Organized Treasure: Blog
Katie McAllister, Professional Organizer
As a productivity consultant and a homeschooling mom, I am well versed in the challenges of being at home all day with the kids. The adjustment to life at home can be really hard - not having adult conversation, not receiving the external "appreciation" of a paycheck, and learning to self-motivate can be daunting, discouraging, and even depressing at first. And by "at first," I mean 20 years of adjusting later, and I still have my moments. And some of those moments last for weeks!
And that is on a normal week, free from social distancing and closings, and health concerns. Homeschoolers often laugh about the fact that we get asked about whether our kids get "socialization". It is a very common question, because from the outside, it might appear that the current circumstances are everyday life for us. But most homeschoolers are heavily involved in Co-op classes, sports, clubs, field trips, drama, choir, and other activities. So, this time is a shock to our systems as well.
Which is why I am going to START with the encouragement rather than the advice (I thought I was going to do it the other way around, but this needs said up front!):
1. BE KIND TO YOURSELF: This is a hard adjustment and it is likely you neither chose it or had time to plan for it. If you have unproductive days, do NOT beat yourself up. Say something kind to yourself right now!
3. ACKNOWLEDGE THE STRESS - It has hit me a few times in the last few weeks just how stressful the world is right now. The unknown creates so much fear, and here we have a novel virus which by definition even the experts know nothing about. And the actions taken are changing everyday, so there is no real end in sight. Not having a need for a calendar for the foreseeable future is extremely disconcerting! Health, finances, employment, loved ones, toilet paper - these are items that may be affecting us more than we realize.
I had to stop scrolling Facebook when schools started closing.
A trip to the grocery store is not just the normal amount of physical exhaustion in collecting the needs of 5 people - to the cart, the belt, the cart, the car, the house, and FINALLY the freezer, fridge, pantry, and other storage zones... but a palpable emotional exhaustion from seeing the empty shelves, and the anxious faces of others.
Everyday symptoms are that much more stressful - as an essential employee, should what you believe is a normal spring allergy to include post-nasal drip and mucus clearing cough keep you home to protect coworkers (and possibly a population you serve) or is it worse to call out for something minor when there is pressure from your employer to take on extra shifts? Many teens work in stores and restaurants, so guiding them is a huge responsibility!
Caring for at-risk family members, entering hospitals, a trip to the pharmacy - things that were so normal a week ago can take a very different toll at this time. Tune in to your mind and body and note the stress points in your life. Recognizing the stress and the damage it might be causing you is a huge step!
So, moving on to some "Advice from OUR Homeschool Home": (realizing every family is unique - take what you like and leave what will not contribute to your family's rhythm):
1. WAKE UP AND GET READY FOR YOUR DAY - There is likely no need for an alarm, but it serves the family to keep to a daily cadence - a general wake up hour and bed time. When we stray too far from that daily circadian cycle, we start to feel "off" and sluggish. One day sleeping in can feel luxurious, but we are in this for the long haul, and need to find a productive normal in these weeks at home. Maintaining a healthy sleeping schedule is important!
Waking up doesn't count if you don't get out of bed, break your fast, greet the other people in the house, and do your morning chores. This can happen at a leisurely pace - we take 1-2 hours to ease into our mornings, and include time for reading or watching a quick show, my son sometimes gets in a quick 1/2 marathon (not my cup of tea, but... oh yes!! Linger over that hot tea or coffee!) No bus to catch or traffic to factor in, so don't rush it!! Find your own favorite routines and tempo, but DO get ready for the day!!
I have always found it best when there is a set time (often just 10 minutes!) when EVERYONE pitches in - a speed drill of sorts. We assign rooms, or number of objects, or small tasks. There is a visible success at the end. Everyone is in it together. Coupling a habit like this to another part of your schedule (like a meal time, a walk, or a TV time slot) creates a structure that everyone can expect each day. When my kids were much younger, "downstairs clean up" happened every day before "Screen Time". I NEVER had to announce it - Screen time started at 2, and by 1:45, "Downstairs Clean up" had been heralded by one of them and they were all off to the races!
We want to stay extra cleanly right now, so wiping down door knobs, light switches, faucets, remotes, devices, and toilets might be good tasks - even the youngest can help with this! So, plan ahead for the extra "living", and enlist all hands on deck to help with the extra cleaning!
We have some "big rocks" in our day - mostly meal times - that tend to have a start time attached to them (our bodies seem to like to eat regularly!) and in between them we have general goals of what needs to get done, and we just flow from task to task until the next big rock.
