My relationship with technology is like my relationship with my car. I know how to drive it, but I have no interest in learning how to change the oil. In other words, as long as I have the basic functions on my computer and phone, I don’t want to know how anything else works. Yet, as a recent iPhone convert, I learn something new that can be done with the iPhone every day. Stream movies? Check. Listen to music? Check. Take pictures, surf the web, check email? Check, check and of course, check. But, did you your phone can be used to clear your clutter and get more organized? Here are some of my top iPhone app suggestions that can help with your time management skills and efficiency:
- Organizer – For all you multi-taskers out there, this is a three-in-one wonder app that includes To Do’s, Calendars, and Lists, so all your organizational tools are located in one convenient place. Cost: $1.99
- Grocery IQ – Forget jotting down milk, eggs, bread and your other grocery items on just any old scrap of paper lying around. With this app, you can keep your list in one place, and even sync it with your family members’ phones to coordinate grocery shopping for the ultimate efficient supermarket trip. Cost: FREE
- Bill Minder – Keeping track of which bills are due when won’t be such a headache anymore with this app. You can organize bills by amount, due date or by recording your payment submission. This app features both a calendar and list view so you can clearly see what’s past due. You can even set up a reminder to be sure you don’t miss a payment. Cost: $1.99
- Things – Keep track of literally everything you have to do today, tomorrow and in the future so you can efficiently prioritize. Set due dates and create tags to filter to-do’s by “home,” “errands,” or “work” with this incredibly useful organizational app. The Things app also lets you create long-term projects, broken down into easy-to-manage tasks. A handy logbook keeps you posted on all the tasks you’ve already accomplished. Cost: $9.99
- White Pages – Need to find a restaurant, store, or even your friend’s new address? Simply type in the name of the person or place of business, search, and voila! The listing appears along with the distance from where you currently are. But, that’s not all. With a tap of another button, you can get a map and directions, add the business to contacts, or share the listing. Pretty amazing and FREE!
What are your favorite apps for organizing? I’d love to hear from you!
Losing weight and getting organized are two of the most common New Year’s Resolutions. Yet, until recently, I didn’t extend my organizational tendencies to the food I ate. Because I had been naturally thin for most of my life, this wasn’t an issue until I turned 41. Then, it seemed to me, I gained weight overnight. My immediate reaction was that I had developed a thyroid problem, one that could be easily fixed with medication. Who doesn’t fantasize about taking a pill and losing weight? Unfortunately (or fortunately), a visit to my doctor confirmed both the weight gain, and the absence of a thyroid condition. So, I turned to plan B.
Plan B consisted of doing nothing. Instead, I spent the next two years complaining about my weight. And, because I had given up to some extent, I also started eating more and exercising less. In denial, I told myself that recent photos were just taken at an unflattering angle, and my clothes were tight because they were supposed to be. It wasn’t until my annual check up, when I stepped on a scale and saw a number I never thought I’d see post pregnancy, that I faced the facts and moved on to plan C.
Plan C consisted of four appointments with nutritionist extraordinaire, Lara Metz (www.nutritiouslife.com). After keeping a food log for a week, Lara summed up my problem in one sentence. For someone so organized, I was completely disorganized about food. I ate whatever was in front of me. I rarely sat down to eat. Instead, I ate breakfast while taking my children to school, lunch on my lap in a taxi between appointments, and dinner standing at the island in my kitchen while checking email…not exactly a recipe for healthy living. In fact, I needed a complete reorganization of my kitchen, the food I ate, and when I ate. Now, thanks to Lara, I feel more energetic, have lost those stubborn pounds, and have gained control of how I eat. I call it “organized eating”.
Here are five of Lara’s basic tips that may help make your New Year’s diet resolution become a reality:
1. Plan (and prepare) meals in advance. You only need to conceptualize six or seven meals that you can rotate for your family. If you really want to simplify things, have the same chicken every Monday, the same meat every Tuesday, and the same pasta every Wednesday.
2. Plan (and prepare) snacks in advance. Make sure healthy snacks are available both at home and when you’re on the go. Like meals, snacks should be planned and prepared in advance.
3. Eat Frequently. Not only do you need to three meals a day, but don’t go more than two to three hours without eating. Have a snack between breakfast and lunch and again between lunch and dinner.
