Being an organized leader of a kid’s club or scout troop

For more than three years now, my wife and I have both been scout troop leaders (Girl Scouts for her, Cub Scouts for me). The organizations offer a lot of fun for the kids and, let’s be honest, a lot of work for those of us adults who have stepped up to the plate to be leaders. It’s not without its rewards, though, and getting to spend time with our kids and their friends in a learning and creative situation is worth all the unpaid hours.

Depending on how many kids you’ve got in your club, den, troop, or group, you could feel like you’ve taken on a second job. (Especially when cases of cookies pack your house every winter.) One thing is for certain, the job won’t be fun for you if you’re stressing about running the group and keeping things organized. The following are a few techniques my wife and I have put together for staying sane while being a leader of our kids’ groups.

Who has earned what?

Not all clubs and groups are about earning awards, badges, or patches, but a lot of them are and it’s what many people think of when they consider scouting. And the kids do love earning them. Cub Scouts are actually required to move through several ranks before they become Boy Scouts, and to do so they must earn certain achievements. Of course, one boy will miss a meeting because of illness, another is out of town, and so on. To keep track of all their achievements, I use the following method for tracking who has earned what.

I bought several adhesive CD sleeves from Amazon, as well as a large piece of foam board. Then I labeled each sleeve with a boy’s name and stuck the lot to the board. When a boy earns an achievement, I place the name of it as well as the date into the CD sleeve. Now I have an at-a-glance record of who has done what and who hasn’t.

Run your meetings smoothly

When the kids first arrive for a meeting, they’re usually a little hopped up. At the same time, this is when their parents want to ask questions, hand in permission slips, etc. Unsupervised, riled-up, eight-year-old boys? That’s a bad idea. Instead of letting chaos rule, have a “gathering activity” ready. Each week I have something set up for the boys to do upon arrival, from a simple board game to a pile of Boy’s Life magazines to a diagram of a structure to create with LEGO bricks. If you can tie the gathering activity into the meeting’s main activity, even better. The important thing is to give them something fun, engaging, and cooperative to do while they (and the parents) settle in.

Another idea is to create a job board. I’ve printed each boy’s name on a strip of paper and glued it to a clothes pin. These pins get clipped onto a board with labels like: “Attendance,” “Flag Bearer,” “Den Flag Bearer,” “Assistant,” and “Closing Flag Ceremony.” (These are all regular parts of a Cub Scout meeting.) This lets the boys know what their jobs will be for each meeting. Quick tip: give your more antsy members the “Assistant” job, as you can call on them to help out with all sorts of things as his or her energy levels rise and fall.

Foster independence and leadership

My den only has six boys, but my wife’s Girl Scout troop has 14 girls. The entire troop is broken up into several informal units, each with a rotating peer leader, as selected by the girls. The units brainstorm ideas and report their findings, ideas, strategies, and so on to the troop as a whole via their selected leader. These peer leaders make managing a larger group easier on you and teach important skills to the kids.

Tap into the community

In the business world, we call this delegation. In organizations of volunteers, we call this accessing resources. And, since all the kids in your group have parents, these people are wonderful resources for you to rely on from time-to-time. Ask other about their professions and hobbies and see if they’d be willing to share some of what they know with the kids as the focus for a meeting. Same goes for adults in your child’s life — pediatrician, dentist, school teacher, local firefighter, your friends with cool jobs. And all those boxes of Girl Scout cookies don’t have to be sorted only by you — ask other parents and even club members to pitch in for the big jobs.

Don’t be nervous to reach out to the community, either. Community service is a big part of scouting and many clubs and organizations, and to get the kids involved in projects they’ll enjoy you have to make yourself and your group known. Call up local shelters, non-profits, parks departments, and nature organizations to see if there’s an opportunity for the kids to get involved in hands-on charity work. Chances are, there are many ways the kids can help.

Finally, don’t be afraid to look for help online. I’m starting to see more project ideas appear on Pinterest. And, I love, love, love Scouter Mom.com. The site has certainly given me creative ideas for several den meeting projects. What other resources do you use to things organized and operating smoothly for your child’s club or scouting troop?

