These books really stack up

Another post about books? Yup.

I love books. I read books. I love flipping through their pages.

I’ve made books. I’m credited in books. I’ve been encouraged to write a book.

I have friends who work with books for a living as librarians, teachers, editors, conservators, and booksellers.

I wish I knew how many books I’ve handled physically as an organizer, and how many pounds of books have been loaded to my car and delivered to donation centers.

Once a client mused about reshelving her books by the colors of their spines and had her personal assistant do it. Spines say a lot. When waiting for someone to return to a room in which I’ve been left alone, I’m drawn to whatever books are on the shelves, seeking a common interest, a familiar title, or an addition to my future reading list.

I’m grateful nobody has ever asked me to shelve books backward as was (and may still be) a trend of sorts in minimalist monochromatic interior design and organizing. That said, I’m grateful I once made a date with myself to go view 3,500 books stacked against a wall in this fashion: all fore edges facing out. Continue reading

Before, DURING, and after

I know this sounds harsh and will rub many people the wrong way but it’s a truth: I hate before and after photos. Why? They are kind of boring and formulaic. They show someone is capable of cleaning up and making things look nice. Absent are context, process, and transformative learning moments for clients that often occur between points A and B.

To be clear, ninety-five percent of the work I do is done with and not for my clients. Getting organized and being organized looks and means something different for each of them, and the beginning and end looks incredibly different from one to the next. For the vast majority, it’s not about making every nook and cranny of their home photo shoot-ready for a magazine spread. The most powerful and lasting changes are more invisible and internal.

I do take photos while working and always ask permission; however, I’m drawn to capturing the more offbeat in between moments. Documenting from beginning to end is seldom a priority. There are always exceptions, and that’s what this post is about.

In correspondence prior to beginning the project that follows, the client’s spouse mentioned that it might make a good before/after. It’s common for clients to get excited and start an ambitious project only to become overwhelmed and let the momentum fizzle while defeat takes over. I took a few photos in the beginning just in case. I’m glad I did. The results surpassed expectations.

Continue reading

Organizing during a pandemic

For the past many years, the CDC’s link for a zombie apocalypse has resided in the list of emergency preparedness resources on my website. No one has ever commented on it, but my twisted sense of humor enjoys knowing it’s tucked in there amidst the serious stuff. We all need a little levity at unexpected times.

And now we have “organizing during a pandemic.” Do you think I ever imagined this photo taken during a paper triaging project wouldcholera be useful???

While the coronavirus is putting a wrench in our collective vibe, on the plus side, it is leading to creative impromptu work- and school-from-home modifications, pantry and freezer re-organization, and amazing community support of one another from afar. ‘Social distancing’ has become the new game in town, and I hope you, like me, are willing to play by the rules.

Being mindful about protecting both those with whom I come in contact most and myself, I decided late last week to postpone all in-person organizing sessions and shift temporarily to “remote” organizing and coaching. Business will be lighter, or who knows, it may come to a complete halt, while everyone rejiggers themselves and settles into new routines. But perhaps you, like me, aim to use this unexpected swath of time at home to do things you’ve been meaning to do. (My list is short but mighty as is the stack of unread books.)

If you’re wondering how you might work on organizing projects during the pandemic and how I might be able to help you, one-on-one sessions are now being conducted via telephone, Zoom, or FaceTime (or another mode of our choosing).

Let me help you find, ignite, and keep up momentum! If you are interested and willing to give it a try, we can schedule a call to discuss how I can best support the next steps in any of your projects. You might be surprised at the possibilities!

Most of all, stay safe, wash your hands, and listen to professionals and civic leaders who know what they’re talking about.

We’re all in this together while we’re apart.

P.S. I have revived the popular weekly “One small Sunday task” on my facebook page to help you focus on and move along little projects that ultimately make an impact in your life. Please follow along and do whatever moves you.

Tale of the grinning fish

IMG_7201One of my larger projects this summer was to work with a pair of siblings and facilitate the sorting and clean out of their childhood home. It was a powerful journey for everyone in more ways than I can share, but something came out of this job is now a highlight of my organizing career to date.

