Make space. Find peace. Feel joy.

My advice to bloggers

15 April 2014

Yesterday at our monthly NAPO-St. Louis meeting, I was on a panel called Blogging for Your Organizing Business. The other panelists were blogger extraordinaire, Aby Garvey of simplify 101 and online marketing expert Ken Tucker of Changescape Web.

The format was Q&A from the audience and there were loads of great questions. Before going in, I pondered some of the points I hoped to make. So here’s my advice to organizers who blog or want to blog:

  • Stick to your commitment. An infrequently or sporadically updated blog may not reflect well on you. I think we look more organized and reliable if we set a regular schedule and stick to it.
  • Take notes. Keep a list of blog post ideas so that you never have to stare down a blank screen thinking, “What am I going to blog about today.” (I keep a list in Springpad, so it’s with me wherever I go.
  • Make it personal, but keep it professional. I want people to get to know me through my blog and to regard me as an organizing expert. So I write in the first person and am not afraid to reveal my own organizing challenges. However, I keep politics and religion out of my blog and I never trash talk anyone.
  • Let it be easy. I’m lucky because I’m a writer. (I made my living as a freelance writer for ten years before starting Peace of Mind Organizing.) But I still sometimes make blog writing more difficult than it needs to be. If you write from your heart about things you care about, it shouldn’t have to be hard.

Aby and Ken added other excellent points, like be clear on why you’re blogging, know the purpose of each individual post, and make sure you’re using words in your posts that you want search engines to pay attention to.

I know that this blog has helped me grow my business. It’s allowed clients and prospective clients to get to know me, it’s helped me stay at the top of google searches, and it’s led to great opportunities, like being a member of the Rubbermaid Professional Organizer Squad . If you’re looking to blog, I say go for it. But if you make the commitment, please try to keep it.

Storing the food-storage containers

11 April 2014

Yesterday I had the opportunity to help a client declutter her somewhat vast and varied supply of food-storage containers. Different shapes, different sizes, different brands. We emptied all the containers and lids out of the cupboards and drawers and put them on the dining-room table. I set about sorting them so I could match up tops and bottoms so she could see what she had. There ended up being some tops without bottoms (and vice versa) and the client ended up letting go of a lot of containers, which was great.

While I was doing sorting the containers, I kept thinking how glad I am that my friend and colleague Aby Garvey convinced me to store my food-storage containers with the lid on. Because I match the lid and the bottom as soon as I take them out of the dishwasher (and there rarely more than three at a time in the dishwasher, so it’s easy), I never have to search for one or the other and I never have extra lids or extra containers.

Here’s a picture of my containers after Aby helped me with them:

This makes me happy.

Aby was part of my team yesterday, and after the session, she and I, being the organizing nerds that we are, talked for quite awhile about how people typically object to storing food containers with the lids on. The objection is that storing them that way will take up too much space. (That’s what I said when she suggested it to me. in fact.) But when you store them with the lids on, it makes them so much easier to use. I think it’s worth any sacrifice of space you have to make.

As Aby pointed out people have a tendency to prioritize maximizing space over accessibility, when it comes food-storage containers. But that can be a mistake. If you can’t easily match lids and bottoms, you might be tempted to go out and buy more containers. The collection expands. Loose lids can slip out of sight and become annoying. Accessibility vanishes.

If you’re frustrated by the way you store your food-storage containers, I urge you to pull them all out, put the lids on, and see if you can put them all back with the lids on. If you can’t, consider paring them down to a number you can store that way. (Aby wisely says that, unless you’re someone who freezes food, if you have a really large number of these containers, something might be going bad in the back of your fridge.)

If your situation is such that you need to nest your containers, I urge you to have a set of containers from the same maker, so that you can more easily match lids and bottoms. Personally, I love the Rubbermaid’s Easy Find Lids collection.

The power of planning

7 April 2014

I’m leaving today for Independence, Missouri, to do research at the Midwest Genealogy Center, part of the Mid-Continent Public Library. I’ve been doing almost all of my genealogy research at home on my computer and I’ve decided it’s time to branch out and look for documents not available on the internet.

Here’s a photo of the building. It looks nice!

I blogged on Organize Your Family History about how I planned to prepare for this trip to make the best of my time there.

