Organizing For Dummies


by Eileen Roth with Elizabeth Miles





About the Authors

Eileen Roth: When asked how long she’s been organizing, Eileen Roth relies on the estimate made by her dad: since age five. At an evening dinner party in her native Chicago, the sweet young systematizer would go downstairs to say goodnight to the guests. Spotting the candy dish they’d been passing, she’d make a beeline for the bonbons—not to grab a treat, but to return the dish to its original place! Despite this early prowess, Eileen insists she wasn’t born with an extra organizing gene. Instead, her parents had been teaching her to put things away from the day she could walk, and she draws on those simple lessons today in helping people see that organization isn’t inherited—it’s a learned skill.

Through her company Everything in its Place®, Roth consults with clients including Fortune 500 companies, trade associations, entrepreneurs, and busy individuals and families. Her success shaping up even the organizationally impaired has landed her spots on Oprah, the Today show with Bryant Gumbel, Handy Ma’am with Bev DeJulio, and NBC, ABC, and WGN news. Eileen’s organizing fixes been featured by the Chicago Tribune and Chicago Sun Times and on a number of radio stations, and she uses her advanced time management skills to squeeze in workshops across the country.

Roth was sixteen when she first brought her organizing skills to the workplace. Her after-school job at SS Kresges (now Kmart) turned into a management coup when she became the only part-time person asked to run several store departments. After graduating from the University of Illinois, Roth was ready for a bigger challenge: organizing business executives. She started as a secretary and went on to spend fifteen years in office and association administration, honing the systematic skills that keep her in demand at companies seeking a competitive edge.

Motherhood brought balance to Roth’s organizing talents by taking her out of the office and back home. Eight months pregnant with her second child, Eileen attended her first Tupperware® party and fell in love with the organizational advantages of the plastic food storage system. When the local sales manager told her that she could earn a free set by hosting six parties of her own, she did it—all before the baby was born. Five more years selling Tupperware® enabled Eileen to stay home with her two young daughters while she perfected her domestic organizing techniques in the kitchens of her party hostesses.

When her daughters were older, Roth returned to her career. In 1992, as organizing became recognized as a profession and after being laid off twice in one year in a job market slump, Eileen called on her entrepreneurial spirit and her extensive experience in both home and workplace organizing to found her own company. Everything in its Place® caught on like wildfire, and Roth was soon a consultant, speaker, and trainer for companies such as Northwest Airlines and Argonne National Laboratories.

With her first book, Roth brings a lifetime of the lessons learned while organizing in the trenches to readers everywhere. Written for any level and to cover the full spectrum of a busy life, Organizing For Dummies ®, says Eileen, could even reduce the national stress level and improve GNP. No matter what, this tell-all reference will help people put everything in its place and put their disorganized days behind them for good.

Eileen Roth has recently moved from her hometown of Chicago to Phoenix, AZ to be closer to her college-age daughters. She is a member of the National Association of Professional Organizers (NAPO), National Speakers Association (NSA), and American Society for Training and Development (ASTD).

Elizabeth Miles: Looking for a better way to strengthen your mind, feed your soul, get healthy, wealthy, or wise? Turn to author, media personality, and entrepreneur Elizabeth Miles. Known to her fans for her user-friendly approach to peak performance on many fronts, Elizabeth offers answers that pop off the page and onto your to-do-now list. She’s miles of smiles as she tells you how to tune into success, new-millennium style.

With a professional career that’s run the gamut from banking on Wall Street to booking rock concerts and developing gourmet recipes, Miles relies on a broad range of experience in making the good life easier for busy people. She puts her graduate degree in ethnomusicology to work with her book and CD series Tune Your Brain ® : Using Music to Manage Your Mind, Body, and Mood (Berkley Books, Deutsche Grammophon 1997-2000), which draws upon the latest neurological and medical research about music’s effects on the body and mind to create an applied system for listeners. As creator and host of the daily “Braintuning Break” radio feature, she’s taken her advice to the airwaves and earned listener loyalty over three seasons on the California Classical Network.

