Thursday, August 13, 2009

Dorm Room Organization

As a semi-recent college graduate I remember the joys and the agony of spending an entire year living in a dorm room (I can't believe I survived!!). It's sure an exciting time in a young adult's life, but some basic organization will do any dorm room wonders. Clutter can accumulate quite quickly, especially in a college dorm, but it will begin to overpower a teeny tiny dorm room very fast if it gets out of hand.

The most important thing to think of is the layout of the room. This is so vital because dorm rooms are so teeny tiny that you must make the most out of your space to take advantage of the organizational potential. In my dorm room we were able to loft our beds. Under my bed went the futon and the comfy chair with storage ottoman and under my roommate's bed was the refrigerator, microwave and our food storage area plus one of our sets of stackable drawers. We wouldn't have been able to successfully have all of the things in our dorm room if we weren't able to loft the beds.

An absolute MUST in dorm life is at least one set of stackable drawers. Target and Bed Bath & Beyond have a huge selection of these (and they're probably on sale right now!). My dorm room had two sets in different sizes. One of the sets of drawers in my room was bright orange, which added a nice flare to the stark and dingy looking room. We stored supplies like tape, 3-M hooks, batteries, shower products and even clothes I think.

I do have to credit my roommate for pretty much all of the wonderful organizational items found in our dorm room. She brought most of them! And she is very creative so everything worked wonderfully.

My roommate brought in this great set of stacking cubes. We used these to store food in. These would also work well to store clothes, shoes, school supplies, books and shower products in.

The closets and the built in storage in my dorm room were actually quite substantial. Each of us had two sections of closets to store things in. Needless to say we had a lot of room to hang our clothes! I also employed a shoe tree and somehow hung it in my closet (mine is supposed to be an over-the-door shoe tree...). It worked really well, and I highly recommend if you're bringing a lot of shoes to college to use a shoe tree or some kind of shoe organizer.

One thing that I didn't think about at the time of my freshman year was over-the-door hooks. My roommate came prepared and brought two different sets. We used one on the back of our dorm door and the other was hanging from her bed (remember it was lofted). These were so amazingly handy to have! We used them to hang our backpacks, jackets, sweaters and big winter coats and scarves (we went to school in Iowa) from.

Under-the-bed storage is wonderful, especially in a dorm room. Since our beds were both lofted and hanging from the ceiling we couldn't really store things under our bed (well I suppose we could have...) but we did have a futon on the ground that we used to store things under. We used clear plastic containers to store little odds & ends in and then housed them under the futon.

If you need more tricks for dorm room organization, look to the upper classmen. I did take a lot of my current knowledge from their advice and experience as freshmen living in the dorms.

When it comes to dorm room organization, the name of the game is creative. You must be creative because you're working in such a small space, usually with limited resources and you're combining two people's things in to a tiny space big enough for a mouse to live in.

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Monday, August 10, 2009

Get Organized for Back to School!

I absolutely cannot believe that it is almost the start of the school year. One thing I love about the emerging new school year is the back-to-school sales at the department stores, Target and the like, in addition to the Labor Day sales everywhere else. And, it means that the ski season is that much closer! I am no longer in school myself, nor do I have children; however, I do remember as a student how much I looked forward to preparing to go back to school.

The shopping was what I most looked forward to. I loved going shopping for fresh new clothes to prepare for the new school year, as well as stocking up on the latest school supplies to carry me into the next grade-level.

If your kids are in elementary school, chances are they will have a school supply list. Head to Target or your choice of "everything store" sooner rather than later for the best selection. School supplies sell out FAST! Make sure you bring the list, all though many Target's have teacher's supply lists posted near the school supply station. If you have older children or are a student yourself figure out what you will need for classes this year - how many different notebooks? Do you need a 3-ring binder for all of your class work? What about a planner or calendar? How is your stock of pens & pencils? Will you need a calculator for upper-level math courses this year? Do your teacher's require book covers (I suggest using a paper bag!)?

Back-to-school clothes. If you've got kids you should know the drill. They grow fast and need new clothes often. Trends change and they've got to look their best! Plan a "back-to-school day" with the kids (even better: plan a day with each kid separately for quality bonding time/less fighting between siblings) where you go clothes shopping, shoe shopping and school supply shopping. Make it fun for them and let the little one's have a say in picking out their own stuff.

Uniforms can be found at so many different outlets these days. I remember when I was in private school how I just loathed the uniforms I was required to wear! My mom had the (ugly green plaid) skirt hemmed so it wasn't quite so atrocious. If you have a growing child who is in a uniform, stock up early, as sizes tend to sell out fast as the school year approaches. Consider buying the size your child(ren) currently wears and the next size up so you are prepared when he suddenly grows out of his pants. The same should be true for shoes. Don't forget about gym shoes and gym clothes!

Does your state charge sales tax on clothing? Some states that do have a "free tax" weekend near the start of the school year. I only know this because I went to college in Iowa and they had a no-tax weekend right before school started. Look into this for a great incentive to go back-to-school shopping!

I think it's a wonderful idea to have a family pow-wow before school resumes to discuss the transition and the schedule changes. Bring a large calendar or dry-erase board to the discussion and talk about transportation to & from school, after school care, after school activities/sports/events, schedule a time for homework and reading each evening and don't forget to include family dinners and family fun nights! It's wonderful to have a schedule written out on a calendar to avoid miscommunications and missed activities. This way, everyone can see what's going on each day. I love color-coded schedules! Also, don't forget to lay out expectations for chores and household responsibilities at this family meeting as well (I love reward charts for kids) and build time into the schedule for this to take place.

Make sure that you/your kids know their bus schedule, class schedule, any arrangements for after school care, have parking passes obtained (if they can drive), have a check for school lunch in their backpack and have a water bottle and snack to take with them to school.

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Thursday, July 23, 2009

Scrapbooking Corner

I've got to start by saying that I'm not a huge scrapbooker. I enjoy doing it, I think I come up with some creative ideas but it takes a lot of time and it is quite an investment, and also requires a lot of organization to keep everything in its place. I do, however, have some great organization ideas and tips for you scrapbookers out there.

For the novice scrapbookers, such as myself, I would recommend a large plastic tub to store scrapbooking materials in. At this point, all of my scrapbook materials fit into one extra large under-the-bed tub. If I accumulate much more I would expand to smaller plastic tubs that still fit under my bed.

I know there are a lot of advanced scrapbookers who are quite talented and extremely creative. You guys probably have accumulated countless scrapbooking materials that need a home. Many really good scrapbookers like to have an area or a zone for their scrapbooking or other creative activities. My suggestion would be to create a zone in your basement, take ownership of an extra bedroom or hold the office or den hostage to your materials.

A large table is quite necessary so you can spread out photos, materials and papers while you're working. I like to stand up when I work on projects like this, so I would look for a large, square, counter-height table. My ideal table would have built-in storage between the legs or at the base. I would love cabinets or cubbies or shelves where I could store baskets or buckets of materials.

I really like the idea of mounting a pegboard on the wall and hanging materials such as scissors or ribbon. You could also hang a shelf or a bucket from the pegboard and store die cutters, pens or markers and other trinkets or embellishments for your scrapbook pages.

Most expert and advanced scrapbookers have a large supply of cardstock. Small drawers on wheels are a great storage idea for scrapbooking papers, storing mementos and keeping other supplies on hand. Labeling these drawers is a great idea and makes it look really professional. I also love the idea of storing cardstock in office-style file trays that you can stack on top of each other.

Other than that I think you should be set. Just remember the basics: keep everything in its place, eliminate clutter, clean up after yourself after every scrapbooking session and create a place for everything to go. Oh, and keep a trash and recycling nearby! You'll need it. Happy scrapbooking!

