Wednesday, November 25, 2009

I'm thankful for...

There are lots of things to be thankful for in life, and it's nice to have a holiday that inspires one to reflect on them. So often we only appreciate the things we have after they are gone. I think our daily happiness can be boosted by realizing how lucky we are the rest of the time, too.

So here are just a few of things that I'm thankful for today: my health, the health of my family, the fact that I'm getting married to my partner of eight years in the spring, the fact that we have everything we need to lead healthy and productive lives, being able to live in a place like Southern California with all of its wonderful attributes, my amazing and interesting clients, Sharpies, apples, the new chocolate-chip oatmeal cookie recipe I found that embodies everything I love about cookies, and having time to read books.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Creative Commons photo posted to Flickr by net efekt

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

Monday, November 23, 2009

Tips and Tools: Recipe annotation

The handwritten recipe book that my mom kept and used when I was a kid held a wealth of information in its pages. Almost every page was also decorated with the remnants of egg white, coffee stains, dustings of flour and smears of peanut butter and Crisco. It's impossible to not get a little bit of your ingredients on your cookbooks, and it's one of the things that makes them living documents. Another thing that makes cookbooks and recipes much more valuable than the paper they are printed on is the knowledge one learns every time one makes a recipe. What substitutions were made, how the end results looked and tasted, and the exhortation to use less salt next time are all pieces of information that should be written down when you make a recipe so that they next person who makes it has insight beyond what's printed on the page. Taking good notes on recipes saves time and headaches the next time you want to make the recipe, and it will help you decide what to make or what not to make. Of course, many of the things home cooks make aren't found in recipe books at all, but come out of our own heads, and it's a good idea to try to write those down as well, as you are making it, as trying to remember after the fact is nearly impossible, even if you've made it a hundred times.

Some things you can annotate your recipes with:

  • Date you made the recipe
  • Occasion for which you made it
  • End result: good, bad, ugly?
  • Your recommendation whether or not to make it again
  • Any substitutions made or ingredients omitted
  • Changes to the method that you made or want to try next time

If you feel uncomfortable writing on the actual pages, you can use a Post-it for your notes and affix it to the page. I use a pencil and use page flags to mark recipes that I have made and that I want to try. Also, check out my how to organize recipes series: Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3.

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

Friday, November 20, 2009

Organizer's blog digest: Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is now less than a week away. I'm calling upon the fantastic community of professional organizers with blogs to give you some helpful tips for coping with the holiday in an organized fashion. For me, Thanksgiving has always been a wonderful day full of sharing time in the kitchen, and then the table, with family. Since my family is pretty easy going, I've never felt stressed about having the "perfect" holiday, which allows us to enjoy the simple pleasures of cooking and eating together. This will be the first Thanksgiving with our newest addition to the family, my niece, who is just four months old!

Mrs. Organized, the blog, shares a thorough set of tips for Thanksgiving prep two days before through day of, as well as a post on setting a Thanksgiving table with flair.

Krista Colvin of Organize in Style shares some great tips to keep Thanksgiving "simple and sane," including making a "why yes you can help me" bowl with a bunch of little tasks written on pieces of paper for kids or guests to draw from. Cute idea!

Mary Frances Ballard, author of Orderly Places, has the awesome tip of keeping records of your Thanksgiving planning, so you'll be able to remember things like exactly what recipe you used and if there was enough stuffing to go around. That will come in handy when you start planning next year!

Finally, Ellen, a Houston-based professional organizer, reminds us that during the holidays it is really important to take care of yourself first, by getting enough sleep, nutrition and exercise so you can enjoy the holidays rather than simply endure them.

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

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Clutter-free gifts wrap up!

Hopefully you'll have some great ideas sparked by the clutter-free gift posts I've been running. Giving gifts at the holidays can be a real pleasure, so try to enjoy the process. Remember, if it is something the person wants and needs, and they have a place to keep it, then it isn't clutter, even if it is does take up space, like a book or a shirt. Good luck!

All the posts:
Financial and charitable gifts
Gifts of experiences
Consumable gifts
Romantic gifts
Gifts of education
Service-related gifts
Meaningful gifts
Technology-related gifts
Gifts of memberships
About clutter-free gifts

Creative Commons photo posted to Flickr by redcherryhill

Clutter-free gifts: Financial and charitable

We've made it to the final category in the clutter-free gifts series. Money has not always been considered an appropriate gift at the holidays, but money can buy lots of useful things. Charitable giving, however, has been associated with the holidays as we use it as a time to help people in need. If you want to give a gift of money to your friend or relative, but don't necessarily want to hand them an envelope of cash, here are some ideas. If you want the money to go to a good cause, you can find ways to make that reflect on both you, the giver, as well as the person in whose honor will be making the donation.

