Digging out of the Doldrums

By: Jeanne Reynolds

Sometimes it just all seems like too much.

Work projects I thought I had plenty of time to tackle are suddenly looming over me. I still haven’t painted the laundry room or cleaned out my closet. The pile of charity donations sits where I started it months ago. My office colleagues are quibbling and pulling me into the middle. A nagging hip injury caused me to miss a race for an important cause. My favorite football team lost. And I’m two days late turning in this blog post.

Yeah, I know, first world problems.

Still, all of us go through times when the stress of everyday life seems overwhelming. The list of things to get done grows faster than we can cross them off and molehill-size annoyances take on mountainous proportions.

As the joys – and chores, errands and demands – of the holiday season approach, this seems like a good time to remind myself of simple ways to keep perspective. Maybe some of these will work for you, too.

Take a deep breath. I recently started taking a weekly yoga class (see nagging hip injury above) and apparently, it’s all about breathing. It helps bring oxygen to your muscles and clears your mind. And it’s a concept I can use any time I feel things piling up around me. No stretchy pants required.

Get outside. I don’t know if it’s the aforementioned oxygen or just being surrounded by the beauty of God’s creation, but going for a run or walk, playing a round of golf or even picking up pine cones and sticks in the yard (talk about your never-ending task) never fails to help me change my focus.

Write it down. Maybe it’s because I’m a writer – and old-school, too – but the physical act of writing things down helps me feel better organized. I wrote back in August about how making a master list of everything you need to do creates some mental space and alleviates some of the pressure. If that doesn’t appeal to you, here’s another idea: Keep a running list of the blessings in your life. Jot one or more on your calendar each day, then go back at the end of the week, month or year and read them. This is something your whole family can do. Start now and share around the Thanksgiving dinner table.

Start anywhere. Can’t face cleaning out the whole closet? Start with one shelf, one drawer or the shoe rack. The sense of accomplishment will feel great and may inspire you to tackle another piece of the project. I often use this strategy to overcome writer’s block. I just start keying in phrases, bullets or ideas, then go back and cobble them together into a cohesive whole.

Let it be. Sometimes the best thing to do is … nothing. Taking time to think through a problem before jumping in likely will lead to a better solution. Give yourself permission to procrastinate. It may be good for you. (Note to my editor: This is my excuse, I mean reason, for being late this time. Is it working?)

Pray. This one should be at the top of the list instead of the end. I don’t know why it’s one of the last things I think of. I rarely pray for a particular solution to a problem. Instead, my prayer takes the form of thankfulness for my blessings and for knowing God is always there for me. It’s a reminder that no amount of list-making or closet-cleaning means I’m really in control. And thank goodness for that.

Making a List and Checking It Twice

By: Jeanne Reynolds

We recently had the inside of our home painted. When it came to the dining room, the project developed long tentacles: I had to move furniture away from the walls, which meant I had to empty said furniture of 20-plus years of accumulation, which then had to be sorted into keep/share/donate/discard piles and moved to other places … well, you get the idea.

When the work was finally done, the mess and stress was well worth it to have not only clean, bright walls and woodwork but also freshly organized shelves and drawers of only (well, mostly) those items we use and love. The room doesn’t just look better – it works better. And even beyond the physical benefits, the room just feels more peaceful and inviting.

The other day I read an article about applying this same decluttering power to your mental space. I find it hard to relax when my head is whirling with thoughts about what I really should be doing. At really busy times – around the holidays, or preparing for a vacation, for instance – I can become nearly paralyzed with plans and end up procrastinating, getting almost nothing done.

If you’re a list-maker like me, this simple mental decluttering concept will be almost-maybe fun. If you’re not, give it a try anyway. You might be surprised.

Just like a thorough closet cleaning, it begins with emptying out. This goes way beyond your basic daily or weekly to-do list. Make a list of everything – and I mean everything — you need to do: today, tomorrow, this week, this year or next, at home, at work, for family, for friends. Include things you want to do and things you think you should do and things you’d like to do someday. Don’t judge or edit. If it pops into your head, write it down. The idea is to get all the mental clutter out of your head and onto a list.

Next, organize your list. Create categories that make sense for you: personal or business, immediate or longer term, must-dos or bucket list. Put each item in its category. Prioritize the items if you want with numbers, stars or colors.

This list isn’t meant to be static, by the way. Add to it as you think of new things. For me, just the act of creating the list got my mind churning with even more things to put on it. For this reason – as well as the flexibility of reprioritizing – you might want to keep your list digitally.

Now, the really fun part is crossing off items as you complete them. Looking at that marked-up list visually shouting at you, “Done! Done! Done!” feels as good as looking at – gasp – extra shelf space after dropping off that donation of household items you’ve been hoarding for years.

