Making Your Home Office Work

Before: My messy home office.  Notice the piles of clutter in front of the filing cabinet.  Just a bit ironic!

Before: My messy home office. Notice the piles of clutter in front of the filing cabinet. Just a bit ironic!

It’s been a week.  First Hubs and I caught a stomach bug.  For a solid 24hrs I proved that, yes, you can parent from a horizontal position thanks to the help of Sesame Street and Daniel Tiger.  Then, poor, sweet little baby H-Bear caught a cold.  A snotty, juicy, keep-you-up-all-night, cold.  After going to the doc two days in a row, it finally settled into an ear infection so he got the meds to knock it out.  He’s been on them for a few days and thankfully already has a sparkle back in his blue eyes.  Throw a week of snow days (the New Englander in my will never understand VA snow days), and one healthy-as-a-horse, rambunctious, four-year-old boy and….  It’s been a week.  However, the dedicated organizer in me stuck it out and finished the sixth week of my 6-Week Clutter-Buster Challenge.  Sure, the rest of the house is trashed to the point Hubs dubbed it “Little Bangladesh”, the dishes in my sink are over flowing, and the only clean clothes in the house sit upstairs in laundry baskets, but I organized my home office!

After: Ahhhh.... Suddenly I can see my desk and use my filing cabinet.  This is MUCH better!

After: Ahhhh…. Suddenly I can see my desk and use my filing cabinet. This is MUCH better!but I organized my home office.

 

A well functioning home office keeps all the house “must-dos” in order.  Whether your home office is a spot in the kitchen to pay bills or a separate room dedicated to your business, it needs to be organized to function.  And needless to say, ours was not functioning well.  Here are a few ideas that I used to make my home office work:

1. Plan around what your space needs.  The more I try to dig my house out of its mess, the more I value the planning time that goes into true organization.  My office needed to handle our home files and bills, my writing, and my marketing business.

2. Know and accommodate for how you work.  I envy people who tough a piece of paper and file it.  I am a bulk filer.  So I needed a place to put my papers until I can carve out some time and file.  A basket solved this problem nicely.  I also do a lot of my work on the go, usually from the car while H-Bear naps and M-Man is in school (oh, how I wish he would nap nicely in his crib!).  So for me, files need to be mobile.  Thankfully, some simple three-ring binders easily take my home office from home to car.

3. Keep things you use the most in view.  I like it when things are simple.  Keeping the files I use a lot out and within easy reach makes it simple for me to grab a file and work on it.  Unfortunately this often results in piles of folders cluttering up my desk.  By simply repurposing a magazine holder I already had, files are now within reach but organized.  I love how storing them vertically gives me tons of work space on my desktop.

4. Give everything a place.  I love my desk.  But it’s open leg, simple design does not provide the storage I needed.  Stamps, staplers, and every other piece of office equipment could be found scattered around the room, but never when I needed them.  So, I added some vertical storage.  I moved a wall shelf from the guest room to my office and suddenly things had a place.  I am not in love with this solution yet.  Honestly, I’m not quiet sure what I want.  I looked at some cubbie systems and cabinets, and nothing seemed right.  I also am trying to get away from taking the quick fix by buying new, cheap furniture made in China.  It seems so wasteful – both of money and of materials.  Decluttering does not have to mean adding to the landfill.  So, for now I’ll use the shelf I had and keep looking for a salvaged solution.  Thankfully, all of my office supplies from stamps to staplers now have a place where they belong.

5. Bring in things you love.  I used to get stressed out just stepping into my office.  The disorder didn’t help, but every time I went in there I just thought of all the work I had to do.  Boxes of files, mailing supplies, and office supplies were everywhere.  I never wanted to go in there unless I had to.  My mind could not focus.  I had lost sight that it is HOME office.  So I brought in a few of my favorite old books, decorated with pictures that M-Man drew, and added a few meaningful knick-knacks. Now M-man and I play games in there, we’ll read in there, and I just love spending time in my new office.  My mind can rest and focus, which means everything works better!

