Beggars make me uncomfortable. Maybe it’s because I am skeptical about their motives. Maybe it’s because I know I can’t solve their problems no matter how much money I put in their hat. Maybe it’s because I know I can’t afford to give them all money. Maybe it’s because I’m afraid to even consider the possibility that life can really get that bad…because if it can for them, maybe it can for me too. Maybe it’s because their self-deprecation is just too painful to witness. Whatever the reason (most likely all of the above), I have always either pretended not to notice them or have averted my gaze as I hurriedly tossed them a buck or a few coins, as though doing so is something dirty, taboo, or forbidden…an act I wanted to be done with and pretend didn’t just happen.

Christine changed all of that today.

I saw her by the side of the road begging for money this morning. Her sign said, “Fallen on hard times. Just doing what any mom would do.” But I’m a mom, I thought, and I wouldn’t resort to begging. I’d sell everything I had to keep a roof over my kids’ heads. I’d seek help from the local food pantry or one of the charitable organizations before I’d beg strangers for money. Doesn’t she know about those? Or has she asked so many times that they’ve turned her away? Does she really need the money for her kids, or is she just a drug addict preying on the consciences of good people like me? I pondered all these questions as I drove away toward home. But there was just something about her. I couldn’t put my finger on it, but there was something that compelled me to turn around and go back. I wanted to understand why she was there. For some reason I still can’t explain, I needed to understand.

As I drove back towards her, I started to get nervous. What if I get honked at by the car behind me? What if she doesn’t want to share her story with me? What if she doesn’t speak English? What if she is unappreciative of my efforts or needs more than I can give her? What if it’s AWKWARD?!

Now it needs to be said that I myself have had to tighten the purse strings lately, so I wasn’t really in a financial position to give her much in the way of money, but all of us have something to give away to someone in need. It’s a matter of knowing specifically what is needed. I pulled up beside her and rolled down the window. “Excuse me”, I said, “I’m sorry that I don’t have much to give you in the way of money, but I would like to help you. What is it that you really need? Can I bring you food?” She smiled and told me that what she needed most of all right now were some feminine hygiene products because she had none and was in rather dire straights.

Now look here, folks, it just doesn’t get any more humiliating than being forced to ask a complete stranger to buy you maxi pads. I was overcome with compassion, so despite every safety rule I’d ever been taught, and  against all rational common sense, I invited her to hop into the car so that I could take her to the Wal-Mart around the corner to purchase them. (I’m not recommending you act quite so rashly, should you ever find yourself in similar circumstances!) She thanked me, introduced herself and shared her story with me as we shopped. She had a good sense of humor, and we both had a little chuckle about the situation. I offered to buy her more than one pack, but she said no. I offered to buy her lunch, but she said no. I offered to buy her food to take home, but she said that through the grace of God and the generosity of strangers, her refrigerator was full. She asked if maybe she could just have a cup of coffee instead. Done.

I took her back to her corner and her eyes welled up with tears as she thanked me from the bottom of her heart for trusting her enough to invite her into my car, for taking the time out of my day just to talk to her, to listen to her, and to give her back some of her dignity. Then she told me that her two middle school-aged sons didn’t know that she had resorted to this in order to keep the roof over their heads. She said that the worst part was that people thought it was funny to take photos of her as they drove by, and her biggest fear was that her sons might someday see them on the internet and be utterly humiliated and mortified. My heart broke, and it was then that I realized that all my old fears had come true.  I hadn’t solved all of her problems. I still had no way of knowing whether her story was true or not, or whether she was a drug addict or not. Her self-deprecation had indeed been painful to witness. And maybe life would be cruel enough to kick me in the teeth someday just like it had her. But none of that mattered. She had given me far more than I had given her…the insight and perspective I needed to finally understand and stop averting my gaze so that I could see the appreciative mom, daughter, sister, friend and fellow human being sitting in front of me. What an amazing gift!

She gave me a hug and stepped out of the car. “You really made my Friday,” she said. “You know what?” I replied. “You really made mine too.”

