Tuesday, February 6, 2024

X is for Excited (Sort of)

  I wrote this post yesterday afternoon, then promptly posted it in the wrong place, a mistake I discovered late last night.


Apparently it wasn’t just my to-do list that didn’t go according to plan :-j

I'm one week into the semester and I'm already breaking promises to myself. 

Tuesdays were supposed to be a "light" day with respect to schoolwork. While today hasn't exactly been a super busy day, I blew right by my time guideline early in the day, and I'm not finished yet.

It's not that the workload is overwhelming. It's that I have lots of ideas and I actually have time to look into them. Maybe even implement a few.

For a change.

Writing was on today's calendar and, with the exception of this blog post, that's probably not going to happen. I could switch gears and switch tasks, but I kinda want to follow these new ideas for my classes and see where they lead. 

Undisciplined? Maybe. But, the truth is, I work better when I follow my heart. Enthusiasm is a catalyst that augments my energy and that's a resource I don't want to lose. 

So, it's off to my web search. Today, I'll be applying my creative energy to my classroom work and, as for my writing, tomorrow is another day.

I promise.

Thursday, February 1, 2024

Imperfect But Improving

 This post from 2019 connected very nicely with my current situation. A lot of this fits together with a podcast I recently guested on and a post I wrote on Monday for The Porch Swing Chronicles about using my time wisely in a semester where I'm teaching fewer classes. In addition, it is, I hope, a good reminder to all of those who entered February with little progress on that New Year's resolution to get organized. 

There's still time. There almost always is.

I used to be embarrassed by the state of my house often. It wasn't terrible -- just cluttered and very, very lived-in. My I need to see it/drop and run styles were in evidence in many places and on many flat surfaces. Having visitors required either hours dedicated to finding homes for things and putting them in those places or a frantic dash through the house to grab and stash.

These days, I'm embarrassed a lot less often. If you were expecting me to say I'm never embarrassed, I hope you're not shocked or disappointed. The fact is that knowing about organizing -- and even writing about organizing -- is different from doing it.

When it comes to organizing (and keeping things uncluttered) the "doing" is often hampered by real life obstacles. Things like time, space and conflicting priorities lead us to take shortcuts that feel comfortable in the moment (like dropping and running, cramming and jamming or putting things somewhere), but that lead to piles and clutter we end up having to tackle later on.

Organizing is not a one-and-done process. (Wouldn't it be wonderful if it were?) Balancing what comes in with what goes out in a timely fashion requires consistent time and attention. As long as  both time and attention are plentiful, things go relatively smoothly. But, when we get busy or overwhelmed or other priorities emerge, it's easy for things to pile up. Quickly. 

Tomorrow is my last day of classes for the semester. This week, I've emerged from the grading cave long enough to tackle a pile or two and create some clear space. Because I have workable systems in place, it's a fairly easy process, but it still requires time and attention. Fortunately, each clear space motivates me and reminds me that I know how to do this. I just need to have all of the tools -- including the intangible ones -- at my disposal.

When it comes to organization, no matter how much I learn and how much I write about it, I remain a work in progress. Some days, it's hard not to see this through the lens of failure -- as though simply understanding what I need to do will get the job done.

But it won't. Although knowledge alone is insufficient to keep my surfaces clear, there is one piece of information that helps me keep things in perspective -- one that I remind myself almost daily.

It's a process.

Thursday, January 18, 2024

Dueling Guidelines

 When it comes to the "Let it go!" step in organizing by STYLE, each of us faces our own challenges. For some, it's an emotional attachment to our possessions, for others, it's the expense of an item that no longer serves us, and, for those raised with a "waste not, want not" mentality, it's the idea that we might actually need this thing some day.

Or perhaps a combination of any or all of these three, depending on the item in question.

Recently, I've become aware of a particular collection of my own that falls into that last category (no, it's not the collection of containers in my basement -- that's old news). It's boxes and packing material.

As part of a generation that had to go to the grocery store to beg for boxes whenever I had to move, I've had a hard time parting with boxes for quite some time. When my daughter went to college, I hung on to even more. Who knew when she might need them to move, or when I might need a "just right" box to ship a care package?

I duly weeded out the boxes (as I promised my husband I would) after she graduated from college but, in the past few years, I began saving more packaging materials to go inside the boxes. And, since these years encompassed the pandemic, there were a lot more packages from which to choose.

Ironically, this new habit was due, in part, to my ongoing resolutions to use less paper and plastic. I couldn't keep merchants from using plastic airbags, but I could make sure they got re-used instead of just tossed away. And, while I was delighted when the boxes that held my purchases were filled with paper instead of plastic (thank you, Kate Spade and Nika's Home soy candles, among others), I began saving that, too.

