How Can I Be A Minimalist When I Have Shopping To Do?

We had a great Minimal Quest meeting mid-summer at the Goose Restaurant in Darien. Fabulous conversation with appetizers and drinks and a group of men and women interested in simplifying their lives. Our topic was shopping! Some love it, some loathe it, but all of us need to shop for ourselves, our families and maybe for our professional life. The average American shops 281 hours each year which equals 12 full days! That’s a lot of time. We know the stores study our habits for hits on how to increase our spending habits. Here are the top “10 Subliminal Tricks Retailers Use” from Money Magazine.

  1. They make you nostalgic. Families, puppies, childhood. Recent research shows nostalgia makes people value money less and feel willing to pay more for purchases.
  1. They sic rude salespeople on you. People who shop at high end stores want to belong and be part of that crowd. They are willing to withstand rudeness if they can obtain the object.
  1. Smaller packaging. Cute and mini makes us consume and buy more.
  1. They get you lost and confused. It’s not an accident that grocery stores are often laid out unintuitively.
  1. They mimic your gestures—and get women to touch you. A woman’s touch—but not a man’s—makes people of either sex looser with their money, so when that saleswoman touches your shoulder, you may unwittingly end up spending more.
  1. They get you to handle the merchandise. Research shows your willingness to pay more increases as you spend more time looking at and holding objects. This is why the display item is the best seller.
  1. They create the illusion of bulk bargains. Researcher Lindstrom found that adding the sentence “maximum 8 cans per customer” to the price tag of soup cans caused sales to jump, even if no true discount was offered, because it gave the illusion of one.
  1. They give you free treats. Consuming even one free chocolate increased shoppers’ desire for nonfood luxuries—including expensive watches, dressy designer shirts, and Mac laptops—right after eating it, according to a study published in the Journal of Consumer Research.
  1. They drop the dollar sign. If you think the plain old “28” rather than “$28” on the menu of your favorite fancy restaurant is simply designed to look chic and minimalist, think again. A Cornell study found that a format that leaves off dollar signs and even the word dollar gets people to spend 8% more at restaurants.
  1. They carefully engineer store ambiance. Ambient sounds and smells can make you less careful with your cash. In an appliance store, researcher Lindstrom pumped in the smell of an apple pie, and the sales of ovens and fridges went up 23%. He also found that alternating German and French music in a wine shop influenced which bottles customers purchased.

This I can’t source as I learned it a long time ago but it always stuck with me. Retailers try to control the rate at which we blink! Yes blink! Why? Because our blink rate indicates how relaxed we are. The more relaxed the less we blink the longer we stay in the store and the more we spend. So, retailers want us to blink slower while shopping. Music, stores without windows, interesting displays all are part of this game.

Shopping sounds simple but look at what we are up against! Don’t get me wrong. I love marketing and advertising. The commercials are often more interesting then the shows. I don’t necessarily want it to work on me though. It is the creativity that sparks me, not so much the product.

It’s them and their research against little ole us. What chance do we have? Our discussion group of Professional Organizers and attendees came up with these ideas:

  • Don’t succumb to “amygdala high jacking.” This term is from the Emotional Intelligence guru Daniel Golemman. It is when your logical brain is overpowered by your emotions. Don’t let your emotions take charge of the shopping trip. If you have limitations of space, time, and funds then logic needs to take the lead.
  • Not buying more then you need. Don’t fall for the 8 for a $10 if you only need 2.
  • Don’t let coupons draw you into a store. Kohl’s Cash and the CVS coupons were mentioned.
  • Limit your shopping time. Set an alarm on your phone. Don’t linger.
  • Shopping and therapy are not the same. The average American polled spends a whopping $1,652 per year on purchases just to cheer themselves up. Find other ways to self soothe.
  • Make a list and stick to it.

And this session was just store shopping. We will discuss online and TV shopping some time in the future. Stay tuned.

What the attendees learned about the Professional Organizers:

We are human too! While this set of Professional Organizers are an organized bunch (note that not all PO’s are!), we have areas of struggle too (shoes and office supplies to name a few.) Organizing takes time for us too. We need to focus on this just as you do.

Future Minimal Quest meetings and topics: 

Please check the Events page on my website.

Posted in attitudes, decluttering, time management, Uncategorized

Do You Have a Wardrobe or a Floordrobe?

Recently I heard a celeb on TV saying they did not have a wardrobe. They had a floordrobe. After 18 years of professional organizing, I could easily envision this. The hanging part of the closet is packed. With nowhere else to go, the overflow clothing is on the floor. When an item is needed, the owner selects an outfit from the heap on the floor of the closet. In my experience, often the hanging clothes are pretty much unused. They are the old, out-of-style, sized-out, never-felt-right garments that get the prime real estate. The favorites, wear-all-the-time and new stuff gets the floor.

