools, can put our hands on information more quickly, and can provide the desired product more promptly. The better organized we are, the more productive. And the more productive we are, the more we are profitable.

    Boox: In your chapter called "Think!" you talk about how we seem to have a knack for sprawling horizontally rather than employing vertical solutions for our excess. Any idea why we default to the more scattered of the two--

    Josefine: I think that horizontal sprawl becomes the default for two reasons. One is a lack of boundaries. The other is our innate laziness. Picture a bowl of water, but without the bowl, how it spreads outward along the available surface. When we're setting down pieces of paper (for instance) we're likely to behave like that water, spreading the papers out along an available surface. To store them vertically -- in file folders or wall pockets, for example -- requires work. If the vertical containers are already in place, and they are easy to access, then we are likely to use them. But because installing the vertical containers requires effort, it is not our natural -- or default -- solution.

    Boox: What is the most common of all the states of client disorder you see upon initial consultation--

    Josefine: There are two common problems. The first is a lack of clearly defined zones. A kitchen cabinet might have canned food, coffee cups, and kids' schoolwork all shoved in willy-nilly. Or a dresser drawer might have underwear jumbled up with socks, blue jeans, loose aspirin, unpaid bills, orphaned earrings, and bandages.

    The second common problem involves the bane of our modern-day existence: paper! Many of us have not been taught how to handle the barrage of paper that enters our life. As a result, it invades every surface of our home, and maybe even our car. Piles of old mail, unread magazines, unpaid bills, paid bills, invitations, advertisements, notices, newspapers... On the kitchen table. The kitchen counter. The table by the entrance. The desk. The shelves. The dresser. The bathroom counter. The bed. The floor. Paper everywhere, except where we can find it!

    By the way, I don't subscribe to the "handle paper only once" school. Expecting immediate and full action to be taken on every piece of paper each time is unreasonable. Yes, we want to make an initial assessment of the paper when we pick it up, rather than shuffle it from one pile to another. But I prefer the "all paper is F.A.T. -- File, Act, or Toss" philosophy. By asking ourselves why we are keeping the paper, how we plan to use it, we can determine where to put the paper. If we are keeping it only for reference or legal documentation, it can be filed. If we need to act on it, we put it in the action file (to pay, to answer, to review, etc.). If we don't need to keep it, by all means, toss it! (Well, recycle it. But saying that all paper is F.A.R. doesn't have the same mnemonic appeal.)

    Boox: What sort of feedback do you hear most often from clients who have embraced your techniques and discovered a holy state of order in their lives--

    Josefine: I'm not sure any of my clients have ever discovered a "holy state of order." But they certainly have experienced marked improvement in their lives.

    The most common feedback is an expression of gratitude for the help they've received and the hope they now have. Where they used to feel inept and ashamed, they now feel empowered. They understand how to organize, they experience the value of being organized, and they see how their spirituality supports being organized.

    I received an amazing letter from a reader not long ago. She had recently been diagnosed with breast cancer, and was faced with not wanting to leave her 3600-square-foot home filled with 35 years of collecting for her family to deal with. She happened upon my book, and was transformed. She wrote to me: "You accomplished the impossible. You see, I have always detested neat, highly organized people. They are not like me. They made me feel faulty, inadequate, guilty, and so I pronounced them without creativity, spontaneity, or passion. But, from what I could learn about you from your writing, I began to like you, a person who alphabetizes spice bottles! This amazed me. ... I would not have been reached by a simple list of handy hints for organizing. What you had to reach was my deepest being, and you had to convince me to like you and trust you before I listened to you. That there was something in neat, organized, spice-jar-alphabetizing you that connected on a deep spiritual level with messy, chaotic me opened my mind. ... Thanks to your extraordinary book, the best imperfect person I can be has begun."

    Boox: That's some terrific and immediately gratifying feedback! Do you find that you are consciously attempting to reach clients at more than the usual business relationship level, or is that just a good thing when it happens on its own--

    Josefine: I don't try to reach clients on a more personal level; it's just who I am. I'm friendly and open and honest, and my clients tend to open up and trust me. (In turn, I honor their trust by keeping their identities confidential.)

    Also, organizing is very intimate work. As an organizer, I can't help but see my clients' secrets, be it their bankruptcy papers or their cross-dressing wardrobe. And, as an organizer, I'm very accepting of the secrets I find. I think this vulnerability, coupled with my easy-going acceptance, facilitates a personal bond.

    You know, I resisted writing this book; at first I was going to have a friend ghost-write it for me. But I realized that the book had to be in my own voice, so I hired the friend to coach me, to hold my hand through the process. Now I find that it's my voice that reaches the readers. When I showed the above-mentioned letter to a friend, she commented that several of her colleagues read the book as a way of spending time with me -- and they've never met me in person. This amazes me, that I'm able to reach people on a personal level, that they come to like me and want to spend time with me, through my writing. And through a book on organizing. Who woulda thunk--

    Boox: Which of your 12 principles do people typically have trouble with the most, and why--

    Josefine: Hmmm.... No one's ever told me that they're having trouble with one principle or another, so I'm not sure! My guess would be, based on observation, that implementing new habits and routines is most difficult. (I know it's hard for me.) When I asked a couple of friends, they quickly and unanimously replied that K.I.S.S. (Keep It Simple, Sweetie) was hardest, which surprised me, because that one comes so easily for me. But then, being innately organized, perhaps it makes sense that my sticking points differ from those of my clients.

    I'm guessing that different principles are challenging for different people. An AD/HD client might have trouble with K.I.S.S. or Be Realistic -- or with Slow Down and Pay Attention -- while another client might have trouble with Ask for Help. It's going to depend on the person. Which one do you find most challenging--

    Boox: Asking for help has always been a personal challenge as well, so it does seem to depend on who you are. Why do you ask your clients, "What brings you joy--" Are there any other questions that you regularly pose--

    Josefine: I believe that each of us has gifts to offer, talents to share that make the world a better place. And I believe we each have a duty to share those talents, to do the work of Tikkun Olam -- a Kabbalistic concept that means Repair of the World.

    Now, some of us know what our gifts are and plunge right in, doing our work. Others of us are unsure. (It took me until my late 30's to figure out what my gifts were.) I ask people "what brings you joy--" because -- I believe -- this is where we connect with our higher power, our Source. This is how we discover our path. I have a quote from Buddha by my desk: "Your work is to discover your work and then with all your heart to give yourself to it." Discovering what brings us joy leads us to discovering our work, which leads us to doing the work of Tikkun Olam.

    Identifying our sources of joy also helps us clarify our values and goals, which helps us winnow out those items and commitments that detract us from our path.

    As to other questions that I regularly pose... of course there are others! I'm a teacher at heart, and teachers ask questions. Besides, questions are a wonderful tool for finding answers. Probably my two most common sets of questions are: "Why are you keeping it-- How do you plan to use it--" and "Do you like it-- Does it make you smile--" And then there's the ever-pragmatic "Where will you put it--" ("I don't know" is not an acceptable answer.)

    Boox: Are you planning to write any more books-- If so, what titles or concepts are swirling around in that organized mind of yours--

    Josefine: I'm toying with creating a The Spiritual Art of Being Organized series of e-books, which would be workbooks on a number of topics. I'm also editing a recording of me reading The Spiritual Art of Being Organized so that it can be offered as a Book on CD. But, in keeping with Keep It Simple, I'm not putting much energy into new projects just yet. Instead, my main focus is on spreading the word about the The Spiritual Art of Being Organized, lecturing, and providing hands-on support to my clients.


    Thoughts on Time

    copyright © 2001 by Claire Josefine

    One day, I was driving through a school zone, actually speeding a bit, going 30 in a 25. School had let out, kids were swarming, and this one woman behind me would not get off my tail! She was clearly angry with me for going "too slow." Finally, as I went around a curve to the right, she sped off to the left — toward the school. I guess she thought she was late to pick up her kid-- She seemed to have forgotten about safety, about kids’ lives — she was rushing to "be on time."

    Last fall, they were widening my road, which entailed regular 20 to 30 minute waits. Granted, it was a pain in the neck, and it went on for months, but we dealt with it. Except for one guy. One of the flaggers was a very sweet older gent named Jack. One day, some guy decided he’d had enough — got mad about having to wait and intentionally hit Jack with his car, knocked him down to get him out of the way. Thank goodness Jack was okay, but still... What’s that old Talking Heads song-- "Patience is a virtue, but I ain’t got the time..."

    Even I, Little Miss Professional Organizer, get worked up over "being on time." Upon the insistence of my acupuncturist, I went for a "healing." Lo and behold, I felt wonderful afterwards — for about two days. Then I slipped into being cranky. Looking back, I realized that I’d started to stress the evening that I was expecting a friend to join me for dinner. I wanted the house to be tidy (even more than I normally keep it), dinner to be "on time," and I was getting tense in anticipation of my (self-imposed) "deadline."

    Interesting word, "deadline." The healer suggested that, instead, I realize everything is happening in "divine time." Now, some of you will roll your eyes at that suggestion. But she has a point. Time management and being organized — both of which are functions of our relationship to time — are as much a matter of behavior and attitude as they are of practical systems. It’s not enough to set up fancy-schmancy systems; we also have to slow down, breathe, pay attention, and trust that we are okay. So the person ahead of us is driving 35 in a 45 zone, and we’re running late for an appointment. Yes, it’s frustrating, but it’s all going to be okay. Who knows, maybe that car is slowing us down for a reason!

    Simply trust
    Do not the petals flutter down,
    Just like that--


    The Ideal Office

    copyright © 2002 by Claire Josefine

    Yes, you can have this!

    Let me begin with this premise: an organized work environment saves you time. But what does an organized work environment look like--

    Imagine the ideal office. You sit at your desk so that you are facing the door, ready to greet anyone who enters. And they can enter easily; there are no piles on the floor or other obstacles to trip over, no narrow passages to squeeze through.

    The top of your desk holds only those things you use daily — a few pens and pencils, a container of paperclips, maybe a stapler, tape, and notepad. Your phone is on the opposite side of your dominant hand: if you are right-handed, your phone is on the left. Next to it, in a little phone-zone, is your message pad and phone book. If you have directories, they are here, too, standing upright like books on a shelf. Your computer also has an area of its own, where everything computer-related lives.

