#FixItBlitz: the top desk drawer

Although I used this tag on my very first post here on AudreyBeerman.com, I’ll explain it here: #FixItBlitz is what I call that beautiful moment when I can jump into a situation, take five minutes (or similar superfast period), and make a positive change for a client. (Or friend or family member or myself!)

I met with one of my clients in his midtown Manhattan office to discuss plans for his lower Manhattan apartment. His assistant came in to ask for a receipt and as he struggled to find it I was surprised to see that the best real estate in town – his top desk drawer – was such a disaster. I asked him if he could leave me and the drawer alone and go to the bathroom or to grab a soda. He paused and seemed to consider putting up a fight and then smiled, thanked me, and closed the door behind him. (Because he knew.) 

BEFORE:

See the photo for yourself! My client’s top drawer was just overflowing (and sometimes not actually closing, I later learned ::cringe::) with actual really useful stuff and totally useless junk co-mingled. Not the best way to be painfully efficient, as is required of my busy client!

AFTER: 

  1. Basic organization tips we can adopt in many places: Like items are grouped together. Frequently needed items are moved to the front, and infrequently needed items are moved to the back. (Except the staples. My client jokingly made a fuss about keeping them in front! Clients always have the final say, I reassured him!)
  2. The nature of #FixItBlitz means supplies aren’t always available, and more crucially, many clients come to me and simply cannot or will not invest in organizational products. A little MacGuyver action keeps me sharp, folks! I’m up to the challenge! In this case, instead of buying a proper drawer organizer, for instance, I cut the top off of the cardboard safety pin box so it became more convenient.
  3. Don’t be afraid to throw stuff out. That lone birthday candle? That impressive but unnecessary collection of rubber bands? Yeah, I was not crying as those were staring up at me from the trash can, and neither will you! Recycle, reuse, donate, sell – and throw away when necessary. Mental clutter matters, and the weight of holding onto something that isn’t working just drags us down.
  4. My client now has an envelope on his desk, adjacent to his outbox, which is clearly marked for receipts. He showed it to his assistant, who gave me a knowing smile, and she retrieved the first receipt out of there. It’s hard to get people to change their behaviors, but now he knows that putting a receipt in that envelope instead of just throwing it in his top desk drawer will save him time and effort later, so he’ll do it. We didn’t try to break a habit; we upgraded his routine!

In other good news, we found $12.30 in change! Told him he could treat for a cab back to Grand Central.

Decisions! Decisions!

When my client, a prominent Big Law attorney, approached me regarding the perfect gift for his father-in-law, I was psyched. Much like myself, he’s very creative, and I knew he’d be a terrific brainstorming partner! (Plus, gift projects are usually a lot of fun – it’s always a treat to get to make someone else super happy!) Most people wouldn’t immediately associate gifting as as an activity falling under the rubric of organizing services, but because it’s so easy these days to send generic (albeit wonderful!) presents, when clients want to deliver something truly outstanding, we design gifts together.

My involvement, start-to-finish:

  1. Learn about the gift recipient In this case, the gift recipient is a retired judge celebrating his eightieth (!) birthday.
  2. Learn what the client wants to express with this gift My client wanted something meaningful, not just “nice” (aka expensive) – this is a common sentiment, especially in NYC! We chose to pay deference to his age and impressive career while including a burst of love from his family.
  3. Design the best gift ever I outlined my plan, for me to compile all of the judge’s published decisions into a bound volume, with a dedication page from his family. I assisted the family in keeping the book professional, but in adding this warm personal touch to demonstrate the magnitude of the moment.
  4. Figure out logistics We had a generous budget in terms of cash, but a very small budget in terms of time – just two weeks. Using my worldwide connections – in this case, reaching out to my friends in academia and relying on a midwest press I used while in graduate school – I retained an exceptional vendor to handle the printing. As my client wished to be very involved, I presented a detailed list of specifications for his review, enabling him to offer his thoughts on our chosen paper (weight, shade, size), ink, cover (embossing, variety of leather), etc. I was flattered to discover that my client loved my first-round picks!
  5. Make it happen I used the gold standard legal research tool to access all sixty-five (!) published decisions, and then – with painstaking attention to detail – groomed each page to look elegant. Each decision is neat, polished, and easy to read. Perfect for a judge to look back over an impressive career! I drafted a table of contents presenting the decisions in chronological order, and within decisions from the same dates I further organized the cases into alphabetical order. (OCD is my specialty!) I worked with the family to draft a warm but not mushy dedication. I had extensive communication with the printer – including a significant design revision following a test-run! – and had the materials submitted prior to the needed deadline.
  6. Enjoy the finished project I delivered the completed volumes to my client several days ahead of schedule along with my itemized invoice. I am proud to report that the project fell squarely in the middle of the projected range for hours and at the 75% mark of the range for expenses. I track this information so I can deliver more accurate estimates to my clients. To date, we have never gone over budget!
  7. Follow up I was ecstatic to learn that the judge was truly touched by the gift, and my client was very pleased with the results. I forward to creating with this client again!

I ace efficiency.

The greatest gift technology has brought to us is being able to knock off major chores from our cell phones, aka while on the train or on the toilet, either way time well spent. Thanks to the Subscribe & Save, Prime, and Smile programs at Amazon, I am able to spend less time anticipating my needs, consistently have what I need in stock or en route, avoid overstocking or placing duplicate orders, save 20% on products I use most, and donate to a cause which matters to me with every dollar spent. Impressive, right?

Peep the sexy and excellent Subscribe and Save store. Since I have Prime, I get 20% off diapers (!) which itself pays for annual Prime membership in savings. I also have several automatic subscriptions, timed based on usage, so I have never run out of toilet paper, toothpaste, olive oil, or Chocolate Sea Salt Rx Bars, which are my go-to snack as I enjoy another round of Whole 30 fun. If you can’t find items you want on a regular basis, just do the math; I subscribe to a three-pack of hair clips to arrive every six months at $4 a package, but adding that subscription saved me $9 one month, so it certainly paid off!

Finally, instead of going to http://www.amazon.com, I go to smile.amazon.com, and log into my account through the charity I’ve chosen via Amazon Smile. It’s not gazillions of dollars – .5% of purchase price – but considering how much I shop on Amazon, it adds up. And every shekel counts right? Free money for a cause that matters. (BTW, if you are looking for a cause to support via Amazon Smile, might I suggest Southern Poverty Law Center?)

Clutter detox in the high school basement!

While in graduate school I worked in a number of wonderful schools in various capacities. Sometimes I lectured on sex in the book of Genesis. Sometimes I lead workshops on gendered language in the Qu’ran. And this one time, I was retained to organize an entire storage vault including a decade of paper files.

I’m flexible!

BEFORE:

A large portion of my assignment was, for sure, a massive de-cluttering project; a considerable amount of what was being stored was not going to be staying. I had to order a dumpster to accommodate the trash, and I sent out bags for donation to various local charities as well.

Paper clutter could not be solved, however, without preventing the creation of additional paper clutter; as I organized the files, I also took note of the best means of identifying and grouping them, and developed an appropriate file retention system to be used by educators and administrators going forward. It would no longer be acceptable to bring a file box of report cards to the basement and put it on a table and go back to what you were doing; now there were requirements, and signatures, and specific locations for everything.  Access to the room was now restricted, which would both ensure the safe return of items being removed and guarantee accountability for the duration of their absence. Considering the registrar’s staff was currently struggling to find crucial student records in a sea of clutter and the drama club was re-buying backdrops for the third time, the end of years of neglect meant an organized space and substantial waste reduction.

