kitchens, Organizing

Creating a Functional Kitchen

As we head from Spring into Summer, now is a great time to do some reorganizing (or organizing for the first time) of our kitchens. I don’t know about you, but I spend a lot of time in my kitchen all year long. Here are some tips to help you assess and organize the central part of any home.

STEP 1: ANALYSIS

As you ponder where to place your kitchen things, begin by analyzing your old storage systems. Were some things working well? If so, don’t change them! If you love storing your mugs by the coffee maker, stick with it. If it’s convenient to have your recipe books on the countertop, keep it up.

Now ponder anything inconvenient. How could you make those things work a little better? For example, if you hate having piles of cans and bottles littering your countertop as they await a trip outside for recycling, then make a new plan. Clear space under the sink to install a pull-out trash can to capture those recyclables immediately after use. If you hate reaching to the top shelf to get your favorite, frequently-used mixing bowls, make a plan to house them in a more convenient location like an eye-level shelf. Where you put your stuff is as important as what you own. If you can’t find it when you need it, or it’s inconvenient to reach, you’ll likely not use it!  (Here’s a tip from my kitchen: my trashcans sit out in the open in the kitchen since we do not have cabinet space for them. I purchased two slim trashcans – one black and one white – and sat them side by side. The black trash can is for trash; the white trashcan is for recycling. You can choose any two colors that would work for your kitchen but this is a great way to have a sleek look while gathering recycling. We use paper grocery store bags in the recycling can and when it is full, we lift it out and put the bag in the larger, trash company provided recycling bin.)

STEP 2: PLACEMENT

As you look over your groupings of kitchen items, start pulling aside the things you use most often. Then store them where you use them. For example, your everyday dishes might work great directly above your dishwasher or close to the table. Perhaps your pots and pans and cookie sheets could go near the stove.

Keeping similar things together will help you navigate your kitchen more easily. For example, store everything related to cooking in one area. You might group your pots and pans, bakeware, hot mitts, and cooking utensils in one area. Create a food preparation area by grouping cutting boards, knives, and mixing bowls. If you love to bake, consolidate cookie cutters, mixers, measuring cups and spoons in one area.

There are many helpful organizing products available to keep your kitchen orderly. Baskets and bins come in a variety of sizes and hold foods, like onions and potatoes, as well as cleaning supplies. A wall-mounted spice rack saves cupboard space. Inside cupboards, double-decker wire shelf stackers double storage space. Wooden cookware racks keep pot lids tidy. An attractive vase or crock near your stove top corrals utensils. (Here’s a tip from my kitchen: I have stainless steel appliances and bought a stainless steel ice bucket and use it to hold the stove top utensils on the counter next to the stove – it is easy to wipe clean and keeps the stainless steel look flowing.)

If you use something frequently, keep it close and convenient. Put infrequently used items way up high, down low, or in the back. Place anything you use daily (such as everyday dishes) at eye level, so you’re not stooping down or reaching on tip-toe. Keep heavy things down low and lighter things up high. For example, if you use your turkey platter or punch bowl only once or twice a year, place them on a bottom shelf.

STEP 3: MAINTENANCE

Once your kitchen is organized, pat yourself on the back. Job well done! But you’re not quite finished… Establish an “in/out” system where some purging takes place before you purchase a new item. If you buy a new set of plastic storage containers, toss out an equal amount of your old storage containers. If you come home with a new mug, an old one must go! It may be helpful to stash a donation box somewhere nearby as an easy reminder of this rule. Also, take time once each year to review your kitchen and all its accouterments. Discard anything broken, donate  anything unused in the past 12 months, and make sure the storage systems still make sense for you and your housemates. Consider your kitchen a work in progress, and like fine wine it will only get better with time.

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Organizing, Procrastinaton

Conquering Procrastination…now!

I covered procrastination in my newsletter last year but since it’s Tax preparation time and Spring is here, I thought it would be a good time to revisit the subject.

The word procrastinate comes from the Latin procrastinatus, which means, literally, “forward tomorrow.” If you’ve been putting off till tomorrow what you could — and should — do today, then recognize that procrastination is a habit that can be broken. But it won’t happen overnight. It takes 21 days to form a new habit. So set a date, (Mondays work well, because they feel like a fresh start) and track 21 days to stay the course. (Comment to this post with your START DATE – accountability helps us get started.)

First of all, give yourself a reason to stop procrastinating. Will you improve your financial situation because you’ll pay your bills on time? Or will you impress your family, friends, and coworkers because you’ll appear productive and efficient? And — gasp — will you be less stressed because you are on top of your to-do list and arrive on time? (collective gasp is heard when you arrive on time)

Whatever the goal, keep it in mind throughout the first 21 habit-forming days.

How can you get started? Start writing. Yes, most of us have smartphones and if you’re like me, you are using up EVERY SINGLE bit of memory, but a good ‘ol fashioned notebook is a great tool…seriously. Whatever you do, scraps of paper and sticky notes won’t do – they have their place but not for getting started on stopping procrastinating. Remember, you’ll want everything in one place because you are forming a new habit.

In this notebook, keep a running list of tasks that need to be done. (It might be really long.) But then, each evening, make a smaller “to do today” list for the upcoming day, on a separate page in your notebook. List only the most important things you need to accomplish that day, and keep the number of tasks realistic and attainable. (About five things usually works well.) The next morning, you’ll know exactly what needs to be done, and you can concentrate on those tasks above all else. That evening, re-evaluate your list. Anything not completed moves forward to the following day’s task list, and a few more items are added. And take a moment to permanently remove tasks from your list that no longer contribute to your goals or happiness.

I use a paper calendar for my business. It has sections for personal, family and business items for each day. I review it in the evening, and in the morning. I keep a notebook beside me and on me at all times and this goes with me when I’m out and about.

REALISTIC-SIZED CHUNKS OF WORK: This is so key because procrastination is usually tied to poor time management…yeah, sorry but it’s true.  So as you’re writing your to-do list, make sure to break tasks down into realistic-sized chunks. If your goal is to organize your messy kitchen, the enormity of it will seem daunting. Instead, break it down into one-hour tasks: toss out all expired foods in pantry; clean out refrigerator; organize junk drawer; set up mini-filing system for kitchen. Completion dates are important, so assign specific tasks to specific days. You won’t organize a kitchen in a day, but over the course of a week, you can do it! And each day’s successes will give you the drive to keep going.

For truly unpleasant tasks (for me that’s cleaning the bathtub…ewww), set a timer for 15 minutes, and just do it. Nearly anything is palatable for a quarter of an hour. It’s also helpful to see that most unpleasant things don’t take nearly as long as we think they will. You may hate going through your in-basket at work. But just 15 minutes each morning and evening is enough to review, sort, do the quickie tasks, and assign the longer ones to your planner. If you’re feeling sluggish, complete an easy job first, to get your momentum going. Also, do the toughest tasks when your body is most alert — some people function better first thing in the morning, while others perk up later in the day. I am not a morning person, more of an afternoon person, so I schedule tough tasks for the afternoon.

Treat time like a precious gift. Are you a people-pleaser? If you’re truly behind in your own tasks, don’t add any more optional to-do items until you’re caught up. It’s okay to say no. It’s okay to delegate. It’s okay to take some time for yourself. And stop saying, “If I can’t do it perfectly, I won’t do it at all.” This is what has kept you stuck already…and that’s not working too well for you, is it? Just limit your choices, let well enough be okay and move forward. Perfection is not realistic or required in life…just “let it go”.

Reward yourself. After 21 days of “just do it” action, treat yourself to something nice… lunch with a friend, a luxurious nap or bubble bath, a hot-fudge sundae, a concert, or an afternoon with a favorite book or movie. You’ve earned it!

