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Saturday, December 29, 2007

My only new year's resolution

To curtail multitasking, actually get something done and enjoy doing it.

Those who study these things are coming out in droves to say that we are getting less productive by constantly trying to do 3 things at once. Certainly we have all found that talking on the phone while doing just about everything else is distracting and sometimes down right dangerous. Besides that, I am finding that nothing I used to do for the sake of it is fun anymore when I add on 2 other things. Like cooking for example, I love to cook, but now with a knife in one hand and the phone in the other and an email to read, I've just lost the joy of cooking.

I certainly see this in the way the service industry has disintegrated - do you ever really feel anyone is paying attention to you anymore? Yes, a dozen sales associates whiz by you all yelling hello from across the room, but is anyone actually serving you? And can you count on anyone to really follow through with anything that needs further attention?

Anyway, I wish you all the very best for the coming new year - good health, success, prosperity and much joy - all at the same time!

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Storing holiday decorations

Using these sectioned clear plastic holiday decoration containers means no more broken ornaments or tangled lights. Look for clear hard plastic containers that are stackable. Keep wreaths in boxes or zippered bags so they don't get crushed in storage. I get mine from Target, and The Container Store.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Moving in

Our latest project took us to Tiburon where we had the task of blending two households together. This busy couple didn't have to miss a day of work while we unpacked and organized the new house.

The ATH team did a bang up job of putting together the family room and arranging the built in display/bookcase. I did the furniture arrangements.

I unpacked the kitchen and sorted through the "his and hers" sets of everything to come up with one functional space. The new kitchen provided me with some real opportunities for flexing my organizing muscles - and I'll share those with you in a later post.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Our world of mixed messages

These days I think watching the evening news is one of the most dangerous things I do all day. For an hour and half I am bombarded with a constant stream of mixed messages. I wonder if this is just an American thing or is the whole world like this?

As a professional organizer I am called in to peoples homes to help them make sense of the over abundance of "stuff" they have accumulated and I am constantly urging restraint on shopping. But the minute people stop shopping the media (and our government) drag out the dreaded "R" word - RECESSION - and we are suppose to head out the door to go buy more and bolster the economy. But just yesterday they were saying that we don't SAVE enough and that our credit card DEBT is through the roof, BUT retailers are whining and the second that happens the SALE signs go up and out the door we are suppose to go and come home with MORE STUFF.

Meanwhile the ice caps are melting, the planet is overheating and somehow we've got to find a way off this hamster wheel...

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Bathrooms - private and public spaces

Usually we think of our bathrooms as our own private space. However, if you live in a one bathroom home, as I do, it is also a public space. Therefore, keeping a clean, presentable and functional bathroom is a must. Here's my short list of dos:

- Have clean hand towels for guests. I use paper napkins I keep in a holder labeled "Guest Towels" from Bed Bath and Beyond.
- Have clean soap available. I use liquid soap dispensers from Williams-Sonoma.
- Have plenty of toilet paper where guests can find it. I use a basket from Pottery Barn.
- Have a bathroom spray available (not to be confused with your expensive perfume). I get mine at The Gardener.
- Keep the bathroom clean at all times, all towels neatly folded and all personal items in drawers or cabinets.
- During entertaining season a few fresh flowers in the bath are a wonderful addition.

If your guest bath is also your children's bathroom, have the kids put all their personal items in plastic buckets and keep them inside the shower or bathtub with the curtain drawn.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

2007 Best Project Award

At the end of each year we like to look back at all our jobs and chose one as our "award winner". This year we just had to give it to this loft kitchen. Our clients love to cook and have lots of pots, pans, appliances and kitchen gadgets. They just didn't know how to fit them all into the minimal style of a loft.

While these pictures show the "outsides" you'll have to trust us, the "insides" are the best part - everything now has a home, is accessible, containerized and ready for action.

In addition to reorganizing the cabinets and drawers, we noticed that if the dining table was turned around, they'd have a lot more room. Sometimes it's the little things that make a big difference.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

The donation box

I always set up a "donation" box in my client's homes. Generally located in the garage, it allows everyone in the family to place items in which they no longer use. When the box is full, it gets taken to their favorite charity.

My families with children love this and we have even put a donation box in the children's room to get them in the habit of sending off toys they no longer play with. Be sure and take the kids with you when you drop off the donation box so they can experience the process and see where their toys are going.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Is it real or is it?

