Wednesday, December 10, 2014

4 Essentials to a Scrumptious Hot Cocoa Bar

Hot Chocolate
 – mmmmmm –
the perfect holiday indulgence. A rare and special treat back when I was a kid, my young seem to think it’s their daily entitlement. Inspired by internet photos, and a little bit of annoyance at the constant concoction chaos, I organized our first Hot Chocolate Bar. A fair number of kids have already bellied up, and I’m thinking this might leap straight from “first annual” to “annual tradition.”
These are the four essentials:


Obviously a collection of holiday mugs would be appropriate, but these generously sized ones work well for us. A mug tree saves space and offers visual height, but a row of hooks or a vintage bottle rack would have worked, too.

Cocoa Mix

Choose your favorite and pour it in a nice, large container. You could offer a variety of flavors, if desired.


I couldn't resist these obnoxiously jumbo marshmallows (limit 1 per mug, of course).  

Candy Canes are a must!

I put peppermint syrup in this Italian bottle for easy pouring.


I swore I’d never surrender to a Made in China vintage-inspired piece of décor, but this little crate from Home Goods was just dying to reign in all our sprinkles.

 I swiped this chalkboard design right off Pinterest and used Chalk Ink – absolutely love that stuff – to create it.

Fresh greens, festive napkins, and even a Santa or Snowman would round out the décor.

I think I’ll expand my Hot Cocoa Bar to a full blown dessert station on Christmas Eve. Cookies and pies on tiered platters will surely distract little believers who can’t get their minds off Santa – and maybe the big believers, too!     

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Do these 5 Holiday Prep Actions Today!

Our long, lazy Thanksgiving weekend will be here in the blink of an eye - followed by twenty-four days of complete holiday frenzy. Who’s ready? Not me – not by a long shot (despite my Christmas obsession confession I wrote about here.) Certainly the decorating and shopping and wrapping can wait, because they concern your own schedule; but here are five connections you might want to make TODAY, as they concern someone else’s schedule – someone whose holiday calendar might already be booked.

The Lighting Guys

Exterior illumination, as evidenced by Clark Griswold in National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, can be time consuming, tedious, and downright dangerous! Enlisting the help of a professional Christmas Lighting company is the perfect answer. Sometimes landscaping and house painting crews add this to their service listing during the holidays. These guys have been at work for a month already, so call now to get on their schedule.

The Hair Stylist

Hopefully you scheduled your next visit at the end of your last visit, but if not, you should give your stylist a call right away. Her regulars have already nabbed all the good times, but she might be able to squeeze you in for a festive up-do.  If your cut and color is already on the calendar, book your manicure and brow wax while you still can.

The Babysitter

Teens and college kids are eager to earn some extra spending money over the holidays, and rest assured they are already getting calls for Friday and Saturday nights in December. Lock in your favorite sitter ASAP, even if it happens to be your in-laws. They have a social life, too, you know!

The Butcher, the Baker, the Candlestick Maker

Hosting a party this year? Caterers and party planners started filling their holiday calendars while most of us were enjoying summer fireworks; so if you’re hoping to enlist the services of anyone related to entertaining – bartenders, deejays, and even housekeepers – make sure to do so right away. Already too late to the game? Teens and twenty-somethings are great at taking coats, serving apps, and even parking cars.

The Pet Hotel

The bird, the cat, the dog and the gerbil will all need care while you’re traveling over the hills and through the woods. Kennels, pet hotels, dog walkers and pet sitters can be extra busy during the holiday season. Make sure your reservation is confirmed with Fido’s favorite caretaker – so his stress doesn’t turn into your stress!

 Thanksgiving comes with its own timeline and checklist; so it can be difficult to focus on some of these Christmas tasks when you have centerpieces and sage stuffing on the brain – but lock in these reservations now and you’ll be plenty grateful come Thanksgiving Day.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Election Day Inspiration

This is a video of my daughter age 12, reciting Susan B. Anthony’s speech on women’s suffrage. It’s long, but then … so was the battle for equal rights. 


Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Five Fun Facts About Christmas Creep

Holiday decor lines the shelves in early October
 Christmas “Creep” – the term used to describe the perpetual “moving up” of the holiday shopping season (and the squeezing out of Halloween and Thanksgiving) - is met with disdain.  Apparently people abhor Christmas Creep. One study found over 70% of Americans “annoyed or very annoyed” by this perceived phenomenon. But peruse these five fun facts about Christmas Creep, and perhaps you’ll reconsider your thoughts on the subject. 

The Peanuts gang experiences so-called Christmas Creep back in 1974.
Christmas Creep is a Myth

 As a self-described Christmas fanatic, I assure you Christmas Creep is a myth. Some of my earliest memories involve looking for signs of Christmas, and holiday merchandise displayed alongside back-to-school supplies was not unusual. In fact, a full FORTY years ago (1974) Charles Shultz was poking fun at the idea of early Christmas sales in this scene from “It’s the Easter Beagle, Charlie Brown.” Holiday sales start early, but not necessarily any earlier than they have for decades.

Halloween still ranks high at my house!
The Christmas Creep Backlash is, well…Discriminatory

I know it’s all the rage to denounce Christmas Creep – to even boycott stores - but why pick on Christmas? This so-called “mashing” of holidays (when the merchandising of one holiday or season runs into another) happens all year. BBQ grills and patio furniture appear alongside Valentine candy. Fall sweaters and warm boots make their appearance right around the 4th of July!  

Thanksgiving fans can also be Christmas fans.
Christmas Creep is not an assault on Halloween and Thanksgiving

Halloween and Thanksgiving are alive and well! Costume parties, pumpkin patch excursions, and trick-or-treating fill the month of October. Stopping for a long lazy weekend of turkey, stuffing and football is still an American tradition. We are each free to choose when and how we engage in the holiday season, but beginning one’s Christmas preparations early and fully embracing the Thanksgiving holiday are, thankfully, not mutually exclusive.

Early planning makes for a smooth holiday season.
Christmas Creep is a Good Thing

Shortly after the “Christmas already?” chatter comes gasps of “Christmas really snuck up on me!” Consider the first few glimpses of Santa a reminder to get out your planner. The countless details of shopping, decorating, baking and travel can suck the “magic” right out of the holiday season. Use these early days to plan your most important traditions.

Even a hard-core Christmas fanatic like me has to ask: “What’s with the Santa Pig?”
Christmas Creep has a Fan Club

 Scrooge-ish comments aside, Christmas Creep has a huge fan club. These are folks who live one joyful holiday season to the next…people who secretly listen to Jingle Bells in August...people who buy a house because of its “tree-worthy” foyer. Some of these people celebrate the “true meaning of Christmas.”  
I happen to be one of these Christmas Creep fans. 
I make no apologies. 
I love Christmas.

Here we go, friends. Saturday morning, while kids sleep off their trick-or-treat sugar high and parents scrape pumpkin guts off their porches, the holiday season will be upon us. Jump in, hold back, or go with the flow – whatever your style – here’s wishing you a happy holiday season.

So…how do you feel about Christmas Creep? 

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Are You a Nester? 5 Lessons for Cozy Living

Photo by Dan Liu

I’ve got that nesting feeling. That hunker-down, fluff the house, prep-for-the-long-dark-winter feeling. And fortunately for me, I recently picked up a few nesting skills from an expert extraordinaire, and I’m happy to share them with you here.

Photo by Dan Liu

This summer a Robin built her nest on our front porch. She flew by with a twig in her mouth, and I was thrilled to see her craftsmanship right outside my window.  A well-positioned video camera gave us our own little National Geographic show.

Photo by Dan Liu
Robin had two babies. She and her “partner” took turns foraging for worms and watching over the young. She spent what seemed like hours – with nary an iPad to pass the time – sitting on their little bodies.  The babies grew fat and healthy and took flight right before our eyes. The robins left behind a clean and spotless nest. It turns out we can learn a lot about nesting from a Robin.

Nesting, to me, says clean, comfortable, cozy surroundings, devoid of excess and clutter. I think Robin agrees.

