Tag Archives: Virginia

Your Home Office Is the Brain of Your Home

Home offices are rarely treated with the respect they deserve. They often become dumping grounds for everything paper and more. When you consider that, at the very least, your home office is often the administrative and financial center of the home, you would think that they’d all be in tip top shape. But, they’re not. In fact, most of those I’ve seen are not. Why is that?

Here are some possibilities:

  1. That room may accurately reflect your relationship with your financial situation.
  2. It could reflect that the room was never set up for optimal functioning, either because you did not make time for the set up or because you really didn’t know how to set it up.
  3. The home office may accurately reflect your aptitude for organizing paper.
  4. The home office may be a reflection of your inability to be disciplined about doing tasks that are detailed, boring and time-consuming.
  5. Perhaps you don’t have a grasp on the connection between the condition of your home office and your financial well-being and peace of mind.
  6. You have a very full plate, and “tending” to the home office requires more mental energy than you can muster on a regular basis.
  7. Maintaining an orderly, clutter-free home office simply is not a priority.

Home offices also often have the unfortunate fate of being multipurpose rooms. They are often the leftover bedroom used for housing many functions like bill-paying, records storage, gift-wrapping center, sewing room, guest room and play room. As a multipurpose room, its significance as a hub for financial and administrative management for the household is often diminished. Plus, setting up and maintaining order in a multipurpose room is much more challenging than having a room devoted to household paperwork and finances.

Where to begin? The fate of the home office starts with understanding its importance relative to other rooms in the house. If you run a business from a home office, its significance is apparent. But, if your home office is just “paper central” (a place to store papers and pay bills), plus a few other functions like the gift-wrapping center and guest room, it’s harder to get clear about its purpose.


Perhaps this reminder will help: THE HOME OFFICE IS THE BRAIN OF THE HOME.
Let me repeat that again: your home office is the brain of your home. It is the place where essential information is stored relating to finances and running your household (and your life!).  Like your brain, when it is organized and up to par, you can handle whatever life throws at you. If your brain is foggy and unfocused, it’s difficult to make decisions and navigate life smoothly. So too with the home office. A cluttered, messy home office not only radiates negative energy, but presents problems when you need to lay your hands on important records in a timely fashion.

So your first step in creating a home office that you enjoy is to shift your mindset. Start thinking about your home office as the brain of your home . . . focused, clear, and open to receiving new opportunities (including financial growth!).

Clear Greeting Card Clutter

Greeting cards flow into our lives as we move through them in an endless stream. What do you do with all of them? If you haven’t established personal guidelines for which cards to keep and which to toss, you likely have greeting card clutter.

When I was a young adult I tended to keep most of my greeting cards because they were an indication that people cared about me. It wasn’t until I was about 40 that I noticed that the cards I was holding onto were taking a significant amount of space in my little home. I simply had to do something different with my cards.

As I looked through my cards I realized that many of them weren’t even very important to me. They were organized and carefully stored, but, was I re-reading them? No. When began to consider my opens for reducing my greeting card clutter I re-read many of them and noticed that most of them didn’t say anything every important, anything that stirred good feelings in me. The quantity of them actually felt very heavy.

When I became aware that not all greeting cards are created equal in importance, I thought to myself, “Whose cards mean the most? Which ones would I want to re-read when I’m 80?” The answer at that time was very simple. My husband’s cards and my some of my mother’s cards. Mom and Bob were the most important people in my life. Their love and their words meant the most to me. For many years I only saved cards from Mom and Bob.

I now continue to keep all of Bob’s cards and letters. They are truly precious and remind me of his funny sense of humor and way of being as well as his love for me. When Mom was alive I kept only those cards that had a personal note of love, thanks or that demonstrated her personality and what mattered to her. She often wrote about what she had for dinner or did during the week. That content had no special value to me. I let those notes go.

I now keep cards from clients, friends, family members and my dad that have a note that really connects with my heart and/or helps me acknowledge my own worth and accomplishments.

What greeting cards are most important to you? Which ones lift your spirit and light up your heart? Those cards have the best energy. They are the ones that are worth keeping to remind you of the love in your life.

The Junk Drawer: A Kitchen Mini-Attic

Don’t know what to do with the curtains you removed from a child’s bedroom? Stick them in the attic! Don’t know what to do with miscellaneous pieces of plastic that might be important for

Adding dividers or small containers to “junk” drawers to separate items into categories can transform your “junk” drawer into a highly functional drawer.

some reason? Stick them in the junk drawer! Is it any wonder that most people cringe, not only when attics are mentioned, but also when junk drawers become the subject of conversation? Junk drawers are the “I don’t know what to do with it” places for small items, often located in the kitchen.

What I don’t understand is how that drawer of miscellaneous items got its name. Often most of the things in a junk drawer are not junk. They are useful items: screw drivers and other small tools, pencils, pens, batteries, nail files, sewing kits, screws and nails, gum, rubber bands . . . I’ll bet junk drawers were so named because their contents were jumbled and looked junky!

I object to using the adjective “junk” to describe any storage area in a house, because using “junk” to describe a space gives it permission to be junky. I once had a client who had a junk room! Can you imagine giving over one whole room in a house to junk?! Needless to say, that room is now a small study, not a junk room!

Believe it or not, junk drawers can be transformed from junky spaces to organized places with organizer inserts or small containers to hold the different categories of things you choose to keep in that drawer. You can even find those containers around the house, if you have some small boxes set aside for gift giving. Both lids and boxes can be used.

Be sure to limit the contents of each container to one category. For example, one container might hold batteries, another would hold pens and pencils, and a third would hold miscellaneous tools. Don’t mix items within a container or you’ll transform your neatly organized drawer of miscellaneous small items back into a junk drawer.

