Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Top Travel Tips

If you know me personally, you know that I love to travel. I am frugal with my travels and try to look for good deals wherever I go. I look at ways to maximize my travel budget and my time. Because of this I have been able to take some fantastic trips for less money then people would expect.

Here are my top tips to make travel easier:

Be flexible. When flying take the earliest flight as possible. The reason I do this is so that most flights these days are overbooked. The airlines are always looking for volunteers to take later flights. I usually go up to the gate agent upon arrival and say if this flight is overbooked I am willing to take another flight. They love knowing that they have people who have flexibility that they can call on. Because of this my son, husband and I each received an $800 voucher that we then used for our next vacation. I figured out we made about $200 an hour each for our wait. To me it was worth it.

Have power back up. I had a recent flight that was going to take 9 hours. I was concerned about my cell phone running out of power before I could recharge it. I like listening to music when I fly and knowing that I would have a long flight and no music had me a little concerned. I went to my local electronics store and explained my dilemma. They introduced me to a product called "mophie" that is an external power source. The one that I purchased can charge my phone 2.5 times. There are ones that can do more but the price goes up. I am now carrying this with me in my purse as it is the size of a five credit cards stacked up plus it gives me great peace of mind.

Pack snacks. Because I often try to give up my seat I have the very real possibility of being stuck in an airport with limited food choices. Making sure that I have a protein rich snack ready as well as a refillable water bottle helps make the possibility of long layovers much more manageable on my waistline and my pocketbook.

Travel App. My current favorite app is Trip It where I forward all of my flight and reservations by forwarding the confirmation emails to the app. Everything is organized in one app. I can easily check which car rental company I rented from as I am always looking for the one with the best deal and I am not loyal to one company and can become confused. When traveling with friends I see them fumbling to find the hotel location, where I already have it on my app along with a map.

Baby wipes. Too often I leave my bottle of hand sanitizer at home as it is over 3oz. and it gets confiscated by the TSA. But a travel size package of baby wipes is a great way to wipe down the tray that is a germ magnet as well as wipe down my hands after they are covered in who knows what.

Look outside of traditional hotels. I have used VRBO in the past and my college aged son recently turned me onto Airbnb. I have two upcoming trips with using this latest travel site. My first one is next week and my husband and I are renting a house boat on Lake Union in Seattle. To say I am excited about this experience is an understatement. The cost is less than a traditional hotel. But what it allows is for us to experience the area like a resident and not a tourist. You stay in their home and often the home owner leaves. They leave tips about the area and often a great parking spot for your rental car.

A good roller bag. The difference between a good roller bag and a bad one can mean you missing a connecting flight when you have to do the dash between terminals. I like ones with four wheels that I can rest my purse on and still have good mobility. I also have one that can fit under the seat in front of me so that if there is not room in the overhead I can always put it at my feet. Depending on the size of planes I fly determines which roller bag I pack.

My hope is that you make your travel experience a bit your simplified and stress free allowing you the ability to afford to travel more.

To Joyful, Simplified Organizing,

MS. Simplicity

Serving the Fargo-Moorhead area as well as North Dakota, South Dakota and Minnesota. Also seeking new representatives for Clever Container in all areas of the country.


Tuesday, April 7, 2015

5 Things that Can Leave Your Home Right Now

When people start the process of organizing they are overwhelmed. This time of year the pressure is even more as the weather turns nicer and wThey simply don't know where to start. The trick is to start and the organizing bug will bite you and you will keep going! When clients hire me I call myself the snowball effect. I am there to get them started. I am that small snowball on the top of a hill. By the end of our session we are gaining size and momentum. It is my hope to leave them with the skills and motivation to continue that push towards organizing.

But what can you do now on your own to get your own snowball effect going? Start with some simple organizing tasks that will get you going in the right direction.

1. Travel samples: Gather all those travel size bottle that you snag from hotels. Start using them this week or donate them to a homeless or women's shelter. We take them with us thinking we will use them, but we never do, just collecting more. I had a cute bar of Mickey Mouse soap from a Disney vacation 10 years ago. True story! I have also seen drop boxes at airports for travel samples that they give to our soldiers.

