Helpful tips from your  Professional Organizer

Picture this: bookshelves overflowing with not only books, but scraps of paper you kept from that Air France flight 5 years ago in case your kids might "need" it one day...stuffed animals invading the kid’s bed to the extent that you need an extra 10 minutes per day to arrange them all (not to mention the dust it collects)...closets bursting with outgrown clothes, sports equipment from extra-curricular activities they no longer participate in, and art supplies which consist of 30% dried-out markers, 30% dried-out playdoh and 30% dried-out paint...puzzles and games with missing pieces...dolls without you get the picture yet?
Now that the "rentrée" is behind us and the holiday season is approaching quickly, our children’s rooms will soon be spilling over with yet another round of gifts from well-meaning family and friends! Argh! SO MUCH STUFF! Our families are blessed with ABUNDANCE: toys, clothes, games and more for our children. So now is the time to de-clutter and re-organize our homes. If you approach the task, step-by-step, it is not only manageable but FUN! The first rule of thumb, though, is No Whining! Yes, I am talking to the parents, not the kids!
Working with your kids
Kids are full of great ideas (and not just ideas about how to procrastinate at bedtime)! If your children are invested in the organizing process, they are more likely to participate in the daily cleanup. For instance, I have my son choose (all by himself) a "home" for his Yu-gi-Yo cards; then he is more likely to remember where to put the cards back when he is finished playing with them. In addition, I no longer hear him ask that oh-so-annoying question, "Mom, where did you put my....?"
De-cluttering as a family
All kids have favorite toys and clothes that they have outgrown. It is often we, the parents, who hang on to these objects that represent their youth (and often times our own youth as well). The holiday season is a perfect time to re-evaluate the importance of material objects in our homes, and to realize that all of the clutter is actually taking up space and energy. Also, think about the time wasted on clutter, which could be better used hanging out and enjoying each other’s company (I know this sounds corny, but I’m sure the Grinch would agree with me here).
Back to de-cluttering: now is the time to explain to your kids how less-fortunate children can benefit from your family’s donations. In addition, if your children are with you while you reorganize, then you can try on clothes and shoes on the spot to determine if they should be given away. Otherwise, in addition to the famous three piles you should be making (keep, give away, throw away), a fourth unsightly pile will creep into your living room called the "try on" pile!
Simple systems
While sorting and labelling kids’ stuff, I like to choose a category name on the container that is as simple as possible. The older kids can write and design the labels themselves (ahhh, but do we correct their spelling mistakes)?! The younger kids will be able to find and clean up their belongings if you draw a picture on the label of what’s inside the container! Don’t forget to place the age-appropriate toys that your kids play with the most, on the lowest shelf (this sounds so obvious, yet many people don’t do it). Also be sure that the wonderful container you bought last month at Ikea is easy enough for those cute little hands to manage!

Routines to remain organized
The most satisfying comment from parents after de-cluttering and reorganizing, is how easy and quick clean-up time becomes, and how much less resistant the kids become to the task! Here is what I love to do with my kids: put some fun, up-beat music on the stereo to make the moment enjoyable (Raffi is always a crowd-pleaser)! Then break down the clean-up tasks by age: older kids put back clothes, place dirty laundry in hamper, get back-pack ready for school, etc. while the younger kids put back toys, arts and crafts, and other stuff in their proper containers!
Make sure you begin this "clean-up jam session”"about 15 minutes before bath time!
Once you recognize the importance of a clutter-free environment, I promise that you will be able to get your whole family out of the house in the morning with much less stress. I also guarantee that your kids will become more autonomous! It’s a long haul, like many aspects of educating children, yet teaching your kids the responsibility and benefits of being organized (even if the job isn’t done perfectly) can only be positive for their future!
- written by Robynne Pendariès ,  MESSAGE Magazine (Fall Issue 2006)

Some of you out there might think that this article is about the "psychological" room we make in our lives when baby comes along. This is an important aspect of parenthood. However, I believe that welcoming a baby is a lot less overwhelming if we make good use of the "physical" room in our homes. The more efficient and organized the space, the more serene the environment will be for the baby and for the whole family. For those of you who already have children, keep reading. You can still pick up some helpful space-saving tips!
Conquering the clutter (my motto!) is essential when preparing for the arrival of a newborn. It is necessary to declutter and free up space in your home in order to avoid a new accumulation of "stuff". If this is your first baby, you’ll be surprised how much paraphernalia comes into the house, some useful, some superfluous. If you already have children, this first step of decluttering is even more important, especially if the siblings will share the same room! Be ruthless when deciding what to give away or throw away, but also be practical. Take the time to think about each item, and don’t part with items which will most likely be used later on in the newborn’s life. Welcoming a baby into your life can be a financial strain, so deciding what to bring into your home should be based on the cost, the space it takes up, and THEN how cute it is!!

