Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Repair is Noble, Try a Fix-It Clinic

I still get the paper on Sundays. Once in a while I'll come across an article that is worth sharing. This last week, in the variety section of the Star Tribune newspaper, I came across an article titled: "Avid recycler is the spark behind fix-it clinics." Subtitle: "Lamp won't light? Vacuum won't vac? Talk to Nancy Lo, lauded for her Fix-It clinics." (by Kim Ode) I was intrigued.

Basically, this gal is spreading the motto "repair is noble." Her love of recycling and being a resource for people developed into these Fix-It clinics. The clinics are run by volunteers. People who have something to fix, like you or I, can go to a location nearby and get guidance on how to fix something. Pretty cool right? I think so.

One of my mottos is: "Nice things take time." My grandmother always said this. Organizing takes time. Running and maintaining a house takes time. Fixing things is no different. So, it sounds like a great option if you are willing to put in some time and possibly save some money on buying new. It's also much greener than potentially throwing out something that may just need to be re-wired or adjusted with a new part.

While I usually encourage people to not hold on to things that don't work, just because...this is an alternative resource to consider. Plus donating something that doesn't work just doesn't seem right. I like the idea of a Fix-It clinic, to fix your stuff, and see if in fact it can have a new life with a little attention.

So, got a broken toaster, lamp, record player, iPod, toys or even clothing collecting dust? Type "fix-it clinics" in the search field at View a list of upcoming clinics, a list of common things they've helped people fix, what to bring or how to get involved as a volunteer.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Top 3 Organizing Mistakes to Avoid

I've been sort of a researcher you could say in the realm of organizing for the last seven years professionally. While every situation is slightly different, I do tend to see patterns and common problems amongst those I work with to get organized in their homes. I try to catch and correct these if possible. They simply don't help the process of organizing for long-term results. Below are the most common mistakes to avoid. Are you doing any of them?

Mistake #1

1) Buying Storage Containers or Organizing Systems before purging

I can' tell you how many people I've worked with that have more containers than they know what to do with. Although they may have had the best intentions to be used to organize something, the containers actually become clutter if not being used. It's usually never a problem for us to find something to use that they already have to organize their stuff. I know it's super fun and tempting to go to Target or wherever and get a brand new storage bin with matching top... Or, to purchase that cool shelving unit or organizing drawer set on wheels you saw online. It oftentimes looks like it would help you keep x, y and z organized... and if it's on sale.... why not? Right? Not usually. My advice: RESIST! At least until you get a handle on your belongings first. Probably the most common mistake I see is when people buy storage containers before they have actually have gone through the items they want to organize. It might be more fun to buy containers, but doing it first is skipping a step. It makes organizing much more difficult because you may not have bought the best solution for your needs. Containers may be too big or too small once you've gone through and decided what you really want to keep. It's best to purge items first, and then see what's left to organize. A proper assessment of what you want to organize, how much or how many, and where you want it organized are pieces of information you need the answers to. This will ensure any purchase will be the best fit. Also, many times you might already have something at home that would work just fine. This saves you money and time. If you really need something new, you can reward yourself after you've purged. So, purge first, then search out a container or storage solution.

Mistake #2

2) Starting with something that is more difficult to sort though (Memorabilia/Photos)

It's best when just getting started going through things to start with something that is easy. This means going though something that you don't have a lot of attachment to or can easily make decisions on without getting caught up. For instance, a great place to start might be your fridge. Throwing out old or expired items doesn't take a lot of asking yourself questions like "do I really love this?" "do I want this?" "where will I keep this?" It simply either stays or goes. You could move on to the pantry next, or tackle something like a pile of magazines. A common mistake I see when people are going it alone, is that people want to start with items that cause a lot of emotional heartache or are difficult to decide on. While I'm experienced to help people go through these types of things, going though items like this alone can be really difficult, especially when just getting started. It can stop people in their tracks and make them say "nope, organizing is too hard, too painful, too overwhelming." It can be very overwhelming at times, which is why you should simply avoid these items until you gain some practice and confidence. Learning to trust your gut and heart in the matter of decision making while sorting through items can take a little getting used to. Going through items of a loved one that has passed away or photos and memorabilia are common examples I'm referring to here. It's best to sort though sentimental items once you gain some momentum and have practiced your decision making process.

