Thursday, October 21, 2021

OBS FAQs: Can I Really Take Small Steps?

On Sunday, I did something I try to avoid at all costs. Company was coming, and I had two piles left to go through, so I tossed them into a tote bag and put them out of sight. It's a bad idea for so many reasons. 

Or is it?

Admittedly, it's not the best strategy, but it's also not irredeemable, at least not if it's the first step in a succession of small steps, beginning with the first one.

Choose the tote bag well. I made sure to pick one not only big enough to house everything, but with pockets on the outside as well. That way, the lists and things to do on the top of the pile stayed visible.

Make sure out of sight doesn't mean out of mind. The first misstep most of us make is stashing the full  bag in the back of a closet or, worse yet, in the attic, the basement, garage or trunk of the car. On Sunday, I stashed mine in my bedroom. Company couldn't see it, but I can. Every day.

Make a plan. Mine was to take out one item each day and put it where it belongs. Ideally, I'd start with the things in the outside pockets -- the things that needed to be done, but that I'd been putting off doing.

Put the plan into action. Well, you know what they say about the best laid plans. The first thing to come out of the bag was my iPad because I wanted to use it. Those things in the outside pockets? Still there. (Still procrastinating). The second thing to come out was a handful of magazines, breaking my "just one thing" rule. When I didn't magically get them read and gone by the end of the day, I was tempted to ditch the plan.

Make a contingency plan. Just keep swimming. Or, in this case, emptying the bag slowly. More was clearly not better, so back to one thing it was.

Take it one small step at a time. Some days, I get busy or I forget about the bag and end the day with as many things in it as there were at the start of the day. Other days, I stick with the plan. But as long as I keep taking things out of it and putting them where they belong, I keep making progress. 

Set an end date. What if that bag is still there a month from now? Well, then, clearly I didn't desperately need anything in it and it might be time to toss it all, sight unseen. That's one choice. Sorting it all at once is another, as is taking one thing out of it more than once a day or moving it to a location where it's harder to ignore. The thing is, I'm in charge of the plan, and in charge of deciding how long is too long before the bag is emptied and removed.

Does this all sound silly and a little...desperate? Maybe. But, sometimes, we don't get the opportunity to dig into a pile of stuff all at once, and chipping away at it a little at a time is a far sight better than just letting it sit there, whether we're picking one thing out of a tote bag or picking something up off a pile every time we pass it. 

So, do I recommend this? It's certainly not my first choice but, if it means progress happens, I'm all in.

The plan, that is. Not the tote bag.

Thursday, October 14, 2021

Then and Now: A Space that Makes You Smile

Usually, when I do a Throwback Thursday or Then & Now post, I replace the photos and/or graphics but the flower photo I chose for the bottom of this post when it originally ran in 2018 still makes me smile. If I'm lucky, it might even nudge me into action.


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.


In the year and a half since my daughter graduated from college (and moved back home, due to a global pandemic), we've kicked off several home improvement projects. Most are functional (a new roof), small (a side table for the family room), or a combination of the two (new lighting in the family room). One, however is quite large (adding on a sunroom) and rather exciting, and its price tag has put a few other wish-list items on the back burner.

Seeing the house through my daughter's eyes adds things to the list, too, as does upgrading a childhood bedroom into a space more suited to a young adult. But the power of small touches still makes a big difference, something that the single flower in the small vase in the picture above reminds me. And, the thing about small touches is that they don't have to be expensive so that, no matter where we are in our home improvement journey, they can give us the maximum possible bang for our buck.

It's easy to walk through our homes without paying close attention to our surroundings. In fact, that capability can be a survival skill when it comes to ignoring clutter until we have time to tackle it. But one small beautiful thing can catch our eye and make us smile.

Definitely worth the effort.

Thursday, October 7, 2021

Throwback Thursday: Imperfection Welcome


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 to 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. 
klimkin via Pixabay

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.

Thursday, September 30, 2021

3 Keys Thursday: 3 Keys to Getting Your Closet Ready for Fall


pixels via Pixabay

I love fall. And, as with any change of season, the arrival of fall means rearranging my closet to make it easier to get to the clothes that fit the new season.

This did not used to be something I like as much as I like fall but, once I reconfigured everything to suit my styles, the whole process became a lot easier.