Only when we look up from our own problems and fears and pay attention to the world around us are we are truly alive. We are given eyes to notice, ears to listen, tongues to reassure and hands to reach out and touch another life and make someone’s day. Such opportunities are gifts. Do not waste them.



Resolution vs. Evolution

Happy New Year!

Re-printing this oldie but goody from last year’s EasyPeasy Living Newsletter. (Click here to subscribe to our FREE monthly newsletter.)

Be honest. How many New Year’s resolutions have you actually kept? I mean kept long term…as in accomplishments you have maintained over the years since you made up your mind to change?

Most of us resolve on January 1 to get fit, lose weight, get organized, quit smoking, save money… We jump head first into it only to burn out and give up before Valentine’s Day. Many of us keep making the same resolutions year after year…and fail at them year after year.

For it to work and to stick, it requires commitment to real change…life change…permanent change. That’s not something to undertake on a whim or to jump into without a plan, especially since our self-esteem is usually the biggest casualty of non-success. Resolutions may be made overnight but are only truly achieved over a lifetime. They require personal evolution.

Anyone who has studied science knows that evolution takes time and patience…perseverance, adaptability and survival. To put the odds in your favor, set yourself up for success:

  1. Be realistic in your expectations. Even small improvements will move you in the right direction. 
  2. Plan ahead for the challenges. Have a back-up plan for when life gets too busy, your energy level or bank account too low, or your will too weak to stick to your primary plan.
  3. Create reminders of why you want to change so that you can talk yourself through the temptation to quit.
  4. Keep yourself accountable. It’s always more fun with a friend along to give you moral support.
  5. Reward yourself along the way. Decide ahead of time how you will celebrate the small, interim victories, and do it!
  6. Give yourself credit more than criticism. Even the smallest victories deserve acknowledgment!
  7. Expect setbacks and don’t allow them to derail you. Remember that losing is just quitting while you are still behind.

This year, why not just resolve to evolve? You have an entire lifetime to complete the transformation. It doesn’t all have to happen in just one year!

Five Obstacles You Must Clear to Get Organized

If youObstacles_revised really stop and think about it, the decision to get organized is a hopeful one. We hope that by decluttering our homes, sticking to a new routine, managing our time more efficiently or writing a To-Do list, we will finally, FINALLY gain control over the uncontrollable and attain peace of mind in our chaotic world. I may be a professional organizer, but as the mother of two (three if you count the big kid I’m married to), I am the first to admit that “being organized” is a matter of relativity. There’s no such thing as a “totally organized” life, and even if there were, I seriously doubt you’d want to live it.

One of the most common issues I uncover when I go to a new client’s house is that they have at least one large, unwanted, unneeded object sitting right in the middle of the most important area needing organization…their minds. The object is a negative thought that they keep tripping over. It takes up space that could be put to much better use. It obstructs easy access to other things sharing the space. It inserts itself into every task, and creates unwanted “noise”. It detracts from the peacefulness of the space and, let’s face it, it can be downright unappealing.

Obviously, the first step is to remove the object. Perhaps you have one of these crowding out your space:

  1. Need for Perfection – Kick this one to the curb. Organization is not an all-or-nothing prospect, but it does require prioritization. What bothers you most? Fix that. Once you’ve got that down, work on the next thing. “Good enough” should be your goal. Anything more pushes you into OCD territory, and that’s not a happy place.
  2. Procrastination – Stop worrying about where you should start or if you are doing it “right”…just start. There is no right way…only a right-for-you way. So what if you have to do something over later down the road? Staying organized is an evolving process anyway, even for a seasoned veteran like me (just ask my husband how many times I’ve changed where we store the drinking straws). The starting point is not a place, it’s a time, and the time is NOW!
  3. Self-Deprecation – Stop calling yourself “lazy”. You are busy. There’s a big difference. If you think you can try harder, do it. If you are already trying your best, you either need to tweak your system (that’s where someone like me can usually help) or you also need to remove #4. Either way, thinking of yourself as lazy is counter-productive.
  4. Impatience – Whether it is impatience with the process, with yourself or with others who share your home, impatience sucks up potential success before it happens. Organization involves developing new habits and routines, which requires time. Rome wasn’t built in a day and the road ahead is not always straight and easy. Set-backs are both inevitable and necessary. They become important learning experiences that will help you perfect your system. Accept that there’s a lot of trial and error in setting up an effective organizing system (which is why my poor husband can never find the drinking straws). It takes time, and not all factors are within your control. I have already resigned myself to the fact that my house will not be as organized as I want it until both of my children move out…a day I would rather languish in the far distance for as long as possible.
  5. Shame – Stop worrying about what others are thinking/going to think of your disorganization. Chances are good that they would be relieved to know they are not alone in their own struggle OR they struggle in another area you don’t. I may have an organized home, but I promise not to judge you on your messy playroom if you promise not to judge me by the nuclear wasteland I call a “backyard”.  All too often, I’ve had clients wait until they are at a breaking point before calling me, because they were embarrassed about what I would think of their home. Me…a complete stranger whose livelihood depends on the disorganization of others. Trust me when I say that I have seen it all, and I never think any less of someone just because this happens to be their personal struggle.

The first step in organizing any space is to purge that which is no longer needed/wanted/useful. The first space to organize is your mind. Clear these five obstacles, and you will have a fantastic start.



Winning the Gold in the Olympics of Life


victory medalWhen I was little, I loved to watch the Olympic figure-skating and gymnastics competitions. I secretly imagined myself oneday winning the gold…standing on the podium taller than all the others with hand over my heart, watching them raise the American flag as our anthem played, with pride in my heart knowing that I was the best. Never mind that I could barely stand up straight in tennis shoes or walk down a flight of stairs without falling, much less glide effortlessly across the ice or contort my body like a balloon animal. I had that dream we all share to stand at the top of the heap…to be better than everyone else at something…to be the winner.

Fast forward to modern day: Here I sit blogging in my suburban townhouse wearing jeans, a t-shirt and reading glasses and realizing that I’m not–nor ever will be–especially great at anything. I’m not particularly beautiful, or wealthy, or athletic, or artistic, or famous, or brilliant, or saintly. In fact, a more accurate description of me would be an aging, poor, overweight, mediocre, unknown, ditsy sinner. But I am the best me there is, and after all these years, I finally get why that’s such a big deal.

This past year has been rough for me and my family because of numerous unexpected challenges. Like all challenges, these have been eye-opening lessons I’ve needed to learn as I hurtle through life toward yet another milestone birthday (I won’t say which one). They’ve jolted me out of my fantasy world–where I’m a long-legged supermodel with flowing locks and flawless skin, adored by my obedient children and attentive husband and admired by friends and strangers alike for my immaculate home, culinary prowess and pure altruism–and thrown me back into the reality of my middle-aged, frustrated, struggling existence. Somewhere along the journey, I finally understood and accepted these ten truths:

  1. Ten minutes is better spent catching up with my tired hubby before he drags himself off to bed after a night shift than putting on make up and styling my hair in order to feel more glamorous. There is no one else whose eye I need to catch, and his vision is too blurry after a 12-hour night shift to realize the difference.
  2. If I had a bigger house for entertaining, I probably wouldn’t invite people over because I wouldn’t have the time and energy to clean it and am too much of a control freak to let them see it when it’s dirty.
  3. I’m too selfish to make the sacrifices required for us to be rich. I’d rather be available to help my children with their homework while it’s still easy enough for me to understand. And let’s face it, with my mediocre intellect, we’re already at a point in grades 4 and 6 where it takes all of my concentration to help them with their math…gone are the days of being able to make dinner while simultaneously tutoring them in addition and subtraction.
  4. The definition of a “gourmet” family dinner is one that’s healthy, fast, simple, cheap and easy to clean up…in that order. The kids just want full bellies and to get back outside before it gets dark. The hubby just wants a full belly that won’t give him embarrassing gas, and I just want everyone to grow (or not) as expected, to still have some money leftover after grocery shopping, and to wash as few dishes as possible.
  5. I hate working out/playing sports. I’ll either do it or I won’t, but I will never enjoy it and there’s no point in trying to convince myself that I will. If it wasn’t fun when I had more flexibility, energy and stamina, it is unlikely that it will become so now that I have none. (I guess this has something to do with why I never realized those Olympic dreams, huh?)
  6. I don’t care that I’m not artistic. I enjoy other people’s art more than I enjoy creating my own, especially if it means I don’t have to clean up afterwards.
  7. Thank goodness I am not famous! If I were, I’d have to spend more time putting on makeup, styling my hair, working out and ironing. And people would be more likely to notice when my son wipes his snot on my shoulder instead of using a tissue.
  8. If I were truly brilliant, I’d look like an even bigger slacker to the outside world than I already do. The expectations of the world would crush me. So long as I can still put together furniture, understand board game instructions, salvage would-be baking disasters and create organization out of a client’s chaos, I figure that’s good enough for me.
  9. I’m impatient and I shout more than I should, especially at my children. But I am honest to a fault and have a pretty good heart filled with lots of compassion. I cry at Hallmark commercials and “Danny Boy” and I try to help people in need whenever I can. When I can’t, I pray for them earnestly. Thank goodness perfection isn’t required for entrance into heaven… I still expect them to let me in someday.
  10. “Winning” at life has nothing to do with my performance in comparison to others. Everyone who reaches a personal best gets the gold. And it’s never too late to stand on that podium feeling proud of what you’ve accomplished and who you’ve become.

Despite this new-found acceptance of who I am and what I am not, I continue to seek and embrace every opportunity to use my unique gifts and talents to become the best me I can be…to make the world a better place than it would have been without me. There is no other person on the planet with the exact same set of tools as mine or who can wield them in quite the same manner that I do. That’s what makes me special, even if I’ll never be great! Using those talents to the best of my ability is what makes me a winner.

“Seek not greatness, but seek truth and you will find both.” -Horace Mann

Protect Your Edible Investment

This rainbow is a healthy investment.

Eat a rainbow every day!

Have I mentioned how much I hate grocery shopping? The crowds. The lines. The screaming kids (usually my own). The screaming moms (usually me). The reckless cart drivers. The prices. The physical labor. The MATH! …

Fortunately for my hungry family, I love to eat more than I hate to grocery shop, so I do it anyway. However, I’m not willing to suffer this torture more than once/week if I can help it and, by golly, it’s gotta be worth the effort. This means wasting as little as possible of what I buy. I’m not lugging all that stuff home just to feed the fruit flies or to let it rot in the fridge!

Besides, have you seen the price of fresh produce recently? Eating healthy requires a significant investment of both time and money (neither of which I have in abundance), and protecting that investment is key to successful consumption (something I enjoy). Otherwise, you may as well just throw those apples in the trash as soon as you get home. Let’s face it, work is work…whether you pick those apples from the orchard yourself or pick through them in the produce aisle. And I, for one, want to do as little of that as I can get away with.

The good news is that it doesn’t take a lot of extra time or effort to lengthen the life of your produce. You’ll not only make up that time (with interest) later, but you’ll be more likely to actually eat all the yummy, healthy goodies you lugged home. As soon as you get home, wash and dry your lettuce, fresh herbs, “bowl fruit” (apples, oranges, etc.), grapes and berries before putting them away. They’ll be ready to eat/prepare when you want them, last longer and look more inviting.

If you have the time, go ahead and bag up individual portions of fruits and veggies before putting them away so that you or your family members can grab a healthy snack any time. I find that non-organic cut bell peppers, celery, carrots, and cucumbers will stay fresh for up to a week if stored properly in the fridge. This saves me oodles of time on lunch preparation throughout the week, because I can bag it up as soon as I get home from the store and then just toss it into the lunch boxes each morning. (If you shop organic, the shelf life may be shorter, so you’ll have to figure out what works best.) One cutting board + one knife + one time washing them and putting them away = three reasons for this busy/lazy mom to smile.

