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.

GET SAVVY WITH CLEANING SUPPLIES

The little things will do the trick. 111779891

Walk down the cleaning supplies aisle in any grocery store and it’s easy to be overwhelmed by the dizzying array of products available for purchase. There are concoctions that disinfect, scrub, polish, cut grease, de-rust, un-streak, and promise gleam and shine.

How to choose the right products without spending a fortune and cramming the cupboards with stuff you don’t need?

I thought I would share a primer for getting savvy with cleaning supplies.

  • Buy a small plastic bin with a handle for each floor of your home. You will fill it with all the supplies you need for cleaning your house, with the exception of your vacuum, and carry it from room to room as you clean. No more wasted steps back and forth as you retrieve the cleaning supplies you need for each room and each chore. Keep the bin in a linen closet or under the master bathroom sink.
  • Search out the circulars for sales and coupons. When you see a product you need, buy two. You can have one for each floor of the house or save one for later.
  • Each of your plastic bins should contain:
    • A plastic spray bottle of all-purpose cleaner for general surface cleaning. This need not be anti-bacterial. In fact, ample evidence points to overuse of antibacterial cleaners as one contributing factor to increasing the strength and number of antibiotic-resistant superbugs. A solution of vinegar and water in a clean spray bottle is inexpensive and when applied with a lint-free cloth will leave mirrors and glass streak-free. Unless a family member is ill with a contagious disease, save antibacterial products for food prep areas and cleaning the toilet.
    • Anti-bacterial wipes or spray cleaner for toilets and food preparation areas only.
    • Gentle non-abrasive cleaner for scrubbing showers and sinks
    • Anti-static dusting cloth and furniture polish. Furniture polish need not be applied with every cleaning. And if you have a central vacuum system, you can use the long hose and variety of attachments to save time with dusting chores, such as baseboards, window sills, blinds, and draperies. Dust suctioned away with a central vacuuming system doesn’t re-circulate back into the air and resettle, as it does with traditional vacuum cleaners, but is pulled into a central collection unit which can then be emptied periodically.
    • Sponge
    • Nylon scrubbing pad for scrubbing jobs
    • Lint-free rags for wiping and dusting. Old cloth diapers are ideal, as are worn cotton tee shirts. A roll of paper towels comes in handy, but go easy on the environment by using paper towels sparingly, and only for the dirtiest jobs.
    • Handful of small plastic garbage bags (small grocery bags are perfect) for collecting small bits of trash and used wipes or paper towels as you go along.

Replenish supplies as needed, and store the bins in the same place all the time when not in use. You’ll be pleasantly surprised how much time, energy and frustration you’ll save on routine cleaning with this simple “Cleaning Carry-All” strategy.

WHITTLE DOWN YOUR HOUSEWORK

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Everybody likes a clean home, but who wants to spend their weekends scouring, sweeping and scrubbing? Not me!  Make the most of your cleaning time by staying ahead of the game with small, focused efforts, and break daunting chores into shorter, more manageable tasks that won’t gobble up your leisure hours. Saving housecleaning effort is much like saving money: small actions are an investment. They add up over time and pay off big in the long term.

Here are some tips to get you started:

Bathroom

Keep toiletries tucked away in drawers or closets to eliminate unnecessary dusting.

Consider a vacuum solution like Vroom to clean makeup, hairs, and powders from vanity counters after your bathroom routine.

Scum-fighting shower spray in the shower every day will go to work on its own to prevent buildup.

Spot clean the toilet and surrounding floor with a disinfectant wipe each day.

Straighten towels after use or use hooks for a no-fuss look.

Kitchen

Clean as you go when you cook to keep surfaces and pans easy to wipe up before food hardens. Wipe counters and stove surface after each meal you prepare to prevent tough, built-up grime.

Take a few minutes to vacuum the kitchen every night. Consider a built-in product like the Vroom.

Every few days while you’re talking on the phone or waiting for the soup to heat, clear the fridge of leftovers that won’t get eaten, then spot-wipe the glass shelves with a damp cloth.

Every few weeks while the pasta is boiling or the chicken is on the grill, use a microfiber duster to dust cupboards and walls.

Living Room/Family Room

Walk around most-used living spaces each night with a laundry basket and pick up items that don’t belong there. Take a few minutes to put those items in the places they belong, or delegate that chore to a family member.

During television commercials, grab a microfiber duster and do a quick once-around the room on surfaces, window sills and baseboards.

Put each day’s newspapers in a designated spot before going to bed.

