Creating a Productive Homework Area

Posted by suevenman on Aug 21, 2013  

Ready or not, the new school year’s here!

I can almost hear the groans – from you parents! Getting the kids up and off; arranging for after school care for the little ones; trying to remember which kid is supposed to be at what after school activity when; and then, perhaps the toughest of the difficult-to-swallow pills, homework.

In her delightful article in the Washington Post, Nicole Anzia has some great suggestions for creating a homework space that smooths out some of the bumps along the homework highway. Even if you don’t have school age kids, her ideas can be used for setting up an out-of-the-office office space. Read the rest of this entry »

Your Very Important Papers

Posted by suevenman on Mar 8, 2013  

What to do with your V.I.P.s ~ Your Very Important Papers

In honor of tax time, I’ve been running a series on managing paperwork. The amount of paper we receive through snail mail, our kids’ schools and our own work has far outstripped our ability to deal with it. Every one of us needs a personal assistant to handle processing and filing!

In the last two posts I reviewed guidelines for what financial and medical papers to keep and for how long. If you missed any of the series, just scroll down and you’ll find them. Today’s topic is identifying and properly storing your VIPs ~ your Very Important Papers. Read the rest of this entry »

Sick of Medical Paperwork?

Posted by suevenman on Feb 20, 2013  

Mound of paper

In my last post in the series, “What the heck you do with all that paper?” I reviewed the keep vs. shred guidelines for financial papers. I heard from a couple of you about special circumstances where my advice wasn’t 100% accurate; self employment being one. So, my caveat: if you have special situations, please consult your accountant.

This week we’re tackling which medical records you need to keep. Every visit to the doctor, pharmacy transaction and insurance payment generates paper. Most of these papers end up either in the trash (often unopened) or in the nearly-toppling-over-figure-out-or-file-pile. So, here’s the plan: Read the rest of this entry »

What Financial Papers to Keep

Posted by suevenman on Feb 18, 2013  

Paper Tip #1:
What Financial Papers to Keep

Too much paper

Conquer Your Paper Overwhelm

About this time every year (this time meaning tax season) I like to run a series on dealing with paper. For most of us, the amount of paper we handle on a day to day basis far exceeds our ability to manage it. It is, by far, the biggest issue faced by Breathing Space clients and readers. So trust me, you’re not alone if you feel as though you’re about to be buried by a mountain of paper.

Often I hear from clients some version of, “I have an attic full of old checks and financial papers. How long do I have to keep them?” Read the rest of this entry »

Managing Those Paper Piles

Posted by suevenman on Sep 22, 2010  

Dear Breathing Space Readers,

At a  recent workshop the issue of PAPER PILES came up – as it always does!  With Fall underway and daily life shifting from outdoors to in,  paper and mail handling can become particularly annoying.

If the avalanche of paper is something you have conquered… bravo! Give yourself a gold star and skip the rest of this message.

Still here? Okay … The good news is that I’ve once again just seen our paper sorting method work for a client who had struggled with mail forever!

Here are the basics:

Assign ONE surface in your home for the mail. It needs to be at standing height and as close as possible to the door where you come in with the mail.

Clear this surface. If you have old piles there – put them in a box to handle as though they too are incoming mail. But, handle them AFTER you clear the surface.

This is now your one and only mail handling center. ALL incoming mail is placed here. Your goal is to clear this space every day. It REALLY is possible and gets faster and faster as you work the system.

Place recycling & trash bins right there so that while you stand sorting the mail you can TOSS EVERYTHING that isn’t absolutely something you intend to ACT ON.  ACT ON = Read, pay, answer or save (either because it is a treasure or because you HAVE TO save it – tax documents, etc.) Tear or cut credit card offers into several pieces so they can’t be used, or even better, have a shredder right at hand.

Assign a clear location for each of these ACT ON categories. This is where you plan to DEAL with them – Not on your counter. So, bills could go in an “Unpaid Bills” file on your desk; pieces that need a response could live in a basket near your comfy chair in the living room.

If more than one person in your household gets mail – then have an assigned place (basket/cubby) for their mail – in the same locale but not ON the clear surface.

Sort and deliver the mail daily.

This practice can become as habitual as brushing your teeth!

Try it and call or email us about where you get stuck.  And let us hear about your victories too!

