Sort It ~ Professional Organizing for the Toronto Area

I Don’t Like Shopping

I don’t like shopping. There, I’ve said it. I have many friends, and clients, who enjoy a little (or a lot of) retail therapy here and there, but I just can’t quite seem to wrap my head around it. I can still distinctly remember my last impulse buy, 3 years ago. We had family staying with us, and they had given us some money to contribute toward their share of the groceries. Money doesn’t tend to burn a hole in my pocket, by any means, but as I went out shopping that day, I saw it: Guitar Hero: Aerosmith Edition, on sale for nearly the same amount as I had been given. It was screaming at me, “DEAL! DEAL!” and so I bought it. When I got back, I told my husband, and he nearly fell over. He was just saying to the others that of the 3 of us who went out, I would be the least likely to buy anything (and it’s true!). So, did I use the game? A bit. But it’s collecting dust now… And I was completely disappointed in myself.

I asked him if we should return it. He asked me if I thought I would use it, and enjoy it, and I insisted that I would, so he encouraged me to keep it. But I still felt bad. You see, we are currently debt free (YAY!). When we got married we had some debt, and we wanted to get out from under it. You’ve heard me mention Dave Ramsey before, and we used his methods to snowball ourselves out of the comparatively small mess we were in. This purchase set us back a bit, but I realized then that I really don’t enjoy shopping.

Clothing? Nope. I have a “shapely” figure, so it makes it difficult for me to find jeans that will fit my hips. Toys/Games? Not really. I get bored easily, and I hate to spend money on something that I just won’t use long term. Makeup? I don’t wear any, except for maybe twice a year. Food? Well, that one I don’t mind as much, but I find myself getting frustrated at the quickly inflating prices. Jewelry? Again, I rarely wear it. Gifts? Oh! Don’t even get me started! This last Christmas I found myself calling my Mom in a panic, not knowing what to buy anyone (and only wanting to purchase useful items, instead of dust collectors).

You see, the only time I even enter a mall is when I have a specific purchase in mind. I make a beeline for the store that will likely have what I’m looking for, walk straight to my desired purchase, cash out, and leave. I can physically feel myself getting anxious as I walk in. Perhaps it’s the number of people (although I’m pretty outgoing). Perhaps it’s the frustration of seeing so many families inside on a beautiful day. But I think, largely, it’s the fact that people spend money simply to waste time (double waste, really). I was about to go on a tangent about ethical shopping practices, and how our consumerist society is spurring on poverty in other countries, but I’ll leave that for another day.

Today, I will say this: I don’t like shopping, and I’m okay with that. Generally, it means that I have more cash in the bank, and I spend my time doing other things that I enjoy, and that will give me longer lasting rewards (reading, gardening, spending time with the hubby, saving for retirement).

Do you like shopping? What do you like shopping for?

P.S. Anyone in Toronto looking to purchase a slightly used Wii Guitar Hero Game? 😉


It’s Planner Time!

I’m just over the 6 month mark of using my first Quo Vadis planner, and I thought I would give you all an update from my earlier post Keeping The Calendar.

I have always been a planner-aholic. All throughout junior and high school, as well as university, I would be the first one with my planner out, making sure all of my life events were scheduled out. First, let me confess that I used two other planners last year. My first was a small, very thin, planner that cost quite close to $1. If you’ve been an avid reader of mine, than you’ll know that this is not uncommon for me, as I tend to be on the thrifty side. I used this planner (which I got for Christmas 2010) for about 7 months, but I really wasn’t fully satisfied with it. The style had 3 days on the left page, 2 days (plus a small weekend section) on the right. Also, the times slots that it gave were sparse, at best (7 & 10 a.m., 1, 4 & 7 p.m.). I guess those “in between” hours didn’t really matter to them. But, I made due, thinking that all planners are created equal. Then, I moved up a step. Someone gave me their daily Brownline planner, because they didn’t like the style (that should have been a flag, no?). I wasn’t a huge fan either, as each day had its own page, and it was very bulky and heavy. Although, I could include a lot of detail, which was nice. I will admit that I am probably busier than most, but I was never busy enough to have to put in 10 back to back appointments. I used that planner until November 30th.

