Scheduling Your Projects

Life is so busy these days with both parents working and kids involved in so many activities, how does anyone keep their house organized? you may wonder.  I believe that involving the family in the projects and the process is the answer and in the long run, being organized will save you,not cost you time. Here are 5 tips on how to get through all your organizing and home improvement projects:

1. Check the Project Plan weekly– If you have a “House Projects Plan” book or binder I suggest you keep it in a central location where you and your husband can easily access it.  As you plan out your week together you can refer to this book if your schedule allows for a home improvement project. Don’t wait for that one magic day when you all have noting to do.

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Absolute: If you don’t plan it, it’s not going to happen!

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2. Don’t leave all the home improvement work for the weekend either.  Sometimes a project may only take 2 hours and you could get it done together on a weeknight.  Or sometimes a big Saturday project may take some prep work that could be done on Thursday or Friday evening.  For instance, if you are going to paint the living room on Saturday, maybe the two of you could move furniture, bring in the drop cloth, and put up the painter’s tape on Friday night after the kids are asleep.  Then whoever is painting can jump right in on Saturday morning

3. Consider your kids – When scheduling projects think about what the kids will be doing at that time.  If one parent can tackle a job, then the other parent can help by taking the children out of the house.  If you both want to do a project, then maybe you can have the kids go to a friend’s or grandma’s house. If possible, plan projects for a weekday if all your kids are in school and you and your husband can take a day off.  When your children are old enough you can involve them in the family house projects. You want everyone in the family vested in the outcome.  Motivate your family with incentives like, “If you all help clean out the garage on Saturday, we can go out for dinner and a movie that night.”

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Where there’s a will there’s a way and where there’s not, there are excuses.

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4. Leave yourself enough time – Having done this job for 10 years, I can estimate that in an average home you can organize a room thoroughly in one day. If you agree that an average size house has 10-12 rooms, that means you can organize your house in 2 weeks.  If you need to fix, paint and organize a room, estimate that it will require a week to organize. Then you’ll be finished in 3 months.  If your rooms each require a lot of work, let’s say one month per room, then you still can estimate that in one year you will have your home exactly as you want it. Not bad when you consider how many years it took to get it the way you didn’t want it!


Getting Beyond Overwhelmed

 

 

 

Where do I start? is one of the most frequent questions people ask when they start thinking about getting their home totally organized.

 

Create a “Home Projects Plan”

My answer is usually, “start with a plan.”  Sounds simple enough, but here are the specifics on how to create a Home Projects Plan for your situation. whether your plan will take a week or years to execute this plan will be there to guide you so you always know what the next step is.  The most important thing is to write it down. Don’ assume you’ve got it all up in your head and you’re ready to jump in. Use a simple copy book or a binder to keep everything in one place.

The Walk Through

First, go with you’re spouse (and maybe even the children) through every room in the house.  Discuss how your family will use each room.  In other words, identify the function of each room and try to limit the functions to three.  Any more than three functions, and the room often becomes chaotic and crowded. Write down everything you want to change in that room. I would include in this plan, not only organizational projects but also home improvements.  If you are browsing in catalogs or home improvement magazines, you can cut out pictures of what you like and put these along side your “to do” items.

Estimate your costs

After you’ve written it all down, estimate the costs.  This may be as easy as pricing something in a catalog or sales paper.  But for contracted services like plumbing and electricity, you’ll want to get a minimum of three quotes.  My husband and I tend to go with the middle range of costs unless one of the contractors is significantly better than the others in terms of quality or customer service.  Many times you just have to choose whomever you feel more comfortable with.   Consider purchasing items like lighting and plumbing fixtures yourself and just hire someone to install them.  This can often save you money. Once you have all your quotes, you can ballpark the cost of doing each room.

Know your budget

Budgeting is another step that I think many couples skip.  If you’re lucky enough that cost doesn’t matter, then you can just keep going until your whole house is done! But most families have to work within a budget.  You definitely don’t want to be in the middle of a big project and suddenly find that you’re out of money. When we moved into our new house, we knew there were some immediate fixes to be done.  We looked at our annual income and expenses and figured out how much we could put aside for home improvements.  When the money was gone, we had to stop. So we were realistic about how much we could do in that first year.

Another option might be to take out a loan.  Whatever your situation, it’s important that you and your spouse are in agreement with how much money can be spent in getting your home organized and updated. Decide on the total amount you can spend and then prioritize your projects.

 

Prioritize

The other purpose of the Home Projects Plan is to help you prioritize. There are different ways to prioritize and no way is right or wrong.  Some common ways to choose which room should be first are by using superlatives like:

* the worst room in the house,

* the most used room,

* the most visible room,

* the easiest room,

* the least or most expensive room to do.

Much depends on your personality.  Doing the worst room first has its benefits because all else will seem easy.  Doing the easiest room first might build your confidence to continue on.  Doing the most-used or most-visible room first may help you feel that “at least we’ll look organized when people come to visit.”  Whatever your motivation, choose the first room and stick to it until you’ve done everything you planned and can afford right now.  Roughly plan out the order in which you would like your rooms to be finished.  Of course this may change along the way, but better to have a plan of where you are going next and change it, than to have no plan at all!

Absolute of organizing:  Finish one thing before you start another.

 

5 Tips to Maintaining Your Home Office

Once you’ve set up the office of your dreams. How do you maintain it? Here are 5 suggestions for maintain order in any home office:

1. Consider the method

I believe the maintenance step of organizing can fall into two methods:

  • Routines – You create them based on your natural tendencies & out of necessity and then you just do it. For instance, checking your email, filing papers, sorting through mail, making phone calls and shipping out items all need to be done, so when will you do them? Daily, weekly, or will you delegate some duties?
  • The full barrel method – This is when you use a container to pile things like orders, filing, bills, etc. and you do them once the bin is full.

Nothing wrong with either method but I strongly suggest you don’t leave everything to the full barrel method. That is the point of overwhelming piles and that is when we professional organizers usually get the call for help.

 

2. Don’t let the kids touch

If your home office is going to be used by your children because there is only one computer in the house, make sure your work and important papers are filed away and maybe even locked away when you are finished working.  This is a great motivator for keeping your desk top clear!  When the children use the computer or materials there, make sure they only have access to what they are allowed to use.

3. Set a schedule for working your home-based business

If you’re lucky enough to have your own office with a door, then it’s easier to be disciplined about your starting and ending time.  When you finish for the day, have everything you need to do tomorrow in your “To Do” bin and written in your daily planner, then close the door.  If you don’t set up boundaries and routines when working at home, it is too easy to let your work time spill into family time.  If you work while the children are home, communicate with them about when you are working and what’s expected of them. You may want them to play by themselves, watch a movie or you may have a babysitter there that can attend to their needs instead of you.  Make sure when you finish working and switch back to your mommy job, you give them your full attention.

4. Set time in your daily or weekly schedule for managing the necessities:

  • When it comes to the day-to-day management of a family, it’s best to do it every day so it doesn’t pile up on you.
  • Paying bills is a top priority so it’s worth the effort to schedule it and write it in your planner or set up an automatic bill payer. You can write it down as soon as you receive a bill, such as “Send Visa bill” on the 10th if it’s due on the 17th.  You can set a specific day of the week when you pay them.  Do this weekly, bi-monthly or monthly if you coordinate the due dates with your utilities and credit cards.
  • Phone calls can take up a lot of a mother’s time in any given week.  Instead of just calling someone when you think of it, make a list on a daily or weekly basis of who you need to call.  Then you can be efficient about your time, call when the house is quiet like when the kids go off to school or when the baby is taking a nap.  You’d be amazed how many calls you can make in a half hour when you have focused time.   Even if you’re just leaving messages, you can get your calls out there and only answer the ones your are expecting back throughout the day.  If you’re in the middle of doing something else, use the caller id or answering machine to screen your calls.  Only answer if you have the time to talk.
  • Filing is something you can do in about 5 minutes per day.  If you don’t receive a lot of papers to file you may be able to wait and do it once a week.  This is one instance where the “full barrel” method can apply.
  • Reading may be another function that can take place in your office area.  These would be periodicals for your business, information from school or kids’ activities.  Again, make room in your schedule to read your incoming papers every day and it’ll only take 5-10 minutes.  If you let it pile up, not only does it take longer but you’re less likely to want to tackle that pile.
  • When you have special projects you’re working on, these should be considered when you are using your daily planner.  Try to work on one project per day if possible.  Create an action file for each project and pull that file out when you’re working on it, then put it away when you’re finished for the day.

5. Clear out your office each year

  • Pull out your tax related info, total up expenses and income for both personal and business tax forms.
  • Empty your “Charitable Contributions” folder with all those receipts and total them up too.
  • If you’re someone who likes to have an idea of where the money went this year, take credit card statements and your checkbook log and categorize your expenses in a simple spreadsheet.
  • If you use Quick Books® or similar software pull an end-of-the-year report for your budget totals.
  • For any reference files you have, take a look through each one and toss what is outdated or unnecessary.
  • Clear out your children’s school files at the end of the school year.
  • If you have a business that requires you to keep inventory, tally up the cost of that inventory for your taxes.  In some cases you may want to have an end-of-the-year sale to clear the shelf.

The secret to maintaining an organized office is to keep all your office materials in while keeping toys, food, and extraneous stuff out!  Do this on a daily or weekly basis so it doesn’t pile up and you’ve got a functional home business – even if that business is simply managing your home and family.

