Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Lice Free and Decorated for the Holidays!

We have had the unfortunate experience of having to deal with a lice infestation in my daughter’s class room at school. This means of course, she has brought them home. To get rid of them is a bear because not only do you have to spend hours cleaning and combing through the infected head to try to find the nits (lice eggs), but you have to clean and remove from the environment everything that mirrors hair (blankets, rugs and of course the plethora of stuffed animals)! So, the good news is we have been lice free for several weeks now (though they are still in her classroom).

With the mild weather we had a few weeks ago it seemed like everyone in our neighborhood decorated for the holidays early. I like decorating our home for Christmas, but because we get a live tree, we can’t decorate too early. My husband took the many holiday bins down from our attic right after Thanksgiving (ugh!), and I have been dealing with the wall of bins for a few weeks now. We got our tree last Saturday and finally put our decorations up!

The other day I was in our basement and I looked out to our screened in porch and saw several large bags and then remembered they were full of stuffed animals from my daughter’s room and the lice saga. I decided I would try to see if she could part with some of them discussing the importance of the gift of charity and the need to think of others. Low and behold my little six year old was up for donating, but also making a little money too. She negotiated $2.00 from me (okay, I got off easy), and gave away two full bags of stuffed animals to the Lupus Society! She still has way too many stuffed animals in her room, but at least she sorted them and the ones she is keeping she treasures for different reasons.

As we enter the season where we will be adding many new things to our homes, it is always helpful to remember to remove 2-3 items for everything added. If you can do a quick sort and purge now in each room in your home it will benefit you in several ways. It’ll help get your home ready for the holidays and company and also prepare space for the new things you may be bringing in or receiving as gifts.

Good luck as you wrap up the year and get ready for the holidays.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Getting Back To Living Life

“Getting back to living life” is the tag line of my physical therapy center, and it is one that I relate to as an organizer. My sessions at the center helped unlock my frozen shoulder condition, and at times my sessions there were uncomfortable and painful. I am in a better position now to get back to my life thanks to the exercise regimen they put together for me. They explained that for my shoulder to continue to improve I need to commit to my 30 minute shoulder exercises daily. Do I skip days here and there? Of course, but for the most part I am committed to it because I want to get back to my life…especially on the tennis court!

Similarly, organizing helps us get back to living life fully, because if we are committed to keeping up our systems and routines, then we aren’t bogged down by our daily clutter, and we aren’t ruled by our stuff. The daily commitment to organizing should at least be 15 or 30 minutes. This does not have to be a painful experience…I promise! This commitment may include an end of day pick up to put things away, determining what our top personal and/or professional actions are for the next day, processing any paper and anything else that helps creates a clean slate for the next day.

Why do this? Organizing helps get us back to living life. If we have a strong, organizing foundation, we can focus on things that are really important to us. No more worries about what we have to do, forgetting things, or feeling unproductive, because each day is a fresh start with a picked up home and work environment. Okay, maybe a little unrealistic, but something to strive for – right?

As we approach Thanksgiving, I know one of the many things I am thankful for is my unlocked frozen shoulder and my semi-organized home that allows me to live my life fully. Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours!

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Our Gift of Time On Sunday

What did you do with your extra hour gained this past weekend with the end of daylight savings time? Don’t you wish we could have an extra hour each day to tie up loose ends, plan and prioritize or do something for ourselves? Maybe we can mirror the feeling of bliss I know I felt Sunday morning with my extra hour.

How so? Here are some time saving tips that may get you close to an hour.

1. Get organized. See my blog from September 9th on ORDER – organize, routines, delete, edit and readiness. On average we lose an hour a day looking for things or trying to figure out what we need to do. This hour adds up to a staggering 14 days a year of time thrown away!
2. Zone each of your spaces so that it makes sense, there is proper storage, and simplified systems are in place to allow for a 10 minute pick-up at the end of the day.
3. Build in planning time to your day so that you minimize wasted time trying to figure out who to call, what to work on and what to do next. When you plan you will cut down on working reactively and feel more in control of your day.
4. Make checklists your friend. Either have a tangible check list or a mental checklist of what you need to do in the morning, what you need to pack to bring to work or school and also have an end of day wrap-up checklist (scan e-mail, identify top priorities for next day, etc.)
5. Keep your to dos in one place ONLY. If you have too many lists or some are electronic and some on paper, time is wasted and chances for error are higher.
6. Plan menus so that you spend less time grocery shopping and eating out and you and your family will be healthier for it. Also keep a running grocery list of what you need, preferably on your phone, so that you have it readily available.
7. Buy holiday and birthday gifts ahead and keep some in reserve to cut down on last minute shopping runs.
8. Make your car work for you. Have a bin in your trunk that holds anything that needs to be processed in some form so that you have the items when you can conveniently deal with them (i.e., items to be returned, dry cleaning, coupons for shopping, etc.)
9. Set boundaries for yourself for unplugging at night so that you can recharge, regroup and relax so that you are fresh, productive and in control for the next day.
10. If you have kids, make sure they know their routines and family systems for each room. They can pick-up and directly benefit from learning the vital life skill of organization.

