Menu Planning - A Weekly Organization Mission

Growing up, my parents would go to the grocery store nearly every day. They would do a big shopping trip once a week or so for all the basics and the things that were on sale, but the day to day stuff would be picked up on the way home before my mom made dinner. My mom sort of planned out what we would be eating for the week, but not really. Most of it was done on the fly, which is even more impressive when you consider that she had two very picky eaters and that she did all of the cooking. My mom is also a good cook - she knows how to look in the refrigerator and throw things together to make a quick and healthy dinner. In fact, one of our favorite dinners growing up was called "Hope For The Best Minestrone" - vegetable soup that really just consisted of whatever vegetables were in the house. As Rachael Ray would say, YUM-O.

I, however, am not that talented. I can't cook without a recipe, and even with a recipe it's hard for me to know if I will like a dish or not. My husband does a lot of the cooking too - he is an amazing chef, and back when I was working full-time, he did all of the cooking. So, I am a planner. It's easier to know in advance what we'll be having for dinners, and it makes grocery shopping easier as well. Not only do I save money (because I just buy what I need for the week), we tend to not overbuy - no one likes having to throw out food because you just didn't get to it. I also find menu planning really difficult. I like to look around online for ideas, and I love Menu Planning Monday (sponsored by because it gives me some ideas (and lets me know that I'm not alone in trying to organize this one tiny area of my life!)

So, here is my first attempt at Menu Planning Monday. This week's meals are a little different, in that we are going out for New Year's Eve (yay!), my husband will be home for 4 days for the holidays, and I am very limited in what I can cook because I injured my finger last week. Oh yeah - we have about 5 pounds of leftover shredded potatoes in our refrigerator as well...we made potato latkes with our friends last night to celebrate a belated Chanukah, and we shredded up a few too many. :) With that, my menu plan for the week...

Monday: leftover lasagna (I make the best lasagna ever...don't tell anyone, but my secret recipe for lasagna is on the back of the box of Barilla no-cook's amazing!)
Tuesday: meatloaf muffins (I leave out the peppers and onions), Au Gratin potato casserole (a new recipe for us...trying to use up the potatoes!), green beans
Wednesday: beef roulade (this is one of my dinners from Let's can read more about Let's Dish in this post), leftover potato casserole, some sort of green vegetable (because my mom taught me that you always need to have a green vegetable at every meal!!)
Thursday: out for New Year's Eve!
Friday: Peruvian Roast Chicken, oven fries, salad
Saturday: prosciutto-wrapped chicken (from Let's Dish), egg noodles, green veggie
Sunday: raviolis. salad, french bread

Scheduling Time for Me

On last night's episode of The Biggest Loser, the contestants had to pause from all the crying (Seriously, is there any show where they cry more? Someone should get these people a sandwich.) to speak about their weight loss journey. (Side Note: whenever a contestant on a reality show talks about "their journey", my husband breaks out into "Don't Stop Believing." I must really love him.) One woman talked about how she never took time for herself, and that her message was that you can be a better wife/mom/grandmother/etc. if you do.

With my current mission of organizing time, I thought that this was the perfect theme for today and Works For Me Wednesday. I might be still working out how to organize my time, but with my current Crayola marker-filled to-do list, there is a constant. I always schedule time to exercise. If it weren't on my to-do list, I doubt I would do it. Yesterday I didn't make a list because I was braving the crowds at the mall, and, go figure, I didn't exercise. Today, exercising is the third thing on my list, and I know it will happen. It's why I did so great working with a personal trainer. My workouts were on the calendar, and I had scheduled the time for me. Now, I know I need to schedule time for me in other areas too - time to read, scrapbook, and write. But scheduling time to exercise is an important first step.

A Tip For Everyone

A break from my normal organization tips today to share with you an overall tip. If your computer does not have anti-virus software on it, stop reading this blog and go out and buy some. Seriously. I'll wait for you right here.

In the midst of attempting to write a novel in a month, nearly all of my electronics have decided to die. Over the weekend I got a new laptop, printer, DirecTV box/DVR (yes, my DVR died...I shouldn't have been so upset about losing 80 hours of tv, but...I lost 80 hours of tv...), and external hard drive. My camera and dryer are next. I don't know for sure, but the electronics might be conspiring against me.

Anyways, my techie husband went to work on Sunday transferring my files from my old laptop to my new one. And that's when we realized the importance of anti-virus software. I used to have Norton on my computer - the high end one at that. But, due to a glitch in the system, it was blocking As a Red Sox fan living in Virginia, that's the only way I can watch the games. Totally unacceptable. So I uninstalled Norton. A few weeks later I installed a free program that seemed to be working fine. Or so I thought. On my laptop were many many many files that weren't mine. Adult files. Of all types. We're not sure what did it, but it looks like my laptop was a go between for some sort of adult file-sharing site. It's been 5 days and I'm still creeped out by it.

Thankfully, it doesn't look like any of my personal information was stolen. And, I suppose, in the grand scheme of things, it could have been a lot worse. But I have learned my lesson. The first thing I did with my new laptop is install good, up-to-date anti-virus software - the kind that scans everything and updates daily. I bought the one that was on sale; just make sure you have one.

Mission #8: Organizing Time

Have you ever had one of those days (or weeks) when you have so much on your to-do list that you can't even get started? That's how I'm feeling lately. I'm lucky that I only work out of the house once or twice a week, so I have time during the day to get a lot done. But I also have to balance that time with freelance work (and looking for/querying for freelance work). Some days are easier than others. I get up, set aside a few hours to write, run some errands and clean my kitchen. Other days...well...I spend an hour on facebook to avoid the list of things around here that need to be done.