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organized mail
Decluttering, Organizing

Spring is Here!!! Quick Tips to Start the Organizing Process

Spring is Here! These tips will help you stop procrastinating and get organized today! Inspire and motivate yourself with the “Quick Start” projects. Each of these should take no longer than 30 minutes. Next, try the “Keep Going” tips to really put clutter and chaos in its place!

Kitchen

Quick Start: Take everything out of the refrigerator. Toss anything expired or mysteriously fuzzy. Clean the shelves. Then replace food items, grouping similar things together.

Keep Going: Tackle each kitchen cupboard and drawer the same way. Remove everything, clean, and toss anything not fresh or useful. Give most-used items your prime, easiest-to-reach space. Put infrequently used items up high or way in the back.

Clutter

Quick Start: Set a timer for 15 minutes. Grab a garbage bag, walk through your home, and quickly remove ten things you no longer use or love. Also, recycle newspapers older than one week and magazines older than 12 months, plus expired coupons and junk mail. Dispose of the bags immediately.

Keep Going: From here on out, put things in their proper places right away. Before buying something new, ask yourself if you really need it. If you decide to purchase, get rid of two similar items to make room.

Paperwork

Quick Start: With the exception of bills to be paid and truly important documents, grab all the paperwork you can find into one big pile. Plop it in a big box, seal it, and write today’s date on it. If you haven’t missed any of it two months from now, recycle the entire box without opening it.

Keep Going: Set up a new, easy filing system starting with paperwork you receive from today forward. Think of broad categories of papers you receive on a frequent basis: bills to pay, people to call, medical, school, etc. Get a desktop filing box, keep it in the kitchen, and file only what you’ll truly need to reference later. Be ruthless in your paper disposal. (Shred sensitive documents.) Review file contents weekly.

Touch paperwork only once: Open mail, and immediately act on it and recycle the paper, or file it in the appropriate spot.

Kids’ Stuff

Quick Start: Every evening, set a timer and have the family do the “Ten Minute Tidy-Up.” Holding an empty laundry basket, each person grabs anything out of place, and returns it to its correct home.

Keep Going: Limit clutter with the “new item in, old item out” rule. If you buy a new toy or clothing, get rid of at least one old one. Limit school art and paperwork. Save only the best, and keep them in an under bed storage box or portfolio.

Time Management

Quick Start: Set your watch ten minutes ahead. You’ll have a built-in buffer for running late.

Keep Going: Any task that can be completed in five minutes or less should be completed right away. Schedule a chunk of time each day to handle paperwork. Don’t schedule appointments too close together.

Email

Quick Start: Move everything more than two weeks old from your email inbox to a file marked “Holding.” Keep it for two months. Then, delete everything you haven’t needed in that time.

Keep Going: Treat your inbox like a real mail box. You’d never leave old mail sitting in there! Take the time to set up files where you can immediately move new emails. As emails arrive, either read and delete, file appropriately, or put in a “to do this week” file.

Garage/Attic/Basement

Quick Start: Set a timer for 30 minutes and toss/recycle dried out paint and chemicals, and anything broken, musty, or moldy.

Keep Going: Sort the space into zones. For example, a garage might have areas for sports, tools, gardening, and recycling/garbage. Group like items in those zones. Use appropriate storage containers and label clearly.

(courtesy © 2013 Articles on Demand™)

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Decluttering, House for sale, kids, Organizing

Prepping your kids room before listing your house for sale

Prepping your kids room before listing your house for sale:

One of the many challenges with listing a home for sale when you have small children at home is “what do I do with all the toys?”  A related challenge is “how do I show my house when there are toys everywhere?”

As part of prepping your house for listing for sale, you will need to tackle the somewhat daunting task of toys – deciding which toys can be donated or sold and which toys can be discarded.

For toys that you want to hang on to and keep for DURING your house listing, the rule of thumb is to have toys in only one room – your child’s bedroom. This can be impossible if more than one child shares a bedroom and that bedroom is small. When this occurs, I recommend you designate a room elsewhere in the house (and preferably not on the main level where your entrance is located) as a “play room”. This might be just an area for the toys to reside in as part of a family room or guest room.

