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This month's newsletter is called 7 Reasons to Fire Your Organizer. Heres a view from the other side of the table: 3 signs an organizer may see that tell them that they are not going to be able to do the job.

1: You want the problem to go away without making any changes in your own behavior. An organizer can get your life to a point where it runs as smoothly as possible with as little effort as possible, but its important to acknowledge your own contribution to the problem. We all have habits that work against us. If you are not willing to look at how you live and make some changes, you will not get the results you are hoping for. Einsteins definition of insanity was repeating the same action and expecting a different result. No organizer can save you from that.

2: You don't treat your organizer like a professional, or you confuse them with a maid, a nanny, or a psychiatrist. If you treat your organizer like a casual acquaintance -- constantly change or forget appointments, dont return phone calls, book time and tell them when they arrive that you have to leave halfway through, interrupt your sessions to check email or chat with friends on the phone -- your actions tell your organizer that you don't respect them or the work you are doing together. They cannot help you under these conditions. Alternatively you may assume your organizer is there to help you by doing whatever needs doing. Your organizer is there to work with you to sort and cull, and to set up systems to make your life run smoothly. They are not there to clean up the dog barf in the hallway, watch the kids while you run errands, or try to talk through the latest neighborhood scandal. Best to use them for what they do best.

3: Organization is too low of a priority in your life / you are not willing to do what it will take to meet your goals. Any organizing project will take resources -- time, effort, attention and money. If you don't have the time, aren't willing to make the effort, give the attention, or spend the money, then you're setting yourself up for frustration. If your organizer tells you what it will take to complete your project and it is much more than you want to do or spend, it is better to wait until it's important enough to you to give the project what it needs.

If you're considering hiring an organizer, make sure you are over these three hurdles: you're willing to change your own habits, you need an organizer and not some other professional, and you are prepared to allocate the resources the project will require. If so, any professional organizer will be happy to work with you, and you will be delighted with the results!


Imagine your life running smoothly. Easy. Calm. Imagine being free of frustration of those daily, time-wasting annoyances we all know so well. Organized people are often asked “How do you stay so organized”. A big part of the answer is simple : They have good habits.

Do you remember brushing your teeth this morning? Probably not... but you know you did it. Good habits make life easy, and we all have a web of good habits we depend on. The gaps in that web that can create anything from small annoyances (lost birthday cards) to big problems (Standing by the side of the road with a dead cell phone because you forgot to charge it ... again.). Our goal here is to expand that web to improve your life.

So... how do you create a good habit and make it stick? First of all, decide. This sounds obvious but it’s critical. Decide exactly what you want. A wish is not a decision; “It would be so nice if...” is not a decision. “I will ...” is a decision. Decide that you have had enough. Decide that you deserve better. Your habits are within your control. You made the ones that are causing the problems and you can decide to make new ones. Commit yourself to this decision. It takes about a month to create a habit. That means a month of focused attention and action -- decide and commit.

Next, specifically define your new habit. “I will eat better” is too vague. “I will eat a piece of fruit with my mid-morning coffee instead of a doughnut.” is a good definition of a new habit. Research shows that positive definitions are more effective; i.e. “I WILL do this” instead of “I will NOT do that”.

Now that you have a clear goal and a commitment, here are some tips for success:

Go heavy on rewards. The person with the dead cell-phone could put a bowl of candy beside the charger and take a piece as a prize every night when she plugs the phone in. Other ideas: a jar of dollar bills -- every time you get it right, put one aside for something good at the end of the week or month ( a new app, fancy chocolates, whatever). How about a box of gift cards from your favorite coffee place ? Every time you execute your new habit, you’ll get a “free” coffee the next morning. Keep a favorite toy or amusing cartoon at the “point of action” so you can play or laugh every time you do what you’re training yourself to do. Ring a bell. Collect a kiss from your loved ones. Get a “That was Easy” button and smack it if that makes you smile. Rewards are key, and are especially effective if you get one every time you complete the not-yet-habit.

Make it easy. Think about the flow of your life and try to place the habit within it -- if you want to drink more water, get in the habit of putting a full water bottle in the car every morning since you’re there anyway going back and forth to work. If you need specific things for your habit, put them out where you practically trip over them. Later on you can stash them away, but for now you want it to be easier to use them than to avoid them.

Remind yourself a LOT. It’s hard to remember to do something new, so put reminders all over the house. Hang a picture on the fridge - or inside it. Put a post-it note on your bedroom door. Put an alarm on your phone or have your computer email you reminders. If you are in the car a lot, so much the better -- tape a reminder to the dashboard. Hang something on the rearview mirror.

Anything out of the ordinary will jar your memory. (You will have to swap these things around as your eyes get used to them.) Put a charm on your keychain. Put a rubber band on your cell phone - or your wrist. Give your cat a bright new collar. Draw a “tattoo” on your hand with a sharpie. (It will, in fact, wash off - you can trust me on this one.) Hang a post card in your office. Change the screensaver on your electronic devices. Connections are another form of reminder: Connect the habit you want to build with a habit you already have (e.g. drink a glass of water after you brush your teeth). Alternatively, connect the habit to something you enjoy. Love playing with your dog? Teach the dog to do a trick every time you complete your new habit.