So, we're taking a slight departure with Mission #8. Rather than organizing something around the house, we'll be organizing our time. Right now, I try to organize my day around a paper to-do list. But, clearly, that's not cutting it. Not that my paper & markers (yes, the list in the picture is my actual list from this week written with a Crayola marker - my favorite) are bad. I just need to upgrade.

One other note - while I will definitely be working on this mission over the next couple of weeks, the posting will likely be sparser than usual (as you have probably already noticed). I'm participating in NaNoWriMo - National Novel Writing Month. You can read all about it at, but the basic idea is to write an entire novel - at least 50,000 words - during November. It's a huge undertaking, and way harder than I thought it would be (though, when I said that to my husband, he looked at me funny and said something about of course it being hard). So I'll be spending more time than usual this month writing (hence the need to organize my time better!), and am unsure how much time I'll have to write other things. But rest assured that I'll be here, and I hope that you'll work on organizing your time with me (and share your tips in the comments section!).

Mission #7: COMPLETE!

I'm more than a little proud of finishing this mission. It's not just a matter of my nightstand now being clean; it's that it barely looks like its former self.

The top of my nightstand now just has the essentials - my alarm clock, remote controls, tissues, water cup, lotion, and a lamp. That's it. And the only reason that the lotion gets to be on top is that not only am I disorganized, I am cheap. I buy lotion in ridiculously large containers at Costco, and the over-sized pump doesn't fit in the drawer. (and yes, if you are fan of Cetaphil, you too can own a vat of the stuff from Costco for the same price as a small tube at the grocery store. You're welcome.)

Inside the drawer are just the essentials - the medications and vitamins that I take every day, Tylenol PM, nail clippers, fancy hand cream, and the like. I got rid of all of the nail polish that was living in there, along with a slew of expired medicine and questionably old lotion. A surprising find in the drawer were buttons. Lots and lots of buttons. All of the extra buttons that come attached to a new shirt had somehow found their way into my drawer. I don't know why. Since I apparently throw them in my drawer anyways, I felt like they should probably live there permanently. I took a small candle holder, put it in the corner of the drawer, and filled it up. I know the picture isn't the best (by the way, if anyone knows how to reset the settings on a camera, please let me know - I apparently have set my camera to make all indoor pictures fuzzy, and I can't get it back), but you get the idea. It's a pretty simple fix, especially considering that the candle holder probably cost less then a dollar (buy a 4 pack at Ikea & put candles in the other 3!). And if I ever really do need a button, I'll know where they are. (you can see lots of other great tips over at We Are THAT Family's Works for Me Wednesday post)

Mini Mission: Nail Polish

For many women, a luxury that has been cut out in these tough economic times is manicures and pedicures. And while nothing really beats an afternoon of being pampered, it does make better financial sense to buy a nail file and some pretty polish and do it at home. But, did you know that nail polish expires? Ever wonder why your at-home manicure sometimes peels and bubbles moments after it's dry? It turns out that it's the age of your polish. So, as part of my mission to clean out my nightstand (there are a ton of bottles in there) and Works for Me Wednesday, today's mini mission is to clean out your nail polish.

A couple of nail polish guidelines for you. First, depending on which expert you listen to, nail polish has a shelf life of ONE to TWO years. Most actually say you should toss it after ONE year. This is hard for me, since I know I have not purchased any new nail polish in 2009, so I should probably toss all of mine. Aside from the whole germ thing (you're touching your hands with the brush, then it lives in the polish), the nail polish itself changes consistency as it ages. Once it gets thick and goopy, toss it. Notice how when you use an older bottle you get more air bubbles or it peels or chips more easily? It's not you - it's the age of the polish. And you know how after it sits for awhile, it starts to separate? That's a sure sign it's past it's prime. As for me, I'm getting rid of nearly all of mine. I found some super old bottles in my nightstand, and I know that a few of my more "current" bottles are actually nearly 4 years old. Ew.

Next, when you buy a new bottle of nail polish, write the date you got in on the bottle. The easiest way to do this is with a sharpie on the bottom. So the new polish you buy today (because, now that you've thrown away all your old polish, you need to buy new stuff, right?) gets labeled 10/09. That way you can easily see when it's time to toss.

Finally, storage. I know that some people store their nail polish in the fridge - don't. Nail polish is especially sensitive to temperatures and humidity, so keep your nail polish someplace dry and with a fairly even temperature. I like to also keep mine somewhere where I can see it - I'm more likely to use things when I know I have them.

Mission #7: Nightstand

Oh, the nighstand. Holder of alarm clock and remote controls; hider of all sorts of personal junk. I wish I was one of those people who had a tidy nightstand. You know those people - the top of it has their alarm clock, their remote control, maybe a box of tissues. Inside they hold their hand cream, some vitamins, maybe some other personal items. But not me. My nightstand is essentially a junk drawer for my bedroom. Some stuff in there is necessary - I take a few medications at night, so it holds those, plus vitamins & Tylenol PM (I could write an ode to Tylenol PM...oh, how I adore you...). And I suppose that the nail clippers and lip balm are necessary too. But the expired medications & old nail polish? Probably not. So this mission is simple - clean it out & organize it so I can get to what I need and let go of what I don't. Let's just hope that it goes more smoothly (and more quickly) then my desk. :)

Is That My Desk Top?

Well, in spite of more mess than I had realized and a couple of family emergencies that slowed me down, my desk is actually clean. That's right - there is an actual desk top where all the junk used to be! I can't even begin to describe how exciting this is. I haven't seen the desk top in at least a year, though considering some of the things I found living on it, it's likely been much longer than that. Just in case you forgot what it used to look like, here is my desk BEFORE...And's what it looks like AFTER...Yes, that is the same desk! You'll notice that my old desktop computer is still on my desk. My husband says that there is something we can buy to transfer the files from it to my laptop, so that is a project for the weekend when he can help me. As soon as we do that, the old monitor, keyboard, and mouse are on their way out. But even without that, there is space for my laptop, which was the whole goal in the first place. :) And yes, those are all my little toys and tchotchkes still there - just because I'm organized (and, hypothetically, an adult) doesn't mean I can't have my fun while I work.

