Organizing Product Review: Ziploc Large and XL Bags

Posted By on June 1, 2011

You know Ziploc as the maker of sandwich, freezer and snack bags, but several years ago, the company came out with Ziploc large and XL bags, the kind you can store sports equipment, blankets and other large, bulky items.

What it is: Ziploc has large plastic bags that come in large, XL and XXL sizes, and all the bags have handles for easy carrying. They also have two holes near the handle you can use to hang the bag up if necessary.  The plastic is pretty resilient.

Why it’s awesome: The bag has the capacity to hold a great deal. You can use them for camping equipment, sports stuff, blankets, and anything else you can think of. For those of us in hurricane prone zones, they are handy to use for hurricane evacuations.

Drawbacks: Don’t use sharp objects or you’ll tear the bag. The only issue I had is with the occasional bag whose seal doesn’t seem to work. It’s a rarity and the bags are very reliable.


How Do You Know When You Have Too Much Crap?

Posted By on May 31, 2011

Last week, I enjoyed a Lifehacker post called “How to De-Crapify Your House” which offered some great tips on clearing clutter. But the article made me wonder one question. How do you know if you have too much crap to begin with?

Here are some telltale signs that you do:

You have magazines, newspapers and books that you haven’t read. If you can’t keep up with reading the magazines and newspapers you subscribe to, it’s time to cull the herd. Cancel subscriptions to those things that no longer serve you.

One way to work more reading into your life is to read a little before bedtime. Studies show that our sleep is disrupted if we look at TV and computer screens before bedtime. Instead read a magazine or a book before falling asleep.

Yes, you can get rid of books. Growing up, I believed you never got rid of books. As an adult with my own apartment, I realized books take up a bunch of space. Plus I was keeping books that I didn’t like only because it was a book. So that began a regular run to sell books. Yes, you don’t get much money for them, but at least you have some coins for lunch and more space on your shelves.

Book resale shops do take some magazines, and you can also donate magazines and books to schools or hospitals. Check with their guidelines first. Otherwise, you can recycle newspapers and magazines.

You want to find hope in a jar. I’ve seen it time and time again with some of my clients. As we age, we start looking at those jars of moisturizers and serums as the Fountain of Youth. Some people chase the “perfect” moisturizer, foundation or hairspray so they keep buying more and more products, hoping for the miracle.

This can lead to a bunch of stuff in your bathroom. Ditch the old products that have changed in texture, color and smell. With the rest, use it all up before buying anything new. Yes, you can do it.

You dread dusting the tchotchkes. If you have too much stuff that you hate dusting, that’s a sign you have too much crap, and it’s time to take the stuff down a notch. Ask yourself: Do you love it? Does it bring you happiness and joy? Does it conjure up bad feelings?

If you don’t love it and it creates bad feelings, those are sure signs for it to go away.

You shop until you drop and can’t pass up a bargain. Over-shopping leads to too much stuff. Just because something is a bargain doesn’t mean you should buy it. A bargain is not a bargain when it becomes clutter and you never use it or wear it. If you never eat fondue, then buying a fondue pot may not be the best way to spend your money.

Ask yourself: Will I use it? Do I need it? Will I wear it? What will I wear it with? When I buy clothing, it has to go with two to three out of the four colors in my wardrobe: black, blue denim (jeans), brown and gray. If it doesn’t go with at least two of those colors, I don’t buy it.

If you can still take it back, do it. If you can’t return it, sell it or donate it. Ask yourself: What drives me to shopping? Why do I shop? What am I trying to replace or accomplish? Do I get a high off finding a bargain? Am I exchanging over-shopping for another addictive behavior? You may need to talk to a therapist about these kinds of issues.

So if you have too much crap in your house, clear the decks and create some breathing room. You’ll be glad you did.


Organizing Product Review: Etsy

Posted By on May 25, 2011

"MOST Days Require Chocolate Art" print by The Dreamy Giraffe on Etsy

One of many creative treasures to be found on Etsy. "MOST Days Require Chocolate Art" print by The Dreamy Giraffe.

I usually reserve my product review for actual products, but this time, I’m talking about an entire website – Etsy. I discovered Etsy a couple of years ago through several friends, and it’s a great place to fine unique jewelry, artwork, clothings and vintage finds.

