Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Too Much Fun? Toy Storage Woes

The calls from parents who want me to work with their children to help organize toys in the playroom come more frequent this time of the year.  Here they are heading to ToysRUs to buy more toys but the kids can't see the floor in the playroom now.  They want me to recommend the right tool for organizing toys.  Is it bins?  Is it shelves?  Labels?  What makes a great play area?  Here's what I have learned from the little ones.  They need space, they need less, and they need to play with toys in an integrated way.  

The woes of really large toys 
Pre-made playhouses, large play kitchens, and teepees can fill a room.  Kids can get the same afternoon of fun with a table, blankets, sofa cushions and clothespins. All of these items are easily folded and returned to their original places after the fun. These ordinary household items help teach construction principles.  Even more fun when you add an adult crouching inside with them.  Add a flashlight, some books and a snack for great afternoon of fun.  
Kids size cars can fill your garage and send the real family car out in the cold and you scrapping ice off of a windshield. 
Giant stuffed animals occupy as much space as a book shelf or toy bin which can hold more hours of fun than does one massive overstuffed gorilla.

Less is more.
Lots of toys can be overwhelming for children.  Lots of parents feel helpless against the tide of toys given by well meaning grandparents, aunts and uncles for birthdays and holidays.  Better gift suggestions for these generous folks are family memberships to children museums and zoos , tickets to sports events and shows, or even better a small toy and an investment in the child like money towards education or study abroad programs in high school.   
Avoid the box of naked Barbies: Maximum number of Barbies is number of children x 2 (one for each hand).  
Stuffed animals are adorable but can overrun a playroom or bedroom.   Introduce the concept of "enough". Select a bin size and when the bin is full, you have enough. Rather than giving them so many and then asking them to cull the herd, try to prevent these from coming into their homes. 
The bottom line is that kids overwhelmed by so much do not value what they have because there is always plenty. Basic Econ- supply and demand. Too much and the value goes down.
Kids need enough space for each child to lie on the floor and make a snow angel.  Even more fun? Lie down and make the snow angel space with them.

Storage challenges
Toy boxes, bins and totes are all good.  Make sure they are large enough to hold the amount of toys in a particular category.  When I am queen all toys will come with appropriate size storage containers. 
Shelves use vertical space well but should be anchored to the wall to prevent tipping. Probably not taller than the child.
The shelves with the angled bin shelves are not ideal nor are they my favorite.  I like the reach in idea, but visibility is usually poor in units like that. 
Legos are great toys for following directions and creativity. Except those tiny pieces, that are painful to step on, they are easy to manage. Great containers are available to store them in.  People are divided on this toy.  Keeping all kits separate forever and those that think that once the kit has been built, the pieces can be added to a larger bin for creative building.  It doesn't matter.  What does matter is that the boxes can fall apart and plastic bins are much better in the long run.  Get them the appropriate size for the volume of pieces as soon as possible. Best of all, know when you have enough.
Mixed toy bins are not bad.  Children play with toys in integrated ways.  Reading to stuffed animals, Lego creations for action figures to use, Barbies hanging out with Littlest Pet Shop pets, these are wonderful things and great for imagination.
Great!  Kindergarten work this way.  Each kind of toy has its area, pretend and dress up, building, games, books, music, cars and trains, guys aka action figures, kitchen/dolls.  Cut pictures from toy ads or print them off line and use shipping tape to attach the label to the container. Label with pictures and words for smaller kids and reading readiness.  

The toy organization secrets 
Bless others.  Too many gifts or toys.  Donate.  So many have so little. You get blessed with space. 
Put it away. By creating homes for each category of toy to go to at the end of the day, kids don't have to guess where to put something. The most important part of keeping a toy room clear is making the time for clean up part of each play session.  Rather than telling kids that it is time for bed, build in  time to allow for cleanup.  My daughters always were motivated by beating the last clean up time.  I stood there looking at my watching timing the cleanup.  A new world record!  Use examples like cleaning the kitchen after the meal is over to show how and why clean up is important. ( You are cleaning your kitchen, right?)  

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Hell Yeah - The Time Filter

I have installed the Hell Yeah Filter on my time management.  After years of overbooking my time and doing things that I dreaded, I am running things through this filter to help me decide whether or not to commit my precious time.  It's another way of thinking about "Just say no".

