Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Dorm Room Packing Essentials

I have reached that time that another child is about to leave the nest. This child going is much harder than the previous one....because I know how I will feel afterward. With my oldest I was excited and told by a friend to only cry tears of pride and joy. And I did. But then a few weeks went by and family mealtime and so many other things were different. He was a good eater and I could experiment with food and he ate it. His brothers didn't eat my grand meals and it was no longer fun to cook dinner. Our family had changed forever.

Now another is going to fly away. And I am counting down the days and I am sad. Our family is again going to be changed forever. Our family was changed forever each time we had one of our sons. When we welcome a new baby into our home it was a joyous occasion. We were adding, now we are subtracting.

But I will put a brave face on and make sure that when he leaves he will have everything he will need to have an organized dorm room. I can control that. I can't control how I will feel. So as someone who enjoys control I will focus on what I know I can do. I can make a list. I can buy stuff. I can make organizing decisions. My friend Geralin Thomas of Metropolitan Organizing, LLC has created a fantastic checklist that we will print off and take with us. I will put this checklist on a clipboard and get to work!

Here is a look at what we have started to accumulate in the last few weeks. We have a box of stuff that I am placing things in as I buy what is on the checklist.

1. A good area rug. This is often overlooked but dorm floors are often industrial and they need a soft place to land when they hop out of their lofted beds.

2. Bedding. I have all boys...they don't need anything special. My mom made each of my boys a quilt when they graduated {that is special} a pillow a set of sheets and a mattress pad. My son is getting the sheets from his older brother as he has moved out of the dorm and no longer is in a twin bed. We have an extra twin mattress pad, so done with that category! Sometimes you need twin long sheets, so make sure. If you have a daughter, you have my prayers. They will be coordinating with their roommate and they will plan on having it look like a dorm good enough for HGTV.

3. Bath items. A few large towels, wash cloths and a shower caddy as well as flip flops. I think a robe is optional as I bought large towels. When deciding on a robe I think it all depends on the length of the walk from the shower to the room and if they are a boy or a girl. When I graduated my mom bought me several sets of brown towels as a graduation gift. It was the worst gift a girl could get. I wanted pink. She gave me practical. I bought my son green that resemble brown. I am my mother!

4. Electronics. Roommates usually try to coordinate who will bring the TV and gaming systems if you have boys. I have an odd child that does not watch TV but listens to podcasts. He also doesn't play many video games. I know this is a rarity so plan accordingly. We found my oldest had a laptop when he left for college but by his second year he wanted a Surface. A Surface is more portable and easier to take notes on in class. So we will probably skip the laptop purchase with this child.

5. Hooks. Take advantage of that vertical space. We should have bought stock in 3M as these hooks are genius. My best tip is to put one by the door to hang the keys. They can be used to hang cords from the walls and along beds. Buy a bunch in different styles as you will thank me later. I also send along an over the door hook to hang up towels and jackets.

6. Desk organizers. They are usually given desks and are expected to study there. They never do. I think desks should leave dorm rooms. Most people gather in common areas to get their homework done. But if you have a desk look at ways to make good use of the space. Pencils and pens are sometimes still used, so best to find a way to store a few. For my oldest it was highlighters that he used most as everything is typed. Make sure that you frame a picture of yourself and place it on their desk so they don't forget what you look like!

7. Extra storage. Think TV stands and microwave carts. There is often storage here that should be maximized. When out shopping for one, look for drawers and good use of space. Don't just buy it because it looks nice, think practical.  They even make futons with drawers underneath for storage.

8. Closet storage. I am not a fan of the slim hangers as I think it encourages people to buy more clothes because they have more room. But in the case of a dorm room closet I encourage these hangers. I have purchased two boxes as this son of mine likes clothes. I also have hanging files made for closets with storage in them as well. He can roll of sweaters and pants and place in the pockets. We are all about maximizing that small space. I have locker baskets as well as a set of black quilted boxes with lids for storing items like socks and underwear that can stack.

Just remember one thing, you have been preparing for this transition for 18 years. They are smart and wise young adults who know how to figure things out. We have been silently showing them how to do things like an adult. They know how to trouble shoot something that is broken by watching a YouTube video. Remember it doesn't have to be perfect. You don't have to have everything on move in day. Whatever you forget they will call you and ask for you to mail it or money to buy it. So forget a few things so that you are guaranteed a call home!

