Envisioning Your Space

When you are looking at reclaiming your life and your space, it’s important to begin thinking about how your space will be.  Sometimes this can be challenging for people, how can they imagine anything past what they are currently dealing with.  Yet, this relates to goals – what are your goals for your space?  What do you want to get out of being more organized – and more than finding things easily?

We all have different visions for our spaces, if you can imagine it at all.  There are many different ways a space can look and feel.  Beyond the decorating scheme, the way you arrange furniture and use décor can influence how the room feels.   Consider how your partner feels about things as well, as what feels good for you might be the opposite for them.

The first step often is identifying how you want to feel in your space – relaxed, comfortable, serene, energized, etc.  Obviously, you probably won’t want to feel the same way in every room, especially if you’re looking to feel energized which wouldn’t be conducive to a restful night of sleep.

Once you’ve figured out how you want to feel, you can move on to discovering what that means for you personally.  What does relaxed look like to you?  What makes something relaxing for you?  How is relaxed expressed for you?  This means thinking outside your current space and in more general terms.

I want to feel enveloped in my space.  I’ve begun to think of it as a nest – my home is a place that surrounds me with love and beauty.  This vision isn’t immutable; it shifts and changes.  I had at least one shelf in every room for a while, yet this began to feel more like clutter – a place to put more stuff.  These came down, pictures go up, and the décor either gets rearranged, saved, or donated.  Yet, as I look around and change things, my home is still my nest.

Consider these two extremes: the house full of knick-knacks and the sparse and immaculate house.  Both of these can be relaxing to someone – although not likely the same person.   Neither is wrong.  Really.  I do encourage people to avoid either of these extremes and find the way it feels good for them.

What feels like “home”?  What feels comfortable?  What is realistic for you and your family?  Maybe the sparse and immaculate home sounds ideal, yet is this reasonable for your life?  And there’s time for hard choices – I have a room that feels too crowded.  For the size of the room and what I use it for, there’s no room for anything more.  I recognize this, yet I’ve evaluated the different pieces and I am not willing to part with things right now.

We all need goals to help direct our efforts.  When tackling major organizing projects or simply revamping a space, consider your own vision of how you want the space to feel.  Then, how do you set things up to create that effect?

Follow-up on the Workforce Shelving Units

Although I don’t generally write reviews before using the product for a while, I made an exception with these Workforce Shelving Units.  I had seen and worked with them in a client’s home and appreciated them.  Then, when I was at the store looking at the various options, I tested to see how wobbly each assembled piece was and evaluate them altogether.  And I went home with 2 of these shelving units and wrote my review relatively quickly.

My original post on Workforce Shelving Units was in August of 2011.  So, how do I like these units over a year later?  They’ve not been used too much, my husband finished filling the one in the garage, so we occasionally pull a few things off of it to use.  The one in the basement with the paint cans and supplies has probably not been touched much at all.

First, it doesn’t appear that Workforce is available or there was a change with the name.  The link for Workforce shelving to Home Depot still works, though nothing specifies Workforce and the picture looks the same.

As I’ve said, in general shelving leaves me ambivalent yet I continue to appreciate these shelves.  We all have our preferences and as I talked about in my original review – these certainly have characteristics that I wouldn’t choose in other circumstances.  I’ve worked with some clients who dislike these units.  I continue to be surprised by own preference for them as I typically avoid plastic units for this sort of thing.

I noticed that the unit holding our paint – specifically the shelf double stacked with gallon paint cans – has begun to sag.  We’ve been storing those paint cans there for over a year now.  It’s interesting, as although I see the sagging, I remain impressed with the unit.  Those paint cans are heavy and due to the way we set the things up on it, it’s not surprising that the unit is showing it.  Meanwhile, the shelving that isn’t holding that level of weight is showing no signs of wear and works well.

Workforce Shelving follow-up, showing slight sag from paint cans

A slight sag from the weight of all the paint cans after a year’s time

These shelves are still my recommendation for utility shelving as long as you have large things to store.  They are so easy to assemble and disassemble and have the sturdiness that I want in my shelving.  I continue to be shocked by how wobbly so many shelving pieces are and personally I do not want to trust shelving that is prone to wobbling when it’s empty and then load things onto it.