Mistake #3

3) Leaving donation boxes and bags sit for too long

Once your decision is made to get rid of something, get it out of your procession as soon as possible. Many people don't follow through on this last step fast enough, and end up leaving bags or boxes sitting in their house too long. As far as I'm concerned, if it's still in your house, and unwanted, it's clutter. And although it might be nicely bagged up, it might start to mix in with everything else. If you need to record things for taxes, do that immediately following a purging session or as you go. Take a picture with your phone if you like. But if you don't get the items out in a timely manner you might forget what you decided you didn't want. Unwanted things might make their way back into the mix of things you do want. Getting items out of your house and into the car as soon as you can is key. Make a drop off on your way to something else, or at least clear them out of the back seat before the next time you have to pick up groceries. Your car is an extension of your house. Keep it clutter free as well so it's ready for the next load.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

51 Commercial Length -Quick Organizing Tasks to Tidy your House

Ever say, "I don't have time for that!"? Or tell someone else, "It literally takes two seconds to do it, so do it!" Okay, it might take a bit longer than two seconds to carry a laundry basket of folded clothes up the stairs, but the point of it is it doesn't take very long.

Why do we put off doing things that don't take very long? It would only help us stay on top of things so we could be more organized. While there are, I'm sure, many theories on this somewhere out there, here's my take:

There was a time when I could get a lot done while watching TV. I'd pop up during a commercial break and quickly switch a load of laundry, unload the top rack of the dishwasher or let the dog out. It was like a little race to get it done. I knew I didn't have much time before the show would be back on. I could get a bunch of little things accomplished during these built in breaks. If you added all of the little tasks up, it made a big difference in helping keep things organized.

But lately, my husband and I have been watching less regular TV and now Netflix our way through the last couple waking hours of our week nights. There are no commercials to pop up during and get off the couch. We don't have break times built in to our evenings anymore. If one of us needs a refill on a snack or to take a "potty break," as I now call it since having a toddler, we have to press pause.

When can we "press the pause button" in our daily lives to get things done?

Lack of commercial breaks and Netflix is definitely not the only problem or all to blame. Some people wouldn't even bother to get up during a commercial break any way. But if you have time to check your status updates or post a picture to Instagram, you have time to take out the trash. Get my point?

If I was a health care professional, or writing a blog about the lack of exercise our society has in general, I might make a point here that this adds to another problem. We sit around too much. But taking the organizing angle here, it means less built in breaks to do these little types of things. We have to consciously make time to do things that take 1-3 minutes. While this may seem super strange to make a point about, I find it actually very significant.

A lot of things take a shorter length of time to get done then we think it might take. We forget this. We think we don't have the time because we don't really know how long something will take us to do. We just need to take the time it takes to get it done, and remember how quickly it actually took us. No big deal.

People ask me all the time about how I stay so organized, or how they could be more organized. They might admire or tell me they wish they could do it, but seem to think they don't have the time. We all have the time. You just have to look at where you have a few minutes here and there to work at it.

In order to be organized you have to constantly work at it. Find ways to do little things every day along the way to keep things up. While I might set aside a few hours with clients to work on this, in my daily life I do organizing tasks all the time that take very little time.

51 Commercial Length Tasks (1-3 minutes or less to accomplish):

  1. Empty trash in bathroom/s
  2. Take out recycling (Newspapers/Magazines/Plastic bottles)
  3. Re-fill things: (Soap Dispensers, Napkins/Paper Towels, Bird Seed Feeder)
  4. Unwrap a new toothbrush and throw out the old
  5. Wipe Mirrors of fingerprints and water spots
  6. Collect dirty Bath Towels and replace with fresh ones
  7. Take off your old nail polish
  8. Get the mail from the mailbox
  9. Water house plants
  10. Put bags of donations in the car
  11. Collect library books in a bag to return
  12. Put a receipt for an item you need to return with the item in a bag
  13. Put a gift for someone in a gift bag
  14. Write a thank you card
  15. Throw out any produce that are past prime eating time
  16. Make a grocery list
  17. Wash out a water bottle, refill, and take a few sips
  18. Wipe out the microwave
  19. Open a bill and pay it
  20. Delete emails you have no intention of reading
  21. Unsubscribe to newsletters you never read
  22. Pull the garbage cans down to the street
  23. Sweep the kitchen floor quickly
  24. Replace kitchen washcloth and towel with fresh ones
  25. Clean out lint screen in dryer
  26. Mend a button
  27. Take loose change out of your purse and put it in a jar
  28. Put more toilet paper in the bathrooms
  29. Replace a battery in something that needs it
  30. Clip your finger nails
  31. Open or Close the curtains
  32. Make a bed
  33. Fold up blankets on the couch
  34. Collect plastic bags to recycle next time you grocery shop
  35. Plug in devices to charge
  36. Pack a lunch
  37. Take vitamins and refill a weekly pill/vitamin organizer
  38. Throw out expired coupons
  39. Switch a load of laundry from the washer to dryer
  40. Wipe off the kitchen table or a counter top of crumbs
  41. Pick out your outfit for the next day
  42. Talk about your day or upcoming week with kids or spouse
  43. Put something on your calendar or in your phone as a reminder
  44. Put three things away
  45. Plan a meal
  46. Put dirty dishes in the sink or dishwasher
  47. Put dirty clothes in a hamper or laundry basket
  48. Make an appointment for something you've been putting off
  49. Cancel something you don't really want to do or have time for
  50. Stop, pause, breathe and look out the window at the rain, birds, clouds or trees
  51. Smile, and pet the dog or cat and make sure their license and tags are up to date
Now make your own list, or better yet just get up and do them. See how many little things you can get done here and there though out your day!

