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Wednesday, December 26, 2012

New Year's Organizing Tips & Tricks

I want to thank all of my readers, first of all, for making this year such a wonderful one for me. It's been a privilege to write for you, hear from you & learn from you. Each day when I look at how many people have read my posts & see the countries galore that you all hail from, I'm just astounded. Writing this blog is honestly one of the most rewarding things I've ever done in my life & I owe that all to you guys! I sincerely hope that this blog has given you some tips for getting a little bit more organized over this past year. I look forward to continuing my work on this blog & am always thinking of what I can pass on to my wonderful readers each day as I go about my work.

Here I'm going to present some tips for utilizing this time of year to your advantage. In some parts of the world it's the dead of winter, while in others it's summertime. I know certain people reside in an area where it's always tropical, too. Regardless, I think that most of us feel a tug this time of year to start fresh. I'm not going to tell you that this is the year you'd better start exercising or anything like that. I think having goals & plans for the future is a happier way to live but I'm definitely not here to add more onto your already-heavy plate. What I have to share really doesn't have a whole lot to do with meeting long-term goals, not in a repetitive way, that is. I'm going to list some annual things that are on my own New Year's Day list.

1) View & print the credit report from all three major agencies, including my credit scores. It's free to review the credit score from one agency, but you will have to pay for the credit scores from the additional two. It's not very costly & can be worth the nominal cost if you intend to buy a big purchase in the coming year. Debates continue over whether or not looking at this information lowers your score slightly (as does anyone viewing the score, such as a creditor). But my guess is that the drop would be pretty minimal & being able to see your reports/scores is really the most important thing to keep in mind. Many people avoid viewing these because of fear, but there are often errors on your reports (usually against your favor) & therefore they should be reviewed regardless of your fears. Assuming you're an adult, it's just something you have to face. It may alert you to fraudulent activity going on, as well- something you might never catch if you don't keep an eye on the report. I used to work for a bank & often what I'd see in a fraud investigation was that a family member or close friend was stealing a person's name & Social Security number for their personal use. Please don't think that only strangers (or even mostly strangers) are stealing this type of information. Without viewing these reports, you may never know what's going on. The official website to view this at is: (This is NOT to be confused with the website, which is frequently advertised on TV, but has had problems with entities such as the Better Business Bureau. I have never used that site & have nothing bad to say about them personally, but using the correct website ensures you won't be charged hidden fees or have other problems an "unofficial" site can present.)

2) Take down holiday decorations. Some people love to leave certain items up for longer throughout the winter season. Depending upon when a fresh tree or wreath is bought, it may be good for awhile longer. If it/they are dried out, though, it's best to toss them or they'll become a fire hazard. I put away my Christmas decorations on New Year's Day but I do leave up a few that are really just winter-themed & aren't specific to Christmas. Come March, though, the winter decorations get put away until early December. It's entirely up to you whether you want to use New Year's Day for this purpose each year. Many times I chose to do this activity that day because my company demanded mandatory overtime throughout January. I knew that day off would be my last one for awhile where I was totally free to do an "extra" chore like this. New Year's Day is often a slow day & so it serves the purpose well to do some winter de-cluttering & cleaning, especially after a busy holiday season. Working people often don't have another holiday off until Labor Day in May. Just set up a schedule that works for you, if your home is decorated for the season.

3) Take down the previous year's calendars from around the house. Go through the calendars & save any pages that might be needed- important info may include when your child's immunizations were done, when prescriptions last got filled, when you were off of work on FMLA or short-term leave, when people passed away, etc. Calendars are of course meant to serve as a record of your life's time & should be reviewed once more if they were written on at all before being thrown out. This is a good time to go through last year's calendar & take from it any new birthdays, anniversaries or other important new events which need to be added to repeat online or paper calendars. Some people save their whole calendar because they need to refer back to it periodically or out of sentimentality. I prefer to transfer important info written on my previous year's paper calendar into a digital format (such as Google calendar) & then toss the old paper calendar out. As long as it's not clutter to you (be honest with yourself here), keep it but put it in your filing cabinet or another place where it can be easily accessed. Don't save the whole calendar if you really just need a page or to from it for reference on a particular issue. Make sure you black out any private identifying information such as a Social Security number with a permanent marker, if applicable, before tossing out the calendar.

4) If you own a desktop computer with a large hard drive, this is a good time to clean it, getting as much dust & debris out as possible. Start the new year with a cleaner computer & you'll reduce a fire hazard as well as possibly speed up your PC performance a bit. It's also a good way to reduce the household dust if you suffer from allergies and/or asthma. Be sure to wear rubber-soled shoes, remove any metal jewelry & eyeglasses (if possible) from yourself & unplug the computer completely (along with any components attached by cord or USB) to prevent electric shocks from occurring. You might want to wear a nose/mouth mask if your PC is especially dusty or dirty inside. The last time I cleaned mine, my lungs & nose got quite a bit of dust in them. Yuck! Remove the cover off of your hard drive & clean it with compressed air + cleaning cloths. In most computers this process requires no tools. If you don't have canned air on hand, then use a dusting attachment on a vacuum wand- but use a gentle touch. It's better to carefully dust by hand if your vacuum has a ton of suction to it. While your hard drive is opened up, this is a great time to install additional RAM in order to give your computer a speed & memory boost. RAM cards are generally quite inexpensive & can add years to the life of your PC, so don't ignore doing this. Your desk & surrounding area will probably be pretty dusty after doing this, too, so be prepared to polish your desk & vacuum the floor after performing this chore. If it's been awhile, run Disk Cleanup, Disk Defragmenter & any other computer cleaning programs that you have available. Remove excess photos, music, documents & software from your PC. Take time to clean your keyboard, mouse & any other computer accessories that you can, too. Clean your computer screen if you can, as well. It's not exactly a fun way to spend time but it really makes a huge difference in the way your computer looks, feels & performs.

5) If it appeals to you, set a writing journal, daily devotional or a copy of the Holy Bible by your bedside table for yourself. If you've set a goal to read or write every day, putting a book or a pretty journal is a nice way to start the new year out right. There are also many free Bible-reading plans to subscribe to, if this interests you. A quick Google search should yield a variety of interesting programs in this regard.

6) Print out, hole-punch & put a portable calendar in your control journal for the coming year. I just used a pre-printed calendar gained from a Google search & printed out one myself. I set my printing preference to print on both sides of each page & therefore only added six sheets of paper to my control journal. Don't add something which contains a lot of bulk or doesn't appeal to your style of recording items. I highly recommend printing out or buying a portable calendar that has some writing room in each day's little space or it won't serve much good. While nothing beats using a great wall calendar & online calendar, having a portable calendar like this is great for when you're on the run but need to record an important event. (I do have a calendar on my cell phone but have found it faster to just write something in my paper calendar quickly.) Alternately, you can just use a Palm Pilot or cell phone calendar. The technology itself is not important- just provide yourself with a format that's available while you're out & about for recording items on a calendar. Here's the free one I printed out:

7) Write in the new two-digit year (ex. 2013.../13) on every check left in your checkbook. This easy step will prevent costly & annoying errors that occur due to writing in last year's date incorrectly on your checks. Make sure everyone in your household & all who have checks in your business (as applicable) do the same thing.

8) Start your new year out right by cleaning out your fridge, freezer, pantry, dried herb & spice collection. All those half-used bottles of salad dressing on the fridge door that for some strange reason you can't remember when you last used them, meat hiding in the back of the freezer that was purchased during the Carter Presidency & pantry items you bought with good intentions but never opened before the expiration date need to get tossed. If the spice or herb has little to no fragrance, toss it & replace it the next time you go to the store. If you haven't already done so, buy some white adhesive labels, a dark black pen & start labeling/dating any leftovers, items you put up into the freezer, bottled herbs & spices. I highly recommend, when you open a container of mayo or salad dressing, that you stick a label on it & put the date opened  on that label. Just because open items have an expiration date doesn't mean it's okay to use them up until that date unless they'd stayed unopened. There are various websites on the market which will tell you product-by-product how long you can keep something once opened, whether it's frozen, refrigerated or a pantry item. For me, I allow two days max on cooked leftovers- meat, potatoes, vegetables, etc. Some people allow up to four days, but I'm not taking any chances.

9) Get a haircut, perm and/or haircoloring session done to brighten up your looks, if it's something you've ignored in the hustle & bustle of the previous holiday season. Perking up your looks via this or any other salon services can be a huge depression lifter in the cold, dreary, short days of winter, too.

10) Go through your nail polish, makeup & toiltetries, tossing what's expired or just no longer appealing to you. It's okay to admit a product just wasn't right for you- just toss it if you don't know anyone who wants the product or it wouldn't be safe to share it due to the potential for spreading infections (like an eye shadow- just toss that if it's not for you after trying it, if it couldn't be returned to the store).

You can set a repeating annual reminder in your online calendar to perform these tasks every New Years Day. That way you'll never have to worry about forgetting important goals of your own, above & beyong anything that I've listed here.

Have a wonderful, organized new year,

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Don't Be Afraid to Become a Minimalist Leader- But Don't Force This Lifestyle Upon Others

It's often been said that in this world there are leaders and then there are followers. And most people who would espouse this often insist that you can't be both. While it's not nearly that black or white in real life- we all have a boss, after all- minimalism is definitely one place where you can become a leader very quickly. Many times people look to those around them for what is appropriate behavior & will only act in accordance with the crowd that they happen to be associated with. But there are others who refuse to be in the herd (at least in some major aspects) & they don't mind ignoring the shepherd for awhile, either! Minimalism is neither right nor wrong in my book. It's a lifestyle choice, not a religion. Some writers bring philosophy, religion, politics or the environment into the conversation, and write in such a manner that they almost shame their readers for not choosing minimalism. I'm no such author. I fully acknowledge that both minimalism & consumerism have negatives aspects plus positive ones. Consumerism is often what fuels the funds in a capitalist society, as it is currently set up. We're at a point in time when most, if not all, nations have more people that need work than jobs to support them. I'm no economist & I don't pretend to be, but some trends are obvious for anyone to notice. My very first real job, when I turned sixteen, was working as a sales clerk in a CD & cassette tape store (yes, I'm that old). Not only does the place I work for no longer exists & hasn't for many years, but the once-bustling mall that I worked in is completely closed. The Internet changed retail forever & I don't think that impact can ever be reversed. I feel bad for teenagers of today because in most areas they don't have that first-job retail experience available to them. Soda jerk, gas station attendant, elevator operator jobs- all gone. One can watch old movies from the 1940's & just shake their head at the amount of work no longer available to the public.

Anyway, this was not intended to be a primer on modern society. But consumerism is really a lifestyle. Many of us, until we choose to view these things consciously, don't realize how commercials on TV, images in magazines & societal pressure induces us to buy much of what we do. Consider how Christmas is often celebrated in North America. Cyber Monday & Black Friday are talked up in the news, on the Internet & in public culture ad nauseum. Many people who've never even been to a Christian religious service still automatically buy a wreath, Christmas tree (with all of it's many trimmings), lights for decorating the outside of their house, gifts for under the tree & tons of food for the annual family get-together without a second thought every December. Especially when one has a child or children, the holiday season is often rife with extreme consumerism. There is usually immense pressure to please others through the things bought for them. It's even been said that not to shop (and not just in relation to Christmas) is downright un-American! A good Christmas is many families is measured by the amount of gifts we have to give each other this year. My mother views it that way, for example. But again, I'm not condemning anyone. Unlike a lot of minimalists, I actually love to shop. It is far harder to choose minimalism when you love buying things. I'm not saying this consumerism-heavy mindset is wrong because that's not my place. I'm just saying be aware of what you're doing. If you're going to be a person more interested in consumerism than minimalism, accept it & acknowledge it. Whatever you do in life, do it consciously & on purpose. I see people nowadays who believe they're being more minimalist because they're "shopping green"- but their actual level of shopping from before their pre-environmentalist days hasn't changed. They just buy different stuff! If you do nothing else in life, be honest with yourself.

I'm being honest with you when I say that I'm far less of a consumer than I used to be & my motivations when I do shop are very different. But I'm still not a hardcore minimalist & don't know that I ever will be. I'm always looking for ways to reuse, recycle, cut back, etc., just a little bit more. But I don't take it to extremes. It's important not to get into a competitive game of, "Who's a better minimalist, me or so-and-so?" This is about your journey. Minimalism isn't a sport where there are winners or losers. I try not to make my family feel bad if they don't want to live the way I do or look at things as I view them. People can't come to this lifestyle by force & stick with it if they're given a choice. Let me tell you, if you want to create a future shopaholic, deprive them of the things they want consistently in childhood & adolescence. Disappoint them enough, make them envy others around them & make them feel as if they're living in perpetual drought while others get all the rain they need- you'll make them think simplicity & minimalism are the works of the devil. It's wonderful to teach your children charity, appreciation for things people do for them, gratitude & humility. You can certainly set a wonderful example of organization, simplicity & minimalism in your own life. You can talk to others about the subjects & try to educate the interested, but don't preach at them. Conversion rarely takes unless it comes from an internal desire to have less items to care for, a smaller home to clean & a realization that shopping doesn't actually fill a nagging void in the soul. People won't recognize this just because you got converted by a feeling like I just mentioned. Let them discover it for themselves & chances are, they'll make changes that stick all on their own. I'm not saying that you should indulge their every whim or deny who you are. You should always feel free to express why you've made adjustments in your lifestyle & what it's done for you. Just don't force who you've become onto them.

Becoming a minimalist leader has nothing to do with how many followers you have. Actually, you might not have any at all. Leaders who are confident & content with themselves have no need to count their followers, believe me- they're too darn busy for that. Leadership means that you're willing to do what you know is excellent, right by yourself & others to the best of your ability, every single day. You acknowledge that you can never be perfect, you're working on the knowledge you currently have available, you'll always be learning more & that you will always need mentors. But you're willing to step out & be different from the crowd. People might not like this, especially at first, but you're accepting of this potential loss of popularity. Leadership is not a popularity contest. Being the President of the United States is a perfect example. Our President may be the definitive leader of our land, but he sure has plenty of people who dislike him & wish him ill will. People criticize & even threaten him. He can win two elections & yet still have many enemies (most of whom don't even know him personally). Many people don't understand him & don't even care to try. He's not only put down for his policies or beliefs, but in some circles his very skin color is maligned. He has a lot of people that he must please but also has to try & satisfy the deep sense of ethics which exist in his own being. He walks a tightrope every day that he wakes up, forcibly dealing with tragedies in a very public manner, taking chances with his very life just because of his job title. He's a leader all right, but this leadership comes at an exceedingly high cost. And yet he chose to take it on anyway- and in the case of our current President, he took it upon himself to try again for another four years in the job despite these overwhelming challenges. He never really gets to relax & must remain calm even with the very weight of the world on his shoulder. And lest we forget, he's also a mere man, one trying to keep his wife happy & raise two productive, happy children in a difficult world. The President knows that he can explain himself until he's blue in the face, but some people will automatically hate him & just refuse to listen for even a second. He can try to work fairly with others & fix things that are broken, but some people will inevitably block even his most noble advances. Yet he has to keep going, trying to reach the branch of people who will listen & try to activate them into pushing forward despite tremendous challenges. People used to depend upon a President for comforting words & a steady hand in times of trouble- and I'm not sure we're well-served for essentially abandoning this mindset. We all do better coming together & working for the common good than bickering over the issues we disagree on. Imagine what we'd get done if we all said, "Hey, let's drop this arguing, work together on the things we agree on as a majority & we'll get so much more accomplished!" A President knows this but must still deal with a group of humans who will never engage that kind of logic & will always prefer to gripe instead.

So think of this example when you decide you want to pick a path like minimalism that really isn't that well-traveled. Friedrich Nietzsche said it best- "The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe. If you try it, you will be lonely often, and sometimes frightened. But no price is too high to pay for the privilege of owning yourself."

Here's to being a conscious organized minimalist,

Loving Yourself- The Biggest Key to Living a Simple Life

If you do nothing else on your quest towards simplicity in this life, learn to love yourself. That is not as easy as it sounds. It doesn't mean that you love everything you do & it also doesn't mean you never accept correction. In fact, when you love & are confident in yourself, then you're able to accept constructive criticism in a positive way. You can use it to make the you that's already lovable an even better being. You can never truly love others in a healthy, balanced manner if you don't first love & accept yourself. I say this not only to women but to every single person on the planet. Men suffer from self-hatred, too, and it isn't just about the body. Lots of issues can lead to self-hatred. It's often an attitude picked up early on in life & becomes an unconscious habit. A lack of self-love is the reason behind our most destructive relationships with others. It causes friction because you'll take every little critique too personally- loving yourself doesn't allow for insecurity, you see. It leads you to accept abuse & mistreatment that you don't deserve. It keeps you from moving forward because you won't believe you're good enough to get improvement in your life. You will be uncertain about accepting great opportunities because your confidence is non-existent. It causes procrastination, fear, loss & sadness. It's a lose-lose proposition to hate yourself.

