Thursday, February 26, 2009

Organize Yourself

While most of my suggestions come in the form of physical organization, I feel that my strongest area of organizational ability is with "life organization." What I mean by this is living a fully organized life - being on time, being prepared for the unexpected and the expected, accomplishing necessary tasks, planning ahead and having a schedule. The ability to organize yourself in these respects really sets you apart from the average person.

I could tell you everything I do that helps me to be completely organized, but that's not going to matter if you lack motivation and desire to stick with it and organize yourself. So, first thing first, it is vital that you create a positive mindset that allows you to focus on being organized in your day-to-day functions.

Generally speaking, I am rarely late. This is because of my meticulous daily planning. If I have to be somewhere really early I adapt my schedule so that I can get ready and be out the door with more than enough time to get to wherever I need to be. I also plan ahead the night before by setting out what I am going to wear, packing a lunch, checking the weather and writing down directions so that I am not scrambling to get everything done that morning. Think about all of the elements it takes to be on time (better yet, be 5 minutes early) and work backwards to determine what time you need to run out the door, not to mention what time you need to wake up. Factor in things like getting gas, dropping the kids off at daycare and, of course, traffic. Also, if it does help, set your clocks at least 5 minutes fast. I must note that my dad sets his clocks 10 minutes fast and that doesn't seem to solve the problem.

I think that I am very well prepared for the unexpected each day. In a regular purse I always carry things that I may need, like hair binders, bandages and lip balm, but I also carry items like a spare feminine hygiene product, tissues or a safety pin. I like to think ahead to what I may need at any given time. Otherwise, it's great to store extras or an emergency kit in your car, desk or backpack for when you need them. Other suggestions for your emergency kit are: ibuprofen, breath mints, deodorant, toothbrush and toothpaste, a lint roller, an umbrella and stain remover. Having a good stock of "just in case supplies" really helps me to prepare for just about everything.

Some of my favorite and most useful tools of keeping me on schedule are my handy dandy planner and post-it notes. I use my planner to keep track of scheduled meetings or appointments, but I use a piece of paper or a fun sticky note to outline what I need to accomplish in a day. When I create a to-do list it helps me to write out each task and prioritize the items or schedule a time to get everything done. Take advantage of various schedulers like planners, your Outlook or Google calendar, Lotus Notes, sticky notes, desk calendars, wall calendars, a small notebook or even just a sheet of paper.

Another note about planning ahead and being prepared for the unexpected is to prepare yourself in advance to ensure you never run out of something. I can't imagine running out of toilet paper, toothpaste, shampoo or dog food and realizing it at the last minute when I'm in a hurry to get out the door and don't have time to go stock up. So, plan ahead. Take note on when things are getting low and add them to your list then instead of after you've already run out. Before I make my regular run to Target I always do a quick check of everything to make sure that I have enough to last me a few weeks until at least the next trip. This goes for food also. Plan ahead for when you're about to use the last of the coffee cream, milk, eggs and bread so that you don't ever run completely dry.

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Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The Front Entryway

When people walk in your front door they want to be greeted with a warm and welcoming first step into your home. It is important to give your guests a great first impression of your home by inviting them into a neat, friendly and organized front entryway. It will also make them feel more welcome in your home.

The key to a great front entryway is a minimalist approach. A rug, a closet or a coat rack of some sort, maybe some flowers and a place for shoes is about all you should have. Maybe a table and a bench. Much more than that and you've gone too far.

Of course the approach you take depends on the layout and size of your home and how you choose to design the space. As a child, my favorite home that I grew up in had an attached garage with a super fantastic mudroom to walk into, but it also had a separate front door with a large entryway that invited you into the house where you weren't bombarded with kids stuff everywhere. If your home allows you to separate your jackets, shoes, umbrellas, hats, mittens, boots and the likes from the door to which your guests walk through, that is outstanding. But, my guess is that most homes are not like that.

In that case, it is most important to keep a tidy front entry. There are several stores that offer shelves, baskets, benches, built-ins, coat racks, wall hooks and entryway suites to help give your guests a wonderful first impression of your home. The takeaway home points are: get rid of the clutter and make sure there's a place for your guests to put their coats.