Leave a comment below or share your quick tasks.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

AnyList App for Organizing

I love the App AnyList for organizing! A basic account is free and it's easy to use. All you need is an iPhone or iPod touch. I use it on my iPhone.

Download AnyList Here.

Make as many lists as you want.
I use it for keeping track of  to dos, groceries we need, and keeping a packing list for travel I can reuse whenever I need it. I also find it super handy for an on going wish list for things I'd like.

Make lists Private or Shared.
A cool feature is that you can either keep the lists private or share them. I keep my to do list private for instance, but share the grocery list with my husband. That way he can add items he needs or wants when he thinks of it and we can both see it. Of course, I make my "wish list" a shared list too to make it easy for him to shop for things for our anniversary, my birthday or Christmas.

Color Code or Categorize.
A nice feature is that you can change the color of lists. For instance, my private lists are in one color and my shared lists are in another. The grocery list allows you to have categories like produce, beverages, dairy, frozen foods, deli, household and cleaning, etc.

Mark when you've completed something, Delete, Hide Completed, or Reuse a list.
The app allows you to touch any item and make a red slash mark through it to either show you've completed a task or no longer need an item. You can also swipe sideways to delete anything. I love that you can hide the completed or show completed items as well. This comes in handy for the grocery or packing list that I reuse often.

Do you have a favorite app for organizing? Leave a comment to share.

The First Steps to Organizing with Smiling Spaces

I've been helping people get organized in the Twin Cities area and surrounding suburbs since 2009. I've got my process down and know what works for both me and my clients to make the most of the time we spend together. If you're considering getting help organizing with little ol' me of Smiling Spaces, here's how to get started:
It all starts with...
Phone Consult (up to 30 Minutes) FREE chat with Andrea
Payphone, Land-line or Mobile.. You pick. The ol' Fashion Telephone Talk is First.

Before I go to anyone's home to help them organize we must talk by the old fashion phone first. Yup. No lengthy emails, texts or casual conversations about it. I offer a highly focused (up to) 30 minute phone consultation to assess your needs and goals. Just you and me talking about organizing your stuff. This is a time when you get my undivided attention. Not only do I get more information from you, but you can get more information from me before I even see your space. Ask away! I always make sure to give immediate tips whenever I can. There is never any obligation to book an in-home assessment or organizing session to follow. I simply want to make sure it is a good fit for both of us to move forward and that I have some information up front before I come on over. Sound good? Visit my website to fill out my contact form to get a time scheduled. (It's Complimentary) If you've already spoken to me, read on.


Have at least 90 minutes on a Tues/Wed/Thurs?
Live in the Twin Cities Metro or surrounding suburbs?

Are you considering investing time to improve your home or home office?
Ready to figure out how to make organizing goals actually happen?

In-Home Assessment (minimum 90 minutes) *Includes Action Plan to keep*
Your Ready to Meet at Your House. I'm Ready to Get to Work!

We've spoken by phone and have decided to get out our calendars to schedule a time to meet. I always start out new clients with an In-Home Assessment. This can be quick if you want to do hands-on work that day too, or more lengthy if you just want tons of ideas and an action plan to run with. But I have a minimum of 90 minutes to come out to your house either way. It's a time for you to give me a mini or grand tour of your home, the spaces and how you use them or would like to use them. I ask a lot of questions and offer many tips along the way as questions come up. We may move one or two things during the actual assessment, but generally it's mostly talking, asking and answering questions and me taking notes. Once I've seen each room, we re-group and I hand-write an action plan for organizing your home as a whole. I also list spaces of higher priority we've identified and steps we'd take to complete the project space by space. You may have spoken to me about one specific room you want to focus on and I'd give more details about solutions for that area. I help you clarify organizing goals, may suggest organizing products or stores to shop, or will point out things you already own that could work differently. The goal always being to make things better in how they function, look, and make you feel. We discuss next steps, how long a particular project might take and what time frame and days will work best to do it. If we've budgeted time to do hands-on work that same day as well (have scheduled a minimum of 3 hours to meet) we may dig right in after the assessment and start organizing. If we only scheduled an assessment (minimum 90 minutes), we may schedule a following session to start up the plan together. Either way, I leave the action plan I write up with you. Some people hire me for all of the steps, some for parts, and others will take it and run with the ideas. Up to you. Sound like a good idea? Let me know when you're ready to start. At your service when you need me. Visit my website for my Rates & Packages.