If you like my tips, please share on Facebook or Twitter!

Setting Up Your Home Office

Whether you are setting up a home office to run your household or you have a home-based business, there are certain steps you can take to make sure it is set up for maximum efficiency. And if you have a home office now that is “not working” (as I hear from so many of my clients), don’t be afraid to start from scratch: de-clutter and re-organize it.

Set up zones & furniture

If your office has multiple functions, you’ll want to create zones for each function.  For instance, if you are using your office area for managing your household files and doing a home business, you need to have separate file drawers or file cabinets for each. You may even want to have two desks, one for personal and one for business.

If you have a computer and several peripherals, make sure you set them up near a grounded outlet using a surge protector.  Also make sure the computer is in a position that will not have a glare from the sun if there are windows in your office. One of the basic rules of feng shui is that a desk chair should face the door of the room. This is the “control” position. You definitely want to be in control of your business.

Consider Paper flow

One of the most common clutter problems in a home office involves paper. Think about the flow of paper in your office and set it up in an assembly line fashion.  If yours is an office for managing your home, you could set it up like this:

To Do Bin > Open space on desk > Printer > shredder/trash can > “Going Out” table

If bills are often paid late, leave those out and visible on the desk top. Even if you pay them electronically, you need some visual reminder of the amount and due date.

If you are also using your office to manage a home-based business, your set up may be more complicated.  But as Philip Crosby says, “all work is a process.” Whether you have a product based or service based business (or a little of both) document your process from customer requests, to fulfillment to payment. You could set up stations for each step in the process.  For a product based business, have order forms by the phone or computer – wherever they come in.  Then spread them out on a table for filling orders.  Keep a record of who has paid and who has not.  You could use a letter holder on the table or two bins accurately marked.  Have your packaging materials either under the table or in a closet in your office and pull them out when you’re ready to ship.  Once the packages are ready to deliver or mail, have a “Going Out” bin by the door of the office.   So your straight line process might look like this:

Take orders > Record Payment > Fill Orders > Package > Send out product

Having your business set up in this way will avoid a lot of confusion about where a certain order is, and who has paid you or not.  It also helps you see exactly what piece of the process you need to focus on at any given time.

For a service based business, you will still have customer requests. These may come in via phone or email. Most likely you will create a record of the request, defining the customer requirements. The workflow may look something like this:

Customer request>Define Requirements>Contract or invoice>Schedule work>Complete work>Check requirements>Collect payment>Follow up

Set the stages of this process up from left to right in your office so you can easily move from one to another without going in circles!

Put on the finishing touches

Once your office is set up functionally, make sure it’s aesthetically pleasing too. When you feel at ease and have a clear space to work, you will have a clear and focused mind to do your work.

  • If you like visual reminders and motivators, put up a bulletin board.  Post pictures of loved ones, pictures of prizes you are working towards, or simple notes.  Bulletin boards do have potential for clutter so make sure you keep them current. Don’t cover old notes with new ones.
  • If your office is in a corner of a larger room in your house, make sure it blends.  You wouldn’t want a metal desk in a French country living room.  Try to match the wood tones of the furniture.
  • If your file cabinets are visible in your office, also make sure they are wood.  Metal or plastic bins should be tucked away in a closet and not out in the open.
  • If you have clients come to your office, make sure you have a comfortable place for them to sit, and a clear table for them to use.
  •  Add something pretty like a vase of flowers, a beautiful picture, or a great smelling candle.

What’s your tip for a great home office?

FORGET THE CROWDS ON BLACK FRIDAY!

Maybe I’m getting old, but I have no desire to face the chaos of Black Friday. There is nothing I or my family wants that badly. So I shop for most of my Christmas gifts from the comfort of my own home, right here on my computer. Shopping on-line is more efficient – you can do it anytime you want. And it saves you time and stress. I’m all for that! So the way I organize my Christmas shopping is to browse catalogs, circle what I want and then log on to the computer and start. Before I check out, I always check retailmenot.com for coupons or free shipping codes. Sometimes they are posted right on the hard copy of the catalog.

I thought I would share with you my “favorite things” which include organizing products and unique gifts that you can give this year or just buy for yourself. These are all from a amazingly priced catalog called Lakeside Collection.  It has served my family well for the last several Christmases.

 

Over the door jewelry valet – for your daughter or decorative friend      $14.95

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Revolving Jewelry Stand – another option for jewelry, smaller but nicer display $8.95

 

 

 

 

 

Heirloom Recipe Binder – for the saver of recipes on your list     $7.95

 

 

 

 

 

21 Photo Collage Frame – for the saver of pictures who has no frames   $16.95

 

 

 

 

 

 

Three pairs of touch screen gloves – know any texters?:)                          $6.95

 

 

 

 


 

 

Easy Change Artwork Frames – fill with art from your kids for a great grandparents gift   $8.95

 

 

 

 

 

Color coded Dry Erase Calendar Set – This one’s for you to start the New Year off right! $8.95

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Set of 4 magnetic bins for your kitchen, bathroom or file cabinet   $6.95

 

 

 

 

 

 

Decorative Bench & Mirror for your entryway – A simple way to decorate and organize $12.95-$39.95

 

 

 

 

 

Toy storage net – get those stuffed animals off the bed an up in a hammock       $6.95

 

 

 

 

These are my favorites, check out the site and find yours!  www.lakeside.com

 

Organize Your Collections

The problem

Collections take up a lot of space, collect dust, and are constantly growing.  So how do you organize a collection?  You may have a collection and not even realize it.  For instance, if you buy a refrigerator magnet every time you take a trip – you are a collector.  You may think they are practical, and they are, up to a point.  But after you’ve got more than 10 or so, they are no longer a tool, they’re a collection.

The story

While working with one client in her kitchen I discovered a large number of both cook books and coffee mugs.  She lived alone so I suggested that she keep just a few mugs and only the cookbooks that she regularly used.  “Oh no!” she said, “I’m not getting rid of any cook books or mugs.  I collect them.”  So what I thought was a very practical step became an emotional subject.  People are very passionate about their collections and as an organizer I have to take that into consideration when coming up with a solution for the clutter.

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My absolute:  Keep Like Things Together

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The solution

There are probably as many solutions as there are types of collections.  And the solutions for how to keep your collections range from utilitarian to decorative.  So in order to give you some guidelines for setting up your collections, it will help to answer the following questions for yourself.

1. What do I collect? You may have to search your house & put like things together.

2. Who do I want to see this collection?  Keep private things tucked away, others on display.

3. Is my collection practical or ornamental? If it’s visually appealing, consider displaying it.

4. If I won’t use or display this collection, why am I keeping it?

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My absolute: Keep only what you use.

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5. Which room in my house is best suited to display my collection? Go by the color or theme of the items in your collection.

6. How many items are in my collection and will it grow over time? In other words, how big does the shelf or display case have to be?

7. Are there any products out there that are designed to hold my collection?  Search the internet.

8. If not, what can I create to display my collection? It’s sometimes simpler to make your own shelf to the exact dimensions you need.

 

Once you’ve thought about these questions, have your collection in front of you in the room where it will be displayed. Now look at the size of it and the colors in it. Whether it’s formal or casual, monochromatic or colorful, think about what case or shelving would complement it. I always suggest looking at what you have in your house first. If there is nothing there, second-hand shops are a good place to start. Then there’s always Internet shopping. If you’ve got a collection that other people might have too, chances are you’ll find some sort of display case online.  Simple display shelves that can hang on the wall are very popular now and can be found in almost any home store. Remember, if you don’t like the color of the shelf, you can always paint it!

Simple collections of seashells, ornaments, books, clocks or teapots can add a creative flair to any room in your home. Sometimes digging these items out of boxes, dusting them off and putting them on display can be an inexpensive and surprising way to redecorate. With the holidays just around the corner, concentrate on your holiday theme collections first.

What is a unique way you’ve found to display a collection? I’d love to hear about it!

Organize Your Odds & Ends

Sometimes those odds and ends can accumulate all   over the house, and we just don’t know where to put them!  In order to truly have a “place for everything” you must identify those items in your house that don’t have a permanent home. To do this, take a walk through your house and play the game of “one of these things is not like the others…” This will help you identify what’s in a room that doesn’t really belong there, like a sewing needle and thread in the kitchen, or a vacuum in the bedroom, or gifts that need to be wrapped on the office floor.  Gather those items together and think about the most logical place to keep them. Here are some examples of mini-categories you might encounter and some options for where to keep them.

Wrapping Paper/ ribbons

Most moms have wrapping paper and ribbons on hand at all times because you never know when someone will need to go to a birthday party. There are several products on the market now that are made especially for these items. There are hard plastic stand up bins or soft vinyl tote organizers that will help you contain all the wrapping items in one place. Some stores who sell these are: Rubbermaid, Lillian Vernon and Improvements Catalog.

You could also create an organizer for yourself out of a box from the liquor store. These boxes usually have dividers for bottles that work just as well for large rolls of wrapping paper. You can remove some of the dividers to make space for ribbons, scissors and tape. Either way, you need to assemble and contain your wrapping materials and find a home for them. Think about where you usually do the wrapping. Is it in the den, your bedroom or in the living room? Find a closet in or near that room that has enough space for whatever container you choose. Make the decision to keep wrapping paper there and let the whole family know where it belongs.

