Stretch your mind and your ability to organize your space, your belongings, your time, and your thoughts. Allison Carter, The Professional Organizer, posts her thoughts, breakthroughs, frustrations, and memorable moments as an organizer. Allison also shares tricks that have worked for even some of the most disorganized people to conquer their clutter. Other features: Tips, mind stretches, favorite products, favorite books, and other tools to help people get organized.

Monday, June 30, 2008

Decluttering "Friends"

In college I developed a very close friendship with a girl in the dorm and we even joined the same sorority.
We soon became best friends.
Slowly she began to trust me and divulge information and problems and she became needier and needier of my time.
She had some serious mental issues and only as an adult did I realize she should have been in therapy. (child of alcoholic, abused by brother, cutter, bulemic, manic-depressive - yes it was diagnosed).

Another girl in the sorority (her little sister) and I used to talk about how she completely drained us but we felt obligated to help her. Who doesn't want to help someone in need who asks for help? I actually thought it was kind of cool to have a friend so screwed up. Maybe it made me feel better about myself.
But happened over and over and over again - she would come to us for advice and to talk about her problems - and was sapping us. And it wasn't any fun.

Eventually, an attempted suicide drove us away completely. It was the kind where you knew it was a cry for help because she called us after downing a bottle of pills.
When I graduated and moved away, I soon realized that being away from her gave me energy. When she tried to keep up the friendship, I kept her at an arms distance, didn't return phone calls, etc.

It taught me alot that would come in handy in my future adult life about the type of people I want to be around and the type to avoid.

Now as a professional organizer, I call this decluttering people in my life. These are the people who drain you. These are the people who don't support your ideas and dreams. These people cut you down to make themselves feel better.
I have decluttered boyfriends and others by using simple clear language such as: I don't think this is working for me.
I didn't even try to say "let's be friends".
I have even de-cluttered my draining relatives.
Email has helped a lot because I can converse when it is convenient for me, keep conversations short, and I don't get so emotional. If I receive an email that sets me off and hits hot buttons, I can write a response to "vent", and then delete it and instead send something less harsh.

Homecoming for my computer

Yay, my mac mini is back all happy and fresh. There's nothing like a clean hard drive.
So I must say how impressed I am that I backed up 95% of my stuff properly and had virtually ZERO work to do to get it up and running again.
Thanks to mac, I plugged a fire wire into my macbook and transferred all the info over.
An hour or so later, I was up and running!
Lessons learned:
1. Back up regularly cuz you never know when the big one is gonna hit.
2. You don't have to rescue everything. A deleted hard drive gives you a chance to clean house.
3. If you don't know how to back stuff up, figure it out. It's not a matter of if you'll have a crash, it's a matter of when.
This month's newsletter from The Professional Organizer is about emergencies and planning not to make a bad situation worse. You can actually organize for emergencies.
Check out the July Newsletter (after July 1) at

Sunday, June 22, 2008

I'm in Computer Crash mourning.

Hi my name is Allison and I'm a docuholic.
I collect documents of information on my computer and usually organize them in nice neat files.
I sometimes even look at them again.
But now I am seeking therapy.
My computer hard drive bit the dust yesterday.
The IT guys said, nah, you don't have to back up your stuff before installing that operating system.
They were wrong. The OS wasn't the problem. It was the hardware. boo hoo.
Luckily, I'm smarter than a 5th grader and I backed up all my documents, photos and music.
But I am new to mac mail and never knew how to back up all of the emails and contacts I have diligently collected and corrected over the years.
And now I am at a loss.
I backed it all up 2 months ago but still feel lost.
2 months is a long time.
I'm in mourning for my lost info.

Lessons learned:
1. back up daily. You never know when the crash will come, but it's inevitable.
2. Keep documents stored in cyberspace at a document storing site. External hard drives work, until there is a fire or a flood or it crashes. I use .mac (soon to be .me??? I don't get the name change).
3. Keep less. It's easier to manage when there is less to manage.
4. Keep a list of all your passwords and logins so it's not a big huge deal to get up and running again.
5. Know where you have put your application discs so you can reinstall.

Any tricks you have found work for you???

Friday, June 20, 2008

Save time and burn more calories

Only have 20 minutes to trim down?
Yahoo Health says do interval training.
Those who jog and sprint for 20 minutes burn more calories than those who jog for 40 minutes.
It sounds like a no brainer.
Read the full article here.

Your Monkey Brain is Making You Cluttered

The Economist has an article this week about research done on our brains and why we want to hang onto stuff we already have, even more than getting new stuff.
It appears we're just wired that way.
Read the article here.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Make tomorrow go smoother

I love this article about rewiring your brain at the start of a day to plan to be productive.
It's more than just promising to do so.
It's thinking about your "forks in the road" where you go off track and rehearsing a way to do it differently.
Read the article here at Tools for Thought.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

How disorganized are you and why?

