Thursday, June 22, 2017

3 Key Concepts for the I Need to See it Personal Style

Dodgerton Skillhause via Morguefile

For the past two weeks, I've been focusing my Thursday posts on the personal styles. Last week, I zoomed in on the I love stuff personal style, and the week before, I offered strategies for those who embody the I love to be busy personal style. This week, we tackle the personal style that best describes me.

I need to see it.

  • Organizing: Make it visual. Whether clear, color-coded or quirky, containers that keep things visible and/or attract the eye are a hit with the I need to see it personal style set. Bridging the gap between visible and out of sight, out of mind, these containers help those of us who are visually motivated to create order out of chaos.
  • List-making: Tangible reminders. Those with the I need to see it style often prefer paper planning to the convenient but out-of-sight electronic variety. Paper makes it easy to subdivide and color codeThis summer, I'm trying out a notebook system with colorful tabs. This allows me to separate my lists by topic, but still keep them all in one place, as well as minimizing the pile-up of notes on my kitchen counter.
  • Goal-setting: Write them where you'll see them. As much as possible, I try to connect my goals to my calendar. While "finish writing my novel" isn't a goal I will accomplish this week, "spend an hour writing" is, and, if I put it on my calendar, it's more likely to happen. Especially if it's one of my Big 3
If you're an I need to see it person, what are the key ideas you swear by? Share in the comments below!

Need more about this style? Click here to read the original post.

Still not sure which personal style describes you? You can take this quiz to find out, but don't let that keep you from trying out any of the strategies that appeal to you!

For printable information sheets 
about containers and the styles, 
click on the CHARTS tab at the top of this page.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Almost Together

Do you have one of those rooms? One that you love but...?

My office is one of those rooms. Small (cozy) and well-equipped (mostly), it nevertheless seems to be out of order more often than in order. Because I work in not just one, but two paper intensive professions, I always have more papers than room to store them. Couple that with an I need to see it style and it's not exactly a recipe for stellar organization.

Over time and with practice, many sections of the office have been whipped into shape, but the one thing that consistently eludes me is a spot for my projects in progress. So far, I've found a succession of things that don't work. File cabinets. Binders. Electronic files. All of these ideas work against my natural style, making them a good fit for someone, but not me.

Currently, I'm looking for the perfect container. I know what I want, but space constraints are making it a challenge. I'm tempted to ditch the two-drawer file cabinet altogether and set up a brand new system, but first, I need to be convinced that there isn't a simpler way. And, I have to figure out what to do with the two-drawer file.

No matter how much we work at it, some areas of our homes seem to defy organization. Consequently, they require more persistence, often in the form of eliminating things that don't work as well as seeking out those that do. But, in the end, when we find that thing that does work, the room we love but becomes a room we simply love.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

3 Key Concepts for the I Love Stuff Personal Style

Dodgerton Skillhause via Morguefile
Ah, the poor I love stuff person. His (or her) ability to see treasure and potential where others see clutter has led to unflattering nicknames like "pack rat" and "hoarder." While it's true that those who suffer from hoarding disorder are often I love stuff folks, collecting does not reach a clinically problematic level for most I love stuff folks.

Nevertheless, most people with the I love stuff personal style tend to be emotionally attached to their things. Considering the form, function and style of each treasure can help limit the size of collections. 

    In addition: 
    • When it comes to organizing, I love stuff folks might consider limiting the number of items that serve only a decorative purpose and displaying them on a rotating basis. This doesn't mean getting rid of treasured pieces. Try tucking treasured collections away in accessible spaces and swapping the things you want to show off from time to time. If this sounds like the divide and conquer advice from last week, it is--with a twist. Where I love to be busy folks will organize by activity, I love stuff folks will do better to organize by collection and, what constitutes a "collection" varies widely from one I love stuff person to another. Some I love stuff folks will even count their storage containers among their collectibles, especially when they are unique and attractive.
    • When it comes to list-making, those with the I love stuff personal style may have a plethora of writing implements and notepads. If this sounds like you, don't despair. Again, I'm not going to ask you to get rid of anything (as long as it works). Beginning with the notepads, lay out your collection of goodies and think about how you can press them into service. You might choose to toss one notebook and one writing implement in each bag you use so that wherever you go, you have a pen (or pencil) and paper. You might put one tablet in each room of the house so that wherever you are, you have a pen (or pencil) and paper. Or, perhaps you'll assign each notepad a task: one for to-do lists, one for grocery lists, one for phone messages, one for random tasks. Once you've done this, store all of the remaining notepads in one place and put them away. If you'd like, you can also toss in the writing implements, once you know you have enough pens and pencils in the places you need them. 

    • If your goal-setting includes reducing the volume of stuff you have, remember that throwing things away isn't your only choice. Handing things down, donating them, and repurposing them allows them to continue to be useful in a new way. You might also consider the one in-one out rule. When you acquire something new, can you recycle or donate something old? Finally, consider setting an acquisitions goal that allows you to refine your collections, rather than just adding to them. What parameters do you want your new acquisitions adhere to? Beauty? Usefulness? Completing a collection? Thoughtful acquisition allows you to continue to add to your collections without being overwhelmed by them.