Extra gifts

If you have the luxury of a completely empty closet or empty shelf in your home, you can shop in advance to have gifts on hand, ready to be wrapped. One client I had devoted an entire custom closet in her office for just this purpose. Another client I had used one shelf in her linen closet for extra gifts. With this category, you really need to adapt to your living space. No extra room in the house — no extra presents. You will have to shop for gifts as needed. However, it is a good idea to look at your monthly calendar and consolidate your gift shopping for that month. If you only have a handful of presents to buy, you could probably find somewhere to stash them before the event. With little children in the house, it’s best to keep these out of sight so curious hands don’t open the gift prematurely! Like any of the big categories, have all the gifts in one place so you remember what you have! Decide where this will be: your linen closet, an empty closet, your bedroom closet or in the attic (if it’s climate controlled) and don’t tell the family! Let this one be your little secret place.

Items that need to leave the house

This category could include mail, donations, things that are going to a friend, or items you want to return to a store.  After seeing many clients of various income levels, I have come to this conclusion: the more you shop, the more you return.  Piles of returns might start to grow in your garage, your car or your bedroom. If you are returning household things for size, make sure you measure next time. If you return things for color, maybe take a sample of what you are trying to match. If you are returning a lot of clothes, make note of the new size you or your children need. A little planning ahead can save you a lot of time on returns! If you do need to take something back, make sure you keep the receipt with it until that decision is made.

To keep the return piles out of your living space, try these options:

1. In your car – There’s nothing like going right to the finish. Put the items on your passenger seat so you see them every time you get into the car. Visual reminders are great.

2. On a table near your door –Let them stick out like a sore thumb so you’ll return them soon. You might even designate a “going out table” that is just for this purpose. If you tuck them away, you’re more likely to forget about them.  Also, write it in your planner to “do returns.” And then you can have the satisfaction of checking it off your list.

Gift certificates and gift cards

One of my pet peeves is people who never use their gift certificates! Why don’t they use them? Usually because they can’t find the certificate or they don’t make a plan to use it.  There’s a couple of ways you could remind yourself to use these.

1.  If you think of gift cards as money, put them in your wallet. When you go to that store and open your wallet to pay, you’ll see the gift card and use it.

2. Keep gift cards and certificates for on-line shopping in your top desk drawer.

3. Keep retail gift cards in an envelope in your car. If you forget to bring them in, you can at least run back to the car before you check out.

4. Keep certificates for places that need reservations in your planner.

What odds & ends are cluttering up your home? Leave a comment or question.

 

How my family survived a Four Day Power Outage

Well it was not fun. Everything took a lot longer to do but I know our family can survived like the pioneers of colonial times (okay not that bad). Here are some tips on how we “organized” for the impending storm, Hurricane Sandy on Oct. 29, 2012, knowing that we would lose power for several days as we normally do in any kind of storm

1. Plan ahead – We bought food, but the kind that doesn’t need to go in the refrigerator. We also bought water bottles and three bags of ice to leave in the two refrigerators so they could act like a cooler for a day or two if necessary. We checked flashlights and batteries, charged our cell phones and laptops and had everyone in the family take a hot shower on the day the storm hit. Candles and matches were at the ready.

2. Connect with neighbors – Our neighbors are a life line especially in times where we are stuck indoors or at least in neighborhood.  One year I hosted an impromptu blizzard party for 9 families a week before Christmas. Following suite, one neighbor texted me minutes before the power went out and said “Bring the kids for a Hurricane party at 7 pm.” School had already been cancelled for the next two days so what else are you going to do when the lights go out? We all brought drinks, food and candles. The kids watched a movie on someone’s laptop and played cards. So the first night went fast. We hoped for the best.

The next day neighbors with whole house generators offered to let us take showers, wash our laundry and store food in their freezers. We began to appreciate how good it feels to be clean and warm!

3. Decide your priorities – For each of us it was different. My husband needed a place with power and Wi-Fi to work. I needed a hot cup of coffee and a hot shower to feel human and get my family through. The kids needed entertainment to keep them sane. So once the coffee was found on day 1 and 2, I could think clearly. My husband ventured out to work at a nearby Starbucks. By the end of day one, my boys went to friends’ houses which had power. I decided to forgo the shower and just don a hat for day one.

4. Stay on top of the utilities – Make sure you contact the utility companies if power is out. Don’t assume they know, or assume that if your neighbors power goes back on, yours will too. Who knows how these “grids” work? All I know is that our whole neighborhood could be lit up and six houses, including mine will be out.  One summer I drove up to our electrical workers in the neighborhood, offered them lemonade and a swim if they promised not to leave until my power was back on. Keep calling and getting the update on when power will be restored, so you literally have a light at the end of your tunnel!

5. Count your blessings and remain calm – Living in the dark ages is stressful. Remind yourself and your family of what you did not lose. In natural disasters I would venture to say there are usually more people worse off than you are. Make sure everyone has what they need and then just be patient for others to do their part. Re-locate if necessary; farm the kids out to friends’ houses; live simply even if for a few days. Make sure your basic needs are met and then be thankful your situation is not worse.

How did your family survive the Hurricane? Please leave a comment.

I’m learning!

Ok, so here’s what I’ve done with my smartphone today. I took pictures at a fun event this morning. The NAPO Philadelphia chapter volunteered to help with NPR’s fundraising campaign on the radio – 90.9 FM in the Philadelphia area. We got there at the crack of dawn – 6:30 am and stayed til 10. We had a great time answering phones, meeting our goals, (some of us can get very competitive) and chatting during slow times.  The staff at WHYY treated us very well with coffee and breakfast and even took us on a tour of the station. So I took pictures with my phone for the first time, AND posted them to Facebook! I also tweeted while we were there to get more people to call the donation line.  It was all happening so quick and I finally felt like I could keep up with the speed of social media.

Now, do I want to stay on this treadmill? I’m not so sure. But when I want to slow down, I can always silence my phone and tuck it away in the pouch of my handbag and get back to real life.

So check out my Facebook Page to see the photos!

Transition to techy

Ok so I got my new IPhone on Saturday and immediately started playing with it. My contacts did not copy over from my old phone, but I decided that was not a problem. I like having a clean slate. I added my family members first, my doctors (in case of an emergency) and then my close high school friends. After that, I thought about fellow organizers who I frequently talk to regarding our NAPO chapter, then added local parents of my kids’ friends (for carpools and tracking kids down). There, that’s all I need in contacts for now. I will add others ad-hoc if necessary.

So I am thinking of all the possible Apps I can use, and like any good organizer, I made a list. I had to calm myself down from trying to do everything over the weekend. Sometimes technology just gets me frustrated. So here’s my list:

1. Add all my events for the month of October to my Yahoo Calendar.

2.. Sync my Yahoo to the phone.

3. Download some songs from my ITunes account

4. Load the Twitter app so I can tweet from my phone

5. Purchase a nice case for the phone and pick up a Square so I can start taking credit cards for my business.

Well, I’ve got my work cut out for me. The first hurdle is the calendar. I have successfully loaded my family’s activities, my work appointments and social events for October and any items that repeat are set up for the rest of the year. I even took it a step further and subscribed to someone else’s ICal (for my daughter’s performing group) and now all those events and rehearsals are automatically in my calendar! That was easy. I love the color code option for each member of my family – the only problem is I can’t seem to print a nice color coded copy of the month-at-a-glance Yahoo calendar! I want to post it on my refrigerator so all members of the family can see it.

Does anybody know about this? Can you print a hard copy that looks at nice as the on-line version? 

My other option is to explore other calendars. I think I will do that before I enter November’s events.

Suggestions are welcome!

 

 

Follow me as I take the leap!

Many people were excited about the roll out of the IPhone 5. I was too, but not for the same reasons. I was waiting for a free IPhone 4 because I have yet to take the leap to a smartphone. My husband and teenage daughter are still working the IPhone3 so they are contemplating an upgrade.  The commercials would have you believe it’s easy – free IPhone 4 and $30 a month for data plans.   Well, lucky for me I have a husband who very thoroughly investigates every nook & crannie of new technology before he purchases.  We use Consumer Reports like an Encyclopedia at our house.  So for the next few weeks I will be blogging aobut my transition from an old-fashioned phone, and a paper calendar to my smart phone. As a tactile person, I’m hesitant to say the least. But as an organizer I know there must be a better way to keep track of a business, three kids and an active social life.  So first things first. I am getting the phone this weekend.

Here are the different topics we needed to consider before making my purchase/leap to the world of constant information:

1. Our cell service – When my husband & daughter purchased their cell phones years ago, the only carrier was AT&T. We had Verizon, so we switched.  Now Verizon offers the IPhone so do we switch back? That would mean 4 new phones for our family and $10 more per month than going with AT&T.  We took into account that sometimes with AT&T there are places in my own home where I can not get cell service. But Verizon has their dropped calls too, so we decided to stick with AT&T.

2. Our calling plan – We have such an old plan, they don’t offer it anymore but have allowed us to grandfather it. We get 700 min, unlimited data for $30/month per user and unlimited data for the family at $20/family. We considered the Share Plan where you purchase an amount of data for a certain amount of devices. Then pay $40 per device.

