Take my expert advice…or maybe not

I’ve been a professional organizer for over 25 years now.  I’ve worked with hundreds and hundreds of people, and I’ve been in hundreds of houses in the Bay Area.  I am pleased to say that a high percentage of my clients are living happily ever after in their much more organized homes.  However, there are those clients, who choose to go a different path…they take my expert advice, and then choose to ignore it. 

Initially, when I would run into this particular client, I would feel bad.  How have a failed this person?  What else could I have done or how could I have explained things differently so they would “get it”?  It took me a while to understand what was really happening with this type of person, and once I understood them, I stopped thinking that my way was right and their way was not.  I consider this my greatest achievement as a professional…it has taught me to really listen to people and to determine what is they REALLY want and then try and help them get there.

There are variances on this theme with each client…it runs all the way from the “okay, prove it to me and maybe I’ll do half of it” client, to “nope, not doing that, no way, no how” client.  There’s the client who won’t make a single change, even though they’ve told you they are desperate for things to be different.  There’s a client who wants to argue every point to prove themselves right.  There’s a client who is afraid of what their spouse will say, and a client who is insulted that you would suggest they not keep shoes and cutting boards in the same cabinet.

A couple of weeks ago we unpacked a wonderful family in a beautiful house in Marin.  On my first visit to the new house my client said, “I know exactly where I want everything to go”.   Okay, so tell me where you want things to go…and inevitably, I want to make changes to where they want to put things.  So, I ask for permission to discuss alternatives, “are you open to suggestions”…fortunately, clients are most always are open to hearing my suggestions, whether they take them or not, is in the end up to them.  

Our last client advised that she was up all night moving everything that we had placed in her new house the day before.  However, she was okay with this because at least we gave her a head start of knowing where she did/did not want things.  When I looked at things that had been moved, I realized that many of them were moved just for the sake of moving them…but it was an important act for her, establishing herself in her new house.

One of my favorite clients has turned out to be someone I never expected to hear from again.  I left their house totally drained, having to wrestle with them over every suggestion and thinking that I would never see any “after” photos on this project.  Lo and behold, shortly after I received a delightful email explaining how much my visit had opened the doors of communication between them and how they were working to improve not only their living environment but their marriage as well!

I’ll take the victories anyway I can get them…


letting the light in…

Last week I did some spring cleaning, which included my home office armoire.  When I opened my own home office desk drawer, something struck me like lightening…why am I staring into a black hole trying to find a paperclip?

what's in here?

what’s in here?

What does this mean?  It’s the difference between dark and light…when you open a drawer or cabinet are you able to see what you have inside or are you looking for a flashlight so that you can figure out where things are?  It means that the interior of the drawer or cabinet is light enough to see into or that there is enough light so that you find what you need.

My reorganized drawer...

My reorganized drawer…

This has been brewing with me for a while now.  Since the dark cabinet trend took hold several years ago…you know, dark cabinets in the kitchen and expresso furniture…no one can find anything in the dark.

my current client's drawer divider...not for long

my current client’s drawer divider…not for long

When the interior of your drawers or cabinets is dark, you’ve got to have great lighting or only store white objects, if you want to see what is going on inside

consider lighting when choosing a dark bookcase over a light one

consider lighting when choosing a dark bookcase over a light one

White...easy to see everything inside

White…easy to see everything inside

a black metal desk...I've added bins to help the visual id of objects inside

a black metal desk…I’ve added bins to help the visual id of objects inside

a dark interior requires a lot of attention to find what you need

a dark interior requires a lot of attention to find what you need

Sometimes dark cabinets compensate by making the interiors lighter, which is smart in my books…

Making the interior light while the outside is darker is the best of both worlds...

Making the interior light while the outside is darker is the best of both worlds…

Does this mean you can’t buy a black bookcase or a house with dark kitchen cabinets…no, but it’s something to take into consideration…will you be able to see what you are looking for?

Prepping a home to sell…

It’s that time of year…along with March basketball madness comes the spring home sales market.  Home sellers are hard at work getting their homes to look their very best to entice those buyers. Even though you may be hiring a professional stager to stage your house, there is still a lot of work that has be done by you prepping a home to sell.

As a professional organizer who works with many local Realtors to assist their client’s prepping homes to sell, I can offer some of my quick tips to help make this process a bit easier.

Welcome to your new home...

