Important Seminar Update

I’ve got some important information to pass along to you. If you’ve been to one of my seminars you know that I’ve always advised people to go to the IRS website and download publication #552 – Record-keeping for Individuals. Well, they’ve stopped publishing it. Never fear. I’ve found a wonderful substitute that lets you know what you have to keep and how long you have to keep it – plus a whole bunch of other good stuff. Here’s what you do: go to and in the search box type: Managing Family Records. It’s 7 pages. Also, at the top of the website you’ll see in small print: free publications. Click on that as well and search – Keeping Family and Household Records. It’s 9 pages.

Also, at the seminars we talk about stopping junk mail. Here’s another method. Go the the and search junk mail. That website links you automatically to a lot of the sites we talk about in the seminar. So, it saves time. However, don’t forget about the app Paper Karma that lets you unsubscribe one piece of mail at a time with a few clicks on your phone.

I also got an update on Here’s where you send unsolicited email that you don’t want. The FTC says to be sure to include the complete spam email and your email provider. State that you’re complaining about being spammed. If you try to unsubscribe from an email list and your request is not honored, file a complaint with the FTC.

How I Saved my Table

We have the quintessential circa 80’s oak claw pedestal table. We’ve had it for for 30 years I’d say. Well, after five kids, numerous guests and thousands of meals, it finally needed to be refinished. I thought that I could get away with just doing the top. It was covered with water ring spots and marks from hot dishes (I assume).

Anyhow, one day we had a guy and his wife over for dinner. The man’s hobby is wood working. He suggested that I get something called Restore A Finish by Howard. I trusted this guy – but I really didn’t think anything but a complete refinishing would really do the trick. So, I procrastinated getting the Restore A Finish.

Months went by and finally I succumbed. I followed the directions on the bottle that says to put it on the table top with the finest grade (0000)  of steel wool. I did it about five times. (You have to wait between applications.) Somehow, all those marks and discolorations disappeared. I wish I had taken a before picture – but I really didn’t think it would work. (By the way, this table is finished with some kind of shellac or lacquer. It isn’t oiled.)

On the bottle it suggests using something called Howard Feed-N-Wax to polish up the finished product. Well, I went back to the store to get a bottle of that stuff and also followed the directions. The results are amazing. I am no longer embarrassed by the table top. It looks so nice and I saved hours of time and hard work using these two products.

If you’re thinking it’s time to refinish something, you’ve got to try this stuff. The Restore A Finish comes in different shades so it will work with various kinds of woods. Hope your results are jut as great!

Reading is FUNdamental

Recently I heard a world famous organizing expert say that you just shouldn’t have books anymore. No need to stash, store, and stack those tomes, says he. Just use digitized books. No need to waste space on volumes of books, some of which you will never crack open again.

One question I field frequently at my seminars is how to store collections of books. Okay. Our organizing expert is partially right, I think. Personally, I enjoy reading for entertainment on my Kindle. But, if I’m reading for knowledge or information, I prefer to read it in a good old-fashioned book. I love to underline important passages and dog ear the pages. I scribble notes in the margins and on the inside of the back cover (to make a personalized index).  I love the feel of a book in my hands and the smell of its pages. So, I have books. Hard copy, paper turning, space eating books.

Here’s my best book advice. If you’re running out of space for book storage, go through the books and keep on the shelves the most useful and needed ones. Storing books is just like storing anything else. If you use it a lot, put it in a handy spot. If you don’t – either get rid of it or store it out of the way somewhere. For example, I used to keep all my cookbooks in the kitchen. When I needed more shelf space I decided to keep in the kitchen only the cookbooks I used frequently. The rest were placed in a different room on a bookshelf. I didn’t get rid of them – but I opened up two feet of needed kitchen storage space by moving them.

Here’s another experience I had years ago helping a friend organize her home office. There was a bookshelf in the room that seemed to be a catchall that everyone in the family favored. She wanted to use it as a bookshelf – not a stash spot. So, we emptied the shelf and began placing books on the shelves. I saw my friend take a handful of books and she was just about to put them on the shelf that was just below eye level (in other words, the best real estate on the shelf). I asked her what the books were. She told me that her husband collected them. I asked her if he ever looked at them or showed them to people when they came over. She said he didn’t ever look at them. He just collected them. Well, not only did those books not go on those high priority shelves, they didn’t even make it on the entire bookshelf. They were safely stored in another area of the home.

