Tuesday, March 30, 2010

4 Tips for Eco-Friendly Organizing

Simplify your life while being environmentally responsible!

Getting organized can be a fantastic way to simplify and streamline your busy life. The process of getting organized can involve weeding through (and discarding) some of the belongings that have been keeping you from living how you want to live, and finding other products that can help you live in more comfortable, effective way. Tossing some things out while also potentially getting new things may seem to be at odds with eco-friendly living, but there ARE ways to be eco-friendly while getting organized. Here are four things to keep in mind:

1. Repurpose what you have. Before getting rid of your stuff, see if you can use what you have in new and different ways. Turn things on their sides, take them to different rooms, and match things up in unusual ways. For instance, an extra bowl from the kitchen can make a great “key-catcher” by the front door. Checkbook boxes transform into drawer dividers, and plastic trays that fancy chocolate comes in are great for organizing earrings. Another example: I have a client who is a scrapbook artist. We used transparent plastic bins to store her supplies, which were functional but not very attractive. Instead of buying new bins, we used some of her extra decorative paper to line the bins and hide the contents. Look around your space – what can use differently?

2. Buy eco-friendly products. You may need to buy specialized organizing products, such as desk accessories, drawer dividers, and other things that will help you get and stay organized. Stores such as Good Girl Goods (goodgirlgoods.com) and the Container Store (containerstore.com) carry many products that are made from recycled or natural materials. Consider products that will make it easier for you to recycle, such as sorters that can help you separate glass, paper, compost, etc.

3. Store the right way. Store your items in a way that will best preserve them. First, make sure you have the right containers. If you’re storing photos or documents, choose acid-free boxes, not plastic bins. Keep clothes in a sealed container, not in a suitcase. Second, be conscious of the location where things are stored. Keep issues such as moisture, light, and temperature fluctuations in mind. A damp garage isn’t the right spot for paper, and a bookshelf in direct sunlight will quickly fade your precious photos.

4. Discard responsibly. After weeding through your stuff, you’ll probably be left with lots of things that need to find new homes and some that can be recycled. When working with clients, I usually recommend that they get rid of things in this order: sell, donate, and recycle. Items of value can be sold on eBay (ebay.com), Craigslist (craigslist.org), at a garage sale, or in your local paper. Call your favorite charities and see what items they are accepting – frequently charities will come and pick up your donations for you, saving you time. Items that are left over after selling or donating can often be given away via Freecycle (freecycle.org). Finally, the items that have no value to you or others can be responsibly recycled.

Simplifying and organizing your life while being environmentally responsible is possible! When embarking on your next organizing project, keep these four tips in mind. You’ll be able to feel good about taking steps toward living the life you want in an eco-friendly way.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Managing Your Time

Master your calendar with a few easy ideas!

Time flies when you’re having fun, but what if you’re not having fun and your time still seems to “fly away?” Do you ever feel like your schedule runs you, rather than the other way around? Maybe you’re feeling like you can’t get everything done, or that you don’t really know where your time goes. Sound familiar? If so, a “time makeover” might be just what you need! Here are some simple strategies to help get your calendar under control:

Take stock. To truly maximize your use of time, it’s helpful to first find out how you’re currently spending your day. In a journal or on a notepad, write down what you’re doing from hour to hour for a few days. Note what your current daily schedule is (if you have one), what’s working, and what isn’t. Also notice what your energy rhythms are – are you more “up” in the evening, or are you more of a night owl?

Check it out. After keeping a log for a few days, start looking for patterns. Are you spending most of your time on the things that you want or need to do, or are you wasting lots of time procrastinating or surfing the web? Where is time being used well, and where do you see room for improvement? Also see whether the things that are most important to you are synchronized with when you are the most “up.”

Build blocks. Group your different daily tasks into categories, and then make the categories into “time blocks.” Common categories are work time (time you spend at your job or business), admin tasks (paying bills, processing paper, etc.), pleasure time (breaks and other downtime), and kid-related time (carpooling, getting the kids ready for school).

