Organizing for School Lunches

School starts next week in our town and I’ve already been hearing many mom friends lament that it will soon be time for the arduous task of making school lunches. For many this seems to be quite a chore, so here are 5 ways to streamline school lunch-making:

 

  • Have your fridge and pantry set up for easy lunch making. Here’s one idea for using clear bins in your fridge. I have a “snack” bin in our pantry; my daughter knows that she can select 1-2 items from the bin for her lunch.  Also have your containers and wraps easily accessible in your kitchen. Here’s my organized food container drawer, which makes it easy to find what we need.
  • Devise an easy “recipe” for school lunches. As I mentioned, we came up with a formula of 2 fruits, 1 veggie, 1-2 snack items + sandwich and a drink. Find a formula that works for your family. You may end up packing nearly the same thing every day and if your child likes it, great!
  • Empty lunchboxes when kids get home from school each afternoon. There is nothing worse than opening a lunchbox or container and finding the smelly remnants of a previous meal. If lunch boxes get emptied and cleaned every day (have your kids do this!) they will be ready for filling that evening or the next day.
  • Have your kids buy lunch at school. This plan saves many families, even if the kids buy lunch only 1-2 days a week. At my house I print out the monthly lunch calendar and my daughter looks ahead and circles the days she wants to buy lunch.
  • Finally, don’t forget to get input from your kids on what they want for lunch. Sometimes my daughter has asked for surprising lunch items based on what she’s seen friends eat at school.

What are your clever solutions for school lunches?

Laundry List: How to Un-stick Your Laundry Process

Confession: I don’t mind doing the laundry. I use it as a “background” task while I’m doing other things around the house. I also enjoy folding and putting it away.

Most people don’t feel this way, and that often the laundry gets stuck at various points in the process. Here are some tips to keep it moving along:

  • Problem: Hate going into your laundry room? Solution: Clean it out, maybe even give it a fresh coat of paint. Read more in my laundry room essentials post.
  • Problem: A mountain of clean laundry that never gets put away. Solution: Is the problem where the laundry goes…are dressers and closets over stuffed? Clean them out and make room. Donate or give away those pieces you never, ever wear. Also, be sure you have dressers that open easily—especially critical for kids if you have any hope of them putting their clothes away.
  • Problem: Sorting laundry takes forever and never seems to end. Solution: Do laundry for each person on a different day. Many families find this works really well. If you are washing and drying one person’s laundry you also avoid the sorting step!  One mom I know uses mesh laundry bags and throws the whole bag into the washer. She uses a shout stain catcher so colors don’t mix.  Another idea: get others in your family to do their own laundry.
  • Problem: Socks without a mate. And the huge pile of socks to be matched.  Solution #1: Each person gets a zipper mesh bag just for socks. Put dirty socks in the bag, then put the whole bag into the washer. Solution #2: Buy all the same kind/color of sock. Trust me, this works. Solution #3: Try Sock-Locks to keep your socks together before they get washed.

If you can’t face your laundry room or want some new ideas on the process, contact me today. Email elizabeth@thatsneatorganizing.com.

Spring Checklist

Today was a huge milestone: I took the ice scraper and other winter gear out of my car! After last winter the warmer spring weather is a very welcome change.

As the weather has improved I keep thinking of more to do’s: take ice scraper out of car, put out patio chairs, sweep porch, spring clean up in the yard, wash the windows. I must have spring fever. I started to write the ideas down on different post it notes around the house, but the notes were multiplying quickly. I then realized I should do what I’d tell my clients: make a checklist.

I created a document with all the Spring/Summer House To Do’s and will turn it into a Google doc to share with my husband (he needs to know what’s on the list, right?). Having a checklist means I don’t have to keep thinking about what to do. When I have time to work on the projects I can consult my handy list.

Do you have checklists for your home? I like creating my own, but if you want pre-made checklists, here are a few to try:

Quick Ways to Organize Memories

Have you started a baby book for your child, but never finished it? Or wanted to write a daily diary or journal, but only kept it up for a month?

Last week I gave an organizing talk to a Parents of Multiples group: all the moms in the room had twins, and many had additional kids. We started discussing how to preserve memories and several moms talked about how they had piles of notes and photos for baby books that were never done (and probably never would be done).

