Decking the Halls

I was putting out the fall and Halloween decorations throughout the house and outside and I began to think that decorating for Christmas was just around the corner. I absolutely love Christmas decorations, but I’ll admit that since the kids have left home, my motivation has waned a bit. Anyhow, I’m getting my mojo back and I’m going to share a few things with you that I think make the job of  holiday decorating and un-decorating more palatable.

First of all,  several years ago I was dreading the thought of dragging out all the stuff and putting it on display. Another issue I had is that when you put things out, you have to take things down to make room for the decorations. I didn’t want to loathe the job – I wanted to celebrate and make family members and visitors feel festive and warm when they came over.

Well, one day I was at a craft store just walking around. I probably went there to get some yarn or something. All of a sudden I saw this Christmas decoration that I just loved. I impulsively bought it and took it home. That was it. I was so anxious to display it that my motivation to decorate went through the roof. I loved the whole process – just because of that one new Christmas novelty. Now, whenever I start to feel the weight of  the chore I go shopping! (for one, new, inexpensive trinket).

Okay. there’s more to it. Here are a few other things I do to make the job easier. If you decorate the same way every year, store all the decorations from the living room in one box, all the family room decorations in another, and so on. Take the decorations out of the box and fill the box with the things that will be put away temporarily. Also, doing it this way you can decorate one room at a time. The job isn’t so overwhelming.

I number each box. I put the number on each side of the box. That way no matter how the box is put back on the shelf, I can see what number box it is. I have a Christmas notebook (more about that in a minute) that lets me know everything that’s in box one, box two and so on. Please don’t roll your eyes – but I also have an alphabetized list. I simply took the box list and made a giant list of all the decorations. Then the computer put them in alphabetical order. Now when I want to find the rag angel, for example,  I look on the alphabetized list and see that the angel is in box 7, or whatever.

I put Christmas lights on cardboard spools. I made them out of corrugated cardboard. Just cut a rectangle that’s about 12 x 10 inches. Wrap the strings around the spools and secure the end by cutting a slit on top. You can buy light spools (they look like plastic ladders), but I think free is better.

Wreaths are easily stored in wreath boxes (although they’re bulky). Or you can put the wreaths in large plastic bags and hang them up.

Now it’s time for my Christmas notebook. It contains my decorations’ list (the box list and the alphabetical list). Also, I make notes about how I decorated so I’ll remember what worked the previous year. (Better yet, take a picture.) I have gift lists. I can tell you what I gave my friend Joni in 2001. I’m a crafter and I make a lot of gifts. When I find something that I love to do and it’s well received I make many of them and continue to give them year after year to different people. My gift lists keep me from giving someone the same thing twice. You can keep anything in this notebook: Party info: guests, food, what worked, what didn’t, cost, etc.; Community calendar or holiday events; tv guide to holiday specials and movies; church/school events and plans; holiday stories; greeting card list (hopefully it’s on the computer) – anything that you need to look at or refer to during the holidays.

Now I see why Clement Clark Moore (Twas the Night Before Christmas) could say that not a creature was stirring on Christmas Eve. They were organized!

Entertaining the Troops

Well, it’s baby time at our house. Our daughter was expecting her third boy and as soon as she went into labor, I was off! She lives about two hours away and I had to get there in time to take care of her two little boys. I had looked forward to this for months!

A few weeks before the scheduled event, the van was already packed with games and books. Also, I had several treasure hunts ready so I could do one every day. I glued individual pictures to small pieces of card stock and put them into colorful envelopes. One picture lead to the next, etc. until the last one depicted where the treasure was found. We did that a few times. Then, I scattered puzzle pieces throughout the house and when the kids found a piece they brought it to me. When all the pieces were collected, they put the puzzle together to discover where the treasure was hidden. It was so much fun.  Also, I found an adorable doggie back pack that was used in the treasure hunts. I put the first clue in the backpack and put it outside the front door. Then  I rang the doorbell and when the kids answered the door – they found the backpack and the fun started.

