Chatting it up with MojoMom

I enjoyed another great podcast with MojoMom Amy Tiemann. Listen in to hear us discuss getting back into the swing of things with school and how to corral all of the mess you and the kids drag home.

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Legos out the Wazoo

While working on my newsletter, I received this question via FaceBook

Q: Dear Neat Freak, Please solve the Lego issue! Should we attempt to keep Lego sets intact or mix? We do both kinds of Lego play — creative and by the book. I have such a love-hate relationship with the darn things!

Drowning in Lego

A: Dear Drowning…I have my own Lego-maniacal kid at my house and while I love the creativity they inspire, keeping them organized is no easy task. If your child does enjoy creating Lego masterpieces by the book, then I really think you have no choice but to keep sets together. If that’s the way he/she wants to play, then your child needs to understand that it means keeping the box and instructions together, with the Lego inside, and only pulling out one set of Lego at a time.

If, on the other hand, your child is willing to throw caution to the wind and allow his/her Lego to be mixed, then I think small stacking plastic drawers are the answer. You can sort by color or size or just toss them all in the drawers together. Any child who is old enough to play with Lego is also old enough to clean them up! Sometimes a good threat of the vacuum cleaner sucking up the strays is enough to get my son cleaning them up pretty quickly (did I just reveal a little of my neat-freaky mom meanness???). Works every time at my house.

And if you’re looking for a creative tool that is functional and fun, you might check out this cool tool that sorts Lego by size: Box 4 Blox

Have other Lego or toy sorting ideas or questions? Post them here!

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Your most powerful organizational tool: NO

I love fall. I love new school shoes, sharpened No. 2 pencils, candy corn and the crisp morning air. It’s also the time of year when activities start back up, paper piles up, and sales gear up (that pesky little financial downturn has made it mighty tempting to hit the mall and take advantage of low prices). All of this newness can make it really easy to say “yes.” Yes to activities, yes to volunteering, yes to buying…yes, yes, yes! But it’s important to realize that just about every time you say “yes” to one thing, what you’re really doing is saying “no” to something else. Remember…space and time are not infinite. Harness the power of the word “no” so you can keep your time and your stuff under control.

Just say “no” to time thieves
You’ve heard it a million times…there are only 24 hours in a day, so it’s up to you to make the most of them. Yet we all find ourselves trying to cram more and more into that finite amount of time. And often what has to give is sleep, exercise, or quality time with loved ones or yourself. Decide now to live your life differently by embracing the power of the word “no.” First, you must know what really matters to you. Take 5 minutes and write down the things that mean the most to you in your life. Go ahead…do it right now…I’ll wait. Once you’ve established what goes on this list, it should be easier to say “no” to things that are less important. If you find that saying “no” to a request for your time is difficult, then practice. Look in the mirror and say “No, that just doesn’t fit into my schedule right now.” (I know this sounds goofy, but you’ll thank me when you can say it with authority and stick by it!). Or if that feels too challenging, at least practice saying “Let me think about it and get back to you.”

Just say “no” to procrastination
Sometimes, saying “no” to something helps you re-evaluate your goals. If you find you’re putting something off, give yourself permission to say “no” to it. Usually, if it’s still important to you, your will to achieve it will overcome the “no” and you’ll jump right into the task. But maybe your goals have changed and it’s no longer important to you. By saying “no” to it, you’re giving yourself permission to move on and say “yes” to something else.

Just say “no” to clutter
Saying “no” can also come in handy when managing all of the physical stuff in your life. If you want to stay on top of your clutter, it’s important to adopt a “one in, one out” rule in your household. If your closet is bursting at the seams, you need to recognize that nothing new can go in until something old goes out (and if it’s super full, you may need a “one in, two or three out” rule until it gets under control!). Same goes for books, kitchen equipment, furniture, and other house hold items. If you see something you’re in love with and just have to buy, decide now where it’s going to go in your house and decide what you must say “no” to in order to accommodate it.

