Thursday, January 31, 2019

3 Keys Thursday: 3 (Almost) Invisible Habits Worth Keeping

Photo: Dodgerton Skillhause via Morguefile
Last January, I posted 18 Things to Try in 2018. It wasn't a contest, nor was it a race to try to accomplish everything on the list. Instead, it was a starting point -- ideas to use to get started on the road to organization.

I thought about reposting the list, or even coming up with 19 things for 2019, but increasing the pressure seemed to defeat the purpose of the original list. And, since organizing is a process, some of the things we try work and stick, while others don't; part of the trick of getting to Easy Upkeep is determining which things to keep and which to abandon.

Which led me to the solution for my list.

Here are three (almost) invisible things I'm keeping in 2019. Each gives me a payoff that goes beyond a single project; because they continue to have benefits even after the project is finished, they're ideas worth hanging on to.

Drawer makeovers. Sometimes, these seem unimportant. Not only does my beautiful work remain hidden, I'm often the only one who uses the drawer in question. But, for someone with an I need to see it personal style, being able to open the re-sorted drawer and see everything inside is a wonderful thing. In addition, it makes it much easier to put things where they belong and find them when I'm looking for them.

Decluttering storage spaces. After 25 years in our home, both our basement and our crawlspace house a lot of stuff. As I was (finally) putting away Christmas decorations a few weeks ago, I spent some time moving beyond the space where the Christmas decorations were stored, pulling things out of the crawlspace and sorting through them. Wow. I didn't even remember I had some of that stuff, which made getting rid of it that much easier. Like drawers, storage spaces aren't as visible as living spaces, and so they get neglected. Taking the time to sort through their contents, even if only a little at a time can yield a big payoff in the form of clear space to store new stuff in, or to simply appreciate.

Just say no. I declared 2018 the Year of No. I didn't intend to say no to everything and, in fact, I said yes to a few opportunities that were time consuming, some of which I'll do again, and some of which I won't. The important thing was that they were, in my eyes, opportunities. Being intentional about what we take on is an important part of time management. I'm still working at finding the sweet spot every time, but giving myself permission to say no instead of automatically saying yes is a good start.

What (almost) invisible habits will you keep this year?

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Coffee (Maker) Conundrum
For Christmas, my husband wanted a Starbucks coffee maker (the Verismo). He loves one of their holiday blend coffees and last year, it wasn't available in K cups, so the only way he could get it at home was with a dedicated coffee maker. Starbucks addict that I am (though I don't drink coffee), I was on it.

I got a great deal on the coffee maker, which I found very exciting (I love getting good deals), especially since I didn't even have to leave the house to shop for it. Even better, both the coffee maker and the coffee arrived at my house one day while I was home but my husband was at work, maintaining the surprise. My daughter and I had a good laugh over how we were going to keep this gift a) hidden and b) a surprise since its size and shape made it pretty un-mysterious. 

In other words, I had plenty of time to think about what I was doing.

I don't know why it didn't occur to me that we'd need to find a place to house this new appliance, or that its most likely home was on the same kitchen counter I'd spent months – and I'm not exaggerating – getting just right. I'd transformed it from the dumping ground nearest the door to a (mostly) clear space that was organized in a sustainable way. Not only was it functional, but it looked nice, too.

And now this one new item threatened to disrupt my hard won status quo.

At first, I was just pleased that my husband was enjoying his gift, but as we began to restore the house to its pre-Christmas state, I spent about a week walking by the counter and frowning. I even devised a plan for a new home for the new coffeemaker, only to realize that the steam that's an inevitable part of brewing coffee rendered my new home a bad idea.

There was only one thing to do.

I had to reconfigure my counter. 

christoph via Pixabay
It didn't take as long as I was afraid it would and the end result is...okay. The flow isn't quite right yet, but that might just be a matter of time; new set-ups always come with an adjustment period. Some things that were previously on the counter need new homes, which are yet to be determined, and at least one thing that's on the counter might not stay. There's plenty of clear space, though, and that's a good thing.

I've said it before and I'll say it again, this time with a heavy sigh and a touch of self-pity.

