Thursday, August 16, 2018

3 Keys Thursday: 3+ Tools to Replace That Annoying Binder

Photo: Dodgerton Skillhause via Morguefile
When it comes to organizing papers, there's really only one key to success: finding the right tool. For Type A organizers, this is easy: Break out the binders and the file folders. Secure appropriate labels and file behind closed drawers.

But for those of us who cram and jam, need to see things or know we put that paper somewhere, traditional systems don't always work.

When I was working with elementary school kids whose paper toting needs were somewhat minimal, I discovered that accordion folders were a big help to those who struggled with binders and pocket folders. Everything was pretty close together, yet it could be categorized as well. And accordion folders were just more fun than binders. So were report folders and small binders with clamps or clips instead of rings. The same kids who loved taking apart mechanical pencils loved messing with the clamps, which gave them motivation to actually put things away.

Backpack folders from
Backpack folders, loadable from the top and meant to stand upright in a backpack were also a cool tool, one which gave cram and jammers a fighting chance when it came to keeping their backpacks from becoming a dumping ground.

But what about grown-ups who manage piles of papers? Or even high school and college students who still need hard copies in an increasingly paperless world?

As an adult navigating the on-campus world on a part-time basis, I love my totefolio. Each section is big enough for a stack of handouts or graded papers, and wide enough that a file folder fits inside as well. I've labeled and re-labeled the tabs using the little card stock inserts as well as Post-it notes and sticky-back labels from my label maker. It's big enough to hold what I need, but not so big that it becomes unwieldy, and the handles are a BIG help.

Globe-Weis tote folio from
For keeping papers in line at home, I like file bins with open tops, but if those files need to be transported as well, you might prefer a file tote. Its open top keeps things visible and makes it easy to put things away. They come in a variety of price points, too. The least expensive ones are glorified accordion folders with lids that flip over and close with a latch of some sort. Others come in decorator prints or even leather so that they look more like a handbag or briefcase.

If you haven't found your perfect paper organizer yet, don't despair. Many of the tools I use today didn't exist when I first started writing about organization. Make periodic trips to office supply stores, chain stores, dollar stores, home decoration stores and fabric stores and see what's new. Get creative -- just because it wasn't originally meant for the purpose you have in mind doesn't mean you can't make it work.

Check out the handbag section as well as the home section if a store has both, and investigate the areas of the store devoted to dorm life during the back-to-school months. Stores like Tuesday Morning, T J Maxx, Ross, Marshall's and Home Goods often stock unusual organizers that work for a variety of purposes.

Just remember to keep your purposes in mind when you're making your selection, and don't be afraid to step out of the (file) box.

Vaultz Metal Personal File Tote from

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Back-to-School Shopping for Kids Who Organize Differently

toodlingstudio via Pixabay
Have you ever watched a left-handed person try to take notes in a traditional spiral notebook? It's almost painful. The angle is wrong, the spiral's in the wrong place, and even the neatest handwriting approaches illegibility as fatigue and frustration take over.

That's how it feels to be a non-traditional organizer using traditional school supplies. While everyone around you slides papers neatly onto binder rings or into the pockets of folders, you just never manage to make things work as neatly and effortlessly.

So...why buy those supplies?

If you've got a kiddo (or two) at your house whose notebooks and folders look like they've been through a natural disaster somewhere between school and home, help them adapt their supplies to their styles. 