    If you're an I love stuff person, what key ideas do you swear by? Share in the comments below. 

    For more ideas on the I love stuff personal style, check out my original post here

    Wednesday, June 14, 2017

    Some Days are Hammock Days

    This summer has not been a typical summer. My daughter, usually at home for most of the summer, was home for just a week before heading off to her first trip abroad. Once home, she was here for a few days before taking a beach trip with friends. In addition, my mom is sick, and I am choosing to make as many trips home as possible.

    With the exception of my mom's cancer, this is all good stuff, but the unusual schedule leaves me feeling as though I'm running into roadblocks on a regular basis.

    Usually, I'm one of those people who's on both the sending and receiving end of the "don't worry, it'll get done. It always does." message, but this summer, it might not all get done.

    And that's okay. Or at least that's what I'm trying to tell myself.

    Amid all this convincing, it occurred to me yesterday that my mindset is the biggest road block of all. What if, instead of looking at summer as a blank slate on which to paint all of my projects, I looked at it as a time to slow down and recharge? I mean, a lot of people do just that, right? In an earlier post, I even wrote about making down time as intentional as work time.

    It's clear that I still need to work on this.

    Interestingly enough, it's my frequent trips that have given me an opening here. Often, there are numerous items on my list that I will not be able to accomplish by the time I need to leave for a trip, an appointment, or something else on my schedule. In those situations, as I find myself looking around wondering what to do, the question that pops into my head is quite simple.
    What one task will give you the greatest satisfaction now OR what would you most like to see already done when you return? 
    Ironically, this is a stripped down version of the mindset that feeds my Big 3 approach.

    At least I'm consistent.

    If you're like me, knowing what needs to be done and putting it into action are two different things. There are all sorts of complex ways to move from theory to action -- shortening my list, keeping one big, long list and prioritizing the items, or ditching lists entirely and spending the summer in a hammock. In reality, depending on the day, each of those could work.

    And that's exactly what I need to work on keeping in mind. Some days are short list days. Some days are long list days.

    And some days are hammock days.

    I think that might just become my motto for the summer.

    Thursday, June 8, 2017

    3 Key Concepts for the I Love to Be Busy Personal Style

    Dodgerton Skillhause via Morguefile
    Two summers ago, I wrote a series of posts dedicated to strategies that work for each of the styles. As part of this summer's goal-setting series, I've decided to revisit and update those posts, especially since summer is one of the times that many of us take advantage of the longer days to tackle projects like organizing. For each post, I'll link back to the original post first (and sometimes I'll even steal from it), then provide some insights for organizing, list-making and goal-setting.

    I'll begin with the personal styles: I need to see it, I love stuff and I love to be busy and move on to the organizational styles (drop and run, cram and jam and I know I put it somewhere).

    Up first: I love to be busy. Click here to read the original post.

    Time management is usually a strength for those with the I love to be busy personal style -- it's the thing that enables them to do so many things. Unfortunately, when time is tight, organization can be more challenging.
    • Organizing: Divide and conquer. As I said in my original post, I love to be busy folks often benefit from having separate storage for separate activities. For kids, this might mean separate bags for school, sports and music lessons; for adults this might mean leisure reading goes in one bag, each hobby has a storage space of its own and each committee or commitment has, at a minimum, its own notebook. Depending on their organizational style, the I love to be busy  among us might also like compartmentalized storage that allows them to see at a glance what's missing from any given container. Separating supplies by activity also prevents unrelated items from getting mixed together. 
    • List-making: Together, but separate. I love to be busy folks often benefit from a notebook system. This allows them to separate lists by subject, day or activity, but still keep them all in one place, minimizing the possibility that important reminders get lost or misplaced. Inexpensive pocket-sized notebooks work well for this and can be customized to meet the needs of the list-maker; simply use sticky tabs to create sections.
    • Goal-setting: Small bites. Because they're involved in so much, it's all too easy for I love to be busy folks to overdo it on the goal-setting. Even just one goal per activity can quickly create an overwhelming list. If you're an I love to be busy person, it's important to consciously limit the number and size of the goals you set. A big project or goal in one place may mean you can only set small, short-term goals in several others. Dare to dream, but make sure the reality is something you can accomplish in small steps because life is sure to intervene.
    If you're an I love to be busy person, what are the key ideas you swear by? Share in the comments below!

    For printable information sheets 
    about containers and the styles, 
    click on the CHARTS tab at the top of this page.

    Wednesday, June 7, 2017

    Tackling Rectangular Spaces

    One of my goals for this summer is getting rid of stuff we don't need and/or no longer want. Inspired in part by my daughter's relentless pursuit of clear space when she came home from college and in part by the fact that I actually like doing this stuff, it's one of those things on my to-do list that I look forward to tackling.

    In part, this means digging into drawers and closets, tasks that lend themselves well to the STYLE steps.