Why November 30th, you ask? Well, let me tell you. I attended a Professional Organizers in Canada conference at the beginning of November, last year. We had about 5 different sessions, and they were all, for the most part, fabulous. I was incredibly fortunate to also take part in a LinkedIn session, conducted by Margarita Ibbott. Much to my excitement (perhaps over excitement to some), there awaiting me, like a beacon in the night, was a green, medium sized, Minister 2012 Quo Vadis planner. (Actually, I think that it may have been black, and a size up, but I stealthily swapped for one in my company colour 😀 ). Did my eyes deceive me? An actual, quality planner? Just for me? Sweet!

This particular model, so to speak, is fantastic and perfect for me for three reasons:

  1. It has a whole week on 2 pages. When I get into a daily situation, I lose sight of the big picture, plus it would probably triple the thickness of it. Remember: Less is more.
  2. It has a notes section – for each week! Five medium sized boxes to jot down to-dos, or in my situation, driving instructions (no, I don’t have a GPS – I have a love affair with Google Maps, because I’m a visual person). Looking back, there has only been one week when I haven’t used that handy section.
  3. It fits in my purse. Granted I’m not carrying around a clutch, but it is a great size to fit into any medium sized purse.
  4. BONUS: It’s green! Did I mention that I love green? And next year, I only have to order the refill. I don’t have to purchase a new exterior 🙂 Less waste is always a good thing.

As I mentioned earlier, I’m a busy gal. To recap from my previous post, I have a colour coded system that I use to keep myself straight:

Blue ~ Toronto Willowdale Aquarium Society (Blue = water 🙂 )

Brown ~ Tutoring

Orange ~ Brownies (Their uniform colour is now orange, not brown)

Green ~ Sort It appointments  (My business colour)

Pink ~ Personal

Purple ~ Church events

To do this, I utilize my Pilot Frixion Pens, which are erasable. Yes folks, erasable colour pens. And not like the ones we had back in high school, that would only take a layer off, but you could still read it. No, these erase fully, which is incredibly useful when a client cancels or changes the time to get together. I have too much going on in my mind to occupy it with trying to remember dates and times. I also hate double booking myself, as I try to be a woman of my word.

So, in short, would I recommend a Quo Vadis planner? Absolutely. It’s cute, and it’s easy to maintain. I will certainly be purchasing a refill for next year, if I don’t happen to “come across” one in the meantime 😉

What quality do you look for most in a planner/agenda?

Keeping The Calendar

I love my physical, paper planner. I think it’s fantastic. I received this one courtesy of Quo Vadis through a LinkedIn seminar held by Margarita Ibbott. I love that it’s a week at a glance, and that it breaks up my day into half hour segments (although, you could consider it to be 1/4 hour segments, if you’re picky). I, personally, need a physical agenda. I know of plenty of people who use an online calendar (my husband, for one). I also know plenty of people who utilize the calendar on their cell phones (some of which may also be linked up to an online calendar, I know). However, I must have my paper planner! I love the creativity you can add to it using different writing techniques and doodles. I love the accessibility of it (you don’t have to wait for it to load). I love the fact that I don’t have to worry about charging it every night to ensure I’ll be able to use it the next day. Here is my planner:

Okay, I’m not really that lame. I do have plenty of activities during the week. I’ve posted a week for April, so that’s why it isn’t too busy yet. However, you will note that I have colour coded my entries. I find it much easier to figure out how/where I’m spending my time when I’ve associated a colour with it. So, here’s my colour coded breakdown:

Blue ~ Toronto Willowdale Aquarium Society (Blue = water 🙂 )

Brown ~ Tutoring

Orange ~ Brownies (Their uniform colour is now orange, not brown)

Green ~ My business (My business colour)

Pink ~ Personal

Purple ~ Church events

One of the reasons I chose these colours was because the pens that I use (Pilot Frixon) came in those colours. These pens are fantastic because they write smoothly, and they’re erasable! (No, I’m not getting paid to promote these products, I just love them that much). Now, I’ve also been able to transfer this system onto my wall 4-month at a time calendar:


I know that this image is a little difficult to see, so here’s a close up of March:

As you can see, I’ve been able to transfer the same colour coded system to my wall calendar as well.

