Saturday, May 30, 2015

Organization Extra: Thoughts While Cleaning Out the Closet
What's the first thing you think of when you hear Buzz Feed? For me, it's quizzes -- silly quizzes that pop up on Facebook. I was pleasantly surprised, however, to see Buzz Feed pop up in a different place: on my Google search for these Saturday posts. Not surprisingly, the same whimsy BF brings to its familiar posts runs through the more practical ones as well.

At our house, today marks the first Saturday of summer, so I thought I'd share a Buzz Feed post that's more amusing than practical. 102 Thoughts You Have While Cleaning Out Your Closet is a quick read that will inspire that wonderful "you mean, I'm not alone?" feeling, as well as a few chuckles. Maybe it will even inspire a first step toward closet de-cluttering...or maybe it'll just be good for a laugh.

Next Saturday, I'm bringing Buzz Feed back, with some practical solutions that we can implement after we clean out the closet.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Throwback Thursday: Kids and Organization

Today's Throwback Thursday isn't another blog, but rather an article I wrote for Teachers of Vision magazine called "Defeating Desk Disasters with STYLE." As a school counselor, I saw so many bright, creative kids done in by disorganization. Most of the time, this bothered them less than it bothered the adults around them, but as they got older, the negative feedback they received began to impact their views of themselves as well.

Organizing By STYLE actually began in an elementary school, when I decided I needed an attitude adjustment to face an office change, and, in fairly short order, chose to take the things I'd been learning to my students. It was so gratifying to watch the changes in them as they discovered that failure to organize traditionally was not a character flaw or a sign of inferiority. It's hard to believe this has been my organizing mantra for almost nine years.

As we move forward here, I'll be doing some posts about using the STYLE ideas with kids. And, if there are things you'd like to "hear" about, leave me a comment and I'll do my best to cook up a reply!

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

But I Can't Get Rid of THAT!

Photo: Tat via Morguefile
Today, we'll finish off the L in STYLE (Let it Go!) by taking a look at some strategies for (perhaps) getting rid of those I-think-I'm-ready-but-I'm-not-sure items.

One of the best limbo strategies I've ever seen was on a now-defunct HGTV show called Mission: OrganizationI wish I could remember which professional organizer to credit, because the idea was genius. Here it is, step-by-step:
  1. Find a box, preferably one with a lid or one that can be closed completely (nothing showing).
  2. Put all of those "can't quite get rid of it" items inside (by category, if you wish).
  3. Close the box and put a sticky note on the top with today's date. 
  4. In an amount of time that you determine (I typically use 6 months), if you haven't opened the box, get rid of it without opening it.
There are two key factors here. First, keep in mind that the end purpose of this exercise is to get rid of things, so you need to choose the items that go into the box carefully (don't put your wedding photo, graduation tassel, or your grandmother's jewelry in the box). Second, you need to get rid of it without opening it. If everything going into the box is expendable (by your standards) and you haven't used it in 6 months (longer if you need more time and have a place to store it), do you really need it?

Photo: kconnors via Morguefile
So what about your wedding photo, graduation tassel and grandmother's jewelry? Are they
important enough or attractive enough to display? If not, or if you want to protect them, these kinds of things can go into a box of their own -- maybe even a pretty trunk or decorative container. While the boxes used for the first exercise should be expendable, the ones you use to preserve items of sentimental value should do just that -- preserve them. If you want those items to come out of the box in the same condition they were in when you put them there (not faded or crumbling with age), do a little research to see what kind of container will work best for the item(s) you're storing. Then, find a home for that container.

Another suggestion popular with professional organizers is to take a picture of the item, then get rid of the item itself. Much as I like the idea, I've never quite been able to do that, and I fear that I'd then be left with a pile of photos that needs to be appropriately stored. But, if you're someone who loves looking through photo books and remembering the stories they inspire, this approach may not only work well for you, but free up space as well.

A few summers ago, we went to an open house at the beach. The condo was beautifully decorated, and in one of the bedrooms, framed articles of baby clothing adorned two of the walls. It sounds kind of creepy when I write about here, but it looked really cool. Done well, this kind of repurposing can be a beautiful keepsake.

If this is all sounding too high maintenance, then here's a simpler strategy. Choose a medium-to-large container, preferably with a lid, and find it a home. Use it to collect all of the homeless items that you can't immediately recycle, repurpose or resell. Then, once a week (or month) or when the container is full, go through it and weed it out to make room for more stuff. If you make it a rule to never allow the container to overflow, you'll always be the boss of your stuff -- at least the stuff in that container.

