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7 Quick Organizing Projects that will Make You Better at Life

A few weeks ago, I unleashed a beast. The library debuted its first digital template: the Household Manager Notebook. And, it is seriously changing lives. 

This is the perfect start to creating your digital brain (more on that here). And it will actually make your life easier. All you have to do is fill it in. 

There are countless projects inside, of course, but I thought we'd keep it simple today. I will highlight 7 of my favorite projects you can do inside the HHMN. 

I chose them based on optimization. They'll give you an organization boost in fairly little time. And you'll reference them again and again in the coming months.

So, let's get to started! First on the list:

1) Record Your Family Medical Histories. 

If you don't already have some sort of document to track each family member's health history, you need to do this now. And if you do, make it digital and sharable by keying it into the HHMN! 

This is for yourself and any immediate family members/pets living in your household. It's endlessly useful to have key health information on hand when you're out and about. 

The purpose of this is to have access to ACCURATE and COMPLETE records at all times. You can answer a question at the pharmacy and compare notes with your doctors. You can use it to fill out school forms and sports releases on the fly. In case of emergency, you can email a copy of your kid's medical history to a college roommate or a spouse. The uses for this are never-ending. 

Not sure where to start? That section of the notebook has a template ready to go. 

2) Update Your Contacts

The HHMN includes an address book section. But it's so much more than that! You can segment your contacts, like a traditional address book, but you can also keep notes on people. 

For example, this is a great place to keep notes on all those tiny weird things you learn about the humans in your life. Things like, Aunt Sally's favorite beer is X. Or Jimmy is allergic to strawberries. Maybe you want to record your Aunt's favorite color or your Dad's favorite rock artist from the 70s. 

Right now, you may be wondering, "Katie, why are you telling me to keep files on people?"

Because it will make you a better host/friend/co-pilot. Your brain is not a storage container and it can be hard to keep up with everyone's preferences. But if you have a place where you keep note of these items, you can do a quick review before you buy their next gift. Use it to design the menu for your next gathering or sneak a fun personal touch if you're hosting out of town guests. 

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This will prevent disasters. Like that time I bought one of my closest friends post earrings for her birthday. Who doesn't have pierced ears...

I also allows me to have a 6 pack of an uncle's favorite beer on ice next to his recliner when I host the Super Bowl. It's the reason I never gift my sister-in-law mixed nuts (anymore). 

You get the idea. Having these reminders in a little file makes things easier. 

And while you're in there updating names and addresses, make sure you fill in the mailing list section. This is your holiday card/wedding guest list/shower invitation spreadsheet. Now you know how many cards/invitations you need. And you can print the labels straight from the spreadsheet. 

3) Make Your Home Inventory

Whether you rent or own, your insurance will need a home inventory in case of disaster. Whether your roof gets ripped off by a tornado, or you're the victim of a robbery, it's best to be prepared. 

And it will make replacing these items a heck of a lot easier. We have a spreadsheet ready for you to fill in to make it simple. This should be updated twice a year. 

4) Make a Light Bulb Key

While you're running around your house taking inventory, fill in the light bulb key form. 

May you never go to the hardware store and feel defeated by the giant selection of light bulbs again. Never! You'll always know what you need with this key. 

5) Tackle Home Maintenance

Inside the HHMN, we have included recommended seasonal checklists. You can delete and add to them as you wish, they're fully customizable. 

Use this resource when you do your monthly and weekly planning so you can tackle this stuff in waves. 

6) Create a Password Keeper

This is one of those items everyone should have and most people don't. If you have ever felt the frustration of having to reset your password when you're in a hurry, you get why you need this. 

Fill it in. Don't worry if you can't get it all filled in one day, keep adding to it every time you log into a new site. Eventually, it will be complete. 

Make sure you share this with your partner/spouse so you both have the access information. You'll never have to interrupt each other at work when you're trying to take care of business again!

This will also allow you to easily change your passwords every month. Yay, security!

7) Create a Vehicle Maintenance Log

Car owners know how important maintaining their vehicle is, but many don't keep a log. Keeping track of your maintenance keeps your warranty valid. Even if you do your own oil changes, you should be able to show proof you bought the oil.

Track repairs so you can have an accurate record and plan for the future. Log expenses so you know what things will cost you. 

