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Saturday, June 29, 2013

Storing Shoes 101

Modern homes often have big walk-in closets within at least some of the bedrooms, which is great. But sometimes these closets are big on space, low on shelving and/or poor in overall design.  Or there's plenty of shelving- but it's set at levels only Goliath or Paul Bunyon could see at eye level.  Laundry areas are often guilty of this crime, but bedroom closets have to hold such a wide variety of items that they're almost always under-utilized because of this design flaw.  Even shelving that's at a reasonable height can be placed too far apart to serve your particular needs, as well.  Frequently you'll see one side of a bedroom closet have a single-hung closet rod for taller clothing.  And then on the other side of the closet will be a double-hung rod for shorter clothing to be stored 2x2. This is great if all (or mostly) what you have to store is clothing and a few pairs of shoes in your closets.  In smaller homes, though, these bedroom closets must serve as storage for vacuum cleaners, buckets full of cleaning supples, brooms, handbags and shoes.  And footwear is what I'm going to focus on storing today.

Using closet storage to it's absolute square-footage advantage varies from individual to individual.  The best book that you can read is by Linda Koopersmith, titled "The Beverly Hills Organizer's Home Organizing Bible".  You'll learn how to maximize every sheer inch of space you call your real estate, as well as your handbag, office and everything else under the sun that you can think of.

If you cannot add to or move around existing shelving your closet (which is the first step that I always recommend- use what you already have on hand for storage before buying new items for storage!), you have the following footwear storage options to utilize instead:

Folding and/or stackable bookcases: Not just for holding books, these are a favorite of mine for holding sets of workout clothes, baskets full of odd-shaped items (like those giant old-fashioned photo albums), portable DVD players, media of all kinds, cleaning products, folded linens and shoes.  Floor-to-ceiling models naturally tend to hold more in less space, but these come in all shapes, colors and sizes. Corner units, painted wood (you'd be amazed at the range of colors and shades available) and folding units ensure maximum flexibility at a minimum cost.  A good folding bookcase will be as sturdy as a normal unit- read online reviews and be prepared to spend a few extra dollars on the more expensive folding bookcases, because this is one case where the cost is warranted.  A variety of platform sizes ensure that you can make at least one of these bookcases fit somewhere in your house, too.  A bookcase like this tucked under a closet rod or shelf can make use of space that otherwise stays empty.  You could also hand free-standing shelves up, and if you have a drill and the skills to this, these make terrific use of blank walls.

Free-standing cubes, drawers and/or shoe shelving: These can come in everything from very mod styles to the very traditional.  Free-standing drawer units can be a great way to store shoes, boots, sweaters, etc., in a closet.  (The shelf above a double-hung rod can usually be made to hold so much more than they do in most homes.)  These units may look like a piece of modern artwork or more like simple but very short bookcases with no bottom shelf.  They may or may not need assembly, so pay attention to descriptions and instructions.  As always, measure your space and write down the measurements before buying these.

Hanging shoe organizer (which have a single or double hanger): These come in either flip-flop style or look like a smaller version of a hanging sweater organizer for a closet rod.  They will take away some of your space for hanging clothes, so keep that in mind before buying.  These are best for those who have some hanging room to spare but very little shelf or free-standing space.

Over-the-door shoe organizer: Doors can really be utilized as storage in so many ways, provided that there is adequate room for the door to swing open, be reached easily for the items you're storing on them and be closed when you're finished.  You don't want anything on a door that is already in too snug a place to open and close with ease now.  But if space allows, an organizer can make up for square footage that's lacking.  Don't buy these if you have doors which don't open freely or already stick when you're trying to close them, because these will add a little bulk to the top of the door.  I recommend screwing the bottom of the organizer to the door itself too, or using double-sided Velcro to do this, so that the organizer isn't banging against the wall or door.  This step provides some stability to the organizer, too.

Shoe trees: These come in a variety of sizes and finishes.  My opinion?  Buy a floor-to-ceiling model, because it allows you room to grow (especially important in master bedrooms where two people are sharing shoe storage space).  You're using the footprint's worth of space anyway (no pun intended)- you might as well get all the way up to the top of your room and maximize the storage space entirely. The taller party can use the highest "branches" on the tree.  Trees are an especially nice option when closet space is already used up and shoes have to be stored outside of there.  This is due to the relatively large amount of shoes that you can hold in a small space, and in a free-standing manner.

