Sunday, June 24, 2007

Organized Summer Travel by Plane

Tip of the Week, June 17, 2007

Last week, we looked at ways to get organized if you'll be traveling by car this summer. This week, we'll review some tips on keeping yourself (and your traveling companions) sane if you'll be taking to the friendly skies.

If you're traveling by plane
Air travel is often the speediest way to get where you're going, especially if you're traveling long-distance. Of course, it can also be the most stressful: if the check-in and security lines don't make you want to tear your hair out, the plane ride itself might, should you forget snacks or entertainment. The good news is that, with some simple planning and preparation, you can make air travel smoother and more enjoyable.

  • Brush up on the rules and regulations. By now, most of us are familiar with the TSA's 3-1-1 rule for toiletries packed in carry-on luggage, as well as the list of prohibited items. But do you know the rules on what's permissible in luggage and what isn't if you'll be traveling from a foreign country? Do you know your airline's policies on luggage? (How much can you carry on? Check in? Is there a weight limit per bag?) Familiarizing yourself with this information before you get to the airport can save you serious headaches.
  • Pack smart. Though this tip holds year-round, it's especially important during peak travel times. In short: don't pack what you're not fairly sure you'll need during your trip. Don't pack bulky or messy things you can easily get where you're going (such as beach towels if you'll be staying with friends or family). Pack clothes you can mix and match and wear more than once. Don't take with you anything you couldn't replace or would miss severely if it were lost (such as heirloom jewelry). In general, remember that everything you take with you is something you'll have to lug around and keep tabs on while you're on the go.
  • Bring snacks and entertainment. Unless you're traveling first class, you're highly unlikely to get a meal on board. Some airlines offer food for purchase, but to ensure that you have something that will fulfill you and that you'll actually want to eat, consider bringing your own snacks. (This is especially important if you're traveling with children.) And unless you're willing to take your chances with the in-flight movie and magazine, it's also wise to stash a book, a few magazines, a portable DVD player, or some travel games in your carry-on to keep yourself entertained.
  • Give yourself enough time at the airport. To avoid the blood-pressure-raising stress of watching the minutes tick by as you stand in a glacial security line and wonder if you'll make it to your gate on time, give yourself plenty of wiggle room in terms of when you arrive at the airport. Though you can save some time by taking public transportation (or having someone drop you off so you don't have to deal with parking), checking in online before you get to the airport, and taking carry-on bags only, it can be hard to gauge how long security will take. To be safe, it's smart to arrive at least 90 minutes beforehand if you're traveling domestically and at least two hours (though ideally closer to three) if you're traveling internationally. Better to have to kill time at the airport newsstand than to risk missing your flight.

You may not be able to control airport crowds or thunderstorm delays when traveling by plane this summer, but you can help keep yourself calm and collected by traveling prepared.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Organized Summer Travel by Car

Tip of the Week, June 10, 2007

The summer travel season is here. Over the next few months, millions of people will hit the road, the rails, and the skies to go on vacation, visit friends and family, and explore the world. If your summer plans call for travel, it's worth taking the time before departure to get yourself organized; doing so can save you both time and stress. For the next few weeks, we'll consider some quick tips to help you make the most of your travels. First up: smart travel by car.

If you're traveling by car
Car travel can be among the most flexible ways to go, as you get to determine your own schedule, stops, and destination. You also get the luxury of more flexibility in terms of how much luggage you bring and how neatly it needs to be packed. That said, it still pays to be prepared. These tips can help.

  • Make sure your car is road-ready. The last thing any car traveler wants is to run into trouble along the way. Take the time before you set out to make sure your vehicle is ready for the trip. Tom and Ray from NPR's Car Talk have created a list of summer driving tips aimed at helping you get ready for your voyage.
  • Bring en route entertainment. It's no secret that traveling by car isn't always thrilling. When packing, be sure to bring along enough entertainment to keep yourself and your passengers occupied during the trip. For kids, this might mean special toys they don't get to play with on a regular basis or some new books; for adults, consider recorded books, an MP3 player that works with your car stereo, and (for passengers) a portable DVD player for watching movies.
  • Don't overpack. Just because you can bring everything but the kitchen sink with you doesn't mean you should. Remember that the more you bring, the more crowded your car will be and the lower your gas mileage. Go about packing for car trips the same way you would for other trips: make a list of what you'll need based on your destination and what you'll do there. You might throw in a few extra outfits or pairs of shoes, or some sporting equipment you wouldn't normally be able to take on a plane, but don't cram your trunk full: you'll still want space for things you pick up along the way.
  • Prepare a car emergency kit. Finally, before you hit the road, get together a few emergency essentials that will get you out of sticky spots until you're able to get help should you run into trouble along the way. Your emergency kit should contain car maintenance basics like motor oil, a fix-a-flat kit, wiper fluid, and coolant. Also pack some bottled water and non-perishable, non-meltable snacks, a blanket, a basic first aid kit, and a few bungee cords. In addition to your kit, consider programming your auto club's emergency number into your cell phone so you can get in touch quickly if you run into a snag.

