Last winter, my kids had a magical three days when my husband’s and my flu-like symptoms overlapped. It’s not that they wished us poor health, but they did enjoy our lack of enforcement of the no TV during the school week rule. We were too tired to care, so we all got too much screen time for those few days.
When are bodies are worn down, our regular routine usually goes out the window. It’s so easy to get behind while we are sick – dishes pile up all over the house, hampers overflow, tissues cover end tables and the floor next to trashcans, and stacks of mail begin to topple.
The best way to keep it together when we don’t feel good is to create systems to follow while we are healthy so that we can afford to take a few days off when we're sick without things falling apart. If you do these seven simple things on a regular basis, your house will be manageable, and when you get sick, you’ll have a little latitude to slack off.
"The best way to keep it together when we don't feel good is to create systems to follow while we are healthy so that we can afford to take a few days off when we're sick without things falling apart."
When you are under the weather, give yourself permission to take a few shortcuts to keep your house from becoming a disaster zone.
Staying productive is hard. If we only had to worry about our own priorities, it would be a little easier, but in real life, we have requests and expectations coming at us from all directions. The biggest avenue for those outer expectations is our inboxes. Most of us have at least two inboxes – a physical paper inbox and an email inbox. I wrote about how to wrangle your paper in a previous post, and today, I want to start a series on how to manage your email inbox.
Even though email is dying a little because of other messaging apps, it is still prevalent especially in professional settings. Most of us have at least two email addresses – a personal and a work address and receive many messages each day. At my day job, I easily get over 100 emails every day, and at home, I may get 30 or so. These add up very fast, and if you don’t know how to efficiently triage your messages, you can quickly get buried and miss the important messages because they nearly disappear amongst all the junk.
I use Microsoft Outlook at my day job and Gmail for personal and My Life In Order email. These platforms are very different, but both common, so I will be using them as examples in this series. Regardless of what email platform you use, the overarching principles of email organization are the same. Email used to be a great, time-saving tool to replace handwritten or typed memos that had to be circulated through the office, but it’s turned into an invasive nuisance that the Washington Post reports takes the average white-collar worker a little over 4 hours each day to deal with. This equates to 20.5 hours each week and more than 1,000 hours each year! Even with the quantity of email we get, it doesn’t need to take up half of our work day, and by implementing some of these ideas, you should be able to dramatically improve your email efficiency!
Process your email, don’t read and re-read it
You should do 1 of 4 things with new emails - delete, file, do, or move to a task management system (we will talk about the details of this in a later post.) Don’t just read the your messages and leave them in your inbox to come back to later because you will end up either losing it, forgetting about it or you will re-read it over and over, which is just wasting your time! If a message is obvious junk or something you are sure you will never need again, just delete it! If it’s reference information that you may need later, file it. If it’s actionable use the 2 minute rule that David Allen talks about in his book, Getting Things Done. If the action can be completed in 2 minutes or less, just do it. If it will take longer than 2 minutes or can’t be done until you have additional information, add the action to a task management system and then either file or delete the message.
Over time, we all sign up for various newsletters either on purpose or inadvertently. Instead of continuing to delete them each time they are delivered, take an extra few seconds and unsubscribe from the ones you are no longer interested in. Every email marketing platform (that’s legit) has a little button somewhere at the bottom of the message that you can click on to get off of their email list. There are also some services that will help you get unenrolled from unwanted lists. Of course those of us who have an email newsletter don’t want you to unsubscribe (it hurts our feelings) but I care more about your productivity than my email list, so do what you’ve got to do! If you’re too scared to make that drastic of a decision to never receive a particular newsletter again, you can use the next tip instead.
Also be sure to report spam so it can be blocked for the future. Most email platforms have a mechanism to report spam. If you get rid of most of the junk, you'll spend less time sifting through all the things that don't matter for the few messages that do.
Rules, Rules, Rules
If you aren’t using rules in your email, pay attention! You can set up a variety of rules in whichever email platform you use. This allows you to never touch a message and direct it to go right to a particular folder, to be marked as read, or even go straight to the trash. For those newsletters you were too scared to unsubscribe from, you could set up a rule to move them to a special folder. Set a reminder on your calendar for a couple of months in the future to look at that folder. If you haven't missed anything important, you may feel comfortable completely unsubscribing.
You can also create rules for message you send. I have a rule so that if I put myself in the BCC line, it moves that message to a folder I have named “Waiting.” This allows me to remember to follow up if I don’t receive an answer to my message. You can also set up conditional formatting so messages from your boss are displayed in a different color. In the next installment of this series, I’ll show you some examples!
It’s ok to be a little lazy with your email! There are many ways that you can cut corners. In Outlook, my favorite is to set up quick steps to use just one click to complete an action like moving a message to a folder, creating an appointment with the contents of the message in the body, forward a message to a particular address, or create a new message to a particular address. Learn how to drag and drop messages either to a folder or to your calendar. Explore the menu that is displayed when you right click on a message. Add commonly used folders to a favorites area to save a few seconds each time you want to access it. Next time, I will provide some demos of how to set some of these shortcuts up.
Simplify your folders
I used to have an elaborate foldering system with folders for each project with sub folders and sub-sub folders, but what I realized a few years ago was I was spending so much time deciding where to folder things and nearly that same amount of time selecting the folder to look in when I wanted to find the message later that it just didn’t make sense. Now, I have only one folder per year with a sub-folder for every month. Anything I don’t delete goes in the folder for the month it was received. All email platforms have search functions, and the two I use – Gmail and Outlook – have excellent search tools, so you can find any message without having to know what folder you put it in. Some people like to keep EVERYTHING in their inbox and just search for what they need. Now, that makes me a little anxious, so I prefer to folder when I’m done. I look at my email inbox like my home mailbox. It’s just for new stuff that comes in, and just like I take in my physical mail every day or so, I like to keep my email inbox emptied.
In the second part of this series, I will have some demos to show you how to implement some of these tricks, but I need your help. I could use several of you to email my demo email address with various subject lines. Email email@example.com to help me create a good tutorial for you!
“Analysis | How Many Hours of Your Life Have You Wasted on Work Email? Try Our Depressing Calculator.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 3 Oct. 2016, www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-intersect/wp/2016/10/03/how-many-hours-of-your-life-have-you-wasted-on-work-email-try-our-depressing-calculator/?noredirect=on&utm_term=.bd59896565f2.
Ansaldo, Michael. “3 Tools That Easily Unsubscribe You from Emails.” PCWorld, PCWorld, 22 Mar. 2017, www.pcworld.com/article/3181014/software/3-tools-for-easily-unsubscribing-to-emails.html.
Back in the summer of 1991 when my family went to Disney World, I first heard the song, "It's a Small World After All" - over and over again as we rode the ride which, for some reason, scared my then 6 year old brother (the characters are kind of creepy!) At the age of 10, that ride didn't make sense to me. The world didn't seem small, it seemed big and scary. It still seems big and scary to me most of the time. I've always had a sense of how small I am in the scheme of things. Whenever I travel, I marvel at the complex system of roads, bridges, and buildings. I am amazed at scientific research, manufacturing on a massive scale, and when I see these things and hear of missionaries or aid workers helping people all over the world, I feel like what I know, what I do, and what I am just might not matter.
As we all do, I remember distinctly where I was on 9/11 and can conjure up the fear I felt about our big, bad world for months after. Later that school year, I let fear get the best of me when I skipped a college trip to New York City because I was scared of what might happen. Though I'm not scared all the time, I still often let my feelings of insignificance get in the way. I worry about taking a chance or failing or wonder why I should even try because I know there are others in this big world who can do things better than I can.
"Though I'm not scared all the time, I still often let my feelings of insignificance get in the way."
Recently, I had a string of coincidences with several random people. Whenever I meet someone who is from my hometown, or knows someone I know, or was at the same place at the same time as me, I wonder if it's really a coincidence or just God's way of showing us that we are interconnected, and as such, NOT insignificant. Whenever I have these experiences, I wonder how I acted in these situations that I have in common with this previous stranger - was I kind, thoughtful, respectful and did I display a good work ethic? Or was I rude, dismissive and condescending? I sure hope it was the former! There's been so much discussion recently about how our pasts affect our present and our future, I think the lesson that my kids have been learning at school from the book, Wonder, is key, "Choose kind." The world is becoming smaller and smaller with the increasing technology and the prevalence of social media, we have to realize that what we do today really does matter for tomorrow. We should think more than ever about how are actions now may define our future.
Even though I don't expect to change the world tomorrow, I don't know whose path I may cross or how what I say or do may impact someone. In one of these recent coincidences, someone told me that the were grateful for how they were treated by my family. Wow, that kind of gave me chills - you never what your next action may lead to - good or bad. I'm starting to see why those Disney characters just kept on singing about how small the world really is.
This week I found the sweet spot between being a jerk and being efficient. Every day this summer during my one-hour commute home from work, I’ve dealt with construction on the dual lane, split highway I drive (aka the bypass.) The construction moves a little bit every day so I never know exactly where it’s going to be. The westbound lanes are restricted down to one lane for just a few hundred feet, BUT since you don’t know exactly where it’s at, cars who drive the same route every day, start getting into the right lane in expectation WAY before the actual lane closure. I typically sit in a long line of traffic in the right-hand lane for 10 solid minutes before the left lane is actually closed off. There are a high percentage of semis, so you can’t see very far ahead to know if the left lane is closed just ahead or a mile away. Since the left lane isn’t actually closed, there are these few, what I used to call “jerk cars,” that speed by on the left (they were probably going like 27 mph which seemed like speeding to my 4 mph) Daily, I’d grumble, “Oh you jerk cars are going to speed past all of us who are doing what we’re supposed to be doing -patiently waiting in the correct lane.”
Well, one day this week, I was kind of in a hurry and didn’t have that extra 10 minutes to spend in a line of traffic inching forward waiting for the construction to appear, so I thought, “I think I’m gonna try being a jerk car…” I started rationalizing – they’re not really breaking the law - the road isn’t actually closed, and it’s probably wise to use BOTH lanes while they are available to make things more efficient, right?” So, even though there was a long line of traffic stacked up in the right-hand lane, the left lane looked clear. I turned on my signal and went for it and became a “jerk car!” I drove and drove and drove at a speedy 27 mph and was amazed how many cars I passed in the right lane waiting patiently (probably cursing me under their breath.) As soon as I saw the orange sign that tells you to merge, there was this heaven-sent opening that I easily moved into. Then almost immediately, the blinking sign and the construction barrels appeared that officially closed the left lane. There I was in the correct lane, breezing through the short actual construction zone. In no time, I was back to cruising toward home, and I was so proud of myself! This was efficient!! So you tell me, was it a jerk move or a genius one?
I started wondering why I’d been wasting so much of my time waiting in traffic this summer and wondering if there are other things in my life that I think of as “jerk moves” that would really just be more assertive and efficient? I asked myself why I was in that right lane. The answer was easy - because everyone else was there. I seemed like what I was “supposed” to do –like I was following the rules and being a good citizen and a good driver. Really, the people who I thought were being jerks, well, they were the ones that were doing what was actually much smarter and much more efficient. Are there practices I’m following or things that I’m doing just because others are doing them? Maybe what I should be doing is paying attention to the people who are doing something different– what is it and is it working for them? What would happen if I did that and put myself first – would I become more efficient and successful? What if I said, “I know that there’s going to be a roadblock up ahead, but I might as well make up some ground while I can.” WOW is that a metaphor or what??? I realized that I apparently learn a lot from traffic metaphors since this is my second post about them - I learned a lot from left turns in a previous post!
"Are there practices I'm following or things that I'm doing just because others are doing them? Maybe what I should be doing is paying attention to the people who are doing something different - what is it and is it working for them?"
Make forward progress while you can, don’t just sit there and waste time. I think that applies in so many ways – if you are unhappy in your life, you can sit in line behind all those other unhappy people, or you can do something about it, take a chance, and get in that left lane and move forward. There are always going to be roadblocks ahead as well as things you don’t even know are coming. Do you want to get behind a line of people who are waiting for bad things with the mindset, “I know that construction is ahead, I’ve gotta prepare, move slow, and be cautious.”? With that school of thought you are already in the right spot, and though you’re prepared, it’s going to take you FOREVER to get anything accomplished. Instead, you could take a chance, get out in that left lane, speed past a bunch of people, get some stuff done. Realize it may be a little tricky or take a little time to get back in the correct lane to get through the actual construction zone, but be forward thinking enough to realize that by getting out from behind that traffic allows you to see what’s coming and know when to shift back to seamlessly move through a challenging spot. If you start preparing for disaster or roadblocks far in advance or are scared to take a chance, you’ll just be stuck in traffic.
As I was thinking about this, I realized this is something I deal with often – similar to analysis paralysis! I know there’s going to be a problem, and I start thinking about it and don’t know what to do, so I just get in line behind everyone else in the “safe” lane and sit and barely move forward. I do this so often – even though I know the path and the potential outcomes, I’m scared to get in that other lane and make forward progress, because what if I make the wrong decision and I take the wrong path and then it takes me time later to get back into the right lane? But you know what – that is rare. When I, the safe, rule-following patient driver, get to the part of the road that narrows to one lane and see some of the “jerk cars” who passed me along the way waiting to get back into my lane I think “haha jerk cars, I’m already in the right lane and now you have to wait!” But you know what, it took me 10 minutes to get there, and even if the “jerk car” had to wait for a couple minutes to merge, they STILL spent much less time on that same stretch of road because they took a chance and now they get to do more with that time they saved! Why am I not taking more chances and getting in a position that I can see further ahead? Fear is the answer, but I don't want it to be! Once I'd been a "jerk car," I wasn't as scared to try again. I want to continue practicing what's different, what's assertive, what's efficient, while still remaining kind and considerate - I don't really want to be a jerk!
