Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Preparing for travel: Packing

Confession: I love packing. I love packing for trips and I love unpacking at my destination. I like the idea of anticipating my needs, choosing my favorite things, and figuring out how to live on less stuff for a few days. In this case, I'm getting ready to be gone for almost three weeks. I'll be on six planes and spending time in four states, and I have to pack for snow, rain, heat and swimming. Luckily, no formal attire will be required and I'll be able to do laundry when I need to.
My packed toiletries for a 20 day trip. The small bag contains my makeup.

I hate feeling stressed, and packing for a trip at the last minute is guaranteed to cause stress. Therefore, I look at packing as a multi-day event. First, I compile an initial list of what I need to bring, or at least think about bringing. (I'm usually so excited about the trip/the prospect of packing that I do this a couple of weeks in advance.) Then, I check the weather at my destinations. I start a pile of things I want to bring in my carry-on as they occur to me. Right now on my coffee table are an odd assortment of thing not all of which will end up in the bag, but I like being able to see them all together. Two days before I go I make sure I launder all of the must-bring items. Then, a day in advance, I get out the suitcase, and start making piles of clothes and shoes. Approaching packing gradually like this means I'm less likely to forget something, because I have given myself plenty of time to remember it. Also, I'm able to think about outfit combinations and options more clearheadedly than if I'm in a rush and must pick five shirts-any five shirts.

As with everything in life, packing for a trip involves a balancing act between packing more than you need and enough to get by without excessive clothes washing or having to buy something new. A few rules of thumb that I go by:
  • Pack at least one sweater or jacket that is warmer than you think you'll need.
  • Pack your nicest sleepwear, socks and underwear. In situations where you might be waking up in the vicinity of family member or strangers, you'll be glad you left your ragged stuff at home.
  • Don't bring jewelry you couldn't stand to lose, and don't pack anything delicate that will get tangled if you aren't wearing it.
  • Pack only clothes that are in the same color family so you don't have to bring extra shoes or accessories.
  • If you can help it, make your carry on as light as possible, especially if you have connecting flights. Try to find lighter books, and leave items you might normally keep in your purse like an address book at home, unless you are traveling for business. If you are planning to write postcards, enter your addresses in your cell phone or PDA, or type up a quick list of those people you know you want to write to and bring a single sheet instead of an entire book.
  • Don't put anything in your checked bag that you absolutely would hate never to see again. Obviously, you'll have to check your favorite jeans, but those are replaceable. Anything truly precious to you should be left at home. You just never know.
  • Don't bring anything on your carry-on that is forbidden by TSA. They have a lot of rules, so to pays to pay attention, especially when it comes to medications.
Part of my trip is going to be spent helping my relatives plan and pull off a three-family yard sale in rural Maine. Expect photos and reporting on how it goes upon my return. In the meantime, have a fantastic Father's Day/Summer Solstice and Independence Day!

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, June 15, 2009

Reviewed: Organized to be Your Best!

Organized to be Your Best! by Susan Silver is a classic among organization books. It has been revised five times, most recently in 2006. This is a great overall read for someone seeking to streamline or put in place basic organizational systems, or for people who want to refresh their systems and maybe learn more about what’s available electronically. Silver does a great job of covering modern tools, from mobile devices to lower-tech tools like Mind Maps. Her book is organized in such a way so that you don’t have to read it all, only a few essential chapters and any you feel apply to you. This is so sensible—most people would prefer to read only those applicable sections and skip the rest, and Silver makes it easy to identify which ones you want to read. One thing I really like about this book is that Silver goes into equal detail for basic concepts, like to-do lists and charts, as well as for more advanced or newer topics, like personal information manager software. Her writing is clear and concise, and she stresses that not all of the solutions in the book will work for every reader. Yet, she has a terrific approach that is simple and I’m sure proves to be effective for most. Though the book is aimed at working professionals, the advice and concepts are easily applicable to any area of life that needs organizing.

Some great takeaways from this book are about messy desks. She talks about the “Accessibility Principle,” which is “The more often you use an item, the more accessible it should be.” Silver also talks about paper management and sets forth very clear guidelines for how one should approach paper sorting, categorizing, filing and managing. An oft-repeated organizing mantra is that avoiding decisions leads to clutter. Silver reiterates that here regarding paper clutter and insists, “Making decisions about paper shouldn’t be arbitrary. They need to relate specifically to your values and goals in life.” That requires you to figure out your values and goals, both personal and professional, before you can accomplish a fully functional paper management system.