Photo by Dan Liu
Lesson 1: McMansions are Overrated
 Does extra space mean extra clutter for you? Robin’s nest was just the right size – a little roomy in the beginning, a little tight near the end – but basically perfect. I wonder sometimes if too much space is too much of a good thing.

Photo by Dan Liu
Lesson 2: Manage the Memorabilia
 Pictures, awards, trophies – they all have meaning; but they can become burdensome, too. When the baby birds hatched, Robin tossed their egg shells to the ground – notwithstanding their gorgeous blue color! Imagine the sentimentality around their first little homes! But Mama Robin knew those shells would do more good to the camellia bush below than cluttering up her nest.

Photo by Dan Liu
Lesson 3: Clean House Daily
 Lots of people “spring clean,” but I do my heaviest cleaning in the fall, preparing my home for the indoor season. Robin kept an immaculate nest. God bless her for – um, consuming – every bird dropping after every meal. Not once did she let up on this necessary chore. Can I hear an “Amen!” that we don’t have to do that?

Photo by Dan Liu 
Lesson 4: Forage Mindfully
 Is your freezer or pantry stuffed with unidentifiable or expired foods?  The Robin was efficient in her “shopping.” She foraged for only one feeding of worms at a time, though the mouthfuls got bigger and grosser as time went on. Refrigerators saved us from our hunting and gathering days, but there’s still something to be said about limiting supply to only what we use in a given amount of time.

Baby birds with their new feathers.    Photo by Dan Liu

Lesson 5: Eliminate Excess
 When I get that “nesting” feeling, I know it’s time to purge. Too much “stuff” is usually weighing me down. Apparently the same is true for the Robin, as she had a regular routine of poking around her nest and discarding little downy feathers no longer needed by her young. What kind of excess is crowding your nest?

Baby birds prepare for their first flight. Photo by Dan Liu
Fifteen days after the twin birds hatched, they took flight and never returned to their tidy little nest. We were fortunate to catch this special moment on film – including nervous mom and dad chirping wildly on the roof next door.

 Dad is now an empty nester.  Photo by Dan Liu
 Our need for order, for cleanliness, for “nesting” is obviously shared by all living creatures. Imagine the comfort and coziness of our homes if we practiced these lessons from Robin.

Any of these lessons speak to you?

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Priorities: The Real Ones...

I witnessed a SKID Presentation (Stop Kids’ Impaired Driving) this week. The students of Jesuit High School huddled on rainy bleachers while a graphic drunk driving dramatization played out before them. The reenactment gripped their every sense - ambulance sirens, helicopter vibrations, blood soaked bodies, a sobbing mother – and absolute silence as the Medical Examiner arrived – a sight almost too unbearable to watch.

Hopefully the full-of-life teens will reflect on the message. The adults certainly did – many brushing away tears as they shuddered at the thought.

Organizing, productivity, time management – the desire to be more efficient –they’re all about priorities. And we often experience discomfort, pain even, as a result of disorder. Perhaps these feelings are so powerful because intuitively we know our priorities are out of whack - that we’re spending too much time on the wrong things.

I hadn’t planned on attending the SKID program. I was facing a lengthy list of tasks and projects and was feeling decidedly disorganized. I wrestled all morning with focus.

And then something interesting happened. I watched the SKID demonstration and was reminded of my priorities – my REAL priorities – and the rest of my day was the picture of productivity. Perhaps it’s not the organizing that makes room for priorities; but rather, the focus on priorities that leads us to be more productive. Thoughts?

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

A "Back to School" DON'T for Summer Lovers

By now you’ve been inundated with Back to School Organizing tips. Many of them are tried and true - a few of my favorites:

  • Set up a Homework Zone
  • Create an easy Lunch station in the pantry
  • Designate a Drop Box for Mom’s papers

And for my not-so orderly friends who are already behind:

  • Find* and clean out last year’s backpack.
  • Order school supplies on-line (your local store sold out last week and replaced with Halloween costumes)
    *It’s near the back door. Probably contains a report card and half a sandwich.

    And here’s my Back to School “Don’t.” Ignore the tip that suggests putting your kids to bed early to prepare them for the coming schedule.  Some say do this for days or even weeks before the first day of school!