  • Contribute to an established savings account/college fund/CD for a child.
  • Buy blue chip stocks for a child under a custodial account. You can buy a few at each holiday and birthday, and their pool will add up over time. They may not appreciate it until they are older, but you could use the gift as a teaching tool about investments.
  • Buy a gift card that works like cash, such as American Express
  • Charitable donation in name of receiver for a charity they are interested in—just ask where they'd like the money to go, rather than guessing!
  • Allow the receiver to choose the charities of their choice by giving a Good Card. It's like a gift card for donations. (Via Jeri Dansky)
  • Volunteer your time at a favorite charitable organization of the receiver, such as a retirement home, homeless shelter or food bank.
Creative Commons photo posted to Flickr by
Lelah Baker-Rabe is a Los Angeles-based professional organizer. To discuss your organizing needs, call her at 818.269.6671 or email 

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Clutter-free gifts: Experiences

The next-to-last category of clutter-free gifts is gifts of experiences or quality time. These can be given as an experience to be shared between giver and receiver, or they can be for the receiver to enjoy alone or with a party of their own choosing. At the end of the day, things don’t matter so much as experiences and making memories that will last forever—while not taking up any physical space!

• Meal out
• Special meal out—tea, brunch, dessert
• Theme park pass
• Train trip
• Tickets to a museum, concert, event, play
• Personal chef dinner party
• Special outing for a child and one parent
• Experience-related homemade coupon book (ice cream outing, trip to the zoo)
• Zoo, aquarium trip
• Sporting event
• Movie tickets
• Wine tasting tour or event
• Hot air balloon trip
• Skydiving, bungee jumping for adventurous types
• Spa day

Creative Commons photo posted to Flickr by Ronnie44052
Lelah Baker-Rabe is a Los Angeles-based professional organizer. To discuss your organizing needs, call her at 818.269.6671 or email

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Clutter-free gifts: Consumables

By far the largest category of clutter-free gifts is consumables. These are by and large practical things that are used up over time. They give service and joy to the receiver of the gift, and then they go away, their containers hopefully recycled or re-used. Consumables can be as straightforward as gas for your car, or as luxurious as 80 dollar pomegranate-scented candles for the bathroom. The best thing about them is they have a temporary place in your friend or family member’s life, and they earn that place by doing something useful.

  • Gift cards for gas, groceries
  • Food, from simple groceries to fancy foodstuffs
  • Fruit basket
  • Wine, a bottle or perhaps a mixed case
  • Mass transit tickets for people who use public transportation
  • Of the month clubs: beer, cheese, fruit, wine, bacon
  • Home baked items
  • Homemade dinners, frozen
  • Flowers, cut
  • Seeds for gardeners
  • Nice candles
  • Pet food for pet owners
  • Art supplies
  • Baking supplies such as vanilla extract, chocolate, sugar
  • Toiletries: soap, hair care, shower gel, beauty products
  • Stamps and stationary
  • Batteries (perhaps rechargeable)
  • Cleaning products, sponges
  • Candy
  • Gourmet ice cream
  • Coffee/tea
  • For new parents: diapers, wipes, baby food
  • For teachers: teaching supply store gift certificate
  • Gift card for a place they go to regularly, such as Starbucks

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

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Clutter-free gifts: Romantic

The next category in the clutter-free gifts series is meant specifically for your significant other. There can be extra pressure at the holidays to come up with a particularly brilliant or meaningful gift for your romantic partner. Instead of fretting over jewelry or clothes they might not like or need, show how much you just want to spend quality time with them with a thoughtful but clutter-free gift.

  • Have an "in-town vacation" by getting a hotel room in your immediate area for a night or two
  • Consumables like sweets, chocolates, wine and champagne chosen just for them
  • Ballroom dance lessons for the two of you
  • Flowers, cut
  • Massage certificate/couples massage session
  • Massage oil/lotion
  • A surprise trip to somewhere they have always wanted to go
  • Wine tasting trip or event
  • Movie night: you provide the tickets, candy, popcorn
  • Go on a tour of significant places, such as your first date spot, your first apartment together, etc.
  • Condoms
Creative Commons photo posted to Flickr by gary j wood
Lelah Baker-Rabe is a Los Angeles-based professional organizer. To discuss your organizing needs, call her at 818.269.6671 or email 

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Clutter-free gifts: Education

Next in the clutter-free gift idea series: gifts of education. If your friend or family member likes to learn new things or is the kind of person who seemingly "already has everything," break them out of their rut with the offer of a class. You could get a second spots in the class for you and make it a productive way to spend quality time together, but don’t choose a topic that only you are interested in. And before you sign your friend up for a sixteen week intensive art class when she barely has time to do grocery shopping, ask yourself if there’s a more useful gift you get get her. You might want to start with a single lesson or class before committing to a long program.

