When Organizing Gives Back…

Terri Wylie in her newly designed and organized space. Courtesy of Forsyth News.
Terri Wylie in her newly designed and organized space. Courtesy of Forsyth News.

This past holiday season, our Atlanta Professional Organizer at Real Order had an opportunity to provide a very special gift to a deserving member of our community… the gift of organization, given to Terri Wylie, recent widow and mother of three who battles multiple sclerosis.

Our Professional Organizer worked with Allison Havill Todd Interiors, through the company’s Designing Dreams Charitable program, which provides a complete room makeover for one family each year, worth approximately $20,000. Everyone deserves a well-organized space, and we’re grateful the designers at Allison Havill Todd recognized this and invited us to participate in such a worthy project.

Terri Wylie - Before-After bathroom

The importance of organization becomes especially relevant when organizing for individuals who deal with health issues like Ms. Wylie, who must cope with multiple sclerosis on a daily basis. Organizing medications is an obvious first step in projects such as this. But organizing other frequently needed items and having them easily accessible are also priorities. Simple tasks like reaching for a pair of shoes or a hair brush can be real challenge for those who have physical disabilities.

Ms. Wylie confessed that the greatest benefit she received from our organizing services was peace of mind – now that her space is decluttered and organized in a way that works for her. We’re thankful to the team at Allison Havill Todd Interiors for bringing us on board and giving us the opportunity to give something tangible – an organized bedroom and bathroom – to a very deserving member of our community. We wish Ms. Wylie the very best in the years to come – and hope she enjoys her newly designed and organized space!


The Techie Clutterer

Techie ClutterOur “What’s Your Clutter Style” feature, inspired by an O Magazine Organizational Expert, Peter Walsh, identifies different types of “Clutterers.” If you find yourself struggling with a specific type of clutter, learn how you can resolve your issue and become better organized by following along with this blog series. Read more about the Knowledge Clutterer in part 3 of our series here, the Sentimental Clutterer in Part 2 here, and the Bargain Shopper/Coupon Clutterer in Part 1 here.

This week our focus is on the fourth, and final, type of clutter that Professional Organizers often come in contact with – Techie Clutter. Here are some indicators that you, or someone you know, may be a Techie Clutterer:

With tangles of cords and wires poking out of every imaginable storage space, the Techie Clutterer may even have tech devices dating back to the 90’s covered in coats of dust. They have a difficult time purging old CDs, discs, even remotes they can’t identify. According to Walsh, Techie Clutterers are usually “Twenty and 30-something Apple devotees, eBay enthusiasts, or grandparents terrified to pitch the cord that connects their digital camera to their computer.”

Walsh suggests a three-step plan to deal with the technology clutter:

1. Banish Boxes

Unlike even ten years ago, the speed that technology shifts and items become outdated is lightning fast. There’s no longer a market for used electronics, and once something is replaced, we rarely use the generation that came before it. Therefore, there isn’t a need to keep original packaging, wires and connectivity cords. Walsh recommends recycling an item’s box within a month of purchase and donating old devices to a women’s shelter. Our professional organizers couldn’t agree more!

2. Label All Wires

This piece of advice may seem simple, but it can make a big difference when dealing with techie clutter issues. Each time you unwrap a cord or open a new device, be sure to label the wires. A label maker or even a piece of masking tape can work as an ideal marker. This will help to “differentiate camera cords from BlackBerry chargers and identify contents of mini drives,” shares Walsh. You can even tame cables with a charging station to eliminate an unsightly tangle of cords.

3. Store Smartly

Walsh suggests an optimal storage solution for techie clutter. Label four containers as follows: “Look,” “Listen,” “Travel,” and “Data” – all stored together in one area. “Look” stores anything visual (the charger and memory card for your camera); “Listen” stores anything audio related (iPod accessories, an iPhone car charger); “Travel” stores anything travel related (a portable GPS, plug adaptors); and “Data”—well, you get the picture (mini flash drives, wireless network card).

We hope you enjoyed this feature series on different types of clutterers! If these posts helped to open your eyes to an organizational issue you, or a loved one may be experiencing, please reach out to us for assistance in dealing with clutter issues.

What’s Your Clutter Style – Part 3…

The Knowledge Clutterer 

Old Magazines

Our “What’s Your Clutter Style” feature, inspired by an O Magazine Organizational Expert, Peter Walsh, identifies different types of “Clutterers.” If you find yourself struggling with a specific type of clutter, learn how you can resolve your issue and become better organized by following along with this blog series. Read more about the Sentimental Clutterer in Part 2 of our series here.