This lead to several moms sharing how they keep track of memories. Here are some great ideas:

 

  • My husband and I keep a shared Google doc of “Funny things” our daughter says. We both have added to the document over the years, and love to go back and read it. (We started this when our daughter was little, before the era of apps!)
  • Another mom said that instead of creating a baby book, she notes milestones and fun things on her wall calendar. She keeps the calendars and can quickly scan through to see the memories.
  • As an alternative to a traditional journal, try a one-sentence journal. It’s much less daunting to write one sentence a day than a whole entry.

What creative high or low tech ideas do you have to preserve memories?

2 Favorite Travel Tools

A friend recently gave me the gift of two of my favorite travel tools: a zippered bag and a list.

She found this blue zippered pouch by Walker, and knew I would love it. It’s great because it has color, so it stands out in my black purse or black suitcase. It’s mesh so you can see what’s inside, and it is sturdy. I used it on a trip to Florida to hold running gear: my headphones, headband, and my armband cell phone holder.

She also gave me a fun book of packing lists. This thorough list covers everything you might need on a trip, from chewing gum to your tuxedo. It includes helpful reminders for key electronic items such as cell phone, headphones, and chargers.

What’s your favorite tool for an organized trip?

Reduce Unwanted Mail and Phone Calls: Get off the Lists

I noticed that this past December I got a ton of catalogs, many more than I had ever ordered from. I also seemed to be getting a lot of unsolicited phone calls to my home phone. 

Time to get off the lists, and sign up (again) for the national “do not call” and “do not mail” registries. These lists are only good for 5 years so if you find yourself getting a lot of unwanted mail or calls, it’s probably time to re-register your information.

Here are my favorite resources:

And here's one to try for unwanted email subscriptions:

unroll.me

.  

Getting those Nagging Projects off the To Do List

I love lists, so of course I have a To Do list. But some projects just seem to sit on the list forever, mocking me to get them done.

I’d read a Real Simple article years ago about an editor’s “Un-procrastination” day where she and a friend set aside a full day and got all their nagging to do projects done. It pops into my head from time to time as I review my list.  So last week I decided that I’d set aside at least a half a day to take care of a few projects I had been putting off. I didn’t have a friend help me out, but did treat my self to an iced chai when everything was done.

Here’s what I got off my list:

  • Washed winter duvet cover at the Laundromat (too big for my washer).
  • Bought a protective cover for my phone from the Sprint store, and recycled four old cell phones.
  • Took a 10 year old video cassette recorder tape to get made into a DVD at Everpresent, since we don’t have the right cable to use the recorder anymore. While cleaning out the basement my husband found the recorder with the tape inside; the tape turned out to be the only video we had of the first days after my daughter was born. I’m thrilled we found and will get to keep these memories. 
  • Started to research options for getting shades made for my kitchen. This project isn’t done, but I did stop by my local fabric store to find out about their pricing for custom window treatments, something I had been putting off for about two years.

“Chunking” errands or projects can be an effective way to get things off your To Do list, as Julie Morgenstern points out in her book Time Management from the Inside Out. This strategy really can work for some people, as a client reminded me last month. I had been helping this client move, and we had made piles for items to go to her storage unit, get donated, go to her office, and get dropped off at neighbors and friends homes. After a week or so the piles were still there, but she assured me they would get done—and they did, all in one day!

What’s your strategy for working on those nagging projects?

Organizing is a lot like Training for a Race

Last Spring I started running. I hadn't really run since I was in elementary school, so it was a huge feat for me to complete half a dozen 5K races over the past year.

Organizing is a lot like training for a running race (or any competition):

