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Get ready for summer now: 5 ways to get ahead

Categories: Productivity, summer living

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It’s still winter, but summer will be here before you know it. I know, easy for me to say since I’m not sitting in the middle of a blizzard like some of you. But, in less than 10 weeks, I’ll have to go retrieve my college freshman and bring all that stuff home. Can you believe it?

Not to give spring the short end of the deal (I love spring, I do!), but summer for working parents brings it’s share of scheduling and preparation challenges, and I like to get ahead where I can.

Here’s 5 things you can do to get ready for summer now:

1. Plan out the summer calendar - I print calendars for June, July and August and we lay them out at home and everyone writes in their summer plans or special events. Camps, vacations, birthdays and even back-to-school dates go on there so we can spot potential conflicts early.

2. Sign up for camps - Now is the time to sign up for summer camps. If you have young kids and have never done this before, just trust me.  Traditional camps, sports camps, music camps, drama camps are ready and waiting for you to sign up, don’t put this one off. If you’re lucky, there might even be a discount for signing up now.

3. Book that vacation - If you ‘re going to have the chance to get away this summer, check that calendar you made and pencil in some vacation time. If you need to look for accommodations, now’s the time to do it so you can get the dates you want before they’re all gone. (Taking my own advice in 3…2…1…)

4. Shop now - Bathing suits and other warm weather clothing items are hitting the shelves. When it comes to the kids, it seems like no matter what size they are, the rest of the world had kids the same size and the new stuff is gone in a snap. I’ve learned to just bite the bullet and buy bathing suits when I see them instead of doing it “later” because the red bulls eye store doesn’t always restock them.

5. Apply for summer jobs - Get your teens out of the house and encourage them to apply for summer jobs now. For example, your college student should be getting an internship lined up (*ahem* is someone related to me out there listening?), and potential lifeguards should be signing up for training now. The competition is tough out there, don’t wait.

Even though it may not seem like it now, summer really does come fast. Check some things off your to-do list now and be ready to relax a little and enjoy it!

Mobile banking tames chaos

Categories: Productivity

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Mobile banking is one of my favorite ways to tame the disorder in my life.

To no one’s surprise, as my kids have gotten older I’ve found myself handing money out more frequently. As you might imagine, distributing money on the fly can sometimes create havoc in the ol’ checking account balance as we can lose track of our balance when we’re out and about.

When I was growing up, if I was lucky, my mother or father would hand me a $20 before I went somewhere, but these days, our kids aren’t always with us when they need money. This becomes especially significant when they first start driving and may have spent inadvertently spent their gas money on lunch or clothes (Let’s just say I’ve heard *ahem* of other people’s kids doing stuff like that) and they need to get home from somewhere.

Both of these describe instances can be remedied with a touch of my smart phone. Since my bank has a mobile banking app, I can easily check my bank balance, and if one of my kids needs money or it’s time to pay them their allowance, I can do it, no matter where I am. It’s nice not to have to worry about getting to an ATM or a computer,

Another mobile banking benefit some banks have is mobile deposit. We have one account where you can deposit checks by scanner with a desktop computer, or we can even take a picture of the check with a smart phone and deposit them that way. That nifty feature has saved me lots of trips to the bank, and my older kids can quickly deposit checks from work and babysitting.

If you have a smart phone, I highly encourage you to check with your bank about any mobile banking features they offer. My experience has been that it’s safe, convenient and easy to learn, but alas it hasn’t solved the problem of not enough money.

Do you save time by doing your banking on a smart phone? Tell us about it!

College dorm shopping

Categories: Organization, Productivity

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My daughter recently graduated from high school, and, like many new grads, she’s off to college in the fall. (Eek! I will have a kid in college in just a few short weeks. OK, it’s 11 short weeks, but still…college!)

Since this is our oldest, we’ve been busy trying to learn about everything and prepare for what lies ahead. While the preparation is ultimately her responsibility, we still have lots of things to learn as parents. So far, the biggest lesson for us has been that our own college experiences aren’t really applicable to anything.

I spent a little time shaking my theoretical stick at what goes into college admissions and preparations these days, but even though I work at a college, I’ve come to learn that many things are just different for today’s students even when something was “good enough for me”.

