Author: Gabrielle Watters-SmithGeneral Goal Setting Holidays Project Management Seasonal Shopping

The Holiday Time Puzzle

Keep Calm & Twinkle On

Yes, it’s that time of the year again. The grocery store revealed the first clue that something was happening. There — I was greeted with remnants of goblins and candy, cranberries and stuffing, tinsel and gift wrap galore – ALL AT ONCE.

Immediately, my mind tallied the numerous tasks that needed to be accomplished in the next few weeks. By the time I made my way to the check-out line, I’m fairly certain that my frazzled expression and my declaration that the “holiday season has arrived” caused the cashier concern.

I really do enjoy the holidays, but sometimes it’s hard to wrap my head around the extra seasonal tasks and obligations that need to fit into my already busy 24 hours. It’s a time puzzle indeed!

With these five simple strategies below, you — and I — will have time to enjoy this season.

Take a few minutes and “Brain Dump.” Do NOT keep your holiday to-dos in your head! One of my favorite everyday organizational tools is workflowy. It’s a great way to organize your projects and tasks on your computer, smart phone, or tablet. For those who like to write, a notebook works just as well, but have it with you everywhere you go.

Focus on what’s important. Pause and really think about what makes your holiday season special to you and your family. Are there traditions and events that you look forward to or approach with less than a little enthusiasm? For example, if the thought of baking 12 dozen cookies does not fill you with the holiday spirit, take it off your list or delegate it!

Calendar your important holiday projects and tasks first. You will be more productive knowing that you are planning for and doing what brings you joy during the holidays. Then fill in with the less significant tasks.  Be at peace, if you cannot accomplish it all.

Set time limits to these tasks. Parkinson’s Law states that ‘work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.’ You will be amazed how quickly you are able to make a decision with a time limit. Go ahead, limit time spent gift shopping at the store or online.

Delegate, delegate, delegate. If you are entertaining during the holiday season, allow others to help you. This can mean a guest bringing a dish to contribute to your festive meal, someone setting the table, or helping with the mega dish clean-up. This year, I recognized that hosting the Thanksgiving meal was more than I could take on. After discussing alternatives with my family, we agreed that getting together was very important. Our solution — to meet at a centrally located restaurant for a leisurely family dinner. Less time shopping, cooking, cleaning, traveling and MORE time being together. I am grateful!

Feel free to share with us how you are planning to ease the stress of your holiday season.

Author: Kelly GalfandGeneral Holidays Seasonal Shopping

Gift Giving the Green Way

Celebrate life’s blessings.

Still life with hands

Opening presents sure can be fun — but dealing with the hassle of wrapping paper, tissue wrap, ribbons, and recycling trash can sometimes be the bummer at the end of the party. That task sometimes falls to me…even on my own birthday. As I turn one year older this month, I treated my family to the gift of captured moments with a professional family photo sitting. We got all of the shots we wanted PLUS which I’m sharing at the end of this post.

What kinds of gifts can YOU give this year that don’t involve packaging or plastic — and don’t take up room on shelves? Theater events, spa treatments, and special meals out are just a few ways to celebrate the good times in life with the people you love. Keep this in mind while you shop for the holidays. Ask nieces and grandparents what events (sporting or cultural) they’d like to attend in lieu of cappuccino makers and electronic gadgets. Cousins could organize a bowling party instead of racking their brains for what “Suzy” wants this year for Christmas.

Now is the time to get your family on board with the idea of green gifts — like time spent together — rather than purchased goods. If the idea of intangible gifts is too big a leap (this year) then at least make sure to share your want-list. Don’t be shy telling people (friends, family, co-workers) what you’d really like. In this economy, no one wants to throw good money after bad. Happy Holidays.

Kelly with Husband

NOT your typical siblings shot

Family Portrait in FEET!

Author: Rie BroscoHolidays Organizing Seasonal Travel

How to Pack for a Trip

Last week, my partner Naomi, and I traveled to New England to visit family. It was her brother’s 50th birthday and there was a surprise party for him. I also have family in Massachusetts and looked forward to seeing folks I have not seen in too long. It was going to be a short trip by car… only 5 days (including the two days of travel time).

Now, I need to confess, I do not usually travel lightly – especially when we
have a station wagon with a large cargo area in it but since it was such a short trip, we decided that we would not need much. And so the packing began.

What I already knew (and actually followed this time)…

  • I really do spend most of my time in one or two comfortable pairs of pants (no need to bring more).
  • Pack items that you can mix and match. Sometimes you wake up and just don’t like what you had planned to wear. It is nice to have a choice without bringing extra stuff.
  • Check to see if there are laundry facilities in the place you are staying (or a nearby Laundromat) so that if you do spill something on an article of clothing you wanted to wear again, you can launder it quickly.

