Sunday, November 21, 2004

Keep It Simple

Tip of the Week, November 14, 2004

Large organizing projects (such as creating a filing system or overhauling your closets) can require a large investment of time and effort. As the days get shorter, the holidays get closer, and our schedules get busier, undertaking big changes can seem out of the question. However, there are plenty of small organizing tasks you can do to keep your home running smoothly and your sanity in check--and the best part is that each of these tasks can be done in 10 minutes or less. Here are some ideas to get you started.

Keeping kitchen chaos at bay

  • Take a few minutes to load the dishwasher after each meal, and run the washer as soon as it's full. Unload it as soon as the cycle has finished and the dishes are cool.
  • Try washing dishes (or loading them into the dishwasher) as you prepare meals, rather than waiting to clean everything up at the end of the meal. Even some initial cleanup--starting pans soaking and loading utensils into the dishwasher, for example--can save time.
  • If you prepare food and eat communally, whether as part of a family or with housemates, enlist others to help with the prep and cleanup jobs. Even small children can get involved by setting and clearing the table, putting their dishes in the sink or dishwasher, and helping with simple food preparation (like washing produce).
  • Keep a magnetic grocery list pad on your fridge; each time you run low on or run out of a supply, jot it down on your list. When you're ready to shop, you'll know what you need right away.

Bed and bath tips

  • Make your bed as soon as you get up or immediately after you shower. This task generally takes a minute or less, and it can go a long way toward making the room look neater and more pulled together. If you have kids, get them to add bed making to their morning routines, too.
  • Put your clothes away or in the hamper as soon as you take them off. This is another job that will take you less than 60 seconds, and will save you from having to dig through piles of clothes after they've accumulated. It can also save time by preventing wrinkles, helping keep clothes clean, and making sure clothes always get returned to their proper homes.
  • Be sure there are enough towel hooks or racks in your bathroom for everyone in the house to hang his or her towels. If family members wear towels back to their rooms, add towel hooks on the back of each door to prevent heaps of wet terry cloth on the floor.

Living room and beyond

  • Make it a habit (and encourage others in your household to do the same) to return items to their proper homes as soon as you're done with them. Putting the scissors back on the desk after you've used them takes about 10 seconds; searching for them after they've been buried somewhere in the living room takes much longer.
  • Create a space near your front door to line up bags, umbrellas, papers, keys--anything you or your family members will need when leaving the house. Have everyone spend a few minutes each evening getting things ready for the next day to prevent a mad rush in the morning.
  • Do the Ten Minute Tidy: set a timer for 10 minutes and challenge yourself to pick up and put away as many things as possible before time is up. This can be a great activity with younger kids, too; make it a challenge, and offer a prize (a special snack, a trip to the playground, etc.) to the winner.

Do it now
All of the ideas above stem from one premise: a small upfront investment of time can have a big payoff in the end. As you go through your day, challenge yourself to find small tasks you can do right away that will help prevent larger tasks later. Spending a few minutes, or even a few seconds, putting things away, cleaning up, or taking care of small jobs can leave you more time to do the things you want to do.

Sunday, November 14, 2004

Fridge and Pantry Organizing

Tip of the Week, November 7, 2004

Whether you have guests coming for the holidays and no idea how you'll find room in your fridge for food to feed them, or you just have a sneaking suspicion that it's time to weed out some unused (and possibly inedible) food from your kitchen, now is a great time to set aside an hour to organize your fridge and pantry. Here are some ideas to get you started.

Get ready, get set...
Before you dive in and get your hands dirty (literally), take a few minutes to gather a few supplies that can help make the job less unpleasant. First, be sure to have a strong garbage bag on hand, one that you're sure will not leak. If there are recycling and composting programs available in your area, also keep bins for recyclable materials and biodegradable foodstuffs handy. Set aside a box or strong grocery bag for foods you'll be giving away.

When working with the fridge and freezer, have a large cooler at the ready so you can store perishable foods while you organize and clean. You'll also want a pair of rubber gloves, a bucket and sponge, and whatever cleaning solution you want to use on your fridge shelves and walls. Finally, consider recruiting a helper--a child, a spouse, a friend--to make the work go more quickly.

The big chill
When you're ready, start with the fridge and freezer. Organizing these spaces is much like organizing a closet or a garage: you'll start by taking everything out and deciding what should stay and what should go, and will then move the things that should stay back in, reorganizing them along the way. Since you're dealing with perishable goods, aim to make decisions on them as quickly as possible: immediately toss the things you no longer need or use, and put the things you want to keep in a cooler to keep them safe as you work.

If your fridge and freezer are full of items you know you'll have trouble making decisions on (such as lots of condiments), try doing a quick survey first, and then spend some time thinking about what you need to keep and what you can get rid of. Once you have a good sense of what stays and what goes, open the fridge and get to work.