The little ceramic guy (pictured above) sat on a shelf in the living room for as long as my clients could remember. When it came time to decide about items in that space, no one was interested in keeping it. Fortunately, there are many donation venue options around here, and they wanted to know if it should be added to a box for Goodwill or the annual white elephant sale that benefits programming and more at a local museum.

picasso_baseTurning it around in my hands, I didn’t want to commit to one or the other just yet. It was quirky and quite imperfect (see that long crack and the dark schmutz?), but the multiple markings on the bottom caught my curiosity. I asked  permission to take a few photos and do a little research first.

That evening I emailed them a couple of revealing links and asked if I could submit a query to an auction house for a valuation request. It turns out being a fan of Antiques Roadshow and having a degree in art history are useful.

I went to bed not knowing how long, if ever, it might take to get an answer. Less than 12 hours after clicking on the paper airplane icon (“send” in Apple Mail’s visual parlance), a response arrived. My intuition was confirmed: it was a real Picasso.

The night before delivering the suddenly-more-delicate-than-ever-before ceramic fish pitcher to the auction house, one of the siblings found documentation in their parents’ files that shows it was purchased for $9 in 1966. Yes. Nine dollars. For. A. Picasso.

picassopurchase Page from Bonham's Prints & Multiples auction, October 15, 2019.







Two weeks ago the fish sold at auction for $4,000.

Screenshot of Bonham's auction in progress.

What an unexpected surprise at the tail end of a wonderful collaboration.

Everyone – and not just Picasso’s fish – continues to grin.

*** Auction catalogue page and screenshot from Bonham’s Prints & Multiples auction on October 15, 2019. ***

All wrapped up and where does it go?


Let me paint a picture of what you think you see in the photo above.

My client thought she was doing the right thing by purchasing vintage secondhand housewares and decor to outfit a brand new household. The picture is a detail of a much larger pile, and it represents more than half a day of unpacking boxes and, more specifically, what was used to protect their contents. The vast majority of said contents were procured through an online marketplace that connects vendors and customers throughout the U.S.

From a purely environmental perspective, it makes more sense to buy used and keep items in circulation rather than requiring the extraction of resources to produce something brand shiny and new. But holy hell! The unintended consequences of a right-minded choice horrified her.

There were many many more boxes to unpack after the initial heap of innards was sorted. (More on this below.) The treasure hunt became more about the packing materials than about the actual things wrapped within. I began to take snapshots of boxes as they were opened. Continue reading

Organizing the cockpit

After reading Michael Pollan’s “Botany of Desire” soon after it was published, I found myself hungry for more of his words. “A Place of My Own: The Education of an Amateur Builder,” in which he chronicles the process of building a one-room house for writing, was a surprising option available at the time. Reading about design and space from this unexpected source was intriguing to my organizer’s mind, and this passage in particular was the greatest takeaway in obvious and less obvious ways:

“I picture a space no bigger than it has to be, single in purpose and shipshape, with a specific, dedicated place for everything. We should think of the interior less as a room, in fact, than as a piece of furniture, or maybe a cockpit.”

– Michael Pollan

Inhabiting a space with intention and having what you need where you need it when you need it is optimal for an organized life. In collaborations with clients who seek greater efficiency and ease, my focus turns to creating a kind of mise en place that enables greater flow and functionality befitting the individual and their activities, proclivities, and goals.

Beyond agreeing with this wise reflection, I elicited an an audible “wow” to share with my husband, Sven. At last, we had a more than apt description for his  office. Ever since and with much affection, his space has been called “the cockpit.” When a computer, pen, and paper are the primary tools of your craft, not much more space is needed.

View of the cockpit the morning of this post.

Picture a “walk-in” closet that’s a whopping four by seven feet with two doors and a generous east-facing window that’s too small to capture in its entirety without a real estate photographer’s grossly distorting wide-angle lens. Welcome to the cockpit. It’s a compact personal, office, and writing room all in one. Sven loves being able to swivel around in his chair and have whatever he needs at his fingertips. Most of the time, that is.

Very often the desk of a creative person gets messy, and this is his place to make a mess. When it gets to a critical mass of mess, he is able to reset it before letting things flow once again. But there came a time some months ago when I casually inquired about the arrangement of something on one of the three shelves above the desk and how a little desktop filing system I recommended a year or more prior was working for him. His response led me to ask if he would be open to some help. After a brief pause, an affirmative response was delivered. I began with a couple of questions, and then one thing led to another.

The next day, I returned home from work to find an envelope on my desk. Inside was a thank you card with a folded piece of paper containing a typed and unsolicited testimonial.

