{Strategy} | Organizational Systems

Hi, Femme Bosses!

Do you feel like you are chronically stressed and rushing around trying to get to your various obligations on time? The hustle and bustle is very American, and it’s very familiar to me. In this article I’d like to show you how you can alleviate stress by simplifying your morning and evening routines and your work life using some organizational systems.

I subscribe to the idea of domestic minimalism – that is, what is the bare minimum number of discrete items that I need to feel healthy, happy, and comfortable in my home? I eliminate anything that doesn’t spark joy and/or serve an integral purpose (such as preparing healthy, tasty food) that would also spark joy! I also subscribe to the ideals of efficiency, strategy, and focus. The fewer times I have to traipse from one end of my studio to the other to get everything together for the day, the more time I save, and the less frazzled I feel! Work winds up seeming more fun. These tips are ones I’ve tried and anecdotally proved to work for lowered stress and anxiety in home and work life:


1.  Your kitchen. If you’re really career-minded like me, the kitchen may be the last place you want to spend your time, so it’s important to minimize the amount of clutter your kitchen contains. You can do this with the following methods:

    • Schedule a 10-minute date each 1-2 weeks with your dear fridge. Review the status of your pantry. During this time you open your fridge and pantry and check for any expired things or things you just are sure you’re not going to eat any more of. Sometimes you can get a little overly ambitious about the kinds of health foods you want to try or a new recipe you made but didn’t turn out right. You may have recently gotten on a lettuce kick, so you stocked up on hearts of romaine, but now that those uneaten hearts are just starting to show signs of browning, you are overwhelmed by the task of eating them all up. You know that lettuce starts to get slimy when it turns brown, making it very unpleasant to eat. So you just keep letting it sit there, turning browner and slimier by the day. At this point, it’s best to cut your losses – throw away the food you can’t possibly get to and just chalk it up as a learning experience. You will resolve not to overbuy that food next time.
    • Organize and simplify your spice rack. Most seasoned dishes only require 2-3 different spices, allowing you to maintain a kitchen that has about 10-20 common pure spices or herbs on hand. Make a collection of the spices you use most regularly with the kinds of food you already enjoy eating, and throw out the rest. If you’re starting your very first spice collection (like, you’re just getting your first apartment), buy the 10-20 spices you think you’ll use most ahead of time so that when you grocery shop for food for the week you never have to think about which spices are actually required for the recipes you want to use that week – they are already just there for you when you get back to cook. Avoid mixtures of spices such as “Italian blend” because having the pure herbs and spices blended for you ahead of time limits your flexibility with those spices when you’re actually cooking. Here are the spices I keep on hand at all times in my kitchen (meant as a guide – tweak this in keeping with your own cuisine):
      • oregano
      • basil
      • cilantro
      • garlic salt
      • chili
      • cumin
      • clove
      • cinnamon
      • allspice
      • no-chick’n bouillon cubes
      • sea salt
      • black pepper
      • turmeric
      • Garam Masala
      • Madras curry
      • MSG
      • paprika
      • cayenne
      • poppyseed
      • chia
      • flax
      • vanilla extract
    • Get creative with Ball jars. I got a 12-pack of Ball jars to store my coffee and other air-sensitive foodstuffs about 2 years ago, and I’ve been loving them ever since! You can store shredded lettuce from the head for longer without it going brown or limp by storing it in a sealed jar. The rubber seals and the glass materials are chemically inert (trust me, I’m a chemist! 😉 ) so they are not only healthy/safe alternatives to plastic storage; they also never stain and don’t alter the flavor of the food you’re storing in them! They’re super-versatile – I’ll finish up storing lettuce for the next 2 days in a Ball jar and then immediately wash the jar in the dishwasher and use it to cart around my morning Fab Four smoothie (see my article about the Fab Four smoothie here) the next morning! I really love the versatility of these jars. Here are some awesome ways to use that next 12-pack you buy:
      • coffee
      • flax seed
      • flour
      • grains
      • beans
      • rice
      • broth stock powder
      • lettuce
      • chopped veggies
      • leftovers
      • water
      • extra utensils – set one in your cabinet or next to your stove to display your kitchen utensils or cutlery
      • spa water (flavored drinks)
      • use the leftover jars for drinking glasses!
    • Plan when it makes the most sense to do your dishes. I usually load the dishwasher at night before going to bed and unload it when I make dinner after work the next night. It allows me to feel like I always have dishes, and I don’t have to listen to the racket of the dishwasher because I’m sleeping during that time. If you don’t have a dishwasher, you may want to choose the time when you’re winding down from the day to wash your dishes so that you don’t have to wake up to a dirty, stacked sink and an overwhelming day.
    • Think about how many dishes, pots, pans, silverware, and glasses you actually need.
      • For instance, I’m a single person who usually invites over 1-3 people a couple times a month. I figured two plates were essential for my own sanity, so I bought four plates for the benefit of hosting friends at my place. I have four mugs for the same reason and sets of four of everything else as well: four cloth napkins, four forks, four knives, four spoons, and four glasses. The only caveat is that I purchased 8 stainless steel straws (since they came in an 8-pack and I use them multiple times everyday).
      • I really like feeling ritzy even though I do function on a $40k-a-year budget, so I only bought four drinking glasses in total – they are four 10-oz. glass goblets, which I feel adequately serves all my needs – I feel just as elegant drinking water from these glasses as I do a jack-and-coke, orange juice, a homemade vegan milkshake or smoothie, iced tea or coffee, a moscow mule, or a glass of wine. Best of all, they only cost me ~$2 a piece at IKEA.
      • Pots and pans? I have one medium saucepan, one stock pot with lid, one large frying pan, one casserole dish, one 9″ spring form pan for baking, one colander, and one 2-liter crock pot (a gift from my mom). I find that I can cook just about everything using this skeleton of essentials.
      • Spatulas and other cookware essentials? I have one wooden spatula/spoon, one plastic spatula/spoon (especially good for cooking rice or spreading icing on a cake), one stainless steel spatula, one potato peeler, one steak knife, one large cutting board, one small cutting board, one large paring knife, one can opener, one stainless steel ladle, one Scripto, one pair of scissors, one set of stainless steel tongs, and one bottle opener with corkscrew. I also have one of those foam pads for opening really difficult pickle jars! They all fit really nicely along with my cutlery and stainless steel straws (without separators!) in one drawer between my sink and stove.
    • Plan the one time each week you should go shopping for groceries. Get all of your fresh produce and restock staples in just one trip! You can ensure you actually accomplish this by (1) making a list before you go and (2) by not shopping when hungry. Also set a budget for how much you’d like to spend per person per week! I’ve managed to get my costs for food down to ~$35 per week, which allows me to eat interesting and whole, healthy foods without much waste. If you have a goal number of $$ you’d like to spend on groceries, you’re much less likely to succumb to impulse buys (remember in the moment what your goals regarding financial security as a Femme Boss are!).
    • Plan one time each week to wipe down surfaces so that they don’t become awful to clean later. Quick wipe downs in the age of Clorox disposable wipes take less than 3 minutes and leave you feeling refreshed and in control of your exquisite (though however inexpensive!) rental space! It doesn’t really matter what side of town you live in if you come home everyday to an organized, clean, tidy, comfy paradise).
    • Remove dishes from the dish rack, and keep counters clean. Same reason as directly above.
    • Don’t forget to utilize the under-oven storage drawer to keep all of your pots and pans handy.

