YOU CAN DO IT – Getting Organized

As I was flipping through the YOU CAN DO IT Handbook, the chapter on Organization jumped out at me.  Literally jumped off the page and said “read me.”  Perhaps it is because I have a home office that looks like this:

I’ve tried to organize it before as you can probably see from the various boxes on the shelves, but for some reason it just didn’t stick.  What?  It doesn’t look too bad, you say?  Well, that’s because I haven’t shown you the close-up view.  Prepare yourself, it gets pretty bad.

I’ll start with the shelves – nothing unbearable there really.  It’s not completely organized, but at least you can see the labels on everything and they’re easily accessible.  The only problem is that there are several of these stacks lying around with no real order to them.

Okay, moving on to the other side of the desk.  Here we have my perpectually over-flowing inbox.  It’s full of the papers that I can never find and that I never know what to do with once they’re found.

And now, the other side of the desk (I saved the best for last).  Consider yourself warned.

I’m not sure how to even explain it or justify it.  Especially the dog hair.  It’s embarrassing really.

This is what I’ve been living with for the past several months.  So when I opened the YOU CAN DO IT book and saw the Getting Organized chapter heading, I realized that it was written for me and me alone. 

Okay, on the off-chance that it was written for you too, I’m going to show you what it suggests.  First, let me say that this chapter is based on the advice of Meryl Starr, a professional organizer in New York.  And I like how she said, “organization doesn’t just look good, it feels good.”  How true!  

Step 1:

Select the space you want to clean.  It can be a closet, an entire room, or a cabinet.  Make sure that you have an appropriate amount of time to devote to the project and that it can be done within that time frame.  

For obvious reasons, I chose my office space.  It’s actually part of the den and sits in between the TV and my husband’s computer desk.  Since we live in a small house, we have to make do with the limited space we have.  The shelving system is called Elfa and was purchased from The Container Store earlier this year.  It’s a great system and very easy to put in place.

Step 2:

Have your supplies that you’ll need such as garbage bags and things with which to clean.  Meryl suggests that you don’t run out and buy a lot of cute boxes and things until you know exactly what you need.  

Step 3:

Remove everything from the space that you are organizing and then clean.  I took this step very literally and removed everything from my desk and shelves (except for the computer) and then dumped it onto the floor.

Then I cleaned.  I mean I scrubbed those shelves until they shined. 

I almost didn’t want to put anything back and I probably wouldn’t have either, but the CPA said I couldn’t leave my pile on the floor.

Step 4:

Separate your mess stuff into three stacks: 1) stuff to keep, 2) stuff to donate, and 3) stuff to throw away.  The object is to keep only those things that you need and to get rid of everything else.  Meryl even includes a little pep talk about why it isn’t necessary to keep the shell you found while walking on the beach with your first boyfriend.  She said that, “you can hang onto the memory of your first love … without hanging onto the physical memories.”   

So I sorted and I separated and finally came up with my three piles. 

Throw away:                             Donate:                           Keep:


Step 5:

Now it was time to put everything back.   Things had been pretty easy until this point but suddenly I broke out in a cold sweat.  I had been down this road before and was scared to try it again.  I mean, being organized isn’t a thing that comes naturally for me, I have to work at it.  Hard.  Just as I began to wonder if it was worth the effort and maybe I should just accept a life of slothfulness, I started to get ideas in my head.  Mental images of what my desk could look like. 

So I ran upstairs and grabbed the tv/monitor that was sitting unused in the guest room.  I hooked it up beside my computer so that it could act as my second monitor, one to be used just for working on photos. Then I followed some of Meryl’s suggestions to take advantage of organizational tools such as divider trays, boxes for cds or photos, baskets, hooks, etc.    

So I filed away the extra magazines…

and then rearranged my boxes.

I even made sure they had labels on them to help find things quickly.

I changed the layout of my books which helped to make the stacks look neater and to keep them from constantly falling over, which was a problem I had struggled with before.

Then I made a quick trip to The Container Store for some drawers as I previously did not have any in place.  I think that is the key to keeping my desk organized – having a space for the little things to go.  So the CPA and I installed the three new drawers (which are currently on sale for half off, btw). 

