Clutter-Free Presents

Posted By on November 19, 2010

The holidays are bearing down on us fast and furious. As usual, Christmas decorations were up in stores before Halloween. It’s less than 40 days to Christmas and even less to Hanukah. So where is your gift list? What’s your gift budget?

Every year when my family asks me what I want for Christmas, it’s hard for me to come up with ideas. Last year after buying a house, my sister kept pestering me for a gift list, and I told her that I needed a boyfriend with handyman skills.

She just sighed since I obviously was not helping. What I needed was a new kitchen, some sheetrock, new appliances, a new master bath.…well, you get the idea. It’s easy to buy presents for the children in your life. They usually have a list of the latest and greatest toys (mostly inspired by movies), princess gear, and video games. Ply teen-agers with gift cards, technology, video games, clothes, and old-fashioned money.

For adults, things get a little harder. Most of the time, we buy ourselves what we need and want. I encourage people to get together for lunch, dinner, potluck suppers, or movie and game nights rather than exchange presents.

Focus on what’s really important – spending time together and friendship. But if gifts are required, you have options for “clutter-free” presents.

Food and Drink: Make it something that they have to eat or drink. Create a gift basket for a meal. For example, gather up ingredients for a favorite dish. Include a recipe if needed.  Or choose a gift card from their favorite restaurant. Wine drinkers always appreciate a unique bottle of wine to sample.

Events: Get cultural or sporty! If you know someone likes sports, museums, the zoo, the ballet, or opera, buy a pair of tickets to a particular event or performance or a membership they can enjoy year round.

Time: Have a hobby, talent or interest you can give to a friend or family member? For parents, offer to babysit on their date night. Do you have a green thumb and know how your garden grows and your friends do not? Gardening help!  One year I gave my brother a few hours of carpenter assistance to help him with his house. Be creative!

Handmade items: You can make a gift. Time to get out the Popsicle sticks and glitter! Okay, not really. I know people who make jewelry, love knitting, quilting or sewing, or cooking. These gifts take more time and may not necessarily fall under the “clutter-free” definition, but they do have more meaning.

I recently spoke at a church group, and for their church social, they have “handmade” gifts. No one can buy anything, and gifts can include something people made, something they “upcycled,” or something they received as a gift but never used (also called regifting).

With a little imagination, you can give gifts that don’t become a burden to others.


Watch for Zombies!

Posted By on October 31, 2010

I’ve seen them time and time again. Heck, I’ve even been one myself. I’m talking about Zombies. Not the bloody, festering monsters you see eating people’s brains in countless movies.

These poor Zombies have lost their own brains via endless e-mail, attempted multi-tasking, and an overwhelming to-do list. You see us everywhere. It’s the guy who forgot to push the elevator button and missed his floor.  It’s the woman who forgot where she parked.

Think of the times you forgot what you were doing after being interrupted for the umpteenth time. But unlike most zombie movies, there is a cure for our modern day Zombies.

  • Take a vacation. If it’s been a while since you’ve taken time off, schedule a week off. Studies show you need time to recover diminished cognitive abilities that multi-tasking and the world of work takes from us.
  • When you’re on vacation, unplug from work. This means you don’t check work e-mail, go to work and say “I’m not really here,” or call in. Stay away from work.
  • Avoid multi-tasking. Study after study shows that we’re simply not good at it. Multi-tasking actually reduces our productivity 20 to 40 percent. Doing tasks one at a time is much more productive.
  • Look at your schedule and action list and see what can come off your plate. Any meetings that can come off your calendar? Are they really needed? What committees or projects can you give up? If something no longer serves you, it’s time to re-evaluate it.
  • Learn to say no. It’s a small word with a powerful impact. Saying no means saying yes to yourself. You are worthy.
  • When driving, just drive when you can. Driving and texting make you as dangerous as a drunk driver. So no texting while driving, and if you’re using a phone in the car, use a hands free device. Pay attention. Zombie drivers cause accidents.
  • Take care of yourself. Exercise regularly, eat more healthy foods than bad ones, get plenty of sleep and drink water.

It sounds simple to reduce the number of self-induced Zombie issues, but a few simple steps can help you from aimlessly riding up and down an elevator because you forgot to press the button. Happy Halloween from your Spooky Organizer!


Getting Organized Helped Me Find Health and Lose 65+ Pounds

Posted By on October 5, 2010

Today’s guest blog is written by my professional organizing colleague Stephanie Calahan.

