There’s a saying, “There’s more than one way to skin a cat.”  Yes, it’s a graphically horrifying phrase, especially given the “lolz kitten” craze that threatens to collapse the internet with its sheer magnitude. But it’s a saying that goes back 200 years and I’m using it to make my point. I promise, no kittens were harmed in the writing of this post. Adorable kitten

Here, have a look at an adorable kitten.

My point? If someone tries to tell you there’s only one right way to organize something, (which, ironically, always happens to be their way) you shouldn’t automatically believe them.

Take socks, for example. Maybe you want to sort and organize them by color. That’s cool. Or maybe you want to organize them by type: winter, sneaker, dressy, or sports socks. That can work, too. Or maybe by height: anklets, crew, knee-hi…see my point? Where I will most likely flex my professional organizer muscle is if the quantity of socks you own threatens to take over the entire dresser, leaving no room for anything else. There is such a thing as too many pairs of socks.

And then we have kitchen cupboards. Some folks say dishes should go above the dishwasher for ease in putting them away. Others say they belong near the table for ease in setting it for dinner. Neither is right and neither is wrong. It might depend on who’s doing the emptying or the setting, or it might depend on the configuration of your cupboards and the quantity of your dishes. Food storage clutter

Speaking of cupboards, one thing I know for sure as an organizer is 90% of my clients relegate WAY too much real estate to plastic food storage containers. Raise your hand if this looks familiar!

There’s an organizing tip currently making the rounds that suggests the best way to store sets of sheets is to fold them and tuck them inside one of the pillowcases. Martha Stewart posted the tip in 2011, so it’s hardly new. I personally wouldn’t take time to fold and stuff sheets INTO a pillowcase, only to have to pull them OUT of the pillowcase to put them on the bed. But hey, if you love the idea and it helps in some way, have at it with my blessing. I will suggest that for a more streamlined, “professional” look than what Martha’s picture shows, turn the sets around so the closed edge of the pillowcase is visible.

My thoughts on how many sheet sets is enough? Two per bed should suffice, with the addition of two per season if you like to use flannels in cold weather. So often when organizing linen closets, we find sheets for mattress sizes that haven’t existed in the home in decades.

People ask me to teach them the “right way” to organize something and my answer is usually, “I won’t know until we discuss what is and isn’t working.”  That’s the part I like best: finding out why something isn’t working and figuring out what will work better based on their unique situations.

Stay tuned for my thoughts on the current craze in organizing: Marie Kondo’s book, “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up” – the Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing.” Let’s just say I haven’t drunk the Koolaid, and I’ll tell you the many reasons why.

It’s officially here. Are holidaylights_thumb.jpgyou enjoying this holiday season, or have you let the hub-bub and hoopla get the best of you?

When it feels like there’s more to do than time to do it in, prioritize. What MUST you accomplish, what would you LOVE to get done, and what will you do IF time permits?

Santa shouldn’t be the only one making a list and checking it twice – have your to-do lists with you at all times; I keep notes and errands on my smartphone using Wunderlist.

My holiday gift lists are on excel spreadsheets: one for hubby, each kid, and all other family, friends, Secret Santa, and charity presents. I list ideas as they’re given or thought of, and fill in purchase details so I stay within budget and get the right number of gifts for stocking stuffers. I print the lists, carry them in my store coupon organizer, and update them a few times throughout the season using receipts for purchases made.  I hang on to receipts until I know stuff fits, works, and is a keeper.

If you have too much on your plate, cut back. Say no. If there are things you don’t enjoy or don’t have time for, stop. I haven’t sent Christmas cards in 15 years. I liked to write personal notes in each, but when it turned into a chore, I quit. Guess what? Nothing bad happened.

I used to bake a bunch of different cookies – I’ve trimmed it down to our favorite three kinds, and that’s plenty.

Hubby and I turn gift wrapping into a fun event throughout the holidays with a cozy fire, a glass of wine, and everything we need to create beautiful packages. It’s one of our favorite holiday traditions. If gift wrapping isn’t your thing, make the switch to gift bags – they’re easy breezy and still very festive.

