Creating an Organized Home for Your Prized Possessions

“Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add,
but when there is nothing left to take away.”

~ Antoine de Saint-Exupery

When conducting an organizing presentation or teleclass, I often mention the idea of creating a Memory Box for each family member.  Many participants share that the Memory Box tip is their favorite, and one they cannot wait to act on. (See, for example, this blog post by June Bisel of BusinessCardContacts.com).

A Memory Box is a container in which each family member can store his or her most treasured possessions. The size should be big enough to fit the prized possessions, but small enough to grab and carry out of the house, in case of an emergency. The actual container can be a no-nonsense functional type, like a plastic bin, or it can be a lovely decorated stylish box, bin, or basket. My personal Memory Box is an old trunk that has handles on the side to carry it in the event of an emergency evacuation.

The location for storing the Memory Box is also a personal decision. Often, because of the confidential or personal nature of the items in the box, it makes the most sense to store each person’s Memory Box in his or her room, at the top or bottom of a closet, under the bed, etc. But some choose to store all of the Memory Boxes for the family in a basement or attic, so that they do not take up precious space in the living areas of the home, and can be grabbed easily in one fell swoop if need be.

I would not recommend storing vital documents such as your will, birth certificate, etc. in the Memory Box. Those items should either be stored in a safe deposit box at the bank, or at home in a fire resistant box (remember, there is no such thing as a fireproof box for the home!). Some people store their vital documents in a regular file folder in their filing cabinet, and keep copies (or the originals) in a separate location. In the event that an emergency causes a very quick evacuation, the people and pets go out first, followed by the vital documents, and then the Memory Boxes.

What goes in a Memory Box? Well, that is up to you, of course. But here are some ideas.

  • Start a Memory Box for your children’s prized artwork, sentimental childhood possessions, schoolwork, etc.  They can decide, with you, what goes in it.  You can have a master Memory Box, and one for the current school year.  At the end of the school year, your child, with your help, can revisit the year, purging any items that are not vital enough to go in the master Memory Box.
  • If you have a few sentimental favorite articles of clothing that you just can’t part with, but don’t wear, store them in your Memory Box.
  • Want to revisit your love life? Store old love letters, poems, your corsage or boutonniere from your high school prom, a playbill from the first date with your spouse, etc.
  • If you plan to store documents or photographs in your Memory Box, consider getting an archival quality document or photo box to insert the paper and photos in, and then store the document or photo box inside the larger Memory Box. This will ensure paper and photos do not get destroyed over time.
  • If an item is much too large to fit into the Memory Box, and you can bear to part with it, take a photo of the item, and store the photo with a description of the item in the box. This works well for items that you are merely keeping out of obligation. For example, that hideous painting your aunt made for you that you will never hang up! Take a photo, write a note saying, “Aunt Gertrude meant well” and donate the painting to someone who will appreciate its unrecognized beauty.

People are often surprised to hear that I have a Memory Box. “You, a professional organizer?” Yes! Organizing is about decluttering your life of the stuff that does not serve your goals, and letting the cream rise to the top. It is about giving your favorite possessions a place of value in your home and life. My personal Memory Box includes select sentimental items, including my handwritten journals, my baton (yes, I was a baton twirler – don’t laugh!), my middle school graduation dress (loved it!), love letters from my husband from before we were married, letters and cards from friends and family members that are precious to me, and poems that I wrote growing up.

Ms. Bisel shares that her new Memory Box will contain her kid’s baby books, drawings from elementary school, some treasured photos, and other memories from her kids’ childhood. She says that her kids love looking through the stuff, and it would be great to have it all in one place. Before she attended my workshop, the items were scattered around the house, and now they will be stored conveniently together, in a place of distinction.

So, what’s in your Memory Box?

Copyright © 2009 Lisa Montanaro of LM Organizing Solutions, LLC.

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You can, as long as you use this complete statement:

Copyright 2009. Lisa Montanaro is a Productivity Consultant, Success Coach, Business Strategist, Speaker and Author who helps people live successful and passionate lives, and operate productive and profitable businesses. Lisa publishes the monthly “DECIDE® to be Organized” e-zine for success-minded individuals, and “Next Level Business Success” e-zine for entrepreneurs. Subscribe today at www.LMOrganizingSolutions.com. Lisa is the author of The Ultimate Life Organizer: An Interactive Guide to a Simpler, Less Stressful & More Organized Life, published by Peter Pauper Press. Lisa also publishes the DECIDE® to be Organized blog at www.DecideToBeOrganized.com. Through her work, Lisa helps people deal with the issues that block personal and professional change and growth. To explore how Lisa can help take your business to the next level, contact Lisa at (845) 988-0183 or by e-mail at Lisa@LMOrganizingSolutions.com.

I have worked with many clients over the years to organize after the loss of a loved one. Living in the greater NY metropolitan area, I helped many 9-11 widows and widowers organize after losing a loved one in the World Trade Center terrorist attacks. It is an emotionally draining process. My best advice is to take it slow and go at your own pace. After the death of a loved one, some people are tempted to sift through belongings and make decisions quickly. If this feels natural to you, fine (consider checking with a grief counselor before moving too quickly through the process). But most people need more time after a loss to organize a loved one’s possessions. So give yourself permission to grieve first, heal, and then organize later.

