Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Reviewed: Bento

Bento is a Mac-only program from the makers of FileMaker. It's marketed as a organizational tool and I have been using it for the past two months for financial tracking and also to organize the guest list for my wedding. 

In simplest terms, it is a user-friendly spreadsheet program that trades the sophisticated functionality of Excel for prettier graphics, ease of use and wonderful integration with other Mac programs like Address Book and iPhoto. You can also export easily to Excel or Numbers if you need to create more complicated formulas than simple sums or counts.

I like Bento because it is easy to start using. In layout, it reminds one of iTunes at first, as you can create libraries and collections of data and the search feature in the upper right hand corner is similar. You can quickly start making a table full of data, and then switch to the form view, which allows you to create a card for each piece of data, called a record, which is really useful for seeing if a certain guest is also attending the rehearsal dinner and being able to see a picture of them so the groom can practice name/face recognition.

The applications for the program are not unlimited. Within the form view there are many preprogramed themes you can choose from, but you can't change the font color, for instance. However, I think Bento is a good program for fairly-savvy Mac users who want an alternative way to keep records or aid in event planning that's friendly and intuitive.

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

Friday, March 19, 2010

Post #100

This is my hundredth post to this blog. I started helping you organize about eleven months ago as a way to share things I learned through the course of being a professional organizer with a wider audience. It's been a pleasure to explore my own organizing theories and discuss the theories of other pros in this forum. From time to time, lists about oneself get popular and float around email and Facebook, so here's a list of 14 things (my favorite number) about me to celebrate this blogging milestone.

1. I finally got a label maker for free by redeeming otherwise unusable United mileage points. I haven't used it yet.
2. I love good smelling things like candles and incense and baking cookies.
3. I'm getting married in 22 days. I'm sitting here trying not to hyperventilate at how small that number is.
4. My favorite thing to organize is my bathroom cupboards. I absolutely love throwing out expired/never going to be used/wrong colored stuff.
5. The best thing about owning my own business is being able to take full responsibility for and pride in the work that I do.
6. My three least favorite chores: dishes, dusting, cleaning floors.
7. My three favorite chores: laundry, putting away groceries, putting away dishes. (Probably because everything has somewhere to go!)
8. Best organizing-related book I've read this year so far...this is tough...Throw Out Fifty Things by Gail Blanke.
8. Best non-organizing-related book I've read this year so far...Chocolat.
9. I've made progress on three out of four of my 2010 resolutions.
10. Consumable gifts that are always welcome in my house: soap, cut flowers, Champagne and fruit.
11. I love to dance, bike ride, swim and hike.
12. Publications to which I subscribe: Real Simple, Los Angeles Magazine, Rolling Stone.
13. Three favorite professional organizers at the moment: Brooks Palmer, Monica Ricci, Lisa Montanaro
14. I'm attending two reunions this year: my 10 year high school reunion and (technically not a reunion year for me, as it'll be my 6th, but my fiance's 5th) college reunion. Two more big milestones in a year full of them.

Creative Commons photo posted to Flickr by norwichnuts

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

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Organizing overkill: a case study

I love Martha Stewart. I love her plummy speaking voice and her way of making the most complicated domestic task seem like it should be as easy as eating an apple. I love the soft palatte that she favors, even though I always go for colors that are bolder. I think she’s great, but there’s no question that she tends toward overdoing it from time to time (check out these children’s Halloween costumes).

Here’s a video of her with Martha Stewart Living’s editorial director of design, Kevin Sharkey, talking about closet organizing essentials. Some of the suggestions are normal, such as using the right kind of hanger for different kinds of clothes and using thinner hangers for shirts so you can fit more in your closet.

However, how many of us really want to use cedar shoe trees for every pair of shoes in our closets? It strikes me as a bit unnecessary and not the best use of time (pulling and pushing the shoe trees in and out every day) and money; cedar shoe trees are not cheap.

It would be lovely to have every sweater in your closet folded like it is at the Gap, but I can’t imagine it being a priority for most of us. Perhaps if you pay someone to do your laundry you could have them watch this video and ask them to do it that way.

I do like the idea of having a mending kit and sewing kit stashed near your clothes and shoes. Unless you wouldn’t know how to sew a button back on even if you have all the materials, in which case you should learn or toss gear you’ll never make use of.

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

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Mark your calendar

Here are some upcoming dates to be aware of:

March 14: Daylight saving time begins and we all turn our clocks forward an hour at 2 a.m. We lose an hour (temporarily), but sunlight lasts into the evening. It's going to really feel like spring when that happens.

March 17: St. Patrick's Day. This holiday always sneaks up on me, and even though I'm not Irish, it's fun to walk around wearing green.

March 20: Official first day of spring and the spring equinox.

March 30: Passover begins at sundown.