As with every product for every situation – what works for you and your circumstances is what is most important.  These are certainly worth evaluating for your situation when you’re in need of large shelving units.

Cycles of Time

For every time there is a season.  I’ve talked before about how I deeply appreciate the seasons, the symbol of how things change – maybe not a lot, yet change surrounds us.  This doesn’t necessarily make it easy.  It can be challenging to embrace the changes happening.  Yet, adapting and then thriving require us to figure out how to make the most of the changes.  If you think about yourself over the course of a day, your energy and focus shift throughout that day.

How do you handle your own cycles?  There are lots of people who’ve talked about working on your most challenging task during the time of the day when you are most focused.  I think of this as finding and working during your prime time.

Sometimes it’s hard to figure out your prime time.  There are many factors that impact your focus – the biggest being sleep and making sure you are getting enough good rest.  If you are dealing with mental health issues, these too take a tremendous toll on your focus. There are many things that can interfere with your prime time.  It’s important to handle these things and be gentle with yourself if you’re struggling to make the most of your time.

It’s great to make the most of your prime time for getting things accomplished; yet typically we can’t stop working after our best time is over.  We still have things we need to work on, though hopefully we’ll have made the most of our prime time.  This is one the reasons that I think about my tasks in relation to various factors, i.e. time, energy, activity, intellectual, etc.

Do you think about your energy and attention when you’re considering your to-do list?  A few years back I began making sure my to-do list had different types of tasks.  Too many times I was staring at the list dreading it all and simply procrastinating.   By thinking about my energy and attention, I wasn’t making the to-do list that would facilitate making the most of my time.  Now I make sure that there are a variety of types of tasks – so when I am feeling more drained, I can work on more sedentary tasks – either needing more or less concentration depending on my level of focus.

In this day and age it seems there’s always more to do, and this means that we can set up our to-do lists with various criteria.  Figure out when your prime time is and make the most of that.  Then consider what things you can do when you’re more tired – those tasks that require less thought or less activity.  If we always have options for getting things accomplished even when we’re not at our best – we move through the to-do list steadily.

Making Progress?

Recently I was talking with a client and she commented that she “should be more positive.”  This came after her sharing that she was struggling with feeling depressed and overwhelmed.  What people might not know is that I have felt this way more than I would care to admit.  So I shared with her that first, we need to eliminate “should’s” from our vocabulary and to allow herself to feel her feelings.  But is that all there is?

Frequently the people I work with have a tendency to neglect taking care of themselves.  This is an area that is important to make time for – if you are struggling with feeling down and to make progress – look at how much time you are spending on things you enjoy.  It’s surprising to see how much we think that I’ll make time for this once I get caught up, once I get that all done.

Our bodies and mind need time to rejuvenate.  If we push ourselves to only be “productive,” then we actually become less productive.  We struggle to get things done.  We end up feeling down and overwhelmed.

This isn’t the end all, be all answer though.  Just because we make time to nurture ourselves, it doesn’t magically cheer us up or make the work easy.

We could use successes.  Our struggle to make sufficient progress leads to another possible culprit to our feelings – depressed, anxious, overwhelmed, etc. – we try to do too much.  We want the whole basement to be organized and expect we can do that in one weekend of dedicated effort.  This is an extreme example – what is “too much” varies from person to person.  It’s important to figure out what is reasonable for you, and only you.

Therefore, as you work to discover what is realistic for you personally, do small things – those things that you can start and finish with a little effort.  By focusing on an area that you can finish in a short amount of time, you can begin to see the effects of your working.  As most people I know struggle with paperwork to one degree or another, I would recommend choosing something other than papers to organize – it’s hard to make enough progress in a short amount of time.  Do something small and feel rewarded with your efforts by seeing your success.

