The countdown to the year-end ritual of flocking to malls and online stores is upon us. Care to guess where you’ll find me? Dashing (as usual) in the opposite direction.

When the holiday freneticism is unavoidable at every turn, there’s something wonderfully delightful and perhaps a little bit deviant about choosing to swim against the mainstream current. I actually manage to avoid stress and languishing in long lines, all while fully embracing the season’s spirit of generosity on my own terms.

I’ve never understood why, as a society, we collectively wait to the last minute – or in this case, the last month of the year – to squeeze in all the big-heartedness and giving we possibly can that could have been applied liberally throughout the previous eleven months of the year. (more…)

In early 2008, the following email was sent to the general listserv of the National Association of Professional Organizers’ San Francisco Bay Area chapter (NAPO-SFBA):

I’ve been contacted by…Rebuilding Together, the national organization that does Habitat for Humanity type rebuilds and remodels of both private homes and non-profit organization’s facilities.

I was a construction captain a few years ago on a fabulous remodel of the basement of the Larkin Street Youth Center and last year did assessments on two homes…

Apparently there are projects in communities all around the Bay Area, but if you’d like to team up with a corporate sponsor and do some great work while showing off your organizing skills and NAPO’s community spirit–please let me know asap.

Really? A unique opportunity to stretch one’s organizing muscles, volunteer for an awesome nonprofit and cause, AND be part of a team that positively impacts the lives of strangers? “Please do put me on the list! I’d love to help if the timing’s right,” I responded to my colleague, Victoria Roberts-Russell.

Two weeks later, another email landed in my inbox. This one contained descriptions of various projects that could benefit from the input of a professional organizers. I signed on, completed a project, and was hooked. When it was over, I wondered how we could get more organizers on board with this seemingly natural partnership and began conspiring with Victoria and our enthusiastic associates at RTSF. (more…)

When you read the name Homeless Prenatal Program (HPP), it’s easy to assume what population this nonprofit serves and make a good guess what kind of services it provides. That assumption changed drastically for me and several of my colleagues when I extend the invitation for a tour of their facility.

Five years ago, the now 22-year-old HPP purchased and occupied its current home, a big grey building with a nondescript facade on the corner of 18th and Potrero streets in San Francisco. Once we were past the front desk, we were struck by the friendly and open physical interior of this surprisingly modern and inviting space that once upon a time was fixed up by a now evaporated dot-com. Visual awe gave way, however, to a deep sense of amazement and frequent mouthing of “wow” at one another as the extraordinary array of services provided by HPP was described by our tour leaders, (more…)

As my home inches closer towards zero waste and we attempt to reach the goals set forth by the City and County of San Francisco, there’s been one baffling piece of the puzzle: what to do with the caps and lids from recyclable containers? I realize that in the grand scheme of things, these are small details, but you know how it is: the devil is in the details, I love the details, AND I got stuck.

Think about it. What do you do with the lids from milk, juice, kombucha, vinegar, olive oil, wine, and beer bottles? And how about the wee tops from tubes of toothpaste, mustard, and tomato paste? Ooh, and the larger lids of the variety that “pop” when you open the jars from store-bought sauces, pickles, and sauerkraut? Do these go in the trash or the recycling bin?

My inquiring mind needed some answers, so I approached the source – San Francisco’s Department of the Environment – with my dilemma and a group portrait of lids and caps I collected just for this purpose.

bottle tops and jar lids

(more…)

sign in window of Lost Weekend, a San Francisco video storeWhat’s sustainable here?

This is the window of Lost Weekend Video, one of a handful of San Francisco’s independently-owned video stores. It’s my neighborhood video store, and it’s accessible via a quick jaunt or pedal down the street and around the corner. On these chilly winter nights, it’s a place to reassure myself that I’m not the only one with a hankering to cozy up under a blanket and watch a film.

The store’s offerings are circulated without the aid of postage and disposable plastic mailers. It’s people powered – you go there to choose what you want. You swing by a day or few later and return it when you’re finished. You can chat with the owner and his staff about the latest releases, their favorite music, politics, and more. You can run into friends and neighbors. You can even bring your dog, or say hello to the dogs of strangers that are patiently waiting for a treat at the counter. Those treats are procured from another local independently-owned store just up the street.

This is the kind of business that is disappearing from the American landscape. Please, do what you can to support your local businesses. You’ll be supporting your neighbors and keeping your dollars circulating in your community. When you buy from an independent, sometimes you pay a little less, sometimes you pay a little more, but either way, the exchanges and rewards of the interactions are always priceless. The benefits outweigh the savings. In fact, you’ll be earning more!

Last week I learned that I am a finalist in the 2011 Los Angeles Organizing Awards for The Green Award for Most Eco-Friendly Organizing Service. And guess what? Voting is open to the public, and you can cast your vote here until December 24. (Just when you thought voting season was over!) (more…)

Goodwill book donation signThe lure of the current occupant of the former Coca-Cola bottling plant in San Francisco brought me back for my third visit in a year-and-a-half. Here I was, again, at the processing facility for Goodwill of San Francisco, San Mateo and Marin Counties. The more I learn about the incredible ways this organization is serving the community at large, the more I want to help them shout it from the rooftop.

This time the majority of my visit was as far from the roof as you could get. There in the basement – once the restroom, locker room, and shower for the plant workers – lives the department of e-commerce. What brought me here was books, and a desire to explore another piece of the recycling puzzle. (Read about my previous visit when I explored and documented textile recycling at this facility.) For here is a place where you can recycle encyclopedias, textbooks, novels, dictionaries, how-to books…you name it! (more…)

a free chair left on the sidewalkI heard about Give Your Stuff Away Day (today, May 15th) while on the phone with a colleague many weeks ago. She was checking her e-mail when she commented about an interesting link that had been forwarded by another professional organizer.

For those of us in the business, seeing people let go of things in order to pass them on to others is a regular occurrence, though for many, such an act can be an emotional and moral struggle. I have found that it is easiest for folks to say good-bye to anything when they realize their once treasure will become someone else’s new treasure. (more…)

Do you ever wonder what happens to your trash?

A year ago, my curiosity led me to sign up for one of the monthly tours of San Francisco Recycling & Disposal Solid Waste Transfer and Recycle Central.

Despite the threat of rain canceling the tour, me and my equally inquisitive partner, Sven, drove to the southern end of the city to take in the sights, sounds, smells, and surprises that awaited us.

a flock of seagulls fly above the dump (the transfer station in San Francisco)

Swarms of seagulls filled the air above the transfer facility property and provided a directional indicator that let us know we were almost there. (more…)

POWER flagOver the past few months, I have been chief instigator and coordinator for a group of fellow San Francisco-based organizers for our participation in Get Organized (GO) Month, an annual event sponsored by the National Association of Professional Organizers (NAPO). During our bi-monthly meeting in November, our group of eight agreed to seek out several San Francisco-based nonprofits to which we would offer pro bono organizing services.*

When beginning the search for eligible nonprofits, a call to my esteemed and enthusiastic colleagues at Rebuilding Together San Francisco (RTSF) proved fortuitous on many levels. Their facilities application deadline had just closed for the 2010 National Rebuilding Day activities. Within a day or so, they identified two facilities whose applications specifically mentioned the need for organizing assistance, and one of those seemed to be a likely venue for RTSF’s annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Day undertaking sponsored by Kaiser. There we were, two entities searching for a venue to assist in the month of January. Bingo! (more…)

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