True Confessions: This Professional Organizer’s Pitfalls


I was recently asked, “What’s your organizing weakness?”  or better yet  “What’s the one area of your home that would surprise people that you don’t have organized? “ Two things come to mind and I’m a bit embarrassed to share. The first place would be my crawl space. Yes, it’s somewhat organized and I know what’s down there but, I do walk down there and throw things in and shove items in. This is one thing I always encourage my customers NOT to do. I should climb up into it and put things back in an orderly fashion. So I find myself cringing when I don’t follow my own advice and follow the rules. Ninety percent of the plastic bins down there are empty. I should recycle them or donate them. You might suggest I need them one day, but that would not be the case. I always want to be in the business of simplifying my life and getting rid of more and more. There’s no way I’d buy enough or gain enough stuff to make it worth keeping them.

I noticed this reaction in a recent client interaction. We had pitched a ton of file folders from their small business and had a huge shredding pile from the contents. The customers noticed all the used file folders going into the recycle bin. Their response was, “why aren’t we keeping those?” I pointed out how much we had streamlined, consolidated and simplified in their business. And then I asked what would we be adding that would need this many extra folders? Then the lightbulb went on and they understood. We all need to flip the switch in our minds. It’s a mentality to learn and embrace. If your goal is to always have less and you desire to be getting rid of more, the likelihood of you needing the extra bins, crates or folders are slim to none. Just let them go. I give you full permission J

The second confession would be the tendency to procrastinate in one area of my life that I’ve been working on getting better at. Now I don’t typically procrastinate but one area of my life trips me up and that would be doing the dishes. My whole house could be organized and clean but at any time throughout the week if you’d walk through my kitchen, you would see a sink full of dishes. I cook often and I’m often running in and out of the house doing things, that I leave a mess there. It’s the only thing my ex-husband would tease me about… the kitchen being a mess. I always smile at myself because I do know better and should be better at tackling the dishes instead of avoiding them.

So what’s your one major weakness? Where would you want none of us to look? Your turn to confess. It’s freeing. No judgement here. No one is calling for perfection. Recognize where you are at and make strides in the right direction.

Amber Kostelny, Certified Professional Organizer, Amber’s Organizing, LLC Chicago, IL 60631

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Organizing Shoes



So what is the best way to organize shoes? There’s no one pat answer for this. The solutions come from how your closet is laid out, what type of home you live in (condo or house) and where you put on your shoes. So where do you or your family kick off their shoes? And do you put your shoes on with your outfit standing in your closet every day?  Do you live in a home with a mudroom? Or do you live in a condo with very little space in the foyer or hallway?

So let’s discuss location first:

Mudroom in a house- Even if you have a mudroom, organization still can be a challenge in this area. My clients will still complain that this area still gets clogged and things pile up. The one and only solution to this is keeping only two to three pairs of shoes per family member in this area. The excess has to weekly or monthly be carried up to bedroom closets. All family members cannot keep all their shoes in the mudroom. It will never work. So you might have beautiful built in shoe shelves or cubbies but unless excess shoes are run to bedrooms every once and awhile, the system will be thrown off and will get cluttered.  The other thing I see often in mudrooms is the wrong size basket in the cubby or bench. Measure and measure again and take time finding the basket or bin that fits perfectly. If you get containers that too small, it wastes storage space in the mudroom.

Bedroom Closets- Storing shoes in closets is totally acceptable. You just want to be wise about how you use your space. If you’re short on shelf space you’re going to have to use the floor or back of the door. If you’re willing, discard all shoe boxes. They get dusty. You can’t see into them. And they aren’t all symmetrical which creates towers when you’re stacking them. If you must containerize them use clear shoe boxes. Kids shoes are nice and small so hanging shoe organizers and back of door shoe organizers work well for their bedrooms.

Condo/Apartment Foyers- These are tricky. When I’m organizing downtown in the city in high rise buildings there is typically no area for a shoe mat or shoe tray let alone a bench or entryway organizational furniture piece. So most often these folks store all shoes in their bedroom and most often they use the back of door shoe pockets because space is a hot commodity. There are also more unique storage pieces that hide shoes in the middle of the bedroom instead of staring at shoes at the end of your bed. Check this one out.