And scan your receipts (they're pretty much your warranty on parts). If something doesn't last as long as promised, you can get a free replacement or recoup some of your initial cost. 

We also have a spot for you to record mileage and general vehicle info in this section. 

So there you have it! Ready to get started?


Happy organizing!

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How to Win at Birthdays (and other occasions too!)

All year long, important dates pepper our lives. Some celebrations are a surprise, such as an engagement or a new baby.  Others, come on the same day each year. But that doesn't mean they don't still sneak up on us sometimes!

How many times have you caught yourself running to the store for a card on your way to a graduation?

Ever paid extra to rush deliver your mother's day flowers? What about the time you raided your "re-gift" stash to find the perfect birthday present?

We need to stop this madness.

It's inefficient, expensive, and stressful. There IS a better way. 

Mission 1:  Escape Hallmark Hell.

Let's tackle the cards. It does not make sense to run out and buy a new card every time an occasion pops up. It's a waste of your valuable time to drive to the store 45 different times each year to buy 1 card at a time.

It also causes unnecessary pressure to find the PERFECT CARD in TEN MINUTES because you are LATE

Stop the insanity. 

YOUR PLAN OF ATTACK:

Buy all your greeting cards for the entire year at once.

You may be thinking, "that's ridiculous!" or "how can I choose the right card message for a birthday that's 6 months away?"

Stay with me. 

You're going to buy BLANK birthday cards. Tally the number of birthdays you have for the year and divide them into male and female. Then buy the appropriate number of cards for each group. 

how to win at birthdays

Blank is the perfect solution because then you can write a personal greeting in every card. The penned message will always be a perfect fit for your recipient!

It gets better. You don't even have to go to the store!!! Buy your cards online. If you're not sure who to buy from, start here:

For feminine birthday cards, I highly recommend PAPAYA ART. For masculine birthday cards (and cards for kids), check out LAGOM DESIGN

Once you have your birthday cards in your cart, don't check out! You're not done yet. It's time to go back and grab cards for the rest of your yearly occasions. :)

Have any anniversaries on the calendar? Pick up the cards now! Is someone graduating this year? Know any children celebrating religious milestones? Do you need cards from the tooth fairy? Do you send valentines? Get all those cards too!

What about preparing for the unexpected? I try to keep each of the following card types in my card file: 

  • Engagement
  • Condolence
  • Congratulations
  • Wedding
  • Thinking of You
  • Get Well
  • New Baby

5 each is a good number to keep on hand. This is also a great time to replenish your stock of thank you notes and personal stationary.

When you have purchased all the cards you will EVER need for the year, it's time to figure out a storage solution. I use an inexpensive office box (mine is from Ikea) with paper dividers I made to separate the different types of cards. 

Next, find your card box a home somewhere in your office. And don't forget to give the humans in your house a tour of the new card file system!

On a personal note, my husband loves this card box as much as I do. He knows we've got cards covered and he can always find one when he needs it. #winning

Mission 2: Break the cycle of last minute rushing around.

It can be really frustrating to have extra things thrown at your already heavy to do lists each day. And you shouldn't have to sprint through choosing a thoughtful gift or filling in cards. Schedule time each month to care for these items properly.

YOUR PLAN OF ATTACK:

Manage all Occasions 1 Month Ahead

Buy gifts, wrap them, fill out cards, place your order for flowers, make dinner reservations... Everything you need to do for every occasion gets done the month before.

The only thing you should be doing in the current month is confirming any reservations you made. 

To make this work, I keep a list of occasions for the current month and next month on a page in my planner. The lists include check boxes for everything that needs to be done for each important date (i.e. drop gift in the mail). 

Once a month, I complete and check off every task on the monthly occasion list.

It's that easy. So, are you ready to get all the special moments life brings you under control? I created a game plan worksheet in The Library.

It takes some time to collect dates and format them into monthly sheets. But you only have to do it once. When it's finished, you are set for life (save for a yearly review). You'll never forget an occasion or go through the stress of a last minute scramble for a gift or card again. 

This has the added bonus of making you appear super thoughtful and organized to your loved ones. Especially when you ask someone 6 weeks before their birthday if they have a gift list!

