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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.
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