Back in 2008 I was miserable.  I suffered from migraine attacks as well as asthma attacks that would frequently land me in the hospital, not to mention numerous other health issues.  It seemed that no matter what I did, my weight continued to skyrocket up the scale.  I was doing exactly as the doctors instructed and nothing was working.  In fact, I had spent the last 7 years doing the same things and getting no where.

I Decided to Change

Wait…. Isn’t there a famous phrase that says something like “if you always do what you have always done, you will always get what you have always gotten?”  That was me when it came to my health.  I was able to help my clients through major change, but could not figure it out for myself.  I decided it was time for something new.  I decided to hold myself accountable to the change that I wanted to see.  I wanted to live not just merely exist!

Organizing the Metamorphosis

In order to make this change happen, I had to get my mind and my space organized.  It was time to de-clutter my health and mind!  Here is the short list of what I did.

Get Support from a Professional – The first thing that I did in my change process was to identify and hire a professional that was an expert in my area of need.  I learned that my system did not absorb nutrients correctly and that I was actually suffering from some malnourishment!  I asked him about books I should read and got advice on how I should eat and exercise.  I started reading like crazy after that.  The reading and physical and mental exercises empowered me to do more.

Reorganize Shopping List and Kitchen – I learned I had a number of food allergies (about 33) that caused my system to go into overdrive.  Foods that were good for most people were almost like poison to me.  I had to re-learn how to shop and cook.  We emptied every food-containing cabinet in the kitchen, read every label and reorganized.  Now, our kitchen has 2 main zones:  “food Mom can eat” and “food Mom can’t eat.”  This has been one of the keys to my success, because it has made it very easy for me to figure out what to eat in a pinch.  You know what it is like when you are in a hurry and just want to grab something.  I make sure to grab from my cabinets so that I’m eating the right things.

Created a Water Drinking Tracking Sheet – I was told that I had to take my body weight (at the time 228 pounds) and divide by 2 and that was how much spring water I should be consuming every day.  114 ounces is a LOT of water and I found by day one that I was losing track of my progress.  I created a simple tracking sheet that I printed out and marked every time I drank water.  At first, I was not very good at hitting my goal, but by tracking it, I could see my progress.  Today it is much easier and I no longer need the tracking sheet!  (See Did You Know That You Already Have One of Your Biggest Focus Tools? » for more on how water will increase your focus too.)

Got to Bed No Later than 10:30 pm – This one was very hard for me and I needed organizing strategies to help me out.  You see, by nature, I am a night owl.  When I was told I needed to be in bed earlier, I could not figure out how to do it.  Alarms were my weapon of choice.  I had one to remind me to start shutting down for the night and one to tell me that I should be in bed.  The alarms helped me make the change become part of who I am.  (See Improving Your Sleep Improves Your Waking Hours » or Concentration and Sleep an Important Combination » for more on why sleep is important to your productivity.)

Eat at Least 3 Meals a Day NOT on the Run – I was a habitual meal skipper (less calories right?  WRONG!) as I ran from one appointment to another.  I often found that I would lose energy by early afternoon too.  By making sure that I was getting the right quantities of food over the course of the day, my energy increased and my body started getting the nourishment it needed.  (See Are you Sabotaging Your Productivity? The Most Productive Lunch » for more ideas on productivity and eating.)

Create a Healthy Eating Plan: One of the best ways to stay on track with any plan is to write it down.  A weight loss plan is no different.  Use your daily to-do list or monthly planner to write down your menus for the day.  Check the items off of your list as you eat them and you will be able to easily monitor your progress.  Many meal plans quickly go the wrong direction when you get home and find that you don’t have what you need to make a healthy meal.  Then out comes the pizza!  By having everything written out, you can make sure that does not happen to you.  When you are out running errands, check your meal plan to make sure that you have all of the appropriate ingredients to make a healthy meal.

Eliminate ALL Extra Stress in Life – Sometimes shutting down is the best thing you can do for your body.  At the height of my illnesses, I was WAY overcommitted.  I had my business, being a parent, volunteering for 5 different organizations, networking groups, etc.  One of the best tips I received early in my change process was that I needed to re-evaluate where my time went.  I made time for everyone but me.  So, I sat down and really thought about the activities that I had been participating in.  Which ones lifted me up – filled me up?  Which activities left me drained and uninspired?  It was a very difficult exercise to do, but it is one that I now incorporate with all of my time and productivity clients.  Only participate in activities that fill you up!  Make sure that you make time for you.  (See How Do You De-Stress? My Tweeps & FB Friends Give Us Answers » for some great de-stressing ideas.)

