Thursday, January 26, 2017

3 Keys Thursday: 3 Keys to Balancing Old and New

Dodgerton Skillhause via Morguefile
Yesterday,wrote about the game of Whac-a-Mole that is the organizing process. Unless we stop bringing anything new into our homes -- something that's completely unrealistic in the long term -- we're constantly coping with a balancing act between just enough and too much.

While the one in-one out rule can help keep things under control, it's far too easy to end up on the wrong side of the line when we get busy. Couple that with styles and preferences that make it hard to get rid of things, and, before we know it, we're in Too Much Stuff-ville.

Have no fear. A few strategies can help stem the tide.
Get rid of the easy stuff. There are some things that are relatively easy to dispose of.
  • Things that are torn or broken, or missing pieces
  • Half a pair of anything
  • Things that are outdated (e.g back issues of magazines)
  • Things you no longer use  
Automatically getting rid of these things when you run across them can save you work -- and angst -- later on, as well as helping to develop a "weeding out" habit that helps keep clutter in check.
Create a stopgap. Not sure whether or not you can part with something? If it's an item of clothing, turn the item's hanger backwards. If it's still there, facing the wrong direction, at the end of the season, that might be all it takes to give you the nudge you need to let it go. Or, gather all of your maybes into one box (out of sight) and date it. If the box is still there in a month (or another time frame you decide on), get rid of it. Feeling brave? Don't even open the box.

Send it to a better place. Many people who struggle with throwing things away are happy to donate them, whether to an organization or someone they know who will love the item as much as they did. Find the inventory reduction method that works for you and put it to work.

One of the best ways to stay organized is to always have more storage space than stuff to fill it. How can you make this happen at your house?

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Winning at Whac-a-Mole

Most of the time, I'm okay with the fact that organizing is a process.

Other times, I become frustrated and feel as though I'll never be finished.

For every item that has a home, four others pop up, waiting to be put "where they belong" -- wherever that is. It's like playing Whac-a-Mole.

The ebb and flow of items into (and, one hopes, out of) our homes makes this process inevitable. Ideally, the addition and the subtraction occur simultaneously, but often, in the rush of excitement over something new -- or, perhaps, just in a rush in general -- we're reluctant to get rid of something old.

Sometimes it's easy. When we get a new refrigerator or a new sofa, the old one goes out, even before the new one comes in, creating space and making the whole change worthwhile.

But with smaller things, things like clothing, notebooks and pots and pans, we sometimes keep the old one around even after we've found its replacement -- you know, "just in case"-- a habit that only prolongs the process and contributes to the feeling that this game of getting organized is one that never ends.

Certain styles are more prone to this than others. I love stuff folks are notorious for attaching sentimental value to things the rest of us can discard with relative ease, and I know I put it somewhere and cram and jam organizers can stash things away so well they don't realize they have duplicates in the first place. I love to be busy people may have less trouble with the inclination to discard than finding the time to actually do it, while drop and run organizers and those with an I need to see it style may find the need to thin the always-in-view piles more obvious.

No matter your style, finding the balance between buying and selling, keeping and tossing and replacing and removing is a key part of the organizing process. The simplest way to keep this particular machine oiled is to get into the habit of making an even exchange -- when something new comes in, something old goes out. Ideally, the items take up approximately the same amount of space (no fair bringing in a sofa and tossing out a pair of pants), but they don't have to be identical.

While this won't change the fact that organizing is an ongoing process, it will accomplish two other things: it'll keep things under control in a small way, and it will give you practice for getting rid of things in a big way.

And, as a payoff, you might even get a peek at the most valuable of all organizational real estate.

Empty space.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

3 Keys Thursday: 3 Key Strategies I'm Using as I Head Back to Class

Dodgerton Skillhause via Morguefile
Today was my first day of class, and, this semester, I'm teaching two classes that are very similar in content. As I was organizing my materials last night, I was pleased to discover that I was able to plug things right back into my existing systems. Some have been part of my toolkit from the very beginning; others emerged last semester.

