Holiday Survival Guide

Holiday Survival Guide

Are you enjoying this holiday season, or have you let the hub-bub and hoopla get the best of you? Take a deep breath. Now another. And one more. Ok, here we go!

If it feels like there’s more to do than time to do it in, prioritize. What must you accomplish, what would you really love to get done, and what might you do only if time permits? At the very least, make some notes about changes for next year. Oh, and put those notes somewhere you’ll actually find them when you want them.

Santa shouldn’t be the only one making a list and checking it twice – have your to-do lists with you at all times; I keep notes and errands on my computer using Google Keep, and that automatically syncs with my smartphone.

My holiday gift lists are in google docs: one for hubby, each kid, and then other family, friends, Secret Santa, as well as work and charity presents. I list ideas as they’re given or thought of, and fill in purchase details so I stay within budget and get the right number of gifts for stocking stuffers. I hang on to receipts until I know each item fits, works, and is a keeper.

If you have too much on your plate, cut back. Say no. If there are things you don’t enjoy or don’t have time for, stop. I haven’t sent Christmas cards in a kazillion years. When I quit, guess what? Nothing bad happened.

I used to bake a bunch of different cookies – I’ve trimmed it down to a few favorites, and that’s plenty. If you don’t like to bake, then don’t. It might be too late this year, but next year, think about a cookie exchange. That might turn into a tasty new holiday tradition.

Hubby and I turn gift wrapping into a fun event throughout the holidays with a cozy fire, a glass of wine, and everything we need to create beautiful packages. It’s one of our favorite holiday traditions. If gift wrapping isn’t your thing, switch to gift bags – they’re easy breezy and festive.

If you hate the holiday crowds, do your shopping online. If you don’t like online shopping, think strategically and logically, and plan your trip to maximize what gets accomplished.

Agonizing over gift ideas? Gift cards! Trust me, if you pick a gift card to a retail store, restaurant or venue the recipient would enjoy, it’s a win-win. A favorite adult beverage is almost always a welcome gift. You can give something homemade if you’re crafty AND have time. How about the gift of time? Plan a lunch date, go see a movie, or have dinner and drinks together with family or friends.

Decorating can be simplified, too. Our decorations are packed in bins labeled by room, and my room-by-room computerized list tells me where each item goes. If I add something new (and get rid of something old!) I update the list. It eliminates the frustration of trying to remember where things go. If there are décor items you no longer use, donate them; I’m sure there are folks who will love them.

Don’t expect people to read your mind. If there’s something you’d really appreciate as a gift, say so – surprises aren’t all they’re cracked up to be! If you’d like to be included in holiday festivities, speak up.

If you know someone who will be alone, include them in one of your holiday traditions. Be a light that twinkles for someone if darkness weighs heavily on them this time of year. That’s a gift you can’t put a price on. And if, for whatever reason, you just can’t deal with the holidays this year, take a year off. And don’t forget to breathe.

If you’d like to get future blog posts delivered straight to your inbox, sign up for my newsletter titled, “Organized Thoughts.

Holiday Meal Planning Tips

I share this time-saving tip annually, but last year a few people wished I’d shared it sooner. So here it is, right before the calendar flips to November.

I don’t know how holiday meals work at your house, but around here we do NOT mess with tradition!


This makes things easier for me because I know exactly what we’ll be eating – no new recipes to learn, no new ingredients to buy – so I computerize my shopping list for each holiday meal.

I make a simple Word document for each holiday, nothing fancy. I keep notes about what size turkey I need depending on the number of guests, and what time to put the pies in the oven.

My Thanksgiving list, in part, looks like this:

Bread Stuffing:

  • ___ 1 bag seasoned croutons
  • ___ 1 carton chicken stock
  • ___ Celery
  • ___ Onion
  • ___ Butter
  • ___ Salt
  • ___ Pepper
  • ___ Sage


  • ___ 2 medium-sized butternut squash
  • ___ Butter
  • ___ Brown sugar
  • ___ Nutmeg, cinnamon

Whipped ­­­­­­Cream:

  • ___ 2 cups heaving whipping cream
  • ___ Sugar
  • ___ Vanilla

You get the picture, right? Before shopping, I check the pantry and refrigerator, putting an X next to items I already have. Then I mark things off as I shop, since I usually buy things over the course of a few trips.

It might seem silly, but it saves me time AND money. How?

  • I don’t forget anything, so there are no frantic, last minute trips to the store.
  • I don’t buy items I already have. Spices are expensive, and who needs multiple containers of sage?

