Thanks for visiting my blog. Hope you find some helpful hints for organizing your time and space. My passions are to help you make home a refuge instead of a crisis center, and to help you function in peace rather than chaos - at home or at work. I have switched my main blog to 1-2-3 ... Get Organized on WordPress, so please visit me there.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Destressing Christmas - Freeze-Ahead Recipes

As it gets closer to Christmas, life gets more hectic. It becomes harder to put a healthy meal on the table with Christmas programs, shopping, and parties added to your already busy schedule.

If you have the opportunity, double up on some freezable meals or partial meals.  Some recipes that lend themselves to doubling and freezing are: taco meat, spaghetti sauce, lasagna, chili, soup, baked ziti, and meatloaf. 

If you're making breads, make two loaves and freeze one for your family later or for gifts.  

If you make Christmas cookies, make up the cookie dough now for the kinds of cookies your family likes. Freeze it in small batches - I like to flatten the dough in gallon zip-lock bags, so they stack nicely in the freezer. Then when it's time to have fresh Christmas cookies, take out what you need, form into cookies, and bake. Most of the work is already done!

By working ahead now, your freezer recipes may save the day when life gets more hectic!

More on cookies:

Cookies, Cookies, Cookies

Time-Saving Steps For Rolled/Cut Out Cookies

Getting a Jump on Christmas Cookies

Friday, October 26, 2012

Use the Chore Quotient Before You Buy to Prevent Clutter

Pat Jeffries of the Oregonian has come up with a formula to keep us from buying items that will just sit on the shelf. It's called a Chore Quotient. Read on ...

"We all know that the best way to fight clutter is to bring fewer things into the house, but that's easier said than done. Still, there's one category of stuff that's especially crucial to keep out -- those things that from the start are doomed to end up gathering dust. 

'From the start,' of course, is with the benefit of hindsight, when we look back and realize we never should have bought that breadmaker or chain saw.  But it can often be hard, when we're caught up in buying mode, to see that the thing will never pan out for us.

So, the Chore Quotient is one way to identify at least a subgroup of  things that are best left on the store shelves. It's a measure of the item's potential for creating chores. Here's my formula:

Chore Quotient = Time required to maintain the item multiplied by degree of displeasure or difficulty (on a scale where 1 is pleasant and 10 is unbearable). The higher the CQ, the less likely you are to keep up with using it. 

That might mean clothing or linens that require ironing or dry cleaning; dishware that must be hand-washed; bird feeders that need regular cleaning to protect avian health; and so on.

For me, high-CQ items tend to be power tools, which I buy in an effort to make tasks easier. But if a tool isn't intuitive to use -- if I have to review the manual when I haven't used the tool for a while -- then, usually quite soon, it will fade into the background and never be used again. Result: money lost, clutter gained. Then there are the books I buy to learn something that I think I should know but that bores me; those books linger reproachfully on the shelf, unread. 

Your own high-CQ items may be quite different, but the general idea applies.  When you're about to buy something, in addition to the usual questions about the item's cost-benefit ratio and ecological footprint, ask whether it will be a chore to use or maintain, and if so, how annoying a chore. This judgment is, necessarily, subjective. Take, for example, adopting a pet: This may add a lot of chores, but since most of them are pleasant (brushing a cat, walking a dog), the CQ for many of us seems low. (OK, disposing of that dead mouse on your doorstep isn't fun, but nothing's perfect.)

So, next time you're tempted to buy, especially some big-ticket item, pause and take a mental peek at the future. You just might change your mind." 

More on preventing clutter:

Zero Trash in a Year - Could You Do It?

An Easy Way to Change Your Address or Eliminate Unwanted Paper Mail

6 Ways to Prevent Yourself from Bringing Clutter Home

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Martha Stewart's Clever Pan Storage

I saw this on Martha Stewart and thought it was a clever and outside-the-box idea for storing pans. I do hate having to pick up baking pans in order to get to the one I want. My only concern is whether you'd be able to store as many pans and baking dishes as when you nest them.

"Stacking pans as opposed to nesting them means you can remove one without having to remove them all. Turn a vertical bakeware organizer on its end and secure it to the cabinet wall with cable clips to prevent toppling."

More on kitchen storage:

Containerizing Your Kitchen

Get Organized Month - Organize Your Refrigerator Freezer

I'm Quoted in Kitchen Clean-Up Article!

