Posts Tagged ‘getting organized’

Quit With The Excuses Already!

It's fine to keep things that you don't use everyday — I don't believe in the “you haven't touched it in a year, it's out of here” rule. But I don't want you convincing yourself to keep an item that gives you no real benefit and is just taking up space! After you've been doing it for a long time, holding onto clutter becomes a habit — and habits (especially bad ones) are hard to break! It's easy to continue justifying  your failure to clean out  the excess and unused with a variety of different excuses. “It was expensive.” “It was a gift.” “I've had it since I was a child.” “I don't just want to throw it away.” “I might fit into a size 6 again.” “But what if it comes back in style?” Yeah — right. I'm here to respond to each of these rationalizations with a bit of cold, hard reason — hopefully allowing you to see that you can let at least a few things go and you'll be none the worse off for it! Wink

  • is it beautiful, useful, or loved? (artist William Morrison developed the most effective way to determine if an item truly serves a purpose — ask yourself if the object is “beautiful, useful, or loved” — I teach this phrase to my clients like a mantra, repeated over and over and over (actually, they get a bit sick of it after awhile!) — all of your most treasured belongings seem to fit into one of these three categories — and if an object isn't beautiful, useful, or loved, then why are you keeping it?)
  • but it was expensive! (you may say that you are keeping an item because you spent a lot of money on it, and you can't stand to see it go to waste — I hate to burst your bubble, but if you aren't using it now, isn't it still going to waste? — keeping something simply because it was costly is not a good enough reason — these objects are nothing but high-price reminders of purchasing mistakes you made in the past — better to let it go and move on, and perhaps you can sell it to recoup some of the expense)
  • I might be able to wear it again (does keeping a garment that is too small encourage you to lose weight or fill you with shame because you still haven't reached your goal?  — we already heap enough guilt onto our heads every day without creating additional pressures — isn't it healthier to focus on feeling better about your appearance now? — why not take your old wardrobe to a consignment shop, then spend your profits on clothes that fit and make you feel attractive just as you are?)
  • get off the guilt trip (another rationalization that I hear fairly regularly is, “Aunt Mildred gave that to me, she would be so disappointed/hurt/angry if I got rid of it.” — I can only respond by asking, “Who runs your life? You or your Aunt Mildred?” — the idea of keeping something that you have no use for, just so you candrag it out when your relatives visit, seems a bit dishonest — and I firmly believe that once you receive a gift, that item is yours to do with as you see fit, even if you choose to discard it — we place too much importance on “stuff” as it is, without creating an unnecessary sense of obligation)
  • I've had it a long time (not to be rude, but so what? if it has no sentimental or historical value, I'm not convinced that longevity is the best reason to hang onto something you don't really care for anymore or use — your lifestyle and interests change over the years, and it's entirely natural for some of your belongings are going to become obsolete — they've had a good life, but now it's time to let them go and focus your energies on your current interests)
  • I don't just want to throw it away (clutter is not an either/or proposition — you have many other options besides just throwing an unwanted item away — find a local charity that will accept a donation, sell the thing on Craigslist or at a yard sale, give it to a friend or family member who could put that item to use — if it's still in functional order, you can always find someone who would love to have it and give it a second lease on life)

If you are still having a hard time letting go of your clutter, youmight try an alternative approach. Judith Kolberg, former head of the NationalStudy Group on Chronic Disorganization, suggests that you treat yourbelongings as “friends, acquaintances, and strangers.” Friends arethose items that you like having around — ones that really meansomething to you. Acquaintances are objects that come into your life,stay for a short time, are enjoyed, and then leave again. And strangers are easilydiscarded — you have no strong feelings of devotion toward theseitems. This method works particularly well for people who have powerfulemotional attachments to their belongings.

Sweeping Away The  Past

Stop and think about how much your physical environment affects your mental state and sense of well-being. Living in a messy home makes you feel as though you've put on an extra 10 pounds. Being surrounded by dirt and piles of clutter drains your energy. When your living space is out of whack, it changes your whole outlook — you feel stuck, irritable, just not happy with the world. And it doesn't take much for the mess to accumulate — I know from personal experience that a month or two of chaos will take its toll on even an organized person's home!

But when your home is clean, clutter-free, and organized, it feels as though a weight has been lifted from your shoulders. You have room to move, to think, to enjoy life. Suddenly, you re-discover the motivation to tackle other projects — starting an exercise program, looking for a new job, going back to school, writing the great American novel. It's amazing what just tidying up your home can help you accomplish! I firmly believe that everyone should plan at least two good top-to-bottom cleanings a year — whether you live in a mini-mansion, a condo, or an RV!

