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.

At the beginning of an organizing session where triage of things is about to occur, it is quite common to prepare a bunch of receptacles – usually bags, boxes, or bins – for collecting outbound items or things to be redistributed around the house. Many times floor space and piles with aforementioned designations suffice, but for the sake of this post, let’s focus on physical containment.

When using containers that are similar but not easily visually differentiated from one another, labeling them clearly is key. Destination categories might include “donate” (or be designated for specific local donation venues), “return” (if the likelihood of items belonging to others will be unearthed), “elsewhere” (in the house), “recycle,” “trash,” “sell,” “giveaway,” “shred,” etc.

I do a fair amount of home office triage projects, and there are usually three primary categories: recycle, shred, and trash. To help both me and my clients remember which bag is which: I line them up in alphabetical order: R – S – T.

IMG_0289
(Bags courtesy of a client. Apologies for the Whole Foods advertisement!)

But I’ve experienced and observed a problem with this system. The majority of my clients sort their desks, files, and piles from the comfort of a chair. When sitting and looking down on the bags, it’s really hard to read what’s written on their sides.

So last year I deviated from the script:

IMG_0299

I started labeling them on the inside. I haven’t seen this in an organizing book…yet. Maybe I should start writing my own script.

A donation for a favor

“Paper is a big challenge. The mailman always brings more.” I hear some version of that sentiment quite often. Even after they have gone through the process of opting out of credit card and insurance offers, a large percentage of my clients struggle with an influx of unsolicited mail. Envelopes filled with pre-printed return address labels, bundles of cheesy seasonal cards, calendars, and the occasional random penny or nickel, yield slippery piles of unruly papers. And all the senders of these “gifts,” invitations, and pleas want is a donation for their good cause. Ninety-some-odd percent of the time, their attempts result in generous contributions to recycling bins and short-lasting relief on the faces of these clients.

Mind you, I’m all for good causes. I spent many years working in the nonprofit educational realm – art and natural history museums in NYC and San Francisco – and volunteer in my spare time. Nonprofits depend on the support of individual donors, and I’m happy to contribute to their betterment of our world and ways each year. But I had a lapse recently when, for the first time ever, I became a museum member. (One of the great benefits of museum employment was free museum entry at any reciprocating institution. I miss that.)

Weeks after my membership welcome arrived in the mail, so too did a solicitation from another museum. Oh dammit. That’s right. Nonprofits sell our information to other nonprofits, and in my case, the unsolicited mail cycle was resuscitated. I stopped that train mid-track by phoning both organizations to ask that my name be removed from all mailing lists and to request they do not sell or distribute my information. The unwanted mail ceased.

As we find ourselves in the midst of the season of giving, sharing, and storytelling, my hope is this little tale can contribute to the betterment of your desk, entryway, dining room table and/or countertop as the new year begins.

It is extremely rare to find a “donate” page on a nonprofit’s website that provides a box for you to specify if your donation is in honor of someone/s, write a note or message to the organization, and/or allow you to opt out of being added to their mailing list. So here’s what I do. I resort to a tried and true approach and mail a check with a letter. The basic version goes something like this:

To whom it may concern,

Enclosed please find my donation to [awesome nonprofit]. I am happy to donate because of the meaningful and vital work you do.

In exchange, I wish to ask the following: Please do not add me to your mailing lists or sell my information. I hope you will honor my desire to provide support without being inundated by mail that I do not wish to receive. My mailbox is on a diet : )

Sincerely,

P.S. Perhaps you’ll consider adding a box to the main donation form page on your website for donors like myself to donate quickly while providing us with an opt out option at the same time. I bet it could help save you time and resources in the future.

Less paper to manage yields more time for things that matter. Think of all the things you can do if you minimize your time shuffling unwanted mail.

And that, my friends, is my gift to you!

There are few more checks to be written over here…

Blooming in a D.I.Y. kind of way

One of the happiest joys and honors is an invitation to witness friends unite their lives. As a natural observer and sometimes documentarian, my eyes are always drawn to the quiet details that make each event so unique. In recent years, I’ve notice a proclivity to incorporate incredibly personal handmade or D.I.Y. (a.k.a. do-it-yourself) elements, and this has been most notable in the flowers.

A wedding I attended last year featured arrangements and a bridal bouquet lovingly homegrown by the bride’s sister. I consider this to be a brave and stunning undertaking, especially when one is at the mercy of Mother Nature!

flowers arrangement with wine glasses

Continue reading

Paper purge 101

a messy desk covered with piles of paper

Because it’s still early in the year and you are determined to make a dent in your resolution to declutter and get better organized, how about starting with a little paper purge? By removing what you no longer need now, it will be much easier to file, find, and retrieve what you do need later. A paper purge almost always provides great relief, and it often turns up that piece of paper you’ve been looking for.

How to do a paper purge? Continue reading