This week our focus is on another common clutter culprit that Professional Organizers often see – Knowledge Clutter – portrayed in the form of books, magazines, and excessive amounts of paper in general. Here are some indicators that you, or someone you know, may be a Knowledge Clutterer:

There are stockpiles of every book ever read (or hope to read) and/or every issue of Architectural Digest, or another magazine of interest, ever published stored in their home. As Walsh explains, “the belief is that if they own the book, they somehow possess the knowledge, even if it’s never taken off the shelf to read.” Another indicator is that online articles are often printed and stashed in an overstuffed folder, never to be looked at again.

Walsh suggests a three-step plan to deal with the knowledge clutter:

1. Go digital whenever possible

While nothing can replace a beloved, well-worn novel Walsh shares, “We have an entire library at our disposal nowadays via the Internet.” It’s not necessary to own hard copies of everything – books you’ll only read once are better kept on your e-reader rather than occupying precious space.  And when you come across an interesting article online, e-mail yourself the URL and store in electronic folders labeled “interesting articles” or “weeknight dinner recipes.” Online tools such as Evernote make it really easy to save and retrieve information things using your computer, phone, tablet and the web.

2. Manage magazines 

Certain reference magazines may be worth keeping for a year – Consumer Reports, for example. But if your living room is blanketed with magazines dating back to 2007, consider implementing an organizational system. We suggest keeping the current issue and one or two back issues to keep things manageable. As new magazines arrive, donate the old ones to a local hospital or doctor’s office.

3. Establish clear limits

Every space has finite limits, whether it’s a large or small space. Our professional organizers suggest designating a specifically designated area for your book and magazine collection, whether that means one shelf or six.  Once you’ve filled the allotted area, it’s time to donate or recycle to make room for any new ones. To prevent your nightstand from being overrun by half-read paperbacks, utilize a book storage basket large enough to contain only three or four books. If you want to add another, discipline yourself to remove one first.

Be sure to stay tuned for next week’s blog on the Techie Clutterer.

What’s Your Clutter Style – Part 2 …

family mementosThe Sentimental Clutterer/Family Historian 

Our “What’s Your Clutter Style” feature, inspired by an O Magazine Organizational Expert, Peter Walsh, identifies different types of “Clutterers.” If you find yourself struggling with a specific type of clutter, learn how you can resolve your issue and become better organized by following along with this blog series. Read more about the Bargain Shopper/Coupon Clutterer in Part 1 of our series here.

Today we’ll focus on a clutter culprit that Professional Organizers often see – the Sentimental Clutterer/Family Historian, who allows an abundance of sentimental stuff to take up residence throughout their home.  Here are some indicators that you, or someone you know, may be a Sentimental Clutterer: They hoard baby clothes, kindergarten creations, and grade school report cards belonging to fully grown children, unsorted boxes of deceased relatives’ clothing, knick-knacks, and war memorabilia in the attic, basement, and closets.

In my experience, the most common perpetrators of this common clutterer type are empty-nesters and women who have suffered loss or feel a responsibility to preserve family heirlooms and history.

Walsh suggests a three-step plan to deal with the sentimental clutter issue:

1. Establish a hierarchy of value

“You must distinguish between your grandfather’s World War II medals and the box of receipts he used to support his tax claims in 1982,” says Walsh. In other words, reduce ten boxes of family mementos down to one containing only the most meaningful items. Having a hard time parting with your great-grandmother’s musty aprons? “Remember, no one who loved you and wanted what’s best for you would want your life and home overrun with their stuff,” says Walsh.

2. Start a family history wall

Walsh suggests framing a few old photos alongside shadowboxes containing your mother’s favorite ceramic piece or her beloved recipe cards—the things that most remind you of her and make you happy.  When you treat the real treasures with honor and respect, it becomes easier to let go of the rest.

3. Establish limits on kids’ artwork

If your children are still young, stop the pileup of artwork by prominently displaying one or two of each kid’s best pieces in an IKEA frame or under Plexiglas on the kitchen table. Each week or month, let the child pick a new favorite piece. Photograph all other items worth remembering and quietly let go of the originals.

If you’ve found yourself identifying with the Sentimental Clutterer/Family Historian, hopefully these tips will help you discern what is truly meaningful and worth keeping, while letting go of the rest – creating additional space to live and breathe in your own home!

What’s Your Clutter Style? Part 1…

The Bargain Shopper/Coupon Clutterer

Bargain Shopping

Recently, O magazine’s Organizational Expert, Peter Walsh, identified different types of “clutterers.” Today we begin a series of blog posts identifying those types of clutterers, and if you find yourself fitting in with a specific type, how you may be able to resolve your clutter issues, and become better organized.