If you have the inclination and the time, you may want to unplug the fridge and give it a full cleaning while it's empty. Even if you don't go whole hog, though, take a minute to wipe down the shelves and walls, and remove any bins that can be cleaned in the sink. When you're ready, start moving food back in, remembering to keep like things together (all condiments on a door shelf, for example) and to make the most perishable items the most easily accessible.

The organized pantry
Once you're done with the fridge and freezer, move on to the pantry (that is, wherever your dry goods and non-perishables are kept). Follow the same process here you used before: take everything out, decide what you want to keep and want to go, do either a full cleaning or a quick wipe-down, and move things back in as needed.

Because you're now working with nonperishables, you can spend a bit more time deciding what you really need to keep and what you don't. Think of this as a great time to make a fresh start, and to do some good in the process: if there are canned goods or bagged or boxed items you aren't using, consider donating them to a program that will use them to feed the hungry. There are such programs in every community (check your local newspaper), and they generally take all unopened, unexpired, nonperishable foods in good condition. This is a great way to clear out your cupboards and know that your food will be put to great use by people who might otherwise have very little.

Spread the word
After you've finished organizing your fridge, freezer, and pantry, take a moment to show the finished products to everyone who shares the kitchen with you: family members, housemates, and so on. Point out where you've put things and ask for everyone's help in maintaining the system. (You may want to write up quick lists of what's where in the fridge and freezer, and what each pantry shelf or cupboard holds, as roadmaps of a sort to make it easier for everyone to find what they're looking for and to put things away in the right places.)

And then celebrate! Cook a special meal together, make it a family outing to drop off your donations at a food bank, have friends over for an impromptu cocktail party using the special liqueurs you found deep in a cupboard--do whatever will help you enjoy the fruits of your labor, and then make a deal with yourself to maintain the organization you worked hard to achieve.

Sunday, November 07, 2004

Read up and Get Organized

Tip of the Week, October 31, 2004

There are scores of organizing books on the market, and their ranks seem to grow by the week. It can be difficult to know by glancing at the cover or flipping through the pages in a store which ones are worth reading; to help narrow the field, and to help you find resources that will help with your organizing projects, check out the list below of some of my favorite titles. Then head down to your library or local bookseller and pick up some organizing inspiration.

Organizing from the Inside Out by Julie Morgenstern
This is one of the best-selling and best-known organizing books available, and with good reason: it's full of straightforward, truly useful advice on getting organized based on your particular space, personality, and needs. Morgenstern knows there's no one-size-fits-all approach to organizing; this book and the ideas in it have shaped my work as a professional organizer.

Home Organizing Workbook: Clearing Your Clutter, Step-by-Step by Meryl Starr
Have an entire weekend to devote to organizing? This is the book for you. Have 10 or 20 minutes? This is also the book for you. Starr breaks down organizing projects for each area of the house into easily manageable chunks, so you can either devote a few hours to working through each one or choose one or two each day and spend a few minutes on each. I love this book's tabbed dividers and spiral binding; they make it easy to find what you're looking for and keep the book propped open.

Making Peace with the Things in Your Life by Cindy Glovinski
Think there's more to your living room clutter than a busy life and lots of stuff? You may be right, and this book is a great way to find out, as well as to find solutions. Glovinski takes a close and careful look at all of the aspects of our lives that can contribute to difficult relationships with things, from stressful situations to difficult periods in life, from family relationships to chemical imbalances in the brain; she then offers concrete, realistic ways of working toward healthier methods of dealing with our stuff.

Messie No More by Sandra Felton
For many of us, the roots of disorganization go deep, and the path to organization is anything but straight and easy. Felton is the creator of the Messies Anonymous program, and she has amazing insights on the challenges of getting organized in a chaotic world, as well as the tactics that can help Messies overcome their issues with clutter. Though this book delves fairly deeply into background issues and root causes, it's easy to read and to understand.

The Western Guide to Feng Shui (audiobook) by Terah Kathryn Collins
Feng shui (pronounced "fung shway") is the ancient Chinese art of placement, and while it's meant to bring order and harmony to our lives, it can be incredibly difficult to understand and to implement. A friend recently lent me the audiobook version of Collins' work, and I've found it easy to understand, pleasant to listen to, and very inspiring. Collins explains the tenets of feng shui, discusses the importance of decluttering and getting organized in the feng shui tradition, and, best of all, distills the practice for modern western (as opposed to ancient eastern) use.

Making Work Work by Julie Morgenstern
Morgenstern's latest book focuses on time wasters and productivity killers in our professional lives, and like her earlier works, it's down to earth, realistic, and full of great ideas. The book features "grab and go" techniques aimed at helping us make better use of our office time, achieve better work-life balance, and boost our productivity without boosting the hours we spend at work. For the past few weeks, I've been working on sticking to one of her recommendations: avoid checking e-mail for the first hour of the work day; instead, devote that time to working on an important project. It hasn't been easy, but I'm already seeing a positive change in how I use my time. If you feel overworked, overwhelmed, or simply stuck, this is the book for you.