Tasks might repeat daily or weekly. They might be flexible or clearly assigned. They might be for relaxation or personal enrichment or actual "school". But they will leave you feeling better than another week binge watching Netflix or Disney Plus (again, one weekend bingeing a show is a fun diversion... a month is depressing)!
5. SUBJECTS and TASKS - ideas for what you might want to add into the flow of your family's days to leave you feeling accomplished:
*Most people focus best in the morning and focus wanes later in the day, so it is probably best to incorporate the most intellectual projects for the morning "sessions" with active, crafty, and downtime sessions in the afternoon.
*Goal Setting - Everyone take some space to dream about 1 month, 5 year, and 10 year goals. Brainstorm things to do this month that further each person's big picture. You might be surprised how the kids want to fill their own time!
*Reading - Lead by example here and choose some great books - fun, educational, a favorite from your childhood. It's easy to find books for the Kindle app and that works on iphones too! We also love Scribd.com for a selection of digital and audiobooks.
*Puzzles and Games - Sodoku, Kakuro, cards, chess, learn something new!
*Educational TV can be great downtime in the afternoons but get you thinking! (Documentaries, History TV, Classic movies or musicals, you can find almost any subject you love to learn more about!)
*Crafty - Bath Bombs, Painting, Origami, Learn Crochet, Sew Face masks for medical professionals you love, Bake, Make Friendship Bracelets, make a hilarious dog video, create a photobook on Shutterfly.
*Think of others - What could your family do for others? Bake for a neighbor? Call grandma? FaceTime someone who could use a smile? Post a funny video on Facebook?
*Declutter - hey, it's always a good time to go through a closet, the playroom, the kitchen and create some space!
I know I hope we will have some positive memories from this slower time together. I hope that someday we will say:
Remember during the Coronavirus when...
We're all familiar with the children's book, "If You Give a Mouse a Cookie" by Laura Numeroff, in which our furry friend is offered a cookie, and asks for milk, a straw, and a napkin. He then needs to check the mirror for a milk mustache, which reminds him his hair needs a trim. The stray hairs on the floor means he needs to sweep. EVERY ROOM IN THE HOUSE. AND THEN MOP THEM. He is worn out, so he heads for a nap and a bedtime story. The pictures inspire an ART PROJECT. And, the reason it is a personal favorite, because I love a story that circles around to the beginning... hanging his drawing on the fridge reminds him he's thirsty, so he asks for a glass of milk... "And chances are, if he asks you for a glass of milk, he's going to want a cookie to go with it."
But who among us can't relate to this use of an afternoon? You start out with one main thing to do, and get sidetracked by all of these other things that may need doing, but weren't the goal of your day. Your goal was to sit down and enjoy a cookie. Now you have trimmed your hair, scrubbed all the floors in the house, completed a creative DIY home project, and are overwhelmed and exhausted.
That can be the thing with clutter and disorganization - it robs us of our peace. We need calm surroundings to decompress from our busy weeks and days. And our brains have a HARD time doing that when our surroundings are a mess and keep our brains wondering what we "should" be getting done. We don't have the energy to complete the tasks we come up with, so we stay put on the couch, but we aren't relaxed, we are frustrated with ourselves, and we can even get discouraged or depressed.
I love the David Allen quote, "If you go on a vacation to relax, and you don’t relax, that’s an unproductive vacation. Productivity simply just means producing some desired outcome." So, we do need to create those places in our homes where our minds and bodies can rest, even if at first, it is just a small corner! And we need to really be intentional about finding our rejuvenating activities - Note to self: scrolling social media is usually NOT the answer! We need to be "productive" in our relaxing moments by actually RELAXING!
So, to create those spaces, we need to do some decluttering and re-homing chores. Here's the moment when we are MOST in danger of the "Give a Mouse a Cookie" distractions. We pick something up, move it to another area, find 10 more tasks waiting there, and never make it back to the original space, never finish that original project.
Here's an email I wrote to a friend 6 years ago (I've been thinking about this phenomenon a good while now!) empathizing with the frustration by sharing a recent "episode":
I think the end of winter, everything starts to feel a mess. I know for me it just takes one or two things going "wrong" at this time of year, and I start to get down on myself and am VERY easily overwhelmed… then I try to tidy ONE area, just to feel better, but the chaos feels so deep, it is not possible to get feeling on top of it
(Yesterday I said "let me just get the groceries put away", but I'm getting a migraine. Let me get an Aleve from the downstairs bathroom. That bottle is empty. Let me find its replacement in the upstairs linen closet. HOLY COW, what a mess. Did my husband put the REFRIGERATOR filters back up here after I asked him to find them a home in the basement? Look at the scatter pattern here, as though my family literally stands back and TOSSES items in. I am very akin to "If You Give a Mouse a Cookie". It is crazy.)
No "extra time", but any chaos in your life will come back into order with a couple sunshiny spring days!!.
(I still feel the same way about the end of winter and days of sunshine, but we won't go down THAT mouse-trail here!!)
I have some clients who have been through the ringer on this, and recognize this tendency in themselves. When we are working together, sometimes I catch them self-correcting as we move around a room, "I'm getting distracted here, but I'm focusing on the closet."
Sometimes I get credit for the reason they are able to stay on track during our sessions, and I DO think having someone working in the same space (you can't just wander off and leave them alone) who doubles as an accountability partner (accountability always helps keep us on track during tasks we are prone to put off) are both HUGE plusses! BUT, I think some other items come into play:
1. We have defined the project, which makes it easier to stay focused. We are working on a closet, decluttering, and will have it back in order before I leave. So, decide what you will work on and BE SPECIFIC. Say it out loud. Make a list of what you will accomplish and KEEP IT WITH YOU. Check off items for today as you complete them. As you think of items that need done, that you would usually run off to "do real quick", write them down instead. Now your brain knows it has back up and can go back to focusing on the area at hand. One of my classic distractions is when I find something I need to order. "On AMAZON". "Real quick." Don't hop on the computer to place that quick order. Write it down instead!!
2. We have defined the length of our session. Knowing that we will be stopping at a specific point helps two ways I think: First, you know the end is coming, you know you can find the energy to power through for this defined amount of time. Second, you are under the buzzer, it has to get done in this amount of time. I pace us through 3 hour client sessions, and clean up starts about 15-30 minutes before the time is over. I do the same at home thought, with timers - I especially love Pomodoro 25 minute timers for many tasks, that quietly tick to keep that tiny sense of urgency and focus!
3. When they correct themselves, they are saying it OUT LOUD - this is totally natural of course, with me in the room, but say it to your child, your dog, in a prayer or song, or just to yourself. Talking to yourself is just NOT that weird!! Acknowledge you are getting pulled away and are CHOOSING to come back to the task at hand! You're the best, and you make great choices, and this space is going to feel better by the time that buzzer goes off!
When You Give a Mouse a Cookie Brain - it's one of my favorite, universal tendencies to laugh about. So, be kind to yourself! Giggle when you recognize it when you're working. Let it tickle you when your brain is supposed to be on "Cookie Break". And find solutions that work for you to stay focused on your task, or, even better, your mental vacation!!
I am all about transparency, and am a super open person. If you talk to me one-on- one, you know I am all about relating 100% to the difficulties of staying organized!! (The Struggles are REAL!) I would never want what I put on social media to be mistaken for anything other than encouragement that hits home to ME!! Because I need to hear it, and do it, and I spend a lot of time thinking about it! And now I love sharing the encouragement!
But, like I told my husband yesterday: Close the garage door behind us, because my organizing detritus (Donation bags, shred piles, moving boxes, Closet and Garage Samples, and other organizer supplies) is NOT "ON BRAND". 😊 My garage is suddenly doing quadruple duty at the same time my "free time" to run donation errands is reduced! Some weeks it is down right scary.
We are a growing family, so our routines, systems, and storage needs are constantly changing and need to update nearly every season. We have been through some difficult times, where rolling with the changes and making tweaks and improvements was just not possible, and we found ourselves just holding on, making it through and taking care of the basic necessities. Whether it is an extended period of health emergency, crazy schedules for work or sports, the need to travel to care for a loved one, there are periods where it is hard to keep up, much less CATCH up. (This is what started my journey to become a professional organizer - I totally relate to the feeling of overwhelm and difficulty of digging out when there is finally room to breath.)
So, my quotes and advice NEVER come from a place of having "achieved perfection", or a need to "preach it" to the rest of the world! I actually think the people who most love reading books about organization, and are most drawn to the inspiration quotes I love and share, tend to be VERY organized people! I love to hear from others about the ups and downs of organizing in their lives. I love when someone confides a "deep dark secret" of their disorganization and I can assure them how very NON-dark and totally NORMAL it is!
