Friday, December 30, 2011

Make 2012 Your Year to Get Organized

Now that we've made it through the December hustle and bustle, we turn our sights to the New Year ahead. That's right, 2012 will be here before we know it - Sunday, in case you've lost track. The year's end is a great time to reflect on the year past and look forward to what lies ahead. For many people, this means New Year's resolutions...when we take stock of our lives and resolve to make changes to improve upon them. They can be big or small, but what gets us professional organizers excited is that so many resolutions can and do involve organizing! January is Get Organized (GO) month and we're ready and waiting to help. Here are some fun examples to give you some resolution inspiration:
  • This winter, I resolve to park my car in my perfectly good, but over-stuffed garage! As long as it's not frigid, set your sights on a garage clean out and you can have a place to park in no time. Call ahead and schedule a charity donation pick up so you'll have a firm deadline.
  • This year, I resolve to ditch my decades-old wardrobe! Give yourself the gift of a closet makeover. Donate or consign what you don't wear and spruce up your space with matching hangers and labeled bins or go "big" and re-do your closet system with the help of a professional.
  • This year, I resolve to give myself more free-time to spend with family, friends, or just myself. Check out this great article revealing signs that you're over-booked. Identify areas of your life that could use some simplifying and organizing and start crossing things off your calendar or to-do list for once!
  • This year, I resolve to cook healthy meals for my family! Start with a fridge, pantry and cupboard decluttering, then work on a simple meal planning strategy. This could be as easy as listing out 3-4 meals for the week, then creating a shopping list for those meals. I do this all on the notepad of my smart phone. If you build in left-overs, you'll have quick, easy lunches too!
Bottom Line: There are endless opportunities to weave organizing into your New Year's plans. Think about what could be easier in your day to day routine and GO for it. So what's on your list this year?

Friday, December 16, 2011

Holiday Home Stretch

If you've been following along with our blog and newsletter, you know we've been talking lists and tips, savvy shopping and party preparation to help you cross those holiday tasks off your list. But now that we're in the holiday home stretch, we wanted to remind everyone (including ourselves) that while this week might be crunch time to finish up your holiday preparation, it's also now or never to sit back and enjoy the holiday anticipation.

If you're like me and you enjoy the lights, the music and the holiday cards from friends and family, don't forget to take it all in. Before we know it, it will be January and we'll all be on to the next thing. We managed to get a tree up in our house last weekend and one of my favorite ways to wind down in the evenings is to sit on the couch and enjoy the warm glow and wonderful scent of our tree...preferably with a glass of wine. So take a moment to remember your favorite holiday pleasures and make time to get your fill over the next couple weeks. If that means scribbling out some to-do items that just aren't going to get done, I give you absolute permission to do so.

For full disclosure, I'll tell you what won't be getting done on my list. My updates to the family recipe book (a project I did a few years ago using, while in progress, won't make it under the tree. I'll just send them out as soon as I can reasonably get them done. Our holiday cards will also be festively "late" - hopefully arriving before Christmas weekend, though I am blaming Shutterfly who over-promised and under-delivered on the delivery timeline. Oh well!

More importantly, what will be happening...we will be spending Saturday night with friends who live in the next state and we don't get to see as often as we'd like. We will be helping my mother put up her tree this weekend so she can host us all for Christmas in style. We will continue to enjoy our tree, eagerly open holiday cards from friends and family, and show our 6 month old daughter the sights and sounds of the season.

Bottom Line: While you're waiting in the line at the Post Office, try not to tap your foot or look at your watch with steam coming out of your's not a good look. Instead, take a moment to send a message to a long lost friend or simply enjoy watching the world around you. Most of the time, it all goes by too fast!

Friday, December 9, 2011

Gifts That Keep on Giving

It's that time of year - time to kick your holiday shopping into high gear. This year, why not give friends and family gifts that help them get and stay organized?! They're the gifts that keep on giving! Here are some fun ideas for different personalities on your list:

For the Chef...

Spice Stack Organizer

Tubby Countertop Organizer

For the Ladies...

Jewelry Stand

Hair Accessories Organizer

For the Guys...

Golf Rack Organizer

Remote Control Caddy

For Techies and Travelers...

Plug-in Charging Shelf

Cord Wraps

GRID-IT Gadget Case

For Families or Grandparents...

Childrens Art Cabinets

For anyone and everyone...

Key and Letter Holder

Label Maker

And of course, there's always the gift of getting organized. Order your Organizing Boston gift certificate today!

Friday, December 2, 2011

Closet Confessions

About a month ago, I wrote about practicing what I preach by giving my closet the old backwards hanger test. One month later, it's time to do the initial review to see which clothes I actually wore in the last month.

So here are the results. Out of 78 total hanging items, I wore 25 of them, which leaves 53 backwards hangers remaining. Not too surprising. We all have our favorites and tend to wear the same things over and over.

