30 January 2008

Organizing by the Numbers: A Comparison of Principles

Since its inception in 1985, NAPO has exploded to almost 4,000 members and is still growing. A plethora of books on organizing has followed suit. I am fascinated by how each author finds a different approach to presenting the basic principles – or, in other cases, the basic process – of organizing. What follows is a comparative presentation of 15 different sets of principles. They are listed in order of the number of principles they put forth, ranging from 14 to 3. If you know of other books with different approaches, please e-mail the information to me at organized@humboldt1.com. Also, if you find this comparison valuable, please bookmark it on del.icio.us, Digg, or the social bookmark of your choice. Happy organizing!
Organizing Solutions for People with ADD
by Susan Pinsky

14 Rules of Organizing

1. Give everything a home.

2. Store things on the wall or a shelf, never on the floor.

3. Take advantage of vertical storage space.

4. Use hooks instead of hangers.

5. Don’t increase storage, reduce inventory.

6. Touch it only once (mail, laundry, etc).

7. If you haven’t touched it in a year, discard it.

8. Duplicate where necessary to store things where you use them.

9. Eliminate items that duplicate functions (electric and manual can opener, for example).

10. Arrange items in activity zones.

11. Don’t overcrowd your storage.

12. Easy to access and easy to put away.

13. Name your storage (sock drawer, dish cabinet).

14. Make sure “rough” storage (garage, basements etc.) are well lit and easily accessible.

The Spiritual Art of Being Organized
by Claire Josefine

12 Basic Principles of Being Organized

1. Think! Think vertical, think verbs, think function, think consequences.

2. Put like with like within zones created by function.

3. K.I.S.S. (Keep it simple, sweetie).

4. Create, and use, habits and schedules.

5. Be realistic.

6. Set boundaries.

7. Dishes before dusting.

8. Slow down and pay attention.

9. Adopt an attitude of gratitude.

10. Base decisions in love instead of fear.

11. Remember that we have choices.

12. Ask for help.

All You Really Need
by Jane Campbell

The Elements of Order

1. Own Less.

2. Give Stuff a Home.

3. Make it Pretty.

4. Categorize.

5. Handle Paper Centrally.

6. Store, Don't Obscure.

7. Files are Better than Piles.

8. Wean Yourself.

9. Travel with Care.

10. Be in Charge.

11. Respect the Earth (But).

12. Invest in a Professional.

The Spirit of Getting Organized:
12 Skills to Finding Meaning and Power in Your Stuff

by Pamela Kristan

12 Organizational Skills

Witness Skills develop a point-of-view
1. Observing gathers data

2. Acknowledging places value

Threshold Skills get us into and out of organizing
3. Beginning decides where to start

4. Ending disengages from the work

Shaping Skills intervene in the physical world
5. Sorting reveals order within the chaos

6. Staging set up an active area

7. Storing sets up archives and collections

8. Shedding identifies what you don’t need and moves it out

Option Skills
open up or settle down possibilities
9. Imagining opens up options

10. Choosing settles down options

Skills to Carry On place organization in context
11. Sustaining renews the system

12. Engaging makes connections

The Fly Lady's
11 Commandments

1. Keep your sink clean and shiny.

2. Get dressed every morning, even if you don't feel like it. Don't forget your lace-up shoes.

3. Do your Morning Routine every morning, right when you get up. Do your Before Bed Routine every night.

4. Don't allow yourself to be sidetracked by the computer.

5. Pick up after yourself. If you get it out, put it away when you finish.

6. Don't try to do two projects at once. ONE JOB AT A TIME.

7. Don't pull out more then you can put back in one hour.

8. Do something for yourself every day, maybe every morning and night.

9. Work as fast as you can to get a job done. This will give you more time to play later.

10. Smile even when you don't feel like it. It is contagious. Make up your mind to be happy and you will be.

11. Don't forget to laugh every day. Pamper yourself. You deserve it.

How to Conquer Clutter
by Stephanie Culp

Ten Commandments on Clutter

1. Stop procrastinating.

2. Quit making excuses.

3. Use it or lose it.

4. Learn to let go.

5. Be a giver.

6. Set limits.

7. Use the in and out inventory rule.

8. Less is more.

9. Keep everything in its place.

10. Compromise.

Smart Organizing
By Sandra Felton

The Bare Bones

Three STEPS to set-up in the house so it works well -- and easily:
1. Consolidate - Group everything together with like items.

2. Containerize - Store them in an appropriate place in containers with labels.

3. Condense - Get rid of duplicates, unused, unwanted, unneeded items.

Two ROUTINES that work consistently in the set-up you have created. Set clock for 10 or 15 minutes:
4. Four things in morning - your choice.

