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Friday, August 30, 2013

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

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

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

What I Know Will Help From Personal Experience

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here's to being a happy organized minimalist,

Friday, August 23, 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here's to being a cleanly organized minimalist,


Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Another Post for Fellow FlyBabies: Sometimes it Does Take YEARS (Not Days or Weeks!) to Build All New Habits

Okay, so I got inspired to write this post by a kind comment made on the blog entry I wrote for following FlyLady's program while disabled.  I've always felt that letting each of you know about my personal struggles trying to make FlyLady's program work might be helpful, and I hope that's the case.

Just seven years ago, I was pretty darn disorganized.  I was so embarrassed when people would stop by my house without notice.  I was never tardy for work or anything, but I always felt I was playing "beat the clock" when it came to balancing work and home.  I was frustrated as all get out.  My mind felt like a tornado was whirling through it constantly.  It took backbreaking housework to make my home look presentable every time that I attempted it.  When I did clean, the house would look great, but only for about a day (if I was lucky).  I blamed my full-time job for taking time and energy from me, but that really wasn't the problem.  Because even when I was home all day puttering around the house during rare days off, I still couldn't seem to get anything of any value done.  I'd try to get stuff accomplished, but it was if I was always playing catch-up- and I hardly ever won the game.  I couldn't seem to prioritize correctly.  I felt guilty spending time on formal exercise or going out with friends, because my house almost always looked like a mess.  I honestly thought that I was missing some imperative gene that made keeping a home nice while holding down a full-time job, working out regularly and still socializing a fair amount of time with my friends possible.  I was almost resigned to being a lifelong "messy", or having only certain aspects of my life be successes, with others relegated to "utter failure" stature.  I worried about what kind of wife or mother I'd make in this state.  But at least I knew that I had a problem, right?  That truly always seems to be the first step in solving problems, knowing that there IS an issue to begin with.

I was desperately trying to get organized when I stumbled across FlyLady's program after doing a Google search one day on organizing.  When I read her website's details, I had a major "Eureka!" moment.  I was the type of person that just didn't see a mess until it was already out of control.  The idea of daily chores were virtually unheard of to me back then.  Habits?  What were those?  Undertaking a series of daily household routines never even entered my mind pre-FlyLady.  She was describing me when she talked about sidetracked home executives (though I worked full-time outside the home, it didn't matter- it's a personality type we're talking about here).  Wow, she got it!  I was hopping mad that no one had pointed out the common sense stuff she was talking about before.  All of those years that I was condemned for not being as neat, organized and together as other people, but the people doing the condemning never gave me any tools to be anything other than what I already was.  Finally, someone gave the blueprint for a better home and a better life!

But it wasn't as simple as just following Maria Cilley's program step by step.  I faced a lot of inner rebellion.  Why the heck did I have to be the one doing all of the housework?  Why should I schedule my life around cleaning?  Why do I have to pick up after myself when no one else does in the house?  (And yes, I blamed my cats for not picking up after themselves- total insanity on my part, LOL!)  I must have written up and deleted fifty different control journals, the deletions coming along each time my inner rebel won the unending mental argument in my head.  But finally I realized that if I followed the program, I actually wouldn't be a slave to a cleaning schedule.  I'd have the darn cleaning out of the way in a relative jiffy if I followed FlyLady's plan, and then I could have loads of fun (or get other work done...) the rest of the time.  It took me a couple of years to get over the rebellion, to be honest.  If it has taken you some time to do the same, or you're still feeling that way, take heart.  You aren't alone, and it doesn't make you a terrible person or homemaker.  It's a natural feeling.

Anyway, I first started following her program in 2007.  If you read her website, you may think that you can have your home swept into shape within a month or at least within a year.  For some people that may in fact be true.  But I'll be quite honest- it took me five years to really have the habits ingrained.  And only now can I say that I do these things on auto-pilot.  Make the bed when I get up, swish-and-swipe the bathroom first thing when I go in there each morning, unload/load/run the dishwasher as needed during the day and evening, wash the dirty pots or pans up promptly after dinner...these are all fairly automatic habits to me now.  They're not always easy to accomplish or focus on, mind you- but I no longer need a reminder to know that they need to be done from any outside source.  I actually see messes now immediately, which was a big part of the initial problem.  It is a true habit now to put things away when I'm done with them, take dirty dishes back to the kitchen from the dining room, start a load of laundry each morning.  If my chores don't get done for some reason that day, it's by my choice and not because I forgot.  Five or six years to accomplish this mindset- not five days, weeks or even months.  There's probably a scientific reason for that.  I'm no scientist, but I do know that it takes some time to build new pathways in the brain, otherwise known as creating new habits.  Every person is different.  You may be lucky and get on auto-pilot far more quickly than I did.  I had an upbringing to overcome where I wasn't taught ANY of this stuff.  I'm also daydream-y by nature, not always grounded in the present time and place the way others are naturally.  Just be patient, no matter what your circumstances are.  The time is going to pass by regardless of what you do.   