Also, don’t forget to change your batteries in your smoke detectors, if you didn’t get a chance to do it this weekend.

Here’s to finding that extra hour each day to use as we’d like!

Friday, October 21, 2011

Fall Organizing Home Check-List

Organizing is a necessary home maintenance activity so that home owners can live and function well, save money and reap all the benefits of organizing. Some regular seasonal maintenance I recommend is:

1. Clean out and take inventory of the pantry and freezer. Make sure food hasn't expired, move older dates to the front. This helps reduce over-buying, wasting of food, assists with meal preparation and gives a big psychological boost!

2. Clean out and analyze what is in the main coat closet / mud room. It is amazing sometimes what is thrown in there...especially if you have kids. If your closet and/or mud room area is large enough to accommodate multiple seasons than your organizing focuses on making sure everything is where it needs to be. Make sure everything fits, all objects have a home and are properly contained. If your space is small then you may have to organize your closet / mud room area for the seasons and put away out of season items that are still relevant.

3. Organize and Clean out Kids Rooms. I encourage all of my clients to do this for each season. The benefits are two-fold. The parent(s) benefit because they sort, organize and purge all clothes that don't fit and are left with clothes that do, and a quick visual of what needs to be purchased. All out-of-season clothes that may still fit are put away. There is also a visual of what needs to be purchased, hopefully on sale, in advance of the next season. The kids benefit because they are part of the process and are learning a vital, necessary life skill. Encourage them to help identify toys and objects they have aged out of and can let go to a charity. Also it is a good time to throw out items that are broken and make an assessment of anything in the room that needs to be fixed.

So now I may have made your fall home maintenance check list a little longer, but just as you seal up any drafts to be more comfortable, these organizing tasks will make your fall and winter season more enjoyable, comfortable and you'll save money too!

Thursday, October 6, 2011

International Walk to School Day!

What a picture perfect day we had for this year's International Walk to School Day! Though, we live so close to my daughter's elementary school (Belle View Elementary), and we really should be able to walk, it still requires a lot of planning, organization and good moods to pull it off. Since I'm an organizer and I am a proponent of doing everything that can possibly be done for the next day, the night before, there should be plenty of time in the morning to make walking to school a reality. However, what ends up happening is time evaporates in the morning and most mornings we are just making it out the door in time to get to school by driving.

So, it was a big deal for us to walk on Wednesday. Though we had prepared and the lunch was made, outfit laid out, hair style determined the night before, backpack packed the night before with everything except the lunch, I didn't account for a semi grumpy daughter, and a leisurely 6 year-old's pace. At a couple different points I had to cajole her to gallop like a pony, skip and race me so that we made it there in time. Who greeted us, but the school's P.E. teacher who was giving out stickers to all the children who walked. It still amazes me how much weight a sticker can carry. She was so proud of it and at dinner last night she said she wanted to walk to school everyday to collect the stickers. Who knew!

I wish that could happen so that we could both fit in exercise early in the day to get the endorphins working, help air quality and the environment by not driving, not have to deal with the Kiss and Ride line and just have some fun time together. I've realized due to logistics of my choppy work schedule, and another child who needs to take a bus to his school, we can't walk every day, but maybe shooting for once a week can be a start. And, guess what, the plan tomorrow is we are walking to school!

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Too Many Choices

Don’t you cringe sometimes when you go down any store’s aisles at the choices we have? Yes, we are very lucky to have so many choices, but my inner organizer screams, “let’s simplify already” as all of these choices are making it harder to make decisions. In fact I read recently in Real Simple magazine (one of my favorites) that a study led by the University of Minnesota found students faced with multiple choices had less physical stamina and were more likely to procrastinate. I can totally relate to that because that is exactly what I do! The experts at Real Simple recommend that we limit ourselves to fewer than 10 options. I think I agree.

