Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Must Haves: #1 The Organizer

Isn't this beautiful? Isn't it blissful? My friend Andrea is a decorator. Her house is one of the nicest I know, friendly and pretty and light, full of dogs and children, good food and wine, with a lovely old garden, balconies and blue-green shutters. Dinners are her house are always a family affair and her tables are invariably beautiful, decorated with fruits and flowers and various objets d'art she's found in her travels. She has an enormous collection of old tablecloths, some French damask, some mid-century American, some arts & crafts and she's not afraid to mix these bright colors with even brighter napkins, usually in shades of pink or orange or palest green. Her plates and glasses run the gamut too, from exquisite Venetian colored glass to extraordinarily pretty tumblers she just happened upon at Target. Great platters are placed on the table, and there is always a lively conversation. As her house is in Santa Monica, not far from the beach, one always feels as if one is on holiday. I want to whizz up her street on my bicycle, cotton skirt flying in the wind, plimsolled feet pedalling madly.

But one thing wise Miss Andrea knows is her limitations, and after an enormously challenging move into this house last summer, from a house that was slightly bigger (but not quite as charming) she was left with an enormous stockpile of extra stuff and not enough cupboards to put it in. So what did she do? She called an Organizer. Home Organizers are to the Noughties in Los Angeles are what shrinks were to the Nineties (although no-one goes to a therapist any more; Lifecoaches have replaced them). Andrea's office at the last house was a tiny little room overflowing with bolts of fabric, glossy magazines, children's drawings, ribbons, wrapping paper, cook books, stuffed birds, dog beds, flowers and antique vases. Layers of pictures were propped on every wall. This time, she vowed, it would be different. The Organizer would see to that.

Two women with rolled-up sleeves and a can-do spirit spent two days going through every single pencil, paper, envelope & book to create an office space so deliciously clean and sorted that you would want to sleep in it. Or sleep with it.

Let's pretend that this is Blue Peter. On Blue Peter we learn that we can do absolutely anything ourselves, as long as we are armed with a roll of sticky-backed plastic and a couple of old Baked Bean cans. I did this myself on Tuesday (she says, smugly).

What you will need:

1) A label-making machine or white sticky labels and a Sharpie pen (good penmanship helps)
2) White index cards (for labeling piles)
3) File folders (buff are standard; I prefer pale blue but only because I saw them at the Container Store; no doubt you can find them in any color your little heart desires)
4) Clear plastic envelopes of different sizes (for stamps, passports, documents, sticks, pressed leaves, etc)
5) Paper, wicker, bamboo, fabric or good old cardboard boxes in various sizes (but they are much more pleasing to the eye if of the same size, shape and color because then you can create your own endlessly satisfying little military rows of the buggers)
6) A ruthless state of mind (to identify rubbish and have the gumption to throw it out)
7) A patient heart (I've found playing Philip Glass music, loudly, helps with this)

Organizing your workspace has rather illusory but not un-useful effects. It actually allows you to feel that you have a modicum of control over your life. If you, like me, panic every time you have to pay a bill, or spend endless hours making lists you promptly lose, this simple exercise will bring you wonderful and instant peace of mind. It is a little like wellbutrin, something to which I can attest, but without the dry mouth or the need to fall asleep after one glass of wine.

If you, like me, spent most of your working life in a large office with a very good and bossy assistant taking care of all your organizational needs, you may have found re-adjustment to civilian life difficult. I know I did. I was used to a spotlessly clean desk every day, immaculately kept files and even, sometimes, flowers. I lived in a glass castle. My contacts were immediately entered into the database which was instantaneously synced with my computer and my mobile phone. My friends and clients birthdays were remembered, their children's birthdays were marked, and even favorite restaurants, masseuses and flower shops noted. It was Hollywood. I was spoiled rotten by them and I feel an enormous debt of gratitude to each one. Here and now, please let me apologize for my bad behaviour, my shoe habit, my disorganized ways, my utter foulness. But my organized office was my absolute saviour.

So now I sound like an ass. But, this is something that you can do which will make you very very pleased with yourself and will make your life just a little bit easier**. Here are some of the tools I used:

White magazine holders, letter trays & boxes, and plastic folders from The Container Store, which also gives excellent advice at its website:

  • Compatmentalize
  • De-clutterize
  • Categorize
  • Utilize
  • Minimalize
And here are my box files:

And do of course remember to leave some space for the dogs:

Other places with great tips on organizing:

Real Simple
The fabulous Martha Stewart

** You can of course call the amazing Mary Astadourian who did transformed Andrea's office:


Vera Anderson said...

Brilliant! I always leave the container store a) with something I didn't need but couldn't resist, and b) wanting more! Xox Vera

Liberty London Girl said...

Gah. Am unbecoming shade of pea green. I was like this in London. I adore being organised. And I can't do it in the US as I move continually. (Altho I do have a v large collection of Container Store stuff to keep what I do have organised, but it's just not the same.)

Goodness I miss my wondrous London kitchen (I had long stainless steel shelves filled with glass vessels against a sage green wall) and my bedroom closets with the little cubby holes just for my shoes.It makes me depressed just thinking about it. LLGxx

Clare said...

Ah, as usual.. there is soooo much to read and see. My friend in real life honeymoon1, who is so lovely but has only used twitter in the past to amuse her husband, me and some of our friends.. is kind of scared to be followed.
She said.. i've got seem to be followed by some of your followers..... and they all seem lovely.. (agreed) but can i please pleae have Bumbles life and her calm demeanour.. Well, NO, if BW is giving away her life, tis mine.

Miss Whistle said...

Vera, me too. The Container Store is more dangerous than Costco.

LLG, soon you will be here and you too will be able to create shoe cubby holes (I want some -- how divine). You are in England, in the country, and it's summmertime - doesn't get much better than that.

Clare, that is honestly the nicest thing anyone has ever said to me. I have a new bounce in my step. Thank you for being so sweet and sharing!

Thank you all so much for your comments. Incredibly grateful.


-- MissW

mothership said...

I seem to spend all of my life buying containers, labeling them, placing the appropriate objects into them and then turning around and finding that my family and perhaps my non-English speaking cleaner have amused themselves by taking the contents out and strewing them on every available horizontal surface in our house. This takes them approximately .25 of a second.
I would like to live in your friend's office and commute to my house for meal and bathtimes, please.

Miss Whistle said...


I think we all have the same fantasy. We all want to live, breathe, sleep in A's office. I just stepped outside to look at mine and realized that there is still organizational work to be done. Isn't it nice to know that there are people who do this for a living and actually enjoy it?


-- Miss W