Organization and Keeping Things in Order

e1d57-atoz2019tenthannMy big thing this year has been follow through, but a smaller goal — and one that has kind of been on the back-burner, honestly — has been organization.  Earlier this year, I established a morning routine that worked amazingly well, but which I’ve sort of fallen away from because I’ve been ultra-exhausted with this assignment (as in, the pull to stay asleep later has been winning out over having the extra time in the morning), but that I found to be pretty effective, and I’ve put together Chore Charts, packing charts (for travel), grocery lists, and about a half-dozen other in the works.

I have a separate page on this blog that I have set aside for the organizers I’ve made, and it occurs to me that, while it’s available via my navigation menu, I’ve never (or at the very least, exceptions rarely) referenced it in any posts (so unless you are regularly visiting my homepage — and honestly, who is? — you haven’t seen any of them).

What’s up there right now is pretty bare bones, and a few of them are going to be taken down and revamped — the grocery list/meal planner in particular was a very rough prototype that I am currently working on making better, and I haven’t put up any of my Travel/Packing checklists, or To Do Lists for Kids — but this is where you can find the resources I have available.  I will make it a point and a priority to post when I add newer and updated organizers — no matter how helpful my organizers might be, they really aren’t any good if people aren’t aware that they exist, huh?

Besides those organizers I’ve made, I also keep a Pinterest board with organizational ideas (mostly space savers, Dollar Tree solutions, etc.) that is worth checking out if you are interested in utilizing your space to the best of your ability, or interested in finding option for organization on a tight budget.

Do you have any favorite organization resources, tips or tricks?  I am always on the lookout for new ideas, and ones that are budget conscious and appropriate for small spaces are especially appreciated.

How I Clean (When I Clean)

organizing my life

So I woke up this beautiful Saturday morning to once again tear maniacally through my house because it is, once again, a trainwreck. This is not a new cycle, nor one that I feel like rehashing here yet again. I do go through long stretches – though, to be honest, they have become shorter and shorter since having a kid – of being very much on top of things and keeping with a routine, and then equally long stretches where trying to keep the mess at bay is like trying to direct the tide (i.e., just as impossible, and with just as high a likelihood of (metaphorically, in my case) drowning).

So what I’ve opted to do instead is to be mindful of my productive days – when my brain seems to be firing on all cylinders, when the fog is cleared, when I can feel myself working well – to be mindful of how I clean. Not only what motivates me and keeps my going, but the actual system of how I clean a room.

Because on my bad days, the tasks feel overwhelming because I have no innate sense of what I should do first – it’s hard to perform triage when everything looks like a crisis to you, you know? So I would, at best, jump around and wind up with a series of half-completed tasks or rooms, or at best, stall out completely.

Instead of continuing to beat myself up about my lack of innate organization, I took the time out to really consider how I work when I work well.

So here are my notes. This is a system to be used in each room of the house, in a hierarchical order, and yes – this is how I’m cleaning my house this fine morning.

Happy Saturday, everyone. Hope it’s pleasant and productive.

The Three C’s: Clear Out, Control Clutter, and Clean

CLEAR OUT: Remove things from the room, in this order.