Friday, March 13, 2015

3 Mini Organizing Makeovers: Fridge, Pantry, Vanity

Thinking about organizing a whole house can be overwhelming, even for someone like myself who really loves to organize. I have clients that I work with on a consistent basis to help them "chip away at it" as we oftentimes put it. A lot of times it comes down to pacing, having a plan, and sticking to it. But sometimes you just want something to be done, and quickly!

Feeling inspired to continue improving my own home organizing projects, but a little burned out from my last hall closet project (see previous post: Here) I needed a little break. 

If you can call this a break at all.... this past month I picked a few spots that needed just a mini makeover. So, some before and afters of three new Smiling Spaces for your enjoyment...

Fridge Dry Erase Board

Dry Erase Board Before
Problem: (Before Right)
The dry erase board was tired looking, and probably more appropriate for a college dorm room mini fridge and roommate notes than my un-inspired list of family meal ideas. It was always slipping down as the magnets never seemed to grip the fridge door properly.

Solution: (After Below)
I bought a new dry erase board that fits my style and "season" of life right now! I like the cleaner look of the stainless steel, and it came with a dry erase marker with it's own magnet. It also has a super strong gripping magnet that keeps it in place on the fridge. Much more inspiring!
Dry Erase Board After

Pantry Snack Shelf

Snack Shelf Before
Problem: (Before Left)
We had a designated Snack Shelf, but didn't want to invest in installing pullout shelves at this time. Although I had re-purposed an old ice bucket to keep random granola bars and trail mixes, it was always slightly too small.

Solution: (After Below)
I found a slightly wider container with a handle that fits more snacks and is easier to pull in and out. I stacked other round nut canisters on top of one another so it saves space and we can see our selections.

Snack Shelf After

Vanity Organizer

Vanity Organizer Before
Problem: (Before Right)
I used to love this vintage lipstick holder with mirror tray I found years ago. I still really like it, but sometimes things I want to store on it tip over or don't fit. I've also been in the mood for upgrading things around the house to have a more modern design.

Solution: (After Below)
I got a clear makeup organizer that has a variety of square compartments for different sizes of tubes, bottles, and lipsticks and chapsticks. I love it for q-tips, my tweezers, scissors, and clippers. It even fits a tall spray bottle and my ring holder I got when I was probably 15 years old. Still keeping that for a bit. :) Result here: a cleaner, more "me" look complete.
Vanity Organizer After

With 3 Mini Organizing Makeovers done, I feel like I have more energy to tackle a bigger project again. Small changes can make a big difference. Sometimes it's as simple as finding out what those small areas are that need some tweaking, and then making a point to fix 'em.

Let me know which Smiling Space you like best by leaving a comment below.

(All products are from The Container Store. I was not paid to use them or share this information.)

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Ebay Selling Tips & Answers to "Maybe I can sell it on Ebay?"

As a Professional Organizer and owner of Smiling Spaces, LLC, I'm constantly transferring skills and knowledge to my clients. I work right along side people in their homes, not only helping to guide the process of organizing from start to finish but also helping them figure out what to do with their stuff. I customize solutions and leave a maintenance plan in place once we've made their spaces "smile." I'm continually learning new things, and love to share my findings here on my blog, or in a monthly email newsletter I send out.

This month, I'm sharing my investigation into the place many go to sell their stuff: Ebay. Heard of it? The first thing I am going to share is that I'm convinced it's not a noun. Ebay is a verb. It requires action, time, a plan, skills and follow through. Read on and you'll see.

With six years of experience in my profession, I can answer most questions that come up in a hands-on organizing session with confidence. But it's tough when I come across a question that stumps me. For instance, a question I get a lot is "Is this worth something?" It can be a difficult question to answer without more information. Another way it might be phrased is "I don't want to get rid of this because it might be worth something." I know there is a question within this comment, and it's not so simple to answer. This might be followed by my client saying, "Maybe I can sell it on Ebay." Not having a simple answer or solution can prevent someone from letting go of an item they no longer want. If they could get money for it, donation may not be the best option. My answer is usually to have us put questionable items aside from the obvious, "keep, "donate," or "toss" items. We might create a "consider" or "sell" area in their home.