    • Start with successes. One look inside a drawer that's working reveals the key elements: 
      • It's lined with something pretty (wrapping paper, shelf paper, shelf liner). This is by no means an organizational necessity, but it creates a foundation that motivates me to keep things neat.
      • I can see everything without having to dig through the drawer OR it contains neatly stacked items.
      • Everything in the drawer belongs there and is something I use.
    • Take small steps. When it comes to closets, tackling just one area or setting a timer can help keep me from becoming overwhelmed. As for drawers, clearing one drawer at a time meets the small steps requirement.
    • Yes, it has a home! If a drawer or space is in good shape, it contains only things that belong there. If this isn't the case, I need to go through the drawer or area item by item. Stuff that goes back goes in one pile and everything else gets put into piles depending on where it needs to go instead (toss, donate, repair, etc.). Once the drawer is empty, it's time to make it look pretty and decide whether or not it needs to be subdivided before everything goes back in. In the case of closets, once an area has been cleared, I need to decide whether or not it needs to be subdivided before everything goes back, and, if so, which containers I need to use.
    • Let it go! Once I've created my piles, this is easy. Pick each pile up and toss it or box it up.
    • Easy upkeep. Once I'm finished, the area I worked on should meet the criteria in the first step (Start with Successes). This means I've chosen containers and locations that make it as easy to put things where they belong as it is to simply drop them somewhere else. Mission accomplished? Next drawer!
    Right now, most of the  drawers in my dining room, which have been neglected for a while, need an overhaul, but the clothes closet in my bedroom needs little attention because I tackled that two summers ago and did an update last fall. What's really exciting about this process is finding an area that needs very little attention because it's already working! 

    That's when I know I've been organizing by STYLE. 

    Thursday, June 1, 2017

    3 Keys Thursday: 3 Keys to Strategies that Work Across Styles

    Dodgerton Skillhause via Morguefile
    Yesterday, I wrote about list-making style-by-style. Although organizing works best when we approach it in a manner consistent with our personal and organizational styles, some strategies work well across the styles.

    My favorite strategies when it comes to big goals and long lists are the ones that help me focus on what I've accomplished. 

    Big 3. This is a new approach for me, relatively speaking, born out of too many goals and too little time. Each day, I jot down three things I want to accomplish before day's end. In order for this strategy to work well, the goals have to be medium-sized. If they're too big, I'll end up feeling frustrated and overwhelmed; too small and I might just miss out on that feeling of accomplishment that comes from checking them all off the list. 

    Give it 5. Have an overwhelming task? Set a timer for five minutes and tackle it. You won't finish, but you'll make a dent, and, once you get started, you just might keep going and get more done than you expected. Getting started is often the hardest part, and promising ourselves to work for just five minutes can help us clear that hurdle, 

    Backwards to-do list. Some days, we have to make a special effort to focus on our accomplishments. Those are backwards to-do list days -- days when, instead of writing down what we need to do, we write down what we've accomplished as we accomplish it. A load of laundry in the washer? Jot it down. Dinner in the slow cooker? Add it to the list. One shelf in the closet reorganized? Write it down. At the end of the day, instead of having a partially checked-off list, we have a list of everything we've done. It's a small difference in list-making that can make a big difference in motivation.

    And, make no mistake, staying motivated is a key part of the process when it comes to the marathon that is getting (and staying) organized.

    Wednesday, May 31, 2017

    Lists, Goals and Styles

    TP Heinz via Pixabay
    For the past couple of weeks, I've been writing about goal-setting and list-making, sharing some of the things that work for me. For example, as an I need to see it person, I love dumping "stuff" out of my head and onto paper. But, if the list gets too long, I need to subdivide it -- and sometimes create smaller lists on separate sheets of paper -- so I don't get overwhelmed. Whether I'm creating lists or setting goals, this process, true to my personal style, leads the way.

    Different styles have different preferences. For example:

    • If your personal style is I need to see it,  you might subdivide and color-code.
    • If you're a cram and jammer, you might consider it a personal challenge to get as many items as possible onto a single page.
    • If you're a drop and run organizer, perhaps you make your list, set it down and then forget about it, only to return to it later.
    • If you have an I love stuff personal style, you might need to find just the right paper before you can begin to create your list.
    • If you're an I know I put it somewhere organizer, you might make fabulous lists only to have them go missing because you put them in a "safe place."
    • If you have an I love to be busy personal style, you might separate your lists by activity, giving each its own column, or maybe even its own sheet of paper.
    In my case, my list-making (and, by extension, my goal-setting layout) definitely reflects my styles, but that's not necessarily true for everyone. Whether your list-making style mimics your personal and/or organizational styles or deviates from them isn't what matters. What matters is whether or not your process, whether for making lists or setting goals -- works for you. With lists, as with all other aspects of organizing, one size does not fit all. 

    If you're not sure what your style is, or suspect it might have changed over time, check out the styles quiz and see where your answers fall. Then, keep them in mind as you create lists and set goals, whether for organization or some other aspect of your life.  

    Thursday, May 25, 2017

    3 Keys Thursday: 3 Keys to Successful Goal-Setting

    Dodgerton Skillhause via Morguefile
    Yesterday, I wrote about my mid-year goal-setting session. One of the reasons I've come to enjoy this process is that I've come to look at it as me time -- time to think about what I want to do and what I want to accomplish, rather than stuff that has to get done.

    Want to do some goal-setting of your own? Whether you jot your goals down on a piece of scrap paper, in a neatly tabbed notebook or somewhere in the recesses of your planner, here are a few suggestions to make the process more helpful than painful.