This week, I had a unique experience at work - the opportunity to focus on one project for two days straight! This is far from the norm for me as I'm usually switching from project to project and being interrupted by one "fire" after another all day long. It's difficult to get any one project completed (let alone completed well) because there are so many projects and so many urgent little things that take my attention away from the important tasks. I can almost see you all nodding your heads in agreement - this battle between the important and the urgent coupled with the sheer volume of expectations placed on each one of us in both our professional and personal lives is almost an epidemic in our society.
When I was forced into focusing on an important project it felt odd, and a little wrong, to put everything else to the side and do just one thing, but it was AMAZING! I felt more clarity and forward momentum than I'd felt in a very long time. Interestingly, because I'd been thinking about one thing all day, my mind just kept on working efficiently even after I was "done" for the day. I had ideas and worked out problems in my head overnight much more easily than I would have if my mind would have been all over the place during the day as it usually is.
Those of us writing resumes in the early 2000's probably all listed multi-tasking as one of our strengths. Being able to do many things at once was looked at as desirable. Since then, a lot of research has been published to debunk that myth of multi-tasking. Dave Crenshaw says in his book, The Myth of Multitasking: How "Doing It All" Gets Nothing Done, "Remember this rule: the more responsibility you have, the more hats you wear, the more likely you are to become inefficient." You may be thinking, but if I don't do at least some things at the same time, I'll never get anything done! I hear ya, but stop to consider what you could accomplish and how fast you could accomplish it if you did only one thing at a time.
Productivity coach, Marcey Rader, describes different types of tasking methods in one of her blog posts. Multi-tasking is truly doing two things at once, and since only 2% of the population can actually do this - stop trying! What the rest of us are doing is called switch-tasking. Rader describes switch-tasking as "juggling two tasks by refocusing attention back and forth and losing time and progress in the switch." Switch-tasking makes us 30-40% LESS productive because we are switching our focus about every 3 minutes. There are some tasks that can be done as background tasks which do allow us to complete more than one thing at a time. A great example is listening to music while running or folding laundry while watching TV. Listening to music and watching TV are done in the background, while the other task is done in the foreground.
"Multi-tasking is truly doing two things at once, and since only 2% of the population can actually do this - stop trying!"
So, how do we realistically create an atmosphere where we can focus on one thing at a time? I think this starts with remembering that you're in charge of you (one of my early blog posts talks about this in depth.) I'm the one who thinks I need to do dishes, do laundry, help with homework, post to social media, and talk on the phone all at once - no one makes me do that. I am guilty of being what my husband calls, "willy-nilly" all too often. It's so easy to blame others for having to multi-task - "my job demands it" or " I have so much on my plate" - but if we are really honest with ourselves, we may realize that switching from one task to the other is something we do at home when no one is looking, too. If that becomes our normal, we're going to do that in whatever situation we find ourselves in. And it's going to become more pronounced when we are under stress. For me, it's a way to avoid decision making - if I do just a little, just the part I know how to do, and then flip to something else and yet something else, I can avoid doing the hard parts. The hard parts might not be as hard if I didn't have to reacquaint myself to the project every time I switch back to it after focusing elsewhere.
A to-do list or a schedule with only the most important tasks in a natural order of your energy level goes a long way in helping you stay on task. A timer can also help you, especially if it's something you don't particularly love doing. Setting clear expectations about your time with those who you feel accountable to may be the most important aspect in being productive. If you tell your boss or your spouse or your kids that you will do multiple things for them in an unrealistic time frame, you are going to naturally try to switch back and forth to try to get things completed. Pad the time you think you need, so you can over-deliver and gain momentum. Finally, decide what NOT to focus on. Cal Newport says in his book, Deep Work: Rules for Focuses Success in a Distracted World, “What we choose to focus on and what we choose to ignore—plays in defining the quality of our life.”
This coming week, I'm going to try to improve my productivity by trying single-tasking. I know I can't spend two whole days on one project again, but I can spend blocks of time this week with head-down focus. I'm excited to see the results!
Crenshaw, Dave. The Myth of Multitasking: How Doing It All Gets Nothing Done. Jossey-Bass, 2008.
Rader, Marcey. “Multitasking, Switchtasking, Background Tasking or Hypertasking.” Marcey Rader Coaching, LLC, 13 Dec. 2017, www.marceyrader.com/multitasking-switchtasking-background-tasking-hypertasking/.
Newport, Cal. Deep Work. Piatkus, 2016.
I remember distinctly the night I published the first post of my blog one year ago. It was very late and I was very nervous, but once it was done, I felt so good! I’d been writing about my journey to get my life in order for nearly a year before that. I did lots of research on domain names, website platforms, social media strategies, blog best practices - so much research that I scared myself into delaying the launch. I asked some very close friends and family to read some of my posts and give me their feedback. I visualized complete success and total failure. I was scared and excited all at once. Back then fear carried more weight, but these days excitement is starting to overshadow my fears.
In many ways it seems like this blog has always been part of me, and in other ways I still feel like a newbie! I’ve found writing therapeutic and the regularity energizing. I’ve learned and experienced so much during this past year, but here are the highlights.
Done is so much better than perfect
The very first line of my very first post was, “I'm a recovering over-achiever people-pleaser. I had high expectations for others and even higher ones for myself.” Those high self-expectations can be a blessing and a curse. A blessing because it leads to quality work, but a curse because I’m often paralyzed with the thought that I could still improve some little detail before calling a project complete. This affects me both in my personal life and work life. My husband once said to me, “Just lower the bar for yourself a little and then you won’t be so stressed out.” I remember thinking that it must be nice to be happy with less than your best and then feeling a little smug because obviously I was better off with my high standards. Then I became so stressed that I turned to a coach to help me work through it - she helped me realize I was expecting so much of myself that it wasn’t realistic. I hate to admit it, but my husband may have been right, but it took someone outside of my inner circle to make me believe it. I did start lowering my expectations and started producing without killing myself in the process. I still struggle sometimes with editing my work too much, but repeating the mantra, “done is better than perfect” really helps me! There are aspects of my life that it was VERY easy to lower my standards - dishes, laundry, housework, yardwork- I don’t freak out about those not being perfect or complete, and I ask for help (or require help from my kiddos!) I still take pride in my work, but now pick and choose what is worth the painstaking efforts of perfection and what can be delivered in a very good state instead of perfect.
"I still struggle sometimes with editing my work too much, but repeating the mantra, 'done is better than perfect' really helps me!"
Accountability breeds success
Having a weekly deadline - even if none of my readers really cared, made me get things done. I have posted at least weekly for a year - even when I was sick, we were on vacation, or very busy with school or sports activities. I felt like readers were counting on me, so I made accommodations to make sure I had a post completed every week.
In January of this year, I joined a Mastermind group led by The Productive Woman, Laura McClellan. I found this so motivating. I gained this whole new set of accountability partners and could share goals and dreams with them that I didn’t feel comfortable sharing with anyone else. During the 12 week session, I reported back on the mini-goals I set for myself each week and found myself making much more forward progress than I ever would have without them to answer to. I’ve become friends with these women, and we still connect monthly to share our struggles and our successes and set goals and report back on our progress. I share in their excitement and they share in mine when something we’ve been working toward comes to fruition.
I’ve long thought of myself as a hater of teamwork, rationalizing this feeling by saying I could do things faster and better alone. Even when I would admit that maybe I couldn’t do them better, I still held that at least I had control and didn’t have to rely on anyone else to determine my success. Throughout this year, I’ve gotten better at asking for feedback and advice, working as a team and accepting constructive criticism. I ran across a quote just this week that hit home. “If you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together.”
Inspiration is everywhere
I remember being asked if I thought I’d run out of material to write about and if this outlet that I thought was going to be fun and therapeutic for me would turn out to be a burden. So far, I haven’t had to struggle to find things to write about because my life is a work in progress, and I just write about what I experience. Sometimes I have things to share that may be helpful and other times I just write about the raw honest truth of my shortcomings. Just like you see more pregnant women when you are pregnant, I have found more inspiration now that I’m looking for it.
Because I’m always looking for an inspiring quote, an interesting article, a great organizing idea, or something worthy of a Friday Funny title for my social media posts, I have read more books and articles, learned more about organization and productivity techniques than ever before in this past year. The stories I’ve heard from readers who have been inspired by something I have written have truly brought me joy.
Productivity allows for growth
Because I’m continuing to improve my own productivity, I’m able to do more things I enjoy. Even though I’m technically busier than ever, it feels the same or less as before I added in additional things I like doing- helping people get organized, teaching more piano students, selling organizing supplies, reading more, and becoming more involved in church - in addition to my day job and my role as a wife and mother.
I definitely feel that I still have lots of room for improvement. I still do best when I’m working alone, but am striving to get better at keeping projects moving when they involve others. I’ve found that shared tools are the best way to stay on the same page with others. One example is how my husband and I share events on our calendars to keep track of who is where when (which is tricky sometimes!) We also do a review of our upcoming week during the weekend to plan meals and child care and pickup. A regular touch base meeting either personally or professionally may take time, but it pays for itself in the time it saves!
Choosing your tools and sticking to them is critical to productivity. There are always new tools that may tempt you, and though it’s important to stay up to date with technology, you need to limit the tool-jumping so you can become an expert in your own system. Don’t spend your time creating your system over and over, spend your time doing the stuff your system is supposed to help you control.
Thanks for a great year!
It’s been a fun year, and I’m excited to see what the next one will bring. I sincerely appreciate those of you who read and comment on posts and on social media. I feel like I'm on this journey with you. I'd love to hear from you about what topics you'd like to read about in year two of My Life In Order. Submit your ideas through the contact page or by email.
I'm overweight - actually obese according US Department of Health. There I said it – funny how that was so hard since my weight is something that I really can’t hide. Growing up, I stayed at a pretty healthy weight (probably because of my mom's 2-vegetable-with-one-being-green-at-dinner rule!) The first time I remember really making an effort to lose weight was when I was getting ready for my wedding. But back then at 21, I just ate fewer chicken nuggets and jogged a little and - boom, I weighed 133 by wedding day. Well, since then I've accumulated a lot of things - a husband, a mortgage, two babies, a career, a couple of side hustles, some stress, and a lot of weight! I remember during my second pregnancy, my doctor logged my 9 months pregnant weight and said, "Have you ever weighed this much before?" I was a little shocked at the question, and said, "No and I hope I never do again!" Well, I weigh more now than I did when I gave birth over 7 years ago, and I’ve tried harder than ever during that time frame to lose weight. It’s frustrating and sometimes disheartening to try and fail over and over again. I’m tired of the ups and downs.
My internal dialogue would be maddening to anyone who could read my mind. I give myself a pep talk reminding myself I’ve lost weight before so I can do it again, and I make a plan. Then I try real hard – for a couple of weeks - and when I don’t see the results I want, I give into a little self-pity and feed that with actual food. I think I might as well just eat whatever I want since I’m already overweight. I say to myself, “It’s not the number on the scale that matters, it’s what the inside that counts.” I think I don’t look that bad, and I just need to learn to be happy with who I am and how I look. But then I see a picture of myself and do a double take because that can’t really be what other people see when they look at me, right? No, it’s just the camera angle – you’ve got to hold the camera higher. It IS just the camera angle, right? I don’t feel like that person in the photo – or in the mirror. And then I start feeling down and realize that I AM that person, and that person seems lazy and incapable if she can’t do something as simple as control the food that goes in her mouth and the number of steps she takes per day. The doctor even comments on my weight and tells me there's nothing physically wrong, I just need to eat better, exercise, get more sleep. I want to scream, “I’VE TRIED THAT!” They don’t understand my life and how stressed I am and how little time I have - and then insert excuse after excuse. I finally crumple into the question, “If I can’t lose weight, am I really capable of much else?”
I've told myself so many things about my weight - some are lies and some are truths, but I've lost track of which are which. I’m speaking as a 37 year-old woman with no medical or psychological training – just my own experience and observations. I’ve found that my weight is intertwined with so many aspects of my life which is why losing it is not as easy as simply eating less and moving more.
"I've told myself so many things about my weight - some are lies and some are truths, but I've lost track of which are which."
Weight and Relationships
I am blessed to have children who tell me I’m beautiful even when I don’t feel that way and a husband who has never made me feel ugly because of my weight. My closest friends and family love me unconditionally, so I know that changes in my appearance won't make the people who matter to me love me more or less. This makes ME the only person I need to impress, and it’s hard for me to do things for myself. I find it easier to help someone else meet their goals than to take the steps that I need to take to get where I want to go. I feel selfish when I try to eat differently than my family or take the time to exercise because in my mind, that takes something away from them. My relationship with myself needs to rise up and take precedence so I can be my best self.
Though I have confidence in my close relationships, it is very easy to compare myself to others. When I start comparing, I feel bad about myself, but I often turn to excuses. “If I was a stay at home mom like her, I’d have time to exercise and would be just as fit.” “If I had as much money as her, I could afford to buy healthier foods, too.” "If my job were as easy as hers, my stress level would be less, and it would be easier to lose weight.” Instead of all of these, “If I had…then I would be” statements, I should be looking at the women I’m comparing myself to and learning from them. I know not all skinny girls have it all together. I should learn how they manage to get and stay healthy in spite of the struggles of their lives.