4. Drink lots of water. Carry a water bottle with you at all times, and drink as much as you can. If you get bored, spruce up your water with lemon or cucumber.
5. Have balanced meals that are satisfying. Not only do you need to have lean proteins and healthy fats, but meals need to taste good. Instead of an omelet with vegetables, add a piece of cheese. Instead of plain cottage cheese, add cinnamon and almonds. When food tastes better, you’ll enjoy it more and eat less.
In addition to following these tips from Lara, I also re-organized my kitchen to reflect my healthier lifestyle. Here are my five tips for organizing your kitchen to support organized eating:
1. Prominently display healthy snacks.If the first thing you see is delicious and healthy food, that’s what you’ll be likely to eat.
2. Hide temptations. Bread and bagels can be stored in a stainless steel bread box on the counter. It looks sleek, and corrals those unsightly plastic bags. http://www.containerstore.com/shop?productId=10000733&N=&Ntt=chrome+bread+box
3. Use uniform plastic containers in your refrigerator. Cut vegetables and fruit into bite size pieces and store the snacks in matching containers. Having all the same container makes your refrigerator look neat and visually appealing. Try the Modular Mates set from Tupperware: http://order.tupperware.com/coe/app/tup_show_item.show_item_detail?fv_item_category_code=20000&fv_item_number=P10058361000
4. Store like foods together. You need to know what you have in your refrigerator and pantry. For example, by lining up yogurts front to back in the refrigerator, I can see when I’m running low. You don’t want to eat something unhealthy because you didn’t realize you had run out of a diet staple.
5. Store dry goods in see through canisters. Cereal, nuts, and fiber bars look positively inviting when displayed this way. I like the Oxo POP canisters: http://www.oxo.com/p-436-pop-container-big-square-55-quart.aspx
What have you done to organize the food you eat? Let me know; I’d love to hear from you!
Although we’d all love our homes to look like those pictured in magazines, not everyone has access to fancy decorators, spacious layouts, and expensive furniture. Yet, there are many stylish solutions for your organizing dilemmas that are as practical as they are pretty. Here are a few of my favorites…
Organizing Dilemma 1: My Bedroom Looks Cluttered
While I can’t comment on the piles of clothing, work projects, or toys you may have lying around, I can promise that white bedding will make any room feel more peaceful and calm. Make your bed with white sheets and a white coverlet, and your room will instantly be transformed to a Zen oasis. To add pizzazz, use brightly colored pillows and a colorful throw folded along the bottom of the bed. Keep in mind that you can change those pillows and throw blanket to get a different look any time you feel the urge. Try dark colors and heavy fabrics like velvet and corduroy for the winter months and lighter fabrics and colors for the summer.
Organizing Dilemma 2: I Don’t Have Enough Storage Space
When you think you don’t have enough storage space, you’re probably correct. The good news is that many manufacturers are designing pieces that look great and provide ample storage as well. So, say no to nightstands with nary a drawer or shelf. Instead, look for nightstands that have multiple drawers, particularly if you’re a “collector” of stuff (see picture on the left). The piece pictured on the right has flip down drawer fronts to accommodate a cable box or DVD player (or books as shown).
Design Studio of Somerville, 908-685-1921, design-sos.com
Organizing Dilemma 3: I Have Piles of “Stuff” on My Counters
If you’re prone to piles of random stuff, corral your clutter with a beautiful tray. Add a framed picture, candles, or a vase, and your remote controls, keys, spare change, and books become a fashion statement instead of a declaration of your mess. Place these trays on your dresser, night table, or coffee table, or wherever you stash your stuff, so you’ve displaced the mess. You’ll even have incentive to put items where they belong.
| Design Studio of Somerville, 908-685-192
Organizing Dilemma 4: There’s No Room on My Nightstands for a Tray
When your nightstands won’t accommodate anything other than a lamp, move the lighting onto the wall by installing sconces. Purely practical, but sconces also provide an opportunity for a fashionable décor statement.
Organizing Dilemma 5: There’s No Room in My Kitchen for Large Pieces
Large serving pieces can make beautiful focal points for your kitchen. Instead of storing a large bowl, fill it with fruit and center it on your kitchen table. Instead of cramming that large pitcher in the bottom corner of your cupboard, put it out on display in a corner of your kitchen.
Do you have any ideas that merge organizing and decorating? If so, I’d love to hear them!
