Sunday, December 31, 2006

Getting Organized

Most Americans ring in the New Year with a list of resolutions that will guide their lives, they hope, to health, happiness and prosperity. “Getting organized” is frequently on the list – in fact, it is among the top ten resolutions in this country. What typically happens though is hardly happy. In fact, I wouldn’t even call it healthy.

Armed with determination and a truck full of organizing tools, people tear into their mightiest piles of clutter. A few days later they feel frustrated, tired and defeated. Instead of one pile of clutter there are many piles of clutter, a stack of expensive organizing tools, and the pervasive fear that perhaps they “cannot” get organized.

Maybe this has happened to you.

If you have ever told yourself that you will never be organized – stop it! Telling yourself that you cannot do something limits your growth and happiness; it is downright unhealthy.

Asked to imagine “organization”, people often conjure up images of neatly divided drawers, tidy baskets of toys, or closets arranged with specialized nooks. Really, organization is more about routines than storage. These routines must be developed and learned. Ideally they provide us with a framework for pursuing our life’s endeavors efficiently and creatively.

Creatively? Yes, creativity is important. Because we perceive differently, think differently, and live differently, creative approaches to organization are needed that respect our individuality. There isn’t one way to be organized because there isn’t one way to live. Likewise, organization supports creatively. Don’t believe me? The world-renowned choreographer Twyla Tharp wrote an entire book on creativity and organization: The Creative Habit: Learn It And Use It For Life.

There are several good resources for learning about organization. The book Organizing from the Inside Out by Julie Morgenstern is a wonderful place to start, and I consider it a “must-read” book. Organizing for the Creative Person by Dorothy Lehmkuhl and Dolores Cotter Lamping, C.S.W. focuses on those individuals who excel in creative pursuits but feel trapped by chronic disorganization. One of my favorite online resources is www.flylady.net. And of course, a professional organizer can help you quickly and effectively develop systems and routines that address your clutter in an individualized fashion.

As with any new skill: start small. Give yourself opportunities to learn and realize that learning takes time. Patience is an essential part of the formula for success. May your New Year be blessed with success.

Monday, December 04, 2006

What Does Your Car Say About You?

In her book Clear Your Clutter with Feng Shui, Karen Kingston, states “The state of most people’s cars is a real giveaway as to their state of clutterdom.” From my experience as an organizer I must agree. Often my clients who are dealing with epic battles of clutter in their home continue the battles in their cars. Considering how much time Americans spend in their cars, that is a lot of time spent stewing in clutter. If you find yourself apologizing for the state of your car when giving someone a ride, clutter is rudely infringing on your life. Clutter steals your energy, and it can actually lower your self-esteem. The antidote is obvious: declutter your car and give yourself a fresh environment in which to commute.
Decluttering a car is fairly simple compared to decluttering a home. Cars are small so the quantity of clutter is limited. The range of items in a car is typically fairly small since our activities in the car are somewhat limited. Because car decluttering takes relatively little effort, the quick results can provide excellent motivation for the next decluttering project.
Empty the car of all of the items that belong elsewhere. Use a basket or a bag to collect the items, but don’t put them away until the basket is full or you are finished. Then take your car to your favorite car wash and dispose of any trash in your car. Give the interior a good vacuuming, and then head for the wash. Wipe down the inside of the glass with a lint-free rag and glass cleaner, and wipe down the vinyl or leather with an appropriate, gentle cleanser. Personally, I like baby wipes because they are safe enough for a baby’s skin but they really pick up a lot of dirt – and the smell is lovely.
Consider replacing the carpet mats with new rubber mats from the automotive shop. Rubber mats withstand slushy feet so much better than the carpet mats, plus a rubber mat can be used to kneel on should you need to change a tire in the snow. Automotive shops also sell terrific upholstery cleansers made just for cars. I have had great luck with these cleansers; especially when my son decided to see what would happen when you open a shaken-up can of cola in the car. It was not pretty.
Now that the car is clean, use a little preventative maintenance to keep it that way. One rule that helps my family is the “what goes in, must come out” rule. If you bring it into the car, take it out of the car. Remind your children when you get home to bring in their items. A post-note on the steering wheel is a gentle reminder if your memory needs a little boost. In a month or so, the “what goes in must come out” rule will be habit.
Take advantage of the trash bins next to the gas pumps: when you fuel your car, empty any trash from your car. By the way, in this cold weather it is especially important to keep the fuel tank at least half-full at all times. You won’t panic about emptying the tank should you get caught in a traffic jam, and you’re less likely to get ice in the fuel lines. While you are at it check the tire pressure and windshield wiper fluid levels too. It’s pretty scary to get sprayed with a muddy, slushy mess only to discover that you’re out of windshield wiper fluid.
Assign the car-cleaning task to a day of the week. Done routinely, it takes little time to wash and vacuum. Never again will you have to apologize to a passenger about the state of your car. A little decluttering and a few routines and you reap the good feelings that come from driving a clean car.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Use A Planner to Reduce Your Holiday Stress