Sometimes, despite my best intentions, I don’t actually do much advance planning for a trip, but this time I did it right. I took the time to figure out what it is I hoped to find at the library so I wouldn’t waste time on site trying to figure that out.

That pre-planning has created so much peace of mind! There are still some questions about how exactly I’ll go about finding what I want, but coming in armed with questions I want answered makes me feel so good.

If I hadn’t done this planning, I know I’d spend the 3.5-hour drive worrying about how things were going to go, afraid that I wouldn’t make good use of my time. Instead, I get to enjoy the anticipation of hitting the ground running when I get there late this afternoon.

Of course, my planning has extended to finding a hotel in close proximity to the library, where I’ll be comfortable, and researching nearby restaurants.

In many aspects of life, a few hours spent planning can reap so many dividends in terms of time—and anxiety—saved. Sometimes I feel like I’m moving too fast to do proper preparations, but when I do take the time to plan, I’m always glad I did.

Tracing my roots: Why I love genealogy research

5 April 2014

Like millions of others around the world, I love doing family history research. Sometimes friends will ask what is it about genealogy that turns me on so much. I think it boils down to this:

  • It gives me a personal connection to history
  • I get to play detective
  • It presents an organizing challenge (and I love an organizing challenge!)
  • It connects me with other people
  • It gives me a new way to help others

I’ve always been fascinated by history and enjoy reading non-fiction history books. I also adore historical fiction. When I’m doing genealogy research and can put one of my ancestors into an historical context it makes it all the more thrilling. Discovering that one of my ancestors (Benjamin Franklin Igleheart) was paid to fight in the Civil War as a substitute for a person of means who was drafted—and learning that fact from digital images of the handwritten Civil Records—prompted me to learn more about how people in that war were able to buy their way out of service. Fascinating. And, thanks to my genealogy research, personal.

I love being an internet sleuth. Searching for specific bits of information is so much fun. Finding it is even more fun. I love the small victories I get doing genealogy research. And, of course, with that comes the disappointments and frustrations of not finding the information I’m searching for. They go hand in hand. But hope springs eternal.

It’s so easy to get overwhelmed by genealogy information, particularly when it’s flowing freely. And that’s where being organized comes in. I need to have organized and accessible paper and electronic files. And I’ve found that having a research plan, so I know what to look for, and having a research log, so that I don’t duplicate effort, is really helpful. I use the Research Tracker in my “Family History Organizer”: Springpad notebook to help me keep track of the research I’ve done, as well as next steps.

I love the organizing aspects of genealogy so much that I started a blog, Organize Your Family History to keep me focused and to help other people tackle their genealogy-related organizing challenges. It’s been rewarding—genealogist enthusiasts are such a generous group of people.

A side benefit of my blog is that it has made it very easy for me to connect with relatives I did not previously know. I was absolutely thrilled in 2012 to be contacted by my mother’s first cousin, Jerry Brown, because he found my blog when he was searching for information on a common ancestor. Jerry then introduced me, via email, to a number of cousins and I had the pleasure last year of meeting some cousins (and my grandfather’s 99-year-old sister). I wrote about that little journey in a blog post called Genealogy = connections. This year I’ll attend a family reunion—something I’ve never experienced in my family.

Here’s another side benefit: Because of the connections I’ve made, I’m able to share stories and updates with my octogenarian parents. It’s fun to be able to tell them about some of the documents I’ve uncovered and that I’ve connected with people they remember from their childhood. It’s given us lots of topics of conversation.

I’ve found that my passion for genealogy has found its way into my business as well. Many of my clients have an interest in genealogy and appreciate that I am enthusiastic about some of their inherited items and photos and that I understand their connection to them.

I’ve started offering the service of helping clients go through their inherited items (my Heirloom Explorer package) and I have also started offering genealogy organizing services through Organize Your Family History.

Genealogy is a fantastic pastime and I’m so glad I have the time these days to actually spend time with it. If you’ve ever been tempted to give it a try, I urge you to go for it! (You can read this blog post, which I wrote for my friend Geralin Thomas’s blog, to figure out how to get started.)

When is an organizer like a dentist?

31 March 2014

When is an organizer like a dentist?

