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.