2. Your bathroom. The efficiency of the bathroom is essential to your sense of calm “steaze” (“style” + “ease”) as you prepare for the workday or wind down from a stressful day at the office. Here are the ways I’ve streamlined and optimized my bathroom efficiency through organized systems:

    • Cramped for storage space? Think about re-purposing an over-the-door canvas shoe rack for extra bathroom supplies – the things you use everyday but don’t want cluttering your counter space. I figured this out when I realized that the cabinetry in my apartment really was not planned efficiently for major storage. I had a shoe rack lying around, so I figured, what the heck? I’ll give it a try! It has worked swimmingly and seriously streamlines my movement at the sink area. Examples of what you might put in one of these racks:
      • curling wand
      • straightener
      • hairdryer
      • hairbrush
      • styling products
      • exfoliant/facial washes
      • makeup palettes
      • makeup brushes
      • hair accessories
      • perfumes
      • medicine bottles
      • feminine hygiene products
      • slippers
      • hosiery
      • manicure kit/nail polishes
      • makeup removers
      • extra single-roll toilet paper rolls
      • lotion
      • scissors
      • extra razors
      • eyelash curler
      • belts
      • glasses and accessories for glasses like cleaner, microfiber cloths, and cases
      • sexual hygiene or sex toys
    • Have any of those Ball jars left over? You can store any of the following in them:
      • mouthwash
      • soap
      • shampoo
      • homemade deodorant
      • homemade toothpaste
      • homemade exfoliator
      • homemade makeup remover
      • aromatherapy-infused oils for facials and oil cleansing
      • Epsom salts

3.  Your closet. I personally prefer the lifestyle choice of buying many fewer clothing items (some would call it a minimalist or capsule wardrobe) and paying for the highest quality for each of those few items. Unlike the American fascinations with materialism and fast-fashion, I prefer this old-school European approach. Over the years I’ve figured out what looks good and feels great on my body, so I’ve limited my wardrobe to those things. I like to feel like a young off-duty model sophisticate, so I pick neutral, solid colors rather than trendy patterns. I also tend to focus on silhouettes rather than styles. Texture and lines are everything when you want to be able to mix and match your pieces to create more outfits. Everything in my wardrobe is interchangeable depending on the occasion and how I’m feeling that day. Here are the only items I keep in my closet:

