Gift Cards: Use Them or Lose Them


The days immediately following Christmas rank as some of the busiest shopping days of the year. And if you received gift cards in your holiday stocking, it is a good idea to use them sooner rather than later. Here are a few reasons why:

1. Reduced Value. If your state does not have laws protecting the value of the cards, you may find the redeemable amount has been drastically reduced after a few months. Even before the expiration date on the card, some retailers begin charging "account service charges" against the value of the card for each month that the card is unused.

2. Bankrupt Retailers. Unfortunately, a fair number of retailers have recently declared bankruptcy or at least closed their storefronts and transitioned over to internet-only companies. Don't assume you can tuck the card away for a rainy day, especially if the card is for an apparel store where you may prefer to try items on for proper fit.

3. Gift Card Fraud. Be cautious when buying gift cards from the public racks featured in some stores. It has been reported in the news that crooks are copying the card's unique number and PIN number, waiting a few days for the card to be purchased, then calling the telephone number on the card to determine the dollar amount added to the card before they go on their online shopping spree. By the time the recipient gets the card, it's all used up.

To prevent this type of fraud, avoid buying from the miscellaneous cards available on public racks and, instead, buy from the store where the card will be used. Better yet, look for cards that are kept behind the counter. Employee fraud is possible but a lot less likely than the fraud occurring on cards kept in the public kiosks.

4. Lost Cards. I can't tell you how often I find organizing client's gift cards buried in paper piles, in drawers, or in old purses and wallets. In many cases, these cards have long since expired. According to ConsumerReports.org, 27 percent of those who received gift cards in 2006 did not use one or more of them nearly a year later.

I am convinced that main reason people fail to use their valuable gift cards is because the cards simply are not with the person when they need them. I recommend that you either keep the cards locked in your car's glove box or keep them in a special place in your wallet or purse. I have a card-sized change purse that I keep all of my coupons and gift cards in and it lives in my purse all the time. That way, if I happen to be in or near a store, I can easily redeem the card.

Some retailers will even let you register your card on their web site so that you can get a new one if you lose yours. You can also easily check your balance once the card is registered.

Interestingly, the Associated Press reported in an article on December 26th, that fewer people bought gift cards this holiday season and opted, instead, to take advantage of the awesome discounts that were being offered by starving retailers. It will be interesting to see if this trends continues.

You can bet I'll be keeping track of that Natural Body gift card my parents gave me this Christmas! There is an hour-long massage in my near future.

Last Minute Clutter-Free Gift Ideas


In the world of procrastination, "last minute" is a relative thing. For some of you out there, last minute Christmas shopping involves scurrying around Walmart or the mall on December 24th with a bunch of other panicky shoppers. Others may have had most of their shopping done weeks ago and think those of us who are still finishing up are slackers.

This list if for those of you who are still shopping less than 10 days before Christmas. It is my hope that, instead of snatching and grabbing a gift doomed to the re-gift pile, you'll consider giving some of these consumable, experiential, or clutter-free gifts. Here's a list to get you started:

  • Create homemade coupons for spring cleaning, baby-sitting, or lawn mowing services that you can personally offer the recipient. These service gifts are especially appreciated by the elderly and crazy-busy moms (is there any other kind?).
  • Make a video of you and your family or friends for loved ones out of town. If you really want to be clutter-free, post it on YouTube and simply send the recipient the link in an e-card.
  • Give gift certificates to nearby restaurants or coffee shops that you know the recipient frequents or is too cheap to splurge on.
  • Bake a bunch of holiday cookies, banana bread, or other tasty treats that won't take up room for long (except on the hips of the lucky recipients). If you want to go lighter and healthier you may consider a gift bag of tea or coffees or a batch of homemade soup.
  • In my neck of the woods, we have some really good bakeries for bread. A nice fresh loaf wrapped in a tea towel makes a wonderful gift for the hostess of your next holiday party.
  • My mother-in-law has amaryllis bulbs growing as gifts for her daughters-in-law right now. Once we get to her house, they should be in bloom or pretty darned close. After mine is done blooming, I can either pitch it or save the bulb for replanting next year.
  • Give to a charity in the recipient's name. I have friends who contribute to a charity that provides goats to impoverished people as a food source of milk and cheese. When I Googled "give a goat,"several different organizations came up including www.heifer.org.
  • Give a Cheese of the Month, Wine of the Month, or Chocolate of the Month annual membership. There is a *insert name here* of the Month club for just about anything that your friend or loved one is jonesing for.
  • Invite a friend without nearby family to join your family or friends for some holiday gatherings. Depression can hit hardest during the holidays, so be on the lookout for folks who may not have the same loving support network that you have.
  • Purchase movie tickets from your nearby theater. Yes, many of us tend to stay in and watch our Netflix, Tivo, or On Demand movies. But it's really fun to go out to see a flick on the big screen ever so often. And if you're feeling really adventurous or nostalgic, see if there is a drive-in theater near you and pick up some passes.
  • And my personal favorite: A gift certificate for a massage! I recently told my parents that they can give me a gift certificate to my favorite spa for every birthday and Christmas. It is such a guilty pleasure, especially since I'm always sore from my Crossfit workout.
Hopefully, this list gives you a little food for thought for those last-minute gifts you need to take care of. Some of them won't even require you to wrap them or leave your house to pick them up. And simple is always better this time of year!

Thriving After Adversity


As many of you know, I am a breast cancer survivor. I am excited to report that I will soon be celebrating my fifth year of survival following diagnosis. Yay! In case you didn't know, the five-year mark is kind of a big deal in Cancer World.

My life has changed in so many positive ways in the last five years and I am incredibly grateful for all the wonderful people I have come into contact with during and after my cancer experience.

I have often thought that my life would not have moved in the incredible directions it has were it not for cancer. I'm not sure that I would have been motivated to start my organizing business so soon. Or that I would have pursued the Coach for Life life coaching training program that I have just completed. These two things alone have brought me amazing happiness, fulfillment, and spiritual contentment.

Instead of wondering, "Why me?" when I discovered I had cancer, I chose to face the experience with a sense of wonder, hope, and even humor. This helped make treatment more of an adverture than a penance.

As I approach my five-year diagnosis anniversary, I would like to gather and share some stories from other people out there who have thrived after adversity. The challenges that they found themselves faced with don't have to be cancer or other illnesses. I would also love to hear from people who have thrived after the death of someone close, who found success following financial disappointments, or who have found hope and happiness after a disaster or accident.

You get the picture. I'm looking for people who made their own silver linings for the dark clouds they found themselves under. If you know someone whose story fits this bill, please forward this request to them or email me at suellen at creativeorder dot com and let me know how I can get in touch with them. I would like to include their stories in either this blog or a new one I may create devoted to the coaching side of Creative Order.

We could all use some positive mojo right now, don't you think?

20% Off Everything in The Container Store!





My husband and I were in New York City for a long weekend last month and I finally got a chance to browse through one of the mythical New York City Container Stores. When I worked for TCS part time a few years ago, they were just opening the first NYC store. Because of the uniqueness of the New York retail world (stores with relatively small footprints) and lifestyle (very few people have cars for pickups), lots of creativity was involved in designing the NYC stores and their delivery systems. I squealed with delight when we rounded the corner on our way to the WFMU Record Fair and saw the big blue sign for The Container Store. You see, I'm married to a hardcore record collector, and I usually have to spend a few hours reading a book whenever he drags me to a record show. This time I got to play in my own little organized toy store while he flipped through thousands of vinyl LPs and 45s.

