We are now well into the swing of summer, halfway through 2020, and I can’t remember how many months into COVID-19 disruptions. If you are one of the lucky ones, you are hopefully feeling some relief from your home bound existence, and starting to dip your toe into the ocean of society again. Many of us have spent these countless months binge watching Netflix (I think I have watched enough to be a paid critic), ordering groceries from Amazon, and attempting home projects with nothing but the ½ can of paint from last year’s bathroom renovation. As we begin to crawl back to “normal” life things are speeding up quickly. I don’t know about the rest of you, but my life went from pining away the time with do-it-yourself pedicures with my daughters to barely breathing again as I conduct business at the speed of light. At this point, I don’t even remember the last time I cooked every meal of the day, and have had to abandon my list of home project “to-do’s” until the next (God I hope not) pandemic strikes.
If you are like my family, we got a lot done during these last few months but have a laundry list of yet-to-be-started and unfinished projects on the home front. Now more than ever, it is important to make the best use of whatever time we have available to get them done. As I was revisiting such a project over the weekend it reminded me to return to basics and focus on the aspects that make any project a good and successful one. Here’s what I came up with:
Okay, we have a great plan, now what? For a more complex or time sensitive project, I would have added resources to the list of things to plan for. For most smaller home organizing projects, family members can usually be recruited after you have figured out the high-level details. This is the time to delegate and recruit your husband, kids, roommate, or anyone else who might be able to pitch in. Get the kids to grab and put away their own shoes. Have the husband or wife pick up those bins on his or her way home from work. I know the adage about doing things yourself if you want them to be perfect, but in our age of busyness and multi hat wearing, it’s time to leave that whole “perfect” thing by the side of the road. Being effective at managing and using our time so that our goals for that time are completed often requires that we delegate and share responsibility for the results. We simply can’t do it all by ourselves.
“You will never reach your destination if you stop and throw stones at every dog that barks.” - Winston S. Churchill. Let this one sink in for a while. How often do we set out to do something, anything, in our homes and get distracted so many times along the way that we find ourselves in a different part of the house, forgetting completely what it was that we set out to do? You’ve spent the time to plan for your project and maybe recruit some help. You pondered over tasks, supplies have been purchased, and the 15-minute reminder just popped up on your calendar to start working on your plan. Don’t end up lost and confused in your own home. Shut off the phone and computer. Let the dog out ahead of time. If needed, you can even put a note on the front door to alert neighbors that you are in a working session and won’t be answering. Avoid the intense urge to see what John Doe is posting on Facebook, and focus, focus, focus. One thing that I find helps with distractions is to keep a pen and notebook close by to document random thoughts, reminders and things to address later so I can get them out of my head and onto a safe platform to retrieve later once my project is complete.
Lastly, no home project would be complete without a good dose of humor. Regardless of planning, sometimes things will run amuck. Distractions might happen anyway. The kids might bail on their tasks 5 minutes into them. The husband/wife might have brought home the wrong bins. Shit happens! There, I said it. Especially on the home front, things are not always going to go as planned. Remember that plan? While you are exercising your good sense of humor, now is the time to dust it off, revisit tasks, remember where you left off, and make changes, as needed, to recover and keep moving forward. The sky will not fall, and the earth will not stop spinning if something goes awry and you must reschedule or add more time. Just remember to stick to the plan, reengage those resources (unless you are now completely fed up with them), take a break to laugh and collect your thoughts, and continue forward.
Spring is in the air! Do you feel it? As we speed into March, these mini bouts of warmer weather get me excited about reorganizing and cleaning my own house. The sun is finally lingering a bit longer in the bright blue spaces between the clouds. I don’t know about the rest of you, but towards the tail end of winter I tend to lose my mojo. Cloudy days, mud and ice start to strip my motivation, especially for mundane tasks like laundry and cleaning the house. This means that by the time March rolls around, there’s a lot to do to get this place spiffed up and back to my standards. This little period of spring-like weather is just what I need to get my home and attitude back into shape for the next season. Here is how I intend on springing into action at home this month!
