Monday, August 15, 2011

How to Collect Things in a Basket

Baskets are very useful organizing tools. You can hide a lot of things in them. You can free throw doo-dads into them. You can use them as the miscellaneous files. You can even move them into another room to hide them from guests.

In the basic principles of organizing, baskets are containers. And containers are meant to be filled with things that you want to keep together because they belong together. No mish-mash. No miscellany. No maybe here now and somewhere better later.

Your baskets should be just big enough to hold the items you want to store. Any bigger and they will attract stray stuff. Any smaller and they will overflow. But what if you want to store more than one kind of thing in that basket? Compartmentalize! Divide up the basket into sections.

Add tea tins, jam jars or recyclables of any sort into the basket to divide the bigger basket into smaller groups of like items. One of my clients applied that very concept to her basket of office supplies in her craft room.

Basket of office supplies divided up into organized sections
The smaller compartments within her larger basket keep her office supplies neatly grouped in small, functional sets. Her jumble of supplies is magically unjumbled.

Now, go find one of your boxes, baskets or drawers and then divide and subdivide and then divide again. It's all about creating the right-size containers for the right-size groups.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Ne'er a Lazy Day of Summer

For not having planned a holiday this summer, the fact that we had such a non-stop summer away from home has been a surprise. Just two weeks after school let out, my daughter went to Australia for two weeks with 45 other kids in the sixth- and seventh-grade Arizona delegation.

For every day of those two weeks, I was wracked with mom-guilt for sending my 10-year old on a 32-hour return trip to another continent. I worried every single day that we hadn't given her enough money, that we hadn't given her any easy way to call home in case she needed to talk, that we hadn't packed enough options for clothes in her suitcase, that we hadn't given her enough to do on the excruciatingly long airplane rides, that she would run out of memory space on the three camera cards we sent along, and, the worst of the evils, that she would get homesick. Instead, only the dreaded lack of camera memory card space struck, and the thoroughly deprived kid was forced to pare down her pics to make more space. My kid had a blast on her Aussie adventure, as did the rest of the delegation. And it's all 'Australia this' and 'Australia that' around our house now.

Just in case Australia wasn't enough with the one kid, my family logged about 2,000 road miles across Arizona and California between the beginning of July and now. We just yesterday got home from a week spent with my family at a cabin in the Sierra Nevada foothills in eastern California. Our various road travels in the past month have taken us to San Diego, Tuscon, Lake Powell, Oracle, San Diego (again), Anaheim and Arnold, in that order. Ventura is still to come over Labor Day.

School will begin again in a few days, and we are all begging for the return of more familiar routines. Early bed times, alarm clocks, homework, dance lessons, karate lessons and soccer practice will restore regularity and bring a close to our crazy-busy summer. If only the Arizona summer heat would also subside.

In between trips hither and thither, I have worked on organizing more sewing rooms and general household spaces. In the latest redo, we gave Laura's sewing loft some new vertical storage, a long-overdue sorting and a more cohesive design theme.

One side of the loft began with a folding table stacked with books and a movable black hutch recycled from an old desk. The hutch was about to fall sideways, the pattern books and magazines were not visible and the underside was crowded with assorted boxes of fabric.

The solution was to purchase a new bookcase so that Laura could display all of her books together, to join up the fabric in the boxes with the rest of the fabric stash and to sort through all of the patterns and project instructions to remove those that had lost their appeal over time.

Swapping the marble-topped sideboard from another area of the room with the relocated fabric boxes let Laura make the best use of the wall space beneath the air vent. The bookshelves are filled with Laura's quilting books and binders of sorted patterns and ideas. The overall look is far more cohesive and reflects Laura's penchant for antiques.

About 36 hours of work later (a little bit of me and a lot of Laura and her friend Kathy), and this photo above was the prize. When we showed these before and after pictures to her guild, they could hardly believe it was the same space. And this was just one wall in her newly organized sewing loft. Nice work, Laura! May the rest of your summer days be lazy.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Three-Day Weekend

How did you spend your three-day weekend? I spent my entire Memorial Day weekend sans enfants. (Merci รก ma famille.) So what do you do for three days straight with no children? You organize. There are a bazillion other things I could have and wanted to do, but this was a monumental check off the checklist.

