Life Organized: The Blog

Tips & Tricks from Barbara

Day to Day Organizing

· Purging

Although there’s nothing I love more than spending an entire day blissfully organizing my home, I recognize that this is not everyone’s idea of nirvana. If the thought of spending the day organizing is daunting, I recommend spending a few minutes every day to keep clutter at bay. This way, you can maintain organization without putting in a lot of time or energy. So, in addition to NOT creating a mess each day, here are some ways you can proactively avoid clutter build up.

1. Make your bed as soon as you wake up every morning. There are few things that take less than 5 minutes that give you as many organizing points as this one. Not only does this start your day in the right mindset, but don’t underestimate how happy you’ll be to see it neat and orderly when you come home later in the day.

2. When you’re getting dressed in a hurry, you may change outfits a few times. If this is the case, Do NOT discard clothing on your bed or closet floor. After you try something on, it takes literally seconds to hang it back on the hanger. Also, if you find that every time you try something on, you opt not to wear it, consider donating it. Whenever you take something off a hanger, move the empty hanger to the front of your closet. This saves time when you need a hanger, and it allows you to accurately see how much space your actual clothes (not empty hangers) take up.

3. Wash your dishes as you use them, and empty the dishwasher when the dishes inside are clean. This avoids a dirty pile accumulating in the sink. When you prepare meals or snacks, make extra, so there’s some available for another day.

4. After showering, hang up your towel. Quickly wipe down the counters and mirror to keep surfaces clean.

5. Sort your mail every day. Throw away junk mail, catalogs, and solicitations immediately. Put bills and anything that needs to be processed in a designated in-box.

6. When you walk into your home, hang up your coat and bag. Charge your phone in the same place every day, so you don’t have to run around looking for it.

7. If you can, multitask. Phone calls can be made while doing light exercise or straightening up the living room. If you commute to an office, capitalize on this time to answer emails or catch up on news on your phone.

8. Follow the “one thing” rule. Whenever you leave a room, bring one thing in the room to its rightful place elsewhere in the house. Try not to leave a room without SOMETHING in your hand, unless, of course, everything in the room is in its proper place.

Organizing Your Finances

· Paper Organizing

April 15th is just hours away, and many people are scrambling to compile their tax data and meet the IRS deadline.  Since many of these people are also vowing to better organize their finances next year to avoid the last minute stress, here are some tips for a more organized financial life.

Use on-line banking and bill paying for utilities, mortgages, car payments, etc. Not only will this save you time and cut down on the amount of paper clutter you receive, but the institution generally maintains records for a sufficient number of years and copies of transactions are readily available.

Create a file folder where all tax related documents are collected during the year.   This may include1099 forms, security brokers’ year-end statements, annual mortgage interest, real estate tax statements, letters supporting charitable contributions, etc. When it’s time to file your tax return, simply provide this folder to your tax preparer.

Look at last year’s documentation. Many tax preparers send an annual organizer to their clients showing prior year information.  This is a wonderful reminder of the documentation that was provided in the prior year, what would be expected in the current year, and any changes that may have occurred.

Educate yourself about your financial responsibility. Speak to a tax preparer and/or financial planner at frequent intervals and question them in order to again a better understanding of your financial matters.

Know your credit score.  See what you can do to improve it and ensure that it’s correct.

Save bank statements, credit card statements, and other statements as pdf’s on your computer instead of accumulating paper.

Ensure estate planning is up-to-date.  Know where estate planning documents are stored and ensure that the correct people know where to find them.  Have a list of all retirement accounts and life insurance policies including beneficiaries.

Keep important documents in a fireproof safe box. This includes: insurance policies, wills/trusts, birth/marriage certificates, passports and other hard to replace documents in a fireproof safe box. Also, keep a back-up copy of the financial records on your computer here.

Maintain all important financial documents for at least seven years.



Spring Cleaning with The Container Store

· Spring Cleaning

As a young girl, there was nothing I loved more than going to Jaffee’s, my local stationery store, to shop for school supplies. The promise of new notebooks, pristine pencils, and a set of dividers was all I needed to feel pure happiness. As professional organizer, my adult equivalent of school supply shopping is a trip to The Container Store, a veritable playground of organizing possibilities! You can only imagine my delight when I was asked to host an event at The Container Store for a group of bloggers last week. As part of the program, I walked around the store, sharing some of my favorite products∗which I’ve listed below…

Shoe Box, item 10008759
The Little Black Dress of Organizing, I use these to contain action figures, packing tape, sunblock, and cookie cutters.

