Flexible Planning for New Moms

As a new mom of a three-month old girl, I’ve discovered that motherhood is a true joy, daytime naps are life saving, and planning for the unexpected is a highly-valuable skill. I’ve been learning how to nurse my little one and change diapers while trying to get dinner on the table each day. My mommy learning curve was delayed when a postpartum hemorrhage put me in the ICU for three days. For more dramatic details, read my post My To-Do List Can Wait (I’m Alive and My Baby Is Here). But now my new life is becoming more routine. My sweet baby and I have worked through the newborn challenges and are enjoying smiles and even a few giggles.

So what advice would this professional organizer mom offer to all new moms? Don’t expect much sleep, don’t expect to get much done, and don’t expect organizing perfection. I’m especially speaking to type A planners (like me). Be flexible in your planning and scheduling. Basically, let go of unrealistic expectations and enjoy the moment you are in. Your independent life is in the past, but in it’s place is a beautiful bundle of joy that will melt your heart. Cultivate that relationship. It’s a special one that can not be replaced by a trip to The Container Store. Your life will be forever different, and that means your priorities will be different too. You can’t get it all done anymore. Trust me; I’ve tried and it just leads to frustration. Take time to enjoy your baby. Enjoy your husband. Enjoy your family.

I will leave you with one organizing tip: Write down everything! Or put reminders in your phone. In your sleep-deprived state, your mommy brain will not remember anything. You don’t want to forget to buy more diapers – it’s not a good day when you run out of diapers. :) If something truly needs to be done, then make a note of it, literally.

Happy organizing to all new moms out there! More importantly, I wish you joyful, unforgettable times with your precious baby.

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Merry Christmas Baby!

Jim Tracy Merry Christmas 2015

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you and yours!

I hope your holiday preparations are going splendidly and you have organized your days well, so you can spend time with your most precious treasures – your family and friends! My husband and I are excited to welcome our new family member very soon in between Christmas and the new year. (Notice my baby belly!) I will be taking an extended break to bond with our baby at the beginning of 2016 but hope to see clients again on a part-time basis in a few months. Call me when you are ready for spring cleaning to begin! If you would like more current news about our little bundle of joy, please visit my food and health blog, Restored Roots and its Facebook page.

I wish you all the best to you as you celebrate this special time of year.

Revive Family Game Night! Organize Your Games and Puzzles

Are you one of those families? You know, the one that packs so many things into the hall closet, that games, puzzles, balls, Lego play sets, and miscellaneous bath items come tumbling out when you open the door?! :) You are laughing, right? It’s funny, because we are that family or know families that stuff the game closet to the max! Most of the time, it’s easier to keep it closed then try to find what’s needed.

Revive Family Game Night Organize Your Games and Puzzles

Who cares about family game night anyway? Well, it turns out maybe we should care. In Bringing Back Family Game Night, PBS Parents quotes several educational reasons why kids benefit from playing games with the entire family. And we aren’t talking video games here. We’re referring to cards, board games, word and spelling games, and games that develop motor skills and build cognitive function. Plus, games can be a whole lot of fun!

Do you think if you organized your games and puzzles, you’d actually play them more often? Probably! We know one thing is for sure. If you keep them in disarray, they will stay buried in that cluttered closet and no one in the family will be motivated to play games together. So, here are some tips to get you one step closer to family game night bliss!