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Saturday, July 18, 2009

My Little Projects

I think I could set a record for the number of bags and cosmetic bags I own. AND I just got rid of a whole bunch of them last summer when I moved to Seattle. The amazing thing about this is that I have hardly bought any of them - many have come from "bonus days" at the cosmetics counter at Marshall Fields (yes, I've had them since all since then). These bags are more challenging to organize simply because of their shape and size. I have areas for all of them, but it's hard to keep them in their proper places and get to them easily. I've got myself quite a few projects that need organizing.

I could also set a record for the number of travel toiletries I own. And don't even use. Unless I'm going camping. They take up a lot of space and are really annoying to store. My solution was this: use some of my cosmetic bags to store the toiletries. I stored all the little shampoos and conditioners together, the lotions in one bag, the toothbrushes and floss and toothpaste from the dentist in one really large bag, and body washes in another. Now that the cosmetic bags have more of a purpose I stored them in the linen closet in the bathroom on a shelf.

Other ideas for storing travel toiletries would be in a bucket or basket, or a set of small drawers in the linen closet for very easy access. I love the idea of using fancy boxes (perfume boxes, etc) to store these items in as well.

Back to my enormous bag collection... When I speak of bags here, I'm talking about any kind of bag you can think of - beach bag, workout bag, ski bag, duffel bag, backpack, messenger bag, etc. I was getting sick of sorting through all of my bags to get to the one I wanted without messing up the whole pile so I knew it needed a change. I used to use the largest bag to store all of the smaller bags - but I don't really recommend that unless you never use the largest bag. It gets quite annoying to have to sort through the bag and then find a spot for the smaller bags when you need to use the largest bag.

My new solution is to arrange the larger bags (duffel and ski bags and backpack) on the top shelf of my closet, then stack some of the smaller bags (messenger bags, a few beach bags) on top of each other. For the remaining bags (mostly beach bags) I hung on hangers. This goes for some purses too (use nice hangers!). It allows for easy access without messing up the whole stack of bags. It's a win-win situation!

And I have to put this in here somewhere... whenever I get low on a supply or food I write it on my list (grocery/Target/Costco all have their own lists) and buy a new item BEFORE I run out. That is the system around here. Lo and behold last night I needed a AA battery and WE WERE OUT. I NEVER run out of things. I didn't even KNOW we were running low! And now we have zero AA batteries. Needless to say I was not the one who used the last of the batteries. I wish I knew of a service that would pick up some batteries at Target and bring them to me at midnight when I needed two.

I've had a great weekend of little organizing projects, so far...

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Saturday, July 11, 2009

iPhone Apps to Organize Your Life

I found this article on the NY Times website uncovering the multitude of applications for iPhones to assist with keeping organized. Check it out:

I just got an iPhone myself and am trying out different apps to see what works well for me. So far, I really like the "notes" that came with the phone. Let me know what your favorite organizational apps for your iPhone are!

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Friday, July 10, 2009

Organizing with Reusables

Living in Seattle has made me into more of a recycling fanatic, as well as someone who tries to waste less. I like to put on my "creative thinking cap" and re-use things that I can. This is another cheap and easy way to stay organized on a budget!

Some things you can easily re-use as a storage container:

• Ice Cream tub (gallon size)

• Yogurt container (2 pound size)

• Deli takeout containers

• Margarine/sour cream/large cream cheese tub

• Pickle/jam/spaghetti sauce jar

• Coffee can

• Shoe box

• Any size can (think tomato sauce, soup, canned green beans)

What to do with them:
If you have kids (or if you're a crafty adult) you could turn this into a really cool and unique art project. This blog is about organization, not art, but an idea is wrapping the containers in a paper bag and decorating the outside - glue on sequins, glitter, whatever you have around the house.

Or, if you don't like seeing the manufacturer's design on the container, just wrap it in white paper and write what is inside of it.

I am always in need of more storage for little things like paper clips, other office supplies, jewelry, first aid supplies, hair binders and accessories, nail polish, kids trinkets and just plain junk. It's hard to beat these nifty little containers, especially since most of you probably have several of these in your cabinets or refrigerator at home.

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Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Organizing Kids' Keepsakes

I do think it is really important, for sentimental reasons, to cherish and keep some of your children's school projects throughout the years, drawings, special baby clothing and photographs of your children's lives. It seems to me with regard to mementos, photographs and artwork/projects would occupy the most space, leading to the most clutter in this area.

The key to keeping the kid's souvenirs organized is to not become a hoarder. As your child grows, throw some of your favorite things into their "keepsake box" but set a limit for yourself. Remember, your child will probably spend at least 18 years living in your house, not to mention if you want to keep college papers, graduation photos, etc. in his keepsake box. I do not include photos in this category - there really shouldn't be a limit on photos, if you ask me, because they can all be stored electronically.

If you're starting from scratch (have really young children), here is my advice to you: Find a large cardboard box or purchase a very large clear plastic tub (I say clear for a reason) for each child you have. This will become his keepsake box. Label the box/decorate it/have the kid decorate it - whatever - it just needs to be identifiable by you and housed in an easily accessible spot. Once you've got your box, you're set. The challenging part now is deciding what makes the keepsake box cut and what goes in the trash. Yes, I said it, I'm giving you permission to throw your children's memories away. As your child progresses you'll probably be tempted to throw everything he does into his keepsake box. Be picky - only the best should make the cut. Regularly go through the box and keep it orderly - again, only the best should make the cut, limiting this to no more than five items per year.

For those of you who already have children and have been saving keepsakes like it's your job, my question to you is: why? What are you saving them for? I wholeheartedly support saving a few really great things - that first book that Hannah read at age 5, Tucker's first division test, Grayson's report cards, Madison's SAT scores and Evan's self-portrait drawing at age 16. If you have gotten too carried away and are running out of room but your kid is only 5, there is a problem. Take everything out of your box or bin or whatever you have been using to store things in and go through it all, limiting the contents to fewer than five objects per year per child. I will allot you one box per child per life. No negotiations.

If you're having trouble getting rid of stuff, ask yourself why you're saving it. If the answer is something along the lines of, "so my kid can see his progress" or "so my kid can save his mementos" or "so when my kid grows up he can look back on all of his old artwork," I understand. However, your child doesn't need to be able to go back to every cherished drawing he did or stuffed animal he has. If you can't bring yourself to throw away the 3,219,084,398 paintings and drawings your child will do prior to 4th grade, consider giving them to a family member or brightening a senior citizen's nursing home room/child's hospital room by giving them a painting. As for saving your children's old toys, there are so many children who can benefit from your toy donation, I seriously don't think your 18-year-old child will care if you save his Thomas the Tank Engine whistle train -- give it away.

Photos from your children's lives can take up an entire storage room by themselves. I love the idea of chronicling each year or so in its own photo book. If you must have a second copy printed of each photo I would highly recommend you stock up on photo boxes. Most shoe boxes work very well, too. Arrange the photos in their boxes chronologically with labels. Here's what I would do: upload my pictures online, print off one copy of the great one's for the photo book and leave the rest online. The kids each have their own photo book for each year and everyone has access to the photos online, assumedly forever. My favorite online photo storage site is: - 9 cent prints can't be beat!

Other creative and wonderful ways to cherish your kid's artwork outside the box: frame it and hang it as you would a fine piece of art (seriously!); post pictures/paintings in their bedroom, playroom, closet or family room; display proudly around the house (if it's not a painting/picture - use a clay bowl for change, a wire sculpture as an accent piece); give it to Grandma (or aunts/uncles/other family members/close family friends) - she'll never throw it away; hang it on the refrigerator for a period of time; create an ArtBook for each child (bind several pieces of artwork together into a book); scan it onto your computer and upload it onto your blog/picture website/kid's website and enjoy forever; take a picture of your child with the piece of art and put it in his photo book/online.

