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Author: Vali HeistBack To School Family

Back-to-school on the Right Foot!

Back-to-school time is upon us. Organizing is critical for a smooth exit in the morning, to make sure homework gets done, and to achieve a tranquil household. Moreover, you are teaching your children how to organize their own lives when they enter the work force on their own. Let’s break it down:

Mornings and Evenings

  • For stress-free mornings and time for breakfast: pack lunches the night before, have papers signed, and backpacks packed.
  • Have a designated area for an easy exit (preferably where you actually go out the door) for backpacks (with homework and signed papers), coats, and after school activities stuff (clothing, sports equipment, and/or instruments).
  • Depending upon the age of the child, have clothing laid out so dressing is a cinch. Use the collapsible sweater shelves that hang from a rod in the closet and mark them with each day of the week (or just leave unlabeled). Kids can put an outfit, socks, underwear and even shoes in each slot so there’s no hunting for items in the morning. This could be done on a Sunday quickly and quietly and then each child is set for the week!
  • Have a family calendar in a central location and review the next day’s schedule. Use this area to post upcoming events.
  • Have homework areas designated according to the age of the child, the amount of supervision she needs, and your space restrictions. Typically the younger the child, the more supervision he or she needs. The kitchen is a good place for parents to keep watch over children and help with homework. Offices work if a child’s room has too many distractions in order to focus. Teenagers typically choose their bedrooms; some may or may not need a desk. You can always change the location if grades go up or down.

Child’s Room

  • Involve your child in organizing her room. Interview your child as a professional organizer would and ask her what she likes and dislikes about her room.
  • Integrate as many of her suggestions to increase the chance the arrangement will work. Allow experimentation with the layout even if the room may appear chaotic at times.
  • Divide the room into zones for different activities so everything has a ‘home’. Use furniture as room dividers instead of ‘lining the walls’ with furniture.
  • Go vertical wherever possible: hooks, single shelves, book shelves, pockets on the backs of doors and inside closets.
  • Use bed risers used by college students to boost the bed to store items underneath (use rolling bins).
  • The less time she has to spend opening a lid, using a hanger, or opening a drawer, the more chance it will stay that way.

Start Organizing Early

  • Unclutter after birthdays and holidays. It’s an easier time to let go of things.
  • There’s only so much room; if you buy something new, get rid of something old. Teach your child charitable giving.
  • Allow your children to sell their belongings at yard sales or on EBay.
  • Set a good example and organize your own spaces.

Clutter Quote: “Cleaning your house while your kids are still growing is like shoveling your walk before it stops snowing.” Phyllis Diller

Author: Kathy LuskusClutter Family General Home Organizing

RECLAIMING SPACE AFTER CHILDREN LEAVE HOME

Even the most organized of us will get to a point after years in the same home where we find ourselves somewhat overwhelmed by the things we’ve collected. Raising children will attract items that represent memories that make us smile, and some that will send us screaming from the attic and basement. Now that you’ve saved all those art projects, sports trophies, posters and various collections of Beanie Babies, Polly Pocket paraphernalia, Matchbox cars, baseball cards, etc. over the years, it’s time to reclaim your space and do some purging. One word of caution here: Don’t purge the baseball cards. You’ll never live it down – believe me!

Funny thing about kids, even after they’ve gone to college or married and moved to another city, they still often feel like your home should serve as a storage locker for the items they no longer need and don’t want to sort through. As a result, 18 years multiplied by the number of children you’ve raised results in – well, you do the math on the clutter.

Sooner or later when you can no longer get into your attic or basement because it’s become a warehouse of memorabilia, it’s time to take control. You might want to use the space to create an office, craft room, exercise room or an organized storage room for other items that are sure to arrive at your doorstep in the coming years. At some point you’ll probably inherit your parents’ furniture and important files and begin to start saving all those photographs, art projects, and hand-made gifts from your grandchildren. Having gone through this transition, I have some things to share in the way of processing what to keep, purge and move along to someone else.

ALLOW TIME

Be sure to allow plenty of time to complete this project. After all, it took many years to amass these things, so it’s probably going to take more than an afternoon.

