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Slides from “Organizing Your Home” talk

- Author: Crystal

Huge thanks go to Duke University’s Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI) for giving me the opportunity to present today as part of the OLLI Conscious Aging Series!

Click HERE to see slides from this talk, called “Organizing Your Home”.

Thoughts on this? Other ideas? Post a comment, or write to Crystal and let her know!

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How to handle “I’ll deal with it later”

- Author: Crystal

istock_000003520880xsmall“I’ll deal with it later” is a phrase that folks commonly use to dismiss or avoid an important organizing task they don’t want to face at the moment. But “I’ll deal with it later” is also a subtle form of procrastination and has a tendency to contribute to a disorganized lifestyle.

I offer a simple, (albeit potentially slightly uncomfortable) exercise which can help curb this habit, at least for the short-term. Here’s how it works with my Sparkleize clients:

  • First, guide this person toward identifying the discrete action(s) that would be required for them to “deal with it later”. For example, let’s say the item in question is a box of miscellaneous junk. I often take my clients way outside the boundaries of their usual comfort zone by asking probing questions to identify the action required. To continue with the example, let’s say that ultimately they need to look at each item in the box and decide which items to keep and which to give to a donation center.
  • Next, encourage the person to write out these actions on the box itself – preferably by affixing a brightly colored sticky note indicating exactly what step(s) to take to “deal with” that box.
  • Finally, assign this task as homework to them, and follow up (or help them select another friend or family member to follow up).

This exercise — being forced to identify the discrete task and being accountable to getting it done — has the potential to help change procrastination habits. It establishes a tangible step that can be taken rather than their usual amorphous “deal with it later” which has no starting place. I suspect that the latter is a major factor in the feelings of being overwhelmed and difficulty making decisions which so often plague the disorganized.

Thoughts on this? Other ideas? Post a comment, or write to Crystal and let her know.

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Living with organized chaos

- Author: Crystal

istock_000005724765xsmallSensational organizing shows on TV and magazines like RealSimple and Martha Stewart Living can make us set expectations for ourselves way too high. We get discouraged because we can’t seem to make our homes look that amazing and be that perfectly organized.

Organized chaos

In reality, I believe it is absolutely okay and normal for life to include some organized chaos. To me, organized chaos means having a space where things “belong” but which isn’t necessarily categorized, sorted and packaged to perfection.

Real-world examples

  1. The junk drawer. Most people – probably even Martha Stewart – have at least one junk drawer in their home, because they serve an important function. It’s a place to put stuff that doesn’t seem to fit anywhere else, such as unidentified hardware, old keys, chip clips, matches, etc. Yours may be a tangled mess of random odds and end, but if you’re looking for some specific piece of junk, you know what drawer to look for it in, right? The junk drawer is organized in the sense that it is there to hold (in general) what it’s supposed to, even though it can be pretty chaotic inside.
  2. Tax files. During the past year, my 2008 tax folder sat in the filing cabinet and served as a receptacle for tax forms of all kinds. I would throw them into the folder willy nilly as they were received. It wasn’t until last weekend (when we finally did our taxes!) that I pulled the folder out of the file cabinet and opened it. Even though the contents of the file were a mess, the existence of the folder itself was a godsend.
  3. The “Man Shelf”. Similarly, I created my husband’s “man shelf” to reflect his laid-back organizing style. A shelf of bins, each one designated for a different type of item (music, computer, gaming, etc.), gives him both:
  • Enough structure to be a bit organized, and
  • Freedom to be chaotic (he can simply toss things into the bins)

A metaphor for life

The idea of organized chaos can be a metaphor for life. In most situations, we can only do the best we can to prepare ourselves for the onslaught of life’s challenges. We set up systems as best we can, but if things aren’t perfectly arranged inside of those systems, it’s not the end of the world. We’ll deal with the details when we get there.

Thoughts on this? Other ideas? Post a comment, or write to Crystal and let her know!

