Thursday, May 27, 2010

The Other Side of Organized

I'm in the middle of the book The Other Side of Organized by Linda Samuels. I heard about on professional organizer Monica Ricci's blog, and ordered it from Amazon recently as I wasn't able to get it from my library system. The slim book is organized by season and its subtitle is Finding Balance Between Chaos and Perfection. It differs from other books about organizing in that it doesn't focus on lots of concrete tips and specific ways to get organized, rather the author takes you on a journey about the different things being organized means.

A couple of things have stood out at me so far. One was about change. Samuels writes about her childhood being very stable and living in the same house for her entire life until she went away to college. She feels that this might be one reasons she says she has to work hard toward being flexible and embracing change instead of shying away from it.

I've been thinking a lot about how the things we see and do in childhood affect us as adults. People often ask me how I decided to be a professional organizer, and as part of the story I tell them that I have always been naturally disposed to being organized. This is true. I wasn't obsessive or extraordinarily neat, but I had a system for things and I was content when I had the clothes I wanted to wear to school laid out the night before, when I had my homework assignments all written out in a to-do list and every week I'd spend part of Sunday afternoon straightening my room and getting ready for the week ahead.

We moved every four or five years when I was growing up, sometimes more often. I think one gets used to saying goodbye to a space one has loved because you learn that you find different things to love about the new space you will inhabit. It makes you less afraid of change when you are exposed to it and it doesn't turn out badly at all.

Similarly, my mother never used the words "clutter clearing" or "purging," but every year or so we'd gather all the stuff we were no longer using or loved, from toys and clothes to artwork and furniture, and put it all outside for a garage sale. By the end of the day my mom would sell a book for 10 cents just to not have to bring it back inside the house! It was our version of clutter clearing and I always looked forward to it. It's funny to look back and realize the feeling of letting go, of renewal and finding the best in a changing situation is something I get to help people find through my professional life now.

My father is a different type, one who buys junk at garage sales and keeps empty (clean) peanut butter jars to store all his gnarly old screws he's picked up over the years, just in case he needs them someday. I feel lucky that I didn't inherit that inclination, but also glad that I've learned compassion for people who think like him.

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

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Reunion: thanks for the memories

I had a fabulous time in Connecticut over the weekend visiting my college, Wesleyan University. It's really special to be able to go back to a place where one has so many wonderful memories and bring back those experiences by having one's senses bombarded with the sights, smells and sounds of the past.

But as much as the campus was the same as I remembered, changes have taken place. New buildings have sprung up, some beloved professors have retired and other buildings are being torn down. Notably, the large McConaughy dining hall (nicknamed Mocon) has been defunct since 2007, when the new campus center opened, and is due to be demolished this year.

This particular change has struck the Wesleyan community fairly hard. Alumni and students are nostalgic for the flying-saucer shaped building that served as a dining hall for forty years. As such, during reunion, there was a farewell concert for the old building and cups from the dining hall were given away as souvenirs. Naturally, being suspicious of clutter and not needing a plastic cup, I didn't take one, but I did take a picture to remind me of the event, of the building, of my memories there.

We don't need things to remind us of the past. Just as Mocon had its day and new students will form new memories at the new dining hall, so do we move on every day, forming new memories that will live inside us, not in our kitchen cupboards.

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

Thursday, May 20, 2010

A year ago: color-coded to-do lists and photos!

Last year on helping you organize, I debated the merits of using color in organizing systems, waxed eloquently about my love for to-do lists and shared some pictures posted to Flickr by a few organized souls.

Speaking of to-do lists, L.A. pro-organizer Beth Zeigler, whose business is called Bneato, has a new weekly series called to-do list tuesdays. This week she shares a list from local networking scenester and accountability coach Dyana Valentine. Very cool, in this list-junky's opinion.

If you, too, like lists and order, check out the outstanding blog Penelope Loves Lists. There are more "Penelopes" than you'd think out there.

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

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Preparing for reunion weekend

This weekend is Wesleyan University's Reunion and Commencement weekend. My husband will be enjoying his 5-year reunion, while I am tagging along for my 6th. We've been looking forward to this event for months, as it will give us both an opportunity to see the changes to the Wesleyan campus, see friends we might not have seen in years, and visit with our favorite professors.

The trip is going to be a quick one - a red eye to get to the East Coast, and then two nights in Connecticut, followed by an afternoon flight home on the third day. In order to get the most out of our time there, and to make the airplane and car portions more enjoyable,  we've done quite a bit of preparation beforehand, including:

  • Assembled and printed copies of our flight itinerary, rental car information, maps to and from the airport and Middletown.
  • We looked over the reunion weekend schedule and decided which events we want to attend and mapped out our days to make sure we can fit them all in.
  • Figured out a place to have breakfast when we arrive in New York  before driving to Connecticut.
  • Contacted various friends also attending to make sure we get to see them amidst the whirlwind.
  • I bought myself a travel neck pillow to make the red-eye more comfortable.
  • We had our dry cleaning done.
  • I set aside some books I'd been looking forward to reading for the flights.
  • We'll tidy the house, including tossing food that's going to go bad, taking out all the trash and recycling and closing up the windows and blinds.
  • Made sure we have some cash on hand for incidental purchases.
  • Charged my camera battery.
  • Charged my iPods and loaded music, videos and pictures I'll want to have for the trip.
  • Packed only carry-on luggage according to my own packing guidelines.
We're looking forward to a smooth and memorable trip!