“Cleansing rituals” are common amongst native cultures as a way of releasing the old and making space for the new. These usually involve some sort of change in your physical environment, as well as a recognition of the attendant change in mental state — each action is paired with an affirmation of something that you're grateful for or something that you would like to welcome into your life. The shifting seasons signal an opportunity bring about a change in your energy, as well as your living space. Spring and fall are natural times in the cycle of the year for a cleansing — a breath of fresh air either before or after a long period of dormancy. I invite you to join me in my fall cleaning:

  • pull out any clothes that no longer fit and donate them to a local shelter — then take a moment to appreciate your body just as it is, in whatever form it takes — ask for health and strength in the coming months, and commit to getting in a little exercise every day
  • clean out the paraphernalia from any old hobbies that no longer excite you to donate or sell — take a moment to be grateful that you live in a society that allows you to participate in so many diverse activities — then pick just one of your many interests to focus on in the coming months, and commit to spending time on it each week
  • go through every room of your home, every storage space, and pull out any item that isn't beautiful, useful, or loved to donate or sell — take a moment to be thankful that you live in a society that allows such material abundance, and also be grateful for the fact that someone else will get a chance to use and love these things from your life — commit to cleaning one thing out every time you bring something new into your home from now on
  • go through your to-do list of “unfinished projects” and determine which ones are still important to you — give yourself permission to cross the others off, letting them go without worry or care, recognizing that you can't waste your limited time and energy on trivial or unimportant matters — then commit to a deadline for completing each remaining task
  • open the windows and let the fresh air flow through your home — take a moment to appreciate the beauty of nature — commit to getting outside at least once every week to enjoy the world around you
  • give your house a good scrubbing from top to bottom (including windows, floors, tub, toilet, dusting, mopping, you name it) — include all those “home maintenance” tasks that you've been putting off (like cleaning the gutters or checking the seals on the windows) — then take a moment to be grateful for this wonderful home and the people in it — commit to doing something every day that makes your home feel wonderful (fresh flowers, burning scented candles, a special place-setting at dinner, etc.)

The Incoming Tide

Most of the to-do's in life come attached to a piece of paper — registration forms to fill out, bills to pay, correspondence, invitations, school calendars, things to read and file. When you receive a document that requires some action on your part, what do you do first? Put it in a stack on your desk, where it will sit for weeks or months, until you receive another piece of paper reminding you about that to-do that you forgot? If you just take a second to get organized when a new document first enters your life, you can almost guarantee that it will get “to-done” on time. Start by sorting your current to-do's according to the action required. Ask yourself what you need to do with each item to get it off of your plate. Then create a set of “action files,” based on your answers. Each day, take 5 minutes to go through the day's incoming mail, placing each document in the appropriate file. Your action file should sit out in a file box or rack, placed in plain view, wherever you go through your mail. It will include categories like:

  • “to pay”
  • “to file”
  • “to contact”
  • “to buy”
  • “to read”
  • “to enter in computer”
  • “to put on calendar”
  • “to reconcile”
  • “to give to _________”

You can also put handwritten notes into your folders (ex: a list of people to call in the “to contact” file) if an action item doesn't come with a corresponding piece of paper. Now each document has a set place to live until you tackle it, and you can easily see exactly what types of to-do's are on your plate.

Getting It All Done

How do you make sure that these action items actually get acted on? Don't wait until you have time. You might say, “I'll get to it when I have time” — but you'll never have time! It's amazing how your schedule seems to fill up with a million other activities, how you have space for everything except the tasks you don't like doing in the first place. Administrative work like “to-do's” and filing and bill-paying aren't fun, but they are necessary for keeping your life running smoothly, for keeping you organized. If you want to get them done, you must make time.

Schedule a regular weekly appointment with yourself , maybe an hour or two, once or twice a week — and block off that slot for “admin time”. During admin time, your goal is to go through each folder in order and try to complete every item inside. If you can't complete that item for some reason, put it back in the folder and tackle it during your next admin period. And if you finish one step (say, paying a bill), but then realize that you have another step to take with that paper (perhaps calling to correct a billing error), move it to the appropriate folder for that next step.

You will, occasionally, run into to-do's that have very strict deadlines — bills to pay, registering for a conference, sending in a permission slip for your kid's field trip, disputing a charge on your credit card, etc. As you sort through incoming paperwork, note any item that has a specific due date (especially if it is going to arrive before your next admin day), and record it in your calendar — along with a note of the folder in which that document is stored. These tasks are to be taken care of as part of your routine that day — treat them as a priority and get them done first thing in the morning, before you get busy or distracted.