SERVE NOTICE

A good way to start is to alert your family that you are taking on this project and ask if there’s anything in the storage area that they would like you to pack up and send to them. They may have a short list of things they want you to hold onto for them. You’ll probably find that they can’t remember what’s in the attic and aren’t interested in most of what’s stored up there. If, however, they want to do the sorting and purging themselves, you can agree to use part of the room to be organized as a staging area where you’ll hold the items up to an agreed upon date.

GET HELP

This is not for the faint-hearted, so instead of trying to take this on yourself, ask a friend to work with you who is emotionally detached from your possessions. This is where it’s prudent to engage a professional organizer who is trained in what questions to ask so that you can make good decisions on what to keep and what to do with those things that need to be moved out.

PREPARING THE ATTACK

Before you start, gather some materials to help you work more efficiently.

  • trash bags – dark green for trash, so once something is placed in there you won’t need to see it again.
  • trash bags – white for donations, whether to friends and family members, or charities.
  • permanent black marker – for labeling the white donation bags.
  • boxes/bins – one for each of your family members for items they want to keep.
  • plenty of water and some snacks.

There’s some value in creating a place for items that you want to decide on later, but try to refrain from delaying decision and having to pick up the same item(s) multiple times.

THE PAYOFF

Completing a project like this will give you great satisfaction and probably inspire you to continue your organizing throughout your house. One additional benefit of this exercise is that it helps you to better identify what items are really of value and should be stored for posterity and what is probably not worth keeping as you move forward. That knowledge will help you to better maintain the area that just opened up for your craft room, or whatever purpose you decide for this reclaimed space.

Author: Suzanne KuhnGeneral Home Organizing Special Needs

Organizing for a Person Who Visits Doctors Frequently

When my mother died in June 2007, my father came to live with me.  He had advanced cases of prostate cancer and Parkinson’s disease, and my life soon became a whirlwind of visits to doctors, hospitals, and testing facilities.  I quickly discovered that these visits were much easier to manage when I developed a one-page summary of all Dad’s pertinent medical information that I could hand the health care providers at each facility.

Do you have medical conditions that cause you to doctor frequently?  Do you care for someone who does?  Then you, too, would benefit from a brief document listing all of your diagnoses, drugs and doctors.  Use your favorite word-processing program and include the following:

Contact Information

  • The patient’s full legal name (important for Medicare and other medical assistance programs), street address, home phone, cell phone and email address.  Dad didn’t have an email address, but I provided everything else.
  • If the patient has given anyone a Health Care Power of Attorney, give that person’s same full contact information too, along with the indication that they are Health Care POA.  In my case, this was my brother.
  • If the patient has a regular caregiver who should be contacted with updates or reports, give that person’s full contact information as well.  On Dad’s summary, this was me.

Diagnoses

  • List each condition for which the patient has a formal diagnosis from a physician.  If you can, include the diagnostic billing code, obtainable from the billing department of the doctor who made the diagnosis.  Also include the date of diagnosis if you know it.  Even noting only the year can be helpful.  Dad’s diagnoses included prostate cancer and Parkinson’s; they also included medication-related depression, Parkinson’s-related dementia, and prostate-related urinary incontinence.  The point here is to note secondary conditions, too.  They all have a bearing on the patient’s treatment.

Medications

  • List each drug the patient is taking, along with the dosage and frequency.  Example:  “Levaquin, 500 mg., 2x/daily.” Later, if a medication is removed, leave it on the list with a note “Discontinued, [date.]”  It’s all about sharing useful information.

Doctors

  • List the name, address, telephone number and specialty of each and every physician the patient sees, including their primary care physician.  Doctors often send reports to the other physicians treating their patients, and this information simplifies that process.
  • If your patient has multiple medical conditions, as my father did, it can be challenging to fit all the information on one page.  Fiddle with font sizes, margins, spacing, and the use of tabs and columns to try and get everything on one sheet.  What is true for employment seekers’ resumes is just as true for patients’ resumes:  The more concise they are, the more likely they will get read and used.

Store the document on your computer, and update after each medical visit that causes a change in the information. Create a header or footer with the notation “Updated [date.]” Print out a fresh, updated copy for each new medical visit. Keep a couple of current copies on hand for “grab and go” situations like emergency room visits and ambulance transports.

