Thursday, December 27, 2012

Another Opportunity For a New Year's Resolution

Another new year, another opportunity for a New Year's resolution.

Getting organized is on the "top ten" lists of New Year's resolutions every year for a very good reason. Many of us aren't as organized as we wish we were. 2013 can be the year that changes. If getting organized is on your list of resolutions, here's how to make sure you're successful.

1. Make a plan - It's overwhelming to try to tackle everything at once. Make a list of what areas of your home you'd like to organize so you can see the entire big picture. You may find that there are areas that you're actually satisfied with. Perhaps your closets are fine, but your garage needs work. Do you want to organize your paperwork this year? Do you want your closets in order? Keep in mind that, like getting in shape, getting organized is a lifestyle change. New habits need to be formed. For each of the areas on your plan, take "before" pictures, no matter how small the project is. That means even if you're working on a junk drawer, take a picture before you start. You don't need to show anyone the picture, but it serves as a reminder of all of your progress. Once we get going on an organizing project, we often forget what it looked like before. You'll have to trust me on this one.

2. Create mini-goals - Instead of getting your entire life in order, set smaller goals to start. Don't worry about getting the entire office under control, just start with a desk drawer. If you tackle a desk drawer every week, you'll have an organized desk in less than a month. Yes, that may seem like a long time to clean a desk, but it's manageable to work in small chunks, and in the end, it's a clean desk! If you're working on a closet, start by just going through your sweaters one day, shoes the next, etc. If it's paperwork you're going after, start with just one file folder. Baby steps... and every step counts. The key here is to complete the entire step. Don't place items somewhere "for now", do it for good!  Unsure what to keep and what to toss? This article may be helpful:

3. Set limits  - If organizing projects stress you out, set a timer and limit how much you work on organizing projects.You have an entire year to work it out. It doesn't have to be done in a day. If the timer goes off and you're in the zone, by all means keep going, but give yourself permission to stop when it rings. It's far less intimidating when you consider that you can probably easily sort clutter for 30 minutes, or 15, or even 5. Any amount of effort gets you closer to your goal.

Of course, in the end, don't forget to take "after" pictures and give yourself a pat on the back. This is going to be the Year of Organization!

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Saturday, August 25, 2012

Reclaim Your Kitchen Counter With a Command Center

Do you have a pile of clutter somewhere on your kitchen counter? Of course you do. Take-out menus, papers from school that may have to be referenced again, classroom phone lists, gift certificates, postcards from that service company you might want to call someday, a bit of writing, such as a poem or joke, that you found that you want to keep and share... the list of things in our kitchen counter clutter piles goes on and on. Do you have a place for things that aren't files but that you want to make sure you don't lose? These items can all neatly be collected in what I call the Command Center .
A quick trip to the office supply store is all that's needed to get your Command Center in order. Start with a sturdy 3-ring binder. Depending on the size of the pile you're organizing, a 1.5 inch binder is probably a good starting point. Don't be afraid to buy a fun print or wild color...have a little fun with it! Tabbed dividers, clear sheet protectors, and slash-cut pockets round out the supply list. If the binder has inside pockets, stash your checkbook, stamps and return address labels there, then set up tabs for each category.

Here is a suggested list of tabs to start your Command Center (in no particular order):

