Organizing Your Storage Areas

In September the weather starts to cool down a bit. We put away our summer equipment. This is a fantastic opportunity to organize this storage space. It might be your workshop, garage, or basement. It is such a temptation to go in and just dump the stuff “just for now”. Soon you find the area disorganized, cluttered, and difficult to move around in.

Before you begin on this project, take a good look at the way it is now. Look at what is working (don’t mess with that area) and what is not working. How do you plan to use this zone? Do you plan to:

  • Park your car
  • Store trash cans/recycling
  • Store tools and accessories
  • Pot or repot plants
  • Work on projects and store tools
  • Store bikes and other sports equipment/outdoor games/camping gear
  • Store entertainment supplies
  • Store extra products
Now bring the things outside. If it is a small area do it all at once but if it is a large area or very filled, do it by sections. Sort like with like. Note what is broken and what you have not used in the past year or two. Get rid of those items. Throw away expired seeds and old chemicals. Give away or sell tools you no longer use.
Next decide where to logically places your zones. You want to place items that you use frequently near entrances. As you group your items in each zone, look for containers to hold small items together. A clear shoebox without a lid can hold gardening gloves. A flat basket can hold small gardening tools. Use shelves, pegboards, hooks, and nails to keep items off the floor. Avoid stacking containers because, for sure, you are going to want something out of that bottom container. Label all containers that are not clear.
Knock down the cobwebs, sweep the floor, and start putting things away. You’ll be amazed at how much room there is now that all items have been bunched together and stored properly.
Reward yourself. A hot shower and a cool drink might be just the thing.

Jonda S. Beattie

Professional Organizer

Open Your Mail!

Seriously, open your mail daily or at least weekly. Unless the envelope reads “to current resident” or it is very obviously an ad or plea for money, just open the envelope and see what is inside.

As a professional organizer I often help people sort paper and old mail. Here are some of the things I have come across.

  • Old checks made out to the recipient – sometimes 10 years old
  • A final notice that since the speeding ticket had not been paid (notices in other envelopes not yet opened) the drivers license was being revoked – right before a big road trip for this lady
  • Gift cards
  • Thanks for donations form letters – that should have gone into the tax folder
  • The car title of a car that the owner now wants to sell but she had not opened this envelope and gone to DMV to get the title in her name
  • Credit cards and debit cards that have not been activated – sometime duplicates sent at different times
  • Invitations to parties or weddings long past
  • Recall notices on items purchased
  • Warnings that utilities will be turned off if the bill is not paid because old bill were not opened and paid
Have a landing pad for all incoming mail. Immediately discard ads, catalogs, and any other obvious trash. Then open that mail daily or weekly and put the items in action folders or baskets so that all bills are in one place, all items to file are in one place, and any mail that requires an other action is in one place. Schedule a time at least once a week to deal with it. Then the mail never becomes overwhelming or fearful.

Jonda S. Beattie

Professional Organizer

Teach Young Children Organizational Skills

As parents we sometimes assume that some life skills are absorbed just because we model them and the children are living in the home. And sometimes that worked but not as well as if we actually taught them these skills. After all, we taught them how to brush their teeth and wash their hands. We didn’t expect them to know how to do this just because they observed us.

So what are some of the organizational skills you can teach young children?

