Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Is Your Container Earning its Keep?

Tomorrow, we'll conclude our discussion on containers, which makes today a good day to ask the title question:

Is Your Container Earning its Keep?

Look around your house, and choose a container that's working and one that's not. 
Then, fill in the chart below.

Container #1 (preferred)
Container #2 (not working)
Fits in the space
Right size             Yes     No
Right size             Yes     No

Right shape          Yes     No
Right shape          Yes     No

Right color/style    Yes     No
Right color/style    Yes     No
Has room to grow
Yes          No
Yes          No
Yes          No
Yes          No
Easy to use
Yes          No
Yes          No
Gets used regularly
Yes          No
Yes          No
Works for your styles
Yes          No
Yes          No

See the difference? 

Once you know what works and what doesn’t, it’s easy to avoid impulse buying and peer pressure (file cabinets and binders do not work for every style!) and choose the right tools. Once you have the right tools, the job is immeasurably easier. 

See you tomorrow :-)

Monday, March 30, 2015

Post-it Monday

The first week of this month was winter break, one of the teaser weeks during the semester where I can temporarily set aside class prep and tackle all the other things on my list -- both the "must do" items and the "want to do items." As the week approached, I found myself doing what I always do when I have a break coming up -- creating a superhuman list of things I want to get done.

This time, though, I did it a little differently. I pulled a page off the oversized Post-it calendar that's been sitting neglected in a corner of my office and pressed it into service. Undated and twelve inches by eighteen inches, the page has a column for each day of the week. Each column is just wide enough for a 2 x 2 Post-it Note and just long enough for five of these to fit without overlapping.

Mine looks a little different, but you get the idea.
As break approached, and all the ambitious ideas began popping into my head, I set a pack of Post-it Notes and a Sharpie marker on my desk. Every time I thought of something I wanted to do over break, I jotted the idea on a Post-it Note, and stuck it onto the calendar page, in no particular order. I was not at all surprised when I overran the "neutral" column to the left of the labeled columns and began filling Monday's column.

By the Saturday before break, I had fifteen 2 x 2 sticky notes. Time to kick the plan into action.

What plan? Each day, I chose the sticky notes I wanted to tackle. By choosing tasks each morning instead of assigning them to specific days ahead of time, I got to choose the things I was most motivated to do each day (it was supposed to be a break after all!) and increase the likelihood that they actually get done.

That Saturday was a good day. Productive and a validation of my plan.

Sunday, I woke to snow and the threat of worsening road conditions in an unspecified time frame. Concern over getting to and from church safely lay over me like an ice-covered cloak, and it stuck with me all day. I was tired and grouchy and didn't even look at the Post-it Notes, let alone select any. Instead, I puttered, napped and read a book. A novel. For fun. (I added that sticky note to the calendar after the fact. Reading for fun should be on every vacation wish list).

So, why am I telling you all of this?

Later this week, my spring break begins. It's shorter, and it encompasses Easter. In addition, my daughter's school break overlaps mine.

All the more reason to get out those Post-its.

Last time, the plan helped me to keep a clear head -- for the most part, anyway. It was definitely preferable to trying to remember everything and far superior to creating one, depressingly long to-do list that lingered long after break was over. There's something about a brightly colored Post-it Note that lowers the intimidation factor.

So, even though I still have the remnants of my original sticky note list (some recurring activities, some I never got to), I'm going to pull out my Post-its and my Sharpie and get to work.

This break may be a small one, but there's no reason I can't dream big.


Saturday, March 28, 2015

Organization Extra: FlyLady

In one of my earlier posts, I shared that I did a lot of reading before coming up with my own notions of what makes a good, realistic organizational system. One of the sites I enjoyed was FlyLady, who encourages baby steps:
"Our FlyLady system is all about establishing little habits that string together into simple routines to help your day run on automatic pilot."
The site has lots of great ideas, and although I'd choose different starting points, we agree on some things. February's focus, for example, was de-cluttering in fifteen minute increments (an extended Give it Five!)

FlyLady's motto is "Make it fun, it will get done!" While getting organized is not always "fun" for those who've struggled with it for a long time, I agree with FlyLady on the importance of a positive attitude. We can't allow ourselves to give up or to believe that we're somehow inferior because binders and file cabinets don't solve our problems and leave our surfaces clutter-free. Organizing is a process. Taking one step at a time, using our styles as a map, we'll arrive at our destination: organizational systems that allow us to get organized and stay that way.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Throwback Thursday: On Organization, Right-Brained Thinking and Office Supplies

The post below originally ran on January 30, 2013 after I had the honor of speaking to a local writing group about Organizing by STYLE.

Two weeks ago, I had the privilege of speaking to the Lancaster Christian Writers group on the topic of organization. They were a warm and enthusiastic bunch, and I had a wonderful time.

Among the resources I shared was one of the books that had ushered in a paradigm shift for me, Organizing For the Creative Person: Right-Brain Styles for Conquering Clutter, Mastering Time and Reaching Your Goals, by Dorothy Lehmkuhl. Until I read this book, I'd never considered the notion that people who are right brain dominant organize differently than those who are left brain dominant. Silly, really, since I'd been an educator for years, and firmly believed that different kids had different learning styles and that we could maximize what they learned by using those styles to their advantage. Still, I'd never made the leap to different organizational styles.

But, after I read that book, I sure did. I embraced that concept not only personally but professionally, cooking up style names designed to make organizational concepts fun and accessible for kids, and, as it turns out, adults too.

Then last weekend, I came across a nugget of information in a document I'd downloaded quite some time ago. Smead (the office supply company) had created a document called 100 Ideas for Better Organization. I'd been reading it in bits and pieces, but when I arrived at idea #72 last weekend, I stopped short.

There it was again. Right brain organizing.

Turns out that the need to leave things out in plain sight (one of the personal styles I discuss in my classes and presentations) is connected to right brain dominance. According to Idea #72, the right-brain-dominant person is stimulated to thinking and doing by the things they see.

Well, what do you know? My messy desk has more to do with the dominant side of my brain than my need (?) to operate in chaos.

Smead cascading wall organizer
But, as you can imagine, an office supply company doesn't put out a free publication without taking advantage of the opportunity to advertise their product. In this case, however, I was appreciative, because their "hints" and "suggestions" fed into my mission. When I talk to people about organization, there are two things I want them to know by the time they leave:
  • you aren't broken or flawed or somehow inferior if you struggle with organization and
  • you can turn your styles into assets.
More than halfway through my free download, I discovered that not only was my need to leave things lying out a reflection of my right-brained-ness, but there were office supplies geared to people like me. And you know what that means?

I'm not alone. Better yet, I'm a target market - one who can turn her styles into assets.

Well, that may be the nicest thing an office supply company has ever said to me.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Containers: Cutting to the Chase

Overwhelmed by the myriad containers available to organize your space? There are so many choices, both functional and beautiful, that it's easy to get lost in the aisles, trying to narrow the choices. Add responsible shopping (matching your styles and your budget) to the list, and it can be tempting to run screaming from the store, empty-handed.

This chart summarizes what we've been talking about for two weeks: the preferred container qualities for each personal and organizational style. As you look over the chart, think about whether or not the recommendations match your personal preferences. Where can you find crossover

As an I need to see it/drop and run person, I can use containers that are clear, color-coded, labeled and/or unusual/unique because these container attributes match both of my styles. My container preference, however, will change depending on what I'm storing and where I'm storing it. In addition, two people who identify themselves as the same style will have different personal preferences. Clear drawers may be a perfect match for one I need to see it person, for example, but be a disaster for another because she can’t see what’s at the back of the drawer.  

What if you've identified yourself as one style, but you're drawn to containers listed in another category? As long as they aren’t containers, furnishings or systems that have proven unsuccessful in the past, give them a shot! There’s no harm in trying different things to get an idea of what works and what doesn’t. 
Remember that organizing by STYLE is all about making your system your own so that it will work for you not just temporarily, but in the long run as well. With that in mind, print the chart out and amend it as necessary to reflect your personal choices. Fill in the blank spaces, and even change noes to yeses -- if those answers will really work for you. I promised you at the very beginning of this journey that there was no one-size-fits-all solution. The more you personalize the chart, the more you'll refine what truly works for you. 
Once the chart reflects your personal preferences, tuck it into your wallet, your purse, your glove compartment or your reusable shopping bag so you have it with you when you go to the store. 
If you’re still in the sampling stage, there are many worthwhile containers to be had at dollar stores, grocery stores and on sale at variety stores. Just keep in mind that while clearance sales and yard sales can be great for finding that perfect, one-of-a-kind container, you may end up frustrated if you find the perfect tool and want to acquire more like it.

