In which the author tells you how to run your life -- or at least how to make the most of the fun parts of it.

For instance, inside these pages you will learn how to weather a mortar attack in good spirits; how to avoid booking yourself on the Internet into a bed and breakfast full of twee quilts and dusty tchotkes; and how to plan a dinner party that will stun your guests with deliciousness and style and not destroy your will to live with the amount of work you have to do to pull it off.

These are things I know firsthand, and things people who know me often ask me about (though I usually just book them into bed and breakfasts myself -- identifying ruffled death traps is an acquired skill). I am almost always right about everything (food, style and travel-related, anyway, and often many other things) and if everyone would just do as I say, dinner would taste better, cupcakes would not be dry, your parties would be more fun (for you), and mortar attacks... well, they always suck. I can't do anything about them.

*except laundry. I can't manage my own laundry, much less yours.

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Friday, October 1, 2010

How to Be Freakishly Organized

My friend Allison, a tall, beautiful personal trainer (somewhere between Brooke Shields, that woman who played the woman who killed herself on Desperate Housewives. and Gabrielle Reese) ..., in fact, the Most Organized person You Will Ever Meet. I don't mean this in an OCD-label-everything sort of way, but in a Waste No Effort, Put Nothing Off kind of way. The way that I dream of being but seem to be constitutionally incapable of achieving. The way where you wake up and your house is clean and your morning sane and your laundry folded perfectly -- and she does this as a single mother with a full time job, a full time boyfriend who has kids of his own. It's pretty breathtaking.

We met when we were in our early 20s -- she managed a personal training gym and she hired me to fold towels (you fold them in half, then each side in into thirds, then in half vertically again. She was VERY SPECIFIC about this and God help me when I failed to do it correctly). And she used to take me on her errands (because by then we were pals, opposites totally attracting) -- giving me a break from constant towel folding. These were excellent chances to observe her personal brand of crazy-organized up close. On one visit to the bank she rejected several of the 20-dollar bills she was given by the teller because they were not crisp enough and therefore did not slip easily into her perfectly organized wallet.

So I decided to ask Allison for some of her tricks. I emailed her and within 5 minutes (of course) got this list of 21 Rules To Live By For An Organized Life back:

1. Kitchen must be cleaned before going to bed. With a small child kitchen must be cleaned up before HE goes to bed -- must not waste the precious moments you have once he is asleep.

2. Better yet, clean up as you cook. Eat out or get take out often. Let others cook for you -- or take you out to dinner.

3. Be a gracious guest. Send thank you notes IMMEDIATELY. People just don't write them anymore. Have stationary ready to go. Write it that night.

4. Have a small stash of "hostess gifts" ready to go. I pre-wrap them. My current stash is a small boxed set of teas. ($12.) I have a few boxes ready to go. Overnight at boyfriend's parents, host of the soccer brunch, kids art teacher, host of book club... it's wrapped and ready.

6. Make your bed as soon as you wake up. Ditto with the kid's bed.

7. Fill your gas tank when it is half full. You never have to worry about running out of gas. You are still filling it with the same frequency-- just at half full, not totally empty. (Ed's note: Really? I can't do the math on that. Hmm.)

(UPDATE! We just had a long conversation and determined that she in fact fills up her tank TWICE as often as someone who lets it get down to empty first. But Allison points out this gives her twice as many opportunities to clean her windshield. Garbage in the car is cleaned out every time she leaves the car, so there's never any garbage in it.)

8. Wash your car every week. Then it's always clean. (Ed's note: Allison's car is ALWAYS clean, inside and out.)

9. Do laundry often. I do it daily. Then it is never this overwhelming -- "f*ck I have to do laundry thing"-- also, the child's soccer uniform is always ready to go!

10. Pack the child's lunch the night before -- and choose their clothes. No discussions in the morning.

11. Balance your checkbook the day that your statement arrives. Only keep the current statement on file. No, I do not do this electronically.

12. Freezer gets cleaned out every six months. If you have had it for six months and did not eat it -- toss it.

13. Water your plants on the same day every week. My day is Friday. I put the water out the night before so that the chlorine can evaporate.

14. Junk mail obviously goes right out the door. Catalogs must be looked at the same day as received. Recycle or keep a few that you know you will order from -- currently I have four-- two for my son and two for me. (Ed.'s Note: I literally have 300 design magazines but I use them weekly, if not daily.)