I said I would do an initial review and weed out what really needed to go, still leaving a "maybe" group on backwards hangers until the end of the year for a final judgment. I took out 6 items for donation and 2 that should have been put away with the summer clothes. I was proud of myself - a few of those 6 items were things that I'd let hang around for waaaay too long because they were good quality or a seemingly classic/useful item, but the reality was, I was not wearing them, and I knew it. So I took the plunge and evicted them from my closet. Even better, I took them to a donation place immediately, along with a few other items I'd already accumulated. It felt great to create some space and finally say good-bye to items I knew I shouldn't be keeping. So instead of a bag of clothing I don't wear, I now have a donation receipt for tax time.

If you're keeping up with the math, that leaves 45 backwards hangers or clothing items on probation to either wear or evict at the end of the month. To be fair, that number includes the majority of my sweaters, even favorite ones, because the weather has been so unseasonably warm around here. So I will definitely give them a chance.

One bonus of this process is that it tends to open your eyes to what you own and make you work a little harder to expand beyond your favorites by making an effort to wear things you like but don't tend to reach for. That will be part of my challenge this month. But at the end of the month, the hangers won't lie. Of course I'll be sure to stay accountable and report back on my progress.

While I'm confessing, I also have 3 bags of better quality clothes I'd like to consign that are currently cluttering my car. The consignment place I've used before closed, so I'm giving myself one week to make some calls and set up an appointment. If I can't get my act together or find a taker, I will go ahead and donate them too. They've already been out of my closet for at least a month and I'm not missing them, so it would be silly to move them back in.

Bottom Line: Setting deadlines and holding yourself accountable to someone (even yourself) is a great way to actually make progress when it comes to clearing clutter and finishing unfinished projects. Stay tuned for more updates!

Friday, November 18, 2011

Prevent Holiday Clutter with a Simple Solution

As we all get ready for the holidays and particularly holiday gift-giving, it's a great time to remind ourselves of one of the cardinal rules of staying organized: the one-in-one-out rule. It's as simple as it sounds - if you bring something new into your space, you must send something old on it's way. Most of us don't live with lots of extra storage space - empty drawers, shelves or closets. So the one-in-one-out rule is really the only way to keep our homes from becoming over-stuffed.
The problem is, it's easier said than done for most of us. The reasons for this are simple - often, we just don't take the time to take the step of finding something to donate. We may not even think about it, or we may think, "I'll do it later." And we all know how that ends. Or we may not realize the true impact of bringing new things into our home one at a time.

Is it okay to save up your donations for a couple time a year - making it more like 25 things in-25 things out? That depends. The answer might be yes if:
  • you have the room to take in the new things that inevitably make their way in while only purging a couple times a year and
  • you make sure to schedule some time to sort and purge your belonging a couple times a year.
Another option is to make a habit of doing a monthly donation drop off. You can keep a box or bag handy to deposit your donations throughout the month and then do one drop off a month at a local charity. This is a great way to make it possible to follow the one-in-one-out rule. Just be sure to schedule those regular drop offs so your donation box doesn't become part of the clutter!

The holidays are a great time to teach kids about the one-in-one-out rule. Kids often get many new toys and clothes at the holidays, which they are usually very excited about. Capture this excitement and teach kids about giving to less fortunate children by having them choose several things to donate before the new presents arrive. Remember, gently used or even un-used items are best for donation.

Whether you're a kid or a grown up kid with some new toys, don't let too much time pass before you find new homes for your new things. Finding an equal number of items to donate is the easiest way to make this happen. Last but not least, don't forget to take care of returns and exchanges as soon as possible so they don't linger and become clutter in your home and on your to-do list.

Bottom Line: Sticking to the one-in-one-out rule is an easy way to keep the fun of new holiday things from creating clutter, which you then have to resolve to get rid of in the new year!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Get Ahead of the Holidays

Feeling overwhelmed this time of year? You're not alone. As much as the holiday season should be about joy and celebration, family and friends, many people find that the traditions and festivities add up to stress and too much to do. If you're determined to make this year different and actually enjoy the season like you used to, we've got some tips to help you make sure the holiday to-do's don't get the best of you! 

