Killer Organizing Tips and Tools Yo Mama Never Taught You


A place for everything, and everything in its place.”
– Benjamin Franklin (1706 – 1790), one of the Founding Fathers of the United States

“Does this spark joy?!”

I yelled from the bedroom.

My boyfriend walked in as I caressed my face with a purple scarf.

“Uhhh…what?” he responded.

In the millisecond he looked away, I emptied the entire contents of my closet onto our bed.

“Marie Kondo says that you should only keep things that spark joy.” I said annoyed.

(Like, DUH. How does he NOT know these things?)

He smiled and walked away. His eyes read, “You’re a psychopath.”

I emerged from the bedroom three hours later with three garbage bags full of clothes.

Last week I read The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo and it was an awakening.

Before you think we’re both kooks, Kondo was listed as TIME Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People in 2015.

It wasn’t just her exceptional organization tips that hooked me, but it was also her passion for tidying that captivated and inspired me.

“An avid fan of home and lifestyle magazines since kindergarten, I would read a feature on how to put things away and have to try out each suggestion immediately.”
Excerpt from The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, p. 22, Marie Kondo

Listen, I know she’s not curing cancer, but her passion for organizing exudes from the pages.

It resonated with me.

My mom used to joke that growing up, even my clutter was organized.

When my friends came over, we would often play in my bedroom.

Linens would be thrown off the bed to make forts, dolls scattered across the floor, and my favourite markers would be left without their caps on, drifting lonely on a once pristine sheet of printer paper.

On my sixth birthday, I nodded and painfully forced a smile when my friends asked if they could open my new toys.

I wanted to be alone with my Lion King figurine set when I opened it for the first time.

I wanted to welcome Mufasa, Simba, and Rafiki into my home and tell them I would take good care of them.

I wanted to carefully break the tape seal with a small knife from my microscope set and carefully release my new friends from their plastic.

Instead, these six-year-old barbarians were ripping apart the cardboard box.

I clenched my eyes as Pumba was thrown across the room.

(He had no chance.)

When I was in Jr. High, my resolve to keep things in order only intensified.

I started asking my teachers if I could organize their offices.

I walked by Mrs. Korber’s office during lunch time.

I popped my head in and gawked at the carnage.

Stacks of papers everywhere, books open, random junk stuffed in the corner, an overflowing waste bin…

It was an organizing freak’s paradise.

“Hey, Mrs. Korber! Can I clean your office for you?”

I asked matter-of-factly like I wanted to go over an assignment.

She looked at me stunned and said,

“Are you freaking serious, Carla?”

She laughed. We had a great rapport, and she was accustomed to my unique personality.

“Yes! Pleeeeassseee, Mrs. Korber, I would love to.” I said.

She looked at me genuinely and said, “Carla, you’re very sweet and I would totally let you, but it would make me look so bad.”

I laughed in agreeance.

Then she said, “Go outside and hang out with your friends. HAVE FUN! Jesus, Carla. It’s summer. “

Fuck, I was a weird kid.

It’s now 14 years later and I am still a firm believer that keeping your workspace and your home organized will help you work and live better, make you happier, and get you laid.

Just kidding about that last one. But all the rest are true. 😉

Happy organizing!





Some people argue that a messy workspace encourages non-linear thinking and enhances the creative process.

(Don’t they say that geniuses are the messiest people?)

While this may hold true if you have an artistic role, like an art director or copywriter, most jobs require us to be highly organized to be effective in the workplace.

I’ve organized this section by tool, starting with our most beloved – email.



Outlook is a fun beast.

Here’s my process for checking emails at work and making them actionable:

I check my email first thing in the morning.

A lot of worker bees argue that you shouldn’t do this, but I would say working in a client services role is an exception.

As a Marketing and Advertising Project Manager, it’s critical to constantly scan emails for client-related fires, requests, and updates.

If you can get away with checking your emails less frequently throughout the day, DO IT!

Tim Ferriss, author of The Four Hour Work Week, recommends checking your email in batches, no more than twice a day.

I then perform what I like to call: email triage.

After skimming my unread emails, I “mark unread” anything that is urgent (99% of the time, these are client fires).

I flag any other emails that have action items within them as tasks.

I prioritize these and turn the highest priority tasks into calendar events for the next two days.

(To your colleagues, your calendar will look like you’re fully booked when they’re trying to invite you to a meeting. This has not been a major issue, though – they usually end up calling me to confirm my availability.)

What are highest priority tasks? For me, they are client or management requests. Have a conversation with your manager if you’re not sure what tasks take priority over others.

I schedule the lower priority tasks in my calendar for later in the week.

I constantly reassess and reprioritize as things move and change super quickly.

I know this sounds like a lot of work, but soon it becomes automatic.

Try it out for a week and see how you like it. Keep adjusting and testing so that it works for you.

Additional Email Tips:

Forward interesting articles and websites from your work email to your Gmail account so you can read them at home later.

Email important reminders and urgent To Do’s from your Gmail to your work email so they are top of mind the following morning.



I was introduced to this tool in my first job out of university and five years later, I still use it.

I have stuck with it for so long because it’s simple and easy to use.

This is typically used as a project management tool, but I use it to stay organized outside of work as well.

You can create different lists and enter each task or To-Do as a card in the list.

Within each card, you can add a description, label by colour, and even add checklists and attachments.

You can easily move cards between different lists.

Oh and you can also have multiple boards for all the projects you have on the go:

If you’re working on a team project, you can invite colleagues and team members to boards.

I used Trello with a Project Coordinator I was managing. I created two lists called “For Emily – Urgent” and “For Emily – If Time” and when I delegated work, I moved tasks into these lists.

That said, nothing replaces face to face communication.

I walked her through my proposed process, made sure she was on board, and told her to chat with me if she wasn’t able to get the work done.



I love this tool because you can dump all your thoughts and notes in here.

You can have multiple notebooks and multiple notes within each notebook.

You can copy pictures and links from the web, and even drag and drop Excel documents into your notes.

You can even tag notes so they are easier to find.

Need to collaborate with a colleague? You can easily share your note through social media or email, and there’s even a chat function.

I first started using Evernote to write my blog posts, but I have now keep my online journal and any other notes here.



I’m currently using Diigo as my bookmarking tool but I know there are a lot of other great ones out there.

It has a handy Google Chrome extension that makes it easy to save your links from your browser to your library.

You can also tag your articles so you can read them later.

And check this out: you can highlight a portion of text from a website, and share it on Facebook or Twitter on the spot!


An actual notebook

I leave a physical notebook at home.

It’s filled with all my goals, brainstorming, brain dumps, to-do lists, life plans, random thoughts, etc.

I treat it as an important tool and as a result, anything I write in it gets treated with a high level of importance and urgency.



Mike bought me dual cork board and whiteboard.

Isn’t love grand?

I am still trying to think of how I can make the best use of it.

So far, I’ve made this a habit: every day, I write down my three top goals on the whiteboard. Seeing this daily keeps me focused.

I also keep a smaller whiteboard on our fridge for lower priority to-do’s or for jotting down small things to remember later.

David Allen, author of Getting Things Done, says that the key to productivity and completing tasks without stressing out is to empty your mind.

These whiteboards do just that!

At a digital marketing agency I worked at, I suggested we use a big rolling whiteboard to keep track of all our projects. We had a lot of complex projects with a ton of moving parts, and things would change literally within the day.

Instead of updating a cumbersome Excel spreadsheet, I suggested it would be easier to update a whiteboard. Plus, having our project list on a huge board right in front of our faces kept issues top of mind.

I also scheduled 15-minute meetings every morning called “Whiteboard Review” to run through our outstanding projects to ensure everything was on-track.

In a team meeting, the Account Director said the whiteboard was a great idea and attributed a large part of the success of our biggest campaign that year to this simple organizational change.


Cue cards

Ok, guys. Shit’s about to get real nerdy.

I started getting into this cue card system after an article I read.

When I read a book, I write down my favourite notes, quotes, and anecdotes on cue cards. I write the author, book title, and page number on the back of each for easy reference.

I use different coloured dividers to separate topics (e.g. red for self-improvement, blue for inspiration, etc.).

I often take out a cue card with one of my favorite quotes and post it on my fridge.

This system makes it easy to change the quotes on a regular basis.

This works great for blogs, articles, magazines, or wherever you find a nugget of wisdom.

You can apply this cue card system at work too.

On each cue card, you can write lessons you’ve learned from client projects, meetings, or from senior colleagues.

Later, when you run into a similar issue, you can seek advice from your cue cards on your lessons learned.





I’ve already gushed about the thrill I got from organizing my apartment based on the techniques in Marie Kondo‘s book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up.

The main message is this:

Keep only things that spark joy and discard the rest.

It’s more about creating the lifestyle and environment you want.

While I highly recommend getting the book yourself, I’ve summarized the key points below.

This will seriously change your life.

(You’re welcome.)


Organize by category.

What exactly does she mean by this?

A lot of people are tempted to do the kitchen, then the bedrooms, then the bathroom, that is, they organize by location. This only prolongs the process.

Instead, organize by category. She recommends this order: Clothes first, then books, then papers, then komono (miscellaneous items), and finally sentimental objects.

This order is based on the ease to which you are able to let things go.

Clothes are easiest to get rid of for most people.

Within each category of items, Kondo says to find every item you own in the house and put it in one location so you can see everything you own of that item.

If you recall from earlier, I dumped all my clothes, bags, shoes, and accessories onto my bed eliciting looks of fear from my boyfriend.

I even included off-season items and dirty laundry.

First, I pulled out items that I knew I wanted to keep for sure – these are the VIP items.

Then I went through each of the pieces and decided what to keep and what to discard.

Now here’s the key:

You have to hold each item in your hand and ask yourself, Does this spark joy?

If the answer is yes, then keep it.

