Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Reviewed: Organizing Outside the Box

Organizing Outside the Box was written by Hellen Buttigieg and Sari Brandes. The authors have impressive pedigrees, and the book itself was the winner of the 2010 Los Angeles Organizing Awards award for best organizing book. The subtitle is Conquer Clutter Using Your Natural Learning Style and the book does an excellent job of laying out the three major learning styles--visual, kinesthetic and auditory--and giving specific recommendations for motivating each learner to get started and then outlining common organizing problems and solutions for each type.

The book is put together in a simple way, with lots of bulletted lists and not a lot of words on the page. The information is presented so straightforwardly that some readers may wonder if that's all there is to it. Organizing isn't complicated, but our feelings toward it may be. This book sidesteps psychology in favor of practicality; people who want more emotional handholding may do better with a different guide. However, if you are able to implement the extremely practical and well-tested solutions presented in the book, you will very likely find yourself a great deal more organized than you were before you picked it up.

The chapters toward the end of the book on "When Organizing Styles Collide" offer very workable solutions for negotiating organizing peace among families, with your children and in the workplace. As the authors write, "The solution does not have to be complicated." Having some common sense ideas written in book for may be all some families need to make a breakthrough in their lives and to begin to coexist with more care for the other member's learning styles.

All in all, the book is a concise guide to organizing solutions through the lens of learning styles. I'm a visual learner with a strong dose of kinesthetic thrown in for good measure, and I picked up more than one useful bit of information from Organizing Outside the Box.

Interested in my other books reviews? Check out the complete archives!

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

Monday, June 28, 2010

Don't go it alone

Leading an organized life is usually an individual activity - we rely on ourselves to make decisions about how to spend our time and coexist with our stuff. (Those of us who live with others must negotiate when it comes to shared space.) When you're in the groove at work, dashing through your inbox, calendering your to do list, filing away your documents, you're usually alone and those tasks are (hopefully) habitual and manageable. But sometimes there are more intermittent organizing projects that just don't make sense to do alone, even if you feel like you couldn't possibly ask someone to spend time to help you. You can, and you should, because certain things can be tough to face alone. Some examples:

Garages. The sheer scale of a garage can be daunting. Enlist your family, your siblings, your friends to help you move bulky items and sort things into donate and trash piles. Even if it's only for a couple of hours on a Saturday morning, it helps to have another pair of hands around. And it's a lot less work than asking them to help you move!

Clothes closets. Do not attempt to do a major overhaul of a clothes closet alone. If you can actually make yourself start the project along it will quickly get overwhelming when everything you own is sitting on your bed in a giant mountain. It helps to have someone there giving you a second opinion about that lime green sweater you were never sure about.

Going through possessions of passed away loved ones. This is a personal and difficult thing to do and most of us have to do it at one point in our lives. Having a neutral party there while you sort and make decisions about things can help keep things moving and keep things in perspective.

Of course, you can always hire a professional organizer to help you with all of the above projects, and I highly recommend that you do if you want to make sure the time you spend on them is used in the most efficient way. But at the very least, call a friend and get them to give you a pep talk. You can do it, and you don't have to do it alone!

Creative Commons photo posted to flickr by MelvinSchlubman

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

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Empty space

One of the basic organizing principles that I really enjoy sharing with my clients in the concept that just because a space is empty, a shelf, a drawer, a section of a room, what have you, it doesn't have to be filled. I've blogged about this before, and lately I've really come to believe that it's a fundamental thing to understand about the spaces we inhabit.

Remember when you moved into your apartment or house, and there was nothing there when you walked in the door the first time? Remember how good it felt to see the new space as an clean slate, with nothing but hope and possibilities for the future inside?

Why do we promptly take all that nice, empty space, and fill it chock full with furniture, books, electronic equipment, clothing, knick knacks and art? Well, we need some of it to live our lives, earn our livings, be comfortable. I like to lie on my couch and read a book. We need pots and pans to feed ourselves. We have to wear clothes. Paintings and photographs make us think and remember. But so often the sense of hope and possibility fades as we move layer upon layer of stuff into the space and is replaced with feelings of oppression and anxiety.

We can do something about it. We can have less stuff. We can even have less furniture. I'm not advocating that a pallet and basin of water is all you need or the best way to live. But what about saving some room in your rooms for just empty space? That space is a monument to the idea that things don't rule your life, you do.

