Friday, August 28, 2009
The topic of time management was covered first and Suzanne said that she was going to present just generalizations – there are as many different ways of doing something as there are different people in the world and you need to discover, on your own or with the help of a professional organizer, what works best for you. To get started, it is important to determine how you are currently spending your time. Like when you start on a diet, Suzanne recommends carrying a little notebook and keeping a diary listing everything you do in a typical day and how long you spend at each task. Every task that takes longer than 5 minutes should be noted. This will help you discover what you spend your time doing.
The next step is to set some goals – both short term and long range – so that you can take control of how you spend your time, making sure that you are doing what you want in life. You need to make your long-range goals as specific as possible, listing the steps that will be necessary to accomplish each goal and the estimated time it will take to complete each step. For short term goals, you should list the things that are the biggest issues you face every day. Once you have the lists, you need to prioritize the goals (using A, B, C or numbers) determined by considering what task is bothering you the most or causing you the most stress.
Suzanne recommends that once a draft of your goals is completed that you rewrite the list in the proper order. I would add here that the idea I mentioned in yesterday’s posting of making a to-do list with sticky notes, would make this prioritization easy and would save you having to rewrite the list. I will add the time that I estimate that the task will take to my notes, and add a column to my master folder marked “today” where I will line-up the notes for the tasks I want to accomplish that day.
Suzanne warned about having too many items on the list or having too broad a list – no more than 10-20 items. I would say that the size of the list is up to each user. She says the best way to control your time each day is to use this list of goals to create a daily to-do list and follow it. Each task should be assigned a start and stop time and the total time allotments should not exceed the amount of available time you have in the day. Do not make each task or the list so long that you work until you get exhausted. Be realistic and allow for rest periods and time at the end of the day (at least 15-30 minutes) to wrap-up, consider what you got done and to start to plan the next day.
She says that to avoid procrastination, start the list at the first task and work on it until it is done (or until you get enough of it done to be able to move it further down the list.) Completing a task alleviates a lot of stress. At the end of the day, the things that did not get done should be put at the top of the list for the next day. Having a start and a stop time is critical and should be monitored with the use of a kitchen-type timer. This kind of scheduling will keep you from getting lost in your email or immersed in a task so long that you lose track of time.
Be disciplined; avoid interruptions. Don’t plan to check your email more than 3 times a day; disable the inbox alert feature. Turn off your phone; close the door. If you are frequently interrupted by family members, announce that you need a few hours of uninterrupted time so “get your questions asked now” because after this, you will not be available for your pre-set amount of time. Ask your spouse or partner to assist you in eliminating the interruptions. Be disciplined also in avoiding distractions. Distractions are interruptions that are caused by your own inattention. Stay on task and get the job done.
Suzanne cautions about any system or method you try; if it doesn’t work for you after a few days (and you will know) throw that idea away and try something else. Don’t keep laboring under a system that you will never assimilate.
The next topic Suzanne addressed is paper management and her prime recommendation about managing the paper in your life is to reduce the volume of paper that enters your life in the first place. To get off direct mail lists, contact Mail Preference Service, Department 8067068, Direct Marketing Association, P.O. Box 282, Carmel, NY 10512. Give them your name and address, tell them that you don’t want any more junk mail and sign the letter. She has also used the postage paid envelopes that are often included with a solicitation to send the material back with the message, “Please remove me from your mailing list.” This will generally stop the mailings, since they don’t want to have to pay for returns. The www.catalogchoice.org website is where you can request to stop delivery of particular catalogs or you can call the 800 numbers of the retailers themselves and ask to be removed from their mailing list. To end credit card offers, call 1-888-5OPTOUT (567-8688) or visit their website at www.optoutprescreen.com. Consider canceling (or not renewing) magazines that you don’t read regularly and every time a new magazine arrives, you should discard the oldest one.
Since the daily mail is where the majority of the paper enters your home, she recommended setting up a recycle bin (or shredder) in the garage or near the front door where you can deal with the junk mail before it enters your home. Immediately throw away, unopened, promotions, sales brochures, fliers, catalogs that you don’t look at, etc. Tear up or shred all credit card offers. This will probably reduce the quantity of the pile of mail by half. After entering the house (and putting your keys in the spot you have designated for keys) deal with the remainder of the mail before doing anything else; make it a habit to spend 15 minutes putting this information where it belongs. As Marcia Ramsland said in her book Simplify Your Space (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2007) “Remember, one pile sitting out is the potential beginning of a complicated life. Keep your life simple, and put the pile away.” Sort items into folders or baskets designated for a specific purpose. Pay bills immediately or open them and file them in order of the date they are due. You should put bill paying in your schedule and plan to pay bills every two weeks or set up automatic bill paying online for your routine bills like water, trash, cable, etc. Have a folder for items you need to act on (such as invitations and personal correspondence) and one for items you are considering (such as promotional offers). Have two separate containers (baskets, racks, trays) to sort magazines and catalogs. These should be kept where they can be read or browsed at your leisure or in time you have designated for the task.
Suzanne has a “locations list” where she records the designated location for where items are kept and says that the key is to store all like items together. Have a fire-proof box where all of the important documents are kept – will, birth certificate, marriage license, social security card, etc. Tax records need to be kept for seven years, and receipts for all home improvements (not maintenance) need to be kept until the sale of the house. If you don’t deduct the money paid for certain bills, then throw them away after verifying the amounts and paying the balance. Retirement information and a record of your stock purchases need to be kept in order to know the cost basis when you go to sell. There is no need to keep the ATM receipts after they have been checked against your bank statement.
