Friday


Simplify: My Mantra for the year

“Simple can be harder than complex: You have to work hard .... But it's worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains. – Steve Jobs

My theme for the year is Simplicity. Here are some ways I'm working on simplifying for myself and my clients.


1) Set three goals (not resolutions) for the year. Create acton steps in order of priority. Track them with benchmarks in your planner or digital calendar. 


1) Decrease clutter: Create a home for each possession. Weed out items that belong to your past and those which never worked for you. Toss, sell or recycle unnecessary, outdated, broken beyond repair and duplicate items. 

2) Create daily routines: Don't put it down, put it away. Tidy the messes as you go. Make the bed each morning, clean dishes after each meal, toss or shred junk mail, throw out trash regularly.

3) Weed your wardrobe: Statistics show we wear 20% of our clothes 80% of the time. The remaining 80% of clothes clog our closets. Identify favorites and donate items that don't fit or flatter.  

4) Clean out the pantry. Toss expired items, unhealthy food and items we know we won't consume. Get rid of extraneous appliances, worn out pots and useless gadgets. 

5) Love what you have and buy only what you need. Big box stores encourage big shopping. That may not work if you have limited storage space and don't use perishables quickly. Borrow movies and novels from the library. Consume once and return so you don't have to store them. Track items online to renew or return to avoid late fees. 

6) Get organized through planning: evaluate your time commitments, use a pared down task list, pay off debt and streamline financial accounts. Finish projects and dangling tasks. Limit screen time, digital clutter and social media.  

7) Eliminate workaholism and multitasking: Do one thing at a time and do it well. Multitasking is doing two things badly at once. Take time off to reward yourself and replenish your energy and brainpower.

8) Edit collections: Keep the best; donate or sell the rest. Dust, display and enjoy your treasures. 

Let's Talk About You
If you need help to simplify, call me at 718-930-8111. We can tackle it together and make your home or office lovely and functional!

Wednesday

How Much is Enough?


“The secret of contentment is knowing how to enjoy what you have, and to be able to lose all desire for things beyond your reach." – Yutang Lin 

Two Estates

While working on two estate clear-outs recently, I became aware how different the households were. The contrast in how the residents maintained their homes and their possessions throughout their lives became painfully apparent. 

The first home was packed with decades worth of family belongings: closets stuffed with old clothing, hundreds of musty books, outdated household items, and stacks of yellowing papers. Finding treasure beneath the 50-year accumulation was daunting. Clearly, not much had left this space once it entered.

The second home was neat, tidy and spare. Each item was treasured, cared for and clean. Articles were placed where they were used. Collections were artfully arranged and edited. Objects had been treated like valuables. Because they were fresh and current, they retained value. Working in this home was a breath of fresh air.  

Acquiring stuff is easy. Goods today can be inexpensive, so they pile up. Yet we rarely prioritize time for clearing out. Many use shopping as entertainment, and feel there's never enough. It's easy to see why homes are exploding. 

Think about vacationing in a clean hotel room and the freedom of living simply from a suitcase. It would be nice to live simply at home, too. Here are some easy ways to clear out clutter.

Establish Routines

• Decluttering is a process, not a one-time event. Keeping everything takes a toll on everyday life and causes added stress, maintenance and housekeeping. 

• Reserve one day a week for home maintenance, grocery shopping and errands. It will add up to more leisure time. 


• Taking time to downsize periodically is rewarding. Keep a bag in your front closet for items you no longer need. Donate the contents when the bag is filledYou'll feel good by helping others.

Ask the Right Questions

• Does this item add value to my life? Is there clothing in my closet sporting store tags? Return the items, have a clothing swap party or donate them. 


• Will I miss this if I let it go? If it's hidden at the bottom of your closet or cluttering up your surfaces and doesn't serve a purpose, let it go. We develop clutter blindness. Items hanging around become part of the furniture and we no longer see them.


• Do I have too many? Sort and donate the excess. No one needs four hammers, especially if you are not into DIY. Redundancy creates clutter in small spaces.

• Does it cause stress because it's damaged or broken? Take the time to fix or replace it, to regain control, time and serenity.

