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Tuesday, January 7, 2014

The Organized Minimalist's College Study Tips and Tricks for Successful Learning

1) Study Scheduling- For every class you take, you'll probably need to spend about thirty to forty-five minutes a day studying or doing homework for each. You won't usually have to study this much every single day of the week for the entire, but two hours a day, five to six days a week spent on homework and/or chapter reading will probably be your average amount. When you study so consistently, it won't be a big deal if an emergency comes up and you can't study for a day (or even a few). It's very tempting to put things off until the last minute, but doing so won't create a relaxed life or a peaceful mind. Pacing yourself by studying a little bit day in and day out will help you absorb material better, compared to cramming. Spacing out studying should translate to better test scores, properly edited papers and full understanding of chapters you read, thus meaning you get higher grades. Obviously, different subjects and different professors will have varying levels of demands, though.

2) Study Location- Designate one comfortable, well-lit place to study. A dining table may be better than a desk- it's entirely up to you. I prefer lamps as opposed to overhead lights, as overheads will create more glare on textbooks and papers. This area needs to be a place where you can spread out your textbooks, binder(s), notes, laptop or other device with Internet, etc. I always keep a zippered, compartmentalized pencil bag with a small stock of supplies in my study space. This includes a mini-stapler with some extra staples, a pair of scissors, several good pens, a couple of No. 2-size mechanical pencils, a big eraser (I use this so much with math homework, it's embarrassing!), notecards, Wite-Out, a couple of binder or paper clips, yellow highlighters, Post-it notes and Post-it flags. A trash can with extra trash bags should be close at hand. You may want to put some extra lined notebook paper and maybe a hole puncher there, too. A big basket or pretty container can hold your supplies when not in use, if you can't leave them out all the time.

3) Preparation for Study Time- When studying, always have everything you'll need before you start to minimize distractions and interruptions. Something to drink, your cell phone or electronic device(s), binder, textbooks, office supplies, study aids like flashcards or printed out PowerPoints, etc. If you like to study with music or the TV on, get that going beforehand, too. Personally, I need a white noise machine, fan or music going all the time when I'm studying, as little household noises will distract me terribly otherwise.

4) Timers- Use a timer to keep on track, because it's easy to lose all sense of time. I have an app called Kitchen Timer on my Smartphone, but I also have an magnetic timer from My FlyLady timer can be set either to vibrate or to buzz. Use your timer both to signal when studying should stop and when breaks need to end.

5) Study Breaks- After 25-45 minutes of studying, I take a 5-15 minute break. I highly recommend alternating studying with something physical (a household chore, getting a drink or snack, playing with your child, taking a quick walk outdoors, etc.) This will keep your energy and brain going better. Drink plenty of water to prevent dehydration (which will slow down your brain and body). Remember to eat a light snack or meal every 3-4 hours for a brain boost, too. My favorite snacks are Greek yogurt, string cheese or eating two salt-free whole grain rice cakes, an apple or a banana with peanut butter.

6) Rest Days- I recommend taking one or two days a week off of studying (plus major holidays), if at all possible. Depending upon how many classes you take and the toughness of them, this may be difficult or even impossible. But I try to take at least every Sunday off from studying, plus any major holidays. Giving my brain that rest one day a week is restorative (kind of akin to giving your body a break from an exercise routine).

7) Prioritizing- Write out in advance what you MUST accomplish for college that day and/or week in order to turn things in on time. Always start with the homework due first and/or your toughest subject at the beginning of your study session. Work systematically, completing the studying or homework for one subject before moving on to the next. Cross off completed items from your to-do list or calendar as they're done.

8) Setting Up Your Materials for Success- Here's how I organize my binder: I use one very large binder to hold everything for all of my classes. I always print out the syllabus for each class and put them in sheet protectors at the front of each divided part of my binder. As soon as I receive it, I also put my professor's phone number and email address in my cell phone, so they're on me at all times.

I use plastic dividers with pockets on both the front and the back to separate subjects. In the front pocket go assignments that I'm still working on, ones passed out in class by profs. In the back pocket go finished assignments and papers. I just use loose-leaf, college-ruled paper to write notes on. I find this simpler to organize than spiral notebooks- but everyone's different. In my binder are little slots for a highlighter, pens, a calculator, pencils, etc. I always make sure I keep this stuff in there.

I have an Emergency Medical and Surgical History sheet for myself at the very front of my binder. If anything happened to me, that info is there for anyone who has to see it. (You may be young and healthy enough that this isn't needed, but I thought I'd share that idea just in case.) Having a map of your college campus at the front doesn't hurt, either. Make sure that your college has emergency contact numbers on file, in case you're injured or become ill unexpectedly.

9) Weekly Organizing and Cleaning- Assign one day a week to clean out your purse, backpack, binder(s) and/or wallet. Keep this day the same every week. I always do this on Saturday myself. Assign one or two days a week to clean house, go to the grocery store, get gas in the car, etc.

10) Filing Papers- Use filing to your advantage. Even if you just buy an inexpensive file box (or a banker's box), some cheap manila folders and hanging file folders, you will thank yourself later! It doesn't cost much- a file box can be as cheap as $8, and manila and hanging file folders don't cost a lot.

I have an inexpensive file holder on my desk, with several separate slots to it for holding various files. In it, I keep a labeled file folder to hold already-graded papers and other items not needed for my binder (but that can't yet be thrown out) for each subject. At the end of the semester, when all final grades are in and checked for accuracy, I simply toss the unneeded papers out and empty/Wite-Out the label on the file folder for reuse.

Keep important college papers in a hanging file folder in your file cabinet, like any paperwork for admissions, letters of recommendation and financial aid stuff. Also keep any receipts in an envelope or file folder, if you itemize these expenses for your taxes.

11) Overall Scheduling, To-Do List and Task Reminders- Use a calendar and/or day planner, if you don't already. If you prefer a wall calendar, FlyLady sell a good one ( I simply use Google Calendar. Anytime I think of a task I have to do, I type it into the appropriate next time slot. I set my calendar to email reminders to my Gmail account for everything I put in it, too. This keeps me super-organized and streamlines to-do's.

12) Writing Major Papers and Oral Presentations- I spend fifteen to forty-five minutes a day, five to six days a week, writing or working on Excel spreadsheets or PowerPoint presentations for class (as applicable). Starting early on the semester is absolutely key. It's extremely tempting to ignore writing work during the first weeks of classes, but doing research and starting papers early prevent cramming and late-night panic attacks later on. If I don't need to write or edit my work that day, I re-read the writing assignments the professor wrote up (and email them with any questions, if needed), or I use the time for researching. The earlier you come up with the topic that you'll be writing a paper or presentation on, the sooner you can start researching and writing for it. After writing your final draft of anything, step away from the paper or presentation for awhile. Come back when you feel mentally refreshed and edit it then, double-checking spelling and grammar. I also re-read the assignment one last time before turning it in, just to make sure that I didn't skip over some required element of the paper.

