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

 

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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 valerie@easypeasyliving.com 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.

The Road to Hell Is Paved with Avoidance

Have you ever noticed that things always tend to break when you are broke…and when you really, really, really, really need them the most?

That’s what happened this morning. My husband returned home from his first night shift back at work after a much-needed two weeks off and reported that the brakes in his car were making that dreaded grinding sound. You know the one. It means “Cough up at least $250 immediately” in car language. And of course it didn’t happen while he was off and we didn’t need both cars so that each of us could get to work. It happened right in the middle of a particularly tight budget week.

But it is what it is, and there was no getting around it. We needed that car and couldn’t avoid the necessary repairs, so we put our heads together and came up with a solution within five minutes. I was so proud of my husband (aka “Mañana Man”) for facing the issue head on instead of avoiding it the way he has often done in the past. I used to tease him about how whenever he noticed the car making a funny noise, he’d just turn up the radio so that he didn’t have to hear it anymore. Job done…right?!!

We all have stuff we avoid. I avoided our finished basement for years because the carpet and sofa were stained, the kids’ toys had taken over, and it was dark and dingy and ugly, and I didn’t have the money to get new carpeting or a new sofa. I found myself trying to fit all my stuff into the main level of our house, making that more cluttered than I wanted, just so that I didn’t have to go down there as often to get  the things I needed. I dreaded doing the laundry, because it meant I had to spend time in that depressing environment. I refused to hang out with my husband or children down there. It felt like a dungeon.

Eventually, I got so annoyed at having to relinquish the use of one-third of my house just because it was ugly that I finally decided to do something about it. I painted it, bought slip covers and new drapes, purged  all the toys the kids had outgrown and re-organized the rest, and cleaned the carpet. When I was done, I not only liked it again, I spent most of my days working down there. I even made sure we had a Christmas tree down there so that we could open up our gifts in front of the fireplace. It was awesome, and I was left wondering why I hadn’t done it sooner…why I had wasted all that precious time avoiding the thing that would lead to such a positive outcome. The work and inconvenience of it was far worse in my head than it was in reality and was well-worth it. It took about three days but I have now been able to enjoy that part of my house for over a year. Winning!

One of my favorite shows on TV is “Buried Alive” on Discovery Health Channel. If you haven’t heard of it, it’s a show about extreme hoarders who decide it’s time to get the psychiatric and organizational help they need to clear up their clutter. Avoidance is the main M.O. for practically all of them. They have developed hoarding behaviors as a means of covering up, or avoiding, their emotional pain. They avoid cleaning up and putting things away. They literally build up barriers of stuff to avoid dealing with their nagging spouse or kids. They avoid the reality of their financial issues by continuing to shop for more stuff they don’t need with money they don’t  have. They avoid making repairs in their home and thus often go without power or water for years. Then they begin avoiding relationships because they have to hide their hoarding problem. Life eventually becomes so miserable, the smallest tasks so cumbersome, the mess so paralyzing and their self-esteem so low that they are forced to confront the issue and fix it. And most of them do and then can’t believe how wonderful it is not to have maggots all over their kitchen and to be able to take a shower in their own bathroom or sleep in a bed again. They spent so many years bathing in the sink or eating takeout and robbing their kids of their childhoods that they couldn’t remember how incredibly easy normal life could be in comparison.

One of my clients this week told me that she found herself avoiding looking at  the new “Action” folder we set up for her incoming mail and other papers. After asking her several probing questions to get to the bottom of the issue, it came to light that she was afraid she’d make a mistake in filling out a form or would not be able to find some important document she needed in order to submit her health insurance claims. I pointed out to her that there are very few mistakes in life that cannot be corrected, and there is almost always someone somewhere who has a copy of any missing document or who can help you figure out how to achieve your goal without it. Perhaps it will require some inconvenience or may cost time or money you think you don’t have, but there is always a solution as long as you look for it instead of avoiding it. But more importantly, finding the solution is how we grow and learn, and isn’t that the whole point of living in the first place? To avoid the problem only avoids finding the solution, which in turn avoids learning and growing and living.

The old adage, “Never put off until tomorrow that which can be done today” really means, “Never put off the relief and joy and sense of accomplishment you feel when overcoming an obstacle if you can experience it today”. So next time you find yourself avoiding an unpleasant task, realize that you are also avoiding the sense of freedom that only comes from having completed it.

