Make space. Find peace. Feel joy.

SHOTBOX can turn your phone into a scanner

30 July 2015

I blogged last week about SHOTBOX, a tabletop photo studio on my genealogy blog, because I’m so excited about how it can help digitize documents and images with a phone. It occurred to me that the readers of this blog would also benefit from knowing about it. So I’ve adapted that post here.

This portable lightbox makes it easy to use your phone to take good-looking, well-lit photos of three-dimensional objects, which is great for those of who blog. It would also be really useful for folks selling items on eBay, etsy or craigslist. And as a knitter I think I’ll be able to take better pictures of my finished projects to upload to Revelry or share on social media.

What’s great for the genealogist or the scrapbooker, though, is that it provides the ability to easily take well-lit photos from above, which can be very useful for digitizing documents or photos (or photo album or scrapbook pages). If you have delicate documents you wouldn’t want to put through a sheet-fed scanner, or if you don’t have a scanner at all, SHOTBOX might be the tool you need to use your phone to digitize documents without risk of damage and without shadows.

Right now, SHOTBOX is running a Kickstarter campaign while they work with the factory to finish the manufacturing and ship by October. I pledged and pre-ordered the SHOTBOX plus the SideShot Kit (a lighted attachment to hold the phone or tablet steady for photos taken from the front), for a total of $149. Once the product is in production, the anticipated retail price will be $149 for the SHOTBOX and $89 for the SideShot.

You can see examples of photos taken with SHOTBOX on their website.

I’m really excited to receive my SHOTBOX this autumn and put it to use. Maybe you’ll notice an improvement in the quality of the photos appearing on this blog!

Worth repeating: Inbox Zero is achievable!

27 July 2015

As I wrote two weeks ago, I’ve fallen behind on a number of things, including my Inbox Zero habit. But last Wednesday I got my inbox down to zero messages once again. It felt so great—like a huge weight had been lifted off my shoulders. It’s been a huge boon to my productivity and I’ve emptied each day since. I was going to write a new post about Inbox Zero and then realized that I’d have a hard time improving on the one I wrote this past November. So here it is.

Yesterday I had a lovely Thanksgiving. It’s my favorite holiday and I think it’s just wonderful that we take time off as a nation to celebrate gratitude. It got me thinking about how grateful I am for a habit I developed in January of 2011. For almost four years, I’ve been clearing out my email inbox, taking it to zero (or near zero) virtually every weekday.

That habit means that I stay on top of my email and never feel pressured by it. It means that I’m a good correspondent. And it means that information or requests I receive via email rarely fall through the cracks.

Back in 2012, I wrote a post with the nuts and bolts of how I maintain my Inbox Zero habit. I’m pasting it here, revised slightly for the times. But essentially nothing’s changed in the four years I’ve been practicing this habit. Inbox Zero is achievable and, for me at least, quite easy to maintain.

In May 2011, I blogged about why I love clearing out my inbox every day. You can read more detail in the post, but the bottom line is that clearing out my email inbox every day is easier than not clearing it out. Each day my inbox has only new messages in it. Nothing lingering. No time bombs. It’s fantastic.

Moreover, having an Inbox Zero habit prompts me to respond to messages that, in the past, I would have let linger in my inbox. It forces me to make decisions today, not tomorrow or next week. That not only enhances my productivity; it frees up my brain!

Here are the nuts and bolts of how I do it, since it seems to be the kind of thing that many consider difficult. In reality, I find it very easy.

Here’s an important note: When I talk about Inbox Zero, I’m not talking about deleting all my emails. I keep thousands of emails. But they’re filed away from my inbox, waiting for me to refer to them. They’re not mixed in with new emails.

I use my MacBook’s Mail program as an email client. All my emails are downloaded to my computer, which is how I like it. I see no reason, though, that these principles wouldn’t apply to cloud-based systems, like gmail.

