Monday, January 29, 2007

Is this where it goes?

Before you set something down and walk away, ask yourself this simple question: "Is this where it goes?"

If the answer is no, then take an extra minute to put it where it does go. This may sound like a pain in the rear, but it's a habit that pays off big. Ever lose those keys or that letter you're working on or your fancy pen or the roll of tape? Then you can imagine what I mean. This is particularly helpful if you aren't the only one living in your humble abode and, if that's the case, you'll want to enlist the participation of everyone else in this simple but effective strategy.

This assumes, of course, that you actually have a place for things. If you don't, then we have a lot of work to do, don't we? And we'll get to that. We will. My bet, though, is that you do have a place for those commonly-used items and if they wander away and don't manage to find their way back, you know the frustration that can cause.

This strategy also helps as we become older and our memories become less, shall we say, effective. If you have young people around, enlisting their support will help them build good habits and develop good organizational skills that will last a lifetime.

Have a two-story or more-story house and have something that needs to go upstairs or downstairs? We'll look later at a special strategy for dealing with that designed for those of us who aren't into getting our cardio workout in using the stairs at home.

Pizza Box Art

Here's a great budget-conscious idea for organizing and reducing what can become an almost horrendous amount of stuff. I mean stuff that ends up everywhere, comes in a variety of shapes and sizes, and is often stuff that you want to keep. Most of it, anyway. For a while at least.

If you have a child anywhere from preschool to junior high age, then you know about school artwork. Ah yes, that wonderful stuff that is a testament to your darling's budding artistic genius and creativity. That's the stuff! While much of it makes its first stop on the refrigerator door (and deservedly so), there's the question of what to do with the current masterpieces when the new ones arrive. And they always, always do, don't they?

One of the challenges with this stuff is that it's often not nice, standard 8-1/2" x 11" sheets of paper on which the masterpieces are created. Oh no. These kids bring home all manner of stuff. Tiny little things and big, gangly things and everything in between.

Try this on for size. Next time you're at the pizza parlour, ask for a large pizza box or two that you can take home with you. A clean one. This part is very important if you don't want your organizational genius to end up requiring the services of an exterminator due to the fact that fifty-seven thousand ants have taken up residence in your child's art collection. Now, most pizza places will give you the boxes (one or two) for free. Yes, free. If you're a customer, that is. So, plan this one for when you're "doing pizza," and you'll be far less likely to be met with puzzled looks (not that you're not going to get them anyway, but you can always explain that MensaGrrl told you to do it and thereby relieve yourself of all responsibility).

Obviously, I'm going to suggest that you use the large pizza boxes to store your child's art in. As an added bonus, they can slip right under the bed in your kids' rooms. And they can stack, if you have a budding Michaelangelo on your hands. Be sure to get each child their own pizza box, though. This is not a thing they'll want to share.

As an extra project for those little artists, have them decorate the boxes. Start with some sort of contact paper or other material to cover up the pizza company's self-promotion. You can even use fabric and glue it onto the box. Next, your child can decorate the box with glued-on goodies, such as ribbons, buttons, or other paraphenalia. If they're willing, here's a great idea: Take one favorite piece of art, have it laminated, and tape it to the top of the box. You can also use computer-generated graphics and labels (like a lable with the child's name and the year) on your--I mean their--pizza art box.

Organizing Kids' Toys

Got kids? If you do, then you know how out of hand "the dreaded toy issue" can get. Here's an idea for organizing kids' toys that not only helps take care of the "the dreaded toy issue," but also makes your home and your kids' rooms look nicer and teaches your kids to be organized themselves from an early age. And, as an added bonus, it helps kids think in a more logical and organized fashion as well--something that I simply can't say about tossing all those toys into a bottomless toy box, or worse yet, into a huge and unruly mess on the floor somewhere (or everywhere)!

Buy some of those clear plastic boxes with snap-on lids available at variety stores and online. The shoe box size is realy ideal for the majority of things you'll want to organize in this way, and is particularly good for all those small things (like that 100-piece set of tiny plastic people your Aunt Martha bought for your kids at the dollar store, your daughter's collection of Barbie clothes and accessories, and so on). You can use a larger size for larger items, or for those there are simply too many of. Of course, we'll be talking later about simplifying and how we can use it to reduce the sheer volume of stuff we have to deal with both as parents and as kids, but for now, go for the plastic boxes. Sanity is terrible thing to waste.

Plastic Container - medium (3)Sterlite Plastic Container - Medium (3)
This medium-size plastic container provides unique solutions for storing, organizing and carrying items around the home, office, garage or classroom. Sold in a set of 3, the lid features a durable, locking latch and a comfortable handle for secure one-handed carrying. The see-through bottom allows contents to be easily identified, and multiple units of the same size are stackable. Interior Dimensions: 12 7/8"W x 7 7/8"D x 5 1/4"H.This item ships directly from Stacks and Stacks. Product usually arrives in 2-8 business days, depending on destination, including order processing and shipping.

Sort the toys by type and put each type in its own bin. Lego, building blocks, Lincoln Logs, Barbie clothes, Matchbox and Hotwheels cars, and so on all each get their own box. One of the great things about these boxes is that they stack! They also fit well on most bookshelves and in most shelving units and cubes (you know, the kind you might be considering for your kids' rooms?). If you don't have shelves for them, find a good place out of the way of traffic and stack them up (not too high!). You can have a few stacks, right next to each other. Put the larger-sized boxes on the bottom (these would be the ones you need when your son has a Lego collection the size of my son's--you know, the kind that wouldn't fit into ten shoe boxs).

Now, the best part. Use a sticky label (available at variety or office stores--or online) or simply use a computer printer label (they come in various sizes; the address label sizes work great) and label each plastic bin with one or two words that describe its contents. Write in block letters for the best effect. If you're inclined to, printing them on the computer is a great idea! You can use nice block-style fonts (remember, these are for kids to read and use, so make the font simple and appealing to them), interesting colors, and even a tiny graphic or two.

When you stack the boxes, always stack them with the label side facing out. Now, when it's time to get out something to play with, encourage your child to get it him or herself, selecting the proper box according to its label. Okay, so they can see through the plastic if they can't read all that well, but the association of the item and the written words describing it is a great learning tool. Use playtime to help teach reading and writing and to make it fun! When it's time to put things away, have your child put things back in the proper box (again, if they're young, help them determine which is which, but encourage them to learn it themselves) and to stack the boxes once again.

This not only accomplishes those organizational and simplification goals--and helps your kids learn to think in a more logical and organized fashion and even learn to read--but also gives playtime (and cleanup time) a new twist. Kids can really learn a lot from, and can really enjoy, organizing their toys with these plastic boxes and bins. In a way, this system is a variation on a game or toy itself and it also provides a sense of accomplishment when things are successfully put away.