Posts Tagged ‘professional organizer’

Posted on: March 25th, 2013 by Kristi | No Comments

the non-planner datebook

What organizational product do I see the most of when I visit clients homes?  No, the answer is not calendars, planners and to-do lists.  The product I see the most of is organizing books.  The second most popular find is organizing bins.  The third is calendars, planners and to-do lists. 

Why do I find these items so frequently and in such high volume in clients homes?  The top two were no surprise to me and easy to diagnose.   

  • My clients have a stash of organizing books because they want to be organized.  They are intelligent people and sought out resources.  They eventually came to realize that they simply didn’t have the time to organize on their own, that some steps in the books were difficult to handle emotionally (if it was all about intelligence, I’d be out of a job) and that the steps in the books really weren’t made for their specific situations.  So, I get called in to plan, support and assist.   
  • My clients have a varied collection of organizing bins because they want to be organized.  They are intelligent people and sought out resources.  They eventually came to realize that without a plan, the bins simply displace the clutter.

The third was a little more difficult for me to analyze.  Why do they have so many calendars, planners and lists?  Some are blank, some are partially filled, some are new, some are years old, some are decorative, some are plain, some are small, some are large and some are even electronic.  What became clear was that none were working.  Once again, the products showed a desire to manage their time.  The products showed intelligent people that sought out solutions.  I have come to find that there is no area in which people try to fit into what is popular, current and usual more so than in the area of time management.  People tend to think that one planner or one calendar fits all.  This couldn’t be further from the truth.  Left-brainers may do well with a typical planner, but right-brainers are more creative and visual.  They need planners that reflect these traits.  What ever happened to writing on the back of your hand?  Well, maybe we don’t need to consider that one, but we do need to consider everything and anything until….it works!  This is one of the services I love to provide my clients.  You don’t have to use a thick planner!  You can use sticky notes, the wall, voice recorders, pictures, index cards, etc…  My August issue of Organization-411 will focus on these creative time management techniques (as well as back to school tips for the parents out there).  In the meantime, check out two of my favorite “planners” linked below.  Also, if this is an area you would like help in, time management is one of the services I provide.  We will work to find what works for YOU!


A Favorite Planner for the Creative 

Another Favorite

A Better Use Of Down Time

Most people's days are so filled to overflowing with responsibilities, that there's is almost no way to get it all done in the hours available. Some things (like work and school) eat up big chunks of your day, and you have no control over when or how they happen. Others can be squeezed in whenever you've got a few free minutes here or there. And where do you tend to have a lot of available time? While you're waiting! You could be sitting in a medical office, stuck in traffic, caught in a long line at the post office or bank, hoping to have your flight start boarding soon, trapped on a train during an hour-long commute, or early for a scheduled meeting. Instead of bitching about wasted time, use those precious minutes to get something done!

  • clean out your purse, briefcase, or backpack
  • listen to a book on tape or a recording of a seminar you've been wanting to hear
  • make a wish list of books to read, movies to see, restaurants to try, etc.
  • make a to-do list of things you want and need to get done in the next week
  • plan your menu and grocery shopping lists for the week
  • read that magazine article or book you haven't had time for
  • review and update your calendar
  • schedule an appointment you've been putting off
  • sort through your incoming mail, separating to-do's from trash
  • write a letter to a friend
  • make a phone call that you've been procrastinating on
  • pay your bills, either online or writing a check to go in the mail
  • balance your checkbook
  • work on your Christmas gift list
  • write and address holiday greeting cards
  • work on any sort of report / homework / project with an upcoming deadline
  • write in your journal or diary
  • meditate
  • file your nails (although I probably would discourage a pedicure in public!)
  • just relax and enjoy a moment of silence in the middle of a hectic day

See how easy that was? Wink

A Faster Way To Organize Your Home

There's so much to do when you're running a household — just keeping your physical space in order and making sure your family is properly fed can be a full-time job! However, most people can't (and don't want to) spend all week on chores, because they have other responsibilities to think about — so you have to find ways to make those routine everyday tasks take less time. The good news is that the right household environment naturally makes everything easier — that includes meals, getting ready in the morning, and clean-up. You know that old saying, “A stitch in time saves nine”? Well that's what it's all about — investing a little bit of energy up front to create a system that works for you will save a lot of unnecessary work down the road!

