Organizing 101: TBD Boxes

Today’s tips are easy ways to break down what can easily become overwhelming tasks.

TBD Boxes.  To Be Donated & To Be Delivered Boxes.

Keep a TBDonated box in your clothes closet.  Mine is a diaper box because we have lots of diaper boxes in this house.  This box sits on my closet floor and any time I try on a shirt that no longer fits or flip through that sweater that I haven’t worn in three years and finally admit that I’m never going to wear it again, it gets put in that box.  Once the box is full, I take it to Goodwill.

It’s hard enough to admit that something doesn’t fit or we’re not going to wear it anymore, but when those stars align and we finally come to grips with those realities, having that box right there gives you a spot for these items.  Without that, it’s just easier to put it back in the closet and then face having to make that hard decision again down the road when we’ve reached the point where we have to do a major closet purge.

Keep a TBDelivered box in your car.  Whenever you have something that needs to go somewhere (i.e. a pan returned to a friend, a return at a store, a gift for a relative), put it in that box in your car.  It provides a place for these items to gather so that they don’t get lost in the piles that so easily accumulate in high traffic areas.  Once the box is full is full, your errand is getting everything in the box to it’s place.

By keeping this box in your vehicle, you always have stuff that needs to be dropped with you when you’re driving around.  On the off chance that you remember that lasagna pan that needs to be returned as you drive past your friend’s house and have 2 extra minutes to stop and drop it off, it is with you.


Organizing 101: You Can’t Organize Excess

It’s time to rip off the band aid.  Here’s the harsh reality that we all need to face when it comes to getting more organized:

We have too much stuff and no amount of storage systems or labels are going to fix that.

I’ve tried to come up with a nicer way of saying this, but the truth of the matter is that, for most of us, our struggles with clutter and disorganization are due to having too much.

I haven’t read “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up“, but I know a lot of people that have.  From what I understand, one of the keys to the kon-mari method is evaluating your stuff as you work to organize it.  In deciding whether or not to keep something, the question you ask yourself is if the item sparks joy.  If it doesn’t, you thank the item for the role it played and get rid of it.  It seems a little new age-y to me, but the concept is a great one.  I would take it one step farther and ask yourself if it’s sparks joy and if it’s fulfilling a purpose.  Thinking about our possessions this way helps you to be realistic about what you use and what you need.  We need to create high standards for items to meet in order to take up space in our homes and in our lives.

Sounds great.  So, why don’t we all have uncluttered lives?  Because, like a lot of healthy life habits, this is easier said than done.

Almost everyone has a hard time getting rid of stuff.  I’m a compulsive purger, and I still keep stuff that I shouldn’t.

For some people, the struggle in purging can be due to a sentimental attachment to things.  This can be really hard to work through.  Our stuff reminds us of a special person or moment.  It sparks joy.  Stuff can spark joy, but no tangible item can bring eternal joy.  Eventually, stuff piled on stuff added to more stuff just becomes lots of stuff.  Individually, those items spark joy, but collectively, they are weighing us down.

If your struggle with accumulation is rooted in a sentimental attachment that makes it hard to part with stuff, it can be tempting to think that the solution is to swing to the other side of the spectrum and just “buck up”, ignore your feelings and go on a purging binge where you throw everything.  This is bound to backfire.  You will, inevitably, regret it later, which will make it harder the next time you are overwhelmed with stuff and feeling like you should get rid of it.  Those same emotions will be there, but this time, they will be amplified by the regret you felt last time and make an already hard task nearly impossible.

A better way than purging cold turkey is to give yourself “x” amount of space for keepsakes. How much “x” amount of space is isn’t as important as you deciding what that is ahead of time and sticking to those parameters.  Write Matthew 6:19 somewhere and as you go through your things, and keep referring back to it.  Remind yourself what stuff on this earth is.  Then, think about that item in reference to the amount of keepsake space you have available.

Another reason people struggle with having too much stuff is that we think it will make us happy.  Sure.  We don’t say that because we all know better.  But this thing will make that easier and that thing will make this quicker.  We justify and purchase without thinking about the big picture or the real reason we’re making the decisions that we are.

Matthew 6:19 says “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal.  But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do break in or steal.”  None of our physical stuff on this earth is eternal.  All of it will run out, get lost, break, lose it’s value or outlast us.  Whether you believe the Bible or not, this fact cannot be argued.  And whatever you believe about the afterlife; your possessions don’t go there with you.

Our stuff is not, inherently, bad.  So much of it is good and are blessings.  However, we cannot let the good things become the main thing.  When our stuff is our source of joy, hope, or motivation, then we are making our stuff fill a purpose it was never created to fill.  And it will leave a void.  We all know that void.  Unfortunately, a lot of us try to fill that void with more stuff.  It is a never-ending, unfulfilling cycle.

