An Organized Halloween

Halloween pumpkinCostumes

Over the years of organizing, I have definitely come across my share of Halloween costumes. I’ve organized pet costumes, adult costumes and hoards of kids dress up and play costumes. Pretending to be something or someone else brings fun, excitement, creativity, fantasy, and the chance to hide or escape. I’ll never forget organizing with a young female customer. She had probably ten different Halloween costumes all organized lined up at the top of her closet. They were meticulously stored and labeled. The holiday was obviously fun and important to her and it reminded me to discuss your options in storing costumes. Instead of shoving past costumes into a great big plastic bin into the basement, consider a couple other ways to store them.

  1. If have extra hanging space or a deep closet with an extra rod somewhere in the house, hang up the costume and attach all the part and pieces with safety pins or inside a smaller bag that can hook onto the hanger.
  2. The Ziploc extra large storage bags are another great storage idea. You can hang them or stack them. They are easy to label, seal shut and you can see right through the bag for easy retrieval. They come in L, XL, and XXL. See here
  3. Wings, swords, spears, masks and other accessories can easily get crushed. Low flat under the bed type of plastic containers can accommodate odd sized accessories and parts and pieces.

Candy

Most parents dread the inevitable bags and buckets of candy post Halloween. I know this because I get offered candy while organizing weeks and months after Halloween. And yes, I will admit, I’ve helped myself to the kids’ stashes of candy more than once. A pick me up, jolt of sugar, always helps while organizing. As far as reducing the amount of candy, I have no great tips or ideas. Just throw some out. I wouldn’t say all of it should go but pick and choose and obviously dole it out over time. Hopefully by Thanksgiving you can pitch what’s left. Enough pie, fudge and holiday desserts are coming up on our social calendars to fill the sugar quota.

Decorations

A few years back I walked into a three car garage in the city. The homeowner wanted to show me his Halloween decorations. The whole loft of the three car garage was full plus a whole car space. This family loved to throw the scariest haunted house party in the neighborhood. I was so jealous I wanted to invite myself to their next Halloween party. All the decorations looked so cool and their home was perfectly laid out with lots of rooms and hiding spots. Needless to say, all these decorations were taking up a huge amount of space. So consider decorations “in moderation”. Get rid of the ones you didn’t put out or set up this year. Unless you have the space, all the coffins, tombs, cobwebs, ghosts and scarecrows take up a lot of attic or garage space. Storing these bulky items in the rafters or lofts or attics is a great idea as long as you’ll retrieve them to use and put them away when Halloween is over. Sometimes just the effort of retrieving the decorations deters us from enjoying them.

 

Photo © Threeart | Jacek Fulawkadepositphotos

 

 

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Working from Home

How to Avoid Distractioninterruption

Running a business from home or working from home for your company is not an easy task. Distraction looms at every corner and productivity can suffer if self discipline and routines are not your strong suit. We, myself included, can easily get distracted when the neighbour stops us to chat or the piles of dishes is staring at us. My weakness is my nieces. It melts my heart and I cave every time when they ask, “Tante (German for aunt), will you play blocks with us? Or Tante, will you take us to the park?” How could I ever say no? I love that I have the flexibility in my day to fit them in. But nonetheless, I’ve had to draw specific boundaries. It has helped but it’s still my weakness. Get to know what your distractions are and start to figure out fences, boundaries, and where you can be flexible. Below are a few tips to help you work more productively at home.

  • Create your own deadlines to prompt yourself to reach goals, make progress, or complete a task.
  • Use a business colleague, friend, or coach to check in and keep you accountable.
  • Break large projects into smaller projects. Tackle bits and pieces when attacking an overwhelming task instead of biting off too much and quitting.
  • Create routines in your day or week to stay on top of emails, writing, social media, etc. Assign specific blocks of time at specific points of your day or week.
  • Draw or design a creative “do not disturb” sign for your office so that family members know you are on an important call or busy on a specific project.
  • Set your alarm, as if you had a job outside the home, to plan on being in your home office by eight each morning. Watch your productivity and time increase when you consciously set work hours.
  • Maintain boundaries at home with your paperwork. Resist the urge to leave paper in the dining room, coffee table, and kitchen countertops. When you’re done working in one of those comfy spots bring the paperwork back to your home “office hub”.
  • Use project folders, client files, or event folders to maintain paperwork for different tasks you’re working on. Do you manage projects? Events? Clients? Volunteer projects? The answer to that question will determine how to sort your paperwork.

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Grandma was Organized

organized grandmaReflections on Grandma

This last week, I lost my grandma. She was a beautiful woman and lived ninety-four years – a very long life. As the funeral has taken place and the reality has set in that I’ll never be able to speak to her again, I find myself reflecting on her life and who she was.

