Thursday, August 31, 2017

3 Keys Thursday: 3 Cool Tools for Back to School

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

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

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

First week of school. Predictable as ever.

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

Here are a few of my favorites.

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Simple Strategies that Make Things Better

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, August 24, 2017

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

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

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

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

Last year's reminder: You will forget things. This year? Still true. We had a list of three things I needed to send her (in addition to the list of things to buy once we got her back to school) before we even got to campus. Reduce your stress by making it your goal to forget as few things as possible rather than to forget nothing at all. If you haven't done this before, or haven't done this since your own college days, you will forget something. If you're putting your child in charge, s/he will forget something. Aiming to do otherwise merely adds unnecessary stress to an already stressful situation. Why do you think the parents who've done this before recommend Amazon Prime?

Last year's advice: Be flexible. This year? If you haven't already accepted this as the cardinal rule of parenting, now might be a good time to do so. Make lists and make plans, but expect them to change. In addition, be prepared to be flexible about who's in charge and when your child is leading the way, resist the urge to micromanage. This is their life they're preparing for, so let them own the preparations as much as possible. Not only is it good practice for what lies ahead, but sometimes, they have good ideas. 

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

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

And She's Off!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, August 17, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Welcoming Style

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, August 10, 2017

From So-So to Spectacular

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

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

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

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

Alexas Fotos via Pixabay

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

The Saga of the Naked Flag Holder

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why are the flags in the crawlspace?

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

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

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

I change these flags more than once a year.

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

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

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

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

What other storage habits do I need to reconsider?

A question for another day.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

3 Keys Thursday: 3 Keys for Managing Big, Rectangular Spaces

Dodgerton Skillhause via Morguefile
Our homes are full of big, rectangular spaces. Planned well, these spaces -- closets, drawers and even refrigerators and chest freezers -- can be a storage dream. Left unattended and unplanned, they can quickly become a storage nightmare -- the dumping ground for all things homeless.

Yesterday, I wrote about one of them (my refrigerator). Even if I don't label my refrigerator shelves (the jury's still out), there are plenty of strategies to help to keep large spaces manageable. 

Store like with like. While every home has a junk drawer, no home should have a collection of them. The contents of each rectangular space (drawer, closet, etc.) should be related in some way that makes sense to you. Whether you cluster clothing by color, style, season or occasion, your closet should be set up in a way that not only makes retrieving the item you want easy, but also lets you see your options at a glance. Last week, I set up a drawer that now contains "stationery items and sticky things." Hardly a category I'd recommend on a regular basis, but I now know where to find mailing labels, Command hooks and oversized index cards.

Divide and conquer. As an I need to see it person, I value organization that lets me see things at a glance. When I open a drawer, I want to be able to see its contents without pawing through it. When I open my closet, I want to see what my choices are. Depending on your style, you may not need to see everything, but dividing large spaces into smaller ones makes retrieval easier. A simple drawer organizer can help you separate dark socks from light ones, pencils from paper clips and stationery from sticky things.

Let your style lead. Standard issue isn't always standard. Do you need to ditch the rod? Add another one below it for shorter hanging things? Add more shelves? Roll in some clear drawer units? Trade in your file cabinet for a cart that stores hanging files or open-top file bins? Trade in your binders for accordion files? Don't assume that whoever designed your closet, appliance or piece of furniture knows best. Only you can make it work for you.

Trust your instincts. With a little time and a lot of STYLE, you can make those rectangular spaces the organizing boon they were meant to be. 

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

If I Label the Refrigerator Shelves, Am I Crossing a Line?

Photo: W. Carter via Wikimedia Commons
In my mind's eye, there is a map for the inside of the refrigerator. Beverages go in one spot, leftovers in other, meat in a third. That is, to my way of thinking, why refrigerator manufacturers create separate compartments.

In my family's mind's eye, it's all a haphazard game. As long as the food gets into the fridge, they are satisfied.

Don't get me wrong -- I'm grateful that the food makes it into the refrigerator. I'm less grateful, however, when I end up throwing away once lunch-worthy leftovers because they got shoved to the back behind the applesauce which, by the way, belongs on a different shelf.

If you've been reading this blog for a while, you know that my house is by no means perfect. I am an organizational work-in-progress and my house has multiple hot spots -- places where clutter gathers to have a little party at my expense. I respect other people's right to organize differently than I do, but when my husband's I know I put it somewhere style meets my I need to see it style in the refrigerator, I spend a lot of time muttering under my breath and searching for solutions.

Last week, after I neatly re-stacked the leftovers and replaced the cut fruit on its shelf (the one where it belongs, not the one where it was), I seriously contemplated getting out the label maker and labeling the shelves. There's a good chance, after all, that what's in my mind's eye is different from what's in my family's mind's eye. I see shelves filled with food that can be categorized for easy retrieval. They see a large rectangular space that keeps things cold.

Photo: Morguefile
As I type this, I'm still considering my labeled shelves idea. The only thing holding me back is the ever-changing nature of refrigerator contents. The shelf that works for leftovers stored in stackable plastic containers might not work for the leftover pizza. Cut fruit needs more storage space in the summer than it does in the winter when we have less of it. Will constantly changing labels that are likely to be ignored cause more annoyance or amusement?

For now, I'm opting to leave well enough alone.

But the next time I throw away perfectly serviceable cold chicken, I just might change my mind.