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.

    Wednesday, April 5, 2017

    The Big Three's Smaller Counterpart

    Time flies when a strategy is working.

    In preparation for this post, I scrolled back to see how long it's been since I adopted my "Big 3" approach. Last week? Last month?


    My surprise over this discovery told me that clearly, the novelty hasn't worn off. And, when it comes to organization, that can be a good thing. Novelty can prompt excitement and optimism, two things that are necessary to turning a new idea into a habit.

    For me, the Big 3 has brought about palpable changes not only in organization, but in attitude as well. By prioritizing, I'm getting the most important things checked off my list. In addition, I'm more aware of what I'm getting accomplished, which turns my focus to successes rather than all of the organizing that inevitably remains.

    And so one night last week, as I stood in my office, taking in all the evidence of my drop and run organizational style, I decided to give the little things their due. Tackling just a few of them, along with a few of the niggling things that didn't make the Big 3 list (but certainly would if left undone long enough), would create visible progress. And, it would give me that always satisfying feeling of  checking several things off the list as well.

    5 things. Just five small things.

    At the bottom of the page of my desk calendar where I note each day's Big 3, I wrote "Small Things," leaving space beneath the words for tally marks. Then, after scanning the desk and the adjoining living room, I went to work.

    Within an hour, I'd not only cleared space, but also created a home and a new system for filing some of the papers that had been sitting out, homeless. If I'd stuck to my desktop, I could've been finished in 15 minutes, but the papers on the counter were bothering me too, so I tackled them as well, and managed to clear space on two surfaces in short order.

    Admittedly, none of this is ground-breaking, but it does illustrate a basic organization conundrum for those of us with busy lives. We need to keep both the big things and the small things under control, And, without a strategy for doing so, it's easy for one or the other to get neglected.

    But sometimes, all it takes is a little novelty to kick-start the process.

    Thursday, March 30, 2017

    3 Keys Thursday: 3 Organizing Myths to Bust Today

    Dodgerton Skillhause via Morguefile
    Given the wealth of information available on organization, it would seem that getting organized is merely a matter of following a few simple rules. Follow the rules, connect the dots and you, too can have a house that looks as though it leapt off the pages of a magazine.

    Yeah, right. And, if it were really that easy, would we need a wealth of information?

    More often, getting organized is a matter of figuring out what works for you and trying to replicate successes as often as possible. Unfortunately, we've been led to believe that we're the problem when, more often, it's a matter of finding a match between how we think and what we need.

    Here are a few more myths that lead us to beat ourselves up when it comes to getting it all together.

    Everyone who looks organized is organized. Anyone can stash clutter out of sight when company's coming, but that's not the same as being organized. Being truly organized means keeping clutter under control and being able to find what you need when you need it.  

    If a tool doesn't work, there's something wrong with me. For years, I tried to make file cabinets and three-ring binders work for me. Sure, they kept things neat, but they only created an illusion of organization. Out of sight became out of mind, making it all too easy to collect a bunch of things I didn't need and much too difficult to actually use all that I'd collected. When I found tools that made the process of storing things dynamic, getting organized became much easier -- and it made much more sense, too.

    One size fits all. A sort of corollary to the second key, this also holds true across styles. As an I need to see it/drop and run person, I've discovered what works for me and how to put those things together to create systems that work, but that doesn't mean that the same tools in the same combination will work for everyone who shares my styles. 

    Getting organized is a process (don't you wish you had a dollar for every time you read that here?), and beating ourselves up is not part of that process. If we spend less time beating ourselves up, we'll have more time to pay attention to what we do right, and use that as the foundation of an organizational system.

    And, if you ask me, that's a much more productive use of time.

    Wednesday, March 29, 2017

    A Little Adjustment

    Sometimes, we fall into patterns of behavior that seem perfectly logical. We continue with them almost mindlessly, until they become habits and before we know it, we're doing the same things in the same order without even considering whether or not there's a better way. 

    I've been doing this with my class preparations. Then, each week, I chalk up the fact that I feel pressed for time to the usual problem: too much to do in too little time. That, and a healthy dose of procrastination atop the whole thing like some sort of wayward cherry.

    Last week I decided to try changing the order of events a bit, and loosening up my self-imposed timelines.

    What a difference. 

    When I realized how much less stressed I was, I wondered why I'd continued to do things the same way for so long.

