Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Utilizing Space Under a Staircase

Tips for Tuesday

When your house is small, space is at a premium. You want to utilize every nook and cranny for storage or living. One space that is often overlooked is under a staircase. If your stairs go down as well as up at the staircase, the space is already utilized by both sets of stairs. However, if you have a set of stairs going to an upper level, but no staircase going down, the space under your stairs is open.

There are many things you can do with this space, depending on the width, depth and your needs. Here are a few ideas.

• For shallow spaces, install bookcases. These can be either custom-made or pre-made that fit into the space. Since bookshelves only need to be 10"-12", this works well for a narrow staircase, or a wider staircase where you want to split the area into two uses. Adjustable shelves work best to accommodate different sized books.
• For wide and tall spaces, build in a small office. Wire the area for lighting, and build in a desk and shelves. This area works great for homework, bill-paying or a small computer nook.
• If the area is cool and dark, install shelving and use the space for food storage--canned goods, root vegetables, grains, etc. Keep grains sealed to keep out pests.
• In basements, the space under stairs is ideal for seasonal items or luggage--items you do not need to access often.
• Install hooks along one wall, and shallow shelves along the opposite wall to create a cleaning closet.
• Under wide staircases, install drawers for storage.
• Install open shelving for displaying art collections.
• Create a 'mudroom' with hooks for coats and a bench for shoe storage.
• If the area can be temperature controlled, install wine racks for your collection.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Moving With Children

Moving on Monday

Moving is stressful enough. But add children into the mix, and the days leading up to and including the move can be horrendous. The most important thing to remember is to include them in the process. You don't want to make them feel that they are being left out or ignored.

Even at a young age, they can help. Children should go through their own possessions, and help decide what to keep and what to give away. Have them help with packing up their rooms.

They should help decide which room they have in the new house, and how they want it arranged and decorated. Look for compromises if their requests are outrageous. For example, they want red walls with a black bedspread. Compromise with light walls, and a red and black bedspread with red curtains and pillows.

Help them through the process of saying good-bye to friends if you are moving out of the area. Host a party and take photos of each of their friends as mementos.

If the children are young, arrange for a babysitter the day of the move. You will have enough to do without having to change diapers or carry around a cranky toddler. If the children are older, enlist their help. They should be able to pack, carry light items and clean up after a room is emptied.

Pack bags for everyone. Include clothes for a few days, and a few things to keep them entertained if there is a car trip or plane ride involved. Make sure their favorite stuffed animal or blanket are accessible throughout the process.

Finally, they should help in the unpacking process. Don't worry if they throw things haphazard into drawers and closets. You can always tidy things up later. If they are involved, they feel happier in their new space.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Frugal Gift-Giving

Frugal Friday

The year is fairly new still, with many months ahead. Months of holidays, birthdays, anniversaries, graduations, weddings, etc. And with these events, you may get invited to parties and need to bring a gift. If you have a large family and circle of friends, you might be attending several parties a month. If your budget is tight, how can you afford all these gifts?

One of the best ways to save on gifts is to make homemade items. If you are crafty, this works especially well. Knit a scarf, sew a t-shirt quilt, or embroider an apron. If crafts aren't your cup of tea, then go for home-baked goodies. Bake some bread, can some jellies, or make chocolate covered treats. Wrap them in colorful cellophane or wrap a ribbon around a box, and it makes for a pretty, but inexpensive gift. For bridal showers or weddings, add a few inexpensive items like mixing spoons, and tie on some recipes for the new bride.

Jewelry and soap are other items you can easily make. There is an initial investment for tools and supplies, but you will save money in the long run from buying these items retail.

If you love to take photos, why not enlarge and frame some for the family? Look for frames on sale, and make a nice collage for grandma. Or put together a photo album of the honored guest.

The ideas are endless. And the most valuable gift you can give anyone is the gift of your time.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Starting the Discussion About Inheritance

Senior Thursday

Talking about inheritance with a senior can be uncomfortable. First, for the family members who don't want to seem greedy, and second, for the senior whose life is admittedly ending. After all, who wants to talk about leaving this earth?

Unfortunately, it is a discussion that should be held. It will make matters much easier after their death. You don't want their estate to go to probate. And you certainly don't want family members arguing over their money or possessions.

So how to start the discussion? Be clear about your motives. You are not in this for yourself, but rather for them. Know that others may not share your opinion. But be respectful of other's opinions.

"What if…?" is a natural conversation starter, as is "What would you have done…?" Use these opportunities to begin the conversation.