I remember when I was managing a home renovation project for my family that having to make so many decisions in a short amount of time was very stressful. I couldn’t procrastinate – I had to make the decisions. Luckily we were operating under a very tight budget so I was able to go into stores and direct the sales people to only show me tile, or whatever I was choosing, that fit into our budget.

I think having so many choices may contribute to the excess of stuff that we all have. We overbuy and then we need to have more storage to contain all of our things. Our excess of things can cause us more stress instead of the positive effect we thought it would bring by buying it. By no means am I saying we should be like the guy who lived for a year with just 100 things. I just think we need to narrow our focus more and really be sure we need or truly want something before we buy it.

I’m not sure why I am writing about this other than I had lunch with a friend today, and somehow the topic got around to clothes and makeup. I was lamenting to her that I need some new additions in both areas, but I am so overwhelmed by all of the choices…especially the whole skin care arena. I think I just need to do a little research so that I can narrow my focus and not be distracted by products I don't want, when I finally get up the courage to go buy some new skincare and makeup products.

Remember, with our stuff, the less we have, the richer in some ways our lives become. So when faced with purchasing decisions, the more we can narrow our choices, based on our specific needs and criteria, the easier it is to make the right choice.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Creat Fall ORDER in your Work and Home Lives

I feel like I’ve been running ever since we returned from vacation late last Saturday. We traveled to San Diego and had a wonderful time, but getting out of vacation mode and adjusted back to east coast time, coupled with a fun-filled Labor Day weekend, was too busy so close to the start of the school year. It didn’t leave much time to get the kids back into an earlier bedtime routine! Oh well, we have been doing okay, despite all the rain, and have only had a few bumps getting out the door in the morning. I realize all will be fine as we adjust to our fall schedules and routines.

So with school starting this week, I have been thinking about what I want to accomplish both personally and professionally this fall. In order to be productive I realize I’ve got to implement some changes. I know some people don’t like order, but as a professional organizer, I’m all about it. When I’m starting to feel stressed or a little overwhelmed I realize I need to pause, take inventory of what is out of whack and bring back the calmness…I know sort of zen.

Think about bringing more ORDER to your life by implementing some of these strategies.

O – Organize – I believe that our environments directly relate to the way we feel. If it is cluttered and unappealing, we won’t feel relaxed, our thoughts become cluttered and we feel more stressed. Even with great systems in place, spaces can get cluttered due to the pace of life. When I feel overwhelmed, usually I start to organize my office, kitchen cabinets, pantry or various rooms in my home. It works miracles, is energizing and has an amazing domino effect to increase productivity in other areas of my life.

R – Routines – It is important to establish morning and evening routines especially for children and to discuss them, practice them, and get their buy in so that they know what is expected. Routines for adults also contribute to saving time (no searching for lost keys), and enhance productivity because established routines allow us to free up our minds to focus on our priorities. Creating a routine for any standard practice we repeat daily frees up time and reduces stress because we don’t have to worry about the details of life.

D – Decisions – every day we have 24 hours to decide how we are going to use it. How do we figure out what truly are our top priorities. It is important to be able to make decisions and differentiate between what is an immediate priority and what is still important, but can wait. What happens a lot is we all get into reactive mode instead of planning and prioritizing so that we can decide thoughtfully.

E – Edit – I have learned to be skillful at different types of editing. There is the physical space editing that reduces clutter and enhances visual space. The other editing is related to time, editing out tasks, events and other time takers that aren’t important now, can be deferred or permanently deleted off of my schedule. This is a skill and like everyone, I can be great at it, but I also have months where I’m not editing items off of my schedule as I should.

R – Ready – In my house I’m always saying to my kids, “Are you ready for tomorrow? or “Is your backpack ready and in the right place?” Everything that can be done the night before, should be, both for kids and adults. Time just slips away in the morning and there is some comfort in knowing that if there is an alarm snafu or a mini crisis in the a.m., at least all bags are packed and are ready to go.

Good luck establishing fall order in your home and work lives!

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Free Shred on the 28th and Huge Community Yard Sale on Labor Day

I have several new paper management clients and after working with them on setting up a paper organizing system that is no-fuss and easy to maintain, we were left with a lot of paper that needs to be shredded. If you are in the same situation keep alert for free shreds that will be cropping up in the Fall. There is a free one on Sunday, the 28th from noon - 5:00, at Shred Station Express, 5604 General Washington Drive, and it looks like the first 4 boxes are free.

