Book Review: The Real Simple Method to Organizing Every Room: And How To Keep It That Way

At first glance, The Real Simple Method to Organizing Every Room is like many other organizing books. It has information about uncluttering and some nice glossy pictures.

BUT…

This book is much more than that. It provides great advice on how to pare down your possessions and create not only a functional home, but a stylish one too. My favourite quote is:

A streamlined home is like a symphony with pieces that work together. Instead of assigning items specific roles and hoarding junk in a drawer, imagine that your home is a boutique where everything works together.

The uncluttering and organizing instruction they give is relatively standard — group your items together, decide what stays, and eliminate what you no longer want or need. They furnish a great list of options on where to donate most items. I like their suggestion of labelling bags of raggedy clothes as “unsuitable for resale” so charities can sell them directly to textile recycling without wasting time sorting through them.

The Real Simple Method suggests that readers practice small, simple habits that make a big difference in the look and functionality of the home. This way they only spend a few minutes each day doing housework rather than spending most of the weekend moving things from one pile to another. There is plenty of useful advice on how to get family members involved in a positive and productive way (no bribery or coercion involved!).

Throughout the book there are beautiful, glossy, eye-pleasing photos — and they are realistic. The closets and drawers are full of clothes. The rooms have a typical amount of normal-sized furniture and there are colours! So many home décor magazines I have seen use scaled-down furniture, have only a few items of clothing in each closet or drawer, and the colours range from white to beige. The Real Simple Method is a nice change!

In the book, each room is assigned its own chapter. Within each chapter there are suggestions about how to make the room functional. For example, the experts suggest that the most efficient way to organize is to make sure the room is arranged to allow you to move through it freely without crisscrossing. This will help you perform tasks in an orderly manner.

Each chapter contains a list of the tools (furniture, stylish storage items, etc.) for the suggested look and functionality of the room. There is also a section within each chapter that gives alternatives for small spaces — great for those who live in apartments and small homes. The experts also include a checklist for tidying if you have five minutes, 15 minutes, one hour, or a whole weekend and provide time-saving tricks on to how to keep the room organized and clean with minimal effort.

For each room, they take one clutter problem area that most readers have difficulty with such as the junk drawer (kitchen), handbag (bedroom), or shelving (living room), and do an in-depth exposé into how to conquer the chaos and create a functional stylish space once and for all. There is a guide for hanging wall art, a list of ways to set your table incorporating colour and style elements, and suggestions on how to store your fine dinnerware and stemware dust-free so you can be ready to entertain in minutes.

From indoor spaces to outdoor spaces, from kid spaces to pet spaces, this book covers it all. If you are looking for a book that not only provides useful organizing advice but helps you create and highlight your own style, all while doing less housework, check out The Real Simple Method to Organizing Every Room.

10 tips to beat clutter in less than five minutes

I’m happy to have Gretchen Rubin, the fabulous author of The Happiness Project, join us with a guest post today on Unclutterer. There just aren’t enough kind words in the English language to say about her. Welcome, Gretchen!

Having a clutter-filled house can make you feel overwhelmed and exhausted. Everywhere you look, you see little chores that should be done. No single task is particularly difficult, but together, they add up to a big headache and a big mess. Pretty quickly, it’s easier just to add to the piles than to try to attack the problem.

Here are ten easy, quick tips that, if followed regularly, will help keep your clutter under control. And none of them takes more than five minutes – if that.

