The Truly Accessible Organizing Manual

Getting organized is like a lot of other self improvement processes such as healthy eating or exercise - we all know we should do it, but it often takes a particular “a-ha!” moment to get us moving in the right direction. Today, I’m continuing my journey through some of the most popular organizing books so that I can help direct you to the organizing philosophy that connects with you and gives you your “a-ha!”

So, if you find Marie Kondo too exacting, Swedish Death Cleaning too weird, or Emily Ley too traditional, it may be because you’re starting from zero and you need just the basics on how to maintain a livable home. In this case, I have found the organizing manual for you: Unf*ck Your Habitat, by Rachel Hoffman.


There are two things I love most about Rachel Hoffman’s book. First: she maintains that organizing is for everyone. Male, female, single, coupled, able bodied, differently abled - Hoffman maintains that no matter who you are, you are responsible for the upkeep and maintenance of the space you live in. I could not agree more. As I always say, organizing is not about appearances, it’s about creating a functional home environment that supports all the things you want to do with your life. That’s something everyone needs!

Second: she gives it to you straight. While there is not even a speck of meanness in the book, and she explicitly discusses strategies to deal with limitations related to both physical and mental health, Rachel Hoffman doesn’t coddle her readers. She is straightforward with what it takes to get to minimum standards of of a human living space, and real about the amounts of work involved. Because that’s the thing: living an organized life does take a little work. It actually takes less work than living a disorganized life, but it’s certainly not an effortless magical ride.

Some people might find Unf*ck Your Habitat too basic. For example, if you already have a house cleaning schedule, clear flat surfaces, or a regular schedule for doing your laundry, you’ve already mastered the fundamentals and you might be ready for something more in-depth. But if you don’t understand and fully live the fact that doing your dishes is a three step process (“wash, dry, put it away goddammit” - love this!), then this book is for you.

Are you ready to “unf*ck your habitat” but don’t know where to start? Give me a call! I’ll meet you wherever you are and help you create the beautifully organized home of your dreams.


A Manual for Organized Living

A blogger I’ve followed off and on recently posted a gushing review of Emily Ley’s new book A Simplified Life: Tactical Tools for Intentional Living.  So of course, you know I had to pick it up and read it through my professional organizer’s eyes!

IMG_0153 (1).jpg

What I love most about this book is how Emily clearly explains that an organized home with systematic routines is the foundation for the rest of your life, rather than the end goal. She rejects the fetishization of organizing so common on blogs and Pinterest, which I find incredibly refreshing!

I also love how she consistently drives home the critical importance of simplicity. I’ve found in my own work that less is almost always more, and Emily shows how it’s possible to simplify in a variety of ways without losing quality of life or experience.

I recommend this book wholeheartedly for its target demographic: female, Christian homemakers in heterosexual marriages with children who live in single family homes in suburban environments.  If this is you, you are going to love Emily and her wise, practical advice!

If this isn’t you, Emily’s perspective might frustrate you. She comes across as an earnest, kind person who is doing her best every day. That said, there are blind spots in this book. She suggests that we store food in the pantry and tools in the kitchen, perhaps not realizing that having a pantry itself is a luxury.  She exhorts us to pull back professionally to make room for family life, which makes it clear that her household is privileged enough not to require two full time working parents.

A Simplified Life proves to me that there are as many perspectives on organizing as there are people who love to organize and believe in the power of an organized home. So, find the one that speaks to you, and use it to help you create the organized home you’ve always wanted!


What I'm Reading

Photo courtesy of

Photo courtesy of

Anne of Green Gables: Patron Saint of Girls Who Ask Too Many Questions

The depth of my love the Anne of Green Gables and her world knows no bounds. I've read the entire series many times over and wholly identified with her from the start. As a kid, I read pretty much any historical fiction I could get my hands on, and there was lot of prim and proper behavior and bonding with horses and stuff,  but Anne was always real to me. To this day, I use the term "kindred spirits" and look for them everywhere.

Me as a debutante with my grandma in 2000.  We bought the dress in the bridal department of Saks, which was... bizarre.

Me as a debutante with my grandma in 2000.  We bought the dress in the bridal department of Saks, which was... bizarre.

