Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Get Organized to Get In Shape

When you think about health and wellness, an organized home may not be the first thing that comes to mind. But it turns out that there is a strong connection between the two. The truth is, it is difficult for most people to achieve their health and wellness goals if their homes, offices and lives are a mess.

What’s the Connection?
As a relatively new area of interest in both the wellness and organizing fields, this often-observed connection can likely be boiled down to a couple of basic issues – physical and mental clutter. It just makes sense – if you can’t find your gym shoes, you’re just not going to make it to the gym after work. Likewise, if your kitchen and refrigerator are a jumbled mess, the chances of you packing a healthy lunch are slim to none.

The mental clutter connection is a little less clear cut, but may be an important piece of the puzzle. For most people, a cluttered home (or office or schedule) causes feelings of stress, chaos and lack of control. Thoughts about how to manage the mess can feel overwhelming and may consume any extra mental energy. Exercise and healthy meals just may not make it to the top of the priority list. In addition, healthy habits are just that - habits – they require practice and having the right systems in place, which is tough to do when you don’t feel in control of your life. 

On an even deeper level, there are many things that clutter and extra weight have in common. 
  1. People often hold onto clutter for emotional reasons, just like extra weight. Addressing the emotional background may be key to making progress on either front.
  2. You have to decide that you are ready to free yourself from your excess stuff, just like you have to be ready to lose the weight. Professionals or family and friends can help support you, but it has to come from within.
  3. Drastic approaches to de-cluttering often fail in the long term, just like weight loss. Slow and steady changes definitely win the race.

The great thing is that just as clutter and weight often go together, the reverse is also true. People who have an ‘ah ha’ moment and start clearing the clutter from their homes, offices and schedules often lose weight as an excellent side benefit. This is likely due to the ‘high’ that comes along with taking back control and working toward the life you want.

Organizational Sabotage
But even if you or someone you know are not overwhelmed by clutter, chances are you have some piles and messes in your home or office.  Think about whether any of them are getting in the way of a healthier you. According to organizational expert Julie Morgenstern, one of the most common causes of clutter is what she terms a ‘technical error.’ In the organizing sense, technical errors are simple, mechanical mistakes that physically get in the way (i.e. you cannot get your bike out of the garage to go for a ride because it is stuck behind three bins of Christmas decorations). Technical errors can occur for several reasons including inconvenient storage, not having a specific home for each item, too much stuff for the space you have, or creating systems that are too complicated. 

Shape Up Your Home, Shape Up Your Life
Walk through your home and make a list of the organizing errors you find. You can even get your family involved in this investigative task. Likewise, involving the whole family in fixing the issues will help ensure that your new systems succeed so you can focus on bigger and better things like making healthy meals and enjoying healthy holiday fun!

If you are overwhelmed by clutter, enlist the help of a trusted family member, friend, or better yet, a trained professional. If you want to make some changes on your own, there are plenty of books and on-line tips to help you improve your systems and change the way you think about your stuff. 

Bottom Line: You may be surprised at what a little organizational improvement can do to kick-start your health and wellness routine. Good organizational habits, healthy eating and plenty of exercise may just be the winning combination you need!

Recommended Reading: Organizing From the Inside Out by Julie Morgenstern, It’s All Too Much by Peter Walsh

Friday, November 19, 2010

What to Do With Your Kids' Creations

Knowing how to manage all the wonderful artwork your kids create is certainly a challenge for any parent. You want to treat the art and the artist as special, but the new creations just keep coming in on a daily basis. Most families come to the conclusion that it's just not possible or practical to save it all. Some rely on refrigerator or wall space to give each piece its moment in the spotlight, but then what do you do with it all?! The key is to set up a system for saving a select number of pieces to treasure for the long-term. The pieces may be chosen to represent an age, a subject or a type of art, or simply the favorites. If the concept of a rotating gallery or special selections book is introduced early, it will become part of the natural routine. Here are some different approaches to displaying and preserving treasured works of art.

1) Hanging Art Gallery - Using a curtain rod with clips or a simple wire/cord attached to the wall, you can create a gallery space where favorites are displayed and then switched out for newer works periodically. The selection and easy switch process can be done by or with your children, allowing them to take ownership of the gallery. And if you still want to save one or all of the pieces that come down, you can keep a special box for this or follow up with the binder or photo book ideas below. Here are some great examples of galleries from Ohdeedoh.com and MakesandTakes.com. If you don't have a curtain rod with clips, you can simply use ribbon or string to tie clips or clothes pins to the rod. You can see my friend Melissa's simple and cute creation for her daughter's room in the picture above. 

