Thursday, October 31, 2013

Day 31: Just Say No.

Saying "no" to stuff you don't really need slows the inflow.

Saying "no" to hanging on to old things you no longer want or need speeds up the outflow.

Saying "no" to tasks and activities which interfere with other tasks and activities you value (even "non-tasks" and "non-activities" like reading for pleasure, or sleeping), you create breathing room.

Saying "no" is sometimes the best way to stay true to yourself. It can be the way to be kind to yourself.

For when you say "yes" to one thing, given we have finite time, finite resources, finite energy and, even, finite health, we are indirectly saying "no" to something else.

Like everything else, make that "no" be up front, direct and intentional.

Thanks for joining me for the 31 Days of Staying Organized. It was a bit intense, wasn't it?
What was your biggest take-away?

You can catch all the posts in the series here.

A huge thank-you to Aby Garvey at Simplify 101 whose course called "The Secrets of Staying Organized" was the inspiration for this series. The course is being offered again in a week. I highly recommend it.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Day 30: Make Staying Organized Part of the Family Culture

You know of my struggles in this area with my own family.

While my grandmother gave me the example of keeping a house clean and tidy, my mom did not. My Mom is not my grandmother's daughter, but her daughter-in-law. But, as Mom tells the story, even her own mother despaired of teaching my Mom how to keep house, and so, unlike her sisters, she wasn't taught.

And I'm not sure that if she had known she would have taught me. She was a career woman while I was growing up--and for most of it a single parent. As I am learning now, it takes a lot of energy to teach kids to do things they'd rather not do. If I could turn back the clock, I would. If I knew then what I know now about habits, I would have persisted better when they were younger and not worried so much about the whole issue of rewards and internal motivation.

But things are changing. I am no longer the chief cook and bottlewasher in my home--well, maybe I am the chief, but I have a crew (motely though they may be) now. Thank goodness.

ETA: You can catch all the posts in the series here.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Day 29: Create Homes for Temporary Things

Do you work on projects and have them scattered about?

Or, do you stop yourself from working on projects because you have no place to keep them?

I used to do that.

Now, I have a sewing project basket here:

and some curtains I'm working on, here.

I need a better place to keep returns, though.

Have you got clutter because of temporary things?
Think about creating homes for them.

Christmas is coming. That's a huge influx of all kinds of temporary things. Not just gifts, (and the on-going process of hand made gifts, if any are on your lists) but baking items, pre-made food, part supplies, receipts, and so on.... If you think of places to put things, now, you'll have a much less cluttered Christmas.

ETA: You can catch all the posts in the series here.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Day 28: Speed up the Outflow

I'd been avoiding it.

But when my daughter announced that she had "cleaned out her summer stuff" I knew I had to go downstairs and tackle it.

"It" is our donation station which is one of the single most important things I've ever set up to help us stay organized.
This is the place where everything goes if it is going to leave the house. It is here, under my folding table, in the laundry room because most of what we donate is clothing. It's handy to just take it straight from the dryer and put it here.
We are on a local charity's call list. I try to always have something for them when they call to make a pick up--so, unfortunately, I do let things pile up a bit too much--but when it works, it works really well. Every time they called last year, I took it as a cue to declutter more and more areas of the house.
Now that I have some breathing room, I do my best to maintain the one-in, one-out rule. This is really effective with my daughter. Every time she asks for something new, I always ask her, "What are you going to get rid of to make room for this?" I am hoping that this will stop her pack ratting tendencies in their tracks some day.
Aby adds one more thing to the list of ways to speed up your outflow. She advises to stop looking for the perfect home for your things. It slows down the process too much.
So, how do you speed up the outflow?
  1. Set up a donation bin.
  2. Get on a charity's pick up list.
  3. Follow the one-in, one-out rule.
  4. Stop trying to find the perfect home.
Do you have any thing you are ready to donate/give away? 
ETA: You can catch all the posts in the series here.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Day 27: Slow the Inflow

Yesterday, we talked about how creating some breathing room in your home and in your schedule makes life easier.

Today. we'll talk about one way to do that.

To stay organized, you have to create habits to return things to where they belong before you cross your clutter threshold. When you have some open space in your home it's easier to get the stuff you already have back into their homes, and it's easier to find places for new stuff that comes into your home, too.

One way to create space quickly is to slow the inflow of stuff into your home--and speed up the outflow. Today, I'll concentrate on ways you can slow the inflow.

  • Shop with a list.
    • A list helps you distinguish your wants from your needs. You make rational and intentional shopping decisions and fewer emotional and impulse purchases. If you are buying something like storage containers or curtains, take your measurements with you.
  • Scrutinize that shopping cart.
    • Everything you bring home has a cost--even when its free. It costs you time and effort. You have to find a home for it, get rid of the thing it is replacing, you have to care for it, and eventually, decide to get rid of it. Do you have a home for it? If you don't have a place for it, bringing it home moves you further away from your goal to stay organized, not closer. Is it worth it?
  • Cost.
    • Is it in the budget? Can you afford it?
  • Need.
    • Do you need this? Do you already have something similar? Leave the "wants" at the store.
  • Love.
    • Do you love it? Really? Will you love it 24 hours from now? A week? A year? If so, pull the trigger, and go for it. As Aby says, it's not about depriving yourself, it's about being intentional.
If impulse shopping is a challenge for you, put together a list of questions you can whip out and go over at the store, before you spend you money.