  • walk through one room in the house and put away anything that is out of place
  • set up a basket at the base / top of the stairs for items that need to go up / down
  • gather up every book in you own in one specific category (self-help, history, biography, etc.)
  • organize one grouping / category / author of books alphabetically on your shelves
  • set up your pills and vitamins for the week in a daily dosage container — AM, mid-day, PM
  • move everything  for your AM routine (coffee/tea, meds, supplements) together into one cabinet
  • group all of one kind of food (cereals, canned goods, baking items, etc.) together in your pantry
  • put all loose bulk food items in lidded containers in your pantry — don't forget to label them
  • figure out your menu for the week, including page numbers for the recipes
  • write out a grocery shopping list for the week's meals
  • chop / marinate / prep your veggies and meat (in containers in the fridge) for the week's meals
  • cook a batch of a favorite dish (spaghetti sauce, soup, lasagna, etc.) and freeze individual servings
  • rinse your dishes right after each meal to prevent food from drying and becoming stuck on them
  • choose outfits for each day of the next week, including shoes and accessories
  • separate your casual clothes from dressy, or summer from winter, or work from play in your closet
  • put all of your shoes on racks or in labeled boxes by pairs
  • set up bins for separating out “dry cleaning,” “repairs,” and “alterations” in your closet
  • break your gift wrap paper / bags / tags / bows / ribbon into separate labeled tubs
  • clear your bathroom counter of everything except what you use daily for your grooming routine
  • set up an area at each entryway where visitors can remove their shoes to keep from tracking dirt in

See how easy that was? Wink

Learning To Work Together

When Matt and I first got married,  I was highly anal-retentive about my living environment (big surprise!) I wanted no visible clutter anywhere. My hubby on the other hand, while far from a slob, had a much more relaxed attitude about putting certain things away — like the clothes he would change out of at the end of the day. He left a trail of wardrobe items around our house that used to drive me up the wall. I tried everything to get him to hang up his clothes as soon as he took them off (pleading, cajoling, threatening, bribery), but nothing worked — because that simply wasn't important to him.

Now if I had kept pushing and he had kept resisting, this could have very well ended our marriage (I've seen breakups happen over less!) But we decided that it was silly for us to get so worked up over something so relatively insignificant. However, we also realized that it would be unbalanced for one of us to simply “give in” (God knows that when a spouse surrenders a single battle, it feels as if you've lost the war!) We talked about what we each valued. I wanted a tidy-looking home without piles of clothes everywhere — but at the same time, I didn't want to be constantly picking up after him in order to achieve that. He on the other hand, wanted to come home from work and immediately relax, without having to worry about spending his precious down-time putting things away (this was back in the day before self-employment!) — but he promised he would get it all where it belonged once or twice a week.

Fortunately, we each had a divided closet — so we agreed that when Matt shed his skin at the end of the day, he would pile his clothes in the floor of his side (rather than the floor of the bedroom or living room or bathroom) and shut the door. That way, I didn't have to see it or deal with it. And when the pile got to big for him to stand, he'd hang everything up (or do laundry) and start over again fresh. It was the perfect solution, because both our needs were met at the same time. And that arrangement has followed us into the Airstream and around the country — of course, it's a smaller closet, but we still each have our own section, and Matt's got a series of “cubbies” where he can easily stow his clothes as he takes them off. A good system (one built on give-and-take) is adaptable enough to last you forever!

I always say that compromise is the soul of family harmony — and it's doubly true when you're talking about getting organized. The best way to fail at your organizing efforts is for one family member to lay down hard-and-fast rules, expecting everyone else to just fall in line — ain't gonna happen! Instead of each person insisting that it be done “their” way, recognize that there is no one “right” way to organize. Talk it over, discuss each person's needs and expectations, and find someplace in the middle where you can all be happy. It works with kids, it works with life partners, it even works with mothers-in-law!

What's Wrong With Loving Your Stuff?

There's a saying in my family, “If one is good, 20 must be better” — and my mother lived according to that credo until her dying day. If she loved it, she bought a lot of it, bought a few more the next trip to the store, then picked up a couple extras just to be safe. While cleaning out, we found at least 100 purses in her closet (many of which hadn't seen the light of day since I was in high school.) She had clothing and shoes that she hadn't been able to wear in 50 years stashed away in her closet. I found paperwork in her filing system that went back to 1954. The craft room was filled with old half-finished projects dating back three decades (my favorite was a bicentennial needlepoint quilt that my mother started in 1976 and kept swearing she would complete “someday” — she might have pulled it out when I was about 12 and added a few stitches, but otherwise, that thing lived in a shopping bag all the way through my childhood until I went to college!) And my mother was never one to pass up a bargain at the supermarket — she could have single-handedly alleviated starvation in a medium-sized third-world country if she had donated her kitchen to the World Hunger Organization (as long as those children in Ethiopia didn't mind freezer burn, overdue expiration dates, and a lot of spam!)