I guess paper has been on my mind a lot lately as I've coached my 10 year old son to get his desk in his room homework ready for the start of school after Labor Day. He had a huge backlog of school papers, notebooks and other school memorabilia, not only from the last school year, but from his 3rd grade year, and he was reluctant to let a lot of it go. We talked about keeping the gems and letting go a lot of the worksheets, quizzes and tests. I explained to him that paper has a way of taking over a desk if a logical system isn't set up. We made sure he has all of his homework supplies and folders and empty shelves to hold his papers and notebooks for this year. Now they'll have a fighting chance of staying on his desk instead of the floor.

Going shopping for school supplies is a great opportunity to not only get what is needed for school, but to look over your homework area(s) in your home to make sure they are homework ready.

Another thing, if you want to do a quick purge of your home of household items and toys that are no longer needed, drop them off at Good Shepherd Catholic Church by early next week for their huge Community Yard Sale on Labor Day, September 5th, from 12-6 p.m. The Community Yard Sale is part of the larger International Festival that benefits local citizens in need. Enjoy this last week of August and your Labor Day Weekend.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Keeping School Gems in Place

I don’t know about you, but with school letting out so late for the summer, I haven’t completely organized the gobs of paper, completed journals and of course, art, that is in piles and displayed in various rooms around my home. What I recommend is having a few display weeks (past that now) to keep journals, best work, awards/certificates, and pictures prominently displayed to show off, and then together with your children, make some decisions about what to do with it.

I always tell my clients, that it is important to imagine your kids grown up and moving out and their reaction when you hand them boxes upon boxes of their childhood work. They probably aren’t going to be thrilled, and they won’t be as sentimental as us, but they will want some of it. So, how do we as parents make those decisions? Here are some ideas and products to consider.

1. Have two memory boxes for each child that can be stored on a top shelf of the closet in their room. One box should contain precious early childhood memories such as first tooth lost, favorite baby outfit, 1st baby cards, etc. The second box should contain more of the keepsake art, special papers and other school memories that don’t fit into each child’s school album.

2. Shop around and find a school years album (I like the kindergarten through high school type) and make sure it has pockets to put report cards and some space to write highlights from the year. One I like is Lakeshore’s School Days Keepsake Album. This one has two pages for every year from preschool through 12th grade. This kind of album can hold the class picture, awards, and other school mementos.

3. Together go through all of the school papers with your kids and pick out the gems to keep in the school years album. The rest discretely recycle/toss.

4. There are great storage/display frames available that hold up to 50 pieces of art in one frame. They are available on-line as well as in Target now. Another way to handle the art that is precious, but takes up too much space, is to take pictures and then create a digital photo book. You can also have your child describe when they made the art, how they were feeling and what their art is about. It is a way for you to capture this history in a small package, which the whole family can enjoy easily.

5. Decide how you want to organize your family’s photo memories. If you are pulling photos during the year to include in your child’s school album, keep a fluid, separate on-line folder that you copy photos into that you can print out if you want, or have on-line by year . Most people are handling photos digitally, myself included. However, digital photos still need to be organized and given some thought. This is a whole separate blog and I will plan to write specifically on this.

We will all be creating memories this summer and now with the school year’s work and art processed and contained, we can focus on capturing those memories. Have a great summer!

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The Four D's Will Save You - Delete, Delegate, Decide and Defer

I was trying to figure out what to write about and realized that I never posted this blog to my site when I wrote it a few weeks ago...hmmm, must be busy or something!

Okay, I had as a goal to blog at least once a week about something organizing related, but I have felt over busy lately with both my work, volunteer and personal lives. Yes, I should know better being an organizer, but like everyone, I have these too busy episodes too. Don’t you hate when everything seems to be a priority? I hate the feeling when I get this way because I am not as productive as I want and need to be. And of course the first thing that goes off my schedule when I feel this way is exercising – the very thing that helps me keep stress in check. Okay, enough whining let me tell you what I’m doing about it.

