Organized Treasure: Blog
Katie McAllister, Professional Organizer
“In the childhood memories of every good cook, there's a large kitchen, a warm stove, a simmering pot and a mom. "
One of my very earliest memories involves the story of me, my dog Bridie, and the pudding. Now, this is one of those family stories that has been told and retold, so that you have to wonder whether I actually remember the event, or just being told it at an early age. But, I have this mental picture of a dawn kitchen, lights still out except the bulb in the fridge, in front of which I sat around the age of 3, on the floor with a large bowl of pudding my mom had prepared the night before. My dog is on the floor right next to me, keeping me company. Now, it turns out, in my parents retelling, the pudding was being eaten with one bite for me, and one bite for my partner in crime (eww!), they didn't even yell at me ("I mean, you were such a good kid in general, what was the big deal?"), and the story repeats itself at some point down the road with me, Bridie, and a bag full of Oreos!
But, really, our kitchens are the places of family meals, late night snacks, early morning cups of coffee. The work of meal planning can be the bane of our existence, but the feeling of serving a hot, healthy meal of comfort food on a cool evening as everyone gathers around hungry, enjoying the delicious smells, is one to cherish.
Kitchens have so much happening in them, it can be hard to keep up. But, in most kitchens, overflowing drawers and cabinets are doing us NO favors. Counters cluttered with kitchen appliances make meal prep and clean up even harder, and outside items are just in the way. So, here are categories you can organize in your kitchen today!
1. "Junk" Drawers:
I just reduced from THREE kitchen junk drawers down to two and it feels great! (See, organizers don't judge!!) The old junk drawer became the home for my caddy of herbal teas - it looks great in the drawer, just below our electric tea pot, and it is wonderful to have it off the counter!! All of my junk drawers have desk organizers and each contain their own general category, but they are still "catch-alls" for items that probably don't warrant the "high rent" space of my kitchen's top drawers. Junk drawer #2, I'm gunning for you next! How about you, do you have a drawer that should be in YOUR crosshairs?
2. Things that just don't belong in the kitchen:
Junk mail, laundry baskets, soccer balls, craft projects - sometimes our kitchen counters are the easy drop off point for all sorts of crazy stuff. Take a few weeks to get consistent with your family (AND YOURSELF!) and reinforce a new rule that outside items can't land in the kitchen!!
3. Rarely used kitchen items that aren't earning their high rent:
When you are cooking and cleaning, the important items need to be easy to grab - you don't have time to dig through overflowing drawers and cabinets.
The first question to ask is whether you really NEED these items if you haven't pulled them out in 1 year, 2 years, 5 years. If your friend borrowed this and lost it, would you be running to Amazon to replace this at full price? Or could you live without it?? If you would just live without it, is it really worth having to move it out of the way every time you need your favorite pot? Let these items GO - and if they are in good shape, let them find a new home where they will be used and enjoyed!!
But, there's a second category that we often find not earning high rent - the once or twice a year items. Maybe in the summer you make homemade popsicles with your kids, or ice cream, or fruit pies. Maybe each Christmas it is worth having 5 cookie sheets and cooling racks for a marathon session. Maybe you have a "birthday season" like we do here, and during those weeks cake decorating tips, cupcake carriers, and cake stands get used regularly. But maybe these seasonal items sit unused the other 45 weeks of the year. Don't give them prime cabinet space!! Put them in the basement, garage, the tippy top shelf of a closet that requires a chair to access. It's okay that they are hard to get to next season - enjoy having them out of the way while they aren't earning their keep!!
4. Items that seem to "reproduce":
Here are the top 3 in my kitchen: linen items, knives, and spoons/spatulas. These are the items in our home that need replaced most often I think... but when the new ones come in, the old ones get justified because, "You can always use an extra [knife, dishrag, wooden spoon].
For me, linen items includes washcloths, cute kitchen towels, potholders and aprons. I love these items fresh and new, but they each have their space and they can't exceed their limits. So, I'm getting pretty good at following the one in, one out rule and rotating my dish towels seasonally.