Some clients only needed a few months, while others waited years until they took on the task of organizing their loved one’s possessions. Indeed, some clients only took on the project due to necessity – moving, selling a house, clearing room for new family member to move in, etc. If you aren’t ready to handle the project but you must do so by necessity, then you may need to temporarily box up your loved one’s possessions. Label the boxes so that you know what the contents are, which will make it easier for when you are ready to sort them at a later date.

Although many organizing projects can be done alone, some people find it helpful to sort through a loved one’s belongings after a loss with another person – a family member, close friend, or professional organizer. I also recommend doing the project in stages, as it can be emotionally demanding as well as physical. Be careful not to make decisions too quickly and be sure to check in with other family members who may consider some belongings special that you are considering letting go of. You may want to sort into categories based on family members, friends, donations to charity, antique appraiser/estate sale (for valuable pieces that you are not keeping), archive/storage, etc.

I often tell my clients to choose items that embody the person’s spirit, remind you of details of his or her personality, or that carry special memories. There is no magic number of how many items to keep, but remember that sometimes less is more. You don’t want to be smothered by items that you don’t have room for, or that will drudge up painful memories. You want to be able to enjoy the selected items and let them serve as reminders of your loved one’s well-lived life. But don’t lose sight of the fact that our greatest treasures our the actual memories, not the “things” themselves.

Sadly, I recently lost my mother to pancreatic cancer. Many family members and friends assumed that I would quickly go in and sort my mother’s belongings due to the fact that I am a professional organizer by trade. But I recognize that I need time to process this profound loss, grieve, and heal before I can take on the task of going through her possessions. The only items that I am taking quick action on are the medications and medical supplies so that I can donate them before they expire and someone else can benefit from their use. I plan to take my time with the process, include family members, honor the possessions, and select items to keep and cherish. That way, my mother will always be with me.

Wishing you warmth and strength if you are organizing after a loss. Be kind to yourself.

Copyright © 2010 Lisa Montanaro of LM Organizing Solutions, LLC.

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You can, as long as you use this complete statement:

Copyright 2010. Lisa Montanaro is a Productivity Consultant, Success Coach, Business Strategist, Speaker and Author who helps people live successful and passionate lives, and operate productive and profitable businesses. Lisa publishes the monthly “DECIDE® to be Organized” e-zine for success-minded individuals, and “Next Level Business Success” e-zine for entrepreneurs. Subscribe today at www.LMOrganizingSolutions.com. Lisa is the author of The Ultimate Life Organizer: An Interactive Guide to a Simpler, Less Stressful & More Organized Life, published by Peter Pauper Press. Lisa also publishes the DECIDE® to be Organized blog at www.DecideToBeOrganized.com. Through her work, Lisa helps people deal with the issues that block personal and professional change and growth. To explore how Lisa can help take your business to the next level, contact Lisa at (845) 988-0183 or by e-mail at Lisa@LMOrganizingSolutions.com.

As you start the organizing journey, you may suffer from what I like to call, Temporary Organizing Paralysis. This is when you start organizing, freeze up, stare at all of the stuff and think, “Where do I begin?” “What am I going to do with all of this stuff?”

Realize that it will get worse before it gets better if you are in the middle of an organizing project. The stuff will be out of the drawers, files, closets, etc. Come up with a staging area to sort the stuff, so it is not in the way! That will help keep your stress level down. Also, identify early on who and where to donate items: friends and family, thrift shops, places of worship, domestic violence shelters, homeless shelters, etc. There are many willing homes for used stuff. Adopting a charity or a needy family makes getting rid of your clutter a whole lot easier.

Often, there is a domino effect of being disorganized. You may need to start somewhere else in order to clear space first before you can work on a particular organizing project. For example, let’s say you have paper all over your dining room table (a common clutter catcher spot!). You would think of starting on the dining room table. But the real problem is your home office. You haven’t cleared out the paper bins and filing drawers in so long that you can’t bring any new paper into that room. Thus, you started piling it on the table. Therefore, you need to start in the home office, clear clutter, make room, and then move to the dining room table. So, give some thought to the order of your organizing projects and how one may affect another. Of course, if you desperately need or want your dining room table back before your home office is organized, you can temporarily box up the papers on the table and move them to a staging area and work there while getting organized. If you have the space to create “organizing central,” then go ahead and do it. Get some boxes, bins, a folding table, and go to town!

In order to stay motivated while organizing, post your list of goals in a conspicuous place, especially if you are a visual person. Before and after photos also help many people get and stay motivated. Consider playing some upbeat music to keep you alert, or relaxing music if you are easily distracted. If you dread organizing alone, work with your spouse or a friend, involve your kids, or go pro and hire a professional organizer. And, don’t forget to reward yourself along the way as you would with any other behavior modification program. Getting organized is about making progress, not achieving perfection. Don’t be daunted by the prospect of getting organized. Just take it one step at a time. You’ll have more chance of success if you break the overall project into manageable tasks, tackling a little bit at a time. The key is to get started and stay focused. You can do it!

Copyright © 2010 Lisa Montanaro of LM Organizing Solutions, LLC.