Now is the time to talk to your family members about what their ideal holiday celebration entails. Take notes. You might be surprised to find out what is important to everyone. It is just as important to find out what everyone dislikes. Discuss how the family can focus on making the holidays meaningful. How can each person contribute to the celebration? Set the tone for a relaxed and open conversation. Discuss the budget now to avoid a debt problem. A blown time-budget is just as harmful: no one has fun when stressed and exhausted. Accepting your limitations is good and healthy.

Use your family discussion to launch your plans. Create a homemade “Holiday Planner” to work out all the details. As a result your holidays will be less stressful and more meaningful because you will be in control of how you celebrate.

To create your planner get a three-ring binder filled with paper and some tabbed subject dividers. Put the notes from your family discussion in the front along with the budgets. Put calendar pages for the months of November and December in next. The calendar will keep you “honest” about how much time is available. Immediately cross off time that is not available so you can get an accurate picture of your free time. Try to keep about 20% of your free time unscheduled in order to accommodate the “unplanned” events (like the flu) and provide some needed downtime. Planning downtime is necessary – no arguments, please. Use these calendar pages are “work sheets” for seeing how everything will fit together. You will want to transfer set appointments and events to the calendar your family uses every day.

Each section in the planner represents one aspect of your holiday. You may want to consider the following: “Get the Home Ready”, “In-Home Events”, “Outside Events”, “Gifts and Cards”, and “Travel”. Use a three-hole punch on some large, manila envelopes so you can file an envelope at the beginning of each section. The envelopes will hold the receipts for that section. Remember to write down what the receipt is for before filing it. Generate the details for each section by asking yourself as many “who”, “what”, “when”, “where”, and “how” questions as you can. Write down as many details as you can.

If you are traveling, the “Travel” Section should be put together first so you can book your transportation and accommodations early for the best price. Spend a few minutes daily working out details such as what to pack, who will care for your pets and home while your gone, and what you will do once you are at your destination. Obviously, you do not need a “Travel” Section if you are staying home.

In the “Get the Home Ready” Section detail the cleaning and decorating that needs to be done. This is the time to get the public areas of your home in order. Forget about organizing closets and drawers and making major renovations. Book professional cleaners immediately since the holiday-time is their busy season.

Set aside a few minutes to look at the decorations you have already. Give away those decorations you do not love and toss those ones that are falling apart. Make a note of the things you need to purchase, and plan when to pick them up. When should your decorating be completed? Look at the calendar, pencil in your decorating time with some “fudge factor” time. Consider working for small increments of time over several days. A lot will get done with minimum impact to your energy levels.

The “In the Home Events” Section will contain the details for entertaining your family and friends in your home. Not only should you list the big parties, but also things as simple as watching special holiday videos and baking. If it’s worth doing, it’s worth planning. Entertaining involves some in-depth planning, and I just cannot cover all the details in the course of this article. But if you focus on breaking each event down into smaller tasks that can be scheduled on the calendar you will greatly reduce your stress. A few questions to get you started in your event planning are: Who to invite?, When to invite?, What menu to serve?, What to serve on (paper plates or china)?, and What music to play?

