Friday, March 6, 2015

Friday Freebie: What I'm Reading in Ten Minutes or Less: Where Have all the Teachers Gone?
Each semester, I marvel at the number of optimistic early education majors who continue to pursue dreams of teaching. At York College, the majority of the students in my early childhood development class are those in pursuit of these majors, taking the class because they have to, and it's rare that I don't get at least one e-mail asking me to make an exception to the cap of thirty students set by the department.

The assertions in this article stand in sharp contrast to my observations. Still, despite the lack of empirical evidence supporting the reasons for an apparent exodus from the profession -- at least in some areas -- the subjective evidence I've acquired from conversations with former colleagues makes it clear why a good teacher might soon be hard to find.

I'm going to say very little about this piece, lest I end up on my soapbox. Let's just say that I marvel that my class fills every single semester, and that in light of the current climate, more students don't choose to pursue other fields.

Do we have to wait until there's an actual shortage to address the issues that plague today's teachers?

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Tricks, Tools and Concepts, via Pinterest
When it comes to organization, there are strategies (tricks) and key ideas (concepts). Tricks like Give it Five! and Don't Put it Down, Put it Away enable us to dig in and make progress. Concepts like homes guide our efforts and create the foundation for our systems.

Throughout these posts, I've been including pictures of various organizers -- clear, colorful, lidded, open -- the tools that can make or break your organizational system. Part of the key to creating a system that fits your style is finding containers that do, too.

Organizers don't need to be expensive. They can be purchased at dollar stores, office supply stores or the dollar section of your local department store (check the clearance sections of these stores, especially in September and January). Or, if you’re crafty, you can make organizers from household or office materials you already have on hand. The idea is to use materials that work for you, even if it means using traditional materials in non-traditional ways. Creative solutions are often the most fun.
As you did last week's activity, did you discover any containers that were working well, or, conversely, weren't working at all? And when I say "containers," I mean everything from the basket
you toss your car keys into to the walk-in closet in your master bedroom. If it contains something, it's a container.

Containers that work get used. Containers that don't, don't. And not only do containers that are at cross purposes to your style not get used, they also work at cross purposes to your entire organizational plan.

Next week, I'll talk about container selection in more detail. For now, I'd like to leave you with three tasks and three charts.

Task #1: This week, be on the lookout for any container that's not doing its job and remove or replace it if possible. If removing or replacing the container will create a bigger mess, leave it alone for now and use the chart below to note the specifics for future planning.

What it’s supposed to do
What it’s actually doing
Does it match your styles?

Task #2: Look at the containers that are working. What makes them a successful part of your organizational system?

Task #3: Scroll through the organizational posts on this blog, focusing not on the words, but the pictures. Which organizers/containers appeal to you? Why do you think that is?

Next week, we'll look at the intersection between organizers and the personal styles. For now, here are a few guidelines to get you started on the organizational focus and tools of choice for each style.

Personal Styles
If your personal style is I love stuff:
Focus on keeping only things you love (that may be a rather substantial pile) and finding new homes for the rest. (More on that later).
Tools of choice:  Containers in a variety of sizes and divided containers for collections
You may also like containers that show off items that are of special importance.

If your personal style is I love to be busy:
Focus on organizational systems that require little time to maintain; choose compartmentalized containers so you can see at a glance what's missing.
Tools of choice:  One-step organizational systems; separate storage for each activity
You may also like separate containers for each activity or containers that are specific to the activities you engages in (e.g. a dedicated bag for each activity).

If your personal style is I need to see it:
Focus on keeping things visible and replacing actual items with lists.
Tools of choice:  Clear or labeled containers
You may also like containers that are visually appealing, unique or reflect your personality.

Organizational Styles
If your organizational style is I know I put it somewhere:
Focus on establishing homes for everything and putting things away a little at time.
Tools of choice:  Clear or labeled containers
You may also like containers that are distinctive or unique.

If your organizational style is cram and jam:
Focus on establishing consistent homes for everything and making sure containers are the right size.
Tools of choice:  Open containers, flexible containers and one-step organizational systems
You may also like containers that are wide enough to accommodate stuffing without damage.

If your organizational style is drop and run:
Focus on establishing consistent homes for everything and putting one thing away before starting another.
Tools of choice:  Clear, distinctive or labeled containers and one-step organizational systems
You may also like containers that make it as easy to put things away as it is to leave them out.