Lastly, if you are a very sentimental family, consider doing this together. Get the kids involved with starting and maintaining their keepsake box and ask their opinions about what they want to keep forever and what they can live without.

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Monday, July 6, 2009

The Fundamentals of Organization

I've shared a lot of my personal opinions in this blog so far, and this post is no different. What I believe the fundamentals of organization are may be different from what other professional organizers consider to be the fundamentals. If you're about to do a major mental or physical overhaul with regards to organization I would advise you to read this to make sure you've got the basics down before you get in over your head.

Mindset. The first step to becoming more organized is to develop a positive mindset that is going to motivate you to be organized. This isn't something to take lightly. You must be in it wholeheartedly in order to live a fully organized life. If you don't give it your all you won't see the best possible results.

Willingness. For most people, especially those who organizing doesn't come as a second nature, becoming organized requires a big lifestyle change. This requires the willingness to accept the change and go with it. You must be willing to change your way of thinking and adapt a new mindset to help you live your new and organized life.

Follow through. You've got the new mindset and the willingness to change and pick up new habits. Now you have to follow through and do them. Instead of walking past a pile of papers the "new you" is going to follow through and pick up the papers and put them in their proper place. It's little things that add up to a huge difference. Making a small amount of effort will result in great strides.

These may sound like easy changes to make, and for some people they are, but for most people it's a whole lifestyle change. Many people need to completely alter the way they think and view their daily tasks, personal belongings in their home and how to go about being more organized.

Good luck!

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Monday, June 29, 2009

Your Biggest Organization Dilemma

I'm always curious to learn what people's greatest organizational dilemma is. Please comment here with the answer or send me an e-mail at: with what your biggest organizational dilemma is.

1. Time Management

2. Home Organization

3. Office Organization

4. Planning Ahead/Being Prepared

5. Clutter Management

6. I'm a Hoarder

7. Need Motivation

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Wednesday, June 24, 2009


Those are two of my favorite words! Many of the national department stores, home stores, and specialty stores are now reducing prices on products store-wide. I just received a Pottery Barn catalogue with their summer sale merchandise, Target's weekly ad had an entire page of organizational materials on-sale for incredible prices! Pier 1 and Crate & Barrel are having 50% off summer sales right now, too. If you're in need of purchasing home/office/kid organization materials - now is surely the time! Happy saving :)
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Organized Moms

I stumbled across a great website designed to keep moms organized! Check it out: There are agendas, mom-specific products, babysitter pads and home organizers. Worth a look!
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Thursday, June 11, 2009

Under the Bed Storage

Those of you who have ample room under your bed to store things should consider yourselves lucky! Especially if you can keep it out of sight with a cute bed skirt. I love that I can store things under my bed - it's easy, accessible and no one knows what's in this storage space. If you're considering purchasing a really nice wood bed frame, you aren't necessarily out in the cold on this one.

I have a lot of scrapbooking supplies/crafty stuff (not enough to warrant a separate scrapbooking table or area), extra office supplies, sewing supplies and a whole bunch of old scrapbooks and photo albums, as well as photo boxes. These go under my bed. They could go in a closet on a shelf, but I don't have any more room where they can be easily accessible.

How I do it: I went out to Target and bought a whole bunch of small clear plastic containers with lids (see picture), one for each type of belonging, and arranged my miscellaneous items inside. Each container has a neatly written label for easy searching, and I only go one box deep under the bed, meaning that just the perimeter of the bed has things under it, again to allow easy access. When I need something from under there it is exceptionally simple to locate it and grab it.

Why under the bed storage is great: the obvious point here, being, that it's hidden, plus it's incredibly easy to find - if your under the bed area is organized well, there's a lot of square footage under a bed which translates into a lot of storage space and it allows you to be creative by using your space creatively.

Other ideas: I personally love the clear plastic containers with lids, but some other ideas are: cute baskets if they fit under your bed, any other type of bucket or bin as long as it slides under your bed and won't tip over and spill, reusable food storage containers, small boxes, shoe boxes and customized under the bed storage systems (mainly for shoes).

For those of you who are considering purchasing a wooden bed frame, think about one that has storage built in. If I was to buy a new wood bed I wouldn't buy one that didn't come with any type of storage. That's not allowing you to maximize your space.

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Thursday, June 4, 2009

My Questions for YOU

I'm always curious where people stray from being organized. In what way of your own life are you the least organized?

1. Frequently running late (time management)
2. Frequently forgetting things (planning ahead)
3. Messy buildup/clutter in home/office/car (clutter)
4. Putting things off until the last minute (procrastination)
5. Disorganized storage
6. Lack of motivation or follow through
7. Other

What about the opposite - where do your strengths lie with regard to being organized?

Feel free to comment or send me an e-mail, -- I'm always willing to answer any personal organizing questions or dilemmas you may have!
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To Do Lists

Ah, my favorite organizational technique: the to-do list. I think that creating and sticking to a to-do list is the first step in becoming more organized. Creating a to-do list seems pretty self explanatory, but since it is my all-time favorite organizational practice I wanted to write a little blurb about why I love to-do lists.

I am probably the most forgetful person I know. If I don't write things down I will forget them. Guaranteed. I have tons of lists, most importantly my personal to-do list. Usually this list is quite long, but it is important for me to keep track of what I need to get done - or I will never accomplish the task.

Each week I block out a chunk of personal time and a separate chunk of work time to think about what I need to do and I create my modified to-do list. Throughout that week I take some time just to get stuff done. Sometimes that's what it takes to get things done - making time to do the things on your list.

My favorite to-do lists: I love, love, love Post-it notes - thank you 3M! My favorite are the 3x3" square lined notes. Anything with a sticky back on it is great. I also really love small notebooks (4.25x5.5"). They're great for toting along in my bag and whipping out anywhere to see what I've gotta get done.

When I go to the market it is vitally important for me to bring a list, otherwise I will walk around aimlessly and certainly forget half the things I intended to purchase. The same goes for running errands - I write down each stop I need to make, otherwise I'll go home without going somewhere I needed to go. Lists like these really help keep me focused and on top of things and they certainly keep me more productive
When it comes to to-do lists the options are virtually unlimited. To-do lists are really my savior - without them I would not be anywhere near as organized as I am.

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Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Time Management

To be a whole-heartedly organized person, one must master the skill of time management. I come from a family where about half of us have that down, and the other half is "still working on it." I have learned that it doesn't make the situation any better when I get irritated when people are late or don't schedule their time adequately. It's up to the other person to change his (or her, of course!) behavior and correct the situation. I firmly believe that for those of you who struggle with managing your time, constant procrastination and tardiness that in order for you to effectively manage your time you need a complete mindset alteration.
A positive mindset is the first step towards becoming more organized with your time. If it's any consolation - think of how much time you'll save yourself by planning efficiently and effectively. This is something you'll have to figure out how to do on your own - all I know is that you need to become more aware of planning ahead and managing your time.
Once you've gotten a new mindset about time management the rest is downhill.

The important parts of managing your time are:
• Planning ahead and thinking ahead
• Scheduling your time - make an outline or a plan if really busy
• Being prepared and factoring in uncontrolled situations, like traffic, forgetting something or just running late one morning

I've written about scheduling your time and making an outline several times, so I'll just touch on that. Use a planner, a regular calendar, Outlook or other computer calendar/scheduler, an application on your PDA/iPhone or something else that you can think of that allows you to adequately plan your days. Use this scheduler to account for meetings, lunches, get-togethers, social activities, and other things you need to get done that don't necessarily have a timeframe - create monthly budget, send e-mail to your staff, sign the kids up for their summer sports, etc. In my Outlook I reserve a huge chunk of the day on Friday for my "catch up" or basic administrative work. I block off a set amount of time to accomplish specific tasks. It works really well - I don't schedule appointments then, it's my time to get things done. It works really well!

