by Susan Caplan McCarthy
In October, I strained a tendon in my foot and was told to stay off my foot, so it could heal. No problem, I thought. My husband shook his head in doubt, insisting that I never sat still. Of course, I did. Oops, I never appreciated how many times I jumped up to do small tasks.
Pneumonia in November, slowed me down. In December, I went for a physical and pointed out it was time for my IUD to be removed. She sent me to the GYN office across the hall. The IUD had shifted, so I needed to go for an ultrasound, so they could locate it … and they found a mass. Next, an MRI, a blood test for cancer (negative), another ultrasound with a doctor who insisted she knew what the mass was and that it was bad, more blood work (all negative), and an appointment with a GYN-oncologist.
And, tomorrow, laparoscopic surgery to see what the mass is attached to so to determine what needs to be removed.
So, with my brain going in five thousand directions, I thought I’d tell you some lighter things about me.
One: I fold my underwear – Marie Kondo’s Spark Joy made me do it … after reading her suggestion, I gave it a try and really liked how much space it gave me in the drawer.
Two: When I take eggs from the carton I remove them from opposite ends and always keep the eggs visually and physically balanced. I’m not normally this obsessive; I have no clue why I do this.
Three: I’m a stress cleaner. When I was told I needed surgery, I went home, emptied and washed every cabinet in my kitchen. Cleaned my bedroom. And the living room.
Four: To keep my hands busy when I’m watching television (or, sometimes when I’m sitting at the bar with my husband), I crochet hats. The pattern isn’t elaborate, but I do like mixing colors to make them look more interesting. For years, I’ve donate over a hundred hats a year to charity.
Five: I’ve been a nature teacher for over 20 years. Once, when I told someone I was a teacher-naturalist, they mistook it for the word naturist … they thought I taught people to go around nude. After that, I started calling myself a nature teacher.
Six: In the animated movie, Up, the dogs wore special collars that translated their thoughts into human speech. Several times, while making serious speeches, the dogs would suddenly turn their head and say, “squirrel!” Mac thought this was hilarious, and said, “you get distracted like that all the time.” That year for Christmas he gave several squirrel-themed gifts. Squirrels cover the top of my dresser. I call it my shrine to squirrels.
Seven: I love reading young adult fiction. My favorite is fantasy, but if someone recommends a book, I’ll add it to my to-read list.
Eight: I’ve watched every episode of The Simpsons … some, multiple times. No, I can’t recite lines from the show, my brain just doesn’t work that way.
Nine: For my fiftieth birthday, my brother and sister-in-law gave me a Cricut, a die-cutting machine. I started making birthday and holiday cards … sixty or seventy cards a year. Want me to send you a card? Email me your name and address at Susan@ALessClutteredLife.com. No catch.
Ten: In high school, I rearranged the art department’s supply closet. I was the one who organized store shelves, assorted supply rooms, a library at work, an education supply room, and another art supply room.
Eleven: My parents were hoarders (as I’ve mentioned in some articles). Having lots of books and never getting rid of anything was normal for me. I was always trying to get organized and never understood why I kept failing. In my forties, I realized I needed to get rid of things that I didn’t use or didn’t like.
So, that’s some of my quirks, some quirkier than others.
by Susan Caplan McCarthy
Growing up, my parents held onto magazines and so I did too. Each year, my father would sort his car magazines by title, set the back copies in a box and store them in the attic. Consumer reports were kept “for reference” even though categories of products were always being updated to reflect manufacturers’ newest releases.
My mother’s “women’s” magazines filled paper shopping bags and lived in the basement. If I didn’t have a book to read, I’d flip through the musty pages. (As an odd aside, I learned basic 3-ball juggling from a segment in Glamour magazine.) I stored years of TV Guides until I acknowledged that they no longer had value. I now immediately read and recycle the few magazines or publications I still receive.
Why You Don’t Need to Keep Magazines
How to Declutter Magazines
How to Organize Magazines
Remember, you can always find the same or similar information or instructions from another source. If you subscribe to magazines that you never read, contact the subscription department and cancel the future issues. (You can usually do this online and you may even get a refund of a few dollars.)
by Susan Caplan McCarthy
A couple of weekends ago, I lead a workshop for camp professionals on how to organize their art and craft supplies at the American Camp Association’s New England Conference. (Which is why I’ve written an ebook and four articles on this topic.)
