Friday, March 27, 2015

Friday Freebie: What I'm Reading in Ten Minutes or Less: Saving Money
Last year, my daughter got her license. Next year, she goes to college. No one ever promised that raising kids would be cheap, but sometimes, it feels as though hitting the lottery is the only way to adequately fund all the needs, wants, wishes and desires that are part of family life.

Although saving money is never painless, this article from the Next Avenue website offers a few ideas that come pretty close. Some are new, some are old; some are easy, some require discipline, but all will leave you a little richer in the end.

But you might not want to tell your kids.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Containers: Cutting to the Chase

Overwhelmed by the myriad containers available to organize your space? There are so many choices, both functional and beautiful, that it's easy to get lost in the aisles, trying to narrow the choices. Add responsible shopping (matching your styles and your budget) to the list, and it can be tempting to run screaming from the store, empty-handed.

The chart below summarizes what we've been talking about for two weeks: the preferred container qualities for each personal and organizational style. As you look over the chart, think about whether or not the recommendations match your personal preferences. Where can you find crossover

As an I need to see it/drop and run person, I can use containers that are clear, color-coded, labeled and/or unusual/unique because these container attributes match both of my styles. My container preference, however, will change depending on what I'm storing and where I'm storing it. In addition, two people who identify themselves as the same style will have different personal preferences. Clear drawers may be a perfect match for one I need to see it person, for example, but be a disaster for another because she can’t see what’s at the back of the drawer.  



All one color



Unusual or Unique

Flexible (e.g. fabric)

Divided or sectioned


I love stuff



I love to be busy




I need to see it






I know I 
put it somewhere




Cram & jam



Drop & run






When you consider your styles, do you agree or disagree with these recommendations?
Amend the chart as necessary to reflect your personal choices.

What if you've identified yourself as one style, but you're drawn to containers listed in another category? As long as they aren’t containers, furnishings or systems that have proven unsuccessful in the past, give them a shot! There’s no harm in trying different things to get an idea of what works and what doesn’t. 
Remember that organizing by STYLE is all about making your system your own so that it will work for you not just temporarily, but in the long run as well. With that in mind, print the chart out and amend it as necessary to reflect your personal choices. Fill in the blank spaces, and even change noes to yeses -- if those answers will really work for you. I promised you at the very beginning of this journey that there was no one-size-fits-all solution. The more you personalize the chart, the more you'll refine what truly works for you. 
Once the chart reflects your personal preferences, tuck it into your wallet, your purse, your glove compartment or your reusable shopping bag so you have it with you when you go to the store. 
If you’re still in the sampling stage, there are many worthwhile containers to be had at dollar stores, grocery stores and on sale at variety stores. Just keep in mind that while clearance sales and yard sales can be great for finding that perfect, one-of-a-kind container, you may end up frustrated if you find the perfect tool and want to acquire more like it.

All of variations on plastic drawers in this week's post 
are from office
If you know just what you're looking for, more power to you! Feel free to buy those perfect containers in multiples if you know they're going to work for you (particularly if you already have some just like them that have been organization-tested). Just keep the receipt in case you over-buy or underestimate in terms of size or usefulness. (Not that I would know anything about that).

Next week's post will close our discussion of containers, as we focus on marrying the materials to the mission.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Spaghetti Brain
My mind does not work in a linear fashion. It's more like a game of connect the dots. Oh, sure, you can connect dots to form a straight line, but for me, that's rarely the end result. Sometimes I get a duck, sometimes I get a rabbit and sometimes a plate of spaghetti.

Connect-the-dots brains work well for creative people. One idea leads to another and another and another....and eventually, the picture is complete. While this looks undisciplined to the untrained eye, the end result is often exactly the endpoint I had in mind.

Or sometimes I end up somewhere altogether different. Unlike the connect-the-dot pictures in books, the starting and ending points aren't marked. Although the start point is pretty consistent from day to day, I'm never quite sure where each day's journey will take me, and when I arrive at the endpoint, it's sometimes on a different page entirely.

