Post-holiday toy cleanse

Five days after Christmas, does your living room still look like a disaster area? Is the playroom bursting at the seams, unable to absorb the holiday's new loot? This New Year's weekend is the perfect time to tackle toys with the kids. 

Start 2015 by donating the old to make room for the new. Work with your kids to donate anything that they've outgrown. Help them sort the special or beloved toys from the rest. Provide guidance but respect their choices. They might even decide that some of the new gifts are good candidates for donation.

Kids of all ages will benefit: 

  • Small children practice sorting items into categories.
  • Young children enjoy their first experience of charity.
  • Kids of all ages take responsibility for their space and belongings, and learn valuable organizing skills.

Remember, less is more when it comes to toys.   

"I want to de-clutter but I can't let go…"

Lasting change starts within.

Ask yourself:

– How would my space and my life be different if I minimized? What would I lose ...and what would I gain?

– For individual items, be brutally honest with yourself about why you’re reluctant to let go. What are you afraid of? How can you talk yourself through those fears with logic?

Start small. Part with just one single object today. Enjoy the lightness of owning less and the satisfaction of donating useful items to those in need. You’ll see it’s not as hard as you think. Baby steps. It’ll get easier as you go.

Get help. You don’t have to do it alone. The right Organized Living Coach can shepherd you through the process of developing healthier, more rewarding attitudes toward objects.

A (Dressing) Room of One's Own

For apartment dwellers making the best of a single, cramped closet, the very idea of a extra space is but a mere fantasy. But for families living in large suburban homes, it's often a given. If you're lucky enough to have a spare, spare room or an empty sitting area, you might consider moving out of the shared master closet and creating a luxurious dressing room of your own.

In the client home below, we handed over the entire walk-in closet to Mr. and transformed this small guest room into a gorgeous space for Mrs. We brought down a desk and chest from the attic, purchased some easy-to-install Closet Maid products and hung jewelry pegs on the wall. Voila!

Vanity station for easy access to makeup and jewelry…with good lighting and a large mirror! Plenty of hanging space – long hang and double hang.

Shelving for folded items and bins. Plenty of slots for shoes and handbags.

Since my own home is 100 years old, I let my husband take over the master closet and used the adjacent sunroom as a dressing room - slash - sitting area. I enjoy having my own space where everything is visibly displayed and easily accessed. I also love the natural light coming through the windows and the music playing on the stereo in my bookshelves.

Hanging bags are my favorite shoe storage option. Obligatory shelving for jeans and handbags. And I still have space left over for a sitting area…I’m happy in my closet!

 

 

STOP: Scan and Deliver

So you've gone through the tedious but rewarding process of organizing your home. You've eliminated the clutter, chosen an appropriate place for everything and, for the moment, everything is in its place. Now, how to keep it that way?

If you're used to a messy house, you're probably accustomed to setting things down without much awareness. Your handbag rests where you dropped it in the foyer. Today's shoes are strewn in the garage and the water glass you carried from the kitchen to the den remains there long after you've departed. If you're going to maintain the order you've worked so hard to create, it's time to be more thoughtful about what you're doing with your belongings.

"STOP: scan and deliver" is a technique I use to ensure that each space in the home is properly organized. Each time you exit a room, take a moment to turn around and scan each area, each surface of the space for items that don't belong. Then deliver those items to their proper places.

To get started, consider printing out this sign and pasting it on the back of each door in your house. (Or buy the sticker). Soon you won't need the sign to remember to check your space before you leave it.

Save time: do LESS

In her August 2014 article "The Best Productivity Trick of All: Do Less," Alex Cavoulacos, Founder of career advice website The Muse, encourages us to be more productive at work by crossing unnecessary items off of our to-do lists. Her advice, in summary, is to:  Say no, delegate, eliminate the unnecessary, reassess the need for meetings, their format and length, and manage email more effectively.

Read Alex's article, which I discovered on WeWork Magazine, which features stories of entrepreneurs and first-hand resources that make your business more successful.

Similarly, there are several ways in which we can be more productive - and happier - at home by reevaluating the tasks we undertake and how we approach them. In fact, some of Alex's advice can be directly applied:

1. Say no  Saying no is just as hard for many of us in our personal lives as it is professionally - and it's at least as important to do so at home as it is at the office. Are you saying no to your kids enough? Doing so is good for your sanity and is a lesson in patience, discipline and moderation of your children.

Social "obligations," including dinner parties, babysitting and the PTA, are not mandatory.  They're choices. Make them wisely and selectively.

2. Delegate  There's no shame in delegating tasks to household members, including spouses and kids, as well as roommates or neighbors, or to hiring a professional to lighten your load.

