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Without exaggeration, I think half the battle in remedying a problem is correctly identifying it.  It’s not as easy as it sounds, and you can’t determine a solution until you really understand what you’re dealing with.   One of my favorite bloggers, Gretchen Rubin of The Happiness Project, talks about it as well.

I’ve had two situations recently where I was frustrated by systems that weren’t working until I realized that I hadn’t correctly identified the problem.

The first had to do with paper filing: I keep and file all the bills and other financial miscellany we receive for at least one year, just in case I need to go back and reference something.  I had folders for each bill in a small two-drawer filing cabinet.  So the cell phone bill would go in the Verizon folder and the electric bill would go in the National Grid folder and so on.  I hate filing though, so I would procrastinate it because I just didn’t want to spend time doing it everyday.  But then things would pile up and when I finally got around to it, it would take forever, which was even worse.  I thought the problem was just that I didn’t like filing, but I had to dig deeper.  Why didn’t I like filing?  I finally determined that what I really didn’t like was the sorting—going through the pile and sorting each bill into its appropriate folder.  Once I realized that, I had a lightbulb moment: what if I just filed them by month instead of by category?!?  Then I could let them pile up for a month and at the end of the month just stick them all in their own folder!  I could still go back and find something if I needed it but I wouldn’t have to spend time sorting through the pile of bills.  Thus the lovely, decorative wall-hanging monthly file system pictured above was born.  Now not only do I not even have to think about filing the bills, but they add interest to our office space too!

The second situation had to do with laundry.  No one likes doing laundry either (if you do…wanna come over?), especially me.  But it’s not the collecting or washing or drying that I dislike—those things are pretty easy, especially because we have machines to do the hard stuff for us.  It’s the folding and putting away that I can’t stand, and I’ve always hated it.  I used to let baskets of clean laundry sit on my bedroom floor for weeks until I had finally worn all the clothes in there and they were empty again.   It drove my mom crazy.  Sorry, mom.  I would still do that today if I had any extra floor space in my bedroom, but I don’t (and I am unwilling to follow my husband’s example of leaving the baskets in the spare bedroom—that’s right, I’m talking to you!).  I had thought it was the act of folding the clothes and putting them away that I didn’t like, but I realized that, once again, it was the sorting I didn’t like!  I didn’t like going through a big pile and having pants and shirts and socks and having to fold each thing a different way and put them in a different spot.  So now, instead of sorting and washing my laundry based on color (lights vs. darks) I now sort them based on type, or tops vs. bottoms.  This way I have a basket full of pants and I fold them all the same way and put them all in the same spot and don’t have to think about it as much.

When you have an area of clutter or some obstacle to efficiency that’s driving you crazy, take a second to think about what the problem really is.  Is it really that you’re too forgetful or have too much to do, or is it just that you don’t have a good list-making system?  Is it really that you have too much stuff, or is it just that you don’t have appropriate places to store the stuff?  (You probably still do have too much stuff, though.)

Clearly, the conclusion to this story is that I run into problems when I have to think too much!  My standard, go-to solution should always just be whichever one will require me to do the least amount of thinking.  My brain’s not lazy, it just has better things to think about than bills and laundry.  Like cupcakes!  Those are always better than bills and laundry.

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I recognize there probably could not be a more boring title, or subject.  Still, everyone has some semblance of a routine, even those who don’t do the same thing all day every day.  I mean, at the very least, everyone brushes their teeth at least once a day, right?  Right?  I’m constantly reminded how important acknowledging and understanding your routine is if you want to incorporate a new habit or activity into your life.  For me, that’s blogging.

When I very optimistically started this blog last summer I thought I’d just write when I felt like it and has the misguided notion that I would feel like it fairly often.  In reality I rarely felt like it and when life got busy I never felt like it.  But it’s like exercising–I never feel like doing it but I want to feel like doing it and I know I’ll be glad I did it once I do it.  That means I need to find a way to get it done without thinking about it.  And that means creating a routine.  I’ve tried getting up early in the morning and exercising first thing, but I know I don’t really have to get up and I’d always rather sleep.  I’ve tried planning to come home and go for a run/walk immediately before doing anything else, but there’s always something else to do–like open the mail, or sit on the couch.  I’ve tried using the gym where I work during my lunch hour but I always feel rushed and gross when I get back to my desk.  After some thinking I realized that if I took advantage of the convenience of the gym at work, the free time I have immediatley after work, and the utilized restriction of changing at work and not going home first I would actually get to the gym more days than not.  And it works.  I pack my clothes in the morning when the thought of a work out is far away enough not to be bothersome.  I bring the bag into my office with me so I have no excuses.  And when I leave I just walk over to the gym (which I’d have to walk right by to get to my car) and once that happens there’s no turning back.

So I needed to figure out something similar with blogging.  I started by figuring out what the obstacles to my blogging were (following my other tenet of identifying the problem–more later).  Since I spend so much time on a computer at work I rarely want to look at one when I’m at home.  But I don’t have time to blog at work, nor is that what they’re paying me to do!  But if I could take advantage of the technological roll I’m on when I’m at work as well as the free time I have when I’m not at work…thus, blogging at the end of the work day, before I head over to the gym.  Ta da!

The same is true with getting organized.  If you currently have  a routine that leads to disorganization, you’re going to go back to being disorganized no matter how much time you spend getting everything in order.  You need to identify the issues that are causing the disorganization and then do the hard work (!!) to create a routine that combats them.  If your routine is to just leave non-essential stuff in your purse when you switch to a different one, you’re going to have a bunch of purses filled with random stuff and never be able to find anything.  But if you suffer through a few seconds of inconvenience when you switch purses you’ll save yourselves potentially hours of inconvenience later when you’re searching for that thing you forgot you left in your other purse.  The good thing is, after just a short while of enforcing your new habit, it will become…routine, and you won’t have to think about it anymore.