Underbed shoe storage: I recommend this only for long-leg boots which cannot reasonably be stored in a closet OR out-of-season shoes and boots.  The great advantage is that, assuming these are the zip-around kind, your footwear will stay virtually dust-free.  A big disadvantage is that they're not especially easy for anyone with shoulder, back or knee issues to dig out from under a bed & root through if necessary.  I think they're great for kids and younger people with no issues like this, but remember the old adage here- out of sight, out of mind.  Not everyone is wild about having stuff under their bed, either (I'm with you).  The outside of these storage units will collect some dust and make cleaning under the bed more of a pain in the neck.  As with any storage piece, consider the drawbacks, cleaning they'll add to your schedule and advantages before purchasing.

Here's to being an organized minimalist,

Friday, June 28, 2013

Step-by-Step Deep Cleaning for the Kitchen

If you're like many people, including me, the kitchen often seems like a monumental room to try and keep beautifully clean.  After all, no other room in the house sees so much activity or so many different types of dirtiness- cooking oils, splatters from sauces, spices and dried herbs that fly off from the shaker onto the countertop, stovetop or floor...Not to mention it's typically where household pets eat and drink, often where people come in to munch on a snack (dropping cereal or other fun little crumbs underneath them).  There are both big appliances and small appliances galore begging for attention from a cleaner.  What's the household cook (who by default ends up being the kitchen-cleaner more often than not) to do?  You must learn to take advantage of those precious moments when the oven is pre-heating, dinner is simmering away or you're waiting for the broiler oven to finish toasting up your bread. 

When beginning your kitchen clean-up on a deeper level, make a plan that starts to the right of your kitchen sink and go around the room, left-to-right and top-to-bottom with doing chores.  Following this logic makes it far easier to stay on track while working and keep a mental picture accurately of what has or hasn't been cleaned recently.  If you feel you need to, make a detailed cleaning list like FlyLady suggests, but I recommend making out one specifically listed with your particular floor plan in mind.  Do a little drawing on paper if needed of your floor plan and then write out your cleaning list.  Use this as a checklist, keeping it on the fridge, in your control journal, on a whiteboard- whatever works for you. That way, you're keeping a recent record of what got done and where. (You can date when the job was done, too, but I don't think that's necessary unless you clean only very sporadically.)  Below I'm going to list some suggestions- and a few rules- to keep your kitchen beautiful and functional with minimum time spent on your part cleaning.

Unless you love to do housework in silence, make it fun through sound.  Call a friend up and chat while doing prep or cleanup work (you'll need Bluetooth or a hands-free headset linked to your cordless phone for this- I don't like speakerphone options because the sound is usually quite fuzzy and it can be disruptive to others in the household).  I have a friend who uses phone time with favorite people to do chores she hates, so that her mind isn't focused on how much she dislikes the task at hand!  Play music if you like- personally, I love putting on my iPod (which is encased in a belt clip/protector and I stick it right on my waistband) and tuning out the other sounds of the house while working.  Good music is motivating- and this is very important if you usually hate cleaning and need the inspiration.  You can always do up a super-motivating "Housecleaning Mix" with your favorite high-energy tunes in iTunes or wherever else you manage your music.  Back in the old days before such computer programs were available, I stick a good dance music CD like Janet Jackson's Rhythm Nation on- very fun to listen to while working.  Or you can put a TV show or movie on via your tablet, laptop or portable TV/DVD player.  Use technology to your advantage this way.  TV can be kind of distracting though, so be mindful of how you're spending your time while watching it.  Don't pick a "side" motivational took that will actually make you work slower instead of faster.

Whenever you're about to work in the kitchen, put on an apron.  Don't argue with me. :)  Is it really worth getting cleaning supplies or food on your clothes???  I can't tell you how much laundry pre-treater I have been able to skip using on clothes because I wear an apron over my clothes while I work.  Find one that's comfortable and is bib-style, protecting both your shirt and down to the low hip or possibly right above the knee if you'll be doing seriously grimy work.  If you grill a lot outdoors, having the longer length can really make a difference.  If you're especially busty or full-figured like me, get an oversized apron, not one that's made for very small people.  They're sold inexpensively on Amazon and many other kitchen suppliers out there online.

