Posts Tagged ‘shopping’

Making Mealtime A Bit Easier

Today, pay attention to the way that you move while you cook — and the energy you expend in the process. How many times do you cross the length of your kitchen in one evening? Do you find yourself doing squats to get at your pans? Stretches to reach your dishes? Are you becoming a world-class hurdler, jumping over the dog's dish every time you go from refrigerator to stove?

And what about the time it takes to get dinner on the table — how many hours have you wasted looking for the right utensil — or trying to find your double boiler in the back of an overstuffed cabinet — or making a last-minute run to the store because you ran out of a vital ingredient? Would you be more likely to cook if your pantry wasn't cluttered with outdated canned and boxed goods that you know you'll never use? It only takes a few minutes of cleaning out and rearranging to make your kitchen storage function more efficiently, saving you a lot of time and energy in the long run.

Honey, Is This Good?

We all know how disgusting it is to pull an item out of the fridge — only to discover that it has mutated into something no longer edible and (quite frankly) a bit scary. However, we often mistakenly confuse “non-perishable” with “indestructible”. Even Twinkies have an expiration date!

Do yourself a favor today — go through your cabinets and toss out anything that is old, rancid, stale, or hairy. And as you purge, be sure to keep a shopping list of items you need to replace. It's also not a bad idea to make cleaning out the kitchen a part of your regular “home maintenance” routine. You may use these food “life expectancies” as a guide — but when in doubt, trust your gut (or your nose!):    

  • canned foods (2-5 years)
  • flours (3-6 months)
  • cereal (6 months)
  • grains/legumes (1 year)
  • pasta (1 year)  
  • dried herbs (6 months)
  • spices (6-12 months) 
  • condiments (1 year)

Five Centers

Every kitchen implement or supply that you use tends to fall into one of five categories — cleaning, food storage, cooking, food preparation, and serving. So if you can set up your kitchen and dining room to reflect these activities, both storage and food preparation will become a whole lot easier.

It's just like your kids are taught at Montessori — make it easy to find the tools you need for your work, and to put your supplies away when you're done. The goal is to keep your equipment nearest the appropriate center, making it easier for you to perform your kitchen duties.

  • Your cleaning station consists of the sink, dishwasher, and trashcan. Of course, soap, disinfectants, sponges, and rags should be stored in a cabinet nearby.
  • The stove is central to any cooking activities, so keep utensils, baking sheets, pots, and pans within easy reach. If you can, also move the microwave and toaster into this area.
  • Your food preparation center should be located near a large workspace (countertop or island). You will probably want to store knives, a cutting board, mixing bowls, blender, food processor, measuring cups, and other related implements close by.
  • Food storage, on the other hand, will center on the refrigerator — and should include room for Tupperware containers, canned foods, dry goods, and fresh fruits or vegetables.
  • Your serving center may be split between the kitchen and dining area. It is often easier to store serving dishes, linens, and candles near the table – while flatware, glasses, and plates usually work well closer to the sink (it's easier to put them away after washing).

Transform Your Existing Storage Space

In your cabinets and drawers, try to limit yourself to one category of paraphernalia per area. That may mean putting canned goods on one shelf and boxes on another — or keeping dishes separate from glasses. This just makes it easier for your brain to remember where things belong. Organize your kitchen in a way that makes sense to you, but try to avoid storing food and cookware together in the same cabinet.

Also see what you can do to make your current storage spaces work better for you. Stepped shelving allows you to see items hidden in the back of a deep cabinet — and drawer dividers will keep your utensils under control. Remember that rectangular storage containers take up less space than round ones — and pot lids and flat cookware are more accessible when lined up in a rack. Finally, don't forget the many ways to bring “dead” space back to life — including pull-out racks, lazy susans, cup hooks, stacking bins, hanging storage, and space-saving appliances.

The Triangle Theory

One final concern in your kitchen is movement from one “center” to the next. Some people claim that you should be able to reach every major appliance in your kitchen with just one step.  But that seems highly impractical to me, especially if you have a very large kitchen or a very large number of appliances. However, you can make your life a bit easier as you cook and serve and clean — if you keep motion in mind.

