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Archive for December, 2008

I haven’t always been a huge supporter of New Year’s resolutions. I’ve seen people set goals for the upcoming year in assorted ways, but more often than not, the goals eventually fall by the wayside. It has become clear to me that if you are going to make New Year’s resolutions, then you need to have a plan. Without a plan, your resolutions are left floating aimlessly with no clear direction, no course of action, and ultimately no success.

new-years-resolutions

It takes some level of organization to make and fulfill New Year’s resolutions. So in the spirit of this blog, I’m going to make my very first New Year’s resolution ever as a way to help those of you who have tried and failed over and over to find real success in 2009.

My 2009 New Year’s Resolution: Meal Planning

Since starting this blog back in the beginning of October, I’ve noticed that one major (and very common) organizational tool I do not currently use is meal planning. I’ve read many times over that meal planning is a great way to save time and money, and in general an effective way to organize your life better. I even had a reader leave a useful comment about meal planning on my post about stocking your pantry.

So why haven’t I ever actively planned meals? Probably because my mom didn’t do it so I never did either. But I’ve seen the real potential of meal planning recently and I don’t want to wait any longer!

Now other than making the decision that I would like to plan meals in 2009, I haven’t done much else in the way of deciding how I’m going to make that happen. As I said above, having a strategy is really the key to success. So below I’m going to outline a step-by-step process that you can watch me use to realize my New Year’s resolution of meal planning. Then hopefully you can apply what you’ve learned to your own resolutions for the upcoming year.

Step 1: Get Specific

Before outlining any kind of plan, it is important to make your resolution and then describe it specifically so you understand what it really means to you. For example, if you would like to lose weight in 2009, how much do you want to lose? If you would like to organize your life, what is it exactly that needs to be organized? Be specific. The worst way to start pursuing your New Year’s resolution is to be vague.

  • Meal Planning: I want to schedule all dinners in advance that I will cook in order to (1) cut back on stress that accompanies last-minute meal decisions, (2) be more creative with meals and learn new recipes, (3) shop more efficiently and, and (4) use my time more wisely.

Step 2: Be Realistic

When coming up with New Year’s resolutions, it’s really important to be realistic and honest with yourself so you don’t end up setting yourself up for failure before you’ve even begun. If you want to lose 50 pounds in 2009, you need to ask yourself if you can—do you have time, will power, motivation, tools, and physical ability? After answering these difficult but important questions, go back to step 1 and make any necessary changes. Perhaps it is more realistic for you to lose 20 pounds instead of 50, for example.

  • Meal Planning: First, I worry about my ability to stick to this new kind of lifestyle. It will be a major change, so I will need to discipline myself to keep with it. I feel that I am up to the challenge. Second, I know that I could theoretically plan every meal, but I am choosing to only plan dinners for now. Starting more simply can help me ease into it more effectively. Finally, I know that in order for me to actually plan meals, I need to have a strategy in place. No problem—that’s Step 3.

Step 3: Outline a Strategy

If your New Year’s Resolution is to lose weight (keeping with this same example), you won’t get very far if you do not have a plan. Simply stating that you wish to lose 20 pounds will not suffice—you need to decide when, where, and how you will accomplish this goal. For example, you could choose to run on your treadmill Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays at 7 a.m. for 30 minutes, only eat dessert on the weekends, and reduce the size of your dinner plates to cut down your portion size. The point is, when it comes to general resolutions like ‘losing weight’, a specific strategy is a must.

  • Meal Planning: This is the step I have not yet tackled. But as I stated at the end of Step 2, if I do not outline a strategy, I can guarantee myself failure. So, here’s what I just came up with in last few minutes: I think it would be best to pick a day of the week when I can plan each night’s meal for that week. Then when I get better at it, I can move to meal planning monthly. We have meetings on Monday and Tuesday nights, so Wednesday is probably the best day for me to start with.  We are a leftovers family, so I do not need to plan a new meal for each night. For now I think that 3 meals a week will be plenty. I will shoot for one brand new recipe, one old recipe, and one made-up recipe (I like to experiment in cooking). I will use my planner to keep track of each meal. That should be all I need to get started!

Step 4: Ready, Set, Go

This step is pretty easy—it’s time to put your resolution into action! If it’s weight loss, then start your weight loss plan on January 1 and stick to it. Keep track of your progress through record keeping and take notice of your improvement.

  • Meal Planning: I will begin on Wednesday January 7, since this upcoming Wednesday is December 31 (and that will also give me enough time to get settled back into our ‘normal’ schedule after all the holiday traveling). I may end up keeping track of my progress right here at Lifestyles of the Organized as a further way to help me stay motivated to stick to this new system.

Step 5: Assess Your Strategy

With any resolution, it’s important to check back in regularly to make sure everything is still going well. Assessing your progress overall after about a month is good for starters. Then make any necessary adjustments to your plan based on how successful you’ve been. For example, if you are trying to lose weight, but your new exercise program is not fitting very well into your schedule, then tweak what you need to in order to make it work.

  • Meal Planning: I will assess my progress at the beginning of February and then decide if I should move to monthly planning instead of weekly planning. I will also make any changes to my meal categories if necessary.

Reader Reflection

Are you going to make any New Year’s resolutions this year?

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With Christmas only a few days away now, I thought I would share with you some of my favorite reads from around the blogosphere to help you glide into the holidays with ease.

christmas-tree-stars

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Merry Christmas to all of my faithful readers! I appreciate every one of you and wish you a pleasant (and organized) holiday!

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Today’s post marks the conclusion of the fun series I’ll Be Homemade for Christmas.  For the final installment I’d like to explore creative gift ideas that tap into services we can offer to others.  Last week we talked about using our words effectively to tell someone how much we care about them. This week we’ll look at how we accomplish the same goal, but through serving instead of saying. Not only does serving others really get at the heart of Christmas, but offering our services is an excellent last-minute homemade gift option (remember, Christmas is only a week away!).

Brainstorming ideas about how you can offer your services

Everyone has a service they can offer someone.  What’s yours?  Here are a few ideas to help you get started:

  • Offer to shovel your neighbor’s snow
  • Offer to cook meals for someone who is sick
  • Offer to cook meals for someone who just had a baby
  • Offer to take an elderly person grocery shopping
  • Offer to clean someone’s housewalk-dog
  • Offer to do someone’s laundry
  • Offer to do someone’s dishes
  • Offer to take a friend out to a restaurant
  • Offer to babysit someone’s children
  • Offer to take care of someone’s home while they are traveling
  • Offer to walk a neighbor’s dog
  • Offer to give a loved one a massage or other special service

Brainstorming ideas about how to present your services in gift form

  • Write a letter describing your proposed service(s)
  • Explain your service in a creative Christmas card
  • Create special redeemable coupons for each offered service

An example of a homemade gift using services

There are really endless ways you can serve another person. I encourage you to run through in your mind all the people in your life and see if you can think of a way you could meet one of their needs by offering them your services this Christmas. And as I said above, since Christmas is only a week away, consider making a homemade service gift instead of tearing your hair out trying to buy a last-minute gift at the crowded mall.

Two years ago my Grandmother was remarking to me that she could no longer clean very effectively in her house due to her ailments. She specifically mentioned that she would love to clean her nice dishes set, but she could not reach the shelves safely, nor did she have the energy to thoroughly clean all those dishes anyway. This gave me an idea. I decided I wanted to help and Christmas was coming, so I described my proposed service in a special Christmas card that year. She was happy to oblige and the next time my husband and I visited, we spent the afternoon cleaning all her dishes. She was very thankful and a burden had been lifted.  That homemade gift was a success!

Reader Reflection

Have you ever made homemade gifts using your services? Feel free to share any ideas here.

A Look Back

Today’s installment of I’ll Be Homemade for Christmas marks the end of this series.  I hope you were able to benefit from it and think of creative ideas for homemade gifts this Christmas.   Feel free to take a look back at each week’s homemade gift idea topic: photos, arts & crafts, plants, food, words, and services (today).

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2009 is just around the corner, so if you haven’t already, it’s time to start thinking about buying next year’s planner. I got mine a few weeks ago, but it certainly is not too late to choose a new one now. Planners are all about helping you organize your life, plan ahead, schedule events, and basically stay sane amidst chaos. But before springing for your next planner, there are a few things to consider to ensure you choose the style that is best for you.

calendar

1. Evaluate this past year’s planner

You want your planner to actually benefit you, not just sit on your desk collecting dust. So take a look at your trusty 2008 planner and ask yourself how useful it was. Did you use it for what you hoped to use it for? Was it ultimately beneficial in helping your organize your life? If so, then you might consider just sticking with the exact same style because you are used to it. That’s what I did, because I’ve found a planner that perfectly suits my needs. But if you didn’t find your 2008 planner particularly useful, then you might want to consider switching styles.