You know the saying, “Out with the old, in with the new?” Well, it doesn’t always apply, especially when it comes to household appliances. It’s tough enough to keep up with the latest high-tech versions of everything from your television to your toothbrush, but sometimes, the vintage pieces you’ve had since you moved into your first home turn out to be the ones that are most useful. While I’m often a little ruthless in my quest for clean counters and a clutter-free home, here are a few items I’d suggest you treasure, not toss.
You might be tempted to give in to a shiny, sleek electric sharpener, but I find that a manual sharpener is generally your best bet to give #2 pencils a crisp point. Timeless and reliable, old-fashioned pencil sharpeners also lend aesthetic appeal to your desk, imparting a charming, vintage feel to your office.
Sure, the latest Nespresso commercials feature actors who are tall, dark and handsome, but that shouldn’t be incentive enough to toss your trusty old coffee pot. The best brews often come from your reliable, no-frills Mr. Coffee machine, and all that high-tech gadgetry just can’t cut it when it comes to delivering a classic cup of joe that’s good to the last drop.
Today’s multi-tasking toasters are just trying too hard. Make a pizza, roast a turkey – they claim to do everything with delicious results. But what about when you want a simple piece of perfectly-toasted bread for breakfast? These new toasters have so many buttons, dials, and knobs, that it’s unclear what to press when you just want toast. That’s why you ‘ll be happy to have your simple, two-slot, pop-up toaster. When you hear that familiar sounding “ding,” you can be sure you’re about to enjoy a tasty treat.
Just like the toaster, today’s blenders have gone too far. I don’t need my blender to bake cookies or prep a meal. I just need it to make smoothies and milk shakes. A few years ago, I decided my very old blender that blended to perfection no longer looked cool on my counter. Big mistake. I still haven’t found a blender that looks good that’s worthy of the space it occupies.
So, readers, what old products do you still own? Let me know: I’d love to hear from you!
You’ve been to the grocery store too many times to count, cooked for a small army, made small talk with the relatives, and you’re still standing! The problem is…now you’re standing in your kitchen, looking at your leftovers, and wondering how they will all fit in your refrigerator. Entertaining is fun, but, if you’re anything like me, you’d rather have too much food than too little food. So, inevitably, that means that when I entertain I have a ton of leftovers. And while my best strategy is to send as much as possible home with my guests, here are some of my favorite food storage products for what remains.
Pyrex, Bake-Serve’N Store Containers
The PYREX® Bake-Serve ‘N Store containers with glass and plastic lids may be the most versatile item in your kitchen. Use the glass lid for baking, reheating and serving. Then, when it’s time to store your leftovers, place the plastic lid on top and it’s ready for the refrigerator, the freezer, or to take on the go. This glass is microwave, dishwasher, oven, refrigerator, and freezer safe. I love that the containers nest, and rectangular and square containers take up less room than round ones. It just doesn’t get any better than this! As Pyrex says, “One dish, two lids, and so many uses.”
Tupperwear Vent’N Serve Containers
Tupperware’s containers have a unique venting system that allows steam to escape when reheating foods in the microwave. Like Pyrex, these containers also go from microwave to the refrigerator or freezer, just not the oven. And, the Tupperware plastic stays cool to the touch when being removed from the microwave.
OXO POP Containers
For dry goods, I love the POP containers. “They’re airtight, stackable and space-efficient, so your dry foods stay fresh and your kitchen stays organized. The Containers have a unique push-button mechanism that creates an airtight seal with just one touch. The button also serves as a handle to lift off the lid. The containers are designed for modular stacking so that you can efficiently organize your countertop and pantry. In addition, with their square and rectangular shapes, the POP Containers make the most of any storage space, while their corners allow for easy pouring. The POP Containers are available in 12 different sizes to meet your dry food storage needs. All POP Containers are BPA-free”.
Instead of piling up your breads and bagels on the kitchen counter, a bread box is a stylish way of containing your carb clutter. This one from The Container Store is sufficiently large, and the chrome is sufficiently neutral to look great in most kitchens.
Fridge Binz, Stackable Storage for the Refrigerator
If your refrigerator lacks enough separate drawers and shelves, you’ll love Fridge Binz. By stacking them in your refrigerator, you maximize the storage space that you have. When your refrigerator is organized, you won’t stand around with the refrigerator door open while you’re looking for that special snack.