Weight and Health
I know, intellectually, that my weight does impact my health and that losing even just a little weight will improve my overall health and well-being. According to the CDC, being obese can increase chances of all sorts of health problems including high cholesterol, type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease, stroke, mental illness, and body pain. With all of these risks, you’d think that I’d really focus on decreasing my weight. Instead, I continue to rationalize why MY weight problem isn’t all that bad.
I’ve always had good blood pressure – like, it’s my pride and joy. No matter how much I’ve weighed my blood pressure has always been normal and usually below normal. It was like my barometer of health, and I’d rationalize that even though I was overweight, since my blood pressure was good, it wasn’t really impacting my health. Earlier this year at a routine doctor appointment, my blood pressure was high. I freaked out because this threw my healthy-though-fat theory out the window. I've since worked to get it back in the normal range, but it will take constant attention to keep it that way.
As I age, I think more about my own mortality. I’ve heard people say they want to get healthy for their family, and that’s great – I want more quality time with my family too, but in all honesty – I want to live long and enjoy my own life for me! I am guilty of the putting off healthy habits - “I’ll start good eating Monday” and “after I get through this, I’ll start exercising” and “I’ll start going to bed earlier after summer is over.” Why do I keep putting it off? As those of us who are over about 25 know, time seems to accelerate as we age. I don’t want to miss out on NOW because I don’t have enough energy to enjoy life, and I don’t want to miss out on the future because of the bad habits I have now.
Weight and Age
Between kids, I lost 25 pounds and kept it off for two years (until I got pregnant again.) I read and followed the South Beach Diet to the letter. I thrived with a strict program with rules and quick results. I’ve tried to follow the same program several times since and failed. Has my body chemistry changed now that I’m getting older and it’s just no use? A New York Times article says, “Although it is possible to lose weight at any age, several factors make it harder to lose weight with age.” That’s kind of depressing…The one good thing about the passage of time, though, is the improvements in technology. A FitBit will surely do the trick or an app to track my calories, right? Though these are great tools, they don’t do the work for us. I’m living proof - I’m at the same weight I was before I tried those things.
The older I get, the easier it is to tell myself that there’s no one left to impress. I’ve got a family who loves me, a career, and many great friends. I’m nearing 40 and maybe my body has just found its happy place, and I need to accept it. It’s easy to tell myself my body is different now and it’s not my fault that the weight is clinging to me (in all the wrong places, I might add.) But then I think – I’m not even FORTY, I’ve got many, many years ahead of me – hopefully, I’m not even half done. Do I want to live the last half of my life not meeting my potential? I’m older, but I’m wiser and I have more resources and experience than ever. I certainly know what doesn’t work, so why not use that to my advantage? I want to make the rest my best!
Weight and Stress
Here’s a hot topic and one that we all like to argue about – stress. What causes it, can we will our way around it, what does it do to our minds and bodies, how should we deal with it? Stress is defined as “a state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or very demanding circumstances.” We’ve all been there, but we can all think of someone in our lives who’s been there more or longer or in a more extreme way than we have. I know others who cope in a much healthier way than I do even when they have much more stress. Who am I to blame stress on every negative thing in my life? I am blessed in so many ways, and I let the few negatives in my life outweigh all of those positive things. I’m stressing about what stress is doing to me. I am in no way denying stress can cause all sorts of physical and mental problems. I’m coming to realize that focusing on the problem instead of the solution is only exacerbating the problem. Case in point, when my blood pressure went up, I became my son’s science fair project, “Can Yoga Decrease Blood Pressure?” I did yoga for 15 minutes a day and my blood pressure did decrease. Was it the yoga in and of itself, or was it that I slowed down, took time for myself, had some physical activity, focused on what I didn’t want for my body, and probably ate a little better? Not sure exactly why it worked, but it did. You’d think I’d have kept it up after the project ended, wouldn’t you? But, no, I saw even just 15 minutes a day as disruptive to my schedule. So I stayed in the same stressful state – it gave me something to blame.
"I'm stressing about what stress is doing to me."
Weight and Sleep
Research says that dieters who cut back on sleep over a 14-day period, lost 55% less weight from fat, even though their calories stayed equal. A sleepy morning increases your chances of taking in more calories, losing impulse control to avoid junk food, and skipping exercise. The answer to this seems so simple - sleep more. Why is this so hard for me? Under the guise of productivity, I stay up too late. Sleep was one of my areas of focus for this year, but I’ve failed miserably! I’m constantly tired, hitting the snooze button multiple times a morning, but yet I stay up late to get things done or just watch TV. I rationalize the need for late night TV as down time after a stressful day. I know that many experts suggest early morning exercise to jump start a healthy day. I will never be able to accommodate that if I continue to go to bed so late! I need to take my own advice and set (and stick to) a bedtime for myself like I set for my kids.
Weight and Priorities
My kids and family are my top priority, and I often use this as an excuse not to take care of myself. My go-to quip when making light the fact I’m overweight is, “Well I love to eat, and I hate to exercise.” I realized recently that at least half of that statement is a lie. It turns out I don’t hate being physically active, but what I do hate is exercising when I feel like I’m neglecting another responsibility. Spending time with my kids, cleaning my house, working, staying caught up with the paperwork of life always take precedence over exercise for me. I need to make exercise a priority, and by re-framing what my responsibilities really are – setting a good example for my kids and helping them be healthy - I can give myself permission to take care of myself.
"...by re-framing what my responsibilities really are - setting a good example for my kids and helping them be healthy - I can give myself permission to take care of myself."
Weight and Organization
I truly believe that being organized can help me get to and maintain a healthy weight. The times I’ve been successful with a healthy lifestyle are the times I had a realistic plan, I monitored my progress toward that plan, and had systems in place to help me be successful. I’ve tried many different diets over the years, and have found it difficult to stick to them. I need something that is realistic in the long term, can be measured so I can see progress, and can have “shortcuts” set up to help me stick to it. As I said before, I love food, so depriving myself long term is just not going to work. I need to measure things – weight, calories, miles, minutes, steps – so I can see forward progress. I need it to be easy to maintain. Standard meals or snacks, specific days or times that I do activities, a chart or an app to keep track of it all. This sounds like the building blocks of success to me!
Another way that being organized helps with weight loss is meal planning. Going to the store with a plan and a list helps prevent buying on impulse. Having a list of meals posted on the fridge helps me not to just run to McDonald’s. Keeping a detailed calendar is going to be critical for making time for exercise. Either a shared digital calendar or a family calendar on a white board in a central location can allow the entire family to know what to expect. If you know what is coming up for the next day, you can plan ahead and set out the supplies you will need for exercising or cooking a meal or packing a lunch the night before.
"Neither self-loathing or burying my head in the sand will work - only acceptance and continual improvement will really make me healthier and happier."
My conclusions from exploring my weight loss struggle are this: I need to go to bed earlier on a regular basis, plan for healthy foods in my house and lunchbox, set a plan about what I’m going to eat and how I’m going to keep moving and monitor my progress, find someone to be accountable to other than myself, schedule exercise even if that means cutting out another activity in my day, consider my quest to become healthier as a service to my kids through my good example. I also need to love who I am right now, but not in a “you are what you are and that can’t change" way, but in a “you are what you are right now and have the potential to be what you aspire to be" way. Neither self-loathing or burying my head in the sand will work – only acceptance and continual improvement will really make me healthier and happier.
“Calculate Your Body Mass Index.” National Heart Lung, and Blood Institute, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/educational/lose_wt/BMI/bmicalc.htm.
“Healthy Weight.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 5 June 2015, www.cdc.gov/healthyweight/effects/index.html.
Weintraub, Karen. “Is It Harder to Lose Weight When You're Older?” The New York Times, The New York Times, 31 Mar. 2017, www.nytimes.com/2017/03/31/well/live/is-it-harder-to-lose-weight-when-youre-older.html.
“Stress.” Dictionary.com, Dictionary.com, www.dictionary.com/browse/stress?s=t.
“Sleep More, Weigh Less.” WebMD, WebMD, www.webmd.com/diet/sleep-and-weight-loss#1.
Soccer season is upon us, and that means cleats, soccer socks, shin guards and soccer balls EVERYWHERE! I have two kids who play plus my husband coaches, so he has a huge bag of practice gear to add to the collection of soccer equipment. In past seasons, we've tried to contain all of these supplies in our mudroom, but it seemed like we were constantly tripping over equipment but yet the kids could never find a clean pair of socks or a matching set of shin guards!
Over the past few years, I've tried to figure out how to keep sports equipment organized and accessible while not overwhelming my entire mudroom., but it just wasn't working. I had shoes in one spot, socks and shin guards in another and soccer balls in yet another. Because I had created 'homes' for items all over the place, no one ever put them away. I realized last season that I needed a system not individual solutions for my sports equipment problems! I think I finally got it figured out with the sports zone that I created just outside the door to my attached garage. Here's how I created it:
Identify the Problem(s)
I needed to determine everything I wanted to accomplish so I could create ONE solution to solve all the problems at once. The problems were:
Visualize the Ideal Scenario and Find the Right Space
Think about what the ideal solution to the problems you identified would be. Look at magazines, browse Pinterest and look at how friends and family have organized similar items. Don't be afraid to "steal" ideas from others.
Now that you know what you need to fix and the best way to fix it, start finding the right space. I had been looking in the same room trying to reconfigure the space I was having problems with, and it wasn't until I realized that I need to think outside that room, did I find the best space for my sports zone. I knew that I wanted drawers and shelves and bins. I didn't have space for those things in the room I'd been using, so I went to the garage and starting looking around. I found a small space that had been used for smashing and storing aluminum cans before turning them in for a few bucks. Since we got our Soda Stream machine, we barely drink canned soda anymore, so this area was basically useless. We moved a trashcan, a small recycle bin and removed the can smasher from the wall and had a blank canvas for sports storage.
Measure and Install the "Bones"
Measure, measure, measure - the most important aspect of your sports zone is making sure the items you need to store fit! Purchase or re-purpose items that are specific to what you want to store. It was important to me to have drawers because I'd be storing clothing (uniforms and socks) in the garage, and I wanted them free from dirt or dust. I reused some plastic drawers I already had, and we purchased three shelf boards and six brackets from the hardware store. Consider the height and the space between shelves so that the items you store there are easily accessible. The shelves we installed are sometimes accessed from the garage, but other times from the steps, which means that we were able to put shelves up higher and maximize that vertical space.
Edit, Edit, Edit!
My space is a sports station, but I focus on the current sports season and don't try to keep all equipment for all sports in this area all the time. Right now I have one tote in the basement for off-season sports stuff - all sizes of baseball pants are in a vacuum bag to save space, and cleats that are too big (we get our cleats at garage sales and save them for little brother!) are in a trash bag. I put socks and hats each in gallon size zippered bags. I don't separate by size or kid because they grow so much from season to season, everything has to be tried on anyway! We keep bats, mits, balls in the garage year round because there's a chance those will get played with in the backyard during the off-season.
Load and Label
Now you have a blank slate, fill it up! Be sure to add labels so that it's easy for your family to put things back where they belong! I have a set of three drawers and labelled the top two with each kid's name where we keep their socks, favorite shin guards, and uniforms. The bottom drawer is for things like a blanket that we may use to sit on at a soccer game. I keep two plastic shoe boxes (no lids) on top of the drawers labelled with a kid's name for their cleats. I have LOVED this because no more clumps of dirt from cleats all over my floor - they go in from the garage, deposit their cleats in the shoe box before they come inside. There is a bin for soccer balls, and a shelf for my husband's coach gear. I have a shelf helper hanging underneath the bottom shelf where I have a plastic shoe box filled with extra shin guards (just in case we lose the favorites!) Because there's actually EXTRA space now, I have a shelf where I'm keeping my Cargo Carry All bag that I can throw everything I need for a day at the field! Because it has a lid, I'm storing a small soft-sided cooler inside that I may take to save on concessions! A bin of baseballs and mits fit nicely on that shelf as well. The very top shelf houses baseball bags filled with bats and helmets. We even have room on the floor for the chairs we take to sit on as we cheer on our kiddos.
To make this work and and assure that your kids aren't running around in a panic before their games looking for their uniform and cleats, you have to train them to maintain this system. When they get home from practice or a game, send them straight to the sports zone to unload. When laundry is done, have your kids take their sports accessories straight to their labelled bin or drawer.
I hope that creating a sports zone will help you feel a little more 'in order' during the busy sports seasons ahead! I'd love to see pictures of how you organize your kids (or your own) sports equipment!
A few months ago, I wrote a post about my struggle with laundry (A Laundry Experiment: Part 1). You can go back and read it, but the basics are this: There was too much laundry and we never had the right things clean when we needed them or they were clean, but were buried in a giant pile of clean clothes on the couch, coined "laundry couch." I tried to figure out how to overcome my laundry woes, and vowed to try the following:
Though this experiment wasn't very scientific, I did have a hypothesis and have reached a conclusion (that are one in the same) - I HATE LAUNDRY!!!! I've failed pretty miserably at most of the points above, but I did learn from my experience. Since I have accepted the fact that laundry will never end, I have some new ideas to try as a result of my failures.
The daily sorting is the ONE part of my experiment that really worked. We don't do it at night, but rather the kids do it every morning. One kid empties and sorts the laundry from the first floor and the other kid takes care of the upstairs. We have a two sided laundry sorter for lights and dark as well as a hard plastic hamper where we put the "hots" (things that should be washed in hot water.) I really like this new habit. It keeps hampers in the bedrooms and bathrooms from overflowing and makes it visibly obvious when we need to do a load! We will definitely keep this one!
