Wednesday, January 21, 2009

A kitchen for your lifestyle

I like to tell my clients the urban legend about the new college campus that decided not to put in sidewalks at first. They decided instead to see where the students wore paths in the grass and lay the sidewalks accordingly. Now, I have no reason to believe this story is true, but it accurately reflects how I like to work with my clients.

Often times, when a person is trying to get organized, they fight their natural tendencies with the idea that, "Miss Organizing Expert says things are supposed to look like this." Well, that's great for Miss Organizing Expert, but does it actually work for you? When you're trying to figure out what makes the most sense for your kitchen, your first consideration must be, How do you actually use your kitchen?

Are you a gourmet chef? Are you a mom with three kids doing homework at the kitchen table while you cook? Is your kitchen simply the place where you keep the cereal and the Lean Cuisine? One of my colleagues doesn't cook at all. Instead, she keeps her pet rabbit in the kitchen! Your kitchen should make sense for how you live.

Great, fabulous! But, uh, what is that supposed to look like?

Well, the first step is to put things close to where you use them. Putting away the dishes is less of a chore when your dishes are directly above the dishwasher. Spices, oils and such are nice to have close to the stove. Now, ideally, the spices won't get too close to the stove as heat makes them lose their flavor more quickly. If you have the option of putting spices into a drawer close to the stove, I say, do it! A simple in-drawer spice rack will keep them from getting chaotic. (That's the image at the top of the post. Someday I hope to be skillful enough to put pictures in the middle of a post! :)) Along the same lines, if you have a knife block, try putting it and your cutting boards where you have counter space to do prep work. (Obviously, this won't work if you need to keep knives away from children in your house.)

If you're asking, "what counter space?!" don't despair. Take a look at your counters. Are they covered in papers? Are they covered in dishes? Are they covered in appliances? Each has its own remedy.

For papers, you probably need a filing system in the kitchen, at least a basic one. Maybe you already have an office, but paper never seems to get there. We'll talk more about filing in the future. In the meantime, accept the reality that papers DO collect in your kitchen and you need to make that work for you, not against you. A small file holder--if it's upright, no more than 6"x12" with a few simple folders will help tremendously. Tuck in an envelop and scissors for coupons, if you're a clipper, and put a pad for the grocery list with it. Shopping is easier when you have your list and coupons together. :)

For counters covered in dishes, I would like to introduce you to the Flylady. The Flylady has been my online mentor for a few years now, with her wise advice about how to set up routines and keep your house clean. Organizing, unfortunately, can only take you so far. It doesn't make the dishes wash themselves and even worse, it doesn't make your family put things away! It can make the process much easier, though! So, if you're struggling with keeping up on the cleaning, do what I do and check out She'll help you get straightened out!

Okay, back to organizing.

If your counters are covered in appliances, this is the time to ask yourself, "What do I use the most?" Do you only make toast on the weekend? Consider putting your toaster in a cupboard. If you never use your Kitchenaid mixer, despite the fact that it was a generous wedding present and someday you're going to bake three times a week, be honest with yourself and put it in a cupboard, in the pantry, or even in the garage, if comes to that. If you don't use something, it becomes clutter. One warning, make sure that the other people in your house don't use it either, otherwise you could experience a mutiny if you try to move it!

Wait a minute! If you don't use something, why are you keeping it? Do you know someone who will love it and use it? Maybe your favorite charity would benefit tremendously from the things that are actually making your life more cluttered.

Just remember, if you give your fondue pot away and then really, really miss it, you can pick up a barely used one at Goodwill for $3!

Happy organizing!

Friday, January 16, 2009

You can never have enough. . . .

Oh, my internet friends, let me assure you, those are the most dangerous words to speak when you want to be organized.

How many times have I heard my clients say:

"You can never have enough extension cords."

"You can never have enough camisoles."

"You can never have enough spatulas."

You can never have enough yarn, plants, pictures of the kids, tools, spices, etc.

Please remove this phrase from your vocabulary.

One of the things that will teach you to become organized faster than anything else is to realize that yes, you can have enough of something and to learn just how much you actually need.

Part of organizing is learning how to prioritize what is most important. I'm not going to call that an easy task. Sometimes it takes a lot of wisdom. Sometimes it just takes good common sense. A good place to start is to ask, "How many do I need?" It's okay to just guess at that! How many extension cords do you need? I don't know, maybe two or three? Maybe four? That's how many I would need at the most, for my lifestyle. Maybe you need more because you are a photographer and need to be able to get your lighting gear to places far from an outlet. Maybe you live in a studio apartment that's so small any cord could reach to the nearest outlet!

Organizing is a personal task where you have to ask yourself a lot of questions. There's no one-size fits all option. Sure, there are averages and standard sizes. There are general organizing principles that are pretty good to know. I'm trained in, oh somewhere around seven distinct filing systems. They're all good systems, some are just more useful based on the way you think.

I have two main functions as a professional organizer. I help people figure out what systems and styles of organization are the most natural to them--which will ultimately be the most easy to maintain--and help them to understand what is enough and what is too much. Again, that's a personal decision. I once told a client I didn't care if he wanted to collect used toothbrushes, as long as that's what was important to him! (And no, he didn't want to collect them.)

So how do you figure out how much is enough? I'm so glad you asked!