A side note:
I come from a family that values antiques, well made furniture, and heirlooms passed down from the previous generation. I understand and can appreciate keeping things of value. But I also like to remind people that what is valuable to one person may or may not be of value to another. Value of most items can change over time and increase or decrease just like anything else. I've come to learn that storing items has a cost involved that many people overlook. What is frustrating is storing items we don't love, but keep because we think they might be valuable, to later find out they are not. There has got to be a better way.

Questions Answered

I recently attended a talk arranged by my Minnesota Chapter of the National Association of Professional Organizers where I got a lot of answers to a list of questions I had about Ebay. Below are the answers I'm happy to share.

Q: How does one get into selling on Ebay?

A: For most, it probably starts out as a hobby and may turn into a modest living. Most love the hunt of finding something really unique and rare, and then turning it around for a profit.

Q: How can I figure out what something is worth on Ebay?

A: Check the "sold" price of similar items on Ebaynot the asking prices out there. You want to go by what the items actually sold for, not what they were originally listed for. Also look at how many sold based on how many were listed. Another resource to check out: Requires a $20/month subscription.

Q: What sells well on Ebay?
  • High-End Collectibles and Furniture (if best examples in their category and are rare)
  • Electronics (if they work well)
  • Pocket Knives and Watches (easy to photograph and have less parts to match)
  • Designer Clothes
  • Books (if well cared for)
Q: What are some tips to selling on Ebay?
  • Need to have really good photos and descriptions
  • Items need to be clean (some collectibles are better left with their patina, so only a light wipe is best)
  • Be honest about item's details and any defects
  • Choose items worth $100 or more to make it worth your time
Q: What is trickiest or risky to sell on Ebay?
  • Electronics (do they work?) 
  • Dolls (many from 1970s or later were mass marketed)
  • Jewelry (needs to be identifiable and know gold content)
  • Purses
  • Beanie Babies
  • Baseball Cards
  • Stamps (really hard)
  • Coins (a little easier)
  • Toys or Anything with lots of parts (everything needs to match and be complete in many cases)

Q: If I don't want to sell my stuff myself, who can sell on Ebay for me?
A: An Ebay trading assistant can help sell your stuff on Ebay. Sometimes you can even send photographs of items you may want to sell to be appraised by someone for free. Others are willing to come out to your house for a fee to look at your stuff and tell you if anything is worth trying to sell. If you decide to have someone sell for you though, they have to be in possession of your item like a consignment agreement. If they come to your house to appraise, they may be able to take one or two items that day from you to sell. Unlike a thrift shop, most people who sell on ebay will not keep items 1-2 years. They want to turn a profit as quickly as possible too. If they can't sell something for you, ask for a recommendation for another independent appraiser.

Tip: Focus on selling your larger items first. Bigger items take up more space to store. Smaller items are easier to store and should be left last if you have a lot of items you want to sell.

Q: How much does it cost to have someone sell for me on Ebay?
A: A trading assistant will gather your expectations and goals for selling your stuff as well as discuss a time frame. Some have a set commission or will negotiate a commission. Keep in mind that they have templates ready to use and plug in, which saves them time, but they have to pay Ebay and Pay Pal as well. In any case, you will also have to invest time cleaning your items. Most people that sell for you will not do the detail cleaning and polishing required for a successful sale.

Q: What if my stuff isn't worth what I thought it was worth?

A: I learned that it's sort of an "un-freezing process" for many people when they hear whether their stuff is worth something or not. The attitude people have about their things may change. They will think more about the "holding costs" items have in their homes and may reconsider what is worth keeping.

Tip: Save time. Don't clean items before you have them appraised. Evaluating dirty items is expected. If it is worth something, you can detail clean it then.

Q: What are the challenges to selling on Ebay?
  • Answering the question "what has value" to begin with can be tricky
  • Items usually need to be in high demand to sell well
  • There are counterfeits out there (Rolex watches for instance)
  • Keeping inventory organized can be a challenge
  • Things are seasonal (items will sell better at different times of the year)

Q: What are the steps it takes to sell on Ebay?
  • Research Price
  • Detail Clean items
  • Write Descriptions (defects, details)
  • Photograph
  • List
  • Inventory
  • Store
  • Receive Bids
  • Answer Questions about item
  • Complete Order Details
  • Ship

Still want to Ebay? Give it a try!

Think you'll leave it up to the pros? Leave a comment below, and let me know what you think, found helpful, or still want to know. Thanks!

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