Archive for the ‘organizing process’ Category

Take a look around you. Every single item you see represents your choice to have that item in your life. You either chose to purchase the item, or were given the item and chose to keep it. From your new red sweater to the pile of junk mail on your kitchen counter, every item represents a choice made.

When your life is full of clutter, you might begin to resent all the “stuff” around you. Why do you think that happens? Often it is because you don’t LOVE the stuff you are looking at! Maybe the sweater doesn’t fit anymore. Maybe it was an impulse purchase that you now regret. Sometimes we purchase too much of a good thing – who really needs five staplers? – because it is much easier to buy the thing we need than find it in the junk yard that has become our home or office. When someone sends a gift or just gives us something we “have to” have, we often feel obligated to keep it “for a little while.” Let me tell you, I’ve met plenty of people whose “little while” is now 5+ years.

Make a choice NOW to change things. Start small. Pick five items around you. If you don’t absolutely love the item, find it useful/functional, or it doesn’t add beauty to your environment, get rid of it. Ebay, CraigsList, yard sale, trash can. I don’t care – let it go. It doesn’t matter if you paid $100 for it. If you have the receipt, take it back. No receipt? Ebay or donate it. Your peace of mind is more important than $100.

What items are you holding on to that you need to let go of?

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Personally, I do not make New Years resolutions. There’s nothing wrong with making resolutions. They make people feel warm and fuzzy. It’s nice to feel warm and fuzzy sometimes. The problem with resolutions is that most people drop them by the end of the month – some people simply state the resolution and never even really try. Do you know many people join gyms in January? A lot!

If you want to get organized this year, whether it is for your home, office, car, purse, or brain, I have a challenge for you.  Write down the resolutions. Post them up somewhere prominent. Put them in your planner. Tell your friends and family.  But don’t just stop with stating the resolution – turn it into a goal and turn that goal into your reality. Set manageable deadlines and milestones.

If you want to “get organized in ’09” stop being so broad. What do you want to organize? Even if you feel like you want to organize “everything,” list what everything means to you – your home, your office, your paperwork, children’s rooms, the garage, the basement, family photos.  List out what you want to do so you have a better picture of what is ahead of you.

You can NOT do everything at once – even if you have nothing else to do with your time. So break down the work. What is your goal for January? The office? Okay, great. So maybe at the top of your January calendar page you write “Goal: Organize my office.”  The next thing you should do is decide what you can do each week to get you closer to that goal. For example:

  • Week 1: Filing all papers so that all 2008 stuff is out of the way and I have fresh files for 2009
  • Week 2: Organizing all office supplies and making sure I purchase the appropriate ones so I have everything I need.
  • Week 3: Getting everything out of the office that does not belong in the office
  • Week 4: Rearrange the furniture, have a cleaning crew come through, creating a marketing plan for 2008, etc.

While “organize everything” and “organize my office” are broad goals, these narrowed down sub-goals are practical, achievable goals. Of course, you can break it down further. For week one, a daily goal could be to spend 15, 30, or 60 minutes a day filing (based on how much paper you have!). Of perhaps your goal is to schedule someone to come in during week one and do the filing for you. Perhaps you’ll hire a Professional Organizer. Maybe during week 4 you will with a feng shui expert, a cleaning crew, an interior designer, and a marketing consultant who can have you create a system for marketing your business.

This same formula can work for every area you want to organize. Just scale it appropriately. Maybe you spend a week cleaning out your car and set daily goals: toss all trash, buy a receipt organizer, buy small baskets for the car and talk to the kids about only having as much stuff in the car as will fit in the basket. When everyone gets out of the car, they put all of their stuff into their container. Purchase a mobile organizer that holds notebooks, pens, calculators, etc.

If you want to achieve your goals, whatever they might be, you have to do more than simply stating them. Take action. Start now while the calendar is fresh and there is optimism in the air. If you start planning now and work toward your goals, you will achieve great success this year.

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Stressed Woman with Headache

Everyone has flaws. No one is perfect. NO ONE (that’s my story and I’m sticking to it!). Beating yourself up for every little thing you do wrong is not going to help your situation. Most of the clients I’ve worked with have very similar thought processes, regardless of the fact that they range in age, gender, socioeconomic background, nationality, and ethnicity. The clients that just need a little jump start to get the ball rolling are different from the ones who struggle and trudge along in one major way – the way they talk to themselves.

I can usually tell by someone’s “self-talk” and the way they explain their situation how they are going to approach the project they’ve hired me to help them with. Client’s who tend to say the following tend to have more success with their efforts:

“I know my situation isn’t terrible, but I am not happy with it. I know it could be better and I just need some help to get it done.”