As a matter of fact, that doggie backpack appeared at random every day. One day it was hanging on the back of a kitchen stool. They opened it up and discovered some Halloween stuff. One day the backpack was on the floor by the door that comes in from the garage. They found a couple of little ‘treasures’ inside. That doggie backpack was so much fun. It’s been three weeks since the baby was born and my daughter says the kids still talk about the doggie backpack. I’ll be using that little satchel for many years to come.

I discovered Uno Moo – a game for young children. It’s a little barn that’s filled with red, green, yellow, white, and blue ‘animals’. You play the game sort of like the card game Uno – but it’s adapted for youngsters. Whenever I buy a game I’m always a little leery as to whether it’s going to be worth the price (Uno Moo was about $20), Well, let me tell you. Uno Moo is worth it! Admittedly, we altered the rules just a tad because I was playing it with a four year old – but the kids love it and asked to play it over and over again. Even the two year old got involved. However, what he enjoyed most was just playing with the animal game pieces. Several times every day he would ask if he could get the green doggie.

Our daughter’s oldest boy wanted to make a birthday cake for the new baby – which I thought was extremely appropriate. After all, we only have one actual birthday. Anyhow, we made my Oreo cake. Prepare a chocolate cake according to the directions. Bake  as directed and as soon as it comes out of the oven, poke it (in one inch intervals) with the end of a wooden spoon. Next, pour over the warm cake two packages of Oreo pudding (mixed with four cups of milk) and put into the refrigerator. Meanwhile, crush some Oreo cookies. When the cake is completely cool, cover with Cool Whip and sprinkle the crushed Oreos on top. What a great way to welcome home the new baby!

Another thing we did was decorate plates (thank you, Pinterest). I bought some white ovenproof plates at the dollar store and a package of colorful Sharpies. Anyhow, the kids drew (and I use the term loosely) pictures on the plates. We baked the plates in the oven at 350 for 30 minutes to set the ink. I had heard that the decorations will last longer if you don’t put the plates in the dishwasher so I mentioned that to my daughter.

Her four year old completely covered one of his decorated plates with red Sharpie. I mean, the entire plate was colored red. So, he handed me his creation and I baked it in the oven. Well, a few days after I returned home I got a call from my daughter who said, “How would you feel if everything in your dishwasher turned pink?” I was mortified. She was good-natured and assured me that it was nothing serious. She also told me that it wasn’t she who put the plate into the dishwasher.

Can you tell? Being a grandmother is the best invention ever! You’ve just got to try it some time!

Junk Mail

For quite a while at each one of my seminars I’ve talked about of getting rid of junk mail. In addition to registering with the DMA (Direct Marketing Association) I’ve passed on several other sources that help to stem the tide of unwanted paper passing through the front door. Anyhow, the whole process is a lot of work.

Now the job is much easier. Paper Karma is a free app for iPhones, Andorid and Windows Phones. Just snap a picture of the piece of mail and with a few clicks you unscribe to whatever it is. Granted, this is a piecemeal way to do it – but it doesn’t require a large block of time and you can be selective about what you want and don’t want.

Speaking of apps, another good one is Apps Gone Free. Every day you get a list of apps that have gone free. Sometimes they’re free for only 24 hours (or a limited time). Sometimes, they’ve gone free for good.

One question I field frequently is how to keep track of passwords. We know that not only should we have multiple, complicated passwords, but that we should change them frequently. Anyhow, there are apps for that, too. You can do a search for ‘password manager’ or use something called Last Pass. Old school alert: Just have a hard copy list of sites and their corresponding passwords stored securely somewhere. An A to Z address book makes it easy to look up needed info. – check it out. Great way to take care of all the papers the kids bring home from school. Save, store and publish their treasures. When they say that there’s an app for everything, it’s true!

I remember when Steve Jobs died. There was a cartoon published showing him standing at the Pearly Gates and St. Peter was going through a huge book evidently looking for Steve Jobs’ name. Anyhow, he told Peter, “There’s an app for that!”


The Buddy System

In July I wrote about getting rid of clutter. This blog has more clutter busting ideas. Ever think that household clutter is sort of like bad cholesterol? Just as LDL clogs up your arteries, household clutter clogs up your life! Clutter keeps throwing speed bumps in your daily life.