Next time you find yourself saying “yes” to something that is going to take up space in your life, just say “no” instead. I think you’ll find that saying “no” to one thing is really saying “yes” to yourself and the things that matter most.

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Rx for Organization

My daughter has a chronic cough which hits at least once a year and lasts, well…a chronically long time! We’ve been through a drawer full of drugs and finally figured out that 20 days of a high powered antibiotic is about all that will knock it out. Remembering to take meds every day for 20 days (during the structure-less summer, no less) is a challenge for an 8 year old…let alone her organizer mom! So I came up with a system to help us remember:

Low tech: I created a simple spreadsheet that I keep on the fridge. It lists the date and the day that we’re on for her Rx. It also reminds me when the current meds have expired and when it’s time to mix up a new batch. We check off each day so she can see that she’s one day closer to feeling better.

High tech: I set an alarm on my cell phone every day as a backup reminder. If she’s forgotten to take her meds, this will remind us to take them. If we’re out and about having fun, I can leave a voice mail message at home reminding her to take them when we get back.

I hope you and your family are all healthy and happy and enjoying some fun in the sun!

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Making Mealtime Work

If I had to pick the Neat Freak hill I’m willing to die on, it might just be mealtime at my house. I’m no gourmand, and if forced to identify my favorite hobbies, cooking may not enter the top 5. But I do feel strongly about creating a healthy meal for my family most nights and having us sit down and eat it together. Below, I’ll share with you my favorite tips for making meal time work. Follow along and you may just find that you save time and money and, as a bonus, eat some amazing home cooked meals with the people you love.

1. Plan. Well, okay, that may sound obvious. But I mean really plan. Sit down once a week with the people who consume food in your home and talk about the next 7 days. What events or activities impact mealtime? Late swim meet? Business meeting? Book club? Boss coming home for dinner? Snack mom for preschool? That’s the kind of planning I’m talking about. Factor all of these events in as you plan your meals and shopping. Then start to build your shopping list around your real life.

2. Map out the meals you plan to prepare at home. I like to spend my Sunday afternoons surrounded by my favorite recipes and cookbooks, a stack of sticky notes, and my calendar. I make decisions about what I want to cook (this can be really fun during farmer’s market season when amazing local food is readily available) and then build a shopping list. I get the family involved and ask the kids to weigh in and make decisions about a meal a week. In another year or so, I’ll be ready to let my kids do the cooking, too. After decisions are made, I write my meal plans in the calendar so there are no “what in the world are we having for dinner?” moments in our week.

3. Create a pre-printed grocery list. This is, in all honesty, my meal planning lifesaver. Save your shopping lists for a couple of weeks. Sit down at your computer and type in the items you purchase regularly. Divide them into categories such as Produce, Baked Goods, Canned Goods, Snacks, etc. If you want to get super neat-freaky, arrange them in the order they appear in your grocery store. Update your list as needed and keep a few copies handy in your kitchen. As you run out of things during the week, circle them on your list. Then, when you’re ready to have your planning session and shop, your list is good to go. Don’t want to start from scratch? Just Google “preprinted grocery list” and you’ll find a few good ones online.

4. Keep it simple. Have your family brainstorm their favorite 12 meals, stock up on the essentials and rotate those meals for a few months. Email friends with similarly aged children and ask what their family favorites are and swap recipes. No one expects gourmet food and total originality every night (at least, no one who eats at my table)!

5. When all else fails, it’s time to cheat. Consider a meal planning service such as Saving Dinner or Six o’ Clock Scramble. If you want to make meal planning a social event, gather up some friends and cook large batches of food you can freeze and share. And if the thought of going to the grocery store practically brings you to tears, check to see if your store offers a shopping service that allows you to create and manage your shopping list online, place an order and pick up your food curbside.

I find that when I’m in my meal planning groove, my family eats healthy, fresh foods; my kids get to experience different tastes and textures; we save money by actually eating what we buy; and I save time by making only one (or sometimes two) trips to the store each week. And the biggest bonus? We spend a little time around the table, talking about our day and breaking bread together. Bon appetit!

