Category Archives: Organized Living

MAKING FRIENDS WITH THE CLOCK

I had an elderly neighbor friend who moved through her day in a way I admired: unhurried, focused on the task at hand. Whether she was weeding her vegetable garden or sweeping the concrete stoop outside her kitchen door, she seemed to apply a kind of steady, sustained energy to everything she did.  I think of her now every time I catch myself rushing out my own kitchen door.

Somewhere in the last century it became fashionable to hurry. Perhaps it implies we have somewhere important to be, that we are in demand at all hours. Being pressed for time is no longer the exception for many people, but the rule.

storm-0914-scribble-206Could there be a different way to relate to the clock? It takes practice, but here are some simple strategies to try.

  1. Block out “empty” segments of time. The very idea of this may sound foreign.  Begin with short increments during the “between” times: between waking and work, between work and supper, between chores and bedtime. Resolve to take fifteen unassigned minutes. Just sit, or nap, or read, or walk around the block, or talk to your spouse or kids without an agenda. Watch the world go by without you in it. Work up to longer blocks. You may even learn to build into your calendar one day a month where you do absolutely nothing that isn’t restorative to your mind, body and soul. Imagine that.
  2. Aim lower. Decide what you really can accomplish in any given time—without killing yourself. What non-essential components can you eliminate from any task? If you’re a perfectionist, or highly driven, this is far more challenging than setting lofty goals. The sweet surprise to this strategy? You get more done, at a higher level of quality, and you are much more pleasant to be around.
  3. Think of time as your friend. We tend to look at time with a scarcity mentality: there will never be enough to do what we want and need to do. So of course we always feel time-starved. Try looking at time as a banquet of 24 of our favorite foods, lovingly prepared and laid out for us each and every day. Instead of wolfing it down like fast food from a drive-through, savor it one bite at a time. Everything tastes better that way.

ENERGY EFFICIENT KITCHEN TIPS

nx_light_bulb energy saving_LABEL2black2Major holidays mean heavy kitchen use in most households, as families prepare large meals for festive gatherings. High efficiency appliances have come a long way over the years to reduce their carbon footprint. You can also reduce the cost of kitchen energy during the holidays and all year round in simple ways:

  • Try not to peek at what’s cooking.Every time you open a heated stove, it’s forced to work harder to restore its set temperature.
  • Plan your fridge forays.Don’t open the door multiple times to retrieve multiple items. Instead, remove what you need for any given task at the same time.
  • Use the right burner for the right pot.A small pot on a large burner is a waste of energy. A large pot on a small burner takes longer to heat food to the appropriate temperature.
  • Rethink the freezer setting.If your ice cream is rock hard, the temperature is probably set too low, using unnecessary energy to freeze food.
  • Use an energy-efficient small appliance like a toaster oven or crock pot when possible, rather than heating up the whole stove.
  • Only preheat when the recipe calls for it.Time the preheating so you are ready to put the food in when the oven is ready.
  • Water will boil fasterif you put a lid on the pan.
  • A self-cleaning ovenwill consume less energy if you start the cleaning process immediately after cooking something. The oven temperature will be that much closer to the high heat it must achieve to clean itself.

 

CREATIVE CENTERPIECES: USING WHAT YOU HAVE

Florist with tulipsMany people who enjoy entertaining avoid the question of a table centerpiece until the last minute—or often altogether. If you claim you aren’t creative enough to arrange your own table flowers, or loathe spending the money on a purchased centerpiece only to end up with a stiff, unimaginative triangle of blooms for your trouble, try these suggestions. I have found that many lovely centerpieces can be put together quickly and inexpensively using materials you already own.

  • Keep it simple and striking, especially if you are pressed for time. Generously fill a large glass cylinder vase with one type of flower that suits the season and style of the occasion. Sunflowers, tulips, daisies and even cut branches are all good choices. If you’re on a budget, don’t be afraid to use the stuff growing freely in ditches and open fields, like Queen Anne’s Lace, wild daylilies, sweet peas or Black-eyed Susans. For an extra flair, add some small votive candles that pick up the color of the flowers, or stick with classic white.
  • An interesting mirror makes a stunning base for a centerpiece, with the reflection of flowers and candles giving you twice the effect, especially for evening gatherings. Scour discount stores, garage sales and flea markets for the mirrors—just make sure the size is appropriate for your table. Also, try using several small mirrors of varying sizes on a table, placing a different size or color candle on each.
  • One of the easiest and reliably attractive ways to dress your table: fill a beautiful glass bowl three-fourths full with water and float one or two spectacular flowers in it.
  • If you happen to have a handful of pretty bottles around the house—clear glass, old wine bottles, or cobalt blue are especially nice—place a single stem of bloom in each and weave them in a line down your table.
  • Fabric is an element that can be incorporated into centerpieces. Scarves, cloth napkins and bandannas can all be used to loosely wrap otherwise plain containers. Add flowers that match the mood and your table will be instantly accessorized.
  • Buy potted flowers from the grocery store and arrange them in a handsome bowl or basket. Arranging them snugly will allow you to tilt them at angles to create a rounded, natural shape overall.
  • If you have the time, you can make an arresting centerpiece by potting up some of what is in full bloom in your garden and displaying it in a gorgeous ceramic bowl or terra cotta pot. Try to do this a day in advance to give the plant time to acclimate to indoor surroundings. You can replant it later or use it as a container planting outside after your party.

