3 Short Answers to Solve Your Office Organizing Problem

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Editor’s Note: This is an introduction to the system I created to help people who struggle with too much paper. White desktop computer on Tidy Desk

Believe it or not, there are only three kinds of paper.

It doesn’t matter if it’s your first novel, your 2009 taxes or a bubble gum wrapper. The key to organizing paper is to remember these three types and know the difference between them. They are:

Paper you Act on

Paper you Contain

Paper you Toss.

Most people get stuck in paper clutter for three reasons.

  1. They don’t have a system for organizing and managing it
  2. They are afraid of accidentally tossing something important so they hold on to it “just in case.”
  3. They hold on to it with the intention of doing something with it “someday” but never do.

Unless you take some kind of comfort from having a lot of paper around you, I’m going to assume you would prefer to have less.

The ACT system is actually quite simple. It just takes a little practice. The key to it is remembering that the goal of the system is to minimize the amount of paper you actually keep. If that’s not your goal, then consider what value all that paper has in your life now?

The ACT system is an acronym for Action, Contain, Toss.

Paper you act on is either a task or a project that’s worth your time to complete.

Paper you contain will likely be referred to again, or you are required to keep. (Everything else is optional!)

Paper that has no value to you should be tossed or safely disposed of.

Here’s how to use the ACT system to organize your paper:

For every piece of paper that comes across your desk, whether it be a business card, a magazine, a contract, a pad of paper, an invitation, notes to yourself, etc., you should ask yourself these three questions in successive order:

  1. Is there an IMPORTANT Action I need to take with this piece of paper that is worth my time? (Reading and filing don’t count.)  If your answer is no, then before you toss it, ask the next question:
  1. Is it LIKELY I will need to refer back to this piece of paper again and would it be difficult to find it elsewhere? If yes keep and Contain it. Otherwise, go on to the next question:
  1. Does it display any personal or confidential information that I would not want others to see? If not, then you can Toss it.  Otherwise shred it.

The key to taming your paper monster is making the ACT system a regular habit.

  • Spend a few minutes each week sorting your incoming paper, mail and other documents according to the ACT system
  • Take action on those tasks and projects that you decide are worth your time
  • Contain only what you are likely to refer to again and can’t find elsewhere
  • Minimize the amount of paper you keep – what may have been important last year may not be now. It’s okay to let it go.
  • Maximize the amount of paper you toss – and protect your identity as you go. If you’re not sure, ask a professional.
  • Make peace with your paper piles by incorporating desktop containers, files and other organizing products that fit your own personality and style.

For more help on how to get organized at home, call us to schedule a visit.


Ten Reasons to Declutter Before You Sell Your Home

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Most Real Estate professionals will tell you to declutter your home before selling it. But why? Here are 10 reasons why removing clutter will make your home more attractive and thus more valuable to prospective buyers.


Woman Tossing Clothes from Closet

  1. An uncluttered home looks more spacious and space is what most home buyers are looking for.
  2. A prospective buyer wants to imagine themselves in your home, not feel like an intruder. That’s why removing all personal items such as family photos, knickknacks, religious items, art work with a political theme, and excess furniture is so important.
  3. A cluttered home gives an impression that the house has not been well maintained, raising a prospective buyers suspicions of “unseen” damage.
  4. Clutter is a potential liability. If someone trips on your clutter, falls and injures themselves, you could be liable.
  5. Storage space, such as cabinets and closets that are partially empty convey the impression that the house has good storage available – a big selling point for most people.
  6. Older or worn furniture items, even if they may be important to you, can make a house seem dated and old.
  7. Clutter conveys a dirty home, even if you’re a tidy person.  If you’re not, by all means get it professionally cleaned!
  8. Too much stuff, makes it difficult to focus on a home’s best features.

  9. Don’t assume buyers will want to use your home the same way you do.  If you have a room set up as an office, take the advice of your Real Estate agent if they suggest staging it differently.
  10. Less clutter means less stuff for you to pack up and move, which will lower your cost of moving, and less stuff to unpack or clutter up your new home.

For more moving and organizing tips, visit us on Facebook.

The most important 12 questions to ask a mover before you hire them

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1. Are you available on the day I need to move?

Don’t assume that all movers will be available the day you need to move. If you’re flexible try to pick a move date in the beginning or middle of the week, as weekends tend to get booked first.

2. Will you do a visual, written estimate?

A written estimate, based on an onsite visit to your home, is the best way to know ahead of time what you will be charged.