3. Eliminate the unnecessary  Attending to extraneous tasks at work can reduce productivity but doing so at home can reduce happiness. By cutting the fat from our personal to-do list, we free up time and energy for the things that are most important to us, including family time, friendships, health and personal growth.

In my experience as a professional  organizer, there are two common causes of squandered time. The first is perfectionism. Women, in particular, are susceptible to societal messages that tell us we have to be super-people. If you're ironing your sheets because your neighbor does or home-making baby food because a magazine suggested that you do, consider letting these things go. Decide what's truly valuable in your life and eliminate the tasks that "others" are pressuring you to perform.

The second common cause of unnecessary to-do items is avoidance. Might you be artificially adding things to your list to avoid facing the really tough tasks? Instead of stocking up on cleaning supplies at the bulk store, sit down and start writing that book. Rather than reorganizing your shed this weekend, join your family for an outing. Dreading your first trip to the gym? Might as well face it now. It'll still be waiting for you after a wasted afternoon of unnecessary tasks. And if you are going to procrastinate, at least enjoy a good nap rather than wasting time on a made-up task.

 

Smooth Moves: Taking the path of least resistance into your new home

According to the Employee Relocation Council (and as anyone who has ever moved surely knows), "moving is the third most stressful event in life, following death and divorce."

Moving requires managing many logistical challenges - and life doesn't halt for you while you get it all done. You still have to face the daily grind of work and home life, when all the while you're drowning in boxes. In addition to all of that, you also encounter the nostalgia of ending one era and the anxiety of beginning a new one. Downsizing is particularly stressful, not only for the labor and planning involved in reducing your possessions but also for the emotional difficulty of parting with your stuff.

I can't promise that moving will ever be much of a picnic but, having assisted with many moves, I can share some universal advice that can make the process a lot less painful.

Planning

Planning is critical to a smooth move.  There are several spaces, dates and vendors to manage so first think through all the details and write out your plan, including when each step will occur. Start with your deadline for being settled in the new place and work backwards, accounting for packing and unpacking time, utility appointments, address changes, bill deadlines, furniture deliveries, car or truck rentals, cleaning service visits and walk-throughs.

Carefully plan your new space. Floor plans are not always reliable so take your own measurements, not just of walls and ceilings but also of counter tops, and inside closets and garages. Use a free internet space planner to map out how your furniture will fit into the new space.

Then decide where you will store your belongings. Take a visual inventory of all the categories of items you will bring with you and designate a room, closet or area where each will be accessible. Don't assume you can replicate your current home in the new one. Perhaps you keep your extra linens in the guest closet at your current house but it might make more sense in the new space to keep them in your master bathroom. It's important to have a realistic plan for where everything will go, especially if you're downsizing and might not have enough space for everything you expect to bring along.  It also saves time during the move process and means you'll be completely settled in from day 1 (or 2) in the new house.

Packing

Movers pack with only 2 goals in mind: a) getting everything on the truck and delivered to the new house as quickly as possible and b) covering their liability by ensconcing everything - even your Tupperware - in bubble wrap. Hire movers that you know to be honest and reliable. Then work with them to pack smarter.

  • Use large, easily visible color-coded stickers to indicate what stays and what goes. Make sure they are adherent enough not to fall off.
  • Take photos before packing begins for reference when unpacking, especially of bookcases and other decorative spaces.
  • Keep a list or take a photo of the contents of each box.
  • Pack items in groups according to where they will go in the new space, NOT where they are in your current space.*

*This saves a huge amount of time and effort in the unpacking process and prevents your having to drag heavy boxes from one room to another on the delivery end. Don't let movers pack "unlikes" in a single box. The office papers in your kitchen should be packed with other office papers - not with coffee mugs.

If you're moving yourself, leave plenty of time and start early by packing things you can do without for a few weeks. Leaving too much to the last minute adds a lot of stress and disorder.

Move day

Get help! You can't be everywhere doing everything so recruit a trusted friend to lend a hand.  While you field questions and direct movers, he or she can record box contents and start unpacking some of the crucial items.

Be sure to set aside the personal items you'll need for the 24-hour move cycle. In addition to a change of clothes and a day's worth of toiletries, don't forget:

  • Keys
  • Wallet, checkbook (with some cash on hand)
  • Cell phones and chargers
  • Medications
  • Alarm clock
  • Food and water for the day - for you and your pets (remember a couple of bowls, spoons, forks, etc.)
  • Keep some toilet paper and hand soap with you so that it's available at both the old and new locations

You should also hand carry valuable or very fragile items, and plan to transport any open toiletries or cleaning supplies yourself. Movers won't load these in their trucks for fear of damaging spills.

Take care of yourself on move day. Be sure to get a good night's rest. Take breaks throughout the day, and remember to eat and drink. Make special arrangements for young children and pets so that no one gets hurt or lost.

