My Theory on Why Women Love to Buy Bags

ImageMy husband recently began making fun of me because within a week I produced a new work bag, lunch bag and decided to hunt for the perfect diaper bag to solve all of my organizational dilemmas. In the same week I began insisting on finding an acceptable camera bag after I dropped (and broke the lens) on our $500 camera when it plummeted out of the diaper bag.  He thinks that I am obsessed with bags, but he doesn’t realize I am on a mission.  A mission to find that perfect bag that will hold everything I need everyday, be light to carry and will magically refill itself when supplies run low. I am on a mission to carry three or less bags out of the house everyday.  Is that too much to ask?

You see, when things start to feel out of control in my life it is time for a new bag to reorganize the daily details.  Now, I must say that I am not one of those girls that goes out and buys really expensive bags every month.  I go for practical and functional. Little does my husband know that I keep pulling out an old laptop bag or pocketbook from the back of the closet.  I have a collection that has been building for years for these very moments!  Starting over by dumping everything out of a bag and reorganizing it into a new one gives me a sense of control and a new hope that I will find my cell phone faster when it rings or that I will always have a pen and lipstick with me on the road.  The action of simple change can be a powerful one.

The newest challenge for me is the diaper bag.  It always needs to be refilled!  Now matter how much I try to cull it down I seem to need everything that it contains at playdates and drop-offs to babysitters.  I feel like I am constantly re-inventorying it, which is the worst when you have been out all day, are tired and you don’t want to think about whether there are enough wipes or diapers for tomorrow. But, if you don’t do it right when you get home, your baby brain and sleep deprivation will render you too dysfunctional to remember as you rush out the door the next morning.

Luckily I have come up with some shortcuts to help organize all of my bags so whether I am walking out the door as Mommy or Professional Organizer everything is ready to go.

1.  Avoid bags with too many pockets.  When there are too many pockets you simply can’t remember where you put things and you can’t remember you have them.  My main concern with a bag is whether it has a compartment right on the outside that will safely hold my cellphone and keys for easy access. The second is that it is large enough to store what I need.

2.  Use clear bags or colorful zippered bags to subdivide what is in your work or diaper bag. It makes your larger bags easier to switch out and combine on the run.  I always know where my flash drives and computer cords are in my work bag because they are in a colorful zippered pouch.  In the diaper bag I follow the lead of my friend Jess and use small zippered clear bags that sheets/pillowcases etc. come in to put toys and extra clothes. It is easy to see what is in the bag it so you can quickly refill what is missing.

3.  I created a station by my door to the garage to hold the bags and daily supplies so they can quickly be refilled (see picture above).  Extra diapers, outfits and wipes are all in a bin in the bag area to refill the diaper bag everyday.  I also made sure I have slots to stick my bags as the go in and out of the house to ensure I don’t have them laying all over the floor at the end of the day.  

4.  Get in the habit of sorting and refilling the bags at the end of the day so they are ready to go when you need to walk out the door the next morning.  You will thank yourself when you are running late the next day!

5.  Be ruthless about what you really need with you on the road.  It is easy to be overly prepared with supplies in a work bag, purse or diaper bag.  I strive to have the basics.   When I find my shoulder hurting from carrying too much it is time to regroup, dump the bag and start from scratch again.  

So for all of those men out there who don’t understand women’s obsession with their bags, remember it is more than just having a cute accessory, the bags represent peace, control and regained hope for a simpler life.

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The Organizer Becomes a Mom

On January 6. 2013 I became a mom to Andrew.  Everyone said my world would change, but of course I could never have predicted the exciting moments and challenges that would come until I experienced them myself.  Now I understand first hand how so many families felt when they called me for help organizing their lives, creating balance between their work life and home life, and why many were just desperate for any advice that might be the magic fix to make their lives easier.