3. Do you provide full packing services?

This is especially important if you are moving fragile, high value items. If you cannot afford full packing, then opt for partial packing for these items.

4. How do you charge for moving and packing?

Local moves (under 50 miles) are typically charged by the hour. Long distance moves are charged by weight, with each line item costing a percentage of the overall weight. Weights are estimated during a visual estimate — which is why it’s so important to do a visual estimate.

5. How long has your company been in business?

Operating a trustworthy moving and storage company is much more than a couple of strong guys with a truck. Knowing a company’s history and track record are important factors in deciding whether or not you can trust them to move your home safely and for the price you expected.

6. Can you provide references from two recent moves comparable to mine?

Great moving companies will be busy and will more than likely have customers who can speak about their experience. When you call the reference, be sure to ask, “Was there anything they could have done better?”

7. What licensing and insurance do you have and can you provide documentation?

While the federal government regulates all interstate (long distance) movers, not all states require local movers to be regulated by the state in which they operate. You can verify what states require this, through the U.S. Department of Transportation.

8. What other charges should I expect?

With long distance moves, expect extra charges such as origin and destination fees, which are typically administrative charges for obtaining and paying the local moving crews as well as fees for extra stops or shuttle trucks. You will also be charged for moving supplies such as boxes and moving paper but moving blankets and wardrobe boxes are typically provided free of charge as long as they are returned.

9. How will you protect my home during the move

Before a single item is moved, your movers will ask to do a walkthrough with you. When they do this they will notice what areas, such as wood floors, carpeting, bannisters or door jams may need protection before items are moved. Be sure to ask for their “Certificate of Liability Insurance.”

10. Do you offer insurance in case something gets lost or damaged?

Federal regulations only require movers to offer basic protection coverage at a rate of .60 per pound. This means your $5,000 crystal vase will be insured at the same rate as your frying pan. Consider additional Full Value Replacement or FVR coverage. You can get this either through your mover or through your home insurance agent.

11. Are your movers employees of the company?

If they are not, you could be liable if they hurt themselves on your property. The best moving companies also have a great support staff to address any of your move related questions or concerns before, during and after your move.

12. If I have a problem or question after hours or after my movers leave, whom do I call and how will it be resolved?

No matter how good your moving company, it’s always good to be prepared for the unexpected. Know ahead of time who you can call and when, should something go wrong. Have this information handy before moving day and be sure to document any damages in writing or in photographs.

Overly Attached to Too Much

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Editor’s Note: A great summary from my colleague Judy Dang about why some people have problems letting go. Even though the study’s focus is people who live with “Hoarding” behavior, I believe most can relate to at least some of the reasons.


How Clutter Affects Your Mood

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Editor’s Note: This month I am pleased to publish the following article from, guest blogger and freelance writer, Jessica Kane.

How Clutter Affects Your Moodclutter 3 (1)

Not only does clutter look bad, but it also negatively affects your mood, and even your health. Consider some of the ways that clutter impacts how you feel, and how it affects others as well.

It Can Make You Feel Depressed and Overwhelmed

Anyone who comes home after a fast-paced day at work to an untidy space will feel more overwhelmed than normal. If the clutter is allowed to pile up higher and higher, it may seem impossible to clear it up alone, which complicates the problem for the person who has to deal with it. Chaotic surroundings are also an eyesore that affects everyone, and it can even cause feelings of despondency and depression. A work zone in disarray can be very uncomfortable and bothersome to coworkers, managers, and customers, and those who live with you or come to visit may also develop a bad mood when exposed to clutter.

It Stresses You Out

According to Psychology Today, clutter is an uncommonly recognized cause of stress that has a significant impact on one’s life. In fact, a messy room constantly sends signals to your brain to take action, whether you act upon those feelings or not. If you leave clutter to gather, it creates a sense of anxiety, urgency, and the need to get something done. Ultimately, clutter creates psychological pressure and continually disrupts inner harmony.

It Breaks Your Concentration

If you are trying to focus on finishing a project or even cooking a meal, any mess can get in the way of your concentration. If you are too busy looking around an unkempt room or searching for tools you need, it will be a lot harder to focus on any task that you have to do. It is also more difficult to study or think creatively in a messy area. This simple science applies whether or not the clutter is in a room in your home, or right at your desk.

