Friday, November 29, 2019

Organizing Paperwork – Where to Start

Piles of papers all over your home or office can seem overwhelming. With bills, junk mail, reports, and other information piling up on desks, tables, and counters, sorting through it all is a daunting task.  Often, people don’t even know where to start.  Luckily, we can help!

The first step to tackling the paperwork mess is to make a commitment to lighten the load of information your brain must process.  Simply put, you need to receive, read, and consume less data overall.  How would one do this, you might ask.  The most effective way of accomplishing this would be to change your habits.  If you stopped watching multimedia, quit listening to music, decided not to read books, and didn’t view magazines, you’d certainly by well on your way to shielding yourself from the extra, unnecessary information in a world plagued by information overload.  Since that is obviously hard and may be unrealistic in modern society, I suggest that you minimize the amount of paper information you receive and keep in your life. 

       It sounds simple enough, but how does one go about limiting their consumption of information in a world constantly calling for your attention?  It all starts with physical mail your home takes in.  I have worked with countless people to wade through their mounds of paperwork that they have accumulated over varying periods of time.  The sad reality is that about 80% of the mail I open is unsolicited.  In other words, they are paying me to open their junk mail that they didn’t want or ask for! 

       To stop the paper pileup, you first must get through the backlog and keep mail current.  There’s no other way.  One idea to help is to put a recycle bin right next to the door to stop junk mail from entering your home.  You can even consider putting a fun sign on the container!  Once you’ve accomplished that, you can then spend time to remove your name from the many marketing lists you’ve probably found yourself on, whether you found yourself on them voluntarily or not.  Writing to or calling any of the current “DO NOT CALL” lists alone is usually ineffective at stopping all marketers in my experience.  Doing so might stop a few senders, but it won’t stop them all.  The best way to get results is to contact the individuals who have sent or continue to send you unsolicited mail.  It may seem tedious to contact all the people and organizations sending you unwanted pieces of mail, but in the end, it will be worth the extra effort when the flow of junk mail lessens.  It will save you time in the years to come by preventing you from opening and paying attention to future junk mail and this will lead to less paperwork occupying your fridge, counter, and kitchen table.

For more information, or to get help with your organization needs, visit


Monday, October 28, 2019

The Home Zones

Even if you live alone, there are bound to be some spaces where things get messy. Whether it is in your home office, your garage, or even your whole house, chaos most likely exists in your abode. Items end up in the wrong rooms and sometimes it’s difficult and inconvenient to find just what you’re looking for when you need it.  One method of managing your home to solve this problem is to create zones in each room of your home.  To keep the whole home useable and clean, each room should have succinct and manageable zones.  Such a system should help make sense of the items in your home, not confuse you. The goal of zones is to create areas that are welcoming, useable, and peaceful.

Just as your house naturally has “zones” (the kitchen, the living room, bedrooms, etc.), each individual room should also have zones within them consisting of items that belong there together. Utilizing this simple system will assist in maintaining an organized household. For example, your kitchen should have separate areas for cookware, dinnerware, food, and seasonal items. Keeping these areas tidy and putting away items where they belong will make it easy to maintain a clean, well-organized home.  Ideally, the names of each area should be kept general so that they can fit a variety of appropriate items, but specific enough to keep unwanted items out of that space. In the case of the kitchen, a dining ware area is general enough to fit plates, bowls, and cutlery together, but does not include appliances such a rice cookers and blenders, which should have their own place. This system also makes it easy to identify items which do not belong in a given room that should be put away elsewhere in their own homes.

To assist with creating zones, check out our “ZONE Detail Worksheet.”  Use the worksheet to identify zones in your home, considering the zones you might already have in your home or office spaces. Sometimes it is easier to look around at the different areas to see which zones you already have before deciding on what you should have.  Look at each area with a critical eye and think about what the space was originally intended for and what it is being used for now.  Also look for items that are misplaced or don’t seem to belong.  Do you have any items that do not belong in any category listed on the sheet? Do you need to create a new category?  List these new categories at the bottom of the worksheet. Every item should belong to a category, even if it is only a category of two.  Although I recommend that you keep categories to a minimum of three items, I challenge you to think broader to add an item to an existing category instead of creating a new one.  Recently, I was working with someone in a home office and we had made a category for glue.  There was wood glue, glue sticks, epoxy, etc. Then we had tape – duct tape, masking tape, scotch tape, etc.  But when we were actually organizing, we realized the better category was adhesives and fasteners.  This label gave us the option to add a roll of twine that did not fit anywhere else!   Also, don’t be afraid to get rid of some zones that you may no longer need.  If you have a zone for your skiing supplies but have not skied in years, there may be no need to have a zone for that!  Good luck!

For more information, or to get help with your organization needs, visit


Thursday, October 17, 2019

Maximizing Your Focus

Your brain is the biggest asset you have in life and how you utilize it can determine how effective you are in your daily life and how stressed you feel.  In recent years, multitasking has been a buzzword that has taken hold in society.  However, multitasking is difficult and leads to errors and stress.  If you try to do too many tasks at once, you’re bound to make a mistake.  For this reason, I believe that you should use your brain to focus on one thought at a time. 