  • Decide on the best location to store your games. For some families, this may still be in that closet. But for others, a better place might be an storage ottoman in the living room, or bookshelves in one child’s room, or possibly even in under-the-bed storage boxes in the parent’s room. When choosing an ideal place, make sure there is easy access for all members of the family. In other words, make a plan before you start the organizing process.
  • Give away or toss. Sort through all your games and puzzles and get rid of ones you don’t like, ones that are missing lots of pieces, or ones that are in bad shape and broken. It’s no fun attempting to play games that aren’t complete.
  • Separate your games into categories. Once you’ve reduced your games and puzzles to the ones you want to keep, separate them into like categories (cards with cards, board games with board games, puzzles with puzzles, marbles with marbles, etc.).
  • Place the small games in a container and label. It will be easier to find smaller-sized games (like all of the cards) if they are in a container with a label. I like clear plastic because you can see through the container, but plain cardboard boxes or colorful bins work well too. Label each one with a marker or label-maker label, so you know what’s inside!
  • Store your games in their proper new home. Now place your categorized games and labeled containers into their new location. Whether it’s on book shelves, closet shelves, or in a larger storage container, the most important thing is being able to see all the games clearly. You want to be able to pick out that 500 piece German castle puzzle without hassle. You also want your kids to find their favorite games easily, so they can play anytime.
  • Be intentional about family game or puzzle night. Once you get organized, use your games! Schedule a regular night that works for everyone and enjoy the time together. You might be surprised how much fun you have! It might even become a family tradition with long-lasting memories. I can’t remember how many times my sister would challenge and beat me playing Yahtzee! :) Another tradition that my husband and I have enjoyed is listening to audio books while we do puzzles together. But now that we are expecting our first child, we will consider scheduling game nights in future years. In looking at these photos, I realize we definitely need some new games!

game organizationWhat other ways have you successfully organized your games and puzzles? How have your fostered family game nights in your house? Share your experience below.

Thanks for reading!

Practical Tips for Getting Things Done When Working From Home

Working from home is both a blessing and a burden. To have the flexibility to build your own schedule is wonderful, but it also means you must be motivated to accomplish important tasks, especially if you run your own business. Whether or not you get things done can make or break your livelihood and your work and personal relationships. Now, don’t get me wrong. Life is not only about tasks and achievement. It’s about character and who you are as a person; it’s also about friendships and family. But as human beings, were were meant to achieve and make something of each day. After all, don’t you feel good after a productive day? I don’t know anyone who doesn’t. Getting things done translates into a more organized, ordered, and fulfilling life.

So, how do we use the most of what we’ve got in the minutes and hours of each day when we work from home? There’s been a myriad of books written on the subject. But I want to approach this in a practical way, as someone who has lived it. I understand what it’s like to be “motivation challenged.” It’s so easy to get distracted at home – by Facebook, the sports page, TV or internet news, or even email. As someone who writes and blogs from home often (in between days of organizing clients and music lessons), I know what you are going through. So, here’s to you stay-at-home moms, bloggers, writers, artists, designers, and more. I’m not perfect. I’m still working on my priorities and trying to get the most important things done every day, but here are some tips that have helped me. These have little to do with actual tasks and more to do with your motivation, mind and body approach, and work atmosphere. Experiment and see which ones work for you.

Getting Things Done Working From Home
  • Create a task list the night before – If you have no system for tracking your tasks, start one today. The bottom line – you will get more done if you have a way of checking off your list of things to do. I have found it’s best to collect your thoughts the night before. You’ll go into the following day already knowing what has to be completed. Whether you use a paper list or an smart phone app, it sets a positive tone for your entire day.
  • Do a brainless task first, like laundry – If you are like me, it’s most difficult to get motivated in the morning. But if I do a couple brainless tasks first, that gets me moving. I start the washing machine or empty the dishwasher. Then, I feel better about achieving a “meaningless” task, and have energy to tackle something more important.
  • Set a timer – Some tasks can be accomplished quicker if you set a timer. Or, you may not want too spend too much time on a specific task, like checking email. Set your time limit and go for it!
  • Brush your teeth – No joke here. Do you feel like accomplishing a lot when you have food in your teeth? I don’t. :) Take a few moments to brush your teeth, freshen up, and then get back on track. It helps!
  • Go outside – Fresh air is liberating to the body! When you feel your mind slowing down and becoming ineffective, put on your shoes and walk around the block or do a short outdoor activity. Breathe deeply when you step into the fresh air. The physical movement alone will sharpen your senses and get you ready for more work. I like to take out the garbage or feed our chickens. It only takes me ten minutes.
  • Take a silly brain break – Again, set your timer, and take a 15-20 minute brain break. Do something fun that has nothing to do with your work. Watch a silly YouTube video, take in a short comedy on Netflix (with no commercials), play your favorite card game, or call a friend on the phone. Then get back to work. Make this a special privilege when you really need it. In other words, only do this two or three times a day, not every hour!
  • Do small steps – If you’ve got a BIG project in front of you and it’s overwhelming, take 30-60 minutes to break it down into smaller chunks. Actually write or type the steps. The time spent is worth it, because your mind will relax and “de-stress” when visualizing smaller tasks. You will be able to process it faster, making the entire project more manageable.
  • Organize your desk – As an organizer, I cannot leave this one out! If you work in clutter, you are more likely to have an unfocused, distracted mind. Clear your desk or work table from all extraneous papers, supplies, or trinkets. I even suggest keeping photos to a minimum. A clean work space leads to more productivity for most people.

