Sunday, February 15, 2015

Tips for Staying Safe This Winter

Winter should be winding down.  It’s February, after all.  Yet, it seems the snow and frigid cold temps just won’t go away.  Here are some tips for staying safe this winter.
  1. Your House – Your home is your protection from the winter, whether it’s from the snow or cold.  Proper maintenance will help ensure against disasters.  Keep gutters clear of debris.  Install de-icer cables to prevent ice dams.  Driveways and walkways should be kept clear of snow and ice.  
  2. Your Car – Perform regular maintenance on your car.  Check fluid levels, especially windshield wiper fluid.  Keep a snow brush/ice scraper, a small shovel and sand in your car.  Any time you take your car somewhere, whether it’s a five-minute or one-hour drive, take bottled water, high protein snacks, gloves, hat, boots and scarf with you.  You never know when your car will break down or you’ll run into a traffic jam.
  3. The Storms – Keep ahead of the weather.  If your area is anticipating a blizzard that might keep you from getting outside, you don’t want to run out of food.  Keep at least three days of food and water on hand.  Have a variety of options in case you can’t use the stove or oven.  Check your prescription medications.  Do you have enough for the next few days?  Make sure your cell phone is charged.  Do you have an alternate source of power or heat if the electricity goes out?  This might be a large supply of firewood if you have a fireplace, or a generator.  Finally, secure loose items in your yard, such as furniture and trash cans. 
  4. Snow Removal – What is the condition of your equipment?  Check the gas and oil levels in your snowblower before the storm so you don’t run out half-way through clearing.  Are snow shovel blades straight and handles secure?  How is your supply of de-icer?  When shoveling, dress warmly and in layers.  Take breaks if there is a lot of snow.  Keep piles low, and push snow, rather than lift when possible.
  5. Your Pets – Your pets need to be kept safe in this extreme weather also.  Use pet-safe de-icer on your property.  Watch for salt when walking them in the neighborhood.  Check their paws when you get home, and clean out any salt or gravel from between their toes.  Don’t leave them outside for any length of time in frigid temps.  Brush the snow off them when they come inside.   
  6. Travel – If you are traveling during the winter, check the weather at both the point of origin and the destination.  If there are storms or weather advisories, your flight or train may be delayed. 
  7. Check on Others – If you have elderly or homebound family or neighbors, regularly check on them.  See if they have power, heat and food.  Clear their drive and walkways, or arrange for it to be done by someone else. 
Don’t go out unless absolutely necessary.  Give your city time to clear the streets.  The less people on the road, the quicker the job will be done. 

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Preparing For Your Vacation

Whether you’re planning to get away for spring break, or planning a family vacation this summer, here are some helpful tips to prepare for your vacation.

1.      Set a budget – And stick to it!  While it may be tempting to upgrade your hotel or room, or book reservations for fancy restaurant, you don’t want to run out of money half-way through the trip.  What will hotel, flight and car rental cost?  How much do you want to allot every day for meals?  Keep to that budget.  And if you come in under your budget, then you’ll have some extra so spend at the end.

2.      Make flight/hotel reservations – If you plan to travel during the busy season, call well in advance for hotel and flight reservations so you get what you want.  But be prepared to pay extra during the summer or over holidays when rooms and flights are scarce.  If you’re traveling during a slow time, it’s still best to make reservations ahead of time.  There may be an event going on in the area (like a conference), that might make finding a room more difficult.

3.      Check flight restrictions – If you’re flying, check the new security restrictions.  What can you pack in checked luggage?  How much can it weigh?  What can you take in your carry-on?  How early do you have to be there for the flight?  Checking these things ahead of time will mean less stress later.

4.      Pack according to weather – Look at the weather report before you leave.  While you may be expecting ideal weather, the area might be experiencing temperatures or conditions above or below normal.  Be prepared so you don’t have to buy clothes while you’re out there.

5.      Stop mail/newspaper delivery – Put in a delivery stoppage for mail and newspapers.  You don’t want them piling up at your house while you’re gone.  If you plan to have someone watching the house, then make sure you tell your sitter to check for papers and mail and bring them inside.

6.      Notify local law enforcement – If you are going to be gone, it’s good to notify your local law enforcement.  They can do a drive-by to check on matters and look for anything out of the ordinary.

