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Friday, July 27, 2012

The Process of Adding Monthly, Quarterly & Annual Chores to Your Calendar & Your Control Journal

A lot of times, things don't get done simply because they weren't written or typed down for someone to see them. If you and/or your family are relying on memory alone to get things done, and you find that important events & chores are getting missed, chances are it's because it's not on your paper/wall calendar + your own e-calendar. Any e-calendar works, but I love Google Calendar because I can have it send things that I need to do directly to my Gmail account on a timed based. In other words, if I have to run the vacuum at three p.m., I can have an email reminder sent to me an hour earlier (how early it's sent to me is at my choosing, and the span can be measured in minutes, hours, days or weeks). If I leave my calendar open in one window, as well, I can set up pop-up reminders (just like an instant messenger pops up). I personally find pop-ups annoying & don't use that feature, but it does work, especially if one's forgetful. Anyway, those emails from my e-calendar are one of the absolute most important things that have put me in a position to be able to write to you now. When I was trying to keep everything that ever needed to be done all in my head, I worried all the time if I was forgetting something. Even on a paper calendar, you have to remember to check the calendar- which I would remember to do in an ideal world, but life isn't always ideal. When what you have to do is written down, and you then accomplish those items, you are able to free up your brain for more exciting accomplishments. You can do what you want to do with the rest of your life! It's almost like getting out of a cage when you get organized. This freedom, which subsequently creates having more time on your hands, is wonderful. Don't schedule so much stuff for yourself and/or your family that you don't have time to just sit still & be, either. You know, time just to live in the moment & enjoy it. I'm all for organizing & simplifying- but the quest for it should have goals at the end of the rainbow. My big goal overall from the beginning was to not feel a prisoner to time emotionally. What do you want to do with the time given back to you by simplifying & getting organized?

What I'm presenting to you are my chores/to-do's, so that you can get an idea of what I mean by extras & maybe serve as a reminder of your own things that you want to get done. Monthly chores include bills that need to get paid, certain household chores & a couple of outside world obligations. Everyone's life is different, so I fully expect that not everything that I do will be applicable to your life. I know that you'll also need to add things to the list that I'm not doing, but hopefully this template will serve as a good starting point for you. Remember that these things need to be added to your control journal, a wall calendar (or some calendar that all in the household can see) & preferably an e-calendar which will sync to your email. Not everyone needs such a memory boost, but I know that I do, so stop feeling guilty for things that went undone because they were forgotten. Every day is a fresh start! With household chores, give yourself some wiggle room. My windows need to be cleaned quarterly, so I schedule them to be cleaned at the turn of every season- March, June, September & December. But I give myself the span of that month to get around to it. If you rigidly schedule something for a particular day every quarter, what could happen is that you or someone around you is sick, you're out of town or the weather just isn't cooperating. Power outages, family issues, career demands- all of these things throw curveballs at everyone. When you give yourself a more realistic window of time to get something done, chances are that you'll have greater success in life. Over-scheduling is a huge problem in today's society, as is underestimating the time it'll take to get a particular thing accomplished. For those of us that work in the corporate world, we've usually felt this acutely. There's nothing worse than having an hour-long meeting scheduled with your boss for an important discussion, only to have them running late from their previous meeting, checking their email while you're trying to talk & then interrupting the session just as it's getting somewhere because your time's up. Don't do that to yourself, your employees (if you're in a managerial position), your friends or your family. Obviously, emergencies come up occasionally for everyone- but your life should not be one giant emergency. If you're not sure whether or not you do this frequently to other people, ask them. They may not have wanted to say anything, especially if they thought you'd be resentful or spiteful about it. Learn to steer your perfectionism towards excellence, not rigidity. Excellence plans & allows for life's curveballs- perfectionism does not. If you're used to multi-tasking, doing things one at a time will not be easy at first. If you're used to overscheduling & running late, it may drive you nuts to have free time and/or be running early for appointments at the beginning. I highly recommend that you read Julie Morgenstern's Time Management from the Inside Out, if you have tried to de-clutter your time before only to run head-on into serious problems (especially emotional ones).

If you've never done so before, time your tasks (such as cleaning the windows) with a timer to see exactly how long they take you to complete. It's really easy to think, "Oh, this will only take a few minutes", when in fact it'll take three hours to complete a task. The reverse (thinking that something will take forever when it's actually a short span of time that's needed) leads more to procrastination than just about anything else. When we put things off, it's often because we dread the time it will take to perform the activity. The only way to know is to time it. You may also find that over time you need to allot more hours to a project because you have to add in additional breaks. This is true if you become disabled, have a baby, get an get my drift. Some tasks may actually take less time, though, because the more you perform them, the faster you go. It's like learning typing- when you first start on a keyboard, you're hunting & pecking slowly as you go. Eventually though, the keyboard gets learned by heart, your brain memorizes the path of QWERTY & you'll flow through a typing task with great speed. Daily & weekly household chores will often go faster with time due to this. You probably won't always have to refer to a checklist or be reminded to do every single task- some things will become indelibly imprinted on your brain with the habit of performing them over & over. In any event, timing yourself will help you to manage your days with much better skill. Your calendar will be a more realistic picture of how long you have to spend on each aspect of your job or life.

Also remember that there are outside people who can help you get certain extra tasks done for a fairly nominal cost. For example, maid services & similar companies offer window-cleaning services that are actually pretty inexpensive (the last time I checked in my area, the average cost was $36.00 for the entire job, if you had a two-story home). If you absolutely despise the chore, don't really have time for it or have a physical disability that would make it difficult (maybe even impossible) to complete the activity, seriously look into having this service done. Ask for references & make sure to choose a well-established company, but if you have the funds available, hiring these companies can be terrific. They'll send out a person or small group of people to clean every window inside & out, including all the sills. They bring their own equipment, including anything special that they need to do windows on a second floor or above in a home. With most companies, if the job is not done to your liking, they will come back & redo anything needed for free- never agree to anything with a company that doesn't stand behind superior customer service. Professional organizers can actually be surprisingly inexpensive to hire. Not everyone has the ability to transform a space on their own- and it's perfectly okay to acknowledge that you need outside help to finally get a room fully functional for yourself. It takes a lot of reading, purchasing of organizing products & time to learn how to organize a home. The same thing goes with learning how to clean properly. If the activity would be keeping you from doing something enjoyable & you have the finds available, hire people who have already done all of this learning & specialize in completely that chore.

Hiring outside help DOES NOT equate to laziness. It doesn't mean that you're spoiled rotten. If anyone tells you that, ignore them & don't believe them. You're just smart enough to know that your time is valuable, you know how to prioritize, plus you know your own strengths & weaknesses. Think about it this way- if you go to court & you're a defendant, chances are you're going to hire an attorney to be on your side because they know the laws better than you do, making sure that your rights are protected. That attorney spent years reading books on law, going to school & hearing lectures on the subject, cramming to pass the bar- something which isn't easy to accomplish. They'll argue your case better than you could (I would hope...), the attorney will know how to spot flaws in the accusations against you that you can't see & their experience translates to you getting a fair trial. No one considers you lazy if you hire an attorney when you have to go to court. So why are people (especially women) frowned upon if they hire a housekeeper or maid service to clean for them? They shouldn't be. We all have more than enough to keep us busy even before we add housework to the list of to-do's! Hopefully my analogy resolves any lingering guilt here for anyone.

For those that are feeling down on themselves about undone activities: If you're reading this, I know that you care about your home & life deeply- that's a given. Therefore, you're already on the road to excellence. Never think that you're mediocre or lazy when in fact you are doing an excellent job. A person of mediocrity doesn't do the things I'm writing about unless they're forced to- by visitors coming to the house or a similar outside pressure. They don't have an internal drive that wants a clean, organized home for themselves & their family- only outside intervention makes them do chores. They won't read blogs on organizing, buy books on simplicity or join FlyLady. They'll use any excuse in the world to get out of doing chores. And then there's the lazy bunch. These people won't do anything, period, even when the stakes are high. They don't care about their home, themselves or others. Even if important company is coming, they won't clean. Personal grooming is almost non-existent, or is done very poorly. This is actually a fairly rare group of individuals. But if you want to identify them in the future, I've just laid it out for you. So I know already that you are NOT a mediocre or worse, a lazy person. If anyone's ever told you that you're lazy, they're dead wrong. Change your beliefs about yourself- I'm telling you that you're a person of excellence, and I'm absolutely certain that I'm right. I know that the people who read this blog are those that go for the gold. Go out & proudly show that you are an excellent person to the world.

