Looking for ways to reduce stress during the ghoulish holiday this week? Check out the simple tips in my infographic for how to make Halloween less stressful (and more fun)!
How many times have you read the advice to sneak tasks into those “spare” minutes in the day? The five minutes while waiting in the car pool line, the seven minutes while the kids play in the bathtub, the four minutes while you wait for the water to boil or the oven to preheat. We’re told that these are golden opportunities to sneak in those things we say we don’t have time for.
We are told we can fill these stolen moments with:
- reading for pleasure
- taking care of ourselves
- connecting with your kids
- teaching your kids
These are just a few of the tasks we are told we can fill up those “extra” minutes in our day with. I don’t know about you, but I don’t have that many unaccounted for minutes in my day. Certainly not enough to squeeze in all the suggested activities I could squeeze in if I were maximizing those seconds in my day.
For example, take bath time. After the hair is washed and the wriggly bodies are scrubbed, my kids like to splash and play for five or ten minutes (or until after the water gets cold if I would let them). So according to all the suggestions I read, I could be using these minutes read a magazine. Or to give myself a five minute facial or remove my nail polish. Or to clean my sink, toilet, etc. Or to organize my linen closet or cupboard under my sink. Or to talk to my kids about their day, their hopes, their dreams. Or to practice skills like counting, spelling, or patterning with my children. I don’t know how you do the math, but that’s at least 40 minutes worth of “stuff” right there. Talk about cold water and prune-like fingers.
So what do I usually end up doing while my kids are splashing and squirting? I usually feel so overwhelmed by all the activities I should be fitting in right then, that I stare out the window or at the wall and fret about all the things I should be doing right then. Productive and efficient, huh?
I wish this was one of my posts where I then go on to offer five or ten tips for solving this dilemma. However, I don’t have the answer, either. So this is a post where I ask YOU how to solve this dilemma. How do you spend the minutes you can fill with things you never get to? How do you decide what to fill those minutes with?
How do you prioritize the priorities?
It’s a new year! Time to get organized, right? Out with the old, in with the new. The start of a new year is also a time to reflect on goals, plans, and just life in general.
For me, introspection and organizing go hand in hand. Somehow, my inner chaos and my outer structure are directly related. Like those graphs in economics class in high class, as the turmoil inside me increases, the cleanliness and order outside me increases proportionally.
I don’t deal well with chaos. I’m sure you never would have guessed that since I started a blog with a tag line “Finding calm amidst the chaos.” The last few years, I have had a dramatic increase in the tumultuous situations in life. While some are part of the business of having a life, others have been straight out of a trashy talk show. And added all together, the cumulative effect can be chaotic. Raising two little boys, parenting my increasingly crazy parents, staying afloat in a sinking economy, all while not losing site of being an individual and a wife, with a marriage that needs to be maintained and cultivated, has created one big whirling mess inside me at times.
How do I deal with that internal tornado? One of the ways is to try to eliminate the chaos outside of me. My outer environment is much more controllable, manageable, DO-able most of the time. So I have spent the last year or so seriously decluttering, organizing, and cleaning. I have cleared out, rearranged, and revamped our play room a number of times. I have reorganized and rearranged our upstairs bathroom to better use the space. We bought bunk beds for the boys so we could better organize and use the space in their room. We’ve purged, painted, and primped almost every corner of our little abode.
Has all this made a difference in my emotional state? Yes and no. I often think my obsessive organizing is just a way to ignore what is really bothering me in life. And it is a very good distraction at times. But having a clean and organized environment just makes me feel better, calmer.
My goal for 2013? Create more balance between my inner and outer worlds. Simplify not just my outer environment, but also my inner attitude. Instead of obsessively cleaning and rearranging, I want to focus on intentionally making my home a haven. A place of refuge from the struggles in life. A simple environment, free from unnecessary clutter and chaos. A place filled with the comfort and joy of love.
