Category Archives: Tips

It’s Easier to Keep Up than to Catch Up

I would love to tell you that you can simply just organize your house once and that it will magically stay that way. But that would be a lie. My organizing motto has 3 steps: reduce, arrange, maintain. First, you need to get rid of some stuff. Second, you need to organize it. Third, and most important, you need methods and tips to help you keep it organized.

It's easier to keep up than to catch up

If you haven’t been organized in a while, you will have to do all three steps, which is always going to be daunting and feel crushing. If you need to tweak an area of your house that was previously organized, you will have to do only the last two, which is definitely achievable. If you have a system in place already, you will only have to maintain. And that is the easiest of all.

When working with clients, I focus on all three parts and I love to give them little tips and tricks to make it easier to maintain with a quick pick up. That five minutes every night means saving an hour on the weekend. Time I’d rather be spending with my family. Time I’d rather be spending with my friends. Time I’d rather be relaxing on the couch with a glass of wine.

Every time I leave a room, I glance around to see if there is anything that needs to go with me. Every night before bed, I walk around the house and get everything put away from the night and set up for the morning. It can feel never ending. However, I never feel overwhelmed by my house and I can always find exactly what I need when I need it.

Let’s be real: it’s hard work. At the end of a long day, the last thing I want to do is pick up a bunch of toys or wash dishes, but I do it anyways. Because organizing is an ongoing process and it’s always easier to keep up than it is to catch up.

If you need help catching up on those tasks that have been piling up, contact me today!

My Simple Organizing Philosophy

Prefer podcasts over reading blogs? Check out episode one of the Organizing Confidence Unlimited podcast to hear me discuss this philosophy in depth.

When it comes to my organization style, I have a pretty simple philosophy: reduce, arrange, maintain. The first step is to reduce the amount of stuff you have. Start by taking everything out of the area that you are working on. Every. Single. Thing. (I like to take this opportunity to clean off the surface since it’s one of the few occasions that everything is off there!)

Grouping things is a great way to see what you have. If you’re doing a kitchen, group by type of dish. If you’re doing a linen closet, group by use of item (shaving, hair, hand towels, etc) Take a look at each item and determine its fate:

  • Do I really need or want it?
  • Do I even like it?
  • Have I used this in the last year?
  • Would I buy it today? If it broke, would I immediately replace it?
  • Is this a quality item?
  • Would I keep it if it were originally free?
  • What is the worst thing that could happen if I got rid of it?
  • Am I only keeping it “in case” I need it someday? (Think about if you can borrow one or buy a new one in 20 minutes for under $20)
  • Is it a duplicate?
  • Is this the best place for it?
  • When will I use it again? And will I remember I have it?

Next, you need to arrange how everything is going to go back into the space. I group everything by putting like with like. In my kitchen, my most often used utensils are grouped together in a drawer. In the playroom, the kid’s favorite books are grouped in the bookcase. In my linen closet, all of our teeth stuff is in one bin. This makes it easy to see what you have, what you’re low on, and what you don’t use!

The last step is sometimes the hardest one and that is the maintain part. You need to have a system in place in order to keep the organization. Labels are obviously a great way to ensure that everyone in your home knows exactly where things need to go.

When I first bought our three hampers for our ‘new’ laundry system of sorting while putting dirty clothes away, I put 3×5 index cards on each one so everyone knew which was for towels, darks, and whites. It looked silly and completely unprofessional, but guess what? It worked. When the cat destroyed two of the cards about a month in, I didn’t even need to replace them because everyone had a routine and habit of knowing which item when into which basket.

What’s great about this system is that sometimes you don’t need to do all three of them at the same time. You can do it piecemeal. If you have recently gone through all of your under-sink items, think about whether you could group them better for easier access. If you just redid your pantry, think about why it constantly falls to chaos and what type of maintenance it might take to keep it looking the way you want.

Take a look around your house and see if there are any areas that could use some reducing, arranging, and maintaining. Contact me if you find any spaces that need some additional help!

Organizing CU's organizing philosophy: reduce, arrange, maintain

The Easiest Meal Prepping System

Do you know what you’re doing for dinner? Are you planning to stop at the grocery store today to pick up something for tonight?