“I used to be organized but __________ happened and things got hectic. Things have settled down now and I just need to get things back to normal.”

“I’m ready for things to change. I know they can be better.”

Clients who express things in the following way also tell me immediately after that any attempts they’ve made at organizing go awry and they are back at square one:

“This is just too hard. I can’t do it.”

“I don’t know how to be organized. It will never work.”

“I don’t even bother anymore because I know it won’t do any good.”

Though I don’t think it is appropriate in all situations, I think in this one, the “fake it ’til you make it” method can work.

Rather than saying:

“I can’t….” say “I can…” even though you are struggling.

“I don’t know how to…” say ” I will learn how to….” even if you don’t have the answer now – because you can find the answer.

“I wish I had…” say “I will have….” to motivate yourself to accomplish your goal.

“I would like to, but….” say ” I will achieve that, and I will do it by….” and think of things you can do to help you get what you want.

It’s very rare that anyone accuses me of being an optimist. I actually tend to label myself a “hopeful pessimist.” But I have noticed that when I say:

“I can knock those dishes out in a few minutes,”

“I can sort through all the clothes to figure out what to donate with no problem,” or

“I can get everything under control,”

I’m much more likely to get through those projects, even though they are things I really don’t want to do. When I tell myself I don’t have the time, or it will take too much effort to try everything on to see what still fits – well, you would be amazed at how long it takes me to get around to doing those things.

Get a picture in your mind of what you want, and then stop telling yourself you can’t have it. If you want an organized house, picture it – and then get real. Tell yourself you can have an organized house, but don’t stop there. Take out a piece of paper and list when, where, how, and why you can have it. When you start to come up with some solutions, you can change your situation. Don’t settle for “I don’t know how….” If you don’t know how – who does? Take a class, call your mom, hire an organizer. Get help and change that “I don’t know” into “I’ll learn how to.”

While the suggestions seem simple, their application isn’t so easy. If you struggle with negative self-talk and notice that it hinders you from achieving what you want, I invite you to try these things. Be deliberate. Give it a shot – it can’t hurt.

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One of the top complaints I hear from clients is about paper. They have too much paper. They don’t know what to do with all the paper. Their filing system is a disaster or non-existent. For those of you dealing with the same issues, here is a brief guide to organizing your papers, setting up a system and taming the madness. Apply to home or work life as needed.


1. Gather all papers together. Know what you’re dealing with. Don’t dump EVERYTHING out of their folders and create a big mess for yourself, especially if you will be doing the project over the course of a few days. Gather everything you can find – from inside the filing cabinet, your desktop, the pile in the corner, all of it. Note: Keep an eye on the most recent active files. Put them in a folder of a different color than all the rest or leave them on your desk. You don’t want to get active files mixed in with the madness – again, especially if you aren’t starting and finishing this project in one day.

2. Go through everything file by file, paper by paper. Take stock of what you have. Write down some general category ideas that come to mind as you go through everything.

3. Route as necessary. If you no longer need the paper in question, send it back to where it belongs – to your boss, husband, teenage daughter, co-worker, or the recycle bin. Don’t create more work for yourself by filing things that you don’t need to keep.

Set Up

If you took notes on some category ideas, review your list. Notice any common themes? Can certain categories be combined? Figure out what kinds of documents you are dealing with before you start labeling folders.

How does your brain work? If it is easier for you to file everything from A to Z, go for it. This is the fastest, simplest method of filing, and it definitely gets the job done. If you can handle categories, with the files within them alphabetized, follow that system. Example: Kids – Subcategories: Medical Records, Report Cards, Summer Camp Info.

My Filing System

  • Personal
    • Car
    • Car Insurance
    • Health
    • Taxes
    • Unpaid bills
  • One Organized Life
    • Administration
    • Advertising/Marketing
    • Banking
    • Blank assessment forms
  • Los Angeles Small Business Owners Group
    • Agendas
    • Marketing
    • Receipts
    • Rosters

That’s just a snippet. I don’t have a ton of categories, so I was able to make each one a different color as well. Pick a system that works for you.

Note about filing supplies: It’s always good to have supplies on hand so that once you get started, you have everything you need. With other kinds of organizing projects, I tend to wait until we’ve sorted and purged before purchasing any supplies. For organizing paper, if you will be using a traditional filing system, it is a good idea to have plenty of manila folders and hanging files on hand. If you prefer to write on labels instead of directly on the folder, pick up some filing labels.

If a file is overflowing ask yourself: Do I need all of this? Can this be broken down into subcategories? Make sure papers are easy to find within their respective files, or else the system is pointless.