Thursday, August 27, 2009
I have just found a good quote in the book Simplify Your Space by Marcia Ramsland (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2007). It is a Finnish proverb that says, “Happiness is a place between too little and too much.” How do you react to that? Does that ring true to you? It is interesting that every book about de-cluttering tells us we have too much and I guess if we don’t have a place to put everything away, then we have too much. So I guess our goal is to reduce ourselves and our lives to that place between too much and too little and strive to stay right there. A report on the Today Show this morning from an editor of Prevention Magazine said that having a positive attitude and leading as stress-free a life as possible could give us as much as another 17 years of quality life! There’s an incentive!
I have actually made some headway, in little increments, this summer. Yesterday I employed the trick of taking photographs of things I want to remember and keep the photograph, rather than the object. I have for years kept some t-shirts that I have picked-up along the way from vacations, conferences, fairs and the like. They are all practically brand new because the fact of the matter is, I don’t wear t-shirts with writing on them. I find I really don’t like being a billboard. So, I laid each one out on the bed and took a digital picture of each one, front, and back if needed. I have put them all (well, almost all) of them either in my pile of clothes to give away to a good cause or in the drawer that we keep for gifts we have bought for others. I have a few nieces and nephews that wear t-shirts that may appreciate a few of them. One of my personal favorites is a black shirt with the sentiment, “What if the hokey-pokey is really what it’s all about?” That one is very hard to part with, but I can use the sentiment without having the t-shirt take up room in storage. I have a nephew that I am sure will appreciate the sentiment! These t-shirts have taken up over half of a large Rubbermaid tub that I use for swapping out-of-season clothes. I now have room to get another few sweaters put away in the summer or more of my summer clothes once the weather turns cold.
I also started a “system” that was recommended in one of the books on organizing for the chronically cluttered. It suggested that instead of making lists upon lists of things to do, make a to-do list out of sticky notes that can be added to, removed and rearranged. They recommended laying these notes out in the inside of a file folder, but I have a friend who also does this successfully in her calendar. I am really working hard on avoiding little scraps of paper everywhere. At work, I have a steno book always handy where I record all of the phone calls I get, including the date, the phone number and any pertinent information I think I may need. In order to get my work done, I have been trying to let my calls go to voicemail so I don’t get distracted from the task at hand. I have the steno book ready when I retrieve my messages so that all of the information is available should I need to refer to it in the future.
These little tasks are not much, but they feel like a big hurdle to me! I am at least starting to do something more than gather resources! See you all either tonight or next week for our September meeting.
Wednesday, August 26, 2009
-- David M. Burns
The above quote was emailed to me over the weekend from a daily quotation site I subscribe to. “Allowing yourself the right to be human” is a good lesson when applied to de-cluttering as well. No one is perfect, so your mastery over clutter will never be perfect. Don’t put off the task because you have feelings of having failed to achieve perfection in the past or over the fear that you won’t ever have the perfect, clutter-free house!
Since we have a program this Thursday evening, August 27, at 7:00 on "Time and Paper Management for the Chronically Clutter Challenged," I thought I would share some of the information that Suzanne Neilson, our presenter, has written for the local papers. One article that she wrote for U.S. 1 brings up the issue I discussed in my last posting, the concept of being chronically cluttered. She suggests that there are certain personalities that live chronically cluttered lives such as creative, concept oriented individuals. She identifies the personality type of the individuals that become professional organizers like herself as being detailed types “who can see through the physical and mental clutter.” These differences most likely keep her calendar full.
She recommends, like many other clutter-control professionals, breaking the task down into manageable time allotments (15 minutes at a time using a timer). She says about de-cluttering for just 15 minute increments, “you can stand it for 15 minutes.” I like that way of looking at it. Just think how often you wait in line for 15 minutes when you are in a hurry, or wait for your food to be served in a restaurant for 15 minutes when you are hungry. You can stand anything for just 15 minutes. And then you can probably stand another 15 minutes after that!! These allotments of time, applied on a regular basis, will help you achieve your goal.
She has some very basic principles that come up in many of her articles – “keep like items together in a way that makes most sense to you” and be ruthless in what you throw away. The first principle is easier if you live alone; deciding how things should be organized based on your own logic. If you live with others, the sorting you do to make sense to you may have to be explained to anyone in your household who does not think like you. If not, you may spend a lot of time moving things back to where you think they should go! This idea of deciding for yourself what makes the most sense it very sound advice. You can try very hard to make yourself conform to one of the systems we have discussed from the many books on the subject, but if it doesn’t make sense to you, you will never be able to stick to it. Give there decisions some thought, but don’t labor over it. Suzanne recommends on your first pass through the piles of clutter, just sort items into labeled piles of like objects and ruthlessly throw away the stuff you no longer need. If you are indecisive, you can put the items you think you might “need some day” together in a box dated six months in advance. Put that date on your calendar and when the date comes up, throw the box away unopened. She points out, “if you haven’t missed anything yet, chances are you never will. And if you do miss one thing, so be it. Life will go on without it.”
After you have done the sorting, you can see what piles you have created and it should be easier to decide where these things should reside permanently. Things should be stored closest to where they are used or needed and in a manner that will be easy to maintain in the long run. Then you need to make it a habit to continually put these items in their designated locations. In an article Suzanne wrote for The Princeton Packet where she talks about ways to avoid spending time searching for things like keys or glasses, she stresses that once you decided where things are to be stored, “self-discipline and training are required, as you actually have to think about this every time and allow yourself no choice other than to set [the items] in their spot first and foremost. Follow that plan and right off the bat you will save yourself a great deal of time and frustration throughout your days.”
Thursday, August 20, 2009
In Judith Kohlberg’s book, she considers the difference between disorganization and chronic disorganization. The dictionary definition of chronic is persistent, constant and enduring. On page 7, Kohlberg says, “Chronic disorganization is disorganization that has a long history.” She recognizes that for some people, no matter how many times they get organized, they will soon fall back into their old patterns. She gives a short checklist to determine if you are chronically disorganized. On page 9, she offers the following three questions: “1. Has getting organized been a challenge most of your adult life? 2. Does being disorganized negatively affect the quality of your life in some way every day? 3. Have you been unable to sustain organization?”
