Category Archives: Organizing Tips

Keeping Christmas Simple

December is busy. Thereʼs no way around it. With kids home from school, parties to attend, gifts to buy – its very easy to get so distracted and caught up in the rush that we miss out on what Christmas is really about. Here is a schedule that will help you simplify this Christmas season so that you can reflect on Godʼs many gifts to us and appreciate the time shared with friends and family.

January – October: Complete all Christmas gift buying. I know it seems crazy to think about Christmas shopping in September. But, if you can get your gift buying done well before the holiday rush begins, you will enjoy the Christmas season far more than if you were still rushing to mark gifts off your list. For more on gift giving tips see Time For Christmas Shopping.

1st Week of November: Fill out Christmas cards or write Christmas letters. Put them in their envelopes, seal the envelopes, place stamp and mailing labels on the envelopes. Set aside to mail later.

2nd Week of November: Begin wrapping gifts. You donʼt necessarily have to wrap all gifts this week, but focus on getting the bulk of your wrapping finished.

3rd Week of November: Plan your calendar. Pencil in family traditions or holiday parties that you donʼt want to miss.

4th Week of November: Enjoy Thanksgiving worry free.

1st Week of December: Drop Christmas cards in the mail. Decorate your house – including your tree (note: this can be done the weekend after Thanksgiving, allowing you to get a head start on baking).

2nd Week of December: Set aside some time to bake. Cookies can be baked and then frozen (good as new when they thaw) for holiday parties, childrenʼs school parties, Christmas gifts, or just a family treat. This week you should also make sure gifts to out of town friends and family get mailed.

Rest of December: Relax. Enjoy time with family. Reflect on the birth of our Savior. Savor the special moments spent with those around you.

For additional Holiday Organization tips, visit the Organizing Tools section for tips on making Christmas less stressfuleasy gift givingreducing holiday waste and surviving day after Christmas shopping trips.

Originally posted September 21, 2011.

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Guest Post for Unknown Jim

I am honored and excited to be guest posting today for my friend Jim Woods at Unknown Jim. Jim has a rare gift for encouraging others. He helps others to find their passion and follow their dreams. He also LOVES chocolate chip cookies. I’d love if you would visit his blog and check out my post there today.

Schedule the FUN! – investing time in things that are meaningful and important

If you found me from Jim’s site, thank you so much for stopping by! I write about things I love – books, organizing and adventures of parenting the cutest four year old on the planet...with a little Disney thrown in on occasion.

If you’re looking for more organizing tips, please visit my Organizing Tools section above.

You can read some of my Favorite Posts or check out Mikayla’s Story to get to know me a bit more.

And, I want to hear your story! I’d love to connect with you further. Please share in the comments a bit about who you are, where you’re from and be sure to link to your blog or website!

Guest Posting for Living Better Stories

I am honored and excited to be guest posting today for Jeremy Statton at Living Better Stories. Jeremy is truly an inspiration. He and his wife recently returned from China where they adopted two absolutely adorable children. Through his writing, Jeremy encourages others to be inspiring and to live better stories. I’d love if you would visit his blog and check out my post there today.

Organizing Tips for Creatives – three easy tips for getting (and staying) organized

If you found me from Jeremy’s site, thank you so much for stopping by! I write about things I love – books, organizing and adventures of parenting the cutest four year old on the planet...with a little Disney thrown in on occasion.

If you’re looking for more organizing tips, please visit my Organizing Tools section above.

You can read some of my Favorite Posts or check out Mikayla’s Story to get to know me a bit more.

And, I want to hear your story! I’d love to connect with you further. Please share in the comments a bit about who you are, where you’re from and be sure to link to your blog or website!

Time for Christmas Shopping (no, seriously)

Wait. Wait. Wait just a minute…it’s only August. School JUST started. Why would you suggest this post is about Christmas shopping? I’m sure it’s not really about Christmas shopping…right…since it’s only August?

I know it’s only August. I originally posted this last September and thought you might want to get a head start on your Christmas to-do list for this year. Think of this as your friendly organizing reminder.

For most of us one of the biggest projects leading up to Christmas is gift buying. From the gift list to the shopping to the wrapping – giving gifts can consume a large amount of our time and energy. The easiest way to alleviate stress during the holiday season is by getting your Christmas shopping done early.

