My oldest daughter and I went on a mission trip to Haiti after she graduated from high school last year. My mind often wanders back there, because it left a permanent mark on my heart. Especially back to the day that we were hauling cinderblocks for the school that they were building in the mountains near the village of OSAPO where we stayed. As we worked alongside the villagers, I lumbered up the steep hill in the sweltering heat with 30 pound blocks in my arms, it was so hard! But I thought I was doing pretty good...especially for my age (I had to add that since I will be 50 this year).
I was drastically humbled when a 10 year old Haitian boy zipped by me carrying not one, but two blocks at a time, and not in his arms but balanced on his head! That’s 60 pounds, which probably nearly matched his weight. The locals were working circles around us. Just the same, however slow, we were doing our best to help and as we passed along the blocks to one another to get them across the river, they smiled genuinely at me in sincere gratitude. I felt something stir inside of me that was so deeply satisfying. I didn’t want to be anywhere else in the world at that moment. And believe it or not, the fact that I was a little exhausted, filthy, dehydrated and sweating beyond belief, only added to my gratification. Because I was ignoring my own needs for once to help make as much progress for these people as possible. I felt like the work I was doing that day was so much more important than anything that I could be doing at home. Improving the lives of these people who are fighting just to survive was so much more meaningful than my usual petty concerns, like keeping my house clean or getting my kids to volleyball practice on time.
Now that I am at home, as I busily check things of my to do list each day, I often find myself thinking back to that mountain, to the day that we put aside all of our own trivial but seemingly important concerns to serve others. My only focus was on how to help these children who worry about where their next meal will come from instead of whether or not their parents will buy them the latest version of the iPhone. I can’t help but to ponder how purposeful and gratifying it would feel to live everyday serving others the way we did that week.
Perhaps these feelings exist inside of me, inside of all of us, because we all live with knowing that it is not right or good to ignore the fact that we live in such abundance and luxury while others, through no fault of their own, suffer in such poverty. Consumerism and the ability for many of us to easily acquire too many possessions is becoming more common every day. The Haitians use and keep every possession they have until it nearly disintegrates. In contrast, we throw out things that are perfectly good just because a new model has been introduced. I can’t help but recognize the absurdity of it all, and my time in Haiti has strengthened my resolve to try to live more mindfully.
I strongly believe that there is love infused within each of us at our cores, beckoning us to give more of ourselves and take less. Could that lead us anywhere other than to feeling more complete? Acquiring more stuff will never complete us. And in respect for those who live in this world with so little, should we not be more mindful of not taking and living with more than what we really need? Perhaps the emptiness we feel in our hearts is there to remind us daily that there is something more that we can and should be doing. Our hearts are tugging at all of us, not just mine, asking us to live each day in the name of love, giving away more and taking less, dedicating our time and our talents to others who have less than we do. I marvel at how serving others can fill up our souls and complete us like nothing material in this world could ever do.
There is a challenge that exists today for grandparents and parents alike. Grandparents want to find the perfect gifts for their grandchildren, and many of today’s children often already have more toys than they know what to do with. Parents also struggle with the issue of having too much toy clutter in their children’s bedrooms.
I frequently get calls from parents who have contacted me because they are struggling with their children’s clutter. Often, grandparents are major contributors to this clutter. Parents cringe each time another gift is lovingly delivered, because it will inevitably require a place to live within the already crammed storage spaces of their child’s room. The following is a list of helpful suggestions for dealing with this issue as the holidays approach and children’s birthdays come and go.
Communication Is Key
If you are a parent with this problem, having an open conversation with your parents or in-laws is a good place to start. Help them understand that your child does not need more toys and that you don’t have room for them. To ensure that the conversation stays light and positive, be sure not to blame them for the clutter that your child has already accumulated. Then, provide them with a list of suggestions for useful gift ideas and be sure that they have several options to choose from. Because grandparents struggle with finding gifts that will actually be appreciated and used, a list of ideas is sure to be well received.