Help yourself. You can write notes on the front of file folders indicating what is inside. In my assessment form folder, I have four sets of forms, all paper clipped. On the outside of the folder, I wrote which forms are inside. Same for the former client folder. I have a list of names written on the outside. Write information on the outside of the folder that saves you from having to open it up and search.


Ask before you file. Do you need a hard copy of this document? Why? Where does it fit in your system? Do you need to create a new file? Is there any way to eliminate the need for this? If possible, can it be scanned and saved on your computer? Don’t worry – you can usually get the answer to these questions within a second of looking at the document. Our brains work incredibly fast.

File immediately. If you have a system in place, it does not take long to drop a piece of paper into its home.

Send emails instead of faxes and snail mail when possible. Sometimes when we send something via fax or snail mail, we’re tempted to keep a hard copy “just in case.” I always ask people if I can email invoices to them. When they prefer faxes, I have to print the invoice (which I do not normally do), fax it to them, and then wonder if I should keep it, since I went to the trouble of printing it out. Faxing creates two pieces of paper for each one sent – the one you put in and the one they take out. Try online fax services like eFax instead.

Ask people to send you emails instead of faxes and snail mail.

Avoid printing things whenever possible. “Well, I used the ink – I should probably keep it.” Just say no.

Purge regularly. If you purge on a regular basis – at the end of the month, when summer camp is over, when someone else takes on the account – you won’t have to find the time to spend a day doing this all over again.

Keep electronic copies of documents whenever possible. And please, if you are doing this, back up your hard drive on a regular basis. The less paper that hits your hand, the less you will have to file.


Avoid piles as much as possible. Unless you are working your through the pile in front of you, right now, piles are pretty inefficient. If someone opens or shuts the door quickly, a breeze comes in through the window, or you accidentally knock the pile over, you have a mess on your hands. Finding papers in a pile can be time consuming – have you ever looked through a pile several times, saying to yourself, “I know I put that piece of paper in this stack”? After a couple of look tries, you find it. Wouldn’t it have been easier to go directly to it’s file.

If you land a new client or start a new project, don’t wait until you’ve amassed a ton of papers to create a file. Do it now and you’ll be ready to handle each new document as it comes in.

Avoid creating “To Be Filed” folders – especially if you know you won’t go through it.

Avoid creating a “Miscellaneous” file to avoid forgetting what you put in it. Having a miscellaneous file is like having a junk drawer. It can be handy to a certain point, but eventually it is just a mess.


  • Gather everything you need before you start.
  • Get rid of anything you don’t need to keep.
  • Create a simple system that works for you. You won’t use a system you hate.
  • Cut back on hard copy creation – save electronic copies, send emails, avoid faxing.
  • File what you need, get rid of what you don’t – immediately.

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The hardest part of many projects is getting started. Organizing is no exception. Maybe you’re not sure where to start. Maybe you feel pressed for time. Or, perhaps you know where to start but feel overwhelmed by the task. Here are some ideas that I recommend for people who are having trouble starting an organizing project (you can also apply these tips to other kinds of projects):

Pick something already! If you really don’t know where to start and cannot figure out what your priority area is, there is nothing wrong with just diving in and getting started. Sometimes, just jumping in and seeing what you have to deal with will give you a clearer sense of direction or ideas on what priority areas can be.

Tackle the thing that is bothering you the most. Your living room might not be the highest priority in your mind, but every time you walk in and trip over things you just about lose your mind. So, maybe you tackle that before you organize your office. That’s fine! Eat that frog and move on.

Take small steps. Be realistic and don’t set yourself up to fail. If you are standing in the middle of the madness, remember – you don’t have to do it all at once. Clear out a drawer, straighten up your desk, clean out the medicine cabinet, sort your mail and toss the trash. These small steps add up to big results.

Get an accountability partner – or team. Get someone else (or multiple people) involved in the project. A friend or relative might not be physically pitching in to help you, but let them know what you are doing, and what your goal is. Ask them to check in with you. If you feel comfortable, ask them to bug you about it. Let them know you are having trouble getting started. At some point you’ll either (1) get sick of them asking if you’ve started, and so you do so that you can tell them “YES! Now stop asking!” or (2) hate the idea of letting that person down, so you get to work and make them (and yourself) proud! Choose someone you trust and feel comfortable talking to about something like this – which can be very sensitive and private for some people. And don’t choose a friend who is going to email you once and then not think about. Choose an assertive person who is going to call you out on what you said. This person will call you, text you, or drop in to say. Pick that one!