Here are some tips to make gift shopping simpler and some gift ideas that are stress free both for you and the recipient:

1. Keep a Gift List – If you have your gift list from last year, use that as a starting point. If not, make sure you start early so you can buy gifts well ahead of time as you find things on sale. Re-evaluate last year’s list – do you really need to purchase something for all the same people? Maybe a friend has moved and sending them a card will suffice? Are you going to be spending this Christmas with any family members that you didn’t buy for last year? Keep in mind – it’s wonderful to want to purchase gifts for everyone you know, but you should also be realistic about your Christmas budget – decide ahead of time how much you will allot for gifts. Starting with those closest to you (i.e. – children, siblings, parents, etc.) decide how much you will spend on each person. If you run out of money before you complete your list, you might need to mark some people off or look for gift alternatives that don’t cost money.

2. Shop Year Round – Once your Gift List is updated for the current year, be mindful of gifts you need to purchase. Create a habit of adding items to your Gift List as you discover them – all year long. Make notes of gift ideas as something gets your attention. This will make gift shopping much easier. Also be mindful of sales throughout the year – if you know you want to purchase a specific electronic item for your child and it happens to be on sale in August – go ahead and buy it in August.

3. Shop Online – You don’t want to pay extra for the convenience of shopping at home. That means you need to be mindful of your shipping costs and make sure you factor that amount into your spending budget. If an item costs significantly more online, a trip to the store may be a better option. For everything else – why not shop in your PJs while eating your favorite sugar-coated cereal?

4. Complete Your Shopping Early – I don’t mean “in the morning”. I mean, get every gift purchased early in the year. Ideally, gift shopping will be completely finished before Halloween or, at the latest, with in the first two weeks of November. You may be used to waiting until December to shop but by then you’re just adding to the holiday stress that is already present during the end of the year. Imagine how relaxing your holiday season will be if you aren’t driving all over town and fighting traffic to get your shopping done.

5. Gift Wrap Station – Ideally, you would designate a space in your house just for gift wrapping. Leave your wrapping paper, scissors, tape, etc. all in one place for quick and easy access each time you come home with a new gift. For those of us with children, this isn’t always practical. My “gift wrap station” is actually a rubbermaid tote that holds everything (bags, tissue paper, gift boxes, gift tags, scissors, tape, bows, pen). Once I have several gifts ready to be wrapped I can put my wrapping tote on the kitchen table and get to it. Everything is in one place – I don’t have to search for any supplies – and when I’m finished I can slide it into the closet where curious hands won’t find it.

6. Inexpensive Gift Ideas – baked goods, candy in a decorative basket, flowers (potted for friends with a green thumb), personal services (babysitting, cleaning, a home cooked meal), a basket with cleaning supplies (especially if you’re a couponer and can pull household goods from your stockpile), hand made crafts (especially crafts made by your children for their grandparents), scrapbook, personalized photo calendar, re-gift (be thoughtful with this one – but if there’s an item you have received in the past that isn’t perfect for you and your aunt/sister/cousin would love it, re-gift it)

7. Clutter Free Gift Ideas – restaurant gift card, movie pass, spa gift card, gift card to a favorite clothing store, class/lessons of interest (cooking, dancing, karate, scrapbooking, etc.), plan an experience (My husband and I have always said we would rather do something fun together than try to buy each other gifts – we plan a date night or day trip or attend a concert – we tend to remember these types of gifts much better than traditional gifts and it alleviates the stress of trying to find the perfect present.), take a child to the zoo or sporting event

8. Gifts with Purpose – Consider making a donation to your favorite charity (or their favorite charity) in honor of your gift recipient. There are any number of local charities to choose from regardless of where you live. Additional options: WorldvisionThe Mentoring ProjectBlood:Water MissionInvisible Children. Or consider gifts from companies who follow the one-for-one model – when you buy their product they also give one to someone in need. TOMS is one of my favorite one-for-one companies – for every pair of shoes you purchase they give a pair to a child in need.

For additional Holiday Organization tips, visit the Organizing Tools section for tips on making Christmas less stressfulreducing holiday waste and surviving day after Christmas shopping trips.

What’s something you do to make the Christmas season less stressful?

Saying No

I want to give you permission to do something crazy. Something you might not let yourself do. Something that might be scary and risky.

I give you permission to say “no”.

Go ahead. Try it. Say it out loud, “N.O. No.”

