Wardrobe update for working mom

Q: I want to create a new image and update my wardrobe. My baby is going into pre-school and I will soon begin working full time and stepping out into the real world. What clothes should I buy?

A: A good wardrobe requires less pieces than you might think. You only need a few, truly great items, then wear them for every occasion. Every woman should have the “indispensables”: perfectly-fitted dark pants, flattering jeans, a pencil-cut or A-line skirt, white button-down blouse, trench coat, and little black dress. Each of these timeless pieces should be of the very best quality you can afford and should be tailored to flatter your body type. As the basis of your closet, simply combine these pieces with a few trendy accessories to keep an updated look. Your “indispensable” well-tailored pieces elevate everything else in your wardrobe. Once you find the shape that flatters your figure, stick with it despite the trends and you will always look your best. The trends can be reflected with your accessories, i.e. bright colors, large bangles, handbags etc

Kathi is a professional organizer, image consultant and event planner based in San Diego California.

Please submit your questions to:
San Diego Professional Organizer

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Organizing teaching materials

Dear Kathi,

I am a Special Ed schoolteacher. I hate to spend time going through stored materials for school lessons and plans. I find that it is usually easier to just start from scratch. I don’t have a good filing system and I end up with tons of worksheets, lessons and other collaterals. I have so much that I don’t even know what I have. How can I save time in my planning?

Mary, Encinitas


Organize your study materials by lesson categories. Consider using a four-drawer file cabinet for your lessons and collaterals. If this is not possible, due to space restrictions, follow this idea using a shelving unit. The important concept is that your lessons and related materials are grouped together into sections.

Each file drawer or shelf should have its own broad heading: Arts, Sciences, Language or whatever is applicable for your materials. Next, create major file categories within each space. Label hanging files with a tab on the far right. Split that major category into sub sections for instance, spelling, grammar, reading etc. Stagger the sub section file tabs from left to right as you create new folders. You won’t have hanging files for your shelves but instead you can create separate categories with boxes or magazine bins.

With a full file drawer or shelf for each major topic, you should have the space to store three ring binders, packets of homework sheets, books and other bulky items between the related topics of your hanging file folders.

If you still feel more comfortable starting anew each year without referring to last years’ notes, please discard your old materials at the end of each year. The only acceptable reason to keep old paperwork is that it will be referenced again. Keeping it for posterity and for some future time when you think you might want to stroll down memory lane is NOT a good enough reason. If you think you might look at these papers again, you are fooling yourself. Consider the fact that you aren’t even accessing them now to create new lessons. I have been through enough schoolteacher’s archives to know this is the truth.

If you do decide to create an archiving system, take the time to set it up with broad headings to make it easy to expand. Every year when you add materials to the folders or boxes, take a moment to purge through each file and discard the duplicate and obsolete papers.

Please submit your questions to:
San Diego Professional Organizer

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Stash Before You Trash with Semi-Permanent Storage Solutions

Although you may want to devote a single weekend to performing a complete cleanse of your closets or storage spaces, a more practical approach might be to take it one step at a time.

For one thing, if you are not using the assistance of a professional organizer, you could find yourself paralyzed by the overwhelming enormity of clearing out years of accumulated stuff in two days’ time and end up not getting rid of anything as a result. Alternatively, you might eradicate everything for which you see no immediate need and a month down the road, find yourself having to buy things you just tossed.

No, when it comes to clearing out tons of clutter, if you are not using the help of a professional organizer, taking baby steps may be a better tactic. Instead of trying to go from closet to curb by Sunday night, aim for organizing everything into labeled boxes that you can place into a semi-permanent storage space. In essence, you can give yourself some time to test out the absence of your designated ‘don’t keep’ items before you part with them permanently.

And if you do decide they belong with you for good, the items are already neatly packed away in boxes that you can relocate to a separate storage unit or leave in their new spot at the back of an unobtrusive closet, out of sight and out of your way (but never really out of reach).

