Thursday, December 29, 2016

3 Keys Thursday: 3 Keys for Maximizing the Week Between Christmas and New Year's

Dodgerton Skillhause via Morguefile
In yesterday's blog, I dubbed the week between Christmas and New Year's the week of organization. This morning, a friend posted a great article from The Onion about straightening out one's entire life during the week between Christmas and New Year's.

You might say I identified with the article -- just a bit. It definitely made me laugh, while simultaneously absolving me from my guilt over binge-watching a Gilmore Girls marathon last night.

This is a great week to get stuff done, and, for those who've acquired new toys, clothes and household items over the holidays, organization can play a key role in making the transition into a new year. Still, it's important to remember that those of us fortunate enough to have this week off should also take advantage of the respite it provides. That, too, plays a key role in making the transition into a new year.

I suspect that if I did a keyword search on this blog, "balance" and "process" would be near the top of the list of most frequently used terms. So, with that in mind, here are my three keys to maximizing the week between Christmas and New Year's.

Process: Tackle a project or two -- but not all of them. If a project brings you satisfaction or peace of mind, by all means, do it. The multi-step rearranging of the playroom/family room/man cave at my house yielded piles of papers to be disposed of, new space, and a(nother) new purpose for the room, along with a wonderful sense of accomplishment. Well worth the time.

Balance: Segment your days. Did you just spend the whole day on a long overdue project? Cap it off by taking some time for yourself. All work and no play makes us not only dull, but cranky.

Wholeness: Socialize. If you, like me, truly enjoy a good organizing project, you know how easy it is to work in solitude, particularly if you're working out the details as you go along and/or your styles differ from those around you. Make sure you take time each day for some in-person interactions (social media doesn't count). A family meal. Dinner with friends. A coffee date. Okay, so it doesn't have to involve food -- just people.

The Onion article got a lot right, not the least of which is that vacations fly by. Make sure to make the most of yours.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Out with the Old

I love this time of year. I love the holidays, of course, but I also love the week between Christmas and New Year's.

The week of organizing.

The downstairs bedroom in our house was never a bedroom. Before my daughter was born, it was an office. When she was a toddler, we turned it into a playroom. And every year, after Christmas, we played the "how do we fit the presents in the playroom?" game.

Organizing a small house is a little like putting together a jigsaw puzzle; when you find the perfect fit, the picture is quite lovely. Until then, when the pieces are scattered on the table (or under the tree...and in the hallway...and in the playroom), it's hard to imagine how it will all come together.

As my daughter outgrew the need for a playroom, it gradually morphed into a family room/man cave. A few weeks before Christmas, my husband bought a table to use as a desk -- in the playroom/family room/man cave, which is already quite well-stocked. To fit the table into its designated space, we need to sort the stuff, thin the collections, and rethink how we'll store what remains.

Phase One was begun before Christmas, when my daughter started sorting through various bins and containers. Phase Two began today, as I sorted through files so we could move the file cabinet to make room for the table/desk. A couple of hours and several tall stacks of papers (some to recycle, some to shred) later, the desk was put into place.

Later this week: Phase Three -- the portion of the project in which the remaining puzzle pieces must be put together. I have a few ideas, made possible by the items that were removed as part of Phase One and Phase Two, but I suspect that luck will also be an essential ingredient, much as it is (for me, at least), when I'm putting together the pieces of sky in a jigsaw puzzle.

In the end, the old will have been culled and removed to make room for the new, and the next phase of the room will begin, along with the new year.

Seems only appropriate.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

3 Keys Thursday: 3 Keys to Managing the Holiday Countdown

Dodgerton Skillhause via Morguefile
Three days until Christmas. Ready or not, here it comes!

I'm not ready, but I'm also not stressed. Of course, it helps to stay in the house and away from the traffic and panic going on "out there."

If I sound calmer than I did yesterday, it's because my grades are done, placing the fall semester behind me. And today, I checked a few Christmas things off my list.

Maybe I'm less stressed because now that all three of us are back in the same house, the most important part of Christmas is already taken care of. Maybe, after surviving four fall semesters, I've finally got this crazy, last minute stuff figured out.

Or maybe I'm living happily in denial.

In any event, Christmas will be here in three days. I can enjoy the process, or I can make myself a nervous wreck. Here's how I plan to do the former:


Prioritize. Last week, I wrote about my priorities. None of them was directly related to Christmas, but each of them was something that had to be done prior to Christmas. Now, I'm ready to move on to the B list -- the things that must be done in the next two days. Behind the B list, there's a C list -- the things I'd like to do, but have accepted I might not get to. With three days to Christmas, there is no D list -- anything that far down the list has long since been jettisoned, along with the guilt that accompanies its removal.

Don't take on other people's stress. These items would be the E list. My husband, for example, loves to take on"necessary" household tasks right before the holidays. He'll deny this, and when he does, I'll remind him of the wall he decided to dispense with a week before a Christmas open house we were hosting about twenty years ago. (I might not remember yesterday, but I remember when walls disappear). When I suggest that some of these things can keep until after Christmas, I get nowhere. I can either take on the additional tasks (and stress) or I can pitch in as I'm able while staying focused on my own lists. Since I'm perfectly capable of stressing myself out without any outside assistance, I prefer not to outsource.

Don't forget to have fun. A sense of humor is probably the most important thing to keep in your pre-Christmas toolkit. As time ticks away, so do patience and energy, and it's all too easy to take the merry out of Christmas. Nurture that sense of humor by remembering to sit down and take a break occasionally, even if you can only squeeze in a few minutes of downtime. There's no thing so important that it's worth all of your time and energy.

Regardless of what you celebrate, how you celebrate it, or with whom, I wish you a season of relaxation and celebration.

And, of course, STYLE.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Three Christmases

One good thing about an artificial tree is that
it can be put up any time.
We picked my daughter up from college last Friday. On Saturday, she baked cookies and attended a family party with my husband. I stayed behind because the party venue had cats (I'm allergic) and my own home venue was festively adorned with end-of-semester papers to be graded. Since then, my college kid has gone shopping, wrapped gifts, visited with friends and exercised her right to stay up late and sleep in. 