I have no concrete plan on how I am going to do this (yet), other than making a commitment to do it. And I’ve found sometimes simply being more conscious of doing something goes a long way in making it happen. So here’s to a new year filled with calm – inside and out!
We all know the holidays can be stressful, whether it is the chaos they create, the traveling near and far, or the strain on the family budget the holidays create. I’ve already addressed ways to minimize holiday stress, how to stay organized, and how to be a good host and guest, so today I am tackling the final holiday stressor – money!
For many, the financial impact of the holidays can be the biggest source of anxiety. For those with an already tight budget, the additional food, gifts, decorations, and travel expenses can create many sleepless nights. Here are five ways to minimize the financial impact of the holidays:
- Make a list (again!). I know, I know, I keep repeating this one! What can I say – I am a list girl! Try to think of every single expense over the holiday season and make a list. Consider gifts, food for extended family dinners, classroom gifts, work gifts, donations, and any other little items that might come up. I tend to always forget to add in all those “bring a ten dollar gift” events, so making my list reminds me of these and other expenses that might otherwise sneak up on me.
- Use your list to estimate expenses. After you have created your list of everything you will need to spend on, estimate a cost for each item. Once you have your grand total, you may decide to go back and revise your estimates or shift your spending around. This way, you know what you’re working with and if your estimates are more than your income allows, you know you need to make some changes.
- Be flexible to take advantage of deals. While you may have a great idea for your mom or your babysitter in mind, be open to other ideas so you can take advantage of deals you find along the way. I had decided to get our daycare provider a gift card in a cute bag. But then The Coach and I were shopping in some little downtown shops and I saw an ornament I thought she would absolutely love, at a special one evening only open house price. My plan changed and I ended up spending less than I had planned and getting a nicer gift.
- Make gifts. This works especially well for those hard to buy for folks on your list. Both my parents and my in-laws are at a stage in life where there aren’t a lot of “things” they want anymore. In fact, they are usually trying to pare down on the amount of stuff they have in their homes! So the last few years I have made them photo albums through Snapfish with pictures of the kids throughout the year. They love them and I can usually wait for a half off deal! Last year, I also added a quirky wreath I made with cheap (but colorful and cute) ball ornaments for my mother-in-law and a six pack of beer that I added pipecleaner antlers and red noses to for my father-in-law. Cute, simple, and much appreciated. And inexpensive.
- Cut back in other areas for the month. During the month of December, we eat quite a few dinners at family gatherings, school events, work events, and with friends. So our dinners at home are simple and cheap – pasta, soup & sandwiches, frozen pizza, etc. Also, since we are so busy doing Christmas activities, we don’t go out to eat or spend much on entertainment. Instead, we are happy for a night at home with cheap dinner and Christmas specials on TV!
How do you save money during the holidays?
The holidays can be stressful, and for me, getting organized is one of the best ways to reduce my holiday stress. The holidays are filled with chaos – busy schedules, tons of gifts for a long list of recipients, many meals and dishes-to-pass to plan, and decorations, wrapping paper, and trees to find, use, and store. Without a plan to organize all of this, the anxiety can overcome the joy during the holidays.
Here are some of the tips I use to keep myself organized over the holiday season.
- Make a list. I use lists for just about everything. I keep a master to-do list with all of my must-dos as well as my want-to-dos. I then prioritize the list to get the musts done first and then know what I can get done with any spare moments. I keep a gift list with both ideas and with the purchases and amounts spent. This helps me keep straight what ideas I have given people for my kids and how much I have spent on each person, especially kiddos.
- Store holiday items together. This may not help you this year, but will certainly help you in years to come if you start this now. We store all of our Christmas items in bins in one spot. Then we know anything Christmas related, whether it is the plate for Santa’s cookies, the Grinch Bingo game, or the tree skirt, is in those bins. We haul them all out Thanksgiving weekend and get everything we need out at one time.
