Thursday, December 27, 2018

3 Keys Thursday: 3 Key Reminders for Organizational Works-in-Progress

DodgertonSkillhause via Morguefile
When it comes to organization, I'm a work-in-progress. I know what works for me, I know what to do and I know how to do it.

The trouble is, those things don't take me all the way to the finish line which means that even though I am organized, I don't always look organized. When time and energy cooperate, I generally come out on the winning end of the organization bargain, but often, they don't and I'm left with a gap between what I know and what I can accomplish. This annoys me, but even worse, it leaves me feeling vulnerable and somewhat lacking in the sense of humor department, especially when I get teased about my I need to see it piles.

At one time or another, I think that all of us feel like organization frauds. Whether it's our I need to see it or drop and run piles that give us away, or the I know I put it somewhere or cram and jam styles that leave us hoping guests won't look beyond our clear surfaces to see what's hiding behind door #1, we're always a little insecure about whether or not we're doing this organization thing right.

More often than not, we are, especially since "right" is defined by the user of the system. If we can find what we want when we want it, we're functionally organized, which is what matters most.

Still, there are those days when logic is insufficient to compensate for our organizational insecurities. Here are a few key pieces of advice for "one of those days."

Ditch perfection. No one is perfectly organized. Ask any Type A organizer to point to the flaws in her system, and she'll probably give you a list. Although a perfectly organized home and/or office is lovely, there's so much more to life than chasing organizational perfection. Know when to walk away from that need for perfection and read a book, take a nap or spend time with the people you love.

Start with successes. This first step in the STYLE process is meant to remind us of the things we're doing right. As an I need to see it/drop and run girl, I've learned what works for me but often, instead of seeing all the things I'm doing right, I focus on the piles of homeless items that seem to pop up relentlessly. If you must focus on what remains to be done (and, some days, we must), remember to counterbalance it with all you've learned and accomplished so far. Chances are, that will tip the scales in your favor (even if some organizing remains to be done).

Remember that it's a process. Thanks to a steady flow of items into our homes, whether groceries possessions, or some combination of the two, organizing is one of those life tasks that is never finished. In some ways, this is a good thing. Putting strategies in place that keep things from crossing over to the organizational dark side helps to stem the tide and gives us practice building organizational skills that work for us so that, over time, we become more efficient.

Accepting that when it comes to organization, things will never be perfect or finished can encourage us to cut ourselves a little slack. Once we stop beating ourselves up, we can use that misplaced energy to put a few more things away or come up with a new strategy that makes life easier.

Or maybe even develop a sense of humor.

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

The Sweet Spot of Just Enough

Alexas Fotos via Pixabay
On Monday over at The Porch Swing Chronicles, I wrote about a wonderful book I'm reading that inspired me to create an ongoing list of things that bring me joy. Reading this book and creating this list made me think of the STYLE approach, specifically, Let it go!

I take a much more laid-back approach to de-cluttering -- particularly dramatic decluttering -- than many other people who write about organizing. Since I'm not a professional organizer, I sometimes wonder if this is a good thing, but, in reading Joyful, in which the author discusses, "the surprising power of ordinary things to create extraordinary happiness," I felt validated.

Ordinary things really can bring us joy, not because of what they are, but because of what they represent. The starfish on my key ring that turns purple in sunlight can instantly evoke warm memories of family and friends, beaches and sunshine, as can the shell collections that I've placed in various locations throughout my house. The beads on my Pandora bracelets, a just-right pen or notebook, the ornaments we put on the Christmas tree (and the new one we add) every year -- all of these things are more than just things.

Don't get me wrong -- I'm not using "joy" as an excuse to keep everything I pick up (or put down on my counters). An important part of getting organized is finding the sweet spot between enough and too much, and, while it's easy to see when we've crossed the line into excess, it can be harder to see when we've moved in the other direction. We see de-cluttering as a good thing -- a sign that we're not bound to material things; when we get rid of things, we speak of feeling lighter. Minimalism and spare spaces are often hailed as the end goal of organized living.

I enjoy clean lines and clear countertops as much as the next person, but I would argue that a little bit of clutter -- particularly beloved clutter -- is a good thing. We just have to be selective. We've all done the well-intentioned purge that leaves us regretting the things we got rid of in the heat of an I'm-getting-organized-now moment, and we don't feel lighter. We feel sad.

learning_art via Pixabay
As we move past the joyous excess of Christmas, it's important that we don't let the pendulum swing too far in either direction -- that we learn how it feels to linger in the sweet spot of "just enough." Once we know what that feels like -- really feels like -- we'll get better at recognizing that feeling and knowing when we've arrived in that place. And this recognition of where we stand when it comes to our stuff, this, more than any manual, list, guideline or goal will tell us when we're organized in a way that works for us.

So, that thing you just can't get rid of now? Don't. Take time. Often, time is the most important ingredient in deciding whether or not to let it go.

Thursday, December 20, 2018

3 Keys Thursday: 3 Key Questions to ask When Organization and Christmas Spirit Collide

DodgertonSkillhause via Morguefile
My daughter is home! And she brought all of her stuff! Today's three keys focus on three questions to ask so I can be the cool mom who doesn't bring the Grinch (or, worse yet, the "Binch") to Christmas, but who still reclaims her living space.

