“If You Call It a Junk Drawer, Guess What Ends Up Inside?”

Last week, a friend reached out to me, sharing pictures of her morning’s organizing projects. (I love that!) The conversation went like this:after

Friend:  (Below a picture of school papers) “Making Decisions.”
Me:  “Ooh, those are tough, I know.”
Friend: “Yes, well, once you explained clutter as unmade decisions [Barbara Hemphill], I have been able to get rid of most of it.  This mess was from my China / @##$@ cabinet.”
Me: (laughing) “Decisions are tough, but making them strengthens our decision muscles – it does get easier!”
Friend: “It is laughbable.  I had 6 junk drawers.  Down to 2 now.”
Me: “Woo hoo!  And never call them junk drawers, as, well, that’s what will end up in them! Better to name it, whether its a “school supply drawer”, “household hardware” or “party and baking drawer”!
Friend: “Yes. Good Tip”.
Me:  “Hmm, maybe that should be my next blog topic!”
Friend: “Yes, it should.  I’m buying a label maker today.”

Inspired by this exchange, I asked my FB friends to share photos of their junk drawers for this article (In no particular order, and with no identifying tags!).  And for the friends who asked if junk corners or junk rooms counted, these same suggestions will apply to those spaces, too!!

Just start!  Drawers are great and rewarding little projects!  You can make a lot of progress in little pieces!

Grab a garbage bag and a note-pad to jot down ideas that come to you.  Then set a timer for 20 minutes or so, if you’d like, and get to it!  If the drawer is dirty, dump the contents out on the counter and wipe / wash out the drawer before you put anything back.

The Organizing Process is the same (per Julie Morgenstern), whether a small drawer or a big room:

  1. Sort Your Stuff.  Common categories of junk drawer contents:
  • pens / pencils / markers (working and not)junk-drawer-1
  • paper clips, safety pins, clips of all sizes
  • coupons, expired and not
  • recipes, good and not
  • take-out menus, old and current
  • toothpicks
  • paper clips
  • random photos
  • note paper and post-its, used and unused, and business cards
  • hardware, screws, tacks, small tools
  • snacks, gum, candy (edible and not, who knows which is which?!)
  • glue, tape, string, rubber bands
  • first aid items, band-aids, inhalers, nail files
  • small toys, broken jewelry, hair ties, etc.
  • candles and matches
  • plastic silverware and old napkinsHow am I doing?  Sound familiar?  Sort what is there, and then head to the next step – purging.

0072. Purging.  This is where that garbage bags come in handy.  We can all agree, much of what is in a junk drawer is probably, well, junk, and can therefore be tossed.  So part with the old papers, dried out pens, questionable food items and anything else that you don’t need or love.

 

3.  Assign a Home.   Decide what categories you have present, and what categories of stuff you want to keep and where.  Consider where you use certain items, or how often you need to access those certain items.  NAME YOUR DRAWER, for goodness sake.  And let everyone in your house know what the drawer’s name and purpose is!  I have said this before, a space009 needs a name and a purpose.  If you call your drawer a junk drawer, or your room a junk room, junk will end up there.  So, as you assign a home for your items, group them logically and by purpose.  Perhaps you end up with:

  • A meal-planning drawer, with: menus; gift certificates and coupons; and recipes.
  • An office or school supply drawer, with: tapa and glue; pens, pencils and markers; notepads and post-its; paperclips, etc.
  • A tool and household drawer with: tools, heavy-duty tape, flashlights.
  • An extra utensil drawer, with: the kitchen items you want to keep but don’t use regularly. Or
  • Some other category you choose.  Just name it, and stick with it.

4.  Containerize.   Look around your house, you probably have containers you can use to corral your items in your newly cleaned and NAMED drawers.  (Finally, a use for some of those mismatched storage containers?)  And I snapped a picture of the new containers on a client’s table, she loves the dollar store for inexpensive drawer inserts.  If you can’t track down old check boxes or small cardboard jewelry boxes around the house, trays similar to the photo below (of my desk drawer) can be found at home stores like Target, or office supply stores like Office Depot or Staples.
003 011

0065.  Finally, the 5th step is Equalize, which is Julie Morgenstern’s snazzy word for MAINTENANCE! Once your drawers are organized, keeping them that way takes a lot less time and hassle. You can maintain them every day by putting stuff away in the right drawer and space.  And once in a while, if you pull open a drawer and it has gotten a little messy, setting it back to rights takes just a few minutes, using the same Sort / Purge / Assign a Home / Containerize / Maintain process.