We often underestimate the planning phase of any household project, but I have found that coming up with a very simple plan of attack before getting started can prevent anxiety and save hours of wasted time. Planning will help to break apart larger tasks into more manageable pieces, ensure that all needed supplies are on hand and give you a visual map to track your accomplishments. Some things to ask yourself include:
Once you have answers to these key questions, map everything out on a sheet of paper and hang it in a visible spot on the fridge or family communication board.
The dust bunnies must give up their stronghold before we can even think about organizing, so the first plan of action is to deep clean everything. Implement this 6-step process to zip through a deep clean of each room with ease:
Certain rooms might require unique steps, such as scrubbing the bathtub, but the ceiling-to-floor process described above should help you to identify and conquer everything within each space.
Once the cleaning is done, there will be more surface area available for sorting, categorizing and organizing the storage spaces in each room. These include closets, drawers, cabinets and even the refrigerator. One by one pull everything out of each space and evaluate the contents for obvious trash and donations. Pile the remaining items into categories based on what they are and what purpose they serve. Wipe down the inside of the cleared space, and if your current system works, put everything back where it came from.
If the current system isn’t working, come up with a new system by evaluating the activities that occur in each room and storing needed items in close proximity. For example, in the kitchen, coffee mugs, condiments and grinds should ideally be stored together, as close to the coffee maker as possible. I address spaces like closets, the pantry and the dreaded junk drawer (yes, I have one too) on their own schedule throughout the year, so won’t necessarily touch them when I spring clean. You might want to implement a similar schedule to prevent your spring-cleaning process for becoming too cumbersome.
Remember that plastic bin? Now is the time to sort through and determine homes for its’ contents. With the rest of your home clean and organized, it may be easier to see the potential in those temporarily stowed items. If not, out they go! If you decorate for St. Patrick’s Day or Easter, this is a great time to pull out and display those decorations. I also use this time to switch out the wreath on my front door, pull out a few pieces of patio furniture and crack open the windows to bring in that fresh spring air.
Regardless of your talent or appetite for organizing, just remember that with a little elbow grease, and maybe some help from the family, you ARE capable of spring cleaning and organizing your home. By following the process in bite sized chunks (maybe one room a week for instance) and celebrating your accomplishments along the way, you might just find yourself standing in a clean, clear and spring-ready home in no time. Good luck with your own spring-cleaning adventures!
Time to clean out that fridge!
When was the last time you cleaned out your refrigerator? Nobody enjoys this task, but without a routine schedule, your fridge can get nasty and it will be more difficult to keep track of expired products. Follow these easy steps once every 6 months to create a cleaner and healthier environment for your food:
As an added tip, use a Sharpie to label new frozen items with the date that they are put into the freezer to help keep track of expirations.
Follow the same routine for the refrigerator, remembering that leftovers only survive about a week before they should be thrown out.
Believe it or not, there’s something to be said for following a schedule for de-cluttering each area of your house on a regular basis. Sticking to a routine clean out schedule will save you a load of stress and physical labor in the long run. Here’s an easy to follow plan that I often recommend to my clients:
Once a week – Most homes get a bit undone throughout a busy work and school week. In my house, it is not uncommon to have shoes, toys, office supplies and random dishes floating about come Friday afternoon. Look around the house, gather up all visibly misplaced items in a large basket or bag, and return them to where they belong.
Once a month – Sort through higher traffic spaces, like the laundry room, kitchen, TV room or play room and return misplaced items to their proper homes. Go through those dusty DVD’s, look in the toy box, and throw out those abandoned socks that have been sitting for 3 months without a match. If you pick one day a month to sort through one room in your home, you will be amazed at how much more organized and clear each space will feel. You will also be reacquainted with everything you own and might just find yourself surprisingly prepared for a very lucrative yard sale.
Once every 6 months – As the seasons change, our wardrobe selections start to shift, and most of us don’t have the space to store everything together all year long. This is a great time to sort through bedroom closets and the hallway or entryway coat closet for donations and off-season clothing and shoes. Stash off-season items in under-bed bags or plastic bins if they won’t fit in these spaces and use this time to evaluate whether you really need those jeans you bought 3 years ago with tags still attached waiting for that one day when you lose 5 pounds. I am the first to admit that I have had a few of these hanging around in the past!