Take the time to get organized before your next car trip. You'll travel with more confidence and less stress.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Five "Icing on the Cake" Mini Organizing Projects

Tip of the Week, June 3, 2007

I strongly believe that the most important aspect of any organizational system is its usefulness: if the system doesn't do what you need it to do and isn't easy to use, it's not doing its job. The first thing to consider when doing any sort of organizing, then, isn't how a system looks but how it functions.

That said, once you have a functional system in place, adding some finishing touches that make it more attractive or more pleasant to use can help ensure that you stick with the system. I call these touches icing on the cake. Here are five such projects to get you started.

#1: Install drawer dividers
Though basic drawer dividers can often be part of a foundational orgaizing system (especially in the kitchen, where drawers can easily sink into chaos without things like silverware holders), they can also come into play once you have basic systems in place. In the kitchen, for example, you might use drawer dividers not only to keep forks with forks and spoons with spoons, but also to create separate compartments for baking supplies, spatulas, mini gadgets, and other tools that could otherwise end up as a mishmash in a drawer.

Drawer dividers can also bring an added touch of order to dresser drawers, allowing you to corral socks, undergarments, t-shirts, and other types of folded clothes. This can be especially handy if you're sharing your dresser space with a spouse or partner!

#2: Line your shelves
To the best of my knowledge, no organizing system has ever broken down because it included shelves that weren't covered in shelf paper or padded lining. Such liners are truly nice-to-haves, not necessities, but they really can bring a special touch to your kitchen or linen closet. If you're a fan of a particular scent, you might consider adding fragranced shelf liners to your linen closet, which will help give your sheets and towels a touch of the scent you enjoy. Alternately, you can use Contac paper to add color or patterns to your shelves.

In the kitchen, shelf liners can help protect glassware, china, and other fragile items. You can choose from vinyl, mesh, or foam liners, most of which are easy to measure, cut, and install.

#3: Standardize your file folders and labels
If you've ever lived without a functional filing system, you know that even getting some basic, usable files in place--regardless of what they look like or how beat-up the folders might be--can make a tremendous difference. Once you've lived with your filing system for a while, though, consider bringing it up to the next level by replacing worn folders and standardizing your labels. My preferred file folders are those with straight-cut tabs, which run the full length of the folder; third-cut folders, which have tabs on the left, center, and right, are also a good option. (If possible, steer clear of fifth-cut folders, whose tabs are often too small to label well.) For the files you use most often, consider investing in folders with double-strength tabs, which will stand up well to repeatedly being pulled out of and put back into drawers.

If you have neat handwriting, you might opt to write your labels; if not, or if you prefer the look of machine-made labels, pick up a simple label maker from your local office supply store. These little gadgets allow you to make labels one at a time, which makes it easy to add to and modify your filing system as you go along. If you're planning to make many labels at once, you might also consider using the label-making feature in your word processing program.

#4: Replace your basic bins, boxes, and containers
In most situations, a basic container will work just as well as something fancier to hold items and serve as part of an organizational system. But upgrading your containers--especially those that are out in the open--can bring a new sense of cohesiveness to your system and can up the visual appeal.

There's a nearly endless array of options as far as containers go, from the basic plastic ones you can find at Target to the colorful models Ikea stocks to the upscale bins, baskets, and boxes on the shelves of the Container Store, West Elm, Pottery Barn, and other stores. Fancy containers can get expensive fast, so it pays to shop around and splurge mainly on those that will be most visible (e.g., on top of your dresser or in your main entryway). You can also dress up basic containers by covering them with decorative paper or other interesting materials.