1-in 1-out, 1-up 1-down

• After you've cleared out, it's easy to maintain organization. When you buy a new shirt, donate or toss an old one. To thin out, donate two for each item you bring in. Keeping like items together makes it easier to find what you own.  

• Place dirty clothing in a hamper or laundry bag. It seems obvious but many homes I visit have an empty hamper and clothes strewn about. Set a regular schedule for laundry so it doesn't build up.

• Keep a size larger and a size smaller but let go of clothes you'll never fit into again. You don't need a reminder of the size you were in college, and it's also hopelessly out of fashion. Even trends referencing the 60s, 70s and 80s have updated shapes and styles. 

A Custom System

• Containers create boundaries. Add a recycling system to your kitchen with a bin for bottles and cans, one for garbage, and one for paper. It's helpful if they are all the same and sit next to each other, or find those that stack for small spaces. When the bins fill up, out the contents go. 

• Place a trash can in every room so trash doesn't land everywhere. There are pretty ones available for every decor. Empty them all at once each week. 


• Stash a magazine basket next to your seating area for magazines and catalogs. When new magazines arrive, review and recycle the older ones. 

• Sort toiletry items on the shelves of a linen closet. Use baskets for games and toys. Store all media on shelves or in drawers near the DVD player.  

Small Changes, Big Results

• Sock Locks are one of my favorite products. They keep socks paired when you take them off. They go from hamper to washing machine and back into the drawer holding socks together. No more time wasted pairing black socks or finding mates in the morning. 

• When going from one room to another, pick up items to go back to that room: a plate or cup, or a newspaper you've read. It saves steps and keep rooms tidy.

• Keep a list of small tasks that can be done in a few minutes: sewing a button, pruning a plant, cleaning out your purse. When you need a break from larger projects get one of these nano tasks completed. You'll feel good when you cross it off the list.

Help is Here ...

Want assistance to get your home or office organized? Call me at 718-930-8111. If you have favorite systems, habits or routines to save time and maintain organization, I'd love to hear about them. Post your reply below.

On Board


I'm excited to announce my appointment as Director of Membership on the Board of Directors at The National Association of Professional Organizers, NY Chapter (NAPO-NY). I'm happy to serve an organization that has provided me with support, education and referrals. 


Stay focused, stay organized, stay calm. 

See you soon,
Anna




Monday

Happy Memorial Day, the Start of Summer!


“Summertime ... and the living is easy .... 
– George Gershwin

Memorial Day marks the start of summer, and warmer weather requires some special organizing projects. Here are a few thoughts for the season ahead. 

•  Start by making a jar of icy fruit tea. Adding limes or fresh mint will energize you.

•  Pack winter clothes into cotton garment bags or storage bins with cedar blocks or lavender sachets. Many dry cleaners store coats for the summer.

•  Lighten the ambience. Wash your windows, install screens and open the windows to allow fresh air inside.  

•  Change the filters in your air conditioner and clean fans so you're not blowing dust around. 

•  Plants also clean the air. Keep them vibrant with weekly watering and pruning.

•  Fresh flowers bring the summer in. Change the water frequently and toss when they become tired.

•  Pick up fresh sunscreen recommended by your dermatologist. Even if you're not on the beach it's required for walks outdoors, or even near a sunny window. 

• When you leave the house, close the shades or curtains to prevent artwork and furniture from fading. It also keeps the house cool.

• Outfit a travel toiletry kit with your favorite summer products. You'll be ready for an overnight at a moment's notice.

• For those who love outdoor activities in the city, concerts or simply enjoying a sunset picnic in the park, stock a basket with a blanket, wine tumblers and silverware. Just because you're having Beaujolais and Brie outdoors, doesn't mean you have to dine with plastic. An elegant picnic is fun and very European.

How are you preparing for summer? Need help summer-izing your home? Call me at 718-930-8111

Or write to me at: anna@lieberbrewster.com

I welcome your comments ...

Happy summer!

