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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.

Reduce the Tension of Having Your Kids Clean Their Room

by Dorothy L. Clear, CPO on 07/05/18

A few days ago I was a vendor at a family and kid’s event. I came up with an activity for people to do if they stopped by my table.  I put white, black, and red beads and buttons on a tray, along with silver and different colored paperclips. All the items were mixed together on the tray.

I wanted two people to have the opportunity to participate at the same time. I had a box with six compartments on one side of the tray, and six small individual round containers on the other side of the tray. Then, I placed two chairs opposite of me on the other side of the table for the little ones to be able to reach the tray. If they choose to participate, they were able to pick candy out of the treat baskets.

Sometimes, a child would came by with or without a parent. Most of the parents did not participate with their child, but one mother and son did it together. Sometimes kids came in pairs, siblings mostly. Some kids didn’t know each other; they just happened to come by at the same time. Their ages ranged from three to thirteen years old.

The one instruction that was given was to sort these objects into the containers. There was no right or wrong way to sort. They were asked to sort anyway they chose. I told them some people love to do this and some people don’t. Here are some of the results:

  • Some people got bored after a minute or two and moved on, but a few kids felt like they had to finish the whole tray. One teen became anxious form the beginning due to the lack of instructions.

  • Some kids sorted by color, putting all the red buttons and beads into one container, others separated the red beads from the red buttons.

  • A few kids sorted by category: all beads in one container no matter what color, and then all buttons in one container, then all the paperclips together.

  • There were kids who separated using both color and category.

  • One boy sorted the larger red buttons from the smaller red buttons.

  • A few asked about how to categorize the paperclips. Does silver go with white? I let them decide.

  • One little tike didn’t say a word. He just started filling up the cups. It seems like he was trying to get even amounts into each container. His mom said he love to clean up.

  • The very last boy who did the sorting, separated all the multi-colored paperclips into different cups by their color. He filled all six cups, and then had a bunch of pink paperclips left over with no cup to put them into. So, I gave him a seventh cup.


While people took to the task of moving the tiny objects, it gave me a chance to see what their style was: sort by category, sort by color, are using a combination of both. While they sorted, I would talk to them about how everyone processes information differently.

If the parents knew what sorting style their children had, they could use that information to teach them how to tidy their room without all the tension; unlike when parents act like drill sergeants, barking orders at a child. That method may work in the moment, but it may not have lasting effects. It just causes unwanted tension for everyone.

This simple activity can help parents realize that their children may process information differently from how it might be done by the parent. Your child’s style may lean more toward color coordinating, but the parent tries to teach them by using categories only.

The importance of this knowledge for parents is profound. For a few parents, it was mind blowing. Knowing how you and your children process information and make decisions will make the task of cleaning their room less tense for all of you. The two key areas that distinguish the organized from the disorganized is the ability to make decisions and put items into categories.

So, try this experiment with your children to see what their style is, then adjust your instructions to work with their preferences.

Here are some additional tips adapted from the article written by Marie Hartwell-Walker, Ed.D at


  • Set a good example. Kids are far more sensitive and responsive to what we do than what we say.

  • Initially, do chores together. Armchair supervision doesn’t work anywhere near as well as how it’s done.

  • Make it fun, a game or a competition. Then, build in a reward for everyone.

  • Give the kids pride of place. Kids who feel their space is specially their own (whether a whole room or a corner or a shelf) are more likely to want to keep it nice.

  • Define clearly what it means to have a clean room. Make a checklist the kids can refer to with pictures for little ones, and simple words for older ones. You can find a variety of free printable chore lists on the internet.

  • A place for everything and everything in its place. It helps a lot if everything has a home. Provide the kids with boxes and bins. Work together at labeling and deciding what goes where.

  • Keep the stuff-level down. If your kids have enough of what they need, it might be helpful to establish a rule that for everything that goes in the room, something needs to come out.

  • Set reasonable standards for health and safety. Cleaning up health hazards like garbage, dirty dishes, and wet laundry simply is not negotiable. Same goes for taking care of safety hazards like broken glass or blocked exits.

Tags: kids and chore, kids cleaning up, parenting tips, discipline, organizing toys, cleaning their room, motivating kids, learning styles.

Death to the Plastic Shower Rings!

by Dorothy L. Clear, CPO on 09/04/16

I found the perfect shower curtain! It's the first new one I have bought since we moved into our house six years ago. I have looked in a number of stores over the years, but I was looking for one that would be white with some shade of purple in the print.  The one I finally found at Boscov's is off white with a taupe, gray and lavender dandelion print.

Now, when I get something new for the house I want to put it into use right away, or reasonably within a few days. But I keep putting off hanging the new shower curtain.

Then, I realized I needed new shower hooks because the old ones were gold and would not match. I use a shower liner too. And, I was still using old inexpensive plastic clip- together shower rod rings for the liner. I've always dreaded changing the shower liner because of those stupid things. They are an absolute pain to juggle. But, I never thought of replacing them on the liner. This task was the cause of my procrastination.  I don't use the word hate very often; unlike one of my children who likes to throw that term around as often as there are pitches in a ball game. But I hate the clip together rings!plastic shower rings that clip together.

So, I went in search of new shower hooks for the new shower curtain. What I found made me just as happy as the beautiful new shower curtain I had bought! Brilliantly designed, perfect for my needs, easy to use. How did I live my entire life without these combination shower/liner hooks? My life changed for the better with a $7 purchase. They are silver, have ball bearing for easy gliding, and are double hooks to hold the curtain on one hook and the liner on the other hook. Never again will I have to struggle changing the liner!!!