I’ll admit, it felt a bit hokey at first, but who cares. I got rid of about two-thirds of clothes I initially owned.

Books are next on the list.

Kondo found that a lot of people have strong attachments to books, making them more difficult to part with.

The morning after the clothing purge, while my boyfriend was still sleeping, I crept out into the living room and removed every book from every shelf in the apartment and placed them on the floor.

It looked like a street book sale.

I used the same process as with the clothes.

I started by setting aside the VIP items.

Next, I held each book and asked, Does this spark joy?

Kondo really emphasizes touching the items to get a sense of how you feel about them.

Her methods are based on feelings, which allows you to surround yourself only with things you love.

I got rid of a stack of books two Bernie’s high.

(That’s pretty high.)

Now it’s time to organize all your papers.


I fell asleep too while reading that subheading.

But you guys, organizing papers can be fun!


Kondo keeps it really simple.

Her rule of thumb is to discard all papers.

First, she says to discard all manuals. It’s 2016. If we’re not sure how to use our iPhone, our friend Google will gladly help us.

Next, get rid of credit card statements and payslips.

Get rid of greeting cards and letters if they no longer spark joy. You might be holding on to them for sentimental value, but cards and letters from ex-lovers are unnecessary to keep.

Then she says to sort papers into three categories: needs attention, should be saved (contractual documents), or should be saved (others).

The “needs attention” category includes papers that have an immediate action attached to them. For example, a letter stating your license needs to be renewed or a bill that needs to be paid.

Keep this in one location in your home and make it your goal to keep it empty.

I keep ours on a shelf in our kitchen where it is easy to see and access on a daily basis.

When I add papers to this basket, I put a post-it with a brief action item to lower the activation energy required to get it done.

Kondo says it’s unnecessary to categorize these last two categories – should be saved (contractual documents) and should be saved (others) – further and to just keep them all within a clear plastic folder.

You’re ready to tackle Komono – miscellaneous items.

Komono is Japanese for small articles or miscellaneous items.

Discard and keep items from each category in the following order:

1. CDs, DVDs

2. Skin care products

3. Makeup

4. Accessories

5. Valuables (passports, credit cards, etc.)

6. Electrical equipment and appliances (digital cameras, electric cords, anything vaguely “electronic”)

7. Household equipment (stationery and writing materials, sewing kits, etc.)

8. Kitchen goods/food supplies (spatulas, pots, blenders, etc.)

9. Other (spare change, figurines, etc.)

Lastly, deal with sentimental things.

“No matter how wonderful things used to be, we cannot live in the past. The joy and excitement we feel here and now are more important.”
Excerpt from The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, p. 114, Marie Kondo

I felt guilty when I discarded a ton of sentimental letters, cards, and jewelry given to me by loved ones, but Kondo is right.

At some point, we must move on and live in the present.

Again, Kondo emphasizes the importance of touching each item before deciding to discard or keep.

She says, “By handling each sentimental item and deciding what to discard, you process your past.”

I know you want to remember all the good memories.

But it’s time to make room for better memories.


Say thank you to your shoes.

Kondo pays respect to the things we own by thanking them.

While this may seem crazy, it builds awareness of our possessions and makes them more meaningful.

We are less likely to succumb to buying things we don’t really want or need.


So after a long day at work, thank your purse and shoes for all their hard work.

Do it – nobody is watching you. Nobody cares.



Additional Organizing Tips Because I Love You!


Tidy as you go along.

I try to never leave a room empty-handed.

For example, I will leave the living room with a book I read so I can put it back in the den.

I will leave the den with a mug so I can put it in the kitchen sink.

The key for this to work is to have a home for everything. Decide on one location for each of your items so you’ll know where to put it back when you’re done using it.


Make things accessible.

I try to keep things organized in a functional way so they are accessible when I need them.

I’m a bit obsessed with my fridge.

The highest shelf (and the hardest one to reach) is filled with booze and sauces.

The shelf that is closest to eye level is the “EAT ME NOW” shelf. The food here is easiest to access and it hardly goes to waste.

In our bedroom, we have a decorative basket we call the “sleep box”.

It contains sleeping masks, lotion, night oils, wool socks, and magic bags. Essentially anything you need to get a good night’s sleep.


Buy furniture with a dual purpose.

Mike and I live in a one-bedroom apartment, no more than 650 square feet.

Believe it or not, this is pretty decent for downtown Toronto.

I try to maximize space as much as I can by purchasing furniture with a dual purpose. For example, my bed and couch have storage underneath.


Maximize wall space.

I like to take things off the floor as much as I can.

Instead of a coat rack and umbrella stand, I use wall racks.

Instead of crowding my desk and drawers with pencils, pens, and office supplies, I hang them on my wall.

Test these ideas out and see what works best for your lifestyle!

Want more tips on how to get stuff done? Read: How to Get Shit Done: 16 Productivity Tips and Tools.

How do you stay organized at work and at home?

Leave a comment below. :)

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