- Set up a “holiday staging area.” Keep one area where you store the things that need a home during the holidays. The gifts waiting to be wrapped, the wrapping paper, the serving dishes to be used on Christmas Day. By keeping all these items in one area, you don’t have to waste time looking for the bows or that gift card you bought for your favorite aunt.
- Do as much as possible ahead of time. By starting early, you can get some tasks done before your schedule is filled with activities and events and not much free time at home. I try to get our Christmas cards done just after we get our family pictures taken in the fall. Then I just have to stick the Christmas stamps on them and drop them in the mail after Thanksgiving. Some food can be prepared ahead of time and frozen, such as baked goods or casseroles.
- Pack bags for holiday travels and events ahead of time. Keep a bag to add to as you come across items that will need to go to specific parties or gatherings. Keep a bag ready for each stop, such as one for vising the grandparents with gifts for them as well as some standard needs like sippy cups, diapers, and coloring books. Then have another bag ready for a visit to friends with your gifts for them and any other items specific to that gathering. Keep your regular travel/diaper bag stocked so you are ready for those days trips and holiday errands.
How do you stay organized through the craziness of the holidays?
Today starts the Structure in an Unstructured Life Holiday Series. Over the next few weeks, you will find tips for reducing holiday stress, organizing the holiday chaos, being a good host and a good guest, and saving money on holiday expenses. Think of it as my gift to you.
I both love and hate this time of year. I love the ideas the holidays are built on – gratitude, faith, family. I hate the hectic and crazy schedule the holidays create. I try to remind myself of all the things I love about the holidays – family time, food, watching loved ones open the presents we picked out with care, food, traditions that have been handed down from one generation to the next or created with the start of our own little family, food. Are you noticing the part I like a lot?
But inevitably, the stress of the season creeps in. The long to-do lists of gifts to buy, dishes to prepare, rooms to clean, events to attend; the traveling with small children and eating at odd times; the days on end of parties and pageants and programs to attend; these all create their own level of anxiety. And then there is the stress from the very things I love, like family time with those family members that are a little difficult to handle much time with; the never ending supply of food that is not like what we normally eat, which leads to tummy aches; and trying to find the perfect gift for everyone and then find room in the budget to buy them all.
While I am still trying to find a way to handle the stress and find the joy in the holidays, I do know these tips have helped me so far in that quest.
- Don’t do everything. There are far more traditions and great ideas, and fun activities than you can fit in one two month time span. Pick and choose what you include so you can avoid overfilling your schedule and making everything rushed and not fun. Figure out what is most important to you and stick with those activities. For me, that means I don’t bake Christmas cookies, because I always end up frustrated that they don’t turn out like my mom’s. However, we do still enjoy a family tradition from The Coach’s side of crab legs and shrimp for Christmas Eve dinner and a tradition from my side of my Grandma’s coffee cake on Christmas morning. When The Coach and I had a little one of our own, we started a tradition of getting new Christmas jammies from Santa every year.
- Accept help. If someone offers to bring a dish, say thanks and let them know what you can use. I host both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day dinners, but I usually just make the sides on Christmas Eve and the main course and one side on Christmas Day. Friends and family all bring the rest. If someone offers to watch your kids for an afternoon, say thanks and make the most of that time by cleaning, shopping, wrapping, or whatever else you need to check off your list. If someone asks what they can do, have a few ideas ready for when that request rolls in. People ask because they want to help, so by allowing them to do just that, both of you feel good.
- Make a list. There are two different approaches you can take. You can focus on keeping your list realistic and only including the things you have enough time and resources to accomplish. Or, what I like to do, is make a somewhat unrealistic, “dream” list and include everything I need AND want to get done. Then I prioritize my list so I get the musts done first, then I know if I have a spare minute here or an offer of help there, I know what I want to get done.
