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6 Strategies for a Kid-Friendly, Organized Home

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If you have kids, staying organized at home probably feels somewhere between an absolute necessity and utterly impossible. Ok, let’s not kid ourselves, most days we’re probably leaning toward the utterly impossible side of that equation. But don’t give up just yet, every bit of organizing effort you put into your family’s home will go a long way toward maintaining your sanity, even if perfectly organized is an impossibility. So step back, take a deep breath and let’s start with some overall strategies for creating a kid-friendly, organized home.

  1. Take a child’s eye view. Especially when it comes to living with little ones, it helps to get down to their level and take a look at your space. Look for hidden dangers, such as tippy furniture, outlets, and breakable items. Disorganized and dangerous is a lot worse than just disorganized. Create zones, just a like a kindergarten classroom so toys and activities are easy to find, use and put away. And last but not least, choose furniture and storage solutions that fit and aren’t fussy.
  2. Get everyone involved. Getting the whole family involved in the organizing process can help ensure that everyone will be on board with maintaining the new set up. Kids can help make decisions, choose containers, make labels and more.
  3. Simplify. Remove as much excess stuff as possible. Kids are always getting new stuff – make sure to retire or rotate older items on a regular basis to avoid over-crowding, which leads to frustration and broken things.
  4. Make clean up easy. Start a clean up routine at the end of the day. Make it fun – make a game out of tossing soft items back in a bin or have a clean up race, seeing who can complete a task faster. Use clear or labeled open (or easy to open) containers to store different categories of toys. If kids know where stuff goes and it’s easy to put it there, they’ll be more likely to help put it all away at the end of the day.
  5. Organize bottom to top. Prime real estate for kids is down low. Keep the most-used items low and store less-frequently used items up on higher shelves. Also keep items that you want to be in charge of out of reach and maybe even out of sight.
  6. Label, label, label. Labeling helps kids and everyone else in the house know where to find things and where to put them away. If your kids are too young to read, include a picture on the label, so they can help too.

Organizing a home with kids is not about perfection, but about implementing strategies that make things easier!

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Set Up Your Home Office for Success

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A home office, whether it’s an entire room or a corner of your kitchen, is more than just an office – it’s the command center of your home and life, and maybe even business. It might be home base for everything from bill paying to party planning to conference calls and more. And whether you’re working on weeding out an existing home office or you’re starting from scratch, you want to make sure you use the right space and set it up for success. Here are a few keys to success when setting up or re-inventing your home office.

  1. Define your space.try to set up your office where mail, paperwork and other important items already tend to accumulate.
  2. Create a job description for your office. Take a few minutes to list out what functions your office needs to support. Having this list will make it much easier to figure out what you need in the space and what you don’t.
  3. Corral your supplies.think supplies for opening and processing mail and school papers, paying bills, making new files, and anything else you need to routinely do in your home office.
  4. start with a quick sort.t need to take action on, and those that require some sort of action. This quick sort strategy allows you to start taking action on top priority paperwork, as you work on setting up an improved filing system without worrying that pressing action items are buried in a pile somewhere.
  5. Stay on top of incoming paperwork. Last but not least, it can help to start practicing a simple paper processing system for incoming paperwork as you work to weed through older files and set up your new office. This might look like:
  • Taking time to go through mail and incoming paperwork every day
  • Immediately tossing trash and recycling
  • Taking action right away on quick “one-minute” items
  • Corralling follow up items with a set of action files
  • Scheduling regular time to take action on those items – be sure to put this on your calendar and practice, practice, practice until it becomes habit.

Whether you’ve got a small office mess, a big office mess, or no office at all yet, follow these steps and you’ll be well on your way to a functional home office!

 

 

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Closet Questions

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BirchWhiteelfadécor_lUnless you have limitless closet space or never get new clothes, weeding out your closet is a fact of life. It helps make room for new purchases, keeps your wardrobe current and helps prevent closet chaos. But it can be so hard to part with clothes, even those you don’t wear. If you find that you have trouble letting go of clothes and are always justifying why it makes sense to keep them, here are some questions to help you decide to let go…

  1. Do I need it, do I wear it, do I love it? Ideally, you’d answer ‘yes’ to all three for everything in your closet, but you should be able to answer ‘yes’ to at least one for every item you decide to keep.
  2. Do I have more than I need? Just because you choose to keep some t-shirts, for example, doesn’t mean you need to keep them all. Do you really need 4 bathing suits when you only go to the beach and handful of times each year? Probably not. Keep the best and ditch the rest!
  3. Have I worn it in the past year? If you’ve made it through all of your seasons and activities and haven’t worn something once in the past year, that’s a good indication that you’re not going to…ever!
  4. Do I have something better or could I get something better? If you have 3 pairs of black pants, chances are you always gravitate toward the best pair. If you feel you must keep more than one, just choose one back-up and get rid of the rest. And if you feel forced to wear something you really don’t like, make it a point to replace it ASAP.
  5. Does it have a hole or stain? Wear and tear happens, but there’s no sense in keeping items that you don’t wear because they’re not in good shape anymore. Many donation places will recycle textiles that can’t be sold, so you don’t have to throw them out either. Also don’t fall victim to keeping tons of past-their-prime clothes for messy projects and yard work at home. Keep a few options for this type of work and say ‘sayonara’ to the rest!
  6. Does it fit me now? Items you keep should fit you well and fit you now. Pregnancy or a recent baby are perhaps the only reasons to keep things that don’t quite fit you now. Keeping several sizes in your wardrobe for weight loss and weight gain does not work well for most people as a weight management or closet management strategy.
  7. Could I do something positive with it? Many people have a hard time letting go of clothes they spent good money on and/or clothes that are still perfectly useful. But if you aren’t wearing them, they’re not doing anybody any good, right? So sell them on-line or through a consignment shop or donate them and take a tax deduction. At least someone else will be making use of them!

As you review your clothes, make sure you get consignment and donation items out ASAP. Nothing is more deflating than working really hard to clear out and clean up a space than facing a huge pile of donations day after day. Likewise, nothing is more rewarding and inspiring than getting everything out the door and seeing the space you’ve re-claimed. Bottom line – don’t let them sit – get them out the door!

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What is your “Why”?

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So there’s no doubt about it – getting organized has reached ‘hot topic’ status in our culture. Pick up a magazine, turn on the TV or surf the web and it’s clear that simplifying and organizing are right up there with weight loss and stress reduction in terms of popularity. But just like any other major behavioral change, you have to want it in order to be successful – you have to know your ‘why’ and remind yourself of it when the changes feel hard. So as you take the next step in your organizing journey, whether you are just starting out or you’re facing your next project, take a moment to ask yourself why you want to get organized. How does being less-than-organized affect your life and what do you hope will change as you start getting more organized? Here’s a starter list of motivating reasons we can think of, but what’s your ‘why’?

Getting organized can help you…
reduce stress
save time
find what you need when you need it
avoid the over-buying cycle (or buying things you don’t need because you didn’t know you already had them)
enjoy what you have
achieve a goal, such as selling your home or hosting your family and friends
improve your relationships
just plain feel better!

Whether you can relate to one or all of these, or you have your own reasons, it can be helpful to remind yourself of what you’re working toward throughout the process.

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From Paper Madness to Paper Management in Six Easy Steps

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Most of us are drowning in paper these days. It doesn’t seem to stop – mail, school papers, magazines, and more. If you don’t have a good way to manage it, it will just keep piling up. To keep a handle on your papers, you need a good paper management system. A what?! Have no fear, here are six steps to set you up for paper management success:

  1. Open and review your mail and other paper every day! Open mail in one place with all your tools and supplies. Have a wastebasket, recycling bin, and shredder available so you can toss unnecessary items immediately.
  2. Make decisions as you open the mail. Get rid of anything you don’t want or need immediately – you’ll be left with only the items that require some action. This includes doing a quick scan of catalogs – if nothing interests you, recycle it right away!
  3. Sort what you need to keep by follow up action. For example: To Do, To Scan, To Shred (better yet, shred these items immediately), To File (again, file immediately if possible), and To Save for Taxes. Keep follow up items together with a desktop file – this should be your go-to place for transient papers.
  4. Just do it! Be sure to regularly set aside time to take follow up action – doing, scanning, shredding and filing. When it comes to the “To Do” category, if it will take 2 minutes or less to complete, it’s often best to ‘just do it!’ It usually takes more time to review, set aside, and remind yourself to do them later.
  5. Take Control Today. Put the past behind you and don’t let stress about past piles keep you from getting started. Start with new incoming mail/paperwork first – get your system in place, then tackle the old stuff. Speaking of…
  6. Tackle Your Old Piles and Files. Once you’ve gotten used to managing your incoming paper, it’s time to tackle your old piles and files. Start by gathering everything in one place, immediately tossing anything that is clearly junk. Then go through the piles and decide whether you need to keep each item, and if so, what the best way to store it is – scanned or paper file. Commit to just 15 minutes a day and you will make progress!

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6 Steps to Stay on Top of Your Taxes

Getting prepared to do your taxes can be overwhelming, especially if you haven’t been all that organized about keeping track of your tax-related documents throughout the year. Not only do you need to keep track of tax forms you get in the mail (or on-line), but also receipts for tax-related expenses and donations, and it can also be very helpful to put your hands on your previous tax returns and documentation for reference. Of course if you get audited, the value of having your tax paperwork organized sky rockets!

Here are six simple steps you can take to be better organized when it comes to taxes:

  1. Collect and Corral: Choose a drawer or a bin and as the tax-related paperwork comes in, toss it in there. Also, create a folder on your computer to save electronic documents. Once you have collected it all (usually by March 1st), sort it into categories (1099s, W2s, Receipts, etc.) and paperclip each category together. You may want to print the electronic documents, or just have them organized and ready to enter into your tax return.
  2. Contain It: Have a folder or bin labeled for each tax year which includes your returns as well as any supporting documentation. After the six years have passed, you can weed out the extra paperwork and just keep your return.
  3. Go Paperless: Yes, the IRS does accept electronic documentation! Scanning papers or electing to receive electronic statements will help significantly reduce your paper clutter.
  4. Start Fresh: Once you have collected all of your tax documents, do a purge of all your files (paper and electronic).
  5. Keep Track Electronically: We strongly recommend that you maintain an electronic accounting system, such as Quicken or an Excel spreadsheet. Come tax time, all the information you need will be at your fingertips.
  6. Plan Ahead: Create a folder for next year’s taxes. As documents come in throughout the year, you’ll have a place to put them. More importantly, you’ll be able to find them when tax time comes around again.

Check these off, get this year’s taxes done, know you’ll be better prepared for next year and breath a sigh of relief…ahhhh.

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3 Tips for Organized Packing

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I will admit that packing for a trip is one of my least favorite things to do. A little strange as it seems like it would be one of those things that organized people love to do – well, not this mostly organized person. I think it might be my perfectionist tendencies creeping through – and the fact that I am rarely thrilled with my wardrobe. Packing sometimes seems daunting because it can be hard to get just right – when you end up at your destination with just the right outfits in just the right amount.

I often write about what’s going on in my life, and you guessed it, I’m knee-deep in packing for a trip. Since this is a bit stressful for me, I wanted to share some tips that help keep me focused and get the job done – with minimal stress! So here are my 3 tips for organized packing:

  1. Check the weather! Don’t assume you know what it will be like – check the actual forecast before you start packing. We’re headed to San Diego where it is always beautiful and never rains – except that it’s going to rain cats and dogs most of the time we are going to be there. Raincoat – check.
  2. Lay out your outfits for each day. You can change your mind about what you wear on any given day, but this is the best way to make sure you end up with everything you need to put actual outfits together and don’t end up with tons of extra pieces you didn’t need. Think about what you will be doing each day and whether you’ll need a wardrobe change – morning at the zoo, then dinner out. Also add in a few extra options and layers.
  3. Leave a little room to spare. This is a tough one to accomplish, but try not to be packed to the gills when you leave. For whatever reason, things just don’t seem to go back together quite as well when you are re-packing for your return trip. And of course, you may end up coming home with a few extra things you picked up.

