Posts Tagged ‘routines’

A Faster Way To Organize Your Home

There's so much to do when you're running a household — just keeping your physical space in order and making sure your family is properly fed can be a full-time job! However, most people can't (and don't want to) spend all week on chores, because they have other responsibilities to think about — so you have to find ways to make those routine everyday tasks take less time. The good news is that the right household environment naturally makes everything easier — that includes meals, getting ready in the morning, and clean-up. You know that old saying, “A stitch in time saves nine”? Well that's what it's all about — investing a little bit of energy up front to create a system that works for you will save a lot of unnecessary work down the road!

  • walk through one room in the house and put away anything that is out of place
  • set up a basket at the base / top of the stairs for items that need to go up / down
  • gather up every book in you own in one specific category (self-help, history, biography, etc.)
  • organize one grouping / category / author of books alphabetically on your shelves
  • set up your pills and vitamins for the week in a daily dosage container — AM, mid-day, PM
  • move everything  for your AM routine (coffee/tea, meds, supplements) together into one cabinet
  • group all of one kind of food (cereals, canned goods, baking items, etc.) together in your pantry
  • put all loose bulk food items in lidded containers in your pantry — don't forget to label them
  • figure out your menu for the week, including page numbers for the recipes
  • write out a grocery shopping list for the week's meals
  • chop / marinate / prep your veggies and meat (in containers in the fridge) for the week's meals
  • cook a batch of a favorite dish (spaghetti sauce, soup, lasagna, etc.) and freeze individual servings
  • rinse your dishes right after each meal to prevent food from drying and becoming stuck on them
  • choose outfits for each day of the next week, including shoes and accessories
  • separate your casual clothes from dressy, or summer from winter, or work from play in your closet
  • put all of your shoes on racks or in labeled boxes by pairs
  • set up bins for separating out “dry cleaning,” “repairs,” and “alterations” in your closet
  • break your gift wrap paper / bags / tags / bows / ribbon into separate labeled tubs
  • clear your bathroom counter of everything except what you use daily for your grooming routine
  • set up an area at each entryway where visitors can remove their shoes to keep from tracking dirt in

See how easy that was? Wink

A Faster Way To Clean Out

Cleaning out is often exhausting work — especially for those who haven't done it in a while. It's easy to walk into a room filled with clutter and become completely overloaded by the task at hand. You try to empty the whole space at once, don't even come close to finishing it all, and end up feeling like a failure  — will you ever be able to see the floor again? Rather than overdoing it (and subsequently paralyzing yourself with frustration and despair), why not set yourself up for success — by tackling just one small pile at a time? If you simply make use of those odd free moments (say, two or three times a day, every day for a week) — you will make a bigger dent in the mess than if you devoted your entire Saturday to sifting and sorting and cleaning out!

  • start a box of items to donate — every time you find something you don't need, toss it in
  • check your desk for dried up pens and markers and throw them out
  • sort through your Tupperware and remove any bowl or lid that's missing it's mate
  • try on clothes you haven't worn in the past year and get rid of anything that doesn't fit
  • gather up a pile of library books / rented videos and return them from whence they came
  • look through your shelves and pull books you'll never read again to donate to the library
  • clean the trash out of your junk drawer
  • remove the extra empty hangers out of your closet and take them to your dry cleaner
  • get rid of old or yucky makeup in your cosmetic drawer
  • put all those purchases you've been meaning to return in a box and schedule an errand day
  • pull out any torn / worn underwear and socks — either turn into rags or discard
  • toss empty bottles of household cleaners, car care items, and gardening chemicals in the garage
  • go through your magazines / catalogs and toss all but the most recent issue
  • throw out expired food from your refrigerator and pantry
  • sort through your recipes and toss those you're never going to get around to making
  • when you unpack your holiday decorations, discard broken ornaments, lights, candles, etc.
  • create a pile of borrowed items to give back to your friends and family
  • clean out batteries and light bulbs that no longer work
  • toss expired items, empty bottles, and used-up grooming supplies in your medicine cabinet
  • put all your “donates” in the car and drive them to the nearest charity drop-off point — now!

See how easy that was? Wink

Breaking Free

There's nothing about the act of bill-paying that's any more inherently onerous than, say, filing or making follow-up phone calls or taking care of any other to-do — why then do we dread it more than other tasks? It's funny the effect an outlay of cash has on people. We love to spend money in the abstract — but when the time comes to ante up, we panic. A good deal of financial procrastination is simply buyer's remorse — we don't want to face our spending habits, those impulse buys and unnecessary purchases that now seem so foolish.

