Tech and Back To School: Update your Home, Habits and Devices

c89201_usb_phone_pakGetting your Tech and Home organized for family productivity is a great idea any time,  but especially for Back To School! Read on for 11 tips for getting your Tech and Home in order!

Update Your Home for Tech.

  • Centralize your office supplies and printers.  Have you noticed?  As our capacity to work anywhere in the house has expanded, so has the spread of office supplies and clutter. Establish one printer space and a wireless network for printing.  Then, collect all the supplies stashed all over the house, and create office supply (pens, papers, post-its, etc.) storage near the printer.  This will: save time searching for items; save money when we can find what we need and don’t have to buy more (I found lots of new items that we can use for back-to-school); and cut stress when we don’t have cabinets in every room dedicated to half-used notebooks or derelict writing supplies.
  • Work Stations Are Good. Consider your favorite library or coffee house – flat work space, no storage.  Have specific spots available for family members to work – home office, kitchen counter, traditional desks –  and let folks be flexible and share the spaces.  At these specific spots, make sure there is good lighting, access to an outlet, a comfortable chair (or make it a standing work station, also awesome!).   Keeping specific work stations makes it easier to find that rogue charging cord or book left behind.51L838PvfDL._AC_US200_
  • Desks are Bad.  Have you also noticed? New desks have changed a lot.  New desks (more likely to be called a Work Station) don’t offer drawers these day, and that’s a good thing (see the centralized supplies idea above!).  Traditional desks with multiple drawers full of paper and supplies and clutter are just waiting to drive us crazy!
  • Establish a Charging Station.  Find a convenient-to-everyone counter or shelf, NOT on your surge protector with usbkitchen counter where you need to make dinner; add storage for cords not being used; and a surge protector (new ones include USB ports).  We mounted ours on the wall, to cut down on counter clutter.  And here’s an idea – if your cords “wander off” sometimes, like mine, label the chargers and cords with a sharpie or label maker, or choose a color per person (once I started buying pink earphones and cords, they stopped disappearing.  Go figure!).



Update your Habits.

  • Pick Your Battles.  In recent history, I have advocated for keeping tech and charging out of bedrooms.  The light of technology devices disrupts our sleep signals, texting and notifications can occur 24/7, and even the fields generated by electronics can disrupt sleep in some sensitive folks.
         However, slowly the chargers have moved into the bedrooms, which aggravates me, but my 16 and 18 year old offer solid arguments, and need to learn to manage themselves.  I am reminded often that the world they are growing up in looks a lot different than the one I grew up in.  So, I have stopped pushing so hard on that, though I still encourage screen-free time and getting enough sleep.
  • Using your cool new charging station, make charging your devices a habit, part of your routine.  We have extra charging cords stashed in the car and at work, just in case!
  • Use On-Line Portals for School. Most schools have on-line parent / student portals these days, and some teachers have websites for their classrooms, where students can access homework and educational resources.  Make checking on things part of your habits (for example, I have a item on my daily to-do list to remind me to check the on-line announcement page for the high school).
  • Passwords and Log-Ins. Keep a page for each child’s passwords and login info for their student portals and on-line resources (these often go missing in our house!).


Update your Devices.

  • Buy the warranty.  Since our tech devices go with us everywhere, chances increase that something bad may happen to them.
  • Stay up to date!  Automate your device or computer udpates, or add “check updates” etc. to your weekly routine.41DGbXhN5zL._AC_US160_
  • Keep the college laptop safe.  (Love these, thanks MJS!) College students should invest in and use a lock to tether a laptop to a desk at the library or in a dorm room.  Also, buy an extra long charging cord in case your student is on the top bunk.
Save yourself hassle later, and invest time a little time and energy this week getting your home, tech stuff and tech habits ready for Back-To-School.

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Sticky Habits

The topic of habits came up repeatedly with clients last week.

We can all agree that bad habits can be tough to break, but we also need to recognize that good habits may be tough to establish, requiring consistent time and energy and intention.  Research says that a new habit needs 3 weeks of adherence before it is likely to stick.

Yet, to get and stay organized, we need to make those Good Habits stick.

We set out with the best intentions to get organized.  We analyze our process, spend hours purging clutter, buy the right containers, and organize our lives and brains and homes.  But if we don’t create habits around maintaining that organization, we’ve wasted a lot of energy, time and money.