A few weeks ago, I noticed that my collection was getting out of hand. I duly rounded up the bubble wrap overflow (did I mention the bubble wrap?) and corralled it into a large bag. Setting it aside, I promised myself I'd do something about this. Soon. 

Yeah. Soon.

Last weekend, as we took down the Christmas tree and organized the ornaments, I went in search of the right materials to upgrade a system that amounted to organized, and then I gave up and tossed everything into the last bin. 

Who am I kidding? I knew exactly where to look. 

In the basement, I quickly located the perfect box (a lidded box I'd saved from a basement overhaul over a year ago) and the perfect packing materials. When I was finished, I was pleased with my system for the first time in a very long time. The box full of leftovers had been replaced with a neatly packed (and cushioned) box of ornaments.

If you're cringing, thinking I took this as evidence that I didn't need to get rid of my "collection," you can relax. I did not, in fact, succumb to the positive reinforcement that threatened to override my judgment.

I also didn't get rid of everything. 

My husband came to my rescue, though, promising to take the paper off my hands and make sure it got recycled (something I'm pretty sure our local waste company does not do). He promised me he knew exactly where to take it, and that place was not the trash can

Next, I sorted through what remained, finding homes for everything, and going back to a basic guideline I use often, but had failed to comply with this time around. Once those homes are full, I cannot acquire anything new.

In other words, I reduced my stash in two ways: some I used (for the ornaments) and some I recycled, both in keeping with my resolutions to reduce my use of paper and plastic. The rest I stored, with two additional rules. The first is really sticking to the rule of adding nothing new to a space that's already full. No room? Out it goes.

The second? A hard "one in/one out" when it comes to boxes. If the perfect box lands on my front step, I can only keep it if I recycle an imperfect equivalent.

Sometimes, "Let it go!" is an easy step: things that have gone bad, things past their prime, things we no longer feel any attachment to. Other times, our unwillingness to follow that seemingly simple guideline can catch us by surprise. If you, like me, find yourself in the second situation, a few simple rules might be just what you need to keep things from taking up more than their fair share of your living space, and buying yourself some time to consider what's necessary and what's not.

Meanwhile, be patient with yourself. It's a process.

Thursday, January 11, 2024

3 Keys Thursday: 3 Tips for Keeping that Organization Resolution

 Did you make a resolution to get organized in 2024? If so, how's it going?

If you're struggling, don't despair -- that's a big resolution. And no, I'm not being condescending.

Making a resolution to get organized without getting specific about how you're going to do it is like saying you're going to make a chocolate soufflé without a recipe (unless, of course, you're a professional chef or someone who has made numerous chocolate soufflés).

Getting organized is an ongoing process and it's one that can be daunting, particularly when we live with other people. Here are a few suggestions for key ingredients for your organization recipe -- a few organizing basics, as it were -- whether you're starting from scratch, or trying to right a resolution that's gone off the rails. 

Organize in a way that works for you and do it unapologetically & non-judgmentally. Some of my best organizing solutions have arisen from using typical tools in atypical ways, and some of my biggest frustrations have come from trying to make a tool that "works for everyone else" work for me. No one tool works for everyone, and no one person has the organization magic bullet. The only system that's sustainable is the one we create for ourselves. (Oh, and this goes for our kids, too).

Don’t put it down, put it away. Clutter really is the enemy, but it doesn't build up on its own. Instead, it arises when we leave one thing out so we'll remember to do it, and that one thing becomes three, or seven, or ten. Or, it perpetuates itself when we set one thing down because we don't know where it should go. When we find things a home, one that makes it as easy to put things away as it is to put them down, we take power over clutter. When we learn to catch ourselves in the act of dropping and running, we forestall clutter altogether.

Take small steps. Have you abandoned your resolution because it's all too much? The good news (and the bad news) is you're right. It's a lot. Truly, the best way to "get organized" is just to start somewhere, preferably in a spot where you can see improvement with just a small investment of time (an hour or less). Making a dent is motivating, and that motivation carries us forward, giving us the confidence to tackle bigger tasks and get bigger wins.

Oh, and one more thing: ditch perfect. Trying to make a home that a family lives in, works in, plays in, and yes, cooks in look like a picture out of a magazine is a recipe for failure and frustration. Sure, it's important to be able to find what you need when you need it and to have space to work and plan and dream without being distracted. But, if we spend all of our time chasing clutter, we have no time to work and plan and dream.

Organizing means balancing what comes into our homes with what goes out of them. Some days, the scales will tip in our favor. Other days, our kids will take out every toy they own, we'll drop the mail on the counter because we're too tired to deal with it and everyone will leave their shoes out for someone to trip over.

And the world will not end.