Here's to being an organized minimalist,


Thursday, July 26, 2012

Control Journal Basics For Others, If You're Ill or Away From Home

This document is what I personally keep in my control journal under a divider entitled "Emergencies", and another copy is kept on the front of my refrigerator. If I'm sick or will be out of town, this list lets the person who's helping me out (be it family or a friend) know the basics of what needs to be done in my home to keep it running smoothly. It contains both daily & weekly upkeep needs- your home will stay in good shape even during upheavals if a list like this is followed. Please of course adapt it to fit your home & particular cleaning style.

Control Journal Basics if I’m ill & someone else needs to keep up the house for me

Here's to being an organized minimalist,

Leave a "How to Do Laundry Chart" in Your Control Journal

It's imperative that you've prepared in advance for the event that you are ill or have to be out of the house for an extended period of time. It's unreasonable to expect that anyone will do things the exact same way that you do them, or that they do as much as you do, especially if they're going unpaid. But it isn't unreasonable to ask someone who lives in your household to do the laundry if you're ill or out of town for more than a few days (yet have people left at home who ARE creating laundry to do). If you live alone, contact a trusted friend or family member to help you out in times of need. There's no shame in needing someone once in awhile to aid you with household chores. In times of grieving, loss or upheaval, knowing that you have instructions set aside for others to easily keep up your home will be a blessing. I've created a laundering list for you to help serve your household during these times.

If you have the space, you can also leave a copy of this list on your laundry room door or above the washer & dryer. This can actually work better than sticking it in your control journal. (Put it in a sheet protector to make sure it doesn't get stained & torn easily.) But it's entirely up to you where this list goes. As usual, I've shared my own more personalized list with you, but I know in advance that everyone does things differently. I know that you'll need to tweak my list to suit how you do things in your home & what you own yourself- but this is a starting point & I hope that it helps.

Here's to being an organized minimalist,

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

My Daily Clean Eating, Powered-Up Protein Shake

Liz’ Daily Clean Eating, Powered-Up Protein Shake

One large handful of raw greens, especially kale or spinach
½ c. frozen blueberries
2 scoops of CytoSport Muscle Milk Blueberries n' Crème
Protein Powder
A pinch of sea salt
1 TBSP. chia seeds
1 TBSP. organic extra virgin coconut oil
½ c. blueberry juice
Ground ginger, turmeric & cinnamon
Ice cubes for coldness & frothiness
Sucanat, if I need sweetener
Spring water, if I need it thinned out

Blend all in blender until smooth, then drink immediately.

Here's to being a healthy organized minimalist,

Monday, July 23, 2012

Leave a List of Daily/Weekly Household Upkeep in Your Control Journal for Others, in Case You're Sick or Out of Town

I recommend that you include in your control journal a somewhat-modified version of how to keep your house going, for those times when you are ill or not available to clean it.  This works for both people who live in the home or another trusted person to care for it.  This is just my personal list- please simply use it to inspire and help remind you of what needs to be done in your particular home.  I keep a "how to do laundry chart" in my control journal right behind this page.  Doing laundry is going above and beyond for people who don't live in your house, but it should be fully expected if they live there and are over the age of twelve years old or so (and not physically-disabled in some way).  Even younger kids can help fold laundry & do other little 'pick-up' chores.  Don't assume people will do the laundry the way that you do things, or know where your cleaning products are, even if they live in the household.  Yes, ideally they should know how to run the vacuum & know every step of laundering clothes, but that's not always our reality.  In any event, include the information even if it seems too basic or redundant. It can't hurt!  I'm not creating a specific doc for you to print out because everyone's home and needs are different, but at least what I've written out will help you make your own list.

Daily Household Upkeep (if I’m ill & someone else needs to keep up the house for me, please follow this list of things to do)

Dining & Living Room

Brush down the upholstery just to get cat fur off of it_
Close up the old trash bag and put a new trash bag in the living room trash can, if needed_
Just stack any papers, catalogs or anything else in like-with-like categories, if they’re out_

Close up the old trash bag and put a new trash bag in the trash can, if needed_
Feed the cat and give her fresh ice water each day_
Unload/load/run the dishwasher (the Cascade dishwasher detergent & a small bottle of Clorox bleach are under the kitchen sink on the left-hand side), as needed. Include a small splash of Clorox in the load right before you run it, for extra cleanliness_
Wash and dry any dirty pots or pans_
Wipe down the kitchen countertops and stovetop if a meal is made (Lysol Kitchen Spray and folded white cleaning cloths are under the kitchen sink)_

I do one load of laundry a day.  If you see that a load needs to be done, please follow my chart (it’s in my purple control journal) to perform that chore_

Mom’s Bathroom (cleaning products are under the sink, on the right-hand side in front)
Clean her toilet with the toilet brush and toilet bowl cleaner, if needed.
Wipe down her mirror/vanity with Windex and paper towels, if needed_
Close up the old trash bag and put a new trash bag in, if needed_

Mom’s Bedroom
Make the bed_
Scoop out the kitty's litter box, if needed- the scoop and plastic grocery bags for the waste is right next to the box_

My Bathroom
Wipe down the mirror/vanity with Windex and paper towels, if needed_
Clean the toilet with the toilet brush and toilet bowl cleaner_

My Bedroom
Make the bed_

Whole House
I have Fabric Refresher and Room Spray right next to my bed- if the home is “stale-smelling” at all, please use those products accordingly to freshen the place up_
If you can, please take out any full trash bags when you leave_

If it has been a week or more since I’ve been ill or gone
Please change the sheets, if someone has been sleeping in at least one of the beds over the last week.  Fresh sheets are in the linen closet_

Change the bathroom towels if they’ve been in use.  Fresh towels are in the linen closet_

Please get out the purple dust cloths that I have folded up in my bedroom closet and quickly dust the household’s hard surfaces.  Just put the dirty cloths in my hamper after you‘ve used them_

Please vacuum the flooring- my vacuum cleaner is in my bedroom closet.  I push the red button on top of the vacuum to turn the power on.  The setting for our carpet is “Deep Pile”. You just push down on the head of the vacuum to use it for carpet cleaning.  The “Bare Floor” setting works well for the kitchen & bathroom floors.  When you are done, just put the vacuum cleaner back in the closet.  Instructions on how to use the vacuum are in my file cabinet, if you need them: File Folder- "Handbooks & Warranties"; Manila Folder- "Vacuum Cleaner"_

Please mop the kitchen & bathroom floors.  I have a mop in my bedroom closet with a blue handle.  There are white terry cloth mop heads that go over it.  What you do is wet the cloth in the sink, and put a little bit of all-purpose cleaner on the cloth.  Then fit it over the mop.  When the cloth is dirty on one side, you can change it over to the other side.  I usually need one cloth (both sides) for the kitchen and one cloth for the bathroom (each bathroom uses one side).  Please place dirty mop cloths in the “white laundry only” blue laundry basket in my mother‘s bedroom_

Thanks for helping me out!

Here's to being an organized minimalist,


Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Make a Fresh Start in Your Home with a Maid Service Cleaning Before Starting Daily Routines

I discovered The FlyLady's website & program in 2007. I loved her concepts of routines immediately. I implemented them, albeit imperfectly & slowly, one at a time. I tried to stick to her general schedule of other things to do- a Weekly Home Blessing Hour on Mondays, running errands on Thursdays, cleaning out my purse on Fridays, etc. I had to repeatedly adapt my control journal from her plan to my own control journal in order to fit my lifestyle, but basically I did what she said. However, I wasn't seeing much improvement in my house. It still looked...uninviting. It wasn't the decor, really. It was neater than ever. Papers were getting filed all the time. I'd de-cluttered like a person on amphetamines, so my house really wasn't that cluttered anymore, except for the perpetual paper file that consisted of my mother's "important documents" (I use that term with extreme looseness & sarcasm, by the way). Then I figured it out. The place wasn't really getting all that clean each week by my efforts alone.

Sometimes a house is so in need of long-overdue cleaning TLC that you'd rather move than deal with the thought of a good old scrub from top-to-bottom. People are busier & busier all of the time, it seems. Even when you have a moment's peace, do you really want to spend it scrubbing baseboards? I don't. If the area behind your toilet could qualify as one of The Scariest Locations on Earth, maybe it's time to think about getting in a maid service in for at least a one-time cleaning. You know, as a startup thing before you can finally take on FlyLady's Routines & soar with them. The routines she lays out generally work really well, once you start with a house that's clean & de-cluttered to begin with. I'm not a hoarder & never have been. But if you've ever watched one of those shows on hoarders, and where the ending was a success story, what you hear over & over again is the following- "Once the house was de-cluttered & cleaned top-to-bottom, I found it really easy to maintain ever since." It's so true! Those morning, afternoon/after work, after dinner & before bed routines FlyLady talks about really go smoothly & pleasantly when the house has gotten sorted out, purged of clutter, things have gotten a permanent & easy-to-reach home, plus the place has been cleaned but good from the ceiling down to the floor. Really, it's so motivating that I can almost promise you'll never have to dig out the big guns in cleaning products ever again. I haven't had to actually scrub down a bathroom in full for over a year now- five minutes of daily work in each bathroom has kept them so clean that I never need to. I'd only be cleaning what's already spotless! When people talking about "breezing through their routines", they're living in a house like what I just described. I know, because I'm living it.