Was today a productive day for you? If yes, congratulations. Keep it up. If not, there is always tomorrow! Here’s to making each day count, whether you work offsite in an office or from the comfort of your own home. Good luck!

What other practical steps have worked for you? Please share in the comments below.

My Top 5 Phone Apps for Organizing

My iPhone is a multi-purpose tool. Yes, I make calls, send texts, and share photos on Facebook. I even play the occasional Pac-Man game when I’m really bored. But even more than communicating with the world, I use my phone as an organizing and productivity resource. I know you’re thinking, “She is an professional organizer. Of course!” Don’t let my career choice fool into thinking that your smart phone is not as valuable.

Your phone can organize your life!

Top 5 Apps for OrganizingOur world is filled with amazing technological advances and the apps available to smart phone users are no different. I want to share with you my top picks for organizing my life and schedule. These apps aren’t the only choices. In fact, there are so many great app choices, that sometimes it’s difficult to decide on the right one for your needs. My encouragement to you is try different ones, especially if they are free to download, and see which ones you like the best. There are pros and cons to every app, but you’ll discover which ones work best for you, even if you are not a “techy” person. Use your phone for more than just communication. Organize your life!

1) ThingsThings is by far my most useful organizing tool. It’s like my second brain, keeping track of all my to-do’s with ease. The most comprehensive task manager apps will cost you money; Things is $9.99 in the App Store. But there are some decent free ones, as well. If you don’t need something as extensive as Things, try Google Tasks, Wunderlist, Remember the Milk, and Toodledo. Keeping lists in any one of these apps is the best way to get things done! You will love being more productive.

2) Evernote – The more I use Evernote, the more I like it. The best part about it is that it’s free! You create notes within notebook categories. I have notebooks for recipes, gardening, health, books to read, travel ideas, quotes, Christmas lists, and more. Within those notebooks, I have many notes relating to that particular category. You can also create notes with photos and voice memos. Evernote is the best way to get rid of paper clutter! I recommend downloading the free desktop version as well. Evernote will automatically sync all your devices. To learn more, read my helpful blog post entitled Overcoming Paper Piles with Evernote.

3) 1Password – One of my huge organizing accomplishments in the last year was transferring all my passwords from paper to a digital format. My identity is more secure and my passwords are safely locked away. After much research, I choose 1Password, because I only have to remember one main password to get into the app. The easiest way to set up 1Password is to download the app for your desktop computer, create all new passwords with the help of the password generator (you only have to do this one time), and then you can download and open up the app for your smart phone. 1Password will automatically sync your “password vault” between your computer and phone. To be honest, the entire set up process takes quite some time, but once it’s done, it’s done. And yes, it is expensive, but a password app is worth spending money on. You will be happy that your passwords are secure in one place!

4) Calendar – The iPhone’s native calendar app is not perfect. Scrolling up and down while creating an event is a hassle, but it works well enough. The main reason I use it is to keep track of my schedule. I place all events, including repeating ones, into the app and use the alert feature to remind myself of important places to be at the right time. If you lose track of your time or forget events, I encourage you to use the calendar app on your phone. If you have an iCloud account, it will sync with your computer and tablets as well.

5) Docs to Go – I use Docs to Go infrequently, but when I do, it’s very handy! This app uses the Cloud to access all your computer files, including Word, Excel and PDF formats. When I don’t have my MacBook with me and need to look up a file, I open up Docs to Go and find the information I need. I use the free app, but there is a premium version for those that need more powerful editing tools.