As an alternative to traditional gifts, provide your parents or in-laws with ideas for tickets or gift certificates that offer fun or educational experiences. Experience gifts offer the additional bonus of providing an opportunity and an excuse for making special memories with that child. The activity can either be spent with a grandparent, or provide your own family with a special activity to do together. I have listed some ideas for experience gifts below:
Ice cream, cupcake, cookie or yogurt shop
Children’s Museum or other Museum
Educational classes such as music, art or dance lessons
Martial arts classes
Family get-away to a favorite destination
Play or music concert
Family Fun Centers
Ice Skating, bowling, miniature golf
For Girls – manicures or pedicures
Special activity night with grandparent to bake, do crafts or go fishing
Gift Certificate Ideas for Useful Gifts
Gift certificates to stores can also be given with the intent to purchase more practical items such as the following:
Athletic Stores where sports gear or clothing can be purchased
Music Store if your child plays an instrument
Favorite Clothing Store where school clothes will be purchased
Department or Super Store to purchase school supplies and/or backpacks
With a little creativity, Grandparents can make personalized gift baskets filled with fun consumable items. The possibilities for these are endless, and can be personalized according to the child's hobbies and interests. Here are few examples:
Snack Basket full of an assortment of favorite snacks
Movie Night Basket with a favorite movie, a variety of popcorn, drinks and candy
Baking Basket full of all the things needed to bake and decorate a batch of cupcakes
Give Giftster a Try
If your parents or in-laws are even just a little tech savvy, I recommend giving this helpful service a try; Giftster.com is a private, web and mobile based gift registry connecting family and close friends. It is a group gift wish list and is completely free. It allows family and friends to list their gift preferences so that others can make purchases using the list. This is a great gift buying resource for the whole family and is easy to use. Giftster will ensure that everyone receives gifts that they really want and appreciate.
HOW MANY SETS OF DISHES DO YOU OWN?
Do you have multiple sets of unused dishes claiming too much storage space in your home? If so, you are not alone, it appears to be a commonality in many of our homes. This is the #1 most frequent form of clutter that I find in kitchens and dining rooms.
They may be meticulously packed away in protective china covers or occupying the top shelves of our kitchen cabinets. We may find them crammed into a dining room hutch or tucked away in a storage bin somewhere. Wherever the dishes reside, they are dusty, unused and hogging up precious storage space. So I ask you, why such madness? Why do we all keep these crazy sets of unused dishes in our homes when 98 percent of the time we use just one set?
The stories behind the dishes are often the same. They are Grandma’s antique dishes, or perhaps another loved one has gifted them to us. Sometimes these dishes are the ones asked for on a wedding registry, flawless and untouched because they are considered to be the “good dishes”...you know… just for company, but then we don’t actually use them when company comes because it’s just easier to use paper plates. I have found that there are 3 main reasons why many of us possess multiple sets of dishes:
Maybe your inherited dishes are very pretty or maybe they’re not… either way, they came from your Grandma, whom you adored, so how could you possibly get rid of them? Furthermore, how can you use them every day when Grandma only used them for special occasions? What if they get chipped or broken? Sometimes there is more than one set of antique dishes in a home. One set from Grandma and mercy…another set from Mom. They may even be passed down from a great grandmother, making them an even grander family heirloom and that much harder to let go of.
2. BYGONE TRADITIONS
The second reason for extra sets of dishes is that formal dinner parties are part of our parents and grandparents legacies. Everyone had “the good china” accompanied by fancy silverware and they actually used them for most special occasions. But this is a tradition of the past that is hanging on merely by our left over dishes. These days most of us are much less elaborate when we entertain and keeping things simple to save time is more important today than it was in the past. Even during the holidays, our family tends to use paper plates, we may buy the more elegant and expensive ones for the occasion, but we still stick with paper. After all, who wants to spend all afternoon washing fancy dishes on Thanksgiving Day instead of relaxing and visiting with family? Not me.
3. THEY MIGHT BE VALUABLE
The third reason we keep these dishes around is in anticipation that they may be worth a lot of money. We figure that since these inherited dishes are antiques, they must be valuable. The problem though is that taking the time to find someone to assess the value of them, then taking more time to sell them becomes a barrier to getting rid of them. So the dishes stay, and the years pass by and they serve no purpose in your home except to occupy space.
SO WHAT TO DO?