One of the first things I ask myself if I am struggling in this area is, “what do I see that would take less than 5 minutes to do?”  Often it’s those things that are small enough I put off, for whatever reason, – thinking, “they’re so easy, I’ll just do it later.”  Yet, by simply doing them, I see the small successes.

Another thing to consider is a contained space to work on – a single shelf or drawer.  It can be other things as well, as long as it’s relatively simple.  Or consider what else you might be able to break down into a smaller piece to work on and finish.  Shelves and drawers are great options since their space is defined and limited – therefore it’s clear when you are done.  It also means that you can see the effects of your work.  Here’s a link to what I wrote a while back on Diving into a Small Organizing Project.  Consider where you have a clear vision of what needs to happen – you know how and where to organize your photographs, your jewelry, your music, your office supplies, and etcetera.  This is a potential direction for your efforts.

An additional benefit to working on those small pieces is that it frees up the spaces around us – seeing if we have more space here or not enough space there.  We have the potential to see how to break other projects into smaller pieces.  It’s rarely a good idea to set aside a whole day to working on one of our projects – it easily leads to burnout – rather than building up the energy to work consistently, which is more effective in the long run.

Sometimes, we just need to walk away from our projects.  Not for months – yet to step back and let it be for a while.  Whatever it is that you are dealing with, it likely didn’t get that way in the last week, and will take time to work through.  When emotions are running strong, it’s generally hard to make progress, so consider what you can manage.  Then give yourself permission to do only what you can handle – even it’s nothing at the moment.

Accountability – Nasty or Nice?

This word – accountability – has troubled me sometimes.  Too often someone wants to impose his or her version of it on someone else.  Even the definitions I’ve found fail to communicate a strongly positive connotation.

  • From Miriam-Webster: the quality or state of being accountable; especially : an obligation or willingness to accept responsibility or to account for one’s actions
  • From dictionary.com: the state of being accountable, liable, or answerable

Although they’re not necessarily negative either.  There’s a weight to being accountable, you are agreeing to be responsible.

In my coaching classes, we talk about accountability a lot.  Yet, it’s in the context of helping our clients define what accountability looks like for them.  And then, what they want from us around their definition of accountability.  They create the entire experience – according to what works for them.

Sometimes I feel a bit cynical, that the world is becoming filled with people who tend to blame others.  “If only, he or she didn’t… then I wouldn’t…”  Other times I think we’re reluctant to reveal the extent of the responsibility we each feel for things – to be that vulnerable.

Making changes is hard.  Plain and simple.  There are philosophies abounding about how to make them happen.  One of the most successful tactics for realizing changes is to tell people about your intentions.  This makes us most likely to follow through – there’s an accountability built in.  We’re making ourselves accountable by telling other people about our goals.

This is exactly like in our coaching practice (and many organizing clients) – our clients share their intentions and we follow up and see how they are coming.  Of course, we also spend time talking about the details making it specific.

Yet, what happens when someone is critical of our not succeeding in making those changes?  It undermines our efforts.  We’re less likely to broadcast our goals again.

We need to make sure we find supportive people to share our goals with – people who will encourage us at the same time that they won’t let us off the hook easily.  Hence, hold us accountable.  You need to define what that looks like for you – how do you want to be held accountable?  Ideally, even if you don’t manage to meet your expectations, the result is not criticism, but curiosity, “what happened?”

Accountability can certainly develop negative connotations depending on whom you’re sharing things with.  In essence, accountability is a positive concept.  We all need it to some degree, just in our distinct, personal way.  When I think about accountability in this way, whether for myself or for those I work with, I appreciate the value it has.


Many years ago now, I was talking with my husband about work and management roles.  He was talking about the importance of employees continuing their education, how people need to be reading magazines and books related to their career- always furthering their training and education.  At the time, it made sense on one level to me, I could understand that if you are in a job you need to be continuing to educate yourself about what is going on in the industry and increasing your knowledge base.  Due to where I was at the time, I also cringed.  Uh-oh!