In the bottom drawer I stored my collection of stationery.  (Some people collect stamps, others collect coins.  I collect paper products.) 

In the next drawer, we added an insert that provides individual spaces for things like post-it notes, pens, and chapstick.

And the top drawer is the place for my miscellaneous papers.  Only this time, I have a system to use.  I put in three separate containers to help keep my papers from being thrown all over the drawer. 

Then, I grabbed some of these fantastic paper clips and wrote titles on them such as “file”


and “miscellaneous.”

Also while at The Container Store, we had picked up this great cord organizer.  You probably don’t realize it, but behind that white “pipe” is about four different cords.  The idea is to try to hide them as much as possible since they can look very unsightly.  I’m still working on hiding the other cords, but it’s a start.

A few finishing touches such as the clock,

and this floating shelf (to be used for the books I am currently reading) and voila.  We were done!

And now for the end result of all of our hard work…

Isn’t that amazing?  With all the extra space that was created, I even had a place for my new scanner.  

Here’s the breakdown:

Before:                                                                                 After:


Before:                                                                              After:


Before:                                                                         After:


There you have it.  Was it a lot of work?  I won’t lie to you – it took me several hours, the better part of a day really.

Was it worth it? 

Hmm… to go from this:

to this:


Okay, now that you’re all fired-up and ready to get going, what space are you going to organize?  Do you have any suggestions or tips that work for you?


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The Wife of Odie - January 7, 2009 - 7:32 am

AMAZING! Seriously amazing. I can’t wait to see it in person. It looks so great. Good job. I know that must have taken forever!

The Wife of Odie - January 7, 2009 - 7:32 am

P.S. $20 if you’ll come do that at my house :)

Margie - January 7, 2009 - 8:11 am

Awesome. Looks so professional now. Great job.

Joanna - January 7, 2009 - 9:24 am

That is inspiring!! I’ll be honest, I LOVE organizing. One of the things I miss about being child-free is being able to tackle a project like that and not be constantly interrupted. I’m a huge nerd, it’s true.

I also collect stationery. Because I’m cool like that.

Kristina - January 7, 2009 - 9:24 am

First of all, I need a desk system like that. And secondly, it looks amazing! It could be in the Ikea catalog!

Ruth - January 7, 2009 - 11:13 am

Ahhh, the wonders and pains of organizing! Since I am a homemaker now, I should be good at it… right?
My fiancee/husband is an amazing organizer. Sometimes I can get him to help me figure a space out, then I just have to keep it that way. ;)
I LOVE stationary too!! I love making it, finding cool and on sale stuff to buy, and using it for letters!
PS You did an amazing job!!

admin - January 7, 2009 - 12:29 pm

WofO- make it $50 and you’ve got a deal! :)

Margie – why, thank you!

Joanna – I can imagine it would be hard to finish a project with little ones taking your attention.

Kristina – funny you should mention Ikea since all of the boxes were there (they look similar to the Container Store boxes but are only a fraction of the cost). Also – the Elfa system itself, which we bought during their sale, was less than $300.00.

Ruth – a fellow stationery lover!! Isn’t it the best? I went into a store recently that’s going out of business and they had their Crane paper on sale for 50% off (which, as you know, never happens). I had to stop myself at five.

Courtney - January 7, 2009 - 1:49 pm

Looks GREAT! Very impressive!

Melody C. - January 8, 2009 - 3:52 am

Oh, my office needs this kind of help. In my defense, I need shelves and a file cabinet of my own, not shared. In an attempt to kick start my clean up I invited my husband to move his desk into my office. Now his side of the room is VERY clean and my piles are now just taller as piles consolidated to make room. I’m sure I will sort and organize at some point, but the real organization won’t occur until (1) I start a new job with an office away from home, and (2) I get back to the States where I can splurge in places like the Container Store!

Thanks for showing that you don’t have to be Martha Stewart to actually accomplish this task!!!

Melody C. - January 8, 2009 - 3:53 am

upon reading your comments closer, I see you had success at Ikea. We have an Ikea not too far away (special trip, not a weekly distance!) I see an excursion in my future!!!

Jim @ Change Jar Savings - January 8, 2009 - 6:46 am

Great job in organizing.

The problem that most people have is they want to hold on to too much stuff. Then it becomes overwhelming to think about getting rid of something you “cherish”. We also tend to buy more than we should.

Rona - January 8, 2009 - 7:50 am

wow. that’s all i have to say. this is truly inspiring – makes me wanna tackle that poor excuse of a work area we’ve got. love the color scheme btw.

admin - January 8, 2009 - 10:53 am

Thanks Courtney!

Melody – ha ha, no Martha Stewart here! That’s why I needed a book to help me. :) And yes, IKEA is definitely the place to go!

Jim – I agree, that’s the hardest part sometimes, throwing away things we’re attached to.

Rona – Good luck with your work area – you can do it!!

Mary - January 8, 2009 - 10:56 am

Oh my goodness – this looks fabulous and really looks so inviting. What would be a good enough incentive for you to do that say in my office, craft room, kitchen???? Remember, I’m on a limited budget here…..

Your list of “how-to” is great and I’ll definitely print in order to remind myself of what I need to do when I tackle my jobs. I’ll have to be couragous and send you pics of my finished project to get your opinion of how successful I’ve been. I know this took a great deal of time but the end product is amazing. Well done!!!


Just Pure Lovely - January 8, 2009 - 10:31 pm

Yowzee, that looks great! It’s right out of the pages of a magazine, isn’t it? I’d have thought so, anyway, if you hadn’t posted photos of the progress. Way to go!

~ Lori

p.s. Thanks for visiting my blog earlier this week!

erin - January 8, 2009 - 11:23 pm

Ohhhh I love that clock.

I am SO GLAD your book/organizer says to remove everything from the space you want to clean – I have always done that!! My mother thinks I am nuts but it works for me. It’s so much easier to clean and organize an empty space than trying to work around other things that are already there but may not stay where they are.

I have to clean out/organize the closets in my sewing room and our downstairs guest bedroom – my sewing room will become our baby’s nursery and the sewing room will share with the guest bedroom. I am not sure how I will fit it all (I’m a bit of a fabric junkie) but I’m sure if I create a system – other than “just throw it in the closet and shut the door” – I will be able to manage everything.

Thank you for the inspiration!

admin - January 9, 2009 - 5:00 am

Hi Mary – I wish I could take credit for the how-to list, it’s a good one, isn’t it?

Just Pure Lovely – good to see you – love the photos on your site too!

Erin – how exciting, do you know what colors your going to be using for the nursery? You’ll have to put up pictures so I can see!

Another Deb - January 11, 2009 - 4:46 pm

I clicked here from Unclutterer and am so impressed! The office is beautiful, and not so sterile and milimalistic as a lot of them. This I can RELATE to! Good job on the new system and thanks for including all of the photos. I can never see too many before/after pics!

Nina - January 12, 2009 - 9:24 am

Looks really great and is inspiring for a “oh, I must keep this article/photo/great book!”-person like me. ;-)
One thing I pondered on when reading your text and seeing the pics: One thing I read in Declutter books that certainly holds true for me is: the “MISC” boxes and files come back to b… haunt you. They are like the zombies of decluttering.
If you ask decluttering-coaches or time-management coaches they will all point in horror at anything you file “misc”. It means it has no home, it has no real “project name” – and it will breed and multiply. ;-)
One thing I was shown and that has worked well for me is making hanging manila folders with names for these “misc”-thingies. New thing – make a named folder, throw it in. Go through them every few weeks, and after a while you see patterns that can be grouped into (named) boxes. Or things you can throw out with a little time passed. I abhorred these hanging folders before. Now I have an Ikea sideboard that hides two wide drawers with the things and that I can stand next to and use as a worktop, too, for sorting stuff. Works great.

тучка - January 12, 2009 - 1:27 pm

Отличный пост – слов нет. Спасибо.

Mimi - January 22, 2009 - 8:27 am

Managing paper has always been a nightmare for me. The best system ever is FileSolutions from the Container Store. You don’t have to figure ANYTHING out. It is brilliant!!

Lindz - January 23, 2009 - 8:39 am

This is CREEPY.

I saw the pictures on unclutterer and I had to come for a second look.

I have the same computer. Same shelves. Same Ikea boxes. Right down to The West Wing (I own the entire series) and the books (Vince Flynn, Brad Meltzer and others).

Mine totally looks like your “before” pictures though. But you have inspired me to take the weekend and make mine look like your “after” pictures. Keep your fingers crossed for me!

Melissa - January 23, 2009 - 8:39 am

That is fantastic and inspiring! I love how you pulled it all together. I came here through Unclutterer. Thanks for sharing!

Drug Testing - January 23, 2009 - 9:10 am

Thanks for the post!

Great Job! What a transition that made. The room looks so much neater i bet its alot easier to find things now!

Jessiejack - January 23, 2009 - 10:59 am

WOW–the space looks beautiful and much more functional- thanks for sharing the process and the photos along the way. It really helps me when I see what steps other people go through especially in complex organizing. You’ve inspired me to tackle my own work space which is way cluttered.

gina - January 23, 2009 - 11:52 am

I love the makeover. Inspires me to go take on my office… I love what you did with yours.

admin - January 23, 2009 - 12:08 pm

Nina – good point about the “misc.” tabs – I need to be careful with overusing those!

Mimi – isn’t the Container Store amazing? I could spend all day in there!

Lindz – I love it!! Nice to find someone with similar tastes!

Melissa – glad to see you! Isn’t Unclutterer great for getting inspirational ideas?

Jessie jack – what a nice comment! I hope it’s helped in some small way, if you decide to reorganize your space, be sure to send pictures!

Gina – thanks so much! You can do it!! :)

Rob - January 23, 2009 - 1:07 pm

Another uncluttererer here… A couple questions:

1. What are the drawer components you used on the left side of the desk? I’m looking around the Container Store website and don’t seem to see them in the Elfa section. I may head up there tomorrow to poke around, but if you have the name/style/link, etc. that’d be cool.

2. Where’d you get the sweet binder clips with the labels? That’s a great concept and I’d like to give it a go in my disaster.

Thanks and good luck keeping it clean and orderly!


admin - January 23, 2009 - 1:30 pm

Hi Rob – The drawers are called: Walnut elfa décor Drawer Frame and here’s the link:

the clips I believe I got at Staples but can’t remember for sure. Hope that helps and good luck organizing!!

Angie - January 23, 2009 - 1:45 pm

This is very inspiring. I’ll check out the YOU CAN DO IT book, too. I have been making inroads in my goals, but the messy office- not so much. Thanks.

Thom - January 23, 2009 - 5:08 pm

Impressive. Well done!

I’d only add (looking at your beautiful file clips) a bit of advice that a colleague gave to me once. She’d worked in archiving, among other things, and the rule she gently imposed in my tiny organisation when she arrived was “Never have a file called Miscellaneous”. I’ve carried that through to subsequent jobs and in my personal life and it can make a huge difference.

jamie - January 23, 2009 - 11:26 pm

hi! i saw your post on unclutterer. good job!! i actually thought the look of the top shelves on the before photo was alright and then the rest was a mess but yeah, you did a good job on this! it’s obvious that you prefer the colors red, white and black in your office space. nice color combination! not dull, not distracting either. just right for working. :P

admin - January 24, 2009 - 5:27 am

Angie – it’s actually a really fun book. Some of the items are hard to do, but it’s nice to have a challenge.

Thom – great suggestion! Someone else just mentioned that too so I’m going to give it some serious thought.

Jamie – Thanks, that’s so nice of you. I have to say that I’ve been so pleased with the space and it’s working so nicely!

Buzzlair - January 24, 2009 - 10:39 pm

its time for me to work hard on my office space (beside my bed)

AJ - January 25, 2009 - 6:44 pm

where’d you get that cool chair? - January 26, 2009 - 6:23 am


Melanie Thomassian - January 26, 2009 - 8:54 pm

Wow that looks amazing!! Well, done, and it totally inspires me to get more organised too! Thanks for the fab breakdown and pics, I also love your titled paper clip idea. Great article!

Melanie Thomassian - January 26, 2009 - 8:55 pm

BTW…how long did it take you in the end?

admin - January 27, 2009 - 5:27 am

Hi AJ – I got the chair from Staples actually. And it’s very comfortable!!

