Thursday, October 19, 2017

3 Keys Thursday: 3 Keys to Making the Seasonal Switchover

Dodgerton Skillhause via Morguefil
Yesterday, I wrote about putting away warm weather clothes and changing my wardrobe over to fall. One of the advantages of doing this slowly is that it's less overwhelming, allowing me to give consideration to each item instead of just moving piles from Point A to Point B.

As you pull out one season and put away another, here are three things to consider.
  • Weed if you can. Take time to consider the usefulness and desirability of what you're moving. Is everything you're putting away now something you'll wear next spring? Is everything you're taking out a match for your current fashion sense?
  • Check out your system. Nothing is a better test of the limits of your organizational system than the seasonal changeover. Regretting your great idea to store sweaters in the dark recesses of your closet? Discovering an entire shelf laden with things you can't remember when you wore last? Now's the time to consider what might work better.
  • Use style-friendly containers for ease of retrieval. If you're like me, you'll end up looking for random items between seasons, so the easier it is to figure out what's in each container, the less of a mess you'll make in the process. Do you like see-through containers? Labeled boxes? Both of these work well for I need to see it and I know I put it somewhere styles, while cram and jammers might prefer fabric bins that expand and "create" space. Use what you know works for you so that things end up where they belong instead of in limbo. 
Who knows? Maybe you'll uncover some gaps in your wardrobe that require a shopping trip. And when you get all your new things home, you'll know just where to put them.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Changing Seasons

Fall has been unseasonably warm here in Pennsylvania and it's wreaking havoc with my clothing organization. Though it's often October before I complete the seasonal switchover (there's nothing worse than switching everything around only to hit a stretch of warm weather where I end up dragging out the things I just put away), I've usually made more progress by now, at least in one aspect of the changeover. But everything from shoes to clothes to pajamas is a bit of a mishmash. And, with 70 degree temperatures still in the forecast, putting things away too soon might still mean dragging them out again a few days later.

So, I need a stopgap measure. This morning, as I rooted in my closet for actual shoes (instead of sandals), for the second day in a row, it occurred to me that I could approach this just a little bit at a time (one of my favorite methods, as you probably know by now). By using the one in/one out principle I apply to new purchases (buy something new/get rid of something old), I can transform my closets and drawers at to match the (snail's) pace of the change of seasons.

So, for each pair of shoes I take out, I'll put one (or more) pairs of sandals away. Even if the warmer temperatures stick around, there are some sandals (strappy, bare, white) I know I'm finished with until summer.

This plan has an additional benefit as well. It allows me to let go of my beloved sandals one pair at a time.

Hey. It's a start.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

3 Keys...Tuesday?

Dodgerton Skillhause via Morguefile
Hi everyone! Between midterm grades and life in general, last week just got away from me. Since I had a post planned already, I didn't want to retrospect, I should have done just that!

So, since I have a couple of days off this week, I thought I'd get caught up and share the post I planned for last Thursday. It synchs rather nicely with my post from last Wednesday, even if I did take "Starting Slowly" to a bit of an extreme!

As an adjunct, I share an office, so I can't exactly take over with all of the stuff that I think is essential. In addition, I do much of my planning at home, so I need all of that stuff at my fingertips there. Here are three tools I use to make sure I have what I need where and when I need it, at least most of the time.

A rolling bin. I ordered three of these from The Container Store years ago, and all have been pressed into various forms of service over the years in multiple small spaces. The bin at right began in my office at school before I retired, and was one of my first style-specific (I need to see it/drop and run) purchases. Now it lives under my desk in my tiny home office where it holds course materials. My daughter has a white one just like it under her desk in her dorm room.

Photo: ThirtyOne Gifts

A pre-packed bag. Okay, so this isn't entirely true. I'm still in search of the perfect bag, but I make sure the stuff I need every day I'm on campus is safely stashed in a soft organizer I can swap from bag to bag each day. Not only does it keep me prepared, it saves me a lot of time each morning getting ready because I don't have to worry about whether or not I have everything I need.

Tools that have proven useful in the past. If you've read it here once, you're read it a thousand times (okay, maybe not quite a thousand): organizing is a process. When, within that process, we discover things that work, they form the foundation of our entire system. I have a system of folders (color-coded by class) that I use every semester in exactly the same way. I also swear by my steno book and planner to keep tasks and ideas organized and all in one place.

Every semester, I tweak my systems, but the amount of tweaking I need from one semester to the next decreases dramatically every time I upgrade my system with a new tool or routine that works. Finding these style-specific tools and routines helps to create the systems that not only keep us organized, but also are easy to maintain.

See you tomorrow.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Starting Slowly

At the beginning of every semester, it always takes me a little while to get into a routine. New classes, new ideas, a different schedule every day. Before I know it, my I need to see it personal style has run rampant, leaving piles in its wake.

This semester, even though my styles haven't changed, a few things are working to my advantage. I'm not teaching any of my classes for the first time, so there's a lot less reinventing of the wheel, which helps to keep things a bit tidier. I start at the same time every day, which allows me to settle into a routine that feels a little more predictable. And, with each semester that I teach, I have the opportunity to further refine my system so it works to my advantage.

