Quick-Start Solutions: Simple Rescue Strategy for Rooms That Are Buried in Paperwork

Sick and tired of unorganized…*things*? Feeling overwhelmed at the thought of getting tackling that nondescript pile of stuff? I’m here to help. This exercise will help you move one non-painful, very manageable, highly productive step toward getting organized.

Problem: Help! My living room/dining room/bedroom/office/kitchen/the doghouse is overflowing with papers that are of questionable importance!

Solution: Go grab some empty file folders. If you don’t have any lying around the house, run to your nearest office supply store/drug store/grocery store…or scroll to the bottom to see some cool folders Amazon can have on your doorstep within 1 to 2 days…depending on your shipping preferences [note: affiliate links included].

If you don’t have folders right this second, you can still separate the papers into piles, but label the piles CAREFULLY, and clip the papers in each pile together using a paperclip or binder clip. Now. We’re ready to begin:

1. SET A GOAL, and determine how much paperwork you would like to clean up in your current session. Be realistic. If you know you only have the energy to work on the task for 30 minutes, set a timer for 30 minutes. If you can work for a full hour…POWER HOURRR! Let’s Go!

2. Create categories,  and label each folder according to the types of papers you have. If you can’t think of categories, try starting with these: Health, Home, Work, Finance, Bills, Leisure. Some of you may need to add a category for School. If you have kids, each child should have his or her own folder…but for starters, you can keep them all in one folder. For now. You WILL have to go back and separate everything out, though. So it’s best to just make a folder for each child if you have a massive amount of paperwork coming in from school, hobbies, etc.

3. Pick up one piece of paper. Determine which category the paper best fits. Example, if you pick up a car insurance bill, file it in the “bills” folder. If you can’t decide within 30 second, set the paper aside, and revisit it at the end. 

4. Repeat process until you can see the table/desk/floor/interior of the oven (yes, I’ve seen this before) or wherever your unruly papers have been landing. Advanced tip: (file your papers in chronological order as you add them to the folders; doing this now will save time when you need to access these papers later…and you WILL need to access your papers later: either to use them, to file them more permanently, OR to throw them away).
5. When finished, store the folders in a standing file box or file cabinet so you can access them later.
***If you still have remaining papers to clean up, don’t worry. Pull out your calendar, and schedule another time WITHIN THE NEXT 7 DAYS to continue the task. Write it down as an “appointment!” Keep repeating these “appointments” until all papers have been cleaned up and appropriately filed.
Maintenance: Set aside a general basket, bin, or letter tray to collect paperwork throughout the week. Choose one designated day each week to clear out the basket and file paperwork in its rightful folder. Eventually, the papers should go into a permanent file cabinet or drawer. But I will discuss that in a future post in the interest of keeping it simple and just focusing on quick cleanup strategies for now.
Recommended Supplies:

 

 

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Where Have I Been!?!

The blog has been completely quiet the past couple weeks because I’ve been working tirelessly to complete my first video course! The course finally went live Saturday night. Today is the official weekday launch! So far, just under 600 students from around the world have signed up. With that huge milestone crossed, I can now get back to more regular updates and organizing tips!

I know you’re curious, so…sign up for FREE access to my video learning course, click HERE!

Starting Point

Probably the most common challenges people face after deciding to get organized is figuring out where to start. It is at this point that a person is likely taking in the view of the disorganization in its entirety and feeling overwhelmed. My number one secret to starting virtually any organizing project is actually quite simple: categorize, categorize, categorize.

The easiest way to begin categorizing a pile of “clutter” is to start by grouping “like with like.” If a closet requires more organization, gather all the shirts with shirts, pants with pants, belts with belts, etc. The basic act will bring clarity and allow the clothing to be further organized by season, fabric weight, color, casual vs. formal, or in any other way that will make the closet more visually appealing and accessible.

Organizing a “junk drawer” or items that may be stored on an exposed surface like the top of a dresser may seem more daunting. Nevertheless, the same principle applies. When grouping items in these types of situations, I highly recommend maintaining groups by using drawer dividers or small baskets/boxes/bins/drawer organizers that are of an appropriate size. A key advantage to creating and maintaining categories is by doing so, you will gain a better sense of which items can and should be readily purged.

By teaching yourself to quickly categorize the items in your living or work space, you will likely find that, after your first attempt at organizing, you will be required to spend less time maintaining your newly organized space. And when it is time to reorganize or purge, being able to assess items by category may also make the process seem less overwhelming.

Definitive Guide to Buying Closet Organizing Supplies

After seeing how helpful the moving supplies guide has been, I decided to begin work on my second “Definitive Guide.” Below are some of the most commonly prescribed closet organizing tools I recommend to clients. [Note: the following links are Amazon Affiliate links. As an affiliate, Amazon compensates me with a small percentage of each sale that is made through the links listed below].

Shelf dividers can save a great deal of frustration when storing folded clothing on shelf space. Dividers are available in a variety of materials. It is important to measure the thickness of your closet shelf before purchasing to ensure the divider will attach. If your shelves are too thick for dividers, there are other options (such as fabric cubes and baskets) for keeping folded clothing and linens organized on shelves.

Wire Shelf Dividers

“Platinum” Shelf Dividers

Unbreakable Acrylic Shelf Dividers

Baskets – I am a fan of keeping folded clothing and linens contained, but visible. One of my favorite hacks is to place a stack folded items into a basket or fabric cube HORIZONTALLY, which allows you to see all the folded edges when looking into the basket. Then place the basket onto the shelf on its side. Doing so grants total visibility of the stack of clothes you wish to keep folded. Baskets may be used in their traditional manner (with the opening facing the top) for items you wish to store on a shelf, but don’t require visibility.

 

Java – Set of 3

Seville Classics Hand-Woven – Set of 2

Fabric Storage Cubes – Alternative to basket storage; also useful in various other areas in the home. Low-cost and efficient way to organize items on shelves, including folded clothing.

 

 

Shoes & Boots – Virtually every U.S. household has multiple pairs of shoes. Depending on the climate, some also have boots. Most of us in the NYC area have both. Here are a few tools that will help you store them neatly and keep them off the floor.
10-Tier Space-Saving Shoe Rack

3-Tier Shoe Rack

Over-the-Door Shoe Rack – 36 Pair!

Hanging Boot Storage

Boot Shaper Inserts

 

 

 

Linen Storage – Many of us change linens with the seasons. There are several items that can help you store heavy blanks and large comforters when they are not in use.

Linen Storage Bag

Vacuum Storage Bags – I should not that I very much prefer the vacuum bags that require vacuum suction versus the bags that require folding and manual removal of excess air. When using a vacuum storage back, I typically vacuum out the air until the fabrics transform into a solid rectangular block.

 

 

 

Hangers – 99% of households have closets with a hanging rod. The type of clothes hanger you choose can actually help save space and improve the aesthetics of your closet.

Velvet Hanger – These are thin, strong, and available in a variety of colors; perfect for color-coding the clothing categories within your closet. I mean. If you’re into that.

Digging Out of the Aftermath of Depression

[Disclaimer: I am not a licensed counselor, social worker, psychiatrist, or psychologist. The following post is intended for motivational purposes only for individuals who would like to create a more organized environment. Individuals who believe they may be experiencing depression are urged to seek out a licensed counselor or other mental healthcare professional.]

I recently worked with a client who is an accomplished businesswoman. She is also at the tail end of a six month struggle with anxiety and depression. She described herself as “finally having the motivation to do something, but felt terrible after looking around” and seeing the state of her home. In particular, she had been avoiding her office area and another space that was dedicated to her love of working on craft projects.

Feeling overwhelmed when emerging from a period of physical illness or depression is not uncommon. Oftentimes, people struggle with finding a place to begin in restoring order to their environment. As illustrated in the example above, remaining in a disorganized home or work environment can lead to procrastination and additional feelings of guilt and anxiety, thus potentially creating a negative cycle that can become very difficult to break: eating habits may suffer, work performance declines, and a daily schedule that was once filled with more fulfilling activities may be reduced to simply going to bed upon arriving home or watching television until falling asleep.

In these situations, starting small and organizing one area at a time may be most effective. Those who have recently experienced anxiety, depression, or illness my require more immediate results. Small victories up front may provide the momentum these individuals need to keep going and to dramatically transform their environment. The following suggestions may help virtually anyone who is struggling with getting started on a large organizing project, especially those who are recovering from emotional or physical stress or illness.

  • Organize according to your energy level. I am a firm believer in realistically creating a plan before beginning an organizing project and tailoring the steps within the plan to your mental and physical energy level at the time. It is okay (and even encouraged!) to set relatively challenging targets, but plan to take a break or reach a stopping point before you would typically expect to become completely exhausted.
  • Start small. If you lack the time, energy, and focus to organize your entire home or office within a day or over the course of a weekend, divide the project into manageable parts. Can you organize one room at a time? If not, try starting with a single closet, dresser, or “junk drawer.”  Whether removing clutter from a bookshelf or donating old clothes from a closet, completing the first part of a large project often provides the inspiration to do more.
  • Don’t organize alone! Call a friend who will help you and keep you accountable, or call a professional organizer! An organizer can coach you along while offering the encouragement and, if necessary, healthy distraction from the more mundane or perhaps overwhelming parts of the process.

Contrary to what most people believe, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to getting organized. Therefore, the individual must consider his or her specific needs and goals when setting out to affect a lasting, positive change in his or her environment.

 

More Than “Minimalism”

Whether I am speaking to people in their homes or reading an article about organizing, I sometimes encounter what I describe as a near-obsession with the act of throwing things away. People will often say to me in frustration, “I am a minimalist. I just want to throw everything away.” However, the act of throwing much away in favor of owning little is only a small part of the equation for living a balanced, organized life.

Throwing Things Away is Only the Beginning

Many, many of us in the United States own more than we need for daily survival. And, in my opinion, there is nothing inherently wrong with this. However, anyone who has become frustrated with “clutter” has likely discovered that there is such a thing as having too many nonessential items. In contrast to that notion, most of us feel much happier when we have comfortable furniture, several clothing options, and aesthetic objects around the home we simply enjoy for the sake of ambiance. While doing a very detailed and thorough purge is essential to truly becoming organized, purging is just the first step. Furthermore, “over-purging” can be more detrimental than helpful.

The Dangerous Over-Purge

On the front end, purging can bring a sense of relief and help most people realize exactly how much space they really have and how little they use certain items they have been storing needlessly. However, it is important to avoid the danger of simply throwing things away to receive instant gratification, then later routinely buying new thing to fill the space. In the end, the cycle repeats and a need for a second major purge will eventually arise.

Deliberation While Purging

In my opinion, one of the most effective tactics in Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up is her suggestion to hold and even speak to each item before deciding whether to keep it. While I do not typically advise clients to communicate with their items in this exact way (…unless they want to), I believe there is value in pausing to think about an item before deciding whether to keep it or throw it away. Oftentimes, when I notice what appears to be an impulsive, emotional response toward an item, I ask the client to pause, and we quickly discuss the object. Just by creating a pause, the client is typically able to think through the cause of the strong feelings toward the object and become comfortable discarding (or in some cases keeping) it. He or she is then able to proceed with a clearer understanding of the item’s role (or lack thereof) in the home.  Taking time to think about each item also minimizes the risk of over-purging and allows the person to logically think through potential opportunities and uses for an object they simply never knew they had or never took time to seek out opportunities to use it.

Yes, Some of Us ARE True Minimalists, But…

By nature, most people prefer to surround themselves with certain comforts and with aesthetically-pleasing things. Therefore, it is important for each person to consider where his or her center of gravity lies when attempting to balance the functional constraints (i.e. storage capacity) of a room with individual preference when it comes to variables like decor, technology, and comfort features within the space.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Let’s Get Personal

It’s safe to say the overwhelming majority of people who meet me, especially in a work capacity, view me as a “solutions-oriented” personality. The minute a problem arises, I quickly begin the process of finding and evaluating the best possible solutions. It’s pretty automatic. Sometimes process starts well before a potential problem can arise. Nevertheless, I recognize I don’t have all the answers […at least not immediately?]. In fact, I’ve found that my willingness to be “human” and to share the fruits of my own [admittedly sometimes wacky] trial-and-error episodes brings an added level of comfort and relatability when working with clients. I was at a workshop for startup founders and entrepreneurs tonight when the obvious occurred to me: I should be bringing that level of humanness to my blog. And with that, I’d like to introduce the #ItsPersonal tag!

My journey as an entrepreneur is fertile ground for the very same lessons and principles I impart to my clients day in and day out, week after week. I’m a believer in teaching and encouraging by example. Tonight, in a lightning bolt-esque moment, it occurred to me that others may also be able to learn and grow by getting an inside look at my own exercise in diligently applying the life-changing concepts I’m always sharing with others.

Through my #ItsPersonal posts, I will aim to share more of my personal insights as a young business owner (along with other more personal stories that impact me as an entrepreneur and as a pro organizer). I hope my stories will leave readers feeling motivated, inspired, (and maaaybe a little entertainment…).

In closing, I will highlight a particular principle that especially rang true for me today and inspired this post (…and the #ItsPersonal posts that will follow): sometimes you just have to pick a starting point and GO!

I’ve probably coached hundreds of people in taking the initiative to “launch,” whether it was the beginning of an organizing project, researching a next move, pursuing a dream, going abroad, applying for schools… But very recently, I’ve been quietly struggling with having several business-related ideas and choosing which to pursue…and in what order. After narrowing the  list down to the most immediately feasible, I still found myself procrastinating and unnecessarily dragging out the regular tasks on my daily to-do lists–anything to avoid taking decisive action.  Today, I was reminded that there comes a point at which there is one thing left to do, and it’s to take the first step forward. After taking that step, however large or small, you can always step backward, continue along the same trajectory, or even go left or right. But once you’ve planned, deliberated, and identified a goal, there is one guarantee: the act of standing in place won’t bring you any closer to it… #ItsPersonal

 

 

 

 

Economics and Marie Kondo’s KonMari Method

Famed Japanese home organization consultant Marie Kondo has inspired millions around the world to focus on optimizing their home environment. Although the thought of organizing and “de-cluttering” is a source of dread for many, Kondo’s book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, has performed tremendously from Tokyo to New York City. What is it about a book on home organizing that appeals to so many?

Kondo helps readers conceptualize their home organization and storage habits by utilizing basic economic concepts. Through these concepts, the author translates the oftentimes daunting language of organizing to everyday, palatable lingo. She effectively guides the reader along the path of uncovering the very psychological correlations between organizational habits and psychology.

The Sunk-Cost Fallacy in Organizing

In economic terms, a sunk cost is a past cost that has already been paid and cannot be recovered. This term is highly applicable when it comes to organizing and is a major setback for many individuals who struggle to donate or discard unused items. For example, an individual may purchase a fruit bowl or even a small kitchen appliance while it is on sale and later decide not to use the item because the colors clash with the current decorating theme or because there is simply not enough space on the kitchen counter. Over time, the new purchase remains unused, and the individual may or may not realize the item is not really a necessity. However, the item remains in place because it is perpetually regarded as a “purchase” that went unused and may still be of use at a later date. Meanwhile, the item takes up space in the home and will likely never be used because it does not meet a more urgent need in the household.

When sorting through closet and storage spaces, remaining honest about an item’s realistic potential for use is paramount. While I, personally, do not aggressively focus on forcing clients to discard items simply for the sake of getting rid of things, I do encourage my clients to audibly talk through the way in which the item came into the home and list realistic pros and cons of keeping the item. At that point, the individual is typically able to make a firm, practical decision about whether the item should go or stay.

The Folly of Prediction in Sorting and Purging

More thoroughly explained in the Freakonomics podcast, the folly of prediction simply acknowledges that, in the grand scheme, human beings are often terrible at making accurate predictions. How does this relate to organizing? Marie Kondo uses this fallacy as a basis for utilizing current valuation of an object to determine whether to keep or remove it from the household. Common examples include clothes that are a few sizes too small or books that have already been read. At this point, my method diverges from the KonMari method slightly in that I typically do not insist on a client getting rid of clothing that is within a couple sizes of his or her current weight or donating favorite books if a) there is space to store the items within easy reach OR neatly within plain sight and b) the client establishes or is clearly working on an organized plan to get back into the smaller clothing size or reread the book. Other examples include housewares and decorations that were purchased for a specific purpose and will likely never be used again. Board games and toys that never see the light of day should also be considered through this lens in most cases.

