Planning Your Spring Break Road Trip

March 5th, 2014

When you’re thinking about getting away this spring but the idea of air travel is less than enticing, remember that there is no better way to see this beautiful country than by taking to its almost 47,000 miles of highway. You may prefer to getaway on your own; just you, alone, on the open road, or perhaps your ideal road trip involves a convertible overflowing with friends, or a mini-van with just you, your spouse and kids. Whomever you choose to travel with, there are a few things to consider if you want to ensure that a good time is had by all.

Get together with your travel buddies to discuss the timing of your trip. Once you have mutually agreeable dates, determine how far you can travel in the allotted time by rolling out a map and perusing it together. Pinpoint all your potential destinations based on the criteria that matter most to you: budget, desirable driving distance per day, people or places you may want to visit, or attractions you’d like to see.

With countless places worth visiting in the US, deciding where you want to go will help you determine the best way to get there. There are plenty of sites like Expedia, Booking, Hotels, and so on, that will help you book your rental car and accommodations, while offering insights into each location and the best places to eat, visit, and shop there. For a road trip, however, there are a few sites that can take your planning to the next level. When you’re choosing your destination, RoadtripUSA is a great place to start, offering a detailed view of eleven classic US driving routes, from coast to coast, and from Canada to Mexico.

When considering your budget, lodging and meals are the categories with the most flexibility. Decide whether you want to camp out, crash with friends, “rough it” in bargain basement motels, book on AirBnB, or experience a different luxury hotel in each city you pass through. Mark off your intended accommodations for each night and adjust your budget accordingly. And if you want to avoid subsisting on fast food and gas stations snacks, checkout TVFoodMaps for the Food Network’s guide to great eats nationwide.

Unless budget is of no concern, it’s a good idea to consider every possible expense, starting with the big three: gas, food and lodging. TravelMath is a website that will help you assess the cost versus time for each route option for you, while FuelMyRoute will help you find the cheapest places along your chosen route to fill up your tank.

Once you’re on the road, having a GPS is a great and comforting resource, but it should not replace your paper maps. In fact, it’s best to print out everything before you go – directions, reservation information, rental car info, etc. – so you don’t have to rely on available cell signals or WiFi to find what you need. Create a binder with all your travel details and put the pages in order of your journey. Also, make sure to sign up for AAA or an equivalent nationwide roadside assistance program.

Lastly, be sure to add these essential items to your packing list, both for road safety, as well as for the pleasure and comfort of your passengers:

  • MP3 and DVD players, along with headphones or ear buds
  • A blanket, football, Frisbee, etc., so you’re prepared for an impromptu picnic lunch
  • A cooler and freezer packs to keep snacks and beverages handy
  • Bathroom tissue, garbage bags, and Wet Wipes to make it a bit more comfortable when nature calls and you’re in the middle of nowhere
  • A first aid kit with all the basics for minor injuries, headaches and car sickness
  • Small pillows and a blanket or two for anyone who needs to catch some shuteye
  • A couple of flashlights and extra batteries
  • Jumper cables
  • A spare tire and jack
  • A second set of car keys

Once you have your companions, budget, route, destination and supplies sorted out, the best thing about a road trip is the feeling of freedom it conjures, because with the planning taken care of, there’s nothing to worry about but having a good time.

Have you ever taken a truly fantastic road trip? How about the one you wish you’d never taken? Please share your experiences in the comments below, and let us know your best tips for planning an epic, awesome road trip this spring. And, next time you see me, ask about my moving myself from Kansas City to Washington, DC. #Nightmare

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Best Of The WEB: Spring Cleaning Check Lists

March 5th, 2014

Many of us are still wrapped in fleece and trudging through snow piles, making it difficult to imagine the budding trees and warm breezes of spring. But it is coming… and soon (Daylight Savings is March 9th!).

To spark your spring fever, nothing works better than throwing open your windows and letting the fresh air blow away the winter doldrums you’ve been collecting. I’ve compiled some of the best Spring Cleaning Checklists out there for you. Granted, the “spring” part of these lists may be more interesting than the “cleaning” part, but I promise you that preparing your home for the change of seasons is a great way to kick start your personal transition into spring, the season of rebirth.