  • To Do: Forms that need to be completed, order forms, sign-up sheets... you know the pesky pieces of paper that need action, but not this second. Keep them up front and you'll always know what has to get done next and where to find that form on a moment's notice.
  • Take-out Menus: Maybe it's just me, but this is a "go-to" pile in my house. We keep it handy for times when I'm not cooking. Yeah, it's a well-worn pile. Pocket tabs work well for this.
  • Contacts: If you have children that are in school, you know that every fall, the stack of classroom directories, phone lists, teacher/school contact information, club and sports team rosters will grow. Every year, toss the previous year's lists and start fresh. Clear sheet protectors are perfect for these lists.
  • Gift Cards/Gift Certificates: If you keep them in a central location, you'll know just the spot to check when you're making plans for a night out or heading out to shop. How many of us haven't used gift cards because we misplaced them? Or kept forgotten gift certificates for so long the places are no longer in business? One pocket is all it takes to keep them accessible.
  • Tips/Notes: What do you do with all of those handy tips you cut out of magazines in hopes of trying them out? Keep them in this one spot and you'll always know where to find that perfect cleaning solution recipe or project instructions (origami, anyone?). Again, put each tip in a clear sheet protector so it's easy to flip through when you're looking for something.
  • House/Car: This is the place to keep those postcards or coupons you get in the mail for home/lawn/car services that you don't need right now, but want to keep for future reference. When it's time for that chimney cleaning, firewood order, or brake job, you'll be ready to call.
  • Receipts: Maybe you already have a system in place for how you keep track of receipts.  If you do, I recommend keeping it. I use this tab for "temporary" receipts of purchase - records you need to keep only until you receive your order for things such as Girl Scout cookies, school picture order forms, subscriptions, and online order confirmations, to name a few.
Once you've put items into the Command Center, see what's left in the pile and create additional custom tabs for yourself. Some words of caution: avoid the use of "Miscellaneous" when you're making your tabs. This tab will balloon out of control because it's easy to categorize every little thing as miscellaneous. Putting a little effort into figuring out into which tab it belongs will ultimately improve your organization skills. Trust me on this one.

Keep the Command Center in an easily accessible place so that you can put items there BEFORE they become a clutter pile (some suggestions: kitchen cabinet, desk drawer, living room bookcase... be creative). Every so often, flip through the Command Center to toss old, obsolete, and expired items. That's all there is to it.  Get ready to take command of that clutter pile and reclaim your kitchen counter!

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Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Two Words That Might Be Keeping You From Getting Organized

I have found that there is one particular phrase that can keep you from getting organized. It's a phrase I hear repeated over and over again in my clients' homes. It stops organization projects in their tracks. What is this powerful phrase? "For now." Yup, that's it. Just two words. Is it even possible that two little words can have such an effect? Definitely. There are plenty of times when doing something "for now" is perfectly fine, such as temporary solutions until a final one is put in place. For example, if your new furniture isn't going to be delivered for another week, you can keep your books in that box for now. That's not the situation I'm talking about.

The problem I'm talking about is all about procrastination. It's not taking the time to figure out where something should be kept, or not putting things where they belong right away. As you're going through a pile of clutter, do you shove those last few items on a shelf "for now"? Do you put the folded laundry into piles and leave them there "for now", to be put away later? What about dropping that spoon or plate into the sink when the dishwasher is empty? You could bring it all the way to the dishwasher and keep the kitchen neat, avoiding a second step later. Often just a few more steps can bring you to the final step. 

One way to break yourself of the "For Now" habit is to time how long it takes to finish the job. You'll realize that it's usually just a few minutes, or seconds, even. Once the laundry is folded, putting it away is just a few more minutes, and the payoff is a tidy room. If you have files set up for bills, don't just stack the pile on the desk, go the extra "mile" and put them right into the files. It's very simple, but very effective. Some clients feel that it breaks your momentum when you are working on a project to stop and finish those little jobs, like filing. Leave some time at the end of any project to finish it up. Bring things all the way back to where they belong in the house, put them in the proper place, finish up the job. Right now. 

The fact is, looking at unfinished projects is just psychologically draining. Those little piles have big consequences: they add to the feeling of being overwhelmed, create a cluttered environment, and keep you from being organized. The next time you hear yourself say you'll put something there "for now", stop and ask yourself if you can put it somewhere for good. It's a subtle change that will bring you well on your way to having an organized home... and life!

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Tuesday, June 19, 2012

5 Easy Steps to an Organized Garage

Summertime is here…warmer temperatures means we're exposing more. More of the garage, that is, as outdoor activities take center stage and the garage door gets left open all day.

Yes, I know that the garage isn't the same as your house, but think of how many people can see inside that garage. Does the space look the way you like? Can you find everything you need? Does everyone in the family know where to put things back?