I especially liked her chapter on collectors and collections, subtitled “How, When and What to Save.” I have a tendency to collect things. If I find something I like, I want to have more than one example of it, such as all of the books written by my favorite romance authors, or lots of little tins to store tea in. But I am not a person who collects useless detritus because I might need it one day. No sir. This chapter addresses moderate and severe collectors and walks us through the decision of what the keep and what to get rid of, then how to sort, store and maintain what we choose to keep. Her instructions are particularly useful for people who collect every piece of paper they come into contact with because they aren’t sure if they might need it. Following Silver’s lead, those people will be able to get rid of a vast amount of what they’ve been hanging on to.

One of the parts of organization nearest to my heart is that of organized computers. Silver, ahead of many of her field, dedicates multiple chapters to organizing and protecting digital information. As we move more and more of our daily lives and most of our information to a digital format, it because increasingly important to keep this area as organized as our hard data, and perhaps more so, in order to protect sensitive information and our hardware itself from outside forces. This area can be scary for many people, who many know they should organize and back up their digital files, but are paralyzed by technophobia and unable to do so. Silver says that computer data should be organized; you should be able to find it easily, back it up regularly and protect it from damage, loss or thieves. Silver does more than just tell you how to name your file folders, she actually shows you how the hierarchy of a folder system works so you know why you are doing what she suggests you do. She also has a lot of resources for protecting your digital information, both from potential damage or erasure, and from nefarious types who might want to infiltrate your systems.

Organized to be Your Best! is a well written and enormously helpful volume that will help any working professional order her approach to her workspace, work tools and work systems.

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, June 12, 2009

Organizer’s blog digest 3

Lots of great stuff going on in organizing land this week. Everyone's excited for summer weather, vacations and some of the larger organizing projects you can tackle when you've got longer days, warmer nights and extra hands around the house. Here's the best of this week's posts from around the Web:
Unclutterer posts this week about outfitting a kitchen with the essentials. This post is a wonderful companion to the posts I've been doing on "preparing for every day." If you are wondering what essential kitchen tools you might be missing, these are great suggestions, and the comments have valuable information as well.

One of my newest favorite blogs, Organizing-Life, has seven tips for less stress today. Stress is often caused by putting things off that we know we need to do. Actually doing the things is almost never as hard as the mental and emotional strain of thinking about doing it!

The always helpful Lorie at The Clutter-Diet Blog gives us Ten Essential Closet Maintenance Habits. When it comes to closets, maintenance really is the name of the game.

This week several other professional organizers and myself participated in a "Blog Carnival" put on by Your Organizing Business blog. I chose to share my post about emergency preparedness, and you can catch more awesome posts from other organizers and business people there.

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, June 9, 2009

Preparing for every day: Purse

Yesterday, I wrote about preparedness and the goal of being prepared the exact right amount. Here are some suggestions of what to keep on hand to have a prepared purse (or satchel).

(It doesn't count as prepared if you can't find what you are looking for!)

The 8 things that should be in every purse:

  • lip balm
  • Emery board
  • tissues
  • ONE place that keys always go
  • ONE place that a cell phone always goes
  • id/wallet/billfold that has a stash of emergency cash for parking etc.
  • feminine products” (even if you don’t need them, you’ll be able to come to a friend’s rescue once in a while)
  • chocolate (or something else to nibble on when stuck in traffic. I like Tootsie Rolls because they don't melt)

That is my no means all I have in my purse, but these eight things we use all the time, need almost every day, and are real time savers when we have them at our fingertips. However, a purse (or briefcase or satchel or man-bag) is practically a sacred space and I’m sure there are things you must have in yours that wouldn’t occur to me to have in mine. What must-have preparedness item do you have in your bag? Matches? Band-aids? Share in the comments.

Creative Commons purse photo 1 posted to flickr by eyesogreen

Creative Commons purse photo 2 posted to flickr by all of olive

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, June 8, 2009

Preparing for every day: Desk drawer

Part of leading an organized life is being prepared for life. Having what you need means not having to spend extra time and money scrambling to be ready for some event—whether the event is planned or unforeseen. The trick here is to be prepared appropriately, trying not to be overprepared (which can cause overspending, clutter and stress) or underprepared (which can cause overspending, clutter and stress). Of course, since, we can never know exactly what the future holds, we just have do our best to hit that sweet spot of preparedness. I’ve written about the things you should do to prepare for an emergency. Here’s a slightly smaller list, the first in series, of things that will help you be better prepared for the eventualities of every day.