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Cleaning vs. Organizing

- Author: Crystal

I like having a clean home, but I utterly detest cleaning. Most people are surprised to hear this. Especially because they know how much I love organizing.

In fact, I frequently find myself in conversations in which I’m pointing out the differences between cleaning, tidying and organizing. In my mind, all three are entirely distinct undertakings involving different activities and a different thought process (and perhaps even a different state of mind!)

What’s the difference?

  • Cleaning. Involves the use of cleaning products and/or tools (e.g., rags, brushes, paper towels, brooms), as well as elbow grease. Examples of cleaning activities are sweeping, vacuuming, scrubbing, etc (click here to learn more about Maid2Match Perth).
  • Tidying. In other words, picking up a mess or de-cluttering. This might mean putting things back where they belong or simply shoving everything into a closet before the guests arrive.
  • Organizing. Means actually sorting out the clutter and accumulated possessions. This involves making honest decisions about your belongings in terms of their use in your home and their value to you, and putting those decisions into action (sell, donate, give to friends, recycle, trash, etc.) Most importantly, organizing means creating systems of organization, so that future tidying is easier.

Which ones do you do?

Because I fervently dislike cleaning, for the past few years I have used a housekeeping service – folks who comes every other week to clean my home. This leaves me time to do the the types of housework I actually like to do (such as laundry, dishes, meal planning, cooking, etc)

The fact that the housekeepers are coming gives me the motivation to tidy the house the day before they arrive. (Tidying allows the housekeepers better access to the floors and surface areas for cleaning purposes.)

Tidying is easy for me because the house is now (finally!) organized – meaning everything now has a place where it “belongs” and can be put back accordingly in the “right” place.

Readers, I wonder what you think. If you have thoughts about this or other ideas, post a comment or write to me and let me know!

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Decluttering for beginners

- Author: Crystal


When you want to declutter but only have 10 minutes, use a laundry basket.

Grab hold of a laundry basket. In a five minute period, make one circle around the house, picking up and putting into the basket everything that doesn’t belong. Now recirculate around the house one more time (5 additional minutes), delivering all the items in the basket where they’re supposed to go. The key is not to stop to ponder things or get sidetracked!


When you have more time to organize a room, use the Group and Pile Method.

  • First, group similar items together. For example, if you’re organizing the garage, similar item groups might be Sporting Goods, Tools, Automotive, Entertainment, Pets, Gardening and Other. These groupings reveal what you have and how much you have. As a result, decisions about what to keep and what to get rid of can be made more efficiently. For instance, by grouping similar items, you might discover that you possess 14 crescent wrenches of the exact same size and that you can give some to your neighbor.
  • Next, create decision piles, such as: Keep here, Move to somewhere else (specify where), Toss, Shred, Recycle, Donate, and Sell. I use index cards to clearly label each decision pile.
  • Finally, execute your decisions!

Thoughts on this? Other ideas? Post a comment, or write to Crystal and let her know!

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How to stop being addicted to stuff

- Author: Crystal

Clutter, disorganization and unhappiness. Sound familiar? If yes, it might be time for an intervention.

Here’s my prescription:

  1. Watch The Story of Stuff, an informative way to spend 20 minutes. It will get you thinking about your own role in the consumerism cycle.
  2. Stop watching television. TV makes people want more things. People who live in want of more things tend to be very unhappy. Unhappy people go shopping, because it’s a quick way to feel better for a short amount of time, but in the long-term it leaves them unsatisfied with their lives and smothered in their own possessions.
  3. Politely say no to all freebies. Just because it is free does not mean you need it in your house. Keep in mind that getting rid of something is 10 times harder than acquiring it.
  4. Teach yourself to shop mindfully. Ask yourself: “Do I really need this thing, or do I want it?” and Why do I want it?” Take time to honestly and thoughtfully consider the answers. If you decide you must obtain this item, wait one week before purchasing it. Then ask yourself these questions again. Imagine your life without this item. Would you feel an emptiness? Could you fill the emptiness with something more fulfilling and long-lasting — such as spending time with a friend, calling your sister on the phone, going for a walk, or volunteering?
  5. Feed your soul with friends, family, love and leisure time rather than stuff. My personal favorites are playing board games, holding hands, meditating, having a potluck with friends and reading to kids.