Things I should have known but just learned…

  • Bring a flashlight for each person to have by their bedside. Our hotel had a power outage and finding the bathroom in the middle of the night without bumping into the furniture was a challenge (especially since the one flashlight we brought was still packed in the suitcase and the batteries died after 3 minutes of use!) The flashlights can be small and fit on a keychain (or most cell phone screens light up when turned on or have an app for a free flashlight).
  • Before leaving home, check all batteries to make sure they are charged and working. This applies not only to flashlights (see above) but also cameras, phones, tablets and any other gadgets you bring.
  • Before packing all those gadgets, ask yourself whether you truly need to take your laptop, a tablet, cell phone, portable dvd player, gps, and… or will one or two items do the job of many?  Besides, if you are on vacation, shouldn’t you leave the work at the office?
  • If your phone or tablet does not have an alarm clock feature, bring a small battery-operated travel one with you (especially if you have to wake up at a certain hour).

Traveling lightly can be a challenge for some people (ok, I include myself in that category) but one of the most important things I learned is that it is an incredibly long way to carry multiple (heavy) bags up or down four flights of stairs when the elevators don’t work. Plus, unless you are visiting the wilds of Labrador or the back trails of the Appalachian Mountains, most places have stores where you can buy almost anything you left behind and can’t live without… like flashlights or batteries!

Author: Sherry CastaldiHolidays Home Seasonal Storage

How to Organize Your Holiday Décor

The holiday season means decoration time. Pulling out boxes, bags and containers of all kinds of special treasures you’ve saved   for embellishing your home every year and they are all marked “holiday”.   Where to begin, but to open them all and start dragging items out until you find what you are looking for at that moment.  Eventually you make your way through it all in time to enjoy the holidays for the family gatherings and entertaining of the season, only to be quickly followed by the dreaded post-holiday season of taking down those decorations and putting them away for another year.  But did you know the post-holiday season is the best time to organize all those decorations?

Here are some organizing tips for making this a really productive organizing season too!

  1. This is the most perfect time to take stock of your exterior and interior décor. Has anything served its time well and is no longer useful, looks dated or worn, or anything you would ever use again? Now is the time to purge those items. If you are not going to use them next year, certainly do not take precious space and time to pack them up again. Donate what may be reusable to someone else that you won’t use again. Throw away anything that no longer is of use to anyone.
  2. Sort your items, keeping in mind you want to keep like and similar items together.  Here are some examples of how to sort depending upon what you have; exterior décor from interior décor,  exterior lights from Interior lights, wreaths, garlands, holiday linens, centerpieces, collections of holiday items should be grouped together, ornaments,  candles, etc.  You should now have everything sorted into categories so that all like items are grouped together.
  3. Now is the time to visually see the amount of the items you have and the size and shape of the containers you will need to store them in. There are many assorted storage containers available during this season for just this organizing event.
  4. When you pack your items away remember to use a little packaging paper or bubble wrap for any breakables so they are not just loose in a container.
  5. Label each container from the categories you made when sorting the items. Put the items in the corresponding containers. You may have multiple categories in one container. That’s ok. Just label what is in there.
  6. Now you are ready to store all your containers in their designated area until next year and you will now know exactly where everything is!
  7. There is another sorting option and that is to sort all the décor for each room into its own category, for example; Living Room, Dining Room, Kitchen, Family Room, etc.  This is not advised for everyone but works for some folks that don’t like to think about where they are placing their decorations every year, so a designated container for each room works well for them.

When next year comes around you won’t be opening 10+ containers at once looking for certain items as you are trying to decorate.  By sorting all of your holiday décor into categories and packing the décor into labeled containers will keep your décor organized and easy to access for the next season.  You’ll look forward to knowing where everything is when you’re ready to decorate and knowing where everything belongs when you’re ready to put it away.

Author: Annie Amoon RichardClothing Organizing Seasonal Storage

The Organized Way to Pack for a Trip

Here are simple ways to put the sanity back into the process of packing for a trip:

  1. Keep it simple; what do you really need to bring that won’t be available where you are going?  With all of the new rules and fees for traveling these days, it is wise to take only what is absolutely necessary.  Think of the stuff that you pack as paying to take it by its weight.  You are paying for everything you pack.  Choose wisely.  Is it worth its weight?
  2. Pack a “bathroom bag” with the toiletries that you use every day in your bathroom routines.  This is a great time to make use of those travel size toiletries you have saved.  Keep this bag packed and stocked at all times.  Then when you are packing for a trip, the bathroom bag just goes right into the suitcase.  No more unpacking and repacking for every trip.  This also comes in handy if you run out of your regular supply and forget to replenish right away.  I’ve done this for years and it really works.  An added benefit of this is that you can be all packed before you take your last shower before you go.  You don’t have to wait to pack your last minute toiletries.
  3. Invest in a few classic pieces of clothing that can be dressed up or down, depending on the situation.  Dress in layers for variations in weather/temperature can be unpredictable.  One good sweater or light jacket that goes with everything is a handy piece to have.  Assemble a wardrobe that can easily be mixed or matched to create several different outfits from a few basic pieces.
  4. Stick to the basics of neutral colors and dress up your outfits with accessories.  It takes up far less room in the suitcase to pack an accent scarf or tie, than it does to pack an additional outfit.
  5. Once you have packed, consider eliminating half of what you packed.  Don’t pack based on the “just in case” thinking.  Pack based on what you know you need.  If a situation arises, and you have packed based on the above tips, you will have what you need to be flexible.  And it is a lot easier to simply say, “I didn’t know I would need to bring that.”, than to pack for every contingency and be cranky because you had to pay a lot in baggage fees and drag around a heavy suitcase of stuff that you didn’t even end up using at all.
  6. Pack like things together.  Put all of your electronic gadgets and chargers, etc in one place.  Pack the snacks together, as well as the reading materials or work to do as you travel.   There are few things more frustrating than searching through multiple pockets or compartments to find what you need.  The “assign a home” concept of organizing applies to travel too.  If you use the same travel bags or suitcases, put the same things in the same places each time you pack, and you will find what you are looking for with a lot less stress.
  7. Be comfortable.  Bring what feels good to wear or what you feel confident wearing.

Stay true to yourself and you will always look fabulous!  It doesn’t make sense to go on       vacation to reduce stress and then pack in such a way as to cause you more stress.  Pack well and enjoy your trip.

Author: Danielle OBrienFamily General Holidays Seasonal

Holiday Entertaining – Happy 4th of July!

When I was a child, my parents used to have these huge picnics on 4th of July. Everyone was invited. My parents spent weeks prior to the party cleaning, shopping and preparing enough food to fill our two refrigerators. My father worked the grill all day and my mother worked in the kitchen sending food out to the backyard and cleaning the platters that were coming in. It took a least a week to clean up the house and put it back to normal.

Now- a- days my sisters and I don’t seem to have the time for a huge BBQ nor do we wish to work that hard, but I missed those holiday picnics, so I decided to start my own holiday tradition for the 4th of July. Equipped with some organizing skills and a good imagination, I have planned a party that takes a lot less hard work. Here’s how:

I’m lucky. I live on a public park and every year on the 3rd of July our borough plans a wonderful fireworks display. So we invite everyone over for our “Ice Cream & Fireworks Party” which starts at 7pm. The invitations go out one month prior to the party. The preparations begin by defrosting and eating all the contents from the freezer. This is also a good time to scrub the freezer. Shopping is done over the course of the next few weeks by watching for coupons on popsicles, ice cream sandwiches, water ice as well as other ice cream novelties. Every week I check for sales on the five gallons of ice cream I will need. The week prior to the party my family and I form an assembly line in the kitchen. We collect all of our drinking glasses, the juice glasses are the perfect size. We create delicious ice cream sundaes such as traditional, caramel, cookie crumbles and blondie sundaes. We cover them with plastic wrap and label them. They are then layered with small pieces of cardboard in the freezer.

On the day of the party I set up the drink station with iced tea, lemonade, soda, an ice bucket and cups. I put a cute red bucket of spoons and a cute red bucket of napkins on the dining room table. Helpful hint: buy all your paper products in red. Red can be used for your New Year’s party, birthdays, Valentine ’s Day, Christmas, memorial day, labor day and of course 4th of July. I put a huge teak bowl on the table for the ice cream novelties, the toys go outside, the pets go in the garage, the music gets turned on and we are ready!

Around 8:30 my helpers and I huddle in the kitchen. We top each sundae off with whipped cream, cherries, jimmies and a mint leaf. I carry them into the dining room on trays and place them around the big bowl of novelties. Now is the time to try not to get run over by the mad rush to the ice cream. After ice cream our guests are adorned with the neon jewelry that my husband loves to purchase for our guest, and we take our places on the deck with blankets and chairs that our guests know to bring.

After the fireworks the children usually raid the freezer for one more sundae.  While I say goodbye to our fifty guests and direct traffic off our tiny street, my friends help me out by tossing the trash for me. A quick wipe down on the table and a wet swift of the floors and this party is over until next year.

Don’t think of the holidays as being so daunting with all the shopping, cooking and cleaning. Keep it simple. Start early, create your own traditions. You too can entertain without wearing yourself out or putting a big dent in your budget.

Happy summer!