Wishing you a great month,

Joanna & Sue


P.S.  One of our weekly “Declutterers” writes, “I liked the format.  It was ‘user-friendly’ all the way:  warm and flexible, informative and helpful.  I really felt right at home, and inspired to take on a couple of tasks tonight, as I said I would.  I mean to make max use of this wonderful opportunity to receive and share ideas and plans.”  If you’re interested in trying out our weekly decluttering call – – RISK FREE – let us know and we’ll sign you up for a trial session.  For more information, visit


Posted by suevenman on May 17, 2008  

If you are like most of us (me included) there is a TON of
information that comes at you every day – by email, snail mail,
radio, TV etc.

Decrease the volume and you will find it easier
to stay organized.

Mind you, it  takes an odd kind of bravery to be able to admit,
“In reality I DON’T have time to read that __________  every week.”
It takes courage to say, “I know enough about that topic for right
now. I can go to the library or re-subscribe when I REALLY need
more info.”

BUT piles of unread magazines or dozens of unread e-zines won’t make
you happier or smarter.  I promise.

Once you are clear about that, you CAN (yes- you really can)
cancel a subscription. Sure you can GIVE away the extra magazines
AFTER your receive them, or delete an e-zine but even that takes
time and attention. It IS possible to unsubscribe!

If you feel burdened by the ton of subscriptions piling up… try
cancelling at least one and see how it feels.

How Much is Enough?

Posted by suevenman on May 14, 2008  

This is definitely a question that comes up often in my work.
A while back a sweet young Mom asked me HOW MUCH STUFF was the
right amount for her daughter.

At that time her daughter (I’ll call her Sara) was 4. Toys,craft
materials, and children’s books were taking over the kitchen and
living room as well as Sara’s bedroom and it was making the whole
family miserable. These young parents wanted to provide as much
opportunity as possible but knew that something wasn’t working.

We talked about it for a while and I finally asked,”How much can
she (Sara – not the Mom! ) manage well. What I meant was — what can SHE cope with/use and then put away so it isn’t all over the place and what does she REALLY love?”

The answer to that was simpler than either of us expected and working with that as our measuring stick we were able to figure out how much should be available for daily use, what should be tucked away, and what was way too much for any little girl (and her parents) to have to manage.

The question of manageability has continued to be one of the key concepts in helping folks make their spaces work for them.


Then last week a long time friend and I stayed at a lovely monastery for a
brief retreat. During lunch one of the monks asked what I do and we
were instantly into a discussion about clutter – yes, even monks!

Asked for my most important piece of advice, I said, ” If you are
doing what you want to do and clutter isn’t causing problems, then
don’t worry about it. After a few seconds I added, “and less is more.”

There are so MANY helpful strategies. I keep a running list of them to
share with you over time, but bottom line, you have my most crucial
advice right here:

1)If you are doing what you want to do and clutter isn’t causing
problems, then don’t worry about it

2)Ask yourself: How much (of _______ ) can I manage well?

Give it a try… and let me know what you discover.

Organizing & Feng Shui etc.

Posted by suevenman on May 9, 2008  

Amelia Kinney kindly gave me permission to use her email to me
in full – has some great ideas and alternate perspectives!
Thank You Amelia!

I want to also wish you all – a HAPPY MOTHER’S DAY! The way I
see it- we all (female and male) take on the mother role at times !

From Amelia:

Dear Joanna,

I’ve been doing massive deep cleaning, sorting, purging and
organizing for some months now.  And I’ve been following your tips,
after having hired a Feng Shui specialist two years ago.

In regard to your 3/13 e-tip, I would have to differ.  I decided I
could not wait to buy organizing tools, having lived with heavy
chaos for the past 11 years.  I purge, sort and organize all at the
same time.  I’ve found that having and using organizing tools
before I’ve finished purging and sorting gives me some peace of
mind while tackling the rest of the task at hand.

I began my creating order odyssey with my smallest room, the
bathroom; it happens to fall in my Wealth Gua. And I knew I needed
money or wealth to complete the rest of my home.  I organized and
painted the bathroom so well that magical money and resources
landed in my lap that enabled me to go back to school and start my
own business.  I didn’t even have a car that would drive me back &
forth to my school.  But the car happened, too.

