A Meaningful Life

Posted By on January 9, 2012

“Iron rusts from disuse, stagnant water loses its purity, and in cold weather becomes frozen; even so does inaction sap the vigors of the mind.”
— Leonardo da Vinci

This quote paints a vivid picture. Without action, we became stagnant and live life without meaning and purpose.

With the start of the New Year, many things have been written about meaning, purpose, passion and goals. So let me ask. Are you happy? Are you living a meaningful life? And what is a meaningful life to you?

For me, writing, my nieces and nephews, and chocolate give my life meaning. I’m joking about the chocolate. Okay, not really. Chocolate is pretty necessary in my world.

I’m always fascinated with people I meet who are unhappy with some part of their life but act like victims. Their unhappiness is always someone else’s fault so therefore they can’t control it or change it. I’ve been there myself before, and it’s easy to feel sorry for yourself, blame everyone else and become paralyzed. At some point, I realized I had to make a change or lose my sanity.

In the work I do, most of the people I meet are at a crossroads of some sort. When someone is asking for help from a professional organizer, it’s because they want to change some aspect of their life. Granted, not all of the organizing clients I meet are asking for life-altering change. They just want less stress, less headaches and less stuff.

There are a few who have struggled most of their lives with the burden of disorganization, clutter and hoarding tendencies who want to change. A client decided to clear the clutter in her home because she’s tired of making excuses for why people can’t come over to her house. She has been incredibly enthusiastic about it, and it’s an honor to witness and help with her transformation.

One thing I’ve learned mostly the hard way is if you never attempt to change your circumstances, your life will be the same.

So let me ask again. Are you happy? Are you living a meaningful life? What is a meaningful life to you? If you’re not sure, journal about it, create a vision board to see what comes up, or work with a life coach.

Change is scary. Change is hard. If you want it, it’s worth it. I promise.

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Depression and Silver Ribbons

Posted By on January 4, 2012

It was a week or two after my birthfather Mike passed away that I met my friend Ellen Delap for lunch.

She asked how I was doing, and I told her that I made an appointment with a therapist to deal with the depression I had sunk into during the past year.

“Oh, good,” she said. “So we don’t have to have that discussion today.”

I couldn’t help but laugh. I am lucky to have such a dear friend who would speak up and tell me that it was time to seek help, and it made me love her even more. With the help of my therapist and medication, it took a good year for me to make my way out of depression. I didn’t realize how bad it was until I started feeling better. No wonder my friends and family were worried.

Earlier this week, one of my favorite bloggers – The Bloggess aka Jenny Lawson who is absolutely hilarious and irreverent — chronicled her battle with depression, and her post generated a huge response from her readers both on her site and on Twitter. In the post, she shares her hope of seeing  more people wearing silver ribbons, the symbol for the public awareness campaign for brain disorders and disabilities, including depression.

As someone who has dealt with serious depression, I cheered. I have talked openly about my issues with depression on my blog, with my organizing clients, during presentations…. You get the idea. I never have claimed to be a woman of mystery. I realized, like the lovely Bloggess has, that when you talk about depression or any other chronic illness, you find out that you’re not alone. You are in good company.

When I’ve talked about my depression, several people were shocked. “You? Depressed?” Yes, me. Yes, I know I’m outgoing and funny, but funny people can be depressed. Depression doesn’t really have a poster child. We’re not always in the corner, rocking back and forth. We go to work, go to the grocery store, pay bills and other normal things.

Most of us, depressed or not, walk around with some sort of weight on our shoulders. We all have issues of some kind, and some are more noticeable than others. Just because someone isn’t walking with crutches or is bald from chemo doesn’t mean that they aren’t fighting their own battle.

If you’re dealing with depression, please get help. Don’t try to do it yourself.
There’s no shame in talking to a therapist or getting on medication.

Sometimes, we all need a little help. If you have a loved one who is dealing with depression, check in with them, tell them that you care and encourage them to seek help if they haven’t.

