Monday, September 10, 2012

Blogging break

I have decided to take an indefinite leave of absence from this blog. It has been so much fun to write about my organizing ideas and organizing trends over the past three and a half years, and I hope people will continue to use the archives as a resource until I'm ready to return to blogging.

Thank you for your loyal readership, and happy organizing!

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Better in theory

Here are some organizing purchases you think will be great, until you get them home:

  • Colorful cord labels. If only you could figure out how to get them on the cords and look nice. Use a silver Sharpie and write directly on the cord instead.
  • (Gasp!) A label maker. Label makers are awesome if you have a thing about neatness. Otherwise, they just cause you to lose time making the label, lose space by having to store it, and lose money to buy incredibly expensive label tape.
  • Fancy storage boxes with pretty designs. It's one thing to get a nice looking box for a desk top or open shelf. It's another to spend money getting perfectly matched boxes just to store things in your garage or attic. For utilitarian storage needs, get something basic - a clear, sturdy, stackable plastic box.
  • Almost anything in the checkout line at The Container Store. They have tons of cute little products beckoning you from your place in line, but it's all clutter.
Storage box from

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

An organized swim

I love to swim for exercise. Luckily, southern California weather being what it is, I can swim year round outdoors. Here's how I keep my gear straight so I can spend the minimum in time and fuss getting into and out of the water.

The key is my dedicated pool tote bag. Not only is the bag only used for this purpose, but the supplies inside are just for the pool, too. In it are my Master Lock for the locker room, mini bottles of shampoo and body wash, a brush and sunscreen. Inside I keep my flip flops, goggles and a sun hat. I add my towel, bathing suit and clean clothes to the main pocket. I also bring a bottle of water and a bag of almonds in my purse for afterward.

When I get home, the wet stuff either goes in the wash or gets rinsed and put on the drying rack. The bag with everything else returns to my closet -- already packed and ready to go for next time!

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Quick tip: wash those reusable bags

The August issue of Better Homes and Gardens published the statistic that 85% of people don't regularly launder their reusable grocery bags. They recommend cleaning bags in hot soapy water at least once a week. Upon reading that, I promptly threw mine in the wash and in the future will look out for bags that are easy to clean. Some of my plastic-y ones aren't easy to just throw in the washing machine.

Creative Commons photo posted to Flickr by PedalFreak

Monday, August 27, 2012

Greener light bulbs

Have you switched out incandescent bulbs in your home for LEDs or CFLs? There was an interesting piece in the LA Times, which says most people who use the newer, greener types of bulbs prefer CFLs to LEDs mainly because of price even though LEDs have better light quality. I have some CFLs in my home, mostly in lamps as there are some sockets in my old apartment that don't work with CFLs, unfortunately.

I've been kicking around the idea of have a one-word theme to my year next year, a la Gretchen Rubin. I think that word might be green.

Creative Commons photo posted to Flickr by Joe Goldberg

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Amazon Prime tips

**This post was originally published in my monthly e-newsletter, Lelah's News. Don't subscribe? Sign up here!

Amazon Prime* is a service offered through It costs $79 per year. The primary benefit is free two-day shipping on most products purchased through Amazon. I like this service because it takes the guesswork out of shipping - no more buying just one extra thing so you can reach the $25 free standard shipping threshold. Here are some other benefits and tips.
  • Amazon users can get a one month free trial every 13 months. Try to time yours during the holiday shopping season and take advantage of free two-day shipping. But if you don't want to pay for the service, be sure to cancel before your month is up and they charge you!
  • Watch streaming video for free on your computer or Internet connected TV.
  • If you have a Kindle, you can borrow one free ebook a month through their lending library program.
  • The two-day shipping can come in handy for regular purchases like groceries, paper goods and baby needs like diapers so you don't have to plan too far ahead.
  • If you pre-order regular books, expect them to arrive on their release date instead of some time after with free standard shipping.
*This is in an affiliate link, so if you click on it and make a purchase, I will get a small commission.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Birthday reflections

**This post was originally published in my monthly e-newsletter, Lelah's News. Don't subscribe? Sign up here!

August is my birthday month, and this is year is a big one. I turn 30, and leave my twenties behind forever. While it feels like a big change, I know it will likely come as a relief to start a new decade of life. For many people, the twenties are a jumbled rush of momentous events as one transitions from academic life to adult life, often including major changes to jobs, relationships and living situations. Now that I'm married, have a child and a career, it feels like the coming years couldn't possibly hold as many unknowns. Of course, they probably will.

They say happier people think more about the present and the future than the past, but I think it's occasionally worth reflecting on the accomplishments and experiences of one's life. Thinking about all the stuff I managed to pack into the last ten years alone makes me a bit dizzy, but it gives me the strength to look forward and know I'll be able to thrive whatever comes my way. Birthdays are a time to celebrate simply being alive, and I'm looking forward to this one more than usual!

Creative Commons photo posted to Flickr by Jessica Diamond

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

The Burning House

In Parade magazine of all places I saw a mention of a book coming out called The Burning House by Foster Huntington. It is also a blog, and it documents through photographs of beautifully arranged objects what a person would take if they could only grab a few things and escape from their burning house. It's a powerful question and the images are also powerful, able to communicate what a person values above all else at a single glance. I find the blog fascinating and I'm sure the book is interesting as well.

What would you take?

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Evernote tips

You all know how much I love Evernote. I use it all day every day to corral ideas, lists, scanned documents and web pages. There are some advanced features that can really enhance your use of the service. A few of my favorites are listed below.

  • Use the command key on your keyboard to select multiple notes, then merge them together, email them all at once, or move notebooks or add tags in batches.
  • Create a saved search (Enter your search term, click on File, click on New Saved Search) to make a virtual smart notebook that will automatically update when you add a new note with that tag or keyword.
  • Create a checklist by selecting the check box icon in the formatting toolbar of your note. Makes for a simple, interactive to-do list!