- Buy instead of trying to do it yourself. Sometimes it is far less stressful to buy something instead of doing it yourself. If having more time is what decreases your stress level, then consider what you can buy or pay someone to do instead of trying to do yourself. It might be paying someone to clean your house (which I have done), or it might mean buying centerpieces or premade appetizer trays, or ordering photos and buying frames instead of making a picture gift from the kids.
- Do it yourself. I know, the opposite of what I just told you, but the key is finding out what you like making or what it is worth the financial savings to make yourself. I hate spending the money on a veggie tray when I can cut everything myself for half the price, so I do that myself. I also really enjoy taking the time to make digital scrapbook gifts for the grandparents, so I add those to my list of musts. But like I said above, I don’t enjoy baking, so I buy a nice tray of Christmas cookies to put out.
What do you do to minimize stress and find more peace and joy during the holidays?
My beloved planner system was no longer working for me. And since I have yet to find a product on the market that is exactly what I’m looking for, I had to resort to making my own.
I’ve written before about being a paper and pencil (or colored pens, actually) kind of girl. I’ve tried electronic planners and they just don’t work for me. Although I may be coming around, because the notes and reminders apps on my iPhone have been getting a lot of use lately. I also have my own quirky way of keeping track and informing my family of what is going on. For awhile, this whole system was working great. For awhile.
I jot down a lot of notes; quotes I like, things I want to remember, great ideas, books I want to read, ideas for Muffin Tin Meals, etc. And while I have loved using my pretty notebooks to keep track of my goals, meal plans, grocery lists, and everything else, I was finding I used up the notebook way before I used all the ideas in it. Which led to me rewriting and rewriting certain things. I don’t have time for that.
So I set about to create a solution to my problem. I needed something I could write in, but that I wouldn’t have to rewrite all the time to transfer info. I needed it to be portable enough to fit in my bag. I needed spots for weekly goals and to-do’s, meal planning, budgeting, great general info like books and quotes, and blogging ideas and tips.
I didn’t need a calendar, as I have a calendar system at work I use that fits perfectly with my job. I print out calendar pages and have three months at a time posted by my desk to track meetings and appointments. Then I use a cute weekly to-do list pad from the dollar spot at Target for my weekly work to-do’s. Since I don’t take much work home, I don’t need these items to travel – they stay in their homes at my desk!
What I needed was to organize my life, not my job. So I browsed around online and found a number of bloggers that had created their own printable planning pages. Being the perfectionist, Type A person that I am, none of them were exactly what I wanted. So I created my own! My planning pages are a mix of open space pages to write on and pages with static info typed in and printed. Here are some of the features of my planning pages:
- Weekly goals page, things to do page, and writing list page – all open space to write in my info for the week
- Dinner meal plan and lunch meal plan – dates filled in and standing activities, but open space to write in meals
- Spending plan – arranged by week; filled in are the pay dates and bills to be paid those weeks, and the estimate for each expense, left open are lines for the actual amount and a check box for paid
- Meal ideas with my favorites filled in and space for more, lunch ideas (same), and Muffin Tin Meal ideas (this I created boxes with six spaces since my muffin tins have six spots, a freezer inventory page with open lines, and an open yummy ideas to remember page
- Book wish list (filled in with the books I already have on my list and open space to add more!), home projects list (again, some filled in and some space for more), what to do each season list (I’ve been wanting to get this going!), Stuff I want to remember (open space to write anything I want to remember)
- Great blogging info page (filled in with some lists I like to have handy and space for more ideas and info)
I color coded sections to make it a little more organized and pretty. Then I printed, three hole punched, and put it in a folder with prongs (which I chose because it is much slimmer than a binder). I used my Avery tabs that I love to divide each section.
Sound like something you could use? Click HERE to download a blank pdf version of my planner! My organizing gift to you! Interested in the word version you can customize? Email me!
What type of planning system do you use?