3. Finally the phone – Do I go all out and get the new IPhone5 for $199? It does have a faster keyboard, new earphones, and the fastest operating system. Or do I take the 4S for $99, it’s has Siri (not that I really care about talking to a robot) and a double sided camera which might come in handy. Or do I ease into this whole thing with the free IPhone 4 (no S) I’m told it has 8 gig, the old 4G operating system. Mind you, my kids had to explain to me that the G does not stand for gig when I said, “I thought it was 4G not 8?” Could they make this more confusing? I mean why is the IPone4 not Iphone 5 and everyone would be getting excited about the 6! So as I’m discussing this, a commercial comes on and says, “The Next Thing is Already Here” it’s the Galaxy. Oh no.

 

If you have questions or suggestions about this whole process, I welcome them. Leave a comment!

Fall is a Great Time to Organize Your Garage!

I think there are some common problems with garages that people share no matter where they live.

  1. They’re not just for keeping cars – we use garages to store bikes, lawn equipment, sports equipment, extra raw materials (like pieces of wood…)wood for fireplaces, tools – all kinds of stuff.
  2. For a lot of people this is our entrance way into our house – so we might keep shoes, recycles, trash, And this might be our motivation for trying to keep it organized! Because we walk through it all the time. And it bugs us if it’s a mess.
  3. It’s usually one big room when we move in and that’s hard to organize because there’s no pre-determined place to put things.  We have to do it from scratch.

So if you’ve decided it’s time to tackle the garage, here’s my CPR process that I discuss in my book ABSOLUTELY ORGANIZED. And this can be used for any room in your house by the way:

  1. You’ve got to plan the time to do it and solicit some help either from your family or a friend. It’s not a one person job and it’s going to take anywhere from 3 – 6 hours the first time you do it. To make it fun, put on some music, give the kids a reward afterwards or promise your friend a meal (pizza & beer works well for my friends)

(That’s one of my absolutes or rules: If you don’t plan it – it’s not going to happen)

  1. CATEGORIZE: Take everything out of the garage and put it in piles in your driveway or on your lawn.  Categories can be: sports equipment, lawn & garden, tools, bikes… And if one of those categories is really big: break it down further.
  2. PURGE: as you pull things out start to purge whatever is broken or disgusting, or anything you don’t use anymore.  (for items you want to give away, I suggest you look online for places to donate, or give to a friend or just put at the end of your driveway and let people take it) For chemicals or gasoline call your township and find out about hazardous waste collections)
  3. RE-arrange:  Now that you have piles of everything you’re keeping start to think about what you use most often and make it accessible.  For the kids toys and sports equipment we use colorful plastic tubs on the floor.  For our lawn chemicals we put them in plastic bins up on a shelf.  Keep things in their categories and create zones.  Even if you don’t have the right containers or shelves right now, put things back where you want them by the end of your organizing session.
  4. Now you can go shopping for what you need:  industrial shelves, wall cabinets, racks, etc. There’s a range of products for garages and you can spend thousands of dollars on a garage makeover, but you want to make sure it’s organized first, so you can measure the space for exactly what you need.  Rubbermaid has an inexpensive Track system if you want to do it yourself or you can go high end to places like GarageTek.  I’ve even seem people put up old kitchen cabinets in their garage for storage.
  5. To keep it that way, you have to straighten it on a weekly basis – teach your kids where things go.  And then clean out on a seasonal basis.  Our family has a pool so we do a Saturday clean out once in the late Spring to get the pool/beach stuff out and accessible and then once in the fall to put the pool stuff away and get the winter supplies out (shovels, rock salt, sleds). Because we do this twice a year we can do it now in LESS THAN 2 HOURS.   The kids complain…we put on music…let them play a little; give them little jobs and then we take them to McDonald’s afterwards. Everybody’s happy and it’s a great way to spend a little family time on a nice day.

 

Spring is in the Air

Well it’s almost the start of spring here in the Northeast US.  In my area we never really got a good snow storm. Lots of cold rain and grey days. Like the kids, I was hoping for at least one day off where we could shun our responsibilities and just go to the big hill and sled! Then we’d come home to hot chocolate & a fire. It was not to be. So I say, bring on the spring! And with that comes Spring Cleaning and airing out the house.  Wondering where to start? Here are a few ideas for projects that fall under the topic of “Seasonal Clean Outs.”

1. Put the shovels & salt away –  Re-arrange your garage or shed on a nice warm Saturday. Make sure the winter stuff is tucked away and the spring gardening materials are close at hand. Before you know it, you’ll be planting flowers, fertilizing and cutting the lawn. You might also want to uncover lawn furniture and get out the planters for outside. Use Easter as a deadline for having some spring items around the house.

2. Check the coat closet – Make sure everyone in the family has windbreakers and rain gear. Clean the winter coats, hats & gloves and tuck them away if you need to. Get a nice bin for each family member to put their hats & gloves in. Label it and place on the shelf in the closet. Break out the baseball caps, and if they need  a cleaning – the top rack of the dishwasher works well! Let them air dry.

3. Dump your digital pictures – Whether you have videos or still pics, this is a great time to clear the deck. Put all your pictures from the winter & holidays in a file called “2012 Winter” then order prints if you like.  With digital video cameras you can often load right to a DVD through your computer. Again, mark the DVD “2012 Winter” so you can re-live the fun any time you want. Once all images have been transferred, delete them from your camera and have a blank slate for the new season.

4. Make your “honey do” list – Ok, that’s a little sexist, but maybe it’s a “Sweet Spring Projects” list instead. Take a walk around your house and see what needs to be done for up-keep this season. Post it where you will be reminded to act on it. I like to put mine on the kitchen bulletin board.

5. Post a family chore schedule–  If special cleaning projects need to happen, get the kids to help at least with their own bedroom. Work with one child per day to clear out their clothes, clean the windows and then dust & vacuum. You may even want to change the sheets to crisp cotton. For the common areas like the living room, kitchen or play room, divide and conquer. Maybe Dad or mom takes care of dusting off wall pictures, high shelves and curtain rods. Let the kids take the jobs down low like wiping baseboards, vacuuming under sofas and clearing out toy bins.

At the end of a busy Spring Cleaning day – make sure you celebrate as a family.

What projects do you like to tackle in the spring?

Letting Go of Routines

As we squeeze the last few weeks out of summer, I am torn. I look forward to the routines that come with the fall. For one, I know where my children will be from 8 am to 4 pm – school.  And I know who will be watching them- the teachers. During the summer, things are much more day-to-day as I work with clients and my husband often works from home. Our time management usually consists of a Sunday night briefing of all that is going on, followed by daily updates communicated by scribbling on the family calendar and texting during the day. More than once I have gone to pick up my teenager from camp only to see a confused face and hear,”Why are you here? I have a ride.” Ahh the stress of changing schedules by the hour! I will be happy when that is over.

But I’m trying to stay in the spirit of the relaxed summer schedule and adopt my boys’ attitude. They wake up with no plan. If they’re hungry they eat. If they want to watch TV or play games they do. When they’re hot, they go swimming. It doesn’t matter what time of day it is. Ahh! to be young with no responsibilities. ..So I have on occasion been spontaneous this summer. If I did not have a client, I did my work early in the day and then said “Ok kids what do you want to do now?” Not a lot of enthusiasm as they’d rather I drive them to a friend’s than do something with them, but I have gotten them to see a few movies, go shopping and even go kayaking with me. These are the best moments of the summer.

Of course, the trick is to find balance because sometimes no routine means no work for mom and boredom for the kids. I have also heard, “What are we going to DO today?” And then I feel guilty if I’m working and they are bored at home.

I don’t have all the answers here. It is a constant struggle to balance work & family time, schedules and free time. But if you have flexibility with your work, take it! I tried to schedule all my clients this summer in the morning so I could be home for the boys in the afternoon. I could still be on the computer or phone but they could have friends over to swim. On my days off I tried to do something with them and on the rare weekend when we all were home and not scheduled, I try to do spontaneous family outings or at least meals together! I firmly believe one of the tricks to maintaining balance in your life is knowing when schedules are helpful and knowing when to let go. When you do, you also let go of stress and allow happy things to happen because you weren’t too busy to notice them.

 

What fun things have happened to you when you abandon your schedule?

Organize Your Basement Before you Remodel

At one time, basements were the last frontier with regard to sprucing up a home. They were often damp, gray and only used to do laundry and store things that couldn’t possibly fit in your living space.

Nowadays, basements are often the focal point of a family’s living space. Newer homes are built with the intention that at least some portion of the basement will be used for a living, play or work area, but it’s often up to the homeowner to make it that way. If you find yourself in the position of wanting to refinish your basement, you must first organize what’s down there before bringing in a remodeler to do the job.

Categorize

The first step in any organizing project is sorting. That means looking at everything in your basement and putting it into a category. Depending on the amount of clutter in your basement, this could be an all day event, so engage the help of all family members.

Make sure you have big trash bags, empty boxes or plastic storage bins on hand to help you move things out of the basement. If you need to create some space to work, start with the biggest items first. For instance, you may have to make a decision about old furniture, exercise equipment, big tables, etc. Are you going to use them, donate them or sell them at a yard sale?

My rule of thumb for any cleaning-out project is to only keep what you use. If you’re not using it, someone else can. Take these big items and move them either outside or into the garage. Then continue to sort through all your other items, creating categories and purging as you go.

