Monday, January 16, 2012

Preparing to Get Organized

Yesterday morning at this time, I was getting ready to go run the P.F. Chang's Rock 'n' Roll half marathon. There's a lot to think about as you slog through 13.1 miles and lots of obstacles to dodge, like slower runners, discarded clothing, Bott's Dots lane markers, spit and Gu packets (just in case they aren't empty). But throughout the course, there were enthusiastic race crew members holding up witty, insightful signs to keep us motivated to run. With the positive reinforcement reminding me that I trained hard to be in the race, I got to thinking about how much like a marathon it must feel like to get and stay organized.

While I put in miles and miles of extra running over the past three months in order to train for yesterday's race, organizing comes naturally to me. During the race I was thinking about how intense the run is and how those feelings are the same for my clients. Where organizing takes no effort for me at all, it definitely is intense for most of my clients.

After the race yesterday, I cleaned bookshelves with my daughter. I watched my organizing brain kick right into gear, arranging books by theme, removing books I no longer wanted, placing the keepers in ascending or descending order of size and arranging travel souvenirs and decor items in between to enhance the visual flow of the arrangement. But that's not the same for someone who looks at a shelf overflowing with books. So how do you get started at being better organized?

I saw one of my former clients last week. She told me how she had been keeping her sewing room organized, just the way it looked after we finished organizing it last fall, she said. She went on to say that she finished five quilts in time for Christmas 2011 because she found quilt tops she hadn't completed and because it is so easy now to find all of her sorted fabrics. She and I got her space in order in 8, whirlwind days because she was prepared and motivated to get organized.

One the other end of the spectrum, I have a potential client who has rescheduled twice and whom I actually haven't met yet. But we have talked a lot about his stuff and his organizing challenges on the phone. For him, getting organized still looks like a marathon. He is overwhelmed by his stuff. He doesn't know where to start. It's a good move that he reached out to me for help, but he hasn't committed yet to getting started. He's afraid. Afraid of what, I may never know, even if I work with him. But that's a completely separate topic on the psychoanalysis of clutter.

When organizing doesn't come naturally, getting started isn't easy, and the road is long. It is a marathon. But training for a big organizing project doesn't have to be overwhelming.

7 Tips for How to Begin to Get Organized
1. Stop and stare at your stuff. Don't do anything with it yet. Just look at each item and consider what you want to do with it. Do you want to keep it or not? Jot your ideas down and start making a list of your decisions.

2. Think about what matters to you this very moment. Often we hold on to things longer than they matter to us. They are no longer relevant or useful. Be realistic about who you are today, what you like and what kinds of items are useful to you. This exercise can get you focused to make decisions about what stays and what goes.

3. Imagine life without the stuff. How does this make you feel? Anxious? Relieved? If you feel anxious about letting go of everything, you probably need more time. But if you envision yourself coping just fine without even some of the stuff, you are ready to get organized.

4. Ask a friend for their opinion. Knowing you and being as truthful as possible, your friend might be able to help you see the forest for the trees. Have them share with you their thoughts on how your space could be better organized. Let their ideas rumble around in your head to see what resonates with you.

5. Envision the end result. What do you want your organized space to look like? Once you have this vision, it becomes easier to make decisions about which things stay and where you put them. Don't compromise on your vision. Be strong and make it reality.

6. Set aside time to get organized. Block your calendar to have a whole morning or a whole afternoon of organizing time. Be selfish, not letting anything else come in the way of your appointment with yourself. Use the time to sort through a groups of items, one group at a time.

7. Start small. Sort through one very small area, like a shelf or a drawer. Don't get distracted. Focus on getting that area organized. Deal with the stuff you removed or that didn't belong next time.


Thinking you're going to run a race without training is definitely overwhelming and probably ill-advised. Instead, train yourself to ease into it. Think in new ways about your stuff so that you pace yourself to handle all of it, little by little. Run hard because you trained to be there.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

How I Organized Decades-Worth of Christmas Ornaments

As my life seems to have become busier in the last few years, I feel like I am taking more and more shortcuts when the holiday season comes around. This year was no exception. I didn't make fudge for the neighbors. I bought colleague gifts instead of making them. (My daughter and I made granola last year.) I cross-listed gift ideas with stores so that we shopped for more items at fewer stores. We shortened the annual Christmas letter into a poem. I paid for Shutterfly to print mailing addresses onto Christmas card envelopes. Was I less anxious this year? Definitely!

