Category Archives: Organization


On Christmas Eve, my brother presented Little L a homemade holiday card in lieu of a gift. Scrawled in black sharpie, it said, “I know one day when you’re older and able to read, you won’t have this card because Carissa will recycle it tonight.”

That wasn’t exactly true – it took me a few weeks to go through the holiday paper accumulations. I scanned the card. And then rather than dropping it in the recycling, I sent it to do a pre-recycle stint in Little L’s Purple Box of Paper (she takes after Axel with her love for shuffling papers). She can look at the photos and cards that came this holiday season before they meet their fate.

Like my brother, who is wise not to spend more than 3 cents on a sheet of printer paper for his holiday wishes, I am quite aware of what happens to cards. For most people, at least. My friend Thom, upon seeing Little L’s Purple Box, told me he keeps his holiday cards.

“Every year?” I asked.

“Yup,” he answered. “But I could be convinced otherwise.”

While that’s not my job, per se, I do hope he starts some sort of holiday card plan. He has a large basement for storage, but after a few more years of this, he might need to build a storage locker in the backyard or start a Second-Hand Holiday Card store. He has a lot of friends and family.

One day last week I took the recycling down to the garage. I opened the second bin from the right – the middle one is usually full, so I always go for the one-off.

I was about to pour my recycling in when I saw it.

Was that a card… from me!?

I would recognize my cheap Target cards anywhere. Plus the not-really-cursive and not-really-not-cursive mix of capitals and lowercase looked quite similar to my signature scrawl (I was known as the Poster Queen in high school for my stellar sign-making skills).

Upon a bit of closer inspection, it was indeed a sympathy card that I had written for a neighbor who had lost a pet.

I told Axel about it later.

“Well, I mean, you didn’t expect them to keep it forever, did you?”

“No, no.”

I mean, I was actually proud of them that they had thrown it out. So promptly, too. They really were on top of their stuff.

“It’s just – you don’t expect to see your own card in your own recycling bin.”

“Makes you think twice about writing paper cards, doesn’t it?” Axel pointed out.

card in recycling bin
Reenactment of finding the card in the recycling – I was too stunned in the moment to gather the evidence. This is actually a card that I was recycling. Not from a neighbor, I will add.

I like my paper cards. I don’t want to stop giving them or getting them. I also don’t want to keep them indefinitely.

Some of you may have been thinking it was going to be a card I had given Axel that he dropped in the bin. For a few reasons, that wouldn’t be.

A) Axel is a bit of a paper shuffler. I doubt he would be downsizing his own papers without my prompting.

B) Axel lives with me. I often downsize his papers (with his permission of course). A card I had written to Axel would likely have been scanned – by me – and have been in my recycling bag, not in the bin.

C) Axel knows what a snoop I am. In a situation where A and B didn’t ring true, he would take that card to work and recycled it there.

Now are you wondering if the neighbors scanned their card? I was concerned about that too, especially given the quick turnover. Just in case they had overlooked it, I snapped a photo and texted it to them for good measure.

Just kidding. At least I hope you think I am.

The 90/10 Rule

“Don’t get rid of your couch. It’s weird to sit on the floor,” a friend recently emailed me, along with an article about someone who did just that.

Am I the type of person who might be so obsessed with the idea of downsizing that I wouldn’t consider how hard the wood floor would feel beneath my bottom?


This past weekend my husband and I stayed in an Air BnB studio apartment. There were three cups and four bowls.

“Isn’t it nice not to have so many dishes?” Axel asked as he washed our breakfast bowls so that we could use them in a couple hours for lunch.

“Of course it is. But you better be careful about giving me any ideas,” I said.

You see, recently, we needed some things that were no longer with us.

I believe that in the art of downsizing, this happens 10% or less of the time. Which, I feel, is a win. That means 90% of the things you got rid of, you will never need or think of again.

“Hey, if you guys happen to have a glue stick, could you bring it with you?” I texted my friends, who we’ll call Joanie and Wendall, before they came over to our house.

“We’ll take a look,” Wendell replied.

We used to have a gluestick. As I don’t have any philosophical views against owning one gluestick, I’m not sure where it would have gone.

But Axel needed it and it was not in its drawer.

Scenarios like this make me cringe with guilt. Even though Axel doesn’t accuse me, the most likely scenario is that I either got rid of it or convinced him to do away with it.

At dinner that night, Joanie pulled a gluestick out of her small, expertly packed purse, which was multi-tasking as a diaper bag. “Remind me to give you this when we get back to your place.”