The links below will take you to comprehensive, room-by-room guides, which I admit, may be a bit daunting if you try to take them on all at once. Instead, assess which are your home’s biggest trouble areas (like that closet that is so full its door is starting to bend, or the living room that has evolved into a makeshift mudroom during the relentless snowstorms this winter), then break down the list in order of priority. Schedule time to attack one, two or three rooms at a time, until every room is cleared and ready for spring.

The Best Spring Cleaning Checklists from Around the Web:

Martha Stewart offers her incomparably thorough checklist that includes three pages of detailed instructions for cleaning just about anything and everything in your home. If your windows or screens are too dirty to let the spring sunshine in, then Martha’s window cleaning guide is perfect for you!

An in-depth approach to the spring cleaning checklist is available here, and includes convenient lists of all the supplies and tools you’ll need, as well as ideas about how to get your family involved, and how to maintain your freshly cleaned space after spring has come and gone.

Thank heavens for Oprah! Her checklist is for those of you who want to get it all done in no more than eight hours. She’s even taken care of your scheduling for you, blocking out the appropriate amount of time to accomplish the specified tasks for each room on her list.

The Imperfect Homemaking blog offers a pretty perfect checklist from a self-proclaimed spring cleaning enthusiast.

Organized Home takes a unique approach, prompting you to seek out nooks and corners inside and outside of your home where the cobwebs of winter may be hiding.

With an eye toward frugality, Living Well and Spending Less helps you approach spring cleaning in sections: over your head, eye level, waist height, and floor level. Sometimes looking at things from a different angle is the best way to see what you’ve been overlooking all along.

Whatever approach you favor, whether you take it all on in one day, or spread it out over a couple of weeks, spring cleaning is a great way to open your home – and yourself – to the fresh opportunities that arise with spring. If you have any ideas for maximizing your spring cleaning efforts, or any challenges that aren’t addressed in the checklists above, please share your questions and comments below.

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Time Management At Work

March 3rd, 2014

Whether you work in a huge corporation or you’re a solopreneur plugging away by yourself at home, chances are you often feel as is there aren’t enough hours in the day. And it’s true. So since your To Do list never gets any shorter, knowing how to squeeze the most out of the time you have is critical if you want to get ahead at work.

Managing your time isn’t about getting more done, it’s about getting things done efficiently. To help you identify the areas where you may not be making the most of the time you have, www.MindTools.com created a useful quiz, and offered ideas on how to address the most common challenges.

One major hurdle to staying on schedule throughout your workday is learning to handle your email. Getting lost in your inbox is a common culprit in “lost time” syndrome. British online health authority NHS Choices referred to this as “email stress” and recommends a “4D” approach to managing it. The idea is to handle each email as it is opened, by taking one of the following actions:

  1. Delete It: Don’t need it? Why save it?
  2. Do It: If the email is something that can be answered quickly (in a minute or two), take care of it immediately.
  3. Delegate It: if you know the right person for the job, share the email with them right away.
  4. Defer It: If the email requires more attention, schedule a specific time to deal with it at a later date.

You can also practice the following techniques to learn to master your time for maximum productivity:

  • Is your To Do list as long as your arm? Don’t try to take on everything at once. Break down your list into bite-sized chunks and start to tick them off one at a time. You’ll have a greater sense of accomplishment when you can complete several smaller items, than if you spent half the workday worrying about a huge project that you can’t seem to make a dent in.
  • Take the last 15 minutes of each day to plan how you’ll spend your time tomorrow. Make sure that the tasks you have scheduled each day are directly correlated to the most important deadlines ahead.
  • Schedule five minutes before every meeting to review and prepare. Schedule another brief block of time directly following the meeting to email any documents or action items that were discussed, so you’ll have a fresh record of what transpired and you won’t need to revisit it later in the day.
  • Let it ring! Just because your phone rings or your email pings doesn’t mean you have to drop what you’re doing and answer it. Stay focused on what you’re doing by turning off the ringer, silencing your Blackberry (no vibrate either!), and even setting an autoreply from your email account, if necessary. You do not owe anyone your attention at the exact moment they request it, so don’t feel guilty if you practice the dying art of concentrating on a single task at once.

