28 Aug 2017

The Basics of Organizing

You’re standing in a room in chaos and you are asking yourself where do I start…If you are truly going to be successful the first thing you need to do is set realistic expectations. Despite your ambition, you must accept and embrace that this is not a process that will happen overnight, or even in a week. More importantly (and counter to what you may think) the goal isn’t to end up with a tidy space where everything is always in its place. I often tell my clients that being organized does not mean being a minimalist. The key to an effectively organized environment isn’t just about tossing most of your stuff and stashing the rest in cute containers (although they do help when the time is right) – it’s more about recognizing and replacing bad practices with better habits that’ll help you dig out from the mess on a daily basis.

The best part about the organizing process is that no matter what room you’re wanting to straighten up, the rules are essentially the same – here are four basic rules to use to help you get started along with strategies to prevent you from procrastinating along the way.

Rule One: Define Your Space

The first rule with any journey is knowing where you are headed. A roadmap or plan (even a very simple one) essential. For each room you want to organize to take a notebook and sit down in each space, making notes on the following questions:

  • What is your goal for the room? Are you simply wanting to restore order? Are you redefining the purpose?
  • How will the room be used? Will the space be a shared family space for games, toys and movies? An office for one or all? Be sure to account for all the various activities because it will dictate what stays and what will be eliminated when it comes time to sort the room’s contents.
  • What storage is available in the room? Built-in shelves, drawers, cabinets, a closet, baskets and bins? An ottoman with storage? A coffee table with drawers? Is this storage sufficient?
  • What needs to be stored in the room to support its use? Toys, video games? Books, magazines? Computer equipment?
  • Does the furniture suit the room, or should it be rearranged or cleared out?


Rule Two: Sort! Sort! Sort!

Once you have a plan, tackle only one room at a time and if you’re still overwhelmed, narrow it down to one corner at a time. When people are overwhelmed I often have them break things down into tasks that can take 30 minutes or less. As you progress you will develop a rhythm and things will move along faster than when you start. You’ll likely make a few mistakes and make changes to your plan – but that is normal. When I organize something – or am helping someone – my method is to always start by sorting contents. You want to know what you have before you start implementing your system. I start by categorizing things into these basic groups:

Keep: Items used on a regular basis.

Donate/Sell: Items that are no longer used or are duplicates – things that you can do without and would rather give it to someone else for them to benefit from.

Store: These are sentimental things that you want to hold on to but don’t need to have cluttering up your daily living space.

Trash/Recyle: Things that are no longer usable. Worried about how to decide what gets tossed? If you spend more than 15 seconds thinking about what something is, or when you last used it, or why you even have it, then you probably don’t need it.

Repurpose: Consider a secondary use for things you’re thinking of pitching. Plastic ware can be turned into storage in drawers and cabinets and even old towels can be used for cushioning in a dog bed. (I will caution that you must be careful with repurposing items – be sure that you truly have a valid use for the item and do not simply keep things because you think you may have a need for them in the future.)


Rule Three: Set Up Your System(s)

Once you have completed your sorting you are now left with only the items you intend to keep. It’s important to set up “homes” or “zones” to maintain organization. This is often what I call the “Place for everything and everything in its place,” rule. Setting up a system is creating a process that establishes an effective routine that will keep you organized.  A great way to illustrate this is as simple as finding your car keys. If you are forever misplacing your car keys, create a home for them hang hooks near the door, or put an attractive box in a convenient place – whatever works for you. Try to establish a routine of always placing the keys in the designated spot. The simple act of establishing a routine will lessen the chances of your misplacing an item.

Use well-labeled containers to create a storage system, and let your family know where things are located (a critical step!). If space is at a premium, add shelves inside closets to make use of the vertical wall space. If you have small children, attach hooks at lower heights so they can hang up their jackets and bags. Adjustable shelving, such as a closet system, is ideal because it can be moved to accommodate various storage needs. Use plastic shoeboxes – or again, even extra plastic ware normally used for food storage – to create kits for things such as sewing items, shoe repair and extension cords.

Rule Four: Stay Focused

Procrastination can have a snowball effect – the little things you put off each day can pile up to the point where you’re at a loss as to how you’ll ever whittle down your perpetually growing to-do list. I find it helps to set one to three priorities for each time you work on organizing. Again, it often keeps things more manageable to break tasks down into tasks that can be completed in twenty to thirty minutes. To help you avoid the inevitable moment when your organizing efforts begin to slide here are some additional strategies to prevent procrastination.

Mental Motivations

  • Vividly imagine the way you’ll feel inside after the task or project is complete.
  • Focus on your desired result, not your fear or inaction.
  • Imagine yourself completing the task or project easily, quickly and with no setbacks.
  • Tune into your procrastination language in your head and derail it with positive thoughts of “I want to,” “I can,” and “I enjoy” instead.
  • Let go of perfectionism. Many things aren’t worth doing perfectly, so just start and do your best.