Throughout the two years I cared for my father, I was told over and over again by doctors, nurses, billing clerks, testing technicians and others how helpful this information was, and how much time it saved them as they cared for Dad.  In turn, it gave me satisfaction to know that I was doing something concrete and beneficial for my father.  This can be so important for the caregiver facing the discouragement of tending to someone with a difficult, chronic or terminal illness.

Author: Annette ReymanClutter General Home Organizing

A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words

This June my husband and I were fortunate enough to celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary.  In preparation for this milestone, I decided to organize the last 25 years worth of photos.  Some were already stored in albums.  I must admit, however, that somewhere before the halfway mark of our quarter century the momentum was lost and batches of photographs found their way into drawers, boxes and bags, randomly scattered throughout the house.

True to the saying, a single glance at a photo of an early vacation or one of the kids with a missing tooth was enough to elicit warm memories and funny stories – a thousand words.

Wait, a thousand words?  Too bad they’re not worth a thousand dollars!  It seemed like I had millions of them – and that’s excluding the digitals.

In a recent training on organizing and preserving photos I learned that in situations involving home-evacuation, pictures rank second only to living things (people and pets) for what we want rescued.  If these precious and priceless memories are counted among our dearest and most prized possessions, finding a better way to keep them might be worth the effort.

Thanks to my recent endeavor, I am happy to report that the process for organizing photos is more fun and less painful than I had imagined (mind you, I had avoided this for over a dozen years and what I had imagined was not pretty).  Since my experience was a pleasant one, I would like to share the process that took me and my memories from random chaos to easy-to -find, -use, and -share treasures.  I suggest tackling the task through four steps: Gather, Sort, Scan, and Store.

Gather:

  • a photo-labeling pencil or pen to mark dates on the back of your photos
  • photo-safe storage boxes (or shoe boxes)
  • Index cards for dividers
  • ALL of your printed photos

Sort:

Unless you have a deadline, two hours once or twice a week works well for this step.

  • Mark the date on the envelope
  • Flip through the pictures – throw away any that you don’t want, return duplicates to the envelope and write the date on the backs of the keepers
  • Put the photos and an index card dated by year into one of your storage boxes

Whatever your objective – whether you are looking to create albums for each of your children, vacation or anniversary albums – I found that organizing by year gave me the most flexibility and easiest search-ability later on.

Scan:

There are certainly ways of doing this process yourself.  You could use your home scanner if you have one, bring them in batches to scan at a local store or buy some type of bulk photo scanning machine.  But, if you are facing years of photographs like I was, I highly suggest paying to have them bulk-scanned by a reputable company.  There are several online companies that will accept your boxed photos and send them back to you along with CDs of all the scanned pictures.  I personally used a local company, SaveMyPix.com.  The prices are reasonable, they are timely and reliable and Max, the owner, picked them up and delivered them back to my doorstep.  If you consider that you may wish to keep one to two hundred per year and multiply that by the number of years you are sorting through, bulk-scanning is well worth the money.

Store:

Finally, once you have all your photos on discs, you can decide how you’d like to “store” them.  You may want to choose some to make into digitally-printed photo albums like the kinds offered by companies like Snapfish.com.  Or you might want to organize them by person or event and break them down into multiple CD’s to make as gifts or screen-savers.  You can also upload them to an online storage company to save in case something happens to your own discs.

In the end, I guarantee that the results of your effort will put a smile on your face worthy of a thousand words!

Author: Ellen FayeGeneral Productivity

Clarify Priorities for Best Results

Time Management has changed.  It is no longer about getting it all done, it’s about making smart choices about how to spend your time.  Time Management theorists have been discussing methods for identifying what to do next for years.  While in concept it would be great to have these options, all too often we spend our days putting out fires and doing what we have to do.  By setting priorities we make better choices about which tasks we spend our time on.  This results in fewer “fires,” greater satisfaction and better results.  Over the years I’ve found the following process helps my clients in clarifying priorities:

1. SET GOALS – this helps you to become clear on what is really important to you.  The process doesn’t need to take a long time.  I suggest to my clients that they create one action statement for each relevant life area such as family, business, self-care, community, leisure, etc.

