Back-to-School, Organizing, and Life

When my kids were young…

I saw every day as both an opportunity and an obligation to teach them about the world and life. From their first day home, I started talking to them about the beauty of nature, moral values and behavior, how to treat others, and why we lived the way we did.

Since I am wired to be the kind of person who becomes a professional organizer, I found life to be more messy and chaotic than I would have liked, and I had a sixth sense that it was only getting worse. And because I assumed my kids were wired at least somewhat like me, I knew they would one day benefit from knowing things like how to:

  • keep a tidy home without stress
  • make sure your work is done ahead of deadline
  • make sure you aren’t in trouble if your car breaks down

I wanted to teach them to enjoy and beautify the necessary activities of life instead of resenting them as an evil to be avoided until the last minute. Since education was a top priority, getting ready for school in an organized and happy way was part of that set of values.

Getting ready for the new school year was the logical extension of ending the previous one…

And ending each year was a time for blissful relaxation: cleaning up together without hurry or deadline, purging and re-beautifying anything that was left in a mess. No matter what else might have been planned for the summer, down time to regroup and re-organize was also built in. No getting up and dressed in a rush. No obligations to any one or anything, just restful down time. We would snack and shop and play and bake at leisure. We would watch TV and clean up no-longer-needed schoolwork. We would update wardrobes and clean out drawers and closets.

In later years…

Files would be created for any materials that might be needed the next school year. This was a time to take stock of materials and decide which products and systems worked well and might want to be repurchased in advance. We knew lists would be sent from school outlining what each teacher wanted for the next year, but we purchased whatever we could in advance to minimize time in the last-minute crowds. The girls and I did it all together in a spirit of leisurely family bonding and creativity. School, work, home-maintenance …these were all the ongoing art projects of living, enjoyed in an atmosphere of “eat dessert first.”

We always planned more private down time again before the beginning of school to gather focus and shop for remaining materials. We didn’t just race home from out-of-town the night before school, hoping someone would lend them a pen. We had been all but ready long ago!

The whole point of this was to make the necessary activities of life pleasant, relaxing, and a type of fun.

There was nothing punitive about it; it was presented and experienced as a form of relaxation. To this day, when my daughters and I visit and want to relax at home together, we find something to improve. We joke that nothing tops a beautiful organizing product or system, or the joy of getting things done in advance.

Mission accomplished.

Organizing is just another part of life. Make it a happy one!

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From Summer to School: Back To School Organizing Do’s & Don’ts

OK, folks…it’s August. Any day now, the mail will arrive with teacher assignments and the excitement (and anxiety) of the new school year will start to bubble up!

While the kids won’t go back to school for a few more weeks, we all know the
planning for the FDOS (“First Day Of School”) starts much sooner, behind the scenes… The work done here will set you (and your kids) up for a successful transition from summer to school! Check out my Do’s & Don’ts…they save me the first day headaches…every year!

Back to School Tips

1.) DO Roll Back…Bedtime

The relaxed bedtime routine during the summer can be a FDOS killer! One small adjustment, each day, in the week or two leading up to the start of school can ensure success. Start rolling back their bedtime by 15-minutes each night. Continue until you reach your desired school year bedtime. Later, when it’s time to get up at 6:30am, they are already adjusted. Bodies and brains are ready to go, move, learn!

2.) DON’T Get Trapped In The Paper Chase

Don’t sit on those must complete school and medical forms. Save yourself the 11th hour scramble…If your kids require ongoing medical monitoring (think daily meds or allergy related epi-pens), contact your school nurse at least 3-4 weeks prior to the start of school. There will be forms that need to be filled out by your physician before the start of school.

3.) DON’T Over-Do The Back To School Clothes Shopping 

Summer clothes rule on the first day of school. Look back through your FDOS pics…most likely shorts, skirts, dresses, tanks and tees…I only buy a few things and then buy clothes when they do need them, closer to October. Give yourself a break and put Fall shopping on the back burner for now.

4.) DO Set Your Kids Up For Success – The Homework Station 

Create a homework station. Quiet, calm, comfortable and consistent is what you want. Pick up some extra supplies for your kids’ homework station…items you might not have around the house. For my twins, I purchased extra protractors, rulers and a dictionary. I knew that they would need them at home as well as school. Bonus: it eliminates the, “I left my protractor at school” excuse. Set them up for homework success with a “homework caddy”. Stock it with pencils, glue sticks, crayons, rulers and anything else they may need to get their homework done. I also make a color coded file for each of them that stays at the homework-station. When they come home, they put any important papers, that need to be reviewed, in their folder. Everything they need….is within reach.

5.) DO Prep Your Pantry 

School makes kids hungry! And they need good fuel to keep their bodies and minds moving. Give them easy access to healthy snacks (for lunches and after school) by prepping your pantry. I prefer to use clear bins so they can see what’s inside and they can grab and go. The clear bins make also make it easy for me to see what’s inside so I know when to restock. I can also see what they are eating and what they aren’t.