This weekend, I’m going to buy my own spool of silver ribbon. It’s the sign for warriors.

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What I Learn from Watching Christmas Movies

Posted By on December 5, 2011

“Do you know what the main trouble with this country is? There are too many people who don’t know where they’re going, and they want to get there too fast.” — Sylvester the cabbie in The Bishop’s Wife

The Bishop’s Wife with Cary Grant and Loretta Young is among my favorite Christmas movies, and the plot centers around a bishop who is burying himself in his work, his lovely but worried wife, and an angel named Dudley, who is lending a helping hand.

Not much has really changed since 1947 when this movie was made. It’s hard to imagine that even back in “the old days,” people were concerned about overworking, family time, living their values and managing life in a fast-paced world. Maybe we’re just slow learners. Maybe these themes just are part of becoming adults.

It’s easy to dismiss Christmas movies as overly sentimental stuff, but I always find them to be reminders of what I should remember year round. Here’s what I learn from my favorite Christmas movies:

The Bishop’s Wife. Be careful what you pray for. You think you want a shiny new cathedral, but it turns out you really want is much simpler – time with your family and friends.

It’s a Wonderful Life. No matter how much money you have in your bank account, no matter how much we’re all struggling right now, we are all rich if we have people we love in our lives.

White Christmas. I absolutely love this movie. What can I say? I’m a sucker for the White Christmas song sung by Bing Crosby and Rosemary Clooney. In between musical numbers, help your friends, even your sister and always dress for the part.

Love Actually. There are so many characters and plot lines in this British film, and I just love it. As the title suggests, the biggest lesson here is about love. Love and relationships of any kind require taking a risk and showing courage. The saddest storyline is when Laura Tierney’s character puts aside her chance at love to take care of her institutionalized brother.

The Holiday. In a word, gumption. I love gumption, which is really another word for courage. I wish everyone had gumption. How interesting the world would be if more people had courage to do what was right and not what was popular.

Miracle on 34th Street. Believe. My favorite scene is at the end when Natalie Woods’ character, a little girl who was trying very hard to believe in the man she thought was Santa, is sitting in the backseat of the car, saying “I believe. Even though it’s stupid. I believe.” When she spots the house of her dreams, she realizes that it was good to believe in something.

The Grinch Who Stole Christmas. When you help others, you really help yourself, and your heart will grow three sizes.

A Christmas Carol. An oldie but goodie. Over the years, there have been countless remakes and variations. I prefer the classical takes, including the one with a certain Starship captain, but I did enjoy the cheesy Diva Christmas Carol version with Vanessa Williams on VH-1. You can never go wrong with Duran Duran’s John Taylor as the Ghost of Christmas Present, and I liked how “Behind the Music” served as the Ghost of Christmas Future. But I digress.

Again, show kindness to your fellow human beings, and honor your past – no matter how tragic — since it makes you the person you are today. At the end of the day, you choose how to live your life. If you act like a victim, you will be one.

Holiday Inn. The song White Christmas debuted in this Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire film. No matter where you go, remember where you came from.

Elf. This funny holiday tale is about a man who discovers that he really isn’t an elf and goes in search of his biological father. As an adoptee, I really relate to this story. Family is what you make of it, and when push comes to shove, family members can surprise you.

Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer. Even though you think you’re a reindeer with a flashy nose or a Misfit Toy, you still have value to offer the world. You should strive to fill your potential, whether it means you’re a reindeer, an abominable snowman, or an elf with aspirations of becoming a dentist.

So what are your favorite movies for the holidays? Time to make some popcorn and man the remote.

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Saving Money on Holiday Gifts

Posted By on November 28, 2011

Tough times become even more apparent while gift shopping for the holidays. While many families, including my own, have opted to skip gifts for adults or draw names, there are ways to save money on the gifts still on your list.

Coupon Check. If you use services, such as Groupon, Living Social and other sites offering deals, check the purchases you’ve made of these deals. Can you purchase gifts using any of your deals? Can you “gift” the deal to someone? To make some money, you can sell your deals on SellMyDeal.com.