Next let’s discuss storing and organizing types of shoes:

Flats and Flip Flop- If you’re short on space, these are great to stack and just keep them sorted like with likes. Brown flats with brown flats, flip flops with flip flops.

Boots- If you have floor space I love this boot organizer on the floor. Makes it easy to retrieve the pair you’d like to wear. If you only have shelf space adjust shelves to match height or use boot boxes seen here to store flat during the off season.

Work Heels- High heels need a non-ventilated shelf or shoe cubbies to be stored on. Wire shelving would have to be covered with shelf liners to keep them standing upright. Adjust shelves to not waste space and fit the high heel heights.

Cocktail/Special Occasion shoes- Don’t waste precious space on these shoes. Store them up high in clear shoe boxes. They aren’t out of sight but they aren’t taking up precious real estate down low in your closet.

Gym Shoes- These are the easiest to store. You can pretty much pick wherever you’d like to store them. They’ll fit on the floor, on any kind of shelf or in shoe cubbies.

Amber Kostelny, Certified Professional Organizer, Amber’s Organizing, LLC, Chicago, IL 60631



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Organizing His Closet: Steps in Approaching a Man’s Closet









This blog is for you men out there that find value in an organized closet and would like tips and tricks for your side of the closet. Bonus points for reading this, because that means you care and are looking to improve your closet. Most men’s closets and clothes are pretty straight forward but it is not true that they have less than most women. I see an equal share of very full closets. Men tend to shop online like women but never end up purging their side of the closet. When I was married, we would have an organizing session once a year where I’d pull everything out of his closet and drawers and just ask him what he didn’t like or didn’t wear anymore. No fights, just honesty. Then I’d get the fun job of putting it all away. It made for a good system and solution to not filling up our closets. Whether you’re married or single consider these twelve tips for him.

  1. I highly recommend categorizing shirt types very specifically and then by color within each category type. Sort dress shirts on a hanger into three categories. Dress shirts, casual dress shirts with Collar (something you’d where on a date or to a party) and a casual shirt without collar. And finally, always hang short sleeve polos with an obvious collar (golf, tennis or just regular polos.)
  2. T-shirt is the category that always has the most excess for men. I decide how to organize then based on how many he has and the quality of the t-shirt. I would hang t-shirts you could wear to a summer party and store t-shirts in drawers that you’d only wear working on the car or in the yard. Keep the ratty t-shirts you’d never leave the house out of sight.
  3. Gym shirts shouldn’t be hung. Separate them out into a drawer so you can grab and go next time you’re headed to work out.
  4. I like to hang team jerseys so you can grab and go on game day.
  5. Divide gym socks verses dress socks. Use two separate drawers or a drawer divider if they have to share a drawer.
  6. Don’t forget to color code. If eighty percent of your dress shirts are blue, you might want to consider buying a different color next time you’re picking out a dress shirt. Guys will miss that if their clothes aren’t color coded.
  7. Hang pants on the bottom and shirts above (as it resembles the layout of a human body) It’s hard to tell brown, navy, and black pants apart so again get creative to separating out by color and using clear dividers such as different hangers, clothing tags, a white t-shirt hung up or a marker/divider of some sort. Even use a ribbon or tie.
  8. Fold jeans and sweats unless you’re short on shelf space. I wouldn’t waste the hanging space on these.
  9. Fold and stack sweaters and sweatshirts by like colors. I tend to hang a sweater if it has a collar and hang hoodies to keep them from falling apart on shelves.
  10. A closet must have for any guy is a recycling bin for dry cleaning paper, plastic and hangers. Most all men use dry cleaning to help stay on top of laundry. Keep the system up by having a trash can or recycling bin available.
  11. Invest in a tie and belt organizer. Most men have enough of both categories that warrant these specific organizing products.
  12. Women get a bad rap for purses that were never emptied but men empty their pockets of the same type of stuff and it lands all over the closet or in the top dresser drawer. I find coins, Kleenex, golf score cards, pencils, batteries, wine corks, sunglasses and much more. Gentlemen, you need a place to collect the coins ( a jar or mug for example) and a place for the stuff that comes out of your pockets. Don’t keep it all but sort it into an organizer or container of some kind in your drawer or on your closet shelf.

Amber Kostelny, Certified Professional Organizer, Amber’s Organizing, LLC Chicago, IL 60631

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8 Ways to Keep your Closet Organized








It’s one thing to organize your closet once by yourself or with a professional organizer, but what are the tried and true tricks that keep it organized. I’ll share some personal tips and strategies that I teach clients after we have organized their closet together.  


  • Keep a garbage can close to the closet. More garbage accumulates in a closet then one might imagine. Tags, dry cleaning debris, shopping bags, boxes, and random stuff at the bottom of purses and gym bags. It always surprises people how much trash accumulates on the floor or in the back of their closet. And it surprises me even more to see there is no garbage can in sight.
  • Label shelves and section of hanging clothes to help you put clean clothes away. It’s easy to shove clothes during a busy week or busy weekend but if you have things labeled you will think twice and remember to use the system. You may have to get creative with tags and labels by attaching them to shelves, bins or baskets. I’d recommend going as far as separating out skinny jeans versus regular jeans. Every woman also has a zillion black yoga pants. Designate one area for each category of clothing and label that area.
  • Consider laying out your closet to mimic a human body. Hang tops and shirts above and pants below. This will help in making outfits, getting dressed fast and putting clean clothes away.
  • Separate where you toss drying cleaning and mending from where you toss regular laundry. Keep these two laundry baskets or hampers near to where you drop your clothes after a long day. If it’s in the bathroom, move the dirty laundry system to the bathroom. If it’s in the middle of you bedroom at the foot of your bed, place your laundry hampers nearby along the wall or next to a dresser. Create the system based on your habits.
  • Shoe cubbies are by far the easiest to maintain in my opinion. As you slip off the shoes shove them into one open cubby. Each pair has their own spot and you can see into that spot to retrieve and wear the pair. It’s also easier to put them away, instead of taking an empty shoe box off the shelf and putting the shoes back away after wearing them. Less steps ensures you will maintain the system.
  • Matching hangers always inspire order and gives the appearance of an organized, neat closet. Consider buying all the same hangers to inspire you.
  • Getting laundry put away and getting dry cleaning back into your closet is by far the greatest challenge for my adult customers. My personal rule is never jump into bed until all clothes are off my floor in my bedroom. The quicker I move the faster I get to go to bed. When I do this every night (which I do) it never piles up to huge amounts of time.
  • Get into a laundry doing groove as well. Always do family members clothes separate. Mixing clothes creates more work and time sorting and folding and putting away. Divide and conquer keeping everyone’s clothes separate.


Amber Kostelny, Certified Professional Organizer, Amber’s Organizing, LLC, Chicago, IL 60631


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This Professional Organizer wears Pink!


Five years ago this month, I heard the dreaded words from my doctor “ You have breast cancer.” I will never forget that day, that moment, that fear. In an instant my world came crashing down and all things stopped. All future hopes and dreams paused and I wanted to give up. I didn’t want to fight Stage 2 cancer. I was emotionally paralyzed.  It didn’t seem to be real. It was also very unbelievable because I was in such good shape. My oncologist kept saying “ You are in the best shape of your life. You are strong to fight this. ” Cancer doesn’t give those that are “healthy” a break. It doesn’t matter healthy, skinny, overweight, old, young, or underweight, etc. It comes when it comes and I believe it was the Providential hand in my life intervening

We are entering the “pink” month. Everything is pink because October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month.  We will even see football players in the NFL wear pink to show their support. I still shake my head at that one. I remember at that time I loathed the color pink. I couldn’t wear it and wouldn’t wear it. I refused because that would mean I’d have to admit cancer was real in my life. I was in complete denial. But I needed cancer, yes “needed” cancer, and I didn’t know it then. It turned my world upside down for the better.

Five years out from my diagnosis I can see how cancer was meant for my good. I can actually thank God for something so terrible and horrific. I wouldn’t be the person I am today without that experience. Cancer did several major things for me.

First it weeded out people that weren’t authentic in my life. Those that ran and hid needed to exit my life. God was taking me deeper and only those that would withstand the trial would come out on the other side alongside me. Under the most stressful time of life, people show their true colors and unfortunately, losing those people hurt worse than cancer but ultimately it was for my good.

Second, it brought new friends into my life. Loyal friends, nurses and doctors gave me the love I needed to carry through. They saw me at my worst and still loved and cared for me. One new friend I made will always hold a special place in my heart. We bonded in a Starbucks bathroom showing each other our scars and wigs. That was so deeply meaningful to me because she understood. We had only known each other an hour but from that day till the present, I know when I call her to talk, she gets it. No one in the world understands quite like she does.

Finally, I think of all the women I have interacted with through my business since 2011. I have provided organizing services for female clients across the city of Chicago that have battled cancer or that have had a sister, aunt, daughter, grandma or mother battle cancer. I never knew cancer would help me be a better professional organizer.   The amount of empathy and understanding towards my customers makes me serve them with passion and grace and less judgment. Gratefulness and remembrance overwhelms my heart during this month. I cringe as I remember the pain, nausea, and exhaustion but smile at the new friends, greater empathy and deeper sense of meaning to life.  And today I wear pink!



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Decision Making: How to Become More Decisive


Youth Decision Making Concept, Top View

Have you ever stopped and thought about how many decisions take place during an organizing session? I would say hundreds even thousands of decisions are made in a matter of a session in one day. Either my customer is making the decisions if we are working on a project together or if my team is unpacking a whole house, we are making the decisions all day.

It goes to show that professional organizers need to be good decision makers and need to know how to lead someone into making decisions wisely and quickly. The clock is ticking when we decide to go through an entire master closet, so making decisions fast is a learned art and a valuable skill to have.

Of course there are decisions we make each and every day that have nothing to do with organizing. I was discussing this concept with a friend over coffee. How does one become a better decision maker? How does a person become more decisive?   I’ve been told I’m a fast decision maker and I’ve always thought of myself as being able to make decisions but recently this year I realized although I’m great at making decisions for work, I have neglected making personal decisions. Someone pointed this out to me and I was so shocked. They point blank said “You are not making decisions for yourself. “ I was convicted to start making decisions in my personal life instead of being paralyzed by loss and fear.

It got me thinking as to what prevents us from making decisions and I believe these are the top reasons So consider these thoughts. Can you identify? Which are your triggers in delaying decision making? The more we know about ourselves the greater opportunity we have to start working on these hang ups and start making decisions.

  1. Fear-  “What might happen if I choose ___________?

Most choices can result in several different outcomes so the fear that plagues us is the fear of the unknown. On very large decisions, I would agree that fear is a healthy trigger to stop us from doing something stupid.  On small matters, there shouldn’t be any fear.  Just in case the result isn’t what we wanted, we can always rectify the situation and change course. Ask yourself, “What’s the worst case scenario for an outcome if I make this decision?”  On small matters I’m confident the worst case scenario is always fixable. No big deal. Slow down for the huge, life altering decisions.

  1. Lack of Information– “ How can I make this decision if I don’t know______? “

You are absolutely right. Find information, research or read enough to help you make an educated decision. Now understand, do just enough. You don’t need to read books and volumes or spend gobs of time and energy doing this. Do your due diligence and limit your “research time”. Otherwise you’ll be bogged down and never make the decision.

  1. Lack of Confidence“ I always make the wrong choice.”

Not true. The more you practice making decisions and the more you change the lens how you look at making decisions the better you will become and you will start to believe in yourself. Avoid negative self-talk. Negativity is getting you nowhere fast. It’s actually hurting you in the long run.  Just because your parents, ex-spouse or cruel friend accuses you of it, doesn’t make it true and doesn’t mean you don’t have the ability to change.

  1. Others influence or opinion“ I can’t decide that because of ___________.”

This blank can be filled in with words such as my boss, spouse, sister, coworkers, and parents. Stop giving your power to other people. When I say power, I don’t mean you’re king or you’re the president. I mean you are capable of making your own decisions if the impact of that decision is first and foremost on yourself, go ahead and make the decision.  Clearly I don’t want you deciding to sell your home without consulting your wife, but on all matters for yourself decide to decide. You have the freedom to. Others don’t have a hold on you and should not have a hold on you. If they do, you have unhealthy boundaries with those around you and I would recommend reading the book “Boundaries” by Dr. Henry Cloud. My life changed after reading that book.

  1. Loss“I emotionally can’t handle making that decision right now. “

That is perfectly fine. It is perfectly acceptable to be grieving or mourning a loss that prevents you from making a decision. Should the loss paralyze you indefinitely? No, but there are times in life when you are thankful just to make it through one day to make it to the next day without forcing yourself to make a decision. When you are under that much grief, stress, or sadness no one should be making decisions that they will regret later. I think losing something in our life also helps us clarify what we really want and what we really value. Out of all that loss and grief comes clarity and purpose.

Amber Kostelny

Amber’s Organizing, LLC

7401 W. Howard St.

Chicago, IL 60631

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Being Mindful of Others









Over the summer, I attended a very large leadership conference. I believe there was close to seven thousand people at this two day event. You could imagine the parking lots were completely full, lunch lines took an hour to get through, and women’s bathrooms were always jammed. As an introvert I looked for the “quiet room” as often as we had breaks to escape the masses of people. The conference was very inspiring but I noticed something that related to organizing while consistently waiting in line for the bathroom during those two days.

I noticed women that were mindful of others. I noticed women that cared to pick up after themselves. I noticed women leaving the space better than when they found it. As I washed my hands each time I went, I saw other conference attendees wiping down their sink space, picking up lingering paper towels, and tossing garbage others had left behind. It dawned on me that these same women probably have organized homes and work places! I couldn’t believe that they took the time to make the space in a public bathroom better than when they found it. I will say none of the restrooms ever got gross or disgusting.

What if we had this same mindset at work or at home? What if we cared enough for our coworkers and family members to pick up after ourselves and leave the kitchen counter tops or bedroom floor better than how we found it? What if we stopped blaming others, pointing fingers, and waiting for someone else to care enough to pick it up?

Whether you have roommate, a spouse, a coworker, a shared desktop space or vehicle, may this story inspire us all to be mindful of our surroundings and to be mindful of who is coming after us. Do we care enough and take time to help others?

Amber Kostelny

Amber’s Organizing, LLC

7401 W. Howard ST.

Chicago, IL 60631

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Breaking Up with Stuff








Break ups, splits, getting dumped, divorce, moving out, moving on brings some of the worst emotional pain imaginable. I’ve been there and have done it three times in the last three years. I’d choose a broken ankle or the swine flu any day of the week if it could prevent my heart from feeling like it’s been torn in half. It makes me say that I’ll never let anyone in ever again. I don’t think I could survive more emotional pain because there’s no cure for it, only waiting for time to pass.

You might be wondering how this has anything to do with organizing. Here’s my point. Breaking up with stuff after breaking up with a person has to happen.  Allowing stuff to remain around us that reminds us of the person is a recipe for disaster. It drags us down, paralyzes us and leaves us stuck.  When I encounter people that have been through hurt and loss in relationships, the amount of freedom they find when we ditch the ex’s stuff cannot be expressed in words.  They find permission to move on and let go. For one client, it was furniture that her ex left behind. Once the furniture was sold on Craig’s List, it was as if she could breathe again. She wasn’t aware of the hold it had on her emotions until I encouraged her to get rid of his stuff.

Pictures are also an obstacle. Get them off your phone by downloading them onto your computer. Then drag all of the ex’s photos into one folder. Organize them into one place and you’ll never have to look at them again until you can stomach it. Or you’ll end up deleting them at some point. Regardless, don’t have them floating around your computer or electronic devices to make you sad anytime you see one pop up. Be swift, thorough, and diligent to get this task done. Social media such as Facebook or Instagram would be trickier. Delete them on the feed. Bury them quickly by posting new feed or go off of social media for a little while.

Where ever you are at in your break up journey , consider what is left behind that affecting your heart and mind. How can you lessen the blow and begin to heal. There’s no right or wrong way of doing things but removing items is the first step.

The way I handle ex’s stuff is it gets thrown into bins or bags and I toss it in my crawl space under my house. Yes, I would never recommend that typically as an organizer because most people would never revisit the stuff and it would sit there for years. However, I have a method to my madness. You see I pack up all the stuff, get it out of my sight and then later after time has passed I pitch the stuff with a fury. How much time? That answer all depends on how fast I can heal and get over the person. My most recent breakup is the hardest to figure out.  I can’t fit a ladder and fourteen pots of flowers from my deck into my crawl space. He planted a million beautiful flowers for me and every day I pass them on my deck and it drives me nuts looking at them. I thought about not watering them and letting them die a long slow death, but I’m still debating that one.

Happy healing to you (& me) !

Amber Kostelny

Amber’s Organizing, LLC

7401 W. Howard St.

Chicago, IL 60631

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Organizing the Intangible










Have you ever felt disorganized virtually or electronically? Whether it is email, photos, or files, being disorganized in any of these areas drives me bonkers as if they were mounds of clutter in my house. Recently for me it was multiple ways to sign into Google that really made me stop and organize all my Google accounts. I had three emails to sign into six different Google apps. I was very disorganized with all my Google accounts and recently I said “Enough is enough. You have to figure this out Amber. Start consolidating.”

So day after day and about a week later, I had figured out all my accounts, apps and which went where. I talked to Google three times during this time period and they were super helpful to point me in the right direction.  The biggest lesson learned is that each Google service (for example Google Plus, Google Pages, Google Adwords, etc) are all separate. You have to log into each and every one and change the settings to all point to one email log in.

I’m thrilled to say I completed my Google project and all my applications through Google are now connected to one Gmail account.  If you’re a tech person you’re probably laughing at me writing this right now but for me, this was a huge accomplishment. I’m great at organizing, not technical stuff and despite that weakness , I want to practice what I preach even in my computer environment. This exercise taught me a lot about organizing the electronic or intangible part of our lives and I’m convinced it’s just as important as organizing our, closets, kitchen cabinets, toys and garages.

Consider other areas of your life that are not tangible but need to be organized… bank accounts, investment accounts, time, thoughts, and ideas. All of these can’t be held and sorted but all are equally important to organize, track and consolidate!

Amber Kostelny

Amber’s Organizing, LLC

7401 W. Howard ST.

Chicago, IL 60631

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Paralyzed by Paper



After walking into two homes covered in paper last week, I thought it’s time to write about mail once again. You’d think that mail shouldn’t be an issue or wouldn’t be an issue anymore with our technology to go paperless, but there are still several people that struggle with mail coming through their front door.  Each home saw eight, yes eight garbage bags of paper find their way into the recycling bin. Only one small one inch thick stack of paper was kept as permanent records or tax records that needed to be filed or scanned in.

So what did I do? Glad you asked. This was my process and you’re welcome to follow it yourself.

First, I went through all the backlog of mail. I zipped open hundreds of envelopes. Obvious junk mail was tossed without even opening them. Several paper cuts were encountered J

Second, I kept one bill of every type (for example Com Ed, Verizon, etc) and one statement (Chase Checking, Mortgage Statement, BCBSIL Explanation of Benefits) of every type.

Third, myself or the client started logging into the website of each and every bill vendor and statement vendor. When an account needed to be created, we would set one up and record all usernames and passwords.

Fourth, each bill was made paperless and autopay

Fifth, each statement was turned onto paperless or an e-statement.

Lastly, one household was inundated with mail from charity asking for money. We counted about thirty five different charities. Guess what we did? We called each one and removed the address from the charity mailing list.

You may be thinking, all of that is a lot of work. And yes you’re right. It took a while and was very tedious work. But I’ll tell you the pay off. No bills will be late, less mail will come through the front door, and I’ve equipped them to maintain organization without me. I wouldn’t be a good organizer if I just “cleaned up the mail piles”. We need to get to the root of the paper problem as organizers and here’s how…. STOP THE PAPER FROM COMING IN by just a click online!

Amber Kostelny

Amber’s Organizing, LLC

7401 W. Howard St

Chicago, IL 60631

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