Ooh, ouch.  Re-reading that last statement, I hope it doesn’t sound too harsh.  It is true, though, friends, harsh or not.

I recognize that the rush that accompanies a big success or a finished project is difficult to maintain for the long term.  And so we have to rely on other forms of motivation to keep us on the path to Good and Organized Habits.   What can we do about this?

Use technology.hand-apple-iphone-smartphone-large (1)

     Take advantage of the technology available. My smart phone helps me with my Wellness habits.  I love my Fitbit. It syncs with the Fitbit app on my phone, and tracks my exercise and how many steps I walk.  It sends me reminders to reach my 10,000 steps-a-day goal, and motivational boosts through the day.  I thought these reminders were silly at first, but they work!
      I have a couple of new apps that help me remember and reinforce other good habits, too.
     My Plant Nanny app (free), introduced by two wonderful friends (thanks PM and JM!), reminds me to drink water every hour during the day.  A sound accompanies the reminder, then I open the app and water my plant when I water me.  It may seem silly, but those little plants and the app make me smile and work really well!
     My newest app is called Habit List ($3.99). I list the habits I want to establish or maintain (Water the Garden Daily, and Post On Twitter Daily, for example), determine how often I want to complete the task (daily, every two days, etc.) and the time of day I want to receive a reminder.  Again, this app sends reminders, and tracks my progress.

    If I wanted to add home organizing tasks to the App, I could add habits like Take out the Recycling, Change the Bedding, Pay the Bills, etc. to the list, too., with dates and reminders attached.

You’re never too grown-up for a gold star.  

     A client, a retired educator, uses a star chart just like a student might, to track progress on circle_star_goldgood habits and keep her motivated to keep up the good work. A star for each day a certain task is completed, and a full week of stars on the chart earns a prize for the weekend (Special outing with a friend, fresh flowers for her home, perhaps a special snack or prize?).  This tried and true motivator works for kids AND adults!

Use reminders that play to your strengths.

post its     Are you or a loved one a visual learner?  As you establish new Good Habits, use visual reminders like lists, post-it notes, highlighters or REALLY BIG CLOCKS, or have your technology send you text messages.
     Are you an auditory learner?  I am.  I learn well by hearing things.  Hearing the chiming clock in the dining room ring on the hour and half hour helps me stay on track.  In addition, all the apps I mentioned earlier send me notifications with sounds, like the alerts to drink more water, check my Habit List, or alert me 15 minutes before an appointment so I’m more likely to be on time.  And if I’m struggling with focus, I can set timers or use other sounds, like a favorite playlist, to keep me on task.
     Do you learn by doing / touching / moving things around (kinesthetic)?  For you (or your family member), the physical act of writing and then checking off tasks or habits on a list may be useful, or using chore cards or magnets or other things that you can move around may help.

       Some of us learn by saying things out loud, too.  If this describes you or a family member, try describing your habits to others, or creating a mantra or single sentence to repeat to yourself to help you focus on your good habits.

Good Habits may take time and energy to create, but having them and sticking with them will serve you well for years to come.  Find ways to make those Good Habits stick!

Paper Management for Evolving Humans (Summer Project #4)

We are all evolving humans, isn’t that cool?  But I am referring to paper management and kids.

I spent a few hours on Sunday organizing papers.  More importantly, this time I involved my evolving humans (my kids) in the process, since they will need to manage their own papers some day.  My boys are tweens and teens, but even little kids can get in on the process, sorting last year’s school papers, using the shredder (with guidance), or taking out the recycling!  We just have to set the example!

There are three main types of paper – Active, Archival and Passive. Each requires specific handling and storage.  One of my sons had the the opportunity to touch all three types of paper this week, this is how it went.

Active Paper: Definition

     Active Papers Require Action.  Mail to open, forms to complete, bills to pay, phone calls to make, etc.

Active Paper: Everyone needs an In-Box.

     As I reviewed papers, I established an in-box for each of my sons.  Each of them now has a 851604_scene7labeled folder in the command center in the kitchen.  I shared the location and purpose with them, I will add to the folders as mail or info comes in, and they will check the folders every couple of days (at least that is the plan!!).  No more counter piles – yeah!!