Now is the perfect time to get the garage in order.  Some people recommend you take everything out of the garage as the first step to cleaning out. While this certainly allows a deep cleaning of all the nooks and crannies, it also makes the project feel a bit overwhelming and leaves you in the position of having to finish the entire garage in one pass, or leave your belongings in the driveway.  I don't recommend de-cluttering a room or a basement by removing everything and putting it all back in, and I don't recommend it for a garage either. By following these simple steps you'll be all set in no time.

1)      Identify: What are the types of items that will be stored in the garage? Examples of "types" are sports equipment, lawn/yard tools, hardware, paints/chemicals, trash and recycling…you get the idea. Keep in mind if there are some items that are kept elsewhere, like the basement or the shed. As always, expect there to be "donation" and "trash" piles as well.

2)      Sort: Starting in one corner, pick up the first thing you see and determine if that's where it belongs. If it isn't put it in one of the designated areas you just identified. Repeat with the next item. And repeat again. At this point, you're only sorting, not worrying about how it will be stored. That comes later. Just get things in the right "neighborhood" for now. As you sort, consider whether you really need to keep the item. If you have multiples of something, consider donating a few of them. (I found 10 umbrellas last time I cleaned my garage. Go figure.) Outgrown bicycles and cleats, sports equipment, old tools, and unused materials from previous home improvement projects are all things that can be donated. Only keep what works, has all of its parts, and is in use currently. If it doesn't meet those criteria, it's probably ready for the trash.

3)      Clean: As soon as a space is cleared, sweep it out, or use a shop vacuum if you have one, and don't forget those cobwebs above. Be reasonable with the level of cleanliness you're going for - it's a garage after all - but getting the leaves and dirt out will make the garage look orderly and will help keep the house clean, too.

4)      Inventory: This is the step where you now figure out what you're trying to store. Now that everything is sorted into those "neighborhoods" from Step 2, you can easily see what you're dealing with and determine how each should be stored. Do you need access to the item regularly? Items like bike helmets should have a designated spot, where it's easy to grab them. Scooters and skateboards also need ready access in our garage, so they have a prime real estate spot. Are there any items that are routinely aggravating to you because they're inaccessible? In my house it was heavy duty extension cords. They were never where I could easily get to them, so I avoided any outdoor task requiring electricity, which included vacuuming out my car, trimming the hedges, and using the weedwacker. The cords are now stored on a reachable hook, right near the garage door. Lucky me...I have many more projects I can get done now.

Overhead Storage Organizer <br>Turn unused ceiling space into valuable storage!
5)      Store: For items that you need access to occasionally, consider shelving. Items such as paints, chemicals, and hardware can be stored in plastic bins on the shelves. Hooks provide quick access to things like backpacks, helmets, and extension cords. Lawn care tools are best stored on hooks designed for that purpose, found at any home improvement store. Hang items that aren't used regularly from the ceiling, in an out-of-the-way spot. Items such as ladders or bicycles that are rarely used are good candidates for this space. Finally, consider using the space over the garage doors for storage of bins. Shelving systems for this exact purpose, one of which is shown at the right, can be purchased in many locations. Holiday items, off season clothing, or items that are only used infrequently, like camping gear can fit on these shelves, freeing up precious garage floor space.

That's all there is to it. The key is to think about how you use your garage and keep the items used the most in the most convenient and accessible space. Items such as recycling bins are most convenient when they're kept near the door into the house. Tools will be put back more easily if you can reach their storage area. Many of us don't put thought into how to organize the areas of our garage functionally…but you'll enjoy your garage much more when you do!

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Friday, June 8, 2012

It's the Little Things

Often, it's the little things that bring joy.  Take, for instance, the IKEA RATIONELL VARIERA plastic bag dispenser. The fact that it costs only $1.99 is reason enough to be joyful, but it's also incredibly versatile. This small wonder attaches to the wall with either adhesive strips or screws and can be used for countless organization applications.  First, the obvious: it dispenses bags, just as advertised.  It holds LOTS and LOTS of bags, neatly and accessibly, but here (in no particular order) is a list of some other unexpected uses that I've found.

