Thursday, February 25, 2016

3 Keys Thursday: 3 Keys to Finding the Right Home for Homeless Items

Dodgerton Skillhause via Morguefile
When things start to pile up around my house, it's usually for one of two reasons; either I don't have time to keep up with the influx or the things that have made their way into my house haven't yet been assigned a home. Right now, the least attractive spot in my house holds a stack of mail no one has found time to sort through and a few accumulated gifts and "not sure what to do with this" items that got unearthed when I was rearranging the back room. The mail will be easy enough -- I have a system for that.

It's those odds and ends that create clutter. But, when there's time to tackle them, there are a few guidelines that can help to keep them from getting stashed in a drawer or turning up someplace new.

Here are three keys for finding a home for all the "somethings" that gather on flat surfaces. In general, all three of these work together; it's not an either/or proposition.
  • Put it where there's room. While that may sound ridiculous to many of you, cram and jam organizers need constant reminders of this. If you have to fold it more than once, smush it, crush it or otherwise mash it into submission to fit it into your container of choice, choose another container. Not only will this save you from ruining an otherwise perfectly good item, it'll save you from endless sorting sessions as you attempt to get to the bottom of what feels like a bottomless container full of crammed and jammed, crushed and smushed, mashed-into-submission stuff.
If cram and jammers need to be reminded that there has to be sufficient storage space for that item they're holding, I know I put it somewhere organizers need to be reminded that the first tip doesn't say wherever there's room. When seeking a home for a homeless item, it's also important to...
  • Put it where you use it. Depending on the item and the space constraints in your home, this could mean in the same room where it's used, or in the drawer or cupboard closest to the exact spot where you'll use it. But, my I know I put it somewhere friends, it does not mean to drop it into any drawer that happens to have the right amount of space in it. That strategy may work in the moment, but it's guaranteed to lead to a frustrating search for the item you put in a "safe place" when you were in a hurry to clear off the counter. Plan now, save time later. 
Still not sure where it should go?
  • Put it where there are other things like it. That way, even if you don't remember where you put it, you're likely to find it when you need it.
While the old adage "a place for everything and everything in its place" can be tricky to pull off, assigning things homes that make sense based on their use and your styles can take you one step closer to making the adage come true.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

When the Upkeep isn't Quite so Easy

I've written a lot of posts that focus on how to get to the E in STYLE. Building on successes. Honoring styles. Choosing containers and building systems.

So, what happens when you get to the E?

If you've made it that far, you might have found that not all upkeep is created equal. When the styles and the containers and the system and the location all come together, things work well -- most of the time -- and upkeep is easy.

But then, life intervenes. We get busy. Things come in faster than we can keep up with them, seasons change, holidays arrive. It's easier to put things down than away, and items that were homeless or in the wrong container are suddenly everywhere except where they're supposed to be.

This is not the time to throw in the towel. Instead, it's time to return to what works -- the containers by style, the locations that make sense and the systems that combine knowledge with practice.

Think of the crazy busy times as an opportunity to asssess what you've been doing. When you finally manage to eke out a few minutes to restore order, what gets put away quickly and easily? Those systems are working.

Photo: Morguefile
On the other hand, what do you end up holding in your hand, trying to decide where it belongs, or setting beside the container it's supposed to go into rather than putting it inside? Something in that upkeep is not easy. Perhaps the container is wrong. Maybe the location is off. What would make it easy for you to put that item in your hand where it belongs?

It would be wonderful if we could get to the E and achieve organizational perfection, but life is mean to move forward and systems need to adapt to the changes. Whether you're adding to your family, downsizing or just trying to keep up with the day-to-day, organization needs to be dynamic, adjusting to the life it's meant to organize.

And that's when the upkeep gets easy.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

3 Keys Thursday: 3 Things to Remember about Organizig by STYLE

Dodgerton Skillhause via Morguefile
Since I started using this process and sharing it in classes and via blog posts, I've become a lot more organized, and a lot more sure of what works and what doesn't -- at least for me.

But there are still days when I look around and wonder if this pile or that stack will ever find a permanent home.

No matter your styles, here are a few things to keep in mind about this philosophy.

