About a year ago, a friend asked if I would consider doing a project pro bono; Lisa Meshulam, a single mother of triplets, desperately needed help with organization of her one bedroom apartment. I was intrigued.
When I saw the apartment, it was piled floor to ceiling with storage boxes on wire racks. Cube furniture was filled with bins, books, and papers. Children’s drawings and photos were taped to the walls, and the kitchen counters overflowed with food that didn’t fit in the pantry. Lisa slept in a bed in the corner of the living room, sacrificing her privacy so the boys could share the single bedroom. While the boys’ room was cleverly outfitted with two bunk beds, it was overrun with clutter. Clothing spilled out of empty cubes and onto the floor.
I immediately agreed to help and started by enlisting ClosetMaid as a sponsor. Then, I assembled my team of organizers, and began operation organize.
Eighteen and a half years ago, we became an instant family when my twins wore born. Now, the reverse is inevitable as the empty nest looms ahead. In August, my twins will start college. We’ll fly as a family of four to St. Louis where we’ll move my daughter into her dorm at Washington University. Then, three of us will fly to Atlanta to move my son into his room at Emory University. Five days later, only two of us will return home. While this time is bittersweet for us, it’s also a time where strategic planning and preparation can remove some of the stress, and help us enjoy a special milestone. Although I’m a first timer, here are some tips that I’ve gathered from friends and family that have made this journey before me.
1. Book flights and hotels for move in and family weekends when you’re notified of the dates. The closer the hotel is to campus, the sooner it gets sold out.
Lazy days spent by the pool, long weekends exploring new towns, and afternoons interrupted by the mailman delivering camp letters – we’re all going to miss that summer haze that has us sighing with relaxation. But before you become utterly overwhelmed thinking about life getting a bit more hectic, here are five quick fixes that can tremendously simplify your life.
Learn to say no! We all want to be completely immersed in every event involving our family and friends, but we can’t. When every child invites the entire class to their birthday parties, it’s not necessary to attend them all. Decline parties that are not truly important to your child or just simply inconvenient. Similarly, don’t overextend yourself with volunteer jobs. Pick wisely. Determine which event is your child’s favorite, and take on the task of planning that one event every year. The event will be more meaningful because your child really cares about the celebration. Plus, there is no need to reinvent the wheel – you only have to plan the event once! Save the decorations in a box so next year’s celebration is a no-brainer.
Don’t put off for tomorrow what you can do today. Never leave the mail on the counter for later, because we all know later never comes when we get bogged down with other tasks. Immediately flip through the mail so it doesn’t grow into an exploding pile that takes over your counter. Junk mail and envelopes should have a one-way ticket to the recycle bin; letters, invitations, and bills should be placed in a designated “inbox” to be addressed when you have extra time. Emails can be simplified as well. Instead of deleting spam, unsubscribe to the website’s mailing list so you don’t receive any more emails from the site. A twenty-second act can save you up to five minutes daily of deleting unwanted advertisements.
Technology is your friend…as long as it’s used for good, not evil. As you simplify your life, your smart phone should be no different. Purge your app list of addicting battery drainers such as Candy Crush and Angry Birds. Also, remove the myriad of unopened apps that you downloaded per friends’ suggestions. Replace these with apps that will do what technology is meant to do: enhance your life. Use the ‘Reminders’ app to alert you when an appointment or birthday is nearing. Applications such as LastPass and One Password keep all of your passwords in a secure app so you don’t need to remember every password to your different shopping logins, and bank websites. For those of you who are technologically challenged, a friend can easily teach you to streamline your phone calendar with your computer calendar so you never miss an appointment – even if your phone dies.
Keep celebrations stress-free! Store various gift cards in different denominations for every caliber of friend so you don’t have to spend time finding a gift for every birthday party. Likewise, keep generic cards in the house to avoid a rushed trip to the card store. When it’s your party, keep the after party just as simple. Open gifts with a notepad in hand to prepare for thank you notes. When it’s time to write them, have a set template so the writing process takes half the time! Thank you notes should be completed within the week so your guests receive them within two weeks of the event. While opening the presents, create two piles: gifts to keep and those to return in the next few days. That way, all of your post-celebration obligations are completed by the next week, and you can bask in the glow of a party well done.
Don’t bite off more than you can chew. Many of us rely heavily on to-do lists; however, consider rethinking the effect of your list on your well being. For example, if you put the bank, grocery store, and organizing your house on the same list, that list will take a month to accomplish, and you will get into bed each night feeling discouraged. Form two checklists instead: short-term tasks and long-term goals. On your short-term list, write smaller tasks for your lengthy goals. Instead of “organize the house,” try, “organize kitchen drawers.” This is a realistic goal that can be accomplished in a relatively short amount of time. “Organize the house” is daunting, seemingly never-ending, and will usually be pushed aside for quicker options like going to the bank. Choosing to tackle small tasks within your larger goal, without losing sight of the big picture (specified on your long-term goals list), will help you to accomplish both your short-term and long-term goals without feeling overwhelmed.
While fall is still weeks away, implement some of these ideas, so you’ll be more relaxed when summer ends. Before you know it, school will be back in session, sports practice will begin, carpools will be a way of life, and homework and tests will be dominating your children’s evenings. And until then, take a deep breath…summer is yours to enjoy for another month!