Organizando en Mexico

For the past 13 years, my husband Eric and I and our family have had the pleasure of working with Ciudad de Ángeles (City of Angels) in Cozumel, Mexico. Ciudad de Ángeles provides a home for orphaned, abandoned, abused, and needy children living in Mexico. It gives these children a safe & healthy environment based on Christian principles. Watching the girl we sponsor (Chanti) grow from a 7-year old just rescued from a dire family situation into a confident, beautiful young lady who is attending college and working part-time has been such a joy for our family. We visit Ciudad every year to spend time with her and to help at the campus.


Front Entrance to Ciudad

I was thrilled to be able to use my organizing skills at Ciudad again this year. Last year, I organized a small storage room for tools. This year, I worked in the storage room for clothing and linens. With a rapidly-changing population of growing children in 6 houses, the need to keep extra supplies and to stay organized is essential. I was very fortunate in that the room was in pretty good shape already. There was an abundance of metal shelving and storage containers in some degree of order. My challenge was to remove any stained or worn-out items and to make sure remaining items were organized for easy access. The fact that all of the current labels were in Spanish presented an additional challenge. I certainly learned a lot of new Spanish words! For example, calcetina=sock, sabana=sheet, toalla=towel. The other challenge was that I needed to use the materials they had on hand and couldn’t go and buy labels or more bins.





I realize now that I didn’t get pictures of my helpers! Eric and Chanti helped, as well as a few other construction team members from Canada who were there that week to help on campus. I was so thankful for their help and would not have been able to do all of the work myself!



During this project, I was reminded of several principles:

  • Basic organizing principles and steps are the same, no matter what or where you organize.
  • It is a joy to use your skills and passion to benefit others.
  • Any job is more enjoyable with friends, music, and snacks. 🙂

Organizing Gift Wrapping Supplies



Photo by Element5 Digital on Unsplash

The holidays are officially here, bringing with them the accompanying merriment and good tidings as well as the decorating, baking, visiting friends and family, card sending, gift buying, and etc. Most of us are extra busy during the holidays. Even typing this list of activities stresses me out, much less doing them! I am always looking for ways to simplify my life and to be more organized, especially when it comes to the Christmas season. With that in mind, here are a few ideas to simplify your gift wrapping and to organize all of the supplies.

If you’ve read my columns in the past, you know that I am constantly preaching the fact that decreasing the amount of things you own helps tremendously with organization. This principle is also true with gift wrapping supplies. I have always kept a small variety of wrapping paper rolls, gift bags, ribbons, and bows, just as most people do. I just use a tall trash can to store the rolls of paper, a large clear bin for gift bags and another for the ribbons, bows, and other embellishments. I have always felt that the amount I have is pretty reasonable and doesn’t take up too much space, and it’s organized, so I was ok with it.

About a year ago, I was organizing with a client and came across her gift wrapping supplies. She had quite a bit of beautiful, good quality paper, gift bags, ribbons, and bows. She informed me that she didn’t plan to keep any of it because she was planning to start using the same gift wrap and bow for every single gift from here on out. I’m pretty sure I did a double take and said something like, “Did you really just say you are going to use the same thing for every gift including Christmas, birthdays, weddings, Mother’s Day, etc.?” She explained that she was going to pick something neutral that she could use for everything, perhaps champagne color gift wrap and black bows.

Ever since that day, I can’t stop thinking about that conversation. But I never took action on it until now. It only took a few minutes on Pinterest a few days ago (seriously, what did we do before Pinterest?) for me to realize that this was not only possible, but it was exactly what I wanted to do. Remember the line from the song “My Favorite Things” in the movie The Sound of Music about “brown paper packages tied up with string”? That’s my plan from here on out. I will use brown paper gift wrap and gift bags. I can change the color of the string, use ribbon instead of string, write on the paper, or add all manner of embellishments to make it fit the occasion. I will probably end up with with one small bin of embellishments and one roll of paper. And I am so excited to get started with this year’s Christmas presents!

I know what many of you are thinking: “I can’t possibly do that!” or “I love decorative wrapping paper, and I would never want to use the same kind for all occasions”. It’s all entirely your decision. We each have our own style, and this may not be for you. Understanding that most readers will prefer more variety, here are some practical suggestions for organizing your gift wrapping supplies.