    Habits are a funny thing. When they're good ones, they work in our favor, but when they're not so good, they drag us down. Unfortunately, it's sometimes hard to tell the difference between a good habit and a not-so-good one, and it's only when we make adjustments that we see how much better things could be.

    I'm still adjusting a bit to my new way of looking at things, and arguing with myself about the looser time frames. Am I slacking off, or finally being realistic? Only time will tell. 

    Luckily, whatever the answer turns out to be, I can always adjust.

    Thursday, March 23, 2017

    3 Keys Thursday: 3 Keys to Selective STYLE Shopping

    Dodgerton Skillhause via Morguefile
    About a month ago, a friend of mine who reads all of my organizing posts raised a semi-rhetorical question: "How do I stop myself from buying all these cute organizing accessories?"

    How indeed.

    Buying containers, planners and organizing accessories is a sign of optimism. We'd like to believe that somehow, somewhere, there is one single tool that will conquer our organizational challenges and leave us put together, on time and well-managed.

    I'm a big fan of optimism, but that's a lot to ask from one tool.

    Still, I'm also a big fan of organizers, too, especially when the price is right. Over time, however, I've learned how to avoid the purchases that give me buyer's remorse and bring home the tools that truly assist me in my (never-ending) quest for organization and time management.

    Here are the three reasons I've come up with to leave that miracle organizer on the store shelf instead of bringing it home.

    It doesn't fit your styles. If I've learned nothing else, I've learned that trying to organize counter to my styles backfires every time. No matter how pretty, cheap or practical the storage, if it has too many steps or puts things out of sight, it won't work. I'll drop and run instead of following a multi-step organizational process, and I'll forget all about papers put in a drawer, pretty box or file cabinet. If I want to remember to do it, I need to see it. Your styles may differ from mine, but, as you hold that lovely item from the clearance rack in your hands, ask yourself if it's a match for your styles. If not, you're better off spending your money on a fancy coffee or breakfast at the diner.

    You have nowhere to put it. This is really difficult to admit when you find something in your price range that does fit your styles. But, think about it. Does bringing home something that will remain homeless, drifting from one spot in your home to another, create an organizational solution or an organizational problem?

    You don't have a purpose in mind for it. My love of organizers has made this puzzle piece the last one to fit into place. Admittedly, I've purchased things when my purpose was slim, to say the least; unfortunately, many of these "tools" are still sitting in my basement, waiting to be put to use. Now, on the occasions where the item seems to be a must-have, I make sure the store is easily accessible, I know its return policy and I give myself a deadline. It must find a use before the deadline arrives, or back it goes. Consequently, I take fewer chances and have a much higher success rate.

    Much as we'd love to believe the hype, there is no one perfect tool that solves all of our organizational issues. We are the brains behind this organizational operation, and the containers and planners and folders merely tools at our disposal. When we align the tools with the brains of the operation, we emerge victorious. So, when you go shopping for all of those wonderful tools, be sure to bring your brain along with you.

    Wednesday, March 22, 2017

    Calculated Risks and Clean-Up

    I wish my desktop were this uncluttered.
    Icon via Pixabay
    Last week, in an effort to get my computer desktop under control, I decided to resort to something a little outside my comfort zone. Because I have a Mac, I can have multiple desktops going at the same time. Because I'm an I need to see it person, I take full advantage of that option, giving each project a desktop of its own. I won't even tell you how many desktops I had going, but I will tell you that it was in the double digits.

    But, it was starting to backfire. I had so much laid out on the desktop, that, like an actual desktop, it was messy, making it really hard to see what I had. Much of what I had was class prep -- slide sets, articles and ideas that I wanted to keep visible, but I also had several desktops worth of writing projects I was working on. Seeing these provided a nudge, a sort of, "you haven't forgotten about me, have you?"

    But my Macbook, which is nearly five years old, was losing patience with this system. I don't know if the growing number of program shutdowns had to anything to do with my, ahem, system, but it was time for a change.

    It was time for folders.

    It isn't that I don't use folders -- they're all over my desktop. Unfortunately, they're buried beneath the class prep and writing projects. And they work. I just wasn't using them for my class prep and works-in-progress. 

