As we head into a new month, continued stay-at-home living in most states, with the kids out of school, and a large percentage of the workforce working from home, most of us are starting to wonder just how much longer we can survive through this pandemic. This downtime has been a blessing for some and a curse for others, and right about now, I bet most of you are struggling with staying busy, maintaining a routine and downplaying anxiety. If you have kids, you might be pulling your hair out amidst boredom, complaining and fights. In my house, we have had high highs and low lows. We have moved almost daily from amazing family moments of laughter and warmth to stressful bouts of fighting and discontent. This roller coaster might look a bit different for each family, but I think there are some things we can do right now to combat the negatives and approach each new day with a sense of accomplishment and hope. None of this is new, but I know that I personally enjoy the timing of a good reminder when I need it the most.
The main thing that I have been working on lately is to be intentional and own my perspective. We all get bad thoughts occasionally, and with the scary things that the media is sharing, it's no surprise that most of us are being hit with thoughts of worry, anxiety, and fear. It's human to feel these things, and we shouldn't necessarily fight them off when they show up. They are sometimes there to warn us against a real danger or protect us from something that might be about to happen. On the flip side, they can also be brought about or intensified by our imaginations or fears, generated from negative experiences in our past. Owning your perspective involves allowing all thoughts to enter and float by, analyzing them to obtain any useful information as they move, and letting them continue their journey out of your brain. Follow up with a positive affirmation, take a step forward anyway, and change the dynamic. The key for me has been to let the thoughts go. Don't hold onto them, don't brew over them, and don't go to bed at night thinking about them. Instead, read a good book, listen to a motivational podcast, pray with intention, or call up a friend or family member to talk about something else. Simply dismissing a thought can feel easier said than done, but I have found that the magic is just as simple as distracting yourself and replacing the thought.
For the first few weeks after the schools closed, my family and I were all sick, so our lives resembled something like those of a pack of wild dogs, scrounging for food and doing whatever needed to stay alive. I joke, but it felt a bit like complete chaos. As we are healing, we are picking up the pieces, getting the laundry done and assessing the inventory of our pantry. Now is the time to reassess the state of your own household and determine things like what supplies are needed, how schedules will change, and who will be responsible for required household tasks. Reinventing and implementing a routine is key for feeling like you have some control over your situation. If you use a family command center or large calendar, erase the scheduled soccer practices and instead schedule a time for things like school or professional work, exercise, chores and free time.
As you acclimate to your family's new routine, don't forget to relax and give yourself some grace in this process. Most of us have never lived through a pandemic like this, and it has literally upheaved our lives in a matter of weeks. Most of us have never been trained to navigate in this time, and we are all in the process of figuring things out as we go. If the dishes are dirty and the laundry is piled up, it's okay. If the kids are not yet in a home school routine, they will survive. If you are using tissues because the toilet paper ran out, everyone will still be fine. Take a deep breath and remember that you are smart, capable and blessed. If a routine or schedule doesn't work out as you envisioned, change it. The sky will not fall, and you WILL go on to live another day.
I certainly don't claim to be a therapist or guru in the art of living, but I can confidently claim the title of a real wife, mom, neighbor and professional who is also learning to navigate this strange time right alongside the rest of you. I am finding that readjusting my perspective to focus on the positive, continuing forward momentum, resuming a routine for my family, and giving myself the grace to show up in whatever capacity that I can bring to each day is helping to make great, slightly sweetened lemonade out of this batch of sour, bruised up lemons lying in front of us.
This time of year, I usually see an uptick in new client inquiries as the New Year’s resolutions start forming and the excitement for change in the coming year escalates. We all hope to enter each year as a new and improved version of our previous year’s self. As we plant our feet firmly into the new year, reality usually sets in and we realize that conquering those resolutions is going to take more than hopeful thinking and feelings of motivation. Achieving those goals will also take discipline, change and diligence. These activities and changes also apply to the process of organizing. Organizing requires discipline.
Some of you probably stopped reading after that last sentence but hang on. Sure, some of us are inclined to being creative with storage solutions, and it helps when we also enjoy the process of getting organized. I have news for you though…even people who are well organized conjure up a bit of discipline to stay that way. The TV shows we see about getting organized and making over a home tend to show us the highlights; the results that make us feel good and suddenly empowered to take on our own projects. What they don’t show is the diligence, process and habit changing mindset that goes into maintaining those results.