One last note: don't go shopping just yet, unless it's to buy a duplicate of a container you know is working. Or, if you must go shopping, start small. Choose no more than three new organizers to test out. This is the part that gets worse before it gets better. :-)

Monday, March 2, 2015

Post-it Monday
Photo credit: Ali Inay
This week is winter break, one of the teaser weeks during the semester where I can temporarily set aside class prep and tackle all the other things on my list -- both the "must do" items and the "want to do items." As this week approached, I found myself doing what I always do when I have a break coming up -- creating a superhuman list of things I want to get done.

This time, though, I did it a little differently. I pulled a page off the oversized Post-it calendar that's been sitting neglected in a corner of my office and pressed it into service. Undated and twelve inches by eighteen inches, the page has a column for each day of the week. Each column is just wide enough for a 2 x 2 Post-it Note and just long enough for five of these to fit without overlapping.

Mine looks a little different, but you get the idea.
As break approached, and all the ambitious ideas began popping into my head, I set a pack of Post-it
Notes and a Sharpie marker on my desk. Every time I thought of something I wanted to do over break, I jotted the idea on a Post-it Note, and stuck it onto the calendar page, in no particular order.
I was not at all surprised when I overran the "neutral" column to the left of the labeled columns and began filling Monday's column.

By last Saturday, I had fifteen 2 x 2 sticky notes. Time to kick the plan into action.

What plan? Each day, I'll choose the sticky notes I want to tackle. By choosing tasks each morning instead of assigning them to specific days ahead of time, I get to choose the things I'm most motivated to do each day (this is supposed to be a break after all!) and increase the likelihood that they actually get done.

Saturday was a good day. Productive and a validation of my plan.

Yesterday, I woke to snow and the threat of worsening road conditions in an unspecified time frame. Concern over getting to and from church safely lay over me like an ice-covered cloak, and it stuck with me all day. I was tired and grouchy and didn't even look at the Post-it Notes, let alone select any. Instead, I puttered, napped and read a book. A novel. For fun. (I added that sticky note to the calendar today. Reading for fun should be on every vacation wish list).

So far, the plan is helping me to keep a clear head -- for the most part, anyway. It's definitely preferable to trying to remember everything and far superior to creating one, depressingly long to-do list that lingers long after break is over. There's something about a brightly colored Post-it Note that lowers the intimidation factor.

Today is blocked off for blogs and revisions -- a whole day to do the writing tasks that get short shrift during the semester. And this afternoon, I plan to crack open that novel again. Right after I rewrite the  previously posted blog I managed to delete last night.

But that's another story.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Saturday Special: Carson Tate's Productivity Styles

Today's Saturday Special isn't about physical organization. Instead, it's about productivity. Why the switch? Because I read this cool article about productivity styles, which led me to this other article about productivity styles (because it had a chart, which always appeals to we I need to see it people), which led me to take the quiz. What was I supposed to be doing while I was article-hopping, you ask? Coming up with topics for my Saturday Special. So, yes, I was on-task.

There is a connection between all this productivity information and my recent Wednesday posts. For one thing, understanding more about how your personal productivity works leads to better time management (theoretically, anyway), which is, after all, the organization of your time.

But what really drew me into all of this was the concept of styles. If I believe there are organizational styles (which I obviously do), then why wouldn't I believe there are productivity styles? The psych instructor in me needs to do a bit more research, but the counselor in me just had to explore this.
Which style am I? Well, within ten minutes of completing the quiz, I got two emails. One says I'm an arranger (like Chopin, Gandhi and Mother Teresa -- pretty impressive company) and the other says I'm a visualizer (like Picasso, Steve Jobs and Albert Einstein -- no slouches there either). Apparently, Carson Tate and I agree that it's possible to be a mix of styles.

I think my true style has elements of both. I'm definitely a visualizer, but I suspect that when it comes to the actual arranging, I sometimes drop the ball if left to my own devices. Fortunately, my desire to work in teams (who keep me honest) minimizes that risk.