Fill it in.
Look at a blank calendar, and start setting up your revised schedule. Put your time blocks onto your calendar, based on how much time the tasks within each category take up. As things come up during your day or your week, you’ll now have time literally “blocked out” for the tasks to fit into. Try to group related tasks together – for instance, if you noted in your logs that you were paying bills online on Tuesday and writing checks on Friday, try to group those together on your calendar. Every process that you can group or streamline will make a difference in how efficient you can be.

Keep at it. After you’ve filled in your time blocks with tasks, you’ll be left with a revamped schedule. Try implementing your new schedule slowly – that way you can make adjustments and tweaks. If something works well – great! If not, see if you can shift a task to another time block or shift the blocks around. Keep with it until you find the mix that works for you.

You CAN get control over your schedule! With a little advance planning and a few of my tips, you’ll soon be master of your day once more.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

3 Steps to Your Organized Kitchen

It’s a space most of us use every single day, but few of us take time out to make our kitchens the efficient, organized spaces they could be. By taking a few simple steps, we can create efficient areas for storage, food prep, and we can even save money in the process!

Edit it all. Kitchens have a tendency to become storage areas for the unused and the unwanted, which can end up taking up valuable storage and food prep space. Sometimes, it’s easier to simply push the things we don’t use to the back of the shelf, rather than decide that we don’t need them at all and then get rid of them. Because of this, it’s a smart idea to take a detailed pass through every cupboard, cabinet and shelf in your kitchen and make sure that you’re keeping only the things you need, use and eat. A few helpful questions to ask when editing through the items in your kitchen:

 Have I used this tool/gizmo in the past 6 months to a year?
 Is this food expired?
 Did I (or someone else in my home) like this food the last time we ate it?
 Does this food align with my current eating goals (lower cholesterol foods, healthy eating, etc.)?

Kitchen gizmos in particular have a tendency to accumulate, so take a realistic look at these items and make sure you have used them recently - or have even opened them in the first place!

Keep it close. Once you’ve edited through the food and food prep tools you’re currently storing in your kitchen, then it’s time to reorganize things a bit to make them easier to use. At this point, you’ll want to take everything out of your cabinets and start moving them to storage spaces that make more sense for how you’ll actually be using your stuff. One of the basic tenets of organizing is to keep things close to where you’ll be using them. In this case, you’ll want to keep the food prep items and food that you use all the time in areas that are nearby where you’re likely to use them - for instance, your frequently used pots, pans, and utensils should be close to the stove and oven, and the ones you use less frequently should be stored a little further away.

Eat it up. When I’ve helped clients organize their kitchens in the past, we are often surprised at how much unused and uneaten food is filling up their storage. When we buy food at the store and then put it away after we get home, it’s so easy to forget that we have it - the old “out of sight, out of mind” syndrome. Especially when we are in a hurry, it’s hard to remember that polenta that in the cupboard or the ground turkey in the back of the freezer - all of which we intended to eat, but simply just forgot about. Before you go shopping next time, take a pass through what you already have on the shelf - you may already have what you need, or you may just need to “fill in the blanks” with produce or other fresh items. You can also try rotating the food that’s in the back of your shelves and bring those items to the front of the shelves, making it easier to see what you have. Studies have shown that if we actually ate all the food that’s in our storage, the average home could save hundreds of dollars a month over going out to buy new food at the store. What a bonus for getting organized!

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Reducing Paper Clutter

We’ve got way to go to reach the paperless future shown in The Jetsons and Star Trek. During the course of daily life, many of us are faced with a deluge of paper, all of which needs to be dealt with in some way. Many people I’ve worked with are drowning in stacks, piles, and desks full of paper, and want to gain control over the paper in their lives. If this rings true with you, read on for some tips on how to begin to turn off the “paper faucet.”

Many people get far more paper coming in than they want or know what to do with, so the first step in managing paper is to reduce the amount that comes in. Start with your mail. Junk mail, which is still filling up many mailboxes and creating tons of waste and clutter, can be stopped, or at least reduced. Get your name off of junk mailing lists by going to the Direct Marketing Association’s web site at http://www.dmaconsumers.org/consumerassistance.html. Call your credit card company and tell them not to share your name or your information with third parties. Do the same with your magazine subscriptions, utilities, and other organizations that send you mail. Try to refrain from signing up for contests and other freebies, as these types of promotions frequently share names with junk mailers. The goal is to try and have your name and information in as few databases as possible – the fewer companies that have your name, the less junk mail you’ll find in your mailbox.