Stores, such as Bed Bath and Beyond, have coupons you can use anytime. Other stores, such as Aaron’s Brothers, Ulta and Kirkland’s, to name a few, will send you coupons if you sign up for their emails. If you have a CVS card, you can receive coupons to use for your next purchase. For example, I received a $5 off coupon that I plan to use to purchase a Burt’s Bees set for my niece.

Gift Card Check. If you’ve received gift cards as gifts, you can use those to purchase gifts for others which makes things super easy.

To get a little cash, you can also sell your unused and unwanted gift cards through several websites, including Plastic Jungle, Gift Card Rescue, Project Gift Card and CardWoo.  These sites also offer gift cards for reduced prices.  I haven’t used these sites personally, but I know several people who have used them.

Create Your Own Gift Basket. Making your own gift basket is a great way to save money. Gift baskets work best when you have a theme.

For a movie night theme, pick up a DVD or two, popcorn and candy. With the movie night theme, you can go in all sorts of directions – Retro, Brat Pack, cartoons, action flicks, etc.

Another favorite gift basket is the dinner basket, and I’ve seen this many times as wedding gifts. Use a lovely bowl as the “basket” and toss in pasta, sauce, wine, and other ingredients. Put dry ingredients for breads, cookies and soups into a jar so the recipient can add any liquid or perishable items. Make sure you list instructions.

Buy potted herbs, such as rosemary, thyme, peppermint, basil and others for cooks or garden lovers, and they can create their own herb garden.

For a relaxation basket, put in a CD of relaxing music, candles and bath oils. Create your own line of bath products by searching out recipes on the web. I haven’t been brave enough to create my own salt and sugar scrubs, but the recipes make it look easy.

Create Your Own Gift. I’ve heard how some families are only doing handmade gifts, and my favorite website Pinterest is chock full of great ideas for homemade gifts.

Consumable gifts are always among my favorites, and whipping up a batch of fudge or cookies are great gifts. One of my Facebook friends who is a single mother suggested cooking a dinner or casserole for stressed out parents.

With imagination and effort, you can save money on gifts.

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You Can Save the World This ThanksGIVING and Beyond

Posted By on November 21, 2011

The news these days centers around the economy, job creation, the 99% vs. the 1%, the Occupy protests and clashes with police, the Super Congress committee and wars waging around the world. It’s enough to send the pluckiest optimist on a serious downer.

There are ways you can help people around the world. See my ideas below.With the situation we’re all experiencing in some way or the other, it’s easy to become apathetic with everything. At work, a co-worker asked me about the Occupy protests, the 99% and what it all meant. After I shared what I knew about it, my co-worker asked in exasperation, “Okay, so what are we supposed to do about all of that?”

Good question. It’s very easy to believe that we as individuals can’t fix the world’s problems. We celebrate Thanksgiving this week, a day that is supposed to be full of gratitude, and we all know so many people who are suffering. But what can we do? Turns out we can do plenty.

Kiva. Anytime I feel sorry for myself, I go on Kiva and make a loan to someone who is in a tougher situation.  I heard about Kiva from Jason Womack, a time management expert who I met when he worked for David Allen Co. Kiva is an organization where you can make micro-loans of $25 to people around the world.  The loans are used by individuals or community groups to expand their businesses and homes, and they each have a profile and updates.

As the loans are paid back, you receive a notice of payment via email, and you can choose to re-loan the money to someone else, donate it to Kiva for their expenses, or cash out.

Create Jobs for USA. Howard Schulz, the CEO of Starbucks, has begun a new program with Opportunity Finance Network that launched Nov. 1. You can go online or go to a local Starbucks and donate $5 or more to the fund. The fund will be used to help finance community businesses.

Starbucks has put up the first $5 million. For your donation, you can opt to receive a special bracelet.

Heifer International. This global organization helps create self-sustaining families and communities by providing them with animals, such as chickens, bees and  cows. For the person who has everything, send a flock of chickens in their name to a family.