Just to be clear, I don’t wash everything before I put it away…just the things I’ve found make a difference. Here are a few tips that have worked well for me:

  • Do not use detergents or chemicals, but adding white vinegar to the water (at least 1 part vinegar to 4 parts water) will help kill most bacteria and remove pesticides without changing the flavor.
  • Make sure everything is as DRY as possible before putting it away.
  • If towel-drying, always use a fresh, clean dish towel or paper towel.
  • The water should not be more than 10 degrees warmer than the produce.
  • If submerging, use the tub of a salad spinner rather than the kitchen sink, as the drain area of the sink can harbor yucky stuff you don’t want to eat!
  • Spin leafy vegetables and fresh herbs dry after washing and store in an airtight container or zip-top bag with a paper towel to absorb any excess water. (I store my lettuce in a large Tupperware container with a paper towel on both the bottom and on top and it will stay fresh for at least a week.)
  • Tear lettuce rather than cutting it with a knife, as cutting may cause it to brown.
  • Remove grapes from stems and rinse thoroughly. Lay on towel in a single layer and allow to air dry completely before bagging.
  • Berries must also be completely dry before storing in an aerated container (not airtight).
  • Dry “bowl fruit” completely after washing and keep it out of direct sunlight.
  • Soak cut apples in salt water for five minutes to keep them from browning. Drain and store in an airtight container in the fridge…they’ll stay fresh and crisp for at least a couple of days!
  • Don’t forget to use your freezer! Toss a few of those individually portioned bags of grapes in the freezer for a refreshing snack that will last much longer than in the fridge. Freezing excess produce is a great way to preserve that initial investment until you need it.

Your needs may be slightly different depending on what you buy, how often you buy it, whether or not it is organic, and how picky you are about texture and freshness. The point is to do whatever you can to make sure the food you bring home is getting consumed by you and your family and not pests or the garbage disposer.

Happiness is Finding a Hidden Blessing

It’s never a gooddishwashing1 sign when it starts raining in your garage…especially when your kitchen is above the garage and you’ve just stepped in a wet patch near the dishwasher!

So yes, we need a new dishwasher and no, there is no room for one in our budget right now. At first I was so busy being grateful that it wasn’t an issue with the kitchen plumbing that I forgot to groan about having to hand wash all my dishes for the foreseeable future. It didn’t take long for me to remember just how much I hate it. I mostly hate not having any room on my tiny counter to put all the clean dishes and how quickly I run out of dry dish towels since I don’t have a drainer and have to drain them on a towel. (I’m actually anti-dish drainer because I think they invite you to leave the job unfinished and take up valuable space even when not in use.) But once I figured out that I could use the empty dishwasher as my drying rack, my perspective began to change. I began to see the silver lining to this cloud and realized that what at first seemed like a curse may indeed become a blessing.

For one thing, washing and drying dishes is something everyone in my family can do…even the more “spatially challenged” among them. My kids have finally completed the Dishwashing Badge in our Life Skills Badge Program. My husband is more sensitive about helping with dinner clean up, and I don’t have to worry about whether the bowl I really want to use is going to take up too much space in the dishwasher later. Maybe now we won’t have to take out a second mortgage just to pay the water bills that also fund my daughter’s showers. (She’s the only 11-year-old I know with permanently wrinkled hands.) And once the kitchen cleanup is done, it’s done…no more dishes to put away later since I ascribe to the dry-them-and-put-them-away-now philosophy.

Best of all, I’m no longer worrying about what will happen if my dishwasher breaks…I already know. My children will enjoy an excuse to play in some sudsy water before school. My husband and I will giggle and flirt as we snap dish towels at each other. I’ll imagine my mother, now gone to her rest, washing that very same serving spoon back in our kitchen on Timber Trail Rd. The clean scent of the dish washing liquid will remind me of my grandmother’s kitchen.