Finally, don't leave it at conversation. Once they face reality, have them see an estate attorney to put their decisions in writing. And have them call a professional organizer to coordinate the downsizing.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

New Blog for Writers

Writer Wednesday

We've moved our Writer Wednesday to a new blog exclusively for the Writing Community! Find us at TheOrganizedWriter.blogspot.com.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Managing Your Email Inbox

Tips for Tuesday

Depending upon your circle of friends and family, you may or may not handle large amounts of emails. If you own a business, it's even worse. Every day, I receive over 300 emails on various accounts. That's a lot of time that I have to spend sorting through those emails and taking action on them. So how do you manage your email?

1. Set up spam filters. Many programs like AOL and Yahoo have them built in. A good anti-virus program will filter for you also. In Outlook, I can block emails from specific email addresses as they arrive. That weeds out about 50/day for me.
2. Take yourself off as many mailing lists as you can. Often, when you purchase something or complete a survey, there's that little box that is automatically checked to receive emails from similar sponsors. Look for that box to un-check. If you do find yourself on unwanted lists, unsubscribe from them immediately.
3. Schedule time to read your emails. Open them in the morning, at lunch, and again at the end of your work day. Look at personal emails in the morning or evening.
4. If you look at emails on more than one device, have them automatically delete from one device after it's been opened on another. Then you won't have to delete them from two devices.
5. Act on your emails only if you have the time. If it would take more than two minutes to respond, then move on to the next email. Flag the saved email for action later.
6. Color code or flag the emails that remain in your Inbox. Categorize them by importance--Act Today, Act this week, Read later, etc.
7. Don't let them pile up in your Inbox! If you need to save them, move them to a folder. The more they add up, the more overwhelmed you'll get. Before you know it, you'll have thousands of emails to sort through.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Selecting a Moving Company

Moving on Monday

One of the most stressful parts about moving is finding a reliable moving company. Who can you trust to move your items safely, get the job done on time, and not overcharge you? How do you know the movers will be considerate of wood floors and newly painted walls?

If someone you know recently moved, ask them about their experience. If you don't know anyone, then there are sites like Movers Reviewed (www.moversreviewed.com) to help with your decision. Just put in your zip code, select the type of move/mover you want, and a list of companies will upload. For each listing, you can see their location, licenses, affiliations, size of fleet, etc.

Just click on a mover, and they will contact you for an estimate. As always, ask for references when they come out for a visit. Only trust references that have a name, address, and phone number for you to call.

Finally, once your move is over, go back to the web site and offer your review so others can benefit from your experience, good or bad.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Saving Money on Kid's Clothing

Frugal Friday

We love our children, but they can really put a drain on our bank accounts. It costs a lot of money to raise them--food, clothing, education. So we try to save money wherever we can. One way to save money is on their clothing. Here are some tips to keeping them clothed and still have money to spare.

• Buy clothes slightly larger than their size. You can hem sleeves and pants, then let them down when your children grow.
• Find friends and family with children older than yours. Ask for hand-me-downs. Then find a family with children younger than yours and return the favor.
• Dress them for the occasion. If your children will be outside playing, dress them in darker colors to hide the dirt/stains.
• Don't wash their clothes as often. They will last longer. This may mean not letting them change their outfit several times a day, and not letting them throw something in the hamper that they only wore for a few hours.
• Bleach will wear down fabrics. Use detergents with non-chlorine bleach instead.
• Don't cave into the pressure of designer clothes. They are overpriced.
• Search clearance racks at the end of a season and purchase clothes in a larger size for the next year.
• Shop at consignment stores. You can find great deals on nice clothes.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Hiring a Reliable Contractor

Senior Thursday

Whether you are preparing your house to put on the market, or making repairs/renovations to stay longer in your home, hiring a contractor can be a stressful experience. If you don't know anyone, how do you find someone who won't scam you? Here are some things to do to protect yourself.

• Ask friends/family for referrals. They can give you an honest opinion of their work ethic.
• Don't hire someone who comes to you door because they were "in the neighborhood," especially after a storm. They will probably overcharge you for shoddy work.
• Don't let anyone into your home who was "just driving past and noticed…" These people usually work in pairs. One will distract you while the other one robs you.
• Always ask for references. Make sure they include the address of the person so you can drive by and check their work.
• Never trust anyone who needs a large cash deposit up front. They will probably take the money and run.
• Don't fall for the "only for today" discount. A legitimate company will give you several weeks for the offer and for you to make a decision.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Maximizing Space in Your Living/Family Room

Tips for Tuesday

These last few weeks, we've been looking at ways to make the most of the space you have. Not everyone has a house with large rooms and large closets, with lots of storage. If you have a large family, but are small on space, there are many things you can do to make the most of what you have.

This week, we're looking at your living room.

• Clear the clutter every night before going to bed. When you start a pile, you keep adding to it, until you have several piles. But if you clear the small piles every night, you won't accumulate large ones.
• Purchase furniture with storage--an ottoman that opens, tables with drawers, a shelving unit with doors, etc.
• Purchase multi-purpose furniture like chairs or sofas that open into beds, or a file cabinet that can serve as an end table.
• Corral the controls--designate a basket or tray for holding the remote controls. Teach the family to put them back when they are done.
• Use wall space for storage. Shelving can hold books, DVDs, CDs, etc. Tall narrow units take up little floor space, but give you a lot of storage.
• Use the space under furniture to store blankets, magazines, table leafs, etc.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Your Moving Timeline--One Month Before

Moving on Monday

Last week, we talked about the importance of planning ahead for your move for the least amount of stress. Sometimes moves come on suddenly, and the planning needs to be done in a short amount of time. But when you know about your move months in advance, start planning as early as possible.

We covered what you can do up to six months before your move date. But now the move is getting closer. This week, we'll look at what you can do just one month before your move.

• Take inventory of your possessions. What goes with? What gets sold or donated?
• Mark the items that are staying in your current home
• Create a floor plan for your old and new homes
• Color-code the rooms to coordinate with stickers
• Place coordinating stickers on boxes and furniture for each room
• Get estimates from moving companies/hire a mover (may need to do this earlier if you need a weekend date in the summer)
• Book a moving van if moving yourself (may need to do this earlier if you need a weekend date in the summer)
• Arrange for a temporary storage facility if necessary

Friday, February 10, 2012

Couponing to Save Money

Frugal Friday

One of the best ways to save money while shopping is through coupons. There are even television shows about extreme couponing and how to save as much as 100% on your purchases. While some of their practices are controversial (using coupons on alternate items, buying 20-30 items at once, taking coupon inserts from the garbage, etc.), there are sensible ways to save money. Here are some tips for the grocery store and retail shops.

• Sign up for newsletters and mailing lists (email). Often there are better savings than advertised if you are a member of their club.
• Watch for sales to coincide with your coupons.
• Take note of expiration dates and use your coupons accordingly. Check with store policy about expired coupons, as some stores (Bed, Bath & Beyond) will accept any coupon.
• Check store policy on matching prices. Some will not only match the competitor's price but also give an additional amount over that.
• Search for coupons in the following places: Newspapers, magazines, in the store.
• Look online for coupons before heading out to the store, either on the store's site, or at sites like Coupons.com.
• Before shopping online, visit RetailMeNot.com for retailer coupons (often for a discount or free shipping).
• Check product packaging at the store. Some manufacturer's put coupons on the item.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Is Your Home Ready to Put on the Market?

Senior Thursday

As we age, our lives change. We've perhaps married and had children. We've raised those children, then sent them off to college and witnessed them marrying their childhood sweethearts. Suddenly, the homes we built to raise our families are empty. There are bedrooms that aren't being used, corners of the basement that are rarely seen, and large kitchen tables with empty seats.

If you are in retirement, your income has changed also. It probably isn't as high as when you were working. The cost of everything is going up, and funds are tight. So you decide to sell your home and move to more affordable housing.

But where do you start? You have a home filled with 30 years of memories. There are boxes packed away that you haven't seen in years. Some are yours, some are the kids. There are souvenirs from your trips, and prom dresses from high school.

Once you decide you are going to sell your home, the first thing you should do is de-clutter it. Get rid of all that excess.

It won't be easy. There will be some very difficult decisions about what you will bring to the new home, what you will give to the kids, and what will go to charity. There are memories attached to most, if not all, of the items. How can you throw away something from a family wedding or favorite vacation? You don't have to throw away everything. Keep those items that mean the most to you. If you want, take photos of the items you are getting rid of.

Just keep in mind that memories will always be with you, even after the item is gone. And what is important to you, isn't necessarily as important to the rest of your family.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Beginning to Write

Writer Wednesday

If you are a writer, you write because you love to write. If you don't like to write, you don't do it. It's one of those things you love or hate. Me? I love to write. But like all writers, sometimes it's hard to get started. Why is that?
If you love your job (and that's what writing is for writers), why do you delay beginning?

Sometimes, it's lack of time. This can be solved, however, by scheduling the time to write. Clear everything off your calendar for however much time you can spare, and use that time to write! It's your job--make the time!

Sometimes you don't write because you don't have any ideas. Once you complete a project or novel, where does the next one come from? It may already be there, it may not. And if it's not, start looking. Look in your notebook of ideas. Look in the pages of research you've clipped from magazines. Look at the books on your shelves. Think about a favorite memory of yours. Something somewhere will trigger an idea.

