Sunday, April 30, 2006

Organized Moving, Part 3: Unpacking and Settling In

Tip of the Week, April 23, 2006

Once you've made it through the pre-move phase and the excitement of moving week, it's time to unpack and get settled in to your new home. Taking an organized approach to these tasks can help make them less stressful, less overwhelming, and more efficient; it can also help you get off on the right foot in your new space. Here's how to dig out from the mountains of moving boxes and create a sense of calmness and order in your new home.

Make an unpacking plan
When you're surrounded by boxes and feeling a rush of motivation, you might be tempted to jump in and start unpacking the first thing you can lay your hands on. There's plenty to be said, however, for taking a step back and creating a plan for what to unpack when. Doing so can save you stress and the chaos of half-empty boxes lurking around for weeks on end.

For starters, aim to unpack your essentials first. This is where the benefits of organized packing shine through: knowing what's in each box and which boxes are most important to you will help you decide what to deal with first. Pull out some basics for each room in the house: clothes, toiletries, plates and glasses, and so on. Being able to do something as simple as change your outfit, take a shower, or have a meal without having to dig through every box can go a long way toward keeping you sane.

Before you unpack in force, take the time to do any prep work that's needed, such cleaning, lining shelves and cupboards, and installing closet systems. You'll save yourself time and trouble in the end by doing these tasks up front.

Also consider taking a tour of each room and using sticky notes to mark what goes where; for example, which kitchen cupboard is best suited for your glasses and cups? Is the hall closet the best place for umbrellas and bags? Where should sports equipment go? Deciding where to store things before you unpack them means you'll have fewer decisions to make when sorting through your boxes, which helps the unpacking process go much more quickly.

Do another round of weeding
Whether you got rid of piles of stuff before packing in your old house or wound up taking everything with you, you may well find that it's worth doing another round of weeding once you're unpacked. Taking a fresh look at some of the things you brought with you may change your mind about them; you might also find that decorations that enhanced your house before don't go with your new living space.

Weeding doesn't mean forcing yourself to get rid of things you use, love, or need; it simply means letting go of whatever no longer has benefit to you in your new space. Unpacking is the perfect time to weed and to re-focus your attention on the things that you truly enjoy.

Build in time for relaxation and exploration
Regardless of how organized you are after your move, you will almost inevitably reach a point at which you can't bear to unpack another box, line another shelf, or vacuum another floor. It's crucial, then, to schedule time for relaxing and exploring your new surroundings. You'll give yourself a break from your moving-in tasks while getting to know your new environment.

Introduce yourself to your neighbors, and ask for their recommendations on local restaurants, stores, and services. If you have children, visit the school they'll be attending and get to know what activities they'll have the chance to participate in. Have dinner out, relax with a beer at the local watering hole, check out the library, or rent a movie from the neighborhood video store.

Taking the time to get out of the house, interact with others, and learn about your new neighborhood will give you a much-needed break from your chores; more importantly, it will help you feel more connected to and comfortable in your new home. That, by far, is the greatest pay-off an organized move can have.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Organized Moving, Part 2: Surviving Moving Week

Tip of the Week, April 16, 2006

Last week, we looked at the three P's of the pre-move phase; this week we'll cover some tips that will help ensure a smoother, less stressful, and more efficient moving week. (Remember, these tips--many of which are based on planning and common sense--can just as easily be applied to other large projects.) Here's what you need to know in order to keep your wits about you up to and including the moment the movers arrive at your door.

Arrange help
Even the most talented task jugglers will find it challenging to try to stay on top of everything in the midst of a move, especially if kids, pets, other family members, or copious boxes of stuff are involved.

One of the best things you can do is arrange for help while the move is happening. Off-site childcare and petsitting can make moving day worlds less stressful, with no little ones or animals underfoot while movers are bustling about and large pieces of furniture are headed out the door. You might also want to designate someone other than yourself as a move coordinator; that person will be responsible for fielding questions from the movers, making sure the week is progressing as planned, and dealing with problems when they arise. Consider either hiring a professional or enlisting a trusted friend or family member to act as your coordinator.