I am a firm believer that every household needs to have a calendar that everyone has access to. If I’m trying to make plans, I can easily check our calendar and have a sense of what might be happening that day and vice versa for my husband.

But what happens when two worlds collide? My husband primarily uses his Google calendar to schedule things, and I’m an avid paper user. Our compromise? I have access to his Google calendar, so I can keep him up to date as to my plans, and he will put his commitments on our wall calendar. The other essential key? Communication. We regularly discuss what we’re doing, and how it might impact the other. This was particularly important when we were sharing one car, however we continue to do so today.

It is a matter of respect to the other people who share your life to inform them of your commitments. Writing everything out is also a great opportunity to visualize how you’re spending your time, and where your time may be used more wisely. Time is precious, we can never get it back.

Are you an electronic or paper calendar person?

New Year’s Priorities

Let me start off by wishing everyone a very Happy New Year! I hope that it is full of fun and laughter, and many blessings. I also hope that we will all see 2013 – I, personally, won’t be holding my breath on December 21 🙂

This time last year, I wrote my first blog post about… New Year’s Resolutions! Surprising, I know. And this year, I would like to touch on the same, but with a twist.

I was giving this a lot of thought yesterday, as I was thinking about my previous year’s resolutions, and why I hadn’t accomplished some of them to my satisfaction. The main one that came to mind, as I’m sure it does for many others, is weight loss. I would love to get back to my wedding day weight, but I just can’t quite seem to get there. I’ll fluctuate throughout the year, have a few great weeks, then fall off the proverbial wagon (Oh cheese, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways… Blue, brie, boursin…). However, I can’t quite seem to keep on the down and down (as opposed to the up and up). So, what’s the issue? Am I motivated? Well, I can be. I want to feel, and look, good. But one has to eat, it’s a necessity, and moderation is key, which can be tough. Also, there’s exercise. I know I need to develop a habit of exercising regularly, just like flossing – I floss on days with a “u” in them, and either SatUrday or SUnday 🙂 But it’s habits like these that are easily broken.

Which leads me to my first epiphany of the New Year – resolutions are nice, but priorities are better. If you make you goals for 2012 a priority, then you’ll be more likely to follow through. Two years ago, my husband and I decided to pay off our debts, and live debt free. A little over a year later, we had paid off our credit cards, our line of credit for our furniture, and our car – around $25,000. And why did it work? Because we made it a priority, so we worked our TAILS off to get there. So, this year, I’m making getting in shape a priority – and now that I’ve written it I have to follow through 🙂

What are your New Year’s Priorities this year? Put them on paper, and make a plan. Wise words to live by: “if you fail to plan, you plan to fail”.

Fire, Fire, Fire!

Late last night, when we were all in bed, old lady Leary lit a lantern in the shed and when the cow kicked it over, she winked her eye and said “it’ll be a hot time, in the old town, tonight. Fire! Fire! Fire!”

Firetruck at my church

This song is one that I often sing with my Brownie unit. However, this past week, it has taken on a whole new meaning to me. Last weekend, we had a fire at our church (thank God no one was hurt, as it happened in the evening). When I first saw the picture of the firetruck outside our church (seen above), I thought “Oh dear, the fire alarm went off, yet again, for a false alarm.” I then heard somewhere, through the ever reliable grapevine, that there had been a small fire. Again, I had a remarkable lack of concern. However, unfortunately, this was not the case. Turns out there was extensive damage, causing the lower level to be closed for 6 months, and our upper level for 5 weeks (hopefully).

Most of the damage affected our day care, requiring us to dispose of about 90% of the belongings – smoke and water damaged items. The day care has been operating for 22 years, so unfortunately, there was a lot of stuff that had to be thrown out. But it was amazing. As we were going through the supplies, resources, toys, and other miscellaneous items, we came to realize just how much would be actually missed – and the answer was that it was less than you would think.

