Posts Tagged ‘organization’

Before Christmas I wrote a post about questions you should ask yourself before buying a new planner for the upcoming year. Well, that upcoming year has arrived and it is now time to prepare our new planners to help us stay organized in 2009. Below I’d like to offer a comprehensive list of creative ways you can use your planners this year, whether you have a pocket planner, a desktop planner, a calendar, a notebook, or even a software program.


Explore your planner’s potential for helping you get organized this year

  1. Record to-do lists
  2. Keep track of meal plans
  3. Schedule shopping trips
  4. Keep shopping lists
  5. Remind yourself of upcoming sales or deals
  6. Schedule houseplant care (watering, fertilizing, repotting, etc.)
  7. Schedule garden maintenance (planting, weeding, harvesting, etc.)
  8. Schedule home maintenance
  9. Schedule laundry
  10. Remind yourself of garbage pick-up days
  11. Schedule package deliveries
  12. Schedule pet care (appointments, litter box or cage cleaning, etc.)
  13. Schedule vehicle maintenance (oil change, tire rotation, etc.)
  14. Record regular meetings
  15. Record events you need to attend (weddings, parties, conferences, etc.)
  16. Record extra curricular activity schedules for you and your children (sports, music, clubs, etc.)
  17. Record upcoming travel plans (weekend getaways, vacations, family reunions, etc.)
  18. Keep handy standard packing lists
  19. Schedule regular computer hard drive backups
  20. Keep track of pending rebates or cash back
  21. Keep track of your budget
  22. Keep track of your paychecks
  23. Schedule bill payments
  24. Record medical appointments
  25. Remind yourself to make future medical appointments
  26. Keep track of television shows you want to watch or record
  27. Keep track of sports events you wish to watch or attend
  28. Keep a record of birthdays you need to remember
  29. Keep an ongoing list of gift ideas for birthdays and holidays
  30. Schedule exercise routines

Reader Reflection

How do you use your planner to help you stay organized?


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2009 is just around the corner, so if you haven’t already, it’s time to start thinking about buying next year’s planner. I got mine a few weeks ago, but it certainly is not too late to choose a new one now. Planners are all about helping you organize your life, plan ahead, schedule events, and basically stay sane amidst chaos. But before springing for your next planner, there are a few things to consider to ensure you choose the style that is best for you.


1. Evaluate this past year’s planner

You want your planner to actually benefit you, not just sit on your desk collecting dust. So take a look at your trusty 2008 planner and ask yourself how useful it was. Did you use it for what you hoped to use it for? Was it ultimately beneficial in helping your organize your life? If so, then you might consider just sticking with the exact same style because you are used to it. That’s what I did, because I’ve found a planner that perfectly suits my needs. But if you didn’t find your 2008 planner particularly useful, then you might want to consider switching styles.

2. Choose a basic planner format

Whether you are switching styles because last year’s planner just didn’t cut it, or you are switching for a fresh change, the first decision you’ll need to make is what kind of format to go with. You could choose the basic wall calendar, a slightly more detailed monthly planner, a hefty weekly planner, or even a daily planner. What you decide on ultimately depends on your lifestyle, how busy you are, and how much you actually like to write things down.

If you have a daily planner, but you only end up writing in it every four or five days or so, then perhaps a weekly planner is better for you. In the same way, if you are trying to cram all your events and appointments onto a small wall calendar, then maybe you should switch to a more comprehensive monthly planner.

What do I use? I tend to write most things down, from my appointments to my meal plans. I would never fit everything onto a wall calendar (ya right!) or even a monthly calendar, so I went with a weekly planner, where each day has a space to write what I need to.

3. Pick a planner size

After choosing a planner format, you can next move on to choosing a planner size. Some people love to be able to throw their planners into their purse, while others would find that size far too small. Consider what size would work best for your lifestyle. Do you need to bring your planner with you wherever you go? Do you want your planner to be really obvious on your desk?

I use an 8.5X11 size weekly planner. It sits on my desk right underneath my computer monitor so I can basically glance at it almost constantly. I don’t need to bring my planner with me everywhere, so getting one to fit in my purse wasn’t necessary. However, I certainly still can throw it in my backpack or suitcase if need be.

4. Decide which features are important to you

Now that you’ve chosen a format and size, the last thing you need to consider as far as design goes is which special features you want to be included. Consider if note-taking areas, mini-calendars, time schedule breakdowns, or full month spreads are important to you. All planners are different in these ways, so be sure to page through your potentials before buying to see if they contain the features you desire.

5. Consider going digital

In this digital age, it’s important to consider the option of a digital planner, not just because going digital eliminates clutter. If you are comfortable with electronics, then it’s worth trying a digital planner because of its flexibility. You can keep a planner on your PDA and easily take it with you whenever you want, scheduling alarms and notices to remind you of appointments or events. Plus you could also keep other organizational materials in the same PDA, like your address book, phone book, grocery list, or gift list. Also consider having a planner on your computer or even online.

