Archive for the ‘Organization 101’ Category

I haven’t always been a huge supporter of New Year’s resolutions. I’ve seen people set goals for the upcoming year in assorted ways, but more often than not, the goals eventually fall by the wayside. It has become clear to me that if you are going to make New Year’s resolutions, then you need to have a plan. Without a plan, your resolutions are left floating aimlessly with no clear direction, no course of action, and ultimately no success.


It takes some level of organization to make and fulfill New Year’s resolutions. So in the spirit of this blog, I’m going to make my very first New Year’s resolution ever as a way to help those of you who have tried and failed over and over to find real success in 2009.

My 2009 New Year’s Resolution: Meal Planning

Since starting this blog back in the beginning of October, I’ve noticed that one major (and very common) organizational tool I do not currently use is meal planning. I’ve read many times over that meal planning is a great way to save time and money, and in general an effective way to organize your life better. I even had a reader leave a useful comment about meal planning on my post about stocking your pantry.

So why haven’t I ever actively planned meals? Probably because my mom didn’t do it so I never did either. But I’ve seen the real potential of meal planning recently and I don’t want to wait any longer!

Now other than making the decision that I would like to plan meals in 2009, I haven’t done much else in the way of deciding how I’m going to make that happen. As I said above, having a strategy is really the key to success. So below I’m going to outline a step-by-step process that you can watch me use to realize my New Year’s resolution of meal planning. Then hopefully you can apply what you’ve learned to your own resolutions for the upcoming year.

Step 1: Get Specific

Before outlining any kind of plan, it is important to make your resolution and then describe it specifically so you understand what it really means to you. For example, if you would like to lose weight in 2009, how much do you want to lose? If you would like to organize your life, what is it exactly that needs to be organized? Be specific. The worst way to start pursuing your New Year’s resolution is to be vague.

  • Meal Planning: I want to schedule all dinners in advance that I will cook in order to (1) cut back on stress that accompanies last-minute meal decisions, (2) be more creative with meals and learn new recipes, (3) shop more efficiently and, and (4) use my time more wisely.

Step 2: Be Realistic

When coming up with New Year’s resolutions, it’s really important to be realistic and honest with yourself so you don’t end up setting yourself up for failure before you’ve even begun. If you want to lose 50 pounds in 2009, you need to ask yourself if you can—do you have time, will power, motivation, tools, and physical ability? After answering these difficult but important questions, go back to step 1 and make any necessary changes. Perhaps it is more realistic for you to lose 20 pounds instead of 50, for example.

  • Meal Planning: First, I worry about my ability to stick to this new kind of lifestyle. It will be a major change, so I will need to discipline myself to keep with it. I feel that I am up to the challenge. Second, I know that I could theoretically plan every meal, but I am choosing to only plan dinners for now. Starting more simply can help me ease into it more effectively. Finally, I know that in order for me to actually plan meals, I need to have a strategy in place. No problem—that’s Step 3.

Step 3: Outline a Strategy

If your New Year’s Resolution is to lose weight (keeping with this same example), you won’t get very far if you do not have a plan. Simply stating that you wish to lose 20 pounds will not suffice—you need to decide when, where, and how you will accomplish this goal. For example, you could choose to run on your treadmill Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays at 7 a.m. for 30 minutes, only eat dessert on the weekends, and reduce the size of your dinner plates to cut down your portion size. The point is, when it comes to general resolutions like ‘losing weight’, a specific strategy is a must.

  • Meal Planning: This is the step I have not yet tackled. But as I stated at the end of Step 2, if I do not outline a strategy, I can guarantee myself failure. So, here’s what I just came up with in last few minutes: I think it would be best to pick a day of the week when I can plan each night’s meal for that week. Then when I get better at it, I can move to meal planning monthly. We have meetings on Monday and Tuesday nights, so Wednesday is probably the best day for me to start with.  We are a leftovers family, so I do not need to plan a new meal for each night. For now I think that 3 meals a week will be plenty. I will shoot for one brand new recipe, one old recipe, and one made-up recipe (I like to experiment in cooking). I will use my planner to keep track of each meal. That should be all I need to get started!

Step 4: Ready, Set, Go

This step is pretty easy—it’s time to put your resolution into action! If it’s weight loss, then start your weight loss plan on January 1 and stick to it. Keep track of your progress through record keeping and take notice of your improvement.

  • Meal Planning: I will begin on Wednesday January 7, since this upcoming Wednesday is December 31 (and that will also give me enough time to get settled back into our ‘normal’ schedule after all the holiday traveling). I may end up keeping track of my progress right here at Lifestyles of the Organized as a further way to help me stay motivated to stick to this new system.