    • 1 tailor-made cashmere wool coat (fall/winter/spring)
    • 1 compact-packing down coat (fall/spring)
    • 2 beanies – one maroon, the other dark grey heather
    • 1 pair black leather gloves (so warm!)
    • 1 oversized mustard-colored scarf
    • 1 grey cashmere scarf
    • 1 grey-black mottled heather scarf
    • 1 college band jacket (gotta represent!)
    • 1 brown-grey-blue checkered (plaid?) boyfriend-style button-down (got this from my dad!)
    • 7 t-shirts (in grey, navy, black, and white)
    • 1 black chiffon crop top cami
    • 3 pairs of skinny jeans – some with distresssing, others plain (so I can wear them on “casual Friday” at work)
    • 1 pair of black skinny jeans
    • 6 pairs of slacks – in grey, eggplant-grey, brown, black, and black with red pinstripe
    • 3 button-down shirts
    • 2 dusters – one in brown, one in charcoal grey
    • 1 khaki shrug
    • 1 fitted, structured charcoal grey jacket (made of super-soft sweatshirt material)
    • 2 business casual jackets (3/4-sleeve styling, one in ecru, the other in black)
    • 1 sweatshirt (maroon/dark orchid)
    • 1 mustard cardigan
    • 1 plaid wool Japanese skirt
    • 3 pairs of opaque black stockings
    • 5 pairs of denim shorts – including 1 pair of white frayed-edge shorts
    • 2 pairs of leggings for workouts
    • 5 pairs of Soffe shorts (I love the way these make my boo-tay look! grey, black, and white only)
    • 4 workout tops (since I workout almost every day)
    • 1 pair pulled leather cognac-colored Keds
    • 1 pair Frye all-leather suede over-the-knee boots
    • 1 pair Frye Tate Chelsea boots
    • 1 pair Bearpaw chocolate brown suede boots
    • my undies and bras
    • 2 pairs of pajama pants
    • 2 pajama tops (that I can also wear as camis out)
    • 5 men’s boxers (I love the way these feel to lounge in, especially when I’m not feeling super well – ladies, you probably get what I mean…)
    • 1 fancy dress – pink, strapless, Betsey Johnson! (think Elle Woods from Legally Blonde!)
    • 1 long, sequined maxi skirt in rose gold (I pair this with the black crop top!)
    • 1 LBD (it’s vintage Betsey Johnson strapless!)
    • 3 purses
    • 1 briefcase
    • 1 Fjallraven Kanken backpack (it’s Swedish, hella stylish, climate-compensated, comfy, and totally worth the price!)

4.  Things you need to take with you everyday. I have a space next to the door where I always put my keys, wallet, phone, laundry account card, and chapstick every day. As soon as I walk in the door, they go on that ledge, and they stay there till I need to leave again. This saves you so much effort trying to track these down at the last minute, when you may already be stressed about the other requirements of your day ahead of you!

5.  Your desk. To avoid overwhelm, try to limit the number of things you keep on your desk at all times.

  • File away important papers (for tips on this process see this article) as soon as you receive them in the mail.
  • Eliminate junk mail and other paper excesses as soon as you recognize that those items are no longer relevant to you!
  • Go paperless for all of your online accounts, and create a folder in your Google Drive or other Cloud-storage system (Box, Dropbox, etc.) labeled “Finances” so that you can download your receipts, confirmations, payments, account information, and orders directly as PDF format and store them virtually! To dredge them up later (which you inevitably will have to do later), all you have to do is Control+F or Search the keyword in the name of the receipt/other paperwork!
  • Throw out any extra credit card offers or upgrade notices from the vendors you already used – I mean in the age of Google, if you had actually wanted any of these things you would have sought them out already!
  • Don’t even bother with coupons unless you find coupon-collecting to be seriously beneficial or rewarding to you. I can’t even remember the last time it actually made economical or pragmatic sense for me to use a coupon! They aren’t usually targeted to your needs and require you to shop at times you normally wouldn’t to redeem them. So in the end you actually wind up spending more money and generating more clutter than you otherwise would if you had just bought things for full price, when you actually needed them.
  • Keep all office supplies you use daily on the desk. Examples:
    • bullet journal
    • tape dispenser with tape
    • pencils, pens, highlighters
    • stapler with staples
    • binder clips, paperclips
    • glasses cleaner with cloth (for all of you glasses-wearers out there!)
    • SD cards or flash drives
    • chargers
    • an extra printer cartridge pack
    • external hard drives/back-up arrangements
    • any textbooks you literally use everyday
  • Shoot for ergonomic arrangements. Try not to have to strain any muscles – invest in an external monitor, a docking station, external keyboard, mouse with mousepad, wrist support rest, good office chair (medium-to-high-back, armless). You can find more information about ergonomic arrangements here.

Let me know in the comments section what you’ve tried and any other tips you might have about making efficient and organized home systems!

Hannah Stringfellow is a freelance blogger and world traveler. She holds an M.S., Chemistry, from the University of California, Berkeley. Her interests include women’s empowerment, health and wellness, and cross-cultural competency.

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