It’s that time of year again…already! Summer is bidding its sweet farewell, and I am starting to once again hear the rumbling of school bus tires on the roads. The end of summer is bittersweet for most parents. The end of summer brings tears as we say farewell to our tiny tots on their first days of kindergarten and watch our young adults speed away to their first years in college. The end of summer means that its time to get our acts together and embrace that routine that we carelessly tossed to the curb last July. The end of summer also means we can work from home again and get things accomplished on time and without distraction. Yay! What a mashup of emotions! Although one size never fits all, I have found some ideas over the years that have helped to ease my own family’s transition back to a new school year.
Manage the Paperwork - If your kids are still in elementary school, you know how much paperwork comes home in their schoolbags the first few days back. Between field trip permission slips, picture day forms and pest control notices, the kitchen counter can quickly start to feel more like the local recycle center than a part of your household. My advice is simple: establish a “drop zone” and tackle paperwork every night as it comes in! Evenings can be super busy, especially for dual working families, but allowing paperwork to pile up only creates more effort later. Schedule 10 minutes each night to talk through paperwork with your child, complete and/or sign forms, toss the trash and put those “return to school” items back in the school bag.
Join Forces - Back-to-school also represents a huge fluctuation in activities as kids join sports teams, school clubs and other social events. Failing to centralize everyone’s schedules will eventually result in missed appointments and late meetings. If your family responds best to a visual cue, create a command center in a high traffic area, like the kitchen or laundry room and clearly write out everyone’s schedule. If your family is more tech savvy, there are a ton of apps, like Google Calendars, Cozi and OurHome, that allow the whole family to track the same set of appointments and to-do’s right from their smart phones.
Conquer the Homework - I hear my clients commiserate all the time about their struggles with homework. Right after school most kids need some downtime to decompress from their day. Too close to bed and everyone is grumpy and tired. As kids get older, homework becomes more difficult and time consuming, so without some sort of schedule or routine, your child’s habits can go sideways quickly, especially if school sports are also involved. The option that I have found works best for my own kids is to schedule out the hours of the afternoon and evening to something like this:
Post this schedule on a chalk or bulletin board in a central location of the house. If homework will take a long time or be too complex, it’s okay to break it into smaller, more achievable chunks throughout the evening. Trying to force completion in one sitting just leads to anxiety and frustration for everyone, so be flexible and experiment with the timing to see what works best for your household. If sports are a factor, this schedule will need to be compressed to some degree. Another option for very busy families is to sign your child up for afterschool study sessions that usually run for an hour right after school ends, or have an older child use their study hall time more wisely to complete the next day’s homework before leaving school.
Prepare, Prepare, Prepare - Prep the night activities are essential, especially when mom and dad are running out the door in the morning the same time as the kiddos. Select outfits, including shoes and accessories. Put all returning forms, books and folders back into bags. Pack lunches and discuss tomorrow’s happenings with the whole family before bedtime. Most of these tasks are intuitive, but busy schedules and exhaustion at the end of the day are most frequently noted as reasons for procrastinating. There is nothing worse than running around in the morning, screaming at kids, while trying to find Jimmy’s other shoe and Katy’s permission slip with 30 seconds to spare until the bus arrives. Trust me, I have been in this situation all too often. Just do the work the night before and I guarantee that your morning will go alot smoother!
Are you struggling with motivation? We all fall victim to a lack of motivation at some point. Whether you are halfway through cleaning out the basement or procrastinating about finishing the bills, here are a few ideas that will get you back on track:
Summer is a time when life slows down for many of us. The kids are off school and sleeping in late. The nights are longer, and regular events like dinner and bedtime tend to be stretched alot later than other times of the year. This can easily result in more stressful early morning trips to the office if you are not properly prepared. Here are 4 things you can do to help speed up your morning routine and ensure you arrive to work relaxed and on time:
Many of us like to shop, but aside from the occasional trip to the mall, what happens when your spending gets out of control? I sometimes help my clients create healthier shopping habits by arming them with the tools needed to resist the urge to make purchases that they might regret later. Changing our perspective on shopping takes time and determination, and for most of us, some things are easier to resist than others. What one item or type of item still holds a strong grasp on your ability to make rational decisions? What makes you want to grab for your wallet regardless of cost or need, and how do you resist the urge to buy?