What it is: Etsy is a website where artists sell their work. All the items on the site are either handmade or vintage (meaning 20 years old). Many artists on the site are “upcycling” and reusing found items into new creations.

Why it’s awesome: I found some cute and fun prints for my house from Corid and The Dreamy Giraffe, fabric baskets from The Sewing Momma, and unique jewelry for myself and gifts. I also get ideas on how to adapt some things I already have. If you see something you like, mark the item or the whole shop as your favorite to find it later. The shop owners are very friendly and happy to answer questions.

Drawbacks: Like with any shopping site, you can go overboard and buy too much. There’s also Regretsy, a site devoted to all the lame items you can find on Etsy. This is avoidable. Just don’t buy lame things and make sure whatever you do buy, you want.


Post Rapture Goal-Setting

Posted By on May 23, 2011

So you thought the world was ending and crossed the rest of 2011 off your calendar. After you finish knocking your head against the wall for believing a whackadoodle, it’s time to regroup and set new goals for yourself.

First, make an agreement with yourself not to follow someone who claims to have information that no one else on the planet has. My policy is to question everything. I don’t know if it’s because I started out as a journalist or what, but anytime I read anything someone posted on Facebook or emailed me or hear something someone says out loud as fact, I look it up. Most of the time, the information people pass around isn’t true.

Tips for living the life you want

Make a vision board. A great way to determine what vision you want for your life is to create a vision board. For more details on how to create a vision, check out my previous post about this. Avoid using pictures of the apocalypse.

Make a list of your goals. The vision board should reveal your interests and goals. Use the board to create a list of goals. Again, avoid having a goal of selling your worldly possession to pass out flyers about the Rapture at the mall. That didn’t work out so well for you last time. Think of something more positive, such as using your powers to help those who are less fortunate.

Commit to your goals. Being committed to your passion and goals are good. You want to use your goals to determine what daily tasks you can do to accomplish your goals. If you want to commit yourself to a cause, choose wisely. Avoid the lone guy who claims to have answers that no one else has, and opt for a cause such as recycling, helping the homeless, or saving the whales and polar bears.

Live like the world is ending. Sort of. I think of Tim McGraw’s song “Live Like You’re Dying” and the movie “The Bucket List.” Live your best possible life, ride a bull named Fu Manchu and travel the world like it will not be here tomorrow. More than likely, the world will be here tomorrow.


Good-bye, Uncle Cletus

Posted By on May 16, 2011

Uncle Cletus and Aunt Gerrie on their wedding day.

Uncle Cletus and Aunt Gerrie on their wedding day.

The world feels emptier today since one of my heroes and role models passed away this week. My Uncle Cletus lost his fight with lung cancer, but he won the war over the other adversity he faced in his life.

Uncle Cletus was from a large Catholic family in the Wichita, Kansas area. He was loud with a booming voice you could hear a mile away. I suppose when you’re one of 10 kids, you may have to develop a loud mouth to be heard.

During my early years, I remember him playing baseball, umpiring baseball games, and delivering oil and gas in his big red Amoco truck. He always sported a crew cut and had a grin on his face, the kind of grin that made you wonder what he had been up to. He was such a big guy that if he gently patted you on the leg with his hand, it would leave a red mark that you would notice later.

He married my mom’s younger sister Geraldine, and my parents met at their wedding since Uncle Cletus was my dad’s first cousin. Yeah, my parents complicated the family tree. I loved hearing the stories about my Grandpa (Dad’s dad) made moonshine during Prohibition, and Uncle Cletus’s dad ran it.

Uncle Cletus and Aunt Gerrie have four children: Debbie, Bill, Greg, and Danny. Mom’s other sister and husband, my Aunt Alice and Uncle Bud, lived down the road in the neighboring town, and they have three boys: Travis, Justin and Chris.

Uncle Cletus and Aunt Gerrie, who were my godparents, bought the old homestead my mom’s parents used to own in the tiny Kansas town of Andale. They even lived in the old, rambling farmhouse, but after they built a new house on the same farm, I marveled how people bought the old farmhouse and moved it down the road.

Me at my baptism with my godparents Aunt Gerrie and Uncle Cletus

Each summer, my siblings and I would spend a week or two in Kansas with all of our cousins. I liked watering the garden and picking vegetables since we didn’t have a garden at our house. You learned early on to move fast when Uncle Cletus barked orders, and I don’t remember him sitting still.