    Two folders later, my desktops were all but clear and my class prep and works-in -progress were neatly filed away. I was afraid that since creating folders doesn't change the fact that I'm an I need to see it person, it would be another case of "it looks pretty, but it's not working," but, so far, it's working quite well.

    And you know what? Seeing the things that had been spread out across the desktop tucked neatly into a folder was a relief. They were far less overwhelming as closed files than they'd been as open files, and I could still see what I needed to do. All I had to do was open the (color-coded) folder.

    Sometimes, we need to step outside of our comfort zones. As we become more aware of what works for our styles and what absolutely does not, it becomes easier to know which risks are calculated and which are likely to throw the system into upheaval. I know that, used in specific ways, folders can work for me (outside of file cabinets), so this was a calculated risk.

    So far, it has paid off. Stay tuned to see if it stands the test of time. 

    Thursday, March 16, 2017

    3 Keys Thursday: 3 Keys to Managing "Overwhelmed"

    Dodgerton Skillhause via Morguefile
    Getting sick is no fun, and, while feeling better is wonderful, trying to catch up on everything that fell by the wayside when simply walking from the sofa to the kitchen was an accomplishment is not much fun either. Add snow and deadlines and it's easy to feel as though the to-do list is simply endless.

    Until we can make the world stop when we do, feeling overwhelmed from time to time is inevitable. Knowing what to do when that feeling strikes can help us to take charge and feel a little less out of control. For me, this "take charge" approach includes:

    Taking baby steps. When it's all too much, we start feeling the need to slay big dragons. Unfortunately, the pressure to get it all done at once, even if it's self-imposed, only contributes to that feeling of too much to do in too little time. Putting one foot in front of the other and taking one thing at a time can create a sense of accomplishment as we erase all of those little tasks from our to-do lists, one by one.

    Prioritizing. As we approach each of those small tasks, it's important to ask ourselves if the baby steps we're taking are leading us in the direction of something that must be done now or something that can wait. While we have the luxury of mixing it up when we're not in a time crunch, we need to focus first on the here and now when we've hit the panic button. When we're overwhelmed, baby steps that make progress on a project due in two weeks may be less useful than the ones we take on the stuff that's due tomorrow.

    Using the plan. In an effort to find shortcuts and super solutions, we often get in our own way. When this happens, we need to stop, step back and assess the plan(s) we have at our disposal. If they work on a day-to-day basis, they might just be the life raft we're looking for when seas get stormy. Choose the most appropriate plan and put it into action. Even a semblance of a plan can help us feel less out of control.

    How about you? How do you keep things under control when you're feeling overwhelmed?

    Wednesday, March 15, 2017

    Doing the Dance of the Impossible

    The file folder emblazoned with the same philosophy
    as my notepad. Also a TDB purchase :-)
    Into every life, some snow must fall, and that's exactly what's happening here as I type this. I'm always wildly optimistic about what I'll get done on a snow day, and then annoyed with myself when the reality is the relaxing, few-things-checked-off-the-list kind of day I not-so-secretly hoped for.

    Counterproductive, you say? Well, you're right.

    I have a notepad (one of my Target dollar bin buys) that says "Do The Impossible," which pretty much sums up my philosophy of life. My head knows this is, well, impossible, but my work ethic takes it as some sort of twisted challenge.

    Lately, even doing the possible has been harder than usual. I'm getting things done, but seem to have inexplicably fallen back into the "go to bed too late/get up too early" cycle I'd begun to nip in the bud just a week or so ago. A week ago, I was getting up with the alarm (more or less), recapturing some of that morning time lost to slow starts, and now....


    Daylight savings time.

    It's not me. I am getting up at the same time. It's the time on the clock that's different.

    So, where am I going with all of this? Snow days. Doing the impossible. Daylight savings time.

    Just as organization is a process, so is life. We can establish routines, create lists and set goals -- and we should -- but we are not machines. Weather happens. People need us. Daylight savings time knocks us flat, messing up our plans and shortening our days until our bodies adjust.

    So, we have to adjust, too. We have to be patient with ourselves, give it time, recognize that life cycles and everything is a process.

    And it's only a matter of time until we're ready to tackle the impossible once again.

    Thursday, March 9, 2017

    Sometimes, Advice Bears Repeating

    Dodgerton Skillhause via Morguefile
    Today's post is a repost from two summers ago. While I try to limit reposts, some days, they're unavoidable, and today was one of those days.

