Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Time, Time, Time

What does this time of year mean to you? We are told what it is suppose to look like when we watch television commercials or see advertising. It is a two parent family gathered around a tree overflowing with gifts. But what I have found is that for the majority of us that is not our reality. I have friends who are dealing with health issues of their own or loved ones. I have friends that are going through divorces. I have friends who are dealing with depression. All of these things take the glitter off of the holiday and rip it raw. I am left with what the real reason for the season is, and that is to spend time with the people who love and care for you. It is up to each one of us to make this holiday about love and less about gifts which often create clutter.

I am trying to do my part. When I texted a friend last week to set up a coffee date she replied back that she was ill. I could have replied with a "feel better soon" message, but that seemed impersonal. My intuition kicked in and I followed up with a "that sucks" message. Because that message is real and it opened the door for her to be real with me. I ended up going to her house with some magic wonton soup and I sat and visited with her for a couple of hours. Yes I was busy and had things to do, like we all do. But I stopped and made the time. What I found was the gift to me was greater than the gift of my time. I saw her start to feel better. We had some real conversations and it was perfect.

Yesterday I caught up with a friend who is going through a divorce and she told me how hard it is to not receive Christmas cards. Her ex is living in their house and he receives all the cards. It made her sad until a friend told her that she should send her own cards out this year. She worried that she didn't have professional pictures. But it doesn't matter. People are going to know that she is doing ok and that means something when you are ending a marriage.

I think this year I am more sensitive than ever to the gift of time as my husband went through a job loss when his position was eliminated after working at the same place for 22 years. Our world was rocked but we quickly learned what we were both made of. We didn't have a pity party. We worked hard together to figure out our next path in life. I gave up working as an attorney to raise our boys when we first had children. I put my career on hold for his. His job loss was not only a rejection of him, but a rejection of me. We were in this together.

The advice that I had given to friends in the past came back to me as I started to give myself the advice. My favorite piece of advice was "don't let this experience make you bitter, but let it make you better." My husband and I focused on the positives. We found we were often cheering people up when they heard the news. We didn't want people to be sad, we wanted them to rejoice in our ability to find a new adventure. Once people understood our mindset, they started cheering for us too.

My husband is now at his new company but we took 10 weeks of together time and really learned what our marriage was made of. I would post pictures of us on Facebook with the hashtag 24/7 because for the most part we were together the entire time. We took a trip to look at the leaves on the east coast and we did some major home projects. We did things we knew we wouldn't have done if he had been working. My husband began wanting to go back to a job where he used just his brain as we quickly realized that our bodies were not made for construction projects! That time we spent together was a gift that I will cherish forever. Now I see him for a few hours a day and I miss him but thankful that he is working. Now we make an effort to meet for lunch several times a week to keep that gift of time going.

So as this holiday season goes into full speed, I ask that you take some time and give it to a friend or family member. You don't need to wrap it. You don't have to worry about purchasing the perfect clutter free gift, as that hour or two is the perfect gift. And if that person is far away, there is this great thing called Skype or FaceTime that I have found is just about as good as the real thing. Take some time to have real conversations. Because you just never know what a few kind words can do. Pick up that phone. If you are waiting and wanting someone to call you, start to make the effort yourself. Start a movement of giving the gift of time.

To Joyful, Simplified Organizing,

MS. Simplicity

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

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Do You Hear What I Hear?

It is about this week every year that I start being asked the question, "are you done Christmas shopping?" I must admit that I am guilty of asking that question as well. It is as if it overtook the question of "cold enough?" But when I hear the same question over and over again the spirit of the season starts to shrink in me. I must admit I feel like the Grinch. It is not about the shopping, it is about our families, our friends and our faith.

I do like to find the perfect gift for my family but for the allure of Christmas is different for my children compared to when I was a child. When I was a kid, we received clothing twice a year, back to school shopping and maybe a sweater or two at Christmas. Unwrapping a gift was special because we never received things other times of the year. It is doubtful that my boys are going to be excited to unwrap a sweater.

What if we don't make it about getting all our shopping done. I know what I am buying my husband as he emailed me the item he wants. He usually wants nothing, so this is a refreshing change. Truth be told, we are very blessed and we don't need anything. Want yes, we all want things. But our needs are taken care of.