Knives - another organizer confession - I have TWO woodblocks on my counter right now. One was a wedding gift, but likely no longer contains ANY of the original knives (which I loved!) just a nice mix of individual replacements. The second was an attempt at a full replacement. I tried Chicago Cutlery and I HATE this set. Others in my family use it, but the first is still my go to when I am grabbing something for chopping. Putting on my organizer hat, there are easy solutions - I'm going to implement one in the next month and only keep the ones that "bring me joy"!
Spoons/spatulas/scrapers - this category's problem is a mix of both - either we keep because "you can't have too many" OR because we just still like the old one better... even if the old spatula has a little tear in the silicone. But, again, get clear on the space allotted, and stay well within it!
What are your chronic reproducers? What limits can you set?
5. Food items:
I recommend a good system for those edible items that need to circulate. Maybe you like to give a mouse a cookie, so you go to the grocery store to shop for cookies. At the grocery store, you find a great sale, so you buy a WHOLE BUNCH of cookies. You bring the cookies home and try to put them away in your pantry. But your pantry is already full, because the grocery store had a great sale last month, too, and you also stocked up then. Because you really like giving cookies to mice. Your child is helping to put away groceries, so he stuffs them all into the front of the cabinet... Confusion, disorder, and food waste ensue! Don't be tempted to use your pantry as a grocery store - just buy what you need! For now, get things in order by date, and get rid of the expired items. Consider donating perishables you have too many of to a food bank - don't just let them sit in your cupboard going out of date!! And commit to not buying more until you open the next-to-last package of each item and it is actually on your grocery list!
Help your kitchen work for you! Streamline it - don't stuff it to the gills! Give yourself room to maneuver and enjoy your kitchen again!
I'm excited to have a small article published in York County Medicine on the topic of reducing stress by getting organized!
When our spaces and lives are disorganized, we are constantly behind and overwhelmed. It can seem so hard to regain control - but by building systems brick by brick, we can start to find the peace that comes from having good routines and having tidy spaces where we know where things are.
Some seasons of our lives can throw even the "naturally organized" for a major loop. These events make it really hard to keep up with things, much less get ahead of them. The illness of a loved one, a new baby, a change in marital status, a move... It is always okay to reach out for extra help, but if you find yourself in a season that has you stretched thin on time and emotional bandwidth, I really encourage you to be gentle with yourself, and consider bringing in some extra back up!
We all have an innate desire to complete tasks, some personalities more than others! Harness the drive of that internal task master and put it to work for you! Here are some ideas:
1. The To-Do List: In one sense, the power of checking items off a to-do list goes without saying, but the benefits are so many. There is so much value in the exercise of considering your goals, breaking them into smaller chunks, and choosing your priorities for the day, week or month. Keep a long term/reminder to-do list, and one for individual projects, but keep the daily list manageable, and always highlight the top 3 items - if you've gotten THOSE done, it was a successful day.
Remember that sometimes, top items need to include caring for the physical or emotional health of yourself or someone close to you - health is a LOFTY priority and should never be dismissed as unimportant just because it is a little less tangible!
Consider your favorite way to mark items completed - a nice bold strikethrough, the classic checkmark, a smiley face, dragging and dropping a digital item to DONE? And relish the action! Have fun with your to-do list!! I've started calling mine my HOT List - it makes me smile and feel more empowered!
2. Don't Finish what you started: Sounds counterintuitive, but hear me out! I came across this idea in the book PRE-SUASION by Robert Cialdini (he is quizzing a colleague for tips on how she commits to writing so consistently) and it really got me thinking:
Then, offhandedly, she mentioned a strategy of her own that I have used profitably ever since. She never lets herself finish a writing session at the end of a paragraph or even a thought. She assured me she knows precisely what she wants to say at the end of that last paragraph or thought; she just doesn’t allow herself to say it until the next time. Brilliant! By keeping the final feature of every writing session near-finished, she uses the motivating force of the drive for closure to get her back to her chair quickly, impatient to write again.
his is so great! It overcomes your brain's reluctance to get started with the next session, because you AREN'T getting started - you are wrapping something up, and are anxious to get that done! I have a lot of projects to apply this to - research (Ancestry jumps out at me), photo books, writing - I would say most creative pursuits have that point where you can walk away and leave yourself ready to jump right back in. Here's a quote from Moveable Feast that shows Ernest Hemingway used almost this exact strategy: “I had learned already never to empty the well of my writing; but always to stop when there was still something there in the deep part of the well, and let it refill at night from the springs that fed it.” So, you'll be in good company!
