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

Organizing the Attic/Basement Zone

November is a great time to organize and clean out your attic or basement zone. It is not so hot or yet too cold for comfort. Also, many of us store our seasonal decorations in this zone.

As you prepare to organize this zone, make a list of all items you store here. The list might include:

  • Seasonal decorations
  • Seasonal house items like fans/heaters
  • Extra furniture and household accessories
  • Toys or items to pass on to children or grandchildren
  • Out of season clothing
  • Suitcases
  • Sports equipment
  • Archival paper
Plan where you want each of these categories to live. Items that you do not plan to use in the next year or more should be stored the farthest from the entry. This might include the extra furniture, accessories, toys, and archival papers.
As you place items into their areas, if you come across broken or unloved items or multiple items (how many suitcases do you really use?) that have been hanging around for years, now is the time to let them go. You will feel so much lighter when they are gone and next year, when this zone rolls around again, it will be a much easier task.
Leave space between each zone so that you can safely maneuver to get or store items.
Label all containers. Use large labels that you can see from some distance so that you know what is in each container. Even if a container is clear, it is hard to see what is in it if the lighting is dim. It helps to locate holiday items if you use colored or themed containers to store your decorations, but still label the container with the primary items. This keeps you from having to dig through multiple boxes to find the advent wreath or crèche you want early in the season.
Your organized attic or basement will make decorating and undecorating a much easier chore.
Happy Holidays!

Jonda S. Beattie

Professional Organizer

Seven Steps to Reducing Clutter

You look around your space and you know you have too much “stuff.” But it all seems important to you. After all, you either bought it or it was a gift.

How do you go about making the decision of what goes and what stays?

  1. Look at your motivation. Why are you considering getting rid of this “stuff” at this time at all? Are you moving? Do you want to entertain? Do you want clear open floor space? Are you just tired of all this stuff? Your motivation will help you with making decisions.
  2. Form a vision of you space without all of the clutter. Feel yourself in this space.
  3. Sort all of your “stuff” in the zone you want to tackle. Put all like items together. One way to sort is by function. How many objects do you have to hold beverages? How many vases do you have? How many staplers or scissors do you own? how many black slacks do you own?
  4. Pick a number. When you see a lot of objects that have the same job, it’s easier to let some go. Decide what is a real number for you of how much you want/need. I want 4 juice glasses, 8 water goblets, 8 mugs, etc.
  5. Prioritize the items in the groups. Which ones give you the most pleasure? Which ones do you love? Which ones are you keeping just because someone gave it to you? Which ones are you keeping just because they have been around forever?
  6. Ask yourself, “What is the worst thing that would happen if I let something go and wanted it later?” Imagine that you got rid of 100 items and later you had to go out and purchase 2 of them again – aren’t you really ahead of the game?
  7. Remind yourself that if you hold on to things that you are not using/wanting/loving, you are keeping those things from others who really do need them or want them.

“There are three approaches we can take toward our possessions: face them now, face them sometime, or avoid them until the day we die. The choice is ours.” ~ Marie Kondo

Jonda S. Beattie

Professional Organizer

Happy Valentine’s Day

It’s almost Valentine’s Day! This is the time we show special people how much we care about them. Depending where you are and where you are in your life, you may receive just a few cards and gifts or a ton.

If you have small children, they will make you gifts and cards. If you are a teacher, you will receive cards from your students. You might have a secret pal give you gifts at work. Special friends may send you fun cards. A special someone in your life may give you a card and a gift.


Now, let’s think of someone 60+ years of age. What if they kept every card, every gift, every dried flower or deflated balloon? Wow! That would be overpowering.

I have heard clients say, “But, my friends made these things for me. My friends put a lot of thought into these gifts. I love the reminders that people care for me.”

This is a very personal decision, but I am pretty sure you don’t want to dedicate a whole room to storing these items.

Consider these options:

  1. Chose the most special mementos – like the year your son wrote his own special poem in the card or your mother wrote you a special note – then box them up in a lovely box and label them. Put them away on a shelf and revisit them once a year.
  2. Spread out your favorite gifts and cards and take a picture of them. Then let them go.
  3. Make a collage of the best cards and bring it out for decoration each Valentine’s Day.
  4. Pass on old cards to schools or nursing homes so that they can re-purpose them in projects.

Keep in mind that if you toss out a card that your mother or child gave you 25 years ago, you are not tossing out the person or the love for that person. By all means keep a couple of cards, but not all.

Letting go of some of the memorabilia will clear up space for more happy memories to come your way.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Jonda S. Beattie

Professional Organizer

Using Containers as Organizational Tools

Containers can be a great help with organizing. They hold items neatly. They help when sorting like items with like items (all short sleeve T shirts in this bin). They can also help in the process of purging. I often suggest to my clients that they can keep as many of any item as they like if the items will easily fit into a specified container.

Now, when I am talking container, I am talking about anything that holds something. I open up the definition beyond tubs, bins, and baskets and include cabinets, drawers, closets, and bookcases.

This past weekend, Rob and I sat down to organize our entertaining credenza. When we got married this fall, we both did a lot of purging. Still, when we looked into the area where we keep our CDs and DVDs it was easy to see there was still an overabundance. We reached an agreement that we would keep as many DVDs as would easily fit on a shelf and as many CDs as would fit into several containers. Next was the task of deciding what our absolute favorites were and what we could give away. At first it was pretty easy but when we got down to the last 3 CDs it became difficult. We finally managed, but our containers are absolutely full which means if we buy another CD we will have to let one go. This rule, though, does keep our area from getting completely overrun with media.