  • Break large projects down into smaller easier parts. Don’t tell children, “Clean your room.” Instead tell them, “Pick up your dirty clothes and put them in the hamper.” Then when that task is complete, “Put away your clean clothes.” And then, “Put your books on the shelf.”
  • Sorting. Younger children will do a broader sort than older children. A sort category for younger children might be putting all the legos into one tub. Older children will probably sort their legos into finer categories. Younger children might sort all dirty clothes into one hamper while older children might separate whites from colored clothes or heavy duty wear from delicates.
  • Culling. When a toy has become broken or is no longer used or loved, teach the children that it is time to let that item go. Don’t do it without the children being part of the process. Explain that they are no longer using something so it should either be thrown away if no one else would want it or given away if another child will enjoy it. The same goes for clothes,  books, or any other item the child owns. Do be sensitive though that some items may have sentimental value. If that is the case, start a memory box with them.
  • Everything has a place. Every item the child owns should have a place for it to go when it is not being used. Because you want the child to put his own things away, make the designated places easy to access. Keeping fewer items makes it easier to put things away.
  • Reward yourself for a completed project. These rewards do not have to be big. It could be a story read to them or some phone time (to brag) with Grandma. It could be a sticker on a chart. Just do some little thing to show completion and satisfaction of a job well done.
Let me end with some words of caution. You are teaching these skills. It is an ongoing lesson. Do not expect perfection. If the child puts his clothes in the bin and some hang out a bit, praise him for putting the clothes away. Do not tuck that article of clothing back in the bin. If the bed is made but not straight, do not straighten the covers. If the box of legos is put on the shelf crooked, do not straighten the box. If you correct what he has done while he is learning these skills, he will feel that his efforts have not been good enough.


Jonda S. Beattie

Professional Organizer

Reduce Tax Stress – Maintain a Yearlong Tax File


Don’t lose your dining room table for a month while working on taxes. One of the files you should have near your desk is your tax folder. I like mine a bright red and it sits behind all of my standard desk files in my file drawer.

All through the year, anything that comes in that is related to taxes should be dropped into this file. Don’t take time at this point to sort them. It is more efficient to sort them when you seriously start to work on your taxes. Acknowledgements of contributions, real property tax statement, monthly mortgage payments, medical expenses, motor vehicle registration, etc. are examples of what you put into your folder. If you have a business, you will need your business receipts. Have an envelope for each month and after you enter the amount into your budget or QuickBooks, just drop the receipt into the envelope.

About this time of year forms begin to come in. Look for W-2 forms, 1099 forms, SSA-1099 for Social Security, investment interest expenses, Roth account statements, IRA forms, your end of year tax stub, and more.  Watch for the forms that you expect and drop them into this folder.

I keep in the same drawer my tax papers from last year. I use this document as a template to make certain all forms are in. Your CPA may also have sent you a checklist. When I pull out last years tax paperwork and look it over, that’s when I remember to get my mileage log out of the car for my business deduction or call any group that have not yet sent me a needed form.

Call your CPA and set an appointment as soon as you feel everything is in or if you do your own taxes, set aside on your calendar a couple of large blocks of time to organize the paperwork and put it on the correct forms.

Doing the tax preparation is never fun but it is a lot easier if you have kept everything in one place.

Jonda S. Beattie

Professional Organizer

Time to Organize Your Workshop and Garage

In September the weather begins to cool down. We start to put away our summer equipment. This is a good opportunity to set aside some time to organize your workshop or garage zone. Even if you do this zone once a year, it can easily get disorganized and cluttered because it is so easy just to open the door and drop something “just for now.”

Before you start your project, take a good look at the way it is now. What is working (don’t mess with that area) and what is not working. How do you want to use this zone. Do you plan to:

  • Park your car
  • Store trash cans/recycling
  • Store gardening tools and accessories
  • Pot or repot plants
  • Work on projects and store tools
  • Store bikes and other sports equipment/outdoor games/camping gear
  • Store outdoor entertainment supplies
  • Store extra products
Now bring everything outside. If this is a large or very filled area, do it by sections. Sort like with like. Note what is broken or what you have not used in the past year. Get rid of these items or make a note to replace them. Get rid of expired seeds or old chemicals. Give away or sell tools you no longer use. Tool Bank is a great place to donate tools for community projects. http://toolbank.org/
Next decide where to logically place your zones. You want to place items that you use frequently near entrances. As you group your items in each zone, look for containers to hold small items together. A clear shoebox without the lid can hold gardening gloves. A flat basket can hold gardening tools. Use shelves, pegboards, hooks, and nails to keep items off the floor. Avoid stacking containers because, for sure, you are going to want something that is in the bottom container. Label containers that are not clear.
Knock down the cobwebs, sweep the floor, and start putting things away.. You’ll be amazed at how much  room there is now that all the items have ben bunched together and stored away.
Now reward yourself. A hot shower and a cool drink might be just the thing.