For those who like to put up trees during the holidays, it may be time to look into purchasing an artificial tree. The great news is that artificial trees have come a long way in quality and type. Trees even come with the lights already strung. There are dozens of websites and catalogs to check out to find the tree you like best. The one pictured is from Frontgate.

The major benefit to an artificial tree is being able to use it year after year, so investing in a good quality zippered tree cover will help keep your tree protected during the time it's in storage.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Holiday gifts, what's on your list?

I love the holidays, too. I like getting presents, but for many years now I have encouraged my friends and family not to give me "things" for holidays or birthdays. I'd rather have a wonderful dinner out or do something special with them than get "stuff" that I really don't need.

I do encourage giving in the form of gifts to others in my name, and I reciprocate by giving to their favorite charities. In fact, we play the pick a name game and each person lists their charity on the paper with their name.

Here is my list of favorite charities that I am happy to share. - an amazing group that gives families living in poverty the gift of hope for a better future. You can give in any amount that works for you and make a huge difference in the world. - the Humane Society of the United States supports programs for all animals and wildlife, not just domestic pets. They also rush to disaster sites to save as many animals as they can in difficult circumstances. - the Nature Conservancy - preserves open space and natural places. - brings books and builds schools in third world countries.

In addition, there are hundreds of local groups wherever you live that would greatly benefit from your generous gifting.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Clip those bags

Keeping foods fresh after opening the bag can be a problem, especially in a busy household with kids.

Try this style of bag clip, which is a snap to use and really keeps air out of the foods.

Clips usually come in a mixed bag of small, medium and large. I get mine at Ikea or Bed, Bath and Beyond.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Memory Mixer

This software program let's you do the scrap booking without buying all the scrap book stuff. Use this to create scrap books and hard or soft cover picture books.

Monday, November 19, 2007

The wrecked rec room


This room was meant to be a place for 2 teenage boys to hang out with their friends. However, it fast got out of control and became the dumping grounds for everything that family members couldn't figure out what to do with.


Mom called us to rescue this room. We sorted, discarded, donated and then organized what was left, using the containers they already owned. We rearranged the furniture to create separate areas for watching TV, playing air hockey, playing games, reading and music. We also assembled the stand alone shelves to house toys, games, sporting equipment and a nifty media center.

Update: I checked with our client today and she advises that her house is now the favorite neighborhood hang out for her sons and their classmates!

Sunday, November 18, 2007

The Oprah show on hoarding

I have a few comments to make on the Thursday and Friday Oprah shows on hoarding. It was a terrific show and Peter Walsh is an amazing organizer and great representative of our profession.

For anyone struggling with hoarding, whether the issue is yours or a family member, here are some important points:

1. Unless the person is in immediate danger, you can not just go in and clear out the house for the hoarder and expect that the problem will be solved for them. They must be led through the process, want to change and agree to therapy during and after the process.

2. It's not about the stuff. The stuff is the end result of their attempts to deal with their problems.

3. You can not win an argument with a hoarder over the importance of an item. They value EVERYTHING the same, whether it be a diamond necklace or a used paper bag. That is part of the underlying problem with hoarding, they can not distinquish what is REALLY valuable and important.

4. Establish the "vision" for the space. Write down words that convey what it is you want the space to be and tape those words to the wall. Anything that does not support the vision for that space does not belong there.

5. Seek professional help from experienced people - even if you can not afford a team of professional organizers, call us, use us to create a plan and get you started.  I have listed various agencies that can help in past posts, see:  hoarding.

Recycle this, or maybe not

This article appeared in CNN news today:

SAN FRANCISCO, California (AP) -- Most Americans think they're helping the earth when they recycle their old computers, televisions and cell phones. But chances are they're contributing to a global trade in electronic trash that endangers workers and pollutes the environment overseas.

While there are no precise figures, activists estimate that 50 to 80 percent of the 300,000 to 400,000 tons of electronics collected for recycling in the U.S. each year ends up overseas. Workers in countries such as China, India and Nigeria then use hammers, gas burners and their bare hands to extract metals, glass and other recyclables, exposing themselves and the environment to a cocktail of toxic chemicals.

"It is being recycled, but it's being recycled in the most horrific way you can imagine," said Jim Puckett of the Basel Action Network, the Seattle-based environmental group that tipped off Hong Kong authorities. "We're preserving our own environment, but contaminating the rest of the world."