Try using this same principle throughout your home. I have one cabinet for storing nonperishable food. I want this cabinet to be easy to use – not overly crammed, not with cans stacked, and not too full to see what is already in place. I also zone out this cabinet so one shelf is for canned items, one shelf is for snack items, one shelf is for beverages, etc. This enables me to easily keep food rotated, always putting the newer purchases in back. This also means that I do not buy a case of something just to save a few pennies a can.

A bookcase can only hold so many books. I love books but I don’t think it is respectful to my books to overly cram them into a bookcase, stack books on top of books, or put a row of books in front of an existing row of books. I also do not want to put books stacked on top of my bookcase or on the floor. This means that I can only keep so many books. When new books come in, if they do not fit into the bookcase, I must donate some of my lesser loved books.

Try using this container principle with your clothes closet, your bathroom cabinets, your desk, or anyplace that you feel might be getting disorganized and overfull. As you go through and purge items, try to leave empty room. This allows for new to come in and gives you room to shuffle items within the container.

If I know that I will keep only as much scrap paper as will easily fit into one container in my desk drawer, as many sweaters as will fit in one bins, as many travel toiletries as will fit into one small basket, it makes letting go of the excess so much easier.

Jonda S. Beattie

Professional Organizer

Containers and Letting Go

When we hear the word “container” we usually conjure up the mental picture of plastic bins or baskets to hold our “stuff.” But actually a container is any object used to hold things.

For the purpose of this blog, let’s imagine closets, bookcases, filing cabinets, drawers, kitchen cabinets, as well as baskets and bins.

Then, how do containers help us let go of objects? When working with clients, I often tell them they can keep as much of any particular item as long as they have room in the designated container to comfortably hold it.

How does this look?

  • You can have as many shoes as will fit in the designated area/shelves in your closet.
  • You can have as many cookbooks as will fit on the designated shelf in the kitchen.
  • You can have as many plastic food containers as will fit into the designated drawer or shelf.
  • You can keep as many files in your filing cabinet as will comfortably fit.
  • You can keep as many current magazines as will fit in the magazine stand.
  • You can have as many t-shirts as will fit into the designated drawer or shelf.
  • You can have as many magic markers as will fit into the designated bin.

If you own more of any one thing than will comfortably fit, you chose the ones you love the most and let go of the rest. If you just cannot make yourself let go of some items, then you must find another container that will hold the excess and it should fit somewhere that makes sense.

This is a revelation to some and can really be very enlightening. It can be very satisfying to sort through the category and choose the very best to comfortably fit your container and let the rest go to others!

Jonda S. Beattie

Professional Organizer

Drowning in Free Stuff

Free is great! Yes? Well, sometimes – maybe. But what if we didn’t discriminate? What if we got as much free stuff as we could and we held on to all of it because someday it would come in handy and we wouldn’t have to buy it?

What are some of the free things that come into our life and where do they come from?

Dentists – free toothpaste, floss, and a toothbrush at a minimum
Doctors – free samples of drugs for you to try
Make-up Sales – free samples if you buy so much of a product, small samples to try a new color of product
Newspaper – in the wrapper you might find samples of Advil or even cereal
Mail – free samples sent for marketing purposes
Credit cards – free items for opening an account – college students love those T-shirts
Charities – free items if you have ever given anything to them – calendars, pens, notepaper, calculators, and gift wrap
Health Fairs or Conferences – goodies handed out all over the place
Events – free mugs, water bottles, cozies, shirts, and more

I’m sure there are lots of other places but you get the idea.

Now, if you get something free and you try the product right away and make a decision about it – that can be good. If you get a free individual box of cereal and put it in your cupboard with the last 10 free boxes and think, “I’ll save this for when I have a child guest or for an emergency,” – this is not so good.

I have seen bags and bags of free stuff being held because the item is a good size to take when traveling. Some people could travel months at a time for the rest of their life on the stuff they have stashed away. I have opened kitchen cabinets and seen whole shelves devoted to water bottles. I have seen more pens that you could possibly use – and many of them don’t even work well.

So, here is my challenge to you. Go through your cabinets and drawers. Put all like items together and see how much you actually have. Then think, “How much could I use in the next year?” Set those items aside and get rid of the rest. Look at how much space you have now open! Don’t fret about the stuff you got rid of. You will have plenty of opportunities to get more.

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

Old Cards: Keep? Recycle? Trash?

Another card exchange holiday has just passed. You have enjoyed the cards and now what?

Do you keep them all? If so, where do you put them? If you keep all of your cards, how many would that be by the time you are 70?

If you recycle them, do you just drop them into the recycle bin or do you put them aside for art projects? Do you take some to schools or assisted living homes for projects? Or do you set them aside and plan someday to take them somewhere for someone to use them?

Dare you just trash them? Is that disrespectful to the person who gave you the card?

Perhaps you do a combination of the above. I like to keep a very few cards that have very special meaning and a special handwritten note inside. These I look at probably once a year. Then after a few years, even some of these cards are released. The keeper cards are kept in a memorabilia box.

I have in the past recycled some cards when it was easy to pass them on to a group who would use them. Now, I  have to be honest with myself. I would probably have those cards lying around for a very long time before getting them somewhere for someone else to use. I will put all of the cards I don’t plan on keeping that are recyclable into the recycle bin and the rest into the trash. Getting rid of them does not mean that I did not enjoy them or receive pleasure from receiving them from someone special to me.

I look at most cards like flowers. They brighten my life for a week or two and then I move them on.

Letting go of items that take up space in my home and live, opens my life for more happy memories (and cards) down the road.

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