Next week, we'll tackle the E in STYLE: Easy Upkeep....though if you've been following along, you're already halfway there.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Organization Extra: Clearing the Clutter
When it comes to letting things go, every organizer has a system, but not every system works for everyone. I mean, let's face it -- it's always easy to tell someone else how to get rid of their stuff.

That's what I like about this week's Saturday Special, "10 Hard Questions to Ask When Clearing Out Your Clutter" -- even if only one or two questions help you make tough decisions,  you'll still come out ahead.

Happy clearing!

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Throwback Thursday: Piles. Again.

This post first appeared on The Porch Swing Chronicles in September 2012.
In June, I brought a rather substantial portion of my school office home with me. And, since I wasn't  going back to school in the fall, neither was the stuff.

Consequently, a chunk of my summer was spent finding new homes for old things...some of which still lingered in various places in my house, homeless, as fall approached. The problem with that (besides the obvious) is that I seem to have harbored a secret hope that everything would magically find its place, and by the time the new school year started, my home would be the epitome of organization. Since this has never happened in any summer in my lifetime, I'm not exactly sure why I thought it would happen under these more cluttered circumstances.

I have made progress - quite a bit of it. But, as I told a friend today, there is no grey area. Everything in my house is either exactly where it belongs or it's in a pile somewhere, awaiting travel instructions. This particular state of affairs leaves me more than a little frustrated because I have so many things I want to do, and the clutter is a distraction. The homeless items keep calling out to me.

And so I've developed a plan because I'm always happier when I have a plan. Those who know me might rat me out, sharing their acquired knowledge that any plan I develop can be classified as, at best, Plan A.

This plan, however, is designed to last.

I can't do it all - that's a given (and not the plan). But I can (continue to) do it a little bit at a time. And so, each day, I'm going to ask myself a simple question: which space am I going to improve today?

The best part of this plan is that there's no guilt inherent in the question - no perfectionism, no "but I just cleared the dining room table off yesterday, how can there be piles on it again today?" involved. Take stock. Take action. Make progress.

Some days, I find the projects. Other days, they find me. After three tries at getting dressed for church yesterday, I left the rejected clothing on the bed. (Yes. I created more clutter.) When I came home, the rejected items were dispensed with. Consignment pile. Donation pile. Definitely not going back in the closet so I can play this fruitless game all over again.

This, of course, led to the domino task of going through other items in the room to see if they could be added to a "one way ticket out of my house" pile. In the end, the bedroom looked better, and I had eliminated items from my inventory.

A pile in the living room was today's casualty, and the day isn't over yet, so I'm planning on taking a few prisoners in the dining room as well.

And the piles in the office? Their days are numbered.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Repurposing: Is it Really Letting Go? via
42 Craft Projects That are Easy to Make & Sell
It wasn't until I started last week's blog that I realized my third R isn't a Let it Go! strategy at all, but rather an escape route -- and one to be used with caution. While both Recycling and Reselling result in getting things out of our house, Repurposing actually makes it less likely that we'll get rid of the item in question.

That's not always bad. If repurposing a beloved (or simply useful) item gives it new life or helps it earn its keep, then hanging on to it is actually a good long as we follow a few simple guidelines.

  • Repurposing implies purpose. It's right there in the name. Is the item in question being used, or is it merely taking up space? One or two decorative items that add personality to a space, or a collection that's housed in an aesthetically pleasing way is one thing. A pile-up of "I know I'll use this someday" is quite other.
  • For items in limbo, designate a purpose. In our DIY, Pinterest-fueled society, it doesn't take much searching to come up with new uses for everything from empty soda bottles to old furniture. Here's where you have to be honest with yourself. Are you really going to do that project? If so, when? And where will the supplies "live" in the meantime?
  • Be selective: You can't save it all, yet the reasons we have for keeping things vary according to both styles and personality. Sentimental people keep things because they make us smile when we look at them or bring back a special memory. The more practical among us save things that solve a storage problem or serve more than one purpose. Those who are frugal often keep a backlog of things they don't want to have to pay to replace. Whatever your reasons, you need to set a limit to how many of those things you can realistically hang on to.
Next week, we'll talk about some ways to make decisions about the things we can't quite get rid of. In the meantime, box up those things you need to hang onto by category (e.g., sentimental value, future projects, I think I'll use this someday, etc.). That will make things easier as we move forward (and no, I haven't changed my mind about "making" you dispose of beloved items).

Next week will also mark my last week posting on this topic at the Porch Swing ChroniclesAs we move into the last letter of STYLE in June, and begin talking about Easy Upkeep, I'll be taking all of the discussion here, as a means of both archiving all these posts in one place and continuing the discussion. You can still find me at the Porch Swing Chronicles on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Organization Extra: Packing it In

Photo: kolobsek via Morguefile
Since I spent yesterday traveling to the Pennwriters Conference, today's Organization Extra is travel-related. Last week, I shared the tips section from The Container Store (which actually happens to be having a travel sale right now!) This week, I found 6 Tips for Better Organizing Your Travel Bag. Had I been organized enough to read it before I left, I'd have definitely followed their "Keep Clean" tip.

Next time. Till then, happy trails!

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Throwback Thursday: Organizing Time

This piece on time management first appeared on The Porch Swing Chronicles in June 2012, right after I retired from public education.

I'm always happy when I find a way of organizing things that works for me. I'm especially happy when I find something that helps me organize my time.

To me, time management is a pipe dream. I can't even capture it, let alone manage it. But when I organize my time in a way that makes sense to me (the combination of must do, should do and want to do that I mentioned in my last post), I gain a sense of accomplishment even when the to do list remains long at the end of the day.

One of the best things about summer vacation is that lovely combination. We're not held captive by the must dos, and we have more room for the things that we enjoy, which, ironically, give us more energy to do the things we have to do. Warm days and sunshine help, too.
When I cleaned out my office at school, I took home my page-a-day to-do list calendar. At first, I wasn't sure what I'd do with it (and I still haven't found it a permanent home - though I do have some ideas). Earlier this week, I tried using it to focus in on only one day's worth of things to do - the third tier in my time management hierarchy.

Tier one is the family calendar - all the appointments we've made, practices we need to shuttle our daughter to, etc. - the must do items. Tier two is my to-do list - a combination of should do and want to do.

Tier three is my page-a-day. Ideally, I fill in each day's page the night before - since I'm a night owl, this works well for me, and it gives me a head start on getting focused on my chosen tasks. First on the page are the items from the family calendar, which I keep on a monthly calendar on my iPad.

Next are items from my to do list - those that are time sensitive take priority over all the others. Since the page is divided into two columns, I follow the age-old time management advice of blocking out time for some things (those go in the left column with scheduled appointments). In the right hand column are those things I hope to accomplish in addition to the things I have scheduled. When that list gets too long, I stop because I've discovered that overbooking my day leads me to accomplish less. When I underbook my day (is there any such thing??), I feel less stressed and, at the end of the day, usually discover that I've done more.

The key thing for me is flexibility. I hate feeling so bound by the calendar that there's no room for spontaneity or fun, and when I see white space on the page, I feel less constricted.

Those of you who are natural time managers are probably shaking your heads - if you're even still reading this. I've tried one calendar, but when it gets too full, I panic. I suppose I could put some of this on the day-by-day view in my iPad, but when it comes to calendars, I'm still very much a pencil and paper kind of girl.

Only one tool is still missing - my long-term project calendar for my writing, teaching and other professional obligations.
Photo by JessicaGale
via Morguefile.

No worries. I'll just go pencil in that purchase.

What time management system works for you? 
I'd love to hear your ideas.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Let it Go: The Second R
Sorry for the late post -- again. I'm hoping that now the the end of semester craziness has subsided, I'll get back on a regular posting schedule.

Last week, we started talking about ways to let go of things we no longer use or need. I got so excited about the potential reuses for things that I jumped into Recycle, which is perhaps the most difficult one of the three to do. If you managed to make some progress with that last week, congratulations! You belong at the head of the class!

If not, no worries. This week, it gets easier as we tackle the second RResell.

Like recycling, reselling allows us to get things we no longer use or need out of our homes and helps us to "do good" at the same time. After all, someone else might just love that flowery dress or set of dishes that's not your style. When we recycle, we don't simply throw things away -- we give them new life. For those who get attached to their things (yes, my I love stuff friends, this means you), sending them to a new home can making parting with them less painful.

But for some of us, nothing short of the lure of cold, hard cash can soothe the ache that accompanies getting rid of our "stuff." I have friends who do yard sales every year, freeing up space and raking in cash at the same time.
I'm not really a yard sale girl, but I love consigning things. I pack up the clothes we've outgrown, grown tired of or never should have bought in the first place and take them to a local shop that sells them and then cuts me a check. In the meantime, if I want to buy something there, I can spend the credit I've accumulated (between the time they sell my things and the time they cut the check) instead of spending cash, which feels like getting something for free. If I stay out of the store between drop-offs (which I generally do at least twice a year), the credit keeps accumulating until the end of the consignment period, when it turns into cash, and I avoid bringing new things into the house to fill the space vacated by the old ones.

