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!
Do you know this woman?
Laboring to keep this ball of possessions aloft...nearly crushed by the weight of her stuff...dragging even more behind her. Could this be you?!
Last weekend, while in Manchester, NH, for my daughter's robotics tournament, I took some time in the middle of the day to visit the Currier Museum of Art.
When I walked through the glass doors into their special exhibit by artist Ethan Murrow, I gasped and stoped in my tracks. In front of me, larger than life, was this incredible, mural sized Sharpie drawing.
"That's how my clients feel before they call me,"
I said to my husband.
They feel overwhelmed, overloaded with stuff (physical things, paperwork, digital stuff, or even memories), and they just don't know where to begin unraveling it. When we feel that way, it can seem as if we're hauling the full weight our possessions on our shoulders, and even then we can't fit it all and have to drag the rest behind us!
Does the poor woman get any help? The child looks less like he's trying to prop up the ball of stuff and more like he's just trying to avoid having it fall on him. The full burden is on her!
And yet, there's beauty in this work of art. I admire the exquisite detail in the variety of items, the flowing quality of the Sharpie-drawn lines, and the woman's strong, even elegant, pose.
We can find beauty in confronting our possessions. Do we need to labor under such a heavy burden? No! We can enlist the help of our family (That child is definitely old enough to help!), our friends, and professional organizers (This is what we love to do!). Take a look at that ball of things and discover the legacy of your life that it contains.
We can begin, piece by piece, to untangle the blob of accumulated possessions.
Here's a fun idea to help you part with some of your excess stuff:
a good old-fashioned swap.
The general idea is that you get together with a bunch of friends and/or neighbors and everyone brings things they don't want anymore but that are in good, usable condition. Then you all go "shopping" for each other's stuff!.
You can host your own -- make it a party! -- or sign up for the August 18th event at East Providence's wonderful Fuller Creative Learning Center.
If you decide to host a swap party, you can do it indoors or out, setting up tables or picnic blankets to display the wares.
It can be a pure swap ("I'll give you this coat for two of your books.") or you can assign items a value or rating. Give each item a star rating and trade based on how many stars items "cost." For example, you could trade three one-star items for one 3-star piece.
Your goal should be to end up going home with less than you brought, so choose to swap for smaller items or swap multiple items for one of something else.
At the end of the swap, offer to load up your car and drive ALL the leftovers to a donation center. Bring items to the closest one (Search for "donation center near me.") or your favorite charity.
Whatever you do, don't let that stuff back into your house! If you already decided you were ready to part with it, trust your instincts and stick with your decision.
Many of you may know Gretchen Rubin who gave a “bonus keynote” address at the conference. She has some interesting ideas about personality types, but my favorite takeaway from her talk was about how we can declutter our clothes.
If you have trouble deciding whether or not to keep an article of clothing, see if it passes the “Ex-Factor” test. Imagine you are wearing that faded, tattered sweatshirt and you run into your ex. Would you be happy to be wearing that?
Gretchen’s other insight about paring down clothes is that she noticed that people actually feel they have more to wear after getting rid of excess clothes. It sounds counterintuitive, but I experience this with my clients all the time. Once you weed out the excess, you feel more satisfied with what you have and experience a feeling of increased abundance.
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.
Do you love browsing through magazines but hate having old magazines cluttering up your house?
Consider subscribing to Texture.
Called "the Netflix of magazines," Texture is an app that gives you access to hundreds of magazines on your smartphone or tablet for one monthly subscription price. It also allows you to put the magazines on up to 5 devices, so you can share with your whole family.
Enjoy your favorite magazines while cutting the clutter!
As we transition into warmer weather, now is a good time to lighten up not only our wardrobes but also our makeup kits. Go through your makeup and nail polish and toss out anything that shows clear signs of being too old: oil separation, discoloration, cracking, or an odor that’s just not right.
If you can’t remember when you bought it (last year? last decade?), maybe that’s a sign you should toss it!
Next time you buy new makeup, use a permanent marker to write the month and year of purchase on the bottom of the container (If it’s a black container, use a sticker or masking tape, then write on that.)