  1. Make your bed each morning.
  2. Throw away the newspaper each night, even if you haven’t read it yet.
  3. Follow the “one-minute rule” — push yourself to do any chore that takes less than one minute. Throw away the junk mail, close the cabinet door, put your dirty socks in the hamper, hang up your wet towel.
  4. Identify an organization or person to whom you can give things you no longer need. It’s much easier to get rid of unneeded stuff if you can envision someone else getting good use from them. Also, figure out a place to store those things until you hand them over. We have a special shelf for books that we’re taking to the local charity thrift store. When the shelf is full, we drop off the books.
  5. Pause for a moment before you “store” something. Storing something means you don’t intend to use it much. Other than holiday decorations and seasonal clothes, you should strive to “store” as little as possible.
  6. Beware of freebies. Never accept anything free, unless you’re thrilled with it. A mug, a tote bag, a hand-me-down toy, the lamp from your mother-in-law — if you don’t need it, don’t take it.
  7. Get rid of things if they break. When I went through our apartment, I was astonished by how many things I’d kept even though they didn’t work.
  8. Don’t keep any piece of paper unless you know that you actually need it. I have a friend who, for years, carefully filed away the stubs when she paid her gas bill. “Why?” I asked, mystified. “I have no idea,” she said. Along the same lines, don’t keep anything that would quickly become dated like travel information. Remember the internet! If you can easily find information online, you don’t need to keep a hard copy.
  9. Hang up your coat.
  10. Before you go to bed, take five minutes to do an “evening tidy-up.” Don’t tackle anything ambitious, but just stack up the magazines, put your shoes away, shove the chairs into place, etc. Just a few minutes of tidying can make your house look a lot better, and it’s a calming thing to do before going to sleep. Plus it makes the morning nicer.

Minimalism vs. just in case

One rainy Friday before a long weekend, we laundered our bed sheets. After washing them, we discovered our dryer was broken. It did not heat. We were not prepared to pay for appliance servicing during a long weekend so we hung our wet sheets in the basement with a fan blowing on them. They were still not dry by nightfall. Fortunately, I had a second set of sheets stored in the linen closet.

As much as I strive to be a minimalist, I was glad I had the extra set of sheets “just in case.” Some minimalists argue that you need only one set of sheets per bed — you simply wash the set and put it back on the bed immediately. If I had followed that suggestion, we would have been sleeping in wet sheets!

Storing and maintaining an extra set of sheets took almost no effort and it saved us having to run out to a laundromat on a Friday evening. Mr. Justin Case saved us!

Balancing minimalism with “just in case” isn’t always easy. You have to calculate the probability that you will actually urgently need the item with the expense of owning (storage and maintenance) the item. You might also want to factor in the original purchase price and the cost and hassle of renting or replacing the item.

There are plenty of things I have been thankful I have kept “just in case” including spare batteries for the smoke detectors, light bulbs, an extra set of headphones, and an extra dog leash and collar.

On the other hand, we don’t own a table saw “just in case.” For our family, a table saw is used in a planned project and can be easily borrowed or rented. However, my friends who live on a horse farm own a table saw just in case they need to repair a stall a horse has kicked through — which happens more frequently than one would think.

How are you balancing minimalism with just in case? What items can you honestly let go of?

The BIFL philosophy

Those who practice the BIFL (Buy It For Life) philosophy believe that you should purchase only items of high quality so they will last for your entire life and preferably beyond so you can pass them down to your heirs.

BIFL was a very common practice up until the early part of the 20th century. Afterwards, consumer goods became more affordable and technology changed at a rapid rate. This, coupled with the driving forces of consumerism caused a decline in the BIFL philosophy. And, at the same time, our homes gradually filled with more and more stuff.

Today, BIFL seems to be making a come-back. People are aware the effect of mass consumerism, from poorly paid workers in unsafe conditions, to the environmental damage caused by production and disposal of items we are driven to purchase. They also want to live in less cluttered homes.

If you’re considering becoming a Buy It For Lifer, here are some things to consider.

Buy the highest quality you can afford

If a pair of $150 boots will last you three winters and a $60 pair will last only one winter, the more expensive boot would be the better option — not only for your pocketbook but for the environment as well. Buy the highest quality (in this case the most durable) that you can afford.

A disadvantage of BIFL is that often people get convinced to pay for more ‘quality’ than needed. For example, if you never play computer games, there is no point in paying extra for a high-quality graphics card on your new computer.

Define exactly what you need the product to do and the type of performance you expect. Do some research on the internet, check product review sites, and ask your friends and family for opinions. Don’t overspend on high-end products when you can get ‘good enough’ products at much lower prices.