While I can't say I'm living a pile-free existence, most of my stacks are confined to logical homes like folders and a file sorter, at least most of the time. Some changes in our home furnishings have also led to other, less obtrusive, temporary homes for papers that I leave out because they need a quick turnaround time. Translation: my living room furniture is free from piles of papers, at least most of the time.

It used to frustrate me that it takes so long for me to settle into a new routine each semester but, over time, I've accepted it as an occupational hazard. As I've said here so often before, organizing is a process. What I've come to realize is that, inherent in the concept of a process is the element of time. Put simply, processes take time -- they can't be rushed.

The irony, though, is that the less I worry about it, the more easily things fall into place. Perhaps I'm re-directing my energy from worrying to strategizing, or maybe, just maybe, the process is working.

Only time will tell.

Friday, October 6, 2017

Friday Feature: Talking to Myself

Do you talk to yourself? As it turns out, that might not be a bad thing. Founder and CEO of WordSmithRapport Karima Mariama-Arthur cites self-talk as one of the "5 Things You Need for a Successful Mindset."

Not just any self-talk, though. Mariama-Arthur echoes the sentiments of therapists everywhere when she encourages readers to make that self-talk positive, as its accumulation contributes to our sense of who we are. The conversations we have with ourselves -- internally and externally -- lay the foundation for so much more than day-to-day decisions; they can set us on the path to achieving the things that matter.

What will you tell yourself today?

Thursday, October 5, 2017

3 Keys Thursday: 3 Keys to Easy Upkeep

Dodgerton Skillhause via Morguefile
Yesterday, I concluded my letter-by-letter interpretation of STYLE with some thoughts about Easy Upkeep. Today, I'd like to share three key components of organizational plans that lend themselves to Easy Upkeep.

They're individualized. Everything from the containers to the categories to the locations works for you. No binders if you prefer accordion folders, and nary a file cabinet in sight if to you, out of sight means out of mind. Systems that work are built on the personal and organizational styles of the person who owns them.

They're simple. Every storage solution requires as few steps as possible. No lids for drop and run folks, no compartments for cram and jammers and no monochromatic storage systems for the I know I put it somewhere person to tear apart trying to figure out which red box the ink cartridges are in.

They're attractive. Beauty isn't everything but, very often, organizational systems that are attractive function better. Sure, they need to be practical and easy to maintain, but when they look good to begin with, we're more likely to be motivated to keep them looking that way.

Don't be discouraged if Easy Upkeep only makes an appearance in certain areas at first. Once you get the knack of Organizing by STYLE, the upkeep only gets easier.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Easy Upkeep

Today's post is the final post in a series 
on using the STYLE process 
to take your organizing to the next level. 

Easy Upkeep is, at its heart, the simplest of the steps. If you've put a system in place -- one that honors your styles -- the upkeep is, indeed, easy.

Notice, though, that the "E" stands for "easy," not effortless. Even when all systems are go, so to speak, striving for ease of upkeep sometimes exposes the flaws in the systems. In other words, if the upkeep isn't so easy, that's a sign that you should, perhaps, go back a few steps.
  • Start with successes: Have you set yourself up for success, letting your styles be your guide for locations, containers and systems?
  • Take small steps: Have you given a small container a big job? Started an enormous project only to run out of time before finishing?
  • Yes, it has a home. Do the locations for your things make sense, or are they too small, too scarce or out of reach?
  • Let it go. Is an area overpopulated? Do you need to do some strategic sorting to make it work?
Once all of these pieces are in place (your styles are in charge, your containers reflect both your styles and the task to which they were assigned, your locations are logical and your piles reduced), upkeep can, indeed be easy. If any of these remains problematic, go back and take another look, asking one very simple question:

How can I make this easier?

Sometimes, in our enthusiasm for newer and better, we make things too complicated. If your upkeep isn't so easy, assess the location in question with an eye toward simplifying.

One final caveat: Easy upkeep doesn't mean things will be perfect all of the time. What it does mean is that you have a system in place that works for you and when things begin to feel disorganized, you know what to do to set them right.

And that can make things feel easy indeed.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

3 Keys Thursday: 3 Keys for Jump Starting the Let it Go Process

Dodgerton Skillhause via Morguefile
Yesterday, I wrote about Let it Go! No, not the song from Frozen, but rather the necessity of reducing the amount of stuff we have in an effort to keep things organized and efficient.

Unfortunately, this is often easier said than done. Here are a few keys to kick starting the process.

Start at the bottom. I wish I could take credit for this idea, but the truth is I heard it long ago on HGTV and have been using it ever since. With clothing and paper in particular, the oldest items are usually on the bottom of the pile. Outdated and forgotten, they're relatively easy to get rid of. Consequently, they can prime the pump. Once we've tossed a few things, the whole Let it Go! process just feels easier.

Pick a season. Although I mean to go through all of my Christmas stuff in the off-season and my school files over the summer, what usually happens is that the need for these items (or new versions of them) is what finally motivates me to attack the piles. As with strategy #1, tackling old stuff can be just what I need to stop procrastinating and start de-cluttering, especially if it means making way for new and improved versions.

