Organization Client Case Study: Shared Workspace

I recently worked with a repeat client and it is so interesting to see how a person’s life improves after getting just parts of their home organized, even if it’s not all at once. In the spirit of honesty, I will disclose that this client is my lovely and talented sister, Laura, creator of Mixonian Institute and expert communicator, who helps me infinitely and also was a key inspiration to my starting Neatsmart. “So, you’ve worked with her more than once, does that mean she is a hoarder  living with 14 cats and a Red Sea pathway through her house?” No, quite the contrary: she lives with minimal contemporary societal trappings (meaning she doesn’t have a lot of excess stuff), has great appreciation for aesthetic beauty, is well educated and highly intelligent, eloquently charming and funny BUT she can be disorganized. Disorganization exists on many levels and in fact we are all disorganized about something in our lives so don’t think you are immune. There is only so much time in a day to get all the things done that we want to accomplish and organizing stuff is not something that most people want to allocate a lot of resources to do. I, on the other hand, love sorting, purging, organizing, etc. which is why I do it for others.

But let’s keep talking about Laura and how her life improved by getting organized. By Manhattan standards, her home is enormous. By Southern standards she has a small, efficient house that she shares with her husband, sometimes 3 children (one has graduated college and lives away, one is in college but home for the summer, and one is in high school), and 2 dogs.  Every piece of furniture has to be functional and everything in her home needs to serve a purpose. In reality, that’s the way it should be for all of us. An object’s purpose might be to look pretty but that is a valid purpose; we need to surround ourselves with things that we love, that serve us functionally, and that we find to be beautiful, as I mentioned in this previous post.

When I work with clients, one of the first thing I need to know is what is the order of priority;  what area is giving them the most headache and will thus have the greatest impact on them.  The first priority here was to get the office in order. There is the desk area in their living room with the computer, printer, supplies, files, and there is the personal work area which contains her laptop, cell phone docking area, books and magazines for research. While this might sound unconventional to those who have a designated room for their office, I know this set up is common for households that do share a computer. Her desktop computer is in a main part of the house and needs to be tidy (not an eyesore) because of its public location and service for work and homework. She needs this area to be an inspiring environment where she can be productive, find any supplies or files she needs in a split second, and have space for others to store their office and homework necessities.  It is the ultimate shared workspace.

Workspace Before

Workspace Before

So what did Neatsmart do to get this shared workspace in order? I solved the majority of her desk clutter issue by installing a bookcase to store office supplies and her filing system. It is essential to any office space to be able to easily find stamps, envelopes, paperclips, scissors, extra printer paper, notepads, construction paper, glue, tape and anything else you, or anyone who uses that area, might need. They also need to know where to put it back once they are finished. In short, everything needs a home that is easy to find. If everyone would spend about 15 minutes a day putting things away, the entire world would be tidier and less stressed–talk about a butterfly flapping its wings.

Bookcase to the rescue

Bookcase to the rescue!

We also got rid of things that didn’t need to be there or that weren’t being used–this has a huge impact because you realize that you have more space and can breathe! One of those things was the analog phone that had been collecting dust on the desk. They got rid of their house phone number but the base unit was still there. Why, you ask? Because nobody had time to disentangle it from the mass of other cords and cables under the desk. Sound familiar?

And finally, we sorted papers, notebooks, and files so that similar subjects and topics were stored together. Laura has several businesses she operates, including a non-profit organization, Charleston International Music School, so she needed to keep each entity’s materials but easily accessible.  So everything needs a home but you also need to keep things together that belong together. We created distinct areas for Mixonian, CIMS, Coaching Clients, Books in progress, in addition to the regular files like bills, financial statements, school papers, and medical information. It is essential if you work from home that you have a separate filing drawer or cabinet for your personal and home related files. You definitely don’t want to co-mingle your EOBs, credit card bills, or mortgage statements with your Client Files!

So how has organizing her shared workspace improved her life?  Here is what she had to say:

Laura Camacho“I feel better and am already more productive. Seeing your workspace neat is a major motivator. Seeing that one space can be organized shows you that anything can be organized and orderly. You feel a wonderful sense of accomplishment.”    Laura Camacho

Happy organizing!

Say “hello” to my little friend

Ok, so truth be told, I’ve never seen “Scarface” but I have a wealth of useless information in my head including quotes from movies I’ve never seen. On another non sequitur note, do you have any idea how hard it is to get a dog to pose?

This is the bed side table companion to the dresser that I wrote about here.

Bedside table closeup

I painted it after the dresser but in the same color with the same finish. I don’t usually like matching pieces but this just works together well. Now I’m done with black, semi gloss-finished furniture with gold handles and am on to something new. Stay tuned for more pieces to be revealed….

Happy organizing!

Lazy person’s guide to painting furniture

One of the great inventions of the 20th (yes, it really was the 20th century. 1998 to be exact) century is Craiglist for the acquisition or relinquishing of household goods. I have used it personally for both and highly recommend it to family, friends, and clients. Whatever you are looking for someone else is trying to get rid of, which further reinforces my belief that one man’s trash is another man’s treasure.