The day after her death, we sat down with the funeral director to arrange the plans. After discussing some details, he said “She had arranged all these plans back in 1999. She was very organized.” My family turned and looked at me and I smiled. Grandma gave me a part of her and I realized that this week. All the details, her wishes, the songs, and arrangements had been spelled out and written down. It made our day, task, and planning super simple. I smile now because that is a gift to a family in mourning. Being organized enabled us to enjoy her and took away stress that could have filled our week.

Grandma was organized in so many other ways. She was the queen of routine. Monday was laundry day. Dinner was always prepared and on the table by 5pm. Her kitchen pantry was spotless and she knew where everything was. She always planned ahead and had reminders on her calendar and in her purse so that she’d never forget her tasks and priorities. She didn’t shop often. What she had was enough and she was content with her simple wardrobe and belongings. She emulated simplicity and organization.

Another amazing gift she gave me was teaching me how to play the piano. I learned my first notes from her at age 6.  Many lessons and years later I still play, and honored her by playing her requested songs at her funeral.  And recently, only months before she passed, she drove herself to the YMCA to meet me to swim. Grandma loved to swim and so do I.

I am blessed to see parts of her in me. These parts have shaped my life and career. Sometimes it takes losing something so precious and dear to your heart to clearly see and appreciate the wonderful impact they had on our lives.  

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Compartmentalize to Organize

organized pasta

 

Thefreedictionary.com says it well. To compartmentalize is to separate into distinct parts, categories, or compartments. In a nutshell, that is a huge part of organizing. We separate out things, stuff, chaos, parts, pieces, and just about anything into categories and distinct piles. Sorting is the basis of organizing. Teaching kids to sort at home or at school is giving them the fundamentals of organizing. If we can’t see like items and group them, we have a big problem.

So whether you’re organizing your purse, kitchen, or junk drawer, compartmentalize the contents. To help you think like an organizer, consider how we would compartmentalize these areas in your home:

A linen closet:

  • linens (sheets and towels)
  • medicine/first aid
  • travel samples
  • paper goods (toilet paper, Kleenex, feminine products)
  • back up products (shampoo, hairspray, etc.)

Use shelves and containers to create distinct separation between items. If all else fails, imagine you’re walking down the aisles at CVS and Walgreens. Sort items as if you worked there, into different departments.

A wallet:

  • cash
  • rewards cards
  • credit cards
  • receipts for returns

Give each pocket its own division.

A garage:

  • auto section (cleaning and repair agents)
  • lawn care tools and products
  • sports equipment
  • tools
  • bikes/toy section (if you have small children)

Give each wall a section or category. Divide further by specific shelving and hooks for each category.

A junk drawer:

  • coins
  • pens
  • pads of paper/post its
  • tape/scissors

A junk drawer organizer is a great idea and usually a must-have. Remove extra wires and tools that are thrown and mixed in. Instead, keep a small toolbox on a shelf nearby in the pantry or a closet.

A toy closet or room – keep this simple:

  • board games and puzzles on shelves
  • arts and crafts in another section binned up into smaller categories (crayons, Play Doh, etc.)
  • large toys and toy sets standing alone

Get the idea?

Are there areas you’re having trouble compartmentalizing? Tell me about it in the Comments, and I’ll cover it in a future post.

 

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Steps Leading to Change

four steps
You’ve often heard it said, “Change doesn’t happen overnight.” I completely agree with that statement. It’s absolutely true. You can’t snap your fingers and expect immediate change, whether you’re changing your diet to lose twenty pounds, changing your attitude and choice of words to improve your marriage, or on a mission to get organized or maintain organization. It takes time, diligence and effort. No one can force you to change or impose change on you.

In the next few paragraphs, I’m going to outline the steps to achieving organizational change. Now don’t get me wrong – I’m not talking about perfection – I’m just suggesting being more organized than you are now, seeing overall improvement.

  1. Thinking about getting organized / contemplating asking for help
  2. Researching organizers and calling organizers
  3. Hiring an organizer and making an appointment(s)
  4. Maintaining new systems

People often get stuck in the first or second step of change and sometimes never make it to actual, physical change in step three. For some, their pride tells them they don’t need help or that they can organize on their own. For others, it is fear. It feels vulnerable and transparent to allow someone into their home or work space. So they never move forward to receive the help they need.

For those that make it to number three, I applaud you. You are stepping out in faith, trusting your organizer to take you through the organizing process. You will benefit and see and feel a difference. Work hard at the different organizing projects on your list and have a plan to work through all of them.

Beware though, of getting stuck in step three. You can live your life without an organizer. If it sounds as if I don’t want to be working long term with a client, be assured that’s not true. I have very loyal clients, some going back to when I first started my business 9.5 years ago. What I’m trying to make clear is that some organizers never help their clients achieve a platform or launching point for maintenance. I will equip you to go forward without me having to come every week or every month. Of course, I often see clients on a recurring basis, but there shouldn’t be unhealthy codependency.

