Sunday, October 31, 2004

Pre-Holiday Organizing (Part 2)

Tip of the Week, October 24, 2004

Last week, we looked at ways of getting a jump start on getting your holiday supplies and decorations organized; this week, we'll consider a few tips on planning to make this year's celebrations more organized and less stressful.

Planning for simplicity and less stress
Each year we read article after article about people searching for simpler, less stressful ways of celebrating the holidays. Once we're into the swing of the season, it can be challenging--if not impossible--to follow recommendations for simplifying our celebrations. However, thinking about ways of simplifying the holidays now, before the season begins, can give us the time to put ideas into practice.

Think about the most stressful parts of the holidays for you. Perhaps buying gifts for a large family and several friends is a financial strain, or perhaps preparing large holiday meals is a task that always seems to fall to you and you alone.

Once you've identified what's stressful for you, think of ways you can help alleviate that stress. For example, if you're overwhelmed by having to buy dozens of gifts, consider alternate ways of sharing the season with family and friends; for example, you might try drawing names from a hat so each person in your family only buys for one other person, rather than the whole clan.

Don't dismiss ideas you come up with because they seem too farfetched or unlikely to work; with some modifications and customizations, they may be exactly the solution you're looking for.

Share your ideas with others
Once you've come up with ideas that can help make the holiday season less chaotic for you, share those ideas with the people who join you in your celebrations, and explain why you're looking to simplify.

For example, if you're normally in charge of cooking a large Thanksgiving dinner for a large group, you might let others know that you've decided to make it a potluck meal; you'll take care of the turkey, and others can sign up to bring a dish or two. Explain that you want to be able to spend more time with your guests, rather than hiding out in the kitchen all day.

If you usually share holiday gifts with a broad group of friends and acquaintances but are finding your house cluttered with all of the well-intentioned gifts you receive but don't use and your wallet straining after you've shopped for everyone else, you might propose an alternative: everyone gets together for a special outing--such as dinner at a nice restaurant, a day at a sporting event, or an afternoon at a spa--rather than exchanging gifts. Let your friends know that sharing an experience will let you all enjoy one another's company and avoid the mad dash to buy gifts.

Some friends and family members may be quick to latch on to your ideas, and others may be fairly reluctant. Remember that it can be difficult for people to change traditional ways of celebrating, and be willing to accept some minor modifications to your plans so that they feel comfortable for all involved.

Stick to it
Right now, before the holidays start entering our lives and our calendars with full force, take a few minutes to write down what your ideal celebrations would look and feel like. They might be radically simplified from previous years, or they might involve just a few shortcuts or changes to help make them less stressful. Focus on what would let you enjoy the holidays--and the people you celebrate them with--the most.

When you have a list you're happy with, keep it someplace you'll be able to refer to it often (perhaps posted on a bulletin board or the fridge, clipped to the inside cover of your day planner, or as a file on your computer desktop or PDA). Make a promise to yourself that you'll do what you can to make your ideal celebrations happen, and stick to that promise as you start planning and preparing for the holidays.

It may be too early to haul out the holiday cards, decorations, and recipes, but it's the perfect time to start thinking of ways of cutting holiday stress and clutter while exponentially increasing holiday enjoyment.

Sunday, October 24, 2004

Pre-Holiday Organizing (Part 1)

Tip of the Week, October 17, 2004

Though it's only mid-October, and most of us have our minds set on nothing later than Halloween just yet, now is a good time to spend an hour or two doing some pre-holiday cleaning out and organizing. The busy period between Thanksgiving and New Year's is still several weeks away, so take advantage of this downtime to take stock of the holiday supplies and decorations you have, start thinking about what you need, and get your holiday gear organized.

Taking stock
If you're like most of us, you have a vague idea of what's in the boxes of holiday supplies and decorations you've stored in your attic, basement, or closet. You know there are a few light sets, but don't remember whether they're white bulbs or colored, and can't say for sure whether any of the sets actually work. You're fairly sure you have some Thanksgiving-themed dinner ware, but don't remember whether it's a full set or whether some of the pieces have gone missing. You remember storing several boxes of candles last January, but can't recall whether you've borrowed from that stash since.

