We’re Moving

Simple Living Family has caught on more than I ever expected. As a result, we are moving from this site to www.simplelivingfamily.com. Please check out our new site and thank you for your continued support!

Giving Thanks

In honor of Thanksgiving tomorrow, I asked readers to let me know what they are really thankful for this year. A lot of you responded with answers about your health or the health of others, your faith, your freedom, your family, your friends, and your spouse/partner/boyfriend or girlfriend.

Here are a few of the many stories I received:

Steven: “I am thankful that the business my wife and I started on a whim has really taken off. It has allowed us to work together as a team, and it has been great.”

Sally F.: “My grandchildren. They are light and joy and hope.”

Deborah: “I am thankful that my husband has a job because last Thanksgiving he was let go from his job and we struggled for a year to make ends meet. It makes you appreciate the simple things in life, like a roof over your head and food on the table. All the other stuff we wish for is superfluous.”

Sally M.: “This year I published my first book. Writing a book has been a lifelong goal, and at the tender age of 56, I finally did it.”

Paul: “As an adoptee, this year I am thankful that I have after 41 years, found my biological family.”

Patricia: “I am thankful for my eyesight. Blindness runs in my family. A few years ago I lost eyesight in one eye and then the other. Laser surgery was able to save my eyesight. Had I lived a generation earlier, I would now be blind in both eyes.”

Bill: “I am thankful to be becoming a father for the first time at the age of 69. Life itself needs no explanation. January 2011 is the date.”

Barbara: “I am thankful that despite divorce this year, my stepdaughter still wants to spend Thanksgiving with me. As a stepparent it is a fine line between being a parent and not being a parent, but apparently my relationship is valued and I am grateful. I am also grateful my ex-husband is respectful of this relationship.”

Hearing other’s stories always puts things in perspective for me. It is inspiring that even when you are feeling the most down, there are always people who have been in situations as challenging or more challenging than you that have pulled through and triumphed. 

So, what am I thankful for this year? I am also appreciative of my friends and my health, but I am particularly appreciative of my family. We welcomed our younger son into our family earlier this year after having some trouble conceiving and he has brought such joy into our lives. Just one look at his little grin or to hear one of his chuckles makes me fall in love all over again.

I am also thankful for all of you. When I started writing this blog this past spring I did not think anyone would want to read it. I have been amazed at how many people have viewed the site, have offered to contribute to it or to promote it, and have offered advice on how to improve it. I am truly blessed to have so many people supporting and believing in something that I really enjoy doing. 

What are you thankful for this year? Please feel free to post your story in the comments.

Too Few And Too Small Closets?

How organized are your closets? Most closets are overfilled with clutter. This post contains some do-it-yourself storage ideas for organizing closets, especially for people who live in older homes that have very few and smaller closets.

Geralin Thomas has eight years experience as an organizing consultant and has her own business, Metropolitan Organizing (www.metropolitanorganizing.com). She is one of the professional organizers who regularly appears on A&E TV’s show “Hoarders” and has been published in many national magazines. Her closet organizing tips were recently featured on the Nate Berkus Show (http://www.thenateshow.com/tipsandtools/detail/weekend-warrior-clutter-plan).

No matter who you are, closet clutter is often hard to manage. If you have an older home with only a few, tiny closets, it can make the situation even more challenging. When storage space is scarce, your closets often have to hold a lot more than just your clothes. Here are Geralin’s answers to a few of my questions on the subject:

Karla: Interior lighting can often be challenging in closets in older homes because of a lack of wiring. Do you have any creative solutions for how to add a bright light?
Geralin: While a lot of designers will disagree, I encourage clients to keep their closet walls and carpets very light and bright. Some of the hardware stores carry do-it-yourself gadgets that are perfect for dark closets. Experiment with the stick-on, battery-powered lights if you can not afford to hire an electrician and purchase lighting for closet interiors. Also use mirrors on closet walls and doors since they reflect light.

Karla: Are there any inexpensive products that you have worked with that work especially well in small spaces?
Geralin: I try to encourage people to NOT go buy more products and use what is already available in their homes. If you happen to have “orphaned” Rubbermaid containers without lids, use the bottom part of the containers to store socks, hair accessories, scarves, belts, etc. Foam or flocked pant hangers, with “arms” that swing open, are great for hanging swim goggles and drawstring bags in kids rooms. Magnetic strips (used for knives in kitchens) are a great place to hang keys, pet collars, etc. If your dentist gives little plastic zippered pouches (containing a new toothbrush, toothpaste, floss) recycle those. Stash headphones, cords and cables in them.