I received no compensation from any companies or app designers for this post. I just wanted to share with you my favorite productivity phone apps! I hope this information is helpful in organizing your life.

Which smart phone apps do you like and use the most? Please share in the comments below.

7 Steps to Reduce Paper Clutter in Your Home

We’ve all been encouraged to go paperless, but it seems like our world has more paper than ever! In fact, the most common organizing struggle I see among my clients is how to keep paper from becoming an overwhelming clutter monster. Even I have occasional paper piles. Organizers are not perfectly neat all the time. :) While it’s probably not realistic to go entirely paperless, it is certainly feasible to reduce the amount of paper coming into your home. That is the key. Stop the paper from entering your door.

Here are my seven tips for tackling paper!

7 Steps to Reduce Paper Clutter

1) Maintain an daily mail habit. It only takes 5 minutes a day, once you have a routine. Recycling junk mail and shredding documents after transferring them to electronic format can reduce most of your paper problems.

2) Go paperless with your bills. Paying your statements online or using automatic deduction is relatively safe, especially if you keep your passwords secure. (My favorite software for password security is 1Password.) Companies have an interest in keeping your information private – they want your money! They have mastered the electronic transfer of funds.

3) Limit the amount of paper from conferences or expos. Make sure what you bring home is actually relevant. If you don’t use the information within six months to a year, recycle it.

4) Only keep letters or cards that have deeper meaning. Only save your favorites in a decorative card box to thumb through when you need cheering up. It’s easy to get overwhelmed with Christmas and birthday cards. My rule? Don’t keep ones with just a signature. Sorry grandma. :)

5) Input events into your electronic calendar and toss the paper invitation.

6) Cancel magazine subscriptions that you don’t read. This will not only reduce paper in your home, but also save you money!

7) Keep your recipes online in a recipe organizer. Keep all your favorite recipes on your Pinterest page or put them into an Evernote notebook. Or click through this article to find the 12 Best Recipe Apps by Tom’s Guide or scroll down to discover The Five Best Ways to Organize Your Recipes by The Kitchn.

Can you think of other steps you have taken to successfully remove paper from your home?

Whatever method you use, I encourage you to lighten up and let go of paper!

5 Must-Have Kitchen Stations

Welcome to my new readers! I enjoyed meeting you at last weekend’s Portland Gluten-Free Food Fair. I hope you find my articles informative in organizing your life. I specialize in kitchen consulting, but write about all sorts of organizing topics from paperwork to recycling to downsizing. This month, I thought it would be helpful to review the five stations I feel are most important for an organized kitchen.

Do you have these five?

5 Must-Have Kitchen Stations1. Prep

  • Place your prep station by the kitchen sink. Rinsing, washing, and cleaning becomes a smooth process while you prepare your meal.
  • Keep the counter space clear. Move papers off the counter and to your desk area. Put seldom-used appliances in accessible storage.
  • Keep your knives nearby in a knife block, in drawers, or on a magnetic strip.

2. Cooking

  • Keep utensils such as large spoons, ladles and spatulas nearby in a crock or drawer organizers.
  • Place oils nearby, but not too close to the heat source, so they maintain their freshness.
  • Organize your spices in a drawer or spice rack or cabinet using turntables or shelf organizers. Put the ones you use the most in the front.
  • Place cooking pans within easy reach. Utilize a pot rack or organize them by size or type in lower cabinets. Contain lids in one spot with lid organizers.
  • Put hot pads in the drawer right next to the oven for quick access.
  • Consider a toaster oven as an alternative to a microwave for reheating leftovers.
  • Minimize the number of appliances on your counters so you have space for recipe books and for hot meals just out of the oven.

3. Serving

  • Keep large bowls and platters nearby. Silverware, dishes, and glasses can also be in your serving area. However, they are easier to put away when stored next to the dishwasher.
  • Put tablecloths, place mats, cloth napkins, and candles in a buffet or kitchen drawer closest to the table.
  • Keep salt, pepper, and salad oils on a serving tray for easy mobility or on a lazy Susan on the table.

