Fa La La La…Last Minute Gifts


On the ninth day of Christmas….Oh hello there!  You aren’t singing Christmas carols? Could it be because you are pulling your hair out or falling down on the slippery sidewalk running from your car to a bunch of shopping malls, wishing you were anywhere else in the world?  Having one of those hot toddies people always talk about? Last minute Christmas shopping is absolutely the WORST!!!!!

There are ways to conquer the last minute holiday shopping and gift giving, stay off the roads and out of the malls, get gifts for everyone on your list, not break the bank, and actually make yourself as well as your loved ones really happy.

Let’s start with the obvious:  it is late in the game. So if you are willing to spend a bit of extra money, you can buy many wonderful gifts online from many wonderful sources, and have them shipped in time for an arranged docking time with Santa and his elves.  I am a big fan of small independent companies like The Grommet for interesting inventive gadgets, Uncommon Goods for an array of gifts from art to food to toys to jewelry, Food 52 for kitchen and food items, Mouth for food stuffs, Huckberry for cool outdoor and knickknack gear, Guideboat, and Olive and Cocoa for beautiful things for the home, men, women, babies, florals.  There are also the large online catalogue companies that can accommodate pretty much any gift whim you have if you are willing to spend the money: LL Bean, Land’s End, Orvis, William Sonoma, Sharper Image, Hammacher Schlemmer, and many more.

I also love the idea of giving the gift of a subscription service to something:  a floral subscription for 3 or 6 or 12 months, a food subscription, a music or movie subscription.  These can get to be expensive, so find one that will work within your budget, but will give your friend or loved one an ongoing gift, that he or she will remember and enjoy for the entire year.  I really like Farmgirl Flowers and Enjoy Flowers because they are locally sourced, and are women owned. I also covet the floral subscriptions from Olive and Cocoa (hint hint). Mouth has reasonably priced food subscriptions and I have actually given gifts to people from their collections before and have gotten great feedback, but I know there are many other great food companies online that do subscriptions. There are also App subscriptions in all shapes and sizes depending on interests.  For example, if you are a yoga practitioner, there are a number of yoga app subscriptions, like Asana Rebel, you can buy for a friend or loved one that he or she might have wanted but have put on the back burner. The same idea for a reader, with an online book app like Audible.  

In that same vein, giving lessons or life experiences for gifts is to me so much more personal than a sweater, or a purse, or makeup.  Cooking lessons, music lessons, art lessons, sailing lessons, horseback riding, knitting lessons, you name it. Anything you can learn, can be taught, and therefore can be given as a gift. This year I know a little one who is getting swimming lessons because she already loves the water, and since she already has so many books and toys and clothes, her parents requested this as a gift, and her grandparents jumped at the idea.

Giving yourself as a gift is a fabulous way to show your thoughtfulness to family and friends, and it costs much less than a traditional gift.  What I mean is offering yourself as a helper, an assistant: “My Christmas gift to you this year is dinner and clean up one night a month for three months, of your choosing.”, “My Christmas gift to you is babysitting for you and your spouse one weekend afternoon or evening, every month for the next six months.” “My Christmas gift to you is to give you three hours of organization anywhere in your home.”  There are so many options that you can come up with, and believe me when I say that this can be one of the best gifts a friend or relative will ever receive.

Another wonderful idea in terms of gifting for the person who has everything and wants to have less in his or her life is the gift of a donation to a charitable cause in his or her name.  It should be a charity he or she aligns with, something that matters. The InLieu App makes it super easy to do this and, even better, provides anyone on the app to match your donation if they feel inclined! I personally don’t think you can give a nicer gift than that.

If you want to buy clothing or accessories for women and men I encourage buying from small ethical, sustainable companies like Amour Vert, Cuyana, and Everlane.  They care about the environment and they give back to countries they source from.

Finally, if you just can’t think of anything, and I know that you can always fall back on the gift card.  But just remember, put it in something really, really festive so your recipient won’t forget about it or misplace it, and don’t buy the kind that expire. Check out some fresh, eco-friendly ideas for wrapping here!

And before I go, I wanted to remind you that you can always give the gift of organizing! As a special gift to all of you I am offering my services:

  • 3 hours of in-person organizing for the price of 2 hours (for those that live in the DC Metro Area)
  • 2 hours of online organizing coaching + $75 giftcard to the Container Store

Now, how about that hot toddy? What is a toddy anyway?

Merry merry and happy happy from The Organizer!