According to all of the other books we have read on the subject, the issue raised in the second question is always given as a reason to make de-cluttering a priority. I suppose the difference here might be the adding of being negatively affected EVERY DAY. Her conclusion to her observations about people who are chronically disorganized is that these are people who think in non-conventional ways and therefore have difficulty conforming to conventional organization methods. According to Kohlberg, her little book offers ways to organize for non-conventional thinkers. I have not had a chance to read through this yet, but it does seem to be the first book I have seen that offers a different approach than all of the other books, so I will let you know.
Wednesday, August 19, 2009
Bill Adler calls the lack of inertia to unpack, “Post-Traumatic Travel Stress Syndrome…otherwise known as laziness.” He is blunt about our reasons for non-action! He also notices, however, that the task seems to be more daunting by the fact that the contents of your suitcase is comprised of a mix of items that get disbursed to many locations in your house, making it seem like you had to walk home from your destination by the time you get everything back in its proper place. He recommends doing this task with as little effort as possible by breaking down the contents into manageable units to be handled in a predetermined order over a period of days. He suggests “setting yourself and easy-to-follow, even leisurely schedule of what unpacking you will do on which day of the week…” However, he cautions to not let your unpacking take longer than the vacation itself! He suggests putting away clean clothes first. Next do the dirty laundry. Notice that he doesn’t say, “put the dirty laundry in the hamper.” Do it right away and then it will be done! Next he suggests taking care of your film followed by souvenirs. Since a lot of people are taking digital photos these days, getting film in to be developed is not so important, but if you do still take vacation photos with a film camera, get the photos off to be developed right away, (or download your digital images) so that you can label them and add them to your photo storage system while you still remember the names of the places and the dates of the visit. You will want to share your photos with friends while the vacation is still fresh in your mind. As for dealing with the souvenirs, get the ones that you bought for friends given out while your friend still remembers or cares that you went away and get your personal souvenirs to their final destination, whether it is set out on a display shelf or hung on the wall. Don’t buy souvenirs if they are not usable objects that can be put immediately into service or if you don’t have the place in your house to put them out for display. There is no point buying something that will just go into a drawer and become part of your next de-cluttering garage sale!
But Bill Adler gives the best piece of advice about making the unpacking process easier: Don’t pack a lot of stuff in the first place! “Unpacking is a lot faster and easier when all you have to put away is the barest of essentials.” Disposable items like plastic rain ponchos can be discarded when you are done with them. If something is ruined during the trip, throw it out and don’t carry it home. When I was in Alaska last year, I found that a particular pair of shoes that I brought for hiking hurt my feet so badly that I knew I would never wear them again. I took them to a clothing drop and left them for someone in Alaska to make use of. Sometimes you can even leave them at the hotel and someone on the staff can find a home for them. This is similar to what was suggested in one of our clutter club meetings by the member who said she packed clothing (t-shirts and even underwear) that she was ready to get rid of and then she threw the items away at the end of every day, lightening her load along the way.
What ever you do, don’t spoil your wonderful vacation memories by sweating the unpacking and don’t jeopardize the de-cluttering that you have accomplished by loading yourself down with new stuff.
Don’t forget that we have Suzanne Nielson, a local professional organizer, coming to talk to us about time and paper management. Her presentation is next Thursday evening, August 27, 2009 at 7:00 p.m. in the library meeting room. I hope to see you all there.
Tuesday, August 18, 2009
Also, I think it is a good idea to keep a kit of toiletries and essentials in a travel kit and keep that somewhere ready to grab and go. You can fill it with the extra soaps, small bottles of shampoo and a spare toothbrush that you found when you cleaned up and de-cluttered the bathroom! Although some experts suggest leaving this kit in your luggage with your master packing list, I don’t think that is a good idea if it contains any liquids that my leak out while the suitcase is in storage, particularly if you store your luggage in a hot attic or a damp basement. You also need to remember as you unpack to refill any products that you used up while away or remember to check quantities before it gets packed for the next trip. If you are traveling with a companion, share the burden and only bring one of basic items such as a hairdryer or bottle of shampoo, or better yet, find out if the place you are going has hairdryers and basic toiletries and use them. Most hotels these days have hairdryers in each room or you can get one from the front desk to use while you are there. But whatever you do, don’t bring the extra bottles home unless you are very good about using them up at home, need them for the guest room or plan on giving them to a shelter or other needy cause. You can take one small bottle of shampoo you like to use in your toiletry kit for the next trip, but you probably don’t need any more shampoo and you certainly don’t want to drag it around for the rest of your trip.
Find out the weather forecast at your destination and pack only what you need. Pack only things that go with everything else in your suitcase. In other words, coordinate the items of clothing and shoes you pack so that you can make up several outfits using individual pieces or layer them if necessary for more warmth. Plan to layer rather than pack bulky sweaters or jeans. If you are going someplace cold, consider a pair of lightweight thermal underwear so that you don’t have to pack your heaviest articles of clothing. If you are going to be away for a while, plan to find a laundry facility mid-way through the trip so that you only have to pack half as many clothes. If you plan to do some laundry, pack a small quantity of detergent and a dryer sheet so that you don’t have to purchase these items – laundromats often over charge for the single pack of detergent if they have them at all.
One of the books I have read suggests bringing a spare cotton pillowcase in your luggage to use for dirty clothes and recommends putting a dryer sheet in that pillowcase to keep your dirty laundry from stinking up your suitcase until you get home or find a washer and dryer.