Basically, I was telling camp staff that they wanted to make supplies easy to find by storing stuff in clear bins and to label, label, label everything. If things weren’t easy to find or (perhaps more important), easy to put away, things would get “lost” and the counselors would either have to do without supplies or the camp would spend more money replacing items that they already had but couldn’t locate.
Then, one woman raised her hand to explain that she had some special supplies (for knitting, beading, etc.) that she didn’t mind if staff used, but she wanted more control over how they were used – she disliked when things weren’t put back neatly because it was too easy for supplies to get lost or misplaced or to end up disorganized.
I’d been thinking about ways to make things easier to find and she wanted to make some things less easy to find. Hmm.
Then I realized, I knew how to do that. What I’d been telling people wouldn’t work would work for her.
What Do You Want to Hide?
How to Hide Stuff You Want to Keep
1. Store an Item behind Something Else – Have you ever bought food for a special dinner or a party that you didn’t want anyone in the house to eat before the event? What did you do to hide this food? Chances are you moved it to the back of the refrigerator, with other items in front; or, you tucked the items on the lowest or highest shelf in your pantry.
You know where people won’t casually look. So, if you have something you want to guard, hide it behind something or move it above eye level or below knee-height.
2. Hide an Item in Opaque Storage – I adore clear storage boxes for organizing art and craft supplies or other materials that you want to use. A label on a box is good; but, let’s face it, if you are looking for glue sticks, in your mind you are picturing actual glue sticks, not the word ‘glue sticks.’
Seeing through a box, looking at the items, makes it much easier to match the image in your mind. So … if you want to make something more difficult to find, put it in a cardboard box, an opaque storage bin, or a dresser drawer.
3. Put the Item on a Top or Bottom Shelf. You know how in grocery stores the most popular items sit from eye level to knee-height? That’s because store planners know where we’ll look. Items on the top and bottom shelf aren’t top sellers, but they are things people buy frequently enough to stock.
If you don’t need ready access to an item, but you don’t want to hide it in your garage or attic, store it on a top or bottom shelf. It’s still there, not really hidden away, just less noticeable.
4. Label Boxes or Use Easy-to-Identify Boxes. You don’t want to lose an item that is sitting in plain sight because the box or bin isn’t labeled. You could also use color-coded boxes – say, store all your Christmas decorations in red or green boxes that stand out visually from other storage boxes. Using a sturdy photo storage box in a floral or geometric pattern as your memory box could make it stand out from general storage.
Again, you are moving these items to a slightly inconvenient location. You don’t want to crawl around your attic, moving numerous boxes out of the way, to find the turkey roasting pan.
For the woman who wanted to make some of her art and craft supplies less accessible to staff, who started me thinking about anti-organizing, I recommended that while other craft supplies should be in clear bins, specialty materials should be stored in opaque bins set on the bottom shelves of her storage space.
So, how do you store things that you don’t want others to touch or that you don’t need to access all the time? Please leave a comment.
by Susan Caplan McCarthy
When I cleaned out my parents’ attic, I was astounded by the boxes of tchotchkes – photographs, glass bowls, silver-plated trays, vases, candleholders, etc. that my parents had stored in boxes that were stuck under other boxes containing things like old blankets and bubble gum pink curtains.
I figured that these items had come from my parents’ parents, grandparents, and probably a few aunts and uncles. Did any of these items have a special meaning for my parents? I don’t have a clue. If the items were special, why were they hidden? Had my parents thought that if they displayed the items, they would have been broken? Were they concerned that another relative would see an item and demand that it be given to them?
If my parents kept these items because they cherished them, the items lost their identity when wrapped in newspaper and tucked into boxes. Overwhelmed by so much stuff, I kept a couple of photographs, two six-inch vases, and a few interesting-looking spoons that I held onto because I liked the items, not because they had any significance.
Displaying and Storing Heirlooms and Sentimental Items
1. Display the Item - If you love an item, don't hide it in a box. Set vintage jewelry on a tray or in a bowl. Put the vase on a shelf, even if that shelf is in your closet. If you don't want to display an item, consider if it is truly important to you.