  1. Gather all of the supplies, including wrapping paper, gift bags, tissue paper, bows, ribbons, gift tags, and other embellishments.
  2. Get rid of anything you don’t need. It’s very likely there are rolls of gift wrap that you really don’t like, and gift bags that have been used one too many times. No one needs mountains of gift bags. Besides, you’ll soon be replenishing them as you receive gifts. A good goal would be to keep one container of bags in a variety of sizes and patterns and a few rolls of gift wrap. Donate or recycle the rest, depending on what condition they are in.
  3. Choose the best location for your gift wrapping supplies. Very few of us have a big space available for a Pinterest-worthy wrapping station. We may be lucky to find one empty corner of a closet or some space under a bed. You don’t even have to keep the supplies near where you will wrap the gifts.
  4. Choose the best storage solution based on your chosen location. Specialty products for organizing gift wrapping supplies abound, and they just might be perfect for your needs. But if you want to get by with something you already have or use something less expensive, here are a few clever ideas. For pictures and more details, check out these 2 websites: and
  5. Ideas for storing wrapping paper rolls:
    1. Repurpose a garment bag and hang in the closet.
    2. Repurpose a hanging shoe organizer by cutting out the bottom of the middle pockets.
    3. Use an extra piece of closet shelving turned sideways or a simple tension curtain rod to keep the rolls standing up at the end of a closet floor. With the curtain rod, gift bags could also be hung on the same rod.
    4. Repurpose a pretty frame, teacup hooks, and cafe curtain rods (or wooden dowels) to hang up paper rolls. This can also be used for rolls of ribbon.
    5. Store the rolls in a folding chair bag, which can then be hung up on a hook or rod.
    6. Install rods inside a shelving unit to hold rolls horizontally. This can also be used for rolls of ribbon.
    7. Repurpose a tall laundry basket or trash can.
    8. Using dowel rods for support, store between ceiling joists in an unfinished basement.
  6. Ideas for storing rolls of ribbon:
    1. Use a plastic bin with holes on the sides. Hang the rolls from dowel rods hung in the middle of the bin, and thread the ends of the ribbon through individual holes. No more tangled ribbon!
    2. Use a pants hanger designed to hold several pairs of pants.
  7. Ideas for storing gift bags:
    1. Use magazine holders labeled with “Birthday”, “Holidays”, “New Baby”, etc.
    2. Hang bags from hooks on the wall that stick out several inches.
    3. Hook gift bags onto hangers.
  8. Idea for a quick gift wrapping station during the holidays: Keep all of your wrapping supplies, including scissors and tape, in a decorative basket that can be kept out during the holidays. I like to keep mine near the TV so that I can wrap presents while watching movies or binging on Netflix.

Happy holidays, and happy organizing!


Choosing Where to Donate


Happy New Year, readers! Whether or not you made New Year’s resolutions, you may have a goal to get more organized. I heartily endorse this goal! But I also firmly believe that for most of us, what we really need most is to declutter. If you’re ready to take a serious look at all of your belongings and shed the clutter, you will likely have many items to donate. This requires making a decision about where to take them. In order to help readers make a decision about where to donate their clutter, I sent the same questions to Goodwill Industries, Habitat for Humanity, and The Salvation Army. I have summarized their responses below.

Goodwill Industries  

  • What is your organization’s mission?

Our mission is to provide employment services for those in need.

  • What donations do you accept or not accept?  

We accept clothing of all sizes, household items, furniture, books, CDs, jewelry, linens, musical instruments, pictures, tools, small appliances, toys, office/school supplies, and vehicles. We cannot accept hazardous materials, large appliances, used carpeting, construction materials, wet/torn mattresses, water heaters, TVs, computers, monitors, auto parts/tires, car seats/baby beds/strollers/walkers, and pianos.

  • Are there ways that people donate that are problematic for you?

We ask that people drop off donations only during open hours.  If you have furniture or large items you wish to donate, please call to make sure we can accept your donation or to schedule a pickup.

  • If items are sold, how is the money distributed?

Donated items are inspected, sorted, and priced by our employees and then sold in our stores.  Ninety-three cents of every dollar supports training programs for people with disabilities or people with disadvantaged circumstances.  Program graduates gain new skills to become competitive, find jobs, and live independent, fulfilling lives.

  • What do you wish people knew about your organization?  Any common misconceptions?

Goodwill is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization. Charity Watch, an organization that evaluates philanthropic organizations, gives Goodwill an “A” rating. Occasional internet rumors sometimes surface with false information.  Goodwill Tenneva is an autonomous locally controlled non-profit overseen by a volunteer community board of directors. “Goodwill Tenneva is committed to operating with integrity and providing excellent stewardship,” said Wally Boyd, board chairman.  “Our local Goodwill dedicates itself to providing employment and support services to local people who need help, and always in an ethical and forthright manner.”

  • Why should people donate to your organization?

Goodwill believes that work enhances the dignity and quality of life, and that the power of work instills hope.  Donating to Goodwill will help local people in need of training and employment. Goodwill strives to handle all donations with respect, in an ethical and efficient manner.


Holston Habitat for Humanity

  • What is your organization’s mission?

Our vision is a world where everyone has a decent place to live. OUr mission is to put God’s love into action. Holston Habitat for Humanity (Habitat) brings people together to build houses, communities, and hope. Habitat will serve our 300th family in 2019. Since organizing in 1985, Habitat has built, refurbished or repaired 272 homes in Carter, Sullivan and Washington Co, TN and Bristol, VA, providing 400+ adults and 600+ children the opportunity to live in a safe affordable home. With the financial support generated by the ReStores, Holston Habitat will build 6 new Habitat homes and offer up to 6 external home repairs in 2019.

  • What donations do you accept or not accept?

The Habitat ReStores in Johnson City and Kingsport accept household items (working appliances, furniture, home decor), building materials (cabinets, lighting, flooring, hardware, windows, plumbing) and tools. The ReStores do not accept clothing.

  • Are there ways that people donate that are problematic for you?

We request that people drop off donations only when the ReStores are open.

  • If items are sold, how is the money distributed?

All money generated by donations to the ReStores in Johnson City and Kingsport stays in Carter, Sullivan and Washington Counties, and Bristol, Virginia to underwrite construction costs.

  • What do you wish people knew about your organization?  Any common misconceptions?