If you have ever worked with me, you have likely heard me say that I wish I had a magic wand. I wish I could wave a wand over everyone’s disorganized situations and suddenly transform them to a state of forever organized and neat. I wish I could use that wand in my own house. I am very organized and love to put things back in their place, but if my husband and I have a busy week, and choose different priorities, clutter happens. The laundry piles up, just like everyone else. The dishwasher gets full and dishes overflow in the sink, just like everyone else. As a result, just like everyone else, we are left feeling stressed and disorganized.
So, what do we do about it? If you are thinking of throwing in the towel at this point and surrendering to an existence in a cluttered and messy household, hang in there. We CAN change and we CAN be organized! Cleaning up is often the easy part. Most of us are capable of picking things up off the floor and putting them back where they belong. The challenge is maintaining a state of constant tidiness during our busy lives. While changing our habits requires that we delve into a bit of science (more on that later), here are a few activities that you can start doing today that will help you to stay organized after the initial clean-up:
In his book “Atomic Habits” author James Clear defines the 4 stages of any habit as: 1) Cue – the trigger that tells the brain that a reward is in proximity, 2) Craving – the perceived change in state that will be delivered by following the cue, 3) Response – the action needed by you to receive the reward, and 4) the Reward itself. According to his philosophy, we get stuck in this “habit loop” that perpetuates our actions unless we remove one of the 4 stages. His simple suggestion is to break old habits by removing one of these stages; by making the cue and reward less desirable, harder to reach or invisible altogether. He goes on to say that we can then create new habits by asking ourselves these 4 questions:
If you want to geek out on this further like I did, check out his entire excerpt online at https://jamesclear.com/three-steps-habit-change. If you need some real change this year and are not sure where to start, give me a call and we can approach this process together! Happy New Year!
It’s that time of year again…already! Summer is bidding its sweet farewell, and I am starting to once again hear the rumbling of school bus tires on the roads. The end of summer is bittersweet for most parents. The end of summer brings tears as we say farewell to our tiny tots on their first days of kindergarten and watch our young adults speed away to their first years in college. The end of summer means that its time to get our acts together and embrace that routine that we carelessly tossed to the curb last July. The end of summer also means we can work from home again and get things accomplished on time and without distraction. Yay! What a mashup of emotions! Although one size never fits all, I have found some ideas over the years that have helped to ease my own family’s transition back to a new school year.
Manage the Paperwork - If your kids are still in elementary school, you know how much paperwork comes home in their schoolbags the first few days back. Between field trip permission slips, picture day forms and pest control notices, the kitchen counter can quickly start to feel more like the local recycle center than a part of your household. My advice is simple: establish a “drop zone” and tackle paperwork every night as it comes in! Evenings can be super busy, especially for dual working families, but allowing paperwork to pile up only creates more effort later. Schedule 10 minutes each night to talk through paperwork with your child, complete and/or sign forms, toss the trash and put those “return to school” items back in the school bag.
Join Forces - Back-to-school also represents a huge fluctuation in activities as kids join sports teams, school clubs and other social events. Failing to centralize everyone’s schedules will eventually result in missed appointments and late meetings. If your family responds best to a visual cue, create a command center in a high traffic area, like the kitchen or laundry room and clearly write out everyone’s schedule. If your family is more tech savvy, there are a ton of apps, like Google Calendars, Cozi and OurHome, that allow the whole family to track the same set of appointments and to-do’s right from their smart phones.
Conquer the Homework - I hear my clients commiserate all the time about their struggles with homework. Right after school most kids need some downtime to decompress from their day. Too close to bed and everyone is grumpy and tired. As kids get older, homework becomes more difficult and time consuming, so without some sort of schedule or routine, your child’s habits can go sideways quickly, especially if school sports are also involved. The option that I have found works best for my own kids is to schedule out the hours of the afternoon and evening to something like this:
Post this schedule on a chalk or bulletin board in a central location of the house. If homework will take a long time or be too complex, it’s okay to break it into smaller, more achievable chunks throughout the evening. Trying to force completion in one sitting just leads to anxiety and frustration for everyone, so be flexible and experiment with the timing to see what works best for your household. If sports are a factor, this schedule will need to be compressed to some degree. Another option for very busy families is to sign your child up for afterschool study sessions that usually run for an hour right after school ends, or have an older child use their study hall time more wisely to complete the next day’s homework before leaving school.