If you follow this system, you will have no reason to miss a deadline or pay a bill late — and you don't have to continually worry, “When will I get it all done”, because you know that any to-do's will be taken care of during your next regular admin period.

Plan Before You Organize

Before you can create an organizing “grand plan,” you need to takestock of your belongings — it's time for an inventory! Do you have sporting goods stashed in different areas throughoutthe house, clothes in three different closets, no set home for all those extra electrical cords, and miscellaneous”homeless” items scattered here and there? Let's go on a room-by-room tour and start gathering like items together into piles. Be sure tocollect up everything (and I mean everything) you want to store in a particular spacebefore you begin organizing — leave no stone unturned, open every cabinet, look in every drawer, sift through all the piles. There is nothing more frustrating thandesigning the perfect closet, then realizing you forgot 15 pairsof shoes that were hidden away under the bed!

You also can't concoct a truly useful organizing solution unless you have an end in mind. Start by asking yourself what you want from your storage. Are you concerned about maximizing space? Being able to see everything you own? Protecting your treasures? Cutting down on time spent dusting? Creating a focal point for the room? Displaying or concealing your belongings? Keep these objectives in mind as you work — your choice of supplies and storage location will depend on what you hope to accomplish with your organizing efforts. Everything you do — whether it's cleaning out or buying a container or expanding a closet — should take you one step closer to these goals.

Location, Location, Location

Look around your house — do you see anything that is clearly out of place? Any bowling balls stored in the kitchen or power tools thrown in with the toys? Don't laugh — I've actually seen both of these situations! You might think that you're “organizing” your home when you put an item away in the first available cabinet or closet — but your storage will serve you better if you think in terms of logical categories. Begin by sorting your belongings according to purpose — sports, travel, grooming, etc. Then group similar items together — travel accessories with your luggage, rags in the same place as other cleaning equipment, office supplies in one spot. Don't forget accessories and related items — keep the knife sharpener with your cutlery and the extra bits with the drill.

A large part of being organized is having a set spot for everything you own. As you sort through your stuff, create a pile of “homeless items” that need to be incorporated into your storage. Then do your best to find a logical place for each — no halfway spots allowed! Each time you assign an item to a space, ask yourself why you are putting it there. Because it's close to where you will use it? Because it will be easy to see or reach? Because that's the first place you would think to look for it? If you don't have a good reason for storing an item in a certain place, please rethink your decision. The worst mistake you can make is to randomly stash your belongings around your home or office — how will you ever find them again? You shouldn't have to guess!

Strive to choose a storage space that is appropriate forit's contents. There are many factors to consider — such as anobject's size, shape, “breakability,” and weight. Are you storing heavyboxes on a high shelf? Sounds like a concussion waiting to happen! Andyou should always try to match form with function as you evaluate yourstorage spaces — how can you best use shallow shelves, a tall thincabinet, or a deep desk drawer? Organizing requires a balance betweencreativity and common sense.

Movement Matters

Getting at your belongings shouldn't require a lot of strain or effort. Take a quick look at your existing storage — do you have to bend and stretch and squat in order to reach items you use all the time? You can make your life great deal easier by keeping motion in mind as you organize.

Every space in your home or office can be categorized according to ease of accessibility — your job is to think about how (and how often) you use each of your belongings, and assign that item to the correct type of storage. You really have three to choose from. Those spaces that fall at or near eye-level are considered primary storage and should be reserved for items you access on a daily basis. If your primary storage is cluttered with objects you rarely touch, consider moving these items a bit further away — to a secondary storage area between knee and shoulder height. And what do you do with those incredibly inaccessible spaces — such as the garage, high cabinets, or the back of the closet? This tertiary storage is meant for items that you use only a few times a year — like holiday decorations, memorabilia, and archived records.

Storage Considerations

You can't just throw any old box of stuff in a storage space and call it “organized.” Even those items that you wouldn't normally consider to be “fragile” can be damaged if they are improperly packed away. Attics, garages, and basements are usually the worst offenders — thanks to the extremes of temperature and moisture. Are your storage spaces climate-controlled? Do they get really hot in the summer? Cold in the winter? Damp when it rains or is humid? Do you have problems with insects or other rodents? You may need to wrap or seal an item, toss in some cedar chips, or purchase a special container to keep your treasures safe. And if you think there is any chance of damage in this location, pick a different storage space.

Now, let me ask whether your storage paraphernalia is helping or hindering your organizing efforts. Have you ever had to open 6 different boxes to find what you were looking for? Organizing supplies should make your life easier, not more difficult! Use see-through clear plastic containers and label everything — shelves included. You should immediately recognize the contents simply by looking at the container. Accessories such as drawer trays, shelf dividers, lazy susans, pull-out baskets, and stackable shelves can also help you make the most of your storage by subdividing larger spaces.