This is how it works:
My girlfriend Trish calls and says she would like a group of friends to go to a wine tasting.  My response is "Hell Yeah.  I'm in."  As I run this event through the filter, it doesn't create a conflict, is something fun to do, makes me smile right away and builds my relationships with my girlfriends. Good, good, and good,  so I tell her "Hell Yeah!"

Or I am asked to asked to serve on a committee with an organization I belong to.  Put it in the filter. I like the organization. I am feeling my shoulders tighten as I look at the number of hours involved. I don't feel the Hell Yeah coming to my lips. So I thank the caller and tell her "Thanks for thinking of me, but with my limited time right now I am going to have to pass."

I am asked to walk in a charity fundraiser.  Put it through the filter. Turns out two of my girlfriends have been affected by this disease so it's personal, giving to charities is important to me and exercise is good, so Hell Yeah. You get the idea.

There are things come through the filter and the answer is Well Yeah, Of Course.  These are the survival things like working, paying bills, picking up groceries, doing laundry, spending time with my family and exercising (ok, this last one is sometimes a stretch for me). These are the things that are the backbone of my schedule. They are not optional.

Install your own Hell Yeah filter.  It only takes a minute. You'll have fun explaining the idea.

Tell me what you are putting through the filter.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

P is for Pinterest

Confession time: I have spent my late evening hours relaxing with my laptop, tablet and phone, looking at fun fashions, inspiring quotes, decadent recipes, clever DIY projects, and and travel destinations. Yeah, I am a Pinterest junkie. (and yeah Google, it is a word as is DIY. Add it to the dictionary so I can lose the wavy red line underneath it.)  My dentist's office has completely intact magazines since the dawn of Pinterest.  I am not quietly ripping out pages and shoving them in my purse with all the stealth of a international spy. I am happily pinning away all those clever ideas that I once tossed in a folder.

Pinterest has been a party topic with my girlfriends of late:
"Wow that is a great dip."
"Yeah, I found it on Pinterest and did you see the one where they redid the dresser by painting it yellow?"
"Me, too and I am totally going to try that Halloween...."

My daughter, Kelsey, made the fabulous Almond Joy Cupcakes for my birthday. My friend, Karen, framed a quote for the holidays.  My daughter, Leah, is creating a board of ideas for her upcoming wedding. And I love that you can see what everyone else loves or is inspired by.

Retail companies are taking this $eriously.  The Container Store was tracking traffic to its site and was noticing that people were coming from Pinterest to pin their favorite products.  They quickly added "Pin It" buttons to the product pages to encourage this.

My organizer brain was looking at my Pinterest board when the light bulb came on.  Look at the organization of it all.
I peruse all the photos and pin the ones I like. 
You choose what to keep. Beautiful? Useful? Sentimental?

I have to check sometimes to see if I have already pinned it.
You weed out duplicates. 

The window comes up and I assign it to a board. 
You group like item by theme- recipes with recipes.

My Boards are cleverly named by topic.
You use file names that are meaningful to you.

BUT a word of caution my friends.  I saw a Pinterest quote that said "Pinterest is really just Electronic Hoarding."   Pinterest collecting does not take up space, but it takes up time.  Monitor your time.
That being said, Happy Pinning!

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Delayed Decisions

Meet DD the turtle.  He's a mascot reminder of Delayed Decisions --that's what Professional Organizers call the clutter that collects when you tell yourself you will put something away later.  You could be telling yourself that you will go through that mail pile later.  It happens when you don't decide where to put something because it currently does not have a "home" where it belongs in your home.  Delayed decisions are very sticky and attract other delayed decisions that build up in layers.

DD is one of a pair of ceramic turtles that a client of mine purchased. She gave one to me and she keeps hers on her desk to remind herself of the hard won battle she fights with delaying her decisions.  She want to remember how hard she worked hard to clear her desk. She tossed, filed, recycled, delegated, and returned papers and books to the places that they truly belonged.  It took hours.  Now with DD at her side she makes a few minutes at the end of each work day to make quick decisions.

DD brings to mind aphorisms like "Slow and steady wins the race" and "Don't delay- Act now" or my favorite "It's not everything, but it's not nothing." The first step towards becoming more organized is realizing that making a few decisions each day can help you take down the clutter and keep it away.

Monday, May 7, 2012

It's a Keeper!

