When the Organizer is Disorganized


Sometimes a story is just too funny to keep to yourself, even if it paints you in a slightly unfavorable light. I had been looking forward to attending my first NAPO (National Association of Productivity and Organizing Professionals) conference for years. NAPO is an organization of 3,500+ members who are dedicated to helping people and businesses bring order and efficiency to their lives. I have been a member of NAPO from the very beginning, even before I officially launched my business in August, 2016. I had taken online classes, read their daily email discussions, and had corresponded by email and phone with several organizers from all around the US. When I decided to attend the NAPO 2018 conference in Chicago, I just couldn’t wait to finally interact with other list-obsessed people like me.

As the date approached, I paid special attention to all of the emails concerning the conference. I had chosen my class sessions, connected with my conference buddy (NAPO assigns a buddy to every first time conference attendee), and had packed everything on the suggested packing list. On Thursday, April 26, my wait was finally over. My flight was scheduled to leave at 5:55 pm. We pulled up to the curb at the airport at 5:00 pm, I opened the trunk to get my suitcase, and it wasn’t there. Yes, you read that correctly. I had left my suitcase at home. And I was headed to a conference for professional organizers. Talk about irony.

Although my husband Eric made a valiant attempt to retrieve the suitcase in time, I didn’t make that flight. I wasn’t able to leave until 6:00 the next morning, but I still made it to the conference in time. Somehow I was able to stay calm and to laugh about this turn of events, and it definitely made for a great conversation starter at the conference.

So why am I telling you this story? Why am I admitting that although I pride myself on organization, I am by no means a perfect example? I firmly believe that humility is a good thing, and I also believe you can learn a lesson from my mistakes. I remember thinking years ago that people who dropped their phones and ruined them were just ridiculous. Until I dropped my iPhone in a toilet. I heard a story years ago about a friend who was traveling to Haiti on a mission trip. He got all the way to Miami before he realized he had forgotten his passport and had to fly back home. My story ranks right up there. I often say, “Add this to the long, ever-increasing list of stupid things I have done.”

I am guessing that at least a few of you read my articles about organizing and figure that I must be 100% organized in every possible way. Now you know that’s not true. Don’t get me wrong; my home is pretty organized. But when it comes to time management and routines, I have a lot of room for improvement.

What valuable lessons can you learn from my story?

  1. Remain calm when you realize your mistake. In the midst of the mini crisis at the airport, I am so glad I was able to maintain my composure. In a stressful situation, this is critical.
  2. Prepare early. In the vast majority of cases, being in a hurry contributes to the problem. My daughters and I often tease Eric about needing to get to the airport so early. We have always thought his insistence on arriving so early was overkill. I learned the hard way last week that leaving early allows extra time for situations just like this one.
  3. Give yourself a break. Everyone does stupid stuff sometimes. But don’t just say, “I am officially an idiot”, or “Oh well, that’s just how I am.” Laugh a little, and then learn from it.
  4. Create a checklist or a system for any repeated task. Taking the time to do this will make the situation much easier in the future and decrease the odds that you will make the same mistake again. Many of my best checklists or systems have been created as a result of mistakes I have made, sometimes over and over again. Because I have left way too many things in hotel rooms over the years, I do an extensive double check of the room before I check out now. As a result of many forgotten items, I now have a packing list for bicycle rides and a general packing list. The night before I work with a client, I go ahead and set out my work clothes and pack everything I will need in the car. I have been doing this until now by just thinking of each item, but it would be much more effective to create a checklist. You’ll be interested to know that my newest checklist is called “Last minute trip preparation”; the last item on this list is “Load suitcase into car.”

What about you? Are there routines in your life (either at home or at work) that could be made less stressful by creating a system or checklist? As soon as you identify something, jot down as much as you can while it’s fresh on your mind. Later, when you’re not in as much of a hurry, think through the situation completely and complete the checklist. You may need to get input from other team members for this step. Don’t worry about getting it perfect. You can always add or subtract items as you evaluate what’s working and what’s not working.

I hope this information has been helpful for you. We all fall short sometimes. Taking the time to evaluate what went wrong and establishing a better system for the next time is definitely worth the investment.  

Happy organizing!


Upcoming Fee Structure Changes

If you haven’t figured it out yet by the 1,762 times I’ve said it already, I LOVE my job! There are so many different things that I do, and I love all of them, but not equally. My favorite parts of my job are organizing with clients, giving presentations, networking, and writing articles about organizing. My least favorite parts of my job involve making the myriad of decisions related to running the business, especially financial ones. But alas, the costs of running a business can’t be ignored: taxes, insurance premiums, licenses, memberships, marketing, training, etc.