The gear most likely to be shipped abroad is collected at free recycling drives, often held each April around Earth Day, recycling industry officials say. The sponsors -- chiefly companies, schools, cities and counties -- often hire the cheapest firms and do not ask enough questions about what becomes of the discarded equipment, the officials say.

Many so-called recyclers simply sell the working units and components, then give or sell the remaining scrap to export brokers.

"There are a lot of people getting away with exporting e-waste," said John Bekiaris, chief executive of San Francisco-based HMR USA Inc., which collects and disposes of unwanted IT equipment from Bay Area businesses. "Anyone who's disposing of their computer equipment really needs to do a thorough inspection of the vendors they use."

The problem could get worse. Most of the 2 million tons of old electronics discarded annually by Americans goes to U.S. landfills, according to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency data. But a growing number of states are banning such waste from landfills, which could drive more waste into the recycling stream and fuel exports, activists say.

Many brokers claim they are simply exporting used equipment for reuse in poor countries. That's what happened in September, when customs officials in Hong Kong were tipped off by environmentalists and intercepted two freight containers. They cracked the containers open and found hundreds of old computer monitors and televisions discarded by Americans thousands of miles away.

China bans the import of electronic waste, so the containers were sent back to the U.S.

The company that shipped out the containers was Fortune Sky USA, a Cordova, Tennessee-based subsidiary of a Chinese company. General manager Vincent Yu said his company thought it was buying and shipping used computers, not old monitors and televisions, and is trying to get its money back.

Fortune Sky exports used computers and components to China, Malaysia, Vietnam and other Asian countries.

"There's a huge market over there for secondhand computers that we don't use anymore," Yu said. "I don't think it's going to cause any pollution. If the equipment can still be used, then that's good for everybody."
Discarded electronics
# Most of the 2 million tons of annual discarded U.S. electronics ends up in landfills, says EPA.
# 50 to 80 percent of the 300,000 to 400,000 tons of U.S. electronics annually gathered for recycling ends up overseas, activists estimate.
# Hong Kong returned 85 shipping containers of electronic junk, including 20 from the United States.
# Eight states have passed laws requiring manufacturers to take back and recycle their old electronics.
# U.S. bars export of monitors and televisions with cathode-ray tubes without permission from the importing country, but federal authorities don't have the resources to check most containers.

Yu refused to say where he bought the material, but Basel Action Network tracked it to a San Antonio, Texas, company that collects computers, printers and other electronics from schools and businesses.

Activists complain that most exporters don't test units to make sure they work before sending them overseas.

"Reuse is the new excuse. It's the new passport to export," said Puckett of Basel Action Network. "Other countries are facing this glut of exported used equipment under the pretext that it's all going to be reused."

At the other end at customs, the goods don't always get checked either.

"It is impossible to stop and check every single container imported into Hong Kong," said Kenneth Chan of Hong Kong's Environmental Protection Department. "Smugglers may also deliberately declare their ... waste as goods."

In the first nine months of this year, Hong Kong authorities returned 85 containers of electronic junk, including 20 from the U.S.

Exporting most electronic waste isn't illegal in the United States. The U.S. does bar the export of monitors and televisions with cathode-ray tubes without permission from the importing country, but federal authorities don't have the resources to check most containers.

The EPA recognizes the problem but doesn't believe that stopping exports is the solution, said Matt Hale, who heads the agency's office of solid waste. Since most electronics are manufactured abroad, it makes sense to recycle them abroad, Hale said.

"What we need to do is work internationally to upgrade the standards (for recycling) wherever it takes place," he said.

The EPA is working with environmental groups, recyclers and electronics manufacturers to develop a system to certify companies that recycle electronics responsibly. But so far the various players have not agreed on standards and enforcement.

Many activists believe the answer lies in requiring electronics makers to take back and recycle their own products. Such laws would encourage manufacturers to make products that are easier to recycle and contain fewer dangerous chemicals, they say.

Eight states, including five this year, have passed such laws, and companies such as Apple, Dell, Hewlett-Packard and Sony now take back their products at no charge. Some require consumers to mail in their old gear, while others have drop-off centers. HP says it also now designs its equipment with fewer toxic materials and has made it easier to recycle.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Cable wraps

End the unsightly mess of cords dangling from your desk and corral all those wires in a jumble on the floor with cable ties and wraps. I get mine from Use different colors to indicate what cord goes to which machine.