Plan your time well before you even step foot in the room.  Knowing what you'll be making for a meal in advance, reading over the recipe (if applicable) and prepping all of the ingredients beforehand makes the time sail by while cooking.  It also makes clean up easier.  If your kitchen is so cluttered that you have to perform ballerina-type stretches to reach items all the time or need someone else to grab stuff from shelves for you, then chances are your kitchen is either not well-planned or is overly cluttered.  Some people have really small kitchens and then it's difficult to cull things out.  But many of our ancestors had very little kitchen space and yet cooked for big families every night- sometimes we have to take a cue from them, get our items truly back to basics and focus on using what we do have in our kitchens really well.  Also, sometimes using space better means investing in little pieces of kitchen organization.  Simple things like a kitchen wrap holder (which holds Saran Wrap, aluminum foil and more upright in a neat stack), a bakeware rack or a magnetic kitchen towel holder on the refrigerator can give back precious inches or even feet to this room.  In this day and age so many of these items are sold in multiple finishes and at a pretty reasonable cost that it makes sense to utilize these aids when needed.

But I cannot stress de-cluttering enough.  I wasn't prepared to do organizing (and shopping for it) until I de-cluttered and knew what I really had to store in my kitchen for good.  As FlyLady says, before you even THINK of cleaning deeply, get the clutter out of the room.  A suggestion?  Stick a Post-it note on your infrequently-used (once a week or less) small appliances.  Date the note.  Each time you use the item, put that day's date on the note.  If you notice after three months that you've never used the small appliance since that original note was done up, consider donating or selling it.  The only exception is items that you use especially for holidays (such as a blender you keep on hand to make corn pudding at Christmas, which you do ever year without fail).  Put infrequently-used items in a pantry, coat closet, linen closet (think outside the box, especially if you have a small home), in a china cabinet or dining room buffet table.  Try to keep all such items in one place in your home (one particular linen closet shelf, for example).  But be realistic about what you should store and what you should give away/sell.  If you have this appliance and you haven't made that special recipe in five years and you know realistically that you'll never again be the one cooking Christmas dinner, consider giving that piece away to the person or people that will use the item. 

Sometimes your china cabinet or other dining room furniture will be an extension of your kitchen storage.  As such, de-cluttering must apply to these items as well.  The same rules apply.  Remember FlyLady's two imperative questions: "Do you love it? And do you use it? How often are you using it?"  Apply this philosophy to cookbooks, liquors, wine glasses, china, inherited pieces and anything else stored within that furniture.  I'm not telling you to give away what you love or use, even if you only use it once a year.  Just don't have so much stuff that you can't get to the items you use frequently because the infrequently-used items have the premium storage spaces.

The Deep-Cleaning Steps

1) Put on your apron.  Any supplies that you want to stock it with- Windex, cleaning cloths, a scraper, etc.- put them in the apron now.

2) Put on Bluetooth earpiece or phone headset (and call your person of interest), grab your iPod, turn on the TV or DVD player, if desired. 

3) Before beginning any other cleaning, start with an empty kitchen sink and an empty dishwasher.  Just have your sink and countertops cleared off as much as possible, that's all I ask.  If you have a bunch of dirty dishes to wash or load into the dishwasher, you can either reload the dishwasher with whatever is dirty now or put hot water in the sink to wash them up first.  The point of this cleaning is NOT to keep up with the Joneses- it is to make your life less stressful.  Cooking and spending time in a de-cluttered and relatively clean kitchen is just less demanding than cooking in a piled-up, filthy one.  It's that simple.  I know it's tempting to go sit in front of the TV or computer and relax instead, but if your home is not as clean as you want it to be (or worse, is downright embarrassing to you when others see it), some of your free time should be spent creating a nicer home to live in.  If you come across grimy filters, knick-knacks, utensil holders and more than can be thrown in the dishwasher, having the dishwasher empty will make it possible to just throw those items in and get it all done without worry.  (Stick to the top rack for most items like this.)  The filter of your oven range, your utensil holders, stovetop grates and much more can typically be put in the dishwasher and will come out beautifully.