To read about people who have stopped shopping altogether (and are doing just fine), check out Good magazine’s post called The Anti-Consumers.

Thoughts on this? Other perspectives? Post a comment, or write to Crystal and let her know!

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Five fundamentals for avoiding a cluttered house

- Author: Crystal

Crystal says, here are the Five Holy Organizing Principles:

1. Do not buy stuff you don’t need. If you won’t be using something immediately or in the very near future, chances are you shouldn’t be buying it. And sales are a death trap. The moment you start using words like, “Someday that could come in handy for something”, you enter clutter danger zone.

2. Politely say no to freebies. Just because it is free does not mean you need it in your house. Remember that getting rid of something is 10 times harder than acquiring it!

3. Purge your possessions frequently. Regularly look through your drawers, closets and attics for gift-giving, donating and yard sale opportunities. All those baskets, vases, self-help books, blank journals etc. that you never seem to get around to using? They will make great presents for your friends! Also check out Crystal’s Garage Sale Guide for help in planning your next sale.

4. Do two things when unpacking any new household item (blender, printer, stereo, etc): (1) File the instruction manual in a folder in your file cabinet labeled “Instruction manuals”. This makes it a cinch to find the instructions again when you need them. (2) Unless you need to return the item, break down the cardboard box (keep a box cutter handy for this purpose) and then put it in your recycling bin right away.

5. Don’t touch things more than once! By this, I mean if it belongs in the trash, put it there now. Don’t set it down so that you can later forget what you intended to do with it in the first place. This is how clutter accumulates! If it needs to be shredded, shred it now. If it needs to be put back in the closet, put it back now. As a rule of thumb, anything that can be done in < 1 minute should not be deferred to a later time! A small investment now yields huge return for peace, order and productivity later.

Have more ideas to share? Post a comment or write to Crystal and let her know!

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Organizing myth #1: It takes money to be organized.

- Author: Crystal

I’d like to go so far as to say that organizing requires no money at all.

TV shows like Real Simple and Web sites such as Simplify 101 offer helpful organizing advice, but they tend to prey upon disorganized people by appealing to a typical false belief: that people can be more organized if only they buy the perfect binder, bag or bin.

Living in an organized way is about having simple and effective habits, not the newest gadgets.

In my experience, the typical person already has in his/her home everything he/she needs to accommodate all of their possessions and live in a happy, organized, productive manner. All that is required is a dose of inspiration, a bit of motivation, and the desire to change a few simple habits.

Have additional thoughts or ideas to share? Leave a comment, or write to Crystal and let her know.

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How to find a professional organizer

- Author: Crystal

Do you need organizing help? If you’re in the Raleigh-Durham, NC area, I recommend me, of course. However, if you live elsewhere, you can find an organizer in your area using the National Association of Professional Organizer (NAPO) directory.

Not sure if a particular organizer is right for you? Check them out on Angie’s List, a Web site where you’ll find unbiased reports and reviews about service companies in your area.

If you have thoughts on this or other ideas, please post a comment, or write to Crystal and let her know!

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Stop clutter before it comes through the door

- Author: Crystal

Think daily about the stuff that you or others intend to bring through your door – mail, shopping bags, boxes, etc. The biggest clutter mistake is to bring stuff into the house, figuring you’ll “deal with it later”. Solution: If there is something that you suspect will only just pile up (rather than be absolutely useful to you and your family), direct it elsewhere before it even crosses your threshold. After all, a home is (should be) your oasis of order and peace in this crazy world. More stuff means more clutter and stress. Less stuff = Zen bliss

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