4. Storage

  • Reduce. This important first step creates needed space. Go through and remove items you don’t need or want. Ask yourself questions, like…Does packaged food fit into my diet? How many canned foods do I eat? Can I give some away to a local food bank?
  • Sort. Take what you have left and place them into groups of similar items. For examples, place baking powder with baking soda; foil with plastic wrap; olive oil with coconut oil; pasta with rice; and canned tuna with canned beans.
  • Separate. Divide spices, herbs, flours, oats, and other baking items into containers and label them clearly. Try using clear containers to see at a glance when you are running low and need to refill an item.
  • Organize. Put your reduced, sorted, and separated items into the storage space. Use tiered shelves or turntables for oils, spices, or baking supplies. Consider purchasing pull out drawers so you can see what’s in your pantry. Be sure and leave space for new items that you bring home from shopping.

5. Mail Center or Desk

  • Designate an area for mail. If you don’t have a desk, then create a small home on your counter for paperwork with a mail sorter or desktop filing box.
  • Reduce. Go through your current piles and separate recycling from “keep” papers. If you have trouble making decisions quickly, set a timer and see how fast you can sort through a paper stack.
  • Categorize and file. Create files or hot boxes for “keep” papers, such as Bills to Pay, To File, Upcoming Events, etc. Colorful hanging file boxes are fun and best for viewing paperwork. Keep it simple and label them whatever makes sense to you. If you have children, you may want to create files for each child or for their school or sports activities. Remember these are current daily-access files; monthly or archive files should go somewhere else.
  • Start and continue a daily mail habit. It only takes 5 minutes. As soon as you pick up your mail, stand over your recycling container and shredder and take care of junk mail. Then file your “keep” papers. Make decisions right away or as your mother used to say, “Handle it once!” (Or was that just my mother? 😉 )

These five are the most important, but I recommend you add more kitchen stations based on the needs of your family. Consider a recycling station, a lunch-packing station, and one “organized” junk drawer.

What other kitchen stations do you think are necessary or helpful? Share your comments below. Enjoy organizing your kitchen and call me if you need personalized help. After all, kitchens are my favorite space to organize!

Simplify in Three Areas: Your Solution for Stress

Americans are stressed out.

According to the American Institute of Stress, 44 percent of Americans feel more stressed than they did five years ago, three out of four doctor’s visits are for stress-related ailments, and 44 percent of stressed people lose sleep every night. The effects of stress can be devastating to health – physically, emotionally, and psychologically. But you didn’t really need to me to quote statistics about stress to know that you are stressed, did you? You know it; we all know it. The pace of modern life, the overwhelming amount of information and technology, the work load on the job, not to mention the violence of daily news, both here and abroad, make for a culture of unending stress.

The question is, what do we do about it?

Simplfiy Your Solution for Stress

We cannot reduce our exposure to stress in every area of life, but we can change our circumstances and environment to some extent. We can change the things we have control over. As a professional organizer, I have a unique perspective. I help people reduce their stress by simplifying their lives. Living simply in all areas of life is one of the best ways I know to decrease stress and increase happiness. How do I help my clients accomplish this? You can simplify in three main areas: your stuff, your schedule and your relationships. Stuff is the easiest to deal with; relationships are the most difficult.

Simplify Your Stuff

According to researchers at UCLA’s Center on Everyday Lives and Families, the more stuff we own, the more stress we feel, especially for women. The more we fill our homes with possessions, the more our bodies pump out the stress hormone, cortisol. When we reach the point that our clutter controls us, it becomes a burden. Do you have a room in your home that feels out of control? Does your entire house feel out of control? If you are feeling that stress, it’s definitely time to simplify. Your solution is to get rid of things you don’t want or need, things that are not adding value or worth to your life. The more you give away, the better you will feel. I’ve seen this happen countless times when working with clients. Reduce your stuff, reduce your stress.

Simplify Your Schedule

Another area of life that can overwhelm us is our schedules. Many people wear their busy schedule as a badge of honor. I hear them say, “Life is busy. I just can’t keep up. My schedule is so full.” I feel like it’s the American way, to always be busy. But are we truly happy when we are so busy? What about taking time to reflect and think about who we are, rather than what we do? If you are feeling the pressure of your schedule, stop for a moment and think about why you are so busy. Don’t worry about what other people do or say. The pace of your life does not have to be at break-neck speed. It could be just a stage that will pass. We all have times that everything seems to happen all at once. But if you are constantly “on the go” and don’t see relief in sight, your solution is to let go of tasks and commitments that do not line up with your life priorities. Make time for fun, family, and relaxation.