    Dream big. Do you remember being a little kid and having adults ask you what you wanted to be when you grew up? Try thinking of goal-setting in that respect. You can dream as big as you'd like, change your mind at any time and include things like princess, superhero and pro athlete on your list of goals. What would you do if the sky was the limit?

    Think small. So, you've done it. You've identified your goals. That part was fun, but now they seem so far away and unrealistic. What is one baby step you can take in the next week to get to one of those goals? When I said I'd made progress on my goals, I didn't mean I'd checked them all off my list; I'd simply taken a succession of baby steps in the right direction. Maybe I'll get there, maybe I'll take a detour or maybe I'll change the route entirely, but in any event I need a destination, and each step takes me closer to where I want to be.

    Make recognition a part of the process. Long-term goals, in particular, can be big and intimidating. If we learn to focus on how far we've come rather than how far we still have to go, the process gets easier. In addition, we need to acknowledge our small successes. We don't need to throw ourselves a party every time we do one little thing, but we should at least take a moment to pat ourselves on the back (or put a checkmark on the page) when we take a step in the right direction. If we aim for a succession of baby steps, we creep ever closer to the goal, even if we fall down and get back up again after each step.

    How about you? Are there any secrets to successful goal-setting you'd like to share?

    Wednesday, May 24, 2017

    Goal-Setting: It's Not Just for New Year's Anymore

    Photo: Pexels via Pixabay
    Do you make New Year's resolutions? Set monthly, weekly or daily goals?

    Yeah, me too. I actually enjoy my January goal-setting session, especially now that I think of it more as a way of planning the future than a self-improvement session.

    I think that shift in thinking occurred when I retired. Faced with lots of blank pages, I set monthly goals for myself, and found that I enjoyed thinking about what I wanted to accomplish. Now, back on an academic year schedule, I tend to follow up my January session with at least one summer session. I even have a leather-bound planner I've dubbed my "Brainstorming Book" that I use just for this purpose.

    A few weeks ago, I paved the way for my midyear review by spending part of a Saturday morning clearing my head of my to dos by writing them all down in a quasi-organized fashion. You'd think that would have been satisfying -- and it was.

    But it wasn't enough.

    A new planning session arose from that one, one where I corralled all of my to-dos and wanna dos into one notebook. It's a small, summer-themed journal that will fit perfectly into almost any bag so I can continue to add to it as I go. As such, it's a work-in-progress.

    Much like my goals.
    Tim Arterbury via

    So, it was only natural that creating the summer notebook led me back to reviewing my goals and revising them for the second half of the year.

    I happy to report that I've made progress on many of them and, since it's a midyear review, I still have lots of time to make more progress. Writing things down really does set me up for success. Even when I don't realize it, those plans and goals are in the back of my mind, and, because of that, I keep taking baby steps toward them.

    What goals do you have for the remainder of the year? How will you progress toward them?

    Thursday, May 18, 2017

    3 Keys Thursday: 3 Key STYLE ideas Inspired by a Calendar

    Dodgerton Skillhause via Morguefile
    Ever since I was little, I've loved stationery. I have a particular affinity for notebooks, Post-it notes (and tabs) and planners/calendars. From the vantage point of my desk, I have five calendars within view, which is more than a bit excessive for a small space occupied almost completely by a desk, a counter and a bookcase. I can explain....

    But that's another post.

    One of those calendars, as I've mentioned before, is my Page-a-Day calendar inspired by Gretchen Rubin's book, The Happiness Project. On several occasions, this calendar has functioned as a blog prompt, and today is another one of those occasions.

    Some of the calendar pages are simply three ideas, resolutions or questions, and last Friday's resolutions -- or two of them, at least -- brought to mind key concepts of STYLE.

    Gretchen's resolution: Put your keys in the same place every day.
    STYLE concept: Yes, it has a home!
    Finding homes, or places that you put things every time, is a key organizational concept. If something has a home, it's less likely to be left out to create clutter, and you're more likely to be able to find it when you need it. And, if the homes you choose are suited to your personal and organizational styles, it's as easy to put things away as it is to put them down.

    Clear your closets.
    STYLE concept: Let it go!
    If you've read The Happiness Project, you know Gretchen gained tremendous satisfaction from closet organization. If you don't share her enthusiasm for that particular task, try breaking it down and tackling closets (or drawers or files) one section at a time. This is a great activity for a rainy day, or one that's really hot or cold, provided the indoor temperature is to your liking. And remember that clearing doesn't mean tossing. Sometimes the things that just don't work for you anymore will be a perfect fit for someone else.

    Today's third key is my resolution, based on the STYLE philosophy:

    Think outside the box. The way I'm using my Happiness Project calendar is a good example. Instead of using it for its intended purpose (as a way of marking time), I use it as a means to reaffirm a mindset and, sometimes, as an inspiration. Looking for new ways to group, store and organize items or thinking of how to use old storage in new ways is a great way to troubleshoot and update your organizational systems.

