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

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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?

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!

Are you ready? April 18th is right around the corner and for most of us, that’s the deadline for filing our 2017 tax returns. There’s nothing I can say to make the process conceptually exciting (as in, “Yay! I get to file my TAXES now!”) but I can offer some suggestions to make the process a little less stressful.

If gathering the necessary documents felt like a scavenger hunt this year, take action NOW to streamline the process for next year.

You need a hanging file folder for each return you need to prepare. 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 drop 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 donation receipt for items you drop off at a local site, make note of what you donated while it’s fresh in your mind. I would never remember what I got rid of a year ago on August 3rd if I didn’t list it right away.

I’m sorry, but yes, 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 for the accountant to 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 were filed by the middle of March.

It doesn’t matter if you do your own taxes or have them done for you. However, if you use a professional, don’t be that person every accountant hates to see coming with your over-stuffed shoe box full of random bits of scrumpled papers. Eliminate that hot mess and you might save money on preparation fees, too!

 

My clients hear that question all the time.

When they complain about the backpacks plopped in the middle of the kitchen floor, or the car keys that can’t be found when needed, or the pile of missing mail from two days ago…whether its backpacks, keys, or the incoming mail – whatever it is – I ask, “Where should that item live? Where is its home? We know where it doesn’t belong – where does it belong?”

This question is usually met with an eerie silence. That’s the problem in a nutshell, folks: you can’t put something away if it doesn’t have a home.

Keys on hooks

So: establishing a home is step one. The right spot should be logical, practical, and doable. Your child can’t slide a backpack into a cubby that’s four feet above her head, and it doesn’t make sense to walk through three rooms of the house to put away your car keys. Remember: logical, practical, and doable.

Step two is developing the habit of actually putting the item where it belongs, and that takes time.

Have faith – we humans are smart cookies. We can be trained to establish new routines so that, over time, hanging keys on a hook by the door will become a habit. Teach your child that the backpack goes on a reachable peg every day when she comes in from school. Put the incoming mail in that one designated spot so you can find it when you’re ready to process it, and in a matter of weeks, maybe even days, some common daily frustrations will actually be eliminated by answering that one simple question: Where should it live?

Before you accuse me of “sour grapes” regarding the hoopla surrounding Marie Kondo’s best-selling book, hear me out. I think this is much more a case of brilliant marketing than of a brilliantly-written organizing book. Just look at that title:

  • Life-changing: Many clients have actually said, “You’ve changed my life!” so using that phrase was pure gold.
  • Magic: Ooooh – that sounds way better than “physically exhausting” or “emotionally draining,” right? But getting organized, while invigorating and exciting, can also involve a lot of hard work.
  • Tidying up: This sounds more pleasant than “de-hoarding” or even “de-cluttering,” but in my mind, “tidying up” is what you do right before company arrives: put away the unread newspaper, the dishes drying in the rack, and make sure the guest bathroom is clean.

The third time I read this, I used green tabs to mark passages I agree with and pink tabs to mark passages I disagree with:

My tabbed edition

This would be a much longer post if I cited every aspect of her process I take issue with, so I’ll focus on the six primary points I find impractical, puzzling or problematic:

  1. Marie says there’s only ONE correct order for “tidying” by category as listed here:
    • Clothes –She’s generally opposed to hanging clothes for a variety of reasons, but in my experience clients are more likely to re-hang a shirt than to lovingly fold it one very specific way and place it in the drawer one very specific way. Hanging often prevents things from becoming a pile on the floor.
    • Books – No one ever rereads a book, she says, and if you own a book you’ve never read, you’ll never read it. If she wants to save info, she RIPS THE DESIRED PAGES OUT OF THE BOOK! (Yes, I just shouted that. As a book lover, this is wrong on so many levels.)
    • Papers – The most time-consuming to organize, we usually save for later unless it’s the client’s primary goal. See #2.
    • Everything Else: CDs, DVDs, accessories, electronics, household goods… again, in this very specific order. Her “everything else” category is too extensive; any one of those areas might be where we start if it makes sense.
  1. You only need three folders for paperwork. Hahaha! Whew, good one, Marie Kondo! In spite of my diligent efforts to eliminate paper, not everything can be maintained online. Mari says it’s better, easier, and less stressful to quickly know that you don’t have the paperwork you need and to simply take action to get it. How is that easier? I’d run myself ragged if I didn’t have a well-maintained filing system. Take a look at my situation:
    • I run a business – this requires paperwork for insurance, payroll, taxes, financial reports, expenses, professional affiliations and more.
    • I manage our household – there are financial, medical, and insurance files, auto records, household repair records, etc.
    • I handle my elderly mom’s paperwork – and maintain paperwork for deceased loved ones. You need to keep things like death certificates.
    • We own income property – again, lots of necessary files.
  1. She dislikes organizing bins or totes. Marie says words on bins create commotion in your mind. However, she loves using shoe boxes. I’d rather see matching plastic bins labeled and lined up on a shelf than a row of mismatched shoe boxes that don’t contain any shoes. Where do all those empty shoe boxes come from, anyhow?
  1. Only keep things that “spark joy.” Blech. That phrase doesn’t apply to the utilitarian or necessary items in our lives. Maybe this is a translation issue, but I’m sick of reading, “Does it spark joy?” No, my toilet plunger does not spark joy. Here’s how I query clients when reviewing their stuff:
    • Do you need it?
    • Do you use it?
    • Do you love it?
    • Do you have a place to appropriately and respectfully keep it?
  1. Marie keeps her kitchen tidy by drying her sponges, towels, dishes, etc. on her veranda. She proudly explains that she doesn’t need a dish rack! She puts dishes in a large bowl and sets everything outside to dry. Gah! Her book is peppered with this type of suggestion and I can’t imagine it makes sense to anyone.
  1. Other examples of impractical Mari Kondoisms:
    • Empty your purse every night, put the contents in your closet, thank your purse for its service, and refill it in the morning. *sigh*
    • Take the shampoo, conditioner, and soap out of the shower every day, dry them off, put them in a cupboard, get them out the next day. You just know, three times out of five you’d get in the shower and say, “Dang. Forget the soap again.”
    • Keep your books on a bookshelf in your closet, where you also keep your keys, jewelry, and all other personal belongings. She says forget about “frequency of use” storage/placement.
    • Putting things away creates the illusion that a clutter problem has been solved. Huh?

Kondo states, “You must sort by category, in the correct order, and keep only those things that inspire joy.  Do this thoroughly and quickly, all in one go.” It’s not unusual for a client’s home to have a full basement, a packed attic, and a two-car garage filled with everything but cars; yet my clients have experienced long-lasting success using my “baby steps” approach.

Marie Kondo’s one-size-fits-all approach does not address hoarding or chronic disorganization. In those cases, her proposed method might actually do more psychological harm than good.

I’ve been organizing clients’ homes and lives for nearly twelve years. Whether working one-on-one or presenting a seminar on organizing, I stand by my five-step approach to tackling any organizing project, no matter the content or quantity:

  1. Start small – I encourage clients to “baby step” their way to success. Get started by breaking large projects into small manageable segments.
  2. Like with like – you can’t decide which coffee mugs to keep and which to donate until you gather them all together to review. This applies to any grouping in any order.
  3. Categorize – Decide what you’ll keep, distribute, sell, donate, recycle, or toss.
  4. A place for everything, and everything in its place – you can’t put it away if it doesn’t have a home.
  5. Maintain and move forward – As you complete one area, maintain it and move on to your next project.

Although Marie Kondo touches on some of these points in her book (thus, those few green tabs) I think her process is unrealistic. For most organizers, where we begin and the pace of our progress is based on the individual client, their situation, stamina, needs and goals.

As my website simply states, “Being organized is about finding what you want when you want it.” At Home Solutions, the mission is to help clients create a home or work environment that is functional, visually pleasing, and meets their current needs.  

I’m sure she’s laughing all the way to the bank, but her book gets a two-thumbs-down review from this experienced professional organizer.

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There’s a saying, “There’s more than one way to skin a cat.”  Yes, it’s a graphically horrifying phrase, especially given the “lolz kitten” craze that threatens to collapse the internet with its sheer magnitude. But it’s a saying that goes back 200 years and I’m using it to make my point. I promise, no kittens were harmed in the writing of this post. Adorable kitten

Here, have a look at an adorable kitten.

My point? If someone tries to tell you there’s only one right way to organize something, (which, ironically, always happens to be their way) you shouldn’t automatically believe them.

Take socks, for example. Maybe you want to sort and organize them by color. That’s cool. Or maybe you want to organize them by type: winter, sneaker, dressy, or sports socks. That can work, too. Or maybe by height: anklets, crew, knee-hi…see my point? Where I will most likely flex my professional organizer muscle is if the quantity of socks you own threatens to take over the entire dresser, leaving no room for anything else. There is such a thing as too many pairs of socks.

And then we have kitchen cupboards. Some folks say dishes should go above the dishwasher for ease in putting them away. Others say they belong near the table for ease in setting it for dinner. Neither is right and neither is wrong. It might depend on who’s doing the emptying or the setting, or it might depend on the configuration of your cupboards and the quantity of your dishes. Food storage clutter

Speaking of cupboards, one thing I know for sure as an organizer is 90% of my clients relegate WAY too much real estate to plastic food storage containers. Raise your hand if this looks familiar!

