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On Hurricanes, Organization, and Being Thankful

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It’s been almost a month since Hurricane Sandy blew through the Northeast.

I am thankful that my family came out of the hurricane fairly unscathed. We had power and heat–our only loss was internet and cable for about a week. We know many who slept in chilled houses and went wherever they could to charge their phones and laptops for weeks on end. And that’s nothing compared to people who completely lost their homes…

But I was nervous…

You see, in the spring of 2010, a month before giving birth to baby #2, a storm dropped our neighbor’s huge tree onto our home. It came through a window of our three-season room and took up about 80% of our backyard.
Our neighbor still has another big tree in his backyard and as you can imagine, my husband and I were concerned about Hurricane Sandy causing similar or worse damage to our home.
We hoped for the best but prepared for the worst. And then got organized.
We made ice. And filled ziploc bags with water to make more ice. We bought all the ‘D’ batteries we could find and gathered all our flashlights, candles, and electronics in one place. I also gathered all information we might need in case of an emergency: 
-our homeowners and car insurance polices/account numbers, 
-our PSE&G account and contact information, 
-the telephone number for News 12 New Jersey to hear news reports if we had no other way to access the news.
I packed a few days worth of clothes for all of us and a weeks worth of diapers for my little guy. This is just the kids’ pile…
I also packed water, non-perishables and made a list of perishables to take with us in case we had to evacuate our home.

I was anxious about another tree falling on my house during the hurricane but I was equally as anxious about the possibility of having to feed my youngest child if we had no refrigeration or way to heat food up. He has multiple food allergies on top of the fact that he’s 2.5 and doesn’t have the most sophisticated palette.

I channeled my anxiety by making lists–a great way to get organized and prepare for an event such as a hurricane. I started on paper but then switched over to my favorite productivity app, Evernote. I use this app as a place to dump my brain and keep information for future use. I started an ‘Emergency Preparedness’ folder in Evernote and created the following lists of items we’d need:

-perishable food
-non-perishable food

-perishable food for my child with food allergies
-non-perishable food for my child with food allergies
-important contact information
-what we’d need to take with us in case we need to evacuate (clothing, cash, medicine, important papers, etc.)

You can access Evernote from any computer or your phone–the information is all in the cloud. I HIGHLY recommend this app. My desk would be overrun with papers and post-its without it!

Now that I had made my lists, I felt more prepared for the upcoming storm. What I wasn’t prepared for was my 2.5 year old getting his foot stuck between the slats of a dining room chair as the wind was howling and the trees were swaying. Days later, people asked us if we had any damage due to Hurricane Sandy. I laughed and said to them, “one chair–and it was INSIDE the house.”

It was repaired the next day and now our son’s booster seat sits on this chair. I think we’re going to be telling this story for years to come…

After the storm blew through, we touched base with family and friends discovered that we were one of the few homes around town that had power. We had no TV or internet access but I was grateful that we had heat and a fully working kitchen.
Our preparedness helped us as well as with others. We shared extra batteries, extra room in our fridge and freezer and gave out food, ice and a warm place to hang out to those who needed it.

School was closed for seven days. What kept my kids most occupied during the no-school days following the hurricane?

Balloons!

Is it possible to be thankful for a bag of balloons? Why not?

We also had nieces and nephews stop by to play and warm up. We had fun with stickers and crayons and other non-electronic toys. I will say–despite the fact we did not have cable, our DVR worked. So, we did have a bit of television to keep the kiddies occupied.

During this time, I also taught my kids how to use the Swiffer. They loved pushing it around, especially my 2.5 year old. He and my 6 year old had a competition–who could pick up the most dirt and dust with it. I had very clean floors after the hurricane!

Slowly we heard about more and more people getting their power back. Schools were opening again. Gas lines were getting shorter. Everyone from celebrities to relief organizations were collecting for Hurricane Sandy relief.

My son’s school sent a note home that they were collecting items for the towns of Little Ferry and Moonachie, NJ. I used this event as a lesson in gratitude/being thankful. My six year old and I talked about how we were very lucky that nothing happened to our house during the hurricane and how others had not been so lucky. We collected items from the list, labeled the bags and he helped me take them to school.

Three cheers for Warren Point Elementary School of Fair Lawn, NJ!

Three more cheers go out to Girl Scout Troop 445 of Fair Lawn. They made up a list of food items they wished to collect for those affected by Hurricane Sandy and were nice enough to staple a plastic bag to the list. Very organized, ladies!

