Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Just One Thing...or Maybe Two

pippalou via Morguefile
Organization and efficiency are wonderful things. But sometimes we need to wave the white flag.

Lists abound in December. It's two days until Christmas, and my lists still have lists.

'Tis the season to be...crazy?

I don't think so.

So I got to thinking. What's the opposite of a to-do list?

Just one thing.

Okay, maybe it's not technically the opposite of a to-do list, but it has been my plan for December, one that has served me well in terms of maintaining my sanity. But with two days remaining until the big day, and traffic slowed to a crawl, it's time to decide where to go from here, both literally and figuratively, especially since there seems so far from here.

And so my "one thing" has morphed into two questions:
  • Is it necessary? 
  • Do I love doing it?
Anything that doesn't meet at least one of those criteria goes to the bottom of the list. I won't dispense with those things entirely (at least not yet), but the likelihood of accomplishing them is greatly reduced. That means that the things that remain on the list are the ones that matter most.

Things can be necessary for a variety of reasons. They may be necessary for practical reasons (toilet paper is necessary), or because they make someone (you or someone else) happy. Any definition of necessary will do, as long as it's true to your spirit of the season. Doing it just because you always have? That's a recipe for stress, especially this late in the season. Better to make a conscious decision that it's not top priority than to not get to it and feel guilty.

As for things we love to do, those are the things that bring us joy, or that Christmas wouldn't be Christmas without. I used to love to bake gazillions of Christmas cookies. While I can't say that's a task I love any more, it wouldn't be Christmas without them. So, while I'll reconsider just how many kinds of Christmas cookies an extended family of less than twenty needs and plan accordingly, I will bake them. Really I will. 

Organization and efficiency are wonderful things. But there's much to be said for enjoying the season.

Merry Christmas, and may all of your celebrations be happy, healthy and peaceful.
See you in January.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Organizing Extra: Fun in the Kitchen

Mana-tea, anyone?

Okay, it's a stretch to call this an organizing-related post. But, I got such a kick out of these fun little kitchen gadgets that make life easier, and I thought you might enjoy them, too -- especially if you're looking for something fun for the cook on your list.

At the very least, a few of them should make you smile. Even if you're kitchen-avoidant like I am.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

3 Keys Thursday: 3 Strategies for Keeping your Mental House in Order

Photo: Dodgerton Skillhause via Morguefile
This time last month, I wrote about three items that helped me keep my thoughts organized when my schedule threatens to overwhelm both me and my organizational systems. Yesterday, I shared my process for dealing with the inevitable feeling of overwhelmed when it does, indeed, arrive (uninvited, thank you very much).

Today, I'd like to go one step further and share three strategies that contribute to keeping my mental house in order....or at least as "in order" as it gets this time of year.

Keep it simple. Now is not the time to try fancy new plans. If it's not broken, don't change it. If it can wait, let it. Trying to do it all is overrated.

Keep it consistent. The same things go in the same places -- time wise and stuff wise. Predictability might be boring under some circumstances, but it can be a lifesaver when things are crazy. And for many of us, there's even something comforting about a routine.

Try to avoid making a contribution
 -- to the pile-up, that is. Strategies like Give it Five! and Don't put it down, put it Away! can keep things from getting worse. While it seems that putting one more thing on the pile won't make that much difference, that one more thing you set down now becomes one more thing you have to sort later. Put it where it belongs, or start a homeless bin for all the loose ends without a location to call their own. That way, you need to look in only one place to find that thing you put in a safe place.

I'm happy to report that yesterday's sorting into bins cleared not only space, but my mind as well. I like this bin sorting system, but am struggling to figure out how to make it work in my office, where there is currently no room for the bins to live.

That's not a struggle for this week, though, or even next. For now, what I need is easily accessible, and it allows me to stick to the three keys above. Once I clear the next few hurdles (deadlines), I'll try to look at my space with new eyes and determine the possibilities. Organizing is, after all, a dynamic thing, and while growing pains are hard, the results are worth it.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

STYLE to the Rescue!

Created with Canva
The semester is drawing to a close, and, if the paper blizzard in my house is any indication, my organizational systems could use some tweaking. True, many of these papers will be returned to my students, and, in my defense, this is the first semester I've taught three classes, and the first time I've assigned homework on close to a daily basis. As a result, the number of papers I've had to deal with has increased tremendously, overwhelming any system I had in place in my small home office and making my I need to see it/drop and run default styles readily apparent to anyone who steps into my house.

Now what?

Simple. Go back to STYLE.
  • Start with successes. Right now, this is challenging. My system and I are both so overwhelmed that it's harder to see what's working than what isn't. Some of the things that have homes do make it there somewhat regularly. Others that don't...well, they follow a pattern. Despite the fact that I know file drawers and binders don't work for me as a drop and run organizer, I love the fact that when I do use them, retrieval is easy, so I keep trying to make them work...and ending up with paper blizzards. So, I know that filing things is good (a success), but, when life gets busy, having to file them in more than a drop and run fashion doesn't happen. Consequently, the files need to be all in one place, general and flexible (try filing by class instead of class, unit and topic -- one step instead of three) and easily accessible.
  • Take small steps. Papers don't belong on a chair in the living room, and yet that is where they are living. Taking even five minutes at a time to sort, clear and return my chair to its intended function yields a huge payoff. I know. I've tried it.
  • Yes, it has a home! No, it doesn't, in most cases. Therein lies the problem.
  • Let it go! This one will be easy. The majority of the papers will be returned to their rightful owners. Anything that remains will be sorted, giving me a visual of what needs to be tossed and what needs to be kept. The size and composition of the keepers will help me to determine what adjustments I need to make. Do I need to clear a drawer in my neglected file cabinet and establish it as the home for all course paperwork? While this is not typically the best choice for an I need to see it person, an active file used daily and color coded by one parameter (class) just might work.
  • Easy upkeep. Why bother? The semester is over. Why not just clear the clutter, file what remains and move on without making any changes? Because I am likely to have this same course load again next fall. Spending a busy semester using an outgrown system left me feeling scattered and left my house reflecting that fact. Something needs to change for easy upkeep of both my living space and my sanity.
As I finish this post, I feel simultaneously energized and overwhelmed. I want to dig in and do this stuff, but there are papers and projects to grade, and those must come first. Still, keeping what comes next in mind and chipping away at it gradually as I work will help me make the progress I need to make. Knowing my new system will focus on a revised version of my current class-by-class system, I'm going to grab three bins from the basement (one for each class -- and, yes, I always have containers on hand) and sort by class as I go, making both my current work and my future work easier.


