Author Archives: Organizing Champaign-Urbana

About Organizing Champaign-Urbana

Professional organizer in Champaign-Urbana, helping busy moms go from overwhelmed to organized

The Most Important 10 Minutes of Your Day

I’ve previously talked about the importance of keeping up. I mentioned how a couple of minutes every night doing a quick pick up of the house (before it gets too overwhelming) means saving an hour of cleaning on the weekend.

I spend just a couple of minutes getting everything ready for the next day: getting out anything I can for breakfast, ensuring the dishes are all put away, moving any bags to our landing zone, and putting away any paper or toys left around.

Find out the most important 10 minutes of your day!

Another one minute task I do before going to sleep is to check out tomorrow’s calendar to make sure I’ve got everything I need for the day. My kid has show-and-tell every Friday, usually with a different theme. We came thisclose to missing it this week, but one final peek at 9:00 pm reminded me that we needed to find something orange.

I like to do the same thing at the end of my work day: take a look at tomorrow’s calendar, put together a quick to-do list, make sure my desk is orderly before leaving. Having everything in its place makes a calmer start to my day, especially on a Monday!

That’s really what this 10 minutes of your day is all about: getting you in a calmer, more peaceful mindset to make your day run smoother and your life more organized.

If you need help with finding those 10 minutes to change your days, contact me today!

It’s Easier to Keep Up than to Catch Up

I would love to tell you that you can simply just organize your house once and that it will magically stay that way. But that would be a lie. My organizing motto has 3 steps: reduce, arrange, maintain. First, you need to get rid of some stuff. Second, you need to organize it. Third, and most important, you need methods and tips to help you keep it organized.

It's easier to keep up than to catch up

If you haven’t been organized in a while, you will have to do all three steps, which is always going to be daunting and feel crushing. If you need to tweak an area of your house that was previously organized, you will have to do only the last two, which is definitely achievable. If you have a system in place already, you will only have to maintain. And that is the easiest of all.

When working with clients, I focus on all three parts and I love to give them little tips and tricks to make it easier to maintain with a quick pick up. That five minutes every night means saving an hour on the weekend. Time I’d rather be spending with my family. Time I’d rather be spending with my friends. Time I’d rather be relaxing on the couch with a glass of wine.

Every time I leave a room, I glance around to see if there is anything that needs to go with me. Every night before bed, I walk around the house and get everything put away from the night and set up for the morning. It can feel never ending. However, I never feel overwhelmed by my house and I can always find exactly what I need when I need it.

Let’s be real: it’s hard work. At the end of a long day, the last thing I want to do is pick up a bunch of toys or wash dishes, but I do it anyways. Because organizing is an ongoing process and it’s always easier to keep up than it is to catch up.

If you need help catching up on those tasks that have been piling up, contact me today!

My Simple Organizing Philosophy

Prefer podcasts over reading blogs? Check out episode one of the Organizing Confidence Unlimited podcast to hear me discuss this philosophy in depth.

When it comes to my organization style, I have a pretty simple philosophy: reduce, arrange, maintain. The first step is to reduce the amount of stuff you have. Start by taking everything out of the area that you are working on. Every. Single. Thing. (I like to take this opportunity to clean off the surface since it’s one of the few occasions that everything is off there!)

Grouping things is a great way to see what you have. If you’re doing a kitchen, group by type of dish. If you’re doing a linen closet, group by use of item (shaving, hair, hand towels, etc) Take a look at each item and determine its fate:

  • Do I really need or want it?
  • Do I even like it?
  • Have I used this in the last year?
  • Would I buy it today? If it broke, would I immediately replace it?
  • Is this a quality item?
  • Would I keep it if it were originally free?
  • What is the worst thing that could happen if I got rid of it?
  • Am I only keeping it “in case” I need it someday? (Think about if you can borrow one or buy a new one in 20 minutes for under $20)
  • Is it a duplicate?
  • Is this the best place for it?
  • When will I use it again? And will I remember I have it?

Next, you need to arrange how everything is going to go back into the space. I group everything by putting like with like. In my kitchen, my most often used utensils are grouped together in a drawer. In the playroom, the kid’s favorite books are grouped in the bookcase. In my linen closet, all of our teeth stuff is in one bin. This makes it easy to see what you have, what you’re low on, and what you don’t use!

The last step is sometimes the hardest one and that is the maintain part. You need to have a system in place in order to keep the organization. Labels are obviously a great way to ensure that everyone in your home knows exactly where things need to go.

When I first bought our three hampers for our ‘new’ laundry system of sorting while putting dirty clothes away, I put 3×5 index cards on each one so everyone knew which was for towels, darks, and whites. It looked silly and completely unprofessional, but guess what? It worked. When the cat destroyed two of the cards about a month in, I didn’t even need to replace them because everyone had a routine and habit of knowing which item when into which basket.

What’s great about this system is that sometimes you don’t need to do all three of them at the same time. You can do it piecemeal. If you have recently gone through all of your under-sink items, think about whether you could group them better for easier access. If you just redid your pantry, think about why it constantly falls to chaos and what type of maintenance it might take to keep it looking the way you want.

Take a look around your house and see if there are any areas that could use some reducing, arranging, and maintaining. Contact me if you find any spaces that need some additional help!

Organizing CU's organizing philosophy: reduce, arrange, maintain

The Easiest Meal Prepping System

Do you know what you’re doing for dinner? Are you planning to stop at the grocery store today to pick up something for tonight?

Planning your meals will save you time by cutting down on the grocery trips and mental energy as to what you’re having for dinner. Now that we have a little one and I have Organizing CU (which includes nighttime networking, business meetings and organizing sessions) weeknights can get busy in our house.

Every Thursday night, my husband and I go through our upcoming schedules and discuss what is going on over the weekend and following week (such as date nights, guests, tailgating) as we decide how many meals we need to plan.

Easy meal prepping

To make it easier, we have the same basic routine for our meals: brunch on Sunday morning, a bigger Sunday dinner, two simple meals during the week, and leftovers in between. He digs through the recipes and chooses some options. I keep notes in the upper corner of my recipes that let him know if it’s a weekend, weekday, or Crock Pot recipe so he can choose accordingly.

After picking the recipes, I check the pantry and make my grocery lists. My husband and I divide and conquer: he gets anything from the Co-Op in Urbana after work on Fridays while I will hit the regular grocery store for everything else whenever my schedule allows.

Sunday mornings are usually reserved for cooking. In addition to prepping my two Sunday meals, I also take care of my lunches and the breakfasts for my husband and daughter: an 8×10 baked egg dish with a variety of ingredients (broccoli and goat cheese; mozzarella and tomato; green chiles and cheddar). Each weekday morning, they get a hot, home cooked meal that I only have to heat up during the busy morning.

Meal prepping takes some time and effort when you first get into it. But eventually, you reach the spot where you’re not worrying about dinner at 3 pm and you have something simple ready to go. If your family likes leftovers, maybe you only cook two meals a week, but double it and freeze half for later. Maybe you end up with a themed week: Meatless Monday, Italian Tuesdays, Pizza Fridays. But I’ve found that a basic routine and some organization and preparation will make your entire menu much easier.

If you need some help with your meal prep, contact me today!

The Best Way to Declutter Kitchens

When I explain what a professional organizer does, the three three places I get asked about are always toys, closets, and the kitchen.

Kitchens can be one of the toughest place to organize. You’re likely in there all the time, whether you’re a cook or not. It’s the place that people tend to gravitate towards, during a normal week or a party. It’s the drop zone for basically everything in your home: mail, paperwork, toys, dishes, bags. Though it’s certainly fine for a short-term storage, you need to have a permanent home for everything in there.

The absolute best way to declutter kitchens

I like to keep my counters clear of everything but snacks and toaster oven. That means everything else needs to have a space in my cabinets or drawers.

My husband and I combined our households when we got married so we had too much stuff. Though we had space for all of it, the kitchen felt crowded. We used to have about 10 larger dinner plates that we didn’t use; I kept them “just in case.” I finally realized that I’m not going to suddenly host a dinner party with seating for 10.

I hosted Christmas at our house for about 15 people last year and guess what I used? Paper plates. (Sorry environment!) I’ve now had them out of our kitchen for about 3 months and I have not missed them a single day.

When working on organizing the kitchen, I like to start by pulling everything out and then dividing everything into several categories: stuff you use all the time (your “A” group), stuff you barely use (your “B” group), and the stuff you could donate (your “C” group). Of course, I recommend a donate pile for all those things you forgot you had and no longer need!

The A group should be pretty obvious to you: dishes, cups, specific pots and pans. While you’re working on this, keep in mind that a type of item may have some A and some B or C. If you have fancy china, that may fall under C, while your everyday dishware is going to be A. Cups may be A and champagne glasses may be in B.

Next, you need to determine what areas of your kitchen are for A, which are for B and which are C spaces. The A spaces should be readily accessible. For us, that’s the bottom shelves in the upper cabinets, where we store plates and glasses.

The B space is the higher shelves in the upper cabinets, which require some stretch to reach. We keep things like extra travel mugs up there.