Hi Melanie – thanks!! hmm.. it took about four or five hours to get everything done. Not too bad considering the mess it was before. :)

Yvette - January 28, 2009 - 7:01 pm

The Container Store’s annual ELFA sale is going on right now! All elfa products are 30% off. Sale ends Feb. 9th so hurry and shop today in a store near you.

smikwily - January 29, 2009 - 10:48 am
ModernMommy - February 2, 2009 - 2:10 pm

Looks so good! Oh yes, I hate the papers that once you find you have no idea what to do with. I have a few stacks of those. This is only the second time I have heard of the Container Store. I can’t wait to get there myself!


Kara - February 26, 2009 - 4:15 pm

I love IKEA and all their organizing items!

Just for fun my sister is having an all out BLOG WAR with her husband, who is an Internet Marketing guru by trade and has been pulling some tricks out of his sleeve. So the gloves are off! Not to mention he was cheating on her the first day of the war, redirecting her traffic to his site! So all you wonderful bloggers out there – feel free to post about Karli and her blog war, you can even cut and paste her blog about it, she won’t mind in any way. Other ideas – post about it on your facebook or myspace profile, email all your friends and family.
Leave a comment on to let us know how you are promoting her site and you will be entered into a drawing for a great prize from our home decor store, we will ship anywhere

Ambiome - March 6, 2009 - 5:17 am

Amazing job ! It gives me inspiration :)

Hanging Closet Organizer - March 10, 2009 - 1:42 am

I have read several articles about hanging closet organizer but they didn’t give me the complete picture but finally you article has done when i found it on Tuesday.

Dade - March 15, 2009 - 2:34 pm

I dont usually comment, but after reading through so much info I had to say thanks

Serene - April 1, 2009 - 2:44 pm

I had to laugh. I just did a little reorganizing myself… er… if you can call it that. I lovingly call it my “Ghetto Shelf”. LOL!

Serene´s last blog post..Hello? Missing Persons?

Craig - April 25, 2009 - 4:25 pm

That clock is great. Where can I buy it?

Jessika - July 9, 2009 - 11:10 am

As we are preparing to move, I must say this is my aspiration. I shoudl start cutting out pretty pictures like this to prepare to tape to walls so B knows about what I hope to accomplish. I know he HATES clutter too, so this is good.

The good thing is, when I moved into his place, he left (to take the job down south). He hadn’t unpacked. I had the bar exam to study for, so I unpacked only the kitchen and essentials. Now, it’s easy to see that the stuff that was never unpacked… do we truly need it? I’m hoping that will make elimination easy and clutter will slowly ease…

Jessika´s last blog post..Dressing & a visit!

lori mckenna - October 13, 2009 - 9:00 pm

If you move you are actually FORCED to do this. Out with the old, in with the new! You did a great job with your organizing. Can you come to my house?



Kim D. - November 5, 2009 - 2:22 pm

WOW!!!! That’s amazing! Now, I am motivated. Unfortunately the closest container store is in either Madison or Minnesota (2-3 hours away) but I can always take stock of what I have and then order what I need.
.-= Kim D.´s last blog ..More is More, or is it Less is More? =-.

Containers - December 6, 2009 - 9:59 pm

Awesome great work.Simple and fantastic idea!After checking your website I am certainly impressed. What a great idea. I wish you a great success.


August Hinnenkamp - February 28, 2010 - 10:01 pm

Perhaps the most popular closet organizer is the hanging shoe organizer as this simply hangs from a closet rack which can hold from 10 to 20 pairs depending on the size you get. These also have creative uses in that you can also be able to fit your clothes and socks in the pocket. Not only are these collapsible to make it portable, but they are also affordable at well costing less than $20 in most cases.

Lucy - April 21, 2010 - 6:46 pm

Ooh! Twisted Peppermint body cream! Love it!
I’m super late on reading this post but I was just so curious! I’m a new reader of your blog and just got You Can Do It! in the mail yesterday after reading your posts about it. I’m definitely looking forward to this chapter! :D

closet organization systems - June 16, 2010 - 11:23 am

I am grateful for the write-up.

Michael Folger - January 27, 2011 - 10:54 am

The truth is, you probably could have saved a couple hundred dollars in “organizing supplies” and just thrown out 90% of the junk on your shelves. But hats off anyway…

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