Saturday, April 25, 2009

Poor, Neglected Blog...

I continue to plow on in my study-organizing efforts, but it's such a big project, it's hard to quantify the progress I've made.

In the past week, I've been organizing my art supplies into plastic cabinets, and today I stacked them one on top of the other in one of the cupboards. I still have more supplies in boxes to organize and sift through, but I've definitely made progress.

I found a couple of packs of FIMO clay that I think I've owned for 15 years--I bought them thinking I'd make FIMO beads for jewelry! Off to Goodwill they go.

I've also started stacking excess office and school supplies in one plastic box, in addition to sorting through memorabilia, etc.

Today I went through a bag of greeting cards and discarded a number of them. Regina Leeds advises that you chuck the Christmas photo cards (and presumably old greeting cards as well). However, I ended up keeping more than half of them--the ones from relatives and close friends, especially if they'd written something meaningful in the card. Yes, someday my children might hate me for it...but I do like to look back over those cards (especially the heartfelt ones).

I'm stacking lots of papers and other things in a corner for Mike to sort through.

It's a very gradual process and will most likely NOT be done by the end of April...thwarting my plans to get back on schedule in May...

I worked a bit on the study today but then decided to cook a nice dinner while Mike was working outside making raised beds for our garden. Mike does the cooking during the week, so when I cook on the weekends I tend to be overambitious!

I made a carrot-parsnip custard, mostly for Mike because he loves parsnips...and then I also made a broccoli dal for dinner, along with homemade mac and cheese for the kids. The broccoli dal turned out wonderfully! Mike and I liked the custard (although it was odd to have it for dessert), but the kids declared it a dud! No surprise there.

So a bit of a distraction this afternoon...but I am making slow, steady progress. Maybe I'll be done by mid-May? :)

Monday, April 6, 2009

Gift Boxes and Gift Bags

Over the weekend, I continued to chip away on the huge mess that is our study. (When hubby was out in the yard planting flowers, I was working in the basement study--poor me!)

I began on the second cupboard after finishing the frame and artwork organization...and organized our supply of gifts.

Buying (or making) gifts for people has always been one of my favorite things to do. In fact, I could see myself making a career out of it...but then I probably wouldn't enjoy it so much then. I also like to plan ahead for Christmas or other holidays, so I tend to buy a lot of things that would be good for gifts...ahead of time. However, I then end up with a lot of stuff in storage. Which needs to be organized, and reorganized, and organized again.

And I have to confess that I do not always use items in my gift boxes as a first resort, because (1) I sometimes forget what I have, and (2) it doesn't suit the person or the occasion. Some of the items in my gift boxes have been there for awhile. This weekend I relegated some of those items into my elementary school rummage sale or Goodwill piles.

The other thing I had to tackle was excess Christmas items (I swear we have several Christmas boxes all over the house--Christmas takes so much STUFF!!) and gift bags. Gift bags were a wonderful invention. However, I find them very difficult to throw away. But they do get ropey after a few uses. I keep them, and then I don't use them--either because I like wrapping gifts (and I have gift wrap) or they are not in good enough condition to use for gifts.

So I divided them into three piles: (1) honestly good enough to reuse, (2) still sturdy but wrinkled and unsuitable for giving--to be used for other items around the house or when I could use a bag, and (3) recycling or trash.

Beyond these two organizing projects, I continued to chip away at the piles. The next project will be to organize my art and beading supplies, of which there are MANY.

Making slow but steady progress...this is the biggest project of the year, I suspect...

Friday, April 3, 2009

March, Week Three: Create a Plan

In Week Three, Leeds recommends "speed elimination" again. I'm definitely a fan of this technique, and I have used it off and on through this program. In the study, I've used this technique more on a group basis: for example, speed elimination of books, or of children's CD-ROMs, or junk on the floor.