In addition to the obvious things you consider when making a decision to purchase something (cost, why you need it, etc.) two questions that I ask myself are 1) How often will I use this? and 2) Where will I store it?

Frequency is paramount.  If I’m not going to use/wear something on a very regular basis, then I don’t buy it.  There just isn’t enough room in our house or lives for things that get used now and then.

This is the reason that I have 8 pairs of pants and 12-15 shirts for each of my kids.  I do laundry once a week, which means that they always have something that fits and is clean.  And that’s all the drawer space they have anyway.  But what if Elida gets paint on her pants one day and has an accident the next?  Then I do laundry a day early that week.  Or she wears another pair of pants two days in a row.   I refuse to live in the ‘just in case’.  There are too many unknowns and I don’t have the time and space for that.  And it a dangerous slippery slope.

If frequency of use is paramount in making my decision, where it will be stored is even more so.  Storage trumps use.  I can’t think of a single thing that we use 24/7, which means that even our most used items have to be stored at some point.  And if there isn’t a spot for it when it’s not being used, then it is clutter.  Harsh, I know.  But I firmly believe that most of us (including myself) need a little tough love when it comes to this area of our lives.


Convinced?  Fired up?  Feeling ready to purge?  Here’s my suggestion: Start small.  It’s tempting to want to go straight to that abyss of a closet that keeps you awake at night.  Resist the temptation.  Find one small area and start there.  You are starting new patterns and thought processes, and it’s best to do that in small increments.  I’m going to steal some Dave Ramsey lingo here and say that what you need is a De-Clutter Snowball.  Start with your smallest project.  And when it’s complete, celebrate!  The size of the completion isn’t as important as the assurance that this can be done – and maintained.  Take what you learned and the momentum that you have from one completed project and put that toward the next smallest.  And let it snowball.

This is not a quick fix.  Implementing these ideas in your everyday life is not going to make your life simpler or better overnight.  But it will help you to slowly get to where you want to be.


Organizing 101: Purge, but Don’t Throw….. Yet

More often than not, one of the keys to instilling order is decluttering.  We have too much stuff.  This is not news.  I am not telling you something that you don’t already know.  And yet, the idea of going through stuff and throwing it away is something that we avoid.  Or, the idea of purging, on a macro level is appealing, but the actual task of picking specific items and parting with them is much harder in practice.

We all have our reasons for holding on to stuff.  Whether it’s sentimental, practical, well-intentioned or good-old laziness, we’ve got an excuse.  So, if we actually take the first step and make the effort to go through stuff in an attempt to condense, we are met with any one of these excuses.

We need something to help us push through those excuses and help us determine what we really need.

SOLUTION: When sorting through stuff, create a ‘Purge, but Don’t Throw…. Yet’ pile.  Some examples of items that go in this pile:

  • The sweater that you haven’t worn in ten years, but that someone special bought you and you can’t bring yourself to get rid of
  • The pants that haven’t fit since you were in college, but that may fit in six months if you keep up with your running routine that you’ve been doing really well with these last couple months
  • That picture frame that was a homemade wedding gift from a dear friend, but that you just haven’t found the right spot for on a wall

(These examples are all, of course, hypothetical)

Put all of the items in a box or bin and keep the box in an accessible & visible place for a pre-determined amount of time.  

This softens the blow of purging.  It allows you to feel the success of purging without having to make the final separation right away.  In the window of time between putting items in that box and the pre-determined ‘get-rid-of date’, you are free to take anything out of the box.  Once you get to the pre-determined date, whatever is left in the box gets donated or thrown away.

A key to making this work is that you choose what that amount of time is.  If you have a really hard time parting with things, make it a year so that you give yourself plenty to time decide if you are ready to part ways.  Pick a time frame and write that date on a label or piece of tape, and adhere it to the box.  Put it in a visible place.  When that date comes, you will have gone an adequate amount of time without needing anything in that box and proven to yourself that those items have fulfilled their purpose.


Organizing 101: Start at the End and Don’t Compare

It’s the New Year.  You’re ready.  You’re fired up and ready to get your life in order.  You’re itching for a reason to run to Target or The Container Store and get lots of cute bins and baskets and make life efficient.

So, how do you do it?

Slow down.  Sit down.  Think hard.

Good organization starts with taking a step back and thinking things through before your throw, sort or label anything.

Before starting a project, ask yourself “How do I want this to end?” or “What do I want this to look like when I’m finished?” Be specific.  When I was working full-time, we used to make SMART goals each year.  SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic & Timely (I couldn’t tell you the difference between an attainable and realistic goal.  Maybe it’s for emphasis).  As many of those letters of the acronym that you can hit when thinking about your goal, the better.