Another tactic is to delay your purchase. Try to leave it in the store for twenty four hours or more. My husband and I have evolved a practice where we never buy anything (any more) without leaving to discuss it-- even if it just for coffee --even if we need it right now. For example, our stove stopped working Monday while cooking dinner. It is now Sunday. I will be ordering our new range, today. (Hooray!). Yep, it's that one up there.

ETA: You can catch all the posts in the series here.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Day 26: Create Some Breathing Room

Does life seem to go along all tickety-boo until it blows up?

You're doing really well with getting meals, and picking up, and staying ever so slightly ahead (but ahead!) of the laundry when boom! all of a sudden there's a trail of unopened mail, clutter on the counters, and laundry piled a mile high.

something like this maybe?

Most of us live our lives at full capacity. Whenever something "extra" happens--something comes up to crowd an already full schedule, or something is brought into your home and there's just no room for it (or worse, it's Christmas and both happen at once!) then the overflow looks like socks on the floors, bathmats moulding in the tub, and (as always) dishes on the counter.

What we need is to give ourselves some breathing room.

We need it in our schedules. Last year, my Mom, who is raising my five year old nephew, had them scheduled to go out four evenings a week. There was swimming and sign language and music and cooking class. It was much too much. There was no room for sniffles, no room to breathe. I read a book ages ago that advised that we limit our children to two activities at a time. Given we had two kids, that seemed like sane advice. It has been.

When I began work, I resurrected an old habit from an old friend of mine. He taught me that life would less stressed if I got up two hours before I had to be somewhere--even if it was to go for breakfast! It is a wonderful practice even though it means I am up very early in the morning, sometimes. But there's nothing like the quiet of the whole house to energise me. (Bonus: I can cook the mire poix for my frittata for about 20 minutes before I add the eggs. Michael Pollen says that's a good thing. It certainly has a lovely flavour.)

As for breathing room in the rooms of my house, I cannot stress its importance enough. Though I had the schedule thing more or less figured out, I filled my little house to the brim. I thought that was what you did.

But it put my life in total re-active mode. Every time something came into the house, it would cause a near melt-down. Christmas was overwhelming. Homeschooling--with it's influx of curriculum and materials-- was nearly unmanageable.

It wasn't until Nester's Tchotchke Challenge that I realised how cluttered my surfaces really were and how nice it is for them to breathe.

Prior to the Challenge in June:

As it looks today:

Creating breathing room gives you room to look after your self, your home and your time when things get busy or life gets full.

Go easy with your time and schedule at "stay-at home" night at least once or twice a week. Do things ahead of time, like make freezer meals (I've been thinking about this.) or do your gift shopping well in advance.

For your rooms, identify any space that is full or nearly full. Spend some time decluttering it. Do you want 10% breathing room? Twenty-five percent?

Whatever you decide, remember, the more room you create, the better you'll be able to accept new things into your life.

Do you need to make some breathing room? In your schedule, your rooms, or both?

ETA: You can catch all the posts in the series here.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Day 25: Write it Down

When it comes to writing things down, I rely on these two notebooks. The top, from the Martha Stewart Line at Staples I carry in my bag, the second, a planner, stays on my desk.

I sat there in teacher/parent conference with my daughter beside me while a teacher said, "oh honey, you've got to learn to make friends with a list."

And I thought to myself: I have not taught my daughter to make a list? I reached for my notebook in my purse to write down: "look up how to organize a teenager"--and I realised I didn't have a pen.

Making lists, writing things down is a fairly rudimentary task: and as I thought about it, I reaised my daughter has never really seen me make any--except for a the list of stores I want to go to when we run errands and, of course, the grocery list on the side of the fridge. I love this thing. Every time my son comes to me and says, "Mom, we need gala apples" or "Mom, we need bananas," (the boy loves his fruit) I answer him, "Go write it down."

The Benefits of Writing it Down:

  • It helps you remember to do the right things at the right time.
    • This is what my daughter needs.
  • It helps you keep your commitments and so you can avoid letting down your teachers, your friends, yourself.
    • (One of my daughter's friends needs to write things down, too.)
  • If you write it down, you can put the "reminder" away.
    • No need to keep the bill out in a stack of papers to remind yourself to pay it.
  • It can help you stay focused and more efficient.
    • For some reason, whenever I file paperwork, or fold laundry, a million and one things occur to me which need doing. I have a clipboard set up wih a blank piece of paper to capture my thoughts so I can continue to be on-task.
  • It can help you create a batch of similar tasks.
    • For example, a list of all the stores you need to go to, all the phone calls you need to make, a list of all the stores which may carry that extra hand-set for the phone you're looking for.

Select a System:

  • Paper.
    • Sticky notes, index cards, a notebook, a pad of paper and a clipboard.
  • Electronic.
    • Set reminders to check over your list.
Whatever you choose, make sure it is portable so you can carry it with you all the time.

Review Your List:

As my daughter said to me as she was heading out the door this morning, "How am I going to remember to check my list? I need a reminder for my reminders!"

She's right. She's setting up a new habit. Actually, she's starting several.
First, she'll have to remember to write things down as her teacher tells her things or she gets things. One of her biggest challenges is to remember to give me permission forms to be signed. I told her to write that down, "give permission slip to Mom."

Then in order to remember to check her lists, we need to incorporate it into her "after school routine." That is, we would, if we had one. So, I am going to create a checklist for her and post it in the front entry way for a while.

menu planning uses a lot of checklists

Make a checklist.

This is the next step in writing things down. Checklists are perfect for helping you learn to do new tasks or routines. They also help during times of high stress or for things you do infrequently.