Why do we have such a hard time with this teeny, tiny word? You’re asked to volunteer for an event. Your friend asks you to babysit at the last minute. Your child wants something. A family member asks for a favor. And the automatic response is “YES”. Whether we are really able or willing isn’t even considered before that YES escapes our lips.

If we aren’t careful, all those yeses add up to an overwhelming schedule. And the first thing to give to make room for all our new responsibility is usually the thing we need most of all. Time for ourselves – to rest and recharge. And then, time with our family is sacrificed as demands on our time increase.

Should you always say no when a favor is asked of you? Of course not. There’s a fine line between having a healthy “no” and being selfish. If you are able to help, you should. Just so your helpfulness doesn’t come at the expense of your own health or that of your own family.

Opportunities to help should be considered honestly to determine 1) if you have the time and 2) if you are truly qualified for the task.

If the answer to both of those questions is “yes” then you can say “yes” to the opportunity and enjoy the feelings of helpfulness and accomplishment. However, if you don’t have time or don’t feel qualified, you shouldn’t automatically say “yes” out of obligation or guilt. Otherwise you’ll be enjoying the feelings of frustration and stress and perhaps even bitterness.

If you automatically say yes whenever an opportunity presents itself, you are a slave to your yes. You aren’t choosing to help, you are defaulting to your yes. And those feelings of frustration and bitterness negate any intent of being a loving servant. Practice saying NO so that when you do say yes, you can truly mean it. Your healthy NO gives power to your YES, whenever you choose to use it.

Do you have a hard time saying “no” or does that seem to come naturally for you?

Minimize Online Distractions

Ok, guys, it’s about to get honest…

I’m easily distracted by shiny things. No, no, wait. That’s true, but not what I really want to confess. The truth is, I am easily distracted by online things.

Facebook, Twitter, favorite blogs, Twitter again (you know, in case anything new is posted), the Disney blog, checking blog stats, Twitter…again. Whether on my phone or on the computer, I find myself drawn to distractions.

Chances are I’m not alone in this. I know in my circle of friends its kind of a running joke that we all have ADD – always checking the iPhones or “multitasking” as we like to call it. And, I know that my writer friends probably struggle as I do to balance working on the computer with playing on the computer. Creative people tend to have several different strands of thought going at all times, dealing with distraction is just part of life.

Recognizing my own limitations, I don’t try to completely remove online distractions. Instead I try to minimize them and use them to my advantage. Utilizing a distraction as a reward for work completed allows me to indulge in a bit of social media while ensuring that my work gets done too.

One idea to minimize online distractions would be to use a timer. Set it for 30 minutes or an hour then work diligently until the timer goes off. At the ding, take a 10 minute break to browse social media or check your favorite blog.

Another option – what I do – is to set a specific goal such as “I will complete one blog post before reading the Disney World blog.” Or whatever grown-up, sophisticated blog you read.

If you find you have a hard time sticking to your goals or to the timer, ask a trusted friend to keep you accountable for the time you spend online.

Do you struggle with online distractions? What have you done to minimize this?

Emotional Clutter

Emotional clutter? If you’re thinking that’s just something I made up, then you’d be right.

Clutter is easy enough to define. Physical clutter is anything that takes up unnecessary space in your home. It can be too many toys for the kids or too many shirts in your closet or too many books or DVDs or plastic fast-food-restaurant cups.

But what is emotional clutter? Let me give you three examples…

1. Expensive Purchases. It’s December 29 and you decide that your #1 New Year’s Resolution is to lose weight. You take advantage of the New Year’s sales and purchase a top of the line treadmill for the low, low price of $1000. You bring it home, set it up and use it diligently…for about 3 months. Then you get busy. You start tossing clothes over the rails. You clean it off every so often and go for a jog, but not as regularly as you once did. Before you know it, it’s December 29 again and your mostly unused treadmill is still sitting in the corner.

Another six months goes by and now that stupid treadmill just sits there and mocks your lack of commitment. It laughs at you when you walk by. It taunts you for spending so much money on something you barely used. It sends you feelings of guilt and regret whenever you glance in its direction.

That regret and guilt…that’s emotional clutter. At this point you have two options: renew your commitment to exercise, clean off the treadmill and start using it diligently once again. Or, cut your losses and sell it in the next yard sale. Getting rid of the physical clutter will also get rid of the emotional clutter.