Now's the time to find out for sure! Set aside an hour or so to go through your holiday supplies, and as you do, make a few lists: one for things you want to keep that are in good condition, one for items that need repair or need replacement parts, and one for supplies you want to remind yourself to buy in time for the holidays. This can also be a good time to get rid of holiday stuff that's broken, unused, or otherwise not necessary to keep around; sorting through it now can be easier than trying to do so in the midst of the clamor and bustle of holiday preparations later in the year.

After you make your lists, post them in your home office or on a family bulletin board or keep them in an easily accessible file--any place where they won't get lost and you'll see them often enough to be reminded of them. As the holidays draw closer, you'll know what you need to buy, what you need to replace, and what you already have on hand; this can help prevent unneeded purchases and extra clutter in the house.

Organizing to celebrate
If you have more time, consider taking another hour or two to organize your holiday supplies. It might seem counterintuitive to spend time neatly organizing things you're soon going to pull out of storage, but the hour you spend now will translate into at least one hour saved when it's time for holiday preparations, because you'll know just where things are and will be able to find them in a snap.

How you organize your supplies is up to you and depends on how many you have, when you'll need them, and what holidays you celebrate. A good place to start may be buying and labeling a few large clear plastic bins for each holiday and sorting your supplies accordingly. At the very least, you'll keep the Hanukkah stuff separate from the New Year's stuff, and you'll be able to take a quick glance at the bins and know what you have.

Enjoy the fall
In the coming weeks, we'll take a more detailed look at organizing for the holidays; for now, taking inventory of your holiday supplies, followed by a quick sort-and-label session, should give you a jump start on what's to come.

Once you've done those two things, put your winter holiday items back in storage and take the time to enjoy the current season; autumn won't be around much longer, and it's worth its own celebration.

Sunday, October 17, 2004

Organizing Cooperation

Tip of the Week, October 10, 2004

In last week's tip, we looked at a few ways of getting and staying inspired to work on organizing projects. This week we'll discuss ways to get others in your household--a spouse or partner, children, or housemates--to cooperate with you to make your organizing project a success.

Start with why
Before you start organizing in earnest, take some time to sit down with the others in your household to explain why you want to get organized and why you think the whole house will benefit. If possible, try to avoid laying blame on anyone--yourself included--for the current disorganization of the house; someone who feels that they're being accused of causing chaos or a mess might go on the defensive and make your job even harder.

Focus instead on your reasons for wanting to get the house in order; for example, "I know that the mess in the living room and kitchen makes us all a bit reluctant to have people over, and I'd like to change that so we're proud to have friends visit." Mention other family members' frustrations--the extra few minutes it takes to find the keys and umbrella before leaving the house every day, the important letters that get lost in stacks of mail, the difficulty of finding an uncluttered place to do homework or pay bills--to let them know that the organizing project will benefit them, too.

Get others involved
Ideally, your partner, family members, or housemates will pitch in to help on your project, whether by organizing their own spaces or by working with you to organize your home's common spaces (such as the living room and bathrooms). If others in your household are willing to help, take them up on the offer; the more invested they feel in the organizing project, the more likely they'll be to want to see it succeed. Even household members who aren't able to help in large ways can get involved: children can sort through and put away their toys, a working spouse or partner can pitch in for 15-30 minutes in the evening, and housemates can agree to wash and put away their dishes rather than leaving them in the kitchen sink.

For any number of reasons, it's not always possible to get others in your household to help. In cases like these, your best bet may be to get them to agree to maintain the progress you make, so that you can at least avoid having to redo the same organizing tasks you've already done. Sometimes seeing what an organized home looks like can be an incentive for your family or housemates to help keep it that way; when things are easy to find, rooms are comfortable to be in, and it's not embarrassing to have guests, the desire to keep the house in order can be pretty infectious.

Dealing with naysayers
Unfortunately, there's always a chance that you'll not only have to work on your organizing project without help from your family or housemates, but also that they won't do anything to maintain the progress you've made. Situations like these can be extremely frustrating and stressful, and can sometimes sabotage the success of your project.

