Take a load off your summertime travel plans

Today we welcome the phenomenal Monica Ricci as a guest author on Unclutterer.  A professional organizer hailing from Atlanta, we’re happy to have her share her uncluttering wisdom with our readers.

With the escalating cost of jet fuel, airlines have had to make service cuts and are trying desperately to improve the bottom line wherever they can. Unfortunately, to this end, most airlines are now charging for every checked bag. I’ve had a long-standing policy of not checking bags anyway, so this new rule doesn’t affect me, but if you’re reluctant to pay the extra baggage fee, here are some tips I find handy for packing light.

Use a consistent packing checklist. I have used hand-written lists in the past, as well as the LobotoME Pack-Me List (pictured). Your packing checklist should be a standard template, not a fresh list each time. This helps you standardize your packing, which means less thinking and fewer on-the-spot decisions.

Plan your wardrobe around a limited color scheme and choose your neutral first. I typically choose either black or brown, and then plan the rest of my clothing around two other colors such as blue and tan. This way I can mix, match, layer and create a bunch of different outfits without needing a ton of items.

Use your shoes as containers. I can get three pairs of socks and my sports bra into my sneakers! Men’s dress shoes are roomy too, as are some ladies shoes. Plus when your shoes are stuffed it keeps them from getting crushed. Bonus!

Call your hotel ahead of time to see what they offer in the way of conveniences to save space in your luggage. I never need to haul a hair dryer, steamer, or iron because most hotels will provide them at no charge if you ask.

Leave home any inessential toiletries. Airlines restrict the liquids and gels you can carry on, pack only the toiletries that are unique to your situation and leave shower gel, shampoo, conditioner and mouthwash behind. Most hotels are providing those items as standard now (and usually good brands at that!). You can also pick up travel sizes at a local shop at your destination.

Get yourself a couple of Pack-It Folders! These folders keep your clothing in a nice tight bundle, reducing movement thereby reducing wrinkling.

If you carry a purse, don’t make it your second carry-on bag. Change out your purse to a small one just for the trip, and bring only the bare essentials in it. Then stuff the whole thing inside a larger carry-on bag or your laptop bag. Poof. No checked baggage.

If you just have to have that second pair of shoes, suit jacket, or your workout clothes and they just won’t fit into your carry-on luggage, ship them to yourself in advance.

Bring shoes that will serve more than one purpose rather than a specific pair for each outfit. Ladies’ shoes with a low to medium heel can usually serve multiple functions and are a great compromise because they can dress up or down depending on the outfit. This saves you a ton of space in your luggage. The same goes for a comfortable pair of men’s leather lace ups.

Keep your travel size toiletries full and packed at all times. Refill any travel size containers as soon as you get home from a trip. This way, you’re already good to go for your next trip, and you won’t risk forgetting something important.

These are some of my favorite tips for traveling light. Be sure to check out Unclutterer’s post on the One bag travel website for folding help. How do you travel super light and avoid checking luggage? Do you have any great tips or secrets to share?


This post has been updated since its original publication in 2008.

Keep it in rotation

Professional organizer extraordinaire Monica Ricci returns to Unclutterer to talk about consumable products. You can follow Monica on Twitter, Facebook, and her blog for more organizing tips.

There are two types of things in our lives — consumable goods and what I call hard goods. Consumable goods are things we buy, use, and re-buy to sustain our lives. Hard goods are items we buy with the intention of keeping them long term. There are some important differences between consumables and hard goods. First, the obvious is that consumables get used up and need to be re-acquired. Second, it makes sense to purchase consumables in quantity because of their consumable nature, provided you have ample space to store them. But one of the most important differences is that while consumables get consumed, hard goods live with us until we choose to move them along. Another differentiating factor is that consumable items need to be balanced and stay in motion. If not, you’ve got trouble. Trouble in the form of overspending, crowded storage spaces, mystery inventory and expired products which equals more wasted money.

To avoid these perils, evaluate your consumable inventory regularly. This means keeping on top of three primary areas: the refrigerator, the pantry and your toiletries stash.

  1. Clean out the refrigerator weekly, preferably the night before trash goes out to the curb.
  2. Keep informed about what’s in your pantry and don’t buy things you already have. Sort through everything in your pantry at least twice a year.
  3. Except for toilet paper and possibly bar soap, only keep a few extra toiletries on hand at any given time. Toiletry goods expire quickly (especially makeup), so buy them only when you need them.

There you have it … three simple ways to make sure your consumables get consumed in a way that doesn’t crowd your life, waste money, or waste food.

Stuff versus relationships

Professional organizer extraordinaire Monica Ricci returns to Unclutterer to talk to us about the anxieties hoarders experience. You can follow Monica on Twitter, Facebook, and her blog for more organizing tips.

On a recent episode of A&E’s Hoarders a key concept was brought to light by my dear friend and hoarding expert Dorothy Breininger. The important concept is stuff versus relationships. It’s so sad to see individuals choose their stuff over the people in their lives. To those of us watching the show at home, the hoarder’s behavior doesn’t initially seem to make sense.