3. Start the next thing: As I was marveling through how true the idea above was, I began to realize that for less creative items, the strategy had a complementary flip side - start the next item NOW rather than in the next session. In working toward a reading goal, I am finding (especially with non-fiction) that if I start the next chapter in this session, I am inclined to pick the book back up sooner with the next chapter started - the finish is closer, I know the theme of this chapter and am eager to come back to it.
What about an email you need to write or a card you want to send - can you open the new email, enter the sender's name, a subject and a first sentence? Can you choose the card, find its envelope and write Dear ____? These are easy steps, won't take any time, and your brain will not be overwhelmed by them. But, when you come back to your computer or desk it will be a little easier to write the body of the correspondence, rather than starting from scratch. It really helps to overcome that very human mental hurdle to getting started!!
What else could you apply this to? Almost any kind of data entry or long impossible list - get through the F's, March, the first page. Just Finish the Thousand!
5. Just 10 minutes: You can do anything for 10 minutes (or 5, or 30). Let go of that mental requirement to get a PROJECT done, and just set a timer and be DONE then - 10 minutes of cleaning my kitchen sounds a lot more doable some days than getting my kitchen CLEAN. But I make a lot of progress in 10 minutes, and some days I just keep going, because, hey, I'm almost there! Either way, it is a LOT better 10 minutes later than if I hadn't tackled it at all!
6. So much finishing: Back to Hot Lists, some days and weeks having three main tasks works for me, at other times, I need MICRO lists - I break down tasks into TINY baby steps. Cleaning my bedroom could easily be 6 items on my list - make bed, file papers on desk, clear nightstand, new box of tissues, straighten the dresser drawer that's been driving me crazy, wrap the present that has been sitting in the corner for a week.
Sometimes my mindset is such that itemizing to that level and creating mini-wins that are easy to complete makes it easier to get started, keeps me focused, and encourages me with small successes - embrace the micro list if that is the kind of day you are having, or stick to the general categories and commit to your "three big rocks".
So, combat the part of your brain that throws up roadblocks to getting started, and embrace the side that likes to complete a job. Find ways to overcome those mental hurdles and finish some items on YOUR hot list today!
I actually love goal-setting: saying it out loud, writing it down, quantifying it - this is the first step! But it needs to be followed by the second step - making a plan - I always think of that as "baby steps" - how do I break this into bite-sized chunks I can actually wrap my head around?? (This goes for short term as well as long term goals!)
Two Personal Examples:
Goal 1: Read 50 books this year. That's an average of a book a week or just over 4 books a month. 4 books a month works better for me, because I like to keep a variety of books open for different moods - organizing books for when I am up and cleaning and learning, fiction and classics when my mind needs to wander, business books, etc. Even if I read on car rides, while cleaning, and before bed, I'm actually likely to reach the goal - so that's the plan! Have something in the queue for car rides, turn on an audiobook for 30 minutes of cleaning time, and read 20 minutes before bed. If you haven't checked out Scribd - I HIGHLY recommend it for audiobooks (works like Netflix for books!) https://www.scribd.com/g/6o2xxl
Goal 2: Get the CPO designation from NAPO - this requires 1500 paid hours in 3 years. Yikes! That's 500 hours a year which is 10 hours a week, but I plan to exceed that during the summer weeks. It is still a stretch for me, but I am making plans to average 6-8 hours and the goal is seeming reachable! I'll be tracking carefully and watching my progress!
Do you have any goals you are working towards?
Who's ready for a little organizing inspiration as we roll in to the New Year? Marie Kondo's 8 episode series on Netflix delivers lots to think about, motivational stories, and a whole bunch of cuteness (as my friend Brenda would say : "I just want to put her in my pocket!")!