2. Choose a basic planner format

Whether you are switching styles because last year’s planner just didn’t cut it, or you are switching for a fresh change, the first decision you’ll need to make is what kind of format to go with. You could choose the basic wall calendar, a slightly more detailed monthly planner, a hefty weekly planner, or even a daily planner. What you decide on ultimately depends on your lifestyle, how busy you are, and how much you actually like to write things down.

If you have a daily planner, but you only end up writing in it every four or five days or so, then perhaps a weekly planner is better for you. In the same way, if you are trying to cram all your events and appointments onto a small wall calendar, then maybe you should switch to a more comprehensive monthly planner.

What do I use? I tend to write most things down, from my appointments to my meal plans. I would never fit everything onto a wall calendar (ya right!) or even a monthly calendar, so I went with a weekly planner, where each day has a space to write what I need to.

3. Pick a planner size

After choosing a planner format, you can next move on to choosing a planner size. Some people love to be able to throw their planners into their purse, while others would find that size far too small. Consider what size would work best for your lifestyle. Do you need to bring your planner with you wherever you go? Do you want your planner to be really obvious on your desk?

I use an 8.5X11 size weekly planner. It sits on my desk right underneath my computer monitor so I can basically glance at it almost constantly. I don’t need to bring my planner with me everywhere, so getting one to fit in my purse wasn’t necessary. However, I certainly still can throw it in my backpack or suitcase if need be.

4. Decide which features are important to you

Now that you’ve chosen a format and size, the last thing you need to consider as far as design goes is which special features you want to be included. Consider if note-taking areas, mini-calendars, time schedule breakdowns, or full month spreads are important to you. All planners are different in these ways, so be sure to page through your potentials before buying to see if they contain the features you desire.

5. Consider going digital

In this digital age, it’s important to consider the option of a digital planner, not just because going digital eliminates clutter. If you are comfortable with electronics, then it’s worth trying a digital planner because of its flexibility. You can keep a planner on your PDA and easily take it with you whenever you want, scheduling alarms and notices to remind you of appointments or events. Plus you could also keep other organizational materials in the same PDA, like your address book, phone book, grocery list, or gift list. Also consider having a planner on your computer or even online.

Stepping outside the planner box

If keeping a traditional planner is not your cup of tea, but you still want a way to be able to organize your schedule, to-do lists, events, and appointments, then consider an organization binder or something similar. For a great example, visit Simple Mom and read her excellent series of posts about Home Management Notebooks for some creative ideas.

Reader Reflection

Do you keep a planner? What style do you have?

What’s Next?

After the new year, I’ll explore creative ways we can use our planners to their full potential, so stay tuned!

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Even though Christmas is a short week and a half away, I must confess that I am not completely finished with my shopping yet. This happens every year and I always get so frustrated with myself for leaving a couple of gifts until the last minute! Why I can’t kick the habit I do not know (you’d think writing a blog about organizing would motivate me!).

In any case, as I anxiously try to figure out these last couple of gifts to buy, I have come up with a list of common mistakes made when attempting last-minute shopping. I’ve made some of these mistakes and perhaps you have too. What are they? Read on.

christmas-cactus

Mistake #1: Attempting last-minute shopping

Okay, so I’m being a little tongue-in-cheek here, but this is truly something to avoid at all costs. Some people claim they find amazing eleventh hour deals and perhaps they do, but I’m sure these deals come at a price: extreme stress.

My brother had all his Christmas presents purchased and wrapped before Thanksgiving and now he’s resting easy while many others are frantically searching for that perfect gift in crowded malls where products are picked over, people are cranky, and so are you. I’m not to the point yet where I am frantic, but it would be nice to not have to worry right now when I also have to bake, wrap, pack, and plan.

Mistake #2: Buying a gift just for the sake of buying a gift

This is a tough one. Have you ever bought a gift for someone just because you had to? Of course, we’ve all done this at some point. I have really grown to dislike this concept. I’ve met people recently who have a novel approach to gift buying: they only buy a gift for a person if they actually have something in mind. Furthermore, they may do it anytime of the year, not necessarily at Christmas.

I know, I know, what do you do if you will feel terrible not giving that person anything for Christmas? Well, consider this: perhaps if you have so much trouble year after year buying gifts for a particular person, you should consider just talking with them and mutually agreeing to stop exchanging presents. Gifts should be meaningful, not forced. And who wants to receive a gift they don’t even want anyway?