All of variations on plastic drawers in this week's post 
are from office depot.com
If you know just what you're looking for, more power to you! Feel free to buy those perfect containers in multiples if you know they're going to work for you (particularly if you already have some just like them that have been organization-tested). Just keep the receipt in case you over-buy or underestimate in terms of size or usefulness. (Not that I would know anything about that).

Next week's post will close our discussion of containers, as we focus on marrying the materials to the mission.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Containers and the Personal Styles

Containers come in many shapes, styles, colors, patterns and textures. Some are functional, some are fashionable and some strive to be both. Large, small, lidded, open, clear, colored, round, square, rectangular....the choices can be overwhelming.
Despite their variation in appearance, all containers have just three components: form, function and style. Form refers to the size, shape and physical attributes of a container, including features such as lids and sections. Function is exactly what it sounds like - the purpose the container will serve once you get it home. A container’s style comes from its aesthetics - color, texture, pattern, attractiveness.

All of these attributes matter. How much each one matters depends on what needs to go into the container and -- you guessed it -- the personal and organizational styles of the person using it. Your mission will be to try to find containers that will help you to create systems that are both appealing and functional so that they’re easy and fun to use and maintain. 

I love stuff
If you're an I love stuff organizer, the key to containing your belongings lies in corralling both collections and odds and ends. I love stuff organizers may see the containers themselves as collectibles, or as ways to house or display items of importance -- or perhaps both. This tendency to collect things usually means the more you like a container, the more likely you are to use it. 
I love stuff folks often prefer open storage and unique containers that allow them to see what they have. But, since too much visibility can turn into visual clutter (think about the difference between one sheet of paper on a desk and haphazard piles of papers), it’s important to strike a balance between what’s gets displayed and what gets put away. 

For the I love stuff person, container selection is a breeze because almost any type of container works. Clear, color-coded or labeled containers with or without lids can all work well. Clear containers let you see which valuables are inside, while color-coding and/or labeling can be a visual reminder of what goes where. You may also like unique containers because of their aesthetics; in addition, the uniqueness of the container may serve as a visual remember of the location of your valuable stuff. You may want to match containers in terms of color, size or style, or decide on a color scheme or other unifying theme, especially if you want to mix and match containers. The key is to come up with a combination that allows everything to be away, but still visible and/or accessible.

I love to be busy
Time is at a premium for the I love to be busy person, which means the best containers are those that require as few steps as possible. If you're an I love to be busy person, you may benefit from subdivided containers that allow you to see at a glance what’s missing as you hurry from one activity to another. 

Separate storage for each activity (e.g. a separate bin or bag) can also be helpful because this prevents items that are needed for one activity from getting mixed in with materials for something else. Like their I love stuff counterparts, I love to be busy people may also like clear, color-coded or labeled containers that help them keep track of the minutiae of their varied pursuits. And, depending upon their organizational style, they may be able to use each of them with equal facility. 

I need to see it
The name says it all! Anything you can do to appeal to the visual will help you if your style is I need to see it. As a general rule, open storage (no lids) is best because it helps the the I need to see it person put things away without putting them out of sight, preserving the need for visual prompts. Clear, labeled or color-coded containers can work, too, for the same reason - they provide visual cues as to where things go. 
Whereas those with other styles can be coerced into putting their belongings into drawers and closets, I need to see it organizers will resist this. For them, the line between visibility and visual chaos is very, very fine. 
I need to see it folks, like their I love stuff counterparts, often enjoy a visually stimulating mix of containers -- colored, patterned, unique -- and this variety can help them remember where they put things, making it easier for them to make the transition from leaving it out to putting it away. Avoid monochromatic color schemes; without visual variety to remind you where you put things, you'll quickly become frustrated and return to leaving everything out where it can be seen.

A word about size

Remember how you used to buy your kids clothes with “room to grow” when they were little? Regardless of your style, you can use the same concept when determining the right size for a container: Choose containers that are the right size for what you currently own, with a little space for future acquisitions.