Here is what to avoid in your front entryway: dirt, clutter, mail buildup, jackets and clothing piled up on the floor, kids' sports equipment, dog food and leashes and really anything that isn't absolutely necessary. It's okay if you have stuff in your entry, just keep it organized and looking nice and uncluttered and you'll be fine.

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Monday, February 23, 2009

Some of My Favorites...

Since I was a little girl I would look forward to the days that the designer catalogues would come in the mail. I was most excited to see the various organizational elements, like the shelving units, creative bulletin boards, cute little baskets and the closets. I would page through them and circle the things that I wanted to have when I grew up and had my own home. Unfortunately, most of those items still remain circled in the catalogue.

Here are some of my favorite images of organized areas of someone's home. I don't have anything that is shown below, though I dream of these items quite frequently and still hope that someday they will find their way into my home.

I must say that the reasons that I like all of these images are because of how nice they look, as well as their phenomenal organizational purpose.

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Sunday, February 22, 2009

Over-the-Door Organization

A true space saver is an over the door organizer, whether it is a shoe rack, a hook, a set of hooks, or a hamper, it will be your best friend if you are in need of maximizing your space and getting things off the floor. There are several price points to over the door organizers, you can do it very inexpensively, or not so at all. In addition, you can find a very wide variety of options for over-the-door storage.

Hooks to hang over your doors are such a genius invention I wish I could take credit for. One of the downsides to my bedroom/bathroom is that I have more pocket doors than hinged doors. I take full advantage of the regular hinged doors for their organizational capabilities. On the back of one door I have my shoe rack, and on the back of the other door I have a set of eight hooks. I use the hooks to hang my purses from. If I had more doors to take advantage of I would use one door to hang another set of hooks on with the intention of hanging sweatshirts, tank tops and pajamas. If my bathroom door was on hinges I would use another set of hooks to hang our bathroom towels and my bathrobe from. I really wish that our entry way closet door was on hinges because I would use hooks to hang scarves and umbrellas from.

Without my over the door shoe organizer I would most certainly not be as organized as I am. I actually wish I had another shoe organizer or two because I have so many pairs of shoes they don't all fit together. There are several different types of over the door shoe organizers on the market. Shop around and figure out what you're really looking for in a shoe organizer. I really love mine. It has 24 pockets and I can fit two shoes in most of the pockets, depending on what shoes they are.

Over the door wreath hooks are available so you don't have to nail into your front door to display your holiday or seasonal wreath. I love this idea because I really love to hang a wreath for a beautiful, fresh holiday decoration.

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Friday, February 20, 2009

The Infamous Junk Drawer

Junk drawers and bottomless closets are like magnets for clutter. These are some of the most exciting spaces to tackle, in my opinion, because there is so much potential and it is such a challenge to create an organizational system that will work and continuously combat clutter.

It seems that most houses have a junk drawer somewhere in them that is home to the odds and ends that don't seem to fit anywhere else. These drawers are acceptable if they are in some form of an orderly fashion. I like to start organizing these spaces by removing everything. This allows me to see the full potential of the drawer. It looks much different (probably much larger) with nothing in it. Oh, and it allows you to wipe out the drawer and, if you choose, lay down a fun looking piece of drawer liner or contact paper.

Utilize small plastic containers, silverware holders, small buckets, bowls or cups to help contain your junk drawer contents in a more orderly manner. My favorite tricks of the trade with respect for junk drawers are trays with multiple areas for things like paper clips, rubber bands, pencils, thumb tacks and postage stamps. Trays allow for more room in the drawer so you can lay things out underneath the tray instead of having to work around the items. Now is the fun part: after you collect the random odds and ends into some sort of container you get to decide where to keep these containers in your drawer.

If this is more of a paper junk drawer for you, I would highly recommend either removing all of the papers altogether or organizing them into their own files based on the subject of the papers. Make sure if you take the latter route to keep up on putting the loose papers into their respective files instead of throwing them in the drawer because it's six seconds faster.

I must end with this... Clutter doesn't just "happen." Someone creates it by allowing it to happen. That said, no matter how amazingly cool your organizational system is it won't work unless you make it work by following through and putting things in their place.

