Overwhelmed by Creativity

Creativity comes along with a lot of stuff. One of my very first clients absolutely loves scrapbooking. She has a ton of backlogged projects and is always finding new inspiration. She also has all the latest and greatest scrapbooking tools and a bountiful supply of card stock, paper, ribbon, washi tape, etc. for when the creative mood strikes! As you might imagine, all this equipment and material takes up an awful lot of space and is relatively complex to keep organized. 

A little #organizationporn for all my needleworkers and color enthusiasts!

A little #organizationporn for all my needleworkers and color enthusiasts!

When I work with highly creative, inspired clients, I’m still doing the same thing I always do: helping them to edit their belongings so that we can create a streamlined organizing system that supports their goals and is easy to maintain. This does mean that I help my clients edit their raw materials and project ideas. And edit is a pretty word for delete, or throw away.

This may sound like I’m trying to limit my clients’ creativity in the interests of creating a gorgeous organizing system. And I can see that perspective. But here’s why I believe that even the most creative people benefit from careful editing.

  1. A human being only has so much time and energy. Many incredibly creative people I work with can think of more projects in a day than they could complete in years. And the more projects you add, the more stuff accumulates… but the more projects remain unfinished, or even un-started. Which leads me to…

  2. The feeling of accomplishment when you’ve finished a creative endeavor and send it out into the world - whether it’s submitting a book for publishing or just getting that photo you’re so proud of framed and hung - is incredible. It’s rewarding, and it fuels you for the next project. If you have too many ongoing ideas, you’ll never actually get through any of them, and you’ll rob yourself of the opportunity to be proud of your finished product. And anyway…

  3. There’s freedom in limitation that can lead to all kinds of surprising inspiration. It’s like kids who play for hours with the box a playhouse came in and don’t seem all that interested in the house itself - the blank canvas of a box, although it has fewer features, gives them more room for imaginative play. Plus, there’s a dark side to endless possibilities…

  4. I often work with clients who feel a sense of guilt or inadequacy from knowing that they are not following through on some great ideas. I ask them the question: will it feel better to keep this project around and know that it’s available to you to work on, or will it feel better to acknowledge that you don’t have the time and energy to complete it and let go of the idea to focus on other projects? It’s often not until I voice this question out loud that they realize how much a of a burden some projects have become!

I have to admit, I identify  and sympathize strongly with many of my creative clients. As I build my business, I’m always coming up with new ideas and projects! But I have to remember to focus on delivering my services to the very best of my ability every day, and add only those things that I truly have the time and energy to maintain.

So, creativity is not the opposite of organization! In fact, a great organizing scheme can really support your creative projects and help you bring more of those brilliant ideas to fulfillment. 


Bullet Journaling: Helpful or Hype?

Our culture is currently obsessed with productivity and saving time. This makes sense: as a whole, we’re wealthier than we’ve ever been and we can buy almost everything we need… except time.

This explains the popularity of the bullet journal: a custom made planner that you design specifically for your needs. Some people use it as a calendar, some as a to-do list, some as a goal setting tool, and many people use it for multiple purposes. There’s serious power there in being able to plan things that are important to you so that you minimize the time it takes to deal with them.

And yet, the focus of bullet journaling seems to have shifted away from pure productivity and toward making the journal itself as Instagrammable as possible. Just look at Pinterest: there are so many photos of beautiful bullet journal layouts that must have taken hours. To me, this is kind of like the “pretty box and label” problem - the intention is great, but many people get caught up in the aesthetic details and waste more time than they save.

Image via Pinterest

Image via Pinterest

This is why I initially rejected the bullet journal. Of course, it’s great to have a creative outlet, and if you personally derive a lot of intrinsic value from the process of beautifying your bullet journal, that’s great. However, there is a lot of hand wringing online by potential bullet journalers who don’t take it up because they feel that their artistic skills are inadequate. Talk about missing the point! A bullet journal is intended to help you be productive in whatever way works for you, and literally no other human ever has to see it.

I also can’t help but notice that beautiful bullet journals are pushed towards a female audience. All the gorgeous layouts you’ll see online have lovely looping handwriting, pretty patterns and colors, and other hallmarks of feminine stereotypes. And that just frustrates me, because the last thing we need in this world is one more image-based activity for women to worry about and waste time on!

Still, I have both work and personal goals that I always think about but never quite do. So, I gave the bullet journal strategy a shot.  Here’s how I do it.