Midway through the process (I was privileged enough to help with the clearout – in a Tyvek suit and N95 face mask), I came home to my husband, and I said to him, “you don’t realize how much you can live without, until you’re forced to throw it out”. Looking around our home, I know that there are a few items that I would be disappointed if they weren’t salvageable, but for most of the items, we wouldn’t miss them all that much.

I would like to point out, though, that some of the items we were able to save were those that were in sealed plastic bins – this helped to keep out the smoke. I know that I’ll be moving over some of our belongings out of their cardboard box into these waterproof containers.

Fire can have a cleansing effect. It is difficult though. Many years of love, creativity, and memories could not be kept. However, it has made room for 22 more years of fun and adventure. I have no doubt that something beautiful will come out of all of this (and we’ve already seen many blessings). He has a bigger plan.

Have you ever had to throw something out because it was too damaged? How did you feel about the process?

Clutter Free Christmas

This year, the youth group at our church is putting on the Charlie Brown Christmas play. 

In this classic, Charlie Brown goes around lamenting that Christmas has become “too commercial”. Lucy comments that it is being run by “a big eastern syndicate” – can you tell we’ve gone through these lines quite a few times? In the end, Linus points out the true meaning of Christmas – the birth of Jesus. I’m not trying to be all “religious”, however, I think  you’d agree that we, as a society, have certainly strayed from those classic traditions – spending time with family, enjoying a nice meal together, and being thankful for what we have.

Christmas has become a time of rushing around, long lists of “wants” and “to do’s”, buying the “I LOVE IT” presents (thank you Best Buy), and generally feeling stressed out. Then we have the aftermath – the mounds of once used wrapping paper, the gifts that were well intentioned but will sit around until they can be (safely) regifted or donated, and the swift realization that we “went a little overboard” this year, having to really cut back in January to make it balance out.

Now, I’m not trying to be a Scrooge. I love Christmas. It just so happens that Christmas is my husband’s birthday (and the day we got engaged), we celebrate the birth of Jesus, and all that that means, and I love the time we get to spend together as a family, snuggled up with tea, playing a board game together (Jeanette, if you’re reading this, please bring Ticket to Ride again – I love that game!). What I am saying is this: we typically don’t need the stuff we receive for Christmas (most of it, at least), but there are many others out there who go without. We often believe that we’re thinking of others at Christmas, and this is true, however, let’s think of those less fortunate. Here are a few gift ideas that won’t clutter up your home (nor someone else’s), but will certainly be a blessing to those in need:

1. Toy Mountain – there are many different organizations who have a means to hand out new toys to those less fortunate at Christmas. Take your child shopping, and have them pick out a great toy that another child will receive – perhaps you could volunteer to help hand those toys out. (Toy Mountain)

2. Gift of Compassion/Gifts of Hope – Compassion Canada and The Salvation Army are just 2 organizations that offer opportunities to purchase animals, clean water, mosquito nets, or education for those in developing countries. A couple of years ago, I did this for 3 of my closest friends. For Christina (who’s a teacher), we bought school books, for Sharon (who collects water bottles from all over the world), we bought clean water, and for Diana (who was in med school at the time), we bought a pig (emphasizing the need of good nutrition for health). My friends were really impressed by the thoughtfulness of those gifts, and they felt good that they had helped, too. We also gave them each little token gifts to remember the donation made in their honour. (Gifts of Compassion/Gifts of Hope)

3. Microfinancing – Personally, I feel that this is the best use of donated money for developing countries. Nationwares (there are other organizations who do this as well) is an organization that provides small, low-interest, business loans to individuals and small groups in developing countries. This allows the entrepreneurs to start up a business, and essentially become self-sustaining. They sell their products and pay back the loan, which is then put back into the system to aid another entrepreneur. These people may also hire others from their village, and the benefits are magnified. My father-in-law always said “A hand up, not a hand out”. (Nationwares)

So, this Christmas, consider cutting out the clutter, and helping others at the same time. Turn the focus around, and avoid getting caught up in all that commercialism. I promise you, your spirit will feel lighter.


