Thursday, September 27, 2018

3 Keys Thursday: 3 of My Favorite School Tools

Photo: Dodgerton Skillhause via Morguefile
I had every intention of writing a new post today, but I got sucked into the Kavanaugh hearings, so I've chosen to repost an entry from two years ago that fits with this time of year. In next week's 3 Keys, I'll look at how these tools have evolved to meet my changing demands. 

Beginning a new semester is always a messy proposition -- at least for me. As new ideas proliferate and mix with old papers, I end up with piles which, if not put in some kind of order, threaten to bury all those great ideas before I even get started. Since my styles haven't changed, I know just which tools I need to get me through the transition from summer to semester. Here are a few of my favorites.
  • Flat surfaces. I hinted yesterday that my sofa is one of my organizational tools, but the truth is, any flat surface will do when it comes to packing my bag for school (or packing anything for anywhere, for that matter.) To make sure I don't forget anything, I lay everything out, separated into piles by course (a general psych pile, an early child development pile and a freshman seminar pile). Then, each pile goes into a hanging file folder that goes into my bag, and off I go!
  • Steno book. This is a new addition to my arsenal. The two column layout allows me to put two classes on the front of each page and my third class and my writing projects on the back. This keeps all my to-do lists in one place, held together by the spiral at the top of the book. In the past, I've used single sheets divided into sections, but they quickly become crumpled in my bag and the lists invariably intermingle. I'm very optimistic about this new approach, especially since my writing, which gets short shrift during the semester, has its own column among all of the teaching stuff.
  • Planners--this year's and last year's. When it comes to my classes, I use my planner as a combination calendar/journal. I write all my due dates (color coded by class) on the month-view pages and use the daily pages to keep track of my progress. Then, when it comes time to set due dates for the coming semester, I simply go back to my notes to create my course calendar. As a global person, I'm much less stressed out by the details of due dates when I have a reference point, and, once I've updated this year's planner, I can set aside last year's version, grateful for its assistance. I'm not quite ready to get rid of it yet, so I'll store it with my reference materials.
Having the right tools is key to getting off to a good start. What are your favorites?


Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Is There Any Such Thing as a Permanent Solution?

One of the things I like best about organizing by STYLE is its flexibility. Don't like binders? Try an accordion folder. Not a fan of the file cabinet? Use individual standing files. Have a tendency to cram and jam or put things in a "safe place"? Choose storage that supports what you do naturally -- flexible and/or see-through containers -- instead of "shoulding" yourself into using a traditional tool that frustrates you.

Another benefit of the flexibility of this method is that it automatically lends itself to change. No matter how perfect the system, it needs to be dynamic in order to meet changing demands, uses and time constraints.

Case in point: my school stuff. Each semester, I have things to sort, store and carry back and forth. Old faithful tools -- my planner, which doubles as a lesson plan book, my pencil case loaded with writing implements and office supplies, my pocket folder that houses reference materials for each class -- form the foundation. From there, I add tweaks and tools to fill any gaps that arise.

A few semesters ago, I added a clipboard to my arsenal of supplies. It came in handy during the first few weeks of class, providing a place to house rosters and seating charts as I learned my students' names, and then I set it aside. This semester, the clipboard has earned its keep, playing a role in my attendance-taking, thanks to a new online system. In addition, I added a single sheet of paper to my clipboard, one that summarizes my schedule and appointments for the week. It's amazing what a big difference that small change has made in bridging the gap between my school schedule and my home schedule. One piece of paper has combined my to-do lists, and appointments for two parts of my life, uniting two separate pieces of the same puzzle.

Finding a tool that works is wonderful. Finding one that will grow with the demands and changes of daily life is even better. While it's tempting to wish for a permanent solution to our organizational needs, finding ways to adapt and adjust not only refines our systems, but our overall organizational skills as well. And, since a stagnant life would be a boring life, we might just have to adjust to the one true rule of organization.

It's a process.

Thursday, September 20, 2018

3 Keys Thursday: 3 Key Closet Considerations

Photo: Dodgerton Skillhause via Morguefile
In some ways, closets are the great equalizer. Whether your organizational style is I need to see itcram and jam or I know I put it somewhere chances are that if you're looking for clothing, your closet makes the short list of places to start. Once inside, however, taking your styles into account can make the difference between finding what you want in wearable condition and digging through piles, hoping the item you want is clean and not (too) rumpled. 

