This weekend felt like the right time to give myself a dose of my own medicine. I took on a difficult organizing project that I had been postponing for over a decade. I edited my extensive picture reference library. Here is the background to this project and the lessons along the way.

Before I was a professional organizer I had full-time career as a professional illustrator. I was an art director for The Jim Henson Company, where my focus was consumer product and licensing. On my off-time, I did freelance work as a caricaturist for The Daily News and other publications. To be honest, that work was pretty limited, but my devotion to my picture reference library was not. Every Sunday afternoon I would cut out photos of celebrities and any piece of visual reference you could imagine.

I filled four file drawers. Two were filled with celebrities and two were filled with everything else. Creating these files was of tremendous value to me. It meant that I would be empowered to illustrate any subject necessary. These files required most of my organizing energy in the 1990’s. That was a priority then.

Well, that priority changed.

Prioritize to organize

I am always telling clients that effective organization starts with effective prioritization. Everybody has different priorities and priorities always change. So if you are looking for truly sustainable organizing, start by looking at your priorities.  Be honest about your priorities and your path to organizing will be clear.

Be honest with yourself

My first piece of honesty is that giving myself a dose of my own medicine is no hardship. I really love organizing my stuff and I’m grateful for the opportunity to do it. My second piece of honesty is that, despite that, I struggle where you struggle. The tough part is recognizing how priorities have changed. In my struggle, I concluded that, in the unlikely event I return to illustration full-time, I won’t need these files. Why? Google Images. Any time I want any image, any time, as reference, I simply seek and find on Google. It’s been that way for about 20 years.

But what about all the time I invested in collecting?

I’ll admit that once I got started chucking carefully pasted images and alphabetized lists, I had second thoughts. I had forgotten just how many countless hours I had invested in this process. Surely there had to be some payoff for this investment, right?

I’m sure that there were certain visual cues that I picked up from the process. Those will benefit me for life. But more importantly, I was prioritizing in a way that made sense at the time. Times and circumstances change in ways that we can’t always predict or grasp. Was I using a computer and starting to access digital images in the 1990’s? Sure! But was it obvious that immediate access to any digital images, any time was right around the corner? No! My head just wasn’t there to stop my Sunday practice. All the great teachers I had in art school told me that you had to keep a “morgue.” I’m not sure why they called it that, but it meant a photo file. Who was I to ignore them?

Focus on keeping

Part of what helped me purge 90% of these “treasures” was focusing on what I am keeping. I could find any picture reference I wanted whenever I wanted on Google Images. So what did I need to keep? I kept inspirational images. I simply mean images that inspire me to sketch. One priority I have is to still draw just one afternoon a week. I want to make that easy. Nothing could make that easier than having an easily accessible collection of inspirational images. My focus to keep comes from inspiring, not referencing. See the difference?

Find a benefit

Using these approaches, I dispatched my celebrity files pretty quickly, but what about the rest? I had a wide variety of picture references left, including animals, sports, buildings, automobiles, etc. Since the value of the reference had disappeared with Google Images, I looked for another value. What I hit upon was ‘collages,’ so I thought of art teachers. I posted this on Instagram and Facebook. It was hardly the most relevant thing to post, while folks are seeking masks and hand sanitizers, but there it is.

Any Regrets?

I am so grateful to have opened space in my file drawers for sleeping files, mostly old clients. My old clients have been making a comeback lately, so they are not unimportant. So my only regret is not addressing my picture files sooner. I hadn’t accessed them in 16 years, so what was I waiting for? 

Are there parts of my organizing challenge that sound familiar to you? Does it help to see that even I struggle with prioritizing? Of course it is harder to prioritize yourself than someone else. This difficult process is something my team is really good at. The Container Store won’t help you with this process, but we will.

We will also help make your sustainable systems look beautiful when you come out the other side. (That is when we are HAPPY to work with The Container Store or other product suppliers.)

How would you like some organizing help right now? What if I was to tell you that I am offering organizing help that is completely safe and FREE?  Thats’s right! Right now I am offering an hour of virtual organizing absolutely free. It’s super easy and can be a lot of fun. You have nothing to lose but your clutter.

Contact me to today at or 203.253.8414 and I’ll send you a Zoom invite.

(It’s easier than you think!)