  • Dance classes
  • Art classes
  • Sports camp
  • Yoga classes
  • Cooking classes
  • Exercise classes
  • Flying lessons
  • Language classes
  • Art appreciation
  • Music lessons
  • Magic lessons
  • Juggling
  • Trapeze lessons
  • Cake decorating class
  • Tumbling, gymnastics or acrobatics class
  • Bridge class
  • Poker lessons
  • Personal trainer sessions
  • Self defense class
  • Taekwondo classes
  • Computer classes
  • Golf lessons
  • Acting classes
  • Singing lessons

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

Monday, November 9, 2009

Clutter-free gifts: Services

Next in the clutter-free gift ideas series: gifts of services. These are gifts that help the receiver in a couple of ways. They provide the means for people to get things done that they already need and might need financial help with, and they also are basically gifts of time if the service is something they would have done themselves. These gifts can be costly or only cost the time of the giver – clutter-free gift giving can be tailored to any budget, large or nonexistent.

All of the following could be things you actually do for them if you are qualified, or things you get gift certificates for.

• Make a homemade coupon book for chores or services you are great at
• Car wash coupons
• Oil change coupons
• Car detailing service
• Massages
• Hair cut and color
• Beauty treatments such as manicure
• Housekeeping services for a week or month (if this is something they’d be open to)
• Outdoor chores such as snow shoveling/plowing, grass mowing, painting, gutter cleaning
• Household repairs
• Babysitting service
• Knife sharpening service
• Consultation with a professional organizer (only if requested!) 
• Dry cleaning coupons
• Gardening service

Creative Commons photo posted to Flickr by cursedthing 

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

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Clutter-free gifts: Meaningful memories

Today in the clutter-free gifts series: meaningful memories. Not every gift needs to be 100% functional, and not every gift needs to cost the giver more than a bit of time and energy. I like to use the holidays as a way to share with my family members how much they mean to me by recalling times gone by and underlining how much I appreciate their support and love in the present. That way we celebrate the past and make new memories. Here are some ideas for tangible things that can help communicate that to the people in your life: 

This personalized photo gift was much appreciated by the receiver.
  • Framed photo of you and the receiver of the gift. This means a lot especially in today's digital age where photos often never make it off a computer screen. (Think ahead and try to create some photo ops during the year so you'll have some good shots to choose from.)
  • Poem, either written by you or selected by you special for the occasion. Hand write it on pretty paper or frame a copy. (Don't forget to give attribution if you use someone else's.)
  • Use your creative talents to write a story, draw or paint a picture or write a song that says something about your relationship with the person you're giving the gift to.
  • Take a weekend day and actually edit the footage of the last birthday party or Christmas that you took video at. Make it a record of the memory you can all share again when viewing.
  • Go with the times and create a digital photo album  or slideshow that can be given on a CD or flashdrive. Track down and scan photos from a specific annual event (Christmas Eve, the trip to Great Aunt Nancy's) you spend with your loved ones and make it a themed album.
  • Simply find or make a card that tells the person things you love and appreciate about them. Simple statements often mean the most.
Creative Commons photo posted to Flickr by Randy Son Of Robert
Lelah Baker-Rabe is a Los Angeles-based professional organizer. To discuss your organizing needs, call her at 818.269.6671 or email

Friday, November 6, 2009

Clutter-free gifts: Technology

Next in my series of clutter-free gift ideas: technology. This category of gifts was inspired by professional organizer Monica Ricci. Her awesome series, The Big O, on the podcast Vicky and Jen: What Really Matters has a terrific episode all about clutter-free gifts that I highly recommend you check out if you want to do more research on this topic. One of the major categories of gifts she talks about there is technology, and I think it is a great idea for a lot of people.

Many of these gifts take up no space at all, except perhaps hard drive space. They are items that get used every day. They are unique without being too specific, which is good if you aren't sure exactly what kind of games, music or books your tech-savvy friend or relative is interested in or already has.