  1. I have many email folders (or “mailboxes” in Mac parlance). The one I use the most is called *Archive. (More on that below. The * ensures that the *Archive folder is at the top of my list of folders.) I also have folders for various volunteer activities, one called Clients, another for Prospective Clients, and folders for each email list I’m on.
  2. I use rules to divert listserv emails to designated folders, so they bypass my inbox. Google groups, yahoo groups, any other group emails automatically go into their respective folders and I read them at my leisure. Same goes for messages from Twitter telling me I have new followers.
  3. For those emails that do land in my inbox, I read and respond as necessary. Ideally, I respond immediately and then move that message out of my inbox. If the incoming message doesn’t apply to a volunteer activity or isn’t from a client or prospective client, I move it into the *Archive folder. If I don’t need to keep it, I delete it. If it doesn’t require a response, but I want to keep it, I just file it. If I don’t respond immediately, I respond at the end of the day when I’m clearing out my inbox.
  4. By far, most of my emails end up in the *Archive folder. Thanks to the robust search capabilities of my Mac, I can always find an old message; I don’t have to be more detailed in the filing.
  5. If a message requires action after the response, I flag it, add it to my task list, then file it. In Mail, when I click on the word Flagged in the sidebar, all flagged messages are displayed. No need to move it into an action folder (which I always found scary to look in) and then refile it when the action is done. (If I’m being completely honest, I’ll admit that sometimes I’ll leave that email in my inbox to deal with tomorrow.)
  6. At the end of each day, I go through any emails left in my inbox, respond as necessary, file and delete. It’s that simple.

The number of emails that land in my inbox each day isn’t huge—usually less than 100—and this system works very well for me. It’s very easy to maintain. I typically take a break on the weekends, which means that I have a backlog to deal with Monday morning. (That’s not ideal, but the break feels important.) During the week, I strive for—and unless I’m traveling, almost always achieve—inbox zero.

I read my email on my iPhone and, occasionally, my iPad (using the Mail app) when I’m out in the world. I automatically blind copy myself on outgoing messages sent from my iPhone or iPad, so those messages end up in my inbox on my computer. I just file them along with the rest, thus maintaining a correspondence record in my Mail program on my computer. But I don’t worry about Inbox Zero on my mobile devices. I let the devices delete all messages at certain thresholds.

I have a secret weapon in my email success: an accountability buddy. After I clear out my inbox, I email my friend and colleague Aby Garvey about the status of my inbox. It’s highly motivating.

Inbox Zero may or may not be attractive for you. It’s certainly been helpful for me and if you’re tempted, I hope you find this post helpful!

Trying out the KonMari method

23 July 2015

In a blog post earlier this week, I reviewed The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing by Marie Kondo. In this short book—an international bestseller—the author details her KonMari method for decluttering and organizing.

As I wrote in my review there were aspects of the agreed with and aspects I didn’t agree with. But reading the book did make me want to give her methodology a try. The book does a great job of sparking action.

I decided to try out the KonMari method on my clothing. That’s the category that she recommends starting with because it tends to be the easiest category of items to part with. So, as instructed, I gathered up clothing from various storage areas in my house. I keep almost all my clothes in my bedroom, but there were some items in the guest bedroom closet, including out-of-season clothes and some that weren’t fitting when I moved them there.

I emptied all my drawers and shelves and piled everything on the bed. Marie would have had me pile everything on the floor. But in my bedroom, there’s more bed space than floor space. Plus, I didn’t have to bend over to reach the items on my bed. Here’s how my bed looked with all the clothes on it.

Trying out the KonMari method

I started with the clothes from the guest room closet, because they were the ones I’d worn least recently (per Marie’s instructions). As I touched each item, I asked myself her trademark question, “Does this spark joy?”

I found the question to be very powerful. It’s different from, “How recently have I worn this?” or “Does this look good on me?” There were items in there I had once loved and probably still looked good on me, but they no longer sparked joy. They went right into the donate bag.

I used the app iDonatedIt to keep track of my donations as I put the items in the bag. It was very easy and gave me a little boost as I watched my tax deduction rise. Here’s a photo of the donations:

Trying out the KonMari method

The whole process took me about 90 minutes (not counting the donation drop off) and when I was finished, I had donated more than half my clothes. What was left easily fit in the drawers and shelves in my bedroom (no more guest room closet for me!) with room to spare. There were items that had been stored in the guest room I’d completely forgotten about and some of them sparked joy. Now I have easy access to them.

I feel absolutely no pangs or worries that I’ll miss any of the items I donated. It’s clear that I still have an abundant amount of clothes. I love that they’re more mindfully stored now.

As an aside, I’ve been using Marie’s folding method for shirts for years. She suggested folding items so that they can be stored vertically, like files. I hadn’t used that method on pants, but today I tried it. So far, I like it quite a lot!