Being prepared is really important, not just for the sake of time management, but for the sole purpose of being fully and completely organized. With regards to time management, it's vital to factor in things like traffic, getting lost, an unexpected phone call as you run out the door, etc. - give yourself an extra 5 minutes or so to get somewhere as a buffer to make sure that you're on time. Set your watch 5 or 10 minutes fast and forget that you did. What's the worst that could happen? You arrive early! Your tardiness doesn't just affect you - it makes an impact on whomever you are meeting and their mood, as well as their tardiness later on in the day.

The whole planning ahead and thinking ahead aspect goes back to your mindset. If your mindset isn't there yet, this isn't going to work for you. Know what you need to get done in the future and plan for it, budget, allocate your time appropriately, plan a party or dinner with enough time to get everything ready, don't allow yourself to run out of something at home (toilet paper, dishwasher detergent, tissue, coffee...), be efficient when running errands, print out directions and confirm them the night before... The list goes on - but again, this is all on you. You've either got it or you don't. And if you don't, I think you've at least got it in there somewhere!

This is all about changing your mindset. I wish you well -- be on time today! :) **If you aren't going to be on time, have the decency to call - that's all I ask.

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Friday, May 22, 2009

Good Deals

It's Memorial Day Weekend! Woohoo! Holiday weekends are great times to go shopping because many stores take advantage of the celebratory time and hold store-wide savings events.

Love this recharging station from Pottery Barn (on sale for $40 down from $80)

Pottery Barn - Memorial Day Sale, save up to 50% off

Nesting tables are a great option for a small living room. They provide for extra storage but can be moved under/inside of each other to maximize a space and make it look larger and well organized. Pottery Barn, $600 down from $800.

Pier 1 - new items 50% off!

I found these Kubu Baskets (below) on - originally priced at $25 - on clearance for a whopping $2.50! What a STEAL!

The Container Store - check out their "Organized Travel Sale" going on now.

Target always has low prices and great sales. Check out their new organizational product line!

Lastly, don't forget the world wide web. If you're looking for a particular item to help you better organize yourself, stick it in a google search and see what comes up. If you don't find what you're looking for, hit Ebay, craigslist and Amazon for some killer deals!

Happy Memorial Day/Happy organizing!

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Thursday, May 21, 2009

Neigborhood Swap

I got this idea from the Oprah show a few weeks ago. Oprah's decorator, Nate, did a neighborhood swap. You can do this too! Take it to the full extent that they did, or modify it to a lower scale.

Talk with your neighbors, colleagues and friends and analyze your needs and desires. Figure out what you can swap between the group to help each other out. It's as easy as that! If all Patty wants is a few buckets and baskets - I'm sure someone would be willing to give up some baskets in exchange for the awesome book case that sits empty in her adult son's bedroom.

Before the swap it would be helpful to go through your house and take an inventory. Figure out what you need to get rid of or what you are comfortable swapping in exchange for something else.

Let me know what happens with your swap. I'm anxious to hear what people are more in need of and what people are willing to give up!

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Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Get Rid of it!

I think that spring is the ultimate time to go through everything in your house and get rid of stuff that you don't use, that doesn't fit you (or your family) anymore or that's broken. This is kind of like a seasonal cleaning, but with an emphasis on de-cluttering through "stuff removal."

I would suggest going room by room through your house to create an inventory to figure out what in the world is in your house and taking over your precious space. Do this slowly so you don't overwhelm yourself. Start maybe someplace small, like your bedroom or bathroom, and work from there. Think about each thing as you go through it and ask yourself some questions:

• When was the last time I used this?
• Is it broken? Can I fix it?
• Did I even know I had this?
• Does this article of clothing fit me/children/spouse?
• When was the last time I wore this?
• Do I NEED this still?
• Could I live without this?

The questions above should get you thinking.

• If you didn't wear an article of clothing during the last season, get rid of it!
• If an article of clothing doesn't fit you at the present time, get rid of it!
• Didn't know you had something still? There's a good chance you'll forget that again, so get rid of it!
• Haven't used this in the last two years? Get rid of it!
• Is it broken? Can I fix it? If not, get rid of it!
• Is this essential to my existence? Probably not.
• Can I live without it? Probably.

It is so rewarding to go through the house with big garbage bags and clearing out things that you have no use for anymore. There is absolutely no point in keeping something just to keep it. That's called being a packrat, or worse: a hoarder. My task for you is to just get rid of it. The longer you procrastinate about getting rid of the messy buildup in your house the closer it comes to looking like you have become a hoarder.

If it helps you to think of it this way: you could throw a garage sale or sell your belongings online, give gently used clothing to consignment stores, sell appliances to secondhand stores, or donate your clothing to a charity to help others who are less fortunate. Pick one of those or your own motivator and go GET RID OF IT!

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Friday, May 8, 2009

Toys/Play Area Organization

I must mention again that I do not have kids. I have knowledge of what having kids is like and I have seen enough messy (and neat) playrooms and toy zones to understand the concept around organizing your kids stuff.

I have to start by saying that the most organized families I know corral their kids toys in specific rooms. This seems obvious but most families do not differentiate between playroom, bedroom, parent's bedroom and kitchen based on the toy storage. So, that said, I think it's important to consider setting toy boundaries. Keep the toys in a playroom and the kids room or the basement and their bedroom. Notice that I didn't include the kitchen, dining room, office, mom and dad's room, etc. I realize that sometimes it is beneficial to have toys readily available to the kids to keep them entertained -- but put them away when they're done playing with them in toy-free rooms.

Now that you've moved the toys out of every room it's time to start organizing them. This is where creativity and innovation comes into play. The options are endless with what you can do to create an organized playroom for your kids to hang out in (not to mention learn responsibility by keeping their toys picked up!).

Here are some ideas to get you thinking about what you can do with various storage containers:
• Shelves: excellent option for books, games, puzzles, DVDs and to store buckets or baskets on
• Bins (open): the perfect container for the "loose" toys, like cars or trucks, a train set, Barbie accessories, or farm animals, where the kids can toss them in and find them later
• Plastic storage bins (with lid): great place to keep art supplies, video games, Barbie's and other dolls, school supplies, sporting equipment or stuffed animals
• Baskets/buckets: good for storing small toys that need to be kept separate, like nail polish, checkers (or other game) pieces, play dough and colored pencils
• Laundry baskets or barrels: perfect for super large toys or stuffed animals that the kids can throw in there without having to leave out on the floor

Consider getting a stockpile of several of these items and having your kids help you organize their new play area. Engage them in an art project to create labels for storage bins and buckets and have them tell you how they want the room set up. The key with this organizational overhaul is to get them to be held accountable for keeping the toys picked up and kept in their appropriate spot (I see a perfect opportunity for a reward chart here!).

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Saturday, May 2, 2009

Developing an Organized Mindset

We grind into children's brains the importance of putting their toys back where they found them and many parents ask their kids to only play with one toy at a time. Why do we do this with kids when most grown-ups don't follow suit? With grown-ups, of course, it's not about toys. It's about bills, papers, the disheveled cupboards and the messy buildup. It seems that somewhere along the way that adults have lost that mindset of "pick up after yourself."

Something that comes natural to me that is not found in most people is an organized mindset. I've been realizing this more and more every time I meet new people and go into new people's homes. It seems as though people just aren't thinking about what they're doing and how their habits are contributing to their disorganization. We all need to be more aware of our actions and what we are thinking about when we throw the mail in the huge pile, or cram another thing into the refrigerator.