When deciding how to organize the space for baby properly, we often make the mistake of buying furniture and household items which are "baby-size”" If possible, make purchases which can "grow”"with baby's growth. Here is an example of smart shopping: a crib which transforms into a youth bed, an armoire with enough hanging and drawer space for clothes size 6 years (not 6 months), multi-purpose shelves for use with anything from diaper storage to story books to model airplanes (think deep shelves)! If you will not have a separate room for baby, you will need to be more imaginative in terms of creating space: consider reorganizing your closet space to accommodate more than just a snowsuit for a 6-month old, putting up a curtain to separate the baby area from the rest of the apartment, momentarily moving furniture to make room for a high chair, etc.

There is a whole other set of "puericulture" which often transforms our homes into what feels like "Babies-R-Us": baby swing, baby seat, baby "supersaucer”" baby walker, playpen...the list is endless! With my children, I used the baby seat to feed them as infants, then the "supersaucer" for safe fun from 4 months to 1 year. For additional items, try to avoid purchasing them new or even used. Your best bet is to borrow from friends, or from other Message members through the classified ads on the website.

The changing table is always a tough issue. If you have space in the bathroom, it is ideal to place a changing table there, with storage underneath for diapers and toiletries. Being next to a source of water makes for a more tranquil diaper-changing and bath time. Otherwise, you can buy a changing pad and place it on top of the dresser, or if you really lack space you can use the changing pad on a bed with toiletries at arm’s length (warning: this is a back breaker)! For those of us with  limited space, another good idea is to create a "mobile changing station" - put a few diapers, baby wipes and baby cream in a plastic box for convenient diaper changing anywhere, anytime (this is especially useful when baby shares a room with a sibling, and the sibling is sleeping at the time of a diaper change)!