The last time I blogged I was getting ready for our neighborhood yard sale that I was instrumental in coordinating. This was supposed to be the first of two neighborhood events, with the second being a block party on June 11th. The yard sale was a lot of fun, especially watching my son and his best friend sell their toys and laughing with my neighbors as we swapped our stuff around. Going through this experience (i.e. increase e-mail load, getting volunteers, promotion, etc.) made me realize that there was no way managing a block party could happen on the 11th and I was absolutely crazy to think I could do it right with everything else going on. Another major factor that played into postponing the block party is I am chairing the end of year picnic for my kids’ school on June 10th and it is a very large event to coordinate. Why would any sane person sign up to chair both events?

I got in this bind because I sometimes underestimate the amount of time it takes to do something (very common, by the way), and I should have never committed to managing two large events back to back. So getting one off my plate was a move in the right direction.

The second thing I did that has helped me get back some time is going back to basics – planning and prioritizing tasks and projects. Instead of hyperventilating and thinking that everything has the same level of priority, when I actually take the time to think calmly about what I have to do, I see things more clearly and realize I do have enough time.

So if you find yourself in a similar situation where you are stressed and feel overwhelmed with your schedule, remember the 4 Ds - Delete, Delegate, Decide and Defer. Delete items off of your to do list that aren’t important now, delegate what you can, decide what you need to work on now and defer what you can to a later date.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

The Big Switch is Finished!

I am in the best mood now because my dreaded seasonal organizing task is now behind me! How can that be that a person who organizes for a living has a dreaded organizing task? Well, mine is switching out all of our clothes for the current season. I guess it bothers me so much because there are many steps to it and the house always ends up in chaos for several days while I’m making the big switch. There’s the cleaning of all the clothes so that they can be put away, figuring out with the kids what may fit the next season, and then because we live in an older house our closets are small, so that means climbing in the attic to retrieve numerous storage bins. Oh, and to make it even more of a process, I have to dismantle part of our linen closet to gain access to the attic!

My children are now 6 and almost 10, and over the years, I’ve gotten a little better at simplifying the process. I’ve also learned to buy fewer clothes, especially for my kids, because they end up wearing a lot of the same clothes…sort of like adults do. By the way, there is a statistic floating out there that we wear 20% of our clothes 80% of the time. I really try to be aware of this fact as I’m organizing the clothes for each season, to only store those clothes that I like. I realize my time is up with me dictating what my kids wear, as they are expressing more of an opinion these days, but for now they pretty much wear what I buy for them. I’ve also transitioned to those slim-line fabric hangers that you see in every store – I highly recommend them. Making sure that each closet is highly organized helps cut down on the over buying, makes the closet function better, and the slim-line hangers allow for more clothes to be hung.

I’ve learned when I put away the summer clothes, to prepare for the fall and winter, to keep out a weeks worth of each of our favorite summer clothes to have easy access to, if we are fortunate enough to get away in the winter some place warm, and also for those wonderful 85 degree days in late March and early April.

I have to chuckle now that I have all of our spring/summer clothes ready and fall/ winter put away, today is a cold, rainy 60 degree day. Go figure! I hope your clothes closets are ready so that you can dress for the season, and go enjoy the warmer weather which will hopefully be back tomorrow!

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Small Closet Dilema?

If you have the lucky challenge to figure out how to make your clothes fit in a small closet, IKEA's PAX storage closet line, may be able to help. IKEA is a great organization source to purchase products to assist in solving some storage shortfalls in your home.

Though I have to caution, just like with a built in closet, really own and love everything in your closet so that getting dressed in the morning is an uplifting experience. I know closet organizing can be emotionally challenging especially if there are several wardrobes of different sizes in your closet.

So here are the basics to get started:

1st - Take everything out and only keep those clothes that make you feel good, fit well and are needed. This will require some trying on of clothes, if you aren't sure if something fits or not. Figure out what may need to be cleaned or fixed of the clothes that are the keepers. The remainder put in donate, if they are in good condition. Box up any clothes that don't fit, but you think realistically you will fit into within the next year.

2nd - Put clothes back in your closet logically - short sleeve / long sleeve grouped by color, skirts together, pants, etc. Put all the hangers in the same direction, and if possible have all of the same type of hanger (slim, fabric covered hangers are great and they save space). After an article of clothing is worn, turn the hanger the other way so that you have a visual of which clothes you wear and which you don't.

3rd - Group accessories and buy storage to accommodate them so that you can see what you have. Use clear shoe boxes, or put photos on shoe boxes if you like to box shoes, arrange by color or type if you like to store on shoe racks; scarves on a shelf or drawer; belts hung, etc.