The Secret Key to an Organized Home

I’m lazy. There, I said it!

They say that “necessity is the mother of invention”, but my cleverest organizing ideas are born out of pure laziness. The truth is that the reason my home is so organized is because I’m just too darned lazy to live in clutter. I will literally spend hours organizing one cabinet in just such a manner as to never have to lift something up in order to get something else out. I clean out my closets very regularly because I figured out a long time ago that the less stuff I have, the greater percentage of that stuff can occupy the prime real estate in my home. The more stuff occupies prime real estate, the easier it is for me to find it and put it away. Laziness… the secret key to an organized home. Who knew?

I may have mentioned this before, but I am a huge Pinterest addict. I spend most of the time I save from not having to look for stuff and lift stuff on surfing Pinterest for new ideas on how to be even more organized and efficient. It’s pretty pathetic, I know, but I really enjoy seeing all the clever ideas people come up with for storing things in non-conventional, super-accessible ways. Using a cupcake stand to store tiny craft embellishments without having to open any containers… stuffed animals hung conveniently on the wall in a mounted planter where they won’t fall out easily and have to be picked up… pocket shoe organizers for holding the entire contents of a cabinet where you can see it all at once and not have to move anything…Brilliant!

But there’s danger lurking among the boards, too. In the pictures, the cabinets always look so nice and neat and orderly with their matching containers and coordinating labels. It can be a little intoxicating and make you forget yourself a little. Before you know it, the quest for efficiency can turn into a Martha Stewart Living nightmare.  I recently saw a photo that made me shiver. A professional organizer had helped someone organize their linen closet and attached beautiful labels indicating the sheet size to each sheet set using safety pins. Say what?!!  Oh, it looked gorgeous, but it failed the laziness test immediately. Who on earth is going to un-pin and re-pin those labels every time the sheets are used or put away?!!! Not me!

Never underestimate the power of the slightest inconvenience to prevent you from doing something you don’t want to do anyway. If your drawers and closets are too full, you won’t put things away, so you may as well just pile everything up on the tables and chairs instead, because that’s where they’re going to end up anyway.  Closet door broken? Sock drawer stuck? Can’t reach that top shelf? Maybe it isn’t such a coincidence that the things that live there never made it back home last time you finished using them. Take a good look at your biggest pain points and ask yourself why they are so painful. Dig deep down into your subconscious and identify the problem. Nine times out of ten, it’s because of some minor obstacle you’ve tolerated (or haven’t) for too long without even acknowledging its existence.

Let Martha keep her matching hang tags and adorable zippered pouches. She’s got a whole TV crew to put stuff away for her! Lazy works just fine for me. In fact, I’d even say “It’s a good thing”.

Those Lazy, Hazy, Crazy Days of Summer

A couple of months ago, I spent a much-overdue long weekend away with my three older sisters. It was the first time I had ever been away from my children for more than one night. (They are now 7 and 9.) I was sure that they would miss me, and I knew I would miss them, but my son responded to the news with this elated proclamation to his father:

“Hey Daddy, that means that we can do whatever we want all weekend, because Mommy won’t be here to boss us around!”

Alas, it’s true that we all need to take a break every now and then from doing what we’re supposed to do. That’s why we take vacations and why we skip the gym, take a “mental health day” from work, or cheat on our diets. In this case, my son thought that there would be no one ordering him to clean up his toys, make his bed or clear his dishes with his drill sergeant Mom on leave. His hope was that it would be one long video game-playing, TV-watching, Lego-dumping weekend filled with Cocoa Puffs for dinner, chocolate cake for dessert and no church or teeth-brushing to cramp his style. Turns out he was only half-right. He forgot that his sister was also staying home…and she’s bossier than all the rest of the women in my family put together. Here’s some proof:

bossy sister, great white shark

Are those blue things fish or a bossy sister’s feet?

Anyway, a little time off from the regular routine is a healthy thing, and summer is the ideal time for relaxing our standards and enjoying some easy, laid-back simplicity. But there is a fine line between a relaxed routine and complete chaos…a line that is easily erased in the absence of a solid organizational foundation and a bit of self-discipline. Just like enjoying that all-you-can-eat dessert buffet, the long-term negative effects of your binge can be minimized with just a smidgeon of advance preparation and a plan in place for easing back into the rigors of everyday life when reality resumes in the fall. Also remember that kids need a little structure in place to reassure them when they crash from that sugar rush.