Speaking of The Container Store, this week I received my TCS email letting me know that they are extending their sale tied to Oprah's Clean Up Your Messy House Tour (with my secret boyfriend Peter Walsh). From now until November 30, 2008, you can get 20% off of everything in the store, including elfa shelving. Be sure to print out and bring the coupon on The Container Store's site if you are shopping at one their retail locations. If you don't have a store near you, you can shop online and use the code CLUTTERCREW at checkout or order by phone after downloading the coupon from The Container Store's home page.

If you're at the Perimeter TCS store in Atlanta Sunday afternoon, you're likely to run into me. But if you're too busy to do your own shopping for organizing products, remember that any of the Creative Order organizers can share their TCS discount with you year round. To schedule a personal shopper during the holidays, just call (404) 271-2111 or send me an email at suellen at creative order dot com.

Let the Decorating Madness Begin!


There's a guy in my neighborhood who, just as soon as Halloween is over, begins decorating his yard and house with Christmas decorations. I'm talking lighted candy canes lining the driveway, a giant glowing Christmas Snoopy in the middle of the yard, and twinkling lights on the house.

He always looks so happy while he's putting all this stuff out. I'm convinced that he's smiling because he knows that he's getting a jump ahead of the game and will be sitting back and relaxing while the rest of us are scurrying around with our holiday decorations as soon as Thanksgiving is over.

I think I'll take a page out of his playbook and get started a little early this year. If you've been reading "Better Organized" for awhile, you know that some years I give myself permission to boycott the decorating insanity altogether. It just depends on whether I'm feeling the urge. This will not be one of those years. As soon as I cracked open the Crate & Barrel holiday catalog, I could feel my schoolgirl giddiness swelling up.

For many reasons that will unfold in the coming weeks, I'm feeling more connected to the Universe and spirit than ever before. And for me, this connection is strengthened through the rituals and rich connections that accompany the holidays. So I am joyfully decorating this year!

But, as always, I'll be doing it alone since my husband has little interest in the process. In order to make things easy for myself, I have kept my decorating super-simple over the years. I have a small vintage artificial tree (one of those cool old silver ones like my grandma had), just enough decorations to fill the tree, a wreath for the front door, and one little table-top tree for my dining area. Limiting my decorating inventory to the stuff I really love has made this process pretty pleasant and quick.

For most of you, it won't be so easy. I know many of you have bins and bins of decorations in your attic, basements, and garages. Heck, I've organized those bins for a bunch of you! If you find yourself dreading the decorating process, consider hiring one of the Creative Order organizers to help you pull those bins out of storage and into the house. We can also help you go through your decorations to decide what to use this year, what you may be ready to consign or donate (now is the time!!), and what to put back into storage as memorabilia or to use in next year's theme.

Then again, you could just decide to skip the decorating altogether and instead enjoy the decorations of your friends, neighbors, and family. You have permission to just say no to the decorating madness.

Fall Electronics Recycling Day


If you are in the metro-Atlanta area, this weekend is your chance to purge some of those old electronics, computers, televisions, and cell phones that may be piling up in your garage, home office, or basement.

On Saturday, October 25, the Decatur Fall 2008 Electronics Recycling event will be held from 9:00 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Decatur High School parking lot, on the corner of N. McDonough St. and W. Howard Avenue. This semi-annual event has been hugely successful at diverting electronic equipment from landfills, where they may contaminate soil and water.

In addition to electronics, any metro area resident can also drop off batteries of any type, and Styrofoam peanuts and blocks as long as they are free from debris. And for the first time, televisions will be recycled for a minimal fee of $10 cash per set (with exact change). There is no charge to recycle other objects. Other items that may be recycled include desktop and laptop computers, telephones, mini-towers, fax machines, monitors, calculators, speakers, printers, etc. For a full list, go to the event web site here.

The company that assists the city of Decatur in this recycling effort, ARC International Corporation, has been vetted to be sure that everything is recycled responsibly without being dumped around the globe. They dismantle all of the materials received in the United States down to the bare component, be it plastic, metal , circuit boards, CRT tubes and any other e-waste/scrap, then the materials are sent downstream for recycling. ARC has a zero waste corporate policy ensuring that none of the material brought into their facilities for recycling will end up in a landfill either domestically or internationally.

This recycling event only happens two times per year in the spring and in the fall. So pull together all your appropriate recyclables and donate them this weekend.

Multi-Tasking Women Are Never Too Busy to Vote!


My friend Kyle Young, founder of the fun website www.multi-taskingwoman.com, has a new campaign going. Kyle has recently started a new site at www.nevertoobusytovote.com to encourage all of us busy women (and men!) to get out and vote in this year's election.

Remember, EVERY VOTE COUNTS! So practice good time management, open your calendar to November 4th, and make a note to vote. Yes, you may have to wait in line to practice this right, but it will be worth it to participate in the process and have your voice heard! Heck, in many states, you can vote early and avoid some of the anticipated long lines.

NEVER TOO BUSY TO VOTE is non-partisan and doesn't tell you who to vote for. They just ask that every woman in America get out and vote. If you have a blog, website, or just like to chat, encourage your readers to go to www.nevertoobusytovote.com and they'll give you what you need to help spread the word and get the conversation started.

Together, we can make things happen!

Disposing of Household Hazardous Waste


I'm currently working with a metal artist to organize her studio. In this process, we've come across lots of little containers of chemicals that need to be disposed of, but neither of us was sure of the environmental and legal rules for disposal. I began my search for answers by contacting the Environmental Protection Agency for Georgia. After being bounced around from person to person, I finally hit pay dirt with the Department of Community Affairs. A wonderfully responsive gentleman called me back and emailed me a couple of fact sheets on the proper disposal of household waste. Here are a few pointers:

The processes described here basically involve either solidifying wastes for disposal via regular garbage service, or evaporation. With both of the basic steps below, you want to work outside, and wear rubber gloves and eye protection. Never mix more than one material as you're preparing the items for disposal.


SOLIDIFICATION:

The idea here is to make the liquids solid. Sawdust or shredded newspaper will work, but for larger quantities you'll want to get some kitty litter, cheaper at auto parts stores; ask for oil dry. Double-line a garbage can with plastic garbage bags, add some oil dry/kitty litter and then the liquid waste. Work outside, away from access by children and animals. When the material is solidified, tie up the bag and it can then go into regular trash. Be sure not to get the bag so heavy that you can't handle it, or that it ruptures. Wear gloves and safety glasses to prevent contact with the materials you're handling.


EVAPORATION:

Work outside, away from access by children and animals. If there is just a trace amount of hazardous waste in the container, simply open the top and let it evaporate. If you have more than a very little bit, you'll want to accelerate the process. Get some sort of disposable metal try (an aluminum foil roasting pan is ideal) and pour a half-inch of liquid into the tray. The increased surface area will allow the fuel/liquid to evaporate much more quickly. Repeat this process until the fuel/liquid is gone, and then recycle or reuse the containers if possible (though not for cooking!).

The foil tray can be recycled with scrap aluminum; if you're leery of having the fuel/liquid-coated foil around your home until you can recycle it, then wad up the tray, wrap it in a few layers of newspaper and put it in a sturdy plastic garbage bag . Then it can be disposed of in your regular household trash.

Here is the GA Dept. of Community Affairs web site where you can find more info. Look under Recycling and Disposal Guidance:

http://www.dca.state.ga.us/development/EnvironmentalManagement/index.asp#PROG

Of course, if you live outside of Georgia, you will want to research your county or state guidelines for hazardous waste disposal.

Organizing Tools: Non-Toxic Cleaners


I recently discussed the basic ingredients for a well-stocked cleaning caddy, but I didn't cover the specific cleaning products that you may want to include. Since the majority of us are trying to "go green" and use less toxic cleaning products, I thought I would mention some of my favorite non-toxic cleaners along with some recommendations from the wonderful Apartment Therapy blog.