I love checklists. I have one for the entire menu planning process, from what forms to run off to what websites to check for specials. (I used to do it once a month--infrequently enough that I needed a gentle reminder from time to time how to do it. As well, it was such a big job that I spread it over a few days: so the checklist kept me on track.) I have a check list for going camping: it lists all the gear, clothing, and other things we like to take with us. I update it every time we go camping! I also have a cleaning checklist which I print from the computer every Sunday.

Do you need to start (or re-start) making lists?
Would a checklist be useful?
What about an "organizing maintenance" checklist?

Edited to add: I just noticed: this is my one thousand and first published post. Talk about writing it down!

ETA: You can catch all the posts in the series here.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Day 24: Make It Fun

a beautiful way to visually transform a room whether I'm getting organized or staying organized

Do you find it easier to get organized than to stay organized?

Getting organized can have several pay-offs.

  1. It solves a problem. There's a tremendous sense of accomplishment that can come from that.
  2. It visually transforms a space. That can give you a lot of satisfaction.
  3. The activities of sorting and categorizing, figuring out the best storage containers and labelling can be quite the stress reliever. It can give you a sense of control.

The only problem with liking to get organized (and it's a real problem if you like it more than the activities involved in staying organized) is that you'll probably tend to let things deteriorate to the point of needing to be organized again--just so you can get what you need from the activity. The only problem with that is living with the chaos between the organizing sessions.

As with changing any habit, a great way to change it is to seek the same reward--but with something different. For example, if you love solving problems, perhaps you can find a different way to do that. One of the things about my new job is that I am helping people solve problems. What colour should we paint the adjoining bathroom? What glue will work for this and this? How do I paint my kitchen cabinets? How do I stain a shelf? It's great fun.

If you love the visual transformation an organizing session brings, perhaps you could change out your accessories and tchotchkes. You could rearrange the furniture, or paint, or do something that changes up the way your rooms look.

If organizing is a stress reliever, you could find other activities, like exercising, or playing with the kids (or the dog), listening to music, going for a stroll, meditating, or journaling. There are lots of different ways to relieve stress.

Likewise, think about what could give you a sense of accomplishment? Could you volunteer? Craft? Paint? Take a class? Cook or bake something?

But, if there's really no conflict and you just find the day-in day-out routines of staying organized a drudge, perhaps these suggestions will help make it more fun:
  • Listen to the radio or audio books while you work. I've already mentioned how I like to do this when I do dishes. It works for folding laundry, too.
  • Use a timer and play "beat the clock." Kids love this one, too.
  • Invest in fun tools and supplies. (No one in blog land does this better than Toni Morrison of A Bowl Full of Lemons. Did you see the post on her office and Project Life this week?)
  • Picture yourself straightening and tidying and picking up and putting away and how great you will feel when it's done.

Is staying organized a challenge for you?
Do like getting organized more than staying organized?
Can you think of a way to infuse the mundane with fun and excitement? Do share.

ETA: You can catch all the posts in the series here.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Day 23: Make it Easy

By now you've likely figured out that staying organized is about two things:
  1. Over coming resistance to doing things which keep you organized, and
  2. Figuring out those things you need to do to stay organized and making it a consistent routine or a habit to do them.

Today's tip is obvious once you mention it. Making a task easier makes it easier to do it.


But it's a pretty powerful little tip. For example, in about May of this year, our answering "machine" --which is a service we pay for from our phone company-- became full. (I mean the "mailbox," right? That's what it's called now?) I hated checking messages. Hated it. So, I stopped.

There was no end of irritation to putting the phone to my ear, lowering it down to punch the buttons, putting it back to my ear to hear the next instruction, lowering it to punch a button, then raising it to my ear to hear the message, then lowering it to press "7" to clear the message--and on and on and on it went. Ninety per cent of the messages are the aural equivalent of junk mail, anyway.

But, in late September, I had to clear those messages. I wanted to make sure I got the message about whether or not I got my current job.

It's been clear ever since. What did I do? I made it easier to use the menu pad on the phone by using the "speaker phone" function on the handset. Now, there's no more raising and lowering the phone. I simply hold it in one hand and punch the numbers with the other.


I like to clean the fixtures in the bathroom every morning. For a long time, I kept the micro-fibre cloths in the kitchen along with the cleaner. It occurred to me that I could make it ten times easier just to keep the cloths and an extra bottle of cleaner in the bathroom.


Are there things you dread doing?
Is there a task which takes longer than you like?
Is there a recurring task you can stream-line?

Write down all the steps involved in doing the task.
Then, brainstorm ways to make it easier.

Look for places in the process where you get stuck. Brainstorm ways to make it easier, or more workable for you.

For example, when doing the dishes, sometimes, I used to not want to start because I knew they wouldn't all get done. I had too many to fit in the drain rack. I most certainly did not want to take the time to hand dry those dishes--so, I'd have some left-over on my counter and it just didn't seem worth my effort. (Do you recognize the voice of perfectionism?) So, eventually--and with help--I figured out that I could put a dish cloth on my kitchen table and stack the dishes there to dry.


But even so, doing the dishes--even when it's a manageable amount is a difficult task for me. I often feel lonely when I do them -- and it is the kind of mindless activity that can let your thoughts go to unpleasant places. So, to make it easier on myself, I decided to listen to the radio. I even bought a little radio to sit on my window sill to keep me company.


Any doh moments in your life?