As I said, this works well for creative people. Jumping from task to task may not be efficient on paper, but the end result is worth the trip, however disjointed. A mid-afternoon nap may look like just an unnecessary interruption in the linear schedule, but more often than not, I wake up with new ideas and new directions. When I'm awake, I may look as though I'm wandering in a zig zag fashion -- or perhaps even aimlessly -- but that's not always a bad thing. Sometimes, plans are overrated.
I've had a few zig zag days lately, and not only were they more productive (especially in the creative sense) than many of my best- laid-plan-days, they were more relaxing and fulfilling as well. Still, I forget this, and chastise myself during the day, recognizing its value only after the fact.

Sometimes, we need to stick to a schedule. But sometimes, it's better to connect the dots.

Which will you do today?

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Saturday Special: Simplify with Marcia Ramsland

You've probably guessed by now that my house is not an organizational utopia of clear, spotless surfaces. As a writer and an educator, I live surrounded by paper. Paperless is not my thing. I need to see it, so life is an uphill battle with the land of spotless surfaces at the top of the mountain where the air is thin and it's hard to breathe.

But there's one surface I tackle daily. Every day, I make my bed. And I have Marcia Ramsland to thank (sorry, Mom). I found a copy of her book, Simplify Your Life, at a local store known for selling overstocks at cheap prices, and in it, I found this gem, (#1 on a list of Ten Timesaving Habits to Simplify Your Day):
"Make your bed and make your day. It takes only two minutes to give you sixteen hours of order. Besides, a room is 50-70 percent clean when the bed is made."
50-70% clean for two minutes of effort? That's an investment I can get behind!

The other nine tips were also inspirational, to varying degrees (#2 is "practice the two-minute pick-up" -- yet another advocate of small actions yielding big results!)

I went on to read several other books by Ramsland, and I've even written about her here on more than one occasion, but Simplify Your Life was timed perfectly. It landed in my hands at a time in my organizational journey when I was a sponge, open to not only tidbits but also organizational philosophies that rang true for me and encouraged the development of my own way of thinking about organization. Though other organization books have come and gone, Simplify Your Life has kept its place of honor on my book shelf.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Friday Freebie: What I'm Reading in Ten Minutes or Less: Women and Psychiatric Medications
Over the years, I've known a number of people who take antidepressants and/or anti-anxiety medications, nearly all of them women. For some, these medications are a lifeline out of darkness and fear, and I'd no sooner deny those women pharmaceutical assistance than I'd deny a thirsty child a glass of water.

But do we overmedicate? Are we blunting our feelings in order to achieve some ideal emotional state? In this piece from last month's New York Times, psychiatrist Julie Holland argues that sometimes the cure is worse than the illness, particularly for women.

I found myself moved by her arguments, and, if I'm to be honest, a little relieved. How about you?

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Containers and the Personal Styles

Containers come in many shapes, styles, colors, patterns and textures. Some are functional, some are fashionable and some strive to be both. Large, small, lidded, open, clear, colored, round, square, rectangular....the choices can be overwhelming.
Despite their variation in appearance, all containers have just three components: form, function and style. Form refers to the size, shape and physical attributes of a container, including features such as lids and sections. Function is exactly what it sounds like - the purpose the container will serve once you get it home. A container’s style comes from its aesthetics - color, texture, pattern, attractiveness.

All of these attributes matter. How much each one matters depends on what needs to go into the container and -- you guessed it -- the personal and organizational styles of the person using it. Your mission will be to try to find containers that will help you to create systems that are both appealing and functional so that they’re easy and fun to use and maintain. 

I love stuff
If you're an I love stuff organizer, the key to containing your belongings lies in corralling both collections and odds and ends. I love stuff organizers may see the containers themselves as collectibles, or as ways to house or display items of importance -- or perhaps both. This tendency to collect things usually means the more you like a container, the more likely you are to use it. 
I love stuff folks often prefer open storage and unique containers that allow them to see what they have. But, since too much visibility can turn into visual clutter (think about the difference between one sheet of paper on a desk and haphazard piles of papers), it’s important to strike a balance between what’s gets displayed and what gets put away. 