That title "professional organizer" makes perfection sound like a prerequisite, and can be very intimidating to others at first glance! Turns out, a big part of the job is personal cheerleader - cheering each "team" on as they pull together, achieve small victories, build their decluttering muscles, and practice, practice, practice!
I love to immerse in words and images that set an encouraging tone, that inspire us to take the next step and make our homes and lives more peaceful and intentional! But that NEVER means I have it all together - just that I trust in our ability to find solutions, tackle problems that come our way, make great progress one baby step at a time! The hardest part is often getting started, and that is often easier when you focus on the positive!
After Timmy was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes five years ago, we participated in Boscov’s Halloween Candy Trade In Program – they offered kids with juvenile diabetes the option to trade in a bag of candy for a modest gift card – it was about $10, which was enough to get a small toy. While T1D children can have carbs and sugar (they just need to count, and cover with insulin), it is better in moderation, so this was a really positive initiative, offering an incentive to reduce that carb load!
What a great idea!
In our house, Halloween candy (especially the less desirables) can stay around until Easter, tucked away in a drawer or corner of a closet. I have tried some options to discourage this candy hoard, but most have been “sticks” rather than carrots - whatever is not eaten by Thanksgiving comes down to the kitchen and is up for grabs for anyone. This seems fair, but is always met with groans, and since my kids stick pretty well to family guidelines for number of treats a day, it always seems to sneak up on them and is received as a NEGATIVE.
This year I’m trying the Halloween Buy Back – they will have 24 hours to set aside those items they really don’t want and get cold hard cash in return. This has been received positively – they can see the value of cash – and will incentivize letting go up front of those varieties that they just don’t love. This is a skill I want them to develop, and using incentives to instill good habits is useful for all of us!
I think we will go with 5 pieces of candy for $1 this year. You could make the buy back anything you want, but I think the sweet spot would end up between a dime and a quarter/candy. Stating it in terms of how many /dollar both makes it more valuable (A dollar still buys you something good) and gives you more flexibility in not having to land on an even number of cents (7/$1 makes more sense than 14c/candy). My kids love IceBreakers gum (me too!), and you don’t get a lot of good gum at Trick or Treat (maybe some Double Bubble here and there), so I know Megan is already mentally reminding herself that she is essentially trading for gum, which is what she would have chosen from a “Pick Two” bowl anyway!
Buy back candy can be shared with mom and dad, put out at a party, or donated (buyer’s choice).
I have heard of others who add in the mystery of the Halloween Fairy who accepts the donations and leaves toys or money in their place. That’s a fun twist as well!!
If your focus is to reduce carbs in your home, you may want to use a higher buy back.
If your focus is to encourage open hands and hearts, you may want to forego the money all together and take the time to “Reverse Trick or Treat” in an senior community that doesn’t get trick or treaters – dress up again, fill your bags with give away candy, and spend an afternoon opening the bags at each door for older residents to pick two of THEIR favorites!! Dressing up is half the fun, and what a surprise for a homeowner to open their door to your little cuties and their sweet offerings!!
May you find your own variations that help you reduce the sugar load and the secret stashes and encourage your kids to share from their abundance!! Have a safe and fun night of costumes, exercise, friends, and neighbors!
If you have an interest in decluttering and organizing and have read how-to books and articles, you have likely been introduced to the concept of Minimalism. In this post, we'll discuss some common misconceptions of Minimalism, and next month, I'll offer my favorite definitions by favorite minimalist thinkers. We'll also come back - a lot - to my favorite definition: Intentional. If it were up to me, we would call it the Intentionality Movement and probably reduce a lot of the misconceptions surrounding "Minimalism"!
As with so many things, Minimalism looks different for each person as they embrace its concepts with their personalities, values, interests, styles, and unique selves!! But when many people hear the term Minimalism, they instantly conjure up some mental images, generalizations that do not have to be part of what Minimalism looks like on YOU!
Myth #1: Minimalist houses are sparse and WHITE.
This is my first mental image, and there may be a definition of minimal interior design that makes this true. But the minimalist movement has moved beyond that interior design aspect. Minimalists can be collectors, love color, love sentimental objects, and surround themselves with warm comfy throws! But they will be intentional: curate their collections, choose great pops of color, limit sentimental objects to favorite memories on display, and get great use out of their decorative throws. What good are treasures in a box in the basement?
My house would scream minimalist to exactly NO ONE. But every time I sweep through with fresh eyes, or paint a room and decide what deserves to go back up on my walls, I seem to find another item that isn't earning its keep. If it isn't making me smile every time I walk past, it at least needs to be reassessed and reconsidered. I am continually amazed at the truth of the phrase: "less is more"!