  • Just start. I was totally out of my comfort zone when I started running, but I signed up for a beginning runner's group. Taking that first step was the hardest but most important. It's the same with your organizing project. It may feel overwhelming, but take that first step: just start.
  • Start small. The new runner training program started by having us run for a minute, and then walk for a minute as a break. That's easy, right? Each week we moved up to running for 2 minutes, 3 minutes, and so on until we were at 10 minutes running with a 1 minute walk break. We started small and made incremental changes over time. This is the same for organizing: pick one spot to re-organize, or one routine to improve, and work on it consistently. Small changes will add up.
  • Schedule it, and make it routine. Run 3-4 times a week-ha! That seemed impossible at first but my trainer gave me a calendar with a suggested schedule. I tried really hard to follow the schedule, even when I'd rather be doing something else. After training regularly for a month, running several times a week with my gals became routine, and even something I looked forward to. You may not ever look forward to organizing, but scheduling time to work on your organizing project-just as you would any other important activity-can help keep you on track. Over time you'll start to build new habits. Picking up each night or putting your clean clothes away in the closet, for example, can become routine.
  • Clarify your goals. Right from the start my trainer wanted to know what my running goals were: I wanted to prove to myself that I could workout regularly and run a 5K. We picked a 5K to be my first race and worked towards it.  Think about what your goals are for your organizing project: do you want to create more space, want to have friends over for a dinner party, or get your kids to pick up their rooms? Keep your goals in mind when you get discouraged or feel overwhelmed with your project.
  • When you get off track (and you will), start again (reset) and keep going.  After running for several months I had a knee problem that required doctor visits and physical therapy. And no running for at least a month! Some mornings I enjoyed sleeping instead of running, but it was also discouraging and frustrating. As my knee improves I'm starting to reset and get back into my healthier routines. It's the same with organizing. When we get off track it can be easy to forget how far we've progressed, and slip back into old habits.  It's inevitable to have some slipping in our progress, but reset yourself and keep on going. This is a good time to remember your goals (see above) and what you are trying to accomplish.

This article first appeared in the Summer 2014 edition of The Neat Sheet newsletter. Sign up here so you don’t miss a Neat Sheet, and read previous editions in the archives.

Favorite Container #12: The Keyring App

For the last installment of my year-long Favorite Container series I am highlighting an app that helped me to organize and “contain” my store loyalty cards: Keyring.

In 2010 I wrote about a great card holder for store cards. I got many compliments and queries about the card holder, and for three years it was the perfect old-school solution for me.

But since I’ve got this iPhone, I thought I should explore new ways it can make my life easier. The Keyring app does just that. It’s easy to scan and load your card information on to the app, which then stores the barcode or information. When you are at the store the clerk simply scans the barcode from your phone…and you don’t have to hassle with finding the right store card or sharing your phone number. It also works for storing my library card! The app is available for the iPhone, Android and Windows 7 phones.

What apps have made your life easier this year?

Great Tip for Grocery Shopping

In the recent edition of my email newsletter, The Neat Sheet, I presented some tips for grocery shopping. I got some great responses from readers about that article.

Here’s one idea that I just had to share: this mom gets her boys to do some of the shopping! Her boys are in elementary and middle school so they are able to read a list and find the items. She sends them to get an item that’s an aisle or two ahead of where she is.

The mom noted that “it keeps them busy, gives them a sense of ownership (we are shopping because they get hungry too), and keeps them from arguing too much.” 

I love this idea because it builds the boys’ independence and responsibility, and anything that can reducing the arguing is a good thing!

Thanks for the great tips.  Feel free to email elizabeth@thatsneatorganizing.com your great ideas!

Favorite Container #2: Media Storage Box

Here in the Boston area we are still digging out from last weekend’s blizzard that dumped 2 to 3 feet of snow. With two snow days off from school, we ended up with a long weekend. In between shoveling and sledding we watched a lot of movies!

Watching movies is the inspiration for my Favorite Container for February: clear media storage boxes.

This great storage box comes from The Container Store. It’s clear, sturdy and stackable. It’s easy to look right through the top and find just the right movie. It also slides out of the cabinet, so I’m not shifting through lots of loose DVD boxes looking for what I want.

At first I was skeptical that I needed a box made for media, but it is the perfect size – with no wasted space. Once I had one box it worked so well, I had to get some more. We’ve now used these boxes to organize all our DVDs and games in our family TV room.

Your Turn: Can you find movies when you need them? If not, it may be time to get them organized. With all the on-demand options for watching movies now, be sure you are only keeping movies that you really watch and enjoy!  And finally, don’t even think about keeping VCR tapes unless you still have a working VCR.

December Donations

When sorting papers or dealing with mail, my clients often put aside requests from non-profit organizations, arts groups, and schools to make an “end of the year gift.”  The folder or pile grows and grows.

Well, the end of the year is around the corner!  Now is the time to pull out that folder or get to that pile of requests, and make your decisions.