2. Write Down the History of a Sentimental Item – My husband kept a ceramic piggy bank that his mother had received as a bridal shower gift because she had included a note about the life of the woman who had given her the item. You don’t have to write a story for every item, but if you know whom it belonged to, note that on a sticker that you place on the underside of the item.
If there is a story about why an item it is significant to you, share it; otherwise, someone else will view your treasures as mere knickknacks.
3. Don’t Create a Burden – Just because something was important to your mother, doesn’t mean it has to be important to you. The same goes for your treasured items. Don’t demand that someone else hold onto them – they are filled with your memories, not the future recipient’s memories.
4. Share an Heirloom Now, Not Later – If your daughter or son is setting up their home and you’d like them to have your or your mother’s wedding china, offer the item now (provided you aren’t actively using the it). Explain the history of the item and why you’d like to pass it along.
You may have a taker, you may not. You can then decide to hold onto the item or see if someone else would cherish the item. If you’d like to, take some photographs before you pass along the item.
5. Question Why You Are Holding onto Items You Have Packed Away – Do you have boxes of special items stored in your attic or basement? How are you honoring their significance when you aren’t making a place for them in your life? Are you holding onto items because you feel obligated or because they truly are special to you (not your father or your grandmother)? It can be difficult to acknowledge that an item isn’t as important to you as you think it was to someone else.
6. Create a Memory Box - If you have an assortment of small pieces that you don't want to display, create a shoebox-sized memory box that you can pull out when you are feeling nostalgic. You could even put a label on it indicating that it should be tossed upon your death as Margareta Magnusson suggests in her book The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning.
If you consider an item important enough to keep, are you showing that importance with the way you treat the item?
Most of the things my parents packed away in the attic were either tossed or given away because my brother and I could only judge the items based on the way they’d been treated – packed in a box for 30+ years and surrounded by other boxes filled with towels, blankets, and old magazines.
Please share your story below of how you preserved or released sentimental items or heirlooms.
by Susan Caplan McCarthy
This is the fourth and final article in the series on organizing art and craft supplies.
You’ve sorted and decluttered your art and craft supplies. You’ve noticed what you use most frequently and should keep handy. You’ve stored and labeled your supplies, so you know where to find them. And … a week later it looks like a hurricane tore through your supplies. Why, oh, why, after all of that thought and work did things descend into chaos?
Getting Organized Is Only Part of the Solution
When you declutter, sort, and group similar supplies, you’re creating your definition of organized. You notice how often you use, say, washi tape, and either keep it on your worktable or you store it in a bin that sits on a shelf for when you need it.
However, you may have some crafts that you do seasonally, and so, the bins of wreath-making supplies that sat in your basement for ten months and now filling a corner of your craft room or living room. You may be frustrated by this chaos, but, notice that it is just temporary.
Keeping Art and Craft Supplies Organized
To maintain organization, you need to plan to tidy your area every time you make art. I’m sorry to say there is no magic solution to this. No matter how much time you spent deciding how to organize your supplies, you still need to clean up when you’re done.
However, by sorting your stuff into well-labeled bins, you are making it so much easier to clean up. Really. You don’t have to think about where stuff goes. You don’t need to worry about finding space to squeeze something into a storage container.
Teach kids to clean up their craft projects and supplies when they’re done. Make certain they can reach where their supplies are stored and understand where to put things so that they can find them next time. (Online, I see quite a few over-the-door organizers with clear pockets filled with kids’ craft supplies.)
If you find that you’re having a difficult time keeping your craft area organized, ask, “What’s the problem?” You may realize that you want your work table closer to your supply shelves. Or, you may realize that supplies you don’t use very often have been given prime real estate; while the items you use all the time aren’t as accessible.
Sometimes, the answer may not be obvious, and you have to keep asking, “What’s the problem?” Is it as simple as, “I don’t leave myself time to clean up?” Or, does the issue seem more complex? “I keep my cardstock in a pile and every time I take a piece, I mess up the pile so that the colors are no longer sorted, and I can’t see what I have, and the paper gets bent.” And you realize in this twist of problems, you need something with trays that will allow you to sort the paper by color.