I always pack some kind of collapsible tote bag or carry-on in which to bring home anything I may acquire on my vacation that doesn’t slip easily into my suitcase.. I have found some compact ones at places like Brookstone or the Container Store, but I try not to rely on using them and adding to my burden. And don’t get a really big spare bag, because you will be tempted to buy too much which will add to your clutter. Think about deciding on a particular kind of souvenir before you go. Decide an item that is lightweight, useable and easily carried that you can always bring home from each vacation (like socks, dish towels or pencils) or something that is useful and representative of the destination would be best and then it becomes an adventure shopping for and finding just the right item rather than bringing home a bunch of clutter. If you feel you must bring something for your friends or family, consider something edible. Food items can usually be bought at the airport as you head home, or even the airport at home, so that you can avoid loading down your luggage with souvenirs as you travel. I have a friend who has been known to purchase very heavy items like lava rock bowls or solid wood carvings. These make lovely, unique souvenirs (unique because most people are smart enough not to purchase rocks while traveling) but heavy items not only make running for a train or plane more cumbersome, they might end up damaging something else in your bags.
Don’t pick up other travel literature along the way, like guidebooks, event calendars, maps and brochures unless you think you will revisit that destination soon or add the item to a scrapbook. If you are planning a scrapbook or travel journal, be selective about what you bring home by tearing out useful pages or photos and throwing the rest away. You may be able to leave a few brochures or maps behind in a hotel drawer for the next occupant of the room. Most of the information you will need about places to visit can be found online and the likelihood that a brochure will still be current by the time you need it precludes the need to collect it and save it. By all means, jot down the name of the location and the website if they have one for future reference.
Bring an assortment of zip lock storage bags to hold miscellaneous items in your suitcase. Snack bags can be used for cotton balls, Q-Tips, jewelry, batteries, sewing kit, medicines, etc. and the larger ones come in handy if you have a wet bathing suit or some handwash that is not quite dry by morning. You can even use plastic bags to organize smaller items in the suitcase like socks, underwear or t-shirts. A friend of mine makes small bags of sets of jewelry (rings, earrings, bracelets and/or necklaces) and packs them into the suitcase right next to the appropriate outfit, but an easier method would be to just bring (or wear) some comfortable “goes-with-everything” costume jewelry that you won’t mind if it gets lost or stolen.
You should travel with a list of important numbers for things like credit cards (and the phone number to call in case of loss); passports; traveler’s checks and prescriptions. This list should be kept somewhere not too obvious and could perhaps be carried by more than one traveler in your party. Lori Baird, ed., Cut the Clutter and Stow the Stuff (Yankee Publishing, Inc., 2002) suggests printing all important numbers out in a small clear font from the computer and taping the list inside a plastic (non-zip lock) sandwich bag under one of the insoles in your shoe. This seems a bit overkill, but I have been robbed on vacation so whatever precautions you feel are necessary will make you enjoy your vacation more in the long run.
Bill Adler, author of Outwitting Clutter (Lyons Press, 2002) has some suggestions about unpacking that I will share tomorrow.
Saturday, August 15, 2009
There are several key criteria I have for the calendar selection process. As I have said for my personal calendar, it needs to be of a size that makes it convenient to carry. That is not to say that I could survive with the little pocket sized calendar that Hallmark gives out every year but I have seen people do this. They have to write really small! I use my calendar as a filing system for all kinds of miscellaneous data so it needs to have about a post-it sized place for every day of the week and preferably a place where just notes can be written. I also like to have reference calendars on every page showing as many of the months of the year as possible, both past, current and future and larger reference calendars at the back that show the past current and future years. I think I have tried every calendar system known to man: Day-timer® (a super organized but pricy system that has file boxes, insert pages and a nice leather refillable cover); various kinds of picture diaries from museums and places I have traveled; all kinds of daily, weekly and monthly variations of the At-a-Glance variety and I even used a PDA for several years, but all have been a disappointment in the end.
The systems like Day-Timers® (Filofax®, Steven Covey, Day Runner, etc.) are amazing systems for organizing your life. There are diaries for dates, addresses, expenses, ideas, etc, (there is even a separate booklet in which you can keep a running to-do list) all stored in a lovely plastic file box with folders for receipts and papers, but you have to be very organized to take advantage of these tools. I used the junior size thinner wallet which required a separate little diary for each month and I invariably forgot to change the booklets and never got into the habit of using the organizing options for expenses and other data. The little plastic boxes are so nice and useful looking (they even come with a little book of instructions on how to use the system), that I can’t bear to throw the material away, even though, I hate to admit, it has been 20+ years since I used it. Every so often I think that maybe I will start up with it again, but when it got right down to making the purchase, either the cost or the amount of decisions you need to make about format and content would stop me. I bought a picture diary with beautiful photos of Alaska on our cruise last year to use for 2009, but did not end up using it because the amount of space allocated to each date was too small.
The PDA I had was one of the first versions of Palm Pilot. It worked for several years for many reasons: I had games to play while I waited for an appointment and it could hold an incredible amount of data. I loved the fact that you could enter an address and include driving directions and other information attached to that record. Everything was pretty much in one place. But the overall view of an entire month of appointments frustrated me because everything you have entered on the day screen shows up as a dot on the monthly calendar with no way to be able to distinguish or select one dot over another. If you want to see when you made your next dentist appointment, you normally would go to the month view but all you saw were little dots on the calendar; the only way to call up that appointment was to page through every day until you came to it. There were probably ways to put those appointments in as a particular category and then call up all of the dates in that category, but that was way to fussy for me when I was standing in the dentist office writing down the date. I am sure that the newer Blackberries have fixed many of those problems and if I had used my PDA better in conjunction with an electronic calendar on my desktop computer, I may have been able to keep it going, but the “Graffiti” writing system you used to enter data and the need to keep it charged were ultimately the end of my days with the Palm.
