Sunday, April 26, 2015

DIY Mother's Day Gifts

A little off topic but can I just brag about my friends for a moment?  When I decided that I wanted to start a blog I was so nervous.  I wrote for a couple weeks before I finally decided to share the blog with one person, my sister.  And when I finally did post a link to the blog on social media I was floored by the response.  My friends have been sharing their organizing ideas at dinner, via emails, Facebook, texts.  The suggestions just keep coming and the support feels...incredible.  Maybe it helps that I'm writing about something that a lot of people struggle with or don't enjoy doing but that doesn't diminish how grateful I am.

At dinner a couple months ago I asked my friends what they need help organizing.  I got some of the usual responses like, 'My garage!' or 'My tupperware!' but I was perplexed by one of my friend's answers.  She said she has so many digital photos that she never prints and they just sit in photo albums on her computer and online.  I struggled with her response for a while, because at first it felt like one of those projects where there isn't really a trick to doing it.  You just need to find the time.  But her comment has stayed in the back of my mind and a solution finally came to me when I was trying to figure out what to get my moms for Mother's Day.

Mother's Day is two weeks away (!!!!) and it is time to get crackin'.  Usually I buy my mom flowers but this year I wanted to try to plan ahead a little and do something special.  Especially now that I'm a mom and I understand all that moms do.  We should be celebrated!  We are pretty amazing.

I came across an article in Real Simple that included some photo gift ideas that are perfect for someone like me who wants to hold on to everything and perfect for my friend who is trying to have her photos become tangible things instead of living in a cyber cloud.  Who better to create gifts for, from keepsakes and memories that you have stashed away in your closets, drawers and online photo websites, than your mom.  Especially my mom who doesn't live close and loves getting anything that reminds her of her grandkids.  Of course you can always do a photo coffee mug or necklace with the kids names on it but I wanted to share some of the more unique and DIY gift ideas I've come across.

Recipe photo album: Collect recipes from multiple generations and match up photos of the person who is known for the recipe, with their recipe.  Cooking is a big deal on my husband's side of the family (Italians of course!) so his mom had plenty of recipes to share and I'm hoping she'll really enjoy the gift.  We are even adding in recipes that my husband and I have made that she really likes.  You can make this photo book in any photo site but Shutterfly is having a sale depending on the size of the photo book, that ends 4/29.

Meal with all her favorite recipes: This idea ties into the photo recipe book.  If you want to stay away from giving your mom more 'stuff', figure out how to make her favorite recipes and even some classics from her mom and grandma and make her a multi-generational Mom dinner.

Framed hand prints: What is not to love about those tiny, adorable hand prints.  You can do an art project just for Mother's Day or have an existing hand print project framed if you are short on time, or paint.  All you need is the hand prints and a frame.

Custom date print: My husband bought me one of these for Christmas that includes the date we met, when we got married, when our first daughter was born and our second.  I love it so much it hangs at the center of our living room wall.  Added bonus, no one has an excuse for forgetting an anniversary!  You can do the same thing on Etsy for your mom with dates of when your children were born.

Stuck in a bottle: This one takes a little more creativity to execute but is something my mom would be endlessly entertained by.  You can use a photo of yourself now, yourself as a kid or a photo of your own kids.  Our maybe create a set of bottles with the whole family.

Re-creating childhood memories: Another silly gift idea for mom's who have a good sense of humor.  Locate some of your favorite childhood photos and see if you can recreate the poses as an adult.  Or if you want to tone it down a little, see if you can find pictures of you and your children that are similar and make a photo book or wall print.

Art project photo album: Select some of your kid's favorite art projects from over the years and match the art with photos of your children.  Real Simples suggests the website Artifact Uprising but you can also use the standard photo book websites like Snapfish, Shutterfly, etc.

Candles made out of melted crayons: This is not only a cute idea but it is also a great way to use up all those broken crayons you have laying around the house.  There are a million tutorials out there but I found one on Brit + Co that makes snazzy color block candles.