    My thoughts? Let them play! Summer is this short, precious little bit of time; and the end of summer, with the nights already getting shorter, sometimes even chillier, is even more delicious. We have nine long months ahead of car pools and sports practice, PTA meetings and conferences, homework and studying. There will be rain and snow and plenty of dark, dark afternoons.

    So this week - let them play.

    Sit outside with your neighbors while the kids shoot hoops or ride their scooters. Eat a popsicle, fire up the BBQ, catch a few fireflies.The kids will get up on the first day of school just like they always have – easily. Kids love the first day of school. It’s just a fun day of school supply sorting, locker finding, and friend reconnecting anyway. They’ll get out of bed just fine. That first evening they’ll be tired. They will eat a nice dinner, load their backpacks, and fall into bed, exhausted. In just one night your kids will be back into the familiar school routine without a single wasted summer moment.Play outside these last few nights. Stay up late if you want! Summer is slipping away.
  • Wednesday, August 13, 2014

    Today is a special day for Totally Orderly...

    Today, literally TODAY, I’m celebrating TEN YEARS in business!

    Happy Anniversary to Totally Orderly!

    And where was I in 2004? Carpooling my little tots, still sharing an email address with my husband; my mental health career long forgotten.

    I don’t know why I thought I could launch a business. I knew nothing about marketing, accounting, or strategic planning. ROI and COGS were acronyms too mysterious to research. But I could organize, and that was enough to get started.  

    Fresh from the gate I learned this job was about much more than organizing. It’s about families and respect and values. It’s about success and feeling good and acceptance. My customers, hands down, are the best part of my job.  

    And here are Ten Wisdom's & Lessons gleaned from my amazing Totally Orderly customers:
    1. Asking for help is a heroic act of bravery
    2. The generosity of some people is immeasurable
    3. Laughing at one’s self leads to incredible clarity
    4. A little order goes a long way
    5. The pursuit of perfection is probably pointless
    6. Our gifts and talents are meant to be shared
    7. Family, friends and experiences trump stuff
    8. Everything has energy – choose wisely what lives in your home
    9. Self-hatred is extraordinarily painful
    10. I’m not nearly as organized as I thought I was

    Today I offer a heartfelt thank you to all the customers who have come in and out of my life these past ten years. Thank you for welcoming me into your homes, for sharing your struggles, for exposing your hurts. I’ve learned more from you than you from me – and for this I’m forever grateful.  

    Thursday, August 7, 2014

    Thursday, July 31, 2014

    Productivity Tips from Dory the Fish

    Do you remember Dory from the Disney/Pixar movie Finding Nemo? She was the show-stealing neurotic and forgetful regal blue tang fish with the Ellen Degeneres voice. Her most memorable line, to me anyway, was this mantra: “Just keep swimming, just keep swimming.” She would sing song her way through life, not always knowing the point or where she was headed, but loving the ride just the same.

    I felt like Dory this week. I had so much to do, but lacked direction and purpose. All attempts to focus were futile, and the more disciplined I tried to be - (“you can’t do this until you do that”) - the less I accomplished.

    My customers frequently seek the formula for productivity. There are plenty – that’s for sure: 
    • avoid multitasking
    • eliminate distractions
    • set a timer
    • take small steps
    • visualize the end

    I can’t argue any of these; they all work. But what about those days when they don’t; when you’re just “swimming” in circles? That’s when I call on the genius of Dory.

    I just keep swimming…or moving…or working…or doing literally anything. Because little bits of progress, even if not perfect, or in the right order, or at the right time, are usually better than nothing. I write for a bit, process a few bills, delete an email here or there, maybe run an errand. It’s not textbook time management, but it’s good enough.

    Earlier this week I found myself with two hours between picking up my daughter and niece from camp and picking up my dog from the vet. It was hot, traffic was thick, and the last thing I wanted to do was “kill” a couple hours. I had work to do! But the girls pulled me into a fun pet store – the kind that allows snake holding and bunny snuggling and even permits its mascot tortoise to roam freely. The collective animal spirit was working magic on my mood. I was relaxing.  I strolled back to the aquarium section, and there - swimming, swimming, swimming - was Dory the blue tang – or at least her close relative. She was beautiful.  It was just the reminder I needed to keep moving, to keep swimming; but to enjoy the ride, too.  Thanks, Dory.