We'll start with some of my favorite name brands:

  • method. I love method products because they are non-toxic, they use 100% recycled plastic in their packaging, and they smell incredible. I purchase my method products at Target. Their selection is always awesome (unless there is a sale going on). Specifically, I use the the All Surface Pink Grapefruit for counters and general cleaning, Tub + Tile Eucalylptus Mint for tile walls and floors, and Daily Shower Ylang Ylang as my daily tub and shower curtain cleaner (just spray on when you're done with your shower). I also recently picked up method's Citrus Cilantro Aroma Spray for a deodorizer in the bathroom. It smells so clean!
  • Simple Green. We've used Simple Green's All Purpose Cleaner as one of our primary household cleaners ever since being exposed to it at a bicycle maintenance class. The instructor used it as his bicycle cleaner, so my bike-riding husband picked up a bottle. Years later, we use it so often we buy the industrial size refill. Like method's products, Simple Green is non-toxic and biodegradable. You can use it on most any surface except glass (it streaks). It's an incredible stain remover too. We've used it to remove red wine stains on white kitchen counters, blood on shirts, lipstick, etc. You can find it in most any grocery or hardware store.
  • Bon Ami Polishing Cleanser Founded in 1886, Bon Ami can't be beat for cleaning sinks, toilets, and anything else needing a powder cleanser that doesn't scratch. Because it contains no perfume, bleach, detergent, or dye, it's recommended for those who are sensitive to chemicals.
Here are some other non-toxic cleaning products recommended on the Apartment Therapy blog:
And, finally, my grandmother's favorite ingredients for homemade (and low cost) cleaners: white vinegar, baking soda, lemon juice, and distilled water. In different combinations, those four items can clean just about any mess you can make.

What are your favorite "green" cleaners?

The Container Store's Annual Shelving Sale


As you guys know, I am a HUGE fan of The Container Store. For those of you that have been thinking about picking up some new shelving options, now is the time to do it. The Container Store is having their annual storewide shelving sale until October 19th where you can take advantage of a whopping 25% off these shelving products:

  • elfa
  • InterMetro
  • Metro Commercial
  • Modular Steel Cubes
  • Solid Mahogany Modular Cubes
  • Ladoro Shelving
  • Freestanding Shelving
  • Janus Shelving
  • Wall-Mounted Shelving
There are only two times per year that The Container Store puts their elfa shelving products on sale, and the next sale won't be until the end of the holidays.

So go to their site, brainstorm, take measurements of the space(s) you'd like to organize, and visit one of their stores. If you don't have a store near you, the TCS web site has a section where you can plan your own space and order everything to be shipped to you.

If you would like to take advantage of even greater savings in the store and you live in Atlanta, consider giving us a call so that we can go shopping with you and share our NAPO member discount with you. Let us know if you have any questions about the products. I worked there a couple of years ago and have installed a boat load of their stuff in my home and my clients' homes. It rocks!

Organizing Tools: A Well-Stocked Cleaning Caddy


My daddy taught me that most tasks are a heck of a lot easier to do if you have the right tools at hand, and the task of cleaning is no exception. The tools we'll be discussing today are cleaning caddies and the supplies that go in them. In a follow-up post, I'll recommend some non-toxic cleaning products, but we'll just touch on the general cleaning supplies here.

Often when I am organizing a client, we will clear off shelves, tabletops, or counters that haven't seen a dusting rag in months, if not years. Once cleared, I will ask the client to fetch their cleaning products so that we can clean the surfaces before putting items back in place. I can't tell you how many times clients have responded with, "Oh, I don't think I have any spray cleaner." At that point, we make a list of these basics that the client should purchase:

  • Cleaning caddy. Make sure that the caddy that you purchase will fit under a sink, in a cabinet, on the floor of a linen closet, or in your laundry area. You want to be able to easily tuck it away so that kids can't get into it and your guests don't have step over it when visiting. Purchase a caddy for each floor of your home and fill the caddies with the supplies below, as appropriate.
  • Latex gloves to protect hands from chemicals. I have a funky pair that a my client Sue gave me after I coveted hers.
  • Window/glass cleaner
  • General-purpose cleaner (may be same as window/glass cleaner)
  • Heavy-duty powder cleanser for tough stains and rust
  • Tub and tile cleaner
  • Feather duster or micofiber cloth for dusting
  • Paper towels, soft rags, and sponges
  • Oil soap for wood cabinets, furniture and floors
By keeping these items together in an easy-to-carry caddy, you can maneuver your way through your maintenance cleaning quickly and efficiently. By eliminating the need to stop in the middle of a cleaning job to get a product that's downstairs under the kitchen sink or out in the laundry room, you're more likely to stick with the task at hand. Goodness knows, most people can be easily distracted while cleaning.

This doesn't go in the caddy category, but no cleaning project would be complete without proper tunes. I find that putting on some fun music keeps me dancing through my wiping, dusting, and scrubbing.

What makes cleaning more fun for you?

Law of Attraction in Action: Michael Phelps

This weekend 23 year old Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps set a new record for the most gold medals won by an athlete at a single Olympics. The road to this amazing accomplishment hasn't been an easy one.

In elementary school, Phelps was diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, or ADHD, and briefly took Ritalin before telling his mother that his friends didn't use medicine and he would handle it himself. Along the way, a middle school teacher told Phelps that he would never be successful.

About this same time, he started swimming at North Baltimore Aquatic Club, the swim club where his sisters competed. It was there that he met coach Bob Bowman, the same coach that has trained Phelps ever since.

In a June, 2008 interview with TODAY's Matt Lauer, Coach Bob Bowman and Phelps discussed their goal-setting techniques. As the swimmer did before going to the Olympics in Athens, he writes his goals for the year down and keeps them next to his bed. When Lauer asked for hints as to what his 2008 Olympic goals would be, Phelps replied, "The times are faster and then Bob takes care of hopefully getting me to those times in training."

Lauer then asked Bowman what he believed would be written about Phelps after the 2008 Games were over. "Greatest Olympian ever," said the coach.

Now, there are two individuals who are very, very clear about their intentions. They write down their goals. They create a plan to reach those goals. Then they execute the plan. THOSE are steps we can all take to make our dreams come to fruition.

You see, it's not enough to just know what you want. You need to write it down. Then you have to take action, even if it's just small steps, toward your goals. You may feel uncomfortable at times. Occasionally during practice sessions, Bowman pushes Phelps past the point of exhaustion and into places he doesn't want to go. In an AP article on www.comcast.net, Phelps says, "Bob has a saying, 'Putting money in the bank.' When we train every day, sometimes there are workouts you don't like, don't want to do. Bob says you're putting money in the bank. I guess I put a lot of money in the bank over the last four years, and we withdrew pretty much every penny in the bank. After Bob and I both grab a little break it'll be time to start depositing."

When told that people are comparing him to golfer Tiger Woods, Phelps said, "I just think of myself as, honestly, a normal person coming here, swimming every day because I love it. I just have high goals for myself, and I don't want to give up until I achieve those."

Simplify Your (and Your Kid's) Wardrobe


Fellow organizer and blogger, Jeri Dansky, recently wrote in her fabulous blog about the trend toward simplifying your wardrobe by finding a uniform that works for you.

This reminded me of a conversation that I had last week with a client while we were organizing her second-grader's room. Mom told me that, after realizing that her daughter only wore about 20% of her clothes with any regularity, she decided to only buy what the daughter liked to wear. It's sounds so simple, yet so perfect! Mom donated the 80% of the clothes her daughter never wore and bought a few new core pieces (in her daughter's case, that meant more pants and cute t-shirts). Now she has tons more closet and drawer space. Plus, mom says that her daughter still gets complemented all the time on the 6 or 7 outfits that she mixes and matches.