  • Who? Who does the stuff belong to? Her stuff, her responsibility...but yelling and screaming and nagging won't get the job done. In fact, since my daughter is so much like me, it will probably lengthen the process and make everyone miserable as well -- not the end result I'm aiming for at Christmas. Pitching in a little at a time (removing things from where they don't belong and putting them in the space where they do belong) helps both of us feel less put upon.
  • Where? Finding logical homes is key -- perhaps even more so since some things will stay here only until she packs up again early next month, some will need to be stored until fall semester and some will likely take up residence here until some (undisclosed) time after graduation. The "a little at a time" approach described above helps ensure that we don't simply move the piles without improving the situation.
  • When? As soon as possible. Every trip between the places where things were dropped and the places where they'll be stored is an opportunity to improve the current state of affairs. My mom used to tell us to never go upstairs empty-handed, and this advice applies now more than ever. Our stairs are currently populated with a wide variety of items that need to go from one floor to the next. Every trip upstairs takes us closer to organization.

There are certainly other approaches that will work. Some of these include setting a deadline by which this must all be done (I have one in my head, but am keeping it to myself in the hopes of actually beating the clock); insisting it all be done now or simply setting aside time and doing it all at once. If these approaches work for you, there's no reason not to use them. Right now, though, my daughter and I are both in the sigh-of-relief mode that follows a busy semester and, if doing this in a relaxed, yet consistent manner gets the job done, I much prefer that to ultimatums. In addition, I'd like her to be able to walk in her bedroom (something that will be impossible if we simply move piles from one place to another). Perhaps more important, I have faith that, after a few days with some down time, this will bug her enough that she'll tackle it on her own. 

Years ago, a principal I worked for used to ask if "this" -- whatever the issue before us was -- was a hill we were willing to die on. 

It isn't. 

Pexels via Pixabay
Overwhelming someone who's already overwhelmed is never a logical solution. Spending the all-too-brief time I have with my daughter under our roof arguing over dishes and clothes is not my idea of time well spent. So, we'll make slow, but steady progress, keeping the who/where/when questions in mind and enjoying one another's company along the way.

Organization is important, but it isn't everything.

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

So This is...STYLE?

Okay, perhaps this is a slight exaggeration....
The semester has ended. Piles of papers have left the flat surfaces in my house to be returned into the waiting hands of my students. Clutter is being replaced by Christmas decorations and the house is starting to take shape. It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas and, little by little, it's getting a bit more organized around here as well.

Or at least it was.

Last Saturday, my daughter came home from college. This is typically cause for much celebration, especially when the visit is an extended one, and this time is no exception. Except...

She's going abroad next semester, so she brought her whole room with her.

Scratch that. She was on campus for an internship last summer and lived in a dorm with a full kitchen last semester. She brought a whole apartment (minus furniture) with her.

The big items went into storage near campus, but the small (and not-so-small) items are everywhere.
On the living room floor. On the kitchen counters. On the steps that connect our living room to the second floor of our house.

Typically, she does a drop and run in the mudroom but, since it's December, the Christmas tree (and her father's admonitions) have prevented this. While I appreciate the fact that this has eliminated the lovely vision of mostly washed pots and pans and plastic organizers beneath our Christmas tree, the sight of newly cleared spaces covered in piles raises my blood pressure and deflates my Christmas spirit.

I'm happy she's home. I'm happy she's home. I'm happy she's home.

Even if my baby steps in the right direction have taken a complete detour.

So, it seems that it's time to live by my own words, unless I want to eat them.

  • Start with successes: Most of the clothing and shoes, along with some other assorted paraphernalia have made it upstairs into her room.
  • Take small steps: One item (or armload) at a time, it will all make it to where it needs to go.
  • Yes, it has a home: And, for as much of this stuff as possible, that will be her bedroom.
  • Let it Go!: She's a pretty good downsizer, so I suspect she already thinned the piles before she packed the car. Now I just need to fight the urge to let it all go since that decision isn't mine to make.
  • Easy Upkeep: Once it's all in the room where it belongs, my upkeep will be incredibly easy -- her stuff, her upkeep.
Annalise1988 via Pixabay

Since 'tis the season to be jolly, I'll try to exercise as much patience as possible and see that the most important (i.e. visible) places are cleared first. While the responsibility is hers, this is more problematic for me than for her, so I will pitch in, keeping in mind the important fact that I don't want her visit tarnished by arguments over where the gay apparel she'll be donning resides.

Fa la la la la, la la la...


Thursday, December 13, 2018

3 Keys Thursday: 3 Tools for Moving from Piles to Organization

DodgertonSkillhause via Morguefile
Yesterday, I tried to analyze the why behind my "I need to see it" piles in an effort to come up with a better solution. If I want to get rid of the piles (and I do), my solutions need to replicate the benefits of the piles (yes, there are benefits). In addition, there needs to be a why behind my solutions, too -- especially if I want them to work long-term.