 

I am proud that I stuck with my 6-Week Clutter-Buster Challenge.  It feels great just getting a few things done.  There is still a ton to do, but it’s a little bit better.  And I’m learning that sometimes when you’re juggling two kids, four animals, one husband, and working from home, a little is just enough.  Just doing a little can help you breathe through the mess of the day and feel good about your accomplishments when you sleep.  I’d love for you to share how you declutter and keep your wonderful life a bit more organized and a bit less of a mess.  Until next time.  Thanks for reading!

 

XO

Jane

 

He’s Crafty… How to Organize Kids’ Arts and Crafts

My son calls himself a crafter. The proud four-year-old exclamation of “I’m quite the cwafter, huh, Mom?” following each creation’s reveal melts my heart every time! I try to encourage his interest. At any given time I have on hand: googlie eyes, glitter, paper towel rolls, fabric scraps, foam shapes, pom-poms… you get the idea. It also means that at any given time I have an arts and crafts mess somewhere.  My house looks like a children’s craft shop. And while the former preschool teacher in me loves his passion for “cwafting”, the mom in me likes to think I have better ways of spending my time than on my hands and knees picking up pieces of the craft du jour. This brings me to my fifth week of 6-Week Clutter-Buster Challenge: How to organize your kid’s arts and craft supplies. (I want to add, “so they don’t just become Crap Supplies”, but I’m better than that, right? Wink, wink.)

 

My goals were for his art supplies to have their own place and looked tidy, yet were still easily accessible to M-man. (There goes that former preschool teacher again!) And of course, the organization solution needed to be easy enough that M-man could do it and make it a habit. I got to say, I think I succeeded. Here’s what I did:

 

  1. Observe.  It felt counter intuitive, but instead of jumping in right away, I took the time to really observe M-man. I watched how and where he naturally crafted, and put into words what specifically I wanted I wanted to improve. By watching, I learned that there were actually two crafting “hot spots” that need a bit of finessing: the kitchen and the family room. Once I identified where the messes were happening, I drilled down to the type of messes occurring and why they bothered me. The family room tended to attract paper cutting, coloring, and sticker work where the kitchen was where the bigger, messier arts and craft projects were happening. (Phew!) So, I made a plan for each place based on what naturally happening in those places. I’m about modifying habits, not creating new one!
  2. Give them a table. When M-man crafts he sppprrreeeaaadddss out. Unfortunately, he typically spreads out all over the family room rug. Enter one-year old baby H-Bear into the mix and suddenly the family room rug became an all you-can-choke-on buffet. Our refrain became H-Bear putting something in his mouth, me frantically fishing it out (I’m STILL waiting on that penny to surface), while M-man yelled about his artwork getting messed up. We needed a change. We needed a change in height. I rearranged the furniture so our resident artist could have a proper table to sit at and craft. Craft doodads are now kept out of the baby’s mouth, the four-year-old’s masterpieces are safe, and all it took was getting off the floor.
  3. Keep materials visible, but contained. As far as I am concerned, Bell jars are the greatest invention of all time. They allow me to store the kids’ arts and craft materials so M-Man can see what he has and use what he has, but everything has a place. I then took the ‘visible but contained’ rule one step further. In the kitchen I added a small, glass-front cabinet near the kitchen table, and in the family room I hung a cute cubby piece over the crafting table. Both these pieces keep art materials visible for the resident artist, but provide needed storage solutions in handsome pieces that compliment the décor.
  4. Establish a purging routine. We display and keep a lot of M-Man’s artwork. But if it were up to my son, we would keep every scrap of paper. As you can imagine, my house holds a mountain of crafting clutter. I needed a system to quietly and gently purge at a few of the lesser masterpieces. I developed system centered on a Tupperware container. The container lives by the crafting cubby in the kitchen and we call it the crafting tub.  In reality, it is more the crafting purgatory and is my key to having at least some control over the amount of construction paper in piles on my dining room table. Whenever a piece of artwork is created that I might not want to save forever (we all know those pieces), I put it in the box and hold on to it for a few weeks. It’s my litmus test. If M-Man really loves the project, he’ll ask about it within this time period. Otherwise, it’s out of sight, out of mind. It’s then easy to empty the old pieces from the box on trash night* and life continues onto the next masterpiece (*it is important to leave no trace or they will be found in the trash and then you’ll have to save it forever).