Some habits were easier to build than others for me too, and I think that you should fully expect the same for yourself.  I got the laundry habit down rather quickly, within a few weeks.  Within a few months, the Weekly Home Blessing Hour and other weekly events were etched in my mind.  Within a couple of years, laying out clothes daily and making my bed became ingrained habits.  Next came the swish-and-swipe.  Last to come on board was cleaning up the kitchen after dinner every single night (mostly because I hate washing dishes, no doubt!)  The chores that you like the most will probably become the first ones that you memorize, and the ones you hate will probably be the habits that you retain last.  Now my house runs like a neat little battleship with a wise, intelligent captain...well, most of the time.  Think of just how many years a dancer must train to become agile, fit and flawless enough to perform a whole routine for an audience.  One learns those complex routines by doing each step over and over again in order until it becomes automatic, and that's after many months or years of training to develop a body fit for dancing in the first place.  Or look at how many years it takes a person to become an accomplished engineer, able to design a building without flaws.  That goal also takes many years of school, experience, overcoming failures and hard work to achieve.  No in-depth knowledge worth having and no skill worth doing becomes perfect overnight!  It has nothing to do with the innate intellect or talent of the person, it just takes years to retain enough knowledge and skill to get things done at a high level of excellence consistently.  Some people have loads of energy, tons of mental focus and no disabilities.  If you do suffer from a disability, though, the work may get done more slowly and perhaps with more pain involved.  This is just the nature of life- and another good reason not to hold yourself up to a standard which you can't achieve no matter how hard you try.  No two people are built alike.  Other, more temporary things, also work against us.  Depression, anxiety, grief, argumentative relationships with people in your household, acute physical injuries...all of these elements make even very short and simple chores more challenging, let alone the bigger and longer chores.  Expect this to happen sometimes.

Don't put yourself in punishment mode if you are taking more time than you think you should be to "get it all done".  You'll get there!  Many, many times I thought that I just couldn't cut it when it came to mastering the FlyLady program.  But here I am writing to you about organizing, when seven years ago I knew virtually nothing on the subject!  Have faith in yourself.  Celebrate the successes, even the tiny ones.  I now have a 4.0 GPA in college, am an Honors student, my house looks better than ever before in my life all the time- and yet I also still battle fibromyalgia daily.  If I can do it, anyone can conquer the chaos of life!  It does take time, lots of reading on occasion and plenty of focus to get organized and then stay organized, but it can be done.  Please don't let one bad day, week, month or even year stop you, either.  Sometimes I just have to amend her program to suit that time period's particular problems.  My main focus now is that I get done what's on her daily Flight Plan at some point during that day.  In other words, not everything in the "Morning Routine" will always get done in the a.m.- I may not be able to get around to unloading the dishwasher until it's time to start dinner that evening.  Getting it all done in the a.m. is an ideal (and a good one to have for many people), but it doesn't always work out in reality!  It depends on my schedule, energy/pain level or if some crisis comes up during the day.  I simply accept that now.  FlyLady wants people to dump perfectionism.  And to me, this includes demanding we get everything done in the a.m. as we believe a "perfect" follower of FlyLady would.  Some people also are just not morning people (count me in on that one).  Fighting this fact really isn't very helpful.  Adapt, adapt, adapt the FlyLady lifestyle to work for you (and your family, if applicable).  As FlyLady says, "Just jump in where you are!"  Take those words to heart for good.  If you get done what's on the program most days, sometime during each day, your home and life will stay in good shape!  You will not be spending all day every day cleaning with her system, either. 