If you have a hard time getting rid of things here’s an idea to try. Next time you’re rummaging in a drawer or closet and discover something you don’t use, pull it out and store it in a box somewhere. You don’t need to get rid of it – just get it out of the mainstream so you’re daily life isn’t obstructed with those speed bumps. Clutter makes everything take longer – so speed up your daily life by getting unnecessary stuff out of your way.

Have a kitchen box, bathroom box, toy box, or whatever. Make a list of what’s in the box and post it inside a cabinet door and note where the box is locate.d That way, you’re going to remember that you have Mom’s old cast iron pot and where you put it. Then, when you’re a little stronger you might have the courage to donate or sell some of this unused paraphernalia.

Organized with a buddy. A friend can be objective about your belongings and help you be more realistic. Besides, it goes much faster and is so much more fun when you’re laughing and chatting away while you’re busy at work. Remember, that you don’t have to get rid of everything. Keep what you have room for – but keep the infrequently used things out of your way.

Frequently I quote Dr. Phil who said that if you keep everything, nothing has any value. No wonder that guy has his own TV show. When you keep everything – it becomes a burden. It’s a physical weight you can feel. However, if you keep a few things, they become treasures – things of value. Remember – you can take pictures of things and keep the memory, not the monstrosity.

NEWS FLASH: You know what I’ve been doing lately? Using Magic Erasers to get glue goo off stuff. I was cutting pieces of double sided carpet tape (every home needs a roll of double sided carpet tape). Anyhow, it really gummed up the scissors. No problem for the Magic Eraser. I rubbed and rubbed and it came right off. Of course, I have the liquid goo remover – butthe erasers are handier and there’s no odor. Whenever I take off the self-adhesive labels or prices from anything, I use Magic Erasers to eliminate the sticky residue. I love great inventions!

It’s Laundry Time Again

If you’ve ever read one of my books you know that I hit bottom when our third child was born. It was before organizing was an industry and there wasn’t much help for all of the poor, lost souls who just didn’t have a clue. So., I made a list and noted each one of my problems. It was a long list. I looked at the list and decided to work on one problem at a time. Laundry was number one.

What’s wrong with laundry? Well, it’s always in a state. It’s never done. As soon as you think you’re finished, there’s a new pile stacking up in the hamper. So, the first thing I did was to schedule the laundry so I’d have a few days a week when I didn’t even think about doing laundry. Yep, laundry is never done – but with a schedule you FEEL done. That was an immediate relief.I field a lot of questions about laundry in my workshops and setting up a specific schedule is always my first advice.

A few weeks ago I was talking to a friend (mother  of six) and she gave me the most wonderful insight about laundry. She, of course, is buried in laundry! Despite the chore, she said that she was so glad that she had clothes to put on her children’s backs. She was grateful that she was physically able to do the laundry – to fold and put away the laundry. While I still don’t wake up in the morning with a song in my heart when I know it’s laundry day – that statement made me stop and think.

We’ve had laundry issues lately. It’s been taking three cycles to get the clothes dried. We started looking for a new dryer and in the process, talked to a dealer. He asked us if the dryer was getting hot. It was. He told us that we didn’t need a new dryer – but that we needed to get our dryer vent cleaned out. We found a company that specializes in just such a problem (Indoor Solutions) and within fifteen minutes, he had climbed on the roof and sucked all the lint out of the complete system. Now the clothes are dried before the cycle is completely finished. What a miracle. Saved us a few hundred dollars, to say the least.

This particular dryer has a a long screen vent mounted on the top of the dryer that should be cleaned after each load. It’s been a pain to do that until I hit on this idea. I put a stack of coffee filters into an old Cool-Whip container and added some water to get the filters all moistened. Then, I put the container on the shelf above the dryer. Now, when I have to clean the screen, I grab one of those damp coffee filters and wipe out the lint. Not only does it work, but it cleans the vent better than ever.

In one of my books I wrote a whole chapter about laundry. The title of the chapter is Wash and (S)Wear. Maybe not. I’m happy that I have a washer and a dryer in our home and I’m grateful that we have clothes to wear and that we have the muscles and the mobility to do the laundry.