So I need to bring it back to the reason we are celebrating. I need to bring it back to spending time with our friends and family. Here are a few ideas that I am going to focus on.

  • Have coffee or lunch with friends. This time of year is not easy for everyone. I like having real conversations with my friends. I have things going on in my life that I need an ear to share it with. Want to sit down and have a good cry with someone, I am your girl!
  • Do random acts of kindness. I often think of the person who is dropping the rare coins into the Salvation Army bucket. I bet that person feels great each time a coin is dropped. I am inspired by my friend who goes and gives manicures at her local retirement home. What a gift. I have an idea of what I want to do this year in the spirit of giving and I challenge each of you to do the same! If we all just did something little, it would turn into something miraculous!
  • Have a cookie exchange with friends. It is a great way to get your holiday baking done. If all you do is make 8 dozen of one cookie, the cleanup is a breeze. Plus your family tries other new treats that you receive at the exchange!
  • Have a white elephant gift exchange. I hear of more and more families doing this every year. When we did it we had to buy the gift from a thrift store or a gas station, it had to be handmade or we could re-gift something, but we couldn't spend more than $5. Some families focus on a shape, like the gift needs to be in the form of a circle. Or the focus is on a letter, like S for their last name. The price is always under $10 as the focus is on the creativity, not the cost.
  • Have a game night. We love playing games as a family. I like games that make me laugh. Nothing says family like spitting out your water because you are laughing so hard!
  • Keep it simple. Instead of being worried about what I was making for Christmas dinner last year we went out for Chinese food. So easy to clean up my kitchen! That way I didn't miss out on playing any games!
So focus on keeping it simple and remember that chances are we aren't going to remember what was wrapped under the tree from year to year, but we will remember spending time together. So if you see me out shopping ask me a different question, like "what brings you joy this time of year?" You may be surprised by my answer!

To Joyful, Simplified Organizing,
MS. Simplicity

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

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Having a Clutter Free Christmas

Soon bright shinny packages are going to be placed under our tree but before you place that package please do one thing, make sure there is room for the gift. Too often we give without thinking of where people are going to put the gift. We live in a society of excesses and our children are not learning how to de-clutter. This is not a game of accumulation and the kid with the most video games wins.

Organizing is something kids need to be taught. Teachers model it in their classrooms. I learned by watching my mom and my kids have learned from me. But even if you are a good role model, sometimes the kids need a little help. There isn't a class or a camp to sign a kid up for {genius business idea} so where do we as parents begin?

Clothing: Start with clothes that are too small, are in disrepair or the child never wears. Time to clear that out now. You may have spent a lot of money on a frilly dress for Susie only to realize that Susie hates how scratchy it is and she refuses to wear it. Right now my youngest son has a closet full of jeans all with holes in the same spot, boys! These are pants that are beyond repair and will be given to my mom for her jean quilt.

Toys: Kids outgrow toys and stop playing with them. Chances are they play with 20% of their toys 80% of the time. Figure out what the 20% is donate the other 80%. A good way of getting the younger children involved is to have them go through their toys and have them put them under the tree for Santa to take back to the North Pole to give out to kids. Or talk to them about donating them to local charities and shelters. I know when I find a charity that resonates with me, it is so easy to donate. That feel good moment is something that we want to pass on to our children.

Books: Being an English major I never believed that books could be clutter. I was an avid book buyer for most of my life. However there are few books that I would go back to and read again. Yes that "Little House on the Prairie" book series did change my love of reading. But the memory is with me and I don't need the books to remember. I have a huge task ahead of me as I work through my kids books as I try to downsize. I will keep the ones that are near and dear to my heart as a mother, like the Harry Potter ones. But the chunky board books can now leave now that my youngest is 15. I will keep some sentimental ones, but the rest can find a home where another group of children can love them.

Crafts: Calling all glitter pens and pompoms and pipe cleaners! Crafts can be a bit overwhelming. My best tip for downsizing crafts is to have them in a limited space. Have a plastic tote that holds all the supplies or perhaps a shelf. When that space is full, it is time to downsize. I have found that religion teachers and classroom teachers are open to donations of craft supplies, but please ask. My son's second grade teacher received my stamping supplies and it was a good match!

