I'm hiring a professional organizer

esgaJanuary 4, 2006

I have decided I can't do it alone, and I don't have to do it alone. I've already gotten recommendations from one online site that puts you in touch with organizers, and I've looked at the NAPO people in our area.

I have done a lot on my own, but not enough. I have redundant filing systems, and I have never been able to devise a retrievable system for manuals - garden tools, kitchen appliances, drills (where are the rechargers for the rechargeables, by the way?), phones, TV, VCR . . . it goes on and on. And I want design help, so that my rooms look nice with the storage solutions in them.

There was one woman who is a clear standout: she has 2 books out (which I am ordering) on chronic disorganization and organizing for people with ADD. (She also has one on organizing for disaster, but I'm not there yet). Unfortunately, she isn't free until Feb., and I have some momentum now.

My house looks great for the moment - I had a party last week and shoveled stuff out of the way for that. However, I can hardly walk through the storage room or parts of the garage.

Do you think we are too reluctant to ask for help? I once helped clear out the yard of a woman whose health prevented her from doing it herself. She never asked for help, but she ended up in the hospital, and people from her church got her to agree to let them inside the house. They contacted her neighbors, and we cleaned up outside - cutting brush, pulling ivy off the house (it had actually grown into the brick!). I resolved then to ask for help before I got to that stage. Right now, I can pay for it. I already pay to have the house cleaned twice a month, and the cleaner has to cope with the clutter too. She gets it out of her way as best she can, but she often messes up what systems I have as she does it - last time she took things out of a box designated for give-aways and put them in the garage, and she mixes my piles together. But she has to get things off the floor to clean it!

I worked with an organizer once before, before moving to Georgia, and it did help. So I am hopeful about the experience.

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Good luck w/the organizer! I think that's a smart move.

And yes, you're right--we ARE too hesitant to ask for help. Since it is often available to us, if we can simply focus enough to see it.

Some people don't have anyone to help, but a lot of people actually shut that help off. Someone offers, and they have excuses why that solution won't work. Or, they can't arrange their request to be specific, measurable, achievable, and something that will either become a permanent change (like setting up a new system, or painting a bedroom) or will be clearly a one-time help w/ disaster.

One word, though, about your cleaning lady:
last time she took things out of a box designated for give-aways and put them in the garage, and she mixes my piles together.

Ummm, taking things OUT of a box is not "getting things off the floor to clean it." That's out of line for *anyone* to do it someone ELSE's home.

Mixing up the piles isn't just "getting things out of the way to clean" either, really. *Moving* them would be, but not mixing.

So, you do need to gently correct the worst of this, in the meantime (and AFTER as well!). And perhaps discuss w/ the cleaner how to move stuff out of the way w/o messing w/ your systems. Or, move stuff yourself out of the areas you want her to clean. (I used to tell my cleaner, "on the days that my dresser is a mess; just don't dust it--that'll be my problem")

    Bookmark   January 4, 2006 at 6:19PM
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Elisabeth (with S),

This is a big step. I will eagerly await the description of how it goes. If I thought someone helping me with my messy papers would really help, I'd go for it. But paper files are SOO personal. I'll be interested to see if it works for you -- because maybe there is hope for me. I'm still struggling, despite two big trips to the Container Store and a lot of visually calming brown document boxes. If I listed what is on my desk right now --well I'd be too embarassed--you'd see how hard it is for me to change my habits. I'm sending my organizing thoughts and energy to Georgia. (Why am I on-line instead of organizing? I bet a lot of people could answer that question.)

    Bookmark   January 4, 2006 at 9:30PM
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I went through several website that match you to local organizers. The one I think would be far and away the best isn't taking new clients till mid-February, and I want to keep going now. There are a couple others that have called me, and the one I want to work with recommended someone else she thinks would be a match for me after I described my problems. However, that woman lives almost 2 hours away! Another offers a free one-hour consultation, hard to resist. But I am afraid that it will be hard for me to say no.

Can you tell I am getting overwhelmed by too much choice, even though it's really just 3? I think what makes most sense is to invite the one who gives the free consultation over and see if I think she's a match. Only it's much harder to say no to someone once I've met her, especially for an hour.