If you hate the holiday crowds, do your shopping online. If you don’t like online shopping, think strategically and logically, and plan your trip to maximize what gets accomplished.

Agonizing over gift ideas? Try gift cards, baked goods, or something homemade if you’re crafty AND have time. Postage stamps, return address labels, and envelopes are great for seniors who don’t need more “stuff.” Instead of exchanging gifts, why not plan a lunch date, go see a movie, or have dinner and drinks together.

Decorating is simplified, too. Decorations are packed in bins labeled by room, and my room-by-room computerized list tells me where each item goes. If I add something new (and get rid of something old!) I update the list. It saves time by eliminating the frustration of trying to remember where things go. If there are décor items you  no longer use, donate them – there are folks out there who have nothing.

Don’t expect people to read your mind. If there’s something you’d really appreciate as a gift, say so – surprises aren’t all they’re cracked up to be! If you’d like to be included in holiday festivities, speak up.

If you know someone who will be alone, include them in one of your holiday traditions. Be a light that twinkles for someone if darkness weighs heavily on them this time of year. That’s a gift you can’t put a price on.

I don’t know how holiday meals work at your house, but around here we do NOT mess with tradition!pumpkin-pie_thumb.jpg

It actually makes things easier because I know exactly what we’ll be eating – no new recipes to learn, no new ingredients to buy – therefore, I computerize my shopping list for each holiday meal.

My lists are simple Word documents, nothing fancy. I keep notes about the size of the turkey/tenderloin/ham I need depending on the number of guests, and what time to put the pies in the oven.

My Thanksgiving list, in part, looks like this:

Stuffing:

  • ___ 1 bag seasoned croutons
  • ___ 1 carton chicken stock
  • ___ Celery
  • ___ Onion
  • ___ Butter
  • ___ Salt
  • ___ Pepper
  • ___ Sage

Squash:

  • ___ 2 medium-sized butternut squash
  • ___ Butter
  • ___ Brown sugar
  • ___ Nutmeg, cinnamon

Whipped ­­­­­­Cream:

  • ___ 2 cups heaving whipping cream
  • ___ Sugar
  • ___ Vanilla

You get the picture, right? Before I go shopping, I look in the pantry and refrigerator, putting a check mark next to items I already have. As I shop, I check things off the list since I usually spread the shopping out over a few trips.

It might seem silly, but it saves me time AND money. How?

  • I, don’t forget anything, so there are no frantic, last minute trips to the store.
  • I don’t buy items I already have. Spices are expensive, and I don’t need multiple containers of sage.

Speaking of spices, here’s a helpful chart regarding their shelf life.

I’m in favor of anything that makes life easier as we head into the busy holiday season, how about you?

Sometimes, even an organizer needs to tweak the way things get done. procrastination_thumb.jpg

Many people don’t realize I have a propensity for procrastination because I’m organized. I’m a great juggler, adept at prioritizing and meeting deadlines.

But. That doesn’t mean I enjoy scrambling around to ensure all the things that need doing actually get done. I know that with a little more proactive planning, I could eliminate the pressure that procrastinating creates.

I just re-watched a video by Robin Sharma, an internationally-known life and business coach titled “How I Beat Procrastination.”  I was probably avoiding one thing or another when I clicked the link; the irony of not doing what I should’ve been doing in order to watch something on procrastination is not completely lost on me. I highly recommend checking out the entire video, but to summarize, his 5 tips for beating procrastination are:

  • Create a vision board / dream collage
  • Go on a  30-day procrastination diet
  • Exercise with a focus on a second-wind workout later in the day
  • Create a distraction-free environment (Mess Creates Stress!)
  • Release your self sabotage (self-limiting beliefs) and rewire your brain

For the 30-day procrastination diet, he suggests taking a calendar and on each day for a month, write one thing you’ve been resisting doing and then…doing it.

It’s time for me to re-commit to this, but I tweaked it a titch: rather than using a calendar and trying to figure out which thing to write on which day, I format mine as a list titled, “30 Things in 30 Days.”  That way, I can do any one thing on any given day in any order I choose. The flexibility will work better for me.