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Happier at Home

Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project, has a new book coming out in September called Happier at Home. I'm super excited to read it, as The Happiness Project Blog and book are chock-full of amazingly simple but important thoughts on happiness, and Happier at Home seems like it is going to be a wonderful follow-up, and particularly applicable to me, as I am spending more time at home than ever with my almost four-month-old. Gretchen Rubin posted a link to an excerpt of the book, which I lapped right up. Here's a quote from it that is just too perfect not to share:
"Many aspects of my life contributed to my feeling of hurry. Time might seem to be a very separate issue from possessions, for example, but I'd noticed that after I tackled clutter, not only did our apartment seem more spacious and organized, I also felt less hurried, because I could find and stow things easily. Having more order in my cabinets and closets made me feel as though I had more time in my day. Instead of scrabbling away at high shelves in search of a flashlight, or jamming the heating pad into some odd corner, I had a place for everything, with nothing superfluous in my way, which gave me a feeling of unhurriedness and mastery of the space around me."
- Gretchen Rubin, Happier at Home

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Nominations close tomorrow!

Nominations for the 2012 Organizing Awards close tomorrow. Go to the NAPO-LA website to nominate your favorite organizing products and services right now!

Mark your calendars. The Awards are October 20, here in Los Angeles. It's very exciting that Trish Suhr of Clean House will be the host.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Just put it down

I just read a fantastic post by Jeri Danksy of Jeri's Organizing and Decluttering News, titled Not Every Book is Worth Finishing. She quotes a number of writers and readers who give their cutoffs for when to put a book down. The main thing is to give yourself permission to stop a reading a book, and then give yourself permission to not finish it. I have a category I created just for these types of books on my Goodreads profile, since I do it so often. I love to read, and I just don't have time to finish books that aren't doing it for me.

Thanks, Jeri, for the wonderful reminder that not every book is worth finishing.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

How to make returns easy

The best way to make returns easy is to not have them in the first place. Don't ever buy anything just because it's on sale (you probably won't be able to return it, anyway), without knowing where it will live in your home, or if you don't need it or love it.

However, sometimes returns are unavoidable, and a lot of the time people lose their money, their space and their mental energy on returns that never get made. Here's how to make them happen.

Keep your receipts in one central location.  Once you have decided to return an item, locate the receipt for it and place the receipt and the item in a (reusable) bag. Place the bag in the area of your home where you keep items that are leaving (library books, mail, etc.). The next time you will be in the vicinity of the store in question, grab the bag, place it your car (or take it with you if you use public transportation), and enter a reminder in your to-do list or calendar to make the return. (Using Apple's Reminders app on your iOS5 iPhone, you can even program the address in and when you arrive, you'll get pinged.) If the return is to a store you are rarely near, take note of the window you have for returns (usually found on the front or back of the receipt) and schedule a time to get there before the window is up. It's not a bad idea to mark in your calendar the last day to return the item anyway, as time can get away from us.

More tips:
  • Take note of the payment method and make sure you have the card you used to make the purchase on you when you go to return, or you may have to take store credit.
  • Try to pair the return with another errands at the same store or in the area so you don't have to make a special trip.
  • Avoid making returns without a receipt. The process will take longer at the store, you may not get the full value of the return,and you will probably only get store credit.
  • If you do accept store credit instead of cash or charge back on your card, try to use it right then so you don't have to make an extra trip to get your money's worth.
Do you have any other tips for making returns easy?

Creative Commons photo posted to Flickr by John Bell

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Kitchen short cuts

I love spending all day in the kitchen to prepare an elaborate meal for friends or family. About twice a year. The rest of the time, I also enjoy cooking, but don't have the luxury of spending a lot of time cooking or cleaning. Here are some of my kitchen short cuts.

  • Keep a well stocked pantry and a running grocery list on the fridge, so you minimize the risk of running out of something at the very moment you need it. This avoids the hassle of last minute shopping or having to come up with a substitution.
  • I don't have a dishwasher, so though I normally frown on duplicates,  I do have lots of mixing bowls, spatulas and other frequently used items so I don't have to stop what I'm doing just to wash a dish.
  • Make staples ahead of time and have them ready to go in the fridge. I like to make a big batch if rice at the beginning of the week. It can then be used instantly.
  • Wash, dry and put away your good chef's knives as soon as they become dirty. That way they last longer and are ready to go at a moment's notice.
  • Two words: frozen vegetables. They are a lifesaver. I always keep peas, corn, spinach, and green beans on hand and often lima beans and bell peppers as well.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

4 great Disneyland tips

I'm actually kind of shocked that I haven't written a post about visiting Disneyland. Before I became a professional organizer, I had an annual pass to Disneyland for several years, but I haven't gone as much lately. It is one of my favorite destinations and a great place to spend a few hours or a few days.

I have my own Lelah-patented method of "doing Disneyland" that I've perfected over dozens of visits. It maximizes the time I spend on my favorite rides and activities and minimizes time waiting in line. What works for me doesn't work for everyone, as every family has its own unique Disneyland approach. Even so, I do think I have some useful tips for just about anyone visiting the park.

Me, my brother and my dad at Disneyland circa 1986.
  1. Do utilize the FastPass option. FastPass is a way to spend less time in line for the best rides, but you have to be careful to return at your designated time, and you can only get one at a time. To get the most out of FastPass, be sure to get one for the busiest rides (Raiders, Space Mountain) early in the day, because sometimes the FastPasses run out. Also, don't be afraid to send one envoy with everyone's tickets to get all the FastPasses for a given ride while the rest of the group is doing something else.
  2. If you pass a ride and the line looks short, but you were planning to do it later, just go on it now. You will hate to come back and see the line is much longer than before. Good spontaneous rides and usually short waits: Jungle Cruise, Pirates of the Caribbean, Winnie the Pooh.
  3. Feeling hot and tired? Take a break in the Tiki Room, on the train, or even on Pirates of the Caribbean, which is the longest ride in the park and nice and cool.
  4. Don't go in the gift shops. You don't need anything in there and you'll have to carry whatever you buy around all day. But, if you do want something like Mickey ears or a hat, get that early so you can enjoy it all day long.
I feel like I could go on an on...perhaps there is a follow up post in the cards. In any event, the next time you make the trip to the happiest place on earth, have a spectacular time!