My biggest struggles? Not adjusting the new responsibilities or the sleep deprivation.  I am a small business owner so I have already experienced that constant drive to keep up with my business as a Professional Organizer for the past 8 years.  The business was my first baby and I was there for it 24/7 if it needed the attention.  The difficulty with motherhood didn’t come because I couldn’t find babysitters to help, it was the idea that I needed to find a babysitter to get to the dentist, let alone pursue my other interests and goals uninterrupted.  I didn’t have emotional struggles handing my son off to others for a break to work, it was accepting the thought (without guilt) that it is okay for a mother to prefer working sometimes to playing with her infant. Did I also mention that I was jealous of my husband for getting to go to work every day?  I didn’t even mind the constant dirty diapers, the occasional crying spells and the endless feedings. I love my son and want to make him smile everyday. The hardest adjustment for me was letting go of my need for order, my desire to perform, and shutting off the constant stream of project ideas and new goals that emerge in my mind everyday, because I no longer had time.  Simply having to stop, let go of the details and just take on my new job as a mom is still something I endlessly fight…but I am getting better at it every day.

Why am I writing about this you may ask?  Because any parent I have talked to before and after I had a child seems to struggle with the right equation to find balance among what is best for their child and what is best for them personally.  Often In the process, they will feel like they are slowly losing their mind, their house is falling apart and they are too tired to care or find a solution to make it better.  I remind myself everyday that I have been lucky enough to get to be home and still pursue my career, not all moms have the choice or the financial freedom to get the best of both worlds.  That being said the challenges can be just as hard and I work everyday to do something to make my life feel a little less chaotic. I decided to start this blog and share it with other parents who may need some inspiration and some comfort that even a Professional Organizer can feel disorganized and paralyzed by the baby brain that inevitably takes over with a child. Luckily, there are plenty of days I break through the fog.

In this blog, I hope to share some of the ideas and organizing tips that make my life a little simpler so I can enjoy the fun moments with my son, yet still feed my need to create, write, and help others improve their own lives.  I look forward to your comments and ideas as well to share with my readers.  One of the best parts of being a new mom is the wonderful community of new parents and old friends who support me with their thoughts, advice and ears for venting sessions each week.  They make the new parent experience even more fun and I plan to include some guest bloggers for even more tips.

Stay tuned for my next article: Meal Planning Hell and Conquering the Grocery Store

 

Getting Your Finances Organized

The slower economy has forced everyone to make different choices. Most of you should have filed your taxes by now, and for some that can be a harsh reality check. I have witnessed my clients at all economic levels having a greater awareness of what they are spending and scaling back. Never has there been a more important time to implement a budget that can help you really understand what you are spending on a weekly, monthly or yearly basis.

While I am not a financial advisor, I do have some organizing tips to share to get you started. If you find the process difficult to navigate or find yourself needing more detailed advise on managing your money, strongly suggest meeting with a Certified Financial Planner™ to work out a specific plan to help you spend and save your money wisely. Starting with the following actions will better prepare you for a professional assessment as well as help you focus and proactively deal with your finances.

First, you must understand how and when you spend your money. If you are one of those people who never open their bank or credit card statements when they come in the mail, you could be doing yourself a great disservice. Not only can you miss how much you are really spending on a monthly basis, but you can also miss important mistakes on your statements that can be costing you money. Even worse, you won’t be aware of identity theft, should it happen to you. Enrolling online can be an easy way to monitor your spending and your accounts.

For two weeks keep a notepad with you and mark down every penny your are spending and on what. It might be surprising to see how much you spend buying bottles of water on the road or something as small as a pack of gum. Do you really know how much you spend on gas each week? Or, when is the last time you added up all of the money you spend on groceries and food.

When you are done with this exercise, take the time to categorize your spending. Whether you use a computer spreadsheet or a handwritten chart. If you are more techie I highly recommend using software such as Quicken, Microsoft Money or Mint.com to help you manage your accounts and see the big picture.

For a free budgeting template go to my website http://www.theorganizedlifestylestore.com and click on Tips/Downloads. There you will find a variety of free organizational templates/downloads.

Kristin & The Organized Lifestyle Team

What is Your Block To Getting Organized?