Rule of thumb for table flowers: They should enhance the occasion, not distract from it. Centerpieces should be no taller than about 12 inches so as not to prevent seated guests from seeing each other over the top of the flowers. This rule can be bent somewhat if you have a very tall, elegant arrangement with a visual mass that rises above the heads of seated guests. Be careful not to get top heavy with it, though; you don’t want something so precarious it can crash into someone’s plate. Also, if you are serving buffet style, do not place lit candles where guests need to reach over them. Sleeves can easily catch on fire in such situations.

 

CHOOSING THE RIGHT HOME ORGANIZATION PRODUCTS

Organize Definition Magnifier Showing Managing Or Arranging Into StructureHome organization is an ongoing process, and time is your most important resource. I have found that even 15 minutes a day committed to de-cluttering will go a long way.

That said, there are thousands of products on the market designed to help along the process. Browsing quickly reveals a range of pricing and quality that can overwhelm—how to choose the best products for your needs? Try using these simple, tried-and-true guidelines:

  • How sturdy does it need to be? A sagging shelf isn’t pretty or functional. If you are buying storage units to hold heavy items, better to invest in sturdy products. On the other hand, if you are looking for a place to hold wrapping paper and ribbon or lightweight crafts, cleaning supplies or clothing, adjust your selections accordingly. Use this same logic when considering the location of stored items. Cardboard boxes, while economical, might be perfect for papers in a home office closet, but a poor choice for basement storage. A good all-purpose material for practical storage in closets, pantries and basements is coated, heavy-duty wire shelving on metal brackets.
  • How visible is it? If items are stowed in closets, cubby holes, attics or basements and pulled out infrequently, be practical and avoid spending big dollars on the most aesthetically pleasing products. But if you’re organizing something you look at every day, it’s worth it to buy products that you’ll be happy looking at, and which are also easy to clean.
  • How much of a beating will it take? Again, location is everything. Your garage, family entryway and/or mud room are some of the most-used areas of the house, and probably not gently. Go with products that can withstand some abuse, or you’ll end up replacing them quickly. On the other hand, shelving that will hold dress hats and scarves in Grandma’s closet will most likely be treated gently, so won’t require industrial strength materials.
  • How much room do you have? Even good looking organizational units can start crowding out their owners, which defeats their purpose. Choose products that work with the space you have. Consider using vertical space on walls to maximum effect, for example. Items can also be hung above your head, such as pots and pans in the kitchen suspended from a handsome wrought iron or steel unit. Don’t forget about the space under beds. Ditto for the inside of doors—there are many practical products for storing everything from shoes and jewelry to canned goods in narrow spaces. You can even buy furniture that doubles as storage: ottomans with removable tops to reveal handy spots for stashing magazines, for example.
  • Should it move easily? If you want to keep things easily portable or cleanable, consider storing them in units on casters that can lock in place for safety.
  • What are your home’s “hot spots”? We all have them. They are the places that accumulate clutter the fastest: shoes, mail, newspapers, makeup and hair products, homework and school supplies, kitchen gadgets, computer accessories, laundry, etc. Start with buying products that keep those areas under better control, then work up to the areas that are less troublesome.
  • Remember that clutter continues to accumulate despite our best efforts, especially if you have a young family. Purge on a regular basis: recycle, donate, sell or give away the stuff you don’t use anymore. Make a point of eliminating an item for every new item that comes into your home. No amount of clever storage products will replace the all-important process of weeding out unneeded items.

A HOUSE CLEANING SCHEDULE FREES UP TIME AND ENERGY

As if your life isn’t already schedule to the hilt, here’s an article that proposes you create a schedule for cleaning your house.

Plan conceptBefore you run for the hills, know that the word “schedule” can be applied as tightly or loosely as you wish, and still free up time and energy while resulting in a house that looks good and feels even better to come home to.

You just need to know yourself. Do you like to finish big chunks of cleaning in one swoop? Or divide up the labor in smaller, concentrated efforts? Do you find a predictable routine easier to stick to, or the freedom to change things up depending on your mood and other life demands? Finally, how clean is clean? Everyone has different requirements for a home that feels livable and pleasant, weighed against available time and energy.

First make a list of all your routine household tasks, such as vacuuming, scrubbing toilets, weeding the garden, laundry, putting toys or hobbies away.

Second, decide how much time you can spend on the housework each day. You might want to leave a few days totally housework-free, and distribute some chores more heavily on a few days.