Here are three keys to creating a set-up that doesn't make you dread the change of seasons, whether your closet is big, small or somewhere in between.

Aim for access. If you can't reach it, you can't wear it. While it's fine (and often necessary) to tuck out-of-season and rarely worn items in the back of your closet, if it's in season and in rotation, keep it where you can get to it. 

Think out of the box -- or off the rack. Just because a builder configured your closet a certain way, that doesn't mean you have to live with that configuration forever, particularly if it doesn't work for you. Shelf too high? Lower it -- or take it down. Not the world's best hanger-upper? Put a shelving or drawer unit below the hanging pole and fold your clothes instead. Need some room for dresses and other long items? Choose a shelving (or drawer) unit that leaves room for hanging clothes on either side. All of this can be accomplished with basic portable items you can buy at Target or Wal-Mart so that if you don't like the new plan, you can go back to the old one or, if you love it, you can hire a professional to upgrade it and make it permanent.

Go for style -- and not just in clothes. If you honor your styles with the organizers you choose, you'll be more likely to use them. Bins, drawers, and other storage containers can be lidded or unlidded, clear, opaque or color-coded. And, there's no reason a closet can't be pretty--even on the inside. 

At its core, a closet is just a big cube, waiting for you to configure it in a way that works for you. While it's important to keep your habits and styles in mind as you organize, it's perhaps most important to remember that you're the boss of the cube. You can -- and should -- set it up any way you like because, once you do, it's so much easier to stay organized.

And to get dressed.

Thursday, September 23, 2021

OBS FAQs: Why are the Style Names so Silly?

If you've ever heard me speak, you've probably heard the story of how an office relocation led to first an organizational resolution, then an organizational epiphany. At the time, I was working in an elementary school with students ranging in age from seven to twelve. When I decided to share my strategies with them, simple, straightforward names just made sense.

But "cram and jam"? "I know I put it somewhere"? 

Okay, so they're straightforward with a twist.  Their inherent silliness makes it hard to take ourselves -- or our organization situation -- too seriously.

So often, those of us who organize in non-traditional ways and/or struggle with getting and staying organized take it personally. It's hard not to when our self-talk is routinely negative and serious -- self-talk that we might very well have picked up from the other people along the way. 

What a mess! I'll never get this. What's wrong with me? Why can everyone else do this? How hard is it to put papers in a folder?

When this is the case, we're less likely to get organized. Negative self-talk isn't motivating, it's demoralizing. Frustrated and disgusted, we give up, assuming we can't do any better, and further cementing our belief that there's something wrong with us. Or, perhaps we assume that we were absent on the day God was gifting people with organizational skills, and we simply need to accept that we'll never get any better.

Never is such an ugly word.

Even though getting and staying organized requires a seriousness of purpose, it doesn't have to be all serious all the time. Dubbing our default styles with names that clearly identify the action but leave room for a little levity can make an onerous task less insurmountable. And being able to laugh despite missteps and amid piles is far, far better for us than beating ourselves up. 

To be honest, when I took organizing by STYLE out of the elementary school and into adult settings, I was afraid the names wouldn't fly. I couldn't have been more wrong. Dogged by years of belief that they were hopeless, the adults who arrived at my presentations were relieved by the levity and delighted to find that they had company -- others who could wear the same labels they were donning themselves. 

While there are lots of practical tool that are a key part of the organizing arsenal, there are intangibles as well. Faith in ourselves. Optimism. Persistence.

And a sense of humor.

Sure, we can get angry about the piles, frustrated by the collections, and overwhelmed by the busy schedules and seasons the leave us feeling as though we'll never get ahead of things.

Or, we can slap on our personal and organizational style monikers like one of those sticky "Hello! My name is..." badges (mine says I need to see it/drop and run) and brainstorm our way out of the clutter. 

The labels are silly but they're also a call to action. The realization that I need to see things and that,
when things get busy, I default to dropping and running, puts me on the path to finding the organizational tools I need. Wearing that silly name badge (literally or figuratively) is the first step to accepting who I am and how I operate. Even better, it gives me a road map for getting to organizational success.

Name it. Accept it. Use it.

And don't forget to smile.

Thursday, September 16, 2021

6 Surefire Ways to Trigger Mom's Nag Reflex: The Clutter Edition


mary1826 via Pixabay

My house is not perfect. There are definitely spots where clutter collects but, alternatively, there are spaces that I keep clear. Staying organized takes work and, as a result, I don't have a lot of patience when someone else messes up what I've cleaned up.