Give Yourself Some TLC
  • Start with a KISS - Keep It Simple, Santa. This should be your over-arching theme for the season. As a dietitian, I tell my clients not to fill up at holiday celebrations with boring, everyday foods, but rather to save room to enjoy the seasonal foods they really love. The same should apply to holiday traditions and festivities - make time for those that are most important and give you the most joy and skip the rest.
  • Remember to take care of yourself. I recently read that we are much more genuinely generous if we remember to give back to ourselves in addition to giving to others. So get your rest, make time for activities that keep you sane (yoga, anyone?), and get yourself a little gift while you're at it - you've been nice, right?
Be Prepared
  • Create a holiday planner. Use a basic multi-subject notebook. Create sections for gift lists, holiday card lists, menu planning, decorating, coupons, etc. Bring it with you everywhere, so you can always reference it or add to it.
  • If you're tech-savvy, go digital with your lists and planning. Rest-assured, there's an app for that.
  • Do a wardrobe check. Make sure you have the perfect party outfit. Stock up on a few key pieces that can be mixed and matched. Nothing is worse than a frantic, last-minute mall trip to find something to wear!
  • Hire a cleaner. Arrange to have a cleaner come a few days before your guests. You’ll only have to worry about doing some last minute tidying.
Shop Smart
  • Make a list and check it twice!
  • Start shopping early. Many retailers are already offering holiday discounts and looking to move goods off their shelves.
  • Call ahead if you're looking for a specific item to avoid wasted trips to the mall.
  • Shop Online. Online retailers allow you to shop around and find the best prices.
  • Shop locally for unique gifts. You will get personalized service without the hassle of long lines and messy stores.
  • If you have to go to the mall…try to shop on Monday and Tuesday mornings when stores are less crowded.
Simple Giving
  • Buy in bulk. If you are attending several holiday parties, or have a long list of people to buy for, consider picking up a case of wine or chocolates. This way you’ll always have something handy for that last-minute invitation or forgotten gift.
  • Color-code your wrapping paper. Dedicate a specific color or print to each family member. This will avoid confusion.
  • Secret Snowman. If you have a large family, suggest picking names from a hat, so that each person only has to buy one gift.
Hassle-free Entertaining
  • Plan your holiday menu ahead of time. Try to find recipes that can be made in advance and just re-heated. This will allow more time to spend enjoying the party instead of in the kitchen.
  • Create a theme and get guests involved. Ask each guest to bring a bottle of their favorite wine and cheese. You’ll only need to provide the crackers and fruit.
  • Go potluck!
Bottom Line: While there are endless opportunities to create, bake, shop, and celebrate, just remember that you don't have to do it all! Decide what matters most to you and your family and take time to stop and smell the 'roses.'

Friday, November 4, 2011

Practicing What I Preach

This morning I had a good reminder that sometimes even professional organizers need to remember to practice what they preach. None of us are immune to needing simple organizing solutions to keep our lives and our spaces under control.
I was re-reading one of our previous newsletters, in which we were singing the praises of the backwards hanger trick for weeding out your closet:

Hang all of the clothes in your closet the "wrong" way, so that you are hooking the hangers from the back of the rod. If you wear it, hang the item back up the right way. Anything still left on a backwards hanger at the end of the season should be donated or consigned.

As I was trying to find something to wear this morning, I suddenly realized that I could use a good dose of the backwards hanger trick myself. My closet is definitely not over-stuffed - in fact, I need to do some strategic shopping in the near future. But just because it's not over-stuffed doesn't mean it's not cluttered with items I'm not using and should probably be donated. You see, my wardrobe is in a state of flux...last year at this time, I was pregnant, which as you moms out there know, sets in motion some major and often permanent changes in your clothing size and style. Now that I'm a no-longer-pregnant, but not-quite-back-to-my-previous-size-or-shape, new mom, my closet is filled with not-so-useful remnants of my pre-baby life.

So I did it - in less than 5 minutes, I turned around all of the hangers and will be dutifully donating any of the pre-baby clothes that just don't fit my new life. And that's okay with me. I will give it a month and do a review, weeding out the obvious and leaving a few "maybes" that could make an appearance for holiday festivities.

Bottom Line: Life changes, and as it does, so do our stuff and space needs. This is a perfect example of why organizing isn't a one-time thing. We need to learn the skills to keep up with our stuff and space as life evolves. Take a look around at your stuff - is there anything that's not in sync with your life today?

Friday, October 28, 2011

Keep a Lid on Your Inbox

Most people I know have trouble keeping up with incoming email in this information and technology-crazed world we live in. It's no surprise that this can quickly lead to an out-of-control inbox. Some people simply leave the majority of their email sitting in one big "pile" in their inbox, relying on the relatively good search-ability of today's email programs. While this works for some people, many corporate environments have storage limits that can lead to panicked deleting frenzies when you've hit the limit. Also, most people I know feel at least slightly overwhelmed by their over-stuffed inboxes. It's like a giant pile of papers on your desk - at some point you don't know what's in there and you don't know what you're missing, leading to missed deadlines, opportunities, and miscommunication affecting business and even personal relationships. But enough gloom and doom - you can stay on top of your inbox! Just like any other organizing task, there is no one right way to manage your email, but I can tell you what I do, which is a place to start if you're feeling overwhelmed.

1. Set a limit or personal goal for the number of emails in your inbox. My personal goal is 50. In an ideal world, your inbox would be limited to just incoming mail and perhaps action items (though I try to keep those in a separate folder). This limit helps me know when it's time to do a little extra maintenance (see below) to get things back under control.

2. Use folders to organize emails you want to save. I personally have 3 action-related folders, Action, Read/Review, and Waiting For, that help me keep tabs on active emails. Then I have a series of folders to organize emails I'm saving for reference. This means that I don't generally need to "search" for emails - I usually know where to find them. One word of caution, if you set up action-related folders, you must look in them regularly (likely daily) so you don't miss items you need to deal with. Just like any other habit, this takes time to get used to, so reminders on your calendar might be helpful for the first month or so. 