Organizing Memories

I took a break from my desk today (because, yes, I am still working on it) to sort through a stack of papers in my spare bedroom/storage space/black hole. The stack I grabbed happened to be high school newspapers. I worked on our paper all four years of high school, and was the Associate Editor my senior year. Not a big deal at some high schools, but I went to a school where we published and mailed home a full issue (18 pages) every 10 school days. So it was a huge deal - huge enough that I saved EVERY issue. On the early issues I found post-it notes, carefully detailing what I had done in each issue ("wrote headline for varsity football story"). And as I looked through I found some of my earliest published writing and memories of fun times at late night deadlines. I can't save them all, nor do I want to. But I do want to save a few, especially the articles I wrote.

Looking through this stack today brought back a lot of memories, and a definite sense of pride. I was involved with something much bigger than myself, and while I didn't stick with journalism in college, I developed the strong writing skills that would last me a lifetime. But more than anything else, I was struck with a sense of time and place. In the newspaper were commentaries on issues of the day - some school related, some of a broader concern. We wrote about the new bell schedule, the lack of privileges, the election of Bill Clinton, censorship, and the Persian Gulf War. I read about the controversy surrounding a presentation on AIDS, the portrayal of a gay couple in a student skit, and the visit from a POW, and was struck by how far we have come. While I would like to keep politics and religion off of my blog, my one true belief in life is that we should treat others the way we want to be treated, and I am so proud that my high school self felt that way as well. I took a stand then against animal cruelty and bullying, stereotypes and censorship, just as I would now. I am shocked by some of the letters in the editorial section; I hope that the ignorance of 15+ years ago is not as prevalent in high schools today. I cut out my commentaries and articles, carefully saved the masthead with my name on it, mailed a picture of an old friend to him, and recycled the rest. And I know that what I learned from 4 years of journalism will stick with me forever.

Cleaning vs. Organizing

The theme of this week's "Works for Me Wednesday" over at We Are THAT Family is cleaning. Which is perfect for this blog, since for me, cleaning and organizing are one in the same. Yes, there are some things that are purely cleaning - washing the dishes, swiffering the floor, etc. (and, by the way, how great is it that Swiffering is a verb?) But I don't think that there are things that are purely organizing - even tasks like filing the bills or organizing my sock drawer help to keep my house clean. I do know that it takes me ages to clean my house because I am so unorganized. And I also know that as I complete each of my missions, keeping the place clean also becomes a bit easier.

So, in the midst of my longest mission yet (seriously, why is my desk taking so long??), I share a combination cleaning-organization tip with you. It has to do with the mail. I love getting mail. Even junk mail makes me happy - there is just something about going outside and finding a full mailbox. So sorting through the mail (and paying the bills) is a chore that falls to me. I sort my mail every day - waiting only makes it harder. I can go through it quickly and throw the junk mail that doesn't have my name on it in the recycle bin. Stuff with my name on it, especially credit card offers, get shredded (and yes, the shredder bin gets emptied into the recyling too). I pay bills each day - doing it online takes less than a minute. And anything that my husband should look at goes in a big green poly folder on our kitchen table. It keeps us organized, keeps the paper clutter down, and makes it easy for my husband to know what he actually needs to look at.

Tales from My Desk

I shouldn't be surprised. But, here I am. I have been working on cleaning off my desk, admittedly slowly, for nearly a week, and I don't think that I am even making progress. I looked at it this morning, thinking that maybe I would take a picture to show you how much I've accomplished. But it looks almost exactly the same as it did last week. I wish I was joking. I mean, I know that I am baring my mess every week for the world, but this is just ridiculous. Where is the mess coming from? And why am I not making a dent in it? And, perhaps most importantly, if you know how to keep your desk clean, please share your secrets. I'm begging you.

Mission #6 - My Desk

In our little townhouse, we are lucky enough to have an extra bedroom to use as an "office." I put office in quotes, because we barely use it as that anymore. Back in the day of desktop computers, we spent a lot of time up there. In fact, we have THREE desks in there - one for me, one for my husband, and an extra one that I use for scrapbooking. For a long time, if I had work to do on my computer, I needed to sit upstairs to do it. Then came the laptop, and the need for a desk flew out the window. So, what do I do with that desk now? Pay bills, keep my laptop, work on my writing? No. I stack stuff on it. It is just a spot to stack things that I don't know what to do with. And that's about to change.

I really want to reclaim my desk. I would like to make writing my career, not just my hobby, and while I like to sit on my couch and write, I need a place to write undisturbed. I would also like a place to take care of household management stuff (like paying bills, keeping track of appointments) so that stuff doesn't get stacked on my kitchen table. So Mission #6 is to reclaim my desk. And it's going to take some work, which is evident when you see what my desk looks like now...
Yes, this is really what my desk looks like. I didn't add or move anything for the picture. And yes, that is a computer under all of that. My desk does have drawers, but for this mission we're just going to focus on the top - desk drawers are a mission unto themselves. My plan is pretty simple - sort everything into piles (scrapbook ideas, pictures, papers to file, etc.), then go through and put them away. I honestly have no idea what's on here...this one should be an adventure...

Mission #5 Complete!