2. Linens: When was the last time you went through your linens:? Chances are you have sheets for a bed you no longer own. Or a bunch of flat sheets with no fitted ones to match. I own one set of sheets for each of my beds. I wash them and put them back on the bed. No folding or storing required! When my kids were little I did have more than one set for those middle of the night accidents. Clear out some space and keep your favorites!

3. Electronic cords: We all have random cords in junk drawers or hidden in boxes of the cell phone they came in 5 years ago. Cords are one of those items we are afraid to get rid of for fear of "needing" it someday. Gather all of them and figure out once and for all if you need them. You may need to ask others in the house. Place them all in a box and start sorting and pass the box around until everyone has pulled out what they need. Label what you use so you know that each cord is for. Recycle what you don't use of don't have a clue what it is used for.

4. Product manuals: I can not tell you how many people think they need to keep product manual. Information for most anything can be found online. Do keep manuals for appliances that would stay with your home if you were to sell it. So go ahead and get rid of the rest!

5. Unread Magazines and Newspapers: We all have a pile of unread items that we hope to read "someday." But sadly someday never comes and the pile becomes larger and larger. Start to set boundaries with unread items. Select a date such as newspapers only three days old, or the latest issue of a magazine only. You will get in the habit of making time to read or unsubscribing. I had one magazine subscription to ironically "Real Simple." I never read it. If I did have time to read it I read the online version instead. Some of my clients have rules where they have to read the magazine within a week and then drop it off at their gym or doctors office.

Spring is the time that we all feel the need to get our homes and lives organized. Instead of wondering where to start, just start. My goal for you this week is to start organizing in small ways in order to gain momentum. Start with these five simple tasks and see if you catch organizing fever this spring!

To Joyful, Simplified Organizing,

MS. Simplicity

Serving the Fargo-Moorhead area as well as North Dakota, South Dakota and Minnesota. Also seeking new representatives for Clever Container in all areas of the country.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Laundry Tips

If I had to pick one household chore to do I would always choose laundry. It is a task that I can stay on top of and it feels good to put everything away. I started doing my laundry at a young age, and my kids are all of the age that they can do it themselves. If we don't train our children now, who is going to train them? Train them right and your future daughter and son in laws will thank you!

Kids are now taught in the FACS (in my day called Home Ec that only the girls took) class in junior high how to do laundry. But what I think they miss are some of the nuances that 30 plus years of doing laundry has taught me. So with this in mind I pass on these tips to my boys. Feel free to send to your children (spouse) or cut out and tape in your laundry room!
  1. Check your pockets. The note that you need me to sign, does not wash and dry well. Your chap stick does not love the dryer as it will melt and put grease stains on all your clothes.
  2. You should do laundry every couple of days. Don't save it up to do once a month as you will waste your whole day (or two) washing clothes. Don't assume your parents are going to do your laundry for you. We will not live with you for the rest of your life and you do need to know these skills before you leave the nest.
  3. Don't just throw your clothes on the floor in your room. Dirty clothes go in a basket/hamper/laundry room and clean clothes get put away after they are washed. That is the order of the universe and if you mix it up you are asking for trouble from the laundry gods!
  4. If it is red, wash it with like colored items until it stops bleeding into other clothes. Or my tip, don't buy red clothes.
  5. Sort like clothes into loads. Washing jeans and towels works well because they dry at about the same rate. If you use bleach, wash all white clothes/socks/towels together in one load.
  6. If you mother's clothes are in the washer, don't just automatically throw them in the dryer. Take a minute and ask her what can and can't go in the dryer. You may be surprised at what you find out.
  7. Don't leave the clothes in the washer for more than a few hours....that is gross and will start to grow mold and your clothes will soon smell like blue cheese.
  8. Don't leave the clothes in the dryer for more than a few hours. Hang and fold the clothes as soon as possible so that you never have to iron.
  9. Don't have your socks be in a ball, they won't get clean. They stay a dirty stinky mess unless you un-ball them.
  10. Make sure each leg of the pants is going in the same direction (I have one son who takes of his pants with one leg always inside out....what is with that?)
  11. If you have a stain on your clothes, treat it as soon as possible. Don't wash and dry it and then treat it. That is not the natural order. First treat....then wash....then check to see if the stain came out.....if not, go back to step one.....if stain is out, dry.
  12. When placing clothes in the dryer, fold the load that is already in the dryer, and don't just throw it on the floor or in a basket.
  13. When using the dryer, empty the lint filter before each load, unless you are working on a lint art project.
  14. Use the proper amount of soap. Read the bottle for amounts. Watch the original Jodie Foster version of "Freaky Friday" to see what happens when you use too much soap.
  15. Wash towels at least once a week, because even though you are clean when you get out of the shower, they still need to be washed!
  16. Wash bed sheets at least once a week, because you are not always clean when you fall into bed at night.
  17. If washer does not complete the spin cycle for some reason, re-position the clothes and have the spin cycle go again. Please don't put soaking clothes in the dryer for 5 hours.
Laundry is one of those tasks that even young family members can help with. Start with these tips while they are young and get everyone on the same page right from the start!

