Organizing @ Home: Chase Away Organizing Nightmares

Posted By on August 22, 2014

I had an organizing nightmare.

In my dream, I was packing my stuff and trying to place everything in order in the giant box I was using. Once I was done, I turned around and was dismayed to find several cabinets filled with more tchotchkes.

When I woke up, it took me a moment to shake it off, and then I chuckled to myself. Yes, definitely an organizing nightmare. Downsizing your stuff doesn’t have to become a nightmare.

Do you love it? When surveying your stuff, ask yourself the big question: Do you love it? If you don’t love it, why do you have it? If looking at it gives you a bad feeling, why do you keep it?

Have you fallen out of love? It happens. We grow and change. Suddenly, the things we treasured lose their emotional luster and become annoying burdens. It’s okay to end your relationship and move on.

Do you want it? It may seem straightforward, but stuff and emotions are tied together. You may feel obligated to keep something because it was a gift or passed down to you. First, it’s okay to say “no” if you’re offered something you don’t really want. Secondly, you don’t have to keep something forever. It’s okay to let it go. Someone else will want it, love it and use it.

Was it an intention? We have those projects that we intended to do but never did. Yes, you may have intended to create scrapbooks documenting every big moment, but it never happened despite the numerous scrapbooks, paper and stickers you bought. Give yourself a huge gift by letting go of old projects. Don’t view it as a failure. If it was really important to you, you would have done it.

You can also change the scope of the intended project. Going back to the scrapbook project, numerous websites are available to create books out of your photos.

What about those books? My family never got rid of books. You keep books forever like a library. Living on my own in a one-bedroom apartment, I realized that you can’t keep everything forever, even books. As I surveyed my own book collection, I saw several books that I didn’t like sitting on my shelf, taking up valuable space. Why would I keep books that I didn’t like? Why would I keep books I knew I wouldn’t read or use again?

These days, I view books as temporary guests. They drift into my life and then find their way to others. For the books I do keep, they have to be special friends.

Can it be repurposed? I like it when I can use an object in another way. If you need ideas, just search “repurpose” on Pinterest.  A fresh coat of paint and an idea can revive an object’s usefulness in your life.

How do I get started? Tackle one room at a time to keep your organizing project less overwhelming. Set a timer and spend 15 to 30 minutes at a time. Have boxes or baskets at the ready for donation, recycling and trash.

Doing a little at a time helps you move forward.

Creating your dream space will chase away those organizing nightmares. Sleep well, my friends.


Organizing @ Home: Make Cash from Your Clutter with Decluttr

Posted By on July 11, 2014

It’s always nice when you can make some cash from your clutter.

With Decluttr, you can sell them your CDs, DVDs and games. I recently gave it a whirl.

I heard about the Decluttr app a couple of months ago and downloaded the app. While clearing out a spare room, I made an initial sort of my vast CD collection. I pulled up the app, created an account and scanned in the CDs I wanted to get rid of.

In turn, Decluttr gave me a price for the CDs and emailed me a label. I boxed up my stuff and shipped it to them for free. The company sent me several emails, notifying me when my box arrived, when it was processed and when the check was issued. In about three weeks, I received my check in the mail. For 50 CDs, I received $30.

If you were looking to make piles of cash for your old CDs, you will need to use other venues. Most of the CDs were 50 cents, but others, such as a couple I had of classical music, drew a price closer to $3. I haven’t used it yet for DVDs, and I don’t have videogames so I don’t know how those prices run.

I had three CDs that I was unable to scan or enter the barcodes, and I wonder if those are from the old music club days since the barcode numbers were similar. Those just went into the donation box.

I’ll definitely use Decluttr again.


Organizing @ Work: Promises of Blue Skies Ahead

Posted By on July 6, 2014

The gray skies loomed above me, and I sighed.

“Great,” I thought. “Driving in the rain. Again.”

I loaded my car to leave my parents’ house in Oklahoma and head back to Houston, and I planned to make my usual stop in Arlington to see my godchildren. This breaks up the solo 8-hour drive for me.

I reached Arlington after enduring a few rain showers, but nothing too bad. When I woke up the next morning, I could hear the familiar crack of thunder and rain. Watching the weather, I saw the rain and the weekday rush hour traffic would ease up in a couple of hours.

