Monday, March 26, 2007

Organizing for Spring: the Office

Tip of the Week, March 18, 2007

Last week, you cleared out your bathroom and brought a sense of calm back to the space. This week, it's time to do the same with your office. Whether you work from home or off-site, and whether you have a cavernous space or a simple nook, these tips can help you decrease clutter and increase order.

  • Weed your office supply stash. Office supplies sometimes seem to breed when we're not looking: where did those dozens of pens come from, anyway? Now's a great time to go through the stuff taking up space in your drawers and on your desktop and get rid of what you don't need or use on a regular basis. If you're unwilling to toss or give away supplies, move the excess items to an out-of-the-way storage spot like a closet or a distant drawer until you need them.
  • Toss unread articles, magazines, and reports. Much of the paper that becomes clutter in offices is reading material. Unless your job requires you to read large amounts of paper-based info on a regular basis, you can safely recycle anything you haven't read or referred back to within a few months. If you do have a reading-heavy job, try scanning the information you need and getting rid of the originals, finding copies of the info online, or tearing out only the specific articles you need and tossing the rest.
  • Slim down your e-mail and paper Inboxes. Ah, the Inbox, where things so often go to languish. (Yes, even my Inboxes have papers and e-mails I haven't looked at in many moons.) Give both your paper and e-mail Inboxes an intensive spring cleaning: toss anything that's no longer relevant or important, file the stuff you actually need to keep, and act on the things that truly require your attention. While you're at it, you might want to schedule a regular time each month to clear out your Inboxes and keep the backlog at bay.
  • Reconsider your filing system. You probably have some sort of filing system set up in your office, but it may not necessarily work. Perhaps the categories are out-of-date, incomplete, or illogical. Maybe someone else set up the system for you without your input. The system might be so overwhelmingly full that it's hard to get anything out of it or put anything new in. Take some time this week to list your filing system frustrations, then to plan ways of dealing with them. Do you need to weed old files? Redo your categories? Buy new filing supplies to replace old, decrepit ones?
  • Set up a To Do/In Process area. One of the main reasons papers and other items wind up on flat surfaces (like a desktop) is because of the fear that if something is stored out of sight, we'll forget that we need to deal with it. Of course, the downside of this is that things piles on a surface quickly become clutter, and it's all too easy to lose things when they're at the bottom of a pile. To conquer the "out of sight, out of mind" problem, set up a To Do/In Process area. This is a spot where things you're currently working on, or will need to deal with in the coming days, can live until you need them. This area might be a step file on your desk (which holds a series of file folders upright, rather than horizontally) with folders in different categories (To Call, To Read, Waiting On, etc.); it might be a bulletin board or other wall-mounted display; it might be a binder with section tabs for different categories. Whatever type of system you choose, it's important that you get into the habit of using it regularly. When you write a task on your To Do list, make a note that the things you need for that task (contact information, a report, a price quote, etc.) are in your To Do area. When you're ready to tackle the task, you'll know where to find the supporting material.

Spend a few hours getting rid of the old and revamping existing systems in your office. Whether you're in the business of running a family, running a company, or something in between, an organized and de-cluttered office will set you up for efficiency and success.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Organizing for Spring: the Bathroom

Tip of the Week, March 11, 2007

Last week, we looked at some painless ways to get your kitchen in order for spring. This week, we turn our attention to an oft-overlooked room: the bathroom. Yes, it's possible to make this space feel calm and organized, even if it's shared by several people. Here are a few ideas on clearing out the WC.

  • Clean out the medicine cabinet. This is often the place in the bathroom where things go to die, or at least to lurk for what can feel like all eternity. Think of the mostly empty bottles of cough syrup, the scattered cotton balls, the toiletries you tried for a while but didn't like: they're all taking up valuable space. Take the time to weed out anything that's old, expired, potentially dangerous, or unusable. (For guidelines on safely disposing of prescription drugs, read this article on About.com.)
  • Take a look under the sink. What's hiding under the bathroom sink? Now's the perfect time to pull everything out and see what you have. Toss anything that's not usable or that you don't like, move anything that's migrated here from its proper home, and consider using some basic plastic bins to corral things that might otherwise spread out into various nooks and crannies.
  • Update your towels. Though you don't have to spring for entirely new sets of towels, consider replacing any that are worn, frayed, or no longer absorbent. (Old towels can make great cleaning rags--because, hey, why not update your rag collection, too!) If your bathroom is used by several people and towel ownership often gets called into question, you might consider assigning each housemate or family member a particular towel color; that way, there will be less arguing over who's responsible for the blue towels heaped on the floor.
  • Reconsider what gets stored in the bathroom. If you have plenty of storage space in the bathroom, it might not be an issue to store towels, cleaning supplies, and other non-essential items here. (Think about whether there's too much dampness in your bathroom to store things like sheets, though.) If you're pressed for space, though, use your bathroom storage only to stash the essentials: whatever toiletries, medications, and personal care products you use on a regular basis and a few extra rolls of toilet paper. Find homes for everything else in nearby locations like a hallway closet.
  • Use things up. Do you have partially empty bottles and jars of toiletries hanging around your bathroom? If so, make it a goal to use them up and get rid of them. While you're at it, hold off on buying new toiletries: make a deal with yourself that nothing new comes in until the old stuff goes out.
  • Consider dorm-style bathroom rules. In many college dorms, you bring your bathrobe, towels, and toiletries with you when you shower, then take them back to your room when you're done. If your bathroom seems busy enough that it could feasibly belong in a dorm, consider putting dorm-like rules in place: each person who uses the bathroom keeps her personal toiletries, towels, and robe in her own room, brings them to the bathroom as needed, and returns them to her room when she's done. This will save storage space and prevent clutter in the bathroom and can help avoid fights over whose shampoo is whose.

    Another option is to designate a specific storage space (a shelf, a corner of the tub, and so on) for each person, who will be responsible for that space's upkeep.

  • Clear off flat surfaces. Finally, make it a goal to decrease the amount of stuff stored on flat surfaces throughout the bathroom, such as sinks and vanities. The more stuff there is on a surface, the harder it is to keep clean. Give yourself a break and keep out only the things you really need, and perhaps a few decorative touches; everything else can be safely stored away.

This week, spend your extra hour of daylight on a few of these tasks; you'll end up with a brighter, cleaner, calmer bathroom. Next week, we'll discuss ways of bringing springtime order to your office.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Organizing for Spring: the Kitchen

Tip of the Week, March 4, 2007

Though it might not feel or look like spring where you are, longer days are ahead (Daylight Savings Time begins on Sunday, March 11 this year), and warmer, more pleasant ones won't be far behind. While you're waiting for the seasons to change, make the most of the time you'll be spending indoors by giving each area in your home or office an organizational tune-up. First up: the kitchen.

  • Clean out your fridge and freezer. Chances are there's at least something from the winter holidays still lurking somewhere in the back of your fridge or freezer. Now's the perfect time to excavate it, and to get rid of anything else that's old, out-of-date, or unappealing in the process.
  • Weed out your pantry. The same process works for canned goods and non-perishables as well: sort through everything you have, get rid of anything that's past its prime, donate anything still usable that you don't need to a food pantry or soup kitchen, and put the stuff you do want back into your cupboards in a way that'll make it easy to get at when you need it.
  • Replace tired linens and sponges. If your dishtowels, tablecloths, and napkins are ready to give up the ghost, toss them or cut them up for rags, then replace them. (Of course, if they're still good, a simple run through the washing machine--and, if you're ambitious, a few minutes with the iron--are all they need.) Now's a good time to replace worn-out sponges, too.
  • Look for ways to increase your storage efficiency. If there are items you find you're always using that are stored in hard-to-reach spots (such as high or low cabinets or storage across the kitchen from where you do your food prep), move them. As a general rule, devote the "valuable real estate" in your kitchen (that is, the accessible cabinets and drawers near your stove, prep counters, and sink) to the things you use most often, and relocate the other stuff to more out-of-the-way spots.
  • While you're at it, reconsider what you're storing. While you're moving things around to make your kitchen more user-friendly, take a long, hard look at some of your lesser-used items and reconsider whether they deserve storage space at all. If you don't often use them and are unlikely to, bid them goodbye.
  • Focus on problem areas. Think of the most frustrating area in your kitchen--perhaps the catch-all junk drawer, the countertop near the doorway, the cabinet that holds your pots and pans, or the area under the sink. Take a look at the cause of that frustration: is there no rhyme or reason to what gets stored in this spot? Do things end up here because they have nowhere else to go? Is it hard to get out or put away stuff? Finally, brainstorm ways you might ease some of these frustrations. Could you mount a mail and message center on the wall near the door to keep the countertop clean? Would a round of purging, followed by the installation of some drawer dividers, help keep your junk drawer manageable? Would a hanging pot rack or an in-cabinet pot-and-lid organizer address the tumbling pan issue? Aim to make one substantial change to your kitchen this season to clear out the frustration of what's not working.