I often get organizing ideas from having to create solutions to my clients' specific challenges. In all my years of organizing, though, I have never had a client ask me to organize their holiday decorations. In fact, I have only ever had two clients who have more Christmas decorations than I do. That fact is directly attributable to my mother-in-law and grandmother-in-law. Yikes.

That means that I was left once again to my own great-organizational-idea devices in 2010 when I resolved to spend the end of my holiday vacation streamlining my holiday decorations. When I made the mental commitment, I anticipated spending a day or two sorting through boxes of Christmas decor to find items to give away. The reality is that I own more decorations than I have space to display them. More importantly, I own more decorations than I have the patience to take out and put back each year. Inevitably, I end up taking out some subset of holiday decor. Just the favorites. The not-so-favorites would now leave the house.

As I set about sorting through the entire collection of holiday items, I found I wasn't weeding out nearly enough decorations to give away. That was when it hit me like a ton of bricks (a.k.a. an aha! moment) that I really liked most of the decor I had acquired over the years, but I didn't use it all each year because a lot of it is redundant. I have multiples of this and that, tablecloths, wreaths, stockings, light strands and the like. Fortunate to have enough storage space in my home to keep the decor collection intact, I switched my plan (every organizer will tell you that you need a plan before you can begin sorting) to grouping my holiday decorations by theme.

I really got into my groove as I grouped my decor into themed sets so that my multiples weren't redundant anymore. I ended up with an olde world theme, a candy/toys theme, a white Christmas theme, a retro (pink/turquoise/lime green) theme and a rustic theme, plus two boxes of "Every Year" decor, like the tree skirt, scented candles and stair rail garlands. I was jazzed. I boxed up each theme separately (same boxes, different combinations of stuff) and stowed them away, back under the stairs for 2011.

Right after Thanksgiving 2011, we pulled out the white Christmas-themed box and the two "Every Year" boxes. No overwhelm. No guilt for not displaying absolutely-everything-Christmas-themed-my-mother-in-law-ever-gave-me. Christmas 2011, in contrast to prior years, was orderly, manageable and peaceful. But I had one last, unfinished task from 2010. I had grouped the Christmas tree ornaments by theme and had bagged them up in separate Ziploc bags, but I had not put them in any kind of protective container. Thankfully, this oversight had not weighed heavily on my mind throughout 2011, because I was quite literally surprised to come across this rogue cardboard box full of Ziplocked (that's a verb, right?) groups of themed ornaments.

Now I come back to the beginning of this post's story and tie it into the final organizing solution. One of the stores on the short list of consolidated shopping destinations was Home Depot. It was there that I stopped short in front of a shelf of tantalizingly displayed Snapware Stack-N-Store 3-layer organizer boxes. (Keep in mind that professional organizers are necessarily tantalized by storage boxes.) I had found my solution for organizing my ornaments. I gleefully bought two boxes and skipped all the way home to fill up all 6 layers with ornaments by theme.

Christmas ornaments organized by theme in layers in plastic Snapware Stack-N-Store ornament container boxesI quickly snapped this photo so that I could share this story with you, but forgive me for not having labeled the layers yet. (Yes, I routinely recommend my clients add a Brother P-touch label machine to their Christmas lists.) Next year, I'll be taking out just the rustic- and country-themed ornaments to complement the fabulous felt ornaments I snapped up for less than a dollar in after-Christmas clearance bins. I can't wait for next year's theme to come out from under the stairs.

I hope your 2012 is off to the same orderly, manageable and peaceful start. Keep tidy, every day.

Monday, August 15, 2011

How to Collect Things in a Basket

Baskets are very useful organizing tools. You can hide a lot of things in them. You can free throw doo-dads into them. You can use them as the miscellaneous files. You can even move them into another room to hide them from guests.

In the basic principles of organizing, baskets are containers. And containers are meant to be filled with things that you want to keep together because they belong together. No mish-mash. No miscellany. No maybe here now and somewhere better later.

Your baskets should be just big enough to hold the items you want to store. Any bigger and they will attract stray stuff. Any smaller and they will overflow. But what if you want to store more than one kind of thing in that basket? Compartmentalize! Divide up the basket into sections.

Add tea tins, jam jars or recyclables of any sort into the basket to divide the bigger basket into smaller groups of like items. One of my clients applied that very concept to her basket of office supplies in her craft room.