Tackle this small but awesome project this week!

To:

Receive more ideas and suggestions like these;
Book time with me in person or virtually;
Arrange a presentation for your upcoming event; or
Discover the benefits of Organizational Coaching;

Please contact me.

Call / text 708.790.1940
Online at  http://peaceofmindpo.com
www.Facebook.com/MColleenKlimczakCPO
Via Twitter, @ColleenCPO

 

Find 5 Minutes in Your Morning

“We need to leave earlier for school” said one of my sons this week.images

And he’s right.  His school day starts a few minutes earlier this year, and we need to adjust our mornings accordingly.

(I wish that, way back when, a more seasoned parent had told me that when School says “The doors open at 8:15, the day begins at 8:25”, what they really mean is “make sure your child is already in line at 8:15 when the door opens”.  I’ve wised up a lot in 15 years.)

In typical Me / Mom fashion, I reminded my son that being on time is ultimately up to him.  But also in typical Me / Mom fashion, I know there are things I can do to make an earlier departure happen.

Where do we find an extra 10 minutes in the morning?  To be early instead of on-time, or on-time instead of late?  To catch an earlier train or bus, or meet with a teacher for help with an assignment?

Everyone, STEP AWAY FROM THE DEVICES! 

hand-apple-iphone-smartphone-large (1)
Your kids, your spouse, your co-worker, You!
Showering and brushing your teeth?  These must be done, and they must be done at home.

Checking FB or email, posting to Instagram or texting while someone else drives?  These can all wait.

Turn off the TV, too.
Have you noticed?  If the TV is on, people must stare at it. It could be a test pattern (do they even have those anymore) or a lame commercial, and people will still stop and stare.  TURN IT OFF, and remove the temptation.


Take breakfast with you.
Grab and go with a granola or Clif Bar, banana, a Tervis go-mug with milk, juice or hot chocolate (when it’s cold!)?  Looks like breakfast to me.  For next time, create a breakfast basket, stocked with nutritious, quick and easy options like apples, bananas, granola and breakfast bars.


Get over carrying your favorite.
Got a favorite mug or cup?  Is it still dirty from yesterday?  Tough love here, but get over it, find a new favorite for today, and get on with things. (If you think I am only talking about little kids with this one, you’re wrong.  I’ve seen many cabinets stuffed with re-useable coffee mugs or water bottles that never get used, while the favorite gets used every day).


No, you do not have time for one more thing.

Do you ever find your self thinking “I know we need to leave in 3 minutes, certainly I have time to start a load of laundry, send off an email and wash some dishes.”  Yeah, me, too.  I used to fall victim to this One More Thing thinking, and then the kids and I would feel rushed or stressed.
So, take it from me – No, you don’t have time for one more thing.  Cut and Run.


Know the difference between Needs and Wants.

We need to bathe and eat and wear clothes and brush our teeth.  That’s about it for the Needs. The rest of our morning efforts are more likely Wants than Needs.  Take care of needs first, and then start taking care of wants, if time allows


Invest in duplicates.

Buy extra socks.  Or umbrellas, go-mugs,  phone charger or earphones.  Buy extras of that thing that you or your kids or co-workers always seem to have to run back in the house to retrieve before you can leave (for us, it seems to be the last minute search for the correct black socks.)

With focus, clarity of purpose, and some clever time management skills, you can be on time, and find an extra few minutes in your busy mornings!
To:

Receive more ideas and suggestions like these;
Book time with me in person or virtually;
Arrange a presentation for your upcoming event; or
Discover the benefits of Organizational Coaching;

Please contact me.

Call / text 708.790.1940
Online at  http://peaceofmindpo.com
www.Facebook.com/MColleenKlimczakCPO
Via Twitter, @ColleenCPO

It’s Your Turn to Choose. What’ll It Be?

This week, it’s your turn.

pink magic 8 ball

Labor Day / Back to School provides a re-start button, whether you sent yourself or kids back to  school or not.  We just started a new month, we’re in the last third of 2016. What will it hold for you?  It’s your turn to start fresh, make changes, clear mental or real clutter, set goals, dream big!