This past year, I used a freebie that the director got and passed on to me. It has the library’s name printed on the cover but that is about all it has going for it. It is a straight unadorned, no-frills monthly calendar. I have survived the year but just barely. It has no tabs to get you to the current month (or any month) so I clip the top right corner at the end of every month to make it easy to at least turn to the current month. (That is a little trick I have carried over from Day Timers, where the corner is perforated to make it easy to remove.) It has decent enough boxes to write in (I have spilled over less than 10 times this year) and there are usually boxes at the beginning and end of the month in which I can write notes. The biggest problem with this calendar is its size. The pages are fine, but there aren’t enough of them! It is so thin that it could (and does) easily slip into a file folder or a stack of papers. I have spent a considerable amount of time searching for it in the canvas bag I use as a briefcase or on my desktop and I have frequently left work without it because it was hiding and not easily noticed. I have tried to make this one more useful by using a system I saw a friend of mine use very successfully. She uses post-it notes on the page for the current month and lists all of the things she .
With every failure, I keep coming back to the one calendar that works for me, the “QuickNotes® Weekly/Monthly Medium sized Self-management System” from the At-a-Glance company. It has everything I need and I sometimes wonder why I don’t end up with one every year. Each page is divided into fourths, one equal sized section for every day plus a QuickNotes® box, in yellow, where you can record data or make a note of something. It has tabbed pages for each month and on that page is a full page calendar where you can see the whole month. At the top of the left hand page is a small calendar of the current month, with the current week highlighted in red. On the facing page are calendars of the previous month and the following month. It is made from some recycled materials, it is spiral bound and this year, it includes a storage pocket! The medium size measures 4 7/8” x 8”. Perfect. And my new 2010 QuickNotes® Weekly/Monthly Medium sized Self-management System is already tucked into my purse and already filling with dates.
My love (or hatred) of calendars is more complicated by the fact that I keep the main meeting room and event calendar for the library. For the work calendar, I have another set of criteria that are not so easily solved. I have not found that perfect calendar to use at work and I probably spend more time in that calendar that I do in my own. The biggest problem I face every year is that business type calendars don’t contain any room for a Sunday. Hello! People do have dates on Sundays and in the case of the library, we are open every Sunday and have programs that need to be scheduled. I have four meeting rooms that I schedule plus the showcases and the display panels, so I need a full day, every day, so that I can list simultaneous programs on the same day and keep track of ongoing activities like the displays. A daily calendar might be an option, but the activities of the week and the month and how it works in terms of staffing, shared spaces, etc, is critical, so a daily calendar is really too much. Another option that would be great would be an appointment calendar for a multi-staffed medical or legal office but they never have a Sunday! I found one calendar last year that worked fairly well; it had equal spaces (although smaller) for Saturday and Sunday, but those are short days, so it has worked pretty well. It has tabs and a monthly two-page planning calendar (at the tab) that I can use to schedule the showcases and display panels. It has a few nagging little short comings. The reference calendars on the weekly page are for the previous month and the following month, but not the current month and the reference calendar for the years is at the front of the book. When I need to see the month, I have to remove that paper clip I keep on the pages that have past and turn all the way back to the beginning. Doesn’t it seem logical that you would put the next year’s calendar, which is the one you refer to more that the past, at the end of the book? But the biggest shortcoming by far is that it doesn’t seem to be available for 2010. I have checked online and in the stores and did not find it and had to settle for a similar one that has a tiny little corner for Sundays. Oh well, we will get by!
Friday, August 14, 2009
Over the years I have collected a large variety of organizing systems that I have started to use but for one reason or another, I have abandoned in favor of something else. Finding just the right system is as expensive and frustrating as trying to find the best book on clutter control (even thought they are pretty much all the same). You should be careful when you evaluate a system you have bought into; make sure you are not being too much of a perfectionist and see if there isn’t some way you can modify the system you have (or your behavior) to make it work better. Or, if you are waiting to organize some collection or pile of stuff, don’t hold back until you have the perfect system. If you can make do with something you already own, you will at least get the clutter under control and then you can take your time considering the organization problem and find, or devise, the system that will work for you.
There is a series of four free (somewhat amateurish) videos on another clutter control website that I found called The Organized Times (http://www.organizedtimes.com/) that describes a way to sort recipes. In the video, Flo Feldman describes using a shoebox, with self-labeled manila folders, (helped to stay upright by using the tissue paper that comes in the shoe box) as an organizing system. Folders and shoe boxes are probably items that you may already own and setting up this simple filing system will allow you to at least sort and categorize a collection of papers until you decide if something more formal will be needed. You may decide in the end to just throw all of the information away!
I have not taken my own advice over the years, mostly because I love stationery stores, containers and all things made of paper but also I am a perfectionist (number 7 on the list)! I have purchased many organizing systems that run the gamut from calendar organizers to file systems to storage system for sorting notes, recipes, etc. to address books and birthday calendars. But I have found the perfect system for only a few of the many clutter categories that need organizing in my house. This will sound crazy, but I have a good system for organizing greeting cards, craft supplies (particularly sequins and confetti), powdered sauce mixes in the kitchen and writing implements. (Not many!) The only problem I have with these systems is that none of them are large enough and they are not easily expanded.
