Saturday, June 27, 2015

Organization Extra: 50 Simple Storage Solutions

When it comes to wall decor, I am the chief hammer-wielder in our house. It's not because I'm good at it (I'm not); it's because my husband abhors even the idea of putting holes in our walls.

His feelings on the subject of holes would be one of the reasons I love this post from Pinterest on simple storage ideas. Not only are they inexpensive and easy, but many employ small (also inexpensive) plastic clips rather than nails. 

Simple solutions. No holes necessary :-)

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Throwback Thursday: A Perfect Mess

A longer version of this post appeared on The Porch Swing Chronicles in January 2014. 

Not all books about organization are created equal. In fact, one of my favorites is a book that takes an entirely different perspective on not only the concept of organization, but also its importance.

I first heard of A Perfect Mess when I was taking an online course on how to be a professional organizer. Written by a management (business) professor and a technology columnist, this book provided a fascinating counterpoint to its neatnik cousins.

Subtitled "The Hidden Benefits of Disorder," the book describes ways in which (according to the jacket copy) "crammed closets, cluttered offices and on-the-fly planning make the world a better place."  Authors Eric Abrahamson and David H. Freedman assert that not only does messiness have benefits (including the discovery of penicillin), but that "there are often significant cost savings to be had by tolerating a certain amount of messiness and disorder." They dedicate an entire chapter to the benefits of  messiness, using anecdotes about successful people to illustrate concepts such as completeness, robustness and efficiency. But for me, the two benefits that hit home were creativity and flexibility, both of which (the authors attest) can be squelched by neatness.

So, if I'm being honest, do I really believe that the remaining stacks of paper on my floor are encouraging flexibility and creativity? Not really (unless you count the physical flexibility that's required to move around them to get to the top of the bookshelf or the bottom drawer.) But, knowing what's in those piles (and I do -- for the most part), I do believe that their contents will contribute to future projects. That, in fact, is how they have earned their keep thus far.

I also know that closing those piles off into boxes and stashing them out of sight will hinder any inspiration they contain because I know myself well enough to know that I'm an I need to see it kind of girl.

So, while sorting through those papers and finding them homes (a domino effect in my cramped work space) is an important task, stashing them away so that things look neat will serve only to replace physical clutter with the mental clutter of remembering what might have been in those piles and where the "safe place" I decided to stash them might be located. Hardly an efficient choice in terms of either organization or time management.

But sort them I will because they'll be much more useful to me once I've extracted the necessary from the unnecessary, put them in an order that makes sense to me and recaptured essential floor space. And, having written this blog today, I think it's a safe bet that some of that sorting will happen today.
And while I'm loving the clear spaces that have come with my attack on my office, I'll never be that stash-it-all-away in files, bins and boxes girl. My office will always be a space that pairs clear spaces with the visual busyness that reflects my taste and connection to the world around me. My tools of choice are color-coded files, open bins and open shelves. And, while it's unlikely that I'll ever make any ground-breaking medical discoveries, it's equally unlikely that you'll ever find a petri dish with mold growing in it in here.

But it's very likely that you'll find Abrahamson and Freedman's book in its place of honor on the bookshelf in my mud room, where I can readily grab it as I did just a few minutes ago. Because every once in a while, I need to be reminded that messiness can serve a purpose.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Connecting the Dots to A System that Works
@HughMacLeod via
As each semester progresses toward its end, I tell my students that we're reaching the "connect-the-dots" part of the semester  the time when all of the concepts we've been discussing in isolation should be coming together, at least in places, for a deeper understanding of the subject matter.

This popped into my head this morning because of a post I wrote today over at The Porch Swing Chronicles  about turning words into actions, and how good it feels to walk into an improved space. All of this led me back to connecting the dots, and how well that fits in with the theme of trouble-shooting that's part of the E in STYLE, Easy Upkeep.

If you've been reading this blog for a while, chances are you've already begun connecting the dots. If you've identified your personal and organizational styles, you might already be using them to re-vamp parts of your home or your organization plan at your place of business. You may be foisting this way of looking at things onto unsuspecting family members as you identify their styles and/or choose containers that work for you, or that you believe will work for them. Maybe you, like me, have even seen progress.