If you have a closet that visually looks appealing and you like everything in your closet, it sets a positive tone for your day instead of possibly causing stress. Good luck making decisions for what to keep and what to let go as you switch winter clothes for lighter spring and summer outfits.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

The Mess in the Home Organizing Aisle

I had to get some storage products for a few clients this week, and pressed for time, instead of going to the mecca for organizers, The Container Store, I went to Target. Like most big stores they carry an impressive line of organizing products, but I nearly fell over when I saw the state of their home organizing section. It looked like the dairy, bread and paper product aisles before a major or minor snow storm in the D.C. area! The shelves were barren and what was left was picked over and in some cases damaged in some way.

Of course, then it hit me that most of us have the spring cleaning and clutter bashing bug at this time of year, and that is why the home organizing section looked a mess. Most of us have the desire to rid our home of the backlog of fall/winter clutter that inevitably piles up. Unfortunately, I was only able to get a few things that I needed and days have passed, and I still need to make my way out to The Container Store.

As an organizer, I always tell my clients to not buy any storage products until their organizing system is set up. Most people, tend to want to buy the products first and then make them work for their system. Think about the commercials and print ads we see claiming to get you organized by installing the perfect closet or garage system. The process of organizing entails sorting, purging and decision making so that the best, tailored system for you can be created. One of my favorite acronyms on this topic is Julie Morgenstern's SPACE - sort, purge, assign, containerize and then equalize (make adjustments to your system as needed). Even the highest end custom closet won't be the organizing solution if the organizing process hasn't been done first.

So, my sense is the Home Organizing Section in Target reflected the common desire most of us have to buy the containers first to get organized. I wish us all luck as we get rid of winter's cobwebs and readjust and/or create new systems that make our homes and us function better.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Addressing My Sliding Filing Mountain

Spring is in the air and many of us want to throw open the windows, let in the fresh air and start the organizing and cleaning frenzy. Before we can start, yes, I make it a family effort, we have to cull the clutter and get rid of lots of stuff. I know at our house, despite my best efforts to manage the paper clutter, it does pile up - unread magazines, newspapers, school projects (got to love those 3-dimensional projects), pictures, coupons and on and on.

If we are all working the systems that are set up, the paper can be managed effectively. We have a homework zone for supplies and school papers to be kept for studying purposes. We don't keep memory type school work and art in the homework zone; that goes in each child's memory box in the top of their closet. We do have a hanging file for restaurant coupons and menus and a drawer for bills. We have 2-3 magazine baskets and a recycling basket, but still, if the paper isn't processed regularly, it will pile up.

Since I manage clutter for a living, I am usually on top of things, but one area that inevitably gets neglected is the filing. Who likes to file anyway? I always think of the organizing fact that 85% of what we file, we never retrieve again. So, as I look at the mountainous pile of papers in my office that are in the "to be filed" box I vow yet again, to not let it stack up so high. I will be ruthless to discard the paper that I don't need, shred what needs to be shredded and only file those papers that I may truly need.

Another thing to keep in mind is that there will be many spring community shreds and recycling events planned. So be on the look out and check out one that I'm aware of coming up soon on April 9th in Arlington.

Happy filing and shredding!

Friday, March 4, 2011

If Only I had a Garage....

I admit it, I am envious of people who have garages. Not because they can park their cars in them, but because they have all of that extra storage! There are so many amazing organizing systems for garages that I would love to utilize to organize all of my garage type clutter that ends up in our utility room, screened in porch or our shed.

We have edited down sports equipment, tools, seasonal toys and house and car maintenance clutter, but still it seems to grow overnight. I know I'm not alone in this quandary especially in my neighborhood where most of the houses don't have garages, we have sheds.

I do realize that though it appears like I have a lot of garage type items, I do regularly pare it down and I am always looking for new solutions to contain it.

When my husband and I worked with our architect on a small home addition, part of it included a screened in porch. I think she initially thought it was a little strange that I wanted 3/4 of one side of the porch to be storage closets. It has worked out nicely for us, because now instead of the utility room and outside shed exploding with stuff when we go in, it is more organized. We have outside toys in one of the screened-in porch closets and also in a resin gardening bench in the front of the house. All of these toys used to be in the shed which now has all of the tools and equipment to maintain our house...oh and our bikes...another challenge without a garage!