Organization is a part of life, and living is more important than being perfectly organized. But, when we have the right recipe, it's possible to have our life and organize it, too.

Friday, January 5, 2024

I'm Dreaming of the Perfect Planner

 I've been asking myself what day it is for the past two weeks and, this week, with New Year's Day on a Monday, I remain confused. I'm going to leverage that confusion, though, and post on a Friday this week, on one of my favorite topics: planners. 

If you haven't yet bought a 2024 planner, I urge you to splurge a little. A couple of years ago, I did just that, purchasing the planner pictured at left. Two years later, I ended 2023 in the middle of Volume 5 of this planner. I can't imagine using anything else. It has exceeded my expectations and I don't intend to switch unless I can no longer get my hands on a new one. 

As you make your planner purchase, consider not just what you need, but also what you want. For me, having a place to put all my lists while still keeping them separate from my daily priorities has been a game-changer and a time-saver. And, having learned this lesson from my planner purchase, I've carried it over to other planning purchases as well, most notably the notebook in which I create and assess my monthly goals.

Sometimes, just any notebook or planner will do. Other times, a specific choice becomes an essential tool.

What does the inside of your dream planner look like?


 I recently bought a new planner. I didn't need a new planner. I have plenty of planners. 

Yes, planners. Plural.

But it was pretty. And undated so, theoretically, it will outlast my current planners.

Did I mention it's pretty?

Shallow as that sounds, I really don't judge a planner by (just) its cover. In the end, while pretty was a key factor, the interior layout sealed the deal. Each page has room for my daily schedule, three daily priorities, and a to-do list. There's also room at the bottom to note food and water intake for the day, should I so desire.

I don't. I keep track of that on my phone.

My hope was that having my schedule, priorities and lists bound into a book, I'd reduce the ubiquitous flurry of papers that litters my desk, and I would (almost) never need to dig to find my to-do list. 

So far, so good. I still jot down notes on random pieces of paper from time to time, but I'm developing the habit of adding those items to the list in the book, usually the same day. In addition, I'm learning to keep the book close at hand in the evenings, when to-do list items pop into my head.

After purchasing the planner, I discovered that the pages are perforated, making it easy to pull out an unfinished list and tuck it into the next day's page, rather than re-writing it. I haven't yet done that, but it's nice to know it's an option. 

Truth be told, no matter how useful it is, this planner was a splurge. I saw it, I liked it and, although I didn't buy it right away, I bought it in spite of the fact that I didn't need it.

Am I sorry? Not a bit. It has much more room than the pages I was previously using for my week-at-a-glance cheat sheets (but the flip side of that is that it also takes up more room than those single sheets). As it turns out, that's an unexpected bonus. I rarely fill every line in the to-do list section of the daily pages, and my daily schedule isn't usually lengthy enough to fill that section either. The resulting white space is calming, reassuring me, in a way, that although my day was busy, it wasn't overwhelming.

Not on paper anyway.

Organizing is a practical process. If the tools we use aren't up to the task, we need to replace them. But, from time to time, we all need a tool that's pretty and practical because that combination can make organizing not only fun, but a habit as well. 

Thursday, December 28, 2023

24 Ways to get Organized in 2024

 This post from last year has been updated to the proper number of goals (24) for the upcoming year. Good luck!

 If you're like me (and much of the rest of the world), you made some sort of resolution to get organized in 2023. Because I write about organizing and have time off from the middle of December to the middle of January, I've made a lot of progress on my organizing endeavors. 

But still, I focus on what remains to be done, not the least of which is the pile of items made homeless by my recent organizing projects. 

Some days, I look around my house and see a lot of organizing successes. Other days, I'm overwhelmed by all of the clutter that seems to collect and proliferate as soon as I look the other way.

That's when it's time to take small steps. Whether you've exceeded your 2023 organizing goals, or can't even remember what they were, you're sure to find one task in the list of 24 tasks below that can help you jump-start your organizing for 2024. Some are one-and-done tasks (at least for this year), while others may turn out to be starting points for larger projects. Remember that it's okay not to do it all one sitting. The key is to take small steps and to remember one thing.

It's a process.

24 Organizing Projects for 2024

1. Decide what your perfect planner looks like inside and out. Then, splurge on one that comes as close as possible to your ideal.

2. Clean out the junk drawer.

3. Clear off surfaces, clean them well and put things back mindfully, putting back only the things you choose to return.

4. Collect all the homeless items littering surfaces in your home and put them in one container. Put a sticky note with the date on the lid, and put that container in an accessible but out-of-sight location. In a month (or longer if you prefer), donate or toss anything remaining in the container. 