I injured my right knee really badly a few years ago. So getting down on all fours & scrubbing floors, cleaning baseboards by hand & all those other things so easy to do as a teenage cleaner were now out for me physically. Around the same time as I was recovering from my knee injury, I started noticing how dingy my house was looking. I worked like a slave to keep it going smoothly, but the home just felt like a dungeon. We'd lived there a little over seven years. I did my best, but we had two messy cats (they were litter box-trained & all that, but they dragged food from their plate onto the carpet, had a few hairball-vomiting sessions periodically- you know, typical cat stuff); crappy apartment carpeting- very light beige, non-Stainmaster, cheap as dirt to install but high in rent to pay for & that lovely unwashable WHITE flat apartment paint that was bought/used in bulk (once again, the cheap stuff  that we as tenants pay top-dollar for in the D.C. area). Anyway, it was also just kind of icky from seven years of life being lived in the home. I'd always cleaned every week to a reasonable extent, but it was all just in need of more work at one time than I, a disabled person with a full-time job, could deal with. I didn't want to spend the money on a maid service, so if you feel like I'm a whining yuppie right now, I'm not. I definitely have a cheap streak. I didn't want to call & say I needed a cleaning service. Me- known to all as a meticulous housekeeper since I was thirteen years old, needing a housekeeping service. What kind of Southerner or a woman of German heritage am I, needing a maid service of all things?! I felt stupid owning up to needing this. I owned a decent vacuum cleaner, as well as every other cleaning implement known to mankind- however, after forty hours a week at the office, five to ten hours a week commuting to & from work, fibromyalgia making my back ache 24/7, my bum knee & being forced into cooking every night after work, I didn't want to spend even two hours on Saturday scrubbing fiendishly anymore. And fifteen minutes a day doesn't cut through seven years of built-up anything easily. Yes, it can be done- but I didn't really want to physically spend the time or the effort on every single dirty surface until each inch got clean again, not with every single second being so precious to me. I wasn't in a wheelchair, true- but I wasn't Superwoman, either. It was enough to keep up with cleaning off new dirt- I didn't have the energy or time to conquer the old!

So I swallowed my thoughts of wasted money, wounded pride & potential embarrassment, then looked into having the service done. I found the best company in my area & made the appointment. It went seamlessly. I coughed up the dough- $100.00 for the first cleaning, because I agreed to an every-other-week cleaning after the first pass through my home (not a bad deal at all). Four young, strong women trained to clean houses quickly but thoroughly & precisely would be coming into my house to clean for an hour. No matter how efficient I tried to me, I could not replicate myself times four (I wish! Think of what I could get done!), I wasn't young, hyper-energetic or trained formally in cleaning & I wasn't getting paid to clean my house- and therefore, I lacked a little motivation in that department. :) It was SOOOOOOOO worth every penny to have these ladies come in. I came home from work the day after they first cleaned & it was like having a brand-new home again. If I could have gotten on my knees, I would've kissed the ground & prayed down there in thanks while I was at it. The hard floors sparkled like diamonds. The beds were made crisply, as if I was the Queen of England (let's just say that I personally don't make beds military-style, putting it nicely). The place smelled so good- not chemical-laden, just crisp & fresh. It was like a fairy-tale. (Gosh, that's a sad comment on the state of my life. Wow.) Anyway, it was worth every penny & then some. No, they couldn't give me fresh paint or carpet, but it was as clean as that place was ever going to get, and I was proud of it for the first time in so long. I kept up the service until my knee sort of healed & I felt back in control of the home. I learned a powerful lesson, too- sometimes it is okay, even necessary, to call on outside help. Especially when you need a jump-start as you're trying to adjust to a new way of existing. It's the same as calling in a professional organizer, a life coach or a window-washing service. Once it's done, you can see clearly again. Maintenance becomes the new method, not elbow grease & scrubbing away for dear life. You don't do a chore only to feel depressed that whatever you just cleaned still looks so imperfect & ugly. Considering that the cost of cleaning supplies for a whole house & a vacuum will cost you more than $100, maid service for at least that first time is not a bad investment. Do your research- look for reviews online, see how long the company's been in business, ask for references, make sure that their maids are bonded & insured. Find a company that uses a HEPA-filter vacuum cleaner & cleaners with as few chemicals as possible- in this day & age, there is no excuse to have a home stink to high heaven with poisonous cleaners. I've never had anything expensive stolen from a maid service once, but I did have postage stamps stolen once, which I'd left out on my desk (lifted by someone from a different company than the one I last used, I hasten to add). Do yourself a favor & put away as much stuff as you can away before maids arrive in your drawers, cabinets & other closed spaces. If you have a jewelry box, put your stuff away in there. Whatever is on your table- bills, insurance paperwork, tax papers- put them away in a desk drawer or file cabinet. I doubt any bonded & insured maid would ever steal your identity (the people are all background-checked now, as well), but why take the chance?

Set out the sheets for the maids that you want them to put on the bed(s) that day- they will gladly strip the old sheets off, but you don't want them to not be able to make your bed because fresh sheets weren't out for them to use. They will typically just take the old sheets & put them in your washing machine- this is to be expected. They don't do laundry, but they do usually wash any dirty dishes that are left out. I don't leave unwashed dishes out for them, though- I'd prefer they spend their valuable time at my house cleaning the kitchen surfaces themselves, not my dishes which could be washed by my dishwasher or by hand.

These days you can either set up payment by credit card in advance over the phone with the company (they won't charge your card until after the service is performed, though) or you can leave a check out for the maids on an easy-to-see spot, like the middle of the dining table. This is another reason why I suggest you pick up anything off of your tables- if you've left anything you want them to see, they'll be easily able to do that. Special instructions should be given in advance to the person that you speak to when you set up the appointment- don't leave a written note to the maids. For one thing, they may not see it before they start cleaning. For another, the company boss needs to be aware of these instructions to make sure they're given to the maids beforehand AND so that they can follow up with their staff if for some reason the instructions weren't obeyed. If you have a pet, either put them in a space where they will not get out & disturb the maids as they're working, bite or scratch them & so the pets themselves don't get exposed to any cleaning chemicals used. Also alert the company if you do have a pet- it's usually not much of an issue, but they will make sure to send maids that don't have an allergy to cats if you have one (for example). You can always put a sign up on the door alerting the maids that a pet is behind it & not to open the door, if need be.

The maids should thoroughly dust every surface- the windowsills, pedestal of your dining table, lamps, etc. Check around after your service & make sure that they did the job you paid them for. They typically do not clean windows, as that is a separate service & requires different tools than what a housecleaning service utilizes. If there's a small picture window in an area of your house, though, they'll usually clean the inside of that with glass cleaner. If you have items in your home made of expensive and/or unusual materials (unsealed tile flooring, marble countertops, etc.), you may want to advise the maid service in advance & ask what there cleaning techniques will be for such issues. If they don't know or can't find out, then get another company to do the job- don't risk anything in your home getting ruined by cleaners who aren't trained to clean the many different surfaces that are in modern homes. High-end homes built today often require different cleaning techniques than a home built in the early 1990's or before- and much older homes (typically circa 1900 or earlier) also have special needs. This is because of the building materials used. Modern homes tend to have more expensive & sensitive bathroom & kitchen materials. Older homes tend to have more woodwork, carving & built-in shelving. Obviously, 1970's paneled walls require different cleaning from painted drywall, and some walls painted with cheaper flat paints can't be spot-cleaned at all. If there are any such areas of concern, again, discuss them. No company representative should ever be rude or act like your asking too many questions when you're seeking out this service, so long as you are polite & professional.

Maid service isn't a replacement for initial big-time de-cluttering projects or finding a home for your items. I highly suggest you do that stuff first, or at least make a good bit of headway into that aspect of things before getting the big cleanup done. If you're living in serious clutter, maids cannot come in & clean properly anyway. Some people resolve this by dumping clutter in closets & shutting those doors- I don't recommend doing that, but maybe maid service can give you the motivation to finally get those closets in order. It's up to you. Organizing first may seem less "fun". But once that work is done, maid service can be a wonderful reward to all your time spent on getting organized.