Don't try to do it all at once. Nothing makes me procrastinate faster than feeling overwhelmed. Promise yourself you'll eliminate one pile or work for half an hour, and then walk away, secure in the knowledge that you've made progress. Maybe even play "Beat the Clock," setting a timer and seeing how many items you can toss or put away before the timer goes off.

When Let it Go! feels too challenging, it's easy to procrastinate, which is sad because we miss out on the benefits a good de-cluttering session can provide. At its best, Let it Go! can help us feel lighter as we eliminate the old to make room for the new, or to free up the most beautiful of all organizational sights -- clear space. If letting things go is hard for you, be patient with yourself as you tackle this task a little at a time.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Let it Go!

For many of us getting organized and getting rid of excess stuff go hand in hand. But if you've got an I love stuff personal style, that second part can be a little bit intimidating. So many things that seem insignificant to other people are wrapped in a cocoon of memories for I love stuff folks.

Even those of us who wouldn't put ourselves into the I love stuff category can become overwhelmed sorting through things and figuring out what to do with them. All of the things we've collected were, at some point, important to us, serving a useful purpose or imbued with some meaning. This, coupled with the fact that we might have scrimped and saved for (or spent months paying off) the items in question can lend an exaggerated value to our things, convincing us that our trash is someone else's treasure.

It usually isn't.

And therein lies the painful part. Sometimes, we simply have to put them out with the trash.

I must admit to cringing at this option, arguing that surely someone, somewhere can use this! Convinced of this fact, some of us spend hours pricing things and sitting out in the sun (we hope) at a yard sale, hoping to recoup some of our investment. I used to belong to this group, but after the money earned at the last very hot, very long yard sale I hosted disappeared in about a tenth of the time it took to earn it, I crossed this option off my list. 

If you, like me, long to reduce, declutter and recycle but don't want to go the yard sale route, you might benefit from setting some boundaries. First, corral three boxes and separate your disposables into categories: trash (if I'm brutally honest with myself, no one else will want this stuff), recycle and resell/donate.

At the end of the sorting session, take out the trash and recycling. Then, set a decision date for the resell/donate items, based on how long you think it will take to find a place that might be interested in them. Write that date on the box and on your calendar.

When you figure out where you're taking the things in that pile, write the drop-off date in your planner and put the items in the car. If the deadline comes and goes and the items are still in your car, they become trash.

Can you cut yourself some slack, donating the items a week after deadline? That's entirely up to you. But, if you're serious about letting things go, that means letting them go completely, not simply moving them from the basement to the mudroom to the car, where they take up an indefinite period of residence. (Not that I've ever done that).

Let it go! is probably the toughest part of the STYLE process but, without it, we quickly overrun our living space, making organizing far more complicated than it needs to be. Luckily, unless you're relocating, letting it go is not something that has to be done all at once; in fact, it's often most productive when done in stages.

Look around. What can you let go of?

Thursday, September 21, 2017

3 Keys Thursday: 3 Keys to Maintaining Homes When Time is Tight

Dodgerton Skillhause via Morguefile
It never fails. When I get busy or overwhelmed -- or both -- my personal and organizational styles gang up on me.

And an unfettered drop and run/I need to see it style is not pretty.

If I've been good at following my own advice (which sometimes happens), the things I've dropped and run from all have homes.

The trick is to get things back where they belong, which manages both our stuff and our stress. When time is at a premium, here are a few ways to restore order.

  • Count 'em up. Set a goal of a certain number of items to pick up and put away within a given time period. Whether it's starting the day with a goal of returning a certain number of items to their homes before bedtime or a game of beat the clock when you have only ten minutes at your disposal, any dent in the growing piles is a positive step. When things have homes, even small stretches of time can yield big payoffs. 
  • Tackle a hot spot. Every house has them -- the places that seem to attract piles. Sort the piles by room in the house and move each stack of misplaced merchandise to the room where it belongs. Let the family member who "owns" the room take it from there.
  • Assess the logic and quality of the homes you've assigned. If your efforts to put things where they belong is hampered by the fact that their homes are inaccessible (or perhaps nonexistent), it's time to rethink their locations. Finding them a home that works might mean they'll stop turning up like bad pennies.
In an ideal world, we always have time to return things to their homes, which are logical and conveniently located. In the real world, things pile up and we sometimes run out of space. Being patient, flexible and keeping on top of things, even if only a little at a time, helps keep things manageable.

Even when we're busy or overwhelmed. Or both.

Yes, it Has a Home!

By now you know that a positive outlook and confidence in your own abilities (Start with Successes) are necessary ingredients as you develop a plan based on your personal and organizational styles. And if you Take Small Steps,  using simple strategies like Give it Five! and Don’t put it down, put it away! you'll see steady progress and avoid feeling overwhelmed.

Which brings us to YYes, it Has a Home.  

home is, quite simply, where something “lives.” While containers are key to establishing homes for our stuff, they're only half the equation. In order to establish working organizational systems, we need to create logical homes for our things. A logical home is one that:
  • is close to where the item is most often used;
  • is the right size for the item;
  • takes into account how often the item needs to be accessed.
Makes sense, right? But when we're in a hurry, we often forget these guidelines. Instead, we put things wherever there's room, wherever we happen to be or just...wherever. 