You see, the problem is not just that my mother owned a lot of stuff, but that she owned so much of everything that a good bit of it went bad before she ever had a chance to use it. Three years ago, a neighbor gave my mother several lugs of figs from his tree. She canned them and stored them neatly away on a shelf in her pantry. Well I'm sorry, but a single 77-year-old woman living by herself is never going to be able to eat two dozen jars of figs in any reasonable amount of time — when we finally opened them, they had grown hair and turned moldy. My mother never really understood the concept of “expiration” — she truly thought things would last forever. She would find canned goods on sale at the store and load up, then be surprised to discover that they were no longer edible when she finally opened them 10 years later. We found cans going back to 1998, and ended up throwing out 99% of what was stored in the pantry, fridge, or freezer. In fact, a large part of what my mother had stashed away for use “someday” went in the garbage — dried up paints, melted candles, holiday decorations that had disintegrated in the heat of the attic, clothing that was munched by silverfish, and shoes that had become moldy with disuse. The irony is that my mother hated to waste anything, which is why she kept things forever, magically believing that they would be useful at some point down the road — but instead they just rotted away in storage, which then created more waste. A vicious cycle.

A Fine Line Between Collection And Pathology

So does this mean that my mother was a compulsive hoarder? I don't think so. My mother's biggest problem was “excessive acquisition” — she was a child of the Depression and had spent her formative years going without essential items like milk and shoes and soap powder. So somewhere in the back of her mind, she worried that there might come a day when she would again be without — and she stockpiled to protect herself from that possibility. My mother also derived a great deal of joy from finding a bargain — she figured out that spending less on each purchase meant she could shop more (“need” never really entered into the equation.) It made her incredibly happy to get a $160 brand-name purse for $2 at the thrift store (even when she already had 20 others in the closet at home) — or 3 dozen cans of corn for $1.50 at the “bent and dent” store (even if they were already out of date and would go bad within a month.) My mother's urge to accumulate was like a cancer, a form of self-destructive replication that eventually takes over its host.

But truly compulsive hoarding is a different matter altogether. It goes beyond simple acquisition and into the realm of dysfunction. Real hoarding impairs a person's mobility — these are the folks for whom every flat surface is covered with piles, and they can only get from room to room via a tiny little path carved through the middle. My mother (like 99% of the people I know) had a “junk room” filled with crap she never used, and her active living spaces were quite often messier than I would have liked (again, like 99% of the people I know) — but her home was functional. Pathological hoarding keeps people from being able to use living spaces for their intended purposes, it interferes with a person's daily activities. I've worked with A.D.D., C.D., O.C.D., and hoarding clients who couldn't cook because the stove was piled high with unopened mail, who couldn't shower because the bathtub was full of overflow from the closets, and who slept on the couch because they couldn't find their beds under all the stacks. This was not my mother! And hoarding can often become terminal, when the clutter causes fires or impedes rescue workers from administering aid in the case of an emergency. When paramedics came to take my mother to the hospital, they had no problem getting in or out of the house. I never worried for her safety in her own home — and even in all our cleaning out, we never found a corpse buried under any of the piles. Wink

While it might seem that my mother was resistant to discarding anything (especially if you ask my sister), that's not completely true. She refused to get rid of stuff that she loved or thought she might use (which was a lot more than she really needed) — but she didn't hoard used tin foil or pieces of string or old coffee grounds (she did understand the difference between “trash” and the “good stuff.”) The woman was entirely willing to toss a newspaper once she had finished reading it (but she had so many subscriptions that she was looking at a backlog of 20 year's worth of publications to read “someday.”) And even though it took a long time, once my mother decided that something served no purpose for her, she let it go — last summer, we donated about 10 contractor bags of fabric to the Gee's Bend quilting collective, and at least 20 boxes of books to the local library. In fact, every time I talked to my mother this past year, she was always bagging stuff up for donation or shredding old papers. But it had to be her idea — she would not be forced to clean out before her time (again, like 99% of the people I know!)

I know organizers who would have easily classified my mother as a “level 1 hoarder.” But that diagnosis could be applied to (you guessed it) 99% of the people I know! Seriously, where do you draw the line? I have plenty of friends with collecting fetishes — bibliomaniacs and keepers of the shot glasses and even one woman with a spectacularly expensive assortment of high-end snow globes. And I know plenty of successful people who don't have a horizontal surface that isn't covered with “stuff.” But if the person is functional (pays the bills on time, holds down a job, isn't spending beyond their means or stealing, maintains a basic level of cleanliness, doesn't let the clutter impede personal relationships, and isn't living in a hazardous environment) — then where's the harm? My mother had a rich and full life, was involved in her community and well-loved by friends, and the clutter never really got in the way of that. As my sisters and I said while cleaning out, “At least it made momma happy.” She enjoyed the stuff she used, and she enjoyed the POTENTIAL behind the stuff she never got around to using, and I guess that has to be good enough.