The arrival of a new baby can turn your space upside-down: gaining control of your environment down to the smallest detail will make your sleepless nights and busy days more manageable! Here are a few of the many space-saving techniques:
Bulky items: packages of disposable diapers take up an enormous amount of space. Find a "home" for these bulky items under a bed, under a crib, or on top of a dresser. DO NOT buy too many packages at one time. Often, your baby will grow into the next size before you use up all of the previous diapers. This is also applicable for storage of formula for bottle-fed babies: don’t buy too much in advance in case the pediatrician changes the baby’s formula.
Toiletries: you should have a small amount of necessities at arm’s length next to the baby’s changing pad, but stock the rest someplace else (under changing table, dresser, or sink). A great use of space is a transparent shoe organizer (La Redoute often sells them in their catalogue or on their website). You can hang it over the back of the bathroom door or baby’s bedroom door, out of children's reach. It is wonderful for small items such as Q-tips, thermometers, small packs of tissues, etc., and you can see at a quick glance when you are running low on something. There are also organizers which are sold in the United States (and probably in the UK) which attach to the side of the crib - much like those hung over the back of the seat of a car- to store small items (can be purchased at By the way, the decorative toiletries baskets placed on top of the dresser are quite impractical - they take up a lot of space. A better option is to place all necessary baby items on a plastic tray on top of the dresser. The items will be more visible and the inevitable spills will be much easier to clean up!
Waste Baskets: another important purchase for the baby's room is a waste basket. I don’t like the special sanitized diaper removal systems. It takes up a lot of space and smells strange! However, you can purchase the bag refills to roll up dirty diapers, and then dispose of them in a regular waste basket with a lid. Don’t forget to choose a waste basket with a foot pedal for hands-free opening, as your arms will often be occupied by baby for the first few months! If you have very little space, you can also have one main waste basket in the kitchen for diaper disposal, saving space and time by emptying one wastebasket once daily. One final thought about waste baskets: my mom taught me to put several plastic bags at the bottom of the waste basket before lining it. This avoids having to search for a new bag every time you remove the old one.
Bath Accessories: last but not least, bath toys and baby bath accessories have a tendency to clutter up our already-too-small bathrooms. Purchase some heavy-duty suction hooks to hang these items. You should also store bath toys in a mesh lingerie bag, hung by those heavy-duty suction hooks onto the shower tiles (smooth ones, not matte or mosaic). The decorative mesh bath toy holders with built-in suction hooks sold here in France NEVER stick well, especially when filled to the brim!
Remember, these helpful hints, applied on a regular basis, will help you to maintain clutter-free and peaceful surroundings for the whole family. Making room for baby in your heart as well as in your home can be a pleasant learning experience for all involved!
- written by Robynne Pendariès,   MESSAGE Magazine (Spring Issue 2007)
It's been a long day...your kids have just come home from school tracking doggy caca on their brand new shoes...your boss has you working on an uninteresting project with an unreasonable deadline...your husband is asking you if he can PLEASE play handball with his buddies tonight...and to make matters worse, your in-laws are coming for dinner and tuna fish sandwiches just won't fit the bill !! Your kitchen is scary: the counters are invisible under the piles of cookbooks, junk mail and phone messages...the cabinets are overflowing with expired condiments, nearly-empty food boxes, pots and pans you never use but love to look at, and of course ALL THAT TUPPERWARE !!!
This is about the time when you say, « If only I had more space in my kitchen ». And then I would answer, « You HAVE enough space, you just need to use it wisely! » The kitchen is the heart of the home, and is often the room which becomes the most cluttered. The goal is to find things in the quickest possible time with the smallest amount of frustration. Don't procrastinate any longer: decluttering is the first step to freeing up space for what you really NEED in your kitchen. So dress in something comfortable, swear that you won't answer the phone ( hah!), and let's get started!
Declutter: I know, you are probably thinking « There Robynne goes again with the D word!! » but it holds no purpose to take up precious cabinet space in your kitchen with that fondue set that you received as a wedding present and which has collected dust ever since! Empty your cabinets and drawers, one by one: ask yourself if you really need those 10 wooden spoons, that perfect Tupperware container which holds the one slice of pizza which someone always eats anyway, the big box of that special kind of flour for that special recipe for that special occasion (oh, and by the way, the date on the box is 2004!!!). The next step is not to put what you decide to keep back in the same cabinet or drawer, because that might not be the most efficient place to store it.
Consolidate: There I go again with the C word!! Often people's cabinets are filled to the brim with half-empty containers of food, condiments, etc. Here is an example: instead of keeping the small amount of sugar in that large 1kg container, put the remaining sugar into a small air-tight container with a label on it. If you apply this idea to all foods, spices, tea bags etc. you will be amazed at how much space is freed up!
Maximize Storage Space: Oh no, not the M word! French kitchens are generally small compared to kitchens in other countries, so you will have to come to terms with all that bulk shopping you have been accustomed to. Speaking of bulky stuff, use storage space next to (but outside of) the kitchen in order to create a pantry for overflow. To begin with, my personal favorite is the over-the-kitchen-door plastic shoe organizer for small items such as tea bags, nuts, decorations for birthday cakes, clips and twists to close bags, etc...Other items should be grouped according to how and where you use them (see below).
Create « Work Stations »: Imagine what the kitchen looks like at the « Tour d'Argent »...there is a food preparation area, a cooking area, a cleaning area, a food storage area, etc.
Food Prep Area: choose the longest uninterrupted counter space, to allow room for cutting, washing, mixing (store cutting boards, knives, mixers next to this area)...
Cooking Area: this area is obviously close to the oven and/or stove top (store pots, pans, oven mitts, cooking utensils next to this area)
Cleaning Area: next to the sink and dishwasher (store dishes, glassware, dishwasher liquid, rubber gloves)
Food Storage Area: don't forget to keep the least-used food and drink items in the pantry or in space just outside of the kitchen, and save the fridge and precious cabinet space next to fridge for the most frequently-used items. By the way, the same principles apply to the inside of your fridge (declutter by throwing away food never eaten or past date-of-use, consolidate by grouping together same items into one container, place similar foods together, and always put away food on the same shelf inside the fridge in order to create your shopping list faster and find what you are looking for quickly)!
I could go on and on but I must leave space for other articles in the magazine, so I will address two more issues that people always ask me about:
1) Spice Storage: how many of us received a spice rack or some other wacky way of storing spices, and find it to be totally impractical?! If you have room in a drawer (or find a shoebox which can fit inside a cabinet), you can store the spices that way but be sure to label the bottle tops to avoid wasting time searching for the safran!