Planning your meals will save you time by cutting down on the grocery trips and mental energy as to what you’re having for dinner. Now that we have a little one and I have Organizing CU (which includes nighttime networking, business meetings and organizing sessions) weeknights can get busy in our house.

Every Thursday night, my husband and I go through our upcoming schedules and discuss what is going on over the weekend and following week (such as date nights, guests, tailgating) as we decide how many meals we need to plan.

Easy meal prepping

To make it easier, we have the same basic routine for our meals: brunch on Sunday morning, a bigger Sunday dinner, two simple meals during the week, and leftovers in between. He digs through the recipes and chooses some options. I keep notes in the upper corner of my recipes that let him know if it’s a weekend, weekday, or Crock Pot recipe so he can choose accordingly.

After picking the recipes, I check the pantry and make my grocery lists. My husband and I divide and conquer: he gets anything from the Co-Op in Urbana after work on Fridays while I will hit the regular grocery store for everything else whenever my schedule allows.

Sunday mornings are usually reserved for cooking. In addition to prepping my two Sunday meals, I also take care of my lunches and the breakfasts for my husband and daughter: an 8×10 baked egg dish with a variety of ingredients (broccoli and goat cheese; mozzarella and tomato; green chiles and cheddar). Each weekday morning, they get a hot, home cooked meal that I only have to heat up during the busy morning.

Meal prepping takes some time and effort when you first get into it. But eventually, you reach the spot where you’re not worrying about dinner at 3 pm and you have something simple ready to go. If your family likes leftovers, maybe you only cook two meals a week, but double it and freeze half for later. Maybe you end up with a themed week: Meatless Monday, Italian Tuesdays, Pizza Fridays. But I’ve found that a basic routine and some organization and preparation will make your entire menu much easier.

If you need some help with your meal prep, contact me today!

The Best Way to Declutter Kitchens

When I explain what a professional organizer does, the three three places I get asked about are always toys, closets, and the kitchen.

Kitchens can be one of the toughest place to organize. You’re likely in there all the time, whether you’re a cook or not. It’s the place that people tend to gravitate towards, during a normal week or a party. It’s the drop zone for basically everything in your home: mail, paperwork, toys, dishes, bags. Though it’s certainly fine for a short-term storage, you need to have a permanent home for everything in there.

The absolute best way to declutter kitchens

I like to keep my counters clear of everything but snacks and toaster oven. That means everything else needs to have a space in my cabinets or drawers.

My husband and I combined our households when we got married so we had too much stuff. Though we had space for all of it, the kitchen felt crowded. We used to have about 10 larger dinner plates that we didn’t use; I kept them “just in case.” I finally realized that I’m not going to suddenly host a dinner party with seating for 10.

I hosted Christmas at our house for about 15 people last year and guess what I used? Paper plates. (Sorry environment!) I’ve now had them out of our kitchen for about 3 months and I have not missed them a single day.

When working on organizing the kitchen, I like to start by pulling everything out and then dividing everything into several categories: stuff you use all the time (your “A” group), stuff you barely use (your “B” group), and the stuff you could donate (your “C” group). Of course, I recommend a donate pile for all those things you forgot you had and no longer need!

The A group should be pretty obvious to you: dishes, cups, specific pots and pans. While you’re working on this, keep in mind that a type of item may have some A and some B or C. If you have fancy china, that may fall under C, while your everyday dishware is going to be A. Cups may be A and champagne glasses may be in B.

Next, you need to determine what areas of your kitchen are for A, which are for B and which are C spaces. The A spaces should be readily accessible. For us, that’s the bottom shelves in the upper cabinets, where we store plates and glasses.

The B space is the higher shelves in the upper cabinets, which require some stretch to reach. We keep things like extra travel mugs up there.

The C group gets put somewhere that we don’t go to often. In our house, it’s the bottom of our pantry and the shelves in our dining room. The bottom pantry has pull out drawers and I keep a popcorn machine, crock pots, immersion blender, etc. in those. The dining room shelves get the prettier items: trifle dish, cake stand, and the Dutch oven.