Have you tamed the birthday monster? Share your success on our Facebook Page!

xo Katie

Design Your Perfect Morning and Evening Routines

I have a little dachshund named April who LOVES mornings. You've never met anyone so excited to wake up every day in your life. Her favorite part of getting up is, of course, eating breakfast. :) I always enjoy waking up and racing her down the stairs to her food bowl every morning. 

One Sunday, I watched April go through her morning activities. She had her morning kibble. She frolicked in the grass outside. She completed a perimeter sweep and chased the neighbor cat out of the yard. As I sipped my coffee, she came inside and hopped into her watchtower position in the living room window. And then it hit me, I had seen her go through this series events before. This dog has a routine!

More importantly, April's routine brings a happy rhythm to her life. She has an order in which she accomplishes her daily tasks and everything runs as it should. I realized I had stuff that had to get done every morning and evening but I didn't have a system. I had never established a routine for myself. At that moment, I grabbed a piece of paper. I started mapping out my morning and evening responsibilities. 

MAP YOUR LIFE ROUTINES FOR SUCCESS

In 30 minutes, I had mentally rewritten the bookends of my day.  I created a little check list for each section (morning and night) and began tackling it that evening. Let me tell you, these routines have been a life changer! Having a well thought out system has created a positive momentum in our lives each day. Everything we need to get done to make it through the day happens when it needs to. Our routines also helped us pursue more focused living around our priorities and life goals.

And, as an extra bonus, my husband helps me with my routines! Once he started picking up the pattern, he began helping me with some of the tasks he anticipated I would be doing. #winning

Here's how the routines break down:

MORNING ROUTINE:

In real time, this morning routine takes 40 minutes. Within that time frame, I am getting so much done!

  • Making breakfast for myself and my husband
  • Preparing lunch and snacks for the day
  • Journal, meditation, and practicing gratitude
  • Taking care of the dogs' morning needs.
  • Dispensing vitamins and medications
  • Light house-cleaning
  • Getting dressed and ready for the day. 

I have to tack on an extra 15 minutes if I need to flat-iron my hair and put on a full face of make up. That brings me to a max of 55 minutes to get out the door.

Not a bad start to my day!

I wasn't expecting this, but I ended up with TWO Evening Routines. One for when I get home from work and one for before bed.  It's weird, but it works. 

AFTER WORK ROUTINE:

After work, the focus is on feeding everyone and setting us up for success the next morning.

  • Cook & Serve Dinner
  • Feed the Dogs 
  • Do Dishes
  • Set up the Coffee Pot
  • Pack Tomorrow's Lunch
  • Weekly Cleaning Tasks

Before I start evening work, I also complete a digital maintenance task (more on that coming in a future post)

Some tasks I do in the same place and I can multitask there.  For example, if I have a cassoulet baking in the oven, that's a good time for me to knock out dishes, set the coffeepot, etc. 

How to Take Your Morning Routine to the Next Level

Depending on the cleaning and digital tasks, my after work routine can take between 1.5 and 2 hours. Does that seem like a lot to you? It's justified because the time I spend here allows me to provide the home life that we desire most. My husband has a home-cooked meal (almost) every night. Don't forget to light some candles! I am also maintaining our home by cleaning something every evening. And I'm setting up our mornings to be smooth and stress-free. It's an investment in our quality of life. 

If you're looking to save time here: do not underestimate the power of your dishwasher. If you're lucky enough to have one, use it. Don't waste hours a week scrubbing dishes by hand. I find that the busier I get, the more liberal I am about what I put in the dishwasher. At this point, almost everything (except items I think might melt) goes in. I feel no guilt about this. 

BEFORE BED ROUTINE:

I close each day with some light housekeeping and a focus on preparing myself for the day ahead. I journal and assess how well my day went. My calories, expenses, and receipts get scanned and recorded.  I plan a random act of kindness for my husband. My planner gets filled in the night before and I make sure I have time allotted for all the next day's tasks.

These little things add up to smooth mornings and focused living. It's how I check in with myself that I'm making what's important a priority. 

My Before Bed Routine takes about 25-30 minutes. And really, my Roomba does most of the heavy lifting. 

Did you notice something missing from my routine?

Oh right, exercise. Let me explain.

SCHEDULE VS ROUTINE

Exercise does not belong on the routines check lists. It goes on my schedule for the day. There is a distinct difference between my schedule for the day and my routines. The schedule is mandatory. If it's on the schedule, it has to get done.