A detailed discussion of family and household dynamics is beyond the scope of this tip, and there can be any number of reasons that others in your home won't support your organizing efforts. There may not be a simple solution. However, it's worth investigating why the other members of the household are unwilling to help with your project; a house meeting or a conversation around the dinner table to discuss your pride in the steps you've taken to get organized, what others are feeling about the changes they see in the house, and why it's important to you to maintain the progress you've made might bring up some insights, and might be a path toward compromise.

For more information on dealing with the challenges of trying to get and stay organized when others in your household are reluctant to help, check out Sandra Felton's Messies Anonymous and Marla Cilley's; both sites offer lots of tips and recommendations, as well as advice from others who are working through the same organizing challenges.

Keep it real
As you work to get and stay organized, keep in mind the realities of your household and the personalities of your family members or housemates. Major changes don't happen overnight, and expecting that the busy home of a busy family can suddenly get and stay organized may set you up for disappointment. Further, trying to stifle the true characters of your family or housemates in the name of organization can result in hurt feelings, a sense of not belonging, and the desire to return the home to its previously disorganized state.

So as you get organized, be sure you keep a realistic perspective on what comfortable and effective organization looks like for your household, how you want your home to feel for yourself and those you share it with, and how to ensure that everyone in the home can continue to express himself or herself amidst the changes happening in the house. With determination, open communication, and help from the others in your household, creating and maintaining a functional, realistic, and comfortably organized home is an achievable goal.

Sunday, October 10, 2004

Organizing Inspiration

Tip of the Week, October 3, 2004

The physical aspects of getting organized--moving things around, lifting boxes and bags, dragging piles of giveaways out the door--can be challenging, but they often seem like a snap when compared to the much bigger hurdle of finding (and holding on to) the inspiration to get and stay organized. This week, we'll look at a few ways of seeking your own source of inspiration.

What moves you?
Everyone has his or her own reason for wanting to get organized. For some of us, the sight of piles everywhere and things strewn about threatens to drive us nuts; for others, the knowledge that we don't feel comfortable having friends or family over because of the mess makes us want to get things in order; for still others, the thought of experiencing less stress due to living in an organized home and working in an organized office is immensely appealing.

Whatever the source of your initial organizing impulse, hold on to it. You may even want to write it down. It can be a great inspiration when you're ready to actually start your organizing project: though there's often a lag between when the first desire to organize strikes and when the organizing begins, remembering and referring back to the emotions, facts, or reasons that moved you to want to get organized can help you move forward.

Don't go it alone
Some people choose to work on organizing projects on their own, and are quite successful when they do. Others like to have someone, whether a family member, friend, or professional organizer, work side-by-side with them to get the work done. Still others might want a bit of help at first, and might then choose to continue the project on their own once it's underway.

You should choose the working style that's right for you. Even if you work entirely alone, though, remember that it can be incredibly useful to bring in someone else for feedback and inspiration: have a friend come over for lunch, and share with him or her your organizing goals and the progress you've made thus far; let your spouse or partner know upfront why you want to get organized, and ask him or her to support you along the way, even if only with regular compliments and the promise to respect the work you've done.

Let your friends, family, and colleagues be a source of support and inspiration to you as you get organized. They can help you celebrate your successes and get through the rough patches, and may even help you regain a realistic perspective if piles of stuff to be sorted and stacks of papers to be filed have clouded your vision.

(Note: if you are part of a disorganized household and you choose to get organized, it's extremely important that you get the cooperation of the others in the household before you start your organizing project. The best of intentions can often be ruined by children, a spouse/partner, or housemates who are not willing to work with you. We'll take a closer look at this topic in next week's tip.)

Maintain an inspiration point
Sandra Felton, founder of the Messies Anonymous group, recommends creating what she calls an inspiration point. This is some small area in your home or office--a kitchen counter, a bedside table, an entryway, a desktop--that you keep organized no matter how bad things get elsewhere. Your inspiration point can serve as a sanctuary as well as a reminder that you're in control of your things and your spaces, not the other way around. Ideally, your inspiration point will provide just that: the inspiration to move forward with your organizing project.