Bah Humbug! A Personal Note on the Holidays (Part II)


When the girls started receiving Chanukah gelt (money/coins in various denominations) we asked them to pick a day that they wanted to give that gelt back to a charity of their choice (with no influence from us) — it could be a food bank, a homeless shelter, a shelter for animals — they got to choose.  It made them feel great. When it came to their gifts, we also tried the approach of: one gift that was something really wanted or needed and then a few little gifts or small stacks of coins that were then donated. This way, they got something they really treasured, but also gave something back that they knew someone else would cherish.

I found that for me, this newly framed approach to gifting really changed the way I felt about the whole buying and giving experience because, I was honestly in a place that going to shopping malls was making me miserable and catalogue shopping was becoming an addictive habit.  I always felt like I was missing something or that I had to compete for the next best thing.  I was always spending way more than I should or needed to and the pre-holiday mail was adding up to 200+ catalogues cluttering our house which was, as an organizer, added a whole other level of stress to the entire experience. 

So with a few little adjustments, my family was able to reframe the entire gifting experience.  Here are a few tips from what I’ve learned:

  1. Make a shopping listThere is nothing more dangerous than going into the holiday gift buying experience without a plan.  It often leads to thoughtless gifts and overspending. Making a list — and better yet, asking your family for their list — will help you make sure that you’re mindfully purchasing and gifting things that you know each person will love and treasure.
  2. Make a budget:  This is a crucial step. No one should ever put themselves into debt trying to show their love to their friends and family…it’s not worth it. When I make my holiday gift budget I break it into three parts: 1) money allocated for gifts, 2) money allocated for donations, 3) money allocated for the service men and women that provide for us throughout the year.  To me, it is important to acknowledge the gentleman who delivers our newspaper every morning at 5 am, and our mail carrier, who we know by name, and the garbage and recycling guys, and the lady who has been cutting my hair for forever, because these folks give 100% and I think it is important to say “Thank You”, if not with a cash gift, then something thoughtful, like cookies, or another homemade treat.
  3. Shop: I like to first go through the catalogues and pull out the few items that I think or know that family or friends might like, order, and then recycle them. If I find there are catalogues that I’m not interested in, I will also contact the catalogue companies and request them to stop circulation so that the amount of paper that comes into my home decreases throughout the year. If there are some gaps that have to be filled by shopping in a store I try to go as early on a weekend as possible to avoid the rush, and therefore avoid the stress.
  4. Wrap: Once I am home with my purchases and my lists I try to wrap with eco- friendly paper and tags (I’m getting better at this and have been using this guide by one of my favorite zero waste bloggers to help me) and put each gift to the side either in my office or in a closet with the list so things are ready to go but not cluttering up my space.

I also want to say that as each year passes, I find myself shopping from companies that encourage eco-friendly sourcing or small batching of their products so that I am helping the environment and helping small businesses, and now that my children are adults, and I have my first grandchild, buying experiences as gifts seems to have a lot more meaning and go a lot further.

Remember the adage:  It’s the thought that counts.  And at this time of year, it really is the thought that counts.  Happy Stress Less Holidays! 

Bah Humbug! A Personal Note on the Holidays (Part I)


I really don’t hate the holidays. I really don’t! I just hate the shopping, and the spending, and the worrying, and the waste, and the debt, and the competition, and the greed, and the commercialism, and the….did I say I don’t hate the holidays?

I grew up in a household that celebrated a non-religious Christmas with all the fixings and very little of the true meaning. So I had an enormous tree, elegant decorations, hundreds of presents, including a real life dog every few years or so, and of course a very festive and fancy blow out holiday party.  We got dressed up in our best velvet clothing brought down from my grandparents in New York City. My brothers didn’t beat each other up for exactly 15 minutes and stayed cleaned for that same amount of time. My mother looked gorgeous and my father was dressed in a tux. Lots of people showed up and lots of people ate catered foods and drank a lot of alcohol.  There were songs inside and out and I thought this was absolutely normal. Did I mention that we were Jewish? Which was never discussed. Well, my favorite part of this time of year was not the presents, although there would be one or two special gifts that I would treasure — and of course I took great care with wrapping paper and ribbon and cards ( let’s face it:  I was an organizer with OCD tendencies even then )– but there were wonderful holiday movies on the television, like It’s a Wonderful Life, and multiple versions of A Christmas Carol (including Mr. Magoo’s). Those were my favorite. They encouraged kindness, and family support, and helping others. Those ideas stuck with me.

Then the crash came.  Not the financial, but the familial.  My parents had a very ugly divorce right at Thanksgiving and Christmas became horrible for so many reasons.  I actually wanted to climb into bed until it and the new year revelries were over. People sharing time with their families from the end of November until January 2nd made me depressed and all I wanted was to get on with life and be constructive somehow.  