2. Gifts. Well-intentioned gifts that you don’t particularly like or use can be hard to view as clutter. You love the person who gave it to you and feel like you should love the gift itself. You put it in a closet vowing to “find a place for it” only to feel that twinge of guilt each time you open the door.

Instead, take a picture of the item – of you using the item if possible – to save as a keepsake. Then either donate or give the gift to someone you know will enjoy it. Removing the item will remove the emotional clutter that goes with it.

3. Accumulations. For example, a stack of unread magazines piled next to the couch. Chances are you won’t really enjoy going through them all. You might feel obligated to read them, but why add one more thing to your to-do list if you won’t enjoy it? Instead give the magazines to a friend that would enjoy them.

Any item in your home that causes you to feel stress or guilt or regret is adding emotional clutter to your life.

And, really, who wants emotional clutter? I have enough emotions to deal with on a daily basis without my “stuff” adding to the jumble.

Rather than allowing your stuff to have an emotional hold in your life, remove the clutter. Donate it. Give it to someone who will enjoy it. Recycle it. Whatever you do, remove it from your space and get rid of the emotional clutter right along with it.

Question: What’s something you’re holding on to that’s causing emotional clutter?

Closet Donation Basket

One of my favorite tools for maintaining a clutter free home is the Closet Donation Basket. I’ve written about closet clutter before, and mentioned the donation basket as a helpful organizing tool, but it’s worth mentioning again. The basket in my closet is currently full so we will be bagging it up to donate sometime this week.

Once you go through your closet and get rid of all the stuff you haven’t worn since 1997, you simply place some sort of basket in the floor. This container (mine is a collapsable clothes hamper found in the dollar isle at Target) provides a convenient place to “remove” unwanted or unworn clothes immediately, as soon as you notice them. Rather than only cleaning your closet once every 3 years (or whenever you decide your sick of the mess) you can purge as you go.

At the end of each season take five minutes to flip through your clothes. Are there shirts you didn’t wear at all? Toss them in the basket. Pants that don’t fit quite right anymore? Toss them in the basket. A sweater that you swore was beautiful at one point but you aren’t exactly sure why now? Toss it in the basket.

You get the idea.

Here’s the key to making this really work – don’t bring in more than you send out.

In other words, if you purge your closet of three unworn items then purchase 10 new items, you are adding clutter not removing it. There has to be a balance of purging and buying. You have to decide how many and what items you need and then stick to those boundaries. Excess is simply clutter. Allow someone else to have your excess so you can enjoy a clutter free wardrobe.

Question: What’s something you can give away this week?

Re-evaluate, Re-focus, Re-commit

New Year’s Resolutions. I have a love/hate relationship with New Year’s Resolutions. I love the planning and the list making and the prioritizing and the few weeks of motivation I get from my shiny new goals. I hate the guilt I feel when I don’t stick with them. Last December I decided I wasn’t making any resolutions this year. Then Jon Acuff started “Finish Year” and challenged his readers to join in. We were going to actually finish our goals this year. For once, in the year 2013, we would actually stick to our resolutions for the whole year!!!

I bought in. I was motivated. I made resolutions. Just three, simple goals that I felt like I could stick to for the whole year. Goal 1: Lose 50 lbs. by my 30th birthday. Well, I turned 30 earlier this month and since January 1 I think I’ve actually gained a couple pounds. Sooooo….

Goal 2: Run 3 races this year. Here’s the thing about Goal 2. I wasn’t going to run these races till this fall, after I’d lost 50 lbs. BUT, since I kinda dropped the ball on Goal 1, Goal 2 is kinda washed down the drain with it.

Goal 3: Read 50 books this year. Piece. Of. Cake. I LOVE to read. Reading is like breathing to me. It’s natural. I need it. This goal should be a joy to actually stick to. And it was…until I had camp for the month of June and I spent a solid 4 weeks with 100+ children and came home completely exhausted and didn’t read one single page. And then I realized half the year was gone and I was a little behind and if I was going to catch up I’d have to read a lot of books and it became overwhelming and reading wasn’t fun anymore…it became an obligation instead of a pleasure.

For me, the cost of losing my love of reading was greater than the cost of failure. I would rather read 40 books this year and keep the enjoyment than to force myself to fly through books one right after the other in order to reach my goal of reading 50 books. I knew it was time to re-evaluate my Finish Year goals.