It Affects Your Health

In theory, clutter can be defined a tons of unorganized objects scattered in an area. If these objects are particularly dirty or hazardous, then the clutter can make you ill, and even become life-threatening. According to Web MD, dust, dirt, animal dander, mold and other allergens circulate in the air and can cause allergic and asthmatic reactions. If clutter is allowed to continually stress you out in various ways, you may develop psychological conditions that require treatment.

Clutter causes both mental and physical stress, but is an issue that can easily be fixed by taking the time to properly organize and clean the area in question. Don’t be tempted to allow the clutter to pile up and create a problem for you now, and in the future. Fight back by organizing every area that is unbalanced, one piece at a time.


Is it time to move?

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Sometimes circumstances such as a remodel, a growing family, changes in your health or a job change, require you to move out of your home entirely or even partially. House in Box_1024

If one or more of the following scenarios matches your current situation, then it may make the most sense for you to move:

  • You are planning to remodel a significant portion of your home.
  • Your family has outgrown your existing home
  • You have more home then you need and don’t or can’t keep up with regular maintenance
  • You or your spouse just got a new job in a different state
  • It would cost you more to invest in your home to meet your current needs then it would to move
  • Property values in your neighborhood are on the decline
  • You have decided your current home and lifestyle no longer suit you.
  • You have ruled out a remodel for financial or other reasons
  • You want, or need to resize, downsize or minimize your home and it’s contents

While moving is almost always stressful, at LET’S MAKE ROOM we make it easier.  We can get all your unwanted items sold, donated or hauled.  We arrange for and direct your movers on pack and move day (even if you can’t be there) and we will even unpack, organize and set up everything in your new home* after the movers leave. Contact us to learn more.
* SF/Bay Area only or elsewhere by request

The devil’s in the details but the angels are getting them done

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DetailsWhen it comes to moving, the devil is in the details but so are the angels if you treat them right.

Imagine you’ve decided to sell your home  (or fully remodel it) which means you will also need to move.  The goal is set. Now comes the work. You’ll have to find a new home to buy or rent or if you’re lucky enough, move into another home you already own.

You’ll have to figure out what you’re moving, how you’re moving, where you’re moving and how much it’s all going to cost. You’ll have to make hundreds if not thousands of decisions and hopefully you’ll have help from people you can trust.

Along the way you’ll get guidance and advice (hopefully all good) from Real Estate Professionals, Design Professionals, General or Specialty Contractors, Professional Organizers, Moving and Storage Companies, Financial Advisors, Charitable organizations not to mention friends, family and your neighbors.

The people you hire or work with can be your guardian angel or the devil incarnate. The former will help you make decisions you’re thrilled with or at least, ones you can live with. The latter will force you to make decisions you’ll later regret.

They should understand and actively demonstrate their understanding of your concerns, priorities, goals, aesthetic, budget, vision, preferences, lifestyle, and what you value – both tangible and intangible. They should also respect your time.

I have found it’s much easier to bend over backwards for nice people than it is to be helpful to mean ones – but that doesn’t mean I don’t try. After all that’s what being  a professional is all about. Respect.

My grandmother used to always tell me, “You get back what you put in.”  In other words, treat others as you would want to be treated or better yet, as they themselves would wish to be treated.

Surround yourself with people who make your concerns, their concerns. Behind the scenes they are handling a thousand different details on your behalf. You’ll know the angels when you see them because they are getting things done.



The One Resolution You Can Keep

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If you were born between 1947 and 1964, when it comes to organizing your home, my guess is you are less Do-It-Yourselfer and more Do-It-For-ME.

new_years_resolution_listGetting more organized is a common New Year’s resolution but I believe when people say they want to “get” organized, what they really mean, is they want to “be” organized.

When you live in your home for 20, 30 or more years, raising a family or even taking care of aging parents, you’re going to have a lot of stuff. This is just reality for most people in their 50s and 60s. This doesn’t mean you are a “hoarder” – you’re just like everyone else. It’s just the idea of finally dealing with all that accumulated stuff is overwhelming and chances are you would rather spend time doing something you enjoy and that’s worth a lot!

If you’re a homeowner in your 50s or 60s  at some point you’re going to  grapple with the problem of downsizing while you can still be involved. Otherwise you’ll end up passing off the problem to your children or even to friends if you don’t have family or family nearby.

Downsizing your home is like saving for retirement. The earlier you start thinking about it, the better.

I had a client tell me recently she didn’t know what she would do if she had to downsize her home by herself.  She recently decided to move to save money for her retirement. The problem was that in order to move to a new home she had to sell her current home but her realtor wouldn’t even consider listing it until she dealt with all her stuff.