That began to change when I met my husband, and now my partner of 35 years, Paul. He wanted to bring the holidays back into my life with a sense of joy and cheer and also treats.  And he did that. He is generous, sometimes to a fault. His family was also so incredibly generous to me, and each and every gift was given with such love and joy and I opened each gift with eyes gleaming and a true sense of wonder.  I continued to do this with our three marvelous, darling little girls.

As time went on, we were celebrating both Christmas and Chanukah and I could feel that it was beginning to be a bit overwhelming, for the children (kids lose interest in toys after a while when there are so many) and definitely for me.  I was always planning and focusing on what would be perfect gifts for each one of my girls, for my husband, for my family members, for friends, for everyone else, and my head was spinning. It was too much. Too much spending, too much wrapping, too much entertaining, too many holiday cards.  As the girls got older, we started to encourage homemade gifts and giving back. So instead of getting gifts all eight nights of Chanukah, we taught the girls about giving to causes of their choosing as a gift to the causes and therefore a gift to themselves. They also did this with toys they received for Christmas.  When we no longer had an au pair living with us, we decided that since no one in our house was Christian we would only celebrate Chanukah and continue the tradition of giving some of what we got back to those less fortunate.  It gave my girls and us a real sense of happiness, pride and calm.

Stay tuned for Part II of my personal note on the holidays.



Why would anyone hire a professional organizer?

alisa-anton-692066-unsplashPhoto by Alisa Anton on Unsplash

It’s GO Month (Get Organized) according to the National Association of Professional Organizers, so it’s a great time to answer the question:  why would anyone hire an organizer? Well, I have been doing this for over 23 years now and the answers are pretty much the same; they fit into three categories.

  1. “I am so overwhelmed by all of the stuff that I have that I am actually losing things, like the bills and invitations, and clothing.  Each time I try to get a handle on all the paper and my clothing, more paper and more clothing seem to come in.”
  2. “I just don’t have the time and/or the patience to deal with all my stuff.  And frankly, I hate organizing it. Why not hire a professional who can take that burden off my shoulders?”
  3. ‘I really like being organized but I have no clue where to begin.”

Other reasons come into play as well, but these three are what I hear most of the time. People often call me because a loved one needs downsizing, or is a hoarder living in a dangerous situation.  Yes, I specialize in helping hoarders. Clients with hoarding issues can be tough, but helping them is so fulfilling during and at the end of a project. Hoarders need tremendous compassion, patience and tough love. A tricky combination.

I also love when a client calls and asks me to create systems for him/her.  Whether it be paper filing, computer filing or home items, i.e., kitchens, closets, bathrooms, storage.  I am a believer that you must break down the clutter before you can set up the systems and I am one of those organizers who tells clients DO NOT BUY ANYTHING at the Container Store or Target or anywhere else until we see what kind of space we have to play with.  Don’t get me wrong. The Container Store and upscale organizing products are my crack! I love boxes, and shelving, and hangers, and matching bathroom and desk accessories and oh my God! I adore linens! But I have seen too many new clients who have gone out and spent a great deal of money on items they will never use and then it’s a question of whether they get it together to take these things back to the store and get their money back.  Nine times out of 10 it becomes more clutter.

Paper clients have discovered that I am able to not only sort out what is a necessary keep, but what items may actually allow them to reclaim money.   We go through all paper and throw out those items that are not needed for finances, taxes, calendar events, and important memorabilia. To be able to get taxes in on time, use coupons successfully, and carry out appointments because they are actually found on the calendar, makes life so much easier to navigate.  The discovery of new found money or an old stock certificate that is now worth something is such a wonderful and welcome surprise.

I have many years of experience in assessing quickly and efficiently what a client needs by way of organization. I’ve seen everything. Systems for paper, memorabilia, art, closets, clothing, books, hobbies, tools, kitchens, garages and attics – I’ve done them all. There is an extraordinary sense of relief and lightness that my clients feel after their overwhelming clutter is addressed. For many, their houses are now open and clear and organized, and they can invite friends over for the first time in many years. Such a gift!