    Organizing by STYLE is a unique blend of tools and strategies that work for you and general principles that work for everyone. With that in mind, here are a few organizational tools that are useful additions to everyone's organizational toolbox.

    How you incorporate each one will depend on your styles. In my opinion, everyone needs:

    • A to-do list (to manage tasks). The length, location and specificity are up to you. I like having a master list as well as a day-by-day list that I keep on my calendar.  
    • Containers with room to grow (to manage stuff). Every container should have a little bit of empty space in it to allow for new additions. I'm not advocating something twice the size of what it houses -- just enough room that your whole system doesn't fall apart when you need to add to it.
      Fold 'n' File from
      Thirty One Gifts*
    • A filing system (to manage paperwork). No matter how much we tout "going paperless," most of us need hard copies to some degree. And where there are hard copies, there must be a filing system. Whether it's a file cabinet loaded with with color-coded, labeled folders, a clear file bin with an equally clear lid, or a lidless box that lets you see the contents at a glance, it's a filing system. If you can easily put things away and retrieve what you need in less than five minutes, it's working. I have more than a half dozen of the fold 'n' file bins (at right) on shelves in various rooms of my house, each dedicated to a specific type of paperwork. As an I need to see it person, I love that this bin is open on top and that it comes in various prints so I have a visual cue of what's where.
    Truly paperless? I'm impressed. Chances are you have an online filing system. Just don't forget to back it up regularly.

    Organizing by STYLE means the systems may be similar, but their elements work best when personalized. Keep in mind that the purpose of working on this whole organization business is to be able to find what you need when you need it.

    And if you can be stylish in the process, so much the better.

    *Full disclosure on fold 'n' file: I'm a Thirty-One consultant, so I might be a tad biased.

    Wednesday, March 8, 2017

    Happiness Through Habits

    Alexander Stein via Pixabay
    For the second time in as many weeks, my Happiness Project Calendar has inspired a blog post. Last Thursday, on a page with the header "Happiness and Order," Gretchen shared this:
    A few quick, easy habits will give you a greater feeling of order:
    • Replace lightbulbs and empty rolls of toilet paper right away. 
    • Make sure every door or drawer closes easily. 
    • Throw away pens and Magic Markers as soon as they run dry.
    Easy and logical, right? But, if you're like me, there are probably myriad "little things" staring you in the face every day that you keep planning to get to, but still haven't managed to tackle. Things like tossing pens and replacing lightbulbs and toilet paper are easy -- they require only a moment, and the inconvenience created by not attending to them is much greater than the expenditure of time necessary to make things right.

    It's the other stuff. The frame that needs to be re-glued because it mysteriously fell off the shelf. The stack of books you know you'll never get to the bottom of, but that you haven't made time to sort through. The bedroom ceiling that really needs to be repainted. You notice them at odd times or when you're in a hurry and, since they require more than a few minutes to fix, you put them off. Meanwhile, they keep staring at you, nagging at you, exhausting you by their mere presence. After reading last Thursday's page on my Happiness Project calendar, those nagging tasks in my house did everything but jump out at me and wrestle me to the ground.

    But I still didn't do them.

    Gretchen's got the right idea. Why not add a new habit to those like tossing pens and replacing lightbulbs and toilet paper? Why not tackle just one of those nagging, annoying tasks every day? Okay, maybe not repainting the bedroom ceiling, but how long will it really take to reglue that frame or sort through those books? Give it Five! might not be quite enough, but I'm pretty sure fifteen minutes will do the trick.

    I think I know just where to start.

    Thursday, March 2, 2017

    3 Keys Thursday: 3 Keys Underlying the Success of the Make it Better Approach

    Dodgerton Skillhause via Morguefile
    Yesterday, I wrote about my "necessity is the mother of invention" strategy of making it better. Beginning as a form of solace ("just make it better"), over the week that followed, it became more.

    Part mindset, part mantra and part strategy, "make it better" became the way I looked at piles, the phrase I repeated to myself as I walked past clutter and the steps I took to make progress when I simply didn't have the energy to take anything more than baby steps.

    The mindset: Overwhelmed by burgeoning clutter, yet lacking the energy to really "dig in,"  I adopted the mindset that simply making it better was a good starting point. This absolved me from any guilt and set me up to win every time I took even a baby step. Accepting this as a mindset (admittedly, I had little choice) influenced my outlook, too. Instead of seeing every pile as one more thing to do, I saw it as something I could improve upon, even if only a little at at time.