5. Dedicate 15 minutes to decluttering a space that annoys you.

6. Stare down a container that's not working and consider why you are using it. What do you love about it? What do you wish it had that it doesn't? 

7. Sort through the thickest file in your file cabinet and get rid of anything you no longer need to keep.

8. Change the shelf paper in one of your cabinets.

9. Clean out your underwear drawer and get rid of anything you'd be embarrassed to be wearing if you ended up in the emergency room.

10. Stand in the doorway of the room you spend the most time in. What decorative touch or organizing project would make the space a little better?

11. Go through the medicine cabinet and get rid of anything that's expired. Make a list of what you need to replace.

12. Go through your makeup and/or toiletries and get rid of anything that's expired or that you haven't used in a year or more (3 months for eye makeup). Make a list of what you want to replace.

13. Take stock of your towels. Decide how many need replacing and buy one new towel a week until you'd be satisfied offering any of the towels in your closet to an overnight guest.

14. Set aside an hour to take stock of the place in your house that most needs organizing (kids' rooms don't count). Make a plan for tackling it an hour at a time.

15. Take everything out of the cabinet under the kitchen (or bathroom) sink. Clean the area and return only the products you actually use. 

16. Stand in the doorway of your bedroom. What is one thing you could do to make it a more peaceful haven? 

17. Have everyone in the family go through his or her sock drawer. Toss anything that's too small, falls down, has holes, or is too pilly, dingy or faded. Set aside socks without a mate and determine how long to continue the search and/or if any of the singletons can be put together to make an interesting pair.

18. Make sure all the pens in your go-to writing or messages spaces write, and all of the pencils have points and erasers.

19. Take everything off one shelf of one closet. Wipe down the shelf and put back only the things worth keeping.

20. Go through all the purses, tote bags, and backpacks and discard any that are past their prime. 

21. Go through all the purses, tote bags, and backpacks and stock those you regularly use with the essentials: hand sanitizer, tissues, lip balm, a writing implement and small notebook, etc. That way, no matter which one you grab on the way out the door, you'll need to add only your wallet and keys and you'll be good to go. 

22. Work together with each child in the house to organize one space according to their style. 

23. Take everything out of the refrigerator. Toss anything that's expired. Wipe down the interior and put back only the food people actually eat.

24. Stand at the entrance to your home. What is one small touch you could add that would make you smile every time you walk in?

BONUS ITEM: As you put away your holiday gifts, practice one in/out. Got a new sweater? Get rid of an old one -- or another article of clothing, if you prefer. 

Thursday, December 21, 2023

Perfectly Imperfect

  When my editor told me they'd decided on Know Thyself: The Imperfectionist's Guide to Sorting Your Stuff as the title of my book, I was less than enthusiastic. I'm terrible at titles, but I know when one grabs me, and this one didn't. It was, after all, quite a mouthful.

But, what the title did do was nail the essence of organizing by STYLE, giving us (writer and reader alike) permission to embrace the imperfection in the process. With an overall goal of keeping our house in order and being able to find what we need when we need it, we can carry out a plan that yields results that align with the mission of tidiness. 

In thinking about organization in this holy season, it occurs to me that there's an interesting parallel here. Jesus's arrival was perfectly imperfect; perfect, in the sense that it occurred exactly according to God's plan, and imperfect in many ways obvious to mere mortals. An immaculate conception. A pregnant woman whose husband was not the biological father of her child. Birth in a stable, followed by a run for their lives. 

Yet, none of this stopped Jesus from carrying out the plan the Father had in mind for Him. His mission to save us from death was unhindered by the imperfection of the world around him and he remained true to his mission despite myriad obstacles placed in his path. 

Makes keeping our houses tidy sound like pretty small potatoes.  

My point here is not to equate an organized life with the life of our Lord but rather, to point out that we, too, are here as a part of God's plan. Like our Savior, we have been given missions that sometimes align with
the world and sometimes run at cross-purposes to it. Some days, we count as successes and other days, our efforts seem to make very little difference. 

But it's the big picture that matters. 

Day by day, Jesus walked with his family and his disciples. He told stories, he healed the sick, and he made sacrifices beyond what we can comprehend. He traveled paths we can only imagine, recognizing the power of each moment even in times that yielded despair.

Christmas is a bittersweet season for many of us, but it's filled with opportunities to find magic amid the chaos and to appreciate that imperfect settings and situations contribute to the big picture of life. Like life, organizing is a process made up of small moments of success alongside setbacks, conflicts, and things that don't make much sense to us mere mortals. Some days, it can be a bit like trying to put together a jigsaw puzzle with no lid and a few pieces missing but, if we persist, the end product might be a thing of beauty.

Even if it's imperfect.

This season, cherish each piece, remembering that it's only one part of a much larger whole.