Saturday, September 1, 2007

In The News!

The Contra Costa Times ran an article written by Colette Lamm in the newspaper on Saturday, September 1, 2007. The title of the article is "Right desk and tools key to children's productivity".

Great Tools Come In Small Packages

One of my favorite organizing tools is plastic drawers. They make it easy to separate items into different categories. Sterlite makes a very small set of three drawers that works well for a number of uses.

1) On Your Desk
2) Cabinets In The Kitchen
3) Work Bench
4) Art Supply Room

Examples of items to put in them...
1) pens, pencils, highlighters, permanent ink pens
2) stamps
3) electronic equipment, instructions, and cords (cell phone, camera, voice recorder, ipod)

The key is story grouping the items into categories and then making sure each type of item has its own drawer.

While the Sterilite container in this picture works well, I prefer plastic drawers whose handle is built in as one solid piece into the drawer. When purchasing plastic drawers, always check every corner to make sure the drawers are not cracked.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

"Stuff" by Paul Graham

Here is an interesting article that studies our accumulation of "stuff".

Here is my commentary...

Many of the things said in the article on "Stuff" were intriguing. As a Professional Organizer, I find that books do fall under the same category of stuff people accumulate.Books are seldom used more than once and are often left untouched. They collect dust which isn't healthy and add a lot of weight to a move. Psychologically, a sitting book can eat away at a person who had intended to read it/study it making them feel guilty and lowering their self-esteem. I have not met many people in my life who have read a non-reference book more than once. A huge percentage of books go untouched entirely. We have the dream of reading them some day. Books in some fields are outdated the moment they are published. With the advent of the Internet and the availability it brings to information, we no longer need to keep as much stuff as reference. The Internet brings up-to-date information to our finger tips the moment we need it without adding clutter to our home. Think recipes, for example, for decades people have been collecting recipe books. Recipe books are often bought on impulse, sometimes go out of style, and many old ones are no longer considered healthy. The Internet can be overwhelming, but it provides a wealth of recipes. Imagine the space available if one's recipe collection was thinned down to family recipes and selected favorites from the books.While books are treasured by some and a status symbol for others, for many they are equally "stuff" adding to clutter in the home.

For those struggling to part with books, focus more on the future than on the existing collection. Once we have spent money, it is hard to "waste it". So, instead, remind yourself next time you want to buy a book, to think about whether you really need it and what will your need be for it down the line. Consider treating books stores like libraries, one does not need to walk out with a book.
Here is a strategy that you can use...
1) Changing your buying habit in the future will help keep the collection from growing.
2) Begin to weed out the items from the collection that you are not attached to, will never read, or have no use for. Start with a quick glance at the shelf, anything you see that you can quickly pull out, do so. Skip anything that causes you to ponder.
3) For the tougher books, give yourself some time to think about whether you really need them. Ask for help, discuss your thoughts with someone else and see what they think.
4) When you are ready, consider the idea that you could be helping someone else by providing the resources they need which are no longer needed by you. Donate the books to Friends of the Library, Craigslist, or FreeCycle.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Tax Preparation for Small Businesses

It’s approaching April 15th and a voice in your head says, “You need to do the taxes”. You are up late one night trying to find all the receipts, trying to remember the information you will need, and looking for your stuff from the previous year. The voice is now saying “I have to do this differently next year”. Wouldn’t it be great if all of your tax related items were collected and grouped throughout the year, so all you have to do is punch in some numbers or hand over all the information to your tax preparer?

Each business is different, but there are some simple steps you can take to make the year-end process go smoothly. The key is to setup a simple system for collecting the information throughout the year. Keeping information in one place and doing data-entry over time will dramatically reduce your time spent and stress level as tax time approaches.

Designing the System
Think about your existing system. What has worked and what has not? Which aspect would you like to get a better handle on for next year? Define a system to manage receipts and income/expense transactions.

  • Collect receipts in standard sized envelopes at the front of your desk drawer. Label the envelopes “home”, “business”, and “taxes”. Empty the receipts from your wallet directly into these envelopes. “Taxes” is a catch all for random receipts (i.e. donations, medical visits). Alternatively, carry envelopes in your purse or car and merge them with the envelopes in your desk at the end of the week.

  • If you shop at the same stores for home and business, write “home” or “business” on the top of the receipt while paying at the store.

  • Flag transactions in your check register that you will need for your taxes by putting a note to the right of an entry indicating the category.

  • Add a file to your filing cabinet called “Taxes”. Use it as a catch all for miscellaneous items you receive during the year (i.e. donation receipts and thank you letters).

  • Mark tax-related transactions on your credit card or bank statements with highlighters. Create a legend to keep in your “Taxes” folder for use each year (i.e. Yellow=medical, Pink=car, Green=supplies expense). Remember to download credit card and bank statements monthly or quarterly, since some companies do not keep the records very long.

  • Use a spreadsheet and enter the information throughout the year. Create tabs that emulate the tax forms (i.e. “Schedule C Business Expenses”, “Form 8829 Business Use of Home”, “Schedule A – Donations”). Use the spreadsheet to keep track of your expenses, income, mileage, travel expenses, and other tax information unique to your business.

  • Keep tax information from prior years together in a box or a secondary filing cabinet. Thin your file drawer by removing statements you want to keep. Place them with a copy of your tax return and any supporting documents into an envelope or file folder. The large FedEx envelopes are useful for complex tax returns.
Elements of this system will be useful for most businesses. Evaluate it, implement the pieces that you like, and modify it to fit you. Re-evaluate your system at tax time. Make changes while they are fresh in your mind. Fine tune your system each year. With time, the voice will say “wow, taxes were a breeze this year”.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Digging Out - Organizing Your Financial Affairs

Tom Herman's article in the Wall Street Journal provides valuable information about organizing your financial affairs.

Monday, July 9, 2007

Organizing Your Bathroom - Bottles, Bottles, and More Bottles

Before we know it, something we bought yesterday has been sitting there for years. To keep products from overtaking our space, weed out things you do not use, group similar items together, find appropriate storage for them, and define a place for them.

One of the first steps in managing your bathroom is to break it down into sections. Think of a section, by the kind of tasks you do in each area.

Ask yourself...
What do I use, where, and how often?
Am I likely to use it again? Is it just adding to the clutter?
Could someone else use it that is less fortunate?

Move through the bathroom one section at a time. Start with the one that annoys you the most. Study the tips below.

1) Large bottles out on the counter (creams, hair products, soaps, etc)

  • Eliminate bottles that you bought, used briefly, but haven't touched in a long time.
  • If your counter is full of products, consider using a caddy like the one pictured to create a shelf on the counter for the taller items. It is great for pump dispensers and hair products.
  • If the large bottles are to handle, consider buying smaller quantities. The advantage is they are easier to lift, store, and you can try new products more often without wasting much.

2) Shower

  • Remove any items you aren't using.
  • There are many caddy's available for storing items in the shower. Some hang from the shower head, some suction to the walls or door.
  • If you use liquid soap and a spongy thing on a string, buy a plastic suction cup and hook and hang it on the wall or shower door.

3) Medicine

  • Throw away all expired products.
  • Remove anything you are likely to not use again.
  • Write on them what they were prescribed for.
  • Group the medications by category: creams (then by hand, foot, lip, etc), cold, allergy, prescriptions, pain relievers
  • If you do not have a medicine cabinet or drawer, use containers or plastic drawers as a way to group your medicines.
  • Keep frequently used items nearby.
4) Organizing your hair accessories (barrettes, pony tail holders, scrunchies, etc)
  • Group the items that are similar and then store them in Ziplocs, plastic drawers, or plastic trays.
  • Thin out your collection to the ones you really use. If you used to have long hair and think you may again some day, pick your favorites and get rid of the rest.
  • You may be able to donate some accessories to your hair stylist.
5) Makeup, Makeup, Makeup
  • Use trays or plastic drawers to manage your makeup.
  • Group the similar items (i.e. eye, lip, foundations)
  • Makeup has a relatively short shelf life, so check with the brand you use to see if you should replace the items you have.
  • If you like those freebies, donate the unused items.
6) Hotel Travel Size Freebies
  • Keep only the items you really like and will use.
  • There are many shelters that would be happy to use donated toiletries. Collect them in a bag and periodically donate them. This is also a good fundraiser for events.
  • Next time you are traveling, don't bring the freebies home unless you will really use them.
  • If you keep some around for guests, be realistic about the amount you need.
7) Storage
  • As you bring in new towels, remove the old ones. Keep some in the laundry room or garage for projects, but don't most of them.
  • When designing bathroom sink areas, put the sink closer to the toilet and the drawers on the other side. This allows you to store toilet paper within reach under the sink.
  • If you by in bulk, store the back stock in extra cabinet space in the bathroom, linen closet, or garage. Do not buy too much as your taste may change or the items may lose their potency.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Tip - Friends can make cleaning out your closet much easier

If you need to pick up your room or clean out your closet, have a friend come over to chat with you while you do it. They help the time pass and can also help you decide which clothes to keep or donate.

Have you heard of a clothing swap? It's a party with your friends to trade clothing. Each person brings a few items from their closet that they no longer want and the items either go home with the other people or get donated.

Tip - The Miracle of Music

Does music motivate you? Next time you need to clean the kitchen, try putting on some fun music.

Tip - Small realistic doable goals!

