Back To School Planning...Remember Your ABC's?

As summer comes to an end, we are bombarded with visual reminders that a new school year will soon be upon us. For many people this is welcome news. We look forward to new routines, new adventures in the classroom, and more structure to our days. For others, thinking about the start of a new school year raises feelings of anxiety and overwhelm. Stores are overflowing with fall clothing and school supplies. And...did I REALLY see Halloween decorations on display already?! It can all be a bit overwhelming if we don't arm ourselves with a plan so that we can stress less, spend less, and enjoy more on these last days of summer with our families before our new routines take shape. Keep the following in mind as you prepare for the first days of school.

A- Acknowledge that there will be expenses and look for coupons and sales.

B- Be prepared with a shopping list and buy only what you really need to get started.

C- Check school websites for supply lists and book purchases needed for first week of school.

D- Designate an in/out launchpad at your front door for backpacks, notes to teachers, shoes, and   jackets.

E- Each child needs his/her own set of supplies to be kept at home for homework and should have an assigned work space whether it be in a bedroom or at the kitchen table.

F- Fix lunches and snacks the night before school.

G- Get your kids involved in the process of setting up work spaces and choosing supplies.

H- Haircuts are a good idea but I caution you not to wait until the last minute. Schedule them a few weeks before school starts to allow a little growing out and adjustment to a new look.

I- Invest in something new such as a school bag or backpack that your child helps to choose.

J- Join a parents' support group or plan regular coffee mornings. There is strength in numbers be it in person or via blogs and the internet and much to be learned from those who have paved the road you now walk.

K- Keep it simple...backpacks, notebooks, highlighters, sticky notes, planner, timer, reinforced hole paper, pens and pencils are a good start.

L- Label everything, especially outerwear!

M- Measure kids' heights to mark the new school year.

N- New habits begin with you. Prompt your child to give you notes/forms/permission slips from teachers and to return homework to the same place in her/his backpack daily.

O- Organize closets and study areas the week before school starts.

P- Photos taken on the first day at home rather than in front of peers may induce less stress for your children.

Q- Quest for knowledge can be exhausting. Have healthy snacks on hand for after school!

R- Relax...It has been my experience that teachers send home wish lists and class supply lists the first week of school. Make sure that your student has the basics to begin the year right and then fill in the gaps over the next few weeks.

S- Send labeled medications and pertinent health information to the health office and to your child's teachers the first day of school.

T- Test the route to school the week before school starts to allow for timely arrival.

U- Update IEP/504 plans ASAP.

V- Volunteer opportunities abound. Choose those that suit your time and talent; know your limits.

W- Weed out old clothes that no longer fit and donate them to make room for new purchases.

X- eXamine the calendar of events for the year ahead and add them to your calendar. It will make planning much simpler. Many 2014-2015 calendars are already on school websites.

Y- Yes, there is an end to the myriad of forms requested at the beginning of the year. Treat them like a game of "hot potato." Complete them and send them back ASAP!

Z- zzz...Get a good night's sleep!


Priorities and Peak Performance...timing is everything!

Prioritizing is a bit like eating a green frog, which, according to Mark Twain, is "best done first thing in the morning." That's fine if you are a morning person and tremendously disciplined. But, I have to wonder if Mark Twain was a morning person, because eating a green frog at any time of the day is challenging much less on an empty stomach.

I propose that tackling your priority, or your highest value task, at your peak performance time has the highest return of satisfaction in the least amount of time. And, that leaves you more time in your day to pause and reflect and smell the roses. But more on that later!

Scheduling my highest priority task in the morning is important because I AM a morning person. Putting off an important task until later in the day is a bit like hanging a 100 pound weight over my head by a tiny thread. It hovers and threatens and demands my attention. I have noticed that when I don't begin my work day with my highest value task, I am much less productive and easily distracted all day until I pause, focus my energy on the most important thing, and get it done. Once I follow my own advice everything else seems to fall into place.

But what if you work best later in the day? I ask you to seriously consider what times of the day you do your best work. Consider when your energy for tackling mental work is at its peak, and when your physical energy is at its peak.  Even when your most important task is something you are anticipating with great enthusiasm, it can be  difficult and actually take more time than allotted if scheduled during your lower peak times.

Breaking your projects down into tasks is an excellent beginning to organizing your time. It is equally important to plan your most difficult tasks when you have the mental and physical energy to match the task at hand. Once you have established your patterns for productivity, you can block out those times on your calendar using them for your most important tasks. Eventually this habit will become second nature and you will thank yourself daily. And, perhaps, you will even have a little time left to savor a few pages of a book at the end of your day!