My own wardrobe follows a similar path. I tend to invest in well-made basics with colorful tops and jackets to jazz things up. My mother-in-law taught me years ago to stick with the classics, find colors that flatter you, and invest in quality clothing. She always looks smashing, so I try and take her advice.

When it comes to developing a practical, signature look, I think Jamie Lee Curtis said it best in this May/June 2008 AARP magazine interview:

"My style is a distillation. I've etched out who I am through myriad haircut attempts, outfit attempts, beauty attempts, diet attempts. It's been an evolution. I've let my hair go gray. I wear only black and white. Every year I buy three or four black dresses that I just keep in rotation. I own one pair of blue jeans. I've given away all my jewelry, because I don't wear it."

Wow, now that's a woman who's comfortable with her uniform!

Photo from alllovelpy-2' flickr account


Finding Time and Motivation For Fitness


"Time management" is somewhat of a misnomer. I mean, we all get the same 24 hours each day. When I reference Time Management, what I am really talking about is Decision Management. It's less about finding the perfect scheduling system, and more about how you choose to spend your seconds, minutes, and hours each day. And if, like me, better physical fitness is one of your goals, you must decide to spend more time exercising.

FINDING EXCUSES

I was thinking about the excuses for why I have gotten away from my fitness routine over the last 5 years (and I have some really good ones). At the peak of my physical fitness in 2003, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. Before cancer, I had lost about 40 pounds and was regularly bicycling 30-100 miles at a time. On top of that, I was doing weight training. I was a lean, mean, bike riding machine.

But during chemo and radiation, I had to slow down my fitness routine considerably. Then very soon after I finished treatment, I decided to start my professional organizing company while still working in the corporate world. A few years later, my organizing business is prospering, I've still got a foot in the corporate world (company-paid health insurance is a beautiful thing to a cancer survivor), and I've gained weight and lost fitness because I made daily decisions that resulted in my exercising less. Oh, and I had also made the decision to eat more ice cream too.

FINDING MOTIVATION

Since finishing cancer treatment, I have chosen to spend a great deal of my time growing my organizing business. At the same time, I got into a real exercising rut. I even switched gyms in the hopes that a change of scenery would inspire me to work out more regularly and lessen my boredom with the same old workouts I'd been doing for years. On top of that, I started a bad habit of reading emails and surfing the internet as I enjoyed my "pre-workout" breakfast...yeah, the workouts that I wasn't getting around to doing.

After watching some pounds sneak back on, I recently realized that I needed a kick in the pants to change my bad habits back to good ones. So, this weekend I made the decision to do two things to shake me out of my fitness complacency and move me toward 40-something hotness.

  1. I started a new fitness program called CrossFit. I'm doing this 45-minute workout first thing in the morning (before breakfast and time-sucking email) at a nearby gym along with about 30 other people and an instructor who keeps us motivated and moving. The routine is unlike anything I've ever done before, and it's kicking my butt. I love it.
  2. I'm changing my diet to include more fruits, vegetables and lean-protein while cutting back on carbs, especially the ice cream.
I am motivated to start these two new habits because they are new, fun, and guaranteed to show results if I stick with them.

FINDING TIME

I have always been a morning person. I naturally wake up at the crack of dawn, and I have lots of energy as soon as I get out of bed. This means that, for me, the best time to exercise is first thing in the morning. Lucky for me because research has shown that people who exercise in the mornings do so with more consistency.

I believe that physically and mentally demanding tasks should be done when your energy and focus are at their peak. That may mean that you need to schedule your fitness fix in the afternoons or early evenings. This may also require you to make some scheduling decisions so that life's many demands on your time won't derail your progress. You may have to say no to some obligations & commitments that may come your way. Again, we all have the same 24 hours to work with. Saying "yes" to one commitment means saying no to something else.

Notice that I have bolded statements that point out decisions I have made and the consequences of those decisions. Decisions I have made have allowed me to acheive some goals while falling down on others. Make sure the decisions you make are leading you to the results that you desire. This requires balance, flexibility, and constant assessment.

Remember that it's okay to change and re-prioritize your goals. For the past couple of years, my focus has been on growing my business. But now I'm exercising my right (pun intended) to change my focus toward improving my physical fitness. I'll be glad when my muscles get used to this new decision!

Tips for Laundry Room Organizing


For those of you looking for tips on keeping your laundry room organized, be sure to pick the July 2008 "Atlanta Home Improvement" magazine. In it, you'll find tips that I shared with writer Julie Edwards for her piece titled, "Laundry Room Redo: Tips for a Functional and Stylish Space." You can find this free publication at area Whole Foods grocery stores and Ace Hardware, among other places. I normally pick my copy up at my favorite household consignment store, Finders Keepers, in Avondale Estates.

Here are a few laundry room organizing tips that I shared with Julie:

  • Keep laundry supplies that you use most often, such as detergent, fabric softener, and anti-static sheets on the more accessible lower shelves.
  • Store seldom used items on the higher shelves. I often recommend to my organizing clients that they use the higher shelves in the laundry room to store larger serving pieces or party supplies. Be sure to keep a small folding step stool nearby or you're likely to forget what is stored up there!
  • If you have wire shelving installed in your laundry room (the favorite affordable solution amongst contractors, it seems), consider using a product called The Shelfanator to cover the shelves. The Shelfanator is easy to install and covers up wire shelving giving the space a smooth surface. Too often, the combination of moisture and soap products in the laundry room creates a sticky film over traditional wire shelves. The Shelfanator's smooth surface makes the shelves easier to keep clean and helps prevent items from tipping over or falling through the
  • Liven up the laundry room with bright paint on the walls or with one of the new colorful washer and dryer options like this one.
  • Create a hanging area for clothes that need to air dry. If space is an issue, a folding drying rack or retractable interior clothesline may be perfect solutions.
  • If you have children, consider installing a lower hanging rod so that your kids can help with laundry and begin learning how to take care of their clothes.
  • Keep a small wastebasket in the laundry area for disposing of dryer sheets, dryer lint, and all those tissues and tiny pieces of paper that you pull out of pants pockets, hopefully BEFORE washing them.
One of my favorite trends that I'm seeing in new homes is having laundry rooms closer to the master bedroom. In a few cases, I've even seen them situated in closets inside the master bath. It's so much more convenient to get the clothes from the laundry hamper to the washer and back into closets when you don't have to trek all the way to the basement or mudroom, don't you think?

Does Instant Messaging Hurt or Help Productivity?


Atlanta Professional Organizer, Allison Carter, recently alerted me to an article in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution entitled "Biz (off)beat: Instant Messaging Among Co-Workers Hikes Productivity" written by Bill Hendrick.

The article describes the results of a research study of 912 people conducted by professor Kelly Garrett of Ohio State and James Danziger of the University of California-Irvine in which they found that instant messaging (IMing) led to fewer interruptions of workers and increased productivity. "The key takeaway is that instant messaging has some benefits where many people had feared it might be harmful," Garrett said. Those in the study who used instant messaging reported being "interrupted less frequently" than colleagues who didn't.

I wonder what each study participant's definition of "interruption" is. Are they referring to the frequency that they received and read emails, answered phone calls, or spoke to a co-worker who stopped by to ask a question? Do they consider each instant message an interruption?