How many times has this happened to you?
You find yourself with the phone tucked between your ear and shoulder, on hold for an eternity, multi-tasking while you wait, and think: There must be a more efficient way to get what I want.
Well, there is. It’s called cracking down on service providers who aren’t providing service.
I recently called a local caterer to order a holiday dinner. I was calling about their business during business hours. I was told they would have to call me back. Ok, maybe they were busy at that moment, but I would have expected a call back within 24 hours. The next afternoon, I realized I hadn’t heard back, so I called a second time. Again, I was told that they would have to call me back. I asked if they could just look up my order from last year (and the previous four years). I was told that wasn’t possible, but I could order online. I replied that I was happy to order online, but I had a quick question. They were very sorry, but the only person with the answer would have to call me back. I’m sorry, is this high school? Is the caterer playing hard to get? Are they joking? I was done. When they finally called me back the next day, I had already found another caterer.
Here’s the bottom line: my time is valuable, and I have too little of it to spend it chasing down service providers. This month I have resolved to eliminate any service provider that requires more than one phone call, who wastes my time, or is otherwise not providing service.
Here are just a few infuriating service provider snafus I’ve experienced recently.
The Four Hour Window
Remember the last time you were given a FOUR HOUR “window of time” for a repair person? When I make appointments, I don’t tell someone that I’ll be there between 12:00 and 4:00; I give them a specific time. And to add insult to injury, often these so called service people are either early or late. If a service provider offers a window of time, is it not common courtesy to show up at some point in the window? That’s how a window works. You can’t come an hour early—I’m not home! The window is closed! The same goes for showing up late—in both cases you have to reschedule, and that, my friends, is another phone call. Eliminate that service provider!
Waiting When You Have a Reservation
What about when you go to a restaurant with a reservation, and they tell you your table isn’t ready? Isn’t the whole point of a reservation that you will get to the restaurant at the appointed time and NOT wait? There are lots of great restaurants that do honor reservations, so don’t stand for the ones that don’t!
Your Doctor’s Waiting Room
One of the most frustrating and prevalent misuses of time occurs in the dreaded waiting room at doctors’ offices. I refuse to wait in the Waiting Room. If I wanted to read Highlights Magazine and listen to Lite.fm I could do it on my own time. It is so unacceptable to be left waiting when you have an appointment. I understand that doctors, unlike most other service providers, actually have real emergencies. Yet, shouldn’t the doctor’s office call you if s/he is running more than a few minutes late? My strategy is to schedule the first or last appointment of the day. The first appointment is guaranteed to be on time, and by the last appointment, your doctor wants to go home. If you still find yourself in the waiting room for too long, find another doctor!
Taxi Cab Drivers That Take You Out of Your Way
Isn’t it the responsibility of the taxi cab driver to take you to your destination the most direct way possible? How many times have you been in a taxi, fully immersed in your phone/email, when you look up to find you’ve been taken out of your way? It’s infuriating. And, it’s impossible to know whether the driver did this intentionally or just didn’t hear you (even though you repeated the address at least three times). The solution…tell the driver to stop the meter, and do NOT give a tip!
What’s the most annoying service provider snafu you’ve encountered? Let me know…I’d love to hear from you!
Even with all of the organizing systems I have in place, I often feel like keeping my house neat is a never-ending job. That’s because it actually is a never-ending job. Every time the laundry is done and put away, more laundry appears. Every time the dishwasher is emptied and the dishes are put away, there are more dishes to load. That’s just the way it is when you’re running an active household. Yet, here are a few simple shortcuts and must-have products that I love…
- Downy Wrinkle Releaser is a huge time saver when you don’t have time to iron. It can be used on clothing, or even wrinkled sheets and bedding. You just spray on the wrinkled area, tug, and smooth. Not only does Downy Wrinkle Releaser smooth wrinkles, but it leaves clothes and bedding smelling great.
- Mr. Clean Magic Eraser is the perfect fix for marks that appear on hard wood, tile floors, or walls. The Magic Eraser is safe to use on most surfaces, and also removes built up grease on stoves and soap scum in sinks. It also works wonders on leather sneakers. When my children come home with dirt on the toe of their Converse sneakers, a quick rub with the Magic Erase, and they look brand new! The Mr. Clean Magic eraser will leave your home a brighter, fresher space in no time at all.