It's a process. 

Thursday, January 24, 2019

To Tech or Not to Tech?

rawpixel via Pixabay
The grocery store offers paper or plastic -- or, perhaps, reusable. When it comes to planners, the choice is paper or electronic -- or, perhaps, both.

Yesterday, I shared my hybrid planner plan.  If you started out the year embracing technology, but now find yourself eyeing old-school half-price planners, maybe you're a hybrid planner person, too. Here are three questions to ask yourself.

Do I need to write things down in order to remember them? Often, the very act of writing something down helps us commit it to memory. If you worry (or if experience has shown) that once you type it into your phone, it's forgotten, you might be better off with a paper calendar.

Store sign at 'Round the Clock Diner
York, PA
Do I need 24-7 access? This one is purely a matter of  personal preference. Although most of us take our phones everywhere we go out of sheer habit, it's just as easy to develop the habit of carrying a paper planner. The key here is making sure that your planner of choice has a consistent home as you travel from place to place. Whether you consistently stash that planner in a purse or a back pocket, "consistently" is the key. If you're just as likely to leave it on the kitchen counter as you are to take it with you, maybe stick with the phone. Or a master calendar in your kitchen or office. Just make sure that dates you note when you're out and about make it onto/into which ever option you choose.

Do I need reminders and other bells and whistles? No matter how much you love that beautiful paper calendar you so lovingly chose, it's not going to send you notifications. If you need reminders for all of the dates in your planner, you might want to go electronic. Personally, I find these notifications annoying and intrusive...which is why I lean more toward paper and pencil.

One final consideration: no planner is foolproof. Phones and electronic devices need charging and both electronic planners and paper planners can get lost in the shuffle. In addition, every planner is subject to human error. If we enter an appointment incorrectly (or not at all), having a planner is little help.

So, what'll it be? Full tech? Old school? Or maybe a little of both?

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Totally Tech?

Today is the first day of a new semester, bringing me face-to-face with my planning and organizing preferences. So much of what I need is online -- class lists, attendance, e-mail -- which made things all that much more frustrating when I couldn't log into my account this morning. 

Luckily, I'm still, at heart, a paper and pencil girl, and I already had paper copies of what I needed. That and the Gmail app on my phone.

And so, I find myself with one foot in each camp. I'm at home with most technology, but paper and pencil remains my security blanket; I'm such an I need to see it girl that I can't survive without schedules and lists staring me in the face. Okay, maybe survive is too strong a word, but I definitely need a visual reminder.

Sometimes, I end up doing double duty. When it comes to taking attendance, for example, I check names off on my paper roster and later record the attendance electronically. I tried not doing it that way last semester, and found it very inconvenient not to have a hard copy, so back to Plan A. When it comes to calendars, I transfer my weekly appointments from my planner (where they've been written in pencil) to a single page that lets me see the week at a glance and add in lists and anything else that pops up. The older I get, the more I see multiple copies as an advantage; writing things down, even more than once, makes it more likely that I'll remember them

I'm not suggesting that everybody needs to be a paper-and-pencil person. The point of Organizing by STYLE is to choose what works for you and base your systems on your preferences. Plenty of people successfully use the calendars on their phones but, given my I need to see it personal style, that just doesn't work for me. I prefer to just write everything down with a nice, sharp pencil that has a good eraser.

How about you? Are you a tech person, a paper-and-pencil person or a hybrid?

Thursday, January 17, 2019

3 Keys Thursday: 3 Keys for Finding that Missing Motivation

Photo: Dodgerton Skillhause via Morguefile
Last week's 3 Keys Thursday focused on three habits that chip away at our motivation, making it harder than it needs to be to get things done.

This week, I'd like to focus on the positives. I usually start here, but the truth is, sometimes we need to eliminate the negatives before we can focus on the positives.

Need a motivation boost? Here are three things to try.

Remember your why. Whether your goal is to get organized or do something else entirely, ask yourself why it matters to you. Then, when you catch yourself dragging your feet, go back to this purpose. This can help us connect mundane tasks -- the kind we avoid -- to important outcomes and help us to do that thing we're avoiding.