Holiday Thing Management...making peace with your things requires a little courage and a little creativity

There are signs everywhere that the holidays are upon us. And, I LOVE it! But there is a real danger in becoming overwhelmed and overloaded by our THINGS, especially at this time of year!!! As all of the pretty ornaments and holiday themed decorations and wonderful specialty items go on display, we are tempted to throw caution to the wind and bring yet more into our homes, sometimes without thought as to where they will live for the other 11 months of the year, or whether we really even need them.

The need question is simple to answer. But there will be no judgement from me. I just spent an hour at Crate and Barrel sighing over this year's Christmas tree ornaments and even bought a few. What it is different for me this year, however, is that I have a plan and a place to keep them after the holidays.

Last year, I sorted through every box and bag of decorations that had collected over the years, and shed myself of quite a few things that I no longer really cherished or needed. There will be more of that as the boxes come out again this year and I will take another critical look and shed a few more things.

Here are a few ideas for keeping holiday thing management under control:

1. Share/give away/throw away one item for every item that you bring into your home...okay one for every two or three things if you have the storage space and are building your collection. But, be honest, be brave! And, remember that sharing is a blessing!

2. Consider Coco Chanel's motto of less is more and take the last item out of your cart and put it back onto the shelf.

3.  If a THING calls loudly to you, and won't stop, consider it for someone on your shopping list; wrap and label it for that person immediately so as to remove the temptation to keep it for yourself.

4. Decorate early in the season, savor the ambience longer, and move on to the other elements of the holiday that you enjoy!

5. Consider experiences as a part of your holiday to-do list: The Boat Parade of Lights, Christmas Card Lane,  a party or potluck with friends, a trip to Starbuck's on the first day that the red cups arrive! You get the idea. I celebrate Christmas; so am focused there. But the same encouragement holds true for Hanukkah or other Winter holidays and holds true for Thanksgiving and Halloween as well.

6. Find a buddy to make the task of sorting decorations more fun and then return the favor. Have lively music and delicious refreshments on hand.

7. As you sort through your boxes of holiday treasures and decorations, remember that gently used or never used items can be wrapped and given to toy drives and other charity events. Be creative and generous! And do it early in the season so that others have more time to savor their new treasures.

8. Finally, as you make your way through the holiday season, repeatedly ask yourself the tough questions: Why am I keeping this? Why am I buying this?

No, I don't need four plastic pumpkins for trick or treating.  My children no longer trick or treat. The flip side of this record is, yes, I DO need an extra string of lights. Do NOT wait until two weeks before Christmas and expect to find twinkle lights lining the shelves of your favorite stores.

Or, you could consider using fewer lights! For me, this is one place Coco and I disagree. More is more when it comes to twinkling lights in December! Just remember to consider where you will shelter them the remainder of the year.



October...anticipating the holidays with a happy heart and clean windows

I LOVE this time of year! The evenings are cool and the leaves are falling from my birch trees.

I'm  not sure how much my neighbors appreciate the leaves that blow their way, but these are signs that some of my favorite holidays are approaching. I have yet to make my lists. I am pausing first to reflect upon what is truly important to me. And, I have chosen to treat myself to something simple.

This year, I am beginning the season with clean windows. Yes, you read correctly! There is something wonderful about having squeaky clean windows. Turns out...again...that mom was right! I have a lovely view from my back windows and expect to see even more of it through clean glass.

Whatever is it that lightens your load a little bit before the holiday madness begins, consider it for yourself. Be prepared to enjoy the rush headlong into the fray from October to January.

Clean carpets

Polish floors

Clean gutters

Fill the bird feeders...but be prepared to repeat frequently!

And then sit with a cup of tea near your favorite window, make your lists and hang on to your hat!!

Garage Sales...the good, the bad, and the ugly

What is it about springtime weather that brings out the declutter bug?

Rather than allow clutter to remain inside the house, I allow it to find its way into the garage for final review. (garages serve as basements/attics in California, don't judge!) That said, the garage needs to be usable and it was groaning from the strain of holding too much stuff!

For several weeks, I have worked my way through the house, inch by inch, drawer by drawer and corner by corner. A growing pile of usable items collected in the far corner awaiting the much advertised annual community garage sale.

I was outside and organized before my first customer arrived and by 10 am. vowed to never, never, NEVER host a garage sale again. Ironically, as I was putting things haphazardly into boxes and bags several very interested buyers appeared and eagerly poked through the bags looking for buried treasure.

