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Archive for the ‘Tips and Tricks’ Category

Travel can be a stressful time for anyone.  It requires not just planning for your destination, but also planning for what’s going on at home or at work while you’re away.  To simplify things, I’d like to share a few things that I do to prepare for travel:

1.) I keep my toiletry bag packed at all times.  Aside from a very few items, I have duplicate, travel-sized versions of all my toiletries packed and ready to go at a moment’s notice.  You never know when your husband/boyfriend/girlfriend/other might want to whisk you away for a romantic weekend!  Or, as is more likely the case, when you’ll get called to a conference out-of-state and have to leave…you know…right now.

2.) Speaking of toiletries–if you go some place a lot (say…your parents’ house?), see if you can leave some toiletries there.  Almost everything that I would need is already at my Mom and Dad’s, so packing for their house is a breeze!

3.) I keep my suitcase in a moderately accessible place because my husband and I travel pretty often.  In previous posts I’ve talked about how your proximity to an item should be a sign of its usefulness in your life.  If I’m in the living room and about to sneeze, an open box of tissues in the garage isn’t going to be much help.  I need the tissues to be more accessible than that.  On the other hand, I don’t need the veritable pallet of tissue boxes that we got from BJs to be sitting on the counter waiting for me to eventually run out of the one open box.  They can stay in the garage.  We travel fairly often, so I keep our suitcases in an easily accessible storage area downstairs.  If you travel a lot–make some room in your house for your luggage.  If you only travel once a year–then maybe the attic, basement storage or shed is an appropriate place for your bags.

4.  I choose one color scheme for clothes.  It’s tempting to throw in all your favorite outfits but take it from someone who has done lots and lots of traveling–Not. Worth. It.  Choose “things that go with black” or “things that go with brown” or whatever and stick with it.  It’s easier to think about when planning to pack, and then it’s easier to put things together at your destination as well (and you don’t have to bring as many shoes–can I get an Amen?!)

5. I keep a list of things at work that I generally need to do if I’m going to be away from the office.  It has things on it like, “away phone message” and “away email message” and “forward calls.”  That way it’s less likely that I’ll forget to do something important.

Those are just a few things that I do–but I’m sure you all have ways to cope.  Feel free to share your tips and tricks for staying sane while traveling!  For information on easy travel accessories, check out The Daily Grommet

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There is a bright orange sticker in the stairwell of the garage that I walk through to get to work each day.  It looks like it’s been ripped off some larger, neon-orange, sticky surface.  It’s not a large sticker, but in the largest capital letters that will all fit on that small surface it says, “DON’T POSTPONE JOY.”  I have usually forgotten that I saw it by the time I get up to work, and when I leave work, I usually forget that I have seen it again by the time I arrive at my car.  Still, every time I walk up that staircase and that orange beacon catches my eye, I think it was put there just for me.  It reminds me, as I’d like to remind you, that your time really is your own and sometimes you should do the things you think are irresponsible.  You need to stay up till 3AM to watch a meteor shower, go night swimming in the freezing Atlantic with your college friends or allow yourself to fall in love in three days flat.  These are the things that you will remember, in part because they were fun, but also because they don’t belong to your routine.  I know that none of these distractions are likely to help you get more organized–but saneaty is not just being able to put things in the right place.  It’s about life optimization.

So thank you, anonymous staircase befouler, for reminding me of one of the most important lessons I may ever learn: Don’t postpone joy.

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I know it’s been a while, but I’m back just in time for Spring (cleaning)!

Anyway…I’m pretty sure that I’ve mentioned before that there isn’t a lot of storage at my house, so I decided that it was time to create more.

Down in the basement we have low ceilings with a lot of the venting showing at one end of the room.  What I did was create a “wall” out of bookcases far enough into the room to create a “closet” of sorts behind it.  I haven’t gotten a chance to really organize back there yet, but things are finally accessible.

Wall of bookshelves

All the way to the left you can see the entrance to the closet.  So behind the shelves are…

…a lot more shelves.  I guess the lesson today is, when life gives you weird square-footage…make a closet.

PS–the dark bookcases in the first picture are “Billy” from IKEA

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My friend Gabriel has been talking about the tinyhouseblog for a while now, and it’s completely amazing.  The people who build and live in these spaces are pretty much my heroes.  They have chosen location and lifestyle over physical belongings–but often to what may be considered an extreme.

Take Felice Cohen for example.  She’s a professional organizer, an artist and an author and she lives in a 90-square-foot-apartment in NYC.  Check it out!

I’m not sure that I could really do what she’s doing here (I’m a little claustrophobic) but she does two things that I would encourage everyone to do!

First, she took the doors off her closet.  If you’re in a small space, this is really helpful.  It allows you to be able to see EVERYTHING that you own without having to negotiate around the opening of a door, or only seeing half your closet at a time behind a sliding door.

In addition, I would encourage you to increase your upward storage space.  Many of us have at least a couple of feet above our kitchen cabinets, our wardrobes, and other spaces.   Just because there is a top shelf, that doesn’t mean that your ability to put things there stops.  Stick another shelf up there!  Stick some boxes up there!  I keep all my hats on the tops of my wardrobes at my house (only my Hartford friends probably even realize that I own hats).  I’ve added a shelf above eye level in the dining room for extra space.

I would not encourage you to put your bed within 3 feet of the ceiling though unless you don’t mind the feeling of sleeping in a coffin.  Or maybe that’s just me.  And if you don’t know what I’m talking about, you really need to watch the video.  (Thank you to Gabriel for sending it!)

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Looking ahead

Looking ahead is an important part of organization, but also of life in general.  So often we’re caught up in the minutia–the plodding progress of daily activities.  When we forget to look ahead to our ultimate goals, to the bigger picture, it gets harder and harder to get through the potential toil of everyday.  At the same time, the small victories seem just that, small.  Without perspective it’s hard to see that those victories are adding up, little by little, to that which we really want–whatever that may be.  With regard to organization, ten minutes every day dedicated to straightening up may end up creating an organizational habit that becomes a part of your life and helps your peace of mind.  A written reminder by the office telephone that at 5:00 your day ends could save you a few more minutes everyday to chat on the phone with a friend or family member (instead of staying at work–which may not be the direction you would like your life to take.)

You can live day to day, but life requires that you look ahead.

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If I asked you what the number one “worst enemy” of the organizer is–you might say mail, or judging by the nearly 80 hits on my tuperware entry, you might guess kitchen cabinets.  Perhaps you would guess that it’s the “miscelaneous” closet, the desk drawer or the garage.

In truth, it is none of these things.  Where there is a will, there’s most certainly a way.

No, the number one roadblock for anyone attempting to get organized is procrastination.  “I would totally organize the office except the game’s on.”  “I would definitely find a place for the tools in the garage but first I have to do some research on the computer/go to the store/visit my family/attend this meeting…”

This is not to say that all of these things aren’t true.  Watching the game, going to the store, visiting family–those are all excellent pursuits!  But think back to how many times you’ve done those things instead of your equally excellent goal of getting organized.

So why do we procrastinate?

  • We just don’t want to do something.
  • We want to, but feel that we don’t have time.
  • We want to, but we don’t have enough information to begin.
  • We want to, but feel that we don’t know how.
  • We want to, but we don’t have the resources to do it correctly.
  • We want to, but we’re waiting on someone else.

There are plenty of reasons to wait, but waiting changes nothing.  If you can only dedicate 5 minutes a day to it–make sure you set the timer for 5 minutes every day.  If the most important thing for you to keep track of is bills–find a way to just keep those in the forefront of your mind.

Or, if your challenge is on a slightly larger scale, you can always give me a call.  It is my business after all, or as Andy says, “my deal.”

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Got Milk (crates)?

Milk crates.  They’re in pretty much every college dorm room.  They come in just about every color of the rainbow.  They are also stackable in multiple directions, hard enough so they don’t warp under pressure, relatively inexpensive, and completely useful in your post-college years.  At realsimple.com, they show them being used in a laundry room.

In my house I have a few on a pre-existing shelf in the garage.  They hold an assortment of sports paraphernalia.  They are also the correct size to hold file folders, and thus make a pretty handy office organization solution as well.