Welcome to your new home…

1.  Start as early as possible removing everything and anything that you no longer wish to keep.  Book those donation trucks to pull up to the house several times so that everything can be donated as soon as you’ve decided to let it go.

2.  Declutter…of the things that are left, remove/pack/store as much as possible of your excess items that you do not need to live with while the home is for sale. Remove personal items…all those personal photos, your collection of Elvis mugs or your

3.  Clean, clean, clean…there’s no such thing as too clean when you are selling your home.  Now is the time to get that grime off the oven door, get the windows professionally washed, clean that carpet and don’t forget the garage.

4. If you are living in the house while it’s for sale, pack a suitcase and pretend you are at a hotel.  No personal items left out in the bathroom, no wet towels hanging over the shower door,  and no tell tale odors of last nights garlic fest.

5. Stage the insides of cabinets and closets…neaten up every drawer and every cabinet.  Make sure the closets look like there is plenty of room for more.  Closets sell houses!

6. Let the stager do their thing…let them move all your furniture around, let them rehang your art and rearrange your bookcases…technically, it’s not your house anymore, so let the professionals do their job, which is making sure you get top dollar for your house.

7. Put out a NEW welcome mat and some lovely plants/trees at the front door, but a fresh bulb in the lighting fixture on the porch.  Make the entry to the house as enticing as possible.

Here are some after photos of house we actually decluttered, packed and staged for sale.  (And, yes…this house is SOLD):

Open kitchen

Open kitchen

Dining area

Dining area


Master bedroom

Master bedroom

Home office and children's playroom

Home office and children’s playroom


When will we have everything we need…chores and errands

Looks easy...

Looks easy…

I lead a relatively small life.  Really, it’s mostly just me and 2 cats.  One small apartment, 650 sq. ft.  One car. One home office armoire, one computer.

Work consumes almost all of my time.  Either doing it, or looking for it. No big hobbies, no great vices, not a lot of vacation traveling.

And I am super organized.  So, why is my small life so consumed by endless chores and errands?

Not a day goes by that I am not out of something.  Everyday, I am either traveling to a store or service, or ordering something on line, or trying to schedule some fixit person to come over. Everyday there’s a mountain of stuff to do whether it’s household chores or work related ones.

Out of coffee, out of tea, out of hand lotion, out of cat litter, out of  marking pens, out of box cutters, out of peanut butter, out of wine…car needs service, clothes need dry cleaning, new pants need alterations…leak under kitchen sink after new dishwasher installed, cat has a runny eye, chipped a tooth on popcorn, new mattress is not working out – will need to pick out a new one…laundry has to be done, again…light bulb is out in the hallway, cat just left a hairball in the living room and now it’s time to make dinner and lunch for tomorrow…

Every, blessed day.

Cat to the vet, car to the shop, another trip to the grocery store and then another trip to the same store – different location, another trip to Target, another trip to Equator for coffee, another trip to the cleaners, another tradesman to schedule, another delivery by UPS, Fed EX, priority mail…

Another day of being exhausted after running errands or doing chores.

I travel to clients homes and marvel that a family of 3, 4 or more, can function at all.  Yes, they need a professional organizer to help them along.  Yes, I can rearrange how they use the space in their homes to provide more efficiency.  Yes, I can talk to them about time management, but still, it’s a wonder that they can manage babies, kids, dogs, a house, two cars, a nanny, and both have a full time job outside of the house.

My goal for this year is to sit on the sofa and read a book, as soon as I wash the sofa cover and replace the worn out cushions…



From one business woman to another…grrr

In December, I was called to home in the East Bay Hills by, what appears to be, a very successful business woman who works in SF.  She just bought this large home, after owning an even larger home in Canada.

Upon moving in, she attempted to unpack and organize herself, but found it a daunting task, given the amount of possessions and the time she had in which to do it.  So, she called me in to see the house and give her an estimate of time and costs.  This I went home and immediately did, and she received a my proposal via email.  I also included links where she could find organizing supplies I would recommend be used for the project.

Over a week later, I received her response:

Hello Gayle,

Apologies for not responding sooner but Xmas activities got priority these last few days.  Anyway, I have decided to go another route.

Now,  this is where the email might have politely ended, but no, our busy executive went on…

To be honest I was pretty shocked at your quote.  Perhaps it’s just that everything in the Bay Area is so much more expensive but I had my entire house in Toronto organized very nicely for less than half of what you would charge.  