By the way, the one I really want to work with is Judith Kolberg; I have just ordered 2 of her books from Amazon. She founded a study group on chronically disorganized people back in the early 1990s and specializes also in people with ADD, which I may have.

Re Maria and mixing up the piles - sometimes I don't know why she does what she does, but I recognize that I am not good at giving directions. This has always been part of my problem in working with assistants. If I ever get things under control once, maybe I can work on this skill.

    Bookmark   January 6, 2006 at 11:35AM
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I think it is a great idea. I would love to do this. Right now I have actually de-junked most of the areas in my house except the garage (which would be a great set for a horror movie! LOL!!) but even so, I don't feel like I am always utilizing my spaces as intelligently or efficiently as I could or should. I think I should hire my 11 year old nephew. For whatever reason, he is amazingly gifted at organization and he has re-organized my brother's garage, their kitchen, files, etc. My sister-in-law says her kitchen has never been this efficient before!! I wish one of my boys would have been gifted in this area.

I do have a couple friends that are very good in this department. I should just swallow my pride and ask for their help. I think that is the main reason we don't ask for help . . . pride! We want to give the illusion we have it all together, even if it is a complete "fake out". I think hiring a professional whom you don't know would be easier, as you don't worry as much about what a stranger will think of you.

Keep us posted on how it works out. If it is successful, I may see if I can get DH to consider this. Also, I would be curious to know the approximate cost of such a thing. Is it a flat rate, by the hour, or what?


    Bookmark   January 7, 2006 at 2:42AM
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A great idea -- please please let us know how your consultation goes -- so interesting to hear from a professional!

bouncingpig: The 11-year-old nephew would be a GREAT hire -- offer him an afternoon or two -- and the chance to help out on that garage!!! What a great way to "set up" a future "job" -- even if he could just do it for friends (nad their parents) --- maybe the gals at the local PTA would let him advertise in their newsletter when he's a bit older?? Be sure to take "before-during-after" photos of HIS projects -- for his resume!!! One day he could write an organizing book for kids and teens!

    Bookmark   January 7, 2006 at 11:10AM
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After dipping into Judith Kolberg's books, I will definitely wait to work with her. The one on chronic disorganization is mostly case studies of clients she's worked with and how she approached their problems, but I have already found several ideas I can use. We won't start until sometime in February, though - I will let you all know how it goes.

There's another one who may be able to help more with the decorative aspects - some of them do "use what you have" decorating as well as organizing. And one wrote to me who simply frightened me - much too intense; she works in 4-hour sessions, no breaks or pets allowed. I really didn't think that would be for me - I definitely get overwhelmed at the 3 hour (at most) limit.

    Bookmark   January 9, 2006 at 5:31PM
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"hard to say no"---

you don't say no--you say "I'll think about it." And then later you say no. Or, if you're really too chicken, you do the slightly rude thing and just keep putting them off.

Brenda--HIRE THE NEPHEW!! I bet he never thought of this as something that could result in a payoff. And he'd probably think it was fun. It's MUCH more fun to organize someone else's stuff. And what a validation for him, to hear that his family's opinion is being valued by someone else (even if you are his aunt--you aren't required to be nice to him, so it'll be really believable).

he's got experience in the garage, so sic him on it!

Elisabeth, I'm w/ you--4 hours w/o breaks would be a little much for me--I'd need at least 20 minutes to breathe.

    Bookmark   January 9, 2006 at 7:38PM
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I was contemplating hiring a professional organizer and wondered if anyone on this board had done so. Found this recent thread. So, Elisabeth, did you manage to work with Judith Kolberg? How was it? The biggest benefit? Would you recommend it to others? Thanks in advance for any insights.

    Bookmark   March 6, 2006 at 9:47AM
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Thanks Suzanne for inspiring me to write up my experience. I do think it was worth it, and I will probably work more either with her or with someone with a different specialty. However, nothing will come of it if you don't follow up - my weak point!

The organizer (Judith) and I worked together for about 4.5 hours - all I could take - and mainly on papers and clothing. We decided to hit papers rather than "things" first; she pointed out that you handle them in a very differnt way.

She reorganized my filing system (I had lots of duplicate files and files I didn't really need, and it's amazing what having someone sitting there encouraging you to dump will do! She was fine with my decisions, though, not judgmental at all). When she got the hang of it, she actually tackled all the places I had files stashed.