Washing on Demand
I have been doing laundry during the week much more than I did before, so I'll continue putting a load in the washer when I notice the sorter is full. The problem has been that I sometimes forget to move it to the dryer and then it gets stinky and has to be rewashed. The next point about the reminder is what I was really missing!
I originally thought I'd make some cute sign that I'd hang near the laundry room to let me know when there was laundry in the washer, but instead I thought I'd go the technology route and set a recurring reminder on my iPhone. Spoiler alert - - it didn't work. I quickly became immune to the reminder and just swiped left to dismiss it every day, twice a day.
Instead of this type of reminder, I'm going to try pairing, when you connect two activities or make one dependent on the completion of the other. I first heard about the strategy of pairing from author and podcaster, Gretchen Rubin. I'm thinking that I will pair TV with laundry. Before I will allow myself to watch TV, I'll have to check the status of the laundry and do the next step - starting a load, switching a load to the dryer and/or folding a load.
Use the Laundry Room
I was naive to think that folding laundry in my un-air conditioned laundry room would work in the summer - it was just too HOT! In addition, my laundry room is the landing zone for things that have to go to the basement. I keep clothes that are too small for my oldest son, but still too big for my youngest son in the basement, and with the way my 11-year-old has been growing, each week there have been new things to retire from his wardrobe. I almost constantly have a bag or just a pile of clothes on top of the dryer poised to go to the basement, which doesn't allow me any room to fold even if the temperature were comfortable.
Since I'm planning to use TV watching to remind me to do the next step in my laundry, I'm going to go back to folding while I watch. I used to do this after it got really piled up, but if I fold this each time I watch TV (which is most days) I should be able to avoid laundry couch!
I'm also going to use pairing to get items down to the basement. I have one solid nighttime routine, and that is tucking my kids into bed (I've told them this will continue until they go to college!) Since the only time I don't do this is when I'm not home or I am sick, I can count on this nearly every night. As the kids start brushing their teeth in preparation for going to their bedrooms, I'm going to take one load to the basement. If I do this nightly, the laundry room should stay manageable.
I did notice a couple of new problems while being more aware of my laundry process these past few months. One was that my youngest son has TOO MANY CLOTHES! This is not because we buy him stuff, but because he gets hand-me-downs from a few different sources. It makes it difficult for him to put his clothes away because his drawers are stuffed! Many times clean clothes end up on the floor and it's difficult to tell the difference between then and the dirty ones, so clean clothes are getting washed again! It's time to purge again!
The other problem is socks. I'm starting to have a hard time telling the difference between my older son's and my husband's socks, so we bought a different color and brand for each and solved that problem!. I also continually struggle with odd sock problems. I've tried having my kids put their socks in mesh bags and washing them in there, but that didn't work - they were as successful getting them in the mesh bag as they were at getting them in the hamper! I've decided that once a week, I'm going to take all the socks in my odd sock bin where I put socks without a match after each load of laundry and put them into "sock purgatory" a separate bin kept up high on my laundry room shelf. Once a month, I'm going to match any socks from my odd sock bin to my sock purgatory bin and any that are left will get thrown away.
Laundry will never be something I enjoy, but it's not going away, so I'm hoping these observations I've made will help me keep up with it better! Do you have any great laundry tips to share? I'd love to hear them - please comment below!
Weekends are usually jam packed with family events, regular housework, yard work, sporting events, going out with friends, and maybe even a date night, but every once in a while you get that unicorn of a weekend with no plans - what do you do then? How about a Weekend Warrior Organization project? Here are 2 projects in areas of the home that, in my opinion, are the best areas to start with when getting organized. These can each be realistically completed in one weekend (of course, only 1 per weekend - let's not get crazy!)
I've written about paper organization before, and though it is an intense one, it's one that will leave you feeling the best when it's complete. You could easily spend weeks on paper organizing if you spent only small chunks of time on it, but if you really commit your weekend to paper organizing, you'll see some amazing results!
After a good night's rest, roll your sleeves up and get started!
You should wake up to a few piles of paper in categories. Now is time for the fun part!
Back in February of this year, I wrote a post about organizing the heart of your home - the Kitchen! This included a week-long plan to get your kitchen in order. You could easily condense this 7 day plan down into a weekend if you were focused and didn't have other plans! I highly suggest signing up for the free video series, 7 Days to an Orderly Kitchen, at least a week ahead of time, so you can watch the videos and print the checklists to be ready for your kitchen organizing sprint!
Today should be spent arranging your kitchen by zones. Consider how you actually use your kitchen and group things for specific tasks together. Example, create a baking area, a lunch making area, etc. (If you signed up for the free video tutorial, this is the last video. Make sure to sign up a week in advance, because you get one video emailed to you each day!)
I’m so ready for back-to-school! Not because I’m tired of my kids being home for the summer, but because I’m ready to get back into a routine. I always loved the beginning of the school year as a kid – new clothes and shoes, freshly sharpened pencils, blank notebooks, locker organizers – kind of my dream come true! I was thinking today about why the beginning of school still excited me as an adult. Yes, I get to buy supplies for my kids, but there’s more to it than that. There’s something about a fresh start that appeals to me, and I think we can all learn some lessons from school to help us live our best life this school year.
Refresh your wardrobe and get a haircut
Kids usually get a few new outfits and shoes because they’ve grown out of the clothes from the previous school year. We go through their entire wardrobe and get rid of things that are too small or they won’t wear to avoid any fashion arguments! This time of year is also a great time to refresh your own wardrobe. Go through your closet and donate items you haven’t worn in the past several months, items that don’t fit, or ones you just don’t like. Make a list of what items you need to “fill in the blanks” of your wardrobe. Watch for sales and treat yourself! We get our kids a haircut prior to the first day so they look fresh and clean. Make an appointment for yourself, too. This could be the one time per year that you spend a little extra or try a new style.
"I always loved the beginning of the school year as a kid - new clothes and shoes, freshly sharpened pencils, blank notebooks, locker organizers - kind of my dream come true!"
Keep a regular sleep schedule
Just today, our family discussed what fair bedtimes are for the kids when school starts and what time they need to get up to have plenty of time in the mornings before school. This will be a big change from our summer routine where the kids’ bedtimes go out the window – and so does mine. I find myself staying up way too late on a regular basis, but still having to get up at the same time to go to work. By the end of the summer I’m exhausted and sleeping in late on the weekends to try to catch up. When school starts, the kids will each have a set bedtime and wakeup time. I plan to create my own, reasonable bedtime as well as a wakeup time that doesn’t involve the snooze button!
Eat healthy breakfasts and pack a lunch
When school is in session, I make more of an effort to feed my kids a healthy breakfast to give them a good start to their day. It’s so easy for us as busy adults to skip breakfast or scarf down something on the go. When school starts, it’s a great opportunity to plan your morning to include a healthy breakfast at the table with your family. Many days my kids pack their lunches, and we have various options that are easy to pack and are fairly healthy. Packing a lunch for myself alongside the kids will help me not only to save money on eating out, but help to control my portion size and the nutritional value of what I eat for lunch.
Embrace a fresh start and the opportunity to learn new things
Kids literally start the school year with a blank slate, and they have the opportunity to take new classes from new teachers. It’s a great time of year for us to forgive ourselves for failed attempts in the past and make new resolutions and plans for new habits. Is it time for us to take a class, read a book, attend a webinar about something new?
Be active and enjoy recess
My kids have gym class at least once a week, and recess every day. They also participate in sports during the school year. I need to follow suit and be more active. I can use the time they spend at sports practices to be active myself, and why not enjoy a “recess” during the day and take a quick walk?
Create systems to manage time
With all the commitments kids have these days, they have to learn to manage their time, plan ahead and just plain remember what all they need to do! We are in the process of finalizing what the daily routine will be and then will create a checklist to keep track of it all. I will print out a grid with the items that need completed down the left-hand side with the days of the week across the top. The paper will go in a page protector and be displayed on the fridge with a magnetic clip. The kids will use a dry erase marker to mark off their daily accomplishments. This makes it reusable, but also easy to change if we add or take away a responsibility. It’s great to pair one of your own responsibilities to your kids’ – for example, when they practice piano, you wash dishes or when they do homework, you read. Consider planning your day the night before with specific timebound tasks. Always overestimate how long it will take you to do things so that you don’t get frustrated!
Cut back on screen time
During the school year, our kids don’t have any screen time from Monday to Thursday (unless homework requires it.) We started this a couple of years ago, and it’s amazing – attitudes are much improved and since there is no expectation of screen time, we don’t hear whining or complaining. This means my husband and I don’t turn on the TV until after the kids are in bed, and sometimes we don’t even turn it on at all. It’s my goal to use the time I normally would watch TV to do other things – read, play board games, talk to my husband, take bubble baths, take a walk, etc.
Catch up with friends
One of the best parts of the first day of school for me was always seeing my friends that I hadn’t seen much over the summer. We would catch up and tell each other what we did over the vacation. We looked forward to eating lunch together and playing at recess together. As adults, why don’t we designate the start of the school year as a time to plan some lunch dates and fun activities with old friends?
Today marks the 50th post of My Life In Order! Even though there have been ups and downs, triumphs and defeats along the way, this blog has been a constant in my life this year. I'm proud to have posted faithfully every week and to have done so in a transparent and authentic way. As I sit here with the beautiful morning sun pouring in, listening to the quiet of my family still asleep, I'm so grateful to be right where I'm at. That's kind of profound. Do I wish there were some aspects of my life that were different or better? - sure, but I'm learning that being content with now while expecting growth is the only way that positive and lasting change will happen.
"....being content with now while expecting growth is the only way that positive and lasting change will happen."
I just did a quick scan of my house from the vantage point of my couch, and what I see is certainly not perfection! I look down to my pink and white striped shirt and leopard print pajama pants - I don't match, but I'm comfortable. I see clean, folded laundry on the stairs waiting for my kids to take it to their rooms - it's not out of sight, but it's clean and my family has plenty. I gaze upon my kitchen counter filled with shopping bags from a back-to-school shopping trip my mother-in-law took with my son and grocery bags with food I'm taking to a family reunion - it's cluttered, but it speaks of the abundance of family in my life. I see dust on my furniture, and I'm reminded of the glorious day I spent relaxing and recharging yesterday instead of doing housework. Some would look at me and my house right now and think I'm unorganized or not put together, but I feel very much in order. Items in my life have a place and a purpose, and I have the ability to enjoy my home, my things, my family, and myself. In honor of my 50th post, I want to share highlights from my blog, so please enjoy 50 Tips for a Life in Order:
1. Do things in order, and don't get ahead of yourself. Take the time to do it right the first time.
Read Order Part 1: A Lego Lesson
2. Set boundaries and honor them.
Read Order Part 2: Honoring Boundaries
3. Remember you are in charge of you.
Read Order Part 3: Who's in Charge?
4. Ask for and accept help.
Read Order Part 4: Help Me!
5. Embrace your creativity (even if you're not an artist!)
Read Can Creativity Be Orderly?
6. Make a plan to process the paper in your life and manage it regularly.
Read The First Big Win: Wrangling the Paper and The Binder System
7. Don't be afraid to throw things away.
Read The Paper Purge
8. Laugh at yourself!
Listen to My Life in Laughter: Cozy Shirt, My Life in Laughter: Gold Saturn, My Life in Laughter: Drive Through Judgement
9. Use a timer to learn how long it takes you to do tasks, and use an alarm to help you manage time.
Read Getting Better at Time
10. Look on the bright side, find positive aspects of even the most frustrating circumstances - reframe to stay sane!
Read 10 Reasons I Love My Unfinished Bathroom
11. Cut yourself some slack! Don't expect more of yourself than you do of others.
Read Lower Your Expectations
12. Remember parties and vacations are supposed to be fun - plan ahead so you can enjoy them!
Read 10 Steps to an Organized Party and Organized Travel Made Fun
13. Get your family involved in housework and accept that how they complete a task may not be how you would do it.
Read Fun Things and Jobs
14. Be patient and prepared for opportunities. Don't rush because you feel bad that others are waiting on you.
Read Left Turns in Life
15. Take time alone at least once a year to think about what you want to focus on in the future.
Read Plan Your Focus for the New Year
16. Set goals that are realistic and align with your focus.
Read Be S.M.A.R.T. About Goal Setting
17. Don't wish away time.
Read Freezing Time
18. Take action!
Read Actually Means Action
19. Use technology to help you save time, not waste it!
Read How Use Your Phone For Good
20. Use the Pomodoro Technique to break up your work into sections and give yourself breaks so you don't get burnt out.
Read Cheating at Productivity
21. Use a task management software (NOT your email inbox) to keep track of your to do list
Read Productivity the Nozbe Way with Expert, Michael Sliwinski
22. Organize your kitchen - you spend a lot of time there!
Read Organizing the Heart of Your Home - The Kitchen
23. Use what you envy about others to help you change yourself.
Read Turn Envy Upside Down
24. Seek wise counsel - talk to a coach, join a mastermind group, get a mentor!
Read It Was Time to Do Something About It
25. Be kind and helpful to others - they will likely return the favor.
Read Why Can't Things Be Easier?
26. Make a list of your most important tasks the night before so you can sleep better and hit the ground running the next morning.
Read Confessions of a List Maker
27. Make a list of what you want to be known for and use it to guide your decisions.
Read What Do You Want to Be Known For?
28. Check in with yourself regularly. Make sure your actions are in line with your focus, moving you toward your goals, and true to what you want to be known for.