Sometimes we need something to break to realize how truly unimportant it is. And often in our never-ending quest to simplify our lives, we end up complicating them instead. The modern conveniences designed to free up our time wind up stealing our opportunities to forge that time into something memorable. Think about your funniest family anecdotes. Chances are they felt like catastrophes at the time. (Someday I’ll share my “Mom in a Manhole” story…a real family classic.) Next time “disaster” strikes, look for the hidden blessing instead of feeling cursed.

I suppose we will replace the dishwasher eventually, but I’m not in any hurry. It might be kind of fun to share KP duty with my sister after a family holiday meal just like the old days. But only if she dries.




Visual Peace: Calming the Chaos in Ten Minutes or Less

clutterLet’s just face it: keeping up with everyday life is not for sissies. No matter what your station is in life…student, professional, parent, retiree…your must do/should do list always seems to outweigh your available time.

As an indentured servant working mother, my list seems to grow exponentially with each item I cross off. I’ve found that the key to keeping your sanity is organization, and the first step in getting organized is to trick yourself into a sense of control over your environment. Quieting the “visual noise” that surrounds you will help you focus on what you need to do to actually take control. Are you with me?

No matter how messy your house is or how much you have on your plate, spending just 10 minutes each day to tidy up first will help put you in the right frame of mind and allow you to turn your attention to more important things on your list. Start with the things that will make a big visual impact while requiring little time/effort:

  1. Make your bed. Do it as soon as you get up, before you are awake enough to talk yourself out of it.
  2. Pick your clothes up off the floor. Better still, never let them touch the ground. Either put them away or toss them in the hamper as soon as you take them off.
  3. Close drawers and closet doors. You’ll be amazed at how much cleaner your whole room will look…it’s like magic!
  4. Wash/put away the dishes. Load them into the dishwasher right away to keep them from piling up. If you hand wash them, dry them and put them away too. Nothing creates clutter and a sense of despair like a pile of dishes cluttering up the counter/sink.
  5. Recycle old newspapers/magazines and junk mail regularly. Establish a deadline for reading them. (If you miss the deadline, go ahead and toss it. Life as you know it will not end…I promise!) In the meantime, keep them tidy and contained in a designated spot.
  6. Set up baskets/bins for shoes, backpacks, reading material and toys. This makes it easy to just toss in the trail of surface clutter left lying around by your messy spouse/kids loving family. Assign them the task of checking the baskets daily and putting away their own stuff.
  7. Hang up your bath towel. Put away toiletries immediately after use to keep the bathroom looking respectable. Nothing is worse than sending an unexpected guest to facilities that both smell and look atrocious.
  8. Declutter the front entrance. It is the first thing you see when you come home and can make the difference between a relieved “Ahhhh, I’m home” feeling or a desire to run away from home. Create a functional yet orderly “landing pad” for keys, phones and other essentials, but keep it free from other clutter.
  9. Hang up coats/jackets and put away hats, gloves and scarves. Your home should make you feel warm, cozy and safe, not remind you that a cold world awaits just outside your door.

Creating designated homes for all of your belongings will make all of this quicker/easier, but so much of getting organized is just about establishing good habits. Start here and you will be well on your way to feeling in control.

“Instead of spending time being bothered by things that you cannot control, invest your time and energy in creating the results you desire.” – Jensen Siaw


My Supermarket Shopping List. What’s YOUR Superpower?


re-usable grocery list

Hang your list on the fridge and add to it as you think of things you need.

I hate grocery shopping! Once upon a time it was fun, back when I was young and single and only cooked because I wanted to. Back then, I could meander through the aisles for hours, dreaming about the days when I had a family to cook for and imagining all the tasty, fun foods I’d make. In my little dream world, my well-rounded and appreciative children would be eager to try new foods, and there would always be oodles of time for teaching them to cook in my spacious, always-clean-and-tidy kitchen. It was a Betty Crocker Utopia. Ha!

In reality, grocery shopping with two impatient and whiny kids is like playing Supermarket Sweep, American Ninja Warrior, The Price is Right, and Survivor all at once…where the only prizes you win are gray hair, frazzled nerves and a big fat bill at the end. Oh, and then you get to cart all your stuff home and put it away. And we haven’t even come to the Hell’s Kitchen part of the show!