Saturday, December 12, 2015

Organization Extra: Re-Gifting -- In a Good Way

Photo from Magic 106.1 FM, Guelph, Canada
via Facebook
When my daughter was small, we started a book tradition at our house. I can't remember where I found the idea -- it might have been Family Fun magazine -- but I do seem to remember that it was just a front-of-book snippet by a parent. "Just" a snippet turned into a tradition that, at our house, lasted until my daughter was into her teens. And when a writer friend posted the photo at left on her Facebook page earlier this month, it had "Organization Extra" written all over it.

The process is a bit time consuming up front, but very simple. In November, gather all of your child's Christmas-themed books. Then, sometime before December 1, wrap each book individually. Beginning December 1, your child can open a book a day (or a book a week, or somewhere in between, depending upon the number of books you have available). Secretly purchasing new books I could add to the pile was fun, too, and less expensive than it would seem, as many old favorites endured for years.

My daughter loved coming downstairs each morning and opening a "new" book, and, as a bonus, it started each day with reading. Although mornings worked well for us, you could just as easily do this after dinner (or before dinner to procure some late afternoon peace and quiet), or at bedtime.

Once all of the books have been opened and the season has passed, gather them up again when you gather up the decorations and put them in a special box (labeled or unique so you can find them quickly in November). If you're feeling really industrious, you can wrap a few (or all of them) before you put them away, saving yourself some time at the outset, but choose carefully. You may find that your child deems some of this year's books too babyish next year.

Why is this an "Organization Extra"? Because managing our stuff doesn't always mean getting rid of things. Sometimes, it means rotating things from season to season so we can keep and enjoy more of what we love, without creating organizational mishaps along the way.

Merry Christmas, especially to my I love stuff friends. I've just given you an excuse to acquire more books. Then again, we authors do that.

Thank you to Carole Brown, who posted this photo on her Facebook page, 
bringing back many lovely memories.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

3 Keys Thursday: Reduce as You Reuse

Photo: Dodgerton Skillhause via Morguefile
Did yesterday's blog convince you to reduce as you reuse? If so, here are three keys for combining decorating for the holidays with organizing those holiday supplies.

As you take things out, take inventory of your containers. Can you lift them? Find what you need? Are like items stored together, or are the ornaments mixed in with the outside lights? As you take things out, think about how you'd prefer to take them out next year. Then, make a list of what you need to make it happen.

Plan by style. Using a system that sucks the joy out of decorating? Maybe it's backbreaking (like my crawl space), unwieldy (those big bins that looked so roomy in the store are just plain heavy when they're full of decorations) or confusing (endless stacks of identical brown boxes). Re-evaluate your system now and upgrade it with containers that work for your styles. If you can hold off revamping your system until after the holidays, you might even get what you need on sale.

One in, one out. If you, like me, enjoy hitting the after Christmas sales, make room for new things by weeding out any decorations you haven't used in the past two years. Then, when you buy something a new treasure, get rid of something old. Sometimes it's easy. When I got my new black boots, I had no trouble parting with the old ones (they hurt my feet), but when I get something new that's part of a collection (a new charm for my Pandora bracelet), I'm unwilling to make an even exchange. In that case, I'd choose to let go of something else, preferably something bigger so I get some extra space out of the deal. Fortunately, even exchanges are pretty easy to pull off with things like decorations, and even easier when we're replacing something that's stopped working with something style-specific.
Photo: LadyHeart via Morguefile

The goal here is to plan what comes next so that after the holidays, when the craziness subsides, you can put your plan into action. Then next year at this time, you can decorate with style.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Decorating + Organizing = A More Peaceful Season

Photo: GaborfromHungary via Morguefile
Does the thought of decorating for the holidays give you a headache? At our house, all of the decorations (at least the ones I'm responsible for) are in the crawlspace. When my daughter was still small, I came up with a great storage solution, but since then, ten years' worth of collected treasures (which tend to pile up in front of the lovely, clear drawer units housing the decorations) have created a barricade that triggers procrastination every year.

Every year seems to be busier than the one before, and this year, I decided that the only way to keep my Christmas spirit (and my sanity) was to do things a little at a time. In addition to keeping things manageable, this approach promises to help me reach some organizational goals as well, namely re-evaluating both my Christmas collection and my organizational system.

Each year, I promise myself I'm going to weed out my Christmas decorations, but so far, I've only managed to eliminate a few stray ornaments. This year, because I'm only taking out a few things at a time, I can make a decision now, instead of after the holidays, about what's worth keeping and what isn't. If I have no place to put it, perhaps I should reconsider keeping it. If reduce my collection now, I'll have less to deal with later.

As for my storage system, it's great for an I need to see it person with a drop and run organizational style -- plastic drawer units with clear drawers that open and close easily, even when I'm hunched over in the crawlspace. What I need to re-evaluate is its capacity, along with the value of the barricade of treasures between the door and the drawers. If they're truly worth keeping, they need homes -- potentially in the existing drawers, if I weed out my decorations sufficiently. If not, perhaps it's time to let them go.

Decorating mindfully helps me to enjoy not only the decorations, but the process itself. Reducing as I reuse promises that clear space is in my immediate future, and helps me to feel organized as I begin a season full of surprises.

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Organization Extra: Expert Assistance from Marcia Ramsland

As I've mentioned before, there are a few organizing experts whose work I particularly like. One of those is Marcia Ramsland, whose book I picked up almost by accident at a local discount store. It was love at first read, particularly when it came to time management concepts.