People often don’t make the link that their clutter can be blocking them from future opportunities.  Whether it is mental clutter or physical clutter overtaking your mind and space, you may be too tired, too fogged or too stressed to make your real priorities and dreams come true.  

My Feng Shui colleague Krista Polinsky of Soul Intent often says that too much clutter in your attic can block your future, while too much clutter in your basement can represent you holding on to your past.  I love the symbolism in that statement.  If you tend to cling to possessions from past relationships, deceased relatives or just plain procrastinate making decisions by throwing them into a space, you are not giving yourself the room and the emotional clarity that you need to start a new wave of your life.  

If you are constantly burdened by the “stuff” that you never get to in your closets, your office and other areas of your home, you may be wasting time and energy on the same habits that have you running on a hamster wheel that never stops.

Nine times out of ten, when I first walk into a home to do an assessment, the owner walks into each room and spews a list of tasks they know that need to accomplish to get organized.  They can always identify the furniture they no longer want, but haven’t felt like coordinating to remove from their home.  They usually point out the piles of papers that they know probably just need to be shredded, but remain in multiple locations engulfing their space.  That’s when I ask what is your block?  What is preventing you from moving forward on this project?

Often I hear the same excuses.  “I don’t have the time to go through it all.”  “I hate dealing with paperwork.”  “I don’t want my mother’s set of dishes, but I can’t just give them away, it was a part of her.”  “I believe the desk is worth money, but I don’t know how to sell it.”  Well I have answers for all of these excuses!

1.  If you don’t have the time, schedule it.  If you don’t put it on a calendar and hold yourself accountable to get it done you will always put it last on the list.  You don’t have to do everything in one day.  Commit to one night a week after work every month to go through one box and you will be doing far more than just letting it sit there.

2.  If you hate dealing with paperwork, find someone who doesn’t.  There are plenty of teenagers looking for extra money who can sort receipts and file for you for a very cheap rate.  If you are getting too much paper delivered, consider getting off mailing lists, receiving your bills online or simplifying how many categories you have to parse your papers into to get them filed.  Sometimes a 13-pocket expandable file folder labeled by month will be enough to capture your monthly paperwork.

3.  If you don’t want a relative’s possessions, but you are attached to the memory, take a picture of it and find someone in the family who will love it just as much as your relative did.  If a family member is not an option, give it to a friend.  Making that connection will make you feel much more gratified than staring at the box taking up room in your home.

4.  Believing something is valuable, and it actually being sell-able are two different stories.  If you think something is valuable in your home, first do the research.  Look it up on Ebay, take a picture to a furniture consigner or antique dealer.  Just because someone in the family believed it was worth something because it is old doesn’t necessarily translate into dollars.   If you do find it has value, make the commitment to sell it or honor it the way it should be properly displayed in your home.   There are many resources out there to help you make it happen.  Again, you need to make the time to get it done.

If you find yourself burdened by excuses, you need to ask yourself why you are really stopping yourself from getting it done? If you need help find it, if you need time decide what you can give up to get it done.  Take the risk to deal with it and I promise you will begin to reignite your creativity, your motivation and your opportunities for new projects, career moves and relationships.

Kristin Mastromarino is a Professional Organizer and owner of Livable Solutions Professional Organizing (www.livablesoltuions.com) and The Organized Lifestyle Store (www.theorganizedlifestylestore.com.  You can e-mail her your questions at kristin@livablesolutions.com)

How Clutter Affects Our Relationships


How to deal with a loved one who is not “following the program” or who is very messy is one of the most common questions I hear as I speak to clients and field questions about organizing at my workshops.  I often tell people that an anecdote from my own household.  My husband could care less if the surfaces of our house are dusty or our floors are dirty.  It barely phases him, but if I don’t load the dishwasher efficiently or stack the same size forks and spoons together in our silverware divider it irks him beyond belief.  Even though I am a professional organizer, there are certain areas of my life I don’t feel like sweating the small details, but I realize they are important to him, so we have had to find ways to compromise or pick up extra slack in the areas we care about more.  

For some families the issues are greater and the compromises harder to make.  That’s why I will share my five tips for dealing with relationship conflicts over clutter.