 

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Get Organized Challenge: Celebrate Your Successes

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Last week, we wrapped up our Get Organized Challenge: 5 Weeks to a More Organized You. Over the course of the challenge we focused on developing 5 healthy organizing habits that, when practiced regularly, can lead you down the path to happily organized. Just to recap, those 5 healthy habits are:

  1. Buy less stuff. The less you buy, the less you have to unload, store, clean, maintain, return, dispose of and otherwise manage.
  2. Do I need it, do I use it, do I love it? Only keep things in your home that you can answer yes for at least one of these questions.
  3. Create a home for everything. Find a home for everything you need, use and love. Get everything else out the door.
  4. Clean up us you go. When you’re done using something, put it away. Simple and hands down, the best thing you can do to stay on top of your space.
  5. Follow the “one in, one out” rule. If you get something new, make sure you get rid of something old – especially if the new item is meant to be a replacement or upgrade.

Now that we’ve spent 5 weeks honing our organizing skills, it’s time to celebrate! When you take on any challenge, celebrating your successes can be a great motivator to keep going. It’s also good to take an honest look at what was challenging for you – that way you can trouble shoot and come up with ways to be successful next time.

So how’d you do? Did you get some stuff out the door that you don’t need, use or love? Celebrate that! Did you avoid buying something you really didn’t need? Yeah! Did you finally find a place to keep the little stuff cluttering your kitchen counter? Awesome! Did you come home with new socks and actually take the time to weed out the worst of your collection? You’ve got it!

But as we mentioned, it’s not about perfection, and some of these skills are harder than others. So what did you find hard? Maybe cleaning up as you go just didn’t happen and couldn’t muster the energy to do it at the end of the day. Try posting little reminders in the rooms that were the hardest to keep up with. Or try this little trick – never leave a room empty-handed. Identify something that belongs elsewhere and take it there.

Or maybe you went shopping for new clothes but just couldn’t part with anything old when you got home. Try a “maybe” bin – weed out anything that you can’t say you love, but just can’t seem to part with. Put them in the maybe bin – you don’t have to decide right now. Give yourself 2 weeks and then re-evaluate whether they should stay or go. If you haven’t missed them, it will be easier to part with them using this 2 step process.

So celebrate your success, work on what you found tough and keep going! While our challenge was 5 weeks, if you can make these new habits stick, you have what you need to stay on track no matter what organizational challenges life throws your way.

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Get Organized Challenge Week 5: One In, One Out

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Wow – time flies when you’re working on your organizing super powers! Over the last 4 weeks, we’ve practiced buying less stuff, making sure the stuff you have passes the test, making a home for everything in your home, and cleaning up as you go. We’ve also reminded ourselves that it’s not about being perfect but about practicing new skills that we can keep coming back to when we fall off our organized path.

This week, we will add our last but not least organizing skill to the list – following the “one in, one out” rule. Simply put, if you get something new, you need to get rid of something old in order to keep your organizing equilibrium.

I will admit that for many people, myself included, this is the hardest of our organizing skills to actually carry out. This is because it often involves getting rid of “perfectly good” stuff. But it is SO important – if you think about it, unless you have lots of extra space to fill (I don’t know anyone who does) or you have lots of things you NEED to get, following the one in, one out rule is the only way to prevent having too much stuff in your space. It’s just simple physics. And remember, when you get new things, you usually start using them, so older items just sit around collecting dust. If you at least donated them, then someone else could be making better use of them.