4) Remember to move around the kitchen from left to right and top to bottom, starting directly to the right of your sink.  First thing to do is check your kitchen ceiling, vents and walls for splatters, cobwebs, dust and grease buildup.  Remember, dust always follows the law of gravity.  When you start from the top of your home when cleaning, the dust will land on a lower surface which will get cleaned shortly.  When you work from the bottom of the room and go up (disobeying the law of gravity), you're going to end up having to re-clean surface after surface. 

This may be the time to grab a brush or cloth-covered wand (OXO brand makes a wand like this) that will take cobwebs off the top of cabinets, in between the grates of vents, underneath appliances and in the crevices of tight spots, like between the fridge and the kitchen cabinet next to it.  Some vacuums have attachments that work great for these spots which harbor dust and dirt but are hard to get to.  I have a Dyson vacuum and it has many such attachments, some of which rotate in multiple directions and work really well.  If not, a dryer lint trap cleaning brush can be good for such tight and hard-to-clean areas. 

5) Your kitchen cabinets come next, with a special focus on the upper cabinets.  Fingerprints, spots, splatters, dust- all an issue.  It depends on the cabinet surface, but Pledge or Old English furniture polish usually work well for cleaning exterior surfaces like that.  Old-fashioned Pledge is actually really good on stainless steel, too.  If you have glass-and-wood cabinets, Pledge Multi-Surface is a nice alternative product because it won't streak the glass or dry out the wood.  Some cabinets just need a damp microfiber or white cotton cloth over them, but if they're really gunky, pull out the furniture polish and polishing cloths.  This sounds like a horrid job, but cleaning the outside of the kitchen cabinets really doesn't take that long.  The procrastinating over it is usually worse than the actual chore itself!  The last time I cleaned the outside of my cabinets, it only took eight minutes!  Don't worry about cleaning the inside of the cabinets unless for some reason you have tons of dust, dirt, clutter or crumbs in them, especially upper cabinets.  Cleaning the inside of full kitchen cabinets is a much bigger job.  Get a safe, non-slip step stool to use if you're too short to reach the upper cabinets easily.  If you have young children, though, your lower cabinets may also be a mess.  People who cook and/or bake often will probably see a lot more spatters on their cabinets, too.  I always try to clean up these messes as they occur but it's inevitable that some spots get missed. 

6) (Adapt the following to your particular floor plan.)  On to the fridge, my friends.  Focus on cleaning the outside of this appliance first.  Start at the top and clean downward.  Move the fridge if needed in order to get the sides and back of it clean.  I suggest doing any "dry" cleaning- vacuuming, sweeping, etc.- first.  A whish broom will get the vent underneath the fridge free of dust bunnies and dirt if you don't want to run the vacuum.  Often the back wall of the fridge is just a nightmare of dust and (if you burn candles a lot) soot.  I once filled my vacuum canister with black dust and a few flying furballs after never having cleaned the back of my fridge (or the wall behind it) in eight years!  I was a total chicken, afraid I'd dislodge or accidentally unplug something if I pulled the refrigerator out from the wall, but it turns out I'd worried needlessly.  The electrical cord was thick, long and couldn't come out of the wall easily, anyway.  Most refrigerators actually move pretty easily, especially across bare floors- I have a small apartment, but I can still move mine forward and sideways to clean well.  Be prepared to wipe or wash down the floor which normally lays underneath the fridge- that can get really nasty. 

Don't forget to wipe down the refrigerator door handle(s), the rubber gasket seal that goes all around the doors and the bottom vent of the fridge down at the floor's level.  You can use an old toothbrush around the areas which need some scrubbing but aren't easy to reach with just a sponge or cloth.  Baking soda and a non-scratching sponge with a scrubby side to it works well, though it'll require some rinsing afterwards.  Some people use diluted chlorine bleach to clean their fridge, but I consider that a last resort technique.  Personally, I like using a diluted all-purpose cleaner or some Red Juice from The Clean Team (Red Juice is food safe, as well, which can't be said for many cleaning products on the market.)  You don't have to do this all in one day, either.  Pick one day to do the outside, another to de-clutter the interior, the next to clean the interior of the fridge door (which can get really gross), then the shelves, then the crisper drawers.  Five days and you'll have a sparkling fridge- talk about using weekday Zone Cleaning (another FlyLady tool) to your advantage! 