1. Talk about each others definitions of organization.  Often you may be operating on a completely different definition of what it means to be organized.  Ask anyone and they will define it slightly differently every time.  If each of you don’t outline your expectations of how to keep an organized home you can continue to have the same arguments over demands that are not clear to the other person.  You may discover that your family member could care less about being organized at all.  They may also process items more visually than logically.  Once you all understand each others expectations it is easier to find ways to help each other rather than argue with each other.

2. Find areas you can compromise.  I have been called in over and over again by parents to get their teenagers rooms in order.  Often the teen is resistant and embarrassed to have me in their space.  I often explain to the parents that I am going to be no good to either party involved if the teenager doesn’t want the help or have a problem with they way they are keeping their room.  Sometimes the compromise is to just close the door.  In other cases it may be agreeing on one goal to achieve regularly rather than maintaining a system that is more for the parent than for the child. This brings me to the next tip.

3. Make the system easy to follow for the person who cares more.  Unfortunately, in many cases it is the person who is more bothered by the disorder that loses out.  In order for them to have the perfection they desire they will have to maintain the order themselves.  You can’t force someone who is extremely creative and visual and likes to pile to use a file system because you think logically and linearly.  However, if you can get that person to put papers to file in a tray and you file the papers each month for them in your simple system you can work together to maintain the order you may crave.  However, you cannot get angry at the person who hates using files being unable to file with you.

4.  Bring in an outside mediator.  Sometimes it just is not productive for family members to organize together.  Often I have been called in by family members to be the mediator and they are usually impressed at how much better their family members accomplish with an outside person.  That’s because other family members tend to judge, reprimand and have impatience with the person who may have trouble making decisions and sorting through the items on their own.  An outside person can often show the empathy and patience in a non-bias way that a family member cannot.

5.  Seek the help of a qualified therapist if there are greater hoarding concerns.  Often the real troubles between family members are sparked by a person living in the house who is hoarding.  Hoarding is a serious issue that can lead to blocked rooms, dangerous paths and emotional duress.  Often a hoarder has a larger attachment to objects and papers than the average person.  So much so that anxiety and strong emotions can build when forced by a family a member to address their issues.  The family will continue to fight and threaten the hoarder to no avail until that person pursues help with a therapist.  Hoarding is much more than just a disorganization problem and sneaking behind their back to eliminate clutter can be very detrimental.  For more information on hoarding visit the Institute for Challenging Disorganization at www. nsgcd.org.

For more information on this topic, you can also join me for a free workshop on “How Clutter Affects Relationships,” at The Organized Lifestyle Store, 725 Boston Post Road (Second Floor), Guilford, CT on February 20, 2012 at 6:00pm.  Call to register at 203-458-7674 or e-mail info@theorganizedlifestylestore.com.

Kristin Mastromarino is a Professional Organizer and owner of Livable Solutions Professional Organizing (www.livablesolutions.com) and The Organized Lifestyle Store (www.theorganizedlifestylestore.com).  You can e-mail her your questions at kristin@livablesolutions.com.

3 Habits to Break in the New Year

There are many statistics on how long it takes to break a habit.  Whether you look at the length of time it will take or the number of repetitions, the point is that creating a habit is a commitment that takes time.  Often, good organization hinges on breaking thought patterns and physical habits that have a root tied within us.

In an effort to inspire you this New Year, here are three common habits that must be broken to give you more free time, save you money and keep you in control of what enters and exits your home.

1.  Stop procrastinating the mail.  So many of my clients have plenty of money in the bank, yet, they are bordering on getting their power shut off or retaining constant late fees, all for the fact that they throw their mail in a pile on the counter, by the door, or in a bag to hide from the company coming at 5:00.  As a result they lose track of dealing with the bills and important tasks.  New habit to try this year:  Throw away your junk mail immediately, open each bill and place them in one spot to review on a set day once or twice a month.