Once again, I took my son into our pantry. We had another talk about people affected by the hurricane that need food and how lucky we were to have what we need in our house. He read the items from the list and I put them in the bags–a lesson in literacy and gratitude. I recycled the plastic bag, and used paper instead…

Other companies/organizations involved in collecting for Hurricane Sandy–

Deposit A Gift, an online cash gift registry service, has partnered with The Foundling Hurricane Sandy Relief Fund and is donating an extra 4% for every dollar given. Here’s how you can help. People have even created ‘registries’ for family/friends who have lost much to Huricane Sandy. Here’s an example of how one couple is raising funds for their Aunt Pat who lived in the devastated Breezy Point area of NY.

Whole Foods near me in Paramus, NJ is collecting coats through December 7th for New York Cares 24th Annual Coat Drive. According to the NY Cares website, “the storm created an unprecedented demand for warm coats.”

The Container Store is partnering with One Warm Coat to collect gently used coats, hats and mittens, sweaters and sweatshirts.

Please take a look in your closets and see if you have any outerwear that is in good enough shape to donate. This is the perfect time to de-clutter and help others.

Hurricane Sandy blew through town a few weeks before Thanksgiving–a time when most of us have more of an awareness of what we’re thankful for.

I’m thankful for much but in terms of the hurricane, I’m thankful…

-we had power, a working kitchen and didn’t need to leave our home.
-that we were able to help others after the storm.
-for my husband being home from work for a week and the time we got to spend as a family.
-for the break from the internet. As wonderful as it is, sometimes my eyes and brain need a rest…
-for the little time we got to organize. Not always easy with little kids around but we tackled a few -hot spots in my house.
-for Evernote which got me organized for this storm and prepared for a similar emergency in the future.
-that the only storm damage we had was a dining room chair!

A hurricane is a powerful reminder of our need to express gratitude and desire to be of help to others. Just because Thanksgiving has passed and the holiday season is upon us doesn’t mean we should forget about those who were affected by Hurricane Sandy. Please consider de-cluttering your closets, buying an extra holiday gift for a displaced child, or donating food to a local food pantry. Keep thankfulness and gratitude on your mind and in your heart this season and always.

Cool Product – Fridge Binz Part 2

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A year and a half ago, I discovered a product that revolutionized my sandwich-making abilities. No, I didn’t hire a chef–I bought a Fridge Bin for my refrigerator.

My food, especially my bread products, was getting lost, smushed and squashed. While strolling through the aisles of The Container Store one day (Yes, that’s where Professional Organizers stroll…) I happened upon the Fridge Bin. I thought the concept was great–but would it function well in my fridge?

If you read my first Fridge Binz post you know that it was a success. And, I’m happy to report that almost a year and a half later, it still holds my bread products and saves them from being mutilated on a daily basis.

That’s some of my bread products safely nestled in the Fridge Bin…

I was so happy with how it functioned in my refrigerator, I bought another one! This one wasn’t for keeping my bread organized–it was for baby food. Those dang jars and little containers are very good at hiding! And when they hide, the food inside of them goes bad. Can’t feed that to a baby…

I had tried organizing my youngest son’s food on the top right shelf of our refrigerator but somehow, it would all migrate across the shelf, and start hiding behind and mingling with other foods–not to be seen for days.

Back to The Container Store I went and here’s what I came home with…

It’s deeper and more narrow than my first purchase. It’s perfect for corralling my little guy’s food items and it’s BPA free, too.

It lives on the right side of the top shelf of my refrigerator–the spot where I had begun my organizing process. It’s a place for me to throw my son’s little containers, baggies of leftovers or anything I’m defrosting for him. No more lost toddler food which means the Fridge Bin is saving me money and time. I like that!

Another Fridge Bin success story!

Peter Walsh Organizes Rachael Ray’s Kitchen

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If you watch television and you have even the teeniest tiniest interest in organizing then you know who Peter Walsh is. If not, here’s the short version: Peter Walsh is an Organizing Expert from Australia who has a ‘tell it like it is’ attitude but also uses compassion and empathy while organizing with his clients. He has worked miracles in tiny spaces, as well as in the homes of hoarders. I first saw him on an organizing show called ‘Clean Sweep’ and from there, he occasionally appeared on The Oprah Show as well as other daytime shows.

I ‘Like’ Peter Walsh on Facebook. He’s always posting about projects he’s working on, easy organizing tips, and when he’ll be on TV next. So, a short while ago, he posted that he was going to be de-cluttering Rachael Ray’s home kitchen on The Rachael Ray Show. Sweet! My DVR was set. If you didn’t get to catch it last week, here’s what happened…

Rachael Ray, America’s sweetheart of the kitchen had a secret…

She told her audience that she has a tiny NYC apartment kitchen and that she’s just as guilty as other homeowners when it comes to de-cluttering her kitchen–it never happens. Cluttered cupboards, out-of-date food in the pantry and cabinets overflowing with pots and pans were just some of her organizing issues.

