Clothes shopping on a budget

Dear Kathi,

I’m on a tight budget and really want to buy some new clothes. Do you have any advice to help me make the right choices?

Erika, Cardiff


Buy clothing that will span all seasons — like wool crepe or matte jersey. Try to plan your wardrobe around three neutral colors. Choose between khaki, navy, brown, black, white or creme. Buy more solids than prints – you won’t get tired of them as quickly.
Everything you buy should flatter your figure. This means it not only plays up your best features but also hides what’s not perfect. Darker colors and simple cuts (a sheath, an A-line) are the most flattering.

Focus on general trends. You will wear these items longer. They are a better fashion bet and can be found at all price points. Fads always have a shorter life span than trends.

Remember that buying inexpensive items just because they are inexpensive is almost always a bad investment. If you can’t afford to buy the item that you really want, wait awhile. Remix existing clothes or alter your hair, makeup or accessories to achieve a new look.

Don’t choose buying the cashmere sweater over making the car payment. Be responsible and always shop with your budget in mind.

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 heirlooms

Dear Kathi,

All of my relatives seem to think that I am the holding ground for their old stuff and I end up with lots of things that I don’t want. How can I keep my house from being barraged with unwanted heirlooms and family junk?

Joy, Cardiff by the Sea


Learn to stand up for yourself and tell your well meaning relatives politely ‘thanks, but no thanks.’ If they protest, ask them why they feel you should hold onto what they no longer need.

One of the best ways to prevent clutter, is to stop it before it starts. Do your family members consider your house the dumping ground because you already have a lot of clutter? They might get the impression that you love to collect things so you wouldn’t mind holding onto theirs.

If you are a collector and wish to break this habit now, ask yourself three simple questions before you bring anything new into your home:

1) Ask, ‘Am I going to use it now, or in the near future?’

Or better yet, how many times will I use this in the next year? If it is a family heirloom that landed on your doorstep only because of someone else’s sentimental attachments, just say no.

2) Ask, ‘Am I going to use it ever?’

Lots of clutter piles begin with one simple impulse buy. Make sure that if you will use it, it’s use will make up for the space it takes to own it. If you will only use it once every few months, it’s probably not worth the extra space it’s going to take up in your home.

3) Ask, ‘Where is it going to live?’

Make sure you have a clearly defined space for the item you’re considering adopting or buying. Otherwise, it’s bound to be brought home, put someplace temporarily, and eventually end up in a pile with other items that were not well
thought out.

If the item is going to end up in a pile somewhere without a space to live, forget about it. If there is a space and it won’t cause something else to be displaced, then perhaps it is OK. If there is no space available, and you really want it, you must release something else to make room for the new item.

Be diligent, form new habits and soon you will no longer be the dumping ground for your relatives.

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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Paper organization

Dear Kathi, I have piles of paper spread all throughout my house. I am basically organized with the exception of all of this paper which is driving me crazy. Where should I start and how can I keep it under control?

Marilyn, Encinitas


Piles of paper are piles simply because you don’t have a place to put each piece of paper when it comes into your life. After you look at each piece of paper, it needs to be either thrown away or stored in a proper location. Do not add it to a pile for future consideration. If you don’t have time to read the papers as they come into your home, take action. Consider cancelling a few subscriptions, removing your name from mailing lists, or throwing some mail into the trashcan before you bring it into your home. There will always be items of paper that you don’t have time to read when they arrive. Create an “in basket” system. Make sure your basket is small and shallow. The smaller size will prevent you from becoming overwhelmed. A real basket with a handle is exceptionally convenient for this purpose. You can carry it from room to room and read through it as you move into different parts of the house or even the backyard. Another step toward tackling your piles is to take a look at what type of papers you are collecting. Sort your existing paper into categories. While you are doing this, create a reference file folder system. When you read an item and wish to keep it for future use, file it when it is in your hands. Eliminate the papers that do not serve an immediate or important purpose. If the paper is something you need to work with in the future, create an action file. Keep your action file folders on top of your desk for easy access and a quick visual reminder. Remember file – don’t create a pile!