6.) DON’T Get Caught Up In The Tasks 

Take some time to enjoy the last days of summer leading into the first day of school. Plan ahead and save time, every day, for good quality family time. Remember that all of the emotions that you are feeling….the stress, excitement, anxiety, fear….well, your kids are feeling that too! Make your home and the days leading up to school a safe, calm, comfortable space to quell the Back To School nerves. Talk to your kids about how they’re feeling, spend quality time and enjoy each others company before the craziness begins!

Need more inspiration? Want to see these tips & more in action, at my own home? Click the link below for a sneak peek video into this professional organizer’s back to school setup:

How To Set Up Your Home For School Year Success

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Summertime Organizing: Cool Down the “Write” Way

We are in the midst of a heatwave here in Eastern PA. Today for example is 97°, with a feels like temp of 106°…ouch! Not the most conducive weather for organizing, right?

Well, definitely don’t work in the garage, or the attic…basically avoid anyplace that isn’t close to air conditioning or where heat rises. That still leaves some great spaces throughout your home to work in. However, before you even start, grab some ice-cold water or your favorite cold beverage and sit down to write out some to- do lists.

Nothing fancy, a spiral bound notebook from your child that still had useable pages in it will do; you know that they’ll want something brand new for the next school year anyway! I bought myself a fun notebook from TJ Maxx (see picture), in my favorite color, to make it less of a chore.

Professional Organizing Tips

Prefer an app for your to-do lists? Trello is a fantastic app which lets you create endless topics (lists) and tasks (cards).

Start by writing the name of each room in your home on a separate page. The great thing about these lists is that they can be a summer and beyond project…no need to rush it! Next, start your brain dump, where you can write tasks to be done in each room. Write down what comes to mind and add more as you think of it. The tasks should be specific and therefore hopefully less overwhelming. It’s up to you to choose how many tasks you want to complete at a time!

For example:

Master Bedroom Closet Tops

  1. Make a first pass through the tops
  2. For tops that are not your style or don’t fit anymore, start a bag for donation
  3. For tops that are beyond repair (i.e. ripped and stained) and take to a fabric recycling bin like Planet Aid
  4. For tops that were expensive, start a bag for a consignment store

Do you have other things come to mind, that aren’t specific to a room? Write them down too! Getting too much junk mail? Look to catalogchoice.org and optoutprescreen.com. Getting too many spam calls? Try an phone app like, Should I answer?, with a cute little octopus icon, which turns green for a positive call or red, to know instantly if a call has received negative ratings, and block them on your phone! I know, I know, once a company is blocked by using one number, they will move to another, but every little block counts!

Pen and paper or app, the key to dissolving a cluttered mind is to write things down, so that you have space in your brain for more important things to think about, like what flavor of ice cream to get tonight!

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What TO DO with old TO DO lists

While working with clients on managing their paperwork and filing systems, and/or time management/productivity we often come across very old (meaning over a year) TO DO lists.To Do lists and what to do with them.

Are YOU haunted by these? Know they are out there lurking to challenge and shame you? I AM!!!

Here are some thoughts to guide you as you contemplate your next move against these demons.

Option #1: Look at them

Pros:

  • They can serve as a reminder about some still very important priorities that may have fallen off your daily and weekly planners. Scheduling the tasks back in your life can get you on track to achieve your goals.
  • They can give you a sense of accomplishment when you note what DID get done.
  • They can give you a GOOD LAUGH at the things you thought were urgent.
  • You can see that the world did not end because you were not able to get to a certain project.

Cons:

  • Viewing what did NOT get done can make you feel frustrated or ashamed or angry.
  • You are using time that might be better spent on doing your top 3 high priority tasks as you know them TODAY.

Option #2 Throw them out

Pros:

  • You avoid any negative emotions that might arise
  • You are able to move on from the past and be in the NOW

Cons:

  • You might miss out on a learning opportunity. Insights you might gain include:
    • That there are simply not enough hours in a day/week/month/year to do what we all yearn to do.
    • Accepting the concept of limits can be liberating.
    • Our to do lists are sometimes not in alignment with our core values and/or abilities.
    • We might be trying to prove something to ourselves and/or others and that might not be a good thing.
    • Perhaps we are avoiding confronting something that could stir up uncomfortable thoughts and feeling.

My recommendation:
Take an hour or two off and, armed with a legal pad or journal, bring those lists to a coffee shop/library or other secret hideaway. Review them in a loving, self-accepting way. Jot down any thoughts that arise.
Then, like you would with the old tub of cream cheese that is festering in the back of the frig, growing green and black molds, TOSS the old to do lists out.
Onward to what calls to you NOW!

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Avoid “Laundry Overwhelm” with Time-Saving Folding Tips

As a residential professional organizer, I visit lots of homes. One household system that is quick to fall apart and overwhelm a person is LAUNDRY.

I have strong opinions on laundry:
• dark and light clothing should be separated (my children do not all agree)
• “laundry” is not done until it is all put away

You don’t have to share those views, but I see on a weekly basis how the “putting away” is where the system breaks down. Most of us are pretty good starting the laundry process. There is an obvious and inevitable external motivation to wash clothes when one runs out of clean socks or underwear. Many people are also decent at shifting the wet clothes over to the dryer. The widespread access to timers on our phones has made this step particularly easy for even the “follow-through-challenged.”

