EDITOR’S NOTE: In 1989, JULIE MORGENSTERN ,a single mom in Brooklyn looking to create a business where she would have flexible time around her daughter, launched her organizing business, Taskmasters, with a $26 classified ad in ‘Big Apple Parent’. It was part of her $100 budget — the rest went to pay for her “Businessman's Stationery Special" at a local print shop The next month, using the $500 she’d made from her first client who had answered the ad, she placed a much bigger one in ‘Big Apple Parent’; it cost $350. While we’re always happy to report that our ads work, we are overjoyed to be reporting on Julie’s latest venture here in our pages. In the ensuing years, Julie has built a highly successful organizing business. She is a regular contributor to Oprah’s “O” magazine; and appears regularly on TV and in print. She has written two bestselling books, “Organizing From The Inside Out” and “Time Management From The Inside Out”. And now, she has joined forces with her daughter Jessi, 16, on an organizing book for teens. We applaud the efforts of this entrepreneurial mother-daughter team, and hope their story will inspire many other mom-entrepreneurs.
Adolescence is a significant transitional period in human development, exciting and confusing at once. Unfortunately it has unfairly earned, like the "terrible twos", an infamous reputation. Teens often struggle to establish a sense of identity, and sometimes exhibit a variety of behaviors that can be perplexing not only to the adults in their lives, but also to themselves. It can be a disorienting time, chock full of enormous changes — physical, emotional, and psychological. To help ease this disruption, Brooklynites Julie Morgenstern and her teenage daughter, Jessi Morgenstern-Colón, have written a book that casts the teenage years in a positive light while helping adolescents get a grip on their hectic lives. In Organizing from the Inside Out for Teens (Henry Holt and Company, $15), the authors describe the shifting tides of adolescence as a "dynamic" process of self-discovery. In a straightforward style, to which Jessi adds an articulate and distinctly teenage voice, the duo offers up various organizational remedies that extend well beyond clearly labeled boxes and file folders. The mother/daughter team urges teens to reflect on what is most important to them, and why. In doing so, teens can learn to develop their own unique systems of organization that reflect their personalities and goals. Parents are encouraged to take a step back, stop assigning blame, and enlist cooperation by listening and engaging their teen in active problem solving. The book is split into three sections. "The Basics" covers the nuts and bolts of the system that Julie has developed in her successful business as a professional organizer: Analyze, strategize, and attack . These clearly defined steps assuage feelings of being overwhelmed by one's mess. They are the tools with which teens can begin to define what's working in their current system and what's not, while identifying problems and potential solutions. In this early chapter the authors define the "Essential 7" — the seven most important objects in the area that needs organization. This unique tool not only pares down a teen's possessions, but might also help create a pathway to his or her essential self. "Organization and time management are vehicles for self-expression," the two explain. "Identifying the seven most essential things is a very direct way to cut through the clutter. After all, the first thing getting organized demands is figuring out your priorities and identifying what's important to you. Pondering the answers to those questions is what being a teen is all about." "Organizing Your Space" and "Organizing Your Time" are the two remaining sections that clearly define the tools for organization. These run the gamut from simple checklists and planners, to formulas the authors have designed to give teens a bit of structure. "SPACE" helps to organize a bedroom or locker and asks that one "Sort, Purge, Assign a home, Containerize, Equalize." (Equalize means re-evaluating and updating the system as tastes and needs change over time). "WADE" organizes time management; with this tool, teens can learn exactly how to budget their time. "Write it down, Add it up, Decide when, and Execute your plan" are four steps that will bring teens a sense of control over their packed schedules. Organizing From the Inside Out for Teens encourages teens — and their parents — to first look at their strengths and to use those strengths to build their system of organization. Julie and Jessi repeatedly stress that there is no one way to be organized and that a system is only successful if it works for the person who is using it. Neatness is not necessarily a sign of being organized, and the opposite is true as well. "You can't tell just by looking at a teen's space or notebook whether or not your teen is organized," says Julie. "Ask what works for them and what doesn't. You may be surprised what you learn. As long as their system works for them — that is, they can find what they need when they need it and are comfortable in their space — support it." Julie's thoughtful ‘Afterword’ chronicles her own journey to becoming a professional organizer. A single mom (and former dancer), she began her business, Taskmasters, in order to have a flexible schedule around her daughter’s life. She has managed to do both with great success. Jessi is a lovely, dynamic young woman who reflects her mom’s take-charge, get-things-done approach. Julie acknowledges the common struggles between parents and teens while offering tools to diffuse situations that can become heated. "Forget the myth that 'getting organized' means throwing stuff out,” she says in the ‘Afterword’. “This approach generates defensiveness, and starts fights. It also only creates temporary results for your teen. The truth is, organizing isn't about getting rid of things at all. It is about identifying what's important to you and giving those things a reliable, consistent home." Sprinkled throughout the book are essays written by Jessi (now a high school senior involved in the college search), in which she shares her own experiences as an extremely busy teenager who found it necessary to organize her life so that she could participate in everything that interested her. "I like how much I can get done by being organized. It's so satisfying to know that I was able to fit in so much in one day, do it all thoroughly, and still chill out at the end." Her newly cultivated organizational skills also helped earn her more freedom at home. "Being organized showed my mom that I cared about my surroundings and knew what was important to me," Jessi explains. "It showed her that I have good judgment, so she felt more comfortable giving me freedom." Myriad demands from every angle of society — doing well in school, developing a professional interest as the college years loom, being involved in sports and extracurricular activities, while maintaining a fruitful social life — can quickly become overwhelming for an adolescent. "Stress is a huge emotional challenge for a teen," shares Jessi. "It's usually the first time we are encountering pressure from so many different sources — teachers, colleges, parents, friends. Being organized helps you to achieve more, relax more, and take control of your life." Parents can help by acknowledging that their teen wants to do well and be successful. Rather than preaching, become an advocate and guide. Building confidence, respecting individuality, reinforcing commitment, listening, and helping with physical tasks are what Julie and Jessi suggest for keeping the channels of communication open while helping a teen reach his or her goals. Was it difficult for these two mavens of organization with their own distinct styles to collaborate and travel together on their book tour? "We're often compared to the Gilmore Girls," says Jessi, referring to the popular TV show. Adds Julie: "Since we live together alone, cooperating and creating together has become second nature. This was just bringing that ability to the workplace." Though Julie prefers a paper planner and Jessi uses a Palm Pilot, "We both really value organization and are diligent in maintaining our systems," they reflect. "We apply the same basic principles for setting up our systems — our natural habits, setting things up in zones, using a Time Map to structure our week, and a planner to organize our days." So far, Julie and Jessi don’t know what their next project might be. But they add: "You never know! We had a fabulous time working together and hope to come up with more projects in the future." Anyone interested in scheduling an in-school assembly or private consultation should contact Julie Morgenstern's office at (212) 544-8722 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.