Sponge Mob

If you’ve been to one of my seminars you know how I’ve told everyone about the virtues of disposable foam paint brushes. They’re so inexpensive that they’re almost free. They’re available anywhere paint is sold – including craft stores and departments. In the seminars I mention how they’re perfect for cleaning louvered doors and shutters, horizontal blinds, window and closet tracks. What a wonderful job they do on the dashboard! Those little sponges get into all the crevices, vents and recesses on a dashboard and make the car look like it’s just been detailed. I have a blender with individual buttons that stick up and gunk gets in between the buttons. Well, the sponges fit perfectly in those little spaces and clean up the mess. So – whenever you’ve got a small space and can’t find the right tool to get to it – think about using a disposable foam paint brush. Oh, almost forgot, they’re good for dusting pleated lampshades, t00.

I always say that the more you use them, the more things you can think of to use them for. Case in point. I was cooking away at the stove the other day and noticed that there were splatters on the side of the stove and the side of the counter top (in those gaps between the stove and the counter). Well, I didn’t have time (or the desire) to move out the stove to get it cleaned. Out came the paint brushes. They’re sponges, after all, so you can get them wet, use detergent – whatever. Made easy work of the job. I love those things!

Speaking of sponges, my utility closet always has a supply of Magic Erasers. I never let myself run out of them. Pinterest has a gold mine of useful suggestions for Magic Erasers. Also, if you go to Mr. Clean’s clean book (www.mrclean/cleanbook) – they have many before and after photos showing how to clean things you probably never even thought of. Those erasers really did a number on all my baking pans that have been used and abused for years. Last thing I used them on -the hubcaps on the van. Amazing!

Happy scrubbing!

Putting Off Procrastination

Seems to me like there are two different types of procrastinators. Some folks have a hard time getting started and others start everything and procrastinate finishing things. I am a card carrying, certified slow starter. Over the years I’ve used a few techniques to help squash my tendency to wait until tomorrow  or the next day.

First of all I learned to recognize the things I do when I’m in the procrastination mode. I shuffle papers. I think of something I really want to do and rationalize why I should do that instead of what I’m procrastinating. (Great definition of rationalization? Rational lies.) It’s a matter of deciding what’s good, better, or best. What’s the best use of my time right now? I remember when I was writing my books (painful process) I would stop writing so I could think up cute, clever chapter titles. That was fun. That I enjoyed. I didn’t want to open a vein when I was doing that. Another symptom, for me anyway, is that I get this feeling like there’s a large concrete block sitting in my stomach. I know I should make that phone call, but what if this isn’t a good time? What if I say something stupid and mess everything up? Procrastination helps our imaginations spiral out of control.

So first – I tell myself (sometimes out loud) I’m just procrastinating. Someone once told me that we should do the most dreaded chore first. That’s probably good advice.

There are three parts to every job: getting ready; doing the job; cleaning up the job. It helps stop procrastination if you know the start up isn’t going to be bothersome. The dishwasher is empty. You know what row you’re on in the knitting pattern. You know the next step you’re taking on that big project. Next time you’re stopping a project mid-stream, be sure to have it ready to go when you start up again. Make that ‘get ready’ something you won’t dread and likely procrastinate.

Okay – so you’re not a slow starter. Maybe you’re just not a finisher. Some folks start everything, but have a hard time crossing the finish line. If that sounds like you, make a list of all the projects that are undone. Pick out the most important one (or the one that’s causing the most stress) and decide what specific things you need to do to finish it. Then methodically move to its conclusion.



Whether you’re working in a closet or a carport there are five simple steps you should follow whenever you’re organizing an area: Clear, clean, cull, categorize and contain.

First, CLEAR out the space. Instead of tearing apart the whole kitchen or bedroom closet, work in one small area at a time. Do one drawer, one shelf or part of the closet. That way you won’t be in such a mess should something unexpected come up. Besides, finishing is a great motivator. So if your goal is doing one drawer – you’ll be finished that much quicker and more motivated to continue. Plan lots of little finishes and that will speed you on your way to the big finish – the kitchen is organized.

Next, CLEAN the space. Vacuum, wash, dust – whatever is required to clean up the area so you’ll have a fresh start.

CULLING is next. Go through all the stuff and determine what goes and what stays If the item has value, but is seldom used, perhaps you can store it somewhere else so you can use the space for something that’s used more often.l (Seldom, by the way, is something that’s used less often than once a month or is seasonal.)