Remember that it's a process. Organizing takes time, and complete and total organization is not a realistic goal. There will always be some spot somewhere that's not quite right, and you may always be questing for the just right container that will take you once step closer to that elusive perfect solution. But imperfect is still workable and perfectly capable of instilling some order.

Celebrate successes. There's a reason S is the first letter of the STYLE acronym. Our successes -- the tools we use, the routines we develop -- are the foundations of our organizational systems, and the first step on the road to Easy upkeep. When you find something that works, stick with it and see where else you can duplicate it. Find a container you love? Buy several and use them to solve multiple organizational dilemmas. That's one way to build a habit.

You can't make someone else love your style -- or adopt it. Organizing by STYLE is based on the idea that we each organize best when we work with what comes naturally. While I'd love to make my husband a little less I know I put it somewhere and he'd love to make me a lot less I need to see it, that's not the way it works. The best we can hope for is a better understanding and a healthy respect for one another's default styles.

Meanwhile, enjoy your successes. They're the reminder that order is possible.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

I have a confession to make.

I'm a container collector.

When I see a container I like, I have to buy it.

I've actually gotten much better about this. I've reached the point where I can "just browse" the containers at my local Target without feeling the overpowering need to adopt all the cute ones.

But unique containers? My downfall.

The tried and true in a pretty pattern? Send help.

Often, this comes in handy. When I am reorganizing a space and I need a container, I usually have one in my basement. No need for delayed gratification or an outlay of cash. A simple trip down a flop isn't of stairs usually nets me just what I need.

Interestingly, this little habit developed when I began teaching about organization. In search of examples to show my students and use for monthly giveaways, I started checking dollar stores, dollar bins, clearance racks and office supply stores for goodies. It was so much fun that I kept searching even after I had what I needed. Eventually, When I was in search of something particular, I branched out, expanding my search to home decor stores. You know - the expensive stuff.
I'm happy to report that since I no longer run monthly giveaways for fifth graders, I've weaned myself
away from buying (most) containers in multiples. And, since I began thinking in terms of styles, I've learned to walk away from anything that's not a good fit for my I need to see it personal style or my drop and run organizational style. Having learned the hard way that choosing an "off-style" container creates more work in the long run, I reluctantly leave containers on store shelves, no matter how pretty they are, or how great a bargain they may be.

But that stash in my basement?

It's not going anywhere. At least not until I'm convinced it's going to a good home.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Organizing Extra: Ideas from HGTV
I've been writing about time management a lot here lately. Last Thursday's post in particular, along with the planning that preceded it, nudged me to take a look at my blogging habits. I've done so before, but now, with proof that blogging sometimes overshadows the other writing I want to do, it was time to look at my schedule with an eye toward change.

When I first started this blog, these Saturday posts were a great way to showcase people, places and articles that inspired me. Julie Morgenstern. Marcia Ramsland. A Perfect Mess.

Sometimes, though, as I've often written here, it's time to focus on that L in STYLE and let it go. I've featured all my inspirations, along with quite a few fun finds I made along the way, and that brings the Organization Extra feature of this blog to its natural conclusion.

So, for the moment, at least, I'm stepping away from Saturday posts. I'll try to feature some posts from the archives on the occasional Saturday, and, if I find something new and exciting, I'll make sure to share it. But, for the foreseeable future, I'll be putting up new posts only on Wednesdays and (3 Keys) Thursdays.

Meanwhile, since HGTV got me inspired to walk down this road in the first place, it's only fitting that I conclude this feature with something from them. Over at, I've been writing about containers, and this HGTV feature on organizing mistakes to avoid echoes much of what you've read here, and at, if you follow my STYLE Savvy posts.

See you Wednesday.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

3 Keys Thursday: L is for Lent -- and Let it Go!

Photo: Dodgerton Skillhause via Morguefile
The "L" in STYLE - "Let it Go!" is probably the hardest step, especially for those with an I love stuff personal style. But if you, like me, make Lenten resolutions, this is a great time of year to tackle all that stuff and see if there's anything you can let go of. What better time to simplify life?

Here are a few ideas on ways to make that happen. And, in honor of my I love stuff friends (and others among us for whom parting is not sweet sorrow), all of these ideas focus on ways to reduce your stuff without resorting to throwing things away -- unless you want to.