Read It's Time To Check In With Yourself
29. Create new traditions.
Read The Power of Tradition
30. Keep your computer and phone 'clean'. These are tools you use many times each day - if they are cluttered, your overall productivity will suffer.
Read 9 Tips for Digital Spring Cleaning
31. Identify tasks that drive you crazy and experiment with ways to make them work better.
Read A Laundry Experiment: Part 1
32. Be aware that words have power, use them carefully.
Read If You Can Say Something Nice, Do!
33. Store out of season clothes or clothes that don't fit somewhere other than in your closet. This forces you to go through your wardrobe periodically.
Read The Seasonal Switch
34. Acknowledge that how you look impacts how you feel. If you want to feel put together, try to look put together. This is why getting up and taking a shower and putting on "real" clothes tends to make us more productive than if we stay in our PJs all day.
Read How We Look Impacts How We Feel
35. Analyze your best day ever and do what you can to recreate it!
Read Make the Rest Like Your Best
36. Get creative about storing items - have fun making your home function FOR you!
Read Lego Storage Under the Stairs
37. Expect the best until proven wrong.
Read Changing My Pet Peeve
38. It's ok to play catch up.
Read 6 Steps to Get Caught up With Paperwork
39. Learn from those around you - everyone has at least one idea you can borrow.
Read Top 10 Organizing Tips from My Dad
40. Make a list of travel dos and don'ts and add to it after each trip no matter how big or small. Review the list before you travel.
Read Organized Travel Made Fun
41. Don't try to do it all - find the right person for the job.
Read Find The Right Person for the Job
42. Plan for solitude.
Read 8 Ways to Stay Focused at Work
43. Brand new experiences make great memories.
Read Making Time Matter
44. Cultivate good habits.
Read Don't Let the Weeds Take Over
45. Color code! Assign each member of your family a color, or create a color system for various areas of your life and use with a folder or binder system.
Read The First Big Win: Wrangling the Paper
46. Use a physical journal to jot down ideas, make lists, doodle, etc. Writing helps us process our thoughts and ideas.
Read Confessions of a List Maker
47. Put down your phone and be present.
Read Can Creativity Be Orderly?
48. Take the time - if you can do something now, do it now. It's so much easier to do the little things as we go rather than let them build up and require a large block of time to accomplish all of the "undone" things in our lives.
Read Getting Better at Time
49. Spend time on what you love and with who you love - somehow things we are passionate about seem to stretch time and make it richer.
Read Making Time Matter
50. Be consistent in something, you'll likely become consistent in other things, too!
I'm proud that this is my 50th blog post, and I haven't missed a week since I started. This shows me that I have it in me to be consistent and helps me have confidence that there's much more that I can accomplish!
Thanks for reading and for your support in my journey to get (and keep) My Life In Order.
A couple years ago when I had more of a weed garden than a vegetable garden, I gave up and started just buying my zucchini and green beans. I still plant flowers in several areas around my house, but this year, the weeds are winning there, too! It's so frustrating to have the beauty of the flowers overshadowed by the weeds. A few days ago, as I was inspecting my flower beds and audibly complaining to myself about all the weeds, I realized something - weeds are a perfect metaphor for all the bad habits in my life.
Weeds and bad habits take over quickly and often surprise us when they do.
How many times have you pulled all the weeds in your flower bed and then the next time you look, the weeds have popped back up? Bad habits can do the same. You make a commitment not to look at a screen an hour before bed and hit the sack by 11 p.m. every night. This goes well, for about a week, and you feel marvelous. Soon you hear yourself complaining about feeling so tired all of the time, and you realize that you've been watching Netflix til past midnight every night this week - when did that start back up again?
Weeds and bad habits don't require fertilizer to thrive.
Weeds seem to most prefer poor conditions like no water and high temperatures. It always amazes me how weeds can survive when everything we actually want to live just shrivels up. Bad habits also seem to pop up in the droughts of life. When conditions are the worst, our bad habits seem to thrive. Flowers or vegetables need watering and the right amount of sunlight to grow and produce a crop just like good habits require a carefully planned strategy to maintain. It's so much easier to fall back into bad habits than it is to maintain new, good habits.
Weeds and bad habits take away nourishment from the healthy things around them.
When your flowerbed has a lot of weeds, your flowers have to fight them for what they need to survive. Bad habits take away energy and focus that we need to be productive and healthy. We can keep up a facade of good habits while we maintain our bad habits in secret, but eventually we will become exhausted and the bad habits will win unless we completely prune them.
Weeds and bad habits make the pretty things around them almost unnoticeable.
You can have the most beautiful flowers, but if they are surrounded by weeds, you know what everyone will see? The weeds! If I never miss a bedtime song and prayer with my kids, but have a bad habit of yelling- what is the most noticeable?
"It's so much easier to fall back into bad habits than it is to maintain new, good habits."
Weeds and bad habits require regular attention to keep them at bay.
The longer you let the weeds grow, the harder it is to pull them and make your garden healthy again. Instead, if you pull them as they pop up, you can maintain a healthy crop. In much the same way, we can monitor our habits regularly to stay aware of when the bad ones are cropping up again.
There is one good thing about weeds, though - no matter how long you let them go, with some time and concentrated effort, you can pull them and regain control of your garden. If you decide that you're done with your bad habits, you can "weed your garden." Each day you have the ability to make choices about your own life. That doesn't mean it's easy to kick bad habits, but by regularly scanning for and pulling small weeds while watering and fertilizing the plants you actually want to grow, you can soon have a flourishing garden again!
Last week, I saw a picture on social media of a friend's son proudly holding a fish he caught on his kid-sized fishing pole. I was immediately sad and guilty. Strange reaction to an adorable picture, right? I felt that way because back in May, when I asked my youngest son what he wanted to do this summer, "going fishing" was on the top of his list, and he reminded me that it was also on the top of his summer list last year - and we still hadn't gone. I realized that summer was going so fast! I wanted to provide my kids the kind of summer memories I had as a child, and I was not measuring up to my own expectations. Then I started thinking about how quickly my kids' childhoods were flying by and then made the mistake of counting how many more summers both of my kids would be at home and estimating how many of those that they'd want to spend the majority of their time with their parents. I was literally welling up with tears at these thoughts!
"I wanted to provide my kids the kind of summer memories I had as a child, and I was not measuring up to my own expectations."
I gave myself a few hours to feel upset and sad, but then I decided this was something I could easily change! I decided we were going fishing this week, and I was going to plan some fun and engaging activities together. I have my kids make a "what I want to do this summer" list every year, and this year I'd been doing so much, I was tired every evening and was content to just watch TV together. Yes, we were together, but I was often working on something else at the same time, and we certainly weren't checking things off that list! I'd probably be less tired if I were more active, and I had no doubt that I'd be happier while making memories with my kids. This week was dramatically different!
Here was a snapshot of our evenings this week. It was a blast!
Scouts for oldest and Dad, 1.5 mile nature scavenger hunt for youngest and Mom. My son has been talking about the hawk we saw up close all week! I loved seeing him get excited about finding things on our list and especially enjoyed watching him chase a butterfly.
Video shoot of both boys making trick shots into a hamper (appropriately called the Slam Dunk Hamper,) This was a fun way to involve the kids in my Clever Container Organizing Products business,
The entire family walked/rode scooters to the park and played HORSE and played a game of 2 on 2. I'm just about as good as I was when I played eighth grade basketball - I'll leave it at that!
Dad had to work late, so Mom took both boys to the State Park for a picnic, a hike, and FISHING! Even though we didn't catch anything, both boys loved it, and I felt like Super Mom while baiting their hooks.
Mom and kids went to a concert (Toby Mac - it was awesome!)
Dad took kids to a movie during the afternoon, and then the whole family went back to the State Park for a picnic and more fishing in the evening. Still no fish for the kids, but they want to try again soon.
After church, Mom and youngest went to the beach while Dad and oldest got groceries (thank goodness - our cupboards were BARE!) and then we all watched TV in the evening. The beach makes me TIRED!
This week was so much fun, but a little tiring and the housework definitely got pushed to the back burner! I learned a few things:
If you work in an office, you know how difficult it is to avoid distraction! There are the conversations with co-workers that you want to be part of and then there are conversations that you have no choice but to overhear. "Drive-by" meetings (when someone drops by and says, "do you have a minute" and to avoid being rude, you say, "sure") eat into well laid plans for our day. Urgent issues inevitably come up on your busiest day, and you may get invited to yet another meeting that doesn't really pertain to you. Sometimes distractions can be something as slight as someone's idea of a soothing playlist, a squeaky noise coming from the vent, or the temperature being too hot or too cold. If you work at home, distractions, though different, are still there. The cat, the laundry, the repairman - the list goes on and on. It's amazing that we accomplish anything, right?!
The fact is, there are always going to be distractions. We can have a plan for an ideal day, but unless we build in some flexibility and learn to go with the flow, we will end up frustrated and unproductive. I've worked in many different environments over the years - in a cubicle in an open office, in several offices with doors with varying amounts of people nearby, at a desk in a wide open area, and even at home. Each present their own challenges, but there are a few universal tips that help to keep me focused.
1. Set low expectations
This may sounds strange, but don't make a huge list of all the things you want to accomplish in a day only to be disappointed in yourself when you can't complete them all. Instead, identify your Must Do's - usually this will be 2-3 things that HAVE to get done during the day. The time these take will vary, so if your Must Do's for the day are very short tasks, you can have more or if they are labor intensive, maybe just pick one. If you get through all of these, then you'll feel like a rock star and everything else you accomplish will be gravy!
2. Meet with yourself
Create a MEeting (a meeting with yourself) to do your most important work. Go so far as to schedule this on your calendar so that others don't think you're free all day when in fact you need several hours to complete your critical tasks. Use some of this time to plan and identify your must do's for the following day.
3. Say no (or at least not now)
Learn to decline meetings that don't pertain to you or ask for someone who is already attending to fill you in. Be bold when that "drive-by" meeting request comes to you. I know you feel like a big meany, but saying, "I don't have time right now, but how about 2:30 p.m.?" won't make anyone hate you!
4. Plan for solitude
If you really don't want to be bothered, let others know the time frame where you'll have your nose to the grindstone. Send an email to your colleagues who are prone to stopping by to let them know you will be working on a project from this time to that time and will only be available for urgent matters. Consider setting your out of office assistant on your email with a similar message and setting your instant message status to unavailable. Configure your phone to go straight to voicemail and even customize the outgoing message. Hang a sign on your closed door (if you have one) or on your cubicle wall that says, "Working hard, please knock if it's urgent." Very few people will knock!
"...you're not being a meany, you're protecting your own productivity."
5. Plug your ears
Don't actually stick your fingers in your ears, but use ear buds or headphones! You don't even have to listen to music, just put those earbuds in to instantly block out noise and trick people into not bothering you. Most people will think twice about tapping you on the shoulder if you have ear buds in. Again, you're not being a meany, you're protecting your own productivity. If you can work with music in the background, find a playlist designed for focus and jam out!
6. Plan to waste time
We all need a break and some socialization. Plan for small periods of time to do this throughout the day. Get to work a few minutes early on Monday to chat about the weekend with your coworkers, or plan a lunch date or a break at the same time as the people you most want to talk to. Get up and move every hour - even a bathroom break counts. Drink lots of water and the bathroom breaks will take care of themselves! A quick walk outside does wonders for your concentration when you get back to your desk.
7. Keep track of your time
Write down the time you start and stop each task. For me, when I'm being timed, I'm more efficient. I also learn how long it really takes me to do things so that I can be more realistic with myself. I'm not going to get through my email inbox in 5 minutes, but there are other tasks that will fit into that short of a time frame. I'm also less likely to waste time when it is written down on a piece of paper. It also helps me look back and give myself grace when I don't get my Must Do's complete because I can see that I spent 5 hours in meetings, 2 hours dealing with urgent and unplanned tasks, leaving not a lot of time to get those things I wanted to do complete. Consider using the Pomodoro technique (25 minutes of deep work, a 5 minute break, repeat) I wrote in depth about this in a previous post.
If time is really dragging for you, write down the time you'll be at work down in 30 minute increments (ex. 8:30 a.m. - 9:00 a.m.; 9:00 a.m. - 9:30 a.m.; 9:30 a.m. - 10:00 a.m., etc.) and mark them off as the time passes. You know that little high you get when you check an item off of a to-do list? You get that same feeling for marking the time off, but you also get the feeling that you better kick it into high gear because your available time is waning.
8. Get creative with your schedule and workspace
If you work in an environment where you can control your schedule in any way, use this to your benefit! Sometimes coming in 30 minutes before everyone else (or just that one person who talks so much) can allow you to get as much done as you would have in three times that long during your regularly scheduled time. Take your lunch opposite of those in your vicinity to allow for some quiet time while the others take their lunch. Try working in an alternate space, like a conference room or vacant office, if you have something to complete that takes high focus. Consider a working lunch away from the office. If you have the option to work from home, give it a try. Many people find it much less distracting at home, while others need the structure of an office to keep them on task.
Give these 8 tips a try and let me know if they help you. I'm not going to lie and say that I can always stay distraction-free or perfectly productive, but I have learned that these tricks do help! Do you have other tips to share? Please post in the comments.
I like to be self-sufficient, and I enjoy learning new things or figuring out how to accomplish a new task. There are some types of tasks that I won't even attempt, but for most things, I'll at least do a little Googling or YouTube video watching and give it a go. Though this "I can do it" attitude may help me become more well-rounded, save a little money, and keep things interesting, it can also severely impact my productivity and can create frustration both for me and my family! Over time, I've learned that there is real value in finding the right person for the job!