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Top 5 packing tips

**This post was originally published in my monthly e-newsletter, Lelah's News. Don't subscribe? Sign up here!

According to Inc. Magazine (June 2012), the amount airline passengers were charged in baggage fees in 2010 was an astounding $3.4 billion. Obviously, what makes economic sense to the airlines does not make economic sense to many of its passengers. Checking bags is now a luxury we may not be able to afford. Therefore, packing light has never been more attractive. Aside from the time and money saved by not checking bags, it can be liberating to travel light and have less stuff to worry about when in transit. Here are my top packing tips:

  1. Pack clothes in easily washable and quick drying fabrics like nylon or polyester, or at least cotton blends containing such materials. Hand wash as needed.
  2. Wear one set of all-purpose jewelry on the plane and skip packing alternates.
  3. Take some of your savings from not checking a bag, invest in an e-reader and forgo heavy paper books and magazines.
  4. Use packing cubes - they really work to pack the most amount of stuff into a small space.
  5. Remember - wherever you're going, they probably have stores that sell toothpaste, underwear and batteries, so don't panic if you forget something or run out of supplies.
For more packing advice check out my previous post - Preparing for travel: packing

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Cookie containment

I love to bake. I'd bake a batch of cookies every day, but then my husband would die of sugar overload, not mention our apartment would be even hotter than it already is on those hot summer days from firing up the oven. In order to not let my baking go to waste, and also keep the house cool on days when I'd like to eat a cookie without baking, I've come to embrace a tip I learned from my mother-in-law. She bakes a batch of cookies, lets them cool, and then seals up them up in Ziploc bags, six at a time, and pops them in the freezer. They keep for a couple weeks like that, and when you are hankering for some oatmeal-chocolate-chip goodness, all you have to do is take out one of the bags, wait about 30 minutes, and you have perfectly fresh and tasty cookies, and not too many of them at one time! It's better than keeping a huge batch around for days until you have to throw some away because they are stale or you can't bear to look at them anymore, and you can also exercise some portion control.

My favorite oatmeal raisin cookie from the Rosie's Bakery Chocolate-Packed, Jam-Filled, Butter-Rich, No-Holds-Barred Cookie Book by Judy Rosenberg

Monday, June 25, 2012

Nominations open for the Organizing Awards!

Nominations are now open for the 2012 Organizing Awards, which are being held October 20 in Los Angeles. You can nominate your favorite products and businesses in 24 categories, six of which are new for this year. To nominate, visit the NAPO-LA website. Among the new categories are Best Organizing Mobile App and Best Paperless/Electronic Organizer, which I think are pretty exciting additions. Nominations close July 27.

Last year's awards volunteers - see me on the upper right?
Last year I participated in the planning of the awards as the PR/Marketing Committee head, as well as in other areas. It was an extremely fun night, and a great networking opportunity. My participation in this year's planning is more limited, but I will be following the nominating and voting process and plan to attend the awards in October.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Is it time for a new toothbrush?

Dentists (and toothbrush manufacturers) recommend a new toothbrush every three months. My problem was remembering when three months is up. Since I always have at least one extra toothbrush on hand, my solution is to write on the next brush's box the date I opened the previous one on. So on the spare brush I write June 14, and the next time I'm wondering when my three months is up, I can just check the box and see that I don't need to switch until September 14.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Four reasons to watch streaming video

"...there's no need to go out and replace our modest DVD collection with Blu-ray versions. It's all going streaming anyway, and from a clutter-control point of view, I couldn't be happier." --Lelah on this blog, January 26, 2011
As more and more titles become available on video streaming services like Netflix Instant, Hulu Plus and Amazon Prime, more and more people are buying subscriptions to these services instead of investing that money in physical DVDs or even digital downloads from online stores like iTunes. Here are four reasons making that choice will make you organized:

  1. The content is available anywhere you have a strong internet connection. You can simply log in to your Netflix, Hulu or Amazon account to watch on a computer or device (like a PS3 hooked up to your TV or your smartphone--sometimes you have to authorize the device through their website first) and then you are free from having to carry a physical DVD or the digital file with you if you want to watch while mobile.
  2. The fewer DVDs in your life, the fewer shelves you have to devote to storing them, organizing them, and dusting them.
  3. It is easy to search these services for the show or movie you want to watch, which might save you time if your DVD collection is strewn throughout your house.
  4. When you get in the habit of streaming video, you realize how much more convenient it is than going out and renting a DVD or even physically putting a DVD on to play when you can simply tap at your remote or keyboard and having something playing in seconds. Therefore, you are less likely to purchase DVDs, especially on a whim, which saves you time and clutter.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Women and time

In the April edition of Real Simple magazine was a long feature called "Women & Time" in which they detailed the results of a survey they performed to figure out how today's women spend their time. Here are some of the more interesting findings:

  • 52% of women have less than 90 minutes of free time a day
  • 29% have less than 45 minutes a day
  • Cleaning is the chore that women would most like to eliminate from their to-do lists, followed by laundry.
  • The top 3 jobs women don't want to hand of to their spouse are decorating, managing household finances and organizing. 
    • I'd like to think that's because organizing is so fun!

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Practicing extreme self care

**This post was originally published in my monthly e-newsletter, Lelah's News. Don't subscribe? Sign up here!

A while ago I read an article about dealing with emergency situations in which the author advised that to better cope, one should practice "extreme self care." In other words, make sure you get plenty of food, water, rest and whatever else your body needs to keep functioning at its highest level. Though that is probably most difficult to do when in an emergency situation, it makes sense. I was inspired by the phrase “extreme self care” and wondered why not practice that every day? How better can we honor ourselves and keep ourselves most productive and happy than by getting the rest we need, the nutrition that fuels our bodies, the exercise that makes us feel good and anything else that a body in particular might need (some time to yourself, a daily does of chocolate). Self care keeps us healthy and sane.