All of the containers on today's post can be found on tenthousandvillages.com.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Organization Extra: Organizing Inspiration, Julie Morgenstern

My ongoing quest for organization arose from a need for an attitude adjustment. I was changing offices at work, and I wasn't happy about it. After doing more than my fair share of complaining, I decided to turn lemons into lemonade and to view the move as an opportunity to take control of my stuff and my space.

I started reading books, and the first one I read that resounded with me was Julie Morgenstern's Organizing from the Inside Out. I went on to read others that gave me ideas and support, but in the end, it was Julie Morgenstern's philosophy that informed everything I came up with:

"Our philosophy is that every system should be designed from the inside out, based on your unique goals, natural habits and style, so that your system lasts."

Once I began incorporating this philosophy into my professional workspace, it occurred to me that my students might benefit from learning this sooner rather than later, so I took my show into the classroom. Eventually, Mrs. Hess's crazy lessons on organization became a fifth grade staple, with kids identifying themselves as I love stuff and cram and jam and making adjustments in their organizational plans before they crossed the bridge from elementary school to middle school.

They didn't all need this, mind you. Many of them were well-organized, and while they enjoyed entering monthly drawings to win stuff (tools they could try), the lessons didn't impact their systems
much. But those whose self-confidence had taken a hit from years struggling to do what seemed so easy for everyone else? They shared stories, poked fun at themselves and relaxed. Best of all, they smiled. I watched faces change from pinched and dubious to hopeful and optimistic over the course of a class period. Suddenly, these kids realized there wasn't anything wrong with them. The systems had failed them, not vice versa.

When I moved on to sharing these ideas with adults, the same thing happened. Suddenly, people couldn't wait to tackle cluttered spaces, papers crammed in folders, drawers full of who knew what? They experienced renewed faith in themselves and their ability to create order in a way that made sense to them.

When I write and teach about organization, my goal isn't to un-clutter the world. Sure, I hope that people will be able to apply these strategies and make it easier to create spaces that work for them. But what I really love is that moment when they re-discover faith in themselves -- when they realize that failing to organize the way "everyone else does" is not a failing or even a personal flaw. It's a part  of who they are, and given time and the right tools, they can create the level of order they crave in a way that makes sense to them and is manageable.

Apparently you can take the counselor out of the school, but you can't take away her desire to change the world, one person at a time.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Yes, It Has a Home! (Part 2)

How are you doing with yesterday's task? Too soon to tell? If so, you may want to come back to this post after you've come to the end of your trial period. But, if you're someone who wants to know where you're headed, keep reading.

At the end of the trial period, you'll obviously need to go through the contents of the container. When  you do this, you'll want to sort the contents into three categories:
  • Truly homeless items
  • Items you could not put away (space was too full, out of reach, etc.)
  • Items you could have put away but didn't
Decide which category to tackle first. (If you're using the Give it Five! strategy to do this task, you may not get through a single category in one sitting). Each category has a solution, but some are simpler than others. 

Multi-purpose storage items with lids
that lift off like this one, or are hinged
like the one at the bottom of this post
allow many of the styles to put things
away easily but still look neat.
(This ottoman is from target.com).

Truly homeless items need homes. This sounds easy enough, but in an overstuffed room or one with an organizational system that isn't working, it can be challenging to put things "away." If you can immediately locate logical homes for the homeless items, put them there. If you can't find a logical home for the item and you want to keep it, put it back into the container. (If you don't want to keep it, get rid of it right away if at all possible). If you can, corral all similar homeless items (perhaps into containers of their own, one for each category of homeless item) so that you don't have to re-sort later.

For items that could not be put away, see if you can figure out why this is the case. Do these items have homes that are out of reach, overstuffed or simply inconvenient? Can out of reach or inconveniently placed storage be relocated, or does it need to be replaced by something more useful? If the problem is an overstuffed home, consider making that space your next Give it Five! task.

Once again, we're looking for patterns -- this time with respect to the kinds of organizational tools that go unused. Are there perfectly serviceable drawers or shelves sitting empty, or, conversely, overstuffed? Do you need to dig under the bed or get out the stepladder to access the home for the items in the container? If so, consider replacing them with containers and systems you'll actually use. I'll talk more about container choices in next week's post. For now, return any of the items you want to keep to the collection container -- unless you're ready right now to create space for them "where they belong."