Back in November, before my daughter returned to school from Thanksgiving break, my husband suggested that we put up the tree. In fact, he made this suggestion even before she came home. I pooh-poohed him -- put the tree up in November? Long story short, he was right. We put it up the Friday after Thanksgiving, all together as a family, and it has been lit every day since. In the intervening time, my husband has put up outside lights, purchased and wrapped gifts and written his portion of the Christmas cards.

Which brings me to the third Christmas.

Since last Friday, I've graded stacks of papers, administered a final, graded more stacks of papers and calculated grades. In between, I've written a Christmas letter and a few cards, wrapped a few gifts, tried to keep the competing Christmas and end-of-semester piles in check, done some online shopping and basically tried to fit Christmas into the cracks of the end-of-semester stuff while ignoring the date on the calendar. If I take my blinders off and truly consider how much I need to do in the next three days, I will be unfit to live with.

So, I keep checking things off. My family helps (see "she baked cookies" and "his portion of the Christmas cards" above) and will help even more if I just ask them. The problem is, my lists are in my head and I don't completely -- hang on a second, I want to text my husband and ask him if he can pick something up --

Know what I need to have done.

And that's pretty much how my brain is working right now.

Chipping away at things really does work for me, but there are times when it drives those around me (okay, my husband) a little crazy. And, to be honest, there are times that I question its efficacy. I was just telling a friend this morning that in the muddled middle -- when it's all started and nothing is finished -- this idea of dedicating a little bit of time to everything, rather than tackling one task from start to finish, can feel foolish and overwhelming.

Then again, this time of year seems to feel like that no matter what plan I have in place. It's all too easy to let the lists expand to not only fill, but also overflow the time available, and to forget that more isn't necessarily better. 

Chipping away helps me dial it back, but I'm thinking I also need to make better use of my available resources. For some reason, it's just now occurring to me that my family has reached the stage where it  consists of three adults. That I can text my husband or my daughter and say, "hey, would you mind...?"

Photo: Ponce Photography via Pixabay

That I don't have to do Christmas all by myself. 

Which is a good thing. Because without them, I'm pretty sure Christmas at our house would come sometime in January. 

Okay, I'm kidding. Sort of.

So, as you deck the halls, keep in mind that this is supposed to be fun. That the anxiety, as one of our priests reminded us in the homily on Sunday, is of our own making. Keep the lists minimal so you can maximize the time you spend doing things you love with people you love.

'Tis the season, after all.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

3 Keys Thursday: Key Priorities

Dodgerton Skillhause via Morguefile
Since last Saturday, I've graded 60 psychology papers, 24 projects and 26 take-home responses. This morning, as I thought about this blog, I determined that my three keys for today would be:

  • Listening to eight group presentations (before noon) and jotting comments (which will need to be translated into grades).
  • Listening to 23 presentations from my freshmen, linking success with course readings.
  • Going to Connecticut to pick up my daughter from college.
Most of the time, the three keys I write about  are much less specific (and personal) and have much more to do with organization or time management than today's do. But, sometimes the keys to a having a good day lie in setting priorities. 

Some days, we can set our own priorities; other days, they're set for us. Today, my two final exam periods, scheduled by the college, defined the outline of my day. Key #1 needed to be checked off before I could move on to keys 2 and 3. Setting a long list of other things to do when my day had already been prioritized would be not only foolish, but frustrating and futile as well.

And, when you think about it, the key to success in anything is knowing where you're going and what's most important, making priority-setting perhaps the most important organizational tool of all.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Reading Day

Photo: Strecosa via Pixabay
Today is Reading Day -- that cushion day tucked between the last day of classes and the first day of final exams designed to provide preparation time. I still have plenty of things to grade, and will be getting to them...soon...but I promised myself that today would also include taking care of some of the things that have been neglected in the past two weeks. Fun things on my list include clearing off my dining room table -- which has been emptied of the first wave of student papers and is awaiting the influx of the next -- doing laundry, and putting up a few more Christmas decorations. I'd like to include wrapping presents on the list, but even Reading Day has only twenty-four hours.

In a season where "overwhelmed" describes the emotional tone of nearly every day, Reading Day is a lovely luxury. Sure, there's a lot to do, and sure, final exams and projects -- not to mention Christmas -- await, but today is a day to catch up. Even the name sounds peaceful -- a day to read, to prepare, to make progress. A day at my disposal, without a set schedule. Sure, it's up to me to use the time wisely, but honestly, that's true any day.

So far today, I've caught up on some work emails, purged some junk from my inbox, written a blog and half and had some lovely conversations. I'm in comfy clothes at Starbucks, preparing to do a writing sprint as soon as this is posted. Later today, I have exam questions to grade and packing to do.

Reading Day is one of those lovely things available to college students, most of whom don't realize how lucky they are to have such a day at their disposal. But, who says Reading Day should be limited to college kids? This just might be the time of year when all of us need a "Reading Day."

So, why not schedule one? Keep in mind that, with a name like "Reading Day," some sort of leisure activity is almost required -- a little down time in the midst of the preparation.

Why not give yourself a Reading Day? Or maybe put one on your Christmas list. After all, 'tis the season to be jolly, and, for many of us, a Reading Day makes that possible.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

3 Keys Thursday: 3 Keys for Making Things Just a Little Bit Better

Dodgerton Skillhause via Morguefile
Yesterday, I wrote about making things "just a little bit better" around my house. By taking baby steps and being content with slow, but steady progress (for the time being, anyway), I can chip away at everything that has to be done and get a sense of accomplishment even when there's still a lot to accomplish.

I've written before about some of these baby steps, but, since we're on the subject, I thought I'd share them again today.