As the mother of a six-week-old, I know that taking care of yourself isn't always easy and it isn't always the first priority. Getting one's teeth brushed can seem like quite an achievement some days. But when you take care of yourself you can take care of others so much better. Therefore, I advocate extreme self care as a lifestyle choice that can make any day more manageable. To practice this, sometimes you simply have to give yourself permission to put yourself first. Once you do that, finding the time in your packed schedule to take a walk just to see some green trees or to refill your water bottle and make a healthy snack is no longer indulgent but necessary, vital, non-optional.

Try it and see how it positively impacts everything else in your life.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Streamlining laundry

I used to do laundry once a week. Then I had a child. Now every other day is the norm. Fortunately, laundry is one of my more favorite chores, since it doesn't actually involve that much hands-on time, and you can always catch up on TV while you do the folding.

These are my tips for a streamlined laundry experience:
  • Have all your supplies ready. I like to stock up on detergent when it is on sale (I like All Free Clear), and I keep it in a cupboard above my washer and dryer. That's actually the only thing I use to wash clothes, but if you are into more products, be sure to keep plenty on hand and in an accessible place.
  • Separate when you put clothes in bins. Investing in a whites bin and a colors bin for each room in the house that will gather laundry will save you a lot of time on the back end when you want to make sure your whites aren't going to be spoiled by a new pair of jeans.
  • Have set laundry days. Now you can plan ahead and not be stuck needing to wash an important work blouse at the last minute.
  • "Duotask." Lorie Marrero of The Clutter Diet reminds us to take advantage of time-saving inventions like washing machines to get other chores and tasks done.
  • Wash full loads. Not only does this save water, but it saves on time, since you end up doing the repetitive tasks of loading and unloading fewer times.
Creative Commons photo posted to Flickr by mrwynd

Tuesday, June 5, 2012


**This post was originally published in my monthly e-newsletter, Lelah's News. Don't subscribe? Sign up here!

Batching is a retail term that means you perform all instances of an action before moving onto the next action. So instead of scanning a shirt, then removing the hanger, the anti-theft thingy, folding it, putting in the bag and starting over with the next piece of clothing, you scan all the items at once, then take them all off their hangers, then remove all the anti-theft devices one after another, etc. This idea can be applied in lots of ways, from chores (dust all the rooms before you vacuum all the floors instead of doing everything one room at a time) to workflow (respond to all your emails, then return all your calls, instead of switching back and forth). It saves time, it helps you to know what you are doing in a given moment, and it reduces the chance you’ll miss one of the steps along the way.

Creative Commons photo posted to Flickr by Andrew Morrell Photography

Thursday, May 31, 2012

The two minute rule

My clients are familiar with the two minute rule, as it is one of my favorite ways to describe to them how to know when to do something now and when to save something for later. When processing an inbox (physical or email), an action pile, a box of random things from around your house, or even your entire garage, the two minute rule can save you a lot of decision making hassle. In order to make progress, my rule of thumb is if you can do the action associated with the item in two minutes or less, then do it right then. If not, then save it for a time when you can spend longer on completing the project (this is time you would want to schedule in your calendar).

Some examples:
  • You are going through your physical inbox and see a card from the dentist reminding you that you need to schedule a cleaning. Two-minutes or less? Yes! Pick up the phone and make the appointment, then put it in your calendar and recycle the card.
  • You are going through your physical inbox and see a stack of insurance reimbursement forms you need to fill out and mail. Two minutes or less? No! Schedule a half hour or however long you think it will take you on your calendar for a day when you can spend some time in your office taking care of it, and move on.
  • You are going through your garage, trying to make room for your car to actually park in it. You find a rake that you borrowed from your next door neighbor a while ago. Will it take you two minutes or less to return it? Yes! (Unless your neighbor is really chatty, in which case you might just want to leave it by their garage door.)
  • You are going through your closet, paring down your wardrobe by pulling out anything you haven't worn in a year. You come across a couple of nice items that need mending. Can you fix them or have them fixed in two minutes or less? No! Put them by the front door to take to the dry cleaners next time you are running errands, or put them in a place where you will sit to do your mending, and mark off some time on your calendar to do so.
The two minute rule is a bit subjective; what takes you two minutes to do might take someone else five. But it's simple and effective for making progress when you have a lot of processing to do. 

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

A little help

There are certain products that have made my post-partum life a lot easier. In no particular order:

  • Send Out Cards. This service lets me send a thank you note with adorable pictures of the baby in about 30 seconds. I get it done, and the recipient gets a nice piece of actual mail.
  • iPad. Since I don't have a laptop, the iPad follows me everywhere and allows me to stay on top of email and the news when I'm sitting with a sleeping baby.
  • This is kind of a no-brainer, but when you can't easily get out of the house to go shopping, ordering from Amazon and having things appear on your doorstep really reduces stress.
  • Viva paper towels. I had all but eradicated paper towels from my household, but with a baby, these soft and strong towels are really super useful, and I don't think I could stomach doing any more laundry than I am already!

Thursday, May 24, 2012

L.A. City Passes Bag Ban

Yesterday, the LA City Council voted to ban single-use plastic bags in retail stores. The decision has been a long time in coming. I'm all for reusable bags and hope that the ban will have its intended effect, to reduce waste and pollution. Here's the LAist coverage, and here's my blog post on refusing plastic bags from August of last year.

One of my reusable bags.
For those of us who have been bringing bags with us as a habit won't have too much of a change in store (no pun intended). But there are many who never got on the reusable bag bandwagon, and they will need to incorporate reusable bags into their lifestyle if they want to avoid paying 10 cents for a paper bag every time they shop.