Active Papers: Even I Need an In-Box.
There is also a folder for me, containing active papers pertaining to my sons that I need to act upon.  For example, it now holds registration info for the middle schooler (8/1), and the photo order form for the high schooler (that he will need on the first day of school 8/18).

Active Papers: Need a Process for Action.

     Establishing a home for active papers keeps them from getting lost and ensures the “action” actually occurs!

Active Papers: Technology is changing how we handle papers.

     Technology is increasingly useful and pervasive in managing paper and information, and our kids are on the ground floor.  Last week, we ordered the high school text books on-line, including the digital texts for my son’s Chromebook.  Few papers come home from school anymore, and much of the kids’ work is completed and even submitted digitally on their tech devices.

Archival Papers: Definition.

     Archival papers are a very important, small and specific category of papers.   Very few papers become archival items.  Archival papers are the papers that we will need today or in 20 years. Birth certificates, sacramental certificates, social security cards, passports.  As we grow up, we may add items like car titles,  mortgage papers or insurance policies.  Again, a small and specific type of paper.

Archival Papers: Safe Storage and Retrieval. 

      One of my sons got his drivers license last week.  The Secretary of State required his SS card  256564_p_open_leftand birth certificate, so he learned where we keep them (a small fireproof portable safe) and how to access them.  The very nice lady at the Sec of State also reminded him that he needs to learn his Social Security # (we’ve told him this, but it means more coming from someone else!!).

     I also cleaned up everyone’s academic binders over the weekend (click here for info).  I weeded out old school news and duplicate event programs, filed each kids’ papers by year in the binder pocket, and generally cleaned up the cabinet where the binders live.  We’ve added to these binders every school year since preschool, and we can refer to them as academic and achievement record.

Passive Papers: Definition.

      Passive papers don’t require action (Active Paper ) nor will they stand the test of time (archival). They just require retention for a certain amount of time, for reference.

Passive Papers:  Keep them for Reference.  

     Passive Papers are the ones that tend to give us the most grief, as this is the biggest category.
We keep passive papers around because we might need to refer back to them, at least for a certain amount of time.   For example, the Sec of State requires two other documents for a driver license, recent mail with a home address on them (we brought a savings account bank statement and a final grade report).

     My high schooler also went through all the papers in his room.  128585_pHe mentioned that he had thrown a lot away (hooray) and sorted the rest into broad categories, like school and music and college.  I suggested 2 other categories, Boy Scouts and bank statements.  We went to Office Depot, bought a $15 file tote, and made hanging file holders for each of his categories.

Decision Making Made Easier.

     There is great power in knowing what papers to keep, because we then know what we can toss.  When you look at a piece of paper, and it doesn’t fall into the three broad types of papers above, or the categories within your Passive Papers, its likely that you don’t need to keep it at all.
 So, tackle your papers this week WITH YOUR KIDS, and let everyone learn from the process!

“…Except For the People You Meet and The Books You Read.”  Summer Project #3

You will be the same person in five years as you are today except for the people you meet and the books you read.”  

– Charles “Tremendous” Jones, author and motivational speaker.


 Last month, I re-read Marie Kondo’s bestseller, “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up” for a

003presentation at a local library.


According to Kondo, the purpose of a book is to impart information.  Once the book is read, it has done its job and fulfilled its purpose.  Therefore, there are a handful of paths every book in your house may take:
  • You keep it because you are reading it now;
  • You keep it to refer back to it again;
  • You keep it because you love it (Kondo’s “Hall of Fame”); or
  • You pass it on so that it can impart its knowledge to someone else.

I love these very simple decision-making choices!   These criteria fit into my typical advice to keep things only if you need / use  / love them (Barbara Hemphill).This week, let’s tackle those book cases!

Tackle the Books a room at a time (or a family member at a time).

     Marie Kondo would suggest bringing every book in the house into one room, piling them on the floor and handling each and every one of them.  I do not agree with this suggestion!  Too messy and too overwhelming for most of us!
     Tackle the books a room (or even a shelf or case) at a time.  This makes much less of a mess, and keeps the project a manageable size.

    Today, I quickly reviewed my tween’s bookcase for any books he has grown out of or doesn’t like anymore.  I also reviewed my own book case, and will ask the teens to review theirs this week, too.