Status Quo Bias and Preventing the Accumulation of “Clutter”

Under the status quo bias, as it relates to organizing, many people are governed by the belief that they should keep an item in the home if they cannot think of a reason to discard the object. Here Marie Kondo employs a dramatic switch that I find to be the most life-changing of all the economic concepts discussed: she suggests changing the status quo to one under which no item is kept in the home unless there is a valid reason to hold onto it. Under the suggested status quo, most of us would be opting for online bank, credit card, and utility statements, recycling empty bags and boxes, no longer keeping massive collections of old, unused plastic food storage containers. The average American household would be drastically different in form and, to a significant degree, in function. We would no longer need to go out and purchase new stuff to help us store our old stuff.

What would we do with all that extra space? Imagine how much more “living” we could do in our home environments…

For more information about the interplay between the KonMari method and economics, check out this  Atlantic editor’s personal experience.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Set Yourself Up for Success

It’s October. The leaves are crisp. The weather is soggy (here in New York). Pumpkin Spice Lattes are flowing freely. These are a few of our favorite things, right?

In addition to fall boots, sweaters, cool nights by the fire pit, and pumpkin-flavored everything, there is another gigantic advantage to the fall season we often overlook: we have just entered the quiet before the holiday frenzy. Therefore, this moment of relative quiet is  the perfect time to sit down and make clear, sober plans to set ourselves up for a prosperous New Year. It is an opportune time to position ourselves to make New Year’s resolutions we will actually keep.

What does this mean for our lives in general? Assess, assess, assess. If you struggle with your weight or bad health habits, sit down and think about how you can do things differently. Visit the doctor. Have your levels checked. Is your cholesterol a little high? Let’s make a plan now to anticipate cutting down on saturated fats and high cholesterol foods in the New Year (…right after we enjoy the rich, holiday foods). Start looking into gyms. Think about an athletic activity you enjoy or a fitness class you’d like to take. Do some research…Is money management your thing? Think about what a realistic budget for your household might entail in 2017.  Social anxiety got you down? Let’s start thinking about healthy ways we can meet people in the upcoming year. What hasn’t worked well for us in 2016? Anticipate. Plan. Begin the mental prep work now.

And finally…what does this mean in terms of getting organized? If you’re already my client, now is the perfect time to schedule a “check-up” to see how well your current strategies have been working. If you’re not my client, let’s get acquainted. Visit our Contact page, and schedule an appointment with me to talk about how we can make your home or work space feel more comfortable and run more smoothly. Once we embark on the journey of exploring the connection between your environment, your sense of well-being, and your overall productivity, I guarantee your outlook on the concept of “space” will never be the same. Let’s talk organization, and let’s get empowered!

Happy October!

Anxiety and Disorganization

Though my clients come from various educational, career, and cultural backgrounds, there are a few common threads I repeatedly observe. One of them is anxiety. Oftentimes, a person who suffers from general anxiety, may find that the struggle is spilling over into his or her perceived ability to maintain an organized environment at home or at work. Many people who struggle with organizing find that they feel overwhelmed the minute they attempt an organizing-related task. Others are able to begin work, but may lose their sense of direction and motivation while in the middle of completing the task. The following steps can help virtually anyone begin, continue, or complete organizing projects that may at first seem endless and cumbersome or downright overwhelming.

  1. Before beginning, think about the project in terms of manageable phases. Set a clearly defined end goal, and establish a realistic timeline. Don’t forget to think about how much time you would specifically like allocate to completing each phase in addition to creating an overall project deadline.
  2. If possible, approach each phase of the task with a clear mindset and adequate rest. Pausing to take periodic five-minute breaks can be extremely helpful. If time management is a concern, setting a timer may be an effective way to appropriately set boundaries between “working time” and “break time.”
  3. No negative self-talk. It’s true that we are oftentimes our worst critic. Instead of focusing on what you are afraid you will not accomplish, acknowledge small victories throughout the process, and look forward to completing each phase and starting a new one.
  4. If panic begins to set in, take a few deep breaths, and actively tell yourself not to panic. Oftentimes, remaining calm is a matter of slowing down, taking a step back, and making a very conscious decision to maintain a positive, peaceful focus.
  5. Take baby steps. Most of my clients begin to see progress when they begin by taking small steps toward “reclaiming” and improving an area of their home or office. I am always amazed at how quickly they become motivated to tackle larger and larger organizing projects, often without my supervision. More importantly, by slowly and deliberately working through the organizing process, they are able to self-identify any habits that may serve as obstacles to maintaining an orderly space, and they are eventually able to modify their behaviors and correct themselves by employing the tools and techniques they learn during our sessions.