What does the cost of organizing a house in Canada have to do with the cost of organizing a house in the East Bay?   Why are you “shaming” me over my rates?  All clients generally have some kind of budget for projects and usually we find ways to work within them…you were concerned with the speed at which this could be done over the holidays, no less.  If my proposal was more than you wanted to spend, why not have a conversation so that we might see if some adjustments to expectations could be made which would lessen the cost…isn’t that what business people do?

Then, she took it to the next level…

I actually forwarded your quote to the organizer I used in Toronto. She is willing to come out for a week in Feb to do this for me and even with adding on the cost of her flight it will be less than $5000 all in.  She knows exactly what I have as she also packed me up and staged my house for sale when I left Toronto.

How kind of you to forward our private email to someone in Canada…I had thought our email correspondence was private, but obviously, you don’t.   In all honesty, if you sent me a proposal by someone else, I would make sure that I could do that same job for less as well.  It’s not hard to do a bid when you know what everyone else is charging.  And didn’t you tell me that you wanted this done ASAP?  But you’ll now wait until February…

Is your Canadian organizer paying taxes in the US and California, which I believe she will owe…is she coming alone or bringing a team of people, which I had proposed, so that the job could get done more quickly.

Does she have liability insurance that will cover her here in California?  I assume her health insurance plan will cover her here as well, just in case she trips going down the many flights of stairs your home has.

What am I suppose to learn from this?  If you are going to all this trouble to take time out of your busy holiday schedule, to rake a fellow business woman over the coals, you needn’t have bothered.

Blessedly, she finished…

So thank you for taking the time to come out and assess the job. Also you asked how I found you – I just did an Internet search on home organizers and I thought your website looked very professional.

Best wishes for a happy new year!

Yes, so glad you liked my professional website, which cost me a small fortune. But then, I obviously should have hired someone in Canada to design it for me for less…

And best wishes for a happy new year to you, too!

It’s not always what you think it is that keeps you from being organized…

Have you ever walked into a house (maybe even yours…) and you couldn’t tell what room you were standing in? There’s a sofa and TV, but there’s also a desk and several computers, and there’s a dining table and 6 chairs, but there is also a library worth of books all over…what is this room?

I just did an organizing assessment/clutter intervention for a couple who are living this story in their home.  Every room contains furniture and personal items which would ordinarily belong in some other room.  Additionally, every room is filled with clutter, bits and bobs that land in one room, but really belong in another. 

For example, their dining room has a large table and full set of dining chairs.  It also has a bedroom bureau and 2 office filing cabinets.  As it happens, their office is right across from the dining room, and in additional to a full office for two people, there’s a sofa and a large TV in that room.  I am a fan of “repurposing furniture“, but only when that furniture suitably solves the problems it’s brought in to handle.

And as we traveled through the rest of the house, other rooms suffered from this same identification process…only the kitchen could be readily id’ed as such.

Now, it’s true that everyone gets to decide how they want to live in their house.  And if it’s working for you, then so what if you want to blur the use of a room.  However, these people called me because they don’t like the way they are living in the house, so I have try and help them see what is going on and offer suggestions to “fix” it.

Using the dining room as an example, I asked why they had a bedroom bureau right next to the dining room buffet…because they needed something to hold all the loose items and paper the dining room had accumulated, and they happened to have bureau that was available. And why were the two filing cabinets there?  Because they didn’t fit in the office across the way because the sofa and TV in that room took up the space the filing cabinets would occupy.  So why is are their papers in the dining room when the office is right across the way?  Because one of them doesn’t like the office and wants to work in the dining room instead.

Digging deeper I discovered that in fact, while this a 3 story house, they rarely venture upstairs or downstairs…they prefer to live on one level, so that requires surrounding themselves with everything that they might need or want, so they can avoid going to the other levels of the house.  Digging deeper still, one of them is no longer physically able to even use stairs and the other feels it’s too much effort to go up and down.  And, most importantly, neither will entertain the thought of selling the house and moving to another that offers a better layout to suit their physical requirements.

So this organizing assessment is actually about something other than just “getting organized”…it’s about uncovering what is going on with these 2 people that has resulted in a living situation that neither likes but that neither is willing to give up.

A lot of the things I pointed out to them they had long stopped noticing or thinking about.  The first step in this journey is for them to acknowledge the situation and decide if they really want to make changes…it’s going to take a lot of work to turn this particular ship around.  So, they will take a vacation and think about it…


do not call…and other phone myths

Last week, I was with an elder client helping prepare for her upcoming move.  This woman’s phone must of rung 25 times during the few hours I was there.  Each time it rang, she had to run to the phone to see whose number was displayed on the screen, to determine whether or not she should risk answering it.  The result was that we only got half the amount of work done that we should have during our session.