And, why not call your newly organized drawer of miscellaneous small items something fun like the Picasso drawer or the Discovery drawer? You decide! If you want to be successful in maintaining a really useful storage space for miscellaneous small things in your kitchen, let go of the “junk drawer” label. You’ll be glad you did the next time you are able to quickly find that miscellaneous piece of plastic that turns out to be the battery cover for the back of your TV remote!

How to Clear Clutter Off Your Kitchen Desk

The kitchen is the heart of the home. It is often a hub where people gather for nurturance and communing with family members. As mentioned earlier, the kitchen is often where women center their energy. As such, it has become an action area, not only for food preparation, but for women to coordinate a variety of activities as diverse as meal planning, scheduling appointments, coordinating schedules, and making important phone calls.

The kitchen desk probably came into being to accommodate the ever increasing needs of women to have an office of sorts close to where they spend most of their time. The idea was good, creating an area for the CEO of the home to work. I know, you’re already laughing! Who works at their kitchen desk? Who even sits in front of a kitchen desk?

First of all, kitchen desks are usually about the size of a postage stamp–too small to accommodate the needs of a busy family. Also, they are not comfortable places to sit because they are built-in pieces of furniture which force people to sit facing a wall with his or her back to the rest of the room. Sitting with your back to a room puts your nervous system on high alert, ready for any possible threat. In that state it’s difficult to focus. Consequently the chairs of those desks, if they even exist, are rarely used, except as a stacking spot for paper and other objects.

Kitchen desks of even the most organized women quickly become drop spots. Typical desk clutter consists of papers that come in from children returning from school, the mailbox, and meetings, not to mention all kinds of other objects that family members drop on their travels through the kitchen. Most people just roll their eyes when they look at their kitchen desk. Unless properly set up and managed, it is often a source of frustration, as well as an eyesore.

Clearing clutter from a kitchen desk first involves separating papers from other objects.

Work with objects first. Follow these steps:

  1. Sort objects into those that belong in the kitchen and those that do not.
  2. As you’re sorting, feel free to pitch any items you know you don’t need, love, or that aren’t worth the effort of moving to another location.
  3. Put items that belong elsewhere just outside the kitchen door to be dispersed to their homes after you finish working on the desk.
  4. Put away those items that do belong in the kitchen. That may involve going into drawers associated with the desk. Resist the urge to organize the drawers at this time. Your first focus is on restoring order to the desk top.
  5. If objects don’t fit in the drawer, put them aside for the clutter clearing session when you’ll address the drawers.

Once you’ve addressed the objects on the desk top, sort the papers that were on the desk.

  1. Pull out the biggest chunks first: the newsletters, magazines, and stapled-together papers.
  2. Toss or recycle those that are no longer relevant.
  3. Sort the remaining papers into the following categories:

Trash (recycling),

Refer Out (goes to another location or person),

Action (actions to be taken at this location),

Reference (e.g. contacts, schedules),

Filing (at this location),

Pending (e.g. tickets for an event, directions to a social event, etc.),

Reading (optional reading), and

Possibilities (e.g. information about products that you could use or events that you might attend).

The only papers that should remain on the desk are the action papers. The desktop is an action area. It ceases to be an action area when clogged with papers that need filing, reading, or are references and possibilities.

  1. Move reading papers to an area where they are most likely to be read.
  2. If you have room to store files, filing ideally would be done immediately up receipt.
  3. Reference items can be stored in files or binders.
  4. Pending and possibilities can also be filed for easy access.

A good filing solution for the kitchen is an open filing box for files to accommodate all the types of paper you need to access from the kitchen. It could be stored on the counter, but preferably under the counter in a cabinet or in the opening where the chair is supposed to be. It must be easy to access so frequent filing is easy to do.

Whew! Who knew that clearing clutter from a kitchen desk could be so complicated? Anywhere you have paper, you have complexity. When you set up a system for managing paper you need to access in the kitchen, and you use it, maintaining order on the kitchen desk gets easier.

Remember, keep only those things at the kitchen desk that you regularly use in the kitchen. I call those tiny desk areas “prime real estate”. If you want to maximize the potential of a kitchen desk, you can’t afford to park useless things on those small surfaces. If kept clear and set up properly, they can function as the cockpit for the coordination of most of the activities of a busy family. Is that how your kitchen desk functions? If not, why not? Claim your kitchen desk as a mini-home office, an action area for women at the heart of the home.

Clutter Clearing Challenges in Retirement

“I had planned to clear all kinds of clutter once I retired, but I can’t seem to get it done.” This is an all too common lament of people who retire with intentions to reclaim order and peace in their homes. They are baffled by their inability to take action and achieve their goals. There are several reasons why clutter clearing doesn’t happen.

  1. Lack of schedule structure — Your life while you were working was structured around your work hours. You knew when you were obligated and when you had free time to get things done. Knowing you had limited windows of time to work around the house could have served as motivation to get things done. In retirement, unless you are working part-time, you may not have activities that create a regular schedule for you. With no regular schedule it’s much easier to put off doing tasks, particularly tasks that are difficult, seem overwhelming, and taxing. It’s easier to float along and do more pleasurable activities.
  2. Lack of urgency — Often there is no compelling reason or deadline to provide you with the sense of urgency that can be a catalyst for clutter clearing. Your schedule is open. Your timeline is open. Again, it’s very easy to just drift along putting off clutter clearing.
  3. ADHD — If you have ADHD or think you have it, your ADHD could be part of the problem. People with ADHD procrastinate doing jobs that aren’t interesting, fun, new, aligned with their passions, or in some way bring them pleasure. Clutter clearing is usually complicated and therefore difficult. It can engender feelings of shame and overwhelm, both of which shut down the ADHD brain. If you have a lot of clutter, clearing it is a long-term project which highlights ADHD difficulties with sustaining awareness, attention, effort and interest.

Ok, now you know some reasons why clutter clearing isn’t happening. Following are some options to help you achieve your goal of clearing your clutter once retired:

  1. Structure your time — Mark your calendar with blocks of time for your every day activities. Then add specific times to clear clutter. Make sure that you start with small, doable blocks of time (15 minutes to 60 minutes).
  2. Create urgency — Look for activities that you can schedule that will push you to clear clutter. For example, to get clutter clearing done in your dining room, schedule a special family dinner that requires that you use the dining room. Getting ready for the dinner will motivate you to make the space presentable for your guests. Resist the urge to just move your clutter to another location. 
  3. Create accountability — Get an accountability buddy, someone who is supportive of your efforts to clear clutter. Let your accountability buddy know what you plan to clear and when you plan to do it. Ask that person to check in with you to ask about your progress. It’s easy to blow off your own plans to clear clutter, but much harder to do when you commit to doing it to another person. 
  4. Get support — Ask a helpful, non-judgmental friend or family member to be with you while you clear clutter. Their mere presence can make it much easier to focus on the task at hand and take action. Plus you will transform a dreaded onerous task into a social event.
  5. Get professional help — A coach or professional organizer can help you get your clutter clearing done. Coaching with an organizer coach can help you identify what makes it so hard for you to clear clutter, provide information about how to do clutter clearing on your own, and also offer accountability. A professional organizer will work side by side with you to get the clutter clearing done. Professional organizers can get clutter clearing done four times faster than you are likely to be able to do it on your own.

Clearing clutter is possible when retired when you add structure to your time, set a deadline to create a sense of urgency, have someone to provide accountability, get support and/or get professional help.

Clutter clearing begins with a single step. If you’ve been stuck for some time and are frustrated by your inability to make clutter clearing happen despite using my first four suggestions, it’s time to consider hiring a professional. Schedule a free 30-60 minute phone coaching session with me to explore options for assistance.

Change Your Thoughts, Stop Procrastinating!

Victory over procrastination is possible. I speak from recent experience. This past weekend the weather was warm enough to work outside. It was a perfect time to offer to help my neighbor prune a grape vine that was threatening to engulf his forsythia. Why would I want to do that? The forsythia bush is in my direct line of sight from my kitchen window. Watching that vine overtake that lovely forsythia was very disturbing to me, bad feng shui! I didn’t want to face another season of observing the forsythia succumb to an out-of-control weed.

When I returned from doing errands and considered what to do next, I contemplated the task of tearing out the grape vine. Immediately my brain began to formulate excuses for not doing it:

  • It would be boring.
  • It would be overwhelming.
  • I would get dirty.
  • I could encounter poison ivy.
  • I hate making phone calls (I needed to call my neighbor).

As I processed each thought I noted that my energy and enthusiasm for tackling the task diminished. Fortunately I recognized the familiar voice of the way I procrastinate and chose to stop those thoughts mid-stream. In their place I thought of reasons why it was important that I offer to help my neighbor evict the grapevines that day:

  • The branches and vines are completely visible now before new growth appears. In a few weeks the job will be much harder to do, much easier to procrastinate doing, and would probably not get done.
  • The weather is warm for February (60’s F). Not too cold and not too hot.
  • My house cleaner is in my house, so it is not completely comfortable to be there.
  • I enjoy yard work and always feel better physically after doing it.

It was the perfect time to go to battle with the grapevines! My hibernating winter self wanted to resist the call to go outside and do the task. However, weighing my excuses against the importance of getting the job done right away, because it would be easier to do and weather conditions were ideal, I picked up the phone. As the phone rang I wondered if  my neighbor would be up for the chore. He could decline my offer and that would be that. He answered, and after a pause (probably doing battle with his own reluctance to leave the comfort of his arm chair), agreed to accept my help.

The result: the task took much less time to do than I thought it would, especially with two of us doing it; we cut out the offending vine that I now know came from just a single root; I cut out and put an herbicide on the poison ivy I found; I now know where the poison ivy vines originate, so I know where to continue to apply herbicide; I cut back the forsythia that had spread into my garden; I enjoyed and was energized by the process of rescuing the forsythia and working outside, and, I now love the view from my kitchen.

What thoughts block you from taking action on important tasks? Change them and take action!

Income Tax Prep Without Procrastination

Do you dread getting ready for taxes? If you have a paper clutter nightmare to address in order

Don’t let paper clutter keep you from getting your taxes done!

to gather together the papers you need to complete your taxes, the task of getting ready for taxes can feel very heavy. For those of you with ADHD, it ranks right up there as not only a very heavy task, because keeping your papers organized is not your strong suit, but also as a VERY boring task. If you fear of the IRS or find the task anxiety provoking and too complex to face, this time of year is also much dreaded.

Procrastinating tax prep is very common. If you identify with scenarios above, I highly recommend you invest in support to get the task done. It will be money well spent!

Support can be asking a friend or family member to be with you while you gather your papers together. Or, it can be hiring a professional organizer to help you complete the task. An organizer will get the job done about four times faster than you could do it yourself. Plus, being in the presence of the organizer, a productivity and paper-sorting expert, will make the job seem far less daunting.

With the support of a knowledgeable, caring person you will find it much easier to manage feelings of overwhelm, anxiety, embarrassment or shame, common feelings that emerge at a time like this. The whole process becomes more of a social event than a dreaded task.

I help one of my ADHD clients find and organize the papers she needs to submit to her accountant every year. We’ve been doing it for 10 years or more. Together it only takes about 30 minutes at most to gather all the information she needs. She is then ready to submit her information to her accountant or knows exactly what to do to acquire any remaining documentation. If we didn’t tackle her taxes together she could easily procrastinate doing the chore right up to the deadline.

If taxes are your nemesis, a task associated with high anxiety, embarrassment or shame, get help! Gift yourself with the peace of mind that comes from getting that important yet dreaded task done. 

SPECIAL OFFER!!! Contact me at 804-730-4991 by April 15 to receive 25% off the cost of two hours of hands-on paper clutter clearing and organizing to get ready for taxes.

Procrastination: Normal vs. Problematic

Not all procrastination is created equal. We all procrastinate, probably every day. It is very normal to put off doing tasks for a variety of reasons: you don’t feel like doing the task; you’d rather do something else; the task will take longer than the time available; you don’t have enough mental energy for the task; the task is too hard to do on your own; the task is not the most important thing to do at the moment, etc. The list goes on and on.

It is normal to procrastinate. You can’t do everything at once. You must make choices about how to use your time and energy. I might put off taking the garbage out tonight or put off taking suitcases to the attic. If I wait to do those tasks for a day or two, there will only be a minor inconvenience. That is what I call “normal” procrastination.

If those tasks are not accomplished for a week, and other tasks are put off as well, what began as minor visual and perhaps olfactory disturbances could grow into a more serious problem, one that will take much more time and energy to address. What started as normal procrastination then becomes “problematic” procrastination.

Normal procrastination is usually short-term, involves small, less important tasks, and results in few serious consequences. It becomes problematic procrastination when small tasks are postponed more frequently and for longer periods of time or when important tasks (e.g. those that affect finances, job, relationships, health) are put off to the point of crisis. The price for problematic procrastination can be very high — loss of reputation, job difficulties or loss, relationships challenges or divorce, deterioration or loss of residence, financial difficulties (problems with the IRS, bankruptcy, ruined credit), and health deterioration to name a few.

We all procrastinate. Do you procrastinate in a way that has no serious consequences or does it lead to challenges in many areas of your life? If you would describe your procrastination as problematic, your procrastination could be caused by ADHD. ADHD is a mechanical problem in the brain whose symptoms include difficulty with starting tasks (procrastinating), particularly those that are boring and uninteresting.

If you have ADHD or think you have it, treatment for the disorder can help you procrastinate less and get more done. Schedule a FREE 30-60 minute Back on Track phone coaching session today to discuss your procrastination challenges and options for help to procrastinate less and be more productive.

The Five-Step Clutter Clearing Process

Clearing clutter is a complex process that can be difficult for even the

Clutter clearing, you too can do it!

most determined and intelligent person. How do you start? Where do you start? How do you keep going? Below are 5 steps to help you get started so you can experience success and be motivated to keep clearing.

1 Remember that doing something is better than doing nothing. What you do may not produce stunning results quickly, but doing any clearing shifts energies in a positive direction. 

2 Set a small goal for yourself. For example, plan to work for ten minutes. Set a timer and go to work. When the timer goes off, stop. Most of us can work for ten minutes. During that time do whatever is easiest to create some new order. Throwing away trash is usually easy. Clearing off a table might be easy. Finding a bag full of things to give away might be easy.

3 Start with the biggest items in the space you are clearing. Check the energy of big things. Ask yourself, “Do I love this?” If you have no special emotional attachment to the item, ask yourself, “Do I use this?” If the answer is “no” or “not in the last year”, consider losing it.

Moving big items allows you to see and feel yourself making progress and will motivate you to keep clearing. 

As soon as you decide to eliminate an item, remove it from the space, preferably by placing it just outside the door. It’s not a good idea to pause in the evaluation process to take the item much further than outside the door, because you risk getting sidetracked doing something else.

Removing the item from the room releases the energy that the item was holding. That released energy is then available to use as you continue making decisions about what to keep and what to release. The bigger the item, the bigger the energy release that is then available to you.

As you make decisions and move things out of the room, your energy will also increase, and making decisions becomes easier. Your brain begins to generate creative new ideas about what you can do in your space.

When you find that removing things from the room is getting difficult because of the quantity of items outside the door, stop sorting. Reward yourself by taking those items to their respective locations. DO NOT stop to reorganize the new location, even if you cannot easily put things away. Just leave items in the areas where they belong and make a mental note that the area needs your attention at a later date. Then, return to your project.

4 Congratulate yourself on your success. That sounds silly, doesn’t it? Some of you are thinking, “So, I did ten minutes of clearing in a house that needs ten weeks of clearing. What’s the big deal?” The big deal is that you made a plan to clear and kept it. You got started. Remember, every bit of clearing helps. And, if you don’t stop and feel the good feelings that come from the accomplishment of the work you’ve done, how are you going to motivate yourself to continue? It’s a head game. Play it!

5 Schedule your next clearing session, preferably sooner rather than later. Repeat the process. All progress makes a difference as long as you aren’t creating more chaos between clearing sessions than the amount you cleared.

It sounds so simple, doesn’t it? If that’s the case, why do people avoid decluttering? How do their spaces become nightmares right before their eyes? The fact that something sounds simple doesn’t make it easy to do. Clutter clearing involves making so many decisions. You not only need to decide what to keep and what to pitch, but also where to start and what to do with all your things as you work. It can be a great logistical challenge with the potential for distraction everywhere.

When I work with clients, part of my job is to keep them from running away. Even though I am in charge of the process and of making it easier for them, they are still affected by the way the space feels and by the enormity of the decision-making process. Your job is to keep yourself clearing despite the urge to run away.

Procrastination = Attempt to Feel Good Now

I’ve been reading articles on procrastination to prepare for speeches I

Who is winning?

Who is winning?

will give in March 2017. I was particularly fascinated by “Procrastination: A Scientific Guide on How to Stop Procrastinating,” an article by James Clear, which suggests that procrastination is a result of our present and future selves being at odds with each other.

Our future self plans and sets goals. It can see the benefit of taking actions with long-term benefits. Our present self is actually responsible for taking action. And, guess what? It really likes instant gratification. It seeks pleasure in the moment and tends to make choices to avoid discomfort, thus is likely to procrastinate tasks that could cause discomfort in the moment.

Clear says that we value long-term benefits when they are in the future, not in the present moment. You can vow to go to the gym to get it shape and lose weight when you set your annual goals. Getting in shape and losing weight are in the future. Having to go to the gym or stop eating ice cream, tasks that are necessary to achieve your goal, are in the present. It’s easy to lose sight of those laudable future goals when your bed feels so warm and comfortable in the morning or you have a tasty treat in front of you. Thus you procrastinate getting regular exercise and making healthy food choices.

According to Clear, your present self is not likely to be motivated to avoid long term consequences because we aren’t connected to our future selves. That self seems so far away and impervious to current benefits and consequences of actions taken today.

One answer to the future/present self conflict offered by Clear is to make the rewards of taking action with long-term benefits more immediate. When the benefits of long-term choices are more immediate, you will be more motivated take action now.

Clear suggests that you can achieve this with “temptation bundling,” a concept that came out of behavioral economics research performed by Katy Milkman at The University of Pennsylvania. Temptation bundling involves combining a behavior that is good for you in the long-run with a behavior that feels good in the short-run. Some of his examples include: only listen to audiobooks or podcasts you love while exercising; only get a pedicure while processing overdue work emails.

Clear’s information offers a very plausible explanation for why so many people have great difficulty starting and sustaining an exercise program, losing weight, and accomplishing many long-term goals despite the best of intentions. Is your present self running the show? Is the result undue stress and failure to accomplish important business and life goals?

Closet Organizing Can Be Creative & Fun

A very interesting guest room closet.

A very interesting guest room closet.

Who says closets have to be overwhelming and boring? You can make your
closets interesting with a little thought and creativity.  One of my clients did just that when she decided to gather all her Williamsburg memorabilia and mementos together and displayed them in her guest room closet. How creative and lovely!

Apparently this client was in the habit of leaving her guest room closet empty for use by guests. When she was moving into her house she noticed how many Williamsburg mementoes she had and considered her options for displaying them. The empty shelves in the guest room closet seemed like a perfect place to store and display her treasures.

What a lovely greeting!

What a lovely greeting!

Can you imagine being a guest and opening that closet? How wonderful it would be to be greeted by such historic and interesting items? It sure beats the heck out of unsightly bags, boxes and other miscellaneous stuff!

Make organizing interesting and fun to get it done!

Stay Organized to Reduce Christmas Stress

It’s holiday crunch time! The final push to get everything done by December

Don't let holiday stress prevent you from staying organized!

Don’t let holiday stress prevent you from staying organized!

25. It’s quite common to focus on finishing shopping and Christmas cards, wrapping presents, and baking at the expense of maintaining order in your home. You may think the mail can wait, cleaning up after wrapping presents can be done after the holiday, and putting clothes away is definitely NOT a priority.

You just have to be ready for Christmas. At what cost?

Regular maintenance tasks like cleaning up, putting clothes away, and processing mail are activities that will ground you, help you feel in control at a time when many things can feel out of control. You don’t know how people will get along during your holiday social events. You don’t know if people will be happy and appreciative of the gifts you worked hard to find and wrap. You don’t know if dishes you make for your family will turn out or be liked. You don’t know if someone will drink too much and pick a fight.

Christmas is a time of heightened emotions and high expectations. It can be very stressful. The best thing you can do when facing unpredictable, stressful situations is to ground yourself by keeping up with tasks that help you stay organized and feeling in control.

Even if your bills are not in your awareness as you plough through your “to do” list, the fact that you don’t know where they are or how much you have spent can stress you on an unconscious level. Clothes chaos in your bedroom affects the quality of your sleep and starts you off on the wrong foot in the morning. A messy kitchen or gift wrapping area holds negative energies that are irritating and sap your energy.

Besides, do you really want to wake up December 26 to a nightmare you created by choosing not to make time to keep up with essential maintenance tasks?

Essential Maintenance Tasks to Lay the Groundwork for a Great Holiday

  1. Process mail daily — recycle junk mail and move important papers to an area to be further dealt with after Christmas.
  2. Clean up every day — wash dishes, unpack shopping and work bags, restore order when finished with projects and/or wrapping gifts.
  3. Put coats and clothes away every day.
  4. Take out trash and recycling often.

Pantry Design Creates Clutter

Not all pantry designs are created equal! I can honestly say that this pantry is the

The least functional pantry I've ever organized.

The least functional pantry I’ve ever organized.

worst design of any pantry I have re-organized in my 18+ years working as a professional organizer.

First, I was shocked at how narrow the space was. It was like a dim, dark tunnel. I immediately felt irritable and claustrophobic when I stuck my head in it. It’s the kind of space most people would want to avoid.

To make things worse, the shelves were set back from the door about 18-24 inches, enough space to necessitate putting my whole body in the closet to access the shelves. Plus, the shelves were very deep — a recipe for terrible visibility and losing sight of half of the shelves’ contents. The only truly useful space, where items could be easily seen, was across the front of each shelf. The narrowness of the pantry made that space very limited.

The least functional linen closet I've organized.

The least functional linen closet I’ve organized.

This pantry reminded me of the least functional linen closet I have ever worked in. It seemed like a left over space that the builder decided to make a pantry. Clearly it was designed by someone who had little or no experience with food storage.

The whole time I was reorganizing this pantry I was thinking that the work I was doing was almost pointless. It would take no time at all for it to again become a disorganized mess. Why? Because it’s too hard to access the supplies and easily replace them where they belong. It would be pretty understandable that people putting things away might be inclined to pitch things into the space and slam the door shut hoping that nothing would tumble out before the door closed.

Why do I share all this? This pantry was a “Can you believe this?” experience for me. Sometimes I just need to tell others about this kind of experience. In this case it was not a nightmare created by a client. Rather, it was a nightmare created by poor design that left my client with few options for improvement.

Staying Organized: A Mother’s Legacy

It has been a quiet week here in Kilmarnock, Virginia, in the aftermath of my step-father’s death. I’ve been here to make funeral arrangements and support my mother as she comes to grips with the biggest loss of her life.

As is my habit, I’ve watched my mother move through her days both with curiosity and concern. Mom is not only grieving the loss of the love of her life, she is showing signs of dementia. The most obvious sign is poor short-term memory. I’ve been preparing myself for further decline by reading The 36 Hour Day by Nancy L. Mace and Peter V. Rabins, a book about dealing with dementia. I know it’s possible that over time she will eventually forget how to do even the simplest of tasks. I dread that time.

My mom has always been very organized. At the moment, for the most part, she still is. It has been comforting to watch her move through her days maintaining order in her lovely home. When she opens mail, she routinely throws away the opened envelopes and junk mail. As she moves from the den to the kitchen, she picks up used glasses and plates to put in the dishwasher. She regularly clears cluttered surfaces, stating that she just doesn’t like to have too much stuff around. Maintaining order is a way of life for her. I am so grateful to have learned the lessons of how to get and stay organized from her. I feel sad when I think about the possibility of her losing that ability to the ravages of dementia.

For now, I take comfort in Mom’s commitment to maintaining order and her ability to tend to her space. What a blessing it is to be her daughter!

The Urge to Purge Following a Death

Missing John Arrix

My step-father died this week. I observed his struggle to let go of life. When it was over, the first step was to notify Hospice of Virginia who would call the funeral home to remove the body. Once John’s spirit was gone, his body was a shell and we needed the body taken away as soon as possible. It was just a reminder of his struggle, of his dying, of the horror of death.

Once John’s body had been taken away, I looked around the room where he spent his last hours and saw the empty hospital bed and all the supplies that had been used while he had spent his final days at home: the bandages, the gloves, the creams and ointments, the chucks and diapers. They were all reminders of the care he had received, the care that was just palliative, not life saving. They had to go.

First I asked Hospice of Virginia to make arrangements to have the bed removed as soon as possible. Then I took a quick look at the supplies. My first urge was to dump them all in the trash. We would not have them had John not been deathly ill. Yes, some of them could be useful at a later date. I kept the moisture lotion and bandaids and gave Portia Bea from Visiting Angels permission to take whatever she thought she or Visiting Angels could use. The rest went into the trash. Once I’d made my decision about what to keep, Portia cleared everything from the room that reminded us of John’s struggle.

All of this activity occurred in the first hour following John’s death. It seemed imperative to return the bedroom back to its pre-sickroom state. Because I’d been up all night with John, it was a blessing to have Portia’s assistance with the clean up. She even vacuumed the room.

Once the bed was taken away and the room returned to its previous appearance, I found myself clearing out John’s medications, corralling all reminders of the previous five weeks of assessing John’s condition and providing help. I wanted my mother, who had lost the love of her life, to be able to grieve the loss of John rather than be distracted by the signs of his illness.

Every item associated with John’s illness and death held the energy of death. I felt compelled to remove those items whose energy screamed death and loss. I kept some medical records, papers that later could help my Mom make sense of this terrible time. I kept the baby monitor because it is possible we might need it in the future for my Mom, but I stored it in a drawer out of sight. I kept the lotion because it could easily blend in with other skin lotions and lose its association with death.

The next step is to clear the energy of death from the room by burning sage.

All that clearing gave me a much needed focus in the first two days after John left us. It also relieved my Mom’s lovely house of the signs of struggle, reminders of the horror we had all experienced while watching John leave us. And, last night my Mom, though very sad, was able to retrieve the photo albums of her life with John and shift her focus from the dying that had just occurred to the joys and pleasures of the life she had lived with him
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Clutter Clearing Can Be Comforting

I’m sitting in McDonald’s in Kilmarnock, VA, taking a break from watching the process of my step-father’s death. I’m attempting to take care of myself in the midst of a very painful phase of life–helping parents at the end of life.

Because it’s hard for me to write and work on aspects of my business, I’ve been doing what I teach clients to do when they can’t do what they think they should be doing. I’ve been clearing easy stuff. Today the easy stuff is emails that just aren’t important given what is going on right now. It’s amazing how easy it is to clear out emails that I usually pause over. I just don’t have the time or energy to consider all the discussion group emails, the networking emails, the offers of products to buy. And, I certainly don’t need them cluttering up my inbox!

I’m saving all the kind notes of support from friends and people who read my newsletters and blog posts. I want to thank each person for their kindness. I’m responding to emails regarding appointments, speaking engagements and other aspects of my business. Nothing else really matters right now.

