Erin Barbee is The Inspiration Lab’s Events Coordinator — and so much more. Her most important role is that of mom to 9-year-old Wren, but she’s also the owner of Turn Key Lifestyle, a full-service lifestyle management company. Erin has a background in merchandising, sales, and marketing, but loves focusing on organization and productivity in particular. Below, she explains how a little bit of organizing can provide a sense of calm during the chaos of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Getting organized and being productive might seem unimportant in moments of crisis. In the midst of this global pandemic, we’ve had to shelter in place, practice social distancing when going out public, and exercise rigorous cleaning protocols for all the items we’ve brought into our homes. In fact, we’ve had to modify just about every way we operate in life both inside and outside of our homes.
With so many of us now living, working, and eating from home ALL the time, we are constantly surrounded by our stuff, and families with school-aged children have had to become teachers and homeschool their kids. Being at home nonstop can feel suffocating and overwhelming. In uncertain times when so much is out of our control, we want to feel safe and secure in our homes. Often when you don’t know what to do, cleaning out a closet or a drawer feels comfortable and controllable.
This need to introduce calmness during our metaphorical storm can also occur during natural disasters like hurricanes, floods, and earthquakes. A dear friend of mine once went through a Category 4 hurricane and her coastal home suffered damage. They had to cut through massive live oaks just to access their front door. She was so overwhelmed by the chaos that she ended up alphabetizing her spices later that day because she knew that was something she could fix herself. A few years ago, a relative of mine lost her Louisiana home in a flood. As she literally soaked in the reality, she could only see her next steps were to change to a minimalist lifestyle where she only kept what was necessary, functional, and deeply treasured.
With a surplus of time spent at home right now, a few organizational changes might be just what you need to gain some peace. So how do you begin?
1. Give yourself a lot of grace and start small. Focus on a drawer in your bathroom or in your kitchen. Toss what’s expired, broken, or no longer used. If you don’t know what something is, then it’s time to trash it!
2. Take inventory of what you use and don’t use in your home. When a crisis impacts our lives, our perspectives shift. Things that once seemed important may no longer carry the same weight. Keep what is truly needed and used. It may even be time to edit treasured items that are sentimental. You have permission to let go of Aunt Ethel’s paperweight if you don’t love it.
If you’re unsure what to do with all those items you’d like to get rid of, many donation facilities are open for curbside drop-offs with adjusted hours since they are deemed essential businesses. If items need to be sold, there are still online options as well as non-contact porch transactions via platforms like Facebook Marketplace. Pick what you’re comfortable with and you can always set items aside to deal with once social distancing restrictions are lifted. 3. Notice what’s working or not working in your home, such as your filing system or how the mail is collected. This is a great time to assess recurring events in your home. Is your method of doing laundry working? How efficient are you at staying on top of your emails? Think of ways you can tweak something to make it better, whether it’s changing the time of day or the day of the week a task is done. Perhaps something can even be delegated to someone else in your household.
4. Edit medications and food items. Knowing what you have on hand, particularly in an urgent situation, removes a lot of unnecessary stress. This is extremely helpful when panic-buying spikes at stores and common items are difficult to find. Toss expired items and make a list of what needs to be replaced. Once you’ve sorted everything, group like items together. Labeling the location or containers where items are stored gives them a “home” and eliminates unnecessary searching, especially if multiple people are in the house.
5. Begin a new healthy habit. A great way to commit to positive change is to begin a healthy habit. Early-morning yoga and earlier bedtimes are examples of folding self-care into your life. Feeling restored for the day ahead will foster productivity and increase how much can get done in a day.
6. Take advantage of the hidden time in your day to be more productive. It’s there — trust me! Here’s how to find it.
Automate: Put as many recurring tasks on automated cycles as you can. Auto-draft payments for bills prevent me from being late and eliminate additional mail to open. Online orders can be scheduled for delivery, grocery shopping lists can auto-populate, and Echo devices can have calendar reminders and even set the tone for bedtime by dimming lights and playing relaxing music.
Develop a System: Create a command center for your home where all mission-critical information is stored and easily accessed. Set up a dedicated workstation or study zone that doesn’t have to be moved each day. Establish a landing zone for your mail in/mail out and for where you can drop your keys.
Create Routines: Children crave routine and consistency. With homeschooling occurring in most states, establishing routines is critical for success. Routines save time, streamline your day, and make cumbersome tasks feel easier to accomplish. Both children and adults benefit from having that structure.
Maintain: You’ve worked hard to get organized and be productive. Set micro pockets of time aside each week to stay on top of putting things away and taming the clutter. One of my favorite tricks is using the one-touch rule: Put away your things immediately and avoid handling them more than once after you're done with them. It’s as simple as that! Don’t forget to also work your systems and make changes if something’s not working well.
All of these steps will help you create a healthy and comfortable home you enjoy spending time in. The key to success is maintaining all of the work that’s been accomplished. Once stay-at-home restrictions are eventually lifted, you’ll be able to host that dinner you’ve longed for with friends and family in a beautiful and peaceful home. Remember you’re not alone and we’re all in this together.