Habitat homeowners buy their homes through our 0% interest mortgage. Habitat does not give away homes. A common misconception is that only Habitat homeowners can shop at the ReStores but ReStores are open to everyone who wants to shop, donate or volunteer.

  • Why should people donate to your organization?

The donations provided to the ReStores provide over 30% of the funding needed to build 6-9 new, energy-efficient homes each year. Each donation provides a hand up, not a hand out, that helps local homebuyers build a home for their family.

The Salvation Army

  • What is your organization’s mission?

The Salvation Army is part of the universal Christian church. Its message is based on the Bible and motivated by the love of God. Our mission is to preach the gospel and to meet human needs in Jesus’ name without discrimination.

  • What donations do you accept or not accept?  

We accept just about anything, including the kitchen sink. We accept jewelry, stereos, lighting, car items, baby items, diapers, home health items, and vehicles. We cannot accept expired car seats, older cribs, or recalled items.

  • Are there ways that people donate that are problematic for you?

All items should be in working condition. If refrigerators and freezers barely run, tell us so we can price accordingly. Vehicles must be in running condition. We simply do not have room for large items like pianos and pool tables. We do not accept old televisions or hazardous products.

  • If items are sold, how is the money distributed?

We serve Sullivan and Hawkins County, TN and Scott County, VA. After overhead costs, we apply funds to social services. Last year, we provided 6,711 nights of emergency shelter.

  • What do you wish people knew about your organization?  Any common misconceptions?

When someone donates here, they are helping one of their neighbors who is hungry, homeless, in need of clothing, assistance with rent, mortgage, or utilities, or a child who needs help building character. Call for pick-ups in advance, especially during summer. Donations are generous gifts, but there is a cost to make those items available. We do our best to keep prices favorable.

  • Why should people donate to your organization?

We care for both soul and physical needs. We provide for the needy of every stripe. Everything we sell comes from donations. Our motto, “Doing The Most Good” means all our resources, money and time where they will be most effective. We also take donations in time from our helpful volunteers!



More Peace, Less Pressure

white christmas

Photo by Element5 Digital on Unsplash

It’s Tuesday December 11, 2018. Is it just me, or are you already feeling the pressure of the holiday season as well?

Every year I imagine a blissfully peaceful Christmas filled with days of sipping cocoa by the fire with my family gathered around telling stories, playing games, listening to soft music, and basking in the joy of togetherness. Like the above photo, I am sure my home will be the epitome of style and serenity. It will be decorated like a Martha Stewart magazine. Friends will come caroling, and I will have homemade baked goods and small gifts at the ready to share with them.

Are you laughing yet? Needless to say, this scenario has never happened, nor do I ever expect it to happen. Even though the above description is completely unrealistic, you’ve got to admit that we still sometimes expect way too much from ourselves during this “most wonderful” but also most stressful time of the year.

We’ve probably all read articles about being less stressed during the holidays. The recommendations are usually spot on. I’ve tried many of them with varied amounts of success. I’m not going to repeat those lists. I just want to emphasize one that I believe has the potential for a big impact.

I believe that our efforts to make the holidays as meaningful and enjoyable as humanly possible wind up having the opposite result. We try to include every possible holiday activity we’ve ever done because we want to make everyone in our family to happy, but then we’re too exhausted to enjoy them and we might be in a bad mood to boot. Several articles on decreasing holiday stress include this ideal recommendation: Hold a family meeting early in the holiday season. Ask each person to write down (or tell you) 1-3 holiday traditions that they definitely want to include. What traditions or activities are so special to them that it wouldn’t feel like Christmas if the family didn’t participate in them? Then ask which ones they would be ok leaving out. Prioritize your schedule accordingly. It could be that you’ve been expending a lot of effort unnecessarily. For example, maybe what your family really wants is just relaxed time watching a Christmas movie, not waiting in the long lines for the Speedway in Lights.

I hope this suggestion is helpful for you and your family and that it’s your best holiday season ever.

Merry Christmas!

Comparing Cloud Photo Services


My last article described the basic steps for organizing digital photos. I recommended using cloud photo services for storage but didn’t go into much detail. In this article, my husband Eric and I share our experiences using the 3 biggest cloud photo services to complete 3 commonly performed tasks, and we make recommendations for choosing the service that would best meet your needs.

Creating A Shared Photo Album

The first task we compared was creating a shared photo album. Eric and I recently spent the month of September in Oregon. We both took pictures on our phones, but we wanted to upload the best of our individual pictures to the shared album. We wanted our family and friends to be able to see the pictures and our comments about them as we uploaded them.

Using iCloud Photos, we found adding photos a bit clunky. The photos were always shown in the order they were uploaded and not by the date they were taken, which was a big disadvantage. Adding captions was easy, but sharing the album with friends and family proved a little difficult. However, once people successfully joined, they generally had a good experience. They could view the photos either using the iOS Photos app or through their browser. The photo presentation was very slick, and the user could view the photos in collage form or one at a time. Also, they could turn the viewing of photo comments on or off as they pleased.

With Google Photos, you can add photos to a shared album via the iOS app, Android app, their browser interface, or upload-only Mac and Windows apps. Comments can be added from any device and viewed from any device as well. We found adding people to the shared album a bit easier than on iCloud. Photos in the collection are always sorted by the date the photo was taken. One big advantage of Google Photos is the automatic suggestion of albums to create. Once you have several pictures of your vacation already taken, Google Photos will automatically suggest that you might want to create an album, and with one click, you can start that album.