Maintaining your art and craft storage will always involve some tweaking as you lose interest in some crafts while expanding your interest in others.
Please share this article with your crafting friends or pin on Pinterest.
by Susan Caplan McCarthy
This is the third part of a series of articles about organizing your art and craft supplies.
If you are a maker, you may have realized that having your art and craft supplies throughout your house can hamper your creativity. How frustrating is it to know you have a certain material only to waste time looking for it (and then having it show up after you’ve purchased replacements)?
In the first two articles in this series, you sorted and evaluated the supplies that you have and then considered how often you use the different materials. Now, you want to decide how to store what you use so the things you use most frequently are the most available.
Open Storage or Closed Storage?
One of the first things to consider is whether you want to look at your supplies or not. Do you find visual clutter distracting or even upsetting? Chances are that you wouldn’t appreciate having your supplies out in the open. Here you might be better off with a cubby storage system where you can hide supplies in fabric drawers or other closed containers.
If you are an “out of sight, out of mind” person, then putting supplies in drawers or opaque boxes will cause you to lose things, no matter how well labeled the boxes are. Seeing the actual item is a huge help.
I love clear bins or drawers because they control the chaos and eliminate visual clutter while still allowing you to see the items. Pop these bins onto shelves and you can see what you have without dealing with stuff all over the place.
Stationary Storage or Mobile?
Do you have a craft room? Do you have a corner of a room that you can dedicate to your art and craft supplies? Or, are you limited in space, so you need to keep your supplies in a closet and only pull out what you are working with at the moment?
Decide if your supplies for each type of craft can fit in a storage box that you carry to where you are going to make art or if a rolling cart with drawers or lidded boxes will work best.
The problem with large bins or boxes is that if you have a lot of small supplies loose in the box, it becomes too easy to lose track of them. You might have to have a bin filled with smaller bins or rely on a rolling cart of drawers, so you can sort supplies.
For example, if you scrapbook, you know you don’t want a single bin with a jumble of paper, scissors, adhesives, embellishments, glitter, pens, paper trimmers, and all that stuff bouncing over one another because supplies will get ruined or misplaced in the mess.
Even if you have a dedicated craft space, you may have some supplies that you take with you to different places – watercolors, pastels, drawing supplies, cross stitch, knitting/crochet. There are a wide variety of cases, totes, tackle boxes, and divided boxes that allow you to take your crafts with you while keeping supplies organized.
Label Your Art and Craft Supplies
Even if you are using clear boxes, bins, or drawers, you still want to label them. You can use a label maker or handwrite your labels. If you aren’t the only one to use the supplies, you may even want to label the edge of the shelf so that the bins are returned to the proper location (and remain easy-to-find).
Using the Art and Craft Storage that You Have
Again, whether you find visual clutter exciting or exhausting, containing items in well-labeled, clear boxes, bins, or drawers given you the best of both worlds. What if you already have fabric or yarn in opaque bins and you don’t plan on buying new bins (I wouldn’t)?
If you are using opaque containers, your key to finding what you want with ease will be based on how you sort your materials. For example, you may keep Christmas fabric in one bin with florals in another. You may group yarn by color or type or texture, depending on how you use your supplies. Once you sort your supplies, write your labels so they are specific.
Although you may balk at spending money on art and craft storage when you can use a random assortment of baskets and cardboard boxes from around your home, storing your supplies in an organized manner makes it easier for you to use your time creating beautiful things instead of looking for the materials you want.
Have a great tip for storing art and craft supplies? Please comment below ....
In the final part of this series, I’ll cover suggestions for the most difficult step – maintaining organized supplies.
by Susan Caplan McCarthy
Have you ever felt frustrated with the way you get things done (or don’t get things done)? Do you wonder how a friend started a new habit so easily while you struggle? Or, how a coworker shines working with a group while the energy of groups leaves you exhausted?
Below are quizzes that grant you an objective view on how you learn and use information, your core strengths and skills, and how you deal with expectations. One of the most important aspects of all these methods of self-discovery, is that they emphasize that no single learning style, strength, intelligence, or personality style is more valid than the others.