Taking on a huge organizational task is a major project that requires a lot of motivation, mental strength and commitment. Most people can scrounge up the motivation to get started and the strength to keep at it, but they lack the commitment to keep it up after the overhaul takes place. This I see all the time. It is quite frustrating for me to watch because I don't understand why you would even care an ounce to work so hard at creating an organized space and then turn around and go back to your same habits and let it fall apart. The most important part of creating a new organized space or revamping your organization throughout the house is commitment. The organizing isn't the hardest part - it's not falling back into your old rut that should be concentrated on. Seriously. Again, I ask, why in the world would you waste all of that time cleaning out and organizing if you allow the space to go back to being disorganized and you haven't changed your mindset? What a waste.

That was a little rant, but really, you need to change your mindset. Follow through on the commitment you made to yourself while organizing your home, office or your life. Keep it up. Being organized and living in an organized home most certainly improves your quality of life. Why would you want to jeopardize that for sheer laziness? So, follow through and maintain your commitment to yourself. Change your mindset and the way you think about putting your belongings away.

Here are some tips:

• Don't allow piles to build up. Bring the mail in, open it, recycle what you don't want and file your bills. No messy piles allowed!

• After you organize a space, you deserve a reward. If you maintain the exact same organization for a month, six months, a year.... you deserve another reward for following through.

• Put your dirty clothes in the hamper, not on the floor. Follow through with that. Nothing looks worse than clothes laying around on the floor.

• Write yourself notes in areas of your home to remind yourself to keep it organized. Figure out where you are most prone to relapse and write a poster saying "keep it organized" or "I live an organized life" or something. Hang it in your closet, your cupboard, your basement... wherever!

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Thursday, April 23, 2009


Checklists, in my opinion, are different from to-do lists. To-do lists, to me, are all-encompassing, but checklists can be for many things like preparing for a babysitter, packing for a vacation, writing out a grocery list, making a list for what goes in your child's diaper bag or creating a specific task list for a gardening project. has great notepads for sale. Check out these great checklists that I found: (click on the image to enlarge it)

All Out Of pad: my absolute favorite notepad! This hangs on my fridge and I can check items off as they're depleted from my kitchen. It seriously doesn't get easier than this!

Menu Planning pad: I LOVE this one! I'm a big time meal planner and this can stick to the fridge for easy planning and memory refreshing. Plus, I can hang it right next to the grocery list for convenience.

Pack This pad: great for packing help. Somehow there's always something as necessary as a toothbrush that seems to escape my mind when I'm packing for a trip.

Don't Kill the Kids pad: helpful handout for the babysitter.

Errand Manager pad: I like this because I seem to always leave my house with the intention of accomplishing my tasks but end up forgetting to go to half of my destinations!

Endless Voicemail pad: this voicemail message pad is superior to its predecessors because of its size. You can see 12 messages without flipping the page! How convenient is that?

Do your Chores pad: this is great for everyone in the house, not just the kiddos.
These are from:

Babypack/Kidpack pad: super convenient to have when you've got munchkins and you need to pack their necessities for every little day trip you take. Even just a walk...

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Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Moving Efficiently

One of my least favorite things to do is move to a new home. I can't even keep track of the number of times I've moved in my life because it is such a high number. It seems like things always get lost in a move and people just run around like chickens with their heads cut off trying to get everything done in the smallest amount of time possible. Moving is very important, but incredibly stressful, so hopefully I can give you some tips on how to remain calm and organized and get through it efficiently.

Well, if you're planning to move I'm assuming you have a short timeframe to prepare. So, first thing first: stockpile your home with boxes, boxes, boxes galore. And packing tape! Oh, and some permanent markers to label your boxes. Hmm, better stock up on newspapers and bubble wrap, too. Boxes can be purchased at office supply stores, or you can fend for some free boxes at grocery stores, liquor stores, gas stations, restaurants and really any retail business you can think of. This all unless, of course, you have a packing service. Then, you can just sit back and watch the movers do everything.

Need I even say that moving is the perfect time to get rid of belongings you no longer use or need? Set aside some boxes for donating. Or, better yet, throw a garage sale before you begin the moving process. Whatever you have left after your sale can go straight to charity. Don't overlook Internet sites like craigslist to sell appliances, furniture and even clothing.

I've already mentioned that I really hate moving. It's so much work and it's really hard to pack away your home and not be able to access those belongings. So, in order to avoid packing things you still use I would advise you to plan carefully. Start packing the things you hardly ever use: books, things in storage (which should sort of already be "packed"), extra office supplies, off-season clothing, random and hardly ever used tools, movies and CDs, and old keepsakes are good places to start. From there, go in phases as your moving date gets closer and closer. Start cleaning as you go to avoid a last minute cleaning frenzy. The last things you should pack are: daily toiletries and supplies, a few days worth of clothing and shoes, cleaning supplies (you have to leave your place clean, right?) and a few plates and glasses, etc. Think about what you use most often and go down a list until you figure out what in your home you use least often and pack according to that.

If it helps you to go room by room, I would suggest that. Start in your storage room and make sure everything is securely packed and ready for the moving truck. Work from there. I like to create a task list with specific tasks I need to accomplish and then prioritize each task into a chronological order to complete.

When it comes to packing, do pack appropriately and efficiently. Your unpacking efforts will flow seamlessly if you pack each box pertaining to one specific room. It is incredibly helpful to be very detailed when labeling boxes. If you are hiring packers make sure that you supervise this and be up front about your labeling expectations -- trust me, you don't want to be searching for your bedding and have it end up in the box labeled "pots & pans."

When it comes to unpacking I would highly suggest sticking to one room at a time. Unpack just like you packed, so you put away the items you use most often followed by your belongings used least often. This will help you get into your new home and find commonly used items without rummaging for them.

Quick Tips:
• Schedule, confirm and RE-CONFIRM your moving truck/moving company
• Obtain extra (times 10) boxes, rolls of tape and packing materials. You will run out!
• Get some easy to move snacks and water bottles for the day of your move
• Prepare an extra large cooler and ice or cold packs to put your perishables in during the move (do this last) -- only do this if you're moving close by
• Make alternate accommodations for your pet(s) the day of your move -- see if you can pawn the kids off on a friend or relative, too

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Friday, April 17, 2009


Last week I was in a house that I had never been in before. The house was nice, kind of bland with very white and bare walls, but sort of cozy. Then, I walked into the laundry/storage room and was completely surprised to see it completely full of oversized clear plastic containers with nice, neat labels written on the side. The garage was the same. The more I peered into this family's home the more random organizational containers I found. And the more uncomfortable I felt.

I was quite surprised by my reaction to this. My home is organized, but not like this. I have a feeling it could become that way at some point down the road. This makes me sort of torn - I love organizing and being organized but I certainly don't want to make people feel uncomfortable in my home because of that. There were baskets, containers and buckets galore! I would have thought this would be my heaven.

The more I thought about this home I realized that part of my lack of comfort was due to the sheer volume of stuff they have. The family has 2 storage rooms and a garage literally full of shelves with clear plastic containers maxing out the space of the room. Nothing in the home was misplaced. There was a basket and container for everything. So, the point of me continuing and writing this is to say that no matter how organized you are if you have too much stuff it is quite possible you'll still feel overwhelmed and suffocated in your home. And your guests will feel it.

I'm definitely going to keep this in mind now and in the future. I plan on remaining as organized as I am, but I don't want to ever intimidate people by that or make them uncomfortable in my home. I think there are two things that I'm going to take away from this:

1. Don't accumulate useless stuff that just sits in a tub for the duration of its life.

2. Store storage in a storage room that your guests do not have access to. Keep your stuff to yourself and make your home as cozy and comfortable as possible.

