Monday, January 31, 2011

Shoes on the Brain

This week I’ve seriously got shoes on the brain.  My recent (okay, ongoing) shoe obsession is probably because I’m dreaming of warm weather and the day I don’t have to wear my black rubber snow boots out of the house. 

And while a shoe obsession is perfectly normal, be realistic about how much space is available to store shoes and to keep them organized.  New York City closets are some valuable real estate, so there is no reason to keep shoes that are not wearable or just plain out of style.  So today, I’ve got quick tips for editing your shoe collection.  Yes, for some of us, it is a collection.  I’ve also found two amazing ways to donate or recycle your shoes.  Get excited! 

First, the tips:
  • Get rid of any shoes you haven’t worn in a year.  Those shoes that go with that dress you never wear – get rid of both!
  • Figure out what you actually wear.  For a month (each season), put shoes you wear on a separate shelf (or in your oven as some trendy, cooking-challenged New Yorkers do).  At the end of the month, make a decision to get rid of what you don’t wear.
  • Eliminate duplicate shoes.  How many pairs of black pumps and flip-flops do you need?
  • Toss shoes that hurt your feet.  Enough said.
  • Say good-bye to shoes that are out of style.  Believe me, those stacked heel, square toe boots are not coming back into style anytime soon.
  • Get rid of shoes that are worn beyond repair. 
  • Be honest with yourself.  Are you really going to find time to take those repairable shoes to the cobbler?  If so, put it on your To Do list for this week.  If not, toss them!

Now that you’ve got your donate and recycle piles, here are two creative ways to re-purpose your shoes.

Soles4Souls is a shoe charity that collects gently worn shoes to provide shoes to those in need in the United States and around the world.  They accept all types of shoes:  athletic, running, dress, sandals, pumps, heels, work boots, cleats, dance, and flip flops, just as long as they are new or gently worn.  If Soles4Souls receives a pair that they deem un-wearable, they send the shoes to a recycling facility.  You can even request your shoe donation be sent to a specific country or region that Soles4Souls services!

To donate, you have two options.  Donors must assume the responsibility for shipping shoes to one Soles4Souls’ warehouse locations.  Here is more information on shipping.  You can also find a location here to drop off shoes.

Nike Re-use a Shoe
Nike’s program takes athletic shoes (of any brand – not just Nike) and LIVESTRONG wristbands and recycles them into a material used to create athletic and playground surfaces and some Nike products.  Here is more information on the recycling process.  Nike doesn’t accept shoes with metal parts, cleats, dress shoes, sandals or flip-flops, or wristbands from other brands. 

To donate, mail your sneakers directly to Nike’s recycling facility.  Unfortunately, Nike does not pay for individuals’ shipping costs.  Or you can find a shoe drop-off location near you. 

At some point, we’ll get into the fabulous ways to organize shoes – by type, by color, in boxes, and on shelving…  The possibilities are endless! 

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

A Meeting Worth Attending

One of my main pet peeves is a poorly run meeting.  You know what I’m talking about…  The meeting is scheduled to start at 9am, and at 9:15am you’re still waiting for people to arrive.  Which leaves you with time to ponder – do you really need to be in the meeting anyway?  Could one of your staff handle it?  But you aren’t sure, because the meeting organizer was sketchy on the agenda.  Now there are two hours of your life that you’ll never get back!

At my last campaign job, my days were scheduled with back-to-back meetings.  So needless to say, I’ve learned a thing or two about the components of efficient meetings.  So here it goes…

Set an Objective
The first step, even before inviting attendees, is to define your objective.  In doing this you might realize you can skip the meeting completely and hold a smaller conference call or solve the problem one-on-one with your supervisor. 

Here are some ways to think about defining your meeting’s objective:
  • To assign responsibility…
  • To solve the problem…
  • To train staff on…
  • To identify actions to be taken…
Determine Attendees
Only invite people that will contribute to or directly benefit from the meeting.  There is nothing worse that sitting in a meeting and realizing you’re not the right person to handle the topic.  Trust me, no one is going to be offended if they weren’t invited.  It’s the best use of you and your colleagues’ time to make sure the right people are at the table – no more, no less.