When my kids were tots, I realized quickly that there wasn't going to be nearly enough wall space in my home for all of their artwork. And after a while, the sand would fall off, the macaroni would get smashed and the paper would discolor on their precious projects. I needed a better solution to preserve their histories-in-the-making.

Thank goodness for the digital photography revolution of the late 1990s, because my solution was an outcome of technological advancement. When digital photography and the Web converged, online digital photo services began. My early shopping for an online digital example of archiving school work and reducing paper clutter in Shutterfly photo bookphoto service led me to Shutterfly. Around 2004, I began scanning my kids' school work and taking digital photos of their three-dimensional and oversize works of art. I uploaded them to Shutterfly and began creating digital photo books. Instead of overwhelming piles of paper and deteriorating artwork, we have lovely hardcover books of each child's school year accomplishments. Although I still think Shutterfly offers only about 50% of what I really want in an online photo service, the basics are there and are roughly commensurate with the amount of time I have to spend.

This past weekend, I scanned like a maniac, cataloguing hundreds of pieces a second example of preserving a child's school memories in a Shutterfly photo bookof evidence proving that my son completed second grade and my daughter deserves to advance to sixth. The recycling bin outside is unmanageably full, and the works of art went on their way to the local landfill. But both kids are a year smarter for all of the weeks' worth of class work and days' worth of homework I tirelessly sorted through page by page. And all summer long, my paper clutter will be non-existent. Until school begins again in August.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Jean R.'s Grand Sewing Canyon Tour

Jean R. and I got to chatting while we were at 35th Avenue Sew n Vac. Jean had a sense of humor, and I loved how she talked so candidly about her quilting space. When I first meet people and they tell me about their organizing challenges, they often hide their embarrassment by being funny about their space. So when I asked Jean if I could share her challenges with others via my blog, Jean sent me a full-on description of her space with pictures. It was obvious that Jean has a genuine sense of humor. I just have to share it with you.

Here's Jean's Phoenix-area studio, in her own words:

Rapids ahead! Watch out for protruding rocks!
disorganized sewing studio, colored drawer carts, stacks on floor
We will be entering the Grand Sewing Canyon after a sharp right turn. Stay close to the left side of the current so as not to be sucked into a hidden whirlpool. Very dangerous.

crowded sewing machines, lack of work space
Treasure hunters are often trying to beach in this area. Several have gone missing recently. There is a slightly visible plateau with artifacts from 2010, the last time this area was explored. You can see Baby Lock Lodge in the forefront.

crowded sewing table with boxes underneath
We are coming up on a lower accessible area on the right, Bernina Point. There is currently still activity in this area and a local native can still be found working at some project. Native worker appears to be stocked with at least a day’s food supply.

cluttered shelves in sewing roomThe high cliffs ahead house ancient manuscripts dating back to 1950.
sewing studio shelves with photo boxes, magazines and too much clutter

After hiking to a high point at the top of the canyon, Rainbow Rock Park and Spool-A-Roo caverns can be seen near the area of first entry by the rapids.

project boxes blocking closet doors in cluttered sewing room
Out of the canyon and home safe. king thread spools in plastic drawer unit

Friday, May 20, 2011

Quilt Market and What the Repair Man Said

Last weekend at Spring Quilt Market was like a whirlwind. Instead of going for the Schoolhouses, I stayed home through Saturday morning so that I could coach my daughter's soccer team in their 8am game. And then I rushed straight after the game to the airport to catch my flight just before noon. When I arrived in Salt Lake (on time!), I rushed to my hotel to drop my bags, and then I practically jogged up the hill to get from my hotel to the Salt Palace Convention Center. I made it in time to the C&T booth to host my book signing at 4. I just love it when everything goes according to plan. My sincere thanks to the 400 people last Saturday--from the ground crew at Southwest Airlines to the 73-year old shuttle driver from my hotel--who made it all happen.

