Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Where is Everything – Holiday Decorations?

Can you remember where the holiday decorations are?
Do you have to search for them everytime you want to use them?
Are all your Christmas decorations stored in the same room?
Are they stored in the house or in the garage?
If they are stored in the garage, are they in waterproof boxes or bags?
Are they stored in containers?
Can you easily identify the containers from the other storage boxes/containers you store in the same place – like a red lid for example?
Are the containers labeled?
Are similar items stored together i.e. are the Christmas tree decorations together in one /boxcontainer?
Are the linens stored in dust proof containers or will you have to wash them again before you can use them?
Are the heavy containers stored low so that they can’t fall on you when you take them off a top shelf?

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

The (dis) Organized Teenager 1 - Is There Hope?

Next to “what do I do with all the paper?” the question “what do I do with my teenager?” is one of the most frequent questions I am asked as a professional organizer. When I dig deeper for information, most of you are concerned about 1) their bedroom which often looks like a cyclone went through and 2) their school desk/locker which looks like the cyclone dumped everything there.

Why are the teenagers so messy? Why are they so disorganized? What am I, as a parent, going to do about it?

Great questions.

Teenagers have a lot of “stuff” going on in their minds, which means they may be too distracted and preoccupied to worry about the “stuff” on the floor of their room. Keeping track of the relationship with and between friends, who is wearing what, who is talking to whom – or not – is a lot for a preteen and teenager to be thinking about. When you consider how quickly this social scene can change when you are between the ages of 12 and 19, especially the 12 to 14 year olds, their brains are on fast forward just keeping up with social dynamics.

Now add issues around school work and assignments, part time jobs and any other sports or activities they might be engaged in. We aren’t done yet; now add in the physical growth challenges like how to use arms and legs that grew (apparently) overnight, brains that are just plain tired from growing. Finally, to top it all off, the oversupply of (feels like new) hormones with attached emotional ups and downs, and – well – whether or not the laundry is in the hamper pales in significance by comparison. Can you blame them?

There is hope. The frontal lobe development occurs in the teenage years and with it the executive control that is housed there.

What can you do? Children tend to learn their organization skills from their parents. If you send out the message from your own state of organization (what does your desk look like?) that organization is not a priority, they will follow your step. Allowing them to leave the laundry on the floor until it stands itself up in the corner is sending the message that dirty laundry on the floor is ok.

We all know as parents – in case you wondered, yes, I have a teenage daughter – that we have to pick our battles. Organization is no different. I will leave you with this thought and homework: What message are you sending to your teenager about organization? Does everything have to be perfect? Is mess and disorganization ok as long as no one sees it? Is there a level of organization that is required, or desired, in order to meet our obligations at whatever stage of life we are in?

Think about it.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Where is Everything - Batteries?

Are all your spare batteries the same room?
If they are in the same room, are they on the same shelf/cupboard/drawer?
If they are on the same shelf/cupboard/drawer, are they safely contained in a plastic or glass container?
If they are in containers, are they organized by size?

Are all the tips free of contact with other items i.e. batteries?
Are the containers labeled?
Are all your spent batteries taken out of their electronic gadget i.e. flashlight, radio, toy?
Are spent batteries safely organized in a plastic or glass receptacle – for discard at a waste transfer station?

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Consumable Gift Giving

The Holiday season is upon us and with it, all the trappings and traditions that the holidays bring. In today’s era of “living the moment” and “finding a simpler life”, many people are looking for gift giving ideas that avoid adding to clutter in other peoples’ homes.

To do this, I suggest that we redefine the word consumable. The Encarta Dictionary defines consumable goods as “goods that have to be bought regularly because they wear out or are used up, such as food and clothing”. For the purposes of gift-giving, I have defined the word as follows: A consumable gift is one which by its inherent nature has a best before date or natural expiry date, wears out or is used up and permits the recipient an opportunity to enjoy for a limited time and then dispose of, without guilt”. If this is a definition that appeals to you for individuals on your gift list, here are some suggestions to get your shopping started.

  • Baskets of food, home made preserves, including perhaps candles and some decorative paper napkins related to a a personal interest or characteristic of the recipient e.g. gardener!
  • A tribute donation to a charity which is already supported by the recipient or otherwise meaningful to them e.g. The Toronto Humane Society, The Cancer Society.
  • A sponsorship donation to a charity which has designed annual sponsorship or gift campaigns e.g. The Toronto Zoo has set up an animal adoption program. In the adoption package you receive a picture and information about your animal. World Vision has a gift catalogue from which you can pick an item that can be supported by your donation e.g. 2 rabbits to a family ($35), a harvest pack for 4 families ($35), a backpack with school supplies for a child ($25), help a family start a business ($100) or fill up a whole stable ($1200). My daughter (13) and son (6) love this catalogue and had fun doing the “shopping” for me for their cousins in Hong Kong and Italy, some neighbours and friends.
  • Gift certificates especially for a clothing store or movie passes. These gifts are great for the teenagers on your list. How about IKEA so your niece can redecorate her room? A manicure for your workaholic sister? Then book the appointment and enjoy together!
  • Candles, decorative paper napkins, coffee
  • Performance tickets – the show is enjoyed and – poof! – no clutter.
  • A gift certificate for maid/cleaning service for a day.
  • A music lesson for someone who always wanted to play the ______(you fill in the instrument).

