Posts Tagged ‘getting organized’

A Faster Way To Clean

Cleaning day — what an old-fashioned notion! The idea that you should give up one entire day of your week for scrubbing and mopping might have been appropriate when folks didn't have jobs outside the house — but this system doesn't work so well with modern schedules. It's hard for busy families with working parents and afterschool activities and other responsibilities to fit in a whole day for housework. And when you work 9-5 Monday through Friday, you surely don't want to sacrifice your “off” days to chores. More importantly, there's no reason you should have to — if you stay on top of the dirt throughout the week. Each time you have a few free minutes, why not take care of one small cleaning job, rather than saving it all up? That way, you can finish your cleaning by the end of the week, leaving the weekend for fun!

  • wipe splatters and fingerprints off the bathroom mirrors
  • clean the ring out of the toilet and wipe down the seat
  • wipe down the bathroom counters
  • wash your bathroom rugs
  • wipe down the tub and shower walls with disinfectant
  • load your dishwasher and let it run while you do something else
  • empty your dishwasher and put the dishes away
  • wipe down the kitchen counters
  • clean the grease and food splatters off your stove top and vent hood
  • wipe down the inside shelves and veggie drawers of your refrigerator with disinfectant
  • empty your trashcans and take out the trash
  • put a load of laundry in the washer or dryer
  • fold some clean clothes
  • hang up your clean laundry
  • make your bed
  • change the sheets
  • vacuum, sweep, or mop in one room
  • dust one room (or if you have big rooms with lots of nick-nacks, just one shelf)
  • wash the windows in one room
  • go around the house with a lint roller or brush and clean pet hair off the furniture

See how easy that was? Wink

You Have To Move A Pile Off A Chair So Someone Can Sit Down

Having a closet where you hide it all away is one thing (not good, but certainly a bit more tolerable). However, when your “junk” starts spilling out into your active living and working spaces, it's time to re-evaluate the situation. I have seen clients who couldn't turn on the stove because it was piled three feet high with unopened mail, used their shower as “storage” for  boxes of who-knows-what that they hadn't opened in 10 years, and never slept in their bed because it was covered with “stuff” they hadn't gotten around to putting away yet. If you are unable to use portions of your home or office because of clutter, it's time for the hard hat and shovel!

You Know You Own A Pair Of Scissors, But You Can Never Find It

Not being able to find things when you need them is a sign — your belongings are homeless and crying out to you for a place to live! Don't let them suffer any longer! If you want to stay organized, you need to have an assigned storage area for each and every thing you own. And not just any old place, but a logical, rational, and defensible spot nearest the point where you use that item. It's really pretty simple. Ask yourself where you would look for scissors when you needed them — that's where they should be stored. And if you use scissors in several different places around your home or office, buy 3 or 4 pairs and give each its own unique home.

It Takes You Three Tries To Get Out Of The House In The Morning

Let me guess — you walk out the door without your briefcase. You go back for your briefcase, then head out again sans keys. You return for the keys and get all the way to your car before you realize that your lunch is still sitting on the counter. No, you're probably not suffering from Alzheimer's at the tender age of 37. This is nothing more than poor planning. Take a minute the night before to gather up everything that you need to take with you in the morning. Put it in a designated holding area near the door so you won't forget it — a “launching pad,” if you will. You can even put a sticky note on the door to remind yourself to get your lunch from the fridge!

You Pay At Least One Late Fee Or Interest Charge Each Month

If you had a standard way of dealing with financial paperwork as it came in, you wouldn't get behind. Set up a small filing rack where you put all of your bills — lined up in the order in which they should be paid — and write the due date on the envelope. Then, schedule time on your calendar twice a month to pay the bills that are due in the next two weeks. Treat your bill-paying time like an appointment — block it off in your planner and don't let anything get in the way of completing that chore. Of course, if you find that your bills are late because you simply don't have enough money to pay them, then it's time to re-evaluate your spending patterns and plug those money leaks!

You Regularly Request An Extension On Your Tax Returns

For some people, tax day isn't April 15th — it's August 15th! Most folks who file extensions do so because they can't get all of their paperwork together on time (but if you're an organized small business person like me who has been advised that an extension is the best way to skirt the first-come-first-served rule regarding audits, you can ignore this section!) Otherwise, set up a filing box just for tax documents. Break your receipts down into basic categories — office supplies, charitable donations, medical expenses, travel, etc. — and file any new ones as soon as you get them. Then, you can hand the entire box over to your CPA at the end of the year. Better yet, set yourself up on a computerized accounting program (your accountant will love you!)