Physical Motivations

  • Get an accountability buddy to keep you on task along the way.
  • Work out the steps to the project on paper in advance to clarify your thoughts and eliminate all the emotional whirlwind around why you don’t want to begin the task or project.
  • Master the art of starting. Over and over again.
  • Do the hard parts first. Or…
  • Do the easy parts first. Whichever motivates you more is the one you should choose.
  • Keep a progress log so you don’t lose sight of how much you’ve accomplished.
  • Break your project into small, manageable chunks and create interim deadlines for yourself along the way.
  • Build in rewards for yourself as you finish each step or as you complete the project.

21 Aug 2017

Common Myths About Getting Organized

Getting organized can improve your life, but it requires motivation and perseverance. When getting organized you first need to recognize the things that cause disorganization in the first place, understand your personal style, and choose the correct systems to implement moving forward. What works for one, does not necessarily work for all.

Here are three of the most common myths surrounding the process of getting organized.

Myth #1: I need a fancy organizing system to get properly organized.

I personally see this phenomenon every January – people flock to the stores to stock up on bins and totes. Now some people may actually need what they are buying – but my hunch is that many are buying all this stuff in hopes that it will solve all of their problems and get them organized. Most people stuff things in bins, stack the bins in a corner, a storage unit or a garage and call it good. A messy desk typically is more organized than a room full of bins if there was no plan or purpose that went int putting all of those items in bins. Oftentimes products go unused because the buyer didn’t ask these simple questions first.

  1. What is causing my disorganization?
  2. What type of products will help me create a system or enhance my current system?
  3. Does this product match my style?
  4. Should I sort and purge before using my new product?

The most common mistake people make in getting organized (and staying that way) is waiting too long to buy the product or replacement products. If you wait until the piles of paper have become unmanageable, you have endured a lot of unnecessary stress. The second most common mistake in getting organized is buying something that does not match your personal style. For example, if you like to create file labels on the run, consider label systems or tabs you can easily write on. If you prefer a more finished look, select an electronic or computer-based labeling system.

Myth #2: Only handle it once or (O.H.I.O.)

While this often-heard rule applies to items such as junk mail, it definitely doesn’t apply to on-going projects. Let’s face it. Some papers have to be handled more than once but “filing by piling” isn’t an efficient alternative either.

In order to avoid misplacing papers and spending time rifling through a stack, sort your papers into 6-8 categories. Then place each category into its own file folder, hanging file or project jacket. Take time to label each. Doing so will allow you to locate an item faster and avoid losing an important document.

Myth #3: You only have to get organized once.

If this were true, I’d quickly be putting myself out of a job. Getting organized and leading an organized life are two different things. For some people, the actual cleaning and organizing of an area is one thing; maintaining it is another. After getting organized, your spaces will become functional and will be enjoyed and used more often. This is a good thing. Learning to maintain an area doesn’t have to be sheer drudgery. Devote a few minutes at the end of your day to “visit” your recently organized area to assure that items are getting returned to their proper places.

As with any new habit, allow yourself the time to adjust to a new way of doing things. Getting organized (and staying organized) is on-going but it certainly allows for more peace and less stress in your day-to-day life.

14 Aug 2017

Is Your Garage a No-man’s land?

Have you taken a good look at your garage lately? When was the last time you parked your car or cars in it? When you walk into it what do you see?

I don’t know about you, but as I’m driving down the street and I see open garage doors I find a variety of views. There is the neat and tidy garage with the car parked in it. There is the garage (usually a two or three car variety) that has a spot for one car and the rest is crammed full of stuff. And then there is the garage that other than the large overhead door you wouldn’t know it was a garage – it’s so full of stuff all the cars are in the driveway or on the street.

Too often we consider our garage the repository for all those things we don’t know what to do with, intend to repair or refurbish or just treat it as a giant storage room. You should view your garage as an important element in a well-organized home. Just as you have a system for managing your paper and files in your office and have a neat and orderly system in your kitchen and for managing your children’s stuff – you should have a system for having an effectively organized garage. A well-organized garage can help your home function more efficiently and effectively.

Now I’m sure we all would love to have one of those garages like you see on tv with the great cabinets, lighting and pleasing environment. But getting your garage organized doesn’t require all that money and all that glitz.

So how do you keep a garage organized? It’s simple really – you just need a system! I find the most efficient and easiest systems have three main elements – Point of Entry, Point of Action, Point of Storage.

Point of entry – how and when are these items entering the garage – if your garage looks something like a dumping ground it’s because you don’t have a system in place to deal with the items and you or others in your household aren’t identifying where they need to go or what action needs to be taken.

