Organizing and Letting Go of Books

Whenever I start talking with clients about maybe donating some books and organizing the rest, I know that I will get some strong reactions. Mind you, these are people who have asked for the help.

Many people feel strong connections to their books. Textbooks they had in college remind them of their classes and experiences in college. Old cookbooks remind them of meals and feasts they have prepared in the past even though they know they will not use them again. Some books just remind them of a time or place or memory.

One episode with Marie Kondo showed her advising a woman to part with books that she had read or likely never would read. To me, this sounds reasonable. A tweet went out about how you should fill your apartment and world with books. That every human needs an extensive library and not clean, boring shelves. The tweet went viral.

Other people, when considering their collection, realize that their interests have changed and that they are still learning and growing. They can pass on books from their past.

I have always felt that you could have as many books as you want if you honor them by making sure that each has a home on a bookcase. Having said that, I did have one client who not only had bookcases around almost every wall but in one room he called the “library” he also had bookcases running down the middle of the room – like a public library. Still, the books were on shelves!

I recently had a client from the past contact me because her books are blocking pathways in her home and the apartment complex has told her she is breaking safety codes.

When helping someone with their books, a great way to begin the discussion is to start by grouping books by genre. When we start some of these sorts, we almost always find some books that are duplicated. We also find books with similar themes, topics, pictures and can eliminate some. We may find books that are damaged and moldy and those usually go (and cannot be donated). We talk about how these books when mixed in with “healthy” books can ruin the good ones  We may find books that were bought on a whim or just because they buyer liked the author but the book not so much.

Knowing the “why” of keeping the book makes it easier to make not only the decision of if you really want to keep it but also where you will store it. My challenge to you is to really look at each book you own and remember why you are still holding on to it. It really might just be that it is still there because it was put there once and forgotten. It might be fun to clear the space either to enjoy some empty space or to allow something new to come in.

Jonda S. Beattie

Professional Organizer

Discard Responsibly

It’s spring and a prime time to get rid of the clutter and excess in  your home.

We all want it to just “go away” as quickly as possible but let’s think about how we go about it.

Books are sometimes very hard to let go but if you have made up your mind that it is time to let others enjoy some of your books while you enjoy some decluttered space, here are some places they can go.

  • Salvation Army
  • Used book stores
  • Local library
  • Local thrift shops
  • Books for Soldiers, Books through Bars, Books for Africa
  • Goodwill
One important thing about donating your books is to make certain that your old books do not contain mold or harbor unpleasant odors. If you put your tainted book into a pile with others, it will contaminate the whole pile.
Old electronics take up a bunch of space and we are often afraid of getting rid of it or we think it will take a lot of effort to do it responsibly. If it is a computer, you will want to back up your data and completely wipe the system. An easy way is to pull the hard drive and just physically destroy it. If it is a working computer (with a new hard drive) you can donate it. Otherwise recycle it during recycling events or check locally for places to drop off toxic materials. Recycling events will take almost all electronics. Some stores like Best Buy will take old electronics. Cords can be donated. Phones can be donated (after you wipe your personal data).
The important thing is that electronics should not just be dumped in the trash or dumpster.
If you are clearing out your medicine cabinet, read the packaging on the medicine for how best to dispose of it. You can throw some medicines in the trash if they are first placed in kitty litter or coffee grounds and then sealed in a bag. I prefer to put all medicines in a sealed bag and look for a community disposal program.
The important thing is to not flush drugs down the toilet because they will end up in our water system.
As you clear out your pantry of old food, you may find some that you want to donate to a food bank. Do not donate food that is beyond the expiration date or that is in dented or rusted cans. If you decide to dump the old food but recycle the cans and jars, be very careful those cans and jars are clean. Throwing in a can with food still stuck in it can ruin an entire batch of recycling. 
Enjoy your clear space but think before you toss.

Jonda S. Beattie

Professional Organizer

Organizing Space With a Small Child

That new bundle of joy comes into your home and suddenly your home explodes with baby clothes, furniture, baby accessories, toys, books, feeding apparatus, and more. How did this happen and what to do now?