If you're like me, you know all too well that you'll be working until you go to your grave to become a better person. Joyce Meyer, a television preacher whom I consider to be a spiritual mother to me (though I've never met her), has said that God hasn't stopped working on her yet, and she's around seventy years old. This has nothing to do with religion, though I think when you're on a spiritual journey of any sort, you answer the call of self-improvement more easily. However...the work of self-improvement cannot be done without excessive mental stress unless there first exists love for oneself. This love has to stand firmly in place regardless of the weight, size, age, hair color, eye color, skin tone, race or anything else that you possess. It has to be there whether you're in a great romantic relationship, single, widowed, looking for love but haven't yet found it or in any other love life scenario. Self-love has to exist in the midst of any failings which you believe that you have. It must stay steady when the house is dirty, the beds are unmade, you feel dull & listless, when you're depressed or anxious. Self-love helps you get past the bad feelings & move on fast. You'll say, "Well, the house is dirty now, but in two hours, I'll have it gleaming." "The beds aren't made this moment, but I'll get them done & in ten minutes the bedrooms will all look lovely again." "I may feel a little blue today, but it's just a mood. I'll get over it. I'm going for a walk to look at the beauty of nature & get out of this funk." "In a year I won't even be able to recall what I'm worrying about now. The best days of my life are yet to come!" Self-love eliminates wallowing in self-pity! You recognize that there are times you'll feel down on yourself, but because you've made a decision to love yourself, you will purposely find something within you that's good to look at. You focus on that goodness, always building on your strengths while attempting to minimize your weaknesses. It can't just exist when you feel you've met a certain level of standards. It has to carry you through both your darkest hours & your brightest.

My own self-love has existed through job loss, financial problems, physical disability, all kinds of severe pain, weight gain, weight loss, romantic loss, friendship issues- you name it. I take blows & feel sorrow just like anyone else. I know that if I lose everything else, I will not lose the belief that I'm lovable JUST AS I AM. This love isn't based on what I do for a living, how I look or the amount of money in my bank account. I know sometimes I'm solely to blame for my problems & then I have to accept the consequences of my actions. But no matter what is going on, I'm always glad to be myself. I may not have a figure which people covet, but I have a lovely face, so I make the best of that. I wear clothes that flatter my Nordic coloring & hourglass-shaped full figure. I get my thick hair cut in a nice style every other month. I wear pretty jewelry. I paint my nails when I need a pick-me-up. I put on makeup & see what lovely blue eyes I have. Now I could say, "I hate myself! I have a body people think is ugly, and therefore that means I'm completely ugly! I'll never be beautiful! I'm worthless. I'm not good enough for a decent man, a good job or love to come along until I get to my perfect size. I have to work out every single day & get this weight off, or I'll never be happy!" It sounds kind of stupid in writing, doesn't it? Yet day after day, I meet people with this exact attitude. They have chosen self-hatred as their way of life. They think they're ugly, so they usually do nothing to make themselves look beautiful. They only see their flaws. Even if they have a beautiful feature, they're blind to it. This is tragic. It can & often does create addictions and/or illnesses. Addiction to speed, alcohol or other drugs can stem from this hatred. Anorexia, bulimia & depression are common reactions for the decision to despise oneself. Sadly doctors, Hollywood celebrities & unhelpful family members can just exacerbate the situation. Without self-love, you'll only agree with their derision & continue the cycle of destruction. Let me make myself clear- you can either love yourself or you can hate yourself, but you can't do both. Fence-sitting on this issue isn't possible. I may sometimes wish I was thinner, taller or richer, but I never want to be anyone else but myself.

I ultimately know that someday this body of mine will be nothing but ashes or bones sitting in a coffin some day. It's a vehicle to get around in & I'm grateful to have it, flaws & all. If I was to spend all my time trying just to improve this body, hating any perceived flaws on it, what a terrible waste of time that would be. I've said for years, I may have fat legs- but I sure am glad I've got legs at all. I'm grateful to be able to walk. Not everyone is so lucky. There are people in this world who'd give all they own to have a leg or legs again. Think about this the next time you get critical about your body or something else you have that's imperfect in your eyes. Maybe you hate your abs. But do your internal organs in the abdominal region work well together, sitting in your gastrointestinal system? Are you free of disease in that area? If so, say a prayer of thanks for this. There are people with cancer, for example, who are not so fortunate. My legacy is not in my body size, shape or weight. It may be a feature people remember about me, but I pray it won't be the only thing they remember. It's up to you whether you make self-love your legacy, something people will remark on when you die or not. I guarantee you that self-hatred is a waste of time, it often puts people in an early grave & can set a dangerous example for others. It makes people shake their head in sadness for you. I believe that when I face my Maker at the end of my life, He isn't going to care about the dress size I wore. He'll ask me if I loved others as I loved myself. He'll ask me if I taught people how to love or if I taught them how to hate. He'll call me to account for the knowledge I had but did or did not share. He'll ask me if I spent a life gaining wisdom & showing love, or if I spent a self-centered existence with my face constantly focused on my reflection in a mirror. I may not have a Heaven to go to. But I'm not taking any chances. I want to be able to look God in the face & say, "Father, I'm flawed, but I kept getting back up & tried to do my best to be excellent. I loved myself, I loved others & I tried to teach them about love. I know I'm sometimes wrong & wasn't always a perfect teacher, but I tried to reach out & help others achieve their best life while gaining peace of mind."   

Self-love isn't built overnight. It's a decision you must make, a conscious one that you must make & then choose to keep building on over the years. Self-love is what picks you back up when you've fallen. It's a lifestyle choice, to be honest. You must be willing to love yourself even when other people are telling you (in one way or another) that you're not lovable just as you are. This can be people you know, or more commonly, you'll read disparaging remarks about certain characteristics people have in magazines. I'm not talking about characteristics which can be changed & are really harmful to others, like gossiping. I'm speaking about characteristics such as having a body shape, size or weight that's not in vogue (and which cannot easily be changed). It's amazing what people will say in print, things that they'd never have the nerve to say in public, isn't it? It's also astounding how often these things are written without a second thought by that writer of whose feelings might be hurt by casual, snide comments.

On the other end of the spectrum, self-love involves being willing to make changes when they're needed. We all have issues that we need to work on. Maybe we're self-centered & dominate conversations too often. Perhaps we get up too late every day for work & rarely show up on time to the job. You get my drift. Self-love means you're pressing on towards excellence at all times & in all places. It doesn't mean striving for perfection, but you are striving to do what you know in your heart to be right. You make the decision to do the ethical thing even when the unethical choice would be easier or "get you in" with a person you want a favor from. You do nice things for others even when you realize they won't notice & you'll get no praise from anyone for it at all. You decide you're going to make changes to your lifestyle so that you can get up in time & show up for work when you are scheduled to- even when it's hard & even when no one is looking. Whatever your particular flaws or changes are, you continually work in love to make yourself just a little bit better. Self-love encourages one to seek out wisdom & knowledge. People with low self-esteem are often afraid of gaining knowledge because they don't have a firm foundation within themselves that allows them to absorb this learning. It may be a paradox, but you have to be confident in who you are already (and act like it) while knowing you must keep alert to self-improvement opportunities. Listen to the language you use regarding yourself around others. If you say you're lazy, chances are you will be. I've often shaken my head at how many people I've heard say, "I'm so fat/ugly/crazy/bad/stupid", and then wonder why they don't feel good about themselves! Logic in, logic out. If you nasty things about yourself, you are probably dead-wrong, but you may start to create a self-fulfilling prophecy. How many people feel badly about themselves in error, then add to their troubles by stopping their regular grooming, for example? People get told they're fat & ugly by one idiotic person, so they get depressed. In extreme cases, they stop washing their hair, their face, their body. They stop putting on makeup, nail polish, jewelry or nice clothing. When people say good things about them, they refute it. Even if they have the money, they won't spend it on a salon service or item they need for themselves. This is a tragedy! Never let somebody steal your joy from you in this way. Life is too short- we will all be in our graves before we know it. As we get older, most of us say the years just keep going by faster & faster. Don't let those precious years slip away from you due to self-hatred! Whatever or whomever made you feel this way, they're not worth it. This much I can promise you.