7.      Make arrangements for house/pets – If you have pets, you’ll need to arrange for someone to walk/feed them, or you’ll have to board them.  If you’re traveling during a busy time, call sitters/boarders well in advance to reserve your spot.  If you’re going to have someone watch your house, give them the security codes/keys, etc. they will need, and make a list of emergency numbers for them at the house.

8.      Pay bills before you leave – Check to see if anything will be coming due while you are gone, and pay ahead of time, or schedule payments with online billpay.

9.     Confirm reservations – Before you leave, confirm ALL travel reservations.  Sometimes flights change last minute, or hotels lose your booking, or car rentals set aside a compact car instead of a minivan.  You don’t want to be caught stranded or inconvenienced.

10.   Clean your house/fridge – What’s better than coming home to a nice clean house after a restful vacation?  You’ll have enough  to do to catch up with laundry, mail, phone calls, etc., without having to clean your house, too.

11.   Don’t advertise on Facebook – I can’t stress this enough!! Don’t tell the world you are going on vacation for two weeks!  It is an open invitation to thieves.  Even if your posts are private, friends of friend of friends can sometimes see your posts through notifications.  Your address is public record.  Thieves will find you.

Finally, enjoy yourself!  And if something does go wrong, accept it and move on.  There is always a solution.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Ten Steps to Cleaning out Your Closet

Is your closet overflowing?  Are you running out of room to put all those new sweaters and accessories you received over the holidays?  Follow these ten steps to clean out your closet.

  1. Pull everything out of your closet and sort accordingly.  Put all dress slacks together, jeans together, turtlenecks together, etc. Complete outfits, such as a suit, can stay together as a unit.
  2. Only clothes and accessories belong in your closet.  That means no wrapping paper, framed art work, skeins of yarn or old tax returns.  If you can’t wear it, move it.
  3. Evaluate every category.  How many of each do you need?  There is no magic number.  Your lifestyle will determine this.  If you’re a professional, you’ll need more dress pants and blouses than a technician who wears a uniform to work.  If you only dress up occasionally, then you don’t need four formals and twelve dresses.
  4. What fits?  Weight often fluctuates, but that doesn’t mean you need a wardrobe in three sizes (current weight, and up/down a size).  Keep what you’re wearing now.  Get rid of the rest.
  5. What do you like?  How many items in your closet are things your family gave you as gifts, but you don’t like?  Why is it taking up room, when that space could be utilized by something you love. 
  6. What looks good on you?  Maybe the color isn’t quite right for you, or a skirt is too long for your short frame.  If you don’t feel flattered, then don’t keep it. 
  7. Set up donation box as you sort.  Drop in all those pieces that don’t fit, you don’t like and don’t look good on you.  Someone else will be happy with it!
  8. Replace the articles of clothing back into the closet according to category.  Store all sweaters together, skirts together, tees together, etc.  You can further sort by season, keeping short-sleeve tops separate from long-sleeve, for example.
  9. Purchase organizers for accessories.  Hanging bags are useful for purses, shoes, and sweaters.  There are hangers designed specifically for accessories such as scarves, belts and jewelry.  See photos for examples.  This will keep things sorted and easy to find
  10. Keep to the “One in, one out” rule in the future.  If you bring a new pair of jeans home, get rid of an old pair.  If you buy new shoes, find a pair you don’t wear anymore and get rid of them.  This will keep your closet from getting overcrowded.

Remember, you use 20 percent of what you own 80 percent of the time.
  Find that 20 percent and get rid of the rest!

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Clutter-Free Gifts for the Holidays

We all deal with clutter in different ways.  Some of us handle it as it comes into the home.  Some go on weekend binges and clean out large areas of the home in a day or two.  Others wait until January, and make the resolution to get more organized.  Then life happens...

So my question is, do you really want to add to your clutter over the holidays?  Do you want to add clutter to others' homes?  Why would you?  Wouldn't life be easier if you DIDN'T add to the many piles already accumulated? 