Step 5: Assess Your Strategy

With any resolution, it’s important to check back in regularly to make sure everything is still going well. Assessing your progress overall after about a month is good for starters. Then make any necessary adjustments to your plan based on how successful you’ve been. For example, if you are trying to lose weight, but your new exercise program is not fitting very well into your schedule, then tweak what you need to in order to make it work.

  • Meal Planning: I will assess my progress at the beginning of February and then decide if I should move to monthly planning instead of weekly planning. I will also make any changes to my meal categories if necessary.

Reader Reflection

Are you going to make any New Year’s resolutions this year?


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A couple of weeks ago, one of the points in my post about organizing tupperware raised some interesting discussion. Two readers who blog at The Road to Hobbiton and Autumn Asks Why both pointed out the challenge of sticking to organizational systems. They expressed their frustration with dealing with other members of their family:

“Everytime I come up with a system, it fails before long because no one else in the family sticks to it. I could be the crazy woman who follows everybody around and yells about putting stuff where it goes, but who wants to live that way?” – The Road to Hobbiton

“No amount of threats, punishment, rewards or anything else can get my brats to follow the system. They literally toss stuff in and shut the door before it can fall out.” – Autumn Asks Why

Now this got me thinking. I have it pretty easy right now apparently because my husband and I haven’t started a family yet. So right now the only person I have to tell to stick to my system is, well, me. But I totally recognize the potential for failure when you introduce more people in the equation. Hey, I was a teenager once. And I was a roommate several times. Furthermore, in the future my husband and I plan to have kids and I want them to stick to my organizational systems. Is it a lost cause?

I don’t think so. After some time to ponder this challenge, I’ve thought up a few ideas that I’ll offer below. Hopefully these ideas can help anyone struggling to implement or follow organizational systems in the home. Why organize something if we can’t keep it organized? There’s got to be a way. So here we go…


1. Make sure your system is realistic

The harder your system is to follow, the less participation you will likely have from other members of your family. Take a look at the organizational systems throughout your house that aren’t being followed and ask yourself how complicated they are. Also consider asking your family to be honest and tell you what they think. Maybe the reason your family won’t stick to your system is because they just can’t!

2. Introduce systems to everyone in your family

Sometimes we can make a mistake right off the bat when we organize something by just expecting everyone to automatically take notice and follow our system. I’ll be the first to point out that not everyone in your family will be as excited as you are about your brand new tupperware system or alphabetized DVD’s. You have to show your system to your family and explain it in detail. Help them understand not only how it works or how they can use it, but also how important it is to you that they stick to it. It’s possible that all your family needs is a little explanation and to know how much you care.

3. Make sure you set a good example

If you are asking your family to stick to your organizational system, then you’d better make sure you stick to it too! Think of the expression, “Do as I say, not as I do.” Don’t be that person. No one wants to take orders from someone who doesn’t follow their own orders.

4. Establish clear rules

If you can have rules in your home about making the bed or doing chores, then why can’t sticking to organizational systems be a rule too? What do you do if your child won’t clean their room or take out the trash? Consider using the same discipline methods you would use in these scenarios for anyone who doesn’t follow your organizational systems (out of disobedience, not ignorance). There’s no real difference between making your bed or putting the tupperware back into the cupboard the right way. In both situations, if a child chooses to not listen to you, then they are simply breaking the rules.

5. Let someone else take ownership of the system

If someone in your family doesn’t understand your system or refuses to take it seriously, then a useful practice might be to have them do the organizing themselves so they can take ownership of it and actually care. Feel free to help them with the project so they do it right, but allow them to take the bulk of the time and effort to get the job done. That way they will feel as if they’ve invested in the system and will have more incentive to stick to it. This concept is not much different than the following common situation: a teenager might take care of something they purchased with their own money more than something you bought for them. They don’t take something for granted if they’ve worked hard for it. The same can be said for organizational systems.

Reader Reflection

I certainly don’t have all the answers and would love to hear any further insight into this challenge. How do you help your family stick to your organizational systems?

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Today I’d like to start the week off by doing a little reflecting. As I write regularly about all the ins and outs of organizing space, time, and money, it’s easy for me to neglect the bigger picture sometimes. Yesterday morning in church our pastor was speaking on the topic of not wasting your time. My first thought was, “Yes, I’m all about that…you should check out my blog!” But then he began giving an illustration of the kind of person we don’t want to strive to be: one who has everything organized, everything clean, everything planned, etc., but ultimately doesn’t have their priorities in the right place. While the benefits of being organized are many, it’s important not to let the act of organizing defeat the purpose. Below I’ve identified three potential downsides of organizing that we should all be careful to avoid.