These 4 simple techniques might help save the day, and your money, when you feel a bout of binge shopping approaching:
If you still feel the urge to make a purchase after trying all these techniques, then it’s quite possible that the money might not be so haphazardly spent after all.
As I continue to work with clients and help them with their organizing challenges, I am seeing a high level of synergy between excessive clutter and depression. I see a vicious cycle occurring where the feeling of loss of control or depression leads to low motivation for household and lifestyle related chores, resulting in a buildup of clutter. This clutter then causes anxiety and fuels depression in a very vicious and unsettling cycle. It's one that is rarely broken without the intervention of another person, process or experience.
In one of her articles in Psychology Today, psychologist and writer Sherrie Bourg Carter perfectly captured the list of side effects stemming from clutter. “Why does mess lead to so much stress?
I know firsthand the negative effects of having too much clutter in your life. I also know the grounding sense of freedom that can be achieved in a clutter-free environment. Clearing out the clutter can literally change your perspective, attitude and motivation in an instant. Like magic, it will clear a pathway, both literally within your home and figuratively within every other aspect of your life. Seeing the positive changes in motion through the work I do with my client’s is what gets me up in the morning every day.
If you are living amidst a great deal of clutter and disorganization, you don’t have to remain hostage to your belongings. Call me, call another organizer or enlist a friend. Involve others and commit to “digging out.” The hard work of moving, sorting, arranging and letting go will be a small and temporary hurdle that, once accomplished, will lead to a new awakening of the inner you. Your anxiety, stress and feelings of depression will be greatly improved, and the air will feel lighter all around you. Come on, I dare you to give it a try!
Remember that old saying “it’s just like riding a bike”? I have no idea who coined it, but it was meant to draw a comparison to activities that were deeply rooted in the muscle memory gained from lots of practice. The idea was that, if you practiced enough, riding your bike would become like second nature. If you practiced enough, you could train your body to ride with a lot less thought or effort. And if that bike sat rusty in the garage for 10 years, because you had put forth the effort to practice years before, the idea was that you could jump back on and ride away into the sunset as if only mere seconds had passed since your last pedal session.
People ask me a lot about the best ways to stay organized. Cleaning up and out seems to be the easy part, but now that the house is beautiful and everything is put away in its place, how do we keep it this way? Depending on how far removed your new organizing behavior is from your old habits, staying organized is going to take the same vigor and endurance as it took to learn to ride that bike years ago.
For example, if you always lose your keys around the house, and we implement a new process to hang them on a hook by the door when you enter, you will need to make the conscious effort to actually do it…every time. It takes practice, and more practice until eventually hanging the keys on the hook becomes second nature and engrained in your muscle memory. Suddenly hanging the keys on the hook will feel like an easy routine, and the process will no longer be a strain on your brain power and intention as you arrive home tired from work each night. The thing to remember is that there will be work involved. I unfortunately can’t wave a magic wand to “cure” us of our poor organizing habits and replace them with ones that work better for our lives. If I could, I would be the first to wave it over my own house!
There are a lot of schools of thought out there around best practices for forming habits and the importance of considering things like learning styles, motivators and goals. Developing new habits to stay organized will take time, support and accountability from family and friends, as well as a focused desire from whoever is embarking on this mission. I have lots of tricks up my sleeve to help move this process along for each client, but the overarching theme to remember is that practice makes perfect. You are going to have to conjure up the focus, intention and willpower to practice, but once mastered, your new habits really will be just like riding a bike!