Identifying a collection

Collections aren’t inherently bad. The first book collectors helped create libraries and the first collectors of antiquities helped establish museums. Collections help us identify with the world around us and introduce us to like-minded people. However, labelling a group of similar items a “collection” does not automatically make it one. The following are guidelines to help you identify a collection:

Intention. A collection is intentional. There are certain items that meet the criteria for being a part of the collection and others that don’t. For example, when you collect “vintage pig salt and pepper shakers” you wouldn’t have brand new salt and pepper shakers or vintage cow salt and pepper shakers in your collection.

Time. You are able to spend time managing the collection without sacrificing the time you spend on your job or with your family. You take the time to ensure the items are clean, in good condition, and properly stored. You enjoy spending time with other collectors discussing the collectibles, trading, or buying and selling pieces.

Money. Your collection does not put your financial security at risk. You know the value of the items, know how much new pieces cost, and where to find the best deals for new acquisitions. You may also have prepared a budget for your collection and have ranked new pieces in order of priority of purchase.

Space. Your collection does not take up so much space that it impairs the normal functioning of your home. Because your collection reflects your life, you’ve taken the time to arrange the pieces to complement the beauty of your home. There may be many pieces to your collection but each one is has a special place.

Investment. The investment in your collection should be the joy that it brings you. You might be able to sell a few pieces for a profit but you’re not counting on it for your retirement savings plan. The last time I checked there were over 2700 Star Wars figurines for sale on ebay and 95 per cent of them were selling at less than $100 each.

Future Provisions. You’ve made some decisions on what should happen to the collection when you are unable to care for it. If you’re giving it to someone, that person has agreed to take care of the collection and enjoy it as much as you have. If no one wants to take the collection, you’ve made appropriate plans to sell it.

Overall, the collection should be a joy to own. Seeing it should reduce stress and bring peace-of-mind. The collection should bring a feeling of peace and contentment and reflect part of who you are. If your collection is taking up too much time, money, or space and/or if it isn’t bringing joy to your life, it may have crossed into the clutter category and it may be time to let it go.

The paperwork puzzle

Every Christmas, we receive a few jigsaw puzzles — it’s a family holiday pastime to watch movies and put the puzzles together. Interestingly enough, as I spend time going through the documents I need to prepare for our family’s 2013 income tax return, I realize that the steps involved in organizing paperwork are similar to the steps in assembling a jigsaw puzzle.

Define the goal

When you’re working on a jigsaw puzzle you’ve always got the box that shows what the puzzle should look like once it is together. For most organizing projects, you won’t get a picture of the final product; you’ll have to invent it yourself. Imagine what you want the final result to look like. How do you want it to function when you’re done? Don’t worry about all of the details at this point. A rough outline is just fine. You could simply state, “I want to be able to find the documents that I need, when I need them. I want them to be stored in the filing cabinet for easy access and any documents that I don’t need regularly but need to keep for tax reasons, will be stored in the attic. Everything else will be shredded.”

Sometimes you don’t have the entire picture. Imagine only receiving one or two puzzle pieces a day. You would have to collect a few months’ worth of pieces to get an idea of what the finished project should look like. This is exactly why I have a big pile of paperwork to be sorted and filed!

In our situation, living in a foreign country as visiting military, we are required to keep certain documents beyond what we would normally keep in our home country. I really didn’t know how these should be organized so my solution was to keep all of the documents in one large folder. Now that we’ve lived here for six months, we have a good idea what the “finished picture” looks like and we are able to sort the documents easily into appropriate categories.

Make a work space

If you have a large project or one that you need a few days to complete, consider setting up in a place that has minimal impact on your day-to-day living. We assemble our jigsaw puzzle on a table in our family room, which is also the place I’ve chosen to do my filing.

Consider sorting paperwork into labelled boxes. Rather than have open boxes, consider getting boxes with lids. They can then be stacked up against a wall and out of the way when you are not working. You can organize one box at a time at a later time.

Define the edges

When we’re working on our puzzle, usually we try to get the edge pieces first and then group similar pieces together onto paper plates such as “sky pieces” or “purple pieces.”