Karla: Any advice especially for closets in children’s rooms, where you often have to organize things like toys, games, art supplies, and clothes?
Geralin: Go vertical. Vertical is visible and horizontal is hidden. That means incorporating pocketed, hanging devices that kids can reach and see. Do not use deep, lidded toy boxes – shallow and open is better so they can easily toss their toys in. A horizontal, slat rail system is nice for hanging buckets of pens, pencils, markers, and other items that normally clutter your horizantal surfaces. Products like this have a cool, industrial feel and are usually indestructible. Look at garage organizing products for inspiration.

Karla: On Nate’s show you included some great tips such as using two rods instead of one, installing shelves above the top rod for sweaters, and getting in the habit of cleaning out your closets on a regular basis.  Do you have any additional tips especially for people who need to make a small closet mult-functional?
Geralin: Look in your hamper at your dirty clothes. Chances these are your very favorite clothes that get worn over and over again. Focus on keeping your favorites and letting go of extras that rarely get worn. If you have to store non-wardrobe items in your closet, try to use perfectly square, clear containers or color coded containers so that you can see what you have. Square containers fit better than odd-shaped containers and are a much more efficient use of space. Try to find containers with side openings (flap-style) so you do not have to LIFT other boxes and remove a lid to grab needed items.

Mom, I Can Buy Myself An IPad

Behold the iPad in All Its Glory

Image via Wikipedia

These are the stories of three mothers who successfully switched careers after having children to be able to do something they really love.

Tammy Botkin spent twelve years in mortgage finance and housing. Six months ago she decided to make a big leap as a single mother of three dealing with a difficult divorce. Now she is a Certified Professional Life Coach and writer.

Tammy packed up her home and put it in storage. She and her children lived in a very tight place for three months, surviving off of meager savings and with the support of family and friends.

In Tammy’s words:

“I battled daily for a long time with the thoughts that I was selfish, if not flat-out crazy, for what I was doing, but I had already lived the first half of my life according to other people’s rules.

Here’s what I have found on the other side: my kids and I still love each other dearly and we are well. The people who disapprove of me, always have. The people who loved me before, love me still.

I thought I had risked it all to find the value in really being me again. What I really found was that I gained it all by being me.”

Check out Tammy’s blog at www.tsbotkin.wordpress.com.

Josephine Geraci is the Founder and Owner of My Mom Knows Best, Inc. She left a career on Wall Street to become an inventor of a toddler product after having her first son. She never imagined she would become an inventor, have her product manufactured and see her product on the local huge baby retailer shelf.

In Josephine’s words:

“Were there any hurdles? It was like trying to climb a mountain on my knees. I knew nothing about manufacturing a product or bringing a baby product to the marketplace. Retail was totally new to me.

Running a business is really tough, but I love the rush I get when I have a really good day.”

You can see Josephine’s product at www.glovies.com.

Martyne Gagnon is a forty-five year old mother of four who became a writer after her position as an Executive Coordinator was cut. Since then she has taken on some part-time jobs, but has mostly been writing.

In Martyne’s words:

“I would put in long hours and bring work home. I worked, on average, fifty hours per week. Now I work part-time so I have time to write fantasy novels. I am not sure how many hours a week I write, because it is not work to me, it is fun.

The hardest thing was the money factor. My kids were used to getting big-ticket items, like computers and iPhones, as gifts for birthdays and Christmas which I can not afford any more. My oldest says she would rather see me happy than running to meet the next deadline. She says, “People are more important than things, Mom. If you are happy, then I will work to buy myself an iPad.”

After you had kids, did you switch jobs to do something you are passionate about? If so, please tell us about it in a comment.

Risk Taking

Tyler Tervooren is a musician and the writer of Advanced Riskology (http://tylertervooren.com/advancedriskology/). He is twenty-six years old and lives in Portland (Oregon, not Maine.)

tandem sky-diving in Cordoba, Argentina

Image via Wikipedia

After college Tyler went out and got a “good job”, one that his parents could be proud of. But in February of 2010 he was laid off from that job and had to figure out what he was going to do next. He realized that the best memories he has had were the same times he had stuck his neck out and taken a risk, when he had let chance creep into his otherwise safe and secure lifestyle.