ETA: You can catch all the posts in the series here.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Day 22: Schedule Recurring Tasks

The last time my laundry room looked this good. June 2012

You know the saying:
a place for everything and everything in it's place

Well, what is that "thing" were a task and the "place" a spot in your schedule?

Assigning times to do recurring tasks gives structure and definition to your days and weeks and even your year. It is also another pro-active strategy.

For years, my children and I lived without a schedule of any kind. We didn't even have one for sleeping. I remember once being on the phone with our ISP troubleshooting a problem at two o'clock in the morning--and the technician remarked on the "noisiness" of the children in the background.

It wasn't the life of a free and easy spirit--it was a life of undisciplined free-for-all, otherwise known as h*ll.

But, don't go to the other extreme and think you now have to schedule every last little thing. (I tried that too. Perfectionism tends to extremes.) Flexibility is good, too. The challenge is to find that golden mean where you have just enough scheduled to stay ahead and feel in control--and stay flexible enough to respond to the demands of the day, week, season.

Ask yourself: what would be the consequences to letting let this fall apart (whatever "this" might be)

For example, if I let the dishes pile up, the consequences are pretty dire. Grumpiness, nastiness, filth, it becomes a struggle to cook. You've heard this before.

But what about sweeping the kitchen floor? Well, frankly, after about a week even I can't stand it any longer. So, I should put sweeping the floor down on the schedule for once a week.

But laundry?
How about cleaning the bathroom sink?
Putting groceries away?
Dealing with the mail?

Here's the thing: only schedule what, if not done in a timely manner, causes you to cross your clutter threshold quickly?

Some things you will get to when you notice them and that will be OK--or they'll be triggered by something else. For some, cleaning out the fridge may be triggered by going shopping, or, more likely for me, by garbage pick-up day.

You may change out you and your family's clothes for the season--and that's a great time to also clean out and reorganize closets, and, maybe, the laundry room. You can schedule these things rigorously, or you can do small bites at a time over the course of a few weeks: whatever works for you and your life, of course.

Just one thing: if there's something you really don't like to do: do it often! If you put it off (as you'd rather) it will grow into something horrible and overwhelming--and you really don't want that. So, tackle it early in the process and in bite sized bits.

Put this into action:
  1. Identify and list those tasks which when left undone cause you to cross the clutter threshold quickly.
  2. Write down your current schedule. Start with the daily, then move on to the weekly, then monthly, then semi-annual and annual chores.
  3. Now, schedule in those tasks from step one into your current schedule.

You don't have to think of everything, now. Give yourself permission to discover what's what as you go. For example, when I first did this back in the Spring, my laundry room was functional. It isn't now. So, I know that it takes about five to six months for it to utterly fall apart. That works for me: I'll clean out and re-organize the laundry room every six months. If it bothered me, I might make straightening it up a monthly task.

Is there anything you know of right now that you need to schedule?

ETA: You can catch all the posts in the series here

Monday, October 21, 2013

Day 21: A Clean Home Feels More Organized

Cleaning is one of those things you do either reactively or proactively. You know reactive cleaning: omg-someone-is-coming-over-in an-hour-and-the-couch-is-covered-with-laundry-and-my-shoes-are-sticking-to-the-floor-help!

Establishing and keeping a cleaning routine is one of the best proactive strategies to staying organized there is.

Think about it.

You have to pick things up off surfaces and put them away. You have to de-clutter and tidy. You have to do all this before you can even start to clean. And all these are the activities of staying organized. Cleaning is just one more step towards "company-ready" on the comfort continuum, too.

There are several different ways to organize your cleaning schedule.

1) Everything in one day. The advantage to this, of course, is that everything is all done all at once. The house looks fantastic right after it is done. The disadvantage to this is that it's not for everyone! If you don't like to clean it can be difficult to muster up the motivation to do a lot of it all at once. (The bite by bite approach is probably best) and/or if you don't have a lot of time: devoting one whole day to cleaning may feel a tad too sacrificial.

2) A room (or two) a day.
Using this approach, you decide which days of the week you will clean--and you assign different rooms to different days. For example, Monday: Living Room and Front Entry way. Tuesday: Kitchen and Dining, and so on.... The advantage to this approach is that you don't have to spend a great deal of time every day, the disadvantage is that not everything is all clean all at once. (But then it isn't totally dirty, either.)

3) A task or two a day.
Along with a daily cleaning checklist, this has been my approach for a long time. It has the advantage of breaking things down efficiently, for example, all the dusting is done in one day, all the vacuuming, etc. It also keeps things manageable for a recovering cleaning phobic like myself.  The disadvantage --as with any piecemeal approach-- is that the whole house is never clean all at once. As well, if you get behind, (a-hem) you wind up doing all the cleaning over a few days anyway.

4) The running cleaning list. Using this approach, you decide on what days you will clean and for how long. Then, you start at the top of the list and work your way down. When your time is up, stop, and pick up where you left off next time.

No matter which of these approaches you decide to take, you will need to make a list of tasks you want to do.

You probably already know what you need to do: but just in case you want to be thoroughly thorough, here are some checklists put together by others:

  • Cleaning checklists and home keeping checklists from Martha
  • Many cleaning checklists broken down by room from Real Simple
  • The Daily Cleaning Checklist also from Real Simple
  • BHG has an article on how to set up your own cleaning schedule. (And they quote Aby from Simplify 101. I had no idea! Exciting. A list of things to clean appears on page 5)

I do wish Blogger had the ability to host printables: I love creating forms! However, since I can't share mine with you, here is a lovely printable and do-able list from a real work-at-home mom. She also has a customizable form.