Basket of office supplies divided up into organized sections
The smaller compartments within her larger basket keep her office supplies neatly grouped in small, functional sets. Her jumble of supplies is magically unjumbled.

Now, go find one of your boxes, baskets or drawers and then divide and subdivide and then divide again. It's all about creating the right-size containers for the right-size groups.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Ne'er a Lazy Day of Summer

For not having planned a holiday this summer, the fact that we had such a non-stop summer away from home has been a surprise. Just two weeks after school let out, my daughter went to Australia for two weeks with 45 other kids in the sixth- and seventh-grade Arizona delegation.

For every day of those two weeks, I was wracked with mom-guilt for sending my 10-year old on a 32-hour return trip to another continent. I worried every single day that we hadn't given her enough money, that we hadn't given her any easy way to call home in case she needed to talk, that we hadn't packed enough options for clothes in her suitcase, that we hadn't given her enough to do on the excruciatingly long airplane rides, that she would run out of memory space on the three camera cards we sent along, and, the worst of the evils, that she would get homesick. Instead, only the dreaded lack of camera memory card space struck, and the thoroughly deprived kid was forced to pare down her pics to make more space. My kid had a blast on her Aussie adventure, as did the rest of the delegation. And it's all 'Australia this' and 'Australia that' around our house now.

Just in case Australia wasn't enough with the one kid, my family logged about 2,000 road miles across Arizona and California between the beginning of July and now. We just yesterday got home from a week spent with my family at a cabin in the Sierra Nevada foothills in eastern California. Our various road travels in the past month have taken us to San Diego, Tuscon, Lake Powell, Oracle, San Diego (again), Anaheim and Arnold, in that order. Ventura is still to come over Labor Day.

School will begin again in a few days, and we are all begging for the return of more familiar routines. Early bed times, alarm clocks, homework, dance lessons, karate lessons and soccer practice will restore regularity and bring a close to our crazy-busy summer. If only the Arizona summer heat would also subside.

In between trips hither and thither, I have worked on organizing more sewing rooms and general household spaces. In the latest redo, we gave Laura's sewing loft some new vertical storage, a long-overdue sorting and a more cohesive design theme.

One side of the loft began with a folding table stacked with books and a movable black hutch recycled from an old desk. The hutch was about to fall sideways, the pattern books and magazines were not visible and the underside was crowded with assorted boxes of fabric.

The solution was to purchase a new bookcase so that Laura could display all of her books together, to join up the fabric in the boxes with the rest of the fabric stash and to sort through all of the patterns and project instructions to remove those that had lost their appeal over time.

Swapping the marble-topped sideboard from another area of the room with the relocated fabric boxes let Laura make the best use of the wall space beneath the air vent. The bookshelves are filled with Laura's quilting books and binders of sorted patterns and ideas. The overall look is far more cohesive and reflects Laura's penchant for antiques.



About 36 hours of work later (a little bit of me and a lot of Laura and her friend Kathy), and this photo above was the prize. When we showed these before and after pictures to her guild, they could hardly believe it was the same space. And this was just one wall in her newly organized sewing loft. Nice work, Laura! May the rest of your summer days be lazy.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Three-Day Weekend

How did you spend your three-day weekend? I spent my entire Memorial Day weekend sans enfants. (Merci รก ma famille.) So what do you do for three days straight with no children? You organize. There are a bazillion other things I could have and wanted to do, but this was a monumental check off the checklist.

When my kids were tots, I realized quickly that there wasn't going to be nearly enough wall space in my home for all of their artwork. And after a while, the sand would fall off, the macaroni would get smashed and the paper would discolor on their precious projects. I needed a better solution to preserve their histories-in-the-making.

Thank goodness for the digital photography revolution of the late 1990s, because my solution was an outcome of technological advancement. When digital photography and the Web converged, online digital photo services began. My early shopping for an online digital example of archiving school work and reducing paper clutter in Shutterfly photo bookphoto service led me to Shutterfly. Around 2004, I began scanning my kids' school work and taking digital photos of their three-dimensional and oversize works of art. I uploaded them to Shutterfly and began creating digital photo books. Instead of overwhelming piles of paper and deteriorating artwork, we have lovely hardcover books of each child's school year accomplishments. Although I still think Shutterfly offers only about 50% of what I really want in an online photo service, the basics are there and are roughly commensurate with the amount of time I have to spend.