It’s your chance to choose.  Here are a handful of ideas, to jump-start the process:

 

Spend a  little time with your clothes and closet.
This morning, I refreshed my closet a bit.  I set aside items that I know I won’t wear again this season, even though it is 92 degrees today in Chicago!   I also thought about the other closets in the house, and added a few problem-solvers (a tie hanger for the teenager, over-sized Command Hooks ) to the Target shopping list.

What can you do this week to streamline your closet and clothes?

 

Plan your Menu for the next few weeks.

It may be warm today, but my thoughts (and taste buds) are turning to soups and stews!  Inventory your cabinets and freezer, check out your schedule for the next few weeks, and write down 7-10 dinners you have the ingredients for and want to make.  Leave the list where you can see it, and save yourself time and energy, while eating better and saving $$.  Win win win!  What’s for Dinner?

 

Strategize for for your house projects, inside and out.

Fall is a great time to complete those house projects!  It’s not too hot or too cold to work outside, and there are many community shred and recycle events to utilize, as people clean out for Fall.  Walk around your house, inside and out, this week with a clipboard and make notes for what needs to be accomplished.  Then, note some upcoming Saturday mornings for completing those projects.  You’ll be happy they’re done, with cold weather and the holidays coming sooner than we think!  What’s the first project to tackle?

 

Set Goals.

     I took this very simple step last week, with amazing results.  I decided to set Goals for the rest of 2016 for the business, to help me focus and measure success.  I stated I wanted to book 10 more presentations for 2017 in the next month.  And I booked 8 in a 24 hour period.  The POWER of Goal Setting!
The other side of Goal setting is determining what we DO NOT want to do.  We set our goals to achieve positive outcomes.  Once we know what we seek to achieve, we can look at our habits or obligations, and make sure that how we live and act supports our Goals (and can clean out habits and obligations that don’t support those positive outcomes!).  Make sure the How and Who you spend your time on is in sync with your goals.

 

 

Focus on your Health and Wellness this week.
This is a great time to schedule your health and wellness appointments for the rest of 2016 (for example, I need to have my cholesterol checked again and will need a flu shot in October).  Set up your appointments, or check out a local yoga class or gym membership (before the weather gets cold!).  A conversation with a family member over the weekend inspired me to think differently about health and wellness, and with my birthday coming up, I set some health goals this morning to work towards.  Goals order our steps, and illuminate our paths.

So, this week it’s your turn to start fresh, set goals and dream big.  What will it be?  It’s Your Turn, Take It!

To:

Receive more ideas and suggestions like these;
Book time with me in person or virtually;
Arrange a presentation for your upcoming event; or
Discover the benefits of Organizational Coaching;

Please contact me.

Call / text 708.790.1940
Online at  http://peaceofmindpo.com
www.Facebook.com/MColleenKlimczakCPO
Via Twitter, @ColleenCPO
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Project #7: Menu Planning. I Blame the Gumbo Recipe.

 I like recipes. There is something enticing about those shiny pictures in a magazine, or the appetizing headlines in my daily All Recipes email that arrives just as I start to ponder “what’s for dinner” (Coincidence? I think not!).002

Obviously, Recipes and Meal Planning go hand in hand.

We always rely on Meal Planning, but especially at these busy transitional times of year. With the boys back to school, and my own attempts to eat better and healthier, last week I went looking for a crock pot gumbo recipe we have used before, and… I couldn’t find it.  Since I don’t often lose or misplace things, when I can’t find something, I get really irked! I decided then and there to get my burgeoning recipe collection back in order!

So, if you’re looking to get a handle on your Menu Planning and / or your Recipes, like me, here are a a few strategies that may help!

Tip #1:  Assemble Your Own Cookbook.
Over the years, I’ve made my own “cookbook”, collecting our favorites and new recipes to try into a 2″ binder.  This system works great, and the binder has become my go-to for menu planning.  The original binder was falling apart after much use, so over the weekend I purged a bunch of old / unloved / unlikely recipes and condensed the rest into a new and shiny 1 ” binder.  I slide recipes into page protectors (so I can wipe them clean if I splatter) and add them to the binder.  The binder has 4 simple categories, Baking / Beverages, Appetizers, Meals and Sides / Salads.  I don’t worry about alphabetizing since recipes can come and go.  Our favorites end up in the front of the category, which works just fine.

Tip #2:  Make Better Decisions.