Don’t expect perfection. If the standard is perfection, failure is inevitable. If you miss a day, don’t waste energy beating yourself up. Learn from each attempt - what kept you from succeeding that time? Then get back on the wagon right away.

Finally, pick one thing at a time. Don’t try to change everything at once; this is not the time for multi-tasking;! Pick one area of chaos in your life -- the daily frantic search for the car keys, for example -- and fix that and only that. Then, buoyed by your success, you can take on the next thing.

Again, imagine your life running smoothly. Remember that you control your habits. Set the habits in place and you will automatically do the things that will make your life easy. Decide, then change. One by one, you will strengthen the web of good habits and your life will be calmer and happier.




The most common complaint an organizer hears is “I just can’t get anything done! I start things but I don’t finish them...”, followed by a sigh and a helpless gesture at the surrounding chaos. One of the primary reasons we don’t finish what we start is that we get distracted...and one of the primary reasons we get distracted is that we’re trying to do too many things at once.

We’ve all heard the promises of multi-tasking cheerleaders -- “You can do two things at once, be twice as productive!” While there’s no denying that some tasks go well together (ironing and catching up on TV shows, for example), we often try to combine tasks that don’t go well together. Ever tried emailing one person while talking on the phone to someone else? It’s fun to be on the other end of that conversation, isn’t it? How about making dinner and catching up on Facebook -- that’s a recipe for burned pot roast.

Research has shown that we don’t actually multi-task. Our brains cannot do two things at once -- we do each thing separately, toggling rapidly back and forth between one to the other. (Research has also shown that multi-taskers have a higher level of stress, but that’s another newsletter.) Imagine trying to carry on two different conversations at once, with a person on your right talking to you about the weather and a person on your left talking to you about your job. You have to hop back and forth between them, dropping the thread of one conversation and picking up the other, only to drop that one and resume the first. That is essentially what you do when you multi-task. Loss of focus, which leads to distraction and frustration, is built right into the process...not to mention the inefficiency inherent in having to keep remembering what you were talking about before the other conversation distracted you.

Here’s the alternative: Mono-tasking. One thing at a time. One job: start it, do it, finish it, move on to the next. How obvious, how simple, how efficient! If you need to check email, check email. Don’t try to quiz your child on her spelling words at the same time. Do the email, then give your child your undivided attention. Think about all the times people talk about getting flashes of inspiration in the shower -- why? Because it’s one of the few times we don’t multi-task. We are just taking a shower: one job. Our mind is free to relax and wander. What about the people who get to the office at 7AM and constantly remark that between 7 and 8:30 is the most productive time of their day. Why? Fewer distractions. They can focus on each task and complete it without phone calls, visitors, and emails arriving every 3 minutes. In other words, they can mono-task.

If you think you don’t have time to mono-task -- that you have to do two or more things at once just to keep up with your life -- I urge you to consider our earlier hypothetical of the person having two conversations at once. Are they really being more efficient? Is either of the conversations really going well? Would it not be faster, easier and smarter to have each conversation separately? You will be amazed at how much more quickly you get things done, and how many more things you can complete in the same amount of time, when you do one thing at a time.

For many people, a major source of stress and distraction in their lives is the endless “to-do” list going around and around in their mind. When we get pulled off-task before we finish something, that item stays on the to-do list and (in terms of shortening the list and quieting our mind), that time was wasted. Mono-tasking radically increases the chances of finishing a task, which then removes it from the list in your mind, which decreases your distraction, allowing you to focus better on the next task and complete it, removing that one from the list, further lessening the stress and decreasing distraction, setting you up to better complete the next task, in a cycle that goes on and on rather like this sentence, and eventually leaves you with a “done” list and a calmer mind.

Mono-tasking is a recipe for peace and order in your life. One job: start it, do it, finish it. Move on to the next.




With this newsletter we’re going to shift from organizing to design. Anyone who reads decorating magazines has seen the photos of those perfect little moments: the long hallway with the cool little chair against a glowing,richly-colored wall at the end, or the artisan bowl of fresh fruit with the just-picked bouquet of flowers laying casually beside it. In magazine parlance these are called “visual vignettes” and they point to a valuable tool you can use in designing your own home.

Every house has places you look at all the time. The obvious example is in front of the kitchen sink (that’s why so many designers put a window there). There are other similar spots : you repeatedly look at whatever is at the top of the stairs (and the bottom), and at what is directly in front of you when you open the door to your home. You look at the ends of hallways, at the wall of the garage as you drive in, and at the wall above your desk. These places are “repeating visuals” -- you may see a painting in your den every day, but you look at that kitchen-sink-view every hour. If you pay attention to your routine it is easy to identify these spots.

Because we see these particular places so often, making them attractive and interesting has a much bigger impact than other small design changes. If every time you drive into your garage you are greeted by broken tools and tangled extension cords, it has a negative effect on you. You feel like your life is not under control, your home is not being taken care of, things are just a mess and somehow it’s all your fault. This happens daily, maybe several times daily... and it’s bound to wear you down. If the view at the top of the stairs is into a corner of your bedroom where your unused gym equipment is piled up and gathering dust, this sets off a little twinge of annoyance every time you see it... over and over every day. This is one reason why I am not fond of the mudroom/laundry-room combination. What you see first when you enter your home has a profound effect on how you feel about being there. Do you feel welcomed ? Do you breathe a sigh of relaxation? Or do you walk in the door and get hit with piles of clothes saying “Wash me! Dry me! Iron me! Thank heavens you home, now get to WORK! ”.

Look at your home and your routines. Isolate these repeating visuals and fix them. Discard the broken tools and if you’re not going to unravel the extension cords at least throw them all into a plastic bin, sweep out the garage and be greeted with tidiness and order. One client put inexpensive frames on a couple of pieces of art his children had brought home from school and hung them directly in his line of sight when he drove in. He said it made him look forward to seeing his kids. In that room at the top of the stairs: take the unused gym equipment and if you won’t part with it at least move it. Clean out the part of the room you can see from the stairs and hang a nice picture there. One client comes up the stairs from the garage to the kitchen and is met by a terrific photo of her and her husband laughing together. If you have a laundry room/mudroom, get lots of laundry baskets and at least get the clothes off the floor so they are not the first thing you notice. Paint the walls a color you love and again, hang up a favorite picture. Put up a shelf opposite the door and display a decorative piece you love -- a vase, a statue of Buddha, whatever suits your fancy. Hang a vision board in that spot so you are greeted with your own dreams. Hang a memory board there so you see the best times of the last year.

Grab those 4 or 5 places you look at the most and make them engage and delight you. Little work, big payoff.


You know that scene in the Indiana Jones movie “Raiders of the Lost Ark”, where he’s running down the tunnel with that giant stone ball rolling right behind him? He’s running like a madman, and you’re pretty sure he’s going to make it as long as nothing goes wrong. He cannot make even the tiniest adjustment; it’s straight on, hell bent for leather... or complete obliteration.

Ever feel like your life is like that? That you can just barely keep up as long as not even one tiny thing goes wrong? And if it does? Well, then, the whole thing collapses. This is what I call marginal living -- you are chronically stressed and feel like you are barely clinging to the edge of control. It’s an awful feeling; a sense of impending doom combined with dread of the unexpected.

People often ask me why I am a professional organizer . What’s the point of all this organizing anyway, they say. So what if your spices are alphabetized, right? Well, yes, you’re right, alphabetizing spices is not a particularly valuable service to offer my clients. What I hope to offer is the antidote to marginal living. I want you to feel like you are ahead of your life, in control, and able to handle whatever happens. This means being organized enough to be on top of things.

One of the easiest ways to get (and stay) on top of things is what I call the walk-about: a few minutes spent daily finishing simple tasks and putting things where they belong. It is amazing how bogged down our lives can get with tasks that take very little time. David Allen, in his excellent book Getting Things Done, tells his clients that if you come upon a task that takes less than two minutes to complete, do it now. Do not set it aside to do later; the time you spend finding it again, reexamining it, and reassessing what needs to be done is longer than the time you would have spent doing it immediately. The walk-about is a modified version of this same idea. Try spending about 15 minutes every day just walking around your house taking care of those small tasks. Put an address and stamp on that birthday card, pick up things that are out of place and put them away, rinse out your water-bottle and put it in the dish-drainer for tomorrow, add that nagging item to the grocery list. One important note: Moving things closer to their destination does not count as progress. Suppose you have a good watch that you wore to work yesterday. You came home and before starting to make dinner you took it off and put it on the windowsill. What you have is a watch that is out of place and needs to be put away. If you take it from the windowsill and put it on the stairs to go upstairs, you have... a watch that is out of place and needs to be put away. If it then gets moved from the stairs to the dresser you still have a watch that is out of place and needs to be put away. You have performed 3 tasks and not accomplished your goal. During the walk-about, take the watch from the windowsill and put it in your jewelry box. Done.

The walk-about is also a great time to set yourself up to “start on the downhill” for tasks to be completed later. If you have a button that needs sewing, grab the shirt, button, needle, thread, and scissors during your walk-about and put them on the table where you watch TV. It’s easy to pick them up and sew the button while watching TV -- much harder to make yourself get up and gather all the stuff once you’ve taken root on the couch. If you need to look at brochures for your children’s summer camp, walk-about is the time to get them together and put them someplace where you will read them -- maybe in the kitchen to be perused over breakfast? In your car to look at while waiting for soccer practice to end? Whatever works for you, the once-a-day walk-about is a great time to set things up to run smoothly later.

I urge you to give this a try. It is especially helpful as summer hits and families find that routines and schedules are disrupted. A little daily attention can make you feel like you are on top of your life instead of being overrun by it.