Ready to break the "wherever" habit? Here are a few more ideas to get you started.
  • Store things that are used every day in places that are easy to access. 
  • Choose a storage solution (container and location) that makes it as easy to put things away as it is to put them down. 
  • Store things where you use them...or drop them...or naturally put them. 
  • Store similar items together, and consider storing complementary items (things that go together or are used together) near each other as well. 
Finally, let your styles be your guide by choosing homes that work with your natural habits. Already have a go-to drop spot? Make it a permanent home for the items that live there.

Happy habit-making!

Thursday, September 14, 2017

3 Keys Thursday: 3 Small Steps with a Big Payoff

Yesterday, I focused on the T in STYLE: Take small steps. Today, I thought I'd revisit a few small steps that help to ensure my days go a little more smoothly.  
  • Pack my lunch the night before. The contents of the kitchen won't change between dinner one night and mid-morning the next day. Packing my lunch, stashing it in the fridge and leaving myself a bright, visual reminder to retrieve it (fuchsia sticky note, anyone?) will save me precious get-out-of-the-house time. And, since I'm an I need to see it person, my favorite place to leave the sticky note is on the door I have to walk through when I leave the house.
  • Lay out my piles. This is something I'd do the night before if I lived alone. But, since other members of my family tend to object to my taking up the sofa or dining room table with my class-by-class files, I wait until morning to do this. Now that I have some clear space on the counter in my office, perhaps I can do it the night before.
My I need to see it personal style in action.
  • Check my calendar.  During the semester, my schedule has a pretty predictable rhythm, but there are always those days when extra appointments or meetings sneak in. Ideally, I've done a review of the week ahead sometime between Friday and Sunday night, but a quick peek at the calendar the night before is always a good idea as well. In addition to refreshing my memory for places I need to be and people I need to see, it gives me the opportunity to pencil items from my to-do list into my schedule. 
What small steps do you swear by to make days run more smoothly?

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Take Small Steps

Today's post is the second in a series on using the STYLE process to take your organizing to the next level. Last week, we focused on the "S": Start with successes. This week, we're moving on to "T": Take small steps.

My desk -- or the clearing off thereof -- has been on my list for several days. Unfortunately, it's merely annoying and not time sensitive, so it keeps getting bumped to the bottom of the list by tasks that have actual due dates. Meanwhile, I do what I can as I work -- filing this paper, recycling that one -- until I have time to dedicate to giving the surface my full attention.

We all know that getting organized is a time-intensive task. It's easy to forget, however, that staying organized also requires a time commitment. It's easier (and faster) to just put something down on a flat surface (the desk, the kitchen counter, the dining room table) than it is to put it where it belongs, but the time we save in the moment isn't really saved time. We spend that banked time when it comes time to put away the things we set down in a convenient spot.

We can take small steps in lots of ways. We can spend just a few minutes tackling a hot spot (Give it Five!) or work to improve our habits (Don't put it down, put it away!) We can set small goals, tackling one spot, one drawer or one shelf at a time until the whole area looks just the way we want it.  Or, we can pick up as we go, concentrating on making things just a little bit better. We can focus on finding one container that does double duty by creating a home for wayward items and looking pretty in the process. We can work on broadening the good habits we already have in place, taking all the out-of-season items out of a closet or finally getting that bag of donations out of the trunk of the car and to its destination.

No matter which steps we take, it's important to notice the improvements we make. Taking small steps can get us to our destination, but only if we recognize that we're on the right path.

What small step did you take today? Acknowledge it, congratulate yourself and pay attention not only to where you're going, but also where you've been. 

Thursday, September 7, 2017

3 Keys Thursday: 3 Ways to Set Up for Success

Dodgerton Skillhause via Morguefile
In yesterday's post, I wrote about focusing on successes. As I type this post (about twelve hours later than usual), it would be very easy for me to focus on the lateness of the post and to therefore go down the rabbit hole of self-blame. If instead, I choose to focus on the fact that this post is getting written despite the fact I had a very busy day, I'm starting with success. This simple change in thinking (combined with the fact that I don't want to let down readers who know which days new posts appear) motivates me to write the post instead of just giving up and watching reruns of The Big Bang Theory.

Keeping ourselves motivated about organizing often works in a similar fashion. It's so easy to focus on what's not working -- the piles, the clutter, the desk that never seems to stay cleared off for more than fifteen minutes. If instead, we choose to seek out what's working and build from there, we stop the blame game in its tracks. Often, this is the first step to creating a system that works.

Starting with success gives us a chance to celebrate the things we do well, and to use them as a means of developing the confidence we need to work through the process of getting -- and staying -- organized. Here are three ways to start with success.

Celebrate good habits and build on them. Do you make your bed every day? Hang up your coat when you come into the house? Hang your purse in the same spot every time? Toss the junk mail immediately upon bringing it into the house? Good habits form the foundation of our organizational successes. Adding one more step to an existing habit (ditching the junk mail and then sorting the rest of the mail immediately, for example) extends the habit and takes you one step closer to that elusive feeling of organizational success.