The Art of the Agenda
I love a good agenda.  Bold statement, I know.  Here are my tips for an effective agenda:
  • State the meeting’s objective (see above) at the top of the agenda.
  • List a start time, end time, and the name of the presenter for each agenda item.
  • Include time for introductions at the start of the meeting, only if necessary.
  • Include brief breaks, if the meeting is particularly long.  Breaks give participants a chance to respond to urgent emails and stretch their legs.
  • Vary presenters to encourage collaboration and interaction.  Mixing it up gives others a chance to speak and keeps the energy up.
  • Control the agenda.  Be realistic about how much you can cover in the time allotted.  Only add topics that relate to the meeting’s objective.
  • Send the agenda to participants in advance of the meeting.
Running the Meeting
Always start the meeting on time, and don’t re-cap for late arrivals. 

In addition to the agenda, circulate any handouts prior to the meeting.  Don’t assume everyone will come to the meeting prepared.  Always have copies of the agenda and handouts for each participant.  Pass out all materials before the start of the meeting as a packet left on each seat.  This will save time during the course of the meetings and eliminate shuffling papers all around the room. 

Determine a couple roles in advance – meeting facilitator and note-taker.  The meeting facilitator makes sure the meeting stays on schedule and on topic.  This person should be senior enough to politely re-focus the conversation if it goes off topic (i.e. cut off the person that loves the sound of their voice).  The facilitator will also need to quickly summarize action items, either after each agenda item or at the end of the meeting.  The note-taker takes notes (Shocker!) during the meeting with a focus on decisions made and next steps.  The note-taker will also be responsible for sending around a summary following the meeting.

Depending on the length of the meeting, make sure beverages and snacks are set-up in the room.  Also, the meeting space should be free of distractions (other staff passing through, for example) and neither too cold nor too hot.   

Meeting Follow-up
There are two main components to effective meeting follow-up:  1) meeting summary and 2) participant feedback.  As soon as possible, a meeting summary should be sent to all participants and should include main decision points and next steps.  The next steps should include:  each action item, person responsible for each action, and due dates.  Forgo long, detailed meeting minutes, and instead focus on the decisions made and action items to keep everyone on the same page.

The best way to determine if a meeting was successful is to ask participants for feedback.  Depending on the size of the meeting, ask them to fill out a simple feedback form at the end of the meeting.  If it’s a smaller, less formal meeting, email participants asking for their thoughts or grab a few participants after the meeting to discuss.

Now, go forth and meet efficiently!

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Cut the Junk

I have always been a big fan of mail.  As a kid, I looked forward to picking up the mail and sorting through it.  I’ll admit, there wasn’t much going on where I grew up.  I even considered a career as a postal worker with a mail delivery route.  How great would that have been?  Eventually I dreamed a bit bigger, but I still love everything about sending and receiving mail – stationary, stamps, invitations...  But there is one type of mail that I’ve come to dread – junk mail.  Junk mail is the worst – it’s bad for the environment and it’s bad for you! 

Follow these instructions, invest 30 minutes, and you’ll see a dramatic reduction in the junk mail hitting your mailbox and cluttering your home. 

Credit Card Applications
I have to admit that for a while after the Great Financial Crisis, I was flattered that companies still wanted to give me credit cards.  But that can lead to trouble, so go to  You can remove your name from the lists that mortgage, credit card, and insurance companies use to mail you offers and solicitations.  It’s a centralized website run by the four major credit bureaus in the United States:  Equifax, Experian, Innovis, and TransUnion.  Follow the opt-out procedure for each adult member of your family. 

Bulk Mail
To get rid of most of the pesky bulk mail, register with the Mail Preference Service of the Direct Marketing Association (DMA).  DMA will list you in its database in the “Do Not Mail” category.  To add your name to the list, register online at or download a mail-in form on the website.  Be sure to list each name receiving mail at your address, including misspellings.

Catalogs can quickly get out of control, especially if you enjoy shopping as much as I do.  There are a few options to eliminate unwanted subscriptions. 
  • Catalog Choice is a free website that allows you to register and choose the catalogs you wish to stop receiving.  Opt-out requests will be sent to those catalogs on your behalf.
  • When you make a purchase from any catalog, your name and address are likely handed over to Epsilon Abacus Cooperative, an alliance of catalog and retail companies.  Abacus members routinely swap customer information.  To stop en-masse mailings, send an email to and include your full name with middle initial, current address, and previous address if you have been at your current address fewer than six months.
  • Finally, there is the old reliable method.  As soon as you receive an unwanted publication in the mail, call the 1-800 number located somewhere on the piece and ask to be removed from the mailing list.  Keep the catalog in hand as they often need information from the mailing label. 
Do you get those Val-Pak coupon books?  Click this link and copy your mailing label to stop receiving them. 