Decide on the “edges” of your project. Chose fewer groups with larger categories within each group. For example, if you’re working on financial paperwork, separate by decade, then by year, then within each year, then by month. You may even find that everything prior to a certain year can be immediately discarded and shredded.

Ignore OHIO

Do not take the “Only Handle It Once (OHIO) Rule” literally when sorting and organizing. I have never been able to take a puzzle piece out of the box, look at it once and put it into the puzzle in its exact place. Don’t expect to do it with paperwork either.

Every time you handle a document, it should be to move it forward in the system of processing so that it is in its appropriate place for the next step. Not only should you prioritize it immediately, you must identify when and where the next steps take place so that the item is not forgotten either accidentally or on purpose.

Zoom in – zoom out

When we’re working on our puzzle, occasionally one of us will zoom in on an easily identifiable object within the puzzle and work on that. On our recent puzzle, my daughter found all of the pieces for a large orange flower that was in the centre of the puzzle. It allowed us to work outwards from that point to complete the puzzle faster. However, while she was working on the flower, she kept it in perspective of the entire puzzle.

If you’re organizing and sorting paperwork, you may find you can easily complete a small portion of the project. You may be able to completely organize all of last year’s financial documents, for example. Congratulate yourself on a job well done but remember to zoom back out and look at the whole picture and remember what you want the final result to look like.

Create a Process

This step is where the similarities between puzzles and paperwork end. Once all of the pieces are put into the puzzle, the puzzle is completed and there is nothing left to be done but admire the finished project. Paperwork on the other hand, increases as soon as the postman arrives the next day.

Create a process to deal with all of your incoming mail. Know what to keep and what to shred. Check out some other posts on Unclutterer for tips and tricks on paper management.

Tools for an organized sewing kit

Doing your own sewing repairs can save you some money and you’ll always be able to leave the house looking neat and tidy. You don’t need to be a seamstress or tailor or need a bunch of expensive equipment. This list outlines basic essentials. If you have some talent or training in sewing you may want to invest in more tools, but these are the minimal items necessary for most DIY repairs. If you prefer, you can buy a sewing kit that contains all of the basics. I would rather build my own kit, as I prefer left-handed scissors and I like to select my own colours of thread.

Scissors
Invest in quality scissors to be used only for sewing. I recommend two pairs: Dressmakers shears with 8″ (200mm) blades for cutting fabric and embroidery scissors that have blades about 3″ or 4″ (90mm) long for precision cutting and trimming. If you’re left-handed, buy left-handed shears. It will make sewing tasks much easier.

Using sewing scissors for paper and plastic will quickly dull the blades making it difficult to cut fabric. Use a marker or label to indicate that these scissors are to be used for sewing only.

Needles and Pins
Purchase a variety of needles in a one-at-a-time dispensing pack. You’ll have the needles you need and they’ll be organised too!

Pins should be straight and sharp with colourful heads that do not melt if you iron over them. Store the pins in a small plastic box or in a pincushion. Magnetised pin holders are handy for picking pins up from the floor but they do not protect your fingers from getting stabbed.

Safety pins, in a variety of sizes can be used for pinning things together that you may not have time to sew. They can also be used to help feed elastic or cord through waistbands and cuffs. You can hook them together into a long strand to keep them organized if you don’t have a storage container.

Thread
Purchase quality poly-cotton blend thread in a variety of colours that match the majority of your clothing. You should also buy an olive drab colour because it can be used on almost any dark material (blues, blacks, browns). There is a reason the army calls this colour “camouflage!” Good quality thread should have a smooth finish; fuzzy thread will tend to get caught while sewing and break easily if pulled too hard.

Seam Ripper
This is a tool with a sharp point, a blunt point and a sharp blade in the middle. If you stitch something in the wrong place, use a seam ripper to cut the stitches without cutting the fabric. It can also be used to remove buttons that are half hanging off and for cutting thread in areas that scissors won’t reach.

Measuring Tape
You should have a flexible measuring tape at least 150cm (60″) long with imperial measurements on one side and metric on the other. Fabric tape measures stretch slightly with heavy use so if yours is older, you may wish to replace it so that you have accurate measurements.

Iron, Ironing Board
Ironing removes the wrinkles and seams and presses folds neat and sharp making fabrics easier to sew. If you don’t have the space to store a full-sized ironing board, invest in an ironing pad. Also use a pressing cloth when ironing delicate items that might be damaged or those that have a special surface such as sequins or glitter. There is no need to purchase a special store bought pressing cloth, a lightweight cotton or linen dishtowel will do as long as it is clean, stain-free, and white as colours and stains may transfer to your fabric.

Hem Tape
Fusible hem tape is used with an iron to quickly hem skirts and pants. It is ideal if you don’t have matching thread available or if you’re in a hurry. Be careful when you iron as you might scorch delicate fabrics. It may lose its adhesiveness after multiple washings so stitching can reinforce it.

Buttons
Keep a variety of buttons handy in assorted colours and sizes to match the majority of your clothing. Keep them in a small, divided, plastic container with a tight fitting lid. Often the clothes you purchase will come with little packet of extra buttons so this little container is a great place to store those extra buttons.

Lighter
It never fails that in the rush to school and work in the morning, someone has a nylon backpack strap or shoelace that is unravelling. A quick flick of the lighter will melt the ends of synthetic straps so they won’t unravel. And if someone misplaces the lighter used for the birthday candles, you’ve always got a spare one in your sewing kit.

Container
Sewing tools need to be cared for just like any other tools. Keep them free from dirt and do not drop them. Store your sewing tools in a plastic bin or decorative basket. It can be plain or fancy, with or without handles. It should however, have a sturdy latch.

A funeral for riding boots

Maybe it’s because I keep my possessions to a minimum that I sometimes have difficulty parting with objects that have been a significant part of my life.

A few years ago, I had to say goodbye to a pair of riding boots. I’ve been an avid equestrienne for the better part of 30 years and I bought my first pair of REAL riding boots in 1986. I wore these boots in horse shows around the province and in clinics with Olympians. The boots helped me ride at various equestrian centres in nine different cities in four different provinces.

Finally, in June 2010, they broke beyond repair while in service at a local horse show. It was a difficult moment for me, realizing that I would have to say goodbye to these boots that had served me so well for so long.

In order to cope with the loss, I decided to have a funeral for the boots. I set up a Facebook event and invited my friends, many of whom I have ridden with over the years. At first I thought that they would think that I was crazy (and they may have a point) but most of my friends helped me make the event memorable. One of my friends quoted a poem from Harpers New Monthly Magazine, Volume 54, December 1876:

Farewell, old boots! a tender last farewell!
Inanimate, but mourned as if with souls
Instead of soles: I’ll find for you some dell
Where, though no bell for your requiem tolls.

I had a few other friends weigh in and admit that this event encouraged them to retire various objects: dance shoes, army boots, and paint brushes. One colleague wrote that it was “time to lay to rest ‘Wedding Glass’, the last surviving member of a set of glasses that outlived ‘Marriage’ by 21 years”. Of course there is always one clown in the bunch and he thanked me for the “booty call”!

All in all, it made me feel much better that I had given a public tribute to my riding boots that had served me so well in the past. I wrapped them tightly in a plastic bag and they were taken away in the “hearse” (garbage truck).

If you have items that you have difficulty parting with, try having a funeral or a tea party or even writing a letter to the item, explaining its importance in your life. Save the letters with pictures of the items either on your computer or in a scrap book. It helps to let your friends in on the deal. They can comfort you and make you laugh like no inanimate object ever could.

Know when to fold ‘em

It is generally accepted that persistence is essential for success and happiness. However, in their research, two scientists found that the persistence of unattainable goals in certain cases can be a detriment to health and well-being, especially for adolescents.

What does this mean for parents? If you are pushing your children to continue an activity that they do not like or in which they are not interested, you are likely increasing their stress levels — and yours too!

Sometimes all it takes is for parents to assist their child in setting new goals. This may help the child re-engage in the activity with a renewed definition of success. However, if goal redefinition isn’t working, consider quitting the activity if:

  • the child complains constantly before, during, and after the activity;
  • the child is not advancing as fast as his/her peers and is frustrated;
  • you must constantly push the child to practice the activity;
  • the child does not speak about the activity with pride or excitement.