Want to Use This Article in Your E-zine or Website?

You can, as long as you use this complete statement:

Copyright 2010. Lisa Montanaro, “The Solutions Expert,” is Principal of LM Organizing Solutions, LLC, a professional services firm created in 2002 that offers professional organizing, business and life coaching, and motivational speaking to individuals and organizations. Lisa publishes the monthly “DECIDE® to be Organized” e-zine for the general public, and “Next Level Business Success” e-zine for professional organizers and entrepreneurs. Subscribe today at www.LMOrganizingSolutions.com.  Lisa also publishes the DECIDE® to be Organized blog at www.DecideToBeOrganized.com. Through LMOS, Lisa helps people deal with the issues that block personal and professional change and growth. To explore how LMOS can improve your home or work environment, or help take your business to the next level, contact Lisa at (845) 988-0183 or by e-mail at Lisa@LMOrganizingSolutions.com.

I coined an interesting phrase recently when I was facilitating one of the teleclasses for my group coaching program, DECIDE to be Organized. I was speaking to the group about how so many high functioning, busy, successful men and women have all of these passions and get overwhelmed with trying to decide which to do and which to implement. I referred to the act of managing all of those passions as “Passion Management” (instead of Time Management, Project Management or Energy Management). Everyone loved the phrase and I realized I was onto something.

Passion Management acknowledges that we do, indeed, have multiple passions. I, for one, always refer to myself as a multi-passionate entrepreneur and person. Also, Passion Management is a much more positive way of describing our dilemma of what to do with all of these great ideas. Time management and project management are terms that are not only overused but, unfortunately, can be a negative reminder of our lack of time, as opposed to a motivating factor that leads to productivity.

Passion Management is the ability to manage all of the passions you want to tackle in business and life. Here are some tips to help guide your Passion Management.

Pick a Passion

Most multi-passionate people are swimming in a sea of great ideas, and often have the drive to make them happen. The conundrum is which passion to pursue. My advice — pick a passion and go for it! Author and life coach Cheryl Richardson talked about this when I heard her speak in NYC years ago. She said that so many of her clients get stuck because they have so many great ideas and passions, but don’t know which to pursue. So they wind up pursuing… yup, you guessed it — nothing. Don’t fall v ictim to passion confusion! It is better to pick a passion and allow it to blossom and flourish than to be trapped under a mountain of too many great ideas. If you pick a passion and it does not go well or does not take off the way you wanted it to, that’s okay. Regroup, learn from your passion exercise, and pick a new one.

Tap Into Your Passion

One of the best ways to determine what you should (and want to) focus on is to tap into your passion. Sometimes we lose focus with our business or personal projects and we need to take the time to remind ourselves what we value and why we are staying the course. It is all too easy to get bogged down in details and tasks. Try to ask yourself, “Why am I really doing this project?” and see if there is a reason that relates back to one of your passions, whether perso nal or professional. For example, maybe you are feeling the crunch of trying to blog several times a week. Ask yourself why you set this schedule and whether it taps into one of your passions. If your passion is to write, then write! Do you need to stay on a particular schedule? Will anyone, but you, notice if you only write when your passion strikes? Sometimes we set ourselves up for failure, or more likely, undue stress, when we remain too regimented. Yes, I am a professional organizer and see the value in systems, processes, and timelines, trust me. But it is vital to check in and ask yourself: “Is this tapping into my passion?” If so, it will help propel you forward and remind you why you are doing this particular task or project. If you realize this task or project does not tap into any of your passions, you may decide to abandon the project, delegate the task, or reevaluate whether you want and need to continue it.

Ignore the Naysayers

Often, you are making actual progress towards achieving your passions, but someone tries to sabotage you. Try not to let this derail your efforts! You need to stay the course, despite what they say. If you are truly passionate about the project, you will be able to withstand attacks. The famous life coach Martha Beck talks about surrounding yourself with people who can be your “believing eyes.” I love this idea! Adopt it and use it as your own. Stay away from the Negative Nellies, and surround yourself with people who believe in your passionate goals and will help you achieve them. Passion is contagious and can not only serve as strong motivation for you, but as inspiration for others. People notice passion. In fact, in my opinion, people often notice passion more than they notice productivity!

Celebrate Your Passion Successes

When we take on a project or task and successfully complete it, we often reward ourself at the c ompletion. But when we pursue a passion, we may not have any reward system built in. In some situations, it is hard to determine when we have “completed” a passion. Passions are often ongoing. They can be a particular way of approaching a topic, or a passion can be a mindset or belief. But it is important to come up with some way of rewarding your successes and milestones when pursuing your passions. Figure out ways to evaluate whether you have achieved a certain level of success for a particular passion. The more successful you feel at each step, the more apt you are to keep moving on the path towards achieving your passion goals. And most passionate people just want to keep the passion going! Copyright © 2011 Lisa Montanaro of LM Organizing Solutions, LLC.

Want to Use This Article in Your E-zine or Website?