Prioritizing tasks and effectively handling interruptions are only part of the time management equation. As with any important project, you have to start out by setting goals. What do you want to achieve today? This week? This month? If you clearly identify what you want to accomplish in the short and long terms, then you can create and maintain your work schedule with more satisfying results.

What challenges do you face staying on task at work? What techniques have you found to maximize your productivity?

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Time Management For Students

February 28th, 2014

Internet access may have made doing research a lot easier, but it also provides an immeasurable distraction for today’s students. Time management skills are critical to their success in school and in life, but often students are left in the dark when it comes to organizing an effective schedule and sticking to it.

Cornell University Center for Learning & Teaching published a simple and useful tool encouraging consistency and routine for best results, that will work well for people who prefer a linear, time-blocking technique. The system begins by taking stock of all the deadlines, events, and responsibilities that belong on your calendar, and then identifying the non-negotiable time blocks each week (classes, study groups, extra curricular activities, etc.). This exercise will give you a realistic view of your available time, and help you identify areas where productivity may suffer. (If you find this tool to be too rigid, check out my article on Time Management for Right-Brained People for more creative tips.)

In addition to a complete and easy-to-maintain calendar, practicing the following guidelines will have even the busiest students on time and on task all semester:

Put your least favorite job at the top of your To Do list every day. Good study habits are important, but developing other routines can also serve a student well. Setting out to accomplish the most daunting task of the day as your first order of business requires – and builds – confidence. Not only will you get it out of the way, you’ll be practicing the boldness that leads to success!

Carve out a chunk of time to dedicate to studying every day. Repetition is the key to forming a habit, so if you want a habit to set in, be consistent whenever possible. If you can find a four or six hour block of time, that’s great, but remember that you’ll need to take 15 minute breaks every 45-90 minutes to maintain your focus. And while you’re studying, turn off all non-essential devices, block your email and social profiles and only maintain the minimum connectivity necessary to get your work done. Studying in the same place and under the same conditions each time will also help you stay focused, making the time more productive.

Wrap it up. Be sure to have a round up at the end of each week to assess where you are on all your active projects. You can gauge your progress from the week before and plan your To Do list for the week ahead. Regrouping each week will make sure longer term projects don’t get off-course, and get some perspective on what the next few days will bring.

Student life is about more than just studying, so when it comes to maintaining a productive schedule, flexibility is key. Being prepared for downtime between classes means having what you need to stay busy wherever you are. Everyone has a laptop or tablet these days, but if Wifi is unreliable, be sure to stash some flash cards in your bag to make the most of your waiting time throughout the day. Studying in short bursts is not only an effective method for retention, it will help ensure you aren’t behind schedule later on, when it’s finally time to relax.

Are you a student or are you helping a student who is trying to make the most of their time? Please share with us your best management techniques for making the most of your time.

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Finding Time For Your Furry Friend

February 20th, 2014

It’s Love Your Pet Day so, in honor of my beloved Newton, I’m posting this one for all our furry friends out there. Today, I’m urging you to LOVE YOUR PET!

We often say that our loyal, loving pets are members of the family, but when we’re feeling the drain of demanding careers and hectic schedules, our pets are the first ones to be neglected. With little energy and “no time” to spare, we can make excuses all day long for not giving them back all the love they shower on us, but we all know they deserve more from us.

You and your pet both need exercise, so try to multi-task the healthy way. Take a few laps around the block together for some real quality time. Do it consistently and the routine will create a strong bond between you and your pet which is proven to promote longevity for both of you.

Every morning, every evening, ain’t we got fun? If you truly want to make your pet a priority, skip the snooze button. Get out of bed ten minutes earlier and spend that time focusing on your pet and you’ll feel good all day about putting them first. Then bookend your day with a bedtime ritual, like sharing a healthy snack with them, or ten minutes of cuddling.

Whatever time you dedicate to your furry friend each day, make sure that you keep the focus on them and only them for at least one uninterrupted ten-minute stretch. It’s not that much time – two or three YouTube videos out of your day – to make them feel as loved as they are. Like any important relationship in our lives, trying to “focus” on your pet while staring at your smartphone or tablet screen is not the way to forge a meaningful bond. Turn off all devices and give your full attention to your pet. Wouldn’t they do that much for you?

