Winning the People’s Choice Award

people's choice award scan-kleiner Two weeks ago, at the annual Professional Organiser Conference in Melbourne, a colleague of mine, Sarah form Heavenly Order and I won the people’s choice award for our innovative idea to promote the industry, our own business and above all help out a under-resourced not for profit organisation in country NSW.

Here are the details in the nomination quote:

Reason for Nomination

Community Building & Collaboration – Organising with a Purpose

Sarah Cottman from Heavenly Order and Susanne Thiebe from LessMess support Havannah House, a halfway house in Forbes in Central NSW through passing on donations from clients.
In November 2014, with permission & cooperation from their clients, they decided to have a market stall to raise money selling donated clothing, books and other items.
The market was huge success! Through explaining to their clients where their donations might end up, clients became motivated, excited and even more generous. They were/are able to let go of more items with purpose!
On market day, there were many fruitful conversations with customers at the stall about organising, de-cluttering as well as the influence our stuff has on our well being. Most of those who bought, gave a little extra; one Mum even took the time to explain to her child knowing where the money would end up!
The stall raised over $500 that was deposited directly to Havannah House.
Through a collaborative approach, they also sourced:

Building communities is so important, in life, not just for business.
Havannah House provides shelter to families who have exhausted all government support, all charity support. They are a last resort to those in desperate need. They are one of very few institutions where the boys can stay with their families/mums beyond the age of 14. This is a topic very close to Susanne’s heart with her own teenage boys reminding her every day, that kids need their family.
Sarah has been working with the ladies who run Havannah house for a few years. She knows that being organised is not just helping to de-clutter or donating goods. It can be about teaching how to keep house, basic cookery and budgeting skills. Havannah House does this all as well as teaching academic skills. and eventually assists these families to find employment.
Sarah & Susanne will continue to build this relationship and actively encourage anyone else to join in or create their own amazing connections.

We are both extremely grateful to have had this opportunity to help and thank everyone who voted!

It’s a Life Skill

by Helena Tosello
One of the most useful skills you can teach your child is organisation. Organisation teaches children about responsibility and independence. As they get older they will learn, with your guidance, what type of person they are and what works for them. You can help them build on their strengths (eg early bird does homework before school) and set up support in other areas (eg breaking up assignments into chunks for procrastinators). As they build their skills and experience in organising, they will start to see the benefits of being organised such as time, money and energy saved, as well as less stress.

There are two main areas to learn, and practise, organisation:

1. Organising things is about storage and consistently placing items in the same place to prevent lost items and minimise time and energy looking for items.

2. Organising time is about routine and planning. Doing tasks at the appropriate time and thinking ahead so that enough time is allowed for tasks.

kids chart When children are young you organise all their time and items for them. Mostly this benefits yourself and the household and helps you survive the crazy years when there’s less sleep, time, money and energy in general.

Around three years of age, you can talk to your pre-schooler as you put groceries and laundry away, and they can help with suitable items. Explain where items are kept and why. Include their own items such as hat, shoes and bag for day care or pre-school. Talk to them during their morning and bedtime routines so they can learn why toothbrushes are kept in the bathroom and Mum keeps her keys near the door (or whatever happens in your house).

Many parents will list out loud the chores or errands to be done when leaving the house. I used to do this so much my youngest started to say “time for coffee” after we dropped his older brother at school. He was only three and a half years old!


Primary School

marshaling zone 2 Starting school means they need to start looking after their own things and this is so much easier if they’re organised. Teach them “a place for everything and everything in its place” and talk about the benefits, such as how quickly and easily you can get ready for school (leaving more time for TV and games) if school bags, shoes and hat are in the right place every time they come home.

A set routine in the afternoons also helps them start to think about time management. They may not have an idea about time yet so talk to them about it in a context they will understand. E.g. “When you get home you can have a snack until <insert name of TV show> is on. After you can watch that, we will do your home reader for 10 minutes (show clock or phone timer). Or “After soccer practice, it’s time for dinner then bath and bed.” Use charts with pictures or simple words for younger kids.