A quick note for parents: we keep all of our kid stuff in a big bin on a shelf within her reach: bowls, sippy cups, plates, etc. She knows where to get a plate to tell us when she’s hungry and she knows where it goes after it’s been washed. It’s never too early to start organizing!

If you feel overwhelmed in your kitchen, let me help out. Contact me today!

Toy clutter

You are probably living with toys all over your house: in the family room, on the kitchen floor, in every bedroom. When you’re on top of it and you get the entire house picked up, BOOM! Everything manages to come back out before you can make yourself a cup of tea (or pour a glass of wine) to celebrate. Every birthday and holiday brings more and more gifts and toys into your house with no hope of ever keeping up.

Imagine this instead: the kids are in their playroom, taking out blocks from their designated container, building towers together for 20 minutes by themselves before cleaning them up and putting everything back on the shelf.

Short of getting rid of most of the toys when the kids aren’t looking (which certainly has some advantages!), you’ve got to come up with a plan to deal with the incredible amount of stuff that kids have.

My two part technique is to do toy rotations for babies and toddlers and organizing toys by type for older kids. Toys are easier to locate when kids want to play and easier to pick up when they’re done. When they have less choice and less stress, everyone is happier.

For younger kids, especially the immobile ones, I recommend a toy rotation. You put one type of toy in each box (one touch and feel book, one board book, one car, one rattle, one teether, one stuffed animal). You rotate through 4-5 boxes, swapping the bin out for a new one every day, week, or whenever you remember.

As your kid gets older, you can switch what’s in the bins so they can make new combinations of toys: balls in the stacking cups, then next week, stuffed animals on top of the stacking cups.

While you can try the toy rotation if you have older kids, but they tend to notice (and comment!) if something specific is gone. I recommend keeping their absolute favorites always out and then separating other toys by category.

To do this, take out all the toys and separate them into groups that your kids understand. Maybe you’ll do balls in one, cars in another, art supplies in a third, and dress up in a fourth. The kids can pick and choose which specific bin they want to play with at the moment.

The key to both toy rotation and toy compartmentalization is that they must pick up each bin before getting out a new one!  If your kids are struggling with the idea, read about toy time-outs and how you can make kids more accountable.

If you need help personalizing your toy clutter solutions, contact me today!

Should I get rid of that?

When you look around your house as you begin to declutter, you will see something that you initially refuse to part with because either you or someone else spent a lot of money on it.

Crown with fleur-de-lis diamonds
Please feel free to donate any tiaras you have around your house that you no longer wear (Full disclosure: I have one in my house that I refuse to donate.*)

“It’s too nice to donate” you think. Spoiler: nothing is too nice or expensive to donate. If it has run its course in your house and your life, you are free to let it go. You don’t need to hold onto something because it was expensive. When you come across this situation, ask yourself these questions: would I keep it if it were originally free? And would I bring it to my house today, even if it were free?

You should not hold onto something that is taking space in your house simply because of its price tag. Period.

The other common excuse I hear is “Someone gave that to me, so I need to keep it.” Unless it’s a family heirloom, don’t think twice. (Please ask your family before donating any heirlooms!) Would you expect someone to keep a book you gave them three years ago if they were done reading it? Realistically, how many of the gifts you’ve given do you keep tabs on?

If you’re really not sure about something, put a box or designate an area in your house as a donation spot. My closet has a corner on a shelf that allows me to keep a pile of things that need to go to Goodwill. When it gets full, everything goes. Personally, I know that once something is in the pile, it’s on its way out the door. Some people may be more likely to remove stuff after it’s been put there. Having a system is a great first step!

Using the questions above, take another look at your home and the stuff that is filling it up. Once you stop attaching monetary value to donation items, it gets much easier to let them go.

If you need some help deciding what you should keep and what should go, contact me today to help you figure it out!

*I was not joking. It says ‘Mother to be’ and was given to me at my baby shower, which I later took to the hospital and wore during labor.


Searching high and low

Growing up, everyone in my family knew dad’s keys and money clip were kept on top of the refrigerator. I remember looking up to see if his keys were up there before looking around the house. If he was home, they were up there; no keys, no dad.