For items that could have been put away but weren't, resist the urge to chastise yourself, and explore the possibility that this was a decision based on style rather than laziness. Once again, you're looking for the "why." 

  • I love stuff organizers often resist putting things away because they enjoy looking at them while I need to see it organizers are afraid that out of sight will also mean out of mind. 
  • I love to be busy and drop and run people often lack time to put things away properly. For these folks and their I know I put it somewhere counterparts, dropping the item into the container was actually a victory in itself, and perhaps evidence that the right container can help build better habits. 
  • Cram and jammers? They're walking a very fine line between "could have but didn't" and "couldn't have stuffed one more thing into the available space." Again, take a moment to savor a small victory. An item that landed in the designated container instead of an overstuffed space is an item that has been spared wrinkles, tears and crumpling. This time.
When it comes to sorting this bin and creating new homes, make sure to find and honor natural stopping points. If you want to make progress without getting overwhelmed, consider setting a timer for a length of time you think you can stick to or plan to tackle one of the above categories and then take stock before moving on. And be prepared to stop after one category. Better to end on a feeling of success than a feeling of frustration. The former leaves you anxious to pick up where you left off, while the latter leaves you dreading tackling what remains.

As always, focus on successes. What things have been put where they belong? Do these items have anything in common? Are they important enough to you that you're motivated to put them where they belong? Or, is there a similarity among the containers or systems you're using to store these things? In both of these cases, you've found a style clue. Leave what's working alone and focus on changing the things that aren't working, perhaps by replicating the systems and containers that you actually use.

Share your successes -- of any size -- by leaving me a comment below.

The trick to using these kinds of containers
well is designating what belongs inside.
Otherwise, they run the risk of becoming
fancy clutter catchers, which is a good
temporary solution, but not a good
long-term plan.
(This storage bench is from target.com)

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Yes, it Has a Home!

Open, rolling containers that can be stashed
out of sight are an easy access choice for
many of the styles and can be used for
this activity or for storage.
(This one is from The Container Store).
In my last post, I shared the concepts behind the STYLE acronym. By now you know that a positive outlook and confidence in your own abilities (Start with Successes) are necessary ingredients as you develop a plan based on your personal and organizational styles. And if you Take it Slow,  using simple strategies like Give it Five! and Don’t put it down, put it away! you'll see steady progress and avoid feeling overwhelmed.

Which brings us to Y: Yes, it Has a Home.  

When it comes to getting organized, home is simply where an item belongs. Books have homes on bookshelves. Shoes may have a home on the floor of the closet. Pots and pans find homes in kitchen drawers, or hanging from racks over a kitchen island.

Very often, clutter develops because items lack homes. Consequently, things are left lying out (I need to see it or drop and run) or improperly stashed away (I know I put it somewhere, cram and jam), because we don't know where to put them. Sometimes, an overload of stuff (I love stuff) or a dearth of time (I love to be busy) compounds the problem.

Let's look a little more closely at our strategies from the last two weeks. Give it Five! is a clutter-clearing strategy. Don’t put it down, put it away! is a clutter prevention strategy. They can be used separately or together, as we will in this week's task, which focuses on building the skill of Don’t put it down, put it away!

A simple plastic bin or laundry
basket will work for this task,
but you can choose something
prettier if you wish.
(Basket above: Crate and Barrel)

To get started, find a medium-sized container that can be used as a clutter catcher. Set it on the floor of a closet or out of the way in a room where clutter prevails. 

Then for the next several days (or until the container is full, whichever you prefer), every time you're finished with something, follow this routine: 
  1. Look at the item in your hand.
  2. Ask yourself, “Does this item have a home?”
  3.  If it has a home, put it there.
  4.  If it does not have a home, drop it in the designated container.
That's it for now. Tomorrow, we'll talk about what to do at the end  of the trial period.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Tidying Up

I featured this book (or its cover, anyway) on one of my earlier blogs. Last weekend, I found a fun write-up of the book on the BookBub blog.

Though I'd never write review after just a quick flip, I am guilty of sharing my initial reaction to just that -- a quick flip -- after I came across the book at my local Barnes and Noble.