I can barely believe it - that is actually MY hall closet! Isn't it bee-you-tiful? :)

This mission took a lot longer than I expected because I have been battling a nasty stomach bug. But even if it took awhile, it was most certainly worth it! I can't wait for the cooler weather to set in so I can ask my guests if they would like me to hang up their coats. :) I put all of our hats & gloves in the fabric basket on the top right of the shelf (a fun Target find...gosh, I LOVE Target...). The big gray box is a good example of what I am doing with my extra space (now that I've thrown away the old notebooks and forgotten gym & beach bags that were stuffed in there). The box is a box of silver wine cups that my husband inherited from his grandfather. We have never used them, but both the cups and the box itself mean a lot to him. We were going to take the cups out of the box and put them in our china cabinet, but he really wanted to save the box as well. So with the extra space, they are now going to live in our hall closet. I think that's an important lesson from this project - sometimes, it's important to keep little things that mean a lot, and by getting rid of things that aren't quite as meaningful, we have the space to store them. I am excited for my husband to get home from work and see that his grandfather's cups now have a home.

There MAY Be Signs...

How do I know that I am way overdue to clean out my hall closet? Well, the duck boots from college were the first clue. My husband's college letter jacket is the second (no, I'm not going to get rid of it, even though he did recently celebrate his 15th reunion). Today's sign could not be mistaken. On the top shelf of my closet was a stack of notebooks and folders that I didn't even know where there.

The notebooks themselves weren't that upsetting. I mean, I DID already find a roller derby program from a few years ago (FYI - if you like to "people watch", go to a roller derby match). But the age of the notebooks...well, that may be the biggest sign I have a clutter problem. In the first notebook were notes from a class I took when I made the switch from teaching middle school to elementary school. In 2001. The second and third notebooks weren't as bad...mostly handwritten assignments that I needed to type for my students. Math quizzes, instructions for a research paper on insects, questions about a novel I was teaching, and the steps to making a database. Of course, there was the folder explaining the dental benefits I was eligible in 2002. But the worst was the notebook from the year I was the reading teacher at my middle school. In it are the names and notes on all of the high-risk kids in the sixth grade. From 1999. These kids are now seniors in college. I can't believe this is still in my closet. Or, more accurately, WAS. It's now in the box of papers to take to the community shred event next month. (because, even though these kids are no longer my students, I don't need any sort of law suit about letting their sixth grade test scores be out in the trash for anyone to see.)

Mini Mission: Backup Meals

The past few weeks here have been a little rough. I have been battling a sinus infection that just won't go away (I'm on my second course of antibiotics) and the stomach flu, and my husband broke his finger over the weekend (which, apparently, means that he can not do the dishes for the next three weeks). But even though we're both sort of out of commission, we still need to eat. And while ordering a pizza or Chinese food is yummy, it gets really expensive (and really unhealthy) quick. So today's mini mission, in conjuction with Works for Me Wednesday, is to have a backup plan for meals. Thankfully, this is something that I already do, and it has truly been a lifesaver. But I'll share with you how I do it so you can have some backup meals ready to go as well. Hopefully you'll use them because you're feeling lazy, not because you need them!

There are a few ways to go with backup meals. One way is to buy pre-made meals for your freezer. I have a friend who always keeps a Stouffer's lasagna in her freezer. There are also companies that are coming out with ready-made meals to keep in the freezer. Even though they can be pricey, they are still cheaper than ordering take-out. Another way is my grandmother's method. She would make her own "tv dinners" - you know, frozen plates with a piece of meatloaf, some potatoes, and some green veggies - and all she had to do was stick them in the oven. She would make an extra batch of meals when she cooked and freeze fully-cooked dinners that could be heated up at a moment's notice. My mom follows in this tradition, and always has containers of spaghetti sauce, chicken soup, and turkey in the freezer. If you want to cook ahead, there are phenomenal cookbooks that are specifically designed for freezer cooking - browse through a few at your local library, and freeze a few backup meals for the cold and flu season.

My backup meals fall somewhere in the middle. I go to a local meal prep chain where I make 8 or 12 meals that go in my freezer to be cooked at a later date. For those of you who don't have a meal prep chain in your area, they are amazing. Everything is chopped and sliced - you just follow the recipe and put everything into large ziploc bags to cook at home. I love it because I can control what I put in (we are sort-of health conscious around here) and I go with my friends so it's also a social night out. There are many chains - Let's Dish, Super Suppers, Dinner Done, etc. - and they all work on a similar principle. Look at the menus before you sign up, especially if you have more than one chain in your area. I go to Let's Dish, not just because the dinners are tasty, but because the meal selections are fancier than I would make on my own but not too fancy that we wouldn't eat it on a Tuesday night. Some chains are pretty fancy; others have ham and cheese sandwiches on their menu (which I don't need to go to a meal prep place to make). Call before you go and ask if you can take a tour and make a sample dish. That way you'll have a better sense of flavors, portion sizes, and cost before you sign up. If you are in the Virginia-Maryland-DC area, I can't recommend Let's Dish enough. (and if you are in the area for Let's Dish, drop me an email or leave me a note in the comments and I'll be happy to send you a referral email with a coupon code)

Having a freezer full of dinners has been a lifesaver for us this week. And it's really helpful for my regular weekly menu planning as well to have some variety without much work (there is a certain joy of knowing that even though both of us are working late we will be able to have a nice dinner that no one has to make).

Mission #5 - Hall Closet

I blame the mess in my hall closet on the people who owned my house before us. Yes, you read that right. I have lived in this house for nine years, and the blame for the mess rests squarely on the shoulders of the previous owners. You see, they were nice enough to install two decorative coat racks in the entranceway of the house. And with just two of us, that's really all we need for our day-to-day coats. Even though it has been swimming pool weather for months, our lightweight coats, winter coats, and my favorite windbreaker live on the pegs year-round.

