Food inventories to the rescue

Freezer door with papers and photos magnetized to the facade.
Papers on my freezer door (left to right): printout of recipe, freezer inventory,  produce inventory.

One year ago when the pandemic uprooted our rhythms of daily life, procuring groceries quickly became the most stressful, time-consuming, and cumbersome activity. As shoppers and grocery store personnel learned the ropes of how to best navigate this necessity during a major health crisis, many of us found ourselves buying excess as a remedy for avoiding long queues and minimizing trips to the store.

While all that shopping and stocking has been mostly helpful, it has led to extra overwhelm that may have exacerbated already bulging pantries, chaotic freezers, and best intentions for fresh produce. The big question is do you know what you have? If your answer is “no,” or you think “yes” but are unsure, I have one word for you to ponder: inventories.

Generally speaking, inventories are crucial for anticipating increases and decreases of demand, managing the flow of goods, keeping on top of what’s available, and staying aligned with budgets, including the budget of available physical space. For restaurants and a vast array of  businesses, they are essential, but homes, which are containers for the business of running day to day life, are operated without them.

Before you suck in your breath and think this concept is too unrealistic or just too much to consider, let me share how easy and clarifying it can be. Continue reading

Turning the pages and planning for the new year

This year has been anything but what any of us thought it would be. Beginning March 4th, client, social, and medical appointments were x-ed out in my planner at an unusually accelerated rate. In the before times, I’d erase changes or cancellations, but this has been a year to hold on to those unused dates. Calendar hygiene and tidiness took a backseat.

Unlike those who bemoaned the fact that they purchased a planner they weren’t going to use very much, I’m glad to have a physical record of the ebbs and flows of pandemic life: the stay at home times, the array of distanced onsite and virtual client sessions, the few distanced social visits, and the zoom calls and events attended online instead of in person. Six or seven years down the road, it’ll be an interesting document to thumb through before deciding if it gets relocated to a memorabilia box or destroyed with the its companion tax documents.

As a tactile being who enjoys the immediacy of writing and all the sensory feels and sounds of turning pages, paper is where it’s at for me. When the paperless office was becoming a thing, I tried to make the switch by starting with an online calendar. Attempting this flavor of eco-friendliness turned into a complete and under nope. Too many fingertip taps were required to type out details or retrieve information. Flipping to an actual page is faster. Writing is easier, legibility be damned! Grabbing a planner book – without the need for an internet connection or a charged device – was and still is my way to go.

I was heartened a year or two ago when I chatted up the cashier at the old-school stationery store in downtown San Francisco. Wondering if I was one of the few people buying a planner book, I was told the uptick in sales had been increasing over the past few years as people returned to the tried and true physical thing. Paper is not going away!

Fast forward to last month when I attended the 2020 Virtual International Conference on ADHD. I sat in on two sessions about planners. Why? Because time and task management are challenges that affect my ADHD clients, and one of the things that can truly help is identifying and integrating the right tools. While the content was geared toward those with ADHD, the main takeaways would have been useful to anyone with a curiosity about how and why to choose one particular planner over another.

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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.

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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. ***

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.


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

On this #GivingTuesday help someone move from a tiny home to a room of her own

Moving is often an overwhelming process. In addition to all the planning and the temporary inconvenience, packing up and then unfurling belongings in a space one has yet to become acquainted with is always a tad discombobulating. Moving interrupts the groove and flow of daily life to which one’s become accustomed, and recreating logical spatial layouts and rhythm that support day to day needs can take some time and a little assistance.

It was overwhelm that led a couple of friends to reach out and ask if I had time and interest to lend my organizing expertise to help a client of theirs with her new space. When they told me they were members of the client’s neighborhood-integration support team and that the client had recently moved into a tiny house in our Mission District neighborhood, I was intrigued. This was not just any tiny house but a Transitional Sleep and Storage Shelter that is part of a pilot program of Saint Francis Homeless Challenge.


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When an organizer goes off script

In all things organizing, like many of my colleagues I employ standard long-established practices for their inherent benefits of safety, efficiency, and optimal results. I’ve learned my ways (and what aren’t my ways) by reading the myriad how-to books,  from trading tips and tricks with others in conversation and by working together, and through trial and error. Our underlying skills are the same, but the differences are in how we present, use, and experiment with them.

A case in point is something so incredibly mundane: how I label bags. Continue reading

Things Can Really Hang You Up the Most

The content of this post was written by my friend, Paul Overton, teacher, creator, seeker, writer,  Renaissance man, and as you’ll soon read, active liberator of spaces. He shared it on facebook earlier today, and it kind of blew my mind. It has been reproduced here in its entirety with his permission. You are invited follow him at

It’s five a.m. and I’m sitting on the floor of my apartment with a shirt in each hand, trying to decide whether to keep either of them. I have been doing this for ten minutes, and god knows how long it might go on.

I’m supposed to have a simple rule in place that keeps these things from happening: If I haven’t worn it or used it in the last two months, it goes. But the practical side of downsizing is always more complicated. Continue reading