Set an alarm. I'm not a morning person so I definitely need a nudge to get started. Even once I'm up, if I can get away with it, I start the day slowly. When I'm setting my own schedule, I need to do what I'd do if I had an actual deadline: figure out my desired start time, and work backwards from there, maybe even factoring in that slow start so that my actual start time allows me to tackle my to-do list (or that looming project) in a relaxed manner. I don't have to set the alarm for sunrise (which is a good thing because I'd just turn it off and go back to sleep), but I need to set it for a time that lets me honor the start time that works for me.

Pace yourself. Yesterday, I wrote about investing time in yourself. The upshot? Rest is good -- motivating even. Sometimes, it's that very lack of rest or downtime that interferes with our motivation in the first place. Creating a balance between charging ahead and taking things slowly helps us to keep up a pace that is productive without being debilitating. For me, this also means keeping a balance between days where the schedule is full and days where the schedule is open.

I planned this post last week but, ironically, today is one of those slow start days for me. It's been a nose-to-the-grindstone kind of week, and today I'm feeling it. I know it makes sense to honor my need to slow the pace a bit, but it's hard to do that and I haven't yet figured out how to do it without at least a little guilt.

But I'm getting there.

Today, I at least recognize why I've slowed down and I'm fortunate enough to have the freedom to flex my schedule accordingly. While I can't abandon the things on my to-do list, I can decide where in the day to place them.

Motivation can be an elusive entity, but if we respect the fact that it ebbs and flows instead of trying to guilt ourselves into action, we can make the most of it when it's working in our favor.

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Investing Time

Toodlingstudio via Pixabay
One day last week, my friend had to bow out of our plans to meet. Though I was disappointed not to see her, I suddenly had an uninterrupted day at my disposal! A whole day to write! Play on my brand new laptop! 

But what did I do? 

I started slowly. Very slowly. Rather than jumping into the day with both feet, ready to tackle projects, I slept in, played Words with Friends for much too long, texted with my daughter and my husband and didn't even start typing my blog posts until after noon.

What a failure, right?


Texting with my daughter (who's currently more than 3000 miles away) and my hubby is important -- certainly more important than a self-imposed, arbitrary deadline. Playing Words with Friends is one way that I connect with my 80-year-old father who lives alone. And playing the Wooden Block Puzzle game on my iPad frees my mind to brainstorm

Although I didn't start typing my blog posts until after noon, I dictated three of them that morning while I moved virtual puzzle pieces around on my iPad. I also brainstormed more than a page of ideas for magazine projects, something I can only do when my mind (and body) are not racing. I've been trying to come up with these ideas off and on for almost a week and it took an unexpected open morning for them to push their way through the day-to-day detritus and make themselves heard.
Why is it that we feel so guilty when we take downtime? I'm on break between semesters, and I have all kinds of things planned, including writing. My to-do list now is no shorter than it is during the semester. In fact, it contains a lot of things I don't have time to do during the semester. 

So when is it okay to relax?

Clearly, relaxation is helpful. A single morning where I stopped worrying about the schedule, the lists, the consequences of not being productive enough led to more productivity than I'd have managed had I planned out the day hour by hour.

We need clear spaces in our schedules just as much as we need clear spaces in our homes, if not more. Downtime, a nap, a good night's sleep -- all of these are just as important to our productivity as actually checking things off the list. They may feel like wasted time, but the payoff they yield more than compensates for the bite they take out of the schedule.

Sometimes, it's only when we step back and look at the forest instead of focusing on the trees that the picture comes into focus. This is true whether we're looking at piles we need to make sense of or to-do list items we need to check off.

So, the next time you berate yourself for not being productive enough, ask yourself this. Am I wasting time, or am I investing in myself?

Thursday, January 10, 2019

3 Keys Thursday: 3 Key Habits That Might be Messing with Your Motivation

Photo: Dodgerton Skillhause via Morguefile
I cannot seem to jolt myself out of vacation mode. This isn’t entirely awful because I still have almost two weeks before the semester starts and I am consistently checking things off my lists, but still, I feel lazy. I am ending my days much too late and therefore starting the days that follow too late as well.

