August 2013 archive

When Good Systems Go Bad

A couple of weeks ago we had some work done on the house, and that’s when I realized that my nine-year-old system for maintaining the house records had outlived its usefulness.

Ye Old System

Entropy: a lack of order or predictability; a gradual decline into disorder. That’s what had happened to my original system of house binders.

They were a couple of zipped black binders with sections for papers that I had labeled. They worked a treat for a long while, but now were stuffed to the gills with no more empty sections available.

As Kenny Rogers used to sing, “You’ve got to know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em.”

So I unpacked the binders and decided what documents needed to stay and which could go. Then I counted how many separate files I would need, estimated how many additional ones I would need for future growth, and headed out to the office supply store.

filebinI decided to buy a bin to hold letter-sized hanging files, a bunch of files, and some printable Avery labels. I printed up and labeled all the files, put everything into the bin, and stored the extra file folders and blank labels at the back of the bin.

I use a system of general house categories, such as “Roof” or “Carpet” and file all related paperwork in these categories.

Quick, easy, accessible, and able to expand. I’ll probably be able to hold onto this system for another nine years.

Storage, Summer 2013 Issue

Better Homes and Gardens Summer 2013 issue of the magazine Storage is out now.

I really enjoy leafing through magazines like this one, looking at the pretty, pretty pictures of perfect rooms, and dreaming. Or, scratch that last word. I enjoy being inspired. That sounds more productive, doesn’t it?

At any rate, looking at this magazine reminded me of a few friends I’ve helped over the years who came to me with their pretty, pretty storage systems and boxes and files already chosen, before they even began to delve into organizing their spaces!

In my experience, this is going about things backward. When organizing a space, I like to choose the storage system last, because until I’ve sorted and purged, I won’t really know what needs to be stored.

I like to start by:

Having a general goal for the space
How will it be used; who will be using it; what do you want it to look like in general

Sorting all the items from the space into categories
The classics are classics for a reason: Keep, Donate, and Trash/Recycle

Measuring and/or counting what you have to keep in the space
How many books; how many socks; how many feet of files, etc.

Measuring the space where the storage will be located

Only after finishing the prior steps will you be able to have a clear and accurate idea of how many storage containers you need and what sizes you need. The system needs to be tailored to the items you need organized.

Of course, you can still be inspired and create something pretty, pretty, pretty!

Back to School

It’s that time of year for most families… back to school shopping and organizing.

These days I no longer have anything to do with organizing my kids for school, since they are in college and handling (I hope) that aspect of their lives all on their own. I like to think that the skills they learned when they were younger are helping them cope with the academic challenges now.

From the time they were kindergarten age until middle school, we home-schooled the girls. Organizing for school supplies at that point consisted of having a little work station set up for each girl in the house, with all the pens, crayons, paper, etc., that they needed all in one spot. Our spot was the dining counter in the kitchen. We lived in a very small apartment, so there wasn’t any problem moving a few things to the living room or the bedroom, if the girls wanted to work in those places.

I saw a clever idea at A Bowl Full of Lemons for families that might live in a larger space and need a good way to help their kids be both portable and organized for school work: Homework Caddies. I love the simplicity of this system, how easy it is to see what’s included, and how easy to carry from room to room for the kids.

As I mentioned, we home-schooled until our girls were middle school age. So our first big “school shopping” expedition was kind of a shock. I was amazed and a bit overwhelmed by just how much stuff had to be purchased, by how specific some teachers’ lists were (even down to brand names of paper) and also by just how much stuff was left unused at the end of the year.

After that first year I kept a box of supplies for each girl in their closets and we would “shop” from there each prior year before heading out to the store. Our girls preferred to do their homework in their bedrooms, so we set up desks for each of them. We bought some rolling backpacks because their school didn’t have lockers and they needed to carry a lot every day.

We were very lucky, because the girls were always fairly on top of things. They kept their school work organized on their own, did their homework without nagging, and didn’t really have many issues. I know, a dream situation, right?