Finally, you reach the fourth step where you are maintaining spaces in your home or at work. You know the systems and know what needs to be done to maintain them. Of course we all fall off the horse when life situations change, but those “catch up” or “maintenance organizing appointments” are easy and fast. Systems are already established and it’s easy to catch up. We don’t start from scratch because we’ve done the hard work at the beginning. Now we go with the flow and adapt and maintain when and where needed.

Which step you are on?

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Staying Focused

sunflower field

 

“Amber, why is this ten times easier to do when you’re here with me?

That’s such a good question. A successful small business owner asked me that question as we organized his home office. We had quickly caught him up with his paperwork and taxes and he went on with his day to do his work. For small business owners the answer may be simple, but for the rest of you, the answer is probably the same across the board.

When I’m present, you’re focused to organize for the duration that I’m with you. You’re not doing laundry, making a phone call, feeding the dog or checking Facebook. You’re organizing.

I also make sure you actually finish the task. Things aren’t left undone. There is a sense of completion and a physical change in your space that is very rewarding and motivating on several levels. Not only is the physical space different, but it also affects your mental state.

I know where I’m taking you. I can see what the solution is and know the steps it takes to get you there. This involves you trusting me as a professional. There’s always a point in an organizing appointment where I sense that trust and “gelling” between my client and myself. Then it’s smooth sailing from there, because we’re on a mission together going in the same direction.

Where do you ask for help in your week? How does that person make the task easier for you? Could you relate the same concept to hiring a professional organizer?

 

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Draw a Line… Between Personal and Business

drawing a line in the sand

 

Running a small business from home or an outside office often poses problems when there is cross over. Cross over happens when email, mail, and paperwork is routed to different addresses, brought to work, and/or mixed together in systems and filing cabinets. The list could go on and on.

If I could offer one piece of advice to a new small business owner it would be KEEP EVERYTHING SEPARATE. Don’t intermingle anything… files, email, phone numbers, paper, bank statements, credit cards, receipts, Facebook profiles, etc. Draw a clear line in the sand in your office and stick to it.

Let’s look at a few of these areas.

Finances:

From the start, get a business checking account and savings account. If you use a credit card in your business, make sure it’s for business only. I’d suggest using the same bank for all three. This makes paying bills and transferring money super easy. Keep all business bills, statements and receipts separate from your personal bills and receipts. Whether you take care of them or pass them onto a bookkeeper, give them their own place on your desk.

Files:

Give your business its’ own space in your filing carts or drawers in your office. Don’t mix the business files with your personal files. Choose a different color file folder for your business as well. This will help identify the business file folders more quickly if you tend to take them out of the filing cabinet to use them.

Email and Social Media:

This is an important one. Keep business and personal separate. Clients and customers don’t want to get an email from joesmith@yahoo.com. It’s more professional to get an email from joe@smithplumbing.com. Also, your son’s soccer coach shouldn’t be cluttering your work inbox up with all the soccer practice updates and announcements.

When you’re working, you focus on work emails.

If you are considering or are currently involved in social media, keep the boundary across the board. Clients don’t need to know you checked in at the local Mexican restaurant in your neighborhood. This boundary also allows freedom. You can be “you” with friends and family, not worrying about clients seeing your posts or tweets.

Tasks and Goals:

I like to keep separate goal and to-do lists for my personal life and professional life. They are completely different time commitments and take on different energy and concentration. So, as you’re organizing your thoughts, tasks, and goals, use a different reminder system for each.

For example, my calendar and a file of goals in my filing cabinet remind me what I’m working on for my business. My personal to-do lists are posted on my corkboard or listed in my iPhone. Choose whatever works for you, but keep them separate. This will help you stay focused with your time and get things done on a weekly basis.

There’s only one exception to this rule, and that is calendars. I’m okay with you having one calendar for everything in your life. In fact, I’d encourage you to only have one calendar. Just give personal one color and business another color in your online calendar.

Do you own a small business? How do you keep things separate? Where are you good at keeping things separate? In what area do you need to improve?

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Decluttering People?

time to say goodbyeI’m going to go out on a limb with this blog and talk about what it would look like to cut clutter in the form of people from our lives. Yes, it’s risky. I understand. We are brought up by our parents to be nice to everyone. We are taught to accept all people and be a friend to those that don’t have friends. We are encouraged to keep in touch with people and check in with people. So can we declutter relationships or let people go? Is that allowed? Would that be a positive thing?