Here's to being a happy organized minimalist,


Monday, July 16, 2012

My Homemade Healthy Salad Dressing

My salads always consist of 2 cups of dark leafy greens (I prefer spring mix with herbs, baby romaine or baby spinach leaves), 1/2 cup of another raw vegetable (red bell pepper strips, chopped baby carrots, chopped hearts of palm, etc.), 4-6 oz. of lean protein like grilled garlic-herb chicken breast or shrimp & 2 TBSP. of sunflower seeds. You can replace the meat with 1/2 c. of beans if you are a vegetarian or vegan. If you are slim & metabolize carbohydrates well, cooked whole grains can be thrown in a salad, such as brown rice, pearl barley, quinoa, etc. Some people enjoy adding fruit to their salads (like Mandarin orange wedges)- I'm not one of them, but that's just a matter of personal preference. I don't need the additional carbs for one thing (I don't have a fast enough metabolism to process them well). But whole grains or fresh fruit will contribute additional fiber to your salad, thus reducing bloating & constipation issues. If you're a very physically active person during the day, you may need those additional carbohydrates to fuel your afternoon, too.

The following recipe contains the serving size of dressing for one salad. I love it because it's healthy, has no artificial sweetener in it, no trans fats, no cottonseed oil or anything else nasty. Since it's made fresh every day, I'm not worrying about eating preservatives in mass quantities or wondering when the heck I actually opened the dressing bottle! This dressing is also terrific to take to work for your daily lunchtime salad. It's extremely quick to mix up in the a.m. before you leave. Just pack it in a small Lock & Lock or other airtight container, place in your lunch & shake it up a little before putting it atop your salad. Most of the ingredients can be purchased at, if they're not available in your local area.

My Homemade Healthy Salad Dressing:
1 tsp. raw Manuka honey, blue agave nectar, coconut nectar or raw unbleached sugar (Sucanat) for sweetness
1 tsp. mustard (use your favorite flavor- I like German sweet-hot style)
1 tsp. extra-virgin olive oil (good for the heart & adds necessary fat to fuel the brain)
1 tsp. Bragg's Organic Raw Apple Cider Vinegar (adds tang & cleanses your whole body on the inside)
1 tsp. minced garlic (jarred minced garlic is perfectly fine; it's good for the heart & bloodstream to eat garlic daily)
1/2 tsp. powdered ginger (ginger is excellent for the immune system & sinuses)
A squeeze of lemon, orange or lime juice if you like some additional Vitamin C, acidity & tang
A spinkle of non-iodized sea salt & freshly-ground black pepper
Spring, distilled or purified tap water to thin the dressing out to your desired consistency
Optional- A TBSP. or so of fresh chopped herbs like flat-leaf parsley, cilantro or dill weed, if available (dill weed actually keeps really well in the freezer- when you buy it fresh, don't be afraid to store it frozen; it thaws out VERY quickly)

Just whisk it all together & serve immediately, or pack away & shake it up when needed. Enjoy!

Here's to be a healthy organized minimalist,

Saturday, July 7, 2012

My Favorite Sodium-Free Healthy Snack Mix

I don't like the vast majority of the protein bars & shakes, almost all out there claiming to be healthy snacks. When you read the ingredient list, you start seeing all kinds of chemicals you don't want going into your body. I lift weights, do aerobics & athletic stretching. I need fuel for my body every three hours or so, but every bite I eat needs to be full of vitamins, minerals, protein & healthy fats to keep me going strong. Every calorie has to count for something, and it can't be high in carbohydrates that will cause a "sugar high", followed by a "sugar crash". I'm allergic to soy, so any product including that is out right off the bat. I get migraines from almost every artificial sweetener out there, and most of those have their own scary side effects when used too often. Usage of them en masse hasn't been shown to lower obesity or poor health in the least over the long haul. And do I want sugar alcohol, chemical preservatives I can't pronounce & a bunch of other ingredients used to mimic chocolate? No. A piece of real dark chocolate with 70% cocoa content is healthier than a lot of these bars. Yikes! What's a girl to do? Make up her own snack mix! Some people can genetically eat a lot of fat & sugar but get away with not gaining weight or having health problems from that. Other people have such active lifestyles that they burn on the calories off before they can put on any extra pounds. But a lot of us have neither the genes nor the lifestyle to consistently eat junk food & stay healthy. For me, I need small & lean meals every three hours or so to help my metabolism go faster, and I have to exercise at a high intensity six times a week for an hour each day just to maintain my weight. So I rely on clean eating to help me out in the health & fitness department.

For a snack, I portion out 1/3 c. servings of the following mixture, and that is what I recommend for most other women- for men or extremely active & lean women, I'd recommend 1/2 c. portions instead. It's full of nutrients & flavor. I love this blend because you can carry it in your purse, overnight bag or gym bag & you don't have to worry about anything in it melting. The dried fruit helps conquer sweet tooth cravings, plus adds some nutrients to the mix. For storage, just put the entire mixture in a big Lock & Lock or other airtight container, name & date the container with an adhesive label, and throw a 1/3 c. or 1/2 c. measuring spoon in there. Put a single serving into a baggie or small container to take with you- this is great to have on hand, especially if temptation arises. When cake is available because of someone's birthday at work, when there are samples of unhealthy food put out at a store, when you're at the movie theater (just hide the baggie before the lights are dimmed!), and in any other situations where you might go off your clean eating regimen, this comes to the rescue. Always carry a small snack like this with you as a "survival kit" for those situations, if you are trying not to gain weight. The ratio should always be roughly 2/3 nuts and/or seeds to 1/3 dried fruit, if you want to deviate from my recipe & choose different nuts or fruit. Personally, I prefer to go about up to about 75% nuts/seeds & 25% dried fruit, because I don't need a lot of carbohydrates. Of course I believe in people eating fresh fruit as much as possible, but I also know that's not always the most convenient choice for a number of reasons. Dried fruit doesn't replace eating fresh fruit, I must add, but just eating plain nuts or seeds (especially when they're sodium-free) gets so boring after awhile.

In any event, always choose sodium-free, organic & preservative-free versions of all snacks if possible. I do not like artificial sweeteners in the least- if something must be sweetened, there are many healthier alternatives than the chemicals created to mimic sugar, most of which don't even truly end up tasting like sugar at all. Coconut nectar & crystals, brown rice syrup, blue agave nectar- all great alternatives to bleached sugar or artificial sweeteners. Sucanat is a popular choice with nutritionists to replace the typical bleached sugar most of us grew up with, when used in small doses. It is my personal preference for sweetening foods. I buy most of my ingredients for stuff like this from You get free shipping on orders $49 & over. I've looked all through the Internet & compared prices, but Vitacost almost always comes out the cheapest, especially when you compare volumes of what you're buying. Always look for unsalted versions of nuts. The only time you want additional sodium in your snacks on purpose is if you are exercising at a very high intensity for more than ninety minutes. You can also get spices & herbs much cheaper than the grocery stores & with far better quality at I've been buying from them for nearly twenty years, and everything they sell is delicious. I rely on many of their great spice blends to perk up my food. They have Indian, Italian, Polish, Russian & many more spice-blend styles that make bland lean protein, whole grains & vegetables into something special.

Liz' Sodium-Free Healthy Snack Mix
One 16 oz. bag of Best of All Raw Cashews Unsalted
One 8 oz. bag of Best of All Organic Almonds
One 8 oz. bag of Best of All Pecan Halves Unsalted
One 16 oz. bag of Best of All Unsalted Sunflower Seeds Hulled
One 8 oz. bag of Bob's Red Mill Dried Cranberries
One 8 oz. bag of Bob's Red Mill Dried Blueberries
Optional: 1 to 2 tsp. of high-quality cinnamon, such as Penzey's Ceylon Cinnamon or Simply Organic Cinnamon Powder (cinnamon is used to lower fasting blood glucose levels [amongst other good attributes], especially great for diabetics or anyone with a family history of diabetes; please check the Internet for articles surrounding this great spice)

Or here it is in PDF form (if you want to print it out):

Mix all together in a mixing bowl or your storage container. I prefer to keep my mixture in the fridge, just to make sure the items within stay fresh. This makes a lot of the snack mix, but if you eat it daily, it goes pretty fast. I hope you enjoy it!