Jonda S. Beattie

Professional Organizer

Excess Stuff – Sell It or Donate It?

I read an interesting blog this past week by the Clark Howard Staff. It was entitled “39 ways to sell your old stuff for the most cash”. Below are some tidbits from their blog and my take on it.

According to the Wall Street Journal report several years ago, Americans spend $1.2 trillion annually on goods and services they don’t need. According to Orlando Sentinel, nearly one out of 10 American households rents a storage facility, costing anywhere from $125 to $165 a month. Of those who rent the storage areas, 65% have a garage, 47% have an attic, and %33 have a basement!

It’s obvious that we have a lot of stuff we don’t need and that we are paying monthly just to keep those things out of sight.

The blog’s take is to get money by selling these items. A lot of good ways are mentioned including ebay, Bonanza, eBid, Etsy, and Craigslist. For designer clothes they mention Tradsey,com, Poshmark, The Real Real, Threadflip, 99Dresses, and Buffalo Exchange. They also suggest consignment stores. For gold, firearms, musical instruments, and collectibles, they suggest Pawn Shops. They then go on to list yard sales, and a couple of links for selling to people who live nearby and links for used electronics. They even list some websites to help you determine value of collectible items or antiques.

The first step is getting organized.

I have some clients that have 25 or even 40 years of “stuff “in their basements, attic, spare rooms, offsite storage, garages, etc. Most of the stuff is stored there because:

  • It just needs fixing
  • I’ll need it someday
  • It was inherited
  • My children may want it
  • It brings back great memories
  • I think it’s valuable
  • I’m holding it for someone

The sort begins. This I plan to keep. This I plan to sell. This I need to give to ____ if they want it. This is trash.

They may be fairly good at culling out what they plan to keep (but usually some of these items will also have to go). And the very obvious trash is taken out. But it is the “This I plan to sell” piles that begin to become unreasonable – especially if they are looking at a deadline. And the “This I need to give to__”  also takes a lot of time.

I encourage these people to keep in mind that selling takes time and the return is not as great as they might think. All of the “keep to sell” items will need a further sort and a decision on how they are going to sell them. The items will need to be cleaned, polished, or repaired.

As they sort through their items, I would rather the self talk be more of “Would I go 20 miles and spend over $20 for this?” rather than “Someone might buy this.” I would encourage every sorting session to end up with a big pile of items to donate and trash with just a few items for the sale pile.

Those items that are going to be sold could be divided into possibly real value and good items for a garage sale. Then, if time is an issue, hire someone to do your selling. That person can also usually help you determine what really is worth the time and expense to put it on the market and what is not. If they plan to have a garage sale, they should be aware that the sale also takes a lot of time sorting, organizing, advertising, setting up, and holding the sale.

Just think about it. Think what your time is worth. Then decide and act.

Jonda S. Beattie

Professional Organizer

Tips for Organizing CDs and DVDs

Seriously, I thought by now CDs and DVDs would have gone the way of the old VHS tapes and cassettes. I know a lot of teens do stream music, listen to their music on YouTube with videos, and “bump” music from iPhone to iPhone. Movies are watched from the computer or Netflix. But, I can tell from my clients’ homes (and my own), there are still tons of CDs and DVDs out there.

We have quite a few of both at my home but it seems we rarely listen to them or watch the movies. We are much more likely to listen to music streamed from u-verse. Still, I think a lot of the music and movies hold fond memories and hence the reluctance to let them go. Also, all family members need to agree or have their say on what goes when purging.

I see in clients’ homes that the CDs especially are scattered everywhere. You find them in the family room, the office, bedroom, kitchen, and even in the car. So, the first organizing step is to gather them all up in one location. Often you will find that you have some duplicates.

Now, divide by category. This can be done several different ways and you chose the one that makes the most sense to you. You can divide by genre, performer, director, year, children/adult, or season.