Memory video: I've done this for my husband for our anniversary with photos of us over the years and a few different videos of our kids.  You can make a short movie with photos or videos in a program like iMovie fairly easily depending on how computer saavy you are.  Here is a link to a tutorial if you need help.  One movie that I created used a picture from every day of my daughter first three months, with music, and the second was all videos of my daughter dancing to upbeat dancing songs.  I originally made them both for my husband but my mother-in-law loved them so much I made her a copy too.

Shadow box filled with memories: This is great if you want to combine an art project, photos and other trinkets from you or your kids lives.  It is helpful if you find a theme to the box.  You can find shadow boxes at craft stores or Amazon or Target.

Photo puzzle: This gift is perfect for a puzzle enthusiast but as a close friend warned, make sure you think about the photo you are using and if it works for a puzzle (not too much of the same color!).  You want your mom to have a fun gift, not an endlessly frustrating brain teaser.  Try Snapfish for this gift.  They are having a sale until 4/29.

Whether it is a custom photo book or a special meal, hopefully you can find a gift idea that is perfect for your mom.  A DIY idea may take a little extra man hours but you know your mom is worth it.  I mean, she deals with all your shenanigans, doesn't she?

Friday, April 24, 2015

Your Second of Clarity

It's been a crazy week with a sick kid, new boss and trying to plan a fun day for my husband I's six year wedding anniversary.  Sometimes I need to stop, take a couple deep breaths and gaze at things that make my structure-loving brain happy.

Here is Your Second of Clarity courtesy of a day I decided to clean out the filing cabinets at work.  If you are going to do a boring, monotonous job, you may as well make it a little fun.  Enjoy!

Friday, April 17, 2015

How to Organize...Food Storage Containers

It has only been a couple months since I started my absolute obsession with all things organizing.  Before it was just a personal pleasure.  Now it is all I talk about, to the point that my friends should start a game where they take a drink every time I say something about my blog (DRINK!).  Though I have to admit that I was surprised by the topic that has been brought up the most during conversations about getting your house in order. What the heck to do with your food storage containers (aka Tupperware).

If you are like me, you have containers from around 3-4 different sets. They were complete sets at one point in time but, like one of each of my children's socks, they have mysteriously disappeared over time. They have a policy at my job where they will throw away (gasp!) your lunch and whatever it is in if you accidentally leave it over the weekend.  I've likely lost 10 containers over the years to this policy alone.  

And don't forget about the containers you inherit. Containers from cookie exchanges, pot lucks and your mother-in-law, who sends you home with leftovers after every family dinner.  Plus all the Chinese food and Cool Whip containers. Stacks and stacks of containers.  Heck, for some of us, our entire food storage system is Chinese food containers. You would think that with all the sophisticated technology we've invented over the years, food storage containers wouldn't be a problem anymore but they seem to haunt us all.  Luckily there are ways to turn your food storage container graveyard into an efficient and functional system. Let's get started!

Step 1: Locate all your containers from various spots around your kitchen or house and place them on top of a table where you can see everything.

Step 2: Match up all the lids to the bases and set aside anything that doesn't have its matching part.

Step 3: Remove any containers that are not BPA-free.  Unfortunately I didn't find a lot of containers that have BPA-free markings but if you do a little research and use your best judgement (I'm talking about you Chinese food containers!!) you can weed out most of the questionable containers.  Technically the jury is still out on BPAs but here is a quick article if you need more information.

Step 4: Remove any containers that are warped, broken, stained or not functioning properly.  Lids that don't close all the way seems to be my biggest problem.

Step 5: Assess what you have remaining.  Are there any sizes that you never use?  I have these shallow and long containers that I never touch for some reason.  Or are there any sizes that you find yourself using so frequently that you run out before you can wash them, so you might need to buy more?