After placing your books on the shelves, go through the leftovers. Do you want to keep all of them ? Is it possible to get digital copies of them instead? Do they have some specific sentimental value? Remember, the amount of space you have to work with determines how much you can keep. Do you have a place to box up and store some? (If so, be sure to  make a note of the titles and where the box is stored.)

Here are some suggestions for where to get rid of books:

Check out Books For Soldiers on the Internet. Also, Operation Paperback sends books to military personnel and their families. Libraries don’t usually accept donations, but some do – so check to see if your local library is one of them. Also, sometimes libraries collect books that they can sell from time to time. Check out (books for inmates); You can find out more about each of these on the Internet. Many cities have used book dealers that buy and sell used books. You usually don’t get a huge amount for your books, but you do get something and it’s a great way to clean out your book collection.

I hope there will always be such a thing as old school books. Even if they take up space and collect dust.

Getting a Grip on Your Gripes

Those of you who have followed me for a while know that I wasn’t born organized. I hit bottom when we had our third child and knew that I had to do something. We had three little boys – 4, 2, and new. It was before organizing was an industry and there was no where to turn for help. I made a list of my problems and worked on one problem at a time.  I just used trial and error and kept starting over when I messed up. I’ve said this a million times: organizing is just like dieting. You want to lose weight and you’re doing really well for a few days – then BINGO you eat a bag of cookies. Next day, you start over. Just like organizing. The closet looks magazine ready. Then you start shoving things here for now and stashing things there and promise to put them away correctly later. Just keep starting over. When the computer gets goofy – we just re-boot. Re-boot, re-boot, re-boot. Just keep starting over and you’ll get where you want to go. But, that’s not what I want to talk about.

One thing I learned early on is that I made note of things that bugged me. Sitting at the computer, I always had to get up and walk to a trash basket. That was an easy thing to correct – but it made a difference. I was always looking for the scissors but they were in the bathroom  because one of our gorgeous hunk sons had taken them in there to trim his hair. Another easy solution. Store a pair of scissors in the bathroom. All the pencils were always in the drawer in the family room. When I needed one in the kitchen I had to make  an unplanned hike. So, I let everyone know that the mechanical pencils were in the kitchen and the wooden pencils would be in the family room. When you picked up a pencil, you knew where it belonged.

Anyhow, if something bugs you – don’t nag and scream about it. See if you can alleviate the problem. Label things. Simple color coding might help. Label shelves, the lips of drawers, etc. so other people will know and understand the system.

You might be surprised how that one little change can make a big difference in your life.

The Clutter Conundrum

I can’t tell you how many people have told me that they’re hoarders! I’m convinced, though, that most people are not hoarders – but clutterers. (Got a red line on that one – so I guess clutterers is not a word – but you know exactly what I mean.)

What causes all the clutter? I guess most of us think that it’s because of other people or that we’re naturally unorganized, lazy, pressed for time – or all of the above. Actually, there are many different reasons for clutter and you can fix it!

1. Does it have a place? If things don’t have specific places assigned to them, no one knows where to put things – so they just put them anywhere. Make sue every single thing has a place and keep putting it back in that place (without saying anything) whenever you see it in the wrong area. Sounds obsessive, but pays dividends.

2. Often clutter happens because the system that we’ve set up is too complicated. It takes too many motions to put something away so it’s easier to just stack it up somewhere. In addition, maybe the given location for a certain item is inconvenient. Would a different area make it easier to maintain?

3. You have infrequently used items placed in handy, easy to reach spots. That means that there’s no handy storage space for the things you use all the time.  If something is used less often than once a month, or seasonally, get it out of the mainstream and store it in a less accessible area. Note what you have and where you put it so you won’t forget. (Or, use Find Things It’s a great app/website that tells you what you have in your home and where it’s located.)

Here’s a great example. I always liked to be in charge of the laundry. I didn’t like to turn it over to the kids because I wanted things done a particular way. One day I noticed that I was really procrastinating putting away my youngest son’s clothes. I couldn’t understand my resistance and I gave it some serious thought. Here was the dilemma. He had a drawer that was so full of shirts that it was physically difficult to put his clothes away. So, we went through his stash of shirts and pared them down to a desirable amount. Half of them he never wore anyway. What a difference it made! If it’s hard to put something away, you (or anyone else) are not going to do it.

Remember, clutter makes everything take longer. Everything you do everyday takes longer than it needs to – because of clutter.

