budget talk

An Expert’s Advice on Organizing on a Budget


If you’ve been following Budget Smart Girl posts for a year or more you might remember Regina Leeds ‘The Zen Organizer’ who gave us some great tips about organizing our finances. She’s back to answer my questions about ways we can get organized on a budget. Check out her book on organizing and also her new one called One Year to An Organized Life with Baby…looks like this would make a great baby shower gift! Visit Regina’s Web site and blog at http://www.reginaleeds.com/, www.oneyeartoanorganizedlife.blogspot.com


Budget Smart Girl (BSG)-What mistakes do most of us make (especially when we’re on a budget), when we start organizing?

Regina Leeds (RL)-People are busy, stressed and will make a snap decision to ‘get organized’ over the course of a few hours one weekend afternoon. The problem with that is there is no plan of attack. And since it took time to tumble into chaos, it stands to reason it will take time to create order and the systems that will keep it all in place.

A new and rather modern mistake is going shopping for containers before you know what you need.  I see closets and spare rooms filled with containers that look pretty but aren’t needed.  Containers can be the new clutter in the home rather than the long needed solution.

A big mistake couples make is for one person to make decisions about the possessions of the other without asking.  This is a violation of privacy and can only lead to an argument or long festering negative feelings! I believe children and especially teens should also be a part of the process rather than come home and find their rooms have been raided in the name of organizing.  That’s a great way to inadvertently create a slob! Rebellion takes many forms.

It pays to remember the first rule of Zen Organizing: the whole of anything is overwhelming; therefore you need to break a project down into the parts that will bring you to completion.  It’s one thing to say: I have to make decisions about the items on the counters in the kitchen.  It’s another to stand there and think: Today I need to organize the entire kitchen.  The former presents you with an achievable goal; while the latter overwhelms you with its scope.

BSG-My toughest task is organizing the pantry. I keep it well stocked, use items constantly, get too busy to put things back where they came from and within a week it’s back to chaos. Any tips for keeping it in tip top shape?

RL-My hunch is that you are ‘tidying up’ rather than ‘getting organized.’  To organize means you assign a specific spot for an item.  It takes as much time to toss my keys into the void as it does to place them in a dish or designated hook.  People assume maintenance is some special drain on your time.  It’s merely a re-direction of energy!

In a pantry (one of my favorite places in a home) it’s good to give yourself visual reminders.  To wit:

1. Label the shelves so that everyone in the family knows where that box of cereal goes when they are done with it … or are putting it away after a run to the grocery store. Every home should have a label maker on hand with at least one extra cassette.  I prefer Brother P touch.  The low end model is great and usually sells for around $30 but if you watch for specials you can grab it for $15 or less.  At a store like Staples you get reward points for purchases.  If you have kids you might get enough points for school supplies to get a label maker for free!  http://www.staples.com/Brother-P-touch-PT-90-Personal-Label-Maker/product_812523?cmArea=SEARCH

2. Use shelf dividers (designed for the clothes closet) to keep categories separate.  You don’t want the bags of pasta to bleed over into the soup can area, do you?


3. Some items can also be kept in baskets and that will keep them corralled.  Think potatoes, onions and the like. Very often we receive gift baskets and they are ideal for this task.  It’s the ultimate in recycling.

Perhaps THE most useful item a would be organizer can invest in (after the label maker and shelf divider) is some grid totes.  The Container Store has them in clear, pink, green and white. They come in a simple square and a rectangle. They can be used all over the house and are easy to keep clean. (I would designate a specific color to a particular family member or room or I would simply use the clear or a single color throughout.) I prefer The Container Store because they keep items in stock.  I wouldn’t want to start with grid totes as an example and then find out in 6 months that they are no longer carried. You want to be consistent in your choices especially within given areas. http://www.containerstore.com/shop?productId=10010620&N=&Ntt=grid+totes

No one is a robot with a totally controllable schedule.  If life gets away from you and all the pantry items are not in place one day because the kids were late for the school bus or you had a migraine or the dog needed to be rushed to the vet or …., spend 5 minutes correcting the situation either at the end of the day or at the start (depending on when you are at your best). This applies to paper piles and clothes tossed on a chair or shoes kicked into the closet

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