Understanding how you've made that progress is a key element of Easy Upkeep. Do baby steps lie at the heart of your success? Did something click into place once you understood how you organize best? Did changing your containers to match your style make it easier to put things away now and find them later? Or, was it simply assigning homes to wayward items that helped you create spaces that work for you?

If you've had some successes (small or large), take a moment right here, right now to congratulate yourself before you read any further. If you're so inclined, share one in the comments section.

Why did I feel the need to stop and put you in the spotlight for a minute there? Because it's important to celebrate successes as a means of keeping in mind that progress and perfection are two different things. Progress is worth celebrating, not only because we all deserve a pat on the back from time to time, but also because it's a key element in Easy Upkeep. Knowing what works in reality because it has a proven track record for you is the key to keeping the momentum going and keeping motivation high when... happens. And when it does, another key part of Easy Upkeep is troubleshooting, via questions like these:

  • What do I always have trouble finding? (That item needs a home).
  • Where do I put ___________? (That item also needs a home, and perhaps not in your home).
  • What part of my home or organization process is still not quite right? (Too many homeless items? Wrong containers? Wrong system?) 
As you walk through your home, how do you feel? Can you spot your successes? Can you make a plan to improve upon the areas that drive you crazy? 

Next week, we'll discuss the final element of Easy Upkeep: looping back to the STYLE process. 

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

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Tuesday Giggle

I can't promise to post something humorous every Tuesday, but as an I need to see it person, I enjoyed this one. Cram and jammers -- sound familiar to you, too?

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Organization Extra: How to Store Plastic Grocery Bags

Last night, we made our usual Friday foray into the aisles of Target. I'd meant to bring our reusable canvas bags, but left the house without them (again). After rummaging around in the back of his car, my husband managed to come up with one crumpled reusable bag. Hey, it's better than nothing.

Unfortunately, since we were away last week, we bought more than usual last night. Add that to our one, sad bag and a clerk who was less than efficient when it came to packing, and we ended up with quite the collection of plastic bags.

And so later last evening, when I found a blog about how to store plastic bags, I was intrigued. A little more reading led me to an entire page on Pinterest on this same topic, with lots of pretty, crafty, do-it-yourself options.
In the end, I defaulted to a style I rarely employ, but have been using in this situation for years: cram and jam. As it turns out, I don't need to see my stash of plastic grocery bags, and I have zero inclination to fold them into little flags or wind them around each other so I can neatly pull them out of a repurposed plastic container.
Instead, I owe my plastic bag solution to a television show that predates Pinterest by decades. Years ago, on a show called Homeworks, decorator/host Lynette Jennings suggested repurposing an empty facial tissue box to hold plastic bags. I learned this tip more than 20 years ago, and I still use it today. While plastic bag flags may look prettier, they require more effort than I'm willing to apply to something that's most likely going to end up lining a trash can.

I guess there are a few things even an I need to see it organizer doesn't need to see.

How do you store your plastic grocery bags?

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Throwback Thursday: Best Thing I Did for My Closet

Today's Throwback Thursday is hardly a throwback at all; in fact, it's a new post, but it's about something I wrote about here a few months back and an unexpected impact it had.
Remember these bins? When I began writing about closet organization, I talked about using inexpensive tools to make a big impact. As I was writing, it occurred to me that I had several of these bins I could press into service, and that using them would make my bedroom closet shelf look a whole lot better. I got so excited about the idea that I even splurged and bought a bigger, embroidered one from Thirty-One Gifts.

Not only did using these improve the look of the closet shelf, but freeing up space in one spot also led to rearranging another part of the closet (using similar tools) so that when I was finished, the whole big, rectangular space looked better.

But wait a minute. I'm an inveterate I need to see it person. How can I use bins that aren't see-through? Simple. They're color-coded (and one is labeled). Yes, the shelf would look more uniform if they were all the same color, but that would defeat the purpose. The black one is (obviously) sweaters, as is the pink one you can see a sliver of on the far right.

And the middle one? That's my favorite, and the one that brings me to the "unexpected impact" part.

I discovered a few years back how much easier it is to pack for trips when I keep a toiletries bag ready to go. Packing is not only faster, but I'm also less likely to forget things. For a while, I kept these things inside the small suitcase I use for toiletries, OTC medications and first-aid supplies when our family goes to the beach, but that also meant that when I went somewhere else, destination-specific items I didn't need for that particular trip got weeded out and ended up strewn across some surface in the house (usually the bed or the dining room table) to create a messy pile that greeted me upon my return.

Enter my travel bin. All the little things I use only when I travel (toiletries bag, shoe bags, jewelry organizer) live there. Not only does it make packing easier, it makes unpacking easier.

At first, I thought I was being extravagant, using prime real estate to store something I use only a few times a year. But last Monday night, when we arrived home after eight hours in the car, and the last thing I felt like doing was unpacking, that bin was a lifesaver.

Okay, maybe I'm exaggerating. It didn't actually save my life. But it did make all the difference between unpacking and not unpacking so that when I got up on Tuesday morning to catch up on blogs and greet the pile-up of post-travel laundry, I was unpacked and things were put away. No visual clutter, no lingering clean-up.

That, above all, is why we organize and more importantly, why we organize by STYLE. Color-coded. Logical location. One step organizer. These things make life easier, and so we not only re-vamp our systems, but we maintain them.
My bedroom closet doubles as
a linen closet, so I keep extra
linens in this lidded bin.

Would I like a closet where everything matched? Ideally, yes, but quite honestly, I'm too cheap. Having learned what works for me, I'm perfectly happy to use what I already have, and save the matching containers for a place someone else actually sees.

If you're an I need to see it organizer in search of a uniform look, however, fabric bins like the center one above (pink and gray zig zag print) can be outfitted with clip-on tags you can label (I got mine at Target), and some even have see-through windows that show what's inside. I like fabric bins for shelves because they're more flexible (translation: they squish more easily) and things like finger holes and handles make them more manageable for those of us who are vertically challenged.

And after all, isn't making life more manageable one of the reasons we organize in the first place?

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Packing it In: 6 Tips for Successful On-the-Go Organizing

Having just returned from a trip, I have packing on the brain. Once again, I've stumbled upon ideas not through training as a professional organizer, but as a real-life person who's sometimes (okay, often) messy and has to work at this organizing business.

Worse yet, when it comes time to pack for a trip, I can elevate my procrastination skills to an art form. Unlike my husband, who packs up to a week ahead of time, I can think of 10,000 essential things that must be done the day before we leave, all linked by one common denominator.

They have nothing to do with with packing.

Packing list photo:
Before this last trip, I wasted at least half an hour trying out several packing list apps in an effort to simplify the process and make sure I didn't forget anything. And you know what?

The best way to simplify the process is a plain, old-fashioned, hand-written list. Packing apps and online packing lists are a great start, but until we personalize them (sound familiar?), they're not a relevant shortcut.

So, beginning with that list and in no particular order afterward, here are six things that worked for me on this trip.

A list. General lists are a great starting point, providing the major categories we need. From there, we can fill in the details. For a great time waster, or to explore these in more detail, Google "packing list" and click on any of the pages (and pages) of lists that pop up.

Pre-packing. I keep travel-sized toiletries pre-packed in a bag I use only for travel. Over the years, we've also acquired duplicates of necessary items (an extra peak flow meter for my daughter, for example, and extra sets of sheets for the condo we rent at the beach) as well as stocking up on supplies necessary for specific trips when they're on sale (liquid hand soap for that same condo). I used to store all of these in a suitcase, but have since come up with a different plan -- stop back tomorrow for details :-)

Multiple suitcases. My husband and daughter, both of whom are taller and stronger than I am, prefer to cram everything into one oversized suitcase. I, on the other hand, prefer two smaller, more manageable bags (one has wheels and therefore rolls, the other has multiple straps). For maximum efficiency, I subdivide by category (tops, bottoms, pajamas, etc.), putting all items of each category into the same bag so I can keep the rummaging through bags to a minimum. When hanging space is limited, this prevents additional wrinkles, too, since I'm not disturbing every item of clothing I've brought along just to dig out a sweatshirt at the bottom of one suitcase.