Some tips for remembering your reusable bags:
  • Get the kind that zip up or stuff up inside themselves and keep several at the bottom of your purse.
  • Stash bulkier canvas or vinyl bags in your trunk.
  • Create a place by the front door to hang bags (Command hooks are great for this) so you can grab recently emptied ones on your way out the door to replenish your car stock.
  • Always bring more bags in to a store than you think you will need, just in case you underestimate how much you will be purchasing.

Thursday, May 17, 2012


Okay, I'm writing another post about books, but I just can't help it. I recently read a fun Agatha Christie called Postern of Fate, starring the married sleuthing duo Tommy and Tuppence Beresford. This installment, published in the early 1970s, finds them in their retirement years fixing up an old house in a small seaside village. The first chapter made me laugh. It is titled "Mainly Concerning Books," and, as in her way, Christie finds a way to talk about life's fundamental truths, in this case, regarding books.

Here are just a couple of selections:
"Books!" said Tuppence.
She produced the word rather with the effect of a bad-tempered explosion.
"What did you say?" said Tommy.
Tuppence looked across the room at him.
"I said 'books,'" she said.
"I see what you mean," said Thomas Beresford.
In front of Tuppence were three large packing cases. From each of them various books had been extracted. The larger part of them were still filled with books.
"It's incredible," said Tuppence.
"You mean the room they take up?"
"Are you trying to put them all on the shelves?"
"I don't know what I'm trying to do," said Tuppence. "That's the awkward part of it. One doesn't know ever, exactly, what one wants to do. Oh dear," she sighed.

"...I think if I could just finish this side of the room, just get the books in here..."
"Well, I'll help you," said Tommy.
He came over, tilted the case more so that the books fell out, gathered up armfuls of them and went to the shelves and shoved them in.
"I'm putting the same-sized ones together; it looks neater," he said.
"Oh, I don't call that sorting," said Tuppence.
"Sorting enough to get on with..."

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Spring cleaning with summer in mind

**This post was originally published in my monthly e-newsletter, Lelah's News. Don't subscribe? Sign up here!

Spring is well underway in southern California. We've had a good mix of rainy, mild and summer-hot days, reminding us that California indeed gets all sorts of weather, and that once May Gray and June Gloom pass us by, summer is just around the corner. Spring is a wonderful time to put your home in order before the demands of summer, when vacations and beach days and camping trips throw your routine all out of whack. Here are some of my favorite spring cleaning ideas that might not be on everyone's to do list, that will help you get a head start on summer organization.

  • Clean your air conditioner vents.
  • Gas heat? Turn off your pilot light until fall.
  • It's never a bad time to check your smoke detector batteries.
  • Consider hiring window washers to clean the outside of hard to reach windows. You'll be amazed at the difference really clean windows will make to the light in a room.
  • By the same token, if you've been considering window tinting for a window or glass door that gets a lot of sun, do it now in order to fully reap the benefits all summer long.
  • Go through your bathroom cabinets and toss old or unused makeup and toiletries, and any expired or nearly empty bottles of sunscreen. Replenish your stock and only buy bottles with expiration dates on them.
  • Get your car road trip ready by performing any necessary maintenance and giving it a wash. Take out anything that doesn't need to live there and keep that stuff out by taking everything out of your car that you put into it - every day.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Changing lifestyle, changing priorities

**This post was originally published in my monthly e-newsletter, Lelah's News. Don't subscribe? Sign up here!

There has never been an undertaking that has so drastically changed my life as having a baby, and he hasn't even arrived yet! Getting married was a drop in the bucket compared to the way my life is changing with a child on the way. Physically, the changes are obvious. I can’t do everything I did before. Professional organizing is a very active job, and it was a bit scary to have limitations placed on my physical work. Mentally, the changes are different. I have to limit my commitments and make sure I have time for the most important things. I am reprioritizing. I’m planning even farther ahead in some areas of my life (meal planning, stocking up on supplies) and not planning at all in others (leaving entire days free so I can be rested enough for the demands of pregnancy and motherhood). All in all, it’s been a challenge, which is something I actually appreciate. Life should be challenging, otherwise how we will grow and learn?

For me, the biggest key to this transition has been realizing that it is just that, a transition, that it takes time and I have to give myself the room to make mistakes and learn from them. The rewards of doing so are great, I find, even as I miss certain things about my old lifestyle. I'm used to being able to take on a lot and accomplish it with energy to spare. But pulling back and taking on less is showing me that I don't need to do it all in order to find satisfaction or success.

**Update: My son was born April 9. Life is changing every day in even more incredible ways than I could have imagined.  Stay tuned to this blog and my newsletter as my organizational approach is informed by being a new parent!

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Books with inscriptions

It probably seems like I'm always writing about books - both what I'm reading, and how to keep books from overrunning your space. I love reading, and books themselves, so they occupy more of my organizing attention than crafting, for instance.

Here's a problem many of us have. We get books as gifts from friends, relatives, or even just acquaintances. They have written a lovely inscription, or perhaps just the date and a quick scribble. We thank them. We read the book (or not). Then we put the book on a shelf, and are never going to read it again. What to do when it is time to de-clutter the bookshelves? I have found those books that have been marked by the giver tend to stick around, for a few reasons. We feel more connected to them. We don't want to offend the giver (what if they should be poking around a used bookstore and see their own gift to us on the shelf!?!). The inscription might remind us of a happy memory associated with that person rather even more than the book does.

Obviously, you can always keep the book. However...I'd suggest that if the book itself is not meaningful, and the inscription isn't that meaningful, then it's perfectly fine to let it go. Like any gift, the giver was pleased to give it to you, and that's what's important. If the book isn't meaningful and the inscription is, you can do a couple of things. One, take a picture of the inscription along with the cover of the book and keep it with your keepsakes, then let the book go. Two, carefully trim out the page with the inscription using a straightedge, and keep it with your keepsakes, then let the book go. Either way, the positive association you have with the item doesn't have to stand it your way of a light and clutter-free bookshelf.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Room switching and life changes

A little over two years ago, when my husband and I were still living in our previous apartment, we spent a couple of days switching most of the furniture between our upstairs and downstairs rooms and changing the configuration of my desk area and some of our other spaces. We did this a couple of months before we got married, and I documented it with this blog post.