Here's to being a healthy organized minimalist,

Finish the Projects That Have Been on Your Plate for Ages

I'm thirty-two years old. My grandmother gave my mother a beautiful jumbo rocking chair not very long before I was born. For years, despite the fact that my mother & I discussed wanting to get a rocking chair cushion set it, we never got around to it. It wasn't an issue of money- we both worked & could afford to buy a set. But for whatever reason, we just kept putting it off. Well, finally this past year I decided that I want to get seriously organized, and finish those nagging projects that whispered in my ear so often. So nearly thirty-two years after this baby was born, I finally bought the darn rocking chair cushion set. It made the chair so much more comfortable, attractive & finished-looking. Why, why, why did we wait? This could have been additional seating all these years, instead of being the chair ignored for three decades because it wasn't all that comfy. For less than sixty dollars, I got a project finished that hung over me for years. Wow, do I feel like an idiot! If you're curious, here's the set that I got:

These projects either need to be conquered (if you have all the time, tools, money, resources, etc., available to finish them); dropped from your life (if you don't have one or more of those attributes); or they need to be modified. I took on the project of taking all of my mother's loose-leaf recipes, typing them up, three-hole-punching them & putting them in their own binder. I did complete several recipes this way, but I realized what was really needed was a decluttering of these recipes first. I had over a hundred recipes, many of which were never even used, sitting in the file folder waiting to be typed. It was such a boring project & so time-consuming that I ended up dropping it. The recipes I knew that we needed (since I'm the cook of the house), I either did re-type (if the loose-leaf paper was really old) or just three-hole-punched the original & put it in the binder. The rest of the recipes, the ones my mother has been collecting since 1971 & hasn't made since 1978, mostly went in the trash. There were a few that she stubbornly hung on to, but I wrestled most of the unused ones into the trashcan. Does my cookbook binder look perfect? Nope. Does it look good, though? Yes, it does. It's a zip-around folio-binder that folds flat, perfect as a cookbook. I own a three-hole-punch that I bought on, and I adore it. I have an all-in-one printer, copier, fax & scanner, so recipes are really easy for me to print off. I bought a set of eight & a set of five plastic dividers with tabs to separate my recipes by category. Whenever I find a good recipe online, I simply print it out & add it the book. If it turns out to be a dud, I throw the recipe out. Easy. Just for information's sake, by the way, here are my personal cookbook categories:

Drinks (mostly alcoholic ones, but there's also some for hot cocoa variations & coffee drinks)
Fin Fish

Whatever projects are hanging over your head, write every single one of them down or type them out. List every single step needed that you know of to finish it. Estimate the time it will take to do each step. List the cost of taking each step, or find out what the exact cost is if you need to check on that. Should you need to join an organization, ascertain what information you'll be expected to give, how much the annual dues are (also referred to as a membership fee), how often the organization meets together, and where the group meets. Do they rotate from one person's home to another (this is common in smaller organizations)? Would you be expected from time to time to bring more than just yourself, such as contributing to a potluck or group dinner? What would be the benefits & the drawbacks of this undertaking? Are the drawbacks so huge that it makes the undertaking impossible or too much of a stretch at this point in your life? For every new project you take on, time will be needed for it, and you need to think about where that extra time will come from. Will something else that you do regularly need to be cut back on or cut out entirely to do this project, at least temporarily? If you need help from a particular person, organization or staff to finish your project, list their name(s) & contact info now. If payment to another entity will be required, how & when will you be expected to pay them? Where will the money be coming from? (A loan on your 401k, credit cards, money from a family member, an inheritance, your savings account, etc.) List how much time you will spend on the project personally, when you'll spend the time on it, and mark it in your calendar- if you use both a paper calendar & an electronic one, list the times on both. If another person or group of people have to do the project, what is the timeframe that they'll need (and it's better for them to overestimate than underestimate)? Set clear deadlines with this entity, though, and make sure that both parties are extremely clear on that expectation. Depending upon the extent of this project, a written contract may be needed. If this project will be forcing you to close off a part of your home or you have to leave entirely (such as during a major renovation), can you afford to do this & where will you go? Have email reminders sent to yourself, if possible, to help you remember each step that you need to do along the way, if you go ahead with the goal. Envision yourself & the finished project in a positive light, with the project being finished by your deadline, as well.

Here's to being an organized minimalist,


Friday, July 6, 2012

Today's Organizing Tip- Sort Through & Clean Your Jewelry & Watches

My mission for you today is to get your jewelry items in order. You don't have to get this all done in one day. But I would like you to sort through your jewelry if it's been awhile since you've done so, and if you own quite a few pieces. Spend fifteen minutes at a time on it, utilizing a timer if needed. See what pieces are broken & need to be fixed or tossed (if they'd be of no sentimental or financial value even when fixed, throw them out or donate them now). Check & see if watch batteries need to be changed, and go to a jewelry store to get that done- it's a nominal cost, usually $5 to $10, to get a watch battery replaced. Watches with a scratched face or bad band, with pieces sticking out (like metal mesh that can damage fabric or any other flaws), should usually be gotten rid of. Bands can be replaced, but it may not be worth the time & cost. If they were made of gold or sterling silver, or possess gems in them, you may be able to get money for the watch.

See if you need any replacement earring backs, either in metal or plastic (both kinds are available on in several different versions & colors of metal). If you've lost one earring, and it's been a long time since it happened, I recommend selling it's twin which has been sitting all by itself. If it's gold or silver, you can sell it to a gold/silver buyer & get some cash for it. Same thing with broken necklaces- toss, repair or sell. That should, in fact, be your mantra- TOSS, REPAIR OR SELL BROKEN OR UNWORN PIECES. Obviously, if they have deep sentimental value to you (like a deceased family member's ring), by all means keep it. If it's in decent condition but doesn't fit you because it's too big or small, see what you can do to alter it. Or you could wear a ring guard to make a too-big ring fit your finger. Some rings can be re-sized by thinning the metal, to make it bigger, if needed. This usually works if the rings only have precious gems in them- if they're semi-precious or "soft" stones (pearl, turquoise, etc.), they cannot handle the process of a band-thinning. I had a friend who converted a deceased family member's ring into a beautiful pendant- it had diamonds & some other colored stone (I think it was sapphire). The setting which was originally on a ring looked great as a pendant. Or maybe you have a jewelry object could be made into a brooch. If it's a ring, you could just wear it on a platinum, gold or silver chain (as applicable). If you're selling your jewelry, please be sure to check out the company's record with the Better Business Bureau (if you reside in the U.S.) Thoroughly research online to get reviews from people who've used the company & see how long they've been in business- the longer, the better. The following site is for a company I've used & had no issues with whatsoever.

If anyone else has worn any of your earrings, sanitize them with rubbing alcohol on a cotton ball, as putting on earrings worn by someone else without cleaning them can possibly lead to an earring hole infection of your skin. If you've loaned somebody a piece or set of jewelry & they're done needing it, ask for the jewelry & get it back now.

A tarnish-removing plate is a great investment if you own a lot of sterling silver jewelry. All you have to do is put the plate down in a sink, plug the drain, put in a small amount of Borax (which is a laundry additive typically) & fill the sink up with some hot water. Be aware that this treatment DOES NOT work on softer stones like turquoise, lapis lazuli & pearls. It will loosen the glue holding the stones in place & can disintegrate the stones themselves. However, it works safely & well for precious gems, which would be rubies, sapphires & emeralds; semi-precious stones such as amethyst or any form of topaz; sterling silver household pieces like flatware & tea pots. I've used it many times, always astounded at the tarnish that comes off & how much my items get brightened with it's use. Rinse VERY well afterwards with lukewarm water, dry with a lint-free cloth as much as possible & them lay on a cloth for several hours to make sure that they dry completely before storing them again. Here's the link to this brightening & restoring product below:

If you're hunting for a jewelry box, keep in mind what you own carefully in terms of volume & metal. Jewelry storage options are practically infinite, so I can't address every single one made here. But I can advise you on which type might be best for you. Jewelry trays are available which you can put in a drawer. This is a great option if you lack surface space on your dresser or in your closet, but have a drawer in your dresser that you can put them in. If you have strangers or acquaintences come in your home frequently (such as members of a maid service), I strongly suggest that you invest in a locking jewelry box. It'll cost a bit more at the outset, but it is worth it for the piece of mind. Keep the key with you if at all possible, not out in the open where it can easily be used by the wrong hands. The same thing applies if you have small children who get into everything- it's safer for them & your jewelry if the kids can't get a hold of the pieces! Here are some examples of modern jewelry boxes:^H164549,RecTypeInd^IOFFER,navlist^H193897*H01966*H164549*,cp^detail,tmp^related,cpprod^H165020,cm_scid^dtlr&walk=&cmtags=

If you own a good deal of silver jewelry, then I highly recommend storing it in a specially-designed box or bag lined with tarnish-resistant qualities. I've owned the following box for about seven years, and I can attest to the fact that my silver hasn't tarnished at all, and there are plenty of times I don't wear silver, so it's just stored in the jewelry box. Also, this holds a good amount of items:

If you own a lot more pieces, have plenty of necklaces & can afford it, another box with the same lining is available here:^H165020,RecTypeInd^IOFFER,navlist^H193897*H165020*H164549*,cp^detail,tmp^related,cpprod^H01966,cm_scid^dtlr&walk=&cmtags=

If you only own gold jewelry & want some elegant storage options, I recommend these:

If you have a gargantuan amount of jewelry, consider storing it in an armoire:

You can also choose to hang your jewelry in the closet or on a doorknob, too. This is especially nice for situations when you don't have surface space for a box.