I think the answer is yes. Several reasons make me believe that it wouldn’t be all too bad to just let some people in our lives drift away or lose touch. In fact, I think it’s absolutely necessary in some cases and would be healthier all around if we did. Think through the circles of friends and people in your life: your social life, colleagues at work,  professional acquaintances, employees, friends from childhood and schools you’ve attended, neighbors, people you have met through your hobbies, and the list goes on and on.

Here’s the key question: do those people add positive and helpful energy to your life, or do they take away from your energy, leaving you drained and worse off? It’s not an easy question to answer. I get that there are many variables and relationships aren’t always about taking and getting things from people. I just want you to step back and consider how your life would be without a particular person in it – not in a morbid sense – just from a relationship standpoint. What would change?

There is a correlation between our stuff and the people in our lives. Our stuff weighs us down, clogs things up, prevents us from getting what we want, and takes away from our peace and calm. We are also sometimes attached to our stuff to give us comfort or to dispel a fear of letting it go. People are no different. There are always reasons why we don’t just let them go.

So I challenge you to think about who you need to “let go.” Who do you need to end things with? Who would you be better off without? If I were to be honest with you, I would tell you there are people I choose not to work with and not to surround myself with in my business because my business would be worse off for it. I also can think of a handful of people I need to let go. It won’t be easy but I will. If I’m asking you to, I will do it too.

–A big thank you to a dear friend that inspired me to write this blog. Thank you for your insight and perspective.

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Ten Simple Habits to Keep the House Looking Organized on a DAILY Basis

bulletin board with daily remindersThe key to this list is doing these things on a DAILY basis. Now I know some of you will think I’m crazy for thinking you can do all of this every day. So don’t. Start small and start with conquering a few. Add in more as you can and assign some of these to family members if they’re willing to help out.

  1. Make all beds.
  2. Put away the remote controls or Wii gaming parts and pieces.
  3. Clear the kitchen countertops of food and dirty dishes. Just keeping on top of clean and dirty dishes will make a huge difference in the kitchen.
  4. Put stray pens and pencils in a pencil cup. If you don’t have a pencil cup, use a mug from the kitchen.
  5. Push in the chairs and stools in the kitchen or dining room.
  6. Gather all paper and mail into a decorative basket in your office or on your credenza.
  7. Take out the recycling and trash. Bottles and bags sitting around make for a cluttered mudroom or kitchen.
  8. Hang up purses and coats instead of using the back of chairs or the kitchen table.
  9. Use one basket to collect hair products in the bathroom and one pouch or basket to collect makeup. After your morning routine, return the items into their “home.”
  10. Hang up and put away clothes on a daily basis.

How many of these tasks have you done today?

 

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What Organizing Is and Is Not

no, no and no

 

Warning: this blog is a little brutal and a little too honest. So read it with a grain of salt. Have a good laugh. Everyone makes these common mistakes. I’m hoping one of these will resonate with you and help you think of approaching your organizing projects differently. After I discuss the “no no’s” of organizing, I’ll give you a classic recipe of what organizing is.

  1. Organizing is Not sweeping up the clutter on the dining room table and kitchen counter tops before company comes over or when you’re just tired of looking at it all. This is just the “bag and stash” method. Eventually, I’m the one sorting through those bags, boxes and bins years later when they are long forgotten in the back of the laundry room.
  2. Organizing is Not delaying decision making. If you find yourself unable or not wanting to make a decision on items, this could be the culprit to your clutter woes. Decision making is key to getting organized and keeping an organized space. If you can decide to toss items, where things go and how you will use and access them, you are ten steps ahead of your neighbors.
  3. Organizing is Not buying more bins to get it all organized. Products don’t organize us. Sorting, discarding, containerizing and creating systems is the key. The whole process works together.
  4. Organizing is Not renting a storage unit and placing everything you want out of your home into storage.
  5. Organizing is Not adding shelves to every possible wall space and storage space you own to “fit it all.” Instead of making your basement or garage look like a warehouse, let go of things first, then buy the amount of shelving you need.

So what is organizing, you ask?

Well, that’s simple. A famous organizer in New York named Julie Morgenstern authored the book Organizing from the Inside Out several years ago, and it still holds true today. She broke down what the organizing process looks like and gave it the acronym S.P.A.C.E. I don’t follow this formula perfectly in every situation, but it gives us a good basis and a place to start.

S – Sort — This is organizing 101. You must learn how to sort like items.

P – Purge –— Everyone knows they should purge but everyone loves to hang onto their stuff. Learning to let things go is easy for some but hard for others.

A – Assign a Home — This is when a system is developed and implemented.

C – Containerize — Products, bins, closets, cabinets or dresser drawers—anything that holds our stuff is considered a container.

E – Equalize — This is where you work out the wrinkles and kinks in the system. Daily life goes on and you adjust where necessary to perfect the system.

Are you guilty of any of the organizing “no no’s” ?  What are you going to do about it?

 

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