Sunday, October 29, 2006

5 Organizing-Related Web Resources I Love

Tip of the Week, October 22, 2006

Search for "organizing" or any roughly similar term and you're likely to get hundreds--if not thousands--of results. While I can't claim to have waded through every organizing web site to find the best ones for you, I can promise that these five resources are ones I return to repeatedly, each for different reasons. Among them you're sure to find at least one that winds up on your Favorites list.

1.) Obviously.com's do-it-yourself guide to stopping junk mail, e-mail, and phone calls: http://www.obviously.com/junkmail/. This is one of the most comprehensive and useful junk mail abatement resources I've found. It offers tips for stopping junk mail both before and after it lands in your doorstep, as well as information on keeping spam (junk e-mail) and unwanted phone calls at bay. (One caveat: though the majority of the information on this page is up-to-date, a few of the links to other sites no longer work. Most links, though, will take you where they say they will.)

2.) Real Simple magazine's checklists and worksheets: http://tinyurl.com/urusd. Want to track birthdays, holiday gifts you've purchased, contact information for your babysitter, the differences between healthcare plans, family heirlooms, the contents of your pantry, your weekly cleaning chores, and anything else under the sun? Chances are good that Real Simple has a checklist or worksheet to help you do it. These sheets are well designed, downloadable, easy to use, and, best of all, absolutely free.

3.) Bankrate.com's list of What financial records to keep and how long to keep them: http://www.bankrate.com/brm/news/mtg/20000518h.asp. Bankrate.com--sometimes called the Consumer Reports of banking and finance--is an unbiased clearinghouse of information on a broad array of financial matters, from bank and loan reviews to articles and advice. Their list of what financial records (think tax returns, receipts, mortgage docs, and so on) to keep, how long to keep them, and why is a great starting point for figuring out what to keep in your files and what to toss. (Note: I always recommend running these recommendations by your CPA, tax preparer, or attorney to make sure they make sense for your particular document retention needs.)

4.) See Jane Work: http://www.seejanework.com/index.asp. It's true that even the loveliest products won't make you organized (you all know that organization takes time, effort, and good habits, too). That said, once you're on the road to having your stuff in order, a few well-made and fun-to-use gadgets can make the process a bit more enjoyable (and perhaps--perhaps!--even a bit more likely to succeed). See Jane Work offers some of the nicest office and paper organizing products on the market. Yes, you'll probably pay more for them than you would for the stuff down at Office Depot, and no, they're not magic bullets, but used wisely, they can help make staying organized less of a drag.

5.) Online Organizing's Expert Advice area: http://www.onlineorganizing.com/ExpertAdvice.asp. Looking for advice on how to delegate, prepare for houseguests, tip service providers appropriately, organize petcare supplies, get ready for a doctor's appointment, plan for disaster, or get the kids off to school on time? You'd look here first, of course, but Online Organizing's Expert Advice area is another excellent spot to track down tips and advice on pretty much any aspect of organizing you've ever thought of (and probably a few you haven't). You can also peek at others' before-and-after photos and share your own organizing advice.

Put these five resources on your Sites to Visit list; they each have something useful to offer that can help make getting and staying organized an easier, more efficient, and more enjoyable process.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

5 Tips for Less Stressful Holidays

Tip of the Week, October 15, 2006

Don't look now, but half of October is already behind us, which means that Thanksgiving and the December holidays will be in our laps before we know it. That little reminder is meant not to send you into a haze of early holiday prep tasks, but rather to encourage you to look for ways of making this year's celebrations more relaxing, more meaningful, and less overstuffed than in years past. Here are five things you can start thinking about and planning for now.

1.) Focus on quality over quantity. Instead of buying more gifts, how about more personalized, more thoughtful, and more interesting gifts? Better yet, why not give experiences--dinner at a favorite restaurant, a night at the theater, a manicure and pedicure--instead of stuff? The same holds for other things that are abundant this time of year, like food, parties, and trips. Decide what's truly meaningful and special, and don't sweat the rest.

2.) Budget, budget, budget--and I don't just mean money. Sure, it makes sense to decide how much you want to spend on gifts and then to stick to your financial guns. But budgeting can also apply to time, effort, and other limited resources. Is the fleeting pleasure of handing someone an exquisitely wrapped package really worth 30 minutes of your life? Will trying to keep up with Martha on the cookie decorating front really make you happy? Budget what you're able to give in terms of cash, effort, and time, and commit to honoring your plan.

3.) Keep yourself sane by calling in help. Even the overachievers among us (and, really, who are they?) can't do everything on their own. This holiday season, give yourself the gift of hiring a sitter for an evening so you can simply have some downtime, ordering parts (or all!) of your holiday meals from a caterer to cut down on your time in the kitchen, or hiring a bartender for your party so you can focus on enjoying yourself and spending time with your guests.