If your trouble area is paper clutter, an example of a SMART goal for dealing with that would be:Have all papers off of kitchen counters (Specific & Measurable) before bedtime (Timely), and in a designated spot where they can be accessed easily by everyone in the family (Realistic)

One reason that it is so important to start a project by thinking about how you want it to end is because it gives you direction.  If you don’t know where you’re going, how do you get there?  (I didn’t come up with that saying.  But it’s very true).  My old boss used to say, “If you fail to plan, plan to fail.”

Frankly, it’s a lot easier to skip this step.  It’s quicker and more gratifying – at first.  But in order to be successful, you’re going to need to put thought into it at some point, and it’s always better to do it at the beginning and not risk having to go back and redo something.  (And this is where I start to sound like my Grandpa….)

Do not be overwhelmed by or feel inferior because of other people’s successes.  This is great advice in life, not just organizing.  Instilling some order in your days is not a comparison game.  Just because your end product doesn’t look as good as someone else’s does not mean that you can’t do it.

Pinterest is a big culprit for this.  Like most things, Pinterest can be a great resource and can be incredibly helpful – especially in helping you think through your end goals – but, if you let it, it can also be discouraging.  Just remember that Pinterest pictures are like the pictures in catalogues.  Photoshopped and staged beyond reality.  If there’s a Pinterest picture that catches your eye, look closer at it and find two things: what part of it, specifically, appeals to you and what part of it would work in your house or life.

For an example, I saw this picture a few years ago on Pinterest and liked it.  As I looked at it, I realized that, specifically, what I liked about this room was that it stored toys out of view, utilized space that could easily be wasted, sorted toys, and provided a play surface.  I also knew that we had a small, narrow area in our house that was an awkward space, but I wanted to utilize it for a play space for our kids.

This is a pretty picture and it’s a pretty room.  But, realistically, I was never going to choose or put up wall paper.  Or a fancy light fixture.  And the puzzle is a good pop of color for the photo, but my goal was to get toys out of sight, not leave them out to be strewn about all hours of the day.  I also love what she did with throw pillows, but I don’t have the decorative skills to choose those coordinating patterns.  And even if I did, there’s a high likelihood that they’d get colored on with markers, so it’s not even really worth it.

Here’s our end product.

The space heater is not aesthetic at all, but this space used to be a porch and wasn’t insulated underneath, so the space heater was necessary if we were going to use the space.  The throw pillows are extras from our couch and don’t go with the color scheme, but they were stain resistant and super durable.

The Pinterest image was incredibly helpful and provided inspiration and direction.  But, if I would have looked at our finished product and determined it’s success by comparing it to the Pinterest image, I would have been so discouraged.  Instead, I looked at the finished product, and realized that it did exactly what I needed it to.

Thinking things through and reminding yourself not to compare doesn’t make for super exciting Instagram posts.  But they are the building blocks to establishing systems that will help you get where you want to be and get more out of each of your days.

New Year’s Resolve

It’s that time of year where it seems like you should evaluate life and resolve to make it better.  Just flip through this week’s Target ad and it will remind you that with a new year comes the opportunity to fix all the “problem areas” in your life.  Fresh fruits and vegetables, workout clothes and equipment, boxes and bins of all shapes and sizes, label makers and every kind of organization system are on sale this week.  And all you have to do is buy all of those items and you’ll be healthy, skinny and completely de-cluttered.

If only it were that easy……

I’m afraid that I can be of no assistance to you if your 2017 goal is to lose weight.  I exercise regularly, eat in moderation and my pants are still too tight.  So, if you’re looking for weight loss methods, click over to Pinterest and let me know what works for you.  I could use some help in this area.

However, if one of the areas of your life that you’d like to improve is instituting a little more order in your days, then this is a good place to be.

I get asked the question “how do I organize my life?” quite often.  And even though I’ve been asked the question many times, I still don’t have an answer.  That’s because there’s no one answer.  Not unlike many things (weight loss and health management included), there isn’t one universal checklist of to-do’s that will solve the problem.  There are, however, a few guiding principles that, when instituted, can help a person on their path to creating some order in their days.

I will spend the month of January going through those principles that I have found to be the most helpful in my life and as I’ve helped others.  These ideas can be applied to organizing spaces, schedules and habits.  They may even debunk of few ideas that you’ve thought would help you get where you want to be.

As much as ideas and principles are good things and can help with the broader problems, sometimes “theory” can just be annoying.  It often leaves me thinking, “Sure.  That sounds great.  But NOW WHAT?!”.  If you’re like me, and this series sounds to you like it will leave you feeling that way, don’t check out just yet.  Along with each week’s principle, I will also have hands-on practice or suggestion for implementing each idea.

As we ring in 2017, resolve to be encouraged, equipped and excited about bringing a little order into the new year.