Are you overwhelmed by the clutter in your home?
Does it feel impossible to manage? No matter how hard you try, the papers keep piling.

Here are two tips that will help you succeed.
1) Think... baby steps or small realistic steps
2) Create a threshold, check in, or time frame in which to focus and take care of the clutter.

Challenge: Keeping Your Desk Clean
Most of us when we have a task looming in the back of our minds day in and day out are thinking too big. So big in fact, it deters us from making strides to complete the task. How many times have you looked at your desk and said, "I still need to do that", "my desk is driving me crazy", "I can never keep it clean, even when I try, it gets dirty again."

SET ASIDE A TIME of day or a regular interval in which you check in with the status of your desk and make small improvements. For some people, it might work to set aside time Sunday night. You might decide that the first sunday of the month at 9pm you will work on your desk a little bit.

For most people, the goal of clearing entirely will not work. If your desk has 4 drawers, trackle one drawer each Sunday. Since you will be revisiting it regularly, it will keep in check and take less and less time to do.

If we wait months or years, we get overwhelmed and our fear builds. Keeping after it, we only have to manage the "surface layer" which can be done quickly.

Imagine you are having guests over at the last minute and it only takes you 10 minutes to straighten up your desk or the kitchen counters. Remember SET TIME ASIDE and SMALL REALISTIC GOALS and you will be amazed at the result.

Summer Tip: Container for outdoor toys

As the weather get warmer and the outdoor toys begin to find their way outside, consider buying some type of container to store them in.

Here are some choices:
1) plastic/resin chests
(Target : Patio + Garden : Patio Furniture : Storage Benches + Boxes )
2) large plastic containers
(Target : Storage + Organization : Plastic Totes : Ultra Latch Storage Boxes - 4 Piece Set (116-qt.) )

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Mother's Day Gift Ideas

Mom's don't always want monetary gifts, think about what you can do that will make her happy.

Has she asked you to pick up your room or another part of the house?
Are there projects she has been waiting for you to do?
Has it been years since you lived in the house and yet you still have stuff there taking up space that your mom could use for other things (i.e. a hobby, office, new clothes, guest room, exercise room)? Does your bedroom look exactly as it did when you left?

Surprise her by tackling some of the projects she has been asking for.

For those of you who haven't taken the time to clean out your bedroom at your parent's house...
Consider what real estate costs today. Is it fair to leave your room as a shrine and not help your parents by cleaning it out and allowing them to use it? Next time you are home, take a look at what you have in the room.

Most likely there are some things that remind you of experiences you had. Decide whether they are items you have kept for the memory or if the item itself is really important to you. If you have kept things for the memory, consider taking a picture and then getting rid of the items. It is the memory that is important, not the object. If the object is really important to you, take it with you to where you are living now. You can't honor it and enjoy it if you can't see it.

If you want to buy a gift, consider what she has been needing or wanting. Does she need more storage? Does she want a place to sort the mail? Does she have adequate file space? Is she having trouble reaching things in the kitchen? Research some solutions for her or give her a gift certificate for a place she will enjoy.

Moving - Change of Address Checklist

If you move pretty often, it is useful to maintain a list of all the institutions you need to contact to change your address.

Moving - Change of Address

Changing our address each time we move has always been a time consuming process. Luckily, with the advent of the Internet, this process is getting easier. We can now change our address online for the post office ( and many of our other bills. Some financial institutions, especially investment banking, require a written document be mailed or faxed to them still.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Are toys overtaking your house?

If you feel overwhelmed by the toys in your house, there are some steps you can take to minimize the abundance of toys around your home.

1) Define an area where toys are kept and keep them out of other areas. DO NOT let them spill over into the other areas. Would you store a frying pan in a bedroom? a stapler in the bathroom? clothing in the kitchen?.... Probably not. Each of these articles has a defined place and it does not seem right to have them anywhere else. Use the same philosophy for toys. Give the toys a home whether it is in your child's room, a den, or family room.

2) Putting away toys. Put toys in bins and label the bins with pictures of the items that are inside. Children are visual.

3) As your children grow too old for a toy, they get warn out, or fall out of favor, REMOVE them from the house. If you are keeping the toys for sentimental reasons, take a picture and create a scrapbook. One rule of thumb is to eliminate one toy for every toy that comes in. You can involve the children in the process by teaching about children less fortunate than them and having them chose a toy to give.

4) Avoid toys with too many parts. If you do have toys like these, train your child to reach for one item at a time from the bin and not to dump out the whole thing on the floor.

5) When creating storage for toys, or anything else for that matter, make sure to leave room for new items. Whether you are using bins, shelving, or drawers, on the day that you put everything away, they should not fill more than 75% of the space. If they are entirely full, your organizing system will not work as new items won't have a place to go.