For toys you are going to sell, be prepared to take pictures and list immediately on either Craigslist or FB yard sale groups while you are sorting through them. Set a deadline for when the toy will be sold – for example, list the toy and give it 5 days. If it hasn’t sold, donate it. Otherwise you will not be clearing out space but instead will be in a holding pattern to make a sale…forward movement is what you want to maintain so you don’t get stuck.

After sorting and purging of toys, then come up with storage solutions for the toys remaining in the house. Don’t purchase any organizing containers until after the sorting and purging is finished. If there are more toys that you want to hold on to for AFTER the sale, but need to “hide” while your house is on the market, consider using plastic storage tubs (with labels on outside) and either storing the tubs in the attic or renting a storage unit while your home is listed. (Personal tip: I have utilized storage units while showing my home for sale. I rented an interior unit in a temperature maintained facility and rented the smallest unit/closet. If I had too many things to fit in there, then I had to do more purging. I also utilized plastic shelving units that I assembled and put into the storage unit so that I could stack tubs/items higher within the unit.)

Remember, potential buyers are going to know you have kids – that’s okay. What you don’t want to do is distract them with too many things or with a mess. When a potential buyer walks into your home, the first thing they notice will set the tone – if this is a pile of toys in the main entrance area; it will off put the buyer. This is why the toys should be removed from the main level if at all possible. You want a buyer to get a good feel for your home on the main level so that when they do see your child’s toys and room, it’s not the first room/sight they see.

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junk drawer
kitchens, Organizing

Junk Drawers – to have or not to have, that is the question

Junk Drawers – to have or not to have, that is the question…

I don’t know about your childhood home, but the home I grew up in had a junk drawer in the kitchen. We called it the junk drawer even though mainly it housed tools and assorted items like tape, nails, hammer, etc. Perhaps my mom referred to it that way because it wasn’t like the other drawers which were specifically designated for just one type of item – utensils, foil, and large cooking utensils (we had only 5 kitchen cabinet drawers, come to think of it).

Since this is how I was raised, I too have always had what I would call a “junk drawer” – to put it more eloquently, “a mélange of dissimilar items frequently requiring access but with no specific home to call their own”…ahem…junk drawer is much easier now, isn’t it?

Sometimes junk drawers can become nightmare drawers so let’s take a look at whether or not it would work for your home to have a junk drawer:

  1. Do you have lots of kitchen drawers where you can easily assign like items? If yes, then you probably have an extra drawer to assign as the “junk” drawer.
  2. Are your kitchen drawers a wish list item for your next kitchen? If yes, and you have very few drawers, you may want to NOT have a junk drawer since space is limited.
  3. Do you have a tendency to save EVERYTHING, including plastic wrapped utensils (with napkin of course), chopsticks, soy sauce packets, and ketchup packets that come with food delivery from restaurants? If yes, then a junk drawer is not the best solution because it will be used to store all these items, which are not junk but really, let’s face it, trash.

My current kitchen has two junk drawers – they are side by side – and they are in the same vein as the drawers in my childhood home. I call them “junk” drawers, but they probably really aren’t necessarily junk drawers – they hold tools, tape (scotch, electrical, masking, packing, and plumbers tape), scissors, pens, rubber bands, stapler, ruler, measuring tape, etc.  I guess you could say the drawers are more along the lines of “frequently needed tools” and “office supplies”. I also use drawer organizers to separate the different items so it does have some semblance of order to it.

Only you know your tendencies and if they stray towards the side of filling drawers so they’re not accessible or usable, then you probably already know you shouldn’t have a junk drawer. But the decision to have or not to have is always up to you.

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How does your brain function
Organizing

Which side of your brain do you use?

Since it’s Halloween today, let’s talk about our BRAINS! They’re squishy, mushy things which are AMAZING in how they function!