    The mantra: How many times have you walked past a pile and inwardly groaned "that's still there?" "Make it better" gave me an answer to that. That's still there? Yep. Make it better. Since picking up just one thing made it better, I found myself groaning less and de-cluttering more.

    The strategy: Small successes inspire big successes. Every time I walked past clutter, the only thing I had to do was make it better. Since every item picked up and put away accomplished this, it was easy to feel successful, one item at a time. Watching piles get smaller inspired me, once I was feeling better, to dig into the clutter that predated my illness.

    It took getting sick to remind me of a basic idea: setting small, reachable goals is the key to success, whether in organizing or in life. Because I couldn't manage big, impressive goals, I had to stick to a simple one, and, with time, it proved its value as philosophy, mindset, mantra and strategy.

    And I have the clear surfaces to prove it.

    Wednesday, March 1, 2017

    Making it Better

    GraphicMama-team via Pixabay
    Last week, one of the many viruses wending its way through Pennsylvania landed at our house. While an upper respiratory infection usually leaves me tired, sniffly and at least a little crabby, I can still manage to fake my way through most of my daily responsibilities.

    Not this time.

    I faked it for the first day or so, but, after that, I did only the bare minimum. One peek at any room of my house served as clear evidence for this illness-inspired turn of events.

    Unfortunately, this malady was not only slow to exit, but it took my husband down with it along the way. Lacking both the time and the energy to do much more than take antibacterial wipes to doorknobs and light switches, I needed a plan that would make inroads -- or at least stem the tide -- without requiring energy I didn't yet have.

    Enter "make it better."

    Simple, efficient and progressive, this strategy dovetailed nicely with my wish for my health and my husband's. Cutting myself slack because I wasn't at 100% efficiency, I looked for any way to make any improvement anywhere. Slow progress, admittedly, but progress nevertheless. As a result, I not only stemmed the tide, but turned it back, a few simple actions yielding promising results and the nudge I needed to finish the job. Slowly but surely, I was making it better.

    Today, when it came time to write my post for The Porch Swing Chronicles, I decided to apply my philosophy there as well because really, when you think about it, isn't that a worthy goal no matter the task?

    Tomorrow, I'll break down "make it better" into the components that emerged. In the meantime, what can you "make better" today?

    Thursday, February 23, 2017

    3 Keys Thursday: Fine-Tuning Your Plan

    Dodgerton Skillhause via Morguefile
    Yesterday, I wrote about how the discoveries we make about the underpinnings of our styles can inform our organizational settings. If we understand what feeds our default styles, we can use that information to further tweak our organizational systems so that they become more finely tuned, and, therefore, more useful.

    As an I need to see it/drop and run person with tendencies for both procrastination and perfectionism, I need to create systems that are visual, flexible and one-step. I need to limit the number of places where I allow things to pile up. Keeping all of these guidelines in mind may not keep me perfectly organized, but it helps me fine tune my systems by leading me to use what works and rule out what doesn't.

    In the mood for a tune up? Here are a few questions to ask yourself.

    What are my styles? Have you narrowed down your styles to one dominant personal style and one dominant organizational style, or are you still dabbling in several? Do your styles change from work to home and back again? Do you default to one style for one task and another for others? Organizing by STYLE isn't about cementing answers. It's about doing what works, even if what works isn't always the same thing.

    Which part(s) of my styles are most salient? My I need to see it personal style dominates my drop and run organizational style. All of my systems exist to make it as easy to put things away as it is to put them down. But, if I can find a way to put something away and still keep it in sight? Ahh. That's a component of the system that works every time and on every level. It keeps surfaces clear, things organized and me on top of things.

    What personality traits facilitate these, or get in the way? Unfortunately, my drop and run organizational style goes hand-in-hand with my tendency to procrastinate. Finding systems that make it easy for me to drop something where it belongs helps me to get past the urge to wait until later to put things away. And, although I'll never reach my unreachable goal of being perfectly organized, the desire to strive for it nudges me consistently toward new ideas and systems that reduce clutter, piles and frustration.

    How about you? What are the finer points at the root of your styles?