To me this is a great sign whether we are in a career that speaks to who we truly are.  Are we following our life passion?  I shifted my direction and can honestly say now that I don’t think I will ever be satisfied with my knowledge on organizing, time management, productivity, efficiency, etc.  I am constantly searching and questioning.  I do this for myself as well as for what it can provide for my clients.  It excites and interests me – it’s not “work.”

There are some people who are so curious they study many different things, and I do have this temptation sometimes.  Yet, we all have limited time and energy – there’s only so much we can learn.  Learning might not even be the highest priority – we’re already juggling many different life responsibilities.  This is one of the reasons we don’t even try to learn how to do everything for ourselves; we have a network of people to turn to.

Although I could be fascinated with learning woodworking – the real deal – how to make gorgeous furniture out of wood, I am not that committed to it.  It’s too involved for me, and I’d rather be doing other things with my time. I’m pretty sure we all have interests that we decide not to pursue – at least for the moment.  Does this make you feel badly?  Are you ashamed that there’s a limit to what you’ll try to learn?  Will you avoid turning to someone who does know about a particular subject?

There comes a time when it’s worthwhile to ask for help.  I’ve taken yoga classes a few times; I have yoga videos and equipment.  This doesn’t stop me from deciding that in the next couple of months I will sign up for a yoga class.  There’s several reasons why – I want the accountability and motivation of a class and I want someone to be able correct my poses, to name a couple of reasons.  I will probably struggle with some sense of embarrassment – I’m sure my yoga practice is back at a beginner level.  Nevertheless, it’s well worth it to me.  Nor does it mean that I won’t be learning independently of the class.

Do you know when it’s time to ask for help?  Whether it’s something you think you “should” be able to solve on your own or it’s something that you find embarrassing to admit to – there’s a time to turn to someone who is educated and passionate about the topic.  Too often I hear of people resisting turning to someone to help them – from the wanting to exercise regularly yet won’t ask friends or hire a trainer, even for a short time to get them started.  You don’t have to do it alone.  You certainly cannot be an expert in everything.

We all need to recognize what it is that we have time and energy to learn on our own and when it’s time to turn to an expert.  This can be more challenging depending on what it is that needs expert attention.  Many of us don’t hesitate to take our cars to a mechanic and visit the doctor when we need.  Sometimes when it’s more personal, intimate we might resist.  I encourage you to open up to places where asking for help could make all the difference – you don’t need to learn everything alone.

Maintenance – Everything Needs It

As I was edging the lawn this week, I found myself thinking about how fast and easily the dirt and grass overtake the sidewalk.  And I used to procrastinate doing it.  Yet almost everything in our lives requires some maintenance – at least if we expect it to last.  If you think about it, there’s plenty of things you are happy to maintain – your relationships, your job, what else?  What are the things that you take care of in life?

When we start to think about it, there are many things that need our attention and care.  Our cars need to have oil changes and the tires need air.  Our clothes need to be laundered and dealt with – hung up or folded.  Our dishes need to get washed.  Our homes need to be cleaned periodically.  Some of these can feel like work, yet we manage to get them done – at least most of the time.

Maintenance is work – even when we realize the value of it.  Even if these are things that are inconsistently done, you recognize the value of it.  Life is full of things aren’t easy.

What I have come to realize is that virtually everything in our lives requires maintenance.  Each piece of décor needs to be dusted eventually.  The knives in my kitchen need to be sharpened.  The clocks on the walls need batteries as well as to be changed twice a year.  The lawnmower that helps me with the grass needs to be cleaned and sharpened.  The heater needs a new filter regularly.  The list goes on and on.

It’s a decent argument for limiting the amount of stuff that we bring into our lives.  How much time and energy do we want to spend maintaining that?  Is that item worth the maintenance needed?

Yet, we also cannot eliminate all things from our lives.  We need things – I appreciate my dishes and the food that I put on them.  I wouldn’t want to go around naked.  I like sleeping on my mattress and box spring – even if I need to rotate the mattress regularly.