2.  Shopping the sales.  Often I see clients rushing out to stores every time they get a coupon in the mail or there is some “incredible” end of the season sale going on. Sometimes they shop out of boredom or the constant need for something new. They have no real need for anything at the store, but don’t want to miss a bargain.  What is the result?  A house full of shopping bags unopened, tags still on, being stored for when the items might be needed.  As tempting as it is to get a deal, when you have no reason to stock up, you are building an expensive and time consuming sorting and donating project for the future.  New habit to try this year:  Only buy an item on sale if you need it or have a need to use it within the next two months.  Otherwise, avoid the stores all together unless you have a specific purchase in mind.

3.  Putting items in bags or boxes when company comes.  Much like the mail habit I discussed earlier, I frequently see clients shoving items in a shopping bag or box to deal with later so they can make their house presentable for a guest.  Nine times out of ten, those items stay in the box or bag thrown in a basement, laundry room or closet until the accumulation is so great that they must do something about it to use the space. Again, you are setting yourself up for a time consuming sorting project of objects that probably have no significance in your home.  New habit to try this year:  Sort the items around your house to their proper home. If they aren’t important enough to place in a specific area, or don’t seem to fit a category,  they probably aren’t important enough to take up space in a box in your closet either.

Attacking these top three challenges this New Year could save you time, money and your sanity!

Kristin Mastromarino is a Professional Organizer and owner of Livable Solutions Professional Organizing (www.livablesolutions.com) and The Organized Lifestyle Store (www.theorganizedlifestylestore.com).  Send your questions to her at kristin@livablesolutions.com)

5 Creative Ways to Use A Binder

Binders are one of the most useful organization tools for paperwork gathering and sorting, however, some hesitate to use them because hole-punching can be a difficult step to get the paper to its final home.  The benefits of using a binder can be great if you are looking for an alternative storage method to organizing papers into a file or want to create a customized workbook for keeping up with projects, school paperwork or more.

One of my favorite brands of Binders is Bindertek.  If you have never checked out their products you are going to love the durability, versatile colors, quality, and look.  Some of my favorite features are the large reusable label tabs on the side of the binder as well as the unique locking mechanism to hold papers securely while allowing them to slide around the rings easily.  I also love the binder that actually looks like a book spine.  If you want your office to be organized but have a more decorated feel, these are a great option.  You can check out their binders online at  http://www.bindertek.com/binders.html.

I thought I would highlight five creative ways that you can use a binder to rethink the utility of this simple but versatile organizing tool.

1.  Tickler File System:  Use a binder with pocket  folders for a daily sorter of paperwork you must take action on.  Using a binder will also allow you to take your important papers on the road with you where ever you need to work.

2.  Filing Source:  Binders are a great alternative to filing in file folders.  If you don’t like opening a drawer and putting papers away or only have room for a shelf in your office, binders are a great alternative for keeping paperwork like insurance policies, investment statements, bank statements etc.  Use different colors for different categories to make filing even easier.

3.  Memory Keeper:  Binders can be a wonderful way to make a quick scrapbook of memories.  Using some clear binder inserts you can quickly display and protect cards, drawings, important letters etc.  Label them by year and create a simplified presentation display.

4.  Craft Organizer:  Binders can also be a great resource for storing sewing, knitting, and quilting patterns, etc.  Use clear sleeves to place booklets, extra copies of favorite patterns to share or pieces of your project.  Creating a quick book to flip through helps you to quickly see your options and keep everything safely stored.

5.  Idea Book:  Use a binder to gather all of those sheets of paper you rip out of magazines, pictures you save for decorating ideas, or items you want to buy in the future.  Use tabbed binder dividers to create categories for your different interests.  Clean it out periodically to prevent it from growing to full by filtering out items you are not likely to follow through on.

The sky is the limit when it comes to how you use a binder.  Consider using one next time you are unsure how to organize your paper.

Kristin Mastromarino is a professional organizer and owner of Livable Solutions Professional Organizing (www.livablesolutions.com) and The Organized Lifestyle Store (www.theorganizedlifestylestore.com).  You can e-mail her your organizing questions at kristin@livablesolutions.com.