So, what's the problem? Well, because of the well-placed coat rack, we rarely need to use our hall closet. For awhile, it was holding a wealth of coats that we no longer wore. (my mom was shocked one day to open the closet and realize that the coat she had bought me in high school was in there) A few years ago we bought new coats, and donated most of the old ones to the elementary school for kids who needed a coat for recess. But while the hangers are mostly empty (great for when we have company over), the shelf and floor is a catch-all for everything that doesn't have an actual home. My gym bag and pool bag belong there, but I can't say the same for everything else. When we emptied the bottom part to put the new floor in I found every beach bag I have ever purchased, along with their contents (and, strangely enough, a program from a roller derby event we attended a few years ago). The shelf is equally random - there are hats & gloves stuffed up there along with a frisbee and old backpacks.

Now, I know that my hall closet problem is way better than most. If you actually use yours for coats, yours is probably way worse than mine. But I would like to reclaim the space, especially now that the shoes in the bottom are all neat and organized. And the thought of knowing where to find my pretty pink Red Sox knit cap as it starts to get colder makes me very happy.

So...mission #5 is simple - clean out the hall closet. If you have old coats, donate them. Schools are great places, since they often have kids who show up without one. Hopefully the shoes are already organized from last week. And take a good look at everything else that's in there and keep only what you really need. Good luck...I think I'll need it!

Mission #4: Complete!

Once I got all of my magazines recycled, I thought that no organization mission could be quite as embarrassing. That is, until today. Today I both finished Mission #4 to organize my shoes and realized just how disorganized we really are. Including the eight pairs of sneakers that I recycled last week, I got rid of a whopping 29 pairs of shoes. Yes, you read that right. 29 pairs. What makes it even worse is that there are just two of us in my house and that we have enough shoes left to need all three shoe racks. Yes, they are much roomier now, and the shoes actually fit on them. But still, it is pretty sad that it got to this.

Now that they are organized, it's much easier to see what we have, and find the shoes I am looking for. I found more than one pair of black flats - I'm guessing that one pair was purchased because I couldn't find (or didn't realize I had) the other. And hopefully I have learned my lesson and will get rid of a pair whenever I buy a new one.

Way Too Many Sneakers

Most of my friends have two or three pairs of sneakers. One "gym" pair - you know, the nicer ones that you wear to exercise in - one "everyday" pair, and one "old" pair. I usually just shift mine along the spectrum...get a nice pair to exercise in, then shift them to wear for day-to-day stuff, then put them in the closet as a spare pair for when I know it's muddy out or if I'm going to be doing something messy like painting. It's a great theory. In practice, I never throw away the "extra" pair when I get a new one. Apparently, I just put them in the closet with all the others. Which is why, even though I only get new sneakers every year or two, I pulled out EIGHT pairs of sneakers to recycle. Yes, you read that right - EIGHT. I don't even entirely know how this is possible. But you should have seen the look on the face of the woman at the Nike store as I walked in with three bags of sneakers for the recycling bin. (sneakers can be recycled...I went to the Nike store to do it, but other big sporting goods stores often do sneaker recycling as well, and you can always mail old sneakers to Nike...check here for details.)

Mission #4: Shoes

As I have already admitted, I am not like many women who are addicted to shoes. My addiction lies squarely at the feet of pajama pants. Or so I thought. When we had to empty out our hall closet to put in the new floor, I was horrified. Apparently, even though I thought I only had a few pairs of shoes (that I wear regularly, plus a few more that are for the occasional dressy event), I was wrong. I easily own 2 or 3 (ok, 4) times more shoes than I thought I did. This is NOT good. Where did they all come from? And why are my duck boots from college still in my closet?

A side note on the duck boots. Yes, I own duck boots. No, I haven't worn them since college. But yes, I did wear them in college. Regularly. I loved all four years I spent at William & Mary, but it rains there all the time. Remember learning in high school about how the founding fathers of Virginia moved the capitol of colonial Virginia from Williamsburg to Richmond because of how wet it was? Well, it still is. And the only way to survive living there for four years is a good pair of duck boots. Everyone had them - nothing like needing to write your initials inside of your duck boots because on an especially rainy day there are so many pairs lined up on the porch of the sorority house you need to be able to tell which are yours. So don't judge my lack of fashion sense.

Anyways, every pair of shoes that I have ever owned is in my house, and stacked on three shoe racks in my entranceway, hallway, and closet. The insanity ends now. Mission #4 is all about shoes. I know that you can do it too.

Shoes are fairly simple - I feel like it's one of those things that isn't hard to do, once you find some time to do it.
  1. Sort shoes - I am planning on doing this a few times...once by person (my husband can sort his own shoes), once by type (sneakers, flip flops, dress shoes, etc.), and again by size (I have a few different sizes, due to my feet growing as an adult...why doesn't anyone tell you that this happens??).
  2. Pull out all the shoes that I don't wear anymore or that are too worn out to continue to wear. This means you, pair of adorable brown sandals whose straps have fallen apart. These can be thrown away, donated, or recycled.
  3. Pick out the shoes that I actually wear and get rid of the rest.
  4. Keep fingers crossed that I get rid of so many pairs of shoes that I will need to go shopping for some new ones. :)

Mission #3 Complete!

Mission #3 is completed, and, quite frankly, not a moment too soon. I can't believe how good it feels to walk into my bedroom and see six closed dresser drawers. Yes, for a normal person, this always happens. But for me, my drawers were all stuffed and overflowing so they couldn't be closed (Don't believe me? Check out my before pics.). I had no idea that this was a big deal until they were all closed. That, and the fact that I probably have shown my husband my neatly organized drawers about twelve times today (that will teach him to work from home on a Wednesday). So what that he isn't impressed - I'M excited.

A couple of the drawers were easy - the pajama drawer was fine (and the only one that closed), and once I weeded out the older bras (ladies - if the underwire pokes you, throw it away), that one looked good too. My t-shirt drawer didn't need any weeding - it just needed to have some of the shirts re-folded and put back neatly. The other drawers were more of a challenge.