After much deliberation and advice from several organizers and business coaches, I have decided that I need to change my fee structure effective July 1, 2018. You can read all of the details of the how and why on this page of my website.

If you have considered hiring me to help you organize, now would be a great time before my rates increase.  Any session booked before July 1 (even if the session occurs after July 1) will be billed at the current rate. Click here to book a session online.

Don’t forget, I now offer a $50 one hour DIY Organizing Consult for those who need help with ideas of how to get started and how to make best use of their spaces.

If you have any questions about the changes, please contact me anytime. Thank you for your understanding.

Reflections on my First NAPO Conference

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On a Sunday afternoon at the end of April, I was on a plane headed home. As always, there was a safety video playing with detailed instructions about how to operate your seat belt, the importance of identifying the closest exit (“keeping in mind that the closest exit may be behind you”), and how to find an inflatable lifejacket in the unlikely event of an emergency. Since my husband and I love to travel, I have watched this video and listened to this message countless times. But that day, I was particularly inspired by one of the opening lines of the video. “At Delta, we believe a good trip is not about the destination, but about the people you meet along the way.” I couldn’t agree more.

The destination for my weekend trip was a retreat center in St. Charles, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago. The facility was great: plentiful meeting rooms that were clean and well-maintained, scenic hiking trails nearby, friendly and professional staff, and delicious food available just about anytime. Yes, the Q Center was nice. But the people? Oh, the people I “met along the way” were truly outstanding.

You see, this was my first NAPO Conference. NAPO, the National Association of Productivity and Organizing Professionals, is an organization composed of thousands of people from all areas of the United States (and a few other countries) whose work involves helping people organize their belongings, their time, and their lives. As a new organizer (I started my business, Shipshape Solutions, in August 2016), I was eager to attend my first conference. I knew that the class sessions would give me information vital to increasing my knowledge and skills as an organizer. But I’ll have to admit that I was also a bit apprehensive. After all, many of the organizers attending were seasoned veterans. Having read books, listened to podcasts, and followed email and social media discussions about organizing, I was anticipating meeting some of the “rock stars” of the organizing world and hoping I wouldn’t appear so “green” as to be laughable. Because I don’t live close enough to attend a local NAPO chapter meeting, I knew that I wouldn’t be able to count on having a friend to sit with in the dining room or during sessions. I envisioned a scenario not unlike the junior high school cafeteria, when I would nervously walk away from the cash register with my tray, hoping and praying that I could find a seat at one of the “cool” tables.

After checking into my room, it was time to head down to the conference. According to the schedule, it was time for lunch. Oh, great. I’d have to start with the dreaded cafeteria scene. I got my food and started that slow walk. “Look for a smiling face,” I thought, “and just hope for the best.” Since most every person was smiling, I just randomly chose a table, sat down, and introduced myself. By the end of lunch, I knew that it was all going to be ok. Without fail, every single person at the lunch table that day was friendly, encouraging, and eager to make me feel welcome.

Once the sessions began, the rest of the weekend was pretty much nonstop. Every presentation was of top notch quality, and I learned so much valuable information. My eyes were opened to the vast opportunities for growth within the organizing profession. Besides general organizing in homes and offices, organizers can write books, install closet systems, teach workshops, help with productivity and time management, produce podcasts, plan complex events, and collaborate with any number of professionals to help a client. Presenters urged us to use our gifts, talents, and skills in unique ways to make our business uniquely our own. Participants freely exchanged ideas, discussed challenges, and encouraged each other to grow.

My mind is swimming with possibilities. I have a long list of new things I want to try. I am inspired and challenged to take my business to the next level. I’m so glad I made the decision to attend the 2018 NAPO conference. I can’t wait for NAPO 2019: Education is Bigger in Texas!

Are You Ready to Reclaim Your Garage?

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Happy spring! I hope you’ve been able to enjoy some time outdoors on the warmer days. Lawn mowing season is in full gear, and many people are working on their vegetable and flower gardens. Or maybe like me, you’re enjoying trips to the Kingsport Farmers Market, where you can enjoy the fruits and vegetables of someone else’s gardening efforts. As you enter your garage for supplies to begin these tasks, odds are that over the fall and winter, your garage has accumulated some clutter and may need some attention.