And yet, it's fun to exchange gifts.  So how about buying clutter-free gifts?  Gifts that won't get shoved to the back of a closet or end up under the bed?  Here are some ideas:

For the techie in your life:
  • A subscription to online back-up storage
  • Useful apps for their phone/tablet
  • An eBook reader to consolidate their book collection
  • A wireless digital frame to enjoy family photos
  • Software for their computer
  • Pay for a subscription to Amazon Prime - unlimited downloads and free shipping!
For the family:
  • What's on their bucket list that you can check off?
  • Go out to a nice dinner, no electronic devices allowed!
  • Plan a weekend getaway with the family
  • Hire a photographer for a family portrait session
  • Offer to baby-sit for nieces/nephews and grandchildren
  • Buy a gift certificate for a day (or afternoon) at the spa
  • Start a savings account for your grandchildren
  • Pay for a membership to a museum, botanic garden, or health club
For the elderly:
  • Consumables - their favorite desserts, fruits or teas
  • Time - spend time visiting.  Use it to write down family history and anecdotes.
  • Cleaning service for their home
  • Hire a handyman for a day to fix those little things
  • Create a coupon book for errands or services, like a trip to the library or a shampoo and cut.
Still not sure what to do?  Donate to a charitable cause close to the person’s heart.  Don’t give to a charity of your choice, rather select a cause that is dear to them, and make a donation in their name.  You'll both feel good, and others will benefit.

What clutter-free gifts have you exchanged with others?

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Clutter-free Ways to Thank Your Household and Its Members

Your home is your shelter from the environment.  It is a haven for your family.  It is a place where friends gather and have fun over the holidays and all year long. 

So, have you said ‘thank-you’ to it lately?

Probably not, because it wouldn’t hear you anyway.  But here are some ideas to show your thanks to your home and family without spending much money or adding to the clutter in your home.   


·    Control the Humidity—Too much moisture in the air can cause damage to furniture, fabrics, photographs, food, etc.  Too little moisture can cause damage to wood, your health, your plants, etc.  This may be in the living areas of your home, or most especially in basements and attics.  While household humidifiers and de-humidifiers help the living areas, they do not usually reach the attic, garage or crawl spaces in your home.  So pay special attention to what you store in those areas. 
·    Control Temperatures—Just as too much/little moisture in the air can cause damage, so can extreme temperatures.  Pipes can freeze in the winter if not insulated.  Ice can form on your A/C unit if air isn’t flowing properly.  Candles can melt in your attic in the summer, and snowglobes can crack in the winter.  Expansion/contraction can harm foundations and framing.  Keep temperatures as even as possible throughout your home throughout the year. 
·    Check Batteries—What good is a battery back-up for your sump pump, smoke detector, or computer if the batteries themselves are dead?  Check and change them regularly.  The extra time it takes to unscrew the cover of your smoke detector is worth the thousands of dollars in repairs and lost belongings in the case of a non-functioning alarm during a fire.
·    Clean Thoroughly—This may seem obvious to you, but we’re not talking about a casual dust and mop job.  We’re talking deep-down, nitty-gritty, get the grease off your stovetop and mold off your shower doors.  And it’s not just about being clean.  It’s about being healthy.  The longer you let dust and grit sit, the greater your chances for harboring viruses or other germs.
·    Make Repairs—Again, this may seem obvious, but we’ve all been there.  You know the screen needs repairing.  But you just don’t have the time to take the door down and bring it to the hardware store for repair.  So you let it sit.  Meanwhile, wasps find their way in, start building nests in your attic, and before you know it, their home is so big, the moisture starts dripping through your ceiling.  Now, you not only need the screen repaired, you also need an exterminator to kill the wasps and a handyman to repair your ceiling.  Was it worth it? 
·    Use Biodegradable Cleaners—Your house and your environment will thank you.  There are less harmful abrasives in biodegradable cleansers, and less pollutants running through your plumbing.  Be nice to your floors and countertops, as well as your sewer by using chemical-free cleaning products.
·    Purify Your Air—Perhaps it’s because we’ve grown accustomed to the ‘smell’ of our houses, that we don’t really realize they have an odor to them.  Whether it’s the pets, the cooking, the cleaning supplies or the human element, there are pollutants floating about the air in our homes. Running an air purifier will clean out these unwanted smells and germs, leaving behind a healthier, happier you.
·    Perform a Home Inspection—One of the best gifts you can give your home is an inspection. By identifying problem areas before they get too large, you may be preventing permanent damage to the home.  Yes, they cost a few hundred dollars, but isn’t it worth the investment of the inspection and the small repair rather than a major catastrophe in the home?  Inspectors are trained to see things you aren’t.  To you, your roof may look fine from the outside, but an inspector may find loose flashing, which is letting water seep into the attic, causing mold and mildew, which is making you sick. Be preventative rather than reactive.