Try viewing your kitchen as a triangle — from the sink to the stove to the refrigerator. Your goal is to keep those paths clear! If you have to dodge garbage cans, recycling bins, or any other obstacles to get back and forth, you are doing too much work. And those of you with an island may need to have your triangle at a very oblique or obtuse angle, but you can still make it work — just pretend that your triangle has curved sides that go around the island. We're flexible here! Wink

Why Do You Buy What You Buy?

Unfortunately, we often buy things for the wrong reasons. It might be desire to appear more affluent, hip, intellectual, or worldly — to impress those around us with our taste. We could be attempting to make up for deprivation earlier in life. Or we may have an unrealistic expectation of what “success” is supposed to look like, equating material goods with accomplishment. We mistakenly think that our possessions will change our lives — that a treadmill will give us the motivation to exercise and the right calendar will end a lifetime of procrastination. It's that old “life-will-be-better-once-I-have-such-and-such” syndrome. How many fabulous “modern conveniences” do you own that are collecting dust in a cabinet because they failed to live up to your expectations?

Spend a few minutes thinking about the ways in which you accumulate “stuff” you don't need. Perhaps your vice is going to the mall when you are depressed. Or sitting at the computer and shopping for Internet deals until 3 AM. Maybe you're addicted to mail order catalogs, or kitchen gadgets, or cheap vacation souvenirs. We all have a weakness (some of us more than one!) — the trick is to identify those areas where you are most at risk and do what you can to avoid them. You can choose to stop accumulating more clutter, but only if you know where the clutter is coming from.

How Does Your Clutter Make You Feel?

Certainly, the mere act of “shopping” is not inherently evil. The real problem occurs when we fail to make room for the new by purging the old and obsolete. Unfortunately, cleaning out is pretty low on most people's to-do lists. How can you possibly make time to clear the decks — when you have carpools, business meetings, and deadlines to keep you busy?  I'll answer that question by asking another — how do you feel when you can't find something that you are looking for? Stupid? Frustrated? How about when you run across something that you haven't used once since the day you bought it? Guilty? Wasteful? Or when you look around you and see nothing but piles and stacks? Out of control? Clutter can evoke an amazing variety of negative emotions in people. It's said that “to surround yourself with worthless objects, renders you worthless.” If we define ourselves by our possessions, we judge ourselves based on our clutter.

How Much Is Clutter Costing You?

I define clutter as anything extraneous and unnecessary that takes up one of four valuable resources — time, space, energy, or money — without providing any tangible benefit. When you look at your life through this lens, it is clear that we are all burdened with some form of clutter — even those of us without stacks and piles all over the place.

How much of your square footage is designated for storage? If you didn't need so much space for your “stuff,” you could create larger living and working areas — or downsize to a smaller home or office (think about the reduction in mortgage and utility costs!) And just imagine the collective savings if everyone turned in the keys to their public storage units!

Now, take a minute to consider the time and effort you invest in caring for your belongings. Would these precious resources be better spent on other pursuits — a new hobby, relaxing with family and friends, achieving some of those goals you never seem to get around to? Don't forget the expenditure of emotional energy on your things — ownership can weigh heavy on a person's mind. “What if someone steals or damages my stuff? What if a tornado blows it all away? What will I do then?” How often has the stress you experience in your life been related to your material possessions?

Once you can understand where clutter comes from, how you accumulate it, and what's driving those behavior patterns, you can stem the tide. Remember, the goal isn't to become a monk and give up all worldly possessions, but to put a stop to the constant influx of meaningless “stuff” into your life — and start making conscious and deliberate decisions about each purchase.

A Better Use Of Down Time

Most people's days are so filled to overflowing with responsibilities, that there's is almost no way to get it all done in the hours available. Some things (like work and school) eat up big chunks of your day, and you have no control over when or how they happen. Others can be squeezed in whenever you've got a few free minutes here or there. And where do you tend to have a lot of available time? While you're waiting! You could be sitting in a medical office, stuck in traffic, caught in a long line at the post office or bank, hoping to have your flight start boarding soon, trapped on a train during an hour-long commute, or early for a scheduled meeting. Instead of bitching about wasted time, use those precious minutes to get something done!