Here are three of my favorite closet considerations. 

Color code. In this case we're not talking about using files or folders, but hanging clothes of similar hues together. This makes it easier for those with an I need to see it or I know I put it somewhere organizational style, (along with with cram and jammers who actually hang things up) to find that particular red blouse or navy skirt, or perhaps to rediscover one you forgot you had.

Standard issue might not be the standard. Walk-in closets notwithstanding, standard issue closet equipment usually consists of a hanging rod and a shelf, but, depending on your styles, these might not be the best tools. Shelves, drawer units, hooks and bins can augment or replace the standard issue, especially if they're a better match for your styles.

Light it up. If you can't see what you're looking for, every trip into your closet becomes an adventure -- and not necessarily a great one.While walk-in closets often come with their own lighting system, smaller, older closets often need an assist. No electricity? No problem. Small, battery-operated, stick-on lights can be stuck wherever they do the most good. If all else fails, try equipping your closet with a good flashlight.

One of the best things about a closet is that it is, at heart, a big, rectangular space -- one you can customize any way you'd like.


Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Just One Dress

Nietjuh via Pixabay
More than a decade ago, my elementary school students were doing a survey on school uniforms. They asked me my opinion: should students wear uniforms to school?

My answer? Only if teachers can, too.

Then, the other day, I read an article about a NJ teacher who is planning to wear the same dress every day for the first 100 days of the school year as a means of teaching her students about sustainability. 

As I searched for the news item today to write this post, I discovered that it's not just teachers who  are doing this. Last year, a busy Washington, DC mom and professional decided it was time to adopt a uniform of her own. Tired of wasting time that could be better spent, she decided that if men (e.g. Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg) could do it, women could, too and, in her words, "it changed my life." 

And she's not alone. My online search yielded stories about other professional women -- many of them creative types -- adopting a work uniform. There was even a blog called The Uniform Projectalmost a decade old, also built on the principle of sustainability.

I didn't realize that I was ahead of my time with my slightly snarky answer to my students' survey. Though my response had less to do with sustainability and more to do with simplifying the whole getting dressed for work ordeal, the whole idea of a work uniform definitely had appeal.

So yesterday, thinking that there would be organizational advantages to a core wardrobe, I set out to create a Five Easy Pieces list. Five Easy Pieces stretched to 10 and then 12 before I realized the top I was wearing wasn't on the list and gave up.

Okay, so maybe I'm no longer a uniform girl, or even a Five Easy Pieces aficionado. I like my accessories and splashes of color, after all. But, if I tweaked the idea a bit, stopped thinking of my basics as boring and started thinking of them as building blocks, I could probably weed out a whole lot of stuff that I really don't need.  

Honestly, I'm already halfway there in that probably half of my closet consists of clothing that is black, white or a solid color that goes with black or white or, failing that, khakis or jeans (my other standby). Somewhere along the line, I decided that I needed more variety and so other pieces began filling the shelves and rods.

As excited as I was yesterday about the prospect of Five Easy Pieces, I'm not sure it's something I can do long term. Still, considering this idea in the first place made me think about the role that our personalities play in organizing our closets and how a simple adjustment in my thinking (boring vs. building blocks) can perhaps lead to making some hard "Let it Go!" decisions easier.  

I'm still pondering all of this, wondering if I could live happily out of a closet consisting entirely of black, white, jeans and maybe a red piece or two for variety. And, while I know I won't be wearing the same dress for 100 days any time soon, that New Jersey teacher's project has me thinking about my own closet in new ways, not the least of which is how much clothing does any one person really need?

How about you? Could you scale back to Five Easy Pieces? The same work uniform each day? What clothing acquisition tips do you have for keeping your wardrobe organized and under control?

Thursday, September 13, 2018

3 Keys Thursday: 3 Keys to Preserving Clear Space

Photo: Dodgerton Skillhause via Morguefile
Clear space: the Final Frontier (with apologies to Gene Roddenberry). A respite for the eyes and a goal we all strive for. We sort and we find homes and we even let go of our belongings in order to gain this one, often elusive thing.