I use clothing consignment more than any other, and, in fact, have two favorite stores (one for women's clothing and one that's for a younger clientele). Each accepts clothing by season, so I've learned to take things right from the dryer to one of two boxes (one labeled spring/summer and the other labeled fall/winter) because if I put the clothes back in my closet, it's that much less likely they'll ever make it out of the house. There are consignment stores in our area for furniture and household items, too, though I've never tried those.

If you'd like to make recycling or reselling a part of your routine, think about the containers that work for your style. As an I need to see it/drop and run organizer, I need containers that are open on top and labeled; otherwise it's easier to put things into the laundry basket than in the consignment box. Cram and jammers need to have containers large enough to keep them from, well, cramming and jamming, as many consignment stores are particular about the condition of the clothing they accept.  And I know I put it somewhere organizers will benefit from labeled or color-coded containers that have a specific home so they can remember where they put things when it's time to consign them. I love to be busy folks may want to put their containers into the trunk of the car as soon as they're full to make it easier to fit a drop-off into their busy schedules.
Photo: DodgertonSkillhause via morguefile

Regardless of the lure of cold, hard cash and the desire to "to good," most of us (and not just the I love stuff people among us) will still end up with some things we don't need, but just can't get rid of.

More on that next week.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Organization Extra: The Container Store
As you know from previous posts, I love finding inexpensive organizing tools. In fact, when I'm looking for ways to organize papers or small items, my first stop is usually the dollar store or the dollar bins at Target.

But I also enjoy going to stores that provide inspiration for my organizing endeavors. And one of my favorite places to go is The Container Store.

Unfortunately, there's no Container Store near me...but fortunately, this is the age of the Internet.

In addition to loads of great organizational tools, The Container Store site also includes tips on organizing closets, dorms and every room in your house, along with ideas for travel, holidays and occasions like shows and weddings.

And, after all, the one thing that tops inexpensive is free.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Throwback Thursday: Donna Reed, Carol Brady and Me

This post originally ran on The Porch Swing Chronicles in December 2012. Not much has changed. 
I've eliminated some junk drawers and restored order within them, and I began creating a long overdue sanctuary in my home office. Some of my clutter-catcher spaces have been reclaimed, and both my desk and the "nest" on my living room floor have been clear for several weeks. 

I'll take what I can get.

Photo: Morguefile
I had this expectation that when I retired, I'd become Suzy Homemaker. My house would be neat and
clean because I'd have time to do these things. My family would get real dinners instead of whatever I could throw together between 4:30 and 6 because I'd forgotten to defrost something - again.

Those of you who know me are rolling on the floor laughing. Please rejoin me once you pull yourselves together.

The truth is, I've always had this crazy notion that I should be Donna Reed - the TV mom, not the actress. The reality is, I'm more like Carol Brady - without an Alice. I don't enjoy cooking and I enjoy cleaning even less. I love organizing spaces and bringing order to chaos, which is a good thing because my house, my family and my housekeeping habits (or the lack thereof) provide me with plenty of opportunities to do those things.

The truth (yes, another one) is that I'm messy. I'm not a slob - I understand the difference between trash and treasure and have no problem getting rid of the former. I also like going through piles of accumulated belongings (mostly papers in my house) and deciding what to do with all of it. And, make no mistake, I consider shredding, recycling and trashing all to be viable options. In fact, I feel an amazing sense of accomplishment when I have organized even a small section of a room...until I look around and realize what a drop in the ocean that small section is, even in my little house.

I suppose it's not too late to change - to develop new habits and become my own version of Donna Reed - but the fact is, my family likes dinners that go from the freezer to the table, preferably in a breaded form that mimics fried appetizers at a restaurant. The meals I make from scratch and/or anything healthy I try to serve is greeted with appreciation, but not a lot of enthusiasm. And there are so many other things I would rather do than cook or clean. Write a blog (or a book). Read a magazine (or a book). Play a game, sing a song, do a show.

I've always thought that part of being a grown-up was setting aside the fun stuff until after you'd done what needed to be done - eating dessert after you've eaten your veggies. But maybe all that does is make you a stuffy grown-up. We've all been given gifts and talents - and I believe they come from God - and if God, in His infinite wisdom determined that I should be better at writing books than cooking meals, and at organizing closets than scrubbing floors, then who am I to argue? Yes, I realize that sounds like a juicy rationalization (especially to my fellow Big Chill fans), but bear with me.
I'm not saying that I should abdicate all household responsibility. Tempting though that may be some days, I happen to like preserving my marriage and setting an example for my daughter. Sure, a certain amount of cooking and cleaning has to happen - and I rarely complain about doing laundry, as it's one household chore I don't really mind - but until I can afford Alice, my own cooking and cleaning isn't likely to be at a Donna Reed level, and there's no way my house will look like Carol Brady's. And that's okay. Because, after all, that's fiction and this is real life. And no one knows that better than a writer.