We need things and therefore need to maintain those things.  Therefore, consider these questions in reference to maintaining things:

  • What comes more easily for you?
    • What makes that easier for you?
  • What takes work to maintain; yet you still do it consistently?
    • What makes that worthwhile for you to work on it?
  • What are you willing to do?
    • And then what are you potentially willing to give up to maintain this or that?

There are no easy answers to maintaining things – or rather to developing new patterns of maintaining things.  I encourage you to recognize the things that you already maintain.  Then you can use that knowledge you can gain from these successes and apply them to new areas needing maintenance.

Those Random Items

Do you have a ”junk drawer”?  Or several?  It’s these places where things collect that don’t have a better place to live.  We all have items that don’t quite fit in with another category.  These things can eat away at us or simply accumulate in a particular space (or everywhere).  They can cause a lot of frustration and might even stymie us from moving forward on those things we could deal with.

There’s no question these things are annoying.  It can make us feel stuck and sometimes stupid – why can’t I figure out how to deal with them?  And we all have these things – we get to a point that we aren’t quite sure what to do with them.  What do I do with this?  Where do I put that?  Often we then just throw them altogether somewhere – hence the junk drawer.  Or, in my case, I have a folder in my file cabinet called “Etcetera” and no junk drawer.

The first question to ask yourself is how do you behave when a space starts to get cluttered.  We all have a different approach.  I tend to become bothered by it and find time to go through it.  I regain control of that space fairly quickly.  On the other extreme, some people are either rather blind to it or are so frustrated by it they ignore the growing mess.  And we easily keep adding things to that pile or file so it does keep growing.

Most organizers are adamant that you never have a junk drawer or an “Etcetera” file.  Although I understand their point, what is more important is how you responded to the question above – “How do you behave when a space starts to get cluttered?”  If you avoid dealing with that space and keep adding to it, then it is a better idea to find a different way to handle those random items.

I don’t recommend a junk drawer generally – even if you are someone who deals with it promptly when it starts to fill up.  Undeniably, figuring out what to do with those things can be frustrating – for all of us.  Before you tackle handling these random things, organize the things that are more clear and straightforward.  The oddball things are best saved to the last in the organization process.

So, you want to figure out how to deal with those random things?  Ideally you want to pull them all together.  Also, if you have other things that need organizing, deal with that first.  You want to avoid having too much around you when you work on the puzzling, random things.

  • What kinds of things are they?
  • How many do you have like it – i.e. can it be grouped with any other category of things?
  • How many have commonalities between them – i.e. do you have 2 like items among the pile of oddball things?
  • What is the next action that you are going to do with it – i.e. you need to make a phone call or are waiting until you see someone or you simply want to save it?
  • What is this things purpose for you?

As with all organizing, it’s about figuring out various factors that I sum up with the term categories.  This is defined by how we use things, where we use them, how often we use them, and on and on.  The idea is to have the categories “big” enough to make it worth making a category – for instance, it rarely makes sense to have a folder in your file cabinet with 1 piece of paper in it.  While on the other hand, you want it to be “small” enough category that things won’t get lost amid all the other things – for instance, a work file is often too large since there are so many different facets and it would be more effective to have it subdivided.

When you are looking at those random things, consider what categories they might fit into.  Sometimes this means thinking more broadly – you didn’t consider that this could be memorabilia or whatever.

There is value in walking away sometimes from trying to figure out the place for these random things.  When we are frustrated, it’s more challenging to think clearly – and it’s better to set it aside for a while.  You can make a list of these things and look at periodically and consider options.  Or ask a friend or two for their ideas on how to categorize them.

I recommend a basket or bin for those unknown electronic components and items that belong to something else but you can’t remember or find – then they are all together when you figure it out.

Don’t let those random things stop you from organizing what you can.

Paper Retention

A while back I was working with a social worker and had to write up case reports on the progress being made with the client.  Early on in one of them I talked about the continuing struggle with papers and how common this is.  After talking with the caseworker, she requested I rewrite my report – saying that the struggles with papers would make the client seem incompetent.  Huh? Apparently, her superiors are under the impression that struggling with papers is uncommon and a sign of greater challenges.  I offered to speak with all of them to explain how extremely common it is and I was completely flabbergasted that anyone could think that way.