Without the tax deduction, of course.

Letting It Go

By: Jeanne Reynolds

When your husband thinks you’re so stressed out you need to go away for the weekend instead of cooking and cleaning for him, you should probably listen.

I don’t deal well with chaos and clutter, and when you’re having the entire inside of your home repainted, you have both. There’s a point — or a couple of weeks — where it gets worse before it gets better. I was at that point late last week.

It’s not just the painter’s gear everywhere and the furniture pushed together in the center of every room, it’s the stuff that has to come out of the large furniture to make it light enough to move. And then of course you can’t just cram it back in later, because it’s the perfect opportunity to sort and reorganize and discard/donate/regift.

I found things in my dining room buffet cabinet I didn’t even know I had. I certainly hadn’t seen or used some of them in 10 years or longer. I clearly didn’t need them, and some I didn’t even like. Why, then, is it so hard to let them go?

These items fall in several categories:

  • Things people gave me that I never really liked or used much. Exhibit A: Two pairs of glass candlesticks received as wedding gifts from a group of co-workers. Lovely, but they hardly fit my lifestyle, plus I don’t even remember the names of any of the givers.
  • Things I once liked but my tastes, needs or decor have changed. Exhibit B: A peach-colored tablecloth with lace overlay. A hand-me-down from my mother that I used a few times but peach doesn’t do it for me these days.
  • Things that are perfectly good — in some cases still new — but I just don’t need them and never have. Exhibit C: Multiple sets of crystal tumblers.
  • Things I love that I might not use much, but when I need them, I need them, and just looking at them makes me smile. Exhibit D: A few silver serving pieces and a large Waterford crystal vase.
  • Things I don’t use but have strong emotional ties to. Exhibit E: My grandmother’s green glass butter dish with domed cover. It was the one thing she told me she wanted me to have as she lay dying in the hospital. I mean, c’mon.
  • Things I like and use all the time: Exhibit F: A set of woven cotton placemats and napkins. Yes, my husband and I actually have dinner once or twice a week in the dining room with cloth napkins!

The items in the last three categories were easy decisions. It was the first three that caused the most mental anguish — and there were lots more of them than the others. What if I suddenly need one of those faded green napkins? Isn’t that crystal decanter too good to give away? And shouldn’t I save that old blue tablecloth for picnics? I was riddled with doubt and indecision as I packed up each item, whether for donation to a charity thrift store or to pass along to a friend or family member who will love it anew.

I know I’m not alone in this, hence the dozens of books and magazines telling us how to simplify our lives and declutter — not to mention the proliferation of self-storage businesses on seemingly every street corner.

I think what the problem really comes down to is not discarding the items but feeling like I’m discarding the people I associate with them. That’s what’s hard to separate. But really, if a family relationship depends on whether I hang onto some old china and linen, then I have bigger problems than a crowded cabinet.

Now, can I interest you in a set of vintage Stetson china dinner plates?

Tracking With Tile

By: Mary Pat Baldauf

“Lose less of everything, including your valuable time.”

Tile To an aneurysm survivor spending way too much time looking for things lately, Tile’s promise sounded too good to resist. So I bought a four-pack.

The neuropsych testing I did at the end of my Shepherd Pathways rehabilitation didn’t indicate that I had any memory loss or issues, but as I got back to work and busy with the details of life, I started having some issues. I lost a prescription within days of picking it up. I misplaced everything from my keys to my favorite lipstick. And I lost my sunglasses right before a big outdoor concert. Because even a few extra minutes on the way out the door will knock me off schedule, I knew it was time for action. Enter the multi-pack of Tiles.

A Tile is a tiny Bluetooth tracker that helps find your lost stuff in seconds via an easy-to-use app. The tiles don’t work with everything; only those things you can attach it to or place it inside of, like keys, a wallet or gym bag. I used mine for my keys, remote control and sunglasses case. I used it to find something for the first time this evening, when I couldn’t find my remote. Beep, beep, beep: it was on the floor by my bed.

If only Tiles were really tiny and cheap, I would put them everywhere! My shoes, my prescriptions, my password book. But alas, they aren’t, so I’ll stick with them on the usual stuff like my keys and sunglasses. In the meantime, I’m working hard to become a little better organized.

What items do you often misplace? Have you learned to remember where you put them, and if so, how? What is your go-to tip for getting organized?

How Making a Bed Changed My Summer

By: Leah Prescott 

Do you make your bed every day? It’s a habit I never really picked up. It just never seemed important to me. Anyway, I would always pull the covers down again, so what was the point? In my quest for household peace and simplicity, I have added some new habits to my daily routine, and making my bed is one of them. I have been surprised by the results.