Ways to adapt a binder:
  • Buy a portable three-hole punch to put in the front of the notebook.
  • Load the binder with page protectors so unpunched papers make it into the notebook. Or, if that's not gonna happen with your cram and jammer or drop and run organizer, try folder pockets (hole-punched inserts that look like a pocket folder opened up and folded back) or a three-ring acetate envelope with a snap or Velcro fastener.
    When I taught Organizing by STYLE
    to an elementary school audience,
    I found that clamp binders were a
    huge hit with fifth grade boys.
  • Add a clip to the front of the binder so the day's papers get clipped inside the cover and can be added to the right section of the notebook at home.
  • Ditch the three-ring binder for one with a spring-loaded clamp. Kids who don't take the time to put stuff into the rings sometimes enjoy putting papers away when they have an excuse to play with the clamp.
  • Replace the binder with an accordion folder. Choose one that's divided into sections, or one with just one wide, yawning opening, depending on your child's style.
What to use instead of a standard-issue, paper pocket folder:
  • A file folder. Like pocket folders, these come in a variety of colors, and can be color-coded by subject. If the papers aren't going to go in the pockets anyway, why create an unnecessary battle?
  • Transparent folders that allow kids to personalize them (photos show through the opening) or see what's inside. These also come in a variety of colors, with and without pockets.
  • A folder that has top and side access and a tab closure at the top. Multi-colored (again). Never underestimate the value of being able to play with an organizational tool. The more fun it is to put something away, the more likely it is it'll get there.
  • Clear acetate envelopes with string-tie and button closures. Sold at office supply stores, these often come in multi-packs that make them less expensive per item.
Admittedly, these choices are often more expensive and harder to come by, but in many cases, the time and heartache saved makes it worth the extra cash and detective work -- and sometimes, you actually luck out and find cool tools at the dollar store or the clearance racks. When I taught lessons in elementary school classrooms, I brought a variety of supplies in for kids to play with and had them trouble-shoot potential issues. They were amazingly astute when it came to figuring out what they would and would not use, and they often loved things that cost a dollar or less (colorful report folders with hinged closures were a big hit) as much as the more expensive office supply items. 

As you discuss back-to-school shopping with your child, use this summary sheet to talk about options and highlight his or her choices. Having him (or her) talk through the choices is an important part of getting your child to understand his or her styles, and eventually, to advocate for them. When we teach our kids to respectfully advocate for themselves, we're teaching a skill that goes far beyond organization.

You may also need to intervene on your child's behalf with his or her teacher, and that may or may not go over well. Together with your child, decide if it's better to work within the requirements (buy the required binder, but adapt its insides so your child can use it successfully) or seek the teacher's stamp of approval for an alternative system. If your child's teacher understands that the required tool is actually a stumbling block, he or she may be amenable to a trial period with something else. Most teachers are happy to see their students attempt organization, no matter what the tools, and in the best case scenario, your child may find an ally who helps to tweak and perfect the plan at school. 

So before you and your credit card hit the stores and start checking off items on that school supply list, take a moment to make sure you're supplying your child with the tools he or she needs to have a great year.

Thursday, August 9, 2018

3 Keys Thursday: 3 of My Favorite Things: The Stationery Edition

Photo: Dodgerton Skillhause via Morguefile
A week or so ago, a Staples post card arrived in the mail, promising me $10 off school supplies -- $5 now, $5 later in the month. I found it a home almost immediately, in the front seat of my car.

I mean, you never know when a school supply emergency will arise.

Ever since I was a little kid, I've loved stationery products. What tops the most-wanted list varies from one season to another, but right now, three things that will capture my attention are:

The perfect notebook. Not every notebook is up to every task. I was reminded of this when I needed a Beach Pages journal and again when I went to grab a run-of-the-mill spiral bound notebook to take along on another trip. In the process, I stumbled across a project planner I'd forgotten I had. It was the perfect notebook for the task at hand, allowing me to not simply jot things down, but do so in an organized manner.

Patterned file folders. As an I need to see it person, I quickly run through all the standard colors of file folders as I color code multiple projects. Adding patterns to the mix helps me to keep things straight and it keeps things fun. Bright hues and patterns add a pop of color to my desk, as well as standing out against a sea of papers when my desk gets cluttered. I rarely buy these file folders at office supply stores; instead I look for packs of three in the dollar bins at Target or at the dollar store because really, who needs a whole box of them when the whole idea is for them to be unique? But, with a coupon in hand, a splurge may be in my future.

Almost kind of Post-it Note. I'm not sure how I organized anything before these came along. The temptation is especially great if I find a pack that's a different color combo than the ones I already have at home, for much the same reason I like patterned file folders -- more options for differentiating different projects in a very visible manner.

As we head into back-to-school season, my posts will be doing the same. I have a few topics in mind but, if you have a burning question or a topic you'd like me to address, leave me a note in the comments, and I'll try to tackle your topic. 

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Rainbow-Colored Desktops

I have a love-hate relationship with the multiple desktop options available on my MacBook. Mostly, I love them, because they allow me to lay out all of my works-in-progress, allocating each its own work space.

It's an I need to see it person's dream.