If your professor will allow it (some are really cool and will offer this, so long as you give them a reasonable amount of time), send them a copy of the final paper to review before you turn it in. Their suggestions can help you get the highest grade possible. I do this whenever possible, and it's often saved me from making an error somewhere.

13) Accepting Your Needs and Limits- Be realistic about your personal limitations and body's cycles of energy vs. exhaustion. Schedule studying for your sharpest hours, if that's at all an option. (I know that sometimes it isn't, though!) If you're a night owl, work with this and study when it's dark out. If you're an early bird, take advantage of the morning time. Try to get minor household chores out of the way before studying, so that your head is clear for focusing on the college work. If we have lots of personal or household to-dos hanging over our heads, that can be a real distraction while studying.

14) Preparing for Each Class Period- Read the chapter which will be covered in the next class beforehand, if at all possible. Write down any questions that come up while reading which the book doesn't ultimately answer, so that you'll know what to ask come next class period. If provided, skim over supplemental materials and websites given by professors before class, too.

15) Reading for Classes- It's entirely up to you, but I often save my study session time for doing actual homework or practice problems from a textbook, and spend an hour or so before bedtime on college reading. Generally, I read the chapter(s) I'll be going over in the next class period, according to the syllabus. I typically stick to reading on only one subject a night. Reading the material right before bed, highlighting and writing down any questions as you go, has been shown in some studies to help people retain the info better. When done consistently, this will almost certainly make it possible to keep up on chapter reading.

16) Professor Notes- If they'll allow it, download or print out the PowerPoint presentations, flashcards or professor's own notes. Read them along with the chapter(s) assigned before and after class. This is an essential aid for many students, having teacher notes available for them to peruse at their own pace, so don't be afraid to ask this of your professor. This is true even if you take good notes while in class. Downloading my accounting professor's PowerPoints to my Smartphone REALLY helped me ace the class. I was able to look over them before class (just like reading the chapter) and determine my weak points in advance. Then I'd have a general idea of what questions to ask and where I'd have to give extra attention in class time taking my own notes. You'll probably still want to skim over or re-read the chapter again after class, but it will make learning go much more smoothly and quickly. I usually re-read the notes or PowerPoint one more time after class too, just to reinforce the material. This really helps come test time!

17) Using Technology to Your Advantage- I write all papers, presentations and spreadsheets in Google Drive. Since it's on Google's own servers, I won't lose my work if my computer or cell phone crashed. I keep my address book, recipes, poems, etc., on there, too- that way, they're available to me at all times via my Smartphone or laptop. Unlike MS programs, your Google account can be accessed anywhere. This means no flash drives to carry around! Since Google is password-protected, it's a secure option. It's easy to transfer Google docs to Word, Excel and PowerPoint presentation format, too. You can also email your Google work via a URL link so it's shared easily, instead of having to attach documents the old-fashioned way to emails.

18) Dealing with Forgetfulness- I always pack my binder, backpack and lunch the night before class. I put my backpack and anything else that I'll need to take with me the following day by the front door. This makes my mornings less hairy and keeps my stress level down- and I'm less likely to forget important things I have to take with me. Anything and everything you can do the night before- laying out tomorrow's clothes, bathing, prepping lunches and snacks, making sure you have clean laundry, running the dishwasher, etc.- will help create smoother mornings and less stress. 

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Prioritization...The Missing Link in Many To-Do Lists

As I was unloading my dishwasher today, I came up with the idea for this blog entry. I've been battling low motivation and a scattered brain, like so many people do every day. Fortunately, I'm learning some really helpful tools (long story). I realized today why a lot of to-do lists don't work, and why I myself hated them for so long. To the already-overwhelmed brain, a to-do list just looks all the more daunting. Where do I start?, one asks, looking at the list. How do I know what to move onto next after I'm done one task? The answer? Creating a list by priority.

I know. Some of you are thinking, "Well, duh, Liz. I could've told you that!" But my brain just doesn't always think logically. Maybe you're not like me (you were born with better analytical skills) or maybe this little reminder on priorities will be exactly what you need to read. Even though it just about kills me ;), I list all of the things that I want to get done that day in terms of priority. Not just randomly, as I would've done with a to-do list in the past. If you're born organized, you already knew this. If you're like me, you may have picked it up along the way, but maybe didn't apply it. That old saying, "If you fail to plan, then you've planned to fail", comes to mind. I winged it for years. No to-do list or anything in the a.m. Just flew by the seat of my pants. That can be fun, at least periodically. But it usually doesn't make for a very satisfying life, one filled with achievements you can savor. To get everything done now that's required in my life, I no longer even have the luxury of choosing to be disorganized or to ignore planning time. Between writing work, college, studying, applying for a zillion scholarships, caretaking, homemaking, etc., sheer insanity would be the result if I didn't plan out my days now.

I encourage you to take five to fifteen minutes each morning and write out your own list of daily goals, in order of priority. You don't have to call it a to-do list, if that term is unappealing to you. Call it whatever you want. It won't magically give you motivation, but it will provide a sense of focus to see the flying thoughts of your brain put down on paper (or in your cell phone, if you're technologically-inclined). There's something about writing on paper that I still love, when it comes to writing it goals, be it short-term or long-term ones. I love technology, and I love going paperless, but paper will often get ignored less by me than the five zillion notes scattered electronically throughout my techie tools. But that's just me. I look at my list a few times in the day, keeping it close by. Because my memory sometimes fails me, writing things down is also a way of stopping forgetfulness in it's track. Whatever doesn't get done today, I simply move it to the next day's list.

Doing this is also a form of a reality check. Many of us think, "I can get this, this, this, that...and even more than THAT done!" Then when we make out the list of things rattling around in our brains, we see that we've written down seventeen items. Seventeen things that we're supposed to accomplish in eight hours. If you took the list a step further, and wrote down approximately how long each task would take (another step that I HIGHLY recommend you adopt as standard operating procedure), you may see that there's no way on earth that you or any other mortal being could accomplish all of those things in one day. You might be able to get half of those items on the list checked off, assuming that you have a high level of energy and get no interruptions or anything unexpected happening (which I've found never to be the case!)