After reading the BookBub blog, what's your initial reaction? Would you buy the book? Do you think it would fit your styles?

Monday, March 16, 2015

What does STYLE stand for?


When I write about organizing with STYLE, I'm talking about personal and organizational styles (lower case), along with the plan that underlies them: STYLE in all caps. 

Last week, I talked more about successes (the first letter in the acronym), and small steps (the second letter). Before going any further, I wanted to share the rest of the STYLE acronym:

Start with successes
Take small steps   
Yes, it has a home!
Let it go
Easy upkeep

Before we're through, we'll tackle all of these steps -- mostly in order -- but since organization is a process, sometimes we move forward and sometimes, we revisit the early parts of the process because they really are the foundation for everything else. Small steps and successes of any size build confidence and help us to remember that by selecting tools and processes that match our "default settings," we can build a system that works. Each small step is one step closer to that eventual goal of a sustainable organizational plan.

Tomorrow, I'll connect one of our strategies from last week (Don't put it down, put it away!) to a key organizational concept -- the one embodied by the letter Y in STYLE -- Yes, it has a home.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Organization Extra: One Blogger's Challenge

Part of the purpose of many of these Organization Extra posts is to bring in the experts, so to speak. But as I went in search of resources that complemented the things I was writing about, I started finding things that were both fun and challenging -- like today's post.

Part of getting organized is separating things that are worth keeping from things that aren't. Toward that end, blogger Jacqueline Damian took on the 30-Day Declutter Challenge, a progressive decluttering campaign that the "I love stuff" Damian admits started easy and became more, well, challenging. Like 40 Bags in 40 Days, the goal here is to reduce the amount of stuff -- always a worthwhile goal, since the less stuff we have, the less we have to organize.

I think this may be worth a shot at my house. Who else is in?

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Paths to Success


So, how are those successes coming? Last Friday, I shared the first concept behind the STYLE acronym: Start with Successes. Today, I’d like to talk about some strategies to help create those successes, all of which revolve around the next letter in the STYLE acronym: Take Small Steps. 

Because getting organized and staying that way is a challenge for me, I love it when I find baby steps that contribute to the process. I've already shared one of my favorites -- Give it Five! -- which is just what it sounds like. To Give it Five! choose one area, and allocate five uninterrupted minutes to making progress in that space. If you get on a roll, and time permits, Give it Five! is easily expanded into a longer chunk of time, but even if all you have is five minutes, that can be enough. Five minutes of clutter busting can provide a small success that inspires you to repeat the process in an hour, a day or a week. Give it Five! won't get major clutter under immediate control, but it can create a small feeling of accomplishment, which makes the whole process less intimidating.

I found another one of my favorites in an article I shared this time last month. In "10 Organizing Tips That'll Change Your Life," Cass Colin suggests this simple strategy: put small clean-up tasks into practice. This is one of those things naturally organized people (the ones I like to call Type A Organizers) do automatically, and it's an easy one to adopt. Instead of waiting for things to pile up, take care of them one at a time, which brings me to another one of my favorites....

Don't put it down, put it away! As a recovering drop and run organizer, I sometimes have difficulty with this strategy, but when I remember to follow it, I create a lot less clutter in the first place. The pairing of this strategy with Give it Five! can be particularly useful for many of us whose default styles make spotless surfaces simultaneously desirable and difficult.

Finally, when all else fails and I'm feeling overwhelmed by stuff, I resort to playing little games with myself. One of my favorites is "pick up one thing," a twist on put small clean-up tasks into practice. It's simple -- each time I walk past a particular cluttered surface (usually my dining room table), I have to pick up one thing and put it where it belongs. In another version of this little mind game, which I often "play" before I sit down to watch TV or check Facebook, I assign myself a number (say, 15) and I have to pick up and put away that many things (from any location in my house) before I can move on to the fun thing that was next on my list.

While I'm sure that all of my Type A Organizer friends are shaking their heads at how complicated I'm making this, I'm equally sure that all of my overwhelmed wanna be organized friends "get" it. None of these tricks will solve major organizational issues, but they will allow us to take baby steps toward creating the organized world we want to live in. In addition, putting a dent in an overwhelming task leads to not only progress, but a sense of power over the very stuff that threatens to win the battle. And confidence is an important weapon in the clutter wars.