Here are three ways to make this easier to stick to:

  1. Think long and hard before you buy (or otherwise acquire) something – does this sound like week 1, anybody? Do I really need this and am I ready to part with something I already own to make room for this? In general, it’s a good idea to wait before you buy – if you have an impulse to buy something, walk away and write it down. Hitting the pause button will give you a chance to really decide whether you need something and what you will part with if you do go ahead and get it.
  2. Make sure you are really ready to ditch the old version before you get a replacement. This is another good reason to hit the pause button, rather than buying something the first time it comes to mind. I recently got new sneakers (which I’d been thinking about doing for at least a month) and though I’ve loved them, I promptly put the old ones in the donation bin and didn’t look back. In my past, I might’ve convinced myself that I should keep the extra pair for some random sneaker emergency. But the truth is, I don’t have random sneaker emergencies, and if I did, I already have a pair of yard work sneakers that I could call on for help. Have I missed them? No! They’re just sneakers…and well-worn ones at that.
  3. Get in the donation habit. While it’s a good idea to literally practice (at least most of the time) the one in, one out rule and part with something for every new item that comes in your house, we know that this isn’t going to happen all the time. Just like doing a clean sweep at the end of the day if you haven’t quite been able to clean up as you go, getting in the habit of routinely donating items is a great safety net strategy to help you play catch up when you haven’t been following “one in, one out” religiously. Just build in regular reviews of your stuff, monthly or at least seasonally, during which you walk around with a donation box or bag and weed, picking out stuff that you no longer need, use or love. It’s also a great idea to keep a donation bin/bag at the ready in your house. That way, when you stumble across something that needs to go, you can just toss it in and take the whole pile with your monthly or seasonal donations.

Ok, that’s enough about that…let’s keep it up…we’re in the home stretch!

The Challenge – Week 5: Follow the one in, one out rule. Think long and hard about letting new stuff into your home, but when you do, make sure to toss or donate something old.

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Get Organized Challenge Week 4: Clean Up As You Go

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Here we are – week 4 of our Get Organized Challenge: 5 Weeks to a More Organized You! By now, you’re buying less stuff, making sure the stuff you have passes the test, and making a home for everything in your home. Or at least you’re working on it. I’m a realist – it’s not about rigidly following these healthy habits 100% of the time – all or nothing style. It’s about practicing these healthy habits as often as you can, and coming back to them whenever you fall off the wagon. That’s what will make you an organizing super-hero for the long haul!

So what’s next?? Hands down – my absolute favorite organizing healthy habit ever – clean up as you go! So simple, yet so effective – and that’s why I love it. I remember learning this phrase in a nutrition/cooking class in college – if you practice this while you’re cooking, you won’t end up with a giant mess to clean up when you’re done. Well guess what? Cleaning up as you go works wonders for keeping your whole home under control too. It’s almost too simple to explain – if you take something out of its home – a pen, the blender, your jacket – put it back when you’re done using it for now. But that last little part is key. Don’t live by the policy of, “oh, I’ll just leave it out since I’ll probably need it later.” That’s how our homes become a jumbled mess…fast. And that little bit of extra effort to put things away means you’ll always know where to find something the next time you actually need to use it.

Really push yourself to truly clean up as you go, but never fear, there’s a simple fix if you get to the end of the day and realize that you’ve failed to keep up. Just set your timer for 15 minutes and use that time to put stray items away. This simple super-power habit will also allow you to uncover clutter trouble spots on the fly – if putting something away is frustrating because the cabinet where it lives is a jumbled crowded mess, then it’s time to tackle it with a little de-cluttering session. No, you don’t have to tackle every trouble spot the minute you uncover it, but keep a little list of mini de-cluttering projects, so you can cross them off when you get 15 minutes and a little motivation. Trust me, if you keep trying to put stuff away in a cluttered home, that motivation will come sooner rather than later! So come on, we’ve got this…

The Challenge – Week 4: Clean up as you go! Each time you finish using something, put it away where it belongs – no ifs, ands or buts! And do a clean sweep at the end of the day to catch anything you’ve missed along the way.

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