Though I like all of Marcia's information, one thing I especially remember about her books is that she  devoted chapters to the organizing projects and organizing for holidays. This month, her Facebook page is like the intersection of Christmas Avenue and Organization Street, complete with resources and lots of pretty pictures. And, since they're Facebook posts, it's easy to scroll through even if you have only a few minutes.

Just what I needed. Another excuse to hit Facebook.

Friday, December 4, 2015

3 Keys...Friday?? 3 Tasks, Once Each Day

Photo: Dodgerton Skillhause via Morguefile
'Tis the season...for an overabundance of responsibility! It's easy to push the panic button, or, alternatively, curl up in the fetal position and avoid it all. Or, if you're stubborn  (like me), you create a plan, preferably one that's easy enough to guarantee successes, no matter how small.

So today's post, while still in keeping with my "Three Theme," isn't so much "Three Keys" as it is "Three Things." And, since I deviated from the schedule this week and am posting this on Friday, I figured it was a good opportunity to change things up a little bit.

Next week, the posting schedule returns to normal. I think. Meanwhile, I will...

Take one step toward Christmas. I wrote about this in Wednesday's post on The Porch Swing Chronicles. Overwhelmed by all that needs to be done for the holidays on top of everything else that needs to be done, I decided that simply moving forward slowly was better than standing still and stressing out. A side benefit? I'm savoring things a bit more.

Do one thing to promote my new book. Like it or not, promotion is part of the territory when you're an author. Fortunately, I enjoy the promotion aspect, and, since I have a list (of course), taking things slowly now means laying the groundwork I need to tackle the events themselves when January rolls around and my teaching schedule is less demanding.

Tackle one pile. Yesterday, it was accumulated mail. The day before that, it was a project in the playroom/man cave that freed up space for a Christmas tree  -- one that will reap clear space benefits in the new year. My standard for selection? Whatever's bugging me that day.

What's your plan for managing December with your sanity intact?

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Tips and Tools for Making Lists
As I type this, there's soup on the stove and I've checked things off my list, so I'm trying not to focus on the fact that this blog is being written much later in the day than I would like and that too many projects loom between now and midnight.

So, where was I? Ah, yes. Lists

Last week, I wrote about lists and the best laid plans, promising that this week, I'd share some of my favorite list-making tools. While I hope that some of them appeal to you, what's more important than trying new things is sticking to your styles and the solutions that work for them.
  • A calendar with room to make lists. Last week, the featured photo was my 2016 Page-A-Day calendar. Although this is the first year I've gone with the word-a-day option, I've been using one of these for at least five years. The best way to use it is to take time on Sunday evenings to transfer the schedule for each day of the coming week onto the page, leaving space in between appointments to show me (an I need to see it person) where I have space for errands and tasks. Then, I can fill in the things I need to do, assigning them time blocks so they're more likely to actually get done. Or, you might prefer something with a different set-up, like the Passion Planner, pictured at right -- something that keeps the appointments and the rest of the day separated.
  • Post-it Notes. If you're someone whose lists have lists, try making your supplemental lists (the ones you dash off when you can't get your hands on the original list) on sticky notes. That way, you can stick them together and keep them all in one place. Try keeping sticky note pads in the places where you tend to think of things you need to write down. And, if you find waterproof sticky notes that can be used in the shower, please let me know. That's where I get my best ideas.
  • Electronic lists. My husband the I know I put it somewhere organizer loves using his phone to keep track of his lists. I've tried this, but as an I need to see it person, I find that this method fails me as often as it helps me. There are all sorts of list apps out there, but I mostly use the notes app that comes with my iPhone. Or, more often, I email myself with the item that needs to be added to the list in the subject line. Electronic lists can also be great for the cram and jammer who can always manage to fit one more thing on a physical note, if not into a 24-hour period.
Finally, when I'm really overwhelmed, I try the backwards to-do list. In fact, now that I think of it, I could have used that today. The backwards to-do list is perfect for days when you're busy all day, yet it seems as though you've gotten nothing accomplished.

What are your favorite to-do list tools?

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Organization Extra: Holiday Planning
Perhaps you're one of those folks who Christmas shops all year long. Or maybe you're a serious Black Friday shopper and you spent yesterday making lists and checking them twice.

Maybe you're spending today patronizing local businesses in honor of Small Business Saturday. Or perhaps you're creating lists for Cyber Monday when you can shop from home in your pajamas.

No matter your shopping style, it's the time of year when tracking down gifts becomes a necessity for most of us. And shopping is just the tip of the holiday to-do iceberg.

Fortunately, although the holidays are creeping ever closer (as several of my Facebook friends enjoy pointing out on a regular basis), there's plenty of time to tackle things in an organized fashion. If the mere thought of getting ready for the holidays leaves you in a panic, check out this article by organizing guru Julie Morgenstern, who always manages to make planning seem not just possible, but palatable as well.

Not ready to tackle holiday planning yet? Just below Julie's article on holiday planning is one on organizing your mail.

Whatever you organize today, do it with STYLE. :-)

Thursday, November 26, 2015

3 Keys Thursday: 3 Keys to a Happy Thanksgiving
Today, I'm looking forward to traveling to New Jersey to spend time with my family, which gives me all the ingredients I'm looking for to make this holiday a happy one.

Regardless of your specific plans, I hope you get to spend time with people who matter to you, eat delicious food and take time to be grateful.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

How do you List?

My 2016 notepad-style page-a-day
calendar came in the mail yesterday.
As we enter the season of lists, I find myself thinking about the efficiency of my to-do lists. When I was first retired and had lots of time at my disposal, my lists were beautiful and organized. I utilized my notepad-style page-a-day calendar to its fullest extent, and never wondered where my to-do list was. I kept two, in fact: one master list and one daily list, a combination of my schedule for the day and items pulled from the master list and assigned to available times in the day.