    Each desk drawer has its own category: maybe one is for stationary, another for snacks and toiletries. The desk file drawer holds files that you use on a regular basis — your working files. (The other files — the administrative, financial, historical, and informational ones that you are keeping for reference — live in the file cabinet. All your drawers open and close easily, and everything is easy to get to, close to where you use it.

    Your paperwork is kept in either wall pockets or a tiered vertical file holder, separated by task (to pay, to review, to enter into the computer, to file, to do) or by project (trip to Hawaii, presentation for client X).

    Your inbox is emptied regularly, and the paperwork that isn't handled promptly is stored in the appropriate task/project file until it can be processed.

    Best of all, every morning when you come in to work, your desk is cleared off because you take a few minutes at the end of each day to put things away.

    Sound good-- A professional organizer can help you create this ideal space. One of my clients went from total chaos to a cleared desk and organized office in just four sessions. He opted for wall pockets because he wanted nothing on his desk except the phone and a small inspirational statue. He was ecstatic, and his staff was amazed.


    Organizing Your Desk and Work Area

    copyright © 2006 by Claire Josefine

    Desks are for use, not storage. Keep only as many pens, stickies, envelopes, stationary, and other desk tools as you actually use at your desk. The rest should be stored in a supply area.

    Give yourself as open a work space as possible, so that you can spread out your materials. If helpful, set up a second table or a credenza as a work table. Keep the area clear of everything except what you're working on.

    Organizing Your Desk
    The desk top is for items that you use daily.

    Desk drawers are for your personal working files that you access regularly -- weekly or so. Remaining files belong in a file cabinet, not at your desk.

    If your desk is not at your home, you may want to set up one drawer as your personal kitchen drawer (napkins, snacks, etc.). Some people also like to have a toiletries drawer for their aspirin, nail file, hair brush, toothbrush, and so on.

    Use containers for all those little things: pens, paperclips, coins, rubberbands. I often use empty check-book boxes as desk-drawer organizers; they're cheap (free) and a good fit.

    Use an open-top file box and hanging file folders (with clearly labeled tabs!) to hold your current project files. These are especially useful for folks who tend toward "out-of-sight, out-of-mind."

    Magazine holders work well for directories and other soft-bound (that is: floppy, don't-like-to-stand-up-on-their-own) items.

    If you need additional space, consider hanging wall pockets or installing shelves -- in other words, "think vertical."

    Setting Up Your Work Area
    In general, put things where you use them and can get to them easily.

    Make sure a trash can and a paper-recycling bag are within arm's reach (or that you are really good at consistently making baskets when you toss!).

    Stacking-drawer chests with transparent pull-out drawers are ideal for organizing different types of stationary and extra office supplies. Put like with like, and label each drawer.

    You might enjoy a corkboard to display inspirational images and sayings. See the article on Bulletin Boards for more on this topic. Note: if you are easily distracted, ask yourself: am I better off limiting the visual stimulation around me-- Be honest.

    A whiteboard or dry-erase board can be used for strategizing assignments and projects.

    Use an analog clock (a clock face with hands, as opposed to a digital clock) or a timer if you have trouble with monitoring time.

    If kept simple, color coding can be helpful and fun. By simple, I mean that the colors make sense, and are at a macro level -- different colored file folders, NOT different colored labels (which are too small to make a significant difference.) For example, I color coded my files so that

      Publishing = Purple,
      Organizing Business = Red,
      Administering My Life = Blue,
      Personal = Maroon, and
      Correspondence = Yellow.

    A nurse practioner client uses different colored folders for her major categories: Administrative/Financial, Medical Information, Professional Records, and Personal.

    Speaking of filing, some people have trouble knowing how to name files. Use key words, much like a book's index. One key word might be Insurance (which would be the category word on the hanging file); sub-words (on the actual file folders) would be Auto, Home, Life, Medical, Professional Liability, etc. Ditto for Banking, Credit Cards, Investments, Utilities, etc. You can be playful, if you'll remember it consistently. One friend has his taxes filed under Uncle Sam.

    Some organizers insist on creating an index map of your filing system. I find this too cumbersome for my clients, one too many steps, which guarantees their failure. Keep it Simple, Sweetie, and skip the index.

    Getting Work Done
    Every day, take 15 minutes to sort that day's mail, both paper and electronic. All paper (and email) is FAT -- File, Act, or Toss. First toss out all obvious junk, then put the remaining items in the appropriate Action files or wall pockets (if you are unable to complete the action right away), and Filing in the appropriate file.

    Create a daily rhythm. Work with your natural energy levels. If you like to study in the morning, then create time in the morning to study. If mornings are only good for meditating over desperately-needed coffee, then don't make that your only time available for studying!

    At the end of every day, schedule in 15 minutes to put away your toys.

    When working on projects, try breaking them into smaller tasks by looking at the key pieces. For example, the (rough) pieces of writing my next book are:

      Organizing notes
      Writing each entry (chapter)
      Reviewing manuscript
      Editing manuscript
      Creating a final draft for my readers, publicist, etc.

    Still, each of these pieces is pretty big. So the next step is to break them down into smaller steps. Continuing with the example of my writing my book, interviews can be broken down as:

      Identify topics I want to interview on
      Identify whom I want to interview
      Collect contact data
      Send out requests for interviews
      Schedule interviews
      Conduct interviews
      Write up my notes
      Write (and send) thank you notes

    (Mind maps are a fun tool for identifying the details.)

    Set Boundaries
    Schedule interruption-free time.
    Turn off phones when possible to limit distractions.
    If you are interrupted, jot yourself a quick note so that you remember what you were thinking/doing when interrupted.
    Always check your calendar before committing to anything new. Rehearse this response: "I'll get back to you on that."


    Organizing Your New Home

    copyright © 2007 by Claire Josefine

    If a home doesn't make sense, nothing does. Henrietta Ripperge

    Moving into a new home offers us a fresh start. To create an organized home that runs smoothly and supports your life from the get-go, use the following principles.

    Remember kindergarten-- There was an area for blocks, another for finger painting, a third for story time, a fourth for snacks -- and everything needed for that activity was in its area. Blocks were in the blocks zone; easels, paper, paint, and smocks were in the painting zone; books were in the reading zone.

    Our homes readily divide into zones, too. We have bedrooms, kitchens, utility rooms, entertainment areas, offices, crafts rooms, guest rooms, bathrooms. When setting up your new home, think about which zones you need, then decide where they'll be. Identify each area by its zone name: our bedroom, the kid's room, the entertainment room, the guest bed and bath rooms, the office, and so on.

    The secret to making zones work is two-fold. First, put them where you'll use them. For example, don't exile your office to a cold basement or a claustrophobic closet; you'll never go there. Instead, you'll probably use the kitchen table, where the light is good and you feel in the heart of your household. If you naturally gravitate to the kitchen to do your office work, set up an office zone there. Working with your natural patterns increases your chance of staying organized.

    The second trick to successful zones is keeping them clear of items that don't belong there. If the kitchen cupboard is zoned as a canned-goods pantry, don't stash your bills in there.

    Think Vertical
    Once you've decided on your zones, the question becomes how to best arrange items. What's the best way to use the space--

    Wherever possible, go up, not out. Use your walls for shelving. Mount kitchen appliances on under-the-counter pull-out shelves to keep your counters clear. Screw in hooks or install racks to hold keys, coats, backpacks, and bags. Install shelving units that fit over your toilet to add storage space for towels, soaps, toilet paper, or toiletries. Or hang three-tiered baskets from the ceiling. Hanging net hammocks works well for storing stuffed animals in kids' rooms and for tub toys in the bathroom. And in the garage, consider installing a wall system for mounting everything from tools to shelves to bicycles.

    KISS (Keep It Simple, Sweetie)
    I've said it already, but it bears repeating: put things where you use them. Equally important is ensuring that you have easy access, that your things are easy to get and easy to put away.

    Like water, we take the path of least resistance. If we have to work to reach an item or put it away, we usually won't bother trying. Given our innate laziness, it helps to put things that are used most often in the easiest places to reach, what organizers call "prime real estate." The far dark corner of the pots and pans cabinet is not the best place for your vegetable steamer that you use every week. Instead, put it front and center with the other pots and pans that you use regularly.

    The Ultimate KISS
    The heart of KISS is simplicity. Moving into a new home is the perfect opportunity to de-clutter and scale down, to simplify your life. This doesn't mean being ruthless; we thrive on beauty and happy memories around us. It does mean examining each of your possessions and deciding whether or not it is still important to you. After all, a simple life is an examined life, where each aspect is a result of a concrete decision.

    The goal is to create a home that supports you. By consciously deciding what you live with, and then placing it in the zone where it will be used, you create a home that makes sense.


    Ultimate Organization for Scrapbooking

    copyright © 2007 by Claire Josefine

    The best reason I know of for being organized is so we can find our toys. This is particularly true for creative people, be they writers, painters, photographers, bakers, or scrapbookers. In fact, it may be especially pertinent to scrapbookers, who tend to be deluged with scrapbook materials -- so much so that they lose creative time looking for and gathering together their supplies. That is, assuming they remember they have the supplies to gather.

    Typically, organizing tips suggest that scrapbookers store their supplies in containers and notebooks by type of item: stickers, stamps, die cuts, ribbons, buttons, page kits. In theory, this makes sense. It's putting like with like, which any organizer will tell you is a basic organizing principle. However, it doesn't work for scrapbooking. To begin with, the supplies are stored away, out of sight (and out of mind). Second, accessing supplies requires digging through numerous binders and containers to pull out some of this and some of that -- all of which needs to be returned to the numerous containers and binders when you are done playing with it.

    Instead of putting things together by what they are, try grouping them by how they'll be used. I recommend using Tiffany Spaulding's Four Section System. The four sections are:

    Titles -- This includes anything you'd use for titles, including alphabets, numbers, punctuation marks, computer fonts, stamps, die cuts, etc.

    Personal Themes -- Any themes specific to your life and interests, be it cooking, gardening, people, pets, sports, vacations or any other theme that catches your fancy. (Notice that I've put these in alphabetical order. You will order your themes alphabetically, too.)