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Monday, February 16, 2009

Kids Stuff...Outside Toys

Ok, so you've taken charge of the inside of your house... Time to combat the toys scattered about your yard making it appear as though you're throwing a yard sale.

The same way you did a walkthrough of your house, I think it's a good starting point to do a walkthrough of your yard and garage. Take into account what types of toys your kids play with outside, where they are stored and what you would like to have happen with their outside toys. Is it okay if they keep their bikes and trucks and sandbox toys outside, or would you rather they be stored in the garage? Where do the kids commonly throw their bikes after they get done riding them? What are you using for kid toy storage in the garage right now? How can you improve it and make it easy for the kids to pick up after themselves?

Where you go from here really depends on what you want to happen and what your needs are for kid storage.

If your kids play sports it may be handy for you to find a storage cabinet for your garage to house all of their sports equipment. These cabinets are great, durable, child proof and not only store sports equipment, but other toys, too. I think that large plastic storage chests are fantastic for garage storage as well - pop the lid open, dig around and find what you're looking for. Storage chests are very resilient and can help you contain a lot of toys, like basketballs, rollerblades, beach toys and remote control race cars. A set of really sturdy shelves dedicated to kids toys is a super idea also. Shelves can store sidewalk chalk, bubbles, rain boots, sandbox toys and gardening toys.

Another wonderful alternative is hanging your kids' things from the walls or the rafters of your garage. There are special hooks you can buy at the hardware store that help hang bikes from the ceiling. That is a great way to get the bikes out of the way, at least in the winter when the kids don't ride them. In addition to getting bikes off the ground, you can utilize hanging shelves from the ceilings to store more permanent items that the kids may not need to get at very often, like off-season clothes or toys.

If storing the kids' toys outside is acceptable but you'd like them to be contained, consider a shed. This can offer more benefits than just housing toys - you can use it for other storage purposes, like storing the lawnmower or the hedge trimmers. A shed can be a big investment, so if you aren't up for that, think more in terms of a large plastic storage bin that you can find an inconspicuous spot for. The bins are great because they are waterproof (if your kids remember to put the lid back on!) and can store an army of toys.

The most important thing about keeping your kids toys organized is making them responsible for following through. Some more non-parent advice is to make it a game for them - create a reward chart for their organizational habits and responsibilities and give them praise when you see them pick up after themselves and put their toys away - especially without being asked.

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Saturday, February 14, 2009

Kids Stuff

I don't have kids, but as a former nanny and someone who worked in a daycare for several years I know how easy it is to accumulate countless toys, clothing, movies, books, photos and other completely random paraphernalia related to your kids. Kids stuff tends to overpopulate the house if you don't keep the lid on it. Now is time to put your foot down and regain the rights to your house if this is happening to you.

Do a walkthrough of your house and take notes about where your kids are hoarding their toys. If their toys are consuming your house it's time to set some boundaries. Include the kids in this discussion, for example, suggest that kids indoor toys are only to belong in the respective owners room and the play room or the den. We'll cross the bridge to the outdoor toys later.

Great, you've identified that the kids' toys are everywhere. Now you need to decide what to do! My non-parenting suggestion is to limit where toys are allowed. After you come to a consensus that your family can agree on it's time to get to work. Take note on your current organizational system. What is working and what isn't working? Do you have enough storage and it just isn't being utilized by the kids? Do your kids have too many toys for the spaces that you have now decided to contain them in? Can you come to an agreement on having a garage sale or donating some of the kids old toys to give the kids more space to play in? How can you improve the storage areas you already have for the kids toys?

So, say you've decided to contain the toys to your kids' bedrooms and their shared playroom. Great! If you're starting from scratch, some basic things I would recommend to you are to bring in some shelves or big cubby holes like preschools have for basic storage and book storage; add a stackable drawer set (or several sets...) that is easy to house your kids' arts and crafts supplies, papers, school projects, random decks of cards, small toys and anything else that can easily be stored in a drawer; buy or search your house for large buckets or bins that can be turned into storage for larger toys like Tonka trucks and Barbie dolls; even consider bringing some old laundry baskets that you no longer use to be a storage spot for the various toys.

