Fabulous & Functional Office Before & After

Here are the details about an office space I put together for an entrepreneur who was having a hard time completing projects and getting creativity in gear due to her cluttered desk.

“Getting organized was something I not only didn’t have time for but the thought of doing it is so painful and it would be exhausting.”

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Organizing Kids’ Artwork and Papers

This is a topic I’ve written about, helped clients resolve, and talked about to Mom’s groups and it is always sensitive. (How can I not keep every scrap of paper that Seamus or Chloe have created? The agony of making me choose!) Children bring home mountains of school papers and artwork to proudly show their parents how much they’ve learned and accomplished during their day. And it’s all beautiful. It’s wonderful but it can take over your home, room by room, if you’re not careful.

So let’s separate Artwork from School Papers (no longer to be capitalized) and address those separately. I’ll talk about school papers first. These are the report cards, progress reports, samples of school work (emphasis on the word “sample“), activity participation certificates, school play or concert programs, and even things not associated with school per se like important letters and cards say, from confirmation or kindergarten graduation, class photos, team photos, mentions in newspapers, etc. I think you get the picture. For all of this I recommend getting a plastic file box with a lid (the one pictured here is from the Container Store) for each child and creating hanging files for each school year and putting them in the box. As these papers come in and you want to keep them, file them in the appropriate spot. As your child grows you’ll be able to give them this responsiblity and eventually the whole box.

file box

Any discussion of artwork created by children can bring on a variety of emotions so I will insert my speech on memorabilia here:

          • there is no set rule for what you should keep
          • you’re not a bad parent if you throw some things away
          • not everything is a treasure. If everything is a treasure, nothing is a treasure. Think about that.
          • you and your child will have to work out what to keep long term

During a presentation I gave, someone asked me what they should keep every year as in, how many pieces of artwork. I couldn’t give her a specific answer because I can’t make that decision for her. There is no specific number. However, here are some suggestions for what to keep from each school year:

            • a sample of art that your child drew or painted
            • a sample of a craft that they created like pottery or needlework
            • a sample of their handwriting
            • a picture of them holding one or some of their favorites

I have a client who has a budding artist in her home so her volume of artwork archives is significantly larger. Her son likes to create large scale drawings  that end up being rolled up and stored vertically. I know she is planning on hanging some of the pieces and framing them but she will also have to cull through, with him, the specific pieces he’ll want to keep.

A suggestion that I thinks works well is to take pictures of the artwork, some of them with your child holding the artwork, and create a yearly book via Shutterfly or MyPublisher. If you follow the same format year after year you’ll have a wonderful collection of books to look through and that will look great on your bookcase.

The one rule I would suggest is to keep all Christmas ornaments that your child creates. These can be a fun journey through time for them and can also be passed on to them later. I still have a much prized ornament made lovingly from a cut toilet paper tube, glitter, and a bell. Unfortunately most of the glitter has rubbed off so people wonder why I hang a toilet paper tube on my tree.

How about you? What artwork and school papers do you keep? I’d love to hear how you manage this potential clutter creator.

Happy organizing!

What I learned from surviving a fire: sanity, paper, & your desk

The dryer that caught fire

The dryer that caught fire

What is the first instruction anyone gets when there is a crisis at hand? Stay calm. How do I stay calm when my home has been turned upside down? When I can’t find anything and everything I wear or touch is dirty with soot? Staying calm is the answer, though, because panic helps no situation. I promise.

As a reminder, this was not a completely devastating fire. I’m sure there are readers that have been through natural and unnatural disasters much worse than this and I certainly don’t want to undermine their experiences. However, I’ve learned some interesting lessons during this event and recovery that can help anyone. Today. Now. You can benefit from my experience and I hope it helps just 1 person.

Things are just things and really don’t matter. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again:  Nobody was hurt. People are irreplaceable; things are not. Case closed. We were extremely fortunate and didn’t lose anything super important or sentimental like wedding pictures or family heirlooms. On that note, your things take on a totally different meaning when they are covered in soot. I’ll admit that my desk was not the picture of perfect order and organization. I had stacks of business cards, receipts, notebooks, magazines, and other papers stacked on it just like a lot of you do. It was all super important to me which is why it was out in the first place. (Any of this sounding familiar?) I was going to work on them/ file/ read/ etc. them but there they were stacked up and messy. Now they were covered in soot. I don’t know if you’ve ever had experience with soot but it is not easy to clean. It’s not a dry dust you can just wipe away. It is oily and dirty so that when you wipe it, it leaves streaks. Not fun but dealing with that was a good thing. If it weren’t the case, I’d be writing about replacing papers because they would have all been burned up. It’s all about your perspective…

Those super important papers don’t seem so important anymore when you have to wear gloves to read them. Soot is a great equalizer. Magazines and notebooks can be replaced and receipts can be duplicated. If they had been soooo important I would have already read or processed them.  I am guilty of time management issues just like you. I, too, get distracted doing “research” on Pinterest instead of recording business receipts. I get it. But time is fleeting and if you don’t take care of something in a timely manner, it will be much harder the longer you wait.

