It happens predictably every year in the early fall. Is it triggered by the kids going back to school? Or when I notice the sun setting earlier and the air getting cooler?
Whatever the cause, I feel compelled to pare down the excess and spruce up the house, creating a more streamlined, restful space to live in.
“We don’t need this many mugs,” I announce to my husband as I peer critically into the kitchen cupboard, pulling out one with a chip and throwing it into the trash.
That evening, after I toss an extra deck of cards into the donation bag that I keep by the door and tell him that I’d like to repaint the living room, I see a look in his eyes like he’s just figured something out. “Oh,” he observes, “you’re nesting again.”
“Yup!” I laugh, “I do it every fall.” Organizing isn’t just something you do once and it stays that way forever. Things pile up, new things come into the house, and life changes. It’s rituals and routines like this fall clearing that keep me organized.
Clear the space so you can enjoy your place.
(Read on for how-to tips!)
“Did you just pull a broom out of your bag?” my wide-eyed client asked last week as I did a quick sweep under a rug she was discarding.
OK, it’s not a full-size broom, but I do have a mini-dust broom in my bag. No, it’s not a magic bag, even though more than one client has called it my Mary Poppins bag. But it is full of tricks and tools. I like to come to an organizing session prepared to handle any situation you throw at me.
Putting a rectangular bureau drawer organizer (I like Ikea Skubb bins) in the bottom of the bag gave the large inner compartment more structure and created interior divisions. To further organize, I use inexpensive travel jewelry rolls to keep little things contained and easy to find.
Inspired by the Tennis Channel’s Bag Check segments, here’s a rundown of the more noteworthy items in my bag.
One question I always ask a new client is, “Do you think your space has the problem of too much stuff or is it just that things are not properly organized?”
I admit that this is a bit of a trick question because nearly always the answer is “both.” Having too much stuff will always stand between you and organization as you struggle to maneuver around the excess.
Sure, you can file-fold your entire t-shirt collection and just barely manage to cram it all into your dresser drawer, but those shirts will be so jammed together that you’ll struggle to pull one out without others coming with it. Not to mention that your t-shirts will have permanent wrinkles from being so tightly packed. And I’d like to see you maintain your composure while trying to put it back into the drawer!
With the ever-changing, constantly-updating world of personal electronics, one situation my clients frequently face is cable confusion: drawers and bins full of cables and only a vague idea which devices they match and which cables are still needed. To further complicate matters, often the devices are stored elsewhere and cables are stashed in various places around the house (and cars).
Do you have a nest of unknown charging cables hiding somewhere in your house? Let’s round them up and create a better system!
Why do we get into cable confusion in the first place? Technology changes rapidly, forcing us to upgrade to the latest, greatest, fastest charging cable because our new phone/tablet/laptop is now incompatible with the old one -- the one that was the latest, greatest, fastest just last year! It takes time and effort to upgrade these technologies so it’s easy to skip taking the time out to dispose of the old cables and organize things properly.
Cables and chargers also get messy when multiple members of your household are all sharing and accessing them on a regular basis, taking them out and, if they put them back at all, putting them back in the wrong place or in an untidy way.
To create an organized solution, you’ll want to set up a system that makes it easy for you to identify and access the cables and chargers you currently need.
Last weekend, I cleaned out my own electronics drawer. I did it using 3 Organizing Principles that you can apply to just about any organizing project.
I store electronics accessories in a small drawer at my desk and it tends to get messy because other family members access the cables and chargers -- many hands are in and out of it frequently. As with other spaces that multiple people need to access, labels will be a big part of the solution to keeping this drawer organized so every family member will know what’s what and where things go.
Organizing Principle #1: When organizing a small space, take everything out so you can see what you have and sort all of it at once.
I dumped the whole drawer out onto the desk, then set about grouping the items into categories: cables, chargers, cleaning cloths (Wow, do these accumulate!), earbuds, miscellaneous.
After grouping the items, it was easy to see the things that I could throw out or donate and the things that didn’t belong in an electronics drawer. Have a trash bin and a donation bag (I recycle grocery bags for this purpose) close at hand so you can immediately get rid of your discards. One thing that stuck out to me was a credit-card shaped piece of plastic that removes bubbles from screen covers. Why had I kept this? It’s a great example of the kind of thing that we hold onto for no good reason! If I get a new screen cover, it’ll either come with a new plastic bubble remover or I can just use an actual credit card, so this useless piece of plastic went into the trash.