To Joyful, Simplified Organizing,

MS. Simplicity

Serving the Fargo-Moorhead area as well as North Dakota, South Dakota and Minnesota. Also seeking new representatives for Clever Container in all areas of the country.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

We Are Family

We are only as strong as our weakest member. This saying is used in business and in coaching, but I think it can be used for our family as well. I have seen my role as a mother to not only comfort my children when they are suffering and to give them strength when they are weak, but to raise them to be productive members of society. I have always treated my children like little adults. I treated them like they could always do things. I never doubted their abilities. When I sent my oldest off to college I never worried about the little things. He flew across the country to Hawaii for his first spring break and flew through O'Hare and LAX and I never worried about him. I knew he was capable. He actually would do a better job than me.

But what I have been seeing when I work with families is that the children are out of control. Parents have lost the ability to get their children to listen and help around the house. I have seen parents that are exhausted trying to do it all. But I think what is often forgotten is parenting is a team sport. We need to first of all be on the same page with the person we are co-parenting with. I was a family law lawyer for many years and I know that co-parenting is not easy, in fact it is often downright messy.

It is a struggle if the co-parenting relationship is stressed. Some are on their own and they have nobody to co-parent with. Parenting is hard. Although there are millions of parenting books out there we all know that children do not come with instructions. Each child in a family raised in the same environment and home are different. Our end game result is all the same however; to produce productive members of society. The training ground is the family home. The examples we set under our roof are the ones that will take them into adulthood. But what is an exhausted overscheduled parent to do?

Rule 1: If you take it out put it back. This may seem like a no brainer but you would be surprised at how many people can not even do this simple task. As parents we have to set the example. If I take a blanket out, when I am done I should fold and put it away.

Rule 2: If you can help, do it. My favorite feeling in the world is when people can anticipate my needs. I like it if people hold the door open for me as I will do the same for them. I like to help out when my kids are busy by doing their laundry for them. This does not mean that you enable your family and always do it. But if you can help, do it. Kindness is a great gift.

Rule 3: Set the example. Be the change you wish to see in the world. If you want your children to do a specific chore, you should be setting the example and doing it too. If I want my kids to rinse their dishes, I should be rinsing my dishes too. If I don't want my kids to be wearing shoes in the house, I should not be either.

Rule 4: Stay consistent. This is probably the hardest thing as a parent. We set a rule and it is broken within a day and we just give up. Worse yet is being the parent who enforces the rule one minute and forgets about it the next and then enforces it the next. If you set the rules, you need to make sure that they are followed. When my kids were little I said no video games on nice days. I wanted them playing outside or using their imagination without electronic stimulation. The minute it would start to drizzle the boys would run inside and tell me it was raining and could they play video games. Some days it would have been easier to allow video games all the time, but I am glad I was tough and "mean."