Now, focusing on one thing at a time doesn’t mean that you can’t maximize your brain power to accomplish a series of tasks efficiently.  For example, you can cut vegetables for dinner while waiting for water to boil for the main course.  In this scenario, one of the tasks, waiting for the water to boil, does not require your constant mental focus.  This is not multitasking, but rather proper planning that results in an efficient order of processes.  By utilizing your time efficiently, you take pressure off your brain and allow yourself to focus on a single task at a time before moving onto the next one. 

Setting up a routine is one way to do this.  For instance, if you know you tend to rush around to complete tasks every morning, you might prepare the night before to make your mornings easier.   Instead of rushing to get everything done in the morning, you might prepare a breakfast or lay out clothes for the next day each night in order to smooth out the morning routine and make things more efficient and less stressful. This will help prevent mistakes as well and allow you to put all your focus and energy into one task at a time, which is safer and easier.  Plus, you will have the confidence that you have a plan to accomplish your objectives.

Some tasks, of course, need your complete attention, while others do not.  For instance, chopping wood might require your full attention while folding laundry might be done while also watching TV or carrying on a conversation.  Knowing the difference between what needs complete focus and what does not is important and will allow you to successfully plan and optimize your routines.  This does not mean planning your day down to the minute, as there will always be unforeseen occurrences that will require you to be flexible and accommodating. However, if you have a general layout of simple daily goals that you need to accomplish, it will help keep you organized and on track.  This outline allows you to focus on what is most important in the moment, one task at a time, instead of making you feel like you have to juggle many things at once.  If you focus on just a single item at a time and use a little planning to maximize your brain power, you will see the benefits of fewer mistakes and a calmer mind every day.

For more information, or to get help with your organization needs, visit


Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Downsizing After Children

Once your children grow up and move out of the house, your household dynamic will change.  Parents often struggle as they try to cope with this so-called “empty nest.”  It is ironic that the “empty nest” only refers to people as too often empty nesters find that their nest is full of stuff!  It is this overwhelming accumulation of a lifetime of possessions that leads people to call a professional organizer.

I have worked with many families who were experiencing a new life with their children out of the family home and have a few pieces of wisdom to share.  The most common phrase I hear from families is “I don’t know what to do with all this stuff!”  There are a couple main reasons for this.  First, there are often items that children leave behind, sometimes by accident and sometimes on purpose.  Parents don’t know how to differentiate between what items children forgot and what they did not want and so the parents keep all such items, hoping that children will one day return and decide what to do with the items.  Another problem is that parents can’t identify who owns what items and so they do not know who to ask about them and do not want to accidentally get rid of something a child wanted.  I tell parents that their home is not a museum and leaving spaces as they were when their children moved out, with bedroom sets and old memorabilia in place, is not the best use of rooms. 

To avoid keeping extra items, parents need to be clear about expectations with their children and set a date by which children will have taken out all items from the home that they would like.  Putting all questionable items for each person in once pile can help individuals easily sort through items to see what they want to keep.  Another way I have found useful is to photograph items and text children photos.  This way, they can easily decide right away and it does not hold up the organization process.  Another reason some parents don’t know what to do with items left behind is because they are hoping that children might one day want them, even when they haven’t said so.  Some parents believe that children will want certain items, such as furniture or family heirlooms, and will hold onto them in hopes that the children will take them.  This can happen because either parents have not communicated their intentions for the items, or they have ignored their children’s wishes and kept the items in hopes that children will later change their minds about taking them.  Be sure to communicate your intentions to your children, but parents should not keep items that children don’t or won’t want.  Think practically and worry about yourself and your own space.

Even after the kids have made their decisions, parents are sometimes still holding onto or housing items.  One explanation for this is that children do not yet have the space to store everything they want and so they ask for, or the parents offer them, storage space in the family home.  While some parents are okay with doing this for a time, parents can be taken advantage of and are left with piles of items that will never be taken by their children in some cases.  To avoid this, I recommend following a simple guideline: “if it’s your stuff, it should be in your space.”  This might sound harsh, but it works to clear the spaces and minds of parents so they can transition to the next phase of their lives and downsize more easily. 

Again, I would tell you that you are not a storage unit and since your children have become adults, they are perfectly capable of making their own decisions and deciding what they would like to keep and take with them and what they wish to discard.  If you want to remember the room, take a picture!

For more information, or to get help with your organization needs, visit


Thursday, September 5, 2019

Daily Activity Wheel

Do you feel like there isn't enough time in the day?  Do you wonder where your time goes or where it is spent?  If so, check out our "Daily Activity Wheel" on our website!

For more information, or to get help with your organization needs, visit


Monday, September 2, 2019

How to Find “That” Picture

It is well known how important it is to keep computer files organized.  We create folders and subfolders, often carefully titling files so that we can easily find what we’re looking for.  After all, if you can’t find a document, what good is it?  However, we often do not take the same care in organizing our collections of digital pictures, which can make finding that one picture you’re searching for a monumental task.