For the I love stuff person, container selection is a breeze because almost any type of container works. Clear, color-coded or labeled containers with or without lids can all work well. Clear containers let you see which valuables are inside, while color-coding and/or labeling can be a visual reminder of what goes where. You may also like unique containers because of their aesthetics; in addition, the uniqueness of the container may serve as a visual remember of the location of your valuable stuff. You may want to match containers in terms of color, size or style, or decide on a color scheme or other unifying theme, especially if you want to mix and match containers. The key is to come up with a combination that allows everything to be away, but still visible and/or accessible.

I love to be busy
Time is at a premium for the I love to be busy person, which means the best containers are those that require as few steps as possible. If you're an I love to be busy person, you may benefit from subdivided containers that allow you to see at a glance what’s missing as you hurry from one activity to another. 

Separate storage for each activity (e.g. a separate bin or bag) can also be helpful because this prevents items that are needed for one activity from getting mixed in with materials for something else. Like their I love stuff counterparts, I love to be busy people may also like clear, color-coded or labeled containers that help them keep track of the minutiae of their varied pursuits. And, depending upon their organizational style, they may be able to use each of them with equal facility. 

I need to see it
The name says it all! Anything you can do to appeal to the visual will help you if your style is I need to see it. As a general rule, open storage (no lids) is best because it helps the the I need to see it person put things away without putting them out of sight, preserving the need for visual prompts. Clear, labeled or color-coded containers can work, too, for the same reason - they provide visual cues as to where things go. 
Whereas those with other styles can be coerced into putting their belongings into drawers and closets, I need to see it organizers will resist this. For them, the line between visibility and visual chaos is very, very fine. 
I need to see it folks, like their I love stuff counterparts, often enjoy a visually stimulating mix of containers -- colored, patterned, unique -- and this variety can help them remember where they put things, making it easier for them to make the transition from leaving it out to putting it away. Avoid monochromatic color schemes; without visual variety to remind you where you put things, you'll quickly become frustrated and return to leaving everything out where it can be seen.

A word about size

Remember how you used to buy your kids clothes with “room to grow” when they were little? Regardless of your style, you can use the same concept when determining the right size for a container: Choose containers that are the right size for what you currently own, with a little space for future acquisitions.

All of the containers on today's post can be found on

Monday, March 16, 2015

Blank Slate

A little more than a week ago, I finally succeeded in clearing off my desk, arguably one of the most important tasks on my sticky note to-do list. This weekend, I noted with satisfaction that I've kept it in its pristine state for over a week.

Pristine is, admittedly, in the eye of the beholder. While I've recovered a vast expanse of clear space (a.k.a. work space), my desk will never be completely clear. Not only do I need to see things to remember to do them, I like to see things that make me smile. A desk devoid of photos and mementos would be, well, not my desk. I've never been a Zen desk kind of girl.

Consequently, I'm at a crossroads. Part of the desk-clearing task included getting rid of the monitor, keyboard and CPU from the desk-top computer that's been non-functional for some time now. In doing so, I revealed an expanse of white wall space above my desk, one that I'm not sure what to do with.

My desk faces this wall, and so it's empty whiteness is unavoidable. When I get to the end of a sentence, stop and look up, this wall is what greets me. While it could be argued that it's a clean slate, a visual respite of sorts, its white emptiness bothers me. It calls out to be filled. Instead of moving on to the next sentence, I brainstorm things that can fill that space.

To its left and right, this wall's counterparts are inspirational and functional, respectively, and both are visually busy. Consequently, whatever graces this central wall needs to be sleek, with clean lines and few distractions. Less distracting, anyway, than the screaming blankness of the white wall.

Should it be simple? Inspirational? Functional? If I were taller, I'd put a removable white board there and use it to brainstorm and keep track of projects, but at five feet zero inches, I'm not tall enough to make that work.

Maybe a single, simple print. Perhaps an inspirational saying, flanked by framed photos of family and friends. Or perhaps I should break out the paint and simply cover over the whiteness with something warm and bright -- red, maybe.

I don't know. And I suspect I won't know for a while yet. Since I'll be looking at this wall every day, and since it's a part of my creative space, I feel a need to find the perfect match.

Meanwhile, I'm open to suggestions. What would you do with a blank, white wall?