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

Friday, May 14, 2010

A year ago: preventing clutter, organizing blogs and maintenance

This week last year I posted on one of my favorite topics: preventing clutter. Being organized is not going to become a permanent aspect of your life unless you commit to reducing the clutter than comes into your life before it can get there and start draining your energy, time and money.

I also talk about the set up and maintenance of organizational systems via a brilliant metaphor about brushing your teeth.

Finally, I posted my very first "organizer's blog digest" where I mentioned some of my favorite organizing blogs. These are still some of the best written blogs with the best content out there.

Enjoy and come back next week for another trip down memory lane!

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

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Videos: My new apron hook

Here's my first attempt at a video blog post. What do you think? It's only about 20 seconds long - take a look!

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

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

An empty shelf

Whenever I'm working with a client and we empty a box (during the sorting and purging stages of organization), I always stop and do a little cheer. An empty box is a sign of progress. It means things are moving, changing, and the stuff is no longer in a box where it can't be used or loved.

Gretchen Rubin, of The Happiness Project, talks about always having an empty shelf. The emptiness of the shelf implies room for growth, a symbolic invitation for new ideas, inspiration and riches to come into our lives.

For some people, an empty shelf or box makes them nervous. They might have a desire to fill the box or shelf up. Maybe they think they need to be using up all their space. But there is nothing wrong with an empty box, shelf, or drawer, or even closet (assuming you don't have stuff strewn across your living space). The empty space is a promise of growth, change, of new possibilities. If all your surfaces, drawers and boxes are full, how can you accept new things into your life?

Clear off a shelf or clean out a drawer today. See how it makes you feel.

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

Friday, May 7, 2010

A year ago: working clean, emergency preparedness and organizing myths

Last year during the first week in May I posted about the idea of "working clean" as applied to any workspace, with some thoughts on David Allen's GTD concept of the productive state.

I also offered a few ways you can prepare for an emergency. These go beyond merely stocking up on bottled water and refilling your flashlight batteries. Last year the impetus for the post was a wildfire in Santa Barbara. Since then, we've had more wildfires in Southern California as well as earthquakes. There's never a bad time to get yourself better prepped for an emergency situation.


Last, I countered the organizing myth that organizing takes up a lot of time by sharing some way you can improve your organization a few minutes at a time. This is how I keep myself organized, in small chunks here and there throughout the day, week, month and year.

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

Thursday, May 6, 2010

The best things in life aren't free

Of course, sometimes they are. Like love and taking walks and sleeping in on Sundays. But most free things aren't the best. They are usually that dreaded c-word, clutter. Even though something about our frugal natures thinks that if something is free we should take it home with us and love it, please don't. Most of the time it's not exactly right and you end up by paying for it over an over again with your valuable time and space, having to maintain and clean it, and then having to dispose of it eventually. Don't accept things that are "free." It's as simple as saying, "No, thanks."

Here's a partial list to help you recognize free clutter.

  • Anything sitting on the side of the road.
  • Conference freebies. These are just promotional items that you can live without.
  • Stuff that people give away at fairs, from bookmarks to pamphlets to magazines to shopping bags.
  • Things that your friends give you because they would rather give their clutter to someone they know than donate it, for some reason. 
  • Free samples of cosmetics, cleaning products and food. (Slightly better because they are consumable, but still 9 times out of 10 clutter.)
  • Free "gifts with purchase" at stores. Often these are inferior products that are not what you came into the store to buy in the first place.
  • "Free" trial issues of magazines or subscription services that send you a bill when the trial period runs out.
  • Promotional items like posters, pens and postcards you might pick up at a movie preview or book signing. Again, it's the company trying to get you to advertise their product, for free.
What other free junk examples can you think of?

Creative Commons free photo posted to Flickr by andrew steinmetz
Creative Commons free junk photo posted to Flickr by cogdogblog

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

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Reviewed: The Happiness Project

I've been following Gretchen Rubin's The Happiness Project blog for over a year, and enthusiastically bought her book at a book signing she did in Pasadena in January. It took me a few months to get around to reading it. I started it on my honeymoon, which I think is an apt time to take a look at one's happiness levels, since every day of life doesn't usually involve sleeping in, reading by the pool under sunny skies and spending lots of quality time with your significant other. Unfortunately.
Happiness Project
Anyway, there are truly too many epiphanies, wonderful quotes, stellar suggestions and all around good sense moments in this book to give you an accurate portrayal in a few sentences, so I'll just say I heartily recommend you read it. It isn't a daunting read; it is very accessible. The analytical approach (Resolution Chart and all) to something as seemingly ineffable as happiness appeals to the logical thinker in me. Perhaps people who already think about happiness (as I do) will get more out of it, and be more inclined to read it, and that's fine, but Gretchen Rubin makes a solid case that trying to be happier isn't just a selfish act, it truly affects others and therefore is not always easy, but definitely important.

What does this book have to do with organizing? Well, the author giddily recounts her experiences of clutter clearing and closet organizing with the gusto to rival any professional organizer. It's a key component to her happiness project, and could be part of yours, too.

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