Organization tips

It takes only about a minute to make the bed, but it can change your mindset and set the tone for your day. I have realized that making my bed becomes the signal to me that rest is over and work has begun. It’s nice to walk through the bedroom and have it finished. It’s nice to have a smooth surface to lay a basket of laundry on. It’s nice that if we have to call a plumber or HVAC technician at the last minute, I won’t have to be embarrassed by the state of my bedroom (not that that has ever happened to me….) It’s nice to see the pattern of the bedspread I chose with care, rather than have it kicked and twisted at the foot of the bed or find my beagle trying to nuzzle her way under the covers. She does that every chance she gets.

As I add habits of household harmony, I’m finding it creates a snowball effect. When I leave a room, I’m naturally looking around for an item or two to return to its place as I go. When the closet is neat, hanging up a jacket isn’t difficult. If my bed is made, I am less likely to fling my purse on it or pile it with books. When I am able to enjoy the cleanliness daily, I am motivated to keep it up. Here are a few more simple habits that are working for me this summer:

Leaving the house neat. This has been a bit of a battle but I knew the time to start was over the summertime when our schedule is relaxed. It does take me quite a bit of effort and the kids have to be involved in this. But walking into a neat house on return is totally worth it. If we walk into a neat space, it’s so much easier to deal with the chaos of a barking dog, groceries to put away, hungry kids, and approaching naptime.

Dishwashing on a schedule. This is a tip I got years ago and it has worked great for me. Every evening after dinner, I start the dishwasher without fail. If it isn’t quite full, I seek out items to fill it (a great excuse to clean out the fridge, collect water bottles from the car, or run the bath toys through the dishwasher). Every morning, I unload the dishwasher while I am waiting for my coffee. This makes it easy to load throughout the day and the kids can put their plates directly in after meal time. Simple, but it really helps me keep up with the dishes.

Organization tips

Make clean-up a no-brainer. I have realized I have to eliminate any excuses to clean, no matter how weak they may be. This means having cleaning products easy to access wherever they are needed: in the kitchen and under each bathroom sink. I thought since my house was tiny, I could keep all the products in one place, but having them at arm’s reach makes a difference. I’ve also discovered a new product I really love: Windex Touch Up. You just dab a rag on the top and it dispenses a bit of cleaner right where you need it. This is great for quickly wiping down the counters and mirrors in between deep cleanings.

Multi-tasking. When waiting in the car, I pick up clutter. While my son is bathing, I clean the bathroom. While making meal plans and grocery lists, I take an extra moment to quickly wipe down the fridge. While chatting on the phone, I start a load of laundry. I know that many of you will think these are obvious, or maybe you do them by second nature. For me, these have to be very deliberately added to my lifestyle since order doesn’t really come naturally to me.

Organization tips

Create spots of beauty. I read this on a blog somewhere and it really resonated with me. In the chaos of parenting, my home “décor” (if you can even call it that) has not really changed. While we don’t have the time or resources to do some of the major projects on my wish list, these quick face-lifts are totally doable. The idea is to focus on a clutter-magnet area and give it a mini makeover. An example is my bedside table. Hanging a homemade wreath, cleaning out the drawer, and finding the perfect basket has motivated me to keep it neat. Buying new velvet hangers and organizing my closet by color has made it so much prettier and I have easily kept it neat. Sometimes the little things can make a big difference.

Organization tips

These habits have made my summer far more productive and have given me a sense of accomplishment. Progress is progress, after all! Have you found any easy ways of improving your productivity? I would love to hear about them!

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up

By: Leah Prescott

I have mentioned before how much I strive (struggle?) to organize our home. I’ve read a few books on this topic and from each I have gleaned some helpful tidbits. When I heard about the Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo I immediately got on the coverwaiting list for a copy from the library. I was intrigued by the title as well as its overwhelmingly positive reviews on Amazon. It’s apparently very popular, so I had to wait over a month to read it on my Kindle.

I thought I would give a review with some of the main points of the book. I felt like this book had some great information, but could have been written much more concisely. Like most books in the genre, I take what I like and disregard the information that I don’t find valuable. Readers should be aware that Marie Kondo addresses inanimate objects as if they have feelings and even delves into reincarnation as a part of her philosophy. Although I disagree with these ideas fundamentally, I don’t mind reading about them. At the very least, I found it interesting from a social perspective.