You can, as long as you use this complete statement:

Copyright 2011. Lisa Montanaro, “The Solutions Expert,” is Principal of LM Organizing Solutions, LLC, a professional services firm created in 2002 that offers professional organizing, business and life coaching, and motivational speaking to individuals and organizations. Lisa publishes the monthly “DECIDE® to be Organized” e-zine for the general public, and “Next Level Business Success” e-zine for professional organizers and entrepreneurs. Subscribe today at www.LMOrganizingSolutions.com.  Lisa also publishes the DECIDE® to be Organized blog at www.DecideToBeOrganized.com. Through LMOS, Lisa helps people deal with the issues that block personal and professional change and growth. To explore how LMOS can improve your home or work environment, or help take your business to the next level, contact Lisa at (845) 988-0183 or by e-mail at Lisa@LMOrganizingSolutions.com.

Professional Organizer + Disorganized Friend = Valuable Lessons

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 (www.NAPO.net),  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!) 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.

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.

Copyright 2009 © Lisa Montanaro of LM Organizing Solutions, LLC.

Want to Use This Article in Your E-zine or Website?

You can, as long as you use this complete statement:

Copyright 2009. Lisa Montanaro is a Productivity Consultant, Success Coach, Business Strategist, Speaker and Author who helps people live successful and passionate lives, and operate productive and profitable businesses. Lisa publishes the monthly “DECIDE® to be Organized” e-zine for success-minded individuals, and “Next Level Business Success” e-zine for entrepreneurs. Subscribe today at www.LMOrganizingSolutions.com. Lisa is the author of The Ultimate Life Organizer: An Interactive Guide to a Simpler, Less Stressful & More Organized Life, published by Peter Pauper Press. Lisa also publishes the DECIDE® to be Organized blog at www.DecideToBeOrganized.com. Through her work, Lisa helps people deal with the issues that block personal and professional change and growth. To explore how Lisa can help take your business to the next level, contact Lisa at (845) 988-0183 or by e-mail at Lisa@LMOrganizingSolutions.com.

It is difficult enough for one person to be organized and maintain that state of organization on a daily basis. Now imagine being thrust into a living situation with a person you have never met before, who is not a relative or even a friend. A person with different sleeping, grooming, eating, and studying habits, who may be from a different background or culture, and who has a different schedule and interests to boot. Enter the college roommate. When described in the abstract, the college roommate situation reads like a recipe for disaster. Yet, thousands of college students manage to live successfully and harmoniously every year with a roommate who, just days before the beginning of the semester, they had no contact with. Often times, this exercise in living is a wonderful entrance into the “real world” for college students and can serve as an example of the importance of compromise and flexibility that will serve the student in years to come.

Two such young women decided to work with a professional organizer and life coach, hoping to not only improve their living situation, but their overall lives and habits as well. Let their experience serve as an inspiration to all roommates, college or otherwise, who find themselves living in close quarters with a person they’ve never shared a space with before.

Meet Marta and Maria: So Alike and Yet So Different

Marta Anderson-Winchell and Maria Boere found out they were each other’s roommates about one week prior to heading to college. They had never met before.  In many respects, Marta and Maria have a lot in common. Both entered Pace University in September 2003 as freshman and reside on the Briarcliff, New York campus, in the suburbs of New York City. Both attend Pace on a soccer scholarship, are interested in pursuing a career in human services, maintain good grades, and consider themselves family oriented. Yet, there are many differences between the two young women. Marta not only plays soccer for Pace, but also basketball, which forces her to engage in some serious time management. Marta’s family lives within an hour’s drive from campus, which means being able to head home every two weeks to do laundry. Maria isn’t so lucky, as her family resides in Nashville, Tennessee. Maria shared a room back home with her older sister, while Marta never had to share her space before. Although in the same year of college, they are almost an entire year apart. Most importantly, however, is the fact that the two have very different habits when it comes to organizing and maintaining their space and lives.

When I first visited Marta and Maria, I was struck by how small their dorm room is, but isn’t that par for the course in college? What separates organizing a college dorm room from a traditional house bedroom is that the college dorm room must function as a lot more than just a place to sleep. If you split the dorm room into zones, you realize how multi-functional the space must be. There is the sleeping zone (bed and dresser), the dressing zone (armoire style closets), the food zone (mini-refrigerator and dry food storage), the studying zone (desk and bookshelf), and the hanging out zone (television and chair). That is an awful lot of stuff to cram into one space, but then you also need to double almost everything in order to accommodate two people. It’s no wonder college students are often disorganized – there’s too much stuff in one little space!

Maria is a self-professed procrastinator. She likes things clean but let’s the chores go until she cannot stand it anymore (sound familiar, all you procrastinators out there?). In fact, she will let her laundry pile up until she runs out of undies (if she runs out of clothing such as sweatshirts, however, she often steals Marta’s!). She admits that this stresses her out and she’d like to “change her ways.” Marta does more of the general straightening of the room on a daily basis, while Maria actually does more of the cleaning, such as sweeping and mopping the floors. Neither really likes to or has time to cook, so they usually eat in the cafeteria, but they do keep some food staples in their room (although not near the fridge, but we’ll get to that later).