"Keep or go?", and I hold up the next item.  "Go"
"Keep or go?", and I hold up the next item.  "Well....I used to like it...but it has a stain...Go!"
"Keep or Go?", and I hold up the next item.  "KEEP!"

The keepers.  The things that we dear. They hold a moment or a feeling. Warm and fuzzy.  And there is nothing wrong with that, unless you are so surrounded that you can't move forward, or you're filling rooms until they no longer function.

But the keepers, if they truly are, require care to maintain them in the best condition.  Unfortunately, things often get put away quickly and with out care.  I hate the sad look I see on my clients faces when the keepers are brought out after being stored poorly.  They become broken, moldy, mildewed, or invaded by mice or other critters in their time travels. Here are some bad guys in keeper storage.

Cardboard boxes are not great for archiving in areas that are not climate controlled.  They wick moisture and offer no protection from mice and bugs. If I have some baby things of my children's that are dear to me, it wouldn't do to toss them it a cardboard box that may or not close well and toss it in a damp basement or attic. They are much better preserved in a plastic tote to save them from the dust and dampness.

Hangers with the stretchy foam (pictured here) is not designed for the long haul.  The foam ages poorly and eventually turns to a fine dust that becomes embedded in shoulders of the garment.

Rubber bands don't age well.  If you want to hold a bundle of cherished letters, use a ribbon.  Old rubber bands break, change texture and come to look like old worms on a sidewalk.

Paper clips and staples will rust given time.  If the stack of papers is important, use a folder or plastic report cover to keep it together and clean. Archival page protectors are great for recipes and other single page papers.

When you look at old memorabilia, it should make you smile after not seeing it for years. If it's a keeper, cherish it.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Top 5 Tips for Spring Cleaning and Clutter Clearing

I met my guest blogger, Shannon McGinnis, at the recent conference for the National Association of Professional Organizers.  Because even Professional Organizers need someone to keep us on track for achieving our goals, Shannon and I have become Accountability Partners for each other.  In the beginning, I wasn't sure to what to expect from this but I am excited to say I am much more productive knowing that someone is tracking me and cheering me on.  I heartily recommend this idea.
Welcome to Room-inations, Shannon!       -Melanie

Top 5 Tips for Spring Cleaning and Clutter Clearing

  -by Shannon McGinnis, CPO®
Yes, spring is here, the flowers are blooming, the weather is warmer; its time to open the windows and clear out the house.  Here are 5 quick tips for maximizing your time and effort. By implementing these tidy tips, you will
enjoy a renewed sense of beauty and appreciation in your home.

1.  Choose 1 area per day to focus on.
To be most effective with your time and energy, you need to pick 1 area that you are going to clean and organize.  You may want to start with an area that¹s relatively easy, not too much clutter and gets cleaned on a regular basis. 

The living room might be a good first choice.  Another strategy might be to pick an area that you want to really change, like a clothes closet, in which the winter sweaters and boots get packed when the shorts and t-shirts come out. Once you have selected your area, just focus there and try not to get distracted.  You can also set a timer and challenge yourself to get the entire area done in an hour. 

2.  While in that particular area, remove what doesn¹t belong there. 
Wherever you have chosen to start your spring-cleaning, there are probably some papers, clothes, or other items that don¹t belong in that space. Remember, less clutter means less to dust or look at all the time.

If you want to keep whatever you have found that doesn¹t belong in the particular area you are organizing, relocate the item to its proper home. Just remember to quickly come back to the area you are cleaning.  If you no longer want an item, consider whether it can be either donated or recycled.  Donations are a wonderful way to offer to others what you no longer want.

If you are organizing a closet, consider donating whatever you haven¹t used in a year.  How many sheets or towels do you actually use on a regular basis?  Do you still have clothes that you haven¹t worn in the last year? 
Why not give away the things that you don¹t use?

3.  Clean this area thoroughly.
Once you have only the items to be kept in this area, now you can clean thoroughly, using the proper tools, environmentally friendly cleaning solutions, and a strong motivation to transform your space.  Do you want to
see your closet floors again?  Have the stove shine? Remove the piles from the floor so that you can move the furniture for a thorough vacuuming?

4.  Be sure to make this process fun!
Open up the doors and windows, play upbeat music, and dance while you are cleaning and organizing.  You could also invite friends or family to help you.  Give everyone a task and see how quickly your home is transformed.  Even kids want to help, so have them shake out the throw rugs and vacuum the corners!