I had a wonderful book signing. The C&T folks were a little worried how much I was talking to each person as they came up to get their book, but I think that most people appreciated a moment or two to share about their own organizing needs in their quilting spaces. I enjoyed meeting everyone, and I'm so glad that even the ladies at the end of the line waited so patiently for their book. Thank you.

Sunday at Quilt Market was non-stop. No time to eat. No time to sit down. I hope I made some good business contacts that may develop into future opportunities. And the highlight of my day was meeting Annie Smith in person. I have listened to Annie's podcasts for more than two years now, and it was surreal hearing her voice and seeing her face--at the same time. Annie, I am grateful for all of the hours of entertaining and educational listening.

This week, I've been following up on loose ends from Quilt Market and getting in touch with the people with whom I promised to get in touch. The quilting community is just so darn friendly and fun that this hardly feels like work.

Which brings me to what the repair man said. I called to check on the status of my sewing machine, hoping that it might be released soon from repair jail. (I hated to tell my daughter that we would have to buy a birthday present for her friend because she couldn't sew something. And, yes, that was after I suggested hand-sewing as an alternative.) Checking on my machine with its jailor, the very nice repair man and I chatted a bit. He told me that quilting is the hot, new thing. I love it. The hot, new thing. That made me feel really good.

With the sewing machine in the shop, I went for another machine instead. The bread machine is halfway through its cycle, and the house smells delicious. Anyone coming for freshly baked bread for breakfast at my house tomorrow needs to arrive early. We have to be at the soccer field by 7:30. Go Gator Girls! Win your last game of the season!

Monday, April 18, 2011

The Dollar Bin

I want to start off this post with a HUGE thank you to everyone who came to the launch party for my book. I also need to thank my husband and kids and my friend Judy for making all of the food and drinks the night before. Everyone took a recipe to make while Judy, who owns a cooking school, kept us all on task. (Judy, I promise I will take your next knife skills class.) The kids did great serving the party-goers, and I'm sure the guests appreciated knowing that the food was good because they saw the kids sneaking in a few bites.

Several of my book contributors attended the event this past weekend. I was glad to be able to formally thank them for their tremendous help with the research, ideas and photos. They are the same gals as I listed in the acknowledgements page of the book. One of those gals pinged me after the party to let me know what she found in the dollar bin at her local Target store.

These metal tins come in black or white with clear lids and measure about 3-1/2
inches across. My hope is that they are also magnetic, and I'll find out for myself when I can get to Target this week. Use them in groups to hold just about anything small, from buttons to pom-pons to googly eyes to thimbles. In groups, the matching tins help those little things look harmonious, which is pleasing to the eye. The clear lids prevent you from forgetting what's inside.

Send me pics to post and share about how you used tins like these in your sewing room.

Monday, April 11, 2011

5 Must-Have Organizing Classes

I read an awesome article last week about writing story headlines. What was so brilliant was that her whole lesson in headline-writing was ripped from Cosmo's table of contents. She grabbed me right from the start with her alluring promise of 5 tips for writing the sexiest, most stimulating headlines EVER! So when I was writing up my typical class topics to submit for the Arizona Quilters Guild traveling teacher program tonight, I decided to try all 5 of her tips. We'll see what the guild says about whether or not I hit the mark.

My toughest challenge in headlining was the same top challenge for some of my clients. UFOs. Ugh. UFOs are so much more than unfinished objects. They are objects of guilt. Objects of wishful thinking. Objects that collect dust. Objects that clutter. I had to find a way to make my UFO class sound less like detention and more like...a Cosmo article. So in quintessential Cosmo style, I titled one of my classes for AQG 10 Easy Strategies for Turning UFOs into ESPs. I'm calling ESPs entirely sewn projects.

For those of you done with your blog reading for today, I'll send you off for more fun and frolic in the makeup and beauty tips section of Cosmopolitan online. Having seen the home page with today's position of the day, I'm just not sure we know each other quite well enough yet for me to send you there. And I'll hold my questions about how they find the creative inspiration for 365 of those every year.

Thursday, March 31, 2011


It was so exciting yesterday to be interviewed on Mark Lipinski's Creative Mojo show on Toginet Internet Radio. Mark's show is downloadable from iTunes, so I grabbed all of the past shows I could fit onto my iPhone. My little segment was fewer than 10 minutes long, and I didn't get a chance to talk with his psychic co-host, Silvia Rossi. I would have like to know a few things about my future.

There was one particularly awkward moment in the show yesterday that I would like to clear up. Mark stumped me with his question about the Spooler storage system from Blue Feather Products. He said the name aloud and even told me the page number on which it's featured in my book, but I was still clueless about exactly what he was referring to. I have to admit that my publisher selected that product for the book, so I had been unfamiliar with it--until now. Rats.

As soon as my interview was finished, I researched the Spooler. I came to find that I really like the idea of this little device. In fact, its inventor has applied for a patent. What I think is most useful is that the 12 spindles along this rack are repositionable, allowing you to slide the spindles into various positions to accommodate different spool diameters. The tip of each spindle has a slit into which you can press the loose end of thread from the bobbin. What I don't quite understand is exactly how the bobbins stay in place. I'm also questioning the orientation of the photo included on page 64 of my book because I think the Spooler is correctly installed when it is in a vertical position with the spindles facing outward. Nonetheless, I have included here (for grins and giggles) excerpts from the Spooler storage system patent application filed by inventor Feather W. King of Tiburon, California.

"A thread spool holding device, elongated spindle stem extending from the head and configured and sized to compress when a thread spool is pushed over the spindle such that the spindle stem extends into a central cylindrical opening of the thread spool, so that the thread spool becomes gripped on the spindle stem...[and] wherein the thread retention feature comprises a slit in the end of the spindle, for receiving a thread pulled down into the slit, the slit being at the bottom of a notch in the end of the spindle, and wherein the spindle stem has a deformable U-shaped cross section, and including a second notch formed in one side of the U-shaped spindle stem, near the end to receive and guide the thread end on its way to the slit."

Got that? Wow, now that's a tough read. If you already own and use the Spooler storage system from Blue Feather products, please reply to this post and let us know what you think of it.

My thanks to Mark and his production team for inviting me on to Creative Mojo. May there always be a connecting tunnel from Totally Tidy to Pickle Road.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

The Customers Versus The Organizer

It was probably no coincidence that yesterday was National Quilting Day, and I spent the day at 35th Avenue Sew n Vac at 35th/Northern in Phoenix for their Black Bag event. What fun Black Bag day is there. The store had cookies, games and discounts, and dozens of shoppers poured through the doors all day long.

The store gave me a prominent booth next to the front door where I had an activity for shoppers to select their top 5 organizing tools from among 10 tagged items on the table. I tallied the results and am amazed to find that no one had exactly the same top 5 selections as me. The following shoppers matched four of my five selections: Linda O., Kim U., Frances M., Cecile D., Judy O'., Marjorie, Wanda S., Ruth H., Diane M. and Roberta H.

Of the 10 items displayed, I chose:
1. My book (so that you can reference new ideas for how and when to use these products)
2. ArtBin Super Satchel Deluxe project case (although I much prefer the 12x12" size)
3. Blue Feather's BobbinSaver
4. Sewline's Gift Set with Case
5. Gypsy's Bitty Buddy Thread Catcher

My selections matched the overall top vote-getters in all but one case. The item that shoppers selected among their top five items that didn't match mine was Collins' Daisy Spool Pin Cushion. Note that Collins also makes a longer version that fits a bobbin and a king spool.

I think that the Gypsy Bitty Buddy Thread Catcher has a lot more potential than just as a mini trash can. Because it is collapsible, it's very flexible and can be used as a temporary holder for most anything.