Keep the tools that work, scratch the tools that don't. Yes, that file cabinet in your office is a great organizational tool, but if you stack papers on top of it instead of filing them inside, it's not a good tool for you. One size does not fit all. Look around at what's working, and keep it -- better yet, replicate it in other places. Then, get rid of all the other "good stuff" that doesn't work for you (or a family member) and toss out the guilt along with it. Creating style-specific systems allows you to let go of energy-sucking guilt along with the stuff that doesn't work.

mohamed1982eg via Pixabay

Focus on what you've done, and let go of what you haven't. Have you ever gotten to the end of the day and spent what was left of your energy beating yourself up for what you didn't do? Clearly, that sounds silly when we say it out loud, but I'd bet my next paycheck that many of us have done exactly that. If instead, we pause to reflect on what we have accomplished, not only does it feel better, but it can also energize us at a time when we need it most. If the things that remained undone are important, add them to the next day's list, but don't waste energy feeling guilty. If necessary, create a backwards to do list to lay alongside the list of things that remain to be done, and then move forward and enjoy some well-deserved relaxation.

Getting organized is a process -- one that is sometimes a one step forward, two steps backward dance. If we use success as our foundation, we can have a lot more fun at the dance.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Start with Successes

Susannp4 via Pixabay
Today's post is the first in a series on using the STYLE process to take your organizing to the next level. 

My home is by no means an organizational showplace. When I say I'm an organizational work in progress, I'm not kidding. I no sooner get one area under control than another demands my attention. And, when I'm tired and overwhelmed, it's easy to revert to the worst aspects of my I need to see it personal style and drop and run organizational style, which invariably leads to clutter quickly replacing clear spaces.

It's a process.

But every day, I make my bed. When I read in one of Marcia Ramsland's books that making the bed instantly tidies better than half of the room, I decided that the two to three minutes I'd spend pulling up the covers and tucking them into place yielded perhaps the best effort-to-value ratio of any organizational task I faced.

When I stop looking for perfection (the things I do every single time and/or every day) and focus on tasks I perform habitually (most of the time), it's easy to spot organizational successes. The counter in the kitchen where we used to dump our mail improved tremendously once I found a style-based solution to the influx. Assigning homes to the things I most typically drop when I'm in a hurry served to clear up not only floor space and counter space, but also to allow us to use furniture like sofas and chairs for their intended purpose: sitting. Using a visual system (labels, color-coding, patterned file folders) for paperwork eliminated the "guess what's in this manila file folder" game.

These successes matter. They remind us that we know what we're doing, no matter how lived in or imperfect our homes and organizational systems may be some days. When we focus more on what's working than what isn't, not only do we feel better, but we learn what to replicate other areas, and what to strive for to make our hot spots into neat spots.

The first step in getting organized by STYLE is to determine the styles that define you. In addition to taking the styles quiz, one way to do this is to see what works for you -- to identify your successes. Doing this will help refine your styles and determine the strategies that take you from frustration to organization.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

3 Keys Thursday: 3 Cool Tools for Back to School

Dodgerton Skillhause via Morguefile
It's after 6:30 in the evening and it's cloudy on the patio where I am finally sitting down to write a post that's usually posted by now. Earlier this afternoon, I sat down on the sofa to take a quick break before writing this post.

The next thing I knew, it was 5:00.

When I checked in with my laptop to get started (better late than never), I was greeted with the sad, gray screen that comes from being used for back-to-back classes then left in a school bag while its owner takes a nap.

First week of school. Predictable as ever.

Luckily, there are organizing tools that predict success even when their owners are snoozing on the sofa. Unlike laptops that have to be charged, low-tech tools that fit our styles help us to stay organized enough to find what we need when we need it.

Here are a few of my favorites.

Standard issue: A pocket folder. I've been using the same purple plastic pocket folder every semester for as long as I can remember. It's a report folder, actually, with prongs at the center so I can put the papers I reference throughout the semester in one safe place. The front pocket holds the syllabus, rosters and memos for one class and the back pocket holds the same information for another. When I teach three classes, I tuck a patterned file folder (leopard print this semester) with the same information for that class into the center. I'm not usually a pocket folder sort of girl, but since the same papers - nothing more, nothing less - go into it every semester, it serves as my on-the-go reference folder. Sheer repetition and defined locations have made this an essential tool that works for me, despite the fact that I usually ditch pocket folders for other paper-wrangling tools.

Three-ring circus: Ditching the binder. I use three-ring binders only rarely, preferring their more casual cousin, the accordion folder. At the beginning of the semester in particular, I swear by an accordion file with built-in handles instead of the usual Velcro or loop/tie closure. On the way to class, it's loaded with handouts, separated neatly into sections and on the way home, it's either filled with completed assignments or, some days, blissfully empty. By not loading all of this into my school bag, I can distribute the weight between my bag and the portable file, saving my shoulders from the saggy, aching sensation that follows a day of lugging supplies from place to place.