I know how to declutter, obviously. Did using the KonMari method make a difference? It did provide a couple of real advantages:

  • The book (and my promise to blog about trying it out) got me to actually take a look at these clothes and bring them together in one spot.
  • Working on all my clothes at the same time gave me a sense of completion.
  • The question “Does it spark joy?” was very effective at getting me to let go of items without regret.

Of course, the book addresses more than clothing. A couple of days ago, the book inspired me to dispose of a bookshelf full of seminar notes—the handouts that used to be distributed at the conferences I attended (they’re now distributed electronically). That was a little harder; they represented more to me, I think. But I acknowledged that I literally had not looked at any of them after the conference and they were just taking up space. It felt really good to let those go and I have The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up to thank for it.

I’m still not sure of the practicality of the book’s premise that one should always sort by category not by location—it’s great if you can do it in one session, but what happens if multiple sessions are necessary? it seems to me that you wouldn’t be able to find anything until the process is finished.

Maybe I’ll find out. There are still plenty of areas I can practice on in my own home. In any case, I think I’ll be using the “Does it spark joy?” question with at least some of my clients (giving Marie credit, of course). Perhaps I’ll post more here as I continue on this journey.

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: A Review (part one)

21 July 2015

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: A review

Have you read The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing by Marie Kondo? She’s the Japanese “tidying consultant” whose book has sold over 2 million copies worldwide.

I initially resisted reading it because I was irked by all the attention it had garnered. (It has received loads of media attention, as well as bestseller status.) But a couple of people mentioned that the advice in the book echoed much of what I write about, so I thought I’d better check it out. I was also intrigued by how it seemed to really prompt people to take action.

I bristled as I read the first couple of chapters, because the author spoke in absolutes with a “my way or the highway” attitude. She basically said that if you follow her method you will succeed and never backslide. And if you deviate from her method you’re pretty much doomed to failure.

My clients know that I don’t speak in such absolutes and that I’m all for custom, not cookie-cutter, solutions.

But I kept reading. And as I read, I found myself nodding along at many of her ideas. I’m not necessarily thrilled with the directive way they’re expressed (which could be attributed to culture differences or simply the translation), but I saw truth in much of what she wrote. For example:

  • Keep only those things that spark joy
  • Decide what to keep, not what to let go of
  • Let go of excess in order to cherish those items that are important to you
  • Don’t start organizing until after you’ve decluttered
  • Keep storage solutions excruciatingly simple

She and I deviate on a few points as well. For example, I don’t agree with these points:

  • There’s one right way to do things—the organizing method should not be changed to suit the person using it
  • You should aim for perfection
  • It’s a bad idea to declutter a little at a time
  • Storage experts are hoarders

I also felt like some of her advice, while viable for her clients living in small spaces in Japan, might not be realistic for many of my clients’ larger homes. For example, she advocates storing all like items in one area, not spreading them throughout the house. In a 5,000 square foot home, it doesn’t make much sense to me to have all your pens, for example, in one desk.

All that aside, there’s one thing I can say for this book: It does spark action. I read it on an airplane and was itching to get home to do some decluttering as soon as I finished it. I’m looking forward to trying out some of her methods, and even exploring her uber-simple paper organizing method (papers to be acted on and papers to be saved; the latter is divided into two subcategories, infrequently used papers and more frequently used papers). She made me want to discard all the old seminar notes that are cluttering up my bookshelf—because it’s true; I never look at them.

And I can’t wait to try out her signature question, “Does this item spark joy?” during the decluttering process in my own home. I’m back from my trip and today I’m going to give Marie Kondo’s advice (which she has named “the KonMarie Method”) a shot. My home is in need of some decluttering attention, so it’s the perfect chance to give it a try.

I’ll blog about the results on Thursday!

Ten things I know are true

16 July 2015

I wrote the following article for my newsletter, which went out yesterday. Be sure and scroll down for a special offer at the end.

This month I celebrate the 10th anniversary of Peace of Mind Organizing®. It’s incredible to me how quickly time goes by. It’s been a wonderful decade and I look forward to moving my company into the next decade.

Thinking about my anniversary, I took a moment to write down ten things I’ve learned as a PO that have been proven true over and over again. I thought I’d share them with you this month.