The first thing to do is look at everything in your garage and categorize the items into key areas (for example – seasonal items, gardening, home repair, auto, etc.) The next step is to identify the best space for each of those key areas to reside. From there you can identify what means you have for storing and using those items (this is where you evaluate if you need cabinets, shelves, bins, etc.) It’s a good idea to go through everything in the garage and categorize – usually this is the first pass at everything and you will naturally start discarding things as you do this – you can further refine things as you put them away.

The secret to maintaining order is that just as you manage the inflow and outflow of paper in your home or office – you need to maintain that inflow in your garage. Identifying the source(s) of items often will reveal if there are offenders in the household that simply need to be retrained on what and where things go. You must proclaim that your garage is no longer a dumping ground for items nobody knows what to do with or where to store.

Once you have categorized everything create zones in the garage for those items to be placed – think about what the purpose of the items is, how often they are used, etc. Locate zones for the most frequently used items in the most visible and easily accessible locations. Put things used less frequently in the locations not as easy to access and out of the way. As items enter the garage evaluate what it will be used for, do you already have one or have a better one and do you really need it.


Garages often are the location for the things that you intend to do something with, think you should keep because you might need in the future or those would have, could have, should have items. It’s time you really honest with your intentions for the item and the reality of whether or not you’ll actually complete that project you think you may need it.

Once you have identified zones put things away. I find that if I then go through each of these zones once a year I am more successful in keeping things in the garage in order.

It’s here I’d like to offer some practical advice for all those things we end up keeping in our garage because we might be able to sell them, etc. you will never eliminate the clutter if you don’t learn to let go of things. I have a basic rule – if something goes to the garage to be set aside for the annual neighborhood sale it shouldn’t be there longer than a year. Some years I don’t even want to bother with participating in the sale so I just haul it off to be donated. If I do have a sale anything left after the sale is immediately donated – it keeps stuff from collecting and building up.

What is your best tip or trick to keeping your garage organized? Share it with us at info@thetaskathand.biz – we’ll share it in an upcoming Facebook post or newsletter!

07 Aug 2017

Proper Paper Management – A Key to Effective Organizing

The influx of paper into our homes and our businesses is one of the most annoying things we face on a daily basis. There is what comes through the snail mail, forms and responses that people walk into our offices and our homes, all the things you print off on a daily basis and let’s not forget the files and drawers full of the stuff.

It’s easy to see how just letting the paper flow go for a few days can be enough to crash the best organized among us. The trick is to continuously manage the flow – and that’s not as difficult as it seems with a simple system in place that you use to the point of it just becoming a habit you don’t even think about and it happens spontaneously.

There are three basic pillars to my system – point of entry, point of action and point of storage or disposal.

Point of Entry – this one is the source of it all – how and where is the paper entering your household of office? The best management starts at this point. Whether it’s snail mail, email or hand delivered pay attention to how it enters. When it enters you should do one of three things – identify if it is something that will require action now or later? Is it something that just needs to be kept for documentation? Is it something that needs to be discarded or recycled. If it falls into the discard or recycle category it can be dealt with right here and its journey has ended and it won’t end up in a pile. (I always note that you should take the proper precautions when it comes to discarding or recycling items that may contain personal or confidential information – a shredder or a shred box are a very good thing!)

Point of Action – once you know what you are dealing with it’s a matter of dealing with it. Is it something that you can act on immediately? Is it something you need to set aside for action at a specific time or on a specific date? If it is something that I can deal with immediately I set it aside to handle as soon as I’ve completed the process for all items – in other words finish your sorting and then deal with these items immediately and move them to the storage phase. If it is something that requires action –at a later time or date it goes into my “Action” file or bin.

Depending on the volume of items in your action bin or file you can get very original and creative here – it almost depends on how organized you want to be. You can have a master file that you separate into days of the week – placing each item in the corresponding file for the day of the current week you wish to deal with the item. You can have an additional folder that says next week – and at the end of each week pull items and place in the day to be completed as next week becomes your current week. You can also have an additional file for the current month that then feeds into the next week and current week files. You just need to get into the habit of moving things through the files each day and each week and month – it seems a bit complex on paper – but you’ll quickly find you spend a small amount of time each day managing the system. It’s important to note here that you need to keep the action file or files separate from your files you place things for storage – the third pillar of the basic system.

Point of Storage is likely the point where most systems break down – the distinction here is remembering storage and action are two very different elements. Your Action file/folder should not be confused with storage or you’ll quickly become overwhelmed and not be able to find anything. I break my storage into two principle categories. Short term (one year or less) and Long term (more than a year and things that need to be kept for varying reasons.)

My Short Term system is one file drawer that contains files and folders for all of the things that I access on a monthly basis. For example I have files for utilities, credit card accounts, medical files, mortgage, autos, gym memberships etc. As I pay bills, reconcile accounts etc. paperwork is filed in the appropriate folder – once a year I go through and purge these files (So for example in my utility files I have the statement for each month with notation of when it was paid. I always have the complete prior year in each file. – So in January I remove anything from the folder that is more than a year old – so when 2017 started I purged anything older than January 1, 2016.) Some people no longer even keep the previous year of statements with so many things available electronically – but I’m old school and want a little bit of security.

The Long Term files are documents that you need for reference – some of these are actually kept in a fire proof safe – information on life insurance, home owners and auto insurance polices – retirement account information – files to collect information for the upcoming tax year, etc. This is also where you can keep any information you need from previous employers, etc. I move files from my short term system to this system when they need – for instance if you close a credit card account but want to keep information on the account just incase you need it in the future. I then review and purge these files on an annual basis.

It’s important to remember there are no hard and fast rules to how you set up your system what’s most important is that it works for you and that it is something that you can easily master so that implementing it isn’t difficult and becomes second nature!

Do you have a system or tip you would like to share? Drop us a note at info@thetaskathand.biz and you may find we share it in an upcoming blog or one of our regular posts on our Facebook page!

31 Jul 2017

Are you so overwhelmed you are paralyzed?


As someone who helps people organize their homes, offices and businesses there are several things that people usually say to me when we first meet for a consultation or behaviors that they exhibit. First, they apologize again, again and again – this isn’t typical of them, they don’t like the situation they are in and they don’t know how to get themselves out of it. Then they apologize that they didn’t have time to clean up before I arrived.  And, when we have completed our first session they are always grateful for the help, regret that they didn’t seek out help sooner and most importantly they themselves recognize it’s not as bad as they thought! Of course I quickly reassure them that it isn’t nearly as bad as they think (trust me – it’s never as bad as you think.) I remind them that the first step to solving a problem is admitting you actually have a problem and finally, there are no hard and fast rules and all it will take is a little discipline and burning some calories and things will get better.

In a majority of the scenarios I find myself in as a professional organizer, most all of my clients have overcome the biggest obstacle when they have brought me in to help. Step one is overcoming the inertia that is preventing you from moving ahead and beyond the obstacle.

The paralysis is a result of that inertia holding you in place. It’s not as hard as you think to overcome the inertia and break past the barriers. So where do you start? You simply have to take the first step and the journey begins from there.

Rather than looking at the project as one big overwhelming project – think of it as a series of smaller projects. Tackle one small thing and then move on to the next. If you need, make a list of the small projects and prioritize them – are there certain things that it makes sense to do first? (try to keep some order and logic to them so you don’t find yourself undoing or redoing things.)

Break tasks down into things you can do in 30 minutes or less (I confess – I learned this one from my life coach and it’s amazing what I’ve been able to accomplish with this small shift in tactics.) When you have thirty minutes tackle one of these tasks – if you have more time, you might be able to knock a couple of items off the list!

Do you need help ending the paralysis? Contact us for a free consultation!

24 Jul 2017

What is not being organized costing you?

Have you ever stopped to consider what it is costing you financially, physically and emotionally to be living in a perpetual state of chaos? If you take the time to think about it, you might be surprised. Getting organized isn’t just about tidying up, throwing things out and putting things in nifty organizers. Getting organized is putting things in places they will be useful and easy to find. Knowing what resources you have available and most importantly creating systems that save you time on the mundane and routine so you have time to enjoy life. As a professional organizer when people contact me they are usually overwhelmed and exhausted. They have let something that was small grow into a challenge so big that they would rather ignore it. Now I know you are probably saying to yourself what does organizing a drawer or shelf have to do with my happiness and state of mind. But studies have shown that an environment that is organized is much more beneficial than one that is chaos. You might not realize it, but that messy office, garage or spare room is weighing on you physically and emotionally. The good news is that it isn’t as hard as you think to overcome these situations. The key is recognizing the barriers and challenges you want to eliminate. Creating a system and sticking to it.
There are some simple truths to being organized (in my opinion.) These simple truths are at the core of what I do:

  1. Being organized doesn’t mean you live like you are in a museum and it doesn’t mean you must become a minimalist.
  2. You create systems that work for you. As an organizer I listen to my clients to determine their needs and challenges – yes there are tips and tricks – but this isn’t a one size fits all endeavor. What works for you might not work for your neighbor or coworker.
  3. It’s just as much about changing behaviors and habits as it is putting everything in a neat tidy package
  4. There are no hard and fast rules.
  5. Going to the store and spending a lot of money on containers and trendy solutions isn’t going to make you organized instantly.