13 Posts in Honor of the Beginning of 2013

In honor of the beginning of 2013, I’m going to share 13 posts I’ve written over the past 4 years (though my first year I started quite late in the year).  It’s hard to believe that I have been blogging this long and many of you might not have seen some of these posts.  Especially when you consider that I have about 170 posts at this point.


1- Ever feel like a bratty child approaching your dreaded tasks?  I know I have.  Check out “I Don’t Wanna!”

2- My first video where I reveal a dumping ground in our home and the approach we took to reclaim that room – “Revamping the Dumping Grounds in Your Home & Other Lost Rooms.”


3- The title of this brings a half-grimace and half-smirk to my face as I think about how it could be misinterpreted, though the point remains; do you have an “Organizer Problem or Personal Problem?”

4- When you’ve decided to tackle an organizing project, it can be challenging to manage your way through it successfully.  These are some of the questions I ask and suggest for people to consider as they work, “Ask Yourself These Questions During Organizing.”

5- It’s surprisingly common to struggle with handling those lovely plastic storage containers.  Therefore, here’s one take on how to “Tame Your Tupperware.”

6- Have you heard of the O.H.I.O. idea?  It’s interesting as long as it’s used in the manner it was intended, which not everyone realizes.  Check out “Only Handle It Once” and see what I mean.


7- I’ll admit it, sometimes it’s hard for me to remember all the things I’ve written about.  This one stays with me and brings a smile to my face – “Contagious Clutter” can plague all of us.  (And be careful it does multiply when you look away.)

8- There’s a common poem that outlines the “Guidelines for a Happy Home” which I use to illustrate some of the things that apply equally to be organized.

9- Although this title is a little misleading, it’s more about some steps to take when deciding to tackle an organizing project, including waiting until you are fully prepared, “You’re Organized, Right?”

10- This is such a little known planner, yet it remains as the one paper style I think about most as it limits our daily tasks, “Taylor Planner.”


11- We all collect things.  Yup, we sure do.  So, then it’s worth thinking about “Collections, When to Stop.”

12- Arts and craft supplies can be one of the most daunting things to try organizing, there’s so many different approaches and so many things.  That’s why I wrote about “Organizing Art & Craft Supplies.”

13- This was probably the most overdue topic since I only really broached it this past year, how to handle the small spaces – from the storage spaces like closets to the living spaces, “So Little Space.”

There it is, 13 posts to celebrate the beginning of 2013.  It wasn’t easy choosing which ones to share and I’d love to hear if there’s one that I missed that you appreciated.

I hope you all have a wonderful year.  Here’s to being organized – in the real meaning of the word, being able to find what you need when you need it. Happy 2013!

Consider Setting Resolutions – or Not

There’s a certain amount of dread I find as the New Year approaches.  I feel an obligation to talk about resolutions and goals, as this is the expectation for this event each year.  Part of me wonders how many of you actually set New Year’s resolutions.  Or how seriously you take them.  As time passes, I have a sense that people sitting down to make their list has dissipated over the years.  It seemed like everyone did it when I was kid and you needed to be prepared since someone (more likely several people) were bound to ask you what your goals were for the coming year.  I’m not sure how many of us view this event the same now.

And let me be perfectly clear, I am all for setting goals.  I’ve mentioned before that I just personally resist this once a year on January 1st list making.  I strive to incorporate it into my life, throughout the year.  I do dislike how we have the potential for undermining our confidence by setting goals and not meeting them.  This feels extremely contrary to the intention.  What I want for all of us is positive self-regard, the feeling of being successful in all our life.  Anything that challenges that needs to be reevaluated in my book!

So, let’s talk about goals here.  You probably know all the guidelines – start small, set concrete and specific goals that you can measure, and keep the list short.  I’ve even written about these things before in Goals, Already?

Yet I can’t help but wonder, maybe we half-heartedly set some New Year’s resolutions simply expecting that they probably won’t happen.  Most people I’ve talked to know about the above guidelines for being successful in setting goals and yet when they’ve set goals, they’ve neglected to develop their goals far enough to apply those guidelines.  That’s part of why it occurred to me that New Year’s resolutions might have become almost an almost rote task for some of us.

Probably the biggest thing for me is that taking steps to reach our goals can’t be so easily proscribed.  I remember years ago I desperately wanted to lose weight.  I went through phases of wanting a quick and easy fix since I blamed some medication for my weight predicament.  Then I accepted that there wasn’t going to be any quick fixes and made some beginning efforts at exercising.  Those often faltered with the realization of how far I had to go – even 5 minutes on a stationary bike was exhausting.  Then finally I was able to commit to the process, starting small with specific goals at 5 minutes each time 3 days a week.  That progressed to 1 hour 5 days a week and guess what – the weight came off.

Except that this goal had to move through various stages before it was truly prepared to be my goal.  It took me a long time from the “I want to…” until I was ready to set small and specific goals.  That didn’t correspond to any set date on a calendar.

And this really is the crux of why part of me dreads writing about setting New Year’s resolutions, I don’t want to propagate that you need to set goals at this time of year.  You don’t need to be ready to make changes this moment.  Changes take time and you really need to be prepared in all ways to begin to make those happen.