And that, my friends, is how we defeat clutter -- or at least call it a draw.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Styles...Part 2

Still with me on this journey? If you're like me, this process is one step forward, two steps back. I'm an I need to see it/drop and run girl, which means my house ranges from visually stimulating to a visual eyesore. The photo below is not just a Thirty-One pile-up; it's also testimony to where I'd been the week the photo was taken -- one place that needed a brown purse, one place that needed a black purse and a Starbucks work session with the gray bag -- and where I was going (the  brightly colored thermal below it all -- a donation to a preschool fund-raiser). 

I'm happy to report that after I took the photo, I emptied the bags and put them where they belonged (as well as getting the thermal to its destination), dramatically improving that one small space. In addition, some fun new visual organizers I'd ordered arrived, and over the weekend, I pressed them into service as well (see the photo at the bottom of this post). 

Last week, I elaborated on the personal styles that are at the root of our natural organizational tendencies. But personal styles are only half of the equation. Today, let’s take a peek at the other half, the organizational styles.

  • I know I put it somewhere organizers:
    • may look organized, but can rarely find what they want when they want it.
    • are likely to have a wide variety of unrelated things stashed together.
    • organize by putting things in the place that is most convenient at the moment, rather than in a logical place. 
    • lack a system and/or fail to establish consistent homes for their belongings.
  • Cram and jam organizers:
    • cram things into any available open space, and jam things into spaces even when they are already overcrowded.
    • lack an understanding of the concept of "full."
    • rarely have an organizational system, unless it’s for things that are extremely important to them. 
    • may look organized when they have a lot of storage space - until you open up the closets and look inside the drawers.
  • Drop and run organizers:
    • may have systems, but don't use them consistently.
    • are unlikely to utilize systems that require multiple steps.
    • typically operate out of piles and stacks.
    • often need to retrace their steps to locate misplaced items.
As you read over the styles at this point in the process, you may feel that many -- or even all -- of them describe you. As we work through this organizing process, you're likely to narrow your focus a bit, and one predominant style from each category (personal/organizational) may rise to the top. Or, you may remain a combination of styles. Fortunately, but this can be a benefit.  An overlap can mean more strategies to work with! 

A good fit for an I need to see it/drop and run
girl -- in sight, but neatly corralled.
Up to this point, the styles have most likely been stumbling blocks. Moving forward, the goal will be to learn how to view your natural tendencies as assets rather than liabilities. This outlook will enable you to use your styles as a blueprint for developing a workable, sustainable plan based on what comes naturally. Whether or not you've pinpointed one particular style is less important than finding a system that feels like a good fit.

Have you found your default styles? As you examine the organized and under-organized places in your surroundings, can you see your strengths and stumbling blocks at work? What organizational successes (small or large) have you celebrated lately?

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Organization Extra: Backwards To-Do List

Last Monday, I created a backwards to-do list. I have a Page-a-Day calendar that I use for my daily to-do lists, and when I woke up on Monday, I had several lists with undone to-do list items from previous days. Monday's page, however, was blissfully blank.

So I decided to try something. Rather than copying all of those undone to-do items onto my blissfully blank page, I simply hung on to the old pages, copying the items onto Monday's page after I did them. New items went on the old lists, so at the end of the day, instead of another list comprised of both completed and incomplete items, I had a lovely list on Monday's page -- one where everything was checked off.

Some days, we need this. It's easy to get caught up in the minutiae of daily business and lose track of all we've accomplished, remaining focused only on what we've left undone. When we consolidate bits and pieces of previous lists onto a single page, we often feel defeated before we begin.

Daily to-do lists are meant to be about what we can accomplish that day, but in our zeal to do it all (and remember it all), they often become the Mt. Everest of lists. I'm a big proponent of having both a master list (Mt. Everest) and a daily list (the foothills of life), and some days, when the lists have become a mountain range of their own, I wave the white flag, in the form of a Post-it Note sent to me by professional organizer Cindy Bernstein:

For those of you who, like me, prefer the old-fashioned paper-and-pencil list, here's a great article from Forbes about how not to torture yourself with them. And if you have an "I need to see it" style (as I do), here's a piece of advice: abandon the app and pick up the pencil. You need to see it, remember?

