Organized Treasure: Blog
Katie McAllister, Professional Organizer
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!
It's Memorial Day weekend and time to kick off summer!!
We spend more time out and about over the summer - picnics, hikes, park days, baseball games, fireworks - so you might find yourself living out of your car more than usual. Here are some items worth packing (and repacking!) so that you are ready for whatever adventures summer sends your way!
1. Sunglasses, Sunscreen, baseball caps - I always have back up shades in the car, though our family can usually get by without the others!
2. Sheet/picnic blanket - This comes in handy any time you need to sprawl on the grass - parks, concerts, beaches, etc. It is also useful to protect your car's seats and floors after a muddy, sandy, or wet adventure!
3. Camp Chairs - Because I'd rather not be on the ground these days! And you fit in better with the "cool" soccer moms!
Sharpie - I'm going to mention this must-have here as a public service announcement for the team mom in charge of Lost and Found: Label your kids' stuff! With this in your car, your kids can put their name back on their balls, their disc golf frisbees, their water bottles, your camp chair!
4. Water and Snacks - I keep an entire case of water in the trunk so that we are always ready, though we try to pack fresh each day! Chocolate-free trail mixes, beef jerky, and chips are good to "keep around" and fresh fruit is perfect for packing fresh, or grabbing from a roadside stand!
5. First Aid Items - For us this involves both conventional items and essential oils, but we want to be ready to treat: bee stings, cuts, headaches, bruises, allergies, and with a Type 1 Diabetic: Low Blood Sugars.
6. Grocery bags, napkins, paper towels - this was an add-on from my Aunt Kathleen - if you have ever taken a road trip with an incident involving bodily fluids, you know this is a lifesaver! But, it comes in handy in the summer for damp items, bagging up an amazing discovery, wiping up the juice of delicious fruit dripping down your arm, etc.!
7. Backup Clothing - this changes over the years, but:
*Swimsuits, water shoes, towels - they aren't going to resist the creek, water park, swimming hole, sprinkler, so be ready and let them have at it!
*Bowling Shoes - we LOVE the KidsBowlFree program, so bowling shoes are at the ready for frequent rounds of bowling!
* Socks - You need them bowling, at a play place when you stop for lunch, when your other socks are [muddy, dirty, wet] from [puddle hopping, hiking, morning dew]
*The full-out outfit change - we started with toddlers, babies, and mamas caught in the crossfire. I don't know the last time we utilized a clean outfit (I think it was for a younger friend and we rolled up sleeves and pant legs!) but I still have them stashed, because you might as well be ready!
What do you keep in the car for summer?? Must haves? First Aid? What did I miss? Comment Below!
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!
One of the places I consider myself to be "well-organized" is in my filing - I have always had a great system and kept good track of my paperwork. HOWEVER, I began to realize it had become an overly onerous task - as society becomes more and more "paperless", my system needed to catch up and get with the times. Although Generation X, I still receive most of my bills on paper when available - especially bills that vary month to month, that I want to read over and confirm everything is above board - credit card bills, bank statements, even my electric and gas bills where I compare month to month and usage compared to last year.
So, two problems: My "to file" box would pile up, and then, because the stack was looking fat, would pile up some more, until I would spend an hours-long marathon catching up and filing months of papers. Secondly, the files themselves get FAT, and needed culled - another marathon job - amid so many decisions (how many years of each item would I keep? What could be disposed from each file?). Although I LOVE creating order from chaos, this recurring, time-consuming task was no longer something I wanted to invest hours in!
Then I found Freedom Filer. Freedom Filer markets itself as "self-purging", and once I truly embraced the system, I will say, no more marathon purging sessions! Their website www.Freedomfiler.com is a great resource for the "how to" of your system - and you absolutely could build your own with the information they provide! But their color-coded, ready made tabs look great and were worth it to me!
Here are the basics: Green tabs are for rotating, monthly files - There is a tab for each month "Even Year" and "Odd Year". It is November 2018, so I have a big paperclip on that file right now, to make it even easier to locate, because every paper that needs temporarily retained drops straight in there this month - credit card bills, doctor visit paperwork, "silly" warranty info (to the under $70 items that, honestly, are not worth calling in the warranty terms unless they fail in the first few months), large receipts, maybe cards or other items that are not quite ready for the trash. These will be retained until November 2020 when that file goes "live" again. Then, I will discard it all (I peek through and get a little memory, personally - oh my, how hard November 2016 was with Jeremy's surgery and all that my dad was going through!). In December, I will discard 2016 and start filling with this year.
Blue tabs are for taxes (I think Freedom Filer breaks this down a little too far) - we are up to 3 tax files now: Current Year Taxes, Business Income and Expense Receipts, and Medical (This comes and goes, as some years we have HSA/FSAs that in theory we have to have records for... if it would ever be questioned). If you just have one Current Year Tax File, I think that is good enough for most families!! And most years, it will sit empty until January save for an itemized Charitable Contribution here and there! It also files by "Year ending" 0-9, so you are keeping one decade of tax forms. I opted that when it is time to discard the 10 year old, I discard all of the supporting paperwork and just keep the actual IRS forms for reference - this is just about 5 sheets of paper most years, in a "Second Decade" file. Anything older than TWENTY years, I am definitely free to discard each year!
Red is for permanent - Freedom Filer made me much more picky about what is "permanent" - IMPORTANT medical records, school and employment records, the most personal cards, "real" warranties (with receipts), etc.
Orange is for "current contracts" and these papers get swapped out when the new one comes in - so, your insurance documents for the current year (discard prior year), apartment rental agreement, your SS Statement, even your will might fit into this category - only keep the current version!
Purple is for resource references - use sparingly! Maybe that vacation file or another file of accumulated research. Your family's ancestry documents or DNA tests. Most resource items anymore beg the question, "could you just look this up on the internet if you needed this information later?" But we all have those items we want at our fingertips, physically written right there in front of us when we need it!
Freedom Filer recommends HANGING FILES - I can't tell you how HUGELY transformative this part was for me. I was using the manila file folders. You adjust the metal bracket to the size of your files, but at first there is sliding room, and the files are leaning a little. As they fill up, you can't really stuff another page in without removing files or risking papercuts! So, you move the bracket, and they are slipping and sliding again. Hanging files hang straight and tall all the time! They slide easily, always staying upright - you open them, slip in pages and slide the door closed. If you already use hanging files you either understand my joy or are just thinking everyone knows it is the superior product. If you don't use them, they are WELL worth your investment. They can all be the cheapest green office color. They do not need to be color coded, but spend $10 on a drawer worth and decide if I'm wrong!! Seriously!
The combo of hanging file folders and rotating months means I do not have a to file box - items that I might need in the next 2 years get EASILY tossed in the current month's file - no fuss, no muss, no sorting type of bill or date, no removing an entire file so that I can force one page into a tight drawer. And it has eliminated the worst step: the purge step - bills and temporary items get discarded every 2 years. Taxes are automatically downsized or discarded each year.
Honestly, these are two items I recommend to every paperwork client who is struggling to keep up with filing or becoming overwhelmed! I think there are few who would struggle with the system. If you need help catching up on paperwork, or implementing a new system, reach out! It is a small time investment that will remove a huge weight from your shoulders!
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!
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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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