This past weekend, I scanned like a maniac, cataloguing hundreds of pieces a second example of preserving a child's school memories in a Shutterfly photo bookof evidence proving that my son completed second grade and my daughter deserves to advance to sixth. The recycling bin outside is unmanageably full, and the works of art went on their way to the local landfill. But both kids are a year smarter for all of the weeks' worth of class work and days' worth of homework I tirelessly sorted through page by page. And all summer long, my paper clutter will be non-existent. Until school begins again in August.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Jean R.'s Grand Sewing Canyon Tour

Jean R. and I got to chatting while we were at 35th Avenue Sew n Vac. Jean had a sense of humor, and I loved how she talked so candidly about her quilting space. When I first meet people and they tell me about their organizing challenges, they often hide their embarrassment by being funny about their space. So when I asked Jean if I could share her challenges with others via my blog, Jean sent me a full-on description of her space with pictures. It was obvious that Jean has a genuine sense of humor. I just have to share it with you.



Here's Jean's Phoenix-area studio, in her own words:

Rapids ahead! Watch out for protruding rocks!
disorganized sewing studio, colored drawer carts, stacks on floor
We will be entering the Grand Sewing Canyon after a sharp right turn. Stay close to the left side of the current so as not to be sucked into a hidden whirlpool. Very dangerous.

crowded sewing machines, lack of work space
Treasure hunters are often trying to beach in this area. Several have gone missing recently. There is a slightly visible plateau with artifacts from 2010, the last time this area was explored. You can see Baby Lock Lodge in the forefront.

crowded sewing table with boxes underneath
We are coming up on a lower accessible area on the right, Bernina Point. There is currently still activity in this area and a local native can still be found working at some project. Native worker appears to be stocked with at least a day’s food supply.


cluttered shelves in sewing roomThe high cliffs ahead house ancient manuscripts dating back to 1950.
sewing studio shelves with photo boxes, magazines and too much clutter

After hiking to a high point at the top of the canyon, Rainbow Rock Park and Spool-A-Roo caverns can be seen near the area of first entry by the rapids.


project boxes blocking closet doors in cluttered sewing room
Out of the canyon and home safe. king thread spools in plastic drawer unit

Friday, May 20, 2011

Quilt Market and What the Repair Man Said

Last weekend at Spring Quilt Market was like a whirlwind. Instead of going for the Schoolhouses, I stayed home through Saturday morning so that I could coach my View of Spring 2011 Quilt Market expo hall in Salt Palace Convention Center, Salt Lake Citydaughter's soccer team in their 8am game. And then I rushed straight after the game to the airport to catch my flight just before noon. When I arrived in Salt Lake (on time!), I rushed to my hotel to drop my bags, and then I practically jogged up the hill to get from my hotel to the Salt Palace Convention Center. I made it in time to the C&T booth to host my book signing at 4. I just love it when everything goes according to plan. My sincere thanks to the 400 people last Saturday--from the ground crew at Southwest Airlines to the 73-year old shuttle driver from my hotel--who made it all happen.


I had a wonderful book signing. The C&T folks were a little worried how much I was talking to each person as they came up to get their book, but I think that most people appreciated a moment or two to share about their own organizing needs in their quilting spaces. I enjoyed meeting everyone, and I'm so glad that even the ladies at the end of the line waited so patiently for their book. Thank you.

Sunday at Quilt Market was non-stop. No time to eat. No time to sit down. I hope I made some good business contacts that may develop into future opportunities. And the highlight of my day was meeting Annie Smith in person. I have listened to Annie's podcasts for more than two years now, and it was surreal hearing her voice and seeing her face--at the same time. Annie, I am grateful for all of the hours of entertaining and educational listening.

This week, I've been following up on loose ends from Quilt Market and getting in touch with the people with whom I promised to get in touch. The quilting community is just so darn friendly and fun that this hardly feels like work.

Which brings me to what the repair man said. I called to check on the status of my sewing machine, hoping that it might be released soon from repair jail. (I hated to tell my daughter that we would have to buy a birthday present for her friend because she couldn't sew something. And, yes, that was after I suggested hand-sewing as an alternative.) Checking on my machine with its jailor, the very nice repair man and I chatted a bit. He told me that quilting is the hot, new thing. I love it. The hot, new thing. That made me feel really good.

With the sewing machine in the shop, I went for another machine instead. The bread machine is halfway through its cycle, and the house smells delicious. Anyone coming for freshly baked bread for breakfast at my house tomorrow needs to arrive early. We have to be at the soccer field by 7:30. Go Gator Girls! Win your last game of the season!