As your primary child gets older, talk to them about their weekly activities as well as what mum and dad have to do. Fill out a weekly planner with them to help both of you identify time for homework and assignments. Ask in advance if they need help or materials for a project – plan when that will happen. Note when family commitments and work trips are planned so they don’t leave requests for help building that animal shelter until the night before it’s due.

Print out whole term with boxes for days and each week. Help your child write in the dates and term week numbers, as well as important dates for tests and assignments. Work out with them in advance when they can go to the library, visit the craft shop, call Grandma for an interview or make their model of the solar system.

High school
Term Planner
In high school, the onus is much more on the child to organise both their items and time. Not only do they have more subjects and items, and less time, but also more tests and assignments and less help from you as there may be younger siblings or increased work commitments.

Continue with the above but with more emphasis on them doing it for themselves. Encourage and reinforce diary use. Check it daily or weekly, especially in year 7, so you can see if and how it is used. Check they have marked when tests and projects are happening. Most high schools will have a year coordinator who will advise parents of all the term’s assessment dates and the weightings of these. Ask to see these if they are not sent to you. Discuss with your child what they are planning to do each weekend. E.g when are they doing their exercise/chores/homework? Again continue to assist with planning and making suggestions. Advise them when family and other commitments eat into their time and when parents or others are not available if they will require help.

Teenagers are changing and continue to need your help with their routines. Make suggestions as they now have to include more personal hygiene tasks and travel into their school day. You know your child best. If they find it hard to get going in the mornings, help them to be extra organised the night before and supply fast, easy breakfast foods. Continue to set and enforce bed times and no screen time.

As your children grow and learn, make sure you show appreciation for their efforts (it helps you tremendously if they are organised) and praise them when they think ahead and show initiative with their own organisation.

With the development and experience of basic organisational skills, your young person will be able to extend them towards other areas as they mature, such as finances, phone plans, fitness, part-time jobs and other goals.

Helena is a mum in the middle of everything trying to regain the centre stage of her own life. She lives in inner west Sydney with two boys and a fly in-fly out husband. She enjoys coffee with friends, being organised, researching, sharing, and working on her fledging blog.
You can follow her

If you like the idea of a term planner for your school child, I have a A3 printable template. I am sure there is a way to put a button on here and make it downloadable, and I will figure this out eventually, but for now, if you pop me an email I’ll send the pdf to you!

Does it always have to be perfect?

I had a conversation with a long standing client recently and she suggested that this blog and my newsletter needs editing.
I agree and did ask weather spelling or grammar, and she said, definitely spelling and the grammar is sometimes a bit odd!
I know about both and I really don’t take offense. I have been criticized all my life for my spelling by people who overstepped their mark. In the last two years of Gymnasium – High school in Germany – I did Extension German and had a brilliant teacher who just decided at some point that if I tried hard to do the best I could with my spelling he would mark it but not judge my grade on it.
That was a bit of an eye opener for me and an approach I have taken ever since.
I try hard, re read even SMS, have spell check on every time, never just hit ‘send ‘and religiously switch my devices between German and English spelling – but that’s as far as I will go.
I do hate sloppy English as much as the worst spelling Nazi, but it’s not sloppiness that makes me ask my customers to “ sing up” to the LessMess newsletter. I just don’t see it. (This particular call to action brought me a reply from a very cheeky follower asking to join the LessMess Choir!)
The above mentioned conversation went further, because she said, as much as she is tempted to point out mistakes, it made her ‘buy’ in the first place. Because the website, blog and newsletter are not polished to death, there is a normal person, with short failings and not enough time on their hands showing through. It showed her a personality she thought she could work with.
I really liked this as it is part of my organising philosophy: Nothing is perfect and good enough is often good enough. I did name my business Less Mess on purpose, because No Mess is just unachievable in my eyes.

Just like moving house!

Max hilftAs  documented with plenty of photos on my Facebook page, our family has used the  holidays to do a bit of renovating around the house.
The floorboards have last been sanded 16 years ago and two of our kids where sharing a bedroom. A solution that hasn’t been working for the last two year. So the idea was to sand the floorboards and whilst everything is out paint the two kids bedrooms and our office. Then move everything back, but our youngest now has to share with the office instead of his older brother. The thinking behind this, that we use the office when he is at school – all the after hour stuff can be done with a laptop at the dining room table.
We had floors sanded before when living in a rental property so we knew what we got ourselves into dust and mess wise. We decided to do it ourselves to be able to work in two stages to avoid moving out all together – which is not just the where to stay when the work happens (including cat and chicken) but also removal and storage of furniture and stuff!
We think of ourselves as pretty minimalist – no big wardrobe, small kitchen.. but it is still AMAZING what you manage to tuck away in clever storage solutions and what needs packing up and storing somewhere once you decide to remove it all.
The other learning for me was, how stressful it is to live in mess.
Despite being a Professional Organiser, I am not a neat freak – or as the Germans call it- Putzteufel -cleaning devil. I need and maintain the level of order I and my family need to function. That standard changes and not everyone agrees (as my 12 year old put it after the floorboard sanding:” dust, what dust?”). I know the difference between tidy and organised and am definitely a lot more organised than tidy; but am normally able to find everything quickly and put things away in meaningful, retrievable places.
The moving out started very controlled with packing up books – making decisions on what we could let go of as we went. As days passed we had to be quicker and quicker so in the end, things just got chucked into boxes or stayed on the shelf despite us knowing that they would be full of dust by the end of it. We where running out of space in the garage and front porch and time! A lot was packed up with nobody really knowing where it went.
I can take these things, when they are temporary, with some humor (my socks and undies ended up in the outside shower!!!) but lasting too long I actually start getting anxious and unmotivated, don’t know where to start, contemplate going shopping just to get out of the  house and start eating out, because my own kitchen is virtually nonexistent.
I chatted to a colleague about it and joked, that I would raise my LessMess prices, because right now, I would give a kingdom for someone just coming in, telling me it’s all o.k and start de-cluttering, organising and telling me what to do. Someone that takes care of the rubbish and donates the give away right away!
Tim helps


Next time you go through your memorabilia or photos, take a moment to ponder on how different  life was. Different and a lot slower. Past Generations weren’t as fast moving – they couldn’t be. Not every family had a car, kids would walk to school and if an afternoon activity was too far away, you just couldn’t do it.  The absence of modern communication technology meant you had to arrange things well in advance – knowing that a change could be tough to make. The way to get through a day was very much driven by routine. I had a great aunt that stuck by the same meal plan for the week for most of her life. That is a bit extreme, but she never got caught out not knowing what to cook, never had food rotting in the fridge, and always stayed in the budget. It was also scheduled around her family’s regular commitments – like going to church on Sunday and putting the roast in the oven before you go.
It might sound boring and it’s easy to ring hubby to pick up a couple of supplies on the way home from work, but the human species hasn’t really changed and research suggests, that routine does us a lot of good. We get into auto pilot; we don’t always question things but just get them done. That frees up a lot of brain space and time for more important things.

De-clutter your timetable and form habits
here are a couple of ideas to get you started (the list should be long and personal)

  • always give the fridge a quick wipe before you do your weekly shopping,
  •  have a meal plan and get into the habit of coking soup on the days two of your three kids are out training soccer,
  • flip your wardrobe every season,
  •  take the rubbish out of the car,
  • sit down with a cup of coffee and a book for ½ hour every day
  • get the kids to have an afternoon nap every day (till they are at least 4) – no excuses! So you can have your break
  • find someone to go for a run with you on a Thursday – every Thursday
  • purge kids toys every school holidays
  • Wash your curtains a week after your birthday
  • Tidy the garage a week before council clean up
  • replace batteries when the time changes to winter/summer

You have decided to ask for Help…what’s next?

How to choose the right service to help you.

For us working in the service industry and ‘invading’ on our customer’s private spaces this is a fascinating question – and one that we ask our self when producing marketing material and processes on how to answer the phone.
I started in this business 9 years ago, and things have changed since. My first marketing success was a classified advertising in the Sydney Child, a publication widely read then and now. I had to relay on people stumbling over it, as nobody knew that Professional Organiser existed, and fewer people goggled for help. The internet wasn’t a trusted source of help.
Nowadays, we trust it almost unquestioned and even more our cyber network. I am part of a local mums group on facebook – one of over 10,000 and the amount of call out for help or just reliable information is immense. And it goes as far as others pointing out to you, or making you aware, that you indeed need help, because they went through the same and know that help is available and does get things done.
The next step is to realise you will need outside help to get it done – the hardest bit on the journey to get organised in my eyes. Maybe made easier by the knowledge that others did the same, that it’s nothing shameful to ask for help.
Then comes the all important first phone call, where every party tries to check the other one out; one building trust, the other one checking off a sub conscious checklist of items you want from someone that will enter your bedroom and go through your bedside drawers!
Next might be a bit of back and forth, mainly to check on each other’s reliability and professionalism – me sending out service agreements, customers checking testimonial pages and reading the above agreement to look for any loopholes or shifty sentences.
By the fist appointment both parties involved have bought into the deal, but trust is and will always be built and maintained.

Donating to Charities: Is it a sustainable Cycle?

It depends on YOU weather it is. If you donate the right things at the right time to the right charity, you can indeed do a lot of good.
This is what  NACRO (National Association of Charitable Recycling Organisation) has to say on their website:
1.Ask yourself, would you give this item to a friend in need (ie it’s clean, undamaged, good quality)
2.Donate direct to the op shop during operating hours or call to arrange pick-up for larger items
3.Put rubbish and damaged items in your rubbish bin.

Communicate ahead of your de-cluttering day with the intended destination of your donations, because their rules, regulations, safety laws or just the need (or no need) for certain items changes all the time.
I personally think there is nothing wrong with donating money on top of you donating goods – because it might sometimes cost more money to sell items than they are worth!
But there is one more point I would add to the list above
4. Would you buy it in an Op Shop?
If the answer is no, don’t give it to them.  That’s the main reason why more and more shops don’t accept books and toys any more – because NOBODY buys them!
Which lead into the second part of sustainable donating:
5.Start buying at Op Shops
I made that decision a couple of years ago.
I was never really sure about used clothing, but I got over it as my business relights hugely on charities being able to take what my clients have to offer. I figured, if no one buys they will stop taking things – and I would have to close my shop, too!
I am more and more of an Op Shopper as I find it offers more variety and quirkier pieces. I know the staff of my local Vinnies quite well – I volunteered to do some sorting for them to get an insight what is involved and what sells. Invaluable information I can pass on to my customers – but also invaluable to me, because one of the ladies there always points out frocks to me that are my size and my taste – lake having a personal Op Shop Shopper!!!
Sustainable donating is also a solution for those who are very concerned with their contribution to the rubbish we have to recycle and store as landfill. It shifts the point of producing rubbish from letting go to when you buy it. The carbon footprint is created when you buy things not when you let go of them. Rubbish removal is the smaller part of the carbon footprint we create with over purchasing and consumption.

