The storage unit industry shares some staggering statistics in this article, stating there are approximately 50,000 storage facilities in the United States, with an annual income of $38 billion, (yes, BILLION with a B!) with rentable storage space of 1.7 billion (again with a B!) square feet. Yowser! That’s a whole lotta stuff we’re storing, people, and a whole lotta money spent storing it. In my fourteen years as a professional organizer, it’s been my experience that most clients with storage units rented them because of postponed decision making rather than practical, logical necessity.

Don’t get me wrong; I think there are situations when renting a storage unit can be a perfect short-term solution, but the most important part of that sentence is, “short term.”

Here are some examples when renting a storage unit is a great idea:

  • House is sold, but timing for moving into new place isn’t syncing up; household contents go into storage until the new place is available.
  • Moving across country, need to temporarily store contents until you’re ready to receive items at the other end.
  • Household renovations: rather than live with chaos while your space is being remodeled, box up the contents you can live without and store until construction is done.
  • College dorm, annual leaving/returning event: rather than carting everything home at the end of the semester, some parents find it easier to store it for a couple months near the college.
  • Death of a parent, breaking up the family home, grown children out of state, lots of mementos and photos to cull through. A storage unit can be a great temporary solution until everyone has had a chance to review and make decisions.

Now let me share some situations we’ve dealt with in the past of how NOT to use a storage unit. (specific facts have been altered to protect the innocent, or rather, guilty parties)

  • Woman moves across the state to live with her sister for health reasons. Sister doesn’t have room for all the incoming stuff. Woman rents three storage rooms nearby, with the plan of sorting through it at some point in time. Time passes…six years, to be exact. Home Solutions is hired to help woman sort through the contents of these three rooms. 90% of it is nothing of value, nothing she wants to keep, nothing her nieces and nephews want. She spent $275/month for six years storing stuff she ultimately didn’t keep. That’s $19,800! Yes, some of the contents were sold via auction, but the funds received didn’t come close to the money spent.
  • Husband issues an ultimatum to wife to get rid of the many, many, many bins of teaching supplies/craft supplies/clothing piled up in their basement and throughout the home. Rather than disburse, wife rents a storage unit, but it’s so packed, she can’t access the contents in a functional way so the stuff just sits there. For years it sits, but she doesn’t deal with it until Home Solutions is called in.
  • Woman moves in with her aging mother, puts her own things in storage. Mother passes away, woman continues to live in the home with her mother’s contents, leaving her belongings in two storage units for many years. We worked in an unheated building in the dead of winter, sorting through those units. Thank goodness for space heaters and electrical outlets!

There’s a common theme in these examples, and it comes down to, “postponed decisions” time and time again. Nobody likes it when I calculate the money they’ve spent storing stuff they ultimately didn’t need or want, because invariably, the cost far exceeds the value of the items stored.

Do the math. Review your reason for storing. Don’t pay money to store stuff that can easily be purchased with the money you’ll save by letting it go now, and replacing it later when/if there’s a need.

If you decide to rent a storage unit, choose one big enough to store your stuff AND be able to see the contents if you will make periodic visits to review. A unit with inside access and climate control means weather is not a factor; it’s no fun loading, unloading, or sorting through contents with only outside access during a torrential rain storm.

We all know reality TV is rarely an accurate glimpse of, well, reality, but if you enjoy watching the show, Storage Wars, you might have fun checking out a local storage unit auction. But don’t be surprised if all you see is heaps and piles of worthless, postponed decisions.

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Couch potato-ing

Are you guilty of couch potato-ing? You know, that thing we do when we are completely unmotivated to do anything so we sit down on the couch, turn on the tube and before we know it, hours have passed. There’s a big difference between being fully engaged in a good movie or a beloved TV show, and mindlessly clicking, clicking, clicking… like Springsteen sings, “57 Channels and Nothin’ On…”

We all have moments when we just want to decompress from the everyday stresses of life, but the weight of feeling we should be doing something can keep us from fully relaxing.

Well I’m here to remove the guilt and explain how it’s possible to do both – decompress AND accomplish something!

For example: Perhaps you have a bin of mismatched socks you’ve ignored for ages. I think we can all agree that matching socks isn’t rocket science. Plop them on the couch next to you, click on an old episode of Seinfeld and mindlessly match away.

You might decide it’s time to figure out how many of the five decks of playing cards in that end table drawer are complete sets. I’ll bet you can sort them out while enjoying Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy.

How about all those cooking utensils jammed into three of your kitchen drawers? Dump ’em out on the coffee table, sort “like with like” and there’s a good chance you’ll discover you have six more spatulas than you actually need. You’ve gained kitchen drawer space and enjoyed two episodes of Chopped. Win-win, right?

If your jewelry box is a hot mess, it’s hard to find what you want when you want it. (You know my oft-quoted key to being organized is being able to find what you want when you want it, right?) Match up your earrings, untangle your necklaces, pull out anything you don’t wear anymore and voila, you’ve organized your bling while watching The Devil Wears Prada for the umpteenth time.