There are other variations of this that I have seen:

          The doordrobe – This can be hooks attached to the back of the door or the fancier over-the-door rack that extends out 12 inches or so. The latter holds dozens of items and can often get quite heavy. Sometimes the weight can unhinge the door, or make it crooked and hard to close.

          The chairdrobe – Chairs are dangerous when organizing. It is tempting, even to the most organized person, to just throw the day’s outfit onto the chair at the end of a long one. “I’ll put it away later,” we say. This could mean later in the evening (are you less tired by then?), the end of the workweek (if you do this every day, now there are five days’ worth of clothes on the chair), or possibly, they just live there.

          The still-in-the-bagdrobe – You go shopping and buy some fabulous new stuff. You get home and want to put it away, but the closet and drawers are full. So, you leave it in the bag, usually on the floor. When you are ready to wear the hot new buy, you dig it out of the bag. Or maybe not. It might be forgotten and get buried under other bags. You stumble upon it at some point – when it might be a wonderful surprise, or the wrong season, or its usefulness has timed out.

          The plastic boxdrobe – Recently someone told me that a lot of her clothes were kept in plastic boxes. “I like to layer,” she said. That means summer sleeveless tops can be used year-round and are never put away with the off-season wardrobe. Since the dresser and the closet are full, the clothes’ permanent home is a plastic box on the floor.

          The closet pole – I am a big fan of the closet pole. If ironing is not your thing but you don’t like the wrinkled look, then the closet pole is your new best friend. Plus, for visual folks, like most people are including me, it is a great eye-level experience. If it is in a drawer, I don’t’ see it. I only wear what I can see in my closet. The only thing in my drawers are undergarments.  Everything else in on a hanger.

How do you get your clothes organized if you want to utilize the all-important closet? Here are some guidelines:

First, go through your closet and take out all the empty hangers. It is amazing how much room they take up.

Next, start from one end of the closet pole and work your way to the other end. Always organize / declutter in one direction. Purge anything that:

          Does not fit – This is hard for women, like myself, with the fluctuating size syndrome. Keep one size smaller and one size larger but not in the closet you dress from every day. If it fits you today, it belongs in your today closet. Other sizes can be packed away (by size) or placed in a spare closet.

          Is out of style – It will come back someday certainly, but it won’t be exactly the same. Besides, unless you are in your 20’s or 30’s, dressing retro makes you look like you saved it for 20 years. Which you did. But don’t wear it. When older folks dress retro, we look old and out of style. Sorry.

          It is faded and worn and not wearable in public – Do remember Rit dye? Me either. No one dyes their faded clothes anymore to get more life out of them. Keep it and wear it around the house if it’s your favorite.

          Needs alterations, frayed, damaged beyond repair – They can be repaired, of course, either by you or a tailor. Decide today to do it or get rid of them, but don’t let those clothes take up precious closet space one more minute. Some items may be too far gone. Let them go.

          Never fit right in the first place – But you paid good money for it and never got your money’s worth. And you never will. Having it hang in the closet longer does not change this fact. The sooner you get rid of it, the sooner someone else can use it. Donate, consign, or give it to someone who will love it and use it.

After you’ve decluttered, it is time to organize. Here are some tips:

          Keep like things together. Pants, skirts, dresses, tops, camisoles, etc. Once this is done, you may be surprised to learn just how many pairs of black pants you own.


          Organize by outfit. If you are one who does not like to mix and match in the moment, set up your closet so this is done in advance. When you pull from the closet to get dressed, an outfit will be all ready for you. Combine the pants, top, and jacket you would wear together and hang them together in the closet.

          Invest in some good hangers. This can be costly, so you can do this slowly over time. Or do what I do: I ask the store if I can keep the hanger if I like it. Many stores use the same type of hangers, so I don’t end up with a hodgepodge. I use a combination of those hard-plastic hangers for sweaters and clear plastic for blouses, and I fold pants over hangers from the dry cleaner. My least favorite are the wire hangers (not the best for keeping clothes in good shape, especially sweaters); wood hangers (they take up too much room for everyday clothes but are great for heavy coats); and the new velvet-coated hangers (a struggle to get your clothes off them. Who wants to fight with their hanger? I do like them for pants and hanging large scarfs, ponchos, and the like though.)

          Hang up your clothes every day. How long does this take? Seconds! Blouse, pants, jacket. Invest seconds every day and save hours later. Plus, there is the instant gratification aspect. It is an immediate organizing accomplishment.

How long will it take to complete this project, you ask? Depends on how many clothes you have and if you are a fast or slow decision maker. Keep in mind that the more decisions you make, the faster a decision maker you become. You will pick up speed as you go along. You can work on this project 15 minutes a day or block out a 3-hour window and really dig in and make big progress. Experience tells me that three hours is usually enough to purge the closest pole and hang up the clothes on the floor. Start today and you will feel better today!