Choose classic styling and neutral colours

Professional Organizer Julie Bestry cleared-out a client’s closet recently and posted a photo of a classically tailored man’s suit on Facebook. She asked her friends to guess what era the suit was from. The answers spanned from the 1950s to the 1990s — an indication that time-honoured fashion transcends fad styling.

Classic styling does not just apply to clothing. Simple and elegant home furnishings stand the test of time as well. White kitchen appliances may wax and wane in popularity but they certainly outlasted those of avocado green and harvest gold. Plain dinnerware and flatware sets can be dressed up for any occasion with fancy napkins and tablecloths. A beige sofa can be jazzed up with a colourful throw and decorative cushions.

Is it repairable, replaceable, upgradeable?

When you are considering purchasing an item, inquire whether it is possible to repair it if it breaks and what the repair costs would be. Often the owner’s manual will contain a list of available replacement parts. If it doesn’t, then it may not be easily repaired.

For large items such as appliances, televisions, etc., it might be helpful to talk to local repair shops and find out which makes and models to avoid. When I took my vacuum cleaner in for repairs, I learned that certain brands should be avoided because they are almost impossible to fix while other brands can be inexpensively repaired and outperform newer models even after 20 years.

Check for a Repair Café in your city. At a Repair Café, visitors bring in their broken item and working with volunteer repair specialists, they can make repairs to their items right in the café with the tools and materials available. (Coffee and snacks are also available!) If the volunteer specialists can’t fix it, they can give you advice on whether or not your broken item is worth repairing and where the local repair shops are located.

If you have a set of items and one of the set breaks or gets lost, can it be replaced? and CorningWare offers replacement lids, and Tupperware has an almost lifetime guarantee on most of its products. Most dinnerware and flatware will sell items individually however, some patterns may be discontinued.

Technology is one area where BIFL may not make sense. Certainly keeping a computer or television for as long as possible is a good idea, but at some point the hardware will no longer accept new software updates. Look for manufacturers and retailers that offer upgrade or trade-in programs. They will accept your old technology and give you a credit towards your new product. Apple has both an upgrade program for iPhones (as do many cell phone carriers). It also has a trade-in program that gives users Apple Store credit towards the purchase of new Apple products.

Extended Warranties

Often sales people will offer extended warranties on goods and customers may be tempted especially if they are considering buying it for life. Many extended warranties are expensive and have a host of exclusions so may not be worth it for a particular product. I encourage our readers to check out the excellent advice on extended warranties by both Consumer Reports and the Toronto Star before they agree to buy.

 

Are you someone who buys it for life? Has it helped you stay uncluttered? Share with readers in the comments.

How a home office should function

Reader Amanda recently contacted us with the following question:

Could you write on the idea of how a home office should function?

It seems like an innocuous question at first. Obviously a home office should be used for, um, home office, uh, stuff …

But, it turns out, it’s not such a simple question. Identifying all of the reasons why a person might have a home office and then all of the possibilities for how that home office should function are quite extensive tasks. The specific requirements a single, graduate student, working on his dissertation might have are far different than those of an active family with four children where both parents work outside the home.

It is possible, however, to write about over-arching ideals that should be present in a home office. Here are the big picture goals I believe all home offices can strive to achieve:

  1. Welcoming. Strive to create the most comfortable, productive, inspiring, and organized environment that you can for your work space. You want this area to make boring tasks like filing home owners association documents as pleasant as possible. If your stress level rises when you walk past this space, you’re not going to use it.
  2. Flexible. The demands that you put on this space can change from year-to-year, or even day-to-day. You want your space to be able to adapt to your needs. This means that you need to have room on a shelf and in a drawer to grow — at all times. If your space is completely full, then it becomes a museum or library instead of a functional office. You want your files to be able to accept new entries and your desk to be ready to handle your next big idea.
  3. Consistent. The more consistent your office systems are, the more likely you will be to maintain them. Save files on your computer and in your filing cabinet using names and categorizations that makes retrieval quick and possible. Keep the learning curve low and let it reflect the way you think and work. Additionally, be consistent about putting objects away when you’re finished using them so that you will be able to find them the next time you need them.