Sometimes bad things happen to good people. The day before my 14th birthday – a week shy of being exactly 28 years ago, Mom was braiding my hair for a school banquet, and the phone rang. Uncle Cletus was in an accident in his gas truck, and his neck was broken. Mom cried, and all of us kids were stunned into silence. I went along to the banquet and questioned our science teacher about neck vertebrae bones, trying to hold off tears and worry.

Over the next few days and weeks and months, we learned the extent of Uncle Cletus’s injuries. He was paralyzed from the shoulders down so he would be a quadriplegic and confined to a wheelchair. The giant who couldn’t sit still and loved baseball was permanently still except for the tremors that shook his body on occasion.

I remember visiting him while he was still in the hospital, and I stayed in the waiting room, afraid to see him. After cajoling from my parents and cousins didn’t work, my aunt came and got me, assuring me he still looked the same, that I shouldn’t be afraid.

After that initial bump, I wasn’t afraid of his injuries. When we were visiting, I got after him for not shifting his weight like he was supposed to and do airplane loops or choo-choo noises when I helped him eat. Every time I did that, that familiar grin came across his face.

He amazed small children by how he could eat a banana or a cookie. You just gave him one – the entire banana or cookie – and off he would go, eating it all while holding it with his mouth. I swear the man was part chipmunk because he could hold so much in those cheeks.

If we all went to the mall in Wichita, you saw us kids chasing behind Uncle Cletus, who would take off at a high rate of speed in his wheelchair. Paralysis also didn’t hamper Uncle Cletus’s work ethic. If you found yourself outside with him, you found yourself working as he barked orders. The booming voice, infectious grin and sense of humor were still there.

Although Uncle Cletus and Aunt Gerrie continued living their now complicated lives the best way they could, there were dark moments of despair. I remember the time he asked me as a teen-ager if I could go to school and figure out how to fix injuries like his. “You’re smart,” he said, almost as he was trying to convince me. I shook my head and murmured how I wasn’t smart enough to do that, and I felt like I disappointed him.

I wince a bit when I hear or read people extolling the bravery and courage of someone dealing with paralysis, cancer, or some other bit of disaster. I know from being with Uncle Cletus and seeing cancer patients every day at work that they don’t particularly feel brave or courageous. They feel like determined survivors trying to handle the crap hand they were dealt. From Uncle Cletus and Aunt Gerrie, I’ve learned more about grace than anything.

As it does, life went on. Uncle Cletus ran for school board, and Aunt Gerrie took notes at the meetings. They remodeled their house to accommodate Uncle Cletus’s wheelchair, they traveled all over the U.S., including a cruise to Hawaii, went to mass each week, and watched their kids grow up. All of us kids got older, and there were marriages, children, illnesses, divorces, gains, and losses.

Uncle Cletus with family

From left: Aunt Lillian, Uncle Bill (my dad's oldest brother), Uncle Cletus, Dad, Grandma (Uncle Cletus's aunt too), Mom and Uncle Bob (my dad's second oldest brother).

I reverted to a little kid when Uncle Cletus told me how proud he was of me when I finished from graduate school. I was in my 30s at the time. When he and Aunt Gerrie told me how much they liked my annual Christmas newsletter, I beamed with pride like I was a 10-year-old with a great report card.

Uncle Cletus wound up in the hospital because of his injuries several times, and in the recent years, some of the stays were longer and longer and worrisome. The rehab hospital doctors in Colorado were studying him because he had lived longer than other people with his injuries. To compare, Christopher Reeve’s injuries were much more severe since Uncle Cletus didn’t need a respirator.

When we found out about his lung cancer last fall, we were told he wouldn’t live through the holidays. As my cousin Travis so eloquently put it, stubbornness can do wonders.

(SIDEBAR: And no, he wasn’t a smoker. Why the hell do people ask if someone was a smoker if they get lung cancer? People do get lung cancer without being a smoker, you know, and I have a hospital full of cancer doctors who will tell you the same thing. Okay, rant over.)