Simplify Your Relationships

People can also be a source stress. When simplifying your relationships, I’m not talking about selling your children to the highest bidder! :) I’m thinking of the people in your life that you can choose to not associate with – the bossy mom in your toddler’s play group, the negative co-worker that always hangs out in the lunch room, or the angry dry-cleaning lady. As you identify stressful people, find ways that you can “take a break” from seeing them. Find a different play group, eat a short lunch at your desk and then take a walk with your favorite co-worker, or drive an extra five miles to do business with a cheerful dry cleaner. Your solution is to say goodbye to people that stress you out and to surround yourself with people that inspire and lift you up. I know this is not possible in every case, but you might find that you have more choice in this area than you realize.

What is your stress level? Are you feeling overwhelmed by your stuff, your schedule or your relationships?

Simplifying can reduce stress and bring you more freedom and peace. Getting organized in these three areas could bring you more sleep, save you a trip to the doctor, and in the end, lessen your overall stress. May God bless you with discernment as you make decisions to reduce your stress, and let me know if I can be of service as your professional organizer.

Selling Cell Phones for Cash: Our Experience

My husband and I recently realized we had two old iPhones taking up valuable space in our office. So, just like I tell my clients to simplify, we went about the task of finding new homes for our out-dated phones. Since they were still in good condition and worth money, our goal was to find a reputable buyer. Here is what we discovered! I have two very different stories to tell.

Selling Cell Phones for Cash

We sold one phone to Cash for Laptops (also called Cash for iPhones). We should have been forewarned by poor customer reviews. To be fair, we received a nice box to send the phone via USPS mail and we were paid promptly with a check. However, it was far less than the value of the phone! I would have gladly sold it to Apple for a iTunes gift card, instead of a measly $14. Yes, that is all I received for my iPhone 4 from Cash for Laptops. Another drawback, we never spoke to a real person. It was all handled with email communication.

After that disappointing experience, we searched for a more personable buyer and found Tech Twice in Hillsboro, a locally-owned company that has been buying back textbooks for over a decade, with their program Cash4Books. Their most recent venture is buying smart phones and iPads. Our transaction started with email, moved to phone communication, and finally a visit to their store on Amberwood Drive. Once the helpful staff showed me how to disconnect a device from my husband’s Apple ID account and restore to factory settings, we were able to proceed with selling his iPhone 4S. Twenty minutes later after a diagnostic check, I walked out with $95 cash! Best of all, we received a hand-written thank you note for our business. Compared to selling the first phone, dealing with Tech Twice was a pleasant and easy experience. (I cannot guarantee you will receive the same amount or more from any cell phone buyer.)

thank you from Tech Twice

The hand-written thank you note we received from Tech Twice.

I don’t promote companies often in my articles, but I was so impressed with the service we received from Tech Twice, I thought it was important to pass along this helpful information to my clients and readers.

If you want to skip the selling process altogether, you can just recycle your phone at these locations.

  • Multnomah County Libraries – Yes, that’s right. Multnomah County has teamed up with the Wireless Alliance to offer free recycling collection boxes for cell phones at all library locations.
  • Portland Women’s Crisis Line – Do something good with your old phone! Survivors of domestic violence are given recycled phones to use in case of an 911 emergency.
  • Far West Fibers – Recycle all types of electronics at Far West Fibers locations, including cell phones.
Have you tried selling a phone? What was your experience?
I’d love to hear your story as well!

Merry Christmas and Happy Organized New Year!

I wish you a wonderful holiday season.

I hope you’ve enjoyed a fruitful and more organized 2014. I’m looking forward to offering more ideas to simplify your life in 2015. Give me a call to help you meet your organizing resolutions in January!
Enjoy the celebration of the season and may you find joy in family, friends and simple things. We have much to be thankful for this time of year.

Merry Christmas!

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