This article reminded me of another that I read called "The Multitasking Generation" in the March, 2006 edition of Time magazine. The piece described the results from studies done by David E. Meyer, director of the Brain, Cognitive, and Action Laboratory at the University of Michigan. He found that "when people try to perform two or more related tasks either at the same time or alternating rapidly between them, errors go way up, and it takes far longer--often double the time or more--to get the jobs done than if they were done sequentially. " Seems to me that answering instant messages while performing other job duties would qualify as "trying to perform two or more related tasks."

As we often see, two different research studies can show two very different results. IMing may reduce the total amount of time a single communication may take, but I question whether it reduces the total quantity of interruptions. Also, the number of in-person interruptions may be decreased by IMing, but does this reduce the number of times per day one's attention is pulled away from the task at hand?

I rarely participate in IMing because I personally enjoy getting absorbed in a task, and I find it a bit difficult to get back into the zone once I'm interrupted. What about you? Do you find IMing helps or hurts your productivity?


The Gardener's Notebook

Earlier, I posted about planting strategies that you can use to make gardening easier and more fruitful.

One of the organizing tools that I have used since I first began gardening in our yard some fifteen years ago, is a Gardener's Notebook. I started with a gardening hanging file and after quickly outgrowing that, I upgraded to a three-ring binder with a cover that zips closed. When choosing my notebook, I gravitated towards the kid's section of the office supply store because their notebooks are always so much more fun. The one I use is covered in some kind of heavy-duty microfiber with fuzzy flowers on the front. You could also make your own like the ones in the flickr photo above. The photographer, Lana Stewart, uses cool scrapbook paper to dress up her three-ring binders.

Inside my handy Gardener's Notebook are:

  • Tabbed pages to divide the sections. My sections include:
    • Annualized Schedule - list of when to fertilize and prune different plants. I've also loaded this schedule into my Outlook calendar to help keep me on track with these chores.
    • Hosta (I LOVE hosta so they get their own tab)
    • Misc. Shade Plants
    • Soil Amending
    • Landscaping Plans
    • Feng Shui Gardening
    • Vendors for Plants, Stones, and Supplies
  • Plastic 8 1/2 x 11" sleeves to hold gardening catalogs. I only keep a few and throw out the old when the new one arrives. I mostly use these for the inspiration that the pretty photos provide.
  • Zipper pocket to hold receipts and plant markers. This has been helpful when I have needed to determine what variety of a particular plant I have. Because we have so many leaves in the fall, garden markers get raked up in my garden. So now I just slip them in my notebook for safekeeping.
  • Plastic picture sleeves to hold photos of the garden. My favorite feature of my Gardening Notebook! It's so inspiring to see how small plants, shrubs and trees fill out over the years. If you stick with it and are lucky enough to stay in the same place for a few years, gardening really teaches you patience.
By keeping all of my research notes and plant lists in one spot, I have saved myself lots of time and energy whenever I have built a new bed in the garden or have needed to replace a plant that has outgrown its space. The notebook also helps me stay on schedule with all of my gardening maintenance chores and enables me to better track which plants work and don't work in my yard. What tools do you gardeners out there use to keep your info organized?

Law of Attraction in Action: The Lost Briefcase


About twenty years ago, I was on my first trip to New York City for a trade show. Because the business trip coincided with my step-mother's birthday, I brought her along so we could spend a couple of days before the trade show exploring the city.

As anyone who has ever visited NYC can attest, the first visit is a bit overwhelming. Heck, the taxi ride from the airport to the hotel had us wide-eyed and fearful for our lives. As we piled out of the cab, I grabbed my carry-on and my suitcase out of the back of the cab, not realizing the my briefcase that contained the trade show booth assembly instructions was still in floorboard of the cab. While standing in line to check into the hotel, this realization swept over me, and thus begins my story of the law of attraction in action.

I immediately ran outside to see if the cab was still there. The bellman, seeing my panic, asked what cab company I rode in on. "I don't know! It was a yellow cab," I said. He chuckled and said, "Ma'am, that covers about 90% of the cabs in the city." My cab was long gone. So I went back to my room and began the process of wishing my briefcase back to me.

* Write it down. I pulled out a piece of paper and wrote that I would have my briefcase and the trade show booth instructions by Monday since that's when I needed to assemble the trade show booth.

* Visualize. I sat down, closed my eyes, and spent some quality time visualizing the briefcase back in my hands.

* Take Action. I checked with the hotel's Lost and Found a couple of times per day to see if it had been turned in. I even checked with the local police precinct. Keep in mind that this was before every person over 10 years of age had a cell phone. It's not as though someone could find the briefcase containing my business card and call my cell to arrange pickup.


* Let it Happen. Then I let the universe, spirit, angels (insert your version of your higher power) take over. Over the course of the weekend, my step-mom and I went shopping, took in a Broadway show, and explored Chinatown and Little Italy. All the while, I kept seeing myself with that briefcase back in my hands.

First thing Monday morning I checked with the hotel's Lost and Found again and the concierge suggested that I try calling Port Authority since that's where cabbies often take items left behind. I called. "What was the contents of the attache case?" the Port Authority officer asked me in a robotic tone. As I described the stuff inside, he said, "Yeah, it's here. Come on in and pick it up."

Believe. Visualize. Act. Receive.

Photo of NYC from Elwin W's flickr account.

Saving Time and Gas

As gasoline prices in the U.S. have risen to $4 per gallon, we're all feeling the pinch when filling up our tanks. I'm especially feeling it after acquiring a zippy car with a turbo engine last year! My fifty dollar fill-ups have gotten me thinking about ways that I can increase my efficiency and reduce my drive time.

Using David Allen's ideas from his book "Getting Things Done," I keep an ongoing To-Do or Action list of errands that must be done while in the car. Allen suggests we keep Action lists according to the context or equipment needed. For example, you may keep one list of calls to make (the equipment needed is a telephone), a separate list of topics to research online (equipment needed is a computer with internet access), and a list of groceries to buy and errands to run (equipment needed is a car unless you live within walking distance to the grocery and other necessary stores).

As I make my list of errands, I think about where the stores are located so that I can pick the route to most efficiently run the errands. For example, if I have both office supplies and groceries to buy, I will go to the nearby Publix (I have THREE within a few miles of me) that shares a parking lot with Office Depot. On my way home from there, I have two routes I can take. If I also have dry cleaning to pick up, I take the route that takes me past the dry cleaner.

While making my day's Action list each morning, I also consider the time of day that is best for me to venture out. If I have banking to do, I schedule my errand run before 4:00 in afternoon so that I can swing by the bank as well. Even better, my credit union is in the shopping mall where my Goodwill drop off is located. This mall is located within about a mile from my home.
So by carefully choosing a nearby bank, dry cleaner, grocery store, seamstress, office supply store, pet supply store, and drug store I've managed to minimize the number of trips I take and the miles I drive thus saving me both gas and time!

Share your tips for saving money at the pump by commenting on www.betterorganized.blogspot.com.

Creating an Organized and Low Maintenance Garden


Once spring is in full swing, those of us who love to garden really get the itch to dig in the dirt. Every April and May, I enjoy the pink and white blooms of my azaleas and the variegated leaves of my hostas as they poke out of the ground.

And, of course, I have to pull a few weeds, the clutter of the gardening world. But it recently occurred to me that my garden is getting easier to maintain each year because of the planning and planting that I did over a decade ago. You see, if you put the right plants in the right places, your garden will practically maintain itself. This concept mimics some of the basic principles of organizing: (a) put items where they should logically live and (b) use the best solutions for the space available.

Here are a few tips for an organized garden that will save you time, money, and energy:

  • Use perennials and shrubs liberally. Perennials are plants that come back year after year. They may be more expensive in the short run, but these plants will more than pay for themselves long-term because, unlike annuals which have to be purchased and planted each year, perennials only have to purchased once. And many of them get large enough over time that they can be divided and placed into other parts of your garden. I have hostas that I've divided many times over the years. This saves me money because the original plant investment keeps producing more plants for my garden over time.