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Monday, April 13, 2009


Ugh, the dreaded word. I don't like thinking about procrastination, much less writing about it. I am a firm believer in budgeting your time appropriately leaving out the need or desire to procrastinate. But, after getting through college I realized that I am probably the only one with that mentality. How many people can really say they don't procrastinate? Believe it or not, I don't procrastinate.

The reason why I don't procrastinate is because I realize that it is a mentality and my crazy organized brain doesn't allow me to not plan ahead and get things done within an allotted time period. If I know I need to do something I do it. I don't sit around and push it to the back burner until crunch time comes. I just do it. Think Nike.

If you're a procrastinator my best advice to you is to change your mind set. I don't know why procrastinators procrastinate, but I do know that it's up to you to get out of that awful habit. I've heard the common excuse from a lot of friends who say that waiting until the last minute makes them think better because they know they need to get it done and that they work better under pressure. I kinda sorta believe that - but not really. I think that if you give yourself ample time to accomplish a task or project and take the time you need that you will do your best work.

My logic tells me the opposite would be true if you're fighting the clock to meet a deadline. If you're up for the challenge I say go for it - drop the idea that you work better under pressure and get things done in a reasonable amount of time and finish them early.

Whenever I have a project or an assignment of any kind I like to plan out a schedule of when I am going to accomplish each part of the project, like creating a timeline. This works for home improvement projects, assignments at work or school, planning a wedding or a party, writing a book or anything else that requires planning at length. I work backwards and plan out the amount of time it will take me to do everything while leaving myself a little wiggle room just in case. The important part to following a timeline is to stick to it and follow your schedule. I have reason to believe that if you take the time to create a project timeline that the amount of procrastination on your part will decrease.

Now that you've had some time to think about procrastination I hope you'll consider changing your mind set and just do it.

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Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Organizing your Health

Being healthy is something that is very important to me. I maintain a healthy lifestyle by eating nutritious, local, homemade and (mostly) non-processed foods; regularly exercising; seeing my doctor on a regular basis and keeping track of my health and well-being. Organizing my health, if you will, has been something that has really stuck with me and made a big impact on my well-being.

I keep track of a lot of things throughout the day, with regard to food and exercise. I've got this great little tracker where I write down my weight, everything I eat and drink, how I feel that day and what exercise I get. I think that by keeping track of all of this really makes me think about what I'm doing. I want to write down the good choices I make when it comes to my meals, but I certainly don't want to write that I licked the brownie batter bowl - but I write it down anyway. My health tracker is kept in a file folder that I can take around with me to work and also have at home. On the outside of the file folder lists my health goals - some are for fitness, some are for food, some are for overall well-being and some are for maintaining a healthy weight. Did you know there is a convenient application for iPhones where you can keep track of all of this? No excuses now!

In conjunction with my health tracker I use a workout chart that helps keep me motivated to get to the gym, do Pilates or go out for a run or do something active. I create a chart that I can hang up on the bathroom mirror or on the fridge and have one column for each week and one column for the number of days I am striving to exercise. I can make a check or give myself a gold star every time I work out. I love to see the progress I make with charts like this and see how well I am sticking with my fitness goals - even though I completely realize that they're a little bit nerdy.

For those of you on a weight loss kick creating your own goal chart is a great way to keep motivated and see your progress as you move forward and drop pounds. What I love most about these health trackers is being able to refer back to earlier dates and see what I ate and how much I exercised and how much I weighed and then looking at today's entry and seeing the positive improvements. I also think that keeping track of such things is a great way to maintain and achieve goals and is a way to be held accountable for living a healthy lifestyle.

Another element that I feel is vitally important is keeping track of your medical records. I actually haven't done this for myself yet, but I recently had all of my records sent to my new clinic and am hopeful that I can obtain a copy. My goal with maintaining my medical records is to create a file and store any important lab results, immunization records, hospitalizations, records of my normal blood pressure and any abnormal medical history. I think it is very helpful to know your medical history and be able to regularly access and refer to it. This is especially important if you have an ongoing disease or chronic condition that you are dealing with, not to mention if you go to battle with your insurance company over a medical claim or procedure. Going back to my daily health tracker, I think it is important to take note on how you are feeling everyday and if you notice any changes in your health, etc., because then you have a record to fall back on in case you fall ill and need to relay your progressing symptoms to your physician.

Keeping track of what you eat, how you feel, your day's worth of exercise and your weight should really reinforce your personal goals. This should help to keep you on track and monitoring your progress. I hope it works as well for you as it does for me!

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Saturday, April 4, 2009


There was a time in my college life where I barely had a minute to stop and smell the spring lilacs as I ran from class to work, but these days I have time to breathe and enjoy life. I have a feeling, though, that will soon change. For those of you supermoms/superdads and overachievers in the workplace who are struggling to balance your time and your life and still get the most out of it, hopefully this can help calm your busybody life and greatly reduce your stress.

Of course there are different techniques that work well for some and don't work well for others. I think it is important, as a busybody, to quickly figure out what will work well to keep you grounded and organized. You for sure are going to need some type of planner or agenda to keep your day straight. Unless you have a photogenic memory there is no way you can keep it all straight if you are a busybody. I think that it's important to have one planner for work and home, not two separate planners or calendars. If you're at work and need to leave early for Susie's soccer game, how are you going to know that unless it's on your work calendar? Some ideas are: using a computer calendar (Microsoft Outlook, Lotus Notes, Google calendar, etc.), purchasing a nicely bound agenda that is easy to carry with you wherever you go, use the calendar function on your smart phone (synch it with your Outlook or whatever you use), or use a notebook where you can keep track somehow of all of your tasks and appointments.

After you arrange your appointments and obligations is time to figure out how to accomplish what you need to get done in the allotted time. I love, love, love the idea of creating a calendar or a planner for when you need to do something specific in a certain amount of time. For this, I work backwards if I am just making a list or using a calendar and make a note when I have a deadline or need to start or do a particular task. You can even just write down the different tasks onto a piece of paper and use that as your reference, though I do recommend using something where you can denote dates and deadlines. It's all about creating and sticking to your timeline.

Still can't fit everything in? Now is the time to prioritize. Make a list of what you have on your plate and determine what issues are the most pressing or carry the heaviest weight. What is the most important thing you have going on right now? Do that first. For everything else, you really need to work time into your schedule to be able to get it done. Block off time in your daily scheduler to accomplish the remaining tasks, allot a specific amount of time for each task, and get it done. If you are such a busybody that you literally do not have time to get everything done on time I must admit that I have a hard time believing that you are as organized as you could be. I think there are probably ways you could become more organized and manage your time better. I heard an appalling study about the amount of time the average person wastes checking their e-mail. Consider shutting your e-mail off if you have urgent matters to attend to.

I firmly believe that if you create an efficient timeline that lets you know at what time/day a particular task needs to be accomplished by that you will finish this project in ample time. Don't forget to plan for emergencies, urgent matters, sick days or just plain wasted time.

I also firmly believe in to-do lists or project lists. Have you ever had a project assigned to you that you completely forgot to do? Get a white board, a pack of post-its or a piece of paper and write out your to-do list or your project list and keep it in a spot where you can regularly refer to it and accomplish your tasks.
Take some time at work each Friday (or any day!) to organize yourself. Look over your meetings, deadlines, answer those pesky e-mails you keep putting off, clean your desk and get rid of papers that are creating clutter. I like to mark on my calendar "me time" which I use to reorganize myself.

