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by Dorothy L. Clear, CPO on 05/16/19

Unless you are the type of person to wear your flip flops all year round, now is the time to dig them out from the back of your closet…because spring is here! That means summer vacations are in the planning stages for most of us. Getting ready for a trip does not have to be stressful if you do a few things ahead of time. Here are seven tips to help get you ready before you have to pack your clothes the day before you leave on vacation or that weekend get-away.

NOTE: I am not affiliated with any of the company links used in this blog.

1.    Have a list of what you need to pack. This reduces the risk of forgetting something you will need and having to purchase it later. You can create this list yourself based on your needs or find the perfect printable online. Here is one to get you started:

2.    Sort through your cosmetics or toiletries bag. Prepping this now will save you precious time right before you leave. It helps to have a designated waterproof bag, or you can use a gallon size Zip Lock baggie. This is a sample of a hanging toiletries bag.

3.    Select a small bag for all your electronic cords. Depending on how many gadgets you have (phone, mobile Wi-Fi, extra battery, ear buds), you may need any size from a pencil case to a 5 x 8 inch pouch.

NOTE: If these bags are similar in look or style, more than one person will access them, or are not transparent you may consider labeling them. I am including this related article, "15 Best Travel Electronic Organizers for Your Cables & Gadgets Reviewed 2019". It covers products from basic to extra.

4.    Purchase shoe covers or shower caps weeks before your trip to cover your shoes. This is one can hold up to three pairs of shoes and is the one I personally use:

5.    You might want to have a foldaway re-useable bag to use as a carry-all for a day trip, a souvenir shopping excursion or to isolate your laundry for the trip home. Here is an example of one:

6.    Whether you are alone, with family, in a car, or on a plane, plan ahead what you will do to keep busy while you travel. If you have children plan road trip games, bring travel size board games, activity or coloring books.  Adults and young adults may want to choose one or two books to bring, or magazines or puzzle books. These items will come in handy if you have to wait on a delayed flight or you are laying on a sunny beach.

7.    Finally, depending on how long you will be away, ask a neighbor to pick up your mail; or, visit the local post office to suspend mail delivery until your return. Do the same if you have a newspaper delivered.

As you think of additional tasks or items needed add them to your packing check list. Here's wishing you sunny skies, safe travels, and bon voyage. 

The Truths & Myths from the Tidying Up with Marie Kondo Netflix Show

by Dorothy L. Clear, CPO on 02/24/19

Recently, I was asked by the owner of a local consignment shop named Consignment Cottage to do a presentation for an after-hours ladies night out. As we were talking what topic would be relevant to discuss, she said since Marie Kondo is back in the media with her Netflix series, perhaps I could speak on that topic. Since I had watched a few of episodes, and read a few news articles and blog posts from other people in my industry, I agreed this is a hot button topic right now. Kondo’s new television exposure is abuzz in every media outlet.

The sign-up sheet for the presentation was filled to capacity immediately! We added a second presentation the following week and that one filled up too! In preparation for the talks, I dug in by binge watching the remaining episodes. As I watched I also took notes of the differences and similarities to my work as a professional organizer over the last seven years. The first thing that I noticed was how much I smiled while watching her interact with her clients. She is reserved, professional and respectfully, and culturally true to herself. Not to sound condescending, but because of her quiet demeanor and short stature I just find her adorable.

Here are truths I discovered:

  1. Different life events necessitate de-cluttering or tidying up. Or, as we say in Pittsburgh, “Redding up”. The diverse life events highlighted in the show's clientele do line up with the variety of people that I help with my services: people who have lost a spouse, empty nesters, families who have outgrown their space, young people setting up a home for the first time, and couples downsizing.

  2. Kondo encourages everyone in the household to respect each other and their decisions. You have to listen and embrace every individual in the family, as they all play a role, and each of them should learn to organize.

  3. Organizing or downsizing your home is an emotional, eye-opening experience. There are emotions associated with grieving, in looking at your internal beliefs about your stuff, or how the process or your habits affect your personal relationships.

  4. The tips that Kondo gives in-between her show segments are universal. You can find them on any Pinterest board or by reading an organizing book.

  5. Being organized changes you. Going through the process makes you re-evaluate everything you have, if you don't give up the exercise before you finish. You will gain more space, but also a sense of pride, better self-esteem, less stress, and better health. Here is a Kondo quote from episode five, "From Students to Improvement": "Tidying not only changes your home or life, but it also allows you to create a space that suits your ideal self."

Here are three myths I discovered:

  • The cultural traditions derived from her Shinto beliefs may not translate to everyone. Shinto incorporates worship of ancestor and nature spirits and a belief in sacred power in both animate and inanimate things. This is why she greets the house on her knees, taps on books to awaken them, and thanks items before they are discarded.

