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.