Computers were supposed to solve the “paper problem” – or so we were led to believe. In reality, computers tend to generate far more paper than they conserve – the article you printed out, the emails you decided to make hard copies of, etc. I’ve found that many people that print out information from the internet and email do not really have a clear idea of why they are printing it out, other than that they are saving it “for later.” Nor do they have a specific place to put this printed information, so it tends to end up buried under a pile or hidden in a drawer “somewhere.” Here’s a handy guideline: print web pages or emails ONLY when you know exactly where and to who they are going – if you can’t answer those questions, then there’s no need to have a hard copy. Instead, create a system of bookmarks in your web browser, which will help you find the articles that you’d like to read or refer to later. You can create bookmarks by topic, by site, by date…whatever makes the most sense for your purposes. Likewise, as an alternative to printing out emails, create folders in your email program to store your old email messages, or offload them onto a CD or removable disk.

Trying just a couple of these simple ideas can dramatically reduce the amount of paper that you have to wrestle with. In time, your freely flowing “paper faucet” will be reduced to a trickle.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Controlling Your Closet

San Francisco living is great – many of us are fortunate to live in beautiful, historic buildings that are just bursting with character. Another thing that’s bursting is our closets. With more clothing and belongings than ever before, it can be a constant struggle to find places to put all our “stuff,” especially in closets that were designed twenty-five, fifty, or a hundred years ago. Our lives, and our storage needs, are very different than our predecessors, yet if we want to live in San Francisco, we have to devise ways to shoehorn our belongings into closets that were designed for wardrobes from a bygone era. But how do you fit a modern wardrobe into a Victorian-era closet? I’ve got a few ideas for you.

The first step is to get rid of what you don’t need – that way, you can see exactly what you need to find storage space for. One of the best ways to do this is to take everything out of your closet, and start sorting it into piles. I like to recommend that my clients create piles for “Keep” (things you definitely wear), “Sell” (things that you can probably make money by selling at used clothing stores), “Donate” (things that are usable but that you probably can’t sell), “Trash” (things that nobody will want or be able to use), and finally a “Don’t Know” pile, for things you’re not sure what to do with. The “Keep,” “Sell,” “Donate,” and “Trash” piles are pretty straightforward, but what about the “Don’t Know” pile?

“Don’t Know” is for items that you like, but never wear or use. If you really can’t part with that $300 dress that you never wore, and you can’t bear to give up those soccer cleats for that league you were planning on joining two years ago, put those items into a box, and seal the box with tape. If you haven’t opened the box to use those items in six months, it’s time to sell, donate or trash those items, because chances are you won’t be using them anytime soon.

So how do you store everything that went into your “Keep” pile effectively in your tiny San Francisco closet? The key is to maximize every available inch of storage space in the closet. Look up, look down, look all around, and you’ll find that there just might be a lot more potential storage space in your closet than you originally may have thought. I’m often surprised at just how much storage space there can be in a closet – you just have to be creative about how you use it.

For instance, if your closet has only one rod, you can gain 50% more storage space by hanging another rod. Closet rods are available inexpensively at local hardware stores, and if you don’t want to install one permanently, you can get a removable secondary rod that hangs down off of your primary rod (I often suggest these to renters). No space in your room for a traditional dresser? Try some plastic, stackable drawers that you can use to fit in the floor space under where your clothes hang. I highly recommend the transparent or semi-transparent drawers rather than the opaque ones, because it’s very convenient to be able to see what’s in your drawers without having to actually open them up. If you have shelves above your closet rod, you can fold and stack sweaters and shirts, or use the space for transparent shoe boxes, which stack nicely. Don’t ignore the space behind the closet door, which can be a great spot for hanging a shoe rack, accessories organizer, or for installing a hook to hang long items such as coats and dresses.

So if your closet is currently on overflow, don’t despair. Use a few tips that I’ve suggested, and your closet will soon be your friend.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Making Your Workspace Work

Improve comfort and increase productivity with a few simple tips!