For greeting cards, I have two file boxes with dividers into which I put cards I like as I find them and then go “shopping” in the appropriate file box when I need a card. I have two boxes because I love cards so much! One box is for birthdays and anniversaries. It has dividers for each month on which I have written the names and the dates that I need to remember for each month and some dividers for the general categories of birthday, child’s birthday and anniversary. When I find a card for a specific person, for a specific event, it goes in behind the divider for the month that I will need to send it. With this system I can buy cards any time of the year when I see just the right one for a particular person. Once a month I look at the divider and send the card if I have one or pick one from the general folders in the back. (Don’t ask me, or my friends and family, if I manage to do this every month.) The other box has other categories that make sense to me. There are standard ones for New House, Wedding, Shower and Sympathy, but there are also folders for cards from me to my husband and visa versa, postcards, blank notes and my favorite category – “Girl Power.” That is were those great cards go that have humor that women in particular will appreciate! Sometimes the cards stay in the box so long the envelopes get yellow. This either means that I no longer like the card and I throw it away (not often the case) or that I like the card too much to send and I have to move it to another spot where I keep cards that I really like - either blank, or those that have been sent to me. I did say that I love cards, didn’t I? The silly thing is that I have a room full of rubber stamps and other paper crafting supplies with which I am supposed to be making my own greeting cards! I need to do this on a regular basis and fill the sections in the box by topic because I never have the time to make a card when a significant date approaches.
Those craft supplies I mentioned are all stored in clear plastic containers that are labeled as to the contents. Like supplies are stored together which makes them easy to locate. I have some strange categories that only I understand like things that erase, things that stick or glue, small parts, etc. We have a room set aside in the house that we use as an art studio. There are built-in cabinets, with doors, in that room to hold all of the plastic containers. This room has been very slow to get set up since our move to a new house several years ago. My confetti and sequins are stored in a spice rack (with matching bottles) that I abandoned years ago when I decided I didn’t like having to transfer the spices from their original containers. The size of the containers were never equal which meant I had to save the remainder of the spice to refill the uniform ones that sat out for view. I now only need to store the container that the spice comes in and I have a pull out shelf cabinet in the kitchen for that specific purpose. The old spice rack comes in handy to sort those little decorative confetti (that I often shake into greeting cards) and sequins.
My powdered mix envelopes (like Knorr and Campbells) are sorted in the pantry in a small upright letter sorter, the kind you get in the stationery store. This keeps them upright where I can see what I have and easily grab one without having to sift through a pile or a drawer. You will be happy to know that I stop short of alphabetizing them!
As to writing implements, because my husband and I are both artists, we like to have the right pen or pencil for each task. I have found a use for all of the spare mugs I have gotten over the years that I don’t really want to use when someone comes to visit. I have a cluster of them on the countertop in the studio, adjacent to my computer, on the desk top and even on a shelf in the kitchen. There are usually at least two to separate the pencils from the pens and I also include a letter opener and a pair of scissors at each location. Mugs work well for this purpose because they are short and wide making them very sturdy and not easily knocked over when grabbing a pen.
I’m sure that none of these storage solutions are unique or earth shattering, but I have been able to maintain them for about 10 years, so for me that is a good system! Tomorrow I will discuss calendar systems and the problems inherent with choosing the best one for the year.
Wednesday, August 12, 2009
Types of disorganized people:
1. Organization product and tip junkie. You collect ideas and buy tools, but never actually do the work. Your solution: Stop buying and reading tips. Instead, set a timer for 18 minutes and tackle a small project.
2. Last on the list. You organize everyone else in the house, but your stuff is a mess. Your solution: Realize that you are setting an example for everyone else and they need to become self-sufficient. Show them how to organized on their own and spend a little more time on yourself.
3. The keeper. You keep everything because it means something to you, you paid good money for it, it’s still good or you might use it someday. But keeping everything clutters up space, preventing you from using the stuff you love. Your solution: Work on items that have the least meaning for you, and fill one bag with things you can give to a new home where they will be used and loved.
4. The last-minute emergency. The doorbell rings and you run around the house scooping up stuff and tossing it into baskets and bags. Then you stash the baskets and bags and greet your guests. Your solution: Plan ahead by breaking up larger clutter-clearing tasks into small jobs. Set a timer for 18 minutes and get to work.
5. The procrastinator. You plan to spend some time de-cluttering but never seem to get around to it. Or you start by picking up an item but then put it down, unsure what to do with it. Your solution: Set a schedule by making clutter-clearing dates with yourself and writing them on the calendar. Work for a small block to time and then give yourself a reward for a job well done. Your reward might be to watch a television show, have a special snack, have coffee with a friend, or relax and do nothing.
6. Driven to distraction: You set out to tackle an area and find something that belongs in another room. You bring it there and while you’re there get caught up doing something else, leaving your original project undone. Your solution: Focus on the task at hand by making piles of items to deliver somewhere else. Once the task is completed, distribute the items.
7. Perfection: You have a vision of what the space will look like, but there is no way you can live up to your high standard, so you do nothing. Your solution: Choose one small area and work on it. Resolve to make it good, and go back in your spare time to perfect it. (BLB: But remember, no one is perfect.)
Saturday, August 8, 2009
The following information is summarized and quoted from Jamie Novak's Get Organized Answer Book (Naperville, Ill. : Sourcebooks, Inc., 2009) Some is similar to the information I gleened from other Clutter Control books and sumarized in my last two posts. If you haven't spent some time with one of Jamie's books, you are missing some great motivational and factual information. Her books are full of practical advice for every kind of organizing challenge. Thanks, Jamie for your expertise!
First, Jamie suggests that you gather all of the photos you can easily find into one place; don’t go digging for them to get started, just work with the ones that are easily accessible. You will eventually need to get all of the undeveloped photos developed, including disposable cameras. Sort by event, person or chronologically. Have envelopes handy in which to send photos to other people, particularly duplicates. Don’t keep more than one copy of a photo. If there is no one to send them to, dispose of them. Don’t hold onto photos you don’t like.
Don’t do this in one marathon session and this is true for all clutter control projects. If you do too much, you may burn yourself out and cause you to lose motivation. Sort in front of the television; make it a family project or have friends come over with their photos and do the sorting together.