Create criteria for choosing / purging recipes.  I often think with my eyes and stomach when I pull a recipe out of a magazine, so I have to review them again before I actually choose to keep them. You should ask your own questions, of course, but maybe mine will help get you started. Try these (or make up your own):011
  • Can I pronounce and readily identify all the ingredients? (if not, it can probably go.)
  • Do I actually own or regularly buy the ingredients?  (this, too, may indicate this is not the recipe for me.)
  • Do I have similar recipes already?  If so, what makes this one better?  (If it’s not better, toss it!)
  • Will anyone in my family EVER eat this with me?  (Rarely will I prepare a dish for only me, so a recipe had better appeal to others in my house!)
  • Does this recipe fit into my prescribed diet (if you’re supposed to eat  / avoid certain things)?
  • I just applied these criteria to a handful of recipes I had collected over the summer. I tossed most (see picture!) in the recycling bin, as victims of the “I have similar recipes to this” and “No one else will ever eat this” rules.

 

Tip #3: I stopped buying cookbooks (except for the one my friend wrote, of course!!).
I love cookbooks.  They’re so beautiful and full of promise.  BUT I usually go to favorites or magazines or the internet for recipe ideas.  So I don’t buy cookbooks anymore.  And I have even purged some over the years, when I realized I never opened certain ones.

Tip #4: If you regularly find new recipes, regularly try new recipes.
If you tend to collect new recipes, like I do, make time to try new recipes. Pull one out every week or so, and give it a whirl.  If you and the family like it, it stays.  If not… recycling bin!

Tip #5: Use the technology available.
I will not even begin to list all the cool websites and apps available for recipe and meal ideas.  I you’re reading this article, you can certainly google types of recipes or ingredients yourself.  Once you find blogs or websites with recipes you like, find the app, bookmark the website, or subscribe to the blogs to keep the good ideas coming.

 

Get a handle on your Recipes and Meal Planning this week, and your tummy and family will thank you!

 

P.S. I found the gumbo recipe and it’s on the menu for Saturday!

 

 

To:

Receive more ideas and suggestions like these;
Book time with me in person or virtually;
Arrange a presentation for your upcoming event; or
Discover the benefits of Organizational Coaching;

Please contact me.

Call / text 708.790.1940
Online at  http://peaceofmindpo.com
www.Facebook.com/MColleenKlimczakCPO
Via Twitter, @ColleenCPO
Via LinkedIn, M. Colleen Klimczak, CPO

A Monster Standing Between Me and My Coffee.

Some mornings, I am greeted with a terrifying sight.
 

coffeeYou see, sometimes we (and I include myself in this “we”) will snack / cook / make popcorn in an evening, and not clean up the kitchen before going to bed.  The next morning, I head to the kitchen only to find a big mess between me and my first cup of coffee.

Ahhhhh!!!

On a recent weekday morning, I spent 10 minutes setting my kitchen back to rights after some last night snacking.  As I went through the usual list of tasks, I realized I could share this organized process!  Especially considering that this phenomenon may happen other times of the day, too, like when I rush home from a client to get dinner started before a busy evening only to find stuff on EVERY COUNTER and no room to cook.
 

(I just read a Real Simple article over the weekend, that likened this trashed kitchen phenomenon to “the refrigerator exploding”, or “the monkey house at the Bronx Zoo”.  It was a great article, click here to read the whole thing: http://www.realsimple.com/home-organizing/organizing/how-to-live-with-messy-person)
So here is what you need to clean up your kitchen in a flash!
  • A system;
  • An empty dishwasher;
  • A dish pan (to corral your dirty dishes);
  • A sink dish drain (no counter clutter!); and
  • cleaning spray and a paper towel or cleaning cloth.
dish pandish drainmicrofiber clothspray bottles
 
Here is the system
  • Pick a counter to start, and move around the room:
  • (30 seconds) Start with the easy: toss the trash, close the cabinets, put away the toaster or popcorn maker (for example);
  • (30 seconds) Put away food (we’re good about putting perishable stuff away right away);
  • (60 seconds) Load the dishes into the dish pan, and wipe down the counters with the cleaning spray;
  • (2 minutes) Empty the in-sink dish drain and put away the dishes;
  • (2 minutes) Empty the dishwasher if it’s clean;
  • (60 seconds) Load the dirty dishes into the dishwasher; and
  • (Optional – 60 more seconds) Run the garbage disposal, and then fill a dishpan full of hot soapy water and set any pans and non-dishwasherable items to soak.

