Category Archives: Home Organizing

40 Bags in 40 Days


Last year, my friend Tami stood up in her church to announce for Lent that she would give up
40 bags of stuff in the 40 days before Easter.  Well, she proudly achieved her goal — plus so much more! And in the process, Tami discovered it felt so good to purge that she didn’t want to stop! 

Tami starting by making a list of 40 areas in her home that she wanted to tackle. To make this daunting task workable, she modified the list to do just one thing every day. For example, a dresser drawer counted as one area.  Here’s the list she came up with:

  • Easter décor
  • Bags paper and plastic
  • Easter decor
  • Christmas décor/ornaments
  • Halloween décor
  • Office software/disks
  • Office electronic/cords
  • Office supply closet
  • Books in office 
  • Shoe boxes of receipts
  • Her desk area and shelves
  • File cabinet 1
  • File cabinet 2
  • File cabinet 3
  • Games and puzzles
  • Family room armoire
  • Family room table drawers
  • Tablecloths
  • Library closet
  • Books in library
  • Piano music
  • Kitchen drawers
  • Kitchen cabinets
  • Magazine clippings
  • Her son’s closet
  • Her daughter’s closet
  • Her daughter’s college brochures
  • Her dressy clothes closet
  • Her casual clothes closet
  • Out of season closet
  • Master bedroom dresser
  • Linen closet
  • Master bathroom cabinets and drawers
  • Powder room vanity cabinet
  • Framed pictures and mirrors in basement
  • Old Christmas Cards
  • Craft supplies
  • Ribbons and wrapping paper
  • Bags of decorating supplies
  • Attic – area 1
  • Attic – area 2
  • Garage
  • Tools and hardware
  • Car trunks – 1,2,3
  • Car glove compartments – 1,2,3

While Tami found that the project required discipline and perseverance, she discovered it to be “a nostalgic, liberating and exhilarating journey.” And her announcement in church had a snowball effect, leading others to try to do the same. People started telling her how much fun they were having doing it and that they felt like they were really making progress in eliminating clutter from their homes.

Tami’s purge went on longer than the committed 40 days because she didn’t want to stop. In the two month period she worked on it she: 

  • Sent over 40 bags to her church rummage
  • Filled up her recycling bin 5 times
  • Threw out multiple bags of trash  

This strategy worked so well for Tami and had such a positive outcome that she’s decided to do it every year to help keep her home free of clutter.  

Are you inspired? Can you commit to 40 bags in 40 days?  Get started and let Altogether Organized know how its going— we can’t wait to hear about your results!





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Deducting Your Donations


One bonus of cleaning out your closet is the chance to take a tax deduction for your unwanted items, but many people don’t take full advantage of this benefit – they usually drop their stuff at Goodwill then write, “3 bags of clothing, household goods, etc.” on their receipt. When it comes time to say how much to deduct, they usually ballpark a number that is probably lower than what they actually gave. That’s leaving money on the table, people.

With a touch of extra organization you can turn your unwanted stuff into a much better tax deduction. The key to maximizing your deduction is proper documentation. The guidelines for what’s required by the IRS vary by the value of your donation.

For items totaling less than $250 given to one organization, all that’s required is a receipt with the name of the organization, date and location, and a reasonably detailed description. A letter works, or if you’re dropping off at one of those un-staffed boxes in a parking lot, simply put a note with the above details in your tax files.

donation box

To deduct items valued at least $250 but less than $500, you must have the above PLUS:
• A written description of the items (an Excel spreadsheet works)
• Written acknowledgement from the charity that you did not receive goods or services in return for the donation (this is usually on the receipt)
• Description and good faith estimate of the value of any services you DID receive (for example, if you donate an item to a silent auction and receive a ticket to the event in return – the value of the ticket lowers your total donation value)

If your donations to one organization total at least $500 but less than $5,000, you must state all of the above PLUS:
• How you acquired the goods (usually via purchase or gift)
• The approximate date you acquired the property
• What you paid for the property

And if you’re giving something valued at more than $5,000? You’ll also need a qualified written appraisal to attach to your tax return justifying the high amount.

In addition to an Excel spreadsheet, I also take a digital photo of all my items to demonstrate that they are still in good, reusable condition. I keep a photo album for these files, separated by year, then I burn them all onto a CD at the end of the year to keep with my tax files.

Finally, the ultimate question: how does one determine the actual value of each item? There is a rule of thumb that 25% of the amount you originally paid is a safe estimate. Or you can reference Goodwill’s valuation guide at, which gives you a range of values for commonly donated items.

