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Must-have items for getting your family organized

by respaced on January 28, 2015

stairway organizer 1 Must have items for getting your family organized

Probably 65 percent of my clientele for my organizing business are families, which means I often find myself recommending the same storage products over and over. So I thought you might find it useful to know which products are essential for just about every family to get organized:

*Totes for sentimental items: You know all of those Mother’s Day cards from your kids, old love letters, and medals from your marathons that you never know where to put? They should all go in a Rubbermaid plastic bin labeled “Sentimental Items.” Each family member has sentimental items, so each family member needs his/her own bin. The bins can live in the back of the closet or even out in the garage or basement.

*Treasure box for kids’ special items: Younger kids tend to find little treasures like small pebbles and toys that clutter up their rooms, so give each child his/her own treasure box and let them keep it on their nightstand to hold those treasures. When the box is full, the kids know it is time to pare down some of the treasures. Find wooden treasure boxes they can paint themselves in the wood craft section of Michaels Arts and Crafts for about $10.

*Incline file sorter for mail. Everybody gets mail, which means everybody needs a solution for storing the mail beyond leaving it in a pile on the counter. I recommend everyone get an incline file sorter and fill it with 3-4 file folders each labeled with the task each piece of mail needs (e.g. “Needs to Be Paid, Needs to Be Looked Into, Needs to Be Filed,” etc.) Sort your mail into the incline file sorter each day, then sit down once a week and do all of the tasks your folders tell you to do. At the end of the week, those folders should be empty, ready to accept the next week’s batch of mail.

*Basket for “Things to be Returned.” Most people have a lot of items sitting around their house that need to go out the door. For example, they have library books to be returned, clothes that need to be returned to a store, or a toy leftover from a playdate that needs to be returned to a friend. The easy solution is to get an attractive basket that can sit by the front door with a big label attached to it that reads “Things to be Returned.” Then whenever you leave the house, glance down inside the basket and see if there is something you can take with you

*Goes Upstairs bags/baskets for each family member. If your family has bedrooms on the second floor, you most likely are experiencing the situation where family members put things that need to go away ON THE STAIRS instead of in their rooms. Solve this problem by getting everyone their own little tote (I usually recommend the bags from LL Bean with each family member’s name monogrammed on the bag.) Hang the bags from hooks on the wall going up the stairs or leave the bags directly on the stairs. Throughout the day as you come across things that need to go in their rooms, put it in the bags instead. At bedtime every evening, each family member takes their bag upstairs and puts the contents away. Every morning they bring the empty bag downstairs and put it back on the hook.

Nothing too expensive is needed. I usually find all of these products on sale at big box stores (e.g. Target, Michael’s, Fred Meyer) or even at Goodwill. They are simple ideas, but they make a huge — huge! — difference in how orderly your house stays. Try them, and let me know what you think!


Super easy way to organize kids’ schoolwork

by respaced on January 7, 2015

Typically, I write about “how to organize kids’ schoolwork” in June. But recently, I have found that it can be helpful to do a big purge/sort of the kids’ schoolwork at the halfway point during the school year in order to keep the June sort/purge a much more manageable task.

I also thought it might be helpful to show you how I organize my son’ schoolwork. It’s really quite simple.

Step 1: I gather up all the schoolwork and sort it into years. (In the photo below, I had already sorted his preschool and kindergarten work, but the more recent grades still needed some whittling down.)

Schoolwork organizing before Super easy way to organize kids schoolwork

Step 2. I pick my favorites from the school year and recycle the rest. (I know I made that sound super easy, but trust me, I know how hard that is in real life!)

Step 3. I store the keepers in huge bubble envelope mailers, one per grade. I label the mailers and place them on the top shelf in his closet. Done!

Schoolwork organizing after Super easy way to organize kids schoolwork

The mailers I use are the 11″x14″ ones from Target for about $2.50. I use the bubble mailers because I have found that they hold up longer than the paper ones, plus they expand to allow room for notebooks and writing journals. I love how inexpensive this storage method is, and how easy it is to store all the packets lined up on a shelf.

Would this method work for you? How do you organize your children’s schoolwork? Let us know in the comments below.


I recently was contacted by a person who wanted advice on becoming a professional organizer. I get asked about this A LOT, and when I have the time I try to share what I know. I decided to post my most recent response in hopes that it sheds some light on what I do as an organizer. And maybe one of you readers out there who has been wondering if a career as a professional organizer is right for you will find that this post provides you with a bit more information to help you make that decision:

Hi _________,

I usually don’t answer these kinds of emails because I just don’t have time, quite honestly. But humor speaks to me and I liked how you signed off on your name, so I’m taking a few moments to email you back. I hope you get a lot of responses to your questions so you can note the common themes that will appear among other organizers’ answers. Here is what I know to be true as an organizer for almost 7 years:

1. Some people want more of a “Therapist Organizer.” Some people want more of a “Designer/Project Manager Organizer.” Figure out what you LIKE and what you are SKILLED at, and market yourself to that group of people. It’s the rare organizer who is effective at being both kinds of organizers.

2. If you decide to work with clients who hoard and/or therapists, PLEASE join the Institute for Challenging Disorganization (ICD) so you can receive additional training. Working with clients who hoard and/or are struggling with neurological differences or mental illness is far more difficult than any other kind of organizing, and an untrained organizer can do a lot of emotional harm to this population unintentionally. I strongly suggest you work for a year or two with clients without these kinds of struggles before you start working in the highly complex area of hoarding.

3. Do not call people who hoard “hoarders.” It is a deeply shameful word for people who struggle with Hoarding Disorder. You can refer to this population as “people with Hoarding Disorder” instead. I know you meant no harm in your original email when you used the term “hoarder,” and I do not mean to condemn you for using it. It’s something nobody told me when I first started out, so consider this me trying to save you from future misunderstandings and hurt feelings.

4. Marketing and pricing are particular to your region, demographic and region’s demand for organization, so there’s not much a Portland-based organizer can tell you about that. Instead, ask all of your local friends who run their own client-based businesses (like your Realtor/therapist friends) how they price/market themselves. You are all in the same boat; thus, you can all learn from each other. Note that if potential clients merely see you as a glorified cleaning service or someone who lines spice jars up on shelves, they will never see the value of paying you the $50-75/hour that you will probably want to charge.

5. Final word of advice: The organizers who do well (i.e. last more than 2 years) are those who have the heart of a teacher, coach or therapist. Yes, knowing about organizing products/systems is helpful. Having a natural affinity for organizing is helpful. But having strong teaching skills AND being the kind of person who people feel comfortable around almost instantly is what will make or break your organizing career.

“It’s not about the stuff,” Peter Walsh likes to say. So if you want to be an effective organizer, focus on reaching the hearts of your clients, not on the stuff they surround themselves with.

Best of luck to you.


MaryJo Monroe


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