When things get hectic and crazy, however, I revert to dash-and-run listing: no piece of paper or writing utensil is safe. I have lists on the counter, lists on my desk, lists in the car and one big list clipped to the front of my grade book. School lists form on the front-of-grade-book sheet, and miscellaneous lists made up of things I remember on the run form on notepads in my car, scrap paper, and the backs of receipts. Somehow, when I need lists the most, I fall into the most inefficient pattern of list-making possible.

Why on earth would any sane person do this?
  • Lack of time:  As time to do things shrinks, my fear of forgetting things grows. In my rush to get from Point A to Point B, I grab anything handy to write down the things that pop into my mind before they get away from me. 
  • Fear of the big list: I once watched a colleague create a list that spanned several pages of a legal pad. I felt panic-stricken for her and vowed never to create a list that long. Multiple small lists may be inefficient, but they're less terrifying.
  • Where is the big list anyway? Again, the dash from Point A to Point B and points beyond plays a role. If my master list for the day is at home on my desk, it's inaccessible when I'm not home. Writing things down somewhere quickly trumps writing things down in an assigned space. Not writing them down isn't even an option.
Writing things down is good. Scattering lists like bread crumbs is not.

I know what works for me (that's why I buy that notepad-style page-a-day calendar every year), but time management is no different from stuff management. When we're overwhelmed, we sometimes forget to stick to the plan. When we're really overwhelmed, we sometimes forget there is a plan.
The solution? Keep it simple. The fewer the lists, the better, but if, like me, you're overwhelmed by one big, long, master list, organize your lists by topic (to do, to buy, to call), by location (home, work, car/errands) or by day of the week. By all means, keep notepads in a variety of places to catch those stray thoughts, but tape, staple, clip or otherwise attach the wayward notes to the main list so you're not wasting time and energy looking for the right list.

Next week, I'll talk about some list-making tools I like. Until then, if you have one you especially like, please share it in the comments below.

Meanwhile, I hope you have many opportunities to enjoy my favorite part of list-making....

Checking things off.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Organizational Extra: Getting Kids Organized

Photo: Jessica Gale via Morguefile
As I write this, the detritus of a rapidly dwindling semester surrounds me, with a fine layer of book launch panic sitting on top like a layer of gooey frosting. Meanwhile, my teenage daughter is celebrating her first Saturday off from work by cleaning her room.

Since the big kid in this equation (that would be me) has given up on doing anything more strenuous that treading water in the organizational pool, today seemed like a good day to focus on organization for kids, especially with the holidays coming. The impending influx of material goods is often a big motivator for sorting and taking advantage of the Three Rs that make up the L (Let it Go!) in STYLE.

Though I rarely watch HGTV these days, a show that was on when my daughter was small (Mission: Organization) was a large part of the inspiration for the way I view organizing. Regardless of what is -- or isn't -- on the air, their website remains a great resource, so I wasn't surprised to find that their article, "Get Your Kids Organized at All Ages" offered some great ideas, packaged into an age-by-age  format.

So, while I sit down in my definitely not organized workspace with a large portion of humble pie, enjoy some tips from the experts, whose offices most likely look better than mine does today.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

3 Keys Thursday: My Three Indispensible Items for Managing a Crazy Busy Semester

Photo: Dodgerton Skillhause via Morguefile
This semester, I am teaching three classes -- two psychology classes and one freshman seminar. Three classes doesn't sound like very many, but, judging from the juggling act I've been performing this semester, three separate preps are enough to keep me running.

While I'm still searching for the organizational system that keeps the paper pile-up in check at home, I have found a few tools that keep my thoughts (mostly) organized:
  • A planner with a day-by-day view and a monthly view. I got a great spiral-bound planner at the dollar store in which I keep track of lessons and due dates. I use the day-by-day pages as a lesson planner and the month-at-a-glance view for due dates, which I've color-coded by class.
  • One to-do list. Last year, I created a single sheet to keep track of the details of my planning, but this semester, I've gone back to simple lined paper -- or pretty much any paper I can get my hands on when I need to make a list. Although the single page checklist format worked when I was teaching two classes, it fell apart when I was teaching three. I haven't given up on it entirely -- once I dig out at the end of the semester, I may re-envision it -- but for now, simpler is better.
  • My laptop. For my content-driven psych classes, I live and die by my slide presentations. While I wasn't planning on creating these for my freshman seminar, I've found that the visual does come in handy. I can upload my presentations to the course Moodle, email them to myself so that I can download them and use the classroom computers or even carry a flash drive....but I don't. My Macbook is my security blanket -- even when it refuses to communicate with the classroom PCs.
This weekend, I'm hoping to make some headway in the paper pile-up department. I've tried a succession of ideas; some have stuck and some have fallen by the wayside, overwhelmed by the sheer  volume of papers produced by three separate sections of students. Regardless of the tweaks I make in that system, however, the three tools above are here to stay. 

There's no way I'd have survived the semester without them.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

How do You Organize When Life is Overwhelming?
We tend to appreciate our organizational systems the most when we're "crazy busy." Unfortunately, this is also when we're most likely to notice the gaps in our systems and least likely to have the time to fix them.

Yet another reason to appreciate organizing by STYLE. (But you probably figured I was going to say that, didn't you?)

If we know and respect our styles, the stopgap measures we put into place in our time of need are more likely to help us build a bridge that spans those gaps. While it's certainly possible that we'll default to the worst traits of our personal and organizational styles when we're in a pinch, knowing the tricks and tools that work for us can also lead us to more constructive solutions.