Strategic list-making. Yesterday, I talked about making sure my lists had a mix of short-term and long-term items on them. While this is a good strategy at any time of year, it's essential as the holidays approach. If we're not making at least small progress on our holiday preparations, we can lose the joy of the season in the last-minute mad dash that results from letting the day-to-day task overwhelm the preparations for the not-so-distant future.

Give it five. As Christmas approaches, the clutter at my house can grow exponentially. Gifts to be wrapped and decorations to be put up (among other things) begin to encroach on living space. 'Tis the season to employ Give it Five! not just for quick pick-ups, but for decking the halls as well. Rather than dragging out a huge bin full of decorations, why not open the container and select only a few decorations (one five minute session)? Then, put those up before taking out anything else out. The house gets decorated more slowly, but grows more festive as the holidays approach.

The number game. Don't have time to clear the decks? Pick a number and pick up that number of items and put them away. My number varies based on the size of the pile and the time I have available, but shrinking piles and clear space are great motivators. Once you get started, you might just keep going.

Or, you might step back, enjoy the improvement, and take a break. After all, you need to conserve your energy if you're going to celebrate the season.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Just a Little Bit Better

Wednesday is my two-post day -- the day I post both here and at the Porch Swing Chronicles. Technically, it's a three-post day, if you count my STYLE Savvy post at, but, since that post has an earlier deadline, I'm less likely to feel the posting crunch there. 

Some Wednesdays, I get one--or both--posts done ahead of time. Through a wonderful confluence of time and creativity, I not only figure out what I want to write about before Wednesday rolls around, but I manage to write the post and set it to publish automatically.

Today is not one of those Wednesdays. Today, I'm writing both posts from scratch on Wednesday, grateful that I'm tackling them while it's still morning. And, as I was thinking through the possibilities, another sort of confluence occurred.

A theme. 

So today, I thought it might be fun to try something. Although my post here and my post over at the Porch Swing Chronicles have different content, they have the same title. I hope, if you have a minute, you'll take the time to read both of them.

'Tis the season for piles -- at least at my house. Some piles are good (piles of presents), some not so good (piles of papers to grade). Augmented by the duties of the season, my lists are longer and more diverse than usual, too. The day-to-day responsibilities haven't decreased, but the duties of the season keep piling up, giving me the feeling I'm on a treadmill of productivity: always moving but going nowhere fast.

It's easy to get overwhelmed and self-critical. 

While I have no magical solution to a quick dispensation of the pile-up, I do have one strategy that helps me keep my sanity.

Each day, I try to make things just a little bit better. 

It's not a good short-term strategy, in that the piles diminish slowly, and some stacks overstay their welcome by days, or even weeks. But, then again, losing my mind over a little clutter isn't a good strategy either. 

Each day's list contains two kinds of items: time sensitive tasks and preparations for the season. Intermediate deadlines are sprinkled in, too, as the day's schedule permits, so I can tackle them before they become time sensitive. 

Photo ivoxis via Pixabay
In some ways, this is akin to burning the candle at both ends; on one end, I have the "do it now" things and on the other the end the planning pieces that will make Christmas special and fun, or, perhaps, set up my break between semesters to be both productive and relaxing. Some days, I feel as though I'm standing in the middle of the candle, trying to avoid the flames closing in from both sides, but most days, tackling both kinds of tasks minimizes the panic of the lengthy holiday to do list and gives me a sense of accomplishment as I check a variety of tasks off my list. 

Would I love to see my house pile-free? Absolutely. But, unless a magic wand materializes, I'm going to have to settle for baby steps, reminding myself of what I say here so often.

It's a process. 

Thursday, December 1, 2016

3 Keys Thursday: 3 Keys for Decorating for the Holidays

Dodgerton Skillhause via Morguefile
Last weekend, before my daughter went back to school after Thanksgiving break, we put up our Christmas tree.

It's the only thing I've done ahead of schedule all month.

It got me started on holiday decorating, though, along with inspiring some thoughts on what holiday decorating ought to be.

Fun. Although I had no desire to put up a Christmas tree in November, it wouldn't have been any fun putting it up without my daughter, and we didn't want to wait until the very hectic week before Christmas. While decorating can't always be fun, deciding when and how you want to approach the task, whether all at once or a little at a time so that things come together slowly and peak at Christmas, can make a difference.

Peaceful. While this may be too much to hope for in the actual process, it's not too much to expect from the end product. Decorating, whether for every day or for the holidays, should enhance your home. I love coming home late in the afternoon and switching on the tree, candles and white lights that are part of the decor. It almost makes up for daylight savings time.

Meaningful. Our Christmas tree might have gone up first, but a key feature in our Christmas decorating is the nativity scene. Making sure there's a reminder of the reason for the season is an important part of getting ready for the holidays.

Whenever and how ever you decide to do it, may all of your decorating be merry and bright.

And STYLE-ish, of course.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016


Are you a list-maker or a list-hater?

Usually, I'm the former, but I also believe that some days, you need to ditch the list and just go with the flow. Usually, I feel guilty when I do this, but that's actually rather silly. I mean, it's not as though I'm ever truly without a list. Even if I don't write one down today, I have the one I wrote yesterday and the day before, and even on good days, those lists have items that have been left undone.

Then there are the lists that run through my head. Whether or not I write them down, those items still exist. And, when I do write them down (as I do most of the time), I end up with a master list -- a place where I collect my thoughts, which serves as the impetus for my daily lists.

Finally, there are the physical reminders of things to do. The pile that needs to be sorted and put away. The mere existence of kitchen appliances that remind me that meal planning is inevitable, even if only to say, "Nah," and order a pizza.

So, it could be argued that I don't actually need a daily list. That it's overkill.

But daily lists give us focus, which is key when things are time-sensitive. Due dates to meet, meetings to attend and appointments that await us form lists of their own on the calendar page, giving our day a structure into which we fit all the other odds and ends we must complete.

And so, on those days when we don't have that structure -- when we have nowhere to be and nothing time sensitive to do, sometimes it pays to putter. To move from one thing that needs to be done to the next without actually deciding on an agenda.