  1. Trash: I hate to admit it, but full-on legit trash has a tendency to pile up in my house. Wrappers from Bear’s snacks, empty juice box cartons, Amazon boxes and packaging, paper towels from forgotten spills, broken pencils and crayons, etc. The first thing I do is grab a bag and gather up all the trash in the room. PLEASE, ESPECIALLY IF YOU HAVE KIDS (but really, everyones hould remember): check between couch cushion, under beds, behind furniture, etc. You would be amazed (and horrified) at what I regularly find between the love seat cushions.
  2. Dishes: Neither my husband nor I grew up in a family where we ate all our meals together; everyone was on a different schedule, so we ate at different times and – often – in different rooms of the house. I would like to establish a family dinnertime routine in my house, but we aren’t there yet. Plates – often with food residue – are sometimes left in places where, uh, they really shouldn’t be.
  3. Clothing: Yeah, with a pre-schooler especially, clothing (all clothing, but especially socks and pants) tend to get discarded more or less wherever. I’m also not innocent; shoes come off as a matter of routine as soon as I enter the house, and sometimes so do socks, shawls, over-shirts, hoodies, etc. Meaning when I get around to cleaning, there’s often a decent pile of clothing coming out of my living room, or sometimes even kitchen.
  4. Items That Don’t Belong: As I stated in a previous post, I have a basket/bag on hand that I can load up with whatever ephemera happened to find it’s way into the room as a stop-gap before returning it to it’s rightful place. This consolidates all the misplaced items, making them easier to deal with (It generally take ten or fifteen minutes to just wander through the house returning everything afterwards) and gives me a clear picture of what the actual damage is in that particular room, once all extraneous clutter has been cleared away.

CONTROL CLUTTER: Gather items, sort, and put away, in this order.

  1. Clear off: This is part of the “top to bottom” method. Clear off your surfaces – counter tops, desks, tables, etc., and take care of tasks which can be comfortably performed immediately (i.e., if you’re cleaning off the kitchen counter, load dirty dishes immediately into the sink or dishwasher; if you are cleaning off your desk, immediately put important mail in a prominent place and discard the junk, etc.) All other items can get piled in designated spot (on a sofa, on the floor, on the bed, etc.)
  2. Collect: Collect all out-of-place items (that belong in that room) and add them to the pile of items you’ve begun in the previous step.
  3. Sort: Group items in a way that makes sense to you – by type or purpose (all books together, all DVDs, all toys) or by where they belong (everything going on the bookcase, everything that goes on the side-table, everything that goes in the ottoman, etc.) The actual groupings don’t matter, just that they make sense to you.
  4. Put away: Return the items to where they belong, group by group.

CLEAN: Remove actual dust and dirt, in this order.

  1. Dust: Start with the ceiling, ceiling fan (if you have one – I bet it needs it), top of the windows, walls/wall hanging, , tables/side tables, etc. A quick pass with some Windex on windows and mirrors would come at this step, too.
  2. Clean/polish: As needed; my tub and toilets generally need to be fairly scrubbed, but my coffee table usually needs a good pass with a damp cloth, as does our desk, and occasionally one of our two side tables. You don’t need to go crazy, literally a couple of wipes with a damp cloth to remove sticky residue (especially if it’s a room you eat in), and you’re good.
  3. Vacuum/sweep: Floors and carpets last. Shake out area rugs outside if the weather permits, but inside is fine as well, if you have the space (just do it before general vacuuming).

SPECIAL NOTES:

  1. Always make your bed first. Yes, before anything else. As I said before, it hugely reduces visual clutter and will make your room look better instantly, but also it is the prime place for the “gather and sort” phase, and it’s hard to do when it’s already covered with trash and a mess.
  2. Always do dishes first, for the same reasons you would do the bed first: reduces visual clutter, clears off table and counter space, and makes room to gather and sort.
  3. For you, the clean step may follow directly after the Control Clutter step in each room; for me, as someone who hates lugging around my clean equipment and then having to work around it, I do the first two steps (Clear Out and Control Clutter) in each room and then backtrack and do all the Cleaning through the whole house – that way I can just pack everything up when I’m done and forget about it.

Hope this is helpful to someone. Off to actually get it done.

When You Can’t Do It All, Do Something

A couple of weeks ago, I was reminded that, however good the scaffolding I’ve put in place to keep myself organized, it only takes a day or two with lowered vigilance to land me right back at square one.

This has been an awful winter, hasn’t it?  The same two or three seasonal ailments have been cycling through my family and classroom ad infinitum; it feels like every time we’ve recovered from one illness, we’re coming down with another one.  I – despite my classroom being absolutely lousy with germs, and having a typically hygiene-impaired four-year-old, managed to mostly escape getting sick.