Most things are done online, social media is key to getting information and finding roommates, and it doesn’t always have to be a “rite of passage” as a freshman to live with a stranger in a cinder block room the size of a postage stamp with a communal bathroom down the hall.  Also? The washing machines will text you when the cycle is done. (I know!)

However, one thing that remains constant is that there’s always going to be a list of “what to bring”.

More experienced college parents will probably chuckle at my freshman parent ways, but in the interest of avoiding a 4-digit Target bill in a strange city after forking over tuition and such, I have been trying to plan ahead a little by attempting to make a thorough list and buying and/or gathering things as I go.

I understand that students don’t need most of the stuff they bring, you have to carry it and there’s not much room. But, as far as I can tell, there are some start-up things they need, and I’ve been doing my best to get some things in order.

Even though we weren’t sure where she’d be going to school, I actually started purchasing things at Christmas, since getting “college stuff” was exciting.  Two birds, one stone, if you will. I started with items such as a small tool set, a hand vacuum, one of those pop-up laundry hampers and an array of no-damage sticky hook and squares, all things that can be used in any housing situation.

Since then, I’ve divided the list into different sections and am trying to tackle one division at a time. For example, I started with, “Study/Desk” earlier this year and I gradually acquired a box of items such as: a desk lamp, tape, tape dispenser, stapler, staples, a good pencil sharpener, some decent scissors, a ruler, a pencil holder, blank CDs, flash drives etc. While none of those items are especially glamorous, they’re needed, the cost can add up and I don’t want her to strip our desk at home of them.

Other areas I’ve worked on recently are “Medicine and First Aid”, “Clothing” (iron, small ironing board, hangers, stain release, detergent, etc.) “Storage”, “Cleaning” and “Repair”. She’ll be in a suite with a partial kitchen, so I’ve gotten just a few items classified as “Eat/Kitchen”.

The haul is accumulating in the dining room, and while the results aren’t especially attractive right now, I hope my attempts at shopping will prove useful and get her off to a good start:

Of course, she gets to shop for the fun stuff like bedding and decorations and I’ve had to remind her that this stuff is a one-time purchase for us and not to expect this every year!

How about you? Do you have any hints for college dorm shopping or just getting ready for college in general?

Post Trip Jet Lag Prevention

Categories: Organization, Productivity

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I really dislike feeling like I don’t have a handle on my life. Since getting home from a trip with my husband, I’ve felt myself running about twelve hours behind since we got home Monday night at around 9pm. I’ve been thinking of some processes I might have followed to help the transition back into real life a little smoother. I thought I’d write them all out for next time.
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Streamlining Homework, Decluttering Gift Wrap

Categories: Decluttering, Organization, Productivity

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I’m back on another organizing jag. Do you ever feel like the world is set up to drown you in papers? I spend at least one hour of my day browsing papers, some junk, some from school. If I ease up at all, by the end of the day I am behind and my kitchen and dining room are covered in various papers. It’s just me isn’t it?

Funny enough this has very little to do with my post today. Today I thought I’d share a couple organizing ideas which have inspired me in the last week.
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Magical Fairies Don’t Do Windows: How do I keep my house clean?

Categories: Decluttering, Organization, Productivity, Uncategorized

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Do you have a house cleaning help? I do not, but wish I did. After crunching numbers and facing down orthodontic work for both kids, I think it’ll be a while before we can get someone to help. It’s not that I can’t do it myself, my house isn’t all that large, but there are two issues which keep me unhappily cleaning.

I hate that the entire house is never clean at the same time, with the time I’m willing to devote to house cleaning, I have time to do all the bathrooms or all the main level or all the upper level. I’m rarely able to commit a whole day to cleaning the entire house.
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Organizing my office, or how I’m in love with my label maker

Categories: Decluttering, Organization, Productivity, Uncategorized

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The last time we spoke about the office in my basement I was trying not to kill my husband because he has 4 boxes full of model cars. This, in addition to the 10 or so he already has displayed in the room.

logans cars

But since he’s out of town this week I’m not trying to keep my hands to myself this week. Instead I’m making progress on the office. The nice thing about the space we’re creating is that I have one wall to myself. My chair faces my wall so instead of staring at my husband’s clutter, I can find serenity in my things.