    Wednesday, February 22, 2017

    Harnessing Habits
    Last week, I flipped the page on my Happiness Project calendar and was greeted with some interesting questions about habits. The first asked, "If you could magically, effortlessly, change one habit in your life, what would it be?"

    That's easy. Procrastination. Wait, no, perfectionism. Or perhaps staying up too late, but I think that's connected to both of the first two.

    Hmm. Maybe not as easy as I thought.

    And it was about to get more complicated. The next question asked, "If the people around you were able to change one of your habits, what would they choose?"

    That one really was easy. It's my piles of papers that are everywhere they're not supposed to be.

    If you're thinking that these answers don't align, you're not alone. It was only after giving it some thought that I realized that all of these habits are connected.

    My papers are a form of procrastination. If I just do the thing when I first come into contact with the paper, there are no papers to leave around and nudge my I need to see it style into action.

    But sometimes, I need to think about things, or I'm too tired to do them well, and so I set them aside. Piles become clutter, which becomes a habit sure to annoy all those around me.

    When we talk about organizing by STYLE, we talk about trusting and valuing our default styles and building our systems around them. But the more we think about these default styles and how they connect to our personalities, the easier it becomes to understand them.

    And the better we understand them, the easier it is to incorporate them into our organizational processes.

    Organizing by STYLE is not now, nor will it ever be, about asking you to change who you are; that's what sets it apart from all of the lectures on organization you've read in other places. If you make a discovery about a connection between your personality and your styles, that's just one more piece of information you can use to tailor your systems to fit your needs. The better you become at this, the more organized you will be.

    So, how do these discoveries inform my organizational systems?

    Knowing these are my default settings, so to speak, I need to create systems that are visual, flexible and one-step. I need to limit the number of places where I allow things to pile up, and build in safeguards like space limitations. Without such safeguards, clutter can expand to fill all of the available space, robbing spaces like kitchen counters and dining room tables of their intended purpose.

    Whether or not we choose to tackle the underpinnings of our styles is up to us. But, if we begin by working with our styles and our personalities, rather than against them, we're more likely to find successes. These successes can propel us toward ways of fine-tuning our systems so that we find the sweet spot where STYLE and organization meet.

    And that is a very sweet spot indeed.

    Thursday, February 16, 2017

    3 Keys Thursday: 3 Tools You Need to Organize a Dream

    Dodgerton Skillhause via Morguefile
    Yesterday, I shared some of the tools I use to keep track of my writing projects so that when I get time to tackle them, I can jump right in. Not all of you are writers, I'm sure, but I suspect that most of you are busy and/or have a hobby or dream you'd like to pursue if only you had the time.

    One way to maximize the time you have available is to be thoughtful about the way you organize your supplies, ideas and materials. There's nothing worse than carving out an hour to spend on something you love doing only to have to spend the first fifteen minutes getting organized.

    As a writer who also works a day job, I have, over time, created a system for keeping track of my projects (yes, that's plural) so that I can jump in with minimal preparation. In addition to my writing calendar and book bible, I need:

    Well-maintained, accessible tools. For me, this is my laptop -- in most cases anyway -- which has its very own spot (a home) on my desk. Making sure to plug it in so it charges when I'm not using it is key to its availability when I do need it. Creating and consistently using specific homes for tools that are essential to your hobby is a key time saver, as is making sure they're always in good working order. 

    A place to store supplies. Whether it's my laptop, my calendar and book bible or the manuscript pages for my works-in-progress, keeping key tools within easy reach is also a time-saver. Using style-friendly tools is important, too. I have a file cabinet in my office, but I'd be hard-pressed to tell you what's in it. As an I need to see it person, I keep key items either visible or in specific (often labeled) locations (homes) whenever possible. Sometimes, I do both. If your supplies are organized when you're ready to use them, you'll be able to devote all of your time to your activity of choice instead of wasting part of that time sorting out what you need.

    A place to store ideas. Remember those folders I loved (from the same dollar bins)? One of them has been pressed into service as a catch-all for the notes and article ideas that would otherwise be scattered across my desk. The bright color is eye-catching, which works for my I need to see it style, and the fun theme keeps things light. In addition, it's easy enough for a drop and run organizer to drop a note into the file folder.

    Whether you're organizing supplies for a hobby or details for a dream job or destination, a little organization can ensure more fun and less frustration.