As you've heard me say so often here, organizing is a process. I've been teaching anywhere from one to three classes per semester for the past seven semesters. Over time, I've had to adjust my systems to both my course load and the specific subjects I was teaching. This became especially apparent when I moved from teaching two classes to teaching three classes. While the system I'd developed when I was teaching just one class expanded fairly easily when I taught two classes, it began to fall apart once I began teaching three classes.

Okay, so "began to fall apart" is a bit of an understatement. It imploded.

This semester, I'm back to two classes, but am swearing by the strategies that kept things together last semester when I was teaching three classes.

Color-coding. As much as possible, each class gets its own color. File folders are blue for one class, green for the other. I write due dates in my calendar in blue for one class, green for the other.

Before and after planning. Planning beforehand is a no-brainer; I can't walk into a 75-minute class and wing it. Getting into the habit of jotting down what I covered in each class (in blue for one class and green for the other) not only helps me to keep track of where I need to pick up the next time we meet, but these notes help me plan for the next semester as well. Keeping track of how long it actually took to cover each subset of the material  (in the same calendar with the due dates) helps keep me on track this semester and helps me craft a more accurate schedule for next semester.

Organized list-making. Little bitty slips of paper everywhere is not the key to remembering things, but, when you're on the fly, it's easy to fall into that trap. Last semester, I started using a steno notebook to keep track of what I needed to do for each class. The set-up of the book allowed each class its own column so I could tell at a glance what I had to do and which tasks belonged to which course. The simple act of separating tasks by course made it clear what I needed to do by 11AM and 2 PM on Tuesdays and Thursdays and by 9 AM on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

In this case, even more than in others, organization is a stress reliever. I always manage to work myself into a tizzy over the first day of class, despite the fact I've been teaching for more than 30 years. Knowing exactly where everything belongs allows me to control what I can and, while it won't make me any less nervous, it at least helps me to feel prepared.

And that's worth the cost of a few file folders.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

The Perfect Tool at the Perfect Price

If you've been reading this blog for more than about thirty seconds, you know I'm all about the right tools for the job. And, if you've been reading for a while, you know that, while I like to splurge occasionally when I'm convinced the container is just right, I usually start my search in clearance bins and dollar stores.

I've found a lot of great supplies at great prices. Accordion folders on the clearance racks at Staples. Paper organizers and plastic bins at Dollar Tree, and, most recently, my perfect planner, in the dollar bins at Target.

But two weeks ago, the same week I found my planner, I found what is, perhaps, my favorite set of file folders ever.

While I might have thought to label a folder "Today is the Day," (above) I tend to stick with more utilitarian names like topics or days of the week. I would never have thought to label my folders:

And yet, these names are so perfect! It's as though someone knew just what I needed -- how cool is that? All three folders have already been put to use, with papers in keeping with their themes placed safely inside. 

Now I just need to find the right place to put them -- some place that satisfies both the purpose of having a folder in the first place (to tuck things away) and my I need to see it  personal style, which is exacerbated by the visual appeal of these fun folders. I don't want to put them away, so I'm trying to find a place where I can see at least a portion of their brightly colored fronts and/or fun patterned tabs.

So, the morals of this story are a perfect fit for my philosophy. Good organizers can be pretty and  functional without being expensive. 

And, when you find the right fit, whether for your style or your circumstance, organizing can actually be fun.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

3 Keys Thursday: The Hanger Edition

Dodgerton Skillhause via Morguefile
Last week's forays into Pinterest, Target and my closet stirred up a renewed interest in the most basic of closet tools.


After hearing a tip years ago that closets not only look better but work better if the hangers are all the same, I began building my Joy Mangano huggable hangers. They're thin, yet sturdy enough for most clothing and they work well for small closets. Whenever possible, these are my hanger of choice.