We almost lost Uncle Cletus so many times over the years that it’s still a bit unreal that he’s really gone. Someone who constantly fought dragons seemed to be immortal. I am grateful to have someone with such integrity, soul, and humor like Uncle Cletus in my life. I am grateful we didn’t lose him 29 years ago, that we had time with him, and that as a family, we rose to the occasion. I am very sad for my aunt, cousins, and their children.

Dad says Uncle Cletus is probably playing baseball up in heaven, free from his wheelchair, free from the stillness that enveloped his body. I can picture Uncle Cletus running and laughing with his booming voice, echoing through heaven as he jokes with St. Peter.


Do It Scared: Overcoming Fear and Procrastination

Posted By on May 13, 2011

“It’s better to have a brilliant failure than a mediocre success.”
— Tom Peters, Author, “In Search of Excellence and The Brand You”

I forgot the question, but I remember the answer.

I heard it during the National Association of Professional Organizers’ Conference in Boston several years ago. During the Organizing Outside the Box panel, Donna Smallin, one of the panelists, told the crowd, “Do it scared.”

The answer was simple yet jarring. For years, Nike’s motto “Just do it” has been programmed in our psyche. So simple, so easy. Just do it, and life will be grand.

Ah, yes, but humans are a messy lot. We are filled to the brim with emotions, doubts, insecurities, and fear, and these become roadblocks to our success, causing us to drag our feet.

Don’t let fear and other distractions get in the way of your dreams

By “doing it scared,” we can overcome our own fears and procrastination and tap into our personal power to succeed. So what are we so scared of?

In addition to the “traditional” fear of failure and fear of success, we weigh ourselves down with busyness, namely soul-sucking relationships and projects. How can we possibly do something else when we’re busy with these albatrosses hanging around necks? We can’t move on because we’re too busy dealing with soul-suckers. That makes us to too busy to realize our dreams, too busy to grow our businesses, and too busy to face what scares us or what could energize us.

By setting our own houses in order, we feel renewed, lighter, and re-energized to push the negative feelings aside and just do it.

Clean up your life

If you want to re-energize your work and life, it’s important to ask yourself what you’re tolerating, says life coach Laura Berman Fortgang, author of “Living Your Best Life” and “Now What? 90 Days to a New Life Direction”.

Fortgang suggests making a list of everything from work and home that you’re tolerating, and this could be clutter, unfinished projects, situations at work or home, other people’s behavior, or frustrations you have. Then use the list to decide what to keep in your life and what areas you need to clean up.

“We need to clean up our messes, whether it’s clutter, emotional or something else,” she said. “Our mess blocks energy and clarity. So if you clean up your mess, you get your energy and clarity back.”

Value your time

Brian Tracy in his book “Time Power” advises prioritizing your personal life and stresses the need to practice “personal triage” in your life.

“There are potential uses of your time, activities, and money that represent the possibilities of the future,” he writes. “These are areas where you need to invest more of yourself and your time if you want to maximize everything that is possible for you in those areas.”

Eliminate time traps and downsize, minimize or eliminate activities you no longer want to spend time on, Tracy writes.

So long, leeches

In that same vein, Dr. Edward Hallowell suggests eliminating what he calls “leeches” – those “people or projects that waste your time and attention.” His book, “CrazyBusy: Overstretched, Overbooked and Ready to Snap!”, addresses how modern life can really slow us down.

During a presentation at MD Anderson, Hallowell said we spend so much time being busy that we believe we’re being productive, and as a result, we don’t spend enough time thinking and doing work with meaning.

“The great irony in this world that has been flattened is that more people than ever have the opportunity to develop their minds in extraordinary ways, but they squander the chance by keeping busy rather than going deep,” he said.

Hello, lilies!

On the other hand, Hallowell recommends cultivating your “lilies” – the people and projects you are engaged and connected with. Lilies “make you feel fulfilled and satisfied, glad to be alive and doing what you’re doing,” he said. “Give yourself permission to make the most of the short time you have on this planet.”

As the cliché goes, there’s nothing to fear but fear itself, and busyness serves as a great hideout. It’s easy to justify to yourself about all the things you can’t do because you’re just so darn busy. We’ve heard the same excuses from clients, but we may not always listen to our own advice.

Once you eliminate those leeches and start cultivating lilies, you are ready to take that flying leap. Do that thing that you’re excited but terrified to do: public speaking, hiring an assistant, or simply trying sushi.

Get out there and just do it. And do it scared.