As I wrote before, I only work out of the house a few days a week, so short sleeve shirts are a staple of my wardrobe. I have a drawer that just has short sleeve shirts (and my tshirts - anything with print on it, like Red Sox shirts, W&M shirts, souvenir shirts, etc. - have a drawer of their own), and it was overstuffed. I ended up pulling out an entire bag of shirts to be donated to our local thrift store - some that don't fit right, others that are just not my style any more, and one that would look great on an 18 year old...I am 33. And I threw away a couple of favorites away that were just too worn out to wear anymore (a side note: please do not donate clothing that you don't wear anymore because it is worn out - donate the stuff that would look good on someone other than you).

The drawer with the exercise/sports clothes was also crazy. I couldn't figure out why I never had space for my sports stuff - turns out it's because all of my old sorority shirts were at the bottom of the drawer. I don't know why. I can't even make up a reason. So they are all neatly put in the back of my closet, waiting to be made into a memory quilt, and there is plenty of space for the exercise stuff I wear. And once I weeded out my pajama pant collection, that drawer was easy to close.

So, what am I left with? A super organized dresser with drawers that close, two bags of clothes to donate to the thrift store, and a serious feeling of accomplishment.

Mini Mission: Baseball Caps

Sometimes, organization missions take a few hours. Sometimes they take a few days. But sometimes they can be super quick. I like to do a quick project now and then, partially because it means that I get something done, and partially because I get something finished. So, in conjunction with Works for Me Wednesday, I give you the first mini mission. Today's mini mission - baseball caps.

Now, I know that some of you just looked around your house, saw that you own exactly one cap, and smiled smugly knowing that your mission is complete. Good for you. Seriously. There was not one bit of sarcasm there. But for those of you who are sports fans (or are married to one), you know how the caps can start to add up. I am a huge Red Sox fan, and while I own enough Sox shirts to attend each playoff game wearing a different one, I thankfully don't have THAT many caps. But I do have a bunch, and I needed a way to keep them neat. I also had a random piece of wall (our townhouse was designed and built in the 70s, and each room has these strange corners that don't really make sense). So a quick trip to Target, a package of mug hooks, and a few minutes to screw them in to the drywall, and I have baseball cap organization. It took no tools to hang - they screw right in. And while I could have been more careful about how I hung them (putting them into a straight line and spacing them evenly), once the caps are on the hooks, you can't tell. This would work great in a kids room as well - just make sure you are screwing your hooks into drywall - otherwise you will have a much harder time putting them in (you can also use 3M Command hooks...they are more expensive, but won't put tiny holes in your wall and can go on any wall/back of a door).

I *MAY* Have a Problem

You know how most women are addicted to shoes? Well, I am addicted to pajama pants. Yes, you read that right. Pajama pants. I consider it a victory when I walk into Target and walk out without a new pair. I have a serious problem. I'm really lucky that my husband puts up with my addiction. The first few years we lived together I got up and went to work before he got up, and by the time he got home I was already in my tshirt and pjs for the night. I was convinced that he didn't know that I actually had work clothes. Now that I don't work full-time it's even worse. So I shouldn't have been but so surprised to pull out nearly 30 pairs of pajama pants today. No wonder I couldn't put the clean ones away - the drawer was already stuffed to the gills.

The shirts weren't quite as bad, but that is clearly a relative term. Yes, that is a Flip Fold in the picture. I am not one to buy things that I see on infomercials, but I am the proud owner of two "As Seen on TV" items that I adore - the ShamWow and my Flip Fold. I bought it at Target years ago, and it may have been the best $15 I have ever spent. I love that my shirts are all folded so neatly into nice little squares that fit perfectly into my drawers. I'm also not one for pushing a product, but if you see one of these, you should totally buy it. :) Anyways, there were a lot of shirts in my drawer that I could get rid of...I decided earlier this year that I am done buying the cheap shirts from Old Navy, since they are super cute but show wear so much faster than the nicer ones from Ann Taylor. So I sorted out all of those, plus a few that I never wear (could someone explain to me why I owned TWO shirts with horizontal stripes?). This is also the point that I wish I could call Tim Gunn. How many shirts should one person own? Seriously. I wear plain short sleeve shirts all the time - a huge joy of doing mostly freelance work - how many do I really need? For now I've gone with the number that I can reasonably fit in one drawer...but perhaps I need to expand.

Two drawers done, four more to go...

Mission #3: Dresser Drawers

Organizing my dresser drawers was not my plan for this week. Yes, it was on my list of things to do soon, but not right away - I figured it could wait, since no one but me and my husband see our bedroom. (In case you couldn't figure it out, I am one of those people who never lets anyone off of the first floor in our house, and certainly not upstairs - that's where I hide all of the clutter!) But life has a funny way of intervening - I folded my laundry last night, and when I went to put it away I realized that my dresser had gotten so bad that I couldn't. That's right - I couldn't physically put my shirts away. More than a little depressing. For a few minutes I thought that I could just live with having the rest of my clothes live in my laundry basket - I mean, they're all folded - how different is a stack in a basket from a stack in a drawer, right? But as I looked at my poor overstuffed drawers, I knew what I had to do. Mission #3 - dresser drawers.
Now that you've seen what I'm talking about, you know why. My goal is not just to organize everything, but to make it so my drawers can close. I have a feeling that this means I will have to get rid of some things, but that's ok. Those shirts at the bottom of the drawer never get worn anyways.

The plan is (relatively) simple for this mission:
  1. Determine what goes in each drawer. I've already done this - believe it or not, the clothes that are stuffed into drawers are actually stuffed into specific drawers. I've organized mine based on what I own - 1) underwear/socks, 2) pajamas, 3) tshirts, 4) short sleeve/polo shirts, 5) exercise/sports clothes, 6) shorts/pajama pants.
  2. Within each drawer, go through clothes and sort into stacks - items I wear all the time, items I sometimes wear, and items I never wear. Items I never wear go immediately into the donation box. Items I always wear go back in the drawer. Items in the middle pile get tried on and narrowed down to a number that fits in the drawer.
  3. Fold the "keepers" neatly and put them back in the drawers.
And, of course, the last step is the same as always - pat self on back and pretend the "before" picture never existed. :)

Mission #2 Complete!