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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Kids party etiquette

Dear Kathi,

All of my friends are confused about attending parties with our children. When the party is held at a home, we have a hard time deciding whether we are required or expected to stay for the entire party.
What is the proper way to let parents know if they must, should offer, or don’t need to stay for a 5 year olds’ birthday party?

Vicki, Oceanside


Invitations should state clearly whether parents should plan on attending the event. An easy way to let parents know they are off the hook is to include wording on the invitation that says, ‘ childcare provided’. Or if it is optional, you can state ‘parents stay is optional, there will be ample child care’.

If the invitation does not indicate that there will enough adults to oversee the event, this usually means that the parents are expected to stay to help watch their child during the party.
It is appropriate to call after receiving the invitation to clarify if you are expected to stay or if you can drop off your child and return at the end of the party.
Thanks for asking this question.

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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Business attire

Dear Kathi,

Is it optional to wear nylons at work these days? I work at a bank and would love to forgo the pantyhose ordeal.

Christy, Del Mar


The business environment in Southern California is more casual than most other cities. With the warmer climate, women often wear sandals and open-toed shoes 6-9 months of the year. In my opinion, with the proper shoes, you can dress very professionally without hose.

With this in mind, if you are still doubt about your particular bank, ask a trusted manager. If this isn’t possible, pay attention to your superiors. Does everyone wear hose every day?

It pays to dress similar to your superiors. It makes it easier for them to see you as a pier and your chances for advancement are increased. Some banks are still very conservative and you don’t want to jeopardize your job advancement.

Remember, dress not for the position you are in, but for the position you aspire to attain.

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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5 Smart Spice Storage Tips

Reprinted with permission from


They say variety is the spice of life, and that’s also true in your kitchen. Whether you’re a keep-it-simple sort or a devoted gourmet, an assortment of dried spices is a must for every pantry. A few pinches of the right seasonings make the difference between dull and delicious.

But a jar of thyme can quickly become three in a disorganized stash of spices, while once-fragrant herbs wither in dark corners. Professional organizer Kathi Burns saves her clients from making such missteps. “We’re chef wannabes at my house, so we have every spice possible,” says Burns, CPO of San Diego’s Make Space in Your Life! “I’m always testing new organizing solutions.” We’ve got the dish on the best ways to keep your spices fresh and at the ready.

Stock up on versatile staples. Start with black pepper, salt’s better — or at least healthier— half. Popular all the world over, it adds essential bite to countless culinary styles. Purists will insist on whole peppercorns and a grinder, but ground pepper serves the same purpose. Other home chef favorites include ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, bay leaves, dried bay leaves, chili powder, oregano and cumin.

Figure out the best storage option for your space. If you can spare a cabinet shelf, a single three-tier spice rack should be plenty for the average home cook. Mounted pull-down spice racks make even the back row easily accessible. “It’s old-school and it works,” says Burns. Stylish new storage options continue to surface as well, such as sleek magnetic wall strips that hold sealed spice cans right where you need them. Just keep them clear of direct heat and light.

Organize your spices by cuisine. “Indian spice trays are one of my favorite things for the kitchen,” says Burns. The most common version features a round metal tray, seven small containers, a tiny spoon and a lid for the whole thing. Modern variations can be found everywhere from Etsy to Williams-Sonoma.

“I have several clients who cook specific kinds of food, like Lebanese or Hungarian,” adds Burns. “These containers help them keep everything together.” The spice trays also make fantastic gifts, especially with a corresponding ethnic cookbook.

Do an annual sweep of your pantry. Spices have a limited shelf life. Some experts claim six months is the rule of thumb, but others say that’s way too conservative. Stored properly, ground spices (nutmeg, tumeric) and ground herbs (thyme, sage) might stay fresh for two or three years. Whole spices like cloves and cinnamon sticks can last up to four years, as can some seeds.

By checking yearly, though, you’ll know what needs to be refilled and what probably should be tossed. When in doubt, give it a whiff. If spices smell stale, they’re done. A rancid scent is also a clear sign to throw it away. Marking open dates on new additions will help you determine freshness down the line.