Now is Not the Time To Read.

     Review the books but do not open them! (Per Kondo, and me!)  It’s so easy to get pulled into an old favorite, so do not open the books!  Stay the course, keep your focus, and make your decisions!

Find a Motivator.

There are lots of reasons to move your books along, from your bookshelf to someone else’s.  If you’re looking for motivation, here are a few destinations for books you would like to purge:001
  • Your local public library.  Our Evergreen Park Public Library has a book sale every August, so we have the habit of going through our bookshelves every summer for books to donate.  I spoke last month at the Oak Lawn Public Library, and they always have a sale table, to keep books moving along and to help fund library programs.
  • Little Free Libraries,  .  Love these!  A few friends have them in their front yards (pictures included), and they are a great place to pick up or leave a book, to move the info around!
  • Leave your book in a public place, after labeling it as a BookCrossing book, to be picked up and shared, check out .
  • Contact local retirement or nursing homes, to stock their resident libraries
  • Half-Price Books,  You may not make lots of $$, but you may make some!
  • Check out Stick Figure Books, if you have a large collection to part with,  .
  • If you’re in my neighborhood, check out Bookies,  to buy or sell used books (summer reading lists, anyone?!)  .

Know Your Self and Your Reading Habits.
     As I review my bookshelves this morning, I was extra ruthless with my purging, as I reminded myself that:
  • I have a kindle app on my IPad, so I buy new books in digital form;
  • If I’m traveling, I only bring my Ipad and not physical books;
  • I can check out e-book copies of new and old books from library, also to be read on my Ipad app.

“Should” is not a reason to read a book.
    Kondo tells us that half-read (for a long time)  books are telling us something.  Sometimes, that something is that you don’t want to read that book.
     Over the years, I have read lots of books on the suggestions of others.  And I have loved some of those books.  And I have really disliked some of them, too.

     Today, I am giving you permission:  Unless it’s for school or professional purposes,  You do not have to read a book just because someone gave it to you or told you that you Should read it.

Review your books this week.  Choose the books to keep, and let the others move on to impart their wisdom to others!

Did Someone Say Laundry? Summer Project #2

Last week was about closets.  Now, Let’s tweak the laundry process!  It seems appropriate, Organizedon’t you think?  That before I sat down to write this article, I was moving our laundry through the process, too?!

At a recent presentation, we discussed how big projects are a series of small projects. So, let’s break the laundry process down.

  • Put dirty laundry in basket / hamper
  • Transport basket / hamper to laundry room
  • Sort / pre-treat dirty laundry
  • Wash laundry
  • Dry laundry
  • Hang up / fold laundry
  • Sort clean laundry based on its owner / final destination
  • Get clean laundry to its owner / final destination
  • Put laundry away
Why break it down to such detail?  So many of my clients tell me “Our laundry is out of control!” but being specific about what steps cause trouble helps find solutions!


Put dirty laundry in basket / hamper.

     If this is where you struggle, start out with a new habit.  Declare that daily (morning or evening), everyone’s dirty clothes hit the hamper.   For example, first thing this morning, I unpacked from the weekend, putting away the clean stuff and putting the dirty stuff in the hamper.  Bedroom is tidy, and laundry ready to wash.

     I’ve recently realized that, in our house, every family member needs their own hamper and is responsible for getting it to the basement (see next step).


001Get the dirty laundry to the laundry room.
     (I have laundry chute envy.  Just sayin’!)
Make this a daily habit, too.  If you have kids, delegate or take turns, and keep the laundry from piling up all over the house!  Get it to the laundry room!


Sort and pre-treat your clothes.

      I recognize that not everyone sorts their laundry.  That, like so many things, is a personal choice.  We sort.
      To facilitate sorting, we have 4 hampers lined up in the laundry room, one each for Whites, Colors, Darks and Dry Cleaners.   We sort the laundry as it comes into the laundry room, instead of accumulating large, random piles on the floor!
     I admit, I’m inconsistent with pre-treating clothes.  I believe each person is responsible for their own stains and pre-treat, since I have not idea what that red stuff on the shirt is, nor do I feel like looking so closely at every item before tossing it in the washer.
   So, I’m working on it.
I just realized that I used to have stain sticks in all the hampers, and I’ve gotten away from that habit.  Time to re-establish it, so folks can treat their own stains!