    Organizing by STYLE means looking for solutions that work for you, based on your styles. When traditional (in the box, if you will) solutions don't work, don't assume you are the problem. Instead, look for a solution that matches your styles. Minimizing my use of file cabinets and binders (which allegedly work for "everyone else") and changing to out-of-the-box solutions that match the way I think helped me to create systems that work for me.

    What will you do for your styles today?

    Wednesday, May 17, 2017

    Home Sweet Home

    This time last week, we were in Connecticut with a kid and her carload of stuff. 

    Now we're home and making progress. 

    Sort of. 

    I expected it to take a while before everything found a home, and, on that front, my daughter is ahead of schedule. 

    I didn't expect that when my young adult daughter moved back in she'd launch into a full-scale attack on her childhood bedroom. I'm grateful.

    But overwhelmed. 

    In less than a week, she has generated piles of clothes and toys to donate, and, as I write this, she's tackling her bookshelves. More toys remain to be thinned, and my job is figuring out where it all goes. 

    I was prepared to figure out where the carload of stuff that came home would live for the summer, but this is something altogether different--something that stirs pride and exhaustion in nearly equal measures. 

    Our daughter is an only child, one who has always had what she needed and much of what she wanted. Still, we've tried to raise her to understand how fortunate she is to have had that kind of upbringing. And now, watching her let go of the excess, culling the things that matter and releasing the rest, I'm not only impressed by her drive to organize.

    I feel as though perhaps we've done something right.

    Last week, I wrote that this transition would "inspire changes, as transitions usually do," a statement that turned out to be oddly prophetic.

    Little did I know how lovely it would be to watch my I love stuff kid morph into a young adult who can distinguish trash from treasure and decide which stuff to toss, which stuff to repurpose and which stuff to donate in order to create the best of all organizing bonuses.

    Clear space.

    Thursday, May 11, 2017

    3 Keys Thursday: 3 Keys to Packing Them up and Bringing Them Home

    Dodgerton Skillhause via Morguefile
    Yesterday, we moved my daughter out of her dorm, piled into our packed vehicle and made the five-hour trek home. Getting ready to do the same thing? Here are three keys to making the whole process go more smoothly.

    Preparation. Since they've been entrenched in finals and spring fever (not necessarily in that order), your kids may or may not have actually planned ahead and started packing and/or sending things home ahead of time. Whether you start the packing or they do, encourage them to separate the things they'll need for the summer from the things that are going back to school in the fall and then label the boxes. And, if you live far away, consider renting a storage unit for the summer. Your child's roommates or friends might be interested in sharing the space -- and the cost.

    Tools. Even if your kids say they're almost finished, it never hurts to have a few boxes, bins and one-step packing containers with you, just in case. Bins and boxes work well for things that can be stashed away for the whole summer while fabric totes are handy for last minute items and things that need to remain accessible on the way home. In addition, they're lightweight and crushable, so, if they remain unused, they won't take up valuable elbow room on the way home. Don't forget labels and/or a permanent marker for keeping track of which box is which.

    Patience. You may be ready to empty the room and hit the road, but keep in mind that these departures can be emotional for your child, who is saying goodbye to all of the people he or she has spent the better part of the last year with. Sure, technology makes it easier than ever to stay in touch, but, as you already know from your year apart from your teen, it's not the same. If time is of the essence, warn your child ahead of time, but be prepared for things to be more free flow and less efficient, especially if it's a long ride home.

    Already have this pack-up-and-go stuff down to a science? Share your tips in the comments below where newbie empty nesters like me will be sure to appreciate them!

    Wednesday, May 10, 2017

    Moving Day

    Today's the day! Our daughter is coming home from college! We're optimistic that we can fit all of her stuff into the car and still have room for her (after all, we did it in August, right?), but there's one thing I'm less optimistic about.

    Where all of that stuff is going when it gets home.

    I'm resigned to the fact that I'm going to be tripping over boxes for a bit, and this might actually be cute for the first few days. She's home, after all, and this is the evidence!

    But it will also get old fast.

    So, last weekend, in preparation for this, I considered clearing some space in the basement. But, it was finals week and I had stacks of papers to grade, along with an out-of-town party to attend, so this was an optimistic plan.

    Luckily, when we arrived yesterday, she was nearly packed and the piles were not as enormous as I'd feared.

    I think we might just pull this off.

    Still, when we get home, all of that stuff needs to find a place to live for the summer. Much of it will go into her room, some of it will go in the mud room, disappearing bit by bit as she eases back into life at home, and the rest will go into the basement, where the lack of available space will, I hope, inspire me to get rid of a few things (mine, not hers).

    In any event, this transition will inspire changes, as transitions usually do. I'm sure this move will teach us something about the impermanence of this time of life, along with generating some useful ideas for dorm life next year.

    It should be interesting.

    Thursday, May 4, 2017

    3 Keys Thursday: 3 Containers to Get Rid of Today

    Dodgerton Skillhause via Morguefile
    We've all done it. We've succumbed. Maybe it was a planner that promised to do everything but organize our time for us. Maybe it was a purse that claimed you'd never again have to dump it just to find the one thing you were looking for. Maybe it was those bins that you just knew would remove clutter from your life.

    Except that they didn't.

    When is an organizing tool actually an obstacle?