    Holidays and Seasons -- Set this section up chronologically, beginning with Spring and accompanying holidays: Valentine's Day, St. Patrick's Day, Easter, Passover, etc. Summer might include Memorial Day, Fourth of July, picnics, and Labor Day. Fall encompasses Back to School, Halloween, and Thanksgiving. Winter takes us into Solstice, Christmas, Chanukah, Kwanza, and New Year's Eve.

    Color Wheel (or Rainbow) -- All supplies that have no theme or season and can be used anywhere go here, organized by color.

    The key to making the Four Section System work is having all materials visible and centrally located. The best tool for this -- leaps and bounds beyond those binders and containers -- is Tiffany Spaulding's ScrapRack. The ScrapRack has a base that sits like a book stand but can be taken down and laid flat for storage. Each base holds seven Spinders -- Velcroed 3-ring binder-like inserts, each of which holds up to 20 to 30 clear pocket sheets of various size and storage capacity. I like the ScrapRack for a number of reasons:

  • All materials are visible, which means you can find any supply you own within 30 seconds. (Imagine spending time creating pages instead of hunting for your supplies!)

  • The ScrapRack is portable. Because of the Velcro, you can easily remove (and put back) the Spinders and take them to a crop. (The kit comes with a travel pack, too.)

  • The ScrapRack takes up very little room. The basic set-up fits on a TV tray.

  • The ScrapRack is expandable. As your life changes and you develop new themes (or acquire new supplies), the system can expand to accommodate your needs.

  • The ScrapRack is flexible. It can be used by teachers, geneologists, project managers, and people with ADD to organize their materials in a visible, portable fashion.

  • The ScrapRack folds down and stacks for easy storage.

  • One scrapbooker commented that "You don't have to have an organized bone in your body to use this system. Just follow the directions; it works!" A couple of principles help make the system work most efficiently, though.

    1. Think of the ScrapRack as a work station, not a storage unit. Don't try to stuff everything you own into the Spinder pages. If you have a large amount of something, put a sample of it into the appropriate section(s), and store the rest elsewhere. (This is akin to setting up a desk at an office. Keep what you use at your desk, and store the extra supplies in the office supply closet.)

    2. Store your tools by number, not type. While acrylic stamps fit into the pocket pages, wooden and rubber stamps and most other tools won't. The trick here is to put a sample of the stamp or tool into the appropriate section(s) and number the sample. Then store your tools in containers labeled with the corresponding number range, say 1 to 10, 11 to 20, and so on. Different kinds of tools can be in the same numbered box so that when you add a new tool you don't have to re-arrange the existing boxes. Instead, make a sample of the new tool, assign it the next available number, and add it to the correct box.

    By having materials organized, accessible, and visible, scrapbookers save money and increase productivity. You can see all of your choices quickly, and know what you have on hand. (No more buying of duplicates!) Scrapbooking becomes easier, faster, and more enjoyable. And isn't that what it's all about--

    As a pioneer of simplicity-based organizing, I rarely recommend products. But I am so convinced that this system simplifies lives, I have become an authorized sales representative through Scraprack-and-More. Please email me at ClaireJosefine@wildblue.net or call me at 707-268-8585 (California time) if you'd like to learn more.

    (ScrapRack is a trademark. I just couldn't get my HTML editor to accept the TM symbol.)


    Bulletin Boards

    copyright © 2001 by Claire Josefine

    Just as "Miscellaneous" is the black hole of filing systems, bulletin boards are the winners of the Good Intentions Gone Awry award.

    People buy bulletin boards in an attempt to keep from losing important information. The theory is that, if they put it on the board, it will stay visible, thereby side-stepping the out-of-sight, out-of-mind hole. (Before hiring me, most of my clients lack reliable filing and tickler systems and therefore are afraid of losing important papers.)

    What happens, though, is everything remotely important (tickets, phone numbers, flyers, photos, schedules) gets tacked willy-nilly onto the board, one thing overlapping another, until the board is a chaotic jumble with nothing readily identifiable or accessible.

    Yes, bulletin boards qualify as "thinking vertical." And, unless they are scrupulously maintained (which they rarely are), they don’t work for keeping important information. Instead, use a combination of files and a tickler for those "I don’t want to lose this!" items.

    What should you do with the bulletin board-- Turn it into a source of smiles. If you want, staple wrapping paper or material to it as a lovely background. Then neatly put up inspirational quotes, postcards, photos, drawings, and other heart-warmers.



    copyright © 2000 by Claire Josefine

    One nice way to store scarves is to put shower curtain rings on a hanger, then hang the scarves, one per ring.

    Dear Claire,
    What's the secret to an organized closet-- -- Kate

    Dear Kate:

    I assume you're referring to clothes closets. Different closets have different uses, set up by function. There are closets for clothes, linens, coats, and supplies, among others.

    The first secret to an organized clothes closet is to remove everything that isn't related to clothing. If this is impossible -- if you have only one closet -- then arrange the nonclothing items in their own area.

    Begin organizing by sorting. Apply the organizing principle of "like with like," putting all the coats together, all the dresses, the pants, the short-sleeved shirts, the long-sleeved shirts, and so on.

    Now comes the hard part -- or is it the fun part-- Purge. Go through each grouping and pull out all the items that don't fit, that you don't wear, don't like, don't look good in. Pull out the items that need repair before you can wear them, that are too stained to wear. Do you have too many sweatshirts-- (How many sweatshirts do you honestly need--) Keep your favorites and pull out the rest.

    "But I spent so much money on that dress!" Yes, and it continues to cost you in guilt and overcrowding. Better to share it with someone who will love and wear it than to have it reminding you that you made a mistake buying it. The same goes for clothes that no longer fit; you know, the ones you're saving for when you lose weight. Let them go. If you really do shift weight, celebrate by buying some new clothes.

    Take all the pulled garments and let them go. Have a clothes-swapping party with your friends, take them to a consignment shop, donate them to charity, have a garage sale -- just let them go.

    Next come the tricks to storing what's left. First, make sure your hangers are sturdy. Flimsy wire hangers tend to get tangled and to lose their charges onto the floor. If you're feeling indulgent, get matching hangers. They're a nice touch, though certainly not necessary. Store unused hangers flat in a box or at one end of the rod.

    Hang all the hangers and garments facing the same way. Using the categories you created when you were sorting (coats, blouses, dresses), hang your clothes in descending order of length. (You can group garments by color within these categories, too.)

    Next, "think vertical." The goal is to get things off the floor by using vertical surfaces to maximum advantage. Do you now have space available below the shorter items-- This is a good place to put in shelves or a dresser. You can also build shelves above the rod and against one or more of the walls, put up hooks on walls and the back of the door, hang a shoe bag, or put in shoe racks.

    You may also decide to remodel your closet, moving the rod up or down or, if you have lots of short items, putting in two rods, one above the other, thereby doubling your space. Look at your hanging needs, then revamp the closet to fit them.

    Is there too much space between shelves-- Try moving them closer. Also, shelf dividers are a good way to keep stacked sweaters, etc., from toppling over. Or you can get stacking drawers to fit on the shelves. Aim to maximize stacking ability and to containerize.

    Remember to Keep It Simple, Sweetie. Put things where you can see them, near where you use them, and where you can reach them easily.

    Finally, once it's organized, keep it put that way. Hang things back up. Have a laundry hamper handy and use it (instead of the floor). Put away folded laundry.

    And think before you buy! Does this color and cut look good on me-- (You can save money and time having your colors done.) Do I have other items to wear it with-- Where and when will I wear it-- Am I willing to maintain it-- (I refuse to buy anything that requires dry cleaning, and minimize my handwashables.) Do I really need this, (or do I have enough blue sweaters)--

    Hopefully, once you've organized, you can at least answer yes to: Do I have room in my closet for this--


    Storage Units

    copyright © 2002 by Claire Josefine

    "Don’t toss it. Store it!" So appeals a local storage unit business.

    I confess, this advertisement bugs me every time I see it. "Aargh! Don’t they get it--" I mutter frustratedly. The goal is to let go of those things that no longer serve us, that no longer make us smile, to pass them along to others who can use them. Share the wealth; don’t hoard it in some storage-unit cave.

    But if storage units aren’t for stashing our overflow of worldly goods, then what are they good for-- Transitions. Storing our thoughtfully chosen possessions while we are between housing or are indulging our travel bug. Or storing items for our college-age kids until they settle down into more stable surroundings. (Make sure the kids want whatever you’re so carefully saving for them, though.)

    Sometimes storage units are an appropriate supplement to one’s home. Example: I bought some more chickens this summer (to replace the three that were killed when my house sitter failed to be home by dusk to tuck the girls in safely for the night). The couple who sold me the chickens lives way the heck away from everything, up the top of a mountain in a hay-bale house that is a long walk from the parking area, over a hill through rattlesnake-populated grasses. There are no outbuildings on the property yet, nor is there road or shelter between the car and house.

    The man in this couple is a carpenter, and his clients are in town. He rents a storage unit for all his tools, and uses it as his base. In essence, the storage unit functions as his business office. It is centrally located and easily accessed; it makes more sense than trying to fit all his tools into his small, remote home.

    If you are paying for a storage unit, think about why you have one. Are the items you’re storing making your life better-- Are your reasons for renting a unit good ones-- Is the expense (how much is that per year-- for how many years now--) in keeping with your goals and values--

    If the answer to any of these questions is no, then it’s time to lighten up — financially, physically, energetically — by clearing out and closing up that storage unit. The storage unit owner might not be grateful, but you will!


    Organizing Your Estate

    copyright © 2001 by Claire Josefine

    If you died tomorrow, would your family or executor know where to find your important documents-- Could they easily access all your assets--

    Probably not. "It's overwhelming." "I don't have the time." "I don't know where to start." "What, me die--" Whatever the excuse, many of us do not have our estate in order.

    When my mother died, I discovered how frustrating a disorganized estate can be. Even though she had written her will and showed us which file cabinet held important papers, my mother's estate was a nightmare. Among other surprises, I found expensive jewelry hidden in a box of old sheets.

    Mom's mess convinced me: we must eliminate clutter and organize our affairs. An organized estate helps those responsible for dealing with the details we leave behind. It can also reduce postmortem legal and accounting costs, taxes, and squabbles among our heirs.

    Organizing our estate also makes us feel better. It reduces stress and helps us make better financial decisions.

    What should we organize-- There are six categories of information. (The examples, while incomplete, are a place to start.)