Once this heavy-duty cleaning is done, too, maintaining a clean fridge on a weekly basis is pretty easy.  Now I just clean out any leftovers that need to be tossed and quickly wipe down my fridge with a Lysol wipe every Thursday.  Since I do this once a week, the fridge never needs too much work.  (I dust the top of the fridge real quick twice a week, too.) 

7) The oven range is our next stop.  Put the filter in the dishwasher or replace it if it's really gnarly.  You may need to wipe off the light bulb or replace it entirely if it's burned out.  Often the inside edge of a range gets very gunky.  Sometimes the only solution is a good cleaning brush with stiff bristles, some scrubbing cleanser (like Comet or Bon Ami) and plenty of elbow grease.  Grease and dust become baked on these types of surfaces with the surrounding heat of an oven.  Don't kill yourself over this chore, though.  If all you can do is give it a good wipedown, that's a heck of a lot better than nothing.  Remember, a light wipedown regularly will save you a heavy-duty scrubbing that has to be done sporadically.  When you wipe down your kitchen each day after cooking, hit these oft-forgotten areas every couple days or so to keep the overall dirt and grease buildup levels to a minimum.

8) The windows (if you have any), breakfast table and/chairs, bar stools, countertops, stovetop, kitchen sink and small appliances or any knick-knacks on the counters or shelves come next.  Don't freak out on me.  If you consistently clean your home once every week or two pretty thoroughly, touch-ups on small sections of these items are all that should be needed.  This is especially true if you have good daily routines in place for light household cleaning and live in an already-de-cluttered home.  Remember, only work until you've reached your time or energy limit- no more.  If you're starting with a home that hasn't been cleaned in awhile or is quite old, it may take more time and work to get it clean enough so that it just takes quick work to touch up.  There's nothing wrong with that.  Think about it.  If you devote just a few minutes a day to one area of your home for an entire week, especially if that time is spent solely on deep-cleaning a space often left untouched, you'll be left with a sparkling space after that period of time.  Rome wasn't built in a day and neither is a clean home.  Don't rush and make yourself crazy- your home will get clean. 

9) Now you'll hit lower items.  These are often overlooked because they're not at eye level for most folks.  Certain parts of the dishwasher, lower kitchen cabinets and the oven(s) are the most-common sources of overlooked dirt in a home that doesn't get deep-cleaned regularly.  Again, start out to the right of the kitchen sink for a guide.  In my home, the dishwasher is to the right of the sink.  If it's been awhile, sometimes I notice that the outside of the dishwasher, as well as those edges of the door which don't get cleaned when it's running, need a wipe-down.  Food gets on those outer edges easily when dirty dishes are loaded into it each day.  Remember that vertical surfaces usually do not need the same amount of cleaning as horizontal ones- but eventually, everything should be wiped down, especially if it's noticeably dirty.  (Run a clean finger across the front of a surface if you're unsure- if the surface is greasy, gritty, etc., you'll have your answer as to whether it needs cleaning.)  Use your favorite disinfecting wipes, a white cotton cloth or microfiber cleaning cloth plus all-purpose cleaner.  The Clean Team ( sells a product called Red Juice which is an awesome, food-safe, non-toxic all-purpose cleaner.  A product from the grocery store that serves a similar purpose would be Lysol Kitchen Cleaner, but there are many options in this day and age, including natural products.  I've tried several of these products from sources that sell "green cleaners", but I have to be honest- the Lysol Kitchen Cleaner is what I always go back to because it just works the best.  (That is purely my personal opinion, though.)  Use whatever has the most amount of cleaning power with the least amount of negative environmental and health impact.  Choose something that won't streak for the surface you're working on, too.

Clean the oven on a night when you're using the microwave, crock pot, outdoor grill or something else to cook dinner.  If you use just the stovetop, fine, but don't plan to clean the oven on a night you'll be cooking, because it just won't work (for obvious reasons).  You don't have to dig out the Easy Off!  I'm just talking about some basic maintenance items.  The last time I cleaned my oven, I took BioKleen Degreaser, diluted it, let it sit for awhile on the oven surface and then just wiped it clean and dry.  It looked fabulous afterwards- no harsh chemicals, no fumes, no rubber gloves needed, no scrubbing.  Sometimes sheer soaking is all the cleaning power that's needed!

