Sunday, March 27, 2005

Six Great Reasons to Get Organized

Tip of the Week, March 20, 2005

Each of us has our own reasons for wanting (or needing) to get organized, from being fed up with clutter to wanting a better way of dealing with paper to simply being ready to make a change in our lives.

Here are six of the most common reasons my clients, friends, and family have given for wanting to bring more order and organization to their lives.

Less stuff means less stress. For many people, clearing the piles or boxes of stuff that have been lurking around their homes or offices is a relatively quick and undeniably powerful way of decreasing stress. Once the excess stuff is gone, we no longer have to worry about finding space for it, taking care of it, or wondering what to do about it.

Being organized saves money. If you've ever had to pay a late fee because you lost a bill in a pile on your desk, or if you've ever bought multiples of the same item because you knew you had a stapler/salad tongs/extra bottle of shampoo/hammer somewhere but couldn't find it among all the clutter, you know that getting things in order can pay off.

Getting organized can help you make money. This I know from my own life: getting rid of the excess stuff in your life--whether books, music, clothes, furniture, or other household items--by reselling it can be a great way of bringing in some extra cash. I've made over $1200 by selling books and cd's I no longer wanted, and I get the benefit of a less cluttered house to boot!

Better organization means more productivity. Dealing with disorganization can sometimes feel like a part-time job, or at least an endless task that keeps us from doing the work that would really be useful to us. Many of my clients report (and I know from personal experience) that not having to deal with managing clutter, searching for lost papers, or stressing about a general feeling of disorganization frees them up to devote more time, attention, and energy to the things they really want to be doing.

An organized home is a safer home. When I work with clients who are looking to make their homes safe for a child, a person of limited mobility, or a pet, the first thing we do is clear out any excess clutter. It's simple but true: even with the most high-tech baby proofing or mobility assistive devices and gadgets in place, a home isn't truly safe if it's full of unneeded and potentially dangerous stuff.

Organizing gives you more time to do what you love. Chances are good the first thing you want to do at the end of the day or on the weekend does not involve managing piles or dealing with clutter. So this is one of the most powerful motivations for getting (and staying) organized: when you no longer have to devote time, thought, and energy to corralling the excess stuff around you, you can devote that time, thought, and energy to the people, activities, and events that you love.

Getting (and, moreover, staying) organized doesn't happen overnight, and isn't always fun, but as the six reasons above show, it can be well worth the effort, and can pay off handsomely in unexpected ways.

Sunday, March 20, 2005

Feng Shui 101

Tip of the Week, March 13, 2005

Feng shui, the ancient Chinese art of placement, is something many of us have probably heard of but may not quite understand. What is it supposed to do for us? Does it involve rearranging our entire homes? Does it actually work?

As with any practice, there are many levels of feng shui, from very basic to extremely complex. But even if you implement a few simple changes based on feng shui principles, you can benefit from this ages-old art. Here's a brief overview of feng shui, including some ways to fit it into your life and resources that can help you learn more.

What it is
Feng shui (pronounced fung shway) was created by monks in ancient China as a way of benefitting from the resources and characteristics of the locations in which they lived. They believed that situating buildings in certain locations, carefully placing rooms and items within those buildings, and using specific colors, objects, and symbols within each room, they could harness ch'i, or the energy inherent in all things.

In its modern-day incarnation, feng shui often involves choosing and arranging furniture and other objects in a home or office, and using certain colors and symbols in specific areas as defined by the Bag-ua map.

The Bag-ua map
The Bag-ua map divides a space into eight areas, each devoted to a specific aspect of life: wealth, fame, partnership, children, helpful people, career, knowledge, and family. Feng shui dictates that by using certain colors, symbols, and objects in each of these areas, you can influence the related aspects of your life: for example, by using the color black and water elements (such as a fountain) in the career area, you can impact what happens in your work life.

For a diagram of the Bag-ua map and more information on how to use it, see the Feng Shui Palace web site.

Even if you don't use the Bag-ua map to rearrange your space, you can still benefit from the practice of feng shui by doing one simple thing: clearing clutter.

Clear clutter to open up ch'i
At its most basic level, feng shui involves opening up space--and, by extension, decreasing stress and increasing energy--by clearing out unwanted, unneeded, dangerous, and unpleasant items. This idea transcends time, culture, and geography: by removing from your home or place of work anything you don't know to be useful or believe to be beautiful, you give yourself more space to think, move, live, work, and enjoy your surroundings.

There are no complex steps involved in clearing clutter according to feng shui; you simply need to ask yourself, as you look at each thing in your space, Do I love this thing or do I use it often? If you can't answer "Yes" to one of those questions, chances are the object is one you can safely get rid of. This exercise alone can have a great impact on making your home or office more pleasant and more functional.

Learning more
If you're curious to learn more about feng shui, check out the Home section of your local library or book store, or pay a visit to one of these Web sites:

World of Feng Shui
Feng Shui Times

Whether you choose to delve deeply into the practice of feng shui or simply to use the basics to clear your home or office of clutter, you may find that it's a helpful way to get organized and make the most of your space.

Sunday, March 13, 2005

Spring Organizing

Tip of the Week, March 6, 2005

Though spring may still seem to be a distant dream in some parts of the country, it really is on its way. In celebration of the season's arrival, why not take some time to lighten your load and clear out some clutter by doing a bit of spring organizing? Here are some ideas to get you started.