2) Framed Gallery - Along the same lines as the hanging art gallery, you can use frames that are easy to switch pieces in and out of, such as those shown by MakesandTakes.com or Unclutterer.com. You can also use simple acrylic frames from an office supply store - either free-standing or magnetic. And speaking of magnetic, another great idea for a gallery pictured in the Makes and Takes post is to paint a wall section with magnetic paint - I love this one too because it would be super easy to switch and rearrange differently-sized works of art. 

3) Special Selections Book - Another idea especially good for 8.5 x 11 or smaller works of art is a simple binder with sheet protectors. You can use a fun, decorative binder, such as those available at Target, rather than an office-supply version. This is an easy way to preserve items for each child and can also be combined with special school projects for a year-long memory book. 

4) Photo Book - Another great way to preserve more in less space and with a "professional" look and feel is to take photographs of the works of art and create a photo book using any of the online photo sites (i.e. Shutterfly, Snapfish, Kodak Gallery). This is especially good for 3-dimensional works that are harder to display on a wall. Talk about a great way to make an artist feel special! This could be your first step or a follow up step from the gallery ideas above. Simply take photos of your rotating gallery art (to be included in a photo book) before it's taken down to make room for the next round.

Bottom Line: Don't let your child's artwork become a source of clutter and stress. Try out the above ideas for enjoying and treasuring their creations - a win-win situation for you, your artist and your home!

Photo Credit: Thanks to Melissa for sharing her art gallery inspiration!

Monday, November 15, 2010

NBC's Back to Basics Series

A couple weeks ago, we highlighted an evening news story on CBS about simplifying and downsizing your life. Well, it turns out that everyone is talking about this hot topic. In fact, NBC Nightly News recently aired an entire series on this topic, which they called Back to Basics. They provided insight on different ways and reasons why people are choosing to do more with less. While believers practice this culture of 'less is more' to varying degrees, the common theme in all of these stories seems to be fighting back against the culture of 'more is better.'

One of my favorite points covered in the series is that the more you have, the more you have to take care of. Think about it, if you have more clothes and shoes, you have more things to store, dry clean, and switch over when the seasons change. The more gadgets you have, the more cords, instruction manuals and passwords you have to keep track of. The more vehicles and big 'toys' you have, the more things you have to insure, maintain, and yes, use! That is, unless you don't use them, which is quite common. Just like you wear 20% of the clothes in your closet 80% of the time, the same is likely true for the rest of the stuff we own. So does it make sense to hang on to the other 80% for the rare occasion we decide to use it?

While the answer to this question is very individual and depends on a variety of factors, there are a couple of guiding questions you can use to help determine if it makes sense (for you) to keep something:

1) Have I used it in that last 12 months? This is a good guide because many of the bulky items we tend to store are seasonal or associated with special events. If a whole set of seasons passed by and you didn't use an item, that's a pretty good indication that it's passed its 'use by' date in your home.

2) Do I have the space to store it? Having a place for everything is a must for an organized home. While you can get creative about where you store things, you can't change the laws of physics and create more space. Rental storage may be an option, but it can easily turn into a black hole of underutilized items, as well as a monthly drain on your bank account. If you have more stuff than can fit in your space, something's got to give. For example, if you live in a small city apartment and go skiing once or twice a year, it might make sense for you to rent skis at your destination rather than find space to store them all year.

3) Could someone else use it more than I can? Giving items to family or friends or donating them to a wide variety of charities is a great way to give your unused things new life. They're not doing anybody any good sitting in your closets while they could be enjoyed by someone else. Simply 'Google' charities or donation sites in your area to find out what they will take. Some will even pick up itemsIf you have items of higher value, you can also consider consignment or selling them yourself. 

4) If I decide to keep this, will I put it to good use and am I willing to store and maintain it? This is the key question. If the answer is 'no' or even 'maybe', then there's no point in keeping it. This doesn't mean you shouldn't keep any items for sentimental value that you don't 'use' in the traditional sense - these items in particular should be cared for and stored in a way that allows you to enjoy them when you want to. 

Bottom Line: If you have had it up to here with too much stuff, take some time to downsize and find the items in your home that you truly use and treasure. Chances are, you will enjoy what you own more once there is less of it to manage. 

To view the stories that were part of the Back to Basics series, check out the NBC Nightly News Facebook page - scroll down and look for the Back to Basics logo.