I was tackling my work desk the other week and I realized that in
order for me to keep my sanity and to keep up my motivation to
continue purging, sorting and organizing I had to use organizing
tools as I went along–not at the end.  Even if only one corner of
one room is clear and organized, that space provides clarity of
mind.  In fact, as I think back, I began my efforts two+ years ago
with clearing the kitchen table, that is, taking everything off of
it and wiping it down.  A clear kitchen table:  just that amount of
external clarity provided enough internal clarity not to be
overwhelmed with a whole houseload of chronic and severe chaos.

I also hire a friend from time to time to help me keep up with the
basics, like doing dishes and vacuuming.  When I have no money I
barter services or goods for services.  In the beginning, in
exchange for an hour’s cleaning I would cook a complete homemade
dinner.  That way we both ate and my house was clean–if still

Get a paper shredder.  I got mine off of

Getting bookshelves was a very important event for me.

If you’re are like me, make sure you date boyfriends or girlfriends
who like to clean and organize.  That helps immensely.  Myself, I
hate cleaning, sorting and organizing.  It’s just not where my
aptitudes lie.

  1. The past is the past is the past: when in doubt throw it out.
  2. When shopping for new or recycled things:  when in doubt, leave it out (don’t buy it).

Amelia Kinney—Yes, you can use any of my suggestions!

Your “Spare” Time & STUFF!

Posted by suevenman on Apr 18, 2008  

I haven’t forgotten you though last week’s TIP DAY went right by
without a peep from me. In fact( in my thoughts) I was talking with
you most of last Sunday while I sat on my living room floor weeding
through ancient papers. And ever since then I’ve been having an
ongoing “conversation” with you about time,energy and STUFF!

Here’s a short summary…

Luckily Sunday was cold so it wasn’t so bad spending the WHOLE
afternoon and evening – NINE HOURS- inside reading old letters etc.
There were a couple of sermons my grandfather wrote in 1915;letters
my mother wrote to my grandmother in 1944 – and letters I wrote
in 1955 and so on. Yoiks! Reading those letters corrected some
of the “facts” I thought I knew about my life. But do they matter?

Here’s the thing — the plus and minus of stuff.

There are current activities I really care about…the El
Salvador scholarship project, learning Spanish, time with my family,
my 91 year old dad and so on.

I think there is a real questions about the importance of old papers
(sorry historians). If my mother hadn’t held onto those boxes after
my grandmother died and if I hadn’t kept them when my Mom died —
would I be any worse off?

I think of my dear friends in the little village in El Salvador who
have NO boxes of old papers — does that make their life worse or
better? And their kids have no toys or at most ONE…yet they play

I’ve agreed with my daughter that I will keep a SMALL sampling of the
old papers to pass on to her- ONE BOX. But I really do think that moment
by moment or day by day it comes down to a decision of HOW DO I WANT
TO SPEND MY TIME? What matters most to me- TO YOU?

STUFF definitely uses up time.Today I leave you with a QUESTION.
How do you want to use YOUR spare time?

Letting Go – Try it!

Posted by suevenman on Mar 28, 2008  

With Spring arriving – slowly in Vermont- more quickly further
south, I am beginning to hear lots of conversations about SPRING
CLEANING and have decided to take a moment with you to consider
the touchy subject of LETTING GO. I know personally, as well as in
my work, that it isn’t so easy!

What about one client’s photo albums from 30 years of teaching?
What about the Doonesbury cartoons from the ’70s? For me – it’s what
about all the letters I’ve saved? And what about the 12 years of
newspaper articles on organizing?

The spaces I currently have for storage are full and I have NO desire
to create additional storage. I know by experience that at some point,
someone will have to deal with my stuff. So what to do?

If I want to declutter I have to take some time to consider my
personal reality with questions like:  When I have free time how do
I truly choose to use it? Is that likely to change radically? If I
couldn’t go anywhere (due to physical challenges) how would I
actually spend my time? What IS this stuff all about for me?

I know that the Doonesbury books were taken to a used bookstore
where you can put credit on an account for future book purchases. I’ll
let you know what the teacher does with her albums.

And me? I’ve decided to do a major paper sorting in the next month and pare
way down. I’m not a historian and have no desire to be one.  So I’m
going to try keeping sample letters and sample articles and see how
that goes. I’ll also follow my own advice to write the date of when
I make the Keep decision – on each item. Then on down the road I
can see how long it takes me to look again at the things I’ve kept.

What is the stuff that gives you trouble?  Want to make April the
month for dealing with it?  I’d love to hear what you do!  And if
you get stuck, feel free to email or call.