Doing Better Than They Think But There Is Room For Improvement…

So how are they doing? Not bad. Not bad at all. For two people who have never lived together before, Marta and Maria have managed to figure out a way to make it work. Instead of working against each other’s weaknesses, they compensate for each other. Heck, some married couples could learn from these two! But before we give them a freshman-student-living-together-harmoniously-award, let’s focus on what can be improved.

The actual room set up and design is working. However, Marta and Maria have a huge bean bag chair in the middle of their room. When asked if either ever really sit on it, the answer is once in awhile. Do guests sit on it? Sometimes. How often do they have guests? Not that often. Thus, we discussed storing the chair under Maria’s bed where there was adequate space. That would give a sense of openness to the small room. When guests drop by, they can just take beanie out from under the bed. Interestingly, once we discussed moving the bean bag chair from its precious center room location, the two confided during a later visit that they have been using it more often! Sometimes, when faced with the prospect of purging or relocating an item, a person realizes its value and begins to appreciate it and use it. At least now, however, when it is not being used, it has a “home” to go to that is a bit more out of the way.

Another design flaw of the room organization is that the dry food and cooking supplies are stored on the sole shelving unit across the room from the small fridge. I recommended moving the food and cooking supplies to an open area next to the fridge, which is now unused space. It is a narrow space but there is a lot of room vertically. Often times, vertical space is sorely underutilized and can provide the answer to a storage problem.  So we used a narrow, but tall, clear plastic drawer unit with 5 smaller drawers on top, and 2 deep drawers on the bottom. All of the food easily fit in, as well as the few cooking supplies. Now, they have an actual “food zone.” An additional advantage to this reorganization is that it freed up the shelves where the food used to be for storing things like videos, CDs, photo albums, and their toiletry carts (the bathrooms are down the hall, which means carrying toiletries back and forth). We stored those items in pretty open wicker baskets of varying sizes with removable cotton muslin lining for ease of cleaning. The design provides easy access as the baskets are open, and add charm to the space. We used a matching, but smaller, wicker basket to store extra videos that they watch more frequently on top of the television.

The clothes inside their small armoire closets are pretty well organized. However, their shoes are actually on top of their armoires. They claim they can easily see and reach the shoes up there, and they do not want them in the bottom of the closets so the shoes can air out properly after use (remember we are talking athletes here…). One thing organizers know to do is to work “with” the client, so we left the shoes up there as the system works for them.

As for Maria and her laundry, I recommended setting aside one night per week after soccer practice as “laundry night”. Using positive association, I offered up Thursday night as she can put in her laundry before Friends begins, watch the half hour episode, and then switch the clothes to the dryer. She can then take an hour or so to check and reply to e-mail, and then fold the clothes while listening to she and Marta’s favorite radio show, the Delilah show (which they bonded over when they first moved in together and realized they were both huge fans) while winding down before bed. Using positive association will help Maria not dread laundry, but instead think of it in association with fun television shows, e-mailing friends and family, and winding down with music and perhaps a chat with Marta. Having her laundry done every week will also avoid the pile up that stresses her out and causes her to run out of clothing. She gave this a try and said it did help somewhat. I reminded her that it takes time to make new habits, so she plans to keep at it. I have no doubt she will improve her laundry situation as she is motivated to change this behavior, despite her tendencies towards procrastination.

What Does the Future Hold?

Marta and Maria plan to continue living together as roommates in their sophomore year. They already heard that they are moving to a different dorm. Their actual room will be smaller (yikes!), but it will be part of a suite with another room for two other students, and a common living room and bathroom for all four to share. I have no doubt that they will make the smaller space work, and I plan to check in on them to see whether they have been able to maintain the organized systems we put in place. And when I do, I imagine they will whip out the bean bag chair from under the bed for me to sit on. After all, I may be their professional organizer, but I am also their guest.

This article originally appeared in Balance magazine in 2003.
Copyright © 2003 Lisa Montanaro of LM Organizing Solutions, LLC.

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Copyright 2003. Lisa Montanaro is a Productivity Consultant, Success Coach, Business Strategist, Speaker and Author who helps people live successful and passionate lives, and operate productive and profitable businesses. Lisa publishes the monthly “DECIDE® to be Organized” e-zine for success-minded individuals, and “Next Level Business Success” e-zine for entrepreneurs. Subscribe today at www.LMOrganizingSolutions.com. Lisa is the author of The Ultimate Life Organizer: An Interactive Guide to a Simpler, Less Stressful & More Organized Life, published by Peter Pauper Press. Lisa also publishes the DECIDE® to be Organized blog at www.DecideToBeOrganized.com. Through her work, Lisa helps people deal with the issues that block personal and professional change and growth. To explore how Lisa can help take your business to the next level, contact Lisa at (845) 988-0183 or by e-mail at Lisa@LMOrganizingSolutions.com.

While “green” and organizing may sound unrelated, promoting green consciousness is a natural extension of the organizing process.  Professional organizers enter homes and businesses on a regular basis, and armed with proper knowledge, a professional organizer can assist clients in becoming more Earth-friendly.  As the Chair of my Town’s Earth Day Clean Sweep for the past five years, I am well aware of the importance of reducing and recycling, and relish the opportunity to influence clients and the general public in this regard.

What can you do to get better organized in a “green-friendly” way?  Here are some tips.