Organizers come in all shapes and sizes.  There are those of us who are just starting out, having been stay-at-home parents.  There are those of us who come to organizing from different professions but have a knack, an ability to see clear uncluttered space.  There are those of us who absolutely can’t stand dealing with paper, and those who love just organizing pantries and closets. Hoarding is tough for all organizers, but with some seasoning an organizer can find incredible satisfaction with those clients.  But one of the things I think a really good organizer must have is a willingness to get down and dirty. Telling a client what to do, homework as it were, doesn’t always work. Clients need you to do the work with them, and they appreciate it. And I personally believe you have to connect with your clients, have an emotional understanding of them and their needs and issues.  I want my clients to know who I am, so that they feel we are on fair and equal footing. I am not superior, but I am there with the skill set to tackle something that they have difficulty doing, and to always tackle it with a smile and flexibility. 

If you find yourself in need of extra guidance, please contact me at claudia@taskier.net or (202)253-9619.

How to Stay Organized During the Back-to-School Chaos


When you hear Back to School, what do you think of?  If you’re a kid, you might hide under the bed, hang out in the swimming pool as long as you can, turning into a prune, or ask to be adopted by your best friend’s mom (although she is going to send you off to school as well…tough luck).  

If you’re a mom or dad, you might have mixed feelings:  whew! the summer is finally over, my little one is so grown up, or holy cow! I haven’t gotten any of the supplies they need, and there is so much to do before the first day (i.e. signing up for bus routes, sign up for after school activities, get supplies…so many supplies). Oh by the way, did your kids complete their summer reading?

You’re frantic and exhausted even before you meet Mrs. X, this year’s teacher.  

Relax!  You are not alone.  Not at all. After 26 years having three kids in school, getting them settled into college dorms, and now houses I’ve had plenty of time to make mistakes and learn from them along the way. I have a pretty good idea of what you really need to do in order to get everyone, including yourself, organized for the beginning of school.

By now, many of you are already in Back to School mode, but it’s still early enough to get yourselves into a place and space that is calm and runs smoothly for you and the kids.  

Before we begin, I also want to disabuse the notion that you must buy everything, and I mean everything, new each and every year.  You don’t and I believe that you can save money, time, and the environment while getting them everything that they need.  

So, how can you do it? 

First, sit down and make a list for each child.  What classes are they taking (both during and after school), what supplies do they need, what days and times do all of them happen, who is responsible for pick-up and drop-off. A big reusable,  erasable family calendar is always a good idea in a central location like the  kitchen, hallway or parent’s office. This will help record projects and their due dates, after-school activities, playdates, doctors appointments and back to school for Mom and Dad.

Second, set aside time. If they aren’t in school yet this year, you have the flexibility to shop on off hours for supplies so that you are not standing in line at Staples or the Container Store or Target for three hours wishing you were anywhere else. If you are a working parent this is harder so I suggest looking online first with your kids, getting their ok, and then purchasing supplies in the evening, or weekend, or even simply ordering online with a delivery fee. Amazon is a great option because with the yearly Prime Membership fee you can buy pretty much anything and everything you are going to need for school and it will be delivered to your door by the next day.  

Third, adopt the reuse mentality.  Lots of notebooks and pens/pencils can be used for a second year, so don’t discard them from the previous year.  Weed through and keep those items that are still in good repair and clean. School supplies can be expensive and reusing what you already have can save you time and money.  Obviously there are things that will need to be bought new each year, but things like books and calculators can be bought used (if they are the correct models and printings). As for college supplies, my girls used their blankets, comforters, sheets and towels throughout all four years. My best tip is to get everything washed and bagged for the summer so that they are ready to go for the trip back to school.  Again saving you a lot of time and money.

Fourth, make sure that each and every evening everything is prepped for the next day. This takes practice but it is so worth it! If backpacks are by the door, clothes are laid out, lunch foods are ready so that they can be packed in five minutes in the morning, you are going to save so much time and avoid so much stress. As your kids get older they are going to want to have more input, pick their own clothes, and handle their backpacks, but with an early start and practice of this routine, it will be second nature to them.

Finally, make it a practice to have a weekly family meeting. Even for just a few minutes.  Everyone gets input and everyone knows what is going on. If there are upcoming teacher meetings, large school projects, or any needs that have been missed, it is a perfect time to discuss and plan to update. This is a great time to update that large family calendar as well. While you update, you can also use it as a teaching opportunity for your kids on how to keep their own personal calendar. It will keep everyone on track and it’s a great habit to get into.

As always, it’s important to have flexibility. Things will not always run smoothly and things will pop up out of the blue but having an overall template will help everyone in your family navigate the new school year organized and chaos free. I’d love to hear how your year is starting out and if you find yourself in need of extra guidance, please contact me at claudia@taskier.net or (202)253-9619.

I will check back in in a few weeks to give you ideas for tweaking the year.