Monday, March 5, 2012

An Ode to the Importance of Routines

I am currently in Utah…in Spanish Fork to be specific. I have come here to deliver my 20 year old son to the Missionary Training Center. We’ve had this planned for a few months. What we did not have planned was that while we were here, my son-in-law is having open-heart surgery to repair a prolapsed mitral valve in his heart. It was unexpected like most of these things are. He’s a young dad with five children under seven…hard. My daughter isn’t just stressing about him and all the inherent dangers of his health, but she’s stressing about all of the little things. The house that isn’t together, the children’s school…and yes, the laundry. I can help while I’m here but she has a while before things will get back to a certain normal. This has made me remember how I felt stressed by the lack of routine that happened when my husband was fighting his leukemia. In some ways it was harder than the illness because I couldn’t figure out when it was okay to relax. The work was never under control. I spent so much time at the hospital and very little time at home. When I finally started to put my life together after his death, I didn’t know what to begin with. I decided to start with routines: Monday…pick up the house, vacuum, dust. Tuesday, laundry, Wednesday deep clean one room…you get the idea. There was comfort in the routines. I couldn’t control the world, I didn’t know what I was going to do with the rest of my life, but I could start with my routines. It gave me a sense of comfort that I needed at the time. And so it is with the rest of us. While things aren’t in crisis mode, figure out a good routine for yourself. Start with organizing the most frustrating part of your house. For some it’s the entryway, others the laundry room. For me, the kitchen has to be right to feel like the house is running properly. Then go from there. Find a system that works for you. Think hard about it, make a plan and work a little at a time until it’s done. Come up with a menu plan. Plan your work, work your plan…an old saying but definitely one that works. In spite of the best of plans there are going to be times when everything falls apart: Family emergencies, a project that gets handed to you unexpectedly, helping a friend during a tough time. Even though we all want a perfect house with everything in order that isn't going to be possible. But, if you have routines…and you have previously taken the time to determine a place for everything, it will be amazing how soon things will get back to normal and you’ll feel like a little control has returned to your corner of the world…until the next crisis happens anyway. Happy Organizing.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Keeping it That Way

My mother used to always say, “Money isn’t everything, but it’s second to whatever comes first.” I’d like to suggest that being organized isn’t even at the top of my list…shocking isn’t it? There’s something that’s even more important, well several things actually. One of those is peace of mind. Though it's certainly not the only thing that does, I think organization helps give that to us. We don’t have that nagging feeling that something hasn’t been done, or something is behind, or worse, we’re overwhelmed at the amount of things we have and don’t know where to put them.  How about having the time to spend with the things that matter?

So what if we have taken the time to drag our lives kicking and screaming in to the World of Organization? What now? How do we keep it that way? Of course it helps if we’ve found a place for everything, and that it is simple to access (with labels!), easy to put away. It's important that we have a good system to maintain our lovely world. What system do we have? Julie Morgenstern in “Organizing from the Inside Out” calls it Equalization in her S-P-A-C-E principle of organizing. It’s the “one in, one out” rule. We bring a new item into the house, and unless it’s toilet paper or computer paper or some other consumable, a new place needs to be made for it. In order for us to keep our possessions in balance, something needs to go: a DVD, a leftover, a book. It’s a good system and one I subscribe to. Even if it occasionally falls apart, if it has been a habit, it takes very little time to get things back in shape. Everything has a home to return to.

What if the job involves something really yucky (like my personal favorite, filing)?  If you hate to file, you will probably pile, and then you can look forward to hours of endless filing to get caught up. Equalization works well here too. File a bill, shred one a year old in the same file, file an article on gardening, throw out the one you’ve had for months that you never got around to. Maybe its business invoices? Just thinking about it may give you a migraine, especially if it has piled up. There are many systems out there, and finding one that works for you may take a little searching….or you can come up with your own. You could pick a day in every week and that is the day you file. The point is that every job requires its own set of problem solving ideas, and its own routine aspects. 