Then, two weeks ago, I was hit with laryngitis.  The worst of the illness only lasted about two days, but it was two days when I was flat-out knocked on my ass, and let me tell you – my house fell to absolute chaos.

Because the persistent messiness of my life and my rampant ADHD don’t disappear just because I have the sniffles, I was faced, once I could walk and talk and think without coughing up a lung, with a once again seemingly insurmountable mess.

This time, I lucked out; I got sick on a Wednesday, and by the time I felt human again, it was Saturday and the start of my vacation, which meant I had no other obligations and the comfort of knowing that even if I spent an entire day (or two) fixing the mess, I still had days and days and days left to relax and chill afterward.  I’m happy to let you all know that I did, in fact, get back on track, and I’m ticking off most of the boxes on my To-Do list, most days.

But what if I didn’t have vacation? What if I had a super busy week coming up, or a series of commitments, or what if I was more seriously sick for longer?  How long do I let the house go for, and how long until it’s utterly, paralyzingly bad again (pssst – past experience says it really doesn’t take that long to get into a really bad place).

I started thinking about what I could have done if I really, truly felt like I didn’t have it in me – if I didn’t have the time, the energy, the “spoons,” whatever – what I could have done to keep that paralysis at bay without over-extending myself, without triggering my anxiety or wearing myself out physically or mentally.

So I’ve spent some time thinking, what’s one thing I could do in every room of my house to keep myself sane?  Just one thing to make me feel a little more grounded?

Like most things, I’m sure your mileage my vary, but I personally feel very sure of my list.  So, if my blog entries tend to resonate with you, maybe you’ll find this to be helpful, as well.

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Some Things to Keep in Mind

  • If you aren’t neurodivergent this list probably seems needless, obvious, and silly, but task paralysis is a major issue for me, and many others with neurodivergence, as is feeling overwhelmed by the inability to break down a task (and of course clutter and mess itself is a stressor for basically everyone, though it can literally stop me dead in my tracks). This list hopefully combats task paralysis by giving a starting point, and serves as a reminder that you don’t need to do it all at once; even completing one task makes a big difference (important for those grappling with ADHD perfectionism).
  • Even these tasks, in and of themselves, can be daunting on a bad day. I would love to eventually be able to offer a step-by-step break down on the way I get through these tasks (and others), and the strategies that work for me.  If you think this would be helpful to you (or as a general resource) please let me know and I’ll make it a priority.
  • I find that I function the best within a structure, but there is a point of diminishing returns with every increased point of rigidity or complexity within that structure (see my post about planners – the more “bells and whistles,” the more paralyzing, the more likely I am to abandon the system).  The catch-all bucket in the living room works well for me, as do broad categories of organization (an under sink bucket of general cleaning products (the more multipurpose, the better), bathroom bins for “hair stuff” (shampoo, conditioner, spray, gel), “body stuff” (shower gel, soap, lotion) and “hygiene” (toilet paper, q-tips, sanitary pads, etc) work well, because there is a system of organization that is broad enough to not be overwhelming, but clear enough to actually allow me to know where everything is.
  • I am in no way a cleaning or organizational guru, and holy crap, nor do I pretend to be.  I’m just learning, at age 36, what really works and what doesn’t work for me, and also learning to be patient with myself, let go of the need for things to be perfect, and work to the best of my ability within the head space I’m occupying at any given moment.  What works for me may not work for you, but sometimes, it’s worth a shot (and it may work for someone else).

 

New Year’s, Planners, and the Culture of Perfectionism

black ball point pen with brown spiral notebook
Photo by Tirachard Kumtanom on Pexels.com

I devour what I’d call “Pinterest culture” gluttonously; picture-perfect home decor walkthroughs, DIYs that transform Dollar Tree items into chic dupes of designer products, and seemingly preternaturally organized households with color-coordinated storage solutions.  I know that even for those people who actually are devoted to organization and successfully keep their lives in order, this is still the most pristine, painstakingly staged depiction of their lives, put together with the intention to inspire.