3. Maintain, maintain, maintain. An inbox can "pile" up in just a day, so a regular (again, likely daily) maintenance plan is a must. To keep things under control, treat your inbox "pile" just like a regular pile of mail. Go through each item, one by one, and decide what needs to happen to it. The options are delete, reply, take action or save for reference. If you can take care of something with a quick reply, go for it. Otherwise, move action items to your Action folder to be taken care of at an appropriate time. If there's something you'd like to read, but don't want to get side-tracked know, throw it in the Read/Review folder. You get the idea.

Note: If you are starting from an overwhelmed place, my advice is to implement a simple system (like the above) immediately for incoming mail and also spend 10-15 minutes a day dealing with the backlog until you are cleaned up. Follow the same process described above. Often, old emails can be dealt with (and likely deleted) quickly because they are no longer relevant, so the clean-up may be faster than you think. Do yourself a favor and delete e-newsletters, etc. that are older than a few months - nobody has time to read everything they receive.

Bottom Line: Setting up some folders and spending just a few minutes a day to make sure all new emails are dealt with or filed is all you need to keep a lid on your inbox!

Friday, October 21, 2011

What can you do in 15 minutes?

Recently, I've talked about a 5 minute fillers list...little things you can get done when you get a few free minutes of time. The other day, I was reading one of my favorite blogs...The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin. She posted a list of tips to stop procrastinating. One of them was Suffer for 15 Minutes..."You can do anything for 15 minutes," she says. She's absolutely right and that tip hit home with me. There are certain organizing tasks that even I don't like to do! This mantra ("you can do anything for 15 minutes") allowed me to make some much-needed progress on these not-so-favorite tasks over the past week. It's a simple concept with magical powers!

Here are a few ideas of nagging organizing tasks that you can chip away at with just 15 minutes a day...and maybe even 15 minutes a week once you get them under control:

  • File papers. You know, the stacks on your desk or dining room table. If you need a new file for a new category, go ahead and make it - it doesn't need to be fancy, it just needs to exist.
  • Weed files. These first two can be done together (or separately). As you file a paper, take the time to review that file and weed out anything you no longer need.
  • Shred papers. - This includes items you've weeded out of your files and other items like solicitations that may have your personal information on them.
  • Organize your computer files or digital photos. Create appropriate folders and delete what you don't need.
  • Clean up your inbox. Delete, delete, delete. Or archive/file emails you want to save and be able to search for in the future. Most email programs are so easily search-able, that you can save your inbox for incoming mail...I know, easier said than done :)
  • Put things back where they belong. Enough said.
  • Reconcile financial transactions. This might be in your checkbook, on-line, or maybe filing receipts, depending on how you keep your records. Confession - this is one of my nagging tasks.
  • Get rid of expired coupons.
  • Recycle old magazines and catalogs. Keep the latest issue or 2 and recycle the rest.
  • Clean out past-due food from your fridge and cabinets.
  • Round up items for donation. Take a quick pass through your closets and drawers and see what you can part with. Put them in a bag and take it to your car right away.

Bottom Line: Just 15 minutes a day can help you make a huge dent in those nagging organizing tasks that we all avoid. Remember - "you can do anything for 15 minutes!" Thanks, Gretchen, for some great inspiration!

Friday, October 14, 2011

Get Your Garage in Gear

Just like any other storage space, your garage may need an organizing intervention or at least maintenance. This is especially important before winter hits – anyone out there wishing they could pull their car into a cluttered garage? There is hope if you commit some time to this often-neglected, but important storage space. Here are a few key steps to help you get your garage in gear for winter.

1)    If you can, clear everything out of the space and sort items into major categories. This is a great project for a beautiful fall day! If it's not possible or practical to take everything out of the space, at least do your best to sort items into separate zones...gardening equipment, ski gear, holiday decorations, etc.

2)    Review what you've found and get rid of items you haven't used or won't likely use. Sell or donate what you decide to part with. Of course you should also get rid of any obvious trash or recycling.

3)    Take the time to clean shelves and floor space that you clear during the process. The sand and salt of winter are about to creep their way in, so it's a good idea to start with a clean slate. Bonus - it's much more pleasant to take things out and put things back when it's relatively clean!

4)    When you put items back in, keep like items together in zones and save the prime real estate - easy to reach areas - for items that will get the most use this season. This will ensure you don't have to dig for what you need over the next few months.

5)    Last but not least, take care of any tune-ups for winter sports equipment or snow blowers, and make a shopping list for items you need. Buying these items now will ensure you have what you need...when you need it. You know what I mean if you've ever shopped for a snow shovel after the first big snow storm.

