Uncomplicate your thank you notes

One of the important habits and skills my mom taught us growing up was the necessity of writing thank you notes. While I HATED having to write them right after opening Christmas presents, it is a practice that has served me well my entire life. It can be short and sweet but is a perfect way of letting the giver know it was received and appreciated.

Gratitude is essential for a happy life but expressing it does not come naturally. Just ask any parent how many times they’ve said the phrases “say thank you” and “say please” to just one of their kids.

Writing thank you notes is not limited solely to gift-giving occasions. They can be sent at any time on any day you want to express gratitude. Be prepared with actual stationery and stamps so that you’re equipped when the time arises. Nobody wants to keep giving gifts to someone who doesn’t acknowledge them.

You need a system for organizing your thank you notes! Here are my tips for organizing stationery and making the process so much easier and #uncomplicated.

  • Check your drawers and cabinets to see what thank you notes you already have. I recommend storing them together so you don’t over-buy and can find them when you need them. 
  • Make sure they are clean and flat, not bent or crushed.
  • Do you have the right envelopes for the stationery? 
  • Holiday gifts do not require a holiday themed thank you note. Fold over notes or note cards are perfect.
  • If you need more, now is a good time to order or purchase them from your favorite stationer. I have found some cute ones at Home Goods and on Etsy.
  • Not having stationery will be a barrier to writing and sending them. If you have cards that you really like, you’ll be more inclined to get them written and sent.
  • Did you know that you can order stamps from the post office? Yes, you have to pay for postage but you get a really good selection and don’t have to stand in line.

Teaching kids how to be organized

kids organization

Happy Mother’s Day, Mothers and those who mother! I don’t get why we only celebrate Mothers one day a year so you have my permission to take the whole month! 

We all know that Moms make the world run so unfortunately they are too valuable to take a day off. But here is what you can do: 

Moms, get your kids to help you! Teaching kids how to be organized is one of those life skills like good manners and gratitude that will serve them the rest of their lives. Nobody is born knowing how to organize or to say “thank you” so it must be taught. You may say you’re not organized but you are more so than your child. You can teach this skill and it will pay off for you and for them.

Here are some tips to get kids organized and teach them those skills at the same time. They apply to adults as well so keep reading even if you don’t have kids!

  1. When it comes to toys and playtime:  clean up is part of play. Dumping toys from a container is pure bliss; putting them back is not so much. However you can teach them that putting them away is part of the process. Take 5 or 10 minutes to help them put those toys back when playtime is over to reinforce the pairing of activities. 
  2. Make picking things up a game. Reward them for putting trash in the trashcan or for who can put away 10 toys first. Gamification isn’t just for online marketing. It’s a huge part of parenting.
  3. Let go of perfection. Their version of neat will not be yours but it’s part of the process. Reward the attempt and keep showing them how it’s done.
  4. Purge toys, clothes, and books regularly. If it is not being used, especially if it doesn’t fit, donate or give away. You can try rotating toys that they don’t actively play with. More options are not necessarily better. 
    As they get older, get them involved with the review process. Identifying toys that they’ve outgrown and can donate to others teaches detachment to physical items. It also teaches them how to prioritize which is another key organizational skill. 
  5. Keep their toys and clothes accessible to them. You can’t expect nor do you want them climbing shelves or cabinets to get to their toys, books, or clothes. When it is accessible to them then they can at least attempt to put it back!
  6. Label, label, label. This alone eliminates the “I don’t know where it goes” excuse for not putting up toys. It helps you figure out where everything should go and indicates to them where it belongs. If your kids are not yet reading, use pictures as labels. Labels are also helpful for babysitters or visiting family members to know where things go.

While none of these tips will make a difference in one day, they all help to create an organized environment that serves as a solid teaching foundation. You are teaching and enforcing the good habits of taking care of and respecting your space. Putting LEGOs away may seem insignificant except to your feet but it’s part of the long and rewarding process of rearing the next generation.

Happy organizing!

It’s ok if you’re not organized

You know, I’ve been doing this organizing thing for 9 years professionally and basically forever un-professionally.  😅 Ok, not professionally as a business; that sounds better. But I am here in your inbox today because I want to share an important secret with you.

EVERYONE is disorganized about something. And the inverse is true:  everyone is organized about something. 

Some people have immaculate homes but their offices are disasters. 

Some people keep piles of stuff everywhere but are never late for an appointment or sending a birthday card. 

Some people keep meticulous records in their files but their closets are overflowing. 

And it is all ok. Nobody is an expert at everything. 