Here's to being an organized minimalist,

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Emergency Preparedness Step #14- If You Haven't Already Done So, Start a Control Journal

This is my final emergency preparedness task for you to complete.  Credit for the control journal idea goes to The FlyLady (Maria Cilley).  It is also called a household notebook in some circles.  In this post, I'll simply be asking you to assemble some papers together for your emergencies into the control journal.  It will not take you nearly the amount of time that you think it will, I promise, even if you haven't a clue what a control journal is right now.  Please read my previous post if you need an idea of what's good to keep in a control journal all of the time:

If you haven't thought of it before, realize that not all emergencies will be weather-related.  Some are medical in nature and some of them may happen to the main man/woman of the household, which I know is likely to be you, dear reader!  Medical emergencies often throw people and families into a tizzy because no one is prepared to deal with them in advance.  Now of course you cannot be prepared for any and all problems that will arise, but you can do an amazing amount of preparation with a minimum amount of effort and time.  If you haven't already done it, type up and include a medical/surgical history page for the control journal, including your/your family member's full name, address and phone number at the top.  On this page, list when and what type of surgeries they've had, what if any medications they are on and in what dosage, recurring/chronic health conditions, any and all allergies (food and medication).  Put the name, address and phone number of their primary (family) doctor on it and include the same information for any specialists or psychiatric doctors that they see on a regular basis- once a year or more, that is.  This information is something that should be saved in your documents on your computer.  Don't include a Social Security number on it (they can get that later from you or from the patient themselves if needed), but do give a copy of it to any medical and/or emergency personnel that treat them, especially if they are not familiar with their medical history.  For yourself, I recommend that you carry a copy of this in your glove compartment or (if you work outside the home) in a locked work cabinet.  If you were in a car wreck or had an emergency medical problem come up at work, this information is incredibly helpful to medical staff and may be absolutely necessary info to have if you cannot speak in the event of an emergency like this.  Even when a medical emergency happens to someone besides yourself in the household, you or your spouse could be in so much shock or worrying so much about the situation at hand that you could neglect to give paramedics or ER staff a vital piece of medical history on the person who's being treated.  Make sure that all of your medical/dental insurance cards are up-to-date and in a safe but easy-to-access location.  Carry your medical insurance card with you everywhere.  If you lose it, immediately request a replacement card from the insurance company (there's no charge for this).   

For yourself and any other adults in the household, I strongly suggest writing out and getting signatures for a durable power of attorney/living will.  You'll most likely have to get it signed by two other people and at least one of them needs to be someone who will not financially benefit from your death.  I've talked about the necessity of having this document before in my blogs and I continue to feel very strongly about filling this out now.  This paper documents what you want done in the event that you're incapacitated, what your wishes are regarding life support, who in your family can make medical decisions for you should you be completely unable to do so yourself and (at least in some documents) your general funeral wishes.  You can keep it in a file cabinet along with any life insurance information you have or you can keep a copy of it in your control journal- it's up to you.  I don't think that filling this out is morbid- it's smart.  You cannot be prepared for emergencies without facing facts and naturally, death is a fact of life.  Please do this for yourself or you could end up having people make decisions for you that you really don't want should you become incapacitated or die suddenly.  I don't care what age or health that you're in- take care of this!  Any special requests you have about your own funeral, what you want done with particular possessions or who you'd want your children to go to in the event of your death all need to be in writing and preferably done in accordance with the legal guidelines for your particular area which will make all of that fully binding.  Yes, you may think that this goes above and beyond a 72-hour emergency plan but I really don't think that it does.  Even in what many would think of as rather minor weather-related disasters, sadly at least one person usually dies during the event.  Remember that almost no one ever thinks, "This is my last day on earth.  I'm ready to go now and I'm completely prepared." 

For weather-related emergencies, make sure you have any and all evacuation plans in your control journal or at least all in one safe place (you could keep it without your household emergency supplies, for example).  The control journal is a good place to store instructions on how to turn off gas, electric, water, major appliances, etc.  Include directions out of town on multiple highways, back roads, etc.- you don't know what traffic will be like if there's a local or national emergency, so plan to have several different ways out of town mapped out.  If you have specific family or friends that you'd be staying with in an emergency, include directions to their home in this journal.  I suggest mapping out two routes to their home using different roads (if at all possible) via Rand McNally, Google or MapQuest. 

One more thing- help protect your expensive electronics and appliances with surge protectors on each.  This has nothing to do with a control journal, but I want to throw it out there while I'm thinking of appliances and major utilities!

Well, that's all on this topic for now.  I hope that this series of tasks has proved helpful to you.  Please let me know if you have any suggestions on this topic or have a request for more information.

Here's to being a prepared organized minimalist,

Monday, August 12, 2013

Emergency Preparedness Task #13- Emergency Preparedness for Your Automobile

Now that you have your home in order for a 72-hour emergency, it's time to get any and all vehicles prepped for yourself and/or your immediate family.  A first-aid kit, water, food, blankets, a waterproof flashlight- all of these are essential for survival should you either get stuck in your vehicle for a few days due to an emergency or have some other problem strike while you're on the road and cannot get immediate assistance.