But, as I was writing last week's post, I was reminded of some specialty hangers (like the scarf hanger I'm not using to hang scarves) that are great to have around. In addition, I discovered a few I didn't know existed. Here are three of them.
Tiered hangers. I use these for lots of things, most often, pants and most recently, tank tops. I originally bought the hangers at right to solve my sweater storage problem, but, despite the slim design, they got very bulky very fast when I used them for the sweaters I was trying to find a home for (although they work well for lightweight cardigans).

Bed, Bath & Beyond

The tank top hanger. Who knew? Certainly not me. I'd been using regular hangers, hangers with hooks (so I could hang them vertically, one hanger below the other) and tiered hangers. I was thinking of swapping out my traditional tiered hanger (above right) for one with clamps (above left), but I just might try this one instead.

Bed, Bath & Beyond

Bumps Be-Gone hangers. These are a laundry staple at my house. I don't use them in my closet because they take up too much space, but I love them for hanging clothes that need to drip dry.

I could easily do another week of posts on closet accessories -- maybe even on hangers alone! What closet organizers do you swear by?

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

The Big 3
A long time ago, I read a book called, Write it Down, Make it Happen! I'm sorry to say that I don't remember the specifics of the book, but I credit it with my belief in the concept that writing down a goal makes it more likely you'll accomplish it. Research agrees as well. Not only do we do a better job of meeting our goals when we write them down, but we're also more successful at doing so when we go public.

Although I do a good job of writing down my long-term goals, I'm not as good with short-term goals, and, when it comes to daily goals, I tend to overestimate what I can accomplish. Then, I get overwhelmed, and stop writing things down altogether. 

Sometimes, structured procrastination saves the day and I accomplish stuff, even though it wasn't what I thought I'd accomplish when the day began, and sometimes, I'm satisfied with that. But other times, perfectionism takes over and I become annoyed with myself for not doing that perfect thing -- you know, the one I was supposed to be doing in the first place.

Last week, I decided to try a new approach that I'm calling my "Big 3." I can't take credit for this, but, unfortunately, I can't give credit, either, as I know I've read something similar in multiple places. I've seen various numbers bandied about, ranging from writing down just one thing (the most important thing) you want to get done on up to other magical numbers, but I've settled on three. If I write down just one, perfectionism overtakes me; I feel as though it must be done in its entirety (and to perfection) by the end of the day. In addition, checking only one thing off my list seems insufficient.  

Much too much pressure for something that's supposed to be working in my service.

Big 3 became a plan quite by accident. One day last week, I was feeling scattered, and I thought writing down three things I wanted to get done before the end of the day would help me focus. I did this late in the day, when I felt as though the remaining hours were slipping away, and I wanted to harness some productivity.

And it worked.

So I did it again.

And it worked again. 

Even better, I felt a release of pressure. Instead of my relentless to-do list nagging at me, I was taking charge of it. Showing it who was boss and doing away with the "shoulds."

With three things on my list, I'm okay with not getting them all done to completion, let alone perfection. Simply spending some time on all three leaves me with a feeling of accomplishment. And, if it turns out that I can squeeze in a few more things, that's good, too. In fact, I tend to plan the rest of the tasks I tackle around my Big 3, which leads to a more productive day, even when all of the Big 3 aren't fully completed by day's end.

I'm still playing with timing. Now, I tend to set my Big 3 at the beginning of the day, but I suspect that when things get busy, I might also readjust later in the day to try to use the early evening hours more efficiently. 

You might prefer a different number. You might like writing down the most important thing, and planning the day around it. You might like focusing on just two things -- one for early in the day and one for later in the day.

Whatever you end up with, remember to be realistic. Writing focused goals doesn't add more hours to the day or more spring to your step. If you're not in the mood to put something on the top of the list today and it doesn't have an immediate deadline, save it for tomorrow. 

Finally, don't forget to put the fun stuff on your list from time to time. I have a stack of to-be-read books that never seems to shrink because I don't make reading a priority. Yesterday, I listed reading as one of my Big 3, giving me an excuse to walk right past other tasks so I could curl up with my book. 

And check it off my list.