  1. Utilize the container system. I feel that as long as you can contain items in an orderly fashion, you can have as much “stuff” as gives you pleasure. A container can be the shelf for the books, the drawer for the sleepers, the hammock for the stuffed animals, the room for toys, and even consider your house as a container. When a container is full, no more items can come in unless some go away first.
  2. Set ground rules for gifts. When a baby first arrives or even before, there are parties and gifts start arriving. It helps everyone if there is a gift register and there is no sin in taking back to the store duplicates or items that just won’t work in your space. After that first influx, let it be known that gifts should just appear on birthdays and special holidays – not every time someone is out shopping and sees something cute. Let gift givers know your boundaries – like no gifts with batteries or a gazillion small pieces or items bigger than a breadbox. If a grandparent or favorite uncle brings in a large or loud gift, thank them and tell them that they should keep that toy at their home for baby to play with when they visit.
  3. Set limits on books. Children have favorites that they love to hear over and over again but I have seen bookcases overflowing with books – for children not even in kindergarten. Cull books regularly. Locate independent book stores that will accept used books for credit. Remember the library? What fun to go once a month or every two weeks and pick out some books to enjoy!
  4. Rotate toys and books. If there are too many books and toys around, the children tend to play with one of them a few minutes and then drop it and go to another one, etc. They get bored easily and can’t focus on any one thing. I have been in playrooms where you can’t even see the floor. Decide on a good number and variety of toys depending on your child’s attention span and age and then store the remainder of toys. In a few months, put away some of the less played with toys (or give them away if all interest is gone or they have aged out of it) and then bring out some of the stashed toys.
  5. Arrange the storage of items that are out so the toys, books, puzzles, etc. can easily be put away. Have items at eye level for the child. Have bins labeled with words and pictures and do not put lids on the bins. Make it easy for small children to scoop up their blocks and dump them into the appropriate bin or container. Teach children at a young age to put their toys away at night.
There is no right way to all of this. Find what works for you and your family. Remember that the house belongs to the adults – not the children. Find your happy place and then enjoy it together.
For more ideas see the following: both books are available on Amazon or Barnes and Nobel.

Jonda S. Beattie

Professional Organizer

Teaching Organizational Skills to Young Children



As a professional organizer, I spend a lot of my time teaching or transferring organizational skills to adults. Many of these adults have children who also need this help.

Diane Quintana (CPO, CPO-CD) and I have been aware of the importance of teaching young children organizational skills. Diane and I met when we were both working with the NAPO (National Association of Professional Organizers) in the schools program. This was a program that went into schools and introduced elementary children to some of the basic organizational skills. We were sad to see this program fold.

Taking matters into our own hands, we co-authored two books – Suzie’s Messy Room & Benji’s Messy Room. These books were written for parents and children to share. We took some basic organizational strategies:

  • Break projects down into small manageable steps
  • Sort like with like
  • Cull collections
  • Assign a place or home for belongings
  • Reward for jobs completed
We then applied these strategies to the task of cleaning up a room. These same strategies are applicable to any project the children (or parents) take on.
We have gone on to develop presentations for parents on teaching organizational skills to their children and have developed activities for the children. We feel this is also something that should be taught in the schools as well as at home.
For more information, please contact me – jonda@timespaceorg.com or 404-299-5111.
To order books, check out my web page – http://timespaceorg.com/books/ .

Jonda S. Beattie

Professional Organizer

Book Collecting or Bibliomania?

Recently I worked with a team to help a family empty a deceased parents’ home. Both parents loved books, but the mother, who had been a librarian, had a huge selection of books. Our team boxed up over 120 boxes of books. It was ironic that on the last day one of the team came across a book entitled Living with Books.

The Living with Books stated that books offer building material for the formation of character, the activation of intelligence, and the deepening of sensitivity. The book was a guide for librarians, but some of the chapter titles were intriguing; for example, “People and Books”, “Familiar Friends and Companions”, and “Daily Help for Daily Needs.”

Attachment to books makes it hard to let books go. They do become “friends and companions”, but if books begin to take over the whole house, it also affects our style of living. This is not the first home where I have worked with this many books. How does one decide how many books to keep and what books to let go?

Some questions to consider:

  1. How much room do you have to store your books in a way that honors the book? Books should not intrude. They should not obstruct walking space. They should not be stacked on the floor.
  2. How many books do you have that you have not yet gotten around to reading? Make it a rule that you will read 3 of your unread books before buying one new book.
  3. How many of these books will your reread or reference? Set a realistic number and check at least once a year that you have not surpassed that number.

When thinking back on that book we found, maybe more of our reading should come from the collections of books in our local library. Then books can be continually recycled and there is always something new for us to read.

Jonda S. Beattie

Professional Organizer

Books: How many is too many?