Some people are born organized. They naturally gravitate to it like second nature. Most of us have to learn that skill just like multiplication tables and how to boil eggs. Neither is more valued than the other. 

So don’t be embarrassed if you have to call in a professional to help you get organized. A true professional will not MAKE you do anything you don’t really want to do. It is not their job to shame you or make you feel bad. It’s actually the opposite:  to help you feel comfortable and able to achieve your goal of having an organized home. 

Almost every person I have worked with starts a variation of the following phrases:

“I am so embarrassed for you to see this”
“I can’t believe my home looks like this”
“I used to be organized but then I had kids/ got this new job/ had a tragedy in my life/ moved”


And it’s all ok. Life throws us curveballs and we have to react quickly. Shifting our priorities to more important things means sometimes our good organizational habits slide. Or we never learned those good habits and need to now. Or we need to make adjustments to our current systems to make them work for our changing circumstances. Either way, there is nothing wrong with you. 

Call a professional. The right one will be delighted to help you and share her skills, secrets, and tools with you. She won’t judge or make you feel bad. She’s seen worse, trust me. 

Lastly remember that your version of “being organized” may be different than what you see on Pinterest or Instagram. We can help achieve your best version of organized! ☺️ 😊

photo by Canva

Uncomplicate your appliance manuals and warranties

organized appliance manuals

Paper paper everywhere. Are you like me in being surprised that we still have so much paper? The more our lives migrate to the digital, the more paper we still seem to have to face.  As in junk mail, flyers, bills, statements, estimates, agreements, marketing letters, and don’t get me started on political ads in our mailboxes. 😣

Some paper is wonderful like love letters, kids’ drawings of their family, and marriage certificates. 😊 Some of it is awful like speeding tickets, explanations of benefits, and boring tax documentation. ☹️

But managing and organizing all kinds of papers is a necessary and very present part of our modern lives whether we like it or not.

The trouble is organizing it can all be overwhelming and anxiety ridden. Do I need to keep this? What if I throw this out? Will I need it again? 

I am here to help you answer the often asked question of “how long do I have to keep this” and this week I am just going to focus on one aspect of household paperwork:

Appliance manuals and warranties


I am frequently asked what to do with all kinds of papers. You may remember an earlier post this year that was all about mail. I want to answer ALL of your paper questions so let me know what you’d like to see covered by clicking here and dropping me quick paper question.

To help you #uncomplicate your appliance manuals, here are my tips and suggestions:

  1. Designate a location for them. They are not something you need to access often so they don’t need to take up prime real estate. They can go in a filing cabinet or in a bin on a high shelf. The location just needs to be labeled clearly. The bin in the picture is a multipurpose bin from The Containers Store and works perfectly for this purpose.
  2. Toss any that aren’t needed. These accumulate fast and technology changes quickly, too. We recently cut cable so there was no reason to keep any of the documentation pertaining to our cable provider. Go through your current inventory and make sure you toss any that you no longer need especially because you don’t have the device any longer. 
  3. Toss any in a language you don’t speak. Many times there are multiple manuals in multiple languages provided with appliances. Scan what you are about to keep and make sure you keep only the instructions that you need in the language you prefer.
  4. Toss excess papers with the manuals. And by excess I mean additional marketing or informational material you don’t need. The excess papers do not need to take up space in your home.
  5. Use folders.  If you have a lot of papers that pertain to one specific appliance like a refrigerator, put them in a folder. Name the folder with what it is and the date when you purchased it, where, and how much you paid. If you ever have warranty questions or replacement/ repair issues you will have to answer these questions.
  6. Toss the store receipts. They are printed on thermal paper with ink that fades so don’t bother keeping it. That’s why Step #5 is important for the big ticket items.
  7. Consider NOT keeping them. While I think it’s important to keep the manuals, instructions, and warranties for your big ticket appliance purchases (refrigerator, stove, washing machine, etc.) you may want to consider tossing the manuals for smaller, less expensive appliances. Once you know how it works, do you really need to keep the manual? Plus, most are available online if you ever need to research them in the future.   

Uncomplicate your inbox

Email went from a delightful novelty 20+ years ago to the mainstay of our personal and professional lives. Couple it with social media and you’ve got a major reason for why people are distracted and overwhelmed every time they look at their phones and computers.

TOO MUCH INFORMATION 

Decluttering your email inbox is a great activity you can do when you’re waiting in line or just sitting in the air conditioning trying to cool off. Deleting old, no longer needed messages is great but what if you just had fewer to deal with in the first place?