While you wait for spring's arrival, huddle up inside and spend some time getting a jump start on the season. Next week, we'll turn our attention to spring organizing for the bathroom.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Organized Shopping

Tip of the Week, February 25, 2007

If you've never stood in the middle of a grocery store aisle desperately trying to remember what, exactly, you intended to buy, never returned from a warehouse store with 24 rolls of paper towels only to discover a stash of 10 on the shelves in the garage, and never found yourself at a hardware store unsure of which of the dozens of kinds of screws you need to complete the project you've started at home--well, you've got a thing or two to teach me!

If you're like most of us, though, your shopping routines could benefit from a few simple organizing tweaks. The following tips are aimed at helping you save time, money, and frustration regardless of what you're in the market for.

Tip #1: Know before you go
Buying things you don't need, that won't do what you need them to do, or that will be more trouble than they're worth is a surefire way to make shopping (and its aftermath) a frustrating experience. If you've ever stood before a wall of vacuum cleaner bags and tried to remember which size your machine takes, you know what I mean.

Save yourself the time, the stress, and the cash by knowing what you need before you shop. Often, this involves making a list (see below for more details); it can also involve taking measurements; writing down the name, size, or part number of a product; and doing an inventory of what you already have on hand. Armed with this info, you'll be prepared to make smart, worthwhile purchases.

Tip #2: Make a list
Even if your memory is good, chances are you'll forget at least something you need if you arrive in a store without a list. Plus, why tax your brain? Making a list takes relatively little time and effort, and it can save you a good deal of both in the end.

For shopping you do regularly (think groceries), keep a running list in a convenient spot, such as on the front of your fridge or tacked to the inside of a cabinet door. When you run out of something, jot it down. If you buy many of the same things on a regular basis, you might consider making a master list, which you can photocopy weekly (or however often you need it); throughout the week, check off the things you need, then take the list to the store with you when you're ready to shop.

For less frequent shopping, make sure your list includes the details you gleaned by following Tip #1 above (part numbers, amounts, measurements, etc.).

Tip #3: Shop smart
We all know that grocery shopping on an empty stomach (or, worse yet, with hungry kids in tow) very often means coming home with stuff we didn't actually want or need. The same holds true for other kinds of shopping: for example, it's a bad idea to shop for clothes if you've just had an "I-have-nothing-to-wear!" day, as you'll be more likely to buy things you may already have (and that might be lurking in the laundry basket) or that you won't like once you get them home.

Before you shop, have a snack, take a realistic look at your closet, think twice about the long-term usefulness of the fancy tool you've had your eye on--in short, do whatever it is you need to do to help ensure that what you plunk down cash for is what you actually need. Also consider setting a time limit for yourself in each store so you'll stay focused and will be less likely to heed the siren song of unnecessary stuff.

Tip #4: Practice one in, one out
Finally, once you get your loot home, practice One In, One Out: for every item you bring in, get rid of one item you already have. If you've shopped for groceries, you may already have done this beforehand: emptying a jar of mayo and buying a replacement at the store is an example of One In, One Out (or One Out, One In), as is tossing a wilted head of lettuce before you bring a new one home.

For other items, thinking of new stuff as replacements for--rather than additions to--what you already have can help keep clutter at bay. If you've bought a new pair of black pants, for example, put an old pair in your Giveaways bag. This will also help keep you aware of what you have, what you need, and, moreover, what you don't need.

Put these four tips to use the next time you head out to the store. You'll save time, money, and frustration, and may even begin to enjoy shopping.