Supplies from experiential education programs had been left out, and since there was no formal give-and-take or inventory protocol in place, often materials were repurchased due to people simply not knowing they were already in the school’s possession. Other items had to be thrown away because improper storage actually caused damage; for instance, disposable cookware and serving pieces from an overnight trip were not put away, so they were hard to inventory or pack for the next outing. Clutter is not just aesthetically daunting; clutter means we can’t access what we need easily (or at all), and thus clutter causes waste.

Strangely there was a lot of beautiful beautiful student artwork and sentimental pieces of the young school’s history in the storage room – but sadly they were literally thrown in the mix alongside suitcases for use by staff for student trips! One way I beautified the space – which would encourage those using it to be respectful of maintaining the lack of clutter – was to hang up the artwork. The room instantly had a warmth to it. Added bonus.

AFTER:

Files are now stored properly, in an intuitive manner which is compliant with state and federal regulations; a detailed report regarding how to maintain these files was presented to administrators for incorporation into their plans. Leadership was thrilled to hear my suggestions on ways to maintain an important balance between ease of access and confidentiality.

Plastic bins already owned by the school were used, but I also used sturdy cardboard boxes, clearly labeled and put away purposefully. Maintenance staff members were called in to assist in storing larger, heavier equipment requiring only occasional use, at a higher level, thus freeing up substantial space for more frequently needed items. A workspace was created adjacent to storage space to encourage proper packing of supplies to enable future use.

FOLLOW UP:

Several years later this storage room is still infinitely more functional than it had been thanks to my organizational intervention. The administrative staff still uses the systems I implemented to assist new staff members in understanding the importance of keeping the space organized and empowering them to find ways to do so which work best for them.

 

Not just organizing: On preserving, and cherishing

A longtime organizational client approached me with an interesting creative project: He had an unfinished draft of his great-grandmother’s memoir, as well as a shoebox overflowing with her handwritten recipe cards, and stacks of her photos and postcards spanning several wars, decades, languages, and continents. His goal was to put everything together in such a fashion that his family would be able to access these materials in a meaningful way. After much brainstorming and discussion, I suggested that we build a hybrid memoir-cookbook, formatting it in such a way that the recipes could be understood in their context (with appropriate text and photographs surrounding) and actually used to create the delicious foods the matriarch herself had used to feed previous generations of her family! I worked on this project with multiple family members over the course of approximately 18 months.

I edited the draft (twenty single-spaced pages!) very carefully, reviewing even seemingly minor changes (such as punctuation) with our client, as it was crucial not to alter the voice of the author – but I did want to make everything accessible to children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. What an incredible story of travel, children, war, love – and all of it actual family history! Once my client approved the final text, we were able to move forward. I used PowerPoint to prepare the manuscript so the family could also experience the “texture” of the cards at the surprise Christmas reunion reveal that my client had planned. Overall the family was thrilled to have so much of its history cataloged so beautifully. 

#FixItBlitz – wedding place cards

Today is my seventh wedding anniversary! I am still so very much madly in love with my awesome husband Hal. Planning our wedding was perhaps the greatest expression of my organizational prowess. I became a well-oiled machine built of Excel spreadsheets and specifically-worded intelligently-delegated tasks.

As we know, weddings can be bonkers over-the-top expensive. It was a joy to find creative ways to make our wedding extra special without breaking the bank. These fantastic place cards were quick, inexpensive, and easy – a trifecta of wedding planning perfection.

I wanted funky, different place cards to greet our guests upon arrival at our wedding reception, but I wasn’t willing to devote a lot of our budget considering I knew the vast majority would end up in the trash by the end of the evening. I used Vistaprint for fantastic double-sided full-color business cards and clear Avery address labels, run through my printer, for the names and table numbers. Thanks to eBay I found mini-topiaries for a very reasonable price – and remember, you don’t need one place card holder per GUEST, but per PLACE CARD – so couples only need one for two. Voila! Funky, bright place cards.

Awesome tip: Replace a few guests’ names with meaningful nicknames. My childhood best friend loved seeing her place card as Peanut and was giggling while walking to her table. Weddings have the potential to be magical and meaningful for everyone in attendance!