Also headed to the trash bin were worn or frayed cables and the little stickers with which my kids used to decorate their devices’ home buttons. I decided the tape measure, since it’s not electronics-related, should be re-homed to a desk drawer where it could live near the ruler and the larger screen-cleaning cloth went to my car where it can be used to wipe off the GPS screen.
Of the cables I sorted, one was old and had a connector that didn’t fit any of our current devices. Because it’s not in current use, it shouldn’t live in this frequently-accessed drawer. Instead I’ll store it in a bin with old devices to deal with in a separate organizing project. [Check out my upcoming social media posts for ideas about how to handle old devices.]
After eliminating the excess, I went through the remaining cables and wound them into neat bundles. A trick I like is to use hair elastics to keep the bundles together because they don't tend to dry out like rubber bands and they're a little bit smaller so you don't have to wind them around as many times.
It may be tempting to want to use the hair elastics to color code the cables, but resist this temptation unless you live alone and are in complete control of your cables. Color coding is fussy and without a written key to explain the color system, it exists only in your head and no one but you will be able to maintain it. Plus, what happens if you run out of a certain color elastic? You’ll have to run to the store to buy a whole package just to maintain your system.
Instead of color coding to maintain order, look to...
Organizing Principle #2: Labels make for easy identification and retrieval.
Professional Organizers love labels not just because they look tidy, but because they serve a real purpose: When things are labeled, it’s easy to identify them at a glance.
I used my label maker to label the end of each cable (the end that plugs into the device) according to what type it is: Apple, Android, laptop, etc. If there’s an odd cable that goes with a specific device, make sure to label it in a way that makes it easy for others to know which device it goes with. For example, I still use an old iPod Nano and it’s now the only device we own that uses that old cable, so I labeled it “Kate's iPod.” That way, if someone comes across that cable in the drawer, instead of thinking it’s old and they can throw it out, they’ll immediately know that it goes to my iPod. So don’t throw it out!
I personalized the labels for our laptop chargers too. My husband and I have laptops that use the same charger, so I just labeled those “MacBook,” but my daughter’s laptop uses a different charger so I labeled that with her name.
If you don’t have a label maker, fear not! Use a piece of masking tape to create a little flag around the end of the cable and write on the tape with a permanent marker.
After the cables were all organized, I bundled the headphones with more hair elastics. No need to label them because I’m the only one who keeps headphones here and they are universal, fitting any device.
Now it was time to put the drawer back together. I dusted the drawer and washed the drawer organizers and put them back, configuring them with the smaller compartments in the front so little things are easier to reach.
Organizing Principle #3: Designate a home for each item, so things end up back where they belong and outside items don’t drift in.
This is an electronics drawer, so if it’s not in that category, it doesn’t belong here. Labeling each compartment will help cables, chargers, and other items find their way back into place after use while keeping stray items from taking up lodging in this drawer where they don’t belong.
This was a small project that took all of 15 minutes from start to finish, but the impact it makes on my daily life is big. No more digging around the drawer in frustration, trying to figure out which is the correct cable and charger, and struggling to untangle it once I do find it. No more family members accusing others of stealing their chargers, because now everyone can find one when needed and, just as importantly, put it back when finished using it!
Let’s review the 3 Organizing Principles that came into play here:
You can apply these organizing principles to all kinds of small spaces: the “junk” drawer, a dry-goods pantry, a tool box, etc.
Do you have a disorganized small space that you use on a daily basis that is bugging you? What space is it and how do you think you’d tackle it? If it’s a bigger small space, such as a pantry, try breaking it down shelf by shelf or category by category (baking, spices, snacks).
P.S. Special recognition to anyone who can identify the exception to rule #3 in my drawer!
I know lots of organized people who have various strategies for keeping up with laundry, but the one thing they all have in common is that they don’t let it sit around. Once the dryer cycle is done, they fold it and put it away all in a single session.