  • Online music subscription or credit, such as iTunes gift cards or Rhapsody subscription
  • Software (some nice organizing-related software: Paper Tiger (PC only), Bento (for Macs)) 
  • Online subscriptions for services like Flickr Pro or Evernote
  • Phone cards or Skype credits
  • Netflix subscription
  • Gamefly subscription
  • ebooks
  • ebook readers like the Kindle or Barnes and Noble's new Nook
  • External harddrive, great for backing up data
  • Gift card to get digital photos printed or books made from them (such as at Snapfish)
  • Printer or photo paper
  • Printer ink (always appreciated by me!)
Lelah Baker-Rabe is a Los Angeles-based professional organizer. To discuss your organizing needs, call her at 818.269.6671 or email

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Clutter-free gifts: Memberships

First category in the clutter-free gift department: memberships.

Year-long memberships or passes to a cultural center, attraction or facility that your friend or family member already belongs to or frequents are a great way to help them enjoy the things they love, and all they’ll have to store is a little plastic membership card. Being a member also often entitles one to discounts in addition to the price of admission.

  • Gym, YMCA/YWCA or community pool
  • Museum or multi-museum pass if one is available
  • Zoo or aquarium
  • Amusement park like Disneyland or Six Flags
  • Water park
  • Shooting range
  • Golf course or driving range

Memberships to service clubs or stores that they might use but can’t afford to join are really useful gifts.

You could also gift a membership to a political group or charitable organization, if you know the recipient is already affiliated with or publicly endorses them.

Creative Commons photo posted to Flickr by Djenan

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

Why clutter-free gifts?

About a month ago I wrote about how to go about getting gifts you really want or can use from your friends and family this holiday season. You may already be thinking about gifts to get for them this season, and I implore you to consider giving clutter-free gifts.

Clutter-free gifts are defined by these simple criteria:

  • The recipient will really like, need and use the gift
  • It won’t put undue burden on the recipient to store or maintain the gift

You might recognize these guidelines from examining your stuff for clutter; they are the same questions you should ask yourself. Do you love and/or use the item? Do you have a place to put it? If the answers are yes, then it doesn’t qualify as clutter. So a clutter-free gift doesn’t have to be something that literally does not create stuff for the person (ie: cookies that get eaten within a couple of days), but I posit that gifts like that are what you should be striving for. As you’ll see, clutter-free gifts may require an extra ounce of thinking on the part of the gift giver. Therefore, a well chosen clutter-free gift shows that the giver knows the person who’s getting the gift well, and cares about them enough to want to get them something desired, useful or at least not cluttery junk. We all have too much stuff, so going an extra step with your gift brainstorming to give a gift like that might be appreciated. Or not. Some people just like getting plain old stuff as gifts. But you don’t have to indulge them. Okay, end of rant.

I’ll be posting some concrete, take-them-and-use-them-as-your-own ideas for clutter-free gifts over the next few days. I’m breaking them down into categories. Please respond in the comments if you have more ideas or if you use one of these ideas and it turns out well!

Creative Commons photo posted to Flickr by Samdogs

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

Monday, November 2, 2009

The un-holiday holiday

Halloween is behind us and the fall holiday train is now chugging right along toward Thanksgiving, with Christmas not so subtly waiting in the wings if the displays at my local stores are any indication. At this time of year it can be hard to make time for socializing with friends when family usually takes precedent on these major holidays. In today’s world, people often live far from family members and take the opportunity to travel and visit. But many of us have formed new families with our friends, who we’ll see far more frequently, but sometimes not on the days that are set aside for family bonding. It can be stressful to have to choose between friends and family, and also to deal with the pressure that these high profile holidays can put on even a simple gathering.

One solution to this annual dilemma is to start a new tradition with your friends (or your family, depending on your situation). Create your own annual holiday on a date that doesn’t conflict with any universally recognized ones. By choosing to entertain in an off season, you can avoid the stress of committing to too much during the fall holiday rush, and take time to really have fun, appreciate your loved ones and make a unique memory.

Here are some un-holiday holiday examples:

  • For people with birthdays that fall on a holiday like Christmas, celebrate their half birthday instead.
  • Find an obscure “national day of” something you love and turn it into an annual homage to pie, or pi.
  • Co-opt another country’s holiday, such as Canadian Thanksgiving (Second Monday of October), or Boxing Day (December 26).
  • Love poetry or the epic ramble of James Joyce’s Ulysses? Stage your own Bloomsday celebration on June, or celebrate your favorite poet’s birthday with an annual reading and feast.
  • Make up something out of the blue. My family started “Salmon and Pork” night accidentally one year when a casual dinner party turned into a night of declarations about goals and resolutions. Now the fourth Sunday in April is a unique, five-year running event.

Creative Commons pi pie photo posted to Flickr by pauladamsmith

Creative Commons Bloomsday photo posted to Flickr by Barnacles Hostels

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