Here’s what to do:

  • Find your folder or stack of donation requests.
  • Grab your checkbook, or your laptop if you pay online.
  • Sort requests by organization/group, and throw out multiple requests from the same place.
  • If you write checks, keep a list with the organization’s name and the amount you gave this year.  Use this list to be sure you get all the acknowledgement letters.
  • If you pay online, you should receive an email confirmation. Set up a file in your email program and file all the confirmation emails here.

With a few simple steps you’ll make your donations and be ready for tax time.

Organizing for Car Trips

When my family set out on our drive to see relatives for Thanksgiving, we actually left on time! Exactly on time, not 10 or 30 or 60 minutes late, which is usually what happens. We sailed along traffic-free and had a great drive to grandma’s house.

MP900305736.jpg

What happened so that we got out of the door at the appointed hour?

  • Got out our bags a few days before the trip.
  • Made a list of random things we had to bring – a wedding gift, a stack of books to return to my mom.
  • Packed as much as possible the night before; generally I say I will do this but don’t really pack everything – this time I did it!
  • Used bags to organize: I created a “car” bag for all the random last minute things that need to go in – GPS, camera, snacks, baseball hat.
  • Set up the cereal, bowls and glasses on the counter the night before; this made breakfast easier in the morning.
  • Let everyone in the family know my expectations: when we planned to leave, that we’ll need your help packing the car, etc.

What are your secrets for starting a car trip on time?

Cleaning Up as a Family Affair

Last week I heard a great idea from a client.  Once each month, on a weekend, her family has a scheduled Chore Day. On Chore Day the whole family is involved, working from a list of chores, including putting things away in the storage areas, cleaning out cabinets, and general tidying up. The client reported that “having a scheduled chore day each month means I don’t feel guilty the other three weekends about having lots of fun.” Brilliant! In my house I may schedule some time for myself to work on the basement or the attic, but it’s more haphazard…and it’s not usually a family event unless I rope my husband into it at the last minute or get my daughter to clean out her art supplies. And in between all my daughter’s weekend activities we do have a lot of fun…but the mess in the basement is still there. But now I’m very inspired by the idea of Chore Day, and will try it with my family: maybe just half a Saturday each month to get us going on that nagging list of To Do’s. Would a set Chore Day work for you?

Getting Organized to Exercise, by guest blogger Catherine Milliken

Hi everyone! I’m Elizabeth’s trainer and see her up to three times a week for Boot Camp, Pilates, and personal training through Karna Fitness. I asked her if I could share some tips on getting organized about exercising, since I believe that’s most of the battle.

Woody Allen said that 90% of success in life is showing up. So why is it so hard to show up to exercise? The answer? Planning, preparing, and letting go of excuses.

  1. 1. Plan your week and establish a routine. Every magazine will tell you that you need to schedule time for exercise, and it’s true! If you have kids, sit down with your partner and negotiate who gets what morning or evening for exercise. I like to do the same thing every week for simplicity sake (ex: Monday is boot camp, Tuesday Pilates, Wednesday run) but you may need more variety or flexibility. Some say it takes three weeks to change a pattern of behavior, so be really committed during that time to “show up.”
  2. 2. Prepare the night before. I’m a morning exerciser, so I like to make sure my bag and water is packed, coffee is in the coffee maker, my outfit and shoes are laid out, and a banana is next to my bag. That way, I can literally jump out of bed, get dressed, and get out the door. I don’t have to think AT ALL, which is helpful at 5:30 am! I’ve gotten lazy a few times and neglected this routine the night before…it ends up taking me three or four times as long in the morning as I walk around in a fog.
  3. If you like to work out in the evening after work, pack your gym bag the night before, along with a pre-workout and post workout snack. Nothing kills motivation like being famished.
  4. 3. Just go, no excuses. “If you go to school and you still feel sick, then you can come home.” You’ve heard this before, right? From your mom, right? SHE KNEW that your sniffle or your “bellyache” wasn’t substantial enough to keep you on the couch all day. She knew that the hardest part was getting out the door. It still is. Take a lesson from mom: if you get dressed, get out the door, drive to class, spend ten minutes at exercise class and STILL don’t feel like it, you can go home.
  5. I tell my clients to adopt a simple mantra, “Don’t think, just go!” At 5:30 am, it’s easy to convince yourself that you can squeeze in a power walk after dinner, but the fact of the matter is, it probably won’t happen, especially if it’s not part of your routine. So stop negotiating with yourself; don’t think—just GO!