Don’t take too long on one item. If it’s obviously trash, then throw it out. If you have to think about it, put it into a category and move on. If there is paperwork in the basement, don’t get bogged down with reading every piece of paper. Put papers in their own category and go through them in detail at another time. The goal with the first step is to significantly organize, clear out trash and create space.

After moving out large items, clear out anything you have at the center of the basement floor. Next, sort through everything you have stored against the walls. To keep focused, pick a starting point and move clockwise around the room.

Typical categories of items found in basements include toys, laundry products, dry food, holiday decorations, tools, paint, big game tables, arts and craft supplies, memorabilia and old furniture. Everyone’s categories will differ, but make sure you label the box or area you are sorting into, so you don’t mix them up and have to redo the sorting. This is also helpful if several people are working together. What looks like a pile of toys to one person might actually be a donation pile.

When sorting, there are certain no-brainers you can throw out, such as expired food, games and toys that are broken or have missing pieces, broken furniture and anything that is moldy. Most people throw away more than half of the stuff they’ve been saving. It’s like the basement was a holding zone and these items were given one more chance to make it, but didn’t.

Purge

After you’ve sorted everything, it’s time to purge. That means remove everything from the basement that won’t belong in a newly-refinished basement.

One couple who refinished their basement said they could easily determine that everything they had stored down there was trash, so they simply rented a dumpster and that was the end of their organizing. If this is your situation, you can rent a small dumpster or 10-yard container which holds about three tons of trash from a place such as Accurate Recycling for about $375 a week. If you go over the tonnage, there is a $78 per ton charge.

Another alternative to getting rid of a lot of junk quickly is to try a junk hauler. My favorite is www.phillyjunk.com. These companies will pick up unwanted items and sort through them to donate what is usable and trash the rest for a fee. To calculate how much this will cost, first put all items in one spot and measure the cubic feet. Then go to the company’s website and calculate your charge. A full truck is about 400 cubic feet and will cost about $500-600.

This is a good option if you want to get rid of everything quickly or you can’t physically move all disposable items yourself.

 Where to purge:

For most of us, it’s not that simple. Trash and donations can also be broken down into categories. Here are some suggestions for disposing unwanted items:

Clothing and linens: Find a drop-off point in your area for Goodwill, St. Vincent DePaul Society, Leukemia Society or any charity. These usually look like dumpsters permanently placed in busy parking lots.

Arts and crafts materials: Donate to a retirement home, senior center, church, children’s hospital or school.

Big household items or furniture: Find a thrift store or consignment shop that offers pick-up.

Old paint cans:Let latex paint dry up and harden first before you put it in the trash. Speed up the drying process with Waste Paint Hardener™.

Broken or outdated electronics:Contact your municipality’s solid waste authority for places to drop off these items. Some even hold drop-off events a couple of times a year. Select Goodwill locations will also recycle these items.

Re-arrange

After you have purged all unwanted items, take a step back and look at what remains. It’s time to rearrange. Is there any category of items elsewhere in the house? For instance, tools and paint may move to the garage, holiday decorations to the attic and toys to bedrooms. Move those items and remember to keep like things together. Only keep things in the basement that will serve the new function of the room.

Temporary Storage

You’ll need to temporarily store items while refinishing takes place. I recommend plastic storage bins with lids that seal because they keep everything dry and dust-free and are easy to label. If you have a storage area built into your basement, you may be able to keep bins there and let the construction crew work around them.

If this is not possible, you may have to store these bins in a spare bedroom, attic or garage. Be careful not to put anything in the attic that will be damaged by extreme temperatures.

If your house is completely full, your last option is to rent a portable on demand storage (PODS®) container which will cost approximately $350 per month. This is a walk-in container, and although it’s not the most attractive thing to have in your yard, it will prevent basement items from cluttering up your whole house.

Once you have cleared and categorized your basement, you’re ready to start planning your new room. You can use the same process if you are remodeling a kitchen or really any room in your house.

Create Routines for a Successful School Year

Before the first day of school every family should have a plan for the new morning routine. Why? Because good routines help you remember all you have to do to keep life moving smoothly. All busy moms need them to keep the family running with efficiency. Routines also become second nature so you can practically do them in your sleep!  To establish one for your family, here’s what you have to do:

Start with the time that each family member needs to be out of the house in the morning and work backwards to establish what time you need to get up.  If your child likes to sleep until the last possible minute, then she will only have time every morning to do the essentials such as get dressed, make her bed, have breakfast, brush teeth and head out the door. If your child likes to take his/her time in the morning then you’ve got to establish an earlier wake up time to allow for that. Talk to your children about what they need or want to do each morning and you as parents have to estimate the time all that will take.

Once you have a list of “to do’s” for the morning, think about the most efficient way for your children to do them. You can do a physical prioritization like do everything upstairs first, then come down for breakfast. Or you can set up the routine by doing most important tasks first like eat breakfast, then get dressed & make your bed.

Once you have established the morning routine, you need to train your children to follow it. Here are several options.

  1.  Visual reminders. This could be a chart on your child’s bedroom door or mirror. Pictograms are the easiest to use. Either draw them yourself or download some clip art on your computer. Keep it simple: a bed, clothes, toothbrush and a healthy breakfast. That should tell them all the basics. Add other symbols as necessary.
  2. Another way to remind them visually is to lay things out like their clothes, library books or musical instruments as they need them for school. Put them in an obvious place so they can’t be missed.
  3. To remember their “special” classes,like gym or library, that may only happen once a week, you can post a chart in the kitchen. Get them in the habit of looking at it each day so they know what they need to bring or wear to school.
  4. For a very tactile approach, you can make up index cards for each chore and have the child flip them over or put them in a certain place after they have completed each task. For example the cards can be on their dresser in the morning and then brought downstairs when they have completed them.

Set up your routines a few weeks before school starts and hopefully in a month or so you may not need the visual reminders or the mom nagging to get everyone out the door, on time with all that they need for a successful day!

And don’t forget the evening routine. Designate a place for your kids papers, homework, backpacks & shoes. Talk to your kids about whether they can do homework right after school or after dinner. Do they need a quiet place like a desk in a bedroom or do they need to be in the kitchen or dining room near mom & dad? Set up the homework area and then hold them to the routine each night. Remember place for everything and everything in it’s place.

What routines do you have for the school year?

 

Re-Organizing a Child’s bedroom


view from door

Not long ago, I held an in-home training session and we not only had a great time but also a role reversal. My clients/readers actually helped me re-organize my son’s room. Now you may think that is a sneaky way to get free help, but it was meant to be a learning experience. I’m all about hands on learning!

The dilemma: The motivation for the re-organization was a problem with a growing number of trophies that were on top of a tiny shelf above his bed. Every night I would see this and think, “It’s only a matter of time before they fall.” So solution – new shelf.  Then the little bookshelf next to his bed was getting full so I thought I need something that can hold more books & trophies. I also noticed that the top of his drafting table & dresser were getting very cluttered with notebooks & display items.

The idea: I talked with him about re-arranging his room to make space for a new, taller bookshelf. We tossed around some ideas & decided we would move the bed to another corner and put it on an angle, freeing up some more wall space. I found a nice ladder shelf at BJ’s for about $90 and measured it. It was not as wide as the old bookshelf but much taller so it utilized more vertical space. This is always a good thing when organizing: go up when you run out of floor space.

The Project: The first thing I did was go through books with my son. He made Yes & No piles for what he wanted to keep & give away. This took 10 min.

The next day my class of women helped me box up display items, wall hangings & toys. We moved out a bean bag chair & stuffed animals that were not being used in the bedroom and began to re-arrange. This took about an hour. Without knowing our idea, one person suggested moving the bed on an angle & the art table in the other corner to balance. Great feng shui! The bed should face the door and the chair at a desk should face out.

When my son came home on Friday, he helped me place the wall hangings. The next day my husband & I put together the new ladder shelf, arranged the trophies, books & display items and voila! A bedroom re-organized. My son loved it. It only took a little over 2 hours and $90. That’s my kind of project.


new ladder bookshelf

What dilemma are you trying to solve in your home? Maybe there’s a quick inexpensive fix for that too.

 

Organize Your Children’s Artwork

Here’s a category that seems to have a life of its own. Depending on how creative you and your children are, you can accumulate from 1-5 pieces of kiddy art per day for each child. No mother wants to trash her child’s creation but then again not many moms have room for all that creativity. The key is balancing sensitivity and realism. You want to treasure your child’s creation but be realistic about how long to keep each piece. Here are some options:

Display it …

* on the refrigerator, but limit it to one creation per child. Make it like an art gallery that gets updated on a regular basis.

* on a cork board or bulletin board in the play area or a child’s bedroom.

* in a plastic box frame if it’s a really good drawing or painting.

* on a display shelf if it’s a sculpture or chunky piece of art.

Stash it…

* in a desk drawer if there’s no more room to display it.

* in a portfolio labeled with the child’s name and year.

* in a plastic container under their bed if there’s no other place.

* in a memory box if it’s a piece of art that was done a while ago but is “a keeper.”

 

Trash it…

* once it has had its time on display.

* after you have taken a picture of it

* if it’s a sculpture that has deteriorated or gone bad (like a macaroni necklace).

* if you have multiple versions of the same drawing, painting or art piece.

* after the child has decided they no longer like it or want it.

 

With September just around the corner, now is the time to set up your system for artwork done in the new school year. Go through all the old stuff you’ve already accumulated, and have those bins, corkboards or desk drawers ready for the new school year! Take heart, after 4th grade or so the volume of artwork slows down for most kids!