Anna

Wednesday

April: Spring Cleaning


“Spring is the time of plans and projects. 
– Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina

I'm catching up on past seasons of Downton Abbey. The romantic episodes cast a magical spell .... historic grandeur, epic love stories, sumptuous settings, great gardens, a lady's maid to lay out your clothes .... 


Ok. It's 2014Wake up and smell the coffee! So much to do, no household staff, and only one of me. Now that taxes are filed, it's time for the annual ritual of spring cleaning and organizing for my home and for my clients.



Here are some tips on how to get it all done:

Clean without chemicals You don't have to be a home chemist. Just buy natural products. Read the ingredients: no dyes, fragrances, coloring agents or unpronounceable words. It's worth a few cents more to breathe easier, have a healthier home and save the planet, too.

Organize your closets Store winter clothing in bins, suitcases or boxes using  sachets of natural cedar and lavender. Don't store heavy items on upper shelves as it's hazardous. Donate clothing that is outdated, no longer fits or doesn't work in your current lifestyle. Toss anything stained, ripped or faded. Donate sale items that never worked, still sporting price tags. Consign high-end, current designer clothing in perfect shape but which you no longer wear. Give your closet a good dusting and vacuuming. Recycle wire hangars back to the dry cleaner, and treat yourself to a new set of huggable hangers. The seasonal change is a good time to purchase new baskets and organizers for accessories. Be sure to measure your shelves before shopping. 

Freshen the fridge Toss moldy or expired foods lurking in the back and resolve to clean out the refrigerator periodically going forward. Wash the interior with dish soap. Keep meat and seafood separate from foods eaten raw. Use see-through plastic baskets to separate and store like items or those used together. Store leftovers in lock-top glass containers.

Pantry pandemonium Next clean out the pantry of expired foods. Glass jars work for open grains, crackers and pastas to prevent bugs. Nut and seed oils go rancid quickly so store them in the refrigerator. Nuts are best in air tight containers in the freezer for up to a year. Keep like items together in baskets and if you store canned goods, use a sharpie to mark them with the purchase date. Stepped organizers allow you to see everything. Place newer products in the back so you use older ones first. 

Plastic pitfall Since we're in the kitchen, let's toss that stash of take-out containers missing lids, which are just taking up space. Check the numbers at the bottom of plastics for recycling codes and avoid #3 PVC, #6 PS (Styrofoam) and especially #7 PC which contains BPA, an endocrine-disrupting compound. 

Bathroom basics Even a small bathroom can be spa like. First, give it a deep cleaning. Next, sort through your make up and toiletries. Cosmetics expire, too. Inexpensive updates can help. Install a hook on the door for wet towels. Roll small towels and store in baskets. Place extra toilet tissue rolls into a large covered glass apothecary jar. Set up easy access to items you use daily. In a small space, a second medicine cabinet works well or mount a shelf or two for attractive items you use regularly.

Increase ventilation Wash the windows to let the sunshine in and open them to freshen the air. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), indoor air is 2-5 times more polluted than outdoor air, and at times can be 100 times more polluted, so let the breezes blow. And while you're at it, put a few house plants on the windowsill to clean the air. Those mums and greens filter out benzene, commonly found in glue, paint, plastics and detergent.

Help is here Need assistance with spring projects? Email me at anna@lieberbrewster.com or call me at 718-930-8111. We'll get it done. No drama and no household staff needed.

I welcome your comments and questions.

Happy Spring!
Anna

Friday

Holy Taxes! Are Your Taxes Too Taxing?


Tax season is upon us and many people find the annual ritual of pulling together their information daunting. With a little organization, it doesn't have to be such an onerous project ... 

Tax Tips

• Half the battle is starting to gather information early in the game. If a document is missing or an issue arises, you won't have to scramble or worry about filing late. If you're due a refund, you'll receive it sooner if you file early.

• Set up a good record-keeping system to create peace of mind, whether it's a computer program or a paper-based method. Once you have a system, you can use it year after year to simplify the tax process. 

• Designate a place to store tax-related correspondence, whether it's a file folder, accordion file or a clearly labeled box. 

• Classify gifts, which are not taxable. Your tax preparer could see these deposits as income.