If you're a stay at home parent or retired or unemployed you should still have things that need to get done. Take a few minutes or an hour or however long it takes to make your to-do list, follow up with anything you have been putting off, plan your weekend errands or whatever it is that you need to do to organize your schedule. Create a daily routine or a schedule that is flexible and works for you that you can follow. If you don't want a fixed schedule at least outline what you need to get done each day or week and stick to your list! Don't forget to plan ahead.

Planning out your schedule is sure to be a huge stress reliever. This will enable you to see in plain sight that you do have time to get everything done. This is all about time management, prioritizing and becoming more organized. It's an important mindset especially for busybodies.

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Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Organize your Clothes

Clothing organization is probably the organizational area in which I am most meticulous about. I've become less anal through the years - when I was 12-ish I used to evenly space the hangers in my closet. I don't care if you color coordinate your clothing (which I'm totally guilty of doing) or not, but at least make an attempt at hanging it nicely (this will help it wear better on your body) and making your closet and drawers look well-kept. There are tons of secrets and tricks to organizing and properly storing your clothes, so hopefully you can benefit from some of them. Best of all, this is a great opportunity to just get rid of cluttered clothing.

Whenever I'm doing a closet organization I start by removing everything (from both the closet and the drawers and anywhere else that clothing is stored!) and throwing it on the bed or in a wide open space to take inventory. It is vital to go through all of your clothes and determine whether or not there is still a future for each item in your life. Sometimes it is helpful to have a spouse or friend to assist with this process - try questionable clothing on and ask for an honest opinion. Find a charity or a consignment shop to bring the clothing that was vetoed to - don't forget to follow through and actually bring it there. While you're doing this it is also important to make a pile of clothing that needs attention or mending because of a missing button, a hole in the armpit, a need to be ironed or a stain that needs removing. Don't put these things away until they are properly dealt with.

It is important to figure out the needs of storing your clothing and what your capabilities are. I have a pseudo-custom shelving system in my closet that I sort of like. I can hang quite a few things from the shelves in addition to stacking clothing on top of the shelves. I also have a large dresser where I keep my undergarments, socks, pajamas, bathing suits and workout gear. Surprisingly the combination of the two is enough to store all of my clothes and still have room to grow. If that wasn't the case, I would store off-seasonal clothing in a large plastic tub, so as not to clutter and overcrowd my closet.

If your clothing organization system is not working for you I would recommend you think about why that is and what you can do to make it work or improve it based on your needs. Do you need more drawers? Clean yours out and get rid of unnecessary apparel, buy an inexpensive set of Sterilite stackable drawers or get another dresser or a wardrobe. Do you need more places to hang your clothes? Go through your clothes and eliminate what you don't wear. Is it possible to remove some things from your closet and fold them up elsewhere? Think of other places in your home where you could hang some off-season apparel. Still need more room? Consider adding another clothes pole if you have the room - or re-design your current space, if able. As silly as this sounds, what about adding a clothes line to your laundry room, or a stand-alone clothing bar (see image below)? Have you heard of the innovative "Wonder Hanger" hangers that cascade your clothing down (see image below)? There are quite a few options for custom closets at various price points that can be great options to maximize your clothing storage space.

Clearing away off-season clothing from your dresser and closet can really eliminate a lot of your problems. I would suggest that if you're running out of room to store your clothes that you corral some extra large plastic tubs or under-the-bed tubs to store off season clothing and swap it out when you do your seasonal cleaning.

Let's talk about your dresser drawers. What do they look like inside? Well, mine are pretty darn neat looking (I bet you're shocked) and everything is folded and kept in its place. I make sure that everything is folded nicely and has a spot where it belongs. One thing I know for sure is that if everything is neatly folded I can fit a whole lot more than I would otherwise be able to. This also helps me to see everything inside my drawers and not allow messy buildup and unnecessary accumulation to occur.

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Saturday, March 28, 2009

The Dreaded Basement

I have to admit that I've put off writing this piece for a while. Basements are tough areas to keep organized and clean, mostly because they tend to be used as a storage facility for your family's randoms. But, I must say that generally speaking, basements have amazing potential to become useful in a variety of ways.

One reason I've been putting off writing about basements is because there is so much variance from one basement to the next, which makes it tricky for me to write something concise that everyone can benefit from. Everything I say here will greatly depend on the configurations of your basement and really, how much stuff you have in it, what you use your basement for and whether or not you have kids. So, knowing that, read on...

As with everything, I like to start by taking a general inventory. What is in your basement? Go through everything you have down there. Figure out what is vital to your existence and what can move on to another family or the landfill. Once you have made your final selection, do a very, very, very, very deep clean. Basements are usually stinky and often left unclean on a regular basis.

Unless your basement is the size of a small shoe box and you literally only use it for storage, I would advise you to create zones for your basement. These zones are to help you to identify the purposes of the basement. Do you use your basement just as a super large storage room? Is your basement a part of your living space? Do your kids use this space as a play room? Is your basement finished or unfinished? Is your basement a "man cave"? Do you keep your sewing and scrapbooking and other hobby projects in the basement? Is your basement your tool room? Does your basement have actual finished rooms or is it one open space? Can you entertain in your basement? Those are some questions I came up with off the top of my head that may help you to identify various zones for the space. If you've got a lot going on in your basement creating zones will help unify the space as a whole while giving each area its own function.

Before I move on, I must caution you to consider if it is possible at any given time for your basement to either flood or get damp floors. Knowing and preparing for this can be a lifesaver if you ever have to deal with water in your basement. That said, consider shelving that is off the floor or plastic storage bins if you must store things on the floor.

This space is like any other in your home. When you create your zones think about how you can best organize each individual zone. Most zones have different capabilities and needs. Consider using plastic storage bins (from super teeny to huge gigantic tubs), cubbies, any variety of shelving, baskets, a set of drawers of any kind, file cabinets, cardboard boxes, buckets or specialized organizational paraphernalia for things like tools, scrapbooking or housing a hobby collection. Place your items nicely on a shelf, on the ground, on a table or wherever works for you in your zone. Make everything look nice, write a descriptive label and move on.

The vital part to this overhaul is following through. After you use something from your zone make sure to put it back where it goes! This sounds so incredibly trivial but I think this is the most common misstep of anyone and everyone. You need to follow through. You worked so hard to clean out your basement and create an organizational system that works for you and looks nice, so why would you not follow through by putting things away? Reward yourself if after one, two, six, twelve months goes by and you still have a wonderfully organized basement. That is something to celebrate - especially if you have a basement like some I have seen.

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Thursday, March 26, 2009

Bills in a Box by Jean Chatzky

This article was from "'Make Money, Not Excuses': Bills in a Box" by Jean Chatzky on Chatzky gives you a very in-depth look at her organizational system for bills - what you should keep, what you should toss, how you should store it and how long you need to save important files for.

You probably think you have no idea how to sort and organize your finances. But in fact, you have a very good model. You know how to clean a closet. And you are going to use the very same skills to get your financial paperwork in tip-top shape.

In this exercise, a file box with a carry-handle becomes your closet. If you don't have one, you can pick one up at any office supply store and many drugstores. If you'd prefer not to spend the money, that's okay. You can use a filing cabinet or a drawer that can accept hanging folders. My preference is for the box, though, because it's portable. If you want to pay bills on your wireless laptop while sitting outside on your back porch, you can tote the box with you. If you need to visit your accountant, you can take it along so that you'll be able to answer any of his or her questions. Once you have the box, here's what you need to do.

Get the Right Stuff
When you clean your closet, you need to have the right hangers for pants, sweaters, suits, and so forth. When you organize your finances, you need office supplies.