  • I love stuff people may leave a trail of collectibles scattered throughout the house, but they might also gather up their treasures and put them into the logical homes they've assigned to the things that mean so much.
  • I love to be busy people may power through their calendars with barely a backward glance, but they might also take a few minutes to update their planners and return supplies to the special storage they've allotted for each activity.
  • I need to see it people may leave everything sitting out, at least at first, but they might also put their piles into lidless bins, see-through crates or color-coded folders when they have a snippet of time in which to make an improvement.
  • Drop and run people may leave evidence of every activity they've completed in the past week scattered in various locations, but they might also drop that evidence into the containers they've selected to corral the clutter until they can make time to sort things and put them in their rightful places.
  • Cram and jam people may stuff things into backpacks and storage spaces, but they might also stop short of cramming and jamming the quality out of their things by moving to a new (expandable) storage space when the old one is full.
  • I know I put it somewhere people may practice "out of sight, out of mind," putting things away in any available space, or they might also put everything into one "safe place" they've designated for "crazy busy" times such as these, cutting down on the number of places they must look to find things they've put "away."
Baby steps are still steps in the right direction, and it's important to keep in mind that organization is a process with ups and downs imposed by the ebb and flow of life.

Especially when we're "crazy busy" and the flow seems to be drowning the ebb.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Organization Extra: 52 Ideas to Organize Your Home

I'm a big fan of chipping away at jobs that feel oversized, so I was delighted to find this post from She Knows: 52 Ideas to Organize Your Home. Billed (rather logically) as an organizing tip a week, it has ideas for every style. Some are one-and-done and others can form the foundation of a new habit.

So, if you want to dig in, but aren't sure where to start, check it out. Progress is a beautiful thing.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

3 Keys Thursday: 3 Ways to Organize a Drawer

Photo: Dodgerton Skillhause via Morguefile
Today's post is actually three riffs on the same theme: drawer organizers. Subdividing drawers  maximizes space, helps to keep drawers neat, and makes it easier to see what you have so that you don't waste money. 

The basic concept behind all three is the same. The variables? Flexibility and cost.

Easiest? The standard, rigid drawer organizer. Usually made of plastic or wood, it has set openings molded into it, so whatever you're organizing has to fit into the pre-set spaces. Good for organizing office supplies and small doodads.
Bamboo drawer organizer

A little more wiggle room: A flexible or expandable organizer like the one at right from The Container Store allows you to adjust the size of the compartments. Good for utensils and wide or oversized items.

Cheap, but some assembly required: Use small gift boxes (the kind used for jewelry) or strips of wood or cardboard to create your own grid. Or, begin with the gift boxes used for shirts and cut the lids to your desired size by cutting up one side, straight across the top and down the other side and placing them beside the intact box bottom to create "sliding" compartments on either side of the box (much like the bamboo organizer at right). If you wish, use decorative duct tape or Washi tape to create visual interest at the top of the grid, or inside it. By making it yourself, you can create compartments that are just the size you want them to be.

Drawer organizers are a great tool for nearly every style. I need to see it people like the visibility, I know I put it somewhere people can see where "somewhere" is, cram and jam organizers have limited choices for cramming and jamming and I love to be busy and drop and run folks benefit from the ease of access and one step organizing.

What drawer do you want to organize?

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Start Somewhere
Life has been hectic lately, and the clutter control at my house has taken a beating.

Who am I kidding? It's gone out the window. Almost entirely. Too busy most of the day to set aside the necessary time to tackle it and too tired at the end of the day to even attempt to make any headway, I've become increasingly frustrated by an I need to see it style run amok and made worse by its drop and run companion.

Baby steps have kept things from growing completely out of control -- don't put it down, put it away! is particularly valuable in stopping the clutter from inviting friends to join the pile -- but, truth be told, this does not look like the house of someone who writes about organization.

Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays I teach just one morning class, and, though I'm rarely home before noon, I have more time available in my day to tackle non-instructional things than I do on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Today, I arrived home with the usual list scrolling through my head, but, for some reason, I felt the need to set it aside and make some headway. Maybe it was the fact that my daughter was here, providing me with an enjoyable interruption between work and more of the same. Maybe it was the fact that uncluttered surfaces are becoming an endangered species at my house. Or, maybe it was the fact that the day was still young, and my motivation was still high.

For whatever reason, I did what I often do when I want to make a dent. After my daughter left, I set aside the twenty minutes remaining until the half hour to improve the situation -- sort of like four back-to-back Give it Five! sessions.

And then I went to work. Plucking things off surfaces and putting them where they belonged. Picking up the "how long has that been there?" items I wouldn't miss and throwing them away. Making decisions about homeless items and taking action. There was no real rhyme or reason to my rampage. Anything in my way was fair game, and the main idea was to keep moving and get as much done as I could in twenty minutes.
And you know what? It was very fulfilling. It didn't take long to turn messy spaces into empty spaces, and, with clear space as my reward, I was motivated to keep going. While I needed to stop after twenty minutes to tackle my list of non-organizational tasks, getting started was enough to ensure that no trip for the rest of the afternoon would be done empty-handed. Getting up for a drink? Pick up that wayward item and put it away. Taking a break from the blog or grading? Grab those papers and recycle, file or shred them. Now.

There's nothing like a little success to motivate us to keep going.

Or to inspire a blog post.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Organizing Extra: Organizing Books

Karen Arnold via
I've loved reading since Dick and Jane ran with Spot. I don't remember my book collection overtaking my space when I was a kid, but then again, when I was in middle school, we moved to a house with floor-to-ceiling bookshelves, giving me plenty of space for my Nancy Drew collection -- and then some.

In my lifetime, I've worked in three different bookstores, and I trace the origins of my "too many books, too little space" conundrum back to those jobs, which fed my inner book collector -- sometimes at the expense of my bank account.

Our house is a Cape Cod, so when I wanted to find resources about organizing books, I was excited to find posts on the Apartment Therapy site, where they specialize in fun ideas for small spaces. And, in a decision that matches my bookstore behavior, I couldn't decide, so I'm posting both.

The first is an article (with great pictures) that explores various ways to organize books, depending on your style (I had to grab that one!); the second, geared to a weekend project approach has videos. Both provide ideas and maybe even a little motivation for taking control of book overrun.
While I'll be contributing to book overrun this weekend as I put the finishing touches on my novel, I'm looking forward to putting some of those ideas to work this winter, when I have more time to tackle my list of organizing to-dos.