Notebook from Kate Spade New York

Notebook from Kate Spade New York

I use my bullet journal to to two things: track habits I want to acquire, and create mini to-do lists and time planning for each work day. I use a notebook a dear friend got me as a gift and one color of ink. I do no decorations and I use my normal handwriting. I simply lay out the habit chart for each week, and then write the next day’s activities each evening on the following page. it takes maybe two minutes.

Yes, my hand is strategically placed, why do you ask?

Yes, my hand is strategically placed, why do you ask?

And you know what blows my mind? That grid of tiny little check marks adding up as the week progresses WORKS. I get so much innate satisfaction out of checking everything off that I think ahead throughout my day about when I’m going to fit in my desired activities. On the flip side, the things I habitually forget to do or avoid really bug me, so much so that I am motivated to change my schedule for the coming days.

The grid also helps me work towards a larger achievement of permanent habit change. I’ve decided that if I do something every day for two weeks straight, I can consider that habit acquired and move it off my checklist. So far, nothing has quite made the cut - but I’m getting closer, and that’s extremely motivating!

So, as with many things in the organizing and productivity space, I wholeheartedly agree with the strategy while remaining frustrated at the inordinate focus people place on the aesthetic.

Have you tried bullet journaling? How did it go?


Shift Your Productivity

When I’m working, I have a lot of tabs open. There’s personal email and calendar, work email and calendar, all my work resources like accounting, blogging, CRM, and social media, and then whatever else I’m clicking around on doing research or finding product links. It gets really overwhelming and cumbersome to manage all that within one browser!

In a stroke of perfect timing, a blogger I follow wrote a post recommending an innovative solution to the multi-tab disaster: Shift. He raved about the ease of use and how it streamlined his workflows.

However, I was hesitant, because the tier of service you really need to run a business costs $99 per year, and as a small business owner I’m trying to make sure that every nickel and dime I spend makes an impact.

Finally, after another day spent clicking back and forth between tabs, I’d had enough. I looked over the options one more time and downloaded Shift, the Advanced version.

Not my inbox - image courtesy of tryshift.com

Not my inbox - image courtesy of tryshift.com

You guys, I totally love it. I have three Gmail accounts, and Shift makes toggling between the mail, calendar, and drive windows a total breeze. My personal favorite touch is that when you open a document in your Google Drive account, Shift pops it out into another window automatically. So helpful to be able to tile Google Docs and Sheets across a computer screen - it really makes the Google Drive experience feel a lot more like traditional word processing.

Image courtesy of tryshift.com

Image courtesy of tryshift.com

I’m really glad I chose the Advanced version, too, because I’m using the crap out of those features. Shift accommodates super helpful Chrome extensions including Boomerang (which is actually changing my life, scheduling emails ahead of time is my new favorite thing) and Lastpass (which I’ve raved about before and makes life so much easier). It also tiles some of my favorite services right inside the app, like Xero, my accounting software; Hootsuite, where I manage social media posting when I’m really feeling on top of my life; and even iCloud which makes grabbing all my iPhone photos for blogging a breeze.

Shift is a new product, so there are certainly some downsides that come with the growing pains of any new technology. For starters, it's definitely a Google and Cloud driven software solution. They do offer support for a limited group of other email account types like Outlook, but my lame old Yahoo email address that I use for junk mail is still out in the cold. Actually… maybe that’s not such a bad thing…

The other thing is that there are still plenty of really useful apps that don't work with Shift. I would be over the moon if they could provide seamless integration with blogging software and my CRM program, for example. However, the good news is that they’re adding linked apps and services all the time, so the functionality is only going to get better over time.

Bottom line: Shift is well worth the investment if you live your digital life in the Cloud, appreciate high quality design, and want to level up your productivity.

What other great digital productivity solutions have you found?


***This post contains referral links, which may earn me cash back or service credit on the linked sites.  All opinions are my own.**

The Joy of Empty Closets

I have empty closet space in my house. 

Does that statement seem strange to you?

If so, let me explain.

For many people, and pretty much all of my clients, there is a direct relationship between the amount of storage in their home and the amount of stuff they have. Specifically, the amount of storage dictates the amount of stuff, and when space runs out, they seek to obtain more storage.

In my personal life, and when working with clients, I flip this around. Forget the storage space you have - whether it’s closets, shelves, a basement, an attic, whatever. Instead, focus first on the stuff. What do you actually need and use? What do you love that brings you real joy? And why would you have anything at all that doesn’t fall into either of those two categories?