Don’t organize just for the sake of organizing

I love organizing. Sometimes I just feel good when I organize something. But we have to be careful not to get carried away. Always consider the greater purpose with everything you organize. Is there a good reason to do what you are doing? For example, are you saving time? Are you saving money? Are you increasing the efficiency or convenience of a task? Keep these things at the forefront of your mind so you don’t lose sight of the purpose of having an organized lifestyle.

Be careful not to use organizing as an excuse

Are you looking to organize your closet because in reality you have too many clothes? Are you unable to put money away for the future because you are spending too much now (even if you are getting deals)? Try not to use organizing as an excuse (i.e. telling yourself it’s okay to have excessive stuff as long as you just organize it well). Instead you should try to use organizing as a tool to assess your weaknesses and see how you can change your habits.

Keep your priorities in order

This is the most important of the three points and also what my pastor was really getting at in his message. Are you so consumed with organizing all your material possessions that you’ve lost sight of what is really important in life? My pastor spoke of using your time wisely and trying to only spend time on things that ultimately have eternal significance—in other words, things that matter. You can be as organized, neat, clean, and planned out as you want, but if you don’t have your priorities in order, then you are missing the point of life and are sadly wasting your time.

Reader Reflection

I don’t want to today’s post to be a downer for anyone…in fact quite the opposite. I’d love these points to help you look at the bigger picture and think about things that matter for a moment. Today I encourage you to do a little reflecting so that we’re ready tomorrow to get back to organizing–but this time, with the right attitude and purpose.

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Last week we took a look at the question of WHY we should even bother to organize our lives. Now that we understand the many potential benefits involved, we need to discuss the next step: getting started. It can be a daunting task to say the least to decide to organize your life. How do you embark upon such an endeavor? Where do you begin? When should you start? When will you be finished? These are all important questions and in this post I want to outline some simple approaches to help you ease into a lifestyle of organization.

Adopt realistic expectations

You always hear people say that you should be careful not to set your goals too high. Well that advice applies to organization as well. It can be easy to imagine in your mind’s eye your life organized already, as if somehow all you did was snap your fingers and everything was done. It’s good to think about what you ultimately want, but it’s important to realize that organization isn’t completely effortless and it certainly doesn’t happen overnight. If you adopt realistic expectations, you won’t set yourself up for failure.

Set clear goals

You’ll hear me time and time again suggesting the following: make a list! Take a walk through your house and write down the spaces you see that could use a little organization. Run through your day and make notes about how you’d like to change your schedule or how you spend your time. Finally jot down some thoughts about your financial situation. Lists are nice, because you just let the thoughts flow and there is no need to act on anything right away. After you have all your lists made, you have a template to work from as you get started and you are free to decide what to undertake first.

Tackle organization one step at a time

A great way to get burned out quickly is to try to do too many things at once. Of course there’s always room for multitasking and taking breaks from one project to work on another. What I’m talking about here is avoiding trying to organize too many things at one time in too short a time. You run the danger of getting overwhelmed and feeling like nothing is working. You have your lists made, so choose one thing on your list and try to get it done before going on to the next.

Choose methods that best suit your style

You’ll discover many suggestions for how to organize your life on this blog, but it is important to always consider what works best for you. If you try something I suggest and it doesn’t quite suit your style, then don’t be afraid to experiment. And of course be sure to come back and tell us what you did differently so we can all learn something new!

Have fun!

I get a lot of satisfaction and a real sense of accomplishment from the art of organization. Take note of your attitude as you are tackling different projects. Are you enjoying yourself? Are you feeling successful? Not everything will be particularly exciting (i.e. arranging tupperware lids, anyone?), but you should at least gain something positive from the whole experience.

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Yesterday in Organization: Why Bother? (Part 1), I showed you two very different scenarios with regard to preparing an evening meal: one was chaotic, the other was organized. The difference is clear, but how can those specific experiences translate into results in other areas of our lives? Let’s break it down.

When I think of organization, three broad categories come to mind:

1. Space

No I’m not talking about the infinite expanse of stars and galaxies—I’m talking about the (often) infinite expanse of our STUFF. We have homes and we have belongings. Everything we own has the potential to be organized.

