Ask the Organizer Friday: Don’t Forget the…

July 31, 2009

This week, I was asked:

There are certain things I ALWAYS forget — whether it’s my cellphone that I left on the charger or the MetroCard I left in my other bag. What can I do?

You need a permanent list.  So permanent that you laminate it (you don’t have to, but I’m an office supply nerd and I’m a sucker for laminating). Hang a list of the items you forget most often (hopefully it’s not too long…) in a place where you will see it before you head out the door. Ways to ensure you’ll see it:  put it at a height in your line of vision and address yourself — seeing your name at the top in big bold letters will catch your attention and increase the odds you’ll glance at it on a daily basis.

yeah...I laminated it.

yeah...I laminated it.

If someone else in your household has the same problem (forgetting something all the time….), they should have their own list.  With their name.  In their line of vision.

Pretty soon, this physical checklist will become a mental one.  At that point, you may find that it’s something else that’s tripping you up when you leave the house — that’s when it’s time to revisit the Kinkos lamination counter.

Quick story about “don’t forget” lists: One of my very best friends has always been a little disorganized – but she’s so self aware of this fact that when we had to make inventions for elementary school, she came up with the “Remember-it-All” which is essentially the Doorganizer (it’s such a shame we didn’t go ahead with production back in third grade). Fast forward 10 years to college when that same friend had a sign hanging above her dorm room door that said MILK (Money, ID, Lipstick, Keys).  All the things a young co-ed needs for a night out in Collegetown.  We didn’t have phones to take out with us then – I wonder if there’s a new acronym.  P-MILK doesn’t have the same ring to it.

I hope you’ll be inspired to make your list, and never forget anything again!

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Songs About Organizing: Eddie Vedder

July 28, 2009

I’m starting a new theme here.  Every now and then I hear a song lyric that resonates with me on an organizing level.  Some are great motivators to get organized.  Some have to do why we have to get organized.  Today’s falls into the latter category:

It’s a mystery to me.  We have a greed with which we have agreed.  You think you have to want more than you need.  Until you have it all you won’t be free… I think I need to find a bigger place.  ‘Cos when you have more than you think, you need more space. – Eddie Vedder, Society, Into The Wild

I spend all day dealing with people’s stuff.  Closets, cabinets, drawers full of stuff — often, stuff that’s been forgotten — stuff that’s not being used.  I’m all for having useful items on hand, but remember – it’s not useful if it’s not being used.  And all that “useful” stuff that’s not being used is taking up space (often times, space that we don’t have to spare).

What did I take away from Vedder’s lyric?  We are a culture of consumers who have been trained to want more than we have.  If you stick to your needs and don’t get carried away with the wants, then you won’t need more space.

Thanks for letting me muse on this music,

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Ask the Organizer Friday!

July 24, 2009

It’s Friday, how can I help you?

This week, a reader asks:

How do I deal with subletting my bedroom, leaving half my stuff in other parts of my apartment, putting some at my moms, and taking the rest with me? All I have come up with is clear plastic bags.

Well, reader – sounds like you need to take inventory.  And by take inventory, I really mean you need to create 3 separate lists of what’s going where.

First – decide what’s coming with you!  Set up a corner of your bedroom to collect things that will travel with you.  Don’t pack them up just yet – just designate them as “coming with me.”   (Later when you ARE packing, you’ll thank me that it’s all in one place.)

Next  – I think you’re on to something with these clear plastic bags – at least for the stuff that’s going to your mom’s. Start filling the bags, and make a general list of everything that’s going in. No need to get fancy here – this list will just serve as a reminder to you when you return.  6 months from now, you may not remember where you stored your bedding or your bathrobe – but your handy list will have that info for you.  Also – make sure to count the number of bags heading to Mom’s and make note of it on the list  – if 7 full bags get dropped off, you’ll want to claim all 7 when you return.

Finally – make a detailed list of every item in the apartment that’s staying while you’re away. Include kitchenware, furniture – everything.  If you’re leaving it for your roommates’ use while you’re away (how generous!), then make a note of where it is. It’s also a good idea to make a note of the condition it was in when you left — and have your subletter sign-off on that (this way, if he burns a hole in your rug, you have a document to point to that says he had agreed that the rug was in perfect condition when you left).

And if you need help, give me a call – I LOVE inventories!

Good luck!