What’s so Zen about a hotel room?

Did you ever think about why it’s so relaxing to stay in a hotel? The obvious answer is that most people are on vacation when they’re in a hotel. But there are some certain organizational and zen qualities to hotels that really force us to live simply, if only for a few days.  As an organizer and someone who is always in search of making her life more simple, I have thought about what it is that makes me relax in a hotel and how we can incorporate those elements into our own bedrooms and homes.

  1. No clutter – right off the bat we know that hotel rooms do not come with clutter. Dressers are cleared, nightstands have only the essentials:  a lamp, clock-radio and a pen & paper for notes. How about your bedroom – is it clutter free?
  2. Everything in the room serves a function – The function of a hotel room is mainly to sleep. Subordinate functions would be to watch TV, eat, use a computer, shower & dress.  No extraneous equipment is found in the room. Can you say the same about the rooms in your home?
  3. Furniture & appliances are the appropriate size – The biggest furniture in the room is usually the bed because that is the main function. No one is cooking three course meals so the refrigerator is appropriately small. How many times do we have oversized or undersized furniture in our own homes?
  4. Decorations are coordinated and neutral – I’m speaking about most mid-range hotels. I realize some budget hotels might have tacky or bad décor and some theme hotels might have extreme designs. Most hotels have neutral colors that don’t offend and room darkening curtains which make it easier to sleep. How about your bedroom? Is it coordinated and decorated completely with curtains, artwork on the wall?
  5. Most hotels blend with their natural surroundings – By this I mean that a hotel in the mountains will have a “woodsy” feel. One at the beach will have a nautical or beachy vibe.  What is the vibe you want your house to give off? Can you incorporate that into each room so there is a natural flow from the outside in? Harmony with your surroundings is another way to feel the Zen.

The next time you’re at a hotel, take notice. With less clutter, and more harmony are you able to focus better? Relax? What is it that appeals to you about the room? Then take that home as your souvenir, (not literally please) but take the concept and use it at home. Create a calm oasis, preferably in your bedroom where there is no clutter, distractions, stress and a way to shut out the light when it’s time to sleep.

What do you like best about staying in hotels?

Time for the Great Toy Clean Out!

 Summer is a great time to help your kids do a Great Toy Clean Out! You have to call it that so it seems fun. And it really can be. Motivate your kids by finding a second hand kids store that will buy toys in good condition. Then let the kids keep the money. Or you can just make their toy room more colorful and fun after you’ve de-cluttered with a fresh coat of paint, new curtains or hang their artwork! My kids often find toys they forgot they had and just enjoy discovering old favorites.  In any case, once you have them motivated you have to keep them focused and moving fast so it doesn’t take all day! Here are my simple steps to cleaning out the toy room:

1. Gather all the toys in one room. If they are scattered throughout the house, have the kids collect them. Set a timer to make it fun.

2. Once all the toys are in one room, categorize. You can separate by child or by type of toy. Some categories are: arts & crafts, balls, games & puzzles, little toys, building toys (Legos & Lincoln Logs, K’Nex), outside toys. Just make piles on the floor to start.

3. As you are categorizing, you can purge – trash any broken toys and box up any toys that do not get played with. These can be donated or sold.

4. Decide if any categories should be kept in another room, for instance, outside toys may be kept in the garage or shed.

5. Find appropriate storage bins for each category. Nicer toys can be kept on a shelf, balls and soft toys in a big plastic tub or bin, small toys in a basket or little bin. If you’ve outgrown your storage bins, these may be sold or donated as well.

6. If you don’t have the appropriate sized bins, use cardboard boxes for temporary storage and then make a shopping list of what you need.

7. Decide where the bins will be kept and have the kids help you put things back. Now they will know how to straighten up on a daily basis if that’s one of your kids’ chores.

8. Take a look around the room and consider anything else that may need to be done like painting, cleaning or adding something new. I recommend the toy clean out once a year, maybe in the summer or before the holidays as a seasonal clean out.

9. Move the trash & donations out of the room and into your car so you are reminded to drop them off somewhere.

10. Let the kids enjoy their new found toys in a nice neat playroom!

The Basics of Clutter

Some common questions I get about the business of Organizing from both clients and reporters: 

  • What’s the difference between “Collecting” and being a Hoarder?

The people I see do less “collecting” and more impulsive shopping. Sometimes that shopping is for products called organizers in an effort to get them organized. In reality a product can’t get you organized but can help maintain your system. That is if you have one. I think the abundance of stuff that we Americans have in our lives is a result of megastores, easy credit cards and an overload of advertising from many sources. So we see the ads, we decide we want something (although we don’t always need it) then those things are easy to purchase and because of credit cards we don’t even feel the pain of parting with our money! It’s instant gratification with a delayed consequence. Unfortunately sometimes that consequence is a loss of living space. So we get depressed or stressed out about that and we want to de-clutter. If our efforts are unsuccessful and shopping makes us feel better, the cycle continues. One client I work with who is a hoarder calls it retail therapy. But I contend that is not therapy if it ultimately robs us of a nice place to live and alienates us from friends and family coming over.

  • What are the pitfalls you see when people try to de-clutter themselves?

Biggest pitfalls I see in de-cluttering efforts are first buying bins, baskets and organizers without really knowing what you need to keep and how big a container is necessary. I also ask my clients before starting any project, “What is the function of this room?” Then everything in there should serve that function.   I recommend a process called “CPR.” It works whether you are organizing a junk drawer, a closet or an entire room.  First categorize everything in that space and keep the categories big, like paperwork, office supplies, toys, clothes. You can break them down into more specifics later.  Second, Purge. This does not necessarily mean throw it in the trash. I usually have a recycle pile, a donation pile and a move to another room pile when working with clients. You can even purge as you categorize but it’s helpful once you see how large each category is to pare down to what your really use, need and love.  The last step is Re-Arrange. This is when you put the pieces of the puzzle together. You decide where you want to keep each category and then what container or organizer would be helpful to keep it neat. Before you buy anything, measure the space and decide the look you want. Organizing products come in all shapes and sizes now so you can find one that matches your style.

The hardest part is then maintaining what you have done to organize. For this, you need routines! I recommend straightening daily, cleaning weekly and cleaning out seasonally.  In my home I clean out my garage twice a year at the change of seasons. I also clean out clothes closets and toys about the same time of year; this keeps the clutter down and gets things back to normal.

 

  • If there were three things you can recommend that we do to prevent cluttering our lives, what would they be?

 

  1. Throw out the junk mail/sales circulars as soon as they come in. Better yet – get your name off of mailing lists by going to dmachoice.org.
  2. Always shop with a list and buy what you need whether that’s clothing, food, or items for your home.
  3. Find a charity or donation bin that is convenient to you. Put donations in the car and drop them off as you go to school, work or the supermarket. Make it easy to purge!

What questions or suggestions do you have about de-cluttering our lives?

“Are we having fun yet?”

There are certain times of my life when I am so thankful that my family is organized and hasroutines. Getting ready for vacations under extreme circumstances is one of them. Last year our family headed to the New Jersey shore just 5 days after I got out of the hospital after heart surgery. “Crazy” you might think but it was actually a great way & place for me to recuperate. Because we have a system and a packing list that resides on my computer it was really easy. For the heavy lifting and running around, my big sister was a big help. She came by the day before we left and loaded up food, towels & sheets and even took my kids shopping for what they were missing. I just orchestrated. Once there, I had lazy days and walks on the boardwalk – exactly what the doctor ordered. Here is our family system:

  1. Pack up your family in one week – As a general rule, getting ready to go on vacation shouldn’t take longer than the vacation itself. 

Typical schedule the week before vacation:

Sun – Check the weather for the place you are going so you can pack appropriate clothing.  Go on-line and cancel your paper/mail for the days you won’t be home.

Mon – Clean the house. Print out your packing list.

Tues – Run to stores to pick up sundries you will need.

Wed – Pack toys, books, music etc.

Thurs – Wash and pack clothes.

Fri – Pack dry food.  Drop off your pet if necessary.

Sat – Pack cold food in cooler, and pack the car.

  1. Packing list – Keep a general list on your computer so you don’t have to create it every year.  For example write “5 shorts outfits, 3 pajamas” instead of “green shorts, tan t-shirt, blue pajamas, plaid boxers.”  Have the children pack their own clothes and toys, but give them the guidelines. Give them each a  bag to fill it with toys, videos and books of their choosing.
  2. Meal planning – Plan out dinners for the week and make sure you have some staples for lunch and breakfast. For the first night, it’s easier to pack something pre-made so you just have to pop it in the oven.  For the last night of vacation, don’t plan a meal, just eat left-overs so there’s less to bring home.
  3. Prepare for the weather – I once heard someone say, “There is no such thing as bad weather, only inappropriate clothing.” How true this is! You don’t have to let bad weather spoil your vacation; you just have to have a Plan B.  Check the weather for wherever you are headed so you at least have an idea about the temperature and precipitation.  Even if it’s supposed to be dry, I usually pack umbrellas and water proof jackets for everyone in my family. 
  4. Don’t over-schedule – Have you ever had a vacation that was so packed with activities you needed another vacation when you came home?  Think      about that before you take your next vacation.  You want everyone to have fun, but you  also want to have some relaxation built in.  In my experience the kids are usually worn out by mid week of the first week of vacation.  Whether it’s experiencing Disney World,  going to a beach or visiting friends out of town, the change in schedules will affect the children, so plan on it. Take one day and don’t do anything extra.  Sleep late, go to bed early, lie around and watch movies or whatever suits your family.  Take a “Sunday” in the middle of your vacation week and recharge everyone’s energy.