Here are some tips to help you jumpstart your semi-permanent storage trial run and some best practices for cleaning up the clutter now and maintaining a clutter-free environment moving forward.

Create a manageable plan that includes realistically attainable goals.
Much of the battle against a bulging closet is won or lost before you even attack. Embrace the ‘baby steps’ philosophy by breaking the entire project up into easily digestible portions:

  • Separate entire portions of the home into rooms: ‘Organize the upstairs’ becomes ‘Organize master bedroom’ and ‘Organize office’ and so forth
  • Separate entire rooms into single spaces: ‘Organize master bedroom’ becomes ‘Clean out dresser’ and ‘organize master closet,’ etc.
  • Separate single spaces into individual tasks: ‘Organize master closet’ becomes ‘Straighten shoes’ and ‘Swap out seasonal clothes’ and so on

From here, you can use the individual tasks as opportunities to streamline your items, remove the excess, and straighten up the space in general.

For example, the task ‘Swap out seasonal clothes’ allows you to pull aside all of your winter clothes and replace them with your spring and summer wardrobe. During the transition, eliminate from both categories as you go and divide the items into boxes that you’ve pre-labeled Keep, Donate, Recycle, and Trash.

  • Keep everything that you are likely to wear next year like currently-fitting jeans, sweaters, pants, shirts, etc. If they don’t fit or you don’t want them when next year rolls around, conduct another elimination round at that time, but you are allowing yourself room to change your mind in the meantime.
  • Donate everything that is still in good condition but that you are unlikely to wear again – because it doesn’t fit, it’s no longer your style, or it’s no longer age-appropriate. This is the box of transitional items that you can place in the back of the newly-de-cluttered closet and hold onto for another six months to see if circumstances are still the same. If you need to take any items out of the box or add to it, you can do it then and deliver the box at the appropriate (in season) time to the designated charity.
  • Recycle and Trash are more applicable with papers, documents, and broken or damaged items (toys, ripped clothes, etc.) that can be discarded immediately – no waiting period required.

But maybe ‘current clothes’ aren’t the source of your clutter. Perhaps you’ve accumulated a plethora of miscellaneous items over the years that you need to tame. For those, here are some questions to help you decide what stays for re-discovery down the road and what needs to go immediately:

Does it have important sentimental value?
You might find sentimental value in every pint-sized pair of socks and shoes from when your kids were little, but unless you’re only keeping the truly memorable pieces, the collection of clothes can get out of hand in a hurry.

Select some of the most important items like their Christening gown, their first pair of shoes, and even a few of the more subjective items (like the monogrammed dress that she wore in your favorite Christmas card from 15 years ago) that you want to preserve and do that – have them professionally preserved or properly packed away in a place wherein they’re out of the way but are protected until you pull them out again in a few years.

Other items that fall into this category might include:

  • Yearbooks
  • Photo albums
  • Cards announcing births, engagements, weddings, and other important milestones for those most dear to you (sorry, second cousins you haven’t seen in a decade don’t count)
  • Wedding items (a gown, shoes, jewelry, etc.)

Does it have important functional value?
You love the stack of magazines you’ve accumulated over the years, but when they grow to the point that they need their own storage unit, it’s time to pare them down. Go through them and pull out important articles or recipes or inspirational photos – whatever you’ve kept the magazines for – and create a single scrapbook or photo album with those and recycle the rest.

To take your organization a step further, scan the clippings and create an electronic copy of them and recycle the originals with the rest of the stack.

Moving forward, only buy items that you need and try to buy them only when you need them. And by keeping an eye on your clutter before it grows, you can avoid these semi-permanent storage solutions entirely.

Until then, what other items have you placed in semi-permanent storage and what did you end up keeping at the end of the trial period? You will find that there was hardly anything that was kept out of sight was missed or needed when your trial run was over.
You will discover it much easier to let go in the moment after you go through one of these trial storage solutions!

About the Author: Garret Stembridge is part of the team at, a leading provider of self-storage facilities. Garret often writes about storage and organization topics for homes and for businesses.