Choosing the right inspiration point is key; it should be a spot you see often, and may be one that's either the source of your greatest frustration or the source of your greatest embarrassment. Select a spot you care about, and make a promise to yourself to keep it organized and clean.

Slipping and sliding
Unless (unlike me) you have a truly iron will, chances are that despite your best efforts you'll encounter a bit of backsliding at some point during your organizing project, and will face a desk that seems to be sprouting papers from all surfaces or a closet that threatens to erupt like Mt. St. Helens if you open the door. Don't panic, and don't give up.

The actress Mary Pickford once said, "What we call failure is not the falling down but the staying down." Let yourself fall once in a while. Close the door on your piles and stacks and boxes and take a walk, call a friend, go out for a cup of coffee, take the kids to the playground--do what you need to do to give yourself a break. Then breathe, take a look at your inspiration point, remember why you started down the path of organizing in the first place, and slowly return to your project.

Sunday, October 03, 2004

Getting Your Home Office in Order (Part 4)

Tip of the Week, September 26, 2004

In this, the final tip in our home office organizing series, we'll take a look at ways to deal with everything else that might cause chaos and clutter in a home office, from furniture to electronics to office supplies. Remember, you can read Parts 1-3 of this series at any time in the Tip of the Week archive at

Finding the right furniture
In home offices, almost anything can serve as a desk, from a corner of the dining room table to a nook in the kitchen to a full desk in its own dedicated room. What you choose depends on several factors, including space, location, and access to things like ample power outlets and a phone line. Ideally, your desk will provide enough surface area to allow you to work efficiently, drawers to store supplies, and room for other necessities like a phone, printer, and fax.

If, like me, you don't have a separate room to serve as a home office, you can make the most of the space you have by choosing a scaled-down desk (I use an old enamelware kitchen table) and portable drawers for storage and additional surface space. Even if you do have a room that can serve as an office, choosing well-proportioned furniture will assure that the space isn't overwhelmed by (or overwhelming to) your desk.

Finally, remember that you're likely to spend a fair amount of time in your office space, so it's worth finding a desk you like and are comfortable with, not to mention a chair that provides adequate support and cushioning. The more comfortable and ergonomically sound your office space, the more likely it is you'll enjoy working there.

Choosing electronics
There's no exact list of electronic equipment every home office should have, but most people who work from home use at least the basics: a computer, a phone (either with voicemail service or with an answering machine), and a printer. Depending on your needs, you may also choose to add a fax machine, a scanner, a copier, a shredder, an extra computer monitor, and audio/video equipment.

As with furniture, when choosing electronics, consider your needs, your space, and your tastes. There are a great number of compact, combination, and portable electronics on the market, from small but powerful laptop computers to flat-screen monitors to combination printer/fax/scanner/copier machines. Equipment like this can help give you more space and avoid clutter, especially in smaller spaces.

Corralling supplies
For many of us, it's worth purchasing office supplies in bulk--a box of printer paper, a 12-pack of pens, the jumbo package of paper clips. However, most of us won't use everything we buy all at once, and therefore don't need all of it to take up space in our offices. With office supplies as with files, it's a good idea to keep a reasonable amount (that is, as much as you're likely to use in, say, a month) in your office space while storing the rest in another location, such as a closet, garage, or basement.

Get creative with how you store your extra supplies: small items might go in a clear, over-door shoe sorter in a closet (so you can easily see what you have and can keep the supplies organized), while bulkier items like extra paper or stationery can be stashed in plastic bins in the basement. (If your office occupies its own room, of course, keep your supplies there, stashing a reasonable amount in or near your desk and the extras in a closet or in bins elsewhere in the room.)

Make it your own
By far the most important thing about any home office, whether a well-equipped room of its own or a corner of the kitchen, is that it works for you so you can work in it. The tips in this series have provided some general ideas for ways to clear your office of clutter and create a space that's comfortable and efficient; the next step is to take these ideas and make them your own. Decide what you need to do your best work in your office--for example, lots of colorful decorations, the most compact electronics equipment available, plenty of surface area, room to get up and move around--and do yourself the favor of taking the time to create a space that meets your needs.

The more comfortable, customized, and uncluttered your home office, the more likely it'll be to serve as a space that lets you do great things.