If you have a gas stove and you aren't using the stovetop grates that night at all, put them in the dishwasher or wash and dry them by hand. 

(More instructions on cleaning a stovetop and an oven well are in the book Speed Cleaning, written by Jeff Campbell.  It is a superb book for learning how to clean your whole house thoroughly but in a relatively quick and definitely a very efficient manner.)

If you own a stainless steel appliance(s), then you may need to use a cleaner designed just for that type of surface. However, I've found that good old lemon Pledge works just great on stainless steel, wooden tables and chairs, kitchen cabinets and any leather pieces you might own. Windex or The Clean Team's Blue Juice is good for glass and some "laminated" surfaces (like the front of a microwave).  Do be careful with Pledge in terms of where you spray it, because it will make a floor slippery if too much of it coats the floor's surface.  I prefer to just spray the Pledge on a polishing cloth right over the sink or a trash can- any Pledge that coats the sink or trashbag indirectly will cause no harm.  You can do this with a few cloths at a time, so you don't have to keep going back to the sink or trash can.  

10) Finally, we reach the floor.  Assuming that you vacuum and mop your floor once or twice a week consistently, most of time all you'll need to do is deep-clean the baseboards, the rubber part which separates your cabinets from the floor (dust bunnies love these), the edge of the flooring itself (right where it hits the cabinets and appliances) and some corners once in awhile.  No matter how good of a vacuum and mop you own and how consistent you are with cleaning, most floors will need a good hand-scrubbing in places here and there.  Also remember that mysterious abyss known as the floor under your large appliances- fridge, oven, washer/dryer (if applicable), etc.  If at all possible, move the applicances and give the floor normally covered by them a thorough vacuuming and washing.  However, if all you can do is run a dryer cleaning brush or cloth-covered cleaning wand underneath to disengage and remove some of the dirt that builds up, it's still worth celebrating.  While it's a pain to clean these unseen areas, it does help people with asthma or allergies to have that extra dirt gone.  Removing that excess dirt/dust/grease also can help your applicances run better (especially the fridge) and helps prevent fires, too. 

Here's to being an organized minimalist,

Sunday, June 9, 2013

How Learning New Tasks Translates into Confidence That You Can Tackle Any Organizing Project

When I started college this past January, I did so as a student who last went to school half a lifetime ago.  I was wary about my ability to keep up with people ten years younger than me or more.  I had the mistaken belief in my head that I was too old to re-learn (or learn anew) higher mathematics and worried the entire time I was taking algebra that I'd fail the class.  I resented having to take that type of course in the first place, considering that my majors aren't in a mathematical field at all.  But taking the class proved to me an invaluable lesson- I can learn new things just as well as I did when I was younger!  I won't be a raging success in every subject that I take on, but my ability to gain new knowledge and then use it is still intact.  And I believe the same thing applies to everyone and in many situationsI know you might be thinking, "Yeah, right."  But I think that each of you can do whatever it is you want to do with your life. 

I may fail at things in life but it's rarely because I didn't give it my all mentally.  All it took to succeed in algebra was applying myself, something that sounds simple in print but is in reality quite tough to put into practice day in and day out.  When I actually read the lessons as assigned, doing all of the exercises and math problems step-by-step, I was able to retain what I learned better.  So long as I spent consistent time each day studying, filling in the gaps that existed in my knowledge, I not only learned new skills but I became somewhat expert at using them.  I didn't usually enjoy doing the actual work but I was buoyed by the fact that I climbed up the mountain of knowledge a little higher each day.  I realized that I could not psych myself out by constantly thinking, "I can't do this."  I think many students do the same thing mentally and thus give up before they've ever even really tried to master a topic.  I'd never touched a graphing calculator before this class, for example.  Now, I actually know how to write programs for my calculator, besides knowing how to use it to solve algebra!  Was it easy?  Not by a long shot.  But it was and is possible to conquer even the toughest of subjects.  I may not become a mathematical wizard, but I can do the best my brain and body will allow.  I refuse to give in to self-limitations, especially mental ones.  Anything is possible with a will to succeed, solid dedication to learning and tenacity.  Every door I open to new knowledge ends up just opening another door after that yet again, and I personally find this very exciting, one of the most enjoyable aspects of life itself.