You've Never Seen The Bottom Of Your In-Box

If you have a hard time staying on top of “to-do's,” I would first ask if you are setting aside time each week to deal with incoming paper. You should sort through all the new stuff — mail, faxes, memos, etc. — once a day. That means doing more than just putting it in a pile on your desk How on earth will you know what you need to do if you don't at least open the envelopes? When you pick up a piece of paper, make a decision about what action you need to take (put a sticky note on it to remind you, if you need). Then, schedule that action into your calendar. You should set aside regular time each week for making phone calls, writing letters, filing, data entry — whatever “to-do's” you normally do.

Your Typical Workday Ends Three Hours After Everyone Else's

Workaholism has become a serious problem in our society — but not everyone who works late does it out of a compulsion. Some people have to put in longer hours to make up for the fact that they are less productive during the regular work day. Do you get a lot done while other people are around — or are you constantly being interrupted and distracted? Make a list of all the things that draw your attention away from work during the day — drop-in visitors, clutter in your office, time spent surfing the web — and start tackling these “time wasters” one-by-one. Once you get organized, you'll find that you can go home on time every night of the week.

You Can't See Your Desk Under All The Stacks And Piles Of Paper

People who pile instead of file tend to do so because they have never set up a really useful filing system. Some are afraid that sticking an item away where they can't see it is a recipe for disaster — not if your files are working for you. Look at your folders — do the categories make sense? Are they grouped into logical clusters of information (all of your insurance paperwork together, utility bills in the same place, computer manuals in one home)? Do you have multiple files with the same information in it (a “car” file, a “Toyota” file, and a “vehicle” file)? Are your drawers cluttered with ancient paperwork that you really don't need? It might be time to re-vamp, re-organize, and clean out!

You Are Always Running Someone Else's Errands

Have you learned how to say “no” yet? I have never understood why people think that “no” is such a bad word — as though they are being disrespectful to the other person by turning them down. What you are actually doing when you say “no” is being respectful of yourself — understanding and accepting the limits of what you can reasonably accomplish in a day. You aren't doing anyone a favor by overloading your day with responsibilities. In fact, you are doing others a disservice by rushing from one activity to the next without giving any of them your full attention. And you are certainly causing yourself a lot of unnecessary stress. Stop it!

Your Life Feels Out Of Control

Many signs of clutter are tangible — you can see and feel them. But that vague sense of overwhelm can be ten times more damaging than a stack of unopened mail or a pile of junk in your closet. Do you feel that you are terminally behind and will never get caught up, no matter how hard you try? Or that you are losing your mind because you can't deal with the mess anymore? The first step to curbing these anxieties is to take that first step — tackle a cluttered drawer or a today's mail or a shelf in the garage. Just putting a dent in your mess will take a great weight off your shoulders — and often give you the motivation you need to dig in deeper.

Mirror Your Paper Files

What does your computer's file structure look like? A lot of people dump every document they own into one location (completely misunderstanding the “My Documents” feature) — and then wonder why they can't find anything when they need it. Would you do the same with your paper files — throw them all into one big drawer, without any folders or categories, no labels or sub-divisions? Of course not! But we get often lazy with electronic files because we're overly dependent on the “search” feature. However, computer programmers also gave you the ability to create customized folders — so take advantage of it!

When working with paper files, the rule is to start with a broad category that you can break into sub-categories — and the same is true for electronic files. Each main “folder” is like a file drawer containing a single major category. You're going to fill that folder with sub-folders (each representing a sub-category), and place individual documents in the appropriate sub-category. For example, let's say that you engage in online banking, receiving your statements as PDF files each month. Set up a main folder called “Finances,” then create sub-folders for each account. In your business, you can pull up customer information in seconds if you have a main folder called “Clients,” sub-folders for each person, then individual files for billing statements, project notes, and email communications. It's that simple!

Another issue to consider is how you name your documents. In the electronic world, you can waste a lot of time open random files trying to figure out what each one is — attempting to find a lost letter or spreadsheet or memo. A clear naming convention will prevent a lot of frustration — and frankly, you shouldn't have to look any farther than the title. A file name like “Checking — Suntrust 1-2010” (for January) or “Checking — Suntrust 2-2010” (for February) not only tells you exactly what information the document contains, it also groups your statements together alphabetically and then chronologically for quick retrieval (an added bonus!)  And with multiple drafts of the same document, including the date in your file name helps clarify which version you are looking at. Instead of calling the file “Johnson Proposal,” name it “Johnson Proposal 6-8-08,” signifying the date of the last edit. If several people are working on the same document, include a name or initials at the end so you know who made those updates — “Johnson Proposal 6-8-08 RFC.” Pretty darned clever, huh?