If you have a pet who brings love and light to your life every day, share with us one way you plan to make them a priority and let them know how loved they are. Happy Love Your Pet Day!

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Time Management for Right-Brained People

February 20th, 2014

With all the time management tools available to us, losing track of time means we must be bad, disorganized people, right? Wrong. It’s a square peg/round hole situation, when you get right down to it. You might just be a right-brained person in a left-brained world.

The traditional approaches to time management are all geared toward list making, time blocking, and detail wrangling. They have a set ‘em up and knock ‘em down attitude about all the tasks we need to pack into our day, but that type of linear thinking will leave us right-brained folk spinning. Written plans and to do lists may be well-intentioned starting points for us, but will often be ignored once we get sidetracked by a juicy distraction.

Right-brained people need a few unconventional tips for staying on task and on time, so if time management is a challenge for you, consider this:

1. Recognizing yourself as a right-brained person is the first step to finding a time management technique to suit your style.

Right-brained people tend to have an “out-of-sight, out-of-mind” attitude, so proper planning is very important to make sure productivity doesn’t suffer. Our creative bend responds strongly to visual cues, and our attention may not be easily coaxed to stay trained on a tightly packed schedule. If you’re right-brained, you may find even the idea of strict time limitations stress-inducing and stifling your creative flow.

2. We’re hyper-susceptible to time sucks, so don’t exhaust yourself fighting them!

The nature of a right-brained person causes us to dig deep into whatever project we’re focused on. That means we can easily fall down the rabbit hole and lose track of time. Using an online tool like Freshbooks or just a pen and paper – whatever method you can commit to using consistently – track all your activities for at least a week. Reviewing exactly how you spend each day will shed light on any patterns such as which time of day you’re most likely to get off task, and then allows you to devise a plan to avoid it. For instance, if your activity log reveals that you tend to spend twice as long completing online tasks as you should (most likely because of all the readily-clickable distractions), then try scheduling your online tasks for later in the day, so you don’t get behind schedule before your day even starts.

3. Schedule for how long it really takes, not how long you think it should take.

If you know you’re going to need more time, take it! Traditional time-blocking techniques will always leave you feeling frustrated, unproductive, and stressed, so try to loosely block out your day into the priority activities. Note at which times your concentration is most keenly focused, and dedicate those periods to the day’s more mentally demanding jobs. Be sure to include breaks every 60-90 minutes to give your brain a break from your intense effort.

4. Sometimes the best way to manage time is to ignore it.

Hide your clocks and keep track of time using the stopwatch app on your smartphone or use the TimeTimer. This way you can stay on schedule without stressing because you’re hyper-aware of the time. Focusing in shorter bursts and allowing mental recovery time in between will increase your productivity and help stave off the stir-craziness that can come from trying to accomplish too much in one sitting.

5. If you need to unplug to get your work done, then do it!

Don’t feel guilty about letting people know that you aren’t going to be available 24/7. You are allowed to block out tech-free time, and power down from all your myriad devices. Set a time to check email in the morning and again in the afternoon and when you’re done, get off the grid. You’ll get used to working without the constant interference of incoming pings and people will get used to hearing from you at certain times of the day.

As with every other system, organizing your time well just takes commitment and consistency. If you’re feeling stuck, contact us about our time management package.  If you’re already excelling, what tricks have you found to help a creative mind stay on track?

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Effective Scheduling – Making the Best Use of Your Time

February 13th, 2014

The most valuable commodity known to man is the most finite: time. In our mile-a-minute lifestyles, it seems we never have enough time to get done all we need to, let alone the things we want to do. But if we learned to budget our time more efficiently, I believe we’d all be pleasantly surprised by what we could actually fit into a day.

The key to making the best use of your time is in your scheduling habits. There are tons of tools available to help you keep track of what you need to do, but even the best scheduling tool ever invented has absolutely no value if you aren’t going to use it consistently. For some people, the easy integration and ubiquitous nature of Google makes their online calendar tool the go-to choice, while others still prefer the feel of pen on paper. Whatever your preference, find a tool that is right for you, that will allow you to manage your schedule in a detailed daily and weekly view, as well as a longer-term overview of monthly and yearly pages.

