Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Semesters May Change, but Styles Remain the Same

This is how an I need to see it organizer packs her bag
for work. Material for each TTh course is clustered together.
What's on the arm of the sofa? The class I teach MWF. 
This week, I switch gears and resume my teaching responsibilities. If I ever doubted whether or not my styles (I need to see it/drop and run) have changed over time, all I need to do is take one look around my house.

They haven't.

Tomorrow, I'll share 3 key tools that are keeping me organized this fall. (And yes, my sofa is one of them -- sort of). Then, in the coming weeks, I'll be revisiting key tools for each style. If you have one (or more) that you love, share it (them) in the comments below, and I'll try to incorporate your ideas into a future post.

Have your styles changed? Click here to take (or retake) the quiz and find out. My theory is that while our styles may become more defined over time, our default styles remain constant.

What do you think?

Thursday, August 25, 2016

3 Keys Thursday: 3 Keys for Creating Your Reference Spot

Dodgerton Skillhause via Morguefile
The school district in which I live started school last week, which means parents here are already drowning in those first week of school papers and announcements. While a countertop or table is a good place for your family drop spot, you'll want to create style-appropriate storage for the things you'll want to hang onto for reference--school calendars, lunch menus, field trip information, etc.

While your styles should dictate what this long-term reference spot should look like, function should lead this charge. Because most of the information that goes into this reference spot will be rendered obsolete in a short time, what matters most is ease of access.

Here are a few things to consider as you create this sanity-saving system.

Who's the primary user of this system? If you are, then your styles trump everyone else's. Like binders? Use one. Prefer accordion folders, a fancy clipboard or a family bulletin board? Go for it.
Be careful, though -- this also makes you the disseminator of information. If you want others to contribute to and access this storage, you may need to make it friendly to other styles as well. Want to have it both ways? Create a system that works for you and a drop spot that works for everyone else.

How will you manage the flow of papers? Are you a keeper or a tosser? Not you personally, but your style. If you write information down, then toss the form or flyer, you won't need much paper storage, but if you keep the original as a reminder until its date has passed, you'll need to make provisions for filing or posting the paper. Function is key, but let your styles be your guide.

Where will you put it? This goes back to who's using the system. If you're a Type A organizer, you probably have a nice file drawer somewhere with all of this information tucked inside and labeled, but if you're an I need to see it or I know I put it somewhere person, the words "drawer" and "inside" just made you cringe. If you want your family members to look up their own information, your system will look different than it will if you want to be the information clearinghouse.

No judging here--I can identify with the information clearinghouse model. If I know where things are at all times, they don't get lost. Be honest with yourself about how you want this to work, not how you think it should work. If you're most comfortable being the keeper of the originals, then use that part of your style to make yourself the back-up--an external hard drive of sorts. Encourage your family members to create their own parallel systems, with you as their safety net. This can be a great way to help kids build organizational systems of their own.

If your child's school has gone paperless, the solution is even simpler. Bookmark key locations on  your phone or computer or, if you prefer, designate a home for a cheat sheet where you can write all this down. You can use a white board, a single sheet of paper (on a clipboard or bulletin board, perhaps) or, especially if you have kids in different schools, a tabbed notebook.

One last note. This is not the time to create the be-all, end-all stylishly perfect system. If you've done it before and it works, you're all set. If you haven't and are just getting started, it will evolve over time. Either way, all of this information will be in and out in a year or less, so don't spend a lot of time creating a system that should serve you.

Have a great idea to share? Post it in the comments below.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Creating My Reference Spot

I've often heard professional organizers suggest
using tabbed binders for all family information.
It's a great idea, but not a fit for my styles.
Photo via Pixabay
Two weeks ago, I wrote about three keys for getting organized for the school year. I also promised to talk a little more about managing the reference spot, a.k.a. the place to store all that stuff that comes home to stay (but you can't get rid of) in a future post. But, last week, I got sidetracked by helping to manage my daughter's transition to college, and ended up writing about that instead.

This week, after getting her dropped off and settled in, I'll be putting together my own reference spot because, even though she's in college, there's information I want/need to keep available. And, since this is a whole new experience for our family, having easy access to information isn't just about organization; it's about mental peace as well.

I'll be the primary user, so I'll set it up based on my styles and preferences. This puts me in a position to be the disseminator of information rather than the facilitator, but I'm okay with that. My husband's styles are different from mine, and he'll filter the info as it comes in and store it in his own way, while my daughter will be gathering and storing the information she needs from her remote (to us) location. We'll be like three nutty squirrels stashing nuts in our own trees.

Sorry. Couldn't resist.

