Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Plan Now for Less Stressful Holidays

Tip of the Week, November 16, 2008

I know, I know: Halloween was barely over before stores started putting out their Christmas decorations and cranking up the holiday tunes on the sound system. There's a Christmas tree lot springing up at the end of my street, though the spring-like weather here--not to mention the fact that it's still mid-November--makes the thought of hauling home an evergreen a hard one to come to grips with. Tough as it may be to believe, the end-of-year holidays are fast approaching, and for many of us, this means a combination of excitement, anticipation, and unrivaled stress.

This year, I challenge you to do what you can to banish stress from that list. To assist in that effort, I'll be devoting the next several weeks' Tips to ideas, practices, and strategies for squeezing as much fun and togetherness out of the holidays while steering clear of the frustrations and the excesses.

For starters, I recommend taking some time this week (when Christmas and Hanukkah are still a leisurely stroll away on the calendar) to do some general planning for the holiday celebrations ahead. I'm not talking guest lists and menus, but rather overall parameters for what you want from this holiday season. As always, I encourage you to aim for quality over quantity and substance over fluff. Here are some guidelines to keep in mind as you plan.

  • Focus on what matters most to you this season. Do you want the holidays to be time spent with friends and family? Do you prefer one large, elaborate celebration or several smaller, more casual ones? What are your favorite holiday traditions? Keep these holiday priorities in mind as you start to prepare for the weeks ahead.
  • Take finances into consideration. It's been a hard year economically for many, and you wouldn't be alone if you felt the urge to splurge after weeks or months of pinching pennies. Before you give in and go wild on the gifts, the parties, and the food, though, think about the hangover--in terms of finances, clutter, and your health--you'll be faced with come January. There are plenty of ways to celebrate that won't empty your wallet. Start thinking now about how you might keep your holidays within your budget without having to sacrifice any of the season's festivity.
  • Do your holiday prep a little at a time. If you've ever left all of your holiday planning for the last minute, you know that there's no better way to send your stress level skyrocketing. (Alas, I speak from experience here!) By organizing your seasonal tasks and spreading them out over the next several weeks, you'll give yourself plenty of time to get everything done without driving yourself nuts. Here are a few tasks to tackle this week:
    • Make holiday travel plans if you haven't already. (Even if you're not traveling by plane, a bit of advance planning is a good idea.)
    • Establish a holiday budget.
    • Start to talk with family members about how they can help with your holiday celebrations. Getting others involved takes some of the responsibility off your shoulders and lets others feel a sense of ownership and involvement.
    • If you'll be using professionals during the holidays (such a caterer or bartender for a Christmas party), choose and book them now.
Here's to the first week of your most enjoyable, least stressful holiday season to date!

Monday, November 17, 2008

"It's Not About the Stuff"

Tip of the Week, November 9, 2008

One of the Professional Organizers I respect most is Peter Walsh. (That's him in the center in the photo above, flanked by me and a few of my fellow PO's from San Francisco.) You may have seen Peter on Clean Sweep or the Oprah Winfrey Show, read one of his books, or heard him on the radio. If so, you know that he takes a straightforward, tough-love approach to the process of getting organized, and that he has an incredibly level-headed philosophy of what organizing is all about.

I've been lucky enough to hear Peter speak several times at Professional Organizing conferences over the past few years and, most recently, at the Herman Miller showroom in San Francisco, where he was helping to introduce a new line of office furniture. As always, I was impressed with his warm, informal speaking style, and with his message.

Peter is a firm believer in the idea that disorganization is not about the stuff. Clutter itself, he says, isn't the cause of disorganization; rather, it's a manifestation of something else that's off-kilter in our lives. The question he asks each of his clients--and that he shares with the audiences he speaks to--is, "What is your vision of the life you want to live?" That, for him, is the start of any organizatonal work, before sorting and weeding, before moving things around, and certainly before buying any new storage furniture or organizing gadgets.

In the midst of a flurry of organizing-related tasks--all of that sorting, weeding, putting like things together, and giving things new homes--it can be all too easy to forget why you're going through the organizing process in the first place, or what your end goal is (and it's almost always something deeper than just a cleared-out living room or a more orderly desk). Peter's belief is that you have to keep that goal front and center at all times in order to get organized in a truly meaningful and long-lasting way.

Before you tackle your next organizing project, regardless of how large or small it might be, take some time to think about the vision you have for the space you'll be working in, and for your life as a whole.

Will clearing your living room of clutter allow you to invite guests over, something you'd love to be able to do but are too embarrassed to even contemplate now? Are you inspired to reclaim your master bedroom because you want it to be a refuge from the rest of the world but it feels like anything but right now? Do you want to take control of your desk and filing system at work because they're so chaotic they feel like they're holding you back professionally?

Finding the deeper inspiration behind any organizing project will not only increase your motivation to stick with it when it gets difficult, but will also make the work more meaningful overall. Getting organized definitely involves dealing with your stuff, but as Peter Walsh says, it's not about the stuff. Remembering that will help set you up for long-term, lasting success.