#5: Upgrade your storage furniture
Finally, look for ways to make small but impactful upgrades to the furniture you use for storage, such as shelves, stand-alone cabinets, and filing cabinets. With storage furniture, having something functional is, of course, better than having nothing at all, but there's also something to be said for having pieces that fit in with the overall look of your home or office and are enjoyable to use. So ditch that filing cabinet that always takes two or three good tugs to open, or that tips over when the top drawer is pulled out, and replace it with one that's sturdy and has smoothly functioning drawers. If you've been living with the same bookshelves since college, consider either refinishing them with a new paint or stain or passing them along and investing in a new set.

These five mini projects aren't crucial to any organizing system, but they can do a great deal to help you enjoy the systems you create, and to make it more pleasant to stick with them. Because in the end, your systems should be more than functional: they should also be fun.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Spread the Goodness Around With a Swap Meet

Tip of the Week, May 27, 2007

Recently, one of my clients was invited to a swap meet--a party at which invitees were asked to bring items they no longer wanted so that these things could potentially be swapped with other partygoers. This client and I had been working to sort and weed things that had been in boxes and drawers, so the timing was perfect: she knew that the things she was ready to let go of had a good chance of finding homes elsewhere.

When we met the following week, she reported that the party had been a big success, and that most of her give-aways were snatched up by others. If you're looking for a fun, creative, and interactive way of passing along things you no longer want, need, or use, consider holding your own swap meet. Here are some ideas to get you started.

Decide what to include
One fairly common type of swap party involves nothing but clothes, shoes, and accessories, often for women only or men only. If last week's tip inspired you to clean out your closet, this kind of swap might be for you. If you've been weeding other parts of the house as well, you might opt to expand the guidelines for what's included in the swap meet to encompass kitchen goods, small appliances, decorative items, linens, toys, and so on. If you're into a particular hobby or craft, consider a meet at which you could exchange supplies and tools specific to your area of interest.

Invite the right people
Once you've decided what type of swap meet to hold, it's time to draw up your guest list. Since the purpose of this party is to exchange things, be thoughtful and selective in terms of who you invite: if you're swapping clothes, consider either a small guest list of friends who more or less share the same taste, or a large guest list so that several different styles and sizes of clothing will likely be represented. Hobby-specific swaps should, of course, include those who share an interest in your hobby, while general swaps can be open to anyone interested in participating.

Set some ground rules
Before you send out invitations, draw up some ground rules about what acceptable swap materials are, how to handle disagreements over items, and what happens to things that don't find takers by the end of the party. For example, think about whether you'd like folks to bring only things that are in very good shape or whether it would be ok for them to bring items that required repair or could only be used for parts. Draw up some guidelines about how the swap will work: perhaps you'll pull numbers from a hat and each person will be able to choose one item at a time, or perhaps you'll hold a free-for-all. Also decide what to do with the leftovers: at the party my client went to, the hostess had arranged to drop any unclaimed items off at Goodwill the following day so that guests didn't have to take them home and they didn't end up cluttering the hostess' house.

Set up the space
When the day of the party arrives, you'll want to set up the space in which the swap portion of the festivities will take place. If you're holding a clothes swap, consider using some portable clothing racks for hanging items and table space for folded things; you might also want to designate one room as a changing room for guests who don't wish to try things on in front of the crowd.

For more general swaps, be sure to have plenty of clear surface areas for guests to display their wares on, and make sure anything on or near those surfaces that you don't want to be part of the swap is clearly labeled to that effect.

Consider having basic cardboard boxes, paper bags, or other containers available for guests to cart away their loot in. Have them label their container with their name to avoid confusion.

Stick to your "stuff exit strategy"
Finally, whether you're hosting a swap party or are simply a guest, make a pact with yourself not to accumulate more than you're giving away, and not to take anything that will likely become clutter as soon as you get it home. Before the party, you might spend some time making a list of items you need or would really like to have; if you find any of them at the meet, great! If not, be extremely selective about what you take. The idea of the party, after all, is to get items out of the hands of people who don't need, want, or use the things and into the hands of people who will.

The next time you find yourself faced with a growing stack of give-away items, consider coordinating a swap party. You'll get the chance to spend time with friends, have a bit of fun, and pass your unneeded stuff along to someone who will put it to good use.