What does this have to do with simplicity? Self-love is simpler to live with than self-hatred. It's just that basic. There are many forms of self-hatred beyond what I've discussed here, but this is applicable regardless of the source of the problem. Self-love creates peace in the mind. It makes one easier to get along with. Others don't have to tiptoe around you when you're not insecure. This one lifestyle choice impacts every interaction you will ever have with other human beings. Self-hatred is the biggest thief of happiness. It destroys the soul, poisons the mind & rots the tongue. Self-hatred soon spreads to hating others. It's inevitable. I'm no fool- I know I can't reach every single reader & teach them to love themselves. But if I reach just one of you by this blog, then I'm happy. I hope more than anything that you'll make it your life's mission to love yourself, love others & if you believe in Him, to love God. If you aren't religious, it still doesn't affect my message. Love is the easier path every time. It may seem harder at first (especially if you're used to self-hatred), but it's an example of a "tortoise and the hare" situation at work. Love always reaches the finish line- hatred never can. Hatred may work hard & quickly for awhile all right, but it'll never win any prize. The finish line in this case is a life well-lived, full of joy, full of compassion, full of giving. Hatred is incapable of such things. A simple life leaves no room for that which is despicable, including envy & greed. At your grave, do you want a group of people standing there to say about you, "They were so critical of themselves. They were always putting themselves down. They were never happy with themselves & never happy with others. How much joy they missed out on. They just couldn't appreciate the blessings given to them. How incredibly sad..." I doubt that you want this to become your future if you're reading this. Choose today for it not to become your reality. Make self-love your legacy today & every day to come.

Here's to being a well-loved organized minimalist,

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Today's Emergency Preparation Task: List in Your Control Journal Where Your First-Aid Products Are

I'm not a prepping expert by any means but I do have a few skills under my belt. First-aid prepping is one of them. Hopefully you know in your head immediately where your first-aid supplies are. If you don't, go through your home today, assemble things together (like with like) & make a list of where these items are. I recommend keeping a "master list" of the first-aid items for your kit, so that if you need to replenish an item, the list can quickly remind you of what's a necessity to have on hand. If you don't own a first-aid kit, buy or assemble one. Buying a first-aid kit that is already put together, though, is usually the cheaper route than buying each item individually. Make sure that you own a thermometer that's easy to read (I prefer digital to the old-fashioned mercury glass models), as that is not an item typically included in a pre-assembled kit. If other preparedness things are needed, add them to your grocery/mall shopping list or ask people around you for emergency preparedness gifts this holiday season. It may sound lame to ask for stuff like that, but hey, most of us will need first-aid products at some time in our lives. At least we'd be getting gifts we can really use, right? If you want, you can always set up a wish list on Amazon that's either available for public viewing or can be shared via a page link for people that you want to give it to. Under that wish list you can choose EXACTLY what prepping & first-aid items you want. Research, research, research. Read negative reviews AND positive reviews of items! Don't forget to add emergency preparedness books (including cookbooks on using common foods kept for emergencies), emergency food items, emergency water packs, etc., to the list. You'll be astounded at everything available for prepping once you start looking into it.

With all of the recent & horrendous damage of Hurricane Sandy on the East Coast of the U.S. (where I live), I was reminded of just how vulnerable we all are. I lost power for eighteen hours but praise God none of my family got hurt, our property wasn't damaged & no one even lost any food (we'd all stocked our freezers full of ice & old fridge full of cold water bottles, which helps keep the refrigerator temp cold for many hours). Even though my county's electric & gas companies are superb, they had to stop working the night of the storm because it was just too dangerous. My family was also thankful that it was not either a very hot or a very cold night, so our pipes didn't freeze. We weren't uncomfortable because of the house temperature. I've lived in my state thirty-two years, my entire lifetime. I could count only on two hands how many times we've actually suffered a power outage. I live in one of the safest states in the Union, disaster-wise. I felt foolish buying three new flashlights, long-burning oil candles, 50 tea lights, tons of extra non-perishable food & water late last year when I started prepping. I bought face masks, rubber gloves, extra bleach- my mother thought I was nuts. But something (a premonition, the Holy Spirit, whatever) told me to prepare for bad situations. I live in an apartment in the 'burbs. The odds of this happening are small, but nonetheless, the bad situation occurred. My mother got deathly ill & I ended up having to clean the house almost top-to-bottom with a bleach solution in order to sanitize it enough for her to come home safely. I have lung damage from three bouts of pneumonia (no, I don't smoke & no one around me does, either). Had I not had the mask & gloves, I couldn't have done the work. She got ill at a time when I was low in funds & wouldn't have had the money to spend on extra cleaning supplies. Had it'd been even one year earlier when all this occurred, I would not have been prepared. So I'm begging you- even if nothing bad has ever happened to you in a natural disaster, power outage or serious family illness, please prepare for these events. If you get that nagging little voice in your head telling you to stock up on some items for safety, listen to it. It's better you have the items & never need them than vice versa. I know that sounds counter-intuitive for a minimalist, but if you're going to hoard anything, let it be emergency preparation supplies. I want you & your family to be safe, prepared & calm even through the worst of events.

Many people living in Japan suffered far worse than even we Americans did when their dual weather disasters brought on a nuclear catastrophe in 2011. The horrible damage from Hurricane Katrina & the levee-breaking in Louisiana affects the lives of people from that area to this day. Our collective economy in the world is shaky. I'm not a doomsday prepper- I hope, pray & believe that our best days are ahead. I support our government when it's actions are righteous & believe that we can turn the economy around- it's been done countless times before & not just in America. We all have a fighting spirit & I know that when the chips are down, we'll always come together to help one another out. While we all lose faith in humanity sometimes (myself included), what we see over & over again in natural or man-made disasters is that good people all over the globe will risk life & limb to volunteer their help. People come at their own expense, risk their own safety & give of their valuable time repeatedly when something terrible occurs. These great people will give their last dollar to the poor without knowing how they themselves will get by. Medical staff comes out to work in healing injured people for free. Brave souls go out to sea or sift through ashes to try & rescue potential survivors. Unpaid helpers cook & serve meals to the poor or displaced. Many government workers go out of their way to assist mayors, governors & our President to coordinate disaster relief. I've seen people who are unemployed, not even knowing if they'll get a dime to their name come 1/1/2013 go out & buy toys for kids who don't have any parents of their own so that those children can have a great Christmas. I've seen people who might lose their home to foreclosure offer to feed others in a soup kitchen out of the sheer kindness which exists in their hearts. Instead of wallowing in their own troubles & grief, most humans will gladly answer the call of the hurting when they hear it. For every evil human being, there are probably a hundred people who'd give you the shirt off their back if you needed it. Let's stop focusing on the evil, the shallow & the sorrowful. Let's start putting our minds on rebuilding, helping & preparing good things for one another. Remember this immense goodness mankind possesses when you're preparing your household emergency supplies. Recognize it. Reward it. Thank whatever deity you believe in or thank the universe for these wonderful beings, for the ability to buy emergency supplies, for the technology & knowledge we have access to even in troubled times.

We should prepare for disasters together as a community, with love for one another first in our hearts- I know for sure that no man is an island. I do not believe we are automatically doomed as a society. Far from it. I'm just saying be prepared for all eventualities to the best of your ability & as much as your finances will safely allow. I'm not telling you to hunker down in a cave or cut off all contact with the world. I think that's probably the worst thing you could possibly do. But even things which are fairly routine events- like you going in for an outpatient surgery- can upset your household routines. The last thing you want to do after a surgery or during an illness is to have to tell people in-depth where all your stuff is. Better to just tell them in advance that you have a control journal, explain what that is & what's in it. Let them all know where the control journal is kept & let those who are healthy & able to take care of things if you cannot. I suggest keeping the control journal open in a "common space"- on your desk, the kitchen counter or on a hallway table. Anywhere you have the space to store it & a place where people can look over it or grab it quickly. Just start to keep in mind that you want to prepare for those times when you can't or won't be available to help others. Don't be the only one in your household who knows where the emergency supplies & first-aid kit are, for example. Don't think you're crazy for buying that extra flashlight & batteries. You may need it right this second but a time will come when it's needed by somebody. I believe in a bright future for all of us- but no matter how good things will be for us, little & big disasters or upsets will always occur. It's just the nature of life. Keep it all in balance & you'll be just fine.

