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The DO’S and DON’TS of Organizing BIG SPACES

Organizing BIG SPACES like garages and basements is on the summer checklist for many people. A fair number of those people may also be dreading the task! What is it about these spaces that make them so difficult to organize and keep organized?  One of the main reasons is a big space like a garage or basement invites us to dump stuff.  Clutter is just delayed decisions and a huge space like an unfinished basement can hold a lot of delayed decisions. It’s easy to fall into the trap of storing things that we really don’t use, but we are struggling with a decision whether to let go or not. If you feel like you are storing more stuff than a Costco distribution center, you are not alone. 50% of Americans name their garage as the most disorganized area of their house.


Having these spaces organized will reap benefits beyond looking neater.  Attics, basement, and garages need to be visually inspected and maintained.  Homewreckers like rodents and water leaks tend to start in these spaces.  In fact, 98% of basements in the US will experience some type of water of damage during their lifespan.  If you have so much stuff that you miss warning signs like dampness or mouse activity, you may lose the stuff you’ve been storing all these years. The number one reason I call in junk haulers is to remove water, mold, and rodent damaged items.


Motivation to tackle these spaces is important, but I want to give you the skills to turn motivation into organization. Here are my DO’S and DON’TS to get these spaces in order and keep them in order.  Because, let’s face it, only professional organizers really enjoy organizing these spaces and you have better things to do this summer.


  • DON’T start by picking up individual items and trying to make decisions one item at a time.
  • DO sort into categories first.

It’s much easier to make decisions about a group of things than decisions about many individual items in a random order. In a situation like this, I often sort everything (EVERYTHING!) in the space while the homeowner does something more enjoyable.  Once I have everything in the space grouped into categories, it’s a lot easier and faster for the homeowner to make decisions.



  • DON’T Organize Clutter.
  • DO edit/purge/let go of items no longer loved, needed or used.

Instead of buying more bins to store what you don’t need, make decisions about what is actually important to keep.  The smaller volume of things in a space will make it easier to maintain organization in the long run (and you will save money on bins). One of my favorite guidelines is the 20/20 Rule from the Minimalists – if you haven’t used something and you can replace it for less than $20 and in less than 20 minutes, let it go.  It’s a great way of realizing that it’s not the end of the world if we suddenly do need the thing that we took to a donation center.



  • DON’T stop before you put a storage system in place.
  • DO put a system in place that helps you maintain order.

If everything is already sorted into categories, it’s easy to create storage zones so that every category has a home.  Invest in shelving or wall systems to get things off the floor and visible. Anything on the floor will be the first thing damaged if your sump pump fails or chipmunks chew their way into your garage.



  • DON’T lose what you truly value.
  • DO store items in the basement correctly.

There is nothing that makes me sadder when I’m working with a client and we find truly precious items damaged by improper storage.  Cardboard boxes are for moving, not long-term storage.  Ideally, paper memorabilia and photos should not be stored in garages, attics or basements but somewhere else in the home where the temperature and humidity are controlled.  My favorite storage solutions for garages and basements are clear bins with a gasketed lid that snaps tightly down.  No solution is 100% rodent, bug, or waterproof but these bins are much safer than bins with loose lids or cardboard boxes.


Ready to tackle those BIG SPACES?  Let my tips make it easier for you to begin to reap the benefits of clear spaces:  less stuff, ease of finding what you need, and protecting your treasures from potential damage.

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Why Label a Label Maker?

Clearly, this is a label maker.  To be even more obvious, it’s a label maker in a CLEAR container.


So, why go to the trouble of labeling something that is so clearly what it is? It may look like overkill until we understand how this space is used and by whom.


Imagine this scenario…


  • Boss needs the label maker and takes it from the supply closet.
  • Office Manager asks to use it when Boss is done.
  • New Employee notices the label maker and asks to use it next. New Employee didn’t even know the office had a label maker. Oh, happy day!
  • New Employee is done with the label maker and puts it away. He doesn’t want to bother Boss or Office Manager, so he puts the label maker somewhere that seems logical.
  • Six months later, Boss needs the label maker but cannot guess that logical location the label maker is residing in. Having no idea who used it last, Boss doesn’t even know who to ask.


My job as a professional organizer is to put organizational systems in place to not only look nice but to help my clients stay organized with minimum effort.


This particular label maker is in the workplace of a long-term client of mine with 20+ employees and a steady stream of customers.  In these types of environments, I label EVERYTHING.


Human behavior is predictably unpredictable, and the place that seems logical for one person may be literally the last place another person would think to look.


It’s the same reason kindergarten teachers label the bin full of Crayons.  They are Crayons in a bin.  Does the bin really need a label?  Yes, it does.  A teacher is managing 20+ small humans and doesn’t want to end up with crayons in all of the bins.


Labels maintain order.


Labels help teach ALL the users of a space how to maintain that order.


Labels are like road signs – a road sign makes it possible to navigate in an area a person is unfamiliar with.