Once you have sorted all of the photos, then you need to decide how you are going to store them. Use whatever system works for you; if it isn’t easy for you to use, you won’t use it. You can enjoy photos from a box as easily as from an album. Precious photos like wedding and new baby photos should be kept in a disaster-proof box for safekeeping. This is also where you should store important negatives but the photos and the negatives should not be stored together in case something happens to one or the other. Use acid-free photo-safe boxes and store them away from direct sunlight, extreme temperatures and moisture. Standard photo-safe boxes hold about 1000 photos and have tabbed dividers. Negatives should be stored in acid-free envelopes or polypropylene pockets. For easy retrieval later, clearly label each storage “container,” whether you use albums or boxes. You can also use a combination of both – most photos stored in boxes with a few themed albums for vacations or other special events.
Don’t damage photos by:
- Storing them in the basement or the attic. Extreme temperatures can cause irreversible damage.
- Don’t store them where the humidity is over 70 percent (they can mildew) or under 40 percent (the can become brittle).
- Don’t expose photos to direct sunlight.
- Don’t place photos on magnetic pages in photo albums; the glue will ruin the photos.
- Don’t adhere photos to black photo pages. These pages are not acid-free and can damage the photos.
- Don’t write on the back of photos with a ball-point pen. It breaks the emulsion and can bleed through. Use a photo-safe pen instead.
- Don’t leave photos in a jumbled mess. Work in small yet consistent blocks of time to organize the piles of photos.
Deciding to digitize your photo collection still requires a great deal of organization. To store and retrieve digital photos, you need to develop a system. Make it a habit to download your photos the same day you take them, no matter what. (If you don’t know how to do this, get help. Digital camera manufacturers often have toll-free numbers you can call for assistance.) As soon as you download the photos, delete the ones that are not so great. Better, yet, delete them as soon as you take them!
You can store photos in your computer in folders with the name of the event and date. You can group like events together in a large folder labeled with a time frame such as a year, or a season and the year, such as Fall 2009. Within the main folder you can create sub-folders for each of the events that you documented during that time frame. Name each photo with a recognizable caption. You can also group photos into folders by person, location or activity such as Mom’s Photos, Photos at Home or Company Picnics. The key to the success of this, or any, system is consistency. Whatever file naming system create, follow it regularly.
If you prefer to store and share actual photos, you can print them on your home printer; you can bring a flashdrive or disk to the local on-site digital printing facility such as your drugstore or variety store like Wal-Mart or K-Mart; or you can upload them to a photo publishing website like www.snapfish.com, www.Kodak.com, or www.shutterfly.com.
To store photos somewhere other than on your computer, you can burn them onto a CD. Then once you have labeled it, store the CD in a CD case. Again store like photos together, and make a CD of the same type of photos. Try not to burn photo of a wedding and a holiday onto the same CD. Make duplicate copies of CD’s containing special photos, and store them at someone else’s home or in a disaster-proof storage box. Also, make sure to back up your computer. If you don’t back up the files, your photos might be lost in the event of a major crash.
Friday, August 7, 2009
The current favorite would be using a CD to store your digital images. CDs are very inexpensive to purchase and very easy to create. They allow another layer of classification for retrieval in that you can create CDs that are arranged by date, subject, location or photographer, just as we discussed yesterday for hardcopy photos, and you can make copies for your friends and relatives. DVDs are another alternative, but some older computers don’t have DVD burners and the media is a little more expensive and possibly a little more sensitive to damage. There are now a lot of inexpensive external hard drives that are great for storage of data. The smallest would be the flash or thumb drive and the cost/size ratio keeps getting better and better. When they first came out, a 512k flash drive could set you back $50+ and that device would not hold many photo files. Now you can get a good quality 8 gigabyte flash drive or larger for as little as $10.00! The fear with using flash drives might be that USB ports, where a flesh drive connects to your computer, could just as easily be replaced by some other connection in the near future that is faster or better…you never know. Consider that people who started saving their photos at the beginning of the digital photography era might have had to changed their media four or five times by now: 5 ¼ floopy disks, to 3.5 disks, to Zip or Jaz disk to CDs and now HD CDs and DVDs (and I’m sure I’m not up-to-date on the latest and the greatest). The factors that have made these different types of media come and go are more than just the capacity of this media. Other characteristics are the data transfer rate, seek time, power consumption, audible noise and shock resistance.
There are many sites on the Internet that now offer digital storage online that make sharing photos with friends quite easy, but this will have ongoing costs to continue to have them stored at these sites and your photos are at risk if the site you choose should shut down without notice.
Keeping your photographs digitally is a great space saving option, but it may not be a time saving option and it requires you to always have access to a computer or other electronic device to save them and to display them.
You can consider digital storage even if you did not take the photos digitally. You can scan your old pictures into your computer, which is incredibly time consuming or you can have them done professionally by a photo lab, which is very costly. In the Princeton area, you can bring all of your old photos to a photo lab like Taylor Photo on Alexander Road in West Windsor, (www.taylorphoto.com, 609-452-9444) and they will digitize them all and return them to you on a disk(s). If the photos were taken digitally, it will be more economical to deal with them electronically and never print them. If you want to share them with someone who does not have a computer, you can purchase a digital picture frame, load your pictures and give it as a gift. Make sure that you send detailed directions if you are sending this to someone who is not computer literate or you may find that they put the frame away never realizing that there are photographs stored on it for their viewing pleasure!