If you love Grandma’s dishes, why not go ahead and use them every day and get rid of the ugly, mixed matched, worn out dishes your using now? Just because Grandma only used them only for formal entertaining doesn’t mean you have to. And, not using them at all because a piece may get broken does not really make sense. That’s like buying an outfit and not wearing it because it may ware out someday. If you want to ensure that you preserve Grandma’s treasured dishes, take one place setting and put it in a keepsake box so that you will always have it. Then use the rest of the set and enjoy them, because life is short!
USE THEM OR LOSE THEM
On the other hand, if you really don't like the dishes you have inherited, why keep them out of guilt? Your loved one would not want to put this burden on you. Is it not better to honor the dishes by letting them go to someone who will cherish and care for them just as your loved one did? They are not serving anyone collecting dust in storage. Again, you can keep one place setting to have as a permanent keepsake. Your loved one will surely approve.
PASS THEM ON
If you happen to be keeping the dishes only to hand down to your child, talk with that child and be sure that he or she wants them. Many young people these days are less interested in antiques. If they really do want them, pass them on now, you should not be required to store your child’s dishes for 10 years.
BE REALISTIC ABOUT ENTERTAINING
Just because our mother and grandmother kept a “good” set of china complete with formal silverware does not mean we need to do the same. Embrace today’s lifestyle and ditch all the extra china and fancy silverware. When you entertain, do yourself a favor and let go of the fantasy of impressing others with elaborate and elegant dinner parties. Instead, consider keeping meals as simple as possible, so that you can enjoy entertaining often with more ease and less stress.
VALUABLE? – MAYBE, BUT PROBABLY NOT
I don’t like to be the bearer of bad news, but most antique dishes are worth much less than most people would expect, even if they are beautiful and ancient. Do you really want to store presumably valuable dishes for 10 or 20 years just to eventually discover that that they are worthless? That said, some antique dishes can be valuable, so if in doubt, commit yourself to taking them to a few local antique dealers and having them assessed. Make it a priority and do it now rather than putting the task off. Then you can decide if you want to sell to the antique dealer, or take them home and sell them online. Just be sure that the money you make selling them on your own is worth the time you put into it. Oftentimes, all said and done, it’s not.
While there are a few things I could actually buy in bulk like toilet paper and energy bars...our family eats a ridiculous amount of energy bars, most of the food in our home gets used too slowly for me to justify stocking up with large quantity purchases. Since there are just four of us in living in our home, I do not personally shop in bulk. Buying in large quanties can save you money when it makes sense to do so, like buying frequently used non-parishable items or stocking up for an upcoming party. If your not careful however, you can actually end up spending more on groceries each month rather than less. The key to reaping the benefits of bulk shopping is to shop selectively and resist going overboard. Here are some things to consider when shopping at bulk food stores:
Bulk food stores encourage you to buy everything big. When you buy perishable products in bulk, you risk having it expire before it gets consumed. I have thrown out loads of expired food over the years while organizing client’s pantries. Stick to buying products that your family goes through quickly, and to non perishable basics like paper towels and toilet paper. Also, bulk food stores do not carry small packages of products, so if you happen to be out of something that you use only occasionally say, sesame oil, you'll be forced to buy a giant sized bottle and spend more money on it than you would have at a regular store. Furthermore, that sesame oil is more likely to expire before you can get it all used.
PACKAGE SIZE CONFUSION
Since sizes and quantities of products purchased in bulk are so different from regular sized items, it is difficult to compare apples to apples when it comes to prices. We can be tricked into thinking that we are saving more money on bulk items than we really are, so be sure to do your math before you make the purchase. Once you add on the membership fee you have to pay just to shop, your savings may be less than you think.
One primary way that stores cash in on our shopping habits is that we are naturally tempted to buy more of a given item just to get it at the lower price. Everybody wants a bargain, but it’s not a bargain if you didn’t need it in the first place. Resist going overboard by carefully considering each item and whether or not you really need that much of a given product before you put it in your cart.