A few weeks ago, shortly before the birth of our son, we did something similar in our current apartment. We moved my husband's office configuration to a different part of the house and moved a bunch of furniture around, repurposing some of it. The result is a dedicated baby room and a new set up in our living room/dining room area. 

Empty bookcases -- look familiar?
Books everywhere during the move.
The resulting baby room. Pretty cute!
New bookcase configuration.
One of my favorite observations about organizing is by Julie Morgenstern who says, "Every time we go through a major change, we experience a breakdown in our organizational systems." Last time that change was marriage, this time it was a baby, and each time reorganizing our space and shedding some of our stuff was a huge help in preparing us for those major life changes.


Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Craigslist tips

It's kind of amazing the sheer volume of things you can find to buy on Craigslist. Almost anything you can think of, you can find someone offering for sale, especially if you live near a major city. In theory, I love the idea of buying used items that need a home for low prices, where the seller gets to free up space and recoup some of their investment, and the buyer gets to help reduce waste by diverting something that might go to a landfill and pick up something they need for little money. However, it can be a hassle to get all the stars to align when buying and selling on Craigslist, so here are some tips.

Tips for buying on Craigslist
  • Never go to meet anyone to buy something by yourself, or at least let someone know the exact address of where you are going and call them when you have finished the transaction.
  • Bring small denominations. You might find you want to negotiate further if the item isn't as you expected it to be.
  • Ask a lot of questions before you drive to see an item. 
  • Don't pursue an item if the seller gives you the creeps. Trust your instincts.
Tips for selling on Craigslist
  • Ask a fair price. Whatever you think the item is worth, it's probably worth at least 25% less.
  • Be careful when giving out your home address. Make sure you don't get a bad vibe from the person, and arrange to have someone be home at the same time you are going to make the transaction.
  • Don't respond to emails that seem like spam or scams, because they probably are. Don't ever accept checks. Cash only.
Sometimes, it just isn't worth it. While there are a lot of people who buy and sell stuff on Craigslist every day, if you've tried to sell something and it's been sitting there for over a week, it probably isn't going to sell. Try offering it for free, use Freecycle or just donate it to your local Goodwill.

Friday, April 20, 2012

3 year blogaversary

Three years ago today I posted my first blog to Helping You Organize. It was about Vicky and Jen's podcast What Really Matters and their Monica Ricci-hosted Big O organizing series in particular. That series is still running, and still as fabulous as ever. There is no end to organizing topics that they can cover.

I'm really happy to have maintained this blog for three continuous years. It's been a wonderful outlet for me to share my ideas and to create conversations with my readers and colleagues.

Since I like numbers, here are some stats about my blog:
Total posts: 341 (including this one)
Average number of posts per month: about 9 1/2
Current monthly page views according to Google Analytics: about 700
Current monthly page views according to Blogger: about 2,500 (Not sure what that's about since they are owned by the same company)
Visits my first day: 7

I'm hoping to keep maintaining the blog as I get used to being a mom, but frequency of posts might go down! Let's see what the next year holds.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Organizational lifehacks

Lifehacker is a super fun blog that highlights all sorts of neat ideas, blogs and news about ways to make life easier or solve some of life's perplexing problems. Lifehacker's organizing category is chock full of fun organizing tidbits and a good place to go for a little organizing inspiration or just to waste a little time looking at stuff like Modify an Ikea Lack Table into a Dog Dining Table.

Image from Lifehacker.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

The best way to fold a shirt?

There are a bunch of videos online demonstrating how to fold a t-shirt in the Japanese style, that should take about two seconds once you get the hang of it. It's fun to watch the short Japanese version of the videos, but kind of hard to figure out what to do.

I was skeptical of a video titled How to Fold a T Shirt in 2 Seconds that's two and half minutes long, but it actually is the one you want to watch if you want to be able to do this nifty folding trick yourself.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

David Allen's desk

I saw this posted on the GTD (Getting Things Done) Twitter feed, and loved seeing David Allen's workspace. It shows how simple a desk configuration can be, and I love how it's not completely minimalistic. It actually shares many elements that make up my desk area, down to the inbox and project support vertical file holder, with different aesthetics. Here are the two for comparison. Click an image to see it larger.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

23 1/2 Hours

Someone in my pre-natal water fitness class mentioned this video to me, and I found it very well done and compelling. It certainly puts into perspective the amount of time in a day, and how much positive impact spending just one half hour a day on something as simple as walking can have. 

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Stockpiling pros and cons

Tuesday I wrote about planning ahead and freezing meals in anticipation of my baby's arrival. In addition, I've tried to stock up on essential items, so that if my husband or I can't get to the store, we won't be in danger of running out of basics like soap, toothpaste, beans and oatmeal. But getting stocked up is harder than it sounds. For one thing, I tend to be an under-buyer, or at least ride the line between under-buyer and enough-buyer. (For more on under-buyers and over-buyers, check out The Happiness Project's post on this).

I hate buying something just in case I might need it later, but because I don't know exactly what I'll need once the baby arrives, and I won't want to be in a position where I have to go out to get something urgently, I'm trying to let go of my worry that I won't use the thing. For instance, medicine is one thing I hate buying without knowing if I'll need it, because it will expire, but it's also something you want to immediately available if you need it!

The pros of stockpiling are definitely the niceness of having what you need when you need it, as well as a feeling of preparedness. And for items I know will get used, such as chicken broth and toilet paper, I'm happy to have as much on hand as I have room for.