As often happens, potential solutions came to me as I was writing yesterday's post. They honor my I need to see it personal style and they come with whys of their own
  • For my magazines, I'll go with lidless bins because they're deep enough to hold the pile of reading material I'm still optimistic I'll get to while keeping it organized and mostly out of sight. Best of all, they keep the magazines visible enough to appeal to my I need to see it style.
  • For those miscellaneous papers with deadlines and the great new ideas for class, I'll try (separate) clipboards because they keep things visible and, even if I leave it where I can see it, it's neater than a random pile.
  • The stuff to be filed needs to be filed for obvious reasons. To make that easier, I need to keep refining my filing systems so that it's easy to both put things away in a way that makes sense and remember what labeling system I chose when I filed things away. I'm still working on this one, but I've learned that the necessary ingredients are open-top files, limited space (multiple small files beat one big, dark, closed drawer), colorful file folders... 
... and motivation.

Wish me luck.

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Is There a Pattern to Your Piles?

kconcha via Pixabay
Last fall, I wrote about piles as a system for those of us with an I need to see it personal style, and lately, I've been thinking more about what's in those piles. Once I started paying attention, it didn't take long before I realized that there's definitely a pattern to the things I pile up. Papers that are actionable or need filing and homeless items top the list, which led me to the next question.


When it comes to papers, I pile them instead of putting them away because I'm afraid of losing or forgetting something. I often make notes about new ways to do things, especially in my classes, and leaving the paper out and visible keeps the new approach in the forefront of my mind. When it comes to bills and other time-sensitive items, I leave those out so I won't forget to pay them and/or miss a deadline. Something about the bill staring up at me is more effective than marking a date on a calendar.

Last night, as part of the "make room" portion of my Christmas planning and decorating, I sorted through a pile of things that had taken up residence on the mail counter in my kitchen. This pile annoyed me greatly every time I saw it because that area is one I'm usually very good at keeping uncluttered. 

The pile contained the usual suspects -- papers to file, time-sensitive ads, envelopes for Christmas cards we've already received that I kept so I could check the addresses against my book -- along with
a plethora of one homeless item in particular.


I stopped my subscriptions to most magazines ages ago because they have a tendency to pile up before I have time to read them, but somehow, a few have crept back into the rotation. One is, unfortunately, a weekly publication.

I don't stand a chance.

By the end of the evening, I'd sorted the pile, written out about half of my Christmas cards (I need to buy another box), filed a few things and left a pile of magazines in my wake.

As I typed this, a potential home for those magazines popped into my head so, this evening, I know just what sorting task lies ahead -- clearing out the old and making room for the new. In this new home, the magazines will be slightly out of sight, but not entirely so, a compromise solution that will eliminate the pile and jog my memory, albeit to a lesser extent. In addition, I'll need to winnow the most recent and most interesting issues from the rest because there's no point in keeping issues I'm unlikely to read.

Finally, I need to consider these magazines a "maybe" pile, and mark them accordingly, topping the pile with a sticky note with today's date and an expiration date on it. If I haven't read them by the time I go back to teaching next semester, those magazines need to go in the recycling bin, or at least be resorted so the pile is more realistic. Not only will they be outdated by then, but my leisure reading time will all but disappear, making them clutter instead of reading material.

In organizing, as in life, I'm always happiest when I have a plan. I'm looking forward to seeing how this one works, but I'm even more excited to transform those miscellaneous piles into an actual stack of reading material.

Now all I need to do is add "time to read" to my Christmas list.

Thursday, December 6, 2018

3 Keys Thursday: 3 Ways to Organize, One Chunk at a Time

Alexas Fotos via Pixabay
Yesterday, I wrote about finding a strategy for getting through the tower of papers I need to grade every December. Just as with strategies for organization, the first time isn't always the charm but, since big jobs can be overwhelming, finding a way to break them into smaller, more approachable tasks.

Have a big job you need to get done? Here are a few ways to overcome procrastination and dig in, one step at a time.

Choose a time frame. Whether you Give it Five! or have an hour to spare, dedicating time to make progress is always a win. In addition, just getting started can get you on a roll so that you might just decide to continue after your designated time is up....Or not. It's up to you.

Choose a number. When time is available only in snippets or when you need to see piles grow smaller or spaces grow less cluttered, try setting a target number of things to put away by the end of the morning, afternoon, evening or day. Don't have a lot of time? Every time you walk past something that's not where it belongs, pick it up and put it away. More than just a few things out of place? Pick ups something every time you walk past. Baby steps.

One isn't always the loneliest number. Just one drawer, just one shelf, just one pile...all of these are good places to start. Best of all, you know when you're finished.

Getting organized doesn't have to be an all-or-nothing proposition. Every little bit helps.

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Chunky Tasks

Replace the coffee with an iced chai tea latte and you have
my current state of affairs.
(Photo credit: Quinntheislander via Pixabay)
As I write this post late on Wednesday afternoon, I'm taking a break from grading papers. It's the point in the semester where the piles of papers seem only to get larger and never to diminish. Over the past several years, I've played with a variety of strategies for getting through them, and the one that I've finally landed on is chunking.

I started out chunking by time, setting a goal of grading for, say, an hour before taking a break. While this was a good start, it didn't give me the sense of completion I sought. I knew I'd put in my time but, somehow, the pile didn't look appreciably smaller.

This semester, I'm chunking differently. I calculated the number of papers I needed to grade and when I needed to have them all back by, then decided how many papers I needed to grade each day in order to meet my goal. This way, I know exactly how many papers I've done (and how many remain) and that seems to be more rewarding.