Step 6: Sort your remaining containers into similar shapes.  Squares, circles, rectangles, etc.

Step 7: Lids are really the biggest part of this puzzle.  If you have different types of containers, the lids are not going to play nicely together.  There are a couple different things you can do to to keep the miscellaneous lids organized.  I have an extra large food storage container that I use to hold everything.  You can also use a regular plastic non-food storage bin.  Try to keep the lids stacked vertically with large lids in the back and small in the front so you don't have to dig through the whole bin each time you need a lid.  One of my friends uses small bins that hook on the inside of the cabinet door to hold her lids.

Step 8: Repurpose your unwanted containers.  Just because the containers no longer work for food doesn't mean you need to throw them away!  Use them to hold loose nails in the garage or markers in your junk drawer.

If you've purged your cabinets and discover you don't have anything leftover, or if you just want your containers to look uniform and pretty, it is probably time to invest in a new set.  I did some research on the best food storage containers and most agree that glass containers are the way to go.  The glass is less porous so it keeps your food fresher, longer and you don't have to worry about chemicals like you do with plastic containers.  I'm kind of a klutz so I wouldn't trust myself to travel with a glass container but I've been trying to use them more at home.  Here are a few products that have received good reviews, glass and plastic:
We have the Rubbermaid Lock-Its which I now realize, after doing all this research, that I've been using incorrectly (they snap on the top of the lid, not the bottom!).  I find that the sides of the lids don't always snap in place but otherwise they are a good set that doesn't leak or stain.  Plus there are very few sizes in the set that I don't use.

Whatever your food storage container woes, you ultimately need to keep your food fresh, eliminate anything that contains potentially harmful chemicals and be able to find that damn lid!  As always, figure out what works for you.  Do you only need one set of containers or do you need a variety?  Where does it make the most sense to keep your containers?  Are they placed too high in the kitchen or too low? Do you need to label your lids and containers with numbers so you know when someone has run away with lid #14? Play around with it and hopefully food storage containers will stop being the bane of your kitchen's existence.

A big thanks to all my friends that let me showcase their food storage container cabinets!  Now let's see those after pictures. 

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Spring Clean Your Schedule: Lessen the Stress

I'm going to be completely honest, these two posts about time management kind of stressed me out.  Knowing I had something extra to accomplish and not getting it done as quickly as I hoped, weighed on my mind more than I anticipated.  My problem being that writing in general is something that causes me stress because I overanalyze (does trouble or problem sound better?), strive for absolute perfection (ha ha ha!) and have a lot of insecurities (see previous 'ha ha ha' comment).  Which are all the ingredients for stress pie.  That being said, I eventually powered through and here we are with Spring Cleaning Your Schedule Part Two!

I wanted to focus on trying to find time for yourself first because I don't think we put enough importance on personal time, but a big part of taking care of yourself is trying to minimize stress.  Which is why part two is all about finding tips and tricks to accomplishing your day to day activities without all the stress.

Prioritizing Daily. Having a to do list a mile long can be overwhelming.  You want to get everything done but there are literally not enough hours in the day!  Especially if you like to do some actual relaxing during the weekend/your time off.  Which is why it helps to, as they say, divide and conquer. At the beginning of each week I'll take a look at my to do list, prioritize and then chunk the list into 1-2 projects a day, depending on the time required for each task and my available time that day.  I run most of my errands during lunch, if possible.

For example, on Monday I'll go to the grocery store and stop by the post office for stamps.  On Wednesday I'll pick up a baby shower present and schedule a few doctor's appointments.  On Thursday I'll buy a birthday card for my sister and pick up my prescription from the pharmacy, etc.  If I don't plan out what I'm trying to accomplish each day, I'll end up wasting time during my lunch break trying to figure out which task is more important and/or I'll run a random errand that I didn't really need to do.  I've also noticed that sometimes you have things to do that are not necessarily urgent but weigh on your mind a lot, creating stress.  Checking them off your to do list 'early' can take a huge weight off your shoulders.  Thank you notes always fall into this category for me.