Wash the laundry.  

    Wash a little every day, or do it all at once.  When I’m at home, I set a timer for every 40 minutes (the length of the dry cycle) to keep me on track.
This is not the blog that tells you how to get certain stains out of such and such fabrics.  Sorry.

Dry the Laundry.
     Dry enough, but don’t over dry.  To cut down on wrinkles  remove laundry promptly from the dryer, or even when some items are still damp.  Hang the still damp items to dry.  Hang everything you can on a hanger immediately (fewer wrinkles and less folding!).

Fold / Hang the laundryrainbow of shirts

     I’ve seen many strategies for this step:
     Haul the clean laundry to the bedrooms, and fold it there.
     Haul clean laundry to some other location in the house, and fold it there (risking that it may stay there or get strewn about before you can put it away).
     There is also the “why fold?  I’ll just live out of the laundry basket” strategy, which of course drives me crazy.
     Let me suggest:  set up a hanging rod and folding space in your laundry room, and sort your clean laundry as you hang or fold it.  For hung clothes, we have different color hangers per person.  Also, we have three baskets on the folding table, for each destination (master bedroom, boys’ bedrooms).
    A few words on socks.  We all like and need socks… until we have to wash and sort them.  Don’t let them pile up. Keep a basket for unmatched socks, and spend time at least every week sorting and pairing them.  This is a job to delegate, too, if your kids can handle it!

     This fold / sort step also facilitates the Get the Laundry to the Right Location step.

Finally, Put the Laundry AWAY!!  

     Is this where you struggle?  Look around:  Are there things in the way, actual barriers to putting stuff away?  Perhaps your laundry doesn’t have an “Away”.  Or, it has a home, but the home is too full of other stuff?!?
      You guessed it, make Put Stuff Away a habit, too.  Designate a day or two a week to complete the laundry cycle, and relish the Done-Ness!

Conquer Your (kid’s?) Clothes and Closet: Summer Project #1

July is a great time to clean closets and organize clothes!023
It may seem counter-intuitive (or crazy!) to tackle closets now, but think about it:
  • it’s easy to be objective and make decisions about cold-weather clothes, since we haven’t seen those items in a little while;
  • summer is well underway, so we have a good idea of what works for this current season;
  • organizing the closet and clothes now will make Back To School shopping (there, I said it!) easier; and
  • as we tackle closets with our kids, summer allows for a more relaxed schedule and a little extra time to complete this type of project.
So, let’s get started!  Tackle the kid closets first, but these guidelines work for your closet, too! Grab white kitchen garage bags (for donations and hand-me downs to others), black garbage bags (for actual garbage), clear storage containers, a black sharpie and post-it notes.

Start with Sizes:

     Most kids (and adults!) have more than one size of clothes in their closets or dressers.
     I worked on a client closet last week, with clothes present from birth to 5 or 6 years jumbled all together.  We first sorted the little girl’s clothes by size (she’s a 3T,)
     We lined up bins, labeled them (creatively!) 0-12 months, 12-24 months, 24-36 month, 3 T, 4T and up, and started sorting!
     As we sorted the clothes, we also reviewed the items, donating or scrapping anything Mom wouldn’t use again (stained t-shirts, unmatched socks, pants with big holes in the knees, etc.).
     After a recent class, a mom-of-3-boys asked me “what to do with all the clothes?!” Especially the “between sizes” that no one is wearing right now.   The answer is the same.  Sort out the clothes by size, store the “between sizes” in well-labeled stacking plastic bins, and purge the stuff that no one will use again.
      Most importantly, leave one more open bin in the closet, to receive clothes as your child outgrows them.

Off-Season Clothes:

     If you don’t have multiple sizes of clothes in your closet, you can start with off-Season clothes.
     Objectively, look at off-season clothes.  Remember, you can’t fix ugly, you can’t fix itchy, and you can’t fix the wrong color.  Pretend you are packing for a 2 week cold-weather trip, and you leave tomorrow.
     What favorites would you take along? Set those aside.
     What really useful items would you take along?  Set those aside.
     Now look at what’s left – neither favorites nor really useful items.   So, do you really need them?
     This week, get your off-season clothes repaired, tailored or cleaned.  My middle son wears ties with his high school uniform.  Drop off ties, suits and other dry cleaning this week.  Take your shoes or handbags in for repair.  Get those cold-weather pants or skirts hemmed now while you don’t need them.