Oversized toys: My boys had a big plastic truck that they could ride in. One weekend I left with the boys to visit my parents with instructions to clean the garage. I came home and the big plastic truck was gone. Granted my boys were still young and played with the truck, but with my husband being overzealous I couldn't fault him, he was just trying to help. I think we all wish at times someone would come in and get rid of these large toys for us. If you have any in your house, take a look and see if your kids use them. Think about getting rid of them now as they free up large amounts of space.

Experiences: Surprise, experiences aren't clutter. Encourage the well intention family to focus on experiences that your children are wanting. Look at music or dance lessons. The gift could be some sheet music or dance shoes with the larger gift being the lessons. Maybe there is a concert or movie tickets to attend together.  Look at ways to create experiences and not clutter.

As the lines at stores get long and you start to stress about being over budget, just bring it back to being real. A few meaningful gifts are more important than a tree filled with gifts. A few homemade crafts sometimes are what is important. I saw a post of a friend who hung an ornament on her tree given to her by her now deceased sister in law. That ornament meant something to her and probably cost pennies. Gifts do not need to be large, expensive or plentiful to have meaning. I actually think the opposite is true. Ask your kids what gifts they remember, their answers may surprise you! For me, I would give anything for my grandmas cookies.

To Joyful, Simplified Organizing,

MS. Simplicity

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


Tuesday, November 25, 2014

A Plea For Your RSVP

I have seen an interesting thing happen over the last couple of years; the lack of giving an RSVP. We all know what it means. We all understand the purpose of it. Yet people fail to give a proper response. I am just as guilty of this as anyone else. Sometimes it slips my mind and I forget, but yet most of the time another culprit is at play. I call that culprit, "waiting for a better offer" or "can't make up my mind."

This time of the year, we are sent holiday party invites and offers to go caroling, bake cookies or volunteer at your child's school. Our social calendar floweth over! We also have the added stress of trying to not gain weight. Seriously, I know carrot sticks are not the food I am going towards on the buffet table. Plus we have to get all the holiday shopping and baking done in our spare time and still be a valuable employee, spouse, parent, etc.

I am writing this post at an exhausted point in my day. We decided to do a major house remodel in one week....paint and replace the flooring in three rooms. Who does this? Someone who has lofty goals! We are in the home stretch and coming in on time, but I am tired. I still have the Thanksgiving holiday to plan & cook and two of my boys are coming home from college. I am pushing through my exhausted state as I see the finish line.

But because I am tired, I am really careful about what I say "yes" to. I am one of those people when I commit to going, I go. I try to give the RSVP early as I know what it takes to plan an event. You owe it to the event planner to let them know as soon as possible your intentions about going.

Here are some tips to make sure that you don't say "Yes" to things you really want to say "No" to.

  • Do a gut check. Does it fell right to be going or should you just say no? My gut is always right. If there is a nagging feeling that you shouldn't be going, then don't go.

  • Will it put you over budget? Some events you need to buy an expensive ticket or buy a special outfit. If these things take you out of your budget, then don't go.

  • Can you give an answer right now? If you can answer "yes" or "no" right now, that is a good clue if you really want to go to the event.

  • Do you have the time? If you are already over scheduled, don't add another thing to your list. Keep your calendar under control in order to keep your sanity.

  • Will you feel guilty? We all know that if we say "yes" to something we often are saying "no" to something else. Figure out what that is ahead of time so that you can deal with it.

  • Are you saying "yes" so you just don't miss a potential good time? That is the wrong reason to say "yes." You should be going for other reasons, like spending time with friends or family. If you are that person that doesn't want to ever miss a good time, you are going to exhaust yourself before too long and start missing events.
So as those holiday invites start to come in, take control of your calendar and make sure that you do not over extend yourself. Let the event planner know quickly what your intentions are. And if you say "yes" to an event, make sure that you go. It is very disheartening to prepare for 30 and only 15 attend. Be respectful of your time and the time of the person who invited you.