1. Store wrapping paper – It's the perfect size to hold wrapping paper rolls neatly. I have mine on the inside of a closet door. It works perfectly to keep the rolls in order. If you have the space, you could really go crazy and put categories of paper in each – Holiday, Birthday, All Occasion.

2. Organize toys – It's a creative way to keep tall skinny toys in order in a playroom, like the race track pieces shown in picture #2. Some other toys that fit perfectly: small plastic bats, kids' golf clubs, batons.

3. Create a light – A bedside lamp from a plastic bag dispenser? Yes! Check out "" (link below) for instructions on how to make this cool wall sconce.

4. Store craft supplies – Tame unruly balls of yarn, prevent unraveling, and create a yarn dispenser. No more tangled messes! The same principle applies to ribbons as well.

5. Hold plants – I originally saw this idea as a way to keep plants out of reach of cats, but it really does offer an imaginative way to clear pots off the flat surfaces of your home while still enjoying greenery. No cats required to enjoy this use.

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Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Where Does Everything Go?

Whenever someone looks at my before and after pictures the inevitable question that follows is always, "Where did everything go?" The short answer: where it belongs! Yes, that's oversimplifying so let's cover it in more detail.

1) Trash/Recycle/Shred - Although I never force anyone to throw things away during a project, I do encourage the homeowner to think about the item. Keeping an item just because you always have isn't an acceptable answer. Things that fall into this category tend to be broken items, items that are beyond cleaning, and items that are now worthless such as user manuals for items long gone, clothes that aren't good enough to donate, paperwork, phone books, magazines, files for the car you owned 15 years get the idea. Depending on the project, this is often the largest category of "stuff" during a project. Somehow it expands to be far larger than the original space.

2) Donations/Sales - For the most part, cluttered spaces often are packed with perfectly good items...that you'll never use again. But someone else can, and will, so this is where donations (and sales) come into play. By the time a person has actually reached the point of decluttering a space, having the items removed immediately is usually the preferred method. On occasion, a person is planning on a yard sale or on-line posting and these items are prepared accordingly.

3) Archives/Memorabilia - Areas that are cluttered in our living spaces often have items that are meaningful and sentimental, which is fine.  However, if the plan isn't to display those items proudly, then it's time to pack them up and keep them safe. Generally cluttered areas, like desks, kitchen counters and living room tables often accumulate LOTS of archives that can be packed up and removed from the space.

4) Transfers - During the process of decluttering, areas are established for everything. Yes, everything. If it doesn't already have a designated place, we'll define one. Then, as the project continues, we put everything in its place, "transferring" it there. This is always an extremely satisfying step. This is where you realize you can be organized because you know where to put things back. You may have known where to put some things, but when you know where EVERYTHING should go, it's a great feeling of accomplishment...and the beginning of an organized space for a lifetime.

The things that are meant to stay in the space are then organized. This means utilizing the closet space, shelving, and storage containers in the space, and then arranging your items in a way that is both aesthetically pleasing and functional. That's it! Mission organized space!

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Friday, April 13, 2012

Thinking Outside of the Drawer

There is rarely enough storage space in a bedroom, or at least it feels that way. Whether the issue is not enough drawers, not enough floor space for dressers, or a tiny closet with minimal hanging space, it's important to think outside the box, or drawer, in this case.

My daughter's room is a perfect example.  She doesn't like having clothes on hangers and therefore, hangs up very few items. Dresses are the only things that were on hangers in her closet.  What that resulted in was an overstuffed dresser and an empty closet.  For a while I fought her on this and continued to hang things up when I helped her put away her laundry, but basically the clothes that were hung were never worn. Not only that, but because the drawers were so packed, she essentially only wore whatever was on top, so only a few items of her wardrobe ever made it into the rotation. I was convinced she would eventually want to hang more of her clothes someday, so I was reluctant to install a closet system. So how could we use the closet without a remodel? The answer was a relatively inexpensive and versatile unit, ClosetMaid Cubeicals® 6 Cube Organizer, shown here on the right.