You get the idea. Now let your imagination have some fun and enjoy the shopping experience knowing that you are helping to keep clutter at bay in someone else’s life. As always, reduce your stress by shopping on line.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Anticipation - The Greatest Time Management Tool

When it comes to time management, there is nothing more valuable than the ability to anticipate an event or events. Isn’t that what our organizers, calendars, day timers, and PDA’s are all about. The multi million dollar industry of calendars is based on the notion that we like to anticipate what is coming in our lives. With anticipation comes the ability to schedule both our time and our resources – like the car for example. When you look to next Tuesday and see that you have four family members going in four different directions at the same time by 4:30 in the afternoon, having a whole week to work on those back up resources like a car pool is very, very helpful.

Children learn to anticipate at a very young age – does birthday party excitement for a whole week sound familiar to you? Young students are now learning in school to use their school issue “agenda” to record their homework.

By the time the kids hit their teens, they have learned to anticipate excitement, record their homework and use their lockers. Unfortunately as adults, we don’t teach them the time planning that goes along with being able to anticipate events. Even as a professional organizer, I have been slow to teach my own teenager how to use her time wisely. Here's the process that I went through with her to get her back on track with time. It’s a relatively easy organizing task and they will thank you for the time management skill later in life.

1. Find a calendar that works for you: electronic, PDA, puppy dogs, whatever. The size, style and platform are really only relevant in terms of what works and what looks good.

2. Enter in all the fixed dates over which you have no control: music lessons, swim practice, band practice, year book committee etc. Put them in for the whole term or year until the known completion date.

3. Enter in all the regularly scheduled flexible time such as piano/instrumental/voice practicing time. If it is scheduled, the intention moves from a 1 (would like to do) to an 8 (really intend to do) and has half a chance to get to 10 (will absolutely make sure this happens) at which point after 28 days it becomes a habit.

4. Enter into the calendar the activities that lead to what you would like to accomplish by year’s, month’s, week’s, day’s end e.g. On Saturday afternoons I will go to the library so that I have books for my English class on Monday.

Have fun anticipating your wonderful life!

Monday, December 3, 2007

Where is Everything - Spices?

Are all your spices in the same room?
If they are in the same room, are they on the same shelf/cupboard/drawer?
If they are on the same shelf/cupboard/drawer, do you have more then one container of any one spice?
Are there any contianers with expired best before dates?
Are the containers labelled with the name of the spice they contain?
Are they sorted by alphabet or type or frequency of use?
Do you use them or are they for decoration?

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

A Case for Photographs

About the time that many of us wonder if we ought to merely stop taking photographs, digital or otherwise, in order to avoid the need to organize them, someone reminds us of why they are so precious. In this instance, it happened to be my sister. At the risk of being accused of nepotism, I encourage you to link in and enjoy her posting. We can get back to organizing the photos tomorrow.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Locker Lists

Teenagers are perhaps some of the most preoccupied members of our society. While their minds are tackling social spider webs and academic balancing acts, their cell phones, books, papers, saxophone mouthpieces and gym wear often get left behind. With luck, they end up aging in the locker. Less fortunate are those teens who leave articles on buses, chairs, in the library or who knows where and end up spending their part-time job savings to replace them.

Try a Locker List. Develop a list of items that routinely go to and from school. Organize your list by day of the week. Build it to fit on the inside of the locker door. Have it laminated and have your teenager post it on the inside of his/her locker. I recommend getting your teen to build the list and decorate it before you laminate it. It has to be catchy enough to attract their eye so they will look at the list before shutting the locker door. Here’s a sample to get you started:


To School: lunch, gym clothes, runng shoes, cell phone
Home: weekly math test for signature, instrument/mouthpiece/ music binder, cell phone,
lunch bag

To School: weekly math test for signature, instrument/mouthpiece/music binder
Home: cell phone gym clothes lunch bag

To School: rugby mouth guard, lunch, cell phone
Home: lunch bag

Monday, November 12, 2007

Pots and Water Vessels

We live in a “mature” residential in Toronto. Translation: the water pipes are old and the community has had four water pipes break in as many months. Today was our street’s turn and by 7 am neighbours were out trying to unplug the leaves from the sewer covers as the street flooded with water. By 4:30 pm a knock on our door heralded the arrival of the works truck with the news that there were 34 broken mains in the city today and the water would be off from 5 pm for 4 to 5 hours. Perfect timing; right through arsenic hour for those with kids.