While I was at the shop, I took a few minutes to browse and see what other organizing wonders I might find. In honor of National Quilting Day, I hereby declare this product as my National Quilting Day product-of-the-day. It is the Puzzlemat from Cottage Mills. These 12"x12" squares piece together to turn any surface into an instant cutting surface. I found the whole set of six squares to be rather heavy, but I can picture slipping one or two mats into your to-go kit and being able to create a cutting surface in a jiffy. Or keep one square next to you when you have small piecing projects.

I suspect that the Puzzlemat will still give you some uneven points at the joins, so I'm interested to know who uses this product already and can share their opinion. Select Reply to this post.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Tables for Traveling

I spent yesterday at the Arizona Quilters Guild annual quilt show at the Mesa Convention Center. The show organizers were extremely accommodating and let me stand at the literature table to show off my new book. Although I didn't sell the book as I had planned, a genuine mix-up in my participation in the show required some quick thinking. And the literature table turned out to be a good place to be after all. Quilters came by the table the whole day, so everyone got to hear from me about all of the various guild events, plus my book launch party.

Yes, the book launch party is set. It will be 4-6 pm on April 16, 2011 at The Quilted Apple at 24th/Thomas in Phoenix. The owner of The Quilted Apple has been more than accommodating in making arrangements for the party. And truth be told, it's the first book launch party for both of us. We'll be experimenting together. The party is to recognize my contributors and to take the mystery out of quilting for my friends. Regular patrons of The Quilted Apple and interested book readers alike are welcome to attend the book launch party.

It was uncanny that the two organizing ideas I walked away with yesterday from the show were both about travel tables. First, a quilter chatted with me about the wonderful "Sew EZ" travel table she bought a year ago but now needs a different acrylic insert for her new machine. I Googled twice after she left and then hit upon the exact table she was telling me about. It's at If you use the SewEzi portable sewing table, reply to this post and tell us how you like it. The manufacturer says it weighs 23 pounds, which still sounds a little heavy to me. Perhaps that's what you pay for to get this amount of workspace, which measures 35" x 19".

The, the second idea came from my friend Verna of VJ's Creative Designs in Green Valley, Arizona. Verna sells a kit to make a heat-resistant pressing surface on top of a tv tray. Yes, the modern-ish, wooden kind of tv tray. Verna's kit is just $8 and includes a photo print (pictured), heat-resistant fabric and pattern. For an extra $7, Verna can include a fun fabric for the borders. How much more portable can you get than to have a tv tray pressing table?

Take it as a sign, gals. My underlying message is for you to sign up for a class, to go to a retreat or to sew at a friend's. Whatever you choose, get organized and equipped to take my advice and go portable.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Corraling Tools on Your Sewing Table

I saw this Handy Caddy recently, and it's one of the best tabletop caddies I have ever seen. Do you have any idea why? Take a guess.

The product is made by a entrepreneur Sharon Lee in San Mateo, California. Are you still guessing?

The caddy pictured is the smaller of the two versions Sharon is currently selling on Here's the reason why I love it.


With six side pockets, you can keep your most essential tabletop tools close at hand without even losing sight of them. It has plenty of room for your rotary cutters, seam ripper, marking pencils, scissors and more. Just be sure not to fill it up with less useful stuff (i.e. clutter). You aren't going to lose your things at the bottom of this tote like you would inside a dark coffee can or other opaque container. The larger version has eight pockets and an extended length to accommodate knitting needles, and both versions have a matching vinyl tote bag available to help make your caddy even more portable.

Besides the center storage compartment probably needing one or two more dividers across it, the only negative I can see about this caddy is that all of the dust will show. So as this caddy gets dusty, you'll want to restore it back to its clear and shiny state for the best view.
If you own one of these Handy Caddies, reply and let us know if it's a good as I think it is.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

The Party Starts Now

I left off my last posting alluding to my daughter's 10th birthday party surprise. The party was a hit. She knew the spa theme, but the big surprise was that I took her and five other friends (plus another wonderful mom to help) to a local hotel where we stayed the night in two adjoining suites. So it was a spa sleepover. And the best part was that we could leave behind all of the wet towels, disrranged bedsheets, used bathrooms as well as pizza & cupcakes trash. It was a blast. None of us got enough sleep, but we all came away thoroughly hydrated, moisturized, exfoliated and pampered.