Kitchen Resolutions

It’s the New Year and everywhere we turn there’s a media outlet that’s giving us organizing tips. Whether it’s on the glossy pages of a magazine or on the TV screen – there’s plenty of advice. Seems like most everyone decides to get organized at the beginning of the New Year. Now, it’s my turn to dole out advice!

First of all, choose a place to organize and break it down into manageable pieces. Organizing a kitchen is a great goal. A better goal is: I’m going to organize the kitchen. Today I’ll organize this drawer. Remember organizing is messy. You have to clear out an area before you can organize it. Don’t tempt fate and tear up a whole room or an entire closet. You’re courting disaster. Besides, finishing is a great motivator. Lots of little finishes will keep you motivated to get to the big finish: my kitchen is organized.

Here are a few miscellaneous tips that will help to organize any kitchen:

Transfer dry supplies into square or rectangular containers. Be sure to label. Round containers are space wasters.

Set up a mixing center where you can stand in one spot to prepare whatever you need to prepare without having to take a lot of steps back and forth.

If you want to use self-adhesive shelf liner – measure the drawer or shelf that you want to line and cut out a piece of cardboard that measurement. (You can use poster board, cereal box cardboard or several thicknesses of newspaper.) Then, cover the cardboard with the self-adhesive paper and place in the drawer or on the shelf. Easy to clean and easy to re-cover.

Keep in the kitchen only those cookbooks that you use all the time. Place the  other books in another room. (Or enjoy the freedom of keeping recipes online.)

Use one motion storage for things you use every day. (That means you can open a closet, cabinet or drawer – reach in and grab what you need and put it back just as quickly.) You should never have to move anything out of the way to reach a high priority item.

Keep a list posted on the side of the refrigerator when you record the leftovers that you’ve tucked inside. That increases the likelihood that you’ll actually use them.

If your dishwasher doesn’t indicate if the dishes are clean or dirty, here’s a great idea to try. When you remove the clean dishes, fill up the detergent dispenser with dishwasher detergent and close the dispenser door. Load the dishwasher. Whenever you see that the dispenser door is closed – you know that the dishes are not clean. If it’s opened – the dishes have been washed.

The kitchen is the heart of the home. Let’s all stay heart healthy!


Think Before You Act

If you’ve read any of my books you’re familiar with those words – think before you act. Recently I got an email from a reader asking me to explain what I meant. She said that I gave several examples of how not to act. Here’s, basically what I told her.

There really aren’t any specific steps to take, it’s just a matter of identifying a problem and thinking it through. For example, you have several errands to run. Here are some things to think about. How much time do you have? Do you have time to do all the errands or do you want to do the important ones first and then take care of the others if time permits?  Once you’ve determined what you’re going to do – then map out the most efficient route.

You want to organize a closet, cabinet – or whatever. Here are some things to think about. What will be stored in this area (remember to store things at or near the point of first use)? Measure the area so you’ll be able to get containers, drawer dividers, cubbies, etc. that will fit into the space. How will these organizers be sued and what will you store in them? Take a tape measure to the store and measure potential organizers, etc. to determine whether they’ll fit in the designated area and if they’ll accommodate what you want to put into them. An advantage to shopping online is that measurements are provided for you.

Making a housekeeping schedule, planning menus and calendaring your time are all examples of thinking before you act. It’s sort of like looking at the GPS before you take off on a trip. Don’t listen to the naysayers who say that planning wastes time. Planning saves a lot of time – as long as you don’t use it as a tool to procrastinate a project. Sometimes we get so detailed that we keep planning and tweaking and we never get around to the job at hand.


Organizing is a Mess!

Well, it’s that time of year again and most folks are thinking about setting New Year’s resolutions. The other day I heard someone say that if you don’t like the term resolution, try regeneration. I like that thought. The first of January offers us a new start. It doesn’t matter what you’ve done in the past. It doesn’t matter if you’ve set a goal and given up after a few weeks. Even if you don’t exactly complete a goal, at least you’ve accomplished something along the way.

Nevertheless, here are a few tips that will help make your resolution making more successful.

1. Set a realistic goal. I’ve set goals determining that I would never eat another bite of chocolate. Right. So, set one goal and make it realistic.

2. If organizing something is your goal, make it specific. Instead of saying, ‘I’m going to get organized this year,’ pick a specific area (or system) that you’re going to tackle.