I have said before that I passionately love reading. Reading brings me calm at the end of a chaotic day. Reading allows me to escape from whatever stress is beating down my door, and enter into a funnier, or sweeter, or sometimes simply more screwed up life than the one I’m currently in. I can’t imagine a life without piles of books next to the bed, magazines in the living room, and something to read in my purse.
While I read a million books to my kids because I think it is so important to encourage them to love reading, I also strongly believe reading is important for adults, as well. I heard in passing the other day that 25% of Americans had not read a single book in the last year. There’s a lot I think they are missing out on.
- Reading keeps your mind sharp. I have an immense fear of Alzheimer’s. Maybe because I watched my grandmother suffer from it, and a very close friend of my parent’s was so devoted to his wife for years as she slowly disappeared from the disease. Reading is an active mental process, which is like a workout for your brain. Processing those words on the page helps to improve your memory, focus, and concentration.
- Reading is cheap entertainment. Granted, I buy more books than I really need to. It’s a bit of a compulsion, especially when it comes to children’s books. Ask The Coach. Actually, don’t; I’d be embarrassed. The library is pretty darn cheap though. As long as you remember to return your books on time, free is as cheap as you can get.
- Reading provides an opportunity to unplug. While more and more of us are reading on eReaders such as Nooks and Kindles, reading is still a basically unplugged activity. You are not interacting with your book the way you do with social media. Reading is completely self-paced, so it offers a chance to escape from the frantic pace of the plugged in world we live in.
- Reading reduces stress. From things like our plugged in world, for one. Reading allows you an escape from your crappy boss, or your child’s naughty day at school, or your spouse’s long hours on the job. It provides a source for laughter, or feelings of compassion, which elicit a stress reducing reaction.
- Reading is good for your family. Reading time is an excellent family activity. Whether you are reading to your children, or having your children read to you, or having one child read to another, or everyone enjoying books on their own for a set time, everyone reaps the benefits of reading. In addition, you set the example for your children that reading is important enough to devote time specifically for it.
Many of you may agree that these are all reasons you love reading, as well. But if you are anything like me, it can be difficult to find time to read. I made it a point this month to try to read more for myself, and by making that commitment I have been more intentional about stealing those moments with a book or magazine. I can usually find about five minutes waiting in the pick up line at school, or I can grab another five minutes in the kitchen waiting for the oven to preheat or the water to boil, or I can browse a magazine in the bathroom while the kids are playing in the bathtub. Also, setting aside family reading time is a way to both set a good example for your kids and get some precious minutes to enjoy a book yourself. Finally, turn the TV off, log out of Facebook, and quit scrolling through Pinterest. This is a tough one for me, but I almost always find it was worth it.
Do you make reading a priority? How do you find the time?
I’m back with more back-to-school! The next installment in this series focuses on the emotional impact of heading back to school – for both you and the kiddos! When Roo started school last year, I think the first couple days were just as hard on me as they were on him! So how can you prepare your children, and yourself, for the emotions that the start of a new school brings?
For your kids:
- Start a back-to-school tradition. It could be a special event, like a family outing for ice cream or to the zoo. It could be a special dinner you prepare every year the night before school starts. It could be a special gift for the first day of school. For example, when Roo started preschool, I started a tradition of giving him a new book on the first and last day of the school year. I was really excited to incorporate his reading level at the end of last school year, so now I select a book that is at his reading level.
- Prepare for separation issues. Create a ritual with your child to make that separation easier. One idea is to read The Kissing Hand and use a kiss on the hand as your ritual. Also, once you have completed your ritual, make your exit. The longer you linger, the more time it gives your child to think and stress about that separation.
- Remind your child he or she is not the only one who is nervous. Talk about how other kids are feeling nervous about a new classroom and new friends, too. Talk about what makes him feel better when he’s nervous, such as a smile from someone, and encourage him to do this for another child.
- Talk about how to make friends. Teach your child skills like introducing himself and asking other children questions about themselves and what they like. Remind your child that good friends use kind words and listen when others are talking. Spend some time talking about what your child likes about his or her friends, and how he or she can do those things for others.