Purging paper
Since spring brings with it not only longer days and warmer weather but also tax returns, it's a good time to sort through your files and records. Though you should contact your CPA, attorney, or tax preparer for specific advice on what records to save and how long to save them, Bankrate offers some good general guidelines on what to keep and what to toss.

If you don't already have a system for archiving papers you need to keep (such as past tax returns and real estate records), take the time to set one up. It can be as simple as a banker's box tucked away in the back of a closet or as involved as a separate file cabinet stored in a guest room. Whatever system you choose, be sure it's easy to add to and access as needed.

Spring is also a good time to lighten your paper load in other areas: go through those piles of magazines you haven't read, newspapers that have accumulated on your desk, and any other mail or media that have gathered, and be as ruthless as possible about tossing what you don't need. You may miss the chance to read a few articles that seemed interesting, but the trade-off will be less clutter and less stress.

Clearing out clothes and shoes
One of the best parts of spring is the chance to stash your heavy winter clothes and take your lighter garments out of storage. This year, as you make this swap, take the time to do some sorting and purging. Rather than folding up that oversize sweater or those ski pants you didn't wear once over the winter and putting them away, consider donating or selling them; if you didn't reach for them this season, chances are they won't ever be an integral part of your winter wardrobe, so now's a great time to let them go.

Do the same with any clothes, shoes, or gear that have outlived their usefulness, that you've outgrown, or that you simply no longer care for. Repeat the process with the spring garments you bring out of storage: if you come upon items you can't imagine wearing, give them away or sell them so they can have a new life elsewhere and you can have a clearer closet.

De-stuff your house
Get into the lighter, airier mood of spring (even if winter still seems to be lingering) by clearing out any areas of clutter that are bringing you down. Preparing for spring cleaning, even if you don't actually do it, can be a great motivation: do you really want to have to dust all of those figurines on your mantel? After you've moved the piles of books on your floor to mop, do you really want to put them right back where they were?

Think about doing a stuff audit throughout the house: take a long, hard, realistic look at the things you have and ask yourself whether they're truly useful, whether they truly make you happy, or whether you truly need them. If they don't pass any three of those tests, it may be time to let them go. The end result will be a home full of only things that are meaningful or useful.

After you've made the effort to de-clutter and get organized, take the time to celebrate, whether by having an open house for friends or by enjoying the first ice cream cone of the season after dropping off your give-aways at Goodwill. Enjoy the progress you've made and look forward to the brighter, lighter days ahead.

Sunday, March 06, 2005

"Before and After"s

Tip of the Week, February 27, 2005

The popularity of home makeover TV shows and magazine articles highlights the impact that "before and after" images and descriptions can have: seeing a house in chaos in the "before" period makes the transformation in the "after" that much more powerful. But before and after comparisons aren't limited to TV shows, or even to whole-house makeovers; they can also be useful in organizing projects of all sizes. Here are some ideas on how to put them to use.

An honest look at the present
Organizing projects often stem from a sense of being fed up with things as they are now, such as a cluttered desktop, a less-than-functional closet, or a house that's too full of stuff. Before you create and implement a plan of attack to deal with what's frustrating, take the time to inspect what's not working and why.

Pictures of the areas you want to organize are a great way of recording what's not working; snap as many shots as you need to in order to get a full sense of what you want to focus on and what needs to change. Polaroids and digital photos are a good way to go, as you can refer back to them immediately, but traditional pictures will also do the trick.

Once you've taken your "before" photos, print them out and use a marker to circle, highlight, or makes notes on any area or detail you know you want to deal with--piles of mail on a desk, for example, or shoes in a heap on a closet floor.

Along with your photos, try listing anything about the area or room that causes you grief or needs some organizing help. For example, if you're focusing on getting your kitchen organized, tape a piece of paper to a cabinet door or to the fridge; as you go about your daily tasks, jot down everything that frustrates you, whether pots and pans that are hard to access, pantry staples that seem to disappear in the back of cupboards, or counter space that always gets too crowded.

After a week, take your list down and go over everything you've written. You'll have an extra clear sense of what's not working well for you and what needs to change. You may also be able to come up with ideas on how you can make your space or systems more organized, more functional, and less frustrating.

During your project
Once you have a clear picture--both literally and figuratively--of what you want to focus on, you're ready to start your organizing project. As you work, refer back to your pictures and your lists to be sure that the changes you're making address the frustrations you documented.

Throughout the project, as you start to see improvements, you may want to take a few photos so you can put them side-by-side with the "before" pictures and see how things are progressing. Visual proof that things are changing for the better can be a great way of finding inspiration to keep going, especially when the work gets difficult or boring.

Enjoying the "after"
Of course, the best part of before and after comparisons is often seeing solid proof of the improvements you've made and what a positive impact your efforts have had. So once you're ready to wrap up your organizing project, be sure to take plenty of photos.

To really see the difference between what things were like when you started and what they're like when you finish, snap pictures of the same areas you focused on in your "before" photos. You'll then be able to put the two sets of pictures (or three, if you took "during" shots) next to each other to see the full extent of your changes.

It's also helpful to make a list of what's more functional, less frustrating, or easier to use once you've finished your project (for example, an organized storage system for pots and pans, an easy-to-use pantry, and plenty of clear counter space for kitchen prep work); again, comparing this list with the one you made before you began can help highlight the positive changes you've made and can be a good source of inspiration to maintain what you've done.

Your before and after photos and lists might not be quite as dramatic as those on TV or in magazines, but they can definitely serve the same purpose: highlighting the fruits of your labors and letting you appreciate how far you've come.