Mistake #3: Relying on the gift card

This approach is often a preferred solution to mistake #2. What is easier than buying a gift card? Then the recipient can take it to their favorite store and buy whatever they want. Now, I admit I’ve bought and received gift cards with success. But there are times when gift cards go too far.

For several years my cousins and I would have a name-picking gift exchange, brought on by our parents. At first it was a lot of fun—we were young and good friends and we had ideas of what to get each other. But then we started growing up, drifting apart, and the ideas stopped. Enter gift cards, the easy solution to having no idea what to get a person. But the problem was, several of my cousins went this route, to the point where we were just exchanging gift cards. Now that’s just silly if you ask me. We no longer exchange presents anymore, by the way.

Mistake #4: Spending more because you’re desperate

I made this mistake just a few days ago, which gave me the idea in the first place for this post. I was trying to find one last gift for a particular person and when I found it, I was met with a dilemma. It was a CD, but it was priced at $18. I NEVER pay $18 for a CD! But for some reason I felt justified doing so this time around because, gosh, it’s Christmas and I needed a gift!

The problem is, if you do this for everything, you will undermine all the frugal shopping choices you made throughout the year. The last thing you want to do is try to shop responsibly all year long, but then somehow forget your spending policies around Christmas time. If you normally only spend $10 on a new blouse, then don’t buy a $50 blouse for your Aunt Martha just because you need something to buy her, you didn’t plan ahead, or you are just giving up.

Reader Reflection

I don’t want this post to sound negative or pessimistic. On the contrary, I’d like it be though-provoking and cause you to consider how you shop in these last days before Christmas. Even if you can’t make significant changes this year, you can decide for next year and hopefully end up in a better situation. Have any of you encountered the four different shopping mistakes I mentioned above? Do you have any advice to give or stories to share?

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Last week I continued the series I’ll Be Homemade for Christmas with several tasty tips about making food gifts. Today we’re going to head in a slightly abstract direction and focus on gifts we can make using our words. What do I mean by this? Well, sometimes we have something we’d like to say. Sometimes we have something we should say. And sometimes we have something we just can’t quite bring ourselves to say out loud, but we still want to get our point across somehow.

Enter the beauty of words. Words are less scary. Words allow us to be transparent. Words allow us to be eloquent. Words last forever. Christmas is an excellent time to be encouraging, open, and honest with someone we care about. So let’s start brainstorming great gift ideas that use our words!

letter

Brainstorming ideas about ways to use our words

You don’t need to be a professional writer or a learned poet to be able to express yourself using words. Just be yourself and be honest. Here are a few ways you might want to use your words this Christmas:

  • Tell a person you love them
  • Ask your special someone to marry you
  • Thank someone for who they are
  • Encourage someone who is sad
  • Encourage someone who is sick or fighting disease
  • Thank a military officer for their service
  • Thank your parents for doing a great job
  • Tell a story about a memorable event
  • Make someone laugh

Brainstorming ideas about how to make our words into gifts

  • Write a letter
  • Make a scrapbook
  • Write captions for memorable photographs
  • Design a t-shirt
  • Send a homemade card
  • Create a PowerPoint presentation
  • Write a poem

An example of a homemade gift using words

As I said above, you don’t need to be an expert writer to write what you want to say! All that matters is what you say and the fact that you took the effort to say it at all. That being said, we of course can still try to be creative! For this week’s homemade gift example, I’d like to share two poems (so to speak) I wrote for different people several years ago. I’m not a poet, so that should encourage you! I just felt moved to say certain things, so the words seemed to flow. If you have important things to say of your own, just grab a pen and a piece of paper and see what happens. Now, onto my poems.

My first poem I wrote over a decade ago for my Grandmother who, at the time, had recently suffered from a heart attack. I am happy to report that she is still alive today, but it was a real scare at the time. I was devastated because I really loved my Grandma and didn’t want her to die. The reason I decided to write a poem was because I really wanted to tell my Grandma how much I loved her. I’m not going to share the entire poem because it’s kind of long, but here is just an excerpt from the very end to give you a general idea:

Walking in a plain room eager to calm your fears
You see your grandma, all smiles, and try to hold back your tears.
Running to embrace her, she tells you she’s fine
“That’s what you always say,” you draw the line.

Soon, it seems like only yesterday
Your grandma was up and about even though here she lay.
The attack was minor they tell you, and you know she’ll be here to stay
At least you can love your grandma for one more day.

The second poem I’d like to share is related because I wrote it for my Grandpa four years after I gave the above poem to my Grandma. My Grandma suffered yet another heart attack and this time it was more serious. She had to have bypass surgery and my Grandpa was a real trooper during her trials and long road to recovery. I wanted to thank him and encourage him, so I chose to write another poem:

Sometimes life serves us with trials and tribulations
Someone we love is pulled away, the future uncertain
Life becomes difficult, painful, broken

Times like these require
determination, courage, sacrifice, support

Grandpa, you were there every step of the way
Thank you for having determination
Thank you for displaying courage
Thank you for making sacrifices
Thank you for providing support
And most of all, thank you for loving…

I love you

Both poems I typed up and framed as a nice way to present them to my grandparents.  Don’t be afraid to great creative when it comes to presentation!  Consider also using photos to complement your words.

Now I feel a little transparent sharing these poems today, but my hope is that you can be inspired to say the things you’d like to say to the people you love and care for. Take it from me, you never know if you will have another chance!

Reader Reflection

Have you ever made homemade gifts using your words? Feel free to share any ideas here.

Coming up next week

Next week will feature the final installment of I’ll Be Homemade for Christmas and we’ll get ideas for gifts using our services!

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We have only 2 weeks left until Christmas. 2 WEEKS! Let’s face it, even if we are trying to be super organized, it’s easy to let things slip around this time of the year. The Christmas season is a challenge for those wanting to be on top of things, so that’s why it’s good to make a list.

Today I would like to offer a comprehensive Christmas to-do checklist to help you make sure you’ve got everything covered, every package wrapped, every card sent. Not every item on the list will be applicable to every person. Rather, my hope is that this checklist will trigger a reminder, “Oh ya, I didn’t do that yet!” So let’s not waste anymore time and get to our checklist—we don’t have time to waste!

christmas-ornament

Decorating

  • Do you have a Christmas tree up? Is it decorated?
  • Did you string lights outside?
  • Is the rest of your house decorated?
  • Is everything safe?

Check out my recent post, Eight tips to help you survive decorating your house for Christmas this year.

Gifts

  • Have you purchased all your gifts?
  • Is there enough time for you to still order gifts online and receive them on time?
  • Do you still need to make homemade gifts?christmas-presents-under-the-tree
  • Have purchased enough wrapping supplies? (wrapping paper, tape, labels, bows, etc.)
  • Have you wrapped your gifts?
  • Have you mailed the gifts you need to send to people?
  • Did you make and send out a wish list if people asked you to?

Check out my series, I’ll Be Homemade for Christmas for some last-minute gift ideas and also read my review of Kaboodle, a handy online Christmas wishlist.

Cards

  • Did you buy all the cards you need?
  • Did you write a newsletter?
  • Did you take a family Christmas photo?
  • Did you sign each card and address them correctly?
  • Do you have enough stamps?
  • Have you decided when to mail the cards so they arrive on time?

Special Events

  • Do you have all the special events you plan to attend marked on the calendar?
  • Have you purchased tickets?
  • Do you have a working camera or video recorder?
  • If you are participating in a special program, are you ready? Are your kids ready?
  • Did you find out the special times of your church service?
  • Do you have nice clothes picked out for each event?

Baking

  • Have you decided what you will bake this year?
  • Do you have the necessary ingredients on hand?decorating-cookies
  • Do you need to go shopping?
  • Do you have enough tins or containers to store your cookies & candy?
  • Do you have enough time to bake everything you have planned?

Houseguests

  • Is your house clean?
  • Do you have places for everyone to sleep?
  • Do you have enough food?
  • Have you planned meals?

Check out my post, Preparing for houseguests: a checklist, for more useful tips.

Travel

  • Have you purchased plane tickets or made any other necessary travel arrangements?
  • Have you booked hotel rooms?
  • Do you have driving directions?
  • Is your car ready and able to put on as many miles as are necessary?
  • Is your car prepared for driving in snowy conditions?
  • Are your houseplants watered?
  • Will your pets be taken care of?
  • Will you remember to take out the trash before leaving?
  • Is your Christmas tree watered and safe from any possible hazards while you are gone?
  • Have you packed?
  • Did you take time off work?
  • Did you pay any bills due while you will be away?
  • Did you hold your mail if you will be gone for long?

Reality Check

Have a seat. Relax a little. Stop rushing around for a moment. Don’t forget what Christmas is all about! Most of the things I listed above are ultimately what Christmas is NOT about, even if we do them year after year. Don’t let the little (or even the big) things you have to get done prevent you from enjoying the season and remembering the reason!!

Reader Reflection

Did I forget anything? Of course I did!! What would you add to my list?

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