Technically, makeup doesn’t have expiration dates like food does, but products become contaminated with bacteria over time, so it’s best for your skin’s health to keep things fresh. While time recommendations vary, you can use this simple list as a jumping off point and use your best judgment based on your own products.
Last week, I posted about my love of reading. Based on that post, you might think my bookshelves would be overflowing, but I have some strategies that keep the books from taking over my space.
e-books from the library!)
to return all the books. Designate a special tote bag for library books so you’ll have a
handy way to carry them back and forth as well as a physical reminder to return the
books. Nowadays, libraries give you a printed receipt of the books you’ve checked
out. Keep that in the bag so you can check the list and make sure you’re returning
all the books you borrowed.
be books that you truly love, books that you’ll read again, books that you want to
pass down to your children (be selective!), books that are particularly beautiful
(beloved art books), and books that you use (reference books such as cookbooks
that you actually cook from). Other books, once read, should be considered
consumed and ready to pass along to another reader. Stash books to be donated in
a paper bag by your door and make a note of a handy donation center (like Savers,
Salvation Army, Goodwill, or your local library) that is on your daily route. When the
bag is full, bring it out to your car and to the donation center. If you prefer sharing
books with friends, pass the book along as soon as you have finished it. Another fun
way to redistribute books is through a Little Free Library. Find one in your
neighborhood or start your own.
Shelves of books can look warm and inviting in a home, but over-filled shelves and piles and stacks of books all over the place are just clutter. Books only have value when they are read*, so keep them circulating by passing them along to others who will read them!
*Pick up Roger Duvoisin’s wonderful children’s book Petunia for a gloriously silly way to learn this lesson!
Following up last week’s blog entry, here’s a second vintage image that I found in London that I thought would interest my readers. Of course, as a Professional Organizer, it got my attention because it’s a question I frequently ask my clients to consider.
Can I do without it?
There are always tempting things we can buy and there are always tons of reasons to keep excess things we already have. This simple question is a good one for figuring out how valuable an item is to you and whether or not you really want to make a place for it in your home. After all, bringing something home from a store and giving it a place in your house means that you are committed to caring for it, cleaning it, using it, storing it, and looking at it for quite a long time.
Is it worth it?
Can you do with out it?
For one month, try asking yourself this question (when you’re in a store and when you’re looking around your house) and see how many times you can say, “Yes, I can do without it.” At the end of the month, maybe you’ll find yourself with a smaller credit card bill from things you didn’t buy and a big bag of things you now can do without and want to donate.
The weather here in New England is finally warmer, which means it’s time for the winter-to-summer wardrobe switch! Even if you took my advice (see my 9/23/16 post) and set yourself up with a year-round closet that doesn’t require the semi-annual switch, it’s still a good idea to check your wardrobe a couple of times a year to weed out old items and keep your clothes in good condition.
This year, find some inspiration and motivation from this vintage WWII postcard that I found at the Churchill War Rooms on a recent trip to London.
In those days, people were trying to conserve all the resources they could for the war effort. Today, we have an interest in being thrifty and conserving for financial and environmental reasons.
As you go through your wardrobe, look at each item and consider:
Although this sounds time consuming, make it a game to see how quickly you can accomplish this wardrobe pruning. If you’re having too much trouble deciding on an item, it’s OK to keep it for now and see if you wear it this season. Try the trick of putting the hanger backwards on the rod or putting a folded item backwards in the drawer or shelf. In the fall, when you go through your items again, you’ll know if you haven’t used it because it will still be backwards. It might be easier to part with it then.
Here are three options for what to do with the clothes you edit out of your wardrobe:
1. Consign them: This option is only for in-season designer clothes in excellent condition. Resale shops are picky!
2. Donate them: Find your favorite spot (donation box or thrift store drop-off) near you and take the clothes there right away.
3. Recycle them: This comes from my very first Tip of the Week back on 9/12. For those really tattered or stained items, H&M stores offer fiber recycling drop-off bins and they even give you a coupon for a percentage off your next purchase.
Finally, focus on the clothes you really enjoy wearing. If you “make do and mend” these beloved clothes, they’ll serve you for a long time.