Music is food for the ears, says Miles—but you can’t live on sound waves alone, and you’ll often find her in the kitchen cooking up something tasty and targeted to your personal energy needs. The Feng Shui Cookbook: Creating Health and Harmony in Your Kitchen (Birch Lane Press 1998) is the first book to reunite the Chinese art of feng shui with its age-old partner of nutritional medicine. Elizabeth’s contemporary take on tradition helps readers of all tastes and lifestyles eat for optimal energy, health, and prosperity—the “good chi” that spurs achievement. If you prefer a scientific slant when serving up dinner, Miles has partnered with Hollywood nutritionist Carrie Latt Wiatt to pen Portion Savvy: The 30-Day Smart Plan for Eating Well (Pocket Books 1999), which pairs science with psychological and lifestyle factors to produce mind-body prescriptions for fitness.

Miles’ popular approaches to achieving potential have been extensively covered in national and international media from Self to Success, PBS to the BBC, while the Tune Your Brain CD series has enjoyed long Top Ten runs on Billboard’s classical chart. Miles lectures and consults for organizations such as Kaiser Permanente, the Los Angeles Unified School District, the Young Entrepreneurs’ Organization, the Wellness Community, and many more concerned with health, education, and performance. As a previous self-professed organizational dummy, Elizabeth enjoyed applying her trademark knack for making things easy to Eileen’s expertise and proven techniques to help bring Organizing For Dummies to life. A native of Madison, Wisconsin, Miles holds a Master’s degree from the University of California, Los Angeles, and a BA from Dartmouth College. She lives in Los Angeles, halfway between UCLA and the beach, amidst musical instruments, cookware, books and CDs that are all finally finding their place.

Dedication from Eileen

To my mother and father, Millie and Marv Roth, who taught me how to get organized and so are largely responsible for this book. If she’s watching from heaven, my mother is surely proud.



Big thanks to Tami Booth, the original Acquisitions Editor for Hungry Minds who invited Eileen to write this book, and Betsy Amster, our literary agent, who tracked Eileen down, broke it to her that she didn’t have the humorous writing style for the series, and teamed Eileen and Elizabeth together. To Sherri Fugit, Project Editor at Hungry Minds and our trusty guide to the For Dummies world, who gamely endured all our efforts to make things “just right” and contributed welcome shape, substance, and finesse to the final results. To Karen Young, the new Hungry Minds Acquisitions Editor who worked with us on illustrations, marketing, and cheerleading. To Esmeralda St. Clair and her colleagues for copy editing to please a perfectionist’s soul. To our expert reviewers—Shelly Cohen, who gave a CPA’s view of the Information Flow chapter; Ken Braly and Charles Miles, whose technological expertise brought the Cyberorganization chapter up to the minute; Ann Gambrell, NAPO founding member, who reviewed the Home section; and Jackie Tiani, current NAPO board member, who reviewed the Office and Time Management sections. Thanks also to those who helped picture our thoughts on the page—David Hochberg and Kathy Mosechella at Lillian Vernon Corporation, Frank Rakawski, Maggie Scillia and Donna Miserendino at Get Organized!, Cathy McMannis and Jeremy Reiss at Stacks and Stacks, Dave Brown and Nancy Deptolla at Hoffman York, and especially our illustrators at Precision Graphics.

It’s been a long year for me, what with a divorce, getting my youngest daughter off to college, and moving from Chicago to Phoenix all while writing my first book. For all the support, personal and professional, during this transitional time, I thank my children — Mindy and Julie Parelman; my family—Marsha Buck, Allan Roth, Marv Roth, and even my ex-husband Joe Parelman; my friends, especially Vicki Schneider; my colleagues in the NSA-Illinois Chapter, especially the Forum Group; Windy City Toastmasters; and all my clients, consulting and speaking, whose belief in my organizing skills has made my career possible. Most importantly, thank you Elizabeth, for working with me to create this book, for polishing a diamond in the rough. I couldn’t have done it without you! I tip my hat to you. From the bottom of my heart, I thank you. (Was that enough trite phrases to a writer? Whoops, I should have created an acronym!)