If you need help with storage solutions for the garage, think vertical! Using vertical space always allows you to store items with lots of clear floor space – super important if your goal is to park your car(s) in the garage. Simple shelving units (plastic or metal) from a home improvement store along with sturdy see-through containers can do wonders to contain smaller items like tools, car accessories, garden equipment and even extra household goods. Sports equipment like bikes can be efficiently stored using wall hooks or a free-standing rack. If you’re not-so-handy, installing items on the wall is a simple task for a handyman. And if you’re looking for a more robust garage upgrade, companies like Elfa, Monkey Bars, and Closet & Storage Concepts can install custom storage solutions to create the garage of your dreams. Don’t forget, your favorite professional organizer can help you map out and implement a garage organizing plan, ranging from simple, low-cost to high-end custom solutions!
Bottom Line: Spending some quality time clearing out and organizing your garage will make your life easier this winter and all year round!

Friday, October 7, 2011

5 Minute Fillers...Revisited

Let's face it - we live in a crazy, busy world. Unless you're on vacation, most of us have way too much to get done in the time we have. Often, when it comes to organizing or just getting things done, we give up before we even start because the overall "project" just seems too big to tackle. The key to success here is breaking things down into much smaller tasks. Most of us don't routinely have large blocks of time to get large projects done at once. Does that mean we can't get anything done? No! It just means we need to know what short tasks we can tackle in the short windows of time we do have.

In January, I wrote about the idea of creating a 5 Minute Fillers list - tasks that take just a few minutes to complete. I challenged myself and all of you to look around your house or your office to create such a list so you know what you can do the next time 5 free minutes present themselves.

I recently realized that this concept is more important than ever for me now as a mom of a 4 month old. My new job taking care of her is 24-7 and I only get sporadic, unpredictable free blocks of time...usually very short. And to make matters worse, my brain is so fried from sleep deprivation that I could look around my condo full of things to do and not be able to think of a single completable task. That's why I need to make a renewed commitment to keeping a 5 minute fillers list. So here goes - here's my new list:

  • empty dishwasher
  • put away clean clothes
  • update baby book
  • check/respond to email
  • open mail
  • finish magazine (yes, there can be fun things on the list)
  • clean bathroom
  • wipe down counters
  • put away toys/equipment
  • vacuum couches
  • make grocery list
  • post on facebook
  • lift weights
  • return phone calls
  • sit down :)

That's just a start! There are many more things that I can and will add to the list after I get a few things done. How about you, what does your list look like?

Friday, September 30, 2011

Saving for the Future?

Saving things for the future ("but I might need it some day") is one of those typical organizing no-no's that a professional organizer would usually warn you against. But organizers are real people who lead real lives too and I think most would agree that there are some circumstances when it makes sense to save items for the future. For example, as a first time mom, I now have the challenge of what to do with outgrown baby items - some of which I will save for the likelihood of a next baby, while others will be donated. However, keeping stuff for the future is a very slippery slope! In order to save yourself from being buried alive by the future, here are some key questions to ask and answer to help decide if something is worth storing:
  • Do you have the room to store it?
    • This should be the first question you ask. It seems straightforward enough - if you don't have the space, you can't keep it. But we all know this is how camping gear ends up in back hallways, bread machines end up in closets and exer-saucers end up being tripped over in offices for years.
  • Is there a reasonable chance that you'll use it again in the not-so-distant future?
    • For example, if you plan to have another child in the next few years, it might make sense to save some essentials and favorites.
  • If so, will this item still be up to par?
    • Keep in mind that there will almost always be new and improved versions of most things. Be honest with yourself, if you will likely upgrade even if you have the need for an item again, it doesn't make sense to store the older item.
  • Is it a favorite and/or essential item and also in good condition?
    • Don't waste time and space storing items that you didn't really use or like the first time around or items that have been so well used you won't want to or won't be able to use it when the need arises again.
  • Is it easily replaceable, physically and financially?
    • In many cases, it doesn't make sense to keep relatively expensive, easily replaceable items. This is especially true if you are paying for off-site storage! This might apply to items like clothes or office supplies.
  • Is there a better use for it in the meantime?
    • If you decide it doesn't make sense to save something, most items can be donated for someone else to use immediately. And even if you do decide you want to save something for the future, you may be able to lend it to family or friend who can make use of it now and give it back to you when you need it again. Of course, this is best for durable items that can handle additional wear and tear and you have to be prepared that you might not get it back.
A few other things to think about when deciding whether or not to save something...
  • In general, it's not a good idea to save things for other people. This is especially true if they don't know you're saving something for them! Of course if you have a specific agreement to store something for a family member or friend, just make sure you keep tabs on the item and the timeline.
  • Will you be moving (and thus have to move the items) before you'll likely use them again?
  • If you are storing items in a paid storage facility, think extra hard about whether saving it makes sense...particularly financially.
  • If you do choose to save something for the future, be sure to store it properly. Make sure it is clean and dry and remove batteries to avoid corrosion. Choose an appropriate container and don't forget to label it. And last but not least, make sure to save with it any instructions and hardware.