Once you have selected your scheduling tool of choice, be it an app or a trusty day planner, follow these tips to sensible scheduling:

Make a list of everything you need to accomplish each day, week and month. Note how long you need to devote to this task and then log it on your calendar. (You might find it helpful to use different colored pens to differentiate between personal tasks, client work, etc., and most online tools allow for color-coding of events, as well.) Consider not only how long each project will take you, but how much time you can realistically devote to it in one sitting. You may be spot on in estimating that a job will take about 12 hours to complete, but will those 12 hours take place over three days or three weeks? Be honest with yourself and plot those 12 hours out logically on your calendar.

Prioritize. Populate your calendar first with the non-negotiable items: work deliverables, staff meetings and anything else you need to do to maintain your job, your relationships and your sanity. Start with your high-priority tasks and recurring deadlines, then move on to the items with more flexibility like your next haircut or painting your bedroom. When all of these To Dos are written on your schedule, you’ll have a clearer view of how to fit in your less pressing, but still important goals… like that novel you’ve been meaning to get around to writing. Yes, that goes on the calendar too!

Be realistic about what you can accomplish in the time you have. It may make sense that you could accomplish five hours of work in a five-hour timespan, but it doesn’t really happen that way, does it? Studies show that our brains can only stay focused on one task for about 45-90 minutes at a stretch. For maximum productivity, be sure to factor in 15 minutes every so often to stretch, grab a snack, or return an email or two. That means a five-hour job will actually require six hours or more to complete, so plan accordingly and write it down.

Remember, you cannot manage your time unless you know where you’re spending it. Try out a tool like Harvest or Freshbooks to track your activity while you work. After a week or so, you can look back and see where you might find more time in your day.

Put it ALL on there – even if it’s just for YOU! Don’t forget to book time even for your most regular activities like working out, doing housework or buying groceries. By writing these items down, you are giving yourself a clearer view of the true scope of the responsibilities you must consider when you are trying to “make time” for something new. Putting your personal care on your calendar is also a way to remember that you are a priority in your life… as you should be.

Put every project on a timeline. “Timeline” sounds less threatening than “deadline,” but essentially, by selecting an endpoint by which you intend to have each goal completed, you are more likely to actually achieve it. Work backwards from your target date and you can easily figure out when you need to get started if you want to finish on schedule.

Leave it loose. Allowing time to deal with unexpected occurrences like a traffic jam or a crashed Internet connection will minimize your stress. It also helps to not become overextended by accepting every social invitation you receive. Skipping even the fun commitments once in a while gives you a chance to recharge your battery, and you’ll be more likely to stay on schedule in the days to come.

Don’t Give Up! As with all organizing tasks, maintaining order requires that you stick to it. If you find you’re not using your chosen scheduling tool, assess why it doesn’t work for you and then try a new one.

What have you found is the biggest obstacle to staying on schedule and how have you overcome it? Please share your favorite scheduling tools and tips or your time management woes in the comments below.

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Time Management For Couples

February 11th, 2014

The idea of “finding time” is a silly one, don’t you think? There are only 24 hours in a day and no matter where you look you won’t find any more, so if something is a priority then you have to make the time for it, by clearing your schedule of other less essential obligations.

But making time for each other is increasingly difficult for modern couples. Our over-filled calendars and mounting responsibilities have us feeling that any time we’re not working, if we’re under the same roof as our loved one, then we’re “spending time together”… right? Wrong. It takes a little more effort than that. So, whether or not you’re a fan of Valentine’s Day, you can use it as a reminder to carve out some quality time with your main squeeze. Here’s how:

1. Love always… but do it on schedule. It may not seem romantic, but carving out time for one another is actually a very loving gesture. Planning ahead will mean you’re less likely to miss out on couple time because work ran late or the other obligations that did make it on to your calendar ended up taking precedence. Block out some time – and book it! – not just for Valentine’s day, but every week or two thereafter. Seeing that date on your calendar will not only give you something fun to look forward to, the anticipation will help you feel more connected.

