Lessons Learned from Marie Kondo's "Tidying Up"

Have you tuned in yet to the new Netflix show, “Tidying Up” with Marie Kondo? It seems everyone has been watching the series, so I had to watch also. The show is based on Marie’s best-selling book, The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up. Marie, a self-proclaimed “tidying expert” prescribes a very specific process to clear your space. If you follow the KonMarie process, Marie asserts your clutter will be gone forever.

Watching real people on the show—people just like my clients—implement the KonMarie method was fascinating. While I am not sold on her one-size-fits-all approach to decluttering and organizing, there are lessons to be learned (beyond Marie’s method for folding):

  1. Make time to organize. The clients on “Tidying Up” were successful in their organizing projects partly because they set aside the time to declutter and organize. For some of them it took many weeks and months. While I’m not suggesting you quit your job and just work on getting organized, setting aside consistent blocks of time will help you reach your organizing goals faster.

  2. Be clear on your motivation. The clients on the show each had their own reasons to get organized. From merging households, to moving or downsizing, Marie helped the families bring forth their motivation for getting organized. This is another important component for success at organization—keep in mind why you want to get organized. Is your stuff holding you back from bigger and better things?

  3. Trust your decisions. I work a lot with clients to help them make decisions and trust in those decisions. “Tidying Up” showed that while decision making can be challenging, once you get going, it often gets easier. You can build momentum, starting with small decisions and working up to the harder ones. And once you decide to let something go, take the steps to get it out of your house and move it on.

Have you watched the show? Has it inspired you to get organized?

"Drawer Day" Organizing Strategy

Recently one of my clients announced that we were going to have "Drawer Day" at our appointment. She picked a few drawers that hadn't been touched in a while to clean out and organize. 

This "theme" for our organizing session made it more fun, and helped us focus on some neglected spots for quick organizational wins. We've organized drawers in the kitchen, dining room, and master bedroom. We've also used "Drawer Day" as a break from our larger organizing projects, especially when working on papers. 

This can also be a great project to start when you only have 15-30 minutes. 

Getting Rid of Sentimental Items

My girl and her doll in South dakota

My girl and her doll in South dakota

My daughter has been cleaning out her room to make more space, and asked for my help to sell some of her American Girl things. I've sold doll clothing, furniture, and accessories (she's keeping her dolls). My daughter played for hours with her dolls, even taking them across country on some of our trips. 

While it was sad to see some of the items go (the cute little bed!), I'm excited that another set of kids will use and enjoy her doll things.

Often when we are clearing out sentimental items, the emotions and memories associated with the items hold us back from truly letting go.

Here's how I try to deal with things that hold a special sentimental attachment:

  • Can it go to a family member? Many sentimental items are inherited, and we hold on to things we never use, that are not our style, or don't fit in our home. For example, I had a small writing desk from my grandparents for many years, sitting in a hallway. It was nice to look at once in a while, but wasn't really used. However, my sister jumped at the chance to take it and turned it into a makeup table. It looks great in her home and is getting the love it deserves. 
  • Can it go to someone who can really use the item? If yes, then I try to focus on the benefits the item will have for it's new owner.
  • Can I get a tax deduction? If the item has a lot of life left in it and can be donated, sometimes the idea that it can be a tax deduction can help move it out of the house. 
  • Take a photo. Don't forget that you can always take a photo of your sentimental item before you pass it on.

What are you strategies for dealing with sentimental items you want to let go? 

Organizing for School Lunches

School starts next week in our town and I’ve already been hearing many mom friends lament that it will soon be time for the arduous task of making school lunches. For many this seems to be quite a chore, so here are 5 ways to streamline school lunch-making:


  • Have your fridge and pantry set up for easy lunch making. Here’s one idea for using clear bins in your fridge. I have a “snack” bin in our pantry; my daughter knows that she can select 1-2 items from the bin for her lunch.  Also have your containers and wraps easily accessible in your kitchen. Here’s my organized food container drawer, which makes it easy to find what we need.
  • Devise an easy “recipe” for school lunches. As I mentioned, we came up with a formula of 2 fruits, 1 veggie, 1-2 snack items + sandwich and a drink. Find a formula that works for your family. You may end up packing nearly the same thing every day and if your child likes it, great!
  • Empty lunchboxes when kids get home from school each afternoon. There is nothing worse than opening a lunchbox or container and finding the smelly remnants of a previous meal. If lunch boxes get emptied and cleaned every day (have your kids do this!) they will be ready for filling that evening or the next day.
  • Have your kids buy lunch at school. This plan saves many families, even if the kids buy lunch only 1-2 days a week. At my house I print out the monthly lunch calendar and my daughter looks ahead and circles the days she wants to buy lunch.
  • Finally, don’t forget to get input from your kids on what they want for lunch. Sometimes my daughter has asked for surprising lunch items based on what she’s seen friends eat at school.