Now is a good time to mention that even if something is used often (say a wooden stirring spoon) that doesn’t mean that you should have 15 wooden spoons standing at attention waiting for action. Keep a few of them handy and store the rest somewhere else.

In my kitchen I have a big tub that’s in the cabinet above the refrigerator. It holds all the kitchen extras that I either have duplicates of or things I don’t use too often. When I need something, I pull down the tub, rummage around and find what I’m looking for. If you do something that be sure to make a list of everything that’s in there and post it on the inside of a cabinet door. That way you won’t forget that you have extra measuring cups and a new can opener. Also, you won’t forget where you put the stuff!

CATEGORIZE the keepers. If you’re organizing clothes you might want to categorize by color or item – i.e. skirts, pants, jackets, etc. Basically what you want to do is to keep things together that are used together.

Use CONTAINERS to keep your categories well defined. Drawer dividers work well in drawers. Deeper containers can be used in deep drawers or on shelves so you can convert your shelves into drawers and use the containers as slide out shelves. That way you can handle several things as one unit and see what’s in back as easily as you can see what’s in front. Using closet rod markers (like department stores use on the clothes racks to indicate sizes) on your closet rod serve as visual reminders that shirts go here – jackets go there. Or, if children are sharing a closet, the child’s name can be put on the marker.

A simple way to make closet rod markers is to use a plastic lid (from Crisco or coffee), cuta hole in the center and write on the lid with a permanent marker. Slip the closet rod marker over the rod.

Clutter Makes Everything Take Longer

If you’re one of those people who just can seem to get rid of things, try this. Next time you’re rummaging in a drawer or closet and discover something you don’t use, pull it out and store it in a box somewhere. You don’t need to get rid of it…..just get it out of the mainstream so you’re daily life isn’t obstructed with ‘speed bumps.’ Remember that clutter makes everything take longer. Every single thing you do every day takes longer because of clutter. Clutter is household cholesterol. It’ clogging up your daily routine. So, speed up your daily life by getting unnecessary stuff out of your way.

Don’t be afraid that you’re going to forget what you have or forget where you stashed it. Have a kitchen box, bathroom box, toy box, or whatever. Make a list of what’s in the box and post it inside a cabinet or closet door and note where the box is located. That way, you’re going to remember that you have Mom’s old cast iron pot and where you put it. Then, when you’re a little stronger (or you can see that nothing serious will happen if you don’t have a particular item) you might have the courage to donate or sell some of this unused paraphernalia.

Here’s the pep talk I give myself that helps me get rid of things I don’t use and don’t really need. “It’s selfish to hang on to things that you’re not using (particularly clothes). There are people who really need (or can use) this and it’s selfish to hang on to it.” Think about that. Women in battered women’s shelters have only the clothes they were wearing when they walked in. Some of them are living there with children. In any case, there are so many worthwhile charities and organizations who can use your useful cast-offs.

Check out the website It’s like Google for your stuff. It can also be an app on your phone. It tells you what you have in your house and where it’s located. If you have it on your phone and you’re in the store and see an unexpected item on sale you can ask yourself, “Do I need any of these?” Find things can tell you that you have six and that they’re in the garage. How cool is that?

Do, Buy, Bring

This is just something that I’ve used for years and I’ve found it so helpful that I just have to share it with you. You might think it’s silly – but I can’t tell you how much I’ve used it over the years. It’s simply called my DO, BUY, BRING form.

Whenever I have a big project that I’m working on ( i.e. a presentation, an activity, workshop, or whatever) I pull out one of these little forms and keep all my notes right there. As you can see, there’s a column for things I need to do. It’s my To Do list for just this particular activity. It seems like there are always things I need to buy or pick up. They go in the BUY list. Then, so I don’t forget anything, I jot down all the things I need to bring. It’s so easy to keep track of everything and keep on top of the preparations when everything needed is right on one page.

Using a tool like Scanner Pro (iTunes) or Droid Scan (Amazon) or JotNotPro you can keep the list right on your phone. In any event, it sure helps you keep the stress of a big event under control. 212