Five Obstacles You Must Clear to Get Organized

If youObstacles_revised really stop and think about it, the decision to get organized is a hopeful one. We hope that by decluttering our homes, sticking to a new routine, managing our time more efficiently or writing a To-Do list, we will finally, FINALLY gain control over the uncontrollable and attain peace of mind in our chaotic world. I may be a professional organizer, but as the mother of two (three if you count the big kid I’m married to), I am the first to admit that “being organized” is a matter of relativity. There’s no such thing as a “totally organized” life, and even if there were, I seriously doubt you’d want to live it.

One of the most common issues I uncover when I go to a new client’s house is that they have at least one large, unwanted, unneeded object sitting right in the middle of the most important area needing organization…their minds. The object is a negative thought that they keep tripping over. It takes up space that could be put to much better use. It obstructs easy access to other things sharing the space. It inserts itself into every task, and creates unwanted “noise”. It detracts from the peacefulness of the space and, let’s face it, it can be downright unappealing.

Obviously, the first step is to remove the object. Perhaps you have one of these crowding out your space:

  1. Need for Perfection – Kick this one to the curb. Organization is not an all-or-nothing prospect, but it does require prioritization. What bothers you most? Fix that. Once you’ve got that down, work on the next thing. “Good enough” should be your goal. Anything more pushes you into OCD territory, and that’s not a happy place.
  2. Procrastination – Stop worrying about where you should start or if you are doing it “right”…just start. There is no right way…only a right-for-you way. So what if you have to do something over later down the road? Staying organized is an evolving process anyway, even for a seasoned veteran like me (just ask my husband how many times I’ve changed where we store the drinking straws). The starting point is not a place, it’s a time, and the time is NOW!
  3. Self-Deprecation – Stop calling yourself “lazy”. You are busy. There’s a big difference. If you think you can try harder, do it. If you are already trying your best, you either need to tweak your system (that’s where someone like me can usually help) or you also need to remove #4. Either way, thinking of yourself as lazy is counter-productive.
  4. Impatience – Whether it is impatience with the process, with yourself or with others who share your home, impatience sucks up potential success before it happens. Organization involves developing new habits and routines, which requires time. Rome wasn’t built in a day and the road ahead is not always straight and easy. Set-backs are both inevitable and necessary. They become important learning experiences that will help you perfect your system. Accept that there’s a lot of trial and error in setting up an effective organizing system (which is why my poor husband can never find the drinking straws). It takes time, and not all factors are within your control. I have already resigned myself to the fact that my house will not be as organized as I want it until both of my children move out…a day I would rather languish in the far distance for as long as possible.
  5. Shame – Stop worrying about what others are thinking/going to think of your disorganization. Chances are good that they would be relieved to know they are not alone in their own struggle OR they struggle in another area you don’t. I may have an organized home, but I promise not to judge you on your messy playroom if you promise not to judge me by the nuclear wasteland I call a “backyard”.  All too often, I’ve had clients wait until they are at a breaking point before calling me, because they were embarrassed about what I would think of their home. Me…a complete stranger whose livelihood depends on the disorganization of others. Trust me when I say that I have seen it all, and I never think any less of someone just because this happens to be their personal struggle.

The first step in organizing any space is to purge that which is no longer needed/wanted/useful. The first space to organize is your mind. Clear these five obstacles, and you will have a fantastic start.




Visual Peace: Calming the Chaos in Ten Minutes or Less

clutterLet’s just face it: keeping up with everyday life is not for sissies. No matter what your station is in life…student, professional, parent, retiree…your must do/should do list always seems to outweigh your available time.

As an indentured servant working mother, my list seems to grow exponentially with each item I cross off. I’ve found that the key to keeping your sanity is organization, and the first step in getting organized is to trick yourself into a sense of control over your environment. Quieting the “visual noise” that surrounds you will help you focus on what you need to do to actually take control. Are you with me?