The Curious Plight of the Modern Debutante

So, uh, fun fact: I was a debutante. Twice: in Ventura, where my dad's family has lived since the 1880's, and in LA, where my mom grew up. Even eighteen years ago I found it weird, dated, and irrelevant. I agreed to do both balls because they meant a lot to my mom and grandparents, and because I got to wear a poofy dress with lots of hair and makeup and force a boy I had a crush on to hang out with me for a night. I mean, I was 17!

13 Things You Should Know About HIV, But Probably Don't

As a teenager in the 90's, I was absolutely petrified of AIDS. It was finally publicly acknowledged but it was still basically a death sentence. I remember the AIDS quilt and Ryan White, and Pedro on The Real World, and scary sex ed. I'm glad we've come so far, but AIDS remains a global health threat and we should all be informed about how the disease is currently impacting our world.  Spoiler alert: it's not just for men who have sex with men anymore.

Image courtesy of

Image courtesy of

The Other Women's March on Washington

It's not enough to march, we need to run and vote, too.  I'm looking forward to participating  in the political process in 2018.  And I happen to love this author, Rebecca Traister - check out her book All The Single Ladies if you haven't already!

What I'm Reading - My Recent "Beach Reads"

Life is good when you have back to back girls' weekends with different groups of excellent ladies.  And for all that relaxing time, I needed some solid reading.  Over the past two weekends, I made my way through back issues of some of my favorite magazines (Vogue, The Atlantic, perhaps surprisingly SF Magazine) as well as a giant hardback book.  Here's what I loved!

Bolshoi Confidential: Secrets of the Russian Ballet from the Tsars to Today

Every year, my dad gets a stack of hardback books for the family for Christmas.  He generally hands them out to the people he thinks will be the most interested in each book, with instructions to read and return to our family condo at Tahoe for everyone else to enjoy. This year he chose Bolshoi Confidential for me, a perfect fit for my lifelong love for (and jealousy of) ballet.  The book is a comprehensive history of Russia's (in)famous Bolshoi Ballet and I enjoyed it, but I wouldn't classify it in the same category as compelling, almost page-turning nonfiction works that have taken popular culture by storm.  It's great for ballet fans, but maybe a bit dense for the average reader!

Photo courtesy of (Annie Leibovitz)

Photo courtesy of (Annie Leibovitz)

How Tennis Star Maria Sharapova is Getting Back in the Game

I don't follow tennis, but it's hard not to know about star player Maria Sharapova and her recent fall from grace.  Because I'm such a joiner, people like Sharapova who keep to themselves and completely separate their professional and personal lives are a bit off-putting for me.  But this article makes a fairly convincing argument that Sharapova's behavior on the tennis tour would be judged much less harshly if she were male.

Image courtesy of (Kevin Tong)

Image courtesy of (Kevin Tong)

Welcome to Pleistocene Park

File this one under the category of mind-blowing.  It's always amazing to me just how many people are working on the distant future of our planet, in ways that seem harebrained, but are based on hard science and supported by experts all over the world.

Photo courtesy of (Matthew Millman)

Photo courtesy of (Matthew Millman)

This High Tech Boutique Wants To Make Real-Life Retail as Addictive as Online Shopping

The brand Reformation has been fashion girl bait for some time, and this new development in retail just makes me want to check it out that much more.  Here's hoping I can withstand the so-called addition and still only purchase things I love and know I will use for a long time!

Weekly Peek

I’m Feeling Very Olympic Today

 (Bonus points are awarded to those of you who recognize the movie quote, and aren’t horrified by my truly terrible taste in film.) I just joined the Olympic Club, the oldest amateur athletic club on the west coast.  Other than socializing and using the truly impressive gym facilities, I plan to ski for their championship winning team.  Although I'm an expert skier I have virtually no race experience, but apparently there are handicapped levels, so I’ll be able to contribute in some way.

One Tequila, Two Tequila…

My husband took me and a couple of our friends to a tequila and mezcal tasting at The Battery a couple of weeks ago. The group consensus going in was that mezcal was preferred over tequila due to more flavor complexity, so we headed straight for Del Maguey, a mezcal-only producer that was the first to introduce the spirit to the US market.  The variations based on elevation, climate, and plant type are actually really easy to taste, and completely ruined us for the other brands we tasted later!  My husband also always insists that we visit the photo booth room every time we bring friends to The Battery, and you can see that the mezcal helped with photo friendliness...