This week is a great time to #uncomplicate your email by unsubscribing to emails you don’t read, no longer want, or didn’t sign up for in the first place.
 

  1. Set a timer for 5 minutes. You’ll be amazed at how much you can get done in just 5 minutes!
  2. On your computer, I think it’s helpful to resort your inbox so you look at it with fresh eyes. Sort by “from” to see all your messages grouped by sender. 
  3. If you’ve got a lot from a real person, you may just want to select all from that person and delete.
  4. Notice the ones from stores, restaurants, magazines, or services you don’t use and start the Unsubscribe process.
  5. It is required that if you have people sign up for a newsletter, there has to be a way to opt out. Most companies put this at the bottom of the email with the word “unsubscribe.”  The text can be very small and sometimes hard to find but it’s there. 
  6. Delete the message once you’ve unsubscribed. It’s easy to delete a lot if you’ve sorted by sender. Click away on unsubscribe until your alarm goes off.   You’ll get through a lot more than you realize.

The best part of this exercise is that you can see results almost immediately. Your inbox number is smaller than when you started and you’ve got the hang of unsubscribing down. You’ll get fewer emails in the future and have to do this task less and less. 💪🏻

Challenge yourself this week to declutter your inbox AND unsubscribe from unwanted emails. You’ll feel much lighter and have less junk to look at (literally!). 

Uncomplicating kids’ papers

So everyone is probably a bit stir crazy at this point of #stayathome (is it day 14 or 414?) so I want to offer support and keep you busy. This week’s #uncomplicate will definitely take you longer than 5 minutes but I think that’s the point now. You’ve probably cleaned your junk drawer 8 times already and need something else to focus on.🤣

This week’s uncomplicate is courtesy of A LOT of messages I’ve received requesting help. The typical tidal wave of kids’ papers that parents have to process is usually overwhelming. 

Since kids are home and not bringing home papers, NOW is the perfect time to set up a system to manage these more efficiently in the future. Because you will have kids going back to school. Eventually. And the papers will start coming back.

Uncomplicate your kids papers

I’m talking about the daily papers that typically come home every day, covering your kitchen table, mudroom, desk, and living room. Some need to be read and trashed. Some are homework, worksheets, or school work for you to see progress. And some require your attention and response.
  1. Get an inbox for each child. This could be something that sits on a counter or is attached to the wall. 
  2. Put the inbox close to where these papers come in to your home. It might be on your kitchen desk or wall near the back door. Every home will have its own landing spot. 
  3. Put your child’s papers in their own bin. Label it with his or her name. Later, each child can put his own papers in there. As they get older, there will be fewer papers to process but it’s great for them to know where their stuff is.
  4. Now that the papers have a home, you’ve got to set aside time to go through them.
  5. Anything that requires your attention or signature needs daily action. Add any important event dates or appointments to your calendar immediately. 
  6. Once a week, at least, go through any remaining homework, school work, and art. Put a To Do on your calendar as a reminder. Be judicious in what you keep. You can’t save everything!
  7. Assignments that they’ve written about themselves or something that interests them is good to keep. Art that shows their personality is also worth keeping. Also, save some samples of their handwriting from each year. It’s fun to see it mature as they do.

This week: I want you to create a landing spot for your kids’ papers.

  • Get a pretty basket or bin to be the landing spot for your kids’  incoming papers. Think rectangle, open top, no taller than 3″ high. I like these to be flat and open on top so you can add to it easily
  • Here are links to some solution ideas you can order. 
  • FOR DIGITAL information, create a folder in your inbox called *Child’s Name* School Notifications. You can have a separate folder for each child and school.
  • Move relevant emails to the folder once you read them so you can find them later. Delete when you no longer need,
  • Add future events and appointments to your calendar immediately. Add them to your paper and digital calendars if you use both.
  • Make a weekly date with yourself to go through your kids’ inbox(es) and process it fully. Call it a “School Papers date” on your calendar with a weekly repeat.
  • Don’t be afraid to throw papers away.

Got questions? Let me know by emailing me carrie(at)neatsmart(dot)com.

Happy organizing!

Uncomplicate your quarantine

I can honestly say this is the first post I’ve ever done that had the word “quarantine” in it. “Social distancing” was not a phrase I had ever encountered until now.


Like most unanticipated situations, a quarantine at home can get complicated. There are so many questions, emotions, extra food, hand sanitizers, and toilet paper! And how are we supposed to keep our sanity with kids and spouses together 24/7?

While I don’t have all of the answers to today’s problems, I certainly can help you uncomplicate your quarantine by offering suggestions to stay sane in this time of uncertainty. 