Finally, you might opt to have the moving company take care of the bulk of the packing, too. Most reputable companies have packing teams that will wrap up and catalog your stuff, leaving you to deal with other tasks. You'll pay for this service, but if you have a lot of stuff, it may well be worth it.

Use your checklist and schedule
If a thorough checklist and realistic schedule were important in the lead-up to your move, they're even more crucial now. Knowing what needs to happen, and when, means you're more likely to get everything done, stay on plan, and worry less that you're forgetting a key step in the moving process.

As with the pre-move phase, it's a good idea to start with a standard moving checklist and schedule and then customize them based on your specific circumstances. Give a copy of these lists to anyone who might need them: other family members, your move coordinator, any friends who are pitching in to help. Most importantly, be sure to actually follow your checklist and schedule. Make changes to them as needed throughout the week of the move, but resist the temptation to toss them if the week takes unexpected twists or turns.

Set aside some LO/FOs
It's unlikely you'll need every piece of furniture and every box of stuff the moment you arrive at your new house, but you probably will want fairly easy access to beds, linens, and some basic kitchen supplies. So take the time to mark anything that should be Last On/First Off (LO/FO) the moving truck, and point these things out when you're doing a walk-through with the movers.

Also pack a few boxes or bags of essentials--a few changes of clothes, some basic toiletries, whatever items you might need en route, important papers, daily medications, and any small valuables such as jewelry. These are things you'll take with you in your personal car (or on the plane, if you're flying), rather than packing them on the moving truck.

Take care of yourself
The week of your move probably won't be the time you choose to pack yourself off to a spa, but you should aim to do some basic self-care throughout the week. Keeping yourself healthy and as unstressed as possible can go a long way toward making things run much more smoothly.

For starters, try your best to get enough rest throughout the week. You may not get your normal full night's rest, but don't sacrifice sleep to take care of other tasks. You'll be far more likely to break down, burn out, or otherwise have an awful week if you're tired and sleep deprived.

Also aim to eat well. If your kitchen gear is packed away, arrange for dinners out with friends or neighbors, or order in balanced meals. Keep some healthy snacks (such as energy bars, fruit, nuts, and juices) on hand for moving day and the trip to your new home. Keeping yourself fueled with nutritious food will allow you to stay more centered, focused, and calm in the midst of what's likely to be a busy and chaotic week.

Next week: how to get organized from the start in your new home.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Organized Moving, Part 1: Prepare, Plan, and Purge

Tip of the Week, April 9, 2006

Moving can be one of life's most exciting events, as well as one of the most stressful. We've all heard of (and perhaps have even starred in) horror stories of moves gone frustratingly awry, with mad dashes to finish packing with the movers at the door, boxes stuffed with anything and everything, lost or broken valuables, and schedules gone haywire.

While moving will always involve some degree of upheaval, it doesn't have to be a circus. Over the next few weeks, we'll look at ways of making the process of moving more organized and less stressful. (Note that many of these hints can also help with other projects and transitions, even if the roof over your head won't be changing anytime soon.) First up, the three P's of the pre-move phase: Prepare, Plan, and Purge.

Prepare
Perhaps one of the most difficult aspects of moving is the number of changes and transitions it involves. Whether you're moving across town or across the country, there's a good chance you're facing a new job, new schools, new neighbors, new friends, new surroundings, and, of course, a new home. Taking the time early on to prepare for some of these transitions can help make them easier and less jarring.

As soon as you decide to move, call a meeting with anyone who will be impacted by the transition: your spouse or partner, your children, close family members, and perhaps even very close friends or neighbors. Talk about the purpose of the move, the general timeline, and what will happen between now and then. Let each person at the meeting have his or her say; getting the sadness, excitement, uncertainty, happiness, and worry about the move out on the table early on can help make the moving process easier later, and can help everyone process the idea of the transition more fully.

If you haven't done so already, this is also the time to take care of preparations such as putting your existing home on the market (or notifying your landlord, if you're a renter), visiting the area you're moving to, and starting to research the schools, services, and support you'll need after the move.

Plan
Moving, like any project, is much easier if it follows a detailed plan. Take the time to create a plan for your move before you start to pack a single box; you'll be grateful later for the effort you put in now.