Back Up Regularly

It goes without saying that when you store important information on your computer, you need a back-up. At least once a week, save all of your files to an external hard drive, CD-Rom, or online backup service. Don't forget the files in your contact manager, bookkeeping program, internet bookmarks, and any other software you use regularly! This way, if your computer crashes or something happens to your physical equipment, you always have a copy to fall back on.

And I'm here to offer a personal testimony for the power of backing up regularly — we recently experienced a theft (someone stole both my husband's and my laptops), and the ONLY thing that saved us was the back-up drive. There is no way that we could have rebuilt our lives and our businesses without it. If you need help creating a back-up plan, talk to my Matt — he's an absolute wiz with Beyond Compare!

On one final note — don't forget to clean out every once in a while, too. It's easy to keep saving and storing and backing up until your hard drive is full and your computer moves at half the normal speed. Just like paper files, electronic folders can get overstuffed. Once or twice a year, go through your computer files and purge anything that has become outdated, obsolete, or irrelevant to your life. Better yet, ask yourself “why” before you save it in the first place (the same way you would when filing paper.) You don't need to keep every listserve notice and solicitation and attachment that comes your way — just save those emails and documents that you will refer back to in the future.

Set Up A Family Calendar

Keeping track of everyone's activities can be a real challenge once school starts. Not only do you have a new class schedule to contend with, but all those sports practices, academic clubs, music lessons, and other afterschool activities (that seem to eat up every free minute of your child's evenings and weekends!)

And don't forget mom and dad — in addition to their regular household and work responsibilities, they now have to attend PTA meetings, soccer games, ballet recitals, swim meets, and school open houses. Then there's all the time parents spend toting junior and his friends back and forth to their activities — a chauffeur's work is never done. Wink I'm amazed that families with children have any time leftover for sleep!

With all that's going on, there is really only one way to avoid scheduling conflicts and last minute scrambles — and that is to set up a “family calendar.” Hang a large wall calendar in a high-traffic area of the house (kitchen seems to work well, because everyone goes in there daily). Label each family member's activities in a different color (Susy in blue, mom in green, dad in red, etc.) for easy recognition. Then take a second to record every single upcoming activity for each person in the family — meetings, social engagements, sporting events, doctor appointments, you name it. Every time someone brings home an invitation to a party or permission slip for a field trip, write it down. Every time the school sends out a calendar of upcoming days off, transfer it to the family calendar. When your child's piano teacher asks if you can switch from Tuesday to Wednesday because she'll be out of town, change the calendar. Get in the habit of putting EVERYTHING related to your family's schedule in one place.

The next step is to block off a regular weekly meeting with the entire family to go over your upcoming schedule. Take a look at any activities occurring within the next couple of weeks — address conflicts (ex: mom's got to work late and Johnny needs a ride home from the game, so he should make plans to go with a friend), decide on any shopping trips you need for supplies (so you can bake cupcakes for the school party or get Susy's diorama put together), and make sure any new items are added to the calendar. For those family members who carry a personal planner or PDA, this is also the time to update your portable calendar with the current info (it doesn't do you much good to plan out the week if you can't see the schedule while you're out of the house!) Your stress level will drop by a factor of ten, just having each person's to-do's and responsibilities written down in one visible place.

Organizing The School Supplies

If you're not careful, the “back-to-school” paraphernalia can easily take over your entire house. You've got piles of supplies, stacks of schoolbooks, a closet full of new clothes, backpacks, lunchboxes — and what do you do with it all?

Before you went shopping for the current school year, I hope you took a minute to clean out he old supplies — if not, do it now. Throw out all the obvious “junk” (dried up pens and markers, broken and disintegrated crayons, pads with just one sheet of paper left on them), then create another box of labeled “outgrown” (that you can donate to the school or give to a younger child). While we're at it, do the same with any kid's clothes that no longer fit. You have to let go of the old to make room for the new…

Now, let's set up a “homework center” for storing all the current supplies. This can either be a stationary organizing system near where your child studies, or even a portable organizer that can be taken from place to place. Set up either a drawer or container (labeled, of course) for each type of supply — writing utensils, art supplies, paper, report folders, and miscellaneous equipment (like scissors, rulers, and protractors and whatever your child uses in his classes).  A freestanding drawer system or rolling cart is a great option for lots of little loose items — and stacking trays work well when storing extra paper(white, lined, and construction paper).