Or maybe the opposite is true. Maybe we hit a day that's already so structured that adding a list to it is overkill. Going to our appointments and meeting our deadlines is our list. Those are the things we check off at the end of the day and anything else is icing on the cake.

Some days, we ditch the list, and other days, we live by it. Some days we need to let go, and other days we need to take charge.

Today, I'm back at work, getting ready to start the month which brings finals to create and grade, and the end of fall semester. In a few weeks, those finals will be over (and graded), and some days (after Christmas!), I'll enjoy the feeling of being list-less.

How about you? Will you join me in ditching the list?

Thursday, November 24, 2016

3 Keys Thursday: 3 Things I'll Be Gathering this Weekend

Dodgerton Skillhause via Morguefile
Part of organizing is achieving balance -- the balance between space and stuff, work time and down time and busyness and relaxation. This Thanksgiving break, thankful for a few days of down time (among other things), I'm planning to work on that balance by gathering a few important things.

My family. My daughter has been home for five days, and today, we'll head to New Jersey to spend the day with my parents. Gathering my family together is one of the best parts of any holiday.

My thoughts. Busy daily schedules often leave little time for simply being alone with our thoughts, and vacations are a great time for contemplation. Far from being a waste of time, letting our minds wander can actually lead us to solutions that were previously elusive.

My stuff. Several spots in my house provide clear evidence of my I need to see it/drop and run styles. This break will, I hope, afford me some time to reclaim those spaces and restore order.

Whatever you're gathering this weekend, I hope your Thanksgiving is a happy one.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Bless This Mess

I'm sitting at my half-messy desk in my home office typing this as the sun shines over my shoulder through the vertical blinds next to my desk. On a Wednesday afternoon. Not exactly breaking news, but a lot of good things in those two sentences.

My half-messy desk is half-messy because my new desk lamp arrived today and I cleared a swath of space for it. The bulb in the old one burned out a few weeks ago and I've been making do with overhead lighting (which I hate) and natural light (which is in short supply in November during the hours I'm at home) until I found the time to do the dismantling of the lamp necessary to access the bulb (which then had to be purchased). In the interim, I mostly worked in other spots in the house, and got a little more excited than most people would about actually getting a new desk lamp. So, when I ordered the replacement bulb from Amazon, I also ordered a new lamp. Guess which got here first?

The other things that are good in those two sentences include sunshine, actual November temperatures with no wind (okay, I added that one) and being at home with no deadlines on a Wednesday afternoon. My daughter was here for most of the day, too, and on top of that, I got good news this morning. There's soup simmering on the stove, which means I have time to write another blog and clear the rest of my desk without worrying about making dinner. I might even get back to my novel before my husband comes home from work.

Today, my house is not perfect. My desk is not perfect, nor are the other flat surfaces in my office. But, my life, in this imperfect little house with evidence throughout of the organizationally imperfect drop-and-run/I love stuff/I need to see it/I know I put it somewhere people who live here feels pretty good.

And that's a lot to be thankful for.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

3 Keys Thursday: 3 Keys for Pre-Preparing

Dodgerton Skillhause via Morguefile
Thanksgiving is a week away. If you're having guests, you've probably already started your preparations. If you're not, perhaps you're heaving a sigh of relief, not just because you don't have to cook, but also because your house isn't ready.

I'm definitely in the second category. We're traveling for Thanksgiving, but the arrival of the holiday has put me on notice that there are small, medium and large preparations ahead, and starting small now can help things feel more manageable later.

The small stuff: Tidy up. Without the pressure of company arriving, you have the luxury of using strategies like Give it Five! and tackling those hot spots and dumping grounds one at a time. Start now, and you can avoid binge cleaning the day before you put up the Christmas tree.

Medium measures: Lists. Detail-oriented? Start jotting down the things that need to be done now, later and in preparation for the holidays. Create one big list or a series of small ones, depending upon what best motivates you.

Large logistics: Create a holiday plan. Go global and lay out a plan for all the things you want to do this holiday season. From cleaning the halls to decking them, create your master plan for all things holiday-oriented.

I've set my sights on a few spots that have lost their luster -- or whose luster is buried beneath a pile of papers. Where will you start?

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Company's Coming?

My daughter is coming home from college this weekend, and my husband is in "preparation for visiting dignitary" mode. He wants to clean her room, take care of her car, buy her a pony....

Okay, I made up that last one.

I'm not saying that these are bad ideas (Except for the pony. That's a bad idea). I'm just wondering when our kid became a visiting dignitary. I mean, we didn't clean her room when she lived here, so why would we do it now? If you ask me, it's a dangerous precedent to put in place.

There's definitely an organizational shift that occurs when a home begins to morph into an empty nest. In some ways, things are tidier, and in others....well let's just say one of us has picked up the "expand all my stuff into multiple rooms" baton, and it isn't the one wielding the vacuum and the car keys.

Having a kid away at college means having more room, only not. While the shared living spaces are shared among one less person, a bedroom stands untouched, waiting, which, in my opinion, is exactly how it ought to be.

But how should it be waiting?

Right now, it looks just like it did when she left in August, except that the piles of clothes to be transported to school in October have been replaced with different piles -- the magazines she subscribes to and other items requiring her attention. Her clean clothes, meanwhile, are hanging in the basement, on the rod with other clean clothes that haven't yet made it to their destinations -- the blessing/curse of a basement laundry room. I'm tempted to bring her things upstairs and put them away, but my "away" isn't her "away," and I find myself trying to build a bridge with comfort and familiarity on one side and an acknowledgement of the independence and organizational sovereignty of a quasi-independent young adult on the other.

So, while my husband tackles his chosen tasks, I tackle mine, our organizational styles becoming subordinate to our love languages. The man with the "Acts of Service" love language clears the dust while the woman with the "Quality Time" love language clears her calendar. Together, we'll shop for our daughter's favorite snacks and stock the kitchen, and, our combined efforts (while not the perfect picture of coordinated organizational skills), will make sure our daughter is returning not just to her house, but to her home.