Your moving plan should include a list of all of the tasks you need to take care of up to, during, and after the move as well as a schedule of when these tasks will take place. This can be a lot of information, so you may want to work from a standard moving checklist and customize it to your needs; here's one example from Century 21. You can find hundreds of others by searching online or asking moving companies in your area.

The most important thing your moving plan will do for you is serve as a roadmap of what lies ahead. Knowing the tasks you'll be working on week by week--and day by day, as the date of your move draws closer--will let you schedule other events and responsibilities accordingly. You'll also be able to determine when to call in help (such as friends to lend a hand with packing) if needed. With a detailed and customized plan in hand, you can face your move with confidence.

Purge
The final part of the pre-move phase involves starting to get rid of the stuff you don't want or need to take with you. It's not always easy to let things go, and it can be even harder to do so in the emotional lead-up to a transition as big as a move. But consider looking at weeding as a way of saving money and stress, as well as a way of preparing for what's ahead.

The bottom line for any move is that the more stuff you have, the more you'll pay. It makes sense, then, to get rid of anything you don't truly want, need, or use; otherwise, you'll be paying more than you should, and, moreover, will need to deal with packing and unpacking stuff that's little more than dead weight.

As part of your moving plan, build in time to sort through your home room by room, culling anything you don't intend to take with you. You can then plan a garage sale, donate the stuff to charity, sell it online, or give it away to friends and family. When it comes time to pack, you can rest assured that what you're taking is worth the effort and the expense.

Next week: hints on how to survive the chaos of moving week.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Organize Your Day with Routines

Tip of the Week, April 2, 2006

If you've ever rushed out of the house in the morning five minutes late, only to realize you left something important behind, or found yourself scrambling to finish a seemingly endless list of tasks at work before leaving the office in the evening, you know that these transitional times can often be the most disorganized parts of the day. But they don't need to be: with a few simple routines, you can keep your mornings and evenings--not to mention the times between--more organized, less stressful, and more efficient. Here's how.

Decide what needs to be done
One of the biggest causes of schedule chaos, regardless of the time of day, is allowing unnecessary tasks to creep into the time we really need to be devoting to the essentials. Taking time in the morning to check out your favorite entertainment news site, for example, might get in the way of finishing breakfast, getting dressed, or making sure you have the items you'll need for the rest of the day.

Before creating any sort of routine, then, start by making a list of the tasks you generally must do at a specific point during the day. Your morning list might include showering, eating breakfast, selecting an outfit, taking care of grooming, preparing a lunch, and checking the traffic report, while your evening list might include finalizing your work schedule for the following day, clearing off your desk, shutting down your computer, and running errands on the way home. In addition to your necessities list, make a list of optional tasks: those you like to do when you have time.

Make trade-offs
Once you have a solid idea of what you need (and want) to do at each transitional time during the day, take a look at your lists and see if there are tasks that you could do more efficiently at other times. For example, if you never feel fully awake in the morning until you've had a few cups of coffee, trying to choose an outfit for the day while you're half asleep might take longer and be a more frustrating experience overall; this could be the perfect task to do the night before, when you're able to think more clearly and have a bit more time.

As with any other organizing project, the idea here is to slot your tasks into the places where they'll fit best. Certain tasks will always need to be done at specific times, of course--you can't eat breakfast the night before--but by scheduling tasks for the times when you'll be able to do them most efficiently, you'll save time and frustration.

Get your routines in place
With your revised task lists in hand, write out routines for each portion of the day in which you normally do the same tasks; for many of us, this means morning, late afternoon/early evening, and night. (You might also have a lunchtime routine or an after-school routine.) Your routines should not only cover the tasks you listed above, but should also describe the order in which these tasks need to happen. For example, your nighttime routine might look something like this:

  • Wash dinner dishes.
  • Set kitchen table for breakfast.
  • Prepare lunch for tomorrow; put lunch bag in fridge.
  • Gather papers and supplies for work; put them in briefcase.
  • Check weather for tomorrow.
  • Choose outfit based on weather forecast.
  • Get ready for bed.
  • Set alarm for morning.
  • Read, then go to sleep.

In practice, your routine will probably vary somewhat, but the idea here is to get a logical sequence of tasks down on paper, and to follow that sequence as best you can.