Regardless of what type of work you need to do in your office, having a welcoming, flexible, and consistent environment will make it a functional space. The better your office can work for you, the better work you can accomplish in your home office.

How does your office measure up to these standards? Let us know in the comments.

 

This post has been updated since its original publication in 2008.

Work life creeping into personal life? Try a battery-only weekend

I want to start this post by professing my love for the Internet, my computer, and my job. I love the digital age, and shiver with fear at the thought of living without Internet access.

That being said, I spend a significant amount of time on my computer beyond normal work hours doing non-critical work things. It’s a safe estimate that on a weekday I’ll spend one to two hours behind my laptop in the evenings. On a weekend day, bump that number up to three or four hours. Seeing as I officially work somewhere between nine and twelve hours a weekday, I’m surprised I want anything to do with a computer or work in my free time — let alone hours more.

I decided that I was going to take a break from my laptop and from work for a three-day holiday weekend. Unfortunately, I had a few small tasks I needed to do over the weekend, so I knew I couldn’t completely disconnect. I decided instead to unplug my computer at the end of the workday on Thursday and not plug my computer back in until showing up for work Monday morning.

I would survive the holiday only using my laptop’s battery power and nothing else.

I was able to finish the majority of my work on Friday morning and was confident that I would be able to get through the weekend fine. I opened up my laptop a few times throughout the rest of the day, but I didn’t think anything of it since the battery percentages were in the 70s, then the 60s, then the 50s. Saturday morning, however, when I checked my work email, I noticed I only had 35 percent power left!

I was a little stunned that my Saturday morning number was 35 percent. My first thought was that I must have a lame battery. A good battery wouldn’t be on 35 percent in just a day! Except, when I stopped to calculate my usage on Friday, I realized I had easily spent three hours on my laptop. My battery was working fine, it was user consumption that was to blame.

On Sunday, I opened my laptop and saw 8 percent. About half an hour into checking my email and other little site tasks, I got a message on my screen announcing that my computer was operating on reserve power. I immediately closed my laptop and decided to save the last bits of remaining energy in case of a work emergency.

The only problem is that it takes energy to power-up a laptop after its lid has been closed. I discovered this truth after lunch, when I thought I could sqeeze out a few seconds of power just to see if the website was doing okay. But, all I got was a blank screen.

My computer officially died with 20 hours to go before work started on Monday.

I don’t like the idea that I used all of my computer’s battery power before the three-day weekend had come to a close. What I took from it is that I’m having difficulty drawing the line between work and free time. I think about work constantly and would like to be able to turn those thoughts off and relax at least once in a while.

So, for the duration of the month, I’m going to have battery-powered laptop weekends. Work matters a great deal to me, but so does taking advantage of my free time. I hope that this process helps me to better prioritize my time away from work and relax and rejuvenate to make my official work time more productive. Clutter comes in all forms, and, right now, it’s in the form of working through my weekends. If you’re in a similar position, consider joining me in the battery-powered challenge.

 

This post has been updated since its original publication in 2008.

Organizationally challenged

In our post on helping kids develop organizing skills, reader Vicki asked for suggestions to help a developmentally challenged person get organized and be able to maintain the level of organization.

Here are a few resources that can help.

Not everyone thinks the same way (it would be a very boring world if we did) so an obvious solution a caregiver would put into action, might not be intuitive to the person using the system. One of the most enlightening books I’ve read on this subject is Conquering Chronic Disorganization which provides new perspectives on organizing systems. Many of the tools used are the same, such as filing folders and labels, but how they are used and perceived is different. For example, a typical way to organize a filing cabinet would be to put the files into categories such as Medical, Car, Banking. An atypical solution would be to use categories like:

  • Head (thought requiring activities like finances)
  • Heart (things deeply felt like home, family, charity work)
  • Hands (information about objects and projects such as car, tools)
  • Health (medical, dental, etc.)

When helping someone get organized, adapt the system to them and the way they think and exist in the world, rather than having them use a system that they cannot relate to.

