I have found that among its other benefits,
giving liberates the soul of the giver.”
~ Maya Angelou

Many of these products and services are part of official affiliate programs which pay a referral commission to me based on any purchases you make through these links. However, that is not the reason I recommend them. I only recommend products and services that I believe are of high quality, value, and will benefit you in a tangible way as you improve your home, office, and life.
The Help Kenya Project

This is a Westchester County, NY based charity that focuses on helping the children of Kenya. They collect donations of used computers, books, clothing, sports equipment, and other supplies and ship them to Kenyan schools and libraries. In return, they ask that the recipients plant trees to combat deforestation and provide children with a place to rest and play out of the sun.

It’s incredible how valuable the book or computer you might be throwing out is to a Kenyan child. By providing Kenya’s students with science, English, and computer skills, they give them a much better chance of finding good jobs later in life. It breaks the cycle of poverty by helping Kenyans to help themselves. This is a charity that truly leaves a lasting impact.



National Cristina Foundation

Linking Life to its Promise.

The National Cristina Foundation is a not-for-profit foundation dedicated to the support of training through donated technology. For more than two decades, it has encouraged companies and individuals to donate computers and other technology, which is then matched to charities, schools and public agencies in all 50 states, Canada, and in many countries around the world.


Vietnam Veterans of America
VVA accepts donations of household goods and clothing in 30 states in the continental United States. To make a donation, please refer to the state map. Identify your area and call the phone number referenced.


Tangible Karma is a donation tracking service that gives you a chance to see the difference your donated goods can make in the world.  At Tangible Karma their mission is to inspire and motivate you, to transform items that are hindering your life into valuable gifts that could make a meaningful difference in the life of another.


Overseas Coupon Program Did you know that expired coupons can be sent to troops stationed overseas and they can use them for 6 months after the expiration date?  If you find this idea redeeming, go to OCPNet.org and get the details. It’s 100% legal and each overseas base has a USA address so it is a local mailing. Save your coupons, even if they are expired to help out our troops!


DisposeMyMeds.org is an online resource to help you to find medication disposal programs at the local independent community pharmacy near you.

Your local community pharmacist has knowledge to ensure the safe and proper handling of your medications, from dispensing to disposal.


Recycle These Items That You Never Thought Of…

Vintage Doorknobs, Radiators, Windows and Mantels
Donate or sell classic architectural elements to salvage firms or restoration projects. SalvageWeb is an online ad space that links buyers and sellers all over the world; here you can buy an Art Deco church chandelier, or unload a clawfoot tub after renovating your bathroom. Baltimore-based Second Chance Inc. accepts salvage donations and trains low-income people in the art of “deconstructing” buildings.

Toothbrushes
The Radius Original Toothbrush has a handle made of cellulose, an organic fiber. (Radius also recycles the handles of its battery-operated model once the battery runs out.)

Foam Packaging
Lightweight “peanuts” made from expanded polystyrene (EPS) contain 25 to 100 percent recycled material.
The Plastic Loose Fill Council has a “Peanut Hotline” (800-828-2214) you can call to find local recycling centers, including chain-store shippers such as Pak Mail and The UPS Store. To recycle large, molded chunks of EPS used to cushion televisions, air conditioners and such, contact the Alliance of Foam Packaging Recyclers.

Sneakers/Tennis Shoes
Nike’s Reuse-a-Shoe program turns used athletic footwear (no cleats) into a material called Nike Grind, used to surface playgrounds, running tracks and outdoor courts. Or send your still-wearable athletic shoes to Shoe4Africa, which forwards them to athletes in developing countries.

Toys
Ask your local shelter for homeless families or battered women if they accept gently used toys. The Salvation Army and Vietnam Veterans of America also take used toys. Adult-appropriate items such as board games can be sent to troops overseas through www.AnySoldier.com

Wine Corks
Yemm & Hart, which produces recycled building materials, turns used corks into floor and wall tiles.

Motor Oil
Recycled motor oil can find new life as a lubricant or fuel. The American Petroleum Institute estimates the electricity created with just 2 gallons of reused motor oil would power the average home for nearly a day. Preserve used oil in a clean container with a secure, leakproof lid. You can recycle the used oil filter, too. Earth 911 has a list of motor oil recycling centers that’s searchable by ZIP code.