Charity Donations
If you contribute once a year to a charitable organization, ask them to send you only one donation request per year.  The American Institute on Philanthropy offers a sample letter that you can send to reduce mail solicitations

Phone Books
I really hope you aren’t still receiving phone books in the mail.  If you are, use the links below to put a stop to it.  And then call Urban Simplicity immediately to get your life under control!

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Recipe for Organization

I’m pretty new to the world of cooking.  For many years, the only action in my kitchen was when I unpacked my sushi delivery.  But since leaving politics, I have more time, and I’ve realized that I like to cook.  So I’ve spent the last year collecting recipes and cramming them into a folder in my kitchen cabinet.  I know, not very organized for a Professional Organizer. 

So this month, I’m getting those recipes organized and sharing my tips with you.

Disclaimer:  This is an organizing strategy for those of you who want to keep hard copies of your recipes all in one place.  There is much to be written and said about digital recipes books or using an online application to keep them organized.  Perhaps we’ll get to that another day. 

Step 1:  Consolidate
The first step is to consolidate all your recipes. Give some thought to the various locations you might be hiding recipes so you don’t overlook any.  You likely have recipes in several places:  cookbooks, magazines, online (either saved in a file or bookmarked on websites), loose papers, and handwritten index cards.

Next, gather loose papers and index cards.  Then, go through your cookbooks (if you haven’t already) and place a Post-it note love these on recipes you’ve tried (look for handwritten notes and dog-eared pages) or are very likely to try. Now grab the magazines and do the same thing.  Finally, hop on your computer and print out the recipes in your saved files and from bookmarked web pages.    

Step 2:  Copy
Your next step is to make copies of each page you’ve flagged in your cookbooks and magazines.  Pretty self-explanatory, right?  It’s okay to save time here and photocopy these recipes.  Who actually has time these days to handwrite every recipe onto an index card?  You’re still making a special recipe binder to keep and use for years to come. 

Step 3:  Sort
The key to sorting your recipes is to put them into categories that make sense to you.  That’s the beauty of this organized, customized recipe binder.  A logical option is to sort based on cuisine:  Appetizers, Beverages, Breads, Desserts, Eggs and Cheese, Meats, Poultry, Fish and Shellfish, Rice, Grains and Beans, Pasta, Salads and Salad Dressings, Sauces, Stews and Soups, Sandwiches, and Vegetables.  You can also sort within each category based on tested recipes and not tested recipes.

Step 4:  Build
You’re now ready to build your recipe binder.  Grab these supplies:  a three ring binder, dividers, labels or label maker, printer paper, heavy-duty sheet protectors, and tape. 

Based on the categories you identified in Step 3, make dividers with labels.  For recipes pulled from magazines, trim the edges and tape the recipe to a piece of printer paper for easy filing.  Also tape recipes on index cards to a piece of paper (one per page).  Next, slip each recipe into a sheet protector.  The sheet protectors keep sauce and such things off the recipe, and you can quickly remove the recipe from the binder and return it when you’re done cooking.  File recipes in alphabetical order based on the categories you’ve created.  Don’t forget to separate tested recipes from not tested recipes.  Use a Post-it note to separate those two sections within each category. 

Wait – you’re not done yet!  Make a one-page Recipe Review to keep with each recipe, facing out so you can see it without removing the recipe from the binder.  Here is information to put on your review sheet:  “Recipe Name,” “From,” “Date(s) Used,” “Rating (1-5),” Notes,” “Prep Time,” “Total Time,” “Servings,” and “Calories per Serving.”  Make extra copies and leave in the back of the binder to use as you add recipes.

This is also a great opportunity to get your children involved.  Ask them to decorate the outside of your binder with artwork or photos of you and your family in the kitchen.  Cooking is such a great family tradition that this is a special way to keep your children involved and introduce them to organizing. 