Once a year – Nobody likes to clean out the garage or basement, but these areas are usually the fall-out zones for random items and things we plan to put away later. If left to their own demise, these spaces quickly become safe harbor for piles of clutter, fire hazards and unwanted living creatures. Once a year, choose a weekend or a few days in a week to start clearing everything out, making piles and deciding what stays and what goes. Places like Walmart and Big Lots offer great and affordable shelving and storage options, so there is no need for disorganization in these types of spaces.
There is no incorrect method for maintaining a clutter free environment, so you can play around with this schedule to make it work for your home and lifestyle. Just remember that any change in routine takes focus and determination to master, but the payoff for putting in a bit of extra time on a regular basis to keep your home clutter free is well worth the effort.
Digging out from under clutter
Clutter is a mischievous beast. It innocently enough starts with a few pieces of mail on the counter or clothing on the floor. At the start, we are completely and well within our realm of organizing comfort, so we might ignore the mail or step over the clothes with the knowledge that we can address those items later. The problem is that sometimes later doesn’t happen for a really long time, and during that time, the few pieces of mail grow to mountainous levels and the clothing piles up and spills out into the hallway. The clutter gets bigger, it seems to take over, and stress ensues. At some point, at the tipping point, that innocent clutter takes on a life of its own. It becomes ominous and overwhelming.
Sounds scary, right? However, have no fear if this situation has happened to you. There is an answer, and although you might be standing overwhelmingly in front of this mess in the current moment, I’ve got some simple steps that will get you back on track to a less cluttered state of living in no time!
First, breathe! Take a deep breath and recognize that your clutter, your mess, does not own you. It is not a reflection of your talents, capabilities, level of motivation or personal character. It is just simply a pile, or maybe many piles, of inanimate objects. It’s just stuff and it has no life, no feelings, energy or power. I recommend that you find a friend to help, when possible. Whether you engage your husband, mother or a set of hired hands, conquering large tasks with others makes the entire process feel more manageable.
If you are tackling this clutter by yourself, you must recognize that you are one person, with 2 hands and feet, and only so many hours in the day to accomplish the clean-up. Regardless of the size of your team, scope out the scale and variety of mess and decide on a preset time-period each day to tackle a portion. If you have an hour a day to spare, set your timer on your phone for an hour and get to work. When the alarm sounds, what is done is done. Walk away and get on with your day. There is always tomorrow to continue your efforts.
Find a good staging location close by. Clear out some floor or table space to stage and sort the clutter that you plan to address. If the mess is large, you might need to find multiple places to stage sorted items. If the weather is nice, take it outside temporarily onto a tarp or blanket. Isolate a few plastic bins or garbage bags to place items in as you sort through and categorize.
Work in zones. Pick one spot, any spot (let’s call it Zone 1), to get started. Don’t look around. Don’t get distracted. Don’t give in to your urge to skip from place to place. Just put the blinders on, hone in on that zone like a cave man on a hunting mission and get that one spot cleared out. If you address one portion or zone of an overwhelmingly large project at a time, you will find that the stress and overwhelm is greatly reduced. Your feeling of confidence, control and capability will increase as you go.
Once you have set your time limit, cleared a good work area and picked a zone to start, get to work sorting the contents of that zone into the area or areas that you just cleared out. Ask yourself what each item is and what category it falls into. Where and how is each item used? As an example, if I am looking at a pile of pens, magazines, mail and miscellaneous supplies, I might start by separating everything into 3 categories: office supplies, magazines and mail. I will also likely have a trash can or bag nearby to throw out items that are no longer working or needed.
As I move through the clutter from one zone to another, I might find new categories of things, so I will just create more piles or bins to contain them as I go. Don’t get too caught up in the categories as you sort but remember to keep them limited and at a high level. If you overthink it, you will have so many categories set aside that you will have just moved the clutter from one area to the next with little to no progress being made.
Once the entire mess has been sorted into different categories, it is time to find homes for everything and put it away. Once it is all sorted, I can decide where each one of these categories currently lives or should live in my house. For example, I will put the office supplies back where they belong in the bins in my office, the mail will be opened and filed accordingly in my mail management system (this is another lesson altogether), the outdated magazines will go into the trash, and the latest editions will be put into the basket in my living room.
There are always going to be those items at the end that are different from the rest; the ones that you don’t know what to do with. My advice is two-fold for these situations. First, if the item is something you regularly use and/or love, you will need to find a new home for it somewhere. I would try to keep it close to the area where it is used or can be most treasured. Secondly, if the item doesn’t fall into one of these 2 scenarios (use or love), get rid of it! I don’t care if it was expensive, given to you by your dead grandma or if you are determined to pass it onto your children someday. If you don’t use it or love it, it has no business living in your home. It will continue to be a source of clutter and/or stress and is not worth your time or energy when there are bigger fish to fry. There is no rule that requires you to keep items that are gifted from or for others. I can assure you with almost 100% confidence that God has not made it your purpose to be the keeper of everyone else’s things, so do not let the guilt set in, even for a minute.
We all know that the best way to control clutter is to never let it get out of control in the first place, but sometimes life happens. We get busy, distracted and pulled in many directions, and clutter appears despite our best efforts. If you just take a deep breath, isolate some portion of each day to focus on the mess, and bite off one chunk at a time, you will find that even the largest and most unruly mountain of clutter is conquerable.
Organizing in Small Spaces
Tiny houses are the trend lately, and it seems that many Baby Boomers are opting for a downsized lifestyle and more adventure, as opposed to a sprawling dream home with thousands of square feet. Organizing for very small spaces can be challenging, especially if you are downsizing from a much larger footprint. Once the downsizing activity has taken place, there are a few guiding principles to consider when setting up or arranging your new smaller space:
Once arranged, the following guidelines are just a few that can help to maintain a neat and well-organized space:
Examples for Bedrooms:
Examples for Bathrooms:
Examples for Kitchens:
Examples for Living Rooms or Multi-Function Family Rooms:
With a bit of creativity, the diligence needed to develop some new habits, and the right storage products, anyone can survive and even thrive in a small home environment.
Many of my customers mention areas that are used for storage in their homes, like garages, basements and closets, as the main contributors of stress and clutter to their lives. These areas are usually the places where we drop bins or items that we don’t know what to do with in the moment, and often have the good intention of getting back to them later “when we have the time.” Then life happens! As a result, a few temporarily stored items can turn into a mountain of stuff, ripe for avalanches and a lot of stress at the thought of getting them organized.
These areas usually require some grit and elbow grease to organize, regardless of whether I sort through them or the customer decides to tackle them solo. Physical exertion aside, the process itself can be quite simple of you follow these 7 basic steps:
If these steps are followed, anyone can tackle any space with enough determination and time. If the project feels too immense, break it into manageable chunks over several days or weeks, or buy a keg, invite your friends, and make a party of it!
Who has a junk drawer? Maybe it’s not a drawer, but a basket box or bin. You know what I’m talking about: that place in your house where you stash all junk that you don’t quite know what to do with in the moment; those weird items that don’t really go with anything else. Come on now. Be honest!
I am the first to tell you that I have 3 junk drawers in my house…yes…3! At any given time, there are office supplies, loose change, random photos, hand sanitizer refills and that orphan charger that nobody seems to own. These catch-all’s are great because the drawer can be…get this…closed! Everything gets dumped and hidden away just in time for the neighbors to drop by.
Here’s the catch… You’ve got to address this junk at some point or that great drawer concept doesn’t work. The damn thing won’t close! Add a reminder on your calendar once a month to open said drawer and sort through its contents. 2 of my junk drawers are in my kitchen, so I hang 3 different plastic shopping bags from the drawer pulls of the closest drawers. As I pull out each item, I throw it into one of the 3 bags.
One is for trash and items I can easily throw out. Things like those plastic end tabs from the popsicles that my kids cut off with the scissors from the junk drawer and simply let fall into the drawer instead of depositing them in the trash. Come on, I can’t be the only mom suffering from that one!
The second bag is for items that belong some where else. I use this one to temporarily stage the things that need to go back to places like the kids’ bedrooms, the playroom or the garage. Once filled, I walk through the house with my bag, depositing all contents back where they belong.
The third bag is for items that I feel are just fine right at home in my junk drawer. For example, it’s the first place I go to when I need a pen to write out (yes, I am a bit old school like that) my weekly grocery list. If I move the pens, it will really throw off my whole system. Some things are just better left alone.
