It’s been a while since I’ve sent a newsletter or even written a blog post. Sometimes life gets so busy, we have to learn how to get ourselves back on track.

I ask myself four questions when I’m feeling overwhelmed:

  • What MUST I do right now? (or in the immediate future)
  • What do I have TIME for in my schedule?
  • What would I ENJOY doing?
  • What can I REALISTICALLY put on hold?

The “must do” items are things that cannot be ignored without consequences; things like paying bills, tending to pressing medical issues, dealing with the “check engine” light on the dashboard, eating, sleeping, staying hydrated…

Figuring out what we actually have time to do on a day-to-day basis is critical. I think that’s why so many of us look to the New Year to get back into a routine. We make annual resolutions with the best of intentions. Unfortunately, they often fall by the wayside before February arrives because we make them too vague or too unrealistic. Here’s a link to a blog post I wrote about setting goals that are obtainable.

Creating space in the schedule for a little “self care” is also important – what sort of things do you like to do? Make time to enjoy hobbies, go to the movies, read a book, get a massage, talk with a friend over a cuppa joe or a glass of wine. Whatever it might be, it’s important to schedule “me” time for ourselves to balance out the “must do” items.

Sometimes, figuring out what you can put on hold means learning to say, “No” to outside pulls for your time and attention. Other times, it’s putting a reminder on the calendar a month or a season from now so you won’t forget about a project, trusting you’ll get to it when you’re not quite so busy.

When there’s something that we really need to do but can’t seem to get started, it’s easy to find a kazillion distractions that we convince ourselves MUST BE DONE NOW! Yeah, you know what I’m talkin’ about. This is when we have to figure out what we can put on hold, what we can ignore – at least temporarily – in order to tend to that thing we’re avoiding. We may need to put blinders on in order to stay committed to a particular task at hand. Not actual blinders like a horse wears, but virtual blinders that allow us to stay focused and block out the other stuff. Set a timer – 15 minutes or an hour, whatever you can reasonably ask of yourself – and when it beeps, get up and do something else.

Wash, rinse, and repeat on a regular basis until that project is done. The satisfaction you’ll feel by tackling that thing you’ve been avoiding will be measurable, trust me.

I hope this series of questions helps you get a handle on how you’re currently spending your time, what you need to focus on, and how to get started.

If you’d like to get the Home Solutions monthly newsletter delivered straight to your inbox, just click here to sign up!

I don’t know how holiday meals work at your house, but around here we do NOT mess with tradition!

pumpkin-pie_thumb.jpg

This makes things easier for me because I know exactly what we’ll be eating – no new recipes to learn, no new ingredients to buy – so I computerize my shopping list for each holiday meal.

I make a simple Word document for each holiday, nothing fancy. I keep notes about what size turkey I need depending on the number of guests, and what time to put the pies in the oven.

My Thanksgiving list, in part, looks like this:

Bread Stuffing:

  • ___ 1 bag seasoned croutons
  • ___ 1 carton chicken stock
  • ___ Celery
  • ___ Onion
  • ___ Butter
  • ___ Salt
  • ___ Pepper
  • ___ Sage

Squash:

  • ___ 2 medium-sized butternut squash
  • ___ Butter
  • ___ Brown sugar
  • ___ Nutmeg, cinnamon

Whipped ­­­­­­Cream:

  • ___ 2 cups heaving whipping cream
  • ___ Sugar
  • ___ Vanilla

You get the picture, right? Before shopping, I check the pantry and refrigerator, putting an X next to items I already have. Then I mark things off as I shop, since I usually buy things over the course of a few trips.

It might seem silly, but it saves me time AND money. How?

  • I don’t forget anything, so there are no frantic, last minute trips to the store.
  • I don’t buy items I already have. Spices are expensive, and who needs multiple containers of sage?

Speaking of spices, here’s a helpful chart regarding their shelf life.

I’m in favor of anything that makes life easier as we head into the busy holiday season. Are there any time-saving tips you’d like to share?

Sometimes clients cling to items they’re certain they will need or find a use for someday, even though that the particular item either has no practical application in their current life situation, or exists in a quantity that far exceeds probable need. However, I’m confessing here and now that I’ve fallen under the spell of something. In my defense, this something doesn’t occupy space I do not have, nor am I emotionally attached. It’s just…they’re so… I mean… I’m talkin’ GIANT RED RUBBER BANDS, people!

Giant red rubber bands

I’ve added other items to this photo so you can accurately gauge the size. They arrive via the morning paper delivery which means we get, on average, five giant red rubber bands per week. On wet days we get an orange plastic bag. We have no pets, so I readily recycle those or save for a friend’s dog’s poop. (How many blog posts will you read this week that mention dog poop? My money’s on one.)

I put some giant red rubber bands in the kitchen “junk drawer,” a few in my desk drawer, a handful in my Home Solutions work bag, and a couple on the tool bench in the basement.

Just recently, I was able to secure my rolled-up yoga mat with two, one on each end. Yay! I found a use for two of the twenty giant red rubber bands we have on hand.

Because they’re not recyclable, unwanted ones would normally go in the trash, but that feels wrong. Maybe I’ll save them to give back to the paper delivery dude, wrapped in a pretty package with his holiday tip!

Or, according to a recent facebook post, I can fund my retirement selling random, everyday household items on ebay, things like empty egg cartons and nubby crayons. Is it possible there’s a market for giant red rubber bands?

*turns attention from 401K statement to “selling red rubber bands” research*

What’s your thing – the thing you have too many of, the thing you’ve been saving for decades and still haven’t found a use for, the thing that’s just taking up space, both physically AND emotionally, in your life?

Ah, September… for many, it’s “back to school” time, whether for your own kiddos, grandkids, or the way your morning commute is affected by the change in traffic.

Remember the feeling of a clean slate, having brand-spankin’-new notebooks and freshly sharpened pencils with erasers so clean they didn’t make smudges? That’s why I deem September the perfect month for goal setting and to-do lists. Most folks traditionally think January is the best time, but there’s a lot of “Why bother, I’m just gonna fail” karma associated with New Year resolutions. I’m all about using September to focus on figuring out what needs to get done and doing it.

To that end, On September First I will embark on what I call my “procrastination diet” by compiling a new “30 Things in 30 Days” list. You can read a previous blog post about it here, but in summary, I use an app called “Wunderlist(which was supposed to turn into Microsoft’s To-Do app over a year ago, but is still functioning as Wunderlist) that syncs with my computer and smartphone. It makes a little sound when I check off a completed task AND I can also choose to see the completed tasks crossed off at the bottom of my list. It’s a convenient and gratifying way to hold myself accountable and see what I’ve accomplished.

As soon as I get the Home Solutions’ August edition of the monthly newsletter sent out (TODAY! I vow it’s happening TODAY!) I will work on my to-do list for September. The list doesn’t have to be all biggie-diggie in scope; mine is always a blend of small, medium, and large stuff.

A show of hands: Who’s going on the procrastination diet with me? C’mon, it’ll be fun! Let’s do it, y’wanna?

If you’d like to get my blog posts delivered straight to your inbox, click here to sign up for the Home Solutions monthly newsletter, Organized Thoughts

Garage Sale Success

Garage Sale Success

Garage sale season is upon us! Before you commit to clearing your clutter for cash, ask yourself this one important question, and be honest:

Do I have enough to sell to make it worth my time and effort, or should I just donate everything and be done with it?

If you answered, “Boy howdy, do I have enough!” go through the house gathering items to sell. Create an area for everything that’s “gotta go” and encourage family members to add things. The more, the merrier!

Here are my top ten tips for running a successful garage sale:

  1. Get other neighbors to join in. People are more likely to come if they can hit a handful of sales in a row.
  2. Advertise in your local paper, on Craigslist and facebook. Folks scan listings and plan their routes, so make sure they’ll find your sale. Photos are helpful, especially if you have big-ticket or unique items.
  3. Signs should be big, easy to read, and neatly written. Quality signs signal a quality sale – half the success is in your marketing and advertising. Most people read those signs from a moving vehicle!
  4. Price everything, and price it to sell. It doesn’t matter if you paid $10 and it’s practically new; if you’re not using it, the main goal is to get rid of it, not to recoup your cost. Use the computer to research prices.
  5. Display items on tables; hang clothing on a rack/clothesline. People don’t like to stoop to the ground or rummage through messy piles of stuff.
  6. Create “like with like” categories so people looking for tools will readily find them, books are together, holiday decorations are easy to see, and kitchen items have an area of their own.
  7. It pays to clean things. A damp microfiber cloth works miracles on dusty glassware, dishes, and decor.
  8. Be willing to haggle. If you know you want $25 for something, either mark it, “Price Firm” or mark it $29 so you can come down and still get what you want. BUT! It’s also ok to say “no” to a ridiculous offer. I’ve told people I will happily donate something rather than sell it for a foolish price.
  9. Make sure to have plenty of change on hand. I recommend $75 broken down like this: $28 in ones, $25 in fives, $20 in tens, plus $2 in quarters. People will give you a $20 bill for a $1 purchase.
  10. Have a check-out table and keep smaller, easy-to-steal items near you there.  Sadly, sometimes people help themselves to things that are easy to pocket or highly desirable, such as collectibles, jewelry or video games.

After the sale:

  • Schedule a charity pickup for leftovers the day after your sale. Promise yourself the stuff is NOT going back in the house. It’s time; let it go. However, sometimes it’s worth it to relist big-ticket items on Craigslist or other online venues if you want to take another shot at selling.

If possible, time your sale to coincide with another event in your neighborhood such as a festival, garden walk, or real estate open house. Anything that attracts people is great when you’re having a garage sale.

The more effort you put into it, the more you’ll get out of it. Make it a fun experience for people – offer treats, have some lively music playing, mix and mingle and even if it’s not true, act like you’re having fun!

If you’d like to get my blog posts delivered straight to your inbox, click here to sign up for the Home Solutions monthly newsletter, Organized Thoughts

It’s not what you think…I don’t have an “organized” garden, nor do I have organized spreadsheets listing all the perennials, the kazillion varieties of hosta, or even the annuals I need to buy… annually. Gardening is a passion of mine that I approach more with emotion and instinct than organization.

BUT! (yes, that’s a big “but,” not to be confused with a “big butt.”) I do approach the process of tending our gardens the same way I encourage my clients to tackle large organizing projects – using BABY STEPS. Yep, baby steps.

When Mother Nature finally delivered Spring weather to us, there was much for a gardener to do: rake, gather winter’s abandoned trash, weed, edge, thin certain plants, as well as some general examining and pondering. If I were to look at that as one giant task, I’d feel completely overwhelmed. Instead, I mentally separate our garden beds into sixteen sections. By breaking things down into sixteen parts and then sub-categorizing each part into tasks, it becomes much less intimidating. I tackle tasks based on my available time as well as the mood I’m in. See? Not particularly organized, but certainly more doable.

My husband and I are homebodies for sure. We enjoy eating dinner on the patio or relaxing in the hammock, cooled by a gentle breeze.  We work to entice birds such as hummingbirds, orioles, and catbirds to visit the feeders and flowers. We’ve even got two raised beds filled (this year) with kale, a variety of salad greens, basil, three kinds of peppers, tomatoes, and snap peas. Gardening isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but it sure is mine.

If you’d like to learn more about my “baby step” approach to tackling otherwise overwhelming projects, you can check out this blog post.

An even dozen – that’s how many senior moves Home Solutions has handled for clients early in 2018. This includes services such as creating a floor plan, hiring movers, packing, overseeing the moves, unpacking and settling things in the new space, as well as packing items for shipping to family members living out of state. It also includes handling the disposal of hazardous waste materials and outdated or unused medications, delivering boxes of papers for shredding, and taking loads of items to donation sites. All in a day’s work for Home Solutions.

In addition to handling these projects and other organizing and decluttering jobs, one stands out as more personal than any other. In March, I moved my mom into assisted living. This was a difficult, but necessary decision expedited by Mom’s declining memory issues and her inability to continue living independently and safely in her own home. The plan had been to begin the process slowly in the spring. But you know what they say about the best laid plans…

On February 7th, I visited the site I felt would be the best fit for Mom, and I was right. It had everything she’d need, and it was less than five minutes from my front door. On February 13th, I took Mom to tour the site. On March 5th, I moved her in. In the meantime, she and I sorted through personal belongings, and after trying on clothes that no longer fit, we shopped for a new wardrobe. I purchased furniture and other necessities for her new, downsized space.

Once she moved out of her home, there were carloads of items donated, bag loads of trash disposed of, and boxes of contents for family members, as well as photos and photo albums moved to our house for future sorting. Once that was done, I set up, cleaned, and priced the remaining contents for a small estate sale. The house was emptied and sold in a month’s time.

The biggest reason I was able to accomplish so much in such a short period of time was because I faithfully wore the hat of a senior move manager throughout the process. I heeded my own advice and put blinders on so as not to become overwhelmed looking at the big picture, or distracted by too many tasks at once. Instead, I focused on taking daily steps – baby steps – towards the finish line.

I’m happy to report that Mom is quite content and happy in her new place. She’s always been a very social person and hadn’t realized how isolated she’d become at home, despite having friends and activities in her life. She’s eating much healthier now, three “home-cooked” healthy meals every day. Her medications are managed for her, no more mixups or missed doses. She goes to exercise class each day, attends movie night, participates in the daily social circles, and even played Wii bowling last week!

This was not an easy decision, nor one we, as a family, entered into lightly. My out-of-town brothers were very involved in and supportive of my efforts throughout the transition.

If you’re wondering if it’s time to “have the talk” with a loved one, here are some suggestions:

  • Take a peek “behind the scenes” at home, looking in closets, cupboards, and drawers:
    • Are clothes kept clean and somewhat tidy?
    • Is there expired food in the freezer, refrigerator, or pantry?
    • Are medications up to date and being taken as prescribed?
    • Is the daily mail being opened and processed?
  • Talk to friends and neighbors about their observations. I was surprised at the number of people from her community who attended the estate sale and expressed relief to know she’d moved to assisted living.
  • What’s the status of finances? Many seniors are taken advantage of by charities seeking multiple donations per year; observe the number of return address labels, free notepads and calendars lying around.

Sometimes, a family member is emotionally and physically able to participate in the downsizing process. Other times it’s too overwhelming and I recommend getting them situated in their new space before dealing with the house and its contents.

If it’s time to tackle the task of moving a loved one to independent or assisted senior living, you don’t have to put your own life on hold and do it yourself. Visit www.nasmm.org and enter your zip code to find help in your area. Senior Move Managers are skilled and experienced with all aspects of the job, and hiring one can be a real lifesaver.

 

Benjamin Franklin wrote, “In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” Given those two choices, wouldn’t you rather discuss the IRS? Sure you would.

There’s nothing I can say that will make this fun or exciting, (as in, “Yay! I get to file my TAXES now!”) but I can offer suggestions to make the process a little less stressful.

Gathering the necessary documents should not feel like a scavenger hunt. Take action NOW to streamline the process once and for all.

You need a file folder. Label it: Current Year Tax Records. Voila! You’re done. Now, every time you get a donation receipt, a 1099-Div or a W-2, you have a place to put it. If your documentation is more than a standard folder can hold, get an accordion pleated one that expands to 3″ or 5″.

The same goes for documents you get electronically. Put them into an email file labeled, “Tax Documents”  or if you use Gmail, slap a “Tax Documents” label on them and hit “archive” and they’ll be there waiting patiently when you need them.

If you get a blank receipt for items you give to charity, make note of what you donated while it’s fresh in your mind. I wouldn’t remember what I donated on August 3rd if I didn’t list it right away.

I’m sorry, but it really is this simple. Hey, don’t roll your eyes at me, I’m the voice of experience! I prepare a tax return for me and hubby, and that return includes income property. I also prepare returns for each of our grown kiddos as well as for my elderly mom. On top of that, I must gather the appropriate paperwork so my accountant can prepare my corporate tax return.

If this system didn’t work, I’d be running around like that proverbial chicken with its head cut off. Instead, all returns will be filed before the end of March.