Prepare, Prepare, Prepare - Prep the night activities are essential, especially when mom and dad are running out the door in the morning the same time as the kiddos. Select outfits, including shoes and accessories. Put all returning forms, books and folders back into bags. Pack lunches and discuss tomorrow’s happenings with the whole family before bedtime. Most of these tasks are intuitive, but busy schedules and exhaustion at the end of the day are most frequently noted as reasons for procrastinating. There is nothing worse than running around in the morning, screaming at kids, while trying to find Jimmy’s other shoe and Katy’s permission slip with 30 seconds to spare until the bus arrives. Trust me, I have been in this situation all too often. Just do the work the night before and I guarantee that your morning will go alot smoother!
Are you struggling with motivation? We all fall victim to a lack of motivation at some point. Whether you are halfway through cleaning out the basement or procrastinating about finishing the bills, here are a few ideas that will get you back on track:
Summer is a time when life slows down for many of us. The kids are off school and sleeping in late. The nights are longer, and regular events like dinner and bedtime tend to be stretched alot later than other times of the year. This can easily result in more stressful early morning trips to the office if you are not properly prepared. Here are 4 things you can do to help speed up your morning routine and ensure you arrive to work relaxed and on time:
Many of us like to shop, but aside from the occasional trip to the mall, what happens when your spending gets out of control? I sometimes help my clients create healthier shopping habits by arming them with the tools needed to resist the urge to make purchases that they might regret later. Changing our perspective on shopping takes time and determination, and for most of us, some things are easier to resist than others. What one item or type of item still holds a strong grasp on your ability to make rational decisions? What makes you want to grab for your wallet regardless of cost or need, and how do you resist the urge to buy?
These 4 simple techniques might help save the day, and your money, when you feel a bout of binge shopping approaching:
If you still feel the urge to make a purchase after trying all these techniques, then it’s quite possible that the money might not be so haphazardly spent after all.
As I continue to work with clients and help them with their organizing challenges, I am seeing a high level of synergy between excessive clutter and depression. I see a vicious cycle occurring where the feeling of loss of control or depression leads to low motivation for household and lifestyle related chores, resulting in a buildup of clutter. This clutter then causes anxiety and fuels depression in a very vicious and unsettling cycle. It's one that is rarely broken without the intervention of another person, process or experience.
In one of her articles in Psychology Today, psychologist and writer Sherrie Bourg Carter perfectly captured the list of side effects stemming from clutter. “Why does mess lead to so much stress?
I know firsthand the negative effects of having too much clutter in your life. I also know the grounding sense of freedom that can be achieved in a clutter-free environment. Clearing out the clutter can literally change your perspective, attitude and motivation in an instant. Like magic, it will clear a pathway, both literally within your home and figuratively within every other aspect of your life. Seeing the positive changes in motion through the work I do with my client’s is what gets me up in the morning every day.
If you are living amidst a great deal of clutter and disorganization, you don’t have to remain hostage to your belongings. Call me, call another organizer or enlist a friend. Involve others and commit to “digging out.” The hard work of moving, sorting, arranging and letting go will be a small and temporary hurdle that, once accomplished, will lead to a new awakening of the inner you. Your anxiety, stress and feelings of depression will be greatly improved, and the air will feel lighter all around you. Come on, I dare you to give it a try!
Remember that old saying “it’s just like riding a bike”? I have no idea who coined it, but it was meant to draw a comparison to activities that were deeply rooted in the muscle memory gained from lots of practice. The idea was that, if you practiced enough, riding your bike would become like second nature. If you practiced enough, you could train your body to ride with a lot less thought or effort. And if that bike sat rusty in the garage for 10 years, because you had put forth the effort to practice years before, the idea was that you could jump back on and ride away into the sunset as if only mere seconds had passed since your last pedal session.
People ask me a lot about the best ways to stay organized. Cleaning up and out seems to be the easy part, but now that the house is beautiful and everything is put away in its place, how do we keep it this way? Depending on how far removed your new organizing behavior is from your old habits, staying organized is going to take the same vigor and endurance as it took to learn to ride that bike years ago.