How about you? What do you do to show your to-do lists who's boss?

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Organization Extra: 40 Bags in 40 Days

Ready for some serious purging? Then 40 Bags in 40 Days might be for you. 

The idea is simple enough -- to clear the clutter from our lives and divest ourselves of 40 bags of non-essentials over the course of Lent (the 40 days in the name of the challenge). For me, some of it will be as simple as finally getting those clothes to consignment and those books to the library book sale. But to get to 40 bags, I'll need to go through my things and separate the wheat from the chaff, so to speak -- a task I always mean to do, but never seem to get to.

Any size bag (or box or bin) will do. When I did this last year, I used a kitchen trash bag (smaller than the one in the photo at left) as my approximate standard. Two shredding sessions will fill the bag 
-- and reduce the paper clutter on my desk (and pretty much any other room in my house). Or, I can fill the bag with clothes I don't wear, but someone else might...or any other items in my home that have overstayed their welcome here but might be very welcome somewhere else.

How about you? What can you fill 40 bags with between now and Easter?

Friday, March 6, 2015

Styles...and STYLE

Earlier this week, I posted a quiz to help you identify your personal and organizational styles. Today, I'd like to share a little bit about the personal styles. In addition, I'd like to add a layer of action to our musings about what we do and why we do it by introducing the first concept behind the STYLE acronym.

When it comes to identifying styles, the quiz results don't come as any surprise to most of us. We know what we do, and we've spent a lot of time beating ourselves up about it.

But there's no beating up here. As I said in my first post:
I believe that everyone has the capacity to get organized and that the trick to success lies in finding a method and tools that match the way you think -- marrying your personal style and your organizational style to create a process that underlies the way you organize everything.

So let's take another look at the personal styles and what they mean for organizational systems and successes.

  • Those with an I love stuff style:
    • develop an attachment to their things and often struggle to part with them. 
    • are often collectors and sometimes choose unusual things to collect.  
    • have so much stuff that they often run out of places to put things. While the simple solution to a pragmatic, naturally organized person would be to just get rid of some of their belongings, this is extremely difficult for the I love stuff person. 
  •  Those with an I love to be busy style:
    • thrive on hectic schedules.
    • may have one overriding interest or many varied interests.
    • are often disciplined when it comes to managing their time, but disorganized when it comes to managing their things, except, of course, for the tools they need to pursue the activities they love. 
  • Those with an I need to see it style:
    • put things out so they'll remember to do them or bring them somewhere.
    • hate to put things away because they fear that out of sight will mean out of mind.
    • replace “to-do” lists with “to-get-to” piles. These visual reminders are meant to serve as nudges, and this plan sometimes works....and sometimes creates clutter.  

Did you fit neatly into one style, or are you “a little bit of this and a little bit of that”?  Either way, it's okay. Further observation, discussion and exploration may help you to determine predominant styles, but some people really are a mix of styles, both personal and organizational. 

Next week, I'll have more on the organizational styles, but in the meantime, I wanted to clue you in to my STYLE acronym, which will form the foundation of our action plan. In last Wednesday's post, I suggested taking stock of what's neat and what's not. If you did this, where did you find your organizational successes? What can you find immediately when you need it? What always gets put away?

If you can answer any or all of those questions, you've already begun. The "S" in STYLE stands for "Start with successes." If something is working for you in one place, chances are, you can adapt the plan to make it work somewhere else as well. 

For example, when we remodeled our bathroom several years ago, I knew I didn't want a standard linen closet, but rather a mix of drawers and shelves. I'm five feet tall, and whatever got stashed on the top shelf was likely to become a mishmash mess. Once the storage was in place, I used bins to organize my bathroom shelves. In addition, I used smaller bins to compartmentalize the drawers. When I open the doors or the drawers, I can see everything I have. No mishmash, no mess, and even years later, the bathroom is organized. The concept of open storage -- even behind closed doors and inside closed drawers -- enables me to work with my I need to see it style and maintain a system that works. 

Once again, look around. Where do you see your styles in action? And how can you make them work for you instead of against you? When you look at the pictures of organizers I've posted over the past two weeks, which are a match for your style?

(This week, all of the photos are from target.com)