At work and at home, it's impossible for us to do it all, though I'm guilty of trying to do it anyway. I used have a hard time with the group project concept. I felt like it would just be easier to do it all myself. At least that way, I knew it would get done. Doing it myself meant that I knew the progress of the project and the barriers to getting it completed so I could figure out ways to overcome the barriers and meet the deadline. This mentality causes stress, burnout, and ultimately leads to lower quality work and delayed results. Why is it then, that it's so hard to relinquish a little control and trust others to help me?
"Though this 'I can do it' attitude may help me become more well-rounded, save a little money, and keep things interesting, it can also severely impact my productivity and can create frustration both for me and my family!"
A great example of how finding the right person to do the job produced fantastic and quick results was when I wanted to create a logo for my blog. I had an idea in my head, but I thought it would be too difficult for me to articulate that to someone else, so I tried to do it myself. I tried and tried to bring my vision to life, but without the proper tools or expertise in graphic design, I just couldn't produce something I was happy with. I considered hiring someone, but I talked myself out of that by rationalizing that I was saving money by doing it myself and I could remain authentic to my own creative plans for my logo. Well, what happened is that I didn't launch my blog because I didn't have what I felt was the perfect logo, and I became more and more frustrated and wasted a LOT of time.
I finally got over myself and hired someone to design my logo. But, even then, I tried to maintain control over the process giving her very specific instructions about what I wanted, what colors I liked, etc. It wasn't until I gave the designer greater creative space that I got exactly what I had been dreaming of! I finally got down to the core of what I wanted to accomplish - a clean logo in soothing colors that showed you could be creative and have beauty while still being orderly. The graphic designer quickly created several mock ups for me. I chose the one I liked best, asked for a couple of tweaks, and tada -I had a beautiful logo that I love as if I created it myself. I think that I actually love it even more because I didn't create it!
I now am much more inclined to hire work done or ask for help and suggestions. The old saying, "time is money" is so true. I could spend ten times as long doing something that would be a lower quality than if I hired the right person for the job. I could use that time in a different way to produce real results. I'm a big believer in frugality, so of course I don't hire someone to do everything for me! I pick and choose what I can afford, what meets the biggest and most urgent need, and what I don't want to or don't have the capacity to learn how to do myself. There are some things that are just fun to dabble in and the difference in the end result of me doing it versus a professional wouldn't be that noticeable, but then there are all the other things where an expert is definitely the right choice.
This concept also applies to situations at home or work where we would should delegate a task to someone who is best equipped to do it. Best equipped can mean they are an expert or they have the capacity to become an expert or simply that they have time to do the task. When we delegate, though, we have to learn to accept the results may not be exactly as if we had done the task ourselves. I have my kids do certain chores at home, and maybe the cleaning isn't quite as thorough as I would have done it, but it's done and I was able to complete other tasks instead.
I also try to remember that it's all about choice. By choosing to do something myself (or learn how to do something on my own), I am also choosing not to spend that time on something else. To get and keep my life in order, I have to learn to choose to spend my time wisely so that there is time for the things I'm good at, time for the things I enjoy doing, time for the things I am required to do, and most importantly, time for the people I love.
Vacations are supposed to be fun...right? As a bit of perfectionist, I used to find it hard to relax and enjoy time with my family on vacation because I was so focused on everything being just right. I'd plan a jam-packed schedule, stage the perfect pictures, and get mad if everyone wasn't having a good time. In the summer of 2016, we took a vacation to Atlanta, Georgia and had a fantastic time! When I got home, I made a list of dos and don'ts from our trip, so the next vacation could be just as fun. The next time I got ready to plan a vacation, I re-read that list to help make that trip just as good as the last. Now every time we get home from vacation, I add to the list. I now have two years of tips from big and little trips. Not only is it helpful to plan future low-stress trips, it's also a lot of fun to reread the list and reminisce about past vacations.
Getting there and back
If you're flying:
If you're driving
Once you've arrived
I hope some of these tips will help your next family vacation be a little more organized! Consider making your own list of travel dos and don'ts. My list has helped me not to forget things, plan for the unexpected, and have a better plan so I can relax and have fun! If you have more tips, please share in the comments.
In honor of Father's Day, I wanted to share some tips I've learned from my dad over the years. He's the guy who passed on a love of labeling things to me, and he has so many great ideas for keeping things organized!
On a serious note, I'm so blessed to be my father's daughter. He and my mom have been married for 42 years and my dad has been the best example of hard work, good morals, and generosity that I could have asked for. He was an involved parent attending countless piano recitals and school activities, driving our family on summer road trips, moving me in and out of my college dorm room, walking me down the aisle at my wedding, providing advice on car purchases, and helping with lots of repair projects! He's now a devoted Grandpa and setting the same examples for his grandchildren.
Top 10 organizing tips from my dad:
1. Label your board games
You know when you're playing a game that has questions on cards and someone starts suddenly knowing all of the answers and you realize someone put the cards back on the wrong end of the box last time you played. Well, my dad has a simple fix for that! Simply put a piece of masking tape on whichever end you designate the front. To make it even clearer, write "FRONT" on it.
2. Keep track of dates of purchase and maintenance on your owner's manuals
For large purchases, most of us keep the owner's manuals. My dad has always written the date of purchase and noted and maintenance and the date on the cover. You could also staple the receipt to the manual. Not only is it interesting to see how long things last (he had the manual from his record player from the 1970-something), but it's helpful when dealing with warranties, or knowing the timing of preventative maintenance.
3. Hang a tennis ball on a rope from your garage ceiling
My dad has a nice garage and he maximizes the space in front of where the cars park with built in cabinets and hooks on the walls. To keep my mom from pulling the vehicles in too far (and likely also to make sure the vehicles were in far enough not to get caught in the closing garage door), he long ago installed a hanging tennis ball. You pull the car up until the tennis ball just taps your windshield, so you know you are parked in the perfect spot.
4. Customize your belongings to fit your space
The bathroom I used growing up has an area that juts out just past the tub (which my dad did on purpose when he built the house, of course, for plumbing access.) The problem is the only rugs that would fit in the space were too small to really do any good. No problem, Dad to the rescue! He cut a notch in the rug so it fits perfectly against the wall and a side benefit is that it can't slip around either. This applies to so many things in my parents' house beside rugs. My dad coined the phase that my brother and I still jokingly use, "You know what a guy could do..." Whenever he said this, you knew he had a great idea!
"You know what a guy could do..."
5. Don't let sentiment cause clutter
My dad is somewhat of a minimalist. He doesn't care for a coffee table in the middle of the room or many knick knacks sitting around. My dad had a decent sized record collection, some of which he'd had since he was a teenager. They were stored in a wooden cabinet with sliding doors. Several years ago, he wanted to use the record cabinet for another storage purpose (in the garage on that wall in front of the vehicles - thank you hanging tennis ball for keeping it safe!) In order to use it for garage storage, he got rid of the records. I remember feeling sentimental about him getting rid of them and they weren't even mine. He didn't let sentiment cause any unnecessary clutter. I'm grateful that my husband and brother got several of the records for their own collections!
6. Research and analyze which is cheaper and better - fixing/refurbishing or buying new
This one may only apply if you have the ability to fix things yourself. If you know my dad, you know he can fix just about anything! There are times that most people would have just gotten a new (insert whatever is broken in your house) but my dad did the research to fix it. For instance, he put a brand new bottom in the bathtubs instead of replacing them. It was cheaper and less work in the long run than tearing out the old one and installing a new one. There are times though, were you've fixed as much as you can fix, and it's just time to buy new.
7. Label generously
My dad has been making labels as long as I can remember! His go to is masking tape and a sharpie. Putting labels on things helps to identify them (the reason spices of similar colors are labelled in my mom's spice cabinet) and helps us remember where things go (this is why I label my clear bins in my refrigerator - I certainly don't want my raw meat to ever go in the bin where my yogurt is supposed to go!) I have to admit, I did think my dad took it a little far when I saw that he had labelled the tape dispenser, "TAPE."
8. Take notes and keep things you want to reference later in a central location
My dad takes notes and records things he wants to remember later. Even if you have a good memory, you can't remember everything! Dad has his own system for reference in an Excel spreadsheet with many, many tabs, where I use Evernote to keep track of things I want to refer to later. Your system doesn't have to work for everyone - just for yourself!
9. Do things the right way the first time.
I say this to my kids often, "Do it right the first time." Often there's a shortcut or an easy way out, and if that can qualify as "the right way," by all means, take that path of least resistance. But too often, the easy way is not the right way, and then you end up having to redo the task or fix a mistake later on. Sometimes tasks take my dad longer than I would expect, but it's done right and it lasts! Several years ago, I had some issues with the caulk around my bathroom tub and my dad fixed it for us (yep, I'm lucky, I know!) It took a lot longer than I anticipated, but because he used the right materials, fixed his mistakes while the caulk was still wet, smoothed it with the correct tool, and waited the appropriate amount of time for it to dry - it looked great, served its correct purpose, and has lasted a long time.
10. Use your talents to help others
As I said earlier, my dad can fix just about anything and everybody knows it! This was demonstrated yesterday when my almost-4-year-old nephew picked up a toy that wouldn't work and bypassed everyone to go straight to my dad and say, "Grandpa this is broken, will you fix it?" Being good at something does usually mean you get asked to help people do that thing, and sometimes that can feel like a burden. Though I can't read his mind, it doesn't seem like he minds when he's asked to help with someone else's project. I think he looks at it as an opportunity to solve a puzzle while helping someone out. He's certainly helped me out more than I could ever thank or repay him for. I think because I saw my dad using what he was good at to help his family and others since I was a little girl, it seems natural to me to share my talents, too. I also think that we improve our skills, become faster and more productive at things when we do them more often - practice makes perfect, right? If we can improve our skills and become more efficient at them while helping someone out, it's a win-win!
My dad has taught me much more than these 10 things (some of them I've written about before) but these are some that I thought you might like to try out. I'm so fortunate to have a dad who has been present my entire life, and it was really fun to think of some of the things he's taught me. I challenge you to make a list of some specific things someone important in your life has taught you - and share it with them! Happy Father's Day, Dad - I love you!
When life gets busy, paperwork is one of the last things I worry about! As a working mom with active kids and couple of side hustles, I have systems to help keep me on track, but when Spring arrives and my weekends fill up, it’s easy to get a little behind. I’ve written before about how to get started with wrangling your paper, purging old paperwork, and even creating a binder system to file it all. The key, though, is regular processing of your paper! I like Sunday evenings because I’m usually home, and it’s a good way to get the week off to a smooth start.
Back in mid-May, I gave myself the day off for Mother’s Day, and I liked that so much that I just kept putting all my papers in the file box and not actually processing them. They were tucked neatly away, but because I didn’t do my weekly review, I started missing things - there was a panicky trip to the bill drop instead of my normal online payment weeks in advance, my kids missed dress up days at school because I hadn’t reviewed the paper that was in my file box, and CVS Extra Care bucks expired before I remembered to use them! I began digging through my file box when I knew a bill needed paid or a form was due rather than processing the whole stack weekly. As time went on, I became overwhelmed by the volume of things I needed to review and file, so I just kept putting it off.
I had a great excuse - I was busy, very busy. But as I heard myself telling my kids just yesterday morning, "if you pick up your room every day, it will never get really dirty and it won’t take very long to clean,” I knew that principle applies to me as well! I need to make getting through the paperwork of life on a weekly basis a priority. If I do it regularly, it won't take that long - probably not as long as the amount of time I waste scrolling through social media on a Sunday evening...It's ok to give myself a day off once in a while, but I have to remember that it's easier on myself in the long run to keep up with my family's paperwork. If I literally don't have enough time to pay bills, fill out a few forms, and file my records, I might need to consider paring down my commitments.
If you have a mound of paper that's been piling up over the course of several weeks and don't know where to start, use these 6 steps to “catch up” so you can STAY caught up!
Empty all your file boxes and baskets, and move your piles to a clear area (floor is the best!)
Separate into piles
Put the relocate items and mementos in their proper places.
Separate the "do" pile into categories to make it more digestible. Examples could be:
Then DO them! As you do each item, the associated paperwork should be put into one of the remaining piles: file, shred, or recycle.
Take the file pile, and get to it! In a previous post, I explained my binder system that may help you. Regardless of your filing system, be certain that each paper that you put in your files is necessary to keep. If it's available electronically or can be scanned, consider shredding it instead of filing. You may not need to clog up your files with every bill, receipt, or statement you receive, but instead you may be able to simply log the information. For example, you could keep a log of your vehicle maintenance instead of keeping every oil change invoice. Read the post about the paper purge for more ideas and some free printables. Sometimes you may keep only the most recent version of a document, so as you file the current one, be sure to add outdated items to either the recycle or shred pile.
Recycle and shred. This should always be your last step. It's easy to want to do this first because it gets rid of two piles at once, but since you add to these piles through the process, it's best to do this last so you don't have to do this job twice. Shredding is a great job for kids - at least in my house, using the shredder is a real treat!
You're going to feel SO great, when you get through all your paperwork. Just do yourself a favor and don't get in this situation again (but if you do, just re-read this post!)
I began to wonder, had society simply lowered its expectations of service and knowledge (read the post, Why Can’t Things Be Easier?) Or was it because people were so distracted by all the inputs in life that they couldn’t focus on any one task long enough to master it? Or was it because helicopter parenting and the everyone-gets-a-trophy mentality had stopped us from being challenged or encouraged to do our best work? Wow, I was getting cynical, and it bothered me. How could I change my attitude and my pet peeve?