Zones are a great way of sectioning off space in the playroom. Some zones that might be applicable to your kids' playroom are: board game zone, Barbie or doll zone, arts and crafts zone, "play house" zone, trucks/cars/automobiles zone, music and dance zone, video game and TV zone or reading zone. These various zones will help to keep specific toys in their area - think of this like the setup of a kindergarten classroom.

Now, for your kids' bedroom. I hope they at least have the basics: a closet, a dresser, maybe a nightstand or another table, and a bed that can double as a storage area (under-the-bed storage). My guess is that most of the things occupying the dresser and closet are clothes. Make sure that at least the clothes are organized. Use the same things that you would use to organize your own closet: additional shelves, shoe storage and consider a custom closet. For the outlying toys in the kids' bedrooms I think it's a great idea to employ the same types of storage ideas as you do with the playroom: add a bookshelf for book and toy storage, buy some under-the-bed bins to store Barbie's and other toys in, find some additional bins that can sit out on the floor for added storage and use the dresser or other tables to display prize toys, awards or double as extra storage.

For further inspiration, please read The Berenstain Bears and the Messy Room. This book was probably my childhood inspiration for being the way I am. I LOVED this book. Every time I read it I would be so excited to go clean my room and organize everything. Maybe your kids will be too!

It seems like I'm always coming back to the same generic "solutions" for storage: bins, buckets, baskets, boxes, over-the-door hangers, shelves or drawers. Why do I always say the same thing? Because it works. Run out to Target or The Container Store with the kids and find some great storage solutions to put into use in your home.

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Friday, February 13, 2009

Closets, closets, closets

If I had to choose, I think that closets would be at the top of my list for what I enjoy organizing the most. Usually bedroom closets are the home to numerous items related or unrelated to clothing and are all unique in size, shape and capabilities. Closets definitely require a lot of attention and thought, depending on the size and other limitations. Here, I will offer suggestions geared towards your bedroom closet. Now, I realize that there are many other functions of a closet and will get to those eventually, but the suggestions and tips here can be transposed into other closets and areas of your home.

Right off the bat, some generic suggestions for managing clutter in the closet are using boxes, bins, tubs, or buckets; buying a large, medium or small set of stackable drawers; building a custom shelving system into the closet; adding a book shelf; or simply making the contents of the closet look neater by rearranging the shelves or floor space, folding the clothes and finding a nicer way of stacking them, and organize board games or other boxes and toys by size.

Anyone can come up with a generic cure to closet clutter; however, the real challenge is finding something that works for you. I think that custom closets are absolutely fantastic, but sometimes end up limiting the space of the closet by adding too many random custom elements. Working with what you have and enhancing it is a great money saving fix.

As with most spaces, I recommend that a good first step towards organizing a closet is removing everything from it. This will allow you to see all of the space that is available to you. Once you have everything out I like to group it together on the bed or the floor by category, or put similar items together: dresses, shoes, jerseys, belts, baseball hats, etc. This makes it easier once you bring everything back into the closet because it's already grouped together.

Before you start bringing your things back into your closet I strongly recommend that you go through everything and decide what you absolutely must save and what you really don't wear, use or need anymore and get rid of it or donate it. This will be your savior, especially if you've lived in your home for a while or if it has been a long time since you last cleaned out your closet.

Now that you have decided what is coming back into the closet and grouped it together, it's time to decide how it is going to reenter the closet. If your closet was just disorganized and you were able to get rid of some clothes and things and you think all you need to do is find a neater way to hang things and store your items on a shelf, that's great - have at it. But, most of you, I'm assuming, need a bit of assistance with organizing your things when they make their grand appearance to their home in your newly reorganized closet. That's the tough part, and it all depends on the space you have and what you are willing to do to accommodate your belongings.

Shoes are the number one thing that create clutter on a closet floor. I do not like, nor would I ever suggest, for anyone to ever store their shoes on the floor just "as is." I think that shoe trees are great for hanging your shoes on the back of a closet door, or shoe shelves are even more fantastic because you can just stick the shelf under your hanging clothes, even storing your shoes in the boxes they came in is better than allowing them to sit out on the floor.