What about the money invested in the activity?

If you have paid for a session, you may want to finish it and explain to your child about obligations and commitment, especially if the child is playing on a team such as soccer or basketball and other people are depending upon your child. If you have paid in advance, whether or not you continue with the activity, your money is already spent. The question is, do you want to spend your time pushing your child to participate in an activity he or she doesn’t like? Your time and your health and those of your child are usually worth more than money. Review the situation, ask questions, and bail without guilt if that is what is right for you and/or your child.

Remember that saying “no” to something you don’t really enjoy means you’ll be able to say “yes” to something that you may really enjoy.

Store and organize board games

I love board games, especially those with lots of great-looking components. It’s fun to gather around the table, set everything up and have a great time with family and friends. What’s not fun about playing board gams is cleaning up.

A few years ago, we shared some tips for storing your board games and puzzles. Today, I’m going to expand on that post and share ideas on storing pieces to component-heavy roll playing games. Games in this category often ship with several decks of cards, many dice, miniatures and “bits” as I call them, referring to the small game pieces that don’t fit into any of the preceding categories.

Plan Ahead

Opening a new game for the first time can be fun. My kids and I love to see what we got in each new box. Enjoy that excitement, but make mental notes at the same time. For instance, many games arrive with components that need to be punched out before play. They won’t lay nice and flat after you do that. Also, note if there’s a lot of one type of component: cards, dice, figures, bits. This will help you decided on what to use when it’s time to pack up.

Finally, consider the insert(s). Will all your stuff fit back in the box neatly or is there real potential for a jumbled pile? Once you’ve answered those questions, it’s time to pick a re-packing strategy.

Solutions

Card bags. These are sold in a variety of sizes to accommodate cards from nearly any game. Bags Unlimited sells several varieties, from bags meant to hold a single card to those sized for whole sets. Several colors are available, too, which might help you remember which cards go with which game. Amazon also sells large sets very inexpensively. Also, using protective bags is a good idea for paper items if you store your games in a damp basement.

Zip-top Bags This one’s pretty obvious, but I’ll mention it anyway. Larger Ziplock bags can be used to store all sorts of components. Push the air out before resealing to reduce the amount of space they consume in the box.

35mm Film Canisters Remember these? They’re insanely useful once you’ve removed the film. Use a canister to store bits, dice, or other small and easily-lost pieces. Label the lid for easy reference.

Nuts and Bolts Drawers These storage drawers offer many little drawers for components (there are 25 on this one) that are easily labeled with a label maker. Consider keeping it out if you have a dedicated gaming area, or pack it away with the rest of your game materials. Go for one with see-through drawers for additional ease of use.

Custom Foam Board The interior of many game boxes store pieces perfectly in their shipping state. That often changes once you’ve played. You can buy some inexpensive foam board from a craft store and cut it to make custom compartments inside the game box. It’s easiest to trace the box on a piece of paper first, layout the components and figure out how it would work. Then measure, cut and insert! Your box is now perfectly capable of storing everything neatly.

Small Tupperware with Lids Get those little bowls you used for snacks when the kids were small out of the kitchen drawer and repurpose them for game pieces. I even use these during gameplay to keep bits from getting strewn across the table. When my son and I play The Legend of Drizzt, we store the tiny hit point tokens and other small items in these bowls on the table. That way they’re easy to find and grab as needed. Volitive candle holders work for tabletop storage, too.

There are several suggestions to keep your game pieces organized and neat. Not only that, it saves on wear and tear of the pieces. Components that don’t jostle around stay looking nice longer. Some of these games are expensive, and pieces are difficult or impossible to replace.

Now if you’re really ambitious, check out this custom solution built entirely of LEGO. I am blown away.

Ask Unclutterer: Storing hockey equipment in a condo

Reader Jen submitted the following to Ask Unclutterer:

My boyfriend and I live in a small-ish condo in Toronto. I’m working very hard on decluttering our home, but one thing I have no idea what to do with is his hockey equipment. Half of our spare room is full of hockey gear, and I’m not sure where to put it. We have no available closet or storage space. Have you seen any creative ideas on how to store hockey gear in small apartments?

Every once in a while, a question comes into my inbox that stumps me completely. I know nothing about hockey or what equipment it requires beyond a stick and a puck and skates. My initial thoughts are that going vertical, and using wall space would be very helpful … but I’m only guessing.

This is one of those times I want to let the readers with experience give advice for how to store hockey gear in an organized fashion. Please, fill the comments with your helpful insights. I’m extremely interested in reading your advice, too.

Thank you, Jen, for submitting your question for our Ask Unclutterer column. I’m hopeful our readers will be able to help.

Do you have a question relating to organizing, cleaning, home and office projects, productivity, or any problems you think the Unclutterer team could help you solve? To submit your questions to Ask Unclutterer, go to our contact page and type your question in the content field. Please list the subject of your e-mail as “Ask Unclutterer.” If you feel comfortable sharing images of the spaces that trouble you, let us know about them. The more information we have about your specific issue, the better.

What’s on your summer to do list? Organizing for next year’s summer events

Summertime is perfect for catching up on outdoor chores, but having fun is probably what everyone (mostly) thinks about. For those of us in the United States, Labor Day (this year it falls on Sept. 3) gives us an opportunity for one final summer celebration before cooler temperatures are ushered in with the start of fall. Many people try their hand at being a grill master for the day and test out new recipes and grilling techniques. Some take road trips or one last visit to the beach.

No matter the activity, by putting things in order at the end of this season, you’ll find everything you need when warmer temperatures arrive next year. Focus on some basic rules of thumb so you can avoid hour-long searches to find your stuff, like …

Keep similar items together

You’ve heard this one before and there’s a reason you hear it so often. It’s perhaps the one rule that, if you stick to it, will help you save time so you can get on with the business of having fun. When everything you need for a specific activity (bike, helmet, knee pads, tire gauge, and pump together; grill cleaning brush, tongs, and skewers together) is in one location, you will find what you want quickly and see what things are broken and need fixing or replacing. Once you’ve gathered all your supplies together, they should be kept in the same location all the time (just like you always keep your keys, wallet, and mobile phone in the same spot). Labeling storage spaces can help, too.

Replace needed items immediately

Those broken items or the ones that just don’t work the way you would like them to? Replace them now if you regularly use the items. If you wait until next year, you’re likely to be suprised (not pleasantly) when it’s time to use them. Keep a running list of things you need to buy and take it with you on your next shopping trip. Stick to your list so you don’t overbuy. Try not to give in to the temptation of getting things that you’re not certain you’ll actually use (is it possible your plans just might change?). Wait on those items and come up with a game plan first. And, donate/recycle/trash the items that you no longer want.

Remember to replenish your first-aid kits as well. Not only will you need them year-round (in your car and in several rooms in your home), but you’ll also want to have a kit ready in the bags you use for your summer events (picnics, trips to the zoo, sporting events, etc.). Don’t forget to stock up on first-aid supplies for your pets, too.

Use checklists to help you remember

Create an “end of summer” list to remind you of all the things you need to do to wrap up the season and get ready for the next. Group your tasks by category (camping, gardening, marathon/race) so you can focus easily on each section before moving on to the next. For example, if hiking is on your list, it might include:

  • Clean hiking boots
  • Put boots with other hiking gear
  • Purchase new socks and liners
  • Create a communication plan
  • Start training routine to prepare for trip (add start date)

What you put on your checklist will be specific to you and the things you like doing. It should include all the gear you need (what’s a trip to the park without your favorite frisbee or a picnic with a half empty basket or a lawn concert without a comfy chair?) as well as any special requirements (season pass to the water park, parking pass for the football game). After creating your checklist, keep it with the items it belongs with or in a “summer activities” (paper or electronic) file so you can keep using it each year.

Put special events on your calendar now

Get ready for next year’s events by entering on your calendar those that you attend annually or new ones that you want to go to (or host). Doing this will help plan your activities and to narrow down the things you can realistically do based on your available time and budget. You’ll also see if you need to enlist the help of others.