Garages are definitely a household hot spot.  Sometimes we work so hard on the common areas of our homes that it leaves us no time or energy to work on the garage. Consequently, the garage becomes a cluttered, neglected mess. If you deposit enough stuff in there, you end up with no room to park one (or both) of your cars, and you end up avoiding the area altogether because it only brings you feelings of guilt. Like a household receptacle, if you don’t know where to put something, it usually winds up in the garage. It’s also the repository for our “delusions of grandeur”, like that sports activity, home renovation, or yard improvement you were just sure you were going to get around to soon. If that’s the case, be realistic about your chances of actually participating in that activity. It may be time to let these things go guilt-free so that someone else can get some use out of them.

Does the thought of organizing your garage fill you with dread because it’s a complete disaster? I am thankful to Lisa Woodruff of Organize 365 for her excellent podcast (https://bit.ly/2qK127C) as well as fellow organizer Vicki Norris’ of Restoring Order (https://bit.ly/2HGlW17). Are you ready to reclaim your garage? I suggest that you block out a day (or at least 2-4 hours) when most of the family can participate and follow these steps. I promise you it will be well worth the effort!

  1. If your car(s) are parked in the garage, drive them out of the garage and empty them out. You are going to use both cars for this project. One will deliver items to donate, and the other will deliver items to people that you have borrowed them from or to a consignment shop.
  2. Gather some large sturdy trash bags (the black heavy duty ones work best). The bags can be used for trash or to donate some items. You may also need a few empty boxes or bins to take donations.
  3. Empty everything out of the garage into the driveway.
    1. As you pull things out, if an item needs to be recycled or thrown away, go ahead and put it in the appropriate container. One item I see a lot of in garages is empty boxes from shipping. They can take up a lot of space! It doesn’t take very long to break them down to be recycled. If you just can’t part with them, at least break them down and store them flat so that they take up less room.
    2. If an item needs to be returned or donated, go ahead and put it in the appropriate car. When a car gets filled up, one person needs to make a delivery and come back. You need to be ruthless in this stage in order to really get big results. If you don’t have a specific plan for how and when you’re going to use an item, let it go! Get rid of all of those “what if” items that have been crowding your garage for years.
    3. Put everything that you plan to keep into categories. It might help to use sidewalk chalk to delineate the areas (plus it will give the kids a fun way to help).
    4. Continue this process until everything is out of the garage. Give the garage a good cleaning; break out that Shop-Vac for those leaves, spider webs, and dead bugs.
  4. As you work, make a list of things you need or things you have plenty of and don’t need to buy. Examples might include: “Replace the broken broom”, “We have 23 pairs of work gloves, so stop buying them!”, and “We’re almost out of windshield washer fluid”.
  5. Now that you’ve got an empty and clean garage, before putting everything back in, carefully consider whether the way it was organized before was functional and make a plan for the space. What issues were you having in the garage? Get everyone’s input on the plan if possible.
    1. You might want to establish several different zones. Perhaps one wall could be purposed for children’s items (riding toys, sporting equipment, etc.), one for household tools, and one for gardening tools. A lot of this decision will depend on what activities your family enjoys and the ages of your children.
    2. Keep in mind that items you use frequently should be easily accessible. I love Vicki Norris’ suggestion of having a “grab and go” area of the garage for items that are moved in and out of the car frequently. This may change seasonally.
    3. Items for long-term storage or items only used occasionally can be stored on upper shelves.
    4. I really like either plastic or metal sturdy adjustable shelving and clear labeled bins. With this arrangement, it is very easy to see the contents of the bins and very easy to move them around on the shelves.
    5. Make good use of wall space to get as much as possible off the floor. You may not realize how much can be hung on the walls of your garage. A few years ago, my husband installed a FastTrack system (https://bit.ly/2qTYow3). Now we have 3 bikes, our wheelbarrow, and many of our tools and sports equipment hanging on the wall. We love the versatility of attachments that can be hung on the rack. It has freed up lots of floor space and shelf space. FastTrack is made by Rubbermaid and is available at Lowe’s and Home Depot. There are other similar brands of these easy to install systems.
  6. This is also a good time to consider what habits have contributed to the problems in your garage and how you will change those habits. For example, if you tended to come back from a shopping trip, vacation, or sports tournament and just drop things in the garage without putting them in their proper place, consider how you can change that habit in the future. One suggestion for this particular problem is to block out a period of time after these activities for proper unpacking.
  7. When you finish, you will be amazed not only at how much better it looks, but also how much easier it is to find things and move around in the space.
  8. Enjoy your organized garage!