"Multitasking".  Most articles you read will say that multi-tasking isn't actually a productive tool.  By splitting your attention, you are more likely to do things poorly or incorrect.  That being said, I found a great article on Time Management on The Huffington Post that talks about taking advantage of in-between minutes.  In-between minutes are short blocks of time between activities that are too short to do anything substantial but long enough to accomplish a quick task or take a break.  For example you could:
  • Make a phone call
  • Plan dinner
  • Have a dance party
  • Tidy up a room
  • Write an email
Find tools.  You can't be expected to remember everything by yourself!  Try finding a couple tools that help you keep your life in order.  I would cease to exist without my Google calendar and the dry erase board on our fridge.  In Google, I set up different color coded calendars within my main calendar to track family appointments, work events, birthdays and even blog posts.  A friend had the fantastic idea to send calendar invites to her husband so that they all have the family's schedule at their finger tips.  I've also heard that Cozi is a great app for organizing the entire family's schedule.

I'm obsessed with to do lists. Another eccentricity I've display since I was a kid.  I used to write out my to do lists and shopping lists in a small notebook but I've recently switched over to a to do list app.  I just started using an app called 'Jamie's To Do' that I read about in Oprah magazine but there are a bunch of them out there for your specific needs.  My other lists live on our dry erase board on the refrigerator.  It has the week's events color coded by family member, shopping lists by store and a list of all our gift certificates and expiration dates.  Any important invitations, gift certificates, coupons, etc are kept in a magnetic folder below the dry erase board.

Think ahead.  This is much easier said than done but implementing a few of those tools can help. When I'm making my to do list, I've found that having the list reach out at least a month into the future helps me get things done ahead of time.  If I write down now that I need to get a Mother's Day gift, I'm more likely to have Mother's Day on my mind and figure out a gift before it is too late and I'm scrambling.  I've also been writing down ideas for gifts when they pop into my head, even if the person's birthday isn't for 6 months. 

Also, it helps to keep a good stock of things that you find yourself either stressing out over at the last minute like gift bags, cards, batteries, and household items you go through quickly like diapers, cereal, milk, etc.  Make a list of the 10-20 items you go to the store for the most often and stock up on a few extra next time you are at the store.  Especially if they are on sale!  Amazon Prime is another one of my good friends.  Not only can you set up automatic shipments (Subscribe & Save) for items you know you are going to need on a regular basis but Amazon discounts the price of the items.  When you use Amazon as often as we do, the annual membership pays for itself in the free two day shipping alone.

It's simple. Our lives are busy and they are not getting any less busy anytime soon.  Managing as much as we do is bound to get stressful now and then but there are small tricks and tools that can be implemented into your routine that will help lessen the stress.  Prioritizing the day, planning ahead and finding useful tools are just a few examples of what have helped me manage my time.  As always, it is about finding what works for you.  I'd love to hear some of the tricks, tools or shortcuts you use to keep your life in order!

Friday, April 3, 2015

Spring Clean Your Schedule: You Time

When I asked some friends what they could use help with when it comes to organizing their lives, a close friend said she would love to know how I manage my time.  I'll be honest, I was more than a little surprised to hear this considering I think of her as Super Mom, but it made me think about why certain things get done, when others are lost and forgotten. The more I dug into the issue, the more ideas and thoughts popped up, so I decided to make this into a two-parter.

I'm lucky enough to live very close to where I work, which cuts down on the amount of time I spend commuting but trying to fit everything in my day is still a chore, no matter how much I have on my plate. And I'm sure we can all agree that the area that usually suffers the most is the one that includes taking care of you.  Finding time to work out, make your lunch instead of eating out, getting enough sleep, spending quality time with your spouse; we all have different priorities in life but how do you make sure you are making yourself a priority too?