If you have small children and lots of toys that get used in common living areas, don’t bother picking them up all day long. They’re just going to get pulled out again, so stop wasting time and energy. Shoot for two or three five-minute sessions of cleanup each day, and engage your child in the process as much as possible. A tidied family room gives some peace of mind at the end of day for grownup hours when children are in bed, and offers children a sense of accomplishment.

Bedrooms

A made bed contributes more to the overall impression of a clean bedroom than any other effort you make there. Try to make your bed each morning and you’ll retire with a more serene feeling each night.

Use handsome jewelry boxes or valet boxes to avoid clutter—and unnecessary dusting—on the dresser.

If clothes on the floor are a problem, get a coat stand with hooks, or fasten pretty hooks on the walls. At least clothes will be off the floor until you get the chance to launder them or hang them up.

Changing sheets and bed linens can be done in less than half the time with two people. Enlist a house mate’s help.

Close closet doors after use for a sleeker appearance in the room.

If you live in a house of avid readers, choose nightstands that have cabinet bottoms with doors, so the bedside book stack can be stowed away instead of adding to clutter and trapping dust.

Make Your Living Room Livable

84470092I can’t tell you how many times I have had to scramble and do a mediocre speed clean of my living room before company arrives. My kids tend to just leave their backpacks, shoes, socks, toys, etc. in a trail through the living room as soon as they walk in the door. When does it get cleaned? When I realize my book club ladies are five minutes away and I have a near panic attack and the room barely looks organized. Here are some tips I figured out along the way that have helped cut back on the whirlwind cleans and kept our living room looking put together…most of the time!

  1. Trash in the Trashcan
    While wastebaskets are common necessities in the kitchen, bathroom and office, they are rarely seen in living rooms. I never even thought to buy one for the living room because I was worried it would smell and make the room look unpleasant. But after a trip to my neighborhood bargain home-goods store, there were plenty of aesthetically pleasing wastebaskets are now readily available in a variety of styles, materials and colors. Find a small trash bin that blends with your living room style and tuck it away under an end table. This easy, low-cost solution makes it easier for kids and grownups alike to put their snack wrappers and miscellaneous small discards where they belong instead of on your coffee table or all over the floor like my kids love to do.
  1. Don’t let it pile up
    Living rooms are home to a host of flat surfaces. Coffee tables, end tables, curio cabinets and entertainment centers are tempting places for piling up stuff. Stop clutter before it starts by creating designated places for common items. I bought several cheap baskets and organizers for mail, magazines, newspapers and homework assignments to keep everything looking tidy. This also helps your kids remember where they put that “missing” homework assignment!
  1. End Cord Confusion
    Stray cords can cause chaos in your living room. Few things are more aggravating (and unsafe!) than continually tripping over the cords running from your TV, computer, and gaming systems. It’s super quick and easy to group related cords together with zip ties to prevent tangling and easily find which cord matches what. For those pesky devices with multiple cords, try colored electrical tape for easily distinguishing one group of cords from another and keep your husband from yelling out in frustration over the TV going out after a kid trips over the cord and rips it from the TV!
  1. Home Zoning
    Have you ever stepped on a lego in your bare feet? Well I have, and I am telling you right now, that there are few things as painful as that! Keep your kids toys and miscellaneous items off the floor of the living room by creating a play zone. Here is where they should store their favorite toys in one area of your living room– as well as a “toy-free” zone for grownups. No more legos, phew! Choose a child-friendly trunk or bin that can hold their current favorites, store the rest and rotate the contents every few weeks or so as their preferences change. Engage children in a simple pick-up game before bedtime, timed to the length of a short, familiar tune like singing their ABC’s. This works while they are still young, and once they’re older they understand how to try and stay organized.
  1. Photos, Photos Everywhere
    Framed photos personalize a room and give you a chance to show off your lovely family, but they can overtake your valuable tabletop space and your guests won’t have any room to put their wine glass down. Save surface space and dusting time by putting several photos together in one larger, wall mounted frame to create a stylish wall display. If you want to add a modern touch to your living room, look into a digital picture frame. I personally love mine! It was super easy to set up, you can scan paper photos into your computer or upload images to a single, digital picture frame that can store and rotate thousands of photos in a personalized slideshow that is sure to captivate guests.
  1. DVD Dilemma
    A living room that feels like your local Best Buy store is hard to relax in. My family loves watching movies and we have created quite the collection of DVDs that started to take over my entire TV stand. Invest in a stylish entertainment center or, at least some CD/DVD towers to keep favorite videos and your husband’s old Rolling Stones CD’s off the floor and coffee table.