·    Cook Healthy—The food you put into your system is the fuel that charges your body.  If you are loading up on sugars and fats, you are not giving it the proper nutrition it needs to get through the day.  And a lifetime of bad eating habits can take its toll later in life.  Start now by giving your family the gift of health.
·    Give Compliments—Giving someone a compliment does wonders for his/her self-esteem.  Praise your family often, even for the smallest efforts.  And always remember to say thank you for anything they do, no matter how menial.  They are happier knowing you appreciate their efforts, and will in turn help you more.
·    Offer Services—Not everyone in your family has the same resources you do.  Perhaps it’s an elderly parent who can’t get to the grocery store, or a handicapped cousin who can’t drive to the hair salon.  Find someone who will come to their home and provide these services for them if you can't.  There are even mobile pet grooming companies who will come to your house and wash the dog, which may be too much for an elderly person to do on their own.
·    Give the Gift of Tickets—Don’t clutter up your home or those of your extended family with little trinkets or more clothes.  Give gifts like tickets to a play, tickets to the museum, or gift cards for consumable items such as gasoline or food.  Giving them an item gives them one more thing to maintain or clean.  They will be more thankful for a gift that doesn’t require effort on their part—only enjoyment.
·    Give the Gift of Time—The best way to give thanks to family and friends is to give them more of your time.  Whether it’s a walk in the park, a trip to the zoo, or sitting and watching a movie together, time is too precious to take for granted.  These are the memories you want them to have.
·    Run Errands—Just as precious as time spent with people is time spent doing things for them.  Whether it’s picking up a prescription or dropping off the dry cleaning, those little tasks say ‘thank you’ like no card can.


·    Schedule time for yourself—You are the backbone of your family.  You are what keeps them running and functioning.  Do you ever thank yourself for a job well done?  You can do that by scheduling time for yourself every day.  Even if it’s just a half hour at night to read, or an hour with a friend for coffee, you should thank the person who keeps you going—yourself.
·    Take an Artist’s Day—To borrow from Julia Cameron, take an Artist’s Day.  Spend time doing something fun and inspirational, whether it’s a trip to the art museum, a walk in the forest preserves, or browsing through journals and pens in the book store, spend some nurturing your creative side.
·    Begin an Exercise Program—Yes, the benefit will be weight loss, but you will also be more energetic and able to get through a long day if you exercise regularly.  You don’t have to join a health club and work out two hours a day.  Start simple with a walk around the block or sit-ups in the living room.  Your body will thank you in return.
·    Eat Healthy—Just as you should feed your family healthy meals, you should also eat healthy yourself.  You are no good to your family if you are not healthy or functioning well.  Give your body the fuel it needs to keep running.
·    Have Regular Check-ups—Part of a healthy lifestyle is seeing your physician on a regular basis for check-ups.  Like your home, finding a problem in the early stages can prevent serious illness down the road.  So see your doctor and get the tests recommended for your age group.

Saying thank-you to others makes them feel good.  Saying thank-you to others makes you feel good.  Saying thank-you to yourself is something you don’t always think about.  Don’t you think it’s time to start giving yourself a pat on the back and saying ‘well done!’ 


Saturday, October 25, 2014

Autumn Tips to Prepare Your Home for Winter

Autumn is the most beautiful season of the year, with the brilliant reds, oranges and yellows dominating the landscape. Early morning frost sparkles in the first light of dawn, and harvest moons shine overhead.  But autumn also means the harsh winter months are ahead.  And with that in mind, you should be preparing your home for the cold weather.  Here are some tasks you should be planning.