  • Use native plants whenever possible. Native plants are those that grow naturally and happily in the soil and weather conditions that they are planted in. They are adapted to your local conditions and, therefore, require less fertilizers, pest controls, and watering. Plus, they will benefit the environment by offering appropriate food, nectar, and cover for local birds, butterflies, and other little critters. If you get lured into using non-native exotic plants in your garden, expect to spend time helping them to survive. I liken using exotics to sticking me, a very southern woman, in Michigan for the winter. I am simply not used to being in snow for more than a few days at a time and would be absolutely miserable. I can, however, happily thrive in Atlanta's hot, humid summers because my system has adapted to these conditions.

  • Put the right plant in the right spot. Most plants purchased from a nursery come with a short description of their preferred sunlight conditions, the recommended distance to plant apart from other plants, and an approximation of their size at maturity. Keep these factors in mind as you design your garden. Don't waste time and money putting a "full sun" plant in dappled shade. It may look okay for one season but it will eventually become leggy and won't flourish. On the opposite end of the spectrum, don't put shade lovers in full sun unless you want to watch them get brown and crunchy as the season progresses. If you put a plant in a spot where it has room to grow in the conditions it likes to live in, you'll end up with a happy plant that requires very little maintenance.

  • Relax and let your garden grow. If you've put the right native plants in the right conditions, they will flourish naturally. I prefer not to use chemicals in my garden, and the droughts we've experienced in the southeast have restricted my ability to water. That means that once a plant is established in my yard, it has to hold its own or it doesn't get to stay. This trial and error, survival-of-the-fittest approach has taught me what will and will not work in my garden. I put my time, money, and sweat equity into what I know will easily grow.
Like most ongoing projects, a garden must be easy to maintain or the excuses for not doing the upkeep will start creeping in. The suggestions above will help the do-it-yourself folks. But if you don't have the time or interest to develop your own garden, considering hiring a landscape architect to design and even install an organized and deliberate gardening plan. Then you can spend more of your time relaxing and enjoying the fruits of their labor.

The Ripple Effect of Getting Organized


One of my organizing clients is a pastor at a nearby church. He's been a delight to work with because he is so enthusiastic and curious about the whole organizing process. In fact, he even calls our sessions his "organizing classes."

He recently shared with me a phenomenon that is now occurring in his life. Once he began organizing one aspect of his life, in this case his work, he began to see how he could improve other areas. He shared with me that he and his family are now organizing their garage at home, and his wife finally has the recycling center she has been asking for. He's even scheduling time to sit and write his Sunday sermons early in the week instead of squeezing them in later.

I've witnessed this time and time again. Once a person begins organizing one area of their life, they open up time and space for other accomplishments. I've seen people start to lose weight once they begin to purge the excess stuff from their homes and offices. I've seen clients stop spending so much money and begin paying off debts once they really pay attention to how much stuff they have (and don't need). I've seen relationship tensions ease once the chaos of clutter is calmed. You see, once a person begins to get control of the area of their life that's been causing them the most headaches and heartaches, they become inspired to improve the other areas of their lives.

So start creating your own ripple effect by deciding today what areas you want to get a better handle on. Then set aside an hour in your schedule and start working on the things that will have the most positive impact on your life or psyche. Once you start, I guarantee that you'll be surprised by how productive you can be in one focused hour and how good this progress will feel.

Mother's Day Gift Ideas



Mother's Day is just around the corner (Sunday, May 11th), and I'm willing to bet that a few of you have procrastinated and are still wondering what to get mom for Mother's Day. Allow me to make some suggestions that will keep you out of the dog house and won't clutter mom's house up.

  • Flowers are ALWAYS appropriate as far as I'm concerned. What gal doesn't love to see the flower delivery guy on her doorstep? And if you're feeling really generous, you could get her a blooming outdoor plant and offer to plant it in her garden. Then she can appreciate it for years to come.
  • Spa gift certificates are also a big hit for the busy mom who could use a bit of pampering. While you're at it, go ahead and pick one up for yourself. The two of you can follow the spa treatment with lunch and make an afternoon of it.
  • Give mom the day off by letting her sleep late, making her breakfast, and giving her a juicy new novel to read or a DVD of the latest chick flick.
  • For the fitness conscious mom, you could give her a pedometer or a heart rate monitor to help her track her workouts. If it's motivation she needs, consider giving her a couple of sessions with an exercise trainer or getting her one of those cute little MP3 players with some of her favorite tunes already downloaded onto it.
  • And, of course, if she's looking for a little help getting organized, you could offer to help her clean out her closet, basement, or garage or give her a gift certificate for a professional organizer that can help her clear her clutter.
My step-mom is a practical kind of gal, so each year I use the novel approach of asking her what she'd like as a gift. That way I at least know that she's getting something she really wants and will use. She's in the process of organizing some rooms in their house, and she requested some nifty items from The Container Store. So essentially, we're both getting gifts, mine being the opportunity to shop in my favorite store on the planet.

For those of you whose moms have passed on, you can still honor her on Sunday by lighting a candle for her, writing her a love letter, or talking to her through your own version of prayer. I'll bet she'll know that you're thinking about her.

Recycle Your Computer at Staples


In recognition of April's Earth Day, we close out the month with another recycling option for you. The office supply store Staples has developed a program to make it easier for its customers to recycle their e-waste. Here's how it works:

Bring your old computers, monitors, laptops, printers, faxes and all-in-ones to any Staples U.S. store and drop them off at the customer service desk. All brands are accepted for secure recycling regardless of where they were purchased.

A recycling fee of $10 per piece for large equipment is charged to cover handling, transport, product disassembly and recycling. Smaller computer peripherals, such as keyboards, mice, speakers, and modems can be recycled at no charge.

You can use the Staples Easy Tech service on-site in all stores to transfer data from an old computer to a new one. Here are some FAQs about the Staples recycling program:

What products are not accepted?

  • Staples does not accept televisions, floor-model copiers/multi-function devices or appliances.
How does Staples keep hard drives secure?
  • Items are bagged and sealed after they are dropped off and our recycling partner uses established industry-leading standards for secure data destruction.
  • For a list of software programs available to erase your data and protect your personal information, see Staples Security.
How does the recycling process work?
  • Equipment is bagged and sealed after drop-off. The equipment is picked up and delivered to their recycling partner, Eco International, who disassembles the equipment into its component parts in the U.S. for environmentally responsible recycling.
What else can you recycle at Staples?
  • You'll receive $3 in Staples Rewards to spend on a future ink purchase for every HP, Dell, or Lexmark cartridge you recycle. Just bring them to any register at the Staples store.
  • Customers can recycle cell phones, PDAs, and rechargeable batteries at Staples every day for free. Simply drop these items off at the customer service desk.

Peter Walsh's Tips for an Organized Life


Along with 800 other professional organizers from around the world, I recently geeked out at the 20th annual National Association of Professional Organizers (NAPO) Annual Conference and Organizing Exposition in Reno. While there, I had the opportunity to meet professional organizer and author, Peter Walsh. You may recognize him from his popular television show "Clean Sweep" or from his recent amazing Oprah shows where he worked with hoarding clients.