For example, if you always lose your keys around the house, and we implement a new process to hang them on a hook by the door when you enter, you will need to make the conscious effort to actually do it…every time. It takes practice, and more practice until eventually hanging the keys on the hook becomes second nature and engrained in your muscle memory. Suddenly hanging the keys on the hook will feel like an easy routine, and the process will no longer be a strain on your brain power and intention as you arrive home tired from work each night. The thing to remember is that there will be work involved. I unfortunately can’t wave a magic wand to “cure” us of our poor organizing habits and replace them with ones that work better for our lives. If I could, I would be the first to wave it over my own house!
There are a lot of schools of thought out there around best practices for forming habits and the importance of considering things like learning styles, motivators and goals. Developing new habits to stay organized will take time, support and accountability from family and friends, as well as a focused desire from whoever is embarking on this mission. I have lots of tricks up my sleeve to help move this process along for each client, but the overarching theme to remember is that practice makes perfect. You are going to have to conjure up the focus, intention and willpower to practice, but once mastered, your new habits really will be just like riding a bike!
There’s a place that I have been driving by since I was a teenager. It lies about ¾ of the way between my house and my parents’. It’s a cute log cabin that must contain the same inhabitants because I still see things hanging from the posts at the entrance to their driveway that have been there since I was in high school. I have no idea how much longer they will be there, but on those posts hang ‘Wizard of Oz’ style tin can figurines. Someone in their household has been making the Tin Man, Scarecrow and Lion out of recycled tin cans since almost before I can remember.
As I drove home from a family get-together this weekend and once again passed these now-iconic figures, it got me thinking about re-purposing in general. Most of us as Americans have way too much stuff. We have a lot of options and a lot of freedom to decide how and where we use all this stuff. We all have things in the basement, garage and other storage locations that we keep for one reason or another and can’t quite bring ourselves to get rid of. These items may not serve us in our current lives and might be items that we haven’t even taken out into the daylight for a year or more.
What if we look at these items differently? What if we ignore mainstream advice, forego simply offloading them, and instead reinvent a purpose for them, just like this very creative Wizard of Oz fan has apparently done with tin cans for decades? Yes, maybe we are talking about tin cans and what others see as garbage, but what if we apply the same creativity to certain belongings? If we think outside of the box, we might be able to come up with an infinite number of cool ideas to re-use or re-purpose memorable items, while still maintaining a neat and organized home. Maybe we can turn Grandpa’s old wash basin into a shelf? Maybe we can flip Grandma’s ugly Chinese vase upside down, glue a tray to the top, and make a great pedestal to show off that favorite collection of succulents? The list and limits to our creativity are endless, and we alone hold the key to our own ideas.
Before you decide to reluctantly toss something that feels kind of important, think about re-purposing it instead. Maybe there is no use or way to re-purpose. Maybe you really don’t care enough. In that case, get rid of it! I am the last person to encourage you to hang on to things that you do not use or need! Otherwise, think about it, ask friends, surf Pinterest, or do whatever you do to get creative inspiration. A personal, deeply meaningful way to re-purpose something of importance brings far greater enjoyment than continuing to keep it “hidden” in that old musty box in the basement.
By this time, most of us are getting back into the full swing of life in this new year. We have cleaned the house and put away the Christmas decorations. We have set, and maybe already slipped in our resolutions. Now is the perfect time to revisit and set intentions for those resolutions that will help us to succeed and maintain momentum. Whether you resolve to lose 5 pounds, quit smoking or finally clean out the hallway closet, I have found that setting a clear path forward and revisiting those intentions every morning is critical to success.
What is an intention you ask? This part is simple. Think about what you most desire (remember those 5 pounds?) and build yourself a simple mantra that you can repeat out loud each morning, maybe while staring into the mirror if that’s your thing. Something like “I have the strength and discipline to shape my body into its best form and I will lose 5 pounds with ease and grace” might work. That part is personal and completely up to you. There is no wrong intention if the focus is on a positive outcome.
I personally write my intentions down and store them in a mason jar that I keep on my desk. This jar was a gift I received as part of a recent women’s retreat, and the process has proven to resonate best for me personally over time. I open the jar and pull out each piece of paper every morning, reading my individual intentions out loud. The process takes maybe 2 minutes but goes a long way towards helping me to get grounded and reset my focus for the day. Give this a try and I promise you won't be disappointed!