I had my teeth cleaned today, something I don’t really enjoy. But I do it faithfully every six months. And that’s because I know the pain and fright of slacking off on going to the dentist and then having to go because something’s gone awry in my mouth. For a number of years, when I was younger, I let my fear of the dentist get in the way of my getting regular checkups. Then a tooth broke and I had to face the music. After a root canal and a nasty surgical procedure called “crown lengthening” (I don’t wish that on anyone), all was well again. And, believe me, I haven’t missed an appointment since.

As I was sitting in the dental chair today, I thought about how putting off going to the dentist is a bit like putting off decluttering or organizing your home. If you’re dealing with an overabundance of items, clutter just builds up until it becomes overwhelming. Calling in an organizer for help can be scary and embarrassing (though I try hard to put to rest any fear or embarrassment my clients might feel). I know from experience that letting plaque build up on your teeth can make the prospect of going to the dentist scary and embarrassing too.

But once you declutter and find a place for everything, all you have to do is maintain. Just like brushing and flossing daily, if you put things away every day, then all you need is a bit of a spruce up every six months or so.

Because I brush and floss daily, my semi-annual dental visits are merely mildly unpleasant (because I don’t like having my teeth scraped). But they’re nothing to be afraid of. As a reformed dental phobic, I find this to be revelatory.

So if you’re looking for a reason to get started organizing your home, perhaps you can think of it in terms of preventive maintenance, like going to the dentist every six months. Don’t wait until your tooth breaks (or your house starts falling apart) to reach out for help!

Photo by Steve Snodgrass via Flickr

The best organizing system

28 March 2014

Clients will often ask me, “What’s the best way to organize [fill in the blank]?” Oh, how I wish I had an easy-to-implement answer to that question. Because the real answer is this:

The best organizing system is the one that works for you.

That is, it’s a system that works with the way you think, that’s easy for you to maintain, and that has the possibility of becoming second nature to you.

And the trouble with that is that the best organizing system for me, or for your best friend, may not be the best organizing system for you.

Most of my clients have tried implementing many systems by the time they call me in for help. I’ve know I tried many, many systems over the years. And I still switch things up occasionally.

So when a client asks me that question, all I can do is make suggestions, see which ones make her eyes light up or her head nod, and then try implementing those. And then we tweak and sometimes completely overhaul until we come up with system that works. At least for the moment.

Because here’s the other thing: Organizing systems need to change when your life changes. And life is always changing.

So there’s no such thing as the best organizing system. Don’t even try to find it. Instead focus on finding a great system that works for you at this particular stage of your life or business.

Worth repeating: Finding time to do the things you love

24 March 2014

I wrote this post in July of 2012 and it still rings true. When the fun or rewarding parts of life become just aspirations, rather than reality, we miss out. The special project that I referred to at the end of this post was my blog, Organize Your Family History that I debuted that summer. It has provided lots of motivation for me to pursue my genealogy research!

For more than ten years, I’ve been interested in doing family history research. I would dip my toe in the water every now and then, but would get overwhelmed and withdraw it. Mostly, I just didn’t feel I had the time to do it properly. So I didn’t do it at all.

Mind you, I didn’t have a lot of time. I’ve been pretty darn busy building my business and fulfilling some pretty major volunteer duties. But now those volunteer commitments are over and I’m under less pressure. So when my scheduled lightened up, guess what I turned to? Yes, the family history research.

I’m enjoying my research so much that I’m kicking myself for not finding time earlier. It’s one those things (like decluttering) that you feel you need a giant block of time to do, so you never do it. (Because, really, who has a giant block of time?) But it’s just not true. You can make progress in little chunks of time.

With genealogy, talking with older relatives is really helpful. So it’s the kind of hobby that’s really beneficial to work on sooner, rather than later. I’m visiting my parents soon, armed with all sorts of questions. I kind of wish I’d asked them ten years ago when my parents memories’ were probably better.

So here’s my point: If you have a something you’ve been waiting to find time to do, stop waiting. Just get started. Maybe all you have is a spare hour, rather than a full day available. That’s okay. Use it. Maybe you’ll have another hour tomorrow. And you can use that. Just getting started can be the hardest part. And it feels so good to get started!

By the way, I’m discovering all sorts of interesting things about my family history and I’m working on a special project surrounding that, which I will discuss here soon.

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