I marked Goal 3 off completely. I don’t have a number of books I’m trying to read. Instead I want try to make reading my first choice for entertainment when I have a few moments of down time rather than staring at tv or computer screens. I might actually hit my original goal of 50 (especially since I was quite ill last week and spent the better part of four days laying on the couch, kindle in hand), but if I don’t it doesn’t really matter – I will still accomplish my intended purpose for that goal which was to read more and watch tv less.

I marked Goal 2 off completely. I blew it. Plain and simple. I HAVE to lose weight before I start running again. And since I bombed that goal, it’s too late for this one. I might run one race. Maybe even two later this year. But three isn’t going to happen. And I’m ok with that for now. Somedays I miss the running and I want to get back into a regular routine of it. But then I remember how much I hate and dread running and think there’s no way I’ll ever go back to that. Especially when I walk outside and it’s approximately 2000 degrees with 400% humidity. Instead I’m going to focus on exercising for the health benefits and not just on running.

As for goal number 1 – I still want to lose the weight. It’s obviously not going to happen by my 30th birthday, but it can still happen this year. So my new goal is to lose 50 lbs (plus the few extra I’ve gained) by Christmas.

In addition to modifying the goals I didn’t accomplish, there have been several writing projects and opportunities come up in the last couple months. I didn’t have any writing goals at the beginning of this year (other than to continue to blog regularly). So I’m allowing myself to acknowledge those writing accomplishments. They weren’t “New Year’s Resolutions” but they were still long term goals that I worked hard to complete. Allowing myself to acknowledge the work and the accomplishment helps me realize I haven’t been a complete, lazy slacker for the entire year.

Yes, I’ve fallen short on some of my original goals. But, lets think about the purpose of goals – they give us direction, something to aim for. They allow us to plan and to start taking steps with purpose rather than just haphazardly skipping through the year with no vision. If half way to your goal you realize your purpose has changed or new opportunities have presented themselves then your goals must change to once again give you proper direction. Purposefully working toward a goal that is no longer beneficial while ignoring a great opportunity that lies down another path is poor management of your time. While it’s always good to strive for completion, finishing a goal for finishing’s sake isn’t always the best use of your time and effort.

So for the rest of Finish Year, I’m going to focus on a few new writing goals. I’m going to choose reading as my first option for entertainment (unless So You Think You Can Dance is on). I’m going to lose weight. I’m going to work every day on developing good habits and a good routine for Mikayla (and myself!) so that we can have time to focus on “school” and her muscle building exercises and lengthening her 7 second attention span rather than just aimlessly floating through the day.

Question: How are you doing on your New Year’s Resolutions for this year? Have you stuck with them all along? Or is it time to re-evaluate?

Spend vs. Invest

Spending or Investing. We all understand that concept when its applied to money. You “spend” money by going out to eat. You “invest” money when you buy a house or give to charity. The acts are similar – money is leaving your bank account. However, the intent and the outcomes are quite different. When you spend money you aren’t getting anything substantial in return. Sure, eating at a restaurant provides you with a meal but a few hours later you’ll need to eat again. There’s no long-term benefit when money is spent.

On the other hand, when you invest money you expect great and lasting benefit either for yourself or for others. By investing in a charity, for example, you understand that the money you give will be used to greatly impact the lives of others with lasting (maybe even life-long) benefits for that person. Or, when you invest in your retirement account you’re setting aside money that will one day sustain your life or your family.

You get the idea – investing has long lasting benefits, spending has only temporary benefits. But what if the idea of spending vs. investing is applied to something other than money? What if we looked at our time as a commodity that can either be spent or invested?

You spend time watching TV or reading a book. You spend time cleaning the house or mowing the yard. You spend time shopping or daydreaming or surfing the web. Are these things necessary? Yes, sometimes. But we should be aware that these things are not the MOST important. Washing laundry is necessary, for sure. But it doesn’t have significant, long-term benefits.

Investing your time in playing with your children or in listening to a friend or in date night with your spouse – those things are the most important. Investing time in people, investing time sharing the love of Jesus with those that don’t know Him, investing time volunteering for your church all have long-term impact. Significant, long-term impact.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t mow your yard. I’m just saying we should be more mindful of where our time goes. Do we spend the majority of our time or invest it in things that really matter?  I personally spend a lot more than I should. And, I don’t invest nearly enough. I want to change that. I want to make a conscious effort to be a good steward of the time I’ve been given.