Over the next few days I will compile my list, and my procrastination diet officially begins on September 1st. It will be a mixture of business and personal items I have been avoiding, ignoring, fearing, or pushing to the back burner for too long.

For my lists, I use the free computer program/app Wunderlist, which syncs with my Android phone. This allows me to review or update my list from either device. I like that it gives you a little check box to click on and, upon completion, draws a line through the item and moves it to the bottom of the page. It’s a psychological benefit to see the growing list of “done” things just as much as viewing the shortened list of to-do items.

At the end of the month, I’ll report on my progress. Anyone interested in joining me? You don’t have to share your list, but please share your intention to accomplish 30 things in 30 days with a comment! There’s strength in numbers…let’s do this thing.

Here’s an interesting NY Times article on clutter with a different spin on it.

Where's the car?

Where’s the car?

I think the author has, to a degree, taken a tongue-in-cheek approach, but I get it. Clutter and “stuff” isn’t an issue… until it is; until the stuff accumulates to the degree and in a way that affects the quality of your life and your ability to function on a daily basis. Do you currently co-exist comfortably with your stuff, or does it cause you stress? Do you invite friends into your home, or are you embarrassed by your clutter? There is no one-size-fits-all rule for how much stuff we should have in our lives.

I love books and have lots of them. But they live on three bookshelves in our living room. Those shelves define how many books I get to keep. Books don’t earn a spot on the shelves until I’ve read them AND enjoyed them, (or disliked them so much, I must keep them for reference, should someone try to convince me of their goodness) so unread books live in the two beautiful baskets – my reading runway, so to speak – they’re waiting patiently to be chosen. In order to make room for newly-read books on the shelves, I periodically clear out a few and donate them to the library’s book sale. Some people like to get books from  the library. Yay them. I don’t. I like – no, need – to own the books I read. Quirky? Maybe, but that’s how it is with me and books.

A simplified version of the criteria I suggest for assessing stuff when working with a client goes something like this:

  • Do you love it?
  • Do you use it?
  • Do you have the space to keep it/properly store it?

If you love your stuff, if it brings you joy, if you come home at the end of a long, hard day and revel in the presence of your stuff, rock on. Don’t get rid of things just because a magazine article says you should. By the same token, don’t hang on to stuff that weighs you down, causes anxiety or guilt, or is preventing you from sitting on the comfortable chair you know is under there somewhere.

When looking through piles of stuff to make keep-or-go decisions, I often ask my clients, “Is it relevant to your life anymore?”

Sometimes we hang on to things simply because we have the space. It’s easy to delay the decision-making process when keeping the stuff costs nothing more than the square footage to store it. But it’s important to realize that space doesn’t have to be filled; especially with stuff we don’t need, use, want, or love.

Old sports equipment is one example. If the hockey pads your son or daughter used six years ago are just gathering dust, I’ll bet there’s someone out there who would truly benefit from your gently used sports equipment donation.

Those college textbooks up in the attic? Unless the content is something you still use that hasn’t changed over time, they’re not too desirable. You can donate them.

If something doesn’t qualify for donation, maybe it can be recycled.

We had to make a tough decision here at home two years ago. We had a pool that came with the house. As close as we could calculate, it was at least 40 years old. When our boys were young that pool was a godsend. And in the heat of the summer, many a cold beverage was enjoyed during relaxing pool-float sessions. It had an attached deck, and for nearly 20 years we ate dinner up there from late spring through early autumn.

I nicknamed our pool, “The Albatross” because it really was a monstrosity – not much to look at – more function than form. As our boys grew into young men, The Albatross was used much less as a pool and more as an elevated eating area.

The time finally came when I was not looking forward to opening The Albatross. The idea of maintaining it for months on end wore me down. When I asked the question, “Is it relevant to our lives right now?” the honest answer was, “No.”  The cost to maintain in terms of time, effort, and money was no longer worth the return on that investment. And the truth of the matter was, our fond memories wouldn’t disappear with the pool, they would stay with us in our minds and hearts. Oh, and in our photographs, too.