• If your return is complex, hire a CPA so you don't overlook deductions. Accountants are aware of the latest tax laws. In addition, a neat, organized computer-generated return helps to avoid an audit. 

• Review last year's return with your accountant to see if there is any carry forward information. 

• CPAs often send a helpful list of documents required for tax preparation as well as questions relating to your current tax status so nothing important is overlooked.

• If printing out from a computer program, ask your accountant what formats he would prefer to receive.

• Organize support documents by category: income statements, investments, receipts for deductible expenses, and letters of charitable donations. 

• Before you submit your paperwork, make a copy of it and all supporting papers. This will help if you need to check back or file an amended return.

• I recommend keeping all tax returns but you may shred backup material after seven years. 

If you need help setting up a tax system or preparing documentation for taxes, call me ASAP at 718-930-8111. I look forward to helping you file on time.

Monday

December / Organized Space Works - The Power of Habit


“Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness, concerning all acts of initiation and creation. There is one elementary truth, the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision. – Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe

We are looking forward to a new year and as Oprah says another chance to get it right. The end of the year is a time for celebration and a time for reflection. Did you accomplish everything you wanted to do? Are you happy with how the past year went? What would you like to change?

Large bucket lists and overly ambitious goals are dauntingIt's human nature to resist reordering the status quoThe University of Scranton's "Journal of Clinical Psychology" cites getting organized as the number two resolution in the top three. Yet, only a small percentage of people achieve their resolutions. It's a good time to consider how we can inspire lasting positive change.

Small Steps of Kaizen
In my organizing work, I see firsthand how small steps lead to big results. This is Kaizen, the Japanese system of continuous improvement in management and manufacturing. Kaizen has been applied to healthcare, psychotherapy, life coaching, government, banking, and many other industries. Wikipedia notes that Kaizen literally means "good change," a daily process of productivity through small adaptations.

We can apply it to organization as well. Incremental improvement rather than innovation is the key. Charles Duhig, author of "The Power of Habit" says, "Small wins fuel transformative changes by leveraging tiny advantages into patterns that convince people that bigger achievements are within reach." 

Organizing seems simple. Step one: Plan. Step 2: Organize. Step 3: Keep it up. Organizing requires work and once achieved, it is not a static accomplishment. My clients are thrilled when they see their organized homes and offices after each session. They soon realize if they want their spaces to stay organized, they need to focus attention on maintenance. A large part of organizing is creating systems and building skills to support new habits. It's helpful to prioritize so you can focus on modifying one habit at a time. Small steps. 

The Power of Habit
Duhig says, "Each person's habits are driven by different cravings. Change might not be fast and it isn't always easy. But with time and effort, almost any habit can be reshaped." He explains: "MIT researchers ... discovered a simple neurological loop at the core of every habit: A cue, a routine and a reward. His strategy: Identify the routine, experiment with rewards, isolate the cue, have a plan. 

The routine is the habit. The cue is not as simple. For Duhig's habit of eating a cookie every afternoon in the cafeteria, he questioned whether the cue was hunger, boredom, low blood sugar or just needing a break before moving onto the next task? He experimented with rewards. He tried a break with coffee at his desk, an apple in the cafeteria, a cookie at his desk, or a chat with someone nearby. Then he analyzed how he felt after each reward. He discovered a fascinating fact. It wasn't the cookie he craved but social interaction. Now, he stops work at 3:30 to chat briefly with an office mate. He found a way to substitute a healthier habit for a less desirable one.

Duhig concludes: "Sometimes change takes a long time. Sometimes it requires repeated experiments and failures. But once you understand how a habit operates – once you diagnose the cue, the routine and the reward – you gain power over it." 

How will you use the small steps of Kaizen and the power of habit to create a more organized life in the year to come? 