    Personal -- birth certificate, social security number, education, religion, marriage/divorce certificates, adoption papers, memberships, subscriptions, medical providers, address book.

    Employment and business records -- copyrights, royalties, partnerships, asset depreciations, bonuses due, current year business records.

    Finances -- cash, bank accounts, investments, pensions, tax records, credit cards, other debts, alimony and child support, safe deposit box. (Make sure your executor can access your safe deposit box!)

    Property -- real estate deeds and titles, items out on loan, antiques, art, livestock, pets, vehicles, hidden items.

    Legal and insurance -- name and contact data for attorneys and insurance agents, insurance policies, appraisals, judgments, contracts.

    Death -- funeral arrangements, will, trust, obituary, undocumented promised gifts, a letter of instructions.

    How do we organize our estate-- We work in small chunks, and we get help. (A professional organizer can help identify, locate, and organize the necessary information.) Depending upon the complexity of our lives, how organized we are, and our motivation, the process takes four to twenty hours.

    Organizing our estate allows us to review and update our information, beneficiaries, and instructions, and to reduce our clutter. As a gift to our executor and heirs, an organized estate can rival any monetary inheritance. Knowing that everything is in order gives them, and us, the ultimate blessing: peace of mind.

    To purchase the downloadable checklist, "Organizing Your Estate", click here.


    Advice for Packrats

    copyright © 2000 by Claire Josefine

    Dear Claire:
    What advice do you have for packrats-- -- Andrew

    Dear Andrew:

    Don't do it.

    I know, this is easier said than done for those of you with life-long, perhaps even inherited, tendencies to scurry away treasures for those moments when you just might find yourself needing one of the myriad items you've hoarded.

    On a practical level, decide what you may reasonably need as regular supplies, be they food staples, eating and cooking utensils, clothing, linens, tools, office supplies, vehicles, or furnishings. Then get rid of the rest, and don't bring any more "treasures" in. Be realistic. Ask yourself, "do I truly have a current need for this item, a place for it, and the time and energy to deal with it--"

    (You might benefit from getting someone objective, such as a professional organizer, to help you with this process.)

    "But, but..." you protest. No, I'm being firm here. Chances are, you have so many items that your space is overly crowded, and you can't find even one pair of scissors among the ten you own, so you wind up being frustrated and possibly even buying an eleventh pair!

    Getting rid of the excess (and organizing what's left!) helps on a number of levels. It reduces the clutter, which reduces the mess, the dust, and the sense of chaos that leaves one feeling unsettled. It reduces stress because your chances of finding an object improves. It also creates space for new, truly useful items to enter your life. And it saves you money; you no longer buy duplicates or unnecessary items.

    On a more spiritual level, hoarding speaks to a lack of faith in the universe to provide for your needs; it stems from what is sometimes called "scarcity thinking." In my workshops ("Zen and the Art of Being Organized"), I speak about being organized ultimately being a spiritual practice. We can set up lovely organizing systems together, but unless you shift how you move through your world, the systems will be only minimally helpful.

    In the case of packrats, the shift comes in your beliefs. The antidote to scarcity is gratitude, which leads to a knowledge of abundance. I strongly suggest a daily gratitude list, spoken or written, whatever works best for you. As you acknowledge daily how much you have to be grateful for, you start to realize just how rich you are, and how perfectly your needs are being provided for. In this moment, we have exactly what we need. (It may not be what we want, or what we think we need, but it is what we need, for that minute.)

    I am reminded of a Zen parable about a traveler who is chased over a precipice by a tiger. The traveler is dangling by a vine, and another tiger is below, waiting to eat him. Meanwhile, a couple of mice start gnawing at the vine to which he is clinging. Looking over, he spots a luscious strawberry. So he lets go of the vine with one hand and reaches over for the strawberry. "How sweet it is!" ends the parable.

    As you begin to see how sweet your own life is, you can let go of the excess and make room for blessings. The more we learn to trust that the universe meets our needs, the more our needs will be met. And the less we need to be packrats, tucking away, "just in case."


    Scaling Down

    copyright © 1999 by Claire Josefine

    Dear Claire:
    I want to move. The kids are gone; the town has become overcrowded. But I have 30 years of accumulated stuff in this house. I need to get rid of a lot of it before I can move, but just thinking about it exhausts me. I guess I should be ruthless and throw things away, but... Where do I begin-- Fanny

    Dear Fanny:

    Welcome to the empty nest. Several of my clients are in a similar situation. Their needs have changed and they want to scale down, but they feel overwhelmed and unsure where to start.

    You are at a time of transition. So take stock. What is important to you now-- What do you want and need in your life-- Make a list. Maybe you used to entertain and no longer wish to. Or maybe you want to finally entertain now that the kids are gone. Do you want to have a guest room-- A home office-- What do you need for your hobbies and interests-- How big a home do you want to take care of--

    One of my clients asked herself: "If I had to move tomorrow, what would I take with me--" She then went through her belongings, keeping only the most meaningful, a pair of earrings her son gave her, a favorite chair and lamp, and so on.

    As you answer these questions, create a list of what you need and want in your life, then eliminate the excess. How many dishes do you really need-- How many chairs and beds and sets of bedding-- How many tables and desks and sweaters and shoes and...-- You get the idea.

    As for the issue of exhaustion, I recommend taking it slowly and in small chunks. Once you have your list, begin sorting and eliminating the extras in your life. Take it a half-hour, maybe an hour, at a time. Focus on one room or category at a time. Structure your tasks so that, at the end of each time period, you feel as though you’ve accomplished something. For example, one night you might sort the linen closet, choosing the sheets and towels you want to keep, and emptying the closet of the rest.

    It’s a good idea to have some place (other than in piles on the floor or bed) to put things as you sort. The keepers probably already have homes — linens in the linen closet, dishes in the cupboards, clothes in the dresser and closet, etc. But what about the rest-- Set up three boxes or paper bags each time you sort: garbage, give-away, and I-don’t-know. Store these in an out-of-the-way staging area, perhaps in a guest room or the garage. Make the sorting process as non-intrusive as you can. Keep the clutter and chaos to a minimum.

    I encourage you to recycle what you don’t keep. Recycling includes giving items to your kids, charitable causes, and friends, having a yard sale, and taking items to the recycling center nearest you. Recycling is a great way to "share the wealth"; as they say, "one person’s garbage is another person’s treasure."

    Another client once joked that I should advertise as follows: "Want to lose weight-- Hire an organizer!" Culling through your belongings isn’t that different from losing weight. It works best when done slowly and consciously, with the support of others. When you see only the sum total of 30 years in one house, the process naturally feels daunting! But if you take this weight loss in small tasks, one project and one day at a time, you can do it. With patience, compassion for yourself, conscious choices, and support from others, you can whittle that 30 years of stuff down to a manageable — and movable — life.



    copyright © 2000 by Claire Josefine

    Dear Claire:
    I collect recipes. Cooking magazines, recipes torn out of the newspaper, recipes on scraps of paper, cookbooks... How do I organize this mess-- -- K.

    Dear K:

    Sigh. Aren't recipes fun-- All those nummy-looking dishes shown in the magazines. Someday we'll make them, right-- So we hold on to magazine after magazine, clipping upon clipping, one cookbook after another.

    Most people rarely try even half of the recipes they own. We need to be realistic, to sort and purge. Our cooking styles and needs change. Do we have time, energy, or inclination to cook elaborate meals-- No-- Then out go those recipes. Can we still eat those high-fat, high-cholesterol desserts-- Dang! No... out they go. On the other hand, that recipe for a quick, low-fat, one-dish meal is worth trying.

    Sort according to your cooking style and dietary needs. Also sort by success. Some recipes are tried and true, and are worth keeping. Others are recipes you honestly will try sometime soon. And then there's that recipe for "Homard a la Vierge a la Memoire de Dom Perignon" that you clipped in 1990 and still haven't tried, because you never, ever, bought French champagne and lobsters and you probably never will.

    Sorting is one thing; storage and retrieval another. "How to organize this mess--" you asked. Well, the classic method is with an index box. My adopted grandmother typed all her recipes onto 3 x 5 cards and filed them in an index box, kept handily on her kitchen counter. This works well if you have the time and focus to transfer all your recipes to index cards. Frankly, I don't.

    Organizing is about making life as easy as possible. I want a system where I can toss things and be able to find them when I need them. So I devised a simple system for all my loose recipes. I bought a loose-leaf binder and a packet of pocketed manila dividers. On each pocket I wrote a category based on how I think of my recipes (in alphabetical order): beans; bread, savory; bread, sweet; cakes; cookies; fish; fruit desserts; meat; muffins; pies; poultry; sauces; soups; vegetable main dishes; and vegetable side dishes. I also have a pocket for miscellaneous health information, and one for recipes for Passover (because these have specific dietary requirements). You might want one for Thanksgiving, or hors d'oeuvres.

    Another possible category is To Be Tried. That way, only the tested recipes are filed into their appropriate pockets, and the recipes you want to try are waiting patiently in the front of your binder. If this pocket starts bulging, you know something has to shift. Either you need a reality-check (am I really going to try all of these recipes--) or you need to create time to cook. Once a week (or once a month), flip through the To Be Tried recipes, choose one, buy the ingredients, and make it.

    Some people use their computer to organize their recipes. If your computer is easily accessible to the kitchen, and if entering recipes into your computer is something you enjoy and will actually do, then by all means, knock yourself out. Saving to disk certainly reduces the paper mess. There are also numerous websites available for recipes.

    Between index cards, computers, and binders, you should have a working option for your loose recipes. Now on to those magazines and cookbooks. First, remember to think vertical: store them upright, like books on a library shelf. You can buy boxes to contain your magazines. Next, purge. Reduce your magazine subscriptions to one or two that you truly love and use, and keep only the current year. If there are recipes in back issues that you have tried and will use again, tear them out, file them with your other loose recipes, then recycle the rest of the magazine. Go through your cookbooks. If there's only one or two recipes in the whole book that you use, copy them down, then get rid of the book. If you don't use it and love it, pass it on to someone who will.

    Can't remember which cookbook that recipe is in-- Write down the name of the recipe, the cookbook, and the page number it's on, then file this in with your loose recipes under the appropriate category. Or have a page in the beginning of your binder where you write down this information.