Earthquake putty

Great stuff for keeping all your glass, ceramic or other breakables from tumbling off the shelf - whether due to an earthquake your or your rambunctious cat. You can find Quake Hold at most hardware stores. I prefer this type of putty to the museum wax as it is easier to work with and remove from surfaces.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Recycle this

Recycling can be very confusing. Each city, county and garbage/recycle company seems to have a different criteria for recycling plastics. You will have to call your particular company and ask for the guidelines in your area. There does seem to be universal agreement that most plastic carry bags from the grocery store are not accepted by local recycle companies. Ask your grocer about the plastic bags they use. Some of the large chains have a barrel out front for returning their plastic bags.

Here's an explanation of the symbols that are stamped on the bottom of your plastic containers. A chasing arrows symbol DOES NOT means a plastic container is recyclable. The arrows are meaningless. Every plastic container is marked with the chasing arrows symbol. The only information in the symbol is the number inside the arrows, which indicates the general class of resin used to make the container.


1 - PET Polyethylene Terephthalate
Two-liter beverage bottles, mouthwash bottles, boil-in-bag pouches.

2 - HDPE High Density Polyethylene
Milk jugs, trash bags, detergent bottles.

3 - PVC Polyvinyl Chloride
Cooking oil bottles, packaging around meat.

4 - LDPE Low Density Polyethylene
Grocery bags, produce bags, food wrap, bread bags.

5 - PP Polypropylene
Yogurt containers, shampoo bottles, straws, margarine tubs, diapers.

6 - PS Polystyrene
Hot beverage cups, take-home boxes, egg cartons, meat trays, cd cases.

All other types of plastics or packaging made from more than one type of plastic.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Containing makeup

Keeping makeup contained can be a chore. I keep my makeup in this acrylic jewelry box. I've divided the drawers by product type. The box fits nicely on a small shelf in my bathroom. Try for yours.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

My favorite food containers

As the controversy over plastic food containers rages (hard plastics vs soft and microwaving in plastic), I use these Frigoverre glass containers for all my refrigerated food items, especially leftovers.

I bought mine at Williams-Sonoma a couple of years ago, but you can find them at Whole Foods, The Container Store, and other stores found on-line.

They clean up beautifully in the dishwasher and can be used in the microwave and freezer. Do NOT heat them on top of the stove or in conventional ovens (Pyrex or Corningware can go in the oven), and don't drop them.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Peter Walsh on Oprah

My other favorite organizer, Peter Walsh, will be on Oprah 11/15 - 16, doing a show on clearing out the house of hoarders.

Hoarding is a very serious issue that affects way more people than we ever thought. If you or any of your friends and family are hoarding or have hoarding tendencies, I strongly urge you to contact the National Study Group on Chronic Disorganization ( for assistance. You may also find or or helpful resources.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

"I want to do what you do."

Each week I get several emails and calls from people around the country who tell me they want to do "exactly" what I do. If you are thinking about a career as a Professional Organizer or Move Manager, I recommend that you contact The National Association of Professional Organizers offers classes, conferences and programs to get you started. I strongly suggest that you read every organizing book you can find and take all the classes offered by NAPO and other professionals, as well as in marketing, sales, business and computer skills - you will need them all.

Be prepared to purchase a business license, liability (including items you may carry in your car), worker's comp and disability insurance before you step into someone's home. Be prepared to pay Federal and State taxes, as well as Social Security and Medicare - at the highest rates.

While organizing is a skill and talent some of us are born with, only experience will make you a good organizer. Organizing your sister's closet or moving your mother-in-law is good practice, but it does not necessarily mean you are prepared to launch a business.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

A cozy fire on the television

I love fireplace CD's to warm up a home. There are dozens of these available from and others. Just pop them in, make a cup of hot chocolate and relax in front of the fire. They make terrific housewarming gifts or stocking stuffers.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Yes, we do small offices, too

As so many of my home organizing and moving clients have asked me to move or organize their small businesses, I am officially adding this to the list of services we offer.  After all, this is where I started in business many years ago, organizing my bookkeeping client's offices.  I will do the space planning and my assistant, will do the paper management.  Together we will get your office moved and/or whipped into shape and see that it stays that way.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Moving a doctor's office