Shoe bags. One of my all-time favorite repurposing successes was using the cloth bags that sheets sometimes come in as shoe bags. Some are too small for shoes, but make great little bags for other small items like belts, scarves or even toiletries. On this last trip, the drawstring came out of one of the casings, so I just bunched the cloth up and tied the string around the top. Shoes are contained and other items in the bag are protected.

Thirty-One Gifts
Flexible/expandable bags. Years ago, on a cruise, I found a great bag that expands via a zipper in the middle. It's the perfect bag for any trip where shopping and souvenirs are inevitable. Just unzip the bag at the center and it expands to create more space for all the goodies you want to bring home.

A catch-all bag...or two. No matter how organized I am, there are always a few last minute "oops" or overflow items that need a home between destinations. My go-to bag, an oversized reusable grocery bag, is at right. It's simple to toss things into and sturdy enough to be both squishable and overstuffable. Perhaps best of all, it's waterproof and can be wiped clean inside if sand or crumbs hitch a ride along with the intended contents...or if you decide to use it for dirty laundry...or shoes...or just want to clean it out between trips.
I got my wild, purple print bag like this
at Borders years ago. These are from

One thing I typically toss into this bag is a tote bag on a carabiner clip that folds up into a little (matching) case. It's small enough to fit into my purse, too, so if the shopping gets serious, I have a place to put everything.

It never hurts to be prepared.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Organization Extra: 52 Creative Organizing Ideas

Photo: earl53 via Morguefile
This week's Organization Extra is one big visual: 52 Brilliant Ideas for Organizing Your Home. If you're looking for some interesting, unique containers, you'll find them here. If you're a do-it-yourself kinda person, you'll find directions for the projects here as well. I especially like the fact that he focuses on maximizing small spaces, including those that might otherwise be wasted space.

I know someone who'll love #5...which happens to be one of my favorites as well.

Which one do you like best?

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Throwback Thursday: Surviving Summer To-Do Lists

This post originally ran on The Porch Swing Chronicles in July 2014.

Last Saturday morning, I lay in bed composing my to-do list and listening to the (metaphorical) clock ticking (I have a very quiet bedside clock). It's nearly the end of July, and although I've made a dent in my to-do list, it remains long enough that I know there's more list than summer.

This is not unusual.

Given the fact that it was Saturday, I knew other people in my house would also want my attention, at least from time to time. As my mental list grew longer and longer, it began to seem increasingly unreasonable, so I adjusted my expectations, narrowing my list to a few key things.

While this is all very reasonable and logical, it does little to shrink the actual list, which crouches like a wild animal waiting to pounce just when I'm celebrating presumed progress.
Since I can't add any days to the calendar, I've decided on my own plan of attack in order to preserve the rest of the summer with some semblance of both sanity and accomplishment.

Targeted lists. Within fifteen minutes of getting out of bed on Saturday, I knew I needed to dump the mental list onto paper. I grabbed four sheets of lined paper and wrote a heading on each: WHO, WHAT, WHERE and CP.

  • WHO: the catch-all list for the people I've been wanting to get in touch with to schedule a lunch or coffee date.
  • WHAT: the standard to-do list.
  • WHERE: my errand list.
  • CP: Class planning to-do list, perhaps the largest animal in the zoo), broken down into chapters (to read), lessons (to plan) and other miscellaneous, bite-sized tasks. 
Separating the lists by category made each one a little less daunting, allowed me to break enormous tasks (class planning) down into smaller ones and made it easier to find what I was looking for without combing a complex list for a single item. It also allowed me to put similar items together, which made things more efficient. When I'm leaving the house, for example, I need to check only the "where" list to determine the errands I need to run.

Chunked time. Years ago, a friend told me about the Fly Lady website, which advocates, among other things, tackling things in fifteen minute chunks of time. It didn't take me long to become a devotee of timer-setting, a strategy I recommended freely to my elementary students when we discussed tackling organizational tasks that seemed overwhelming.
One of Saturday's prime tasks was reclaiming my dining room table. Unfortunately, the table contained many homeless items that ended up being relocated to my office until they could be properly sorted and stored. I set a goal of spending fifteen minutes a day going through everything that got dumped in the office until it all ends up where it belongs. Last night, I discovered that what appeared to be a substantial pile on the counter was actually pretty easy to wrangle, and though my fifteen minutes became 35, the reward was well worth it.