As they moved into high school, I began to needlessly worry about whether they would be able to stay organized, and I ended up reading a fantastic book on how to help older students find an organizing system that will work for them.

The Organized Student by Donna Goldberg has some really solid advice for not only the physical tools and aspects of getting your student organized (backpacks, school lockers, desks), but also the emotional aspect of working with older students, who may not always be receptive to suggestions.

Here’s hoping the school year goes smoothly for everyone!

Free School Lunches Printable Planner

Everyone loves a good deal, right? And no one really wants to spend their time re-inventing the wheel. I know I don’t. Back in the days before my kids starting cooking for themselves, figuring out meals week in and week out could sometimes be an uninspiring task, and the default peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and a piece of fruit may have found their way into the lunch bag just a bit too often.

Ginny over at Organizing Homelife has some help to offer for for busy parents. She’s got a post up with several sites she recommends for getting fresh, new school lunch ideas, along with a download of her very own cute and colorful free school lunches printable planner to help make this task a little bit easier. The planner has entries for five days and spaces for four kids, so everyone can have their own individual lunches if desired. She’s also got a great tip for how to create a home-made dry-erase cover for the planner, so you don’t need to keep printing it out every week!

Bento apple bunnyHer post made me remember that back when my girls were in middle school, homemade Bento box lunches became a fad. A group of their friends were competing to make the cutest looking, healthy lunches. Some kids were even doing things like carving apples into bunny sculptures!

These lunches look like they take some planning and time, but if the kids are willing to do some of the work, get enthused about healthy lunches, and learn some kitchen skills, you might find them just the ticket. You be the judge about whether your kids are old enough to handle a kitchen knife, but even younger kids could help with packing the box. A few sites that have some fun photos and recipes are:

Just Bento
Laptop Lunches
How To Make Rabbit Shaped Apple Slices

Nom, nom, nom!

Tidying Up With Kids

In 1992 I had twin girls. And life was suddenly slightly less than organized. (If you ever need an illustration of the word “understatement,” the previous two sentences should fit the bill.) For a long, long time, my husband and I were just too busy and too tired to do much more than the basics and we all muddled along with a messy house. But I suddenly found myself highly motivated to get the living room in ship-shape order each night.

What motivated me? Someone gave the kids a huge tub of Legos for their second birthday. They couldn’t really build elaborate structures, but they loved playing with them. Especially dumping the bucket out on the floor with a crashing flourish. And I quickly discovered that Legos are incredibly painful to step on in bare feet. I do wonder if burning coals could be any worse. My energy for keeping at least the living room cleaned up at night was born in a burst of adrenaline while hopping on one foot.

So I wanted a quick and easy system that involved the kids.

What was the system? Just before bed, I had the girls run around the room with me, grabbing categories of items (books, clothes, toys, trash, etc.) and making big piles on the floor of each type of item… books in one pile, clothes in the other, etc.  We made a big silly game of it. Contests, songs, funny faces. And then I’d have them put away the things that they could handle on their own and helped them with the rest. They loved it!

Motivation is where you find it, right?  I mean, come on… have you ever stepped on a Lego?

Why Organize? Why Not?

As a child and young adult, I was incredibly tidy and organized. I made my bed every morning. I picked up and put away my toys. I folded my clothes. There was a literal line of demarcation down the middle of the room I shared with my younger sister, who was not tidy and organized.

Well, why be diplomatic? I love her dearly, but she was a slob. One my side: a serene pool of calm. On her side: a chaotic whirlwind of stuff.

I’ve always loved the happy illusion of being in control that being organized brings. It’s not all an illusion, of course, but it’s not as all-encompassing a means of control as I wish.

Because there’s always stuff in life. Good, bad, indifferent. Physical, emotional, mental. Corporeal and incorporeal. It’s always there.

Still… I like to try to corral as much of it as possible. And why not? I’d rather swim in the serene pool of calm than ride the whirlwind.

If you feel the same way, please follow along!