One last step — set up plastic tub with a lid for the new school year labeled “art/school papers.” Each time your child brings home a drawing or an A+ report or other item that you want to save, put it in the box (instead of piled all over the desk or on the floor!) Then, at the end of the school year, you can pick your favorites to include in a scrap book. Back-to-school doesn't have to be a time of craziness — it will go a lot smoother, with a little preparation and some good organizing techniques! You actually have a wonderful opportunity to help your kids start building the skills they will need to succeed in life as adults — take advantage of it!

Donating Household Items

Nearly anything you clean out of your home can be donated to a local thrift store. It's okay if items are worn (people know they are used when they buy them), but make sure they are clean and functional — don't just dump broken junk into the donate bag, because that creates more work for the thrift store employees. The nice thing about donating your discards is that someone else will get some use out of them — as they say, one man's trash is another's treasure. You can clean out with a clear conscience, knowing that your stuff isn't clogging up a landfill, but moving on to a new owner who will love and cherish it. And, of course, if you choose a non-profit or church organization, the resale of your donations will benefit their cause.

Donating Office Items

Some thrift stores simply can't take office furniture, business electronics, and computer equipment — but there is no reason for these items to end up littering the landscape as trash. Why not go straight to the source? There are many worthwhile non-profit agencies in your town that are running on a shoestring budget and have a hard time affording the basics — these organizations can always use donations of business supplies. Whether you're cleaning out a desk or a box of file folders, a copy machine or a high-end printer — you can easily find a group that would appreciate the help and put your discards to good use. If you're not sure where to start, contact your local United Way and they can point you in the right direction.

Donating Building Supplies

Cleaning out as you renovate has always been a challenge — thrift stores have zero interest in items like cabinets, cans of paint, tile, grout, windows, doors, sinks, fixtures, and lumber. But now, there's a great way to keep these items from ending up in a landfill. Habitat For Humanity's Restores accept donations of building supplies — both new and used. They then resell these items through their “building thrift stores” which are open to the public (FYI: a great way to find inexpensive items for your next fix-it project). Everyone benefits — you receive a tax deduction and a greener way to dispose of home repair and construction materials, and someone else gets a great bargain on discounted building supplies.

Commonly Accepted Recyclables

You can actually recycle more household items than you might think — most recycling centers will take some or all of the following (visit or to find a drop-off near you):

  • clear and frosted plastic bottles
  • glass bottles, jars, and containers without the lids
  • aluminum (cans and foil)
  • steel cans (the kind that canned vegetables come in)
  • plastic and paper grocery bags
  • white copy paper and office paper
  • junk mail and colored paper
  • magazines
  • newspaper and newsprint
  • telephone books
  • corrugated cardboard (not slick)
You can also recycle a number of other items — it just takes a bit more effort to find a drop-off location:

  • aseptic packaging (milk cartons, drink boxes, etc.) — call Coca Cola at 800-888-6488
  • refrigerators, heat pumps, and air conditioners — must be taken away by a certified hauler
  • packing “peanuts” — the Plastic Loose Fill Council offers a list of drop-off sites
  • polystyrene packaging — contact the Alliance Of Foam Packaging Recyclers
  • carpet and carpet padding — Dupont Antron has a program for recycling carpet
  • eyeglasses — the Lions Club accepts donations to fit with new lenses for the needy
  • holiday cards — send to St. Jude's Ranch to be made into new cards
  • GreenDisk has a program to recycle media (digital or magnetic) and computer components
  • tires and rubber, scrap metal, and automotive parts — contact your local mechanic
  • ink and toner cartridges — choose from a number of recycling programs
  • cell phones, cordless items, and rechargeable batteries — contact Call2Recycle

Toxic Substances

Some items are considered toxic and will poison a landfill if thrown into the trash. These must be handled with care, and can't be recycled along with your glass and paper — but you can take them to a hazardous materials recycler for correct disposal. Take motor oil, antifreeze and other automotive fluids to your local quick lube shop. You can call your local garbage company for advice in dealing with fluorescent light bulbs, thermometers, household cleaners, poisons, paints, and solvents. Lead acid batteries may be taken to an automotive shop — or contact The Battery Council for a referral. And if you have a smoke detector (which contains radioactive material) to discard, call First Alert at 800-323-9005.
While the goal is to recycle as much as you can, some things just can't be re-purposed and must be tossed:

  • other grades of plastic (varies by local area)
  • waxed, food contaminated, and oil-soaked paper
  • stickers and plastic laminated paper such as fast food wrappers
  • pet food bags
  • carbon or thermal fax paper
  • sanitary products or tissues
  • plate glass and mirrors
  • crockery, china, or pottery