In the “Outside Events” Section gather schedules, ticket prices, maps, invitations and any information that you may need in order to attend the events your family is looking forward to. Consider the impact on your budget and on your time. Store the event information in the order of their dates. RSVP, if needed, and record the events in your calendar.

If you do nothing else in the planner, the “Gifts and Cards” Section alone will make your life easier. List everyone who will receive a gift from you along with some information about them such as their clothing sizes (if applicable), hobbies, and any strong likes and dislikes. Spend some time brainstorming about gift ideas for each person before you go shopping. You might even want to ask everyone for his or her wish lists. I guarantee this planning time will reduce the amount of time you spend shopping and help you adhere to your budget. Get gifts that need to be mailed first. I would allow a minimum of one month for international mail and two-weeks for domestic mail. Homemade cookies and breads are great hostess gifts, but if you do not like baking consider buying hostess gifts in bulk. You will not have to shop for each party. Scented candles, wine, chocolate (of course!), and luxurious hand cream are thoughtful items.

Wrap gifts in small time increments in over several days. Store your gift-wrapping items together so you will not need to hunt for your supplies each time.

Aside from getting gifts, sending holiday cards take up the next largest amount of time. Decide up front if you will write a personal note in each card. Obviously a personal note takes longer than just signing a card. Plan for your preference. Put your mailing list in your planner. Divide the number of cards you will send by the number of days available until your targeted mailing date, and you will have the number of cards you need to write each day. As each card is completed check off the name from your mailing list.

Once the holidays are complete spend some time reflecting on what worked and what didn’t work. Jot down a few notes in your planner. This feedback will give you a jump-start to the next year’s holiday celebration. With planning you gain the power to create celebrations that enrich your life and a peace that transcends the hectic pace of today’s lifestyle. Happy Holidays.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

It's Getting Easier To Be Green (Apologies To Kermit)

In my business we purge a lot of clutter. Clearly some items are in good shape and can be donated to charity or sold. But items that may have gone into the trash bin in the past can be disposed of more responsibly through recycling and special hazardous waste collection sites. Ultimately, responsible disposal means less trash to clutter our world and is a “green” strategy for eliminating clutter in an organized household.

Here are a few steps you can take to be more “green” in your household:
Set up recycling containers where items naturally collect so they are easy to use.
Be familiar with what can and cannot be recycled.
Follow a schedule for taking items to a recycling center – of course if you have curbside recycling the schedule is built-in.
Collect hazardous materials and dispose of them responsibly.

Set up recycling containers where items naturally collect. Consider placing a bin to collect junk mail by the door, a bin to collect food containers in the kitchen, and a larger bin to hold items until recycle day in the garage or by the trash cans. If you collect paper-items for a school fund-raiser, set up a special bin that can be easily grabbed for delivery. For containers inside your home use something that fits into the d├ęcor: utilitarian does not have to be ugly. We have a large, lovely basket by our front door to catch junk mail and old newspapers. When the bin is full, empty it into the larger bin. The larger bin is what is placed on the curb or brought to the recycle center.

Important: please first shred anything containing personal and/or credit information to protect your identity! You can shred directly into the recycle bin.

The kitchen is a great source of recyclable goods. Place a container to catch the cans, jars, plastic jugs, and boxes that contained food near your kitchen trashcan. Often kitchen workflow is streamlined by placing the recycle bin and trashcan together under or as close to the kitchen sink as possible. Food preparation and cleaning-up are usually done by the sink. Rinse out containers prior to tossing them into the recycle bin.

Note that polystyrene cannot be recycled at this time. Plastic usually carries an identifier on it: look for a number within the chasing arrows triangle imprinted on the item. Polystyrene is number six. Egg cartons, to-go food containers, and packing peanuts are examples of polystyrene. Packing peanuts are accepted by some shipping businesses for reuse -- such as the UPS Store in Brentwood. Plastic items that do not have the identifier cannot be recycled. Except for plastic number six, numbers one through seven are accepted for recycling in Brentwood. Check the item prior to putting it in the recycle bin to make sure it is recyclable by your community or recycle center. The Brentwood community website lists acceptable items for recycling under the “Waste Management” page under the “Services” link (www.brentwoodmo.org).