To Re-Cap so far:
     We’ve pulled out off-size clothes, and off -season clothes.  We have also pulled out beat-up clothes to donate or throw away.  The closet is looking pretty good right now.

So, let’s put it back together!  Categories:
Sort the clothes you have left by categories (jackets, tops, pants, shorts, skirts, dresses, socks and undergarments, etc.).
Once you sort your clothes into categories, decide where you want to keep each type of category of clothes.  Hang up the dressy stuff, school clothes or uniforms; fold the sweaters and causal stuff.  Put t-shirts, shorts, under-stuff and pjs into drawers.  And be on the look out for more items to purge!  For example, when my son and I look at the 30-40 t-shirts in his drawer, we realized 35 is too many and we can toss / donate at least a few (his idea!!).

Spend some time this week, between work and sunshine and summer activities, and create order in your closets!

Ways to Make Monday Mornings Less Icky

Sometimes, Mondays are rough. I get it.  There are simple things you can do to make them less icky, though.  Here are 6 common complaints, and some ideas to make them better!

“I always feel so frazzled on Monday morning!”

Invest an hour on Sunday to help you hit the ground running Monday.  Put the laundry away (or start a load), run the dishwasher, lay out your clothes for the morning, take out the trash, run the sweeper, pack your lunch for Monday.  60 minutes on Sunday will improve all 24 hours of Monday!

“Monday morning is a fog, and the day slips away before I get anything done.”

Before you leave work on Friday, or sometime over the weekend, take a glance at your schedule for  the week, and jot down some tasks and to-dos to help you be productive first thing Monday morning.  Map your plan for your Monday and for your week, to guide your actions.  Also, since the Monday morning email load can also be overwhelming, spend 5 minutes first thing Monday morning (or Sunday night) immediately and ruthlessly deleting anything  you don’t need to read, and flagging the important emails to find later for a response.

“The weekend is over, and the next one is 5 whole days away!”

Yes, I know.  I can’t help you too much with this one.  Two tips:

  • Let me channel my inner Dread Pirate Roberts and say “get used to disappointment”.  This happens  EVERY week, so the best thing you can do is stop being sad about it.dread pirate robers
  • Spend a few minutes on Monday planning something fun for next weekend, to look forward to throughout the week!

“I’m so tired…  I didn’t sleep very well last night.”

Stick to your usual waking time over the weekend, within an hour or so.  If you usually wake up at 5:30 on a weekday, set your alarm for no later than 6:30 on the weekend.  And as delicious as a weekend nap is, keep it to 30 minutes.  Both of these ideas help keep Sunday Night Insomnia (yes, that’s really a thing) away.  Sunday Night Insomnia happens when we’re stressed about the week to come, plus we have stayed up and slept late for two days, messing up our sleep hygiene (yes, that also really is a thing).

“I’m not feeling very well, maybe I’m coming down with something.”

Um, or, maybe not.  Don’t go crazy with specialty foods or beverages.  Indulge a bit, of course, at family parties or special dinners or out at the bars with friends, but don’t go too crazy or you will start your week feeling sluggish or even a little ill.  I know folks who follow strict diets during the week and save their “cheat” days for the weekend, and then wonder why they feel crummy Monday morning.

“Ugh, Monday.  I just feel blah…”

In addition to good sleep hygiene and a healthy diet, maintain other healthy habits on the weekend, too.  If you exercise all week, exercise on the weekends, too – maybe even changing it up, with a hike or bike ride with friends.  Take your vitamins, meditate, stay hydrated – whatever it is that you do to get through a week, do it on the weekend, too.

Like anything in life, we can take what we have and make a rough situation better, just by making better choices!  How else can you improve your Monday?

Inarticulate Growls of Frustration About… Clutter!