Myth #2: Minimalists don't believe in fashion.
This might conjure the mental image of Steve Jobs: daily "uniform," black turtleneck, an almost empty wardrobe full of neutrals. Minimalists are unlikely to have closets stuffed to the gills with clothes they haven't worn in ages - whether because the clothes are the wrong size, poor-fitting, ugly splurge purchases, no longer in style, etc. They are very likely to be in tune with THEIR style rather than swayed by every newest trend. But plenty love fashion, and dress in colors and shapes that flatter their complexions and bodies.
I am no fashionista, but I am learning to be intentional with my purchases, only buying what makes me feel great, rather than what is on sale. I am learning to let go of the extras in my wardrobe that just aren't me, and give them away. To focus on the fact I have learned something about my style rather than just having lost money. I think the most surprising change for me is that I am slowly paring my neutrals down to black (rather than browns and grays and blues and blacks). It is my favorite neutral and looks great with the bright, bold colors I enjoy. And I don't feel I have to give up jeans - I'll keep wearing the dark wash I've always gravitated to.
Myth #3: They hate books, too.
<--Here's my mental image - the strong reaction of book lovers to Marie Kondo. Would the minimalist movement, or your favorite organizer, encourage you to reconsider your relationship with physical books, as you would other things? Probably so. Does this mean they don't read and disdain the pursuit of knowledge? Or that no minimalist home needs bookshelves? Probably not. But let's face it - sometimes we keep books on our shelves that we haven't even read because we like what they say about who we are. Sometimes we keep references we will never refer to or novels we will never revisit. And, in my mind, sharing is caring. Most book lovers are excited to share the books they truly love - loaning with open hearts - even while knowing they may have to repurchase the next time they want to "loan". I think it is with the books we haven't read that we have the strangest, or most unhealthy, relationship.
I think for me, this added some new questions to my arsenal. As I think about my intention to make my home a place of comfort and welcome, I often remind myself that libraries, museums, and gardens hold items for everyone to share and enjoy. When I look at books that have sat on my shelves for years, I ask: Will this add to the next "chapter" of my life? Is this something I would buy in the store if I saw it today? Might this serve a *better* purpose in someone else's home, temporarily, or permanently? And now we are back to being book lovers, sharing our treasures with open arms!
Myth #4: Minimalists count the number of items in their closet or home.
You will read books and Challenges referring to numbers of items. I picture Minimalists humble bragging about how few things they own, or into what tiny suitcase they can squeeze all their worldly possessions. Minimalism could be defined as a process of figuring out the "minimum" you need to be content. I think some personalities strongly identify with a challenge and taking the more extreme route. But the minimalist movement is more about being intentional about what we own and allow in our lives than keeping tallies and should never be about comparison or judgment!
I can't imagine trying to hit artificially chosen "number of items" goals in my home, in a room, in my "capsule wardrobe". But the concepts of figuring out what I can do without, what is the least I need, what others would benefit from more, really inspire me at times. We are so accustomed to our society of overabundance that these ideas go against conventional thinking!
Myth #5: Minimalism happens overnight, is all or nothing.
The image is: You either ARE a minimalist and fit within a particular box (perhaps the myths above), or you are NOT a minimalist. Again, some personalities are more extreme, more all in, more inspired by challenges than others. But Minimalism is a mindset and a journey, and the path looks different for everyone.
My sister and I have played with the idea of writing an organizing book together in the future. She jokes that she will share the extreme view - her side of the book will be called the Spartan Method. I will share the slower, more patient view - I may call it the "What turns your Heart on" Method. People process differently, and it is okay to grow in stages. I have always been amazed to watch the "GROWTH SPURTS" God fashioned for babies and children, and I don't think they only apply to the physical. So be gentle with yourself as you make intentional decisions about how to fashion your life and surroundings! Maybe you can join me in being an "intentionalist" who also aspires to Minimalism!
Myth #6: Minimalists are all backpacking the world or living in tiny RVs - crunchy, vegan, millennial free spirits avoiding all responsibility.
I think many Minimalists started with a significant life change, but here we are, back to the all or nothing box! Your priorities might not have anything to do with travel: you may spend your newfound free time serving the elderly, or your extra finances (from more thoughtful purchasing habits) supporting a battered women's shelter. Perhaps you will use the additional space in your easier-to-maintain-home to host neighbors, coworkers, and family regularly, investing in relationships. It's about taking FULL responsibility for the choices that shape your reality and realizing we don't have to walk the same hamster wheel.