Photo courtesy of - Yes, that's me!

Photo courtesy of - Yes, that's me!

Bucket List Item: Checked

I have always wanted to do indoor skydiving.  You know, with a vertical wind tunnel, dorky glasses, and a funny one piece suit.  So when I saw passes for two at iFly at the Counterpulse Magenta Party silent auction, I knew they had to be mine.  We finally found time to go last weekend, and it was a ton of fun.  The feeling of floating is so amazing - it's all the magic of a gravity free existence without the sheer terror of extended free fall.  I know of what I speak: I have actually been real skydiving, once, when I was 22.  My dad got it for me as a Christmas present and we went together (fun fact: my mom stayed buried in bed until he called her to report we were both safe on the ground), and I was so terrified that I screamed from the moment I exited the plane until the second my partner pulled the chute (I'm sure he was thrilled).  Bottom line on the iFly version: tons of fun, would do again!

Photo courtesy of Annette Blum

Activist Book Club

My amazing book club, which I've discussed here before, has also become a de-facto Women's March huddle for our little group.  And so, when we read about sending postcards to our elected officials because phone lines have been so jammed, we sprang into action.  One girl printed out the official Women's March postcards, one bought postcard stamps, somebody brought her impressive collection of washi tape, I contributed printed quote images and colored Sharpies, and we got our activist craft on.  We sent postcards to Senators Feinstein and Harris, our individual Representatives (we come from at least 3 Bay Area districts), and of course the Speaker of the House.  It's a small thing, but it led to great discussions about what we want our elected officials to actually do (as opposed to expressing general anger at the current state of things).

What I'm Reading

Photo courtesy of (Ari Seth Cohen)

Don't Tell Me to Dress My Age

As a person who is solidly in "old enough for an article like this to apply to" territory, I wholeheartedly identified with it.  I've noticed I'm less comfortable with shorter hemlines without an assist from opaque tights, but care much less about being over-dressed for an event - I love to look polished and put together, and I don't care if that makes me stand out a bit!

Photo courtesy of

I'm Judging You: The Do-Better Manual

All I can say about this book is that it should literally be required reading for every human being alive today.  Blogger/humorist/all around rockstar Luvvie Ajayi presents practical ways to be an actual better person, all served with a side of her trademark sass to help the medicine go down.

Photo courtesy of Nice Life Recording Company

Meet The Rising Musician Who's Starting A Body Confidence Revolution

Well, I know what I'm going to be streaming in the car on the way to a client appointment this afternoon!  Lizzo's comment that absolutely took my breath away relates to something I've been noodling on for awhile: "I hate when things that are good for people become trendy and people belittle their importance.  That's happened with terms like feminist, activist, and safe space."

And now for something a little different...

My dad sent the following to our little family group yesterday.  My sister, sister-in-law, husband, and I were blown away by the acuity of his observations and the quality of his writing.  I just had to share it with you!

India, Two Weeks In

When Claire and I landed in Delhi two years ago, there was one window for internet-obtained visas and nobody in that line.  Now, with greater awareness, half the plane-load is in that line, but there is still only one window.  Such is India.  The people are modernizing much faster than the state.  The state is going to have to figure out how to get out of the way or get upended.  But, the state is notoriously bureaucratic and slow to change.  It is a tinderbox.

We are told that India today, compared to twenty-five years ago when economic liberalization began, is day and night.  Only that perspective gives me hope that this country can bootstrap its way into the 21st century.  The enormity of the challenge is overwhelming (I find myself using that word a lot but will try to reserve it for the extreme cases).

The country remained agrarian through half of the twentieth century, and 60-70% of the population today still lives in the rural villages that - for the most part - have no electricity, running water, or sanitation. That's nearly a billion of the 1.4 billion population.  The cities are a mash-up of crumbling Raj, tin-roofed stalls, and air-conditioned oases for the business community and the tourists.