I have recently decided to start using the running cleaning list (in addition with the daily task list). I will let you know how it works out for me next week.

ETA: You can catch all the posts in the series here.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Day 20: Proactive and Reactive Strategies

Remember when we talked about your comfort zone and the organizing comfort continuum way back at the beginning of the series?

The continuum:

very cluttered -- slightly cluttered -- real life -- company ready -- magazine ready.

Your comfort zone is where any particular room falls on the continuum when it is the way you like it. Different rooms may land at different spots. For example, I am OK with my living room being slightly cluttered--but I prefer the area next to my kitchen sink to be as close to company ready as often as possible. (Which seems to be for about ten minutes a day right now, but I'll take it!) 

Reactive Strategies

Then, there are those areas where it's OK to let things go for a while. For me, that's the shelves in a particular closet, the basement, and the laundry room.

These areas can hang out in the land of "very cluttered" until I have the time and inclination to tackle them. That's being reactive: but it's OK. As long as I don't let things get so out of hand (though I think the laundry room is just about there) that it becomes impossible to do laundry or find clean clothes, waiting until this room needs my attention means I can focus my limited time on the areas of the house that affect my happiness much more.

Proactive Strategies

These areas, the ones I don't want to let get too far from my happy place, are areas where I need to be proactive. That is, I need to take action while they still look pretty good. For years, I ignored my dishes until we had run out and there was no counter space left to cook. I used to joke that I could cook supper in a space no bigger than two inches by two inches. When I couldn't stand it any longer I would do the dishes in an angry, resentful huff: it was unpleasant for everyone. Being reactive in this area of the house doesn't do anyone any favours. It is best to tackle this area, well, as often as possible.

I always dither when there are so few. However, I had a thought: if we had a dishwasher, would I put these into it? The answer was yes.

So, a mere five minutes later, I had this.

Being proactive in keeping an area organized (or clutter free) requires two things:
  • establishing a time to routinely move the areas back into their comfort zone, and
  • making "staying organized" part of a daily and weekly routine.

In other words, it's going to take some time--deliberate, focused, intentional time to re-set those areas of my home that I want to keep looking tidy and picked up. I don't know how I missed this piece of the puzzle: but I did. I would clean the house for days and get the house looking great only to watch it disintegrate out of the corner of my eye while I read, or stayed on the computer, or took on a time consuming project. But, no more. (I hope.) No, to stay organized I need to devote some consistent time and energy.

So, let's put this idea into action.

Identify the places in your home where you want to be proactive.
For me, that's my kitchen counter and my desk where the computer lives.

Make a list of the essential tasks you want to tackle in these areas.
So, for example, I want to do the dishes and put things away after I take them out. (There's more, but that's enough to get started. Remember, it's not about performance, but about consistency, right now.)

How often?
I want to do those dishes after every meal, at least. I may use my "dishwasher" question in the future to help me decide whether to do them.
As for the desk and computer area, I want to re-set it once a day.

As I've mentioned before, I want to "finish the day" every evening--basically, do a pick up and tidy every night before bed.

Developing these routines into a habit will require identifying a cue and a reward.  I'm still working on it.

The way my desk greeted me this morning.

ETA: You can catch all the posts in the series here

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Day 19: Habits and Rewards.

Rewards are an integral part of a habit: in fact, it may be that we perform the habit just for the sake of the reward.

This is powerful knowledge to have when trying to change a habit--simply keeping the cue and reward the same, but swapping out the behaviour (or routine) in the middle is a sure-fire way to change a habit. You have to be careful, though! In two days, I will celebrate my fifth anniversary as a born-again non-smoker. One of the "rewards" of smoking, for me, was the feeling of having something in my mouth. I substituted putting food into my mouth for drawing smoke into it. a-hem. Not a good substitution! Now, I try to use water.

The best rewards, of course, are attached to the habit itself: but it doesn't have to be, especially when you are trying to develop a new habit.

what will greet me in the morning

Yesterday, we talked about creating a cue for dealing with my paperwork. But what is my reward?
In time, perhaps, it will be a nicely cleaned out paper tray, but for now, while I am developing the habit, five or ten minutes on pinterest would be a lovely reward.

I am trying to develop another habit.

When I decided to implement Aby's advice to "finish the day" I realised I had to establish a new habit of tidying and picking up at the "end" of my day.

It is going to take me some time to turn the evening routine into a habit. It has taken me months to get into the groove of doing my dinner dishes--I still don't have a proper trigger for them. (Right after we finish supper is not a great time for me. I like to stay off my feet and relax!) I just wander into the kitchen at some point in the evening and, if no one is in the shower right then, I do them.

Here's what I want to do:

  • wash dishes
  • re-set the kitchen (wipe counters, wipe stove, clear off the kitchen table.)
  • put away what I took out today and what came in today (including the groceries. All of them. ack.)
  • set up the coffee pot for the morning
  • re-set the desk
  • tidy up any on-going projects (Be done back entry way project, be done and be gone!)
The reward? Going to bed.
In truth, the reward comes the next morning when I greet a tidy house with fresh coffee.

I will let you know how it goes.

ETA: You can catch all the posts in the series here.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Day 18: Habits and Cues

Yesterday, I delineated the actions I needed to take to use this paper system properly. I have to look at the papers in the top tier everyday, the second tier on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and the bottom two tiers on Thursdays.

The question remained: how was I going to remember to do that?