Another great book for people with ADD, ADHD, and everyone else is ADD-Friendly Ways to Organize Your Life: Strategies that Work from an Acclaimed Professional Organizer and a Renowned ADD Clinician. It is packed full of basic and straight-forward suggestions that work for any age group from toddlers to grand-parents. When I was doing hands-on client work, it was one of my “go-to” books for easy-to-implement ideas.

Judith Kohlberg, who wrote both books listed above, also authored, Getting Organized in the Era of Endless: What To Do When Information, Interruption, Work and Stuff are Endless But Time is Not! I had the privilege of seeing her present a seminar on digital disorganization at a NAPO Conference. She provided excellent information applicable to people with organizing skills of all levels. This book expands on that topic to help you manage your time and your life when everything, everywhere is always “switched on.”

Some people manage just fine using electronics such as digital calendars and various apps to stay organized. Other people prefer paper-based calendars and planners. There is no right or wrong way. It is a personal preference so do not try and force a person to use something that does not resonate with them.

One of my all-time favourite resources for uncluttering and organizing information, is Unclutterer readers. Everyone is unique. Different ideas and perspectives enrich our community. Thank you to those of you who comment on our posts and participate in our forum. To all other readers, please be sure to read the comments to find more great advice and if you have an idea, you are welcome to add it.

Family heirlooms: Give them away at milestone celebrations

The distribution of family heirlooms is a little creepy in my book: someone dies and I get a present. I like presents, don’t misunderstand, I just wish that a family member didn’t have to die for me to get it.

My grandmother is aware of my aversion to these inheritance practices, and so gave me her set of silver as a wedding present. When she gave it to me, she told me the story about the silver and how she worked to make money to buy it, piece by piece, during the 1930s. Had she waited to give it to me after her death, I likely would have had another set already and would have never known the delightful story of how she purchased it. Now, when I use it, I think about her, that wonderful day, and her generous gift.

My advice is to give family heirlooms away at appropriate milestone celebrations. Grandfather’s college ring should be given to a grandchild on his or her graduation with a note about it and a photo of grandfather wearing it. The rocking chair you used in your daughter’s nursery should be passed on to her the day she brings her first child home. When you give her the chair, include a page from your diary when you talked about rocking her to sleep in it and a photo of her in your arms. Don’t hoard your treasured heirlooms, instead give them away at appropriate times with heart-felt explanations of why they are valued.

 

This post has been updated since its original publication in 2007.

Depression-era mindset and clutter

My grandmother passed away in 2002. She was old enough to remember being a child in Pittsburgh during the Great Depression. She used to tell stories about her childhood to let us know how lucky we were to have all of the things that we were undoubtedly taking for granted. She remembered sharing what little clothing she had with her two sisters and squeezing her feet into shoes that no longer fit. One year, her Christmas gift consisted of crayons which she received as a joint gift with her sisters. I’m sure those crayons were used in the most judicious manner.

Flash forward to the years when my grandmother used to shove sugar and ketchup packets in her purse when we went to a restaurant and you could understand why she did such things. The abundance with which we are so accustomed is easily taken for granted because we really don’t have a frame of reference for the really tough times. My grandmother was also a “pack rat” (i.e. highly cluttered) which we didn’t fully realize until we had to empty her house.

She lived in her last home for over forty years, twenty six of those years she lived by herself. The clearing out of all of the stuff from her home was quite a chore. She kept everything that might one day be useful — for example, she had more than five non-working vacuums.

I understand why she behaved the way she did, and why others like her do the same. But the reality is that in today’s more prosperous economy it can actually cost a person more to hang on to broken things and store sugar packets. Real estate is expensive, and energy use to properly heat and cool a home in such a way as to keep mold and mildew off of belongings is pricey. If you’re keeping items in an off-site rented storage unit, you’re probably spending more in rent over time than you would if you had to repurchase what you’re storing. Our post on sunk costs also addresses an aspect of this issue.

Keep in mind the real expense of holding onto clutter and fight the urge to keep something just because you think one day it might be useful. In many cases, the expense of storage is greater than any cost you may at some point incur.

 

This post has been updated since its original publication in 2008.

In case of …

No one enjoys thinking about the macabre. But, as Benjamin Franklin so accurately posited in a 1789 letter to Jean-Baptiste Leroy, “… in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.”