Now, your kitchen is cleaned, or at least clean enough to start that first cup of coffee, assemble breakfast and pack lunches, or get dinner on the table!

When The Party Is Over… (A Plan For Your Party Clean-Up)

I was surprised to find that, in 6 years of blogging, I have not written a Post Party Clean-Up article.  So on the tail of a weekend full of parties, let me share my favorite tips for Post Party Clean-Up with you!

I know it’s tempting to leave your clean-up tasks until later or tomorrow, but an hour on clean-up today makes tomorrow so much brighter!  Consider, too, if your event is not at your home, you may need to clean up before you can leave, so it’s best to learn how to clean up-quickly and efficiently.

In addition to your other party prep steps (more on party prep here), make sure

  • the dishwasher is empty, and
  • you have take-home containers on hand to send leftovers home with your guests.

At the end of your event, here is your plan:

1.  Revel for a moment in the end-of-party glow, appreciating the awesome friends and family members that graced your home and / or event.

2.  Drink a very large glass of water, to stay hydrated and fend off any potential early hangover headache (just saying).

3.  If you haven’t eaten, put together a little plate now and grab a bite.  Maybe it’s just me, but I often forget to eat at our events, as I’m busy chatting and taking care of things.

4.  Take 2 minutes to change into something more suitable for an hour of cleaning, if you’re really dressed up.  Just DO NOT GET TOO COMFY!!

Now, roll up your sleeves and get to work!  Food and Floors are the biggest clean-up tasks.

5.  Empty the trash and recycling bins, and start fresh.

6.  Move all food and beverages to the kitchen!  Trash goes in the bin, recycling gets rinsed and goes to the bin, too.  We’ll get to food storage in a minute.

7.  Once the food and beverages are in the kitchen, restore order to the rest of your home:

  • Blow out all candles;
  • wipe down surfaces, clean the wine off the lamp shade (still just me?);
  • put the furniture away (folding chairs and tables), or back where it belongs; and
  • vacuum and run a quick mop if needed.
  • With a team approach, I usually handle the Restoring Order step, while my husband starts the kitchen tasks.
8.  Kitchen Clean-Up, tasks including: 
  • pack up left overs;
  • clean serving dishes;
  • load the dishwasher;
  • wipe down the counters; and
  • make sure everything is turned off before turning in.

9.  Day-After tasks may include:  

  • Empty the coolers;
  • put away the large serving items; and
  • take it easy and eat party left-overs (one of my favorite perks of hosting parties!).

With the next season of parties – First Communion, Mother’s Day, Graduations, etc. – upon us, keep these tips in mind the next time you host an event!

Want To Clear Clutter? Shop Better!

We need stuff.  I recognize that we and our homes require stuff to operate.  Yep, I get it.

But do we really require ALL that we keep? Are those trips to Costco or Sam’s Club, Target or Walmart really helping?

Let’s talk consumables. Consumables are, well, items we consume. Food and drink, paper goods, toiletries, even candles. Consumables are products that we use up and need to replace regularly.  Let’s call them our supplies or inventory.

Groceries? Shampoo and soap? Toilet paper, paper towels? Laundry detergent and cleaning supplies? Yes – All of these things take up space in our homes and require $$$ and time to be replaced.

How we use and replace our consumables can be directly related to our clutter struggles, though, and getting a handle on consumables is a step towards getting a handle on our clutter! Here is how to consume differently.

1. Opt out of your usual trip to the grocery this week. Delve a little deeper into your cluttered pantry, crowded cabinets or over-full freezer and use what you have.

2. Assign a home (shelf, cabinet, closet, etc.) for your consumables so you can find things when you need them (and not have to re-purchase them). Imagine if a store owner didn’t bother to organize her stock room.  The store could lose money and sales if they couldn’t put their hands on their inventory.  We dedicated a shelf in the laundry room to big purchases of toilet paper, paper towels and cleaning supplies, so we can grab what we need, and also easily determine when we need to buy more.

3.  Check your inventory before you shop.  Now that you have a home for your inventory, be sure to check it before you shop.  We usually have extra toiletries like toothbrushes and deodorant, so when those need replaced, we check the inventory basket before adding those to the grocery list.  Which leads me to…..