That brings us to the fascinating topic of habit creation.

According to Charles' Duhigg who compiled the research on habits into an engaging narrative in The Power of Habit; Why We Do What We Do, a habit consists essentially of three parts: a cue, a routine, and a reward. (There are great resources, including a flow chart here.)

I'll let him explain. In this short three minute video Duhigg talks about how he changed one of his own habits:

To create a new habit, the first thing I need to do is to create a cue or trigger--in other words, the reminder.

I could
  • send myself a memo via my e-mail. I use Memo to Me to help me remember to do the budget on Thursdays.
  • set an alarm on my phone (I would if I had one of those!) A fellow at work uses one to tell him when his lunch time is over. It goes off about five to seven minutes before he has to return to work and it sounds like the warning for a nuclear meltdown.
  • perform the new routine or habit right after I'd finished another habit: finishing the previous habit becomes the cue for the next one.

Placing a new habit right after an existing one is, in fact, probably the easiest and the most natural way to create a new habit.

For example, to create a new habit in the morning, create a list of those things which always happen in the morning. Then, sandwich your new habit between events that happen all the time. A visual reminder of some kind wouldn't hurt either. Then, if you like, create a checklist with the new routine.

Scheduling the habit and then doing something, any small thing, really is almost more important to the development of the habit than anything else.

For example, take my paperwork. (Please!) I've decided that bringing in the mail will be my cue to look at the stacks. For now, my only "task" associated with the stacks is to deal with one piece of paper--from any of the slots. That's it. I want to make it as easy as possible. I want to take such a tiny bite that it would be ridiculous to refuse. Once I have the two actions paired: get mail, check paper slots, and that's automatic, then I can do a more thorough job on the slots.

Tomorrow, we'll talk about the reward.

ETA: You can catch all the posts in the series here.

Day 17: Habits

When something isn't working; stuff's piling up, dinner's not being cooked, bills aren't being unpaid, something, obviously, is broken--and it may not be you!

There are two parts to our household systems, as I discussed in this post.

  1. everything in the system has a home, there is a storage solution in place, and
  2. there is a procedure, or method of dealing with the items
I used two examples to talks about the first part, the way we have something set up, (or, in organization-speak, our "storage system") 1) changing out my budgeting papers from a file folder to binder, and 2) changing the form on which I record my meal plan.

Now, we'll talk about the second part: the way we deal with the stuff, our routines or habits.

If something is out of order and it isn't how you have it stored, then you need to ask yourself: am I in the habit of using this system? Have I given myself time to create the habit of using the system consistently?

Do you know what actions you need to take to maintain this system?

Here's an example:

I want to make this paper system work for me. It has actions associated with it which I need to do in order for it to work:

  1. The top tier holds actionable items with a deadline. I also holds the days mail until I deal with it. (Comingling these two categories does not work. Perhaps I ought to find another home for today's mail). I need to check this daily.
  2. The second tier holds actionable items which do not have a deadline. I should check this every few days.
  3. The third tier holds reference items which need to be put away in their various reference spots (unless they are items pending.) These need to be checked once a week.
  4. All of these are items which need to be filed and this pile is already higher than I would like. I need to handle this weekly, as well.

If the area you are dealing with (like a linen closet or a cupboard where things are generally stored) the steps are essentially the same:
  • identify how the space becomes disorganized
  • then identify what you need to do in order to either prevent it from happening (i.e., have fewer bed sheets so the stack doesn't topple when I remove a set) or identify what you can do to address the situation before it gets out of hand.

Now the next thing you need to do is set a time to do those actions. Setting a time, or deciding when you will take action gives you a greater chance of actually doing those things than not setting a time. So, in my example above, every few days is vague. Thursdays and Tuesdays ought to be enough. Desk day is Thursday, so that takes care of once a week.

Scheduling when I will deal with the paper in the trays is one of the first steps to making it a habit. But a schedule is not enough. How will I remember to check the papers every day, let alone on Tuesdays and Thursdays?

A habit needs a cue (or a reminder, or a trigger), the routine, and a reward.

We'll talk more about that tomorrow.

ETA: You can catch all the posts in the series here.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Day 16: Rabbit Trails to Mini-Zones

It can be difficult to stay organized if you aren't quite organized in the first place.

For example, let's say you need to write a cheque to order those school photos. Do you know where the photo order form is? The chequebook? If you record your cheques in a register, is that handy?

Here's a sweet little bill paying centre with a spot for keeping receipts. Details here.

What about finding your cell phone--and making sure its charged?

A charging station made from a ribbon box. Details here.

Can you wrap a gift easily?

details here.

Do you have to go on a whole-house scavenger hunt sometimes to gather the things you need to get the job done? In her book, The House that Cleans Itself, Mindy Starns Clark calls these journeys you take from room to room your rabbit trails. Her advice is to create a "working station." Aby calls them "mini-zones."

A meal planning mini-zone from

Whatever they're called, they are essential to being able to stay organized. Everything needed for a particular task is collected into one container (or area) and stored where that task is performed. If you can't store the items where you do the task, then the container should be portable.

The ultimate office in a bag. All the awesome sauce here.

To create a mini zone, gather all the things you need to perform the task at hand. If it's fairly complicated (like a diaper bag in which you are going to keep everything you need for the baby while you are out and about --include a checklist to run through).

Then, choose the most appropriate container.