Which leads me to my next recommendation. Get real with yourself. You may have wanted to get up at 4 a.m. every morning, work out for an hour in the morning, keep a spotless house, achieve that 4.0 GPA, make $250,000/year at a spectacular job, have time for every single person who needs you every time that they need you, and so on. However, if your average wakeup time for thirty years has been 7 a.m., you haven't exercised since 1986, are dead on your feet at 6 p.m. every evening without fail, and hate cleaning with a're going to have to modify, delete or delegate tasks from your life. You'll make yourself insane with frustration, guilt, anger and resentment if you consistently set impossible goals for yourself. It's important to acknowledge the constraints of time, your own energy level and any health problems, technology snafus (the bane of my existence lately!), and the inevitable human interruptions that will occur in your life. In other aren't going to become a Superman or -woman. I greatly admire people who can work forty hours a week, go to college full-time, exercise six days a week consistently, always have a flawless home, and yet always seem available for community or religious services. But while I certainly do stretch myself, I will never achieve such perfection. Be very careful in comparing yourself to other people and their accomplishments.

I suggest aiming for three to five top-priority things to get done a day. Some days you'll be raring to go and will end up getting way more done. Other days, you'll be sick, overwhelmed by the unexpected demands of someone who needs you right now, or you're away from home for so many hours that getting one major thing done will be astounding. Accept this. People with young children, busy careers, a long commute, no help in the form of housekeeping, people with disabilities...the list goes on, but the truth remains the same. Life happens and when these things occur, your ability to get a ton done each day IS affected. This is not your fault! You shouldn't just, "Try harder!" You're not likely to be undisciplined, lazy or a failure if you just can't get it all done. Please, please don't beat yourself up. There will also be instances when you'll need to just take stuff off of the to-do list entirely, because the time or resources to do the item with simply aren't available. Do what you can each day with what you have available, and drop the rest.

Here's to being an organized minimalist,


Sunday, October 27, 2013

The Rules I Live By For A Clean House and a Calm Life

I've been a procrastinator since birth (or so I'm told).  I've lived mentally-overwhelmed for many years, though I fight that well.  I just finished reading a good Kindle book that taught me something big, called Your Life Can Be Better: Using Strategies for Adult ADD/ADHD, written by Dr. Douglas A. Puryear, M.D.  Now, I've had FlyLady and many other good mentors for years now via books and the Internet, but I know that I can always use new tools in my belt to manage life even better.  This latest book helped me crystallize an absolute truth for me, one that I know will also apply to many of my readers (especially the ones who often procrastinate, just like me).  When you want to consistently do something in your life, make a rule out of it.  So, in order to help all of you, I'm outlining my rules for living, from a.m. to p.m., each and every day.  They're non-negotiable; that's how they work for me.  They bring calm, order and cleanliness to my life.  They make my own world as peaceful as possible in the midst of this insane universe.  Many rules are rooted in FlyLady's plan for lifestyle management, some others I picked up along the way from others and then certain rules I just developed on my own.  I hope that outlining my rules will help you develop and stick to your own ones.

The Rules

When I wake up- I make my bed.  I hasten to add that I don't mess with achieving hospital corners or military-style bed-making.  I just straighten up the pillows and bedspread, tuck in the sheet, turn down the flat sheet and bedspread, then spritz it with a little Febreze Fabric Refresher.  Since my mother is disabled, I also make her bed whenever she gets up.  Every bed that's been slept in should be made each morning when the person gets up for the day.  

(A note about bedding- I change the sheets every week on Mondays, during Weekly Home Blessing Hour.  The old used sheets are washed, dried and put away on Mondays, too.  I do this for both my bed and my mother's bed each week.  Like making the bed daily, the weekly changeover is a set-in-place rule.  Every three months when the seasons turn, I wash all of the other bedding- mattress pads, blankets, pillow covers, etc.  I also turn the mattress over or around, if possible, and vacuum the mattresses to get out some excess dust.)

When I head to the bathroom first thing in the morning- I swish-and-swipe my bathroom.  If the mirror needs wiping down, out comes the Windex.  I always use a Lysol wipe to disinfect some surface in the room, whatever happens to be a little dirty or dusty that day (the vanity, toilet exterior, floor around the toilet, etc.)  Then I swish the toilet bowl with some Lysol All-Purpose cleaner and a bowl brush.  Sometime during the day, I also do this for my mother's bathroom.

I start a load of laundry- It's a rare day that I don't have at least one load of laundry to do.  I follow through with washing, drying and putting away every load.  Sometimes I must do this task later in the evening, if I have no time in the a.m. to perform this chore.  But if I can get it done in the morning, I do so. 

If I'll be making dinner that night, I find out what it is I'll be cooking- If I need to put out something to thaw for later on that night, I also do it now.  If you'll be using a recipe, I highly recommend double-checking it now to make sure that you aren't out of something important.  I also double-check the expiration dates on stuff in my pantry or fridge to make sure that the items I'll be using aren't expired.  Time goes by so quickly in life that it's really easy to think, "I just bought that ------" when actually it's ten months old!  This "dinner check" means that occasionally I'll end up saying, "Oops, I'm out of ------", meaning I need to make a grocery store run that day.  But it's better to find that out at 9 a.m. rather than at 6 p.m. that night as I'm about to start cooking!  I'm trying to plan more efficiently now so that this doesn't happen anymore.  (Ideally, I would sit down once a week the day before going to the grocery store, and carefully write down my dinner menu plus my additional grocery list.  Then shop once a week and get everything I need that day at the store.  But that is an ideal right now, not my reality.  And I just have to work with reality!)

(Note: I clean out my fridge and pantry once a week.  This doesn't mean that I take all the items out, scrub everything down and rearrange stuff to look like it belongs in Martha Stewart's house!  I just throw out leftovers that are more than two days old, any condiments with mysterious and unknown "dates of opening" in my mind, anything expired or just not palatable to me anymore for whatever reason.  Then I simply wipe down the fridge shelves really quick with a Lysol wipe or cleaning cloth/antibacterial cleaner- not the whole shelf, just what's exposed once I've cleaned out the fridge.)

I unload/load/run the dishwasher, as needed- Typically I've run the dishwasher the night before, so I empty it now.  I also try to keep my sink empty throughout the day and evening, so that cooking and cleaning is easier.  I love starting the day out with a clean kitchen!

I eat breakfast- Besides abiding by rules for my house, I also have rules to follow for my health every day.  Eating breakfast may mean sipping on a protein shake, eating a bowl of cereal or chowing down on a bagel- whatever I'm craving that day.  I try to make whatever I eat during the day healthy and full of protein, vitamins and minerals.  It gets my brain and digestion working to eat breakfast.  I drink a small cup of coffee in the morning, as well.

I grab my water bottle- I use Flylady's stainless steel one.  I own two of them, so when one's getting washed in the dishwasher, I can use the other one.  I keep this bottle by my side, all day, every day.  I try to drink 64 oz. of water a day.  If I work out intensely or do a lot of housework, I often end up drinking even more that day. 