  • Think Before You Buy – Try to transform your buying habits so that you are not accumulating too many items in the first place.  Most of the environmental damage is done in the manufacturing stage, so the less consumerism, the better.  According to the Environmental Protection Agency, Americans produced 254.1 million tons of household trash in the year 2007 alone.  In 2008, however, as a result of the economic recession and the resulting decrease in disposable incomes, landfills reported a 30% decline in waste levels.
  • Pay bills Online – According to Javelin Strategy & Research, 53% of Americans currently use online banking services, rising to an estimated 67% by 2012.  The report also estimates that Americans could prevent the logging of 16.5 million trees every year if all Americans switched from paper bills to Internet banking.
  • Repurpose and Reuse – Consider repurposing or reusing existing items in creative ways to avoid buying more and to give new life to forgotten items that are just taking up space.
  • Recycle – Throughout the sorting, purging, and organizing process, think of the benefits of recycling.  Often times, a person is unaware of the recycling guidelines in his or her particular area, or whether a particular item can be recycled at all.  For a list of lesser-known recycling programs, visit the Donation and Recycling Resources page of my website at https://www.lisamontanaro.com/donations.html.  Get educated so you can stop adding to landfills and recycle more.  Consider setting up an organized recycling center in your home or business to make it as easy as possible to recycle.
  • Donate – Remember, recycling includes donating items that you no longer love, need, or use often to those who could truly put those items to good use.  Adopt a charity, or even a particular family to donate to (check out www.TangibleKarma.com).  If you just want to unload items for free, consider giving them away on Freecycle (www.Freecycle.org).

Think “green” when organizing.  You will not only be able to reduce your clutter and find things more easily, you will be helping the Earth in the process.

Copyright © 2009 Lisa Montanaro of LM Organizing Solutions, LLC.

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You can, as long as you use this complete statement:

Copyright 2009. Lisa Montanaro is a Productivity Consultant, Success Coach, Business Strategist, Speaker and Author who helps people live successful and passionate lives, and operate productive and profitable businesses. Lisa publishes the monthly “DECIDE® to be Organized” e-zine for success-minded individuals, and “Next Level Business Success” e-zine for entrepreneurs. Subscribe today at www.LMOrganizingSolutions.com. Lisa is the author of The Ultimate Life Organizer: An Interactive Guide to a Simpler, Less Stressful & More Organized Life, published by Peter Pauper Press. Lisa also publishes the DECIDE® to be Organized blog at www.DecideToBeOrganized.com. Through her work, Lisa helps people deal with the issues that block personal and professional change and growth. To explore how Lisa can help take your business to the next level, contact Lisa at (845) 988-0183 or by e-mail at Lisa@LMOrganizingSolutions.com.

Spring marks the transition from winter into summer. It is a time that most of us equate with renewal, increasing day length, and a symbolic changing of the seasons. Spring is seen as a time of growth, when new life (both plant and animal) are born. The term is also used more generally as a metaphor for the start of better times. For many, it is also a time for cleaning and organizing – i.e., the Spring Fling!

During the winter, we tend to stockpile. It is in our nature. Chances are you’ve got some clutter left over at work, at home, in your car, on your computer, and in your head. This is an ideal time to do some eliminating. The old adage, “Out with the old, in with the new” definitely applies this season. To help you with your Spring Fling, the following are some tips for clearing the clutter.

    • Purge Your Paper Inbox – When is the last time you’ve seen the bottom of your paper inbox at work and at home? Make it a goal this spring. Develop a paper management system to try to keep it that way.
    • Eliminate Email Clutter – Schedule some time to clear your email inbox. Delete unnecessary emails, capture contact information, delegate tasks that can be done by someone else, send those “replies” finally, and set up filters and folders to avoid back-log in the future. Once you get your email inbox down to one page (where you can see all emails without having to scroll down), try to maintain it.
    • Go on a Calendar Diet – Take a look at your busy calendar and try to clear 2-3 social or work obligations that you said “yes” to that you now realize you should not have. We all do it (yes, even the professional organizer/time management expert!). Time is limited and precious, so think carefully about what you want to fill it with.
    • Switch Clothes– If you have not already done so, this is the perfect time to switch your clothes from the cold weather items to the warm weather ones. Make 4 categories:
      1. Purge (damaged clothes)
      2. Donate (clothes that do not fit, you do not like, or that are out of style, but can be worn by those in need)
      3. Keep (clothes that fit, that you love and wear often)
      4. Dry Cleaning/Tailoring (clothes that need to be professionally dry cleaned or mended).
    • Retire the Christmas Decorations – You think I am kidding on this one. I am not. You know who you are. If the Christmas decorations are still up outside or inside your home, it is high time you put them away. Go do it, now. Your neighbors will thank you.
    • Take Care of Your Taxes – Yes, the official tax-filing deadline for personal income taxes is April 15th. However, many people take an extension, which means they will be filing this summer. Stop procrastinating! Gather the documents to get those taxes done. And for those of you that already filed, purge old tax records that no longer need to be saved (check with your accountant, but generally, the average person needs to maintain 7 years of tax records in case of an audit claiming fraud). Don’t forget to shred!
    • Declutter the Car – You will be passing many car washes held by various charities this time of year. You’d like to get your car cleaned, but you don’t want anyone to see the inside! Sound familiar? Clear that car clutter. Empty out the garbage that has accumulated, bring in items that you purchased that are sitting in bags in the trunk, and return all sorts of “stuff” to its place in the home or office that found its way into your car. Ah, now go get that car wash or, better yet, treat yourself to a full car detailing.
    • Organize Outlying Areas – Clear clutter in the garage and shed so that you can find the things you need this spring and summer. Take out the patio furniture and grill, dust off the bikes, and put away the snow blower. If you can’t reach the lawnmower, chances are you will not use it as much. You may have put the Christmas decorations away, but with that jungle you call a yard, your neighbors will still not like you very much.
    • Mend the Medicine Cabinet – Clear out any winter medications that you stockpiled, such as cough medicine and cough drops that have expired. Ditto for prescription medications that have expired. Buy yourself some new sunscreen, as that also has a limited shelf life.
    • Makeup Makeover – Makeup attracts bacteria. Therefore, purge any makeup that is “old.” While there is no exact life span for makeup, if you haven’t used it in a year, it is time to go. For more exacting makeup safety guidelines, visit http://tinyurl.com/punhg9.
  • Overhaul Your Toothbrush – You should replace your toothbrush every 3 months. Period. Get a new one. It feels great!

