Sunday, July 30, 2006

Organizing Books

Tip of the Week, July 16 and 23, 2006

Papers and memorabilia tend to be among the hardest things to get and keep organized, and books are often considered both of those things. Even if you don't have emotional attachments to your books, chances are you've got quite a few of them, and keeping them in order probably takes some doing.

Here are four ways to keep your books under control.

Think twice before buying
The allure of a great bookstore can be hard to resist, and since more books hit the shelves all the time, there's always something new to see. As with other things, though, books you buy on a whim can quickly become clutter. Whenever possible, aim to buy only books you're truly interested in reading, or those you'll use for reference. Try to resist anything that calls to you only because it's on sale or that you're likely to read only once and never go back to.

Remember that you can always borrow books from your local library. You might also consider setting up a book lending program with friends, family members, and trusted neighbors so you can each enjoy a variety of books without having to stuff your shelves or break the bank.

Designate space for your books
As with any objects, books are more likely to remain organized, and to avoid becoming clutter, if they have dedicated storage spots. Whether you opt for bookshelves, cabinets, wall shelves, a table, or even neat stacks, you'll know where to find your books when you're ready to enjoy them and where to return them when you're done.

Do a periodic sort and weed
For many of us, books are one of the hardest things to get rid of. As an avid reader and a lifelong book lover, I understand the desire to hold on to volumes I've read and enjoyed, as well as those still on my To Read list. But since there are always new books coming into my life, a few times a year I try to weed out enough to keep my bookshelves from overflowing. As with other things, I keep what I truly love, need, and use, and let the others go.

Give your old books new homes
It's often easier to bid your books adieu if you know they'll be read and appreciated by someone else, rather than moldering on a shelf or in a box somewhere. You might want to check with local schools, libraries, shelters, hospitals, and houses of worship to see if they're interested in the books you're giving away. Here are three additional options to consider:

Getting your books organized is a great way to keep them in good condition, make them easily accessible, and ensure that they'll be around for many more years of enjoyment. And passing along books you no longer need helps others partake in the joy of reading while you benefit from less clutter.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Rather than Organizing, Why Not...?

Tip of the Week, July 9, 2006

Getting and staying organized are great habits, and they can do a lot to make life easier, less stressful, and more efficient. As with all good habits, though, sometimes the best thing you can do is take a break from them and cut yourself a little slack. And what better time to do just that than mid-summer?

This week, consider devoting the time you might otherwise use for organizing tasks (think sorting mail, attacking piles, categorizing the contents of a closet) to one of the tasks below.

Look through a photo album
When's the last time you actually pulled a photo album off the shelf and sat down to browse through it? For a true kick, grab a friend or close family member and choose an album from way back, then have a laugh at that ill-advised perm you sported many summers ago or the tacky t-shirts your dad used to wear.

Have an impromptu cookout
Though there's something to be said for pre-planned get-togethers with family, friends, and neighbors, there can be just as much joy (and often less stress) in an informal, unplanned meal outside. Fire up the grill, ask everyone to bring something to share (don't worry if themes or cuisines collide--this is one case in which potato salad and Chinese noodles can happily coexist), and simply enjoy the fleeting pleasure of being able to eat outside with people whose company you enjoy.

Find a festival
Regardless of where you live, chances are there's some sort of outdoor activity happening, whether a fair, a festival, an art show, an outdoor play, or an alfresco movie screening. Pick something you've always intended to do or see but never have, and make it a priority to go.

Enjoy a guilty pleasure
For an hour or two, make a vow to yourself that you won't check e-mail, answer the phone, or attack any chores. Instead, revel in whatever pleasure you secretly love but rarely get to enjoy, whether it's reading a trashy novel, watching a so-bad-it's-good movie, or creating (and devouring) a sundae with every sweet thing you can find in the house.

Do nothing at all
Sure, complete and total relaxation is more easily sought after than achieved, and it's rare that any of us truly gets to do nothing at all for a good stretch of time. But even short chunks of your favorite kind of nothingness--snoozing in a hammock, sitting and watching butterflies in your garden, floating in a pool--can be rejuvenating and can keep the rest of the world at bay, at least for a while.

There are fifty-one other weeks in the year in which you can continue to hone your organizational good habits. This week, though, a respite from sorting and filing and weeding is just what the professional ordered.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Organizing on the Road

Tip of the Week, July 2, 2006

Cars are often one of the final frontiers as far as organizing is concerned: even if our homes and offices are in order, free of clutter, and stocked with the things we need, our autos may not be. This summer, whether you're planning a road trip that'll keep you in your car for hours and hours at a time or will simply be tooling around town, take the time to get your vehicle organized. Here's how.

Clean up and clean out
If your glove box is overflowing with unknowns, there are mystery items rolling around under your seats, or your trunk stores items you can't recall, it's time for some weeding. Carrying around excess stuff in your vehicle can be not only unsightly and annoying, but also potentially dangerous; in addition, items that add excess weight can reduce gas mileage, which, in this age of $3+ gallons, can literally cost you.