Remember that organization is an ever-changing and dynamic part of your life. You can't just set up a storage system and think that you are “finished.” As you acquire new possessions, as your lifestyle and interests change, your storage needs will evolve. Be willing to adjust your system as necessary — what seemed like a good idea at one point may require some improvement down the road!

Breaking Free

There's nothing about the act of bill-paying that's any more inherently onerous than, say, filing or making follow-up phone calls or taking care of any other to-do — why then do we dread it more than other tasks? It's funny the effect an outlay of cash has on people. We love to spend money in the abstract — but when the time comes to ante up, we panic. A good deal of financial procrastination is simply buyer's remorse — we don't want to face our spending habits, those impulse buys and unnecessary purchases that now seem so foolish.

But even without regretting the purchase, there's still stress involved with bill-paying. You might worry about rising interest rates or dropping home values, the security of your paycheck or how much is being withheld to cover taxes — or any of a number of other issues that are entirely beyond your control. So much of what happens in the world of finance these days seems out of our hands, and uncertainty is always unnerving. The good news is that you don't have to worry about getting your bills paid on time, not with the right system (and as Forrest Gump says, “That's good! One less thing!”) Here are a few tips for making that monthly round of check-cutting a lot less stressful.

  • cut down on your expenses (it goes without saying that the fewer bills you have, the easier it is to pay them each month — of course you need electricity and groceries and a home to live in — but I'm sure that if you examine your statements and receipts, you'll find at least a few recurring items that could be trimmed from the budget — memberships you don't use, subscriptions you don't read, services that duplicate one another, excessive numbers of multiple credit cards, each with just a few charges on it — these bills do nothing but complicate your finances each month — it's time to clean house in the bill-paying sense — if you don't need it, lose it, and make your monetary life a lot easier right from the start)
  • align your bill-paying dates (part of what makes bill-paying such a pain in the neck is having to do it multiple times each month — one round of bills come due on the 1st and another on the 10th, then more on the 15th and a final batch near the end of the month — it's no wonder staying on top of it all takes so much of your time! — what most people don't realize is that most companies can adjust your billing cycle to end on whatever date you like — of course, your utilities and mortgage will always be due at the start of the month, so why not have your phone, internet, credit cards, insurance, and other monthly bills arrive at the same time? — that way, you only have to engage in one round of “pull-out-the-checkbook” each month)
  • pre-pay for the year (with set fees like insurance premiums, memberships, and flat-rate services, you can often save money by paying for the entire year up front — and even if there is no discount attached, you'll still save a lot of time by skipping monthly billing — if you have the money in-hand and know you'll be with that company for at least 12 months, ask if you can pre-pay your account for the year — just make sure that you'll be refunded the pro-rated amount if you cancel your service before the end of that period)
  • consolidate (a number of years back, Matt and I decided that we were tired of having to keep track of so many different bills — we examined our options and decided to pay as many bills as possible with our credit card, so we would only have one check to cut each month — it turns out that almost anything can be charged to your Visa or Mastercard — of course, gas and groceries and haircuts, but I'm also talking about your mortgage, your insurance, and even your utilities — I'm allergic to “convenience fees,” so we only do this if there is no additional cost for a credit card payment — and it only works when you pay the card in full — but it's amazing how much this one change simplified our finances — it also makes budgeting easier, because we can review every purchase for an entire month with one glance)
  • set up auto-pay (another step toward lifting the yoke of bill-paying from our necks was shifting everything to auto-pay — I came to realize that there was no good reason for me to ever have to write a company a check again, when I could have the bill either auto-charged to my credit card or auto-drafted from my bank account — my preference is for the first option, so if a company makes a mistake and takes too much money, I can dispute the charge before the cash comes out of my account — I really only use bank auto-drafts for paying the over-arching credit card bill — a lot of people are scared of auto-pay, because they're worried they'll get ripped off — but if you are reviewing your statements every month and reconciling your accounts like you should be, the chance of this happening is almost non-existent — and if you're not, you're just as likely to have an error go unnoticed, even when you pay all of your bills by check)
  • create a monthly routine (now that you've simplified bill-paying as much as possible, you just need a good routine for staying on top of it all — set one day a month aside for bookkeeping — start by reviewing all of the bills you've received, both paper and electronic, for errors — then reconcile your credit card and bank statements, double-checking to make sure that every bill on auto-draft was paid — finally, write and mail checks for the remaining bills that must be paid manually, if there are any — and don't forget to record those in your register — three simple steps and you're done until next month!)