JERI DANSKY professionalorganizer


Organizing Tip of the Month


June 2006


I've just read a wonderful book called The Organized Student. If you know a student (or the parent of a student) who is struggling with organizational issues, take a look at this book.



May 2006


When you bring clothes home from the dry cleaner, please take them out of the plastic bags. Those bags are only meant to protect clothes until you get them home; they aren't good for long-term storage. Moisture can build up in the bags, leading to mildew problems. The bags can also cause white clothes to yellow, and other clothes to fade. Store your hanging clothes uncovered or in cloth/fabric garment bags. I've also heard some suggest that you could cut off the plastic bag below the shoulder to provide dust protection while still avoiding the problems plastic bags can cause.


April 2006


Do you have prescription or over-the-counter drugs that you need to dispose of? Please do NOT follow the old advice to flush them down the toilet; we now know this causes water contamination. The best ways to dispose of such medications is to do one of the following:


  • Take them to a special collection event - the San Francisco Bay Area is having one in mid-May.
  • Return them to your local pharmacist if the pharmacist is prepared to accept them for disposal.

Take them to your local hazardous waste disposal facility. (If you don't know where this is or how to find it, you can contact me and I'll be glad to point you in the right direction.)


If for some reason that isn't feasible, the next best thing is to put the medications in your normal trash, following these precautions.


  • Keep them in their normal containers; the containers may have safety information, they are chemically compatible, and they often have child-proof lids.
  • For pills, add a small amount of water; for liquid medications add an absorbent material such as flour or kitty litter. This helps discourage any unintended use.
  • Double enclose the containers in bags or other materials to help prevent immediate identification and to help prevent any glass containers from breaking.


Thanks to the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality for a great brochure on this topic.



March 2006


You've decided that you can let go of a large numbers of items that no longer enhance your life. Now, how do you dispose of them? Here are some of the major options; I can provide more information on any of them.


Donate the items and take a tax deduction (as allowed within your tax bracket). This can be the simplest answer - things can leave your home or office right away - and often you can support a cause that is meaningful to you. I've listed some places to donate, and have many many more I can suggest, depending on where you are located.

  • Freecycle provides an easy way to give the item away to someone nearby, who will come pick it up. This is a great option for items that might work well for one specific person - and things you think no one will want. I've freecycled an airplane-shaped alarm clark (to someone with an airplane-themed bathroom), a set of motivational tapes (with two of six missing), and t-shirts with a phrase in French (to someone from France). In each case, the receiver was thrilled to get the item.
  • Garage sales can provide some income, for some effort. Sometimes paying a percentage of the take for an expert's help is worthwhile.
  • Craig's List is a popular sales channel in many parts of the United States.
  • eBay is another common sales venue; sell it yourself, or through a company or person that specializes in eBay sales.
  • Consignment resale stores and auction houses can also sell things for you.



  • February 2006

I'm going on vacation - and so is the tip. There will be a new one here in March, though!

  • January 2006

Here's a time management tip to start out the new year. Give up on perfectionism in the areas where "perfect" isn't a requirement - which, for many of us, is most of our lives. I know that's hard; I'm a recovering perfectionist myself. And I want certain people, like my surgeon, to do a perfect job.


But I'm the volunteer newsletter editor for NAPO-SFBA (National Association of Professional Organizers - San Francisco Bay Area chapter) and I know we don't put out a perfect newsletter each month. We give it our best within the time we have, but there's always something that could have been improved. And you know what? All of us working on the newsletter have other things going on in our lives, and it's fine the way it is.


How many things could you do a little less perfectly - maybe only you would notice the difference - and thus free up time for the other important things in your life?



December 2005


Organizing products can be utilitarian (manilla folders, clear plastic storage boxes, etc.) - but they can also be imaginative, fun, and attractive. For some people, that really makes a big difference. If you're one of those people, consider using products such as these:


  • File folders in attractive colors, such as these

Really classy binders, such as these

  • Attractive boxes, such as the ones made by Cargo
  • Baskets of all sorts - which are available in an astounding array of sizes, shapes, and prices


November 2005


Do you really enjoy scrapbooking, or creating photo albums? If so, fine! But if not, and especially if you are pressed for time, give yourself a break. Those mementos from your trip, or your children's early years - or whatever event/time period you want to commemorate - can usually be kept in a nice box just as well as in an album. Do be sure to label those photos with dates and names, though - with a graphite pencil on the back of the photo.


You can find good archival-quality boxes at:


For detailed information on preserving memorabilia, I recommend the book Saving Stuff.



October 2005


When setting up your files, distinguish between action files and reference files.


  • Action files are for things you need to work on, and would normally be labeled with a verb: Call, Pay bills, Enter into computer, etc. These files are best kept close to where they will be used - often on or very near to your desk. A step file (also called an incline sorter) can work well for action files, since it keeps all the files visible. Some action "files" (like Read) may need larger containers than simple file folders; for example, you may want a box or basket of things to be read, kept wherever you tend to do your reading. (If that box or basket is overflowing with old newspapers, magazines, and other such materials, that's another issue to be addressed.)
  • Reference files are for things like insurance policies, bank statements that you've already reviewed, and information about places you may want to go on vacation. These are often best labeled with a noun, such as Insurance - Car or Car - Insurance. These can be kept in a file cabinet or other container that is convenient for doing your filing, but not as close at hand as the action files. You may also want to keep certain reference information in a fire-proof box or your safe deposit box rather than just a file.


Here are some pictures of incline sorters.


