Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Organize by Not Putting Things Away

Organizing by NOT putting things away? Yes, it's possible. Sometimes being organized isn't about putting everything out of sight. It's about being able to access something easily and still have your space look uncluttered. In each area that's cluttered, consider what the items are that are taking up space and whether they are out because you access them often.  If you do, can they be stored in plain sight? There is a fine line between keeping everything within reach and cluttering your space. The key to staying on the right side of that line: make it look deliberate. It's the difference between having toiletries strewn about a cluttered bathroom counter and an uncluttered space that still allows access to items.

There are a few tips to achieving this look:

Get matching containers - Storage containers can be anything.  Containers that are the same size or shape create a clean look. Similar "sets" are appealing to the eye. "Shop" around your house for inspiration: matching vases from previous flower deliveries (lucky you), mason jars you planned on using for canning (maybe some other time), a canister set that hasn't been used in a while, baskets that have been used in another room. If there's nothing in your house, you may need to shop, but it doesn't have to be expensive. When shopping, keep in mind the basic size and shape you need for your space. Look around with an open mind about what might be potentially useful. Check different places, like hardware, craft, and discount stores.  Browse every department. You never know what you may find. The picture on the right shows my solution to neatening up my bathroom counter: three sugar bowls purchased at a discount store for about $2.00 each.  Being organized doesn't have to be expensive, but it does require some thought and creativity.

Keep it neat - Having the containers is the first step.  The next step is keeping everything in line.  It sounds simple, and it is.  Containers in alignment add to that deliberate, organized look and feel. If the containers don't allow you to see what's inside, label them. Again, the idea is to have the labels neat and matching. It makes a difference. In that same vein, if you're keeping containers visible, make sure you keep them clean and dust they were meant to be there, not an afterthought. This should go without saying, but I'll say it anyway: if your container has a cover, keep it on. Covers lying about will just add clutter and defeat the clean look.

Make it work for you -  If you're the type the doesn't replace covers, or you share a space with someone who doesn't, look for something that has a flip top. If you like to quickly grab what you're looking for, perhaps look for a container that is open on top. If you're storing something with an interesting color or texture, incorporate it into your decor by using clear containers. You can also use the opportunity to bring in accent colors with your containers.  The possibilities are endless.

That's really all there is to it. Office supplies, kitchen tools, toiletries, jewelry...they can all be organized by keeping them out.  Just make sure it looks like you meant to do that.

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Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Nothing to Lose but Clutter

We've all been there: standing in front of a project, wanting to start, but somehow unable to. You know what needs to be done and you know how to do it, but there's something stopping you. There may as well be an actual mountain between you and that organized closet. Perhaps it's the feeling of being overwhelmed by the perceived size of the project. Maybe you've convinced yourself that you're just not prepared enough to start. When you've bought baskets, or bins, or boxes, you'll be ready...and someday you'll buy them. When you've made room in the attic, you'll be ready…and someday you'll clean the attic. An even more likely scenario: you have no idea why you can't get that project done.  You just can't. It's an invisible obstacle. Now, you can certainly work with a therapist to discover exactly what the obstacle is and why it's there, which may be very insightful, but a simpler and easier alternative is to try one or all of the following strategies and see if you finish the project.  Nothing to lose but some clutter!

Strategy #1: Enlist help. Projects are easier and more pleasant when you have help. Ask a friend to help with one of your projects and offer to help that friend in exchange. You can both tackle your closet one weekend, and next weekend you return the favor. You can sort through your files while someone else shreds.  It makes quick work of that file cabinet! Having someone to talk to and laugh with makes the job fly by, and dealing with someone else's stuff isn't as overwhelming as dealing with your own. It's like having lunch with a friend but some organizing got done!

Strategy #2: Take baby steps.  Don't plan on finishing it all in one day. Make a plan to work a set amount of time, say 30 minutes, and start.  How much time isn't important, the "start" part is key. Set a timer and do no more than that. It's a little easier to do something when you know there's an end in sight.  Tomorrow set the timer again…and start again. Repeat until the job is finished.

Strategy #3: Call a professional.  Professional organizers provide an objective outside perspective.  They can motivate you to start with some creative ideas, be a cheerleader when you're losing enthusiasm, and keep you focused and on task. Having someone else "own" your project with you and is a great way to get it done!