"How could I change my attitude and my pet peeve?"
I began to realize that being annoyed all the time and maintaining a disdain for perceived incompetence was taking a lot of my energy - energy I needed to be competent in my own life. My eyes were opened to my own feelings of incompetence - at work, as a parent, and simply as a 30-something woman. It's bad enough to have that feeling about myself, but to think of the rest of the world not cutting me any slack (because I surely wasn't giving anyone else the benefit of the doubt), well that was just depressing!
A few months ago, I had what many would describe as a very frustrating experience at a doctor's office, but instead of being angry and spewing the story of incompetence to anyone who would listen, I felt calm and had no negative feelings toward the person who made the mistake. I looked back and wondered, had I really grown that much as a person that I could overlook the issue, or was there some other reason? I rehashed the events in my mind....
My baby (6 years old at the time) had his tonsils out, and recovery was going well - until the pain medication prescription ran out. We went to the ENT's office to see what could be done. The kind and gentle nurse practitioner took her time examining my little whimpering puddle of pain and explaining the options to me, his mommy whose heart was breaking a little more with each crocodile tear. She ended with prescribing more Tylenol with codeine for the pain and had to write a physical prescription because the pharmacies wouldn't accept an electronic script for that type of medication (which still perplexes me...)
I had the forethought to call our regular pharmacy (which was near our home, a 30 minute drive from the doctor's office) from the clinic's parking lot to make sure they had the medicine in stock. It's a good thing I called, because they did not have it, and they referred us to another pharmacy in their chain near our doctor's office. We drove there and traipsed through the store to the back where the pharmacy counter was and stood in line only to be told that they didn't have the medication either. They referred us to yet another pharmacy where we repeated the process and heard from that pharmacist, "Sorry, none here." By this time I was beginning to wonder what was going on that no pharmacy in town had this not-very-exotic medication.
I called the pharmacy at the clinic where our doctor's office was located (why didn't I just go there in the first place, you ask? Well, I was certainly asking myself the same question at this point!) They said they had it! My son was still in a lot of pain as we retraced our steps back to where we started from. As soon as I showed the pharmacist that piece of paper, she immediately knew what the issue was. The nurse practitioner had checked the box on the prescription pad that said NO substitutions allowed, so since all of pharmacies stocked only the generic, they couldn't fill the prescription as it was written.
We went upstairs to the doctor's office, and I asked to see the nurse practitioner to get a new prescription. After just a few minutes she raced out from the back waving the new prescription. She immediately said she was so sorry that she'd made the mistake and admitted that she didn't often write physical prescriptions any more and had simply checked the wrong box. She empathized with me and my son saying she could only imagine what we'd gone through trying to get the medicine to make him feel better and she was so sorry she'd caused him extra time in pain. I found myself assuring HER that it was OK and telling HER not to worry.
We quickly got the prescription filled and immediately gave him a dose. As we drove home and he finally fell asleep after getting some relief, I realized that I didn't get angry or label the nurse practitioner as incompetent because she had taken her time and treated us with kindness during our appointment, then when presented with her mistake, she quickly apologized, took responsibility, empathized, did what was necessary to correct the situation, and apologized again. I would recommend this nurse practitioner in a heartbeat because of how she handled the situation.
"Expect the best until proven wrong."
I'm now trying hard not to quickly label others as incompetent, but to rather give them them benefit of the doubt. I want to try to look at situations - and the people in them - differently. I want to try to encourage those who I would typically consider inept to learn more, try harder, and become experts. I want to build up those around me who are feeling insecure about their abilities. What if instead of fueling insecurity by complaining or berating people for not knowing it all, producing enough, or doing it fast enough, I focused on fostering understanding and mutual respect and educating about why things matter to me and to others?
I’m choosing to change my pet peeve, so you’re going to have to REALLY mess up before I label you incompetent from now on! You may wonder what re-framing how I look at incompetence has to do with a life in order - to me it has everything to do with it! Before I can improve myself, become more efficient and focused on my priorities, I have to quit wasting my energy fretting about or ruminating on things I can't control, and I must change my mindset to focus less on the negative. I now try to live by the motto, “expect the best until proven wrong.”
Let me set the scene...half-built Lego creations on the basement floor with all of the remaining pieces strewn about. The remnants of well-intended organization cluttering the dedicated Lego space, while rogue pieces invade nearly every square inch of the thoroughfare of the basement. Unopened Lego sets stacked in the corner, never getting played with because the unfinished basement is such an undesirable destination.
It was time - it was time to create a Lego storage system in an area of the house that the kids actually wanted to use! But how? and where? Here is the process I used to get creative about how to use a small space to meet a storage and organization need.
1. Determine the location
I surveyed the options for Lego storage in my house - they were limited! Since both of my kids like Legos and often share pieces, it made sense to store them in a shared location rather than in one of kids' bedrooms. We don't have a spare bedroom or a rec room, so I was having trouble wrapping my mind around where I could possibly store these Legos! I had to stop looking at my house as it was and start thinking what it could be. I landed on two possibilities: the breezeway between our garage and kitchen (which was used as a mud room and craft room) and the nook under the stairs (which was used for toy storage.) After considering the size and shape of each spot as well as how I wanted to have the mess contained and hidden, I settled on the space under the stairway.
2. Clear the new space of old stuff
We first had to empty the area of what was currently stored there. In this case, we had a toy shelf with bins, a small table with multiple containers of toys and games on and under it, and a bin of puzzles (and maybe a few dust bunnies!) Because my kids understood the end goal was to make a cool place for them to play with and store their Legos, they were on board with doing some purging and relocating. We went through every bin and separated into keep, trash, and donate piles. We also had to repeat this process in each kids' bedroom to make room for the items we kept from the nook under the stairs. We were able to get rid of enough that we could rearrange one bedroom to reuse the toy shelf. We also used this as an opportunity to purge some Lego accessories - mainly instructional booklets that were no longer needed. We recycled a huge pile, and the remainder fit nicely into a hanging file organizer that I mounted to the wall underneath the table allowing to use some otherwise wasted space!
3. Plan to maximize the space
It was fun to plan out how this very small space could be filled with functional solutions. Drawing pictures is the most helpful way to map out your plan, and using grid paper makes it easier to draw to scale. Sometimes things you visualize in your head just won't work when you get out the measuring tape! Use resources like Pinterest to get inspiration and ideas. I created a whole board for Lego storage! Browse online for product ideas, but also go to a physical store so you can see and touch the materials you are considering. And don't forget to check your own house for items you can reuse or repurpose. If you are creating a space for someone else, be sure to include them in this process. They are the ones that will use it, so they may have ideas that may never have occurred to you. Don't forget to make use of vertical space and the space under tables and counters. The final product in our Lego cupboard under the stairs (a little Harry Potter humor!) was very close to my original sketches, but I had to be flexible in a few things like getting a smaller pegboard than planned because the large one wouldn’t fit in our vehicle!
3. Buy, build and reuse
Shop around for the best deals, and don't shy away from building custom pieces. When you are at a physical store, don't get caught up in wanting to take home the supplies right then. Make sure to comparison shop online, and purchase what is both best for your space and is the best value. I took my kids to the hardware store to actually see and touch pegboard bins, and then we ordered cheaper ones online in the size and colors the kids preferred. Make sure to measure, measure, measure! Don’t assume your space is square or level (especially if you live in an old house like mine!) Our project included a fairly simple table and shelf that my husband built and a pegboard we painted and cut to size (materials list at the end of the post.) We got creative with covering up our imperfections with some adhesive Lego tape. In addition to those supplies, the kids helped me pick out folding stools that fit nicely and could easily be stored under the table. We also purchased some new rolling drawers, a hanging file holder for instructions, a floor mat for easy Lego clean up, adhesive battery operated LED lights. Everything else was reused or repurposed! Because the space was awkwardly shaped, there weren't studs in all the right places, so for some things, I used anchors and for others I used industrial strength velcro with an adhesive back.
4. Relocate, decorate, and enjoy!
This is the fun part - moving into the new space! We slowly brought up Legos from the basement giving the kids time to sort and choose the best location in their new Lego room. I overheard them talking about how they were going to sort their Lego swords into some of the pegboard bins separating them into gold, silver, and other colored swords. This MAY be an indication we have too many Legos, but what had taken up a huge area before now fit nicely in the little nook! We have space for displaying finished masterpieces on the shelves, a spot for unopened sets, lots of storage for the Legos themselves, an area for instruction books, and even have a plan for when the Lego playing gets so serious it needs to move to the floor! The mat I purchased cinches up into a bag so the mess can quickly and easily be picked up! We added some finishing touches that we reused from it previous Lego space - some wooden letters I painted in Lego blue, red, yellow and green that I adhered to the side of the shelf with Command strips and a poster frame filled with Lego wrapping paper. We also mounted a Lego mini figure display box that had been a Christmas gift on the wall above the pegboard. Now the kids are enjoying their new Lego retreat. It looks great, but yet it's hidden from view!
If you want to use any of our ideas, here's a supply list and some instructions:
I'm so happy with how this area turned out! I love Legos and even wrote about how the process relates to getting your life in order in one of my first blog posts. After this project, I am inspired to plan out more functional areas in other small spaces in my home and garage. Next on the list - a sports equipment storage area in the garage!
"I feel good today - ordered, calm, focused, pretty, competent. Ah, so rare, but so nice! Why today?" This is what I wrote in my journal one day several months ago. After that, it was my quest to figure out what I'd done differently that day which caused me to be in such a good mood. I made a list of what had happened that day, and then made a plan on how to recreate it. I wanted to make the rest like my best!
Here's my list and what it taught me:
I slept til 8 a.m.
I realized that I needed more sleep. I sometimes have trouble sleeping, so I needed to make it a priority. I decided to set a bedtime, get a new memory foam pillow, and change my bedtime routine so I wasn't working or on a screen right before bed. Since then, my sleep has definitely improved! I love my memory foam pillow, and I’ve also started using a meditation app, some essential oils at bedtime, and I even gave a sleep mask a try!
The downstairs of my house was clutter free and laundry was caught up.
Visible clutter makes me anxious, so I needed to look at clutter clearing as self-care. I committed to keep my kitchen clean for the whole upcoming week and make note of how I felt as a result. Laundry has always been my nemesis, so just keeping it out of sight was what I promised myself for the following week. I've since started a laundry experiment which I wrote about a few weeks ago - it's working! Clutter is a constant battle, but one thing that always helps is having less stuff! For the past few months, I've been slowly and steadily purging my house, room by room,
My new curtains were up and I loved how they looked.
I'd invested a lot of time making a decision about new curtains, and I was relieved that I liked them. (I'd had the previous ones for about 14 years, so I knew it was a big commitment!) I usually beat myself up about how long it took me to make a decision and how much effort I put into analyzing my options. This time, I felt proud of the research and bargain shopping I had done. Since then I’ve tried to spend my analysis efforts on big and important things, but with smaller decisions, as soon as my criteria are met, I go with it!
I had some alone time.
I've always been labelled an extrovert, but with even just a little alone time that morning, I was energized. This showed me that maybe I am similar to my introvert husband -- I need to be alone on a regular basis so I don't get drained. I decided on some regular alone time the following week while the kids were at soccer practice. It was only about an hour two times that week, but just knowing it was scheduled helped. I now spend time at the library about every other Saturday and have given myself permission to miss the occasional kid’s sports practice for some time at home alone.
I was given a compliment from my husband.
After reading The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman, I had no doubt that my love language was words of affirmation. Hearing a compliment from anyone boosts my mood, but when it comes from my husband, it means so much more. I had a lasting smile on my face after hearing that compliment, but I had to figure out how to feel love in ways other than just words, so I decided to consciously look for other ways I was loved besides just in words in the upcoming week. Since then, I have noticed love and kindness being shown to me in other ways like having my back in a tense situation, doing me a favor, asking my opinion, giving me a gift, or giving me a hug. Turns out I’m pretty blessed by all the people in my life!
I did not check email or the news in the morning.
I normally checked email and news first thing in the morning, and usually there was something negative in the headlines or something stressful in my inbox. That morning, I didn't let my device control me. I realized I didn't feel as down during the morning when I wasn't consumed by negative thoughts. New plan - no news til lunch time and no email until I've at least taken a shower! The only problem is sometimes I feel that I’m not keeping up on current events as much as I should. It’s a tough balance between being informed and staying positive!
I sent a message to a friend and received a reply.
I sent a Facebook message to a friend because they were on my mind, and they messaged me right back. Having that connection made me smile. I decided that everyday, I'm going to reach out to at least one friend- it could be in person, on the phone or via a message on Facebook, Snapchat, etc. I’ve been doing this faithfully, and I love this so much! It’s fun to let my friends know they are on my mind and even better to hear back from them!
I spent time doing my hair, makeup and picked out a cute outfit.
That morning, I had the time (and took the time) to fix myself up a bit. It made me feel confident, put together, and in control. I realized that too often, I sported the "I didn't have time nor do I care" look, especially during the work week. I vowed to put on a little makeup and make an effort with my hair every morning. Time was my biggest barrier, so I tried washing my hair at night and using dry shampoo every other day. I also planned to do what I knew worked for me - picking out my outfit the night before. Last week's blog post explored this phenomenon in a little more detail - how we look impacts how we feel. I still enjoy a good no makeup (or shower) day, but that’s more of the exception than the rule these days.