Labels help all the users of an organizing system navigate that system.


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Too Much Stuff to Love

Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful. – Willian Morris

Even if you haven’t seen this quote, chances are you’re not sitting at home buried in ugly, useless stuff.  So why are you still frustrated by your stuff? I see this frustration every day with my clients.  Clients hire me because their homes and offices aren’t working for them.  They hire me because they seem to have a lot of stuff but can’t find the stuff they are actually looking for. These clients often don’t have a clutter problem so much as they have an INVENTORY problem.  If you think you fall in this category, read on for powerful tips to better manage the stuff we use, love and need.

How do we end up with too much inventory? We buy stuff ‘just-in-case’.  It doesn’t feel like an impulse purchase if we know we will find it useful at some point. It’s easy to grab this ‘useful’ stuff when we are already in the store buying something else. Marketing gurus know this about us and attractively display this stuff on end caps and check-out lines. We aren’t making the mistake of buying stuff we don’t have a use for, BUT we are buying TOO MUCH of what we use. The irony is this extra inventory actually leads to disorganization. We can’t ever seem to find what we are looking for, so we buy more of these things the next time we are shopping.  Break the cycle of disorganization by following my key tips.

Know what you Have  (Like with Like)

One of the key tenants of organizing is putting like with like.  If you don’t store the same stuff in the same place, it’s impossible to know how much stuff you actually have. Sorting into like categories reveals how many scissors, rolls of tape or granola bars we own. It was during this sorting process that one client discovered she had 6 soup ladles. We couldn’t help but laugh when she confessed to me her family almost never eats soup. 

Know what you Need (Minimal Effective Dose)

This is a great tip from Joshua Becker of the Minimalist that he took from the medical world – Minimal Effective Dose. Doctors don’t give you medicine plus extra pills ‘just in case’ those extra pills might be helpful.  Medical drugs are extensively tested so doctors know the minimum amount to give a patient to cure them without creating harmful side effects. Your stuff is the same; you may need 4 black t-shirts but if you own 14, you’ll feel overwhelmed by the very things you use and need.

Understanding minimal effective dose or the right inventory level means we understand how many bottles of ketchup or rolls of paper towels or black t-shirts are needed for our household to run efficiently. Anything over that number creates more work to maintain order and contributes to clutter.

Know what not to buy (Don’t Buy List)

At this point, we understand what we own and we understand how much is too much. How can we be sure to not repeat past mistakes of over purchasing? I help my clients create a Don’t Buy List. When we identify excess inventory, we add it to the DON’T BUY LIST. Make sure the list is with you in some form when you shop (paper, phone or app). It can be as simple as taking a photo of your pantry with your smart phone to remind you that you already have 4 unopened boxes of gallon ziplocs. Reference this list when in the store and tempted to buy more ziplocs because you know they are useful but you aren’t sure if you have enough.  The Don’t Buy Lists gives us the comfort that we have enough.

Bottom line – effective organization means we know what we have, where to find it, and how much we need.  The time we invest in the organization process will be paid back with improved efficiency, less stress and better purchasing decisions. It means our house is less warehouse and more home.

Organizewell to Live Well!

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Happier Holidays

Are you looking forward to the holiday season or are you feeling a little grinch-like?  Whether you love the holidays or hate them, a little planning now will go a long way to making Happier Holidays.  Take a minute to reflect on last year’s holiday season and write down the good, the bad and the ugly.   Use that hard-earned information to plan a most stress-free holiday season:

What could you have delegated? It’s ok to ask for help. Make a list of those tasks and assign resources other than yourself.

What could you have outsourced?  Make those appointments now before companies are booked!

What did you hate doing? Don’t do that.

What was fun, enriching, and enjoyable? Plan for more of that!


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The Best Packing List Travels with You

Most of us have a packing list of some type.  And, most of us have probably forgotten to bring something important on the a trip.  Our family of four once left home for an extended trip with only two phone charging cords.  After days of listening to arguments over who had less battery life and was more deserving of charging cord time, I gave up and bought another cord.  Which I brought home and stored with the 10+ cords we already owned.

I have learned that the best packing list is one that is editable and accessible.  If you are traveling and realize “I really should have packed more conditioner”  it’s far better to update a packing list on the fly rather than hoping to remember that thought next time you are packing a suitcase.  The best packing list travels with you and captures lessons learned while traveling!  Three ways to make your packing list easy to find and easy to change are:

Use an App

I use Evernote to save all my lists as templates.  I can quickly search for any packing list (beach, winter, sports tournament) and check off items as I pack.  I can access and update information where ever I travel.  There are also specific packing apps like this or this.  Some apps even sync with Tripit – my all time favorite way to keep up with travel info like flight, hotel and transportation details.

Use the Cloud

Elevate your standard list by saving in the Cloud.  There are tons of packing list templates available to customize and save on a Google Drive or Dropbox.

Use Email

Save your packing list as an email template.  It’s easy to edit and easy to share with others.