Like so many other parents, I’m finding that a fringe benefit of the pandemic has been having my young adult child move back home while she tries to determine the next steps in her life. I really do love having her around, but the house she has returned to is not the same house she left. When she left for college, I was still used to having a “child“ at home and my house reflected that. However, slowly but surely, the absence of one person in a small house led to the obliteration of clutter in places where it had routinely lived. Add to that my finalizing a book on organization midway through her college journey and my house is a lot less cluttered than it used to be.

I have to say that my daughter is not a slob. In fact, she’s very particular about how her room looks. Consequently, from time to time, she'll do a deep cleaning of her room and decide to get rid of things. These things invariably end up in the public spaces of the house.

This does not go over well.

As I said, I'm really glad she's here. I don't want to nag her or pester her or make her feel as though she can't relax in her own home. But, at the same time, I find my house to be more relaxing with less clutter. 

The more I thought about this, the more I realized that I do let some things go, but there are certain spots where clutter bothers me. I'm sure to nag if she:

  1. Leaves things laying around in the living room.
  2. Leaves food sitting out -- anywhere.
  3. Puts things down down in a spot that has just been cleared.
  4. Fails to clean up after herself in a public space of the house.
  5. Leaves things sitting on furniture meant for sitting.
  6. Doesn't use a coaster.

Okay, that last one isn't really clutter-related but it does relate to the fact that, at this point in my life, I would like to have nice things. As a fully grown adult, I'm entitled to have nice things and heaven help anybody who gets in my way once I acquire the perfect table for the perfect spot.

In a strange way, making this list made me feel better. I'm not a nag or a fussbudget (most of the time anyway). I just like things that are organized to stay that way.

Still, the thought has crossed my mind (and my lips once or twice) that I can’t wait till she gets her own apartment so that I can come over and mess everything up. 

Just me?

I'm pretty sure I won’t actually be doing that as I typically have enough maturity and self-restraint to make better choices, but the frustration is real. I'm also sure I will miss her enormously when she finds the apartment she's been dreaming of.

But her stuff on my sofa? That I won't miss.

Thursday, September 9, 2021

3 Keys Thursday: 3 Keys for Organizing Your Workspace

I am lucky enough to have dedicated office space at my house. Admittedly, it's a small room that never seems to have enough storage space, but I at least have the luxury of having a workspace to call my own. It's cluttered sometimes, but it's mine.

Over time, it has gone through numerous transformations and it's finally close to the way I want it. (Like me, it's a work in progress). While there are limitations to what I can do in tight quarters, I've managed to create a space that works for me (most days) by addressing a few key considerations.

Decide about your desk. When it comes to your desktop, are you a minimalist or are you inspired by trinkets and family photos? Although I've been a proud member of the clean desk club for over a year now (save for a few slip-ups), I like having trinkets, family photos and frequently used items close at hand, though I make sure to keep them on the perimeter of the desk so I have work space. Decide how you work best and design your desktop accordingly.

Think about how you think. Using STYLE-friendly tools is a start, but it's more than that. Do you need a whiteboard for drawing out ideas and making lists? A bookshelf to keep your favorite reads within reach? Or, are you perfectly content with a laptop and a folding table? While I'd love to have a full-sized whiteboard, there's really no good place to put it, so I ordered some peel-and-stick (removable) write on/wipe off circles (in coral) instead. They not only fit the space, but they add a pop of color as well. Consider the tools you need to fuel both your productivity and your creativity.

Separate the past from the present. No, I don't mean those photos of your pre-COVID cruise. Instead, I'm thinking about those files and folders and binders you haven't opened in six months that are still taking up prime real estate. If your office is spacious, and the files are neatly corralled, this might not be an issue. But if you, like me, are working in a small space, it might be beneficial to keep archived materials (the stuff we put in file cabinets) somewhere else, so you have plenty of room for what you're working on now. Make sure to keep it well-organized and/or labeled so you can access it quickly if you need to.

As for whether to use file folders, file boxes, accordion folders or traditional tools like binders, that decision is between you and your styles. But keep in mind that the first step to an organized workspace is making sure it fits the person who'll be working there.