Posted by Sue on Jun 19, 2014
Last November I posted a piece on planting garlic bulbs. An odd topic for a coach-organizing blog? Perhaps. But the lesson that “cropped” up was more organizational than culinary: time spent culling and organizing in the present saves time, energy and frustration in the future.
Examples of this age-old lesson abound. A short amount of time nesting flower bulbs in the autumn soil results in a spring bouquet of color; working out regularly helps insure healthy, happy years to come; and money invested wisely in the first decade of your career grows into a robust retirement portfolio. Similarly, the time you spend organizing results in time saved and frustration averted in the days and weeks to follow.
Last week a client lamented that her family teased her for “wasting time” alphabetizing her herbs and spices. Yet the 15 minutes it took her to put the jars in order saved her the familiar frustration of digging through the jumble of jars in her cupboard for the oregano, marjoram or dill. Did she save hours and hours? Not in the short run. But over time, a few minutes here and a few minutes there add up. And personally, I’d rather be spend time digging in my garden than digging through my cupboards for more thyme.
My garlic is growing beautifully: a testament to careful spacing (which is a code word for organizing). But few things stay organized forever. I’ve already weeded the bed twice. If I ever thought that gardening was a “plant-grow-harvest” proposition, without commas in-between for weeding, then I was sorely deluding myself.
Once and done is an organizing myth. Whether it’s putting the herb jars back in order, a quick re-sort of your top desk drawer to pare down the pencils that have reproduced in the dark, or the relentless battle against junk-drawer-creeping-chaos, every organizing project needs occasional restoration and maintenance. If you find an exception to this rule, please notify me immediately.
The trick is not to let the garlic, herbs, desk or junk drawer devolve to their former states. When you notice that something is out of order, it takes just seconds to return it to its proper place. But if you ignore this necessary maintenance and wait until you can no longer find the safe deposit key, the celery salt or the garlic among the weeds, the 30 seconds becomes an hour of dedicated time that could have been spent reading a good book.
So, whether it’s weeding or alphabetizing herbs and spices, maintaining what you’ve worked so hard to organize is like money in the bank – or garlic in the spaghetti sauce.
For the next couple months, I’ll be revisiting some favorite Joanna posts from years gone by: tips worthy of a second run. Enjoy!
Posted by Sue on Feb 19, 2014
Marge, a 60-something professional with a Masters in Social Work sought my help to get through a difficult organizing project. Despite years of guiding people as they made tough decisions, she was overwhelmed with all the decisions she needed to make as she cleaned out her late mother’s attic.
We cut through much of Marge’s overwhelm by following the organizing steps I laid out in my January posts (if you missed them, scroll down to the January posts, starting with January 10th).
- Throw Out or Recycle
- Don’t Know
Later, as we were hauling out the accumulated pile of garbage, I picked up a cardboard box that had been thrown into the pile before I arrived. From the denominations of the stamps in its corner, it had clearly been around for a while. I asked Marge if she’d been through the box. She dismissed it saying it was full of cards and letters her mother had received from her grandchildren in the 80’s and 90’s.
A light bulb went off in my head: Teaching Opportunity!
I set the box aside until we had a dust-free moment (which accompanied a cool and very welcome glass of iced tea). I pulled out the box and suggested to Marge that when we’re faced with the difficult task of figuring out what to do with someone else’s possessions, one of the questions we need to ask about each piece we encounter (except the frayed dish towels and the 60 years of collected National Geographics) is, Whose story does this tell?
Most of the time, stuff is just stuff. But now and again, stuff tells a story. If it’s your story: I won this vase at the State Fair and gave it to Mom for her birthday, then you get to decide what to do with it. But if it’s someone else’s story: for example, cards and letters from beloved grandchildren, then deciding what to do with the item in question is not your job. What is your job is reconnecting the stuff with the storyteller.
Sorting through another person’s possessions is a huge, and not always welcome responsibility. Asking the simple question, Whose story does this tell? breathes space into the task, and with the space, a bit more clarity.
Hats off to those of you facing this daunting job.
Posted by Sue on Jan 23, 2014
If you’ve been reading the last two weeks’ posts then you know that “Go!” is preceded by a couple of, “Stop: Do not pass Go” warnings. Jumping in feet first may be good for some activities like the Polar Plunge, but it’s not very effective when you’re tackling a project.
At the risk of sounding like a broken record, your chances of successfully completing any project will increase exponentially if you take the time to plan and prepare before taking the plunge (If you missed the plan and prepare posts, scroll down to read them). And because planning, preparing and taking action each requires a different mode of thinking, you’ll maximize your energy and efficiency if you separate them into three separate sessions.
Once you’ve planned your project and prepared your space and yourself, you are (finally) ready to take that plunge.
Organizing any space can be broken down into 5 steps.
- Plan & Prepare
- Clear & Clean
- Sort & Purge
This week we’ll look at the second and third steps.
Step #2 is Clear and Clean – no mystery here! It means to clear out everything from the space you’ve chosen. If you have limited time or energy, you may want to break a larger space into sections. For example, work on one shelf in the closet or one drawer in a dresser. Emptying the contents of the space can be messy work. If you lay out an old sheet on the floor, table or bed, you’ll avoid dead bugs on the rug.
Once you’ve cleared, time to clean; and if you’re a shelf-paper type person, it’s time to cut and paste. Now your space is clutter-free and shining. Time for …
Step #3: Sort & Purge. This is often the most difficult step for folks. So, take a deep breath and let’s get started. You’ll need 5 boxes, labeled:
- Keep – things which belong in the designated space
- Goes Elsewhere – things which need to be put away someplace else in the house (don’t put them away until you’re done with your organizing session – it’s too easy to get distracted)
- Give Away or Belongs to Someone Else
- Recycle or Sell
- Don’t Know – for anything you’re not sure you’re going to keep or just don’t know what to do with
And, of course, a Big Black Garbage Bag!