This is the big question many people want to know when they're calling for professional help. Just how bad is it?
Is this the worst you've ever seen?
Can you fix it?
Is there hope?
These questions are hard to answer because if it's the worst, organizers don't really want to tell the customer. And if it's not so bad, we don't want them to feel like they're too sensitive to small bits of clutter.
And then there's all the stuff in-between people want to know about themselves like "Why can't I get organized?"
I can tell you there is always hope. Even the most cluttered person can be a little less.
Even the most disorganized person can usually become somewhat less so, even if they don't overcome completely.
So where am I going with this....
Find out where you are on the clutter scale or your organizing style with these self quizzes found from various organizations and companies:
What's your O.Q.? (The Professional Organizer)
Clutter Assessment (Oprah.coma and Peter Walsh)
Clutter Junkies, Is this you? (Chetalaine and Peter Walsh)
Clutter and Creativity quiz (Artrepreneur)
Are you situationally disorganized? (NSGCD)
Are you chronically disorganized? (NSGCD)
Are you organized at the office? (
Are you organized at home? (
What's your organizing obstacle? (ivillage and Vicki Norris)
What causes your clutter? ( and Julie Morgenstern)
Clutter quiz (Clutter Workshop)
What's your clutter tolerance? (

Let me know if you find any surprises!
-- Allison

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Plan your Life and Death

Most organizing websites and blogs talk about how to organize your life so you can live it to the fullest.
But what about your death? Are you the kind of person who wants to map out what happens to you after you're gone? It saves a lot of trouble for the people who love you, that's for sure. But most people don't want to engage in the conversation, much less write a eulogy.
Now there is a new website to help plan your funeral and everything else associated with your death.

The free site lets only your family and friends log into your wishes.
You can plan your music and photos and write your obit. You can even plan a burial at sea!
You can leave a copy of your last will and testament and post other wishes.

Another site out of England is Your Death Wish.

Check it out and let me know what you think!

Friday, June 13, 2008

I'll procrastinate when I get around to it

It seems the blogging universe was responding to my "need to unpack" questions in the previous post.
One thing I have trouble doing is procrastinating. Even when I try, I am so bothered by deadlines I will stay up into the wee hours so as not to be late.
On the lighter side, my husband has to force me to sit around so we do not arrive at parties on time - or I would be there exactly when it starts.
I found this great essay on structured procrastination - it gives me a glimpse into the world of putting it off until later.

Also, listen to my favorite procrastination expert Tim Pychyl talk more about structured procrastination on NPR's Talk of the Nation (6/12) on itunes or listen here.

Even organizers get cluttered

In the last two weeks I've been on family vacation to Disney, spent 2 days at a professional organizer board of directors retreat, and volunteered at Girl Scout day camp for a week. I'm pooped! And my house is a wreck which makes it even worse to feel so exhausted.
-- station break--
This is the awesome waitress at Disney Hollywood (Orlando) in the 50s diner who yelled at us to clean our plates and get our elbows off the table. Don't miss her or the Toy Story ride.
-- back to our story--

Organizers have a preference for things to be finished, done, put away.
So it pains me to leave things packed up for more than a few hours.
I find clients with stuff left in suitcases and purses for months, and yes, even years.
But I've just got to put stuff away or I don't feel ready to move on to tomorrow's activities.
So my bags are unpacked and back in the attic.
The laundry is washed and put away.
Today I spent an hour napping and an hour putting away all the camp supplies, water bottles, sun screens, crafts we made, etc. It's still not all done! I still have email to respond to, calls to return, mail to open, laundry to do, argh! (not the pirate argh)
Sometimes I wonder... "What's wrong with me? Am I such a nut because I want to unpack right away?"
How about you? Do you let it wait or get right on it?
I'd love to chat about it longer but it's time to start packing up for next week's adventure -my daughter goes to her first sleep away camp. woo hoo!
Gotta go. I think I hear the Sharpies calling my name.

Friday, June 06, 2008


In an effort to get paper out of my desk, computer, and email I have started doing a couple of new things to see how it works out.
The first - I love Google Documents! I like to collaborate with colleagues and by starting a document in Google Docs, I don't have to deal with sending a paper back and forth through email revising it over and over.
I simply go to my Google Docs account, open a new document or upload one I already have.
Then I send a "share" link to the person I want to work on it with me, or just someone to look at it.
We can both be in the document making changes and saving at the same time.
It is quite a modern miracle to me - realizing that we just got email 15-ish years ago.
I can make word docs, spreadsheets, presentations and there is even an area to make fill-in-the-blank forms.
I love google so much I wish I could marry it!

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Cords On the Road

Blogging from Jacksonville, Fla, childhood home of DH Jimmy (yes Jimmy Carter).
I love traveling.
I hate packing. I get a bit neurotic about not packing things.
I refuse to make a checklist and use it like an organizer because it seems like after 41 years I would know what to pack, right?
Well my last trip I forgot to pack underwear (which led to a rather fun trip to the Reno Walmart and the gift shop at the Nugget).

This time I made sure to pack some panties and a few xtras.
But traveling with my stuff and all the kids' stuff I wanted to find a better way to deal with all the cords and chargers.
We have:
2 laptops, palm, 2 phones, Nintendo ds, portable dvd, gps, 2 ipods and there may be more I'm forgetting.
So I asked my fellow organizers... and they came up with.... just a few little things, none perfect but all quite usable.
Cord organizing for travel:
1. Kangarooms travel case for chargers and cords

2. Built's 6-pack for chargers
I love this fun stripey one!

Got more than 6 cords like me? Try this double decker doozy from Kangraooms

I chose to do it on the cheap with a box of zip lock bags.
  • Label each cord with a labelmaker or masking tape
  • Put each in a ziplock bag (if desired to keep from tangling)
  • Put all the little bags into a small clear shoebox bin or a larger ziplock bag.

If you have other ideas for packing chargers to go, comment here with your suggestions.