  • Set up a time each week to go through papers like mail, receipts, and bills and stick to it. If you stay consistent the pile doesn’t get larger and it takes less time to process.
  • Adopt a clear desk policy where you don’t leave papers strewn across your desk when you are finished for the day. This is a for-real compliance policy  (it’s ISO 17799/27001 compliant for you compliance nerds like I used to be) that many heavily regulated corporations adopt and enforce to ensure that employees are not leaving private information out for others’ perusing. It’s good for civilians as well to make sure you are actually completing tasks and putting things away in a timely manner. When you are done for the day, clear the papers off your desk. It makes starting the next day there so much more pleasant, too.
  • Apply the same policy to your computer so that you are saving files and sites in a timely manner. Leaving excessive windows open is akin to leaving open magazines or newspapers on your desk. Either bookmark the site or save the file so you can find it later.
  • Get rid of the layers of papers. If they’re on the bottom layer, you probably haven’t missed them and could probably be tossed. If they are important, they need to go into a To Be Filed or To Be Paid or to be tossed pile.
  • Set up a filing system and use it. Make it your own so it makes sense to you. Adopting someone else’s won’t do any good if you can’t follow it.

Set up a home filing system. While we are talking about papers and filing them in a timely fashion, I can no reiterate how important home filing systems are. Do you know where your birth certificate, passport, children’s birth certificates, adoption papers, wills, marriage certificate, etc are? If so, good for you and pat yourself on the back. A lot people have an idea of where these papers are but aren’t 100%. These are the types of papers that are a massive pain to replace. It can be done but with discomfort. These are the types of files to put in a Fire Box. We were fortunate and these documents were no where near the fire but I’m going to get one just for these documents. I’ve also heard from other organizers to store electronic copies of these in the cloud somewhere.

A filing system is essential for tracking all kinds of important family paperwork: medical records, paid bills, important letters, contracts, receipts, manuals, user guides, employment documents, bank notices, in addition to the documents I mentioned above. You need a system to file these things that makes sense to you so that it’s easy to manage.

This situation reminded me that your home filing system should also include a section for large home purchases like computers, TVs and other expensive electronics, washer and dryer, rugs, furniture, artwork, and for pretty much anything you paid a lot of money. You want to be able to find documentation on what you had, how much you paid for it, and where and when you bought it.  Our washer and dryer came with our house and we had to do some research to find out how old they were. Write down on your appliance manuals what the price was, where you purchased, and when. This will help immensely with insurance if this ever happens to you or if you sell your home.  It’s also a good idea to have a file where you keep all of your manuals and user guides.  If you need further assistance or have questions about what should be in your home filing system, send me a message carrie@neatsmart.com.

So this is the first lesson that I learned from surviving a fire:  if your papers are really important, deal with them promptly. The less you touch them, the less you are building an emotional attachment to them. If they are important, you’ll handle them quickly. Develop, or have someone help you develop,  a good management system that’s easy and sensible for you. Stay tuned for more …

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Happy organizing!

Summer To Do List

Can you believe summer is officially here as of Friday and that half of the year is over? Me neither. So how is your New Year’s resolution to “get organized” panning out? Do you feel like you’ll never get there? Do you start an organization project just to abandon it after a few frustrating hours or minutes? Even if ‘getting organized’ was not on your resolution list, I would be willing to bet that you’d like parts of your home or office to have fewer stacks and piles, to be more clean and ordered so that you’re not wasting time looking for things and wasting money buying what you already have. Fear not, it is never too late to get started. Here is a list of suggestions for quick, mini- organization tasks you can do right now to get closer to your goals of calm, reduced stress, and more time to do the things that you want to do:

Keeping a refrigerator in order means you don't waste energy poking around looking for food.

Keeping a refrigerator in order means you don’t waste energy poking around looking for food.

When was the last time you cleaned out your refrigerator? Can you identify what’s really in that old takeout container? Take less than an hour and toss out the bad stuff, clean out the shelves and drawers, and put the good stuff back where it belongs. Here is a link for detailed instructions on how to store food in the smartest spots.

One example of a kitchen-based command center.

One example of a kitchen-based command center.

What is the state of your command center? Do you know what a command center is? Learn more about why it’s essential to your sanity to have this part of your home in order.

Get some type of box for storing tax documents

Do you have a place for gathering tax documents for 2013? Designate a folder or box now for storing receipts, car tag statements, donation receipts, medical statements or whatever it is that you’ll need to locate next year to file your 2013 taxes. Also, don’t completely file away 2012. You’ll need to refer back to it if you do your own taxes or your accountant may need to review it as well. (no IRS jokes, please 🙂 )

Don’t store clothes without cleaning them first.

Did you put away your winter sweaters without getting them cleaned or washing them? Food and sweat is what attracts moths and other bugs so make sure they are clean and not stored in plastic. Wool and cashmere need to breathe. On that note, take your winter coat(s) to get cleaned. Don’t forget scarves, hats, and gloves if they are not leather. Just take them out of the plastic bags when you get them home.

Get your OWN filing system.

Get your OWN filing system.