So how does this translate to organizing projects or learning new routines to make your life run more smoothly?  It's quite simple.  The same thing that I had to do to gain knowledge about algebra and get good at it is exactly what one has to do when learning new home maintenance routines, organizing or time-management skills.  Very few people are born with the innate gifts of organizing or time-managing perfectly.  It's a set of skills I'd say 90-95% of us have to learn, usually the hard way- through repeating the same steps over and over until they become a part of our very nature.  Look at a ballet dancer for example, who must do the identical warm-up day after day after day, then builds their more elaborate dance repertoire step by step.  To get to the point where something becomes second nature, most of us have to repeat the same routines repeatedly for quite awhile.  No one learns full routines immediately, even when they have an innate talent for a particular task.  Organizing, time-managing and simplifying are about self-improvement, especially early on in the journey, but eventually they blossom out to a point where you'll want to improve even more of the world around you.  They're more important skills than they sometimes seem to be at first, because they end up being needed in every area of our existence.

Thankfully in this day and age much literature has been written to serve as guides on our way to mastering these tools.  I encourage you to seek out such books- there are many great ones out there- and articles about the topic.  There are tons of great blogs on organizing which provide help and motivation.  No, not every suggestion an author makes will apply to you or be a fit for your personality or lifestyle.  But you won't gain knowledge of what works and what doesn't without trying.  It's not better to never try a system because you think it just won't work for you.  There's nothing to be lost in making a solid attempt at something.  The benefits almost always weigh out the drawbacks.  If you try to implement a system, work at it daily and it fails, you'll still get something out of it!  No inventor, scientist or any other great figure of history achieved their major successes without a lot of failures as they worked.  It took many, many attempts to get an airplane off the ground, to get a working telephone, to develop electricity.  Also, many times they'd would discover an item of immense value that came out of the mere attempt to achieve their final goal, often as a sort of accidental surprise.  (Thomas Edison's work is a great example of this.)  Consistent hard work, trial-and-error and just plain showing up to try accomplishing something of importance every day is what serves life best.  You won't learn new skills, get tasks done or achieve anything of great value without taking steps backward.  Nothing and no one in life is a perpetual fountain of success- all great people were willing to take the chance of failure rather than walk away and never try to achieve their goal at all.

Lest you think my experience was nothing but a bed of roses this time, I only did an average job on my algebra tests.  I'm normally a good test-taker but higher mathematics are an exception to that rule.  What made the difference in my final class grade was completing my workshops & homework, showing up and finishing the class out.  I'll admit that I was not doing well on my tests, to the point where I thought I might not get a B in the class (the lowest grade I could get and still pass, in this case).  I was tempted to just say, "Screw it", and not even show up for the last class to take the final exam.  I didn't think I could get a B, I thought I was just not getting the material the way I should've been (considering my many hours of study) and frankly by the end of the semester I was a bit burned out.  But I completed the workshops, the homework, the final exam and the class.  And I passed with a B!  No, my final exam was not a masterpiece, but the mere fact that I tried my best was enough in this case.  Even if I wouldn't have passed, I would still have known that I gave it my all and psychologically, that was necessary to me. 

I encourage you to view the development of your organizing, simplifying and time management skills in the same way.  Stick the path out.  Work on it a little bit every day, even when it's the last thing you want to be doing.  Right about the time you think you'll experience your biggest failure is when you'll often instead get your biggest breakthroughs.  And then, finally, your biggest success will come along.  You cannot look at others who already have the skills under their belt and make negative comparisons about yourself.  I will never be a mathematical genius.  It'll never be something that I naturally grasp easily or have an enormous passion for.  I'm glad there are people like that out there, but my interests lie elsewhere.  However, I'm grateful for the lessons I learned- not so much the math itself, but the incidental stuff.  Having to stretch myself in this way taught me a great deal about my habits and my psyche.  Look at getting organized, simplifying and gaining time management skills the same way.  I know that you'll get farther than you ever dreamed possible if you do this. 

Here's to being an organized minimalist,