    As always when organizing, start with your current stack, then sludge your way through your backlog. And ask for help. Having someone with you can help you stay focused and make clear decisions, avoiding the black holes of nostalgia ("Oh, I remember this recipe!") and daydreaming (where you intend to glance at a cookbook and find yourself still reading it 20 minutes later). The All-American Cowboy Cookbook is a lot of fun, but will you really make anything from it--




    copyright © 2000 by Claire Josefine

    Dear Claire:
    My dog and I will be driving to Michigan to visit my dad for three weeks. What advice can you give me to prepare for my trip-- — Marguerite

    Dear Marguerite:

    First, find your notebook (readers, remember my advice to keep one, and only one, notebook--) so that you can write down reminders as you think of things you want to do for your trip. Designate one page just for this adventure so that your trip notes don’t get mixed in with your garden plans. Next, assign a staging area, a place to start gathering such things as books, maps, or a camera to take with you.

    Now, let’s break your trip into its various components. These include your car, your dog, your home, and the journey itself.

    Make sure your car is in shape for the trip. Clean it, removing everything you don’t need to take with you. Ask your mechanic to give your car a good once-over, making sure it won’t die on you in southern Wyoming. (The rest stop along Interstate 80 as you cross from Wyoming into Nebraska has a sign warning of rattlesnakes. Not a place I’d want to break down...)

    Pack an emergency kit, just in case you are stranded. (I usually tell clients that, if they’re keeping something "just in case," it’s a sign of hoarding and they should get rid of it. Emergency preparedness kits are an exception to this rule.) This should include a flashlight (with working batteries), a first aid kit, flares, jumper cables, non-perishable food items, sealed bottled drinking water, a Swiss-Army-style knife, a sleeping bag or survival blanket, and waterproof matches. You may want to carry a fully-charged cell phone, too.

    What will your pooch need-- His water bowl, food dish, and leash, as well as food and water, should all be kept handy. Make sure you take plenty of breaks along the way — you’ll appreciate the chance to stretch your legs and relieve your bladder as much as your dog will.

    Now on to your home. You need to take care of your mail, your newspapers, and your plants. If you have a friend or neighbor who can care for these while you are gone, great. If not, try hiring a house sitter or plant service. Call the newspapers to request that they not deliver while you are gone. The post office also has a "hold mail" service; you just need to fill out the form.

    The important thing is to have your home look like you are still there. Don’t let papers and mail pile up outside. And don’t leave a message on your phone machine announcing your absence. If you have one, put your lights (and the television or radio) on a timer.

    As for the journey itself — will you be camping or staying in motels-- Your overnight lodging determines what kind of gear you bring with you. Either way, research your options ahead of time. Know where the campgrounds are, and which motels allow dogs. California State Automobile Association (CSAA) is a great resource for maps and travel information, if you are a member.

    When it comes to packing, keep it simple. Travel lightly, taking only what you need. Some people take only three or four changes of undergarments, although I prefer to bring one week’s worth. Bring clothes that mix and match readily and don’t require much care. Make sure they’re weather-appropriate, too. (Notice the weather between here and Michigan during the week before you leave.) Remember to pack a plastic garbage bag, or something equivalent, to segregate your dirty clothes. Pack your toiletries separately, using travel-size, leak-proof containers. It’s a good idea to make a list before hand, then check it off as you pack, especially if you need to remember essential items like glasses or medications. Make sure you can easily access those items you’ll be needing most.

    Finally, don’t exhaust yourself getting ready. Start your "To Do" list two or three weeks ahead of time, then start doing what you can. Your goal is to spread out the work so that you don’t become overwhelmed, and to avoid creating a crisis by waiting until the last minute. Road trips are fun, especially when you have good music and a loving (canine) companion. Have a great time, a safe journey, and send me a postcard from your favorite spot along the way!



    More Travel Tips

    copyright © 2002 by Claire Josefine

    Start a packing list at least two weeks before you leave. This gives you time to fix and clean items. It also relieves your brain from the pressure of having to remember this, that, and the other vital thing. Add items to the list as you think of them.

    Where should you keep this list-- If it isn't in your notebook, put it in a task folder on your desk, clearly named, or in your tickler file (under your departure date). You could also use magnets to keep it on your fridge, if the fridge is not cluttered.

    You can also designate a staging area — a chair or corner — where you start gathering things you’re taking with you.

    Of course, what to take with you is another question. Instead of thinking "is there a chance I’ll need this--" try asking yourself "can I do without this--" Packing is an interesting balance between being prepared and voluntary simplicity. The experts all say: pack light.

    Flying-- Put the following in your carry-on bag: your medications, a toothbrush, a clean change of undies and whatever else you may need (contact lens supplies--) if you are stranded overnight without your luggage.

    If you travel frequently, keep a separate travel bag packed with your toiletries. Stock it with sample-sized shampoo, etc. When you return from a trip, promptly replenish supplies so that the bag is ready to grab and go next time.

    The same idea applies to camping. I knew one family who kept all their camping gear organized in Rubbermaid© containers; dishes in one, food staples in another, ready to grab and go at the slightest temptation.

    Going away long enough to send postcards-- Some folks pre-print address labels and bring those along, instead of an address book.

    Consider having a travel file. In it you can keep a master packing list, instructions for the house and pet sitter, those pre-printed address labels, a checklist for getting out of the house (Stove off-- Timer set on the lights-- Mail and newspaper on hold-- Itinerary and contact numbers left with the right person--). If you travel to the same areas often, set up specific travel files for information on those areas — interesting restaurants and activities, coupons for that region, etc. For example, I have files labeled "Travel — Bay Area" and "Travel — Victoria" because I go to both those places regularly.

    I enjoy staying at youth hostels. I don’t recommend them if you are travelling solo and need a sound night’s sleep; the dorm rooms are often noisy and crowded. But if you are travelling with a friend or family, you can get a private room for a good price, and still be able to meet people from all over the world. For more information on hostels, visit either www.hiayh.org or www.hostelz.com .

    A couple more web sites for you: www.mobilegear.com has some interesting organizing tools for business travel, and www.Travelsmith.com specializes in clothing for travel, with suggestions of what to pack for certain regions around the world (obviously promoting their own products in the process, but...).

    Wherever you go, have a wonderful time, and safe travels!


    Sailing Serenely through the Holiday Season

    copyright © 2000 by Claire Josefine

    Step 1 -- Recognize that we have choices, then start making active choices.

    Step 2 -- Clarify your values so that you can make the best choices. What do the holidays mean to you-- Why do you want to celebrate them-- Imagine the ideal fantasy holiday, one that brings you joy. What does it look like--

    Step 3 -- Look to the past for guidance. Think about last year's holiday season. What worked-- What didn't work--

    Step 4 -- Apply those lessons to the present. What do you want to include this year-- What do you want to discontinue-- What changes, such as asking for help, do you want to incorporate--

    Step 5 -- Make a plan. Start by making lists -- gift lists, card lists, activity lists. Ground these lists in reality. How much are you wanting and able to spend-- Do you have the time and energy to accomplish your lists-- If not, re-examine them in light of your values, and see what you can eliminate. Remember, your goal is to keep it simple.

    Next, create a schedule. On a calendar, write in existing plans that you wish to keep, such as dental appointments or birthdays. Make sure you include those things that nurture you. Cliché as it may be, if you don't take care of yourself, you can't take care of anyone else. Your goal is to reduce stress and actually enjoy the holidays. This means taking care of yourself!

    Now, start scheduling in the activities you have chosen for the holidays. When are you doing your cooking-- Buying and trimming a tree-- Shopping for or making gifts-- Writing and sending cards-- Write these dates into the calendar. Don't forget to schedule time to take down the decorations and pack everything away.

    Remember to leave yourself transition time and time for relaxation. Life happens.

    Step 6. --As the holidays gear up, remember: you have choices. My ABC's for Serenity are: Accept; Breathe; Choose.

    Step 7. --Prepare for next year. Put away the ornaments neatly, in well-labeled containers. Put all the Thanksgiving trinkets together, all the Hanukkah chazurai together. In other words, store like with like, according to the holiday.

    Think about how this season went. What worked and what didn't-- Decide how you want to proceed next year. Write down your answers. File these, along with your calendar pages and your lists, in a Holidays file for easy referral next July.

    Did I just say July-- Yes. At least to review your notes. And July is a great time to schedule that family holiday photo-session. Actually, the key to a sane holiday season is to work (and buy) in small chunks, spreading the work and finances out across the year.

    Establish a place to stash presents and wrapping supplies. Then take advantage of those sales throughout the year to buy wrapping paper and gifts. You might want to buy one gift each month as a way of evening out the financial stress.

    Keep a list of people you like to give to. Put it in your wallet, your calendar, your Palm Pilot -- where-ever you will know to look for it and have it handy when you're out and about. You can also jot down these people's sizes and interests. As you go through the year and come across items that would bring these people joy, buy them and put them in your established place for presents. If you choose to wrap them ahead of time, make sure you note who the gift is for and what it is.

    If you want to make changes in your celebrations that affect others, talk to them early in the year (July!) so that they have time to consider your ideas and adjust to them. If there is a possibility of controversy, make sure you choose a calm time to bring up your ideas, and present them in a non-threatening way.

    Some General Tips for Organizing the Holidays

    Charity solicitations can be put in a "gift" envelope and kept with your "To Be Paid" items, or in your tickler. On pre-chosen "dates to celebrate," for example, your birthday, Christmas, or Valentine's Day, pull one to three solicitations from the envelope and donate to them.

    Put like with like. This means putting all wrapping supplies together. It also means grouping your errands together geographically. Run all your downtown errands at one time, your neighboring-town errands at another.

    Put things where you use them.

    Keep it simple. Gifts don't need to be expensive and elaborate. Simple, homemade gifts -- or, better yet, gifts of your time -- are often the most valuable. They contain the most love. "Presents are not Christmas and gifts from the heart cost nothing." Karen Kijewski.

    Some other suggestions for simplifying the season, courtesy of Unplug the Christmas Machine by Jo Robinson and Jean Coppock Staeheli:

    take time off work
    simplify holiday preparations
    entertain less
    attend fewer parties
    be more relaxed about how the house looks
    cut back on commitments
    make fewer gifts
    turn off the television
    travel less

    Don't succumb to commercial pressures aimed at your kids. Remember, what kids really want are: a relaxed and loving time with their family; realistic expectations about gifts; an evenly paced holiday season; and strong family traditions. (Also courtesy of Unplug the Christmas Machine.)

