Monday, July 25, 2005

Organizing for Outdoor Activities

Tip of the Week, July 17, 2005

Summer is my favorite season: the days are long, the weather is warm (even occasionally here in San Francisco), and there are plenty of opportunities to enjoy being outdoors. Rather than having to take the time to find the stuff you need each time you're ready for an outside adventure, why not spend a few minutes organizing your gear so it's ready to go when you are?

Use these tips and ideas to get your outdoor activity gear in order so that the next time a long, sunny day inspires you to head out, all you need to do is grab and go.

Do an activity gear audit
Start by thinking about the activities you do most often and jotting down a list of the supplies you generally need for each one. For example, if you're an avid day hiker, your list might include a backpack, a first-aid kit, sunscreen, a water bottle, and trail mix; if kayaking is your thing, you'd list a PFD, sport sandals, a paddle, and a spray skirt.

Once you have a clear list of the activities that are most important to you and the supplies for each, take a walk around your house (and garage or shed, if you have one) and gather up the gear you find, including both stuff your on your lists and other supplies you may have lurking about.

After you've collected all of your gear, sort it into categories based on activities. If you find you need to get new or additional supplies for your preferred activities, note them on your lists; if you discover that you have gear for activities you're not doing, or have too much gear for the activities you do enjoy, consider donating it or selling it. (At the very least, plan to store it in an out-of-the-way spot, reserving the more convenient storage places for the stuff you're actually using.)

Create activity kits
When you've sorted your gear and have weeded out the stuff you no longer want or need, start to create kits for your activities. Choose a container related to each activity (a backpack for hiking, say, or a large plastic bin for water sports) and stash the relevant gear inside it. If there are items that need to be repaired or replaced, keep them aside as a reminder.

Once you have your kits in order, label them (if it's not obvious at a glance what each is for) and stash them in an easily accessible spot, such as a hall closet, a guest room, or a garage, depending on how large each kit is.

To make keeping tabs on the contents of each kit easier, stash the list you made with each one. From time to time, run down the list to be sure you have what you need for each activity, and replace anything you may have used up, such as water or sunscreen.

Ready when you are
With your activity kits in place, all you need to do the next time the desire to hike, bike, kayak, or picnic strikes is grab your kit, add any perishables (such as food other than trail mix or energy bars), and head outside. By saving time not having to search for the gear you need, you'll maximize the hours you can spend enjoying all that summer has to offer outdoors.

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Choosing Quality over Quantity

Tip of the Week, July 10, 2005

Often, one of the most challenging things about getting (and staying) organized is weeding out unwanted and unused items so that the things we're left with are those we know to be useful, believe to be beautiful, or truly love.

Getting rid of things isn't easy, especially as we live in a culture that tends to value abundance and the supposed comfort it brings. For many, memories of times spent living close to the bone--such as the Great Depression, wartime, or a poor childhood--make the desire to hold on to large quantities of things even stronger.

In both my work with clients and my own experience, though, I see time and again that making the effort to focus on what's truly meaningful and useful results in less stress, a greater feeling of control, and, paradoxically, a sense of a fuller life.

At its most basic level, choosing quality over quantity generally means that our lives will be richer if we opt for things, relationships, and experiences that are fulfilling and special, rather than opting for simply more of everything. Here are some ideas on how to make this practice work in the realm of organizing:

  • If your mailbox fills with countless magazines and newsletters each month--many of which end up in piles you never get around to reading--do an audit: choose the periodicals you really enjoy reading (rather than the ones you think you should read) and cancel the rest.
  • Rather than keeping every greeting card you receive or every photo you take, spend the time to go through them, setting aside only those that really have meaning to you and getting rid of the rest. If you can no longer describe what a photo depicts or remember who a card is from, chances are good you don't need to keep it around.
  • Take a look at your bookshelves. If they're storing books you have no interest in ever reading again, couldn't get through the first time, or are keeping only out of a sense of obligation, consider doing some weeding. A library, literacy program, or hospital will be glad to take your unwanted volumes off your hands, and the books you truly love will have a chance to shine.
  • Are you afraid to open your closet because of the rows of clothes and piles of shoes that lurk within? If you're like most of us, you wear 20% of your clothing 80% of the time, which means that the majority of it is doing little more than taking up space. Set aside the things you love, wear often, and feel truly comfortable in, and then take a hard look at what's left. What among those pieces can go?

    Put these ideas to work wherever you feel like you're drowning in stuff--your kitchen, coat closet, basement, attic, garage, linen closet, office, or family room. Remember, the idea isn't to deprive yourself, but rather to clear out the things you simply tolerate to make more space for the things you really love.

    Choosing quality over quantity doesn't mean that your home needs to be full of expensive stuff, or that an abundance of anything is necessarily bad. Rather, it means that opting for "better"--however you define it--is often preferable to opting for "more," just as one slice of lovingly homemade chocolate cake tends to beat out a whole box of cellophane-wrapped, mass-produced snack cakes.