Why not grade them all at once? I can do that with exams but, with essays, I grow weary and reach a point where the fifteenth paper is definitely not getting the same level of patience as the fifth, let alone the first. My students and I both benefit when I set reasonable goals.

Though I like this plan (especially since I'm on track to finish the last paper in this week's stack tonight), it does mean that I'm sometimes spending more time on this task each day than I'd like to because other things get pushed aside. I needed to skip church choir practice on Monday night because I wasn't on track to meet my goal and I haven't written much of anything all week because grading has been at the top of my list.

So what does all this have to do with organizing?

It's simple. This works for our organizing goals, too. Some we can face head on, powering through until we're finished. Others we can allot a certain amount of time to and, even if there's work to be done when time's up, we end with a sense of accomplishment. But, in some cases, we need to just break the big, overwhelming task down into smaller bits, building breaks in along the way so we don't stress ourselves out or lose our will to complete the task at hand.

Tomorrow, I'll take a look at three ways to apply chunking to piles and organizing tasks but, for now, I have papers to get back to.

Thursday, November 29, 2018

3 Keys Thursday: 3 Keys to Preparing for the Holidays

Daria-Yakovleva via Pixabay
Last week, we celebrated Thanksgiving which means that this week, my husband is ready to start preparing for Christmas.

I, on the other hand, am not.

Don't get me wrong -- I'm looking forward to Christmas -- especially the part where my daughter comes home from college and hangs out with us. I've even done a little Christmas shopping -- the kind I can do online in my pjs while watching television.

You might say I'm not quite motivated yet.

Sometimes, though, we can't wait for motivation to strike. We have to pave the way. So, here are three things I need to do so I can catch up with my husband's Christmas spirit.

Make room. We put our tree in the mudroom, which, when it doesn't house a Christmas tree, is something of a drop zone. As you can imagine, when someone with a drop and run organizational style uses a space as a drop zone, a little decluttering is in order before there's space for holiday cheer.

Make lists. At this time of year, writing things down is both helpful and overwhelming. Once I make the lists, some things will get assigned times (trimming the tree, for example) and others will get done in pockets of time or as the Christmas spirit strikes.

VisualExpert via Pixabay
Make progress. The second step in the STYLE process, Take small steps, is an especially useful one for me at this time of year. I enjoy the holiday preparations when I do them a little bit at a time, which is good since work obligations make things challenging through the middle of the month. Instead of spending one entire day decorating, I'm more likely to pull decorations out a little at a time and slowly transform things. Not only does taking small steps allow me to let the season unfold slowly, it also jump starts my holiday spirit.

Once all of these things have been done, I'm on my way to making merry.

How about you? Are you more like me, taking things slowly, or more like my husband, ready to jump right in to Christmas as soon as the last morsel of pumpkin pie has been consumed?

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Organizational Milestone

Last night, I hit an Organizing by STYLE milestone: I hit "send" and my book manuscript went hurtling through cyberspace to my editor. Know Thyself: The (Im)Perfectionist's Guide to Sorting Your Stuff is due out next spring (thank you Our Sunday Visitor!) So, today, I thought I might give you a little sneak peek at the contents.

This is my third non-fiction book, and I've learned that sending a book to an editor is a leap of faith. Changes are always a possibility, so I don't know how much the book they publish will look like the book I submitted. In addition, my manuscript was much longer than I expected (or proposed), so I have no idea how much will make the cut. As a result, there's a chance that what I include in today's sneak peek might not make the cut (and, if that's the case, you're likely to find it here later as new posts!) and so instead of giving you actual text, I'd like to share some of the concepts you'll find inside:
  • the styles (of course!), both personal and organzational 
  • the quiz
  • the STYLE process
  • how to use the STYLE process to put your styles to work
  • dealing with organizing obstacles
  • organizing with kids
  • time management tools
If you think the book sounds a lot like this blog, you'd be right. It's not a collection of posts, though, nor are the contents "ripped from the headlines" here. Instead, the book is a way to find all the things I write about here in one place, organized in a way that makes sense, rather than episodically like my posts. The book isn't the end of the road, though -- I've got lots more to say here as well, at least for the foreseeable future.

As I stand at the crossroads, I'm wondering...what's on your organizational wishlist? What would you like to see me address in future posts?

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Throwing Some STYLE at the Problem Areas

Last week, I wrote about staying on the right side of the organizational line. Though I've made a little bit of progress, I still feel as though I'm on the wrong side of the line. With a book deadline in ten days and the end of the semester rapidly approaching, it's tempting to just camp out here and wait until I end up on the other side of those lines before making a difference, but that's not a good plan.

First of all, it feels terrible. I don't like seeing the piles or feeling the incessant nudge to do something about them.

Second, letting it go means that the piles will attract piles and that is not something I want to see.

So it's time for some STYLE.

Start with Successes: No one area is completely out of control. The table in the family room, often a magnet for my schoolwork-in-progress, is nearly clear. All of the accumulated mail and paper on the kitchen counter and the dining room table are contained to essentially one pile. These are, admittedly, small successes, but they're in the areas that most need attention, so I'll take them. More important, they lead me easily to...

Take Small Steps. I can (and will) get up right now and put away the remaining items on the family room table. Done! (And in about five minutes). In addition, I put away a couple other drop and run bonuses I'd left myself and morphed right into...