Rule breaker: Multiple planners. I'm not primarily an I love stuff person, but I have a weakness for planners. My personal planner lives in my purse and holds all the family and non-work appointments, most of which are duplicated on the family calendar in the kitchen. My larger school planner serves as a place to both plan and record my course information and the semester schedule. My chunky, lined, 6 x 9 calendar lives on my desk, providing a one-day-at-a-time approach to lists and appointments; this is the place where home and school converge. I'll be the first to admit that this is probably an inefficient system but, the fact is, it works for me. I am a paper-and-pencil girl through and through, and keeping separate planners means reducing visual clutter; everything is organized either by home/work or day of the week. Yes, I sometimes end up writing the same thing in different places, but that repetition works in my favor, reducing the likelihood that I'll forget something important.

One of the reasons these tools work for me is because I know what goes in or on each of them. By using the same tools in the same way over time, we develop systems and habits that make it easy to stay organized.

And, if we're really lucky, we might save enough time to sneak in a nap.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Simple Strategies that Make Things Better

geralt via Pixabay
A new semester has started and my drop and run organizational style is in full bloom. I'm trying to keep after it, but my I need to see it personal style insists that course materials stay visible, at least until I've gotten into a routine and am less likely to leave the house without the essentials.

Changing seasons and busy times have a way of bringing our default styles to the surface. To make things worse, these two things often collide, overwhelming both us and our organizational systems. Sometimes, this is a sign that we need to update our systems; other times, it just a short-term problem easily solved by the passage of time.

Meanwhile, short-term strategies can come to our rescue. I'm a big fan of Give it Five! -- which is just what it sounds like. To Give it Five! all I need to do is allocate five uninterrupted minutes to improving one space that looks as overwhelmed as I feel. Some days, when the to-do list is long, this five minutes actually serves as a nice break between tasks, and leaving an area better than I found it is always motivating.

Give it Five! is a reactive strategy, however -- one that fixes something that's already a problem. To be proactive, I need to avoid creating hot spots in the first place. One way of doing this is using Give it Five's companion strategy, Don't put it down, put it away! As a recovering drop and run organizer, I sometimes have difficulty with this, but when I remember to do it, I create a lot less clutter in the first place. Pairing this strategy with Give it Five! can be particularly useful for those of us whose default styles make spotless surfaces simultaneously desirable and difficult.

Still trying to decide which styles best describe you? Click here to take the styles quiz. Have a few great short-term strategies of your own? Share them in the comments below!

Thursday, August 24, 2017

3 Keys Thursday: 3 (+1) Keys for Sending Them off to College

Dodgerton Skillhause via MorguefileWhen 
I've spent this past week at my daughter's disposal as she prepares for her sophomore year of college. As they did last year, shopping lists replaced my to-do list nearly every day, leading me to re-visit my posts  from last summer about packing her up and moving her out.

This year, though, I'm approaching the trip to dormville with some experience under my belt. What follows is my advice from last year's move-in, updated with this is year's knowledge, experience and perhaps a bit more laissez faire than was good for either of us.

Last year's advice: Make a list--early. This year? That was the plan, but my daughter was much more relaxed (admittedly, so was I) and so the lists didn't materialize until much later than I would have liked. Last year, the comprehensive list of all the things (and then some) my daughter might need for school (one I found online) was a wonderful starting point. I started chipping away at it right after graduation, picking up extras of toiletries on each trip to Target so we didn't have to do a massive shopping spree the week before she left. This year, a combination of knowledge (knowing what stores were near campus), experience ("Mom, I don't really need that") and leftovers made the process simpler. Our lists were much shorter, allowing us to finish on time, despite a much later start.

Last year's reminder: You will forget things. This year? Still true. We had a list of three things I needed to send her (in addition to the list of things to buy once we got her back to school) before we even got to campus. 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. If you're putting your child in charge, s/he 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?

Last year's advice: Be flexible. This year? If you haven't already accepted this as the cardinal rule of parenting, now might be a good time to do so. Make lists and make plans, but expect them to change. In addition, be prepared to be flexible about who's in charge and when your child is leading the way, resist the urge to micromanage. 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. 

Last year's advice: Make your relationship with your child the most important thing. This year? Okay, maybe this is the cardinal rule of parenting. Long after these preparations are complete and your child is launched, he or she will remember how you handled these days -- and so will you. Some of my best days with my daughter were the crunch-time shopping trips we did just before she headed back to school. Cherish this time, even if off-to-school nerves bring out your child's more challenging side. Soon enough, the house will be too quiet, and then, before you know it, all the stuff you just took to campus will be back in your basement for another summer.
4Me2Design via Pixabay

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

And She's Off!

It's that time of year again. The house is a cluttered mess as we empty out my daughter's room and bring all the things that have been stored in the basement for the summer upstairs so we can jam them into the car. In a few days, when we return home, everything will look much too empty. The odds and ends I've been grumbling about all summer because they seem to be everywhere will have disappeared.

We're getting ready to take my daughter back to school.

Fortunately, the organizing habits my daughter and I have developed when it comes to packing transfer here as well. Though I'm not as good at traveling light as she is, I've definitely learned how to streamline the packing process.

Since we're not doing this for the first time, we can replicate what worked last year (using garbage bags to transport hanging clothes, for example). In addition, much of the stuff that came home in May is still packed which, theoretically, gives us a head start. 