Like physical photos, virtual photos need to be organized and it is essential that you set up a system and continue to follow the guidelines you establish in order to ever expect to locate a single image after time has gone by. These guidelines will include a naming convention for each picture, a data storage tree of files, folders and subfolders and a sorting hierarchy similar to the physical photo storage system by date, place, event or subject. As with photo prints, the bad digital photos (over exposed, blurry, eyes shut, pose mis-aligned, etc.) should be deleted as soon as you take them or at the very latest when you download them from the camera. There is even less sense keeping bad digital photos since at the time you retrieve them from the camera, you have not spent any money on them to feel guilty about throwing away. And if you have been using digital photography for some time, you have probably gotten into the habit of taking many shots since “they don’t cost anything” but the theory of that practice is that you probably only get one out of 20 (or less) that are worth keeping. The best way to handle digital photos is to download the images from your camera right away (on the day they were taken if possible) so that you won’t be faced with a full disk of 300+ photos taken over a six month period to deal with. Once they are downloaded you need to edit them, name them, sort them and “file” them while your memory is still fresh.
Thursday, August 6, 2009
The biggest hurdle when dealing with photographs is selecting a system for storage. There are many options available, from scrapbooks, which have become a significant pastime for many people; to photo albums, boxes or binders; or to one of a myriad of electronic storage options. Every book agrees that the best system is the system that works for you personally and making that determination will be worth any time and effort you dedicate to it in the long run. You might assume that whatever system you may have attempted in the past has not really worked if you find that there are photographs mixed into your piles of clutter. The criteria you should consider when evaluating these systems are ease of use, cost of purchasing and expanding the system, and ease of retrieval and the bottom line on all of these considerations is keep it simple!
Unless you are looking for an enjoyable yet time consuming and often expensive hobby, scrapbooks should not be your primary system of choice. Even if you are a dedicated scrap-booker, you should have a method of storage and retrieval that can handle photos from the start quickly and easily; you can always move the special ones to a scrapbook at some time in the future. Photo albums are the easiest way for people to casually glance through snapshots, but the photos in the albums and the albums themselves need to be organized and labeled in some meaningful way. Making guests rummage through page after page of dull photos is a sure fire way of insuring that your friends will think twice about coming to visit you in your home!
The first task is to sort through the photos and throw away any repeats or multiple shots of the same view. Keep one (or two) at the most of each view and only keep the best. Get rid of most of the negatives as well. There are very few photos that you will go back years later and have reprinted from a negative; making copies of actual photos is very easy to do these days. Keep negatives only for prized photos and truly meaningful events. For those that you do save, they should be stored in their own envelope, labeled as to the content, or in archival polyethylene transparent holders and in a different location than the photos themselves. Neither photos nor negatives should be stored in the attic or the basement.
The second most important task is to label all photos as soon as possible with as much information as you think will be necessary for future recollection. There should at least be a date and the full name of anyone who appears in the photo. If the location or the action of the photo isn’t obvious to any causal viewer, you should include that information as well. You should never write directly anywhere on the photo itself; use an acid-free label applied to the back of the photo or write the information on the album page. Use only albums with acid-free paper; albums with “magnetic pages” or black paper are not safe for the storage of photos. Use only archival adhesives. Albums are easier to store and flip through than looking at stacks of photos in photo boxes, unless you are very good at sorting and making section labels for the box. Also, putting them in albums makes you consider more carefully which you should keep and which you should send to a friend or relative or throw away.
Your final task before relegating photos to a storage system would be to sort them into some usable and logical order either by date, location, activity or person (either the subject of the photo or the one behind the camera.) You should select the sorting categories based on how you might imagine you will want to use the photos in the future. Consider if you are more likely to want to take a trip down memory lane by date (as in what we did in our 20’s), by location (as in what countries have we have visited in Asia), by activity (as in let’s compare all of our Christmas trees) or will you want to have all of the pictures you have of your brother or all of the pictures taken by your daughter all in one place. This may or may not be possible and exceptions can be made, but the clearer your method of sorting, the easier it will be to put photos away in the future. You also may be organized to have several different types of storage systems and a heirarchy of sorting, but the more decisions you have to make, the less likely you are to always get your photos stored.
And whatever system you decide on and whatever method you use for sorting your photos, this should be done as soon as possible after the photos are taken and developed or printed. Don’t set them down somewhere to do later…do it right away…and knowing that this will be your goal; create your system with this in mind.
Tomorrow I will look at electronic storage of photos.
Saturday, August 1, 2009
Anyway, as luck would have it, I was assigned the section of shelves where the de-clutter books are kept! For those who want to visit this section, you will find it just past the cookbooks at 648.8. I have pulled all of the books that were in that section and I thought I might take a moment to tell you what titles we have. We have a copy of Outwitting Clutter, by Bill Adler, Jr. (Globe Pequot Press, 2002) which I shared at our last meeting; Jamie Novak’s first clutter-control book, 1000 Best Quick and Easy Organizing Secrets (Sourcebooks, Inc., 2006); Organizing From the Inside Out: The Foolproof System for Organizing Your Home, Your Office and Your Life by Julia Morgenstern (Henry Holt and Company, 1998); Cut the Clutter and Stow the Stuff: the Q.U.I.C.K.* Way to Bring Lasting Order to Household Chaos, edited by Lori Baird (Yankee Publishing Co., 2002); The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Simple Life by Georgene Lockwood (Macmillan, 2000); Simplify Your Space: Create Order and Reduce Stress by Marcia Ramsland (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc., 2007); The Simple Living Guide: A Sourcebook for Less Stressful, More Joyful Living by Janet Luhrs (Broadway Books, 1997); and Organize It!: How to Declutter Every Nook and Cranny in and Outside Your Home by Mervyn Kaufman (New York: Filipacchi Publishing, 2006). The last book on this list is a Woman’s Day Special publication and includes photographs of clutter free spaces using storage systems and furniture designed for such a purpose. These space are inspirational, but are they spaces used by real people?
I will glance through these books to see what information I can glean for the meeting next week but get them back on the shelves as soon as possible, in case someone might like to borrow one in preparation for the meeting. See you Thursday evening!
*Quantify Your Clutter, Unload, Isolate, Contain, Keep it Up from Lori Baird's book Cut the Clutter and Stow the Stuff.