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Posts Tagged ‘professional organizer’

Disorganization: What’s In It For You?

Sunday, October 23, 2011 @ 12:10 PM
posted by admin

At the ripe old age of 58 I have come to understand that people usually change when there is something in it for them to do so. The same applies for why they don’t change. There is something in it for them to not make the change. Recently I worked with a chronically disorganized client whom I will call Joshua. Joshua was of two minds (at least.) He wanted to change the cluttered environment he was working in, but at every opportunity given to him to de-clutter (i.e. discard, donate, shred, sell, etc.) he chose to hold onto the item. How could I reconcile Joshua’s stated desire to do something different (i.e. declutter) with his inaction that left things exactly the same? How could I get him unstuck?

I employed a method that I call ‘Disorganization – What’s In It For You?’ I learned this technique from Byron Van Arsdale, a business coach who gave a presentation at an Institute for Challenging Disorganization conference. It was very successful with Joshua. Here’s how it went:

(Judith) Here’s a stack of credit card receipts for 2008 purchases. What’s in it for you to keep these receipts?
(Joshua) I have no idea who much I’m spending. If I keep them I’ll someday find out how much I’m spending.
(Judith) Okay. That’s a good goal. If you were to sort these receipts by store and add up each stack you would know what you spent in 2008 in these stores. From my experience, I can tell you that sorting and tallying this size stack of receipts would take about 2 hours. What’s in it for you to spend two hours knowing what you spent in 2008? (Joshua) It would be worth two hours to finally get it done.

(Judith) Okay. We could get your schedule and plan out the two hours. What if you could find out in about 30 minutes. Would there be something in it for you to spend less time to know the same thing?

(Joshua) Sure. The less time the better.

We went online to the bank that issues Joshua’s credit card statements and arranged for a year-end statement for 2008. It came by email with a breakdown of all his expenditures by type. It took less than a half hour.

(Judith) Can I toss out the receipts?
(Joshua) Not yet. I’m not ready.
(Judith) That’s fine. What’s in it for you to wait?
(Joshua) If I wait I’ll get used to the idea of not having the receipts for real, in my hand.
(Judith) I’m going to print out your year-end statement so you can hold it in your hand.

We printed out the 2008 and 2009 and 2010 year-end statements. Joshua tossed all his receipts. He even shredded his monthly credit card statements for those years.

Once you know what you get out of a behavior, you can change it. For Joshua, what he gets out of saving receipts is a mental reminder to deal with where his money is going. Saving the receipts never really gets him to that outcome. But now that he was aware of what was in it for him to save the receipts, we could do something different, something more powerful to actually achieve his goal. There almost always is a better way, a more organized way to get at the same goal.

You can try the ‘Disorganization: What’s In It For Me?’ method with any organizing obstacle. You might discover that what’s in it for you to keep your stacks and piles and stuff is:

A feeling of control
A fear of forgetting
An environment of inventiveness

Remember, the second part of the method is to find a better way, a more organized way to get at the same result. That’s why the method works best when you do it with a professional organizer. If you’re still stuck, hire an organizer who specializes with chronic disorganizaiton at

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Organizing During A Recession

Saturday, September 24, 2011 @ 07:09 AM
posted by admin

In simple terms, a ‘recession’ is a period of economic contraction. When the economy contracts, we all do a bit of receding. We tend to withdraw back to basics as we wait for more expansive times. A recession is a challenging time. Some of my clients have lost their jobs and health insurance. Those who own their own businesses may have fewer clients and less revenue. I understand. I own a business too. Let me share with you what my clients and I are doing organizationally to hunker down during this long-lasting and rather deep recession.