If you had to travel to a campground, emergency shelter, a family or friends' home or sleep in your car, could you stay safe and warm enough?  Would you have food and water to support everyone for approximately three days?  You don't need to carry these supplies with you on simple runs to the grocery store or anything extreme like that.  But if you have a very long commute to work (45+ minutes one way), a long car trip planned (especially to a rural area with no emergency services and few people around to help in the event of a disaster) or you have to leave your home for any extended time (more than three or four hours away, I'd say), please carry some supplies with you.  An automobile-based emergency can be entirely different in nature from one which happens at home.  Below is the Department of Motor Vehicle's list of needed items for an emergency automobile kit:

Please remember to adapt all of this to your family's personal needs and then plan accordingly.  Obviously if you have a young baby or child along, your needs will change somewhat from a single person traveling alone or an elderly couple who have limited mobility and/or must have medications on hand to take at regular intervals. 

If you are being evacuated from your home due to an emergency, try to make room in your vehicle's trunk or backseat to carry your home-based emergency supplies along, as well.  This is another reason why I suggest that you always have your home-based emergency supplies in one place- they are easier to gather up quickly if they're all in one location. 

Not only do I want you to stock up on a few additional supplies, but if you haven't already done so, I'd like you to print out directions to the local police and/or fire station, any friends or family you would be staying with if a disaster struck and to all major airports and bus stations in your area.  Large-scale and long-term evacuations are beyond the scope of a 72-hour kit that I suggest you always have available at home or in the car, but nonetheless I'd like you to print out these directions now.  If something happened to you and/or your spouse, your immediate family members will need to know how to get to the safe places you've designated in the event of an emergency.  Some counties, states and other countries besides the U.S. still have plenty of emergency shelters in place that people can go to, but this is pretty rare nowadays as far as I'm aware from all of my reading.  So please don't count on the local, state or Federal government to evacuate and protect you should the need for either one become a reality.  (I'm not slamming what government agencies do in the event of emergencies, I'm merely being realistic- the government can and does frequently respond well to emergency circumstances but there are always mistakes and oversights which occur because that's just the human way.)

Here's to being a prepared organized minimalist,

Sunday, August 11, 2013

For Fellow FlyBabies...Regretfully (In a Way) Rethinking the Whole "Wear Your Shoes All Day Thing"...

Okay, so I'm feeling sort of guilty about this post for odd reasons.  I have no real use or reason to feel guilty, but I was and am such a "devout" follower of FlyLady that this whole thing I'm about to discuss has given me issues, lol.  But without further ado, here's my discovery- my back, legs and feet feel much better without shoes on all day.  Your mileage may vary.  But here's my tale.

About two years ago (a few years after adopting the FlyLady rule of wearing sneakers all the time, day in and day out), I started feeling shin pain (especially bad at night), restless legs starting in the late afternoon/early evening, achy feet, severely stiffening knees and decreased muscle tone in my legs and glutes.  I also realized I could no longer squat down or lunge down much to speak of (especially while in shoes), which was putting a great strain on my back.  Climbing stairs or even curbs was getting to be difficult, and not because it made me out of breath, but because of some decreased leg strength and how bad my joints felt in the lower body.  I also literally could do no more than unload a dishwasher before my lower back started giving me extreme fits of pain and burning.  Cooking was incredibly painful because standing in place was excruciating to my back.  I thought maybe I was aging way before my time due to my fibromyalgia, perhaps that it was a medication side effect or me not doing enough abdominal workouts- I didn't attribute it to wearing shoes.  Now, I've always worn sneakers which are not cheap, are designed for feet like mine (flat but with a fairly low instep), not old shoes, always with quality socks worn underneath, nothing constricting, always in the right size.  I didn't wear heels or even flats, either- I lived in sneakers 99% of the time.  Wearing shoes was certainly convenient when I needed to head out the door unexpectedly- but I didn't feel like leaving home very much anymore with my legs so weak and my whole body in so much pain.