I’m not saying every moment of our lives must be productive, I’m suggesting that when you need downtime and you want to accomplish something, grab a snack, pour a favorite beverage, click on an episode of The Office or Flea Market Flip, and master the art of couch potato productivity. Share your couch potato productivity wins with me!

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Sometimes, we’re our own worst enemies. Maybe not intentionally, but still, it happens. We set a common goal like one of these:

  1. “I’m going to lose weight.” 
  2. “I have to save money.”
  3. “It’s time to get organized.”

But before we know it, *poof* the goal falls by the wayside, and we don’t understand why. Maybe it’s because our goal was kinda wishy-washy, not very realistic, or without a finish line.

The concept of S.M.A.R.T. goals was originally geared towards business management, but it can be applied to everyday life issues just as effectively. As you can see in the graphic, the acronym stands for:

  • Smart
  • Measurable
  • Achievable
  • Realistic
  • Timely

When you apply this to goal #1, rather than saying, “I’m going to lose weight.” a SMART goal could look more like this: “I’m going to lose 10 pounds by September 1st.” It’s specific, it’s measurable, it’s achievable, it’s realistic, and it has an end date. You can then formulate a plan for achieving your SMART goal such as taking a 30-minute walk twice a day.

Goal #2, “I have to save money!” is pretty vague. Are you saving for a new pair of shoes or a new car? How much money will you need, and when do you want it by? Without those details, it’s nearly impossible to formulate an executable plan. Once you figure that out, you decide what money-saving actions can you take. Maybe you’ll make coffee at home and skip the drive-through brew every day.

“I need to get organized!” What exactly does that mean? Is your closet floor covered by a mountainous heap of clothes? Is your kitchen table buried under piles of unopened mail? Could you find a battery or a paperclip if your life depended on it? (← hey, if MacGyver can, so can you!) You will make measurable progress by setting SMART goals for yourself.

For example, make a decision about five articles of clothing in that pile on the floor every day after work until the pile is gone, and hang or fold whatever you’re keeping. If you don’t have enough hangers, get some. If you need a dresser, set a SMART goal for obtaining one.

In order to tackle paper piles, you need to systematically chip away at the mail. “I’m going to open and process today’s mail AND take care of fifteen pieces of the backlog every day.” Start putting junk mail in the recycle bin immediately instead of setting it down, only to have to pick it up and review it again. And again. And again. See the problem?

You can turn a junk drawer into your “go-to” drawer in about 15 minutes: dump everything out, toss the trash, and use a drawer organizer to sort the “keep” stuff into “like with like” categories.

Positive wording is more motivating, so add a smiley-face phrase as the carrot you dangle in front of yourself when creating SMART goals:

  • “When I lose ten pounds, my clothes will fit more comfortably!” 
  • “I am looking forward to buying a car next spring when I’ve got the down payment!”
  • “My morning routine will be easier when my clothes closet is organized!”

Being organized isn’t much of an issue for me, since I’ve made a career out of it for fourteen years! As for money management, the former accountant in me deals with our finances pretty effectively and efficiently.

But the weight loss issue? Pffft. I’m telling you, this post-menopausal weight does not seem to budge. Do I want to deal with it? Ah, no. BUT. Do I want to be healthier? You betcha – for a lot of reasons, and for lots of people in my life.

Here’s a link to an interesting article from Harvard Health about making lifestyle changes. It’s not that we don’t know what we need to do, it’s finding our way to the right HOW, and navigating our self-sabotaging habits. Since there’s no magic wand to wave, S.M.A.R.T. goals can help.

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Sometimes life throws an extra ball or two into the mix of things you’re juggling and it’s all you can do to keep from dropping one. Often it’s the “self-care” aspect of life that suffers, and this pretty much sums up the last few months for me.

New Year, new goals: I vowed to get back on track with my monthly newsletter. But February came and went, and now it’s the end of March and I’m scrambling, but victory WILL be mine!

In January, we moved my mom into the memory care wing of the assisted living facility where she’s been for over a year. Her memory didn’t just decline, it took a nosedive and was further complicated when dementia added horrific hallucinations to her daily life. It has taken over a month to get Mom’s condition somewhat stabilized with medication additions, subtractions and tweaks. Alzheimer’s is a cruel disease.

Work is busier than ever, and Mom’s situation demanded a lot of extra attention. In spite of my best efforts to maintain good health with proper nutrition, hydration, and sleep, I knew I couldn’t keep all those balls in the air indefinitely. I nearly made it through the winter with nary a sniffle when some unwelcome germs came knockin’. Hey there, upper respiratory tract infection!

Having a sense of humor and embracing the bizarreness of life certainly helps lighten the juggling load. So does hearing the right song at just the right time because the universe knows you’ll feel relief when the tears you’ve been squelching finally flow.

And so it goes. We do the best we can, and we can’t do any better than our best. But it’s important to remember that the bar for “our best” isn’t set at a fixed height; it’s adjustable.

By the way, if you’d like to get the Home Solutions Monthly (← ever the optimist!) Newsletter delivered straight to your inbox, click here to sign up!

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.

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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?

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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!

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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.