Yes, it has a Home (putting that stuff away meant it had to go where it belonged) and...

Let it Go! (extraneous/outdated items were easily tossed in my desire to clear the space).

As for Easy Upkeep, the fact that I could make that much actual progress (as opposed to just putting the stuff in a random location to get it out of sight) in that little time is an indication that I have systems that are working.

Why, if it was that easy, did these piles form in the first place? No matter how good our systems (and mine, although imperfect, are pretty good because I've been doing this for over a decade), real life intervenes. A shortage of time. The urgency of a deadline. A different priority (dinner with friends and watching a movie with my daughter, who's home for only a week, rose to the top of the list Saturday night). Sheer exhaustion. Too much stuff. A sense of overwhelm.

You get the picture.

These things happen. It's what we do after they happen that makes the difference between a short-term clutter situation and a long-term problem. I'm off to a good start because I found an easy place to begin taking small steps. Now, I need to make the other piles a priority and either set aside time to deal with them or simply practice Give it Five! consistently until the remaining piles are gone. In addition, I need to not leave myself any new drop and run bonuses along the way because those will only compound the problem.

As I type this, I see other things that need to be done, so I am writing them down to keep myself accountable. The quick and easy ones will probably be swept up and out of sight in my next Give it Five! attack, and the others will stare up at me from my list until I get them done and/or assign them a time slot on my calendar.

Small steps.

Thursday, November 15, 2018

3 Keys Thursday: 3 Things to do on a Snow Day

Today, I declared a snow day. The college where I work has yet to follow suit but, in light of a forecast with 100% probability of precipitation during my scheduled classes, I canceled them pretty much at the first sign of a snowflake. Not only am I a snow chicken, but I have a lot of students who commute and I didn't want my class to be the reason they were on the road.

So now, a beautiful, empty day stretches out ahead of me -- a beautiful, empty day with a lengthy to-do list, that is. I could double down and see just how much I could cross off that list. Or, I could practice a little balance.

Guess which one I'm opting for.

Sometimes, time management is as much about taking down time as powering through. I have every intention of tackling my list, but a snow day is a gift -- found time -- and I intend to treat it as such, incorporating these three things into my snow day to-do list.

Sleep. If you're a person who practices good sleep hygiene -- going to bed and getting up at the same time each day, getting seven to eight hours of sleep each night -- you might not need to add this to your list. I am not that person. The best part of a snow day, for me, is rolling over and going back to sleep.

Do something intentionally. When our days are packed, we often blaze through them, doing what we need to do and not paying much attention to most of it. Days that are more slow-paced can remind us to take things -- or at least one thing -- slowly, paying attention to what we are doing instead of flying through it on autopilot.

Do something you've been putting off. I made progress on the piles in my family room the other night, but they're not gone yet. Nor is the mail pile on the kitchen counter or the "stuff to get to" on the dining room table. I won't get to all of them today, but I'm determined to eradicate at least one of them. I also realized the night before last that I hadn't set November goals yet. Perhaps the middle of the month would be a good time to tackle those.

I'm not naive enough to think that everyone gets a snow day, or that snow days for parents of school-aged children look anything like mine. But today's snow day was one of my own creation, with a major assist from Mother Nature, reminding me that we don't always have to wait for snow days to drop themselves into our schedules. Some days, we can create a "slow day" of our own.

And we don't even need an assist from the weather to make that happen.

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Staying on the Right Side of the Line

Conger Design via Pixabay
After being contained into submission not so long ago, they're back. The bane of my I need to see it personal style.

The piles.

They have homes -- good ones. Simple ones. 

Clearly, not simple enough. 

Too many papers, too little time and too many deadlines have crashed headlong into one another. And the result isn't pretty.

As someone with an I need to see it personal style, piles are my default. In moderation, they can actually be helpful, prompting me to take action. The trouble is, the line between moderation and visual overload can be very fine indeed. In fact, I often don't see the line until I've crossed over it.

In the middle of writing this post, I stopped, got up, and tackled the piles -- or the ones in this room, anyway. The clear space on the table now far outpaces the one small stack of items I've left out for tomorrow's class. I still have just as much to do, but the sense of relief is palpable, even though a couple of the piles have migrated to the sofa where I am sitting so that I can organize them before putting them where they belong.

For many of us, our default styles were an obstacle for a long time before we started organizing by STYLE. Pressed into service, these personal and organizational styles can be useful, but it's also easy for us to cross the line and fall into old (bad) habits. Often, the first clue we get that we've crossed the line is a sense of being overwhelmed. When that happens, it's time to take charge and make sure our styles are working for us instead of against us.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I still have a few piles to attend to. I need to show them who's boss.

Thursday, November 8, 2018

3 Keys Thursday: 3 Keys to Organizing by STYLE

DodgertonSkillhause via Morguefile
As I work on the book version of Organizing by STYLE, this poor blog is definitely taking a hit. Today, I was working on a chapter based on these 3 Keys posts and I got to thinking about how these posts came to be.

One of my favorite places to write is on the screened-in porch of the condo where we stay at the beach. Three summers ago, I was working on this blog during one of those beach trips when I thought it might be fun to distill each of the styles down to three key ideas....

And 3 Keys Thursday was born.

So tonight, while it's still Thursday (but barely), I'm sharing three key ideas for keeping Organizing by STYLE going, even when it feels as though it's taking a hit. If I can do it with this blog, you can do it with your home, office, car....

You get the drift.

Look around. Acknowledge your successes. When we organize by STYLE and it works, it lasts. Sure, there’s always more to tweak, more stuff to organize, more spaces to improve, but once we figure out what works, it gets easier. Then, we can replicate our successes to create the order we desire.

Decide what comes nextOnce you create a system that works for you, it becomes self-sustaining, and you can move on to the next organizational challenge. Some days, it feels as though all we're doing is running from one pile to the next -- and some days, we are. Be patient.

Let the spirit move you. Though we can't always wait for the mood to strike, there's nothing like being in the right frame of mind to spark motivation. So maybe the thing you're doing isn't the thing that was at the top of your list -- or maybe you're finally getting to it at 11p.m. The important thing is that something gets accomplished.

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Reflections on a Love of Stationery

CongerDesign via Pixabay
When I was a little girl, I used to go to the five and ten with my mom. My mom didn’t drive, so we’d walk downtown — or at least that’s how I remember it. Though I loved walking up and down all the aisles to see everything this amazing store had to offer, the stationery aisles were always my favorite. If memory serves, that was where I found my flowered binder in fourth grade, splurging on pink looseleaf paper to put inside it.

Later in elementary school, I discovered the stationery store about eight blocks away from the five and ten — one big place that put single aisles of school supplies to shame. I could literally buy paper by the pound, a concept I'd never before imagined. I could mix and match by color, size and texture.

These days, I indulge my love of office supplies in the stationery aisles at Target and office supply stores. Though I've outgrown my affinity for pink looseleaf paper, as a writer, I'm particular about the pens and notebooks I use. My collection of notebooks, folders, sticky notes, pens and the like probably rivals what I found in those stationery aisles so many years ago. 

There are some loves we never outgrow.

About a decade ago, when I was teaching organizing by STYLE to my elementary school students, I brought a bit of my love of office supplies to my fifth graders. Each month, I offered a school supply giveaway, with one winner in each fifth grade classroom. This gave my students an opportunity to experiment with different organizational tools, but I got a payoff, too -- it was a lot of fun to watch my students get as excited about school supplies as I had at their age.  

These days, organizational supplies have moved far beyond binders and pink looseleaf, which is a boon to all of us who organize differently. In most areas, five and tens are long gone, replaced by dollar stores, office supply stores and, of course, Target and WalMart. Much as I enjoy my weekly trips to Target and my time spent wandering the stationery aisles there, it's not quite the same as meandering through the five and ten.

Finding the "just right" tool for each of our organizational needs can be a challenge but, for me, sometimes it's still as much fun as walking up and down the aisles of the five and ten.

Thursday, November 1, 2018

3 Keys Thursday: 3 Keys to Surviving a Six-Day Week

Photo: Dodgerton Skillhause via Morguefile
Last night, I crept up to bed after my husband was already asleep (the norm when a night owl marries a morning person). He stirred and, before rolling over again, wished me a happy November 1.

Suddenly, I was wide awake, and none too happy about it.

I am entering the month of six day weeks. I've got lots of good stuff going on, including spending this Saturday at the York Book Expo and going to a concert in New York City but, unless I make some adjustments, my writing time will take a beating (not to mention the stuff around the house I usually on Saturdays). The semester will be ramping up at the same time, too, and the holiday season is just around the corner. 

When it rains, it pours.

No matter how valuable or enjoyable the activity that leads us to "lose" one day out of the week, we can be left feeling behind schedule, and a tad stressed out in the week that follows as we try to "catch up."

When this happens, it's helpful to remember to do a few things as you tackle your "six-day week":

Breathe. Tension and stress do absolutely nothing to help us accomplish our tasks or reach our goals. In fact, they often do just the opposite. Breathe, try to relax, and tackle one thing at a time.

Triage. I'm not a medical professional, so my understanding of this term is limited to my extensive experience watching television medical dramas. Fortunately task triage is much less intense than triage in the emergency room, and boils down to three questions: Who matters most? What matters most? and What has a deadline?

I know, I know -- they all matter. It all matters. 

But you know what? It doesn't. Some tasks and some people take precedence. To quote Stephen Covey, "Put first things first."
Stop worrying about what you can't control. This includes other people being miffed because you didn't do what they wanted you to do. It's hard enough to make decisions about what comes first without trying to second guess other people's interpretations of your choices. And often, they're trying to make the same hard choices you are...which means they aren't even thinking about what you're doing.

I know. Easier said than done. The ideal situation is to have just the right amount of stuff to do each day with none that carries over into the next day, the next week, the next month.

Wouldn't that be wonderful?

But we aren't robots, and there's much more to life than checking things off our lists. Luckily, breaking out of routine -- especially if it's to do something fun -- can recharge us. From a time management perspective, it can make us more efficient as we jettison the stuff that's not so necessary in order to get the important stuff done. 

So, this week, I'm ramping up my writing time during the week to make up for the time I'll miss on Saturday. If I weren't on deadline, I might just label the Expo "writing related" and worry less about "lost" writing time. Even better, since we turn the clocks back this weekend, I'm recapturing an hour.