Finally - all of my china is organized, in their safe little containers, and put away. Never again will I be storing my antique handpainted china with party napkins. I didn't get a good "before" picture" because I had already moved it upstairs (you can see the china stacked with party napkins here) but look how pretty it looks now!The stacked plates look all crooked in the picture, but they're not really - the darn containers are so much taller than they need to be that there is a ton of extra fabric at the top (which makes them look all funky in the picture). And I decided to leave the mystery china in its box (seriously...I will be so happy if someone can identify it...when I asked my dad, all he remembered is that there are two sets of it because one was NOT helpful...) and the tea pot out of the container. The holder for it was so oddly shaped that I think it made the tea pot less safe. It will be fine just on the shelf. Now, to have a dinner party...

What ARE These??

Seriously. Does anyone know what these are, and why my Nana had TWO sets of them?

Other than being completely confused by my mystery pieces of china, getting it all put away has been a slow process. My china holders are not the right sizes - they are all just a bit too big or a bit too snug, and they all are far too tall (even though they say that they hold 12 plates, they are big enough for 18 or so...who has service for 18??). The felt dividers have also been tricky - they aren't really the right size, and they didn't send enough. I went to the craft store and bought a yard of the cheapest felt they had on sale ($3 well spent), so I am making my own, but still...why would you only send me 9 dividers for some sizes? Very strange. Hopefully I will get this all put away by will be nice to be able to walk into my spare bedroom again!

Just a little bit tricky

I thought that Mission #2 (organizing my china) would be a snap - how hard could it be to purchase some of those quilted china holders, neatly put my china in it, and neatly put it away? (please, hold your jokes about how if I could put something away neatly I wouldn't be in this mess to begin with) But I was wrong. After measuring all of my china and pondering why I have 24 tiny dessert plates (pondering both the number and the can barely fit a brownie on these things, let alone a slice of pie), I set out to buy the holders. (quick side note: I went on this side mission a few weeks ago, shortly after I moved the china to my spare's not important that I did this part early, but I figured it would make more sense if you knew)

Now, I live in Northern Virginia, a major metropolitan area. So you would think that a quick trip to the mall would be all it would take. But, you would be wrong. I started at Bed Bath and Beyond, where I quickly learned that my antique china is also in antique sizes - none of the holders they had matched the sizes that I own. Not even close. So I asked them where else I could look - they sent me to the mall. This is where it got "fun." Macys sent me to Williams-Sonoma, Williams-Sonoma sent me to Pottery Barn, Pottery Barn suggested Williams-Sonoma (sigh...)...each and every store in the mall suggested a different store. Then, the other Macys (yes, our mall has 2 Macys, each with practically the exact same stuff for sale - it's very strange) suggested I go down the street to HomeGoods. HomeGoods suggested I go to Kohls. Kohls suggested Target. And, of course, Target suggested I go to Bed Bath and Beyond. It would have been funny if it wasn't me.

So, I ordered my containers online. They're still not quite the right size, but at least they will fit (I think). They arrived over the weekend, so I can get started loading them up today....

Mission #2: China

I am very lucky. When I got married, I inherited my grandmother's china. Aside from the fact that it meant that I didn't have to pick out and register for china, it meant that I have a very special piece of my grandparents' lives. And it would be great if I hosted fancy dinner parties where I could use it. But in the nine years that I have been married, we have used it exactly once. I would never in a million years think of getting rid of it, even the pieces that I cannot identify (seriously, I have several pieces that look like nothing I have ever seen before - I can't even make a guess as to what they are). So I need to get it organized. I don't have a good "before" picture, since I moved all of the china upstairs to my spare bedroom to move the furniture for my new floor. But you get the idea...yes, that is my Nana's antique china separated in stacks by party napkins. It's a good thing that my family loves me.

So, mission #2 is simple - organize my china. Even if I'm not going to use it on a regular basis (it does have to be handwashed, so it's not like I'm inclined to pull it out too often), it needs to be kept neat and safe. I'm also fully aware that by getting my china neat and organized, I will also have far more space in my cabinet for other items that should really be put away. So it's win-win. If you have china, it's your mission to get it neat and organized as well. Donate the pieces that you no longer need, and make it so that when you do have a nice family dinner you can easily get to your china and find the pieces that you need. Good luck!

Mission #1 Completed!!

It took longer than I expected, but I finally completed my first mission to tackle the magazine infestation in my house. Any guesses on how many magazines I cleared out of my house today? It's embarrassing to admit, but 168. Yes, you read that right - I dropped 168 magazines off at the recycling today (before you ask, I recycled them because no one else wanted them - freecycle, the library, the thrift store...they all said "no thanks"). The magazines were clearly more of a problem than I thought. Thankfully, I didn't take too many "before" pictures. But from the sight of all of the magazines before I loaded them into my car, you get the idea. The few magazines that I did keep are now neatly organized. My shelves in my kitchen that used to be overstuffed now have lots of space and are neat. The giant IKEA magazine rack is empty and ready to be listed on freecycle. The magazine organizers in my office only have the two current years of scrapbook magazines in them (and they're organized too so that I can actually find and use them!). There are no longer stacks of magazines on my coffee tables, dining room table, bedroom floor, desk, and pretty much every other flat surface that could hold a magazine. But I think that the best part is the feeling of accomplishment from completing my first mission. It's great to have all those magazines out of my house, but even better to know that this is really something I can do.

Where do they all come from?