There’s a place that I have been driving by since I was a teenager. It lies about ¾ of the way between my house and my parents’. It’s a cute log cabin that must contain the same inhabitants because I still see things hanging from the posts at the entrance to their driveway that have been there since I was in high school. I have no idea how much longer they will be there, but on those posts hang ‘Wizard of Oz’ style tin can figurines. Someone in their household has been making the Tin Man, Scarecrow and Lion out of recycled tin cans since almost before I can remember.
As I drove home from a family get-together this weekend and once again passed these now-iconic figures, it got me thinking about re-purposing in general. Most of us as Americans have way too much stuff. We have a lot of options and a lot of freedom to decide how and where we use all this stuff. We all have things in the basement, garage and other storage locations that we keep for one reason or another and can’t quite bring ourselves to get rid of. These items may not serve us in our current lives and might be items that we haven’t even taken out into the daylight for a year or more.
What if we look at these items differently? What if we ignore mainstream advice, forego simply offloading them, and instead reinvent a purpose for them, just like this very creative Wizard of Oz fan has apparently done with tin cans for decades? Yes, maybe we are talking about tin cans and what others see as garbage, but what if we apply the same creativity to certain belongings? If we think outside of the box, we might be able to come up with an infinite number of cool ideas to re-use or re-purpose memorable items, while still maintaining a neat and organized home. Maybe we can turn Grandpa’s old wash basin into a shelf? Maybe we can flip Grandma’s ugly Chinese vase upside down, glue a tray to the top, and make a great pedestal to show off that favorite collection of succulents? The list and limits to our creativity are endless, and we alone hold the key to our own ideas.
Before you decide to reluctantly toss something that feels kind of important, think about re-purposing it instead. Maybe there is no use or way to re-purpose. Maybe you really don’t care enough. In that case, get rid of it! I am the last person to encourage you to hang on to things that you do not use or need! Otherwise, think about it, ask friends, surf Pinterest, or do whatever you do to get creative inspiration. A personal, deeply meaningful way to re-purpose something of importance brings far greater enjoyment than continuing to keep it “hidden” in that old musty box in the basement.
By this time, most of us are getting back into the full swing of life in this new year. We have cleaned the house and put away the Christmas decorations. We have set, and maybe already slipped in our resolutions. Now is the perfect time to revisit and set intentions for those resolutions that will help us to succeed and maintain momentum. Whether you resolve to lose 5 pounds, quit smoking or finally clean out the hallway closet, I have found that setting a clear path forward and revisiting those intentions every morning is critical to success.
What is an intention you ask? This part is simple. Think about what you most desire (remember those 5 pounds?) and build yourself a simple mantra that you can repeat out loud each morning, maybe while staring into the mirror if that’s your thing. Something like “I have the strength and discipline to shape my body into its best form and I will lose 5 pounds with ease and grace” might work. That part is personal and completely up to you. There is no wrong intention if the focus is on a positive outcome.
I personally write my intentions down and store them in a mason jar that I keep on my desk. This jar was a gift I received as part of a recent women’s retreat, and the process has proven to resonate best for me personally over time. I open the jar and pull out each piece of paper every morning, reading my individual intentions out loud. The process takes maybe 2 minutes but goes a long way towards helping me to get grounded and reset my focus for the day. Give this a try and I promise you won't be disappointed!
What are you keeping in your life that does not serve you or your space? Many of us hang onto belongings that clutter and complicate our lives. before really getting involved in the organizing industry, I had a lot of attachments to my stuff. I saved old concert ticket stubs because they were from my first concert. I saved jeans I loved but had not worn...ever...because I might fit into them one day. I saved gifts that I had received from family members that were not even my taste. When I started learning more about the psychology of organizing I realized that many of my own habits were hindering and further cluttering my life. If you are struggling with similar scenarios, you could be experiencing one of the following emotions:
Just like dealing with and overcoming a difficult event in our lives, letting go of stuff can sometimes be very challenging and feel much more complex than it actually is. Some things to keep in mind as you begin to manage and make decisions about your stuff are: