Posts Tagged ‘getting organized’

The Keepers

The first step toward cleaning out the clutter is recognizing that not everything is a keeper! Even those things that used to be keepers can slide into the “Get Rid Of” category without you realizing it. “Keep” is only meant for items that you have defined as CURRENTLY beautiful, useful, or loved. Deciding which items are “Keep's” should be fairly obvious — if you use it all the time or consider it a cherished memento, that's a “Keep.” You may even want to have several boxes of “Keep's” — each box labeled for a different area in your house. That way, you can take all of your “Kitchen Keeps” and “Bedroom Keeps” and “Basement Keeps” to their respective homes without making 30 different trips.

You may locate a few stray objectsthat are missing a part or in need of an accessory. Of course, youwould be perfectly happy to use these items — if you only had thoseessential lost components. Put these fabulous finds into a box labeled”need to buy,” and make a list of all the parts and pieces you arelooking for. Then you can take the list with you on your next shoppingtrip. You can do the same with any object that requires modification or repairbefore it can be used. But set a time limit — if you don't get an item in functional workingorder by your deadline, it gets moved to the “Get Rid Of” pile.

You can also create a space for unfinished projects that you still intend to tackle. However, this box is not meant to be a graveyard for past guilt. Askyourself if each task is still as meaningful as when you first beganworking on it. Macramé potholders may have sounded like a good idea 10years ago, but now? It's okay to admit that you will never write thegreat American novel. You're not going to hell if you decide that tennis just isn't for you anymore. I hereby grant you permission to let go ofoutdated interests, and to focus on activities that bring you joytoday. And if it sits in the project box for more than a couple ofmonths, it's out of here!

Get Rid Of

This box is for those objects that you are certain you don't want any more. Oh no — you have to make a decision?  Whatever will you do! I know the concept is frightening, but what I'm asking really should not be that hard — you ought to be able to look at a broken lamp or an old book you haven't read in 20 years or a pair of pants that will never fit you again and know that it serves no purpose in your life (if not, we've got much bigger issues to tackle than disorganization!) Remember, we're only looking for those items that you can immediately identify as clutter — ones that don't require a lot of thought or deliberation. Of course, you may want to break “Get Rid Of” into some smaller categories — such as “Throw Away” for the trash, “Give Away” for those things you would like to donate, and a even a “Sell” box for anything you think might be worth money.

You're also going to find some “Get Rid Of's” that aren't even your responsibility. If you are like every other person on this planet, you probably havecustody of at least one item does not belong to you. These orphanedsouls create a sense of guilt, of incompleteness, and of loose ends tobe tied up. How freeing would it be to rid yourself of other people'sclutter? Let's put these in a box labeled “To Return,” and then schedule time to get them back to their respective homes. I promise that — once youhave freed yourself of everything that doesn't belong to you, serve a purpose in your life, or mean anything to you –you will find it much easier to organize the rest. And you will havetaken a tremendous weight off of your shoulders — the weight ofunnecessary clutter. Just be sure to go through this process at leastonce a year to keep the piles trimmed back!

Not Sure

While I would love (in a perfect world) for you to be quick and decisive about each item, I realize that you are going to run across a few things that stump you. I give you permission to label these as “Not Sure.” That having been said, it's best if you can try to keep the “Not Sure's” to a minimum. This box is supposed to be for belongings that you can't rationally justify keeping — but some gut feeling won't let you part with them yet. Remember, your “Not Sure Box” isn't a dumping ground for things that you just don't want to take the time to think about. The last thing we want to do is ask the same questions about the same objects over and over again. Try your very best to make a solid “yes or no” decision about your belongings the first time that you pick them up.

If you honestly can't decide what to do with an item, put it in “Not Sure.” When your box is full, tape it shut and label it. Make sure you list the contents (kitchenware, books, clothing), the date you packed it away, and any special storage instructions on the outside. Then, I want you to stash this box in the garage, attic, or basement — some place out of the way. Trust me on this one. I actively want you to forget about this stuff for a while. Just make sure that you put your box where its contents won't get ruined (that means, don't place something that will melt in an attic without air conditioning!)

Make a note in your calendar (you are using a calendar, right?) to check back in 6 to 12 months. If, during that time, you haven't needed anything out of your box, it will be a lot easier to let go of those “Not Sure's.” If you still can't part with an item, that might be a hint that it is more beloved than you first thought. Either way, this will help you make a final decision about what to keep!

Make The Time

A system is only as good as the time you devote to using it. For example, setting up files for organizing your incoming paperwork into action categories is a great way to keep to-do's under control. However, if you simply plop the mail on your desk each day without opening or sorting it, you've defeated the whole purpose of your system. And if you're good about adding paper to those folders but never seem to subtract any back out, you may actually find yourself in a worse position than before you started!

An organizing system is like a pet — it needs regular care and feeding to survive. Some systems (like sorting the mail or tidying up your desk) require daily attention, while others (like paying bills or shopping for groceries) might need to happen weekly or monthly. Whatever the time frame, setting aside a regular block into your calendar for acting on that system will help turn a “technique” into a habit.

Staying organized may be as simple as reminding yourself to leave your keys and briefcase by the front door when you come home, or stopping work 10 minutes early so you have time to put away your supplies at the end of the day. Of course, larger systems will require more time — an hour once a week for filing, another hour each month for bookkeeping. Figure out what it takes to stay on top of your “stuff” and be prepared to commit the time if you want to see lasting results.

Keep Things Lean And Mean

“Clutter creep” is the most deadly foe of any organizing system. This silent killer sneaks in slowly over time — and you don't realize that your files or closet or schedule have become overloaded until it's too late! The key to avoiding clutter creep is giving your systems a regular purging BEFORE they start to need it.

But this doesn't mean that every spare minute of your life has to be spent on “preemptive organizing.” You don't need to devote all your evenings and weekends to cleaning out — simply time your efforts to coincide with a logical “trigger” activity (go through your closets at the change of season, clear out your filing when you do your taxes, etc.) Even a quick once-over, removing anything that is clearly outdated, unnecessary, and unused will keep things in check.

It's also important that you occasionally review and revise your way of doing things. A system that works for you today is not guaranteed to serve you as well this same time next year. Things change, the center does not hold, and you find yourself with different priorities as time goes by. It's folly to keep plugging away with an obsolete system that isn't meeting your needs — staying organized means recognizing when an about-face is in order! The signs are unmistakeable — processes that once seemed easy are now difficult and cumbersome, you're missing deadlines, and things are falling through the cracks. Don't get frustrated and give up, saying, “See, I knew I couldn't stay organized!” Step back, take a breath, and calmly re-evaluate the situation. Ask yourself what isn't working for you anymore and why. More importantly, try to determine exactly what needs to change for this system to suit you better. Your answer will guide you toward the right tweaks and adjustments. 

Strengths And Weaknesses

When delegating a job, keep in mind the person's talents, area of specialization, and schedule. And set yourself up for success by delegating to someone who can actually complete the task! Handing a job off to a person who is missing a key ingredient (time, skills, resources, experience, or willingness) will only frustrate you both. Also keep in mind that the quickest way to turn someone off to a delegated job is to give that person an assignment that is substantially below his or her skill level. Delegate a project to the most junior person who is capable of successfully completing the job — it's silly to waste $30 an hour on an administrative assistant when a $10 an hour temp could complete the work.

When choosing which jobs to farm out, you need to remember that delegation can be used as a very effective training and educational tool. Delegate interesting projects in addition to drudgery — especially if you are trying to groom a new assistant, up-and-comer, or someone you want to be able to take on more and more challenging tasks as time goes by. Frankly, you will wear your team members out and dampen their enthusiasm for assisting you if you only give them the “dregs.” You want delegation to serve as an opportunity to help the other person grow and expand their skills, as well as a way for you to get menial chores done. If you challenge your delegees today, you'll keep them interested in the work — and also be able to give them more difficult assignments in the future (without worrying that they will be overburdened!)

Delegating The Right Way

In order to delegate successfully, you need to follow a system — one that keeps both you and the delegee on track. Let's start with your side of things, as the delegator. When you assign a project to a colleague or employee, how do you remember exactly what you asked of them? When you gave them the job? Your agreed upon deadline? There's nothing more frustrating than handing a job over to someone and forgetting that you delegated it, or when you delegated it, or when it was due back to you. You can keep track of what projects you give to whom by keeping a simple delegation log, in which you record these important details. This is especially important when you've delegated multiple tasks to numerous different people. Simply review your log each week, see which items should have been completed, and follow up with your folks. You'll find yourself facing fewer missed deadlines and experiencing a lot less stress. The last thing you want when you delegate a project is to wake up at 3 AM thinking, “Oh no — did I ask my web master to update my newsletter yet, or not?” We all suffer from mid-life Alzheimer's at times, so write it down!

But you also need to create some structure for your delegee. Don't ever hand a job off with the instructions, “I need this back when you finish.” Give your delegees a firm deadline along with the assignment. Although the ultimate responsibility for completion of the job lies with you, you don't want to waste all of your time chasing after someone saying, “When will you be done?” Similarly, you shouldn't have to guess what kind of a finished productyour assistant will hand you when the final deadline comes around.Communicate the exact result you expect before you delegate the job and agree on a goal with your delegee.That might seem obvious, but few people do this really thoroughly — and they pay the price later. Giveyour helpers enough information to go on so they don't have to keep coming back andasking you for more information every step of the way. The whole pointbehind delegation is to save you time — and that doesn't happen ifyou're always on the phone or in meetings clarifying requests.

Bite-Sized Is Better

It can also be overwhelming to a delegee for you to hand them a huge request and expect them to manage their time effectively without a little guidance. And you certainly don't want to wait until two days before the deadline to see what kind of progress your assistant is making. It's better to set milestones for completing each phase of the project. When you break a job up into smaller “bite-sized” pieces, it's much easier for the delegee to handle, you have set up a series of natural follow-up points throughout the project, and you can check in with your team member at each sub-deadline for a status report.

A lot of people fail to follow up on delegated projects until the very end because they don't want to seem pushy or overbearing. Of course, there is a fine line between checking in and micro-managing. Once you feel the person has a firm grasp on the expected result,allow your delegee enough freedom to decide how to accomplish the job.Delegation is about letting go of a task you didn't need to do in the first place — and as long as it is completed in a satisfactory manner, who cares HOW it was accomplished? But on the other hand, you shouldn't have to guess how far along a delegee is in a project, at any point in the process. Ask your people report their progress at regular intervals — these milestones are the perfect excuse for a meeting or written report. This allows you to discuss any problems the person has run into, any additional resources he/she might need, and make any adjustments to your project schedule.

Don't Squash Their Enthusiasm

No one likes to work hard on a job for someone else and receive none ofthe glory. So be sure to give credit where credit is due!People often think that the only real motivator in this world is money, but that's simply not true. It's been proven that people are more likely to break their necks to do a good job in return for intangible rewards like praise than they would even for a raise or a promotion. Your delegees will work harder for you in the long runif you give them a pat on the back — don't be stingy with the compliments when you feel that a job has been well-done. I promise that you won't give your folks a swelled head, just a swelled sense of accomplishment and pride in their work (and an incentive to help you out again in the future!)

Look, Up In The Sky!

Some of the best storage space you will ever find is over your head. Those high, short shelves in the tops of your closets are perfect for hats, smaller luggage, boxes of holiday decorations, and other items you don't use very often. Hang things like cookware and bicycles from the ceiling using special suspended racks. Those sturdy rafters in the attic, garage, or basement are great for heavier items like sports equipment or yard tools. No limits — the only rule is be creative! A metal pole strung between two beams is perfect for off-season, dress-up, or vintage clothing — a large square of netting tacked at the four corners can hold stuffed animals — and some thick plywood laid across your attic rafters will create an entirely new level of storage.

Laying Low

Oftentimes, we focus too heavily on storage that is at eye level — forgetting about the extra space we have near the floor (under the bed, at the bottom of a closet, along the base of a wall in the garage, etc.) However, the last thing you want to do is simply create another pile that clutters up the floor and trips you up. Like any other storage, floor space will serve you much better if you containerize and create some structure. Long, flat boxes are great for subdividing the space under your bed. Shoe racks will help you make the best use of your closet floor. And you can create a ton of additional storage in your basement, attic, laundry room, or garage by lining the base of the wall with low shelves, pull-out baskets, and bins.

Just Hanging Around

Another place to find extra storage is along a vertical surface. Almost anything can be attached to a wall — just be sure to use strong anchors if you plan to hang anything heavy. Give your tools and garden implements a home on a peg board in the garage or basement. Hang see-through mesh bags of toys from colored hooks on your child's wall. If your home lacks a hall closet, create one with an attractive coat rack in your entryway. Put up some pegs in your bedroom closet to make room for belts, scarves, and purses. Hang coffee cups from the underside of your kitchen cabinet shelves. Or store grocery bags in a holder on the inside of your pantry. All it takes is a little creativity, and a hammer!

Shut The Door On The Way Out

And as long as we're hanging things, let's take a look at your doors. While racks on an entry door often look cluttered and junky — an enclosed closet, pantry, or bathroom door can be provide a valuable source of storage space. Just make sure that you attach all organizing paraphernalia firmly — you don't want your racks or pegs coming loose the first time you slam the thing shut! You also need to be conscious of blocking your hinges (putting your hooks toward the center of the door solves this problem). And if you prefer not to permanently damage your surfaces, stick with racks that hook over the top of the door rather than screwing in.

Other than those three rules, your options are limitless. Closet doors are just begging to be used for storage — to hold a shoe rack, belt hooks, purses, or even a jewelry organizer. Your bathroom door is the perfect place for hanging a towel rack or a bathrobe. Putting a rack with shelves on the inside of a pantry door can double your food storage. And if your child needs someplace to hang bookbags and coats, a series of hooks on his or her bedroom door is one of the easiest and most accessible options.

Making Use Of Odd-Sized Spaces

One final word on using “dead space” — don't be deceived by unconventional storage areas. You may wonder, at times, what your builder was smoking when he created some of the closets and cubbyholes in your house — spaces that seem too skinny or short or angular to serve much of a purpose. These storage areas may initially appear useless, but you can always find something to put there. You just have to think a bit outside of the box (or outside of the cabinet, as it were!)

You might be able to fit a bicycle or cleaning supplies in that low closet under the stairs. Or use those tall thin cabinets for cookie sheets and serving platters. If your pantry or linen closet stretches up taller than you can easily reach (but you like to shop in bulk at stores like Sam's or Costco) — add some high shallow shelves for bulk toilet paper or extra canned goods (and hang a step-ladder on the wall so you can get at them when you need a refill!) Never be afraid to outfit a strangely shaped storage space with whatever accessories are required to make it useful.

A Bad Case Of Indecision

You know what “waffling” is. It begins when you decide to get rid of that old waffle iron you never use. As you put it in the donation bag, you think to yourself, “But what if someone wants waffles?” You take it back out. Then you think, “That's silly. No one has wanted waffles in more than 5 years.” You stick it back in the bag. “I could start making waffles again.” It comes out. “I hate making waffles.” It goes back in. This continues for another 15 minutes until you go to the dark side with, “But I might need it someday.” You put the waffle iron back in the cabinet, to collect dust for another 5 years. Why do you do this? It's not because you are an evil and indecisive person. You simply lack a solid set of criteria for determining an item's worth. No longer!

The key to trimming down the clutter is being honest with yourself about what purpose that item serves in your life. If you can't conjure up at least one plausible scenario requiring the use of that green shag toilet-seat cover or dot-matrix printer from 1988, you may want to ask yourself if it is worth hanging on to. Try to provide solid answers to each of these questions:    

  • Why would I need it? (try to come up with one occasion when you would need that particular item again — what would have to happen in your life for it to be useful, relevant, and valuable to you)
  • Where would I need it? (if the item in question is only useful up north and you now live in Miami — or only useful in a corporate environment and you're now self-employed, why keep it?)
  • What would I need it for? (what purpose does this item serve? are you still involved with that activity? no reason to keep letterhead from an old job or tap shoes if you gave up dancing)
  • Who would ask me for it? (people seem to hang onto stuff because they are afraid someone will ask them for it someday — if it's the IRS or the police, keep it — if not, think twice)
  • When would I need it? (okay, you might need it “someday” — but when is will that day arrive? 3 months or 35 years from now? is it worth hanging onto that long?)

The Past Is Future

Ifyou haven't touched something in years, chances are thatyou're not going to use it anytime soon. Clothes and sporting goodsseem to be some of the worst offenders! It's natural for people to havea hard time letting go of the past. And if an old outfit or a bowlingball really means that much to you, put it away with yourkeepsakes. Just don't take upvaluable space in your active storage areas with items you don't use. Behonest and realistic about this one! At what point will the aforementioned green shagtoilet-seat cover be crucial to your survival? If you can picture aspecific, concrete instance when you will need it in the foreseeablefuture, then by all means keep it. “I might need it someday” isn't agood enough rationale.

What Is The Worst Thing That Would Happen If You Got Rid Of It?

When my clients are anxious about discarding an item, they are reallysaying, “I'm afraid of what might happen if I got rid of it.” This issimply fear of the unknown — uncertainty about the consequences oftheir actions. So I ask my clients to let their apprehensions run wild,and to imagine the absolute worst-case scenario. Will the world end if you toss outthat ring binder you haven't used since college? Probably not. Thisknowledge helps dissipate the fear and makes letting go a little easier.

So let's say you do get rid of something, and then decide thatyou need it 6 months later (my mother claims this always happens toher, as a justification for postponing cleaning out!) This isn't alwaysa problem. Ask yourself what would be required for you to replace thislost treasure. If we are talking about an expensive or hard-to-finditem, you are certainly justified in thinking twice before tossing it.But if it's just an old butter dish or an extra stapler, it's not such a big deal. You have to consider cost versus benefit — it may cost you more (intime, space, energy, or money) to keep the item than to replace it ifand when you ever need it.