Good luck with establishing your routine…it really is 90% of the battle!

PS. If you’re curious about how Elizabeth does in class, she’s always punctual and very dedicated! She’s followed my tips for getting out the door and almost never misses a class unless it’s for a very good reason, like she is on vacation, or her husband is away. She’s up for ANYTHING and went from basically doing only walking and occasional yoga to running, holding a 2 minute plank, and high intensity interval training!

Check out Karna Fitness and follow us on Facebook.

A Better Errand List

Do you feel like you are running all over town trying to get things done?

Do you keep thinking of the errands you need to do? Often my list swirls around in my head, or is scribbled on several sticky notes on my desk.

Here’s my simple 3-step system to keep the errand list under control:

Step 1: I get a piece of paper and write down all the places I need to go in the next week or two. I basically empty my brain of all the stores where I need to pick up something or return an item.  My initial list looks like this.

Step 2: Then I try to group the errands into trips. For example, one trip might be Target and HomeGoods since they are near each other.  So my list looks like this:

Step 3: The last step to really make it happen…schedule time! I get my Google calendar and look at where I have pockets of time, and slot in the trips.

This simple process helps me to get all the nagging to do’s out of my head and on to my calendar. Happy shopping!

Organizing in the Kitchen: What are your online tools?

Say the phrase “kitchen tools” and you probably think of a stand mixer, chef knife, or set of measuring cups.  But what online tools have you tried?

MP900175492[1]_thumb.jpg

As a busy parent, I know that finding the time to plan meals, shop, and cook can be a challenge. Here are a few online tools I've tried to save time:

  • Online grocery delivery: When I lived in an apartment and couldn’t carry bags of groceries home I regularly ordered my groceries online. Now I use the deliveries when my schedule is too hectic. A busy mom friend says this service saves her every week, especially with store app for smartphones. Her basic shopping list is always ready to go.
  • Recipes online: I use websites to find the perfect birthday cake for my party theme, or to discover a new way to cook Brussels sprouts. My sister also uses Pinterest to “pin” her favorite recipes from the web, allowing her not only to have the recipe but also a photo of the dish.
  • Cooking magazines online: In my home we love Cook’s Illustrated and subscribe online so that we can find any recipe we need, any time. Now we don’t have to search through all the magazines to find that dessert we wanted to try. My husband loves their app for the iPad too.

I have been telling parents about The 6 o’clock Scramble website. Subscribe and you’ll receive weekly meal plans with shopping lists and healthy eating tips! I haven’t tried it yet but it looks like it could be a huge help.

What online tools have you tried to make it easier to get meals on the table?

Ready to Return?

Everyone loves to leave on vacation, but few of us like to return.

Here are my organization tricks to make the “re-entry” back to reality easier:

  • Before I leave I write a list of critical things I need to do once I return (like pay certain bills, call client, etc.). All this races through my head before I leave but I can put it on the list and forget it while I’m away.
  • Clean up the kitchen before you go away. I like to come home to a clean kitchen.
  • Once you return, start laundry right away. My husband and I now bring our bags right from the car into the laundry room. We empty the dirty laundry and get at least one load started as soon as we are home.
  • Unpack as you can…laundry and clothes are first, the other items may take a few days to get put away.

Bon voyage!

Summer Entertaining

It’s time to get together with friends! Here are some tips to organize your summer entertaining:

  • If your event is outside, be sure to have a back-up plan in case the weather doesn’t cooperate.
  • Make your lists: grocery, other shopping, to do.
  • Have your kitchen stocked with a few party favorites for impromptu gatherings. I like to always have olives, crackers and cheese ready to go.
  • Also keep your bar stocked for summer drinks. It’s easier to have a party “signature” drink (think gin and tonic or mojito) rather than offering a full bar.
  • Check to be sure you have napkins, plates and other supplies for outside entertaining.

And for some fun aprons and linens, check out my cousin Janna’s fabulous designs at Raw Materials Design.

Happy entertaining!

Martha Stewart Living Radio Interview

I was thrilled to be interviewed on the MSLR show, "Living Today." Host Ryan Brockington and I discussed our favorite ways to get ready for summer, shared our love of lists, and I answered questions from callers. It was very fun!

Listen to the interview (about 30 minutes).