On Unclutterer, we’ve certainly glossed over the death topic. The truth is that we don’t enjoy thinking about it either. However, if you’re going to take the time to get your life organized, you would be remiss to ignore that there will be a point where you’re no longer here and others will need to find important documents and information to close your estate.

We call these our “In case of …” files. In mine, I include things like contact information for employees, server details, and passwords, and a key to my fire-proof safe where I store my Will and a copy of my birth certificate. The idea is that if something does happen to me, I want things to be easier on my close family and friends who are mourning. I’d rather them have good thoughts of me after my passing, not angry thoughts because they searched for hours trying to find my life insurance policy to pay for the funeral.

If you’ve never put together an “In case of …” file, the best place to start is by visiting a lawyer to draft your Last Will and Testament. This document will include answers to all of the big questions: custody of children, property disbursements, where you want to be buried, etc. After you have this document created, you’ll then need to pass along the name of your lawyer to at least two different people — someone who lives near you (spouse, partner, close friend) and someone who lives in a different part of the country or world — and then store this document safely (such as in a UL 350 fireproof safe).

The rest of your “In case of …” file will be up to you in terms of its contents. Are there people who would need to be contacted at your job? Are you the primary care provider for a child, sibling, or parent who may need to receive immediate attention before the reading of your Will? Do you have bills that have to be paid? Look at your life and identify all of the places that could be stressful for someone to handle if you weren’t there to help. Now, provide information on those issues and put it in your “In case of …” file. It won’t be a fun process while you collect the information, but afterward you’ll have a peace of mind that things will be okay in case something happens.

 

This post has been updated since its original publication in 2008.

What to do if you are organized and your partner isn’t

I have a friend who is a psychologist who specializes in family therapy. One of the reasons I love this friend is because she doesn’t seem to mind my endless supply of psychology of clutter questions. I’ll ask her a question, she’ll think about it for a week, and then she’ll provide me with a brilliant response.

A few months ago, I asked her to assist me with constructing a post to help mismatched couples. When I say “mismatched couples,” I’m talking about couples where one of the people in the relationship is clean and organized and the other person in the relationship is messy and disorganized AND at least one of the two people has animosity about the difference. (If no one seems to mind, then the pair isn’t mismatched.) The following advice derives from the conversations we’ve had on this topic since I first posed the question to her. If you’re a part of a mismatched couple, hopefully we can be of assistance.