- Be understanding of the stress of the first few days (or weeks!). Keep in mind that your child will be tired from the new and more strenuous routine of the school day. Also, your child may be more or less hungry as eating schedules are altered and activity levels change. Be flexible to allow more rest time or bend the rules a little on snacks or on how much dinner needs to be eaten. You can adjust back to the norm as your child settles into the schedule and routine of school more.
- Prepare for separation issues. Just as you need to prepare your child for separation, you need to prepare yourself as well. Those rituals you create with your child are just as important to you sometimes. Remind yourself that this is part of parenting – beginning to let go.
- Remember to step back. Your child needs to learn to be independent in the classroom. I’ve seen many parents linger in the back of the classroom, waiting for their child to need them to reassure themselves they are still needed. You are still needed. Always. Now walk out the door and let your child grow his own wings so he can soar!
- Trust the teacher and the school. Your child is not the first one to be five years old and left in the classroom. Teachers do this every year and schools do this for hundreds of kids every day of the school year. Trust that the teacher can handle it if your child cries on the first day. Or the first 20 days. Your child will not be stolen out of the school hallway because he has to walk 20 feet to the bathroom by himself.
What tips do you have for dealing with the emotional ups and downs of a new school year?
Next installment in the back-to-school series! Today I am tackling the topic of routines. Creating routines and sticking to them is a tough one for me. How about you? So here are some ideas on creating and sticking to routines that will help make the transition to school, and into the school year, much smoother for you and the kiddos!
- What do you need to include? This sounds like a no brainer, but I know for me it helps to jot down a list of exactly what my routine needs to include. For the kids, the morning routine simply needs to include getting dressed and brushing teeth. They eat breakfast at school/day care, so that is already taken care of. In the afternoon, the routine needs to include activities such as unpacking backpacks and doing chores. Evening routine needs to include preparing for the next day and the usual bedtime activities like brushing teeth and reading stories. Then I have a few activities to figure out where they should fit in, such as homework. Right after school? Right after dinner? This requires some more thought…
- Consider your children’s independence levels. When it comes to determining if you should be doing something or if your kids should be taking responsibility for it, there are a few questions you can ask. First, CAN they do it? Consider their developmental level, if they are physically and cognitively capable of doing a task. Once you have determined if they can do a task, next consider SHOULD they do it? I’m all for teaching kids responsibility, but I also realize that my kids are in school/day care all day and need a rest and some time to chill out. So while they are capable of a lot of tasks, they shouldn’t necessarily do them all. Basically, I pick my top priorities. Finally, consider WILL IT TAKE LONGER if they do it? While it is important for kids to learn to do certain things on their own, the reality is there are only so many minutes in a day and if you need to be somewhere on time, sometimes you just have to do it for them.
- Make your routine visible and easy to follow. Once you have figured out what and when activities will occur in the routine, post it where it is easy for you and your kiddos to see it. Make it simple and easy to understand for children. For younger kids, use pictures. For older kids, use simple short phrases. If you want kids to take an interest in it, make it bright, colorful, and fun looking!
- Practice, practice, practice and reinforce, reinforce, reinforce! As a former elementary school teacher, I know one of the keys to classroom success is spending a huge percentage of your time the first few weeks reviewing, practicing, and reinforcing classroom routines and procedures. The rationale for this is that if you devote the time in the beginning of the school year to this practice, you will spend very little time on it the rest of the school year. And it worked (at least for me). The same is true at home. Review the routine every day. Go through it step by step every day. Stop and correct when it is not followed. And reinforce through positive rewards when kids follow the routine. It can be encouraging words, stickers, small treats, whatever works for your kids. After a few weeks of this level of commitment to learning routines, it will be automatic for you and your kids.
What does your routine include? What tips do you have for creating and sticking to routines?