Bisley 5 Drawer Cabinet, item 10053877
I’ve recently used these vibrantly colored file cabinets in a teen’s room for electronics and papers, and a child’s room for art supplies.

Large Lacquered Rectangular Box, item 10055485
These high style boxes provide the perfect hiding place for batteries, remote controls, or decks of cards (multiple colors available).

POP Canisters by Oxo, item 10042844
Once you store dry goods such as flour and sugar in these functional, sleek canisters, you’ll wonder how you ever lived without them (multiple sizes available).

Dream Drawer Dividers, item 10023483
Drawers stay tidier when they’re divided into sections. Separate your underpinnings or your short sleeve t-shirts from long sleeve t-shirts.

Bigso Stockholm Document Box, item 10049716
Use these boxes to store your child’s sentimental items through his/her school years. You can store all but the current year, but they look nice enough to display (multiple colors available).

Small Duo Bin, item 10057626
For items that you reach for often, these bins are modern and chic. I love the shiny black, white, and green.

Clear Divided Tray, Item 201070
I use this neutral organizer in bathroom drawers, office drawers, and playroom drawers.

Apothecary Jar, item 10029279
The inside of your medicine cabinet should look just as neat as your bathroom counter. I use these for hair ties, cotton balls, Q-tips, and grooming implements (nail clippers and tweezers).

Landscape Letter Tray, Item 10047418
These stackable letter trays can be labeled in the front, so you know at a glance which one is holding lined paper and which one is holding white paper.


*I have not been paid or asked by The Container Store to endorse any of these products.  They are products I use frequently with clients.

Busy Moms Play Whac-a-Mole

· Lifestyle

In my book, Secrets of an Organized Mom, I compare the lives of mothers to one big game of Whac-a-Mole.  Just when we’ve smacked down one problem or responsibility, another one pokes up its stubborn head.  Let’s face it; life as a mother is inevitably unpredictable.  Just when we think we have everything under control, a child breaks a leg, a partner gets a new job (in another state), or a roof springs a leak.  So much rests on our shoulders that it’s easy to see why we’re all running on a treadmill to stay still. It’s a classic catch 22.  If we could just find the time to get organized, life would be calm and peaceful.  But life is never calm and peaceful, so there’s never time to get organized.

Moms often ask me for the single organizing tip that will make the biggest difference in their lives.  In Secrets of An Organized Mom, I talk about the “Ten Commandments of Organizing”.  Although all of these commandments are important, there are three tips that, taken together, can help busy moms conquer the organizational challenge once and for all.

  1. Routines work. If you always put your cell phone in the same pocket of your purse, you’ll always know where it is when it’s ringing. If you always put the bills in the same place, you won’t lose any bills.  If you always take medication at the same time in the same place, you won’t forget to take it.  When things are done the same way every time, the behavior becomes rote.  You don’t have to think about what you’re doing.  This is the fool-proof way to avoid misplacing anything or forgetting anything again.
  2. Group like things together, and designate a place for everything. This is the only way to know how much of something you have and when you need more.  You’ll also always know exactly where to find what you’re looking for.   This applies to everything in your house, from black sweaters to magic markers to batteries.  This will help you avoid having too much of one thing and not enough of what you really need!
  3. Store things where you use them. Keep school supplies where your kids do their homework, keep your reading glasses next to your bed where you read at night, and keep tote bags in the closet where you store sports equipment.  It’s easy and convenient!




Planning a Large Party

· Entertaining

On January 12th, I celebrated my twins’ b’nai mitzvah.  It was magical and memorable, and 98% stress free.  Yes, almost entirely stress free.  And, whether you’re planning a wedding, a bar/bat mitzvah, or any other large party, you’ll be calm and collected too if you follow my tips for planning that perfect party!