    Recycle. Do you have items that you are not using and don't love-- Do you know someone who could use them and would love them-- Pass them on as gifts.

    Keep track of how much you spend this season, and what you spend it on. This will help you make clearer decisions about how much you want to spend next year, and to budget for those expenses.

    Attitude is everything. Slow down, keep breathing, keep making conscious choices, and stay grateful. Remember, in this moment, all of our needs are provided for. Indeed, we are blessed with incredible abundance.

    Ask for help. Buddy up with a friend for a baking or gift-wrapping social, or involve the kids as a family activity. Hire someone to help you with chores, or arrange a trade. We are not alone. We are not Superwoman. We do not need to do it all by ourselves.


    Organizing for the New Year

    copyright © 2005 by Claire Josefine
    All rights reserved


    "Get organized" is one of the most popular New Year's resolutions in our country. It's also one that people routinely "fail" at. Instead of proclaiming that "This year I'm going to get organized," try setting concrete, achievable goals.

    On a practical level, begin your new year with the following:

    1. Sort through, purge, and organize your holiday decorations.

    2. Purge your 2005 files and set up files for 2006. (This includes pulling together your tax records for 2005.)

    3. Request your free credit reports.

    4. Update -- or if you don't have one, create -- your "in case someone needs to pick up my pieces" information. If something were to happen to you tomorrow, would your executor know exactly where everything is and how to proceed--

    5. Create a time-management plan that works. This includes using only one calendar, building in transition time, being realistic, and creating routines that simplify your day.

    6. Clear out your clutter. Clutter comes in many forms -- things, of course, but also information, time commitments, unhealthy relationships -- anything that's in your way, hindering you.

    Remember, computers get cluttered, too! Clean out old email, go through your document files, maybe even have your computer guru give your computer a tune-up.

    7. Organize your kitchen, desk, office, closets, bedroom, bathroom... whatever still needs help.

    8. Stop procrastinating. Listen to yourself. What do you keep saying "One of these days I'll..." about-- Putting photos in albums-- Writing your memoirs-- Catching up on correspondence-- Organizing the garage-- Seeing a play-- One of these days is today. If it's important to you, do it. Now.

    9. Look back over the past year. What do you wish you'd done differently-- Spent more time with your family-- Pursued a hobby-- Traveled-- Whatever it is, now is the time to change it. No excuses, no fancy New Year's resolutions, just do it.

    Being organized operates on an emotional, attitudinal level, too. Paul Hawken said, "Always leave enough time in your life to do something that makes you happy, satisfied, even joyous. That has more of an effect on economic well-being than any other factor."

    10. Complete this sentence for yourself: I feel drained when... . This is a toleration, one of those things that you put up with, that annoys you, upsets you. These things are simply too costly to continue tolerating. So, fix them, purge them, hire someone else to handle them -- but remove them from your life.

    11. Now, complete this sentence: I love to... . This is a source of joy. This year, make a point of engaging in this activity. After all, joy is contagious; it makes the world a happier place.

    12. Finally, give thanks daily. Gratitude is good for the soul. When we give thanks, our attitude shifts and we become calmer, happier, readier to see the good in life. We also make more grounded decisions, and have less need to fill our lives with Stuff.

    So, go forth and be happy. Remember, being organized is about making life easy, and the easier life is, the more good we can do. And isn't that what life's about-- Happy New Year!


    Stepping off the Resolution Merry-Go-Round

    copyright © 2008 by Claire Josefine
    All rights reserved


    January first, a day of new beginnings, of resolutions that this year we really will keep. Really. We will lose weight and exercise more and finally get organized. We will.

    Except we probably won't. Ninety percent of New Year's resolutions are broken by Valentine's Day. So what's the secret to improving ourselves and our lives, to following through on those best of New Year's intentions--

    The first trick is to reframe those intentions from resolutions to goals, to shift them from a restrictive "thou shalt" to an exciting "I want." In order to achieve our goals, they need to be something we deeply want, something we can be passionate about. Without that passion, maintaining motivation becomes much harder down the road.

    The next step to reaching our goals is to write down the steps needed to get there. It's one thing to say, "I want to visit my sister in Scotland." It's another to methodically strategize exactly which actions are required to make that visit real. Make a list of each step, and then start working your way through the list, one little step at a time.

    Some people suggest keeping yourself focused and motivated by using a daily mantra. Mine might be "Scotland in September." Make your mantra short and easy to remember. And, if you can, make it fun. The more enjoyment you infuse into the process, the more successful you'll be at reaching your goal.

    Another helpful tool is having an accountability partner, someone with whom you speak on a regular basis, letting them know how you are progressing. Choose someone who will be supportive of you, rather than someone who is critical. Their job is not to reprimand you, but to be an encouraging witness to you.

    For that matter, your job is not to reprimand you, either. Perfection is a stumbling block for many of us, and many of us are harsher on ourselves than is healthy or helpful. As Voltaire wrote, "Le mieux est l'ennemi du bien." (The best is the enemy of the good.) Perfection isn't possible, so don't let it stop you. Keep on going, even when you've slipped up -- especially when you've slipped up!

    So, instead of New Year's resolutions, what are your goals for 2009-- And why do you want to achieve them-- Make a list of the steps needed to make them happen, find a buddy to whom you can give regular updates, and then begin working your way through those steps, one baby step at a time. Keep yourself focused with a daily mantra, and acknowledge your successes along the way. If you truly want it, you will get there.


    Book Reviews

    Organizing by the Numbers: A Comparative List of Organizing Principles

    Review copyright © 2008 by Claire Josefine

    Since its inception in 1985, NAPO has exploded to almost 4,000 members and is still growing. A plethora of books on organizing has followed suit. I am fascinated by how each author finds a different approach to presenting the basic principles -- or, in other cases, the basic process -- of organizing. What follows is a comparative presentation of 15 different sets of principles. They are listed in order of the number of principles they put forth, ranging from 14 to 3. If you know of other books with different approaches, please e-mail the information to me at ClaireJosefine@wildblue.net. Also, if you find this comparison valuable, please bookmark it on del.icio.us, Digg, or the social bookmark of your choice. Happy organizing!

    Organizing Solutions for People with ADD
    by Susan Pinsky

    14 Rules of Organizing

    1. Give everything a home.
    2. Store things on the wall or a shelf, never on the floor.
    3. Take advantage of vertical storage space.
    4. Use hooks instead of hangers.
    5. Don't increase storage, reduce inventory.
    6. Touch it only once (mail, laundry, etc).
    7. If you haven't touched it in a year, discard it.
    8. Duplicate where necessary to store things where you use them.
    9. Eliminate items that duplicate functions (electric and manual can opener, for example).
    10. Arrange items in activity zones.
    11. Don't overcrowd your storage.
    12. Easy to access and easy to put away.
    13. Name your storage (sock drawer, dish cabinet).
    14. Make sure "rough" storage (garage, basements etc.) are well lit and easily accessible.

    The Spiritual Art of Being Organized
    by Claire Josefine

    12 Basic Principles of Being Organized

    1. Think! Think vertical, think verbs, think function, think consequences.
    2. Put like with like within zones created by function.
    3. K.I.S.S. (Keep it simple, sweetie).
    4. Create, and use, habits and schedules.
    5. Be realistic.
    6. Set boundaries.
    7. Dishes before dusting.
    8. Slow down and pay attention.
    9. Adopt an attitude of gratitude.
    10. Base decisions in love instead of fear.
    11. Remember that we have choices.
    12. Ask for help.

    All You Really Need
    by Jane Campbell

    The Elements of Order

    1. Own Less.
    2. Give Stuff a Home.
    3. Make it Pretty.
    4. Categorize.
    5. Handle Paper Centrally.
    6. Store, Don't Obscure.
    7. Files are Better than Piles.
    8. Wean Yourself.
    9. Travel with Care.
    10. Be in Charge.
    11. Respect the Earth (But).
    12. Invest in a Professional.

    The Spirit of Getting Organized: 12 Skills to Finding Meaning and Power in Your Stuff
    by Pamela Kristan

    12 Organizational Skills

    Witness Skills develop a point-of-view
    1. Observing gathers data
    2. Acknowledging places value
    Threshold Skills get us into and out of organizing
    3. Beginning decides where to start
    4. Ending disengages from the work
    Shaping Skills intervene in the physical world
    5. Sorting reveals order within the chaos
    6. Staging set up an active area
    7. Storing sets up archives and collections
    8. Shedding identifies what you don--t need and moves it out
    Option Skills open up or settle down possibilities
    9. Imagining opens up options
    10. Choosing settles down options
    Skills to Carry On place organization in context
    11. Sustaining renews the system
    12. Engaging makes connections

    The Fly Lady's

    11 Commandments

    1. Keep your sink clean and shiny.
    2. Get dressed every morning, even if you don't feel like it. Don't forget your lace-up shoes.
    3. Do your Morning Routine every morning, right when you get up. Do your Before Bed Routine every night.
    4. Don't allow yourself to be sidetracked by the computer.
    5. Pick up after yourself. If you get it out, put it away when you finish.
    6. Don't try to do two projects at once. ONE JOB AT A TIME.
    7. Don't pull out more then you can put back in one hour.
    8. Do something for yourself every day, maybe every morning and night.
    9. Work as fast as you can to get a job done. This will give you more time to play later.
    10. Smile even when you don't feel like it. It is contagious. Make up your mind to be happy and you will be.
    11. Don't forget to laugh every day. Pamper yourself. You deserve it.

    How to Conquer Clutter
    by Stephanie Culp

    Ten Commandments on Clutter

    1. Stop procrastinating.
    2. Quit making excuses.
    3. Use it or lose it.
    4. Learn to let go.
    5. Be a giver.
    6. Set limits.
    7. Use the in and out inventory rule.
    8. Less is more.
    9. Keep everything in its place.
    10. Compromise.

