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.