“That’s impressive!” Axel said, admiring her efficient packing skills. “You should get a purse like that,” he told me.

“I actually got Joanie that purse,” I told him. “I used to have one like it…”

You know the end of that sentence.

The next day Joanie texted me, “I just realized I forgot to give you the gluestick! I could drop it off later today on my way to my parents’ house?”

Clearly she is a true friend. But even I realized how ridiculous it was for her to drive a gluestick across town.

“Thank you so much!” I texted back. “It’s probably time we invest in a new gluestick though.”

It’s true. Of those 10% of items that you miss, you might have to re-purchase a few of them at some point.

Let’s just hope they’re like the gluestick: small, cheap, and sold at stores everywhere.

I guess a couch wouldn’t fit in this category. So if I do get rid of mine, I’ll definitely be borrowing from Joanie.

A Gift for Who?

Axel and I were looking to put a box on the shelf in the laundry room, which was pretty much full.

He examined a few things, included a box full of safety goggles, which he was willing to get rid of.

There is a reason he had them, but it’s funnier if I don’t explain, right?

We did keep a couple pairs, though. Just to be safe.

“We could also get rid of this,” he said, and handed me a box.

I removed the lid.

Where did this come from!?
Where did this come from!?

A box of about 100 envelopes saying “A gift for you” stared me in the face.

“What? How did we get these?”

“I don’t know,” he mumbled. “Don’t worry about it.”

But clearly he did know. I would never have acquired such a thing.

These weren’t brand new gift-giving envelopes. They had that yellowed used-hue about them.

Not only do I not like extra stuff; I’m also just not that generous of a person. I would never be sending out gifts to 100 people.

I never discovered where they came from, though it does continue to intrigue me. I figure that’s for Axel to know. A little mystery is good for a relationship, right?

Maybe the thing I should be most concerned about is that this box was sitting there right in front of me all these days, weeks, months – years? And I never even noticed it.

Which makes me wonder. What else might there be in the laundry room or under the bed?

Challenge accepted.

I’m just waiting for Axel to go out so I can search the premises.


Kondo Trap

“Oh, wow,” I said, pulling out the cardboard box that I had created of cleaning/kitchen supplies upon Marie Kondo’s suggestion.

To be clear, her idea was in her book. It’s not like we’re personal pals.


“I like what you did here! You got rid of the box!” I said to Axel.

I pulled out the garbage bags that I had been looking for. The white plastic cylinder wasn’t stuffed in its open box with flaps awry as I usually leave it, it was standing up, streamlined, on its own.

No box, no mess! And my husband himself had made this innovative improvement. I knew he would eventually start listening to my Kondo-mania.

“Oh, that is good,” Charlotte said. My in-laws were in town visiting.

I pulled out the rest of the shoebox – surprisingly, but this is what Kondo says to use – to show it off to her. As you may have noticed, I’m just slightly obsessed with organization.

And then I saw this.

I was duped!
I was duped!


My husband hadn’t taken the bags out of their box to create a sparse aesthetic in the cabinet. He had taken them out of their box and then put them back in, leaving the empty box on its own.

It’s almost like it didn’t matter to him?

“Well, I guess we can get rid of the box now,” I said, exchanging a knowing look with Charlotte. I put the contents of the shoebox back together, bags standing proud without their bulky container.

Streamlined. Marie Kondo would have been proud.

So maybe my husband hadn’t purposefully jumped aboard the Kondo train, but he had inadvertently treated me to hot chocolate in the lounge car.

Recycling this box brings me joy.
Recycling this box brings me joy.

Which was good. I’ve been on this train for awhile now and I was getting thirsty.

Especially because I threw out all the beverages.

Purge Splurge!

My friend Josh finds that moving every few years helps him avoiding accumulating too much stuff.

We’re not moving. But we are installing new carpet in our condo, forcing us to go through 75% of our possessions and reminding us how much stuff we actually have.

I think Josh would approve.

“How is it possible that we have this much stuff?” we said over and over again that morning, as I sat on the floor cataloging the books my husband was willing to get rid of while secretly willing him to get rid of more.

Some of these books I remembered clearly from our last downsizing escapade. Here they were again, not read since the past time he deliberated over them. I was pretty sure he wouldn’t let most of them go this time either, and I really didn’t have a right to complain. He has gotten rid of a lot of stuff over the years.

And then the mood changed.

