I’m a Professional Organizer AND a mom, so I absolutely love working with other moms. We speak the same language and share similar experiences, especially when it comes to organizing.
I’ve been working with a local mom named Lucy on and off over several years, both in her home and business, and I recently returned to her home after a long hiatus. “I’ve got no one place for my paper,” she told me in a recent phone call. “It’s all over the place and I’m having trouble finding things.”
Before I even arrived at Lucy’s house I could guess what I would find—it’s what I call “sprawl.” When “sprawl” sets in, like items no longer live by the golden organizing rule: “a place for everything and everything in its place”. Instead, they inhabit several places, making that daily search for items a real challenge.
Like many women, Lucy’s kitchen is her “command central.” She has a desk in her basement, but doesn’t spend much time down there, so her calendar and papers live in the kitchen. She had experimented with multiple organizational systems over the past year, and all were in evidence when I stepped into the kitchen.
Systems she tried but abandoned included:
* a whiteboard calendar (it rubbed off too easily),
* a large bulletin board littered with miscellaneous reminders and a paper calendar, and
* a three-trayed paper sorter and a basket, both stuffed with mystery papers.
After discussing what wasn’t working, we quickly turned our attention to what was working:
* Lucy proudly showed me her quirky but highly successful calendaring system. She found magnets with the days of the week on them and placed them horizontally across the side of her refrigerator. Underneath each day is a column of sticky notes listing play dates, doctor’s appointments, home repair appointments, etc. This is particularly useful for repeating events, like the kid her son plays with on a regular basis, or the weekly physical therapy appointment.
* On the kitchen counter next to the refrigerator is a small supply basket, complete with scissors, sticky notes, and other necessary items.
* There’s also a supply of pens and pencils on the counter.
* Finally, this is where her important “active” papers live because this is where she actually fills out forms, makes phone calls, and generally makes things happen. Lucy didn’t like the mess on her counter, so we set up a “hot file” box with files for her school, local JCC, camp, bills, and work papers (see photo).
Here’s what we learned from touring her kitchen and discussing her organizational disappointments and successes:
* Organizing isn’t always going to be your top priority, so it can fall off your radar. It’s important to do periodic self-assessments to determine what’s working and what’s not.
* Once you’ve decided which systems aren’t working, it’s important to dismantle them. When we emptied Lucy’s abandoned basket and paper sorter we found her missing I-Pod, a restaurant gift certificate, unopened mail, and other valuable items. They would have lived in those containers forever if we didn’t take the time to empty them.
* When it comes to paper, it’s really important not to spread it around or dump it into “clutter catchers” like baskets and trays, never to touch it again.
* Finally, there’s no one right way to organize. I probably wouldn’t feel comfortable using Lucy’s refrigerator calendar system, but that’s the beauty of it. It suits her perfectly, and that’s all that matters.
How can you get started? Try following these steps:
* Grab a pen and pad and conduct a self-assessment. As you enter each room of your house, jot down your thoughts: What’s working? What’s not? Which tasks need to be completed?
* Schedule time on your calendar to complete your organizing tasks. Make sure these are non-negotiable time-slots. You won’t reach your goals if you don’t make the time.
* Decide if you need some outside help, either from a family member or a Professional Organizer.
* After you’ve completed your organizing “to do” list, schedule some organizing maintenance sessions. Even the best systems can fall apart without regular maintenance.
www.unclutteredhome.com (Julie’s web site helps to explain the organizing process and includes a blog filled with tips).
www.onlineorganizing.com (A comprehensive organizing web site, complete with articles, tips, products, and more).
www.containerstore.com (If you don’t live near one of their stores, visit their web site. They have an impressive inventory of organizing products, including several paper management solutions).
www.busybodybook.com (A unique grid calendaring system, perfect for moms juggling multiple schedules). See in chicmommag’s Marketplace!
Julie Isaacs is a CPO (Certified Professional Organizer) and the mother of two daughters. She is the owner of The Uncluttered Home, and has helped families throughout New Jersey to better manage their paper, time, and space. To learn more about The Uncluttered Home, you can visit www.unclutteredhome.com.