If You’re Underwater, Start Kicking

Yesterday, I was listening to our local news station on the radio, and they said that consumers would be spending less this Christmas because they are not overly confident about our current economic situation, and they are instead opting to pay down debt. Great! I personally know how rewarding, and freeing, it is to be rid of debt, and I think that it’s fantastic that people are beginning to take a more serious approach. Little Jimmy might be upset that he’s not getting everything on his 40 item wish list, but reality has to set in sometime.

Then, I switched over to a news station that is broadcast from the U.S. They said that 30% of homeowners are currently underwater. (Underwater means that you owe more on the house than the house is worth, so if you sold your house and gave all that money over to the bank, you would still, technically, be indebted to them). As a homeowner, that must be an awful feeling. However, I want to offer you this piece of advice: If you’re underwater, start kicking!

Don’t give up. Your home will likely go up again as the markets recover. Don’t walk away. I’ve heard of people simply leaving their house key in the mailbox (usually when faced with foreclosure) – don’t do it! Start paying down your debt. Bring your costs down, and utilize the extra money to get those debt burdens off your back. Dave Ramsey, a popular financial consultant, suggests paying down the smallest debt first. This will give you the incentive to keep going, even when the going gets tough. He’s dubbed it the debt snowball.

Now, what in the world does this have to do with organizing? Lots.

First, if you can’t find it, you’ll buy another one. Don’t spend money on things you already own. If you have a system, you’ll be able to find things when you need them, instead of thinking that you need to buy more.

Second, you need to organize your finances. If you don’t keep track of your money, you will find yourself with more month left at the end of your money (Gail Vaz-Oxlade quote). There are plenty of great software options to help you keep track of your spending habits (we use Quicken). These programs allow you to sync with your various accounts, and keep track of them all in one place. You may come to realize that you are spending 30% of your money on food (eat out much?), 45% on your housing (including utilities), 25% on your car, and 15% on clothing. Quick math drill: add it up. 30+45+25+15=115% Too much? You betcha.

Third, being organized will help you to be more efficient. Rather than making three trips to the grocery store because you forgot this, that and the other thing, be prepared. Make a list, check it twice and shop once. Gas is too expensive to be wasting it on multiple trips to the grocery store. Also, try to streamline your errands. It will save you time, and money.

Do you find that staying organized helps you save money? How?

Stick To Your Commitment

I had the opportunity to donate blood today. I made an appointment earlier on in the week, because I had made a note that I was eligible to donate again today (every 56 days, in case you’re curious). During the process, I was speaking to one of the nurses who was conducting my prescreening, and she said that 50% of the people who had made appointments showed up today. Half? Really? That’s pretty sad. So, I got to thinking about the possible reasons that people hadn’t shown up – or at least canceled their appointment if they were no longer available.

It was a beautiful day, so perhaps some people opted to stay outside instead. However, I would like to believe that when people commit to something, then they will make an earnest effort to see it through. Especially in this situation, where one would presumably go out of their way in order to make the appointment, and it is something that could potentially save lives. So, I have to assume the obvious – they forgot.

I have a planner, my husband and I have a 4-month wall calendar, and we also use an online calendar for good measure. I use my planner for everything. Every appointment and commitment that I have gets written down. I also use it to keep me on task for projects and to do lists. My husband and I use our online calendar to ensure that we’re both on the same page, just in case he doesn’t hear me when I tell him I’m spending the evening with a friend. Anytime something goes into my planner, it goes into the online calendar. Our wall calendar is used more often for big events, whereas the online calendar is more for day to day activities.

However, personally, I need to have a paper, hard copy planner. I know that with iPhones and Blackberries (sp?) a lot of people are moving to an electronic format, and I completely appreciate that. I just know that personally, I enjoy writing and scribbling and adding personality to my plans that only paper can offer me.

Learn for yourself and experiment to see if you’re an electronic or paper person, and then use it! Consistency is key. Once you’ve set up a system, use it for a few weeks, then tweak it according to your preference. Doing so will make it much easier to stick to your commitments.