So  go ahead and savor the sweetness of these long summer days, but just remember that you still need to brush if you don’t want a cavity!

(And now that you’ve got the song stuck in your head, you may as well go ahead and listen to it! Lazy, Hazy, Crazy Days of Summer )

Choose Your Setting

I have a 7 year-old son and a 9 year-old daughter. They both insist–rather frequently–that they plan to never leave home. This is sad news, because I really had my heart set on A) seeing them happily married with children of their own some day; B) replacing all the scratched up furniture and stained rugs at some point once they were no longer around to ruin the new stuff. I’m reduced to hoping that my son will eventually revert back to his original plan of becoming a hobo. Maybe then I could at least get some new end tables.

Don’t get me wrong. I love my children very much, but I’d be lying if I said that boarding school never crossed my mind when I read “The Chamber of Secrets has been opened” scrawled in red crayon on my daughter’s dresser. For some reason, I was under the impression that once she was old enough to watch Harry Potter movies, she’d be past the stage of coloring her bedroom furniture. Apparently I failed to figure the need for proper set design into the equation.

Anyway, the point is that I love my home and want it to look nice. I feel good when I can look around my living room and see all the pretty things I picked out to decorate it. It makes me smile to see the framed photos of the people I love sitting atop the sideboard, and I enjoy sitting on the comfy sofa watching a favorite TV show or blogging on my laptop without being surrounded by chaos, dirt or mess. Sure, there’s a small price to be paid to maintain this order, but 10-15 minutes here and there to tidy up is worth it to me. Like everything else in life, it is a choice…just like the choice I am making to keep my son, despite his recent failed attempt to make a ghost costume out of one of my pillow cases using scissors.

Once upon a time, you made an important choice too. You chose your home, and you were excited about it. You chose the color on the walls (probably), the sofa you sit on, the rugs you walk on, the desk or table you write on. And you were excited about them too. When you look around your home today, what do you see? Are you still excited about it? Are you still able to see all your favorite things? Is it the environment you chose, or just the one you tolerate?

Life is short. Make sure the set design is appropriate for the story you hope to live.

Real Men Don’t Ask for Directions

I find it ironic that my husband will drive around, lost, for ages without stopping to ask for directions but will not stray from a recipe calling for a dried herb we don’t have. Conclusion: Most men are good at following specific instructions as long as they don’t have to ask for them.

So when it comes to keeping the house organized, assign a home for everything, make it easily accessible (’cause you know nothing will get put away if something else has to be moved first), and label, label, label! Whatever you do, don’t require him to figure out where to store something unless you’re okay with it left on the floor at the foot of the bed.

Granted, there are some men who are very organized by nature, and if you’re lucky enough to have one of them at home, you should be out buying him a GPS instead of wasting your time reading this post!

Keeping It Real with Martha Stewart

You’d think her stint in the big house might have put the domestic goddess back in touch with mere mortals like us, but a quick perusal of organizing tips on her website indicates otherwise. So I’ve taken the liberty of modifying some of her ideas to appeal to people like me who have limited time, money, and–to put it bluntly–patience for her hoity-toity bullcrap.

Martha says: Make a handy canvas tote with lots of pockets by sewing a carpenter’s nail apron… (she lost me at “sewing”)
EasyPeasyLiving says: Buy a gardening tote. They have lots of pockets and often come in cute patterns.

Martha says: Create cute little calendar labels for your freezer bags out of my adorable clip-art files that will use up most of the ink in your printer cartridge. This way you will know by when you must consume the contents.
EasyPeasyLiving says: Write the date by when you should consume the contents right on the bag with a sharpie.

Martha says: Laminate a “To Do Before I Go On Vacation” list on card stock, punch with eyelet puncher and attach with decorative ribbon to your luggage so you don’t forget to do anything before you go away. Laminating means you can re-use the card next time you go on vacation.
EasyPeasyLiving says: Tape your handwritten “To Do”  list to the front door so that you see it before you walk out the door instead of when you are checking your luggage at the airport. By the next time you are lucky enough to get away, you are sure to have a completely different set of tasks to do before you go.

Martha says: Spend a little time creating stylish organizing tools that you can show off to all your friends. All those superficial little details will let them know you care about impressing them. It’s a good thing.
EasyPeasyLiving says: Spend the time and mental energy you save by being more organized on enjoying and laughing with your friends. It lets them know you care about them. It’s the real thing.