The only way I can win this game is to limit the number of times I play to once a week. That means making sure I don’t forget anything, which means creating a list. I’ve tried those pre-printed lists you check off, using electronic lists (many versions) and even creating my own list each week, but nothing seemed quite strong enough to numb the pain to a bearable level. The lists were never comprehensive enough or not arranged the way I liked, and crossing off (or deleting) items as I put them in the cart was too cumbersome a task to perform while simultaneously trying to prevent my kids from hiding in the freezer case or climbing the piles of giant rice bags. And in my frenzied rush to get out of the store before being kicked out by the manager, I was always forgetting some key ingredient I needed.

I finally came up with a solution that’s been working really well and has even gotten some positive comments from fellow shoppers, so I thought it was worth sharing with you guys. After consulting my pantry, fridge, freezer and cabinets, I created a comprehensive list of everything I typically buy. (I’ve been using this list for a few months now and haven’t discovered any major omissions yet.) It’s organized alphabetically by category. While store layouts vary, the categories are fairly standard. You may skip around from category to category on the list, but you will usually find the majority of items within a category together in the store.

The best part about this list is that it’s reusable and easy to check off. You see, it fits on the front and back of a single sheet and thus can be laminated or placed into a plastic page protector and used with a dry erase marker.* Hang it on the fridge and add to it all week long as you think of things you need to buy. Check off any additional items you know you will need before heading to the store. Scanning the list itself will even trigger your memory of things you need to purchase. Then as you shop, simply rub off the check marks with your finger as you put items in your cart. No pen required! (This leaves the other hand free to yank your kids back BEFORE they pull the bottom orange out of the neatly-stacked pyramid.) Hang it back up on the fridge when you get home, ready for next week’s round.

Feel free to download this printable PDF and give it a try, or email to request a FREE editable version you can customize (created in Microsoft Excel).

And for my fellow suffering moms out there: I’ve discovered that assigning each kid an item and having them race to see who can retrieve theirs first not only keeps them occupied and teaches them where to find things in the store, it saves my energy for more important things…like chasing the shopping cart they are coasting downhill to the car.


*Laminating the list stiffens it, making it easier to write on or rub off and preventing it from creasing in your shopping bag. If using a page protector, place the two sheets back to back with a piece of cardboard in between to achieve the same effect.


How Balanced Is Your Budget?


I love seeing everything at once in my tiny, organized pantry!

I love seeing everything at once in my tiny, organized pantry!

I’m bracing myself for a barrage of hate mail for posting this, but my recent discovery has brought me such freedom that I simply must shout it from the rooftops!

I’d like to think I’ve proven myself as a reasonably frugal consumer. When I say “frugal”, I mean that I am budget-conscious and put some effort into finding decent bargains while also recognizing that my time is at least as limited as my finances. 

First an admission: I do not coupon (gasp). I found it to be too time consuming and confusing. On top of that, in order for couponing to work, you have to actually remember to give the cashier your coupons…oops!  I used to be a regular shopper at warehouse stores like Sam’s and Costco because of the low per-unit price you could get by buying in bulk. But then I realized that while spending $400 in one week for 3 different items may save me money in the long run, my short-term cash flow was precisely that…short. So I began shopping at a discount grocery store that stocks mostly off-brand products but where the prices (and the quality) are at least as good as the coupon and warehouse deals without the hassle or the huge outlay.

Finally, I had managed to secure a low unit cost without having to purchase a high quantity. I began to see the benefits of fitting normal-sized products into my tiny pantry (pictured above…I just love my pantry). Gone (eventually) were the 2-liter bottles of soy sauce and vats of olive oil. Crackers, pretzels and cereal were no longer going stale before they could be consumed. I was able to reclaim part of my garage for storing other items besides overflow food. And it no longer took the National Guard to help me unload all the groceries each week.