Therefore, if you are ready to make a New Year’s resolution, go for it.  If you’re not, then cheers to you too.  And remember the other part of New Year’s is to review your successes over the past year – I hope there were many. Happy New Year and I hope it’s a fabulous one.

Checking Tasks Off Your To-Do List

One of the questions I ask people when we’re talking about to-do lists is “do you write in tasks so that you can check them off?”  There are a fair number of people who admit with some embarrassment that yes, in fact they do that.  And I smile and say, “yup I’ve been known to do that too.”    I want those check marks – that symbol of having used my day productively.  Yet, it’s simply one-way to have the validation that the day was productive.

We all want to feel like we are accomplishing things – both those that are necessary and those that help us feel like we are moving forward.  The way that we feel about our to-do lists can vary.  It also varies over time – there are times I love my to-do list and times when it simply fills me with dread.  As with everything, there are many variables that affect our behaviors and feelings.

My biggest struggle is to feel productive – how many tasks are reasonable to accomplish?  There’s this nagging feeling like I could have done more, “if only…”  With all the variables of life, what is realistic for a person to do in a given day?

I’ve looked into this, from extensive reading to polling my friends and family.  The answers vary dramatically as well as the response that it’s hard to quantify – “it depends.”  There was a flaw in my polling – often we each view our tasks differently.  Does doing the dishes count as a to-do? Does taking a shower?  You can see how defining a reasonable number of to-dos can be challenging.

Tasks take a different amount of time to complete.  In a to-do list each item takes a line and can appear equal, even when they’re not.  Ideally everything on your active to-do list needs to be able to be completed in one step.  This means that projects are kept somewhat separate – like the brain dump to-do list, and only the next step goes onto the smaller daily or weekly to-do list (see my discussion of this in: Decide on the Next Action).

When it feels like I’ve been struggling with accomplishing my tasks, often I will write an estimate of the time I think each task will take.  This allows me to see how much I have set to do and gives me the chance to move things to another week (I currently make weekly to-do lists from the brain dump list).  Sometimes I will even take a list of tasks completed and note the time spent on each – this provides me with a realistic view of what I accomplished.

Too often I see people discounting the things they did do, as they view those things as minor or mandatory.  Nevertheless, everything we do takes time and energy – it counts.  During the times when I wasn’t really keeping a to-do list, at the end of the day I would sometimes write down everything I had done that day – another way for me to see what was accomplished.

Unfortunately there is no easy answer about how much you can realistically accomplish on a given day.  One thing to consider is how long the things on your to-do list will take – do you have time on this or that day?  Based on Harold Taylor’s planner, I recommend limiting your daily to-do list to no more than 3 tasks, above and beyond all those things you do each day anyway.  Those 3 tasks can be whatever you choose and of any length as long as they are able to be completed within a reasonable amount of time.  Test this and see how it works – when does it work for you and when does it break down?

Feeling Stressed and Overwhelmed?

There has been a lot going on with me – both personally and professionally.  I see how I am cycling through feeling overwhelmed and feeling balanced.  As a professional organizer, I do feel a need to largely be balanced.  Yet I am human and therefore not perfect.  This also means that I can relate to many of the struggles my clients face.  So, what to do?

Most of us end up feeling overwhelmed at some point and even more often than sometimes.  I’ve talked about this before in Overwhelmed? and in Coping with Feeling Overwhelmed — all my points can help someone move through things even when feeling overwhelmed.  Except there’s something that probably needs to happen first – you need to consider what you need.

  • What’s contributing to your feelings of being overwhelmed?
  • When do you tend to feel this way?
  • What connections can you discover about this?
  • What would help you in the midst of this feeling?

There’s a time to push through, to take the first smaller steps of dealing with things.  Then there’s a time to give yourself a break.  Only you can hope to discover which of these is right for you.

If you are anything like me, you might be filled with self-doubt that you are going to be too easy on yourself.  How can one really, truly know when it’s time to allow some space instead of plodding ahead?

Are you able to step back and recognize your own tendencies with objectivity?  This world is filled with all types – and I tend toward that Type A driven personality.  I expect a lot of myself.  Meanwhile, there are some people who are comfortable and even yearn for all the time off they can get without any inner drive to do more.  Since I recognize that I can be hard on myself, I then can pause to consider if it’s time to give myself some slack.  This won’t necessarily eliminate the inner doubts, yet it’s a step in the right direction.

  • What are those things contributing to your feeling overwhelmed – and how critical are they?
    • How many of them could wait?
  • How much better could you accomplish them if you took some time to rejuvenate yourself?

There are times I wish I could disappear for just a little while – yet for me that feels too much like trying to escape.  It usually improbable that we can abdicate all our responsibilities when we’re feeling overwhelmed.  This simply means that we need to identify the most important things to focus on – notice I said important – which doesn’t necessarily mean the most critical.  And what is most important for you might be completely unique to you.

As with everything I write about – there is no one way of doing anything – and that includes how to take the best care of yourself.  If you’re feeling overwhelmed, I would encourage you to take that as a sign that it’s time for you to pause and consider what would help you to be revitalized.  Feeling stressed and overwhelmed is often a signal that something is out of balance – figuring out what that is can only help you through it.

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?

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.