“You know what? Look these up. If they’re at the library or online, I can get rid of these,” my husband said, pushing a large pile of books including statistics textbooks and my way.

I tried to hide my exuberance as I obsessively searched for the titles.

“Hey, we could get rid of my desk chair!” I offered, wanting to take part in the fun too. Desk changes were coming our way (stay tuned for another episode of Good Work, Great Life).

Going through the tech box, which could now actually close, my husband said, “This is your camera charger, right?”

He was saying goodbye to piles of books. It was time for me to get rid of something I’d been hanging onto for awhile.

“Should get rid of my camera?”

My trusty old Canon PowerShot SD 1000. My husband has been teasing me about using the old camera rather than my phone, which has a better lens than the camera.

The Canon has been perched precariously on bridges in Iceland and mantles in Minnesota, Wisconsin, and California.

But lately I’d been taking photos on my phone. And bonus – if we got rid of the camera, we could get rid of the charger too.

After transferring the last photos to my computer, I texted my brother-in-law, who gets endless glee when I pull out the ancient Canon. His go-to phrase: “I can’t believe you still have that thing.”

Say goodbye to our trusty old friend...
Say goodbye to our trusty old friend…

“What!! Why?” he texts back.

I almost keep it out of nostalgia.

But I must be strong.

The Canon and its charger added to the Best Buy recycling bag, I glance at a pile of magazines sitting on the kitchen counter and hold back my sigh. He’s already gotten rid of a lot today.

“We still haven’t ordered a new printer,” my husband says from the office. Ours has been on the fritz for awhile now.

“We’re going to have to move it anyway for the rug installation,” he says. “We could just take it to Best Buy now.”

Now this is something I like to hear.

“Then we’d be forced to get a new one,” he adds. Of course I’m thinking, “or just go without!”

Impulse purging! Adios, printer. Why not?!
Impulse purging! Adios, printer. Why not?!

I’m shocked. But I like it.

We’re about to head out the door, laden with bags of recycling, electronics, and items to donate, when my husband says, “Hang on.”

“I’m never going to have time to read all of these,” he says, and adds the magazines to the recycling pile.

My heart soars.

What a day. Why impulse purchase when you could impulse purge?

2017 Decluttering Challenge!

You probably have a bunch of New Year’s Resolutions. I know the five people I saw at the condo gym – where I am usually accompanied by the same one woman – are off to a good start. I hope you are too!

But how about some instant gratification? Some progress to show yourself that you’ve got what it takes to be organized – and good at life – this year.

On New Year’s Eve I was looking over data from my last year’s resolutions and pondering resolutions for this year.

And then an idea struck –  I should get rid of 10 things!

Not every day, but today. Or tomorrow. By the end of New Year’s Day, here was the pile my husband and I had come up with.

Mystery bulk goods from years past, five socks, a few pairs of earbuds that don't work, and cosmetics not designed for my skin type. Goodbye!
Mystery bulk goods from years past, five socks, a few pairs of earbuds that don’t work, and cosmetics not designed for my skin type. Goodbye!

We’d also gotten rid of a few leftovers from the fridge – either by eating mountains of rice krispie bars or by throwing out moldy pita bread.

A big thanks to T and S for finding a home for this wayward sugar!

Apparently this unopened pack of sugar is a hit with one-year-olds!
Apparently this unopened pack of sugar is a hit with one-year-olds!

Whatever lofty goals you’ve set for this year – hiking the Pacific Crest Trail or watching the entire Gilmore Girls series – it will buoy your mood to accomplish something so quickly.

My mother-in-law got rid of some champagne glasses from last century. Now that’s something to toast to!

Oh, and it’s okay if you don’t drop off your donations or recycling items right away. Just get them in their designated piles so you can do it – soon.

Can you do it this weekend? I bet you can to it today.

When you’re done, send me an email and a photo of something you got rid of. I’ll be proud; you’ll be proud… You get it.

Ready, set…


Happy Closet

It’s one thing to Kondo your own closet. I wondered: Do I have what it takes to help others get organized?

My friend A chose the Happy Closet Organization Package. She promised a closet stuffed to the brim.


Question: “How do you want your closet to make you feel?”

A: “I want it to make me feel calm and happy to have wardrobe choices I enjoy wearing.”

Somebody needs to learn to use their phone (it's me).
Somebody needs to learn to use their phone (it’s me).

Lesson A: Make sure the pre-photo works! Sorry everyone.