My total earnings were $27 and some priceless pearls of wisdom which I will share with you now.

1. Messy is better! People like to treasure hunt.  

2. Smile and set no expectations except to meet some very interesting people.  

3. If you are at all attached your treasures and have found purging and editing your home difficult, DO NOT have a garage sale. You will be tempted to keep things you have not even missed until you see them again on the sale table.      

4. Load the car with the remaining items from your garage sale and head straight to your favorite  charity.      

5. Better yet, schedule home pick up (AMVETS is my favorite) on a regular basis, as you have a bag or two ready to share, to avoid *purger's remorse.

* definition of purger's remorse: regret over the removal of an item from your home and subsequent reintroduction to your home with said item.  

Treasures...Keep those cards and letters coming...and going!

Ever need to stay home while work is being done to a part of your house? Did you set aside a special project or task, easily interrupted, to occupy you so that you were available for the potential myriad of questions from the soul who chose to assist you in refreshing your home? My advice is this: have a stocked fridge, the coffee or tea kettle ready, and a clear work space. And if you are visually hypersensitive, as I am, then know what soothes you during the disruption to your visual senses. For me, I am calmed by Mozart, deep breathing and objective family members who remind me that this disruption is temporary.

Painting the master bedroom and bathroom seemed like a brilliant idea, especially on paper when I scheduled it a few months ago. Amazing how a simple, fresh coat of paint will cheer up a room! I am fortunate to have high, sloping ceilings in my bedroom, and although I could do this task myself, do not relish the idea of tottering on a ladder craning my neck for three days at such a lofty height!

Sunday was spent pulling everything out of my room to make space to move the large furniture into the middle of the room come "paint day." This could have taken an hour, but...those of you who know me, know I cannot simply remove things without peering inside the drawer, the box, the trunk. So I spent much of Sunday looking through my personal things, sorting, purging and reminiscing.

Yes, I can be very organized. But I am also sentimental and have a little trouble letting go of treasures! Mine includes boxes of cards and letters that have collected over the years never to be tossed or dismissed. Today I read through about 100 cards and letters sent years ago. Yes, I sat in the midst of my office, crammed full of the overflow from my bedroom, and poured over old messages and pretty cards.

There are several from my Nana, and many from mother's cousin who has faithfully written to me a few times every year with her beautiful, recognizable penmanship. Despite having never met her in person, I feel a connection through these many letters.

These treasures reminded me yet again of the many blessings in my life...friends and family, moments and events, weddings and  births, and thank you's for long since forgotten gifts of self. Saying thank you is such a simple task and yet so meaningful to the recipient. I have a happy heart tonight as I write a few thank you's of my own. I am saving a few of the cards and letters for myself, setting aside a few to share with friends and family to remind them of long past memories, and recycling the rest! They have served a beautiful purpose, a walk down memory lane, and now safely stashed in the "blue recycle bin" for the next collection. Perhaps, they will serve to save a tree!

Garages...last night I dreamed my whole house was clean!

As much as I would love to continue working inside the house, the garage needs me more. And, lucky for me, there is a community-wide garage sale on Saturday. So for the next few days, I will clear a path through the garage deciding what to set outside for this timely event. One man's discards are soon to become another's treasures. This will eventually create more space for, dare I say it, my car. Now that would be a feat in southern California given the lack of basements and attic space.

Having a few cupboards in the garage gives me overflow pantry space and emergency supplies. Good to take inventory of expired items and what is missing. Keeping paper, sticky notes and a pen handy will save time in the long run. I don't know about you, but I tend to become easily distracted. Remember the book, "If you Give a Mouse a Cookie?" Well, if you send Jen to the kitchen to make a list, she is going to want a cup of tea, and then remember that she didn't eat lunch and before you know it, the list is long forgotten. So... my rule of thumb is to keep supplies at arm's reach to stay on task! Pockets are also a good idea.

You might be surprised at what you will discover about yourself as you clear the clutter. I have learned or should I say, remembered that photographs are one of my favorite art forms. I have stopped along the way to reframe photographs taken by my family and have created wall collages in my office, in the hallway, and a few other places in the house. My desk and countertops are clear leaving me more space to work. Not only do they bring a smile to my face, but cleaning them is a breeze!

If you aren't using Swiffers yet, try them!!!! Another favorite staple of mine is "earthquake putty." I put a little dab on one back corner of each picture frame. The picture frames are stable which adds to the sense of order and calm.

I am heading back to the garage now and will let you know what else I discover.