I guess I'm thinking of sheds and outside items because spring is around the corner. Also, I have started a walking regimen and last week when I walked in the neighborhood next to ours, where most of the houses have garages, some of the garage doors were open. I had to chuckle because there is no way 80% of the garages I saw could hold cars.

So whether we are blessed with garages or not, we all have to regularly go through our outside clutter, just like we do inside, so that we can actually park our car in our garage, or just dream about it, if we are one of the unlucky ones.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Breaking Family Routines

Of course, as a professional organizer I am a big believer in routines, but I think abandoning routines once in awhile can be a good thing. I include our family in the group that doesn't take advantage of all of the wonderful museums, free and low-cost recreational park activities and the many other enriching family programs that are available every weekend in and around D.C. We tend to fall into our regular a.m. routine of reading the shrinking paper and enjoying our coffee while the kids watch cartoons, before all of the normal weekend activities start like b-day parties, sports practices and play dates.

This weekend we diverged a bit from our routine mainly because our youngest had been cooped up all week with an especially harsh stomach virus, and I think we all needed to do something different. We went down to the Building Museum on Saturday because they have a Lego exhibit that we haven't seen yet and they were hosting Engineering Family Day with lots of fun activities planned for kids. Though parking was a bear, the day was so much fun. I think it fed a spark our son has to the building professions, and we all walked away learning something. It was great to experience this all together as a family. I had to laugh that I did learn how to make structurally strong columns out of a sheet of paper and my daughter and I made many of them yesterday securing her second level of her firehouse she made out of a cardboard box.

We never made it to the Lego exhibit, as we ran out of time, but all agreed that we will be back to take in that exhibit. I strongly recommend a visit to the Building Museum.

Also, another great source I've discovered for local activities is the Patch. It is a local, on-line newspaper and there are many neighborhood versions that are available. I happen to read the Huntington-Belle Haven Patch.

I think this past weekend was an eye opener for us and one we will want to replicate with regularity. I hope we can do it!

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Mise En Place for Organizing Success

Good chefs and organizers have something very important in common. We both employ a technique that is commonly used by professional chefs called mise en place, which means "everything in its place". Designating a place for everything is at the core of organizing because without this important element proper systems can't be set up.

Something I see a lot as an organizer is many clients will pile things or stuff items in places because either they aren't sure where the items are suppose to go, a home was never identified for the items or they intend to put it away and the put away pile becomes daunting. The ramifications of not employing the mise en place philosophy is that organization will be elusive, never ending, and overwhelming when it doesn't have to be. Also, you will probably re-buy things you already have because you either can't find the item when you need it or you think you don't have it in the first place.

So what should you do? First, I recommend in any room that you are organizing to do a thorough purge, only then can you see what truly needs to be organized. The second step is identify any storage in the room to see if it can be utilized better, if other items can be rearranged to free up more space, and then determine if more storage needs to be purchased. The last step is ....mise en place - put everything away. This last step is the icing on the cake! A logical home is determined for every item needed in the room. I realize it isn't as straight forward as I've written, but if you keep this process in mind, you will be able to employ the mise en place strategy in no time.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Why am I Getting Organized?

We are heading towards the end of January and the end of "Get Organized Month". Yes, there really is such a month, and of course my professional association, The National Association of Professional Organizers has designated it so. Being organized is a resolution that many of us have because we know that we will be able to do more things in 2011 if we get organized. In fact "Getting Organized" is cited as one of the top 10 resolutions for Americans each year.

If getting organized is your resolution, I recommend that you write down at least 10 reasons for why you want to achieve this goal. Read your reasons daily and it will be a motivator, a coach and a visual reminder that will help keep you on track.

Break down your big goal of getting organized into manageable smaller organizing tasks and projects. And better yet, instead of making getting organized a 2011 goal, make it more finite, such as by the 1st day of spring I will have completed my top 3 organizing projects. It is much easier to achieve smaller goals which then will give us the momentum to continue to meet our larger goals. Then you can reset your goal to have a new deadline. In some respects having a tighter time line holds a person to task better.

As we head into the 2nd month of the year, don't worry if you have fallen off track, just read your reasons for getting organized and keep plugging away.

Incidentally, the strategy for writing the reasons for wanting to get organized can work for other resolutions you may have. I do think though, just like with clutter, "less is more" when it comes to setting resolutions. Keep them few, and have as tight a timeline as possible and as silly as it sounds, write your reasons for wanting this change.