 

I can’t believe that next week is my last week of my 6-Week, Clutter-Buster Challenge. I’m so glad I made myself do this. The house is laughably far from being done, far from perfect, and seems to generate it’s own clutter, but it’s a start.  I believe that as long as I do one thing to improve life’s mess each week that I would not normally do (dishes and laundry don’t count – sorry!) then I’m doing something right.  In the meantime, I am going to go enjoy my two boys chasing each other around the toys and detritus in the living room.  Thanks for reading!

 

XO

Jane

 

How to Quickly Clear Bookshelf Clutter

It’s week 4 of my 6-week declutter-challenge and I have a new nemesis. Books. Don’t get me wrong, I love reading. I wish I had more time to cozy up with a good book and blissfully read for hours (collective sigh from all mom’s everywhere at this fantasy). What drives me crazy is book hoarding. Books are beautiful works of art that someone had poured years of their life into creating. Got it. But, if those said works of art simply sit unread on my bookshelf collecting dust they are clutter with a cover. So my project for this week is to go through my bookshelf and get rid of the clutter. The “right” way to do this would be to take everything off the book shelf, then thoughtfully put back only want you want while tossing or moving the items you don’t want. Only as a mom of two boys four and under I really don’t have the time to luxuriously take things off, sort through them, thoughtfully return them, and then proudly pin the photo of a beautiful, clutter-free bookshelf. If I even attempted this I would be able to take everything off just in time to be called away to change a diaper or wipe someone’s behind. Instead I am quietly purging the bookshelf clutter, one box at a time. In one week I am three boxes down, my shelves are thinning out, and I was able to do it without my kids melting down. Here’s what I did:

  1. Grab a box.  Or an empty laundry basket, whatever you have.  In my case I had an empty diaper box.
  2. Fill it with books you know you can part with.  These can be gifts people gave you and never read, paperbacks that you read five years ago and will probably never read again, or an old textbook from college you for some reason hung on to.  They all go into the box.
  3. Sort these into “Donate”, “Sell”, or “Throw Away”.  You have a number of different options here.
    1. Donate: I started with the “Donate” because it’s the easiest.  Simply drop them off at the local library, Children’s Museum, or your church.  You’ll feel good because the books will get a new life and your house it a bit less cluttered.
    2. Sell: Next is the “Sell” pile. I started by looking up their resale value on www.BookScouter.com.  It’s a great site that compares 60 different book resale sites and gives you the highest price.  It is really easy to use and helped me feel a bit more informed about what I had.  Other great options for selling books are on Amazon, ebay, or simply taking them to your used book store. Selling was tedious, but easier than I thought it would be, and don’t expect to be rolling in dough.  My box got me about $20 bucks.  But any extra cash is nice!
    3. Throw Away:  Ugh.  No one likes to throw away books, but for some it’s the old option.  (You could always upcycle and use them for crafting, but that is for another post, not one about clearing clutter)  Old college text books, random paper pamphlets, and paperbacks worn beyond repair all get tossed into the garbage.  I save this for the day before trash day so I can’t get “throw out remorse”.  Once it’s in the bin, it’s gone.
  4. Keep it looking good.  I am fascinated by those bookshelves in the Potterybarn catalog that display their books spine in so you can only see the pages.  I always wonder if it’s a copyright thing, a design thing, or some combination.  Regardless, it turns out it is a pretty great way of keeping the clutter from creeping back into the bookshelf.  There will be some books that fall into the “Maybe” area – you probably could or should get rid of them but for some reason you still want to hold on to them.  The way to get around this put them in book purgatory.  Turn them around so they are spine-in.  Then, when it’s time to declutter again you can start with these.  If you still haven’t read them in the extra time, it really is time to get rid of them.  If you are thrilled to see it and want to read it, then it’s a keeper.
  5. Don’t forget the Library.  I love the public library.  Instead of going to Barnes and Noble and buying new books all the time, check one out from the library.  Or download an ebook for your kindle.  Both of these give you wonderful ways to read the next great book without adding to the book clutter.