    When it doesn't match your styles. (Admit it. You saw that one coming). For me, one of the best things about identifying my styles was that I stopped buying every miracle organizer that came down the pike. If it doesn't match my styles, it doesn't make it into my shopping cart.

    When it's too small for the task at hand. The best containers are, like Baby Bear's bed and porridge, "just right." They fit the space we've allocated and they have a little bit of room left over so that other, similar items can be added as necessary. Too big containers are unwieldy, but too small containers are perhaps even more frustrating. By the time we get used to using them, we've outgrown them. While it's reasonable to expect to sort and review the contents of our containers from time to time, too small organizers require this process much too often.

    When it's too complicated. Let's face it. Most of us want to make it as easy to put things away as it is to drop them on the nearest counter. The more complicated the container is, the less likely it is that we'll use it on a regular basis.

    Take inventory at your house. Do you have any of these containers in your possession? If so, it's time to consider a container upgrade. Ditch the miracle organizers and their empty promises for storage that actually makes your life easier.

    Wednesday, May 3, 2017

    Shifting Gears

    Sometimes, I can tend toward workaholism. Although I try to be laid back and flexible, there are times when things pile up and I'm afraid to step away. The drive to accomplish is like a constant hum in my head and when I step back or take a break it keeps humming, chastising.

    Lately, though, circumstances have made breaks inevitable. I've had to step away to tend to more pressing matters, taking whole days away from all of those things I think I should be doing. Sometimes, I can silence the hum; other days I need to appease it with small snacks from my to-do list.

    A funny thing has happened, though. It's not a revelation, exactly, just something that I lose sight of when the hum takes over.

    When I step away -- not just for a few minutes or a few hours, but an entire day -- I come back re-energized. Strangely enough, this is true even for tasks I don't relish doing. Pressured by the missed time, I procrastinate less and, even better, stay focused longer.

    This is not novel information. When I teach child development, we often discuss the importance of recess -- that wonderful thing we all took for granted in elementary school that gave us both a physical and a psychological break from the pressing matters of reading and writing and arithmetic. Parents and psychologists know kids need this, yet we somehow think we are immune, as if there's some magic that happens that allows adults to power through despite exhaustion, lack of focus and lack of interest.

    There isn't.

    I wish I could remember this more often. I wish it didn't take more pressing matters to silence the hum that tells me I'm not doing enough, not working hard enough.

    I suspect, that, like so many other matters of organization and time management, it's a process. I need to do it often enough to experience its benefits on a regular basis so that I'm convinced that even wasting time is a good thing. I need to become as intentional about down time as I am about work time.

    Maybe -- just maybe -- it even needs to make it onto my Big 3 some days. What, after all, is more important than having the energy to do the things that matter?

    Saturday, April 29, 2017

    3 Keys...Saturday?

    Dodgerton Skillhause via Morguefile
    Last night, I was regaling my husband with a list of things I'd gotten done and feeling pretty proud of myself. But then, midway through the conversation, I realized I'd forgotten to write a 3 Keys Thursday post.


    I could offer any one of a hundred excuses, or talk your ear off telling you everything I did instead, but that doesn't change things. In the end, the explanation that sums it all up is simple, and applies to all of us at one time or another.

    Life happens.

    And, when life happens, there's usually a life lesson to be learned. In my case, that life lesson will become a 3 Keys Thursday post, even if it is getting posted on a Saturday.

    So, what to do when you find yourself in a literal or figurative mess?

    Clean it up. Once I figured out that I'd dropped the ball, it was time to pick it up again. We've all forgotten things, found ourselves stretched too thin or created messes despite good intentions. Figure out how to set things right, apologize if necessary and...

    Let it go. Making excuses or hanging on to a mistake or misstep is rarely a good idea. At best, it's a waste of time and energy that can be spent on much better pursuits, and, at worst, it makes us feel so inept that more mistakes ensue. Move forward -- with a sense of humor, if possible -- and...

    Figure out how to avoid the same mistake in the future. With only one exception, I haven't missed a 3 Keys Thursday post in nearly two years. Still, it's possible that I could find myself in this same situation again. A missed post might be a signal that it's time to re-assess my monthly posting schedule or stop relying on just my memory to keep track of things.

    I'd like to offer a sincere apology to anyone who was inconvenienced when 3 Keys Thursday was replaced by Flake Out Thursday. I hope that better late than never is true in this instance, and that you'll stop back next week when I hope to post on time.

    And maybe institute a posting calendar.

    Wednesday, April 26, 2017

    Attacking My Files with STYLE

    The end of the semester is rapidly approaching and my plate is full. Today, in fact, is a full-out backwards to-do list kind of day.

    Definitely the season for 5 Small Things.

    But last weekend, I decided to follow through on some brainstorming I'd done one night when I couldn't fall asleep. Exponentially increasing to-do lists tend to have both those effects on me -- difficulty sleeping and an increased desire to do things besides the most pressing things on my to-do list (a.k.a. structured procrastination).

    But I digress.