It’s amazing, and a little appalling, that some days I find myself uttering inarticulate growls of frustration.  It happens regularly when I stand in my family room.  I growl at my wonderful and amazing family members (and myself).
The pile of discarded shoes I trip over in the middle of the floor ..9 inches from the shoe rack.
The blanket folded (yes), but left… On top of the trunk where it actually belongs.
Coats heaped on the shelf… Right beneath the coat rack.  (Sigh).
Today’s discarded clothes leaning against the laundry hamper.  On the outside.
My recent favorite?  The wet and snowy shoes NEXT TO the doormat.
Let me admit – some days I am part of the problem.  Last week, we all came home from an outing and instead  of waiting for everyone to get out of my way so that I could hang my coat on the hook, I dropped it on a chair to hang up later.
Luckily for my family, I understand why these close-but-not-quite efforts happen, and I also try to not yell too loudly because I may have to yell at myself, too.
But we don’t have to live with clutter, or grumble at ourselves or others, if we can keep these following tips in mind:
It is amazing what 10 seconds can do.  Seems small, right?  But it takes just 10 seconds to
  • hang up our coat, put our keys on the hook where we’ll find them when we need them, and tuck our shoes out the of way;
  • put the tools away in the tool box instead of leaving them out where they may get lost or forgotten;
  • put my cell phone on the charger instead of just on my desk;
  • put today’s mail in my in-box instead of in another heap on some different surface where it will get ignored and gather dust.
Create a habit of setting things right once or twice a day, and this goes for both our professional and personal lives.    Check your work space at the beginning and end of your work day, and put stuff AWAY to clear that mental clutter or to prepare of the next day.  At home, try to take a sweep around the house before bed, or maybe in the morning AND in the evening, to put rogue items where they belong.  And this is not a solo affair – get others to put their stuff away, too – the afore mentioned coats and shoes and stuff all get hung up.
Be on the look out for regular system breakdowns.  If you or co-workers or family members always struggle with a regular task, take a closer look.  Sometimes we just don’t like  or want to complete a task, but it also may be too complicated / hard / confusing for us or others.  We may need to change or re-assign the task to get it done.  I was recently in an office where filing tasks were never getting completed because the file cabinet was physically blocked by a dead printer graveyard.  The filing tasks would NEVER be completed until we removed and recycled those printers.
Few spaces are ever completely stuff-free, and that’s ok.  Know what Done, or at least Done-Enough looks like, and once you’re there, move on to something else.
Remember, every moment can be an opportunity to do better.  We can growl or grumble. We can judge others and ourselves harshly for not completing tasks or leaving a mess or getting distracted, or… We can take a deep breath and do better.  Even just a little better.   We can put things away, clear the mental and actual clutter, and move on to something else.
Have a great week.

A Seasoned Mom’s Tips for Adventures with Kids

I love living in Chicago, with it’s great opportunities for field trips and adventures!   We had a great day at the Museum of Science and Industry yesterday, and as we wound our way through the awesome exhibits, I was reminded of some of the truths I’ve learned by experience over the years.

  1. Go early.  Check out your destination’s website, and find out how early you can enter (for example, MSI opened at 9:30 and we hit the door soon after).  Trust me, early is always better. Parking is quicker, lines are shorter, crowds are smaller.  Go Early.
  2. Plan ahead.  Check out the website for times, parking and logistics, or get the app if your destination offers one.  Buy tickets online, to avoid admission lines when you arrive.  Pick up a map right away, if it’s a new destination for you (and map reading is a great skill for your kids to learn).
  3. Ask for Memberships as gifts.  In 18 years of parenting, we’ve had annual memberships to Brookfield Zoo, the Field Museum and Shedd Aquarium, receiving many of these as gifts for Christmas.  Just one trip to one of these locations can make the membership worth the price, and any additional visits through the year show how valuable that membership can be, with “free” admission, food and parking discounts, special events, etc.
  4. Don’t expect to experience the whole destination in one day.  Expecting to spend 10 hours at a zoo / museum / destination with small children is delusional, sorry to say.   I’m an adult, and I will admit to being fried after 5 or 6 hours.  By about 2 pm yesterday, we all were ready to head home.  2 pm was when all the exhibits got really crowded, so we didn’t mind leaving.  When my kids were younger, that 5 or 6 hour time limit usually had us hitting nap time on the drive home, which worked out for everyone (and having a membership means you can go back multiple times to explore).
  5. Pack a lunch. This is not just a money saving tactic, though it certainly will save money. Packing a lunch ensures there is food your child will actually eat; helps avoid long lines at lunch time; and enables occasional snacking when everyone starts to get a little hungry. Leave yourself a cooler in the car, for the ride home, too, with water bottles and more healthy snacks.
  6. Mandatory potty breaks from everyone.   When one person has to go, everyone goes.  And scout out those restrooms when you arrive.
  7. Review Rules of Conduct.  There was a lost little boy at the museum yesterday who just broke my heart.  Happily, he was found just moments after I first saw him, but he was so upset.  His mom did all the right things, though, hugging and calming first, then reminding of the rules.  So, what are your rules (and know that rules will change as your children age)? There are always the “Be Polite, Take Turns, Listen for Directions, etc”, but on adventures, we add: Don’t range too far ahead; check in occasionally; don’t leave an exhibit until you find me; if we get separated, stay where you are and ask for help, etc..
  8. Have your children memorize your cell phone number, or put a business card in their pocket.   Make sure they can say their own full name, your full name and cell phone number, in case they get separated from you.