Somehow clearing out the non-essential emails has helped me feel more in control of my life at this moment. I am certainly not in control of what is happening with my step-father. The hospice nurse said the timing of his death depends on his will, that it’s between him and God. I’m just an observer of a process that is so much bigger than me.

Clutter clearing can be comforting in difficult times.

Transform Christmas Clutter Clearing Into Community Service

In response to my recent post about Christmas clutter clearing, one reader shared two great ideas for clutter clearing that can help nursing home residents have a happier holiday. She gave me permission to share her ideas with you.

  1. Instead of recycling or tossing extra unused Christmas cards, offer them to the residents of a local nursing home to save them the expense and the hassle of buying cards. You might even consider including stamps with the cards to make it easy to write a note and mail the card. Nursing home residents have limited space, so saving unused cards from year to year is probably not possible. They are likely to welcome your offering of cards.
  2. If you decide to discard ornaments because you no longer use them, purchase a Rosemary Tree or Norfolk Island Pine, often available at your grocery store during the holiday season, to decorate with those ornaments and ribbon remnants. Then, offer the tree to a nursing facility. Those live trees and your ornaments can then bring smiles to the faces of the residents.

What wonderful ideas for transforming clutter clearing into meaningful community service! Clutter clearing doesn’t have to be an onerous task if it results in helping you reduce stress and in lifting the spirits of some often forgotten members of your community.

© 2012 Clutter Clearing Community | Debbie Bowie

“Author, Organizing Expert and Feng Shui Practitioner, Debbie Bowie, is a leading authority on clutter clearing to attract more of what you want in life. If you’re ready to clear clutter and move your life forward, get your FREE TIP SHEET, “Feng Shui Tips for Instant Success” at http://www.clutterclearingcommunity.com.

10 Tips to Make Christmas a Clutter Free Event

 

 

‘Tis the season to be giving, receiving, and decorating. That means that you will be giving and getting “stuff.” You will also be pulling decorations from their storage places. When “stuff” is moving you have an excellent opportunity to commit to 1) not creating clutter in your home and the homes of those who receive your gifts and to 2) clearing clutter every step of the way.

Following are 10 tips to help you make your Christmas a completely clutter free experience:

  1. Pull out ALL your decorations and evaluate each one. Toss every item that you no longer display EVERY year.
  2. When doing your Christmas cards, either send all the left over cards from previous years to eliminate your supply, or just pitch or donate the extra cards.
  3. Throw away small bits of wrapping paper you have been saving to use for just the right tiny package, but never seem to use, especially the pieces that have gotten scrunched.
  4. Clear out cruddy Christmas bags: those that have taken a beating; those that don’t reflect your taste, and those that are just plain ugly.
  5. Clear crushed bows and snarled ribbons. And, clear out ribbons altogether if you’re like me and, despite your best intentions, you never make or take the time to add ribbons to your packages.
  6. Make your gifts to others items that can be consumed and/or that are perishable, like candles, candies, fruit and baked goods. Consumption or time will assure that those gifts don’t linger long enough to become clutter.
  7. Give gift cards freely. People love to do their own shopping or enjoy a free coffee or meal out. Besides, gift card clutter is smaller and less annoying than ugly sweater or useless knick knack clutter.
  8. Evaluate each gift you get with the Love It, Use It or Lose It method. If you don’t love it or use it, lose it! Express appropriate thanks to the giver and then either regift it, donate it or pitch it. It’s the thought that counts and unwanted gifts only hold negative energy in place.
  9. When it’s time to put new gifts away, take the time to clear clutter in the area where the new gift will be stored. Release the old to make room for the new.
  10. When you put decorations away, take a good look at each item and consider the time it takes and the process involved in putting it out and taking it down. Pitch anything whose significance or beauty do not outweigh annoyance factor.

If you do any of the above actions, you will be doing your part to make the holidays a joyous, peaceful time instead of an overwhelming event to survive. Make clutter clearing a new focus of your holiday activities. It’s the best way I know to feel in control at this busy time of year.

 

Want Clarity About Your Goals? Wash Your Windows!

How clear is your view of the new year?

Are you struggling with making an important decision? Want clarity? Wash your windows! I’m not kidding! The windows are the eyes of the home. If your windows are clean you can see clearly. When you can see clearly, you can think clearly. I am living proof!

For months I have been struggling to get clarity about the direction to take with my business. My coach has made several suggestions. They were good suggestions, but they didn’t resonate with me. I ran numerous options through my head, over and over. Still, I couldn’t get clear.

Then one day, while flopping around in my “not knowing” state, I looked at the windows in our home and shuttered. They were filthy. They hadn’t been cleaned since we moved into the house seven years ago. Every time the sun shone through them I was reminded that they needed to be washed. My thoughts also went to, “But, we can’t afford to have it done.” Talk about scarcity thinking! Yes, they were large expanses of negative energy.

Both Bob and I HATE doing windows. And, the cost to get them washed always seemed to be more than we could manage. That day, as the sun streamed through the accumulated grime of too many seasons of pollen and dust, I made the decision to call a window cleaning company to get an estimate. To my surprise the cost was reasonable! I immediately scheduled the window washing. That simple action cemented my commitment to clarity.

My car windows were also filthy. Smudged with dog nose prints, I felt irritated every time I got into my car. One day I couldn’t stand it anymore. I drove to the closest grocery store and bought window cleaning wipes. I cleaned my windows right there in the grocery store parking lot. I couldn’t tolerate the lack of clarity a moment longer.

The day after I washed the car windows I met with a woman who helps me with marketing my programs. As we talked I was amazed to find that I knew exactly how I wanted to change my business and what projects I want to pursue in 2012. It was as if a dam had burst and the ideas came pouring out. After my marketing friend left, the ideas kept streaming out into a mind map and outline of my plan. I also felt a physiological rush of energy that couldn’t be explained by caffeine. The coffee I had that day was decaffeinated!

