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 Seinfeldand 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!
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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:
___ 1 bag seasoned croutons
___ 1 carton chicken stock
___ 2 medium-sized butternut squash
___ Brown sugar
___ Nutmeg, cinnamon
___ 2 cups heaving whipping cream
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?
When they complain about the backpacks plopped in the middle of the kitchen floor, or the car keys that can’t be found when needed, or the pile of missing mail from two days ago…whether its backpacks, keys, or the incoming mail – whatever it is – I ask, “Where should that item live? Where is its home? We know where it doesn’t belong – where does it belong?”
This question is usually met with an eerie silence. That’s the problem in a nutshell, folks: you can’t put something away if it doesn’t have a home.
So: establishing a home is step one. The right spot should be logical,practical, and doable. Your child can’t slide a backpack into a cubby that’s four feet above her head, and it doesn’t make sense to walk through three rooms of the house to put away your car keys. Remember: logical, practical, and doable.
Step two is developing the habit of actually putting the item where it belongs, and that takes time.
Have faith – we humans are smart cookies. We can be trained to establish new routines so that, over time, hanging keys on a hook by the door will become a habit. Teach your child that the backpack goes on a reachable peg every day when she comes in from school. Put the incoming mail in that one designated spot so you can find it when you’re ready to process it, and in a matter of weeks, maybe even days, some common daily frustrations will actually be eliminated by answering that one simple question: Where should it live?
I work with many clients setting up filing systems and sorting through years and years (and YEARS!) of accumulated papers. The question I’m asked most often is, “How long should I keep paper stuff?”
As a former accountant, I’m comfortable answering. I add this disclaimer, however: when in doubt, seek advice from your tax preparer or financial advisor.
I recommend shredding documents you get rid of in these common categories:
Utility bills: Unless you take a home office deduction, there is no reason on God’s green earth to keep these. You can access your history online. I’ve automated utility bills so I get ZERO in the mail. The only papers in my “utility bills” folder is a bill from each provider with our account number and their emergency contact information.
Bank statements & credit card statements: In theory, you get your statements, you reconcile their numbers with yours and… that’s it. You don’t need to keep the statements. Pull copies of tax-related cancelled checks and pop them in your “tax return info” folder.
Investment statements: It helps to understand why you keep the ones you keep so you can better understand why it’s ok to get rid of the rest.
Certain investment data is necessary for preparing a tax return. BUT. You only need the annual statement that summarizes investments you bought or sold, interest and dividends you earned, along with details of any contributions or withdrawals to/from IRA accounts that are reportable on your tax return.
Therefore, you can shred monthly or quarterly statements from investment accounts when the new ones arrive.
Keep statements that show purchase details until you sell an investment; you’ll need purchase cost and sale price to calculate a capital gain or loss on your taxes. If your investments have been with the same firm, they’ll have that historical data. If you change firms, give them purchase information for any investments you’re transferring so they have it for future reference.
If the concept of shredding any of these on a monthly basis is too far outside your comfort zone, try keeping one year’s worth and then shred.
Consider signing up for electronic statements for any of the categories I’ve mentioned. (resist the temptation to print or you’re right back where you started!) You can still file e-statements in an electronic folder, but it significantly cuts down on the daily flow of paper into your life, and who wouldn’t love that?
Whether it’s a four-day pile of unopened mail or years of accumulated papers, there comes a point when tackling it becomes daunting.
Maybe it’s the hall closet filled with linens you no longer use. Perhaps the spare bed is overflowing with unworn clothes and you can’t muster the energy to separate what fits and is flattering from what’s outdated or no longer appropriate for your lifestyle.
Here’s the thing. The longer you wait for the perfect time or enough time to tackle the entire clutter project, the longer it’s going to build and build and nothing will get done and trust me when I tell you: clutter’s negative energy can affect you mentally, emotionally and physically. It can damage relationships, sometimes tearing families apart.
Fear not; I bring you tidings of great joy – well maybe not of great joy, but of hope. No matter how big your clutter issue is, it is not hopeless.
Stop looking at the big intimidating clutter picture and start breaking it down into manageable bits. Clutter’s ability to overwhelm diminishes when you chip away and begin to see progress. Remember that fable of the tortoise and the hare? Slow and steady can win the race.
Instead of thinking, “I need ten hours to open and process the mail,” try this: “Each day I will open and process today’s mail PLUS ten pieces from the backlog piles.”
If there are papers everywhere, gather ‘em up. Fill a bin or two or ten. Start sorting into broad categories: Shred/Recycle/Toss/File/Pay/To Do and dig in. Put on some music that will calm or energize you and focus for a set period of time. Make it a game: see how much you can accomplish in 15 minutes and do a little more tomorrow. Instead of just watching a sitcom, use that as a timer and sort a bin of papers. TV AND progress – win-win!
Don’t focus on the roomful of clothing. Get up 15 minutes early and try on three items in the pile. Decide if you want to keep, sell or donate, then move on with your day. Wash, rinse, repeat.
If it’s a hodgepodge of clutter, pick something and gather “like with like” – all wrapping paper, all books, all seasonal decor, all garbage – whatever it is, gather it up and attack the room one “thing” at a time. Where should those books live? You can’t put something away if it doesn’t have a home…
Ok, that’s a blog post for another day so I’ll leave you with this “What About Bob” movie clip that I reference with clients all the time: