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Blog: Paper Doll, Tackling The Stacks And Piles
A Mysterious Stranger Will Declutter Your Paper: Organizing Fortune Cookie Fortunes

You will be rewarded for your efforts within the month.

Now is a good time to try something new.

The constructive uses of riches is better than their possession.

Take no risks with your reputation.

Life is a series of choices. Today yours are good ones.

An admirer is concealing his affection for you.

Confession: the above are taken from the slips of fortune cookie fortunes I found in my own home this week. I have a sneaking suspicion there might be others, hiding in dark corners of jewelry boxes, an old wallet, possibly bookmarking and Jane Austen. (Poor Jane, who never knew the joys of Crab Rangoon, sweet & sour anything, or the delights of Kung Pao!)


Paper Doll does not obsessively dine on Chinese takeout meals. And my home is generally lacking in other kinds of paper clutter and floozies. So why have I saved these? And why, when I usually talk to you about organizing serious paperwork like financial and medical files, or solutions for dealing with paper trail overwhelm, am I talking about these inconsequential slips of paper?

Well, I could blame it on Erin Doland, the dazzling Editor-in-Chief at the Unclutterer blog. A few months back on Twitter, Erin had recommended The Fortune Cookie Chronicles by former New York Times journalist, Jennifer 8 Lee. Given Erin's reputation for good taste in writing, fellow blogger Jeri Dansky and I jumped in.

It's not hard to explain why the book resonated so much with me.

Love of good food? Check.

Fascinatingly delivered history lessons about the immigrant experience over the past century and a half? Check!

An entertaining catalog of culinary anthropology detailing how Chinese food became so popular in the United States, even in tiny towns dotting the South and Midwest and in Orthodox Jewish communities? Check!

A collection of mysteries about that darn General Tso, how Chinese cuisine launched a food delivery revolution, and even the true origins of fortune cookies? Check and mate!

But all of these fascinations would not have been worthy of a Paper Doll post. What does this have to do with organizing?

Around the same time I was reading Lee's Chronicles, I noted, not for the first time, that almost any time I organized a desk, whether at a business or in a home office, and often, when I organized kitchens and bedrooms, we'd turn up a handful of loose fortunes. Occasionally, they'd be push-pinned to a bulletin board or taped up on a computer monitor or slid under a glass desktop. In general, however, these clients were not the type to hold on to either floozies or loose scraps of other "omens", like daily horoscopes. There seems to be something special about fortune cookie fortunes.

What is it about fortune cookie fortunes that makes so many feel the need to save them? What's the difference between Paper Mommy scribbling "You're going to do great today!" on a piece of scrap paper from her desk, tucking it in with my peanut butter sandwich, and a fortune cookie fortune?

I asked people on Twitter and Facebook what they do with their fortunes. Some professional organizers, like Julie Bavington, were straightforward about ejecting the clutter: "Fortunes are just paper scraps. I toss 'em."

Others, such as a usually-organized marketing expert I know, said "Sometimes I keep the REALLY great ones, but after a while they disappear. As in, I have no clue where I put them."


I've found three types of fortune savers. First are those who tend to save everything, not by decision, per se, but through lack of making decisions regarding what to keep or toss.

Second are the people who feel really strongly about portents and omens. According to Lee, it's common for some people to burn "really good" fortunes right there in restaurants in order to ensure good luck, a custom I imagine has been greatly reduced by the removal of ashtrays from restaurants now that most states have eliminated smoking in eateries. These people, if they aren't "burners", may have developed their own personal superstitions, where it just doesn't feel right to let go of the fortunes, as if it will scatter the good luck.

For this second type, it will do no good for me to make the point that these fortunes are generated by freelance fortune writers, fed into a computer and spat out according to an algorithm of so many of fortune #2735 every so many seconds. Intellectually, they know that the slips of paper carry no power...but they feel better...safer...holding on to them.

The third type knows just the opposite. They know that fortune cookie fortunes, like photos, upbeat horoscopes and encouraging notes from our loved ones, have immense power. Fellow professional organizer Janice Simon replied to my fortune cookie inquiry on Twitter, saying "I kept some of my fortunes in a jar and would pull one out when I needed a pick-me-up." We know our best lipstick, our lucky baseball caps and the fortune that says An admirer is concealing his affection for you can put a little extra spring in our step. We, ourselves, imbue fortunes with the power to raise our spirits. We, turn our good fortunes into self-fulfilling prophecies. (Haven't you noticed most people only toss their boring or disappointing fortunes?)

So why not hold onto some of the better messages...as long as we can keep them corralled in an organized fashion, so they don't shower down around our feet every time the air conditioner blows? If you can't part with your fortune cookie fortunes, there are quite a few options for keeping them organized.


Jennifer 8 Lee writes about Michael Moskowitz, who, in order to keep track of his own favorite philosophical fortunes, ended up backing the foreign manufacture of a Fortune Album. The Floridian couldn't purchase just one, so when Lee interviewed him, he still had crates of unsold albums to unload. Lee's book must have brought him good fortune, though, because the site now states that there are only 300 albums remaining!

Paper Doll is also charmed by the Spoon Sister's fortune cookie album, with a place to paste fortunes and jot down related thoughts.

Of course, you could also tape or staple fortunes to pages in any notebook, from a fancy Moleskine to a speckled composition book, and write journal entries about with whom you dined and what thoughts the fortunes brought to mind.


With everything from not-so-gently loved stuffed animals to broken rocking chairs to poufy dresses fifty years out of fashion (and taking up more than their fair share of the closet), we professional organizers often recommend some variation on the old taunt: "Take a picture -- it'll last longer!"

Indeed, each photo of tangible objects can reduce the clutter without adversely impacting the memory or the feeling you equate with the item. Consider collecting the loose fortunes from around your house, arranging them on a piece of paper (Perhaps red? That sounds like good feng shui!), and take a photo. The digital version would make great wallpaper for your computer, or you could put the snapshot up on your bulletin board for inspiration.


You wouldn't be the first, or the last, if you transcribed the messages on those tiny slips and turned them into blog posts. Paper can burn or fade, but thanks to the Wayback Machine, even long-abandoned web sites and blogs now live forever.

Blogger Josh Madison devoted an entire post dedicated to hundreds of his collected fortunes. (Paper Doll's favorites? The time management-themed "An inch of time is an inch of gold" and the focus-oriented "Dedicate yourself with a calm mind to the task at hand." Apparently paper organizing isn't a very common fortune motif.)

Although submissions to Weird Fortune Cookies ended last year, there's a fine collection of the bizarre and silly, including this often-told classic:


The FortuneKookie.com is a fortune cookie themed social networking site that gets a little kooky with the various options for storing your cookie messages without actually keeping the slips of paper. Sign up for a free account, create your profile, and start logging in the fortunes you receive, which you can do via the web site or your mobile phone.

You may choose to share your fortune, either at your personalized URL (e.g., http://FortuneKookie.com/PaperDoll) or via social networking on FortuneKookie's Facebook application or tweeted directly to your Twitter stream. Or, you can just use the site as a digital notebook to keep track of your fortunes. Click the on-screen cookie to get your daily fortune, horoscope-style. Even purchase a fortune shirt, a customized T-shirt with your favorite fortune from among their collection...or use one of your own.


Those of Paper Doll's readers who were born in the 90's or after probably don't remember a world before CDs, but somewhere beyond the golden age of vinyl and the forgettable age of 8-tracks, we made mix tapes for our friends, and found that fortune cookie slips were the perfect size to serve as nifty, if inexact, labels for those cassettes.


For some, precious metals and jewels are the only way to be organized. For them, this engraved silver fortune cookie keepsake box from Memorable Gifts might do the trick.

However, this 14 karat gold fortune cookie pendant with Pavé diamonds from Neiman-Marcus is purely for show.

For the more handicraft-oriented, memorabilia-enchanted, DIY crowd, any small box or tin could could be decoupaged with a collection of fortunes and then used as a keepsake box for future acquisitions. Again, Paper Doll isn't necessarily a proponent of keeping massive quantities of fortune cookie slips, but if you're inspired to be a collector, a centralized location will at least keep your showcase tidy.


What if you're watching your weight and can't afford to be tempted by piquant cuisine? There's even a free fortune cookie application available for iPhones and the iPod Touch that lets you shake your screen or tap it to break open the photo confection (because that's the way the cookie crumbles) and reveal your fortune. The creators of the app must know how difficult it is for people to let go of their fortunes, because there are options to share the digital versions via email or social networking profiles.

Whether you toss your fortunes when the meal is over or treat the messages with the affection normally accorded to love letters, whatever your fortune cookie personality, Paper Doll wishes you great fortune and an organized life!

posted on: 4/13/2010 10:30:00 AM by Julie Bestry
category: Paper

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Discuss This Post

by Janet Barclay, Organized Assistant on 4/13/2010 11:16:40 AM:

I went through a phase when I was 9 or 10 where I stuck everything in a scrapbook: newspaper clippings, letters, greeting cards, and yes, even a few fortunes. Fortunately, that phase didn't last too long, or I'd need a bigger home just to store all the scrapbooks! I do, however, still have that scrapbook...

by JulieBavi on 4/15/2010 3:01:03 PM:

I had actually thought of getting one of those huge silver fortune cookies to announce the impending birth of my son. Ah, memories. :)

by gr1zzzly on 7/23/2010 6:38:06 PM:

it was very interesting to read. I want to quote your post in my blog. It can? And you et an account on Twitter?

by Julie Bestry (Paper Doll) on 7/23/2010 6:54:29 PM:

Hi, gr1zzzly--I searched your name on Google and if I'm correct, I believe I've tweeted you. In case I have the wrong person, feel free to tweet me at @ProfOrganizer, and we can talk about quoting my post. Thanks for asking.

by coffee gift sets on 8/24/2010 12:11:09 PM:

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by club magazine on 8/27/2010 11:44:59 PM:

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Paper Doll, Tackling The Stacks And Piles

by Julie Bestry

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Julie Bestry, President of Best Results Organizing in Chattanooga, TN, is a Certified Professional Organizer®, speaker and author. Julie helps overwhelmed individuals and businesses save time and money, reduce stress and increase productivity through new organizational skills and systems.

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