2. Money

Ah yes, so this is how we manage to accumulate all the STUFF mentioned above. Money can be organized too, for example in how we handle it, spend it, or save it.

3. Time

We all have on occasion wished for more hours in the day. There are ways to win back some of our time, even if it’s just minutes here and there. But once we secure those precious minutes (or even hours!), think of what we can accomplish! The possibilities are endless.

But why?

Now that we know what we CAN organize in our lives, we jump to the ever-important question of WHY should we do it? Organization takes effort, not to mention time, sometimes money, and usually creativity. Below I’ve outlined just some of the potential benefits of organizing your life.

  • Recouping Resources. First let’s look at a couple of the most obvious benefits. Organizing your life directly leads to saving two of your most precious resources, time and money. Put your kitchen cupboards in order, shave time off cooking meals. Make a better plan for the way you buy groceries, keep a little more cash in your pocket. The list goes on and is virtually limitless.
  • Slashing Stress. Next let’s look at a couple of the less obvious, but equally as important benefits of having an organized lifestyle. Indirectly, organizing your space, money, and time can lead to a noticeable reduction in stress and ultimately an improvement in your quality of life. Who doesn’t want that? In today’s hectic world, stress levels tend to run high and can have a very negative impact on your well-being. Do you want a little more peace in your life? Adopting an organized lifestyle is one way to get you closer to such a goal.

Preparing For Launch

Now of course it’s not as easy as just snapping your fingers and POOF! everything in your life is magically organized. So where do you begin? Getting the ball rolling can be overwhelming, to say the least. In the next post, Organization: Getting Started, I’ll provide innovative solutions to help you kick off your plan to get organized.

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Admit it, organizing can be very tedious, time-consuming, and often difficult. So why do we even bother to try? The prize is in the results we get. Organizing even the simplest of things in our lives can lead to savings in time and perhaps money. Even more importantly, I think that having an organized lifestyle can actually reduce stress. Did I just say, reduce? Yes, I did. While at first glance, many naysayers might dismiss organizing as a cause of stress, I am a firm believer that getting your life and belongings in order will create an environment that only benefits you in the long run. Let’s look at an easy example to help illustrate my point:

Scenario 1: Lifestyles of the Chaotic

Pretend you’re planning your meal for the evening. First you head over to where you store all your recipes and start rifling through endless folders, boxes, and random pieces of paper. Frustrated, you just decide to make something you have memorized (or at least you think you do). You then head over to the pantry to see if you have the ingredients you need. Only finding half of the food items necessary for your recipe, you hop in the car and head to the grocery store. After 30 minutes, you arrive back at home, ready to cook. You begin getting out the cooking supplies you need when you realize the baking dish you want to use is dirty in the sink. Quickly washing it, you then start mixing your ingredients, occasionally wondering if you are using the correct portions. After the meal is prepared and eaten, you tackle the aftermath…a heaping pile of food-encrusted dishes. After rubbing and scrubbing for 20 minutes, you decide to put the leftover food away, heading over to your tupperware cupboard. When you open the door, several lids come flying out at you…it turns out whoever emptied the dishwasher that morning set a booby-trap. After you finally choose a container, you can’t find the lid that matches it. Eventually you just settle for saran wrap and call it a night.

Scenario 2: Lifestyles of the Organized

Again, you are planning your meal for the evening. You get out your recipe binder and choose a food category that you feel like preparing for your family that night. After settling on Soups, you page through the options and pick your favorite tomato soup. You head over the pantry to find the ingredients you need. Since you stock up on common items you often cook with, you have everything you need.
Next you prepare the meal, easily following along your recipe, since it was re-written by you to suit your style. Every time you have a few moments during the cooking process, you head over to the sink to wash some of the dishes you’ve accumulated. After your family has quickly consumed your yummy dinner, you finish the remaining dishes in a few minutes and begin to put the leftovers away. You find your tupperware cupboard, choose a container size and then grab the corresponding lid out of a neatly arranged box of lids. After tucking it away in your fridge, you’re ready to relax for the night.

Reality Check

I confess I’ve painted a rather ideal picture here and I’ll be the first to admit that nobody lives in such a perfect world. However, I think we can all see the stark difference between the two scenarios. If we adopt even just some of the practices of the organized, we can vastly improve our lives, right down to something as simple as how our evening meal goes each night. Looking back, the person in the second scenario saved a lot of time and a lot of headaches. And the good news is, there’s even more to be saved. Stayed tuned for Organization: Why Bother? (Part 2) to find out the numerous ways organizing ultimately benefits us.

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