This Blog Post was written by Kelley C. Long, CPA/CFP(r). She is the Director of Communications &; Marketing for Shepard Schwartz &; Harris LLP and a national spokesperson for financial literacy through Feed the Pig and 360 Degrees of Financial Literacy. She cares passionately about teaching Americans about money so that they can free themselves from financial worry.”

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How to Declutter Before Listing Your Home


When I help clients prepare their homes for market, my first step is sharing these important points that I’ve learned from local realtors:

1) Switch from a “living” mindset to a “selling” mindset – It’s not about how you live in your home; it’s about transforming your home into a showroom to sell it.

2) Show off your space, not your stuff – Too much of your stuff makes it difficult for buyers to visualize their stuff in your home.  Sparsely furnished rooms allow them to picture where their furniture will fit and how it will look.

3) Create white space – A blank canvas offers more possibilities. You don’t have to totally depersonalize your home, but do provide “white space,” areas without any furniture or decorative accessories.

4) Decluttered rooms photograph better – Today, it’s more important than ever that your rooms photograph well.  That’s because most first showings take place online and buyers make decisions before they even walk through. Rooms look more spacious and attractive online when there is open space and no clutter.

5) Check out the Competition – Go online and take virtual tours of houses for sale in your area and in your price range – this is your competition! Note how you feel looking at spaces that are free of clutter.

Decluttering is the most inexpensive thing you can do with biggest impact on your bottom line. You have total control over the condition of your house and how well it shows.  Make the most of this great opportunity to “show off” your home.


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Get Organized – One Day at A Time

At this time of year many people put “Get Organized” on their To-Do List. Some hire a professional organizer like me to help them achieve their goals, others decide to tackle the job on their own.  If you’re in the latter group but are feeling overwhelmed by the task, here’s what I suggest:

Do one thing a day towards accomplishing your goal.

Several years ago I heard Jack Canfield, co-creator of the wildly successful Chicken Soup for the Soul series,  speak about getting things done and he made a great point – he said, “you don’t need to get it perfect, you just need to get it going.”

When he was attempting to market his first Chicken Soup for the Soul book, he did five things a day towards his marketing goal. That method ultimately helped him get where he is today. While five things a day is terrific, doing just one thing will also eventually get you where you want to go.

So how do you get organized by using the “one thing a day method”? Here are some examples of small, manageable tasks to help you organize your space:

  • Organize the medicine cabinet
  • Remove clothes from your closet you don’t wear
  • Go through a stack of papers in your office
  • Donate the toys your kids don’t play with anymore
  • Purge a file drawer of papers you don’t need anymore
  • Organize your pantry
  • Take old electronics to your communities recycling area

Doing one thing a day can help you achieve any goal, whether you want to market a product, conduct a job search or improve your physical fitness. The important thing is to start and repeat!

If you’d like to get a jump start for your 2013 organizing plans, please contact me to see how I can help you.

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Spring Cleaning your Closet

Although it’s still a little chilly, spring is on the way.  Soon you can banish those turtle necks and sweaters to the less accessible sections of your closet and drawers to make room for your spring and summer clothes.

As you put your fall and winter clothes away, determine if there were any items you didn’t wear this past year and ask yourself why not.

Is it because…..

You no longer like the item?

The piece is no longer in style?

You are tired of wearing it?

It’s not in good condition?

It doesn’t fit?

You don’t like how you look or feel in it?

The item needs to be fixed or altered but you are unlikely to do so?

If the answer is “yes” to any of these questions, it sounds like a good time to say “goodbye”!

Don’t forget to ask yourself these same questions for your spring and summer clothes and consider your shoes and handbags as well.  Remember, you only have a finite amount of space for your clothing and you don’t want to waste it on clothes you won’t wear.

Also, by going through this process, you’ll be able to see if there are items you need to shop for to complete your wardrobe.  And, as we always tell our clients, it’s  so much easier to get dressed everyday when you know that everything in your closet fits and is something you want to wear!


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Altogether Organized Home Organizing Tips for Simplifying Your Life

  • Determine Your Priorities– Decide what is most important to you in your life now, then consider all the activities you are involved in and decide to engage only in activities that align with your priorities.


  •  Develop systems –   For example, establish a process for how you handle the papers your kids bring home from school, how you plan your meals and grocery shop, and how you handle bills and paperwork.  Having a set routine saves time and helps you to work more efficiently.


  • Have a place for each item in your home.  That way when you need a certain item you know exactly where it is.  Also, decluttering is much easier when you know where everything belongs.


  • Spend time putting things away each day.  It’s much easier to attain mental clarity when there isn’t a lot of visual disarray. Try to spend 10 minutes each morning and/or 10 minutes each night putting things back where they belong.


  • Only keep items that you like or have a useful purpose. Any item that doesn’t fit these criteria is just taking up your valuable space and the more you have the harder it is to stay organized.  Keep a box for donations and always say yes when an organization calls asking for them!