  • Get lean. Now is truly the time to clear off your desk, toss out the clutter, find the prime ‘stuff” that needs doing, and make a plan for getting things done.
  • Get focused. As a recent episode of ‘Raising Hope’ but it “Stop procrasterbating!” There’s too much at stake. Get rid of the distractions of projects you’ll never get to. Get real about your commitments and promises. Now is not the time to spin wheels. It’s the time to act.
  • Get support. If you’re looking for work, hit the Internet for (free) job hunting exploration and consult with a career service. I recommend Jewish Family and Career Services. Anyone can participate but a donation would be nice.
  • Get thrifty. If you’re organized enough to cut coupons or download them from the Internet, keep them in your car where you’ll have at least a chance of using them. is very cool. Check out coupon apps at Resist buying techno toys and stock up on the stuff you use daily like office paper, toothpaste and wine (well, no need not to have some fun.) Consolidate your errands; the price of gas is going up again.
  • Get closure. Got an error on your credit card bill? Call and get it resolved. Have a lingering decision to make? Do your research, make the decision and live with the consequences because the less ‘open loops’ you have hanging around in these trying times, the less stress you’ll be under.

I know, I know, easier said than done. Hiring a professional organizer is a smart low-cost investment you can make during a recession if the above advice is difficult for you to implement. Professional organizers are experts at ‘lean and mean’, can get you razor-focused, and you’ll find nobody stronger in the ‘closure’ departments. Go to to find an organizer near you.

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Don’t Let Your Waste Go to Waste

Wednesday, August 31, 2011 @ 06:08 AM
posted by admin

As you know, electronics become obsolete very quickly. I tell my clients to be careful not to create a museum of their journey through modernity. Devices sitting in drawers and basements cause no harm, except taking up valuable real estate in your home you could use for other purposes. However, electronic devices tossed in the trash that are sent to the landfill and devices incinerated do cause harm. Electronics contain many toxic chemicals like lead, mercury, beryllium, cadmium, arsenic, and halogenated flame retardants in the plastics. These toxins can leach into groundwater especially in older landfills built before leaching safeguards. Incinerators can release toxins into the atmosphere.

As people migrate to smart phones the hope is that a lot of devices like PCs, cameras, cell phone, and GPS devices would be recycled. But that is not yet happening. The EPA recently released the report, 2009 Facts and Figures On Municipal Solid Waste, the latest statistics available. The vast majority (82.3%) of e-waste discarded in the U.S. ends up in our landfills and incinerators, with only 17.7 percent going to recyclers.

The best de-acquisition method is to bring your castoffs to a Responsible Recycler (RR) in the E-Steward Program. RR’s will repair electronics and donate them to charity for use or to sell to raise funds for their programs. These programs help place your electronics products into the recycling stream by refurbishing the device or giving it back to the community, either to schools, charities, economically disadvantaged or disabled citizens of your community. These efforts benefit both the environment and your community. You can even get tax deductions for donating your working electronics to schools or charities.

If the electronics are beyond repair, they can be re-manufactured, a process that extracts valuable metals such as gold, copper, silver, and platinum. In fact, a whole new industry is flourishing called ‘urban mining.’ A ton of circuit boards contains 40 times the concentration of gold typically found in ore mined in this country. The yield for copper is 30 times richer than copper mined in the U.S. So, recycling, in addition to keeping electronics out of the landfill, holds promise for metal extraction without the expense and dangers of mining. RR conducts metal extraction in the U.S. where safety and health regulations protect the workers. “The dirty little secret is that when you take your electronic waste to a recycler, instead of throwing it in a trashcan, about 80% of that material very quickly finds itself on a container ship going to China, Nigeria, India, Vietnam, or Pakistan”, says Jim Puckett, the executive director of the Basel Action Network which works to keep toxic waste out of the environment. In foreign countries, the “recycling” process is often nothing more than poor people with hammers smashing circuit boards and exposing themselves to toxins that cause brain damage, liver damage and other serious health problems.