Then this week, when I returned to work with her, the phone ringing/phone running/phone checking thing started all over again.

It’s not the first time I’ve noticed this while working with seniors in their homes.  Most seniors will tell you that their phones ring non-stop day and night.  Some of my clients answer every single call and I hear them pleading with the person on the other end (if they are lucky and there actually IS a human on the other end) to leave them alone.

In my home office, my own phone rings day and night, and unfortunately, the majority of the calls I get are telemarketers, whether human or robo calls.  I, too, find myself looking at the screen and trying to figure out if I should or shouldn’t answer.  I suspect I lose business weekly by choosing not to pick up a call, but I’ve decided to live with that.

While there are things you can do to reduce the number of calls you get, like signing up for the Do Not Call Register, we all know that the calls keep coming.  Many people don’t realize that every time you voluntarily sign up for something/anything, you are in fact signing away your Do Not Call rights.

Unfortunately, as a business, the Do Not Call Register exempts me.  Additionally, there are tons of loopholes that marketers can use to exempt them from having to pay any attention to the list.  And we all know that enforcement is nearly impossible.

My cell phone allows me to easily block calls, and so far I haven’t received that many unwanted calls on it.  Landlines remain a major problem.  Here’s what I have decided to do:

1.  I purchased a new landline phone that allows you to block numbers.  That has really helped a lot.  Of course, you have to manually follow certain steps after you have recorded the offending number, but it’s not hard and I can now do it quickly.

I understand that some phone companies offer the ability to block numbers.  Mine does not.

2.  I do look at my phone screen to see any info it gives and determine if I think the caller is legitimate.  I do get fooled, as a lot of telemarketing companies get phone numbers with your local area code so that the number looks local and you are more likely to pick up the phone.

3.  I don’t pick up the phone if there is no caller information.  “Private caller” calls do not get answered.  I don’t call anyone back who doesn’t leave a message.

4.  I hang up on robo calls and immediately block the numbers.

5.  Any telemarketer/solicitor is told, politely to “put this number on your do not call list”.  I use to say “take me off your calling list”, but I understand that companies have a thousand ways to not do that as they claim it’s too vague a statement to know what that means. (As in “what part of NO, don’t you understand?”)

Of course, besides the unwanted phone calls, there’s junk mail, and besides that, is spam email…but that will have to wait because my phone is ringing…

My secretary gets annoyed with telemarketers too.

My secretary gets annoyed with telemarketers too.


It is possible to be too organized…

As a professional organizer, I perform a good number of “organizing assessments” every year, which I’ve talked about throughout my blog.

Generally, I am going to homes of people who are struggling to get and stay organized.  But recently I did an assessment for someone who was exactly the opposite.  In fact, she may be way too organized!

In this case, our client was finding that her tendencies to over organize have led her to creating systems that are so “over the top” in detail, to the point that she simply could no longer keep up with keeping those systems up!  She stopped doing anything and now feels overwhelmed with the prospects of having to catch up after taking several months off.

For example, her photo album filing is so detailed that each trip has multiple albums…one for where they visited, and a second one for all the people they photo, which gets cross referenced to the first album.  This means hat each photo has to be duplicated, or sometimes triplicated, so that the same photo could live in each album, covering a difference subject. A photo of Uncle Fred, at the Grand Canyon, would be filed in “The Grand Canyon Trip” album, as well as, the “Our Relatives” album and then cross referenced to each other album.

You can see the amount of detail here and how incredibly time consuming this activity has become.  Not mention taking all the fun out of sorting through photos and and perhaps pasting them in AN album, as some people choose to do.

I sat with her and had a serious discussion on giving herself permission to stop over organizing start enjoying her activities a bit more.   Instead of having systems that are so complicated she can’t possibly keep them up, find ways to generalize, thereby shorting the tasks.

If you are creating a filing system for your bills, it’s perfectly okay to just have one folder that says BILLS.  The advantage is that when headings are more generalized, you are less inclined to procrastinate on the filing because you don’t have to agonize over where something goes…if it’s a bill, it can only go to one place.

Depending on how complicated your life is, you may need two files for bills, say one HOUSEHOLD BILLS and one BUSINESS BILLS.  Just try and avoid 22 files for bills.  I guarantee you that even if you create 22 files for specific bills, a 23rd is going to show up, and when you realize you don’t have file for it, you’ll drop it back into the pile on your desk, telling yourself you’ll make a file and take care of it “later”. Then the pile just keeps growing because, as we all know, “later” is the biggest file of all!


The problem with moving…it’s inconvenient, for sure.


I write this with a smile…actually, it’s a funny quirk of being human…we don’t like change, even when we initiate it, even when it’s the best thing to happen to us, and even when we know we will be happier in the end.

As the moving season winds down, I’ll offer a last warning to anyone moving or thinking of moving…yes, moving is stressful, disruptive and sometimes downright chaotic.  And yes, certainly, working with a professional organizer who specializes in managing moves lessens all those issues.  However, there is one thing that is pretty hard to deal with…the problem with moving is it’s inconvenient.

While I lose countless hours of sleep worrying about YOUR stuff getting from point A to point B, you don’t have to worry, unless you want to.  And it’s amazing how many people want to worry anyway.   So be it.

But it still astounds me how many people moving, who have known they would be moving…sometimes for a year before the move, don’t understand that in order to move, ALL your stuff has to be put in boxes, loaded on a truck and driven to wherever it is you are going.  Getting clients to understand this is one of the hardest parts of my job.

Clients who are moving in a day, still don’t want you to pack their 64 piece set of china (really, you need the gravy boat the night before you move?).  Nor do they want their books packed (really, you are going to read War and Peace the night before you move?) or their 87 pairs of shoes (really, you need 22 pairs of 8″ heels tonight?) or their 1987 tax returns (really, you think you’ll get audited tonight?).

Additionally, people can’t bear to be without their TV’s and computers.  Generally, they want all electronic devices up and running to within minutes of the moving truck pulling away and within minutes of arriving at the new house.  And, it needs to run perfectly.

Most of our clients never want to change their regular scheduled events just because they happen to be moving.  Give up a night of the book club?  No way!  Skip the neighbors 5 year olds violin rehearsal, nope.

Seriously, people hire us so that they can go on with their lives, and it makes me happy that they move with the least amount of stress and disruption.  However, the only thing that can be done about the inconvenience factor is to not have them around for their move at all.  One of my assistants suggested that we send all our clients on a cruise the week of their move.  Pack your suitcase and go and we’ll move you and you can come back to a completely unpacked and organized new house.

Actually, a few of our clients have done just that.  It works beautifully, and no one is inconvenienced!

when “now” isn’t fast enough…


July 4, 2015 was a Saturday.  It’s was also a National Holiday.  A lot people in the U.S. took that holiday weekend as a long weekend, including me.  I don’t take a lot of days off and I rarely am gone for more than 2 days.  But I took off July 3 – 4 – 5.

On July 3rd a phone message was left by a woman who wanted information on our moving services.  On July 4th she left another message  on my office phone, and on my cell phone, admonishing me for not returning her call.  “What kind of a business are you running that you don’t return phone calls?”  On Sunday, July 5th I called her number and got her voicemail.  I left a message that I was out of the office until Monday, July 6th and that my work calendar was full and I would not be able to assist her with her move.

My phones start ringing at 5:30am and I’ve gotten calls as late as 11:30pm.   With 2 phones, it’s a challenge keeping up with calls.  I have a strict policy of not answering my cell phone while I am on a job with a client.  I feel my phone “buzzing” in my pocket all day. I give up a lot of business not returning a phone call within MINUTES of a message being left, “oh, I already hired someone.” 5 minutes after they left a message for me.

Then there are the text messages…the back and forth misspelled conversations that I personally find more time consuming than just talking to someone on the phone, but which everyone else seems to prefer.

The majority of client emails come in after 10pm at night, which I often answer. There’s nothing more fun than getting an email from a client at 10:30pm advising me of critical changes to their projects, leaving me to toss and turn all night until the sun comes up and I can start making calls to straighten out the new messes.

As a sole proprietor, it’s really hard to figure out where you draw the line.  How do you service your clients needs, but yet have down time and away time and even get more than 4 hours of sleep? Once a month I try and take a “vacation”, and hop the ferry to SF.  I have lunch at Slanted Door or Hog Island Oyster, then walk the vendors and pick up olive oil and cheese and catch the ferry home.  I am gone for 4 or 5 hours and it’s heaven, except for the calls and emails that I have to answer as soon as I get home…