Note: If you are looking for inspiration on how to get let go of clothes, read the story in my new book Happily Organized Little Stories About My Mom, the Most Organized Person in the World, entitled “The Puppy Skirt.” Learn how my mom taught me this important lesson when I was a little girl. It has served me well as an adult. Purchase on and

Posted in clothes, decluttering, organizing, time management

Coming Home From Vacation and My Purging Spurt!

Within eight hours of coming home from a much needed vacation, I had filled one bag with items for donation (the “Goodwill Bag”), maxed out the recycle bin, and half-filled the garbage can. Though I was still on my vacation time zone, which meant it was five hours later in the day after a long day of travel, I had a purging spurt as I unpacked and put items away from so many different areas of my home. Clothes, shoes, toiletries, cosmetics, reading material, electronic charges, sunglasses, contact lenses stuff, camera equipment. And then there was the stuff I bought while traveling (I do lots of my birthday gift and holiday shopping while traveling as I love to give distinct presents and shop while I have more time). It seemed I touched every room in the house while unpacking all I brought with me to keep me comfortable in various weather conditions when I had no access to laundry. When we fit our whole world into one suitcase it is revealing about what is essential. I kept thinking that as long as I had my contact lenses supplies, a credit card, my passport and driver’s license all else could be purchased within relative ease.

But back to my purging spurt. What caused this? Where did I even get the energy since this went on until 10:00 PM our time which meant 3:00 AM in my vacation time zone? The words I keep coming back to are simplicity and necessity. As I opened closets, drawers, and cabinets putting away large and small items, I noticed things I no longer wanted, needed or used. Things that were taking up space in my home but more importantly in my head and heart. The more I dropped items into the “Goodwill Bag” the more I wanted to add to the bag.

The big question for me on vacation was would I be able to relax. Life is busy and fast and I needed to take a deep breath and slowdown. I was wound so tight before I left I wondered if I could go from what seemed like 100 miles an hour to…what? What is the average speed of vacation? Is there no speed (maybe if it is a lying-on-the-beach event which I have never been able to manage).  I prefer sightseeing vacations when I can spend much of the day walking and discovering. I can’t attach a miles per hour statistic to that but will label it as strolling vs. running and that is good.

Yes, I was able to slow down and I felt quite relaxed the minute we left for the airport. An instant separation took place from my everyday world as I shifted into my vacation mind frame. I let it all go: the to-do list, the errands list, the work on my desk. I successfully detached. And now that I am back I want that vacation feeling to linger. How to make that happen? Ease. I am easing back into my life and taking lessons from my ten day hiatus. Lots of things did not get done while away, things that would have been labeled urgent or important if I had been home. And yet life went on! How’s that for perspective!

Curious about where I went? Like my Facebook page for upcoming posts about my travels.

Posted in attitudes, decluttering, organizing, Uncategorized, vacations

The Organized Dollhouse

Wow! Look at these beautifully organized toys! Who did this? A mom organizing her kid’s playroom? A store getting ready for a big sale? A photographer prepping for a photo shoot? A stager readying a home for an open house? No! It was done by three-year-old Ashley! Incredible!

“She has been organizing since she could walk,” states her mom. “Ashley loves to organize. Not only does she organize all her toys but also her twin sister’s clothes, the DVD collections, and the family snack drawer.”

What can we learn from the skills of this gifted three-year-old? Here is how I would describe the strategies Ashley uses:

Like things together – This is one of the cornerstones of organizing. Notice how all the toys are grouped together by size, height, and type on the top and middle shelves (smaller ponies, large ponies, dolls).

The quantity fits the space – Observe how nicely each type of toy fits in the space with room to spare. Nothing is crowded or jammed. Ashley can easily access any toy without disturbing the organization. See in the middle left cube how the taller dolls are in the back. She can reach in and take the doll of her choice to play with because they are all easily accessible.

Group one-off items together – The bottom two shelves are filled with a variety of stuffed animals of different sizes and shapes as opposed to the other shelves that have like items. Think of your kitchen drawers with one-off cooking supplies: turkey baster, icing spatula, ice cream scoop. Pick a right-sized container and keep these odds and ends all together.

Container Size – The height of the dollhouse is just the right size for Ashley. She can access each shelf without reaching. In your own home, place frequently used items within arm’s reach and less used objects higher or lower.

Open shelving – If these toys were in drawers, they would not be so organizationally pleasing to look at. Open shelves (think linen closets and kitchen cabinets) will keep all your items visible and make it easier to find what you are looking for.

I hope Ashley has inspired you to work on your organizing projects. Maybe Ashley will be a Professional Organizer someday!