Julia Morgenstern calls it the “one in, one out rule”. For each item you acquire, you remove a similar item from your possessions. New DVD, remove an old one you rarely if ever watch, new book, say goodbye to one you can live without. This works well for almost everything, except children’s toys. They tend to think they need all their toys. Here you might appeal to their higher nature. I liked the story I heard of a woman who told her kids  the sad story of children who had few, if any, toys and how their parents have to go to the local thrift store to buy them toys. How would they ever get thattoy, if no one ever gives one away? I also let them know that if they didn’t give any away, She wouldn’t be able to get them any new ones. 

I tell my clients when they are having difficulty parting with something, but yet it sits in a box, never being used, never being looked at, that they should put it into a display, a scrapbook or something where they can enjoy it or it should go. If they resist this idea (because they know  they'll need it someday), I suggest they put it in a box and put that box somewhere out of the way. If they don't need it in six months (and it's not a seasonal decoration) they should be able to see it needs to go. (Be sure and put a reminder on your calendar!). something away is saying "Yes!" to your future. That in the future if you need something, you'll be able to replace it. It says you need the space because new and better things are coming into your life.

In "The Happiness Project" by Gretchen Rubin, the January chapter talks about boosting energy and vitality. One of the things she decides will help with this is to toss, restore and organize. She cleans out a closet and remembers a friend said: "You know, I always keep an empty shelf." When pressed to explain she says: "I keep one shelf, somewhere in my house, completely empty. I'll pack every other shelf to the top, but I keep one shelf bare." Gretchen decided it was a good idea, did it and felt very satisfied. An excellent book to promote letting go and many other good things, by the way.

We have to get used to it. We live in finite spaces, so our possessions need to be finite too. But it's freeing. Happy De-cluttering.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Jeanne in Wonderland

I just returned from a trip to California where I visited with my sister and went to Disneyland with my son and his family. It was a great vacation. While visiting Disneyland, I purchased a mug for myself, with an Alice in Wonderland painted on the inside. On the outside it quoted some words from a song in the movie: "I always give myself very good advice, but I very seldom follow it." I loved it because it is often true.

After bringing it home, it was time for me to get my office/creative space under control. I made myself some peppermint tea and got down to analyzing the problem.   I probably redo my office more than any other place because, in spite of all my best efforts, it always gets out of whack. First, I took the advice by Julie Morgenstern in "Organizing from the Inside Out" to get an objective handle on what was going on. Some things were working well, but others were not. I was listing "what's working", as suggested in the book and was pleased to see that I liked quite a lot of how my office functioned. My scrapbook/art area worked extremely well. My paints, art supplies, embellishments, rubber stamps, and even my photo storage area were great. I loved how all were easy to get to, easy to use and easy to put away. My office supplies were good…close to place of use, consolidated according to type, labeled nicely. My books and reference materials were divided into groups according to subject, size, close to my computer desk and easy to locate.

Next, as Julie suggests in her book, I listed the things that weren't working well. There were more than a few. 1)  I’ll start with my dear family members who often use my office (especially in my absence) and leave their things behind. Worst of all, when no one knew what to do with something, they'd put it in my office. You can guess what the result was.  No wonder I hated to do anything in there! Coming home from out of town, I would have to spend at least a day just cleaning up. My work table and desk was always crowded when I needed to work on a project or pay bills, and a lot of the stuff wasn’t even mine. 2) Secondly, I hate to admit it, but my computer chair was very uncomfortable. After a short while at my computer, my back would be hurting. I have to lean forward to deal with the arms on the chair which don’t allow me to get close enough to the keyboard and the carpet kept me from moving around easily---too thick. 3) And will it ruin my reputation when I say: I HATE filing my papers?  Because of this failing, I'd let my filing pile up (which didn't improve my attitude). 4) Worst of all, I was always losing track of projects. I'd forget what I was working on or where I was after returning from out of town. I had too many going at once. I’d get a fabulous idea, and not wanting to let it get away, I’d start it…or purchase items for it. Then guilt would hit me, and I’d work on finishing an older one, leaving the other to languish away, sometimes forgetting all about it until I’d reorder my closet or space.  I’d be so angry. Worse yet, I’d leave it until just before the occasion I was planning it for and have to work around the clock to finish it on time. Not the best method.