Planning and organizing fun summer activities can give you something to look forward to next year without the hassle and pain of never-ending searches for the things you need. And, there’s still time to take care of many of this summer’s chores that you haven’t gotten to yet. Take a look at our tips on how to organize your:

Getting a handle on your craft supplies

Janine Adams, owner of Peace of Mind Organizing in St. Louis, in her guest post today shares her seasoned, practical advice for keeping hobby supplies from taking over your home. Welcome, Janine!

Let’s face it, a lot of the fun of doing a craft and/or hobby is buying the supplies. But, if you spend more time buying supplies than actually creating things with them, you can have a storage and organization problem on your hands. (Supplies can even pile up on the most diligent crafter.)

If your craft area becomes overwhelmingly cluttered, it can do a number on your creative spirit. It doesn’t have to be that way, though. You can try this approach to gain control of your craft space–and create space to craft.

  • Contemplate categories: The key to organizing your craft space, in my experience, is to store everything in categories that make sense to you. Think of your favorite craft store. How do they organize their products? Perhaps you can replicate that category system in your own home. For example, I’m a knitter and I organize my yarn by weight, except certain yarn that I organize by fiber. (It makes sense to me and might not make sense to others, but that doesn’t really matter.)
  • Sort everything: Once you’ve decided on your categories, start sorting your supplies into those categories. You may end up modifying your categories a little, and that’s okay. If you run into unfinished projects, you can create a category for those, too. But do give some thought as to whether you’ll actually ever finish them. Why did you run out of steam on a certain project in the first place? If you don’t realistically think you’ll ever finish a project, perhaps you can deconstruct it and sort the components into their appropriate categories?
  • Weed mercilessly: You’ll have more space to craft if you have fewer supplies to store. Are there some supplies lurking there that no longer appeal to you? Perhaps your tastes have changed? Heck, there may be whole categories of crafts that you no longer do. Consider letting them go so they can be used by others.
  • Decide on containers: It’s so tempting to buy containers right away, but if you do it before the sorting and weeding process, you might end up with less-than-optimal storage solutions. Don’t limit your search to organizing and craft stores. You might find storage ideas at a sporting-goods store (I store my circular knitting needles in a tackle binder used for fishing, for instance), an office-supply store or a housewares store. IKEA is full of possibilities. Pinterest can be a great place to find innovative storage solutions. Also, check out the Creative Organizing blog of my friend and fellow professional organizer, Aby Garvey, co-author of the fabulous book The Organized and Inspired Scrapbooker.
  • Shop at home: Now that you have an organized craft space, you can save money and effort by using what you have, rather than going to the craft store. All that thought you gave to your categories can really come in handy when you shop your stash!

Small spaces: Custom closet using Ikea bookshelves

One of my favorite places for small living inspiration is Ikea Hackers. If you’re unfamiliar with the site, it’s a collection of reader-submitted modifications to pieces of furniture from Ikea. The hacks range from relatively small (like adding paint to a Lack table) to extremely involved (like turning a Spar butcher block into an electric guitar). The site has been around since 2006 and is teeming with ways to personalize Ikea furniture.

Earlier this month, the site featured Regina’s amazing closet for her itty bitty Swedish apartment. Under what I think is her lofted bed, she has five modified Expedit bookcases (in the 2×2 configuration) that she added a piece of wood to the base and then attached four casters to the bottom of the piece of wood. In the U.S., these Expedit shelving units are just $40 a piece and the Besta casters are $10 for two, so the whole system probably cost less than $350 to create, which isn’t bad for a custom closet that could easily cost four times this price. Visuals from the article:

The rolling bookcases not only hold her clothes, but also her hobby supplies (such as the sewing machine and fabric stash pictured above) and other necessities for her apartment. I like that she can roll the sewing Expedit directly to her sewing table, and then roll it all back into the closet when she’s done. The storage system is ideal for this small space, and I think could easily be utilized in other homes — small or large.

Note: There are casters that are specifically made to hold the Expedit bookcase, but they stick out beyond the base of the bookshelf, so you can’t nest the shelves directly next to each other. They’re also $5 more for two casters, which adds $50 to the cost of casters, but gets rid of the need to attach a piece of wood to the bottom of each bookcase. If you don’t need the items to nest next to each other, the Expedit casters might be a good alternative for you.