Start with your own household's organization & go from there. When your own home is in order, you are then free to really help your community organize & prepare for emergencies, too. If you're a regular member of a church, synagogue or other community gathering place, talk to those in leadership about emergency preparedness to see if planning is needed. Some communities & establishments have already established guidelines for emergency events, but not all have. Make no assumptions. Individual Civil Defense units were common in the 1950's & 1960's for many U.S. states, but in most places they've all but disappeared. While I'm no believer in thinking gloomily about the future, it doesn't hurt to make sure our towns & cities as a whole will be able to come together during & after a disaster with preparation under their collective belt. I wouldn't mind seeing Civil Defense groups pop up again. Don't depend upon county, state & Federal government employees to do everything, or assume they've got everything in order. While that is ideally the case, we don't live in an ideal world. There have been tremendous budget cuts & layoffs in many areas of the country, which may lead to slow or non-existent services being available for help during a catastrophe.You may have other groups you get together with that can start discussing preparation for emergencies en masse- book clubs, neighborhood watch meetings, etc. It doesn't hurt to bring up the subject & you may be surprised at how receptive others are to begin planning for emergencies together. Many people are looking for guidance in this area, but don't know where to start. Don't be afraid to be the first one to speak up about this if it's a concern for you. I'm not advising people to start stockpiling weapons & spending thousands of dollars on supplies. But I do think we all can do a better job as a whole of coming together & preparing for emergencies together. We can each contribute valuable information & supplies to the cause. If certain people have a finished basement or other place which will be safer to stay in during a tornado or a storm with very high winds & possible flooding, see if they're willing to have that be an emergency meeting place for your group (should that weather event occur). Maybe one person is really good at cooking, canning foods & grocery shopping- they could be the one to handle that for a small group of preppers working together. Another person may be good at sifting through emergency preparedness books for additional knowledge & gathering prepping info on the web. You get my drift. Isn't it better to establish these solid relationships & skills before a possible disaster and not afterwards? People are going to panic far less if there's a game plan in place with lots of responsible, well-informed souls involved in getting through an emergency together.

Here is a copy of the info I posted for my own control journal. It is also available as a PDF document for you, if you decide to keep your stuff in the same places I do. The link is below.
Batteries: Spare AA, AAA & D batteries (we don't own anything that uses "C" batteries) are in a gallon-sized zippered bag in the second drawer of my computer desk, on the left-hand side.

Camera & accessories: My camera (stored in it's little carrying case), battery charger, the rechargeable battery & 4x6" photo paper is in the second drawer on the left in my computer desk, all in a gallon-size bag.

Cell phone accessories: My charger & AC adapter for the charger are in a quart-size zippered bag in the second drawer on the left side of my computer desk. The iPod charger is in this drawer, too.

Cleaning supplies: Spare old towels are on the top shelf of my mother’s linen closet. Also in that linen closet are sheets for her bed, her bathroom towels & all of our dishtowels/hand towels for the kitchen. The vacuum cleaner, Bounce dryer sheets to put in with stored items for freshness, household cleaning cloths, cleaning fluids & dusting supplies are in my bedroom closet. You’ll be able to see them easily because the closet is well-lit. Kitchen cleaning supplies are under the kitchen sink, including all-purpose cleaner for the floor, Sh-Wipes for the Sh-Mop we use (the mop is next to the washing machine), dishwasher detergent, a small bottle of bleach, a container of Comet, household cleaning cloths to wipe down appliances & counter tops, additional dishwashing liquid & wood glue. The wood glue is what I use to repair loose or broken chair legs & things like that.

Cold packs for injuries or heat stroke: An eye mask with straps around it is in the left-side crisper drawer in the fridge, in it’s own gallon-size zippered bag. Another, scented eye mask without straps is on the door of the freezer. A cold wrap is on top of that eye mask on the freezer door. Additionally, an Ace ice pack that’s blue & flat is located in the freezer, right-hand-side, in it’s own gallon-size zippered bag.

Extra blankets: An extra comforter is in my mother’s linen closet; it’s a twin-size, beige down comforter. I have a spare queen-size turquoise blanket on the right-hand top shelf in my bedroom closet, as well. A spare pillow is on that shelf, too. Another throw blanket is already out in the living room. (I also carry a silver emergency blanket made out of this special material and that is very tiny when folded in my backpack or purse when I'm away from home.  Hey, you never know when an emergency may arise.  These blankets are sold inexpensively on Amazon and most emergency supply vendors.)

First-aid supplies: My first-aid kits are in the back of my bathroom vanity on the right side. I have lots of bandages, Orajel, Neosporin, alcohol wipes, sunscreen, an instant cold compress & other emergency items in them. One kit is orange, one kit is blue. OTC meds are to the left of the kitchen stove, in the top cabinet’s left-hand side.  Also, additional cold packs are in my freezer.

Heat packs: Wraps that can be heated in the microwave- one is on top of the microwave in the kitchen & another is in it’s holder on the coat closet floor. Fold it, place it in the microwave & heat it for three minutes on high. It’ll be toasty but not so hot you can’t touch it or put it on the skin.

Household item handbooks & warranties: These are located in my file cabinet, which is in the third drawer to the left in my computer desk. The file folder is clearly labeled, and each item also has it’s own labeled manila folder. The exception is the automobile information & our apartment lease- those are in my mother’s file cabinet. This is the third drawer to the right of my computer desk- same piece of furniture the printer is on.

Mailing Supplies: My address labels, postage stamps, thank-you notes, mailing envelopes & business envelopes are in an accordian file in my filing cabinet. Greeting cards are in the front of this drawer in their own large envelope, too. [An alternative is to put these in your Office in a Bag.]

Printing supplies: Spare printer ink cartridges are located in the second drawer to the right of my computer desk. Additional printer paper is in the third drawer down in that cabinet, as well. Additional Hewlett-Packard printing supplies can be ordered from the following website (which is also bookmarked on my computer):

Spare computer mouse: I use a wireless one now, but I have a corded one in the second drawer to the left if the wireless one goes on the fritz. 
With love for all of the organized minimalists out there,

Thursday, November 22, 2012

My Favorite Workout Wear for Plus-Sized Women

I've been exercising regularly over half of my life now, nearly twenty years. I've gone through a lot of different styles (and brands) of sports bras & tops, athletic boot-cut pants, Capri pants, shorts, socks & sneakers. I am now & always have been plus-sized, meaning that workout wear is both harder to find and usually more expensive to buy than it is for smaller women. It's hard to know where to put the dollars- you don't want to buy shorts that ride up, sports bras that feel like someone duct-taped your chest, socks that make your feet itch or roll down into your shoes. You can't buy shoes that leave your feet aching for hours afterwards, causing shin splints or knee problems. With workout wear you get what you pay for, first of all- other than when items are on sale or clearance, you need to accept this fact. If you're watching every penny, I know that it's tempting not to invest in good workout wear. But I promise from my own experience that it's better to own two really good sports bras than six that are only so-so. You cannot cheat your body out of proper support during exercising without experiencing consequences, and that only gets more true with age. It's best to try & buy things when they're on sale, or maybe when a particular color in a certain style goes to clearance. The day after Thanksgiving & some other holidays offer these sales most consistently. If you have a serious investment in fitness, it can be worthwhile to keep a wish list of these items on hand and ask for them as gifts on birthdays and other gift-receiving occasions.

Your sports bras & tops should hopefully be supportive enough that you do NOT need to double up on wearing them. I have seen larger women wearing two sports bras at once, such as a halter-style & a racer-back style together. This was especially true in the 1990's, when most sports bras for larger busts were not yet designed so well (if you could find one at all). However, sports bra construction and availability for larger busts has improved drastically in the last decade or so and therefore doubling-up should no longer be needed, so long as you buy the right bra. The standard rule regarding sports bra sizing is to go up one band size & down one cup size from a "regular" (non-sports) bra. This is something that I've usually found to be true. You need to know your regular, correct bra size first, obviously. Before you ever order new bras for yourself, take your measurements. Even if you think you know what your bra size is, measure again anyway before ordering any new bras. If you have an odd-numbered measurement (for example, your chest circumference is 43"), size up to the next band size (a 44). You should always be able make the bra tighter in the back hooks & the shoulder straps if need be, but you can't make a bra larger than the settings allow, so it's better to size up & not down. That said, different brands or even certain styles within brands can vary. It's not very easy for a plus-sized woman to find bras out in retail stores to try on, I know. Unless you live in a major city, getting a bra fitting in a department store by a competent store employee is tough (if you're old enough, you'll remember when it was actually very common to get bra fittings in a store!) If you have such a store & can afford to take advantage of it, do so! Those rare but precious employees are trained to get you the best bra(s) for your size & style desires.