Now, look at your bookshelf, take a deep breath, and give yourself a pat on the back.  I know I did!

A Wintery Mess in the Coat Closet

It’s that time of year that brings with it a wintery mess.  I’m not talking about snow or slush; I’m talking about all the hats, mittens, scarves, boots, and winter detritus that go along with the cold weather.  If left unchecked it can quickly take over closets and make the entryway look like an end-of-season sale.  Not to mention the chaos that ensues when you are trying to leave the house in the morning with a four-year-old and an infant and you cannot find a hat to save your life.  Since there was snow in the forecast, this week’s challenge was tacking the front hall closet.  I was determined to be able to find a warm hat for both my boys.  I am proud to say I did it!  My family now has an organized, functioning coat closet.  The best part is in the mornings my four year old is now able to get his hat, mittens, and coat all by himself.  I don’t know who is prouder, him or me.  Here are the 5 things that helped my coat closet and family’s life get a little bit better:

1.  Make a 2 coats per person rule.

I am terrible about seasonal purging (it sort of goes without saying here) but, our coat closet is small and winter coats are big.  So, all fall/spring coats went into the guest room closet.  I was surprised at how many there were!  All I left in the closet was one puffy-warm coat and one fancy-warm coat per person.  Let’s face it, that’s really all you need. Suddenly I have loads of room in my coat closet!  Not too shabby.

2.  Hang an on-the-door shoe rack.

This is officially my favorite organization trick!  It takes a mess of winter wear and suddenly gives them all a place.  They are easy to find, out of a bottomless pit of a storage bin, off the floor, and use minimal closet space.  It also makes it easy for my 4-year old son to keep track of his own things.  He knows which row is his and goes there to find his mittens and hats.  This also lends itself to an easy drying system.  After getting clothes all wet from playing in the snow, simply use a clothespin to attach the wet clothing to the outside of its storage pocket.  It will dry quickly and it will be easy to return it to its place.

3.  Bag the bags.

Moms are the black hole of bags.  I constantly find myself holding onto random bags.  If it is not a disposable bag, I will hold onto it because “it could be a good bag someday”.  Gee, good thing that mindset doesn’t add to clutter.  (Eye roll here.)  But taking a page from my 2-coat rule, I was intent on purging.  Tote bags, grocery bags, book bags, and handbags all came out of my closet.  Then, I simply asked two questions: “what do I use it for?” and “how often do you use it?”.  If I used it often, I hung it from a hook or from a hanger.  My favorite, go-to tote bag goes on a hanger and I swear it makes life easier.  I am able to find it easily, load it easily, and clean it out easily. A few other favorite bags were stored on the top shelf. All other bags found a new home inside a suitcase in my closet.

4.  Add some shelves.

Make the refill of that diaper bag as easy as possible by adding some small, thoughtfully stocked shelves that store a few necessities for quick replenishing.  My diapers, wipes, and extra clothes are now all together in the same place where I keep the diaper bag.  Loading the bag now is as quick as one, two three instead of frantically running up and down the stairs to grab things I forgot.  Granted the mini work out I got on the way out the door was probably good for me, but maybe I should just take my easily stocked diaper bag to the gym.  A musing for another day…

5.  Add a trashcan. 

I threw a trashcan in the front hall closet on a complete whim, thinking “if it works, great, if not I’ll take it out”.  I love this trick so much I am getting a bigger trashcan!  Whenever my family comes home from anywhere, it does not matter where, we somehow have gathered a ton of trash.  Honestly, the amount of random pieces of paper, used apple sauce pouches, old wet wipes, and disposable coffee cups my car collects on a daily basis is embarrassing.  But suddenly I have an easy place to dump all of it. As soon as we walk in the door, coats go in the closet and trash goes in the can. I love it!  My goal this weekend to put a bag dispenser in my car (this sound fancy – think an empty tissue box filled with plastic grocery bags) so I can easily collect the car trash and throw it away as soon as we are inside.  Brilliant!

Until next week, enjoy the mess!