  • clean out your purse, briefcase, or backpack
  • listen to a book on tape or a recording of a seminar you've been wanting to hear
  • make a wish list of books to read, movies to see, restaurants to try, etc.
  • make a to-do list of things you want and need to get done in the next week
  • plan your menu and grocery shopping lists for the week
  • read that magazine article or book you haven't had time for
  • review and update your calendar
  • schedule an appointment you've been putting off
  • sort through your incoming mail, separating to-do's from trash
  • write a letter to a friend
  • make a phone call that you've been procrastinating on
  • pay your bills, either online or writing a check to go in the mail
  • balance your checkbook
  • work on your Christmas gift list
  • write and address holiday greeting cards
  • work on any sort of report / homework / project with an upcoming deadline
  • write in your journal or diary
  • meditate
  • file your nails (although I probably would discourage a pedicure in public!)
  • just relax and enjoy a moment of silence in the middle of a hectic day

See how easy that was? Wink

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

Pinch That Penny Until It Screams

I come from a long line of serious penny-pinchers — my father was a world-champion cheapskate, so I learned from the best! In fact, one of my two superpowers is the ability to magnetically attract bargains (the one is good parking karma.) I don't see any shame in trying to save money, so I say take advantage of every sale, coupon, and special you can find — as long as you aren't just shopping to get the discount. Remember, it's only a bargain if you were planning to purchase it in the first place. This was a concept my father never seemed to grasp. He'd come home from the grocery store loaded down with crap we were never going to use — but even if it ended up going to waste, he would still insist it was a good buy because it was so cheap! And if you think that you have to clip coupons to trim your budget, think again — all you have to do is realign the way you view shopping, spending, and saving money.