- The Tide Stain Stick is a great on-the-go, carry-in-your purse type of item. Accidents happen, and when they do, just rub the Tide Stick on the problem area and the stain diminishes. While not all stains disappear completely, the Tide Stick does keep the stains from becoming permanent.
- The Swift Sweeper is the most efficient way to pick up dust, pet hair and dirt. It requires minimal maintenance—just grab from the closet and sweep! Because the Swift Sweeper has a swivel head, you can reach in small corners and underneath tables, couches, or beds. You can purchase scented or unscented dry or wet cloth wipes for your sweeper, and just toss the used wipes in the trash.
- The Black & Decker CHV1510 Dustbuster 15.6-Volt Cordless Cyclonic Hand Vacuum is a must have for any busy household. Who wants to drag out a heavy vacuum cleaner for every little spill or pile of dust bunnies? Just grab your dustbuster and watch the mess disappear!
What products do you swear by? Share your housekeeping tips and favorite cleaning products with me. I’d love to hear from you!
Beating the Back-to-School Blues
Years ago (before I had children), Staples ran a back to school commercial that showed parents dancing through the aisles while the track to “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” played in the background. To me, that commercial was hilarious. But now, two children later, I’m no longer sure. After a three-month summer vacation, having them in someone else’s hands between the hours of 8 and 3 comes as a well-deserved break. Yet, at the same time, back to school is not for the faint of heart.
Between the PTA meetings, orientations, class breakfasts, curriculum nights, and after-school nonsense, a working mother has to wonder: when are you supposed to work? A friend of mine has a daughter who just started kindergarten. On the first day of school, her daughter had 30 minutes of school…from 11:00 to 11:30. On the second day of school, her daughter went to school for an hour…from 10:00 to 11:00. While this may be strictly a New York City phenomenon, in what universe is it convenient to drop your child off for one hour in the middle of a working day?
And then there’s scheduling after school activities. When I was growing up, there were about three choices for what I could do after school…and that included the choice of coming home and doing nothing. Today, there are literally hundreds of options. And this is as much a blessing as a curse. You’re trying to schedule four different activities per child, yet after-school activities (particularly travel sports) appear to be run by the only people in New York who don’t have a firm grasp on the concept of a time. Is baseball practice on Tuesdays and Thursdays, or is it just on Fridays? Is play practice going to be Mondays or Wednesdays? Just tell me the schedule. Meanwhile, my child gets shut out of tennis because I’m waiting to hear what day baseball practice is. And then the one yoga class that’s available takes place precisely in the one hour of the week that my child has some mandatory other activity. Scheduling is a nightmare, and the more children you have, the bigger the nightmare becomes.
And once you master the calendar logistics, you have to address the social issues. Your child doesn’t want a play date with the child whose mother is hounding you for one. Or, you’re trying to sign up for a group activity for three second graders, and they don’t have a single day and time in common. And your good friend’s child is a bully. And, your child is the only one that doesn’t have the FILL IN THE BLANK.
Isn’t this enough to make a sane person come undone?? Read on for a few of my tips for a Stress-Free September. And, as always, I love to hear from you. How do you cope with back-to-school madness?
Tips for a Stress Free September
1. Have a glass of wine. A chilled bottle of Pinot is as essential during this time as pencil cases and notebooks.
2. Don’t be afraid to say no…to heading the benefit committee, to play dates your child doesn’t want, and to activities that are inconvenient for you.
3. Do volunteer—for something fun and easy. By volunteering to plan the parents’ night out, you can ensure that its location and date work for you. By volunteering to plan the 6th grade graduation party, you can win points with your child without suffering through a year-long commitment.
4. Start your schedule by locking in the activity your kid likes most. Once you know when that meets, you can branch out from there.
5. Back up all homework on an external hard drive or flash drive. Saving these files externally will protect documents from being accidentally deleted by other family members.
6. Overscheduling is a myth, especially if your kids are old enough to have discovered the computer. Put it this way; if they’re playing tennis or doing ballet, they’re not i-chatting.
For Professional Organizer Barbara Reich of Resourceful Consultants, eliminating clutter is a way of life. Barbara tackles organization with a 360-degree approach, streamlining the homes, schedules and daily lives of discerning clients. Equal parts affable and type A personality, Barbara’s tough-love approach yields real results and lasting change.