Trevor started Advanced Riskology to help people take risks and find their own path, whatever that path may be. One of the areas on his blog is dedicated to the 1% club, where he has a list of things he wants to do that less than 1% of the world will ever do. He is keeping track of his progress on each item and is adding the date when they are completed.

I have never been much of a risk taker. Growing up I think I did whatever I was “supposed” to do. I think that is why I have found Tyler’s blog and posts to be so inspirational.

Have you taken a risk recently? If so, please leave leave a comment and let us know.

I am doing two posts on buying and selling items on consignment. The first was from the perspective of a consignment store owner with tips about selling your items. This is the second and it includes tips from someone who frequents consignment shops often and is on buying items.

Bonnie Flamm is a residential interior designer who frequents a consignment store in Newport Beach, California, on a weekly basis. She believes that by shopping at consignment stores you find the best deals and the most unusual items. She purchases items for her clients, but also the majority of her own home furniture comes from consignment stores.

Bonnie has been shopping in consignment stores for the past ten years and there are four consignment stores that she frequents regularly. She advises that value and uniqueness go hand-in-hand when it comes to consignment stores, but you must have vision as they are typically overcrowded.

Karla: What sorts of items do you normally find in consignment stores?
Bonnie: Consignment stores can feature a wide variety of items, ranging from books and clothing to designer furniture and genuine works of art. The consignment stores of yester-year were full of outdated, worn out stuff. But the beauty of some of today’s consignment stores is that they get a lot of brand new, designer quality furniture; furniture from houses that were “staged” by interior designers in order to sell; and unique, one-of-a-kind finds, including art work and sculptures. I myself bought a beautiful real bronze statue of a little girl reading a book who sits outside my front door on a bench. I paid $500 for her, which would have been an easy $1,500 if I had paid retail.

Karla: What was your best find ever?
Bonnie: In 2002 I was in a consignment store doing my usual browsing when I happened upon a very unusual and stunning dining room table that just happened to be the perfect size for my own dining room. When I inquired about it, I was told by the store owner that it was actually a stained hide and, just as interestingly, it had just come from country singer LeAnn Rimes’ home. She had just gotten married and had moved east (something I fact-checked later.) For some reason she decided not to take her furniture with her even though it was all brand new, so she put it on consignment. I bought it for $1,000 – which was $200 less than it was priced.

Several months later, I was in a design showroom and saw a side table made out of that exact same, distinctive hide. The showroom manager said that it did have a companion dining room table and she showed me the catalogue it came from. Sure enough, there was my new dining room table and it turns out that it was quite a steal as it retailed for $6,000!

Karla: How do you find a really great consignment store? What is it about the one in Newport Beach that makes it your favorite?
Bonnie: A quick internet search should provide your readers with some Consignment stores in their area. Once you find them, several weekly visits are needed to see if they offer quality and uniqueness. The quantity of the items for sale is also relevant because while the stores are full and you need to look, sometimes even hunt, you should not feel overwhelmed with “stuff”.

The one I go to in Newport Beach is my favorite for two reasons. First, because they consistently get unusual items and second because they get a lot of brand new furniture items from a wide variety of design sources and manufacturers.

Karla: Are there things you should not buy from a consignment store?
Bonnie: I would be wary of buying lighting from a consignment store unless they have the same kind of “test drive” policy that the one I go to has. At the Home Consignment Center in Newport Beach, you can take an item home for two days. If you find that it doesn’t work out, you can return it without any kind of re-stocking fee.

Karla: Are there certain brand names you look for with your clients in mind?
Bonnie: I do not look for brand name items per se, but you can find some very famous brand named furniture from Consignment stores, and the picture I sent you is an example of the kind of quality you can expect to find at a really good Consignment Center.

Karla: Any other juicy tips you would like to share with Simple Living Family readers?
Bonnie: Yes, do not be afraid to ask for a price reduction. It is expected, since the name of the game at a Consignment center is to move as much inventory as possible in as short of a time as possible. That typically means that after a two-week stay, most items can be bought at a discount of 10% or even 20%. But do not ever wait on an item just to get a further price reduction because the chances are that it will have been sold.