Binoculars sitting on a ledge

At the same time, no one ever knew where mom’s keys and purse were: in her pocket of yesterday’s coat, near the door, on the kitchen counter, on the dining room table…somewhere in the house was usually a good bet. You always had to shout to find out if mom was home!

Nowadays, my family has a landing zone in our mud room where my purse, husband’s wallet, and our keys stay. For us, we have a getting home routine: come in, shoes come off, purse and wallet go on the table, and keys get hung on hooks. I go through my bag(s) and take everything into the kitchen that I need to go through tonight, such as mail, notes from school, or papers from work.

This routine helps keep our entire family organized. Our mornings are much smoother because the same landing zone also acts as a departure area. If I need to take some papers to work, they go on the mudroom table. Books need to go back to the library? Same place. Throughout the day and night, items get placed there for the next time we leave the house. It take a lot more brain space to have to remember: “what do I need to take to school and work?” versus “Pack up what’s on the table.”

Having a set departure area makes it much easier to ensure we have everything we need when we leave the house. There is never a “where are my keys” moment in the morning because they are always right where they belong.

If you spend a lot of your day searching for stuff, contact me today to help you get it organized!

Permanent Clutter

Temporary items become permanent clutter when you neglect regularly sorting an active space.

-Marcia Ramsland, Simplify Your Space

I read this quote recently and tried to look around my house with fresh eyes and see if there was anything that I had grown blind to. Sure enough, it took three seconds to find something: on the bookshelf, four feet from my spot on the couch, sat two old laptops. I had previously messaged one of my brothers about how to wipe them two months ago. I’m not much of a procrastinator and my house is pretty well kept, so that is huge to me! When I first put them there, I thought it was a great place because it would serve as constant reminder to me that I need to do this right away. Clearly, that plan did not work because I began to ignore them very soon after that. TWO MONTHS of clutter in the middle of our living room. A temporary item becoming permanent clutter.

When temporary items become permanent clutter, it's time to get organized. Organizing CU, a professional organizing company in Champaign-Urbana, Illinois, helping you get your house and life organized.

I tried to look at the root of the problem as to why I didn’t just wipe them both clean that day and Google a spot to drop off old electronics*. First, it was the instructions I was given: erase it, then overwrite it with the same thing over and over. I had already done the first part; I just wasn’t sure how to overwrite it. But I didn’t ask the very simple follow up question right then. Or anytime I thought of it. My brother works from home, is very available at any time, and we have messaged 100 times since then. (Full disclosure: it wasn’t until I got to this sentence in this post did I think “why not do it now?” It took him less than 5 minutes to respond to me and clarify in very simple terms what he meant.) My goal is to get them wiped this week and have it in my donation pile for Goodwill by the weekend.

Everyone has areas or things in their house that they’ve just been neglecting or ignoring for a while. It might be two days, two months, two years, or twenty years. But it’s never too late to take a look around and see what permanent clutter you can cut out . Take a look around with a fresh set of eyes and see if you can find anything quick that you could donate or throw out today. You will be amazing at how much easier it is to relax in an emptier space. Why not do start now?

If you need a nudge to get your started to help get rid of that permanent clutter, contact me today!

*I’ve done that hard work for you if you’re in the Champaign-Urbana area:

Change your habitat

Change the habitat, not the habit. Instead of changing your old routines, try to work with them. Organizing CU, a professional organizing company in Champaign-Urbana, Illinois, helping you get your house and life organized.

I read this great article back in August and I can’t stop thinking about it:

Stop Trying to Change Your Habits: Change Your Habitat Instead

My favorite thing is that this idea came from one person’s comment on another post. You never know where inspiration will come from! Listen, you know yourself. If you or your family always take your shoes off in the living room, then put a basket there to toss them into. If worn, but not yet dirty, clothes are always left on the floor in one area of the bedroom, then put a laundry basket in that area of the room to keep everything corralled (this one comes from experience – there is a basket in my bedroom!). If mail always ends up on the kitchen counter, put an inbox at the end to keep it in one place.

Give it a try and see if you notice a difference! If you need help figuring out which habit’s habitats could change, contact me today!