Happy organizing! And, if you manage to make it through the process without getting sucked into a book you forgot you had, you're stronger than I am.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

3 Keys to Organizing by STYLE

Photo: Dodgerton Skillhause via Morguefile

There are many strategies and nuances we can use when we decide to organize by STYLE, but since today is Three Keys Thursday, I'd like to distill organizing by STYLE to its simplest components. This blog has plenty of posts and charts that can provide details on each of these key principles, but when we're drowning, we just want to grab the nearest life jacket. When the clutter is winning and you feel as though organization is as far away as a rescue ship is from the Titanic, it's time to get back to the basics.

  • Claim your styles. Decide which personal style and which organizational style best describes you. You may have traits of others as well, but begin by identifying, well, what you most identify with.
  • Decide which one dominates. I'm an I need to see it/Drop and run person, but typically, my I need to see it style prevails. If I keep that in the forefront of my mind when I clear clutter and restore organization, I'm more likely to set up a plan that works long-term.
  • Choose the right tools. Although my I need to see it style is typically dominant, my personal style feeds my organizational style and vice versa. Consequently to break the drop and run habit, I need to find tools that allow me to see what I need. Closed, opaque storage systems (like the traditional file cabinet) don't work for me. Away is forgotten, and I revert to dropping and running so I can see what I need to do and organization goes out the window. If, however, I do something as simple as using a file box with an open top, putting things away is easy, and, though they're more out of sight than they'd be on top of my desk, they're easily accessible. In addition, I can see enough of them to satisfy my I need to see it personal style.
Grandiose plans are wonderful in theory, but expensive and difficult to maintain in practice. When you're feeling overwhelmed, go back to basics. What are your styles, and what are they crying out for?

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Musings on Mood-Driven Organizing
Some days, I start with a list. Other days, I flit.

Sometimes, I'm a linear thinker. I create a to-do list and work my way through it, step by step, item by item. Methodically. Efficiently. When I'm drowning in projects, as I am right now, this happens a lot.

Other days, I'm more scattered, or the piles are too massive, or...something. On those days, I flit. I do this mostly in the morning, with more speed and energy if I'm also drinking my favorite Starbucks beverage (iced chai, preferably a venti, with an extra pump of chai syrup). Caffeine seems to increase my efficiency.

I start at the top of a pile (did I mention that there are typically multiple piles?) and simply move from one thing to another, tackling whatever's in front of me, in no particular order, except the order in which I uncover/come across it. I develop a rhythm, and though I may leap from item to item and project to project, I get a lot accomplished. One paper leads to another, which leads to a file, which leads to a magazine I must thumb through before tossing. The piles diminish, my stress level drops and the desktop - or at least a small portion of it - becomes visible once more.

Other times I start at the bottom of the pile -- an organizing trick I learned years ago, probably on HGTV's Mission: Organization. The items at the bottom of the pile, by virtue of having been there longer, are often outdated and/or easier to part with.

I'm a professional organizer's nightmare, moved by mood, not method. I'm a visual organizer, an I need to see it person, someone who has to see things in order to remember to do them. And, as a writer, I'm a creative person, dropping bits of ideas like so many bread crumbs, but lacking the time to sweep them all into a neat pile. When it comes time to make sense of the mayhem, I like being able to choose my plan of attack. 

My Type A friends shake their heads and smile that smile that says they think I'm hopeless.

I prefer to think of myself as flexible.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Organizational Extra: Getting Organized at Work

Whether you work from home or out of the home, it's easier to be efficient when you're organized. Or, so I hear. Right now, I'm in the middle of numerous projects, and if things go on this way much longer....let's just say I'm looking forward to having time to implement these tips from Rice University.

Admittedly, some of them are a little Type A, but many of them are good, especially if you can find a way to style-ize them.

Personally, I'm in favor of anything that makes work easier.

Enjoy your weekend.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Three Keys Thursday: 3 Keys for Getting to a Goal

Photo: Dodgerton Skillhause
Typically, I'm a global person, but sometimes, I charge through life with my blinders on and lose sight of the big picture. On Monday, I came face-to-face with the reality of a deadline I'd set for myself, and it became clear that continued procrastination would not work if I wanted to meet that deadline.

Neither would a global approach. It was time to take stock, break the remaining tasks into action steps and move forward. I needed to do away with distractions, structured procrastination and anything non-essential and focus on moving toward my goal.

When you get serious about achieving a goal, the best way to reach it is to create a plan. The steps I used aren't rocket science, but following through on them involves both discipline and motivation. Because the goal is important to me, I expect that I'll be able to find both, at least most of the time.

Want to get from here to there? Try this:

Lay it out. Clearly state your goal and think about what lies between you and its successful completion. What are all the things you have to do to get from here to there? Write them down (or type them up), breaking things down into logical chunks, each of which requires as few steps as possible (ideally one). When I prepare for class, for example, I need to:

  • create my presentation (including what I call an orientation slide); 
  • create and/or copy any handouts and
  • upload the information for my students.
Although creating the presentation is a multi-step process, this is something I do all the time, so "create the presentation" is a logical chunk. I separated out the orientation slide only because when I neglect to state it specifically, I sometimes forget to do it. Similarly, uploading the information may require more than one step, but everything is going to the same place and, since I tend to do it all at once, that's a logical chunk for me.
Break it down. Once you decide what needs to be done, you need to decide when you're going to do each thing. With class preparation, I tend to devote a chunk of time to doing it all, but with other tasks that include multiple small steps, I might allocate different tasks to different times, checking each off as I accomplish it.

Stick to it. Allocating specific times for each task, as described in the step above, is the first step in doing this. Blocking out times for each action step is like making an appointment with yourself. If you're really serious about reaching your goal on time, you'll make the same effort to keep the appointments you set with yourself as you do to keep those you set with someone else. If you wouldn't skip a dinner date with a friend because you're tired, you owe yourself the same courtesy when it comes to the tasks you've put into your calendar.