  • One method of organizing does not fit every client. Most Professional Organizers customize their method of working with clients based on each individual client's situation, what frustrates them the most, or the way they think; i.e. right-brain or left-brain dominant. A client may only have one room that needs decluttered. Some people don't have the skill or time to organize on their own, and they may work best with an accountability partner.

          Marie labels herself tidying consultant. You really don't see her working hands on with her clients that much. She instructs them, gives them homework assignments, and then follows up on the next visit to see what they accomplished. She is more of a coach. There is nothing wrong with that. She markets to her ideal client and the people she can best help. We should all be doing that. Many Professional Organizers specialize with clients who may have ADHD, OCD, chronic disorganization, students, creatives or crafters, or grief. They market to their ideal clients.


            Additionally, the majority of Professional Organizers that I know through the National Association of Productivity and Organizing Professionals (NAPO) work side by side assisting their clients sort, purge and organize. We help them make decisions, we put organizing systems into place based on their lifestyle, and we recommend places to donate or recycle. We can provide referrals for other companies our clients may need for their project: hauling, moving, closet installation, photo organizing & video transfer, consignment shops, handymen, designers, etc. Professional Organizers may also recommend or help clients purchase organizing products, functional furniture, or may offer home staging services to prepare a home for sale. We may work collaboratively with other professionals such as social workers, building managers and therapists.

            Personally, I am proud of Marie Kondo for the popularity and the publicity she and her methods are bringing to the organizing industry. I have even adopted some of Marie's folding methods. I feel the same way about Peter Walsh who appeared on the TLC television show Clean Sweep and Oprah; Julie Morganstern who is a renowned international expert, speaker and author of multiple best-selling books on organizing and time management; and, Matt Paxton the extreme cleaning expert on the A&E television show Hoarders. I have learned from all of these professionals. I have read many of their books all the way through, I've seen them in person speak at events, I even worked with Matt Paxton on an episode of Hoarders and took two of his training classes. There are many other thought leaders in the organizing and productivity industry that I admire that have not reached celebrity status.

To Self-Store or Not to Self-Store?

by Dorothy L. Clear, CPO on 11/03/18

The self-storage business is a $38 billion dollar industry, and the fastest growing real estate investment at this time.1 Before you move your college memorabilia, furniture inherited from the death of a parent, old kid’s toys that you want your grandchildren to play with, or your collection of bobble heads into a self-storage unit, here are some questions you should ask yourself:

  • Do I really need this stuff?

  • Do I have a plan to use it in the future?

  • Am I keeping it out of obligation, sentimentality, or because I cannot make a decision one way or the other?

In addition to these questions, ask yourself how much you are willing to spend to store your stuff. Self-storage is a multi-billion dollar industry for a reason. Have you considered the effects short-term or long-term storage will have on your monthly budget? Consider the following three scenarios:

#1. When my husband and I bought a house we rented a storage unit in the neighborhood that we were moving into. The plan was to store some seasonal items, such as bikes, gardening tools, and holiday decorations, in the unit until after we moved. This was meant to ease the stress of moving day. Our plan worked out perfectly. The total cost was about $140 for two months rental.

#2. I worked with a client who owned a small manufacturing business. He thought he needed to move because he was outgrowing his space. Luckily, he consulted with me first. We purged old equipment, supplies, and documents. Then we rearranged the work flow pattern. The client rented an off-site storage unit to archive important, historic business information he did not need on hand. He did not have to move his whole business. He gained square footage by reducing what took up space and rearranging the floor plan. The extra bill for storage is offset by what he would have spent in time, additional rent money and moving expenses.

#3. On the flip side of this is the other extreme. I once had a client that paid for a self-storage unit for 30 years. THIRTY YEARS!!! Let’s do the math. Say this client paid an average of $50 per month for 30 years. That would equal $18,000. Then, ask yourself, “Is the stuff worth that much?” Especially, if she doesn’t use it!

Here are my tips:

  • Have a plan on how long you will need this added expense. Do you have a timeframe for using the stuff you will store?

  • Rent the right size unit to meet your needs. You don't want to pay for unused space.

  • Know the value and have an inventory of what you will store.

  • Include the contents of your storage unit in your last will and testament.

  • Visit your storage unit once a year to check on the condition of your stuff and decide if there is anything you can live without. If so, you may be able to stop renting or move to a smaller less expensive unit.

  • Store for yourself, not for other people. This means two things. Don’t save this or that because the kids might want it someday. And, don’t let others use your storage unit for their stuff.

In my honest opinion, if you don’t need it sometime between now and a year from now, you may not need it at all. Store responsibly!




Tips to Create a Disaster Kit

by Dorothy L. Clear, CPO on 09/04/18

One can never be entirely ready for an emergency, but I have had a few experiences that have driven home the ideal of being ready for anything before it happens. Here are a few examples:

The date was April 11, 1987. There was a train derailment in my neighborhood, and we had to evacuate due to a toxic chemical spill. I remember that my dad had t-shirts made up for our family that said, "I survived Bloomfield's train derailment".