Once an afterthought, people who spend time at a desk have come to recognize the benefits of creating an ergonomic, efficient workspace. Whether you’re spending time at a desk at home or at an office, a comfortable, well thought out space can go a long way towards making you feel more productive. Here’s a few tips to get the process started:

Choose the right workstation. Think about the functions that you’ll be doing at your desk. Analyze what you do in a day, and make sure that your desk or workstation will be able to accommodate your needs. Will you have lots of cables running from a computer and other equipment? Choose a desk with built-in cable management and an adjustable keyboard drawer. Will you be doing a lot of paperwork or making scrapbooks? You’ll want a desk with lots of flat space so that you can spread out.

Streamline your storage. Planning your storage in advance can result in significant time savings later. Group the things you need to store into categories (office supplies, filing, books, inventory, etc.), and then measure the items. That way you can determine just how much space you’ll need for storage. Decide what type of storage (a desk hutch, bookcase, freestanding shelves, drawer unit, etc.) makes sense for the space you have available and the amount of storage that you need.

Have a plan. Based on the information you just gathered, develop a storage plan. Make a map of the shelves or drawers, and assign items to each shelf or drawer in a way that makes sense for you. Keep more frequently-used items closer, and place infrequently used items higher up or down lower – away from the “prime real estate” of eye-level storage. Make sure to leave extra space in your plan for items you’ll purchase in the future. According to the storage plan that you just created, arrange your items on the shelves or in the drawers. Containerize smaller items as necessary.

Make it yours. For many people, a desk or workspace doesn’t feel right until they decorate it in some way. Personalizing your space can go a long way towards making you feel more at home and productive. The key here is to not go overboard and clutter up your desk with mementos, photos, and personalized mugs. Instead of dozens of personal items, choose and display a few that really mean something to you. Monthly, swap your mementos for others that have special meaning – that way, you’ll get to honor your treasured items, while also keeping your space clutter-free!

Working at home or work at the office can be more comfortable and productive than you previously may have thought. By implementing a few of these simple tips, spending time at your workspace can be a pleasure!

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Organizing with Kids

Are you tired of asking your children to pick up and put away their things? If “clean up your room!” is a popular refrain in your household, there are some simple things that you can do to help your kids get on the organizing bandwagon.

Give them control. Kids love to solve puzzles and are often full of ideas. When working with your kids to organize their room or playspace, instead of you making decisions for them, see how they’d like their toys arranged or their clothes sorted. Maybe they want their clothes organized by color instead of type, when you thought doing the reverse would work well. Work with your kids to find out where they think things should go, and use those ideas to find appropriate homes for all of their stuff. Your kids will feel a lot more invested in a system that they can help design, rather than one that is imposed on them.

Keep it simple. A common pitfall of people who organize for their children rather than with them is that they create complicated systems that are oriented towards adults. Don’t create a system with many complicated categories and hard-to-use organizing gizmos. Keep categories straightforward and age-appropriate, and make sure that any containers or specialized organizing tools, such as craft boxes, re-closable plastic bags, etc., can be safely and easily used by your child.

Make storage accessible. Chances are, your kids can’t reach as high as you can, and can’t lift as much as you either. I’ve gone into a number of homes where well-meaning parents had storage bins full of toys that had been stacked nearly floor-to-ceiling. When I asked how easy it was for the kids to access the toys in the bottom bin, the parents usually say “not very.” If your kids can’t easily access their storage system, they won’t use it. Instead of stackable bins, use storage drawers. Make sure that everything is at a height that’s accessible for your kids, and that they are able to pick up and move things without straining.

Label everything. For kids (as well as for adults), a label on something makes it “official.” Once a drawer has a label says “socks” and a storage container is labeled “dolls,” those become the official homes for those items. As long as everything has a clearly labeled home, the chances of items finding their way back to their homes become much greater.

Use color. Finally, kids love color – so use it in their organizing systems! Color-code storage areas, drawers, and other containers as another way of “labeling” functions of the storage system. Organizing containers don’t have to be white, black, or clear – so use color where appropriate with the systems you and your kids develop.

Spending time with your kids developing organizing ideas and solutions can be a fun and rewarding family activity. Soon, you may find that your kids’ rooms practically clean themselves!