My system came in handy again this year when a funny thing happened. We found out that the house my mother-in-law booked at the beach was actually booked a week before we all planned! (She had not looked at the dates on the lease.) We found this out 5 days before our start date. Needless to say we had to shorten the plan and adapt, but we made it down a few days late and relaxed anyway!

What’s your vacation strategy?

Words of Wisdom from Ben Franklin

Those who know me know that I love the Franklin planner system. It’s so logical, simple and tactile. It helps me start every day with a plan and priorities. When I need to juggle several schedules this is where I go to gain sanity. So as we celebrate the Fourth of July in Philadelphia, I was thinking about one of our favorite sons, Benjamin Franklin. The man did everything! He wrote, he governed, he invented – he created systems. Here are 5 of his most famous quotes and my comments on how they can help us structure our lives to be as productive as he. Well, almost as productive.

  1. An investment in knowledge always pays the best interest.” So when deciding where to spend your business dollars, investing in your training or that of your workers is always a smart move. With regard to raising our own families, putting academic pursuits before social, monetary or leisure, is also prudent.
  2. “Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise.” Try telling that to a teenager who is sleeping-in all summer! But seriously, I think we working women don’t put enough emphasis on sleep. It is essential to our well being. We need at least 8 hours every night and should be encouraging our children to get the same. Routine is the only way to do this. Go to bed the same time each night and wake up at the same time.  Try getting up a half hour earlier than usual, and write your list of the 6 most important things to do.  You will feel refreshed and productive.
  3. “Drive the business or it will drive thee.” I think I want to post this above my home office desk. How many times do we let our business drive our life? That’s why it’s important to have a business plan, a marketing plan and a daily routine, especially if you have your own business. Revisit these when things seem out of control or off track. Re-write them if necessary at the beginning of each year. Be proactive, not reactive.
  4. “Employ thy time well, if thou meanest to get leisure.” This is another way of saying, be productive with your work and earn your leisure time. First of all you won’t be able to afford the leisure you seek unless you are making money. And secondly for those who procrastinate or work with no plan, the work never seems to end. With daily goals you can finish when you’ve checked off the last item on your list. Then you can enjoy a daily leisure or a full fledged vacation with a clear mind.
  5. “If you know how to spend less than you get, then you have the philosopher’s stone.” How appropriate that I just looked at my company’s financials. The year is half over and I wanted to see how I was doing. Confession, I spent more than I saved – however not more than I earned! So it’s just a matter of re-allocating funds first into savings before spending.  How many people in this world keep spending without a glance at what they have made? How many are living on credit? Live within your means and set budgets to control your spending.

What other founding fathers have inspired the way you live or do business?

Independence – A Great Thing to Teach Your Kids!

This post is for busy moms who can’t find time to do everything for their families, although you want to! If you want your children to be organized for themselves and to help around the house, you’ve got to teach them the skills – even if you haven’t mastered them yourself. Here’s a list of suggested tasks or chores you can teach your children at various ages. Obviously children learn at different speeds but this is a guideline. The goal here is to delegate some chores to them early on and give them mini lessons in organizing. By 18, let them declare their independence!

At age … Teach them to…
Age 3-4
  • Clear their plate after meals
  • dress themselves
  • Match up socks when you’re folding wash
  • Put their toys away with a simple instruction such as “put all the  blocks in the red bin.”
Age 5-6
  • Join in a seasonal clean out like picking up leaves or  organizing the garage.
  • have a morning routine to get ready for school  (write it down in on an index card and place it in a strategic place)
  • set the table
  • put their clean laundry in their drawers
  • straighten their room
Age   7-10
  • clean their own rooms
  • help serve meals
  • bathe or shower themselves
  • decide which activities and sports they will join

 

Age   11-13
  • take on certain weekly chores like taking out the trash, doing the dishes, folding the wash, mowing the lawn, etc.
  • plan out how they will achieve goals like long term projects for school. (i.e. set interim deadlines on a calendar)

 

Age 14 – 18
  • babysit younger siblings
  • make a meal for the family
  • have a part-time job and budget their money
  • make important decisions about college and their future
Age 18 and older
  •  be an independent adult – at this point the “child” should be treated like a roommate with regard to sharing the household work load and contributing to the household budget.

 Have you tried any of these or others? Let me know.

The Odd Couple Syndrome

I’m not a marriage counselor, but sometimes I play one at work.  Very often, during the course of an organizing project my client will tell me about the organizing habits of their spouse. Sometimes it is the absent spouse that is urging the other to “get organized.” Other times the one who has called me in is trying to organize around their spouse.  In any case, it’s common and I get the question all the time, “What should I do about my husband’s/wife’s stuff?” I call this the Odd Couple Syndrome.

We all know that you are never going to completely change your spouse, but there are ways to work around them and curtail their clutter.  In my own marriage we are not too far apart on the neatness scale, but there are a few house rules I had to lay down early on in our relationship and I’m happy to say, my hubby has adapted.  He likes everything out, I like to tuck it away. So we compromised with where we could keep things out. Here are a few pointers when it comes to organizing with or around your messy spouse:

  1. Take a walk through your house with your spouse and write down the organizing/home improvement projects you’d like to tackle this year. Write them down according to room and then determine where you should start. I suggest starting with the worst room first.
  2. If you disagree on what needs to be done, compromise. Decide on your budget and discuss who will do what task.  Whenever possible work together.
  3. If your spouse has an exorbitant amount of stuff that he/she won’t part with, categorize it, box it up and then decide where this stuff will be kept. Basements, attics & garages are typical storage areas. Perhaps set a deadline like, “if you don’t use this in one year, it goes.”
  4. If your spouse is messy with one type of thing like magazines, newspapers or books, purchase a big basket, a magazine rack or a new bookshelf to house these items.  Literally contain them!
  5. If you are organizing a room or area and your spouse is not present, don’t toss his/her stuff. Simply put it in a box marked with his/her name and asked them to go through it and decide. Give them a deadline.  This works well for kids stuff too. Children who move back home after college, often have boxes of items they conveniently forget to go through. That’s fine, but let them know on a certain date, it all gets tossed. Not many people have room to store “Postponed Decisions.”
  6. If containing your spouse little by little does not work, give them a room or a closet for all their stuff that you don’t want in your living space. Then let it go. It’s their space so you don’t have to worry about, it as long as your shared living space is agreeable to both of you.

Like all things in marriage it’s about compromise. Think about what you can live with in terms of messiness and clutter. It’s better to discuss these things in terms of project planning and not pointing fingers about who is worse or whose fault it is that your home is not perfect.  Take a logical, proactive approach and remember to be kind to each other. You’re not right or wrong, you are just different.

When to Use a Storage Facility

People spend a lot of time in their kitchen. It’s one of the most lived-in rooms in any household, and as a result it can sometimes turn into a repository for culinary knick-knacks and other useless gifts collected over the years. When you discover that you’ve got three too many frying pans and more decorative napkin holders than you could ever use, it might be time to look at renovating this social gathering spot.
Everyone has dreams of home organization, but few are capable of accomplishing it. Some are just naturally good at keeping things in order, but most reach the point where things have gotten so out of control that they just have to start all over. Renovating any room in your home can be quite the project, but you can make things much easier on yourself by renting a self-storage unit.  

So when it finally comes time to do something about that clutter-filled kitchen, instead of spreading that mess to other areas of the house or garage, rent a small unit from one of your self-storage companies. Easily keep all of the things you can’t and don’t use out of the way until it comes time to use them.

Putting these unused items in storage can help cut down the visual chaos of messy home, while it also gives you an opportunity to take a mental break from the stress. Using them to keep the majority of the mess confined in one safe area gives you the option to free up space in others rooms of your house as well.
Once you have decided to de-clutter the kitchen, you must draw the line between essential and nonessential. Here are a few tips that will help you make those difficult choices.
• Start with duplicates. If you have two of something, first think about donating one. If, for whatever reason, you think you will need two, put one into your storage unit. And if only one works, throw the broken one away before someone calls you a hoarder.
• Move on to those accumulated appliances. Because no kitchen would be complete without the essentials (microwave, coffee pot, etc.), you can keep what you use every day, but put the rest into your unit.
• Perform the kitchen storage dust test; anything that’s got a thick layer of dust on it is something that can go into storage without the risk of being missed.
• Install a hanging rack for pots and pans. This will allow you to maximize cupboard space without having to send everything to the self-storage unit.
• Pack things logically. Don’t just throw everything into a box. By packing things in an organized manner and labeling boxes, you’ll make it much easier to find something.

Giving your kitchen a “facelift” can be one of the most stressful things you do as an adult. You must deal with living in a mess, and there are almost always unexpected expenses and unforeseen circumstances. However, you can minimize the disorder and relieve some of the tension in your home by taking advantage of cheap storage units.
This article was written by Matt Schexnayder. Matt is on the SpareFoot marketing team and writes for the SpareFoot blog. SpareFoot is the largest online marketplace for self-storage with more than 5,000 self-storage facilities listed nationwide. For more info visit: www.sparefoot.com.