2. Get in line. Aligning your schedules at home isn’t always possible, but the intimacy it cultivates is worth the effort. Making an effort to go to bed at the same time so you have the chance for some pillow talk (or something… ), or creating a daily ritual like having your morning coffee together will help bond you to your partner. Take a look at your schedules and see where you can make them line up every day.

3. Find something you both like doing and commit to it… together. Shared activities are a great way to keep things exciting between you and your honey, so make a commitment to something you both enjoy. Whether it’s just for fun, like a playing or watching sports together, or it gives back to your community, like a volunteering at a local charity, doing something positive together on a regular basis requires planning. Remember, in any relationship, compromise is key, but don’t agree to an activity that makes you miserable, as this will only lead to tension and resentment. Find something you both enjoy and get it on your calendar.

Keep the lines of communication – and all your possibilities – open, by apprising your partner of any changes to your schedule. If you know what the other person is up to, not only does it makes it easier to manage your time together, it also makes it possible to be spontaneous. Make your relationship a priority and give it the space on your calendar it deserves.

Help our readers have a happy Valentine’s Day by sharing one ritual that you and your love make time for together.

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Picture Yourself Getting Organized

February 4th, 2014

In the age of the social media and smartphones, everyone’s a photographer. We snap, share, filter and tag photos every day, but we rarely stop to organize the shots that stack up on our devices, let alone the prints that are stuffed in envelopes, in drawers, in boxes… just waiting for you to take the time to sort them out. Well, now’s your time, and I’m here to help.

Whether you’ve got them on digital devices or you’ve got piles of prints cluttering your home or office, you’re going to need a plan to sort and store your photos. It can be a pretty big job, so you may want to divide it into stages. Once you’re ready to get started, make sure you’ve scheduled enough time to get it all done, or those piles will start growing again right where you left off.

In the beginning, digital cameras seemed like the ultimate answer to photo storage, but the simplicity of taking digital photos was soon replaced by hundreds – or thousands – of images being stored on your memory cards, phone or laptop. Maybe you think uploading your pics to Facebook or Instagram (or your social network of choice) is going to keep them safe, but scrolling through an enormous digital stash is not a fun or efficient way to peruse your keepsakes.

Uploading a picture to Facebook is not the same as storing your photos online!

If storage is all you’re looking for, there are tons of online options that will keep your photos safe and unburden your laptop or smart phone. Dropbox.com offers the first 2GB for free, and also allows you to share your files easily. Their stand out feature, Camera Upload, allows you to automatically upload your photos (and videos) from any device. If you want more photo specific functionality, the most popular websites include Shutterfly, PhotoBucket, and Google’s offering, Picasa. These sites, and others like them, offer free photo storage and a host of options for editing, sharing, and printing. Pay close attention when you sign up, and you’ll find there are always great offers for first-time users to get free prints and other goodies.

For some people, their photo-folly is that they have a closet full of photographs that have never been stored digitally. The first step is to sort through everything you have and delete the duds. You do not have to keep every shot you’ve taken, so let go of any guilt you have over “tossing out memories” while you’re letting go of duplicates, blurry shots, and the “nothing specials.” When you’ve got it down to the truly cherished memories, you can use a service like ScanmyPhotos.com, which will scan all your photos and return them to you along with a DVD. Money saving tip – if you sign up for their email list, you’ll be eligible for significant discounts and promotions.

Once you’ve whittled down your catalogue, and transferred everything to digital storage, it’s time to start creating albums. First decide how you want to organize them – chronologically or by category (wedding, vacation, family, birthdays). I recommend printing your albums at one of the previously mentioned websites or, if you’re a Mac person, like me, you can create them directly from iPhoto. Whichever service you use, it is fast and fun to drag and drop your photos into beautiful, fully-customizable albums. These printed photo books are thinner than traditional albums, so they’ll fit better on shelves, and they can be stored online for future printing to give as gifts.