September 2005


Gifts are symbols of love. Keep the love and let go of the symbols.
--Connie Cox and Chris Evatt


It's OK to get rid of a gift. It doesn't mean you don't care about the giver. In fact, if that person truly cared about you, would he or she really want you to keep something that made your life less pleasant?


August 2005


Do you have a to-do list? More importantly, do you have an effective to-do list? Or are your action items on scraps of paper, scribbled lists, and inside your head? Some keys to an effective to-do list are:

  • Capture everything you need to do on the list, and then keep it up-to-date. You want to be able to trust your list.
  • Don't combine projects and action items. You don't want your list to include both "Call Person X" and "Remodel Garage" - you'll probably never make any progress on that second item because it's way too big. Instead of "Remodel Garage", include the next step you need to take in that project - something you need to research, someone you need to call, or whatever. (And then keep a list of your projects, too.)


For more great suggestions, I highly recommend Getting Things Done by David Allen.



July 2005


Maybe you don't need to get rid of stuff as much as learn to store it more effectively.


In general, keep similar things together - for example, all your flower vases or all the supplies you need to handle your mail and pay bills.


Once you know what you have to store, find the appropriate container. Containers help you keep things together for easier retrieval, and help you make better use of your space. You may already have containers you can use; if you need to buy something, be sure to measure first. Labeling the containers is very useful, especially if they are not transparent. Containers can include

  • File folders and file cabinets
  • Drawers
  • Boxes and bags
  • Shelves and bookshelves - see my Before and After pictures to see how much difference an added shelf can make.


June 2005


Consider giving (and requesting) holiday and birthday gifts that definitely won't become clutter for you or someone else. Some examples:

  • A gift certificate for a massage or a facial
  • A meal at a special restaurant, or maybe a wonderful home-cooked meal
  • Flowers



May 2005


As you go about clearing your clutter, here are some thoughts on what to keep and what to get rid of.



  • Things that make you smile or laugh
  • Things that make your eyes water when you think of giving them away; no matter what they may be, you aren't ready to release them right now
  • Things you use every day
  • Things you use once or twice a year (at certain holidays, for example) - just don't save them in prime storage territory


Don't Keep

  • Things you don't like - even if they are new, you paid good money for them, etc.
  • Things you "sort of" like - they crowd out the things you really like, making them harder to see and harder to find
  • Things you know in your heart of hearts you'll never use - magazines you'll never get around to reading, crafts projects you'll never complete, broken items you'll never fix, etc.



April 2005


Someone asked me the other day for the most important bit of organizing advice I could give him. While it's hard to pick just one thing, I said "Make sure everything has a home." Things without a designated home (storage place) either wind up just laying around, or they get put away someplace where they'll never be found again.



March 2005


Organizing for children presents interesting challenges. Here are 7 tips to make the organizing easier.


  1. Keep everyday clothes and toys within your child's reach. For example, children can't reach the clothes rod found in most closets, so add a second one that they can reach. (That can be done with something as easy as a double hanging rod like this one.)
  2. Provide hooks, not just hangers - they are easier to use.
  3. Plastic shoe holders that hang on the door can also be used to store Barbies and other toys.
  4. Don't use one large toy chest; it's too hard for your children to find the toys they want. Instead, use a collection of containers for different kinds of toys, and label those containers with words and/or pictures. (That toy chest might work for "dress up" clothes once the other things come out.)
  5. Consider putting picture books in bins with the covers facing out - so your children can just flip through the books and see which ones they want. (See photo below.)
  6. Establish clean-up routines: make the bed in the morning, pick up the toys before bedtime - or whatever works for your family. For younger children, work along with them; older children can do specific tasks on their own.
  7. Involve your children in organizing decisions. How would they like to organize things? What containers are easiest for them to use? They're more likely to follow an organizing scheme if they helped design it.




February 2005


You know you have too much stuff for your space, but it's so hard to let go. Here are some ways to make letting go a bit easier.


  • Keep your organizing goals firmly in mind. Picture living in the organized home or office of your dreams - how much time and money you will save, how much less stress you will feel, how your space will enable rather than inhibit your ambitions.
  • Take a photo of each treasure before you give it away. You'll still have a memento, but it will take much less space. That's what Mary Anne and I did - see the photo below.
  • Have a ceremony - whatever type is meaningful to you - to honor the items and the memories they embody before sending them on.
  • Find a wonderful new home for your treasures. Knowing they will have a new home with someone else who needs them and will appreciate them often makes letting go much easier. And there are so many worthy organizations that need your donations! See the resources page for a starter list of such organizations.


January 2005


Setting up files? Consider straight-line filing (all file labels in the same tab position) rather than staggered files (labels left, center, right). Your filing system won't be disrupted by adding a new file, saving you lots of needless effort in re-arranging files. And it's easier on your eyes - looking in a straight line is easier than looking back and forth. When I first read this suggestion from Julie Morgenstern, I implemented it on my own files - what a difference! Smead has some nice illustrations of straight-line filing; you don't need to use their products or use color-coding (as they suggest) to use straight-line filing.


Photograph of copper kitchen scales used as a "launch pad"December 2004

Create a "launch pad" for yourself by the door - a place where you put everything you need as you leave the house. (It's best to have one for each individual.) This could be a basket, a shelf - or something as creative as the scales used by one of my clients.


Items to place in your launch pad could include keys, wallet, envelopes to be mailed, rental videos to be returned - anything you don't want to forget to take.


November 2004


Go through your home and remove any items that make you grumpy when you look at them. Do you really want that gift sweater in a color that looks hideous on you? Do you want those photos of people you don't even like? What about that broken thingy that you know in your heart of hearts that you are never going to fix? Try to surround yourself only with items that you find useful, beautiful or meaningful.