For more information about Bonnie or her business, please see her website at www.bonniejoydesigns.com.

Finding Fine Art (www.findingfineart.tumblr.com) was created by visual artists for visual artists and art lovers alike.

The blog is co-managed by Jessica Torrant (who I went to junior high and high school with) and Sarah John Afana from the west coast.

They have started a movement called “Fine Art Friday”, which is a weekly promotion of Fine Art on Twitter, Tumblr, Etsy and Flickr. The idea is that one day a week people should show their love of art by sharing their favorite work through social media websites. Today, November 5, 2010 is the first official Fine Art Friday.

In honor of that, I would like to feature a local artist named Catherine Breer. She is a mother of two who lives in Freeport, Maine.

From Catherine’s website, www.catherinebreer.com, she paints “landscapes of Maine and New England, abstracts of intricate floral patterns, and 3-dimensional works in whimsical shapes and designs with a bold and vivid palette which is the hallmark of her style.” Catherine’s work has been exhibited in galleries and homes around the world.

The image I am featuring is called “Peaks Castle” and it is available for purchase through her website.

Gouache on Paper
22″ X 30″ image, 30″ X 40″ framed

I know Catherine from when I used to work at a non-profit. She and her business partner, Annie Darling, do a lot to give back to the community. If you would like to purchase prints, cards or calendars please visit the Annie Catherine website at www.anniecatherine.com.

Are demands at home affecting your ability to do your job well? Demands such as a new baby, sick child, caring for an older parent, or money difficulties. Are you not paying your bills on time at home and missing deadlines at work?

We often make too many demands of ourselves and our time. If you are feeling overwhelmed, cut back. If you take on a new activity, take a break from an old one. Reduce the demands you are making on yourself and you will feel better.

Last week I had a medical emergency, Jay’s car broke down, and our older son got sick.

Weeks like that can be very overwhelming to me. This week I am buckling down and taking care of only what needs to be done (the essentials) and I am not letting myself feel bad about it. Sometimes we really need to make taking caring of ourselves our top priority. I have not been great about that in the past, but I am working on it.

I am going to be doing two posts on buying and selling items on consignment. The first is from the perspective of a consignment store owner with tips about selling your items. The second will be from someone who frequents consignment shops often with tips on buying items.

Claudine Thiem is a mother of two who owns a children’s consignment store in Erie, Pennsylvania. She will also be opening a furniture and home decor consignment store soon.

The name of Claudine’s store is Milestones Quality Children’s Consignment (www.milestonesconsignment.com). She started her store from scratch five years ago in a 500 square foot space. Two moves later, it is now housed in a 5,200 square foot building with over 1,400 consignors.

Claudine is a member of the National Association of Resale and Thrift Stores (NARTS) and she attends their conference every year. She says that their website, www.narts.org, is a great nationwide resource on consignment.

Karla: When I make an appointment with you to consign some items at your store, what should I expect?
Claudine: You should expect to be greeted with a smile and to be taken care of immediately. I want my consignors to feel like I appreciate that they have taken the time to prepare their items for the store. I try to foster a relationship with my consignors, so I believe appointments allow me to provide better service.

Every consignor is different, but I am always glad to explain my selections if desired. I would say that on average, I select only about 30-40% of what a first time consignor brings in. We then work together to get that percent up for future appointments.

Karla: Why do you often have to wait four to six weeks for an appointment?
Claudine: I currently have over 1,400 consignors and I do anywhere from 30 to 40 appointments per week. The wait time is created because everyone calls for an appointment at the same times – the week after checks are mailed out or at the beginning of a season. I would love consignors to plan ahead, but I understand that they are all busy moms! A lot of times it is an accomplishment just to make an appointment in the first place. We constantly try to find ways to keep the wait to about two weeks if possible.

Another thing to note is that I am the only one who does intake in my store right now. This provides for consistency, but does limit the number of items consigned to about 1,200 per week. This supports my sales right now, but hopefully I will have the need to do more appointments as by business grows.

Karla: I see from your website that you can bring in up to 50 items. Do you count an outfit of a shirt and pants for example as one or two items?
Claudine: An outfit is one item. We encourage consignors to make outfits as much as possible, and we allow outfits to be made from two or three different brands as long as the pieces are the same size.