Rule 5: Respect the property of others. When we live in close quarters of a home we often step over the boundaries of other family members. Your daughter may wear her older sister's shirt. This is great if permission was asked, but often it is not. Make sure that we respect what belongs to other people and their space.

Rule 6: If it takes 10 seconds do it. Often we walk by the same mess over and over again. Look at projects as small bursts of time. When I walk from one area of my house to the other I often look for things to grab to take with me. It may be returning the laundry basket to the laundry room. Or perhaps it is rinsing a dish. Too often the small tasks grow into much bigger tasks that overwhelm us and we never start.

Remember we are in this together as a family. We all have the same goal. It is my hope in life that I have raised young men that will go out into the world and do great things, or at the very least have an organized home for me to visit!

To Joyful, Simplified Organizing,

MS. Simplicity

Serving the Fargo-Moorhead area as well as North Dakota, South Dakota and Minnesota. Also seeking new representatives for Clever Container in all areas of the country.


Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Learning to Say No

We all are asked to do things that we don't want to say "yes" to. But if you are like me, I am ill equipped with being able to say "no" in a way that I feel will not hurt the other person. We would rather hurt ourselves than say "no." It makes no sense. I would say my thirties will filled with saying "yes" to every volunteer opportunity that I was approached with. I was flattered that people would ask me to help. I quickly learned that there was a very small pool of those that always said "yes" and I had jumped into that pool headfirst. But what happens to most of us that say "yes" too often is we quickly burn out. I learned in my forties to start saying "no." I also learned creative ways to start saying "no." I recently avoided a parent meeting for fear of me saying "yes"....so my husband went for me as he knows how to say "no." I felt like a coward, but I could not figure out another way to say "no."

As I was sitting in a coffee shop yesterday waiting for a friend I overheard the conversation of the woman next to me telling her friend how she never sees her child. She leaves for work before he wakes and she has social obligations after work and he is often asleep when she returns home. I recognized who she was and she has a prominent job in our community and I assume she has great pressure at work. I wanted to pull her aside and whisper in her ear, "just say no."

The funny thing is as I was doing my morning reading today I found a great list of ways to say "no" in the book "Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less" by Greg Mckeown. He reminds us that Essentialists regularly says "no" with grace. I needed to add these ways to say "no" to my repertoire ASAP . The Essentialist is able to distinguish the vital few from the trivial many. This focus allows them to get to the important things quicker and get the tasks finished faster because the distracting road blocks have been taken away.

1. The Essentialist uses the awkward pause when asked to do something. Just let the request sit in the air. The person asking will eventually say things that allow you to say "no" in an easier manner. Simply by counting to three and taking a deep breathe allows you time to gather your ability to say "no."

2. The Essentialist uses the "no but." This is what I call the reasonable excuse to say no. I have a deadline that I am working on "but" when it is complete I can contact you.

3. The Essentialist asks to check their calendar first. This allows you time to pause and gather your thoughts. You get to take control of your decisions. Plus if you take a look at your calendar chances are there is no extra time that would allow you to say "yes."

4. The Essentialist uses an auto responder. I love this idea of having an out of office set for not only when you are on vacation but for other times when you are especially busy. My husband does this and I love this idea. If he is working on a particularly complex project and he knows he will not have time to read emails. People will learn to adapt without you giving them an instant response. Reply when you have time as they are on notice that you will take some time to reply to them.

5. The Essentialist asks the person to help them find ways to deprioritize. When you are asked to add a nonessential project remind your superiors that you would be neglecting other aspects of the projects you are working on. Often they will find that you don't have the time and will pass it on to someone else.

6. Say "no" with humor. You don't have to be rude when you say "no" and often humor can help diffuse the situation and allows you to feel better about saying "no."

7. Say "yes" to what you can commit to. I am great at saying "yes" to smaller tasks. So instead of saying "no" I can not help I like to figure out how I can commit and I say "yes" to that.

8. Give a name of someone who you do think would say "yes." Often there are others out there who would be much better at the task and if you can help identify them you are actually helping. We often think we are the only one who can do the task, but the truth is there are often people better equipped at doing it.

