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How to Stay Organized During the Back-to-School Chaos

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When you hear Back to School, what do you think of?  If you’re a kid, you might hide under the bed, hang out in the swimming pool as long as you can, turning into a prune, or ask to be adopted by your best friend’s mom (although she is going to send you off to school as well…tough luck).  

If you’re a mom or dad, you might have mixed feelings:  whew! the summer is finally over, my little one is so grown up, or holy cow! I haven’t gotten any of the supplies they need, and there is so much to do before the first day (i.e. signing up for bus routes, sign up for after school activities, get supplies…so many supplies). Oh by the way, did your kids complete their summer reading?

You’re frantic and exhausted even before you meet Mrs. X, this year’s teacher.  

Relax!  You are not alone.  Not at all. After 26 years having three kids in school, getting them settled into college dorms, and now houses I’ve had plenty of time to make mistakes and learn from them along the way. I have a pretty good idea of what you really need to do in order to get everyone, including yourself, organized for the beginning of school.

By now, many of you are already in Back to School mode, but it’s still early enough to get yourselves into a place and space that is calm and runs smoothly for you and the kids.  

Before we begin, I also want to disabuse the notion that you must buy everything, and I mean everything, new each and every year.  You don’t and I believe that you can save money, time, and the environment while getting them everything that they need.  

So, how can you do it? 

First, sit down and make a list for each child.  What classes are they taking (both during and after school), what supplies do they need, what days and times do all of them happen, who is responsible for pick-up and drop-off. A big reusable,  erasable family calendar is always a good idea in a central location like the  kitchen, hallway or parent’s office. This will help record projects and their due dates, after-school activities, playdates, doctors appointments and back to school for Mom and Dad.

Second, set aside time. If they aren’t in school yet this year, you have the flexibility to shop on off hours for supplies so that you are not standing in line at Staples or the Container Store or Target for three hours wishing you were anywhere else. If you are a working parent this is harder so I suggest looking online first with your kids, getting their ok, and then purchasing supplies in the evening, or weekend, or even simply ordering online with a delivery fee. Amazon is a great option because with the yearly Prime Membership fee you can buy pretty much anything and everything you are going to need for school and it will be delivered to your door by the next day.  

Third, adopt the reuse mentality.  Lots of notebooks and pens/pencils can be used for a second year, so don’t discard them from the previous year.  Weed through and keep those items that are still in good repair and clean. School supplies can be expensive and reusing what you already have can save you time and money.  Obviously there are things that will need to be bought new each year, but things like books and calculators can be bought used (if they are the correct models and printings). As for college supplies, my girls used their blankets, comforters, sheets and towels throughout all four years. My best tip is to get everything washed and bagged for the summer so that they are ready to go for the trip back to school.  Again saving you a lot of time and money.

Fourth, make sure that each and every evening everything is prepped for the next day. This takes practice but it is so worth it! If backpacks are by the door, clothes are laid out, lunch foods are ready so that they can be packed in five minutes in the morning, you are going to save so much time and avoid so much stress. As your kids get older they are going to want to have more input, pick their own clothes, and handle their backpacks, but with an early start and practice of this routine, it will be second nature to them.

Finally, make it a practice to have a weekly family meeting. Even for just a few minutes.  Everyone gets input and everyone knows what is going on. If there are upcoming teacher meetings, large school projects, or any needs that have been missed, it is a perfect time to discuss and plan to update. This is a great time to update that large family calendar as well. While you update, you can also use it as a teaching opportunity for your kids on how to keep their own personal calendar. It will keep everyone on track and it’s a great habit to get into.

As always, it’s important to have flexibility. Things will not always run smoothly and things will pop up out of the blue but having an overall template will help everyone in your family navigate the new school year organized and chaos free. I’d love to hear how your year is starting out and if you find yourself in need of extra guidance, please contact me at claudia@taskier.net or (202)253-9619.

I will check back in in a few weeks to give you ideas for tweaking the year.  

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Why would anyone hire a professional organizer?

alisa-anton-692066-unsplashPhoto by Alisa Anton on Unsplash

It’s GO Month (Get Organized) according to the National Association of Professional Organizers, so it’s a great time to answer the question:  why would anyone hire an organizer? Well, I have been doing this for over 23 years now and the answers are pretty much the same; they fit into three categories.

  1. “I am so overwhelmed by all of the stuff that I have that I am actually losing things, like the bills and invitations, and clothing.  Each time I try to get a handle on all the paper and my clothing, more paper and more clothing seem to come in.”
  2. “I just don’t have the time and/or the patience to deal with all my stuff.  And frankly, I hate organizing it. Why not hire a professional who can take that burden off my shoulders?”
  3. ‘I really like being organized but I have no clue where to begin.”

Other reasons come into play as well, but these three are what I hear most of the time. People often call me because a loved one needs downsizing, or is a hoarder living in a dangerous situation.  Yes, I specialize in helping hoarders. Clients with hoarding issues can be tough, but helping them is so fulfilling during and at the end of a project. Hoarders need tremendous compassion, patience and tough love. A tricky combination.

I also love when a client calls and asks me to create systems for him/her.  Whether it be paper filing, computer filing or home items, i.e., kitchens, closets, bathrooms, storage.  I am a believer that you must break down the clutter before you can set up the systems and I am one of those organizers who tells clients DO NOT BUY ANYTHING at the Container Store or Target or anywhere else until we see what kind of space we have to play with.  Don’t get me wrong. The Container Store and upscale organizing products are my crack! I love boxes, and shelving, and hangers, and matching bathroom and desk accessories and oh my God! I adore linens! But I have seen too many new clients who have gone out and spent a great deal of money on items they will never use and then it’s a question of whether they get it together to take these things back to the store and get their money back.  Nine times out of 10 it becomes more clutter.

Paper clients have discovered that I am able to not only sort out what is a necessary keep, but what items may actually allow them to reclaim money.   We go through all paper and throw out those items that are not needed for finances, taxes, calendar events, and important memorabilia. To be able to get taxes in on time, use coupons successfully, and carry out appointments because they are actually found on the calendar, makes life so much easier to navigate.  The discovery of new found money or an old stock certificate that is now worth something is such a wonderful and welcome surprise.

I have many years of experience in assessing quickly and efficiently what a client needs by way of organization. I’ve seen everything. Systems for paper, memorabilia, art, closets, clothing, books, hobbies, tools, kitchens, garages and attics – I’ve done them all. There is an extraordinary sense of relief and lightness that my clients feel after their overwhelming clutter is addressed. For many, their houses are now open and clear and organized, and they can invite friends over for the first time in many years. Such a gift!

Organizers come in all shapes and sizes.  There are those of us who are just starting out, having been stay-at-home parents.  There are those of us who come to organizing from different professions but have a knack, an ability to see clear uncluttered space.  There are those of us who absolutely can’t stand dealing with paper, and those who love just organizing pantries and closets. Hoarding is tough for all organizers, but with some seasoning an organizer can find incredible satisfaction with those clients.  But one of the things I think a really good organizer must have is a willingness to get down and dirty. Telling a client what to do, homework as it were, doesn’t always work. Clients need you to do the work with them, and they appreciate it. And I personally believe you have to connect with your clients, have an emotional understanding of them and their needs and issues.  I want my clients to know who I am, so that they feel we are on fair and equal footing. I am not superior, but I am there with the skill set to tackle something that they have difficulty doing, and to always tackle it with a smile and flexibility. 

If you find yourself in need of extra guidance, please contact me at claudia@taskier.net or (202)253-9619.

A 4-Step Assessment to De-Cluttering Your Home

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Stuff.  We all have it, some more than others. Stuff is the things that we have bought, found, inherited, collected and happened upon.  Some of the stuff might be valuable, some might just be worthless but we liked it at the time and westill have it.  To me, stuff is like stuffing; it fills up the space but doesn’t always have a real significance, to my life, to my needs and to my existence.  So why do we have all of this stuff?

It makes us feel full, warm, safe.  But it also causes us to be sluggish, and worn down because we are always worrying about the stuff and where it belongs, and how to take care of it, until we stop and it consumes us, and takes up too much space and way too much effort.  We spend lots of money on storage units to keep the stuff that has no room in our homes, and we forget about it anyway.

I wouldn’t say I am a minimalist.  Far from it. But I think collecting and keeping things has to have significance.  There is the saying “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure,” and that is true, but things that have an expiration date, such as newspapers, magazines, old bills, and even clothing that hasn’t been worn in a very long time, take up space, create dirt and dust, and really clutter the environment.  And old expired food, cosmetics, medicines and prescriptions, go one step further; they can become a health hazard.

We need to really think about what we save, and why we save it.  Does this stuff really give us joy? Wouldn’t the freedom from stuff give us clearer direction and an opportunity to explore and pursue a more fulfilling life?  If everything you keep has an active purpose, I say keep it. If you are keeping things because you think you might use them someday, do a real assessment of those things.

So, how can you do a real assessment?  Actually, it’s relatively simple.

  1. Tackle one space at a time 

When you look at everything all at once it can be overwhelming (and you might just want to quite before you even get started). By choosing a single space – the smaller the better – the task will feel less daunting and you’ll have the stamina to finish the entire assessment process. 

2. Touch each item and ask yourself, “Does this have real sentimental value?”

Does this item “spark joy”?  Is it functional in your life? If answering yes to these questions, keep it. It brings you joy, makes you happy, and has a useful function in your day-to-day. If not, however, it’s time to say thank and goodbye. If the item will never be used by you, you do not have to feel guilty about releasing it.

3. Make a quick list of where you would like items to go 

Is this an item that can be donated? Can it be sold? Is it recyclable? Making a list of where items can be disposed will be useful when it comes time to send them off on their next journey. Unopened makeup and toiletries can go to a shelter. Unopened and unexpired foods, also to a shelter or Food Bank. Personal papers to a local municipal facility that has shredding days, a shredding company, or to a company like UPS which does the shredding for a fee as well.  Lightly worn clothes and homeware can be donated or sold. And of course, recycle items based on what’s acceptable in your city’s recycling program. 

4. Sort and dispose

Once you’ve decided which items have sentimental value, which do not, and where you’d like to send the items you’re getting rid of, sort them into piles and use big heavy duty garbage bags or cardboard boxes to collect in each disposal category. Once the items have been sorted, send them to the shelter, donate them to the thrift store, sell them, or take them to the curb on your next recycling day. 

When you’re finished tackling each area, you’ll see that you have more space to work with, whether it be to use as a staging ground for the next stuff or simply to admire. And, don’t be discouraged. It took time to collect the stuff, and it will take time to get rid of it. Just know that when you donate and give away, you are giving something of yourself to share with others who will really appreciate your generosity.

And, if you can’t do that on your own, don’t be afraid to hire someone to help you. The Organizer offers digital and in-person coaching to help you declutter, organize, prioritize, and spend more time doing what you love. Contact us at (202)253-9619 or claudia@taskier.net.