In my house, you can't have too much peanut butter on hand!
The cons are finding room for the extra amounts of things, keeping the items organized enough that you can find what you need, and actually using up the items before they go bad. That's why I generally don't recommend to clients that they shop at warehouse-style stores. They usually don't have enough space to comfortably fit all the paper products and toiletries they want to buy. The savings in money isn't worth dealing with the clutter of too much on a day-to-day basis.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Post-natal meal planning

My first baby is due in just a few weeks, and one thing I've heard over and over from people who've done this before is to make sure to have plenty of meals and food on hand, and to get people to bring you food whenever they come visit. Since eating has always been one of my top priorities, and I know that energy and time for cooking will be in short supply once the baby is here, I've made a point to make up several batches of nutritious and hearty meals and have completely filled my freezer to the brim with them. I've also stocked up on staples, which I'll be posting about in a couple of days.

I have a small freezer, and I've had to make some choices about what to keep in there. I pared down my ice pack collection, and have been using up the ends of bags of lima beans and blueberries, which is good to do once in a while anyway.

Then I made beef stew, minestrone soup and whole wheat spinach lasagne (and put them in labeled, meal-portion containers). Which just about taps me out space-wise. But that's still at least 9 solid meals worth, and it gives me a little peace of mind knowing that my family and I won't be entirely dependent on the kindness of visitors or the prepared foods section of Whole Foods!

Thursday, March 22, 2012

March reading list

I just finished reading The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, in case I get a chance to go see the movie. I usually prefer to read the book before seeing the movie, and it seems like one of those movies everyone is going to see. Plus, I'm trying to go to the movies as much as I can before I give birth, after which, all bets seem to be off.

Because of that impending newborn, I'm also reading Caring for Infants with Respect by Magda Gerber, and finding its simple approach to interacting with babies very appealing. We'll see how it works in practice soon!

Also on the reading list, The E-Myth Revisited by Michael E. Gerber, which is the NAPO-LA book club pick for April, and one of those business books I've been meaning to read forever. This month I read Moneyball for my other book club, and though it's not exactly a book about business, it has some pretty amazing insights about looking at data and the reality of situations versus seeing what you want to see when it comes to people's performance. I thought Moneyball was fascinating and highly entertaining, and really recommend it, unless you couldn't care less about baseball, in which case it might not be for you.

What are you reading today?

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Tuesday, March 20, 2012

What's an Advance Health Care Directive?

**This post was originally published in my monthly e-newsletter, Lelah's News. Don't subscribe? Sign up here!

My Grandpa Jack.
Last fall my grandfather passed away. He was 86 and had been in fairly good health before a stroke occurred from which he was unable to recover. He had suffered from Alzheimer's in the last years of his life, and I was able to visit with him often since I moving back to California six years ago. I miss him dearly.

Though his final years weren’t always easy for him with his memory loss, his quality of life was good. My family members and I were able to provide him with a level of care that kept him in his home until the end, and we knew when the time came what his wishes regarding his end-of-life transition were. We knew these even though he couldn’t communicate with us because he had them set down in writing via an Advance Health Care Directive. The eleven-page document set down his wishes regarding everything from who had his power of attorney for health care and the use of artificial life-sustaining procedures, to his desire to live independently for as long as possible at home and his views on organ donation.

I can’t stress enough how vital it was that my family and I had this document, in addition to the rest of his estate planning documents (trust, power of attorney, etc.) at the ready when we needed it. It was a tremendous gift not to have to guess what my grandfather wanted in the last weeks of his life, and to be able to provide for him a dignified and pain-free transition. The amazing hospice we worked with had a large part to do with that, but it was having the legal power and the knowledge in writing that we were doing what my grandfather wanted that made that very difficult time easier.

It can be stressful to think about end-of-life decisions, no matter what stage of life you are in. But the benefits to yourself and your family members far outweigh the discomfort of answering the questions about what your wishes are or the cost of getting them set down in writing.

If you don’t have your estate documents prepared and current, please don’t wait. Make it happen. You will be glad you did.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

The stickiness of books

Of all the items I've helped clients sort through and evaluate during my years as a professional organizer, it never fails to amaze me how books above pretty much all else are considered off limits for purging. People who otherwise have no qualms about donating all manner of other things, even about ditching sentimental items, have a thing about books.

On the one hand, I understand, because I have plenty of books in my apartment that I'm probably not going to read again, that still have value for me. But I'm able to be fairly rational about them and don't have qualms about taking those that really aren't useful or loved right down to the used bookstore or Goodwill.

I think books hold a lot of power for people because they seem them as containing knowledge, and if you own the book, than somehow you own the knowledge inside, too. Books can be very aspirational for people. I know I've been hanging on to a copy of Henry James's The Americans for a few years, thinking I'm going to read it, but it usually gets pushed down the reading list by the latest Eloisa James historical romance.

If you have enough bookshelf space for your books, then I'm not suggesting you have a book problem. But many people store books in boxes in garages, attics and basements. This is a recipe for ruined books.

It can be kind of fun to quickly scan your shelves and pull out those books you really didn't like when you read them, or that you have two of, or reference books that are completely outdated. Gather them up, put them in your car and drop them off at your nearest donation site. You'll be just as smart as you were before, I promise!

How do you feel about letting books go?

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Goodwill Southern California

Last week, I went to the main campus of Goodwill Southern California with my NAPO Neighborhood Group. We spent an hour and a half touring the facility and learning about all the services that Goodwill offers. Goodwill's mission is Transforms Lives through the Power of Work, and that mission was clear through every aspect of their organization. As a professional organizer, it's always important to be able to communicate to clients exactly where their donated items will end up once they part with them and donate them to a charitable organization. Now I have a very clear picture of where items donated to any Goodwill Southern California location will go, and I feel extremely confident in recommending that my clients support this organization with their donations.