But even without regretting the purchase, there's still stress involved with bill-paying. You might worry about rising interest rates or dropping home values, the security of your paycheck or how much is being withheld to cover taxes — or any of a number of other issues that are entirely beyond your control. So much of what happens in the world of finance these days seems out of our hands, and uncertainty is always unnerving. The good news is that you don't have to worry about getting your bills paid on time, not with the right system (and as Forrest Gump says, “That's good! One less thing!”) Here are a few tips for making that monthly round of check-cutting a lot less stressful.

  • cut down on your expenses (it goes without saying that the fewer bills you have, the easier it is to pay them each month — of course you need electricity and groceries and a home to live in — but I'm sure that if you examine your statements and receipts, you'll find at least a few recurring items that could be trimmed from the budget — memberships you don't use, subscriptions you don't read, services that duplicate one another, excessive numbers of multiple credit cards, each with just a few charges on it — these bills do nothing but complicate your finances each month — it's time to clean house in the bill-paying sense — if you don't need it, lose it, and make your monetary life a lot easier right from the start)
  • align your bill-paying dates (part of what makes bill-paying such a pain in the neck is having to do it multiple times each month — one round of bills come due on the 1st and another on the 10th, then more on the 15th and a final batch near the end of the month — it's no wonder staying on top of it all takes so much of your time! — what most people don't realize is that most companies can adjust your billing cycle to end on whatever date you like — of course, your utilities and mortgage will always be due at the start of the month, so why not have your phone, internet, credit cards, insurance, and other monthly bills arrive at the same time? — that way, you only have to engage in one round of “pull-out-the-checkbook” each month)
  • pre-pay for the year (with set fees like insurance premiums, memberships, and flat-rate services, you can often save money by paying for the entire year up front — and even if there is no discount attached, you'll still save a lot of time by skipping monthly billing — if you have the money in-hand and know you'll be with that company for at least 12 months, ask if you can pre-pay your account for the year — just make sure that you'll be refunded the pro-rated amount if you cancel your service before the end of that period)
  • consolidate (a number of years back, Matt and I decided that we were tired of having to keep track of so many different bills — we examined our options and decided to pay as many bills as possible with our credit card, so we would only have one check to cut each month — it turns out that almost anything can be charged to your Visa or Mastercard — of course, gas and groceries and haircuts, but I'm also talking about your mortgage, your insurance, and even your utilities — I'm allergic to “convenience fees,” so we only do this if there is no additional cost for a credit card payment — and it only works when you pay the card in full — but it's amazing how much this one change simplified our finances — it also makes budgeting easier, because we can review every purchase for an entire month with one glance)
  • set up auto-pay (another step toward lifting the yoke of bill-paying from our necks was shifting everything to auto-pay — I came to realize that there was no good reason for me to ever have to write a company a check again, when I could have the bill either auto-charged to my credit card or auto-drafted from my bank account — my preference is for the first option, so if a company makes a mistake and takes too much money, I can dispute the charge before the cash comes out of my account — I really only use bank auto-drafts for paying the over-arching credit card bill — a lot of people are scared of auto-pay, because they're worried they'll get ripped off — but if you are reviewing your statements every month and reconciling your accounts like you should be, the chance of this happening is almost non-existent — and if you're not, you're just as likely to have an error go unnoticed, even when you pay all of your bills by check)
  • create a monthly routine (now that you've simplified bill-paying as much as possible, you just need a good routine for staying on top of it all — set one day a month aside for bookkeeping — start by reviewing all of the bills you've received, both paper and electronic, for errors — then reconcile your credit card and bank statements, double-checking to make sure that every bill on auto-draft was paid — finally, write and mail checks for the remaining bills that must be paid manually, if there are any — and don't forget to record those in your register — three simple steps and you're done until next month!)

Learning To Work Together

When Matt and I first got married,  I was highly anal-retentive about my living environment (big surprise!) I wanted no visible clutter anywhere. My hubby on the other hand, while far from a slob, had a much more relaxed attitude about putting certain things away — like the clothes he would change out of at the end of the day. He left a trail of wardrobe items around our house that used to drive me up the wall. I tried everything to get him to hang up his clothes as soon as he took them off (pleading, cajoling, threatening, bribery), but nothing worked — because that simply wasn't important to him.