I brush my teeth, wash my face, put on some perfume, get dressed to shoes, style my hair, put on my jewelry and apply some makeup- Even if I plan on doing absolutely nothing that day, I still perform my full grooming ritual.  I never want to be embarrassed to see someone if they come to the door, if I have to go outside for a bit or run an errand unexpectedly.  I want to look and feel my best every single day of my life, with no exceptions.  I should add that I dress casually- bootcut pants, a polo shirt and lace-up sneakers are my typical uniform.  Comfort is key, but one can be comfortable and still look pulled-together.

Once I'm done getting dressed, I lay out tomorrow's outfit- I find this to be a more logical time to lay out tomorrow's clothing than at night.  It's up to you- just make sure it gets done each day.  Rules are easier to follow if they're done in a particular order every single day.  And they're easier to remember that way, too.

I clean out the litter box- Again, this is self-explanatory.  After I clean the box out, I spritz some Lysol Disinfectant around the area.  I'm pretty into disinfecting, I must admit...

I take out any trash bags that are full to our apartment complex's outdoor bin- Pretty self-explanatory once more, right? :D

I brush down the furry areas down where my cat likes to sleep, quickly feather-dust the house, run the carpet sweeper (I have wall-to-wall carpet in all but my kitchen and bathrooms), then spritz Febreze on the upholstered furniture- This sounds really long and complex to do daily, but it actually doesn't take much time.  I've learned to work quickly.  It doesn't need to be perfect.  My cat doesn't shed much, but she leaves little clumps of fur here and there that make my home look dirtier than it really is, if I don't follow this daily routine.  Doing this routine doesn't mean that I never have to vacuum the floors or upholstery, or do detailed dusting.  It's designed to make my house look company-ready day-to-day, not leave it obsessively clean.  More importantly, when I follow this routine, my home looks and smells nice to me.  That is really what's of primary importance here!  A clean home (or the illusion of clean, at least) makes me feel calm and happy, so this chore is worth the time invested to complete it.

(A note about the household- I take a dusting mitt or cloths and furniture polish or Windex, depending upon the surface, to my household surfaces every Monday for Weekly Home Blessing Hour.  Then I vacuum the upholstered furniture and all the flooring.  I wash the vinyl flooring in the kitchen and bathrooms during this time period each week, too.  But the daily cleaning that I do makes the weekly work go faster.  The Weekly Home Blessing Hour is also a rule I follow, though realistically it takes me more like two hours to complete.  The smaller your home, the faster this will go, and vice versa.  I'm not a speed demon, I admit.  I have tricky knees and a bad back, so I'm careful in order not to wrench anything out of position.  I know, I know- FlyLady wouldn't be happy with me taking more than an hour to do my home blessing.  Oh well.  In this case, my rule trumps hers because it's my own life! :)

If there's a Zone Cleaning to be done that day, I do it- This may involve "extra credit" type work, like doing  Kelly's Mission for the day or detailed cleaning, which you'll know all about if you're a fellow FlyBaby.  Sometimes I just use the time (up to fifteen minutes) to deep-clean an area that I know needs it.  There never seems to be any shortage of these places in my home!  Baseboards, underneath or inside of cabinets, all of the closets...yikes.  I only do this on weekdays, taking weekends off deliberately.  

I get the mail, sort through it, tossing the junk, dealing with the important stuff now- I also clean out one file folder or desk drawer a day.  This is also my time to respond to check my voicemail, read any phone messages, pay bills, write business emails, make important phone calls or set up appointments for things that need to get done.  If at all possible I do this routine during normal business hours, in order to avoid procrastinating if I've got to call or email someone.  Handling this stuff on a daily basis means that, usually, very little time is required of me to get home office-related work done.  When it doesn't get overwhelming, there's really not much to procrastinate over.  Sticking to this rule of daily mail-sorting and responding plus doing a very minor desk clean-up means that I also have no paper clutter.  Zilch.  Isn't that worth the work involved right there?!  Though she dislikes me for it sometimes, I also make my mother do this daily now, as much as I can force her to comply, that is.  In the end, she's glad I make her live a de-cluttered life...I'm such an awesome daughter sometimes. ;D

All of my keys go to one little dish on the living room end table when I'm done using them- House, car, mail keys, etc.  Everyone in the house must use this dish.  Period.  I don't care how tired I am.  I put things back where they belong when I'm done with them.  FlyLady advises us of this.  I agree with her, and have established that as another steadfast rule.

All jackets, purses, cardigans, backpacks, sunglasses, etc., get put back where they belong when you're home for good that day- DON'T LET FATIGUE RUIN STICKING TO THIS RULE! I speak from experience.  Establish ONE place for ALL of these items and put them back in that one home every single day or night when you're done with them.  No exceptions.  You'll thank yourself later.  It makes housekeeping easier.  Make others in the household abide by this rule...or more realistically, pick up after them if they forget and they're not children that you can threaten with some kind of punishment. ;D  Yes, it's a pain in the neck sometimes, but it's worth it.

I light a scented candle or two shortly before it gets dark- It just makes my home lovely.  It's a FUN rule to follow!

I do a 2-minute Hot Spot cleanup- This usually involves cleaning off one of my living room end tables, the ottoman or basically...ANY surface that my mother has gotten a hold of that day.  De-cluttering and organizing her miscellaneous stuff could be a full-time job alone!  But I only spend two minutes max on this and no more, every single day.

Around 6 p.m., I start dinner- I make dinner from scratch nearly every night.  It's just healthier that way.  I throw on an apron and get to work.  If I'm home, that is.  Sometimes I'm at college, and on those nights I just eat something quick but healthy whenever I get home, like a bowl of soup and some whole-grain crackers.

Within an hour of eating dinner, I clean up the kitchen- This was not a fun rule for me to establish, because I hated doing kitchen duty, especially when I was exhausted after work or school.  When I was young, I didn't even notice kitchen messes until they were just ridiculous, as in having no clean flatware or drinking glasses left.  I wasn't brought up to clean up after dinner each evening.  But when I made it a firm rule to clean up every single night after dinner, it got easier over time.  FlyLady recommends shining your sink nightly.  I, however, recommend just putting on your big boy or girl pants and cleaning up the darn kitchen completely.  A dirty kitchen is embarrassing and hard to work in.  If you're a cook or a baker at all, you don't need the hassles that come with waking up to an icky kitchen each day.  After dinner, unload/load/run the dishwasher, if you have one.  Wash the dirty dishes, pots or pans.  Prep the coffeemaker or teapot for tomorrow, if need be.  Wipe down the countertops, stovetop and sink.  Change the kitchen dishtowel and hand towel.  Feed the pet(s) if needed, and give them fresh water.  Fill your water bottle for tomorrow and put in on the fridge door, so it's ready to go.  If you take a packed lunch to work (or have immediate family member that does), prep this stuff now as much as possible.  Make them help you out if they can do it!  If the kitchen floor is quite dirty, take a broom, mini-vac and/or mop to it.  Until doing these things become an ingrained habit, you may want to put a checklist on your fridge door or cell phone so you don't skip a step in the routine.

