Organizing Your Attic and Basement Zones

November is a great time to organize and clean out your attic or basement zone. It’s not too hot or too cold and you are probably already digging around looking for your holiday decorations. 

So while you are up there in the attic (or down there in the basement), look around. How do you use this zone? Develop a plan for this space. What categories do you store here?

You might store:

  • seasonal decorations
  • seasonal home items like fans or heaters
  • out of season clothes or sporting equipment
  • suitcases
  • household items you wish to keep but are not currently using
  • toys, clothing, or other items you wish to pass on to friends or family
  • archival paper

Get a feeling of how much you have in each category. By grouping the categories together you get a better idea of what you really will use and the condition of your items. How many suitcases do you really use? Have some of those seasonal decorations not left the storage area in years? Are family members really going to want the “stuff” you have been holding for them? Now is the time to purge the excess to make it easier to store and get to what you plan on keeping. 

Plan out a zone for each category. Items you access frequently like suitcases or pet carriers should be near the entrance of this area and items you do not plan to use in the next year like unused household items are best stored furthest from the entry. Leave space between each zone so you can safely retrieve or store items. 

Label all containers. Use large labels you can see from some distance. Even if a container is clear, it is hard to see what is inside if the lighting is dim. 

It helps to locate different holiday items if you use colored or themed containers to store your decorations. Still label the containers with the primary items. This keeps you from having to dig through multiple boxes to find the advent wreath or creche you want early in the season.

Take time to look through the archival papers. Are there some that can now be tossed or shredded? If you do this each year, it will make it easier to keep on top of the paperwork and easier to find what you need it the occasion arises. 

You will feel so much lighter when this sort and organization project is finished. When you tackle it again next November, it will bit be nearly so difficult. 

The Beauty of Project Bins

I was chatting with one of the members of the Zone Plan program the other day and she was concerned about the papers scattered all over her desk and even cascading to the floor. Right now she was involved in several big projects – all ongoing at the moment. She had an art project coming due, bills and house papers, a party, and more. The papers stacks were growing and mixing together. She was obviously stressed.

I reminded her of the beauty of using project bins. Designate one bin for each big project. Some smaller projects can go into folders within a bin. Label these bins. Sort all of your papers into their individual projects and place them into their bin. 

When working on a project, pull out the papers from that bin. Work on the project for the time you have set aside for it and when that time is up, scoop up the papers and put them back into the bin. Voila! You have a clean desk. The bins can store on a bookcase or a cabinet or any convenient place near your desk. 

When you are working on your project at hand you no longer have all of your other projects screaming at you. You don’t have to worry about losing a paper from one project into a stack in another project. 

The project bin system is a wonderful way to keep your desk clean and alleviate the stress of multiple projects.

Organizing Outside Storage Areas

Although here in Georgia temperatures continue to spike into the 90’s on some days, there are now some cooler days and the promise of fall. This promise inspires us to organize our sheds, garages, and other outside storage areas. It’s time to stash our summer equipment and muck out the debris that has been tracked in. 

Storage areas can get pretty messy and unorganized in a year. They are not in your main living area and therefore not so visible and annoying. It’s easy just to walk in and dump items “just for now”. This is especially true if you have purchased some new items that don’t really have a “home” yet.

Before you start on your project, take a good look at the way it is now. Notice what is working (don’t mess with that area) and what is not working. Envision how you want to use this zone. Your vision might include a place to:

  • park your car
  • store trash cans/recycling
  • store gardening tools and accessories
  • pot or repot plants
  • work on projects and store tools
  • store bikes and other sports equipment/outdoor games/camping gear
  • store outdoor entertainment supplies
  • store extra household products

Bring everything outside or if this is a large or very filled area, pull out stuff by sections. Sort like with like. Notice if you have duplicates or near duplicates of some items. See what is broken and decide if you really need to replace it or to trash it. Make note of what you have not used at all this past year. Give away or sell tools you no longer use. The Tool Bank is a great place to donate tools for community projects. ( Get rid of expired seeds or old chemicals.

Next decide where to logically place your zones. Items that are used frequently are best stored near entrances. Seldom used items can go to the back of the storage area. As you group your items in each zone, look for containers to hold small items together. A clear shoebox without the lid can hold gardening gloves. A flat basket can hold small gardening tools. Use shelves, pegboards, hooks, and nails to keep items off the floor. Avoid stacking containers because, for sure, you are going to want something that is in the bottom container. Label containers that are not clear.

Knock down cobwebs, look for any structural damage, sweep the floor, and start putting things away. You’ll be amazed at how much room there is now that all the items have been purged, bunched together and logically stored. 

Now, reward yourself! A hot shower and a cool drink might be just the thing.

Organize Your Desk

If you spend as much time at your desk as I do, when it becomes a hot mess, so do you. At least once a year, I take time to reevaluate the way my desk is set up.

