Archive for 'Blog'

Mar 03

Like many people around the world, I have been caught up in the lives and loves of the inhabitants of Downton Abbey. This Masterpiece Theatre series is based on the fictitious Crawley family and their staff in early twentieth century England. The series is beautiful, showing the English countryside at its lush green best, gorgeous Highclere Castle with its stunning furnishings and art, and the Crawley family with their extravagant wardrobes and social lives. The upstairs inhabitants of Downton sparkle and shine in their finery, supported visibly by their large staff.

There is a complicated relationship between the family and those who tend to them. Like the Highclere staff, professional organizers get to know our clients intimately, often learning secrets that we keep confidential, and finding treasures that have both financial and sentimental value in our work. Lady’s maid Anna is a great model of discretion – she notices, helps where she can, but never gossips about the family. She is a great professional organizer!

As a professional organizer, and especially because I specialize in working with families, I have been fascinated with the family management that is depicted on the show. First of course, is the inescapable fact that many, many people make the huge (more than 200 rooms!) house work for the family. By my calculations, 7 to 10 family members generate the “work” of the house. With 50 to 80 bedrooms, they have room for many, many house guests, so let’s assume that they can have as many as 100 overnight guests. Imagine what kind of planning that would take! The staff consists of 15 named characters, and we see glimpses of more – all with their jobs to do. I love housekeeper Mrs. Hughes’ family management centre in her office, and that she is actually shown working on accounts and lists. Likewise, cook Mrs. Patmore is shown doing the work behind the cooking as well as actually cooking – taking inventory of the pantry, ordering food, planning menus and managing the timing so that everything is ready when it should be. Butler Mr. Carson also has his own office, and we see him consulting with the Earl of Grantham on wine lists, staffing issues and more. I have noticed that each of these people know exactly what their roles and responsibilities are – an excellent lesson in family management, no matter who is doing the work! For those of us who do not have staff to help us with our cooking, cleaning, and even dressing, it is nice to see some of the “invisible” work recognized. That invisible work can be very time consuming, and its successful completion is important to the final product, whether that be a house party, a special event wardrobe that is pulled together flawlessly, or getting family members to their various activities fed, on time, and wearing the appropriate clothing.

And remember – one can’t live an “upstairs” life if one doesn’t have adequate “downstairs” support. (Just imagine that in Lady Mary’s voice in your head!)

Aug 02

I live in a typical suburban neighbourhood – our homes are on narrow lots with one- or two-car garages, and almost all of my neighbours park their cars on the driveway and store junk in their garages.  Does this sound familiar?  Our vehicles are probably our most valuable belongings, after our homes, and we leave them outside to face the elements while protecting miscellaneous flotsam and jetsam from our lives in our garage!  In the summer this is not such a problem, and it might even be easier on the paintjobs to keep our cars outside, away from bikes, trikes and scooters.  If you would like to park at least one vehicle in the garage when the snow flies, now is the time to clear out the garage space.

  1. Do some pre-planning – Investigate storage options. Take a trip to the hardware store to see what’s available. Garage organizing systems can be custom installations costing lots of money, or odds and ends of leftover hardware.  Use what works for your budget.  Cupboard storage of some kind is great for keeping bugs, dust, and dirt away.  Look up for storage – can you fashion loft storage overhead?  (Be careful and ensure that things stored overhead are secure – you don’t want your off-season tires to come crashing down on anyone when a door bangs shut.)  Consider the needs of your family – do you have lots of sporting equipment? Do you have recreational vehicles?  Don’t buy the organizing products until you are sure of how much you will have to store.
  2. Check the upcoming weather and choose a couple of nice sunny days for the actual garage work.  While you might be able to finish in a day it’s great to have extra time to install organizing products.  Pull everything out onto your driveway – yes, everything!  Clear the floor, the walls, and the rafters.  As you are doing this, toss any garbage and recyclables, consider a pile for a dump run, another for give-aways.
  3. Sweep the space thoroughly, wash the windows, clear the cobwebs.  Get rid of those weird little round worms that look like washers.
  4. Take a look at what you need to put back into the garage. Get rid of anything you no longer use or need.   If someone else can still use it, add it to the donation pile.  If you are leaving space for your car, pull it in, open the doors and mark the space you need – everything else must fit around this space.  Pull the car back out and reconsider what is left to go back in!
  5. Examine your space to determine placement of your storage.  Find and mark the wall studs.  This is where you will attach any tool hangers or garage organizing systems.  Try to keep things up and off the floor as much as possible. Before purchasing or installing any garage organizing system, put the things you want to store roughly into place to see how they fit.  Take measurements. Mark parking spaces on the floor with paint for kids’ bikes and scooters. Look around for storage items –bins and crates, scrap lumber, old cupboards can all be put to great use as garage storage. Cardboard boxes should not be used in the garage – they are prone to mould, and easily infested with critters of 4 or more legs! Try special hanging hardware for skateboards, skis, snowboards, garden tools. Now install the appropriate organizing products.
  6. Containerize smaller items – store small garden tools together in a bin. Clear bins keep things visible and easy to find. Store similar things together – gather sports equipment in one place, hang lawn chairs close together.  Store any hazardous materials safely, and be sure they are well marked.
  7. Put back only the items that belong in the garage.  Take the donation pile to your favourite charity.  Make the dump run.  Have a refreshing beverage and pat yourself on the back for a job well done!
May 23