On another occasion, the East End of Pittsburgh lost electrical power for five days due to a "macro-burst"on May 31, 2002. Due to the pounding rain, high winds and lightning, a large tree at the end of our street was ripped out of the ground and took out the power lines with it.

Luckily, as a former Girl Scout, I was taught to always be prepared. Along with my Girl Scout training, I am the type of person who naturally remains calm in a crisis.

The National Association of Productivity and Organizing Professionals (NAPO) designates the month of September as Emergency Preparedness Month. Therefore, I wanted this month's blog to provide you with some tips to prepare for a natural disaster.  

In Western Pennsylvania a natural disaster might include flooding, thunderstorms, microbursts, snowstorms, fire, electrical blackouts. The better prepared you are, the safer you will be. Here are some tips from the American Red Cross on what to put in a family disaster kit. Keep your kit in a designated convenient location in your home.

  • A three to five-day supply of daily medications.

  • Stock up on batteries of different sizes.

  • Have a flashlight or lantern in a convenient location.

  • Blankets

  • Change of dry clothes

  • First aid kit

  • Toiletries: soap, toothbrush, toothpaste, baby wipes.

  • One gallon of water per person.

  • Dry foods or snacks

  • A whistle

  • Paper and pen

If you have an infant or a toddler you will need every day baby supplies depending on the age of the child. You may also need things for your pets, i.e. food, bowls, medicines, leash, ownership and vaccine papers.

Consider having a secondary emergency kit in your car in the event you are stuck in traffic, stranded due to rain, road closures due to an a traffic accident, or your car breaks down and you have to wait for help to arrive.

I suggest that you review your disaster kits every September to see what inside the kit may need updated. Clear Organization will be happy to help you in this process.

Are You Left-Brain or Right-Brain Dominant?

by Dorothy L. Clear, CPO on 08/02/18

How do you help someone organize when they think so differently from you? Within the first couple of years of my career as a professional organizer, I started working with a client who needed help organizing his one-bedroom apartment. He was very bright and had an excellent grasp of spatial relationships. He would fit things into spaces like a Jenga puzzle.
In my newly expert opinion, when I looked in the kitchen cupboards they were a jumbled mess. The canned goods were lumped in with books, knick knacks, snack foods, tea, and cleaning products. It was chaos I tell you! His explanation was that he could fit more in his cabinets that way because space was limited in his apartment.

Knowing that difficulty making decisions and putting items into like categories are two of the usually culprits for disorganization, I set out to teach him how to organize by putting like things together. I placed all canned goods on one shelf, all condiments together, all the dishes in one cabinet, and we put all the cleaning products under the sink; as most people would. I explained the organizing principles as we worked together. I asked for his input as to where he wanted certain things placed for convenience. He seemed happy with the results.

When I came back for our next appointment, about 2-3 weeks later, I checked to see if he was able to keep the kitchen cupboards organized. He was not.  At least, not to my understanding of organized. It was natural for him to put things where they fit. Was he not willing or not able to change? Should I try again? Those were not the right questions to ask. The right question to ask was, “Why am I trying to get him to think the way that I think? At least he is not leaving the groceries in the hallway in bags anymore. Now he was putting them in the kitchen. That was progress. He was changing a habit.

I decided to try to understand how he processed information. I remembered from my college “Introduction to Psych” class that information made available by the environment is processed by a series of processing systems (e.g. attention, perception, short-term memory, experience). I am “attention” to detail, whereas he is “perception”. Once I understood this difference in our thinking, I could work with his perception to come up with creative solutions to his organizing dilemmas. As long as he remembers where things are, does it matter if they are in categories or not? As long as they are stored where he uses them, it’s better than groceries laying in bags on the floor, or stacked on a bookshelf in the hallway.

In their book, Organizing for the Creative Person, Dorothy Lehmkuhl and Dolores Cotter Lamping separate organizing styles into just two categories; Left-brain dominant and Right-brain dominant. Left-brain or LBs tend to be tidy, methodical, and punctual. Right-brain or RBs (or Arbies) are characteristically creative, but their traits are the opposite of those of LBs. “Understanding different styles can help explain human behavior, which affects success and personal contentment and in turn directly affects our self-esteem and relationships with others.”

Everyone uses both hemispheres of their brain, but some people have developed one side more than the other side. I am more LB whereas my client was more RB. Why should I try to turn him into an LB? He had the freedom to do things his way. He was able to change many habits after working with me for a length of time, but some things he refuses to change and that is okay. I do not judge. I have learned from him and have adapted to his style.

Tags: learning styles, getting organized, kitchen organization, home improvement, left-brain, right-brain, changing habits.

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