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Planning a wedding on short notice

Dear Kathi,

I am getting married this September. We have just begun planning and I know it is really short notice. What is the easiest way to plan this event with a very small budget and a small amount of time? I have two girlfriends who have volunteered to help me with whatever I need.

Jenny, San Diego


Congratulations on your upcoming wedding. I’m glad to hear you have friends to help. Have you planned a budget yet for your wedding? Establish your budget and your colors/theme now and you will have solid guidelines as you plan your wedding.

If you have a small budget, the easiest way to get more wedding for your money is to schedule your wedding for a weekday during the day instead of on a weekend in the evening.

Your budget will guide you throughout your planning process. Be aware that weddings typically go over budget by 20-30%. The small details that often escape the budget are efficient fees, bubbles, postage, parking attendants, etc.

Once you have secured your wedding and reception location, your largest choices will be food, décor and talent. With three people involved, you might want to divvy up assignments into these categories.

If your friends have particular talents or interests in any of these fields, your tasking will be easy. If not, decide now who will investigate each category.

Ask your friends to seek out referrals for florists, caterers and DJ/musicians. Once they have found a few recommended vendors, you can meet with these companies to see if they meet your expectations and budget.

Food generally eats up the largest part of your budget. Interview and hire a caterer as soon as possible. Good caterers are generally booked two months in advance. You can reduce your food costs by planning your event in the morning or early afternoon and serving a continental breakfast or lunch. The traditional sit-down dinner is the most expensive option. If your wedding is scheduled in the evening, a dinner buffet will help reduce costs. A good caterer can usually handle many facets of your event including the rentals and cake. Finding a caterer who is wiling to handle all of these details will save you time and energy.

Your colors and wedding theme will have a large effect on your flower choices. Bouquets can be elaborate clusters or single stemmed flowers. Try to use flowers that are in season. A good florist will be creative and help you stay within budget.

If you are serving over 50 guests, cake costs can be reduced by using a small 2-3 tiered cake for photos and presentation and serving the majority of the guests from a larger sheet cake.
Save money by hiring a photography student or a new photographer who is building their business.

Many photographers now shoot digital. Include a copy of the disc in your agreement so you can make multiple prints at a reduced cost.

It is impossible to advise you about every wedding planning detail within this column. There are many fantastic websites to help plan and budget your wedding. Go online and search within the broad category of weddings and you will discover a wealth of free information.

Please submit your questions to:
San Diego Professional Organizer

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Simplify your life!

What can you do to simplify your life? Think about the areas in your life where you feel the most stressed. Is it your home, your office, food preparation or the chaos in your garage? These are a few of the areas in our lives that can contribute to stress.

This week, choose the most stressful area in your life. Map out the problem and spend a few minutes each day this week tackling a portion of it. Attack it with the full intention of creating order and simplifying the issue.

For instance, if you never seem to have time for fun, you have a time management challenge. Consider everything that you spend time on throughout your week. Sneak in a few minutes each day to do something you enjoy or simply nothing at all. I guarantee that your week won’t fall apart while you do this. In fact, you might muster up so much energy from this quick break that you finish the remaining tasks in record time!

If your challenge is the garage or family room, start working your way into the mess by collecting and donating the items that you no longer need. This newly created space will help you formulate the game plan necessary to create order within this disorganized space.

If you can’t ever seem to eat balanced meals and get stressed thinking about cooking and/or eating junk food, consider preparing quick healthy foods on Sunday evenings before your workweek begins.

If you can’t seem to fulfill your obligations, this is the perfect excuse to downsize your schedule. Beg off on some of your previous commitments. Honor yourself and the others to whom you have made these commitments. Admit that you can’t necessarily handle what you thought you could when you first agreed to volunteer. You are not a super heroe and there is nothing wrong with admitting that you simply need to let go of a few commitments.

Simplify and let go to increase your sanity and fully enjoy the spring season!