As always, I have my friends and family to thank for keeping me centered and sane with generous input, insight, and unending patience when I disappeared from the scene for weeks on end to tend to my prose. Special thanks to my parents—the house at 200 North Prospect served as my mental model for each room of the Home section—to all the roommates who’ve shared the challenge of living in small spaces with me and so made me organizationally sensitized, and to the colleagues, creative partners, and clients who motivate me to find better ways to reach the finish line at work. Last but not at all least thank you Eileen, for entrusting me with your life’s work and passion, for not laughing too hard when you saw my house and making me laugh lots of other times, for being a true partner even when your burden was heavy. Thank you for teaching me the deep power of putting everything in its place, a life-changing lesson that has made co-creating this book a pleasure with eminently practical results!

Thank you all.

Eileen and Elizabeth


Publisher’s Acknowledgments

We’re proud of this book; please send us your comments through our online registration form located at

Some of the people who helped bring this book to market include the following:

Acquisitions, Editorial, and Media Development

Project Editor: Sherri Fugit

Acquisitions Editor: Karen Young

Copy Editor: Esmeralda St. Clair

Technical Editors: Ann Gambrell, Jackie Tiani

Editorial Manager: Jennifer Ehrlich

Editorial Assistant: Jennifer Young

Cover Photo: ©Getty Images/Daniel Allan


Project Coordinator: Maridee Ennis

Layout and Graphics: Matt Coleman, Leandra Johnson, Jill Piscitelli, Julie Trippetti, Jeremey Unger

Proofreaders: Laura Albert, John Bitter, Corey Bowen, Melissa D. Buddendeck, Angel Perez

Indexer: Norcross




Organizing for the Millennium

Being Busy versus Being Productive

How to Use This Book

How This Book Is Organized

Icons Used in This Book

You Don’t Have to Be Organized to Get Organized

Part I : Basic Organizational Tools and Tenets

Chapter 1: Dealing with Clutter

Living in an Overstuffed World

The Cost of Clutter

The Causes of Clutter

Chapter 2: Training Your Mind to Be Organized

Letting Go to Find Flow

Your Organizing Plan

How You Do It

Maintaining Organization

Chapter 3: Assembling the Tools, Supplies, and Systems

Paper Clips, File Folders, Binders: What’s It All About?

Organizers and Planners: Lists to Live By

Putting Things in Their Place: Containers

The Six Organizing Secrets

Part II : Getting Organized at Home

Chapter 4: Where It All Begins: The Front Hall

Getting In and Out of the Door: The Flight Deck

Coats, Boots, and Outerwear: The Closet

Hall Table

Chapter 5: What’s Cooking: Organizing the Kitchen

Clearing Off Your Countertops

Simplifying Your Sink

Classifying Your Cabinets and Drawers

The Drawer Doctor Is In

Sectioning Off Your Pantry

Reconfiguring the Refrigerator and Freezer

Fast-Track Food Storage

Mealtime or Hassletime: The Organized Meal Planner

Cookbooks and Recipes

Coupons: Turn Clutter into Cash in Hand

Sweeping the Kitchen Clean

Chapter 6: Sleep on This: Bedroom Bliss

Master Bedroom

Children’s Bedrooms

Guest Bedroom

Chapter 7: Bathe and Beautify: Creating Functional Bathrooms

Where Order Meets Indulgence

The Organizational Conundrum: Sink and Vanity

Shower and Bath

Closet of All Trades: The Linen Closet

The Half or Guest Bath

Chapter 8: Space for Gracious Living: The Living and Dining Rooms

Creating Uncluttered Elegance in the Living Room

Good Food and Company: Dining Room

Chapter 9: The Hangout Spot: Family and Media Room

Casually Neat Is Not a Contradiction

Fun or Frustrating: The Media Center

The Computer Equation

Managing Your Precious Moments: Photographs

Books and Bookshelves: The Library

Clutter or Current: Magazines

Games, Toys, and Collections

Chapter 10: Organizing for Fun: The Playroom

Positioning the Play Centers

How to Be a Senior Toy Manager

The Reading Center: Children’s Books

The Art of Organizing Arts ’n’ Crafts

Rec Room and Playroom Combo: All-Ages Fun!

Part III : Organizing Storage Spaces and Other Secret Places

Chapter 11: Lightening Your Load: The Laundry and Utility Room

Doing the Laundry Where You Live

Sorting Systems

Drying without Crying

Getting It Straight: Ironing

Scheduling Your Laundry Day

Utility or Mudroom

Chapter 12: Where Clutter Clones Itself: The Basement and Attic

Down in the Depths: Functional Concerns

Storage Made Simple

Basement Activity Centers

The Attic

Chapter 13: Patrolling the Borderlands: The Garage, Patio, and Shed

Getting a Ground Plan: The Garage

Dealing with Your Wheels: The Car Center

Fixing It Neatly: The Tool Center

Maintaining the Great Outdoors: Lawn, Garden, and Snow Centers

Winning Ways to Play: Sports and Game Center

The Trash and Recycling Center

Staying Cool in the Hot Zone: The Pool Center

The Patio or Deck

The Storage Shed

Part IV : Professionally Organized: Your Office

Chapter 14: Making Your Work Space Work

Do Less, Achieve More: The Zen of Organized Work

Focusing on Furniture and Equipment

Peak Productivity Placement

Cubes without Clutter

The Home Office

Household Information Center

Chapter 15: Command Central: The Desk

The Desk Is a Place to Do Work

Designating Your Drawers as Work Centers

The Computer Workstation

Chapter 16: Managing Your Information Flow

The ABCs of Filing

Mastering Your Mail

The Take Action File ‰ : The Tickler Turns Proactive

Chapter 17: Cyberorganization: The Next Frontier

Choosing Your Communication Mode

Maximizing Wired Efficiency

Paper or Electronic: A File Is a File

Wired: Phone, Fax, and the Internet

Learning Control: The Computer

Making Data Management Easy

Balancing Personal or Business Finances

Part V : Time Management Strategies for Home, Office, and Travel

Chapter 18: Planning Your Day and Your Life Like a Pro

Preparing for Your Future

Lists You Can Live By

Acting with Rhythms and Routines

Noticing and Rewarding Your Accomplishments

Chapter 19: Scheduling Skills for Maximum Productivity

Going with the Flow: The Time Log

Fixing Your Flow: The Busters

It’s How You Do It: Strategic Tasking

Pro Communications

Chapter 20: Maximizing Your Personal Time

If You’re Overwhelmed, Read This First

Getting Out of the House

Shopping and Errands

Cleaning and Chores

Handling and Moving Your Money

Making Time for Your Family

Managing Your Health

Scheduling Physical Fitness

Entertainment and Recreation

Finding a Special Someone

Chapter 21: Going Mobile: Trips Near and Far

The Power Briefcase and Purse

Taking Control of Your Commute

Working and Playing from the Car

Trips for Business or Pleasure

Part VI : The Part of Tens

Chapter 22: Storage for Small Spaces: Apartments, Condos, and Compact Houses

Purging Like You Mean Business

Stacking and Tiering

Shelving It

Tucking Under: Space Beneath the Bed

Using Countertops Constructively

Containing with Cabinets

Hanging with Hooks

Behind Closed Doors

Carting and Rolling

Double-Duty Furniture

Chapter 23: Ten Moves to Make Your Move Hassle-Free

Making a Plan

Choosing a Mover

Closing the Old Place

Getting Insurance

Planning Ahead for Travel

Covering Your Financial Assets

Collecting Personal Records

Purging Before You Pack

Packing What You Need

Preparing the New Place

Chapter 24: Ten Tips for Great Garage Sales

Scheduling Your Sale


Being Neighborly

Bagging and Boxing

Collecting and Marking

Setting Up

Changing Money

Selling Toys

Involving the Kids

Making Items Sell

Chapter 25: Ten Pointers about Pets




Family Harmony



Pet Supplies

Grooming and Cleaning

Feeding Time


Chapter 26: 911! Emergency Strategies






Children’s Safety

Power Failures

Snow Emergencies



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