Don’t Blame the Baskets!

Coming from a family of six children in a three bedroom house, clutter and limited space were inevitable. So when we all grew up and most of us were out of the house, what did my parents do? Put on an addition of course! They built a nice 20×20 family room with a closet. The problem which I’m sure you can identify with is that this extra closet became a catch-all for anything that didn’t have a home:  blankets, games, plastic chairs, shopping bags, etc. So my sister bought them a closet organizer to help solve the problem. When she came back 3 months later to see how it was working, my younger brother said, “I don’t think it works.” And he proceeded to show her the organizing rack, still in the box at the bottom of the heap!

This made me think how many times I hear people say, “This doesn’t work for me.” When in actuality it’s that they are not working with a system. Yes, there are some organizing gadgets, bins & boxes that work better than others for different people. But before you blame the basket, think about have you tried it? Have you developed a system, and then bought the container to work with your system? Most often people get the container first and that just goes against my whole organizing system! So here it is again:

C.P. R. – Categorize, purge, then re-arrange. During the re-arranging step you can contain your stuff. When it comes to paperwork you can use a wall mounted organizer with 3-4 pockets, a multi level “in-bin” that sits on your desk or colorful folders to separate each of your projects, just to name a few options. But pick the one that is most visually appealing to you, and put it in the right location. The trick is, when you have an In Bin – what I call the TO DO bin, you’ve got to take the time to sit down and DO! So many people let it pile up. It’s not going to get done by magic!

Just like if you use a step basket to store items that need to go up or down a level in your home. You have to make a routine of emptying the basket and getting all items back to their home space. Again, I’ve seen clients get the basket, fill it and then stop and say “It doesn’t work.” Imagine if you’re children told you their clothes hamper didn’t work – doesn’t that really just mean they are not taking the time to put dirty clothes in it? Seems silly but you’d be surprised how many adults give me this excuse.

Next time you hear yourself saying something doesn’t work – don’t blame the basket!

Organize For a Cause

I write a lot about organizing your home, your time and doing so to reduce your stress, and have your life run more smoothly. But lately I have been struck by another type of organizing: Organizing for a Cause.

Talk about motivation. When a group of people get together for a common cause, magical things happen.  Events run smoothly and everyone leaves happy. I have seen it happen many times over the last year. Let me give you some examples of organizations who have organized for a cause and why I believe they were able to reach their goals.

 JDRF – Every year since 1996, my family has participated in the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundations’ Walk for the Cure. It is held across the country in October. The amazing thing about this organization is that 93 cents on every dollar donated actually goes toward research for finding a cure for Diabetes. The next time you get a phone call from a charity, ask them what percentage goes towards the goal. They usually tell you “No less than 15%” At that point I say “no” and hang up. That means if I give them $100, the charity really gets $15. With JDRF it would be $93. And their goal is clear. They run efficiently because they depend on volunteers heavily. They also do the same type of fundraising each year which makes it easy to have the same volunteers and improve efficiency each time. Local news personal and celebrities also get involved to help publicize their events. This charity gets an A for efficiency in my book.

Relay for Life – I just participated in this fun event last Saturday. It was a 24 hour relay walk for the American Cancer Society. These walks also take place in several local communities across the country. Although I wish the turnout was higher, what makes this event successful is the fun and emotional aspect of honoring not only those living with cancer, but recognizing “in memoriam” those who have not beaten this awful disease, and those who are often forgotten, the caretakers. I was walking with people who represented all three groups. My daughter and her friends camped out all night in memoriam for a friend who recently died. They lit luminaries, sang songs and reminisced about the good times they all shared. What a wonderful tribute and not to mention a fun camp out! Each hour there is a theme and the hosts of the walk play trivia games with the walkers just to keep things lively. I have no doubt my daughter’s group will be back next year. This charity gets an A for appealing to the emotional side of a cause.

City Team Ministries – This is another efficiently run shelter and outreach program in the Philadelphia area. Their goal is to provide basic needs for people who are living on the streets. Homeless men are giving a place to stay, food to eat and spiritual counseling if they would like it. The center also has an outreach to local mothers and babies who are in desperate need of supplies. In one 2 hour luncheon this amazing team raised over $100,000. That is because they target an audience who is willing and able to give generously, they supply them with a nice event – usually golf, silent auction, or a luncheon. And then they appeal to their sense of community by having the benefactors themselves speak to what City Team has given them.  I give City Team an A for targeting the right audience.

Soles4Souls – Last year the National Association of Professional Organizers was involved with a charity challenge to collect the most shoes for the needy. We are a competitive bunch so needless to say many chapters across the country got busy and collected over 168,000 pairs of shoes for the needy. What I love about this charity is its simplicity. They collect one type of item and deliver them directly to the people in need. They were smart to challenge an aggressive bunch of organizers to do their collecting for them. As a prize the members of NAPO who collected the most get to take a trip to Haiti to see the fruits of their labor first hand. I give this charity an A for simplicity and focus.

So you can see that when a cause is emotional, when the right people are approached and asked to help and the situation for the fund-raising is appropriate & fun, the group will succeed in their cause. I find that my clients are more willing to give up their abundance when it is going to a worthy cause.  I’d love to hear about what other charities are organized and efficient, so leave a comment!

5 Common Organizing Mistakes

Most people want to be organized to a certain degree. And most people think they can do it on their own. They “know” what to do. But as a professional organizer for almost 10 years, I have seen some common organizing mistakes that people make which prevent them from staying organized.  See how many you may have made:

1.  Mom makes the system, nobody gets it – This is where the frustration starts. Mom can be organized but if the rest of the family doesn’t know or follow the system, it falls apart. So mom, show they your system! Ask for their input as in, “Does it work for you to keep this here?” Then insist on a routine to get things back to normal.

2. Starting with a small area and not looking at the big picture – How many times have you organized a junk drawer? One cabinet? Or a stack of papers? But if you fail to look at the big picture it’s like arranging deck chairs on the Titanic. Look at the room, decide the purpose and make sure everything in it serves the purpose. Then you can create zones for different activities.

3. Buying the containers first – Many of all fall for this. The cute bins and boxes at a home store invite us to start an organizing project. You’re in the store or looking in the sales paper and think “Those photo boxes will get me organized!” But you fail to go through the photos first so you don’t know how big a container or how many you need.  Do the CPR process (Categorize, Purge & Re-Arrange) first so you know exactly what size, shape and quantity of bins or boxes you need before you go shopping.

4. Filing every piece of paper we have, instead of deciding what we really need to keep. – This goes against my “subtract before you add” absolute. Subtract papers that you don’t need to save. If they are on-line or something that is outdated, recycle them. Keep what you will absolutely reference again, then make a file for it. Files should be general unless it becomes so big that you have to create subcategories.

5. Building a bigger closet instead of keeping only the clothes we really wear. – Again this goes back to not doing the CPR process. Even paring down a little bit of one category will save you space. Purge first and then decide if you need a bigger closet. Remember we actually use 20% of our stuff 80% of the time.

Organize to De-Stress

Professional organizers often get called when a person is overwhelmed, at their wit’s end or when a situation has reached critical mass.  Their disorganization has caused them stress and they need an object third party to come in and tell them what to do. Everyone’s situations are different so my solutions are as varied as my clients.  However, there are some general rules or “absolutes” that I have found which organized people follow and disorganized people don’t.  I discuss these in my book “Absolutely Organized – A Mom’s Guide to a No-Stress Schedule and a Clutter Free Home.”  My reason for writing this book was to illustrate to people (specifically busy moms) that “You don’t have to live this way!”  If you are constantly running and never have time for yourself, if your house is in a constant state of disarray, if you are winging it every day without a clear idea of what happens next, know that it doesn’t have to be this way and you can change your situation.  Let’s talk about how and where to start.

The first thing you have to do is identify the worst or most out-of-control area of your life and start there.  Finish this sentence, “If I were more organized I could…” and let that become your goal and your motivation.  Write this down and post it somewhere you can see it every day. You may be motivated to have more quality time with your children, or have more time to yourself, or you may just want your house presentable enough to have company over, or organized enough to find what you need.  So decide what you want.  That’s the first step. Organized people are not afraid to make decisions and move on.

Secondly, make a plan. Mary Kay Ash said, “Plan your work and work your plan.” Jumping into a project without a complete plan is really just setting you up for failure. I find that even a few minutes of planning each day, saves a lot of anxiety and run-around in the long run.  If it’s time management – plan your week. If you have a house project or work project to tackle – plan the steps and write a list of what you will need.  Include other people to share the workload whenever possible.

Third, make an appointment and schedule enough time to work on this priority. Do you need a few hours every week? A few days set aside? Whatever time you need, schedule it in your planner. Nothing is going to happen by accident.

Fourth, remember your goal. When you are in the midst of a project and you are feeling disheartened, remember the goal.  It’s also a good idea to visually post your goal so you can remind yourself all the time what you are working towards.

Fifth, finish working on your project and move on. Don’t be a perfectionist. If it’s time management you need help with, try adapting one good habit at a time. Don’t try to change too much at once. If it’s a physical project, get the big stuff done first and then the finishing touches. Finish one project before you move onto the next.   Check something off your list and feel proud that you have accomplished it.  Reward yourself by doing something fun and relaxing.