    Thursday, July 24, 2014

    10 Items Obsolete in 10 Years

    In honor of Totally Orderly’s 10 Year Anniversary (2004-2014!), I bought myself a new work bag. We professional organizers love our work bags full of little organizing gizmos and gadgets.  I’ve had at least five bags - one so big my client hesitated to allow me through the door! Another so small I had to ask to borrow a pen. Not impressive. I had a vintage toolbox that proved too heavy, and a bag on wheels with too few compartments.  

    This time I settled on a lightweight but roomy black tote with just enough pockets. I found the list of supplies I had created back in 2004, and to my surprise, at least ten were no longer needed – and they were all replaced by a single item – my iPhone! Here goes:

    Ten Organizer Work Bag Objects Replaced by Smartphone Apps:

    ·         Camera – (Gorillacam)
    ·         PDA – (iCalendar)
    ·         Calculator – (Calc)
    ·         Level – (iHandy Level)
    ·         Laptop – (Tablet)
    ·         Map to Client’s House – (Google Maps)
    ·         Handouts/Articles – (Safari – to connect to mywebsite)
    ·         Photos – (Pinterest)
    ·         Invoice – (Square)
    ·         Donation Resources –  (iRecycle)

    My bag is so much lighter! There’s still no electronic substitute for paper clips, rubber bands or a good sharpie pen. And I still love a fresh pad of paper. But I don’t miss the rest, and something tells me my work bag will be practically virtual by 2024. What do you think?  

    Friday, June 20, 2014

    Friday Finds: Chalkboard Labels

    I'm just crazy about this chalkboard craze. Which is weird, because I don't like the feel of chalk. (Chalk Ink was the answer to that "touchy" problem - looks great, too!)

    Anyhow, these Avery Chalkboard Labels are so much fun. 

    These are perfect for boxes and bins - and they're removable!

    The scalloped edge on this one looks great on containers in the kitchen, laundry room, or linen closet.

    These come with a border!

    And I can hardly resist these little Avery Chalkboard Tags - perfect on a gift or for labeling baskets. 

    Have fun with your chalkboard labels. Find them at Staples or online. They retail for about $5.99-$9.99 (depending on the size).

    Friday, June 13, 2014

    Friday Find: Time Timers

    Recently, I attended the National Association of Professional Organizers (NAPO) conference. At the Expo, I came across the newly designed Time Timer... a useful tool for anyone who struggles with time management. 

    I was thrilled to see their new fashionable line of colored desk clocks and updated Time Timer PLUS

    For a limited time, the 3" desk clocks come in bright spring colors (personally, green is my favorite, but the blue is nice too). 

    The Time Timer PLUS has a new sleek look with a new sturdy handle and enclosed cover to protect the clock face. 

    Time Timer PLUS $37.50
    3" Desk Clock $29.95

    Wednesday, June 11, 2014

    Not So Totally Orderly

    Photo by Zion, MorgueFile Free Photos
    Organizing projects I love: closets, kitchens, a massive pile of paper. Mudrooms are my favorite, and I've never met a playroom that didn't beckon.

    Organizing projects I tolerate: garages, basements, sheds  - basically any space that provides safe shelter for  spiders.

    Organizing projects that leave me stymied: meal planning, kids’ chores, time and task management. Actually, I don’t mind assisting a client with these challenges; I’m just not very good at them myself. I think I've tried a dozen different ways to consistently get dinner on the table, and I still find myself staring in the freezer at 5 PM.

    It’s been ten years since I launched Totally Orderly, and this has become clear: I am not-so-totally-orderly. Oh, I’m orderly in lots of ways. My pantry is always ship shape. My papers are filed just so. But I definitely have my own organizing demons.

    So welcome to Not So Totally Orderly – true confessions of a professional organizer who doesn't always see the simple solution. But I’ll search for that easy, good enough, done-but-not-perfect solution – not just because I know my clients will appreciate it, but because I need it, too! 

    Tell me - in what ways are you not-so-totally-orderly?