Seriously. Where on Earth did all of these magazines come from? They are everywhere. Every time I think I have them all, I discover another stack. It's like they are reproducing. How else could you explain this? I am on my THIRD box, and there is no end in sight. What have I gotten myself into?


One more clue that I have a magazine problem? I started to list stacks of my magazines on one wants them.

Magazines are Sorted...

Ok, I have WAY more magazines than I thought I did (and I thought that I had a LOT). There are easily a hundred here - probably more. How on Earth did I get so many?? And why do I have this strange compulsion to look through each and every one of them? I may have a problem. It's hard to know for sure.

Mission #1: Magazines

I love to read. And I really love to read magazines. When I was growing up, my grandmother sold magazine subscriptions. For every birthday and Chanukah, we would get to pick out a magazine subscription as our gift. My sister and I treated this like we were picking out a car - we had to do the research. We went to the library to read back issues of every magazine out there, narrowed down our choices, and finally called Grandma with this year's carefully selected choice. Our choices evolved over the years, but there were always plenty of magazines coming into our house to enjoy.

As an adult, I've continued the habit of reading magazines. I have subscriptions to 4 or 5 that I look forward to getting each month, as well as several extras that I picked up for free. This wouldn't be a problem if I were a normal person who read the magazine the week it came in, tore out the occasional recipe or idea, and recycled the rest. But I am not that person. The magazines stack up, and stack up quickly. I try to at least keep them neat and tidy...a cute basket by my side of the bed for the ones I am reading at night, a basket in the living room, holders on the bookshelf in our office, and two (yes, two) shelves in our kitchen. And, of course, there are the random issues that end up stacked on the coffee tables, kitchen table, backpacks, laptop bags, etc. I admit it - I have a problem.

Sadly, I don't think it's a problem that is going to go away any time soon. I'm not going to give up my magazine habit (though I have cut back my number of subscriptions over the past few years), and it will take some time for me to realize that I don't need to save every issue. One of the joys of magazines is that you can read them once and recycled them. There will, of course, be another article about how you can drop 10 pounds in 30 days next month - no need to hold onto this one. But even if I can't solve the problem, I can at least tame it.

This first mission is simple - find, sort, and organize my magazines into a useable and realistic system. That means just a few magazines to be saved and a ton to be recycled.

Like every "expert" tells you, you need a plan. And my plan for this mission is relatively simple:
1. Find all magazines in the house. ALL magazines. Look in the backpack I took to Mexico, the stack by my bed, the scattered issues on my desk - ALL of them.
2. Sort the magazines. I will sort by title, but you can use whatever sorting method you like. I am sorting them by title because there are some that I can recycle without giving them a second glance (alumni magazines, sorority magazines, etc), some that I would like to look through again (cooking magazines), and some that I want to save for inspiration (scrapbooking magazines).
3. Go through the magazines and get rid of the vast majority of them. I keep 2 years of scrapbooking magazines in pretty holders on my bookcase for inspiration and ideas (and yes, I do actually look at these, so I feel ok in keeping them). But I am giving all other magazines a 3 month "shelf-life". June, July, and August are in - everything before that is out.
4. Put away the few I am keeping - bring the rest to the library to donate or the recycling drop off place.
5. Pat self on back for completing a mission. Pretend that I never had 3 year old People magazines sitting on a shelf in my house.

I'm on a Mission...

So, I'm ready to get started on my Mission: Organization. But where to start? I always find it interesting that the organization "experts" (you know, the people who write books and appear on television shows) both over and under estimate the problem at the same time. I can't devote a day to sorting my entire house into piles. Nor do I think that I could - I have nearly 10 years of stuff packed into my house...if I could sort it all in 1 day (or, a few hours, as some experts think), I wouldn't need an organizational expert to begin with. I need something smaller and more concrete (doing the project one room at a time isn't a bad idea, it's just that my mess transcends doorframes).

Each of my missions will be small enough to tackle in a few days after work...a week tops. And while I hope that others will join me on each of my missions, you can take solace in my clutter whether you organize along with me or not. Yes, it's totally ok to look at your neatly organized china and laugh out loud when you see mine. Just don't laugh loud enough for me to hear it through the computer. If you have a tip or technique for the project I am working on, please share it (or if you have an idea for my next mission, drop me an email). And if you are really brave, post some pictures. I will too.

Let's get started...

Welcome to Mission: Organization

I'll admit it - I am hopelessly disorganized. Not everywhere, mind you. I carry a color-coded calendar everywhere I go, I love my P-Touch label maker, I have an elaborate coupon organization system, and everyone around me thinks I am the most organized person they know. I even had a company that I was temping for call my boss to add "organizational expert" to my skill list. But my house is a mess. A HUGE mess. Not everywhere - the places that people see are neat and tidy. But if you poke around my house you will be horrified.

I know that I am not alone. The sheer volume of organization books out there speaks to our national problem with stuff. There are television shows devoted to cleaning out clutter. Oprah even went on a national clutter tour last year. And the truth of the matter is that it could be a lot worse. My car is relatively neat (especially when compared to my neighbor, who has had a half-eaten large McDonalds french fries in the cup holder of her car for the past three's 95 degrees out...I shudder to think what that car smells like...), I can usually find what I need without much trouble, and I am easily able to have people over to my house. But behind it all is an immense amount of clutter.

Like many others, it takes an event to realize how bad it's gotten. For me, it happened a few weeks ago. We are finally replacing the worn-out carpet and linoleum in the first floor of our townhouse. It meant that everything from our living room, dining room, kitchen, and closet had to be moved. I had to empty our china cabinet. I moved every appliance I owned from my kitchen to my basement. I carried armfuls of shoes out of the hall closet. And when I looked around, I realized I had a problem.

So here I am. Baring my mess for all the world to see. I hope you'll join me in my quest to de-clutter my house and my life. Mission: Organization starts now.