2. MATCH TASKS TO GOALS – when making a decision about if you should do something or not, determine if doing the task will assist you in meeting your goals.  By thinking about the task in context to what is important to you/your goals, you will gain better insight and make better decisions.  You might also notice:

  • that a task you’ve been doing a long time no longer serves you.
  • that doing something because you think you “should” just isn’t a good enough reason anymore
  • that you are spending time on things that don’t have the highest pay-back

3. CREATE A FILTER LIST – before you say yes to a task, a position, or an opportunity run it through a list you’ve created for yourself.  There are no standard questions that should be on your list – this is your list, you get to create it and you get to evaluate it.  What is important is that you are clear in determining what is important to you.  Here are some questions you may want to include:

  • Will it help me to reach my goals?
  • Will it help me grow my business?
  • Will it help someone who is important to me?
  • Will it give me joy?
  • Will I have fun doing it?

4. BECOME OK ABOUT SAYING “NO” – not just to others, but also to yourself.  Giving up opportunities is hard, but never accomplishing anything important is harder.  If you want to be true to yourself, saying “NO” is an important part of the process.

The final step is determining just how much time, energy and effort you want to put into a task you’ve decided is important to do.  For this, we go to 80/20 rule or Pareto’s Principle – you get 80% of the results in 20% of the time.  To get 100% of the results takes 80% longer.  That means you can get it done fairly well in 1/5th of the time.  For example I could write a really good blog post in an hour, or I could write a perfect blog post in 5 hours.  I need to decide which things need to be perfect and which things are sufficient when they are really good.  You can decide that too – that’s all part of setting priorities.  I hope my 80% effort has inspired you to make smarter decisions about how you spend your time.

Author: Vali HeistClutter Garage Organizing

Organize that garage!

Garages tend to become the dumping ground during the winter. But the best thing about organizing the garage is that if we do a really good job, it usually stays that way for at least a year. In reality, families use garages as storage facilities rather than a place for the car. That stuff can include obsolete electronics, delayed decisions about where to put something, overflow from the house, and unneeded building supplies. Since the whole family probably uses the garage, bring everyone together and make it a family affair. Let’s break it down:

Start with a clean slate and unclutter

  • Pull everything out onto the driveway if you can. Sweep it out and eliminate the cobwebs.
  • As you pull items out, sort them by categories:
    • lawn and gardening, work bench, sports equipment, dry goods overflow, car accessories, tools and power equipment, paints/solvents, lawn furniture, beach items, camping, etc.
  • Talk to your children about their items and help them eliminate clutter. Consider having a garage sale to sell their unneeded toys.
  • Finish or get rid of the unfinished projects (two years old or more).
  • Find a new home for stuff that shouldn’t be stored in an uninsulated garage (e.g. photographs, items that could melt).
  • Eliminate duplicates and donate unneeded tools, doors, windows, appliances, or anything to build a house to Habitat for Humanity in your area.
  • Take hazardous waste items (e.g. oil-based paint) to local semi-annual cleanups.

Stay in the Zone

  • Divide the garage into zones according to the categories you’ve established.
  • Think “grab and go” and store things where they are convenient.
  • Hang tools where they are most accessible.
  • Keep car accessories close to the cars.
  • Store overflow from the kitchen close to the door near the house.
  • Reposition some zones as the seasons fluctuate: move bikes, beach items and lawn furniture down in spring and move the skis and sleds up high.

Type of storage/system

  • Put big items back first and the rest goes around those items.
  • Think ‘up’: store infrequently used items on high floating shelves or beams.
  • Metal on cement will rust the metal. Rest metal on wood or up on the wall.
  • Studs with no dry wall are great for peg boards. Cut different sizes according to the types of stuff you have.
  • Use open wire epoxy-coated steel shelving: wet things can dry, mesh prevents dust.
  • Consider a garage storage system. Search the Web or go to Lowe’s or Home Depot.
  • Use different colored plastic bins for different zones so it’s easier to put them away.
  • Hang long things vertically so they take up less space. If garden tools don’t have a hole to hang, drill one.
  • Remix things you may already have: Use old drawers/cabinets, shoe bag on the wall to hold small garden tools, old table for work bench, etc.

Finally, if you enter your home through the garage make sure it’s clutter-free and welcoming. Hang a welcome home sign, clean the door, and put a nice door mat in place. You deserve a nice welcome home!

And remember: “Every time you put something back where it belongs, it’s a gift to yourself.”