4.  USE A LIST!  We have a pre-printed grocery list hanging on the fridge all the time.  We are all supposed to add to the list when we realize a need, and then the list in theory is ready for me when I go to the store.  We all, including me, drop the ball sometimes and forget to add items, but that is why I also check our inventory before I leave.  And when I shop, I try to stick to the list.  Not even a great sale price may persuade me to buy an item if I know I neither need it nor have room for it at home.  (And, remember to bring the LIST with you, unlike me at Costco recently.  Or take a picture with your phone!)

5.  Shop for items based on NEED instead of a HABIT it.  My clients learn a lot about their shopping habits when we organize a kitchen.  For example, when we pull many similar items (let’s say canned green beans) from cabinets around the space.   They may say “every week, we eat lots of green beans, so I always pick some up when I’m at the store”.  Then we’ll realize the client’s meal planning has changed, and there were some busy times recently when they ate out a lot, or how the doctor recommended lower sodium veggie choices, or how the toddler decided to not eat green things for a few weeks, etc.  And how that “I buy 4 cans every week” has now wasted $$ and caused clutter.   Buy items because you need them, not because “that’s what I buy every week”.

So, shop a little differently, save some money and clear clutter – all at the same time!  Win, win, win!

Organize Your Kitchen for the Holidays: Do This, Not That

Success is not always about getting everything just right.

Instead, success may be about doing the fewest things wrong.

My priest at Mass this weekend made this statement, referencing a recent high school football game where the winning team had fewer penalties than their opponents, and therefore more opportunities to score (In full disclosure, my husband had to explain to me – the football novice – why fewer penalties might lead to higher scoring).

This week’s blog topic was swirling in my head this weekend, too, and I realized that Organizing your Kitchen successfully (or anything else) can be about doing fewer things wrong, too.   And ‘doing fewer things wrong’ may feel more attainable than doing everything just right!

So if you are familiar with these Wrongs, we can make them right!

1.  Wrong: Starting an Organizing Project Without a Plan.

Right: The quickest way to derail a project is to start without a plan.  Assemble your kitchen organizing tools (garbage and recycling bags, your grocery list, some good music and a timer set for 30-60 minutes), and get started.  Pick a starting spot (like the fridge), systematically decide to keep or toss your items, put back the keepers, and then move on.  DO NOT just dive in or take everything out of every cabinet all at once!

2.  Wrong: Neither Knowing Nor Using What You Have.

Right:  Regularly check your cabinets and refrigerator, and use the food you have on hand before buying more. Always check before you shop!  Leave a shopping list on the fridge, and add items to the list as you run out.

3. Wrong: Procrastinating.

Right:  Well, procrastinating is almost always wrong, but it can cause unnecessary stress around the holidays, and we all know – the holidays are stressful enough!  Pull out the recipes now, start the Who’s-bringing-what conversations with family members now, and start stocking up on holiday specific foods now, just a few things every week.

4. Wrong: Re-Purchasing Something Because You Can’t Find The First One.

Right: Establish a home for certain types of items, so you can check your inventory.  Re-buying items wastes money and contributes to kitchen clutter.  Imagine – If all the canned goods always live on the same cabinet shelf, you can check your inventory at a glance. Establish homes, let everyone know where the home is, and make a habit of putting things AWAY.

5. Wrong: Buying Big Specialty Items That You Only Use Once a Year.

Right: Talk to your friends and family members now, or go on Facebook and find out who has chafing dishes / holiday cookie cutters / a really big turkey platter, and borrow it!  Do not clutter up your kitchen with these specialty items: borrow them, take really good care of them and then give them back!

6. Wrong: Having Stuff on Your Kitchen Counters.

Right: Kitchens are very personal spaces, but they also need to be functional spaces.  Keep your counters clear of stuff – all the time! With clear counters, everything – unpacking grocery bags, making dinner, baking cookies, cleaning up – becomes easier!

So, this week, the pressure is off.  You don’t have to do everything just right!  Doing fewer things wrong is progress enough!

Experimenting with a Spending Diet – Who’s With Me?

I’m tired of spending money.

We’re enjoying Summer, and just got home from a lovely long weekend away.  But travel brings expenses: gas, car snacks, hotel room, restaurant, a few souvenirs. Money just flies out of my wallet – poof!

I read an article about a mom who instituted a Spending Fast.  The deal was, the family bought nothing for a prescribed amount of time, to use up their inventory and save money.  They paid regular monthly bills like utilities, cable and mortgage, but nothing else.

It’s certainly time to slow down our spending.  Yet, we can’t stop spending altogether.  We have high school textbooks to order, and a few other small but necessary expenses.  And with August (the month I refer to as the “Month of Writing Checks”) comes back-to-school expenses like registration, supplies and clothes.