It took a crew of four professional organizers and less than two weeks to get everything sorted, donated, hauled and ready for her movers, including long forgotten items belonging to her parents in her attic and garage. When we were almost done, she told her realtor she wanted to “test the waters” to see if there was any interest in her home. Much to her delight, it sold the first day it was listed.

If your roof needed replacing would you do it yourself?

Home improvement projects, especially large organizing projects that involve whole homes or highly cluttered spaces like garages, are no different in many ways from a home remodel. It takes a plan, skill and muscle. And whatever you do, don’t just move or store what you no longer want. This will only cost you more in moving or storage charges in the long run.

Get it done, done well and done fast and you can actually check this one off your list of New Year’s resolutions.




When saying no means yes

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My client, Barbara (not her real name) is kind, generous and very, very busy.plate-spinner

Her calendar is packed full of appointments, events and meetings. Her cell phone rings, buzzes and beeps almost constantly with notifications that go unanswered. Her unopened emails go on for pages. Her enormous home is tidy, beautifully decorated and as warm as she is but every inch of her storage – closets, cabinets, cupboards, drawers –  are packed full. There isn’t an inch to spare.

Barbara is like the juggler who can keep ten plates spinning simultaneously at the top of ten poles without dropping them because each of them are equally important.

But when you treat everything in your life as equally important, spinning those 10 plates for days, weeks, months or even years (not just minutes) because you believe or behave as if everything is equally important, eventually one of two things happen. One or more of the plates break or you do.

It can be a quick break or a slow one but even the juggler knows when it’s time to stop.

When Barbara said to me recently that she’d turned down a number of invitations because she realized they weren’t worth her time, I felt a sense of relief for her because she was discovering that saying no meant she was finally saying yes… to herself. I also knew she had finally started to see the cost of making everything in her life equally important.

For every task, project, meeting, coffee date, or invitation you receive, before you do it, take it on or schedule it, before you say yes, ask yourself these 3 questions: 

1) Is it important to me?

Is this your priority or someone else’s?  Say yes to you before you say yes to someone else. If  you are the kind of person that likes to be helping others but find yourself doing so at your own expense, it’s okay to say, “thank you for thinking of me but I just don’t have the time right now.”

2) If I don’t do this will it cost me?

What would happen if you didn’t do it? If you’re not sure whether to take something on, imagine not doing it. You don’t want to end up spending a little effort on lot of things instead of a lot of effort on what’s truly important.

3) Is it worth my time?

Only you can answer this question. If it saves you from stress and doesn’t cost you something to say no, then say no. You’ll only be saying yes to what’s really worth your time.

The bottom line is don’t hold on to stuff, projects, even old beliefs about yourself when they are no longer useful to you. Be willing to be brave. Be willing to make hard choices for the bigger rewards. Make room in your life for what matters most!


The only thing worth saving on Black Friday

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Over-stuffed closet


Are you planning to go shopping this Friday, Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving? Before you do, STOP and mull this thought over for a moment.

We are running out of room for what we don’t want!

It’s not just your home. It’s everywhere!  Charities are much pickier about what they will take because they have a glut of stuff already. Consignment stores are full. Selling items through online sites such as eBay and Craigslist is getting harder to do because everyone is trying to sell the same thing as you are. Even things with real value! And, worst of all, landfills are painfully overfilled causing many to simply dump their stuff on the side of a highway or some dimly lit street, a problem of blight that is growing larger every day.

So before you head out the door to the mall or sign on to your favorite online store because you’ve been bitten by the shopping bug, just this once ask yourself what are you really saving?

You may also want to take a quick inventory of your home by asking yourself these six questions:

  1. Are my closets already overstuffed?
  2. Do I have items I bought that I haven’t even taken out of their bags or still have tags on them?
  3. Is my garage bursting at the seams?
  4. Are there items left on my floor because I’ve run out of storage space?
  5. Do I already have enough of what I need?
  6. Am I using the excuse of Christmas or Holiday shopping to buy more stuff?

If you answered yes to even one of these questions, buying more will only exacerbate the situation.

Instead of shopping, why not spend that time doing other things you like such as:

  1. Finish up one of the many creative projects you already started (and never finished) this year
  2. Go outside, take a walk, even if its raining or snowing.
  3. Take a friend or family member out for a meal or treat them to an experience instead of buying them something.
  4. Remind yourself that one less thing now means one less thing to have to decide about when you finally get around to organizing and getting rid of all that stuff you no longer want, that is if there’s still room left.