To Joyful, Organized Simplicity,

MS. Simplicity

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

What's Love Got To Do With It?

I had an interesting conversation with a family friend last week after she pointed out that I "made" my son carry my supplies to my car for an organizing party. She told me that he was mad at me and that I should be able to do it myself. What I saw and heard was my son sitting in my basement all day watching TV and playing video games while I had worked for 8 hours and was running short on time and it was one of those days where I didn't even have time to shower but I took the time to make dinner only to find out that nobody was going to be home for dinner.

So was I little mad.....yes! I took a deep breath and said we are a family and we help each other out and do things for each other when we see the person busy. I reminded both of them that I will do my son's laundry for him when I know he is particularly busy. She told me to stop doing that over my son's objections. Then she threw the ultimate card at me and told me that I have my husband do things for me all the time and I should be able to do things on my own.

I simultaneously wanted to scream and laugh at her logic. Instead I told her that she gave me really interesting material for a blog post all about what are the rolls of members of a family.

Kids these days! I want to be that mom that raises boys who are able to sew on a button, cook a meal and anticipate the need to help someone. I want my sons to realize when I need help (and others as well) and step up and carry boxes to a car without me having to say something. We are a family and we help each other. That is what families do.

My husband's love language is acts of service. There are five love languages famously written about by Gary Chapman. I have been studying his book for years and it has helped in our marriage. I know that my husband receives love from me when I do projects around the house. These projects go unnoticed by everyone but him, the intended recipient. I don't shout "hey I swept out the garage today" for everyone to notice. Or "hey I spent my day moving the sprinkler" in order for us to have a beautiful lawn. These are just signs of love that I send to my husband.

Nothing makes my husband more excited than if I leave him a list of things that I need done as this is his way of showing me acts of service when the list is complete. For him it is easy to do and he feels like he has shown me love by getting all the things done on my list. He will even come to me and ask me what is next on his list. This is a special bonus for me is that I don't have to use my Jedi mind tricks by having him try to read my mind! It is the main reason that we have such an organized house; I create the system and implement them and he maintains them. It works great!

However, my love language is not acts of service but rather quality time. The best thing he can do for me is to spend quality time with me. And he is really good at it and is a good sport about it. I know he would rather be home watching TV, but I push him past his introverted ways. Just like I would rather be having coffee with a friend and not sweeping out the garage. Relationships are a give and take. The better balance you can have the better.

I quickly realized the reason that this was a hot button topic for me as it took me back to 1987 when I was doing laundry in my dorm and I passed a room with girls talking about how my then boyfriend does everything for me. I was mad, but I kept walking. You see, I found a really nice man. I think there are lots out there but I know I hit the jackpot. Others know it too and felt the need to talk about it behind my back. So when the family friend brought up me having my son carry supplies to my car for me, she suddenly was one of those girls in the dorm room talking about me.

What I want to remind all of us out there judging; relationships are between two people and just because you see one person doing all the heavy lifting, it doesn't mean that it isn't being reciprocated in other ways. So carry on my wayward son......for there'll be peace when you are done!

To Joyful, Organized Living

MS. Simplicity

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Life Will Start When My To-Do List Is Done

For the last three months I have had one long to-do list. It seems like every single day I needed to work through it just to get to the next day. If I skip a day nobody did it for me. It lands right on me and my perfectionistic ways. I know exactly when it started back in April when I was starting to get serious about my middle son's graduation party. I had the basics of the party set, I just needed to work on the memorabilia. You know the photo albums and the school memories. The things that I had oh so neglected during the previous 18 years. In my defense they were organized but I just had too many pictures and important pieces of art work. To give me clarity I went on a scrapbooking retreat with other moms who had children graduating.

I had a big aha while there....I don't want to do traditional scrapbooking. What a huge thing to check off my list. I no longer need to keep all of those supplies. I could go digital and clear up space in my house. It was a huge relief and I thought now I can live.

But then work caught up to the top of my list. I had obligations there that I needed to get done. I began to get a grip on them and get a rhythm back and I felt kind of good with where things were at. One more thing to check off my list and I thought now I can live.

