Friday, February 26, 2010

Plastic storage bags: reuse and recycle

The Los Angeles Times has a blog for just about any topic you can think of. I love their entertainment coverage, but they also have great food, architecture and book content as well. Yesterday in the L.A. at Home blog (billed as covering "design, architecture, gardens, Southern California living") Rene Lynch aka "The Recyclist" posted on her propensity for reusable plastic food storage containers and how she's trying to be more conscious of her use of plastic zip-top bags which are incredible easy to use and even easier to throw away.

Of course, like most people who read articles on the Internet, I've heard about of all those hard to pronounce chemicals that make up the plastic containers and bags and theoretically leach into our food, especially when heated, and then do all sorts of imagined bad things to our bodies. Maybe it's a conspiracy, but I've never read any actual authoritative proof that says these plastics are bad for you. So I use, and reuse, plastic bags until they break.

I usually buy a small quantity of quart and gallon sized bags once every six to eight months, and use them for food, travel and other organizational purposes with thorough washing and dryings in between. These things are sturdy as well as incredibly useful.

Check out her post and the comments. For some reason this topic always raises a lot of opinions. What do you do about food storage and seductively handy zip-top bags?

Creative Commons photo posted to Flickr by suavehouse113
Lelah Baker-Rabe is a Los Angeles-based professional organizer. To discuss your organizing needs, call her at 818.269.6671 or email

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Resolution in progress

One of my 2010 resolutions was to "refresh my apartment by de-cluttering and rearranging the space." As a professional organizer, I naturally go through my life enacting those organizing principles that I find to be the most helpful, so my apartment wasn't a complete disaster area, but, after having lived in the same one bedroom townhouse for four and half years without significantly changing the layout of the furniture or the storage spaces, it was time to shuffle things around to refresh the space and the energy within it. Luckily, my fiance was even more gung-ho about this project than I was (always good to have help keeping you on track), and we spent a good portion of each night of the last week taking things off of shelves and out of closets, vacuuming and cleaning an embarrassing amount of dust, dragging furniture up and down the stairs, and then putting everything back together again. We still have some refining to do; for instance, there's a large pile of stuff to be gotten rid of in the new space between the car collection case and the coffee table, but we've made a lot of progress. Here's a few photos to show you the before and after:
The plan.
Where did all the books go?
Oh. There.
And there.
The new space under the stairs.

What's awesome about this process is we knew that if we changed our spaces, purged them of stuff we didn't need, cleaned them up, set them up in a new configuration, that we'd be giving ourselves a new way to live our lives. (Moving the television set from across from our bed upstairs to across from our couch downstairs was a big change.) But I didn't count on how much just sitting down at my desk, which is now across from the kitchen and gets tons of natural light from our main window, would feel completely different, as if I'd not only changed the direction my computer faces, but I'd changed the direction of my entire life. 

I suppose in a time of a transition (I'm getting married in a few weeks), things can feel somehow more difficult and more important. As Julie Morgenstern says, "Every time we go through a major change, we experience a breakdown in our organizational systems." I'm hoping to ease that breakdown by navigating this time in my life with the knowledge that my systems are flexible, and change is good.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Tips and Tools: Flower arrangements

Cut flowers are a popular gift around Valentine’s Day and do a lot to bring a temporary surge of color and freshness to a space. From a keeping-organized perspective, I like them because they are consumables and as such as preferable in some ways to a living plant. Here are some tips to extend the life of your flower arrangement. 
  • Depending on the flowers, recutting the ends of the stems when you put them in water helps, as does flower food and using warm water. 
  • Don’t forget to keep the water level up, and for most arrangements, replacing the water entirely every other day is a good idea. 
  • For a mixed bouquet, once the weakest flowers start to die, pull them out and separate the rest of the flowers by type into smaller vases. Then position those in strategic areas around your home. The large bouquet that could only be enjoyed when in one area of your house then becomes a small vase of tulips for the kitchen, greenery for the coffee table and orchids for your nightstand.
  • Put a penny in the bottom of a vase of tulips to keep them perky.

Lelah Baker-Rabe is a Los Angeles-based professional organizer. To discuss your organizing needs, call her at 818.269.6671 or email

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Things I love

Valentine's Day is a few short days away. I've always enjoyed this holiday because it happens to be my half-birthday. I know it's silly, but since I love my birthday, my half-birthday isn't bad, either, and the whole day generally puts me in a good mood. In honor of feeling happy and of all the love that tends to float around this time of year (commercially inspired or not), here's a list of things I love.
  • Books. I'm a big reader and on my list right now: ADD-Friendly Ways to Organize Your Life (still), The Happiness Project (which I had signed by Gretchen Rubin when she was here in LA on her book tour), Unclutter Your Life in One Week, and The Thin Man, March's book club selection. (Chocolat was really good, by the way).
  • Watching TV online. I don't have TV, so I use Hulu, Netflix Watch Instantly and various network websites to follow my favorite shows.
  • Post-its. This one is kind of obvious for an organizer, but Post-it products really do a lot for me. I write directions to places and can stick them on my steering wheel for easy access. I use them as book marks and write notes on the them. I use page flags constantly; they save me so much time when I'm hunting for a recipe in a thick book.
  • Being a professional organizer. My chosen career has continued to bring me a sense of accomplishment, of personal satisfaction and a feeling that I'm make good use of my life right here and now. I love being able to say that I love what I do.
What are some of the loves of your life?