Cull out the duplicates and the ones that no longer speak to you.

Decide on what you will use to contain them. I like to really limit my collection so I keep them in their cases and put then in wooden or plastic containers in my entertainment center. If you have a large number, you will probably want to use binders. Purchase a binder that works best for you. Some will hold not only the CD or DVD but also covers or title notes. Slip in the in the discs according to the category. Leave some empty sleeves in each category for new purchases.

Label the binders and also the sleeve of the CD or DVD if it is not obvious and you have not kept the covers.

Decide where you will house these containers. You may have more than one home but it should make sense. Children’s music and movies may be stored in a different area than the rest of the family’s. Seasonal items may be stored away and brought out for that season. Do what makes sense but do have a home for each container. I also like to use the container system to tell me when I have too many of an object. If there are more items than space to store them, it is definitely time to go back and ask yourself what ones can now go and be enjoyed by other people.

If you have a large number of CDs and DVDs you will probably want to make a spreadsheet to inventory your media on your computer. Some of the columns might include title, genre, performer/director, or even the year. A plus of doing this spreadsheet is that it can be kept on your smartphone or on line and when you are out shopping, you can check to see what you already own.

Now, reward yourself by pouring your favorite beverage and listening to your favorite music or watching a favorite movie.

Jonda S. Beattie

Professional Organizer

The Zone Plan – Workshop/Garage Zone

I choose to work in the workshop/garage zone during September. The weather has begun to cool down. Summer equipment is ready to clean and store. Fall yard equipment needs to be accessible.

Storage areas can get pretty messy and unorganized in a year. They are not in your main living area and therefore not so visible. It is so easy just to walk in and dump items “just for now.”

I actually have two areas to tackle. One is a small room off the carport that also holds the hot water heater. The other is our shed house behind our home. Whatever your zones are, you should start with deciding the purpose of the area. In your zone, do you plan to:

  1. Park your car
  2. Store your trash cans/recycling
  3. Store gardening tools and accessories
  4. Have a potting area
  5. Have a workbench for projects and a place to hold tools
  6. Store bikes and other sports equipment/outdoor games/camping gear
  7. Store outdoor entertainment supplies

Once you deicide how you will use these storage areas,  bring everything outside. If this is a large or much filled area, do it by sections. Sort like with like. Put aside items that are broken or have not been used in the past year. If an item is broken, decide if you need to replace it or just trash it. If you have items that are duplicates or that you no longer use, donate them. Tool banks can make good use of your extra items. (http://toolbank.org ) Get rid of expired seeds, old chemicals, and paints.

Knock down cobwebs and sweep the floor of the area you have emptied. Now decide where each zone should go. If you are working in your garage and plan to park your car, pull the car in now and mark off the space with tape. Allow plenty of room for the car doors to open.

You want to place items that you regularly access near entrances. As you are grouping your items in each zone, look for containers to hold small items that are rattling about. A clear shoebox without the lid can hold gardening gloves; a flat basket can hold gardening tools. Maximize your wall space. Utilize shelves, pegboards, hooks, and nails to keep items off the floor. Avoid stacking containers as you are sure to want something that is in the bottom container. Label the containers.

You’ll be amazed at how much more room you have now that you have discarded some items and bunched together and stored away the rest. Now reward yourself. A hot shower and a cool drink on the deck my be just the thing.

Jonda S. Beattie

Professional Organizer

Bathroom Organization

If you  are following my zone plan, this month is a good month to work on organizing your bathrooms. If you have a linen closet, include it in this zone.

Your bathroom is one of the smaller rooms in your home but it is also one that is heavily used and holds many items. A bathroom can get disorganized and cluttered quickly, so it is important to have a vision and a plan for how you want to use this space. Keep clutter to a minimum. Minimize what you actually store here.

Look at the storage space you have available. Do you have room to store your medicines and first aid material here? Do you have room to house cleaning materials? Some of what you are currently storing in the bathrooms may actually be stored somewhere else. In small bathrooms, first store only what you need each week and then, if room permits, add other items.

