Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Organizing and Happiness

I just finished reading Gretchen Rubin’s fabulous book, The Happiness Project:  Or, Why I Spent a Year Trying to Sing in the Morning, Clean My Closets, Fight Right, Read Aristotle, and Generally Have More Fun.  What took me so long to pick up this book?

For one year, Gretchen chronicles her experiences as she test-drives studies and theories about how to be happier.  The book is an organizer’s dream as Gretchen tracks each resolution on a chart and takes a truly systematic and thorough approach to trying to live a happier life.  Plus the book is chock full of inspiring, thoughtful ways to look at day-to-day life, and getting organized is one of the first things Gretchen tackles in hope that outer order will bring inner peace.

So this week, in honor of a great read (which I encourage you to check out), here are my six favorite organizing lessons from The Happiness Project. 

1. Lurking Objects:  “Objects that needed to be put away, objects that didn’t have a real place, unidentified lurking objects – they all needed to be placed in their proper homes. Or tossed or given away.” I love that Gretchen refers to objects as lurking – it’s too perfect and so true. 

2. Mom’s Wisdom:  “Make a list, do a little bit each day, and stay calm.”  This is advice straight from Gretchen’s mom, and I couldn’t agree more.  The thought of getting organized can be overwhelming, but it can be accomplished by breaking down each project into manageable tasks.

3. New Ways to Think of Clutter:  In all my reading and research about organization, Gretchen has the most interesting (and hilarious) way to diagnose types of clutter.
  • Nostalgic Clutter – Things we cling to from earlier in life
  • Conservation Clutter – Things we keep because they’re useful to someone, just not us
  • Bargain Clutter – Buying unnecessary things because they’re on sale
  • Freebie Clutter – Gifts, hand-me-downs, and giveaways
  • Crutch Clutter – Things you use but know you shouldn’t.  Gretchen uses a great example of a horrible green sweatshirt bought ten years ago.
  • Aspirational Clutter – Things you own but only aspire to use
  • Outgrown Clutter – Things you own but don’t use anymore
  • Buyer’s Remorse Clutter – Things you hold onto rather than admitting you’ve made a bad purchase 

Do any of these sound familiar?  If so, stop, drop and declutter.

4. Four Thermometer Syndrome:  Gretchen describes how she could never find her family’s thermometer, so she kept buying new ones.  Once the clutter was cleared, she realized:  1) She had four thermometers, and 2) She never used the thermometers in the first place.  Getting organized ends dreaded duplicate purchases and helps you understand what you actually need and use. 

5. Gretchen’s Fourth Commandment:  If a task takes less than one minute to complete – “Do it now.”  That goes for hanging up the coat, putting newspapers in the recycling bin, and putting away the umbrella.  This is a good tip to remember to keep clutter from piling up.

6. Evening Tidy-up:  If you take ten minutes before bed to do simple tidying around the house, mornings become calmer.  Imagine not stepping on Legos on your way to the kitchen for coffee!  This is one tip I give clients for maintaining organization, and I’m happy to see that it worked for Gretchen.

Another reason I’m so HAPPY I read this book is that I came across this fantastic quote from Benjamin Franklin, “On the whole, though I never arrived at the perfection I had been so ambitious of obtaining, but fell far short of it, yet as I was, by the endeavor, a better and a happier man than I otherwise should have been had I not attempted it.” 

So true, Ben, so true.  

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

A Spring Cleaning Planning Guide

Spring has sprung!  Despite the fact that the weather in New York City is still bumming me out (except for last Friday), I am elated that the long winter is almost behind us.  Which means that it’s about time to store your wool sweaters and give your home the yearly detox.  It’s spring cleaning time – get excited!

Okay, I admit that I am forcing a bit of excitement here.  I mean, how many people actually look forward to washing windows and vacuuming curtains?  But, I’ll tell you what makes spring cleaning more bearable – developing a simple and manageable plan to get it done.  So, this week, I’ll tell you how to devise a plan to tackle your spring cleaning.

You might ask, why spend 30 minutes developing a plan?  Well, for most folks, knowing where to start is the hardest part and without a list of projects, it’s easy to become overwhelmed.  It’s also a natural tendency to jump from one project to the next, leading to multiple projects in multiple rooms at one time.  Having a plan focuses your efforts and gives you a sense of accomplishment as you cross each project off your list.

Make a List
Your first step is to make a list of priority projects.  This is the point at which my advice about spring cleaning is going to differ from what you hear from almost everyone else out there.  It’s a bold and smart decision to tackle your entire house, top to bottom.  However, I like to be realistic.  We’re all busy and spring cleaning shouldn’t take all spring.  So, if you don’t have time to clean your entire home, identify priority projects that are out of the realm of your weekly cleaning and do them with gusto. 

So, how do you identify your priority projects?  Most likely you’ll have a pretty good idea of what’s been nagging you, so go room to room and make a list.  Or to better hone in, take a tour of your home, and ask yourself some questions:
  • Which areas of my home cause me the most stress?
  • What areas of my home do I neglect in my weekly cleaning?
  • What goals do I have for home maintenance this year?
  • What projects relate to those goals?

Once you’ve made a list of projects, rank them in terms of importance, and write down how long each project might take to complete.

Set the Schedule
Your next step is to grab your calendar and block out time for spring cleaning.  Be realistic about how much time you’re wiling to devote to getting it done.  You might be the type of person that likes to work for a couple hours on one room, or you might like to devote an entire weekend to finishing several projects.  Only you know what works best for you and your schedule.  Now that you have a sufficient amount of time blocked out, write (or type) in the name of the project(s) you’re going to accomplish each day starting with those at the top of your priority list. 

And remember to keep your notes in a file.  If you don’t tackle a project this year, you will be able to get to it next year.  I promise I won’t tell Martha Stewart that you didn’t flip your mattresses this year.

Do the Research
I won’t pretend to be an expert on the art of cleaning, but there are so many great resources on the Internet that tell you how to tackle specific projects.  I came across this one in Real Simple’s April issue.  So, do some brief research on your priority projects so you have all your bases covered.

Gather the Supplies
The importance of research is also to make sure you have supplies gathered in advance, instead of starting a project and realizing you need to run to the store.  Start a shopping list of spring cleaning supplies you’ll need, and hit the stores one time.  I long suspected that OxiClean (RIP Billy Mays) is the answer to all cleaning problems, so you might need to stock up. 

Get to It
Now you know what you’re going to do, when you’re going to do it, and how to do it, so I’m guessing you’re all set.  Good luck and happy spring (cleaning)!  

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

How to Organize Your Bookshelves

I recently came across this fantastic video (props to Real Simple for originally posting it).  It’s the perfect inspiration for this week’s blog post about two of my favorite things – books and organizing.

I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that you might have one or two cluttered bookshelves in your home.  Or maybe you’ve flipped through a design magazine and asked yourself – why don’t my bookshelves look like that?  If so, keep reading these tips to organize your bookshelves in a way that would make even Nate Berkus proud.

Step One:  Define the purpose.   A dumping ground for odds and ends is not a suitable purpose!  Instead, decide if you want each shelf to serve a functional purpose, like a place to display and store your stationary or your jewelry.  Or decide if you want each shelf to serve a more decorative purpose, like a creative display of your books or your favorite photos.  It’s fine for the shelves to be a combination of both functional and decorative as long as they remain clutter-free. You might want to check out design magazines for inspiration.  Here are some of my favorites that have been featured in Real Simple.

Step Two:  Clear and Sort.  Remove the items from each shelf, and group similar items together in piles (or in boxes) on the floor.  For example, books with books, photos with photos – you get the drill.  If your bookshelf includes paperwork as well as a random assortment of stuff, then you’ll want to sort items or papers into boxes:  to file, to trash, to shred, to recycle, and to move to another area in your home.

Step Three:  Purge.  Now it’s time to really give some consideration to items you have left in piles to go back on the bookshelves.  Your goal is to purge items that don’t support the purpose you’ve determined for each shelf.  As you review each item in the piles, ask yourself: 
  • Does this item support the purpose I’ve determined for any shelves?
  • Do I use this item?
  • Why am I keeping this?
  • Is there another place it would be better stored than it’s current location?     

Remember to only keep books that you truly enjoyed and know you will read again.  Also, determine how much space you want to give to books on the shelves and only keep books that you have room to display.

Step Four:  Dust and Decorate.  Before you start to decorate, dust the shelves and the items you’ve removed. 

Decorating is the fun part where you get to show your personality through the items you showcase on your bookshelves.  As you start decorating, keep in mind the purpose you’ve determined for each shelf.
If you are a book lover, think of creative ways to group books together.  It might be based on color (see video), alphabetical by author, genre, or by size.  Or if you’re anything like me (ummm, insanely diversified reading taste), Teddy Roosevelt’s biography will be right next to Chelsea Handler’s memoir.  I keep my non-fiction together based on size.  It’s all about what’s right for you. 

