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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Putting a Value on the “Stuff” You’ve Donated

If you itemized the non-monetary donations you made in 2010, you may be wondering how to assign a value to each item.  According to the IRS, the “value” should reflect the fair market value of the item. So how do you determine “fair market” value?

 There are several resources that can help:

 The Salvation Army has put together a valuation guide that is located on their website at Just click onto the Valuation Guide area. They give a range of values specified for each type of item. New items in perfect condition can be valued at or near the high end of the range, while older items showing signs of wear and tear would be valued lower.

 You can also purchase a book called “Money for Your Used Clothing” at .  The book provides a place for you to record your donations for the year and includes a valuation guide as well.

 For Specific IRS requirements for charitable donations, go to and put “Publication 1771” in the search bar at the top right hand corner of the page.

 Remember, making non-monetary donations is a great way to receive tax benefits – but  only if you have a system in place to track and value those donations.

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Five Most Common Organization Issues In North Shore Homes

In my 10 years of experience as a professional organizer helping North Shore residents bring order to their homes, I’ve found many of us face the same top organizing challenges.  Here’s what they are and how I recommend resolving them.

1) Paper Piles –We get lots of paper every day and it just keeps coming! Having a system will help you stay on top of it. Sort your mail every day, get rid of what you don’t need, put away what you want to keep and track your to-do’s.

2) Closets – We see a lot of closets that can be fantastic storage spaces but that are stuffed with stuff! If you take everything out of your closet and sort into like categories and then keep only what you truly use or want, you’ll be amazed with all the room you will have.

3) Kid’s Paper and Art Work – Children in pre-school and grade school bring home tons of artwork and school work. Some moms struggle with how to manage the barrage and deciding what they should keep.

We recommend keeping only a small representative sample from each year that reflects your child’s personality and their development. No child will appreciate mom and dad saving and passing on a huge storage bin of their preschool and grade school papers and art!

4) Purging Excess items – Often people call us saying that they have too much stuff but they need help in letting go.   One of the first things we tell them that they need to get rid of is ……the guilt!

Then we ask questions to help them decide what to keep and to let go of.  Questions  like, “when is the last time I used this”, “how likely am I to use this again”, “do I like this”, etc., help people make these tough decisions.

5) Kitchens – Whether their kitchens are big or small, many people don’t know how to organize their cabinets, drawers and pantry to maximize their kitchen’s functionality. The first step is to think about how you use your kitchen and what items you use most often.  The items you use in each zone of your kitchen should ultimately be easy to get to and in logical locations.

Once you decide which items you really use, you’ll probably discover many items you can purge and that helps create better storage options.

What’s the biggest organizational challenge you face in your home?

If you’d like professional help bringing order to your home, call Altogether Organized at 847-266-9166 or email us at


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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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