April 4: Easter Sunday. I'll be dying eggs and then making egg salad sandwiches for a week.

April 15: Deadline to mail your taxes. Don't wait until the last minute on this one. It's also the deadline for tax payments for business owners.

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

Friday, March 5, 2010

Common clutter areas and what to do about them

Many of my clients have the same types of clutter in their spaces. There's something about the following areas that seem to stop people in their organizing tracks. These things are like rocks in a stream that stop up the flow and force you to navigate around them, all the time. Even if the rest of the room is fairly clutter free, having these problem areas can bring all the energy in the room down. Here are the three biggest ones:
Problem: Electronic accessories. Everyone somewhere in their house has a drawer or box with the little white piece of plastic that their iPod came with and black cords with colorful ends that most of us have no idea what function they have. There's the extra phone jack things that came when we installed our Internet service, and probably a few extra ethernet cables, disks that go to programs we never use, and sets of earbuds that may or may not still work. Somehow people, whether tech savvy or not, are afraid to get rid of anything that looks like a cable. But the problem is if  you throw all that stuff in a box, you come back and have cable soup. Everything is tangled, ugly and messy and you don't even want to look in the box when you need something out of it, so maybe you go buy a new on (one of the biggest inidcators of a clutter issue).

Solution: Only keep what you can identify and need. If you aren't sure what that plastic piece is for, look it up online, decide if you have a use for it, then recycle it. Cables, power cords, old modems and other electronic equipment need to be disposed of properly at an e-waste facility. You can usually get rid of most everything electronic at Best Buy or other local retailers, but do a serach for e-waste in your area to find out the most convenient location. If you decide to keep some of these items, store each cable and cord individually in a plastic zip-top bag, then label the bag with the contents. Then store all the bags in one drawer or box, leaving enough room to add future aquisitions. Alternately, use twist ties or rubber bands to contain cords and remember to label, label, label. That unidentified black cable is not going to ever get used if you haven't labeled it as belonging to your old digital camera. (Better yet, donate the camera and cord to someone in need.)

Problem: Plastic and paper grocery bags. Some people have entire closets bursting with grocery bags and shopping bags, even when they do the sensible thing and get most of their purchases with reusable bags. Kitchen and closet space is at a premium for most of us, and we can't afford to have bags taking up valuable space, yet we're terrified of getting rid of them because we're sure to need them. In a way, this is true. I use plastic grocery bags and paper bags nearly every day, to contain recycling before it goes down to the bin, to carry my lunch to my client's, to carry my library books when it's raining. But the amount of bags you could use in a day, or even a week, will never come close to the amount of bags that some people store. 

Solution: Recycle all but three plastic bags and two paper bags right now. Even those good, sturdy bags from the Apple store or whatever. The beauty to recycling these bags (and yes, even the small plastic grocery bags are recyclable nearly everywhere now) is that you're going to accumulate more. Quickly. Even if you are super diligent about bringing your own bags, somehow these things find themselves in your living space. Don't be afraid of running out, and don't keep more than a few on hand.

Problem: Used ink cartridges. Some people hang on to empty printer cartridges because they know they should recycle them but aren't sure how to go about it. Some think they might get them refilled and save a few dollars. 

Solution: I've never refilled my cartridges, but I have heard that they are not as effective and don't last as long as the real thing. So it might not be worth it. As far as recycling goes, you can take empty ink cartridges to Staples, where they will recycle them for you and give you a rewards credit to use to their store in the future. It's very simple. 

Creative Commons cable photo posted to Flickr by juhansonin
Creative Commons plastic bag photo posted to Flickr by evelynishere
Creative Commons ink cartridge photo posted to Flickr by kennymatic

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

Monday, March 1, 2010

Reviewed: Unclutter Your Life in One Week

I just finished reading Unclutter Your Life in One Week, the 2009 book written by Erin Rooney Doland, editor of the blog Unclutterer.

If you are looking for a comprehensive guide to organizing your life from your sock drawer to your weekly meal planning, you can't do better than this book. By breaking the contents of your life into the days of the week, Rooney Doland offers concise but thorough recommendations for organization. Rather than simply tell you to create a "reception station"in the entryway of your home, she tells you exactly how to behave and use the station in order to make the repetitive actions of coming home at the end of each day smooth, enjoyable and, of course, uncluttered. Her advice is specific but applicable to a range of different lifestyles and schedules.

I particularly liked her ideas for letting go of a hobby (and its stuff) that you no longer spend time on, as well as collecting small toiletries that you no longer want and putting them in a box for guests--overnight and otherwise--to use.

Her tone is also not overly rah rah. She knows what it's like to have a busy schedule and an overstuffed living space, but she also knows that it is 100% possible to remake the space and clear the hours of the day for things that really matter to you, and that is truly inspiring.

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