Band size is important to get right for a couple of reasons. First, most of a bra's support comes from the band itself, not the straps. Second, if a band size is too large, it'll go crawling up your back towards your neck. This not only provides less support but just plain looks worse. If your band size is too tight, you will obviously be very uncomfortable in a short period of time, plus you take a chance on giving yourself a skin rash. Don't skimp on your cup size, either. If you do, you will have bra hangover, bust spillage in the center of chest, and you won't be getting the most support & best look, either. No one wants to admit that their band size has gone up & it may make you faint to acknowledge how many inches between your chest & bust there is- but you'll just have to get over it! If your bust is five inches larger than your chest size, you need to likely order a D cup in a sports bra, and a DD in a regular bra, for example. The following sports bras are my four favorites, ones I can almost guarantee you will not have to double up on, and will provide you lasting support without sacrificing comfort.

Workout bottoms come in a variety of options & price ranges nowadays, even for plus sizes. I've found QuikWik from Junonia to be the best of the best. I sweat like crazy when I work out & cotton doesn't work nearly as well for me as the QuikWik. I stick with wearing black on bottom because a) I'm bottom-heavy & light colors look terrible on my legs + b) Black shows sweat much less than light bottoms. Heavier women often deal with the very annoying issue of bottoms riding up, especially shorts. Wearing boy-short type bottoms are nice if you're someone who likes to look at your body in a mirror while exercising, checking your form & seeing the muscle motion as you work out. Even women with heavier legs might find they prefer this short style (especially if you work out at home by yourself), because it allows your skin to breathe & feels cool even in the hottest temperatures. Dual-layer shorts are nice to help stop riding up while allowing more coverage & coolness. My personal favorite style, though, is a Capri or cropped pant. Capri pants look especially good on me because I'm tall- cropped pants make most women seem a bit chunkier & they shorten the look of the leg, but they're nice & cool to wear in hot months. Leggings are another option- you can wear ones that are form-fitting to the ankle or ones that have a bootcut to them. This is entirely based on personal preference & I suggest that you experiment to see what works best for your activity & body type. Form-fitting leggings can be nice to layer under other workout bottoms if you'll be walking or working out otherwise in the cold. Bootcut leggings can make your legs look nice & long while balancing out heavier hips- but only if they come to the right length. Too short & they'll look weird. Too long & they become dangerous because they can trip you up by getting underneath your shoe. Leggings or bootcut bottoms are your warmest option, so keep that in mind. I get so warm when I work out & I always exercise indoors, so leggings aren't my favorite option. Remember that your workout sneakers will add some extra height to your frame, sometimes as much as 2". Keep this in mind when you shop for workout bottoms & view the inseam length. I'm 5'7" & wear a 30" inseam in bootcut pants while wearing shoes that have a 1-2" height addition to my frame. However, I know some women of my height have longer or shorter legs than me (I'm short-waisted but my legs are pretty much average for my height). Here are my suggestions for good workout bottoms-

Boy shorts in plus sizes can be hard to find. Cut the ribbon off of these carefully & they'll look less like panties & more like short-shorts:

These come in petite, average & tall inseams & have a bootcut bottom. They're excellent for yoga & outdoor activities:

A decent cotton alternative to the more expensive QuikWik line from Junonia, I like these Capri pants both for exercise & for summer wear. Pair them with a sexy sandal or strappy heel & they look decent as "regular wear", serving double-duty in the wardrobe department. A win-win! They also come in different inseams (as is common with Woman Within):

These are great for layering & make toned, slim legs look great. If your lower half is your better asset, leggings show them off well. These also serve double-duty in the wintertime because you can pair them with snow boots, and your legging bottom won't get wet in the snow like a bootcut or palazzo pant would. Pair them with a good sports bra, a long thick sweatshirt + thick comfy socks, throw on your winter boots & you're set to go for many different kinds of winter workouts!

*Here's the thing about Junonia- their clothes typically run long. If you're more petite, be prepared to get the bottom of your pants hemmed to a shorter length. You may also have to get the seat of the pants tightened up if you're shorter & smaller in that area. Taller women (5'7" & above) will love the extra length Junonia provides. Also, Junonia clothes have always been pre-shrunk & I've ordered from them a lot over the years. With Woman Within, the same cannot be said. Just something to keep in mind. Junonia clothes are more expensive BUT their clothing tends to last longer. QuikWik is especially durable, often lasting several years even with constant wear. They wash up fine in the washing machine & you can put them in the dryer on a low setting. Woman Within has more color selection than Junonia in almost every product offered- Junonia mostly sells their bottoms in black alone. As a plus-size woman, inner thighs in pants or shorts may wear out and/or start pilling on the fabric will occur. QuikWik doesn't do this, making it an extremely durable & comfortable option. Polyester & acrylic will usually pill this faster than cotton, plus do not breathe as well. Function should always come first over fashion, but nowhere is this more true than in workout wear.*

Here's the marvelous dual-layer shorts I told you about:

I personally don't like bike shorts. I have heavy thighs & they always ride up no matter what brand I buy. But if you like that style & they don't ride up on you, QuikWik ones are terrific:

The QuikWik leggings:

My Holy Grail Capri pant in QuikWik, worth every penny. They make my legs look firmer, too- they work great as shapewear, in addition to their fabulous workout potential!

Your next workout purchase? Socks. They're not needed if you do Yoga, Pilates or water sports, but are otherwise a necessity. Different foot builds, varying sports & particular climates will change your selection(s). I like a thin, cool, lo-cut sock that keeps my feet from feeling sweaty. Crew & quarter-socks will make your legs look a little shorter & are a slightly more dated choice. Style shouldn't be your absolute obsession- function is far more important in the long run. But if you can choose style & still get maximum form/comfort, so much the better. Remember that I work out indoors, have a home with central A/C & heat & therefore my sock style doesn't need to change with the seasons. My suggestions are based on that. There are lots of articles on the Internet which will tell you how to address climate- & sports-specific sock issues beyond the scope of what I can address. Remember to have fun with color & style. If something comes in your favorite color, is within your budget & is appropriate for your exercise goals, buy it! Here's the styles I love best:

I've got one favorite brand of crew socks. They're made for diabetics & have lots of stretch. I'm not a diabetic but I love the warmth & comfort of these socks. They're just terrific for people who suffer from swollen feet. They also run in large sizes for those with bigger feet like me. I think they're superb for daily wear, for outdoor workouts in colder climates & for those that need a thick crew sock when they exercise.

Don't be ashamed to admit you're a bigger size than you thought after taking your measurements. So what if five years ago you were a 36C and now you're a 42D? Big deal- I'm sure in that five years you've accomplished some great things in your life. Focus on everything you've done well. Don't worry about yesterday, who you were or what size you were way back when. This is about now. Exercise should be pursued as a recreational pleasure, not torture to endure while watching each little calorie burned. People are mostly well-fed in America today & generally live longer than at any time in history- ignore the buggers who say something isn't right with you, no matter how you look, be it thin or not. Remember that most of us now have thankfully avoided the debilitating childhood illnesses that typically made people smaller & shorter in previous centuries (if they survived at all)- such as polio, smallpox, typhoid, cholera, etc. Many children starved years ago frequently through childhood, especially little girls, if one or both of their parents died, crops went bad or their father's business went bust. With far less focus on local farming being the sole source of one's food supply, most people never experience long-term famine in wealthier nations now. Our ancestors did not have modern medicine, vitamins & mineral supplements or vast nutritional knowledge to build height & weight. If you look at women from even sixty years ago, they tended to have smaller bones- not just less fat. You can tell from their shoulders, ankles, feet & ribcage that we have bigger bones (in general) today. Watch a TV show from the 1950's & you'll see exactly what I mean. Women typically don't smoke or drink alcohol while pregnant anymore, which years ago was far more common (especially for those born in the baby boomer generation & the two generations right before them), leading to a lower birth weight. And a lower birth weight is typically tied to a lower adult weight, but also to certain health problems throughout the lifespan. Hormones added to milk, meat & poultry designed to fatten up the respective animals also found their way into our bodies as we ate them, causing us to fatten up, too. There are many different obesogens out there, and we need to start recognizing that as a society. It isn't just about diet & exercise- if it were as simple as calories in, calories out, this wouldn't be a multi-billion dollar business. Please keep in mind that simply because someone is slim, it doesn't mean that they're healthy. Pat Nixon, for example, is someone who was always very slim. However, she smoked two packs of cigarettes a day, suffered both a debilitating stroke in later life & a few different types of cancer before she passed away. I say this not to be mean or spiteful, but to say we must start looking beneath the surface of each other before passing judgment. We should be glad that people are generally healthy & living in plenty more often, not putting people down because they're bigger than their ancestors. Remember, it's not just women who've expanded- men are a lot bigger than in previous centuries, too! A lot of people who blame modern Americans forget that fifty or sixty years ago families were generally larger (more mouths to feed = smaller portions for most at the dinner table, especially for the girls). Many more people drank alcohol for their dinner instead of eating, had access to amphetamines & other forms of diet pills mostly unavailable today. This is no longer socially acceptable or even possible in most circles. They were also able to be more active outdoors. Gardening, doing laundry, housework- many of the activities that helped keep women slim years ago have either had to be given up as women went into the workforce full-time, disappeared due to urban sprawl or because technology eased up the methods of cleaning products like vacuums. People no longer have to do the heavy spring-cleaning of years ago due to burning less fires in a fireplace, using modern cooking methods, having central air & central heat. Waxing floors is something almost unheard-of now. Cars, buses & trains made horseback riding out of need & walking long distances to get somewhere important much less common.