The more stuff you have in your home, the harder it is to keep it all organized. The same theory applies to your pantry. Believe it or not, it is much easier to stay on top buying what you need if you don’t stock up. Once you have multiples of everything at home, it becomes difficult to monitor what products you are actually running low on. To keep your pantry under control, only replace the items that you are almost out of, and always use a grocery list. If you shop without a list, and just grab everything that you see because you’re not sure whether or not you might be running low at home, you are headed straight for inventory chaos and you’re sure to waste some money along the way.
LIMITED STORAGE SPACE
Though this one does not actually cost you money, it does cost you space and is perhaps the biggest negative to buying in bulk. Stocking up with large sized products takes up lots of precious storage space in your pantry. If you don’t have a lot of space, don’t allow a 6 pack of giant sized ketchup bottles to steal it, unless of course…you happen to run a burger joint out of your home. If your pantry is so full that it starts to spill over into a second location like your basement, you are likely to forget about what you have down there. Instead, store all of your food in one place and stop buying when your pantry is full. Larger non-perishables can be space hogs too, like paper towels, don't buy a pack of 48 rolls unless you have plenty of space to store them in for 6 months. Before you decide to put something in your cart, consider whether or not you have space for it at home. It is frustrating to get home and not know where to put the things that you purchased.
As American consumers, we are constantly being coaxed into buying more and buying bigger, because it means more money for the seller, but we don't have to be mindlessly wheedled into submission. We can't even order a burger at a drive thru without hearing, "Do you want to super size that?" By shopping mindfully and resisting the urgings to go overboard on sizes, you can save considerable amount of money. As a bonus, you'll also keep your pantry inventory organized and under control.
Written By Laura Coufal
Clean & Clutter Free, Professional Organizing Services
I guess you could call this is a kind of Cinderella story of sorts. It is the tale of how a little pink plush monkey was rescued from the bottom of a lowly trash bin. She managed to escape by a monkey’s hair and rose up to the lofty heights of well… from a toys perspective, let’s just say she is no less loved than Buzz Light Year. Today, she proudly hangs from the door of my 16 year old daughter Emily’s bedroom. She has the important job of greeting and sizing up all who enter. Most of the other plush toys lay squashed a box in the back of her closet with numerous other forgotten stuffed toys. Some plushers are not even that lucky, they have been donated or discarded or much worse… passed on to the dog to slobber on and slowly tear into bits. But Las Vegas Monkey has a different story, she is one of the very few stuffed toys that Emily still proudly displays.
Years ago, before I started my organizing career, Las Vegas Monkey arrived into the arms of my two year old Emily. My husband and I took a business trip to Las Vegas and brought back two little plush monkeys as souvenirs for both of our girls. They loved them for awhile, but eventually they were seemingly lost and forgotten among the other multitudes of toys. One day, I was home alone and decided to do a bit of tidying up of the girl’s bedroom. At that time, combined, the girls must have had about 100 stuffed animals. As I rifled through the pile of trinkets and other debris, I came across Las Vegas Monkey. At that time, Emily mostly ignored this monkey (or so I thought) and I noticed that it's arm was broken, it had been pushed into her body making her look like she had only three limbs and I couldn’t pull it back out. I confirmed the toy to be officially broken. So I ask you, why keep a broken stuffed animal when you have 99 not broken ones to play with? I made an executive decision and tossed it into the trash. “Emily won’t even notice that it’s missing” I told myself. BUT, I was wrong...DEAD WRONG.
Poor Las Vegas Monkey laid there, dirty and broken in the bottom of a trash bag. Not much future lay ahead of her and the only worse fate she could imagine is finding herself in the jaws of the slobbering dog. Exactly one day later, while I was cooking supper, my sweet 4 year old came barreling out of her room with a look of terror on her face. “MOMMY!!!” she hollered, ‘Where is my pink monkey??? I can’t find her anywhere; You didn’t throw her away did you?” She asked this question in a “You wouldn’t do a terrible thing like that would you?” voice. With a guilty stare, I nodded sheepishly. Then I quickly tried to redeem myself by explaining logically to her that the monkey was broken and she had 99 other stuffed animals to play with. That excuse did not work even 1 percent. For one thing, it does not work to explain things logically to a hysterical 4 year old. She fell to the ground, seemingly heartbroken. Then she ran to her room to bawl. At that point, I was pretty sure she was never going to talk to me again. So what did I do? Well, I did what any guilty mamma with a heartbroken child would do... I went dumpster diving.