Please submit your questions to:
San Diego Professional Organizer

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Car organization

Dear Kathi,

I am a sales rep and work out of my car. There are always disorganized piles of papers, pens and trash. I have to keep my sales kits, phone, laptop and many other types of collateral materials with me throughout the workweek. I need a good way to organize these items along with a strategy to declutter my car easily for the weekends when I am not working.

Keith, Oceanside


Car organization is a common problem and clutter can get out of control quickly. Begin by completely emptying your car. Sort your items into work related and non-work related piles.

After your car is completely emptied, sort through these piles. Discard the papers and objects no longer serve a purpose. Divide the remaining items into ‘like with like’ sections.

Papers should be sorted and categorized either in a plastic file box or an accordion folder, based on the quantity involved.

It is a good idea to keep small plastic boxes with lids in the trunk. Use shoebox or larger sizes to hold extra office supplies.
Keep extra pens in the side door pocket along with a small notepad. Make sure to keep a trash receptacle of some sort within your car.

On the weekends, simply sort any loose paperwork into the file box and move the entire box to the trunk. Collect any other loose business items and put them into your supply boxes in the trunk. Your car should then be clear and ready for non-business activities on the weekend!

Please submit your questions to:

San Diego Professional Organizer

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Tax Return Testimonial

“Kathi’s tools and training are amazing. it took me 5 minutes to grab my tax information for my accountant and 30 minutes for her to complete them. Thanks to Kathi’s systems.

Just for the record I have personal business and investment components to my taxes. this was not just a w-2 fill in the blanks EZ return.”

Kathryn A Christensen

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Clothes storage

Dear Kathi,

I have enough dresser space to hold all of my casual and work clothes throughout the year. Should I store my off-season clothes somewhere else to keep them out of sight? Also, how should I arrange my clothes between both dressers?

Laurie, Encinitas

Laurie, You are very fortunate to have enough drawer space for all of your clothes. There is no real need to stow off-season clothes in bins unless your drawers are packed to overflowing. The weather in San Diego is perfect for layering sweaters in the mornings and stripping down to sleeveless shells by noon. If you were to stow anything, it might be your really heavy sweaters in the summer. Group your clothes together in each dresser according to function. Choose the easiest drawers for daily wear items like underwear. Place your casual clothing in one dresser and your work attire in another. This division makes it easy to choose an outfit quickly. You will know where to stand and what drawers to open as you begin to dress. Dresser number one will hold all of your work-related clothing. Dresser number two will be the place to find your casual outfits.

Kathi is a professional organizer, image consultant and event planner based in San Diego California.

Please submit your questions to:

San Diego Professional Organizer

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Organizing systems

Dear Kathi,

I am a housewife but my partner is the organizer in the family. I can’t seem to function in the pre-imposed systems. When I try to follow my partner’s systems in the kitchen everything becomes awry. I am constantly wondering where things are when they get relocated. Should I be using labels each time the drawer contents change? How can I cope?

Mia, San Marcos


You and your partner need to come to terms with who is using the kitchen. Ideally, the person that creates a system should be the one who uses the system. If you are organizationally challenged and your partner isn’t, perhaps you can spend an afternoon together creating order with a method that makes sense for both of you.

Realize that there is no perfect system. There is, however, a system that will function well for all parties involved. Try to store objects closest to where they will be used. Use the triangular kitchen grid that I discussed in my column published last January. You can read this column by visiting

If you cannot agree on a system during your organizational meeting, it might be best to hire an outside professional. A Professional Organizer will be able to create a system and organizational strategy that works for both of you.

An outside expert is invaluable when family members cannot agree on strategy. As a professional, they are not involved with dramas or past history. They will focus solely on optimum organizational solutions for your space and what will best serve the household.

Labeling your drawers is certainly an easy way to define what is stored in each drawer. I use this method when client reorganization is dramatic. Clients can remove the labels when they learn the new system or keep them permanently.

If your partner insists on creating new systems frequently, ask if you can receive a descriptive tour of the change as it occurs. If you have an explanation of why things are moved, it might help you to understand the concept behind the reorganization. This will, in turn, help you to remember where things are stored.