Prom, Bridesmaid and Formal Dresses
Charities like the Glass Slipper Project accepts donated gowns, shoes and purses to provide free prom wear to low-income teens. Another great resource is Donate My Dress, which is the first national network to bring together local dress drive organizations across the U.S. Books such as “Always a Bridesmaid: 89 Ways to Recycle That Bridesmaid Dress” offer tongue-in-cheek recycling advice to every woman who has a hideous gown buried at the back of her closet.

Eyeglasses, Frames and Cases
The Lions Club and Give the Gift of Sight Foundation collect used eyeglasses for needy people around the world. Donate your glasses at one of 17 Lions Clubs recycling centers, or at chains such as Pearle Vision Center, LensCrafters and Sunglass Hut.

Computers, Cell-Phones and Other E-Waste
The EPA maintains a list of charities that accept used electronic equipment. Staples, Office Depot and Best Buy offer in-store e-waste recycling — Best Buy also recycles used appliances. Dell, Toshiba and Sony lead the way in recycling computer products. Donate cell phones to organizations like The Wireless Foundation. Ship old videotapes and DVDs to Ecodisk or Greendisk.

Radio Shack Electronics Trade-In Program

Have electronics to trade-in? Use Radio Shack’s Trade-In Program!

You go online to http://www.radioshack.com/tradeandsave and indicate what items you wish to trade. Items must be in working condition. The site will determine the trade-in value of your items and create a pre-paid shipping label for you. You print off the shipping label, affix it to a box, pack your items and mail it to Radio Shack free of charge. When they receive it, they will mail you a Radio Shack gift card.

Electronics
Electronics improve the way we live, work and play. But, there’s one place where electronics should have no impact — the environment. Through responsible use, reuse and recycling of electronics, the consumer electronics industry and consumers can protect and preserve the environment — together. Many organizations offer free recycling of used electronics, so it’s easy to be green. Check out the following sites, which offer ways to sell or recycle your used electronics.

http://www.Gazelle.com
http://www.MyBoneyard.com

So, the good news is that you accomplished what you set out to do. You got organized. Congratulations!

This post is the first in a series of blog posts about staying the course and maintaining your organizing systems. So check back for more if you need reinforcements for a job well done!

Overcoming Lack of Motivation

What if you lack motivation to now maintain your organizing systems? You are not in the mood, are tired, sick of the constant flow of possessions and paper in your home, office and life? What to do?

You need to focus on the end result, which is always an improvement over the current state. Take brushing your teeth, for example. You sometimes need to just do it even when you are not in the mood, are rushed for time, or are tired. If you stop brushing your teeth, plaque will build up, causing gingivitis and eventually, your teeth will rot and fall out. Similarly, if you fail to maintain your organizing systems, clutter will build up, the systems will fail, you will become discouraged, and you will backslide. Then in order to get organized again, you will have to do double the work!

So, even if you lack motivation to maintain your organizing systems, remind yourself that maintenance is always easier than starting from scratch. Hopefully, the positive benefits you get from being organized will be more than enough to motivate you to maintain the systems. But if that’s not always enough of a motivator, the fear of backsliding can also be a powerful deterrent.

Discovery Studios, a division of Discovery Communications, Inc., is producing a new television series for TLC that examines the personal and family issues related to chronic disorganization and hoarding.  They are currently seeking people who have an interest in telling their story. One of the producers contacted me, and is interested in having me participate as an organizer on the show, provided I can find someone local (within reasonable driving distance of NYC metropolitan area) that will be a featured participant.

The series will explore various facets of hoarding through the personal stories of people who hoard and those who may live with a hoarder, along with insight from leading experts on this issue.  Situations can involve one, or multiple hoarders in the same family; people attempting to cope with a hoarding issue; or in more extreme cases, people who may be facing financial or marital distress due to hoarding.

The demographic that TLC is targeting is the person next door in middle class America. They would like to find middle-aged men & women, married or divorced, living with or without kids. Ideally, they are looking for interaction among people living together and how hoarding has affected their lives.