I had such a mental block about my office, I just couldn't see it the way I could see someone else's space. So I had to be my own best friend.  I cleared all the stuff out of my office in the areas that needed revamping, just like I'd do for a client, making sure to keep all items together that belonged together.  Next, I analyzed my work flow, and the functions of the room. It was painstaking. I do A LOT in that office. Finally it hit me what was wrong. I wasn't taking my own advice! (Thank you Alice!)

Here's the advice I'd give a client (or my best friend):  I'd advise them to create a vision for their room, and have a maximum of only 5 functions in one room. Any more is just too much. Just look around for another place for some of those functions, especially storage.  I decided to store my sewing supplies and general craft items not used in bill paying, scrapbooking, art, or my organizing business  and writing (my 5 purposes) in another room. Just because I occasionally sew in there, doesn't mean I need to keep everything in there. I just need to make it highly portable. Next, I tackled the five serious problem areas.  

How did I solve the problem of the family using my office and leaving their mess behind? I advised my family that when they used the office for homework or other projects, they needed to keep their things in something and REMOVE IT ALL when finished. Sometimes a milk crate or other container needs to be purchased so that they have a removable container to keep their things together. Discuss with them where they can keep these things when not in use, then just keep reminding them until they put them there. Don’t do it for them.  

Next, I worked on THE CASE OF THE UNCOMFORTABLE OFFICE CHAIR. I have been shopping for a new chair and decided that I need to rip out the carpet---maybe this is a radical idea, but I’ve decided that carpets don't belong in rooms where messy work is done and where you need to roll around from place to place. (Revolutionary I know). I will need some help with the carpet. I am still working on the chair, too. This will require some planning. In the meantime, I’m sitting on my exercise ball while at my computer desk. It’s more comfortable, less bulky and stores under my desk. And it has the added benefit of strengthening my core muscles. (Stunningly multi-purpose!). I have a simple padded folding chair at my work table.  

Now for the bane of my existence: keeping up with my filing. My filing system wasn’t terrible. It was the paid bills that I delayed filing, which told me I needed to simplify my system. Instead of a separate file for each type of bill, I now file my paid bills under the month they were paid. So I just re-labeled my files that I had such as: utilities, phone, cable, etc. by each month of the year instead.  I can pull a separate bill if I need it for something, otherwise, it doesn't matter. I have always had a TAXES file I start to fill at the first of the New Year, and I can put those in there at that time, and that’s that. It’s easier too, to throw away the old (more than a year) bills. Just pull the whole month’s contents when it is a year old, put your papers needed for taxes in your tax file and shred the rest. Simpler is always better. I have devised a paper flow system that otherwise works really well for me. You must work hard on some of these systems, until they really fit your life. I'll write more in detail on that one later.

And now for the Piece de Resistance: I have created a project tracking system. I have to admit I got this one partially from my husband. He was a computer programmer. At the end of every work day, he had a journal where he would write down what he had done that day, where the project was when he left off, and what he planned to do on the next day with it. That was where I started. While I can't go into this here in great detail yet, it involves storing projects in the same areas, labeling them well, and keeping journals or a card file to record details about the project where I left off, where I intend to go with it when I come back to it and a date when I want to get it done, scheduling time for it in my planner. You can even do a spreadsheet on your computer if you would prefer. I like things that are pretty and fun to keep up. But that’s not all…

What do I do for all of those ideas that are constantly rattling around in my brain? If you are a creative person, your brain is firing all of the time.  How do I discipline my creative side to wait until other projects are done, before spending time and money on a new one? I keep an IDEA FILE where I can write down creative ideas for projects, attach digital pictures of things I see that initiated the idea, etc. BUT ---and this is important, I have pledged NOT to start it, buy anything for it, or in any way, move it to current project status until I have finished at least half of the things I have already started. Once I have accomplished this, my project list will contain no more than THREE at one time. Gulp. I promise. This has already helped. I have finished three projects that were more than a year old. I'll write more on this in my next blog. This is a big problem for the creative person.  I think except for some minor tweaking, I have found a solution to something that has been bothering me for years.  I'll let you know how it's going.

So what did I learn? If I am facing a room that isn't working, I need to think about the advice I'd give my client or my best friend. Then FOLLOW IT. Happy Creative Organizing!