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Tame the Mountain o’ Mail

July 22, 2009

Mail piling up?  Here’s some ideas to turn that mountain into a molehill:

Never set junk-mail down on a surface.  Even better – don’t let it into the house.  I live in an apartment building, so when I get the mail each day, I flip through it quickly and trash the solicitations, menus and coupon-packs right there in the mailroom.  If you don’t have a trash can in your mailroom, ask the super to put one there!  If you don’t have a mailroom (i.e. – you have a house with a mailbox), place a small bin next to the area where you usually set down the mail – instead of setting down the junk, throw it out immediately!

Take action sooner than later. Some mail requires your attention – a payment or an RSVP. Try to do these things right away – call the hostess or set-up the bill pay, then put away the piece of mail (maybe the invite info goes into your calendar, the physical invitation goes on your bulletin board, the paid bill get filed).  This way, you won’t miss a due date because you forgot about that envelope at the bottom of the pile.

Enough with the catalogs! If you’ve ever ordered anything from anywhere, chances are you are still getting the catalog.  And, chances are, it’s adding to your Mountain o’ Mail. You can stop unwanted catalogs from appearing in your mailbox using a service like Catalog Choice.  Just log on, tell them your preferences, and let them do the work.  12 weeks later, much less mail to contend with.

Prioritize your magazine subscriptions. Sure, there are certain magazines that you read immediately.  But then there are the others, that wait in a pile, taunting you — and the pile grows, and you wonder,  “when on earth will I get to read these?” Take a look at the titles in that pile — it might be time to unsubscribe.

Now go – tame that mountain!

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Ask the Organizer Friday!

July 17, 2009

You’ve got organizing questions.  I’ve got organizing answers.

This week, a reader asks:

Being organized in food shopping- how do you know what you have, what you’ll need, when to go, and how much?

The first thing you should do is to take inventory of what you have on hand – check your fridge, freezer and pantry, and see what’s there.  Try to organize these food-storage locations so that you can see everything.  I like to use an Expand-A-Shelf (which is like a mini flight of stairs) so that you can even see what’s hiding in the back of the cabinet.

Now, in addition to the things you already have, think about things you’d like to have around — include your favorite snacks, drinks, lunch items, cereals, beverages, etc.  Once you’ve brainstormed a little, type up a one-page list of all these food items (you’ll probably have to use columns, and it would be helpful to create categories that match supermarket aisles and areas).  Be sure to leave room on this one-pager for ‘Others’ – items that you may one day have to shop for, but didn’t think of today.

No time to create your own list from scratch?  There are plenty of great ones to start from online, like this one from Home Based Working has a variety to choose from as well.

Whatever list you decide to go with – your own or an internet version – go ahead and print out a bunch. Hang one on the fridge. Whenever something needs to be replaced, circle it on your list (or write it into that ‘Other’ section).  Trying a new recipe? Circle the items the recipe calls for that you don’t already have in the house. When 10+ items have been circled – it’s time to go food shopping.  Take the circled list with you, and hang a fresh one on the fridge.

p.s. – I rarely circle ‘ice-cream’ but I always manage to bring some home anyway.

I hope this helps!

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Everybody’s Packing for the Weekend*

July 16, 2009

If you’re lucky, summer in the city means weekends someplace else.  I’m pretty lucky — and so I like to think I’ve perfected the ‘weekend pack.’ One small bag and my pocketbook and I’m covered for 3 days.  Here’s how I do it:

1. Do the laundry. This allows me to pack from my entire wardrobe, including things I’ve worn over the past week.

2. Gather key-items in one location as you think of them. I’m not talking about clothes here – I’m talking about the ‘stuff’ you’d like to have with you but you know you might forget. For me it’s my phone charger, my glasses, a hostess gift, magazines I’ve been meaning to read….

3. Check the weather where you’re going. Easy one – you’ve probably been on since Wednesday checking out your weekend forecast.

4. Choose a clear surface to pack on. I use my bed.  RB uses the couch.  (For those of you who don’t know me personally, RB is my husband.  I don’t call him RB in real life, but plenty of people do. He is a fantastic weekend packer in his own right – but I think he packs too many shoes. To his credit, he still gets it all in one bag, so I can hardly argue.)

5. Mentally walk through your weekend and plan your outfit for each activity. This is how this goes for me:  Ok, we’ll get there and I’m going to stay in whatever i’m wearing…but it might be colder then. [Put hooded sweatshirt on the bed] We’ll hang out for a while and then we’ll go to bed. [Put set of pajamas on the bed] Then I’ll wake up and do some kind of exercise. [Shorts, tee, sports-bra and socks on the bed.  Sneakers on the floor nearby] I’ll shower up and head to the beach. [Bathing suit and cover-up on the bed. While I’m thinking of them – sunglasses and sunscreen too. Flip-flip flops on floor] Post-beach shower before dinner. [Outfit appropriate for dinner plans on the bed. And accessories.  Don’t forget the accessories!] After dinner, come home to hang until bed. [The pajamas I wore last night will work again tonight…]  And so on and so forth until I’ve made it through all the days of the trip.  Because I prefer to travel light, I try to pack things that I could wear more than once — so maybe two outfits use the same pair of jeans. You see what I’m saying here.