The goal of the series is to promote a better understanding of why people hoard, what steps can be taken to deal with the issue, and how a comprehensive exploration of this common problem can lead to positive change for the people involved. I understand the very personal, and sometimes embarrassing, nature of this issue.  The series promises to treat all program participants with respect and compassion. For those willing to participate, the show will offer assistance with finding licensed therapists, as well as professional organizers, who can offer support.

If you, or a family member, are a hoarder and are interested in being considered for the show (and you live in the NYC metropolitan area), please email me at as soon as possible, as filming starts in December 2009.  I will need photos of the inside and outside of your home, as well as a photo of yourself (and any family members living at home). Please also share a little bit about your “story” and what makes you a good choice for the show. If you are a good candidate for the show, I will forward your contact information to the producers for consideration. If you are chosen, then I will be assigned as your organizer for the show.

I look forward to working with you!

First, let me start by saying that, if it weren’t for my friend, Tracy, I probably would not even be a professional organizer, or at least, it would have taken longer to find the profession that is my true calling.  Tracy, demonstrating the intuitiveness that I have come to know is her classic style, guided me to the field of professional organizing in 1999.  I was living in Michigan at the time and working as a lawyer — the career I trained, studied, and prepared for most of my life, and which has never brought me real satisfaction — and expressed to Tracy that I wanted to do something more creative, hands-on, and that would directly help people.  My husband, Sean, whom I also must give credit to for helping guide me to professional organizing, used to tease that what I was really excellent at was planning lives.  Indeed, his slogan for my not-yet-created organizing and coaching business was “Montanaro, Inc. – We Plan Lives.”

Tracy was surfing the Web and discovered the National Association of Professional Organizers website,  as well as that of the local New York Chapter.  She forwarded the link to me by e-mail and basically said, “See, what you do is a ‘real’ profession!”  This was news to me.  I thought, “People pay to have their lives organized?  There are ‘professional organizers’ who do this type of work for a living? Amazing. And awesome!”  I then spent a lot of time researching the profession, as well as brainstorming how and when I could “legitimize” my organizing skills by launching a business. 

It wasn’t until the year 2000 when I relocated back to New York where my husband and I are originally from, that I seriously explored the organizing world as a profession.  I attended a one-day conference sponsored by NAPO-NY, “Putting the ‘Professional’ Into Professional Organizing.”   It was there that I learned what is involved in running an organizing business and what sets a professional organizer apart from someone who merely likes to organize.  I realized that I have been organizing people’s lives on an “amateur” level my whole life, and that my organizing and coaching skills transcended my work as a lawyer, educator, mediator, administrator, writer, public speaker, and performer.  Becoming more excited at the prospect of launching a business as a professional organizer, I decided to “practice” on Tracy, one of my closest friends. 

Tracy and I met through our high school chorus, and were co-stars of our high school musical.  Our friendship blossomed over the years through college, graduate school, relocation, and marriage.  We always supported each other and considered the other a nice combination of a guardian angel and a tough cookie; hence, our nicknames for each other — Thelma (Tracy) and Louise (Lisa).  I had been providing organizing and coaching services for Tracy for years: assisting her with writing letters to creditors, planning her vacations, reviewing her resume and cover letters, preparing her for job interviews, etc.  It seemed only natural to start my career as a professional organizer with my number one consistent informal client, my disorganized, but brilliant and wonderful, friend.

Interestingly, some people thought this was not such a great idea.  “Don’t mix business with pleasure,” is the old adage.  “You don’t want to spoil the friendship if something goes wrong,” people warned.  As a lawyer, I often referred friends and family to other lawyers when asked to assist, often because the area of law was one that I did not practice in but, sometimes, because I did not want to mix business with pleasure.  Yet, I felt entirely comfortable doing organizing work for Tracy.  “Well, she IS one of your best friends, and you had been doing organizing work with her all along,” you may be thinking.  This is true, although the work I had been doing for Tracy all along was never part of an official professional endeavor.  No, the reason I chose to do organizing work for Tracy was because it just felt natural.  Not just natural; more like it was what I was supposed to be doing.

So we started.  My first task was to plan her wedding and honeymoon in 2001.  Success.  We then moved onto organizing some of the rooms of the newlyweds’ apartment.  Done.  In 2002-2003, I assisted Tracy and her husband Mike with the first-time home buying process.  Voila — they now live only a few miles from my husband and I in the beautiful Hudson River Valley of NY.  Over the years, I have repeatedly provided organizing assistance to Tracy.  We have delved into time management, space planning, bill paying systems, paper management , and organized the master bedroom, master bathroom and home office.