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Neat Freaky Shoe Solutions

Here’s a little follow up to all of you entry-way Imelda Marcos out there.
1.    Sort the shoes that pile up by the door and ask family members to return infrequently worn shoes to their closets (e.g. if you still have snow shoes readily accessible and you live in the northern hemisphere, give them the boot!)
2.    Pair down (pun intended) the number of shoes your kids wear regularly. For summer, a pair of sneakers and pool shoes should suffice. If your child is currently playing a sport that requires special shoes, keep those handy, too.
3.    Corral the mud/water/mess with a boot tray from an organizational store such as this one from the Container Store.

4.    Think vertically! If you have a coat closet door near your entryway, consider hanging over-the-door shoe pockets on the inside of the door and have your kids put their shoes away in the lower pockets. Higher pockets are great for your shoes or sunscreen, bug spray, sunglasses and keys.

5.    Consider keeping a plastic laundry basket (or two!) next to the door for kids to pile sports shoes in. Hose it out occasionally and quickly whisk it away if guests are on their way over.

6.    Other favorite Tools of the Trade:
•    Shoe cubbies are readily available at Target or WalMart and some can hold up to 24 pairs of shoes.

•    I have a huge crush on the Horizontal Shoe Rack from Design Within Reach. Quite pricey, but oh so awesome.

•    Feeling crafty? Make your own similar solution such as this Apartment Therapy reader.

•    Finally, Ikea’s TRONES shoe storage is attractive, handy and inexpensive for shoe storage in narrow spaces.

Do you have a favorite shoe solution? Share it on my blog in the comments section! Inquiring Imelda’s want to know what works for you!

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Shoe solutions for the mudroom-less among us…

Makeshift Mudroom
Makeshift Mudroom

A few weeks ago I posted on Facebook that I was working on my newsletter (it’s coming, it’s coming…I’m just easing in to summer and gettin’ my lazy on for a week or so!). I asked my friends if they had questions for the “Ask the Organizer” segment of my newsletter. I had no idea I was opening up such a huge can of worms, but man, did some friends have some questions and complaints about shoes (kids’ shoes, muddy shoes, stinky shoes, too many shoes, etc.)!

As promised, I’ll be answering these questions and sharing solutions in my upcoming Neat Freak News. For now, I thought I’d share my own shoe solution from the Neat Freak’s house.

First, let it be known, we do not have a mudroom. We don’t even have a garage, so when you walk in our house, you’re officially “in the house.” Shoes can easily pile up–especially since the first thing I utter when we walk in is “shoes off!” In order to keep them from piling up by the door, I had to create a solution that looks good and the kids could use with ease.

Shoe SolutionShoe Solution

Peek inside and you’ll see that this armoire holds shoes the kids wear on a regular basis, jackets and coats for the kids, backpacks and bags. On the door we mounted pockets that hold glasses, phone chargers, keys, sunscreen, spare change, and a sock monkey (just because he’s cute). We also use the space at the bottom to store arts and craft supplies for the kids so they can get to them easily.

During the day, adult shoes get piled in here as well. In the evening, we’re responsible for returning our shoes to our closets. The kids keep extra shoes in their closets, but their most frequently worn shoes are usually in the armoire.

Not everyone has a hidden solution like this available. So look for my next newsletter to offer up additional ideas for taming your shoe collection. For now, cheers to summer…the season of bare feet!

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Slow the Flow

Just a little something to turn way up on a Friday…Slow the Flow.

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this month, but look for me in the July issue of Southern Living (hits stands late June). I just didn’t want all of my mother’s bridge and garden club friends to think I was a big fat liar! Neat Freak will appear in the “southern Bible” this summer.

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Happi Earth Day

My friend Rah just sent this link to me. Something sweet, cute and HAPPI for Earth Day!

To honor Earth Day, I took my little Neat Freak dude to the Museum of Life & Science in Durham and soaked up some science and sun. I hope you did something Earth friendly today…took a walk, enjoyed some gorgeous spring weather, took the bus or rode your bike, or just smelled some yummy flowers.

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