    Spurred by a short spurt earlier this month spent clearing space on the counter in my office, I wanted to keep the momentum going. This meant not only clearing more space on the counter, but also streamlining some organizational systems. A few projects in progress were encroaching on the counter (dropped there and left there by a rogue drop and run organizer) because they'd outgrown their assigned spaces. And, in one case, I was unhappy with the assigned space itself; while it worked well for my styles, it was too small to house everything it needed to house.

    Clearly, it was time for an organization intervention. Enter STYLE.
    I have an entire collection of these fabric
    file boxes from Thirty-One Gifts because
    they're perfect for my I need to see it/
    drop and run

    • The successes: The open-top file holder on the counter did a good job of keeping my labeled files in order (successful plan), but I'd expanded it as far as I could, and had resorted to stacking things on top of it (unsuccessful implementation). I needed to replicate the concept in a bigger space.
    • Small steps: The small file cabinet in my office had become more of an archive than a functioning organizational system. I'd initially considered moving it out of the office and replacing it with open storage, but that was too big a task for the time I had available. Instead, I started by sorting through the bottom drawer to toss outdated files and move materials to be "archived" out of prime real estate. This  freed up space I could then use to house the materials from the overstuffed countertop file.
    • Yes, it has a home: Archived files, all of which could be filed under two topics, needed a new home. For now, they are in a file holder in the basement. Labeled. This gives me time to consider whether or not their current home will be their permanent destination. Meanwhile, I moved the active materials into their new home in the now-much-lighter bottom file drawer.
    • Let it go: Any time we sort any place (counter, file drawer, desktop, closet) is a perfect time to get rid of anything outdated, uninteresting or no longer of use. I'm happy to say I did some shredding and recycling, reducing all of the piles involved. Less stuff means fewer homeless items and more streamlined storage.
    • Easy upkeep: Moving from an open file to a file drawer is a major test for an I need to see it personal style. Because I moved a big chunk of materials I will access frequently into the same (closed) space, I am optimistic that out of sight won't mean out of mind. Labeled file folders allow me to accommodate my drop and run organizational style, and, if necessary, I can label the drawer as well to create a visual reminder of its contents. Even better, because there's room to grow, the new home for my files should last a while.
    While it's rare that I go through the STYLE process start-to-finish in one day, (let alone only part of one), it's possible to do so when the goal is updating systems that are already soundly STYLE-based. In this case, an investment of a couple of hours yielded a beautiful, empty counter. 

    Do you have a system that needs revamping? Which step of the STYLE process can you take today? 

    Thursday, April 20, 2017

    3 Keys Thursday: 3 Spring Cleaning Partnerships

    Dodgerton Skillhause via Morguefile

    Spring has sprung! If you're a spring cleaning fan, why not make next spring's work easier now by mixing in a little organizing with your cleaning? Here are three easy things to pair with the cleaning you're planning on doing anyway.

    • Clean and declutter. As you clean a space, toss things you no longer need. The less stuff you have, the easier it is to organize. Even if you're a dyed-in-the-wool I love stuff person, some things are easy to get rid of. Heartlessly toss:
      • Things that are torn, broken or missing pieces;
      • Half a pair of anything;
      • Things that are outdated or expired (e.g back issues of magazines and that plastic container at the back of the fridge full of unidentified foodstuffs).
    • Clean and consider. Even if you're not an I love stuff person, some things are tough to part with. Think you're ready to let something go, but not quite sure? Consider options besides the trash (donating, recycling) or put all of those "maybes" into a box, close it up, write the date on it and put it out of sight. A month from now, toss or donate the box and all its remaining contents.
    • Clean and containerize. As you clean, you're sure to come across items that are in the wrong place as well as items that are homeless. Pile-ups of necessary items are a key indicator that an organizational system is either missing or not working. What containers or systems do you need to do away with the piles permanently?
    No matter the season, minimizing stuff and updating organizers helps keep things spruced up all year long.

    Wednesday, April 19, 2017

    Brain Back-Ups

    Photo: mistockshop via Pixabay
    I am the notebook queen. As a writer, I never want to risk losing a good idea, so I have notebooks in a variety of places: the car, the chest beside my bed, my office, the kitchen. Inside every purse I own.

    These notebooks collect my writing thoughts, but they collect other things as well. The titles of books I want to read. Things I have to do. Stuff I want to remember.

    As organizational systems go, they're not the best, but I don't expect them to be. Their purpose is to work as a temporary measure until I can get the information where it belongs -- in my calendar or on my to-do list. Without my notebooks, a lot of information would slip away, or, just as bad, I'd be forced to try to remember it all.

    I guess you could call them my brain back-ups.

    When you think about it, multiples are common in organizational systems. We don't have just one cabinet in our kitchens or one drawer for all our clothes. Multiple tools in various places or serving various functions can be efficient if we have a system for their use. And they work especially well if we use them to target our weak spots.

    For me, keeping track of everything in my head doesn't work (weak spot), and seeing reminders of what I have to do does. Sure, I could put it all on my phone, but that doesn't work as well for my I need to see it personal style as going "old school" with paper and a writing implement. And, using notebooks instead of scraps of paper helps keep things contained, as well as limiting the number of places I need to look to see where I might have written something down.

    Is there a weak spot in your system? What measures can you put into place to shore it up?