This drawer is pretty organized and has a bunch of the recommended items.

The 12 things that should be in every top desk drawer:

These are the things we use all the time, need almost every day, and are real time savers when we have them at our fingertips. Trying to keep only those items we use every day will make it easier to find things . I’m sure there are other tools you swear by in your desk drawers. Feel free to add more in the comments.

Creative Commons desk drawer photo posted to flickr by Mickelodeon

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

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

How to organize recipes: part three

Now that our cookbooks and paper recipes are neatly organized, we turn to...

Electronic Recipes

Recipes can be saved on the computer in a variety of ways. They can exist as a document file or pdf, in the form of recipe database software, or as a bookmark that takes you to a favorite recipe posted on a website like epicurious.com or foodnetwork.com. Though these types of recipes are not exactly cluttering your space, a given recipe can be even more difficult to find on the computer than among paper recipes shoved in a drawer. 

Retrievability is the most important thing for electronic information. Here are the main things to keep in mind:

  • Database-style recipe programs will have their own search feature built in, and you shouldn’t have a problem finding a recipe that way. 
  • File-based recipes saved as documents should be labeled appropriately and stored in a recipe folder. How you label and nest your files and folders is up to you, but try to have them mirror your hard copy categories (discussed in the Loose Recipes post) as much as possible.
  • The document file itself should be titled the way you would look for the recipe, with as many pertinent keywords as you can fit. You should be able to visually scan your recipe folder and find the file you are looking for. For instance, a particular potato salad recipe might be called Potato Salad Mom's Low-Fat Recipe to tell you exactly which potato salad recipe it is.
  • If you save one long document with all of your recipes one right after another, you can use the search feature of your word processing program (command- or control-f) to find the recipe you are looking for. (I find this method gets unwieldy and don't use it).
  • You can also use the computer’s file search capabilities to find the file you are looking for if you search using the same keywords that are in the document or file name.
  • Online bookmarks can be done a variety of ways as well. I like the free social bookmarking application delicious for my recipe bookmarks, because it is easily searchable by keyword and it can be accessed from anywhere. I use delicious to save my recipes and tag them with basic keywords so I can see them all in one place if I want: “recipes, food, cooking.” Then I add others as necessary to help me find a specific recipe again, such as “lemon, madeleines, baking, cookies, tea cookies” for a madeleine recipe. 
  • I don’t bother with the “favorites” feature that many cooking websites have, where you can sign up for an account and keep track of favorites recipes through it. Retrieving a recipe would then require you go to that website, sign in, and access your favorites, rather than simple typing in a keyword to your delicious account and clicking on the link when it comes up. The only time an account would be really useful is if you are on a particular site a lot, and want to interact socially with the other users by leaving comments, etc.
  • Once you have found the recipe you are looking for on your computer or in your bookmarks, you can print it and take it to the kitchen, bring your laptop with you if you are brave enough to have ingredients near your keyboard, or you can call the recipe up on a handheld electronic device. I have an iPod Touch, so I can email myself the link to a recipe and call it up on the device once I'm in the kitchen. There are also recipe-related iPhone/iPod Touch applications that can be downloaded for free, such as epicurious.com's mobile app.
Now we've covered the basics of recipe organization, give your recipe collection some attention and let me know what works, and what doesn't, for you!

Screenshots from epicurious.com and delicious.com. 

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

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

How to organize recipes: part two

After going over ideas for organizing cookbooks, we're moving on to...

Loose Recipes

I have recipes from magazines, newspapers, emails, newsletters and food packages. I have hand written recipes from relatives, photocopied recipes with handwritten annotations from relatives and homemade cookbooks from relatives. Recipes come to us in all shapes and sizes, and putting them in some kind of order can be daunting.

The little index-card sized recipe boxes are pretty to look at, but require rewriting recipes to fit on the appropriate cards. Definitely too much work. Even if you had a container that held all of these recipes perfectly, then the question is, how to you file them? By ingredient (meat, rice, vegetables, fish)? By course (breakfast, appetizer, dessert)? In this day and age, you could even organize them by chef (Jamie Oliver, Paula Deen), by origin (Martha Stewart Living, Gourmet, The New York Times Magazine), or by audience (vegetarian, vegan, raw). Not to mention family-passed-down recipes. Plus, there’s another designation: those tried and true favorites that you practically know by heart, the ones you tried before and worked, but aren’t in the regular rotation, and the recipes you want to try one day, when you get around to buying coriander seeds.