  • Put that number 40 to work. Yesterday, I once again mentioned the 40 bags in 40 days decluttering challenge, and then last night on Facebook, I saw something that might be more manageable for my I love stuff friends. I'm not sure where it originated, but its focus is simple: get rid of one item of clothing each day for 40 days. Less painful than 40 bags in 40 days, it can easily be extended to things besides clothing (40 books, perhaps?). Just be sure you have a destination in mind so you don't end up lugging those bags around in the trunk of your car for 40 more days. Not that I've ever done that.

  • The maybe box. This one is also not original (I got it from a show on HGTV), but I love it, so I'm sharing it.
  1. Find a box, preferably one with a lid or one that can be closed completely (nothing showing).
  2. Put all of those "can't quite get rid of it" items inside (by category, if you wish).
  3. Close the box and put a sticky note on the top with today's date. 
  4. In an amount of time that you determine (I typically use 6 months, but if you're making this a Lenten resolution, why not use March 25, which is Good Friday?), get rid of the box and whatever remains inside without opening it. 
          Again, keep a destination in mind (unless you plan to throw the box away) -- this time, so the 
          box and its contents don't end up creating clutter for someone else. This way, as you add to    
          the box, you know whatever goes inside is suitable for its destination.
  • Consign or resell. Can't quite give away things you paid good money for? Get them into the hands of someone else who can use them via yard sale or consignment. Then, in the spirit of charity, consider donating your proceeds to charity.

For more ideas on ways to Let it Go!, check out these three posts from last spring:

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Time to Tackle Time
I've always prided myself on being self-motivated. But lately, days seem to fly by, and I get to the end of too many of them with too many things still lingering on my to-do list and a nagging feeling that I haven't been working very hard at all.

I told my husband the other night that I had a new idea for organizing my time. He laughed and made a joke about how much extra time I have (yes, that was sarcasm). I told him I thought perhaps my goals were a tad too high. He laughed again.

Okay. So maybe I'm onto something.

When I retired nearly four years ago, I resolved not to think of myself as retired. I was barely 50, after all, and decades away from traditional retirement. Instead, I saw retirement as a reset button -- a chance to begin the second half of my life with the optimism of youth, if not the energy. I would write  and I would pursue the goals that had been pushed aside due to a life that was bursting at the seams, in part, due to a full time job that required more than full time hours to be done well.

And here I am, four years after turning in my retirement letter. Life is once again bursting at the seams. And this time, I can't blame my course load (one) or a full-time job (zero).

Apparently I'm more I love to be busy than I care to admit.

But the busyness wasn't always making me happy; often, it was leaving me frustrated. So I decided to view time the way I was advised to view my daughter's food intake when she was a toddler. Instead of looking at what she ate in a day, I looked at what she ate over the space of a week. Through the second lens, her diet always looked more balanced.

I pulled out a dollar store tablet I'd bought years ago and pressed it into service. I replaced the days of the week with the tasks that took up most of my time -- and some that should get a bigger share -- and resolved to keep track of where my time was going when it came to these categories.

It didn't take long at all to see that what I'd suspected was true. Blogging and class planning took the biggest bite out of my time, effectively edging out all the other tasks that made the list, not to mention the slew of others that didn't. And, though I didn't include it, household duties (cooking and laundry mostly) played their role in limiting my time as well.

So now comes the tricky part. Do I use this information to pat myself on the back and say, "See? You were doing more than you thought you were!" Or, do I need to make some hard decisions about how I spend my time?

I suspect it's the latter. Though I can't make a decision based on less than a week's worth of information (perhaps not every week looks like this), I need to look at this information and decide if this is how I want my time expenditures to look, and if not, what I plan to do differently. Some spaces should have less time dedicated to them. If I've got good systems in place, organizing should not take a lot of my time; nevertheless, I want to keep it on my list since staying organized is a priority. Social time is also missing from the list, but that omission was intentional. Unless I feel it's underrepresented, time spent with friends and family should arise naturally, not as part of a carefully balanced plan. Then again, if that's a good way to spend my time, perhaps I should give myself credit for it.

When it comes to commitments, how do you decide what to keep and what to cut? 