So why is it that we so often let it slip away?

Time and space -- or shortages thereof -- are the most common culprits. Since we can't magically create more of either just because we want to, we need to treat this valuable commodity like the endangered species it is. Here are three keys to help make that possible.

Stake your claim. While our eventual goal may be lots of clear space, this is no small feat in a busy household. Choose one clear space that matters to you and declare it a "no clutter/no dumping" zone. Go public, letting your family know that this space is off-limits to all clutter. Items that have homes should go where they belong and homeless items need to land somewhere else.

Practice what you preach. That "no clutter" rule goes for the de-clutterer, too. If this is newly claimed space and breaking the dumping habit proves challenging, put the Don't put it down, put it away! guideline into action. This simple change can grow into a habit that allows you to preserve that coveted clear space.

Expand your territory. Once you've got one area under control, try the same steps in a different spot. If you've got kids, this might happen slowly, but creeping clear space is better than none at all.

With apologies to Oscar Hammerstein, when it comes to clear space, once you have found it, never let it go.

Monday, September 10, 2018

The [Im]Perfectionist's Guide to Sorting Your Stuff

For more than a decade, I've been teaching and writing about organizing, using silly style names like I need to see it and I know I put it somewhere. Initially, I taught lessons and ran small groups with elementary school students, helping my kids who struggled with organizational skills to look at the process from a different angle. Mostly, I focused on helping them to explore ways of organizing that worked with what they did naturally, helping them to focus on what they were doing right instead of what they were doing wrong.

When I retired, I took my show on the road, and discovered that adults enjoyed the silly names and styles-based approach as much as the kids did. It injected a sense of humor into a process that could be fraught with self-recrimination as we struggled to do something that seemed to come so easily to everyone else.

And I do mean we. From the very beginning, I was in on this process. My students knew what my desk looked like (the opposite of clean and clear, thankyouverymuch) and they knew I was in this with them. I wasn't preaching the same old-same old; I was in the trenches with them, turning my I need to see it/drop and run styles into a system that made it possible for me to find what I needed when I needed it.

As an educator, I knew instinctively that balancing strengths and needs was key, but it wasn't until I started teaching positive psychology and exploring character strengths that I realized there was a whole field devoted to coming at things from our strengths. Discovering there was research behind what I'd been doing all along was the final puzzle piece, one that legitimized this instinctive process for me, the psychology instructor.

It was pretty early in this process that I thought Organizing by STYLE might make a good book, but it wasn't until after I retired that I started blogging regularly about it. Even then, I couldn't quite find my way in -- a way that made sense beyond a succession of blog posts.

Then last spring, with the help of Sarah Reinhard at Our Sunday Visitor, I began shaping these ideas and lessons and blog posts into a book. I signed a contract and got down to the hard work of turning my dream into something tangible.

Last week, I got an email from my editor telling me that my not-quite-a-book-yet had a name. Know Thyself: The (Im)Perfectionist's Guide to Sorting Your Stuff is due out next spring.

Know Thyself will be my fifth book, tipping the non-fiction to fiction ratio back in favor of the non-fiction realm in which I started. I'm pretty sure Marita and Bets will have something to say about that, though, and will insist on tipping the scales back to even, if not in their favor (eventually).

Meanwhile, I'm left pondering a question that I'm surprised never occurred to me before. Which of the personal and organizational styles fits each of my characters?

If you've got an opinion on that subject, feel free to comment below. I promise I'll read them all as soon as I float back down to earth.

Thursday, September 6, 2018

3 Keys Thursday: 3 Keys for Digging into De-Cluttering

Photo: Dodgerton Skillhause via Morguefile
Currently, I'm at work on the Let it Go! section of my organizing book. As often happens, writing inspires action and I feel motivated to tackle the clutter in my office that's been calling to me all summer. Unfortunately, this is often easier said than done. Although I love stuff isn't my primary personal style, all of the stuff that piled up in my office was, at one time, stuff that was important for one reason or another. Consequently, it takes more than a writing-induced nudge to turn motivation into action.