This myth makes me laugh because this description may be the antithesis of me. Still, the concepts of Minimalism and the definitions we will explore in the next post inspire me to really consider my big picture. And watching people make dramatic choices on their journeys, no matter how different from mine, is encouraging too!
Fall is a great time to organize the garage, so in the month of October we'll offer some organizing and storage suggestion for the garage.
The first step is to decide what does NOT belong. That looks different for everyone. But if it is no longer in working order or is not something you have used in a year or is a household item you already decided to donate but now sits in the garage, waiting to make it to its final destination, you have some hauling to do. Don't let it continue to take up your valuable space and when possible, pass it on to someone who will actually use it!
Discard what is unusable (if you have more than you can discard in a weekly pick up, consider a run to the Solid Waste Authority (there is a $20 minimum, but I have never exceeded it even with a minivan filled to the brim) or a dumpster service like BinThereDumpThat.com)
Clean and donate any items that still have use - Toys, athletic equipment, tools and gardening items are often in high demand and can be donated to general centers or specialty places like Habitat for Humanity centers or YMCA. There are also consignment shops like Play It Again Sports and Kid To Kid for sports equipment and toys.
While you have the car out and the garage emptied and sorted - (trash, donate, move to another area of the house, keep in garage), take a little time for deep cleaning from top to bottom. With things as empty as they've been all year, vacuum and dust from ceiling to floor, clearing cobwebs and wiping down fridge and shelf units. Then focus on the floor: sweep out the leaves that have blown in, vacuum the mats, clear oil stains with cat litter, dish soap and a wire scrub brush. Use a slightly damp sponge mop to wipe down the walls and floors as well. If you have our Swiss Trax flooring installed, take this chance to vacuum the dust and residue that has collected in the channels in the last 6 months!
Consider your "high rent" real estate. The first level is the space you need to park, move, and function well in your garage. In the next level of "rent", keep the items you use regularly within easy reach and simple storage. Items that you only access once or twice a year should be stored out of the way in the lower rent districts of long term storage. Take time this week to see what rarely accessed items are being given PRIME locations, and see what you can do to maximize your storage space, getting them up and out of the way if possible!
Here you can see the 4x8 overhead rack option at the top left, to maximize ceiling space above garage doors and parked cars. Monkey Bars shelving offers high storage for totes while still offering hooks, hanging baskets, shelves and specialized options for sports equipment. To the left is a wall mounted Monkey Bar, which allows for the same attachments flush to the wall. Lots of possibilities - consider what works in your space!
One Extra Tip: Sports Equipment can get smelly, especially when young athletes leave their items in their gear bags. Bacteria thrives in moist environments, so teach your kids to air it out after every game and practice! Wire baskets and netting bags offer convenient options to store your gear away from dusty, dirty and moist environments.
Your attention is a powerful force. It can be diverted to, or away from, things that are important.
Picture an auditorium filled with an audience, young and old. They have arrived for the musical, ready to be swept up by the story, the show tunes, the color, the dancing. The lights go down, the show starts, and 20 minutes in, an older gentleman in the back gets a tickle in his throat. Having felt it, his attention is now focused there, in the throat. He is here to enjoy a play, and as a good audience member, does not want to interrupt others with a cough. So he sits, maybe clears his throat a little, shifts in his seat, tries a cough drop from his wife's handbag. But that tiny tickle is now all he can think of, and eventually, he takes an early intermission, leaves the auditorium, coughs, walks about, gets some fresh air, has a drink. Once the attention was focused there, he could no sooner ignore that tickle than an elephant in the seat in front of him.
Maybe you have experienced a situation like this, or maybe something like dizziness, a muscle twitch, became a focus of your attention. Just by thinking about pain in your head or stomach, you can create the actual feeling and experience (this is not an experiment I'd recommend). Here's the more positive experiment, and the flip side: Think about how strong your body is, how capable. Get into Superman Pose - Stand up straight, hands on hips, head held high - and feel your ability to conquer the day. Take a minute to recognize the positives and blessings in your life and focus on the good things going on.
We are bombarded daily with distractions that channel our attention away from the more important tasks at hand that deserve our focus. Or towards mindsets and worries that drain us of energy. But we have the power to channel our attentions to our amazing attitudes, productive passions, and creative capabilities and energize those traits, and ourselves, in the process!