3. Once you’ve selected a specific area to work on, break it down into manageable pieces. Organizing is messy – you have to clear an area before you can get it organized. Therefore, you want to do one small area at a time. For example, organizing a kitchen is a great goal (and a very important one, by the way) but a better goal is: I will organize the kitchen. Today I will organize this drawer (or shelf, or whatever).

This helps in two ways. First, you’re not tearing up a large area. If something comes up (and it frequently does) you won’t be terribly inconvenienced by having an entire pantry or cabinet disassembled. Second, finishing is a great motivator. It’s pretty simple to organize one drawer and when that job is done you feel a sense of completion – that you finished a particular goal. That success leads to further successes (another organized drawer, etc.) and before you know it, you’re at the big finish – the kitchen is organized.

4. Maintain what you’ve done. This is especially important if you’re living with other people. Whenever you open a closet, cabinet or drawer and see something out of place, quickly and quietly put it back where it belongs. This reinforces to everyone else, where something goes. This sounds obsessive-compulsive, I know – but it’s not as daunting as it sounds and pays dividends in the end.

Sometimes you need to label things, label lips of shelves or drawers, etc. so everyone else in the house understands the system. Keep in mind, however, that there are people (particularly children) who really don’t care about this organized system stuff. That’s okay. They need to feel how good organized surroundings feel. They need to feel the discomfort and stress that disarray brings. Hopefully they’ll choose the former.

5. Don’t become obsessive or overly organized. I personally know a woman who irons shoelaces. Another person I know takes her vacuum on vacation. One friend told me that her children will get out a game and go back into the playroom to get a missing piece. When they get back to the game table, the game is put away. Don’t make home a place people leave when they want to enjoy themselves. Your goal should be that your home is warm, welcoming and inviting. It’s not a museum, after all.

Also, sometimes we set up systems that are too complicated and require too many motions or decisions. Keep it simple and it’s easier to maintain and invites cooperation.

I wasn’t born organized. I hit bottom when our third child was born and had to shovel my way out of the mess. It was before organizing was an industry and there wasn’t a lot of outside help: no Pinterest, no magazine articles, tv shows or professional organizers.  So I made a list of my problems and worked on one thing at a time.

Another thing I learned is that I gave myself permission to keep starting over when I slacked off. Don’t ever stop starting over. Don’t look in the rear-view mirror.l Just re-boot as often as you need to.

Have a very Happy New Year and may 2015 be a happily organized one!

Decking the Halls

I was putting out the fall and Halloween decorations throughout the house and outside and I began to think that decorating for Christmas was just around the corner. I absolutely love Christmas decorations, but I’ll admit that since the kids have left home, my motivation has waned a bit. Anyhow, I’m getting my mojo back and I’m going to share a few things with you that I think make the job of  holiday decorating and un-decorating more palatable.

First of all,  several years ago I was dreading the thought of dragging out all the stuff and putting it on display. Another issue I had is that when you put things out, you have to take things down to make room for the decorations. I didn’t want to loathe the job – I wanted to celebrate and make family members and visitors feel festive and warm when they came over.

Well, one day I was at a craft store just walking around. I probably went there to get some yarn or something. All of a sudden I saw this Christmas decoration that I just loved. I impulsively bought it and took it home. That was it. I was so anxious to display it that my motivation to decorate went through the roof. I loved the whole process – just because of that one new Christmas novelty. Now, whenever I start to feel the weight of  the chore I go shopping! (for one, new, inexpensive trinket).

Okay. there’s more to it. Here are a few other things I do to make the job easier. If you decorate the same way every year, store all the decorations from the living room in one box, all the family room decorations in another, and so on. Take the decorations out of the box and fill the box with the things that will be put away temporarily. Also, doing it this way you can decorate one room at a time. The job isn’t so overwhelming.

I number each box. I put the number on each side of the box. That way no matter how the box is put back on the shelf, I can see what number box it is. I have a Christmas notebook (more about that in a minute) that lets me know everything that’s in box one, box two and so on. Please don’t roll your eyes – but I also have an alphabetized list. I simply took the box list and made a giant list of all the decorations. Then the computer put them in alphabetical order. Now when I want to find the rag angel, for example,  I look on the alphabetized list and see that the angel is in box 7, or whatever.

I put Christmas lights on cardboard spools. I made them out of corrugated cardboard. Just cut a rectangle that’s about 12 x 10 inches. Wrap the strings around the spools and secure the end by cutting a slit on top. You can buy light spools (they look like plastic ladders), but I think free is better.