5. Four things at night - your choice.

Five HABITS to keep clutter on the run:
6. If you get it out, put it up.

7. Apply the 30-second rule consistently.

8. Follow the forest camping rule today.

9. Look, really look, at your surroundings.

10. Use little minutes.

The Organizing Sourcebook
by Kathy Waddill

9 Strategies of Reasonably Organized People

1. Make your systems fit you and your life.

2. Sort everything by how you use it.

3. Weed constantly.

4. Use the right containers and tools.

5. Label everything.

6. Keep it simple.

7. Decide to decide.

8. Get help when you need it.

9. Evaluate honestly and often.

It's Hard to Make a Difference When You Can’t Find Your Keys
by Marilyn Paul, Ph.D.

7-Step Path to Becoming Truly Organized

1. Establish Your Purpose.

2. Envision What You Want.

3. Take Stock.

4. Choose Support.

5. Identify Strategies for Change.

6. Take Action.

7. Go Deeper to Keep Going.

Order from Chaos:
A 6-Step Plan for Organizing
Yourself, Your Office and Your Life

by Liz Davenport

1.The Cockpit Office.

2. Air Traffic Control.

3. The Pending File.

4. Make Decisions.

5. Prioritize Ongoingly.

6. Daily Habits.

Odd One Out
The Maverick's Guide to ADD

by Jennifer Koretsky

5 Essential Skills for Managing Adult ADD

1. Break the cycle of overwhelm.

2. Work with your ADD, not against it.

3. ADDjust your attitude.

4. Take control of your space and time.

5. Live out loud.

Organized to Last:
5 Simple Steps to Staying Organized

by Porter Knight

1. Plan

2. Purge

3. Sort

4. Place

5. Use

Zen Habits
by Leo Babauta

Four Laws of Simplicity

1. Collect everything in one place.

2. Choose the essential.

3. Eliminate the rest.

4. Organize the remaining stuff neatly and nicely.

Organizing from the Inside Out
by Julie Morgenstern

1. Analyze

2. Strategize

3. Attack, using SPACE

Assign a Home

Clear and SIMPLE™
by Marla Dee

1. See It

2. Map It

3. Do it, using STACKS

Assign a Home
Keep It Up

Finally, although these affirmations aren’t exactly principles, they are so right-on that I couldn’t resist including them. They are from Clutterers Anonymous.

Clutterers Anonymous Affirmations

We have found that saying affirmations helps us replace negative thoughts with positive ones. Take what you like and leave the rest.

1. I nurture my spirit by surrounding myself with beauty and harmony.

2. I believe I am entitled to surroundings of serenity and order and a joyous life.

3. I set reasonable goals, remembering that my first priority is my well-being.

4. I schedule what I can do at a comfortable pace. I rest before I get tired.

5. I allot more time than I need for a task or trip, allowing a comfortable margin for the unexpected.

6. I decide which are the most important things to do first.

7. I do one thing at a time.

8. I schedule quiet time for communing with my Higher Power. Before I accept any new commitments, I first ask for guidance from my Higher Power.

9. I eliminate an activity from my schedule before adding one that demands equivalent time and energy.

10. When I feel overwhelmed, I stop and reconnect with my Higher Power.

11. I allocate space and time for anything new that I bring into my life or home.

12. I simplify my life, believing that when I need a fact or an item it will be available to me.

13. I affirm abundance and prosperity, thus I release the need to hoard.

14. I ask for help if I have any difficulties in working the program.

15. I schedule time for play and rest, refusing to work non-stop.

16. I believe that I can recover from cluttering and use my experience to benefit others.

17. I accept my progress as proceeding in God's time. I know that patience,tolerance, and taking my time aids me in my recovery.

18. I am gentle with my efforts, knowing that my new way of living requires much practice.

19. I do not yield to pressure or attempt to pressure others.

20. I realize that I am already where I will always be, in the here and now. I live each moment with serenity, joy, and gratitude.

28 January 2008


Despite outward appearances of confidence and grounding, I feel blown off balance too easily by external winds. Whether it’s a bi-polar client forgetting her appointment (again) and then acting out in response, or the fear that someone dislikes me, or being co-dependently entangled in a friend’s financial mess, I find myself thrown off course. And so, I am working on the trait of equanimity, of balance.