No matter what her bedroom looks like.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

3 Keys Thursday: 3 Habits I Really Need to Break

Dodgerton Skillhause via Morguefile
A few weeks ago, I wrote about bad habits that can wreak havoc on your closet organization. I was a little bit cocky, bragging about how I don't happen to engage in any of those habits.

But does that mean I'm bad habit-free?

Not by a long shot.

Like anyone else, I have things I need to work on.

Piling. When I get busy, my drop and run default kicks in. I put things down instead of putting them away. I stack things, meaning to get to them later. This isn't too bad if the stacks are meaningful and this process doesn't go on for too long. But, when this habit continues unchecked, I end up with a major project on my hands.
Solution? Don't put it down, put it away. As often as possible.

Procrastination. More often than not, the most difficult part of a project for me is simply getting started. Once I stop whining and start doing, I generally get wrapped up in the task at hand and find it much easier than I expected it to be. And progress is a wonderful motivator.
Solution? Give it five. Knowing I have an out after five minutes helps me get started, and since getting started is half the problem, giving it five gets me halfway there.

Not writing things down. This one creates less obvious chaos than the others, but it creates plenty of mental chaos. I have systems for all of my lists and notepads in plenty of locations. When it comes to not writing it down, I really have no excuse.
Solution? Just do it.

And in the end, that's pretty much what it comes down to.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Staying Safe

Today, I'm stepping aside to share words of wisdom from professional organizer Cindy Bernstein. In her newsletter earlier this week, Cindy shared an unfortunate experience, one that has happened with frightening frequency in my area in the past few months, too. Her ideas for prevention are good, and I share them for the same reason she did -- in the hope they'll help someone else.

What I Wish I Had Known

On Monday morning, October 17th, we were the unfortunate victims of a burglary. At about 5:00 am, someone(s) entered our home through a back door and went into our kitchen and took my new iPhone, a special purse that was a surprise gift from my husband, along with all its contents, 3 key rings from family members and drove off in my husband's car. It was a surreal feeling to wake up to walk the dog and NOT see my charging phone on the counter or my husband's car in the driveway.
I try to keep the mindset that no matter what happens in life, there are always lessons to be learned and experience to be shared that will hopefully help the next guy out there. We are extremely grateful that we didn't see or hear the intruder and actually felt relieved that they got enough of our stuff to not feel the need to traipse through the house.
Here are my lessons learned:
  • Baltimore County offers a FREE security check (and I'm guessing most local police departments offer this service). Call your local police and let them come by. It only takes 30 minutes and they'll come as early as 6 am!
  • Do not leave your purse, your car keys or your cell phone in the kitchen. Carry them into your bedroom so they are not in plain view.
  • Take pictures of everything in your wallet. I was able to dig up my driver's license number by going online to my insurance account....but it would have been really sweet to just whip out a folder and have everything 'organized' and ready to contact. (I am a classic example of shoemaker's children in terms of this stuff). Thankfully, I had just cleaned out my purse and wallet the night before so I had a pretty good idea of what was in there. The MVA now lets you order a duplicate driver's license on line and they have overnight delivery for an extra $10. 
  • Get insurance on your cell phone. Because I had just gotten a new cell phone and had the insurance, I was able to get a new phone overnighted the next day. My home owner's insurance will cover the deductible on the phone.
  • Leave your outside lights on all night. Don't worry about saving energy. The policeman even suggested having timers on lights that can go on at random times throughout the day and night. The home burglaries are happening between 4 am - 6 am which really surprised me.
  • Turn on the burglar alarm at night and whenever you leave your home. This sounds like common sense, but due to too many accidental alarms going off, we stopped using our alarm. Not anymore.
  • Double lock all doors. Many bottom locks can be easily opened with a credit card. The policeman told us there is a product that you can place on your bottom handle that will prevent someone from opening the door from the outside. 
Please note - I am not trying to scare you or add to your anxiety. If you can step up your efforts just a little bit, you will be ok. The policeman said that these are crimes of opportunity - double check that all doors and windows are locked at all times and you'll significantly decrease your chances of being burglarized.

And P.S. - my husband's car was returned about 10 days later. There is some damage but not horrific. The detective reported that there was a person in the car when it was discovered and that person is now awaiting trial at the end of the month. I can't wait to meet him!

Thursday, November 3, 2016

3 Keys Thursday: 3 Organizational Tools I Should Never Be Without

Dodgerton Skillhause via Morguefile
Yesterday, I wrote about my very bad plan of not using the organizational systems I had in place. Really, the only thing at the root of this was laziness, but, in thinking more about it, I realized that being unprepared can also pose a significant stumbling block.

I really don't need anything fancy, but there are a few key items on which I depend:

A writing implement: If I'm unable to write things down, I'm in trouble. Sure, I usually have my phone, but, when it comes to keeping track of appointments and to-dos, I'm more of a paper-and-pencil girl. While not having the right pen can be an issue, not having one at all is a recipe for disaster.

My steno notebook. This semester, I began using a steno notebook to keep track of everything I need to do for my classes. The layout is perfect for my I need to see it personal style and it allows me to focus on one list at a time.

My phone. Today, I came home for lunch, and while I was there, changed bags. I was on my way back to work before I realized that my phone was in the bag I'd used in the morning. Hardly a disaster, especially since I don't use it to keep track of tasks. But, I do use it to keep in touch with my family, check my email, see what time it is (I rarely wear a watch) and pay for my end-of-the-workday Starbucks. Even though I don't need my phone for organization per se, having it helps me feel more connected and, therefore, more in charge of my day.

How about you? What three tools do you depend on?

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Note to Self: A Strategy Doesn't Work if You Don't Use It

This week, I caught myself engaging in a very bad habit. As numerous due dates and assignments to be graded collided, I found myself in an almost constant state of to-do high alert. I'm sure you know the feeling.