Bottom Line: Saving for the future can be a legitimate way to re-use items you already own. Just make sure to ask yourself the key questions above before you stow and go!

Friday, September 23, 2011

Taking a Fresh Look at Your Space

As a new mom, I've encountered more organizational challenges over the past few months than I can count. One challenge that recently came up when chatting with other new moms is the issue of baby-proofing our once adults-only homes for our soon-to-be crawling little ones. We were talking about how tough it's going to be, especially with our sleep-deprived brains, to think of all the potential hazards our crawling cuties could get into.
Since baby-proofing is not an option but a must-do, we quickly started talking about solutions. Of course there are books on the subject and do-it-yourself checklists online, both of which can highlight the generic pitfalls that all homes have and make you think about other potential issues. There are also baby-proofing professionals you can call in to do a personalized assessment and even take care of the process from start to finish - we all agreed this could be a great option!

I was most fascinated by another clever solution someone brought up. How do you know what potential dangers to a baby exist in your home? Get on the floor and crawl around! Seriously! You will immediately begin to see what looks shiny and interesting, what you could pull down, and what might be on the floor in your way. I thought this was just brilliant!

And while taking a baby's view of our condo will be part of my baby-proofing plan, my mind immediately turned toward how this suggestion applies to organizing and decluttering. Taking a fresh look at your space is a great way to help you declutter as well. Now, this doesn't mean you have to get on your hands and knees (but this is certainly a valid option). It just means you need to take a different view of the 'stuff' that tends to fade into the background when we cruise through our homes on a daily basis. When a new view opens your eyes to all the stuff you've been walking by or maybe even tripping over, ask yourself these questions:
  • What is it?
  • Why do I have it?
  • Do I need it/use it/love it?
If the answer to the last question is "no," it's probably time for it to go. If the answer is "yes," ask yourself whether its current home is the best place for it. If not, find a new home that makes sense. I have a feeling I'll be finding lots of new homes for things during the baby-proofing process!

Bottom Line: Whether you get on the floor or you call in an outside set of eyes (note: a professional organizer might be a better option than a judgemental family member or friend :), take a fresh look at your space and you'll no doubt find things that have over-stayed their welcome. Get ready to say hello to reclaimed space!

Friday, September 16, 2011

Making the Switch

Here in Boston, we're getting our first taste of fall weather. I don't know about you, but I'm loving it. That said, it always seems to happen quickly and can easily catch you off guard. Just like the cooler temps should make you think about switching your closets and drawers so you can find your jeans, sweaters and other toasty items, it's also the right time to make the switch in your other storage spaces - think garages, mud rooms, storage closets, etc.

Sad to say, but it's time to put away the pool and summer camp gear and dig out the rakes, sports equipment, and if you're really prepared, even find your basic winter item, such as ice scrapers so you don't get caught empty-handed at the first frost. Here are some basic tips for making the switch:

1) Review your summer gear as you make the switch. Don't bother storing items that you will likely replace or not use again next year. Reccycle, donate or trash items as appropriate.

2) Make sure items are clean and dry before you pack them away. Drying large items can take a while, so plan ahead and pick a sunny weekend when you can let things air out completely. Just think how nice that will be when you unpack everything next summer.

3) Pack smaller items in plastic bins with lids that are well-labeled. Large items may stand alone with or without packaging. Try to find a storage space that can accomodate all your seasonal items in one space...I know, easier said than done.

4) If your fall and winter gear needs cleaning as it comes out of hibernation, be sure to do that ASAP - don't wait until you need it!

5) Create zones in your home and garage for items like fall sports gear, yard/car equipment, and hats/gloves, etc. Labels will help everyone know where to find and put things back.

Bottom Line: Grab yourself a pumpkin latte and embrace the brisk temperatures as you make the seasonal switch in your storage spaces.

Friday, September 9, 2011

School Supplies "Emergency" Kit

Now that the kiddos are back to school, you may be breathing a sigh of relief while also realizing that the faster pace of the school year is ready to catch you off guard! This year, be prepared for the last minute project and homework panics by keeping a well-stocked school supplies emergency kit. This kit should contain school supplies your child might lose or run out of on a regular basis as well as the items that are usually needed for special projects. Depending on your kids' ages, your kit might contain basic arts and crafts supplies, school supplies like pencils, paper, an extra notebook, and computer/printer supplies such as ink/toner, paper, and a memory stick. Your kids' teachers should be able to steer you in the right direction if they haven't already provided a list of must-haves.

If you have more than one child, you can keep one kit stocked for everyone or make separate kits, especially if there is a large age difference. A clear bin with a lid and handle makes a good container. You might need a smaller container or pouch within the kit to hold small items like pencils and scissors. Use something you already have or check out these options from The Container Store:

Clear Handled Cases

Translucent Totes

Two-Sided Compartment Storage Boxes

Small Hobby Case

Warning: Be sure to check your kit(s) on a regular basis and re-stock as needed!