Interesting stuff. I'm not sure it will be life-changing for me, but like identifying a personal or organizational style, it may free me to be myself, and worry less about whether or not my productivity looks like anyone else's.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Friday Freebie: What I'm Reading in Ten Minutes or Less: If it's Cold, Global Warming Must be a Mistake
Last Friday, it was so cold that most of the school districts in our area posted two hour delays. You know it's bad when the local news stations are counting down to daylight savings time -- the one where we "spring ahead" and lose an hour of sleep.

Does that mean global warming isn't real? With apologies to those who already read this on my Facebook page last week, here's an article that explains it better than I can. It begins with the difference between climate and weather, and, without going too deeply into meteorology and scientific lingo, clears up what seems like a contradiction.

This week, it's still cold, but not as cold as last week. 22 days till spring.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015


When I write about organizing with STYLE, I'm talking about personal and organizational styles (lower case), along with the plan that underlies them: STYLE in all caps. 

Last week, I talked more about successes (the first letter in the acronym), and small steps (the second letter). Before going any further, I wanted to share the rest of the STYLE acronym:

Start with successes
Take small steps   
Yes, it has a home!
Let it go
Easy upkeep

Before we're through, we'll tackle all of these steps -- mostly in order -- but since organization is a process, sometimes we move forward and sometimes, we revisit the early parts of the process because they really are the foundation for everything else. Small steps and successes of any size build confidence and help us to remember that by selecting tools and processes that match our "default settings," we can build a system that works. Each small step is one step closer to that eventual goal of a sustainable organizational plan.

This week, I want to connect one of our strategies from last week (Don't put it down, put it away!) to a key organizational concept -- the one embodied by the letter Y in STYLE -- Yes, it has a home.

Open, rolling containers that can be stashed
out of sight are an easy access choice for
many of the styles and can be used for
this activity or for storage.
(This one is from The Container Store).
When it comes to getting organized, home is simply where an item belongs. Books have homes on bookshelves. Shoes may have a home on the floor of the closet. Pots and pans find homes in kitchen drawers, or hanging from racks over a kitchen island.

Very often, clutter develops because items lack homes. Consequently, things are left lying out (I need to see it or drop and run) or improperly stashed away (I know I put it somewhere, cram and jam), because we don't know where to put them. Sometimes, an overload of stuff (I love stuff) or a dearth of time (I love to be busy) compounds the problem.

Let's look a little more closely at our strategies from last week. Give it Five! is a clutter-clearing strategy. Don’t put it down, put it away! is a clutter prevention strategy. They can be used separately or together, as in this week's task, which focuses on building the skill of Don’t put it down, put it away!

To get started, find a medium-sized container that can be used as a clutter catcher. Set it on the floor of a closet or out of the way in a room where clutter prevails. 

Then for the next several days (or until the container is full, whichever you prefer), every time you're finished with something, follow this routine: 
  1. Look at the item in your hand.
  2. Ask yourself, “Does this item have a home?”
  3. If it has a home, put it there.
  4. If it does not have a home, drop it in the designated container.
At the end of the trial period, go through the contents of the container and sort them into three categories:
  • Truly homeless items
  • Items you could not put away (space was too full, out of reach, etc.)
  • Items you could have put away but didn't
Decide which category to tackle first. (If you're using the Give it Five! strategy to do this task, you may not get through a single category in one sitting). Each category has a solution, but some are simpler than others. 

Multi-purpose storage items with lids
that lift off like this one, or are hinged
like the one at the bottom of this post
allow many of the styles to put things
away easily but still look neat.
(This ottoman is from

Truly homeless items need homes. This sounds easy enough, but in an overstuffed room or one with an organizational system that isn't working, it can be challenging to put things "away." If you can immediately locate logical homes for the homeless items, put them there. If you can't find a logical home for the item and you want to keep it, put it back into the container. (If you don't want to keep it, get rid of it right away if at all possible). If you can, corral all similar homeless items (perhaps into containers of their own, one for each category of homeless item) so that you don't have to re-sort later.

For items that could not be put away, see if you can figure out why this is the case. Do these items have homes that are out of reach, overstuffed or simply inconvenient? Can out of reach or inconveniently placed storage be relocated, or does it need to be replaced by something more useful? If the problem is an overstuffed home, consider making that space your next Give it Five! task.

Once again, we're looking for patterns -- this time with respect to the kinds of organizational tools that go unused. Are there perfectly serviceable drawers or shelves sitting empty, or, conversely, overstuffed? Do you need to dig under the bed or get out the stepladder to access the home for the items in the container? If so, consider replacing them with containers and systems you'll actually use. I'll talk more about container choices in next week's post. For now, return any of the items you want to keep to the collection container -- unless you're ready right now to create space for them "where they belong."