The C group gets put somewhere that we don’t go to often. In our house, it’s the bottom of our pantry and the shelves in our dining room. The bottom pantry has pull out drawers and I keep a popcorn machine, crock pots, immersion blender, etc. in those. The dining room shelves get the prettier items: trifle dish, cake stand, and the Dutch oven.

A quick note for parents: we keep all of our kid stuff in a big bin on a shelf within her reach: bowls, sippy cups, plates, etc. She knows where to get a plate to tell us when she’s hungry and she knows where it goes after it’s been washed. It’s never too early to start organizing!

If you feel overwhelmed in your kitchen, let me help out. Contact me today!

Final Thoughts on Organizing Paperwork

A home for all your paperwork, organized for your life
My 4 step solution to organizing paperwork: Find, Initial go-thru, Sort, Home (FISH)

For our month of organizing paperwork, we hit a lot of stuff! Let’s review the four steps:

  1. Find: Put all the papers in one place
  2. Initial go-thru: Organize into keep, recycle, shred
  3. Sort: Sort keep pile into active, current, long term storage, sentimental, receipts
  4. Home: Find a permanent home for each pile

Organizing all of these piles and finding a home for them is the crucial last step. Without a home, you won’t be able to keep up the routine of putting papers in their home spot. You need to figure out a system that works for you and your life. It will likely change over time.

Some people may want to do a shred box that you shred when it gets full, while others can shred as they go. Each kid may have their own bin with one hanging file folder for each school year to save the best of the best while other parents would prefer to keep everything saved electronically.

I know these 4 simple steps make it look like it should be easy, but I know that it is a daunting job to go through all of those papers! I know that you may get stuck at some point. But keep moving forward, even as few as 5 papers a day will eventually make progress and you may even get some momentum! But keep moving forward!

Paperwork is one of the toughest areas of the home to get under control. If you are feeling overwhelmed and need some help, contact me!

Step 4 of organizing all that paperwork!

Step 4: Sort items by category and location. Inbox for your active pile, expanding file for current, filling cabinet for long term, storage bins for sentimental, envelopes for receipts
My 4 step solution to organizing paperwork: Find, Initial go-thru, Sort, Home (FISH)

Now that we’ve done step 1 (Find), step 2 (Initial go-thru), and step 3 (Sort), you have five piles of keep, the next step is to go through each of those piles and find a permanent home for them. If you can do several of them in a night, great. Just make sure you take a break after each one. If you’re short on time and can do one a night, no big deal. This should work within your time constraints. Again, you may run into more shredding and recycling, which is great! Remember our key question throughout this paper organizing process: “What do I need to keep?

Your active pile will be the most fluid with stuff going in and out frequently. Try to keep a small basket in a set location, such as on your desk or in the corner of your kitchen. Schedule a time each day/week/every other week to go through the papers and toss/shred/ file anything that you need to keep. Personally, I keep a small paper holder in my kitchen and go through it every couple of days. That may be too often for you.

You can use an expanding file for the current folder. I’ve also used these in a filing cabinet with a “Current” label. Again, this one will have some in and out documents. Take a look at the documents you have in there and that may lead you to the right place to store them.

Long term storage can be kept in a filing cabinet with labeled hanging file folders so you can easily file anything away. You may prefer to scan these items and keep them saved electronically. If that works for you, awesome! As I’ve said before, I’m a paper girl so I don’t keep too much saved electronically, but that’s just personal preference.

For the sentimental stuff, we like to keep bins in our storage area (basement for us, but it could be your attic, garage, under bed). If you are short on space, you may want to go through them yearly and clean out anything that is outdated or that you no longer think you’ll need. Each person gets a set amount of space: one bin for each person. Again, electronic storage is a great option for this. I keep all of my kid’s art stuff saved in a folder on Google Drive, then I don’t feel bad when it doesn’t make it into her scrapbook or to a grandparent.

With receipts, I keep all of the current month’s receipts in envelopes (one for each account) and then reconcile them with my bank statements once a month. Anything that may have a return at some point, such as Wal-Mart, Target, Lowes, etc, I move to a new envelope that is “Saved for returns.” Every couple of months, I clean that out. Since most of our stuff is groceries and food, it’s a very small folder. You may want to just keep a folder for the possible returns and not worry about the rest. Again, that’s totally up to you!

The best part of this step is that you can totally customize it to fit your life! If your family doesn’t keep receipts, then don’t keep them! If you already have bins in the basement for some of your sentimental stuff, then go through them and purge/add as necessary. If you have a place that paper tends to pile up at, then add an inbox right there. This is the part that you can customize to your life, which is a great way to make it a habit!

Paperwork is one of the toughest areas of the home to get under control. If you are feeling overwhelmed and need some help, contact me!

Step 3 of organizing all that paperwork!