But...the desktops also allow me to lay out all of my works-in-progress, allocating each its own workspace. Yes, I know I said that already, counting it as a plus, but it's also a drawback and the other end of the double-edged sword that is my love-hate relationship with multiple desktops. The alternative, you see, would be actually closing the files. Y'know. Giving them names and putting them away.

But we all know what happens when someone with an I need to see it personal style puts away things that aren't yet complete, right?

They don't get done. Away = forgotten.

The trouble with using all of these desktops is that it drains my Mac's battery. All those open documents and tabs make my laptop work much harder than it should have to.

Lately, I've been wondering if this plan has the same effect on my battery, so to speak. When every desktop contains things to do...(Don't ask me how many desktops I have open. I'm an honest person and would prefer not to be tempted to put that to the test).

Well, you get the idea.

But, is it really better to put them all away and hope I remember what to do? Yes, I know there are alternatives -- lists, for example -- and they're worth considering. Or at least they were until...

One day a week or so ago, it occurred to me that I could change the colors of my desktops to match the file folders in which I store the hard copies for each of these projects. Purple for my organization book. Green for my school-related stuff. Beach wallpaper for the story I was brainstorming on the beach. I've played with desktop wallpaper before but, for some reason, it never occurred to me to take my color-coding quite this far.

Foto-Os via Pixabay
Suddenly, my system made even more sense. Those open files had logical homes that were immediately clear to me because I'd individualized each one. Looking for the draft of my course syllabus? Try the green desktop.

I may never put a computer file away again. And, while I think that's a bad thing as far as my Macbook's battery is concerned, for an I need to see it person with many irons in the fire, it's a very, very satisfying thing indeed.

Thursday, August 2, 2018

3 Keys Thursday: 3 Items for My Bullet Journal...Should I Start One

Photo: Dodgerton Skillhause via Morguefile
Yesterday, I talked a little bit about bullet journals, a topic on which I'm a bit out of my league. Still, connecting them to Beach Pages, even peripherally, made me curious and so I went in search of more information.

I found lots of pretty pictures on Pinterest, but when I set out to appropriately credit them, I found the sites less helpful than the pictures that had brought me to them. This link, however, had great ideas and photos as well as being non-threatening for those of us who are more creative with words than art -- so much so, in fact, that I ended up scrolling through to find three things I might actually use a bullet journal for.

Though I liked the pages on goals and lists, I already have systems in place to keep track of those things. Anything that required art skills or too much time to set up was also out, but I liked...

Just Bright Ideas
  • Films to watch. I tend to jot these titles down on random scraps of paper or in whatever notebook I have available. The design on this page is attractive, but simple enough that I think I could replicate it, and I like the idea of keeping all these movie ideas together. 
  • Books to read. I like this page for the same reasons I like the films page -- easy to replicate, captures all the titles in one place. I also love the idea of coloring in the books as I finish them.
  • Savings goals. I'm not sure if a pretty bullet journal page is enough to help me meet my savings goals, but, hey, it's worth a shot.

For more great photos and bullet journal ideas, check out my Pinterest page where I've created a new board called Bullet Journal ideas, which I expect to have fun adding pins to. You can also find a partial collection of Organizing by STYLE blog posts on my Pinterest page, along with boards on organization and my novels.

What's in your bullet journal?

Happiness is Homemade

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Beach Pages and Bullet Journals
Though I am fascinated by them, I have never used a bullet journal. All of the ones I see on Pinterest are beautiful and artistic, and both of these elements pose a problem for me. I lack the talent to create a work of art out of my to-do list, and I fear that I lack the self-discipline to return to the mundanity of the list itself once I start playing with my pages and making them pretty.

Still, after my foray into Beach Pages when I was on vacation, I kinda get it. Although I went in a completely different direction aesthetically (my Beach Pages are messy and lack organization by design), I appreciate the value of having all of my thoughts and ideas in one place -- so much so that I went in search of a notebook I could dedicate to this proposition.

If the pages inside aren't pretty, why does the notebook need to be? For many styles, this wouldn't matter but for me and my I need to see it personal style, having a pretty, dedicated notebook makes it easier for me to pick it out of a pile of random notebooks (of which I have a collection).