What are your clever solutions for school lunches?

Spring Checklist

Today was a huge milestone: I took the ice scraper and other winter gear out of my car! After last winter the warmer spring weather is a very welcome change.

As the weather has improved I keep thinking of more to do’s: take ice scraper out of car, put out patio chairs, sweep porch, spring clean up in the yard, wash the windows. I must have spring fever. I started to write the ideas down on different post it notes around the house, but the notes were multiplying quickly. I then realized I should do what I’d tell my clients: make a checklist.

I created a document with all the Spring/Summer House To Do’s and will turn it into a Google doc to share with my husband (he needs to know what’s on the list, right?). Having a checklist means I don’t have to keep thinking about what to do. When I have time to work on the projects I can consult my handy list.

Do you have checklists for your home? I like creating my own, but if you want pre-made checklists, here are a few to try:

Quick Ways to Organize Memories

Have you started a baby book for your child, but never finished it? Or wanted to write a daily diary or journal, but only kept it up for a month?

Last week I gave an organizing talk to a Parents of Multiples group: all the moms in the room had twins, and many had additional kids. We started discussing how to preserve memories and several moms talked about how they had piles of notes and photos for baby books that were never done (and probably never would be done).

This lead to several moms sharing how they keep track of memories. Here are some great ideas:


  • My husband and I keep a shared Google doc of “Funny things” our daughter says. We both have added to the document over the years, and love to go back and read it. (We started this when our daughter was little, before the era of apps!)
  • Another mom said that instead of creating a baby book, she notes milestones and fun things on her wall calendar. She keeps the calendars and can quickly scan through to see the memories.
  • As an alternative to a traditional journal, try a one-sentence journal. It’s much less daunting to write one sentence a day than a whole entry.

What creative high or low tech ideas do you have to preserve memories?

Organizing Maps & Travel Brochures

Do you still keep paper maps and travel brochures? I have to admit that I do. I keep a few for sentimental reasons (Paris restaurants, Geneva map) but also keep selected maps and brochures from places that I plan to visit again.

During one of our many snow storms last month I was looking for something in the attic and found a box half-full of travel maps and brochures. I decided this would be a good blizzard organizing project. (I could also dream of warm summer vacations ahead…)

Here’s what I did:

  • First I dumped all the brochures our on my dining room table. A few were sorted by place so I kept those together.
  • I reviewed all the maps and brochures and recycled a good amount.
  • Then I sorted what I wanted to keep by location.
  • I was hoping to put the maps/brochures into a blue accordion file I had (see corner of photo) but there were too many for the file.
  • Next I the thought of keeping everything together by rubber bands, but some piles were too large.
  • Finally I decided to use one of my favorite organizing tools: gallon size plastic bags. Easy, and the bags had a spot for a label.
  • All the bags were “filed” into a plastic bin back into the attic, waiting until the next trip is planned.

What’s great about this system is that for our next trip to VT, I just have to pull out the bag labeled VT and enjoy looking at all our favorite places.

AFTER: Organized into bags and ready to go!

2 Favorite Travel Tools

A friend recently gave me the gift of two of my favorite travel tools: a zippered bag and a list.

She found this blue zippered pouch by Walker, and knew I would love it. It’s great because it has color, so it stands out in my black purse or black suitcase. It’s mesh so you can see what’s inside, and it is sturdy. I used it on a trip to Florida to hold running gear: my headphones, headband, and my armband cell phone holder.

She also gave me a fun book of packing lists. This thorough list covers everything you might need on a trip, from chewing gum to your tuxedo. It includes helpful reminders for key electronic items such as cell phone, headphones, and chargers.

What’s your favorite tool for an organized trip?

Designating Donation Bags

I was helping a client gather things going out of her house, and noticed her neat idea for keep track of what bags were going where: she labeled the paper bag handle.

It’s hard to see on the photo but this bag is labeled “donations,”

I often write on the side of the bag, but hadn’t thought of writing on the handle.

It was very convenient to quickly look down and read the handle as I dropped items going different places in different bags.

Clever idea!

How Do I Get Rid of: Cell phones

While working with clients to de-clutter, we inevitably come across old cell phones that are no longer used but are just sitting around. How to get rid of them?