I spent the day yesterday putting up shelving above my ‘desk’ which is just a hand me down breakfast room table. I put these shelves up by myself. I’ll report back if they come crashing to the ground in a week or so.

desktop

It’s certainly nothing terribly impressive, I’d like a new desk, a lamp and a comfortable chair, but sitting down with my things within easy reach has been amazing. Anywhere you can create a work space for yourself I highly recommend it.

Since getting the basement closer to order, I’ve been thinking about how to keep my family organized. Honestly, I had it together fairly well with one child in 3rd grade and the other just in kindergarten. Now that they’re both in school full time the universe has spun around and I am riding a wave of panic that I’m not going to be able to keep up. I’m going under the wave of paperwork and activities if I don’t keep paddling.

That’s why this article about creating a central command station for your family at Real Simple came at a very good time.

From the article:

“When paperwork comes into the house, read it and route it. Attack — don’t stack. ”

I’m getting ‘Attack Don’t Stack’ tattooed on my forehead. Because that is exactly how I process our mail and the contents of our kid’s backpacks. I devour paperwork.

They recommend these wall boxes in the article and I’m debating picking some up. I just wish they were more attractive so I could keep them in my kitchen. Each family member gets a box in the Real Simple way but I think we’ll do a box just for each child. I’m afraid if my husband gets an inbox it will be full of items which will never see the light of day again.

This article recommends having a ‘Master Calendar’ for the family where everyone writes their appointments and schedule.

I use my computer’s calendar feature to track birthdays and any appointments I happen to make while I’m on the computer. Otherwise everything goes on an old fashioned calendar inside a kitchen cabinet door.

The only thing lacking in this system is my family’s investment in the daily schedule. I am pretty much the only person who checks the calendar. Mostly because I am the only person with a driver’s license and/or the person who is in the house all the time.

Generally this situation works pretty well for us, we don’t have an obscene amount of activities and since I have a flexible job we’re always able to make things work. However it does create residual resentment when my husband makes plans without thinking about what’s already on the calendar. I’m pretty sure we’d both enjoy dropping that argument.

Do you have a family calendar? How do you track your family’s schedule so everyone is on the same page?

Organizing a Home Office With a Pack Rat

Categories: Decluttering, Organization, Productivity, Uncategorized

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A couple weeks ago we had a yard sale and got rid of all the stuff we moved with us from the old place and didn’t really need to. Once that sale was over I told Logan we’d move to the basement office next because, and I don’t know why, his boxes make my anger burn with the heat of a thousand suns.

The boxes are full of nonsense, things he packed at his desk at the job before the last one and hasn’t touched in over a year. These are things he doesn’t need and yet can’t part with, no matter how many times I tell him if he ever needs a single iridescent sheet of navy blue paper again in his life, I’m sure he can locate it for purchase when the need arises.

I can’t entirely explain my unending commitment to pestering my husband about his clutter issue. All I can say is I work from home and I need our home to be a place with some sense of order so I am able to function well in it. I feel overwhelmed by chaos, which is why we had two kids rather than the three we always planned on.

As we started working on the basement I spent the Friday before doing a ‘Pre-Sweep’ of the basement, consolidating boxes and tossing out as much as I could get my hands on before my husband came home and stymied me. “Oh! An issue of Runner’s World from 1995. I need that!” I also found some items I was fairly sure he’d never miss, but was still hesitant to toss or donate. They’re hiding around the house waiting for the day he says, “Where’s that fart machine I used to have?”

Here is the mess we started with, please tell me how a human being can function in this mess?

boxes miles of them

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I will admit I had several boxes in this mess. I was hard on myself, that maternity sweater I started knitting eight years ago? I am never going to finish it. All those books I packed and had totally forgotten about for the last 9 months, gone. Sewing projects I started and never finished were trashed or donated and though it was hard it felt amazing. A fresh start, I never have to look at that half finished sweater again and berate myself for spending $100 on yarn and never completing the project. I never have to look at those drapery rods I never really liked but got a great deal on and feel stupid for spending money on something I didn’t love. I whittled things down and came up with four to six bags of trash.

trash bags

And then a trunk full of even more things to donate to the Salvation Army, including half my clothes I’d weeded through a week ago. If you live in the Detroit Metropolitan area I highly recommend a trip to the Royal Oak Salvation Army Thrift Store in the next week or so.

donations

Here is what we ended up with after some threats of hiring a professional organizer, tears and slamming doors.