    Smart Organizing
    By Sandra Felton

    The Bare Bones

    Three STEPS to set-up in the house so it works well -- and easily:
    1. Consolidate -- Group everything together with like items.
    2. Containerize -- Store them in an appropriate place in containers with labels.
    3. Condense -- Get rid of duplicates, unused, unwanted, unneeded items.
    Two ROUTINES that work consistently in the set-up you have created. Set clock for 10 or 15 minutes:
    4. Four things in morning -- your choice.
    5. Four things at night -- your choice.
    Five HABITS to keep clutter on the run:
    6. If you get it out, put it up.
    7. Apply the 30-second rule consistently.
    8. Follow the forest camping rule today.
    9. Look, really look, at your surroundings.
    10. Use little minutes.

    The Organizing Sourcebook
    by Kathy Waddill

    9 Strategies of Reasonably Organized People

    1. Make your systems fit you and your life.
    2. Sort everything by how you use it.
    3. Weed constantly.
    4. Use the right containers and tools.
    5. Label everything.
    6. Keep it simple.
    7. Decide to decide.
    8. Get help when you need it.
    9. Evaluate honestly and often.

    It's Hard to Make a Difference When You Can't Find Your Keys
    by Marilyn Paul, Ph.D.

    7-Step Path to Becoming Truly Organized

    1. Establish Your Purpose.
    2. Envision What You Want.
    3. Take Stock.
    4. Choose Support.
    5. Identify Strategies for Change.
    6. Take Action.
    7. Go Deeper to Keep Going.

    Order from Chaos: A 6-Step Plan for Organizing Yourself, Your Office and Your Life
    by Liz Davenport

    1.The Cockpit Office.
    2. Air Traffic Control.
    3. The Pending File.
    4. Make Decisions.
    5. Prioritize Ongoingly.
    6. Daily Habits.

    Odd One Out The Maverick's Guide to ADD
    by Jennifer Koretsky

    5 Essential Skills for Managing Adult ADD

    1. Break the cycle of overwhelm.
    2. Work with your ADD, not against it.
    3. ADDjust your attitude.
    4. Take control of your space and time.
    5. Live out loud.

    Organized to Last: 5 Simple Steps to Staying Organized
    by Porter Knight

    1. Plan
    2. Purge
    3. Sort
    4. Place
    5. Use

    Zen Habits
    by Leo Babauta

    Four Laws of Simplicity

    1. Collect everything in one place.
    2. Choose the essential.
    3. Eliminate the rest.
    4. Organize the remaining stuff neatly and nicely.

    Organizing from the Inside Out
    by Julie Morgenstern

    1. Analyze
    2. Strategize
    3. Attack, using SPACE

  • Sort
  • Purge
  • Assign a Home
  • Containerize
  • Equalize

  • Clear and SIMPLE
    by Marla Dee

    1. See It
    2. Map It
    3. Do it, using STACKS
  • Sort
  • Toss
  • Assign a Home
  • Containerize
  • Keep It Up
  • Simplify

  • Finally, although these affirmations aren't exactly principles, they are so right-on that I couldn't resist including them. They are from Clutterers Anonymous.

    Clutterers Anonymous Affirmations

    We have found that saying affirmations helps us replace negative thoughts with positive ones. Take what you like and leave the rest.
    1. I nurture my spirit by surrounding myself with beauty and harmony.
    2. I believe I am entitled to surroundings of serenity and order and a joyous life.
    3. I set reasonable goals, remembering that my first priority is my well-being.
    4. I schedule what I can do at a comfortable pace. I rest before I get tired.
    5. I allot more time than I need for a task or trip, allowing a comfortable margin for the unexpected.
    6. I decide which are the most important things to do first.
    7. I do one thing at a time.
    8. I schedule quiet time for communing with my Higher Power. Before I accept any new commitments, I first ask for guidance from my Higher Power.
    9. I eliminate an activity from my schedule before adding one that demands equivalent time and energy.
    10. When I feel overwhelmed, I stop and reconnect with my Higher Power.
    11. I allocate space and time for anything new that I bring into my life or home.
    12. I simplify my life, believing that when I need a fact or an item it will be available to me.
    13. I affirm abundance and prosperity, thus I release the need to hoard.
    14. I ask for help if I have any difficulties in working the program.
    15. I schedule time for play and rest, refusing to work non-stop.
    16. I believe that I can recover from cluttering and use my experience to benefit others.
    17. I accept my progress as proceeding in God's time. I know that patience, tolerance, and taking my time aids me in my recovery.
    18. I am gentle with my efforts, knowing that my new way of living requires much practice.
    19. I do not yield to pressure or attempt to pressure others.
    20. I realize that I am already where I will always be, in the here and now. I live each moment with serenity, joy, and gratitude.


    Odd One Out: The Maverick's Guide to Adult ADD
    How to Be Happy and Successful by Breaking the Rules

    by Jennifer Koretsky ISBN 978-1-4276-2497-0

    Review copyright © 2008 by Claire Josefine

    Jennifer Koretsky celebrates her ADD. Accustomed to being the "odd one out," she has embraced her own maverick nature to become a successful ADD coach, conference speaker, and founder of the ADD Management Group. She is also a writer. In her new book, Odd One Out: The Maverick's Guide to Adult ADD, Koretsky shares her techniques for managing ADD so that others can move forward into their own unique success stories.

    Koretsky encourages her readers to celebrate their ADD, too. In her introduction, she writes: "You can choose to see your ADD as a disability, or a difference. You can feel sorry for yourself, or you can embrace your differences and take pride in your maverick nature. One path leads to even more challenges and even lower self-esteem. The other leads to self-acceptance, improved self-esteem, happiness, and success." She concludes the book by reminding us that "successfully managing your ADD is not about eliminating your ADD challenges" and hoping that we "embrace the person [we] are -- ADD and all -- and move forward in [our] life with pride and confidence.... [N]ever be afraid to be the odd one out."

    Odd One Out is structured around Koretsky's Five Essential Skills for Managing Adult ADD. These are: break the cycle of overwhelm; work with your ADD, not against it; ADDjust your attitude; take control of your space and time; and live out loud. Koretsky illustrates each skill with stories -- her own as well as her clients' -- and practical suggestions. She also emphasizes her key points in bold type, appealing to her readers' shortened attention span. (It's as though she imagined a conversation with her ADD readers: "Bored reading whole paragraphs-- Here's the piece I most want you to know.")

    I have only one complaint about this book. In her celebration of creativity, Koretsky perpetuates the "organized people aren't creative" (or any fun) dichotomy. As we know, being organized is what enables us to be our most creative; it's what helps us find our toys when we want to play. I realize that Koretsky is trying to help ADDers lighten up on themselves, to focus on their strengths instead of their weaknesses. But to say that people are either creative or organized does a disservice to both groups of people.

    Still, Odd One Out is filled with good information and ideas. Written in a casual voice, the book is accessible and enjoyable. I readily recommend it to my ADD clients, and to organizers looking for insight into the ADD mind.

    The Complete Idiot's Guide to Organizing Your Life, Third Edition

    by Georgene Lockwood, Alpha Books, ISBN 0-02-864318-6

    Review copyright © 2003 by Claire Josefine

    Most of my clients have purchased -- and sometimes even read -- organizing books before hiring me. As I work with clients to organize their homes, I find these books. When I see one I haven't heard of, I borrow it, give it the once-over, then return it. Usually the books are ordinary, nothing special.

    Recently I ran across Georgene Lockwood's The Complete Idiot's Guide to Organizing Your Life (third edition) at a client's home. I was impressed. So impressed that, for the first time in years, I actually bought a book on organizing.

    If I could have only one organizing book, Lockwood's would be it. The Complete Idiot's Guide to Organizing Your Life is clearly written, enjoyable to read, easy to use, and as complete as the title suggests. Extensively researched, the book includes the psychological considerations of becoming organized, resources for the chronically disorganized, financial guidelines for conscious, debt-free living, tips from Amy Dacyczyn's Tightwad Gazette, value-clarification and goal-setting visualizations from Barbara Sher and Shakti Gawain, and time management techniques from Stephen Covey, as well as practical solutions for all our organizing needs. The Resource Guide is comprehensive, listing many helpful books, newsletters, products, and organizations.

    Of course, other organizing books also offer a wealth of ideas. I could research tips for organizing kitchens or travel in another book, or even on line. So why do I recommend this book above all others--

    Ultimately, because I like Lockwood's philosophy. I like that she reminds us to "take more conscious control of your buying decisions and your own mind," and that she writes about Acquisition Traps, which "[seduce] us into believing that owning something will make us sexy, or successful, or smart, and that a particular object or possession represents love, happiness, self-esteem, joy, or knowledge." I like that she discusses Voluntary Simplicity, encouraging us to stand up for ourselves when bullied by a consumerist society. I like that she includes practical, sensible guidelines promulgated by the Western School of Feng Shui.

    And I like that I can read the book cover to cover, look up a specific topic, or flip randomly through the book, picking up ideas from "Amazing Space," "Orderly Pursuits," and "Oops" boxes. For example, Lockwood suggests that "if your flight is canceled, don't run to the airline counter like everyone else. Pick up the phone and call the airline reservation system. You'll get the same service without standing in line."

    Granted, some clients might be sensitive to the presence of "idiot" in the title. But the publishers of the Complete Idiot's Guide series address potential chagrin with a light-spirited "You're no idiot, of course. Okay, maybe you are a bit of a pack-rat." They also have built an excellent reputation for themselves as publishers of easy-to-read, comprehensive guides on a myriad of topics. Their web site (www.idiotsguides.com) lists an array of subjects ranging from American literature to understanding Einstein, with forays into history, investing, home schooling, computers, software, and the Internet, foreign languages, cooking, fly fishing, and even Tantric sex.

    I have but one complaint. The book's jacket claims that the book has "brand-new information on Palm organizers and how they can make your life easier." Intrigued, I looked up Palm organizers in the index. Nothing. Nothing for Personal Digital Assistants, computers, or planners/organizers, either. If the brand-new information is in there, it sure is hard to find!

    Otherwise, the index works well, and the book is a pleasure to thumb through. Lockwood has written a valuable, well-researched, fun-to-read resource for all of our bookshelves -- organizers' and clients' alike.