Sampling. When the list is long, it's easy to feel as though I'm making progress in one area at the expense of others. Using the chunked time strategy above, I can make a little progress on several things in one day….and by doing "a little of this and a little of that," I get to keep some variety in my day as well. Admittedly, some days call for a dedicated approach to one task, but sampling a few undesirable tasks (and mixing them in with things I enjoy) helps me to make progress on the stuff I don't wanna do.

Flexibility. I admire people who can set a schedule and stick to it, perhaps because I am rarely one of them. I like flexibility for the same reason I like sampling: there are days I just don't wanna do the things I put on the list. When the items are time sensitive, I don't have a choice, but when they're not and a better offer presents itself, there's often no good reason not to move them to another time. And during the summer, better and more valuable offers (e.g. fun family stuff) seem to pop up often.

Armed with my strategies, I'm ready to tackle the rest of my summer. What strategies work for you?

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Troubleshooting for Easy Upkeep

Photo credit: Seemann via Morguefile
Did you get a chance to look at Putting it All Together? Check it out by clicking on its title in the previous sentence, or on the new "Charts" tab at the top of this page.

Why am I sending you to a chart? Because it's your road map. If you're honoring these styles, systems and choices, your organizational systems are probably working.

Want proof? Look at a system in your home that's working. Chances are it's simple, attractive and individualized to fit your needs and styles. It's no surprise that these systems are the easiest to maintain.

But sometimes systems break down. Three of the most common reasons for this are:
  • Choosing the wrong container. It's easy to choose a container because it's pretty, the right color or the right price, and sometimes we can even make those containers work. But if a container is too small to be useful, too large for the space, or not a match for your styles, it can be the first domino in the demise of your organizational system. If you really love it, maybe you can find another organizational task for it to fulfill, but if not, let it go and replace it with something that makes your life easier.
  • Choosing the wrong home. I know I put it somewhere organizers often fall prey to this one. Any empty space won't due; choosing an illogical or inconvenient home wastes time and energy, and can also cause an organizational system to come crashing down. Similar items should be stored together, close to the place where you most often use them. And if you use something often, it should be easy to access.
  • Making the system too complicated. Have you ever set up a filing system where your categories have so many subcategories that you can't figure out where to put a simple piece of paper? In the interest of making a system thorough, we sometimes overcomplicate things. When in doubt, default to the smallest number of steps possible. Every style benefits from simplicity because simplicity is easier to maintain.
Alone, none of these is difficult to fix, but they can compound one another. While that can be overwhelming at first, the good news is that one small change can also have a positive domino effect. Choosing the right container or home or simplifying the system can reinvigorate everything.

Never underestimate the power of one small change. Keep it simple and style-specific.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Tomorrow, we'll do a little troubleshooting designed to help make upkeep easy (as promised), but today, I'd like to share a couple of additions I've made to this blog in the past week.

Along the top of the page, you can now click on tabs that will take you to PDFs of the charts I've posted previously, along with a new chart, Putting it All Together, which lets you summarize the key things you've discovered about your styles. Next to the "Charts" tab is a "Lisa Online" tab with shortcuts to my other blogs, and, as always, if you click on any of the book covers on the right hand side of the blog, you can find out more about the book.

If you like the Organizing By STYLE blog, and would like to receive new posts when they go live, check out the "Subscribe to Organizing By STYLE" box at the top of the right hand column. 

See you tomorrow :-)

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Organization Extra: Whipping that Closet into Shape

Photo: MMAARRSS via Morguefile
Last week, I shared a Buzz Feed post that most of us can identify with -- that inner monologue (complete with the temptation to jump ship mid-project) that plays when we try to de-clutter a space filled with things we love, hate and hate to love.

This week is about the aftermath -- in a good way. 53 Seriously Life-Changing Clothing Organization Tips is full of great ideas for turning that newly organized closet into a neat place, and one that's easy to keep organized.

My favorites are the ideas for keeping clothes from slipping off the hangers. Which do you like best?

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Throwback Thursday: Piles, Collections and I Need to See It-itis

This post first appeared on The Porch Swing Chronicles in October 2014. 