Monday, October 22, 2012

Destressing Christmas - Tackle Toy and Other Clutter Now

Christmas can add clutter to your home, especially to your child's room. To head it off, declutter now!

This is a great time of year to encourage your child to declutter toys before being inundated with more! Before a birthday is another good time to declutter. Even three- and four-year olds can grasp the concepts of outgrown toys, generosity, and order.

How to encourage your child to get rid of excess:

- Help your child envision giving toys to a younger friend or sibling, a disadvantaged child, your church or a charity.
One of our foster daughters kept picturing her clothes making a younger child happy, which motivated her to get rid of four bags of clothes!

- Be sensitive to your child's sentimental favorites, yet help him learn to discriminate between favorites and toys that have lost their appeal.

- If your child is having difficulty, make it a two-step process. One of our daughters agreed to putting a bag of stuffed animals in the attic. After several months, she was able to part with many of them.

- Determine beforehand how much toy storage your child's room will allow or how much storage you will allow. These may be two different things! Just because a room has space, doesn't mean it needs to be jam-packed! When you're out of storage space, toys must be discarded or put away. (We put a way two-thirds of our girls' toys and swapped out toys three times a year.)

- Create limits - so many of one type of toy. If a new one comes in, an old one goes out.

- Discard broken toys or those that have missing pieces.

If your child declutters a couple of times a year, excess will be controlled, and her room will be manageable and pleasant. 

Make sure your child has a system - a place for books, a place for larger toys (I recommend shelves), bins or boxes for toys with many parts, a place for collections or special items, and a place for papers, a trash can, and a laundry basket. In my opinion, large toy boxes create frustration - your child cannot easily find toys or tries to yank out tangled toys creating breakage. 

Don't stop decluttering until there is no clutter and the room is peaceful. When Christmas comes, there will be adequate space for your child's new toys!
Set aside time each day for your child to maintain the system - time to make the bed, put away toys, throw away trash, put clothes in the laundry basket, etc.

Now on to the rest of the house! Before you clutter your house with Christmas decorations, cards, extra food, etc., clear out unnecessary stuff. If you have four weeks before Thanksgiving, divide your home into four areas and tackle one area each week. If it's three weeks, divide your house into three areas, and so on.

As you comb through each area, ask yourself if you've used it recently, if it adds value to your life, if you love it, if it has a home. If not, consign it, toss it, or donate it.  

For those things you want to keep, find homes for them with similar items. Use double-duty furniture and accessories that provide storage as well as function - an ottoman with storage inside, end tables with drawers or shelves, or decorative bins or baskets that hold smaller items. Keep decluttering until your home gives you peace of mind.

What a nice way to start Christmas preparations with a lean house! 

If you need more extensive help decluttering, check out Three Steps to Decluttering or Decluttering Any Room in 3 Weeks.

More on decluttering:
Three Steps to Decluttering 

More Help - Teaching Your Kids to Declutter

Decluttering Any Room in 3 Weeks

Friday, October 19, 2012

Clever Event - Shredding, Tax Advice and Food Bank Donations

Someone in Oro Valley, Arizona had a great idea: combining shredding with tax advice and providing an opportunity to donate to the local food bank. Here's what they're doing:   

"Get rid of old documents safely at a free community shredding event Saturday, Nov. 10.  It will be held from 9 a.m. until 1 p.m. at Oro Valley Marketplace, at Oracle Road and Tangerine.

Tax professionals from the Southern Arizona Chapter of Enrolled Agents (SACEA) will provide information on how long to keep tax records, as well as year-end tax planning tips and how to save money with Arizona tax credits.

Shredding will be done by Shred-It Arizona for free, but a suggested minimum donation of $5 per box and/or three cans of food to the Marana Community Food Bank is requested. The Food Bank will have representatives at the shedding event to receive donations of money and canned goods.  Cash donations may qualify for a “dollar-for-dollar” tax credit."

Why not organize such an event in your community?

More on shredding and taxes:

Some of My Favorite Organizing Products - My Heavy Duty Shredder

National Simplify Your Life Week - 5 Simple Tips

Color-Coded Taxes

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Reducing Visual Clutter Might Help People with Early Alzheimer's

I found the following enlightening article which might be of interest to those who have family members or friends who have early stage Alzheimer's. An interesting correlation between Alzheimer's and clutter.

"For individuals with early stage Alzheimer’s disease, memory problems may be due, in part, to having trouble noticing the differences between similar objects, according to researchers from Georgia Tech and the University of Toronto.
The findings support growing research which suggests that a part of the brain once believed to support memory only — the medial temporal lobe — also plays a role in object perception.

Mild cognitive impairment (MCI) is considered a precursor to Alzheimer’s disease. For the study, researchers asked MCI patients to look at two rotated, side-by-side pictures, and tell if they were different or identical.

In one episode, many photos of the same thing (a blob-like object) were shown. The photos varied only slightly when they weren’t a perfect match, either by shape, color or fill pattern. During these high-interference photos, MCI patients struggled greatly to pinpoint identical objects.

In another episode, the blob-like objects appeared with photos in which non-matches were more extreme and varied widely. For example, a picture of a butterfly was shown next to a photo of a microwave. Mixing the very similar blob-like objects with photos of dissimilar objects greatly reduced the amount of interference.

'Minimizing the degree of perceptual interference improved patients’ object perception by reducing the number of visually similar features,' said project leader Rachel Newsome, a University of Toronto Ph.D. student and Georgia Tech graduate.

The results indicate that, under certain circumstances, reducing 'visual clutter' might help MCI patients perform everyday activities.
For example, telephone buttons tend to be the same size and color. Only the numbers are different — a very slight visual difference for a person who struggles with object perception. Perhaps a phone with varying sized buttons and different colors would help.

'Not only does memory seem to be very closely linked to perception, but it’s also likely that one affects the other,' said Toronto’s Morgan Barense, Ph.D. 'Alzheimer’s patients may have trouble recognizing a loved one’s face not only because they can’t remember it, but also because they aren’t able to correctly perceive its distinct combination of features to begin with.'

MCI patients weren’t the only ones who struggled during the study. Individuals at-risk for MCI, people who had previously shown no signs of cognitive impairment, performed about the same as those with MCI.  

This suggests that the perception test could be used as an early indicator of cognitive decline.

'People often associate MCI and dementia solely with memory impairment,' said  Audrey Duarte, Ph.D., one of the study’s authors. 'Memory and perception appear to be intertwined in the same area of the human brain.'"

More on clutter and the brain: 

Keeping Your Memory Sharp

Clutter and the Brain - Dr. Peter Whybrow

Clutter in Your House or Office Means Clutter in Your Mind

Monday, October 15, 2012

Destressing Christmas - Christmas Card Tips

Sending out Christmas cards can seem like an overwhelming and costly task. But if you start early, it can remove some of the stress in December. Here are some ways to make sending out Christmas cards more doable.

- Send out digital Christmas cards or letters to as many people as possible. I know this offends some, but at least your message gets out. I like sending and receiving letters - catching up with our friends. When I receive a Christmas card with only a signature, I know my friends are alive, but that's about all!

You can email your letters or you can use an email service, like iContact.

If you have a blog, you can post your Christmas letter on your blog, too. If you want to get fancy, you could make a video Christmas greeting and put the link on your social networks. 

- If you write a Christmas letter, make it no longer than one side of a page. It's cheaper to print and most people won't read more than that. It forces you to be economical with your words! 

- Use your TV time or traveling time (if you're the passenger!) to address Christmas cards. You're doubling your time while enjoying yourself, too!

- Get the family involved. Your family members can help fold, stuff, seal, and stamp your cards and letters.

- In January, update your snail mail Christmas card list as you sort through your Christmas cards. Then you're set when it comes time to send out your cards next year.

However you do Christmas cards, your friends and family will love to hear from you! 

More on Destressing Christmas:

Destressing Christmas - Considering the Needs of Your Family and Friends

Destressing Christmas - Smart Gift Giving

Destressing Christmas - Planning an Intentional Christmas

Friday, October 12, 2012

Decluttering Your Office? Where to Donate Excess Office Supplies

Pens multiply like rabbits! If you're decluttering your office and find that you have excess office supplies, don't toss them. Donate them! 

We may not readily think of office supplies as something to donate, right? Who wants donated office supplies, anyway? Plenty of organizations:

- Libraries

- Animal Shelters

- Your child's school. If you don't have a child in school, go to AdoptAClassroom.org to find a classroom where your donation will be appreciated. 

- Your favorite charity. Your donation can reduce the amount they must spend on office supplies. 

 So before you toss, think about donating those office supplies. Your excess can be a blessing to organizations on strict budgets.

More on donating: 

Donate Your Bikes to Youth Bike-Refurbishing Programs

Donating Business Clothing for Job Interviews

Virtual Thrift Store Helps You Clear Clutter and Benefit Charities, Too 

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Overwhelmed with Decluttering?

Do you find that you are overwhelmed with a decluttering task? Me, too! I know ... I'm a professional organizer. I'm not supposed to feel that way. But I do.

My husband and I started going through his parents mementos three or four weeks ago. We made great progress, but didn't finish the job. Our guest room has several categories piled around the room. It wouldn't take much to finish, but we have a mental block. Can you relate?

To overcome our mental block, we're going to attack it in 30-minute blasts. We can do anything for 30 minutes! And it will probably only take a couple of blasts for us to complete the job.

It's funny how we get close to the end of a project and lose steam. If you have the same problem, blast away with 30-minute attacks.

More on decluttering:

Three Steps to Decluttering on Kindle and in print

A Dozen Tips for Staying Clutter-Free in 2011

Announcing: Declutter Any Room in 3 Weeks!

Monday, October 8, 2012

Destressing Christmas - Considering the Needs of Your Family and Friends

I'm very excited about Christmas this year because our daughter who lives in Kazakhstan will be able to come home for Christmas, which is an unusual occurrence! And celebrating with our new granddaughter will be such fun! 

So I'll have a lot to think about in planning Christmas this year and I want to make sure that the needs of those we will include in our celebrations will be considered. By using this as a filter, we can reduce some holiday stress. 

Here are a few ideas:

- Choose with whom you want to spend time over the holidays - friends or family who refresh, encourage, and cheer you. Take the initiative to make that happen.

Do you have friends who might be alone whom you could include in your holiday plans? Have you included a healthy amount of giving to others who might otherwise be neglected? Your heart will overflow with joy as you reach out to others! It doesn't need to be expensive, just something that says you're thinking about them.

If getting together with your relatives is too painful or unhealthy, give yourself permission not to attend. If you, your spouse, or your children might be subjected to verbal, emotional or physical abuse, don't put yourselves in this unsafe place. Even if it hurts others' feelings, you cannot condone unhealthy or painful treatment by attending.

- Consider family problems when planning gatherings. Be proactive in order to minimize Uncle John's drinking problem by having a brunch rather than a dinner. If Cousin Sally's conversation is predominantly negative or a never-ending flow, plan some conversation starters or games to reduce her dominance.

- If it's just too difficult for you to travel during the holidays, don't let others guilt-trip you into traveling anyway. Be honest and stick to your guns for your own benefit and that of your family. Invite your relatives to visit you (if that is better for you) or suggest another time of year for a visit when life is less hectic.

- Consider the needs of your nuclear family. If you have small children who need naps and a consistent bedtime (who doesn’t qualify for that one?!!), don’t over-schedule. Make sure the events you plan to attend are age appropriate for your children. Don’t have an unrealistic idea of what they can grasp and endure.

- Study your family. Know what delights each one and what stresses each one, including yourself. Plan accordingly. When our girls were small, one of our daughters would respond to an over-planned schedule by vomiting - a pretty clear message! (Sorry to be graphic.) So I had to be careful not to pack our schedule too tightly.

One of our daughters loved to help my husband get the tree in the stand and put the lights on. The other one did not! So we did not include it as a family event, but chose other things they both liked, like the Christmas Eve service at our church.

By anticipating your needs and those of your family and friends, you can be intentional about your holidays. You’ll be able to weed out those items that don’t fit, plan around potential hazards, and create memorable experiences for those you love.

More on Christmas:

Destressing Christmas, Part 8, 2009 - An Online Tool to Consolidate Wishlists

Easy Decadent Fudge Recipe

Destressing Christmas, Part 10 - Efficient Shopping and Online Tips


Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Prioritizing According to Energy Level

As you may know, in addition to being a professional organizer, I work part-time as an administrative assistant for a small corporation here in Bozeman, MT. My hours are flexible, which allows me to set my own schedule most of the time.

For a while, I'd go in early so I would have the rest of the day free to pursue my organizing business. I found, however, as a morning person, that I had spent most of my energy and motivation, and had little left for writing or marketing.

So I decided to change my schedule to fit my peak energy times. I now spend early mornings writing and researching, which requires my peak energy. I go into the office around 10 am and do tasks that require less energy output comparitively. When I return home, I'm ready to relax and think about dinner.

I have also chosen to work four days a week. That gives me Friday and Saturday to do organizing projects. I'm still building my business here in Bozeman, so I'm not overly scheduled. So for now, this arrangement is working for me. And if I need to, I can organize during the afternoons and evenings during the week. Even though it's not my peak mental energy time, organizing comes so naturally to me, it's not hard for me to do it at that time. 

So what about you? When is your peak energy time? Which of your tasks require your best mental and/or physical energy? Even if you don't have a flexible schedule, endeavor to find ways match your peak energy level to tasks that require peak energy. Try not to use your peak energy on tasks that don't require it. Save those mundane tasks for times when your energy is waning.

More on peak energy:

Six Ways to Maintain Peak Energy at Work

Prioritizing Your Day

A Dozen Ways to Take the Stress out of Big Projects

Monday, October 1, 2012

Destressing Christmas - Smart Gift Giving

With the economy being so difficult, we all may need to get very creative in the gift-giving department this year. I hope the following re-post helps. 

My brother loves the crowds and the hustle and bustle of holiday shopping. I don’t know many others who do, though! I am stressed if I have to elbow my way through a store or not be able to find what I want because I waited too late. If you are smart, you can make holiday gift-giving less stressful. Here are a few ideas:

- Make a master list of gifts you need to buy or make, along with a budget for the amount you want to spend. Stick to your budget and don't buy impulsively. Don't compete with family and friends - spend what you can afford.

- Set a deadline for finishing your shopping in order to avoid crowds, the last-minute rush, and poor selection. Remember those gifts for teachers, religious teachers, extra-curricular instructors, and stocking stuffers. Buy the same gift for several people on your list, if appropriate. Take advantage of the sales after Christmas to shop for next year's list.

- Plan your shopping trips. What stores might have most of your gifts? What is the most efficient route to the stores on your list? A little planning avoids backtracking, saving time and gas.

- Consider gift certificates that can be sent to the recipients via email or U.S. mail. Or shop online and have your purchases sent directly to the recipients. You don’t have to wrap either of these gifts!

- If you're into making your own Christmas gifts, mass produce a gift and give it to as many people on your list as possible. To reduce stress, choose a gift that doesn't have to be made at the last minute. Create deadlines for each stage of production, if applicable, so you’re finished in plenty of time.

- As you buy or make gifts, wrap them so you don't have a massive pile to do at one time. Use TV time or other mindless time to wrap. How efficient - you're doubling your time!

- Your children will be bombarded with commercial after commercial during the holiday season, and they may want it all! Have a conversation with them about realistic expectations, so they won't be disappointed. Make gift suggestions to relatives who are shopping for your children.

If you want to get away from expensive or excessive gifts, consider alternative ideas:

- Instead of exchanging gifts, experience an event together: a day trip, a service project, a holiday event, etc.

- Take the money you would have spent on gifts for each other and donate it to a cause or your favorite charity or a needy family. My parents live in Oklahoma and the year of the bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City, they asked us to donate to The Salvation Army in their names, as that organization was so instrumental in helping during the aftermath.

- Consider drawing names or doing a "nice" white elephant game with a dollar limit on the gift.

- Give gift certificates of your time or service: babysitting, cleaning, meal preparation, handyman work, running errands, etc.

- Consider a “buy nothing” Christmas. This site gives scores of ideas from people who want to leave no footprint on the earth. Last year we gave home-grown herbs from our garden to some of our family and friends.

- With some friends or family, you may want to call a moratorium on gifts, especially when you get to the point of not needing anything. If it’s the thought that counts, try writing your thoughts down and giving them a note or letter expressing your gratitude for their friendship or love.

The holidays can be a stressful time. With a little planning, you can reduce the stress of holiday shopping and enjoy blessing your friends and family - without straining your budget or your temper!

More on Christmas giving:

Destressing Christmas, Part 11 - Meaningful Gifts with No Clutter

Destressing Christmas, Part 10 - Efficient Shopping and Online Tips

Destressing Christmas, Part 8, 2009 - An Online Tool to Consolidate Wishlists