If you have your taxes professionally done, don’t be that person every accountant hates to see coming with your over-stuffed shoe box full of random pieces of crinkled, crumpled papers. As an added bonus, eliminate that hot mess and it might reduce the preparation fees. Nothing warms an accountant’s heart like an organized pile of tax prep papers; as a former accountant, you can trust me on that.

We’ve all had clutter creep into our lives at one point or another. Sometimes it can overwhelm us. Fear not; I bring you tidings of great joy – well, maybe not of great joy, but of hope. No matter how big your clutter issue is, it’s not hopeless.

It might be a month of unopened mail or many years of paper piles, and there comes a point when the idea of tackling it becomes daunting.

Maybe there’s a closet of clothes you may or may not wear or a spare bedroom overflowing with excess clothes, and you can’t muster the energy to separate what fits and is flattering from what’s outdated or no longer appropriate.

Here’s the thing. The longer you wait for the “perfect” time or “enough” time to tackle the entire clutter project – whatever it may be – the longer it’s going to build and build and nothing will get done and trust me when I tell you: clutter has negative energy that affects you mentally, emotionally, and physically. It can damage relationships and sometimes tears families apart.

Instead of making a vague New Year’s resolution to “get more organized” or “tackle all the clutter,” try this: start the year by breaking down those big clutter projects into specific, smaller, manageable projects. Clutter’s ability to overwhelm you diminishes when you chip away and make progress. Remember that fable about the tortoise and the hare? It’s true: Slow and steady can win the race.

Instead of negatively thinking, “I’ll never find the four hours I need to open and process my backlog of mail,” try this: “Each day I will open and process today’s mail PLUS ten pieces from that big ol’ pile.”

If there are paper piles everywhere, gather ‘em up. Fill a bin or two or ten. Start with broad categories:  Shred/Recycle/Toss/File/Pay/To Do and dig in. Put on some music that calms or energizes you and focus for a set period of time. See how much you can accomplish in 15 minutes and try to break your record by doing a little more tomorrow. Instead of just watching your favorite TV show, use that as a timer and sort papers. TV AND progress – win-win!

Don’t focus on the entire closet or roomful of clothing. Get up 15 minutes earlier each morning to try on three or four items. Decide if it’s keep, sell, or donate, then move on with your day. Wash, rinse, repeat.

If it’s a hodgepodge of clutter, choose a category and gather “like with like” – all wrapping paper, all books, all seasonal decor, all toys, all garbage – whatever it is, gather it up and attack that clutter one category at a time. Where should those books live? You can’t put something away if it doesn’t have a home…

By incorporating some of these suggestions into your daily routine rather than making vague, doomed-to-fail resolutions, you’ll be creating new habits that will serve you well in the long run and help keep clutter under control.

Sometimes a downsizing or senior move management job goes so well —all the moving parts coming together like a well-oiled machine—it’s as though I have a sparkly wand that gets waved in the air and *poof* magic happens!

I’m not a magician; I don’t even play one on TV! It’s my job as a professional organizer to see the big picture, formulate a plan, break a project down into manageable components, and help my clients move forward, whether it’s to a new place or to simplify life in their current home.

It helps that in addition to an awesome employee, I have amassed a multitude of vendors and service providers I can call upon who have the same high-level work ethic as I do.

Often I must explain to a client, “It’s taken 30 years to gather all this “stuff,” it’s not going to disappear overnight. If you want to downsize, we have to address the accumulation efficiently, methodically and purposefully in order to get you where you want to be within a designated time frame.”

That’s why I tell people it’s never too soon to start the downsizing process, even if there are no plans to move in the immediate future. Most homes have multiple junk drawers, a few over-stuffed closets, and basements or attics filled with “postponed decisions.” The sooner you begin, the more time you’ll have to make informed decisions about what to keep, sell, donate, or toss.

If you’d like help for yourself or a loved one, a professional organizer is just a phone call away. You can find one by visiting NAPO, the National Association of Productivity and Organizing Professionals. Scroll down the page and simply pop in your zip code, choose a mile radius, and voila! Just like magic, you’ll get a list of NAPO members in your area.

If you’re ready, don’t delay, start today!