Lelah Baker-Rabe is a Los Angeles-based professional organizer. To discuss your organizing needs, call her at 818.269.6671 or email

Monday, February 8, 2010

Improvised nametags

I don’t often use label makers or computers to create labels or signs. A lot of my clients do as they like the uniform look it gives to their files or other organizing projects. Fair enough. I simply don’t have the patience for it, when I could hand write a label in less time and move on. (Luckily, I have neat handwriting.) However, sometimes it does pay to use these aids when creating a large file system or many duplicates of the same thing. On Tuesday, I’m hosting a business mixer through the site Biznik, of which I am a member. As the host, I provide nametags, and Biznik provides a handy nametag template, which I downloaded with the intention of printing out some easy nametags. However, when I went to Office Depot and found that their selection of printable nametags is limited to packs that cost upwards of 50 dollars, and since I only needed about 25, I decided to improvise. I chose 2''x4''  Avery Multi-Use Labels; I’ll be able to use the extras with my clients and they happen to be almost the exact same size as standard nametags. I downloaded the template that goes with the labels from the Avery website in about three seconds, had the Biznik logo pasted in after 30 seconds more. I was a bit doubtful that the entire thing was actually going to print properly, but, to my surprise, they came out exactly as promised. The entire thing was done in a few minutes and I had a low cost nametag that I’m sure the guests at my mixer won’t mind not comming on a large sheet.

Technology wins this round. Of course, we’ll hand write our names on the tags at the event. My trusty Sharpies are at the ready!

Lelah Baker-Rabe is a Los Angeles-based professional organizer. To discuss your organizing needs, call her at 818.269.6671 or email

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Reviewed: Throw Out Fifty Things

I told you a couple of weeks ago that I was reading some interesting books on the topic of organizing.  I finished Throw Out Fifty Things by Gail Blanke and thought it was fascinating. The format of the book is simple. Gail, a motivator by trade, among other things, is extremely inspiring and motivating as she talks you through various areas of your life and why and how to throw out the things that are weighing you down and stopping you from living the life you want. I thought the book would be more focused on physical clutter, but throwing junk out of your kitchen, garage and attic is just a warm up for the real work Gail wants you to do. She spends over half the book on emotional clutter, i.e. the “mental mess,” and it’s kind of shocking how much each of us is carrying around with us just in our heads that sucks our energy at least as much as that pile of year old magazines at the foot of the bed does.

Gail’s approach is folksy and full of anecdotes about herself and her clients. Some of the extreme cases she talks about serve to put in persective most of our problems and make us feel like we can throw some of this stuff out and it won’t be that hard. Gail tells us what she’s throwing out right along with us, which make the entire process seem really doable. Therefore, I recommend this book to anyone who wants someone to hold their hand while getting rid of some stuff, but who maybe don’t want an actual person there to witness the process. I also think that even fairly well adjusted people can learn a lot from the emotional clutter portions of the book. Who among us can say that they’ve mastered all of these things:
  • Letting go of the regrets and mistakes of the past
  • Letting go of being right about everything
  • Letting go of thinking the worst
  • Letting go of waiting for the right moment
Seriously, if everyone were able to let go of the things she talks about in these chapters, the world would be a lot less of a tense, anxiety-ridden place.

I didn’t actually follow the "throw out fifty things" mission of the book, but if I was a place in my life when I was feeling really stuck and needing help making a big change, I wouldn’t hesistate to pick this book up again and follow the instructions to the letter.

Lelah Baker-Rabe is a Los Angeles-based professional organizer. To discuss your organizing needs, call her at 818.269.6671 or email

Monday, February 1, 2010

Checking in with resolutions

It’s February first and a good time to check in with resolutions made about a month ago. Have you made any progress with yours? Here’s a summary of mine and where I am a month in.
I have a little reminder sheet stuck to my calendar so my resolutions can be recalled at a glance.

Resolution: Refresh my apartment by de-cluttering and rearranging the space.
Progress: I have consistently decluttered this month, and consequently have about four bags and boxes of things (mostly books) waiting to exit my house for their new lives elsewhere. Rearranging of the space hasn’t happened yet, but it’s still a high priority and should get started in February.

Resolution:Learn about and use more of the features of my digital camera and look into editing the images in some kind of effects program.
Progress: Haven’t really done anything with this one yet.

Resolution: Revise a piece of writing to a point where I'd let other people besides my sister read it.
Progress: I’m in the process of finishing the book I started during NaNoWriMo last November. I’m about 13,000 words from the end, and once the first draft is done, I’ll be revising away!

Resolution: Buy more produce from the farmer's market and less from Ralphs.
Progress: This has been far and away the most successful. I’ve been to two different farmers markets three times this month, and have bought very little produce at Ralphs versus the markets. I’m looking forward to exploring some new markets in the next few weeks and am enjoying the fruits and vegetables greatly!

Lelah Baker-Rabe is a Los Angeles-based professional organizer. To discuss your organizing needs, call her at 818.269.6671 or email