If you're a very visual person, someone for whom things are "out-of-sight, out-of-mind", a jewelry display holder can be the solution to this organization goal.

For travel, these are good options for safe storage of relatively small amounts of jewelry:

I clean my jewelry every morning right before I put it on (excluding my watch, of course!) I plug the drain of my bathroom sink, put the jewelry in my sink, grab a firm toothbrush which is solely reserved for cleaning jewelry, put a little water & some plain old liquid hand soap on it (I use Dial). I scrub each jewelry piece front & back for thirty seconds or so, then rinse thoroughly. I dry them with a clean washcloth or white cleaning cloth. This daily cleaning ensures that my jewelry always looks it's best on me. I've already put on my body lotion & perfume, plus have already styled my hair completely when I adorn myself with jewels. Jewelry should be put on after grooming, as moisturizers, sweat, body oils, perfume & hair-care products (especially hairspray) dull the finish of the jewelry & take away from their sparkle. If that happens on a long-term basis, it can cause damage to your jewelry if they're getting hit with this products. Another reason why I put on jewelry last is because it can snag bras, panties, socks, any seams or lace in your clothing & it is especially brutal to hosiery if it catches the fabric. Jewelry with any edges like what you'd find on a ring holding a stone will catch on things even if you're very careful, and no one needs additional hassles when they're trying to get ready for the day ahead.

(Again, I must always say that I officially do not endorse any products whatsoever, nor am I under contract to sell any of the items listed here, and all information given in this article is for informational purposes only.)

Here's to being a bejeweled organized minimalist,

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Make a List of All the Habits You Have Learned in Life

I want the list to include both what are considered to be good habits, like brushing your teeth twice a day, and bad habits, such as smoking. You can include in the habits things that you learned how to do- a skill- that you kept up, such as typing 60/wpm or filing papers. I want you to see & realize for yourself just how adept your brain is at learning habits already. Sometimes we do this out of sheer necessity. For example, when you get a new job position, you learn new habits because you have to in order to perform your job correctly. Pretty soon, what was once a challenging task becomes so mundane that you can do it while filing your nails & checking your email. Trust me, the ability is there to learn anew- you just may not have realized it.

You may have the false belief system still turning in a loop around your head saying, "An old dog can't learn new tricks. I'm set in my ways. I can't learn new skills. My bad habits will never change. I am who I am." You get my point. When you were first born, though, you didn't have this belief system- you learned it all as years went by. Therefore it's an incorrect belief or a whole belief system, because you can always change yourself & your habits. It's also usually a transparent belief system because you see through it, but you don't usually know you have these exact self-defeating things going through your mind. Usually it's much more subconscious than conscious, which makes them all the more difficult to root out & eliminate. But it can be done. Changing your belief isn't actually difficult to do- but it is usually something which takes repeated hearing, seeing & feeling. However, even a deeply-held belief can change in an instant. Ask anyone who believed the world was a safe place until a crime happened to them personally. Some events are so extreme that it changes your perception forever. That's an example of a new negative belief being formed, but it has a logical beginning to it. Even if it's a belief that doesn't serve you well, it doesn't mean it's totally illogical. A belief can be formed from the self, such as a positive one like "I am an organized person", or can come to be believed because of the words spoken by someone else, such as "You never do anything right!" It is a lifelong process to turn over all of the old self-defeating recordings we've got embedded in the brain into a mindset that forms a prescription for success. You have to really believe in something to see it bear fruit in your life- there's no faking out allowed here. You can say an affirmation for days on end in the mirror (as many self-help books used to encourage), but if your brain still thinks the exact opposite when it comes right down to it subconsciously, chances are you'll just continue to act on your old belief system. This is why people fail at what they think they want to do in life. It isn't often laziness- it'd old programming. You may have some old fear dangling in that brain of yours preventing you from taking on new challenges. The fears of injury, financial ruin, illness, gaining weight or loneliness are often the biggest drivers in sticking to old patterns. Or it may be that you don't really want to do what you think you should do. An example would be that you believe you should clean your home twice a week, when if you really got your wish, you'd have maid service come once a week to clean for you. People only have a certain amount of time, energy & money. You have to consider carefully where you put these resources, what's worth it & what's not in life. (And don't think you can just "not decide" & let life run itself- this is usually a one-way ticket to lifelong dissatifaction & waste.)

When resistance is hanging out in the brain, self-sabotage can occur frequently. Change takes stepping out in faith & it takes repetition of choosing the new over the old- whether it means beginning that first workout even though it feels torturous, leaving a bad relationship although that partner keeps you financially secure, standing up to your verbally-abusive parent despite being afraid to lose their love or asking your boss for a long-overdue raise even in the midst of an unsteady economy. After the first workout, each subsequent one gets easier. Your brain starts to literally form new paths inside. It isn't just that you're getting fitter- you are actually changing neurologically every time you repeat an action. You have to really know the reasons why a new belief has to work for you, and be willing to face setbacks & loss. It won't be easy every single time to make the right choice. It will be far more automatic over time, but you aren't a robot, so don't think it'll always be effortless. You also have to be able to visualize yourself during the change- seeing yourself perform the beginning actions needed for a belief alteration- and see the success achieved after the change has occurred. When you visualize yourself doing exactly the thing that you want, achieving the goal that you think about, and what you'll do once you've mastered the new belief system, you've got a better chance of adhering to it. And your brain in all it's mystery may actually light up an even more expansive path when you decide to change- thoughts can come up that you never dreamed of before. End your limitations, open your heart & expand your brain. You're worth all of that.

Here's to being a happy organized minimalist,


Sunday, July 1, 2012

My List of What to Carry in an Overnight Bag

I got a request from a reader to write a blog on packing for an overnight bag in depth, and I'm happy to provide that information for you here. As my regular readers know, I am always going to give you detailed information & links to products that I personally own or know to be good, in order make your life easier. I've done the research time on the Internet so that you don't have to (that is, if you don't want to). People have different needs in overnight bags, and I want to try & address every need that I can think of, especially for women. If you just want the brief list that I myself use, so that you can print it out, here's the link for that:

Note: As is my usual style, I will provide you with links to the products I've found in my organizing & simplifying journey, though I have no affiliation with any of these companies or sellers. I must reiterate that I am under contract with no products of any kind, and any advice that I give is purely informational & is not a formal endorsement.

Normally, I wear a short-sleeved polo shirt, black boot-cut pants (because I'm tall, this is my best style), black crew socks & black walking sneakers with no decals on them as my daily "uniform", including when I travel. It is the rare place (excluding very formal places) that will not accept you wearing this outfit, and I'm quite comfortable in it. When you're traveling, even if it's just overnight, you want to feel comfy but pulled-together. Black Mary Jean shoes without a high heel can be worn with socks or knee-hi's if an establishment or workplace won't accept sneakers of any kind. High-quality, padded black flip-flops are nice in the summer if you are doing airport traveling, since you have to take off your shoes nowadays. At any rate, I will no longer sacrifice comfort & stability for fashion, in the way of high heels or fashionable-but-uncomfortable clothes. Your skin should be able to breathe in your clothing. I carry a black cross-body bag that holds a water bottle on one side in an outside pocket, and a mini-umbrella in the other outside pocket. The interior holds all that I need for day-to-day life; my wallet, checkbook/pen, keys, pressed translucent face powder, lip gloss, breath mints, a mini first-aid kit & my sunglasses. Personally, I prefer the Donner Bag for my day-to-day purse, which is sold on several websites & available in a variety of colors (mine is in black). Obviously, you do not have to be like me & wear black as your neutral. But I do recommend picking one neutral color & sticking to it for the purposes of packing, as it'll simplify your travel life a lot. Grey, true white & navy are good base colors for cooler skin tones, while ivory, tan & khaki look great on warm-toned gals. Jewelry is a very specific choice to people & can hold a lot of sentimental value to some, but usually what I usually wear is a pair of 14k or 18k yellow gold stud earrings, either little globes of gold or with a neutral stone in it like a white diamond. If you are traveling by air, I obviously recommend that you do not pack anything in a bag which will be checked. If at all possible, stick to what you're wearing on the day you travel. If you must, put your jewelry in a simple, discrete case in a carry-on bag. Stud earrings are great to wear since they can't get caught on anything. They stay in even during swimming & other water sports. More expensive stud earrings have a screw-on back, which is a nice security advantage to have. I do wear a watch with a black leather strap in most cases (it's not always appropriate, depending upon the setting, for me to pull out my cell phone just to check the time). On a super-active or tropical vacation, a sports watch like the Baby G for women can be a better choice, though. Since I like wearing jewelry a lot, I usually choose to wear a "neutral" gold ring & gold bracelet, as well. But that is totally optional. If you're traveling to a high-crime area or by airplane, you may want to skip wearing jewelry altogether, or just stick to small stud earrings. Wearing lots of jewelry can & will draw unwanted attention to you from pickpockets & theives, especially the flashier you get with it. With jewelry picks like what I described before, you shouldn't need to pack jeweled "extras" unless you'll be going to a very formal special event the next day. Less is more at all times. When you wear "basics" on your "traveling day", you'll end up more comfortable for it, and yet you'll still look polished enough.