My husband and I tackled this question recently. As we continue to clean out our basement, we found four ancient cell phones (see photo!) that were ready to go. These phones had been hanging around for years, so we finally decided to get rid of them.

First we made sure any data and personal information were erased from the phones. We knew that the photos and contacts were backed up, and were able to set the phones back to their factory settings, getting rid of the data (a quick online search helped us figure out how to do the re-sets, especially on the ancient Nokia phones, but it worked). Don’t forget to take out the SIM card if your phone has one. Good information about cleaning data off your phone is here.

Then when I was doing a bunch of errands, I dropped off the phones at our local Sprint store. So easy.

There are many options to get rid of your unwanted phones. If your phone is a newer model, you can:

  • Trade it in – check with your phone carrier.
  • Sell it, through a service like Gazelle.
  • Pass it on to a friend.
  • Donateit to an organization like Cell Phones for Soldiers or find a drop-off location near you that supports a local charity through this website.
  • Many schools and non-profits offer an “electronics recycling day” where you  drop off your phone (and other electronics) for free.  My town has a recycling day every spring and fall, so check with your local city or town.

Usually I see cell phones (like mine) that are just too old to sell or trade it, so they really have to go. Check with your cellular company about their recycling programs. Other places to recycle phones include Staples, Best Buy and even Target.

Getting those Nagging Projects off the To Do List

I love lists, so of course I have a To Do list. But some projects just seem to sit on the list forever, mocking me to get them done.

I’d read a Real Simple article years ago about an editor’s “Un-procrastination” day where she and a friend set aside a full day and got all their nagging to do projects done. It pops into my head from time to time as I review my list.  So last week I decided that I’d set aside at least a half a day to take care of a few projects I had been putting off. I didn’t have a friend help me out, but did treat my self to an iced chai when everything was done.

Here’s what I got off my list:

  • Washed winter duvet cover at the Laundromat (too big for my washer).
  • Bought a protective cover for my phone from the Sprint store, and recycled four old cell phones.
  • Took a 10 year old video cassette recorder tape to get made into a DVD at Everpresent, since we don’t have the right cable to use the recorder anymore. While cleaning out the basement my husband found the recorder with the tape inside; the tape turned out to be the only video we had of the first days after my daughter was born. I’m thrilled we found and will get to keep these memories. 
  • Started to research options for getting shades made for my kitchen. This project isn’t done, but I did stop by my local fabric store to find out about their pricing for custom window treatments, something I had been putting off for about two years.

“Chunking” errands or projects can be an effective way to get things off your To Do list, as Julie Morgenstern points out in her book Time Management from the Inside Out. This strategy really can work for some people, as a client reminded me last month. I had been helping this client move, and we had made piles for items to go to her storage unit, get donated, go to her office, and get dropped off at neighbors and friends homes. After a week or so the piles were still there, but she assured me they would get done—and they did, all in one day!

What’s your strategy for working on those nagging projects?

How Do I Get Rid Of: American Flags

Do you have a torn or worn out American flag that’s been in your basement or garage for ages? In honor of Flag Day this month (June 14th), I’m sharing ideas for the proper disposal of the American flag.

US Flag Code states that unserviceable American flags should be “burned in a dignified manner.” I’m not sure how often this is feasible (or allowed by local law), so here are several places to bring your unusable flag for appropriate disposal:

  • Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) post
  • American Legion post
  • Your local post office or police station
  • Boy Scout or Girl Scout troops may be able to help
  • This flag company will take your flag for proper disposal, and will give you 10% off the purchase of a new flag

And for more American flag etiquette, check out this site from the VFW.

Organizing is a lot like Training for a Race

Last Spring I started running. I hadn't really run since I was in elementary school, so it was a huge feat for me to complete half a dozen 5K races over the past year.

Organizing is a lot like training for a running race (or any competition):

