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.

You need a Professional Organizer when...

You’re afraid to open your closet for fear of bodily injury.

You enjoy cooking – just not in YOUR kitchen.

You can’t fit your car in your garage.

You can’t remember what’s in your attic.

You've spent thousands of dollars on a storage unit.

Your kids’ toys are taking over your house.

You keep buying things you already have.

You haven’t opened your mail in weeks.

You regularly pay late fees.

You never seem to get around to the really important things on your to-do list.

You’re moving, downsizing or putting your house up for sale.

Your parents are moving into assisted living and you’re sorting through their household.

Your business needs workflow streamlining.

Your child is entering middle school and needs helps with time management and being prepared for daily activities.

You live in a dorm or apartment and need to make the most of a small space.

You realize your kids are picking up your bad organizational habits!

The occasional home office

Why go out shopping for expensive furniture and organizing products when so often we already have the perfect solution at home?!  

This wicker cabinet held a few kitchen odds and ends - mostly some seasonal table linens that found a new home in the kitchen cabinetry. We emptied out the piece and converted it into an "occasional" home office. Like an occasional chair that fills wall space until it's called upon to serve as extra seating for company, the cabinet appears decorative most of the time but easily opens up into a functional, standing office.

Family archive files are stored in Husband's home office along with his business papers; Wife's occasional office holds just the daily necessities for managing household paperwork and kids' schedules. Cork board backing displays invitations and coupons, and laminating paper turned the inside of the doors into wet-erase board for notes. When it's not being used, my client's laptop sits neatly in the cabinet. Files and office supplies are stored in the drawers below.

Now my client's supplies are located centrally in her home, where she can work side by side with her kids at the kitchen table, rather than hidden away in a "satellite" office away from the action. And when it's time for dinner, the clutter magically disappears into her lovely corner cabinet.

Office space

Many of us who devote care and attention to the spaces in our personal lives neglect to do the same in our professional space. Considering the time that we spend in our workplaces, it's worth a small investment of time and money to make them comfortable as well as functional. Plus, your office space speaks volumes to those who visit it. An organized, inviting and peaceful office with a few creative touches not only impresses your colleagues...it also draws them to you, creating a collegial working environment.

The first step toward an appealing and functional office is a clean desk with plenty of space to work. Organize your files in drawers or attractive containers, and keep loose paperwork to a minimum. As it is at home, too much visual clutter can create mental clutter and cause difficulty focusing.

An office with a proper door and natural light, of course, starts you off at an advantage. Whether you work in a corner office or a cubicle, consider bringing in outside light sources to create an atmosphere that's suited to your work. Sharp task lighting is great for detailed paperwork while soft, warm lighting is better for conversational spaces.

Bring color into your space by choosing coordinated folders and desk accessories. Use inexpensive fabric such as sheeting to cover cork boards. Highlight appropriate art pieces and photographs that make you feel comfortable and inspired in your office. Display a few awards or accolades of which you're proud. Just don't overdo it - you (normally) don't want to intimidate your visitors!

Natural elements such as plants go a long way to enliven your space. A bowl of fresh fruit is decorative and provides a healthy snack when you're having a hectic day.

Keeping track of coupons

It's more worthwhile now than ever to keep track of your coupons. In a down economy, savings are especially important. And with coupons, Groupons and other "social deals" available everywhere these days, you can afford to indulge in meals, spa services and even organizing services! The only catch: you have to remember to use the coupons before they expire and be able to find them when you're ready to do so.

Many of my clients ask me how I manage my own coupons and social deals, so I thought I'd share my solution here and show you how to set up a system just like it:

  • To start, gather all the coupons and social deals in your possession, discarding any already expired items.
  • On a fresh letter-sized envelope (if you're an avid coupon user you might consider using a larger envelope or container), list each coupon in order of expiration date (soonest to latest).
  • Place your coupons inside the envelope.
  • For coupons that aren't available in hard copy, make a note on your list. For example: Libra - organizing services - 2 hours - expires 12/31/11 *Tippr.com confirmation in my Gmail archives

Keep your coupon holder in your handbag, car, desk drawer or entryway table - wherever you are sure to see it frequently. I browse my list a couple of times a week to see if anything is expiring soon. I also check the list before I head to the store or out for dinner to see if I have anything I can use.

An additional safeguard to ensure that a coupon doesn't expire before you can use it is to set a reminder in your calendar, whether paper or electronic, that gives you a heads up a month, a week, even a day before the coupon expires. Whenever I receive a new coupon, I enter it on my envelope and calendar right away. Once I use a coupon, I cross it off right away.

Additional coupon tips: 

Although coupons can be extremely valuable when used properly, be sure to avoid pitfalls:

  • Groupons and social deals are a great new way to save money, and try out new products and services. As my grandfather used to say to my mother when she was a kid, however, "You're saving me so much money, you're breaking me!" Be selective about your deal purchases so that you stay within your monthly budget and allow yourself enough time to use them all before they expire.
  • Traditional coupons can save you hundreds on groceries each year - if you stick to using coupons for items you already planned to buy, or if you plan your meals around the items currently on sale. Don't use coupons as excuses to make too many impulse purchases. Since grocery coupons usually save you a dollar or less per item, the cost of extra, unnecessary purchases can add up very quickly.
  • Finally, coupons are meant to enhance your life - not to burden you. If you find yourself spending hours coupon clipping or sifting through piles of 30-cent scraps, maybe you need to re-prioritize. Unless you truly need to pinch every penny, it's probably worth paying full price on items in order to have more time for the things you enjoy.

In general, the benefits of any tedious or time-consuming practice should far outweigh the costs. Don't let yourself be a slave to an unnecessary habit. Sometimes the best way to streamline your life is simply to let go!

Can you fit a baby into a one-bedroom apartment?

Yes, you can...for a time and if you really need to.  Just ask clients, Jen and Chris, who were able to stay in their one-bedroom even after their baby girl turned one.

Generally, it's best to have a nursery, even if it's a small one. But if moving isn't in the cards quite yet, you should be able to make do until your baby is at least 2 years old. Here's how:

Create a nursery space somewhere in your apartment but NOT in your bedroom. After the initial weeks and months, your baby needs to learn to sleep alone and you need your private space. Optimal spaces are small nooks - or even closets, which can be converted to small rooms by adding lights and removing/replacing doors. Dining areas sometimes work, if you can spare the space. In this case, we made use of an indented area on one end of the living room. By moving the desks and sofa to the other walls, we cleared out a space about 10 feet wide by 2 feet deep.

Mom and Dad have their bedroom to themselves and can put off moving until baby gets older. Baby girl loves her new space!

Mom and Dad have their bedroom to themselves and can put off moving until baby gets older. Baby girl loves her new space!

Of course, when you're short on space you must focus on having just the essentials in your nursery area. A small crib and a dresser is all you really need. For Jen and Chris, we placed the crib in the center and suspended curtain panels from the ceiling. The curtains are pulled around the crib at night and at nap time to block out light and other distractions. We had enough space to bring in a garment rack to hold all of baby's clothing. We also added decorative bins to store toys and linens. An under-bed container slides out from under the crib to store books. Finally, we filled the dresser with diapers and other changing supplies. A changing pad can be used on top of the dresser instead of having a separate changing table.

Tips for a seamless look: You can get as fancy as you wish with your nursery space, or keep it very simple and inexpensive. When your nursery is part of your main living space, it's best to decorate it in colors that blend with the style of your home. Instead of pink bunnies, for example, choose fabrics in bright but mature colors, with playful but sophisticated patterns. Incorporate artwork and light fixtures that coordinate with the rest of your decor.

Be green, be organized! How and why organizing is eco-friendly.

You might think that saving things rather than discarding them is good for the environment. Well, there are eco-friendly ways to make your home more functional, more fashionable! It's all about finding the right places for your existing belongings and making plans to reduce future consumption. Here are just a few ways that individuals and families can live simpler and greener...

Use technology to save space in your home, give to those in need and do better for the environment.

  • Invest in an electronic reader such as Amazon's Kindle or the Nook by Barnes & Noble. Yes, you'll miss the feel of the pages in your hands at first, but you'll soon get used to your reader. You'll save money on buying books and magazines, and you'll be able to travel with as many books as you wish with only the weight of your reader in your bag. Fewer hard copy books means more space in your home and less paper used for production. Think about donating your old books to local schools or libraries, where they can be enjoyed by those who can't otherwise access them.
  • Now that we can buy, manage and play music and videos online, think about selling or donating your old CDs and DVDs for someone who needs them.
  • Scan old photographs into your computer, where you can preserve them, and enjoy them more often and more easily.
  • Hire a digital conversion service to transfer old cassettes onto DVD. Your files will be better preserved and take up a lot less storage space.

Recycle, reuse, renew, repurpose your stuff

  • Items jammed into junk drawers, spilling from closets or - cringe! - rotting in storage spaces cost you time, energy, peace of mind and sometimes even money. They're also valuable resources being wasted in valuable space. By finding a new purpose for these items, even if it's someone else's use, you cut down on the need for future spending of money and natural resources.
  • Ever buy a brand new kitchen appliance only to discover later you already have one - or two - at home in a pile of old wedding gifts? When you have an organized system in place, you always have an accurate inventory and your resources are best put to use.

Involving children in organization projects is a great way to teach them about mindful consumption as well as instill personal organization skills, which will serve them well in school and later in life. It's also nice to have the help and the company while you work!

Making peace with paperwork - Part 2 (Maintenance)

Once you have a proper filing system in place, maintenance is simple but requires discipline. Without a plan for handling future incoming items, your organization can rapidly fall back into chaos. Although Libra is available to you to assist with maintenance on a weekly or monthly basis, our goal is to help you become self-sufficient in this area.

Creating a mail center  

Organizers will tell you that it's critical to create a dedicated space for handling incoming mail. This "mail center" should be arranged in a place where you a) cannot ignore it and b) can readily access your files, checkbook, envelopes, stamps and stationery, etc. Common examples are on a section of your kitchen counter, a table in your foyer or at your desk.

Conventional practice is to create three trays: for TO DO items, TO FILE items and OUTGOING items. The idea is to sift through mail as it arrives and categorize it under these headings to be dealt with at a later time. For the very busiest of people and for those who prefer to strictly divorce "work" time from "play" time, this system sometimes works.

F, F, however, proposes throwing those trays in the "circular file." For most people, categorizing papers in this way and putting off the actual doing/filing/sending leads to an overwhelming pile-up that resembles the messy situation in which they began. For a long-term solution to handling paperwork, F, F recommends one of two systems:

1) Just Do It

I personally subscribe to the "Just Do It" system. I was taught that work comes before play so when I get home from my day, the first thing I do is put away my coat and shoes, empty out my handbag and, yes, handle the mail.

First, I trash, recycle or shred what I can. This mostly includes any catalogues I receive, as I find that I'm quite content with my belongings until I start eyeballing the shiny new baubles in those glossy pages! I write checks or arrange for online payments of any bills. I make appropriate phone calls in response to any correspondence that needs to be addressed. I am not a coupon clipper but I set aside any exceptional offers in my special coupon envelope.

Once I've finished the "TO DO" items, I file what's left. Why delay when I can file the few items that I need to save in less than a minute? As for outgoing items, I leave stamped, addressed, sealed mail on my foyer table to take with me to the mailbox when I leave next.

Processing the mail each day takes an average of 1-20 minutes. As soon as it's handled, I feel totally free to sit down and relax, knowing that my papers are in order and nothing's awaiting my attention.

2) The 4-Hour Workweek

Timothy Ferriss' book by this title popularized the practice of saving up all of the "busy work" and getting it done in one shot.It's a valid response to the 24-7 accessibility to which most of us comply via our email and mobile devices. It's not for everyone - I couldn't dream of settling down with a book before I'd folded the laundry! - but if you find yourself slavishly responding to communications at every minute of the day and night, your work/life balance may be seriously off and this might be a good remedy.

Applying this approach to your paperwork requires only a large bin and a calendar. As mail and other papers enter your household, dump them in your bin (I recommend something cute that fits in your home office physically and stylistically). Schedule an appointment with yourself once or twice a week to address the items in the bin - and keep the appointment. I recommend using an electronic calendar to set aside the time but you should use whichever date book you use for all of your other scheduling purposes, as you must honor this appointment as you would any other.

Managing lists and deadlines

Many of the papers that clutter our thoughts and our homes are easily replaced by a single, centralized document. For example...

  • Do you collect rewards cards and find them popping out of every conceivable household crevice? Sit down one day and open up a Word document. Make a list of all of these cards, record the account numbers and customer service contact information - and pitch that pile of plastic.
  • Are you a fan of social discount coupons (available for purchase on sites such as Groupon and Eversave)? Chances are, you have a collection of printouts from deals you've purchased, each with an expiration date. Don't miss out on cashing in on the investments you make with these purchases! Store all the printouts in a dedicated coupon envelope or create a special email folder for your purchase confirmations. Get out that trusty calendar and make a note on the date of each coupon's expiration. Electronic calendars are especially useful here, as you can set a reminder a week prior to the expiration date. You'll never learn too late that you've missed out on redeeming a coupon.

Don't let dates and deadlines weigh heavy on your shoulders. Once you've written down everything you need to do in a centralized place where you're sure to see it, you'll no longer stress about when and how it will be done. Get it onto your calendar and off of your mind!

As with any lifestyle change, implementing an effective maintenance system takes a tailored solution that suits your individual needs and personality. It also requires rigid adherence for at least a few weeks until you've successfully formed your new habits. If you find you need moral support as you begin your new practices, schedule a regular session with Libra. We'll guide you through the process until it becomes second nature to you.

Delightful dining decor

If you have something truly meaningful to you, don't stash it in a sealed container in your closet. Display it! 

My clever clients Tony and Emily saved the menus from their favorite honeymoon meals, framed them and hung them beside their dining table.

For creative decor with a personal touch, think about using items that represent special people or experiences in your life. For example, actress Mariska Hargitay displays her mother's bikini in her powder room (her mother, of course, is the famous 1950s actress and sex symbol Jayne Mansfield).

Making peace with paperwork - Part 1

With tax time just around the corner, many of my clients are facing their files - and they're not happy. Organizing a bedroom closet, kitchen or garage might have a big visual payoff, but nothing is as stressful or as risky as having disorganized paperwork. If you don't have safe storage for critical documents and systems in place for tracking finances and paying bills, you are probably continually worried about your financial status - and rightly so. Although I tailor my organizational and decorative solutions to each client based on their individual needs and preferences, there are some basic tips for organizing personal papers that are universally helpful. I present some of them here...

Separate personal and professional files

If you have a home office where you conduct business or store professional materials, separate them from your personal items. Store them in a separate drawer or file box.*

Set aside sentimental items and memorabilia

Everyone has a stash of treasured letters, cards, photos and other personal items. First, eliminate anything that isn't truly valuable to you (e.g. greeting cards with only a signature, photos developed from exposed film, etc.). Then store your truly  meaningful items in a bin or box. (Check out the options available at The Container Store:  http://www.containerstore.com/shop/storage/storageBoxes/naturalMaterials). Whether you keep the container in a closet or out in the open, it will conceal the clutter - and bring you pleasure each time you decide to open it up for a trip down memory lane.