The first clutterer we’ll discuss is the bargain shopper/coupon clutterer. If you find yourself stocking up on mailers, clipping coupons from the Sunday paper every weekend, and stocking up on a year’s worth of deodorant due to a special you couldn’t pass up, this could be you.

Now, you may not see this as an issue… Sure, saving money is important. But, are you saving it on the right things and in the right ways? Are your stockpiles of couponed condiments taking over your home’s coat closets? It’s all about balance for these savvy shoppers – a balance between saving money on items your family actually uses versus the excitement of saving on some unnecessary beauty product or baking mix. Sometimes being unbalanced can put a strain on your space, finances, and even your relationships.

Here are some thoughts on conquering this potential clutter catastrophe:

1. Limit Purchases

If you’re experiencing space limitations in your home, thanks to over-purchasing due to excessive couponing, you may need to consider limiting your purchases. Make lists of NEEDS well in advance and stick to them – no matter how great the deal to be had may be. Designate just one area of your house to stockpiling those items you cannot live without. Once that area is fully stocked, you don’t need to buy any more.

 2. Recognize Potential Scams

Walsh makes a great point when he shares how strategic retailers can be when designing sales and store specials. They create a false sense of urgency, encouraging you to buy now while a particular product is available. If you feel as if you’re getting the deal of a century, chances are that’s by design.

3. Find a New Hobby

Bargain hunters/coupon clutterers devote a lot of time to finding and shopping for the best deals. Once you limit your shopping, you may need to fill the void couponing and bargain hunting once filled. Get creative, and perhaps you’ll find a new passion. Consider donating you extra time to a charity, or get outside and get active. Getting motivated to do something different can help “break your addiction.”

If you’ve found yourself identifying with the bargain shopper/coupon clutterer, hopefully these tips will help you to make the most of your time, shopping budget, and even relationships. Remember to be strategic with your money and allotted storage space and get organized!

Organizing for the Holidays

Thanksgiving FeastAdvance planning and organizing is often a vital step in the success of projects and events. The importance of knowing what you need to do, what you need to buy, with whom you need to communicate – and when! – probably can’t be overstated. Holidays are no exception; in fact, planning and organizing for your holidays are the key to enjoying a happier, peaceful, more joyful season.

As the holiday season approaches (Thanksgiving is just over two weeks away), there are a number of things you can do this month to get your home and your head ready:

Toys, Toys, Toys

If you have kids, holidays probably mean toys! Take some time now to clear out kids’ toys, books and electronics to make room for gifts. Talk to them about donating items, which gives them more space and – more importantly – teaches them the value of sharing what they have with others. A little space cleared in your kids’ play room or closet will make it much easier to find a home for new things in December.

And Clothes, Too!

The same goes for clothing, shoes and accessories. Pick a closet and declutter. (This past weekend I went through every article of clothing I own, down to my socks, got rid of a bunch of stuff and organized the rest – what a great feeling!). Getting rid of clothing that you don’t wear or don’t like makes it easier to see what, if anything, you and your family members actually need… so when Aunt Sally calls, you’ll have some gift ideas to share!

Simplify Shopping

Ask family and friends what they would like for Christmas. We so often struggle with gifts, particularly for those hard-to-buy-for family members, but sometimes we don’t think to ask. Consider giving (and receiving) clutter-free gifts like tickets to a movie, concert or sporting event, or taking a trip together.

Remember to keep your list with you (on paper or saved on your phone or tablet). This way you’ll have it handy if you happen across a great sale or have a few extra minutes to squeeze in some gift buying. Track your spending on each item or person so that you don’t overspend your budget.

Keep all of your holiday shopping receipts in one place so that it’s easy to find them in case items need to be returned.

Greeting Cards Have All Been Sent…

Well ok, maybe not yet. But this is one task that you can knock out early so it’s not hanging over you during the weeks ahead. Keep a list of those you send cards to (or receive cards from) each year so making your list an easy task.

If you’re sending photo cards, take or select your photos now and get them printed to avoid holiday mail delays. Address your envelopes or affix printed labels and stamps so cards are ready to pop in the mail as soon as you want to send them out.

If you really want to beat the rush, consider sending Thanksgiving or New Year cards. It’s a great way to stay in touch with family and friends, and your card isn’t one of a large stack that they’re receiving each day.