Step 3: Sorting the keep pile into categories (active, current, long term storage, sentimental, receipts)
My 4 step solution to organizing paperwork: Find, Initial go-thru, Sort, Home (FISH)

Now that you’ve done step 1 (Find) and step 2(Initial go-thru), and you’ve gotten rid of the shred and recycling piles, you are left with only the keep.

This will likely be the hardest step for most people.

Go through them and Sort everything into one of five piles:

  1. Active (‘to do’ items like bills to pay, RSVPs, rebates, forms to fill out and mail back)
  2. Current (‘use for the near future’ like tax docs, sports calendars, paid bills from last 3 months)
  3. Long term storage (previous tax returns, medical records, warranties)
  4. Sentimental (old papers you wrote in college, kids artwork)
  5. Receipts

Keep in mind, you may now be in the mindset of tossing stuff and you need to create more shred/recycle piles. If so, that is awesome! Remember our mindset shift: “What do I need to keep?” instead of “What can we get rid of?”

Like I said, this one will be the most daunting one. For every 30 minutes you work, take a 5 minute break! Sorting everything in one night may not be possible and that’s fine! There is no need to rush through all of this! As long as you continue to make progress, you’re moving in the right direction! Step 4 is coming up next!

Paperwork is one of the toughest areas of the home to get under control. If you are feeling overwhelmed and need some help, contact me!

Step 2 of organizing all that paperwork!

Sort into 3 piles - keep, recycle, shred
My 4 step solution to organizing paperwork: Find, Initial go-thru, Sort, Home (FISH)

In step 1, we put everything in a huge bin (Find). This next step is doing an Initial go-thru putting everything into three bins: keep, recycle, and shred. Decide for yourself on the best time and place to work on sorting. Typically, I like to do all of the organizing in the house by myself, but you may want or need some family member’s input on this step. I prefer to do this when my husband is watching TV that I have zero interest in, such as basketball games. He’s nearby in case I need his input on a certain document, but he is not getting in my way!

For this step, it is absolutely key that you DO NOT SORT THE KEEP PILE NOW! I repeat, DO NOT SORT THE KEEP PILE NOW! As a client recently told me, this is where she was getting hung up before we worked together. She was trying to sort as she went through everything.

Types of items in the recycle pile: junk mail, old lists, old catalogs, expired coupons, old magazines

Types of items in the shred pile: outdated bills, old receipts, bank statements, investment/retirement statements over a year old

Remember our key question from step 1: “What do I need to keep?” instead of “What can we get rid of?” If you’re unsure, put it in keep since the next step is sorting that pile.

As soon as you have these three piles, stop. DO NOT SORT THE KEEP PILE NOW. Take a break and move the recycle pile to the recycling bin and shred all the stuff you can.

Now go take a break – you deserve it!

Paperwork is one of the toughest areas of the home to get under control. If you are feeling overwhelmed and need some help, contact me!

The 4 Step System to Organize Your Paperwork…For Good!

Step 1: Put all of the paperwork into a box. From every corner of your house. Toss it all in.
My 4 step solution to organizing paperwork: Find, Initial go-thru, Sort, Home (FISH)

I want to share the system that I find works the absolute best when you feel overwhelmed by all the papers in your house. There is a fair amount of stop and go with this technique, which makes it a more-than-one day-project, but it will stop you from feeling overwhelmed and let’s be real – your papers didn’t get like this in just one day!

As you’re going through this process, walking away and coming back fresh is a HUGE help when going through piles of paperwork. It may make one part of your house a mess for a few days or weeks, but it’s a fair price to pay to get it all under control and to get your new system in place to avoid this in the future!

The question I want you to remember throughout is “What do I need to keep?” instead of “What can we get rid of?” It’s a small shift that will pay dividends for your mindset when tackling a huge project like this! You’re then thinking of getting rid of everything, unless you need it for a certain reason. You are setting yourself up for success.

Let me reassure some doubters by saying that I’m not a paperless person. I still get my bills sent to my house (though I pay them online). My mind and system work better with physical reminders of my tasks, not electronic ones. However, this technique could also be used if you want to go paperless. Once you get to the end, you can scan all the documents and save them electronically and then create an upkeep system.

The acronym I use is FISH. Find, Initial go-thru, Sort, Home.

The first step is to walk around your house and find every sheet of paper and put it in one bin such as a laundry basket. Find every single one and toss it in. Go through every filing cabinet, every drawer, and every shelf. And then stop. Don’t do anything else. Give yourself some time to be in the right mind space for the next step! As more mail and papers come in this week, go through it as best as you can and toss them into the basket as well.

Paperwork is one of the toughest areas of the home to get under control. If you are feeling overwhelmed and need some help, contact me!