If you've read my previous blog post on the Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up, you know I think some of her methods might not be ideal for everyone - working by category, for example. This show really does demonstrate the pros and cons of the all at once method: CON: they pile all the clothes on the bed, do a lesson on the feeling of sparked joy - CHING! - , a lesson on thanking your items for your service if they no longer spark joy, and a lesson on folding clothes, then she leaves them with the rest as homework and comes back in a week. I wonder where a few of them (without guest bedrooms) are sleeping in the meantime! But, PRO: you definitely see the impact of seeing ALL the clothes in one huge mountain!
Here are more things I appreciated about this show:
1. The Timeline
These were not "knock it out in a weekend" fixes - most of the makeovers are averaging 30 days, and the homeowners appear to be really revolving all their spare time around this effort! True decluttering takes time and I think they did a good job of demonstrating that while still creating some pretty great before and afters!
2. A Variety of Life Transitions
From your first real place, the birth of a baby, the chaos of the toddler years, to moving on from the loss of a spouse, the episodes touched on many seasons of life and the changes that come with them - and the homeowners did a great job of knowing themselves and their motivations! (That can be so hard!!) They identified what they were moving INTO, and had great visions of what they were making ROOM FOR - it is so essential not to focus on what you are "losing" and reasons you might want to hold on to each item.
3. The messes
I kind of loved that these were generally clean and tidy houses - adorably, sometimes Marie looked SO disappointed entering their front rooms! (And then so excited when she opened a difficult drawer or closet - "I love a mess" - I think if I was the homeowner I might feel differently, but as a viewer - SO CUTE, and as an organizer - I can actually relate - "Let's dig in!!" would be my tagline!) With Hoarders as the starting mark, we all feel pretty good about our spaces (and I would NEVER want anyone feeling bad about their space!) but none of us want to wait for that level (an actual psychological illness) before reassessing, or calling in help and reinforcements! Even the "tidy" among us still live in the land of excess and it will always want to creep in, even when it is successfully hidden in closets and drawers for a time - it still affects us!
4. Is this something you'd like to keep as part of your life going forward?
In the Make Room For Baby Episode, I think we have my favorite breakthrough moment: Mario is cleaning the garage and is holding the mailbox that came with the home when they bought it. Marie asks her favorite question: Holding it in your hand right now, does it spark joy for you? She really doesn't get anywhere (we all agree that not every practical item in our home is covered by the emotion of "joy", right?). Mario gives a great description of the emotion behind the box - acknowledging it is not "joy", but it is clearly invoking a deep sense of pride in the history that brought his immigrant family to this point! Then Marie follows up by asking "Is this something you'd like to keep as part of your life going forward?" and the lightbulb clicks!!
We all have those "museum" items - that tell the stories of our personal pasts - our lives, loves, and accomplishments. But we don't have to travel into the future with each of those items that brought us to where we are - we can feel the gratitude for those experiences and let the object go (and we can ALWAYS take a picture first, if we think we need a visible trigger to bring us back to that memory!)
5. Gratitude and Vision
I am not a real "Thank your stuff" or "I'm going to introduce myself to your house" kind of personality, but I really want to find my own twist on the introducing myself to your house moment. For me "thanking your stuff for its service" is really about gratitude for your life experiences, and the "over"-abundance of blessings that has allowed us to own clothes we have never worn, or 50 pairs of sneakers, or a personal library of books. I think it is so great to get in touch with those emotions through the process of decluttering!
I see a huge value also in the minute she takes after the tour for quiet reflection ("introducing" herself to the house) - I think in that moment most people are picturing the space that is their HOME and what that space is to them - again, that sense of gratitude for the shelter, and the place of peace, rest, love and memories. They are not focused on the fact that their bathroom is too small and not an actual spa, or that their master closet is not as large as my children's rooms, like in the magazines. And that is the proper viewpoint to get started! They look ahead to the work before them and know it is worth it to achieve those priorities within their home and let go of the clutter that is overwhelming them. I think 5 big breaths to appreciate the blessing of the home, what it means to you, and to picture the peaceful, welcoming space you desire would be a great thing to do with clients between the tour of the problem areas and rolling up our sleeves to find the solutions! I just don't know if I can pull it off!!
I do hope you enjoy this series and let it inspire you to dig in! You don't have to follow the Konmari method to a T - make your organizing experience your own - but the best way to get something DONE, is to BEGIN!!
Best wishes on your organizing journey!