Tracy is an extremely intelligent, self-aware woman who has made great strides when it comes to organizing, and benefits greatly from working with an organizer.  You may be wondering why she needed an organizer in the first place if she is so smart.  It is a common misconception that an intelligent individual who has it “together” does not need an organizer, and would not benefit from professional organizing assistance.  My clients are intelligent individuals that excel at many skills and have many talents.  However, they need assistance with organizing.  Organizing is a skill, but it is not taught in schools (a fact that NAPO is trying to change – check out NAPO in the Schools on the NAPO site).  My clients may not have had the benefit of a parent, teacher, mentor, work colleague, or friend that could serve as a role model with regard to organizing skills.  Some of my clients are organized at home, but not at work, or visa versa.  Some are organized physically, but their time management skills are lacking.  In other words, there is no standard disorganized person profile.  My clients all have their own strengths and weaknesses, and that is why good organizing means tailoring the system to match the needs of the client.  

Due to her background and intelligence, I knew one way to reach Tracy was by helping her to examine the psychological side of being disorganized.  She is an avid reader (as well as one hell of an editor, proofreader and writer — check out her blog!) and has digested a plethora of organizing books.  She approaches each book as a true researcher, going deep into the topic, highlighting the pages, and marking them up with notes in the margins.  She then discusses them with me, giving me the important client-focused perspective.  She is convinced that her lifetime of struggling with organizing her time, space, paper and possession stems from having ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder).  Her light bulb moment has brought her a sense of clarity and understanding, as well as a renewed sense of hope that she can overcome these obstacles with the proper coping mechanisms and systems in place.  Furthermore, she is planning to write a book to share her story so that others can benefit from her knowledge and experiences with ADD and disorganization. Meanwhile, she chronicles her journey in a wonderful blog called Everloving Mess.

Indeed, that is what I have gained from this relationship.  While many outsiders may only see the benefit Tracy has received from being the guinea pig that I practiced on early on in my organizing career, I have truly benefited too.  I have been able to follow her struggles, research, revelation, and education process, while honing my skills and developing my unique approach to organizing systems.  This organizer-client relationship with a close friend proves that you can mix business with pleasure and not only have the friendship survive despite the business relationship, but improve the friendship and business because of it.

Whether you are a hoarder, have hoarding tendencies, or are just cluttered, I recommend you watch an episode of the new show, Hoarders, on A&E.  

New episodes air on Monday evenings at 10 p.m., while repeat episodes air on weekend afternoons. Each episode features two separate hoarders, and gives them assistance via a professional organizer or a therapist that specializes in hoarding. The show provides an up close and personal snapshot into the world of hoarding — a world that has remained very much unseen and off limits to the general public in the past. 

The most famous example of hoarding is the Collyer brothers.  In fact, the brothers compulsive hoarding was so extreme that there is a syndrome named after them, ‘Collyer brothers syndrome,’ a fear of throwing anything away. The brothers were found dead in 1947 in their Harlem brownstone where they had lived as hermits, surrounded by over 130 tons of clutter that they had collected over several decades. Their clutter included newspapers, books, furniture, musical instruments, and many other items, with booby traps set up to protect against intruders. Experts  surmised that the brothers accidentally fell into their own booby traps, got trapped, and died. A very tragic example of what compulsive hoarding can do.

You will see this type of extreme hoarding on Hoarders. It can be very unsettling, and you may feel voyeuristic at times (I do not recommend watching this show while eating by the way!). Yes, it is reality TV and some of you may not be into that genre. But I still think you can benefit from watching. Here’s why.

You will hopefully come away with a better understanding of the extreme grip clutter can have on a person, and the effect of all of that clutter on his or her quality of life, space, health, and relationships. You may recognize yourself, realize that you are indeed a hoarder, and decide to get help (visit the National Study Group on Chronic Disorganization). Or you may realize that someone you know is a hoarder and encourage him or her to get help.  At the very least, you will probably feel much better about yourself and your efforts to get organized and live a less cluttered life.