A few years ago, I was desperate to get organized.
I read every article that promised to bring order to my life: “35 Timesaving Clutter Busters,” “100 Ways to Get Organized,” “How to Create a Saner, Simpler Life” – I read them all. I filled out calendars and planners, set up schedules and filing systems – several, as a matter of fact. But in a week or two, the house and the office looked like they had before and I felt lost in the mess.
Plenty of us are juggling many responsibilities, as parents, spouses, professionals, volunteers, HOME makers, cooks, family social organizers, children of aging parents – you name it! The merry-go-round was spinning too fast and the stress of it all sometimes turned me into a mean mama! With so much to keep track of, how could anyone feel relaxed enough to play spontaneously with our children or enjoy time with our spouses, without bringing up our to-do lists? Determined to do something about it, I sought help from a new breed of professionals – professional organizers. This article includes a few of the valuable lessons I learned from them.
Begin with a plan
A pair of professionals from All in Order, a Brookfield, Wisconsin-based company, spent a morning with me to help me develop a plan for the HOME front. (Professional organizers offer a variety of services for HOME and office clutter control, time and records management, and more.) They not only coach you through it; they will dig in and help you sort, file and toss, if that’s what you want them to do. My
HOME organization plan had three steps: developing a HOME information center, de-cluttering closets and creating a workable family schedule.
Create a HOME information center
Six steps to putting the information you need at your fingertips.
- Clear the space: Choose a cabinet in a central location, accessible to all adults and teens in the family. The kitchen is often the HOME’s central hub and a good location for your information center. I found it helpful to put important phone numbers on paper (doctors, tutors, carpool drivers, piano teacher, school office, etc.) and tape it to the inside of the cabinet door.
- Organize the bill-paying process:
You may decide to pay bills and access your bank account online, setting up automatic payments. No matter how you do it, decide who will be responsible for keeping track and the best way for both spouses to have access to information. This is an important and personal decision – just make sure you have that conversation.
If you prefer to use a paper process, put everything you need in one container: a ledger, calculator, envelopes, and postage stamps, etc., and keep records current.
- Create a filing system for important family documents: Systems developed by accountants, financial planners and tax advisors are available for purchase. Alphabetized hanging files for important documents have such tabs as “automobiles,” “employment,” “health,” “investments,” “HOME maintenance,” “personal records” (such as birth certificates, marriage license, etc.], “school records,” “taxes,” “warranties,” etc. In the front of the file have a master log that records everything in the file. You may place originals in a safety deposit box and keep copies in the file. Start using the filing system right away with new documents as they come in. Then you can go back and collect missing documents.
- Create personal binders for each family member: This binder will be a location for papers related to daily life and activities. Sections will be divided by categories (school, football team, volunteer organization, etc.), that will hold team practice and competition schedules, school calendars, schedules from volunteer organizations, and so on. These binders should be updated regularly.
- Create a tickler file: Create a hanging file with two colors of tabs indicating months and dates. This file is for time-sensitive items like theater or concert tickets. Have a habit of checking it regularly. I like to look at it monthly to make sure everything is on my calendar. I also like to check weekly and daily to make sure there is nothing I missed.
- Stock supplies: Keep office and HOME supplies handy in your center, such as batteries, flashlights, pencils, pens, pencil sharpeners, highlighters, etc.
De-clutter – now and forever!
Professional organizers taught me two key rules for dealing with clutter:
- If you don’t use it, lose it. Give it away to someone who can benefit from it.
- Put it where you use it.
So step by step (be gentle on yourself, it took years to collect all that stuff!), go through cabinets, closets and drawers, and take out anything you don’t use. Organize what is left, putting them in easy-to-see, easy-to-reach locations.
The All in Order team purchased clear containers for the spices, flour, sugar and such items in my pantry. When I opened the pantry doors, I could see what I had. The same approach was taken in the bedroom closet, bathroom cabinets and garage shelves. Purge, place and label.
Once your cabinets, closets, drawers and shelves are organized, establish a maintenance schedule to keep them that way. Make de-cluttering a routine.
I decided to devote an hour a day to the process: Monday – foyer and coat closets; Tuesday – kitchen cabinets and pantry; Wednesday – master bedroom closets; Thursday – children’s closets; Friday – bathroom cabinets; Saturday – garage; and Sunday – just relax and enjoy the order!
Create the life you want!
Time is life, life is time. How do I want to spend my time, and my life? That is what time management is all about.
So a first step is to consider one’s priorities. In my perfect life, I have time to care for my family and be engaged in their lives, time to relax and enjoy good friends, and time to be productive — to contribute in my profession and in my community. I’d also love to soak in a bubble bath, have a massage or a manicure/pedicure.
But where does all the time go? My professional organizers had me map out a week of my life, noting where I was spending my time. Then they put activities into categories and color coded them: pink – family time; green – professional work; yellow – HOME chores; purple – volunteer work; and blue – self-care. Life should be balanced – if one area of life is not getting its due, the whole balance is off kilter.
To find more time for the things you want to do, you have to consider where the time can come from.
Here are a few suggestions about how to find more time:
- When you add a new activity or commitment to your life, take one out.
- Streamline your errands and appointments, clustering them by location.
- Pad your schedule with additional time to control the pace.
- Delegate any tasks you can.
One of Oprah’s time-management gurus, Cheryl Richardson, author of “Take Time for Your Life,” said you can reevaluate your priorities and make a conscious decision about the life you would like to live. Then you can create that life.
Begin by asking yourself what you want, she care of your health, reduce stress, and create more balance in your life? Well, you’re not alone. More and more people are tired of the fast-paced, frenzied ‘information age’ and are interested in higher-quality lives — lives in which they have more time for themselves and their relationships, more energy to invest in their emotional, physical, and spiritual well-being.”
Organizing one’s life is not just about getting rid of clutter and meeting deadlines; it’s about improving the quality of your life.
- Play Minimalism with a friend – On the first of the month, get rid of one unwanted item. Donate it, toss it, whatever is appropriate. On the second day, two items and so on.
For more ideas, see “The Minimalists” blog at www.theminimalists.com
- Read The Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo – Currently at the top of the New York Times’ bestseller list, this book is full of creative storage and clutter-busting tips.
- Do a Digital Declutter – Clean out your inbox, your desktop, document folders, applications, Twitter, Facebook, etc. Create open space on your computer for work you are passionate about. For more ideas, see http://www.becomingminimalist.com/25-areas-of-digital-clutter-to-minimalize/