Then, only then, do we talk about how and where to store the stuff.

This is our laundry cabinet - everything we need, nothing we don't, and space if needs change. The cabinets above are empty, too!

This is our laundry cabinet - everything we need, nothing we don't, and space if needs change. The cabinets above are empty, too!

Leaving empty storage space is also about acknowledging that time is an important dimension of organizing. The process of living an organized life is ongoing. You need to maintain your home organization systems every day (it takes just a few minutes if your systems work well) , and adapt them as your needs change.

If there's one thing I know, change is a constant in this life, no matter how much we may fear or resist it. So, given that, why not leave yourself both the physical and mental space to accommodate that change? Future You might take up a new hobby and need a place to stash the equipment. Future You might throw a party and want a coat closet to accommodate guests. Future You may work from home and need a place to set up a work station, and Future You may bring home a baby with all of the gadgets, gizmos, outfits, and diapers parenthood brings.

This is our entryway coat closet. We love to entertain, so there needs to be space for coats and bags so people can settle in and feel at home!

This is our entryway coat closet. We love to entertain, so there needs to be space for coats and bags so people can settle in and feel at home!

By completely stuffing all of your storage space full, you are creating serious problems for Future You! Under likely time crunch and performance pressure, Future You will have to cobble together a solution for their new venture, rather than having the space and energy to comfortably and easily fit it into their life.

In so many ways, living an organized life is about investing time in the present to free up more time in the future to spend on the activities and relationships that really matter to you. What kinds of amazing future projects could you make room for if you left yourself some empty storage space?


What I'm Organizing - Staying Connected (or not!) While Traveling

Why hello there!  It’s been rather quiet chez LMW Edits this summer, and I’m quite proud and grateful to say that it’s because I’ve both been busier than ever before with clients and lucky enough to have been able to take a couple of amazing trips.  As a result, I’ve been trying to balance staying connected enough to nurture my business and care for my clients while at the same time remaining present in the moments I get to experience out in the world. 

My first trip made the choice for me: it was to a very remote location with only satellite communications, which did not work at all.  Fortunately, the trip operator had communicated clearly that we should not expect internet access during our stay and had advised those with pressing needs to bring a satellite phone, so I was mentally prepared for this possibility!

I cannot emphasize enough how powerful and important I found the experience of being disconnected to be.  The initial few hours were a little bit rough – I felt weirdly adrift (even though I had books on my Kindle and a needlepoint project to work on) and realized with no small amount of shame how many minutes I usually kill throughout the day.  I also fretted because I couldn’t tell my husband we’d arrived safely, something I always do whenever I travel (to relax, I fell back on the mantra of “no news is good news”)!  But, I didn’t have a choice, and I quickly realized that having the cord cut for me gave me an incredible amount of mental freedom.  All those minutes I would have been mindlessly scrolling through something became minutes of thinking, looking, and experiencing.  I spent a lot more time in my own head than I’m used to, and worked out quite a few things.  I came back refreshed in a much more different way than I feel after, say, a beach vacation – but a way I hope to be able to replicate in the future!

On my second trip, I struck a different balance.  This time we were headed for Europe, so I knew that I’d have all the access I wanted. My business phone has an unlimited plan from T-Mobile, which includes unlimited texting and 2G internet access around the world.  I find this perfect for traveling: it’s enough to be able to stay in contact with your group, use maps, and check email, but man, that 2G speed makes it really difficult to want to peruse social media or the web in general!

The real debate for me is always whether or not to bring my laptop.  I hate doing anything more than quick emails on my phone or ipad, so if I’m going to try to be productive at all I need to bring it.  In the end, I did use it on both trips, mostly while sitting in airport lounges, but I question if I would have felt less pressure if I had just decided ahead of time that anything requiring a laptop just wasn’t going to get done.

I hope you’re enjoying your summer and any travel opportunities you have! 


The Price of Time

When I talk to people about why they want to get organized and what they hope to achieve in the process, their responses always come down to time.  An organized life requires an upfront investment of time that then pays dividends in time saved that can be spent on things that really matter.  People fundamentally want to get organized because they want to spend more time having fun with their families and friends and less time hunting for that one particular sweater in the back of the closet or dealing with overdue bills.

Your time is precious, and it’s finite.  So, whether you’re purchasing someone else’s time or using your own, I strongly encourage you not to discount its value. Whenever I talk to my clients about amounts of money, whether it relates to the pricing of my services or their options to make money on the items they no longer want, I always try to frame the discussion in terms of time and effort. 