Once dinner is digested, I exercise- Ick.  I still hate doing this most nights.  But it's necessary in order to stay in some semblance of shape.  It's a rule that still leaves me kicking and screaming, at least as I start out.  If you can manage to perform morning workouts, do so.  I just personally can't face exercising first thing in the morning.  Sometimes, all that I get done is some gentle yoga or stretching.  I simply make it a point to get in at least fifteen minutes of movement every evening.  (I also try to get in a quick outdoor walk at some point during the day, though by no means does that imply I'm in great shape!)

After exercising, I brush and floss my teeth, take a shower, dry the shower tile and bathtub with a clean hand towel, groom for bedtime and dry my hair- I love taking an evening shower.  Taking a shower at night saves me time getting ready in the morning, for one thing.  Performing a tough workout beforehand makes my shower afterwards feel even better!  Wiping down virtually all of the moisture from my shower tile and tub means that I almost never have to clean my bathtub, because it never gets mildewed or dirty.  The main thing with this rule is to not wait until I'm dead-tired to being doing all of this, like my idiotic younger self would do!  Now, I'm single and child-free, so I have the option of not putting myself in last place every night.  I get it, that not everyone is so fortunate.  Please adapt these rules to your life.  These rules were NOT designed to make life harder- just the opposite!  Do what you can and drop the rest.

I make sure that my backpack or purse is packed and ready to go for the next day- As I'm in college full-time now, I make sure that I have my appropriate binder(s), textbooks, any assignments that are due the next day, school supplies like pencils, that my wallet is in there, that I've refilled any used-up supplies like lip balm or tissues, etc.  The same thing applies with a purse.  Put it by the front door or some other consistent spot.  If you have anything special that needs to go out the door with you tomorrow- a paper prescription, a special project, a particular presentation on a flash drive- make sure that you put it in your bag and/or by the front door the night before.  Procrastination and poor memory often go hand in hand (once again, I speak from experience!)  When you're not stressed out, your memory will be better and you'll likely be able to think more clearly.  Keep your keys on a hook by the front door.  Buy a purse or backpack that allows you space to take your water bottle and a travel umbrella with you each day, if at all possible.  (Note: I like cross-body purses like ebags Piazza bag or the Donner Bag.  My backpack is one from Dakine and it's awesome- it has well-padded straps, the straps are highly adjustable and will fit even the biggest arms and shoulders, the zippers are super-strong, it holds a lot and it's also feminine in design!)

Before bed, I sip a cup of Celestial Seasonings Sleepytime Tea, read a book or magazine for a bit, write in my journal briefly and spritz Aura Cacia lavender spray on my sheets- Ah, my sleep hygiene routine.  This is the most enjoyable rule to follow by far!  The point is to pamper and relax ourselves before bed.  It should be a time to decompress from the day.  I make sure that if I need to get up at a certain time, too, that my alarm clock is set.  Right before hitting the sack, I put in ear plugs and turn the alarm clock around so I don't see the time on it at all.  (This just helps me relax more.)  I go to bed when I start getting sleepy- I no longer fight it and stay up later than I should.  I must be aging, with all of that being said...

And oh yeah...I blow out the candle before going to bed. ;-D

Here's to being an organized minimalist,


Friday, August 30, 2013

When Depression and/or Anxiety Threaten to Take You Down, Here's What Can Help

I was reading FlyLady's Morning Musing today and got to thinking.  She wrote about her past struggles with depression and mentioned that she's suffered from it three times in her life.  And of course (my brain being what it is), that made me want to start writing to my own readers.  When you get to "know" FlyLady through her program and various writings, you just don't think of her as the type who could get depressed.  She seems so upbeat, content and positive.  She writes in an encouraging manner and seems to have a good attitude about life.  How could someone who seems as "sunny side up" as her get depressed, too?  I used to think depression only happened to people like me- an overly analytical brain, brought up in a household where negativity was expressed more than positivity, a not-so-happy and rather chaotic childhood.  FlyLady is a SHE, a dreamy and creative type by nature, from what I've read.  And I can certainly relate to that!  Like me, she had to learn the hard way how to carve out routines and turn chaos into order, both in her household and in her personal life.  I'm not, however, as sunny as FlyLady seems to be!  I was told by my fifth-grade teacher, when I was all of ten years old, that I was a negative person.  I suppose that she had a point, but I also think that my teacher resented my analytical nature.  It is a difficult balancing act between being realistic/analytical/logical and being negative, I can tell you.

Anyway, I've struggled with depression many times in my life.  It waxes and wanes.  I've had periods where it lasted just a couple of days and times when it persisted for months.  Sometimes it's been accompanied by crippling anxiety and even agoraphobia, while other times it's just made me feel as nothing in the world mattered at all.  To feel as if you have nothing you care about, no personality, no passions- that's awful.  And I've been there, more times than I would like.  There are many different elements to depression, some of which are kind of like offshoots, such as depersonalization.  If you read forums on these topics, one realizes that LOTS of people- from all these various walks of life, professions, ages, job titles, socio-economic backgrounds, income brackets, etc.- experience depression and similar problems.  It doesn't just affect negative natural worriers like me, it can hit anyone at any time.  And neither depression nor anxiety always have a cause that can be identified, either.  Despite all of the research that's been done, there are simple no one-size-fits-all answers and there is still so much that doctors/scientists/researchers don't know about the topics.  The more one reads on the subjects, the more confusing it gets!  So what to do?  There are concrete things that help.  They're not cures, just aides to help get back some of the joy in life. 

What I Know Will Help From Personal Experience

Clean the house- Or de-clutter one space.  Either activity works.  When I'm depressed, anxious, have something brewing that's putting me into a whirlwind of thought (like a romantic quandary) or feel angry, I turn to cleaning or de-cluttering.  For one thing, cleaning is always needed somewhere, so it's a reliable thing to turn to in times of distress.  In other words, I can depend on it!  I think that's why I find cleaning to be a stabilizing influence.  It's something that grounds one into their physical space more deeply.  To transform a room through cleaning and/or de-cluttering means instantaneous improvement in an least one area of my life.  I may not be able to change the situation that was worrying me that quickly, but I have control over something when I get a room clean or straightened up.  Wash the dishes, change the sheets, wipe down the bathroom sink, vacuum the upholstery, mop the bare floors, delete old computer programs you no longer use, trash unneeded emails, sort through file folders and remove unneeded papers.  If you de-clutter and have items to donate, go out and drop them off at your designated receiver of donated goods.  If you have trash to take out, go get it out of your home now.  When you're feeling powerless (an emotion that often goes with depression or anxiety), seeing the visible results of cleaning and de-cluttering ventures will give you a sense of power back.

