As a professional organizer, I’ve seen it all (and then some), and the reality is pretty simple; the more stuff you acquire, the less room you’ll have; the less room you have, the more clutter you’ll have and the more clutter you have, the more disorganized you will be. Simple? Right? Experiences don’t take up room, but they will last forever.

So how do you get rid of the clutter and lead a more organized life? The short answer is to STOP SHOPPING! And no, I’m not joking!


When I was in the fourth grade, I remember running home and whining to my parents that my friend, Soozie V. had more clothes than I did, and to make matters worse, she just got a brand new pair of white “Gogo” boots. My father, who, in my mind was the wisest of wise men, responded, “Some people spend money on acquiring more things, such as clothes, shoes and fancy cars, but your mother and I believe in spending our money on experiences, which will last a lifetime.”

And oh, what a lifetime of experiences I’ve had, including: watching the sun rise over the Grand Canyon at 4 o’clock in the morning after completing the Rim-to-Rim hike; traveling cross country and visiting all of the national parks, not once, but twice; skiing the French Alps at 14 years old, having a private lunch with the sixth Louis Latour at the Latour vineyard in Burgundy, France; climbing Mount Etna in Sicily two days before it erupted and celebrating a special birthday while sailing the Aegean Sea.

But by far, my most cherished memory has got to be learning to drive a stick shift at 16 years old while navigating the treacherous Arc de Triomphe Roundabout in Paris…with my father riding shotgun; frantically pressing his foot on the imaginary clutch. These are memories money can’t buy.

Experiences can range from learning to sail, visiting an amusement park, attending a concert or planning a family trip to spending the day getting organized with the help of a professional organizer.

Remember, making memories doesn’t have to break the bank. Decide in advance how much money you are able (and willing) to spend and stick to the plan. It’s all about the experience, and not how much money you spend.

Get a piggy bank:

Early in their marriage, my parents would empty their pockets every night, putting their loose change in a jar. If either took money out of the jar, the consequence was to pay back double the amount borrowed. In the first three years of their marriage, they saved enough money to go to Europe for ten days!

Just like my parents, I’ve always had a “travel fund,” depositing my change into an old-fashioned ceramic piggy bank every single night. Along with emptying my wallet, I also set-aside any money netted from selling or consigning things I no longer like, need or use, such as my grandma Nita’s sterling silver flatware, which no one in my family wanted. For me, saving up for a special trip makes the experience even more rewarding.

Three Gifts:

A few of years ago, while helping a client de-clutter and organize her entire home, which was overflowing with a embarrassment of kids toys and sports equipment) she had an epiphany. With the holidays right around the corner, she said, “Jesus only received three gifts, so from now on each of my children will only get three gifts.”

Kudos to my client and her husband who were successful in putting an end to the crazy save-all-year-spend-it-all-in-one-month gift giving grind; choosing instead to put family first rather than acquiring more stuff, which they realized would end up broken or discarded anyway.

The. Best. Gift. Ever.

One of the most extraordinary gifts I have ever received was from the three little girls (not so little anymore) who walk my miniature pinscher Cooper. They know how loco en la cabeza I can be about clutter and always laugh at “Miss Marla’s” clutter-free-to-the-extreme home. They also know I love to cook and I have an incurable weakness for paella. With this in mind, they treated me to a paella cooking class at Sur la Table, which was very special in and of itself, but the best part? They took the class with me.


For me, there’s no better gift than a memory that lasts a lifetime.