One way to jump-start that motivation is to devise a plan of attack, but a bit more greasing of the skids helps to keep things going if and when the plan stalls. Here are three ideas to keep in mind when the implementation is harder than expected.

Start with something easy. I opted to start my latest attack on my office with binders I hadn't opened in over a year. No-nonsense, non-sentiment-provoking paper. Starting out by sorting something where the keep/toss decision is relatively easy keeps us from hitting a wall at the outset. Similarly, starting to sort piles from the bottom is easier than starting at the top. With paper and clothing in particular, the oldest items are usually on the bottom of the pile. Outdated and forgotten, they're relatively easy to get rid of. Once we've tossed a few things, the whole Let it Go! process just feels easier.

Start small. Nothing makes me procrastinate faster than feeling overwhelmed. Promise yourself you'll eliminate one pile or work for half an hour, and then walk away, secure in the knowledge that you've made progress. Maybe even play "Beat the Clock," setting a timer and seeing how many items you can toss or put away before the timer goes off or tell yourself you can stop after you toss or put away a certain number of items.

Pick a season. Although I mean to go through all of my Christmas stuff in the off-season and my school files over the summer, what usually happens is that the need for these items (or new versions of them) is what finally motivates me to attack the piles. As with strategy #1, tackling old stuff can be just what I need to stop procrastinating and start de-cluttering, especially if it means making way for new and improved versions. And, when my mind is already "in gear" for a particular task or season, the work goes more quickly.

When Let it Go! feels too challenging, it's easy to procrastinate, which is sad because we miss out on the benefits a good de-cluttering session can provide. At its best, Let it Go! can help us feel lighter as we eliminate the old to make room for the new, or to free up the most beautiful of all organizational sights.

Clear space.

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

One Beautiful Thing

When you've lived in a house for practically a quarter of a century, things get tired. And, at my house, one of those things is me.

When we first bought the house, we excitedly poured ourselves into painting, updating, upgrading and all the things you have the energy to do when you're twenty-something (okay, thirty-something) and childless. Every summer, I'd take on a project, using the time between school years to take something in my house to the next level. By the time our daughter was born, we'd put our stamp on nearly every room in the house.

After our daughter was born, I had a little person to pour my energies into and just keeping the house in halfway decent shape was an accomplishment. Still, when she was little, I tackled house projects while she napped but, after a while, it became easy to coast, when it came to household projects.

Now, our empty nest looks a little bedraggled in places. I try to get excited to paint rooms and tear off wallpaper borders, but I'd rather write. Or sleep. Having become accustomed to looking past the little flaws (and the larger ones), I'm half afraid to look at this house from anything resembling an objective perspective because I'm afraid the to-do list would do me in. If it's an organizing project, I'm all in, but my enthusiasm for scraping, painting and big projects has waned.

From time to time, though, an organizing project meanders into decorating territory and I get that spark of enthusiasm home improvement projects used to give me. Last week, I ordered two bins from Target to house my daughter's paperwork for various things, which were reaching the point of needing file space of their own. As is the case so often in our little house, bringing in something new meant reconfiguring something old.

As is often not the case, however, this time I'd planned for it. Within half an hour, I'd brought order to the paperwork, relocated some items to the less-than-prime storage that was appropriate, yet overdue, tidied the space and made it look nicer.

For the rest of the night, every time I walked into the room, I smiled.

It took a few days, but it got me thinking. What if I set a really small goal -- one I could actually achieve with the time and energy I have available? I mean, isn't that how goal-setting is supposed to work?

majacvetojevic via Pixabay
So here it is: my small goal. Each week, I want to make one thing (or one space) in my house more beautiful. Organizing helps, but I want to move beyond just making it look good (putting everything away, for example) and add a little touch of beauty somewhere. It might align with an organizing project, it might mean looking at a space with fresh eyes and moving things around, or it might mean actually tearing off that tired old wallpaper border or repainting that window trim.

I'm sure it's the new bins speaking and my optimism will get squashed by real life some weeks (no sense in making the bathroom look pretty if there are no clean towels), but it's worth a shot. My house deserves it, and so do I.

After all, we've been together for a quarter of a century.