Great last-minute clutter-free gifts
Dance or yoga classes
Museum membership
Gift certificate for massage or manicure/pedicure
Cooking lessons
Savings bond or contribution to 529 college fund
Theater or concert tickets
Flowers, chocolate or wine 

Happy Holidays!
Anna

Wednesday

November / A Simple Holiday


Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.” 
– Leonardo da Vinci

The holidays bring up all sorts of emotions. Media leads us to have expectations that exceed what we can realistically hope to accomplish – more cooking, more entertaining, more shopping. The challenge is to enjoy the holidays for their simple, seasonal pleasures. My personal wish is to get to the country to see icicles on real fir trees, eat homemade pie and smell fires burning. That sounds like an ideal holiday to me.

A Collector's Tale
I like to cook and years ago, I decided I would throw parties throughout the season and even entertain all year round. Being a collector of beautiful old objects, I found antique porcelain and silver, vintage glassware and linens by scouring flea markets, thrift shops, estate sales and country auctions. 

I amassed a beautiful collection, worthy of an Edwardian country estate. The trouble is I live in a one-bedroom apartment in New York City, and I have no servants. Working to build my design firm, I had little time to entertain and certainly didn't need more pressure. 

I still love treasure hunting but years ago I reflected that I hadn't yet acquired the country house, which I had spent so many years outfitting. It was a worthy goal and I may still get that country estate – okay, more likely a small cottage – but I realized my fantasy wasn't serving me. If you have to collect something, antiques are fine things but they still get dusty. I had far too much of a good thing to enjoy, care for or even get to see. 

Distractions
We have three times the space we had 50 years ago – yet affluence, inexpensive goods and our impulse to shop, collect and save – keeps us drowning in stuff. We’re geared toward acquiring, not letting go. I knew I had many goals and having all that stuff was getting in the way. 

My house was bulging with good things so I began to deaccession by selling at my local flea market. It's not for everyone and not certainly not easy but it has been great fun. I've met many fascinating people, tourists from all over the world as well as New Yorkers, and best of all, my treasures are finding new homes with people who cherish them as much as I do. 

The irony is my objects are traveling to far-off places more frequently than I am but I'm enjoying my things far more than I ever did before. Who knew? 

Rightsizing is Rewarding
I still own a considerable collection, even after years of letting go and it's probably more cohesive due to my editing. It's also rewarding to help young people see that there's more to furnishing a home than electronics and big-box furniture.  

The idea to downsize, or as we aptly call it now, rightsize, occurs to most of us at a certain age. According to Forbes magazine, “baby boomers, long known as master acquirers, are now learning a new skill: getting rid of excess stuff.” The trend toward simplicity and quality evolved as we came to understand how much energy, physical, mental and emotional, it takes to navigate a complex lifestyle with too much. 

More is Not More
Young people are attracted to electronics, clothes, shoes and handbags, as expressions of status and individuality. Older adults may be sentimental and accumulate inherited furnishings that crowd their spaces, keepsakes acquired over the years and craft supplies from hobbies they've left behind. Paper, books and piles mount as decisions become overwhelming.

One of my clients had a bin full of toddlers' toys she just couldn't part with, purchased for her grandchildren. Her grandchildren are now in high school, yet the toys were still in her home – gifts never given because they were lost in the clutter.

Professional organizers often say that clutter signifies postponed decisions. It may also represent unfulfilled dreams. We're all vulnerable because attachments to stuff is part of the human condition. Even cave people collected artifacts. 

Cull Your Collections
The designer, William Morris said, "Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful." Are your collections beautifully displayed and dust free? Do you keep items you no longer love or use? End of year is good time to clear out and contribute to charity, while earning a tax credit. Your environments will shine as you make room for new interests by weeding out the old and creating space for the new year ahead. 

Memories Not Mementos
As you see, I'm all for a beautiful home and a bountiful table, especially during the holidays. I have a keen appreciation for fine things but interestingly research shows that experiences lead to happiness, not possessions. Why then do most of us feel compelled to shop for shiny new toys when we ultimately get greater joy from watching the skaters, baking a pie, or a strolling by the park after a snowfall.

This season, my inner voice tells me to take some time off, clean out my closets, ignore the shopping impulse, and simply find time for tea with my friends. Not an epic Downton Abby tea, maybe just Starbucks – in a paper cup.

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Be thankful for all we have. I'm grateful for this community of friends and clients.

Have a Happy Simple Thanksgiving!