There are many other ways to change the world – or at least our small corner of it. What do you do that changes the world? Please share your ideas in the comments below.

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Teacher Appreciation

Posted By on November 18, 2011

Guest post by Certified Professional Organizer® Helene Segura

Teachers are some of the most important people on this planet. They spend more waking hours with children than parents do. They guide students in the formulation of who they are, what they think about, and who they want to be. Yet despite the important role that teachers play in the development of our children – our future generations – the general public has little knowledge about what a teacher’s day is actually like.

Why would this be important to know, you ask? A single teacher determines how much knowledge in one subject area that a student will be presented – or not presented – over an entire year. While we can demand until we’re blue in the face that only the best teachers should be in America’s classrooms, they will not stay there if they are not provided with the resources to do a good job.

Fifty percent of teachers across the country quit within their first five years in the classroom, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. The number one reason given is not the low pay. It is not student behavior. Instead, those who leave the classroom site a lack of support. Teachers are overwhelmed with all of the duties that are heaped upon them, yet they are not given the tools to face those pressures. Projectile decisions are hurled at educators at an insane pace.

Here’s one extremely brief example, taken from my book Less Stress for Teachers: More Time & An Organized Classroom:

8:20:00    “Open hallways” bell rings; stand at door for greeting

8:20:15    First smiles of the day greeting early birds

8:20:30    First student dress code violation

8:20:45    First student excuse for the day about dress code

8:21:00    First student stomp-off to fix dress code violation

8:21:15    First admit slip to sign

8:21:30    First grade check sheet to sign

8:21:45    First question about all make-up work for the 6 weeks

8:22:00    First question of “Are we doing anything good today?”

8:22:15    Principal walks by and says, “I need to see you” but doesn’t elaborate

8:22:16    Fear and paranoia set in; what does principal want?

8:22:30    Football coach walks up and says, “How are Johnny’s grades?”

8:22:45    Morning greetings continue as curt conversation with football coach ensues

8:23:00    Student returns and asks again about make-up work

That’s the first three minutes of a typical school day on a high school campus. THREE minutes! And class hasn’t even started yet!

One of the best attempts I’ve seen at trying to explain the work day responsibilities of a teacher to someone in the business world is this quote from Donald D. Quinn:

“If a doctor, lawyer or dentist had 40 people in his office at one time, all of whom had different needs, and some of whom didn’t want to be there and were causing trouble, and the doctor, lawyer or dentist, without assistance, had to treat them all with professional excellence for nine months, then he might have some conception of the classroom teacher’s job.”

So, how can you help? Obviously, I’d love for you to purchase my book for the favorite teachers in your life. Or, if you have some not-so-favorite ones, maybe they’re the ones who truly need it. But this is what I’d love for you to do:

Walk up to a teacher and ask, “How can I help you?”

You might have the time to volunteer for thirty minutes each week in your child’s classroom. Or maybe you have only fifteen minutes to give on the last day of the school year. Or perhaps you can cook dinner on a Friday evening for a teacher friend. It doesn’t matter how small the task is. You’re showing that you care, and that will mean the world to a teacher.

Certified Professional Organizer Helene Segura, guest blogger for The Clutter Princess and author of Less Stress for Teachers: More Time & An Organized ClassroomHelene Segura is a former award-winning teacher turned organizing and productivity consultant who owns Living Order® San Antonio. Segura’s book, Less Stress for Teachers: More Time & An Organized Classroom, addresses the thinking behind how to overcome “the overwhelm” that teachers feel on a daily basis. It’s a thinking pathway that helps teachers bust through the emotional, psychological and organizational walls that prevent them from utilizing planners and other tools.

Readers of her book will learn:

  • The 5 most critical areas to control
  • To create time where educators thought it was impossible
  • To manage email, paperwork, lesson plans and other tasks
  • To set up a classroom in the most efficient way
  • To lower teacher stress levels during the school day
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