Because I've been gathering information for close to a year, the bare bones are already in place, and my system just needs a little fine tuning. The open-top file that initially housed pertinent information for all the schools she was applying to has been cleared and transformed to the home for all information from her chosen school. Initially, that was sufficient, but preparing to get her from here to there while keeping track of everything in between has convinced me of the need for subfolders. Those are at the top of my list of "Keep busy, Mom" projects as I adjust to our now empty nest.

Tomorrow I'll tackle three key questions to ask yourself as you set up your own reference spot. And, to make sure I keep that promise, I'm writing that post.

Right now.

Files like this work better for my I need to see it style
than more traditional options do.
The mesh pockets in front hold the small notebook
we took to orientation as well as key brochures.
Photo: Thirty One Gifts 

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Saturday Special: Packing Misses


Back when I decided to discontinue my Saturday Special feature, I promised to post an occasional piece if I came across something good. Today's article from Jetsetter not only fits with the packing theme I keep coming back to this summer, but also hits on some things I never thought of.

Happy reading :-)

Thursday, August 18, 2016

3 Keys Thursday: 3 Keys (x2) to Sending Them Off to School

Dodgerton Skillhause via Morguefile
This is, as I might have mentioned once or twice before, my daughter's last full week at home before she officially becomes a college freshman. I promised myself I'd be at her disposal this week, so shopping lists have replaced my to-do list nearly every day this week...which is why I'm writing this post about six hours later than usual.

I've learned a few things this week, as well as being reminded often that organizing is a fluid process, one that doesn't always go according to plan. Here are a few of my lessons from this week of preparing to send my baby out into the world.

Make a list--early.
Last spring, I found a fantastic list of all the things (and then some) my daughter would need for school. It was a wonderful starting point, and I've been both adding to it and chipping away at it since sometime in May. Its sheer length inspired me to pick up extras of toiletries on each trip to Target so we didn't have to do a massive shopping spree when nerves were stretched and tempers were short. In addition, it nudged me to consider things I hadn't thought about and, now that many things have been crossed off, it's serving as the "last minute details" list.


Personalize it. In addition to the adding and chipping away we did on our own, we added things that my daughter wanted. I also sought out advice from those who'd done this already, specifically, what were the things they'd wished they'd had but didn't think of? This list included everything from tools to cold beverages and snacks to Amazon Prime, which will keep me from packing everything but the kitchen sink since whatever we forget will be just a few clicks away, and....

You will forget things. This one's for all of you perfectionists out there. Reduce your stress by making it your goal to forget as few things as possible rather than to forget nothing at all. If you haven't done this before, or haven't done this since your own college days, you will forget something. Aiming to do otherwise merely adds unnecessary stress to an already stressful situation. Why do you think the parents who've done this before recommend Amazon Prime?


Resign yourself to the fact that it won't go as planned. Beautiful, detailed plans can be tools, but they can also be recipes for disaster. This college thing is a big deal in your child's life, and probably yours as well. There will be days (weeks...) when your allegedly grown-up kid can't deal with the realities of this transition and/or she gets a better offer from one of those friends she's going to be saying goodbye to all too soon. When those days hit (and coincide with the days you planned to shop and reduce the to-do list), it's easy to get frustrated. One of you has to stay calm, and you've got a better shot at it than your child does.

Be flexible. Make lists and make plans, but expect them to change (see #4 above). In addition, be prepared to be flexible about who's in charge and let your child lead the way sometimes. This is their life they're preparing for, so let them own the preparations as much as possible. Not only is it good practice for what lies ahead, but sometimes, they have good ideas.


Make your relationship with your child the most important thing. When I stop to think about the fact that this is my last week with my child in this phase of our lives, I begin to dissolve into a puddle. Consequently, I don't think about that very much, but instead, focus on enjoying every moment she grants me. Long after these preparations are complete and your child is launched, he or she will remember how you handled these days. And, even if she doesn't, you owe it to your child--and yourself--to relish this time. No matter how challenging he or she may make it.

I know I still have a lot to learn, and I'm hoping that this time next year, I won't be undone by last minute orders and shopping trips, but somehow, I don't think that will be the case. As I read the posts of other parents who are traveling this same road, we all seem to be reminding ourselves (or are being reminded by someone else) that our children's readiness for this next step is a reflection of all that has come before.

And that's something to celebrate.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Packing it In

I've spent a lot of time traveling this summer, and have really come to appreciate the organizing habits I've developed when it comes to packing. Though I'm not as good at traveling light as my daughter, who managed to get everything she needed for a weekend in New York into one backpack (thanks partially to supplemental space from her parents), I've definitely streamlined the packing process.

But now, we're getting ready to pack my daughter up and take her to school, and, from what I'm reading, this process comes with a whole new set of rules. While it can be hard to know what to pack and what to leave behind for a week long vacation, that's nothing compared to sending your first (and, in our case, only) child off to school with "the basic necessities." (Luckily, she's more low maintenance than her mother).