4.) Take stock of what you have. Before you bring home batches of holiday essentials--a roasting pan, wrapping paper, Christmas tree ornaments, menorah candles, and so on--take the time to find out what you already have. Yes, this might mean doing battle with the clutter lurking in the attic or the hall closet, but you might just find that a bit of searching unearths a holiday goldmine, leaving you with more cash to sock away or spend on a stress-buster like a massage or lunch with friends.

5.) Get organized! (You didn't think I'd skip this one, did you?) Organizing your space, stuff, and schedule helps you save time and money, keep stress in check, and enjoy yourself more year-round, but especially at the holidays. Late October and early November--before the true holiday rush begins--are great times to get in gear on those organizing projects you've been planning to do. You don't need to overhaul every system in the house; focus instead on those that will have the most impact in the coming months. Set up a mail processing center, de-clutter your kitchen cabinets, tackle the hall closet, or clean out the guest bedroom. The time and effort you put into organizing now will save you lots of both a few months down the line.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Gracefully Falling off the Organizing Wagon (and Getting Back on)

Tip of the Week, October 8, 2006

I got a phone call yesterday from a client I hadn't spoken with in a few months. She reported that there's a lot happening in her life, both professionally and personally, and that, as a result, she felt like she'd let some of her organizing habits slip.

She told me that the spaces in her house that she'd finally been able to clear as a result of our work together were now feeling cluttered again, and she was clearly frustrated by the sense that she was backsliding precariously. She said it seemed like she had forgotten the habits she'd worked so hard on developing in her work with me: keeping surfaces clear, putting things away when she was done with them, finishing projects she started, and so on. Overall, she said, it felt like her house was out of control.

We talked for a good while, and I reminded her that organizing is an ongoing process. I heard her frustration at the fact that she's been working on getting her home organized for several years, and I encouraged her to remember that it had taken many, many more years for her to become disorganized in the first place.

My client and I arranged a time to meet, and she said she was looking forward to creating an action plan to get back on track and re-establish the organizing habits that had slipped away from her over the past few months. She mentioned a few possible starting points for the work we'd do together and mentioned some areas that were especially frustrating. I confirmed the date and time of our appointment, then told her that I had some advice that might sound counterintuitive: I encouraged her not to do a single organizing task for the next week.

She laughed and said yes, that did sound like it went a bit against logic. But then I told her my reasoning: if you can spend the next week down in the frustration, anger, sadness, and other emotional muck that disorganization causes, you'll remember why you've worked so hard to get organized, will be able to see the benefits from a fresh perspective, and may just find it that much easier to get back on the organizing wagon.

She thought about this for a minute and said she could see the sense in that approach. She was also glad I didn't assign her any organizing homework to do prior to our meeting because it would give her the time and energy to focus on other areas of her life that were calling out for attention. Before we hung up, she breathed what sounded like a sigh of relief and said that, since she didn't have to worry about decluttering or project planning before we met, she might well take the time to paint a watercolor, an activity she loves but doesn't often get to do. I told her I'd look forward to seeing her painting next week.

If, like my client, you find yourself falling back into disorganization, don't beat yourself up and rush to get organized again in one fell swoop. Rather, take some time to wallow in the muck of disorder, to regroup, and to recommit to getting organized. Knowing why disorganization brings you down is a great way of finding the motivation you'll need to pull yourself back up.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Home Inventory 101

Tip of the Week, October 1, 2006

Off the top of your head, could you name the five most valuable items in your home, list the make and model of each of your appliances, and estimate the total worth of your belongings? If you're like most of us, this sort of information would take some thought and some research. As it happens, it's also the sort of information you might need to know if something ever happened to your home or if you needed to file an insurance claim.

Knock on wood, most of us will be spared disaster of any kind, but it doesn't hurt to be prepared. A simple home inventory can go a long way toward reducing headaches, being buried in excess insurance paperwork, or not being able to file a claim after a loss because you don't have the right documentation. As a bonus, an inventory is a great way to reacquaint yourself with your belongings.

Here are the basics of doing your own home inventory.

What is a home inventory?
A home inventory is just what the name suggests: an inventory of anything and everything of value in your home. You don't need a special book or program to do a home inventory. A list of your house's contents, receipts or valuation documents for significant purchases (such as electronics, jewelry, artwork, and appliances), and photos or videos of valuable items form the basis of any comprehensive home inventory.

Who should do one?
In short, almost everyone can benefit from a home inventory. Unless your living space contains only things you wouldn't mind losing in case of a disaster, it's worth taking the time to list your belongings.

Why do a home inventory in the first place?
Taking stock of the things you own, recording when and where you bought them (or received them) and how much they cost, and photographing unusual or expensive items (like one-of-a-kind works of art or high-end electronics) can, if nothing else, make filing an insurance claim worlds easier (relatively speaking) in the wake of a loss. (And on the subject of homeowner's/renter's insurance: if you don't have it, strongly consider getting it. It's generally inexpensive and is one of the best insurance investments you can make.)