Like everyone else on the block I filled the tub and all the pots I could manage and was left wishing I had more, and bigger, pots to fill. No, I reminded myself, then I would have more pots to look after, manager, store, sort etc. It occurred to me that too many cooking pots is not an indulgence I often come across with my clients. Other kitchen indulgences like pot holders, towels, spices, knives and the like are often a challenge in calming and decluttering a kitchen but pots have not yet surfaced as a collectable. Perhaps some of you have a difference experience. I’d love to hear from anyone who struggles to manage their pot collection and what their issues might be.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Lighten up the Inbox

Like me, many of you are probably inundated with email. After my four days away, I found over 200 of them in my inbox on the family manager email. That’s a pile of time and effort to clear out. Also like me, and almost everyone else I talk to, you are probably challenged to keep your inbox streamlined. As storage issues become less and less of an issue, and digital data gets easier and easier to store, some people choose to never clear out their inbox. That is certainly one management method, but not one I recommend to my clients. The more stuff you have, be it digital or otherwise, the more energy and effort to manage it. Here are some suggestions that I offer my clients on how to lighten up the inbox.

  1. Dump the Junk – if you haven’t already, use your rules and alerts function to get rid of as much spam as possible. Set up a rule to delete anything with words you find offensive or prefer not to read. You know the ones I mean. We all get them!
  2. Program the Project – if you are managing a project, event or particular subject (I just finished coordinating almost 100 runners on my son’s cross country running team at school) use your rules and alerts to manage the incoming mail. I set up a rule to send all message with X Country in the title or body into a separate inbox. I set up the inbox specifically: X Country Inbox. Everytime I sent a message to the team, I included X Country in the title. And obligingly, every parent used the reply button to respond; with X Country in the title. You could use the same technique for managing email for your children especially if you have several children in different schools.
  3. Sort out of Context – this is a strategy that works for almost everything. Sorting items away from their usual context, whether clothes, dishes, paper or email, helps you to see it and sort it in a with a fresh viewpoint. If you usually keep your email, like 99% of us, by date, click on the From header at the top of your inbox and sort it by sender. You’ve finished with all George’s email, don’t need to keep your mom’s, file away the teacher’s etc. etc.
  4. File and Filter Faithfully – Many of us keep a filing cabinet of digital folders on our email desktop. These can be very useful if you struggle with the delete key and are positive that that email will surface as useful next year. (Remember, it rarely ever gets read again). Take a few moments a couple of times a year to clear these folders out too. Use the same technique; change the context or set up a new rule to help you out. If your daughter is finished with hockey, run a rule to identify into a separate folder anything with ABC Hockey League. Scan the items for relevance than delete the folder.

It just takes a few minutes to delete as many as hundreds of email. If you review and decide on 10% of your backlog daily, you will go a long way to getting out of the muck.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Calendar Cares

It’s one week into November. Is your family calendar up to date? Is it posted where everyone can see it? After four days away at the Professional Organizers in Canada national conference last week, I have only just got ours up to date today. For our family, it’s a four month white board posted in the kitchen. Each family member is a different colour white board marker with black for family events. We can all see it and any one of us can refer to it while trying to book an event.

What does your families’ look like? Does it work?

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

From the Mouths of Babes...

Off to the swimming pool yesterday evening for lesson with young son. “Did you remember my goggles mommy?” Check. “Hurray for mommy. Did you remember my pyjamas?” Check. (Shortens the bedtime routine). “Good job mommy!” (He’s a quick study on reinforcing good behaviour). “Uh oh, looks like I forgot the shampoo. Just a quick rinse will have to do tonight hon. Funny how I always seem to forget something – but it’s always something different.” Sound familiar?

“Mommy, I’ve got the most brilliant idea. This way you’ll never forget anything.”
“Great, let’s hear it – any and all help is appreciated”.
“Let’s make up a list of all the things we need for swimming and leave it in the bag all the time. You’ll never forget my goggles again – or the shampoo. We can even maktak it so it doesn’t get wet!”

Straight to the end of the story; I have offered my son a job as assistant organizer with the company. His scheduled start date is January 2017. He is 6 years old. I am humbled.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Childrens' Activity Information

How many times has your child(ren) been late for a birthday party because you couldn't find the invitation with the location and directions? How about the scramble for soccer team telephone numbers to find out whose turn it is to drive.
Sound familiar?
I've just returned from four days at our national conference held this year in Vancouver. Professional organizers identified that a consistent challenge for family manager's, (family manager definition: the parent primarily responsible for managing the activity and schedule of the household) is keeping track of all the paper that results from childrens' activities. A significant component of this challenge is the difference in time sensitivity of some papers. You are likely receiving everything from the letter today reminding you of tomorrow's parent/teacher interview, to the six month long competitive dance schedule or, that very Canadian of items - the hockey schedule.