Here are a couple other basic decorating tips: 
  • Use different containers, like decorative boxes and baskets, to keep like items together and out of sight.
  • Remember to use large accessories with colors that complement others in the room.
  • Small accessories tend to look cluttered and collect dust. 
  • Group items in odd numbers.

Step Five:  Schedule the donation. It’s likely you’ve decided to get rid of a number of books and other random items.  Pick your favorite charity (almost all take books) and make an appointment on your schedule now to drop everything off.  Rest assured someone will enjoy the books as much as you did!

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

How Do You Know?

Sorry, folks, this is not a review for Reese Witherspoon’s latest movie.  For the record, I didn’t see it, but a combo of Reese, Paul Rudd, and Jack Nicholson can’t be all bad, right?  But I digress. 

This week I want to explore a question I hear regularly – 
How do you know if a professional organizer can help you?  

So, to jump right in, here is some food for thought…

  • Have you tried to get organized on your own without success?
  • Do you have a list of projects to complete but no idea where to start?
  • Do you feel like you don’t have enough time to get everything done?
  • Are you so overworked that organizing your personal life is neglected?
  • Do you have difficulty making decisions about what to keep and what to let go?
  • Do you prefer to work with someone else to help you avoid procrastination and to provide direction?

To be clear, I did just answer the original question with a series of questions.  I know, could I be more creative?  Well, the answer is no, because the only way to determine if a professional organizer can help you is to ask yourself some tough questions to get to the heart of the matter as Don Henley (a fellow Texan) might say. 

Of course, I’d like to think, when you know, you know, but that’s not always the case.  People often think that everyone feels as overwhelmed as they do. 

Bottom line:  It’s important to do some inside searching (see questions above) and to get some outside perspective (see Urban Simplicity) if you’re even questioning whether or not you’re living the most efficient life possible.  A solution and peace of mind could be right around the corner.   

Monday, March 7, 2011

One Organized Event

Exciting updates over here at Urban Simplicity!  The Organize with New York Style conference last Saturday, hosted by the National Association of Professional Organizers in New York, went off without a hitch.  I was lucky enough to be on the Planning Committee and helped coordinate the venue search, logistics, volunteers, and the raffle.  As you can imagine, the event was incredibly well organized, probably because a group of professional organizers ran it.  I definitely encourage you to check it out next year.  

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Six Financial Incentives to Get Organized

Lately I’ve come across many examples of the most compelling reason to get organized – the financial benefit.  So this week, instead of tips and how to instructions, here are six financial incentives to getting organized.  Consider this some inspiration to call Urban Simplicity today!

1.  Taxes – I hate to be the one to break the bad news here, but tax season is fast approaching, my friends.  Just last week in a meeting, Chris Falco with Babaian CPA Associates PLLC said something that really caught my attention.  He said the easiest way to save money on your tax preparation expense is to make sure your tax files are organized.  That goes for W-2s, 1099s, receipts, invoices, donations to charities – everything!  And in case you’re audited, having organized tax files for the previous seven years will save you money and stress in the long run.  A final added tax benefit to decluttering and getting organized is that you can get a tax deduction for items you donate to charity.  Just remember to save the receipt.

2.  Duplicate Purchases – How many times have you run to the store for batteries only to realize a week later that there was a whole stash in the kitchen?  Or better yet, you can’t find that black sweater and decide the dry cleaner probably lost it.  Wrong!  Check the far reaches of your closet.  If you’re organized and all your possessions have a home, you won’t find yourself purchasing duplicate items.

3.  Emergency Situation – Not to be grim here, but what happens if you are robbed, or your building has a fire or water damage?  You suddenly need to file an extensive insurance claim, but you realize you have no real sense of which possessions were lost or damaged or the cost associated with either.  Getting organized is the answer.  To save money and grey hair in the long run, create an inventory of your most valuable possessions like fine art, electronics, furniture, and jewelry, including photos of the items, manufacturer information, and receipts to document date and location purchased and price paid.

4.  Home Sale – Just last week, the New York Times reported that clutter and disorganization could take five to 15 percent off the sale of your home.  No one finds a cluttered space appealing, so if you’re in the market to sell, get organized first.

5.  Real Estate – New York City’s residential real estate is some of the most valuable per square foot in the world.  And a common reason people move is because they need more space.  If you could declutter and organize your possessions to make more space in your current apartment, thus avoiding the need to move to a larger apartment, imagine the money you would save.

6.  Late Fees – Organizing your bill paying is the fastest way to get control of your personal financial situation and to avoid spending additional money on late fees.  Enough said!