Then, there's the process of getting it all into the car. I still remember how stuffed my dad's car was when my parents took me to school. What I don't remember is how we got it all in there.

From what I've been reading, and from what I've learned, flexibility is key. I keep hearing about trash bags and laundry baskets and, while some of that makes sense (smooshy stuff compresses more easily than rigid crates or suitcases), my I need to see it style is cringing at the uniformity and wondering how on earth we'll distinguish one garbage bag from another upon arrival, making unpacking much more complicated than it needs to be.

So, while we'll use garbage bags to cover the hanging clothes, that's about as far as I plan to take that particular container. So far, here's the rest of the plan.

Pack inside the stuff that's going to stay. We're not buying a lot ahead of time, but my daughter does have a few things in mind (including the aforementioned laundry basket, which she already got as a graduation gift from a clever friend). Those will need to do double duty--packing containers now, storage later.

Keep similar items together. This is one of those at-home rules that applies to travel, too. Why make extra work if we don't have to?

Label liberally. It's going to be a very emotional day. No need to add to the drama with multiple mystery packages.

Keep it flexible. As I said before, smooshy stuff compresses more easily. Duffel bags and totes are easier to distinguish from one another than a whole cache of white garbage bags.

Now I'm going to hand off to you. If you've been down this road, what suggestions can you offer?


Thursday, August 11, 2016

3 Keys Thursday: 3 Keys for Getting Organized for the School Year (Parents)

Dodgerton Skillhause via Morguefile
Last week, I shared three basic, important items that kids need to start the school year off in an organized fashion. This week, I'm taking a look at what parents need.

Actually, there's not a lot of difference: two out of the three most important things for parents match those for kids: places for the temporary stuff, places for the long-term stuff and a command center of sorts.

For the temporary stuff: A drop spot. Decide early where you want your kids to put those papers you need to look at and/or sign, and you'll have the whole school year to help them develop the habit of making that the home for those papers. The designated drop spot doesn't need to be fancy, or even a container. It simply needs to be a logical match for your styles (I need to see it parents shouldn't choose a drawer, for example) and accessible to your kids. Don't forget to make it clear to your kids where the papers will go after you finish with them. Will your kids need to reclaim them from the designated drop spot? Will you hand them directly back to the child in question? Who makes sure they get into the backpack? Your styles and your child's styles, age and level of accountability should guide your plan.

For the long-term stuff: A reference spot, a.k.a. the place to store all that stuff that comes home (but you can't get rid of). While a countertop can work for the short-term stuff, you'll want a style-appropriate container for the things you'll want to hang onto for reference--school calendars, lunch menus, field trip information, etc. Any container that works for you -- a binder, an accordion folder, clipboard, a file drawer or dedicated file container--is a workable solution as the an h. Not sure? Ask yourself what storage system will require minimal time to create and will make it easy for you to put your hands on this information as your child is running out the door asking you the question only those papers can answer.

A calendar. Planner. Wall calendar. Erasable white board calendar. What it looks like, where you put it and what you put on it (everyone's dates, the kids' dates or just school-specific stuff) is entirely up to you. During the first few weeks of school, you'll spend a lot of time adding dates that will bail you out in the weeks (and months) to come. The more you write down, the less you need to keep track of.

I've written quite a bit about planners, so if you want more food for thought in choosing a planner that works with your styles, click on the Planners and Calendars tab at the top of this page. Next week, I'll talk a little more about managing the reference spot. Until then, which tool do you think will be your best choice as the anchor for that spot?

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Growing Up with STYLE

Last spring, my high school senior announced that she was looking forward to going through stuff and getting rid of things this summer. Specifically, she'd set her sights on the playroom/man cave/family room and her bedroom, but the basement was also in her sights.

Music to a mother's ears. Especially a mother who writes about organization.

Last Friday night--the beginning of the first weekend in August, less than three weeks before she leaves for college--she told me she was in the mood to sort.

You don't have to ask me twice.

Several sorting sessions and many piles later, the closet looked better than it has in years. Our give away pile had grown, as had our trash pile. There's still work to do, but some small goals, like emptying out the storage ottoman and making space in the closet for a crate of albums, have been accomplished.

One of the really cool--and somewhat surprising--things about this is that my daughter was a die-hard I love stuff kid. As a matter of face, she still is.

Although her style hasn't changed, she's become a lot more discriminating about the "stuff" that makes the cut. Her definition of "treasure" has narrowed over the years, but true to form, she (still) prefers donating things to throwing them away.

Why am I telling this story?