In the meantime I worked with her assistant to sort through clothes and get them stored in a way that makes sense - too big, too small, off season (my weight goes up & down). Unfortunately we weren't able to devise labels that would stick to my hanging closets in the storage room, but at least I should be able to look in and recognize what's there, because it's not a mish-mash any more.

Then she made suggestions about how I might manage time and also paperwork. I admit I haven't started implementing the suggestions yet - I need some supplies I haven't bought yet. But I think the suggestions will work. That came, I think, to $270 or so at $60/hour. She did not charge extra for the assistant - maybe she's training her, I didn't ask. They kept wanting to organize my books, which are working fine for me.

Because I am on city council, another major source of paper, she suggested keeping a separate satchel or bag for city council meetings, so that I am not scrambling to find notes from the last meeting or whatever I need to take at the last minute. She also suggested that I use clear binders and sticky notes in different colors for the notes I write myself on council matters.

I have bought a new shredder and have to set it up and get busy. Part of the paper-overwhelm comes from stuff that has to be shredded - I have a lot of mutual fund IRAs which generate a whole lot of statements and prospectuses. It would probably be good to consolidate into a couple funds, just to help with the paperwork. I must admit that the paper accumulation is huge in just a month. I may pay someone to come and file every few months.

My next step may be to work with a different organizer, one who combines organizing with use-what-you-have decorating. I have some collections that are spilling all over the place: perfumes (I mean about 100, some of them little teeny samples which I love trying, when I can find them) and jewelry which is scattered all over the place also.

It's also worth hiring someone to do the errands - making a list of the donatables and taking them to the thrift shop, maybe even taking stuff to a consignment shop. I find it difficult to actually get around to doing this, even once the stuff has been identified.

Whatever you do, don't work with an organizer that you don't feel comfortable with. Spend some time getting to know them first. I rejected one based on her email which sounded too rigid to me - no interruptions, she's a minimalist though willing to accommodate other styles, etc. I will never be a minimalist, and I will never be organized the way really neat people are. Things have to be out where I can see them.

Ask them what they specialize in; tell them what your problem areas are; ask them how much experience they have in these areas. Try to sense whether they will be OK with your personal style.

    Bookmark   March 7, 2006 at 11:43AM
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Thank you so much for the reply, Elisabeth! Much appreciated. I also have trouble with the follow-up - get a system going but not implement it or not following through on the getting rid of stuff part etc. (Freecycle has been a godsend for that - the only problem is I keep thinking I could have made money selling that!!) :)
You seem to have gotten a lot done in half a day!! I'm looking to organize my office right now - I was feeling very overwhelmed this weekend. Haven't seen the floor in months. Insomnia hit again last night so I tried tackling some of the piles on the floor. My biggest problem is finding a home for all the "stuff" I want to keep. I now have a better idea of what I want to accomplish with an organizer and tomorrow, I WILL call the 3 I found on the web. Perhaps I'll click with one of them. I'll keep you guys posted. Thanks again for sharing your experience Elisabeth.

    Bookmark   March 7, 2006 at 8:04PM
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Thank you so much for your report. Ineresting and helpful.

    Bookmark   March 7, 2006 at 10:07PM
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Fori is not pleased

I'm checking out this forum for the first time and appreciate all the useful info and tips. One thing I've managed to do to reduce investment paperwork is to have most of it sent electronically. Most of that stuff (annual reports, prospectuses, etc.)can be emailed to you. You'll still get hard copies of transaction records but you'll have much less waste to deal with.

    Bookmark   March 9, 2006 at 2:54PM
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I think in setting up our office, I could really benefit from a professional organizer. There is a group here in Spokane that specialize in organizing offices. I might check into them down the road (when money actually starts coming in from our new biz!).


    Bookmark   March 9, 2006 at 3:30PM
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I'm glad to see that E_pinelake followed through and what her experience was.

I have a question for anyone following this thread. Would someone be more attracted to an organizer who advertises her self as NOT born organized but has leared organizational skills and how to put them into operation?

I'm ready to start looking at a career change. I'll probably need to teach part time for three more years to get the insurance thing covered, but I've been working with a friend for 11 weeks now, de-cluttering her home.