If you think it's impossible, just get up right now and walk to your front door. Go outside and come back in. Pretend you've never been there before. What do you see that strikes you as out of place, useless, or just plain ugly? Why is there a broken printer in the corner of the living room? Why are there three copies of the same book on the bookshelf above the TV? These are easy things to let go of. Start with those, and then keep going.

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

Friday, June 11, 2010

Minimalist packing

I'm not a minimalist. Not the in sense that this person is, or this person. But I do find lots about a minimalist lifestyle attractive, considering that when you come down to it, all we really need is shelter, food, clothing, and some books.

For a long time I resisted being a carry-on baggage person. I liked checking my bag and not  having to worry about wrangling it through the airport, through multiple layovers, and got used to waiting at my destination for it to (hopefully) come rolling out at baggage claim. I didn't want to be one of those people who held everyone up while they tried to stuff their suitcase into a clearly-too small space in the overhead bin, or have to worry about the ounces of my liquids. Also, having been a Girl Scount, my motto is "always be prepared," which makes one lean in the over-packing department, "just in case" it should snow, rain, freeze, or have a heat-wave in rural Northern Vermont in June. (Unfortunately, those are all actual possibilities.)

But then the airlines started charging for checked bags - sometimes $25 a pop, which, if you are traveling with multiple people, starts to add up. If they'd simply added in this surcharge with the ticket price (which they probably do anyway), I wouldn't have cared or noticed. But having to swipe my debit card when checking in stung. It made an already often unpleasant (I normally fly out of LAX) process a step less enjoyable.

So my husband and I became carry-on people. I have the largest suitcase you can have and still get away with carry-on, and I'd dearly, dearly love to be one of those people who have the doll-sized rolling bag, the kind that looks like it holds a pair of jeans and some flip-flops and that's it. I don't know how those people do it. Maybe they're only going somewhere for a single night?

Anyway, I'm not getting a new bag - yet - but in the meantime, even though I have quite a bit of room, I am not going to fill it up with stuff I don't need. For a seven day long trip, I'm packing about four day's worth of clothing and plan to do laundry halfway through. Everyone who writes about packing lightly will tell you that the key is being able to wash your clothes. So, that's my plan. But I'm also going further. I'm only wearing one set of jewelry on the plane. I usually wear a different pair of earrings and different necklaces everyday, so that will be different. Where we are going isn't terrible urban, but they do have stores. I can buy toiletries there if the small items I have run out, which they probably won't. I always overestimate that stuff. I'm also only bringing three books. That might sound like a lot, but I'm going on vacation, and I'm a fast reader - especially on planes, when I crave an engaging story to pass the time. But I think that will be enough. Again, I can always borrow something to read from someone else on the trip, buy and read the newspaper, or get a novel at the grocery store if I'm really desperate.

So, it may not sound super-minimalist, but compared to what I'd like to pack, it's a change. I'll be back in a week and half. See you then!

To read more about minimalist packing, Miss Minimalist has a great comprehensive post.

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

Monday, June 7, 2010

A year ago: preparing for every day, storing recipes and keeping it together

Here's a recap of what I think are my best posts from around this time last year:

An exhortation to follow one of the primary rules of organizing: keep like items together.

My three-part series on how to organize recipes, from cookbooks to individual loose recipes to digital ones. I still think these are the best ways to go about managing what for my cooks is a losing battle with new recipes coming in all the time. My loose recipes have over time moved from file folders to clear sleeves in a binder, but both work.

Lastly, in the first installment of my preparing for everyday series, I write about what every prepared person should have in their desk drawer.

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

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Social networking frenzy

Having worked in the Internet industry and as a side effect being somewhat web-savvy, I find it helpful to stay current with trends, especially as an entrepreneur with a marketing budget of roughly $0. You may or may not find uses for the following sites and services, but here's how to find me on them in case you'd like to connect. Connecting, after all, is the point of social networking, to find a commonality with someone else through a shared niche love of a random Mexican restaurant in Hollywood or Julia Quinn novels. Sometimes these connections result in more than a passing bit of information on a news or RSS feed and can lead to business referrals, opportunities for new experiences and sometimes even friendships.
So, here's me as seen through various portals - connect me up!

The usual suspects:
Twitter: @lelahwithanh
Facebook: Lelah Baker-Rabe, Professional Organizer
LinkedIn: Lelah Baker-Rabe
Yelp: Lelah Baker-Rabe, Professional Organizer
YouTube: My channel
Google: My profile
Google Reader: My shared items

Business networking:

For fun:
Yelp: My personal profile

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