Unfortunately, I kept buying more cans and boxes than I actually consumed each week out of pure habit…”just to have some on hand”. I still had one large shelf reserved in the garage for storing all my extras. In the garage, mind you…where I hate to go. I would send the kids down to get stuff for me, so I lacked a keen sense of what was actually there. I was always buying things we didn’t need and not buying something we did need simply because I assumed we already had more of it down in the garage.

And then something happened to knock some sense into me. I fell down the stairs and dislocated my shoulder…badly. I could no longer carry as many groceries and was forced to shorten my weekly shopping list to only what I knew we would use in the next week or two. 

Eureka! Now I can fit everything into my pantry where I can easily see at a glance just what we need. Everything is fresh and actually consumed rather than wasted. Putting the groceries away is quicker and easier, and I now have even more room in my garage. I feel so FREE!

All of this has made me realize that being a “frugal” consumer means respecting not just your financial and time limitations, but your space limitations too. My father used to always say, “Space is at a premium.” It surely is a precious commodity to be used wisely. Don’t squander your spacial budget just to stretch your financial or time budgets. Find a balance of all three.

How do you balance your financial, time and spacial budgets?

Note: Your Sam’s or Costco membership may still be worthwhile for purchasing household items, office supplies, electronics, etc. at a great price or for when you are feeding a large crowd. I am not suggesting you ditch it!  Just don’t let bulk purchases of regular groceries eat up all your space.

Keeping Up While Cutting Down

Summer sleep shorts

The karate kid sporting his “new” jammies

To say that my kids are “growing like weeds” takes on a lot more meaning if you have ever seen my yard. While my closets are neatly organized and my pantry is a masterpiece of space management and convenience, it is an understatement to say that my garden could use a little tweaking. Sure, I appreciate other people’s beautiful landscapes and wish I had one too, but I don’t do bugs, snakes or itchy creepy crawly stuff. Thus mine is a tangled patch of overgrown weeds that I can’t keep up with…much like my kids. Do you see where I’m going with this?

Like most moms, it’s important to me that my progeny look presentable. Heaven knows that I have expended more energy than I probably should on arguing with them over proper teeth brushing, appropriate haircuts and fingernail length. I’m frankly surprised that Child Protective Services has not appeared on my doorstep yet, given the blood-curdling screams my son lets rip on nail-clipping day or my daughter’s gnashing of teeth at the mere prospect of having her hair braided. Apparently I could teach the CIA a thing or two about torture.

I gave up the stripes with plaid and boots with shorts war years ago due to pure battle fatigue. They are now free to express themselves (within reason) with their wardrobe choices. I’ve even recently developed a  new “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy toward tears and stains after discovering the multiple holes my 9YO son created in the crotch of his new shorts…I just don’t want to know. I simply don’t have the time, energy or budget to stay on top of it, and some days this weary mom feels lost in the weeds.

It is upon this backdrop that I looked up last Sunday evening and realized that my son’s sleep pants were about 5 inches too short. They have worn well and still fit perfectly in the waist. More importantly, he loves them! But so pathetic did he look in them, that I had to do something to save my poor child from the certain ridicule that awaited him if one of his neighborhood friends should come knocking at the door after he was ready for bed (as they sometimes do). My solution was so quick, easy and free that I had to share it. After all, it isn’t often that he and I are both this thrilled with a wardrobe solution. All it took was a pair of scissors and within five minutes, he had 6 pairs of adorable, comfortable, summer sleep shorts!

Five minute fix for outgrown jammies.

Five minute fix for outgrown jammies.

This simple yet elegant solution got me thinking about other ways that I stretch (literally) the kids’ wardrobe with minimal time and effort. (I’m not much of a seamstress either.) Here are just a few:
  • Turn a short dress into a tunic by pairing it with leggings or bike shorts.
  • Hang onto outgrown leggings until they are short enough to become capri leggings.
  • Lengthen skirts and dresses by adding a ruffle or lace hem to the bottom.
  • Convert stained t-shirts and comfy elastic waist shorts into pajamas.
  • Missing one unique button? Replace half of them (alternating) with new ones.
  • Cover up a stain or tear with a decorative patch or iron-on applique.

What shortcuts do you take to stretch your time and budget?