A friend offered the image of a Whirling Dervish, spinning and spinning around a calm core. This reminded me of a lecture I attended over a decade ago. I’d gone to hear an Ayurvedic practitioner speak at my neighborhood bookstore. He went around the room, identifying each of our dominant doshas. When he got to me, he stumbled. I was either Pitta-Kapha or Kapha-Pitta (Fire-Earth or Earth-Fire) with a core of Vatta (Air) running through my center. (I’m Pitta-Kapha.)

It appears my challenge is to cultivate a calm core, to shift it from air to earth. But how does one change a vapor to a solid? Thinking about water, I realized that one applies cold. So the trick is to chill. Be cool, dude. When the universe tosses me a glitch, take a breath and step back, gain perspective. Remember that there’s a bigger picture than what’s immediately in front of me, and be willing to accept that I don’t have all the information.

The other piece, I think, is to religiously practice grounding through meditation. I’ve been avoiding this for years, although I’m not sure why. A couple of years ago, at the county fair, the palm reader caught my eye and I knew I had to see her. (I’ve never been to a palm reader before or since.) The gist of her message was this: I am psychic and need to be meditating. Okay… I do have a strong relationship with my intuition, and I’ve been told that I’m amazing at running energy, but I don’t feel psychic in the usual understanding of the word. Still, I have been taking beginning psychic classes from Melanie Tolley. She teaches a grounding and aura-cleansing technique that I am now practicing every night before I go to bed. It puts me into a meditative state and, hopefully, will strengthen my grounding abilities so that I can snap to that place whenever I need. Then I’ll just have to remember that I can be grounded at will!

27 January 2008

The Minds, They Are A’Changing

Our minds are changing, and I suspect that technology is contributing to the change.

A while back, I wrote a piece on television and ADD (Wait, Maybe We Shouldn’t Kill Our TVs). Since then, I’ve had the pleasure of watching a based-on-the-book lecture by David Weinberger, Everything is Miscellaneous.

I adamantly insist that, when creating a filing system, “Miscellaneous” is verboten – it is the black hole of filing. As long as we are talking about physical items, I believe it is important for us to identify how something is being used and why we are keeping it, and then to use that information to guide where we put it.

In his talk, Weinberger explains how the concept of “a place for everything and everything in its place” makes sense as an organizing concept so long as we are dealing with physical objects. After all, physical objects occupy space, and only one object can occupy that space at one time. But with the advent of computer technology, and especially with the Internet, how we access information has changed. Information no longer needs to occupy only one space. Indeed, online, it can be accessed from many different angles, and becomes more available to us the more places it is “filed.”

I have a client who is a nonfiction author and who’s been diagnosed with ADD. She had file drawers full of clippings and notes for the book she was writing, and hired me to help organize those files. It was a fascinating process because she continually saw the relationships between the information, the connections, and wanted to file accordingly. But the connections were fluid and changeable, which makes accessing the information difficult. Instead, I encouraged her to let me set up the files based on what the information actually was, instead of what it could be. (This worked well for her, by the way, and she thanked me for insisting on this system.)

Because we were dealing with physical objects, with pieces of paper, we were limited to choosing one place for each paper. To set up a cross-reference system – let alone to maintain it! – would have been beyond tedious. BUT, if all this information had been bits of data living in the Internet ether, we could have pursued a different organizational model.

Here’s where I’m going with this: The Internet mirrors the ADD mind. Both are structured around connections and relationships, instead of being limited to linear space.

Which leads me to wonder: What is the relationship between the technological explosion (of television, and of the Internet) and the changes I’m seeing in how our minds process information?

The other piece I’m wondering about is: Why are so many more people being diagnosed with Aspergers? I now have three friends with Aspergers children. How does this fit in with the increase of folks with ADD, and with the changes in technology and how we receive and process information? Or does it?

20 January 2008

Feeling Crabby

If I didn’t know better, I’d swear Mercury’s been retrograde. Seems everything’s falling apart recently. In the past two weeks, I’ve had to replace the toilet and the washing machine. Which has put me through the environmental-ethics wringer.

It appears that Mr. Rooter does not recycle the toilets, even though Kernen Construction takes porcelain fixtures – for free – crushes them, and re-uses them for road base. He doesn’t want to “drive all the way up there” (about 10 to 15 miles); it isn’t worth his time and expense. Sigh. (Otherwise, he's a nice guy and provides great customer support.) Had I known that Kernen Construction recycled toilets, and had I had more time before committing to the old one being replaced, I would have searched out a plumber who took the old fixture in to Kernen. Instead, I’ve contributed unnecessarily to the landfill.