With Amazon Photos, we found that their advantage was in how they managed groups of people. Most of us usually share our photos with pretty much the same set of people. With Amazon Photos, once you define a group, you can share multiple albums with them, which is a big timesaver. Amazon Photos has an iOS app, an Android app, a browser interface, and upload-only Windows and Mac apps. One disadvantage of Amazon Photos is comments – they could be added from the iOS and Android apps, but not from the browser interface. Also, viewing the comments from any device was more difficult than iCloud or Google.

For the task of creating a shared album, we give iCloud a C+, Google an A, and Amazon a B+.

Making A Slideshow

The second task we compared was making a slideshow from a set of photos. These are often used at events like weddings, funerals, and parties. For this comparison, we created a slideshow from our Oregon shared album. Creating a slideshow with iCloud Photos was extremely easy – you right-click on the album, choose one of seven different themes, optionally choose some music, and click Play Slideshow. You can create a slideshow from either the Photos iOS app or the Photos app on your Mac (but you can’t from the iCloud browser interface). Google Photos has the ability to create a slideshow, but only from the browser interface and not the iOS or Android apps. Also, the slideshow is very basic – one full-screen photo at a time with no music. You can’t customize either the speed of the slides or the layout of the photos. Amazon Photos currently does not support showing slideshows from your photos.

For the task of creating a slideshow, we give iCloud an A+, Google a C, and Amazon an F.

Making A Printed Photo Book

The third task we compared was creating a printed photo book from a set of photos. With iCloud Photos, you can only create a photo book from within the Mac Photos app. There is no support for photo books in the iCloud browser interface. Within the Mac Photos app, Apple enables multiple third-party vendors by installing an app extension. With the vendors we tried, we found this process complicated and slow. Of course, the experience may be better with other vendors.

With Google Photos, creating, editing, and ordering are all done from the web interface, and the whole process is extremely easy. Google automatically makes suggestions and groups photos into albums. Examples would be photos from a location (Trip to Italy) or a time of the year (Best of Summer 2018). Google chooses a layout, but you can easily change it to multiple other layouts. A caption can be added to each page but not to multiple photos on the same page. As far as ease of use, Google is much easier than iCloud.

Creating a printed photo book on Amazon Photos is also very easy but not quite as easy as Google. Photos can be autofilled into pages or placed manually. The real strength of Amazon Photos is the abundance of features. As far as captions, you can add text not only to each page but anywhere within the album. There are themes with embellishments that look like a scrapbook. Background colors and textures can be changed. For the creative sort who wants to personalize the album for a specific look, Amazon Photos gives you that capability in spades.

For the task of creating a printed photo book, we give iCloud a C, Google a B, and Amazon an A-.

Our Recommendations

So how do you choose which service to use? Our rules of thumb would be the following. If you live entirely in the Apple ecosystem (your whole family has only iPhones and Macs), then iCloud is your clear choice. On the other hand, if your family has a mix of iPhones, Androids, Macs, and Windows, then Google and Amazon are both good choices. How to choose between them? It probably comes down to how much you are willing to pay for pristine image quality. Google Photos has unlimited photo storage, but only if you are willing to let them limit the resolution of your uploaded photos to 16 megapixels. On the other hand, if you are an Amazon Prime subscriber, then you get unlimited photo storage at full resolution.

Organizing Your Digital Photos


It’s amazing to consider all of the changes over the years in the way we take and view photos. Although the ability to create photos has only existed for around 200 years, the evolution of the devices to take them and the processes by which they are created is truly astounding. Photography has progressed from a laborious process involving clunky impractical gadgets and corrosive chemicals to a simple process using a device that fits in our palm and instantly creates a photo that can be shared across the globe. These remarkable changes have made taking and viewing photos remarkably easier, and as a result, we are taking more pictures than ever.

Is that a good thing or a bad thing? Well, that depends upon your perspective. Today’s smartphones take great quality pictures, and the convenience of not having to carry a camera around is no doubt a plus. It’s certainly wonderful to be able to easily share our pictures with friends and family. But there are also added challenges. Our printed photos take up physical space in our home, reminding us that we need to organize them. Digital photos don’t take up any literal space, so we may not see a need to get them in order (unless we’re running out of storage space for them on our devices). We snap pictures freely, often with no thought as to where they are being stored or what we will do with them long term. I have heard many people lament that this generation of children is the most photographed one ever, but that those photos may not ever be seen by future generations.

Do you know where your digital photos are stored? Are they in multiple locations on multiple devices? Do you know how to find a specific picture when you need it? Do you have a plan for organizing your photos? Read on for some practical ideas and inspiration. Some of these ideas were gleaned from the APPO (Association of Personal Photo Organizers) 2018 Summit, and some are from my own experience. Warning: this is a complicated topic, and these articles will only touch the surface.    

We can use some of the same steps for organizing digital photos as we do for printed photos. The first thing you need to do is to gather all of your photos into one place. Photo organizers call this “place” the Digital Photo Hub (DPH). It’s the home location for all of your digital photos and videos. APPO preaches the necessity of a 3-2-1 backup system, meaning that you have 3 copies of your photo  (1 primary and 2 backups) in 2 different media formats, with 1 being stored offsite (outside your home or business). A sample APPO recommendation of 3-2-1 would be using your computer hard drive as your primary storage, two external hard drives with different manufacturers as your backups, one of them stored in an alternate location, and a cloud-based service as a bonus.