Experiment in small doses. Cooking a new type of cuisine at home often requires purchasing several new spices. You may love Ethiopian food, but will you ever need berbere again after your first — and only — attempt at doro wat? If you’re unsure, try to buy the spices from a specialty shop, where you can pick up small amounts from bulk containers.

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Garage Playroom Before & After

Garage Before Garage Before

Before: Can you believe 2 little boys can make this much of a mess? Of course you can. These boys had too many toys and they were taking over the garage.


Garage After

After: We needed to create zones to keep the toys and other garage essentials contained. Our zones were: music, bikes and vehicles, working out, lego/trains, and outside toys/sports equipment.

Garage After

We laid down foam squares to mark the lego/train zone and keep it contained. We created 2 bins with each boys’ name for the toys that they don’t share so they are each responsible for their own toys.

We lined up all of the bicycles and vehicles in the front so they can be easily taken outside. We put all of the workout equipment together.

Garage After

In the corner, we set up the drum set and other music equipment from both the garage and other areas of the house. Now all of the music making happens in the garage, and not in the house.

We also corralled all of the balls, bats, etc into a floating basket on wheels which could be wheeled outside to the basketball hoop or yard for sports.

Garage After

Toys are now contained in bins. Nerf guns and their ammo are housed together in a cabinet. The many small parts that we came across were separated out, and we asked the boys what they went to and which were worth keeping.

Anything that did not fit into the zones was put away in another part of the house. Once the rest of the house is organized, there shouldn’t be any temptation to stash things in the garage that don’t belong.

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Recycling Old Paint Just Got Easier!



The days of opening up your old cans of paint and waiting months for them to dry out before you can toss them into the trash is over. There is a new solution in town ~ Paint Care!

Here’s the skinny, taken directly from their website”

PaintCare, a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization, was created by the American Coatings Association (ACA), who, working with state and local government stakeholders, passed the first paint stewardship law in the United States in the state of Oregon in 2009. This legislation provided for a pilot program for an industry-led program to manage postconsumer (leftover) paint. The program in Oregon was made permanent in June 2013.

PaintCare has also set up programs in California and Connecticut and is planning programs for four other states that have passed similar legislation: Rhode Island, Vermont, Minnesota and Maine. We expect similar legislation to be introduced in several other states in the next few years.

Prior to PaintCare, the best options for residents to recycle or dispose of unwanted paint were government-run household hazardous waste (HHW) facilities and special one-day “round-up” events with limited days, hours and locations. In states with PaintCare, many new paint drop-off locations are established, mostly at paint retailers who volunteer to take back paint. These retailers take back paint during regular business hours making paint recycling and disposal much more convenient for the public.

In parts of the U.S. that previously instructed people to dry out old latex paint and put it in the trash, we now encourage people to take it to a PaintCare drop-off site so we can sort it and recycle more paint. Post-consumer paint can be collected for reuse, recycling, energy recovery, or safe disposal, but doing so requires public awareness and a convenient and effective infrastructure that exceeds local government budgets and capacity in many parts of the United States.

Click here to find your closest donation station.

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A Messy Pantry Gets Organized

Pantry Before

Before:  A mother asked for our help when she became fed up with her disorganized pantry. Her 3 kids would make a mess every time they went in there, so we needed to develop a system that everyone would understand and follow.


Pantry After

After:  We created zones and made better use of the can stacking device and lazy susan that were underutilized in the space. The can stacking device, which was pushed in the back of the pantry is now front and center. The lazy susan is in the back corner housing sauces and other liquids, and a quick spin keeps anything from getting lost in the corner.

Pantry After

We also moved all of the kids’ favorite foods to 2 shelves that they can easily reach. The kids’ section is in the back of the pantry rather than right by the door so that if they do make a mess, the rest of the pantry is still accessible. We containerized the kids’ snacks, bread, and sandwich ingredients in clear plastic double shoeboxes. We also put cereal into tall, clear plastic containers. This eliminated stale, unsealed cereal bags and empty boxes from going back on the shelf.