“In the childhood memories of every good cook, there's a large kitchen, a warm stove, a simmering pot and a mom. "
One of my very earliest memories involves the story of me, my dog Bridie, and the pudding. Now, this is one of those family stories that has been told and retold, so that you have to wonder whether I actually remember the event, or just being told it at an early age. But, I have this mental picture of a dawn kitchen, lights still out except the bulb in the fridge, in front of which I sat around the age of 3, on the floor with a large bowl of pudding my mom had prepared the night before. My dog is on the floor right next to me, keeping me company. Now, it turns out, in my parents retelling, the pudding was being eaten with one bite for me, and one bite for my partner in crime (eww!), they didn't even yell at me ("I mean, you were such a good kid in general, what was the big deal?"), and the story repeats itself at some point down the road with me, Bridie, and a bag full of Oreos!
But, really, our kitchens are the places of family meals, late night snacks, early morning cups of coffee. The work of meal planning can be the bane of our existence, but the feeling of serving a hot, healthy meal of comfort food on a cool evening as everyone gathers around hungry, enjoying the delicious smells, is one to cherish.
Kitchens have so much happening in them, it can be hard to keep up. But, in most kitchens, overflowing drawers and cabinets are doing us NO favors. Counters cluttered with kitchen appliances make meal prep and clean up even harder, and outside items are just in the way. So, here are categories you can organize in your kitchen today!
1. "Junk" Drawers:
I just reduced from THREE kitchen junk drawers down to two and it feels great! (See, organizers don't judge!!) The old junk drawer became the home for my caddy of herbal teas - it looks great in the drawer, just below our electric tea pot, and it is wonderful to have it off the counter!! All of my junk drawers have desk organizers and each contain their own general category, but they are still "catch-alls" for items that probably don't warrant the "high rent" space of my kitchen's top drawers. Junk drawer #2, I'm gunning for you next! How about you, do you have a drawer that should be in YOUR crosshairs?
2. Things that just don't belong in the kitchen:
Junk mail, laundry baskets, soccer balls, craft projects - sometimes our kitchen counters are the easy drop off point for all sorts of crazy stuff. Take a few weeks to get consistent with your family (AND YOURSELF!) and reinforce a new rule that outside items can't land in the kitchen!!
3. Rarely used kitchen items that aren't earning their high rent:
When you are cooking and cleaning, the important items need to be easy to grab - you don't have time to dig through overflowing drawers and cabinets.
The first question to ask is whether you really NEED these items if you haven't pulled them out in 1 year, 2 years, 5 years. If your friend borrowed this and lost it, would you be running to Amazon to replace this at full price? Or could you live without it?? If you would just live without it, is it really worth having to move it out of the way every time you need your favorite pot? Let these items GO - and if they are in good shape, let them find a new home where they will be used and enjoyed!!
But, there's a second category that we often find not earning high rent - the once or twice a year items. Maybe in the summer you make homemade popsicles with your kids, or ice cream, or fruit pies. Maybe each Christmas it is worth having 5 cookie sheets and cooling racks for a marathon session. Maybe you have a "birthday season" like we do here, and during those weeks cake decorating tips, cupcake carriers, and cake stands get used regularly. But maybe these seasonal items sit unused the other 45 weeks of the year. Don't give them prime cabinet space!! Put them in the basement, garage, the tippy top shelf of a closet that requires a chair to access. It's okay that they are hard to get to next season - enjoy having them out of the way while they aren't earning their keep!!
4. Items that seem to "reproduce":
Here are the top 3 in my kitchen: linen items, knives, and spoons/spatulas. These are the items in our home that need replaced most often I think... but when the new ones come in, the old ones get justified because, "You can always use an extra [knife, dishrag, wooden spoon].
For me, linen items includes washcloths, cute kitchen towels, potholders and aprons. I love these items fresh and new, but they each have their space and they can't exceed their limits. So, I'm getting pretty good at following the one in, one out rule and rotating my dish towels seasonally.
Knives - another organizer confession - I have TWO woodblocks on my counter right now. One was a wedding gift, but likely no longer contains ANY of the original knives (which I loved!) just a nice mix of individual replacements. The second was an attempt at a full replacement. I tried Chicago Cutlery and I HATE this set. Others in my family use it, but the first is still my go to when I am grabbing something for chopping. Putting on my organizer hat, there are easy solutions - I'm going to implement one in the next month and only keep the ones that "bring me joy"!
Spoons/spatulas/scrapers - this category's problem is a mix of both - either we keep because "you can't have too many" OR because we just still like the old one better... even if the old spatula has a little tear in the silicone. But, again, get clear on the space allotted, and stay well within it!
What are your chronic reproducers? What limits can you set?
5. Food items:
I recommend a good system for those edible items that need to circulate. Maybe you like to give a mouse a cookie, so you go to the grocery store to shop for cookies. At the grocery store, you find a great sale, so you buy a WHOLE BUNCH of cookies. You bring the cookies home and try to put them away in your pantry. But your pantry is already full, because the grocery store had a great sale last month, too, and you also stocked up then. Because you really like giving cookies to mice. Your child is helping to put away groceries, so he stuffs them all into the front of the cabinet... Confusion, disorder, and food waste ensue! Don't be tempted to use your pantry as a grocery store - just buy what you need! For now, get things in order by date, and get rid of the expired items. Consider donating perishables you have too many of to a food bank - don't just let them sit in your cupboard going out of date!! And commit to not buying more until you open the next-to-last package of each item and it is actually on your grocery list!
Help your kitchen work for you! Streamline it - don't stuff it to the gills! Give yourself room to maneuver and enjoy your kitchen again!
I'm excited to have a small article published in York County Medicine on the topic of reducing stress by getting organized!
When our spaces and lives are disorganized, we are constantly behind and overwhelmed. It can seem so hard to regain control - but by building systems brick by brick, we can start to find the peace that comes from having good routines and having tidy spaces where we know where things are.
Some seasons of our lives can throw even the "naturally organized" for a major loop. These events make it really hard to keep up with things, much less get ahead of them. The illness of a loved one, a new baby, a change in marital status, a move... It is always okay to reach out for extra help, but if you find yourself in a season that has you stretched thin on time and emotional bandwidth, I really encourage you to be gentle with yourself, and consider bringing in some extra back up!
It's Memorial Day weekend and time to kick off summer!!
We spend more time out and about over the summer - picnics, hikes, park days, baseball games, fireworks - so you might find yourself living out of your car more than usual. Here are some items worth packing (and repacking!) so that you are ready for whatever adventures summer sends your way!
1. Sunglasses, Sunscreen, baseball caps - I always have back up shades in the car, though our family can usually get by without the others!
2. Sheet/picnic blanket - This comes in handy any time you need to sprawl on the grass - parks, concerts, beaches, etc. It is also useful to protect your car's seats and floors after a muddy, sandy, or wet adventure!
3. Camp Chairs - Because I'd rather not be on the ground these days! And you fit in better with the "cool" soccer moms!
Sharpie - I'm going to mention this must-have here as a public service announcement for the team mom in charge of Lost and Found: Label your kids' stuff! With this in your car, your kids can put their name back on their balls, their disc golf frisbees, their water bottles, your camp chair!
4. Water and Snacks - I keep an entire case of water in the trunk so that we are always ready, though we try to pack fresh each day! Chocolate-free trail mixes, beef jerky, and chips are good to "keep around" and fresh fruit is perfect for packing fresh, or grabbing from a roadside stand!
5. First Aid Items - For us this involves both conventional items and essential oils, but we want to be ready to treat: bee stings, cuts, headaches, bruises, allergies, and with a Type 1 Diabetic: Low Blood Sugars.
6. Grocery bags, napkins, paper towels - this was an add-on from my Aunt Kathleen - if you have ever taken a road trip with an incident involving bodily fluids, you know this is a lifesaver! But, it comes in handy in the summer for damp items, bagging up an amazing discovery, wiping up the juice of delicious fruit dripping down your arm, etc.!
7. Backup Clothing - this changes over the years, but:
*Swimsuits, water shoes, towels - they aren't going to resist the creek, water park, swimming hole, sprinkler, so be ready and let them have at it!
*Bowling Shoes - we LOVE the KidsBowlFree program, so bowling shoes are at the ready for frequent rounds of bowling!
* Socks - You need them bowling, at a play place when you stop for lunch, when your other socks are [muddy, dirty, wet] from [puddle hopping, hiking, morning dew]
*The full-out outfit change - we started with toddlers, babies, and mamas caught in the crossfire. I don't know the last time we utilized a clean outfit (I think it was for a younger friend and we rolled up sleeves and pant legs!) but I still have them stashed, because you might as well be ready!
What do you keep in the car for summer?? Must haves? First Aid? What did I miss? Comment Below!
Embracing my love for organizing and the joy of encouraging others as we journey through the ups and downs together!
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