No matter how messy your house is or how much you have on your plate, spending just 10 minutes each day to tidy up first will help put you in the right frame of mind and allow you to turn your attention to more important things on your list. Start with the things that will make a big visual impact while requiring little time/effort:

  1. Make your bed. Do it as soon as you get up, before you are awake enough to talk yourself out of it.
  2. Pick your clothes up off the floor. Better still, never let them touch the ground. Either put them away or toss them in the hamper as soon as you take them off.
  3. Close drawers and closet doors. You’ll be amazed at how much cleaner your whole room will look…it’s like magic!
  4. Wash/put away the dishes. Load them into the dishwasher right away to keep them from piling up. If you hand wash them, dry them and put them away too. Nothing creates clutter and a sense of despair like a pile of dishes cluttering up the counter/sink.
  5. Recycle old newspapers/magazines and junk mail regularly. Establish a deadline for reading them. (If you miss the deadline, go ahead and toss it. Life as you know it will not end…I promise!) In the meantime, keep them tidy and contained in a designated spot.
  6. Set up baskets/bins for shoes, backpacks, reading material and toys. This makes it easy to just toss in the trail of surface clutter left lying around by your messy spouse/kids loving family. Assign them the task of checking the baskets daily and putting away their own stuff.
  7. Hang up your bath towel. Put away toiletries immediately after use to keep the bathroom looking respectable. Nothing is worse than sending an unexpected guest to facilities that both smell and look atrocious.
  8. Declutter the front entrance. It is the first thing you see when you come home and can make the difference between a relieved “Ahhhh, I’m home” feeling or a desire to run away from home. Create a functional yet orderly “landing pad” for keys, phones and other essentials, but keep it free from other clutter.
  9. Hang up coats/jackets and put away hats, gloves and scarves. Your home should make you feel warm, cozy and safe, not remind you that a cold world awaits just outside your door.

Creating designated homes for all of your belongings will make all of this quicker/easier, but so much of getting organized is just about establishing good habits. Start here and you will be well on your way to feeling in control.

“Instead of spending time being bothered by things that you cannot control, invest your time and energy in creating the results you desire.” – Jensen Siaw


How Balanced Is Your Budget?


I love seeing everything at once in my tiny, organized pantry!

I love seeing everything at once in my tiny, organized pantry!

I’m bracing myself for a barrage of hate mail for posting this, but my recent discovery has brought me such freedom that I simply must shout it from the rooftops!

I’d like to think I’ve proven myself as a reasonably frugal consumer. When I say “frugal”, I mean that I am budget-conscious and put some effort into finding decent bargains while also recognizing that my time is at least as limited as my finances. 

First an admission: I do not coupon (gasp). I found it to be too time consuming and confusing. On top of that, in order for couponing to work, you have to actually remember to give the cashier your coupons…oops!  I used to be a regular shopper at warehouse stores like Sam’s and Costco because of the low per-unit price you could get by buying in bulk. But then I realized that while spending $400 in one week for 3 different items may save me money in the long run, my short-term cash flow was precisely that…short. So I began shopping at a discount grocery store that stocks mostly off-brand products but where the prices (and the quality) are at least as good as the coupon and warehouse deals without the hassle or the huge outlay.

Finally, I had managed to secure a low unit cost without having to purchase a high quantity. I began to see the benefits of fitting normal-sized products into my tiny pantry (pictured above…I just love my pantry). Gone (eventually) were the 2-liter bottles of soy sauce and vats of olive oil. Crackers, pretzels and cereal were no longer going stale before they could be consumed. I was able to reclaim part of my garage for storing other items besides overflow food. And it no longer took the National Guard to help me unload all the groceries each week.

Unfortunately, I kept buying more cans and boxes than I actually consumed each week out of pure habit…”just to have some on hand”. I still had one large shelf reserved in the garage for storing all my extras. In the garage, mind you…where I hate to go. I would send the kids down to get stuff for me, so I lacked a keen sense of what was actually there. I was always buying things we didn’t need and not buying something we did need simply because I assumed we already had more of it down in the garage.

And then something happened to knock some sense into me. I fell down the stairs and dislocated my shoulder…badly. I could no longer carry as many groceries and was forced to shorten my weekly shopping list to only what I knew we would use in the next week or two. 

Eureka! Now I can fit everything into my pantry where I can easily see at a glance just what we need. Everything is fresh and actually consumed rather than wasted. Putting the groceries away is quicker and easier, and I now have even more room in my garage. I feel so FREE!

All of this has made me realize that being a “frugal” consumer means respecting not just your financial and time limitations, but your space limitations too. My father used to always say, “Space is at a premium.” It surely is a precious commodity to be used wisely. Don’t squander your spacial budget just to stretch your financial or time budgets. Find a balance of all three.