Oh, but then I had a conference for my team that I had to prepare for. I dived head first and worked like a crazy woman trying to pull off a polished and planned conference. I returned exhausted after I tried to jam pack my days. I even added in my sister coming to visit me during conference because I haven't seen her in a few years. It all went great. Conference was fantastic and I flew home and I thought now I can live.

Hold on, I can't live yet as I have to take my son to register for college and a big appointment in Rochester. And just to make my life more interesting my body decided I needed to slow down and gave me a cold to make my breathing more difficult. Yes, it was a huge slap in the face of  "you need to slow down". I got those two big things accomplished and I thought now I can live.

But what a realized was there is going to be things on my list all the time. My list is not going away. It is up to me with how to deal with it. I found that in my craziness of the last few months I have forgotten some things along the way....my kids. I had turned into the person that would help them when they needed. But I was missing those important cues of body language that I was a ninja at figuring out. My youngest even said to me how he wanted to go see a play and I quickly said no as I didn't think I could add another thing to my to-do list.

I had also neglected my health in a big way. I use to go to the gym four to five times a week and I enjoyed it. The last month I went zero times. And it showed on my scale, in my clothes, in my energy levels and how I feel about myself. My to-do list was out of sorts and I needed to put exercise back on the top as that fed how I did everything else. 

But yesterday I threw out the list and bought the tickets to the play to go with my youngest son. I started listening again. I heard when my husband said he had never been to Glacier but had always wanted to. Instead of him just saying it and me nodding my head, I heard him. There is a difference. Because I heard him we are now going to Glacier as a family with two of my boys bringing their girlfriends.

This is a trip to unplug our phones and our minds. This is a trip to breathe again. This is not an item on my to-do list because I chose to start living and no longer worry about what I "have to" get done today. I will take time to have coffee with a friend today. My to-do list will always be there, but it is up to me if I decide to let it rule my life. Today I say yes to things and I am living. Now I am going outside for a walk and it isn't even on my list!

To Organized, Joyful Living,

MS. Simplicity

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Organize Those Darn Kids

There is lots of finger pointing when I work with clients. Mostly the mess in the house is blamed on children. I would agree that children create about 85% of the clutter in our homes. But how we deal with the clutter is 100% our responsibility. Children are not born to organize. Well, maybe a few are. But for the most part they need to learn from example. We can't just tell our kids to go and clean their room. If they don't have the proper systems in place they don't know how to do it. Over the years we have taught our boys how everything has a place. We had all the toy bins labeled and my husband would sit on the floor with them at night and direct them to where the toys go. They understood and followed the instruction. Now they are older and know how to organize.

My middle son has been known to raid my organizing supply stash to help his girlfriend organize. He has his favorite organizing supplies, like the tie hanger as he loves to wear ties. I must confess I am a tad worried about when he goes to college this fall that he is going to have to live with a messy roommate. Maybe he can use some of my tips on getting his roommate organized!

I often learn these ideas by listening to tips from my organizing parties. I am always amazed at how creative people are! The latest tip I heard was the $5 bag. The $5 bag is where you place items that you find around the house that are not put in their proper place. You then hide the bag. Once a child needs something they can pay $5 to look in the bag for their lost object. How long do you think kids would leave things laying around with having to pay the $5?

Our go-to organizing trick was the chore and an ice cream treat that was created after I was ready to pull my hair out! We had an issue of the kids leaving their shoes in the entry of our home. It would drive me crazy, and sadly I was usually one of the biggest culprits! I would often leave my shoes but then complain when the kids did the same thing. So we created the strategy of every time I find a pair of shoes in the entry that child needs to do an extra chore for me. But when they found one of my pair of shoes, I had to take them out for an ice cream treat. Implementing this strategy worked flawlessly. The boys quickly learned to put their shoes away and I quickly learned to put mine away as well. Although my husband will still sometimes walk upstairs holding my shoes and tell me that I am taking him out for ice cream!

I am a firm believer in the follow through. If you want your family to change, you need to be consistent and not random. Nothing is more frustrating for a child than the parent implementing a rule and then occasionally following through on it. Or worse yet, the parent expecting everyone else to obey while they are in flagrant violation of the rule.