Besides being a genuinely nice and HILARIOUS person, he may be one of the most passionate advocates of organizing that I have ever had the pleasure of meeting. During his keynote speech, he shared his thoughts about clutter and our overabundance of stuff. Here are a few Peter gems that I wanted to share with you guys:

  • "We need to redefine our relationship with our stuff." Be willing to let go of what is not serving you. Opening up your space opens up room for more blessings.
  • "Reevaluate your materials." People buy stuff but they are really just investing in the promise the stuff claims to bring. Homes are filled with stuff and littered with promises. More can be achieved with less.
  • "When you heal a home, you heal something deeper." Having too much stuff is often why clients call professional organizers for help. But it's not really about the stuff. It's about all of the emotions that accompany the stuff.
  • "Bring mindfulness to decisions in life." Be mindful in the moment. Ask yourself, "Does the decision (to buy or keep something) fit the vision that I have for my life?" If your vision is a space that is calm, functional and organized, will having or keeping this thing help the vision or hinder it?
  • "Organization is the path to incredible freedom." I believe with all my heart that this is true.
You can find more about Peter Walsh at his web site. And be sure to check out his new hilariously titled book, "Does this Clutter Make my Butt Look Fat?"


Earth Day Opportunities in Atlanta


For my local Atlanta readers, we have a few unique recycling opportunities in celebration of Earth Day.

DEKALB COUNTY "DUMP IT RIGHT" FOR EARTH DAY

DeKalb County is sponsoring "Dump-It-Right Day" this Saturday, April 19th from 9:00 a.m. - 1:00 p.m. Residents will get an opportunity to get rid of items that normally require a disposal fee. All clothing will be donated to the Atlanta Alliance on Developmental Disabilities (AADD), a non-profit organization. Cartridge World, a local print supply recycling company, will be on site to collect ink and laser print cartridges. Blue Rhino, the nation's leading tank exchange company, will also collect empty propane tanks.

Addtional items collected will include scrap metal, electronics, and "junk" that are typically illegally dumped. They will also be accepting used tires with a limit of 10 tires per car load. Off-road tires will not be accepted.

Residents can also bring their used motor oil and car batteries to participating local Bridgestone/Firestone Retail and affiliate stores for proper disposal. Click here for a list of the stores that are participating. For more information on what will be accepted, call Keep DeKalb Beautiful at (404) 371-2654.


COBB COUNTY FREE DOCUMENT SHREDDING DAY

On Saturday, April 19th from 9:00 a.m. until noon, Cobb County residents can go to four different senior centers to have their household documents shredded for free. The list of seniors centers may be found at http://kcb.cobbcounty.ga.gov.

Each car will be limited to 100 pounds of documents to be shredded. People should only bring paper products. The following will not be accepted: plastics, electronics, cardboard, and large binders with metal rings/clips.



TURNER FIELD ELECTRONIC WASTE RECYCLING DAY

There will be an Electronic Waste Recycling Day at Turner Field (755 Hank Aaron Drive, S.W., Atlanta, GA 30315) on Saturday, April 26th from 9:00 a.m. until 1:00 p.m. Bring your old computers and other devices whose components make them unsuitable for standard disposal. (Don't forget to destroy those hard drives on the computers!) The first 100 cars are to receive a free gift certificate from Best Buy. Go to the Gold Lot.

Be sure to leave comments at www.betterorganized.blogspot.com if you hear of other recycling opportunities!

Two Weeks In a Carry-On Bag


After my last post, I received a reply from my good friend Cheryl. She has a friend who regularly travels to exotic locations for a couple of weeks at a time, and her friend agreed to share her secrets for packing two weeks of clothing into a carry-on.

The interesting thing about this list is that it encompasses clothing for multiple occasions such as a business lunch, shopping, a board meeting, and even a visit to a tribal village! It's obviously a woman's packing list, but I'm sure my male readers can adapt it for their use:

  • Black jeans (on the plane for comfort, later for hiking or outdoorsy stuff)
  • Long sleeve t-shirt weight, zip-up sweater/jacket, with pockets to hold gum, room keys, etc (wear on the plane; can be crammed into a backpack, used as a tablecloth or ground cover, or to fight off air conditioning or an evening chill). Consider two or three different colors of these which can all go with (yawn) black.
  • White t-shirt
  • Nice(r) black pants
  • Longish black skirt
  • Two coordinating tops to go with black bottoms, in addition to white t-shirt above
  • Black casual or dressy vest or jacket to go with tops and black bottoms (dressy or casual will be dictated by trip agenda)
  • Dressy tennis shoes (is there such a thing??) to wear on the plane and for future hiking
  • Black flats, semi-dressy
  • Nice coordinating pashmina or shawl for any evening that calls for dressing up
If you manage to squeeze all of your stuff into a carry on, don't forget that your liquids and gels need to be in containers no larger than 3 oz. and they must all fit into a quart size, zip-top bag. If you have had a difficult time finding these tiny refillable containers, here is a link for an affordable little carry-on kit that includes three 3 oz. bottles, four caps (two screw-on, one atomizer, and one locking pump cap) along with a quart-size zip-top bag.

Do you have more secrets for successful packing? Please share with us at www.betterorganized.blogspot.com.

Interview on local NPR




This week, I had an opportunity to be interviewed by Odette Yousef, a reporter from my local National Public Radio affiliate, WABE. The MP3 and story can be found here. We discussed the fact that Delta has joined other airlines in charging passengers an extra fee for checking more than one bag. Starting May 1, Delta has said that passengers will have to pay $25 to check their second bag.

Here are some suggestions for smarter and more compact packing:

  • Choose your travel clothing wisely, making sure that their colors coordinate so that you can create several outfits from the same pieces. This will cut down on the total amount of clothing you have to pack.
  • Pack lighter clothing, especially fleece, that can be layered so that you can adjust easily for temperature changes. This may help you avoid packing bulkier sweaters or jackets.
  • If you must bring a coat or jacket, carry it on the plane instead of trying to pack it into your suitcase.
  • Wear your bulkiest shoes on the plane. Many guys reading this may be scratching their heads wondering why anyone would pack more than one pair of shoes. Ladies, you understand.
  • Carry a small backpack or tote onto the plane and stock it with some of the items you may normally have packed in your larger suitcase. For example, I now regularly pack my trip's reading material, makeup, a fleece jacket, and a small purse into my backpack that is stowed under the seat in front of me. I can then use the fleece jacket as a pillow during the flight.
  • Make sure that you limit your hand-carried liquids or gels to 3 oz. and they must fit into a one-quart ziplock bag.
  • Pack clothing that is less prone to wrinkle such as the Travelers line by Chico's.
  • Experience has taught me that men generally don't pack as much as women do. If you are a gal with a male traveling companion, see if you can sweet-talk him into packing some of your stuff in his bag.
With a little planning and restraint, you can limit yourself to one check-in bag and save a little dough at the airport. Maybe then you can afford one of those $20 turkey sandwiches they sell in the concourse food shops.

Electronics Recycling Day

Twice a year in my hometown of Decatur, the city hosts their Electronics Recycling Day. If you live nearby, dig out your old electronic items and take them to the Decatur High School Parking Lot (corner of N. McDonough Street and Howard Avenue) this Saturday, March 29 from 9 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.

Here's just a sample of what you can recycle: desktop or laptop computers, telephones and telephone equipment, mini-towers, monitors, typewriters, label makers (it's so sad when these old friends die), copiers, mice (not the kind that like cheese, please), fax machines, joystick game controllers, answering machines, printers and cartridges, digital cameras, zip drives, speakers, PDAs, pagers, VCRs, DVD players, routers, scanners, cable converter boxes, CD players, portable game players, cables, GPS receivers, radios, and stereo equipment. (I am SO asking my husband to get rid of some of those turntables in the attic!)

In addition to electronics, they will also be accepting clean Styrofoam (peanuts, packing boxes, plates, cups, trays), batteries of any type, and mercury thermometers and thermostats. They will not be accepting televisions and microwaves, however.