I’m going to change up the Joan Baez quote to include some alliteration:
 

Action is the antidote to anxiety


Doing something is far better than doing nothing. And this is what I’m doing and suggesting to uncomplicate a very complicated time.

Make your bed. I’ve said it once so I’ve probably said it a 1,000 times. Make your bed. If you accomplish nothing else today, you will have accomplished that. It’s a small victory that can spawn other victories. It takes 5 minutes and you’ll instantly feel like you’ve left zombie land.

Get dressed. Like real clothes. I’m writing this wearing jeans and a sweatshirt but it’s a CUTE sweatshirt with a satin ribbon at the back. I showered and put on makeup. Seriously, put yourself together as if you were going to interact with the world. You’ll feel like a real person. 

Clean/ Organize/ Declutter a forgotten space. You’ve now got the time to go through that closet or cabinet you’ve been avoiding all this time. Just organize it! You’ll feel so satisfied and accomplished you might even do another!
Here are some suggestions of great organization potential:  
–clean your makeup brushes
–go through your jewelry. You may have some pieces you’d like to remake or donate.
–organize your leftover paint so see if there’s any you can throw out because it’s already dried out.
–match up your sheets and pillowcases

Listen to some new music. I’ve been thoroughly enjoying playing some opera arias that I’ve heard in movies. Thank you, YouTube. Peruse Spotify, iTunes, or ask your kids what they like to listen to. You might be surprised that they like some of your music, too.

Practice gratitude. There is always, always, always something to be grateful for. This is probably the most time you’ve spent with your family in a really long time. The weather is beautiful albeit a little rainy. Hopefully you have your health. If you’re reading this you still have your sight. 

As I write this I remember one of my last conversations with my 100 year old grandmother who said when I asked how she was doing, “Well, I can’t see very well and I can’t hear very well but by the grace of God, I’m still here.” She was a master at practicing gratitude!

Sometimes you have to get a little ridiculous and find the smallest thing that is going well but do it. Focus on the little things that work like the internet or your hot water heater. We are all blessed in all kinds of ways. Sometimes we just have to look a little harder to find them. 🙂

Photo by Meriç Dağlı on Unsplash

Uncomplicate your shopping


One trend I’ve noticed through the years that has taken a negative turn is the Sale Section in any brick and mortar store. Whether it’s the $3 section by the Target entrance or the enticing end-cap of an aisle, or even the little table in the back of the store that just screams “Buy me, I’m marked down!” 

All of this stuff is bursting with potential which 99% of the time is unrealized. 

We complicate our lives with “oh, I should get this because it’s on sale even though I don’t know what I’m going to do with it.”

We think we are getting a head start on birthday/ graduation/ holiday shopping. 

We think we are smart squirrels storing away inexpensive toothbrushes, socks, packages of Mac n Cheeze that will prevent us from future shopping. 

We think we have empty drawers at home that are needing to be filled with something.

And who doesn’t think it’s a good idea to shop on sale. Saving money? Yeah!! Like that’s a no brainer. 

Until it means you aren’t using your brain at all. Your drawers and closets are overflowing with the gifts/ toothbrushes/ food/ cleaning products. 

You have a closet with too many clothes with the tag on them.

You have excess food in your pantry that is nearing its expiration date. 

This sale item isn’t what you’re looking for (cue Obi Wan Kenobi voice) and you have just complicated your life by giving yourself something else to find a home for, organize, clean, get altered, figure out a recipient, etc.

This week: I want you to avoid the sale section.

  1. Before you go shopping in a brick & mortar store, make a list of what you need to purchase. Even if it’s just 2 items, write it down.
  2. Check your home inventory first. Make sure you don’t already have these items but in a different location. So often we shop by habit instead of really verifying a specific need. (Trust but verify)
  3. Seriously, walk on by the sale section. Don’t even glance. 
  4. Buy the items on your list.
  5. If it’s not on the list, don’t buy it.

This may sound completely draconian and weird. You might be thinking that it’s a giant waste of time if you really do need something that you forgot to write down AND it happens to be on sale. This exercise is all about developing the habit of mindful shopping.

Mindful shopping:

  • buying what you need
  • not buying what seems like a really good deal because it’s on sale
  • shopping for specific purposes
  • spending with intention

Avoiding the sale section will 100% save you money because you’re not bringing home something that you didn’t plan on purchasing. It will keep you from shopping on impulse and adding to that already filled closet. You’ll have less stuff to clean, organize, and find a home for. That is #winning if you ask me. 😉