But for some of us (even those of us well aware of the care with which the image as cultivated), it intimidates.

I’ve always been a sucker for the allure of a new year; I love the symbolism of new beginnings, and the idea of having a fresh start, or a slate wiped clean.  But the problem for people like me when it comes to a clean slate is that, along with it, comes the overwhelming fear and anxiety of sullying that slate with anything other than absolute perfection.

One frustrating trait of mine that I’ve grappled with all my life – never realizing it was a common trait among people with ADHD – is a crippling need for things I try to be perfect, if I’m going to bother investing time and effort into it.  If I’m going to stay on a diet, it’s calorie-counting and going to the gym everyday, or I might as well just lay on the couch and stuff my face with pizza.  If I’m going to keep an orderly house, everything needs to be organized by color, size, and purpose, or I might as well just throw all my trash straight on the floor.  If I’m going to embark on a project, I need to be certain that every word, every line, every turn of phrase is Pulitzer worthy before I write it, or I might as well just, what the hell, sit and fart on my keyboard.

It’s very black and white thinking, and as you can imagine, is absolute hell come New Year., and it has not, in any way, been helped by Pinterest culture.

Even something as simple as committing to a planner is just a battle fought against this awful, existential, function-versus-aesthetic-versus-purpose mental backdrop.  Everywhere I turn (YouTube lifestyle vloggers especially are a big vice of mine), there are people talking about their planner layouts – their stencils, their stickers, their special pens and pencils and markers – and yes, they are absolutely gorgeous, and yes, they make me want to get organized, and yes, every year I go out and get a planner with all the bells and whistles, and yes – then I fail to really actually use it.

It’s the same with stationary, notebooks, canvases, sketchbooks, especially if they are of high-quality or aesthetically pleasing themselves.  I know some people are inspired to use items because they are drawn to or attracted to them, but for me, it actually holds me at bay.  It feels like nothing I could ever put into it would live up to the standard of the vessel.

I don’t need to tell you why this is warped thinking, but I also don’t know what to tell you about combating it long term.  It remains difficult for me – painful, even – to write in a planner or a notebook if my handwriting isn’t pristine, the quality of my words isn’t up to par, everything isn’t perfectly bulleted or color-coded, etc.  But I can tell you, this year, I opted for a much lower key planner.

Instead of a planner with day, week, and month views, inspiring quotes on every page, a dozen pages of stickers to decorate, a plush leather cover, etc.,my planner this year is bound in a heavyweight cardstock, features a simple monthly layout (and that’s it, no day or week views), and has back-to-back, a single dotted page (for bulleted lists, charts, habit trackers (what I’m using it for), etc.) and a page with four simple boxes: Goals, Tasks, Tracking, and Notes.  The habit tracker I drew has smudged lines, and the highlighter bleeds through the margins, and you know what?  I don’t love it… but it doesn’t kill me.

And it doesn’t overwhelm me.  I like my little planner, and it’s not ugly, but it’s not loaded down with unnecessary features and it doesn’t feel like a piece of art – it feels like a tool, which is what it should be.  I don’t care if the damn thing was gilded in gold and studded in diamonds, if it’s not helping me keep track of my crap, it’s worthless.

So if you’re like me, put down that leather-bound Moleskin journal, and stop Googling Pinterest spreads that give you heart palpitations from just considering their intricacy.  More, more, more doesn’t mean better, better, better.  Do you really need a 200 page planner with hour-by-hour time allotments on the daily pages??  Are you actually going to spend hours tracing stencils and positioning stickers to track your Girl’s Night!-s or Yoga Class-es?  Or do you just need a pre-constructed, pre-determined place to write down what you want to do, and cross off when you do them? Then take the stress of expectation (and perfection) off your shoulders and downgrade.  It’s ok, really.