Good luck!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

18 Areas Ripe for DeCluttering...

This article is a quick read to reinforce some things we already know about decluttering, and also to remind us about some things we haven't thought about in awhile. Keep up with your purging and organizing, donate/recycle what you can and pay it forward, and I guarantee through this process it will be easier for you to focus on resolutions.

Happy Organizing!

Friday, January 7, 2011

Optimizing Storage So Your House Can Breath

If you are like me and you haven't put your seasonal decorations away yet, take a little time to take a peek this weekend (yes, we will do it this weekend) at what else is in your storage area and try to edit a little out. This exercise will help you use your storage space more effectively this year so that you don't dread it as much retrieving something you need out of there. You will have a sense of accomplishment knowing you didn't just cram the seasonal boxes up there like most of us usually do. Also, part of organizing any space, both storage or living, requires creating available space by making decisions of what to purge out because of condition, redundancy, or not needing or wanting it now.

I don't do this kind of inventory in my main storage space (our attic) every year, but this year I intend to, as it hasn't been done in awhile. Please read more about other reasons to organize your storage space in an article I contributed to a local on-line publication.

Good luck creating more storage space in your home. You will appreciate your efforts!

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Happy New Year and Happy Organizing!

I think one of the main reasons there is an urge to get organized at the start of the year, is the desire to do more and to do it better. In order to do anything better and to accomplish more, we have to figure out how we may be wasting time and we need to determine how to use our time more effectively.

Time is a commodity that everyone wants more of, but it seems to allude us. We live in an age where advances in technology make us available 24/7 and the expectations of people are that we should be responsive almost immediately. We pride ourselves in being supreme multi-taskers and some how doing it all and most times doing it well. Over time this takes a toll and most people start borrowing time from leisure or sleep and inevitably come up short.

The best kept secret to achieve more time in our day is to get organized – first at home and then at work. Do you know that on average most people waste an hour a day looking for items, thinking about what to do next and combating mind clutter? The hour a day adds up to two weeks a year in wasted time and who has that to give up! I suggest getting organized at home first, because home should be our oasis and our place where we re-charge and enjoy life.

Sometimes it is difficult to know where to start, but I recommend to start in the kitchen since it is the most used room in the home. Two common organizing principals to keep in mind as you organize any space are: 1) everything has its place and 2) put like things together. If you use these as your guide it will help you tremendously sort through your rooms.

The kitchen is the hub of the home and since it is a room where you will spend a lot of time it needs to function well. Many times, even if there is a home office, there tends to be a lot of paper and associated accessories that find their way in a kitchen. If you have a desk in your kitchen, you are set. But if you don’t rearrange your cabinets to free up one by the phone to place some baskets to hold mail, school work, and action items. If you have children and they do their homework in the kitchen, make sure you have a place to hold their homework supplies. Keep the family calendar in the kitchen and think about having a family meeting on Sundays to plan out your week.

Some other kitchen organizing tips are:

1. The start of a New Year is a good time to organize your pantry. In order to plan meals you need to know what you have and what you need. Throw out expired food, organize your food by categories or types and then label your pantry shelves so when you are rushed, your food items will be easier to put away. I use baskets in my pantry and I organize my food by meals/type (Italian, Mexican, Bread/crackers, Snacks, Nuts/dried fruit).

2. Empty out your cooking utensil drawers. This is where we all have a huge backlog of excess utensils, some of which have probably never been used. Put all of the utensils that you don’t know what they are or haven’t used them in a container to give away. Make sure you have drawer separators in your drawer to divide like types of utensils.

3. Zone your kitchen for how you use it – food prep, baking, cooking, washing dishes, coffee/breakfast, etc. As much as you can, put the supplies for these respective tasks in or near the areas you have designated.

4. Downsize your Tupperware drawer to keep only those containers that have lids. Really think about cutting your supply in half because that is probably all you need.

5. Make sure whatever is taking prime real estate on the counter deserves it.

6. Hide your trash and recycling and if it has to be out in the room, shop for an attractive matching set. Crate and Barrel has small recycling options that are attractive.

7. Make sure you need all of the pots and pans that you may have inherited from family or as gifts. How many frying pans do we need? Really think about what you use and need and then donate the rest.

The most important tip I could give to have a warm, inviting kitchen is to spend 10 minutes at the end of the day picking up the clutter, doing the dishes, wiping down the counters and processing any paper that has come into your home. Now, your most used room in your home is ready for another busy day.