1. Purge
Always start by getting rid of anything that you will not need in the future. Do your sorting with the recycling bin next to you so that paper/letters/schedules from last year, that were duplicated or for the select team your daughter didn't make can go right to "file 13" by recycling.

2. Sort by Frenquency of Access
Sort the remaining items into 2 piles. The most frequently accessed items are those relating to events and contacts:
  • a) regular and frequent access like the weekly schedules - birthday party invitations, team phone numbers, cross country meet dates and times.
  • b) occassional access - reference material, team policies/athlete expectations, brochure for the team, association or company.
3. Set up a Hot File
Take all the items in the pile of "frequently accessed" and sort by family member. Now sort each family member's material by date so that the next closest event is on top. Use binder dividers with names on the tabs to identify each family member's set of hot file papers. Clip them together with an alligator clip. Hang a peel and stick hook (3M removable are ideal, available at most hardware stores) on the inside of a kitchen cupboard or wherever your family information centre is, if you already have one. Hang the alligator clip on this hook. Next time Brittany receives a birthday party invitation, pick up the phone and RSVP, record the date, time and location on the family calendar (I'm sure you already remembered to do this) and put the invite in her section of the hot file. You can grab the invitation on the way out the door and discard it after you have picked her up.

4. Set up a Resource File. This is for the remaining items that are used less frequently. This time you may wish to sort by activity (hockey, gymnastics, swimming) by organization (hockey league, parks and recreation organization, school, church) or again, by family member, depending on how busy and how big your family is. Don't forget to save a space for the orthodontist, doctor or tutor. Use an accordian file or binder. If using a binder, dividers can mark each of the sections. This material gets purged twice a year at the beginning and end of the school year when children and families typically change activities. At the end of school, discard all the classroom specific material and keep only the back to school items. At the beginning of school, throw out the old soccer, hockey or dance schedule and start adding back in the new classroom and teacher material.
Voila! Party invitations at your fingertips, when you need them!

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Back to School Tips

Back to schoool time has come and gone but organization for the students, be they primary, elementary or high school, is an ongoing challenge. As the Wellrich Organizers website is undergoing a redesign, and the tips pages are being archived, I though I would republish some of the favourite tips from this fall.

Keep the Family Calendar Public
To help keep the family organized with schedules, a posted, public calendar is helpful. There are several wall/refrigerator calendars available from special Family Organizing ones to white boards. Whichever style suits your families needs, make sure it is posted where everyone can see it. Schedules are best not kept as a secret. Try using an alligator clip on a hook to keep all time sensitive information i.e. Birthday party invitations, curriculum night close at hand. If necessary, use binder dividers to separate the information by family member.

Label, Label, Label
Children are most likely to lose items that they don't recognize as their own - like all those new back to school clothes, binders and lunch bags. Label everything possible that doesn't normally stay attached to your child. Label lunch bags on the outside so that they can see their name clearly. Try to have the children wear their new clothes several times before school so that the items are very familiar to them. If you don't have access to iron on labels, a pen or laundry marker on the tag will serve the purpose.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Welcome to Wellrich Organizers Blog!

As we blast into the 21st Century, I am finally hitting the cyberspace community with my own blog. Congratulations to me! And you found it; Congratulations to you! It seems appropriate to start off an organizing blog with the most common question I hear:

Why is staying organized so difficult? I used to be organized, what happened?

Here is what I have come to understand. Western society is moving through an age of accumulation. We are bombarded each day by ads, through many different media, that encourage us to buy, buy, buy. If we were to believe them all, our lives are incomplete if not meaningless without one of each of the latest _____________ (fill in the blank). Add in a pinch of easy credit, a heavy helping of parents or grandparents who have lived through wars, depression and/or evacuation and are therefore reluctant to part with anything. Now bake in an environment where we expect our brains to move at the same speed as our laptop computers, information is available with a key stroke and the pressure on families to arm their children with multiple talent, skills, experience and extra curricular activities in order that the children can succeed, is greater than ever.

Clutter is a delayed decision. It doesn't matter whether it is clutter in your calendar, on your desk or in your garage. Most people's clutter reflects an inability to decide what to do with objects or an inability to part with them. Making decisions takes energy (emotional) and acting on those decisions takes energy (physical). If you are worn out from a day managing work, family life, traffic, news and cyberspace communication there is likely little else for managing the stuff or planning your time.

I am left to wonder, not why any of us might be disorganized, but how anyone stays on top of it all?