Don’t judge

Two weeks ago, this article made the rounds on my social media feed – and my PO colleagues. All POs where mad as hell about it, because it so doesn’t portray what we and real life is about.
I did think about talking about it on my Facebook page, but I didn’t want to give it more air time than it deserved.
Apart from being badly written (some people thought it could be tongue in cheek, others didn’t) it creates a completely wrong reality. It’s like supermodels pretending to fit into normal clothes and teenager girls developing an unhealthy body image through it.
These articles, together with makeover shows and lifestyle shows, create a false impression of real family life. It makes people who find dealing with stuff hard even more insecure and isolated. It takes the responsibility for one’s stuff out of everyone’s hand because the public, your next door neighbour, your mother in law makes the decision how much stuff you need to have.
But they shouldn’t and you shouldn’t accept that. Clutter is a very personal thing.  Only the one’s living in your household would be allowed to judge on it. If you think it’s o.k than it is o.k. If you think it’s to much and you are brave enough to ask for help, be sure to ask someone that DOES NOT JUDGE.
I do have to blow my own trumpet here, because that’s the most important trait of being a good Professional Organiser; non judgmental and confidential!
Please read the above mentioned article and make up your own mind!


Organisers talk, think and some  even dream about labeling.
Most use a labeling machine, but I love masking tape for various reasons:

  1. It’s cheap
  2. You can write big, bold letters
  3. It’s quick
  4. It’s not perfect
  5. You can peal it off easily

The two last ones are somewhat linked, because getting organised is a process. Sometimes the spot you first thought is a good one turns out to be not so perfect for various reasons. With sticky tape, you don’t worry about creating a new label, just peel it off and re use it at the new location.
There are two more side effects that are more personal/business:
As English is my second language, I am prone to spelling mistakes (that’s a bit of a lie, as I am crap in German spelling, too) so just re scribbling something on tape is much easier then typing again on a device.
Another reason is the imperfection of hand scribbled labels. You are more inclined to re think and re do things. I have seen labels on boxes that don’t work at all anymore but still get used just because it was so much work labeling in the first place.
It’s like buying a suspension filing system with an alphabetical labeling – where you struggle to create a file that starts with ‘Z’.
Here are a couple of ideas on how creative you can and should be with labeling:
Labeling Ideas

  • It doesn’t always have to be the file or container that is labeled. Try labeling the spot on the shelf

label shelf spot

  • when labeling and you don’t know where the box will end up – and that applies specifically for packing moving boxes, label on three sides:

lid or top of box,
one small and
one wide side.
This way, no matter how the space you are puting your box presnts itself, you can always see a lable

  • and in some cases even underneath could make sense: This was a garage de-clutter where we installed storage shelves just under the main ceiling beam. Meant for rarely used items, like sentimental value, we labeled the narrow side and underneath to be able to know what’s up there without always needing a stepladder

label underneath

  • you can visually divide boxes into two categories

device by label

  • and sometimes more then one language make it obvious who’s stuff it is.

bilingual labels

Just Change some Words

and it might change your attitude towards your to do list

Who doesn’t have that ever re-accruing task on their to do list; I used to have ‘finish Max photo album’ on it; week after week after week; till I decided to just not put it on there anymore and wait till that Max is moved out and I have time and will enjoy a bit of simple scrapbooking.
Another idea to get things off your to do list – and actually DO them, is to break it down into smaller tasks and label them with smaller words that don’t scare you off as soon as you read them. So for the above mentioned example; rather than saying ‘finish photo album’ which I knew would take 40 hours, I should have written down more specific tasks:
So instead of ‘finish’ it could say ‘sort photos for 30 min’ or even ‘play with photos for 30 min’. I might find the time for that and will enjoy that. My brain knows that finishing the photo Albums of 4 years of pre digital prints is completely out of the question so I am boycotting myself if I even put it on my list.
This goes for business tasks, too.  Don’t call it creating a marketing plan – a very open ended and intense verb; instead use write or start or brainstorm 10 possibilities, which is much more concrete and finite task. Then next week doesn’t have the same ‘create marketing plan’ on the list, but something like continue, or detail brainstorming to one page… and so on.
If you find breaking it into small tasks  too hard, try putting a time limit to it. 30 min will get you somewhere and is much easier to get started. A good tool to do it this way is the Pomodore Method