In my industry, I often encounter clients who have a history of choosing stuff over people. It’s not just hoarders who do it, either. People often choose the comfort of stuff over relationships because relationships can be scary. People can reject you. People are sometimes critical and judgmental. People can be mean, insensitive, and heartless. People can leave you, abandon you, and disappoint you. But your stuff never will.

That is, until your stuff chokes the life out of you.

It could be easy to watch the television show Hoarders and lose sight of the humanity of the people featured. But we shouldn’t. All of us can empathize with the anxiety that the hoarders feel — we’ve all felt abandoned, disappointed, and ridiculed by others. We can understand how someone stopped focusing on the people in their life and turned to their stuff. Hopefully, with time, treatment, and assistance, the hoarders featured on the show can turn again to people and let go of so much of their stuff. I also hope that you continue to make the same choice.

Are you shopping for chaos?

Professional organizer extraordinaire Monica Ricci returns to Unclutterer to offer us advice on curbing shopaholic practices. You can follow Monica on Twitter, Facebook, and her blog for more organizing tips.

Ahhhhh, the siren song of the mall. Doesn’t it feel nice at the mall? Isn’t it pretty in the mall? Doesn’t the mall smell all yummy and delicious, thanks to Auntie Anne’s Pretzels and Cinnabon? Doesn’t being at the mall just make you wanna get a Starbucks latte and go buy stuff? AAAARGGGHH STOP IT! That’s what got you in trouble in the first place!

If your clutter issues stem chiefly from shopping, here are a few helpful tips to change that reality so you can conquer your clutter once and for all.

  1. Be aware of how you feel. If you use shopping, and specifically BUYING to alter your mood, notice it! If buying something new gives you an emotional high that temporarily takes you away from your troubles, makes you feel safe, worthy, loved, or gives you some other rush, it’s important to be aware of it. Once you’re aware of why you’re buying, you can take other steps to make yourself feel better besides buying. I would recommend a few sessions with a counselor, a hypnotist, or therapist to get to the root of your buying.
  2. Imagine yourself at home. When you’re OUT of your cluttered home and inside the gorgeous four walls of Pottery Barn or Crate & Barrel, it’s easy to forget how stressed your home makes you. Again, that’s the idea. They WANT you to forget about your house and just open your wallet. And listen, when you really need something, great. Go buy it! But before you do, vividly imagine yourself back at your house with your new “thing”. Where in your already cluttered home will your new thing live? Who will clean it? How much space will it consume? What will it give you back? How long will it be valuable? Asking yourself these questions will help you make better buying decisions.
  3. Calculate the TIME cost. If money isn’t a motivator for you, and unnecessary spending doesn’t inspire you to reduce your shopping, think of how much TIME your new “thing” will cost you. Let’s say you make $20 per hour, and your new “thing” costs $100. In time currency, your new thing will cost you FIVE HOURS of your life. Thinking of new purchases in this way will help you decide if you REALLY need it or if you just want it to make yourself feel better.

The next time you’re out shopping, try these simple tips and see if it doesn’t help shift your shopping mindset so you can make better, more powerful choices and reduce the clutter in your life.

Deadheading for the future

Professional organizer extraordinaire Monica Ricci gives a grounded perspective in her guest post on the process of uncluttering and organizing. You can follow Monica on Twitter, Facebook, and her blog for more organizing tips.

Deadheading. It sounds like either a grisly ritual or a summer vacation following your favorite band on tour. But it’s neither. Deadheading is simply the practice of removing the dead flowers from a plant. The reason you deadhead is because if you don’t, the flower will stop blooming, and how disappointing would that be?

All plants have one goal — to go to seed so they can perpetuate their little flower family. Creating flowers is part of that process, and if you leave the dead blooms on the plant, it will stop blooming and concentrate on going to seed. However, when you interrupt that cycle by removing old blooms, the plant then puts its energy into strengthening itself and producing more flowers in a continued effort to go to seed. The more you cut off the dead blooms, the more fresh blooms you’ll get.

This is a lot like organizing your life. The more you clear out and eliminate what’s “dead” in your life, the more space you create for opportunity, love, and success in the future. You have more energy to put toward strengthening yourself and blooming even more gloriously than you did before.

Learning to love cleaning

Again, we welcome the phenomenal Monica Ricci as a guest author on Unclutterer. She’s the organizing adviser for Office Depot and Beazer Homes, and you may have seen her on HGTV’s Mission Organization. She’s a professional organizer hailing from Atlanta.

Creating an organized life means, among other things, taking control of your space. When did you last clean your toilets? How about your sinks? Mirrors? Floors? Whether you own or rent, live in a studio apartment or a large home, cleaning is a regular necessity. I’m willing to bet that with few exceptions you probably don’t look forward to cleaning? Yet, like it or not, housecleaning — like organizing — remains a lifelong maintenance task. In the spirit of enjoying your life as much as possible, how do you reconcile the fact that you have to do something you dislike over and over again for all of the foreseeable future? (Man, that sounds grim) The way I see it, you have only a few options…

  1. You can hire someone else to do it for you. This is a viable option for some people, but others either can’t justify the expense, or just plain can’t stomach the thought of paying someone to do something they can do for themselves.
  2. You can do it yourself and grumble and whine and dread every minute of it.
  3. You can do it yourself and enjoy it.