Bottom Line: Keeping a well-stocked school supplies emergency kit will keep everyone happy and prevent late-night or early morning trips to the store to save the day!

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Friday, March 25, 2011

Know Your Stuff

I think this must be a sign - I've randomly encountered 2 articles on doing your own home inventory in the last 24 hours - one while looking for tax info and the other while browsing my Real Simple magazine.

Even as a professional organizer, I have not conducted my own home inventory. While we do have decent records and receipts for what we own, I could not guarantee you that our records are complete and we haven't taken the step of storing this valuable info off-site or on-line. But the timing is right - all of our possessions have been reviewed, purged and packed up for some renovations. Unpacking and setting up our place again will provide a prime opportunity to tackle this smart task. Not to mention that we will have several new items in our home thanks to the renovations and our upcoming baby due in June. We've carefully chosen these items and spent good money on them, so it makes sense to keep good records for them.

Why would you need to know details about your home inventory? First and foremost, it's important in case of a disaster or damage to your home. Having good records will make the insurance process much smoother. Considering that a flood was the original reason for our current renovation project, it is fitting that we use this opportunity to get our ducks (more) in a row. We only lost a couple rugs in the flood (in addition to our floors), and I'll admit I was shocked and dismayed to find that we didn't have the receipts. Good records can also be helpful for selling items in the future, and product recalls and repairs, to name a few. Simply put, it is easier to have this information than to wish you had it later when you need it (and it's too late).

One of the keys pointed out in these articles was storing your inventory on-line so you have access to it in case of home disaster or damage. I plan to try out the Insurance Information Institute's on-line tool,, which I discovered in this Get Rich Slowly guest post. And here's a link to the article I spotted in Real Simple. After we get settled back into our condo and I've completely the inventory, I'll report back on the experience.

Bottom Line: Knowing what you own and where to find this information is in some ways like carrying an umbrella to ensure it doesn't rain. You'd rather have it than not when the need arises!

Friday, February 25, 2011

Packing Smart

I don't know too many people who love to pack, but if you are getting ready for a move or home renovations, as is the case in my home right now, there are some smart moves you can make to at least take advantage of a prime de-cluttering opportunity. You pretty much have to touch everything you own if you're doing a whole house packing job, so it's a great chance to review what you have and make sure you're not expending any more energy caring for items you don't use, love or need.

So what can you do to avoid packing or moving items that don't deserve real estate in your home?

1. Plan ahead as much as possible. In most cases, a move or home project is not a surprise, and while many of us are so busy with the rest of life that packing often gets left to the last minute, do yourself a favor and give yourself at least several weeks to make sure you can pack smart!

2. Scan your home for items you want to sell. This could be anything from small kitchen appliances to furniture to electronics or sporting goods. There are a variety of options for selling items - Craigslist, eBay, consignment, specialty online or local resellers, just to name a few. Pick the avenue you're most comfortable with and take action. We are currently selling a variety of items on Craigslist and have had some quick results.

3. Purge while you pack! There's no sense in packing anything you don't use, love or need. Just as you need to have packing supplies like boxes or containers at the ready, be prepared with trash/recycling containers and bags or boxes for items you want to donate. For donations, pick an organization that matches your needs - some offer on site pick up vs. local drop-off locations, some accept certain items and not others, or you may find specialty organizations or drives in your area for certain types of items, such as sporting goods or computers. A simple Google search is often enough to find what you're looking for. If you know you're going to have a lot of donations, it might be a good idea to schedule a pick up in advance - this can be an effective motivating deadline!

Even if you're not packing yourself (and I don't blame you), you can still follow the above steps to make sure you're not moving items unnecessarily. For donations, simply weed them out and get rid of them before the packing help arrives or mark them and set them aside for a donation pick up. And if all of this seems overwhelming or you have a tight timeline, enlist the help of a professional organizer to help you breeze through steps 2 and 3 - now that's smart packing!

Bottom Line: While packing for a move or home renovations may not be on the top of your favorite activities list, use it as a prime opportunity to review and purge what you own, so you're left with just what you use, love, and need on the other end - how refreshing would that be?!

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

4 Reasons to Love Lists

Hi everyone! We're getting yet another snow storm here in Boston - I don't know whether I'm over it or used to it yet.

If you read the last post about 5 minute fillers, you know that a key part of this strategy is making a list. Organized people, especially professional organizers, are often known for their list-making, sometimes to the point of being made fun of by other less-list-inclined friends and family. Before you poke fun at your list-making friends, consider the many benefits of making a list...

1) The most obvious and well-known benefit is that lists help you remember things! A basic example of this is a grocery list - have you ever tried to grocery shop without a list and come home without something you need? I have!

2) Making lists also helps you clear the clutter from your head so you can focus on other more important things rather than trying to keep track of all your to-do's like little sticky notes floating around your brain. Spending 5 minutes each day downloading the to-do's in your head to a list, whether you prefer paper or electronic, can help stop you from waking up in the middle of the night thinking about what you need to remember tomorrow! Speaking of, that's a great activity to add to your 5 minute fillers list :)

3) Lists can help you structure your time efficiently. If you can see what you need to do, it is easier to prioritize and plan your day so the most important tasks get taken care of. The 5 minute fillers list is a great example of using a list to help you use your time efficiently.