And so it was with mixed emotions that we bid a fond farewell to The Albatross. It owed us nothing; it had served us well.

The Albatross as it once was

The tear-down process was something to behold. All recyclable materials were, indeed, recycled.

IMG_0731

Now we have a lovely patio we truly enjoy that fits our current lifestyle. We’re homebodies; we love to putter in the yard and gardens, we enjoy feeding and watching all the different birds our yard attracts. Oh, and wine. Our patio is the perfect place to enjoy a glass (or two) of wine at the end of the day. After the long hard winter of 2014-15, we’ll be especially happy for patio season to roll around.

New patio

buried-in-papers_thumb.jpgIt’s a fact: clutter can be overwhelming.

Whether it’s a four-day pile of unopened mail or many years of paper piles, there comes a point when the idea of tackling it becomes daunting.

Maybe it’s just the spare closet filled with clothes you may or may not wear, or perhaps the entire guest bedroom is overflowing with clothes and you can’t muster the energy to separate what fits and is flattering from what’s outdated or no longer appropriate for your lifestyle.

Here’s the thing. The longer you wait for the “perfect” time or “enough” time to tackle the entire clutter project – whatever it may be – the longer it’s going to build and build and nothing will get done and trust me when I tell you: clutter has negative energy that can affect you mentally, emotionally, and physically. It can damage relationships, sometimes tearing families apart.

Fear not; I bring you tidings of great joy – well, maybe not of great joy, but of hope. No matter how big your clutter issue is, it’s not hopeless.

Ready? Stop looking at the big intimidating clutter picture and start breaking that clutter project down into manageable bits. Clutter’s ability to overwhelm you diminishes when you begin to chip away and see progress. Remember that fable about the tortoise and the hare? It’s true: Slow and steady can win the race.

Instead of thinking, “I need four hours to open and process my mail,” try this: “Each day I will open and process today’s mail PLUS ten pieces from that big ol’ pile.”

If there are paper piles everywhere, gather ‘em up. Fill a bin or two or ten. Start with broad categories: Shred/Recycle/Toss/File/Pay/To Do and dig in. Put on some music that will calm or energize you and focus for a set period of time. Make it a game: see how much you can accomplish in 15 minutes and try to break your record by doing a little more tomorrow. Instead of just watching your favorite TV show, use that as a timer and sort papers in the bin. TV AND progress – win-win!

Don’t focus on the roomful of clothing. How about getting up 15 minutes earlier each morning to try on three or four items in that room. Decide if it’s keep, sell, or donate and then move on with your day. Wash, rinse, repeat.

If it’s a hodgepodge of clutter, pick something and gather “like with like” – all wrapping paper, all books, all seasonal decor, all garbage – whatever it is, gather it up and attack the room one “thing” at a time. Where should all those books live? You can’t put something away if it doesn’t have a home…

Wait, that’s a blog post for another day. I’ll leave you with this “What About Bob” movie clip. I discuss this concept with clients all the time:

Baby steps. Go ahead, get started. And remember: It’s not hopeless.

password securityDoes the idea of changing all your online passwords overwhelm you? Take a deep breath and remember my mantra: Baby steps.

If you have dozens and dozens of online accounts for things like banking, investing, shopping, playing, music, watching movies, social media… set a goal: change five or ten a day, a week…whatever works for you, but change them.

If you’ve got a cheat sheet for keeping them all straight, you should “password protect” that document if it’s stored on your computer. Don’t display your passwords on sticky notes stuck to your computer monitor or in a folder labeled, “COMPUTER PASSWORDS,” which is the equivalent of a flashing neon sign directing someone to your list.

Here is a link to an article from CBS News written in December 2013, offering some tips on how to create secure passwords. One suggestion that appears in just about every article I’ve read says do NOT reuse the same password over and over again, especially for email, banking, and social media accounts.

Microsoft used to offer a free site where you could test the strength of your password, but they charge for that service now.  Kaspersky offers an educational option to test strength without typing in an actual password, just something that mimics the format you use.