After doing my own research and consulting my tech-savvy husband Eric, I have a different opinion. External hard drives are wonderful and necessary for general computer backups. When it comes to photo storage, however, we are both completely comfortable using a cloud service as our only photo storage. I realize this is contrary to APPO recommendations. When it comes to reliability, cloud storage is infinitely more reliable than a computer hard drive or an external hard drive. Cloud services utilize multiple servers in multiple locations around the world. As long as you have internet service, you can access all of your photos. In addition, many of these services are free, which is an added bonus!

If you are comfortable using a cloud service for photo storage (either as primary storage or backup), how do you choose one? The 3 biggest players in this game for basic photo storage needs are iCloud Photos (Apple), Google Photos, and Amazon Prime Photos. All 3 are great options, but each has its own strengths and weaknesses. If you are completely in the Apple ecosystem (you have an iPhone, iPad, and a Mac), then iCloud Photos makes the most sense for you. If you are an Amazon Prime member and probably always will be but use other devices besides Apple products, then Amazon Prime Photos is your best choice. If neither of these situations applies to you, Google probably makes the most sense for you. Google offers free unlimited photo storage, but only for a compressed version of your photos. You’ll want to do more research on your own before choosing. My next article will go into more detail about cloud-based photo services and will walk you through a few common photo tasks using the features these services offer.  

Many people approach organizing their digital photos the same way as their printed photos. They like to create albums arranged chronologically, by person, or by event. That technique certainly works, but depending on how you want to use your photos, it may not be necessary. One of the best features of digital photos is that they are embedded with information (metadata) that make searching incredibly easy. You can search by date, facial recognition, geographical location, keywords, etc. It’s truly amazing and sometimes a little spooky. I can search my photos using the keyword “bridge”, and iCloud will pull up pictures from all over the world with a bridge in them. I can type “California” to see any pictures I have taken in that state. If I want to find a picture of my younger daughter in 3rd grade, I simply need to figure out what year that is because iCloud (all of the cloud photo services) sorts the pictures by date. No more digging through boxes of photos the night before a school project is due.  

You may have more ambitious organizing goals in mind. You may want to create digital albums, printed photo books, or video montages that you can enjoy yourself and share with family and friends. Figure out what you want and what you have time to accomplish. You might choose to complete that first step (getting all of your photos into your DPH) now so that you can easily find what you need, and then think about other possible projects later. Regardless of your ultimate goal, the time spent organizing your photos is worth it. Your efforts will not only benefit you now, but can also help your family preserve and pass along your photos for generations to come.

Happy organizing!


Organizing your Printed Photos (Part 2)

Photo organizingAt the end of my blog post, “How to Organize your Printed Photos”, I promised that my next would discuss organizing digital photos. I lied. Sort of. I’ve been learning so much from the Association of Personal Photo Organizers (APPO) free Save Your Photos Summit that I wanted to add some additional tips. You can get all of these resources free with this link: Even if you don’t have time to organize your photos now, if you sign up for the Summit, you will have lifetime access to the materials. So go sign up (after you read this article, of course)!

If you didn’t read the last article or need to review just a bit, you can read it on my website at This article will expand on the last article and add some new information.

    • Step 1: Gather all your photos into one space.
      • If possible, choose a room where photos can be left out during the organizing process.
      • The APPO Summit listed a few places to search for your photos that you might not have thought about: albums, frames (don’t forget to look behind the front one!), photo boxes, scrapbooks, wallet, relatives’ homes, bins, on the refrigerator, in various drawers, closets, within the pages of books like the family Bible, under furniture, undeveloped film, unpacked boxes, memory box, hope chest, safe, file folders, secret hiding spot, attic, garage, storage unit, yearbooks.
      • Photos that are still in frames take up a lot of space. Even if it’s a great photo you plan to keep, unless you plan to display it again in that frame or use that frame to display another picture, you’re better off removing the photo from the frame.
    • Step 2: Decide on your end goal(s). What do you want to do with your printed photos? There are so many possibilities. Really think through this goal before you begin, because it will guide the whole process.
    • Step 3: Start sorting through your photos. I love the way the APPO Summit describes this process by using the ABC model. Separate your photos into A, B, and C categories as you sort. You may want to wear cotton gloves as you sort to prevent damage to your photos, especially if you are working with older photos.
      • A photos are the cream of the crop. They are album or frame worthy photos that tell a story or bring back a treasured memory.  You would mourn the loss of these photos. You will be using the A photos to create the end goal you decided on. As you sort, you may end up with more than one A pile. For example, if you are creating themed albums or boxes, you may have a Vacations pile and a Holidays pile.
      • B photos are are not necessarily the best of the best, but you aren’t ready to part with them. These are good candidates to be kept in a photo safe box, possibly grouped into categories.
      • C photos are ones that need to be tossed into the trash can. C photos might include duplicates, blurry or poor quality photos, photos that you can’t remember who/what is in them, etc.


  • Step 3: Scan your best photos.  For your A photos (and perhaps your B photos as well), you definitely need to have digital copies. I have heard way too many horror stories of priceless printed photos being destroyed by fire, flood, or other catastrophic events. Don’t let this happen to you! Also, it is much easier to share photos if you have a digital copy of them. If you have a lot of photos to scan, you may want to outsource this task. I used Bays Media in Johnson City for this task because I didn’t want to send them off, and I was very pleased with their service.
  • Step 4: Create your desired project(s). With your end goals in mind, use those A photos to create your project(s).
  • Choose supplies made specifically for protecting photos. Whether you choose physical albums, boxes, or folders, you should definitely use photo-safe supplies. Look for these terms: acid-free, lignin-free, PAT tested, and buffered. Additionally, photos need to be stored in a temperature and humidity controlled environment. Remember, you want these photos to last so that future generations can enjoy them. 
  • Document information about the pictures as you go. You may know by looking at a photo that it was taken at your middle child’s kindergarten graduation, but you will eventually forget that, and others that view that same photo won’t know that information. I highly recommend that you include a way to figure out a way to include a few details, whether through written notes on the back of the photo using a photo safe writing instrument, a note attached to it or beside it, or an audio or video recording. Our photos tell stories, and if you can include the story with the photo, it makes that photo all the more valuable.
  • Step 5: Consider other photo safety issues: What about photo albums you’ve already created with older, non-photo safe materials? What about photos that are already organized into non-photo safe containers? This question is one that I’ve thought about a lot since I have shelves full of these albums that represent many many hours of work. You’ll have to make your own judgement call about this question. The only way you can guarantee the long-term survival of the photos is to transfer them into photo-safe albums and boxes. It is a laborious task, and you may not personally benefit from the work. But you can be reassured that you have done all that you can to assure their safety.


I hope that you have found this article helpful and that you are now motivated to begin organizing your photos. Remember, sign up for the free APPO Save Your Photos Summit if you haven’t already. Organizing your printed photos may be a big project, but it is worthy of your time.

Happy organizing!


Organizing your Printed Photos


“A good snapshot keeps a moment from running away.”

Eudora Welty

Since I started working as a professional organizer, I have helped a lot of people organize a huge variety of spaces and items. One common denominator of most of them is that their physical photos are a hot mess. It is not unusual for clients to show me a huge stack of boxes or bins full of photos, or even an entire closet. They are usually very overwhelmed and anxious about the sheer volume of photos that need to be organized, they don’t know where to start, and they don’t have a plan for getting it accomplished. They just keep adding to the pile, hoping that “someday” when they retire, are recovering from surgery, get snowed in one winter, etc. they will have time to tackle this huge project. Does this sound familiar? Fear not, readers. I’m here to help you get started! This article will give you a simple plan to get started with organizing your printed photos. My next article will address digital photos.

The first thing you need to do is face the fact that “someday” may never come, and that the longer you wait to get started, the worse it’s going to get. It’s taken years to get into this situation with your photos, and it’s not going to be a quick fix. But with determination and a clear game plan, you can be successful. September is an especially good time to work on your photos. September is Save Your Photos Month, and the Association of Personal Photograph Organizers (APPO) has a special program called The Summit in which you can sign up to receive emails chock full of helpful free resources. You can sign up and find out more details at this website:

Step 1: Get all of your photos into one location. Gather them all and put them somewhere you can access them during this organizing process without being in the way of normal day to day activities. Don’t worry for now about putting them into any particular container; your only job at this point is to get them into the same location.

Step 2: This is the most important step. Remember the phrase “Begin with the end in mind”? You need to decide what you really want at the end of this process. Fill in this blank: When I am finished organizing all of these photos, what I’d really like to have is ________________. There are so many possible outcomes, and only you know what is ideal for you and your family. There is no right or wrong answer. Really take the time to think about this question, and be realistic about it.

I have spent many many hours over the years taking photos, printing them, and documenting information about them. As a result, I have most of a bookshelf full of albums. I actually feel like it’s overkill at this point. The albums take up a lot of space, are heavy to move, and although they have come in handy for special projects, we don’t look at them as often as I had thought. So I recommend going with a plan more limited in scope.

Here are a few photo project ideas that are more limited in scope:

  • Make an album with older family photos. This could be limited to those classic photos of earlier generations. The fear of not organizing and documenting these pictures now is that eventually no one will remember the people in the photos. This would make a good extended family project.
  • Consider making an album using only school portraits in chronological order. Most of us have extra 5 x 7 or 8 x 10 school photos, so this is an easy album to make for each child.  
  • Many families go on a summer vacation every year, and these vacations almost always include photos. Similarly, most families take pictures as they celebrate Christmas or other seasonal holidays. Both of these albums would be relatively easy and could be organized chronologically.  
  • For both of my children, I made a printed photo album at the time of their high school graduation. I gathered the best photos from birth to their high school years to create this album. I had extra copies made for each set of grandparents.
  • You may not want any physical albums, but just the ability to more easily find the photos you need. Common events that require us to search for photos include high school or college graduation, weddings, and funerals. Whether we’re setting up a physical display of photos or creating a slideshow, organizing your photos now will prevent many frustrating hours of searching. For this goal, you’ll probably want to choose either organizing chronologically or by person and storing the photos in photo boxes.  

Step 3: Now that you have decided your end goal, it’s time to start sorting all of your photos. I’m afraid there is no substitute for going through them one by one. Yes, it’s time consuming, but it must be done. I suggest that you just do a few at a time to prevent the feeling of being overwhelmed. Try spending 20 minutes three times a week or so. Don’t too much pressure on yourself to get it done quickly. You might try combining it with binge watching mindless TV or listening to relaxing music. Work on it with a family member, and have fun reliving some memories and laughing at photos from that awkward middle school stage. Keeping in mind your end goal, quickly sort through your photos. For example, if your goal is to create school portrait albums for each child, you will want to put these into one spot.

If you are starting with a huge amount of photos, you will need to be especially ruthless in purging. The pile of photos you’re keeping should be much smaller than the ones you’re discarding. It’s not illegal to discard photos. Don’t guilt yourself into keeping photos that you don’t need! Keep in mind how freeing it will be to only keep the best and to be able to enjoy the ones you keep!

Here are some categories that should be discarded:

  • Multiple copies of the same photo
  • Blurry or otherwise poor quality photos
  • Damaged photos
  • Photos in which you can’t identify either the person, event, or location
  • Most photos of animals at a zoo or geographical locations. These photos can be easily found through a web search.

Step 4: Now that you’ve sorted through and chosen the best photos, it’s time to create your desired project. You can find loads of creative ideas and specific how to’s on Pinterest or other websites. Have fun with it!

Happy organizing!



How to Organize Your Bathroom


How organized is your bathroom? And if the bathroom is such a small room in the house anyway, why should you even care? We all spend the first and last part of every day in the bathroom getting ready for the day or getting ready for bed. The level of organization in your bathroom can make these two time periods either quick, easy, and peaceful or slow, complicated, and stressful. I know that I would definitely prefer the former to the latter, and I’m pretty sure you would too.

Before you answer my question about how organized your bathroom is, take a moment to go and look. What does your bathroom sink look like? How many items are on the bathroom counter, and how many of them do you actually use every day? When it’s time to clean your bathroom sink, how long does it take you to clear off the counter? What about your bathtub and shower? How many toiletries are in there, and how many do you use every day? If you’re feeling brave, take a peek in all of the drawers and cabinets. Do you even know what’s in there? Can you quickly find what you need? Now try the medicine cabinet. Are there medicines that are expired or that you can’t even identify?

If you’re still reading, I assume you now see a need to get your bathroom organized. You’re in luck! This article will give you a step by step guide to finally get this room in order. So grab some trash bags and cleaning supplies, and get ready to get organized!

  1. Start with the sink. Identify a large flat surface(s) for sorting. The counter spaces in the bathroom alone probably won’t be enough space. If you decide to use your bed, you might want to put a sheet over it to protect the bedspread from any toiletries or makeup that might spill. You could use a small portable table in addition to the counters.
  2. Pull everything off the counter, out of the drawers, and out of the cabinets and start sorting into categories. Some categories would include soap, lotion, makeup, hair care, nail care, shaving, dental care, etc.
  3. Pick a category, and look at every item.
  4. Yes, there will probably be a lot of items. No, there really is no shortcut. Yes, you have to look at each item individually. Ok, now proceed.
  5. Be realistic. Do you really use this item? Don’t ask yourself whether you should use it or whether you might use it. If you don’t use it, it’s clutter, and it needs to be removed. If it’s empty or near empty, throw it away and recycle the container if possible. If there is still product remaining, donate it.
  6. Go through this same process with each category, looking through each item and removing anything you aren’t using.
  7. There are a few items that you will want to keep on the counter. Most likely, you will want to keep hand soap right beside the sink. You’ll probably want to keep your toothbrush, toothpaste, and a cup on the counter. If possible, the rest of the counter should be kept mostly clear.
  8. Before you start replacing the rest of the items, think through each step of your morning routine. Pull out the items that you use every single morning. Put these items either into one container or into one drawer. I always prefer clear labeled containers, but you can use anything that holds all of the items and fits in the space. Ideally, this container could be stored in an easily accessed drawer or cabinet, and not on the counter. If it must be kept on the counter, at least it can be moved quickly for cleaning.
  9. Think through your evening routine and repeat the last step with those items you use every evening.
  10. Clean every counter, drawer, and cabinet really well. Chances are it hasn’t been done in a while.
  11. As you begin to replace the rest, keep in mind that items used more frequently need to be easier to access. Try to utilize all available space. Most bathroom cabinets are tall, and if we store items directly on the bottom of the cabinet, we are often left with empty space above them. To solve this problem, you can use either a shelf riser (a U-shaped device that extends above the objects and turns one shelf into two), a storage unit with drawers, or stacked bins.
  12. Replace all items into drawers and cabinets, preferably in clear labeled bins.
  13. Hopefully you will quickly see the value of your newly organized space. As you use it, you might need to make slight adjustments until it is most efficient and pleasing to the eye.
  14. Use these same steps for other areas of your bathroom: medicine cabinet, tub/shower and linen cabinet or closet. Be realistic about what you really use, keep only a reasonable number of items (no one needs 47 shades of lipstick or 23 towels), and be ruthless.
  15. *Special instructions for medications: medication needs to be disposed of as quickly and safely as possible to prevent misuse and to reduce the amount of drugs entering the environment. The best option for safe medication disposal is to use a medicine take-back option. There is a drug drop box at the Justice Center at 200 Shelby Street in Kingsport, and at West Towne Pharmacy, 1619 W. Market Johnson City. Only if this option does not exist in your area should you consider throwing the medication into the trash can or flushing it down the toilet, and even then, there are specific instructions. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration website is a helpful resource (
  16. Now that your bathroom is organized, you have a new and even bigger challenge. How will you keep it that way? Maintaining order is just as important (or maybe more) as organizing it in the first place.
    1. Be extremely choosy about bringing in anything new. Remember how many unused toiletries you got rid of? Keep that in mind as you’re shopping, and don’t buy it unless you are sure you will use it.
    2. As soon as you identify something else you’re not using, get rid of it. It may have survived the first purging session, but now that you’ve seen the benefits of an organized space, be even more ruthless.
    3. Be determined to return items to their home as soon as you use them. Yes, there will be days when you’re in too much of a hurry. But don’t wait too long to restore the order.