Make changes as needed
As you follow your routines throughout the week, you'll likely come across tasks you'd forgotten, or may find that you can take care of several tasks at the same time. Your routines should be flexible enough to accommodate these changes; forcing yourself to stick with a routine that doesn't work for you will ultimately be as inefficient as not following one at all. The important thing is to follow some sort of basic routine every day, regardless of whether it's exactly the same as what you started with.

There will always be days when unexpected tasks or occurrences throw us for a loop, when even the best plans won't be enough to prevent that mad dash out the door or a crazy and disorganized afternoon. But with some basic routines there to support you, you'll find that you're easily able to get back on track and to return to less stressful, more organized, more enjoyable days.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Avoiding Information Overload

Tip of the Week, March 26, 2006

The phrase "Too much information!" has come to be associated with transgressions such as co-workers telling too many details about their personal lives, for example, or airplane seatmates divulging more than you ever needed to know about themselves. But "Too much information!" also describes the state many of us find ourselves in during the course of an average week: we're bombarded by info on the radio, on TV, in newspapers and magazines, and online.

Information overload not only contributes to disorganization (piles of articles we plan to read, dozens of e-mail messages we're sure we'll get around to sooner or later), it also leaves us feeling harried and spent. A little information may be a dangerous thing, but too much of it can be even worse. Here are three ways of avoiding the overload.

Let yourself not know it all
Being aware of what's happening in the world can be a virtue, and absorbing information on topics that interest you can make life more pleasant, but trying to know everything all the time--from the local traffic and weather to the latest world affairs to what the newest fashions are to how to bake the perfect cake--can set your head spinning, and can leave you precious little time to do much of anything else.

The first step in avoiding information overload is giving yourself permission to keep up with only the topics that are truly useful or interesting to you. Not having an encyclopedic knowledge of a wide range of topics doesn't make you a less interesting, intelligent, or important person, and it can free you to learn more about subjects that actually do grab your attention. Pick a few topics that really engross you or are important to you, keep up with them, and maintain only a passing acquaintance with everything else.

Go on a media diet
Ignorance isn't really bliss, and it can cause us to be less involved in the world and our communities. That said, there can be benefits to taking a break from consuming as much information as you normally do.

If, for example, you're in the habit of watching both the morning and the evening news, reading a daily paper, and listening to news radio, try cutting out a few pieces for a week or so: listen to music in the morning, take a walk with a friend in the time you'd normally spend reading the paper, and limit yourself to 30 minutes of TV news in the evening. Chances are you'll still know what's going on in the world, and you'll open yourself up to experiences you don't normally have. After the week is up, you may just find that you don't need as much info intake as you used to in order to feel well informed.

Pare down your reading material
One of the biggest causes of clutter I see in my work with clients is reading material: newspapers, magazines, articles printed from the Internet, clippings, newsletters, and catalogs. All of these items have the potential to offer useful information, of course, but when they reach a critical mass, they far too often become little more than stressful stacks of disorganization that remind my clients of all the reading they feel they should be doing but just don't have time for.

Here's the hard truth: the majority of us will never be able to read absolutely all of the information that comes into our lives. Unless we were speed readers or had nothing else to do with our days, there's no way we could get through every paper, magazine, book, article, and blog we came across that seemed slightly interesting. In order to avoid overwhelm, the frustration of knowing we're not keeping up with our reading, and stacks of paper surrounding us, we need to pare down.

Is there a magazine you never seem to get the chance to read, though it comes in every month (or, worse yet, every week)? Try canceling it. You can probably find much of the content online, or can flip through the magazine in your library. Do you get a daily newspaper that winds up in a menacing stack by the middle of the week? Consider subscribing to the Saturday and Sunday editions only; they often feature a roundup of news from the previous week, and chances are you'll be able to get through them before the weekend is through.

By focusing on the quality of what you read rather than the quantity, you'll avoid clutter, have more time to focus on what you're truly interested in, and avoid the guilt and stress that can come with the sense of falling behind on your reading.

Information keeps our lives interesting, helps us stay in touch with the world, and lets us be lifelong learners. Striking a balance between not knowing enough and feeling like you always need to be taking more in, though, is crucial not only to living a more organized life, but also to finding more time for the people, activities, and things that truly matter to you.