Most of my teaching has been in psych hosptials, day treatment schools, etc. so in many ways what I'm doing is very much like my teaching. Getting my friend to move in a certain direction without creating anxiety.

When I look up organizers, everyone seems to state they have always been organized and just are using skills they are good at. While I've had to reprogram my brain to keep us organized.

I was looking at the napo website elizabeth posted and they have some online classes. I was thinking about trying some out.

Just wondered if a formerly disorganized organizer would appeal to people.


    Bookmark   March 9, 2006 at 4:57PM
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Quiltglo- yes, yes, yes. I have two books by Julie Morgenstern on organizing and managing time. She tells a story of wanting to take her new baby for a walk in the stroller and taking about three hours to get all the baby's stuff ready and then not being able to go after all (before she figured out how to organize things). Sounds like an interesting thing to try out.

    Bookmark   March 9, 2006 at 8:37PM
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I think it might--esp. if you point out that "very much like my teaching. Getting my friend to move in a certain direction without creating anxiety" bit.

Play up the teachign aspect--see Suzanne's comment about not being able to follow up--I think lots of people worry they'll pay for an organizer, and not get the mindset change that'll make it stick. A teacher might help them learn more internally, as opposed to having it imposed upon them.

I also think that, just as w/ weight loss, people worry about being judged. Who wants diet coaching from someone who's never eaten too many Mallomars?

Also, if a person has always *been* organized, will they understand the idea that the systems that work so well for them won't necessarily work for someone else's quirks? Will they have tried very hard to pick apart the reasons a system works or doesn't?

If you've gone through the trial-and-error bit, you might find yourself able to say, "that didn't work for me, bcs my routine was more scattered, but you seem more comfortable in a routine that works."

I'd focus on phrases like "what I've learned" over "skills I've always had."

And emphasize the "teaching" aspect.

I sometimes think that would be a fun career switch. but what I REALLY want to do is be the Organizing Editor for Martha Stewart Living (or Real Simple, bcs I'm not sure MSL would really want to acknowledge exactly how UNorganized people can be to start out with). So I can write about it, but not have to actually DO it. So I can search out or think up all kinds of great ideas, and show them to people. Without having to implement them in any real place (too hard, LOL!).

    Bookmark   March 10, 2006 at 12:00PM
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Would someone be more attracted to an organizer who advertises her self as NOT born organized but has leared organizational skills and how to put them into operation?

This question was asked. The answer is YES. At one point, believe it or not, I was thinking of becoming a professional organizer. In my searches, I found that there were definitely organizers who said they themselves were not organized at home but knew how to get others organized.

Talley Sue, we'd all give you a great recommendation for that new career path should you need it. I can picture you being the Organizing Editor for Real Simple which is one of my favorite magazines.

    Bookmark   March 10, 2006 at 5:48PM
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Quiltglo, the answer to your question is yes!! Look at how popular Flylady and the SHEs (Side-tracked home executives) are. I'm convinced it's because they weren't "born organizers" that they are so successful at helping people. The difference between them and a professional organizer (I think) is that the professional organizer works one on one and is able to offer different systems to different people, whereas Flylady and the SHEs offer you one system that you can adapt.

Talley Sue has given you great advice on marketing yourself.

I've also thought about becoming an organizer. Truth is, I do like to organize stuff and am organized; I just have trouble keeping up with my systems and rooms get cluttered. What I've finally learnt about this organizing business is that it comes down to making decisions about things. Obvious, perhaps, but I need to keep reminding myself of this basic truth. I must be able to decide what to do with all the stuff that is in my house (where to store it? for how long? purpose?). Clutter is a delayed decision. (BTW, younger, I was a big procrastinator. Could a procrastinator have an uncluttered home?)

And yes, it is so much easier to organize someone else's stuff than your own. No emotional attachment to things, you have a good overview of the "mess" and can see what can easily be tackled first. Talley Sue, I like your idea of writing up tips for others to implement. After all, I must be a bit of expert seeing as I have 20 books on organizing and keeping house (!) But that's a whole other issue (lol)

Incidentally, I've contacted an organizer and she'll be coming in on Monday to help me out with my home office. I'm sorting everything and purging what I can. What will be left to do is figuring out the best way to store everything and that's why I'm calling on an organizer for help. Will update you on my experience next week.