·        Make an appointment to have furnace and humidifier inspected
·        Change the furnace filter
·        Drain your water heater to clear sediment from the bottom
·        Have chimney and fireplace inspected and cleaned if necessary
·        Call for delivery of firewood
·        Replace storm windows and doors; store screens after repairing
·        Seal leaks in windows with caulk or weather stripping
·        Replace worn door sweeps to stop drafts
·        Check insulation in attic and walls
·        Flip your mattresses
·        Store summer blankets and clothes, and pull out winter blankets and clothes
·        Have winter coats cleaned if you didn’t take them to the cleaners in the spring
·        Check boots for tears or leaks; make sure your children’s boots still fit them
·        Purchase extra mittens/hats/scarves to replace lost ones in a hurry, or to have on hand for guests
·        Replace the batteries in your smoke and carbon monoxide detectors
·        Collect emergency supplies (including food and water) in the event of a power outage


·        Clean, drain and cover your pool
·        Cover and store your patio furniture
·        Pick up toys and bikes from the yard and store
·        Drain the gas and oil from your lawnmower
·        Clean downspouts after leaves are done falling
·        Check that gutters are securely attached to the house
·        Check roof for missing or broken shingles/tiles
·        Check flashing around chimney for leaks
·        Fill oil or propane tanks
·        Disconnect hoses from outdoor water faucets and drain before storing
·        Drain outdoor water valves
·        Insulate your septic system and other outdoor plumbing to prevent freeze-ups
·        Caulk around entry points for all pipes and ducts in exterior wall (repeat inside the home also)
·        Trim tree branches away from the house and power lines
·        Fertilize your lawn
·        Cover perennials as necessary (leaves work well for insulation)
·        Plant early spring flower bulbs
·        Bring potted perennials indoors
·        Harvest vegetables before the first freeze
·        Prepare your snow thrower for use
·        Check snow shovels—replace if necessary
·        Lay out mats at the front and back doors to trap snow and ice
·        Place a boot tray outside the back door for wet boots
·        Buy salt for icy stairs and walkways (be careful using around plants and pets)

Don’t wait until the first snow storm to take care of these matters.  You never know when the first snow will hit.  Sometimes it’s in the middle of the night, too late to run to the store, and you’ll find yourself in a dark house without batteries for your flashlight or gas for the snow thrower.  Be prepared. 



Thursday, August 28, 2014

Helping Those Who Can't Help Themselves

I was recently put in touch with a woman who will be moving soon.  Moves are stressful for most of us, but for those with physical challenges, it's even more so.

This woman, I'll call her Helen, has Multiple Sclerosis.  Daily tasks like getting your mail from the mailbox, are simple for us, but near impossible for her.  Her current home is a maintenance-free townhouse with two bedrooms, two baths, a den, a living room, dining room and kitchen.  It's not too big for her.  But even though it is on the first floor, it's inconvenient.

Her garage access is through two heavy doors and down a hallway.  Her mailbox is down the driveway and across the street.  Her closets were full of clothes she no longer wears, because of job and health situations. The clothes she wears are in piles on the spare bed, difficult to find.

She made the decision to move to a home in a senior community with the option of assisted living should she need it in the future.  She will have one less bedroom and one less bathroom, but the garage is attached to her house. And she is having a contractor build her a railing to help her down the one step to her car.

When she called me in to help, she was overwhelmed.  She didn't know how she would sort and get rid of the items she wouldn't be bringing to her new home.  The stress was beginning to consume her.

I assured her that not only would I be able to help sort her belongings, I could take all the donations with me to a charity.

We started on her main closet.  Her decisions were easy to make.  Most of the clothes were from her work days.  They were dressier and smaller than anything she wore now.  And the 50 boxes of shoes on her shelf? They could all go!  They were all heels she could no longer wear.  I dropped the first load off at Goodwill.

At our second session, we went through her spare closet.  Half of these clothes could go also.  And we sorted through the items on the floor.  Christmas decorations stayed.  But we parted with a painting and a briefcase.  Again, I dropped these donations off at Goodwill.  And since we don't have another session scheduled for a while, I mailed her the receipts.

Once the remodeling is close to being done at her new home, I will meet her there and look at her new space.  We will measure closets, count kitchen cabinets, and determine whether or not what is left will fit into her new space.  If not, there will be more sorting to do.   We will also talk about closet re-design, and possibly make the rods more accessible for her.  She is unsteady on her feet, so reaching up can cause her to lose her balance.

This is just one client I've helped who has the will and the time to do this all on her own, but not the physical ability.  While still overwhelmed at the thought of moving, she is relieved to know that I will be there along the way to help.