Specifically, Leeds recommends focusing on the following in speed elimination:
  • Old magazines and newspapers. Mike has a habit of collecting old magazine and newspaper articles...I have to grant it to him that he is quite good about filing them away in three-ring binders. But I do wonder how often he goes back to refer to them? I'm more likely to clip recipes or home improvement ideas.
  • Flyers and catalogs for sales that have expired. Not a problem for us. We are fervent, regular recyclers of that kind of thing.
  • Old bank statements and bills. We could probably weed out more of these--Mike generally keeps track of our household files and stays on top of these.
  • Invitations for events that have passed, expired coupons, warranties for items long gone, junk mail...
  • Photo holiday cards. Now this is an area for consideration. Not just photo holiday cards, but cards in general. We are a card-giving family, both in our nuclear family and extended family, and we tend to keep most of the cards we receive. They are piled up in bags and bags. We don't keep every single card...but we keep many. Perhaps we need to develop some kind of rules to determine which ones to discard.
Then she moves onto paper organizing tools...Leeds says that file systems need to be cleaned out periodically, for example every one to three years. Here are some of the specific recommendations she makes that we can apply to our lives in this household:
  • Get a paper tray to hold the open package of printer paper (will look neater)...
  • Use plastic boxes to store files (roaches and rats love cardboard)...believe me, if we have rats, my paper files will be the least of my concerns!! But we do love those plastic storage boxes and use them for lots of things.
  • Use a label maker to label files--makes them more readable and they look neater.
  • Use drawer liners and organizers in the office as well as the kitchen.
  • Assess the furniture and supplies in your home office--is your desk adequate and big enough? Is the chair comfortable? For us, we have two desks--one for the computer, and one for the other CRAP!! Honestly, my goal is to clear off the second desk and organize things so it could actually be used for writing! :) And to keep it clean.

Leeds also includes a text box about identity theft and recommends several useful steps to prevent this:

  • Protect your accounts with passwords that would be difficult to guess. Change your passwords every 6 months. (I'm very guilty of not doing this!!! I have to change my password regularly for work use--I should use that as a prompter to change my internet passwords as well!)
  • Never carry your social security card with you, give it to strangers over the phone, or have it printed on your checks. If a company wants to use the SSN for identification, ask to use another form of identification. (We just had to give copies of our SSNs for our refinancing...made me nervous to do even that!)
  • Get your free credit report each year to check your credit. (
  • If you are a victim of identity theft, write to each credit bureau and freeze your accounts. Include a copy of your police report, and alert all your credit card companies and financial institutions.
  • Do not sign the back of your credit card. Instead, write photo ID required.
  • Check the activity on your credit card accounts every week.
  • Make liberal use of a shredder.
We have not been victims of identity theft, but twice in the past five years we have had close calls. The first was when JC Penney called us to tell us that a former employee had used our credit card # to purchase a $500 gift card. (We had used our credit card at the JC Penney photo studio.) By the time JC Penney contacted us, they had dealt with the issue (and fired the employee).

Then a few months ago we gave a check to a charity that provides cleaning drinking water in Africa. The person who was going to deposit the checks left them in his car, and they were stolen. We called our credit union to ask them to hold the check, and they informed us that the safe procedure was to close out our checking account. What a pain in the neck it was, and very distressing considering the fact that it resulted from a charitable donation. What was this person thinking? (Or not...)

We pay so many of our bills by automatic withdrawal, plus my paycheck and expense checks are deposited directly into our account, so there was no end to the number of companies and organizations we had to contact, on top of opening a new account, getting new checks, and getting new debit cards (with a new pin #, after we'd had our same one for over 10 years!). I can only imagine the pain and distress that identity theft causes, after we had this small taste of the hassles involved.

Frames and Artwork

I'm not exactly following the book this month (or shall we say LAST MONTH?)...if I were my husband, I just might be having a nervous breakdown right now. (As I've posted before, he is much more of a role follower than I am.)

The other night I worked on excavating through one of the cupbards in our study that contained frames and artwork. True confession time: much of the artwork had been stored in there SINCE WE MOVED INTO THIS HOUSE IN 1999!! Some of the other pieces, many of which we have collected on our travels, have never been framed or displayed. Beautiful batik paintings from Indonesia, woodblock prints from Japan, and folk art from Mexico. These could be eye-catching works of art if they were adequately framed and displayed, yet they've been stuck in a cupboard.

I also inventoried all of the frames we have--insane! Of course most of the frames are photo frames and not suitable for the artwork! But again, we have photos that have never been framed, along with quite large collage frames that I believe we've had for many, many years...blank. (Of course most of the photos I take nowadays are all in my computer, which I suppose is one way of reducing the clutter [not getting them printed out]...)

After clearing out the cupboard, I went in with a dust buster. Our basement is somewhat finished--we have carpeting and walls up, but some of it is still unfinished, including the cupboards and storage areas. The cement and plaster had crumbled away into dust in areas, and I just about asphyxiated myself with the dust buster! I had to stop and go upstairs because I could barely breathe. (Okay, I'm exaggerating slightly, but I knew it wasn't the right way to proceed.) I have yet to go back in--I think next time I will attempt to sweep out the plaster dust first.

Next I need to make a list of the sizes of frames we need for our artwork, and actually do something about getting these pieces framed. And of course, use the photo frames as well. What a waste they all are, sitting in the cupboard!