Some items that cannot be recycled cannot go into the trashcan either. Certain household products are hazardous. Paints, varnishes, pesticides, florescent bulbs, motor oil are some, but not all, of the items that are found in a typical home and are considered hazardous. Luckily, St. Louis County sponsors Household Hazardous Waste Collection Events twice a year. The fall event is coming up and will be offered on three days at different locations – just in time for fall cleaning!

Sunday, October 22
Lucent Technologies
At 14250 Clayton Rd.
8 A.M. to 3 P.M.
Saturday, October 26
Westfield Shopping Town South County
8 A.M. to 3 P.M.
Saturday, November 4
St. Louis Community College
At Florissant Valley
8 A.M. to 3 P.M.

Please note that this event is only open to St. Louis County residents – not businesses. Proof of residency -- such as your driver’s license -- is required. Get more information about the event at the website http://www.stlouisco.com/doh/waste/waste_mg.html or by calling the St. Louis County Department of Health Waste Management Hotline 314-286-9200.

Other hazardous materials that cannot be disposed of in the trash include electronics. If you need to dispose of electronic equipment check out www.ecyclestlouis.org, which provides information on several electronic recycling centers in the Metro St. Louis area. Note that some women’s domestic violence shelters can reuse cell phones. Please consider donating your old cell phone to this worthy cause – you may save a life.

Removing clutter from your life is a good thing, but please do so responsibly by insuring items are reused, recycled, or disposed of properly.

Monday, July 31, 2006

How Will You Handle A Disaster?

I’ve been thinking a lot about disaster preparedness lately – largely due to the recent storms and the ensuing power outages that hit the St. Louis Metropolitan area. I couldn’t help wondering if we are adequately prepared for a big disaster. Not to sound pessimistic, but you never really know when you will find yourself in an emergency situation.

There are four steps to prepare for emergencies:
1) Make an emergency kit
2) Make a plan
3) Be informed
4) Get involved

Your emergency kit should sustain you for a minimum of three days. The following list of items is generic. Please add items as if they are necessary to your particular circumstance.

Water: one gallon per person per day
Non-perishable food such as canned food – don’t forget the manual can-opener!
Kitchen Items: Paper plates, cups, plastic utensils, foil, utility knife, sugar and salt
Hygiene and sanitary items: paper towels, moist wipes, plastic garbage bags with ties, soap, sanitary products, shampoo, toothpaste, toothbrushes, toilet paper, lip balm, hand sanitizer, sunscreen, insect repellant, disinfectant, plain chlorine bleach with a medicine dropper – sixteen drops per gallon of water can treat water in an emergency and nine drops per gallon of water will provide a disinfectant
Several flashlights and a portable, battery-operated radio: pack extra bulbs and batteries
First-aid kit complete with a first-aid manual and over-the counter medications, prescription glasses, contacts and solution, prescription medicines plus a small cooler if the medicine must be kept cold
Other Essential Items: whistle to signal for help, compass, pocketknife, small sewing kit, small A-B-C type fire extinguisher, matches in a waterproof container, small shovel, rope, local maps, important phone numbers, wrench and pliers to turn off utilities
Cash, change or traveler’s checks: ATMs may not be working
Extra clothes, rain gear and sturdy shoes that are season appropriate
Bedding and tent
Copies of keys and important papers
in a waterproof folder such as identification, insurance policies, medical insurance cards, medicine prescriptions, emergency plans, emergency manual and bank account records
Cell phone with extra batteries and car charger
Shelter-in-place supplies: dust masks, plastic sheeting and duct-tape
Entertainment: cards, games and books to help pass the time
If you have pets pack their food and extra water. Leashes and kennels will help control pets that may become unpredictable in a frightening situation.
If you have babies pack infant formula and diapers.
If you have children remember their favorite toys and stuffed animal will help keep them calm.