Happy Organizing,

Posted in organizing, Uncategorized Tagged with: ,

Born Organized

People often ask me if I was born organized. No, I was not; I was born to an organized mother.

From the moment I arrived, she was ready: bottles in place, diapers folded with the pins nearby, onesies in every size for the first six months. As I grew up, her organized ways encompassed every area of our lives, from making dinner to helping us with our homework to decorating for the holidays. She was organized every day. Like all children, I watched her closely, even though I did not necessarily realize I was doing that. Her ways became my ways. We are both organized, but my mom was far more organized then I am. Actually, she is the most organized person I have ever met. She is the most organized person in the world.

Last year I spent weeks at home rehabbing from foot surgery. I must admit I do love being home. It reminds me of when I was a little girl living in the big pink house in Port Chester, New York. I remember early mornings as a preschooler when all the men would leave for work, the older kids would go to school, and I would be home with my mom, my grandmother downstairs and my aunt upstairs. I clearly recall a sunny morning in September, standing on the front porch with my mom and Nana, waving goodbye as my older brother went to school. We three girls turned and went in the house to start our day. When I was home last year, I still got that same feeling after my boyfriend left in the morning and I was home alone. It was quiet and peaceful and comforting. I could feel my mom and Nana standing beside me in those moments.

I actually looked forward to my rehab time at home as an opportunity to catch up on some everyday things and larger projects. First on my list was to “get the book out.” I wrote a book about my organized mom called Happily Organized: Little Stories About My Mom, the Most Organized Person in the World. Writing the book was such a pleasure. However, getting the book from my notebook into a format for others to read has been a much longer journey then the actual writing. It is a whole new world for me, with many stumbling blocks and a wide learning curve. But finally it is completed.

In this book, I would like to introduce you to my mother, Marian Julia Lovallo Arbusto. She is quirky, funny, and incredibly organized. I’ll tell you little stories about her everyday organizing ways. My goal is for you to learn how to get organized through storytelling. There are lots of step-by-step, how-to organizing books to choose from. While they are certainly valuable, this book of genuine, personal stories offers another avenue to learn about organizing, a way that is more natural and easy to read. Please join me as I relive sweet memories of being raised by the most organized person in the world.


Posted in Happily Organized Book Blogs, time management Tagged with:

So Much of Life Is About Filing Your Jacket

Call it what you will, filing has many names: filing paperwork, filing emails, putting things away, straightening out, tidying up, hanging up your coat, placing your shoes in the closet Read more ›

Posted in decluttering, organizing, time management Tagged with: , ,

If You’re a Piler, You’re a Piler

Often times while working with a client to organize their office they will claim to me “I’m a piler!” This means they tend to stack papers in piles rather than file them in filing cabinets. When they need to find something they know it is in one stack or another. And then the hunt begins. They search through stack after stack looking for sometimes one piece of paperwork they desperately need. This takes time and can be quite stressful. But oh the joy when this important document is found! But what if it is not found? Then they go back into the stacks for a second look. This second search taking more time and looking requiring greater detail. Hopefully this time they find what they are searching for; but maybe not.

Is it okay to be a stacker? Is there a better way? Yes is the answer to both questions!

If you’re a piler, you’re a piler. This is perfectly fine. There is a system to make your piles of paperwork meaningful and organized so you can find the paperwork you need. It requires having your stacks in strict categories and not mixed categories. Example: Paperwork for your bathroom remodel would not be in the same stack as your kids’ permission slips and the unread newspaper from last night. These are three different stacks. The piler system needs room to spread out these strict categories preferably a bookcase or a compartment system. Be sure to label your categories with a label maker or post it notes.

So can you be an organized and a be a piler? Absolutely!

Orgainization is about personalization. If you would like a one-on-one session to help you get organized, give Susan a call.

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Posted in office organizing, organizing, paperwork Tagged with: , ,

10 Small Winter Tasks That Make a Big Difference!

Winters cold is fast approaching! Are you ready? Here are 10 small tasks you can do that will make a big difference and help you prepare for the weather events ahead: Read more ›

Posted in time management Tagged with: , ,

Decrease Clutter With The Magazine Diet

You may be counting calories for your New Years’ Resolution, but a quick way to lose weight around the house is the Magazine Diet! Ah…magazines…they have such a lingering effect. They can sit on the coffee table for years or in a pile Read more ›

Posted in decluttering, organizing, paperwork Tagged with: , ,

Are You “On” On Your Day “Off”?

Is you day off about shores and getting things done? If so, when do you rejuvenate yourself? Do you think you can only relax when everything is done? There is a difference between relaxing and collapsing from exhaustion. Relaxing is a choice, collapsing is the inevitable state that is the result of overwork. How long can the cycle continue in your life? Read more ›

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