Follow Your Life's Regular Routines-  I know what it's like to be exhausted, feeling deeply apathetic, saddened and/or paralyzed by depression and anxiety.  I have firsthand knowledge of the feeling which goes along with this agony- the desire to simply lie in bed, hiding under the covers.  Or sit in a recliner and stare at the television all day.  It's often the brain and body's automatic response to emotional stress- do the minimum required of existence and nothing more.  However, letting your home and yourself go to pot while you're suffering mentally will not help the situation.  If anything, continuing the routines of life will help you get better faster.  I'm not saying that it will take away the pain.  But looking around your home or in the mirror and seeing chaos will not aid recovery.  Make your bed, clean the toilet, unload the dishwasher and refill it with the dirty dishes, straighten up the main living spaces, respond to your paper mail and emails, pay your bills, mow the lawn, trim back hedges, cook healthy meals for yourself (and eat them)...all of the basics that will keep your life humming.  Normalcy is the best friend of mental health, in my humble opinion. 

Get outside- Fresh air.  Sunshine or light raindrops on your skin.  (Don't go out if it's blustering or icy out, obviously...)  Go for a walk, go to an outdoor concert, to a county fair, to a farmer's market outdoors, to a wine festival.  Anything that will get you out of your house and out of a rut.  You can always just go sit outside and admire the trees, write in a journal or meditate, at least on nice days.  Sunshine will give you needed Vitamin D too, which in and of itself can be a mood-booster. 

Personally, I hate heat and humidity and love the cold, so autumn or winter walks are a joy for me.  Unless it's icy or super-windy outside, I actually prefer strolling in the cooler months.  I'm not a fast walker or anything.  When I walk outdoors, I don't wear headphones to block out sounds.  If you wish to listen to music or something, there's nothing wrong with that.  But I like to be aware of the sounds around me when I walk.  For one thing, I can hear cars or people coming.  The noises of nature, though, can be soothing in and of themselves.  Getting outdoors reminds you of a world beyond yourself, which is knowledge that depression or anxiety can steal from you (however temporarily that may be).

Give to others, especially those less fortunate than yourself- It's old advice, but it's true and worth repeating.  There are so many hurting people in this world.  Cooking a meal for someone, sending a greeting card to someone you love, reading to a child or elderly person, volunteering in a nursing home or hospital, going on a missionary trip, building a house with Habitat for Humanity, donating time/supplies/money to an animal shelter, working to raise money for a good cause or a political campaign...the list goes on.  There is always a massive amount of good works to get done in this world, and frequently there aren't enough people to get that work done.  This is just another way of getting out of your own head for awhile.  Some may just call this distraction, but I believe that even if it is only that, it's a healthy way to forget your own problems for awhile.  This is something that you must take on out of the goodness of your heart- not for what you may get out of it.  That said, I believe that acts performed with a pure, good intention have a way of getting positively repaid by the universe.

Go on a retreat or vacation- Not always an option, I know.  But even visiting an out-of-state family member that you get along with well can help.  A vacation to see my grandmother for a week in 2006 was actually what started my simplifying and organizing quest!  I didn't know it at the time, but that one trip was to be life-changing. 

My Grandma owned a copy of Elaine St. James' Simplify Your Life.  My company had been bought out by a much larger insurance giant and the changes which were occurring were almost entirely negative.  I went from loving my job to dreading the workday.  I had no idea what to do about that situation or the general sense of discontent that was permeating my rather stagnant personal life.  I was also immensely frustrated with my home, because it was a mess with me and my mother (whom I lived with) both working full-time.  I just could not seem to keep the house clean and organized.  That book got my head thinking in whole new directions. 

My grandmother lives in a very small town.  The house she lives in has been in my family for seven decades or so.  Members of my family have lived in that same small town since the 1700's!  Actually, my ancestors helped found the town.  Everybody knows everyone there.  Life is slow there.  People leave the land be, to a great extent, and don't believe in a bunch of development.  That's a huge difference from the metropolitan area where I reside.  When I went back there to this small town, for a whole week I had no one from work was bothering me.  I had no access to a computer or the Internet and that was an unexpectedly pleasant break.  I didn't have any work stress hanging over my head 24/7.  I got time away from my mother (in and of itself a huge vacation!)  I was hanging out with family who didn't care what I did for a living, how much money I made or what I looked like- they loved me just for being myself.  That was so incredibly refreshing.  I didn't have to wear a mask of power, success and ambition for once.

Besides reading that awesome book by Ms. St. James, I took lots of walks outside in the country.  My grandmother lives out in the boondocks and it was so quiet during the day that you could hear a pin drop.  Admiring the wildflowers, old trees, honeysuckle and everything else that undisturbed nature has to offer is soul-affirming.  There's something about that experience which can't be duplicated. 

I read my grandmother's many back issues of Victoria magazines and if any of you all also read them, you know that the magazine is full of beauty in so many forms.  With my endless workload between home and my outside job, it was as if I'd forgotten the world's beauty.  My creativity was stifled by my go, go, go lifestyle.  I knew that I needed a change.  I hope that if you take a vacation or a retreat, you'll allow yourself the downtime to experience what I did.  I came back home from that trip with renewed energy, a new outlook on life and a fresh fire in my belly.  I ended up changing so many of my habits, got back to my creative work and eventually also changed jobs.    

Even if you can't actually go on a vacation write now, plan one.  Plan your dream vacation as if it's going to be reality, if need be!  Research what you'd need to do in order to visit your fantasy locale.  Check out hotel rates and reviews, restaurants in the area, common phrases in the native language (if applicable), how much plane or bus fare would cost, what places you must see if you were to visit, comments from those who've already been there and more.  At the very least, all of this will be a great distraction.  And with anxiety or depression, sometimes getting distracted by a fascinating destination can be exactly what's needed, at least in the short term.  Travel gets you out of not only your usual stomping ground but out of the mental space you're in all the time.  Learning a new language, studying a new culture, reading up on history of a different people, visiting sites you've never been to before- all of this resets the brain.  While I love having regular routines and believe that most people need the stability those daily chores provide, sometimes we need a break from the same old, same old.