Electronics dropped off during the event will be sorted to be re-used or disassembled into their raw materials. It is recommended that computers be erased of all personal information prior to disposal at the event.

Last fall, 66 tons of electronics were diverted from the landfill! Note that you don't have to live or work in the city of Decatur to participate. So if you've been meaning to get rid of some of those old electronics from your home and office, this Saturday is the time! I can think of a few clients of mine that could still benefit from this purging opportunity....Come on, you can do it!

And if you'd like to volunteer for the event, please contact Chris Carroll at (404) 388-0023, Scott Thompson at scott.thompson@mindspring.com or the City of Decatur Public Works at (404) 377-5571. Please forward this to anyone who think may have electronics to be recycled.

The Happiness Project



One of my favorite personal-improvement bloggers, Alex Shalman, recently had a series of posts that he called The Happiness Project. Basically, he asked several of his favorite bloggers and authors to answer a few questions related to their happiness. Then he posted their answers over the course of the month. I found the interviews to be thought-provoking and uplifting. So, when Alex invited his readers to join in, I jumped at the chance.

See my thoughts about happiness below, and visit The Happiness Project to learn more about Alex and his provocative ideas regarding self-improvement.


How do you define happiness?

Happiness for me is a present sense of satisfaction as well as a feeling of hope for the future. Happiness can range from a warm sense of well-being to a glowing feeling of euphoria.

On a scale of 1-10, how would you rate your happiness now, versus when you were a child?

I would rate my happiness as a child and as an adult around an 8 or 9. I've always been a happy person, which is highly improbable given my genes and the way my life started. My mother, my maternal grandmother, and my maternal grandfather all suffered from depression. My mother committed suicide when I was three years old.

Luckily, I seem to be hard-wired to be happy. I attribute a great deal of my propensity towards happiness to a healthy, positive upbringing with my father. He discovered the power of positive thinking and affirmations in the seventies and taught me those life skills as he was learning them. Then he married a very funny woman who is one of my best friends today. There was a LOT of laughter in my house growing up.

The only time that I've experienced the sense of helplessness and despair faced by my mother and her parents was when I was diagnosed with breast cancer at 38. But I bounced back quickly from that bombshell once I had a plan of action to conquer the disease. In fact, the diagnosis later helped me re-prioritize my life plans, and I started my Professional Organizing business soon after I completed cancer treatments.

What do you do on a daily basis that brings you happiness, and how consistent is the feeling of happiness throughout your day?

I am consistently happy throughout the day. I really enjoy being busy and having routines and productive habits. I like to rise before 6:00 a.m., eat a healthy breakfast, exercise, pull out my ACTION folder, and plan my day.

I get immense pleasure from teaching people how to be better organized and more focused. It's great fun to grow a business by providing a service that so many people need. I can honestly say that I love to help people sort through their clutter, develop filing systems, and color-coordinate their closets. Yep, I'm weird that way. Only another neat freak would understand.

In my "down time," I enjoy laughing with friends, riding my bicycle, reading non-fiction (history, business, personal development), or surfing the web in the office I share with my husband. But the best part of each day is when I curl up in bed with a book and my sweet dog, Ruby, jumps up on the bed and lays her head on my feet. It happens every night, and it never ceases to put a smile on my face.

What things take away from your happiness? What can be done to lessen their impact or remove them from your life?

The things that take away from my happiness include not scheduling enough time for exercise, and saying "Yes" to too many commitments at once. I also get frustrated when I don't schedule enough time to write. I've recently said "No" to some commitments in order to help me carve out that time for exercising and writing. I'm also hiring people to do more things for me so that I can focus on the most important (or fun) tasks.

Oh, and I try not to dwell on the whole cancer thing. It happened, it's over, I'm healthy now. Next!

What do you plan on doing in the future that will bring you even more happiness?

I plan on writing more because it enables me to help more people at once. For the same reason, I want to do more motivational speaking. Public speaking is something that I really enjoy (another one of my freakish qualities). There's a great high that comes from making people laugh while you're helping them learn new skills.

And for the really long term, my husband and I are quickly becoming debt-free and are saving as much money as possible so that we'll be able to retire in our 50's. I personally love to work, but I want the option of only doing work I love and then only working when I want to. Now, that's my idea of happiness and personal freedom!


Spice Things Up!

While organizing a client's kitchen recently, I came across some pretty sad looking herbs and spices. The dried parsley and oregano that were once green were now a dull shade of gray, and a couple of the spices were lumpy and odorless (so you can bet they were also flavorless).

"How old do you think these spices are?" I asked the client who doesn't do much cooking. She didn't have a clue and, in fact, couldn't recall how a couple of them had managed to sneak into her cupboard.

I did a little research on McCormick's web site and came across some guidelines to help you decide when it's best to send your old spices to the garbage.

  • Spices, ground: 2-3 years shelf life
  • Spices, whole: 3-4 years shelf life
  • Seasoning blends: 1-2 years shelf life
  • Herbs: 1-2 years shelf life
  • Extracts: 4 years, except pure vanilla which lasts indefinitely
Granted, you may be able to squeeze a little more life out of your spices than the recommendations above, but you'll get more flavor for your buck if you keep your spice rack current.

Here are a few more tips I cooked up:

  • Rub or crush the spice or herb in your hand. If the aromoa is weak and the flavor is not apparent, it's time to replace it.
  • Store herbs and spices in a tightly capped container, and keep away from heat, moisture, and direct sunlight.
  • To minimize moisture and caking, use a dry measuring spoon and avoid sprinkling directly into a steaming pot.
  • For McCormick brand spices, check the freshness date on the bottom or right side of the bottle. Note that the labels with Baltimore, MD on them are at least 15 years old.
  • Except for black pepper, McCormick spices in rectangular tins are also at least 15 years old.
  • Write the month and year purchased on the labels of your spices when you first put them into your spice rack.
Your homework for this week: Take a quick inventory of your spice collection and toss out the faded herbs and expired spices. If you cook frequently and need to replace what you are throwing out, go ahead and add the items to your next grocery shopping list. Otherwise, hold off replacing the herb or spice until you're preparing a recipe that calls for it.

If you have other tips and tricks for spicing things up, let us know!

When Bad Things Happen to Organized People


A couple of weeks ago, I was dining with a group of friends before we all headed to the Van Halen concert. (So shoot me..I LOVE 80's rock.) Right before we were all about to squeeze into one SUV and drive to the show, my buddy and organizing client Joe got a phone call from his burglar alarm company saying that his home alarm was going off. Since we were dining close to his house, we all rushed over to see what the deal was.

Upon arrival, we found that the would-be burglars had busted out one of Joe's french doors. Luckily, the alarm went off immediately and scared the hoodlums off before they had a chance to steal anything. We had a bunch of handy fellows along (that's them in the photo) and everybody jumped into action cleaning up the glass and securing the door.

Because Joe and I had recently finished organizing his basement, he knew immediately where to find the plywood, saw, screws, screwdriver, etc. From the time we arrived at scene of the crime to when we were en route to the concert was only about 30 minutes. Joe was so pleased that he knew right where to find everything he needed to fix the damage. And the rest of the gang was happy because we'd paid a pretty penny for those concert tickets and we didn't have to miss a minute of the show.

The moral of this story is that being organized can make a potentially chaotic situation much more manageable. Knowing where to find the tools you need in an emergency can save you stress, or even save your life. A great book about this very topic was written by my friend Judith Kolberg. The book is called "Organize for Disaster" and it's full of tips to prepare you for both natural and unnatural disasters.

And in case you were wondering, Van Halen ROCKED that night!