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Organizing Extra: Stuff from Smead
As someone who loves not only organization, but also paper products and office supplies, I'm naturally drawn to the Smead Organomics page. I must admit that I spend more time looking at the pictures than reading the articles, but I did browse around long enough to see that, like me, Smead thinks in styles. We name them differently, and I have less of a vested interest in which tool you choose to use, but the concept is the same. And, if you're looking for specific tools to fit your styles, at least when it comes to paper and office organization, you'll find them here. They even have a podcast, "Keeping You Organized," organized by topic.

Need bite-sized pieces? Try following them on social media for one tip at a time.

Happy browsing!

Thursday, February 4, 2016

3 Keys Thursday: 3 Keys for Finding a New Rhythm

Dodgerton Skillhause via Morguefile
Getting organized for a new semester is a little like standing at the top of a snow-covered mountain. The view is lovely, but includes a slippery slope and plenty of obstacles -- some that are visible, and others that lurk under the snow. And, without the proper equipment and preparation, the descent can get away from you pretty quickly.

Teaching at the college level requires me to shift gears three times each academic year (not counting into and out of breaks). By the time I get into a comfortable routine for the first semester, it's time to prepare for the second semester -- which may or may not include the same classes I just finished teaching. It's fun, actually, but it requires more of an adjustment than I expected. Sometimes, the whole rhythm changes from one semester to the next. And when a semester starts off bumpy, like this one has (due to snow), finding that rhythm can prove a bit tricky.

With a little experience, and a lot of trial and error, I've come up with a few things to make the transition easier.

  • Assess the route and the equipment at  your disposal. In the past year, I've gone from two classes to three classes and back to just one for this spring. My existing organizational systems, which easily expanded to accommodate one additional class, groaned under the weight of the third. Consequently, I spent a lot of time over break sorting, purging and reorganizing, which included keeping some of my systems and containers, repurposing others and getting rid of the rest. If it's not working, it's not worth keeping. If it is working, use, re-use and re-purpose as appropriate.
  • Be true to your styles. Stick with what works and venture onto a new trail only when the old one isn't working for you anymore. One look at my home office (and the surrounding territory) last December made it clear what was working and what needed to change. My I need to see it style had created quite a mountain, and even once it was sorted and thinned, a lot of things needed homes. That gave me the opportunity to choose tools and systems that work for me. No binders, no file cabinets, but plenty of labels, clear/unique or color-coded containers and bins.
  • Go cheap -- and then adapt. Storage solutions don't have to be expensive. Some of my favorite containers are straight from the dollar store and the bargain bins at Target. In fact, one system I repurposed was simple -- matching heavy duty gift boxes that I pressed into service for papers. I originally bought them half price after Christmas, along with an inexpensive particleboard unit that also went on sale in January (prime sale time for organization items). They're pretty, a little larger than the papers that go inside (to eliminate stuffing, crumpling, cramming and jamming) and all the same shape and size, so they stack easily. Originally, they held chapters for a book I'm now revising. As I empty the boxes, I'm using them to store materials for one of my three classes, unit by unit, so everything is at my fingertips and less likely to get scattered.

My office is almost where I want it -- just a bit more sorting, purging and filing to make things complete. By the end of the semester, it had gotten so overstuffed that I avoided working there and instead moved my laptop to other parts of the house. After all of my effort, I'm back to enjoying working in my own little space.

What a difference finding the right rhythm -- and tools -- makes.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Taking my Planner on the Road
I love my notepad calendar for its versatility. Some days, it's a glorified tablet, holding my to-do list along with scattered thoughts and notations added as the day progresses. On busy weeks, these pages stack up, especially when the remnants of the previous day's to-do list are too long to recopy onto the present day.

The thing is, it serves me well -- as long as I use it. Like any other tool, it serves me only as well as I serve it. When I use it according to the plan I've set up, taking time on Sunday to jot down the appointments for the upcoming week on their respective days, things run a bit more smoothly. Doing this allows me to assign times to my action items each day so I actually take action.

Do you have a planner you love? How do you use it? Today, at, I'm hosting a "Show Us Your Planner!" post. The brainchild of the fabulous Barb Szyszkiewicz (who shows us her planner here), this feature gives you a chance to strut your planner's stuff (if you're proud) or get great ideas from someone else (if you're cowering at the very mention of the word planner).

I hope you'll check it out here -- and Show Us Your Planner!