Of course, sometimes life happens and routines get interrupted–case in point, I am now posting this from home because it’s snowing so hard that I left work early.  So you do have to retain some flexibility and can’t take your routine too serisouly!

DSC00543I decided a while ago to try to tone down my shopping habit a bit, what with this recession and all, and decided to try to accessorize more to make the clothes I already have feel more interesting and new.  I tend not to accessorize too much; the jewelry I do wear–silver studs, diamond tennis bracelet, wedding rings–I just wear every day.  I’m not sure why this is.  Everything you ever read about style extols the virtues of accessorizing, but it just seemed a bit overcomplicated to me.

Don’t get me wrong though: I certainly have plenty of accessories I could be wearing!  I realized one of the reasons I wasn’t, though, was because they weren’t stored in a way that made them easily visible.  I decided I’d wear them more if they were more on display, so I could grab a necklace in a snap and be done!  I don’t have a lot of horizontal space–meaning, the dresser at which I get ready is already pretty full…of makeup and hair products, etc.  I do have vertical space though, so looked for something I could hang on my wall.

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These hooks are from Anthropologie, and are surely meant for coats or keys or towels or some other normal use.  But I thought they were cute and woul’d be perfect for necklaces and, with a little craftiness, dangly earrings.

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The necklaces easily hang on the hooks above, but for the earrings, I went to a craft store’s jewelry making sections and bought this plain length of chain with large links.  With pliers, I opened two links enough distance apart to accommodate all my earrings, and hooked them onto the two individual hooks.  I closed the links back up, nailed the hooks into the wall, and hung my earring through the links!  Here are some of my other favorites that would also work well:

It did work, too: I started wearing jewelry more and got lots of compliments on how cute and stylish my outfits were, with the same old clothes!  (Although, let’s be honest, it’s not like I stopped shopping completely…come on, now.)

It’s Monday, and–surprise, surprise–I am feeling very unmotivated to do anything but sit outside with a good book and some yummy snacks.  I feel this way every Monday.  It’s no fun.  What IS fun, though, is this very cute and crafty little Roman shade I made recently!

The color scheme of our bedroom is shades of turquoise, gray and cream.  Very relaxing and soothing.  We love it.

You can also see that I like geometric patterns.  Because we have these two random windows with furniture in front of them, I can’t do the type of curtains I usually like to do: two  floor-length panels flanking each window.  And because we’re on the first floor and outside our bedroom is the driveway and back door, we need to keep our shades drawn all the time.

I’d had pretty turquoise shantung drapes, but they cast a weird green light in the room.  So I planned to buy white cotton Roman shades from Ikea and add the grosgrain ribbons–easy peasy, right?  But when I went to Ikea…the shades were discontinued!  What to do?  Well, I stood there in despair for about 20 minutes, and then just decided I could do it myself.  Here’s what the curtains looked like before:

So, I bought plain, sheer white panels and went to the fabric store to buy plastic rings, cord, ribbon, fabric glue and then to the hardware store for small strips of wood and tiny eye hooks.

I hemmed the curtain to a length that reached the bottom of the window, using the iron-on tape they came with.  Then I measured out the middle (width-wise) and about 10 inches from each edge.  I stitched the tiny plastic rings to the back in even intervals along each vertical measurement.  Then I glued strips of the ribbons along the same vertical measurements on the front.

I stapled the thin strip of wood to the back of the  rod loops at the top of the curtain and inserted the tiny eye hooks at the top of the vertical measurements, with one extra at the end for them all to meet in.  Then I ran long pieces of curtain cord through each set of rings, with the end tied to the one at the bottom.  We ran it through the curtain rod and, magically, it worked!  Anyone can do this–it needed very little special equipment and virtually no special skill!  When we move or change our color scheme, I’ll do it again with different ribbons–a great clever and easy DIY solution, especially when Roman shades can cost a fortune and this cost me about $20…

Does anyone like filing?  (If so, would you like to come over?  I’d be happy to cook you dinner!)  I have a strong dislike for filing, and at work tend to keep only electronic files because of it.  But at home I keep all our paper bills for easy reference and tax purposes.  I have a very organized filing cabinet, but would avoid this task to such an extent that the pile of bills would form arms and legs and attack us before I got to filing them away.  Ironically, I also hate clutter, so this issue really bothered me.

So I thought perhaps if the files were more visible, more accessible, I’d be more inclined to get to it.  So I decided to try some kind of vertical, wall-hanging system.  Great opportunity to add an interesting design element too, no?  I first thought of these from the Container Store, but they’re not all that pretty.  Plus, for how many I need, it would get pricey.

Finally, I came up with this beauty:I bought a retro-travel calendar at an art store, cut out the images, cut manila folders in half and taped them together at the bottom.  Then I punched holes in the top and hung them on these kitchen organizer rails from Ikea.  The rails are $2 and the hooks are $.99 for a bag of 10.  The whole thing cost less than $20.  And it looks great (I think, at least)!

The big question is, did I actually get to the filing after doing this?  The answer is no!  But then I had another revelation.  I had been using one folder for each vendor: one for the electric bill, one for the phone bill, etc.  Then I realized–I could just do it by month!  Now I let the bills pile up for a month and at the end of the month I stick the whole pile in a folder.   Having used a calendar of course means there are twelve folders already!  Talk about serendipity.