When I entered the soaked freeway, patches of blue sky were to my left, and the dark clouds filled with rain wafted on my right. I plowed ahead on the freeway.

Once I was free of Dallas, I made my way on the interstate. Instead of the rain and dark clouds easing up outside of the city, the gloom stubbornly hung overhead.

I kept driving despite the intermittent showers, knowing I would eventually see blue skies again. Every now and again, I would see patches of blue sky peeking through the gloom, and I thought I was close to reaching the end of the storms.

When you’re driving by yourself, it’s amazing the things you ponder. I wondered if friendly aliens came to Earth, would they like chicken parmesan, Scandal and jeans?  I thought how I need to regularly meditate instead of now and again. I thought about the blog posts I needed to write for my blog and other people, and blog posts make me think about organizing and productivity since that’s what I write about.

As my mind and my car continued our respective journeys, I thought about how I was driving toward my goal of going home. Usually, I break the trip into little steps – much like how I encourage my clients to breakdown large projects into smaller steps. Instead of looking at the number of miles to Houston, I would look at the miles to the next town and feel accomplished when I reached it.

On this trip, I found myself looking at the miles to Houston. As we say in Texas, go big or go home, and I was going big and going home. Despite the rain and gloom, I was going for the big goal. I was driven (no pun intended).

It would have been easy to stay in Arlington for another night and hope for better weather the next day. It would have been easy to stop and wait around for the rain to let up. It would have been easy to turn back and go where I came from. I didn’t choose easy. I kept going.

With our goals, we have to push forward – despite the gloom surrounding us. It can help to set those smaller milestones so you know you’re on the right path. Sometimes you just need to push through the gloom and rain toward the unguaranteed promises of blue sky ahead.



Organizing @ Work: Do You Know Where Your To-Do List Is?

Posted By on June 15, 2014

As a professional organizer, I’ve seen a variety to-do lists.

There has been the multiple notepad system, the task list function on email, the nest of numerous sticky notes, the list lost somewhere in a stack on their desk, and my personal favorite – their memory.

First, it’s good to have some sort of to-do list or action list. You need to know what you want to get done. In the workplace, it’s incredibly important to get things done since you need to meet the expectations of your supervisors.

Although we can upgrade the software on our phones and computers, our brains cannot be upgraded. What we have is what we have, and it’s not the best organizing tool. You want to think WSD – Write Stuff Down. Some productivity bloggers use a different word for “Stuff” but you use what you will remember.

When it comes to your action list, you can use paper or digital tools.

Paper. Use ONE legal pad, steno pad or spiral notebook to manage your action list. Having several pads or notebooks lying around only causes confusion, and it helps to devote one page to one topic.

In these short videos, productivity author Jason Womack shows how he uses notebooks in a unique way to capture his ideas and to-do’s. The front of the notebook is for writing and drawing out ideas and notes. When he needs to add something to his to-do list, he flips to the back of the journal and adds it there.

Digital. On the digital front, there are many more options although many of them work in a similar format. Use the Notes feature on your phone to capture your to-do list. Make sure it is backed up on Settings.

Many to-do apps are available, including Trello, Wunderlist, Any.Do, Toodle-Do, and Remember the Milk to name a few. My advice is to play with one or two and see which one works the best for you and the way you think and work.

Most to-do apps on the market for action lists are cloud-based, and access is available through a smartphone, tablet, and the web – basically anywhere you are. Use your phone to update your action list, and the change will be reflected on the web version.

Whether you use paper or an app, having your to-do’s in one place will help your daily productivity at work.



Organizing @ Work: Dealing with a Crisis

Posted By on May 6, 2014

Life is messy. When it is, it spills over into our world of work whether we want it to or not.

Unfortunately, we all have had experience with the bumps and challenges life throws at us.

I’ve been dealing with family issues during the month of April, which included the sudden passing of an aunt and traveling to Missouri to attend her funeral. If that wasn’t enough, my Dad was briefly hospitalized the same week back in Oklahoma as part of his ongoing health issues.

Meanwhile, back at the office, I jettisoned a full schedule of meetings and events, and one of my co-workers stepped in to work a big event I was supposed to staff.

When you’re stretched thin and dealing with personal issues, how do you handle work?