If you have an idea, but not sure which direction to take it, start freewriting. Just write down random words associated with the idea. You never know where this exercise will take you.

You may just come up with the next best-selling novel.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Maximizing Space in Your Bedroom

Tips for Tuesday

How many bedrooms do you have in your house? Enough for each family member to have their own? What size are your bedrooms? Are they spacious with large closets? Or do you own an historic home with small rooms and small closets?

Whether you have small bedrooms or not enough, there are techniques you can use to maximize the space in your home.

• If you don't have room in your bedroom for a chair, buy a wedge or back support to read in bed.
• Rather than having a full headboard, save a few inches by hanging draperies or fabric behind the bed.
• Purchase a bed with built-in storage beneath the bed, or…
• Put your bed on risers so you can place boxes/bins underneath.
• Use wall space for storage--hang netting for stuffed toys, install shelves around the perimeter of the room, etc.
• Purchase beside tables with built-in storage, such as a file cabinet or one with several drawers.
• Install closet organizers to maximize space.
• Use tall, narrow dressers that will take up less floor space.
• Place a dresser in your closet to save room in your bedroom.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Your Moving Timeline--Six Weeks Before

Moving on Monday

Last week, we talked about the importance of planning ahead for your move for the least amount of stress. Sometimes moves come on suddenly, and the planning needs to be done in a short amount of time. But when you know about your move months in advance, start planning as early as possible.

We covered what you can do three to six months before your move date. This week, we'll look at what you can do six weeks before your move.

• Take inventory of possessions--what goes with?
• Mark items that are staying in current home
• Create a floor plan for old and new homes
• Color-code rooms to coordinate with stickers
• Place coordinating stickers on boxes and furniture for each room
• Get estimates from moving companies/hire a mover
• Book a moving van if moving yourself
• Arrange for storage facility if necessary

Friday, February 3, 2012

Being Frugal in Your Home Office

Frugal Friday

With the cost of everything rising, we are always looking for ways to reduce our bills. Over the last few months, we've been covering many different areas of our lives where we can do exactly that. This week, we're looking at how to be frugal in your home office.

• Don't throw away stamps that are stuck together. Put them in the freezer for a few hours to see if they unstick. Use glue to fasten to an envelope. Never tape stamps, as the post office will not accept them.
• Use both sides of the paper when taking notes.
• Use the back side of paper when you aren't printing important documents.
• Save whatever paper comes into the house for draft or other printing that isn't formal.
• Cut up ads or other paper with a blank back side to use for note-taking.
• Shop for supplies when it's back-to-school time, even if you don't go to school. Prices are better then.
• Ask you local stationery store for any items they may be discarding like orphan envelopes or incomplete marker sets.
• Shop the discount/clearance section of the store.
• Buy economy-size printer cartridges.
• Have ink cartridges refilled rather than buying new.
• Choose a printer that allows you to replace one color at a time.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Being Prepared for a Winter Storm

Senior Thursday

Now that we are in the midst of winter and the blizzards that come with this time of year, it is important to keep yourself safe in the event of a storm. There are things you can do before, during and after a snow storm to stay safe.

• Stock up on basic food items that will last you three days.
• Fill your car tank with gas.
• Purchase a generator for back-up power if your electricity tends to go out during a storm.
• Store water in the bathtub if you rely on an electric sump pump for water.
• Purchase a propane heater, but be very careful when using to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning. Always open a window for venting, and don't run it 24 hours/day.

• Stay inside! Don't drive, don't shovel. You might slip and fall and get buried by a plow. It's happened!
• Monitor weather on a battery-operated radio.

• Don't shovel if there is more than an inch of snow, or if it is extremely icy. Hire a neighbor to help, or call a family member.
• Don't go out until your driveway/walkway is clear and dry.
• Report any power outages to your utility company.
• Report any property damage to the village.
• Call your insurance agent if you have damage to your property.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Scheduling Writing Time

Writer Wednesday

You've heard it before--even here. You aren't a writer if you don't schedule time to write. You are only a hobbyist. Just by scheduling the time, you are labeling yourself as a writer. Your writing is important enough to you that you will put aside everything else in your life and commit to it.

Even if you're busy, you can still schedule time. In fact, it's when you are busiest that you SHOULD schedule time. That isn't to say, you need to set aside eight hours a day to write in order to be considered serious. If you only have 30 minutes a day, then schedule 30 minutes a day. Whatever you can fit in, schedule for yourself.

And just as important, treat your scheduled time as you would any other appointment. Keep it! Arrive on time, stick to writing, and end on time. Don't do laundry or run errands during that time because those things are piling up too. You can always get to them later. If you keep putting off the writing, you will never get to it. And if you don't care, then why should an editor?