So, I am trying a Spending Diet.

And why do we diet? With food, we decrease overall consumption.  We want to feel healthier. lighter and better overall; and we want to regain control over an area of our lives where we feel a little out of control. So, we will go on a Spending Diet for the next few weeks, for the same reasons!

It may seem counter-intuitive, but I started my spending diet by handing out money.  I paid allowances, and set aside $40 that my business owes a friend.  I can now see more clearly what I need for the next few weeks.

A glance at our checkbook indicates that most of our non-monthly bill expenses are on food, either groceries or at restaurants.  Sooooo…..

  • I planned our menu for the next two weeks incorporating food we already have. Our grocery expenses will be for perishables only, like produce and milk, and I’ll pay for these groceries with already purchased gift cards.
  • I skipped my bi-weekly Target trip for toiletries and household items, and will get creative with what we have in the linen closet (saving approx $100).
  • I also moved my Coscto trip to two weeks from now, skipping this week (saving approx $200).
  • We got take-out for dinner (we do this occasionally on the weekend), but we chose the restaurant based on gift certificates and coupons we had on hand. Dinner plus a few days of leftovers cost less than $6.
  • We celebrated National Ice Cream Month on Sunday, on the last leg of our vacation, but we used gift cards to pay for our treats. Total out of pocket was $7.
  • I collected and reviewed all the other gift cards we have, to determine what we can use over the next few weeks (side note, we purchase gift cards through a tuition reimbursement program at our sons’ high school.)
  • And finally, I packed my lunch for work, and will continue to do so for the next two weeks. It is so easy to fall into the bad habit of grabbing fast food between clients, and I can spend $10 a day on such a habit.
  • There is nothing else that we NEED right now.  My husband and I visited my favorite little boutique in the resort town we went to over the weekend.  Everything there was lovely, but I did not touch a thing.  We have all we need, and most everything we want.  And just a guess, you probably do, too.
  • With more planning, we could cut spending even more, by cutting reducing our monthly bill expenses and eliminating eating out altogether, but we’ll see how we do with these changes to start.

So, how can you pare down your spending this week?

This Week’s Menu Plan Is To Not Cook  (a.k.a., How Many Foods Can we Serve on a Bun?)

I gave up last week.  On dinner.

You see, it’s volleyball season for one son, soccer season for another, and the season of end of year concerts and banquets for all three.   Lately, even when I cooked dinner, no one was around to eat it.  And when my family finally got home for the day, they wanted quick and easy food, and not re-warmed tilapia (I guess I see their point).

I often don’t have time to cook – that’s nothing new.  And I know what to do about that challenge – cook extra on the weekends, use my crock pot, make dinner in the morning and just re-warm it at dinnertime, etc.  But the “not having time to cook” challenge coupled with the “no one is home at an actual dinner time” and “we want quick and easy food” challenges have complicated things a bit.  I had to rethink my usual menu planning strategies.

So I gave up on cooking dinner.  Gave in.  Call it what you want.  I gave up, and then asked the questions: “What can I make that my family will actually still eat?  On their own time that isn’t fast food and still has some semblance of nutrition?” And the answer has to do with French rolls, burger buns, bread and tortillas. Here’s what worked:

  • double batch of homemade meatballs, frozen, to be warmed as needed and served over spaghetti or on a French roll 
  • double batch of tuna salad, for my lunches for the week
  • purchased (Costco and GFS) 5 lb tub of Italian beef and au jus, also to be served on a French roll (I told you, I gave up!)
  • double batch of Sloppy Joe meat
  • pre-sliced ham, for cold sandwiches and grilled ham-and-cheese 
  • quesadillas
  • scrambled eggs and toast
As long as all of these items are on a plate with fresh cut veggies or fruit (and perhaps chips), they are an acceptable dinner for all of us, whenever we get around to eating dinner.This article is not written to encourage you to give up on dinner!  It was written as a new take on previous meal planning blogs, and to encourage you to look at current challenges at home or at work through an organizational lens and seek out creative ways to solve your challenges, in this case, dinner!
I promise to cook again.  And soon.  I actually miss it, so this experience has been good in lots of ways. But we still have 10 days left of the season, so don’t look for me in my kitchen until next week.  Until then, we will be creatively filling our french rolls and our tummies.
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