Do I do this all the time? But of course...not. But when a goal is important, setting the proper course is just as important. Otherwise, you're likely to find yourself sitting by the side of the road, admiring those who made it to the finish line.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

The Art of (Structured) Procrastination

I am a procrastinator. It's part of my makeup, part of my writing, part of my life. And so when I found John Perry's The Art of Procrastination in a local independent bookstore, I snatched it up. Humorous, self-deprecating and thought-provoking, it's a fun read -- one that pokes fun at the habit, but manages to analyze its pluses and minuses as well. So, this semester, I made it required reading for my first year seminar, and on the day I introduced it, I even wore my "Structured procrastinator" tee shirt.

Perry's premise is that structured procrastinators actually accomplish a great deal while they're procrastinating. We know what we're supposed to be doing, and while we're putting off doing that thing, we do other things instead. In the end, we get a lot done, even if none of it is what we're supposed to be doing.

I first read the book over a year ago, but it wasn't until last week that I realized one of the things that has cemented my structured procrastination habit.


Being a parent makes you a structured procrastinator. Oh, okay, it helps if you already have the procrastination gene (if there is such a thing), but I suspect that even the most task-oriented person can get sucked into structured procrastination while waiting for her children to do...whatever it is she's waiting for them to do. We learn to fill tiny pockets of time with quick little tasks in order to be efficient, but the irony is that what begins as an effort to not waste time becomes a habit that does exactly the thing it set out to avoid.

Provided it doesn't get out of hand and keep us from accomplishing things that are important, structured procrastination is actually a pretty good idea. We get little things checked off our lists, and sometimes the little things are a warm-up to the big stuff. And sometimes, the big things -- especially the big ideas -- need time to simmer before the answers bubble up.

Stop by tomorrow for a three keys post on what to do when the procrastination -- no matter how structured -- isn't working.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Organizing Extra: Martha Stewart Tackles Fall

Leave it to Martha Stewart to organize things I never even thought of organizing. In light of the emergence of fall weather here in Pennsylvania, I thought I'd share some fall organizing tips. In honor of the temperate weather, some organize things inside the house, others make suggestions for outdoors.

I hope fall is as lovely where you are today as it is here.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

3 Keys Thursday: 3 Ways to Survive a Six-Day Week

Photo: Dodgerton Skillhause
Last Saturday, I spent the day at the York Book Expo. Though I was only manning my table from 1-4, I spent the morning getting ready and, by the time I got home, I was wiped out. Though the day was a good one, it was a total write-off in terms of accomplishing anything I usually do on a Saturday.

Some weeks are like that. No matter how valuable or enjoyable the activity, "losing" one day out of the week can put us behind schedule, leaving us feeling stressed out in the week that follows as we try to "catch up."

When this happens, it's helpful to remember to do a few things as you tackle your "six-day week":

Breathe. Tension and stress do absolutely nothing to help us accomplish our tasks or reach our goals. In fact, they often do just the opposite. Breathe, try to relax, and tackle one thing at a time.

Triage. I'm not a medical professional, so my understanding of this term is limited to my extensive experience watching television medical dramas. Fortunately task triage is much less intense than triage in the emergency room, and boils down to three questions: Who matters most? What matters most? and What has a deadline?

I know, I know -- they all matter. It all matters. But you know what? It doesn't. Some tasks and some people take precedence. To quote Stephen Covey, "Put first things first."
Stop worrying about what you can't control. This includes other people being miffed because you didn't do what they wanted you to do. It's hard enough to make decisions about what comes first without trying to second guess other people's interpretations of your choices. And often, they're trying to make the same hard choices you are...which means they aren't even thinking about what you're doing.

I know. Easier said than done. The ideal situation is to have just the right amount of stuff to do each day with none that carries over into the next day, and for there to be seven fully available days in each week.

But if that happened all the time, how would we appreciate it when it does?

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Does Your I Love to Be Busy Style Need a Makeover?
From the beginning, I've identified myself as an I need to see it/drop and run person. Walk into my workspace, and within fifteen seconds, both of these will be evident. In my world, any organizational system without a visual component is doomed by the double whammy of two styles that feed one another.

And while I encourage those taking my styles quiz to claim one predominant personal style and one predominant organizational style, many of us have traits of the other styles as well. For me, the style that lurks in the background, arguably creating the biggest problem of all, is the I love to be busy personal style.

I haven't talked much about the I love to be busy style, except to suggest keeping systems simple and subdivided. Like many I love to be busy people, I have different bags for different activities, allowing me to grab what I need and go where I'm going. Many of these bags have subsections so that things that go wherever I go (car keys, wallet, phone) can be dropped into their respective subsections -- usually the same one every time -- so I can find what I need when I need it. Keeping all of my necessary materials together in one place (and separate from those for other activities) is key to managing my busyness.

Early on in the process of naming these styles, I love to be busy was called I like to be busy; the name change came about as a way of keeping style names consistent. But you know what? I don't love to be busy. And, the older I get, the more question whether or not I even like to be busy. Sure, I love (word choice intentional) having a wide variety of interests and activities -- that much is true. But lately, I've been craving a break from the craziness -- a life with a little less busy and a little more balance.
Once upon a time, I did love to be busy, and I took great pride in keeping all the balls in the air as I juggled multiple activities. When I was single and first starting out professionally, busy meant the opposite of lonely -- something that I suspect will be true again when I'm retired for real -- but for many of us in the process of raising families, busy means tired. Overwhelmed. In need of balance.

If you truly love to be busy, more power to you. Keep the organizational systems for your activities simple and separate and ready to go at a moment's notice. Revel in your ability to juggle, spin plates and keep track of everything.

But if you, like me, are finding that your verb is changing, or maybe you even have a love-hate relationship with busyness, maybe it's time to consider re-organizing your time just as you would your stuff. Just as we take a look at our possessions and decide what to keep and what to get rid of, so should we take a look at our calendars and find ways to let go of the clutter. Maybe we should consider using the idea of one in/one out not just with purchases (getting rid of something old when you buy something new), but with activities as well. Or even putting dates with ourselves into our calendars so we're not left without time to take care of ourselves.
Organizing is a balancing act. With possessions, we balance stuff with space. With activities, we balance stuff with time. Our society seems to think that busier is better, but is it?