How do you balance your financial, time and spacial budgets?

Note: Your Sam’s or Costco membership may still be worthwhile for purchasing household items, office supplies, electronics, etc. at a great price or for when you are feeding a large crowd. I am not suggesting you ditch it!  Just don’t let bulk purchases of regular groceries eat up all your space.

Keeping Up While Cutting Down

Summer sleep shorts

The karate kid sporting his “new” jammies

To say that my kids are “growing like weeds” takes on a lot more meaning if you have ever seen my yard. While my closets are neatly organized and my pantry is a masterpiece of space management and convenience, it is an understatement to say that my garden could use a little tweaking. Sure, I appreciate other people’s beautiful landscapes and wish I had one too, but I don’t do bugs, snakes or itchy creepy crawly stuff. Thus mine is a tangled patch of overgrown weeds that I can’t keep up with…much like my kids. Do you see where I’m going with this?

Like most moms, it’s important to me that my progeny look presentable. Heaven knows that I have expended more energy than I probably should on arguing with them over proper teeth brushing, appropriate haircuts and fingernail length. I’m frankly surprised that Child Protective Services has not appeared on my doorstep yet, given the blood-curdling screams my son lets rip on nail-clipping day or my daughter’s gnashing of teeth at the mere prospect of having her hair braided. Apparently I could teach the CIA a thing or two about torture.

I gave up the stripes with plaid and boots with shorts war years ago due to pure battle fatigue. They are now free to express themselves (within reason) with their wardrobe choices. I’ve even recently developed a  new “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy toward tears and stains after discovering the multiple holes my 9YO son created in the crotch of his new shorts…I just don’t want to know. I simply don’t have the time, energy or budget to stay on top of it, and some days this weary mom feels lost in the weeds.

It is upon this backdrop that I looked up last Sunday evening and realized that my son’s sleep pants were about 5 inches too short. They have worn well and still fit perfectly in the waist. More importantly, he loves them! But so pathetic did he look in them, that I had to do something to save my poor child from the certain ridicule that awaited him if one of his neighborhood friends should come knocking at the door after he was ready for bed (as they sometimes do). My solution was so quick, easy and free that I had to share it. After all, it isn’t often that he and I are both this thrilled with a wardrobe solution. All it took was a pair of scissors and within five minutes, he had 6 pairs of adorable, comfortable, summer sleep shorts!

Five minute fix for outgrown jammies.

Five minute fix for outgrown jammies.

This simple yet elegant solution got me thinking about other ways that I stretch (literally) the kids’ wardrobe with minimal time and effort. (I’m not much of a seamstress either.) Here are just a few:
  • Turn a short dress into a tunic by pairing it with leggings or bike shorts.
  • Hang onto outgrown leggings until they are short enough to become capri leggings.
  • Lengthen skirts and dresses by adding a ruffle or lace hem to the bottom.
  • Convert stained t-shirts and comfy elastic waist shorts into pajamas.
  • Missing one unique button? Replace half of them (alternating) with new ones.
  • Cover up a stain or tear with a decorative patch or iron-on applique.

What shortcuts do you take to stretch your time and budget?

Waste Not, Want Not

ImageImageBy now you should know that I’m a big fan of keeping things simple and affordable. One of my favorite places to practice this is in the kitchen. Some of the best culinary inventions were born of a need for frugality, convenience, or both (Think pizza, soup, and croutons). For someone like me who is one part lazy, two parts budget-conscious and three parts control-freak, finding ways to reduce waste in the kitchen satisfies my need for easy, cheap yet homemade cooking in one fell swoop. What could be better than saving myself time, money and guilt all at the same time? (Well, besides eating all the yummy results of my efforts?) All it takes is a freezer, a little planning and a few new habits in order to get started.Whether your freezer is stocked full of ice cream and frozen pizza or you use it primarily for taking advantage bulk deals on meat and other expensive ingredients, here are a few items you can store in this under-utilized appliance to you save time and money and reduce waste:

  • Vegetable Scraps – Start saving all those cores, ends, leaves, husks and peels in a zip-loc freezer bag. (Make sure they are clean and only save scraps that are not beginning to rot.) No need to separate by vegetable…the more variety, the better. When the bag is full, dump the contents into a large stock pot, cover with water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer for 30-45 minutes, then strain for a tasty homemade vegetable broth for use in soups and stews. (Tip: Skip the salt; you can add it to your recipe later and eliminating it from the broth gives you more options in how to use it.)
  • Bread ends and stale (not moldy) leftover bread and rolls – Process into crumbs using a food processor to make homemade bread crumbs or cut into cubes, spritz with oil or butter, season and bake until crunchy for homemade croutons.
  • Crushed chips, crackers, or pretzels – Don’t throw out those last few crumbs with the bag…freeze them for later. These make a great crunchy topping for casseroles, soups and salads.
  • Leftover coffee – Bottom of the pot gone cold? Pour it into ice cube trays and use it to chill your iced coffee without watering it down. (You can also keep a pitcher of the leftover coffee in the refrigerator for use in iced coffee drinks.)
  • Bones – Any kind of bones can be boiled with some of your vegetable scraps for a tasty broth.
  • Butter wrappers – These are convenient and less messy than cooking spray for greasing baking pans.
  • Juice from cans of fruit or tomatoes – Pour these into small containers or ice cube trays and use to cool drinks without watering them down, in smoothies, and to thin or add flavor to soups or stews. Toss fresh fruit in leftover pineapple juice to keep it from browning.
  • Herbs – I hate having to spend $2 on a huge bunch of parsley or cilantro when I only need 50 cents worth. Instead of letting it rot and wilt in your fridge, chop it up and freeze it in ice cubes for later use or add it to your vegetable scrap bag to flavor your next batch of broth.
  • Ripe bananas – Peel them, mash them and freeze them for later use in delicious banana bread and muffins.
  • Sweet Potatoes – Did you buy the 5 lb. bag when you only needed 2? Wash them, prick with a fork and nuke in the microwave on high for about 5 minutes or until soft. Scoop out the center and mash and freeze for use in lots of yummy recipes.
  • Leftovers – Even if you have just one serving left over from dinner, freeze it for a tasty brown bag lunch at the office one day in the future when you don’t have anything else prepared. This takes the pressure off yourself to eat it before it goes bad. You can also make extra and freeze individual portions for this purpose. Leftover pasta, rice, barley, etc. thaw nicely and work well in soups, salads and casseroles.

The sky is the limit on other things you can freeze, from lemon zest to extra frosting or cookie dough. Be realistic when you are shopping and only buy what you need, but when you find yourself with obviously more than your family can easily consume, freeze it before it goes bad. Not only will you reduce waste, but these little gems just may come to your rescue the next time you find yourself in a pinch.

Share the wealth! Comment below and let us know what you save and how you use it.

Battening Down the Hatches for “Frankenstorm” Sandy

Why is there always a rush on toilet paper whenever a storm is expected? It’s a massive disturbance in the weather system, people, not in your…er..system!

But with the obligatory battery and water run out of the way, I’m focusing my efforts today on some other, less obvious, preparations for a potential power outage as a result of Hurricane Sandy. On my To Do list for today:

  1. Doing laundry (at least we’ll have clean underwear)
  2. Securing deck furniture, trash/recycle bins and removing the campaign sign from my front lawn (I’m guessing that people will be less likely to vote for a candidate whose sign impaled their car windshield during a hurricane)
  3. Refilling prescriptions (the storm inside could be worse than the one outside if the meds run out)
  4. Making extra ice (for preserving perishables or for fixing myself a stiff drink, whichever need is greater at the time)
  5. Locating my flashlights and batteries, candles and matches, sterno, manual can opener and paper plates (simply add graham crackers, chocolate and marshmallows and we’re all set for a Girl Scout singalong)
  6. Tidying the house (a floor strewn with marbles, jacks and GI Joes can make one heck of a booby trap in the dark, as proven in Home Alone)
  7. Cooking (transforming raw ground beef into chili that can be easily re-heated over sterno or in a pot on the grill is much easier now than chopping the onions for it will be in the dark…OUCH!)
  8. Noting down phone numbers to call for news and information on school closures and to report downed power lines (since the Yellow Pages never makes it through my front door now that we have this Internet thing)
  9. Baking (I think the press totally misinterpreted “Brownie, you’re doing a heckuva job!”)
  10. Charging my cell phones (because it takes more than a power outage to shut me up)

To all my readers in the path of the “Frankenstorm”, please be prepared, stay safe and don’t take any unnecessary chances. For the rest of you, pray for us. We’re gonna need it!