The bottom line? The effort you put forth to protect yourself online will undoubtedly be time well spent.

People sometimes assume that as a professional organizer, every aspect of my existence must be, well, organized. A lot of it is, but life happens and things fall through the cracks, even for me.

photo albums

Right before the holidays, hubby went to the cabinet that houses our photo albums – one album per year – and couldn’t find anything more recent than mid-2009. “That’s not possible!” is what I wanted to say, but the albums didn’t lie. I hadn’t printed any photos since June 2009; that’s…holy cow, four and a half years of photos that needed to be uploaded to the computer and organized into folders, then uploaded again to Shutterfly, the online photo storage and printing site I use.

Instead of letting the magnitude of the job overwhelm me, I tried to mentally break it down into manageable segments:

Part 1: upload everything from the camera and cell phone to the computer
Part 2: sort the uploaded photos into half-year folders for easier handling and identification
Part 3: upload the contents of those folders to Shutterfly
Part 4: order a copy of each photo (minus the duds that got deleted, of course!)

 Right after the holidays, I got started. In less than a week, spending an hour or so at a time, I completed all four parts.

When the order arrived from Shutterfly, there were more than 500 pictures in one very fat envelope. BUT! Thankfully, they were in chronological order so we simply had to slide them into a slot in the appropriate photo album. Hubby and I tackled that job together as we watched Discovery Channel’s mini series, “Klondike.” A glass of wine, a roaring fire, an interesting TV show and a partner to work with turned what initially felt like a monumental undertaking into a fun project.

I just put the finishing touches on the albums, labeling each by year with my label maker. And now, taking my own advice about developing new habits to maintain something that’s recently been organized, I hope to tend to this task twice a year moving forward.

Many of my clients have good intentions of creating the perfect family photo archive by scrapbooking, which adds a whole other dimension to things. However, very few seem to get beyond the point where they spend hundreds of dollars on the scrapbooking supplies. My advice? If there’s a backlog of photos looming in your life, cut yourself a break and just get them organized into albums or boxes with some sort of identifier – either the year, the event, the person or place – and move on. Someday, perhaps you’ll go back and create the scrapbook of your dreams; until then, you’ll at least be able to enjoy the photos and the memories they invoke.

I will spare you the humorous horror of my online search results for an image of “a pile of photos” to use with this blog post. In its misguided eagerness to please, google  gave me “photos of piles” – and when I say “piles” – think in medical terms.

 

I recently posted this tip on the Home Solutions facebook page:

buried in papersHere’s an idea: before you file something away, ask yourself, “Why am I filing this? Do I actually need to keep it for anything?” If the answer is no, work on breaking that habit. It’ll save you time, and it’ll save space in the file cabinet. One good example for many folks is utility bills. Everyone files them, but nobody knows why.

When I present an organizing seminar, I ask folks in the audience, “How many of you file your utility bills after you’ve paid them?” and invariably, hands shoot up all over the room. When I ask them, “Why?” I am routinely met with a roomful of shrugs and quizzical looks.

Sometimes we do things out of habit without re-examining the reason, and the reason for keeping certain papers in our file drawers may be overdue for review.

Perhaps you keep utility bills because you take a home office deduction on your income taxes. However, you can see an on-line history of utility bills paid, so again, why keep the monthly statements?

I stopped getting utility bills, bank and investment statements, and car loan statements in the mail and instead, receive them all online. I reconcile my accounts and pay my bills online, too, so there’s no need for me to print these statements.

If that’s too far out of your comfort zone, how about keeping one year’s worth and shredding with the start of a new year?

When your year-end investment account statement arrives, it has all the information for the year and you no longer need the monthly or quarterly statements, right?

Once you see the transactions on your bank statement, you can shred ATM slips and deposit receipts.

At the end of the year when you get your W-2, you can shred your paystubs.

In my July 23rd blog post, I talk about receipts – which ones to keep and which to toss.

We are inundated with an onslaught of papers on a daily basis. If we reduce the quantity of what we get and what we file by eliminating things we’re keeping out of habit rather than actual need, it’s another small step towards organizing and simplifying our daily lives.