  • Should it be open or closed?
  • Clear or opaque?
  • Portable or Stationary?
  • Horizontal or vertical?
  • Does it need to be visible to the family or can it be shut away behind a door, or in a drawer?
  • Make note of any space constraints you may have where you want to put your container. Are there any dimensions you need to be aware of?

A mini-zone out and open to all should be as attractive as possible.

Isn't that gorgeous? If you need any further ideas for your pet supplies, here's a great post  from I Heart Organizing.

Do you have any rabbit trails that would benefit from a working station or mini-zone?

ETA: You can catch all the posts in the series here.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Day 15: Tweaking a System: Meal Planning

Note: For those of you with apps and smart phones, this is going to seem quite archaic. But as you read through, see if you can think of any systems you have with "unusual" containers--which may or may not be working.
In the middle of planning our meals.

A system can break down in one of two ways:

1) you stop using it, or
2) the way you have it set up doesn't work for you.

Yesterday we talked about how I changed the way I stored my budgeting materials: a folder didn't allow me to separate the different pieces of paper I needed to access to pay my bills and keep track of my spending. That was a very clear example of changing the way it was set up for me by changing the storage container.

But meal planning? Other than talking about my cook books and how I have them on a shelf, there's not much else to say, is there?

Well, maybe. But meal planning is essentially pulling together all sorts of different kinds of information in order to decide what to eat for a set period of time. (FYI: Simplify 101 offers a menu planning course. I have not taken it.) Then, you take your meal plan and break it down into a shopping list.

I love forms. I see them as "storage containers" for information. So, a change in meal planning requires a change in forms. (For me, anyway. I think I'm probably a little strange in this regard.)

I used to plan by the month--so I needed one form  to capture all the meals for the month. I used a monthly calendar which I printed from the computer.

I used that for a while, but it was a lot of wasted space.

Then, I was thinking about starting work. I wanted a way to take my schedule into account: so I fished out an old form Aby had provided for us. I forget in which course it was originally offered. (Time Management, maybe?)

I tweaked it and made it my own, but the essential idea is hers: meals on top with a place to record activities to the side of each day, and a place for the shopping list below with items grouped by category. I added a place for notes on the right hand side.

Now, the form can completely capture the entire procedure of meal planning, for me. As well, all I need to take to the store is this one form: before, if I wanted to know what meals we were having, I had to take along the shopping list and the menu plan. I used to do my grocery shopping with a clipboard.

Looks like I need to change the heading for produce with frozen foods--I need more room to write!

Tomorrow we'll move on to the other side of this equation: habits!

ETA: You can catch all the posts in the series here.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Day 14: Tweaking a System: Paying Bills and Keeping Track of our Spending

Happy Thanksgiving, fellow Canadians!

Yesterday, I defined a "household system" as being made up of two separate and distinct parts:
  1. everything in the system has a home, there is a storage solution in place, and
  2. there is a procedure, or method of dealing with the items.
A few months ago, I noticed I was having trouble paying my bills on time. My procedure for collecting the bills was to let them pile up on the top shelf of this mess:

This is how my paper system looked in July.  You can see how my bills might have become a little lost.

I was supposed to put my bills in our "budget" file folder. It lived in this:

Worse, the budget file, the place where I kept not only the unpaid bills, but all the papers related to tracking out income and our spending had gotten too big and difficult to handle.

I had too many different kinds of paper to keep track of and the file wasn't letting me sort them effectively. As well, I was afraid of papers spilling out of it every time I took it out to use it.

When I saw Toni Morrison's Budget Binder series, from A Bowl Full of Lemons, I knew that a binder would be perfect for me. So, I took one off my shelf, emptied its contents and set it up anew. I kept the cover insert I created ages ago.


This pencil case holds all the tools I need to work:
  • highlighters, pen, pencil, eraser
  • post-it notes
  • rular
  • calculator
  • cheque with my own pre-printed register.

Right away you find a clear page pocket. This is where I keep unpaid bills, now. (I slipped in some class notes in order to preserve some privacy.)

Next, my five tabs:

followed by the monthly tabs:

The five major categories are:
  1. accounts--a most thorough listing of all the financial accounts with which we deal. This was an excellent suggestion from Toni's series.
  2. income--a place to keep track of our income, by month.
  3. due dates--this is a form where I have written out when all of our bills are due. I've divvied it up into two sections: those automatically withdrawn by the bank (about 60%) and those I pay, myself.
  4. credit card--this is not in Toni's series. I like to keep track of our spending by credit card and ideally, pay it off weekly.
  5. budget--this is really just an introduction to the monthly tabs. Behind each one for the month, I keep our monthly cash flow plan along with the pages I print off from our bank account to track our weekly spending.
It couldn't be easier, really.

When a bill comes in the mail, I put it in the pocket. On Thursday, my "desk day", I do all that I need to do to record our spending for that week, pay our bills and then file them in the "bills paid" folder (still in that black mesh thing, above).

This system wasn't working for me for a few reasons, but mostly because that file folder was inadequate for the job. The binder is easy to pull out and use: it's like having my own little budget mini-station.

ETA: You can catch all the posts in the series here.

Linking up to the Organizing Party at Org Junkie:

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Day 13: Fixing Systems: Diagnosing What's Broken.

One of our household systems: The Family Communications Centre. Believe me, it's a whole lot prettier than the laundry room, right now!

We are going to leave the problems of perfectionism and turn to looking at our household systems: those storage solutions and habits we have in place which make our every day lives easier. That is why we want to stay organized, isn't it? So we can do other things like read books and bake cookies.