To Joyful, Simplified Organizing,

MS. Simplicity

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

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Don't Guilt People Into People Keeping Your Clutter

I pride myself as being a fairly organized person. I take my advice most of the time. But once in awhile, I slip up and hear myself going down the road of clutter. When I work with my clients, I will challenge them when they want to keep something for someone to actually take a picture of the object and text it to the person and see if they want it. I had a "very nice" [insert guilt word here] travel bag that I thought my son's girlfriend would want. I texted her the picture and I got the reply that she didn't like the pattern on the bag. But then I caught myself in mid text with a reply of...but "it is perfect" [insert guilt word here] for what she needs! If I would have guilted her into keeping it, she would have taken it and never used it. The bag would add to her clutter.

So to avoid having the problem of going down the guilt trip road here are some tips:

  • Ask if this is something they would buy. If the answer is no, then you know that this will just be clutter in their lives. We do not want to enable clutter.
  • Is this something that you know that they like. If you know the person well, you will probably know their style. Perhaps they have a collection and you are adding to their collection.
  • Don't start with guilt words. Words like "this was your grandmas" or "I loved this as a child" are meant to start the trip down guilt road. I think twice if something was my grandmas. I feel that maybe I should hold onto it for sentimental reasons.
  • Don't be attached to the outcome. Be okay with whatever answer you receive. The person may not want to hurt your feelings, but be prepared if they do. Remember, it isn't you they are rejecting, it is the object that they don't have a connection to.
  • Start with open words in your dialogue. Letting them know from the start that you are fine with whatever their answer is, starts the conversation in a way so that you know that they are not keeping the object out of guilt.
  • Have a back up plan. Know that whatever the possession is, there is someone out there that it will bring joy to. For me it was knowing that I could take this bag to a women's shelter and they would find a home for it gave me a sense of peace.
  • Have someone donate the items for you. I sometimes feel guilty with knowing that I am discarding sentimental items. My husband however is not sentimental, so he does the donating.
  • Don't guilt yourself into keeping the clutter. Have the item leave your house as soon as possible. If you have the item pulled aside and you keep on looking at it, you may decide to keep it after you guilt yourself! 
Remember that this is a journey to live a simpler life. We are fighting the voices in our head telling us to keep things. You can start to live a clutter free life by discarding possessions, but just because the saying of "one man's trash is another man's treasure" isn't necessarily true. Sometimes trash {clutter} is just trash {clutter}. And sometimes our friends and family don't want to deal with it either.

To Joyful, Simplified Organizing,

MS. Simplicity

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


Saturday, November 15, 2014

Steps of Service To Implement in Your Life

I have been on a traveling whirlwind of late and although it has been fun, what I really appreciate is looking at the exchange and treatment of others. I am in a service providing industry and I always take note of when I get good service and when I get bad. I am happy to report that for the majority of the time, I get great service and I often wonder where in my life I can improve the service that I give.

I had the opportunity to have some great service last week and I complimented the gentleman on the great service and how everyone at the hotel was simply fantastic. He pulled out from his breast pocket a card that listed several things such as the employee promise, the credo, the motto, the service values and most important to me, the three steps of service. I watched how they anticipated my need before I had it. The second step was the golden ticket, "Anticipation and fulfillment of each guest's needs." I wondered how I can import this step of service to my family members and to myself.

In raising boys, I think it is very important to teach them how to be gentleman and have them practice on me what they will then use out in the world. Good manners are not gender specific, but raising boys, I felt a need to try a bit harder on the lost art of manners. It started with holding the door open for someone that is coming behind you. I think men and women alike should be holding the door open. I am shocked in fact when the door isn't held open. If my boys don't do it, I clear my throat and they immediately know that they forgot and turn around and open the door.

Anticipation is a hard thing to master because you need to be engaged in life. Too often, we find ourselves busy and rushing to the next thing. We are absorbed in our own problems that we miss things that would take us a second to do but would make a lasting impact in someone's life.