If I had her hectic schedule, I might not have time to de-clutter my kitchen either…

She decided to bring Peter Walsh to her home to see if he could get her kitchen organized again. Rachael gave him a quick tour of the room and then he kicked her out and started organizing. Peter started with the pantry–he emptied it, sorted the items and tossed all expired food in the trash.

Some of Peter’s pantry tips:

-Store platters upright for easier access. Use an organizing product that stores baking trays to do the same thing for platters.

-Keep flat surfaces clear. They are for food prep–not for storage.

Peter then headed to a spot most people wrestle with in their kitchen–the junk drawer. Like the panty, Peter emptied the drawer and sorted out the trash. He then grouped ‘Like with Like’ and used containers to keep ‘like’ items together.

Peter used drawer dividers like these to organize Rachael’s junk drawer

What junk drawer items did he hold up for all the world to see? Four pair of gardening shears! Since Rachael didn’t use them very often, he promptly moved them to a different area of the kitchen.

He then removed all magnets from her refrigerator. I have a ton of magnets and children’s artwork on my fridge–Peter Walsh would have a field day with my fridge!

He and his crew worked to de-clutter the rest of Rachael’s kitchen and then brought her back in to see.

The first spot he showed her was the pantry–she loved how de-cluttered it was and how Peter had grouped ‘like’ items with like items on clear trays from The Container Store. They then moved on to the junk drawer–Rachael was so thrilled with the way it looked, she gave Peter a high-five! He had removed many of her household tools and placed them in labeled bins in a cabinet over the refrigerator to get them out of the way.

Rachael then walked over to the fridge and saw that most of her magnets were gone! She almost had a heart attack because a magnet with her deceased dog’s picture on it was no where to be found. It was quickly placed back on the fridge–organizing crisis averted!

As I often do with my clients, Peter gave ‘Organizing Homework’ to Rachael…
-go through all cooking utensils
-separate out the ones she uses often from the ones she barely uses
-keep drawers neat and tidy

Peter offered up two tips and advice for the viewing audience:
1. Stop using the word LATER as in, “I’ll put that away later.” Do things as you go and he promises it will make a huge difference.
2. Flat surfaces are for PREPARATION not STORAGE.

Peter also gave the viewing audience five ‘Double Duty’ organizing products to use in the home:
1. Use an empty tissue box to store plastic bags (I do this in my own home.)
2. Use a tension rod to create hanging space under a sink
3. Thread a tab from a soda can over a hanger and hang another garment from it to double your closet’s hanging space. (I LOVED this tip!)
4. A tag from a loaf of bread can be used to wrap around and label electrical cords.
5. Use extra glass vases to corral multiples of items.

I thought this was a great segment. Kudos to Rachael Ray for being brave enough to have Peter Walsh organize her kitchen for all the world to see!

*Author’s Note: I love watching de-cluttering segments on daytime television–I pick up great organizing and product ideas all the time. But, what I’d like you to know is that de-cluttering a room takes hours–sometimes days and sometimes weeks. It looks quick on TV but what you don’t see is a multi-person crew working arduously to get the job done in a certain amount of time. When it’s just you, or you and a friend, or even you and a Professional Organizer the process takes a LONG time.

 If you are de-cluttering an area of your home, don’t despair that it’s taking a while to emerge as a clutter-free space. Make good decisions, have trash bags at the ready and look for the light at the end of the tunnel. Here are a few tips to make sure your organizing efforts are taking you in the right direction.

Helpful Organizing Tip – Master Shopping List

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Between raising a family and being a business owner, there’s a lot going on in my brain. If I need to remember something, I have to write it down or else it’s as good as gone. I’m a visual person so I like post-its and pads of paper for quickly jotting down ideas, to-do’s and lists.

With four people in our household, we go through a lot of food. When we run out of something, I add it to my shopping list (my main supermarket is ShopRite). But, I shop in four or five different markets depending where I’m driving past that day and what food item I’ve run out of. I needed a central place to keep track of all our food needs. That’s when I came up with the Master Shopping List.

My Master Shopping List

I went to Michaels and purchaed a magnetic pad with lines and stuck it on the side of my fridge. I wrote in the names of stores I shop in often–ShopRite, Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, Fairway, and Costco and left room underneath to write what I’ve run out of. When I buy the item, I cross it off my list. Sometimes I’ll circle an item if I need to purchase it later or at another store.