Organization is never an accident. If you have difficulty staying organized, keep practicing and devising new methods. With trial and error practice, you might find yourself developing the perfect systems for your household. Perhaps your partner will never feel the need to reorganize the kitchen again!

Please submit your questions to:

San Diego Professional Organizer

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Complexion Perfection: choosing the right color for your skin tone

Choosing the right color for your skin tone is a challenge for most women. Finding makeup to match your skin tone can seem like an impossible task. For women of color, it can be even more daunting. Although there are more cosmetic companies offering shades for deeper complexions, they don’t often address the varying undertones in our skin. This is what can cause makeup to appear grey or “ashy” on our skin, or make certain colors just “not look right” to you in the mirror. Here are some tips to help you navigate your way through your next trip to the cosmetic counter.

Check your undertones

Wearing colors that don’t match the undertones in your complexion can make or break your makeup look. Most all skin has three basic undertones: warm, cool or neutral. An easy way to determine what your undertones are is your preference in jewelry. If your complexion looks brightest and most vibrant in gold jewelry then your undertones are warm. If you look best in silver jewelry then you have cool undertones. If your skin looks equally complimented in both silver and gold, then you are most likely neutral. If you don’t wear jewelry, look at the inside of your wrists. Bluish veins indicate cool undertones; greenish veins are warm and a combination of the two put you in the neutral category.

Warm undertones – Warm completions have yellow to gold tones at the lighter range, and golden to red-orange in the deeper range.

Cool undertones - Cool complexions have pink to reddish tones at the lighter range, and blue-red to even olive in the deeper range.

Neutral undertones - A neutral complexion is a mix of both warm and cool.

Many Asians are thought to be warm because of the yellow tone in their skin, but can also be cool. African Americans are often assumed to be cool, especially those with deeper skin tones, but can also be warm or neutral like me. Latinas and those of Middle Eastern or Indian descent can tend to be more olive, which puts them in the cool category, but can often be neutral or even warm. And a change in your hair color can sometimes move you from one category to another.

How does this help me pick the right foundation, powder and concealer?

When you’re matching foundation and powder you need to consider not only your surface tone (fair, medium, dark) but also your undertone. Always stripe a few colors on your jaw line where your complexion is the most even to see if it matches both. The color that seems to disappear when blended is the right color for your skin Your concealer should also match your undertones, but can be either a shade lighter or the same shade as your surface tone depending on how intense the shadows are under your eyes.

Tip: don’t be swayed by what the color looks like inside the bottle. Its undertone can often appear more dramatic there, especially in the deeper shades. You’ll have to actually see it on your skin to be sure.

BB and CC creams and tinted moisturizer

The newer BB and CC creams, like tinted moisturizer, not only add color to your skin but also help to even out your complexion. Matching your undertone is still essential with these, but an exact match with your surface tone is less important because the product will be somewhat absorbed into your skin rather than sitting on top. With these products you can choose a color that most closely resembles your skin’s natural intensity (fair, medium, or dark) and blends in without looking obvious.

You may have to try several different shades and brands before you find your perfect match. A few of my favorites are Makeup Forever, Lancome, MAC, Covergirl Queen Collection and Bobbi Brown. These lines have a great selection of both liquid and powder foundation in a variety of shades and undertones. If you prefer an all-in-one mineral makeup try Valana Minerals. She offers a diverse range of shades and undertones, and you can even purchase a sample pack to try out a few different shades before deciding. Try to view the foundation color on your skin in natural light, even if that means walking outside with a mirror. Choosing the right shade will ensure you always put your best face forward!

About the author: Karol Young Moses is a professional makeup artist and beauty expert based in Southern California. Her work can be seen on the red carpet and the runway as well as in print, film and television. In addition to hosting makeup workshops and seminars she helps brides look their best on their special day. Karol also appears regularly on-camera offering makeup and beauty tips to viewers. She is currently working on her first beauty book.

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