Fortunately for me, the trash had not yet been picked up. Unfortunately though, I had to search through every trash bag in the dumpster before I found Las Vegas Monkey. I finally found her at the bottom of a trash bag, at the bottom of the dumpster. She was wet and dirty and stinky, and so was I, but I felt victorious just the same. She went into the washing machine, Emily’s heart was mended, and I was forgiven...mostly.
Over the years, Emily has grown very fond of her little monkey, perhaps because she came so close to losing her, or, I like to muse that is because her mommy braved rotten food to rescue her. To this day though, it is not the dramatic rescue or the fact that the monkey was at the bottom of everything that Emily recalls. Nor does she remember how dirty and stinky I got. No, she only reminds me of how horribly wrong it was to toss her monkey into the trash in the first place. It took her along time to trust me again, and just to make me feel even worse, my husband, who is much handier than me at fixing things, managed to fix the monkey's arm after all. Las Vegas Monkey isn’t even handicapped anymore. So that is why today, she can hang gracefully and honorably from Emily’s bedroom door with both arms intact.
What might not mean much to you may be a treasure to another person, and you do not want to jeopardize your loved one's trust. Many of my clients have heard me tell this amusing story, and they know that I never ever recommend making decisions about what to keep and what to let go of for others. You can at best, put any items in question into a box for them to inspect and approve of before they let them go. Children need to make their own decisions as well…most especially, 4 year old little girls.
Organizing College Dorm Rooms; Ideas To Make The Most of Small Spaces
PLAN AHEAD FOR FURNITURE AND DECOR
If you know ahead of time who you are going to be rooming with, talk with your future roommate in advance to avoid duplication of larger items such as furniture, television, microwave etc. You could also discuss decorating, and come up with a style or theme together so that your décor doesn’t clash with what your roommate brings to the room.
Measure the spaces in your dorm room and take photos to ensure that everything you are bringing will fit into the spaces available. Try rearranging the existing furniture or stacking the beds to create more space.
ESTABLISH ZONES WITHIN YOUR COLLEGE DORM ROOM
If possible, create small areas for different activities such as studying, sleeping, entertainment and eating. Store everything that you need for each activity in their assigned zones. For example, for studying, create a place to store pens, pencils, highlighters, a comfy pillow, portable light, glasses, etc. so that you will have everything you need at your fingertips when it is time to study.
TAKE ADVANTAGE OF EVERY INCH OF STORAGE SPACE
Bed risers and under the bed storage bins are a great way to utilize the space underneath your bed for extra storage space. Add storage cubicles to the bottom of your closet if you are short on shelf storage. Over the door pocket organizers, are great for extra closet and bathroom storage.
STORE IN-SEASON CLOTHING ONLY
Bring only your summer and fall clothes to school until cooler weather arrives. Take your summer clothes home with you and bring back your winter clothing as the weather changes. You will free up much needed space in your closet if you only store the clothing suited for the current season.
MAKE USE OF HANDY ORGANAZING PRODUCTS
Stackable storage cubes are perfect for college dorm rooms because they not only to give you extra storage space, but can also double as night stands or end tables. 3M command hooks are handy for hanging purses, coats, robes etc., and they can be placed anywhere without causing damage to the wall. Inexpensive plastic portable drawer systems can be placed in your closet for extra drawer space.
USE A CHECKLIST TO ENSURE THAT YOU DON'T FORGET ANYTHING
Visit the following website to print off a checklist of recommended necessities to bring along with you to your college dorm room: https://bigfuture.collegeboard.org/get-in/making-a-decision/off-to-college-checklist. Knowing what to bring will not only ensure that nothing essential is left behind, but will help you to avoid bringing items that you don’t need, that ultimately end up cluttering up your small space. This list is exhaustive, so you won't need to bring everything on the list, think about what you really need and only bring what you will use. You may also be able to share some of these items with your roommate which will save on space.
WHAT TO DO WITH FAMILY KEEPSAKES
Laura is the Owner of Clean & Clutter Free, professional organizing services.