I encourage you to go give this a try - remember one of your best days, and really think about what you did and which of those things you can recreate or even improve upon. Don’t think you can do everything every day, but even small changes will make a difference! I'd love to hear your thoughts, please share with us in the comment section below.
It was a cold morning in January of 2003, and I'd been married a little less than 6 months. I popped out of bed early that morning and spent a little extra time curling my hair and putting on more makeup than usual. My new husband (who'd been my boyfriend for the 4 years prior to our marriage) woke up, took one look at me, and said, "Why are you getting all fancy for work - it's not like it's your birthday or something." The thing was - it WAS my birthday. I was turning 22, and I was feeling pretty that morning. I thought surely he was joking, but...he wasn't. We argued for several minutes about the date before he admitted defeat. Talk about a newlywed fail, but it's given me great material and gotten a lot of mileage over the past 15 years!
Why is it though, that I spent extra time on my appearance that day? It was a special occasion and by fixing my hair and makeup, I felt pampered. I already felt excited about my birthday (remember I was still in my early 20's when birthdays were a little more fun than they are in your late 30's!) so I had extra energy to spend on myself. I also knew that I'd likely be getting more attention than usual that day and wanted to look my best to make a good impression.
"It's unfortunate that judgments about our character can form in such a short amount of time, but because we know this is true, we can use that knowledge and create the impression about ourselves that we want to portray."
We often hear that looks don't matter and try to teach our children the same. And, though I strive not to judge a book by its cover and certainly want my children to look beyond the surface, the truth is, that looks do make an impact on how others view us and treat us. First impressions take a mere 7 seconds to form, and even if we try not to, we evaluate others before they've even opened their mouths to speak. A Business Insider article states that "within seconds of meeting you, people decide all sorts of things about you, from status to intelligence to promiscuity." It's unfortunate that judgments about our character can form in such a short amount of time, but because we know this is true, we can use that knowledge and create the impression about ourselves that we want to portray. Though we can't control many parts of our appearance, there are things we can do that show that we care about ourselves.
Spending time on our appearance isn't all about other people's impressions, it also impacts our own confidence and self-worth. There have been studies to prove what my Grandma just intuitively knew. "I can't face the day until I've put my face on," "I feel naked without my lipstick" are both statements I heard from her. A 2011 study done by Harvard and Boston University researchers reported that women felt more confident while wearing makeup. Interestingly, even the color of lipstick makes a difference. The British Heart Foundation polled women and reported that 26 percent of women felt more confident when they wore red lipstick. Even something as simple as taking a shower or putting on clean clothes can make you feel better when you've been under the weather. Taking time to focus on your appearance can take your mind off of a stressful situation. Feeling pretty helps you to get over feeling down - even if only temporarily.
We have to be careful not to cross that very faint line between caring about how we look to create the impression that communicates our authentic self to the world and focusing on appearance to our own detriment, putting others' opinions in front of our own values. If fixing up is something that boosts your mood and confidence and helps you get some respect along the way, there is NOTHING wrong with it (and it doesn't even have to be your birthday!)
I'm doing a giveaway this week to go along with this week's blog post theme. Enter for your chance to win one of two Lipsense Starter Kits (includes a lip color, gloss and remover.) A special thanks to Snazzy Beauty who is collaborating with me on this giveaway. I've added LOTS of ways to enter! Join us LIVE next Sunday, May 20 at 9 p.m. EST to find out if you won!
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*BONUS entry - new members to the Snazzy Beauty Facebook group get an entry!
Nudelman, Mike, and Drake Baer. “8 Things People Decide within Seconds of Meeting You.” Business Insider, 15 July 2015, www.businessinsider.com/8-things-people-decide-within-seconds-of-meeting-you-2015-7.
Adamns, Rebecca. “How Lipstick (Yes, Lipstick) Can Instantly Make Your Day Better.” The Huffington Post, TheHuffingtonPost.com, 14 Feb. 2014, www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/02/12/psychological-benefits-of-lipstick_n_4722612.html.
It FINALLY feels like Spring in Indiana, which means it's time for me to embark on the monumental task of the "seasonal switch." This is when I put away the wintery clothes and get out the spring/summer clothes that are stored in totes in the basement. It doesn't sound hard in that single sentence, but it is SUCH a process! This year I decided to do things a little differently to try to make it more efficient and enjoyable.
I have two boys, so I save everything that's in decent shape from the older one for the younger boy. Since they are 4 years apart, that means I have tote after tote labelled by size. Currently I have totes for size 6, size 7, and two totes for size 8 (as the clothes get bigger it takes more room to store the same amount), an 8/10, a 10/12, a 12/14, a 16/18, one for my oldest boy's out of season clothes that still fit, one for my out of season items that fit, my too small tote, and my husband's out of season - oh and then there's one for boots (or sandals depending on the season), one for hats/ gloves, one for coats/jackets, and one for kids' shoes that my youngest hasn't grown into yet! That's a lot of totes! And it never fails that the one I want is on the bottom of the stack, so I have to do an intricate redesign of the towers of totes to get to it.
Yesterday was the day I decided to tackle this season's switch, and even though I think I've come up with a pretty good new system, there's no denying, it's still a lot of work! Here's the new way I'm doing things and how I am organizing the totes of clothes so that when, in a couple weeks I find some T-shirt or pair of sweats that somehow escaped the switch , it'll be a cinch to store it because I'll be able to identify which bin it should go in AND access it easily.
Step 1 - Sort the new season's clothes
Don't start with what's currently in your closet or drawers - if you do that you may end up sleeping in a tent for two weeks. That's what happened to my then-6-year-old last year when I switched his summer clothes to fall/winter clothes. I started by sorting through the clothes in his drawers, deciding what would be too small next year and what I could save. Then I didn't have anywhere to store the clothes for the next summer because the storage bins were full of the fall/winter clothes that I hadn't gotten out yet. So, I dumped the fall/winter clothes on the bed, filled the emptied bins with the summer clothes, and took them to the basement. When it was bedtime, I was OVER clothes sorting, and since his bed was a mound of long pants, sweaters and long johns, I tried to make it fun and let him sleep in a tent on his floor that night. Well, one night turned many nights, and I actually lost track of how long he'd been sleeping in a tent until one night he said, "Mom, when can I sleep in my bed again? I've been sleeping in this tent since the night we watched the nun movie!" He was talking about Sister Act, which we'd watched a full two weeks earlier!
So to avoid tent sleeping due to a clothes infested bed, start with the new season's clothes. I store our out of season duds in the basement, so I started with one family member (my youngest because I felt bad about the tent incident.) I brought up several bins that contained sizes he may fit in this summer (if only there was truly a universal sizing system so I didn't have to have him try on sizes 6 through 8!) I pulled everything out of each bin and put aside anything that was visibly too small or out of season (if I were better at planning I would have had my kids so they'd be the same sizes during the same seasons...) and made a giant pile of what I needed for him to try on. I did this only one bin at a time because, if you have boys you know that trying on clothes is something they can only endure for a very short amount of time. We tried everything on and decided if it fit and if he liked it enough not to whine about wearing it. We made three piles: it fits, it's too small or he won't wear it, and it's too big. When we were done with each bin, we put all the items that fit into the laundry room clothes sorter, the too small items into a bag for my nephew (so my sister-in-law can store those at HER house!), and the too big pile back into the tote it came from. We repeated with all of his bins (after some breaks in between each one.)
You can repeat this process for each member of the family:
Step 2 - Sort the previous season's clothes
While the new season's clothes are in the laundry, go through the clothes that are currently in your closet and drawers. Use the same general strategy as you did with the upcoming season's clothes with a couple of tweaks.
Step 3 - Store out of season clothes
This is the biggest thing I'm excited about! I am going to bite the bullet and do something I've been thinking about for several years...I'm buying shelves for my totes! (I know big step, right?) When totes are on shelves that means you don't have to play that game like the one you played as a kid where a square was filled with tiles and there's one blank space and you have to move tiles around to get them in a certain order. I've ordered the shelves and can hardly wait til they arrive (don't worry, I'll let you know on Facebook when they do!) Mine will go in my basement for the out of season clothes, but these could easily work in a garage or pole barn for anything you store in totes.
Step 4 - Put away new season's clothes
After you've washed all the new season's clothes, put them away in your closet or drawers. Use this as an opportunity to purchase new (or re-purpose other items as) closet and drawer accessories to keep you organized. Some of my favorites for the closet are the hangers that allow you to hang multiple items and then collapse to save closet rod space, belt hangers or a purse hanger which takes advantage of vertical space, a scarf hanger which take advantage of the depth of your closet without hogging closet rod space, a cami hanger which can handle multiple sleeveless tops in the space it takes to hang one hanger, fabric totes where you can store items like t-shirts, hats, athletic clothes, stacking bins for closet shelves, hanging shoe holders, or shoes shelves. In your drawers, use clear plastic shoe boxes or wire inboxes intended for a desk to divide large drawers, or criss-cross organizers for socks and underwear.
I hope these 4 steps will help your "seasonal switch" go much smoother this year. If you are lucky enough to have huge closets, you may not even need to go through this difficult process (I'm jealous!) but for most of us, we have to store at least part of our clothing in a different location when they are out of season. If you have multiple kids and are saving their clothes for a younger sibling - kudos to you for saving all that money! Take it from a mom who's done it the hard way for way too many years and try some of these tips.
Your mom probably told you many times during your childhood, "If you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all." This is great advice, but I'd like to add another sentence. "If you can say something nice, do!" In this world where countless news sources are vying for our attention, it seems the sensationalized stories get the most traffic, and many of those contain negative, disappointing, or even scary content. It's easy to begin to believe there's very little "nice" stuff to talk about! The more we hear about the negative, the harder it is to even recognize the positive.
I recently had the opportunity to hear happiness researcher, Shawn Achor, speak, and one of the points that stuck out to me the most is that the more negative we feel, the more negative things we look for in our days, but the opposite is also true. Once you begin to recognize and appreciate positive things in your day, you actually become happier and start to notice more and more positives all around you. What if I could recognize more positives while also help others do the same? I think it's very easy to do just that by simply saying out loud the nice things we are already thinking. There are so many times that think, "her hair looks nice today," "he's really good at his job," "that guy is hilarious," "I like that girl's tattoo," "that kid is really well behaved," etc. How many times have I kept those nice thoughts in my head when I could have said them out loud and possibly made someone else's day? I know that when someone says even the smallest kind thing to me, it makes me happy. If it's that easy to spread happiness, I'm going to do it!
During a visit to the store, my kids and I received a comment card that you could complete about a specific employee who had done a good job. From all of the cards submitted, one would be drawn, and that employee would win a prize. My oldest son immediately told me who we should enter - a man who worked there who was always especially helpful and kind. Fast forward a week or so...I saw that man, and I immediately thought about my son's comment and about how neat it was that even as a kid, he recognized and appreciated kindness. I could have just walked by keeping that thought in my head, but instead, I went up to the guy (who didn't know me) and told him the story. Maybe a little weird or uncomfortable for me, but the look on his face and hearing him say, "Thank you. You made my day, and I needed that today!" made ME happy. Wait a second - me saying something nice to someone else actually made me happy - wow, why am I not doing this all the time?
Throughout the day, different people and experiences pop into my head. I usually just let it pass and do nothing about it, but occasionally, I take the time to shoot that person a text or an email letting them know I was thinking of them and why. Most of the time I get a kind response of appreciation, and very often I get the response, "I needed that today." You don't have to be physically with a person to spread some kindness!
One day while I was eating lunch out, I had a young server who had several tattoos. I commented on one that was visible just by saying I liked it and asked what made him choose it. His whole demeanor changed. I think he was surprised to be asked (maybe me being in a business suit on my lunch hour asking about his tattoo caught him off guard) but he opened up and told me why he got the tattoo, what it meant to him, and showed me another one and shared a personal story about it. After this experience I've started asking others who have visible tattoos about them. I don't have tattoos myself, but figure if someone cares enough about something to have it tattooed, it may be something they'd like to share and it may make them happy to do so. Just from saying, "I like your tattoo, what does it mean?" I've heard about the impact of parents who have passed on, faith journeys, and just some funny stories.
"Saying kind things doesn't only improve the mood of those you're complementing, it also helps your own mood."
Saying kind things doesn't only improve the mood of those you're complementing, it also helps your own mood. I remember when my Grandma was alive, sometimes when I had a bad day, I'd call her - not to complain about my day, but rather to cheer her up. In hearing her mood improve, it made me feel better - a win, win! Why does this work - is it because we shift our focus and forget about our problems or is it that by shifting our focus, our attitude about our problems actually changes?
Since hearing Achor speak, I started a new dinnertime routine with my family. Each night we go around the table taking turns saying three specific things we were grateful for that day. They can be as small as, "I'm grateful for these great hamburgers that Dad grilled" or "I'm grateful for going on a walk in the sunshine today." The research shows that after 21 days of recording specific gratitude, our brains actually start perceiving the world differently because we are looking for things to be grateful for, so those things are at the forefront and the negatives - which still exist - are in the background. I'm eager to look back after we've done this for a few weeks at what made us feel gratitude and notice our happiness increasing! Once we become happier, we improve in many ways - health, productivity and our influence on others all benefit. Achor did a popular TED talk you may want to check out called "The Happy Secret to Better Work." I've heard many productivity experts talk about gratitude journals and have had a hard time keeping one for myself, but adding my family in the mix has helped me make this a part of my day that I look forward to!
I encourage you to give some of these ideas a shot and see if they make you happier:
A woman with many roles in life who knows the necessity of keeping things in order!