Don’t Miss Out on the Joy

It’s easy to get so caught up in the busy-ness of the holidays that we overlook their meaning, and the opportunity to celebrate with family and friends. Ask family members to share those activities that are most meaningful them during the holidays – baking cookies, going to The Nutcracker, taking an evening walk through the neighborhood to look at holiday decorations – and make a point to do those things. Schedule them on your calendar just like parties or meetings to make the holidays special for everyone in your family.

Tips for Controlling Clutter in Your Car

Control Car ClutterWhether it’s a long daily commute to and from work, or the hours spent driving kids to and from school, soccer and piano lessons, many of us spend a lot of time in our car. Like clutter in your home or workspace, a disorganized car can make the time you spend in it frustrating and unpleasant. While containing the clutter and keeping your car organized can be a challenge, a few professional organizer tips and products can put you on the road to success.

Keep Ahead of Clutter

Most of us wouldn’t toss soft drink cans, water bottles, gum wrappers and tissues onto the floor at home, but the floorboard of our car is often littered with them. Contain trash using plastic grocery bags (keep a stash in your glove box or a seat or door pocket) or this nifty 3-gallon leak-proof trash container.

If you have kids, you probably have car clutter. Somehow the books, games, toys and snacks they load into the car for a long road trip or the ride to baseball practice never seem to make it back out. Keep clutter contained with a seatback organizer, which holds kids’ stuff – from drinks to snacks to books to games – whether they’re toddlers or teens.

A Place for Everything

It’s easy to toss your purse, your briefcase, your lunch, the shopping bag with the item you need to return into the front passenger seat. But then there’s a mad scramble to clear it when you offer to drive your boss to a client meeting. A simple, flat-bottomed tote can hold items in one place, and you can lift out the entire organizer to take items into your home or office, or simply relocate them to the back seat.

Keeping your car’s trunk or cargo area organized and free of clutter is easy with a collapsible trunk organizer. It’s large enough to hold bags from a shopping trip or car cleaning supplies, and side pockets are perfect for stashing an extra umbrella or flashlight.

Handy hooks can be attached to your car’s headrest, providing a place to hang grocery, shopping or trash bags behind seats. They can also hold your purse or jacket, keeping them out of your way and off the floor. If you often transport dry cleaning or other hanging garments, this car clothes carrier holds several garments with a single hook attachment.

On the Road Again

Car Clutter ControlOrganizing your car for a road trip not only makes the trip more pleasant, but enhances safety. If you use a map/directions app on your smart phone, you may find that it’s distracting to look away from the road to follow turn-by-turn directions on the phone. Using a dashboard/windshield holder provides heads-up display for your phone’s GPS, making it easier to keep your eyes on the road.

Keeping kids entertained and fed on long trips can be challenge. Inexpensive tackle boxes make versatile containers for everything from snacks to small games or craft supplies.

Bringing pets along on vacation is a must for many families, but keeping them – and you – safe while you travel is vital. A vehicle safety harness can protect your dog in case of sudden stops, but allows enough mobility to keep them comfortable. Cats will enjoy a cozy carrier for road trips; this soft-sided round carrier includes a cushion for curling up.

8 Tips to Simplify Your Life

Blog Photo 10.23.2013Did you know there’s an entire week dedicated to simplifying your life?!? It’s true – each year, the first week in August is known, nationally, as “Simplify Your Life Week.” Well, if you forgot to celebrate Simplify Your Life Week this past August, no worries – your Professional Organizer is here to share some tips, as there’s always time to simplify your life!

Simplifying your life doesn’t have to be a big task or challenge. All it takes is a few easy tips, like these professional organizing ideas, which you can easily work into your routine. A few simple changes can have a big impact! You don’t need to take action on all of these ideas at one time. Pick one, try it out and then move onto another.  Before you know it, you will have worked your way through all 8 tips! 

Don’t be afraid to say no
“No” isn’t a bad word, and it is necessary to use at times – exercise your right to say no, so your schedule doesn’t become too overwhelming and you have time for the essential tasks already on your to-do list.

If you don’t use it – lose it!
Think of how great you (and your home) feels after a good fall cleaning. Now, get that same feeling a lot more often by focusing on one small area each week with the intention of throwing out, donating or recycling those items you haven’t used in the past six months.

Become Schedule Savvy
From wall calendars to hand-held agendas and e-calendars, the options to organize every member of your family’s activities are varied! Our Professional Organizer advises you to experiment with one or two different options and, over time, you’ll find the perfect solution for your family. Be sure to update it daily.

From “To-Do” to “Tada!”
Keep a running list of priorities and check items off as they’re completed. Trust me, as a Professional Organizer, it feels great to check items off your list! Post it where everyone can see so that all members of your family can experience the satisfaction of checking a completed task off the list.