Here are a few of the other strategies that we hope will see us through:

Pack inside the stuff that's going to live at school. Now that we know what stores and resources are in her neck of the woods, we know what we need to bring from home and what we can buy once we arrive. Since storage is at a premium in this year's room, we did purchase one drawer unit, which is stuffed with the clothing it will house once she gets to school. I'm a big fan of anything that does double-duty -- packing containers now, storage later--so anything purchased before we leave has to be cheap, efficient, perfect for the space or, better yet, all three.

Keep similar items together and label liberally. This is one of those at-home rules that applies to travel, too. Move-in day is chaotic and, though this year will probably be a less emotional endeavor than last year when she was a freshman, I suspect the move-in process will still feel very scattered. Any simple step that reduces the chaos is a good one. Packing things by category and labeling containers makes turning a dorm room into a home faster and easier. And, these strategies eliminate the need to deal with with multiple mystery packages.

Keep it flexible. Smooshy stuff compresses more easily than plastic bins. Duffel bags and totes stand out in a sea of bins and garbage bags bursting with clothing. A collection of smaller bags can be tucked into nooks and crannies too tiny for a foot locker or trunk. Under circumstances like these where every inch of space matters, assess your packing space and choose your containers accordingly.

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

Thursday, August 17, 2017

3 Keys Thursday: 3 Keys for Injecting Style into Your Organizational Process

Dodgerton Skillhause via Morguefile
When it comes to organizing, there's STYLE, and then there's style. The first one is a process, one that takes personal styles (I need to see it, I love stuff and I love to be busy) and organizational styles (cram and jam, drop and run, I know I put it somewhere) into account. The second refers to a certain flair, one that takes organizing from mundane to interesting and fun.

In yesterday's post, I touted the importance of the second kind of style -- the one whose partners are form and function.

Wondering how to bring a little flair to your organizational process, while still keeping it functional? Here are a few ideas.

  • Add a pop of color, a coordinating pattern or a hint of texture. Color, pattern and texture are functional staples for those with an I need to see it personal style and they can be used to brighten up a space as well. Just as a throw pillow adds life to a neutral sofa, a bright or patterned container can be more than just a place to keep things. The addition of colorful, patterned or textured containers to a space can also be helpful for those with the I know I put it somewhere organizational style, providing them with a visual reminder of which somewhere serves as storage for which things.
  • Keep it neutral. Color is great, but sometimes we want our storage to blend into its surroundings. Perhaps the colors in the space are loud enough, the patterns busy enough or the texture a key feature in the furnishings. In these cases, choosing organizers that blend may be a more stylish option. If monochromatic and neutral don't work for your personal and/or organizational styles, look for other ways to distinguish what goes where. Labels (a visual reminder of what's inside the container) and location (keeping all similar items in a set of containers that go together and are stored together) can be helpful for folks with an I need to see it personal style or an I know I put it somewhere organizational style, and these same strategies play right into the strengths of those with a cram and jam or drop and run organizational style. No matter the style, minimizing the number of steps involved is key to the success of the organizational system.
  • Make it unique. One-of-a-kind containers are not only great additions to a room, but also great visual reminders. A strong argument against the idea that storage has to be utilitarian, their visual appeal contributes to one form of style, while their visibility is a key element in organizing by STYLE. Unique, distinct or unusual boxes, baskets and bins can dress up the concepts of open storage, one-step storage and visual attention-grabbing that underlie the organizational styles and look good doing it.
If you keep these concepts in mind when setting up or revamping your organizational systems, there will never be a need for one kind of STYLE to run roughshod over the other. 

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Welcoming Style

Photo: Pexels via Pixabay
Lately, I have been loving my office. It all started when the white lights I'd had for a couple of years breathed their last, and I had to replace them. The string of new lights was long enough to allow a new configuration, one that added more light to the room, brightening up the small space. Soon after, I found myself spending more time in my tiny office. Nothing had changed but the lights, and yet the room felt more warm and welcoming. 

The same is often true with a new organizing tool. One small change can start a domino effect. Suddenly, not only is there an improvement in the look of the space, there's an improvement in how the space feels as well. We become excited about the possibilities again and, instead of avoiding a space that was once in need of an upgrade, we feel motivated to expand outward, bringing improvements to other areas as well. 

While it's important for our organizational tools to function well, the form they take and the style they embody matters as well. We're more motivated to use a tool that hits all of these three key concepts. A tool needs to be functional, fitting our styles and working with them, not against them. Its form -- the size, shape and physical attributes of the tool or container -- needs to fit into our physical space, or, in the case of something like a planner, the parameters of our life.

But often, it's the style of the tool that brings us back to it again and again. When we like the look of the container or tool, we're more likely to use it. The more we use it, the more habit-forming its use becomes and soon, we've developed a smooth, workable process that keeps us organized.
So, the next time you're tempted to dismiss a purchase as frivolous, put it through the attribute test.

Alexas Fotos via Pixab
  • Form: Will it work in your space and in your life?
  • Function: Will it fill a need and/or serve a purpose?
  • Style: Do you find it appealing?

When you find something that does all of these things, you've hit the container jackpot and you're well on your way to organizing not only by STYLE, but with style as well.