Pamper yourself- Another old hint, but again it's one worth repeating.  In times of depression, anxiety or grieving, self-care can be neglected badly.  When self-care is ignored too long, it just creates more sadness and sometimes self-hatred.  This vicious cycle has to be stopped proactively.  The first step is often the hardest when it comes to doing things while you're under emotional stress.  But getting started is vitally important to healing.  There are times when you need to focus on yourself in a positive manner.
  • Wash your hair and apply deep conditioner.  Alternately, go get a haircut, perm or color job- whatever you like and can afford.  A big pick-me-up can be going for a haircolor or cut that is completely different than what you've had for a long time.  I normally stay blonde, but occasionally I go darker- or go auburn- for a change.  Sometimes this requires a change in makeup (either deeper or lighter), too.  This alteration in appearance seems really superficial, but it can actually be a real boost emotionally.
  • After cleansing your face and neck, use a facial mask or scrub.  After that's rinsed off, apply toner and moisturizer.
  • After cleansing, toning and moisturizing your face in the morning, apply a full face of makeup to look your personal best.  Or go get a makeup makeover at a local department store.  You don't have to buy anything new if you don't want to.  Just do something to see yourself in a different and better light, whatever that means to you personally.
  • Use a product like Crest WhiteStrips to whiten your teeth.  Go get a dental cleaning if it's been more than six months since you've had one done (and don't have one scheduled).  If you need it and have the funds, you could get your teeth professionally whitened or have other needed dental work done.
  • Use a body scrub or mask to slough off old skin cells and feel refreshed. 
  • Get a massage.
  • Get a manicure or do one at home.  If you don't have time or the inclination to paint your nails, you could just use a body scrub on your hands and then apply your favorite hand cream to them afterwards.  My hands take a beating from hand-washing dishes and stuff, getting flaky skin between the webs of my fingers and looking older than I really am!  So I love to make them look good again with the scrub-and-cream routine.
  • Get a pedicure or do it at home.
  • Take a nice long soak in a bubble bath or hot tub.
  • Sit in a sauna for awhile.
  • Go get a bikini wax.  Okay, this isn't exactly pampering.  But for some women, it can make them feel confident to wear lingerie or a bathing suit again.  Do what works for you and applies to you personally.  Maybe just getting a close shave on your underarms and legs will make you feel better! 
  • Use self-tanner to get a glamorous faux-bronzing going on.  Put a little gold or bronze sparkling powder on, too, after the bronzer or self-tanner dries.  A little bit (20 minutes or so) of real sun exposure won't hurt, either.
  • If you can honestly afford it, buy a new outfit, pair of shoes or purse that you absolutely love.  Or get something tailored that's been sitting in your closet unused because it doesn't fit quite right.  If you don't have money, wear your nicest outfit that you already own one day, preferably out and about.  Sometimes I would wear my prettiest dress and dressiest shoes to the office just because I felt like it.  I'd always get oohs and ahs over it, which is so much fun to hear.  It doesn't need to be a special occasion to dress up!  I've even put on one of my cocktail dresses, my nicest makeup and just pranced around my bedroom before!  It reminds me of my personal beauty and helps me feel glamorous for a bit.  Silly?  Probably.  But that dressing up puts me in a good mood! 
Read an uplifting, light-hearted book- Or read a book that enthralls you so much you can't put it down, regardless of genre.  I love Stephen King novels.  But I also like organizing, housekeeping and time management books (some would call that a weird form of enjoyment!)  Some people like to read romance novels or thrillers.  Others prefer religious-themed books.  Depression and/or anxiety can make focusing hard, which is why I don't recommend picking a book that requires a ton of complex thought or concentration.  I like reading about things like biochemistry but sometimes my brain just isn't up to that!  Escapist books can be your best friend.  When I was younger, I read a lot of self-help books.  Go with your gut.  People change, and what you enjoyed reading in your youth may not be what you enjoy now.  On the plus side, reading will also help keep your cognitive abilities up, which is vitally important during times of depression and/or anxiety.

Start a new workout routine, preferably with an understanding trainer or teacher- Whenever I get a little blue, adding in an exercise that I've never done before gives my brain a boost.  I've heard that new cells are formed when the body does a movement it's never performed before.  Over time, the cells then get used to this movement as you perform it repeatedly, helping you get better and better at it with consistent work.  Aerobic weight-training, Yoga, Pilates, kickboxing, swimming, jogging, fencing...anything you're not used to will work.  Pick something that will take some real effort on your part to accomplish.  Exercise releases endorphins and affects the hormones in a happy way.  Doing something new presents a challenge to the brain which can cause a lift (even if it is momentary) of anxiety or depression.  Learning a new athletic skill is also an immense confidence booster, something else desperately needed when you're fighting for your mental and emotional health.  Depression and anxiety often cause "brain fog"- and exercise helps clear that fog.

Talk to an old friend- This needs to be someone who is uplifting, positive and believes in you completely.  No, these people aren't always easy to find, but when you do, cherish and nurture the friendship.  And this goes both ways- you need to be there for them, too.  Sometimes thinking of helpful, thoughtful things that you can do for others, then doing that activity, will pull you out of your depressed or anxious cloud.  Catching up with a friend you haven't talked to in ages can really be a blast, too!

Take a class- This won't work for everyone's lifestyle or budget, but I can say from personal experience that nothing will get you out of a rut like taking an engaging college course, particularly in a subject you have great personal interest in.  Taking an on-campus class (which is what I really recommend you do) may force you to face social anxiety and/or depression head on- and sometimes, that's exactly what's needed.  You'll meet new people, gain insight and read some fresh material.  It's something to put on your resume.  It gets you out of your own head for a bit of time.  Classes aren't always cheap, but many colleges offer non-credit (sometimes called continuing education) courses which are usually more inexpensive and don't always require expensive books.  However, I think spending $600 on a class & a book can be a major positive investment, both in your mental health and in your wealth of overall knowledge.  Getting out for a twice-a-week class on campus, for example, gives you something to look forward to for several weeks at a stretch.  Educational expenses can potentially be deducted on your tax forms.  A class give you something new to discuss with friends and family.  Even the homework can be engaging and the brain may just appreciate the new challenge you've given it.  At the very least, you'll gain a new perspective on a few topics and pass the time.

Watch a funny movie- I don't really like romantic comedies, as a rule.  I prefer something like Airplane! or Office Space.  Watching it with a like-minded soul is even better.  Sometimes just thinking of certain scenes in funny movies will crack me up!

Write- Keeping a journal or writing in a blog can be therapeutic.  It's not everyones' cup of tea.  Don't worry about using proper grammar or perfect spelling.  Don't judge what you write or let others criticize it harshly.  I find that writing about something which I know will help others can lift me out of a slump or a period of self-pity.  I think writing also helps keep the brain sharp, just like reading or getting outside does.  Try writing fiction- a short story, a chapter for a novel, a play, etc.  It doesn't have to be The Great American Novel that you strive to write.  You can write about things that have happened in your own life and turn it into an autobiography.  You can write a fantasy book.  You can write about travel- either based on a trip you've taken or about a place that you want to visit in the future.  It doesn't have to be fact-based, though doing research for a book can be a fun distraction for the mind.