Understand You Are Human: No one is perfect, so don’t try to be!  Making changes in your life takes time and routines.  It is really rare for someone to work towards weight loss and not “cheat” now and then.  The trick is to not “loose it” when you do.  Expecting to be perfect will only lead you to frustration and eventual failure.  Rather than giving up for a lapse in your weight loss plan, relax and start the next day on refreshed footing and back on track with healthy eating and exercising.

The Evolution & Success Guarantee

Any big evolution in your life, whether it is de-cluttering your space or changing the way you eat, requires support and self-discipline.  The more support I make sure to put into my life, the more I guarantee my success.

My first great decision was finding a professional that would listen completely to my challenges.  Because I knew that I was being heard completely, it was much easier for me to hear the message of change that was shared with me. (No matter how much I did not want to hear it at the time!)

I have also enlisted friends, my son and even people I know through Twitter and Facebook to encourage and support my change.  They provide resources and cheer leading when I get frustrated.  They have also helped me on my journey by helping me to read food labels as I go to the store, providing new gluten-free recipes or supporting me as I take on the next wave of health improvement.  All in all, I’m not alone and that is comforting and empowering!

I tell everyone about the changes I’m working on, because the more I tell others of the change I AM making, the more I am committing to myself.  The support also encourages the self-discipline. (See Self-Discipline and Productivity – How to build self-discipline » for more ideas on this topic.)  I encourage you to do the same with your changes.

The Results!

I am already feeling much better and others are noting a difference in my physical appearance.  I have more work to do to ultimately get to where I want to be with my health, but I’m thrilled with the results so far and am excited to keep going on my change program.  I have not had a migraine or asthma attack since March of 2008, my focus is much better and my other health issues are continuing to improve on a daily basis!

I’m also re-energized about my business!  You see, I help people with major changes in their life and business.  By going through a major life change of my own, I’m reminded of how difficult and sometimes scary change can be.  I’m excited about the new experiences I will have helping others find their independence too!

What Change Are You Working Through?

What change are you putting in place in your life?  What support can you use?  What resources are you searching for?  Let us know and we’ll help you find them.

Share your thoughts here!  Scroll down and use the comment section.  I’d love to hear your thoughts.

To your success!


Stephanie LH Calahan is a nationally known speaker and productivity coach who works with intelligent, highly motivated, busy entrepreneurs, executives, producers and other professionals to teach them how to do more with their time, space and information.  She believes that life is meant to be lived and that fabulous vision combined with practical systems can make that happen very quickly. As the creator of a number of programs, she focuses on helping you identify solutions for the way you think and work.  Network with Steph or check out her blog, Productive And Organized.


Remembering Mrs. Besett

Posted By on April 28, 2010

Virgina Dare Besett Anderson, my beloved fourth-grade English teacher, passed away this past weekend. I am happy that she knew how important she was to me, how influential she was in my young life, how much I adored her.

I had a different teacher for homeroom, but I loved changing to Mrs. Besett’s class for English, one of my favorite subjects. I loved reading, writing and history over that math stuff. She was grandmotherly, soft and loving with gray curly hair and glasses. I had never met someone named Virginia before. To me, it was a name of a state located far from the plains of Oklahoma. I even named a doll Virginia after Mrs. Besett.

Back then, I was in my “tall blonde phase.” I was gawky, geeky, and stick-like with large glasses and long blonde hair perpetually pulled into two ponytails or braids. My mom sewed all of our clothes.

My friends had two sets of grandparents, and my siblings and I only had one set since Mom’s parents both passed away when she was young. Grandpa was generally a silent sort, and Grandma was bony with hard edges, both physically and emotionally. Grandmas were supposed to look more like my great-aunts and Mrs. Besett.

Mrs. Besett loved the fact that my sister and I were adopted like her two granddaughters. I happily admit that I was a teacher’s pet. She asked me to fill her tall plastic glass with water from the water fountain and run errands for her. Mrs. Besett was a nurturing soul at a time in my life when I needed it. I just didn’t know I needed it at the time.

At recess, I sometimes would hang back and talk to her as she supervised us on the playground. She nudged me to go and play with my friends, but I liked hanging out with her.

