I don’t know about you, but I feel like I’m wandering aimlessly through a fog some days. There’s volleying between too many news updates and the worry that I’ll miss the latest news, along with the restlessness that accompanies fear and uncertainty.

I’m staying home trying to flatten the curve with social distancing for the foreseeable future, so I need to add structure to my days, stat. How often have we all longed for free time to get caught up on “all the things…?”

Before I go any further, let me take a moment to thank, with all my heart, the first responders, the health care providers, teachers, grocery store employees, mail carriers, and all the people who are out there doing what needs doing while the rest of us hunker down. I cannot tell you how grateful I am for all of you. On a personal note, as much as I miss not visiting my mom daily, I am so appreciative of the care she is receiving in the dementia wing at Elderwood Skilled Nursing in Williamsville.

Many of us are experiencing forced time off in an effort to keep ourselves, our loved ones, and our fellow community residents safe and healthy. How do we make the best of a very bad situation?

As an organizer, there are projects I see in many households (as well as some in our own house!) that could be tackled, providing focus and a sense of accomplishment. Here are a few ideas:

  • Laundry – what a great time to get caught up! That means wash it, dry it, fold it, AND put it away. Maybe you’re only two or three loads behind, so it’s no biggie diggie. But if you’ve got piles upon piles, set a goal of two or three loads a day, seeing each load through to completion.
  • Socks – I can’t tell you how many clients have baskets full of mismatched socks. How about a friendly family game of “Pairs,” offering a prize to the member who matches up the most socks?
  • Junk Drawers – Use my mantra of, “A place for everything, and everything in its place…” and turn those junk drawers into organized go-to homes for office supplies, batteries, tools, pet supplies, gift wrap, etc.
  • Closets, Cupboard and Drawers – extend your organizing beyond junk drawers and tackle the bathroom drawers, linen closets, dressers, clothes closets, etc.
  • Decluttering – pick a category, any category, and decide if you’ve got just enough, or perhaps too much. Candles, coffee mugs, tablecloths… the list is endless.
  • Cleaning – There are lots of ideas in this category, but a few that I’ve put on my list to accomplish during my at-home time are:
    • Windows – wash windows and sills to clear away winter grime and let in even more sunshine.
    • Spring Cleaning – wipe down baseboards and walls, clear clutter, and vacuum the furniture; we’ll focus on our family room first, but what a great time to “git’er done.”
  • Photos – Whether it’s downloading them from your phone to your online albums, or getting them printed and put into actual photo albums, this is a great project to tackle with this forced found time.
  • Files/Paperwork – File stuff, clean out files. Shred stuff. I know, I know, but if not now, when?

Instead of mindlessly watching TV, get productive while watching! Check out some of my ideas in this “Couch Potato Productivity” post.

Then of course there’s the all important “self care” category that many of us often say we’re too busy to tend to. Here are some ideas I plan to incorporate into my daily routine:

  • Mindfulness – From my thoughts (keeping them positive) to what I put in my mouth (no more eating outta the bag!) to taking deep cleansing breaths regularly.
  • Reading – no, not on facebook. I will read pages in a real book for pleasure every day.
  • Walks – one or two walks outside a day. Fresh air and exercise, a win-win walk, if you will. Of course, ANY exercise is good. Move, people!
  • Phone a Friend – not text, not facebook message, but call and talk to people I care about.
  • Gardening/Lawn work – For me, gardening has always been a great stress reliever. It’s early, but there are a number of little projects I could tackle to get a jump on garden cleanup. We went out the other day and picked up all the wind-deposited winter trash in the four corners of the yard and between the houses. Hubby raked the front lawn. It felt good to be out there.
  • Hobbies – Got one? Do it. Got none? Learn something new to keep your brain from atrophying.

Make lists. Set goals. Here’s a link to my recent, Procrastination Diet” post with a good list-making idea. I’ve updated mine and hope to tackle many of them during this period of social distancing.

How about you? How are you doing? What’s helping? Share your sanity-saving tips with us. We’re all in this together.

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Are you enjoying this holiday season, or have you let the hub-bub and hoopla get the best of you? Take a deep breath. Now another. And one more. Ok, here we go!

If it feels like there’s more to do than time to do it in, prioritize. What must you accomplish, what would you really love to get done, and what might you do only if time permits? At the very least, make some notes about changes for next year. Oh, and put those notes somewhere you’ll actually find them when you want them.

Santa shouldn’t be the only one making a list and checking it twice – have your to-do lists with you at all times; I keep notes and errands on my computer using Google Keep, and that automatically syncs with my smartphone.

My holiday gift lists are in google docs: one for hubby, each kid, and then other family, friends, Secret Santa, as well as work and charity presents. I list ideas as they’re given or thought of, and fill in purchase details so I stay within budget and get the right number of gifts for stocking stuffers. I hang on to receipts until I know each item fits, works, and is a keeper.

If you have too much on your plate, cut back. Say no. If there are things you don’t enjoy or don’t have time for, stop. I haven’t sent Christmas cards in a kazillion years. When I quit, guess what? Nothing bad happened.

I used to bake a bunch of different cookies – I’ve trimmed it down to a few favorites, and that’s plenty. If you don’t like to bake, then don’t. It might be too late this year, but next year, think about a cookie exchange. That might turn into a tasty new holiday tradition.

Hubby and I turn gift wrapping into a fun event throughout the holidays with a cozy fire, a glass of wine, and everything we need to create beautiful packages. It’s one of our favorite holiday traditions. If gift wrapping isn’t your thing, switch to gift bags – they’re easy breezy and festive.

If you hate the holiday crowds, do your shopping online. If you don’t like online shopping, think strategically and logically, and plan your trip to maximize what gets accomplished.

Agonizing over gift ideas? Gift cards! Trust me, if you pick a gift card to a retail store, restaurant or venue the recipient would enjoy, it’s a win-win. A favorite adult beverage is almost always a welcome gift. You can give something homemade if you’re crafty AND have time. How about the gift of time? Plan a lunch date, go see a movie, or have dinner and drinks together with family or friends.

Decorating can be simplified, too. Our decorations are packed in bins labeled by room, and my room-by-room computerized list tells me where each item goes. If I add something new (and get rid of something old!) I update the list. It eliminates the frustration of trying to remember where things go. If there are décor items you no longer use, donate them; I’m sure there are folks who will love them.

Don’t expect people to read your mind. If there’s something you’d really appreciate as a gift, say so – surprises aren’t all they’re cracked up to be! If you’d like to be included in holiday festivities, speak up.

If you know someone who will be alone, include them in one of your holiday traditions. Be a light that twinkles for someone if darkness weighs heavily on them this time of year. That’s a gift you can’t put a price on. And if, for whatever reason, you just can’t deal with the holidays this year, take a year off. And don’t forget to breathe.

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I share this time-saving tip annually, but last year a few people wished I’d shared it sooner. So here it is, right before the calendar flips to November.

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 article regarding their shelf life. I review my spices when the weather turns chilly and before the holidays are fully upon us, so now is a great time to do the sniff test on the spice jars in your cupboard. I replaced four jars today.

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

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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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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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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.