5.  Rejoice at your newly cleaned and organized home!
Once you have completed 1 area, celebrate! Then, repeat steps one through four.  Rejoice at how much you have accomplished and reward yourself with time to play outside and do something fun or buy a bouquet of spring flowers to decorate your freshly transformed space. Being in your home will really feel great after you spring clean and organize it!

Shannon McGinnis is a Certified Professional Organizer and the founder of Organized 4 Success, Inc. She has written two instructional organizing books filled with tips for your home and office. If you enjoyed this article, you
will love her book, The 10-Minute Tidy: 108 Ways to Organize Your Home  Quickly. Purchase a book or download one now: <>.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Hiding in Plain Sight: Bulletin Boards

I was asked recently what I thought about someone adding a bulletin board in their mudroom for posting important notes about events.  Yeah, it's a good idea, BUT it will only work if you are committed to removing old events, and not adding photos, inspiration, souvenirs, birthday cards, or cartoons. What happens is, left unchecked these "bulletins" begin multiplying so that nothing is visible at all. You will no longer be able to see that the PTA Bake Sale is Friday when it become covered by the receipt from the carpet cleaner. And I've seen this happen in workplaces.  Supervisors get irate when workers don't read notices on the bulletin board that are stacked with a sea of white paper and push pins.

Same idea- Ever watch CSI?  The investigators enter the scene and whether the lights are on or not, they whip out their flashlights and scan the murder scene.  This focuses their gaze in one tiny area at a time and allows them to notice details.  Looking at the room as a whole it can be easy to miss the important fine details.

Same idea- Where's Waldo or I Spy kids books are lots of fun.  Finding the one thing on a page of objects or Waldo in a sea of people helps kids learn to focus intently. But who wants to do that daily to find your keys?

Same idea- People with lots of clutter can fail to see a few more things added to the piles until the room becomes full and has lost its function.  People with clear counter tops can become annoyed when someone leaves a pile of mail out on the kitchen island.  Easy to notice, and easy to maintain.

When I work in the homes of many clients helping them clear clutter, I bring a tool bag of supplies we might need.  I worry sometimes about not putting things right back into my bag when I am finished, because they can easily disappear into the landscape around me.  By the way, has anyone seen my silver Sharpie?

Friday, January 13, 2012

Like with Like: All Together Now

Market in Rotorua, New Zealand
"Like with Like" is one of the "Great Laws for Achieving Organization" (see note below).  Greatly regarded in the "Organizational Community", this law is the basic foundation for becoming organized. Like inertia in physics. Like with Like is efficient, aesthetically pleasing, and calming. Markets, like one pictured here, and Big Box stores use this law to make it easy for shoppers to select what they need and maintain their inventory. If I wanted ten apples, I could easily gather ten from the apple bin or be challenged by finding and selecting apples from mixed up bins.  If the market owner was low on apples it would be easy to see the inventory level if they are in sorted into their own bin ( Can you see this as helpful in your pantry?). Very logical, right?  So why don't we all do this with all of our possessions?

For some people, the concept of categorizing complicated in the sorting process.  If we were using a microscope so we could set magnification for detail, some of us dial in the big picture as in all cleaning products. While others may see in a higher resolution, they may see things to clean wood, things to clean toilets, things to clean windows, and things to clean carpets.  For them, the whole sorting process has so many categories that they become overwhelmed. Often they just put it down wherever they are at the moment that the item comes into the house (or it might still in the bag in the garage).  Often support from someone else can help them manage the number of categories and simplify the sorting.

Photo boxes holding office supplies.
For those who have a strong need for Like with Like and order, I offer the next picture.  These boxes found above my desk hold my sorted Like with Like things and each box is labeled with its contents: printer ink, cords and cables, office supplies, etc.  I could gather these items in piles on the shelf and they would be Like with Like, but the matching boxes are more aesthetically pleasing. This is what you see in the magazine pictures that you instinctively say "That's organized!" or why companies selling closet organization display monochromatic clothing While unmatching containers are organized if the container holds sorted items, the overall effect is not the same.

Stay tuned for more of the "Great Laws of Organization" because searching games like Where's Waldo are fun, but not an efficient way to run your home.

*Please don't look for scientific evidence for the "Great Laws of Organization".  It is the product of my imagination designed to prove the point.