While that last part is not really up for interpretation (I'm in serious night owl mode), much of my other self-evaluations are. Often, we're much too hard on ourselves, wasting the time and energy we could be using to accomplish things. Here are three habits that chip away at our motivation by draining our time and energy.

Shoulding ourselves. Whether it's a gentle reminder, accompanied by a groan or a full-blown lecture delivered to our inert selves, telling ourselves what we should do is rarely helpful. Think about it. How do you feel when someone says, "You know what you should do?" If you're a Jersey girl like me, you might resist the ensuing suggestion for all you're worth (depending on the source and the circumstances). Shoulding ourselves uses up time and energy we could be spending doing the things that matter. If you really should be doing the thing you're shoulding yourself about, do it now, write it down or make a plan to make it happen. Otherwise, let it go.

Not writing it down. Carrying our to-do lists and goals and shopping lists around in our heads is exhausting. Making lists frees us from having to actively remember the things we put on them. The act of writing things down actually helps us remember that we have to do things, while also freeing from doing the hard work of keeping them front and center in our minds. This frees both physical and emotional energy that we can use to actually do the things on the lists.

Pettycon via Pixabay
Writing it all down. I don't know about you, but for me, too long to-do lists have a tendency to backfire. Master lists are wonderful (see item #2 above), but they need to be broken down into bite-sized pieces. At the start of the day (or the night before, if you prefer), choose the things you most want to accomplish. I choose my big three (I'd suggest no more than five) and write them down, remembering to be realistic about whether or not I can actually accomplish all of those things in one 24-hour period. When I select my big three, I often do so by asking myself what I need to do that day (any deadlines?) and/or which three things would leave me feeling most satisfied if I accomplished them. By listing selectively, most days, I get them all in and some days, I actually do a few extra things as well.

It's hard to get motivated to tackle our lists -- or anything else -- when we're tired and pressed for time. Breaking non-productive habits can buy us back the time and energy we need to do not just the things on our lists, but maybe some fun things, too.

And, hey -- if you want to put the fun things on the list, that sounds like a pretty good idea to me.

Stop back next week for a few more things to keep in mind when it comes to finding the motivation that seems to have gone AWOL.

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Ever-Changing Spaces

The third bedroom in our house is on the first floor. It has served many purposes over the more than 25 years we've lived in our house. When we first moved in, it was a catchall for all the stuff we didn't know where to put. Eventually it became an office and then, after my daughter was born, the catchall zone again – this time for the place to keep all of the things we didn't want a toddler to get into. Its longest assignment was as a playroom for our daughter but, once she'd outgrown the need for a space where her Barbies and Polly Pockets could roam free, the playroom slowly begin to morph into something else. 

At first, we upgraded the space to tween/teen tastes in small ways. New posters, a desk, a Wii. A sofa along one wall. Later, as my daughter spent more time in her room, my husband laid claim to the playroom, leading us to jokingly refer to the room as the man cave (though my daughter still claimed the room as hers). The turf wars (or a friendly version thereof) continued as my husband installed a (too) big TV across from the sofa but, undeniably (and under protest), the space has morphed into a family room.

The truth is, once we got the big (reclining) sofa, it was all over for the man cave. My daughter left for college but what had been my husband's zone on the weekends became my work zone during the week (the reclining sofa beat the uncomfortable office chair hands down). In the evenings, we sit together and watch television, and I look around the room, trying to figure out how I can make this ever-evolving space better.
Mary Hairston via Pixabay
Over the break, I decided that I need to replace the see-through plastic drawers with a bookshelf. I would like to say that this was simply inspired by a knack for creativity or home design but, the truth is, it was inspired by the pile of books and reading materials that was nesting near my spot on the sofa. I was so sure that this was the I need to see it solution I needed that immediately upon coming up with the idea I went online, found what I wanted, and placed an order. 