Now if I had kept pushing and he had kept resisting, this could have very well ended our marriage (I've seen breakups happen over less!) But we decided that it was silly for us to get so worked up over something so relatively insignificant. However, we also realized that it would be unbalanced for one of us to simply “give in” (God knows that when a spouse surrenders a single battle, it feels as if you've lost the war!) We talked about what we each valued. I wanted a tidy-looking home without piles of clothes everywhere — but at the same time, I didn't want to be constantly picking up after him in order to achieve that. He on the other hand, wanted to come home from work and immediately relax, without having to worry about spending his precious down-time putting things away (this was back in the day before self-employment!) — but he promised he would get it all where it belonged once or twice a week.

Fortunately, we each had a divided closet — so we agreed that when Matt shed his skin at the end of the day, he would pile his clothes in the floor of his side (rather than the floor of the bedroom or living room or bathroom) and shut the door. That way, I didn't have to see it or deal with it. And when the pile got to big for him to stand, he'd hang everything up (or do laundry) and start over again fresh. It was the perfect solution, because both our needs were met at the same time. And that arrangement has followed us into the Airstream and around the country — of course, it's a smaller closet, but we still each have our own section, and Matt's got a series of “cubbies” where he can easily stow his clothes as he takes them off. A good system (one built on give-and-take) is adaptable enough to last you forever!

I always say that compromise is the soul of family harmony — and it's doubly true when you're talking about getting organized. The best way to fail at your organizing efforts is for one family member to lay down hard-and-fast rules, expecting everyone else to just fall in line — ain't gonna happen! Instead of each person insisting that it be done “their” way, recognize that there is no one “right” way to organize. Talk it over, discuss each person's needs and expectations, and find someplace in the middle where you can all be happy. It works with kids, it works with life partners, it even works with mothers-in-law!

Getting On The Same Page

I spoke recently about the idea of setting up a “family calendar,” and I'd like to explain that concept in a little more detail — because it's really the only way to avoid scheduling conflicts and last minute scrambles. Start by setting up a wall calendarin a centralized place, so you can review the entire household's activities with one glance. You'll want to write each person's appointments, deadlines, and other responsibilities with a different colored marker — blue for mom, green for dad, red for Sally, and purple for Johnny. Keep this in a high-traffic area of the house (kitchen seems to work well, because everyone goes there daily) where everyone can see it.

However, hanging a calendar is less than half the battle — the most important step is to take the time to coordinate your schedules. Family members these days are often like ships passing in the night — you see each other for a few minutes at a time on the way from one activity to the next, and it's no wonder so many time-management conflicts occur! It helps if you have a “family planning session” at the start of each week. Ask each person what they have coming up in the near future — extracurricular activities, days that your kids need a ride somewhere (as well as days you have to work late and can't pick them up), school project due dates, parties, vacations, dentist appointments, meetings, social engagements, sporting events, you name it. Everything should go on the calendar. If you carry a personal planner or PDA, this is also the time to update your portable calendar with the current info (it doesn't do you much good to plan out the week if you can't see the schedule while you're out of the house!)

Then from that point forward, every time someone brings home a birthday invitation or permission slip for a field trip, write it down. Every time the school sends out a calendar of upcoming days off, transfer it to the family calendar. When your boss asks if you can work late or your child's piano teacher wants to switch from Tuesday to Wednesday, change the calendar. Add the week's chores to the calendar. Get in the habit of putting EVERYTHING related to your family's schedule in one place. You're trying to accomplish two main goals here — to address any conflicts and to avoid last-minute rushing around. So when you know that mom's got to work late and Jimmy needs a ride home from the game, you can instruct him to make plans to go with a friend, rather than having him sit around waiting 3 hours for mom, when she has no idea she's supposed to pick him up. When Susy agrees to bring cupcakes for the school party, dad knows that they've got to go grocery shopping at least a day or two before so there's time to do the baking. When Bobby (don't ask my why I've chosen such Brady Bunch sounding children's names) has to put a diorama together for history class, he's not popping up at the eleventh hour, asking for shoe boxes and paint after all the stores are closed. Your stress level will drop by a factor of ten, just having each person's to-do's and responsibilities written down in one visible place.