It's not much, but I'll take it.

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Revisiting Those 18 Things for 2018

Photo credit: TheDigitalArtist via Pixabay

In writing last Wednesday's blog post, I came across a blog I wrote last January focusing on "18 Things to Try in 2018." So naturally, I got to wondering how many I'd actually done.

At the risk of embarrassing myself, I'm going to take a look.
  1. Embrace your styles. Always :-)
  2. Don't put it down, put it away. I actually repeat this to myself so I remember to do it. I don't   do it every time, but I'm making progress.
  3. Find a solution to one problem area. See #11:-)
  4. Clean out one closet. Hmm...not yet.
  5. Get rid of 365 things. Too many? How about 52 -- that's just one a week. I haven't been counting, but I have made a dent in my catalog pile and made one multi-box clothing & household goods donation. I have another pile of things to give away in the basement -- just need to finish packing it up and get it out. I'm pretty sure I've made the one per week goal, but some of those things were pretty small....
  6. Buy a planner you really love and use it. I was just talking to my dad about this last week! Because I've gotten in the habit of buying school year planners, I had to buy a new planner at the end of the summer. I thought for sure I'd find one cheap after all the kids had gone back to school, but I ended up picking out one that was larger than what I thought I'd wanted...and full price. No regrets :-)
  7. Use small chunks of time to clean up small spaces or make progress in larger ones. Story of my life! 
  8. Resolve to spend an hour a week making progress on a large space, like a garage, basement or attic. I still have another two months, right?
  9. Do something fun just for you. I wrote the original post when I was rehearsing a show. Nine months later, I still get together with my castmates at least once a month.
  10. Declare one hour each week "organizing time" and use it to tackle all the nagging little projects you never quite get to. Um...that would be a no.
    Alexas Fotos via Pixabay
  11. Make one area of your house -- a counter, a shelf, a desktop -- both organized and attractive. Yes! I bought basket with a lid and handles to corral all of my projects in the family room so I don't have papers all over the table. It works :-). I also transferred my daughter's paperwork from a plastic bin to a fabric bin that looks nicer and fits into the organizational set-up already in place. Finally got that set-up "just so."
  12. Resolve to keep one surface clutter-free. When I first looked at this one, I didn't give myself much credit, and one quick glance at my desk or my dining room table would tell you why. But after a little more thought, I realized that this is true, although it's true of only some surfaces. There are spots I've cleared off and made to look nice and those places remain clutter-free because I remain dedicated to making it so. Is every surface clutter-free? Not by a long shot. But the resolution is for one surface. Even though I have work to do, I've exceeded this expectation, a testimony to the concept of setting goals that are achievable.
  13. Assign homes to three important items you waste time searching for. Not yet.
  14. Splurge on one container that really fits your styles. See #11.
  15. Find the perfect purse or work bag. Yes! I switched from the work bag that looks nice to backpack that looks not quite as nice, but doesn't make my back hurt.
  16. Make a packing or grocery list template. Does the one I made years ago and stopped using count?
  17. Find permanent homes for ten homeless items. Who's counting?
  18. Be patient with yourself. Organizing is, after all, a process. Now that I can do.
What organizing accomplishments are you proud of?

Thursday, October 25, 2018

3 Keys Thursday: 3 Keys to Establishing Consistency

Photo: Dodgerton Skillhause via Morguefile
In yesterday's post, I came down on the side of flexibility when it comes to list-making. But since organizing requires both flexibility and consistency, how do we establish consistency, if that's our goal?

Here are three keys concepts to establishing consistency when it comes to organizing -- and other things as well.

1. Same time. Whether it's making your daily to-list, creating tomorrow's schedule or doing a quick pick-up to get ahead of clutter, doing it at the same time every day can help to establish a habit and good habits are one of the foundations of organization.

2. Same place. Maybe you put your keys or your purse in the same place every day or maybe you're good at using the systems you've set up so that things go in the same place every time. Or maybe you're working hard to find consistent homes for all of the homeless items that keep turning up. All of these things contribute to automaticity, another key part of organization. When we know where things go, we're more likely to put them away instead of just putting them down.

3. Same tool(s) - When we find ourselves using the same tool every time (consistently), that's proof that it works. Once we've established which tools work for us, we can use them everywhere in one form or another. Identifying the attributes of containers that work allows us to quickly find the tools we need to tidy up problem spots.

When it comes to time, flexibility is often the way to go. But, when it comes to stuff, consistency is key. What consistent habits and tools keep you organized?

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Consistency or Flexibility, Part 2: Lists

Alexas Fotos via Pixabay
About a decade ago, I sat beside a colleague prior to a meeting and watched her do what so many of us do frequently: make a list. She was making hers on a legal pad and, as I watched her flip the page and continue the list, I began to feel tired at the very thought of her list. I determined then and there that I'd never make a list that long.

Not very realistic, right?

Over the years, I've used lists in a variety of ways. Although my lists rarely approach the length of my colleague's, most are longer than I'd like.

Yesterday's was one of them.

Today, I once again found myself thinking about consistency and flexibility, mostly because my lists are consistently inconsistent. Some days, I create a master list and work directly from it. Other days, I move tasks from the master list to a calendar or schedule, assigning the tasks to specific days or times. Sometimes, I write down my Big 3 and leave it at that. The only thing that's completely consistent when it comes to my lists is that I always make one.