Party Planning Tips

  1. Determine your budget.  You can’t possibly make a single decision without knowing how much you want to spend.
  2. Assemble a guest list.  Obtain all of the addresses you don’t have, and use a program like Excel to manage your list. Timing: one year in advance.
  3. Choose the venue.  Make a list of your requirements in advance (e.g., how many people it needs to hold, where it needs to be located).  Timing: a year in advance.
  4. Trust your friends’ recommendations.  If you have friends that have hosted parties recently, ask them for a list of the vendors they used.  There’s no need to recreate the wheel.
  5. Eliminate any non-responsive vendor.  If your call isn’t returned within 24 hours before you’ve signed a contract, don’t expect responsiveness once you’ve handed over your deposit.
  6. Know your limits. If a party planner doesn’t fit into your budget, don’t pick a theme that will be difficult to execute unless you have the time and enjoy the creative process.
  7. Make big decisions early.  Chose the photographer, videographer, and décor person at least 6 months in advance.
  8. Select pictures and videos. Anything you want included in a video montage needs to be given to the photographer/videographer digitally.
  9. Create digital folders on your computer. Save the best pictures from every vacation and event, separated by who is in the picture (cousins, friends, grandparents), so the process of selected pictures is organized.

10. Select invitations. Sometimes printing takes longer than you think, and you need to allot time for the envelopes to be addressed.  Timing: 6 months in advance.

11. Limit group decision making.   If you’re planning a bar/bat mitzvah, let your child make some decisions (from a range of acceptable options that you’ve already vetted) about what s/he really cares about (e.g., party favors, entertainment, their outfits), and you decide the rest.  When planning a wedding, involve as few people as possible in the decision making.

12. Make a timeline. Write down everything you want to occur during the party and when.

13. Make a list of photos.  Be very specific about the pictures you want the photographer to take.  You don’t want to risk not having a picture of someone important to you.

14. Consider hiring a party planner for the day. It’s a small price to pay to be a guest at your own party!

15. The devil is in the details. Don’t underestimate the amount of time you’ll need to devote to details in the last month.  You’ll need to finalize the headcount, select the menu, make sure your clothing is ready, and make table assignments.

16. Don’t sweat the small stuff.  Something will go wrong, and no one will notice, and no one will care.


New Year’s Resolutions You Can Actually Keep

· Holiday

One of the most common New Year’s Resolutions is to get organized.  Yet, it’s easier said than done, and getting organized can be a tall order.  But, what if you could get organized in 5 minutes or less each day?  Here are my top ten organizing resolutions you can actually keep:

  1. Memorize the credit card number you use most.  You’ll be amazed at what a time saver this is.
  2. Register online with the Direct Marketing Association’s registry to keep junk mail to a minimum. Less paper clutter means less stress.
  3. Throw out any markers or pens that are out of ink…at work and at home.
  4. Throw out any mismatched socks.  If the mate hasn’t shown up yet, recognize that it’s probably long gone.
  5. Throw away all expired medicines from the medicine cabinet.
  6. Throw away all expired foods from the refrigerator.
  7. Discard all of the unimportant receipts cluttering your wallet.  Let’s face it; you can’t return the Starbucks latte, so why hang onto the receipt?
  8. Say no to the request that’s causing you the most stress. You don’t have to be a martyr.  Save your time and energy for things you really want to do.
  9. Make your bed every day.  Your room will look neater, and you’ll start your day feeling calm and collected.
  10. Throw away that box/bag of wires/chargers that’s been collecting dust in your closet for years.  If all of your electronics are functioning, there’s nothing there that you need.


You Got a What? Bringing Home a Pet

· Family

Yes…I got a dog.  I swore I would never get a dog because we all know what happens when your children/ husband/significant other promises to walk and feed the dog.  I didn’t have time to take care of a dog. I also don’t do anything unless it’s well planned and researched.  My life is predictable.  And then we got Charly.

It was the day after Hurricane Sandy struck, and my family was lucky enough to be unaffected.  In fact, we were all getting a little stir crazy.  So, my husband decided to take our children for a walk to the bookstore.  When the bookstore was closed, they ended up at a local pet store, and that’s when the unexpected happened.