Set aside 15 or 20 minutes to sort through the stuff occupying space in your car. Toss or recycle anything that's clearly garbage (empty water bottles, outdated maps, food wrappers), return to its rightful home anything that no longer needs to ride around with you, and stash whatever you do want to keep on hand neatly (in the glove box, for example, or in a bin in the back seat). While you're weeding, you may also want to treat your car to a good cleaning, either with help from a professional car wash or in your own driveway.

Stock the necessities
Once you've taken out the stuff you don't need, it's time to make sure you have what you do need. Though your requirements will vary based on how you use your car, who you transport, and what region you live in, here are some basics that always make sense:

  • Car registration, proof of insurance, and contact information for your insurance company and/or auto club
  • Basic first-aid kit
  • Flashlight
  • Bungee cord
  • Notepad and pen
  • Local maps
  • Non-perishable, non-meltable snacks (such as unfrosted energy bars and packaged dried fruits)
  • Wet wipes

Make sure whatever you carry with you is stashed somewhere you'll easily be able to find it when you need it: the glove box, a bin in the back seat, and a kit in the trunk are a few options.

Maintain, maintain, maintain
As with any kind of organization, getting your car in order is only half the effort; the real challenge is often making sure it stays that way. Rather than letting things pile up week after week, take the time to perform some simple organizing maintenance tasks on a regular basis. Each time you fill up at the gas station, for example, toss any trash that's collected. When you return home after being out and about, bring into the house anything that belongs there, rather than in the car. As soon as you use or run out of a supply in your car, make a note to replace it.

Getting your car in order can be one of the simplest but most rewarding organizing projects you can do, especially if you spend a lot of time on the road. Invest an hour or so to doing the initial weeding, cleaning, and stocking, and a few minutes here and there for maintenance, and you'll have an auto that's clean, clear, and ready to take you wherever you need to go.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Overcoming Procrastination on Unexciting Projects

Tip of the Week, June 25, 2006

The tasks we procrastinate on are rarely those that are simple, straightforward, easy, or interesting. What we tend to put off are the things that are complex, difficult, and less than exciting. In this week's tip, the second in an occasional series (read the first part here), we'll take a look at ways of overcoming procrastination on projects that are hardly a thrill a minute but still need our time, attention, and effort.

Change your environment
When you've got bills to pay, a checkbook to balance, or forms to fill out, chances are the prospect of sitting down at your desk or kitchen table to deal with them is not an exciting one. When you find yourself avoiding tasks you need to do because you're bored by both the tasks themselves and the spot in which you do them, it's time to change your environment.

Try packing up the supplies you need and taking them somewhere--anywhere!--new and different: the back patio, the neighborhood coffee shop, the library, or any other place that's different enough from your regular spot to make the experience seem fresher than it would otherwise. The change of scenery may not make your tasks fun, but it can help you do them more efficiently.

Enlist help
I have several clients who bring me in to help them work on projects that are too dry or boring to tackle alone: sorting through paperwork, rearranging closets, updating files, and so on. Whether I'm providing hands-on help or am simply serving as a coach and motivator, the work tends to go more quickly, as we can bounce ideas off each other, chat about other topics as we sort, and get over the boredom hurdles that almost always crop up.

Try bringing in a fresh pair of eyes and hands the next time you're faced with an important task that's too unappealing to tackle alone. Depending on the work you need to do, you might enlist a friend or neighbor, a child, a partner, or an outside professional. Just make sure your helper is willing to keep you on track and lend assistance if you need it, and has the stamina to stick with you until you're done with the task at hand.

Set--and stick to--a time limit
Many tasks can be unappealing in general, but they tend to become even more so if they seem to spread out endlessly in front of you. Who wants to spend a huge, undefined chunk of time cleaning out the fridge or folding clothes?

If tasks without end are particularly unbearable, it logically follows that they can be made slightly less painful if you attach time limits to them. Hate exercise but know it's a key part of staying healthy? Promise yourself you only need to commit to a 30-minute walk a few times a week, and let yourself off the hook once the half-hour is up. Want to tidy up the house without spending all day on it? Set a kitchen timer for 10 or 20 minutes and challenge yourself to do as much as you can before the buzzer goes off. Whatever time limits you set, and however you choose to use them, make sure they're realistic; tiny chunks of time won't let you make much progress on anything, and huge chunks will wear you out. Find a balance and stick to it.

Bribe yourself
When all else fails, or if the prospect of a reward is simply a powerful motivator for you, try bribing yourself into doing the unexciting tasks you're faced with. You can either build your prize into the task itself--say, listening to a new book on tape only while you're cleaning the house--or use it as motivation to complete the task (for example, promising yourself an hour of completely free time once you've finished dealing with the stack of filing on your desk).

Unless you have unusually strong willpower, avoid rewarding yourself before you do the work you need to do. Chances are good you'll enjoy the reward but may well not get to the actual task (after all, what's the impetus?). Be good to yourself, but also respect the intentions behind setting up a reward system in the first place.

Use these techniques the next time you're faced with unexciting tasks you need to do and might be inclined to put off. You may not realize a newfound love of bill paying or dusting, but you'll be able to check them off your to do list and move on to things you actually want to be doing.