And that not only looks good, but feels good as well.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

From So-So to Spectacular

Dodgerton Skillhause via Morguefile
Yesterday's post left me with a lingering question:
What other storage habits do I need to reconsider? 
Unless you've recently moved, renovated or redecorated, you probably haven't updated your organizational set-up recently. Like the squeaky wheel, organizational systems typically get attention only when they aren't working.

Still, as my flag storage plan reminded me, we sometimes settle for "good enough" when one small change could make a big difference. And, we sometimes don't even know we're doing it.

Often, the first sign that we need to make a change is that things aren't getting retrieved or put away in a timely manner. While we often point to ourselves (or someone else in the house) as the problem, there's often a deeper issue at work. Three simple questions can be the key to turning so-so systems into storage solutions.
  • Is the system easy to use? An overly complicated storage system is sometimes as bad as none at all. When putting things away is difficult, we choose the path of least resistance, putting things down instead of away (drop and run organizers), putting them wherever there is space (I know I put it somewhere organizers) or stuffing them somewhere (cram and jammers). When we do this, we exacerbate the problem, creating a retrieval issue. Drop and run organizers must retrace their steps and dig through piles. I know I put it somewhere organizers race around frantically trying to remember which safe place they put the necessary item in and cram and jammers attempt to retrieve things from overstuffed spaces, hoping the thing they're searching for won't be crumpled, torn or broken when they find it. In the process, we waste time, frustrate ourselves and often create chaos. Often, however, it's this process that reveals the answer to the questions behind this problem: what's stopping me from using this system and how can I fix that?
  • Is it in the right place? Similarly, if we have to climb ladders, move piles or take a cupboard apart to find something we use with any degree of frequency, it's in the wrong place. While it makes sense to store things we use only occasionally in out-of-the-way locations (especially when space is an issue), the things we use more often need to be easier to access. Store it where it's used, store frequently used items in easy-to-access places and store similar items together.
  • Do I like it? Although this might not affect how well the system works, it can affect how likely we are to use it. If it's fantabulously functional (a worn accordion file with just the right number of labeled sections, for example), we might not care how it looks, especially if we tuck it away in a drawer or closet. But, if you're taking your system from so-so to spectacular, the aesthetics of containers and systems are worth considering.
In the best of all possible circumstances, a simple change in location makes a big difference, as it did for my garden flags. Other times, some shopping, sorting and re-organizing is required, but if these steps create a more efficient system, the time to put it all together is time well spent. Not only will it reduce your clutter, as sorting often does, but it will also save you time.

Best of all, you'll be too busy taking pride in your new system to have time to point the finger of blame at anyone, including yourself.

Alexas Fotos via Pixabay

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

The Saga of the Naked Flag Holder

Rehoboth Toy and Kite Company
My husband took a vacation day early last week and, as is often the case, my schedule for the day changed as well. It's not his fault. We've been married long enough that he knows to give me my space when he's home on a day that I'm not planning to use as a vacation day and I know not to expect business as usual.

Still, the very presence of someone else in the house tampers with my routine, tenuous as it is. I started out okay, making sure to post my blog, but then, before I got much further, I got sidetracked by house stuff. The shower head that wasn't working. The empty space out front where a garden flag was supposed to be. The bed linens that needed to be changed.

As is often the case, one thing led to another. In this case, it was the garden flag that led me simultaneously astray and in the right direction.

We have a spot in our garden that's too shady to sustain much plant life. Consequently, that's where the garden flag and chimes go -- one way of adding a little beauty to what might otherwise become an extension of the front lawn.

But the flag holder has been empty for months now. I notice it when I pull into the driveway, but once I come inside the house, I get sidetracked by what has to be done there.

And another day with a naked flag holder draws to a close.

For whatever reason, my husband's day off became the day I was determined to replace the flag. Doing this necessitates going into our crawlspace to pull the seasonally appropriate flag out of one of the drawers in the unit that houses seasonal decorations.

If you've been reading this blog for a while, you are probably already asking the question that didn't occur to me until that day.

Why are the flags in the crawlspace?

Um...because that's where I've always kept them?

There is a certain logic to putting the flags there, even if I'm not an I know I put it somewhere organizer. The flags are an extension of the seasonal decorations I need to get at only once a year. Therefore, they aren't stored in prime real estate.

If it weren't for the saga of the naked flag holder, I probably wouldn't have realized my tactical error.

I change these flags more than once a year.

Or at least I would if I used one of the cardinal rules of location: put it close to where it's used.

Two hours later, the flag holder bore a summer flag. The rest of its companions had a new home in a drawer in the mudroom -- right inside the door I use to enter the house from the driveway. To free up the drawer, I needed to sort through three others so I could consolidate their contents.

Tackling the drawer unit in the mudroom had not been on the day's to-do list, yet the unexpected task left me with a sense of accomplishment. I'd put like items together, tossed things that were no longer useful and put aside some things to donate. Location logic had won out over habit, and I'd emerged victorious, setting up new a system that would work much better than the old one.

It was an organizational victory worth savoring, yet I was dogged by one nagging thought.

What other storage habits do I need to reconsider?

A question for another day.