When it comes to food, do you find you end up throwing out a lot of food because it has expired? Wait, let's back up. If it's been a while since you've cleaned out your pantry, it would be useful to take a quick look at the food at the back of the shelves and check the expiration dates. Please toss anything more than a year past date. I know that folks have different notions of how long things are acceptable past their expiration date, but those numbers are instructive. If it expired more than a year ago, it's just taking up space and it's more than you can use. See how much falls into that category. Also, if you have a lot of expired food at the back of your shelves, it could also mean that your shelves are too deep to see into and you lose track of what's back there. A quick solution would be to put empty shoe boxes (or something that size) at the back as space holders to keep things from getting lost in the depths. We'll talk more about kitchen organizing in upcoming posts.

How much is enough clothing? Ladies, I love shoes as much as the next girl! My personal rule is that the shoe must get worn at least once a year to continue living in my closet. Well, that rule applies to everything. Wear it or let it go to someone who will use it and love it. How do you know? A handy trick in the closet is to turn all the hangers so that the hook faces you instead of the wall. When you wear an item and hang it up again, put the hanger back on in the right direction. At the end of the season, you will see very clearly what you have and haven't worn. What about stuff in drawers? Do you ever reach the bottom of the drawer before laundry day? If you never run out of clothes, and can't remember what is below the top three items in the drawer, you probably have more than enough.

I'm sure you're starting to get the idea. Say it with me now, "I have enough!"

And know there are some things you really never can have enough of: time with the people you love, laughter, playtime with the kids and grandkids, and sweet words from your sweetheart.

Blessings to you out in blogland!

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Organizer Confessions

When I first started working as a professional organizer, I assumed that everyone in the business had everything perfectly together. You know what I'm talking about: you go into their houses and nothing is out of place, there are labels on everything and even the junk drawer is tidy. Just the thought of something like that makes my skin crawl with feelings of inadequacy!

Imagine my surprise when I joined a company run by three talented, capable organizers who didn't not have "perfect" homes. Sure, the houses were tidy, but sometimes things would get out of place. And, it turns out that even organizers need help sometimes! Hard to believe, isn't it? As part of my training, I did role-plays with the other organizers and we would work on their personal stuff. My mentors would take on the personality of various clients to let me practice different techniques organizers use to help people, but we were still tackling real problems that the organizers themselves had. Like so many other people, organizers aren't always that fond of filing either!

What I learned from this training explained so much about why people chose to work with a professional organizer. First, having another person helps keep you on task. It can help make a really tedious job more pleasant. If someone is sitting at the file cabinet with you, you're less likely to get distracted by that interesting article you found and stop working because you want to read right now. Secondly, *stuff* can be overwhelming. Without a set of detached eyes to look at your stuff, it's really easy to get lost in the trees and not see the forest. When I'm working with a client, I don't feel the same emotions they do looking at their stuff, so I don't get overwhelmed.

Here's the confession. Sometimes, when I look at my own stuff, I do feel overwhelmed. How do I know if this piece of mail telling me about a cool organizing product is an important resource or just junk mail? What if one of my clients might need it in the future?? And that article about the "right" way to set up a kitchen? It has great tips. Will I remember all of them? Does it mean I'm not a good organizer if I don't know every single thing this says??? These kind of thoughts can be so debilitating. What to do?!

Now you know--I'm an organizer and sometimes I have a hard time figuring out how to deal with my stuff. But you know what? I'm an organizer, so I have a system! When it comes to facing the hard stuff, I work through a series of questions.

1. How long have I had this? Have I ever used it? If yes, when?

2. How long has it been since it's been used?

3. What is the worst thing that could happen if I don't have this? How likely is that?

4. How hard would it be for me to replace the item or retrieve the information? (Here's a hint, if I can find it with Google, the info isn't staying!)

5. If I didn't have this, what could I use instead?

6. How important is this to my clients? (For example, I DO keep info sheets on the local recycling rules because they're so complicated!)

Now, my little system of questions is fine and dandy, but it doesn't help with the fact that it's tedious! That's where conning, I mean, asking a friend to help comes in. They don't have to actually participate in sorting, they just can sit there and chat and drink tea (or margaritas--your call) while you work.

Some important qualities of friends who help you organize: They absolutely must not be judgemental. They should be able to help you stay focused and not distract you from trying to organize. They should be someone you feel comfortable sharing your weaknesses with and know that they'll respect you.

If you have a hard time thinking of someone who might fit that bill, it might make sense to call a professional organizer. A professional has already seen the worst of what's out there and is trained to keep you focused and motivated as you work.

Happy organizing and feel free to send me questions!

Monday, January 12, 2009

My first forray into the world of blogging

Hello to everyone out on the world wide web!

Welcome to my little blog about organizing. I'm glad you found me!

This blog is dedicated to the adventures, struggles and successes in learning how to be organized, both my personal endeavors and those of my clients. Naturally, my clients will be kept strictly anonymous, but I will share with you the solutions we've found to a variety of organizing challenges.

Unlike a lot of professional organizers, I was not "born organized." My family still snickers a little when they think of me helping other people. It's okay, family, I can take it! Who is better able to help a person struggling with clutter and piles than someone who has found their own solutions? I will be the first to admit, I haven't solved all my problems. I have developed a manageable filing system so that I can lay my hands on any important document quickly. My closets are in great shape and my kitchen cupboards are set up so that I can easily see what food I have and make sure it's not getting too old. For born organized people, this might not sound like much of an accomplishment, but to those who are naturally disorganized, you know this is pretty darn good.

My goal with this blog is to make it a place where disorganized people can come and get ideas on how to create systems that work for them. I'll be writing on a variety topics for organizing things around the house and garage. If there's a particular area you're struggling with, feel free to send me questions and topic suggestions and I'll share whatever I can. Also, feel free to respond with solutions you've created for your own organizing needs. We can all learn from each other!

Thanks for taking the time to read my blog! I hope to see you again. :)