It’s the perfect time to get clarity about where you want to go in the new year. And, it’s also a great time to get your windows washed, since we’re about to head into the season of cold temperatures, gray days and challenging weather. You don’t need the irritant of dirty windows. Commit to clarity! Get your windows cleaned and watch your vision of the new year crystalize!

Are You Choosing Workaholism & Busyness?

When you’re young your time is scheduled for you: school, playtime, doctor’s appointments, piano lessons, etc. When you become an adult some of your time may be scheduled for you, your work hours, for example. Even then you get to choose the kind of job you seek with its corresponding work hour requirements. And, you get to choose what you do with the rest of your time. Time is an important commodity in our lives, something that requires constantly making choices and deciding how best to use it.

Why is it, then, that many people feel compelled to regularly fill it completely with activities and obligations? Why is it so difficult to leave spaces for rest, for play, for spontaneous activities?

Could it be that you have not learned to accurately assess the time requirements of the activities you choose? Perhaps the ideal life that you seek takes more time to achieve than there are hours available day to day. Or, are you so programmed by our culture that rewards over-functioning even at the cost of family relationships and physical health that nothing less than being overcommitted all the time seems laudable?

Stop and think about how you spend your time. If you feel dissatisfied with the harried pace of your life and the paucity of pauses, playtime and rest, remember that you are in the driver’s seat of your life. You can’t control every time consuming demand that comes at you. But, I’ll bet you could excavate some “me” time from your busy schedule, time that has no agenda, if you work as hard at that task as you do at fulfilling all the obligations that eat your time.

It’s difficult to change when what you are doing is swimming upstream to cultural norms like busyness and workaholism. But, it can be done. The quality of your life depends on it!

PS If you schedule regular “me” time for rest and play, you’re likely to find you are more productive in the rest of your life!

Have Realistic Organizing Expectations

In my twelve years of professional organizing I’ve run into many women who are still trying to keep house just like “Mom” did. So, what’s wrong with that? After all, Mom was the role model. There would be nothing wrong with that if Mom’s life was comparable to the lives of women today.

When I look at my mother’s reality compared to mine, there are major differences:

  1. For most of the years that we three children were at home, she did not work outside the home. Therefore, she had much more time to manage all the tasks of running a home.
  2. The pace of life was much slower than it is today, therefore it was easier to keep up with all the chores of running a home. Easier, not easy. It’s never easy to keep up with the demands of raising children and running a home.
  3. There was no instant access to people with voicemail and email, so there were fewer social contacts to make on a daily basis. Mom wasn’t accessible to others at all times, as is the norm today.
  4. There were no computers to distract them from getting things done. Not only that, but there was no need to learn to use new technology like computers, cell phones, email, Ipods, Ipads, etc., activities that take time, focus and energy.
  5. There were fewer activities for children to participate in, therefore children played closer to home and did not require as much transportation.
  6. Academic expectations and involvement in extracurricular activities were such that children still had time to contribute to maintaining the home by regularly doing household chores.

So, given those differences, does it make sense to aim for the same level of organization and home maintenance by the same means? In other words, should women still be trying to do it all by themselves in addition to working outside the home, having more to do because of voicemail, email, computers, etc., more running around to children’s activities and events, and less help? No! That’s a setup for feelings of chronic inadequacy, chronic fatigue, and hating life!

What do I recommend? By all means, don’t compare yourself to your mother! You have two choices: get more help or lower your expectations. Remember that times are different and it’s imperative that you do things differently to achieve the results you want. One of the biggest mistakes moms make these days is to carry too much of the load of home maintenance. Husbands and children get off easy because moms pick up so much of the slack.

Stop it! Ask for help! Hire help! Doing so is imperative today, not optional, given current realities. You have a right to rest, play and leisure time too! Do it! Your health and the quality of your life and that of your family depend on it!

Organizing Priorities in a Health Crisis

I was recently asked to address the issue of what to do about staying organized when you’ve been leveled by some type of illness. What an important subject! You may have your house all organized and clear of clutter and then break your leg. How on earth can you tend to your house when it takes all of your energy to get to the bathroom and feed yourself, much less do anything else?

My first recommendation is: ASK FOR HELP!!!! I know that’s hard to do with tapes playing in your head that say, “You should be able to do everything by yourself,” and “I don’t want to be a burden to anyone else.” Contrary to popular belief, the people who care about you often get pleasure out of being able to lend a helping hand from time to time.

When I say ask for help, I not only include friends and extended family, but also the people who live with you. They may be accustomed to living in their own orbit, but a healthy functional family is one in which all members contribute, especially in a time of crisis. In particular, ask family members to be even more vigilant about cleaning up after themselves and helping to maintain order in the home.

My second recommendation is: keep paper under control. If paper gets out of control, you are more likely to have negative consequences, like missing a bill payment. It will also take much longer to dig out once your recover from your illness or injury if paper is part of the mix. Paper is one of the hardest things to organize. It also takes more time to organize than most things. And, the energy of paper will shut you down faster than any other kind of clutter. If you do no more that separate out bills from other papers, throw away junk mail and stack up all other papers, like those that require an action or filing, dealing with paper once you are up an around again will much easier to do.

You will have physical challenges from time to time that make it difficult for you to maintain order in your home. Be gentle with yourself at those times and do whatever you can to restore order as soon as possible once you recover. That may require getting some outside help if the challenge you are facing is beyond what you are capable of doing in a timely manner. If you leave your house in disarray, its condition is more likely to deteriorate further which then can become a health risk in itself.