Third, choose how to distribute the labor throughout the week. You might approach this on a room by room basis, such as bathroom cleaning on Mondays, kitchen cleaning on Tuesdays, TV room on Wednesdays, etc. Or you could organize your time by task: you’ll vacuum on certain days, dust on a certain day, de-clutter on a certain day, change bedding on a certain day. Try to divvy up big tasks with a few smaller tasks for maximum visible results for time spent.

If you like more flexibility, create a job jar with slips of colored paper listing one job per slip. Color code the chores by difficulty and length of time required. Create an additional category for tasks that aren’t routine but need done occasionally, like weeding through old magazines, sorting through clothes for outgrown or worn items, or cleaning a file cabinet. Then on any given day, choose at random from the jar one labor intensive chore and one easy chore. Once a week, also choose at random an “occasional” task to tackle, even if you’re only willing to spend 15 minutes on it.

For even greater flexibility, simply decide that each day you will commit to so much time to cleaning the house—let’s say a half hour as an example—and choose the task of your choice to do in that half hour. If possible, put aside the same half hour every day. Set a timer, put on some good dancing music, and go to it. You’ll be amazed how good your house looks, with just this amount of investment a day.

No matter what your personal style or cleaning requirements, there’s an approach that suits you well. Set yourself up for success by allowing yourself to structure housework in a framework that you can live with, and enjoy the results!

TIRED OF MULTI-TASKING? TRY SINGLE-TASKING.

happy young woman relax at home on sofa

Wouldn’t you love to know who managed to convince an entire population that doing many things at once was a good idea?

Maybe you’ve learned the hard way that eating/texting/talking/typing/balancing your checkbook/scheduling a dog sitter/listening to self-improvement books on tape/lifting weights — all at the same time — is unproductive, most likely dangerous and just plain exhausting.

Here’s a radical concept: Single-Tasking. Doing one thing – just one – at one time. You can apply this strategy to work tasks, conversations with people you care about, and even cleaning the house.

Is your living space in disorder? Tackle one room. Vacuum, dust, put away, wash the throw rugs and linens, toss the junk, tidy the shelves. Plump the pillows. Open a window for a few minutes, even if it’s cold outside. Close the window and clean it. Replace the burned-out light bulb. Add a vase of fresh flowers. Spray something natural that smells good, or light a good quality candle.

Then . . . sit. Close the door first, if you can. Look around. Enjoy that one perfectly clean room.  (No, it won’t stay that way for long. Does it matter?)

The pleasure of one perfectly ordered space just might inspire you to clean some more.

But only one room at a time.

DE-CLUTTER IN FIVE MINUTES A DAY

The unending stream of stuff that enters our homes can easily get out of hand. I find it stressful to live with chaos and disorder, so how can we dig ourselves out?

Even if you’re home is already brimming with stuff you no longer want or need, solutions are at hand, and it doesn’t necessarily take a professional organizer to get you in line. Use these tips whether you’re just trying to recover order after a holiday or want to reclaim your space from years of clutter.

  1. Order Or Chaos Directions On A SignpostFive minutes a day really does make a difference. Part of our resistance to purging clutter is that it simply becomes too daunting of a prospect. We become overwhelmed with the largeness of the task looming before us and then immobilized. It might seem counterintuitive, but the situation calls for setting smaller goals. Instead of telling yourself you have to clean out the basement or “once and for all get this house organized,” think in tiny, doable bites.
  2. While the pasta is boiling on the stove, take one pile of mail and go through it, or throw out a handful of items collecting dust in that classic repository, “the junk drawer.” When you get dressed on Saturday morning, take three items of clothing nobody wears from a closet and drop it into a bag that you will gradually fill and donate. After you brush your teeth, pick an item or two from your medicine chest that are dried up, expired or no longer used and discard them. Do a sweep through the house in search of old newspapers and magazines and put them in the recycle bin. You can go through piles of kids’ old schoolwork while you’re watching television, discarding what is no longer needed. Small, daily efforts really do add up. Take it a few inches at a time, and soon you will begin to see results, which will motivate you to keep going.
  3. Keep a sturdy bag in your closet and make a habit of eliminating an item of clothing to give away on a regular basis. If you buy three new shirts, you should probably get rid of three to make room for them. If you don’t absolutely love an article of clothing, or you haven’t worn it in a year, it’s probably safe to let it go.
  4. Likewise, keep a box or bin in your basement and periodically drop things in it for donation. When it’s full, drop it off and start a new one.
  5. If your house is exploding with toys, put half of them away for a month. The next month, bring them back out and store the other half. Everything will feel brand new again to your children, and your home will stay neater.
  6. Here’s the magic of setting five-minute goals for home organization. Once you get past the resistance of starting, something clicks. Five minutes of de-cluttering quite often results in enough visible progress to inspire five minutes more, and five more after that. Before you know it, you’re an hour into it and purging like mad, maybe even enjoying the process. But don’t go back to thinking big, or everything will begin to seem like too much again. Five minutes a day really will add up to significant progress. Odds are all these small efforts will also begin to change your daily living habits, so once an area is really organized, it might just stay that way.