Consider adding some hooks or something that allows you to hang belts, baseball caps, scarves, ties and the likes from. If you have the space and the funds to do so, I would also recommend adding a dresser or a set of drawers, or mount some individual shelves or obtain a book shelf to create additional storage. Who couldn't use an extra set of drawers or an extra shelf?

My last relatively generic thought is for those pesky random things you have sitting in your closet. Since you have grouped them together it will be easier to decide what to do with them, whether it is putting them in a stackable bin or a basket, or leaving them to sit out on the closet shelf, or finding some cute buckets to put things in, or finding a new place for some things altogether.

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Thursday, February 5, 2009

Magazine Build Up

Magazines tend to build up in my house. We subscribe to several monthly magazines, plus receive several catalogues throughout the month. A great place to store your magazines is in a magazine rack or basket in your bathroom. Be sure to recycle your magazines after six months.

I find that it takes longer and longer for me to get through a magazine these days. If a magazine sits on the coffee table for more than a week without being open, I think that's a sign that I'm really not that interested in it anymore - or I'm too busy to read it.

Check out your local organization store for some different options for magazine storage. There are TONS of options. Devote a shelf for 2009 magazines, find a huge bucket to use as storage, get a really big clear plastic container to house your current magazines, or keep a nice and neat stack on your coffee table. Notice how I said nice and neat stack.

Instead of saving an entire magazine that has a good recipe, article, or workout plan, rip out the pages that are of interest to you and place them in a file folder in your filing system, or place the recipe in your recipe card box. Don't forget to go back to these articles and recycle them if you are no longer interested in the content.

I'll be honest, I do have some magazines from 2004. BUT these magazines I actually regularly go through for ideas and inspiration. If you really, truly refer back to the magazine I suppose I'll allow it to stick around - but only if it has a "home."

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Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Planning a Vacation

Planning a vacation is one thing I just love to do! There are tons of different elements involved, like finding a great deal on a hotel, nailing down plane tickets, arranging for a rental car, planning activities for your trip, plus getting things at home ready for your absence. The more planning and lists, the better, if you ask me.

When I am planning a trip I start by making a list of what I need to do. Usually that list includes:

• Compare locations to determine best price
• Reserve a hotel room
• Buy airline tickets
• Get a rental car
• Plan activities and research local restaurants
• Write a packing list
• Secure airport transportation
• Ask a friend to water the plants and feed the cat
• Hold the mail and the newspapers or ask a friend to collect it
• Search the area for good deals, reviews on restaurants and things to do

I generally find that making a list really helps me to see the big picture and understand what needs to be done. From there, I can break down the tasks and accomplish a few at a time instead of being overwhelmed by doing everything at once. And the best part: crossing things off when I'm done.

One of my favorite parts of planning a trip is writing out my packing list. As I have mentioned at least 17 times, I love lists. This is one list I have an exceptional favor to. I have a generic list on my computer that has basic toiletries and necessities, but it seems that wherever I go and whatever season it is I always need different things. I would suggest that you make up a list of things to take with you, this way you will be certain to remember everything you need. Consider the outfits you will have to bring and double, triple check the weather before you go. Generally when I travel I plan around black or brown/navy and try to bring one pair of shoes that goes with all of the outfits I bring. That goes for purses and jackets, too.

Don't forget about what you're leaving at home while you're on vacation! Ask a friend to take care of your home, pets, mail and plants while you're away (don't forget to reciprocate when she goes out of town next!). Clean out the refrigerator of any perishables, take out the garbage before you depart, leave a clean house to come back to and turn off the coffee pot (toss out the filter, too!). Most people can't just up and leave, so be prepared.

For you parents, one thing not to forget is to plan things to do for your kids in the airport, on the airplane, in the car from the airport to the hotel, in the hotel, during the day, etc. Bring food. Lots of food. I suggest bringing a big backpack for each child with snacks, games, books, things to color on, and maybe even a portable DVD player to keep the kids busy. Keep them occupied and entertained and you will have a much better, stress-free vacation.

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