Since she likes to have everything visible, we set up the shelving system with folded items that were normally stuffed into drawers.  This allowed everything to be stacked and accessible. Her dresser drawers were actually too large for socks and underwear to be kept separately, resulting in wasted space, but she didn't want them combined (heaven forbid!).  The easy solution was to use the two canvas drawers for each.  We used hooks to keep accessories, such as belts and bags handy.

The other side of the closet is still used for hanging items, but this side can easily be used now exactly in the way she needs it. The drawers aren't overflowing, and she's actually wearing all of her clothes! Success!

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Monday, March 26, 2012

Cutting Down on Cleaning Up

As we go about our daily lives, we pick up countless items in our home and put them back down again.  The only problem with this is that where we put them down is rarely where they belong.  Our possessions get spread out throughout the day. Look around the room where you're currently there anything out of place? I don't know what your room looks like, but without much effort I can make a list from my home on any given day: the cordless phone is nowhere near its base, the pens are nowhere near the desk, the shoes are nowhere near the closet, the socks are nowhere near the laundry (perhaps that's unique to my house, but socks are always where they don't belong), the glasses are nowhere near the dishwasher.  That's just a quick list.  Perhaps you have a similar situation. If you don't, then congratulations are truly in order. As we've discussed in previous blogs, having a place identified for everything makes bringing everything back to "base" just as easy. Once you have that worked out, there's just one key step to cutting down cleaning up: NEVER leave a room empty handed.  Yes, it's simple, but very effective.

Every time you get up, bring something to the next room that belongs there. Consider how often you move from room to room and how many items you could put away in just one day.  It will eventually (dare I say, quickly?) become a habit. Of course it's a never-ending cycle and things will reappear, but it is so much easier to keep your space tidy if you don't need to dedicate long stretches of time to straightening up. It's a constant process, and one you can share. Family members will love the little reminders to take something with them when they leave the room, trust me. Okay, maybe you shouldn't trust me on that one. Although they may not love it, it WILL help.

Now, if you're not passing by the home of the misplaced item on the way from the living room to the kitchen, all is not lost. A little trick is to move the item closer to its base. Although I usually go the extra mile and put the item away, I have been known to move things to the doorway of the room it belongs in if I'm really pressed for time. It gets closer to where it needs to be and is ready for when I walk into that room.  Use the partial move method once you're into the routine of putting things away, since you don't want to add unnecessary piles. If it belongs on another floor of the home, get it just a little closer by putting it on, or near, the stairs. Remember safety first: don't put in where someone can trip.  Once there is an item waiting for you, you'll never walk up or down the stairs empty handed, right?

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Friday, March 16, 2012

The First Step to Getting Organized: Just Start

I have often thought that sometimes the hardest part of running is putting on my shoes. I really enjoy running and I love how it makes me feel, but when you're already cozy on the couch, well, it's easy to forget all that. In organizing, as in running, the first step is the challenge. There's only one way past it - just start and the rest will come.

How do you get over that feeling that the couch is the better option? A little change of perspective may help. Don't view your organizing project as a marathon. Think of it as just stretching your legs. People are often overwhelmed with the idea that everything needs to be done at once, and done right the first time. You can do the equivalent of a quick run around the block. Pick just one small area to focus on and organize that. Maybe it's even just decluttering a corner of a room. Every step counts.

Tell yourself that this is just a trial run. Don't view your results as the final answer; view this as playing with new drawer configurations, or rearranging shelves, or trying out some containers. You don't need to commit to the perfect solution. Be happy with the fact that you're moving in the right direction and making it better. Remember, every step counts. Who knows? The interim solution you create may even ultimately meet your needs.

Tempting as it may be, don't start with shopping. When I first started running, I didn't have any fancy gear. I got out there and ran a little first, then added pieces as I figured out what I needed. The same thing applies to organizing. Don't worry about having the right supplies before you even start. Try out some alternatives using what you already have in your house. If they don't work, change them up again by buying something new. If baskets don't work, try hooks. If boxes don't work, try shelves. No matter what you do, you probably will need to tweak whatever you've done in time as your needs change, and that's okay. Forward movement is the key. Just start and you'll get to the finish line. Baby steps…

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