There’s an organizing tip currently making the rounds that suggests the best way to store sets of sheets is to fold them and tuck them inside one of the pillowcases. Martha Stewart posted the tip in 2011, so it’s hardly new. I personally wouldn’t take time to fold and stuff sheets INTO a pillowcase, only to have to pull them OUT of the pillowcase to put them on the bed. But hey, if you love the idea and it helps in some way, have at it with my blessing. I will suggest that for a more streamlined, “professional” look than what Martha’s picture shows, turn the sets around so the closed edge of the pillowcase is visible.

My thoughts on how many sheet sets is enough? Two per bed should suffice, with the addition of two per season if you like to use flannels in cold weather. So often when organizing linen closets, we find sheets for mattress sizes that haven’t existed in the home in decades.

People ask me to teach them the “right way” to organize something and my answer is usually, “I won’t know until we discuss what is and isn’t working.”  That’s the part I like best: finding out why something isn’t working and figuring out what will work better based on their unique situations.

Stay tuned for my thoughts on the current craze in organizing: Marie Kondo’s book, “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up” – the Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing.” Let’s just say I haven’t drunk the Koolaid, and I’ll tell you the many reasons why.

Sometimes, even an organizer needs to tweak the way things get done. procrastination_thumb.jpg

Many people don’t realize I have a propensity for procrastination because I’m organized. I’m a great juggler, adept at prioritizing and meeting deadlines.

But. That doesn’t mean I enjoy scrambling around to ensure all the things that need doing actually get done. I know that with a little more proactive planning, I could eliminate the pressure that procrastinating creates.

I just re-watched a video by Robin Sharma, an internationally-known life and business coach titled “How I Beat Procrastination.”  I was probably avoiding one thing or another when I clicked the link; the irony of not doing what I should’ve been doing in order to watch something on procrastination is not completely lost on me. I highly recommend checking out the entire video, but to summarize, his 5 tips for beating procrastination are:

  • Create a vision board / dream collage
  • Go on a  30-day procrastination diet
  • Exercise with a focus on a second-wind workout later in the day
  • Create a distraction-free environment (Mess Creates Stress!)
  • Release your self sabotage (self-limiting beliefs) and rewire your brain

For the 30-day procrastination diet, he suggests taking a calendar and on each day for a month, write one thing you’ve been resisting doing and then…doing it.

It’s time for me to re-commit to this, but I tweaked it a titch: rather than using a calendar and trying to figure out which thing to write on which day, I format mine as a list titled, “30 Things in 30 Days.”  That way, I can do any one thing on any given day in any order I choose. The flexibility will work better for me.

Over the next few days I will compile my list, and my procrastination diet officially begins on September 1st. It will be a mixture of business and personal items I have been avoiding, ignoring, fearing, or pushing to the back burner for too long.

For my lists, I use the free computer program/app Wunderlist, which syncs with my Android phone. This allows me to review or update my list from either device. I like that it gives you a little check box to click on and, upon completion, draws a line through the item and moves it to the bottom of the page. It’s a psychological benefit to see the growing list of “done” things just as much as viewing the shortened list of to-do items.

At the end of the month, I’ll report on my progress. Anyone interested in joining me? You don’t have to share your list, but please share your intention to accomplish 30 things in 30 days with a comment! There’s strength in numbers…let’s do this thing.

buried-in-papers_thumb.jpgIt’s a fact: clutter can be overwhelming.

Whether it’s a four-day pile of unopened mail or many years of paper piles, there comes a point when the idea of tackling it becomes daunting.

Maybe it’s just the spare closet filled with clothes you may or may not wear, or perhaps the entire guest bedroom is overflowing with clothes and you can’t muster the energy to separate what fits and is flattering from what’s outdated or no longer appropriate for your lifestyle.

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 can affect you mentally, emotionally, and physically. It can damage relationships, sometimes tearing families apart.

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.

Ready? Stop looking at the big intimidating clutter picture and start breaking that clutter project down into manageable bits. Clutter’s ability to overwhelm you diminishes when you begin to chip away and see progress. Remember that fable about the tortoise and the hare? It’s true: Slow and steady can win the race.

Instead of thinking, “I need four hours to open and process my 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 will calm or energize you and focus for a set period of time. Make it a game: 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 in the bin. TV AND progress – win-win!

Don’t focus on the roomful of clothing. How about getting up 15 minutes earlier each morning to try on three or four items in that room. Decide if it’s keep, sell, or donate and then move on with your day. Wash, rinse, repeat.

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

Wait, that’s a blog post for another day. I’ll leave you with this “What About Bob” movie clip. I discuss this concept with clients all the time:

Baby steps. Go ahead, get started. And remember: It’s not hopeless.