For nightgowns, robes & some clothing options, I like Land's End products the best. Their cotton is really soft. J.Jill is my second favorite for clothing- their cotton clothes are the softest I've ever felt, but they are more expensive & their selection varies a lot. Land's End, on the other hand, has a pretty steady line of items that they stick to perfecting & keeping around. Look for items on clearance &  outlet sales on J. Jill, though- they tend to have good stuff there! J.Jill goes up to 4X in Women's clothing (size 26/28) & Land's End goes up to 3X (24/26). Land's End Business Outfitters doesn't have sleepwear, but they do have a lot of great work, casual & outerwear pieces. Also, on many items they go up to a 5X(32/34) or 34W for ladies. I love their relaxed fit polo shirt, and their items tend to come in lots of different colors, and nice ones at that. They have good cardigan sweaters, too. You do not have to belong to or own a business to order from them, either, so don't be scared off from ordering for that reason. They will hem your pants purchases to the length that you personally need for free, as well. So if you have a hard time getting pants with the right length in inseam, this is the place to check out, as they will even do unusual measurements like 29 & 1/2", too.

I do not pack shoes in an overnight bag unless it is an overnight trip where I'll need dressier shoes for an event the next day. If I'm just going somewhere to spend the night & would be going right back to work or home the next day then I don't need a separate pair of shoes in that event, since my wardrobe is set up to accommodate mostly black or dark-color clothing already. You can of course keep a pair of shoes like what I'll discuss here in this blog in your bag permanently if you have the income to afford setting aside a set like that. If you ARE going to pack shoes overnight, you can put them in a plastic grocery or small white plastic trash bag. For airport travel, I recommend using a shoe bag, though.

Some people have lifestyles where they're going to a certain type of event frequently, so you will need to adapt your bag accordingly. If the next day will include a business meeting, funeral or any other event where I must dress up, then I'll pack accordingly- which means a skirt & blazer or a dress which will not wrinkle, two pairs of a pantyhose, dress shoes & an evening bag. Linen, while terrific in the summer, tends to wrinkle badly. Rayon can also be wrinkle-prone. Be aware that I'm sharing a "full list" that you can pick and choose from, from going to an athletic event to a formal ball. The following list should work in fairly temperate weather conditions. My list is based on living in the Mid-Atlantic area of the U.S., where we have four distinct seasons but relatively mild weather full-time. If you live in a tropical or arctic area, then you will need to dress more appropriately for that climate. For me autumn means wearing a black, lined leather jacket- sometimes with a wool scarf & black driving gloves- when I go outdoors. And I'll often wear a black cardigan or blazer indoors, during autumn, winter & early spring. This is a great item to have for those times when you go into a chilly movie theater or restaurant, even in the summer, due to heavy use of air-conditioning in those places. In the wintertime, I wear a black-and-white herringbone pea coat that buttons up, along with a black winter scarf & my black driving gloves. When it's snowing or icy out, I wear winter boots with a specific tread for those conditions instead of sneakers. If you like layering, just-slightly-cool days can call for a fleece or down/quilted vest. A fleece vest can be layered really easily with a coat, too, since it doesn't add anything to the arms, and adds very little bulk to the body. If you live in an area where temperatures change a lot- and change quickly- I highly recommend adding a vest to your wardrobe & wearing or packing it for travel.

If you even think your trip could end up lasting more than a day- and this especially true with airplane travel- be prepared. Whether you're traveling for a few days or weeks, packing cubes can be helpful in separating items out neatly in a suitcase. My own travel bag (which is separate from my carry-on overnight bag) set aside for three days or more is separated into the following categories:

1) Nightgown(s)/robe
2) Bras
3) Panties/slips
4) Socks/hosiery
5) Shirts/Dresses
6) Bottoms- Pants, Shorts, Skirts

Here's a couple of links to well-liked & -designed packing cubes below:

Packing an overnight bag is not a cut-and-dried, one-size-fits-all approach, though many authors & organizers act as if it is. I always suggest buying items that will multi-task for you. A convertible overnight/laptop/backpack/airplane carry-on is my general suggestion in a choice of bags. However...when choosing an overnight bag, think carefully beforehand about your lifestyle, what you own already & what you want to carry with you in the event that you need to have this bag hold your needs for 24+ hours. Do you carry a laptop with you all the time, and if so, will you need a special sleeve for it? Are you a techie with a ton of little gadgets that need a certain kind of bag? Does your overnight bag get frequently involved with airplane travel? If so, you may want a bag with a hard handle that extends from the bag by a couple of feet or so, along with wheels on the bottom of the bag for easier walks through the terminals. Do you need a bag that will not let a men's suit, a women's blazer or dress suit, a ball gown or other item wrinkle in the least? Are you a city dweller who needs your bag to hold money & valuables more safely, with a locking mechanism on the zippers? Or are you athletic, often carrying your bag with you on your back while camping or hiking outdoors? In any event, I always recommend packing your bag with a scented dryer sheet or two (unless you're allergic to fragrance). This will help keep items from getting that stale suitcase smell, and it adds a layer of "freshness" to you, when you wear the clothes they came in contact with!

Summer weather usually requires a change in the clothing that you'll pack. I like white linen crop pants with a short-sleeved gauze, light cotton or linen shirt. Dresses or long gypsy skirts in these lighter fabrics are also great. Other options are Calcutta cloth, seersucker & voile. Any bras, panties & slips that you pack will likely be changed over from a dark color to beige accordingly. In tropical climates, clothing tends to be far more casual, so the wrinkling which occurs in summer fabrics is better tolerated. At home I'll wear tank tops, but my upper arms are not my best feature, so I don't usually wear them in public. Also, many workplaces & some establishments elsewhere do not allow tank tops, tight or cut-off shorts or flip-flops. Instead of sneakers & crew socks in hot weather, I simply wear a pair of sandals that work for both casual clothes & some dressy events (like going to church, on a date or to an interview). Here are a few examples below:

If you'll be at the beach and/or pool, you'll need to pack a bathing suit, plus perhaps a summer cover-up, flip-flops or water shoes, one or two beach towels per person & if you're trying to avoid getting too much sun, a sun hat is appropriate. Some people believe in sun exposure for health, while others do not. If you need to, pack your sunscreen for the face & body, lip balm with SPF 15+ & maybe some aloe gel for after-sun skin moisturizing.

For semi-formal or formal events in the summer, you may want to switch over to a nude-colored flat or pump to look more "with it" for that time of year. Here's a few examples:

I also wear a cooling bandana around my neck on very hot days. Military personnel often wear these in desert conditions, for example. If you're traveling, you can either pack this dry in your overnight bag or if it's wet, store it in a quart-size freezer bag that zips with a small ice pack to keep it cold. All you do to activate it is stick it in a sink with enough cold water to cover it. Little beads are in it, and expand to keep you cool for hours. As long as the ends are wrung out, it won't drip on you, either.