  • plan before you shop (impulse buys will kill your budget faster than anything — if you go to the store to buy bread and milk, don't come home with fried chicken, chocolate cake, and a bottle of wine, too! — if you want to prevent a bigger-than-expected bill at the checkout stand, then you've got to avoid “browsing” — know what you want before you walk in the front door and keep your eye on the prize — only visit those sections of the store where the items on your list are located, move purposefully, and try not to be distracted by “sale” signs — planning ahead also means scouring the internet or newspaper for deals BEFORE heading to the store — make sure you've got a system for storing and organizing your coupons, one that is portable and that you keep either in your purse or in your car — it does you no good to remember that you found $1 off of that item in the Family Circle that week, if you've left it at home on your kitchen counter)
  • harness the power of the internet (you can also save tons by signing up for programs like Restaurant.com, Entertainment.com, and Groupon — however, maximizing these deep discounts requires that you remember to look for and print out their certificates in advance — just be careful about loading up on deals you THINK you might use, then allowing them to expire before you can cash them in — I find that the best approach is to have a system for locating savings — before I do anything costing money, whether it's eating out or visiting a museum, getting the oil changed or replacing a toner cartridge, I check my discount sites — I also visit the actual company/store website, and perform a general internet search, as well — and don't forget to look for coupons through your AAA membership, credit card, or professional association — you never know who's going to be offering a special that week)
  • shop smart at the supermarket (grocery stores are scientifically designed to make you spend more money than you intend — name brands are placed right at eye level, while off-brands are hidden away on higher or lower shelves — but it's worth the search to find a generic version whenever possible — ironically, you're actually getting the exact same product as the big brands, for as much as 50% less because you're not paying for the advertising and flashy containers — another grocery trick is locating more expensive foods at the heart of the store, while cheaper bulk items are shoved way off along the perimeter — to save money, stick to the outside ring of store, where the fresh fruits, veggies, meats, and dairy reside — and when you do have to visit the interior for a package of pasta or some disinfectant, try to avoid all those pre-packaged meals and snacks — “convenience” foods will burn a hole through your budget in no time!)
  • be an opportunistic shopper (smart savers are flexible shoppers, willing to bend their needs to match what's on sale — so if you had originally planned to make spinach lasagna for dinner, but it turns out that spinach is regularly priced and eggplant is half off, you might consider eggplant parmesan instead — substitution is king! — pay attention to the sales in the grocery store circular, because those usually emphasize deeply-discounted items that they are overstocked on and need to clear out quickly — but of course, only take advantage of store-provided coupons and specials when it's something you needed anyway — supermarkets are notorious for providing a “sale” on a more expensive name brand item, which ends up being more costly even after the discount that if you had just bought the generic version)
  • look at unit price, not total price (when comparing different brands and different sizes of the same product, it can be hard to tell which is the best bargain without a slide rule, scientific calculator, and advanced calculus degree! — so the way to get the best deal is to pay attention to “unit price” — this is the one constant in grocery store mathematics, how much that item costs per ounce or pound or piece — fortunately, most stores now provide this information right on the sign for that product, so it's easy to see whether buying a different brand or a larger bulk size container is going to save you more)
  • comparison shop (the difference in price on the same exact product from one store to the next can be staggering —  companies count on the fact that you will be too busy to shop around, that you'll be willing to pay a bit more to run all your errands in one place — but it's usually a lot more expensive to buy food at a drug store and household cleaners at the supermarket, than if you got each at a shop specializing in that category of product — and don't forget the power of the internet when it comes to comparison shopping — if an item costs $40 in the store, you can probably find it for half price or less on Amazon or Ebay or some other discount site that has lower overhead than a brick-and-mortar retailer)
  • stock up (shopping in onesies and twosies is almost always more expensive than buying in bulk — purchasing larger quantities of just about anything, from spaghetti to ball point pens, toilet paper to motor oil, will cost you less per unit — if you don't have the space to store a case of canned green beans, or you can't eat  15-pound slab of salmon before it goes bad, find a few friends to split the deal with you — just be sure to evaluate that unit price before you buy, especially when shopping at the warehouse clubs — some items are a good deal, but some are actually more expensive than if you bought a smaller quantity elsewhere — another way to stock up is to take advantage of seasonal sales, like back-to-school, Black Friday, inventory time, and after the holidays — load up on school supplies for the next year or holiday decorations or household staples when they are marked way down)
  • loyalty pays in the end (as long as there are no annual fees, customer loyalty clubs are a great way to either save money on your purchases or earn cash back for shopping with a particular merchant — some stores have even started marking their products up higher for non-club shoppers, so they can offer deeper discounts to those with the magic membership card — it's a little bit disingenuous, but you might as well take advantage of the disparity!)
  • barter is smarter (whenever you can trade for the products and services you need, you'll almost always come out ahead — folks are willing to offer more generous “packages” when there's no exchange of cash to deal with, no sales tax to charge, and no paper trail for the IRS to follow — if you don't already sell something that you could offer in barter, think about using your talents creatively — you might help your chiropractor's office with filing in return for adjustments, or stuff envelopes for a mass mailing your gym is sending out to pay for your membership fee — you could provide home-baked refreshments at your hair stylist's open house as a swap for a free cut and color — you could even offer babysitting services to your favorite cheese shop owner if she'll keep you in brie Wink — everyone has something of value to offer others)
  • used is the new “new” (while of course, you probably don't want to be shopping for used underwear or yogurt, there are very few other consumer goods that you have to buy new — and while I'm a big thrift-store girl, I'm not suggesting that you have to shop at the Salvation Army to get a deal either — consignment stores carry top-brand clothing at a fraction of the cost — plenty of electronics stores resell used movies, music, and video games — CraigslistEbay, and even the Amazon marketplace can be great resources for bargains on sports equipment, appliances, computer equipment, tools, toys, anything you can think of — and, of course, this rule goes double for vehicles — new cars depreciate by as much as half the minute you drive them off the lot — buying a good 1-year or 2-year-old vehicle will save you a ton — if you're concerned about possible problems, shop with a certified reseller that offers a warranty)
  • take advantage of “free” (I am continually amazed at the number of things you can get these days without spending a cent — join the birthday club at your favorite restaurant to get a free meal — companies have started offering freebie coupons and samples through their Facebook fan pages — notification services like Cities On The Cheap will send you discount codes for free video rentals and MP3 downloads — and nearly every food-oriented company out there, from Starbucks to IHOP to Ben And Jerry's has the occasional  promotional “try us for free day” — borrow books and movies from the library rather than buying them — plan “closet-swap” days where each of your friends cleans out unwanted outfits and you each “shop” through each other's piles — trade tools with a buddy or set up a co-op for the neighborhood — even renting certain types of equipment can be less expensive in the long-run than buying — if you don't have to own it and aren't going to use it all the time, find another way!)
  • sell or trade first (quite often, we buy new things to replace old things without getting rid of the old things first — Matt and I have developed a “one-in/one-out” rule — for example, if he's going to get a new video game, he has to trade in an old one at the same time — we do this with books, music, movies, and sports equipment — not only does it keep clutter away, but we can apply the trade credit toward the price of the new item — and if you can't find an establishment that will take your used items, consider a yard sale or posting it on Craigslist)