Simple. Chances are, you have someone in your house whose style differs from yours. That style  might even drive you a little crazy. But honoring people's styles and helping them to work with those styles can help them to become more discriminating about the tools they choose, and how they choose to use them. Even better, your respect for their styles and organizing choices helps them to feel more self-confident about their own ability to organize and can empower them to advocate for themselves.

With time and practice, organizing gets easier, especially if we work with what comes naturally instead of trying to conform to what works for someone else. And, before you know it, you have a kiddo who can organize a book bag, a school desk and a locker...and maybe even her own room.

At least once in a while.


Thursday, August 4, 2016

3 Keys Thursday: 3 Key Tools for Getting Organized for the School Year (Kids)

Every year, the back-to-school lists seem to get longer and more complicated. While I don't doubt that the things on the list are there for a reason, I also know that buying everything on the list can quickly get overwhelming -- and expensive. I'm not going to second guess a supply list issued by your child's school (or, even better, your child's teacher), but I am suspicious of the general, one size fits all lists created by stores. Then again, I'm suspicious of one size fits all anything.

Having spent 27 years in elementary schools, I know that what one teacher considers essential, another might consider optional -- or supply herself -- and that it's possible to successfully "go cheap" on some items. But, since this is "3 Keys Thursday," I'm going to focus on three basic, important items that are worth spending a little more on, since they're key tools for staying organized all year long.

A home for papers that need to be referenced. For many kids, this is a three-ring binder. It can also be an accordion folder (or one for each subject, for older kids), a skinny binder with a clamp closure (or one for each subject, for older kids), or a collection of folders color coded by subject. Whatever it is, it needs to be durable and expandable so that it can house everything from a single sheet of paper to several fat packets that cover entire units of study. These should live in the desk at school unless they're explicitly coming home so your child can study for a test.

A home for papers that need to be dealt with (homework, need signatures). For younger children, these are the papers that go in the "take home" pocket of a two-pocket folder. If for older students have demonstrated success with this system in years past, there's no need to come up with something new. If pocket folders don't work, try file folders, top-loading "backpack" folders, or an accordion file divided either by subject or by whether the paper stays home or goes back to school. Whatever you child chooses, it should be big enough to hold a stack of papers, but not so big that a single sheet of paper gets swallowed up, and it should be durable, as it will spend a lot of time traveling back and forth between home and school in your child's backpack. Many teachers have a required system for this, so before your child gets too excited, make sure his or her system will be acceptable to the teacher.

A container to hold pencils, erasers and all the other little things that invariably end up in the desk. Possibilities here will vary widely based on your child's age, taste and styles, along with the teachers' requirements; some teachers specify not only the case, but what must go inside as well.Younger kids tend to gravitate to pencil boxes (and a pencil box may even be on the required supply list) or fancy pencil pouches. Size is the key feature here; what must be kept inside? Is more than one container allowed? Are kids allowed to keep a small basket of supplies on their desks, rather than hiding them away inside?

Older kids who travel between classrooms often like flat pencil holders designed to fit inside three-ring binders. They're typically carrying fewer supplies than younger kids and portability is more important than capacity.

Regardless of your child's age, make sure to take attributes like size, visibility (clear containers help I know I put it somewhere and I need to see it kids remember what's where), ease of use and durability. Again, this container will get a workout.

Finally, as you're making your purchases, consider how the three key container attributes (form, function and style) of the chosen supply interact with your child's personal and organizational styles. The closer the fit (and the more excited your child is about using the item), the more likely it will be used beyond the first month of school.

One last suggestion: If your child's school doesn't supply some sort of planner or assignment notebook, that should be at the top of your list as well. Your child may choose to integrate it into his or her home for papers that need to be dealt with, or carry it separately, depending up the tool he or she decides on for the papers that travel between home and school. When schools provide online assignments, many kids need a hard copy back up as well; actually transferring the assignment from the computer screen onto the page serves as a memory tool for some kids.

It's possible to spend endless hours (and nearly endless dollars) in the school supply section. As always, start with successes (what worked last year? what didn't?) and build from there, to make sure this school year starts and ends with STYLE.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Supplies with STYLE

It's that time again. Back-to-school supply lists nudge us into acknowledging the end of summer and the beginning of a new school year. I'm in no such hurry, but I wanted to share some back-to-school posts before the time crunch hits at your house and serious shopping can no longer be put off.

The folks at have been kind enough to create a link to all of my Back to School with STYLE posts over there. In addition, I wanted to share a post from last August on ways to adapt traditional school supplies for non-traditionally organized kids. While our purchases are often bound by lists that specify requirements down to the number of pencils in the pack, it's possible, with a little ingenuity, to follow the rules and still organize by STYLE. Involving your kids in the process is key; the more they like it, the more likely they are to use it.

Stuck? Let's brainstorm! Post your question or concern in the comments below. You just might help someone else who's wondering the same thing.