I want you to imagine a world where you say "yes" to things that you ultimately want to do our need to do. When I say "yes" to things I don't want to do I am doing a disservice to all involved. I hope the woman in the coffee shop yesterday reads my blog and realizes that it is time for her to start saying "no."

To Joyful, Simplified Organizing,

MS. Simplicity

Serving the Fargo-Moorhead area as well as North Dakota, South Dakota and Minnesota. Also seeking new representatives for Clever Container in all areas of the country.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

What Would You Grab?

Organizing isn't always easy. We are surrounded by our possessions that often seem to possess us. If we think about buying something rarely do we go past the price of the item. We don't think about where we are going to store it. We don't think about having to clean it. We don't think about how we are going to eventually have to get rid of it. But what if we started asking ourselves a new question; what would you grab if you had five minutes to leave your house?

Many of us living in the Red River Valley have had to face this question in a real way over the last ten to twenty years. I was one of those people who lived close to the river and brought all of my downstairs contents on to the main floor. That was the year I refused to let anything go back downstairs before I looked at it. I got rid of large amounts of things that year. I almost feel like I need to do that again. However I could do without the threat of natural disaster.

I really want to live a minimalist lifestyle and as soon as my youngest graduates I will be ready to move to something smaller. Until that time, we need to get rid of 80% of our items. My goal when we move is to move in a small moving truck, you the one that you can drive. I don't want to hire movers. I have a dream of living in a houseboat on Lake Union, WA. It is a tiny space and my husband and I enjoy each others company, but could he move without his comic book collection?

But what if you walked into each room of your house now and started asking yourself the questions; what would I grab?

Living room: I have some pictures in frames of my boys when they were little and I have my husbands 13 cubes designating the 13 patents he has. Those are important to him so I should probably grab them. The furniture isn't important. The decorations aren't anything special. That room was easy!

Kitchen: The most important things here are family recipes. Some are handwritten and some are typed. I also have a few of my grandmother's kitchen items that mean something to me, but I could let them go as I know that the possession does not make the memory any less strong. I have a good knife set and some nice everyday plates that I would take with me. I know I wouldn't grab my china and crystal.

Office: We have a basket where all the bills are kept and passwords are written down. This would be an important item to take with us. But I also think that we could downsize this into a single sheet of paper. Sounds like a weekend project for my hubby! I would take my Surface, external hard drive and my extra monitor as I work so much better with a second screen. I also have a few books and pictures I would grab. Everything else I am ok living without.

Bedroom: The furniture isn't important. The hardest things will be my clothes. However I really am not attached to many. Right now I am in between sizes and working towards being ready to wear my collection of cute dresses for summer.  I have clothes that make me happy and I love to wear. Those would be the first ones I would grab. I have some favorite shoes as well that I would grab, perhaps 4 pairs.

Bathroom: Really most everything can be left. I have my makeup I wear and I have that pretty well organized and my face wash. A fair share of hair products but the rest I can leave. We only have one towel for each of us so that is easy enough. I have a collection of white wash clothes that I wash my face with that I would need but can be easily replaced. Most items in my bathroom I could live without.

Kids rooms: Once again a few personal items as they wear the same clothes and have very little. My older boys who are at college have left behind one large tote each with their sentimental items. We have done the hard sort before they left for school and I would highly suggest doing this. Have your kids help in this process. You would be surprised what they want to keep and what you would want them to keep. Listen to them, not your sentimental heart.

Basement/Family room: This is where I store my favorite books and my photo albums. This would probably be the room that I grab the most things from. I know that when we had the issue with the Red River flooding I could fill an entire SUV with photo albums and pictures. This is an area that I need to scan and store in the cloud. Sounds like a job for a teen boy this summer. I really don't want to have to take all of that with me when we move. It takes up a lot of space. I also do not want to rent storage space.

Garage/Storage space: Another place to ask the hard questions. Why are we keeping certain items that we never use? If I had a few minutes I would probably grab three totes, one for each boy where I saved their baby items and special toys. My husband has been great at releasing things from the garage. We have that space fairly well weeded down.