After : bookcase

Before: Bookcase
I have long prided myself that I only kept as many books as I had spaces to store them. My bookcases were my containers and if they got full, I got rid of less favored books.
Then it was pointed out to  me that it really wasn’t that great to have my bookcases so crowded. Spaces that are completely full block the flow of “chi” (vital energy). Full bookcases block the flow of new information and knowledge. You can believe in Feng Shui or not but I will tell you that decluttering my bookcase helped me to have breathing room in my office and lightened up the atmosphere in the office.
I started thinking about why I have kept my books for so long. I came up with the following list:
  1. I haven’t read the book yet.
  2. It was given to me be a friend or relative.
  3. It was signed by the author.
  4. It was a book that I referred back to for information or ideas.
  5. It was a book I wanted to have on hand for guests to read.
  6. I had fond memories attached to the book.
  7. I might want to read it to a grandchild.
  8. It was expensive. 

Then I came up with reasons I could let the books go or reasons why I really want to hang on to the books.

  1. If I haven’t read the book after several years, I’m not likely to want to read it now.
  2. My books are not equated to liking friends and relatives. My friends and relatives won’t care if I give the book away.
  3. If the book was inscribed to me and I was fond of the author, I would keep it. If it just had the signature  – so what? – let it go.
  4. If it’s a book I refer back to often, I’ll keep it.
  5. I will chose 5 books of various genres for guests to read.
  6. If a book has fond memories associated with it, I’ll keep it. There aren’t that many.
  7. I don’t have grandchildren and this is not likely to change.
  8. It was expensive but so is the prime real estate that it is taking up. The book can go.

 Do you crowd your bookcases? Do you even have books stacked on top and on the floor? Are you really caring for and honoring those books? Think about it and share a comment.

Jonda S. Beattie

Professional Organizer

Decatur Book Festival

Last weekend was the Decatur Book Festival. This is one of my favorite yearly events in Decatur. Judith Kolberg, Diane Quintana, and I had a booth that offered organizational help, book coaching, and of course a chance to buy our books.
Judith, Diane, and I also had an opportunity to do a book signing at the booth of Eagle Eye Book Shop. Eagle Eye is so supporting of the local authors. They also carry our books year round.
I also enjoyed chatting with all the people who stopped by our booth to buy our books, look at our before/after pictures, share their organizational challenges or victories, talk about book ideas , or ask questions about the local NAPO (National Association of Professional Organizers) group. It was great to see and reconnect with people that I know and to meet new people who may become friends, clients, or colleagues.
It was also fun to visit the other booths. It is exciting to see the diversity of books and services that are offered. I also revel in all that good food and good food smells, the sound of people enjoying themselves, and the children’s parades.
If you missed the opportunity this year to go to the festival, there is always next year. I am already looking forward to it.
If you missed the opportunity to buy our books they are available not only at Eagle eye but also at Squall Press -www.squallpress.net. My book is also available on my website – www.timespaceorg.com.

Jonda S. Beattie
Professional Organizer

Party Preparations

I enjoy putting together a special party for my friends during the month of July. Every year I think of a theme and then start my planning. This year the theme is celebration of good friends and good books. I have asked my guests to bring a book or two that they have enjoyed, tell why they enjoyed the book, and swap it out for a book that someone else brings.
My theme helps me get my vision of the party in my mind. I now know what I want my party to look like and how I want to feel at the party. I want my party to be casual, comfortable, and engaging. I want my guests and myself to feel relaxed and happy.
Next I brainstorm all the tasks I need to complete in order for this vision to come true. I start with my guest list. Then I plan my invitations and have them made. Other items on my list will include: address and send invites, plan dates to do extra yard work, get help with yard work, pressure wash my house and deck, freshen up lawn furniture, plan menu, prepare/order food/beverages, get help and put up tent, clean house, decorate, spray yard, last minute runs for items at store, get help putting out food/beverage stations. I know that my decorations will include books and that I will want a table for guests to put their books on when they arrive.
After I have brainstormed all I can think of that I need to do, I make a time-line. I call and see who can assist me when/where I need help. I post my time-line and check it off as I go. I allow some wiggle room – after all it might be raining when I plan to do yard work or the person who is going to help on a certain day finds they can’t help then but can help later.
When the day of the party arrives, there is little to do except finish decorating, putting out food/beverages, and spraying the yard for bugs.
By breaking down the party project into small, manageable parts, and putting together a reasonable time-line, I make the party stress free.
When the guests come, I am ready to party too.

Jonda S. Beattie
Professional Organizer