Speaking of spices, here’s a helpful article regarding their shelf life. I review my spices when the weather turns chilly and before the holidays are fully upon us, so now is a great time to do the sniff test on the spice jars in your cupboard. I replaced four jars today.

I’m in favor of anything that makes life easier as we head into the hectic holiday season. Are there any time-saving tips you’d like to share?

If you’d like to get future blog posts delivered straight to your inbox, sign up for my newsletter titled, “Organized Thoughts.

Storage Unit: Pros & Cons

The storage unit industry shares some staggering statistics in this article, stating there are approximately 50,000 storage facilities in the United States, with an annual income of $38 billion, (yes, BILLION with a B!) with rentable storage space of 1.7 billion (again with a B!) square feet. Yowser! That’s a whole lotta stuff we’re storing, people, and a whole lotta money spent storing it. In my fourteen years as a professional organizer, it’s been my experience that most clients with storage units rented them because of postponed decision making rather than practical, logical necessity.

Don’t get me wrong; I think there are situations when renting a storage unit can be a perfect short-term solution, but the most important part of that sentence is, “short term.”

Here are some examples when renting a storage unit is a great idea:

  • House is sold, but timing for moving into new place isn’t syncing up; household contents go into storage until the new place is available.
  • Moving across country, need to temporarily store contents until you’re ready to receive items at the other end.
  • Household renovations: rather than live with chaos while your space is being remodeled, box up the contents you can live without and store until construction is done.
  • College dorm, annual leaving/returning event: rather than carting everything home at the end of the semester, some parents find it easier to store it for a couple months near the college.
  • Death of a parent, breaking up the family home, grown children out of state, lots of mementos and photos to cull through. A storage unit can be a great temporary solution until everyone has had a chance to review and make decisions.

Now let me share some situations we’ve dealt with in the past of how NOT to use a storage unit. (specific facts have been altered to protect the innocent, or rather, guilty parties)

  • Woman moves across the state to live with her sister for health reasons. Sister doesn’t have room for all the incoming stuff. Woman rents three storage rooms nearby, with the plan of sorting through it at some point in time. Time passes…six years, to be exact. Home Solutions is hired to help woman sort through the contents of these three rooms. 90% of it is nothing of value, nothing she wants to keep, nothing her nieces and nephews want. She spent $275/month for six years storing stuff she ultimately didn’t keep. That’s $19,800! Yes, some of the contents were sold via auction, but the funds received didn’t come close to the money spent.
  • Husband issues an ultimatum to wife to get rid of the many, many, many bins of teaching supplies/craft supplies/clothing piled up in their basement and throughout the home. Rather than disburse, wife rents a storage unit, but it’s so packed, she can’t access the contents in a functional way so the stuff just sits there. For years it sits, but she doesn’t deal with it until Home Solutions is called in.
  • Woman moves in with her aging mother, puts her own things in storage. Mother passes away, woman continues to live in the home with her mother’s contents, leaving her belongings in two storage units for many years. We worked in an unheated building in the dead of winter, sorting through those units. Thank goodness for space heaters and electrical outlets!

There’s a common theme in these examples, and it comes down to, “postponed decisions” time and time again. Nobody likes it when I calculate the money they’ve spent storing stuff they ultimately didn’t need or want, because invariably, the cost far exceeds the value of the items stored.

Do the math. Review your reason for storing. Don’t pay money to store stuff that can easily be purchased with the money you’ll save by letting it go now, and replacing it later when/if there’s a need.

If you decide to rent a storage unit, choose one big enough to store your stuff AND be able to see the contents if you will make periodic visits to review. A unit with inside access and climate control means weather is not a factor; it’s no fun loading, unloading, or sorting through contents with only outside access during a torrential rain storm.

We all know reality TV is rarely an accurate glimpse of, well, reality, but if you enjoy watching the show, Storage Wars, you might have fun checking out a local storage unit auction. But don’t be surprised if all you see is heaps and piles of worthless, postponed decisions.

If you’d like to get future blog posts delivered straight to your inbox, sign up for my newsletter titled, “Organized Thoughts.

Couch Potato Productivity

Couch Potato Productivity

Couch potato-ing

Are you guilty of couch potato-ing? You know, that thing we do when we are completely unmotivated to do anything so we sit down on the couch, turn on the tube and before we know it, hours have passed. There’s a big difference between being fully engaged in a good movie or a beloved TV show, and mindlessly clicking, clicking, clicking… like Springsteen sings, “57 Channels and Nothin’ On…”

We all have moments when we just want to decompress from the everyday stresses of life, but the weight of feeling we should be doing something can keep us from fully relaxing.

Well I’m here to remove the guilt and explain how it’s possible to do both – decompress AND accomplish something!