If you are unfamiliar with Ikea Hackers, spend some time perusing it for even more ideas. Most of the hacks are inexpensive and easy to do.

Images by Regina as posted to IkeaHackers, and thanks to reader Shalin for bringing this closet to our attention.

Unfinished business

The inbox on my desk is currently overflowing. I returned from traveling two weeks ago, dumped a stack of must-complete paperwork out of my briefcase and into the inbox, and immediately started to ignore the mess I’d made. The inbox ceased to be an inbox and became a Black Hole of Forgotten Items.

The situation with my inbox is similar to how most messes begin in our house and in my work. When a mess occurs it is usually because:

  1. I’m in the process of doing something and am interrupted before I can finish the action. For example, I’ll be sorting through the mail, the phone will ring, I’ll set the mail down when I go to answer the phone, and a week later I’ll find a stack of old mail sitting in whatever strange location I dumped it.
  2. I don’t take the time to do something properly because I don’t really want to work on the entire task. I’ll do the enjoyable or easy part (dump all the paperwork into the inbox), but stop short of taking care of the problem (processing the paperwork).
  3. I start a task when it’s impossible to finish the task because of time limitations or situation. For example, I’ll check my voicemail when I’m sitting in the waiting room at the doctor’s office — I might be able to listen to one or two messages before the nurse calls me out of the waiting room, but I certainly don’t have time nor is it appropriate for me to return any of the calls right then.

Once a mess has started, I’ll either become immune to it (stepping over the unpacked luggage each time I go to the washing machine) or feel stress and anxiety about it (I have so much to do! Did I remember to write down that I have to call Margaret back?). My space is cluttered and my thoughts are often cluttered, too, simply because I didn’t finish what I had started.

Over the years, I’ve learned to deal with most of these messes before they happen. A few sneak up from time-to-time, as has happened with my inbox this January, but I tend to have fewer messes in my life because the mess never gets started. Here are many of the things I do to prevent the mess:

  • Limit interruptions. It is impossible to prevent all interruptions, but you can reduce them. Turn off the ringer on your phone or set it to “Do Not Disturb.” Turn off new message notification sounds on your computer and mobile devices. Put a sign on your office door or hang a sign in an obvious place of your cubical requesting that you not be disturbed except for emergencies for a limited time period. If corporate culture permits, wear earphones even if you aren’t listening to music. Hire a babysitter for a few hours to watch your children while you tackle a project that requires focus at home.
  • At work and at home, create standardized to-do lists and routines. In case you have to abandon a project, you’ll at least cycle back through it the following day and finish it then. Also, get in the habit of writing everything down in a central location — on your mobile phone or in a day planner or a notebook.
  • Before starting any important task, ask yourself, “Do I have enough time and is the situation appropriate for me to complete this task?” If you don’t have enough time to finish a project, ask yourself, “Do I at least have enough time to do what I can and clean up before moving onto something else and leave things so the project does get finished?” If you answer “no” to both these questions, don’t start working on something.
  • If you can do something right now, do it. When returning home from vacation, immediately unload your dirty clothes directly into the washing machine and unpack the rest of your luggage within minutes of walking in the door. If you can file a piece of paperwork as quickly as it would take you to drop it into your inbox, simply file the piece of paperwork.
  • Avoid having catch-all drawers, bins, and bags. If you’re going to need something from the catch-all container, it’s best to have the items organized in a way so that dumping all the contents onto the floor isn’t the easiest way to find something. Large toy chests are horrible because kids have to dump out all the toys to find the one item they want.
  • Create kits. Kits can sometimes lead to duplicate items (you may end up owning four pairs of scissors), but they’re extremely useful in that all of the things you need to accomplish a task are easily accessed and easily stored after use. Sewing kits, gift wrapping kits, scrapbooking kits, house-cleaning kits, car-cleaning kits, etc., make doing certain tasks more efficient and less messy.

What do you do to prevent messes from starting in your home and office? How do you always finish what you start? Share your strategies in the comments.