  1. When considering moving in with someone (romantic or otherwise), a person’s level of order and cleanliness should be part of the equation. Similar to how in pre-marriage counseling couples are asked to discuss finances, living arrangements, and household expectations also should be discussed. No one should be surprised six months into a living arrangement that his or her partner/roommate is messier or cleaner than one had hoped.
  2. If you’re already in a living arrangement and are disappointed by your partner/roommate’s level of order, you need to have a conversation. Yelling and passive aggressive behavior is not productive and damages the relationship. Having a calm, sincere, and respectful conversation has the possibility of yielding powerful results.
  3. It is good to have ground rules for what to do when frustration takes hold. Here are some productive rules you might consider establishing:
    • No nagging. Treating someone with disrespect is never a good option. Either the person honors what you say the first time you say it, or they don’t. All nagging says is: “I believe you are an idiot and I think I have the right to constantly tell you that you’re an idiot.” No one responds well to that message.
    • No backpacking. Set a time limit for how long after something happens that it can be discussed (like two weeks). If you don’t bring up the frustration within that time limit, you have to let it go. You can’t fester or stew on a frustration. Also, if you’ve already discussed something, you can’t bring it up again. The reason it’s called backpacking is because it’s like people carry around another person’s wrongs in a backpack and pull every wrong out of the bag when there is a disagreement. Don’t backpack, it isn’t fair.
    • Discuss the real problem. If you’re upset that your spouse repeatedly leaves dirty dishes strewn about the living room your frustration has very little to do with dirty dishes. You’re upset because you believe (s)he doesn’t care about the cleanliness level in the living space. So, talk about the real problem and use the dirty dishes as an example of how that lack of caring is expressed.
  4. Often times, the person who is messier doesn’t care one bit if the living arrangement is disorderly or orderly. When this is the case, and if you’re the one who prefers a more orderly home, prepare to take on full responsibility for cleaning up after the other person. Happily do the work because you’re the one who gets the sense of joy from an organized space. If a pair of shoes in the middle of the living room floor annoys you, just move the shoes to a location that doesn’t annoy you. The five seconds it will take you to move the shoes are less than the time you will be angry over the shoes if you don’t move them. The children’s book Zen Shorts beautifully addresses this topic.
  5. Maybe the problem is that there aren’t any systems in place to deal with the mess where it happens. For instance, my husband stores his wallet in a valet in our bedroom. I store my purse in a cube near the front door. He puts his wallet in his pocket first thing in the morning and takes it out at night before he goes to bed. I only grab my purse as I’m entering and exiting the house. If my purse were supposed to be stored in a valet in our bedroom, I can guarantee you that it would never be in the bedroom. It would be on the dining room table or living room floor or wherever I conveniently dropped it. So, a storage cube near our front door is the best place for my purse because it’s a storage location that works. Think about how you live and find solutions that meet your actual needs.
  6. Designate “clean rooms” or “messy rooms” in your home. In my family, we insist that all public spaces are clean rooms. This means that rooms visitors will see when they come into our house must be free of clutter. Visitors rarely come into our office, though, so the rules for this room are less stringent. Things can’t be dirty (no food or bug-enticing items), but if objects are left out of order in this space it’s less of an issue. A once-a-week cleaning is more typical in our messy spaces.
  7. Finally, if you’ve tried all of the previous options and nothing is working for you, try seeking outside help. This help can be in the form of a professional organizer or maybe a couple’s counselor. If you’re in dire straights, you want to work with someone who isn’t a part of your relationship and can see it more broadly. I don’t recommend using a friend or family member for this task — if you do, the other person will believe that you’re ganging up on him or her, and that won’t be productive. Also, professional help could be in the form of a cleaning service coming into the house twice a month. Let someone else handle the deep cleaning so that the light work is less of a burden.

If you’re a part of a mismatched couple, what effective strategies have you employed? I’m sure that everyone could benefit from reading your positive results in the comments.

 

This post has been updated since its original publication in 2008.

The big picture: Organizing work files

When I was in college, I served on the International Board of Officers for a community service organization. More than 10,000 kids across the world were members of the organization and 11 of us served on the Board the year I was a Trustee. Being on the Board was an incredible experience and it taught me a great deal about leadership, running a large organization, and time management. I was traveling nearly every weekend and I was constantly struggling to stay on top of my school work and other responsibilities.

A girl named Lisa was one of my fellow Trustees. She is one of the most naturally organized people I’ve ever met. If you say that you need something, she will reach into her purse and retrieve whatever it is you requested. You say that we should schedule a meeting, and her calendar is already open. Nothing is left to chance in Lisa’s world. And, since I was completely disorganized, she was definitely a positive influence on me.

At a meeting early in our year of working together, Lisa chided me for having a horrible filing system. I had four notebooks with pieces of paper shoved into them and referred to them as my “files.” After the meeting finished, she pulled me aside and gave me some of the best advice I’ve ever received:

“This organization was here before you were a member and will continue on after you graduate. If your files are messy, it’s fine for you now, but you’re not thinking of the people who are to serve after you.”

She was right. At some point, I would have to pass along my “files” to the next group of Trustees. I didn’t plan on being on the Board forever. When I inherited my files from the previous Board, they certainly didn’t look like they did when they were in my possession. I wasn’t inconveniencing myself, I was making things harder on the people who would serve after me.

I went home and immediately organized my files.

Since that day, I’ve always kept organized files for the exact reasons Lisa outlined for me years ago. Eventually, I’ll leave a job and someone else will have to come in to do the work. Or, if I need to take time off, a colleague might need to access the files without me there to point the way. Some files may have personal use, but, on the whole, work files are there to serve as a record for those who come into the job after you leave.

 

This post has been updated since its original publication in 2008.