Using the vernacular of the day - which is pretty nearly accurate - the top 1% are up to date, most everybody else in the cities is a wannabe techie, and the rest of the country is two centuries behind.  There is precious little industrial base.  The industrial revolution never came here.  Consequently, there is precious little middle class, and those that are earning their way to that level with service jobs rarely have any opportunity to accumulate capital.  Success for most urban immigrants is a motorcycle and a smartphone.

This is Jess's nightmare.  Everything about India is crowded.  Unless you venture out early in the morning, you can't possibly walk in a straight line for more than a few steps.  The sidewalks have long since been taken over - and roofed over - as stalls. People by the thousands, dogs (which have been inbred to the point of uniformity), cows which are sacred and therefore simply worked around wherever they choose to be, and an army of green and yellow tuk-tuks (three-wheeled motorized rickshaws) vie for footing on the streets.  Add in a million motorcycles and the habit of all Indian drivers to honk endlessly, and you have a pretty good working example of chaos.

Just when you are getting a grasp on this scene, you realize that you are only dealing with half the population.  You see very few women out and about, even in the cities.  The street is the men's realm, and for many of them it is the sum total of their realm.  Few appear to be seriously employed, in a country where even a full-time job might involve 3-4 hours of actual work on a good day and always includes 144 official vacation days per year (Sundays plus 10 weeks).  And get this:  there are a million Indians reaching age 18 and entering the job market PER MONTH!

Marriages are still arranged by parents in most cases - we hear numbers from 75% to 95% of families - and it doesn't happen until the man has a job to support a family.  (see previous paragraph)   Are you picking up on a growing problem here?   Increasingly, the young Indian men are not only unemployed but unattached into their 30s.  Pre-marital sex is a huge taboo.  Porn is very popular.  Arranged marriages are not, by and large, love matches.  A disturbing proportion of Indians must not ever know what it is to fall in love.

I choose not to adopt the Hindu belief in reincarnation, for fear of coming back as a lower caste Indian.  That would be purgatory (and is regarded as such by Hindus whose goal is to earn exemption from reincarnation).  It is hard to be optimistic for these people, except . . . that they have come so far in the last twenty-five years.

Visitors can't ignore the obvious, but they can escape it.  The top-end hotels - in many cases, former palaces of the maharajas who ruled over 100 separate feudal fiefdoms until the British decided to create India - are truly splendid.  Air conditioned sedans ferry the rich through the rivers of local humanity.  Line-jumping is part of the culture, and the tourist industry knows how to do it for their paying clients.  Being coddled is nice, but being the modern-day incarnation of colonialism and privilege is scary.

There is nothing the tourist industry can do about the polluted air and rivers, so they simply deny the issues.   We have now been in the cities and countryside across a huge swath of northern India, and we have yet to see a spot of blue sky through the gray haze.  You can smell it and feel it; you instinctively want to struggle to the surface to gasp fresh air as when deep in a pool.  We are surprised not to hear more coughing.  Lung disease must be a lingering future epidemic.

The tour guides swear the river water is pure, but they don't drink it.  The rivers drain from the Himalayas and serve as sewers across vast plains, and the accumulation of run-off during the heavy rains is beyond our ken.  We have seen the high water marks and find them hard to believe:  during the monsoon, the rivers rise 30-50 feet and spread to 25-30 kilometers wide in some places.  The Hindu practice of cremation and deposit of ashes in the rivers doesn't help.

There are the usual tourist destinations: temples, forts, palaces, shrines, mausoleums, monasteries, folk music and dance venues.  We allow ourselves to be herded with only a little grumbling.  Frankly, those things are hardly worth talking about.   They are not the story.   You come here to see a significant chunk of the world's population trying to find its way in the modern world, against enormous (dare I say overwhelming?) odds.

-Marshall Milligan


What I'm Reading

Photo courtesy of (Eric Vega/Getty Images)

Why We Love to Hate McMansions But Still Buy Them

I'm never going to be a McMansion customer - I love urban living and happily give up space in order to do it.  But I also never really thought about the unique ways in which they represent our culture over and above the mismatched decorative elements!

Photo courtesy of

Travelers With Nut Allergies Clash With Airlines

My husband is severely allergic to peanuts, so this issue is very real for us.  To manage the situation we fly United exclusively, since they do not serve peanuts and his allergy is such that if one or two people eat a Snickers bar on the flight he won't be affected.  I'm pretty shocked at some airlines' responses to allergies, though - there are a lot of kids out there with food allergies who will soon be paying customers!