Anthony and I hauled the old washing machine, which would cost almost $200 more to repair than to replace new, to the recycling center and paid the $17 recycling fee. It, at least, will not go to the dump. But I bought a brand-new washer instead of a refurbished one, which means I am consuming considerably more “embodied energy.” It’s just that, when it comes to machines, I want the assurance that it won’t die on me prematurely. Somehow, buying new feels like a safer bet.

But now I feel like a failure as an environmentally-conscious consumer. Okay, the toilet is a low-flow that’s actually designed to work with 1.5 gallons per flush, and the washer is an Energy Star front loader, so it uses minimal water and electricity. Still, I feel like I failed. I should have recycled the toilet, should have bought used instead of new… Shoulda, woulda, coulda.

Perhaps this is where I need to remember that old Al-Anon wisdom of “progress, not perfection.” Overall I have a reasonable eco-footprint (other than the fact that, because I live in the country, I am car dependent). My usual garbage amounts to maybe a quarter of a brown grocery bag per week – everything else is composted or recycled. I buy primarily organic, from small local farmers when possible. I clean with eco-groovy cleaners (mostly Bon Ami and elbow grease), have a small (fully insulated) house.

Or am I justifying away my guilt?

My mom (Franci Gallegos) was proud of being named environmentalist of the year in Sonoma County. She bravely battled the lumber barons (as she called them), fighting to preserve her local watershed. Yet I remember being disgusted by what I deemed her hypocrisy, i.e., the lack of environmental awareness and behavior in her own home. Never mind that she smoked and her whole house reeked something awful (the cat boxes didn’t help); her cupboards were filled with toxic cleaning solutions and unhealthy food. A true “Sierra-Club environmentalist” – that was my mom.

Granted, my life is a hell of a lot cleaner than hers. Still, I wonder if there’s a voice somewhere in my head that says I’m being “just like her.” (And God knows we don’t want to be like our mothers! Isn’t that our great fear, to look in the mirror and see Mom?) Maybe, somewhere inside, I am equally disgusted with my own apparent hypocrisy, which is how I judge my imperfection, and how I project that others will judge me.

Dang. All I wanted was a working toilet and washing machine. How did life get so complicated?


On a completely different note, here’s the recipe for tonight’s dinner.

Thai-Inspired Crab Cakes

1 large carrot, grated (about 1 cup)
2 green onions, cut thinly (plant the root ends that you cut off – they’ll re-grow!)
1 stalk lemongrass, finely minced
about ½ cup of chopped fresh cilantro
1 thumb-sized piece of fresh ginger, grated (a small thumb, that is)
1 Tablespoon fish sauce
3 Tablespoons lime juice
1 teaspoon sugar

Let this sit for a little while so that the flavors can intermingle. When ready to cook the cakes, mix in:
1 egg
Panko crumbs (between ½ cup and 1 cup, just enough to hold everything together)

Then gently fold in:
¼ to 1/3 pound of fresh crab (Dungeness)
6 small prawns, shelled, de-veined, and chopped (optional)

Heat your skillet, add oil (I use organic canola) and fry up the crab cakes over a medium-low heat.

Makes about 16 “slightly flattened golf-ball” sized cakes. (This is how Anthony described the shape and size when I asked him about them.)

08 January 2008

Cate Cummings

Today’s issue of Shelf Awareness brought a piece of startling news. Cate Cummings, “a freelance publicist who specialized in mind/body and metaphysical titles, died on January 3 from cancer. She was 53.
 Her career spanned more than 25 years, according to the Kansas City Star, which said that she will be remembered ‘for her quick wit, her compassionate treatment and advocacy of animals and her love of life.’"

Cate handled a publicity campaign a couple of years ago for my book, The Spiritual Art of Being Organized. She loved the book. What’s more, she believed in it.

Although I never had the pleasure of meeting her in person, we had several good talks over the phone. Cate was funny, warm-hearted, generous, and knew her stuff. She also loved cats as much as I do; we’d spend half our time on the phone exchanging cat stories.

I had no idea that Cate was ill, although I guess that explains why emails to her came back with the message that her mailbox was full. In fact, I’d been looking forward to finally meeting her at the INATS show in Denver this June. Phooey.

Cate, I’m sorry I never got to meet you. I’m grateful for your support and wisdom, and pray that you are happy, wherever you are now. I know it’s cliché, but the world is poorer for your absence. Bless you.

06 January 2008

Computer Literacy?

I read on Southern Review of Books that a Russian publisher is releasing a novel that was written by a computer. Evidently, a group of philologists and software folks collaborated to write a program known as PC Writer 2008.