Be prepared. When talking to my organizing clients at work, I encourage people to be ready to win the lottery. This means you should be organized enough at work before a crisis happens so your co-workers can find the stuff they need to cover for you.

Speak up when necessary. Some people like to keep their personal lives private at work, but you do need to let your boss and co-workers something is happening. You don’t have to go into the details if you don’t want, but the people who work with you should know something is up. If you don’t speak up, then they’ll just make up their own stories.

Practice good self-care. You have to be a bit ruthless and take care of yourself. Make sure you get enough sleep, eat more healthy stuff than bad stuff, exercise, and meditate. Spend time with your friends and family, and see a therapist if you need one.

Also, keep in mind that while you’re dealing with serious issues with yourself or your family members, many work things will seem trivial. It’s hard to get worked up about a staff meeting when you’re planning to attend a funeral or dealing with chemo treatments.

Don’t feel guilty. Stuff happens, and we have to deal with it. Don’t feel guilty. Do what you have to do. At some point, you will pay it forward by covering for your co-workers when they are having their own crisis. Be sure to thank co-workers who are covering for you.

Know your limits. Jettison any extra-curricular things that bog down your energy. Because of ongoing family issues, I had to step down from a volunteer commitment because I was being stretched too thin and didn’t have any additional emotional bandwidth. The leaders were very understanding, and amazingly enough, the world did not end.

Don’t make big decisions. When you’re in the middle of a crisis, this is not the best time to make big, life-altering decisions. Give yourself breathing room before making any big decisions.

Ready. Set. Focus. Work can actually be a welcome distraction when chaos is brewing. When you return to work, take a deep breath and focus on what you MUST do on your to-do list first. Steadily work your way down the list. If needed, come in a half hour to hour early for a day or two to tackle the extra email that’s stacked up in your inbox.

Dealing with a crisis is hopefully a short-term issue, but a little preparation, communication with co-workers and a plan will help you through it.


Organizing @ Work: The Disorganized Boss

Posted By on April 7, 2014

Have a disorganized boss? © Odua Images -

Have a disorganized boss? © Odua Images –

My first Organizing @ Work post featured how to deal with disorganized co-workers. However, what do you do when your disorganized co-worker is your boss?

This is where things can get sticky. Your boss, after all, controls your destiny – raises, promotions, stretch assignments and references to name a few.

First, you need to determine if your boss is disorganized or “just” overwhelmed. By design, the boss has more on their plate, and those responsibilities vary depending on if they’re running a department, a division or the entire company. It seems everyone is trying to do more with less, and that can take a toll on the entire office.

When you get down to it, it doesn’t matter whether you think your boss is organized or not. What matters is how you work with your boss, no matter the situation. Here are some ways you can do that:

Be organized yourself. You can’t help your boss if you can’t help yourself first. By being organized yourself, it trickles up to your boss and co-workers.

Manage information you send them. Ask how they prefer to receive information. Do they prefer email or paper? Do they prefer one-on-one meetings? Do they want a summary or a lengthy report?

Don’t add to the problem. One way to make the boss glaze over is bringing them a stack of stuff to read about your latest project. Give them a one-page summary (shorter the better) and email a link to a longer document via Box, Dropbox, Sharepoint or a shared server. This eliminates extra paper on their desk, and if they want to read the entire report, they have access to it.

Have an agenda for your one-on-one meetings. Keep a running list of items you need to discuss with your boss, and put them in order of priority so you can discuss the important stuff first in case you run out of time. If you need to get their signature on something, this is a good time to do it.

Make it easy for them. If you’re working on a project together or need your boss’ approval before turning something in, give gentle reminders about deadlines. It’s better to say something, such as, “This is the report I have to turn in Wednesday to the finance department, and I’ll need your approval before sending it.” Or “I have completed these sections of the report, and whenever you’re ready, I can plug in the sections you have.”

Ease them into a digital life. It’s hard to break the paper habit, but you can lead the way. Before our office move in mid-August, I used the move as an opportunity to go digital and eliminate paper files in my file cabinets. Throughout our institution, we use Box, a cloud-based service, and several of us showed our boss how to set up Box files and share folders and documents.

Make them look good. Always make the boss look good, and never let them be surprised by any issues. Don’t let them miss a deadline – especially one with their own bosses.

Learning to manage your work with your boss will help you both in the long run.