The day of my daughter's party, I went scouting at a local quilt store to see if I wanted to host my book launch party there. Although I haven't set my book launch party date yet, I'm thinking ahead and want to find the perfect space. The quilt store owner was shocked I might consider his store for my launch party, and he sounded quite disbelieving when he asked me if I had ever been to his store before. I said it had been a while, so let's give it a look-see.

When I got to the store, I realized why he questioned my judgment about his store as the potential party pad. Granted they had just unloaded from the recent Arizona Craft, Quilt and Sewing Festival, but the place needed some organizing of its own. I spent two hours with a store manager and talked about organizational improvements they might consider making.

They do a brisk business, and while I was there on a Saturday morning I kept getting in the way of their shoppers. I love to support local businesses and would like nothing more than to see this shop thrive. But it's going to take some time and muscle to get this quilt store reorganized. I hope they call me to help with their store makeover. Either way, I will be among their happy shoppers when they've got the store flow and merchandise in check.

I now have to make a second choice for the book launch party location. I will try to stop after work next week to check out another potential place.

Last week, I got my first copy of my book. I was so excited to finally see it in print and to hold it in my hands. I'm not sure if I'm ready to read it yet, though. Maybe sometime soon.

The C&T team sent me this gorgeous azalea and their best wishes for the success of the book. My success will be their success of course.

I am in the process of lining up my first organizing topics to feature here on the blog, and I've got some good products and vendors to tell you about soon.

Happy quilting!

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Go Live Day

Today is go live day. I missed out on this afternoon with the book club gals because I needed to publish this inaugural blog post and write my Web site today. And this is just the beginning of me telling the world that I have published my very first book. It's not too far from midnight now, and I will have accomplished both goals today. Hooray!

The Web site took less time than expected. I'll start off with a Web Site for Dummies and hope to graduate soon to something with a lot more functionality. But today, speedy and effective are my mottos. So here is the unveiling of a Web-site-in-a-day: I know it's a mouthful, but I'd hate to be confused with all of those tidy cleaning services out there.

Yesterday afternoon I was at the Arizona Craft, Quilt and Sewing Festival. I love shows. You can see all of the ideas swirling and the creativity churning, not to mention the dollars flying. Although I have been making contacts in the quilting world since early 2009, I now need to step it into high gear. After all, I found out two weeks ago that my book is already on Amazon, awaiting pre-orders. (Pre-order it! You'll love the book. It's everything the description promises.)

I talked to plenty of interesting people yesterday. In searching for quilt shop owners who might stock books (and who might want to stock my book), I was immediately drawn into one booth immediately by these crowns. And, yes, you can buy the fabulous crown pattern from their Lizzie B Cre8ive site. Both named Elizabeth Ann Hawkins, these sisters-in-law have some hilarious stories to tell about managing a business under one and the same name. And thanks, Beth, for the great tip on getting a customized skin for my iPhone to match my book cover.

Here's the newest Lizzie B Cre8ive fabric line -- Tuscadelphia

(Hint: Beth lives in Tucson and Lizzie lives in Philadelphia)

This week, I'll be making more mental plans for the book launch party that I would like to host. I have at least a dozen contributors to the book whom I'd like to thank with wine and cheese at the very least. My preferred venue will be a local quilt store so that the non-quilters in my circle of friends can get up close and personal with the gorgeous fabric that fuels quilting passion.
At the same time, I will be planning the final touches for my daughter Sarah's 10th birthday party. It will be a spa party with a HUGE surprise, which I won't reveal just in case she reads my blog and finds out what I'm up to. More on the party after this weekend. It will be pretty safe to assume, though, that the rest and relaxation will be had by my tween and her friends.