For example: Perhaps you have a bin of mismatched socks you’ve ignored for ages. I think we can all agree that matching socks isn’t rocket science. Plop them on the couch next to you, click on an old episode of Seinfeld and mindlessly match away.

You might decide it’s time to figure out how many of the five decks of playing cards in that end table drawer are complete sets. I’ll bet you can sort them out while enjoying Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy.

How about all those cooking utensils jammed into three of your kitchen drawers? Dump ’em out on the coffee table, sort “like with like” and there’s a good chance you’ll discover you have six more spatulas than you actually need. You’ve gained kitchen drawer space and enjoyed two episodes of Chopped. Win-win, right?

If your jewelry box is a hot mess, it’s hard to find what you want when you want it. (You know my oft-quoted key to being organized is being able to find what you want when you want it, right?) Match up your earrings, untangle your necklaces, pull out anything you don’t wear anymore and voila, you’ve organized your bling while watching The Devil Wears Prada for the umpteenth time.

I’m not saying every moment of our lives must be productive, I’m suggesting that when you need downtime and you want to accomplish something, grab a snack, pour a favorite beverage, click on an episode of The Office or Flea Market Flip, and master the art of couch potato productivity. Share your couch potato productivity wins with me!

If you’d like to get future blog posts delivered straight to your inbox, sign up for my newsletter titled, “Organized Thoughts.

Goal Setting Strategies

Goal Setting Strategies

Sometimes, we’re our own worst enemies. Maybe not intentionally, but still, it happens. We set a common goal like one of these:

  1. “I’m going to lose weight.” 
  2. “I have to save money.”
  3. “It’s time to get organized.”

But before we know it, *poof* the goal falls by the wayside, and we don’t understand why. Maybe it’s because our goal was kinda wishy-washy, not very realistic, or without a finish line.


When you apply this to goal #1, rather than saying, “I’m going to lose weight.” a SMART goal could look more like this: “I’m going to lose 10 pounds by September 1st.” It’s specific, it’s measurable, it’s achievable, it’s realistic, and it has an end date. You can then formulate a plan for achieving your SMART goal such as taking a 30-minute walk twice a day.

Goal #2, “I have to save money!” is pretty vague. Are you saving for a new pair of shoes or a new car? How much money will you need, and when do you want it by? Without those details, it’s nearly impossible to formulate an executable plan. Once you figure that out, you decide what money-saving actions can you take. Maybe you’ll make coffee at home and skip the drive-through brew every day.

“I need to get organized!” What exactly does that mean? Is your closet floor covered by a mountainous heap of clothes? Is your kitchen table buried under piles of unopened mail? Could you find a battery or a paperclip if your life depended on it? (← hey, if MacGyver can, so can you!) You will make measurable progress by setting SMART goals for yourself.

For example, make a decision about five articles of clothing in that pile on the floor every day after work until the pile is gone, and hang or fold whatever you’re keeping. If you don’t have enough hangers, get some. If you need a dresser, set a SMART goal for obtaining one.

In order to tackle paper piles, you need to systematically chip away at the mail. “I’m going to open and process today’s mail AND take care of fifteen pieces of the backlog every day.” Start putting junk mail in the recycle bin immediately instead of setting it down, only to have to pick it up and review it again. And again. And again. See the problem?

You can turn a junk drawer into your “go-to” drawer in about 15 minutes: dump everything out, toss the trash, and use a drawer organizer to sort the “keep” stuff into “like with like” categories.

Positive wording is more motivating, so add a smiley-face phrase as the carrot you dangle in front of yourself when creating SMART goals:

  • “When I lose ten pounds, my clothes will fit more comfortably!” 
  • “I am looking forward to buying a car next spring when I’ve got the down payment!”
  • “My morning routine will be easier when my clothes closet is organized!”

Being organized isn’t much of an issue for me, since I’ve made a career out of it for fourteen years! As for money management, the former accountant in me deals with our finances pretty effectively and efficiently.

But the weight loss issue? Pffft. I’m telling you, this post-menopausal weight does not seem to budge. Do I want to deal with it? Ah, no. BUT. Do I want to be healthier? You betcha – for a lot of reasons, and for lots of people in my life.

Here’s a link to an interesting article from Harvard Health about making lifestyle changes. It’s not that we don’t know what we need to do, it’s finding our way to the right HOW, and navigating our self-sabotaging habits. Since there’s no magic wand to wave, S.M.A.R.T. goals can help.

If you’d like to get future blog posts delivered straight to your inbox, sign up for my newsletter titled, “Organized Thoughts.

Pin It on Pinterest