How is your personal filing system? Do you know where your mortgage statements, bank statements, EOBs, and appliance warranties are? Set up a personal business filing system in a desk drawer or file box with labeled hanging files and folders. If you have kids, how are you storing their school papers? Put together a file box for saving report cards, certificates, school pictures, programs, etc. Or ask Neatsmart about creating a “Box of a Lifetime.”

Another example of a car filing system

Have you ever cleaned out your glove box in your car? Are you the kind of person that just shoves your insurance card in there with your repair receipts and takeout napkins? In less than 30 minutes, you can separate and file your car’s paperwork into a document wallet so you can find all the necessary documents when necessary. Hopefully you don’t have to show that proof of insurance frequently.

 

All of these tasks are a good jump start to propel you towards more order less clutter. When you’re ready to go all the way in getting your life organized or you want to continue with the momentum you’ve started with this list, give Neatsmart a call. We’ll be there to take your home to the next level of organization so you can live more efficiently, have less stress, and more time to spend doing what matters most to you.

Happy organizing!

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!

Go Forth and Prosper

IMG_0658

So I recently wrote about how to get more accomplished in the day by completing tasks in 1 or 2 minutes with this post but here is an article on with 101 Useful Things You Can Do  in 15 Minutes or Less. Granted, not all 101 items on the list will apply to you but it’s amazing to think of what you can do in 15 minutes if you just do it. Sometimes it’s the avoidance of another, more daunting task that encourages this sudden surge in productivity but at least you are getting something done and marking it off your list. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, WRITE IT DOWN! Start a list of things you’d like to do such as….

  • a list of places you’d like to go on vacation
  • house projects you’d like to accomplish this year
  • books you’d like to read (someday)
  • movies you’d like to see
  • recipes you’d like to try
  • restaurants you’d like to visit

These are all pretty “fun” things to do and they are all about YOU. You deserve to invest in yourself. Whenever you have 5, 10, or 15 minutes free you can go back to this list and start thinking about what you really want to accomplish and if you are on a path to achieve any of that. Mark things off the list or add to it. This is a list that helps spur your creativity and will encourage goal setting. If you set goals, you’ll achieve goals. Achieving goals leads to feeling a sense of accomplishment which leads to your future success, which drives you to achieve more of your dreams. And it all starts with you, a pen, and a piece of paper.

Happy organizing!

The Most Important Space to Organize

One example of a kitchen-based command center.

One example of a kitchen-based command center.

What is the most important space to organize in a home? Some might say the bedroom because that is where you spend (hopefully) at least 8 hours of your day. Some might say the kitchen because if if you’re constantly looking for something to eat or tools to make something to eat and can’t find what you need during the 3x a day you’re in there, you’re having a lot of bad days. However, I’m going to argue that the Command Center, frequently housed in the kitchen, is the most important place in American’s homes to have organized.

Why is that, you ask? Because this is where all activities are managed, bills are paid, supplies are stored, and paperwork is filed. This is not to say that all homes are like this but the majority of American homes built since the 1960’s have incorporated a work area with a desk, drawers, and a couple of cabinets for managing exactly these types of activities. Interestingly enough, as homes are now evolving to have a full time office space, there is still a need to have at least a corner of the kitchen carved out to be a Command Center. Some trends today are to use chalkboard paint to indicate this area and provide a place for notes and lists, using modular pieces like hanging calendars, magnetic boards, or hanging in and out boxes. Since the kitchen has evolved to be the center of activity in a home, it makes sense to have this go-to area located there, especially if you live in a house with children. More people to manage = more stuff to keep track of!

 

So what happens in a Command Center? It will be different for everyone because we all function a little differently but this is a great place to house the following:

  1. Car keys: Get a bowl or hook to put them so you’re not looking for them later.
  2. Cell phone: Put a charger here and plug it in when you walk in the door.
  3. Calendar: A visual representation of all important activities for everyone in the house. Little ones start to learn time management early by seeing their activities on a calendar.
  4. Computer: Especially if you have kids, a publicly located computer is great for homework, looking up recipes, listening to music, and so forth.
  5. Clock: You need to know what time it is and it’s important for that morning or afternoon rush to get out of the house.
  6. Mail: What doesn’t get tossed immediately can be kept here for reading later.
  7. Bills to be paid: It’s nice to have that visual cue that you need to take action. You could even clip them to your calendar until they are paid.
  8. Purse or wallet: Save yourself time and pain by knowing where it is at all times.
  9. Glasses and/or Sunglasses: If you need readers, this is a perfect place to have an extra pair. Sunglasses are essential for driving so I keep mine here.
  10. Stamps, pens, scissors, paperclips, scrap paper, tape, batteries, envelopes, coupons,

The most important part of organizing any area is assigning a home to everything in your home. The Command Center is a great place to house a lot of the supplies necessary to conduct your life stress- and drama-free, able to find what you need, when you need it so you can lead a happy life!

Any other ideas for how to best use your Command Center? Need help putting yours together? Contact Neatsmart to get started on creating the most efficient, functional, and stylish Command Center you’ve ever had!