The great thing about this plastic bag process is that they can be thrown out after you are done, and I personally get a little burst of adrenaline for reusing them before they hit the trash can. Laugh as you may, I am sure that if you give this process a try, you might feel the same thing!
More Than One Way To Skin A Cat
I heard someone the other day say in passing that “there’s more than one way to skin a cat,” and it got me thinking about the process of organizing. What’s cool about organizing is that there is no right or wrong way to do it. Being organized is a highly personal and customized process that taps equally into our creative, analytical and rational abilities. When organizing actual objects, some people need to see everything laid out in front of them and have lots of visual cues, while others prefer that everything be neatly hidden behind closed doors when not in use. Some people like storage bins and baskets with bright colors, while others prefer a more relaxed color palate. With that being said, and despite your personal style and habits, I think it’s safe to say that there are a few foundational rules to live by that are important in the process of organizing our stuff.
Things serve us better when grouped into categories based on what they are and how they are used. It’s a good idea to keep like-with-like where it makes sense. For instance, keeping all your cooking spices together in the same cabinet and not spread out across multiple locations saves time and effort in finding the right spice for your recipes. Sheets should probably be kept together and maybe separated in different baskets by bed size or family member. DVDs probably belong together in one place for easy reference.
Once grouped, consider the items’ functions and arrange them in a way that makes them easily accessible right in the places where they will likely be used. Most of us would not store silverware in the bathroom or socks in the garage for example. Storing the right things close to where they will be used also saves time and the effort to locate everything when needed for the task at hand.
Going a step further, it’s helpful to think about the zones of operation within each space. These are the areas within reach when performing routine activities, like doing laundry, paying bills and making coffee. If I am in the kitchen making a cup of coffee, my zone of operation should ideally contain all the things needed to make that cup of coffee within arm’s reach. This means the mugs, coffee and coffee maker should be near each other. If I must walk completely across the kitchen to grab a mug, back across to the opposite corner to open the refrigerator and grab the creamer, and then back to the other side again to brew my coffee, I end up with a lot of wasted time and effort and am now potentially bumping into family members as I go.
If we can remember these 3 simple, foundational rules to 1) group things into categories, 2) arrange by use for easy accessibility, and 3) store in zones by routine activity, the rest is really left to the eyes of the beholder. Whether you like wire baskets or clear plastic bins, drawers or open shelving, there really is more than one way to skin that cat when getting organized. Meow!
There is a common misconception that I hear a lot when it comes to being organized. Thanks to beautiful magazine spreads and Martha Stewart-like Pinterest posts, most of us envision the perfectly organized home as being super clean, tidy, new, fresh and perfect. We often envision something that is far outside of our budget, capability and reach.
As a professional organizer myself, I want to be the first to dispel this myth. I have 2 kids, 2 dogs and 4 guinea pigs in my home. It is NOT perfect most of the time. It doesn’t always look orderly, and the laundry is usually piled a bit higher than I would like. It is not uncommon for my kids to pitch objects that they no longer want into the hallway outside of their bedrooms. I find wrappers stuffed in the couch and escaped Cheerios in places where they should not be. It’s not always pretty! Our homes need to be comfortable and functional, and living in one that resembles a museum is not achievable for most of us.
While it is important to have organizing strategies that reduce stress and enable you to bring your home back to “normal” when the mess gets too overwhelming, you will drive yourself crazy trying to achieve and maintain what society envisions as perfectly organized. Fellow professional Organizer and Author, Anne Blumer, said it best in her book “Get Rich Organizing.” She said “organization is not neatness. In my experience, stress does not come from clutter. It comes from not knowing where to put the clutter away.” She went on to also admit that her own home gets messy at times, so I urge you to give yourself a break and instead follow these simple rules to get and maintain a realistic balance of organization in your home:
Getting and staying organized is an ongoing process that will likely need to be revisited and tweaked over time. Once you find a routine that works for you and the others in your household, remember to keep it going, but to maintain perspective. Remember that life is not experienced to its fullest if we are constantly stressing over a little clutter. It’s okay to step over that pile in the hallway and go play with your kids if you know that cleaning it up will be a cinch when time allows.