EcoSquid is like a Kayak for gadget recycling. Type in gadget type, quality, and equipment specs and EcoSquid finds the best service to buy, recycle, or repurpose your gadget. To sell your electronics, go to or

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The Leisure Dividend

Wednesday, August 10, 2011 @ 09:08 AM
posted by admin

The point of productivity is to generate a ‘leisure dividend.’ When you are productive you do more in less time leaving you time left over for not working, for having fun or just relaxing. At least that’s the theory. Some people are naturally productive. They can prioritize instantly, integrate new tasks on the run, and finish what they start. Productivity tools such as mobile devices with multiple functions, apps, and cloud-based tools can increase productivity. The problem is people tend to reinvest their leisure dividend into more work instead of into leisure. Only 38% of Americans take all of their vacation days. 72% check into the office during their vacations. You recall Clement Clark Moore’s Twas the Night Before Christmas? Remember the line “. ..and mamma in her ‘kerchief, and I in my cap, had just settled our brains for a long winter’s nap. Not, “…had just settled down for a long winters nap”, but instead “…had just settled our brains for a long winter’s nap.” We need to rest our brains. All that information we are getting? It needs to be digested, it needs to sink in, be reflected upon and that requires rest.

How do you measure personal productivity? Some people are taking a crack at tracking all their time using a variety of apps. I think tracking our time holds some value but the time is takes to do all that tracking might be using up any benefit of time gained being productive in the first place.

If you are someone who strives for productivity but has difficulty realizing your leisure dividend, try doing the following

  • Take whatever vacation you have coming to you. Scientists have found that it takes at least 3 days to relax, and to feel you are on vacation, so take at least 4 days.
  • Full engagement in reading is also a good investment of your leisure divident. In-depth, hard copy book reading is a multi-sensory experience involving motor, visual, materiality, and focus that helps us be engaged but relaxed.
  • Exercise promotes weight control, lowers stress, controls cholesterol, and supports a good night’s sleep making it a top choice for investing your leisure dividend.
  • Sleep a little more or learn to nap.
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Tuesday, May 31, 2011 @ 09:05 AM
posted by admin

When it comes to organizing, categories are king. Categories are a fundamental organizing building block. They suggest what things go together. Categories make it possible to organize and store things for easy access and retrieval. An article about arthritis might go in a file called Health but a document about bird-feeders doesn’t. Most of us don’t store our belts with our cereal: unless you’re a category-bender. “Watching the birds at the bird feeder is relaxing. It makes my arthritis less painful”, says my client Roberta. So we file the article about bird-feeders under Health. Category-benders think about “big picture” and they see many connections between items that I would never think of. I tend to think of my stuff in a more micro way. It makes it easier for me to categorize it.

I was reminded of category-bending when my great niece (grand niece?) got a wrong answer on an elementary school quiz called “What Does Not Belong?” There was a picture of a shoe, a dog, a cat, and a bird. She circled the bird. When asked to explain, she said, “Well, my dog grabbed Mom’s shoe and ran around the house with it. Mom got mad and ran after the dog. She stepped on the cat’s tail. The cat ran under the couch. We don’t have a bird.” So there you go. Roberta belts are coiled in plastic bags next to the cereal in the pantry. “Weight loss”, she says. “I’m supposed to the eat fiber cereal everyday. The belt/cereal combination works for me.” So there you go.

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One Person’s Clutter is Another Person’s POP

Sunday, May 22, 2011 @ 07:05 AM
posted by admin

People who have a lot of stuff find it challenging to get rid of because they do not consider it clutter. They consider it ‘POP’. POP stands for Potential, Opportunity, and Potential. Think about it. What are people saying when they claim, “I can’t throw these empty plastic medicine bottles away. They may come in handy for storing something later.” The medicine bottles have ‘potential’. As plastic containers they have a latent quality that could be useful in the future. What are people saying when they state, “I’m going to hold onto the newsletters from my old job just in case I work there again.” Circumstances in the future might present an opportunity to return to an old job and the newsletters might become relevent. What are people saying when they explain, “Someone might be able to use the backs of those used index cards. I’d rather not toss them out.” The used index cards express a ‘possibility’, a thing that might happen. The thing about POP statements is that they are not untrue. It is true an item might be useful to someone or some event in the future. I never argue the truth of a POP statement (though, having a learned a thing or two about gambling from my parents, it is just as true the items will go unused.)

When my clients make a POP statement, I engage them, not on the logic of their decision, but on the impact of it. If you keep something, it takes up space. It may need to be dusted, stored, protected from heat or dampness or other maintenance. Here’s another problem with POP. The item that is being kept will need to be remembered in order to be utilized when the potential, opportunity, or possibility presents itself. It is a kind of memory called ‘prospective memory’. Prospective memory is a form of memory that involves remembering to perform a planned action or intention at the time it happens. People who are challenged by disorganization are notoriously weak on prospective memory. What are the chances that while your grandson is visiting you with his guinea pig, the food pellet bag will break, and you’ll be game for sweeping them all up, and remember exactly where an empty medicine bottle would be to contain them. Better to grab a baggy. Will you be able to remember where those index cards are when you’re taking a message at the phone and need to write it down? Better to use the pad. Will you remember what’s in the newsletters when you get a call to come back to work? Better to read the latest ones online to get up to date.

One person’s clutter is another person’s POP. People don’t love clutter. But they do love potential, opportunity and possibility. It reflects a joy for the future. If you’re a POP kind of person, weigh your POP decisions against the burden of the past and the practicality of the present.

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Getting Organized? No. Creating? Yes!

Sunday, March 6, 2011 @ 11:03 AM
posted by admin

“Getting organized”….just the sound of it can sound daunting. What’s worse: dusty new piles of stuff you probably don’t know what to do with, pulled out of your closet that might take you hours to sort through, or your closet stuffed to the max that at least has a visual familiarity to you? Put that way, it probably doesn’t make much sense to get that closet organized.

Too often organizing is thought of as what you will lose – your stuff, time you could be spending on something else, familiarity, etc. But if you think of getting organizing as a creative process rather than a disruptive process, it changes the terms of the problem.

  • Think of yourself as creating jobs. Donate that stuff to Goodwill and the income goes to job-creation programs for poor youth.
  • Give those cool craft items to your local elementary school and you’ll create fun for kids, relief for an art teacher pinched on supplies, and goodwill as a community member.
  • Creating a little cash by having a yard sale could mean the difference between a dollar menu dinner and sitting down at a restaurant.
  • And who couldn’t possibly use the creation of a tax-write off.
  • Create a reputation as a “giver”, as a generous person who passes on items of value to others with no strings attached (i.e. you can’t get miffed if they turn around and give that item away.)
  • Create space – lovely, clear, unmitigated space.

I promise you if you pull everything out of your closet you will experience a period of deconstruction and a bit of confusion. It’s normal for things to get more disorganized before you pass through creation and onto organization. Just knowing that in advance can be a big help. If you hire a professional organizer to help, they’ll keep you motivated, help you make a plan for getting rid of stuff you don’t want, support you in your decision-making process, and some of them will even cart stuff away in their vehicle so you can have that deep out-of-sight, out-of-mind satisfying feeling you so deserve.

Organizing as a Creative Process In the Office

The benefits of organizing as a creative process pays off big time in the office. When you organize your office, you create:

  • a true picture of the active, incomplete work that needs to be finished
  • a better estimate of the time it will take to do the work that’s been hidden by clutter
  • recapturing time that might otherwise be lost looking for missing papers
  • cost-effective use of your office space
  • the security of knowing sensitive information is not just lying around
  • more welcome place for co-workers and clients
  • a productive environment for administrative assistants, team members and others
  • a green reputation as you trot pounds of paper to the recycling bin
  • grateful co-workers who will thank you for finally returning things to them
  • filing…okay so maybe that’s not such a good outcome, but hey it’s better than not knowing where anything is!
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