Yes, hands-on organizing that’s tailored to you by a professional is relatively expensive in terms of both time and money.  However, you have to compare that investment with how long it would take you to organize the same space by yourself, and how well the final product would work for you compared to the solutions a pro would create. 

I like to tell my clients that the reason they should hire me is so that they never have to undertake a huge organizing project ever again.  I set up systems and teach my clients how to manage them so that they may only need an organizing checkup now and then to keep things running smoothly.

On the flip side, clients often see dollar signs when they look at items they no longer want that were very expensive when originally purchased.  I regret to inform you that most things do not hold value, since the secondhand retail market is flooded with vintage and antique pieces while the current trend is toward simple, minimal design. 

Further, the amount of money you can make by re-selling your castoffs is directly proportion to the amount of time and effort you put into the sale.  The easiest option, consignment, means a big chunk of your profit is taken off the top, while the options that yield the highest return, like eBay, require you to do everything yourself and reward more work on better pictures, marketing copy, and sale monitoring

When making organizing decisions, it’s important to consider the big picture, and how much your personal time is worth. 


The Turning Point

If you’re wondering how it might feel to drastically reduce the number of things you own but are scared to dive in, this piece by Sean Hotchkiss takes you through the process in its entirety, with such poignancy and realism that you feel the weight of his stuff and then his eventual unburdening as if it were happening to you.  I urge you, whether you’re a chick or a dude, to read the article now: I Surrendered My Wardrobe.

Image courtesy of gq.com (Oliver Rheindorf/Platinum)

Image courtesy of gq.com (Oliver Rheindorf/Platinum)

Hotchkiss gets at so many of the core truths of organizing, concepts I see with clients time and again.  Over-acquisition doesn’t just happen out of the blue, it always comes from a place of emotional turmoil.  Once you’re on that merry-go-round of consumption, it’s really hard to get off.  And if you do succeed in changing your ways, it’s a lot harder to get rid of things than it was to buy them in the first place.

But I’ve talked about those things before.  Today, I want to call particular attention to the moment that Hotchkiss realized he had to make a change.  It was just a brief and seemingly meaningless interaction, but it led him to fundamentally alter the way he approached style, consumption, and ownership of things.

I’ve learned a lot over the past three and a bit years of my fledgling organizing career, and one thing that stands out to me is that I do my best work for people who are truly ready to make a change in their lives. 

Building an organized home is far more than rearranging all the things you already own.  If it were that easy, my job wouldn’t exist!  Instead, it requires a fundamental shift in how you approach your life.  You have to quit old habits and form new ones; get rid of many possessions and acquire a few new ones; think critically about your own attitudes and tastes; and allow a relative stranger to guide you through the entire, vulnerable process.  When done right, it’s a major and positively life-changing undertaking.

Because the organizing process requires such a tectonic shift, it won’t work for someone who hasn’t yet hit their turning point.  That point is different for everyone and can’t be predicted, but when it happens to you, you’ll know.  You’ll be exasperated, you’ll feel a bit like you’re crawling out of your skin, and you’ll pick up the phone and call me.

And the greatest reward you’ll earn from completing the organizing process isn’t the beauty of a row of pretty chalk labeled boxes.  It’s the time you’ll get back to spend with the people you love, the feeling of peace that will take over when you come home after a long day, and the quiet confidence you’ll enjoy, knowing that you’re equipped to deal with whatever mud life throws at you.


Stopping Clutter Before It Starts

Clutter doesn’t just magically appear.  Each object that combined with others to create a feeling of clutter came from somewhere, sometime, for some purpose.  This is why decluttering is only half the battle.  In order to maintain an organized environment, you have to be able to control the inflow of stuff as well as get rid of it when the time comes.

Image courtesy of nytimes.com (Carl Richards)

Image courtesy of nytimes.com (Carl Richards)

But we live in a culture that reveres consumption (although the tides may be gradually, slowly, infinitesimally shifting on that point) and shopping habits are hard to change.  This is why I loved Carl Richards’ opinion piece for the New York Times last summer: New Rule: All Purchases Subject to a 7-Day Mental Quarantine. He has come up with a creative intermediate step between his family’s current shopping habits and the eventual goal of acquiring less.

It seems like such a simple idea, but there’s a lot going on here.  First, he recognizes that his shopping decisions aren’t always well thought out.  Admitting you have a behavior you want to change is always the first step, and it’s a hard thing to do!  I have clients who I’ve worked with for months before they can start to see that their consumption habits are directly tied to their continued disorganization.