Now (drum roll, please) pick up the item on the very tippy-top of the pile, ask yourself what it is and where it belongs, and put it in the corresponding box. In order to avoid being left with only the tough-to-process items, I recommend that you work from the top down.
Once you finish the pile, pat yourself on the back and distribute each box’s contents appropriately. Don’t put back the items that belong in the space you are organizing until you complete step 4, which involves creating a space to suit the stuff. We’ll discuss this and finish off the organizing cycle with step 5 next week. If you can’t wait until then, check out Joanna’s wonderful little book, Decluttering 101.
So congratulations! You’ve just completed the first 3 steps in your organizing adventure. You deserve a break. A hot cup of cocoa would taste great about now. Do you like marshmallows?
Posted by Sue on Oct 18, 2013
Does this sound familiar?
You’re looking for the gift you’ve been planning to give your sister. Maybe you stashed it upstairs in the hall closet when you had last-minute guests. You go upstairs and find a box on the top shelf tucked under a couple shoe boxes (photos? old baseball cards?), a precariously balanced deviled egg platter and what looks like a Christmas sweater box. You can feel your forehead tighten.
Your mind starts to churn. What’s in that box? Let’s see, it was probably last summer when you put it up there … hmmm … tick-tick-tick … whrrrrrr … buzzzzzzz … but the box really isn’t the right size, so maybe the present is in the bedroom closet. But then, what’s in this box? No time to take it down now: supper is on the table and then there’s that board meeting.
As you drive to the meeting you find yourself thinking about that box and mentally unpacking it. Maybe the present is smaller than you remember and it’s in the box after all. Grrrrr … tomorrow you’ll take the time to pull out the step ladder and get down the box and see what’s in it!
And what could have spared you all those additional grey hairs? Read the rest of this entry »
Posted by Sue on Sep 27, 2013
Last Saturday I did something that I’ve warned many of you never to do: I held a tag sale.
Also known as a yard, garage, rummage or boot sale (as in the English “car boot” or trunk), I have repeatedly cautioned you not to spend time and energy on something that will likely only net you a couple hundred dollars. And yet, there I was, up at the crack of dawn, hauling out boxes of books and vinyl records, house wares, blankets and comforters, furniture and more decorative tchotchkes than even Yankee Candle could find room for.
So, why did I do it?
Posted by Sue on Sep 19, 2013
The cold wind doth blow, and we shall have snow, and what will poor robin do then, poor thing? ~ English Children’s Rhyme
Gone are the days when we replaced cotton or rattan floor coverings with warm wool carpets. But we still need storage for lawn furniture, air conditioners and those cute little garden gnomes that don’t like the snow. The good news is that each swap comes with the opportunity to get clearer about what goes where (admittedly, I might be the only one in the room who thinks of this as good news).
Posted by Sue on Sep 12, 2013
Since we’re at that time of the year when the weather is rapidly changing, I decided to revisit the seasonal clothes discussion.
Last week I worked with a client, Jenny, clearing out a long-neglected closet. At the back, squashed between a couple of summer dresses and a pair of ski pants, was a favorite jacket she thought she’d lost. It was like a reunion with a favorite college roommate. But as Jenny had just purchased an expensive replacement, she was a bit irked. To avoid this unnecessary frustration in the future I suggested she adopt the seasonal swap.
Nowadays lots of folks don’t store away off-season clothes, choosing instead to leave everything in their drawers and closets regardless of whether they are currently wearing them. But for more ease in your daily life (and to lessen the chances of losing favorite garments), I suggest trying out the seasonal swap. It’s a delight to reach into your closet and actually be able to wear anything you see and touch.
Posted by Sue on Sep 5, 2013
With September comes a lot more than colored leaves. Summer recess gives way to team sports, extracurricular activities and a myriad of meetings. When life feels like it’s going to run you over, a little organization goes a long way.
One memorable fall, each of my five daughters was on a different sports team. This meant five separate practices on five separate fields with five game schedules to coordinate and, hopefully, attend. My job (if I wished to accept it) was to make sure they had rides to and from, clean uniforms for games, healthy snacks before practice and somehow fit in homework and piano practicing. I also needed to prepare dinner in advance so we could eat before everyone fell apart and hope against hope that I didn’t forget to pick one of them up along the way.
Posted by Sue on Aug 21, 2013
Ready or not, the new school year’s here!
I can almost hear the groans – from you parents! Getting the kids up and off; arranging for after school care for the little ones; trying to remember which kid is supposed to be at what after school activity when; and then, perhaps the toughest of the difficult-to-swallow pills, homework.
In her delightful article in the Washington Post, Nicole Anzia has some great suggestions for creating a homework space that smooths out some of the bumps along the homework highway. Even if you don’t have school age kids, her ideas can be used for setting up an out-of-the-office office space. Read the rest of this entry »
Posted by Sue on Aug 15, 2013
With only 10 minutes here and 15 minutes there, the closet clean-out seemed like it would never get done. But blouse by blouse, hanger by hanger, I cleaned it out, sorted through and reorganized the clothes so that I could once again access the clothes I need.
It all began yesterday, when I went to put away a clean basket of laundry, more than half of which needed to be hung. After using up the 3 available hangers (where did all those hangers go that used to hold up these garments?), I got frustrated and left the laundry in the basket on the floor. Read the rest of this entry »