  1. The less stuff you own, the easier your life is. Less stuff = more freedom.
  2. Relationships are more important than things. Don’t let your stuff get in the way of your relationships.
  3. There is no such thing as perfectly organized. Strive for “organized enough” instead.
  4. You can’t put something away unless you have a place for it. And you can’t have a place for it if you have more stuff than you can comfortably store.
  5. It’s easiest to create a new habit if you pair it with something you’re already doing. Use that trick to let habit creation be easy.
  6. Indecision leads to clutter. Make it a habit to decide immediately what to do with items.
  7. It’s okay to ask for organizing help. In fact, it can be very beneficial.
  8. Messy does not equal disorganized. I’m living proof.
  9. Tidy does not equal organized. I’ve seen many neat but disorganized spaces.
  10. You are not your stuff. Don’t let your stuff (and your ability to organize it) define you.

Special anniversary offer: Nine Organizing Guides for $9

In honor of my tenth anniversary, I’m making a very special, limited-time offer. For the next week, you can purchase all nine of my Organizing Guides for the price of one, just $9. Organizing Guides are my concise, downloadable pdfs that touch on the most common organizing issues that I’ve seen in my decade as a professional organizer. Through July 22, 2015, go to the Organizing Guides page on my website, scroll down to Want them all?, click Add to Cart and use the coupon code POMO10th at checkout to receive all nine guides for just $9.

Trying to catch up

14 July 2015

I am so behind in my work. And I hate that feeling!

My mother passed away suddenly on June 17. I had to leave town with no notice to fly to Walla Walla, Washington, to be by her bedside and then stayed for a week after her passing. That meant I had to reschedule a bunch of client appointments. So when I returned, I spent the first couple of weeks working with clients, with little energy for anything else.

Then my brother, Larry, who lives in Australia, arrived for a (wonderful) week-long visit since he was in the country for our mother’s memorial service. He leaves in a couple of days. I’ve had to do some client work while he’s here (and lead a NAPO-St. Louis board and membership meeting). When I’m not doing essential work, I’m spending time with him. As it should be.

So that’s a long-winded way of saying I’ve done no admin work for almost a month, my email is piling up and who knows how many balls I’ve let drop. Thank goodness I don’t get much snail mail, so I don’t have a daunting pile of mail to deal with.

I feel so behind. And I feel a little overwhelmed at the prospect of catching up, though I’m really anxious to be caught up. That, of course (once again), puts me firmly in my shoes of my clients.

I know that I need to formulate a plan to get caught up after Larry leaves and I need to bear in mind that I’m still grieving and I need to be kind to myself.

So here’s what I think I’ll do:

  • Make list of the various areas of my work life that need attention (email, paperwork, financial, client relations, etc.)
  • Set a goal for each area, so I know where the finish line is
  • Prioritize
  • Schedule time to work daily on the backlog, starting with the priority areas
  • Try to stay on top of the incoming work so the backlog can shrink more quickly

I think I’ll use Evernote to capture the information. And I’m going to try to let this be easy and not get hung up on doing things exactly right.

I’m also going to not over schedule myself, because I know that down time right now is really important. If I run myself ragged, I risk getting sick and that doesn’t help anyone.

One thing that’s working in my favor is that I have had a great evening routine that keeps me on track, even though at the moment it’s fallen by the wayside. When I’m back to doing my evening routine, I’ll feel under control again. I miss that feeling!

Register now for August 29 "Ask the Organizer" panel

6 July 2015


If you’re in St. Louis, I hope you’ll consider coming to a fun event where you can get your organizing questions answered live and in person. Here’s the best part: It costs only $10!

On Saturday, August 29, from 9:30 to 11:30 am the St. Louis chapter of the National Association of Professional Organizers is putting on a Q&A panel event called Keep Calm and Ask a Professional Organizer. All are welcome.

There will be two panels, one whose panelists are professional organizers and one with associate members of the chapter—companies that provide products and/or services that complement organizing.

This event was originally scheduled for February 21, but had to be canceled due to inclement weather.

I’m one of the professional organizer panelists. Here’s the lineup for that panel:

The Professional Organizer panel is being moderated by Shannon Tamme of Shannon Tamme LLC.

Here are the companies being represented on the Associate Member panel:

The Associate Member panel is being moderated by Lisa Gilliam of Six Hour Organizer.

The event is being held at The Lodge Des Peres, 1050 Des Peres Rd, Des Peres, MO 63131.

Please come with all your organizing questions—we’ll be prepared to answer them! And please come up before or after and introduce yourself to me!

Registration is only $10. For more information and to register, visit the NAPO-St. Louis website.

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