Focus on Finishing
Create time in your schedule to complete those tasks that may not be your favorites. Things like laundry, and cleaning your bathroom aren’t fun for most, but if you make the time and FOCUS on the task at hand, it will be over before you know it.

Edit your Wardrobe
We all have items tucked away we think we’ll wear again when we lose that 5 pounds from summer indulging. But, chances are they may never see the light of day again. Do those items, and yourself, a favor, and donate them, making more room in your closet/dresser for new additions to update your fall wardrobe.

Food Fun
Be smart about your family’s food, and simplify meal time in your life – buy in bulk, store appropriately, and cook for more than one meal at a time. Trade secret from your Professional Organizer: freezing meals is a great way to save time and money!

Make time for Media
This isn’t exactly as it sounds – you want to make time for the media in your life (this can be checking e-mails or talking on the phone) and use THAT specific, allotted amount of time. Limit your, and your family’s, media intake. That way, you’re all more present when you’re together.

Creative ideas like these can get us thinking about what’s most important to us. Applying some or all of these tips to organize our schedules, homes and to-do lists are an excellent place to start.

Happy simplifying!

Guest author Stephanie Shalofsky is a New York City professional organizer and founder of The Organizing Zone. Since 2008, Stephanie has been transforming combat zones into comfort zones for her NYC clients.


A Checklist for Everything

Paper and pencilIt seems we live our lives by lists, doesn’t it? To-do lists, grocery lists, packing lists…sometimes just managing the lists can be task unto itself! Using downloadable, electronic checklists can help to clean up that task, particularly when much of the work is done for you!

These resources from Practical Spreadsheets will mean making your list and checking it twice is a less arduous task:

Monthly Calendar and Weekly Planner – though many of us rely on online or app-based calendars, there are times when a paper calendar on the refrigerator or tucked into your meeting notebook is just what you need. Download this free calendar and weekly planner to use when you’re on the go or need to share a printed copy for family or co-workers.

All About the Kids – whether you need a simple behavior/rewards chart or a log track your baby’s milestones, check out these free downloadable spreadsheets that help busy parents keep track kids’ activities.

Grocery Shopping & Meal Planning – rather than start your grocery list from scratch each week, try this grocery list template, which includes items you buy frequently. You can easily customize it to add your family’s favorites. And if you dread the daily question, “What’s for dinner?” use a weekly meal planner so everyone knows what’s on the menu for the day.

Plan for Fun – Does it seem like you make the same packing list for vacation every time you go away, but always end up forgetting something? This vacation checklist makes the task easier, listing common vacation items to be packed, along with space to add your own items. The camping checklist ensures that you’ll always be prepared with flashlights, bug spray and matches on your next outdoor adventure.

Are You a Closet Clutterer?

Cluttered closetMost of us have at least some items we hold onto for too long, or buy too many of, or just can’t seem to keep organized. And for some, that clutter is a well-kept secret. Your home is clean and appears well-organized…as long as no one opens the coat closet, ventures into the guest room, or needs to find an item in the basement storage room. Stashing clutter behind closed doors may give the illusion that you’re in control, but closeting your clutter is just postponing the inevitable need to deal with it.

According to organizational expert Peter Walsh, different types of people can be behind-closed-door clutterers. For example, perfectionists, who want their daily living environment to appear pristine, working parents, or anyone whose daily schedule is chronically overbooked.

So how do you face up to closeted clutter and deal with it? Walsh suggests a simple three-step plan:

Let go of perfection. That overstuffed closet or uninhabitable guest room are likely the result of feeling that you can’t live up to your own unrealistically high expectations for housekeeping. No one’s perfect. Dealing with clutter before it gets to the point of needing to be hidden away may take some up-front time, but will ultimately save you time, money and frustration in the end.

Start small. Clutter is just delayed decision-making. And when the decisions seem too overwhelming, they’re perpetually delayed. Choose a small project – a junk drawer, the hall closet, the space under your bed – and sort, toss and organize until the area is clutter-free. Or set a time for decluttering – just 15 minutes a day will work – and stick to it. You’ll find that you can work through your closeted clutter and establish routines to keep you clutter-free.

Get help. Sometimes it takes someone impartial to tell you that you’ll never wear that skirt from high school, even if you can still fit into it. Invite a friend over for a decluttering day, order lunch and knock out that closet or guest room corner. Working with a professional organizer who is objective and can help you to set goals is another great way to tackle behind-closed-door clutter.