I’m beginning to think an entire book could be written on organizing recipes! Let’s just say that the ultimate way you organize your recipes is up to you. The important thing is that you create a system through which you can actually find the recipe you are looking for when you need it. Here are some suggestions:

  • Toss any recipe that you tried and hated, or will never try. (Less to organize later.)
  • Decide how you want to organize your recipes and sort them accordingly. I have mine sorted by broad categories (Meat, Vegan, Dessert, Soups), and then have a couple of sub categories (Cookies, Duck). Of course, many recipes will belong to more than one category, but don’t agonize over it. Just put it in the category where you think you’d most likely look for it in a month or two.
  • Assess your space and decide on a container. Do you have cookbooks and loose recipes and want to keep them together? In that case, my suggestion is getting a binder or magazine holder that can be filled with clear plastic sleeves and maybe even dividers with labels to hold your recipes. Then the entire thing can be shelved like a book. Do you not have room for the loose recipes on your bookshelf and want something decorative in the kitchen? In that case, you might want to try a recipe box.
  • Once the recipes are filed away (with room add more in the future), test the system by looking for a few recipes and seeing if you can find them easily. Have a family member try as well. It would be handy if your kids could find the macaroni and cheese recipe in the pasta section of your recipe binder as easily as you can!

Click here for one more post on organizing electronic recipes!

Lelah Baker-Rabe is a Los Angeles-based professional organizer. To discuss your organizational needs, call her at 818.269.6671 or email lelah@lelahwithanh.com
Visit her website at http://www.lelahwithanh.com/

6/11/09 update: I found out about a product called Recipe Nest via the Need Another You organizing blog. This is a binder-like product that apparently makes it easy to store paper-based recipes. I like the bright colors it comes in, and the fact that it is pretty spill-proof and can be stored on a shelf with your books. The site for the company that makes it, Recipe Relish, has more info, but it is made with Flash so I can't deep link to the most useful information. I haven't used this product myself, but it might be work checking out.

Monday, June 1, 2009

How to organize recipes: part one

Recipe organization is one of those areas where there as many solutions as people. I’ve yet to meet someone who organized her recipes exactly like anyone else. I think the main issue is that recipes come in many forms, whether bound in cookbooks, loose in an infinite number of shapes and sizes, or stored somewhere on your computer. If you don’t have any system at all, except maybe a drawer stuffed to the gills with paper, or a bookshelf loaded with dog-eared cookbooks, here are some suggestions to get things onto organized footing. Since this is a pretty in-depth topic, I’ve decided to create three separate posts for the three main recipe formats: cookbooks, loose recipes and electronic ones.


  • First of all, donate or sell any cookbook that you never make recipes from.
  • Second, organize what's left however you tend to set up your books (by author, binding type, etc). I like to organize my cookbooks by subject, from general to specific. That means I have The Joy of Cooking and The Bon Appetit Cookbook on one end and Citrus Cookbook and Pancakes: From Morning to Midnight on the other.
  • Thirdly, if there is a big book taking up a lot of space and you only use a couple of the recipes in it, remove, scan or photocopy those recipes and get rid of the book. It’s just taking up space.
  • Fourth, the remaining books need to have a system for finding frequently used or "want to try" recipes. This system could be as simple as a Post It note, page marker/flag or book mark on which you write a note that can be seen from the outside of the book to remind you what’s on that page. The note you write yourself shouldn’t necessarily match the title of the recipe; make it the name you remember the recipe by (e.g.: Spicy Ribs instead of Roasted Asian-Spiced Pork Ribs).
Cookbook Tips

  • Tip: If you’re an exuberant cook and don’t want to have to worry about getting ingredients all over your cookbook pages, photocopy a working copy of a recipe and leave the book safely shelved while you are working.
  • Extra tip: If you have a cookbook collection, you may not want to put anything with adhesive to mark your recipes, since the adhesive can damage the book over time. Use slips of paper instead.
  • Super extra recipe tip: Whenever I make a recipe, I mark the date I made it and any notes to myself in pencil on the recipe. It helps when I’m looking for a chocolate sauce recipe if the one I find in the Bon Appetite cookbook has a note reminding me I tried it two years ago and it didn’t turn out very well. 
Tune in later this week for parts two and three of how to organize recipes!

Creative Commons cookbook photo posted to flickr by LollyKnit