    Bookmark   March 11, 2006 at 6:51AM
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What I've finally learnt about this organizing business is that it comes down to making decisions about things.

I've had that same realization. Clutter is a decision delayed. Or a solution I haven't implemented.

    Bookmark   March 13, 2006 at 10:42PM
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What a great observation, ladies. So true in my case. So why are we indecisive?

    Bookmark   March 14, 2006 at 12:32PM
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being a chicken, mostly.

Sometimes it's time; it takes time to mentally decide I don't want something.

fear of regret--will I wish I hadn't tossed it?

    Bookmark   March 14, 2006 at 3:38PM
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I think in my case it's often that I don't really have anywhere to put the item in question (because all of my closets, cabinets and drawers are stuffed to the max), so it goes into limbo on my kitchen counter.

Also, I like to keep my options open. If I toss out the flyer to the claim bake at the knights of columbus, then I will never attend it. Same with the PTA stuff, homework (you never know when the teacher will want a review of that pile of old homework), art projects, receipts and store returns, and the like.

And regret, that's a big one. Especially with outgrown children's clothing and toys.

But why do some people seem to just throw things away and never look back? Are they more decisive or do we care too much?

    Bookmark   March 14, 2006 at 8:54PM
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"indecisive" Interesting concept.

I can get rid of stuff and as cup says, "never look back" because I've made conscious decisions regarding the amount of time, space and energy that STUFF is allowed in my life. I can't keep a family running and a home feeling nice if we can't find what we need and every surface is overflowing.

By keeping all options open, decisions are not made and you end up missing out on everything!

Put things on a calendar and then toss the papers. If a teacher wants to review a pile of homework--too bad. And in my 25 years of teaching I've never asked kids to bring back in stuff I've already recorded. I don't need a receipt for the Wheaties I bought yesterday and if it's an item like a TV, then I have it in my filing system.

By defining spaces in the house and giving those spaces real purpose, we don't end up with closets jam packed with stuff we never need. We use them to store items we do need. This allows us to have out the items we enjoy seeing or need on a daily basis.

Outgrown children's clothing and toys? My mom hung onto everything and I can tell you I got rid of it because I am more interested in living in the now and being ready for the future. I have lots of cute pics of my kids in clothing and playing with toys. Why regret? There are more memories to make!

Cup said, "Are they more decisive or do we care too much?" Care about stuff or people? Does the stuff represent the people? Or opportunities? Or chances?

It's balance. A decluttered home doesn't mean an empty home or a home lacking in personality. It just means it's not crammed with last year's PTA notices!

My mantra "I need a place to live my life, not store it." helps me keep things balanced. I'd rather spend my time doing things I enjoy, rather than wading through items we don't need.

Since I really got our home decluttered and organized a few years ago, my life is so much easier.


    Bookmark   March 15, 2006 at 12:12AM
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Great words. Thank you for taking the time to post them. I think you hit the nail on the head by your question of caring about stuff or people. Somehow, I care about stuff more. But not in a good way, like caring about the stuff that makes a lovely home that I can use to entertain people.

I am a lifelong procrastinator. I walk through life feeling overwhelmed yet shortchanged. I want things to be perfect, but somehow, lack the ability, energy and motivation to put my dreams into action. When I was single, I coped because I didn't have a home or family riding on my actions. But now I feel so entangled in my backlog of projects that it affects my family life too.

    Bookmark   March 15, 2006 at 9:52AM
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An interesting thread -- and thanks for update on using the professional organizer.

For more interesting stories -- check out Flylady's site -- and read about what folks have "found" while clearing AND read about the wild stuff that they have finally thrown out!!! Some of the stories are too funny -- and some are really touching too.

Why do we hang onto stuff? Maybe it is a sense of security or that horrible voice in our head that says: "Well, YOU threw it out!!!!" Maybe we feel those actions are wasteful or ungrateful ----- all sentiments that can hold us back ----- and hold us under mountains of "stuff."

As for the classic "follow-up and implementing the solution" ---- it takes time. Literally. Set a timer. Put on Music. According to the Flylady site -- ANY new habit takes at least 29-30 days of consistent behaviour to make a new pattern "stick." And lots of folks come to realize that takes scheduling ........ (for example (JUST an example!) de-clutter the TV room every night at 10 p.m. for 15 minutes OR tidy up the home office for 30 minutes at 9 p.m.)