The result? To quote the Southern Review: “The basic story line of what the publisher claims is the first computer-generated novel, conditionally titled ‘[True love]*.wrt’, is the love story of Anna Karenina’s main characters. The action takes place on an unknown island in times similar to the present. The book is written in Haruki Murakami’s manner, while the style is based on the vocabulary, language and literary tools of 13 Russian and foreign authors of the 19th and 20th centuries.”

This reminds me of an idea I had back in college, circa 1980. My friends and I were playing a lot of Scrabble back then, and one of my buddies was a computer programmer. We also fancied ourselves poets, or at least hung out at poetry readings. My idea was this: to take all the words created in our Scrabble games – and only these words – and then write a computer program that would generate poetry from that limited allotment of vocabulary. We would program the computer to “write” so many lines with pre-determined (and varying) noun/verb/adjective patterns, and to incorporate meters. I fancied the result would be a sort of Found Poetry, with maybe a bit of Dada flavor. These would be our Scrabble poems.

Okay, so it isn’t a great Russian novel. Heck, I never even wrote the program (or rather, worked with my programmer friend so that he could write the program). But it was a fun idea, and here we are, almost 30 years later, with a variation on the computer-writer theme.

04 January 2008

Lac d'Elk

Winters in western Sonoma County could be exciting. I remember, growing up in Camp Meeker, how the Russian River would crest its banks, and we’d (foolishly) drive out to Monte Rio and toward Guerneville to see the flood. It seemed magnificent, exhilarating. Except of course for the poor folks who actually lived along the riverbanks. Silly people, I judged – why would they live so close to a river they knew flooded regularly?

Thirty years later, I must turn the same judgment on myself. As it has every year that I’ve lived here, the Elk River is rising. It crested its banks this afternoon, and I watched it crawl across Farmer John’s field toward my house.

It’s actually lovely, in a way. I can gaze across the pasture through my kitchen and bedroom windows. This time of year, the riparian willows are bare, so I can see through them to the river’s bank and beyond to Farmer John’s dairy barn. When the river rises to its bank, I see its shimmer through the trees. And when it crests, it forms pools in the pasture’s hollows. Eventually those pools grow until they join into one continuous, rippling brown flow. Then the birds arrive, the blue herons and the crows, maybe a turkey vulture or two.

Usually the river stays there, about one-third of the way across the pasture toward my house. About once a year, though, it gets bad. Elk River becomes Lac d’Elk, a wide, mucky current sprawling from Larry’s fields, through the Franceschi’s back property, across the road to my back yard. The river makes a big U right at my place, and Farmer’s John pasture is the space inside the U. When we flood, the river fills the U-shaped pasture, joining banks right through my property.

And when the river REALLY floods, it rushes up around my house. My home becomes an island, with water gushing around and under the building.

This is where I thank my architect for suggesting that, as long as I had to put in a new foundation when I bought the place, why not raise the house 3 feet?

Had we not raised the house, it would have been destroyed by flood the first winter I lived here. As is, it came up 18 inches in the carport that year, literally ½ an inch from coming in the back door to the utility room. (I did not raise the little rooms that are at the back of the carport.) The house, thank God (and my architect), is out of harm’s way.

But the carport gets thrashed by the flood waters. It’s always an interesting call once the river’s risen. Is this the time it will flood all the way? Will it flood tonight, after I’ve gone to bed? How much more will it rain, and what’s going on with the tides?

Just in case, I drove the rider mower over to Marianne’s tonight and stored it in her shelter, high on her hill. I also parked my car up by the road. If I truly thought it would flood tonight (and none of the residents down Elk River Courts -- who become stranded back there because their bridge gets covered by water -- have moved their cars up to the road, so I guess the danger isn’t that high), I would move the bicycles and the push mower up onto my tenant’s back steps. (His house is on slightly higher ground and out of flood range.)

So why the hell did I buy a place on a river that floods, given how I used to scoff at people who did just this when I was younger? Well, other than karma… I honestly did not know it would flood. I was informed, during the purchasing process, that the property was zoned 100-year flood plain, and that it had flooded just a few years prior. Hey, I had another 100 years, right?

Well, if Pacific Lumber/Maxxam had not destroyed the river with sedimentary run-off from their rapacious logging upstream, I probably would have had that 100 years. Instead, I have a home that I love with an annual “lakeside” view.

* * * * *

Well, it's morning now and the Elk River is back within its banks. Evidently, last night was not the night for our annual flood. It was, however, quite a storm, with lightening brightly visible through closed eyes and long loud thunders and rain slamming into the bedroom windows. All at 2:00 a.m. Sleep? What's sleep?