My Favorite Overnight/Carry-On Bags

Additional Bags
Black evening bag (this should work both for semi-formal & formal events)_
Nylon or canvas tote, preferably insulated & with a zippered top (they'll fold down beautifully flat in your overnight bag & is great if you'll be buying a knick-knack, drinks [bottle of wine or something similar], food or gifts & need some extra room that can't be afforded in your purse or overnight bag)_

Clothes (this is what I pack for my list- please obviously feel free to adapt this to your gender, wardrobe basics, climate & lifestyle)
1 black bra_
1 pair of black panties_
1 pair of black socks_
1 dark-colored cotton short-sleeved polo shirt_
1 pair of black pants_
1 negligee, nightgown or pair of pajamas, as appropriate_
1 black hooded, zippered jacket, preferably with a removable nylon shell & a fleece interior (I've provided the link to a good one below)_
1 black cardigan sweater_
[Optional] Down/quilted or fleece vest_
[Optional] If you're an exerciser, you'll probably want to pack a sports bra, workout bottoms & athletic socks. Here are my favorites:
If going to a semi-formal event: 1 dress that is NOT black (choose a color and/or pattern that is flattering to your coloring or figure; I don't recommend wearing black clothing to weddings, but your shoes & purse can still be black)_ 2 pairs of beige pantyhose (in case one pair of them gets a run in it)_ Beige or black slip (depending upon the dress color) that stops right below the knee is what I normally pack & wear- you may need a different slip length, depending upon the hemline length of your dress_
If going to a cocktail or other party that is NOT black-tie or white-tie: Black cocktail dress_ 2 pairs of black pantyhose_ Black slip_
If going to a black- or white-tie event: 1 ball gown_ 2 pairs of beige or black pantyhose (whatever is appropriate based on the color of the dress)_ Beige or black slip (again, whatever is appropriate for the dress' color; this slip will usually fall much longer, sometimes down to the ankle, depending upon the dress)_

Garment Bags (for suits or other items that cannot be folded into an overnight bag)


Other (these items are optional, but nice to have)
A game on your cell phone, a novel, crossword puzzle book, magazine or Kindle E-Reader w/ charger so you'll have something to read_
A flashlight if you'll be going out after dark & will be in an unknown place to you or you'll have a long way to walk. Some areas are not well-lit around clubs, theaters & even concert halls. If you have to walk down alleys to get somewhere, at night these places are usually very dark. (I had to do this a lot when I went to clubs or concert venues in D.C., because parking is a nightmare- you're going to be doing some serious walking down in that city!)_ Here's the link to my fave flashlight:
If traveling by air, a passport holder is great to have (around-the-neck style works best for me):
For international travel, include an electrical plug adapter:
iPod or MP3 player, plus charger (really nice if you're into music or need it for exercising)_
Spare blanket (nice to have if you'll be spending the night in a guest bed- you never know what temperature your host will keep the bedroom at!)_
A wristlet or cross-body dance bag if you'll be going out to a bar, club or concert arena (this way, you're not lugging around a purse, briefcase or man-bag):

If you're going to a semi-formal event (church, wedding, romantic date): 1 pair of comfortable black dress flats_
If you're going to a formal event (cocktail party, black-tie or white-tie event): 1 pair of comfortable black dress pumps_
If you're going to an athletic event where you'll be participating: 1 pair of black running sneakers or hiking boots_
If you're going to be doing building or any other event like working with household tools- 1 pair of black work boots_
In winter- Winter boots with a tread specifically designed to help you walk on ice & snow more easily. I found that the Toe Warmers brand is the most comfortable & gives me the best grip in my feet when snow & ice are on the ground:

Toiletries (I always recommend packing these in a fairly small, hanging toiletry bag with a well-divided interior)
All-in-One Shampoo/Body Wash/Lingerie Wash- I like a Paula's Choice product given to you in the link below. This is a fragrance-free product, so it will not conflict with your perfume, nor should it cause any allergic reactions. These products go through rigorous testing & I've found most of her products to be very high-quality. All Paula's Choice products are available in sample pack sizes, which I highly recommend, as they can go through even the testiest airport without issue, are inexpensive to purchase & last a long time when left unopened.
Body/hand moisturizer, preferably in sample packs or a 3 oz. or less-sized bottle_
[Optional] Clear nail polish, to stop runs in pantyhose, and for putting on bare fingernails and/or toenails for a polished look_
Contact lens case, travel-size cleansing/storage solution & re-wetting drops, if applicable_
Cuticle scissors or fingernail clippers to remove loose threads from clothing and/or trimming back hangnails_
Daytime facial moisturizer w/ SPF 15+ sunscreen, if applicable_ (good for oily or combination skin types) (good for normal skin types) (good for dry skin types)
Dental floss (I prefer picks instead of spools of floss)_
Deodorant/anti-perspirant (I like Mitchum Power Gel in Mountain Air- this stuff is clear & never gets on any clothing. The fragrance is not overwhelming, but it's really clean-smelling & nice to wear. It lasts at least twenty-four hours, sometimes up to forty-eight hours, which Mitchum is well-known for)_
1 set of ear plugs, if you are a light sleeper_
(Optional) Evian travel-sized water spritz, nice for airplane travel, as your face can dry out more easily in those conditions. It is also very refreshing in the summertime_
Eyeglasses case, mini-eyeglass repair kit, eyeglass cord to wear them around the neck if needed, a cleaning wipe & a small bottle of eyeglass cleaner OR eyeglass pre-moistened cleansing wipes, if applicable_
Feminine products (enough for overnight), if applicable_ For women: Remember that if you are packing maxi-pads, it's a good idea to pack one or two pairs of white or beige panties to wear under your nightgown or pajamas. If it's that time of the month, I would suggest packing extra panties, anyway. If you use maxi-pads, I don't recommend sleeping in the same panties you'll be using for daily wear, for hygienic reasons (because of sweating, etc.)
Hair Conditioner/Shave Lubricant duo- I'll include another link for my favorite combo from Paula's Choice:
Facial Cleanser/Makeup Remover/Toner all-in-one: Either cleansing wipes or sample packs of your favorite product that will not break you out or dry out your skin. If you can buy single-use packets or a 3 oz. (or less) version, do so. Here's a few of my favorites: (the 3 oz. size is $10.00 + shipping)
Hairbrush and/or comb_
Hairstyling products, if applicable, such as hair paste, gel or hairspray_
Hairstyling tools, if applicable- ponytail holders, headbands, bobby clips, travel-sized hairdryer, curling iron, straightening iron, etc._
[Optional] Lip balm_
Makeup, if applicable (foundation, pressed powder, etc.) & makeup applicators/brushes_
[Optional] Mini battery-operated fan_
[Optional] Mini first aid kit_
Or you can make up your own: .5 oz. tube of Neosporin_ A couple of small bandages, medium bandages & large bandages_ Single-dose packets or small tubes of Advil, Aleve, anti-diarrheal medicine, aspirin, diphenhydramine (Benedryl), Dramamine (motion & airplane sickness relief) and/or Tylenol; if you'll be traveling by air, keep all medicine like this sealed in it's original packaging, or airlines will not allow it onboard. If you buy the big bottles, instead, this means keep the medicine in it's original box (if it came with one) & still possessing the unbroken seal around the cap. It is not worth the headache of arguing with airport security, in my opinion, to do otherwise_
Mini-sized mouthwash_
[Optional] Mini sewing kit_
Nighttime facial moisturizer, if needed_
[Optional] Non-melting nutrition/energy/granola bar or two (to grab as a quick breakfast or snack, if needed)_
Packet of pocket tissues_
Personal sexual protection, if applicable_
Pillbox or fob with 24 hours worth of prescription medication and/or supplements that you take, if applicable. I recommend keeping this medication in your purse or a fanny pack, NOT putting it in your overnight bag. If there is ANY chance that you may be delayed more than one day, pack half a week's worth of medicine. Using pillboxes won't work for more than a couple of days straight with most airports, if they were to search your bags- they'll want the meds in their original bottle or packaging. Don't bring every pill you have in the prescription bottle, in case for some reason your medicine is seized or is lost in flight (which can happen). Bring just enough to get by for the expected duration of your trip, plus one or two days extra._
[Optional] Purell or Wet Ones wipes, mini-hand sanitizer gel and/or sanitizing spray (The spray is excellent for grocery store cart handles, ATM machines, faucets, handles, light switches & doorknobs. The wipes are good, too, if you're going to a hotel or other place where you might want to wipe down surfaces before you set stuff down or sit on them)_
1 or 2 Q-Tips_
Razor for shaving, if applicable_
[Optional] Shower cap_
[Optional] Sleep mask that blocks out light_
Solid potted version or a purse spray version (usually these are in a .5 oz. size) of your favorite perfume, if applicable_
[Optional] Spray mineral water (travel size) in a pump bottle- A lot of people like this for airplane travel or while being in very dry climates, to refresh their face. Airplane conditions can make normal-to-dry skin feel parched. No matter what, a spritz of water on the face can be very refreshing.
Toothpaste (get a small travel-size tube)_
Umbrella (if it isn't in your purse)_

*If you just want a small, cheap selection of absolute basics, this is a decent set of items to purchase*
For women-

For men-

Toiletry Bags (only needed if your overnight bag doesn't hold your toiletry items safely on it's own)

I know that this is a lot of info, but I mean for you to develop your own personal list from what I've written here. What I've included is a jumping-off point for you here, things to serve as a reminder for what's needed when you travel. I hope that it helps!

Here's to being a happy traveling organized minimalist,