Circling the Sun

Our next book club meeting is on Sunday, and this time around we chose Circling the Sun by Paula McLain since a few of us loved another of her books, The Paris Wife.  As a kid, historical fiction was my jam, and reading this book did take me back!  However, I have to say I liked it but didn't love it - some of the characters felt one-dimensional to me even though they're based on real people.

Image courtesy of (Bobby Doherty)

America is Still the Future: A Love Letter to My New Country

My husband sent this article to me since Andrew Sullivan is one of his favorite conservative writers.  There is a brief moment towards the beginning where he almost loses me with clueless white privilege, but he does bring it around and I really enjoyed the perspective.  


What I'm Reading

Photo courtesy of (David Hume Kennerly/Getty Images)

The 5 Craziest Hours in the White House

When you think about it, there a lot of ways our American tradition of peaceful government transitions is pretty impressive.  But have you ever thought about the nitty gritty logistics?

Image courtesy of

Chattering Classes

One of my closest friends, who also started our legendary book club, sent us this link the other day.  Groups of women often get accused of gossip and catty chatter, but I actually find many of our meetings adhere to these time honored conversational rules!

Photo courtesy of (Tony Cenicola)

The Banned Books Your Child Should Read

This looks a lot more like my childhood reading list than a banned book list!  Sometimes people like to protect children from certain less pleasant realities, but to a kid that can feel like dishonesty - and what these books have in common besides high quality writing is honesty.

9 So-Called Home Décor Rules That You Should Break, According to These Interior Designers  

I was sort of nodding along absentmindedly while reading this, until I got to the last point.  A striped ceiling? As an unabashed lover of stripes, that sounds pretty fantastic to me.  Now I'm wondering how it would look in my living room... or maybe our kitchen/great room!

What I'm Reading

Image courtesy of (Central Intelligence Agency)

See Historic Maps Declassified By The CIA

My dad and I would get out his giant atlas and just pore over maps for fun when I was a kid (nerd alert!), plus I'm a bit of a history geek, so I found these declassified maps incredibly fascinating.

Photo courtesy of (Nadia Lachance)

The Bay Area's 50 Most Essential New Dishes

I have friends who traipse all over town trying to catch all these dishes while they're still being served, and I know that's never going to be me, but there is an ongoing conversation with a couple of friends of ours about pursuing item #21...

The Mistakes We Make When Giving to Charity

Having worked in fundraising as both a volunteer and a staff member, all I can say is that this should be required reading for all Americans engaging in philanthropy.  If you really want to make an impact with your charitable donations, this is a must read.

Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari and Eric Klinenberg

Ok, I'm a little behind the times.  I just powered through this book on a lazy, rainy Sunday and really enjoyed it.  It was less funny than I thought it would be, in a good way, and more thought provoking/less obvious than I expected as well.  Highly recommend, especially for my friends navigating the dating scene!

What I'm Reading

Instead of articles this week, I wanted to tell you about a great book I read earlier this year: Junk: Digging Through America's Love Affair with Stuff by Alison Stewart.

If you're brand new to the organizing industry, whether you're interested in getting your own home organized or starting to read mumblings on the internet about this crazy things like "minimalism" and "capsule wardobes" and "sparking joy," this book is for you!  Ms. Stewart gives a thorough, well researched, warm, and sympathetic account of the myriad ways in which Americans interact with stuff, and how we're trying to deal with the problems it causes.

She does take a somewhat dim view of the organizing industry, but I'm really not offended.  It's such a large industry, with such low barriers to entry, that it's hardly surprising there would be a huge amount of variation between organizers.  After all, pretty much anyone can set up show and call themselves a professional organizer - only some of us join NAPO, take classes, find mentors, and work to professionalize the industry!

I'd also recommend this book to anyone who has a very definite opinion on stuff.  Whether you fall in the camp that's appalled how much kids these days throw away, or you're frustrated that people hold on to so much worthless junk, you'll find your eyes opened and learn about new facets of the world of stuff.

In sum, Junk it's a quick, fun read that will give you a wonderful overview of this world of stuff where I write, think, and work.  Check it out and let me know what you think!