Both of these tips apply to kids of all ages as well as adults. Do you have a spouse who leaves his items all over the house? Maybe you need a $50 bag that you dump his items into and he has to pay you $50 to look? Maybe he has to take you out for dinner when he forgets to put his socks in the hamper?

My best tip is to stop being frustrated....and just take action. You need to have open communication and make sure that they understand what the rules are and then most importantly, you need to stick with them!

To Joyful, Simplified Organizing,

MS. Simplicity

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

It's In The Bag

I don't know if you are like me, but I can not wrap a gift to save my life. Every holiday when I need to wrap a gift I hand the gift to MR. Simplicity and he takes it and makes the perfect cuts so that he doesn't have that lop sided section that I then have to cut. He makes the perfect cuts so the gift wrap actually goes all the way around the gift...not too much...and not too little, just right. For me I am the kind of girl who is like hurry up and get it wrapped!

I do not have an abundance of gift wrap. However I do have clients that do. When asking them how their gift wrap collection came to be I get one simple answer, it was on sale. There is something about a sale that clicks in our brain and indicates to us to buy as much as we can. It doesn't matter if we can now wrap gifts till the end of time or even open up a holiday gift wrapping center, we just need more gift wrap.

So what can you do if you find yourself with a gift wrap addiction?

1. Stop: decide today that you will not buy anymore until your current supply is gone! Avoid the post holiday sales. You may have a problem so it is best to just don't go to those stores when you know the paper is on sale.

2. Select: Select a signature color that is perfect for every occasion. My favorite is chocolate brown. With chocolate brown you can put a white ribbon on it for a wedding gift, red for Christmas, pink or blue for a baby gift.

3. Defined Space: What would happen if you had a space that could only fit a few rolls in? You only are allowed to have as much wrapping paper as fits in the space. Once we give ourselves a defined space we no longer feel the need to buy endless supplies of paper. The same thing works for children. If they know they only can have so many toys that fit in a bin they understand that in order to receive a new toy they will have to get rid of another toy.

4. Reduce: Time to get rid of your stockpile and not sure what to do with it. I like the idea of contacting assisted living facilities and see if they have a need. Or call a place of worship or a school.

5. Realize Paper is Not the Memory: Too often we get trapped in thinking the perfect paper will make the perfect gift even more perfect. I would challenge that notion. Looking back on all the gifts I received the only paper that was really memorable to me was the gift wrapped in the Sunday morning comics. Those were the colored comics, not the black and white mind you. That was paper I remembered.

6. It's In The Bag: Think about making the transition to just gift bags. For me it is so much easier to organize gift bags than the wrap. Gift wrap comes in all sorts of sizes and the tubes take up a lot of room. Gift bags fold flat and are easy to store in a vertical position. I organized a client's gift bags and it literally took us under 30 minutes to complete the project from start to finish. First I had her gather everything in one spot. After she gathered everything she sorted into categories as well as got rid of the ones that were in bad shape. We labeled each section for each category of bag. We even created a container where she placed gifts to give in.She was thrilled to finally have all of her gift giving supplies all in one vertical container.  The search was over!




To Joyful, Simplified Living,

MS. Simplicity

Monday, June 16, 2014

Simple In Seattle

One of my favorite places to visit and just relax is Seattle. I have had the opportunity to visit nine times since I started visiting in the fall of 2010. I have read the guide books, I have talked to the locals and I have experienced most of the "touristy" things to do. So here is my simplified version of my top 10 things to visit along with some tips about grouping things together as well as the timing of things. You do have the ability to purchase a City Pass that will allow you to visit many of the touristy areas at a savings. Check and see if you are going to do all of the activities before purchasing. Also if you are a Microsoft employee and have a Prime membership, you will also save some cash using your membership card.
1. Kerry Viewpoint on Queen Anne Hill: On a clear day head to this park as you get views of Mt. Rainier and The Space Needle. Only go on a clear day and go the first chance you get as the views are breathtaking.
Where you will find it:It can be hard to find as there really isn't an address to put in your GPS. Simply head on Queen Anne Ave. North and turn left on West Highland Drive. You will know when to pull over. This is a residential neighborhood so parking can be tricky. It is also a hidden gem and most people don't know about it so you won't be fighting crowds. 
Cost: Free
2. The Underground Tour: This is a tour that I have now done twice, one with my kids and one with adults. There is a bar to have an adult beverage or two while you wait for your tour which can add to the fun. I have boys so they loved the humor and crude jokes. You tour a lower level of Seattle before the current city was built on top of it. Full of history and fun for the whole family. There is also an over 21 tour that my husband and I have gone on, it was ok but not as funny as the original tour.
Where you will find it: Pioneer Square
Cost: Under $20 per person, less for kids