My husband called to see if I wanted to meet at the pet store.  I don’t know why I said yes, since I clearly wasn’t getting a dog.  Yet, thirty minutes later, I was at the pet store.  My husband pointed out one dog whose eyes followed him wherever he went.  She was a small white, fluffy Havanese.  When we held her, we could tell she was skittish.  At 5 months old, she had missed important socialization milestones by being in a pet store cage for so long.   But, sometimes, the dog chooses you, and this dog had chosen my husband. He couldn’t turn away from her. And then, they both looked at me.  I said, “Do what you want, but remember this is ‘your’ dog.”  He was so surprised that I didn’t say no, that things started happening at warp speed. She was named (Charly), and all the things Charly would “need” were heaped on the counter: safety gates, a dog bed, a dog carrier, grooming supplies, food, bones, and toys. Meanwhile, I was getting heart palpitations as I wondered where I would store everything.

It felt surreal when we got back to our house with a puppy in tow.  It was decided that she would be gated in the kitchen, so that was where I would store her gear.  I designated one place for Charly’s leash, collar, wipes, and small toys and another place for Charly’s food and snacks.  We placed her crate in the kitchen along with her “wee wee pads”.  And then, we began to get to know each other.  Now, two months later, we are all madly in love with Charly.  My husband comes home from work to have lunch with her. My children can’t wait to walk in the door after a long day to see how excited she is to see them.  And, I spend hours a day grooming and talking to her (strangely therapeutic).  She sits under my desk at night and naps while I work, and I can’t imagine life without her.  So, if you’re thinking about getting a dog, I couldn’t recommend it more.  But learn from my experience and consider these helpful tips before bringing any pet home.

  1. Determine which parts of your home the pet will be able to access.  Will you need a gate or gates to confine the pet to certain areas?  Where will the pet sleep? Will s/he need a bed or a crate?  Where will the bed or crate be placed?
  2. Where will you store pet supplies?  For a dog, you’ll need a leash and waste bags which should be kept near the door.  You’ll also need grooming supplies, and toys.  Store these where you’ll use them.
  3. Pet proof your home.  Get on your hands and knees and look for things that could be dangerous if your pet chewed or swallowed them (e.g., computer wires or cords, electronic items).  You may need to install child safety locks on low cabinets to make sure your pet can’t get to what’s inside.  Also take note of any window treatments with log cords or tassels that could become strangulation hazards.
  4. Corral toys in a baskets or bins in various rooms of your house.  Then, you can quickly put them away (or train your pet to put them away) when guests are visiting.
  5. Determine where you’ll keep your pet’s food and water.  Consider purchasing a non-slide mat to keep spills to a minimum.
  6. Create a file for your pet that includes important information such as vaccinations, health record, microchip information, license, and pedigree.
  7. Just like babies, pets thrive on routine.  Figure out when it makes sense to feed and exercise the pet and who will be responsible.  Negotiate all of this before bringing the pet home.
  8. Add all important vaccinations and medication schedules to your master calendar.
  9. Have a plan in place for when you’ll be out of town.  Is there someone who can come to your home to care for your pet? Will s/he need to be boarded?  Where will that be?
  10. A pet can make your life so much richer, so enjoy every minute!


Making Halloween Organization Less Scary

· Holiday

As a child, the whole concept of Halloween seems too good to be true.  You get to wear a costume, knock on strangers’ doors, and ask them for candy.  Then, you pretty much eat as much candy as you want for an entire night. As a parent, Halloween can be downright scary.  Your pre-schooler changes his mind 4 times about his costume, your tween wants to trick or treat with friends (and no parent), and your teenager’s costume seems to be exposing an awful lot of skin.  And, you haven’t even started thinking about the costume you’re wearing to your friend’s annual Monster Mash. So, how can you enjoy the holiday while making sure it’s fun? Here are some tips that are sure to help.