This weekend I finally moved my office out of the living room!  This month will mark 11 years for; this is not the first move I have made in that time.

I’ve broken all of the “where to put your home office” rules, due mostly to the fact that it is a home office in a home without any empty rooms!  First, I started off in the basement – and hated it! Too dark, too lonely, too…basement-y.  I tried installing full spectrum lighting, facing out into the room – nothing worked.  After two months when I ended up most days at the kitchen table, I moved up to the family room – too noisy!  That didn’t last long.

Then technology changed; I purchased a laptop and realized I could use an antique writing desk as my office desk. (It was given to us as a wedding gift and was being underutilized as a beautiful photo-stand.)

So, I moved into the living room, where my husband/IT department fished phone wires from the basement,  computer network wires from the upstairs family room, and I cobbled together a truly impressive assortment of cords to connect my various electronics.  Then we went wireless – but I stayed in the living room.  I loved the light coming over both shoulders from two windows.  I loved being able to look out the front window and see who was at the door.  I loved the proximity to the coffee pot and the chocolate jar.

What I didn’t love was the dog barking at the front door (pretty much right beside me) every time someone came within 50 feet our house (we live on a 30 foot wide lot) especially when I was on the phone.  There was no door to close.

I really didn’t love having to scoop everything into my desk whenever company came over, or when people  showed up at the front door and saw my admittedly messy work space when I was mid-project (more likely mid-many-projects) and did the “so you’re a professional organizer”? raised eyebrow look.

Then my teenage son moved into the basement for the summer, and decided he likes it down there.  We transformed his bedroom into a guest/travel prep/ironing room.

The dog is getting older and can’t hear, so she barks all the time, just in case someone is near her house.

I am doing more work at home and less on-site client work, and need to be able to leave my stuff out – neatly!  My daughter needed a new bed, so she got the double from the spare room, and her old single went into the spare (apology in advance to our guests!).

So, here I am in my new office (/spare room/travel prep /ironing room).  There’s lots of space, it’s nice and bright, I’m connected, the phone works, the door closes, the furniture all matches!  I think I’ve finally got it right!

May 11

Organization has attracted a lot of attention over the past several years, with TV shows and books presenting us with a zen-like image of how an organized space “should” look.  But organizing is not about how something looks – that’s decorating.  Organizing is about how things work!  Getting and staying organized should make your life easier, not be just another chore to add to the never-ending to do lists we all carry around in our heads, scribbled in our day planners and on odd bits of papers.

I am a formerly disorganized person.  Ten years ago I made a new year’s resolution, as thousands, maybe millions of people do each year, to “get organized”.  I had no idea how that resolution would change my life, and the life of my family.

Do things look different at our house? – sure!  There is less clutter lying about, especially paper.  Does our home look like a magazine layout – not most of the time!  But, we can find what we need, pay our bills on time, and here’s the most important thing: we have time to enjoy one another’s company in a space that is comfortable.

I embrace the concept of “organized enough”.   Organized enough to put a healthy meal on the table several nights a week, and have all 4 of us (plus any stray teenagers who happen to be hanging around) sit and enjoy it together.  Organized enough to have company over without apologizing for the state of our home.  Organized enough to run my business and still read novels in my garden.

I recommend that people find their own “organized enough” based on their own lifestyles and make some realistic organizing goals.  If they are the right fit, you will be much more likely to reach and maintain them!