Start with the desktop. Remove everything and give it a good cleaning. Envision what you do at your desk. What objects do you use every day? Place these on your clean desk.

As an example, I have a rather small, traditional desk. This has its good points and bad. The desk fits well in my space and has drawers. This is good. The surface is small, and this can be frustrating. I use my computer (PC) every day. Because I have a kneehole with drawers on both sides, there is only one place the computer can sit. I have it connected and on a stand, so it is not easy to move around. I have a landline phone on my desk that sits on the wall side because of wires. I am right-handed so my mouse and coffee mug sit to the right. I also have a Time Timer that I use daily. I usually only have one pen out on my desk and I place it by the phone. I have a rather large desk lamp that takes up way too much space. This is really all I need. However, I also have a fresh flower, a picture of my grandson, and a small dish holding earbuds. I usually have one folder or project that I am working on and my calendar sitting on the desk while I work.

This arrangement is feeling crowded to me. I intend to have two recessed spotlights installed over my desk so the lamp can go. The picture of my grandson can go on the shelf behind the desk where I have some other pictures. The dish with the earbuds can slip into a drawer. I feel this will open up my space and be more calming.

Next, organize the drawers. Each drawer in the desk works best if it has a designated function. Empty each drawer and wipe it out. Determine what will be stored there. One drawer may hold supplies like pens, markers, a stapler, ruler, a pair of scissors, etc. Another drawer might have paper pads, sticky notes, your checkbook. Some drawers in my desk are for my home affairs and some are for my business. I like the way my drawers are set up, so the idea for me is just to get rid of any clutter that is not needed (I mean, who needs 6 pads of paper that have accumulated over the year from charities or 15 pens with black ink?). 

Now, use the desk for a while. Is it easier to maintain? How do you feel when working there? If there are still papers or clutter piling up, go back and re-evaluate. If all is well, enjoy!

The Importance of Ongoing Downsizing



I am continually downsizing. I’ve had a few life events where the downsizing was intense. The first one came after a divorce. My husband was a packrat and I was overwhelmed with stuff. When I moved out of the home, I basically only took what I needed to live. Then about 5 years ago, I remarried, and both my new husband and I had homes that while not overpacked or huge were full and of course, we had duplicates in housewares and lawn care items. We both recognize that less stuff in our homes makes for less work. So, again, I did a pretty big purge as did he.

Every year, I go through each part of my home and get rid of a bit more. I have earmarked a few things I think my children would like. I have made notes of any item that has a real monetary value, so they won’t have to guess. Recently, I have started going through family pictures and when I have both sons visiting, I go through a tub of them and ask what ones they would like to keep. Then I give the pictures to them on the spot. If they don’t want old family pictures, I now just let them go. I keep personal photographs of my trips and memories, but the boys know that when I pass, they can just get rid of them as they are my memories and not theirs.

My husband and I are also very careful about not buying what we don’t need. While I enjoy and love the items in our home, there is nothing I can think of that would devastate me if I lost it. We both like books but we keep our collection fluid. We pass on to others most of the books we buy. 

It is very freeing not to be tied down by our possessions.

I was recently forwarded a very good article by Jennifer Karami. After she helped move her grandmother into her retirement home, she wrote this for Redfin Real Estate Company.

I would love to hear about your downsizing experiences – both the wins and the struggles.

Stress Free Project Planning

Many of us have several projects going on at one time or perhaps we are focusing in on one huge project. There is often a time that this project needs to be completed.

It’s not unusual for people to panic and feel stressed, especially as the due date is upon them. This does not have to be the case.

I recommend following these steps for completing a project nearly stress free:

  • Understand your motivation. Why is this project important now? Will it affect your job evaluation? Are family or friends counting on you?
  • Develop your vision. Picture the project completed. See yourself at the end of the job. How do you feel?
  • Brainstorm a list of all that must happen to make your vision come true. Write everything down as you think of it. No matter how grandiose or how small, put it all on the list. The list can be edited later.
  • Write out your goals. This will make it real. Have and end date as part of your goals. For example, “By June 27 I have made reservations for my visit to Virginia.”
  • Write down the time sequence everything that must be done to make the project complete. Then in your calendar plug in all the “do” dates. It is important that you give yourself some “wiggle room”. Don’t schedule so tightly that the project will be doomed if you miss one or two of these scheduled benchmark dates. Life happens and rarely if you are working on something big are you going to get everything to happen just as you planned. This is especially true if you are working with other people.
  • Celebrate and reward yourself for the project’s completion. Lock into your mind how good it feels to have this done and on time. The project might not be done perfectly but it is done on time and good enough.

Following these steps works for things as small as a summer party or as large as finishing a dissertation. For more information on how this works, buy my workbook, From Vision To Victory: A Workbook For Finding a Simple Path to an Organized Home.