4) And last but not least, if you have a list, you get to cross things off of it! Ok, I'll admit, I've gone back and added things to a list, just to have the sense of accomplishment of crossing them off. And yes, this is often why list-makers get made fun of, but there is truly some benefit to knowing how you're spending your time and seeing what you've accomplished. For one thing, it just feels good to get things done, but this benefit can also help you improve your time management skills since it helps you get a better sense of what you can realistically get done during your day.

Bottom Line: Don't dismiss the power of lists! They are a simple strategy that can help you remember what you need to get done, clear your head, use your time efficiently, and know what you got done.

By the way, for those who joined me on the 5 minutes fillers list challenge, I was pretty pleased with my progress. I completed about 75% of the tasks I'd put on my list in only a couple days and also completed several other nagging tasks along the way. Now I'll admit, there are a few items from the original list that are yet to be completed, but overall I like this strategy. I have no doubt that it increased my 'spare time' productivity and helped me get more done than if I didn't have the list to rely on. I plan to keep up this practice and make it a habit - how about you?

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Getting Things Done...5 Minutes at a Time

Do you ever feel like you have so much to do that when you have 5 or 10 minutes of 'spare' time, you have no idea what to start with and you end up doing nothing?! Well, you're not alone. I just read a great list of dozens of things you can do when you find yourself with a few extra minutes in this month's Real Simple magazine - part of their 'Get it Together Handbook.'

While not all of the items will fit your needs, I certainly found plenty of items I could act on when my next 5 free minutes pops up. In fact, I was so inspired that I quickly went through my house with a notebook and made my own personalized list...and guess what, it only took me about 5 minutes! Here's my list - maybe it will inspire you to act during your next free moment...

My 'Five Minute Fillers' List
  • Shred old receipts.
  • File 3 items in To File folder.
  • Tackle 1 item in To Do folder.
  • Put away new holiday gifts and recycle boxes.
  • Wipe off kitchen counters.
  • Review and purge clipped recipes.
  • Make grocery and household items shopping list.
  • Package gift to mail out.
  • Fill out birthday cards and prep to mail.
  • Put boots away and vacuum sand from boot tray.
  • Wipe down bathroom surfaces.
  • Vacuum couches.
  • Put away remaining holiday wrapping supplies.
  • Water plants.
  • Iron shirts.
  • Change pillow cases.
  • Review and purget 3 files.
  • Transport donations to car.
  • Write holiday thank you notes.
  • Clean up email inbox.
My challenge to you (and me): make your own 'five minute filler' list, post it somewhere prominent, and see how many things you can get done over the next week when a spare moment pops up. You will get a great burst of momentum from accomplishing those small, sometimes nagging, chores. Then make it a habit by refreshing your list each week and continuing the momentum - you'll get so much done you won't know what to do with yourself! But let's not get ahead of ourselves...let's take this one 5-minute burst at a time...I'll be right there with you!

Bottom Line: Don't waste your precious free time trying to decide what to do. Set yourself up for success by posting your 'five minute filler' list and get to it next time you've got 5 minutes to spare. 

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Get Organized Today!

Happy 2011! If you're like many people, 'Get Organized' might be on your priority list for the new year. January is the perfect time for a fresh start and it also happens to be the official Get Organized (GO) Month. So what better time to get started on your organizing goals than now?! If you're not sure where or how to get started, here are some tips:

  1. Start Small! Don't look at your whole house, or office, or life as a hopeless organizational disaster - you will be instantly overwhelmed and probably won't make any progress. Instead, pick a room, or a closet, or even a drawer to start with. And ditch the all or nothing attitude - small victories lead to big success!
  2. It doesn't have to be perfect, it just has to be good enough. Organizing does not necessarily mean ending up with a house that looks like it could be in a magazine. It means having systems and storage that make your life easier and contribute to the vision you have for your space. It's often a good idea to test out a new system using containers/storage you already have - if it works well and you want to upgrade to something that looks better, go for it.
  3. When in doubt, label it. If you are boxing items in a storage place like the basement, attic or even closets, don't pretend you will remember what you put in there when you need to get it back out. Do yourself a favor and label it! Clear containers also help, but even those should be labeled. If you share your space with others, labeling can help keep everyone on the same page even with day-to-day items. Just think, you won't have to answer "Where's the____?" ten times a day.
  4. If you're overwhelmed, get help. Staying organized is a huge challenge with the busy schedules and over-stuffed spaces we live with today. That's why there are professional organizers to help you dig out and get to the life you want to live. And it's not just a one-time fix - we can teach you the skills to keep your space organized for good!
Bottom Line: Take advantage of the January fresh-start spirit and take a step toward a more organized life today!