Especially a household skill-deprived one.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

New Life for Old Things: The Three Rs

How did you do with last week's task? Did you clear some clutter? Or have I left you traumatized and clinging to your belongings at the very mention of the L (Let it Go!) in STYLE?

Clearing the clutter sounds simple enough -- until we stop to think about the fact that much of what's in the pile (or the big rectangular space) has meaning to us. Sure, some things are easy to let go of (that pile of old magazines you keep stubbing your toe on), but others -- the things with sentimental value -- pose more of a challenge.

Photo: mconnors via Morguefile
Fortunately, throwing things away isn't the only way to clear the clutter -- unless you're talking about something that poses a health hazard, like, say, a week's worth of banana peels. If you're not composting or availing yourself of one of the 9 Unexpected Reasons You Should Never Trash Banana Peels, anything that invites unwelcome visitors of the insect or rodent variety should be disposed of. Quickly.

Still, as someone with her own love/hate relationship with clutter, I know that tossing things into the trash isn't always as easy as it sounds. Luckily, there are alternatives, which I'm classifying into three categories: Recycle, Repurpose and Resell. In the interest of keeping this post from becoming overwhelming, I'm going to focus on just the first R (recycle) today. We'll talk more about the others next week.

First of all, we need to think outside the recycle bin to the broadest possible definition of recycling: giving new life to old things. When we put it in those terms, it's about more than just tossing a rinsed out soda bottle into the recycling container. It can be about finding new homes for things we've loved but no longer need.

Let's start with a few things you might have found in the back of your closet when you were doing your big rectangular space reorganization. Google "donate wedding dress," "donate business clothes," or "donate prom dress" and you'll find a page (or more) of local and national organizations that will put those items into the hands of women who need them. While I'm not ready to donate my wedding gown (unpreserved though it may be) any time soon, I'm more than happy to let go of that bridesmaid's dress I most definitely did not wear again.

Lots of other useful but unnecessary items can find new homes or new life as well. Did you know you can recycle blue jeans? Ship off that plastic hotel key you brought home by mistake to a place where it can be melted down and made into...more plastic hotel keys? Donate the reusable grocery bags that seem to overrun your car when you don't need them but hide from you when you do?

The Pittsburgh Tote Bag Project
My favorite way to recycle those bags is to donate them to The Pittsburgh Tote Bag Project. I don't live in Pittsburgh, but I love that this organization donates the bags I'm no longer using to local food pantries so their patrons have a way to haul their groceries home...wherever home may be. If you're not close enough to drop them off, you can contact PTBP for a mailing address. They'll be ever so grateful.

Wondering what to do with other household items? Homeless shelters and animal shelters will often be happy to take old sheets and towels off your hands. The Purple Heart Foundation takes a wide variety of household items -- and they'll even pick them up. I regularly take bags full of books to our local library. Some they keep, others they sell to raise money to buy more books.

Do you have something you're ready to get rid of, but have no idea how to find it a new home? Check out Wow, You Can Recycle That? for ideas. If you're like me, it'll end up bookmarked for future reference.

For this task as for all the others, I stand by my (consistent) assertion that one size does not fit all. Only you can decide what's trash and what's treasure, and you're bound to end up with some things you simply can't let go of -- yet.

More about that next week. Till then, please share your successes (and ideas) by leaving me a comment below.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Organization Extra: Why I Love Pinterest

This pin from Four Generations, One Roof
is one of my favorites. 

Last week, I featured 23 Easy Organizing Ideas for Your Entire Life, a great gallery of easy, inexpensive organizing ideas. As I read the article, I added my favorite ideas to my "Organization" board on Pinterest.

I was slow to join the Pinterest party, but now that I have, I see how wonderful it is for I need to see it people. Find a recipe you like? Pin it! Tacking a reorganization project? Pin ideas for containers, room set-ups and systems. It's all right there where you can see it, and, if you've pinned well, you can link back to the source to find things like directions, details and, well, more ideas.

My organization board was one of the first ones I set up, and last week, I added a companion board on one specific organizer (shoe bags) so I can gather ideas for a post I'm creating. Some of my boards are just for fun; others relate to my writing and my Thirty-One business.

Are you on Pinterest? What's your favorite way to use it?