Unpacking

Despite movers' preferences, unload and place furniture in the new house first - before bringing in boxes. Otherwise, the boxes block the way. Once you have your furniture in place, start unpacking one area at a time, clearing as many boxes as possible to make more space. I like to start with clothing and then unpack toiletries and kitchen items. That's usually enough work for one day. Less critical areas, including office items, cleaning and laundry supplies and books, artwork and accessories, can wait a day or two.

Starting out in a new space is an opportunity to set up a more organized home. Rather than rush through the process, take time to plan, downsize your possessions and strategically place items in your new home. It's a lot easier to start off right in a space than to purge and reorganize later on.

One final plea: if, while preparing to move, you unearth boxes still unopened from your last move, do not open them. Do not load them on your moving truck. Barring the remote possibility that they contain bundles of cash, take them straight to the dump.

Bread and Milk and Batteries...oh, my!

My organizing colleague Leslie Tansey, of All About Organizing, had this to say about the reaction - namely to the rush on bread and milk - to today's forecast of an impending ice storm in our little southern town: "...If we get an ice storm and lose power, the LAST thing you want in your fridge is Milk and Eggs. Don't forget: Water, flashlights, batteries, candles, and anything in the grocery store that does not require refrigeration. This has been a public service announcement from yours truly. Be safe out there!!!"

Amen, Leslie!

By the way, who are these people who are less than 48 hours away from being out of toilet paper? I call that living on the edge. And, in my case, seeing as I subsist mainly on dairy, the same is true for milk.

While it's prudent to stock up on supplies and non-perishables in advance of a weather event, I have to think that many of the east-coasters bum-rushing the grocery stores today have a wealth of reserves already at home in their pantries. Save yourself time, stress and money: always check your inventory before shopping!

Closet Commandments

A recent Facebook post with a link to The 10 Commandments of Hanging, (see below) according to Melanie Charlton of Clos-ette, drew my immediate attention. I have a duty to my clients to  monitor widely-distributed organizing advice for accuracy so I carefully studied each of Ms. Charlton's "commandments." I'm pleased to report that she and I are in absolute agreement upon all but one of these. Take a look at #9:

"Thou shalt color-code. Organizing your clothes by color allows you to visualize an outfit by separates and helps you to mix and match combinations you might otherwise miss."

Color-coding works for some people. Artists and others who are very visual tend to enjoy and thrive off of this system and I'm happy to apply it in those cases. That said, I do not personally believe that organizing clothing by color usually makes sense. I prefer to separate tops, pants, skirts, dresses and other items by season, style,  texture or function. For instance, I wouldn't put two tops together simply because they're in the same color family. When I'm dressing, color is the last consideration after sleeve-length and weight, as well as level of formality. Sifting through red cotton t-shirts is a waste of time when I'm preparing for a business lunch.

My recommendation, once you've categorized tops, pants, skirts and dresses is to separate winter/fall items from spring/summer items. If you don't have a large closet, consider storing off-season clothing in a guest closet. Now, divide work pants from weekend pants, evening dresses from sundresses, etc. Next, order according to sleeve/pant length. If you've done all of this and you still have enough clothing in each section to order by color, be my guest, However, this is probably an indication that you have too many clothes! Choose your favorites and donate the rest.

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The 10 Commandments of Hanging, according to Melanie Charlton of Clos-ette

-Thou shalt hang as much as possible in thy closet. Hang as much as you can with skinny hangers.

-Thou shalt not hang sweaters. Sweaters are best folded and stored on shelves or in drawers to maintain their shape.

-Thou shalt banish wire hangers from thy closet. They are weak, leave marks, and force your clothes to lose shape. Enough said?

-Thou shalt have matching hangers. A hodgepodge of hangers makes your closet look sloppy and prevents clothes from hanging properly.

-Thou shalt use appropriate hangers for appropriate garments. Coats on coat hangers keeps your topper in tip-top shape.

-Thou shalt not kill clothes with plastic. Those dry-cleaning bags are plastic traps for moisture, which can lead to mildew and mold growth, which can severely damage, discolor, and stain. Natural fibers like cotton, wool, silk, and linen need to breathe. Once you bring your duds home, free them!

-Honor the breathing room of thy clothing. Yes, you should hang as much as possible but you should also leave enough space between each garment so they’re not crammed together in your closet. Cramming causes wrinkling and makes you look like you slept in your best suit.

-Thou shalt not hang thy clothes with strangers. Put like with like and hang items facing in the same direction.

-Thou shalt color-code. Organizing your clothes by color allows you to visualize an outfit by separates and helps you to mix and match combinations you might otherwise miss.

-Honor thy pants and sweaters. Keep pants looking freshly pressed by hanging them along their creases or pleats to keep them sharp; always fold sweaters so that they don’t lose their shape.