Keeping this list close to the fridge or pantry makes jotting down items a quick and easy task. If you don’t like to or can’t hang items on your fridge, store your Master Shopping List near your refrigerator. Don’t like the note pad? Create something similar to this on your computer.

The master list is not just for food. Use it for drugstores, big box stores–wherever you shop often.

This master list has made my life much easier. If I notice we are running low on an item from a particular store, I grab my pen and write it under the appropriate store name. If I know I’ll be passing by a certain store after working with a client, I’ll jot down from the master list (onto a separate piece of paper) the things  I need and cross items off them off the list when I return home.

I guarantee–creating a Master Shopping List for your family will work as well for you as it has worked for me. Give it a try. It’s all about making our lives easier and having what we need when we need it.

Cool Product – Fridge Binz

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I’m lucky to live so close to The Container Store! Even if I don’t need anything specific, I’ll drop by, walk up and down the aisles and check out some new products now and then.

A short while ago, I was in the ‘kitchen’ aisle and came upon a product that I thought was not only cool but it could also help me with my own organization problem–my refrigerator.

Food was getting lost in my fridge. Food was going bad in my fridge. I didn’t want to open my fridge!

OK–it wasn’t that bad but I was having ‘bread issues.’ Loaves, buns, pita, wraps, and mini-bagels were getting lost and smushed in my fridge.

And then I met my new best friend–The Fridge Binz Tray. These heavy-duty plastic trays help to organize food items and create additional storage space. They come in different shapes and sizes but this one suited my needs best:

I looked at the tray in The Container Store and whispered to it, “Come home with me…”

I brought it home and it has become one of my favorite and most useful household organizing product. Here it is in my fridge:

All the bread products are in one place! When I want some, I pull it out by the handle:

Voila! Bread products slide out. Bread products slide back in. Nothing lost. Nothing smushed. Nothing wasted.

Take a look in your fridge. Could you use a Fridge Bin?

Purge Your Panty for a Good Cause

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Saturday, May 14th is the National Association of Letter Carrier’s ‘Stamp Out Hunger’ Food Drive–a perfect reason to purge your pantry.

Wake up early. Have a protein-packed breakfast. Take a bag to the spot in the house you keep food. Be ruthless. You bought 10 boxes of Kraft Macaroni and Cheese on sale. Can you donate one or two? Thought you were going to make that cake but didn’t? Donate the mix. On a diet? Donate the foods you’re now avoiding.

PURGING is a WIN-WIN situation. You get rid of things that are cluttering your home and others get things they truly need. In this case–food.

My bag is filled and we’ll be putting it on our doorstep a few hours before the mail carrier arrives. My bag has pasta, canned vegetables, and baby food in it. What will you put in YOUR bag?

Got Leftovers?

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How many times have you eaten turkey in the past 72 hours?

I don’t cook the turkey but for the past bunch of years my cousin hands me the turkey carcass at the end of the night. I can pick a good two pounds of meat off the bones so when I’m looking to do something creative to it, I turn to the Food Network website.

If you still have some leftovers and need a new recipe, check out Food Network’s Thanksgiving 2010 Leftovers page. My personal favorite use of turkey leftovers is Rachael Ray’s Turkey Corn Chili recipe. Try it over brown rice for a change of pace from the usual flavors of Thanksgiving.

Let’s make sure none of those leftovers are left to languish in the back of the fridge. Clear containers are best–no tin foil surprises at the end of the week.

Get ready to purge your fridge anyway…Hannukah, Christmas and Kwanzaa are just a few weeks away.

Gobble, gobble…

National Clean Out Your Refrigerator Day

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In an attempt to bring you correct information, I have scoured the Internet looking for the correct date for National Clean Out Your Refrigerator Day. Some websites say it’s November 14th or 15th and some say the holiday was declared to be the third Wednesday in November by the Whirlpool Corporation (which would make it the 18th this year).

Regardless of the exact date, it’s a good idea to clean out your refrigerator from time to time. Believe it or not, food can be clutter. Don’t you have to make room for the Thanksgiving turkey and all the trimmings, anyway?
A while back I wrote an article about this very topic. If you’re not sure where to start, check out my article, 6 Tips for Organizing Your Refrigerator.
Bonus Tip: Use a marker or pen to write the ‘I opened it’ date on food items you don’t eat often. This will prevent many a stomach ache from food that’s been around too long.

What area of YOUR life needs organizing?

Contact Stacey to Get Started!

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