I see “laundry overwhelm” during the next 2 points in the system:
1) clean but not yet folded clothes that remain clean…until they get mixed with dirty clothes or buried under other stuff
2) folded clothes in baskets — when not returned to dresser drawers or closets they clog bedrooms and hallways and hold laundry baskets hostage creating a problem for dirty clothes who remain “homeless”

If we focus on these 2 connected steps along the process: 1) folding and 2) putting away and employ task batching, the process goes smoother.

Task batching is a way to manage time and perform tasks in sets where the same mental effort and physical energy is used to maximize productivity and streamline a process.

Even if laundry is not the most stressful task, any project you can simplify will free up your mind for the heavy lifting of life. If you’re a procrastinator, my suggestion to task batch your folding and put away steps is good news! It decreases the distance between start and finish and builds in lots of manageable size “loads.” More, but smaller tasks to quickly complete, offer the satisfaction of a job well done!

Task Batching will decrease laundry time and increase productivity!

Take this example of table linens – out of the dryer and onto a folding surface.

Task Batched Folding Steps would look like this:

• Sort clean laundry into categories: if you mix loads from a whole household, your first sort job will be by person, then by category of clothing (socks, underwear, shirts that fold, shirts that hang, bottoms, work out clothing, pajamas…etc).

Time-Saving Laundry Tips - Step 1: Sort

Step 1: sort into categories: this load broke down into hand towels, dish towels and cloth napkins.

• Prep each category so it’s ready to be folded (right any clothes that are inside out or button collars).

• Fold each category separately – meaning one category at a time – preferably on a clean and flat surface.

Fold laundry by category.

• Do all of your folding at once.

  • When you sort by category you are also sorting by location and your folded piles are easy to put where they belong.
  • Put each category away in its right “home”.
Task Batching to streamline your laundry process.

Step 2: fold each mini pile as its own category.
Our cloth napkins need to be ironed so they’ll stay on the ironing board.
The other 2 folded piles will go into their appropriate drawers in the kitchen.

Will task batching your folding process solve all of your laundry dilemma’s? No — but folding by category allows you to delegate small pieces of the project to even the youngest helpers and lets others take pride in the smooth running of the household if you’re lucky enough to live with people who will “volunteer” or as in our household, be volunteered to help 🙂

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Don’t Put Off Handling Procrastination!

When it comes to dealing with clutter, are you like Scarlett O’Hara in the film classic, Gone with the Wind, always putting off disagreeable tasks until “tomorrow?”

End ProcrastinationHere are some strategies that can help. The example we’ll use applies them to paper clutter, but they can help you get moving on any clutter-busting project.

First of all, know when you’re not procrastinating, as these first three strategies address:

  • Start by asking yourself “Do I know what I should be doing?” If the answer is “No,” you’re not procrastinating — you’re becoming aware that you need more information. For example, do you need to ask your insurance agent what receipts should be saved in case of a catastrophic loss? Go get that information, and action will come easier.
  • Now ask yourself, “Is this a priority right now?” Important as staying on top of your paper is, if your elderly father is in danger of tripping over the clutter in the family room, you’re not procrastinating – you’re clarifying your priorities. Decide what the most important thing to do is right now, and action will follow.
  • Finally, ask yourself, “Do I have all the tools I need for the job?” In dealing with paper, these might include a file storage unit, hanging or manila folders, a good marker, and a bag for recycling. Make task #1 assembling the tools you need,

If you know deep down that you are procrastinating, these techniques can help get you unstuck:

  • Write down just a few specific steps for part of the project you’re putting off, for example:
    1. Throw away obvious junk mail.
    2. Assemble all unpaid bills.
    3. Set up a folder for tax documents

Often, seeing something concrete will get you moving, especially if you’re a visual person.

  • Talk to people about what you’re planning to do. “This is the year I get rid of my paper piles for good.” This will have three benefits:
    • Listening to yourself will help you get moving, especially if you’re an auditory person.
    • Those people will probably give you good ideas and/or encouragement.
    • Accountability will help you move into action, if only to avoid embarrassment.
  • Pick a step on your action list that involves physical movement or use of your hands. Ripping up outdated paperwork is good for this.If you are what education experts call a tactile-kinesthetic person, this will engage you, and further action is sure to follow.
  • Pick any task that will take no more than five to ten minutes, no matter how trivial it may seem:labeling file folders; shredding old bills. Promise yourself that you can stop when time is up.Chances are, you won’t want to stop, because momentum will start to build.
  • Take advantage of your current mood. If you feel like talking, make that phone call to your insurance agent. If you feel like writing, make your to-do list. If you feel like moving, drive to the office supplies store.
  • Reward yourself for doing a task you hate to do by combining it with something fun. Listen to your favorite music while you purge old files.Or give yourself the reward when the unpleasant task is done: “As soon as I’m finished going through these old medical records, I’ll invite my friend to meet for coffee.”

Don’t put off handling procrastination another minute! Pick the one strategy above that speaks loudest to you, and do it before you go to bed today.

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