The Heart of Organizing



One thing I love about being an organizer is my clients that come across my path. All of their stories are different and all of their challenges resemble their stories. If I can bring hope, order, and a sense of peace into their home or business then I’ve done my job well.

All of these names are completely fake but the stories are real. I share them with you not to shame people or point fingers but to encourage those of us on the journey and those of us that need hope.

Charlie was a stroke victim forcing him to retire early. Without the mental capability to keep up with paperwork, piles began to grow and take over his home. My goal was to make as much of the paperwork automated and electronic to give him long term solutions with less paper coming in through the mail. At the end of several appointments, Charlie was set up for success relieving a lot of the concern, stress and shame he dealt with.

Thomas is a widower who lost his wife a year ago and is taking care of his three children. His new roles and responsibility with the home and children left him overwhelmed.  All of his late wife’s things needed to be gone through, sorted and donated. When it was too emotional for him to do this project, I was called in for help. What a privilege it was!

Sarah went through a messy divorce. Trying to manage being a single mom, running a household, and forced into getting a new job,  left her overwhelmed, drained and stressed out. Helping her get organized brought a new found confidence and strength to keep going. We squashed the lie that said she couldn’t take care of things and stay on top of things!

Missy was a medical school student. She was never home and never had the time to get settled into her new apartment. Now she was about to get married and her fiance’ was to move in. She called in a panic. After one long grueling organizing session in several closets, she was set back up for success and wouldn’t stop texting me afterwards to express how grateful she was.

I could share ten more stories with you but I’ll stop here. Each customer has a need and each need lies deeper than surface clutter. I can’t fix the heart but I can help bring encouragement, relief and practical comfort in times of desperate need. If you’re struggling through something emotionally or mentally, your clutter or chaos just might be a symptom or struggle associated with it. Look at how it’s all related and start with one piece of the puzzle. If it’s organizing the physical, I’d love to help.

Amber Kostelny

Amber’s Organizing, LLC

7401 W. Howard St.

Chicago, IL 60631

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Top Ten Moving Tips from a Certified Professional Organizer

Home interior right after moving in.

Home interior right after moving in.










I’ve been helping people move and unpack now for twelve years and I frequently encounter the same questions and the same mistakes. So if I could only tell you ten pieces of advice, here they are in no particular order:

  1. Purge before packing. This is an obvious task but often people don’t make the time to go through drawers, closets, and cabinets. Your goal should be to get rid of at least 10-20%. Before you gasp, that’s very realistic and manageable.
  2. Hire the moving truck company to pack you. Packing services that are linked to or tied into the moving truck company will be the cheapest route. They will be the fastest and most cost effective.
  3. If at all possible do not move on the 30th or 1st of the month. That’s the most expensive time of the month to move. Save yourself some money by picking “off dates” and the off season (non- summer). Avoid holidays as well.
  4. Don’t expect to start unpacking the day the moving truck drops off your furniture and boxes. Companies like cable tv, security service, wifi set up or phone service will most likely be your top priority. Realistically, unpacking will start the next day. My company will only arrive after the moving truck leaves. That’s one of my strict policies.
  5. Although it doesn’t feel like the best use of you time, stand and watch to see where every box is being dropped off in the house. Save yourself a lot of back ache and time by making sure each box is going to the right room as it comes through the front door.
  6. Don’t clean before movers and organizers arrive. Clean afterwards. They will track in dirt, dust, cardboard and packaging material that will get your home all dirty again. My only exception to this would be inside of kitchen cabinets. If you’d want to wipe those down, then do so.
  7. Don’t buy cabinet shelf liner or drawer liner. It’s a huge waste of money and makes the dishes stick as you take them in and out. It also makes it harder to clean inside.
  8. Resist the urge to go shopping for setting up your new home before unpacking. First unpack and write a specific shopping list so you don’t make ten trips to the store.
  9. Always plan ahead. Once you know you are moving, don’t procrastinate with tasks and booking professionals to help. You will make it through the move more smoothly and with less stress if you plan ahead!
  10. Don’t wash all your dishes as you unpack them. Wash them as you pull them out to use with your family or for parties. It will take triple the amount of time to get settled if you insist on all kitchen dishes being washed.


Amber Kostelny

Amber’s Organizing, LLC

7401 W. Howard St

Chicago, IL 60631


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Are you organized?

Ten SModern living room with wood floortatements to Gauge Your Organization Factor

Ever wonder, am I really organized? Would someone say I’m organized? On occasion I show up to an organizing appointment and I walk in and after showing me their home, I’m wondering, “ Why did this family or individual hire me?  They’re organized.” Like I said, this doesn’t happy often but it always amuses me when it does. Our perception of organization is often different from those around us. We can look organized but really be a mess inside or we can be too hard on ourselves in not realizing we don’t give ourselves enough credit for the good systems and solutions we have in place.
As you seek to gain a better understanding of where you are on the organization scale, consider these positive statements that can reassure you, you are headed in the right direction.

You ARE organized IF ……..

  1. You can find what you need quickly (within minutes). Not hours and not weeks. My rule is five-ten minutes or less.
  2. You throw things out daily. Your garbage cans and recycling should be filling up at a regular pace. If you see all that comes into a home on a weekly basis, the same, if not more, should be leaving on a regular basis.
  3. You go through drawers and closets two to three times a year. This takes time and effort to make this a priority, but people that are organized really do clean out their closets and drawers on a regular basis. We aren’t just making that up. Just like maintaining your car, you need to maintain your drawers, closets and cabinets.
  4. You can arrive on time for an appointment. Being on time means planning ahead which means you’ve organized your day to be certain places at certain times. It is all about not committing to too much or too little. It’s about knowing what you can and can’t handle in a day and saying no when you’re running behind time. With GPS devices and mobile devices, we all can know in a split second how long it will take us to get somewhere.
  5. You look for things to get rid. This is a classic professional organizer move. When we don’t organize enough in a week, we go home and find something to throw out and organize. If you love looking for things to get rid of and love to organize and rearrange things at home, you are a gal or guy after my own heart.
  6. You arrive prepared with the paperwork or items you need. There’s nothing worse than arriving at an appointment unprepared. For those of you that have good systems to remember to bring items you’ll need, you are organized!
  7. You can have a stranger or friend stop by your home at a moment’s notice and not be embarrassed. This is hard one to accomplish but it is possible. The key here is good daily habits and systems for picking up and putting things away. If you are good at those two things you’re golden.
  8. You get rid of a pair of jeans if you buy a new pair of jeans. There’s really nothing more simpler than that principle—one thing in means one thing goes out.
  9. You rarely have to reset your passwords or usernames on website, because you have them recorded in one place.
  10. You make decisions easily and quickly. Organizing is all decision making. Deciding to put away. Deciding to toss something out. Deciding to keep it. Deciding to give it back to the friend you borrowed it from. Deciding to plan ahead and leave on time, etc.

If you would like to know more about Amber’s Organizing, LLC., Click here!

Amber’s Organizing LLC
7401 W. Howard St.
Chicago, IL. 60631



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Stuff or Systems: Which do you struggle with?



Suitcase and tourist stuff with inscription travel insurance on wooden background


The other day I was organizing a busy mom. Her kitchen, pantry and mudroom needed my help. As we were going through things she stopped and asked “ Amber, so is the problem too much stuff usually?” What she meant is, is everyone like me with too much stuff? Is that the professional organizers solve? I thought her question was smart and commonly asked. I responded to her that is it typically one of two things. Usually customers have too much stuff and they need help getting rid of things OR they have no good systems and structure set up which sets them up for failure. She laughed and said, “What if it’s both? “  I replied that sometimes it is and that’s okay too. I’m here to help out in either situation.

Whether it’s an excess of things that have accumulated or just not knowing how to organize and set up systems for long term success, both are valid reasons to call a professional organizer. Consider these questions to determine which camp or which boat you are in. Maybe you know already or maybe you don’t. Try stepping back to assess your home or office. What do you notice?

Too much Stuff??

  • Are your kitchen cabinets, dresser drawers and closets jammed packed? Is there room to add new things that come in or will the new things be left out to accumulate on counter tops or the floor of your bedroom because you can’t put them away?
  • Can you see to the back of your refrigerator and freezer? Or are there things in there that are 6-12 months old?
  • Are their multiples of the same item? You buy another bag of salt for the sidewalks when you couldn’t find the one from last year in the garage?
  • Are items expiring before you can use them up? Going bad and spoiling?
  • Do you have toys or clothes that your kids have outgrown years ago?
  • Are doors, windows, heating and air conditioning vents or other appliances in your home blocked because too much stuff is in the way?

Lacking Good Systems??

  • Do you get frustrated with the same obstacle each day? For example, coats or shoes landing in a certain place that drive you nuts? Orr walking across the kitchen to unload the dishwasher? Or fighting to find a beauty product under your sink?
  • You manage to get through the mail and toss the junk mail but you’re still stuck with the important paperwork that you’ve kept?
  • Is it getting annoying to reach for something you need every day because it’s in the wrong place or located in an improper position?
  • Do you dread certain tasks because you haven’t taken the time to catch up and simplify that part of the house?

If any of the above rings true for you, which category  were you answering ‘yes’ to more often? Hopefully it gives you perspective about both categories. Both are equally important and if you have one without the other it doesn’t really help. If you purge a ton but still have poor systems you will still be frustrated. And likewise, you can all the best systems and organizing solution under the sun, but if you have too much, you’re still sunk.

Call or text me if you need help with either. 708-925-7574. I’d love to help!

If you would like to know more about Amber’s Organizing, LLC., Click here!

Amber’s Organizing LLC
7401 W. Howard St.
Chicago, IL. 60631





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Get Organized Before Hiring Your Handyman

Hiring a Handyman? Get organized first!

Detail of classic leather tool belt wearing by handyman isolated

One of the most requested service people I get asked about from my clients is a good handyman. Getting organized unearths several undone projects around a condo or house. Little things here and there pop up that we normally forget, but remember when we are meticulously going through rooms and spaces organizing. Then all the broken or undone projects come to the surface and it’s a perfect idea to have the handyman out after organizing. I’ll often find parts and pieces in boxes ready to be installed and will say, “Put it on the list for the handyman.”So naturally after getting organized and creating a “to do” pile, we need to get a hold of a handyman. So here are some ideas to get you started out. You’ll want to be prepared before you call to make the appointment to tell them what you’d like done and also want to be ready for the appointment.

Start a list of different projects around your home you’d like the handyman to tackle. Being prepared and ready to get a quote and appointment will make sure you don’t miss anything!
2. If you have picked out specific fixtures or items for the handyman to install, shop in advance so you have all you need before he or she arrives. In fact, don’t schedule the appointment till you have all the parts and pieces.
3. Prioritize what is on your list in case you run out of time or money. Make sure you get done what is absolutely necessary by putting it at the top of the list.
4. Clear the space of anything that would get in the way while completing the project. For example, move a piece of furniture, laundry basket, or stack of books and toys out of the way.
5. Collect all the things the handyman needs to tackle in one spot. For example, if you have a light fixture, curtain rod and a broken furniture piece, stage them all in one room or spot.
6. Don’t start other projects you may come up against once you’re in the middle of getting the list completed by the handyman. Often we bite off too much and then the whole house is torn apart and we can’t get it back together because we run out of time and energy. Stays focused on the items only on your list and avoid getting sidetracked.

So maybe you’re still wondering, who I recommend to my clients. My default quick answer to their question is most often, Handyman Matters. They have it dialed in as a franchise that provides good service throughout the country that is backed by insurance and a good reputation. They can’t sneak away, not doing what they promised because they are established businesses with credentials.

“We started Handyman Matters 18 years ago because, to be blunt about it, the home maintenance and remodeling industries consistently lacked ethics.  We wanted to change that and redefine what is expected from a home-improvement partner in terms of both quality of work and integrity in doing the job right.  We strive to be your primary resource, and we earn your trust through our work.” –– Andy Bell, Founder of Handyman Matters. Read more here 

If you would like to know more about Amber’s Organizing, LLC., Click here!

Amber’s Organizing LLC
7401 W. Howard St.
Chicago, IL. 60631


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7 Questions to Ask Before Black Friday

Black friday


Black Friday is for some, a tradition, religion, habit and a no brain brainer… why wouldn’t someone want amazing deals and sales? As a professional organizer, I cringe. If I could shut down all the stores for Thanksgiving and Black Friday I would. I would teach our country we don’t need more stuff and increasing stuff in our homes always comes with a cost.  Before you jump on the band wagon or before you head out again this year, ask yourself these questions first:

  1. Will my purchases be meaningful and purposeful OR just another dust collector?
  2. Can I afford to pay for my purchases in cash OR will I increase my credit card debt?
  3. Am I content with who I am and what I have OR am I shopping to fill a loss, fight sadness or boredom?
  4. Have I made a specific list of what I want to shop for OR am I going wing it?
  5. What could I do instead with the time I’m spending in long traffic lines, parking lot lines and checkout lines?
  6. Have I gone through my current stash of gifts before I shop for more? (most clients of mine never give the gifts they intended to give… shop first in your “gift closet” at home.)
  7. How can I take responsibility for the current stuff in my house instead of adding more?

Cheap doesn’t always mean better. Shop wisely. Stay home. Organize what you DO have.


Amber Kostelny, Certified Professional Organizer

Amber’s Organizing LLC

7401 W Howard St, Chicago, IL 60631-4412

(773) 628-7404



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Greeting Cards: Why are we keeping them?  

Greeting card in the hands


With all communication going digital in this day and age, getting a piece of actual mail becomes a treasure and something rare. Whether the greeting card is tacked onto a present or sent in the mail, we get attached to it and inevitably I hear “Amber, I want to keep it.”  While organizing, I’ve come across just a few stacks or files of received cards and I’ve also tripped over bags and bins of cards saved up over years and years.  There has to be a balance. These viewpoints below are to help you think through your decisions to save or toss greeting cards that come your way. Or if you’re going through stacks of old greeting cards from years ago, these should help shed light on keeping or tossing them.

What type of card is it?

Generic cards, thank you cards and blank cards aren’t necessarily extra special. They are common every day cards that aren’t worth keeping. Homemade cards with specific content or design might be a keeper. Decide where to draw the line.

Who is it from?

If the person isn’t extra special in your life and super close to you, there’s no point in keeping it. All of us have a circle of five to ten people that are our core people in our lives. If the sender of the card isn’t in your core people in your life, let it go.  If you’re keeping cards from past relationships, let them go. The relationship is over and it could be hurtful to or distracting in the new relationship you are in.

What did they say?

Also think through what was written. If the message is just a signature ‘Love, Dad” I would toss it. If the message is a poem they copied, that’s not original. I would toss it. If they are rambling about non sense and random things that have no relevance, I would toss it. Keeping a love letter from your husband is way different that a greeting card from coworkers on your forty second birthday. You get the point.

Is it a milestone event?

Breaking your leg verses winning the battle to cancer shows the gravity of different events we experience. I would keep the cancer cards over the broken leg get well cards. A fortieth birthday is a special birthday verses your forty-eighth birthday.  Your wedding happened once and it was a special day. The years and years of anniversary cards after the one day will continue to come so perhaps keep the special wedding day cards instead of the anniversary cards. You decide what is important to you, but everything can’t be important. Importance and priority allows some things to stand above the rest and draws a boundary.

What will you do with the cards you keep?

Have a plan to honor the cards that mean something to you. Tossing them in the attic or in the back of a closet isn’t remembering or honoring the sender. You might as well toss them. String them up. Tie them up with colorful ribbons and place them on a bookshelf. Box them up if they are tied to a specific event with other items. For example, if they are wedding cards put them in your wedding keepsake box. If they are baby shower cards, put them in your child’s keepsake box or book. Finally, consider displaying them for a period of time. In my family growing up, my mom would place them on top of the piano or mantle above the fireplace. After a month or so passed, we tossed them.

What about Holiday Cards?

Toss them.  You are only responsible for keeping track of your own immediate family photos. You are not required to keep all family pictures from extended family to watch how fast their children grow up. Their moms and dads should be keeping tracking of their own children. Soak in the pictures and cards for the season but then let them go come January or February.

Posted in Memorabilia, Offices, Paper | Tagged , , , , | 6 Comments

Emotions that Accompany Organizing

Laugh Cry Smile Keys Represent Different Emotions


Often professional organizers are quick to show before and after pictures of the spaces we organize. Photos flood professional organizing company websites as well as Instagram and Facebook pages. We want to show the beautiful results and the neat, tidy, clean spaces because order and calm is comfortable to us and it brings us a sense of satisfaction and completion. The opposite state of mind is going on inside my clients heads and hearts. Take away the outward, physical aspects of organizing and you are left with real, raw emotions that have to be taken into account. Organizing isn’t about just making everything look neat and tidy, it’s taking my clients from overwhelm to calm, from no hope and discouragement to a sense of accomplishment and achievement.  So here are emotions written down. No pictures, just emotions. These are all very normal and very typical.

Before Organizing:

Before getting organized a client mentions he or she is embarrassed to show me there space or home that needs to be organized. They might mention they were up all night worrying about our appointment or stressing out.  He or she might be ashamed they “let it go” this far. Now they feel defeated and overwhelmed. Where does one start? Some feel guilty and express they know better but just can’t seem to get it organized.  I am asked the following questions over and over again: “Amber, am I the worst you’ve seen? Tell me you’ve seen worse right?  Is this too hard to organize? Should I just give up? “

Organizing with a professional organizer and allowing a professional organizer into your space is super personal and vulnerable. It is showing your “not so good sides” instead of presenting your best self. It shows humility and that you’re willing to ask for help.

After Organizing:

I’m honored to be trusted with that vulnerability and relied on for answers, solutions, and help. I love coming to the organizing rescue to bring hope into dim situations and positive energy and outlook. I’ve been organizing almost twelve years now and I can’t think of a space that couldn’t be organized. I can think of people though that prevented the organization with emotions mentioned above. I completely understand everyone comes to the process at a different place of readiness.

When someone is ready and willing:

they can expect HOPE instead of guilt.

they can except RELIEF instead of defeat.

they can expect CLARITY instead of confusion.

They can expect me, cheering them on, putting their best interest first, and getting them to the end of their organizing project!

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How Sentimental Are You?


Depositphotos_2418089_xsClients often say, “You have nothing sentimental.  I bet you throw everything out.”  That’s not true.  I just choose what to be sentimental about.  I choose what will add value, joy, and positive memories instead of allowing “everything” to be a keepsake.  Everything can’t qualify as special and unique.

Every greeting card you’ve ever received from family and friends cannot be unbelievably great.  Some will just say, “love Aunt Sue”.  Some might just say, “thank you for the gift and your kindness towards are family.” The one I’d choose to keep would read, “Amber, I’m so proud of you for accomplishing that difficult challenge. You have exceeded my expectations in every way. I love you.” Do you see the difference?

Every picture taken or artwork drawn cannot be the most amazing piece of work.  For example, A hand drawn picture of your family and dog would be more important than a scribbled out name. I would toss the piano recital participation letter and keep “your child won first place at the science fair”. Again, do you see the difference?

Every lace doily and china cup from your mother or grandmother can’t be your absolute favorite.  If she had collections and used things daily that were special to her, doesn’t mean they have to be special to you. Your mother or grandmother is more than a doily or china cup. Just because you don’t keep everything doesn’t mean you’re throwing out your family member. Choose the one or two or three items that are beautiful to you that will trigger good memories with her.

You get the privilege, power and choice to surround yourself and keep only things you get absolutely jazzed about seeing.  Take that task seriously and up the ante about what you consider extra special. This might be harsh but I think it’s a cop out to just keep everything.  Keepsakes trigger memories; that’s why we hang onto them. A few keepsakes are all we need. Taking pictures of things and looking back at those pictures will trigger the same memory.

So what do I keep?  The teddy bear I slept with as a little girl, counseling notes and handouts that helped me through a very tough time ( I can see how I’ve grown), one letter from my grandma, two rocks that sit on my desk from a special northern Wisconsin lake I vacationed at, and one very special drawing my niece (it impacted me so much it brought me to tears.)

How about you? Are you ready to search for the extra special and let the rest go?

Posted in Donations, General Organizing, Memorabilia, Personal Thoughts | Tagged , , , , | 3 Comments

Organizing Conference Take Aways


NAPO Conference

Last week I was in Los Angeles for the National Association of Professional Organizer’s 2015 Conference. Each year about four hundred and fifty organizers gather to soak up education classes and industry trends. Thankfully the conference rotates around the country and we will be closer to Chicago next year in Atlanta. Since starting my organizing business eleven years ago, I have attended seven conferences. In the beginning I used to come back with a million new ideas and feverishly work all year to accomplish new endeavors and grow my business. Now, when I return I take a step back and analyze where I have been and what I need to do to stay up to date in organizing trends. I never want to get to a point where I’m not staying relevant to my clients’ needs.

For example, I was in a home this last week going through files. Ten years ago I was building filing systems and organizing paper completely different than I am today. The trend now and wave of the future is really going paperless, implementing scanning and getting rid of files altogether. Of course some families will be the exception to the rule, but I foresee less and less paper in homes and more and more documents being organized on our computers. It’s my job to make it simple for my clients, switch over clients that want to move in that direction and then work with those that have already made the switch over. Organizing documents on the computer isn’t super different than the physical paper. Creating buckets or folders with subcategories is still the way to go whether you’re in your email platform or just in your documents folder. Keeping up on “filing” the paper on your computer or scanning documents is the same as needing to file hard copy paper. It’s all about switching our thinking to digitally thinking in regards to going paperless.

The other buzz or trend in our industry I noticed for myself as I’m working with homeowners is digital photos. Yes, some families still have bins or shoe boxes of printed photos but our world has mainly gone digital. Gone are the days of printing pictures unless you have a specific use for them or a project that need a hard copy. Homeowners, families, and individuals now have pictures saved on their phones, in the cloud, on their laptop, tablets. How do you keep track of all of them? Get rid of duplicates? and organize them in a way that will help retrieve the picture you want easily? The same hard copy problems get transferred to digital problems. We still need to find the picture we want to view and we still want to store photos safely and long term without losing them.

Besides contemplating those two trends, I also took several classes on how we think about stuff, why we hold onto stuff, and how to transfer organizing skills to my clients so that they can maintain organization and think like an organizer. It’s always a good reminder that my standard of organization is not the same as any of my clients. I work to bring you to the level of organization you desire for your home or business. My expectations and my standards don’t really matter. Yours do. You’re the client. I’m just the tool to get you there. Making organizing practical, helpful, and useful is the priority so you can get the results you desire.

Here’s to another year of organizing and great education from the National Association of Professional Organizers!

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