There you have it — the Spring Fling checklist. Take your time, and work through it. I guarantee you will feel a sense of renewal, while clearing the way for a productive and pleasant summer season.

Copyright © 2009 Lisa Montanaro of LM Organizing Solutions, LLC.

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You can, as long as you use this complete statement:

Copyright 2009. Lisa Montanaro is a Productivity Consultant, Success Coach, Business Strategist, Speaker and Author who helps people live successful and passionate lives, and operate productive and profitable businesses. Lisa publishes the monthly “DECIDE® to be Organized” e-zine for success-minded individuals, and “Next Level Business Success” e-zine for entrepreneurs. Subscribe today at www.LMOrganizingSolutions.com. Lisa is the author of The Ultimate Life Organizer: An Interactive Guide to a Simpler, Less Stressful & More Organized Life, published by Peter Pauper Press. Lisa also publishes the DECIDE® to be Organized blog at www.DecideToBeOrganized.com. Through her work, Lisa helps people deal with the issues that block personal and professional change and growth. To explore how Lisa can help take your business to the next level, contact Lisa at (845) 988-0183 or by e-mail at Lisa@LMOrganizingSolutions.com.

One of the best books on writing – and life itself for that matter – is Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott. Among the pearls of wisdom she offers in her funny, witty style, is to take baby steps. Apparently, when she was a child, her brother was facing writer’s block as he attempted to write a book report on various species of birds. He was overwhelmed, realizing there was so much to do, and didn’t know where to start. Her father advised her then 10-year-old brother to, “Just take it bird by bird.”

Wiser words were never spoken and not just about overcoming writer’s block. The same can be said of how to get organized. One of the biggest obstacles that people face when attempting to ‘get organized’ is that they bite off more than they can chew. They forget that it took them years to get disorganized, and that they should allow ample time to reverse the trend. If you truly want to get better organized, the bottom line is that you have to be willing to make changes in your systems and the way you are doing things (or not doing things), and you have to be prepared to act – to put the principles in place. Be ready to put in the time to make or break habits – psychologists say it takes approximately 18 days to do so. Organizing is a way of life that requires maintenance and ongoing effort until it becomes second nature. Remember that change is a process, not an event. Don’t try to change everything at once. Pick one area of your life that needs changing the most and focus on it first.

So, how do you take it ‘bird by bird’ when organizing? First, do a ‘brain dump.’ This is when you put down on paper (or on your computer, in your iPhone, etc.) every organizing problem and challenge you face, all of the tasks and activities you need to accomplish to have a more organized home, office and life, and what your organizing goals are. Next, get your calendar out, and start scheduling organizing sessions with yourself. At the very least, map out one thing you intend to do and what steps it will take to do that, then schedule them.  Even if it takes you six months of scheduling, in six months from now, you’ll be better organized.

In order to stay motivated while organizing, post your goals in a conspicuous place, especially if you are a visual person. Before and after photos also help many people get and stay motivated. Reward yourself along the way as you would with any other behavior modification program. For example, when you finish a certain portion of your organizing project, treat yourself to some stylish new organizing products, like bins or baskets (or any other dangling carrot that works for you!). Play music while you are organizing. Not only will it help you keep moving, but it can also serve as a great timer so that you don’t overdo it and spend too much time organizing and burn out. When your favorite CD is over, so is your organizing session. Lastly, consider working with a buddy (perhaps as a couple?) in a team/group effort (a family project?), or go to the pros and hire a professional organizer. Involving others is often a great motivator and keeps you accountable!

Where and how do you start organizing? Attack what’s visible first. For most people, this serves as the best motivator, gives them a sense of accomplishment and, therefore, offers the most ‘bang for the buck.’ Sort one section at a time, room by room. Try to finish an area, project, or room before moving onto the next. Remember, the space often looks worse before it looks better. The process of organizing is messy, as you have to pull everything out to sort, purge, and create new systems. Stay focused by making a separate box labeled “action” and tend to it later. Also, create an “out” box near the door of the room you are organizing for items that belong somewhere else in the home or work place. Do not leave the space you are organizing to go put things away!