If you’re old school and you prefer traditional albums, remember to only use nonmagnetic, acid-free, lignin-free and PVC-free pages, as all of these materials will decrease the lifespan of your photos. Acid-free plastic sleeves will deter cracking and yellowing, and labeling with an acid-free archival pen will also prevent damage. Whether you go with digital or print albums, be sure to record who is in each picture, where and when it was taken. This will make revisiting the photos more fun the next time around. Always store your photos and negatives away from light and heat sources, and avoid storing albums in the basement or on the closet floor so if there is ever a flood, your memories will be spared.

Now that you’re motivated to get those photos organized, don’t wait to get started! You don’t have to do it all at once, so if you’re feeling overwhelmed, begin with one box or one stack and go from there. You’ll have such a great time revisiting your memories, you’ll hardly notice the great work you’re doing getting organized, too.

Do you have a favorite product or method for keeping your photographic overflow in order? If so, please share it with us in the comments below.

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Step-by-Step Guide for Organizing Your Kitchen

February 4th, 2014

In honor of GO Month, we’re wrapping up our room-by-room organizational spree in the kitchen. For many of us, the kitchen is the heart of our home, so it is important to keep it uncluttered and functional. This post will give you some inspiration to make the most of the space you have… which is probably more space than you think!

The kitchen tends to be the busiest room in the house, so it’s also the easiest place to amass a mess. When getting organized here, don’t bite off more than you can chew. It’s a big job, so it’s okay to tackle the cabinets and drawers on one day, and save the pantry and the fridge for another. As always, the best way to get started is by removing everything from where it’s hiding, so you can see it all and truly take stock of what you have.

Start by creating a staging area. Use your dining room table, use a folding table, or spread a sheet out on the floor, if necessary, and begin to group everything by category: cookware, cleaning supplies, storage items, etc. Confine everything you remove from the cabinets and drawers to this area to prevent the kitchen clutter from exploding all over another part of your house.

Deal with your duplicates. When everything is out on your staging area, you’ll realize that the overcrowding in your kitchen isn’t always due to lack of space, but rather an overabundance of stuff! Multiples gather because when you need something and you can’t find it, you buy another one. But no one needs three pressure cookers… do they? Pare down your gadgets, pots and pans, and even your dishes to what you will realistically use. Unburden yourself by letting go of bulky items like that ice cream maker you used once five years ago, or the popcorn popper collecting dust on top of your fridge. Then box up the rest for your local charity organization or, if you’re brave, your next garage sale.

Make sense of what’s left. If you have an unruly collection of plastic storage containers, sort them by size and locate the coordinating lids. Designate a drawer or shelf for these, and use one of the larger containers to keep the lids from getting lost in the shuffle. If your drawer space is limited, try moving your knives to a magnetic strip for safe-keeping and easy access. If you have extra glassware, serving pieces or other necessary but rarely used items, move them to your dining room buffet or store them in your basement until they’re needed.

Wipe down every shelf before you refill your cabinets. Install sturdy shelf liners to keep things slip-free and to make your upcoming spring cleaning a cinch. Use modular drawer dividers and shelf-expanding inserts to maximize your storage space and make things easier to see, so they won’t get forgotten in the back of your cabinets. There are also countless organizers available for under the sink (to wrangle cleaning supplies and plastic bags) and inside the fridge (like soda can stackers) that can maximize your space and keep things organized week after week.

When you’re ready to start putting things back, get real about how you use your kitchen. Do you cook every day or just once in a while? Do the kids spread out here to do homework? Make sure you designate a space for each activity and that will serve as the roadmap to getting organized. Return items to their logical “home” by placing items near where they’ll be used. Dishes should be close to the dishwasher so it’s easy to empty. Coffee and tea should be in the cabinet near your kettle or coffee maker. If your kitchen island serves double duty as a homework station, make sure there’s a basket or drawer nearby for school supplies.

Now that you’ve got everything in order behind closed drawers, make sure that your surfaces are equally clutter-free. One of the easiest ways to declutter your kitchen is to remove everything that’s collected on the refrigerator door. Your kids’ art is precious but plentiful, so rather than jamming everything on there at once, try rotating items every week. You’ll make each piece seem even more special, while also creating a more visually serene environment.

These ideas will help you reclaim your storage and increase efficiency in everything you do in your kitchen. Please share your biggest kitchen challenges and how these (or other) tips have motivated you to tackle them.

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