Pantry After

The shelves near the entry of the pantry are now used for Dad’s supplements and bars as well as canned and dry goods that the kids don’t use.

We also made a zone for baking items like sprinkles, food coloring, etc and those are now in a lidded container behind the more often used items, to be pulled out when needed.

Pantry After

We containerized medicines, separated by type so they can easily be found when needed. We also made room for sodas which use to live outside the pantry.  We made sure to keep them in a plastic container as they had leaked in the past.

Finally, we labeled all containers so there is no question as to where things belong. This is a very important step when you need everyone in the family to work together to keep an area organized!

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Death By Clutter: Sometimes Your Mess Can Kill You

We’re all guilty of amassing clutter in some form. Whether it’s a stack of magazines that you keep meaning to read, a smattering of clothing that you haven’t got around to hanging up, or your collection of tchotchkes that do nothing but sit and look pretty while collecting dust. For the most part, our clutter is manageable.

But what happens when these seemingly innocuous piles of stuff multiply, joining other supposedly benign piles until they form one continuous mountain of trash? If you are sharing your home with a Mount Vesuvius of things and find it impossible to part with them, you are likely a hoarder.

What is a hoarder?

A hoarder is an individual who accumulates and retains objects or animals in excess. These possessions begin to interfere with the hoarder’s ability to function in their family, employment, and social roles.

What does a hoarder’s home look like?

If any of the following statements describe your home, your hoarding problem is out of control and poses a danger to everyone who lives there.

-  Your home does not have a pathway throughout the house that is at least three feet wide.

-  You do not have safe access to all rooms in the house.

-  Your floor joists have been strained by the piles of stuff that they have been bearing.

-  You have windows or doors that are blocked off by possessions.

Why is hoarding dangerous?

Falls. Hoarders run a high risk of tripping over stray clutter or setting off an avalanche of falling items within their home.

Pathogens. Dust, dirt, insects, rodents and rodent feces, are more plentiful in the homes of hoarders–all of which can lead to respiratory illness, skin conditions, and various diseases.

Stress. Hoarders live in a constant state of chaos, which is extremely stressful. They run the risk of withdrawing, becoming anti-social, or suffering from acute depression. Relationships suffer as family members and friends find it more and more difficult to cope. Hoarding parents also run the risk of having their children removed from the home.

Collapse. The weight of stacked magazines and newspapers and other assorted hoarded items can compromise the integrity of the home, itself, leading to sagging or collapsed floors.

Fire. If fire should break out, hoarders often find themselves trapped. Due to the overwhelming amount of combustibles present, flames tend to spread quickly. That coupled with the fact that passageways and doors are often blocked, equates to disaster for anyone within the home.

Sadly, hoarding stories with tragic endings are becoming more common. In November of 2013, a fifty-five-year-old New Hampshire man succumbed to smoke inhalation when neighbors and first responders were unable to make their way into the home. The doors were blocked by clutter.

On December 5, 2013, an elderly London couple were found dead in each other’s arms after a blaze whipped through their home. A tea light candle ignited the fire, and due to the enormous volume of contents within the home, the flames spread very quickly.

In August of 2010, a Las Vegas woman was discovered buried beneath a pile of refuse in her home. The woman had been reported missing by her husband four months earlier. Police and sniffer dogs had searched the home several times prior to the discovery of her body, but due to the extreme odor within the home, they were unable to pick up her scent. Her husband came across her body when he was cleaning out a back room that he referred to as her “rabbit hole.”

Yes, clutter can sneak up on you and take over your life. If you fear that your clutter is getting out of control, you need to take action immediately. Start clearing “things” out of your life and if the job seems too big to tackle, contact a local health professional.

What tips do you have for de-clutting a home?

Kimberley Laws is a freelance writer and avid blogger. She is a social media addict who has written a barrage of stories on social media marketing, blogging tips, and online technology degrees. You can follow her at The Embiggens Project and Searching for Barry Weiss.

Image courtesy of

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