Categorize and subcategorize files

Again, the first step is to destroy and discard any papers you may have kept unnecessarily. Most of my clients hold on to credit card and ATM receipts, bank statements, bills and invoices long beyond the point when they have paid or otherwise handled them. In this digital age, you can always get a copy of your statement online. Once you've recorded your purchase, balanced your checkbook or paid your bill, you can and should shred the paper copy. Only save a receipt if you think you might return the product or if it's a business expense for your tax folder.

Next, take a broad view of your life on paper and create folders for each category, dividing them into subcategories as appropriate. As a general example from which to begin...

CRITICAL DOCUMENTS

Store your birth certificate, passport, social security card, marriage certificate, jewelry appraisals, etc. in a safe place. Some people choose to lock them in a safe, in a hidden location in the home. Don't store these items in satellite locations such as a bank safe deposit box - you might need them in a hurry some day.

Make copies of these documents and store them in a separate location - for example, in a dedicated file in your file drawer or box. This is a true life-saver in the event that you lose one or more of the original documents.

TAXES

  • Old tax files - We are legally required to save tax documentation going back 7 years (check with your CPA to confirm this applies in your situation). If you have limited space for storage, destroy and safely discard any tax returns and supporting documentation from 2002 or earlier.
  • At the front of your tax section, keep an open folder for the current year. As you collect pertinent documents (e.g. business expense receipts, government-provided tax documents, receipts from charitable donations, etc.), place them directly into this folder. It's a good idea to keep sections within the folder (for business expenses, loan-related information, etc.) so that you have an organized folder at year-end rather than an overwhelming mess.

INSURANCE

Keep separate folders for auto, home, life, disability, etc. You don't need to collect invoices here. You just need your policy information and any updates to it in case you need to make a claim. Keep old claim documents here, too.

BANK AND CREDIT ACCOUNTS

Like insurance, you don't need to save statements or invoices from checking, savings or credit card accounts. Just hold on to your initial agreements and any documentation regarding claims, disputes or changes to your policies. Keep separate folders for each type of account and each bank. (e.g. Bank of America checking, Bank of America savings, American Express, Visa, etc.).

INVESTMENTS / RETIREMENT ACCOUNTS

Ditto for your stock investments, IRAs and 401Ks...save the policy or initial paperwork, and discard the statements once you've taken a look.

OTHER

Other categories you might require include Children (school and medical records), Pets (adoption and medical/vaccination records), Car (lease, or title and purchase information) and Home (rental agreement, or deed and mortgage documentation, as well as home improvement records).

Mirror your hard file organization system in your electronic files

Chances are, you have a home or personal computer on which you store duplicative or additional personal records. Organize your electronic files using the same categories and subcategories as your paper files. This way, you'll never wonder where you stored anything.

Words of wisdom for a new year

Happy new year and welcome to my first blog entry of 2011! I recently came upon this article by life coach Martha Beck for the July 2010 edition of O, The Oprah Magazine that speaks to one of the most common ideas I share with my clients. "The Joy Dividend" takes a logical yet sympathetic approach to spending money. I often encourage my clients to apply similar principles when deciding which possessions to keep and which to let go of. I felt I should share it with you, especially now, as you undertake to honor resolutions to be more organized in the new year!

Martha Beck's Financial Planning for Happiness Strategy - Oprah.com

Just like your money, your time and space are limited resources. Disregard "sunk costs" (e.g. the hideous sweater your grandmother knitted for you or the designer jeans you purchased before you lost weight). You can't recoup value from those items so don't feel obligated to hang on to them. Discarding them makes room in your closet - and in your mind - for items of real meaning and purpose. Then again, if that sweater is one of just a few things that reminds you of grandma, find a place for it where you'll see it and smile. Storing it in a bin in your attic is as good as tossing it.

Each of us makes our own priorities. Think about yours: your children? your work? your art? your clothing? your books? Honor your own treasure by placing it in the center of your space - and your life - and put the trash where it belongs.

Best wishes for simplicity, fulfillment and peace in the coming year...