Marie’s philosophy begins with decluttering on a massive scale; attacking one category at a time in a specific order. She advocates holding each item in hand and asking the question: “Does this bring me joy?” If you are searching for detailed organizational tips, this book probably doesn’t fit the bill. However, if you are seeking inspiration for a major life-change, this book will inspire you. I realized immediately that if I evaluated items by this criterion, the process of purging would be vastly simplified. At the same time, I am afraid I might be left with almost no clothing if I attacked my closet this way!

Another thing I loved about this book, is that Kondo teaches that tidying is a one-time event, rather than a lifetime pursuit. This resonates with me because I am so weary of the constant process of decluttering and reorganizing. According to the book, purging so ruthlessly allows the home to be filled only with loved and used objects. The happy result is a simplified life-style that calls for minimal cleaning. The home doesn’t have to be neatened because everything is naturally put away and the absence of clutter leaves a surplus of time and energy. Sounds good, right?

Perhaps the most important thing that I personally took away from reading The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up is that keeping or discarding objects should not be guided by guilt. So often I find myself paralyzed by a guilty conscience. I feel guilty that I have purchased things that we didn’t need. I feel guilty that clutter and housework are piling up. And, I feel guilty that my time is sucked up by these often trivial objects. This book really shows how simplifying a household can lead to more freedom and less guilt. And I am all for that.

This spring, my family is gearing up for a big yard sale as a way of de-cluttering our home. I have already been preparing for this event for several weeks and intend to be much more ruthless about adding to the “yard sale pile” now that I have read this book. I’m looking forward to more breathing room and less housework as a result. If you want to have a yard sale, this is a great time of year to hold one!

My next blog post will include all my best yard sale tips and tricks, so stay tuned.

Beating the Early Morning Rush

By: Leah Prescott

Now that school has started again, many of us moms are cross-eyed from all the schedules, to-do lists, activities and just keeping it all together from one day to the next. To quote a previous blog post, I often feel “stress-paralyzed” just from writing my to-do list. As I am learning to homeschool, I’m finding ways to help keep things going smoothly and save my own sanity. Whether you homeschool or not, hopefully some of these tips will be helpful to you in streamlining your morning routine!

Speed chores

Speed chores

1. Speed-Chore System: Our mornings were getting off to a slow and frustrating start because my definition of “clean your room” was very different from the seven year olds’ definitions. I created a series of index cards with various lists and tasks for the kiddos to complete. For example, each child has a card for their own room which includes tasks such as: “make bed, close all drawers and closet door, neaten dresser, put laundry in hamper, return toys to bins, place books on shelves”. This helps them to check over the details and be more thorough. They are faster and more motivated now that they have a list to go by. We have a card for each room of the house, as well as a general chore card for each child that they can complete each morning. Cards are laminated and kept in an index card box. (I included a motivating phrase like “Great job!”, “So much neater!” or “Thank you for being such a big help to me!” on the bottom of each card because I know my girls respond well to written praise!) We also have optional “extra chores” that can be completed after the school day and we plan to pay them for these small jobs.

Outfit organizer

2. Outfit Organizer: Of course, I found this handy organizer second-hand, but it can be purchased from Amazon. The girls and I attacked their closet this summer and purged any worn-out or too-small clothing items. We like this outfit organizer because of the large pockets which we filled with multiple outfits per day. Now, instead of searching out matching pieces, they can easily grab a whole outfit first thing in the morning. They won’t be stuck with one choice, but have several options per day. The girls are taking over putting away laundry so that they are able to pair the pieces back together before they are returned to the closet. As a mom to twins, with clothing and closet co-ownership issues always facing me, this has made a huge difference.

Frozen sandwiches

Frozen sandwiches

3. Frozen sandwiches: Some of you could share some amazing lunch ideas that would put this tip to shame, but it helps me on the busy mornings when we are rushing out the door. My kids like frozen peanut butter and jelly sandwiches you can buy at the store; however if I make them myself I can control the ingredients (think whole wheat bread, homemade jam, nut-free butters) and save money. I have two different sandwich presses that I like for this, one from Pampered Chef and one from Amazon. The trick is to flash freeze all the sandwiches before placing them in a large zipper bag, so that you can remove them individually as needed. They stay nice and cool until lunchtime when they will be perfectly thawed. We like to use Itzy Ritzy sandwich bags to carry these along with us. There are plenty of other ideas that could work well for this including: hummus with meat, chicken salad, peanut butter & honey, and fresh fruit with cream cheese. I still make fresh lunches for my kids a lot of the time, but it is great to have a rush-morning option in my pocket (or freezer).

Frozen sandwiches

Frozen sandwiches

If you have tips to help me keep things going smoothly each day, PLEASE share them in the comments! I am the poster child for disorganized and need all the help I can get. Here’s to a fabulous, low-stress, high-learning and fuss-free school year for us all!