  1. Take out your Halloween decorations two to three weeks before the holiday.  If you’ve gone to the trouble of buying and storing the decorations, enjoy them for a few weeks as excitement for the holiday builds.
  2. Begin to think about Halloween costumes as soon as the “back to school” fervor fades.  If you’re going to order a costume online, leave yourself enough time for it to be shipped to you and returned if the size isn’t correct. If you’re planning on making a costume, start early enough so you can enjoy the process with your child.
  3. Buy your Halloween candy early.  The prices for candy are the highest in the two weeks before Halloween.
  4. This is the perfect time to sort through your child’s dress up clothes.  Maybe you can find a costume your child wants to wear or some accessories that can be used.  It’s also the perfect time to purge the costumes that no longer fit.
  5. Sort Halloween candy by type and store in glass or clear plastic cylinders of different heights.  You’ll be amazed at how pretty the candy looks when stored this way.
  6. After trick-or-treating, invite your child’s friends over for a cake or cupcake decorating play date.  Unwrap the candy and place it in bowls in the middle of the table.  Then, give them each several frosted cupcakes or one cake to decorate.  The candy will stick to the icing, the children will have a great time, and you’ll be rid of the candy by the end of the afternoon.
  7. November 1st isn’t too soon to take down the Halloween decorations.  All things Halloween related should be put away by the weekend following the holiday.   Halloween books, pumpkin carving kits, Halloween decorations, and costumes should be stored in a clear plastic box with a lid (size and number of boxes depends on the quantity you have).  This should be put away, out of the way, until next year.
  8. Be realistic about saving costumes.  If you have a child that loves playing dress up, add it to the stash.  However, if there’s little chance the costume will be worn again, donate it.



Back to School

· Back To School ·

As the long, lazy days of summer dwindle, moms everywhere start to feel stressed about “Back to School”. There’s scheduling after school activities, planning carpools, shopping for clothing, finding babysitting coverage and attending the never ending orientations, class breakfasts, and curriculum nights (multiplied by the number of children you have) that schools love to host. It’s a lot for even the most organized of moms. So, before you throw in the towel, here are some tips to get you through the fall frenzy.

1. Edit your children’s clothes. Before you buy anything new for the fall, revisit all of the heavy, winter items that you saved from last year, eliminating anything that doesn’t fit. Check your stash of hand me downs to see what does fit. Once you’ve edited and purged, make a list and buy your child just what they need…and maybe just a few things that are so cute you can’t resist!

2. Create a study space in your home. This is nothing more complicated than having a clear surface, good lighting, and essential supplies. Use stackable paper trays that can be filled with lined paper, white paper, and colored paper. Then, use small plastic drawers for highlighters, binder clips, post-it notes, tape and glue. Pencils and pens can be kept in a decorative mug or cup on the desk. Where your child does his/her homework is less important than having supplies that are accessible.

3. Use a master calendar. Whether you affix a calendar to a wall, post it on the refrigerator, or keep track of your family’s activities electronically, what’s important is that every activity for each family member is recorded in one place. This guarantees that you’ll avoid the stress of double booked activities, impossible logistics, and overscheduling.

4. Institute weekly family meetings that prepare each member of your family for the upcoming week. Young children might remind you that they need to bring cookies for the bake sale, older children might remind you that they need to be driven somewhere, and you can remind your family that you won’t be home for dinner on a particular night.

5. Don’t be afraid to say no…to heading the school bake sale, play dates your child doesn’t want, and activities that are simply inconvenient. Volunteer if you’d like, but choose what you’ll enjoy and what won’t overtax you. For example, by volunteering to plan the parents’ night out, you can ensure that its location and date work for you, and you’re not roped into a year-long commitment.

Selecting and Organizing Your Beach Bag

· Summer Organizing
  • Beach bags should be large and lightweight. Even when you travel light, you’ll need a least a few towels and t-shirts.  Avoid any unnecessary hardware on the bag that would weigh it down.
  • Use brightly colored cosmetic bags for smaller items that you want to keep dry such as such as your money, cell phone, keys, lip gloss, band aids, hair ties, and ibuprofen.
  • Carry only what you truly need.  Bags get heavy, so eliminate what’s unnecessary.  You might want one sunblock for your face and one for your body, but you don’t need any more than that.  You may want to leave your wallet at home and just bring cash, identification, and a credit card.
  • Let your children carry some of the load. Even young children can tote water toys, a shovel and pail, and blow up rafts. This shouldn’t be in your beach bag!
  • Keep essentials stocked. Leave the sunblock and lip balm packed in the beach bag, so you can be ready for a day at the beach in minutes.
  • Plastic bags come in handy. Use one for dry clothes, one for sunblock (in case it drips), and keep a few empty ones for wet bathing suits.   There also great for keeping your book, magazine, or kindle dry!1
  • Baby powder isn’t just for babies.  It’s the best way to rub sand off your body before travelling home.