    Surround yourself with the stuff you find most beautiful, most useful, and most meaningful and see if decreasing the quantity of stuff in your world doesn't just bump up the quality of your life.

Sunday, July 10, 2005

Take a Break!

Tip of the Week, July 5, 2005

Yesterday morning, I worked with a client to clear out and reorganize the space under her back porch, which had been an eyesore and a point of frustration to her for several months. We donned work gloves and spent two hours crawling under the porch, sweeping out debris, hosing off the items that were stored there, and neatly putting everything back in place.

It was strenuous, messy work, but the results were great: the area not only looks cleaner and more orderly, but it's also more functional, and now even includes a private hideout for the client's dog.

As I was leaving, my client mentioned that she should spend some time that afternoon on another organizing project we've been working on. I encouraged her instead to spend the time enjoying the changes we'd made in the yard, especially since it was a beautiful, sunny afternoon and she'd been working hard all week. I noted that if she felt she really wanted to do some additional organizing, she should simply take a cup of coffee and a stack of papers outside with her, have a seat in the yard, and do some leisurely sorting, allowing herself a snooze in the sun if she felt like it.

And I offer the same encouragement to you. Though I'll be the first to tell you that organizing can be an important, useful, and productive part of life, sometimes the best thing you can do for yourself, your family, and your space is simply take a break. Enjoy the results of what you've done and keep your organizing goals in mind, but give yourself the freedom to leave the piles and the sorting and the cleaning for a day or two.

You'll help prevent organizing burnout, will get the chance to devote yourself fully to other (hopefully more relaxing and fun) things, and will be able to return to your organizing tasks refreshed and ready to go.

My back porch client and I still have work to do, and I'm glad she's motivated to keep at it even when I'm not around, but I hope that yesterday she left the papers and boxes inside and instead sat in the sun, put her feet up, and took a much-needed break.

Sunday, July 03, 2005

Organizing for Emergencies

Tip of the Week, June 26, 2005

No one ever really wants to think about emergencies--natural disasters, fires, major health issues, and so on aren't exactly pleasant topics to consider. However, spending even a small amount of time giving some thought to how you'd react in the face of an emergency and gathering some emergency supplies can help keep a bad situation from becoming a disaster.

Here are some ideas on quick, easy ways to make sure you, your family, and your home are ready to face an emergency.

Create an emergency kit
You might have the supplies you need in an emergency somewhere in your home, but would you know where to find them when you needed them? One of the most basic--and most helpful--things you can do to be ready for an emergency is to gather some essential supplies into a kit and store it in an accessible, easy-to-reach spot.

What you include in your kit depends on where you live, what sort of emergencies you might face, and what resources would be at your disposal if something were to happen. At the very least, stash some bottled water, a battery-powered radio and batteries, candles and matches, and non-perishable food supplies. Your local fire department or city hall can provide you with a list of other recommended emergency supplies. Store everything in a sturdy, waterproof container, make sure all of your family members know where the kit is, and check the supplies once a year or so to be sure they're still safe and usable.

Make a plan
In addition to your emergency kit, take the time to discuss with your family, friends, and neighbors what your plans would be in the event of an emergency. This might involve devising an escape route from the house if there were a fire, making plans to stay with friends or family in another town in the case of a natural disaster, or forming a neighborhood group to pool resources and lend each other a hand in the case of an emergency.

Whatever plans you devise, make it a point to write them down, keep them in an easily accessible place, and review them from time to time to be sure everyone stays current on what to do in case of an emergency.

Go beyond writing up a will
A will is a crucial document to have, especially if you have a family or others who rely on you. If you don't already have a will, or if yours isn't current, make it a point to have one drawn up or updated; this simple task could save a good deal of trouble in the event that something were to happen to you.

In addition to a will, make a list of other information your family or friends would need in order to settle your affairs. This includes things like life insurance information, investment account numbers, safe deposit box instructions, important passwords or PINs for bank accounts or computers, and so on. Keep a copy of this list in a safe place in your home and another copy with your attorney or a trusted friend or relative.

Don't invite disaster
Finally, though there are many emergencies we can neither predict nor control, there's one simple thing we can all do to help prevent making bad situations worse or inviting disaster into our homes in the first place: stay relatively organized.

This doesn't mean, of course, that spotless kitchen counters or perfectly up-to-date filing systems will keep emergencies from striking. It does mean that clearing excess clutter (especially anything that could be a fire hazard or could easily topple), creating designated storage spots for important things, and more or less staying on top of maintaining key papers and files can not only make life a little less stressful on normal days, but can also help make emergencies a little less destructive.

Take some time this week to put in place some basic emergency preparedness methods and to share them with others in your household. Hopefully you'll never need to use them, but once you've made some simple steps to plan for emergencies, you can rest a bit more easily knowing that if trouble should strike, you'll be ready.