To say "there's a system for that" what I mean is
  1. everything in the system has a home, there is a storage solution in place, and
  2. there is a procedure, or method of dealing with the items. (We want this to become a habit.)

This is so abstract. Think of a regular household task like paying a bill.

You have a place to keep the bill until it is paid and a place to keep the bill once it is paid. This is your storage solution.

Your routine of finding the bill, paying it, and then filing or shredding it is your procedure, or method of dealing with it.

It was like a long line of little light bulbs popped in my head when I first heard Aby make this distinction. I immediately realised that even though it wasn't working, the family communication centre I'd set up last year was fine: it's just that we had not yet developed the habit of using it. (Oddly enough, making it pretty encouraged my daughter to use it.)

Here are some other systems which you may or may not have set up in your home to your satisfaction:

Coming and Going
Family Communication Centre
Handling Mail (and other incoming paperwork)
Paying Bills and keeping track of your spending
Meal Planning
Shopping Lists and Errands
Calendar and Managing Appointments
Managing Projects and To Dos
and so on.

How do you tell if it's the storage solution or your routine which isn't working?

Well, did it ever work? Was there a time when it did--but you just haven't used it in a while?

If the answer is yes, then you need to establish a habit to use it--and I'll cover habits later in the series.

But if the answer is no, then maybe you need to change something about how you are storing the items you use. Shift papers from a file to a binder for instance, or set up a portable reading basket, or put laundry hampers in every bedroom and the bathroom. Tweaking the storage "solution" can make the whole process of creating a routine or habit more fluid and intuitive. 

I'm going to discuss some systems from the point of view of getting them set up right: that is, getting the stuff figured out over the next few days. Then, we'll turn to the habits we need to create to use them effectively (as well as staying organized, generally). (I'm listening to Charles Duhigg's book, The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do. This is my second time through the book. I highly recommend it.)

Tell me, do you have any systems in your house? Any not working very well?

ETA: You can catch all the posts in the series here.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Day 12: Be Kind. To Yourself.

Here's a shot of the playhouse/shed in our backyard. Fall is my favourite season.
I had planned to write a good, long post all about how much this one thing has changed my life. (I write these posts the evening before posting date.)

But I'm too tired.

As a perfectionist, I was constantly berating myself for being so inadequate. Slowly. slowly, over many, many years, I have learned to speak to myself as I would speak to a friend--especially when I am hurting.

You can't stay organized--or indeed accomplish much of anything when you're putting yourself down and berating yourself.


So, this post will be short. I've been up since 4:30am and it's not even 6pm--and I'm more than ready for bed.

I'm going to be a friend to myself and just chill.


ETA: You can catch all the posts in the series here.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Day 11: Accept Help

It may seem as though we took a small detour from dealing with perfectionism, but we didn't. Not really. Sometimes, problems with finishing things have nothing to do with perfectionism, and sometimes they do.

But there's no doubt in my mind that finding it difficult to ask for help is definitely a symptom of perfectionism. I have a terrible time with this one.

In fact, I almost couldn't even write this post because with every single example I could think of lately where I asked family members for help, all I could think about was how poorly they did the jobs I asked them to do.

And I don't want to talk about that on a public blog.

But, working on the back entry way, today, I realised I did have a recent example of asking for help--and it's working out wonderfully.

On September 23rd, I wrote a post as part of the HTCI (The House that Cleans Itself series--which I haven't forgotten about!) about our back entry way. In it, I mentioned we were going to look after all the scratches and nicks and cracks in the walls and ceilings in order to spiff it up.

Then, I posted this:

My husband is meticulous. He's careful. When he wants too, he can hyper-focus on detail. I am so grateful he took over the project. It was a lot of work--and it needed his patience.

Let's get re-acquainted with the back entry way shall we?

Here is what it looks like standing outside on the stoop. To the right are the stairs to the kitchen.

Straight ahead? The stairs to the basement.

The bottom edge of those walls were in rough shape.

Someone drew this flower on the wall ages ago to indicate where the pull cord was for the light in the laundry room. I coloured it in last Spring.

So, too, was the outer corner where the stairs to the kitchen meet the stairs to the basement.

The wall beside the door needed a lot of patching. Look over the door: that was a particularly nasty spot.

The door itself would swing open of its own accord and give the wall a bang.

I found something for that right away. Fortunately, it was peel and stick. I'm not sure there was enough wall left for screws to work!

I also found a plastic "short L" shaped piece of molding--it was made just for edges like these. It came with its own adhesive strip, fortunately, because I wasn't able to track down any liquid nails.

Here's the outside corner with its new edge:

It looks wonky here--and though it might be wonky, I don't think it is as wonky as this!

And the bottom of the wall:


You can also see the disk I stuck on the wall to protect it from the door knob.

Yesterday, 16 days after he started patching and sanding, he told me it would be OK to start painting, Only -- would I sand "that little bit in the corner."

I sanded, but obviously I had no idea what he meant because when he got home--after I had washed the place down and cut in-- he told me the area he'd mentioned hadn't been sanded!

So, last night, he sanded, again, (though this time by hand) and left me to do the rest.

But who cares?

All it needed was a quick once over with the vacuum, a quick swipe with the cloth and I was ready to resume painting.

It's kind of unfortunate that the best example I have of accepting help has to do with a large project. Staying organized is all about doing the little things--and asking for help with those things (and accepting it cheerfully and NOT with a critical, judgemental spirit) are what will help you stay organized. All I can say is: I promise to keep working on it.
ETA: You can catch all the posts in the series here.    

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