I know it’s tempting to try to tackle the whole house, office, or your life, but exercise some restraint. If not, you will most likely be setting yourself up for failure. Trying to do it all generally leads to feelings of overwhelm and inadequacy. Then you will wonder why you ever tried to get organized in the first place, and stop trying at all. Instead, just take it ‘bird by bird.’

Copyright © 2009 Lisa Montanaro of LM Organizing Solutions, LLC.

Want to Use This Article in Your E-zine or Website?

You can, as long as you use this complete statement:

Copyright 2009. Lisa Montanaro is a Productivity Consultant, Success Coach, Business Strategist, Speaker and Author who helps people live successful and passionate lives, and operate productive and profitable businesses. Lisa publishes the monthly “DECIDE® to be Organized” e-zine for success-minded individuals, and “Next Level Business Success” e-zine for entrepreneurs. Subscribe today at www.LMOrganizingSolutions.com. Lisa is the author of The Ultimate Life Organizer: An Interactive Guide to a Simpler, Less Stressful & More Organized Life, published by Peter Pauper Press. Lisa also publishes the DECIDE® to be Organized blog at www.DecideToBeOrganized.com. Through her work, Lisa helps people deal with the issues that block personal and professional change and growth. To explore how Lisa can help take your business to the next level, contact Lisa at (845) 988-0183 or by e-mail at Lisa@LMOrganizingSolutions.com.

I am a big fan of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books. I have read all seven of them, and each time a new movie version premieres, I make it a point to re-read that book before seeing the accompanying movie. Therefore, at this time, I am re-reading the sixth book in the series, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, which is currently showing in theaters. In Half-Blood Prince, the sixth-year students at Hogwarts are taking lessons in apparition. Apparition is a magical form of teleportation, through which a witch or wizard can disappear (”disapparate”) from one location and reappear (”apparate”) in another. During the lessons, the instructor outlines the 3 D’s of apparition: Destination, Determination, and Deliberation. When I read the 3 D’s of apparition, I couldn’t help but think that there is a strong parallel to the principles of organizing. Let me demonstrate.

If you are about to embark on an organizing project, you need to first think about your organizing goals, i.e., your Destination. If a physical organizing project, you can do this by visualizing what the space will look like after you have organized it. Visualize your home or office without the piles of clutter. If your organizing project is not physical, then you can envision what you will feel like once the project is accomplished. Visualize your calendar with less tasks in it. Hold onto that visualization in your mind. Thinking about your Destination is a powerful motivator to help get you there. In my 6-step organizing approach, DECIDE®, the first step is Discover. Like Destination, it is the stage when you think about what you want in your home, work, and life, and how being better organized will serve you and your goals.

In order to succeed with your organizing projects, you need to practice Determination. When you are determined, you are more likely to prepare for success. What type of Determination do you have? Have you created an accountability partnership? Have you hired a professional organizer to assist you? Are you willing to make the time and exert the effort that it takes to make organization a reality? With Determination, you will make time in your schedule to organize, and will break down the organizing project into small manageable portions in order to stay focused and motivated. In my DECIDE® process, the 5th step is Dedicate. Just like with Determination, you must dedicate yourself to becoming organized, and staying that way once you have achieved your desired goal.

Lastly, you must act with Deliberation when you want to get organized. To be deliberate when organizing means that slow and steady wins the race. You need to take each action with an eye toward whether it makes sense for you. In the DECIDE® process, the 4th step is Implement, during which you design organizing systems to match your habits, needs, work, and lifestyle. You need to carefully consider each step along the way, and be deliberate so that the system can be maintained for the long haul. If the system is deliberately tailored to you, you will be more likely to maintain it.

So when organizing, think of the 3 D’s of apparition from Harry Potter: Destination, Determination, and Deliberation. They are useful tools for accomplishing your organizing projects. And, of course, if all else fails, you can always try to “disapparate” your clutter!

Copyright © 2009 Lisa Montanaro of LM Organizing Solutions, LLC.

Want to Use This Article in Your E-zine or Website?

You can, as long as you use this complete statement:

Copyright 2009. Lisa Montanaro is a Productivity Consultant, Success Coach, Business Strategist, Speaker and Author who helps people live successful and passionate lives, and operate productive and profitable businesses. Lisa publishes the monthly “DECIDE® to be Organized” e-zine for success-minded individuals, and “Next Level Business Success” e-zine for entrepreneurs. Subscribe today at www.LMOrganizingSolutions.com. Lisa is the author of The Ultimate Life Organizer: An Interactive Guide to a Simpler, Less Stressful & More Organized Life, published by Peter Pauper Press. Lisa also publishes the DECIDE® to be Organized blog at www.DecideToBeOrganized.com. Through her work, Lisa helps people deal with the issues that block personal and professional change and growth. To explore how Lisa can help take your business to the next level, contact Lisa at (845) 988-0183 or by e-mail at Lisa@LMOrganizingSolutions.com.