But that's not all there is to it. Having a dedicated notebook makes the pages more permanent. I started out writing on a legal pad, but the pages got whipped by the wind and, once I was finished, had only an impermanent home where curling and ripping was almost inevitable. Although the pages might not fit into any of my works-in-progress -- or any project, for that matter -- I don't want to consider these entries throwaways because I'm a firm believer that no writing is ever wasted. Some of these pages might merely clear my head, while others might inspire new ideas, become a blog post or even fuel a future project. Putting my Beach Pages in a notebook helps to validate them and keeping them bound allows me to organize them with greater ease, tabbing pages so I can find them again.

Having a dedicated notebook also makes the pages more meaningful. Just because this task isn't goal-directed doesn't make the words any less important. If the task is worth my time, I should take it seriously. A dedicated notebook conveys a seriousness of purpose that's missing in random words on random pages.

Something else I hoped to cultivate with this project was patience. It takes longer to write in longhand, therefore I have to intentionally slow down to write, especially if I'm using a book that's bound instead of just random pages. Cross outs, X marks, arrows -- all signs of a mind at work and the process of writing -- dot the pages. These things are messy, but gratifying, and a reminder of the fact that this is a process -- time-consuming and laden with detours and mistakes -- even if they stand in stark contrast to the loveliness of the bound book.

For now, I've set my Beach Pages journal aside, but I know where to find it if I need it, and I just might revisit it under non-beach circumstances as well. The combination of bound pages and the freedom inspired by freewriting renewed my creativity and reminded me that sometimes, a little freedom to play is just what we need to re-energize ourselves, whether we're writing or organizing.

Though I'm not planning on creating a bullet journal any time soon, I think I now understand what people see in them. The doodles and designs add a playfulness to the lists and must-dos that populate the pages and, perhaps re-energize bullet journal users the way my Beach Pages re-energized me.

When we organize by STYLE, we can't lose sight of what makes us who we are, originals in our own right. What thoughts of yours belong in a place all their own? And how do you put your own creative mark on those pages?

Sometimes, exploring is exactly what we need to set us on the right path.

Thursday, July 26, 2018

3 Keys Thursday: 3 Questions to Ask When Head, Heart and De-Cluttering Collide

Photo: Dodgerton Skillhause via Morguefile
Yesterday, I wrote about my illogical decision to hang onto a piece of cardboard containing drawings my daughter (who is now in college) made as a toddler. I have no doubt my Type A organizer friends would have pitched it without a second thought (and it wouldn't have spent two weeks propped up in the family room first). I have even less doubt (if that's mathematically possible) that my friends who have an I love stuff personal style would have kept it, and perhaps thought me heartless for considering its disposal in the first place.

How about you? If you fall somewhere between these two approaches, how do you decide what to keep when your head says, "toss" and you heart says, "nooooo!!!"?

Here are three questions to ask yourself to facilitate the decision-making process.
  • Is it hazardous, dangerous or otherwise a threat to physical or emotional safety? The piece of cardboard in question poses no physical danger to anyone and is completely harmless. An antique firearm, on the other hand, might be less welcome. As far as emotional safety goes, I feel a sweet sense of nostalgia when I look at the big blobs of multi-colored shapes, and am transported back to long summer days and puzzle races. I like those feelings and memories. A similar item that conjures up sadness and regret has probably outlived its usefulness. Listen to your head. Dispose of it.
  • Does it take up more than its fair share of space? Storage-wise, there's a huge difference between keeping a piece of preschool artwork and, say, a middle school plaster sculpture that's abstract (i.e. you're not sure what it's supposed to be). If it's easy enough to tuck the item away somewhere, honor your heart. If you need to make space for it, are tripping over it and your child doesn't remember making it in the first place, listen to your head.
  • Does it have meaning for anyone else? As noted above, when I see this decorated piece of cardboard, I immediately remember the small child who created it. No matter how big and mature she is now, she's immediately 3 1/2 in my mind with just one glance at this silly memento. I can still reason my way out of this, though, citing plenty of other things (photographs, for example) that conjure up these images. But, when the twenty-year-old identified it as "our puzzle board," my head didn't stand a chance. It was heart all the way.
Preserving the tenuous balance between possessions and the amount of available space in our homes is an important part of the organization process. But, we are human, after all, and sometimes it's not as simple as form, function and style. Hanging on to a few things (in moderation) because our hearts can't let go can add a little pizzazz to our styles.

So stash it, frame it, display it or put it in a "maybe" box to deal with later. Celebrate the things that have meaning to you, and don't assume that the head is always a better decision-maker than the heart.