So the challenge this week is to walk around your home with a new set of eyes. If you were forced to grab just a few items, what would you grab? You will suddenly realize what is important to you. Chances are it isn't the physical possessions but rather items that have sentimental meaning to you. Have other family members do the same thing and compare the results. It may lead to an interesting family discussion. Now it might be easier to start donating the items that you wouldn't grab.

To Joyful, Simplified Organizing,

MS. Simplicity

Serving the Fargo-Moorhead area as well as North Dakota, South Dakota and Minnesota. Also seeking new representatives for Clever Container in all areas of the country.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Procrastination Nation

Our country is suffering from an illness that is hiding in our junk drawers, cabinets, kitchen counters, kitchen tables, dryers and closets; I call it procrastination. As I was thinking about writing this post this morning I was telling my husband about it. He looked at me and said, "maybe you should get out of bed and write that then." touché.

When I work with clients we often tackle the procrastination piles. My favorite definition of clutter is "delayed decisions." Take a look around you right now and see what are your delayed decisions. I am writing in my office and I see my desk covered in "creative clutter," you know those projects that I will get to someday. But what if I grabbed a stack of file folders, my label maker and file box and filed all of those creative projects? Yeah, my desk would be clean.

I know I need to mark off a few hours on my calendar this week and call it procrastination day. As I turn my head to the left I see more clutter that needs to have decisions made.

Having clutter does not mean you are lazy. I give this simple illustration when speaking about clutter. Imagine your laundry basket full of laundry that needs to be folded. Is it really about not wanting to fold the laundry, or is it more about not knowing where to put the laundry once it is folded? The drawers are over flowing, there are no more hangers to be used, the closet is already jammed. The problem is not the action of folding, the problem is taking the time to make space.

So here are some things to help keep procrastination at bay:

Declare Procrastination Day: Make it fun. I had a friend share with my that when she needs her children to clean they play Cinderella and she is the evil step mother and forces them {in a fun way} to keep cleaning. I am sure that there are several members of the family that could join in on procrastination day. Have each member of the family focus on their projects that they have been neglecting. Set a timer and have a fun family activity when all of the projects are complete.

Consider the next step: For me it is important to ask "what is the next step?" When you have a pile of papers to go through chances are when you ask the next step question you will come up with different answers. Some papers will be bills to pay, some will be calls to make, some will be things to enter into the computer. These should all be separate piles as they take different items to get them done. So when you have a few minutes to make phone calls grab the stack and your phone. When you need to pay a bill, grab the bill and your wallet.

Group needed items together: When you get a minute to sew on those Boy Scout patches you don't want to be looking for the patches {in an envelope above the fridge}...the shirt {dirty on the floor}...thread {in a closet piled high only to find out you don't have the right color thread}....scissors {yes the safety scissors will work.}  By the time you have everything gathered you are exhausted and need to leave to pick up said child from scouts. But what would happen if you started to group everything together that you need to complete a project. You will take less time running around looking for stuff and more time being focused on getting the project done.

Turn off distractions: Yes this is easier said than done. But all electronics should be powered off. While writing this post I have checked Facebook 27 times, checked my email 4 times and tried to order something online. Wait a minute, I need to make a hotel room reservation. In all seriousness, the area should be empty of all electronic, human and animal distractions. People think they can focus with other humans and animals around. I am here to tell you that is simply not true. I watched sweet cats jump into their owners laps over and over again. The owner would place the cat on the floor and the cat would jump back in the lap. It is a vicious fur circle. If the humans around you are not active participants in procrastination day they need to leave. I have seen spouses derail the organizing train and start to pull things out of the garbage. I wanted to put that spouse on a time out!

Today is the day that you take a stand and tell procrastination to take a hike. Stop looking at what you need to get done and feeling all guilty, just start. As I often say, the first step is the hardest. Just take it and see where it leads you.

To Joyful, Simplified Organizing,

MS. Simplicity

Serving the Fargo-Moorhead area as well as North Dakota, South Dakota and Minnesota. Also seeking new representatives for Clever Container in all areas of the country.

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