Over time, one of the things I've learned about lists is that different days call for different kinds of lists. Some days, I can't face the master list, so I go with the Big 3. Other days, when I feel as though I haven't accomplished much of anything, I use a backwards to-do list to set myself straight. Then there are grocery lists, holiday shopping lists, guest lists...the, ahem, list is endless.

Clearly, when it comes to lists, I come down on the side of flexibility because, in the end, making lists and using them is more important than what they look like, what I write them on or how long they are. And, since my memory definitely isn't getting better, I'm pretty sure the road to my future is papered with lists.

What are your to-do list habits?

Thursday, October 18, 2018

3 Keys Thursday: 3 Key Organizational Challenges

Photo: Dodgerton Skillhause via Morguefile
Wouldn't it be wonderful if we could reach a point where we could say, "Done! Organized!" -- and it would be true? But, in the real world, there are always new things to add, old things to sort and life changes that necessitate re-thinking our strategies. In addition, there are day-to-day obstacles that make organizing a challenge. Here are three of them.

The problem: An overbooked schedule. Try as we might, we often say yes to one -- or ten-- too many things. When our schedules get busy, we get tired and, perhaps a bit lazy as well. Even the best systems get ignored in favor of the easiest option.
The solution: Do what you can. Work within your established systems to keep clutter to a minimum and, when things pile up, as they will, don't despair. Give it Five! as often as you can until you have time to set things right. And, when that time arrives, step back and see what you're dealing with before you default to your default. Have you uncovered chinks in your organizational armor? If so, making some adjustments now -- new containers, new location -- might make a difference the next time your schedule spirals out of control.

The problem: Tiny spaces. I love our little house -- most days -- but, oh, what I wouldn't give for a walk-in closet! And our Cape Cod is a luxury home compared to the tiny apartments college students and city dwellers routinely call home.
The solution: The right storage. Look for containers and furnishings that are tall or stackable (maximize vertical space), fit underneath furniture and/or do double duty. Check out places that offer unusual items (import stores, flea markets, consignment shops and secondhand stores) that can fit into small spaces or function as whimsical touches and practical storage. While some kids' furnishings are obviously designed for children, others are often just the right size for smaller adult spaces. In addition, many dorm furnishings can be a lifesaver in small, non-dorm residences.

The problem: Transition times. Holidays and transition times -- back to school, moving, life changes -- bring such promise. Unfortunately, they also bring new tasks to pile on top of our day-to-day responsibilities.
The solution: Lists and schedules. Write it all down, even if it's just one big, long and somewhat intimidating list. Then, little by little, assign the most important of those tasks to time time slots. When we move things from a generic list to a specific time, we're more likely to actually do them.

When challenges and obstacles arise, remember to be patient with yourself. Every baby step forward is a step in the right direction.

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Are Piles a System?

Today, I left a mess in my wake. Clothing on the bed. Lists on the sofa in the family room and papers on the floor in my office.

Yesterday, I zoomed in on writing tasks, fully enjoying my midsemester break while it lasted and paying little attention to my impending return to class this morning. While I was in vacation mode, I even checked a few household items off the list. Then, when I could put it off no longer, I graded the papers that then took up residence on my office floor -- a loud and clear reminder that I needed to enter those grades into my grade book.

Today, I'm trying to get back into the swing of things and I'm rediscovering all the breadcrumbs I left for myself -- some before break, some during.

Unfortunately breadcrumbs are messy. But, for those of us with an I need to see it personal style, they work.

The first thing on my to-do list today was to clear up the papers on the floor in my office. But the clipboard I use for my day-to-day reminders beckoned, reminding me that if I didn't double check my weekly schedule, the dominoes would fall.

And it wouldn't be pretty.

By the time I'd finished returning morning emails and cross-checking them with the notes from my clipboard and the schedule I'd crafted, it was time to get ready for work.

And the papers were still on the floor. Enter the clothes on the bed, which, in my defense, were not out-of-season rejects, but rather clean clothes I brought up from the laundry room.

Closing the door behind me on the way to class, I sighed. Not exactly an auspicious start to my work week, shortened though it may be.

The good news? When I got home, I knew exactly where I needed to start. Pick up the papers in the office and put them in order. Put away the clothes. Check and update the to-do list on the sofa.

The bad news? Today's accidental method, while workable and a good fit for my I need to see it personal style in the short term, is clearly not sustainable. Piles and physical reminders work for only as long as we have time to keep after them. When time is tight, however, they quickly spiral out of control if we don't have an overall system in place. 

Building systems and methods around our styles gives us the best of both worlds. Strategies like color-coding, labeling and clear storage yield all of the reminders with none of the piles, while others like Give it Five! help us to manage the little style-based reminders that pop up when time is short. Once we've identified our styles, we can begin the process of moving from habits to systems. 

This afternoon, I was able to do away with the offending piles and cross a few things off my to-do list in fairly short order, leaving things better than I'd found them this morning. I still have things to do -- papers to grade, blog posts to write -- but at least my house isn't announcing them to the world. Each time I use my systems, I refine them a bit, making it less likely that the dark side of my styles will overwhelm their virtues, even when I'm short on time.

Which is most of the time.