My Shangri-La and the Beauty of Less


       The View from the Deck

Next week, I am traveling to the family cabin on an island in Ontario, Canada.

Island’s End, named by my mother, is my Shangri-La, respite from civilization’s stressors such as traffic, schedules, and to do lists.

It’s wonderfully quiet and tranquil, and, above all, rejuvenating. I fill my days with reading on the deck, swimming, or lazily kayaking around the islands hoping to spot some wildlife.

As I was thinking about how restorative it feels, it occurred to me that it isn’t just the lifestyle, but the actual cabins and their contents that contribute to the lightness of being.

The Cabins
The buildings and most of their contents were built by the descendants of Norwegian craftsmen who emigrated to the area in the mid-1800’s. The cabins are made of local pine, as is most of the furniture. The dining tables, chairs, dressers, and side tables are all simple designs crafted by hand.

In the kitchen, the plates, bowls, glasses, and food are stored on open pine shelving, instead of behind cabinet doors.

Open Kitchen Shelves

                    Open Kitchen Shelves

There are few decorative items – some photos, prints, and a carved paddle on the walls; some rocks with fossils in them; a porcupine quill box; candles, and a dish full of Canadian change on the tables.

When I arrive, the dressers and closets are empty, so it takes 10 minutes to put my clothing away, and it’s effortless to find what I want to wear each day.

The Maintenance
None of the storage spaces are crowded, and every room has an open, airy feeling.

Cleaning is easy, because there is little to move or maneuver around and few things to dust.

It’s less work to live with fewer belongings. It’s easier to find things. Maintenance is reduced, and the simplicity of the spaces feels wonderful to me.

The Contrast
When I return to St Paul, I’m always struck by the lack of simplicity in my house. Although I keep things pretty clutter-free (and considering my occupation, would I admit otherwise?), there is a lot more stuff here than there is at the cabin. It feels closed-in and too full.

I’m struck most by how I needed very few things around me to be blissfully happy on the island. In fact, having less things in my environment was part of the bliss!

Less Stuff, Less Work, More Value

Every August on re-entry from Island’s End, I try to pare down, so my home will feel more like the cabin – less clothing, less decorative trinkets, less kitchen accessories, less of the stuff that I once thought I needed.

I want to value the things that surround me, and it feels easier to do that when there are fewer of them.

Equally important, I want to spend less time maintaining my belongings and have a smaller ecological footprint. Simplifying will achieve both goals.

But first, the island!

Wherever or whatever your utopia may be this summer, I hope it brings you everything you wish for.

How to Overcome Procrastination and Master your Organizing Projects

After five days of fireworks induced terror, my dogs are slowly returning to normal. I am rather tired from the loss of sleep and cleaning up pee, because the dogs declined to go outside where the evil was.

I must say that I would be grateful if the celebratory explosions leading up to July 4th weren’t quite as extended!

Anyway, here are some tips to get over the procrastination hurdle, so you can tackle your organizing projects.

Overcome procrastination become organized

Nowhere is the adage, procrastination is the thief of time, truer than when applied to disorganization.

Lack of organization leads to wasting time looking for, re-purchasing, and re-creating things – be it a pair of scissors you need to use, a sweater you want to wear, or a document you can’t find.

Over our lifetimes, we spend 3,680 hours or 153 days searching for things. (Esure Home Insurance Study, 2015)

Less tangible, but equally costly to our equanimity, is the stress and frustration involved.

As we all know, procrastination just multiplies the problems.


Stop thinking. Start doing.

If you are procrastinating, you are probably thinking about the project in a negative way, which inevitably makes it grow bigger and worse in your mind.

Take the first step today.

You don’t need to know how it will all unfold. Just focus on the first step.

If you need to plan a bit, that’s ok. Plan a little, then take action. Don’t get stuck on the plan.

Finish it.

Not finishing a task weighs on you. Completing one feels great and amplifies your inner power.

Before you even realize it, you’ll be transforming things and feeling very happy about it.


If you need a little help getting motivated, call me!






Open a Deli, or De-Clutter Your Plastic Food Containers?

Plastic container organization


If you’re storing enough plastic food containers to open your own deli, it’s time to purge.

In my experience, everyone has more plastic containers than they need, and no one has the perfectly size-graded, matched containers pictured.

You can de-clutter and organize your containers in 10 minutes or less while you’re waiting for something to cook.


Take all of your containers out of the cabinet(s)

That way you’ll see how many you really have.

Match tops to containers

There are bound to be topless ones, or extra tops.

Recycle the icky looking ones

You know, the ones that are pitted, cracked and stained with tomato sauce.

Assess and organize

How many of each size do you need?

Are any of them large enough to hold the other tops?