Step 5:  Maintain
Depending on how often you cook and clip recipes, you might want to set aside 15-30 minutes a week or month to add recipes to your binder.  Set aside time on your calendar and add it to your To Do list.  Since you’ve got the system in place, maintenance should be a breeze! 

Only serious foodies need more than one shelf of cookbooks and magazines. Make a decision about the number of books or space available and stick to it.  Cull your recipes once a year to get rid of ones you aren’t likely to use again.  This is where your notes on the Recipe Review are helpful.  And to keep the binder from growing out of control, remove a recipe you’re not likely to try every time you add a new one.

Finally, there will be some cookbooks you want to keep for sentimental reasons or because they are just that good.  Store all your cookbooks together on a kitchen shelf with limited exposure to humidity and grease.

Step 6:  Enjoy
Now flip through your beautiful new recipe binder and enjoy your time in the kitchen.  No more randomly searching through loose papers, cookbooks, and magazines for recipes – you’ve got everything you need in one place!

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

After the Holidays

Here’s to a wonderful and organized 2011.  If you’re anything like me, you love the holidays.  Which means your Christmas tree and decorations don’t come down until exactly one week after New Year’s Day. 

To make the end of the holiday season more bearable, here are some tips to organize your holiday decorations. 

Archiving Decorations
I learned this tip from my mom, and it’s a major time saver.  Take photos of each room or area after it’s decorated.  Refer to the photos the following year, and you’ll know exactly where all your decorations go.  No reason to reinvent the wheel each year! 

Packing Decorations
Now the fun part…
  • Lights – To keep lights tangle free, pack them on a light cord wrap like this wing-lid light storage box.  Before packing lights, attach masking tape to each strand and write how long it is and where you hang it (on the tree or on the mantle). 
  • Glass Ornaments – Pack these in their original boxes if possible.  If not, wrap with a couple layers of paper towels (takes up less space than bubble wrap) and store them in a box with dividers like this one.
  • Candles – Trim the burned wick and remove excess wax from the candle.  Wrap candles in a paper towel to prevent wax from getting on other decorations.
  • Linens – Take the time to hand wash or use a delicate cycle on the washing machine.  Pack in airtight plastic or cotton bags to prevent dust or moth damage.
  • Artificial Tree – Best to store the tree in its original box or splurge for a plastic or cotton cover like this.
  • Wreaths – You can store them in a plastic bag or this wreath case

Storing Decorations
The first tip is to store all similar decorations together.  There are a couple ways to do this.  First, store all decorations for each room in your home in containers together.  You also want to group similar items, like ornaments and lights, in containers together.  Use clear, plastic containers to quickly identify what’s in each one.  You will also want to clearly label each container before storing it.  Finally, be careful where you store certain items like candles and handmade or paper ornaments.  These items need to be stored in a climate-controlled environment and in airtight containers to make them last for the long haul.      

Recycling the Tree
As if the NYC Department of Sanitation doesn't have enough work with all the snow, they will also recycle your tree.  All you have to do is leave your tree at curbside between Monday, January 3 and Saturday, January 15.  How easy is that?  Don’t forget to remove the tree stand and decorations and don’t place the tree in a plastic bag.  And the best part is that the trees will be chipped into mulch to be distributed to parks and community gardens throughout the City.

Another option is to participate in NYC Department of Parks and Recreation’s Mulchfest.  Take your tree to one of these locations on Saturday and Sunday, January 8 and 9 from 10am to 2pm.  Biodegradable bags will be provided if you want to take home some free mulch.

Letting Go
After the holidays is the best time of the year to let go of your old decorations and cards.  If you didn’t use certain decorations this year, it’s time to toss them.  That’s hard to do, especially with sentimental items, but there are ways to learn to let go.  For example, take a photo of the item you are attached to before getting rid of it.  Think of the valuable square footage the things you don’t use are taking up.  Ask yourself, is it worth it?

As for holiday cards, save only the cards with memorable notes or a few photo cards from close family members.  Toss the majority of the cards you receive.  Don’t feel guilty, because you’ll get another card from everyone next year. 

Now spend a few more days enjoying your holiday decorations before you tackle the packing, storing, and organizing.  And I won’t judge if you’re still drinking eggnog and eating Christmas cookies...