Anyone else still using milk crates for anything even though you’re now a big-bad adult?  Fess up…you know you do…

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I kind of hate that Christmas shows up in stores before Halloween, but this year, with everything that’s going on–I thought that I should start making a plan.  I don’t really know how my time will need to be spent over the next few months.  Things seem to just keep…popping up right and left and work has been oozing into my evenings and weekends this semester more than it has since my first year at this job.

So what did I do?  I turned to the App store on my trusty iPod Touch.  I found an App called “Better Christmas List” by Andrew Grant.  Here are just a few of the pluses:

  • It’s on my iPod, which means it comes everywhere with me
  • It breaks your list down for you into “Family,” “Friends,” and, “Other” (you can also add groups and customize it as you’d like)
  • Under each heading, you can add your specific family or friends, co-workers,etc…  It creates a folder for each and each person’s name shows up on the main “homepage” list so you can easily access their information.
  • It also has an “overview” that lets you take a look at everything.
  • It has a budget calculator and lets you know what you’ve spent on everyone.
  • Under each heading, you put in what to buy, wrap or mail.  Then you can check off what you’ve already done.  You can set this feature to show both the gifts that are all set AND the gifts left to deal with, or you can have it just show what’s left to do.
  • Finally–it tells you how many days are left until Christmas in a header at the top (that’s 74 by the way…)

This is going to make keeping track of Christmas gifts and budget much easier this year.  Now if only they would make an App that would go out and actually do the shopping for me…

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Lost and found

Most of us have lost something at some point in our lives that we thought might be found by picking through smelly gloves, damp umbrellas and old sweatshirts.  Often enough these items are contained in a worn cardboard box stuffed out-of-sight in some moderately secure place.  Maybe we found what we were looking for.  Maybe we didn’t.  But it’s a good idea all the same.  The things that are contained in that box belong somewhere else–and yet they’ve all been conveniently organized in one place–the Lost and Found.

This concept is not exclusive to public schools and bus depots.  You can employ it at home as well!  Set up your own Lost and Found box or area.  Each week, as you find something that seems out of place, place it in that spot.  Give each family member until say, 7:00PM on Friday to look through the box for anything that might be theirs.  Saturday morning, anything left in the box might be put aside for donating, given or thrown away.

This process allows for quick and easy straightening up on your part, but if you have kids it also helps them to keep track of and care for their belongings.  It is likely that if they’ve ever lost anything after the purging of the Lost and Found–they will take better care of their things after that.

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Once again, I’ve been delinquent in my duties to this blog.  I assure you it was not my intention to be away so long.  Even so, I’m not sure how long I will be able to regularly update this semester.  I’m currently still at my day job, and in addition I am teaching clarinet lessons, teaching a class at the university three times a week and also acting as “manager” for a couple of youth wind ensembles on the weekends.  All of my skills in organization have had to be funneled straight into my life lately!

I will say this though, especially for all of you still in college who are wondering how you are going to survive the rest of the semester: it will all get done.  Sometimes it will be ugly.  You might not have time for all the things that you really want to do.  You might not be as prepared as you’d like for things that you have to do.  You might make some mistakes.  But if your heart is truly in getting it all done–it will happen.

Take just a few minutes and really think about the most important things in your life right now.  Do any of them have deadlines?  Attend to those first.  Then think about the rest.  Can you kill two birds with one stone with anything on your list?  Can you get by “on autopilot” for a week with any of your responsibilities?  Do it.

My Mom has a saying…I think it’s that, “anyone can do anything for a week.”  At least I think it was a week.  At some point in my life it became “a month.”  During college I decided that the phrase should have said, “a semester.”  Then I realized when I started teaching that when I repeated it I was saying “a year.”  And now I am repeating to myself, “anyone can do anything for two years…or possibly three?”

I’m not saying that I’m “right” about this in the way that I suggest you follow in my footsteps.  But I do know that I’m “right” in that you can do so much more than seems possible at this moment.  All you need is a healthy dose of perspective.

And possibly a Starbuck’s hot chocolate.  😉

Chin up people.  This too shall pass.

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