If too much stuff can tip the scales into disorganization, might it be true that too many activities can tip the scales into exhaustion?

How busy do you really want to be?

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Organization Extra: Life Editing

Photo: Tat via Morguefile
Graham Hill lives in 420 square feet of space -- by choice. In his TED Talk, "Less Stuff, More Happiness," he shares three guidelines, all in under six minutes:

  • Edit ruthlessly.
  • Small is sexy.
  • Make multifunctional.

While this TED Talk may cause palpitations in I love stuff people, it's worth watching if only to see the 420 square foot space, and the cool things he used to make it work. And while it may be hard to edit ruthlessly, the other half of his advice in that area was to stem the inflow, something that many of us find much easier to do.

Organization is important. It's also much easier when the amount of stuff we have fits well into the space we inhabit. Personally, I'm still working on that, but when I watch TED Talks like this one, I'm more motivated to do some of that ruthless editing.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

3 Keys Thursday: Managing a Day that Doesn't Go According to Plan

Yesterday was one of those days. I started with a list (part of which, quite honestly, carried over from the day before), and it seemed reasonable at the time. I'd added one item I was less-than-thrilled about (time wise) to my schedule, but that didn't seem to be too big a deal.

And then reality set in.

Fortunately, nothing awful happened, and in more than one case, I was right where I should have been exactly when I should have been there -- and in a totally unplanned fashion.

Unfortunately, yesterday's blog post was late, and by the time we sat down to dinner (after 7 pm), very little had been checked off my to-do list. I was quickly growing grouchy.

Throughout the day, I tried to remind myself:

  • What matters most. Yes, not getting through my list was frustrating. But the things I was doing instead involved making inroads with people. Meeting with students. Swapping stories and strategies with another instructor. Spending unexpected time with my daughter. Any one of these things is a good thing, and together, they were a worthwhile way to spend my time.
  • Worrying and stressing solves nothing. My main unplanned trip for the day involved going somewhere out of my usual realm of travel. My route-planning skills being what they are, I chose a route that was more circuitous than necessary, then white-knuckled it for most of the ride there. No matter how pale my knuckles got, it didn't get me there any faster, nor did it make the trip more pleasant.
  • A sense of humor is both essential and priceless. We opted for a different route home (for obvious reasons) and just as I got in the lane to pull onto the main road, we heard about an accident -- you guessed it -- right where we were headed. All we could do, despite the unpredictable and sometimes unpleasant, afternoon was laugh.
Note that I said that I tried to remind myself of these things. As the day wore on (and the hours to accomplish things grew shorter), I was reminded that knowing these things and using them to offset my frustration are two different things. Sometimes, just knowing them is enough.

Other times, you have to write a blog post.
Photo: Dodgerton Skillhause via Morguefile

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Managing the Seasonal Switchover

Photo: Smileyhaiku via Morguefile
Today on The Porch Swing Chronicles, I wrote about 4 things I'm looking forward to over fall break. One of those things, not surprisingly, is related to organization.

At my house, it's that time of year when some of the clothes (and shoes) that are easily accessible are summer clothes and a growing (and still slightly disheveled) portion of my accessible clothing works for fall. I spent a little time on my closet a couple of weeks ago because I needed to make space for some new clothes, but otherwise, the summer-to-fall conversion has yet to take place. Yes, I know it's October, but there's nothing worse than switching everything around only to hit a stretch of warm weather where I end up dragging out the things I just put away.

I've yet to discover a way to do this that makes it fun, but creating a good set-up by putting things away in a personal and organizational style-savvy manner at least makes it less dreadful to contemplate.

For me, shoes are the biggest challenge, mostly because I store my out-of-season shoes in a narrow closet with a sloping, Cape Cod roof. The front of the closet (which houses my in-season shoes) is set up in a very I need to see it fashion, with all of my footwear on shelves, arranged by color, so once the switchover takes place, it really is "easy upkeep." And if I take the time to put things away properly, the process is time-consuming, but not terribly difficult -- at least not from an organizational perspective.

As you pull out one season and put away another, here are a few things to consider.

  • Weed if you can. If you, unlike me, are able to simply move clothes from one closet to another, take some time to consider the usefulness of what you're moving. Hang pieces one at a time in their new space, considering whether or not everything you're putting away for the cool months is worth keeping. Anything you haven't worn in a while?  Something too big or too small or of sentimental value, but not worth the space it takes up? Get rid of them if you can. If you can't (this means you, l love stuff friends), try hanging them with the hanger facing backwards and don't start the next season with them in your closet (go after them only if you need them). Or, pack them away, using some of the tips and tools below.
  • Keep like items together (all skirts, all the shirts) or keep sets together (belts with the outfit they go with), but not both. If you're consistent with your method, retrieval is easier, especially if you find yourself looking for one particular item in a hurry. This benefits all styles, but especially the I know I put it somewhere folks who tend to stash without a plan. 
  • Revert to your containers of choice. Do you like see-through containers? Labeled boxes? Both of these work well for I need to see it and I know I put it somewhere styles, while cram and jammers might prefer fabric bins that expand and "create" space. Use what you know works for you. 
  • Keep it simple. If you're like me, you end up looking for something between seasons, so the easier it is to figure out what's in each container, the less of a mess you make in the process. Keeping it simple and as accessible as possible works for all styles, but can be especially beneficial for the I love to be busy folks who might end up doing their seasonal switchovers a little at a time, when they can squeeze it in.
Photo: SeeMann
via Morguefile
Sadly, this is not a project suited to the drop and run folks who just want all of this to be over with as soon as possible. Their payoff comes in choosing the right storage for the "incoming" stuff -- containers that will make putting things away as easy as dropping them....wherever.

How about you? Any great tips to share when it comes to the inevitable seasonal switchover?