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my side

Nothing special really, but a good place to start planning what we want the room to look like in the end of the process. Logan’s side of the office is pretty straightforward. He needs a place to keep all the stupid tiny things he likes to look at while he works. All the junk I would never in a million years want to look at in my bedroom, like vintage Vargas prints.

He also needs the typical office supplies within easy reach and we’ll have to come up with some sort of system for all the paperwork from his freelance work he collects and doesn’t know what to do with. Not only because I like a clean work area but because his clutter has an uncanny ability to navigate it’s way over to my work surface.

I am looking for a more flexible work space where I can bring my laptop to work from the basement but I also want to use my area for things like my sewing machine, stationary and the family’s gift wrap. I may also create a bill paying station down here but maybe not.

We’ll paint the walls, and since we’re leasing, we’ll hang a fabric wall to divide this space from the rest of the basement which will serve as a small hang out area for the kids once Santa relents and buys the family a video game system for Christmas. When we own we’ll build a wall and install a laminate flooring (after we live here for a year to see if and how much a problem water is). We are using most of what we have and wall shelving to keep costs down.

I’ve been collecting inspiration and ideas over the last few months and thought I’d share them here.

I’ve been spending a lot of time at Pretty Organized and the Craft Rooms pool watching what spaces real people have created. I love the wall shelves in this piece at HGTV, though I see mine having more color. These metal binder clips hung from cup hooks would be excellent for storing miscellaneous pieces of paper, especially with school stuff coming at me so fast my head is spinning. This image of a part time home office is lovely and I think the Elfa system at The Container Store is going to play into my office space design quite a bit.

We’ll be working on the basement office over the next few weeks and I’ll give updates as we complete our office.

Organizing my workspace.

Categories: Organization, Productivity, Uncategorized

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Since I’ve pried my daughter off my head and sent her to school, the adjustment has been rough for her, it’s time to add my second column to Ordering Disorder. I thought today I’d share what I’ve done with my inbox and my bookmarks to make my job easier. I write for several blogs so my work space is generally my computer, but I think what I’ve done can easily be utilized for anyone who uses email and the internet for their work. Which you do, unless you’re my mother and still boggled by your vcr.

This is a very helpful article over at Freelance Switch outlining great tips for bloggers trying to track their work and stay organized. I’ve utilized their bookmark organization with great success, as I see something of interest I add it to a folder or create a folder for these ideas. Currently my research folder for my column at AlphaMom.com is the most organized and full of potential ideas.

bookmarks

Additionally I try to keep everything in a folder, keeping my work folders at the very top of the list. Once I have 5-10 un-filed bookmarks I start to feel anxious because I have a touch of the OCD. Currently I have just two un-filed bookmarks and I’m not telling you what’s in my ‘private’ folder even though you’re now dying to know.

clean bookmarks file

I’ve also organized my feeds in Bloglines to maximize my ability to research for my columns each day. It’s not all work feeds there of course, but I find keeping everything in different folders allows me to read what I need at any given time. If I’m reading for pleasure I go to the personal blog folders. If I’m reading for work, I go to those folders and read up during my ‘work hours’.

bloglines screenshot

Finally over the summer I made a limit for my email inbox, after years of being entirely overwhelmed by its contents. I like to keep no more than 20 unfiled emails in my actual inbox. To do this I’ve set up several filters using my mail program’s ‘rules’ function so a lot mail goes to specific folders immediately as it comes in.

I also try to answer email quickly so I can delete it, if I can’t immediately think of something to say in response to a note, I leave it for a week. After a week, if I haven’t responded, I’ve given myself permission to decide I have nothing witty or clever to say and I can let it go. If I truly want to respond to something but need more than a week, I file it in a folder titled “Respond to these”. This morning I had 42 emails in my inbox, now I have 8 and the joy and calm this gives me is sort of embarrassing.

email inbox

Now if only I could apply these rules to my husband’s clothes, I might actually have room for my clothes in our room.

This weekend my neighborhood is hosting a garage sale, accordingly my next organizing piece will cover garage sales. Once the garage sale is complete the real fun can start, you’ll watch over the next few weeks as my husband and I have fist fights over the condition of our new shared office in the basement.

You will pity me when you witness the power of my husband’s ability to cling to the most ludicrous of his belongings and I’m not even referring to his underwear drawer.

But I will if you want.

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