Last night, I took down the birthday cards I had displayed in the dining room. Sounds like a good thing, right? Except the birthday was over a month ago. And it was mine, so I can't blame their extended stay on top of my microwave on anyone else's sentimentality or lack of initiative. This one's all on me.

I didn't leave them up on purpose. And I'm busy, but not so busy that I don't have thirty seconds to take down the birthday cards and put them away, especially since I actually do have an "away" in mind. These aren't homeless items, or even sentimental knick knacks that I intended to leave out. They aren't a physical replacement for a to-do list. They simply became so much a part of the landscape of my dining room that I ceased to see them.

I'm definitely a piler. An "I need to see it," "out of sight, out of mind" visual organizer. But, like so many others who share my special way of organizing the world, I often find myself walking the fine line between useful strategy and insurmountable hurdle. Okay, walking is an understatement. I've camped out there.

And so I suspect that a brief walk through my house (should I be brave enough to embark on such a journey) would reveal countless other "collections" that need to be attended to. In fact, right this minute, as I sit in my living room typing this blog, I can spot four such piles -- without even moving from my seat.

Why does this happen? How come these things aren't where they belong? I'm not a slovenly person. And I can guarantee you that as soon as I finish typing this, I will right three of these long-overdue wrongs. And it will probably take me less than five minutes.

So why didn't I do it before?

Because until I took down the cards and started writing this blog, I really didn't "see" those "collections." They began as reminders to do something, or to finish something, and as time went on, they blended right into the landscape of the room -- so much so that it took an awakening of sorts to remind me that they were, indeed, out of place.

These awakenings often come in the form of expected company. Knowing that visitors will be arriving, I will look at my house with a critical eye, removing the blinders I wear when I am home alone. For the first time in weeks, I'll see my house as company would see it. Appalled, I'll tidy up, put things away and make my house fit for non-family companions.

Once things have been put away and clear space has been restored, I will revel in the beauty of the uncluttered space. I will remind myself how easy it is to gain that space, and how nice it feels to have order restored. And I will promise myself to try to keep it that way....

....but will stop just short of vowing to do so. Because I know that's a vow I can't keep. I know that when I put things out of sight, they often go out of mind as well. And the fear inspired by that possibility is greater than my need for clear spaces.

So the best I can promise myself is to try to strike a balance. To continue to work toward leaving out only that which it's necessary to leave in plain sight.

As for the rest, I'll keep looking for organizational options that keep things visible but not intrusive. I'm only partway through that journey, but I am making progress.

One collection at a time.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

The Final Letter in STYLE: Easy Upkeep
Easy upkeep. Sounds too good to be true, doesn't it? While maintaining any kind of system requires effort, organizing by STYLE is less exhausting because you're doing what comes naturally. Things are where they belong because the homes you've assigned them make sense to you. Containers work because you've chosen them according to what works for you.

Next week, we'll look back and do a little summarizing and troubleshooting. This week, I'd like to share the three principles of Easy Upkeep.
  • Honor your styles. You've admitted them. You've come to terms with them (or made progress in that direction anyway). You've developed a sense of humor about them. If there's something about them that embarrasses you, you have the freedom to adjust. That said, it's easier to adjust your system than your styles.

  • Honor your systems. Your systems consist of the homes you've established for your things and the containers (from the smallest subdivision of a drawer to the largest room in your house) you've selected to house them. If you've honored your styles as much as possible in the space you have, the resulting systems should flow naturally from what you normally do. 
  • Honor your choices...but remember that not everyone's choices are the same. The whole concept of organizing by STYLE is built around the idea that when it comes to organizing, one size does not fit all. You may love using a certain type of container or storage system, but that doesn't mean that everyone else in your house will appreciate it (let alone use it) as well. If your house is like my house, numerous styles prevail...and collide.
When in doubt, go back to your styles. If your predominant personal style is I like to be busy, a plan that revolves around dedicating more time to organizing is unlikely to be a workable long-term solution. If your preferred organizational style is cram and jam, color-coding the hangers in your closet is likely to be a waste of time and money because while you might hang everything up once, it's unlikely to happen again.

What have you put into place that you're proud of? What still needs work? Share your thoughts in the comments below.