You know how work swells to fit the time you give it but if you give yourself a deadline you manage to get it done faster? It’s the same with laundry. Give yourself a deadline (try using a timer or stopwatch) and plan your time so that you’ll be able to put it all away in the same day that it comes out of the dryer. Otherwise, you’ll wind up with piles of laundry sitting around your folding area for days!
Here are some strategies:
Apply one of these strategies and stick with it for at least a month to give it time to become a new habit.
Banish those piles of clothes!
P.S. If putting clothes away is a bigger problem for you than getting them washed, then you won't want to miss my next post!
This month, I'm partnering with the Gloria Gemma Breast Cancer Research Foundation's Knowledge is Power campaign to help people get organized and reduce stress.
The short month of February is more than half over, but there’s still time to clear the clutter and get more organized.
According to an article in Psychology Today, “Messy homes and work spaces leave us feeling anxious, helpless, and overwhelmed.” So true!
But where do you start? This quick 1-2-3 will make your space more serene.
1. Grab a laundry basket, tote bag, or trash bag and zoom around your house picking up all the “strays” – things that belong elsewhere. This will fill more than just one bag, you say? Then start with your most-visible or most-used room (maybe your kitchen, living room, or bedroom). For a fun challenge, play your favorite upbeat music and see how many songs it takes you to gather everything.
2. Find homes for all those strays. If the item doesn’t already have a designated place in your house consider the following.
3. Going forward, find a mantra that works for you so you don’t end up with so many strays again. Repeating a saying such as “put it away right away” or “don’t put it down, put it away” can help break the habit of not putting things back, dramatically reducing future clutter.
Now, sit down with a good book and a cup of tea and enjoy a few minutes of peace in your newly-cleared space.
Are you hosting Thanksgiving and planning to do a quick cleanup of the main areas of your house before guests arrive? Hosting is a great motivator to sweep through your house, gathering everything that’s out of place (Hello, kids’ toys and husband’s shoes!) and returning them to their rightful homes.
What if there’s kind of a lot of stuff out of place and you don’t have time to put it all away before Thanksgiving? Do you use the “throw it all into a hamper and hide it in a closet” method?
That’s not a terrible method as long as you remember to include putting everything away in your post-Thanksgiving clean up. A messy pile loves company (chaos begets chaos) so the longer you leave things in that basket, the more likely other things are to pile up around the house and in the basket.
After you’ve finished the Thanksgiving dishes, grab that basket and get to it!
You might find you need to assign new homes to some of the things so they’re easier to put away in the future. You might also find that the new home is in someone else’s house, in which case you can put those things right into your car and drive them over to the donation center the next time you’re out!
Yesterday, I did a spot for our local NBC-10 station about the latest organizing craze, Swedish Death Cleaning. Click here to read the article and click below to watch the video!
Here in New England, the weather is starting to change from summer to fall (even though Thursday's forecast is 78 degrees!). One quick thing to take care of right now is to put away the summer sunblock, bug spray, and other summer cosmetics.
Round up the all the sunblocks in the house and check them all, tossing any that are nearly gone, nearly expired (or will be by next summer), or just gross from beach sand and grime.
Do the same with the bug sprays. While you're at it, test the sprayers and toss any that are malfunctioning (sprays a little trickle or has to be pumped 10 times before it will spray).
Gather any other summer cosmetics such as those bottles of ear drying liquid, mosquito bite spray, aloe vera, etc. Check these too to make sure they are full-ish, not expired, and in good condition.
Put everything worth keeping into gallon-size plastic freezer bags. If you don't have much, put it all in one bag. If you have a lot, sort it by type and use one bag per type. Store the bags near your summer accessories (beach towels, bathing suits) or near your luggage so it'll be handy when you pack for that beach vacation you're taking this winter. (You're taking me with you, right?)
Stainless steel appliances are great looking, except when they get all those smudges and fingerprints on them. Instead of buying expensive cleaning products with harsh chemicals, try this easy recipe: mix equal parts rubbing alcohol and baby oil (mineral oil). If you can find it, try lavender scented baby oil for a lovely, fresh fragrance. Each time you use it, shake it up to mix it and then dab it onto a microfiber or other soft cloth and swipe it across your stainless steel surfaces for an instant clean!