Routines don't have a time assigned to them, but that doesn't make them less important. It's still key to go through each routine each day. As you complete them over a period of time, these routines become habits. Soon, you will not even need the checklists, your routines will become a natural flow of your day.

TIME INVESTMENT

Who did the math and realized I spend over 3 hours on my routines? I can hear the "Ain't nobody got time for that" protests streaming in. Let's discuss. 

First, no one said your routine has to be a solo venture. As I noted above, my husband helps me. He knows how to put away dishes and turn on a Roomba. If I'm stuck at work, he can locate the nearest Chipotle to get some dinner. Your housemates are probably capable humans and I am a strong proponent of "teamwork makes the dream work." When I have help, it shaves time off my routines. 

Second, do not let chores and responsibilities pile up. It will take you exponentially longer to tackle them than if you chip away at them daily. This applies to almost every household chore: mail, dishes, vacuuming, tidying. 

All humans have learned this the hard way. Who here has ever spent an entire day trying to catch up on 3 months of budget tracking? What about when you don't do laundry for 4 weeks because you're too busy? Yep. Life math. It will take you at least another 2 weeks to dig yourself out. 

If you stay on top of household responsibilities, they never get out of control. That discipline is the secret. It's the main difference between a clean house and one that looks like a Picasso painting. 

MAKE IT PERSONAL

I design my routines around my priorities and goals. If you want to achieve something, you have to plan your days around it. It's an investment in yourself. Your routines might be different from mine in every way. You should design the routines that are best for your life. Instead of an after-work routine, you could have a lunch routine. If you hate cooking dinner, your focus could be trying new restaurants in your area. If your children are in sports, you may have a pre-game prep checklist. The point is to keep your life routines personal and in service of your goals.

ROUTINES ARE NOT IMMUNE TO ENTROPY

As the name of this blog suggests, life happens.  There is only so much we can actually control in the world. If a major event happens, tasks may start to pile up. And that is okay. It happens to the best of us. You may go a few weeks or months unable to check every box. There's no shame in it. Your routines will be there for you when you're ready to return to your normal life. They will give you the confidence and knowledge to dig yourself out. Routines are one of life's secret weapons! 

Do you have a daily routine you love? Share it on our Facebook Page!

Have a great week!

xo Katie

How to Make a Cleaning Schedule that Actually Works

Growing up, I always thought I would be good at housekeeping. I watched home-making and cooking shows on TV and I read every diy magazine you can think of. At 18, my collection of cleaning and home-keeping books was two shelves high.

And, by the time I left for college, I felt confident that I had absorbed all the necessary information. Success was a certainty. 

My first college apartment was a horrible reality check. Imagine my shock and confusion when I realized that despite my books and perfectly color-coded bins, my apartment was chaos. Dirty dishes piled in the sink, no space to store anything, laundry took weeks to get through. It was awful. 

And I continued to struggle. I spent the next 10 years fixing small problems but never clearing the big hurdles. 

When I bought my first home with my husband, I made it my mission to finally figure out systems that worked. After a couple years of trial and error, I started getting a handle on this whole home-keeping thing.  

So let's start at the beginning. My first big win was making a cleaning routine that actually worked. In order to establish your own, you need to know a couple key things first. 

Here are some basic truths about keeping your house clean:

The only person who is going to clean your house is you. 
There is no magical fairy who runs around dusting and doing dishes while we sleep. Robots and automation are getting us closer to that reality, but, for now, you need to carve out time to clean.

how to make a cleaning schedule that actually works

Chores are exponential. 
If you do not keep up with your cleaning, it will take you exponentially longer to dig out when you get behind. For example, if you do laundry every week, it might take you 5 hours to get through 5 loads. But, if you don't do laundry for 3 weeks, it will take you many days of only doing laundry to dig yourself out. 

You Have to Create Habits and Routines that work for YOUR Life.
The only way to prevent getting buried in chores, is to create habits and routines to stay on top of them.

How do you create these routines? 

Step 1: Break down your household cleaning tasks into two categories. 

1- Tasks that need to get done every day
For example, my Daily Cleaning Tasks are:

  • Dishes

  • Sweep/Vacuum Floors

  • 10 Minute Pick Up

  • Make the Bed

2- Tasks that need to get done every week
My Weekly Cleaning Tasks are:

  • Grocery Shop & Run Errands

  • Clean Bathrooms

  • Dusting

  • Mop Floors

  • Clean Windows

  • Laundry Day

  • Wine Inventory

Step 2: Decide when you will do them. 