Happy Adventures!!

Kids and Organizing and Room Cleaning, Oh My!

Kids and Organizing and Room Cleaning have come up in many conversations lately, so obviously there’s a need for kids to organize and clean their space.  But we have to remember that very often, our kids need to learn how to do these things before we can expect them to just “go clean their rooms” when asked.

A few years ago, I helped a man organize his office, and he told me that I was the first person who hadn’t yelled at him to get organized.  His childhood home was not organized, and his frustrated mom would tell the kids to go clean their rooms without teaching the kids what that actually meant.  He had never learned how to clean or organize, and his own family got frustrated with him, too.

As children, we learn to speak, walk and eat on our own.  We learn to socialize and share and grow.  We learn how to study, play music or perhaps play a sport.  We learn to brush our teeth, cook a meal, mow the grass or sew a button.  But we’re not always taught how to organize, or to clean our room.  Some of us are born organized, but others have to learn to organize, and luckily, it is a learnable skill, just like anything else.  But we still have to be taught, or pick up the skills along the way.

Even though it is so much quicker and easier to just clean the room yourself, take the time to Teach your Children how to Organize and Clean their room.  Talk about why we need to clean and organize (saves time, saves money, inspires trust, boosts self confidence and mood, even if we don’t think it does).   Teach and model and encourage.
  • If you’re going to talk the talk, you had better walk the walk.  Make your own bed, pick up dirty laundry, put away clean laundry,  take out your trash.
  • Give every room the tools to clean and organize: a laundry hamper and a trash can.  Every room needs both, so clutter is less likely to pile up.
  • Have everyone start with the basics, every day.  Make the bed, pick up dirty laundry, and put away clean clothes.  EVERY DAY.
  • Create a few rules for everyone to obey, like No Food In the Bedrooms.  Simple, straightforward, and it will save lots of mess later!
  • Celebrate and corral treasures (defined here as objects that we don’t understand, but our child completely adores).  Priceless art, plastic action figures, trophies, plastic jewelry or a gum wrapper from a birthday party.  Some kids (and adults) value EVERYTHING and then clutter piles up.  Install a couple shelves for treasures, dedicated to for those loved objects. Then explain that once the shelves are full, something has to leave the shelf before a new item is added.  Or create a treasure box, and let the same rule apply.  Don’t edit the shelf or bin for your child, but stick to the rule and contain the “treasures”.
  • Cultivate the habit of periodic purges. For example, the Back to School Clothes Review every August.  Or, when our boys were younger, we would go all review toys and books every Fall in prep for the holidays and birthdays, tossing any that were broken, and donating any that were either “too young” for them, or that they just didn’t play with.  (Knowing new toys were coming made it easier for the kids to purge the old stuff).
  • Give your kids a process.  This is on a sign in my sons’ room:
    How to Clean Your Room (Do all of these in this order):
    • Hang up towel
    • Fold blankets
    • Straighten up bed
    • Pick up dirty laundry and hangers, put all in the hamper
    • Put away clean laundry
    • Close dresser drawers completely
    • Put away hats/bags / belts, etc. in appropriate places
    • Put away books on shelf – actually put them away
    • Tidy up surfaces on desk, dresser, etc.
    • Now we can dust, vacuum and take out the trash.
Take some time now to teach others how to clean and organize their space, and reap the benefits for life!