But that was only part of the problem. It seemed that the more I had to do, the less I wrote things down. I had a system all set up, and it worked well when I used it. Yet this week, whether motivated by fear, some bizarre sense of saving the two seconds it took to write things down, or magical thinking (if I don't write it down, it will go away), I stopped writing things down just when I needed to most.

Bad plan. Very bad plan.

Once I identified the problem -- or at least the bad habit that was compounding the too-much-to-do problem -- I also realized how easily I could fix it. All I had to do was overcome the urge to curl up in a fetal position under the blankets -- organizationally and metaphorically speaking, that is -- pick up a pencil and write things down.

The relief was almost immediate. Although I still had to everything on the list, I no longer had to carry each item around in my head. I hadn't realized just how much that was contributing to the stress and exhaustion that was dogging me.

In the end, the only way we can make our to-dos go away is to cross them off our lists, either because we did them, or because we made the decision not to do them after all. In order to accomplish this wonderful feeling of accomplishment, however, there's one thing we need to do at the outset.

Write. Them. On. The. List.

Yeah, yeah. Okay. I'm going.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

3 Keys Thursday: 3 Keys for Creating a Master List

Dodgerton Skillhause via Morguefile
Last weekend, I dug into my various ways of keeping track of things I needed to do and did some streamlining. As I wrote yesterday, this not only helped me to get more organized, it also revitalized my excitement for all the projects I'd taken on. As I worked, a few key guidelines emerged.

Begin with a plan. I have a system for keeping track of my to-dos -- one that's meant to avoid little slips of paper scattered everywhere. For school, I use a steno pad with a separate column dedicated to each class. Once I knew my TED Talk addiction wasn't going away, I dedicated a two-page spread (with room to grow) in my Brainstorm Book to them, so I could keep track of the ones I "thought I might use sometime" for class. Finally, I keep track of daily, run-of-the-mill to-dos in a spiral-bound  notebook (when I'm on the go) and/or my page-a-day desk calendar (when I'm at home)...or in the classic I need to see it piles I can't seem to stop making. Admittedly, this last part needs some work.

Trust your styles. Why not just make one long list? Because it stresses me out. Partway through this process, as I closed window after window and organized my lists in a way that made sense to me, I began to feel energized. My default (all those open windows and reminder piles) had gotten out of hand, and so what I was doing was filing my to-dos in places that made sense to me and increased the likelihood that they'd get done. By filing things visibly (i.e. on lists), I could categorize things but still keep them accessible. One of the best things I came up with was the master list of all the links I wanted to get back to. Simple and functional, it let me put everything in one location that made sense.

Stay focused. While creating that wonderful a master list of links, it was tempting to just curl up and read all the good stuff I'd found, but that wasn't what I was supposed to be doing. If they'd gone unread long enough to linger, they could wait a little longer.

Finally, don't forget to finish what you started. I had a deadline, and the ticking clock added an undesirable layer of stress, making it tempting to stop before every last paper was put into its file just so I could eliminate the pressure. In retrospect, that might actually have been a good thing. Knowing that if I didn't finish before I left for my engagement I'd have to face an unfinished mess when I came back motivated me to keep going so I could come home and not only relax, but celebrate my mind-freeing organization.

And the icing on the cake? Going through this process inspired three blog posts. And this morning, I knew just where to go when I wanted to work on one of my articles.

Functional organization, built on what comes naturally. Gotta love STYLE.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Taking Stock

Photo: Lauren Mancke via Minimography
I am the sort of person who leaves multiple windows open on her computer. (Multiple doesn't begin to describe it). When I discovered that I could create a dozen or more different desktops on my MacBook, this made me love my laptop even more than I already did.

Any guesses what my predominant style is?

Whether our styles reveal themselves in an unmistakeable I need to see it, drop and run or cram and jam fashion, or in a subtler, more nuanced way, we all need to pause and take stock sometimes. For me, last Saturday was that time. This was not surprising; the end of the month was, at that time, a little more than a week away.

So, I set out to make a master list that would enable me to replace the visual clutter with one neat list. My goal was to close out the open windows on my computer and streamline the to-do lists on my desk.

I started out with one measly piece of paper, but quickly decided that to really get my house in order, I needed separate pages for key categories. This method would accomplish two things: it would organize my thoughts (by category) and keep my lists shorter, and therefore less overwhelming. I briefly considered going back to the color-coded list format I use in the summer, but decided that I'd be better off with pages in a notebook.

So, armed with my calendar, my work to-do notebook (each class has its own column) and my spiral-bound notebook, I dug in.

First stop: my laptop. I had tabs open in my browser for articles I wanted to read, use for blogs or reference for class, along with references for writing projects. I had presentations in various stages of completion, some old (for reference) and some current. I had writing projects galore. Beginning with the browser tabs, I took one thing at a time, adding each to the appropriate list and then closing it out.  Because it's easier to access links by simply clicking on them, I created a master list of the links I had open and wanted to return to and emailed it to myself. Now, instead of leaving all those tabs open, I simply have to open the email and click on the link I want.

Second stop: all those notes on my desk. This part was easy, because, as it turns out, there weren't that many of them. Apparently my paper system is working better than my electronic system -- something that was a nice surprise, but, in retrospect, shouldn't have been surprising at all. I am, at heart, a paper-and-pencil girl.

Third stop (which perhaps should have been first): the multiple piles that scream, "An I need to see it/drop and run person lives here!" Why weren't they first? Because I'm more organized than I look. The really important, to-do list qualifying stuff is on my computer or my desk.

As I worked on the list, a funny thing happened: I started to get really excited about tackling all of the things I was writing down. While visual reminders can be helpful, having too many of them for too long can become exhausting, and therefore counterproductive. After a while, they all blend together and become a congealed mass of things to do.

Thank goodness I have my nice, neat list.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

3 Keys Thursday: 3 Keys for Managing the Transition from One Month to the Next

Dodgerton Skillhause via Morguefile
I can hardly believe the end of October is almost upon us! At school, in particular, this gets my attention because November is the last full month of the semester -- and it's split up by Thanksgiving break. Returning from fall break to discover that it was almost time to flip the calendar page was a rude awakening.