And I am not disappointed. Far from it, in fact. Not only is the floor clear of my not-so-little nest of reading materials, but the bookshelf is less deep than what was there before, so access to the closet is easier. The shelving unit is the same height and depth as the unit beside it (by design -- I knew exactly what I wanted this time around), so it blends in better and, silly as it sounds, makes me feel a sense of spaciousness although I've recaptured only inches of space.

Then again, maybe I've recaptured more than that. With the clutter appropriately (and visibly) housed, I've recaptured floor space, too. Best of all, everything is where I can see it, but neatly so, which makes my husband happy, too. Vestiges of playroom remain, mostly in the things hanging on the walls, but I'm in no hurry to remove them. My now grown-up daughter is spending this semester abroad, and I like the continuity, and the reminders of a time when she was more close by.

Alexas Fotos via Pixabay
Though I'm sure the room will undergo more changes once my daughter finishes school and gets a place of her own, rendering our house her childhood home instead of just "home," I think the room itself is destined to be an ever-changing space. Some of these changes, like my bookshelf, will be organizationally inspired, but others will reflect life changes, as they always have. Rather than inspiring a sense of incompleteness, these changes inspire in me a sense of endless possibility. I like our room the way it is now, just as I liked it when it was a playroom. I don't know what changes will come next but, as always, one size does not fit all (rooms) or, in this case, even this one room. 

And the freedom inherent in that makes me a little giddy.

Thursday, January 3, 2019

3 Keys Thursday: 3 Keys to Organizing by STYLE

DodgertonSkillhause via Morguefile
As we start off a new year, it's a good time to review the basics. Organizing by STYLE is about taking what you already do and making it work for you. Do you have an I need to see it personal style or an I know I put it somewhere organizational style? Visual cues are your friend. Do you cram and jam? That rigid container or small designer backpack probably isn't your best bet. Do you drop and run? Contain yourself by putting pretty containers in your usual drop spots to decrease the distance between "down" and "away."

Whatever your style, maybe this is the year to celebrate it. Pay no attention to the Type A organizers for whom traditional tools work effortlessly. Listen politely as your husband, mother or best friend tells you all about the fantastic tool that got them organized once and for all, but then decide for yourself if it's a good fit for you.

Here are three keys to keep in mind as you organize by STYLE.

Trust yourself. You know your styles better than anyone else. If a tool, planner or system seems like too much work or too good to be true, it probably is, and that doesn't mean you're lazy. Tools should work in your service, not the other way around. Choose the tools that work for you.

Think outside the box. Just because something is marketed for one purpose doesn't mean it can't be used for another. Almost every item has multiple uses. Choose the one that works best for your styles, fits your living space, taste and personality.

Be patient. If you, like me, have previously struggled to both look and feel organized (especially at the same time), you may want an instant solution. This isn't that. It takes time to find the tools that are a good fit for you and, if necessary, replace the tools everyone else takes for granted with versions
that align with your way of thinking. Remember that the goal is to get organized for the long haul, not just until company leaves.

Organizing by STYLE is meant not just to help you get organized, but to help you realize how much you already bring to this process -- something one-size-fits-all approaches rarely consider. As you put these concepts to work, don't be surprised if you feel better about your organizational systems, but about yourself as well.

That, in fact, is my hope for you as you join me in this process.

Wednesday, January 2, 2019


On Monday, over at The Porch Swing Chronicles, I shared some new artwork that will be my calling card for those posts: a beautiful rendition of a porch swing created by my talented friend Rachel DeMasi. Today, I'm excited to do a reveal here, too -- the cover of my book, coming this spring from Our Sunday Visitor.

More than a compilation of Organizing by STYLE posts, Know Thyself: The (Im)Perfectionist's Guide to Sorting Your Stuff puts the most important STYLE stuff in your hands, all in one place in an organized fashion. While I have no intention of stopping these posts any time soon, I love that Know Thyself lets you look for the information you want without waiting for it to be what's on my mind or trying to figure out when you read the post on that topic.

I am over the moon! This book, which has been over a decade in the making, reflects something I truly believe in, engage in and have been told works for people besides just me, and I can't wait to share it with you.

Till then, check in here for new posts and book updates!