Struggling with papers is quite possibly the most common thing I encounter with my clients.  This doesn’t necessarily mean bills or mail, although it can.  Papers are virtually endless, there are always more of them and we cannot be rid of them all ever.  Also, they can be difficult to organize in a way that makes them easy to find when you need them.

Papers are also extremely important.  We need them for taxes and for work and the list goes on and on.  Sometimes they are unique and finding them again – like on the internet or library (i.e. if we got rid of them) – isn’t simple or possible.  We’re not always comfortable with the internet – accessing financial information – and that doesn’t mean the information you’d need is available.

I’ve done research on how long it’s recommended we keep our important papers.  It’s surprising how there are different opinions on various types of papers while there are agreements about others.

For papers that relate to taxes, the IRS has guidelines (of course!).  It’s gotten more detailed since the last time I reviewed them, scroll most of the way down the page to “How Long to Keep Records.”  In general, it’s recommended that you keep your returns indefinitely, although you can discard the supporting documentation eventually.

When we’re dealing with other papers, here’s several resources with their recommendations.  The best idea is to ask your tax preparer for their advice, as they know your personal situation.  You can always make a list of questions for the next visit if it’s not convenient to contact them more frequently.

Everyone handles their paperwork differently – from keeping bills of everything for a while to throwing away bills as soon as a new one comes in.  When it doesn’t deal with taxes, it really is up to you how you handle them.  If papers plague you – know that you are not alone.  It does not make you incompetent either, despite what some people might believe!

Safety – consider your beauty products

Just before I got married, I decided it would be fun to get a makeover and test make-up out for the wedding.  I eventually bought a handful of items.  Then I resumed my typical make-up habits, wearing little to none most of the time.  Yet, one day I put more on.  And the strangest thing happened, my eyes swelled up and became quite red – the skin all around them.  I’d reacted to the make-up.  It wasn’t me as it turned out.  Make-up expires, I discovered after calling the manufacturer.

The thing was that this wasn’t the first time that I used make-up that I had purchased a while back.  I also tend to buy the same brands.  It was the first time I ever reacted to make-up.  I’ve always tried to use common sense – does it look and smell funny?  Yet this last time, it hadn’t been that long and nothing raised the warning flags.

Make-up is easy to collect – it’s pretty small and is easy to have in different locations.  I find that it can be challenging to part with – “I spent all this money to buy it, I should use it.”  Yet, how much do you use all of it?  Does it sit there waiting to be used?  Here’s a picture of the pile of make-up I dumped out of a bag a while back – before I went through it and purged my collection.

Pile of make-up before sorting

Pile of make-up from a bag I found as I’m about to go through it

There are two ways they measure the time of make-up expiring – from the production date and the period after opening (PAO).  Unfortunately there’s no real regulation on cosmetics though the FDA does oversee it somewhat.  Although the smell can indicate something might no longer be good, it’s not as clear as the perfume that’s gone bad and is suddenly quite stinky.

Although it’s often convenient, storing make-up in the bathroom can contribute to it’s going bad more quickly.  The moisture and humidity can shorten the life expectancy of make-up.  Ideally, temperature and humidity will be controlled to maximize how long the make-up lasts.

Some people struggle with the feeling it’s so wasteful to toss those beauty products that have been around – “I’ll use it soon.”  After my puffy eyes for a week, I’m more reluctant to push the limits now – even though this was several years ago now.  That’s why when I found another bag of make-up, I emptied it out and threw most of it away – here’s what I kept, mostly brushes and a pencil sharpener.  It was challenging to face the waste I’d inadvertently created and throw it away – yet red, puffy eyes are not something I want to risk again. 🙂

Pile of make-up after purging

Pile of make-up after purging – mostly brushes, mirrors, and pencil sharpener remaining

Consider your own beauty products – how many do you have that you don’t use regularly?  If you’re not using them, use the money to get something else you will actually appreciate and in the process avoid any risk to have a reaction to products that have gone bad.