Our Goodwill tour group.
Some of things I learned on the tour:
  • All e-waste that gets donated gets processed in an extremely secure part of the facility. Working electronics will get refurbished and sold, while everything else gets broken down into recyclable parts, hazardous waste, and recoverable materials that will get sold. They completely destroy any information left on a hard drive before selling it or stripping it.
  • All shredding that gets brought to this particular facility is processed in a secure way that exceeds FBI standards. We got to see the floor where they shred (from behind a glass wall!) and watched the process at work. Fascinating.
  • The people who work at the facility we toured are part of Goodwill's mission to train and find jobs for people with disabilities and disadvantages. They get job training and will eventually move on to jobs outside of Goodwill, or may stay on at Goodwill in a variety of capacities. 
  • Over 90% of the profit realized by Goodwill from selling donated items either through their retail stores or by selling items in bulk goes into their education, job training and placement programs.
  • Their long term goal is to have 0% of what gets donated to Goodwill end up in a landfill. For now, they keep millions of pounds out of landfills every year. Each item goes through many stages and has many opportunities to be resold, reused, or recycled before it gets taken to a landfill. 
  • When you donate items in good condition, you are helping keep things out of landfills as well as supporting the service projects of the organization. They especially love to receive e-waste, books and clothes, shoes, etc. that are in good condition. Don't donate your trash, please, as that ends up by costing them money to process and dispose of.
I learned much more, so don't hesitate to ask if you have any burning questions about Goodwill!

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Spring forward

Today is the time change! Change your clocks by moving them ahead one hour. We lose an hour, but gain quite a bit of sunlight at the end of the day, which always makes it feel like summer is just around the corner.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Apple apps

Apple's App Store recently announced it had its 25 billionth app download.  According to Apple, there are over 500,000 apps in the App Store. Besides the obvious apps that help iPhone and iPad users use frequently accessed sites like Facebook, Netflix and Pandora, how does one figure out which of those 500,000 apps are going to be useful and worth the time to learn them or the money to download them?

No person can be an total app expert, so I try to get recommendations from trusted associates when I'm looking for an app to meet a specific need. When that fails, I do a search for recommendations, and can usually narrow down the field by looking at a couple of review posts on reputable blogs like CNET or Lifehacker.

Evernote's app. that vein, here are a few apps that I can recommend from personal experience using them on my iPad:
  • Evernote: This is probably an obvious choice, but the iPad interface works great, and I use it every day for all my lists.
  • Yelp: I like this app because it uses your location to give you reviews and information for businesses of all types that are in the area where you are, and it even tells you if they are currently open or closed.
  • TurboScan: A simple, inexpensive scanning app that actually works. Don't expect the scan quality to be as high as if you were using your ScanSnap, but it's good for scanning on the fly.
  • LA Times: The Los Angeles Times has just started a membership program where they are charging for online access to the paper. However, for the time being, mobile devices will still be able to access the site for free. So, if you don't want to pay for a membership, grab the app and read it on your iPad. The usability is great, too.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Workspace inspiration

I love the blog Unclutterer, and they have a weekly feature called Workspace of the Week that highlights unique or exceptionally well-organized workspaces, usually home offices. I love looking at how real people have organized their workspaces, as opposed to the ultra-perfect spaces you tend to see in magazines. If you are looking for some inspiration for your own workspace, I encourage you to check out their archives.

Screenshot from

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Review: Never Eat Alone

Never Eat Alone by Keith Ferrazzi was first published in 2005. I read it to discuss with my NAPO-LA book group, and found its advice about networking to be straightforward and applicable to any business or personal situation. The author is kind of a connections addict. He loves making connections and networking with people and has found it to be one of the most influential strategies for advancing in business and life. I liked the book's tone and organization, though it's hard to adjust to the bald fact that it's pretty much always who you know rather than what you know. Ferrazzi wants to empower you to learn how to get to know the people who can help you on your path through life.

I got the most out of the chapter on conferences. Ferrazzi argues that conferences are less about the content of the sessions or workshops or keynotes and much more valuable for getting face time with and getting to know people. Conferences do offer concentrated people-meeting arena, and it pays to go in having done some research on the other attendees and making a point of meeting and talking with those who you find fascinating or relevant to your fields of interest.

There were a lot of good take-aways from the book, and even though it was published before the Facebook/Twitter/social networking explosion, the principles still apply. Following up, being interesting, taking an interest in other people, being willing to ask for help as well as give help are all timeless concepts and well worth reminding ourselves about.

Monday, February 27, 2012

5 easy ways to get your inbox to zero

I'm constantly striving to have my unread emails total 0. It happens every day, but it takes daily upkeep. Here are five ways to make it easier to keep those unread emails at bay:

  1. Unsubscribe, unsubscribe, unsubscribe. Anytime you find yourself deleting or archiving a newsletter or advertisement without opening it, take two seconds, open it and scroll to the bottom where there will be an unsubscribe link. Sometimes it's clearer than others where to click, but doing so and following whatever prompts appear will stop those types of emails from landing in your inbox in the first place.
  2. Filter. You might want to keep statement notices, certain newsletters or list serve digests for future reference or reading, but you don't want them cluttering up your inbox until then. Set up a filter to label them and have them skip your inbox and go straight to a folder for later.
  3. Post something like "No need to respond" at the bottoms of emails you send out that really don't require a response. 
  4. Belong to a Yahoo Group or other list serves? Consider setting up a filter (#2) or switching your membership to a daily or weekly digest of email instead of receiving every message as it gets posted.
  5. Turn off or reduce email notifications on your social networking sites liked LinkedIn or Goodreads. Do you really need to be notified about what your friends are reading every day or week? If you cared, you'd be on the sites and interacting there.
Do yourself a favor and stop your email overload before it starts, and getting to inbox zero will be much more achievable.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

The Book of Household Management

Though the phrase "A place for everything, and everything in its place," may predate the publication of the book The Book of Household Management, it surprised me that the saying is generally attributed to the author of that volume, Mrs. Isabella Beeton. The book was published in 1861 and is a handbook for a woman running a household in Victorian England. It never occurred to me that the quote could be traced back to one person. It's a marvelous aphorism that holds up in any era.
"A place for everything, and everything in its place," must be her rule, in order that time may not be wasted in looking for things when they are wanted, and in order that the whole apparatus of cooking may move with the regularity and precision of a well-adjusted machine;—all must go on simultaneously.
~Mrs. Beeton, The Book of Household Management
You can download a free copy of The Book of Household Management in numerous formats from Project Gutenberg.