I’m German, so I’ve always thought of myself as naturally organized. However, when I was recently trying to find a nice spot on my office shelf for a framed drawing a friend had given me for my birthday, I found myself flummoxed by the lack of an available space. As I was trying to cram it between a bunch of other stuff, Deb innocuously asked about the purpose of some of the lose items on the shelf below. Before I knew it, my desk was filled with everything from old bills to dusty CDs, expired business cards and past campaign buttons on their way to being triaged out of my life. It was actually pretty freaky, and frankly, a bit overwhelming to realize how cluttered my little cubby-hole had become, to the point of where I was simply in denial of just how much it was cramping my style.

Even though I’ve been living with Deb for 10+ years and have always admired the magic she works with her clients, this was the first time I experienced in my own body (yes, the relief was physical!) and mind just how powerful her gentle, caring and knowledgeable guidance is. This was the “aha moment” I had heard so many stories about but never thought I’d be in need of, and when it came after an hour or so of focused rummaging and rearranging, I knew right away that I too had now become “experienced.”

I’m sitting here at my newly breathing desk, marveling at the liberated spaces in front of me, weightless smile on my face, ready to tackle the tasks that matter.

This work I’m privileged to do constantly takes me into the innermost realms of peoples’ lives, their spaces, and their thought processes. I am always humbled to be invited in, and even when it’s my own husband, I, too, need to say thank you. It’s amazing to be part of and to witness your transformation.

The piece of art (a.k.a. culprit) by the incredible SF-based artist, Anselm Yew, that lead to this post.


Desperately seeking a breath of fresh air


As I write, I’ve been sequestered in the house due to poor air quality from the tragic Camp Fire in Butte County, California. Despite being three hours away, the effects are impacting San Francisco and the greater Bay Area. The sunrise has been a beautiful yet haunting smoky orange.

Daily warnings of unhealthy air – a reading that have risen from orange to red to purple (!) according to the EPA’s Air Quality Index – keep people like myself inside and unable to engage in regular daily activities. While it’s frustrating as heck to be unable to pop out to run a quick errand down the street, go for swim (the pool at the gym has been closed), and work with certain clients (cancellations abound due to poor air and unexpected school closures), there are benefits to this interruption of the regular program. Continue reading

FOMO’s awesome sibling

How to find joy? Marie Kondo’s books may hold the secret for some, but I’m happy to share one of my secret portals to this magical state of being.

It begins with an afternoon like this: A picture-perfect Sunday with brilliant sunshine, warm air and a cool breeze. Throngs are amassed at the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass music festival in Golden Gate Park. An entirely different array of throngs are gathered on heights and near the water to watch the spectacles of Fleet Week.

Me and my trusty laptop are communing beneath the branches of the old Meyer lemon tree, the central anchor of a garden I’m grateful to have out the back door. Bees are buzzing overhead as they make their rounds to intoxicatingly sweet blossoms. Sipping tea and glancing around as I type, I think about the contentedness and joy in sitting right here right now.

For some, a fear of missing out (a.k.a. FOMO) on any of the big annual happenings would be unimaginable. For me, marching to my own inner compass was made far from fear. The choice was made by knowing what would bring me the most joy.

This variety of joy is something I discovered a name for while waiting for breakfast halfway around the world in mid-2017. Flipping through the newspaper a previous cafe patron left behind, I grinned wider than you can imagine when I came upon a cartoon by the Australian artist Michael Leunig*. Allow me to introduce you to FOMO’s sibling, JOMO, the joy of missing out.


*My photo of the artwork used with permission from Leunig Studio.


And the winner of best score is…

I’m a few weeks late for the Academy Awards, but scores have been on my mind. Far from an avid movie-goer, I’d be hard pressed to match most pieces of music to a film, but I’ve been pondering a different kind of score.

These are the types of scores that make hardly a sound. They are invisible to the uninitiated. When then their presence is known and understood, their power is mighty. They are of the variety that pass through my fingertips with some degree of regularity. They were introduced to me during my first museum job. They are not some understated form of decoration. They have a purpose. They are a great tidying force in the lives of those who work with papers. They often elicit some version of, “Ah ha!” or “Oh, so that’s what that’s for!” from clients.

Care to be amazed? Let me show you. Continue reading