I didn't set out to be rebellious to the FlyLady or her teachings.  But my legs were aching so badly that I just couldn't stand the thought of putting on shoes anymore unless I had to go out of the house this past spring when my college semester ended.  Shoes seemed to make me walk more slowly and made me feel heavier somehow.  I couldn't quite understand it, but it seemed like shoes were throwing off my sense of balance, too.  So I kicked them off, socks included!  Barefoot only in the house became my new rule.  Since it's been warm weather season, when I have gone out, I put on my most barefoot-type sandals, Tela from SoftSpots (not endorsing, just explaining).  And oddly, without any other changes in my lifestyle, my leg pain almost completely went away within a couple of weeks of going without shoes all day!  Just like magic, I'm telling you.  I moved through my house much faster, helping me get chores done faster.  My foot and knee flexibility returned, a bit slowly albeit, but it's returned.  My ankles and knees feel much stronger.  I can now squat and lunge down far more easily, which has also eliminated my back pain to a great degree (and that was BAD).  With my legs and knees feeling better, I could exercise much more, meaning that I could start to feel my muscle tone returning (walking without the shoes was already expediting the muscle tone coming back, though).   I can work out again without fatigue.  Since I work out at home, I can also work out barefoot.  Interestingly, I've found that my weight-training workouts feel more natural and I can get greater range of motion without shoes on, especially for lower body and abdominal workouts.  Stretching without shoes on also allows for a deeper stretch throughout my body, too.  And I've had no more back pain or burning that's worth worrying over!  Cooking became enjoyable again.  My balance is so much better.  I've gone from being able to do maybe fifteen minutes of housework before needing a break to being able to clean for over an hour without a break!  Doing laundry became effortless again.  My knees feel 1000% better and never twist out of place anymore.  I'm happy to get out of the house because I feel lighter, have less pain and am now more fit.  As a side benefit, my carpeting and bathroom rugs have also stayed cleaner in the house. 

After my discoveries of what the new and barefoot me were doing for my life (all of which are positive), I went on the Internet and researched to see if anyone else was in agreement with my experience.  WOW, what a lot of talk this whole subject has going on, shoes vs. barefoot!  And, yes, what I experienced has happened to a lot of people before me.  I had no clue that it was such a debate out there or that so many people believe in going barefoot for very logical reasons, but it is a fact.  I had no idea that there was a whole "barefoot movement" out in society, but there is.  I also didn't realize just how well-designed the body is to do what it needs to without shoes!  Who knew that most shoes actually weaken and deform the feet over time?  (I didn't.)  A lot of what they've said in the barefoot studies and movements, I've found to be true.  I'm not going to start walking the neighborhood or my college campus completely barefoot, but for college this coming autumn I am going to be buying shoes which are designed to let the foot do what it does best- work naturally.  In other words, these shoes just protect the foot from environmental damage, but otherwise do not alter the foot's movement or one's gait.  They are very lightweight and I know that's what I need now.  And when I'm home, I'm staying barefoot! 

As to the dangers of going barefoot, I think that they're overstated in most cases.  Yes, I've stubbed my toe once or twice.  It hurt, but it certainly didn't kill me.  Once I got an itty-bitty piece of glass in the bottom of my foot this summer, but thankfully I got that piece out and had no issue with my foot healing quickly or being able to walk that day or later on.  Those little annoyances are farrrrrrrrr outweighed by all the benefits I've gained.

To counteract the inevitable roughing-up that walking around barefoot gives to the bottoms of my feet, I use a foot scrub in the shower and  moisturize my feet after my nightly shower.  Once in awhile I use a Diamencel buffer to get rid of the excess rough skin, though I leave the callouses mostly alone (since they're actually quite protective to the foot).  I've never had the greatest of feet on the bottom anyway, always being prone to callousing and some dry skin.  Going barefoot didn't make my feet much worse in this regard.  And I'm now not convinced that "babying" feet via shoes is healthy, either.  Sometimes callouses are actually NOT a bad thing.

I've known for a long time that one has to adapt FlyLady to their own life.  Now I must advise that one must also be willing to listen to their own intuition above anyone else's teaching, no matter how much logic goes into what they say.  I learned that lesson years ago, but apparently not well enough!  I still see the FlyLady's point regarding shoes, I just can't live by her advice any longer full-time.  To be clear, I still completely agree in getting up, showering or bathing (if not done the night before), getting dressed, brushing teeth & fixing hair/face upon awakening each morning.  That tip drastically simplifies life.  I just keep my shoes off in the house and keep a pair of minimalist shoes near the front door now.  Problem solved!