3. Snoqualmie Falls: This is a quick side trip to take you a bit into the mountains and see a beautiful waterfall that is owned by Puget Power.  There is a lovely resort called the Salish Lodge that overlooks the falls. I have yet to stay there, but for now I have had lunch there. I have probably made a stop to the Falls every time I visit Seattle as I just love the view and the sound of the water.
Where to find it: I-90 out of Seattle get off at exit 27
Cost: Free
4. Mt. Rainier: On a clear day you can see the mountain and you think it is just a short drive when in reality it is 90 miles out of town and can take you about 2 hours. I have visited once and it was a cloudy rainy day when we left Seattle. There are some beautiful spots to stop and visit along the way so give yourself some time.It was like magic as we approached the entrance, aptly named Paradise as the clouds parted and we got a beautiful blue sky view of the mountain. We stayed for about an hour and as we left the clouds covered the mountain back up. Pretty magical if you ask me!
Cost: $15 per vehicle
5. The Duck Tour: We had never done a Duck tour before. A Duck is an amphibious vehicle that can go on land and water. The tours are usually full of fun facts and give you a great background of the area. Our kids loved it and I would have loved it as an adult going on it even without kids. If you have a short stay in the city, this is a great way to see the sights while someone else does the driving! My tip is don't buy the duck whistle as you will lose your mind with your kids blowing it. Buy your tickets online in order to make sure you get the time you want.
Where you will find it: On the grounds of the Experience Music Project and Space Needle, called Seattle Center
Cost: $28 for adults $17 for kids

6. Experience Music Project (EMP): Before or after your Duck tour take a visit to the brain child of Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen and designed by Frank Gehry. It is beautiful to look at and it is fun for the kids to explore. Learn about local Seattle musical artists and have fun as this is not your typical museum experience.
Where you will find it: Seattle Center
Cost: $22 to $16
7. The Space Needle: Visit during the day on a sunny day or at night on a cloudy evening. Both views are your best bets. I personally like the views at night. I have also been up at sunset on a sunny day and that was equally as beautiful. It would be great to time this on the day of your Duck tour, Pacific Science Center and EMP visit as these attractions are all in the same place.
Where to find it: Seattle Center
Cost: Starting at $22

8. Seattle Science Center: This Center is not just for kids, but your kids will for sure love it. Lots of hands on exhibits as well as room with butterflies, my personal favorite. My older two boys went to a Seahawks football game while my youngest son and I went to the Science Center and they met us there after the game. They both said they would have skipped the game and just went to the museum.
Where to find it: Seattle Center
Cost: Starting at $22 for admission and IMAX show

9. Pikes Place Market: My only tip is to go 30 minutes before the market opens. Go to the first Starbucks located across from the market and buy yourself some coffee if there is no line. If there is a line, simply listen to the musicians as there are always some talented groups playing outside. You will see the homeless population at a grassy area overlooking the water which ironically happens to be a great place for a photo. I have seen things that I would rather not see in this park and it seems to be getting more and more gritty as the years go by. I try to arrive at about 9:30 to avoid the Seattle morning traffic and to find a great parking spot. I walk to the gum wall if I want to gross someone out. You will find it in an alley just past the market. I also like to take pictures of the beautiful bouquets of flowers that are being sold. You will not find better prices for flowers! And don't forget to give Rachel the pig a visit as you will find her right in front of the flying fish. I like to look at the goods that the local artists are selling. I have had good luck purchasing gifts that have a local flair. Avoid the market on weekends or during peak times. If you have a stroller, good luck!