Use the medicine cabinet, drawers, or space under your sink to store items that you use regularly like daily grooming supplies. Small baskets are great for makeup and hair supplies. The medicine cabinet may hold toothpaste, dental needs, deodorant,  and some q tips and cotton balls. Hair dryers, curling irons, gels, sprays, and all items for your hair can be stored in a container under your sink. If your space is limited, you might also have a hanging bag on the back of your bathroom door for storage. An extra roll of toilet paper and personal hygiene items can store under the sink area.

If you have drawers, designate each drawer as a container for like items. One drawer may be everyday makeup, one may be for eye products, one may hold hair products, etc.

As you are sorting your like items together, consolidate partial bottles and get rid of any items you no longer are using or items past their expiration date.

Shampoo, body wash, soap, and a wash cloth may be stored inside your shower or tub. There are shower cadies that fit over the door of your shower or over the shower head. Another option is to use a shower dispenser to hold shampoo or body wash.

Medicines can go in bins on a shelf in the linen closet or in the kitchen. Both spaces are better than the actual bathroom as moisture and heat can ruin some meds. Consider sorting your medicines by type and placing them in separate bins. One bin might hold outdoor items like sunscreen, bug spray, or Benadryl. Another might hold pain medicine and cold/allergy medicine. Still another might have first aid materials. Get rid of expired items while sorting. Not only do some medicines lose their effectiveness over time but some can actually become harmful. Dispose of these items responsibly. Do not toss medicines in the trash and never flush them into our water system. The DEA offers a Prescriptions Drug Take Back Day. Check http://www.deadiversion.usdoj.gov/drug_disposal/takeback?index.html for more information.

If you have a linen closet, keep your extra towels, cosmetics, and cleaning supplies there. But as you organize, be ruthless about throwing out items. You don’t need 5 partial bottles of shampoo, 6 sample soaps, or that free sample in foil of a shampoo/conditioner that came in the mail.

If you don’t have a linen closet, you may use towel hooks, over the toilet shelving, or baskets to store your extra bath towels, wash cloths, and extra toilet paper.

When you have your bathroom organized, then work out a maintenance schedule to keep it under control. Next year, when you revisit this zone, it will be an easier process.

Jonda S. Beattie

Professional Organizer

How Many Homeless Items Do You Own?

Often when I am helping people declutter, we first work on a very basic sort – you know, the one that has boxes labeled “Keep in this room”, “Goes elsewhere”, “Donate”, “Trash”, “Recycle/shred.” Sometimes when I pick up an items and ask, “Where does this go?”, I’ll get one of the following responses:

  • Oh, it is used all over the home
  • I don’t know – wherever
  • Where do you think it should go

These are the homeless items. They are just left where they were last used or moved somewhere because they were in the way, but are never really put “away.” Some of the most frequent homeless items are:

  • laptops or IPads
  • keys
  • phones
  • chargers
  • purses
  • shopping bags
  • mail
  • magazines

Homeless items generate clutter and take up valuable time when one has to go on a grand search for it. These homeless items also lessen your awareness of your space.

Even if items “float” throughout your house, they should have a final resting place or “home” when you want to clean up or prepare for guests. Finding “homes” can be like working a puzzle. Some clues to the puzzle might be:

  • Where is it mostly used? (put it on a shelf or basket nearby)
  • Who needs this item unusually? (find out what makes sense to them)
  • Why is it getting dumped where we now find it? (maybe the logical home is too crowded)

There is no “right” answer to finding a “home” but  it should be a logical place for the person who needs the item. everyone should know where to look for the items and where to put the items away. So if keys go on a hook or bowl near the door, or if mail goes on a landing pad near the door or into desktop folders, or shopping bags go on a hook by the kitchen door or back to the car, does not matter. Just have agreement and consistency.

You will find that your uncluttered home looks so much more spacious and relaxing. You will find that cleaning up becomes so much simpler. And perhaps, most importantly, you will find less stress and tension because you do not have to spend hours looking for your stuff.

Jonda S. Beattie

Professional Organizer