  • Just start. I was totally out of my comfort zone when I started running, but I signed up for a beginning runner's group. Taking that first step was the hardest but most important. It's the same with your organizing project. It may feel overwhelming, but take that first step: just start.
  • Start small. The new runner training program started by having us run for a minute, and then walk for a minute as a break. That's easy, right? Each week we moved up to running for 2 minutes, 3 minutes, and so on until we were at 10 minutes running with a 1 minute walk break. We started small and made incremental changes over time. This is the same for organizing: pick one spot to re-organize, or one routine to improve, and work on it consistently. Small changes will add up.
  • Schedule it, and make it routine. Run 3-4 times a week-ha! That seemed impossible at first but my trainer gave me a calendar with a suggested schedule. I tried really hard to follow the schedule, even when I'd rather be doing something else. After training regularly for a month, running several times a week with my gals became routine, and even something I looked forward to. You may not ever look forward to organizing, but scheduling time to work on your organizing project-just as you would any other important activity-can help keep you on track. Over time you'll start to build new habits. Picking up each night or putting your clean clothes away in the closet, for example, can become routine.
  • Clarify your goals. Right from the start my trainer wanted to know what my running goals were: I wanted to prove to myself that I could workout regularly and run a 5K. We picked a 5K to be my first race and worked towards it.  Think about what your goals are for your organizing project: do you want to create more space, want to have friends over for a dinner party, or get your kids to pick up their rooms? Keep your goals in mind when you get discouraged or feel overwhelmed with your project.
  • When you get off track (and you will), start again (reset) and keep going.  After running for several months I had a knee problem that required doctor visits and physical therapy. And no running for at least a month! Some mornings I enjoyed sleeping instead of running, but it was also discouraging and frustrating. As my knee improves I'm starting to reset and get back into my healthier routines. It's the same with organizing. When we get off track it can be easy to forget how far we've progressed, and slip back into old habits.  It's inevitable to have some slipping in our progress, but reset yourself and keep on going. This is a good time to remember your goals (see above) and what you are trying to accomplish.

This article first appeared in the Summer 2014 edition of The Neat Sheet newsletter. Sign up here so you don’t miss a Neat Sheet, and read previous editions in the archives.

Travel Tip: 4 Tips for an Organized Roadtrip

View detailsMore Travel Tips coming in from Neat Sheet readers!

These ideas come from my wonderful college roommate. Each summer she and her family take a multi-day roadtrip from their home in Oklahoma to see relatives in the southeast.

Here are some great ways she made the drive easier and reduced her car clutter during the roadtrip:

  • Pack a suitcase for the final destination, but use a smaller shoulder bag for the overnight stops. Just include the necessities – PJs, toiletries, and clothes for the next day. This means the bigger suitcase can stay packed in the car – and you don’t have to re-arrange everything each time you stop for a night.
  • Use a small laundry basket in the back seat to hold snacks and a trash bag. Contain the snacks and trash in the basket, making it easy to tidy up and keeping the rest of the car clean.
  • Designate one bag/backpack per child with their own books, games, DVD player, etc. When it’s time for an overnight stop, items go into the bag and can be carried to the hotel or camping site. Each child should be in charge of his/her own bag!
  • And here’s a tip for one you are home: Since my friend makes regular roadtrips, she decided to make one bin the “roadtrip box.” She put all the things she only uses on long car trips, such as the maps, picnic table cloth, travel cups, and car plugs for the electronics. Putting all these things in one place eliminates the chore of hunting it all down before the next trip.

I’m going to try out the small laundry basket idea and overnight bag on our next long road trip.  Happy travels!

Three Tips for an Organized Trip

Travel season is here! This week I helped two different clients get ready for upcoming summer trips. One client was preparing for a two-week special family trip to Europe, while the other client – who was retired – was getting ready to spend the summer at her vacation home.

Whether your vacation is a weekend, two weeks, or all summer, here are three tips to have a more organized trip:

  • Gather and stage your travel stuff.  One client used her guest room as a place to put everything she was collecting for her trip. This is a great idea if you have the space! For the other client, just getting a large shopping bag and labeling it “Bring With Me” gave her a place to drop in everything she found to take to her summer home.
  • Create and use lists for the routine tasks.  One client had a packing list (extra points to her) which we found and she started to use. We also brainstormed a list of things she needed to do prior to leaving (get dog sitter, neighbor to water plants, cancel mail, etc.). This would also be an important list to have.  For my client who goes to her summer vacation home each year, she could have a checklist of things to do before she left and to open her vacation home.
  • Deal with the important documents. Make sure you know where your passports are and leave copies at home. Keep copies of credit cards at home too, just in case they are lost or stolen while you are away. Be sure someone at home knows where to find these documents. Don’t forget to tell the credit card companies that you are travelling, and if you are going to be a way for an extended time be sure your bills are paid.

Now you are ready to relax and enjoy your vacation!

What’s your best travel organizing tip?

Kitchen Storage Solutions: The 2013 Calendar is Available!

Happy New Year! Need inspiration to organize your kitchen?

Order my 12 Months of Organizing2013 Kitchen Storage Solutions Desk Calendar today.

This year’s calendar is filled with creative solutions for the most important room in your home: the kitchen! Co-created with my cousin, we share 12 of our favorite ideas to help you make your kitchen an efficient space. When your kitchen is simplified and organized, it’s easy to keep it looking good while working hard.