    Organizing Plain and Simple

    by Donna Marie Smallin, Storey Books, ISBN 1-58017-448-5

    Review copyright © 2003 by Claire Josefine

    What makes a book on organizing "good" -- worth at least reading, if not owning-- As an editor and organizer, I look for the following characteristics: an attractive, well-organized design; a clear, engaging writing style; sensible, easy-to-implement solutions; consistency; and a simple presentation of organizing principles.

    Upon first glance, Organizing Plain and Simple by Donna Smallin meets my criteria for a good organizing book. I especially have high praise for the book designer. The cover makes one think of a patchwork quilt, reminiscent of the plain and simple life. The book's layout is clear, with effective use of graphics to delineate book sections, tips, suggestions for frugal solutions, and other special features.

    As I read through the book, my primary response was "Ah, here is everything my mother never taught me!" (Some of us became organizers as a rebellion against our rebellious mothers.) Organizing Plain and Simple would be a great gift for a new bride who has some skills but much to learn, or for any young adult moving out on their own for their first time. The table of contents hints at the completeness of Smallin's book. Her subjects include organizing every room of the house, finances, and time, as well as organizing for safety, travel, moving, new beginnings, and one's estate.

    Smallin uses a variety of graphic pullouts -- highlighted, boxed areas scattered throughout the pages -- to add interest and information to her text. These include tips tucked into "For Simplicity's Sake;" questions posed to professional organizers in "One Challenge... Three Solutions;" creative ideas under the hammer of "Make Your Own;" file boxes of tips from experts; stopwatch timesavers; sidebars for mini questionnaires and comments; and appendices for resources and contributing experts.

    And yet, despite all the wonderful graphics and special information sections, I found myself repeatedly scribbling my disagreements and criticisms into the margins of Smallin's book. Don't get me wrong; many of her ideas are good. For example, even though she makes frequent mention of the Container Store (I have issues with books promoting specific businesses over others), she also offers a plain and simple alternative magazine holder: a cut-out cereal box.

    But I find instances where Smallin has been inconsistent. She mentions Feng Shui, but then promotes storing boxes under beds and couches, which is not advantageous to the flow of chi. Or I find her advice incomplete. On page 63, she wrote "If you didn't request a catalog or have no interest in it, put it in the recycling box right away." Oy, no! First call the catalog company to remove yourself from the mailing list, then put it in the recycling box!

    So, Smallin's book isn't perfect. At times, as an organizer, it can even be frustrating. But overall, it is a valuable source of attractively presented, well-organized information -- lots of information. The writing is solid, the solutions are easy enough to implement. While it is not the best organizing book on the market, Organizing Plain and Simple is a decent one.


    The Organizing Sourcebook: Nine Strategies for Simplifying Your Life

    by Kathy Waddill, Contemporary Books, ISBN 0-7373-0424-3

    Review copyright © 2002 by Claire Josefine

    When someone comes over, do I have to move things out of the way so they can sit down--

    Well, yeah -- cats. But I'm hoping that Kathy Waddill didn't mean pets when she proposed this question -- along with many others -- as a way of determining whether or not you are organized enough.

    Kathy Waddill is president of the San Francisco Bay Area chapter of the National Association of Professional Organizers (what a mouthful!), hosts of the annual seminar I attended in October. At the post-seminar dinner, she was wishing that the national NAPO newsletter would write a review of her new book, The Organizing Sourcebook: Nine Strategies for Simplifying Your Life. Curious about her book, I volunteered to write a review for the newsletter, if she would give me a copy to review. It was a deal, and I came home to read the book, reviewer's cap on my head.

    There are several things I like about the Sourcebook. I like Kathy's concept of being organized enough instead of being perfectly organized. I really like (and learned from) her many, many real-life examples and accompanying solutions. And I like that she approaches being organized from a set of strategies, the absence of which lead to disorganization. Most organizing books simply tell you "this is how to organize a (fill in the blank)." But how many times have I insisted that setting up a system isn't enough; you have to change your behaviors and beliefs, too-- Kathy's strategies are examples of those behaviors necessary to maintain an organizational system.

    Regrettably, there are also things I don't like about her book. To begin with, she desperately needs a ruthless editor -- the book is redundant, overwritten. I found myself skipping large chunks of text and getting irritated with her repetitions. I also resented that she wrote extensively about the concept of using zones but never acknowledged Julie Morgenstern, who popularized this concept in her book, Organizing from the Inside Out.

    Finally, I think Kathy's nine strategies are incomplete. Several of them are comparable to my 12 Principles of Being Organized, but she completely neglects the spiritual component of being organized. Yet my principles 8 through 11 (Slow down, Adopt an attitude of gratitude, Base decisions in love instead of fear, and Remember that we have choices) are crucial to living an organized life. Having identified my own basic principles of organizing, I couldn't help but compare her strategies to mine, only to find hers lacking.

    And so, although I am a stronger organizer for having read The Organizing Sourcebook, I would not recommend that my clients buy it. If you want a sensible, thorough (if visually cluttered) "this is how to organize a (fill in the blank)" organizing book, though, I cheerfully recommend the >The Complete Idiot's Guide to Organizing Your Life. See the review of it above.


    Getting Started: 5 Books on Becoming an Organizer

    Review copyright © 2003 by Claire Josefine

    Professional Organizing
    Starting Your Own Business: A Workbook for Getting Started

    by Cynthia Kyriazis

    A Manual for Professional Organizers, 3rd Edition
    by Cyndi Seidler, Banter Books, ISBN 0-9705125-0-3

    Become a Professional Organizer
    by Debra Milne, Productivity2, ISBN 0-9734242-0-6

    So... You Want to Become a Professional Organizer
    by Debra Milne and Margaret Miller, Professional Organizers Resource for Training & Development, ISBN 0-9689042-0-3

    The Ultimate Guide for Professional Organizers
    by Maria Gracia, Blue Moon Publishing

    I frequently receive requests for guidance from beginning organizers. I'm happy to answer their questions, but would also like to refer them to existing texts. But which books should I recommend-- Unsure of what was available, I conducted a Google search on "how to become a professional organizer." After contacting the authors of several books, I received review copies for five of them. Each book differs significantly, appealing to different needs and personalities.

    A Place to Start
    Cynthia Kyriazis' Workbook for Getting Started is exactly that. At a slender spiral-bound 27 pages, Kyriazis' book does not pretend to be comprehensive. Instead, it offers a valuable set of worksheets designed to help you build your business. Topics include creating a business plan, setting your fees, and fashioning a marketing plan. Kyriazis offers thoughts on these issues -- as well as on protecting one's reputation, working with "bad clients," and client agreements -- but leaves the brass tacks of implementing our plans to us. This Workbook is good for getting us thinking, although it is best used in conjunction with another book or with a mentor.

    More Detailed
    On the other hand, Cyndi Seidler's A Manual for Professional Organizers, 3rd edition, How to succeed in the field of professional organizing; A fully comprehensive guide and workbook to start, run and grow your organizing business (yep, all that's on the cover!) does propose to be complete. Seidler discusses types of organizing, setting up a home office, setting fees, which records to keep, client agreements, marketing, and how to work with difficult clients. At the end of each section, she provides a page entitled "Practical" where she gives an assignment and space in which to answer it.

    In general, Seidler's (also spiral-bound) book offers a good starting point for organizers. I like her inclusion of a Code for Professional Organizers, and her Calendar of Special Organizing Events is valuable for marketing purposes (even though GO week is listed as 10/1-10/7, instead of as the first full week in October).

    Despite its 124 pages of good information, however, I have three hesitations about this book. First, it is written in a third-person, passive voice, which makes for dry reading. Second, Seidler presents optional practices as fait accompli, rather than explaining that such-and-such practice is one of several ways to proceed. (For example, not all organizers use or need written job agreements.) Third, the Manual is in serious need of copy editing and proofreading.

    Another 3rd edition, So... You Want to Become a Professional Organizer by Debra Milne and Margaret Miller is "designed to give you a step-by-step guide to starting and operating your own business as a professional organizer." Written in an interactive, second-person voice, the authors succeed with their design. Like Kyriazis' Workbook, Milne and Miller ask probing questions that help a budding organizer structure his or her business. They provide a checklist of organizing areas and skills, and excellent advice on steps to take before leaving your job to start your business. The e-book also comes with a disk of templates for assorted business forms, including brochures, business cards, invoices, and a terms and conditions sheet.

    Occasionally, Milne and Miller present options as necessities; e.g., a separate business bank account and telephone can be beneficial, but are by no means required. But they also present a variety of methods for handling situations, such as whether and how much to charge for an initial visit. All told, this collaboration is an excellent resource for a beginning organizer.

    Also by Milne
    At some point, Debra Milne apparently decided to expand the work she published with Miller. The result, Become a Professional Organizer, has everything the joint effort does -- including a diskette of templates and forms -- and more. (Milne's solo piece is three times the size of the collaborative work, at twice the price.) I particularly like the chart of 195 choice words to use when picking a business name, and the inclusion of helpful web sites, such as for writing press releases. The marketing information is good, and includes a section on creating a web presence. As an educator and bookkeeper, I found the bookkeeping section frustrating but, overall, this is the best written and most comprehensive of the five books I read.

    And Ultimately
    Maria Gracia's The Ultimate Guide for Professional Organizers: Everything You Need to Know About Starting, Running, and Growing Your Professional Organizing Business arrives shipped in shrink-wrapped packages that need assembly into a (provided) 3-ring notebook. Gracia adequately covers the basics of starting an organizing business, but her strong suit is marketing. From sample marketing vehicles (postcards, press releases), including probable projected responses, to a chapter on how to create an effective web site, Gracia's Guide is chock-full of information, valuable to beginning and experienced organizers alike. If only she knew how to use commas!

    A Final Note
    Which brings me to my soapbox.

    Fellow organizers, fellow writers, I implore you. Remember that our publications reflect on us. I sat on my hands to keep from heavily marking these books with my red pen. Typos, grammatical errors, misspellings, misuse of commas, redundancies, inconsistencies... each of these books contained unnecessary errors (as do many self-published books that have come across my desk). Please, please, please -- if you are going to write, hire a copy editor to help you. Not everyone who knows how to organize is automatically a good organizer; hence the need for books on how to become an organizer. Similarly, not every organizer who writes is automatically a good writer. We encourage our clients to reach out to us for help; let's reach out to the writing experts in turn. After all, "together we are better."


    last updated on July 3, 2012