(Find out more about Peter Walsh by visiting his website, Peter Walsh Design, at www.peterwalshdesign.com)

Sunday, November 09, 2008

How to Be a Good Houseguest

Tip of the Week, November 2, 2008

Last week's Tip offered pointers on how to get organized when you're hosting houseguests. This week, we'll take a look at what happens when the tables are turned and you're on the receiving end of someone else's hospitality. Here are some simple but effective ways to be a pleasant guest.

  • Keep your footprint small. In a hotel, where you have your own bedroom and bathroom (and maid service), you can spread out as much as you want without fear of getting in anyone's way. As a guest in someone else's home, though, it's important to keep yourself and your stuff a bit more contained, even if you do have the luxury of a room to yourself. If your sleeping area is part of a room that will serve other purposes (such as a living room), aim to keep your belongings out of the way during the day. Ask your host for a place to stash your luggage, and be mindful of not letting your belongings migrate too much around the room. If you're in a designated guest bedroom, you'll have a bit more flexibility in terms of spreading out, but treat the room as well as--or better than--your bedroom at home: make the bed each day, hang your towels when you're done with them, and keep the space at least somewhat tidy.
  • Bring a thank-you gift. Regardless of how long your stay is, it's always a good idea to bring your hosts a thank-you gift of some sort. As with any other type of gift, something you know matches their interests--rather than a randomly chosen token--is always a good bet, and it shows you put thought and effort into your selection. Non-perishable foods or beverages, especially those that might be particular to your area of the country, are good options; they're unlikely to wind up as clutter, and your hosts can consume them when they choose. A gift certificate to a local restaurant or movie theater is another good choice. Remember, your gift doesn't have to be large or expensive, just meaningful.
  • Offer to set your own agenda. Some hosts have the time, energy, and enthusiasm to map out an itinerary of things for their guests to see and do while they're in town. Others may not have the same flexibility, and may be grateful for guests who can take some initiative in setting their own schedules. If you'll be in someone's home for more than a day or two, do some research beforehand to find things you'd like to do in the local area, and then offer to strike out on your own for a few hours to give your hosts some downtime. If your hosts do accompany you, treat them to lunch, a museum admission, or an afternoon coffee break while you're out and about.
  • Send a note of sincere thanks. Finally, after your stay is over, take a few minutes to send your hosts a note thanking them for their hospitality. Handwrite your note on actual stationery, rather than opting for e-mail. Personalize your thanks by referring to something you enjoyed during your stay; if you have them, you might also consider including a photo or two from your time together.

Wherever your travels take you this holiday season and beyond, use these tips to be a more gracious houseguest. Your hosts will remember you--and your time in their home--fondly, and you'll make the visit more enjoyable for all involved.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Organizing for Houseguests

Tip of the Week, October 26, 2008

With the end-of-year holidays approaching, chances are good you'll find yourself hosting houseguests at some point in the months ahead. To make your time with your guests more enjoyable for both you and them, spend an hour organizing the supplies and space your visitors will need. Here are some ideas to get you started. (And if you're planning to visit others at some point during the season, tune in for next week's Tip, which will feature ways to be a good guest.)

  • Designate a guest room. This may not necessarily be a separate bedroom--in my one-bedroom flat, the living room becomes the guest room when I have visitors; your guest bedroom might normally be a home office, a den, or a room that serves another purpose. Whatever sort of guest room you're working with, aim to keep it relatively neat and clutter-free; you'll save yourself the hassle of having to rush around cleaning and clearing before visitors arrive. Before guests arrive, clean off a few surfaces--and, if possible, empty out a drawer or a bit of closet space--so your visitors have spots to stash their things.
  • Gather some guest supplies. If possible, always keep a spare set of sheets handy (or, if you have a separate guest bedroom, keep the bed there made up with clean linens), as well as one or two sets of guest towels. If you'd rather your visitors not use your toiletries and aren't sure they'll bring their own, stash some trial-size bottles for guests to use in a second bathroom (if you have one) or in a basket or bin.
  • Create a mini Information Booth. If you won't be shuttling your guests around while they're in town--or even if you will, but think they might like some regional information--creating an in-house visitors' center is a great way to keep them in the know. Gather together some maps, information on your area's public transit system, a weekly regional paper, and brochures on your favorite local attractions. Store it together in a folder or manila envelope your guests can take with them when they're out and about.
  • Share the ins and outs of the house. Are your door locks complicated or prone to sticking? Are there any tricks to using your shower, dishwasher, or stove? If there's any information guests should know about your home, your pets, emergency procedures, or other aspects of your house, write it on an information sheet to share with your visitors. Taking the time to type up this sheet once will save you from having to explain the same things over again each time you have different guests.
  • Make your schedule known. Help avoid misunderstandings or unrealistic expectations by sharing your schedule with your guests when they arrive. For example, if your guests are in town all week but you won't be taking time off of work, let them know that you'll be happy to spend time with them in the evenings but that they'll be on their own during the day. Also, be up front about which meals you'll cover and which your visitors should plan on their own; this will prevent hungry, expectant stares waiting for you when you get home at the end of a long day.
Hosting visitors will always take some effort and preparation, but with a bit of organizing beforehand, you should find that when the doorbell rings you can focus on enjoying the company of your guests (and the celebrations they're in town to join you for) rather than worrying about beds, meals, and schedules.