The first step is to take a look at how you are currently spending your time.  Make a list each day for a week outlining what you did that day and how much time each activity took.  This is my typical day when I can fit in exercise (2-3 times a week):

5:45am: Wake up and get dressed in workout clothes
6am: 9 month old wakes up.  She drinks her bottle while I check my email and blog.
6:30am: 4 year old wakes up.  Get her dressed. Brush teeth.  Finish packing bags for daycare that I started the previous night.
7am: Leave house for daycare
7:30am: Fitness class or running (activities that are very close to my house)
8:30: Shower and get ready for work
9am: Work
12:30pm: Eat lunch and run errands, make phone calls or go to doctor's appointment if necessary
5:15pm: Pick up kids from daycare
5:45pm: Unpack bags, clean dishes from day, do homework, play
6:30pm: Start dinner
7pm: Husband is home, eat dinner
7:30: Bedtime routine (bath, books, teeth) while the other person washes dishes and cleans up
8pm: Bedtime for both kids
8:15pm: Make bottles/lunches for both kids for next day
8:45pm: "Down time". Catch up on TV, read, chat, pay bills, etc.
10:30pm: Bedtime

Identifying Priorities.  Obviously, everyone is going to have very different responsibilities and schedules but no matter how much you have going on, it is important to understand your priorities.  What needs to get done each day? What can you get out of the way today that would eliminate stress now or in the future? What can you do today that would make you happy?  And what can get less attention or moved to another day?

As you'll notice from my schedule, I don't spend much time getting myself ready in the morning.  My go-to hair style is a bun.  I have a lot of hair that would take at least an hour and a half to wash and style and that isn't a priority for me.  My make up is very simple, I never have my nails done and I don't shave my legs as often as I should (sorry hubby!). Instead, I made other things a priority, like fitness and trying to have at least one hour a day that I can do something for me.  Read, watch TV, blog, etc.   Maybe for you it is being able to catch up with a friend or listening to music.  Whatever your priority, sometimes you have to give a little in one department to get the time you need in another.  Which bring me to my next point.

Create balance.  We've all heard the phrase work-life balance but that idea can being a little overwhelming.  Work-life balance often gives the impression that you need to "it" all, everyday.  But just because something is a priority doesn't mean that you have to find time for it every single day.  The balance is finding time for all the things you want to do at some point in time.

If your priority is to find more time to read, dedicate an hour to reading one day a week.  If you want to make time for your friends, plan one night out a month.  If you want to work out more often, try to find one day during the week and one on the weekend.  I've noticed that since I'm spending more time blogging and doing research for projects, I've spent less time watching TV.  But I haven't stopped enjoying a night of mindless TV completely, I just don't do it every night.  Don't let the fact that you rarely get time to do something mean that you never end up doing it.

Enough with the guilt!  I'm talking to myself but there is a good chance this one applies to you too.  I am endlessly frustrated by how guilty we make ourselves and others feel about trying to be a 'good parent' while also taking care of ourselves. Throw in working full-time and you have a smorgasbord of guilt.  Wanting to spend time with you kids is one thing but denying yourself hobbies, friendships or alone time with your spouse because you feel guilty about not spending every waking moment with or doing things for your children is another.  Margie Warrell wrote in a article, "'s who we are for our children - happy, good-humored, and a role model for the values we believe in - that ultimately impacts them more than how closely we, our homes, or our meals resemble the front cover of women's magazines.  The reality is that you do not have to be a perfect parent to be a great parent."  Preach!

It may seem stressful and overwhelming to try and fit in activities that don't feel absolutely necessary but it is time we change our mindset so that taking care of ourselves is a necessity. It's just a matter of figuring out your priorities, balancing out your tasks and not feeling guilty when you finally do something for yourself.  So get out there and sign up for that underwater basket weaving class you've always wanted to take!  And if you still don't feel like you can find the time, I'll come over and wash the dishes.