Second, he’s putting his household on the same team.  His wife, instead of being the policeman who tells him what not to do, is his “fellow customs officer.” I would say a majority of my clients are women who long for an organized home and have a spouse who either doesn’t see a problem or likes the idea of an organized home but doesn’t want to participate in the process.  I can do good work for these clients, but I can tell you definitively that I do my best work when both halves of a couple (and ideally their kids, if they have them) are involved every step of the way.

Third, he’s not giving himself harsh rules he can’t live by.  There’s nothing about the mental quarantine that says he can’t buy things – it just sets up a framework that buys him more time to think about it and encourages him to consume less.  When people feel deprived, they want to act out, whether it’s from a diet or from strict rules.

In a sense, the lighthearted metaphor of mental quarantine is standing in for the overall concept of mindfulness in consumption.  By slowing down and extending the process, Richards is allowing himself to be mindful about each and every purchase decision without getting caught up in the quick dopamine rush of acquiring something new.

Imagine a world in which you give yourself the time and space to carefully consider purchases.  They might be fewer and farther between, but they’ll likely be more useful and meaningful to you!


What I'm Organizing

There comes a time (one hopes) in the life of every small business when the number of clients outpaces the capacity of the business owner's brain.  For LMW Edits, that time has come!

I'm really into using integrated cloud-based apps to run my business.  I'm pretty well versed in accounting, marketing, and other foundational business practices thanks to my MBA, but I'm still just one person and anything that streamlines processes is a win in my book.  Plus, part of the way I differentiate my business is by keeping on top of tech trends in the organizing space, so it would be rather incongruous for me to use dated tools myself.

So, when I realized I needed a CRM tool (that would be Customer Relationship Management, a fancy way of saying "how to keep track of clients"), my top priority was to find something that would integrate with Xero, the cloud-based accounting app I've been using since I received my very first payment.  Although I have nothing to compare it to, I've been very happy with Xero: the design is clean, it's super user friendly, and there are tons of resources available including the App Marketplace, which is where I started my CRM search.

At this point, based on reviews and recommendations from other tech-savvy organizers, Insightly is bubbling to the top of the list.  I'm going to do a bit more research, so if you have a CRM solution you love, tell me about it!  I'd be very interested to hear your experience.


What I'm Organizing

I've heard it, you've heard it, we've all heard it: when trying to do anything to your home (repair, remodel, repaint...) expect it to take twice as long and cost twice as much.  We moved into our dream house 13 months ago, and had hoped that our renovation project would be nearing its end by now, but as of this writing we have plans and permits... and not much else.  It's a long, sordid story involving tight spaces, soil engineering, and neighbors who just don't understand, and it's totally boring to everyone except me.  Suffice it to say, though, progress is just around the corner!

Since the remodeling process was taking so long, I decided to go ahead and start the interior design for our upstairs (which will be untouched).  In the spirit of hiring an expert when you realize your own ineptitude, I'm working with my friend Liz Curtis of Table + Teaspoon again.  We are SO excited about her designs, and can't wait for everything to come together!

And as luck would have it, carpet install, paint, and delivery of furniture is colliding headlong with Thanksgiving, houseguests, and the potential actual start of the renovation.  It's the ultimate first world problem, so I'm not stressed - it's just an interesting challenge to organize our home and time so that we can properly enjoy the holiday season.  For now, I've moved everything random (tools, cleaning products, spare lightbulbs and cords, still-unpacked boxes of silver and china) into our unfinished downstairs space.  We haven't hung any art, so that's all hanging out in the living room, along with the piles of delivered boxes for the upstairs.  And we've managed to totally clear out both of our future offices (don't peek in drawers, people, it's ugly) so that Liz and her team can get to work.

So for now, I'm going to leave you with the "before" pictures of the three upstairs rooms... stay tuned!

Upstairs Bedroom

This is currently the master bedroom, but will become our guest room when the renovation is finished.  The rug, chair, ottoman, and side table (with a new coat of paint) will be staying, the rest (which was all hand-me-down from various generous family members) will be leaving.

Husband's Office

This was a little boy's room under the previous owners.  My husband picked it because it's slightly larger and slightly darker, so better for a TV/gaming setup.  Priorities!

My Office

This was a little girl's room, and I am so excited to make it mine (just WAIT until you see the wallpaper/curtain combo!).  I have a feeling that a dedicated space will really help me take my business to the next level.