2) Tupperware galore: why, oh why, do we feel the need to accumulate so many food storage containers?? When you look at your Tupperware stash, would you answer « no » to the following question: « Do you ever have enough leftovers to fill up ALL of those containers? » If so, keep a small assortment of different size containers according to the foods which you eat most often, and stack them according to shape, one inside the other. The lids should be stored in an open rectangular container or box, with the lids upright and assorted by shape as well.It goes without saying (but I'll say it anyway) that containers without lids should find another use in your home or be put into the recycle bin.

Taking the time to reorganize your kitchen will result in less waste of food, less stress when preparing a meal, and easier clean-up for the whole family! Many of us spend a good percentage of our day in the kitchen: isn't it worth it to make this part of your home the most pleasant and welcoming room in the house?
- written by Robynne Pendariès,   MESSAGE Magazine (Winter Issue 2007)
By the time you read this article, you are probably already knee-deep in moving preparations. I will get straight to the point, since I am sure you have many vital things to take care of ! So, since everyone LOVES tips of all kinds, here are just a few to help you better organize your move...
Decluttering your belongings is really the first step to an organized move. It makes for less to pack, less to move, less money spent since you pay according to the total volume of your belongings (okay you lucky expats, this does not apply to you)!
Writing lists is a great way to organize your thoughts. Make sure that you keep only one master list: do not scribble on scraps of paper lying around! You might want to use a computer, or a spiral notebook (so as not to lose pages). Give every box a number, the room where it will put, then write the contents on your list and on the box, but be careful - be as specific as possible when describing the contents (example: write « tupperware » instead of « miscellaneous kitchen items »)
Creating a « packing station » encourages everyone to pitch in and find what they need (labels, pens, tape, etc.), but make sure the items get put back in the « packing station »!
Packing a « must have » box for each family member makes finding urgent belongings upon arrival easy and quick (doudous, coffee pot, toothbrush,etc. - label the box something like « Mommy's must have »)
Removing shelves and their brackets, electrical appliances and their respective cords, etc. can result in misplacing or losing important parts. Put the small parts (like the shelf bracket) in a Ziploc bag, label th ebag, then tape well to the shelving unit. The same thing applies to televisions...
Setting aside rags and a few cleaning supplies allows for easy clean-up afters the movers leave.
Keeping important papers with you, instead of packing them, will save you many a headache! This includes birth certificates, school records, new job info, recent bank statements, phone numbers, real estate agent info...and don't forget a few rolls of toilet paper in case you can't access that specific box (if you can't, then that means you didn't follow my instructions above - shame on you!)
Making a diagram of where to place the furniture will result in smooth sailing for the Big Day! Think carefully beforehand, because no how big you tip the movers, they will not come back to rearrange your furniture!
Putting signs on doors which correspond to the name of the room written on the boxes avoids movers asking every 2 seconds, « Where does this go? ». In addition, put up a sign in each room « Place boxes here, please » to keep boxes out of the way of traffic and dedicated furniture placement
Unpacking every box in one day is IMPOSSIBLE! Make setting up your children's rooms a priority. If they are old enough, let them make decisions about decorating and furniture placement – it will help them to feel « at home »
Getting kids involved in the packing and unpacking process (assign very specific tasks and give lots of positive reinforcement!) is a great opportunity to teach the concept of « team work ». Moving is a family event, and everyone should pitch in.
Cooking and using up food from the freezer and fridge prevents wastefulness – no more shopping from now until moving day!!!
Getting all medical and dental visits done before moving will allow you  some « breathing time » until you are able to build up a new network of contacts in your new neighborhood
Encouraging kids to make an address book of their friends reassures them that they willbe able to keep in touch (don't forget to do the same for YOUR friends!)
Explaining to young kids that their belongings are being moved and that they will get them back seems obvious to us, but might not at all be obvious to them!
When possible, arrange childcare for the moving day/arrival day. Otherwise, choose a « safe room » in your new home where the kids will not be in the way of danger
Making a « plan B »  of where to sleep will alleviate last-minute stress in the event that the movers get delayed
Revising the rules of the house (« this is where the stove is now- it is HOT! »... « Elevators can give you big bobos – never go inside alone!»..) upon arrival is useful, and might make you and the kids aware of dangers which didn't exist in your previous home.
Given the stress that any move entails, even moving around the corner, I sincerely hope that these suggestions are useful to you! And if you are moving away from France, I sincerely hope that MESSAGE has also been useful to you during your stay (« Oh no, not ANOTHER friend moving away » says Robynne...)
- written by Robynne Pendariès, MESSAGE Magazine (Summer Issue 2009)