Is staying away from “pretty things” a long term solution?  Of course not; expecially when, to me, a “pretty thing” can be as simple as a blank page.  But if I’m trying to build a habit and routine, then the tools that are supposed to help me do tht need to be something I can reliably and comfortably use, not something that (paradoxically) makes me feel like a hack when I use it, and like a failure when I don’t.

I’ll unpack all the other worrying issues with perfectionism and such later.

At least now I can pencil it in.

Five Dollar Tree Gift Basket Ideas

Yooo, Thanksgiving is over, so guess what?  It is officially socially acceptable to roll out the Christmas shizz.  Full disclosure, as I may have mentioned before, I’ve actually been in the Christmas biz for a couple of weeks now (I think I put up my decorations – minus the tree – on November 9th.  The tree will go up after Bear’s birthday party on the 1st).

I’m ahead of the game for basically the first time in my life; it’s the day after Thanksgiving, and I’m decorated, I’ve bought Christmas cards, I’ve got my card list, I’ve made an Advent activity jar and bought Bear an Advent calendar, and I’ve bought (and wrapped!!) all my gifts.  The only things I have to do now is enjoy making a Christmas play list, and enjoy the holiday.

Oh, and I thought it’d be fun to compile a few Dollar Tree Gift Basket Lists.

I’ve written before, briefly, about my love of all things Dollar Tree (and I hope to write more about it in the future!).  There are tons of DT gift suggestions around, but most of the one I’ve seen are very vague or generic.  Going to DT several times a week, plus shopping their website, means I was able to put together a few pretty specific lists.  These gift baskets will cost between $15 and $20ish, but remember, you’ll be packing them with between 15 and 20ish items!  So they’re pretty substantial gifts.

For the Wine Lover’s Gift Basket, I didn’t mention alcohol because you can’t get it at DT, but you can throw in a bottle of good-but-cheap wine (I love Barefoot myself) and put the cost of the whole basket at just a little over $20.

I hope this helps someone out there hoping to put together some cool gifts for friends or family (and remember, you can add or take away items suggestions to make bigger/smaller baskets based on your tastes and/or budget!)

A Life in Checklists

organizing my lifeI sometimes wonder how well people really understand me when I tell them how easily I get overwhelmed by the day-to-day.

I feel like most of the people I know are sympathetic in a commiserative way; that they feel like they know what I mean, and maybe even feel the same way – the, “hey, we all have busy lives/work hard/have a lot going on!” mentality.

They probably don’t expect that I mean, if I don’t set an alarm to take a shower or brush my teeth, it might not get done that day.  Or that the accumulation of mess/clutter from daily activities will seem to sneak up on me, and then loom suddenly and overwhelmingly, making me feel incredibly anxious, but utterly incapacitated.  Or that performing a multi-step task – even a familiar one, like cooking – sometimes makes my heart race and my skill crawl with impatience and agitation.

Which is why, when considering how to go about bringing order to my life, I had to consider the most basic, most fundamental levels of organization – the checklist.

My friends are over here with cross-referenced planners, digital calendars and mobile apps, elaborate bullet journals with color-coded spreads – and I’m making simple, laminated checklists.  For things like “eat breakfast. Take a shower. Watch a movie.”  Things that apparently integrate seamlessly into other people’s lives.

But not mine.  And I have to accept that – that for whatever reason, this stuff does not come naturally to me.  But that doesn’t (and shouldn’t) mean I can’t do it.  It’s a massive waste of energy, feeling bad about how my brain is wired, instead of coming up with scaffolding I can build on to compensate for it’s limitations.

So, some people might think it’s a childish thing to have checklists for such basic stuff.

I’d say it’s a pretty damn mature thing, to go any length to ensure these tasks get done with any regularity.

So, I made some freakin’ checklists.

These are the easiest, most basic things I could think of to start with: routines to give me enough options to not feel trapped, yet not so many to incite choice paralysis, with a focus on developing habit and balance.

I’m still working on my lists for the deep clean I intend to do this month, and from there a more detailed daily/weekly chore chart to keep things in order.  I may do one for meal options as well, since outside of dinner, I’m not currently planning my meals, and always find myself either out of food options, eating utter junk, or simply not eating, and none of those are acceptable options if I’m trying to be healthier.

This is an incredibly busy week, but I’m hoping to eek out time tomorrow and Thursday to write the remaining lists.  I plan to start using these beginning Saturday – I’ll be printing out multiple copies and leaving one in my bedroom, and one in the kitchen (that’s one on each floor of the house, where I start and end my days).

Fingers crossed that these help.  They certainly can’t hurt, right?

Organizing the Chaotic Mind

organizing my lifeI’ve spent the last two and a half hours trying to clean the house.  I can’t say it hasn’t been successful – my living room and kitchen are looking pretty spiffy right now – but it’s taken longer than it would likely have taken most other people, because in the midst of completing one task, I have these intense compulsions to stop whatever I’m doing and start something – anything – else.

While I’m tidying up the kitchen:

I should organize Bear’s busy bins for summer.
Did I ever download that preschool curriculum?
I need to touch up the paint along the baseboards.
I should go out and buy organizers for the cabinets.
I still have to make those worksheets for Bear’s binder.
I have to look up home remedies for carpet stains.
I’ve got to scrub down these walls, I haven’t done that in ages.
When was the last time I washed windows?

While I’m vacuuming the living room:

I should steam clean the upstairs shower.
I need to look up those picture frames I found at WalMart.  Ooh, I should see if RetailMeNot has coupons for them.
Maybe I should order the materials to make those sconces for the wall.
I still need to find floral foam and fake succulents.  I wonder if I can order in bulk from Dollar Tree?
I should get new bins for Bear’s clothes.

And those are at least semi-on task.  A ton of them aren’t even cleaning related:

I should do a shopping haul video.  I think most of my stuff from this week is still in shopping bags.
I’ve gotta start doing mail exchanges again.
I should totally start a bullet journal.
I have a great idea for an art piece I could vlog.
I need to go make more headers for my blog.
I’ve gotta update my social media links.

…and on.  And on.  And the amazing (and frustrating) thing is, after thirty-six years, I still don’t know how to just not listen to those compulsions.  I can, for the most part, resist – but it comes at the cost of temporarily stalling out.  Like the act of pulling myself away from the temptation of distraction is, itself, an act that unbalances me,  knocks me just a little bit off-track, and requires a few moments to re-rail.  Usually this looks like me, sitting on whatever surface my butt settles on, and just staring around the room, trying to remember what I was doing, or what I could do next.  Sometimes it’s grabbing a snack.  Today, it was jumping on here.

The problem is, I don’t have a system for dealing with these intrusive thoughts, and it’s not like they don’t all have some merit.  But I have no system worked out that allows me to address them all – if I think of something and don’t do it immediately, I will put off (or forget) doing it indefinitely.  If I have the motivation and the energy for something one day and don’t jump on it, I will lose momentum and that unfinished task will gnaw at me and drain my mental energy for days or weeks, until I manage to pull myself up again.  I’m not proud of my limitations, but I know them.  I know them very well.  This is living with executive dysfunction.

But, I thought, maybe turning to this blog while I’m trying to recoup isn’t the worst thing to do.  After all, this blog is all about navigating parenthood with a chaotic mind, and the first step to navigating chaos is to impose some sort of order.

And no, it won’t be perfect.  But it’ll give me a structure to work within.

So, while I try to reorder my thoughts and get back to the task at hand, I just want to welcome you to what will be an ongoing series of posts about imposing structure and organization on my life – checklists, schedules, journals, organizational tools – what works, and what doesn’t. 

I might as well utilize what would otherwise be a distraction as a tool, right?  Make it public, hold myself accountable.

It’s a work in progress.  It always is, isn’t it?

Back to the tasks at hand.  One at a time.