I beamed with pride when she commented how much she loved my book report on John F. Kennedy, who turned out to be one of her favorite presidents. We had a year together before I moved onto fifth grade. She retired a year or two later. Through the grapevine winding through small towns, I found out that her husband passed away. When I entered my teen years, I ran into her and her new husband at the TG&Y a couple of times.

I don’t remember exactly how or when the letter writing began. After college, I moved to Galveston to work at the newspaper there. I liked writing letters before the age of the quickie e-mail. Back then, I wrote letters to Mrs. Besett, my journalism professor from college, and several of my friends. In letters, I addressed her as Mrs. Besett or Besett Anderson, and she wrote back at some point when I was in my 30s to say I could call her “Virginia.” I tried it once but it felt funny and almost disrespectful.

About a year before moving into a nursing home, Mrs. Besett surprised me by stopping at my house a few days before Christmas. She saw cars in the driveway and decided to stop by to see if I was there. We had a lovely visit, and my sister and I went down the road to see her a couple of days later.

I recognized the signs from my own grandmother. Mrs. Besett repeated herself and asked the same questions several times, and I answered them every time. She laughed about how she was only allowed to drive from her home to Elgin, and her daughter and son-in-law lived nearby and brought her meals she could warm up.

When meeting her daughter for the first time, she said, “Oh, Janice, yes, I’ve heard a lot about you.”  I flushed with a mixture of embarrassment and pride. No matter how old you are, you still want to make your favorite teachers happy. Maybe we’re all perpetual fourth-graders deep down.

At age 93, Virginia Dare Besett Anderson left us behind. The world feels emptier without her. I imagine her looking down at all of us, all of her fourth-graders. When I close my eyes, I can almost hear her laugh on the playground.


Hello, Spring!

Posted By on April 13, 2010

Spring is in the air. Just ask anyone with allergies! Spring inspires us to do what else? Spring cleaning. It’s natural to shed off winter’s heaviness and cold and embrace spring’s fresh start and warmer temperatures.

Here are a few tips to spring clean:

  • Clean your winter coat and wash your hats, scarves and gloves. Store them away. Do the same for your winter clothes.
  • Clean the top of your ceiling fan blades.
  • Change out the air-conditioning filter if you haven’t done so in a while.
  • If your curtains are washable, wash them. If they’re not, run them through the dryer on a low setting to freshen them up. You can do the same thing with your comforter. By putting comforters, pillows, and curtains through the dryer, you reduce allergens.
  • Wash your bath mats. Fabric shower curtains can be washed as well. Spray and wipe down plastic shower curtains with an antibacterial cleaner.
  • Go through the pantry, freezer, and refrigerator and check expiration dates. Donate unwanted items and toss expired ones. Go through your spices too.
  • Clean the silverware tray in your kitchen drawer.
  • Clean the oven after all that holiday cooking.
  • Wipe down the computer keyboard, monitor and mouse. Don’t forget the telephones.
  • In Houston, we have to spend some time pulling up all the dead plants from the Big Freeze and replanting replacements.
  • Of course, declutter your space. Recycle those magazines, catalogs, newspaper, and junk mail. Weed out stained, torn and worn clothing. Donate clothes you no longer want or can wear. As you clean areas of your home, declutter as you go. Need motivation? Just watch an episode of “Hoarders” on A&E or TLC’s “Buried Alive.” That should get you going.

Happy Spring, everyone!


Live Outside Work

Posted By on March 23, 2010

During my very first week at MD Anderson, we had a presentation with three senior physicians and scientists talking about how they manage their time. One, a department chair who I had known during my reporting days in Galveston, instructed the crowd to have a life. He also said that if you didn’t have a life, get a life.

Ten years later, I am still convincing people to have a life and if they don’t have one, we talk about how to get one. It’s advice that I sometimes have to remind myself about. It’s easy for any of us to get caught up in work and decompress by watching hours of TV or strolling through Facebook while ignoring the activities we really want to do.

One of my doctors has been exploring his photography interest for the past couple of years, and he has been submitting his photographs to juried shows. Photography is more than a hobby for him. It’s a passion and is as much of a calling as medicine is to him.

Having a hobby is healthy and helps you reduce stress and increase your happiness. Like the saying goes, all work and no play makes us dull, lifeless, and stressed out. Your spark is missing.

So light your fire. Make time for your passion, your interests. Have a life. Get a life.