Repurpose containers without tops and the ones you don’t use

Use them for organizing drawers, under sinks, and other cabinets.

  • Kitchen – For batteries, change, keys, tape, and other odds and ends in junk drawers; for plastic utensils; for tea bags
  • Bathroom – For dental floss/picks; tweezers and clippers, samples – small bottles, and packets; hair elastics, medicines, make-up, nail polish, band-aids
  • Office – For paper clips, rubber bands, pencil lead, scratch paper/post-it notes, business cards
  • Garage – For screws, nuts& bolts, drill bits, hooks, Allen wrenchesorganizing junk drawers

I bet you can find other ways to re-purpose them, too. I’d love to hear your suggestions.

Eco/Health Tip – Switch to glass containers. They are more environmentally-friendly, and eating food stored in some plastics may expose you to nasty chemicals.


6 Steps to an Organized Garage

organized garage

               Good Housekeeping

It’s the perfect time of year to makeover your garage – not too hot, not too cold, not too many biting insects, yet.

What could be more fun than spending a morning or afternoon getting dirty amongst cobwebs, dead bugs, mice poo, and old dirty, greasy stuff?

But there are multiple rewards. You will breathe a sigh of relief and pleasure when you pull your car into the garage, maybe for the first time in a long time. You’ll be able to find what you need, instead of searching for long minutes and then going to the store and purchasing a duplicate. Your neighbors will have garage envy.

Step 1: Grab some boxes/garbage bags and designate 5 areas in the driveway –

Keep, Sell, Donate, Trash, Relocate

Step 2: Remove everything from the garage and sort each into the appropriate category.

Do I really have to remove everything? Yes, because you must be able to really see what you have in order to assess and de-clutter. Are there duplicates, broken items, outgrown items, and parts that belong to long-gone items?

Also, you will be able to organize the garage more efficiently if you start from ground zero.

Step 3: Sweep the garage.

Step 4: Decide on zones for the categories of items that will be returning to the garage.

Lawn & Garden
Sports Equipment
Outdoor Toys/Bicycles
Holiday Decorations
Power Equipment – Mower, Snow Blower, Hedge Trimmer

Step 5: Before you begin to return things to the garage, take stock of the space. Best practice is to keep most items off the floor and visible. Consider free-standing shelving, wall storage, and                           ceiling storage options.

Organized garage

   Better Homes and Gardens


Labeled plastic totes are the way to go for storing families of smaller items. Make sure the lids latch in case you have small critters sharing your garage.

My favorite labels are Identa labels. They consist of a label inside a plastic pouch. They are durable, reusable, repositionable and come in several sizes.

Identa Labels


Step 6: This is important. Enact a plan for the things you aren’t keeping.

Take overflow garbage to the dump.
Deliver the donations.
Relocate items to the house or friends/relatives.
Make a plan for selling items; pick a deadline; put it on your calendar.

Step 7: Take a shower and while you’re in there, pat yourself on the back!

The Most Important Organizing Advice Of All

Organizing Tips


I know the title sounds grandiose, but I do believe that this advice is fundamental to getting and staying organized. The ability to do the latter is often overlooked.

If I gave you a bunch of yellow and red plastic knives, forks, and spoons, how would you organize them?

  1. All of the knives together; all of the forks together; all of the spoons together
  2. All of the yellow knives, forks, and spoons together, and all of the red knives, forks, and spoons together.
  3. In sets of three – 1 fork, 1 knife, 1 spoon.

Do you organize your socks by color, or by function – sport, dress, etc.?

Do you file your transportation documents under Auto, Vehicle, Car, or manufacturer – Ford, Jeep, etc.?

Is your health insurance under Medical, Health, or Insurance?

Right or Wrong?

No matter how you organize your belongings, you’re right. There is no wrong way to organize.  As long as your system works for you, you’ve succeeded.

The key is to set up systems based on your preferences and processing style.

Before you begin an organizing project spend a few minutes thinking about what will help you find things. After all, that’s the main reason we organize.

Personalize It

If your pantry looks like a Pinterest photo when you’re done, but you can’t find the tomato soup quickly, it’s not useful, and it will take extra time to maintain.

Systems need to be balanced with ease of use and aesthetics, or they will flop.

The Goal

In order for any system to be helpful it needs to be

  • Personalized
  • Convenient
  • Fast and easy to find and replace things

Remember, it’s all about what works for you.

On another note — I think this under the bed shoe organizer is great and could be used for other things, too — Under Bed Shoe Organizer

I hope you are enjoying the smell of the Spring blooming trees, lilacs, and lilies of the valley as much as I!

Let me know if you need a hand setting up some systems to keep you organized.




Organize kid's art

As much as we love our little darlings’ creations, they arrive home at an exponentially increasing rate as the kids rise through the grades, and we feel guilty if we throw any of it away.

Here’s how to reduce the volume, guilt-free, AND 3 awesome apps that will enable you to do cool stuff with the art.


The Scoop

  • Designate a bin or box (cardboard bankers’ boxes work well) into which you put items from each grade in school.  Banker’s Box
  • As classwork and art projects come home put them in the box.
  • At the end of the year, go through the box with your child. He/she will tell you what is important or special to them, and together you can choose what to save.

The Big Bonus – It’s a fun way to spend time with your child and hear stories about his/her year.

Often, after sorting, you can combine items from several grades in one box.

  • To store larger drawings or paintings, use art portfolios. organize art
  • If there is a bulky 3D project, take some photos of it and let it go when you and your child are ready.

The Apps

If gigabytes are easier for you to manage than square footage, there are great apps that will allow you to upload, organize, and store your children’s’ artwork. You choose the audience to share them with, too.

Artkive allows you to make hardcover books and other keepsakes from drawings and paintings.


Keepy allows you or your kids to record video notes on the art.


Canvsly has a share feature that allows multiple parents, and caregivers to maintain the galleries without overlaps.



Related Posts

Keeping that Pink Poodle Figurine from Aunt Rose? Here are 7 Quick Tips to Help You Decide.




Sparefoot.com did some research on Americans’ relationship with their belongings.


How to overcome reasons to keep clutter



I think it’s ironic that a company that finds self-storage units for customers gathered information that seems to support the view that we own too much stuff!

Anyhoo, here’s how to avoid succumbing to the top four reasons we keep items in our homes that we don’t use or love ~

I Might Need It – That melon ball tool in the back of your kitchen utensil drawer, it’s time to let it go. If you wake up one day and need to have your cantaloupe in balls, you can always borrow one. But that’s not likely to happen. Once we get rid of things, they are typically forgotten.

Don’t keep things based on what if’s. Only keep things you use regularly.

Sentimental Reasons – If the keepsake is weighing you down instead of bringing you pleasure, separate the emotion from it; take a photo of it, and let it go.

Only keep enough sentimental items to be treasures, not burdens.

To Sell – Recouping money is a big barrier to letting go.

If you have the time and inclination to sell things via consignment, online, or in a garage sale, then have at it. However, remember that selling things is a part-time job. Set a time limit. If you haven’t sold the items within six months or a year, then donate them and take the tax deduction.

I Feel Guilty – Aunt Ethel wouldn’t want you to keep the Cocker Spaniel figurine she gave you out of guilt. If you don’t love it and enjoy it, someone else will.

No gift giver wants the recipient to hang on to something based on guilt.


Related Posts








It would be lovely if the garbage and recycling trucks took our stuff and transferred it to cargo spaceships that took it to another planet.

This planet would be dark, stark, and useless except for its ability to process garbage without leaving any trace behind. It would be like a giant Pac-Man munching away on our leftovers.

But, alas, no such luck, so we are left with the 4 R’s – Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Renew. 

Here are some easy and quick tips to help you celebrate Earth Day every day, ‘cause if we break this planet, we don’t have a back-up.

Do you have any tips to share?



75% of the paper entering our homes ends up in the trash or recycling, yet it only takes a couple of minutes to opt-out of mail you don’t want.

Give your mailbox a green makeover.

  • http://www.directmail.com/mail_preference/
  • DMAChoice.org – Both paper and commercial email opt-outs
  • https://www.catalogchoice.org – Opt-out of catalogs, coupons, credit card offers, phone books, circulars, etc.
  • Consider magazine renewals carefully. Your interests and available time may have changed.
  • Newspapers piling up unread? Reduce your subscription to just the weekend edition.
  • Extra Tip – If you want to reduce virtual paper, try Unroll Me – https://unroll.me/ Instantly see a list of all your subscription emails. Unsubscribe easily from whatever you don’t want.


Americans spend 1.2 trillion dollars annually on nonessential goods – items they do not need. (Wall Street Journal)

How often are you using that smoothie maker that was a must have?

  • Choose quality over quantity and buy sustainable products like bamboo.
  • Purchase recycled and biodegradable items whenever possible.
  • Avoid buying or using plastic bags and other plastic items. The oceans are filling with our discarded plastic, and it’s proving fatal for seabirds, turtles, fish, and mammals.
  • Look at packaging before you buy. Choose the item with less or no packaging.
  • Stay on the outer ring of the grocery store. The packaged items are on the shelves in the middle. and bring your own reusable containers and produce bags.
  • Make your own household cleaners instead of buying chemical cleaners. Vinegar and water is just about all you need, and it costs much less. Not only do you save on plastic waste from the various bottles, but you save the environment from the chemical waste, too.