Anyway, if you work out three to six days a week, which is the average for most women, you're going to go through your exercise shoes at a faster pace than even your regular walking shoes. Remember to look carefully at what shoes are right for your particular arch (high, normal or flat) & instep, if you will need a shoe that allows room for your own foot orthotics, what activity you'll be performing most often & how much flexibility you like in your shoe. Overpronation & underpronation may need to be addressed, too. For exercises like lunges, split squats or running, flexibility in a shoe is important. In these exercises you'll need to be able to move your foot through it's full range of motion, and a shoe that's too stiff or padded in the arch can hinder this. However, you'll need a more supportive shoe if you have any type of pre-existing pain condition- knee problems, back pain, bursitis, shin splints, etc. Past ankle or knee injuries make extra stability in a shoe an utter necessity. Diabetic neuropathy or other foot conditions often mean you'll need a thinner sole, so that you can feel the ground under your feel more easily. Read reviews & descriptions of shoes very carefully, because often a shoe will sound great in description (or look great in a picture), but it'll be completely wrong for your feet and/or your exercise routine. Exercise shoes can run up to $165.00/pair. The more specialized, long & wide the shoe, typically the price will just keep rising. I like a lightweight, flexible shoe that works well for my flat feet, wide size & low instep. I'm already big & don't need a shoe that feels like lead to weigh me down more. I need a shoe with some stability but a lot of flexibility to go through the aerobic weight-training & stretching that I do.

The best brands of shoes that I've found are New Balance & Saucony. For high arches, Asics are extremely popular. It probably will take awhile for you to research shoes & I cannot emphasize enough how important wearing supportive shoes are. The last thing you want is a shoe that's too heavy, makes you feel unsteady on your feet or leaves you in pain. No shoe should ever leave you in pain, period! I know that many people still believe a shoe takes breaking in & this has occasionally been my experience, as well. What I recommend is to find a vendor or retailer that will take back your shoes within thirty days of purchase, no questions asked. This gives you time to receive the shoe, try them on & wear them for several workouts (I'd recommend allowing three to five workouts for shoes to break in, max). If you don't want to get them dirty, use them indoors only for a few workouts- run or walk on a treadmill, use them to do some body weight exercises with dumbbells at home, etc. See how they feel after allowing that break-in period. If they're uncomfortable, too stiff or non-supportive after that, send them back. I know you may be out some money for shipping if you order them online or by catalog. If you've never been fitted for athletic shoes before, then I really recommend you go to Lady Foot Locker or an equivalent store for a proper fitting. They will be able to easily tell what instep you have, what type of arch, whether you under- or overpronate at all, what your true current size is, etc. You can go over past injuries & present medical conditions that affect your workouts. Please do not underestimate the fact that the body works in tandem- if your feet are out of alignment, for example, you can end up with shoulder pain. I know that sounds impossible, but it's true. The bones in your feet are fairly small & relatively fragile. The older & more inactive you are, the more true this will be. The workers at a good shoe store will be able to make excellent suggestions for the best shoes based on the type of activity or activities you'll be engaging in.

Remember that for water sports, water shoes now exist in a variety of sizes & widths. I recommend them highly if you'll be doing water aerobics or swimming in a gym's pool, because it'll protect your feet along with giving them some serious defense against scratches & scrapes. Germs, bacteria & fungus that like to live on gym floors, too- wear flip-flops or water shoes in the shower, if you're using a stall in a gym filled with other people using it. (This is another reason why I love working out at home- none of those issues come up.)

Wide widths & women with longer feet also no longer have to settle for plain or ugly shoes! I wear an 11W & I used to have to settle for bland shoes. Nowadays there are more styles available to me than I could ever wear in one lifetime. Try to pick shoes that you absolutely love in looks, not just in function. This can motivate you more than you think! I really hesitate to make suggestions because everyone's body is different. I have back problems due to fibromyalgia & painful osteoarthritis in the knees, but otherwise my bones are thick. I do aerobic weight-training & athletic stretches for my workouts. I have an hourglass figure, a lot of muscle & good posture. If you have a body, feet & workout plans similar to me, here are the shoes I've found best:

Focus on eating as healthfully as you know how to fuel your brain & life, on letting go of the habits that hurt your health (drinking than one alcoholic drink a day, more than a mug of coffee a day, smoking & excessive sunbathing), keep drinking mostly water, get plenty of sleep, get a little sun every day that you can (10-20 minutes of exposure), exercise as much as you comfortably can & try to have a fun existence with real meaning to it. If you're a beginner, three to four workouts a week is plenty. Working out every other day gives a beginner-to-intermediate exerciser the rest that they'll likely need. Increase your workouts to five or six days a week only when your body can handle the demands. If you get sick or have an emergency come up that sucks up all of your time, take a break from working out for at least a couple of days. Don't have self-hatred if you skip your workouts for awhile. That's how life is sometimes. Exercise should be something that you enjoy, especially since you're committing so much of your life's hours to it. If swimming is what you love, swim. Stop thinking that you should be running instead, since "experts" say it burns more calories, if running is something you detest doing. Obviously, you've got a better shot at sticking with an exercise routine that you truly love doing. Self-designated experts often don't take joint or tendon stress into account when making their suggestions. They don't know you personally in most cases & can't tell where your passion lies. Maybe you always wanted to learn how to dance, for example- buy some DVDs focused on that or find a dance class supportive of people in all sizes. Step out of your fear & do what you've always wanted to try. Maybe you'll fall on your tush if you try it- that happens to most of us on the fitness journey at one point or another! If you think I'm not still daunted by my workouts at times after all these years, you're wrong. There are many times when I think, "How on earth will I get through this today?!" You may start a program & want to cry because you're not as fit as others around you. We've almost all been there. No one becomes an expert at any exercise type overnight. Yes, some may have a gift & be able to perform a particular kind of exercise with great ease, but don't compare yourself to them. This is not a competition!!! Your own body knows best which exercises it can handle & which ones your need to stay away from. You may try out a popular exercise program only to find that you really don't like it. Don't give up on working out altogether, though. If you've given a program six months & you still really hate it, I think it's time you shop around for a new exercise routine. Too may people now worry about having the right combination of cardio, weight-training & stretching. NO PERFECT EXERCISE PROGRAM EXISTS, THOUGH! Many are excellent- but none of them are perfect. All have some risk of injury, some much less than others. Keep this in your head. If you end up drastically changing your body shape or size for the better, kudos. But please don't expect living healthy to automatically send you to Size Zero Land if you've been plus-sized for years. Some people are built with a small frame & some aren't. This used to be accepted by society fairly easily. It's only in the last fifty years or so that we've started hearing verbal attacks against larger people. We can make our muscles bigger or larger, we can shread body fat or add it on, but certain genetic traits can't be undone! We all have lean parts & we all have less-than-perfect parts. Accept it. Your role model should be yourself in the long runIf you're focused on some other person's body & keep it as your ideal forever, you'll lose the precious gift of learning to love your own body. I'm a big woman, but you know what? I've had women come & say to me, "Oh, if only I had you eyes/nose/skin tone/thin fingers!" Me, the perpetual fat girl, I've had admirers. So I'm telling you to wake up here! I KNOW that you also have something wonderful that other have looked at enviously, too! It may be your thin ankles, your thick head of hair, your lovely long nails, your ability to connect with kids, your swift typing skills- I guarantee someone, somewhere, envied some part of you at one point! Maybe without you ever even knowing it. Make the best of those good traits, love them boldly & others will, too. I promise that's the truth!