Here's to being an occasionally rebellious organized minimalist,

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Emergency Preparedness Task #12- Have a Frank and Open Discussion About Emergency Preparedness with Your Family

Today my task for you is to talk about what you would do in an emergency for three days (or more, if you want to go into that) with your immediate family, if you haven't done so already.  It would be nice if that's done before buying or making any emergency supplies to begin with, but sometimes family members are resistant to this type of prepping, for a variety of reasons.  That's why I put this task off until now for you- in some households, buying the supplies covertly for a little bit is the only way to get them in the house without panic or major resistance from others.  I can assure you that any and all residual doubt or resistance goes away when the supplies are needed by those family members, though!  I would also suggest that you discuss this topic with any extended family or friends that you would have to stay with if an emergency struck where you had to leave your home.  And, for that matter, if they had to leave their home and stay with you in an emergency.  For those who are single and live alone, not all of this task will be applicable, but I would still recommend talking to your extended family or friends no matter what your marital/kids status is.

Set up a "battle plan" now.  Make sure that the people who live with you know where the emergency supplies are, what to do if water/gas/electrical needs to get turned off, where you would travel to if an emergency struck in your area, why you are prepping for emergencies in the first place, etc.  There's no need to be alarmist or melodramatic with anyone, just bring it up like you would any other serious, practical topic.  And there's nothing to fear by having this conversation.  It's better to be prepared before a problem strikes and have everyone on the same page if an emergency strikes.  Can you imagine how badly a military would be run if there was no set of rules in place on how to handle the various circumstances that come up in both their training practices and then on the actual battlefield?  What if they had no supplies to handle these situations and no idea how to replenish these supplies when they're used up?  If they weren't organized and efficient, how would a military go about delegating tasks to the appropriate people?  What if there was no one in charge and then no one who knew what path to take in the event of a surprise attack?  It would be utter chaos and extremely inefficient, not to mention exceedingly dangerous.  Being ill-prepared even when you have the resources to get prepared now, engaging in procrastinating over the issue, refusing to believe that anything bad could ever happen to your or your family...that's just not what an adult should do. 

Prepping doesn't mean that you are going to bring a disaster on yourself, it just means that you've realistically prepared for circumstances that very commonly affect people- earthquakes, medical emergencies, blackouts, tornados, floods, etc.  What you prepare for specifically will depend upon the likelihood of certain events hitting your particular geographic area, the ages and medical conditions of people in your home, etc.  No matter what your circumstances, you owe it to yourself and your family, if applicable, to be knowledgable about emergency preparedness and put some of your time, effort and income into it consistently.

Here's to being a prepared organized minimalist,

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Emergency Preparedness Task #11- Stock Up On Entertainment Items For An Emergency

This one task is pretty simple, and you may not even need to do or buy much of anything extra here.  For short-term emergencies, electronic items such as a charged-up portable DVD player, a tablet reader (like a Kindle Fire) or a charged SmartPhone (assuming you have a way to recharge it) can provide easy entertainment.  ALWAYS keep items like this fully charged up, just in case!  But I highly recommend also buying some very engaging paperback or hardcover books to read, maybe a few good board games, a deck of cards, a chess or checkers set and any other non-electronic, inexpensive means of entertainment that can be enjoyed in natural daylight or a lantern's light.  Light-hearted novels, thrillers like Stephen King books and good autobiographies are my favorite emergency book choices.  Hopefully, you will have already have purchased an NOAA radio and anything you need to keep items charged in an emergency, but additional forms of entertainment never hurt to have on hand.  This may sound like an idiotic suggestion, but with so many of us virtually living online these days (including our children), we may in fact have to give a little additional thought, time and money to planning activities which are now considered old-fashioned in many circles.  If your kids (and yourself) were without a computer, a cell phone, video games, a TV, etc., are you prepared to keep all concerned entertained?  Emergencies are naturally stressful and you'll need some items available to lighten the mood.  Yes, a blackout or similar circumstance can actually just give you time to merely chat and catch up with your family- but eventually, you'll probably need something else enjoyable to pass the time.  Some people may choose to knit or take up some other practical skill towards prepping even when they're not facing an immediate emergency, a hobby that can be continued under almost any circumstance.

Note: I would hope whatever problem strikes, that you aren't so busy trying to stay alive that you'll have no chance to embrace the downtime.  I realize that in some extreme cases, you and/or your family may be so engaged in simply trying to save yourselves and your home that entertainment will be the last thing on your mind.  But my rule is to first be prepared for a three-day blackout or something akin to it, where you may or may not have to leave home.  Making sure that the people in your immediate circle will have some fun respite in the midst of an emergency is just yet another practical prepping step, in my humble opinion. 

Here's to being a prepared organized minimalist,