Most of the kit can be stored in large plastic bins along with a list of the kit’s contents. Make sure the kit is easy to access. Items such as prescription medicines and glasses can be added at the time of an emergency. Highlight the “to be added later” items on the list and write down their location. Don’t assume you will remember where anything is during an emergency when a million things will be racing through your mind.

Check the contents of the kit periodically. Avoid having food past its expiration date by periodically exchanging food from the kit with food from your pantry. Change the clothing and bedding to match the season. Ensure that everything in the kit is in good working order.

Planning is essential. Sit down with your family and discuss different kinds of emergencies and how you will handle them. If it is necessary to leave your house make sure you have an exit strategy and a place to meet. Keep a written copy of your plan with your emergency kit for ready-access, and review it frequently.

Several organizations provide preparedness information such as the American Red Cross (http://www.redcross.org/), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (http://www.bt.cdc.gov/) and, of course, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (http://www.ready.gov/). It is worthwhile perusing theses web sites for detailed information on emergency preparedness.

Get involved in your community’s emergency preparation efforts. Take a first aid course. Discuss your community’s emergency plans with its officials and the school board. These steps will help your neighbors and build a more resilient community. In fact, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has designated September as National Preparedness Month as a time to promote emergency awareness.

Emergencies occur without warning and are inherently frightening. Do what you can now to eliminate panic, doubt and madly rushing around during an emergency. Planning and preparation can save lives and provide peace of mind. This is a great gift to yourself your family and community -- and a benefit of an organized life.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Help! What Will I Fix For Dinner?

The subject of dinner can be overwhelming. Sure, you know that meal planning eliminates the daily panic of what to put on the table, and it’s a great way to control the food budget. But planning a menu that is nutritious, varied, family-friendly and easy-to-make can be a little overwhelming. Thankfully, there are solutions – and they don’t include fast food!

Saving Dinner by Leanne Ely is a book of weekly menus that is organized by seasons. The menus capitalize on in-season produce and offer a variety of delicious meals. The shopping lists that accompany each weekly menu streamline shopping. Most meals can be prepared in about 30 minutes. One of Leanne Ely’s strategies for quick meal preparation is to use very simple side dishes: lettuce salads, steamed or braised vegetables. The easy-to-follow menus are great for the beginner and seasoned cook. The Saving Dinner series also include Saving Dinner the Low-Carb Way and Saving Dinner for the Holidays. Want more variety? Leanne Ely’s website www.savingdinner.com offers more than 12 types of menus. You can subscribe to a weekly menu mailer for more convenience. For about $30 a year you will be emailed weekly menus complete with shopping lists.

Another online option is “More Thyme” at www.morethyme.com. “More Thyme” offers yummy, family-friendly meals without grueling menu planning. The personal profile provides flexibility to accommodate the fussiest of eaters or the strictest dietary restrictions. The wide variety of recipes eliminates menu boredom. It’s easy to add your family’s favorite recipes to your collection so your menu can include your personal comfort favorites. The menus also include breakfast and lunch options plus a shopping list -- all for $52 a year.

Don’t cook at all? Check out the “Rush Hour Cook” website: www.rushhourcook.com. It’s creator, Brook Noel, has called herself the “Queen of Incapable Cooking” so you know her recipes are super easy. A monthly email brings you four weekly menu plans complete with shopping lists for $24 a year. You will need to add your own side dishes to the plan. Brook Noel’s menu subscription is an extension of her book The Rush Hour Cook’s Weekly Wonders Cookbook that lays out 19 weekly menus with their shopping lists.

If regular indecisiveness over the dinner menu overwhelms you, then these tools can simplify your life immensely. Life is hectic. Provide balance by taking the time to slow down, relax and refuel. Dinnertime is a natural opportunity to enjoy each other’s company and connect as a family: to nourish the body with wholesome food, and nourish the spirit with togetherness. And you can make it happen – with just a little planning!