When you think life would be so much easier if you were different from the way you are, the realization that you need to work with your qualities (instead of fighting against them) can make you more productive. Now, when you read suggestions on how to organize objects or manage your time, you’ll know which tips will have a better chance of working for you.
Myers-Briggs Assessment – This link sends you to the Myers & Briggs Foundation, where you need to pay to take the hour-long test. However, there’s a lot of sites that offer a free version of this test. The assessment helps you identify your preferred ways to make decisions, deal with the outside world, and take in information.
Why would you want to know this stuff? I think if you find yourself getting frustrated by the way you get things done (or don’t get things done), you can find out if you are using methods that just aren’t going to work for your personality type.
Do you want to go through the garage by yourself or with a group? If you’re an extrovert, turning your garage clean-out into a party will energize you; whereas, if you are an introvert, you may meltdown as too many people touch your stuff.
Learning Style – Do you learn best by looking at something, listening about it, or physically acting? If you aren’t getting information in a way that helps you learn the information, you’re going to miss a lot. Webinars where I’m looking at PowerPoint slides or a person’s talking head rely on my oh-so-poor auditory skills. Years ago, I realized that I focused better if I did a mindless task with my hands (I usually crochet a simple hat).
When I was in school, I learned best by rewriting my class notes (sometimes multiple times). I always thought this was a waste of time, but the act of copying my notes (which I still do today) helped me more than rereading them would have.
Multiple Intelligences – Harvard Professor Howard Gardner identified eight intellectual abilities in contrast to a single IQ number. We usually have some degree of each of the eight, with some intelligences stronger than others. Knowing which of the eight intellectual abilities are strongest in you could help you realize how you can best learn information and maybe even work more productively.
When planning out the steps you need to complete a project, would you do best with a linear list, a mind map, a drawing that you label with the different steps, a detailed time table, or time spent journaling about the project? Depending on your key intelligence, any of those techniques could help you or make you miserable.
CliftonStrengths (also called StrengthFinder 2.0) requires payment for their quiz while the VIA Character Strengths is free. Both test for your strengths, with the idea that if you work at building your strengths you’ll improve your life in more productive ways than if you focus on trying to improve your weaker characteristics (which is something we all too often do).
When I took the StrengthFinder 2.0, the results seemed more focused on the skills I’d use at work whereas the VIA Character Strengths offered insights into my strengths as a person. Of course, you could align your work with your character strengths. Both tests emphasized that I love learning and conveying that information to others. (Yep, 25 years of teaching different topics, so that wasn’t a surprise). VIA Character Strengths also listed humility and forgiveness in my top five strengths, although I can’t say I’ve consciously worked those into my work life.
The Big 5 Personality Test is free and, as the name suggests, breaks down your personality into five characteristics. As they point out, these are generalizations based on other respondents’ answers. So, instead of listing characteristics, you see where you fit on a scale compared to other people. I was surprised that I scored low for Conscientious, but when I thought about it, I am easy-going and don’t care for a lot of guidelines and rules; however, I scored high for Neuroticism, an indication for anxiety and worry. Apparently, I’m so easy-going that it makes me anxious!
The Four Tendencies – I’ve been a fan of Gretchen Rubin since her book, The Happiness Project. When people kept asking her how she managed to follow all the tasks she gave herself as part of her project, she started to investigate personality. More specifically, she questioned how people meet expectations they set for themselves as well as the expectations others have for them.
Rubin’s idea is that if you know your tendency, you’ll be better able to make and follow the habits you want to establish. She also has a book about habits, so you can pick the habits that will work best with your tendency.
I realize that I’m much less productive when I work against my learning or personality strengths. Also, when I’m dragging my feet, I can step back and see that I’m expecting myself to act in a way I don’t naturally act. However, and this is key, that doesn’t mean I can’t act in a certain way because I have a label for a characteristic.
I have no affiliation with any of the websites I’ve linked to or the creators of the tests.
Please share this article with friends who love learning about how they think and act.
Susan Caplan McCarthy
I'm a professional organizer-coach with 26 years' experience as a teacher. I believe that an organized home isn't your destination but a step on the path toward the life you want to create. I teach decluttering and organizing skills through articles; books; and speaking engagements; as well as virtual coaching sessions.