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Thursday, February 16, 2012

Organizing Your Pictures in a Digital World

For many of us, gone are the days of photo albums and/or boxes of photographs that capture our memories. It's good news from the perspective of saving space. The digital age has made it possible to clear our closet shelves of boxes of pictures, but at the same time, I've heard many complaints that once photos are on the computer, they're essentially gone. Out of sight, out of mind... inaccessible. The primary reason given is that it's too complicated to figure out what's where. You need to have a system to know where to look. Here are a few tips to manage your photos:

1. Keep all photos in the same place on your computer. It sounds obvious, but not everyone follows this one. Just as your paper-based photos should be kept in one location, so should your digital ones.

2. As you download your digital pictures to your computer, use a standard naming convention for folders to make it easy to find pictures when you need them. Use the same system every time you put pictures on your computer. Name each folder with the year first, then the month. If there is a specific occasion being documented, include that too, such as "2011 02 Florida trip". Using numbers for the months instead of the name of the month keeps things in order. Numerical lists work better than alphabetized months here.

3. I know many people will view what I'm about to say as crazy talk, but hear me out: Delete some pictures. There, I said it. No, don't delete the great ones, or even the good ones. But the blurry ones? Delete. The crooked ones? The can't-quite-tell-what-it-is ones? The back-of-someone's-head-blocking-the-scene ones? Delete. The picture on the right is one that I found on my computer. Why on earth was I keeping this?!
You'll be amazed at how you can pare down the volume of digital photos if you just keep the ones that are actually worth keeping. If you have five versions of the same photo with no major differences, go ahead and delete a few of them. The digital world makes it possible to take unlimited pictures, but just because a picture was taken doesn't mean it needs to be kept forever. It will make your life easier. Fewer photos means less time uploading/downloading, less space taken up on your computer, and less "clutter." Try it.

4. Once everything is labeled and organized, don't forget the final step: backup your pictures by creating copies. The backup can be as a CD, external hard drive, in the "cloud"...there are plenty of other options. Choose what works best for you, but I recommend you keep the backup someplace other than at your home. Having photos backed up digitally means that they can be protected from all kinds of trouble, such as computers crashing, theft, water damage, or fire damage, but remember, the backup is subject to all of the same physical threats as your originals. Ask a friend or family member to keep your backup photos safe for you...and maybe offer them a slide show to share your newly organized memories!

What are some of the ways you keep your pictures in order?

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Thursday, February 9, 2012

Organizing is a Family Affair

We've all been there. Unless you live alone, you've probably experienced the frustration. You make small progress in some area of organization only to have your efforts foiled by someone else in the family.  A linen closet shelf of perfectly folded sheets that all come tumbling down into a mess when there are forts to be made in the living room, craft supplies in neat baskets until the first homework project is due, utensils lined up neatly until someone "helps" by unloading the dishwasher for you. Sometimes it feels like the world, or at least your family, is working against your organizing efforts.

Some people are inherently more organized.  It's just their nature.  They lined up their toys by size and color as kids. On the opposite end of the spectrum, some people don't even see the pile, nevermind have an urge to sort it. In my house, there are two of us who are organized, and two who benefit from that organization. At any point in time you have pretty good odds that SOMEONE will know where to find something. Now don't get me wrong, even the organized ones let the clutter build up sometimes. The difference is we both know how to clean up quickly because we know where things go, but that's another day's blog.

I'm here to say there's hope. Little bits of organization may start seeping in, even when you think they're not paying attention.  Being able to find what you're looking for is rewarding...and when you're talking about snacks, well, it's a pretty powerful motivator.

In our house, we keep our snacks in a kitchen drawer.  It's an easy way to free up cabinet space from the many boxes that have only one or two pouches or bars left inside. It allows you to have a variety of choices at your fingertips. It's a little crazy in that drawer, but really, it's hidden from my view so I don't think about it (true of so many little messes, no?)  Well, a couple of weeks ago my daughter insisted I come downstairs immediately.  Thinking there was a crisis awaiting me there, I came downstairs with a grumble.  And this is what I found:
I'm not going to lie. It practically brought a tear to my eye.  It occurred to my daughter that she wasted time in the morning packing her snack because she had to look through the whole messy drawer for her favorites. So, she lined up the snack bars with the name/flavor clearly visible, sorted the pouches by type, etc. My son is maintaining her system because he likes knowing when we're out of a particular snack, he can put it on the list. He likes seeing his choices. They have even restocked the drawer with new snacks since.  I could not love this more. The best part? I had nothing to do with it.  She saw the need and fixed it. He's happy to use and live with the system. Why is this system working when so many have failed? Maybe because it wasn't "mom-imposed"? Maybe it's the pride of owning this project? I'm not sure, but I do know this: there's hope for us all.

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