  • Use only one calendar and make sure it has space to record daily tasks.  Don’t rely on your memory- writing everything down reduces stress and ensures you won’t forget.  Put personal and professional items on the same calendar to eliminate scheduling conflicts. Also, keep a master list of the projects you are working on and break them down into manageable steps. Then make sure these steps are plotted onto your calendar.


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Home Organizing

As the owner of a home organizing firm, people sometimes ask if I’ve always been organized. And while I answer that organizing has always been a strength of mine, it wasn’t until about ten years ago that I realized the relationship between being organized and my sanity!    

 Here is what happened:  My husband was out of town and all day I had been looking forward to taking my three young daughters to the Chicago Botanic Garden Holiday Festival in Highland Park.  I imagined it to be one of those magical nights, the memory of which my daughters and I would always cherish.  What I hadn’t anticipated was that my kids would whine and complain throughout the entire evening!  

 By the time we got home, my nerves were shot and my patience completely worn away.   I opened the front door and saw a huge mess — toys and books scattered everywhere, dishes left over from the afternoon’s snack, clothes my girls had tried on and never put away strewn all about.  I took in the whole scene and burst into tears.  Somehow I had held myself together through two and a half miserable hours at the festival, but seeing my living room in such disarray put me over the edge and my kids watched as I had a total “mommy meltdown.”

 After pulling myself together, I put the kids to sleep.  I went back into my living room and started putting things away.  And as I did, I realized how much better I felt getting the room back in order.  In that moment, I understood in that, try as I may, I cannot always control how events turn out.  But the one thing I can control is my environment — and it feels good when I do.

 So in order to keep on living relatively “meltdown-free”, here are some of the strategies I employ to stay on top of things in my own home.

 Put Things Away – I’m constantly amazed at how quickly my family can take a room in which everything is in place and trash it.  But truthfully, we do need to take a lot of stuff out of place each day in order to use it.  The problem comes when the stuff is not put back. So, when possible, put things away as you go.  Of course, we all know that’s not always practical.

First, to keep your home under control, try to spend at least 20 minutes a day putting things away or at least back in the room where they belong.  Then it’s easier to more specifically put them away later.

Also, when leaving a room, look for the things that belong elsewhere and drop them off. For example, in my home, items always seem to end up in the kitchen. So, whenever I see something in my kitchen which doesn’t belong, I put it on the corner of the counter that is closest to the door.  When I leave my kitchen, I take those items and return them to the rooms where they belong.

Finally, determine your level of tolerance for clutter in your own home and take action when you’ve reached that point.  For example, shoes oftentimes seem to collect by the door to a mudroom or garage.  Decide how many pairs of shoes you are okay with and once that number is reached, put away or have your family put away those extra shoes.

 Consistently Purge – Keeping excess items which you no longer use, need or want make keeping your home organized much more difficult. Anything not being used or enjoyed just takes up valuable space.  Moreover, it may prevent you from storing things in such a way that you can see what you have and easily get to it.

So always be on the look out for things you can give away or sell.   Set up an area in your home to collect these items. Then, once you’re ready to make a donation, the items are ready as well. Also, when you replace items in your home, be sure to take the old item to your designated spot for donations. For example, if you get a new pair of running shoes, put the old pair in the donation bin.  

If you find it difficult to let go of extra possessions, try giving yourself a daily or weekly goal.  Go through your home and look for 10 items to part with. You’ll be pleasantly surprised at how good it feels to let go of things that you don’t need or use.

 Know what you have and buy only what you need – Make sure that you know what you have and where you keep it so that you can check your “inventory” before making a purchase. 

By keeping “like” items together, you can see exactly what you own.  Once a client showed me how she’d cleaned out her refrigerator and put all of the like items together. The good news was that she could now easily see what groceries she needed – the bad news being that she had five open jars of mayonnaise!

And while buying in bulk or on sale can save you money, it can also quickly eat up your storage space.  So always delay making new purchases until your supply is running low.  For example, getting bulk paper towels from Costco can be a great bargain, but if you already have unopened bulk packages, additional ones will overwhelm your kitchen storage area.  

 Assess the Mess – If clutter continually builds up in specific areas of your home, try to figure out why.  Ask yourself:

Is there a place for each of the items and does my family know where the place is?  

Is the place convenient and easily accessible to where the items are used?  Are there excess items that need to be purged?

Would additional storage containers help?  

After you determine why the clutter builds up, make the necessary changes and then reassess.  

 While I can’t promise you a meltdown-free future or a home that’s always in perfect order, I do believe that by following these guidelines you can attain a sense of control over your space and, hopefully, a sense of calm to go with it.

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