Step 1 – Get it all out & sort by type

It gets worse before it gets better.
It gets worse before it gets better.

Step 2 – Does it bring joy?

Thank any items that don't before parting with them.
Thank any items that don’t before parting with them.

Step 3 – Lunch break

Thanks for the Chipotle, A! I wonder how she knew it’s what I would want?

Have you checked out Chiptopia?


Step 4 – Folding & arranging

I couldn’t remember how to fold properly, so we had to pull up a video.
I couldn’t remember how to fold properly, so we had to pull up a video.

Lesson B: I need to up my folding game. 

Step 5 – Hanging items

“Which takes precedence?” A asked when I told her that longer, darker, and heavier material items go on the left.

Lesson C: If Kondo doesn’t say, make it up. We decided color took precedence. Or sometimes length. It’s more of an art than a science.

Looks like we're done...
Looks like we’re done…

Just as I was about to leave, A shrieked “Oh no!” from upstairs.

I charged up the steps, careful not to trip on the bags we had accumulated at the top landing.

“We forgot the bottoms!”

Or not!?
Or not!?

A pile of pants and shorts had been hiding behind a chair. We pulled in an extra set of drawers and made it work.

Still looks good... whew.
Still looks good… whew.

Lesson D: Always look behind the chair.

So what did A think?

Post Survey Data, Graphs, and Charts

Question: What is different about your clothes & accessories now that you’ve completed your organizational overhaul?

“It’s much easier to see what I have and to choose what to wear. A lot of unnecessary items are gone.”

Question: What might get in the way of you staying organized?

“The amount of time it takes to fold the clothes correctly.”

Question: What will help you stay organized?

“I think buying less stuff will help. I will have to be diligent about putting things back right away as well.”

Less clothes = more happiness
Less clothes = more happiness


Perhaps the initial euphoria of downsizing wore off
Perhaps the initial euphoria of downsizing wore off




And who doesn't have five minutes?
And who doesn’t have five minutes?


Looks like we could purge another few bags of clothes...
Looks like we could purge another few bags of clothes…


What will A do with her extra time?
What will A do with her extra time?

Self-Administered Post-Survey

What did I think?

Sadly, I forgot to administer a survey to myself. So I have no data to back up this claim: I loved it.

Happy Cabinets, Happy Classrooms

My friend Karl was ready and anxious to downsize his classroom. He got the Happy Classroom One-Day Overhaul.

In fact, he invented it.

Or I invented it, but only because he asked.

“But you’re already so organized!” I said.

He wanted more. Or less, actually.

When I arrived, Counting Crows was playing on the portable sound system he’d brought. He handed me a cold press. I was one happy organizer.

“So how do you feel about taking everything out and sorting through it and then putting it back?”

He hemmed and hawed. Clearly he hadn’t been reading Marie Kondo.

“But you’re in charge,” he said.

Out it came.


We had only seven hours to do the whole thing. I kept my frantic time-centered thoughts to myself, as did he.

“Are you teaching a cooking class or something?” Karl was storing a number of kitchen devices at school.

Turns out culinary arts is not in this year’s kindergarten curriculum. The cooler and mixing bowls had to go.

Six hours later, we sat atop the kidney table, taking in the room, giddy from the energy of a space that was really and truly clean, from the inside out.



And after.
And after.


Before: What's behind Door #3?
Before: What’s behind Door #3?


After: Beauty comes from within... the cabinets.
After: Beauty comes from within… the cabinets.

Karl’s Favorite Improvements:

1. Rearranging furniture to improve the flow

2. Teacher supplies labeled in cabinets – “I can’t mess it up that way!”

Now Karl knows where to put his tape.
Now Karl knows where to put his tape.

3. That we took everything out & put it back (and in a timely fashion!)

This week, Karl sent me photos of some additional organizing he’s done.


And the student becomes the master.

The latest from Karl?

“You’ve inspired my coworker!” his text said today, alongside a photo of an organized cabinet, everything labeled in bins.

My take on it?

Karl’s clean cabinets are an inspiration to us all.


Kondo-ing Part3: Kondo Rules!

When I last signed off, I had finished all of my sorting. The small tasks of folding, hanging clothes, and dropping off unwanted items couldn’t take more than an hour, right? I was about to find out…

11:38AM – Folding

As you might expect, Kondo’s rules don’t stop when you’re out of junk. She even has rules for storing the clothes you naively chose to keep. This has led me to my new downsizing motto: “Kondo rules!”
Folding the Kondo way is… specific. With the help of a video tutorial, my leggings look snazzier but I’m not sure everything will fit in my sock drawer laying down. I squeeze the socks in, but a terrifying realization grips me. Is there enough space for the socks that are in the laundry?!

This is how I used to store my leg warmers. Like a sad fish in a newspaper.
This is how I used to store my leg warmers. Like a sad fish in a newspaper.

This looks fancier, doesn’t it? Like a happy fish enjoying the newspaper.
This looks fancier, doesn’t it? Like a happy fish enjoying the newspaper.

Standing my leggings on end is a breach of the Kondo Rules.
Standing my leggings on end is a breach of the Kondo Rules.

By downsizing and consolidating miscellaneous items, I now have a whole extra drawer available for T-shirts.
By downsizing and consolidating miscellaneous items, I now have a whole extra drawer available for T-shirts.


Too much coffee and not enough food has me jittery. Plus, as a teacher, I’m used to eating lunch at 10:30AM.


1:03PM – Hanging Items

With both my blood sugar and morale boosted by my lunch break, I consult the Kondo way of hanging clothes – longer on left, heavier on left, darker on left. But what if a dress is ankle-length, knitted, and light gray? I move the chairs in the closet to the right side so longer items can appreciate their new home on the left. I strongly consider getting rid of a long magenta dress because I can’t easily categorize it.

Ignore those items stacked up top.
Ignore those items stacked up top.

How long will I be able to keep up this folding method?
How long will I be able to keep up this folding method?

1:31PM – Phone Call

I call a local optical store, Look and See. They take glasses donations!

1:54PM – Ebay

I post two pairs of boots on Ebay. They recommend starting the bidding at $9 on the blue booties that I bought last fall for $90. Marie Kondo wants you to thank each item you get rid of for what it taught you. These boots taught me that I don’t like heels, even cute ones.

A week later, they will sell to a woman in New York for $9. She pays shipping, so those $9 are all mine! The brown boots that don’t sell will require an extra trip to Goodwill, equating to about $1.32 in used gasoline. I’m still in the black!


Will these bring a New Yorker $9 worth of joy? I’ll include a link to Kondo’s website just in case.
Will these bring a New Yorker $9 worth of joy? I’ll include a link to Kondo’s website just in case.

2:02PM – Hauling

I bring up a cart from the parking garage to haul my many bags down. I stop at the storage locker to store our winter boots for the off-months and get a minor ankle injury in the process. Perhaps a sign it’s time to downsize the storage locker again?

Getting rid of extra baggage.
Getting rid of extra baggage.

2:20PM – Ready-to-go

Finally! In the car.

2:20PM – Or not…

I see a text from my husband that came at 2:10.

“Can get rid of them. :)” he’d said about the gloves.

2:25PM – Ready Again

Back in the car after running upstairs to get the gloves off his pillow.

It’s worth it.

2:28PM – “Gift” For a Friend

I drop a bag of three shirts on my friend’s doorstep. “I hope these work!” I write. “If not, just give away.” I’ll text her a link to Kondo’s website just in case.

Breakdown of What Went
Breakdown of What Went

2:35PM – The Depots

I dispose of a broken light bulb at Home Depot and recycle two printer cartridges at Office Depot. I found these in the front closet while downsizing. Buy the items on my list at Target Depot – I mean Target.

3:25PM – Story Time

I pick my husband up from work and drop him off at an appointment. The entire 30 minute drive is filled by my detailed account of my Kondo-Condo day. He nods politely and looks worried. “I didn’t touch anything of yours besides the gloves,” I reassure him.

3:49PM – Goodwill

I drop off the remaining bags.

5:03PM – Last stop

I walk to Look and See to drop off the glasses.

I run into my neighbors on my way home and tell them about my endeavors.

“I only went through my clothes today,” I say. “Next comes books.”

My husband: “It looks different in here.”

5:46PM – Ahhh…

Back home, I enjoy the feeling of knowing my clothes are in order… and knowing that I’ll have a project for tomorrow…

Tomorrow’s Fun

For all you data-lovers, here’s a sneak peek at tomorrow’s project: analyzing my data.

Progress.**Totals are slightly off as a few items were in the laundry, all of which I kept.
Progress. **Totals are slightly off as a few items were in the laundry, all of which I kept.


Iced soy latte and coffee shop time to celebrate today’s hard work!
Iced soy latte and coffee shop time to celebrate today’s hard work!