Here's to being a happy organized minimalist,

Friday, August 23, 2013

Take Your Cues From Professional Cleaners to Get Housework Done Quickly and Properly

Last week and the week before that, I was on a kick of watching and reading about how professional cleaners get their job done.  Janitors, professional housekeepers and full-time maids, etc.  Even though I consider myself a fairly expert housekeeper and organizer, there is ALWAYS more to learn on the subject.  I found some cool tools and videos that I thought might help my readers out here, too.  But I found a lot of cleaners who are alleged experts who actually do some pretty foolish things while cleaning, as well!  That's okay, though- better to do housework imperfectly than not at all, right?  However, for the amateur housekeeper who is always on the lookout to cut time down while still cleaning efficiently and as perfectly as possible, I hope that the following links will be helpful.

My big video find was on YouTube.  I watched this particular video several times over to get down the techniques, especially for shower/bathtub cleaning.  Last week I cleaned my mother's tub with more speed and efficiency following the guidelines of that video.  My own shower never needs deep cleaning because I wipe it down after every shower and keep it aired out properly.  Once in a great while I'll use a little Comet in the tub to scrub away built-up dead skin cells and soap or I'll brighten the shower tile's grout with a couple spritzes of spray bleach.  However, my mother is disabled and doesn't do the daily wipe-down of her shower with a towel, so I have to clean her bathroom every couple of weeks with "the big guns" (i.e., Scrubbing Bubbles and a good scrub brush).  I know Speed Cleaning techniques (developed by Jeff Campbell- the book of the same title is available on Amazon if you're interested), but I was going a bit brain dead and needed a refresher on how to clean more quickly.  It doesn't matter how long you've been doing something- occasionally you will need some re-training to renew your skill set.  Wow, it was so much easier on my back to follow the right techniques again!  The bathroom looked great afterwards and I got the cleaning done faster than ever.  This video on YouTube was a half-hour training video for a hotel's housekeeping staff.  However, a lot of hotel-style cleaning can apply to your own home as well.  It was the very best of the dozens of training videos I reviewed.  I highly recommend that you check out free training videos like these when/if you can find them.  Sadly, this particular video was removed from YouTube for some odd reason.  However, if you buy Speed Cleaning on DVD, the bathroom cleaning regimen is almost identical to what I originally found on the 'Tube:

Here is a 10-minute preview of what's in the Speed Cleaning DVD.  Yes, it looks dated- but basically, the cleaning techniques and things to clean in the home really haven't changed that much since this video was produced.

I found some other cleaning videos on YouTube which overall use pretty good techniques for thoroughly but quickly cleaning a home, though.  They were designed to teach professional cleaners, but you can still adapt the techniques to cleaning your own house.  I recommend these because a) they're free to watch and b) they teach how to work around a room for dusting and cleaning in a logical, pretty environmentally-friendly fashion.

This is a hotel cleaning training video.  Obviously, you won't clean your own house every single day like the guy here cleans the room.  But it gives some great tips on cleaning products and form that you can utilize for your weekly or bi-weekly housecleaning.

Okay, I'm about to be critical here but...I must be.  The following video is an example of how NOT to clean, as far as I'm concerned.  You don't have to watch it unless you're curious.  DO NOT get into a tub with both feet like the woman does to clean the tub in this video.  You can use a deck scrubber brush on a long handle that's set aside for this purpose if you're cleaning a deep, long tub.  (I recommend always using a clean, dry hand towel to wipe down a tub and shower walls right after you bathe so that this type of heavy cleaning is never needed.  Run a fan in the bathroom to dry up moisture during and for awhile after your shower, too.)  If you must step into a tub to clean shower tile or a tub, put a dry hand towel underneath your foot/shoe.  Keep one foot outside the tub at all times for safety!  Wear slip-resistant work shoes if at all possible while cleaning.  I recommend wearing rubber gloves when cleaning a bathroom, too (something the woman in this video doesn't do, despite being a professional cleaner).  Also, the work this woman does on a ladder is almost completely unnecessary.  High areas in a bathroom don't get the splashes, dust, etc., that lower areas get, as a rule.  Only clean these areas when really necessary, which probably won't be that often.  High areas usually just get dusty, too- not actually "dirty".  One of the very few exceptions to that rule is in a kitchen, where grease and cooking oils leave a film that must be cleaned off with something other than a feather duster.  Light bulbs and fixtures which are high up can be dusted with a long-reaching duster or feather duster with a long handle.  Occasionally a light fixture must be taken down and have the interior washed- bugs and dust get inside and there's just no way to clean them otherwise.  But that is only an occasional chore, not something that has to be done frequently.   But I digress.  A squeegee on a pole can more safely clean very high mirrors or glass, as opposed to you getting on a stepladder to clean.  I don't like using step stools in bathrooms unless it's absolutely necessary.  There's no need to go around a bathroom more than twice, either.  She uses Comet on the toilet, which really isn't my favorite product.  I believe it eventually scrubs away too much of a toilet's surface and really isn't a strong enough cleaner for the job of killing the kinds of germs that live on that fixture.  I really prefer to use a liquid or gel disinfecting all purpose or toilet bowl cleaner myself.  All purpose disinfecting cleaner is great because you can use a little on a cleaning cloth to wipe down counters, in the toilet to clean and disinfect and then on a mop head to clean the floor.  The less products you can use, the better for your wallet and probably for your lungs, as well.  But here's the video clip, now that you've read my dissertation!

I'm learning to re-use my leg strength and not my back to get chores done.  When I watched the professional housekeepers and janitors, I realized that I was bending over at the waist way too much and not using my legs/knees enough.  No wonder my back hurt so much!  Though it was hard at first (I have knee problems and my legs are naturally my weakest body part), I started squatting and/or kneeling to get housework done.  Getting down on hard floors is still challenging for me because I fell on a concrete floor directly onto my right knee about five years ago, and still can't put my full weight on that knee.  However, I've been doing a TON of leg lifts, squats, step-ups and other leg training exercises in the last month and that's really been paying off!  Physical fitness and using proper cleaning form in the body is absolutely imperative to stay a lifetime housekeeper.

As far as organizing the household goes, I've been watching YouTube videos from an awesome professional organizer named Alejandra.  She is, even for my hyper-organized taste, a little OCD when it comes to organizing stuff.  I thought I was bad because I organized my dresser drawers and closet by rainbow, but this girl takes organizing to a whole new level.  Be warned- she will make even Martha Stewart look like a slob!  That said, Alejandra has some awesome ideas.  I recommend watching her stuff when the de-cluttering is done and what's left is the organizing that you do have in a pretty way.  Alejandra is a whirlwind of youthful energy- but you've been notified in advance!

I also REALLY like her "Products I Use" link for her favorite organizing tools.  She's really creative and knowledgeable about these items.

Here's to being a cleanly organized minimalist,