Where to find it: Between Pike and Pine Sts. at First Ave.
Cost: Free


10. Go on a Ferry Ride: There are so many to choose from. Just find one and go away for the day and explore. My favorite is Bainbridge Island as I feel that I am so far away from the Seattle traffic and is often a much needed break. As you ride you see breathtaking views of the mountains and the cityscape. For most ferries, you can drive your car on or you can walk on and walk around the island. I have also gone north to go whale watching on a ferry. You will need to do your research as to where and when to go as the options are varied.

Believe it or not there are still so many areas that I want to visit, such as the Olympic Peninsula, Vancouver and Victoria, British Columbia. I have gone with girlfriends, family and my husband.  All different combinations of people and we have always had a lovely time.  

To Joyful, Organized Living,

MS. Simplicity




Monday, June 9, 2014

Clothing Diet Is Over

So I proclaimed on Facebook that I was going on a clothing diet as a sort of social experiment late last year. I vowed that I wouldn't buy clothes or shoes for six months. I posted it on my business Facebook page and I got some very interesting feedback. Some people said that they hadn't bought new clothes for two years. Some people proclaimed that they couldn't go for 30 days without buying something new.

My goal was to use everything in my closet. To show that the old adage of you wear 20% of your clothing 80% of the time didn't apply to me. I wanted to prove that I wore 80% of my clothing or else get rid of it.

But this became more of a study on myself and my shopping habits. I long ago developed the habit of only buying clothes that I had a hanger for. I was buying no more hangers and if a new item of clothing came in...and old one left. I usually shop at only one or two stores. I don't shop for fun. I don't shop when I am sad. I usually shop when I need something for a special occasion.

In the last couple of years I have lost some weight and I have had a whole new world of stores open up to me. My choices were no longer limited. I could buy what I saw in the window and I didn't have to walk by it and say to myself...."someday."

But this is the surprising thing that happened when I stopped buying clothes, I put on weight. Could there be other reasons? Of course, but I think it comes down to the fact that I knew I wasn't buying anything new and I had to make due with what was in my closet. I no longer had the desire to try to fit in a new shirt or pair of pants.

I realize that I may sound materialistic but what I am speaking from is my personal experience. There were long stretches of my life that I didn't buy anything new for myself. Those were the years that I was raising three impeccably dressed young boys and I was in an oversized shirt and leggings with a pair of sensible shoes. I didn't have an identity. I wore what was clean and what fit and what felt comfortable. I had no style. I wore mom jeans. My closet was not full. The maternity clothes and the regular clothes were mixed together. Actually I may not have even purchased any maternity clothes as the oversized shirts and leggings were big enough to get me to nine months!

Experiment over and I have lost five pounds. The first thing I bought was a summer dress. Winter was hard on all of us and I needed a reason to feel like summer was really here to stay!

So how does this translate to living a more organized life? Here are some guidelines to help you:

1. Don't buy clothes because of an emotion. We buy for all sorts of reasons. If you are buying for an emotion, get control over it.

2. Buy clothing with purpose, not because it is on sale. Go with a list if needed and stick with it. Stores entice you to come in because of a sale, but then they try to upsell you. I had it happen yesterday when I went to buy a pair of shoes and they tried to sell me a necklace to match the shoes. No thanks as I just came in for the one pair of shoes.

3. Don't buy something in every color just because it works for you in the one color. You will get a shoppers high from this and then you will have the shoppers low when you get home. Trust me, I know!

4. Try the clothing on and make sure that it fits in the store. Take a girlfriend with who doesn't lie to you as she can save you some money and be honest about how things look on you! If you want to try it on at home, make sure that you have the means to return it within 48 hours before you lose the receipt...or the item.

5. Pay cash, not credit. If you don't have the cash to buy it then don't. You will feel worse for it once you receive your credit card bill.

6. Make sure you have a place in your closet before you buy an item. I visualize what is leaving my closet before I make the purchase. I don't want to have a stuffed closet and I am not buying anymore hangers so I need to be a careful planner.

Did I say yet that the experiment was over. Am I glad? Yes! I only wore 20% of the clothes in my closet for 6 months. Yes it was boring but I still haven't pulled out the 80% that I didn't wear. Time for some tough love and to bring in the drill sergeant organizer....my husband!

To Joyful, Simplified Living,

MS. Simplicity

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