Hurry, supplies are limited. Order yours today!

Getting Teens to Clean–New York Times Article

Good article in the New York Times about parents dealing with their teenager’s bedrooms. I’m taking notes for when my daughter enters this stage in a few years!

What are your tips for getting your kids to clean?

Here are some ideas from me that appeared in the Boston Parents Paper April 2012.

Transitioning Kids Clothes

Today at a client’s house I saw her clever way to manage clothes that didn’t fit her 4-year old son: she had two bags hanging from his closet rod. One was marked “too small” and the other was “too big.”

When the “too small” bag was full, she’d move the clothes to a container to save for her 2-year old to grow into.  The “too big” bag gave her a place to put things she was given or bought ahead of time, but that her son would soon be able to wear.

I always tell clients to keep only what fits their child in the dresser and closet, and this bag system was a great way to transition clothes in and out of the closet.

Getting Organized to Exercise, by guest blogger Catherine Milliken

Hi everyone! I’m Elizabeth’s trainer and see her up to three times a week for Boot Camp, Pilates, and personal training through Karna Fitness. I asked her if I could share some tips on getting organized about exercising, since I believe that’s most of the battle.

Woody Allen said that 90% of success in life is showing up. So why is it so hard to show up to exercise? The answer? Planning, preparing, and letting go of excuses.

  1. 1. Plan your week and establish a routine. Every magazine will tell you that you need to schedule time for exercise, and it’s true! If you have kids, sit down with your partner and negotiate who gets what morning or evening for exercise. I like to do the same thing every week for simplicity sake (ex: Monday is boot camp, Tuesday Pilates, Wednesday run) but you may need more variety or flexibility. Some say it takes three weeks to change a pattern of behavior, so be really committed during that time to “show up.”
  2. 2. Prepare the night before. I’m a morning exerciser, so I like to make sure my bag and water is packed, coffee is in the coffee maker, my outfit and shoes are laid out, and a banana is next to my bag. That way, I can literally jump out of bed, get dressed, and get out the door. I don’t have to think AT ALL, which is helpful at 5:30 am! I’ve gotten lazy a few times and neglected this routine the night before…it ends up taking me three or four times as long in the morning as I walk around in a fog.
  3. If you like to work out in the evening after work, pack your gym bag the night before, along with a pre-workout and post workout snack. Nothing kills motivation like being famished.
  4. 3. Just go, no excuses. “If you go to school and you still feel sick, then you can come home.” You’ve heard this before, right? From your mom, right? SHE KNEW that your sniffle or your “bellyache” wasn’t substantial enough to keep you on the couch all day. She knew that the hardest part was getting out the door. It still is. Take a lesson from mom: if you get dressed, get out the door, drive to class, spend ten minutes at exercise class and STILL don’t feel like it, you can go home.
  5. I tell my clients to adopt a simple mantra, “Don’t think, just go!” At 5:30 am, it’s easy to convince yourself that you can squeeze in a power walk after dinner, but the fact of the matter is, it probably won’t happen, especially if it’s not part of your routine. So stop negotiating with yourself; don’t think—just GO!

Good luck with establishing your routine…it really is 90% of the battle!

PS. If you’re curious about how Elizabeth does in class, she’s always punctual and very dedicated! She’s followed my tips for getting out the door and almost never misses a class unless it’s for a very good reason, like she is on vacation, or her husband is away. She’s up for ANYTHING and went from basically doing only walking and occasional yoga to running, holding a 2 minute plank, and high intensity interval training!

Check out Karna Fitness and follow us on Facebook.

Favorite Finds Part 1: Products for Paper Piles

Here are my favorite finds from the National Association of Professional Organizers Conference for dealing with paper:

WallMates – From At-A-Glance®, these self-adhesive dry erase surfaces turn any wall or flat surface into an area for your to do list, goals, or whatever you need to jot down. WallMates are repositionable, don’t damage your walls (or office furniture) and come blank or with a monthly calendar outline. Thinking beyond the office, this could be a great place for important notes in a kitchen or mudroom.

Bring some more organization to your projects or paper piles with the Stackit™ organizers from Smead . These folders hold papers vertically, with three tabbed sections and a flap.

If you are ready to go paperless, check out the NeatDesk® Scanner from NeatReceipts®. This scanner has separate slots for scanning business cards, receipts, and regular 8x11 documents…all at the same time! And the software knows to put business card information into contacts (synchs with Outlook for example), receipts into one folder, and documents into a third folder.