Read as many books as your can on the subject of balanced, clean, healthy living, such as "Firm for Life" by Anna & Cynthia Benson. PLEASE remember that you can be as gorgeous & healthy at a size fourteen or higher as you would be in a size six or less, so long as you're living well! With all of the love that I can muster for you all, and I assure you all that's a lot of love, I am begging you to accept yourself as you are right now. Celebrate the completion of every workout, when you meet a milestone, every single time you master a new step or exercise. The movement itself should generally be pleasurable. Separate the exercising from any weight-loss or body-shaping goals & you may find that the old sense of pressure you felt disappears. Working out can't come from a place of self-loathing & still be enjoyable. Of course it's fine to have short- and/or long-term goals related to exercise. That can be motivating & even fun. I just prefer goals related to performance as opposed to dropping a certain amount of weight or reaching a particular dress size. Do the workouts for the journey, not for some distant outcome unless having such a goal is truly enjoyable to you. Many times we hate exercise because it's a form of self-punishment in our minds. In this society, it's extremely easy to fall into that trap. Please watch for that landmine & avoid it. You're awesome just the way you are today.

Here's to being a healthy organized minimalist,

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

The “Lab Rat Maze” Method to Achieving a Clean Home Every Day

I’m not calling you a lab rat, nor am I calling myself one, but there’s an important lesson to be learned from the good old scientific rat! In particular, their path from start to finish in a maze, where at the end a prize awaits, is a great teacher to us. For us, the maze is our house. Or any other space that you're responsible for cleaning up. The prize at the end is that after we’ve gone through the maze, the space is neat, clean & smells as nice as it looks! There’s a way to achieve this every single day. Lab rats who are untrained start out in their maze cautiously. They don’t know what’s behind every corner & thus approach it slowly. They’re not quite sure where to step next at first & in the beginning getting through the maze correctly so they can reach their prize is a slow process. But over time, as they travel the maze again & again, they become quite speedy, getting to their prize with great ease. So it can be with you & your home. I know, because I have been in the rat’s position, with the clean home as my prize! Efficiency experts or time-management consultants advise that we can cut time drastically if we do things in a specific order each & every time that we do a certain task. A daily once-over of your home to keep it looking & smelling awesome is a task I can write about for you with foreknowledge, because I had to learn it the hard way myself. I only learned about how lab rats work their mazes long after I started on this method (go figure!) But now you get the benefit of my trial-and-error.

The simplest way to do this is to work in your collective space (home, office at the job, etc.) from front-to-back & top to bottom. For one thing, when you work that way it'll decrease your chances that important tasks get overlooked. For another thing, it minimizes the time & movements that it takes in the achievement of your goal. If you change your strategy every single time you sort, straighten up & clean your home, I know from experience that it’ll take your brain more work to get the exact same tasks done- meaning it’ll be more tiring for you both mentally & physically. This is actually scientifically proven, again by our little friend, the faithful lab rat. You see, as he’s making his way around the maze the first time, his rat brain has to work very hard to get through it & reach the prize. Over time however, his brain, despite the fact that his body is moving faster & faster, actually has to work far less to get the same path cleared. One universal example of this is driving a car. If you drive, you already know what I mean. What once was an exhausting, nerve-wracking trek when you first learned how to drive can now be done virtually on auto-pilot. Obviously, you still have to be aware to new sights & sounds when you're driving, or you can get hurt.  But in general your actual motions have gotten easier, to the point where you hardly notice (if you do at all) when you make your turn signal, turn on your windshield wipers, or park your vehicle.  Everything becomes automatic, even blasé.  It can even be joyful once the stress of thinking so hard is eliminated, when you're trying not to make a mistake.  Thus, the daily path through the home or office become an almost soothing & certainly a satisfying experience.  I know that once my daily go-around the house is finished, I feel a sense of accomplishment, peace & happiness.  I’m left with a home fit for company, true, but more importantly the home is nice for those who live in it, including myself.

I’m going to walk you through my own personal maze step-by-step. I work my way from the back of my home to the front.

Here’s my layout, as an example (but of course draw up your own specific layout):
My bathroom
My bedroom
Home office/Guest room
Living Room
My mother’s bedroom
My mother’s bathroom
Dining Room
Laundry Room
Kitchen/Breakfast Room

In my bathroom, I do a swish-and-swipe, which I laid out for you in one of my previous blogs.
Please adapt this to your home’s layout, decor and materials, your physical abilities & what kind of day you’re having.  Don’t let a day or two of skipped trips or a missed chore here & there make you feel like a failure.  I’ve done this more times than I want to admit & it’s no fun to think that way.  Yesterday is gone.  Let it go.  Focus on the now.

A tip: Carry your tools for daily upkeep with you- fabric refresher, disinfectant spray, feather duster, etc.  Putting these items in a basket or caddy with a handle & storing it in the same place each day will help you tremendously in making daily cleanup a habit.

In the bedrooms, I make the bed, spritz some Febreze Antimicrobial Fabric Refresher on it, straighten up the items on the nightstand, dresser & any other surface, de-cluttering as I go along.

I spritz some room freshener in each room of the house. I also spray some Febreze Fabric Refresher on beds, cloth shower curtains, bathroom rugs & upholstered furniture each day.

I scoop out the litter box in the home office & spray some Lysol Disinfectant around the litter box. Each morning, I balance my checkbook. I make sure that I've entered every deposit or withdrawal into my checkbook immediately. I check them off as they clear. I go through one file folder or drawer a day to keep my desk neat. I also go through my mail each day, handling it as soon as it's gone through. Any letters that need to be written, bills that need to get paid, etc.- if I can get them done today, I do so. If not, I file them properly. I open up any boxes from orders, put anything new away, break down the box & get the box in the trash.

I take out the trash whenever it's needed throughout the house, putting a fresh bag in the trash can as soon as I take the old full one out. I straighten up the throw pillows, fold up any blankets & de-clutter papers, catalogs, magazines, etc., in the living room daily.

If anything's on the dining table, I clear it off & put the items wherever they belong.

If the dryer is dusty or the washing machine is gunky somewhere, I wipe them down with a Lysol Wipe. I do one load of laundry a day, if needed- wash, dry, put away (the last part can be the hardest!) I don't do laundry on Sundays, because that is my day of rest, but usually I've got a load or two to get done each morning.

The kitchen gets cleaned up thoroughly in the evening (which I've detailed in another blog post), but I unload, load and/or run the dishwasher as needed each morning. I take a feather duster around quickly through the whole place daily, picking up the little bit of dust that gathers from day to day. Once I'm done using it, I shake the feather duster outside. And then I am done!

If you're like me, you'll have to do this alone. But if others are around & you can do it, delegate these tasks in an appropriate manner! Teach your kids to make their own beds, do their own laundry, swish-and-swipe in the bathroom (especially if they have a bathroom to themselves), deal with the dishwasher, put away dishes in the right spot, wash pots & pans, etc., as they get to an appropriate age. Show them how to dust, run the vacuum & wash floors, too. Advise them on how to keep a neat binder for school, manage their time & deal with the inevitable curves thrown at their plans in a peaceful manner. When they're old enough, teach them how to care for their vehicle, clean it, change a tire, etc. You're doing them an enormous favor by teaching them how to manage their own spaces & lives! They may hate it now, but eventually they'll appreciate what they've learned, especially if you teach it to them in kindness & love. And DO NOT discriminate between your sons & daughters. Nothing drives me more nuts than seeing a parent who makes their daughter do a bunch of cleaning while allowing their sons to not only get away with cleaning nothing, but also leave clutter around for others to pick up. There should be no room in your home for chauvanism in any format! I started doing my own laundry at twelve years of age. My mom showed me how to get my laundry clean & that was that. I learned to fold laundry properly from Linda Koopersmith's book, "The Beverly Hills Organizer..." My mother new how to get a bathroom clean beautifully & I learned that from her. I read Jeff Campbell's great book, "Speed Cleaning", to learn much more about housecleaning. Much of the rest (especially in daily housekeeping) I got from FlyLady. A few things I learned or developed on my own. You don't have to do exactly what I do. Just do what works for your space. Every time that you move to a new home, office, etc., you'll have to draw up a new mental map & follow the new maze until it's mastered again.

Here's to being a happy organized minimalist,