Stepping outside the planner box

If keeping a traditional planner is not your cup of tea, but you still want a way to be able to organize your schedule, to-do lists, events, and appointments, then consider an organization binder or something similar. For a great example, visit Simple Mom and read her excellent series of posts about Home Management Notebooks for some creative ideas.

Reader Reflection

Do you keep a planner? What style do you have?

What’s Next?

After the new year, I’ll explore creative ways we can use our planners to their full potential, so stay tuned!

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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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Sound familiar? Perhaps you need to program the clock on your DVD player after a power outage…or maybe you forgot how to use that fancy food processor you received as a gift for your wedding years ago…or perhaps you just need to figure out how change some settings on your bathroom scale. Whatever your need may be, you probably have to consult the instruction manual. But where is it?

When my husband and I moved into our new house after our wedding, I quickly realized that we had many new fancy appliances and electronics that all had their own box complete with a sizable, multi-lingual, and often complicated instruction manual. I knew I needed to figure out how to organize them all because even though we only rarely have to consult a manual, when we need one, we really need it! In this post I’d like to outline a method I use to organize those necessary evils.

Initial Disclaimer

Let me explain early on that the types of instruction manuals I’m talking about organizing here include manuals for devices like kitchen appliances, exercise equipment, bathroom appliances, and most electronic devices (like DVD players and such). At our house we have a special place for all our computer-related instruction manuals, boxes, and installation CD’s. We have chosen to keep them separate from everything else for easier access and because of their sheer volume. When you decide how to organize your instruction manuals, you will need to think about such things first. We’ve done it this way because it suits our particular needs. You may choose to just include your computer-related manuals with all your other manuals, and that’s fine. Now that I’ve gotten that out of the way, let’s get to it.

My first attempt

My initial plan was a failure, to say the least. I decided to save all the boxes from our new wedding gifts and thought perhaps I should just keep the manuals inside for easy access. After our first water disaster in the basement (where we stored most of the boxes), I realized I needed a new system. This of course came in addition to issues with the boxes being in large, hard-to-reach towers, not to mention the fact that they were big space-stealers. So I ditched most of the now ruined boxes and moved on to Operation Organize Instruction Manuals Phase 2.

Operation Organize Instruction Manuals Phase 2

My next idea was better, but still not ideal. I decided to arrange the manuals into stacks in various places in the house. I kept kitchen manuals in the kitchen, electronic manuals in the office, and large appliance manuals in the mudroom. At first I thought I had a good plan, but we still found it hard to remember which stack contained the manual we actually wanted since some appliances didn’t really fit well into any of the categories. And of course there’s the fact that rifling through a stack of 20 manuals to find the one you actually need is not anyone’s idea of a good time.

Third time’s a charm?

Always looking for ways to make a system even better, I decided to tackle the instruction manual problem one more time. This happened yesterday. I was reminded of the flaws of the present arrangement when my husband asked me where the treadmill manual was. Apparently I had filed it with the kitchen manuals because I didn’t know where else to put it. I decided I needed to make some changes. So I gathered up every manual I could find and made a big pile on my kitchen counter. And so began the organizing. Here’s what I did:

  • Assess the big picture. Before I decide how to organize anything, I try to see the big picture by studying it all at once. It’s a lot for the brain to take in, but I think ultimately I have an easier time coming up with good strategies that way. So in this case, I just allowed my eyes to wander around my big messy pile of manuals until ideas came to me.
  • Think about potential arrangements. As I was looking at the mess of manuals on my counter, I began to come up with possible ways to organize them. First I thought I could keep all the manuals together and just arrange them alphabetically. That idea quickly got shot down as I realized I don’t even know what some of my strange kitchen appliances are called. Next I thought I could divide the manuals up by function, like cooking appliance, recreational equipment, electronic device, etc. I quickly discovered, however, that some items fit into more than one category. I also noticed that some items are stored in very different places so it didn’t really make sense to put them in the same category. This thought gave me an idea.
  • After choosing a strategy, start sorting. I ultimately decided to categorize my manuals based on where the respective devices are located in the house. This way there can be no cross-over because every item has a place where it is stored. I chose the following categories: Kitchen, Office, Living/Family Room, Bathroom, Bedroom, Mudroom, Basement, Garage, and Outside/Home Exterior.
  • Finally, decide on a method of storage. This last step is highly flexible. I had an old accordion file folder lying around, so I decided to use it for storing the instruction manuals. After labeling each pocket with my categories, I filed all the manuals. Where you ultimately keep the organized manuals is entirely up to you. I decided to put them in our office closet for now, in an easy-to-reach place.

Think outside the box

We live in the age of the Internet and I’m always looking for ways to go digital for reasons of efficiency and saving space. In this case, you might consider relying on online manuals as a source since companies are increasingly offering instruction manuals for products on their websites. You could then organize your manuals via bookmarks or PDF documents right there on your computer.

Reader Reflection

It took me three tries to find a good solution for organizing my instruction manuals. How do you organize yours? I’d love to hear your creative ideas.

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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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