This week we helped move and organize a doctor's office. We had the weekend to get this office completely packed, moved and ready to see patients on Monday morning. So we hustled and with the help of the doctor's office team, she was up and running without missing an appointment. After unpacking, assigning homes to each specific area of the doctor's practice (patient files, office files, reference materials, office supplies, supplements and lab areas), Gayle chose the best organizing tools to keep each area in order. A very rewarding experience for all.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Being prepared

In the wake of the fire disaster in So. California, it is imperative that we ALL prepare as much as we can for the possibility of having to leave our homes and head for shelter elsewhere. Here is some quick web info on where to go for assistance in getting ready. Nationally,,, and, all provide extensive information. For Californians, provides an excellent home inventory plan. I will cover more information in later posts on this subject, but I urge you all to start preparations now.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

My favorite cookbooks

As a "retired" private chef in San Francisco, I frequently get asked about my favorite foods, restaurants, chefs and cookbooks. So, from time to time I'll post on these subjects, including cookbooks from my library, and here are two books that I think should be in every kitchen.

Emily Luchetti's first 2 pastry books, Stars Desserts and Four-Star Desserts are legendary. The originals of these books sell for hundreds of dollars when you can find them. Fortunately, Emily revisited those books and published Classic Stars Desserts earlier this year. Emily was the original pastry chef at Jeremiah Tower's Stars Restaurant - the likes of which will never be seen again! Emily's pastries are simply the best. She is neat, economical and dead on when it comes to putting together a recipe. No one has ever made a better lemon square.

Judy Roger's Zuni Cafe is also a San Francisco legend. Her cookbook of the same name is, in my opinion, the best to come out in decades and should stand as one of the best ever. Her discussions of brining and braising are life changing and there is no better roast chicken than Judy's. This book won the James Beard award and Judy was named Chef of the Year at the same time.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

ICE Packet

Here's a handy tool for anyone who needs their medical records on hand at all times. This small keychain device carries your medical history and any other personal info you wish and plugs into any computer so it can be read out instantly. No special programs are needed as it runs on Apple, PC and Linux systems. The best part, it's only $29.95.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Are you neat or are you organized?

Today I did my one week check up with my office reorg client. His exact quote: "You rock. I only hope I can keep it up..."  I told him that it's not about trying to keep it up, and it's not about being neat, it's about efficiency and being able to get your hands on what you need when you need it.

Many people think that being organized is about being neat, and that's just not so. I can be messy in my own space, and believe me, when I am working 6 or 7 days in a row, my own house gets pretty messy. But, the difference is that when I do decide to clean up it only takes me 20 - 30 minutes to whip the place into shape, not 3 weeks - because I know where things live in my house. I have a system in place that kicks in when I have a few minutes to work on it.

And furthermore, YOUR system doesn't have to be like my system - it just has to work for YOU. My job as a professional is to come in observe and evaluate how you work and then tailor a system that fits YOU, not me, and not necessarily anybody else, if the space is totally yours. That's what being organized is all about Charlie Brown!

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Going back to basics

Retractable pens and wooden pencils are making a come back. Yes, retractable pens are bit more expensive, but you don't lose the tops in the bottom of your pencil cup and you don't get ink all over you because the pen isn't covered. A good old fashion pencil sharpener will keep your #2's going for quite awhile.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

La belle Julia

Those who know me well, know that Juila Child is one of my favorite people ever! An amazing woman in so many ways and what a life she led. I have finished reading her last book, "My Life In France", written just before she left us in 2004. She recounts her time spent with her husband, Paul, in Europe, during the 40's and 50's. What time that was! You can hear her voice on every page and almost taste the meals she describes so vividly. She also tells how "Mastering the Art of French Cooking" came to be (and very nearly not so). You know, it was Julia who was the first to list recipes in the format ALL cookbooks now use. I loved every page of this book.

Bon Appetit, Julia...

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Change for the fun of it

Sometimes you just have to have a change of scenery - even in your own house! This is my condo living/dining room last year at this time.

And here it is today. Took me less than 10 minutes to pull this together. So, why does this work so well? Because the furniture is to the scale of the room and scale is everything when choosing furniture. If I had an 8 or 9 foot sofa, it would be too big for the room no matter which direction it faced.

Even the cats enjoy their new digs...
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