Wreaths are easily stored in wreath boxes (although they’re bulky). Or you can put the wreaths in large plastic bags and hang them up.

Now it’s time for my Christmas notebook. It contains my decorations’ list (the box list and the alphabetical list). Also, I make notes about how I decorated so I’ll remember what worked the previous year. (Better yet, take a picture.) I have gift lists. I can tell you what I gave my friend Joni in 2001. I’m a crafter and I make a lot of gifts. When I find something that I love to do and it’s well received I make many of them and continue to give them year after year to different people. My gift lists keep me from giving someone the same thing twice. You can keep anything in this notebook: Party info: guests, food, what worked, what didn’t, cost, etc.; Community calendar or holiday events; tv guide to holiday specials and movies; church/school events and plans; holiday stories; greeting card list (hopefully it’s on the computer) – anything that you need to look at or refer to during the holidays.

Now I see why Clement Clark Moore (Twas the Night Before Christmas) could say that not a creature was stirring on Christmas Eve. They were organized!

Entertaining the Troops

Well, it’s baby time at our house. Our daughter was expecting her third boy and as soon as she went into labor, I was off! She lives about two hours away and I had to get there in time to take care of her two little boys. I had looked forward to this for months!

A few weeks before the scheduled event, the van was already packed with games and books. Also, I had several treasure hunts ready so I could do one every day. I glued individual pictures to small pieces of card stock and put them into colorful envelopes. One picture lead to the next, etc. until the last one depicted where the treasure was found. We did that a few times. Then, I scattered puzzle pieces throughout the house and when the kids found a piece they brought it to me. When all the pieces were collected, they put the puzzle together to discover where the treasure was hidden. It was so much fun.  Also, I found an adorable doggie back pack that was used in the treasure hunts. I put the first clue in the backpack and put it outside the front door. Then  I rang the doorbell and when the kids answered the door – they found the backpack and the fun started.

As a matter of fact, that doggie backpack appeared at random every day. One day it was hanging on the back of a kitchen stool. They opened it up and discovered some Halloween stuff. One day the backpack was on the floor by the door that comes in from the garage. They found a couple of little ‘treasures’ inside. That doggie backpack was so much fun. It’s been three weeks since the baby was born and my daughter says the kids still talk about the doggie backpack. I’ll be using that little satchel for many years to come.

I discovered Uno Moo – a game for young children. It’s a little barn that’s filled with red, green, yellow, white, and blue ‘animals’. You play the game sort of like the card game Uno – but it’s adapted for youngsters. Whenever I buy a game I’m always a little leery as to whether it’s going to be worth the price (Uno Moo was about $20), Well, let me tell you. Uno Moo is worth it! Admittedly, we altered the rules just a tad because I was playing it with a four year old – but the kids love it and asked to play it over and over again. Even the two year old got involved. However, what he enjoyed most was just playing with the animal game pieces. Several times every day he would ask if he could get the green doggie.

Our daughter’s oldest boy wanted to make a birthday cake for the new baby – which I thought was extremely appropriate. After all, we only have one actual birthday. Anyhow, we made my Oreo cake. Prepare a chocolate cake according to the directions. Bake  as directed and as soon as it comes out of the oven, poke it (in one inch intervals) with the end of a wooden spoon. Next, pour over the warm cake two packages of Oreo pudding (mixed with four cups of milk) and put into the refrigerator. Meanwhile, crush some Oreo cookies. When the cake is completely cool, cover with Cool Whip and sprinkle the crushed Oreos on top. What a great way to welcome home the new baby!

Another thing we did was decorate plates (thank you, Pinterest). I bought some white ovenproof plates at the dollar store and a package of colorful Sharpies. Anyhow, the kids drew (and I use the term loosely) pictures on the plates. We baked the plates in the oven at 350 for 30 minutes to set the ink. I had heard that the decorations will last longer if you don’t put the plates in the dishwasher so I mentioned that to my daughter.

Her four year old completely covered one of his decorated plates with red Sharpie. I mean, the entire plate was colored red. So, he handed me his creation and I baked it in the oven. Well, a few days after I returned home I got a call from my daughter who said, “How would you feel if everything in your dishwasher turned pink?” I was mortified. She was good-natured and assured me that it was nothing serious. She also told me that it wasn’t she who put the plate into the dishwasher.

Can you tell? Being a grandmother is the best invention ever! You’ve just got to try it some time!