A home inventory also puts you back in contact with the things you own--including some you may no longer want, need, or enjoy. As you make a list of your belongings, take the time to reconsider what you're holding onto. If your things don't benefit your life as you're living it now, let them go.

How do I go about doing a home inventory?
As with other organizing tasks, there's more than one method of doing this inventory. One of the easiest ways is to go room by room, beginning in the space that holds the items of greatest value. Start by listing each significant item in the room (you don't need to include every last gadget in the kitchen, for example; a simple "various kitchen gadgets" will generally suffice), including information on its make and model (if applicable). Snap a few overview pictures of the room, as well as more detailed shots of large, unique, or expensive items.

Follow this procedure in each room, then create one master list for the entire house. (A word processing program is an easy way to do this; many insurance companies will also be happy to provide you with pre-printed home inventory booklets if you ask.) Label your pictures (whether digital or prints) with information about what they depict, and gather receipts, purchase information, or valuation documents for significant items. If you don't have receipts, list the items' manufacturers, model numbers, purchase dates, purchase locations, and prices.

Gather your list and supporting documents together. If you've created your inventory on your computer, save it and any digital photos to a cd or memory stick and label the storage device. Finally, make a copy of your inventory-related documents for your files and then move the originals offsite, either to a safe deposit box or to the home of a trusted friend or relative. (A fireproof safe in your home is another option.) Your inventory won't do you much good if it, too, succumbs to a household disaster.

When should I do my inventory?
The short and obvious answer is now! A home inventory takes time and effort, to be sure, but the sooner you do it, the sooner you'll be well-prepared for whatever might happen. In addition, take a few minutes to update your home inventory anytime you buy or get rid of important items.

Here's hoping none of us will ever need to call our home inventory into use. However, making the effort to do a home inventory can pay off exponentially in terms of time, stress, and expense should you ever experience a household loss or emergency.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Labeling Spaces

Tip of the Week, September 24, 2006

The word "label" generally brings to mind images of things written on file folder tabs, stickers adhered to the outsides of boxes, and the like. But labels don't need to be literal; "virtual labels" can also be useful in defining where things go or what things are.

With that in mind, consider using virtual labels to define the spaces in your home or office. This practice will help you make better use of each space, stay more organized, and avoid having too much happening in any one area. Here's how to create and use space labels.

List your rooms or spaces
Before you decide what should happen where, make a list of each of the rooms or spaces in your home or office. This list should include not only distinct rooms (kitchen, living room, bedroom, etc.) but also areas within each room, such as nooks, closets, and mini-rooms like a pantry. If you're in an office, you might want to break the space down into distinctions that are logical to you: for example, the entryway, the space near the window, the main desk area, and so on.

As you make this list, note how much space each room or area offers. This information will be helpful when it comes time to decide how to label the areas.

Think about tasks, activities, and functions
Once you have a list of rooms and spaces, start a separate list of all the things you and your family (or staff) need to do throughout your house (or office). In addition to obvious tasks (such as sleeping, bathing, and eating or, in an office, using the computer and phone), include activities like reading, processing paperwork, and pursuing hobbies. For the time being, don't worry about where these activities currently take place or where it seems they should take place; focus instead on making your list as comprehensive as possible.

Start making some assignments
Now it's time to look at your two lists side by side and to start assigning activities to each room or space. Some of these assignments might be fairly straightforward--for example, bathing happens in the bathroom, food prep in the kitchen, and sleeping in the bedroom. Others will require a bit of creativity: based on how much space you need for home office-related tasks and how much space there is in each of your rooms, what's the best spot for a desk and filing system? You might find that you need an entire room, or perhaps that a large hallway closet, an unused chunk of space at the top of a stair landing, or a nook in the kitchen will do the job.

As you assign activities to each space, remember that many rooms or areas will do double (and sometimes triple or quadruple) duty: for example, you might use your kitchen not only for cooking and eating, but also for doing homework and paying bills. Just make sure that the space you choose for each activity is logical and sufficient.

Attach your labels
When you have a master list of rooms and the tasks and activities assigned to each one, make your labels official: create a new list that notes each room and what you've decided will happen there. For example, your living room might be labeled the TV watching, guest entertaining, board game playing, newspaper reading space.

Once you've "attached" a label to each room or space, go on a tour of your home or office and see whether the furniture and items within each space are appropriate to the activities that will be happening there. If there are things in your bedroom related to activities you've assigned to the living room, for example, you'll have some reorganization to do. In general, aim to store things close to where you'll use them so you know where to find them and can easily put them away when you're done with them.

As with any labels, you may decide to change your virtual room labels over time. Go for it! It's more important that each space have clear functions--and that each activity you want or need to do has a related space--than it is that you stick with your original plan. But regardless of what labels you choose for each space, adhering them and adhering to them can help you create a more organized, more efficient, more enjoyable home or office.