15. Magazines -- if the next month arrives-- the previous month goes. It does not matter if you have not finished it! I take mine to the gym. Other people don't seem to mind reading last months mags. (Eds Note: HAHAHAHAHHA. I love her perplexed condescension!)

16. Books: love it -- give it to someone who will enjoy it too. Didn't like it: donate it ASAP. I put mine in a book donation bin by the Safeway in my 'hood.

17. Kids clothes: find a child one year younger to donate clothes to -- let them sort through want they want to keep. The rest goes in a clothing donation bin.

18. My clothes: one year rule-- if I haven't worn it, off to the bin -- lucky for me, same Safeway parking lot.

19. Wipe up your kitchen floor and bathroom floor once a day-- takes two minutes, then it's always clean.

20. Kids paperwork -- send it to their grandmother! Max's grandmother lives in Michigan. Once each week, I send her a "Max packet" with all of his old school work and math and spelling tests. She loves it and I don't have extra paperwork around. Ten minutes time to go to the post office.

21. Max's artwork: I framed a few things that I liked. Makes Max feel special. Toss the rest. Pottery too!

(Ed's note. I'm adding a couple of her habits I already knew:)

22. Clean out your purse every night before you go to bed.

23. When you get back from the grocery store, immediately wash the fruit you will eat out of hand (peaches, apples, grapes..) and put in a bowl in plain sight in the fridge. That keeps it front and center as a snack choice and lets family members know it's clean and ready to eat. (Don't do this to berries. They should be washed right before use, or they will get soggy and rot faster.)

Who out there can top Allison? NO ONE. Go ahead, try, in the comments below.


  1. I consider myself pretty organized, but this list makes me feel like a procrastinating slacker! I'm going to print it out and try to develop these into real rules in my life. Thank you!

  2. Great post! I can put some of these practices to work immediately! But you're right, I can't top her.
    (I like the clean out your purse one!)

  3. I do these things, except the bank statement, that's done electronically now. And they all work to make one's life much better. However, not everyone can live like this and simply will not do it all. Oh, and I no longer have houseplants. Once a week was either too much or not enough, and they died.

  4. Slacker Alison says: Is life really worth living if you have to do laundry EVERY DAY?

  5. These are definitely good rules to live by. I've seen Allison in action and think she definitely is the gold standard when it comes to life management. Thanks for this wonderful post-- can think of no better person to showcase!

  6. Thank you for this! I re-posted it because it was so good! @JackrabbitPHX

    LOVE the blog and your sense of humor throughout your posts! So funny I actually lol!

  7. Add another.... ensure kids prepare their backpacks before bed in addition to swim bags or sports bags and have them loaded into the car for after school (along with snacks they might need).

  8. I've known Allison on a professional level and always knew she was on top of things, but this just took it to a whole different level!

  9. I am so proud of my freakishly organized friend. Great list!

  10. This list should have included Allison's tip for the closet: if you have worn the item once already, hang the hanger outwards facing you. Then you'll know just how clean it is.

  11. Thanks for highlighting this awesome woman! How does she make it look so easy? And you didn't even mention how much she likes to help others. She's a mitzvah machine, on top of it all.

  12. Hmmm...I WISH I did these things :-)

  13. Even if we don't have time to do any of the other 20 things on the list, Allison's idea about thank you notes is spot on. A prompt and thoughtful thank you note is an old-fashioned tradition well worth keeping. Think how nice it is to get personal mail, showing appreciation (!) among the bills and catalogs and junk. Speaking of writing, thanks Pamela for all of your fun and interesting posts!

  14. As Allison's next door neighbor, I can attest to her impressive organizational skills and attention to detail. We recently had a baby and she a.) decorated our door before we got home from the hospital; b.) remembered his 1 month birthday and brought him a birthday balloon on the EXACT day; c.) remembered his 6 month birthday (again, to the exact day) and treated him to another little gift! Who else does that?! She's awesome and we're lucky to know her and have her for a neighbor. p.s. my thank you notes for these thoughtful gestures were very tardy...hope she forgives me.

  15. How is it possible that a blog can be as useful as it is hilarious? And when's the Pam/Allison book contract going to be signed?