Dominican University of California

Thursday, January 5, 2017

3 Keys Thursday: 3 New Ways to Look at Tried-and-True Clothing Organizers

Dodgerton Skillhause via Morguefile
Nothing like ending one day's post with a promise for more to inspire me to tackle my closet.

Actually, it was the unfinished nature of my organizational decisions, combined with some unexpected time to myself that got me going. That, and a little more time on Pinterest.

So, clearly, I can't take full credit for today's ideas. Inspired by this pin that I posted to my "Shoe Organizers: Not Just for Shoes" board last week, I set out to tame my leggings (easy -- I don't have that many) and their matching sweaters significantly more challenging). Along the way, I tried (and discovered) some ways to repurpose organizers to solve the organizational issues I was facing.
For leggings: A hanging, see-through shoe organizer. This is the pin that started it all. Unfortunately, most of the closets at my house have bifold doors, so I don't have anywhere to hang these wondrous problem-solvers. I thought about going to the dollar store to see if I could find the smaller ones meant for kids' closets, but in the meantime, we took our weekly trip to Target and I found this....

For leggings: A scarf holder. Since I (currently) have fewer than a dozen pairs of leggings, the lovely collection of circles at right allows me to store my leggings with my hanging clothes, while also staggering them so the holder doesn't get too bulky and take up too much hanging space.

Photo: Ask Anna

For sweaters: A shoe bin. Not only did this idea (left) solve my sweater storage problem, but it also allowed me to utilize the shoe bin we bought for my daughter for college -- the one that came home with us because she didn't have room for it. This idea works better for thin sweaters than their bulkier wintry counterparts, but it allowed me to get my burgeoning sweater collection under control. Well, that and the one in, one out rule. (When you buy something new, get rid of something old).

If you're on Pinterest, check out my boards. I'm working on updating the one on Organization Posts so you can find all of my posts from this blog on Pinterest as well, but I'm always adding to my boards on office spaces, closets and drawers, and organization in general, and creating new boards as I find new pins.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

That Which is Acquired Must Also be Stored

MabelAmber via Pixabay
I have a general rule of fashion: if I was old enough to wear it the first time it was in style, I'm too old to wear it when it (inevitably) comes back around.

Recently, however, I caved in and broke that rule for an article of clothing that got me through the 80s: leggings.

I didn't break my rule lightly. I spent more than a year taking in the various incarnations of leggings, jeggings, yoga pants and sweats that are ubiquitous on a college campus (where I work), determining what sort of fashion statement I did (or didn't) want to make. I'm at least thirty years older than these young adults, and the combinations that looked youthful and vibrant on them would look out of place (to say the least) on me. Not only that, but I no longer possess the twenty-something body of a college student or the yoga-toned body of some of my peers. Coverage would be key.

Last fall, after dusting off one pair of leggings that had survived the purge of BC (before child) clothing, I began acquiring new leggings and, along with them, sweaters that offered appropriate coverage. Fashion-wise, a hit. Storage-wise, a challenge.

The leggings were easy -- at least at first. They fold flat, don't wrinkle and can even be stuffed into small spaces if necessary. The long blouses that accompanied them in the fall were easy to accommodate as well; they are the stuff for which hangers were made.

It was the sweaters. Thick, long and unable to be hung without stretching in all the wrong places, they challenged my existing (full) clothing storage. They took up more than their fair share of space in the closet or any drawer in my bedroom. Honestly, I've yet to come up with an answer that thrills me, but, in the meantime, the less bulky ones are folded over hangers in my closet (the kind with the hooks that allow vertical hanging) and the two bulky ones have appropriated the better part of a drawer, necessitating a different storage solution for the lightweight cardigans that had been there to begin with (more vertical hanging storage). They'd be perfect on a shelf....if only I had a shelf that was unaccounted for. A bit more purging and rearranging may yet yield a perfect, STYLE-based solution, but, for now, I'm happy they're put away.

The success story, though is the leggings, for which I did find a solution I love. Tune in tomorrow to see what inspired me (thank you, Pinterest) and where I ended up.