Scientists are continuing to learn more about our brains and how they function, yet there is so much more to learn. One of the characteristics about our brains is that there is a right brain and a left brain — they are joined together — but each part has separate primary functions.

Now I’m not a neuroscience expert, so don’t judge me on this, but I do believe that whether you use the right side of your brain or the left side does affect how organized you are – and how you see organization as a whole.

Someone who is predominantly right brained will see the whole of a room and therefore, if it’s messy and cluttered, due to seeing the “big picture” so to speak, they will become instantly overwhelmed. Whereas a left brained person can see the room in sections and can see how to tackle it one section at a time. This is a very high level summary but you get the idea.

There are websites you can take tests to see which side of your brain you utilize the most (http://testyourself.psychtests.com/testid/3178 and http://braintest.sommer-sommer.com/en/ are two websites). I took one of these tests and, believe it or not, I ran about 50/50 – not much difference between the right side and left side usage. Hmmm…what does this mean? The beauty of being both left and right brained is that I can tap into my creative side (I grew up taking private painting/art lessons due to an innate ability to paint and draw), plus I can relate to clients who struggle with organization (I might just need that broken window blind to use for a project in the future), yet using my left brain, I realize the necessity for purging (throw out the broken window blind…please!), and I bring a sense of order in working with clients that doesn’t shut them down – because I GET HOW THEIR BRAINS WORK.

Most organizers come up with a plan of action that may not work with someone who is right brained. For example, we’ll proffer up my mom – thanks Mom! She likes to keep her unpaid bills in a place where she can see them – on the counter near her dining room table. She sees the basket everyday which reminds her (she’s visual) that she needs to sit down at the dinner table and pay bills. In my house, it’s a different setup: I have mine in manila file folders for each month (for each month I have two folders – for example, one folder says Nov 1-15, the other folder says Nov 16-30). We pay our bills weekly so we scan through the folders on our designed bill paying day each week to see what is due. Now if I took MY SYSTEM and put it into place for my Mom, since she’s more right brained and needs visual cues, it’s pretty likely that my mom would forget she had bills to pay because they would be in a wall pocket behind her office door…yeah, this won’t work for her. She wouldn’t see them and wouldn’t think about checking her folders. This is why her method works for her and our system works for us.  KEY POINT: Use “systems” that work with what works best for your brain!

We face so many stressors in today’s world. Let’s eliminate one of those stressors and accept our brains as how they currently function. And work with someone (a friend, family member or professional organizer) who understands YOU and helps you establish organization systems that work in YOUR home and with YOUR brain.

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Organizing, Time Management, Uncategorized

Time Keeps Ticking Tocking Away

Do you struggle with a poor sense of time? Are you often late for appointments, work? Are your kids late for school? This often occurs because of an inability to find what you need in the morning, distractions and sometimes not understanding just how long tasks REALLY take to complete.

Here are some tips to help you plan and schedule your time:

  1. Just like we do with our kids, we (adults) need to plan our morning out the NIGHT BEFORE. This will sound familiar if you have done this with your kids, but figure out what you’re going to wear the next day (I know this sounds really hard because you dress in the morning based on how you FEEL that day – bite the lip and try this technique before giving up). Gather your work items (briefcase, purse, bag, etc.) – put these by the door you will exit! Now do the same thing for your kids (clothes for next day, backpacks, shoes, items to take to school) and place those by the same door. We’re trying to help stop the morning madness!
  2. Hang your keys by the door you exit/use most often. If it’s the garage, then put up a key holder inside your house, next to the door to the garage. Multiple people using multiple sets of keys equals…yes you are right! Multiple hooks on the key holder! As for me, I prefer a small table also in this area to put stuff down on. Yes this can become the dumping ground, but in our prior home when we didn’t have one, everything was dropped right on the floor or onto the dining room table. Um, no. We currently don’t have a table near the door so items come into the kitchen. Our space in the entryway won’t accommodate the depth of a small table plus we have a large row of coat hooks / key hooks / purse hooks by the door. The counter is okay for this instance because the mail gets sorted through and purged into the recycling bin and lunch boxes live in the kitchen anyway. Phew! Moving on…
  3. Who likes to procrastinate doing the tough stuff? Yes, every human being raises their hand. Thank you. Here’s a simple but effective tip – schedule the tough stuff for early in the week – and when you are at your peak energy level – and see what happens! Believe it or not, once you get the tough tasks out-of-the-way, time is easier to manage. Otherwise that pink elephant is staring you in the face…everyday…all week long…ugh.
  4. Since errand running affects all of us (except those with personal assistants who run their errands for them and are named Kardashian, ahem), do you know realistically how long it takes you to run the errands? Try my tip – multiply by a factor of 3. If you live in the MetroDC area, anything can happen with traffic and what might be only 10 miles to run an errand may take you 30 minutes or more. (Note: if it’s rush hour in the MetroDC area, I increase my factor to 4). Yes this is my little secret…if I have to drive 10 miles, I calculate 30 minutes. If it’s rush hour, that becomes 40 minutes. Why is this errand running time understanding step important? Because we tend to not estimate enough time and external factors and then we over schedule and are constantly under pressure – maybe even yelling or honking horns at lights because we’re angry because we are late. Perhaps we made ourselves late by not fully grasping how long it takes to get from point A to point B? Hmm…that’s a thought.
  5. Hubs and I use a smart phone app for our shopping lists. I have a bazillion stores listed and we share just a few. We share lists for two grocery stores and three multipurpose stores (Target, Walmart and Walgreens). The app we use is called AnyList for iOS. I’m sure these apps exist for other types of phone operating systems as well. The cool thing is that NO LONGER are either of us out and about and decide to go by the store and realize we DON’T HAVE THE GROCERY LIST! Hate when that happens. Now we can add to the list on the fly (it updates immediately) and when either of us are in a store, we can purchase what’s on the list. The only thing remaining? Look at the lists. LOL.
  6. Do you have kids to keep track of schedules and messages? I’d recommend a family message center. White board or a chalkboard are fantastic for these areas. A family calendar is also a must since there are only so many adults who can drive the kids to all their after school activities. No, we are not cloned just because we are parents. Another idea is to set up Google calendar and husbands and wives can add their activities as well as their kids’ activities. That way everyone is on the same page when not at home looking at the calendar on the wall. (I’m all for technology if it provides a better solution!)
  7. Feeling overwhelmed at tasks to be done? Set a timer. I have used this technique a long time. If one of your family members struggles with ADD, then use 15 minute increments to focus on tasks. You don’t have to complete a large task in one sitting – done is better than perfect. Perhaps you need to just break up the task into chunks of time and put it on your calendar? I use this technique often – especially when performing home repair/remodeling tasks or yard work tasks. Why? Because I want to work on the task at my peak energy time and I know myself, if I’ve gone past a few hours, I’m going to not be as focused and will start making mistakes. To thine own self be true (and gentle!).
  8. Remember that if you are working on trivial tasks (oh, I need to print off those forms instead of writing a blog!), you are procrastinating my friend. We all do it. Usually it’s the tasks as mentioned in #3 above. Prioritize your tasks and work on the priorities first. Then reward yourself with a fun task!
  9. Lastly, and I learned this in pre-marriage counseling decades ago, usually in a relationship one person is the “tasker” and the other person is the “teamer”. What does this mean? That one person wants to do fun stuff and the other one wants to get things done! How do you overcome this “opposites attract” challenge? Ask the teamer to help you with a task (and yes, us “taskers” need to be specific in how long the task will take or be worked on), and that once the task is done, you will be glad to go “teaming”. Otherwise the tasker gets resentful and will not enjoy their time teaming, while the teamer doesn’t understand why the tasker is in a huff. Simple solution and works well if agreed upon by both people in the relationship. (Hey, this can also apply to kids).

Tick tock tick tock…let’s learn to make time our friend and not our enemy.

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