    Thursday, April 13, 2017

    3 Keys Thursday: 3 Keys to Hosting that Family Event

    Dodgerton Skillhause via Morguefile
    I have a reasonable number of talents, but being the hostess with the mostest is not one of them. I love my friends, and I'm happy when they come over (or, better yet, we meet somewhere I'm not responsible for keeping clean and tidy), but when it comes to hosting large events, I'm not your girl.

    Consequently, I've learned to keep the bar low, much to the dismay of my husband who wants to do everything short of a remodel when company's coming. The house needs to be clean and there needs to be plenty of food. Other than that, everything else drops to the bottom of the list where I may or may not get to it. That way, I don't drive myself crazy and suck all the joy out of the visit.

    Do you stress out when company's coming? Here are a few words of wisdom that I may or may not remember when it's my turn to play hostess.

    Prioritize. Since perfectionism often rears its ugly head when we entertain, the list will always be longer than the amount of time and energy available to complete it. Rather than exhaust yourself by trying to turn a lived-in house into something suitable for a magazine spread, tackle the essentials first so that if you run out of time or energy, what's left to do is more easily expendable. Sounds logical, I know, but many a hostess has been done in by starting with a project that looked easy enough on Pinterest.

    Take small steps. If possible, try not to cram all the preparations into one day. Even small steps like setting the dining room table ahead of time (if you can keep it off-limits until guests arrive) or running the dishes through the dishwasher the weekend before (better yet -- buy pretty paper goods!) give you one less thing to do the day of the event. Experienced hostesses have this down to a science, but those of us who entertain only infrequently can easily forget how many small details are involved and find ourselves racing the clock before guests arrive.

    Relax and enjoy. Unless part of your plan includes guest participation in the preparations, make it a rule that once that first guest arrives, ready or not, you are finished preparing. Pour yourself a drink of your choosing, sit down and join the people who were important enough to be invited to your home. Set a timer to remind yourself to check on the final details if you need to, but don't spend all your time in the kitchen while everyone else is chatting and socializing. After all of your efforts, you should enjoy your guests, too.

    Whether you're celebrating Passover, Easter or something else entirely, I wish you wonderful time with friends, family and lots of food.

    Wednesday, April 12, 2017


    Last week, just in time for our weekend at the beach, I got a check in the mail. It was a small check—perhaps just big enough for breakfast at the diner—but the payoff it represented was substantial. 

    The check was from Decluttr, an app that paid me for the CDs and DVDs I no longer wanted. Not only did I get rid of stuff that was just taking up space, but I got paid for it.

    If you’ve been reading this column for a while you know I usually don’t write about apps because no matter how I do it, it always sounds like a sales pitch. But there's definitely a place in the STYLE strategy arsenal for anything that makes it easier to get rid of things that are just taking up space.

    For Type A organizers, this task is easy. The trash can works every time.

    I love stuff folks, on the other hand, need a nudge to part with things. And sometimes, cold, hard cash is just that nudge. Similarly, for cram and jammers and I know I put it somewhere organizers, cash for stuff might be just the ticket to tackling that junk drawer or overstuffed bin.

    If you can use the self-scanner at the grocery checkout, you can use Decluttr. Download the app onto your phone and scan the barcodes of the items you want to get rid of. As you scan each item, the app gives you a price for it. When you’re finished, check out, box it up and send it to them. There are no shipping charges, and Decluttr promises to pay the full amount they quote or you get your stuff back for free.

    Before you get too excited, I should warn you that unless you have some big ticket tech items to get rid of, you’ll probably earn less than you spend in one trip to the grocery store. Some of my CDs earned a whopping 17¢, but into the box they went because that meant they were going out of my house.

    Have some non-tech/audio things you want to get rid of, but can't bear to toss into the trash? Less is More Organizers has compiled a list of places that accept stuff from bras to computer monitors. 

    For more on reusing, repurposing and recycling, check out my post, "New Life for Old Things." And, by all means, share your successes in the comments below!

    Thursday, April 6, 2017

    3 Keys Thursday: 3 Small Steps with Big Payoffs

    Dodgerton Skillhause via Morguefile
    As a sometimes too busy person who sees organization as a process, I'm a big fan of small efforts with big payoffs. Since I wrote about "small things" yesterday, today seemed like a good time to revisit a few of my other favorite strategies.

  • Don't put it down, put it away! If you're a drop and run organizer like I am, this strategy is all about reversing that bad habit. Creating one-step systems that make it just as easy to put things down as it is to put them away is an important step in taking this from something we do only occasionally to an organizational habit.

  • Give it 5! Lacking the time and/or energy to dig into a big task? Set a time and give it five -- minutes, that is. Just five minutes can make a small difference, and sometimes, five minutes turns into ten or more. Often, getting started is the hardest part, and Give it 5! is just a way to clear that hurdle.

  • Make it better. Ever have a day when you can't seem to find even five minutes to make some progress? Yeah. Me too. These are the "make it better" days. If you pass something that's out of place, pick it up and put it where it belongs. That's it. Just one thing on each pass through. Unless you want to do more, of course.

  • Organization doesn't happen all at once. Any strategy, no matter how small, that leads to progress keeps us moving in the right direction.

    No matter how busy we are.