Packing Laid Out on the Bed

Packing Laid Out on the Bed

6. Think about the ‘maybes.’ Maybe it will be cooler in the evening and you’ll need an extra layer. Maybe you won’t go out for dinner but would rather have an extra set of comfy clothes. Maybe you’ve completely forgotten to take out any underwear — now’s a good time to do that.

7. Group like with like. When every outfit is accounted for, I like to pile the tee shirts on top of the tee shirts, the pants with the pants – you get the idea.  Why? Because then my piles are uniform in size, fit into my bag neatly, and are less likely to wrinkle!

8. Pack your clothes in the bag. Stick your shoes at the bottom of the bag, stuffing your socks into shoes to help them keep their shape. Then, you’re piles are already done – so just pile them on top of the shoes, filling in any spaces with the little stuff:  underwear, sunglasses, camisoles.  There should be a few inches left at the top of the bag for….

9. Toiletries. My makeup lives in a relatively small makeup case – so that’s an easy one -directly into the bag. Because I travel pretty frequently, I also keep my toiletry case packed with the essentials: toothbrush, toothpaste, body lotion, face wash, face lotion, extra contacts, vitamins, Excedrin and hair goo.  I came to these essentials by…you guessed it…mentally walking through my daily routines. This serves as a great base to start from.  Then I think, “Does this trip require anything special?” Well, I’ll be wearing a bathing suit, so a razor would probably be good.  So would sunscreen (nice…remembered that one earlier too!).  Add the extras and I’m set.

Toiletries are go.

Toiletries are go.

p.s – I love my Vera Bradley toiletry case.  It rolls up to pack, and that loop at the top let’s me unroll it and hang it in the bathroom at my destination.  The clear pockets let me see what’s inside, so I never have to unpack it.

10. Zip up and head out. One bag and you’re covered. Grab it, get where you’re going and enjoy!

Safe travels,

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*The title of this post has been playing in my head followed with “everybody’s hum hum hum hum hum.  Everybody’s goin off the deep end”  Just wanted to give you a brief look at the way my mind works.

When You Care Enough To Send The Very Best…

July 14, 2009

I have strict rules when it comes to greeting cards.  (Ok, if you follow this blog long enough, you’ll find that I’ve got strict rules when it comes to just about everything…)  But right now we’re on cards. Cards are a big deal in my family — growing up, each family member would have a small mountain of envelopes to open on the morning of their birthday, Valentine’s Day or just a random Tuesday.  And these weren’t just any cards – they were the perfect cards.  Cards that someone spent at least an hour picking out at Hallmark.  Maybe it had a relevant picture — maybe the sentiment was ‘just right.’ Whatever the draw, that card was chosen for a reason, and it made you feel special.  These days, in the age of email and e-cards, in a time when people type a quick sentence rather than actually dialing a phone, getting one of those unmistakable pastel colored envelopes in your mailbox feels even MORE special.  That’s why I make it a point to keep sending them.

But, as I said before, I like to pick the perfect card for the recipient.  It just won’t do to have a stack of generic cards on hand!  (Not to mention, when you buy these ‘good to have on hand’ cards, you inevitably forget where you put them so you’re forced to go out and buy more.  Silly.)

So, how do I organize my card-sending?  On the first of every month, I open my calendar and make a list of every person’s birthday, anniversary or holiday coming up that month.  I’ll even go ahead and look at the first week of the next month just in case.  Then I make one trip to Hallmark for the month, and go to town.  When I get home I fill them all out – leaving a post-it note on the outside of the stamped/addressed envelope reminding me to throw it into a mailbox on the right day.

Now that you’ve got a manageable system for card buying and sending, here are some good rules to live by:  First, an e-card or Facebook wall posting should not replace a physical paper card for the important people in your life.  Second, if mailing your card it, do your best to get it there in time for the celebratory day.  Third, if giving your card in person, especially to the people who live in your household, it should be given first thing in the morning — a later-day card screams “i ran to Duane Reade at lunch.”  And finally, one card is lovely, but three or four?  That’s really special.