With advancements in technology allowing for the storage of thousands of pictures on our phones and in our computers, we have developed a tendency to take more pictures now than in the past since we are no longer limited by film or even SD cards in most instances.  The problem with this arises when all the pictures we take, including the duplicates and mistakes, end up being stored on the cloud, in our phone gallery, or on our computer.  Often, pictures are stored in multiple locations.  Faced with hundreds or thousands of pictures, it’s no wonder that few people want to take the time to go through their pictures before uploading them and dropping them carelessly into folders online or on their computer.  That is of course, if they even upload them at all.  But how do we solve this picture problem?

The first step, ideally, is to limit the number of pictures you’re taking!  I am personally a proponent of taking fewer pictures and spending more time in the moment enjoying your surroundings.  Last year, I went on a road trip with a friend for two weeks and I was amazed at how much time he spent looking at beautiful scenery and animals through a phone screen as opposed to using his own eyes and living in the moment.  I’m not saying that taking photographs is a bad thing, but I came home with a fraction of the pictures he did and was no less happy for it.  While taking personal pictures of family and friends is valuable, you must consider that many photographs of monuments, buildings, art, and attractions can be found online in better quality, for free, compared to what you can produce yourself.  You should ask yourself if every picture is really worth taking and keeping.
Next, pairing your collection of pictures down to the best ones as soon as possible will make for less work later.  Often, you’ve taken multiple pictures of people or things in order to get the best shot.  Once you have it, you should consider deleting all the other pictures of the subject right off your phone or camera soon after to clear space and make it easy to find the best photo right away.
Finally, it all comes down to organizing your pictures, whether that be on a computer, storage device, or cloud-based service.  Just like with other computer files, you need to create folders to organize your pictures if you want to be able to easily locate them.  If you can’t find pictures or it takes too much time, you won’t be able to view or share them and they will be a burden rather than an asset to you.  Now, there are different ways to organize pictures and it’s mostly a matter of personal preference and what you’re doing with them that determines what is best.  For instance, you may choose to simply organize pictures by date, using years or months.  Another strategy is to organize pictures by subject, such as sports, trips, nature, and clubs.  Others might find it easier to categorize by people in pictures with folders for family, friends, or even a single person.  No matter what system you create, sticking to it and keeping up with it so pictures are always organized will make them much more useful to you and to others as the years go on, especially when you’re just trying to find “that” picture you’re thinking of.  While it might take more time now, it will save you time from searching through hundreds of random icons later.

Over time, I’ve learned a couple of tricks that makes organizing pictures easier.  I’ve found it useful to upload pictures at appropriate and regular intervals, such as after a trip or event, so I can easily organize and share them.  I also make sure to delete the pictures off my phone or camera once I have uploaded them in order to prevent duplicates from being uploaded later.  For especially interesting or important pictures, I might also name the individual pictures something specific like I would a document, such as “Grizzly Bear in Yellowstone,” so I can easily find it by searching my computer instead of wading through thumbnails of pictures with randomized names.  Lastly, I try to stick to one source for my pictures so that they’re all in one place and I am careful about cloud backups.  While having the cloud automatically backup files provides protection against deletion, I like to manually back up my pictures periodically once I’ve organized them so I am not saving backups of pictures I have deleted or not yet organized.

By Joe Dumais

For more information, or to get help with your organization needs, visit


Monday, August 26, 2019

Are Worn Clothes Dirty?

We’ve all been there.  You wear a shirt or a pair of shorts once, but the garment isn’t dirty.  It might not be fresh, but it doesn’t need to be washed yet. If you put it back in the closet or drawer, you risk getting your clean clothes smelly and dirty. While these clothing items might not smell the best after a wear or two, washing them would be a waste of energy. I have a word for such clothes: pre-laundry.  Pre-laundry is the pair of pants hanging on the unused treadmill, the sweater hanging off the back of a chair, or that pair of socks on the floor that you barely wore the other day.  While easy to grab, it’s easy to forget these clothes for a while.  They begin to creep into our spaces and blur the line between dirty and clean as the mysterious pile of clothing piles up.  The question is, what is one to do with this clothing in the purgatory between your closet and your laundry basket?

I’m often asked about the best strategies to manage slightly-worn clothes.  To help, I recommend following these simple tips:

1. Don't let clothes pile up!  Allow no more than 3 outfits of varying kinds of clothing to accumulate. For example, having a pair of shorts and pajamas out at the same time might make sense, but having multiple pairs of jeans strewn about is just plain messy.  Don’t have multiples of an article of clothing lying around!

2. Hang worn clothes on a hanger and hang that off the end of another hanger (an empty hanger or one with the ends exposed) in your closet so they are facing outward as opposed to inside the closet where they could contaminate other clothes.  This way, you can still quickly identify and grab your pre-laundry clothing without having to take up more space or search around for the spot you dropped off your shirt.  For clothes that you may have only worn for a very short period of time, like a suit or dress for church, you can create a separate section in your closet.

3. Make a rule to wear pre-laundry items NEXT. In other words, if you have a sweater that is half dirty, think about wearing that one next instead of getting a clean half dirty as well.

4. Take a good look (or sniff) around once a week to see if you need to wash some of the clothes you thought weren’t dirty enough earlier in the week.

For more information, or to get help with your organization needs, visit