* Hanging folders (Note: If you are married, get hanging folders in three different colors so that you can see quickly what's yours, what's mine, and what's ours.)
* Sharpie markers (if you have neat handwriting) or a label maker (if you don't)
* Manila folders
* Stamps and envelopes (so you're not always wasting time scrounging for postal supplies)
* Post-it notes
* Letter opener (to avoid paper cuts)
* Stapler
* Calculator
* Pens and pencils

Put the Box to Use
Before you start filing, neatly label your hanging folders. My suggested categories are: Taxes, Insurance, Health Care, Banking, Retirement/Brokerage (retirement accounts are many people's brokerage accounts), Credit Cards, Home, Auto, Legal, Estate (for a copy of your will, living will, health-care proxy, and other estate-planning documents), To-Do, To-Be-Paid.

You may also want folders labeled: Pets, Kids, Mom and Dad, Benefits, Flexible Spending, Travel.

Next, label manila file folders to put into each of the hanging folders. Suppose you have three credit cards—MasterCard, Discover Card, and Banana Republic. You'll want a manila folder for each of them labeled with the year: MasterCard 2006, Discover Card 2006, Banana Republic 2006. When the year turns to 2007, you will make new manila folders labeled "MasterCard 2007," "Discover Card 2007," and so on. Once you pay your taxes and close your personal books on 2006, you can take all the 2006 folders out of your box and move them to a file drawer in which you have hanging folders set up in a similar way. That way your bills-in-a-box filing system remains portable, and you will be able to put your fingers on any important piece of paper at any particular point in time.

You'll eventually get good at figuring out what category needs its own folder. Give yourself leeway to create the folders you think you will need.

And that's it. Now you're set to start organizing using the Four Ds.

The Four Ds #1: Dump
Here are the steps you need to take. I call them the Four Ds. And remember, this is merely a big closet you're cleaning. It just happens to be a closet full of paper.

If you clean a closet as I do, the first thing you do after you buy hangers is pull everything off the racks and toss it onto your bed or the floor. Do the same with your bills and paperwork. If it's all sitting in a pile on your kitchen table, then move it to an area that can be messy for a little while. This can take anywhere from several hours to several days, depending on how much stuff you have to plow through and how much time you have to devote to the process. One thing is certain: You don't want to have to move your workstation halfway through.

Next, go through the other repositories for your bills and paperwork and add those to the pile. Your briefcases, tote bags, desktop, pocketbooks—every one of them should be given the once-over.

The Four Ds #2: Distribute
When cleaning the aforementioned closet, you separate your clothing into piles—things you want to keep, things you want to toss, and things you're not quite sure of. With paperwork, you do the same.

Take the statements or bills out of their envelopes. Open them to full size (unfolded they take up less room). Staple the pages of each month's statement together so they don't get lost.

If you find a bill that needs to be paid, write a check on the spot, put it in an envelope and stamp it so you don't have to deal with it again. Then immediately record the transaction in your checkbook register. Don't let the fact that you're spending time getting organized result in late fees on your credit card bills.

Then put the paperwork into the proper folders, oldest bills first, so that when you open a folder the newest statement is right on top.

The Four Ds #3: Diminish
In 2004, the American Journal of Psychiatry published results of a study that said chronic hoarders—people who seem to save things with more passion than the rest of us—have decreased activity in the parts of the brain used for decision making and problem solving. In other words, there may be a clinical reason why you can't decide what to keep and what to get rid of. That's why you need rules. With clothing, the rule is: If you haven't worn something for two years, it goes. With bills and paperwork, the rules vary depending on what you're looking at. ATM receipts need to be kept only until you receive that month's bank statement and verify that the numbers are correct. Tax returns have to be kept for years and years.

Here's a list to keep you straight. Make a copy of it, then tape the list to the inside top of your file box.

Keep as long as you have the underlying asset (such as a house or a car):

* Insurance policies
* Receipts for important purchases like technology, art, antiques, rugs, jewelry (or anything else you may need a rider on your insurance policy to cover)
* Receipts for renovations or other investments made in the property
* Titles
* Warranty papers

Keep forever in a safe or safe-deposit box; and keep a second copy, if possible, in your attorney's office or another safe location off-premises:

* Adoption papers
* Appraisals
* Birth certificates
* Citizenship papers
* Custody agreements
* Deeds
* Divorce papers
* Financial aid documents
* List of credit card numbers, bank and brokerage statements, and insurance policies, and toll-free contact information
* List of important contacts (lawyer, accountant, doctor, children, parents, etc.)
* Military records
* Powers of attorney (medical and financial)
* Stock certificates
* Wills/Living wills


* Credit card solicitations
* Marketing material included in bank and credit card statements

Throw out after ONE MONTH or when you reconcile with a bill or bank statement:

* ATM receipts
* Prospectuses and other information about investments you are considering making (if you're not going to read them, toss immediately)
* Receipts for purchases (assuming you're keeping them or there's no warranty)

Throw out AFTER ONE YEAR or when end-of-year consolidated statements come in and you have filed the taxes for that year:

* Bank statements
* Brokerage statements
* Cell phone, cable, telephone, and Internet statements (except when deducting for work-related expenses)
* Credit card bills
* Pay stubs
* Social Security statements
* Utility bills

Throw out AFTER SEVEN YEARS (when no longer needed for tax purposes):

* Child-care records
* Flexible spending account documentation
* 401(k) and other retirement-plan year-end statements
* IRA contributions
* Purchase records for investments
* Records of charitable donations
* Records on houses you've sold
* Tax returns and backup documentation

What should you do with the stuff you toss? Shred it! A crosscut shredder for at-home use can burn through five sheets of paper at a time. Heavy-duty machines can even cut through old credit cards. You can buy a decent machine for about $100 to $150. And if there's not too much paper to go through, you can tear it up yourself!

The Four Ds #4: Due Diligence
Now that you have a "system," all that's left to do is maintain it. For that, you need three kinds of upkeep.

1. Daily Upkeep
What is the quickest way to turn a neat closet into a messy one? Toss today's dirty clothes on the floor. Every day, when the mail comes in, open up your file box, and open the bills one by one. Write checks (by hand or electronically), deduct the amount of each check from your check register (or electronically—watch as the bank does it for you), stamp the envelope, and put it directly in the mailbox to go out the next day or on the counter with your keys so you'll remember to take it with you the next time you leave the house. Do not procrastinate and say you'll pay bills later, after you've had dinner, after you've had a glass of wine. Start this task and finish it in one swift motion.

And what's Plan B for the night that just doesn't work? The baby is crying, the dog poops on the floor, dinner…oh, heck, you can't even think about dinner. You'll be lucky if you can grab a bowl of Raisin Bran in time for the Friends rerun at 11. In that case, put all the bills that need to be filed in the same place—in your "To-Be-Paid" folder. Whatever you do, don't start separating them into separate folders. Don't put the insurance bill in the "Insurance" folder, the credit card bill in the "Credit cards" folder. You'll never see those bills again, and you'll get hit by late fees. Give yourself a break and deal with your bills as soon as you can, preferably tomorrow.

2. Intermittent Upkeep
Every time you open a new account, take out a new insurance policy, or do something else that requires record keeping, immediately make a new folder. Print a label, and figure out where the folder goes. The first thing that goes into the new folder is the contract you signed, so that if you ever need to refer to it, you know precisely where it is.

3. Annual Upkeep
Every year, after you've filed your taxes, remove last year's manila folders from the file box and place them in another set of hanging files in a filing cabinet or drawer. It is important to arrange both sets of files in the same way so that you'll know precisely where to find any document. You will even be able to tell another person where to find a particular document if needed.

Women spend an average of 55 minutes every day searching for stuff, including 8.2 minutes looking for a receipt. Now that you're organized, wouldn't you like to turn that extra hour into extra cash?

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