I hope you have found this article helpful. I’d love to hear your questions or suggestions for future articles.

Happy organizing!


Better Organizing=Better Grades

school supplies

The first day of school is fast approaching. Some families are trying to squeeze out every bit of summer fun in these last few days by heading to the pool or sleeping late just one more time. Some are busy shopping for school supplies and making plans for that first day. There are so many mixed emotions about the beginning of a school year. Parents are worried about everything from paperwork and packing lunches to bullying and report cards. Children can feel excited one minute and terrified the next about meeting their first day in a new grade. Teachers are finishing up getting their rooms ready and frantically planning those crucial first few days. Clearly this is a busy time packed with activity and planning.

Even though my children are grown, I still get excited about the beginning of a school year. It takes every bit of restraint I can muster to not go out and buy things I really don’t need. As a student, I took the selection of item on the school supply list very seriously, making sure that the color of the notebook corresponded in some way with the class subject. I wrote especially neatly on the first page of a spiral notebook, knowing that I would be looking at that page all year. After the first few days of school though, the excitement of new supplies was soon replaced by anxiety as I began to worry about my grades. I was (and still am) very driven and competitive, so good grades meant everything to me.

For many students and parents alike, grades are the biggest worry throughout the school year. This worry starts early and continues throughout all grade levels, even into the college years. It can often seem like so much is riding on these scores. So many factors can influence grades, and volumes of research have been done to find the magic formula to produce top marks. When I think back over my school years and those of my children, I am convinced that the most important factor in achieving good grades was simply being organized. While intellect, creativity, and study methods definitely played a part, basic organizing skills were pivotal in achieving good results.

In light of this observation, here are my top suggestions for staying organized during the school year. Keep in mind that depending on the age of the student, parents’ assistance may be needed. The older the child, the more responsibility should be transferred to them. I strongly advise parents, grandparents, or anyone who is working with a child to teach them basic organizing skills. These principles will serve them well throughout their lives. I would like to thank my daughters Emma and Lydia (both college students) and my husband Eric for their input.

    • Check backpacks before leaving school. Nobody enjoys finding out at 9:30 pm that your child forgot the textbook they need to complete their homework. If you pick up your child from school, this isn’t too difficult, but if they ride the bus or with someone else, you’ll have to train your child to do this. We learned this lesson the hard way.
    • Establish and reinforce routines for papers. Students come home with a LOT of papers, some of utmost importance and some that go straight to the recycling bin. Make it a habit from day one to have a designated spot for papers. Establish a drop zone for backpacks with a container (one per child) nearby for all papers to go into as soon as children arrive home. This container can be wall-mounted to save counter space. If possible, a parent should look through these immediately to identify anything urgent (forms to be returned, homework to be completed). At the end of the evening, check again to make sure all papers that need to be returned are in the backpack.


  • Declutter backpacks regularly. At least once a week, every single item in the backpacks needs to be taken out and everything unnecessary removed. I have heard many stories of children getting a 0 on a homework assignment that was completed on time but not turned in because the backpack was a disaster area. Don’t be that family!


    • Keep an updated checklist. Each child needs one central location to keep track of dates, deadlines, homework, etc. You might try using a different color for each class. There are some wonderful student planners that are perfect for this. Or it may be that a digital solutions work better for your family. Either way, I can’t overstate the importance of this strategy.
    • It’s never too early to start an assignment. Look over assignment sheets and descriptions early to avoid last-minute issues. For a large assignment, use a technique called “backwards planning”,  which is working backwards from the desired result to figure out all the steps needed to achieve it, and creating mini-deadlines to break big tasks up. For a long-range assignment, one good strategy is to work a little on it each day after finishing homework that is due the next day.


  • When your child says they don’t have any homework, don’t believe them. I’m not implying that your child is a liar. I’m simply suggesting that perhaps they have forgotten it. Either way, it’s better to just double check before assuming they have the night off. There is always something to work on (see above point about long range assignments).


  • When your child says they don’t have any homework, don’t believe them. Yes, I meant to repeat that sentence. Did you catch it? So many times when asked about homework, I was assured me there was none. Then I would find out there was a test the next day. Studying for a test definitely counts as homework! There are many effective methods of studying for a test: looking over notes, working problems, making note cards, having a group study session, creating a practice test (this was my favorite), outlining material, etc. Different methods work better for different subjects and learning styles. Teachers are great resources for best study habits.

I’d love to hear from you, readers! Do you agree that organization is the biggest factor in student success? What has worked well for your family?

Here’s hoping for a wonderful and organized school year!