6) Remember that children do not need everything. They are often totally entertained by the simplest things (a bubble, a balloon, a box).

Thursday, February 22, 2007

How To Design Your Child’s Desk Area

A well designed space can make a big difference in a child’s willingness and ability to study. Thinking ahead, we can create a space in which they feel comfortable, productive, and eager to learn.

Whether your child is 7 or 17, the elements of a desk area are the same: surface space, storage, lighting, and privacy. How you design their room today will affect their study habits tomorrow. Teaching them that each item has a place will help them stay organized as they grow older. Teaching them to maintain a clear workspace, their mind will be clearer and more focused on their studies. Learning to categorize and properly store their belongings, they will continue to maintain a more organized space in the work place and at home, spending less time looking for things throughout their lifetime.

Surface Space
I was blessed as a child with a white Formica desk as large as my bed. It was both deep and long allowing me to have key items at a hand’s reach and plenty of surface area to lay my textbook above or to the side of my papers while working on them. It was also entirely open underneath, like a table, so I could move to one side or another working on different things. There are a number of things to consider when selecting a desk. My childhood desk had many benefits, but became less attractive with the advent of computers and traditional monitors. It could not support the weight and the keyboard was too high. The funny thing is now that flat screens and laptops are more common place; the desk is becoming usable again. Sometimes we can not foresee a change in tools, such as computers, but we can do our best to consider the general needs of a child at various stages in life.

Older children are learning many subjects at once and need to keep track of books, binders, and To Do Lists for each class. Some people like carrying one big binder and others like carrying a separate binder for each class. Having a space on the desk to prop up the books so they are visible and in reach will help your child remember what needs to be done and will save them time. The child should be able to switch back and forth between their computer, their textbook, their binder, and paper they are writing on with out moving the items. To accomplish this, the desk should be deep enough to sit with paper in front of you and a book above it and wide enough for a computer to one side and a binder to the other.

For younger children, consider leaving an extra chair at the desk so that you can help them with out always taking the time to grab a chair. This will also keep them (and their things in their bedroom) and not sprawled all over the kitchen table.

Consider the tools needed for school at age 7 or 17, are they the same? Since most of us don’t want to buy furniture over and over again, thinking ahead will benefit our pocket book and the study habits of our children.

Like other parts of the house, items should have a defined storage location or they will be out and in the way. Think about the items your child will need for homework and art projects. Group the items into categories and determine the best way to store them (a drawer, a shelf, a container, a tray or cup on the desk). Young children need a way to keep various types of pens organized. Older children tend to have similar desk accessories as adults. Take a look at your own desk and see what they will likely need (stapler, whole punch, pencil sharpener, a place for files, a paper sorter – computer, lined, a letter/notes sorter). When they are young, buy furniture that will grow with them. Accessories can be purchased over time, but remember to select furniture that will accommodate them.

How good is the lighting in the room? Where is it in relation to the desk? Is there both over head lighting and a desk lamp? Your child will be doing lots of reading, writing, and intricate projects at their desk. Save their eyes and set them up right with good lighting. Position the desk in such a way that the window or overhead light do not cause a glare on the computer screen or such that they end up shadowing the light on their papers. Sit in the room at various times a day and try different positions.

In what environment do you work best – noisy, quiet, music in the background, people around? Our habits develop when we are young. Giving our child their own special space to study will give them the solitude to focus on their studies. Keeping their study space in their bedroom, they can set it up and maintain it on their own and not be in the way of the rest of the family.

While many of us would be inclined to provide a child with a hand-me-down desk or small nook really think about what their needs are going to be. The decisions we make today will have lasting effects. Keep in mind surface space, storage, lighting, and privacy as you begin to design their space. Ask other parents if you can see what they have setup for their children, look at some magazines about setting up office spaces, and browse the aisles of your local office store for ideas.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Welcome to the Organizing Guide

I am a Professional Organizer in the San Francisco Bay Area. I love to help people with organizing projects. My favorite aspect is looking at how we use space and setting it up more efficiently. Of course, seeing the smile on someone's face when they look around at their newly organized space is always nice too!

Do you have projects you have been meaning to get to or areas that always drive you crazy? The purpose of my blog is to provide organizing tips, news, articles, and other information. Take a look, there may be a great tip to use on your next trip, a hidden gem for creating space where you never thought you had it, or information on resources in your neck of the woods.

Did you know there is a whole network of Professional Organizers out there to help you get through your next project? The information here will help you brainstorm ideas, but there is nothing like having someone by your side guiding you, making the project more manageable, and cheering you on.

If you would like help on an organizing challenge, feel free to submit a question. I may include it and my suggestions here on the blog so others can benefit from it as well. If you would like further guidance and live in the San Francisco Bay Area, take a look at For other regions, take a look at


Colette Lamm