Cardboard, plastic, and metal containers of all shapes and sizes are great for organization and storage.

  • The boxes checks arrive in (a disappearing resource!) are perfect to hold pens, markers, and pencils in drawers.
  • Cereal and other boxes can be cut down, strengthened with decorative duct tape, and used for organizing things like the lids for your plastic or glass food containers.
  • Shoe boxes work beautifully for all kinds of storage.
  • Plastic food containers are useful for drawer and cabinet organization.
  • Round metal or plastic lids from jars and aerosol cans are perfect for paper clips, bag ties, change, screws, etc.
  • Use fruit crates as pull out shelves in cabinets.

Pinterest has lots of ideas for repurposing household items.

Before you throw anything away, look at it with a creative eye. You’ll be surprised at how many things can be repurposed.


Unplug electronics and appliances. Even when they are turned off, they still use electricity.

Turn off your computer at night. It will save you money on your energy bill.

Install a programmable thermostat. Every degree lower (heat) or higher (air conditioning) provides a 10% decrease in your energy bill.

A fully loaded dishwasher saves up to 40% more water than hand-washing. The key is to avoid running it until it’s full.


  • In 2013, 50 million tons of electronic waste was produced worldwide.
  • E-waste is the fastest growing municipal waste stream in America, according to the EPA.
  • Only 12.5% of e-waste is currently recycled.
  • For every one million cell phones recycled, 35,274 lbs of copper, 772 lbs of silver, 75 lbs of gold, and 33 lbs of palladium can be recovered.
  • Recycling 1 million laptops saves the energy equivalent of the electricity used by 3,657 U.S. homes in a year.
  • It takes 530 lbs of fossil fuel, 48 lbs of chemicals, and 1.5 tons of water to manufacture one computer and monitor.
  • Electronic items considered to be hazardous include, but are not limited to: televisions and computer monitors that contain cathode ray tubes; LCD desktop monitors; LCD televisions; plasma televisions; portable DVD players with LCD screens.

Recycle electronics at Tech Dump in Golden Valley and St Paul (http://www.techdump.org/).  Staples, Office Depot, and Best Buy all have recycling programs, too.


Medicines – Chemicals from prescription drugs and over-the-counter medications make their way into lakes, rivers, and streams. Safely dispose of unwanted, expired and unused medicines for free at one of three public drop boxes in Ramsey County, or six in Hennepin County. Many police stations have medicine recycling drop-offs. Walgreens has a program, as well.

  • Put a bin in the bathroom for personal care recycling – shampoo, deodorant, make-up containers, etc., are mostly recyclable.
  • Take your wire hangers to dry cleaners for recycling.
  • Did you know aluminum foil is recyclable?

Recyclemoreminnesota.org – You already know that cans, bottles, and paper are recyclable, but what about mattresses, holiday lights, carpet, bubble wrap, hearing aids, and toilet paper tubes? Learn how to recycle all sorts of materials, so they won’t be added to a landfill.

Freecycle.org – “A grassroots and entirely nonprofit movement of people who are giving and getting stuff for free in their own towns. The Freecycle Network™ is made up of 5,285 groups with 9,173,334 members around the world. It’s all about reuse and keeping good stuff out of landfills.”

earth911.org – A great resource for eco-living. The site has articles and videos on DIY laundry detergent and lip balm; green power and eco-tech; autos, events, cooking, decorating, entertaining, travel, and much more.

Earth Day Reduce Clutter






Buy Less, Own Less = Freedom


Reduce clutter









In 1896, Vilfredo Pareto made the observation that 20% of the population owned 80% of the property in Italy. His observation was later generalized into the 80-20 rule or the Pareto Principle.

The Pareto Principle

The concept is that roughly 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes. I think we’ve all experienced this in some way.


  • Pareto also observed that 80% of the peas in his garden came from 20% of his pea plants
  • 80% of value is achieved with the first 20% of effort
  • 80% of a company’s profits come from 20% of its customers
  • 80% of complaints come from 20% of customers
  • 80% of work is completed by 20% of the team
  • We wear 20% of our clothes 80% of the time

Ahhh, we finally reached the closet and left the dull historical stuff behind.

The Principle Applied to Your Clothing

So take a look at your clothes and consider that 80% of them are occasionally, rarely, or never worn. Surely there are some that could move on?

Wouldn’t it be nice to have room for the hangers to slide freely, so you can find what you need without risking a rotator cuff injury?

The Principle Applied to Your Home

And remember, this rule holds true for many other things like books, DVD’s, files, photos, and memorabilia. In fact, it probably applies to almost everything we own.

Your mission is to get rid of the things you don’t use 80% of the time.


Need a hand? I can help you create peaceful, uncluttered spaces