I was in the market for a dresser and didn’t want to pay a fortune for it, nor have it be some generic, mass produced piece that didn’t have any charm. I believe that there is so much “stuff” already out there in the world and we should try to find a way to use what’s out there instead of creating more clutter. I like things that are unique, well made and I don’t want to have matching suites of furniture. My whole life has been devoted to  standing out in the crowd (in a good way) and since your home is a reflection of you, furniture selection and customization is right up my alley. Lastly, I get to participate in one of my passions which is painting. I started off looking at a couple of Goodwill stores but didn’t see what I wanted, which was a dresser that was long and low, hopefully with a chinoiserie look to it. I searched on Craiglist for while and ultimately found what I wanted. This is not an endeavor for those looking for instant gratification. You will not necessarily find what you want when you want it; patience, my friend. The blogosphere has a million pages devoted to painting and up-cycling furniture but I will share my version as well since I took a few shortcuts. It has been in use for a week and seems to be holding up well and I promise to report if these shortcuts are proved to be disastrous. I’ll leave out the part about search terms, negotiating the price, and picking up the furniture but I’m open to writing about that as well if you message me.

sorry it’s dark but there were a lot of shadows when I took this

So here is the dresser before its makeover. Make sure you clean it well and remove anything sticky or waxy. There was some candle wax I had to scrape off and clean that I had not seen originally. Simple Green is a great cleaner and can be used on a variety of surfaces. This one had a laminate top and the wood was painted so I didn’t use an oil soap which I would for a stained wood project. Remove the hardware. Fortunately, there were no repairs required which would need to be done now.

Pull out the drawers and lay them facing up on the floor. Sand the laminate top with coarse sandpaper; I used 220 grit for the first round. I also like to take a sanding sponge and wrap the paper around it so there is a flexible surface to work with.  You can also move the sandpaper around the sponge as it gets worn to refresh the surface.

Pretty drawers, lined up in a row, ready to be primed and painted

This is where I am lazy: I didn’t sand the whole piece, just the top because I knew the laminate would be hard to get the paint to stick. However, I did use a really good primer, Zinsser Cover Stain Oil Based Primer, and I highly recommend it. You can use it as a primer for oil or latex paints and it gives the paint something to grab on to. Since the top is laminate, I sanded with a 60 grit sandpaper, put another coat on, and then sanded with 220 grit. I also wiped and dusted along the way. The container says you don’t have to sand between coats but I had let some blobs and drips accumulate so I had to clean those up.

Then came the time for the true transformation with paint. I selected a satin finish black but I’ve seen some bright colors used and it looks great. Let’s just say the primary user of this piece wanted something on the masculine side and not as brightly hued as I would have selected. I can accommodate. I used a foam roller for the large, flat surfaces, and an angled brush for the smaller, detailed sections. If you don’t want any brush marks, you’ll probably want to try spraying which is beyond my expertise. Or you’ll want to hire a professional. The sealer covers some of this but there are still some stray marks that you can see. Watch out for drips as you’re going. They are hard to get rid of once it dries. It took 2 really good coverings and then a little touch up at the end. The top got the same treatment as when I was priming but I just used the 220 grit between the coats. I really wanted this to adhere plus the top gets all of the abuse.

Dresser mid-makeover

As you can probably guess, this is not a project that gets done in one day which is great for me. I like breaking it down into bite sized pieces and I get a great sense of accomplishment along the way. Even though I didn’t have to do any repairs and I wasn’t militant about brush strokes, it does take time and patience to get through this. There is no instant gratification but it is so worth it in the end.

nice and shiny!

The handles got special treatment, too. I did strip most of the paint off but wanted a shinier gold color to go with the black. Spray paint to the rescue! A couple of light coats with good, gold spray paint and they were done. I let the pieces dry overnight before touching and manhandling, though.

I love a box top for holding items to be spray painted–very handy!

So once everything had a chance to dry overnight, I moved to the final step which was applying a sealer. Think of this as the top coat in your manicure–it protects the surface and gives a nice finish. You can go with any type of finish but I am a semi gloss kind of person. It’s pretty shiny which you’ll see in the photos below. I should have turned off the flash but it was a little too dark. I used a Varathane semi gloss which goes on milky white and then dries clear. You have to be really careful here not to have drips so keep checking your work. I just used a sponge brush for this.

Lovely side angle of finished dresser

Once this is dry and cured you can put the hardware on, stand back, and admire your hard work. I am quite please with how this turned out and how it was not only an economical way to go but also one that used existing resources. Yes, I had to buy some supplies but they are already being used on other projects (stay tuned!) and it is rewarding to get what you really want and to create something unique.

Dresser post makeover. The rug that is shown on the edge is another Craiglist acquisition

So that is how lazy people paint furniture: have patience, look at what is already out there, don’t sweat the brush marks, and enjoy the process. Please contact Neatsmart with any questions about this project or if you’d like advice for your own furniture renewal project.

Happy organizing!