For items that could have been put away but weren't, resist the urge to chastise yourself, and explore the possibility that this was a decision based on style rather than laziness. Once again, you're looking for the "why." 

  • I love stuff organizers often resist putting things away because they enjoy looking at them while I need to see it organizers are afraid that out of sight will also mean out of mind. 
  • I like to be busy and drop and run people often lack time to put things away properly. For these folks and their I know I put it somewhere counterparts, dropping the item into the container was actually a victory in itself, and perhaps evidence that the right container can help build better habits. 
  • Cram and jammers? They're walking a very fine line between "could have but didn't" and "couldn't have stuffed one more thing into the available space." Again, take a moment to savor a small victory. An item that landed in the designated container instead of an overstuffed space is an item that has been spared wrinkles, tears and crumpling. This time.

When it comes to sorting this bin and creating new homes, make sure to find and honor natural stopping points. If you want to make progress without getting overwhelmed, consider setting a timer for a length of time you think you can stick to or plan to tackle one of the above categories and then take stock before moving on. And be prepared to stop after one category. Better to end on a feeling of success than a feeling of frustration. The former leaves you anxious to pick up where you left off, while the latter leaves you dreading tackling what remains.

As always, focus on successes. What things have been put where they belong? Do these items have anything in common? Are they important enough to you that you're motivated to put them where they belong? Or, is there a similarity among the containers or systems you're using to store these things? In both of these cases, you've found a style clue. Leave what's working alone and focus on changing the things that aren't working, perhaps by replicating the systems and containers that you actually use.

Share your successes -- of any size -- by leaving me a comment below.

The trick to using these kinds of containers
well is designating what belongs inside.
Otherwise, they run the risk of becoming
fancy clutter catchers, which is a good
temporary solution, but not a good
long-term plan.
(This storage bench is from

Monday, February 23, 2015

The Whole is Greater than the Sum of its Parts

About a month ago, my mom took a serious tumble. She shattered her shoulder, necessitating shoulder replacement surgery and the long convalescence that comes with it. I could write about this from so many perspectives -- how spotless she keeps her home (she fell while cleaning), how self-sufficient she's always been, how much I (selfishly) wish she and my dad lived close by so I didn't feel so helpless on those rare occasions where my stubbornly independent parents need my help.

But what I want to write about is the love story.

As I said, my mom is very self-sufficient. Growing up, I don't think I noticed this so much. While it didn't escape my attention that my she was equally capable of both nurturing us and ridding our old house of bats, I just figured that's what moms did. (Now that I'm a mom, I feel quite differently about that latter responsibility). My mom could -- and did -- handle everything that came her way, whether it was making dinner or wallpapering the bathroom.
My dad was hands-on, too, but not so much when it came to things like cooking and cleaning. I still tease him about the time he made breakfast for us at the beach and, unused to an electric range (we had a gas stove at home), ended up with pancakes that weren't exactly what we'd find at Perkins.

Married in 1960, my parents fell (mostly) into traditional gender roles, yet they have always been the yin to one another's yang. They know when to push and when to compromise, and they've spent more than fifty years together refining this dance.

When my dad had heart surgery, my mom's superwoman capabilities rose to new levels. And now that my mom has hit this road block, my dad has donned the cape. He does laundry. He cooks. He insisted (with a success my sister and I have failed to achieve) on hiring a cleaning lady so that the house would meet Mom's high standards, and she wouldn't sap the energy she needed to recuperate fretting about the state of the floors.

None of this stops Mom from trying to do things one-handed, of course. And as much as I shake my head, I'm relieved. My mom has never been a quitter, and I'd be worried if she were content to simply spend the day recuperating in her chair, even if that is exactly what she's supposed to be doing.

When I called one day last week, she and my dad were making dinner together in their small condo kitchen. Yin and yang, each complementing the other in a way few couples manage to do for five years, let alone 55, with equal parts humor and determination.

Just last week, I (finally!) received Superwoman's okay to come see her in her mere mortal state.

Silly Mom. Doesn't she know she'll always be Superwoman to me?

Along with the yin to my dad's yang.