Here’s to making the special people in your life feel that way,

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Ask the Organizer Friday!

July 10, 2009

I know you’ve got questions.  Whenever I tell anyone what I do for a living, they’ve got a million of them….what’s the best way to fold a fitted sheet?  how should I deal with all the incoming mail?  what on earth is a professional organizer?

Well readers, shoot me an email ( and ask me!  On Fridays, I’ve got answers.

This week, a reader asks:

What’s your general feeling about when bills should be paid?  Should you pay them as they come in via the mail, or wait for a specific day to pay all your bills.  Also, if you are paying online, should you do all of them via your bank, or through their specific websites (i.e., paying RCN bill through  Lastly, should you do autopay so you never have to worry about any of this?

Let me first say that I am a HUGE fan of online bill pay – it saves me a stamp and a trip to the mailbox.  Let me also say that I’m a firm believer in paying your bills through your bank’s website — why keep track of mulitple usernames and passwords when you can do the same job with one?

Now, on to the rest of your question.  There is a special place in my heart for automatic bill pay – but sadly, it’s use must be limited.  Even so, I strongly suggest setting it up for all your bills that have a fixed monthly cost – things like the rent check, car payment, insurance and, unless you have an egregious pay-per-view habit, the cable bill.

So that leaves us with the bills that vary from month-to-month – the credit card, the electric, and the cell phone (what can I say, sometimes I text more than I should…).  When one of these unwelcome envelopes comes in, the first thing I do is open it.  I know that sounds basic, but you would not believe the number of unopened credit card statements I’ve come across in my line of work.  After perusing the bill to make sure that all the charges are legit, I take a look at the due date and, this is important, I write the due date on the outside of the envelope in big bold letters.  If I have a moment to sit down at my computer and deal with it right then, I do.  If not, the envelope goes on top of my computer keyboard, bold due date staring me in the face, ensuring that it will be the first thing I handle when next I sit down.  When that time comes, I log in and set up the payment so that it will be delivered on the day it is due.*  Then I get back to work so that there will be money in the account….

*Note: Be sure to check the system your bank has going — all banks will tell you how long this payment will take to deliver, but some ask what day to send payment, some ask what day to deliver by — don’t get caught sending on the due date and getting stuck with late charges.)

Hope this helps!

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Organizing, an Addiction

July 6, 2009

I am addicted to being organized – I’m so addicted to being organized that I’ve gone so far as to make a career of it. 

My name is Dayna Brandoff, and I’m a Professional Organizer.  (Hi Dayna.)

Organizing has been a lifelong passion for me, really.   I have vivid memories of cleaning out the desk in my childhood bedroom – and doing it pretty often.  (I know…what kind of paperwork could a 7-year-old really accumulate?!)  I kept a detailed inventory of my sleep-away camp trunk  (one copy was taped to the inside of the trunk, a photocopy stayed with my parents…at the end of the summer, we figured out what didn’t come home.)  I delighted in picking out a new student planner for the school year (a good one has calendars in both month and week view – as well as space for lists).  When I got to college I thought the concept of a syllabus was a dream come true (seriously?  I could put all these exams and project due dates in my planner from the get go and know what the semester was going to look like on the work front?  Fan-freakin-tastic!).  One of the most exciting aspects of my engagement – aside from the amazing man I married, of course – was the wedding binder I put together. Man, I loved that thing…

To me, being organized means that I have some semblance of control in times when life seems chaotic.   It means that if you were to ask me where to find any item in my home, I could locate it for you within seconds.  It means that I know what’s on my schedule – in both the short and long term.   And, it means that, because I have these things in order, I don’t have to waste time worrying about them… or, put another way, worrying about what I may have misplaced or the appointment I forgot.

I find it reassuring, even empowering, to know where everything is and when everything is supposed to happen.  Of course, as my mother would say, “we plan and God laughs.”   The unexpected – good or bad – can happen at any moment, and royally F up all my plans.  Even so, being organized helps me feel better equipped to handle the curveball – I’d know what I needed to reschedule or what I needed to replace.  Better yet, someone could easily step in and handle it for me because all the relevant information is in a logical place. 

Look, I know that I am my own very special brand of crazy – but I think it’s a crazy worth spreading around.  That’s why I’ve launched Chaos Theory Blog.  Who couldn’t use a little more control over the ‘controllables’ in their life?

I hope you’ll visit Chaos Theory Blog throughout the week for organizing ideas and information.  Got an organizing question?  Email and I’ll choose a few to answer each Friday!

Til then,

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