    Bookmark   March 15, 2006 at 1:57PM
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That would be a big plus for me! I just don't trust that people who've always been organized will understand what I need or want or how I function. Probably because I have so many organized friends who explain to me as if I were an idiot that they have one bill-paying day a month, pick things up as they go, yadda yadda . . . It's not like I don't know how other people stay organized (I grew up in a very organized family, unlike some people here). I am just very creative and a very abstract thinker, and don't even really "see" the physical world very much.

So I would be much readier to trust someone else who started out like me! Go for it!

    Bookmark   March 20, 2006 at 3:21PM
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Dear Elisabeth,

Believe me, not all professional organizers were born that way! The fact that I finally overcame my own unorganized tendencies is what drew me toward being an organizer myself. You can read my story at the link below.

We PO's have a code of ethics and being non-judgemental and confidential is a big part of it.

Many, many people can't remember things if it's not in front of them, others are creative and have lots of projects going at once, others find it hard to let go of things. Every person is unique and I'll wager there are more dis-organized folks out there than organized.

I have been following this thread with interest. It's interesting to know how people think about PO's. If more of you have thoughts to share I'd love to hear them.


Here is a link that might be useful: come-to-order - Welcome

    Bookmark   March 24, 2006 at 8:26AM
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My house is totally disorganized, and also needs a good cleaning. I mean washing walls,spring cleaning,whatever else you might call it. My fantasy is that I would go thru one room at a time and go thru everything, tossing out stuff without mercy. Don't look back. . . Then have a nice cleaning lady come along and wash everything behind me. I am attempting to get my house de-cluttered litle by little, using a modified Flylady system. I found a bag of papers in my closet. Most of it was old bills, stuff from my kids schools, and things I can now toss, it's like 2 to 3 years old. The kids have progressed in school, the bills are paid,why did I keep all this? Then-yes-I found ONE thing I could use. The May 2001 receipt from my Sears dishwasher that I hate. It's been fixed six times since November. I read over the receipt. Did I get the extended warrantee? No. Well,that can go in the trash now. Tee hee. The garbage men must hate me. I toss out three cans of trash each week. It used to be only one or two.

    Bookmark   March 24, 2006 at 9:34AM
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I've been going over to my friend's home 3-4 mornings a week since mid-Jan. We have stayed with the Flylady zones as a way to keep us focused.

The first time through the zones we only decluttered. Items could only go in a give away or throw away catagory. If something could be put away, we did. But if the item didn't have a home, we left it right where it was. I took the give away bags with me daily and dropped them at the thrift store on my way home. Our trash service only charges $1 per extra bag, so it's much easier to pay the few dollars extra than try and make a trip to the dump. They charge $35 per van load.

The second month through the zones, we needed a lift, so we did 15 min. of cleaning. Just wiping walls, woodwork and baseboards. Amazing how just that little bit of time on one day really helped.

Then we went back to decluttering again. Again, only throw away or give away, but since we had gotten to most closets, many items could be given a home. Even if the "home" is a laundry basket in the family room for toys, everything is finding a home.

Now we are on the third round of zones. Again, still decluttering as we go, but now we are able to get her set up on some systems within the zones. Paperwork, laundry, more organizing in the kitchen cabinets.

With Flylady's weekly home blessing time, we have focused on the floors. All of those other jobs are just too much for right now, but getting the floors vacuumed and the kitchen floor having a quick once over on a weekly basis really helps.

The kids are on Spring break this week, so we haven't been working together while they are home. But, it's zone 4 which is the Master Bedroom, so I just send her some emails reminding her to keep an eye on the piles and at least give the master bathroom and good swipe.

We plan on finishing up by the time school is out, so the next round of zones, I will try and help her set up zone cleaning which will work for her. And then our goal is to get the garage done, since it will be warm enough in May to haul stuff in and out of there.

Just keep at it. The more stuff that leaves and the more the surfaces are cleared off or have thing away from them the easier it is to just grab a damp cloth and wipe while you are talking on the phone.


    Bookmark   March 24, 2006 at 10:47PM
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