Box and Bribe. I had a client who hadn’t had anyone (other than me) in her place in years. What she most wanted was a welcoming environment to have her friends and family in. To make sure we got everything done in a timely manner, I suggested she throw a party. But to box her in, I had her set a date, create a guest list, and invite people. That’s quite a box! Another (more pleasant) way to motivate yourself is to set up rewards for getting things done. Some people like to set one big reward for the end of the project. Other people find that setting little milestone rewards along the way keeps them motivated. Do what works for you.

This article was featured in The Twenty First Edition of the Carnival of Improving Life and the Carnival of Self-Mastery

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Girl Pouting Over Bowl of Cereal
Image details: Girl Pouting Over Bowl of Cereal served by picapp.com

Small changes can make a big difference. If you are trying to make big changes in your life, don’t be afraid to start small. All the small things you do to better yourself or change your situation prepare you to handle the bigger things. I personally feel that it’s better to start small and succeed, than to set an unrealistic goal, not reach it, and feel disappointed and angry with myself.

If you have something big you want to change, break it down and figure out which part of that big change you can handle first. I have a goal to improve my physical health (which definitely connects with every other kind of health) because that is an area where I can definitely be considered a slacker. Rather than trying to rush into working out five days a week, eat the best food possible every time I’m hungry, and so on, I broke it down. What can I do first? What can I do now? Well, I could grocery shop more than once every two months. Now I hit the grocery store once every two weeks, or once a week if absolutely necessary. I’ve saved money and fortunately, I’ve been able to make slightly better food choices. I’ve managed to start going to the gym once a week. Not much – but a vast improvement over never going.

When it comes to organizing, I often deal with clients who think everything has to change right now. That mentality often ends up making them feel overwhelmed and frustrated. So, I help them figure out where they need to start, and we work at a steady pace until we can take on a little more….and then a little more….

Here are some suggestions for a few small changes you can make that will help your progress if you are trying to (a) get more organized, (b) gain more control of your time, or (c) get better at getting things done.

Put things away when you are done using them. It seems easier at the time to just sit something aside when you are done with it. But when you’ve set 100 things aside, or let a sink full of dishes pile up, when you get ready to deal with it, it just seems like too much, and you could possibly lose your motivation. What happens then? Things keep adding up. Putting things back where they belong also will save you time the next time you need whatever it is – you’ll know exactly where to find it.

Stop trying to remember everything in your head. Tomorrow, you’ll suddenly remember something you really needed to take care of today. Trust me, I see it happen all the time. Make a to-do list, or keep a note pad with you. I love notepads because I have lots of random thoughts. Sometimes it’s a writing topic, other times it’s a person I need to call or an errand I need to run. I flip through the notes at least once a day for a quick refresher and cross things off as I get them done.

Shift your attitude. Decrease the amount of negative self talk you engage in. Negative self talk hold us back from all the great things that are possible for us. It’s best to get rid of all of it, but changing your thought habits doesn’t happen over night. It takes time. Next time you catch yourself saying something negative, counter it with two positive things. Through the course of my studies and personal reading, the research I’ve read seems to point to 21 days. Steve Pavlina has a great article on his website called 30 Days to Success that I recommend if you are trying to break a bad habit of any kind. Next time you catch yourself saying something negative, counter it with two positive things.

Start this new month off by making a small change that contributes to a larger goal you have in mind. It will definitely make a big difference.

(This article was featured in The Seventeenth Edition of the Carnival of Improving Life.)

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More often than not, when I tell someone I am an organizer, they will ask me, “Alaia, what does YOUR closet look like? You must be super organized.” And I tell them the truth. It’s not what you’d expect.

My place doesn’t look like the cover of Real Simple Magazine. I don’t want it to. It’s a personal preference. My clothes are very loosely organized. One small closet (smaller than a hall closet) holds dresses and long coats. The other closet I have doesn’t go from floor to ceiling, so I hang all shorter items there. I have jackets on one end, and all other clothes taking up the rest of the rod. They aren’t sorted by type or color – because that’s not what matters to me. What matters to me is that my clothes are in the closet, hung and wrinkle free, ready to wear. I do make sure to sort what’s in my drawers, because I tend to wear what’s in my drawers more often than what’s hanging in the closet.

I have a pretty active schedule. So I have to figure out what my priorities are. I feel my time is better spent making sure papers are in order for my projects and businesses than making sure my clothes are sorted by size and shade. If all my clothes are on hangers, and the doors are closed, I personally don’t have much more to be concerned about. I also don’t want to let myself down when I don’t have the energy to maintain that system. I make it a point to not set up a system that I know I won’t want to maintain. I encourage my clients to do the same. I know I would personally feel a little defeated if I invested time in something I couldn’t maintain.

So, when doing your own organizing – in your closet or elsewhere – try not to feel pressured to make things more complicated and keep your focus on what’s important to you.

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