Last week when I was getting off the plane an elderly couple was struggling to get off the plane. Instead of being impatient with them I asked if they needed help getting their luggage down from the overhead compartment. They did. I grabbed it down. Another gentleman stepped forward and took one of their suitcases off the plane for them. I grabbed the elderly man's coat and bag and followed him off the plane. By that time my seatmate came up to me and asked what she could do to help. We figured out where their connecting flight was going. I tried to get a wheelchair to take the gentleman to his next gate. At one point he fell on the floor and needed to be helped up by still other people. My seatmate had time and she volunteered to make sure that the couple made it to their next gate. It felt good to be of service. It felt even better to be of service with others as we worked together to help this couple. I received so much from this interaction that I couldn't wait to do it again.

I think the key to anticipation is not being afraid to help. We are taught to not make eye contact or interfere with peoples lives. I have stopped doing that and I ask one question in my head, "if this was me struggling, would I want someone to help me?" If I answer yes, I jump in and ask if I can be of service. When I saw the elderly couple struggling, I thought of myself and my husband in 40 years and hoping that people would help us. I have held a sleeping baby in an airport so a mom could check on her ticket and use the restroom. I have been that mom and have needed a few extra arms.

When my boys were younger, I could anticipate an ear infection coming on. I would take them to the doctor and be sent home with no signs of an ear infection, only to be back days later with a much worse one. I have seen my son struggle with school and know that he was smart but couldn't figure out what was wrong. I pushed the school, they pushed back and said he wasn't bad enough. I privately had testing done and found the learning disability and got him services to take his frustration away.

So the key is to focus on anticipation this week. Where can you be of service in someone's life. It could be as simple as writing a letter or sending an email or mailing your child some cookies, {even if they live in town, it is still fun to receive a package in the mail.} Opening a car door or opening the door at the post office. Watch for your time to be of service, and step up and do it. Smile and just realize how good it feels!

To Joyful, Simplified Organizing,

MS. Simplicity

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

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

What is Your Story

I often find that people get stuck with a story in their head that they find difficult to erase or rewrite. We are raised by our family of origin and influences of our cultural to believe certain things. That story is so loud that it often quiets any other voice. In my case my husband tells me I am beautiful but the story in my head tells me I can't be beautiful because I am not a 5 foot 10 leggy blonde. He knows I have the story in my head and he does everything in his power to shout louder.
Here are some other stories that I commonly hear while working with clients:

That is the way it has always been. Many of us fight against change. We like the pile of the mail here. We take comfort in all the antiques in our homes. We always have one picture on our Christmas card. Because we have always done something a certain way means that we must continue to do it. My question is, do we really? Start with little changes. Find a basket to hide the pile of mail. Put a collage of pictures on the card this year.  Remove one piece of furniture and see if you can start to change the story.

That at is the way my mother/father/grandmother did it. This is a story that I hear so often. There is a fear in changing the story because our families know best. In many cases mothers do know best (if you are my children remember that I always know best) but sometimes we can improve on what we were taught. And sometimes family is wrong. We need to take the positive that we were taught and tweak the negative until we are just right.

I am not pretty/smart/confident enough. Too often this is a story that we have been taught from outside forces that stick with us the longest. We need to unravel what we see in the media. We don't have hair and makeup stylists at our beck and call. We don't have the ability to photoshop ourselves in life. For me the trick has been surrounding myself with positive people. Friends and family who raise you up and fill you up with positive messages are essential. Silence the naysayers and doubters in your world.

The person who gave this to me would not love me if I got rid of it. This is a story that I work with my clients to quiet in their head. We talk about if they gave a gift to someone and that person wouldn't need it, would they want them to keep it? The answer is always no. So I challenge them and ask them why should they be any different? I see the lightbulb go on. I learned this lessons myself with a wool sweater my husband bought for me when we were in college. I knew it was over his budget when he bought it. But I kept it for over 15 years and wore it only one time. It was itchy, it was too warm, it didn't fit well. But I kept it. Finally I asked him if he would mind me getting rid of it. He looked at me with love and said of course get rid of it. The memory of the gift is still there, even though the gift is gone. The memory of his love of the gift warms me more than the sweater ever did.

I promise to work hard on changing the story in my head that doesn't make me a better person if you do. One little step at a time. One little change. All of the steps and changes begin to add up until we find that the story is gone and now replaced with a different and more supportive story.

To Joyful, Simplified Organizing,

MS. Simplicity

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


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