You Can Never Have Too Many… Really?!?

I’m fairly certain that this lie has been created, or at the very least perpetuated, by retail outlets. How would you end that sentence? You can never have too many/much ______? One might say chocolate, but anyone who has ever over indulged on the sweet stuff will certainly know that this is not true. A friend of mine, a teacher, had a teenage student walk into her class and proclaim that he had a tub of sour gummy peaches, and that he was going to eat the whole thing, and there was nothing she could do about it. What did she do? She let him eat them. What happened a few minutes after he polished off that tub? A fierce stomach ache (she could have warned him, but would he have listened? *Skeptical Smiley*). Too many gummies? You betcha!

Although many of us overindulge in the food department occasionally (Christmas, Thanksgiving, Superbowl and Grey Cup parties, to name a few), we typically steer clear most of the time. However, what happens when this attitude affects other areas of our lives? I remember watching a TV program that was trying to curb poor spending habits, where the participant had 27 pairs of jeans!

People collect everything from stamps, to cats, to nail polish, but when do you have to say “enough is enough”? One aspect to consider is space. Is your collection encroaching on your living area? If it is impeding the flow and use of your home, considering paring down.

Do you have duplicates? If you have multiples of items, this may be the simplest place to start. Start off by putting like with like, and then you will see if you have a few of the same item.

Do you display it? Is it somewhere everyone can appreciate it? Or is it hidden away, stashed in a box in the basement? If you aren’t proud of your collection, then why are you collecting it? If it is too large to show all at once, then you may want to keep only what can be displayed, and part with the rest.

Do you still enjoy it? Do you like your collection? Or, have you been collecting trolls since you were 8, and you feel that you have outgrown them? If your collection does not bring you joy, don’t let it take up space in your home.

A bonus of depleting your collection is that some collections could be worth a lot of money. Make sure you take the time to realistically value your collection, and try to find a fair buyer. Being realistic is key, though. Having a collection instead of saving for retirement is not a wise decision. Don’t expect your paperclip collection to go for $1,000,000. Antiques Roadshow, here we come!

Where Did The Time Go?

Do you ever feel like you’ve lost all track of time? You have a list of items you want to get done, but then you start putting them off? I have a dirty little secret. Even though I got married nearly 3 years ago (our anniversary is in June), we still haven’t submitted our photo selection, so we have yet to order our professional wedding photos. Horrible, right? Yes! My husband and I just kept on putting it off, and now, here we are, 3 years later, sans wedding photos.

But why do we do this? When someone asks of us, “Hey, did you forward me that email?” we often, inevitably, say “Sorry, I just haven’t had the time.” But really, when we finally get around to doing most of these tasks, it takes us far less time than we anticipated (can anyone say “Dishes”?), and we feel better for having been able to check it off our list. Not only that, but we often waste a lot of our time. We get sucked in to social media websites (yes, I’m a sucker for Facebook, and updating myself on what’s on everyone’s mind), and TV, where we can easily spend 2-3 hours and not even realize it.

So, what are we to do? I suggest that we start off by setting realistic goals. If you make a list of 100 things to accomplish on a Saturday, you probably won’t finish it. And those items that you don’t get around to will simply be put off to another (unspecified) time. Next, delegate a little extra time to each “to do”, so that you don’t find yourself running behind, and if you do, you’ll be able to make it up in other areas.

Also, don’t expect someone else to do it. If you’re creating a lengthy “Honey Do” list, yet your significant other has other plans, you’ll be disappointed. So, make your list, but work together. Explain that you can’t do everything yourself, and that you need help to get things done. When they take on the responsibility themselves (rather than being told to do something), they’ll be much more willing to participate.

Lastly, reward yourself. Perhaps when you’re halfway through your list, watch one program on TV, or update your status (to announce to the world your accomplishments). But keep an eye on the clock! Make sure you limit yourself, and get right back to your “to dos” before you lose track of time. You’ll feel much better when you’re finished, and will be able to relish in the fact that you’ve done all that you set out to do that day.

Now, I’m off to clean the kitchen, the bathroom, order wedding photos, fold laundry…