Build your Daily Cleaning Tasks into your morning and evening routines. 

My Daily Cleaning Schedule:
Morning - Vacuum Zone 1  & Make the Bed
After Work - Do Dishes
Before Bed - Vacuum Zones 2/3 & 10 Minute Pick Up

Assign each of your Weekly Cleaning Tasks to a specific day of the week. 

My Weekly Cleaning Schedule:
Monday - Grocery Shop and Run Errands  
Tuesday - Clean Bathrooms  
Wednesday - Dusting
Thursday - Grocery Shop and Run Errands  
Friday - Wine Inventory  
Saturday -  Mop Floors and Clean Windows  
Sunday -  Laundry Day

Did you see what happened there? We just created my cleaning schedule. :) 

Need more help? I created a worksheet to help you create your own! Subscribe to The Library and download it now!

Pick The Best Days and Tasks for You

Theming your days is a freeing experience. I can stop worrying about WHEN I will complete my tasks. If I clean bathrooms on Tuesday, I know I don't have to worry about cleaning the bathrooms until Tuesday. The rest of the week, I don't even think about the bathrooms. 

Theme Your Days to Work With Your Life:

There is a specific reason why I chose and assigned each day of the week for my Weekly Cleaning Schedule. 

Mondays and Thursdays I go grocery shopping and run errands.
This is because I do my meal planning in two rounds:
On Sunday, I plan for Monday -Wednesday. 
On Thursday, I plan for Thursday-Sunday. 
Grocery shopping twice a week gives me the flexibility I need to roll with the punches. It is not unheard of for life to mess with my meal plans. 

I also stack errands on grocery shopping days because it's most efficient to do all my driving on the same days. 

Sunday is Laundry Day because that's the day my husband and I catch up on all our tv shows. I can change loads on commercial breaks and we can fold together in front of the tv. This also a great time for me to bathe the dogs (but that's another blog post). 

Wine Inventory gets done on Friday because Friday is Date Night. I'm already in the cellar picking a wine for dinner so I can quickly update my app while I'm there.

You get the idea. 

Your days and tasks will probably differ from mine and that is actually the point. Create the schedule that makes the most sense for you and how you live your life. 

Your success is dependent on your commitment to keeping up with your cleaning schedule. 

Designing your system is 5% of the battle, the rest is actually living with it. This means that no matter how tired you are, you still do your daily habits and weekly cleaning. 

It takes an average of 66 days to create a new habit. If you miss a day or two, it won't prevent you from forming the habit, but, for the most part, you want to complete your habit every day. To help you keep up the momentum, we created a habit chain just for you! Write your new habit on the top and hang it up somewhere you will look at it every day. Check off each day you complete your new habit. Don't break the chain!

Now, I am not a monster. I know that life comes with varying degrees of chaos. Sometimes you will not be able to clean the bathroom on Tuesday. No one will die. Just make sure you get back on track the next Tuesday. 

Keeping up with your system is the true key to success. If you let things go, life math will take over and it will take you more time to get back on track again. 

What if my house is complete chaos right now?

Picasso House. It happens. Please do not struggle to clean your entire house all at once, so you can begin your cleaning schedule. This will only cause exhaustion and frustration. 

Dig yourself out with your Daily Cleaning Tasks first.

 
Step 1: Stand at the sink and do every dirty dish. Then put them all away.
Step 2: Make the Bed.
The house is looking better already!
Step 3: Put everything away around the house that is out of place. Feel free to get the rest of the humans you live with to help. Do you have items in your home that do not have a home? We'll address that in a future post. 
Step 4: Sweep and/or Vacuum the Floors. 
You're done for the day. Good job!

Then, maintain your Daily Cleaning Tasks and begin your Weekly Cleaning tasks.

It might take you a couple weeks to get through the laundry. That's okay. The goal is progress, not perfection. Eventually, you WILL catch up. Just keep working at it every day. 

Are you ready to take your house back?

You've got this!

Do you love your cleaning schedule? Inspire others! Share your cleaning schedule in the Facebook Group.

Until next time,

xo Katie