The first option is relatively easy. Ask for referrals from friends to find someone to clean for you who is reliable and trustworthy. The second option is the one a lot of people choose. They do clean their own homes, but only when it’s so bad they can’t stand it or when they’re expecting company. They dread thinking about it and dread doing it even more. Then when they do clean, they spend every minute wishing they were finished.

I’m all about option number three, and I want you to be too! So how do you take a task you hate and turn it around so you not only don’t dread it, but you actually begin to enjoy it? The secret is all in your mindset.

As I mentioned at the beginning of this article, living an organized life has a lot to do with taking control of your space. This means making sure the areas where you live and work are in a “positive state of readiness,” so they can support your life both mentally and physically. Cleanliness is part of that positive state of readiness, and here’s the secret to enjoying cleaning:

Look past the task and connect with the benefit it offers to your life.

Although housekeeping (and organizing) may seem like drudgery on the surface, if you can mentally and emotionally connect with the deeper benefit, the task becomes easier and feels more worthwhile in exchange for a larger future benefit. So, keeping your house clean and orderly is just like going to the gym, going to college, or anything with a long term benefit. You do what you must now in order to feel a certain way and have a specific result later.

Think of housekeeping as another expression of love for yourself and your family, rather than a necessary evil, and you’ll dread it less and enjoy it more.

Consistency = Success In Organizing, Golf and Life

Today we again welcome the phenomenal Monica Ricci as a guest author on Unclutterer. She’s the organizing adviser for Office Depot and Beazer Homes, and you may have seen her on HGTV’s Mission Organization. A professional organizer hailing from Atlanta, I’m happy to call her a friend and to have her share her uncluttering wisdom with our readers.

Some time in the late 80s, my first husband taught me to golf, and I discovered something countless people already knew: Golf is hard! In fact, it’s the most difficult sport I’ve ever learned, with the possible exception of hang gliding, but that’s a whole other (horrible scraped-and-bloody-legs) story that maybe I’ll tell sometime after I’ve had too much to drink. But I digress…

What Joe taught me about golf is that to be a successful golfer, you have to learn a bunch of new skills and combine them properly to get the results you want. Your stance, your grip, your head position, your back swing, your swing, and follow-through all have to be just right to get the ball to go where you want it to. If one of those skills isn’t right, the ball will hook, slice, or burn some worms. In short, you get a less than desirable result. To be a good golfer, it’s important to learn proper fundamentals and combine them well, so that when you practice, you’re practicing good habits rather than deeply ingraining BAD habits.

The same is true in life and organizing. Your success is deeply dependent on the habits you create over time. The way you manage your time is a habit, and all the daily routines you’ve developed to manage your life and your work are all just habits. If you look objectively at the state of any area of your life from the condition of your home, office, or car, to your relationships, your finances, or your health and fitness, what you see are the results of your habits. If you love what you see, then do more of whatever you’re doing!

On the other hand, if what you see isn’t so terrific, sorry to say, that’s also the result of your habits. If your habits haven’t created the life and results you want, it’s time to change them. Here’s how to make a change in three simple steps…

  1. Pay Attention In The Moment. If you mentally “check-in” with what you do on a daily basis in the midst of your routines, you’ll notice that you do things without even realizing it. Some of those ingrained habits are positive (putting the cap back on the toothpaste or putting the seat down without even thinking) while some others aren’t so great (throwing the mail on the kitchen counter and ignoring it for a few days, trying to throw together meals on the fly, writing phone messages on scraps of paper that you end up losing, trying to keep up with multiple calendars).
  2. Choose a Different Thought In The Moment. Once you notice what you’re doing, you’re halfway there! Your thoughts created those habitual behaviors, and therefore your thoughts can create new ones. For example, change your thinking from: “I’ll just put this here for now and handle it later” to “I’ll take a minute and handle this now.” Change “I’ll remember that appointment in my head” to “I’ll add that to my calendar now so I don’t have to remember it.”You’ll be AMAZED at how powerful this one specific change is! As long as you just pay attention to yourself, you’ll be able to hear those thoughts that precede the ineffective behavior.
  3. Choose A Different Behavior In The Moment. Habits are the behaviors generated by thoughts. If you change your thoughts, you can change your behaviors. This is where your power lives. You can change your thinking (which is GREAT!) but unless you ACT on that change, your results will stay the same.

The secret sequence to change a habit is:

  1. Pay attention.
  2. Choose a new thought.
  3. Act on that new thought.
  4. Repeat.

Once you apply that sequence to a few of your negative habits a handful of times, your new behavior will begin to be the new “default” — you’ll replace your old habits with powerful new ones, which will create a totally new result in your life.