June, 2015: The extended family has gathered at the Outer Banks for a great family vacation. The usual ingredients: sun, sand, and a great beach read are all involved, including that "controversial" tome, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo. Discussion ensues. Opinions become heated, shouts are heard, children scatter.
Don't worry, it ends okay, and it is super funny now, but that vacation will always be, in my mind, the one with the fight about Organizing.
Looking back, kind of an Aha moment for me - I feel passionately about... organizing! I also feel passionately that there is no one size fits all answer to the process. This is how I ended up both the one who started it (I questioned the requirement that you find EVERY. BOOK. IN. YOUR. HOUSE. In a pile. All at once.) AND the first one to turn tail and run when the whole discussion went south (I mean, if you can get through it in one go and that works for you, you do you, Marie Kondo!!).
So, what works for you? As an organizer it is my job to figure out what clients want, need, and what works for them!
*One space at a time or one type of item at a time?
*Is considering the "feelings" of your belongings helpful? Or how an item or space makes you feel? (Those items that trigger feelings of GUILT are the most toxic, and letting them go is a HUGE WIN!!) Maybe you are somewhere in the middle and use phrases like "That dishtowel looks tired." Work with that!!
*Does it bring you joy? This is my favorite question, because it drills past all the excuses and is often a pretty simple yes or no, but there are so many other questions out there and if nostalgia or fear of the possibility of future need are recurring hold ups, digging deeper into those concerns and getting to the root of those emotions is more important than flying past them to decide on each item!
*Folding vs. Hanging, Rainbow order, upward slope, etc. I DO believe a tidy drawer can make you SMILE and an organized closet helps you make decisions, saving time and stress! And maybe her shirts are "happier" folded... but maybe yours are "cooler" and like to "hang" out! HA! And if sorting color or length of clothes is the difference between laundry finding its home or staying in the basket, guess where I recommend sticking the rainbow? Find what works for you!!
*Only tidy once or you'll be tidying forever? (This does not mean you never "clean" again!!) I think decluttering (tidying) breeds decluttering, so I think there is definitely momentum to keep up the system. But I think most of us let go in stages (especially with emotional clutter) and are inspired with each purge to tidy more and to change our lifestyle to prevent our spaces from sliding back that direction! I believe in baby steps, and if that is what you can do today, and tomorrow you find out you hadn't actually finished tidying... tidy some more!!
And if you ever find an organizing guru causing strife on your family vacation, I recommend you all become professional organizers!!
The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up is an easy read and is sure to provide "tidying" inspiration! Available on Amazon
or as an Audiobook on Scribd.com. I love the all you can read monthly membership on Scribd! Click here for 2 months free!
Katie McAllister, Professional Organizer is an Amazon Associate and earns from qualifying purchases at no additional cost to you.
I saw this description of a professional organizer, laughed, and thought, "this IS me!"
I totally embrace that nerdy side of me that loves to implement the rules and systems that make REAL life work!! Not the airbrushed, staged, romantic photos with no televisions, bookcases full of décor but no books, and multiple vases of fresh cut flowers. (There's nothing wrong with any of these, of COURSE, but it is not the way most of us realistically live day to day).
I'm also a firm believer that when we simplify and streamline, we allow space in our lives to bring out those beautiful items we treasure (you know, without the beautiful vases sitting with DEAD flowers for the month following their glorious introduction!).
I am big picture and thorough, enjoy stability, order, and routine, and love to improve systems.
BUT, I totally understand that perfectionist side so many of us have that makes it hard to GET STARTED (for me it is the geeky side saying "do ALL the research", "make the 20 year plan before you take the first step", "if I can't complete the entire project today it is not worth starting")! No!! Overcoming that debilitating mindset is often still a daily choice for me - setting a clock for 15 minutes, breaking down a project into doable chunks, being okay with BABY STEPS!! There is so much productivity in the "Just Do It" mantra, and sometimes even more in "Just 10 minutes"!!
Find those personality traits and identify their strengths and weaknesses - and work through hurdles that slow you down or leave you frozen! You've got this!
Love, The Nerdy (Big) Sister
Embracing my love for organizing and the joy of encouraging others as we journey through the ups and downs together!
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