Over time, I've discovered a few tips that help to keep the shock of "you mean that's next week?" at bay. They're not foolproof, but their consistent use has kept me from missing many important events and appointments.

Look ahead. Flipping the calendar page to the next month is the simplest way to see what lies ahead. The trick is to do this far enough ahead of time that you have the opportunity to prepare for what lies ahead. Ten days to two weeks ahead of time is usually sufficient.

Create a sign post. Always meaning to look ahead, but forgetting to do so? Jot important first-week-of-the-next month tasks or appointments on a a small, square sticky note and attach it to a calendar square at the beginning of the last week of the month.

Do a weekly check-in. My family just loves this (yes, that's sarcasm), but it helps us to make sure that we align our calendars and don't miss appointments. It also helps with planning. We usually have our "calendar meeting" at dinner on Friday, but you can pencil in any time that works for your family. Once this becomes a habit, it's something you can accomplish in five minutes or less.

Investing a little time in your calendar can make things run more smoothly every day of this month...and the next one as well.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Stick to It

I love Post-it Notes. They stick without being sticky. They come in a variety of shapes and sizes. Perhaps best of all, their bright colors are a great match for my I need to see it personal style, not only calling attention to the things I need to do, but standing out amid a sea of nondescript to-do notes on a desktop or table.

Last April, I wrote a post for about, a site by the makers of Post-it Notes, filled with great ideas for ways to use them. I'm not even going to try to compete with the creative ideas you can find there, but I wanted to share a couple of my favorite uses.

  • Family notes. At our house, the place to find a note from someone who has left the premises is on the range hood in the kitchen. A sticky note attached to the range hood is an eye-catcher, almost directly in the line of vision, and extending beyond the range hood to make its presence -- and message -- known.
  • Calendar notes. A few years ago, I bought one of those large, Post-it Note calendars to use as a planning tool, but it ended up not working for me -- at least not in the traditional way. Although I've reverted to my usual calendar/planner set-up, I've used those pages as project planners, even creating an entire fictional writing workshop (with color-coded events) for a character in one of my novels. I also use single sticky notes to remind myself of recurring events and due dates (you know--those "third Thursday of the month" events) a week ahead of time. I simply write the name of the task on the sticky note and put it on my desk calendar so that if I need to prepare anything, I have time to do so.
  • File folder tabs.  I love all things stationery, and colorful file folders in fun prints are one of my favorite things. I use and reuse them until they begin to tear or become otherwise unusable, and they often serve multiple purposes before I retire them. Consequently, I hate to write on the tabs. I could write in pencil (that's what I do on manila file folders), but pencil doesn't show up well on colored file folders, so instead, I put a small, square sticky note on the tab and label it in Sharpie marker. If I'm feeling really fancy, I might even pull out my label maker. Then, when I'm ready to use the folder for something else, I just replace the Post-it Note, under which is a pristine file tab.
Inventive? Not terribly. Functional? Very!

What's your favorite way to use a sticky note?

Thursday, October 13, 2016

3 Keys Thursday: 3 Characteristics of a Working Organizational System

Dodgerton Skillhause via Morguefile
Last Saturday, a trip I'd planned fell through, leaving me a bit bummed out, but with "found time." So, motivated by my last few blog posts (which had gotten my wheels turning), I decided to tackle my closet.

Some people clean when they're upset. Others read.

I organize.

I knew I didn't want to create a big mess, so I set aside an hour to review the bin and drawer situation, which is approximately one third of the job. Because my system is (mostly) working, an hour (okay, an hour and half) was enough time for me to make visible progress. And, when you're an I need to see it person, visible progress is the best kind.

Last week, I focused on closet habits that can get you into trouble. This week, I want to focus on a few that prove you're doing it right, and what to do if your current system just isn't earning its keep.

When your system is working:

The side effects of your default styles are minimized -- or better yet, gone. Pile-ups, mystery locations, crushed, torn or broken items and that horrible feeling of being completely overwhelmed by stuff are wispy memories when your system is working. In fact, the thing that told me that my closet needed to be re-evaluated was the re-emergence of pile ups and visual clutter. If my storage systems were 1) working as they ought to and 2) consistent with my styles, there should have been few pile ups and little visual clutter. Finding the why behind the visual clutter and planning accordingly by rethinking what went where resulted in streamlining that will (I hope) make those side effects a thing of the past.

You use it on a regular basis. Good systems are easy to use and maintain. If you're bypassing the system, a key component of one of your styles is probably going unaddressed. Set aside the "shoulds" and plan realistically. Maybe that metal file cabinet that keeps everything hidden is a great tool for your spouse, but if you pile things on top of it instead of opening the drawers, maybe a file holder with an open top is a better fit for your style.

You can find what you're looking for.  To me, the true test of being organized is that you can find what you're looking for in five minutes or less. Smoothly running systems earn their keep in saved time and reduced stress. If you have to go on a scavenger hunt for something every time you need it, it may be time to re-think the location you've chosen. This is also true when the supply of something has overrun its container or when you remember where it is, but it takes you more than five minutes to dig it out.

At my house, the first battle of the closet re-vamp wars has been won. I got rid of a few things and  relocated a few things, which created space. Then, what appeared to be visual clutter could easily be given home of its own.

As it turned out, the stuff that was out of place was only a symptom; the real visual clutter was the storage containers themselves. Because they were in the wrong place, they displaced other things, creating an eyesore which greeted me every time I opened the closet door. Once I moved the bins to a different spot in the closet, everything not only worked better, it looked better, too.

And I didn't even need to buy new stuff -- although I did come close.

Designed by Kjpargeter -
But the best payoff of all was discovering that the system I'd created was working; I had the right tools and I was using them well. Still, as the contents of my closet grew and changed, I had to remember to adjust my system as well.

