Thursday, January 07, 2010

Get Organized

Last spring, I bartered my photography services in exchange for professional organizing services. I thought I was an already pretty decent organizer, yet I could not quite get a handle on my crafting and office supplies. Some of them were being stored in the spare bedroom along with most of Alex's toys, and some of them were housed in the home office itself. I got a jump on things by making the decision to convert the multi-use spare bedroom/playroom/craft room into a single-use play room. How, then, to organize all that crafty, office-y stuff in one room? My friend, Gina, had the answers. Here is what I learned from our time together one spring day and my subsequent obsession with studies in organizing:

  1. Get inspired. My favorite organizational eye candy has got to be Real Simple. Seriously, swoon.
  2. Choose a space. Which area of your home, car, workspace, yard, is driving you bananas? Start there. Commit to organizing this area ONLY. For now.
  3. Set a date. Choose a weekend day or an upcoming holiday for which you have no plans. You'll need 6-8 hours. Whatever you do, don't skimp on time. You'll just end up throwing things into their new places all willy-nilly, and that's just not OK.
  4. Gather resources. If you're anything like me, you've had organizational ambitions before, but you didn't quite follow through. That means tubs, baskets, boxes, and bins might by lying dormant somewhere in your home. Gather those up--you'll need them. Go through your food storage items, too--once I decided to never store food in plastic again, I relegated the plastic containers to organizational duty. The one item you might need to purchase is a shelving system. Gina had recommended that I look into track shelving for vertical organizing, but I just couldn't bite that bullet. I already had a nice pine bookcase, and I decided to supplement with some floating shelves. Those worked out beautifully (see below). You'll also need trash bags, cleaning rags, labels, scissors, and markers. Try to find as many items as possible that you can re-purpose. Return address labels are great for labeling shelves. Binder clips have a multitude of uses. The boxes that checks come in are perfect drawer organizers.
  5. Make piles. You've seen Clean Sweep, right? You'll make a "keep" pile, a "trash" pile, and a "sell/donate" pile. Dump everything out of every cabinet and drawer into the middle of the room. If you can take it all to an adjacent room, even better. Pick up every single item and place it in one of the 3 piles. The universal rule of thumb is the one-year rule: If you haven't used or worn an item in a year, it goes. Be ruthless. The smaller your "keep" pile, the better.
  6. Organize! That's right, you'll finally get to do some organizing. Now is the time to decide where the "keep" items will go. Place like items into mini-piles--writing utensils in one pile, adhesives in another, mailing supplies in another--you get the picture. Select a container and a location for each group, keeping in mind their purpose and frequency of use. Install (that's my fancy word for "put") organizing containers in your drawers and on your shelves (I'm sure I don't have to tell you to save the pretty containers like baskets and fabric boxes for your shelves, right?).
  7. Discard. I know it seems obvious, but you must follow through and actually trash your "trash" pile and either sell or donate the items in your "sell/donate" pile. I'm a huge fan of donating over selling because selling requires a whole 'nother level of sorting and pricing and handling. Sure, you may make a few extra bucks, but for me, it's better to get that extra stuff off my hands as soon as possible.
  8. Enjoy. Sit in your newly organized space and breathe in the sweet, sweet smell of order.
  9. Rinse and Repeat. When you're ready to tackle another space, return to #1.
  10. Commit and Maintain. This is the hardest part, really. When something in its new organized home is used, chances are its new, more accessible location will facilitate its return to said home. However, during especially hectic times (for me, that was the December holidays when I was boxing and wrapping and decorating gifts in my home office every single day), things tend to get a little sloppy. It's crucial to make the commitment to set aside at least an hour or so to put things back in order. Otherwise, well, you know what will happen.

The end result.

The Little-by-Little Method: I've done this before, and I have to tell you that it takes some real dedication. For those of us who don't have many full days to devote to organizing, this method is the best. It's not the easiest, but it will work:
  1. Get inspired. (See above.)
  2. Choose a space. (Yep, see above.)
  3. Make a commitment. Every single day for about a month, do at least one of the following: A) Throw something away, B) delegate something to a pre-established donate box/bag/basket, or C) install a new container for like items.
This method is gradual, and it won't give you the BAM! factor that the one-day method will, but it's still quite satisfying. The upshot of this technique is that it might help you develop a natural organizational habit that will spill over to other parts of your home and life. When that happens, will you come and camp out in my kitchen for a few weeks? I'll feed you.

What are your organizational tricks? What am I missing that might change my life?

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