This time, the adjustments were mostly about location. As I tackle the rest of the closet, I suspect that the issues will have to do with quantity and will require me to give more thought to the three Rs than this week's task did.

But this week's task left me feeling so good, I think I'm up for the next step. Who knows? I might even free up more storage space.

And in a small closet, that's like hitting the jackpot.

The Thursday Post That Was Supposed to be a Wednesday Post

On Tuesday, I made a decision that made no sense from a time management perspective. In the midst of grading papers and exams, posting midsemester warning grades and preparing for a long-awaited trip to see my daughter, I decided to carve out a chunk of time to visit with a friend.

There were plenty of other things I could have been doing (writing this blog post, for example). There were plenty of other things I should have been doing (see the first paragraph of this post), and, when I got home, there were plenty of other things that remained to be done. And you know what?

I have no regrets.

As I type this Wednesday post a little after midnight (making it one of two Thursday posts), it promises to be a late night. I've finished grading most of the papers I needed to grade, but a few still remain. A Wednesday post on another blog has also been shifted to Thursday.

But I had a great day. I got to spend uninterrupted time with a friend I see face-to-face only a few times a year. We got to laugh and commiserate and enjoy each other's company. And the food at the restaurant was pretty good, too.

I realize that this is a strange post for a blog about organization. My very structured, practical husband told me (more than once) how surprised he was that I opted to meet with my friend when I had so much to do, and I'm pretty sure most professional organizers and productivity experts would have advised against it.

But I'm not a professional organizer or productivity expert -- something that's abundantly clear if you read this blog on a regular basis. If organizing by STYLE means embracing the styles that come naturally, then managing time by STYLE means embracing our priorities and planning accordingly. For me, that means making sure to spend time with the people who matter to me, even when it means posting a blog later than usual or making a late night even later.

The good feelings that are created when we do things that matter to us linger.  There will always be blogs to write and papers to grade, but my friend won't always be in town.

And I hope I'm never so grown up that I forget that people are more important than papers.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

3 Keys Thursday: 3 Closet Habits that Lead to Chaos

Dodgerton Skillhause via Morguefile
After writing yesterday's post, I was hoping today's would be somewhere along the lines of "three things that are working in my closet," so I opened my closet door and looked inside.

There are definitely things that are working, but I'm not sure they're going to stay the same. Although the containers are working, thanks to the fact that they're style-specific, I can't swear that after I start taking things apart, the same things will end up in the same places. Consequently, it feels dishonest to call them "successes" at this stage of the game.

Still stumped, I went back to an old post -- one from May 2015 -- and re-read an amusing Buzz Feed article I'd shared. It was still amusing, and, better yet, I found three things that explain why I don't dread opening the door to my closet. Choosing not to engage in these habits promises to make even the most intimidating closet overhaul a little less challenging.

Tossing. Your mother was right -- clothes don't belong on the floor. Clothes on the floor of the closet are a sign that something's not working. Maybe you need a system, maybe you need a drop spot (even just a laundry basket on the floor of the closet), or maybe you just need more hangers. Find the "why" behind this shortcut that's really not a shortcut and let it lead you to a solution.

Stuffing. Shoving too many clothes into one drawer or bin or onto one hanger leads to wrinkles and confusion -- perhaps for you as well as your clothes. Decide whether to hang or fold (crush, stuff or otherwise spindle or mutilate should not be an option) and store accordingly. If a rod, drawer or bin becomes too full, it's time to reassess and either let some things go or shake up your storage system.

Allowing a big space to go undivided. Closet shelves are a blessing and a curse. That nice long one that runs the width of the closet (in particular) is an invitation to piles and inefficiency if you don't subdivide it. Use bins, boxes or shelf dividers to create sections to store whatever you decide belongs there.

I took one baby step toward my closet reorganization today, moving some tee shirts into an empty drawer and recapturing some closet rod space in the process. I still have miles to go, but knowing I don't have to start by clearing the floor or subdividing the long shelf (already outfitted with bins)  helps a little bit.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Closet STYLE

I am struggling with my closet.

Strangely enough, it's one of the best organized spaces in my house, but, as an I need to see it person, I find its dark recesses intimidating.

I've tried adding light, and that helps, but not enough.

I've tried buying skinny hangers, but my clothes still get crushed (I know. Get rid of some).

I am on the cusp of a clothing reorganization.

But where do I put everything? My house is small enough that I have to move clothes around when the seasons change, so a closet overhaul promises to be an intimidating endeavor.

There's that word again.

Would you be surprised to know that I have some drawers I'm not fully utilizing? Combined with the big, rectangular space that is my closet, I have space -- theoretically, anyway. The problem is determining how to best use it, and how to get from here to there.

All of my usual small steps tactics aren't enough. This requires making a big mess in order to create order.

Fortunately, STYLE provides the blueprint I need to make this work.
  • Start with successes. I know some drawers and sections of my closet are working and well-utilized, so the first step is to decide what I don't have to change. That shrinks my task considerably, and sets me up to...
  • Take small steps. Once I know what I have to fix, I can make a list. Then, I can either set aside an afternoon and make a big mess, or I can chip away at it drawer by drawer, section by section.
  • Yes, it has a home. The heart of this project is determining which homes are working and which need to be changed, so as I... 
  • Let it go and get rid of items that are out-of-style, out-of-shape, no longer my size or no longer to my liking I'll be able to decide which things belong in which homes (I hope). Once I've weeded out the non-keepers and put everything is in its (new) place, I'm on my way to...
  • Easy upkeep. My end goal. Right now, the upkeep is not easy because some of the space is well-utilized, but other spots are overstuffed and therefore clamoring for attention. 
Funny how this process is cyclical. When the upkeep is no longer easy, it's time to go back to the beginning and Start with what's working. Not only does this help me identify what I need to fix, but it also reminds me what I'm aiming for. If something's working, it's probably true to my styles, and something I should try to replicate in the spots where things aren't working as well.

Having a plan makes the whole process much less intimidating. 

Now all I need is the time to put my plan into action.