Karla: What types of items are the best sellers in your store – clothing, shoes, accessories, baby equipment, toys, children’s furniture, children’s videos or books? Are there certain brands that are the most in demand?
Claudine: The best (and fastest) sellers are the baby equipment and furniture. Toys do extremely well also, especially between Halloween and the end of the year. The vast majority of our sales, however, is clothing. We sell double the girls clothing than we do boys clothing, and some of the high-demand brands are Gap, Gymboree, Janie & Jack, Hanna Andersson, Nike, Adidas, Carter’s, and Justice. Winter outerwear is always a winner in our neck of the woods, no matter what the brand.

Karla: How much do you normally pay for items? For example, what is the dollar range you would pay for a baby snowsuit? What factors do you use when making that decision?
Claudine: We consign the majority of our items, so most consignors make 40-50% of the selling price after the item sells. A baby snowsuit that might be priced at $20 would earn $8 for the consignor. We do buy accessories, books, videos, and lower-brand clothing (from discount stores) outright for typical garage sale prices of $0.25 to $1.00.

Karla: Are there any other selling tips you would like to offer Simple Living Family readers?
Claudine: Many parents feel overwhelmed at the prospect of preparing their items for consignment. They think it is going to take a lot of time to get things ready because we ask that items be brought in “ready to display.” Clothing should be on hangers and wrinkle-free, while toys should be clean and complete. The three biggest tips I would give your readers are:

1)   Before consigning with a particular store, take the time to read through the store’s consignment guidelines. If possible, walk around the store before your appointment to see the kinds of items the store accepts.

2)   Be selective. Take the time to prepare only your BEST items (new with tags, higher-end brands, full outfits, outerwear, bigger ticket equipment and toys, etc.). These will bring you the most return for your efforts.

3)    Keep a bin or a section of a closet just for consignment items. As your children outgrow an article of clothing, wash it, iron it if necessary, and hang it. Collecting items a little at a time is so much easier than trying to find that big block of time to do everything the night before your appointment.

The holidays are when families get together more than any other time during the year. It is also a time for listening to Christmas carols on the radio and for everyone to say “Happy Holidays” whenever they see you.

Dr. Judy Kuriansky, more commonly known as Dr. Judy, is a Clinical Psychologist and Relationship Expert. She has given many families advice about how to survive the holidays peacefully as a radio talk show host for over twenty-two years.

Dr. Judy says families need to agree about whose parents to visit, what gifts to buy, and how to resolve long-standing family conflicts. She agreed to let me interview her for Simple Living Family about this subject. Here is her advice:

Karla: How do you decide which side of the family to visit? How can you make the other side understand and not feel left out?
Dr. Judy: It is really important to take turns. As long as your families are reasonable, they will understand. Also take into consideration what the event is. If it is a year when everybody in your family is coming together from all over the country, make a deal with your partner that the next two holidays will be celebrated with their family.

Karla: I have a much larger family than my husband. How should families decide how much money to spend and who to buy for?
Dr. Judy: First thing a couple needs to do is decide on a budget. If your family is gracious they will understand that you have done your very best on your budget. One thing you can do is buy group gifts. For example, buy a family a game everyone can use or a movie ticket for each of them so they can go together. Think about what they are all interested in. If the family has young children, you could buy them something for the playroom or if they really enjoy spending time outside, you could buy them a nice piece of patio furniture.

Karla: Families are a big bundle of different personalities. What is your advice on how to deal with any holiday drama?
Dr. Judy: Simply put, stay out of it. If you are at the event with your partner, pull them aside and vent to them. Realize that it is inevitable during the holidays to be triggered back to your childhood dramas, so find someone to spill it all out to. If you are not attending the event with your partner, find another neutral party and talk it over with them.

Karla: Do you believe strongly in the mental benefits of exercise and staying physically active? It is awfully cold out and it sometimes can feel like another “thing” you have to do.
Dr. Judy: Nobody should say no to this question, but I have to be practical. If exercise is just another thing you feel you need to do and you do not have the time to do it, do not beat yourself up. You can go running more in January. Or do something small like if you have steps in your house or off your deck, run up and down them a few times. Count carrying all those heavy packages as your exercise.

Karla: What other things do you suggest we do to take care of ourselves?
Dr. Judy: Take the pressure off of yourself. Realize that the holidays are stressful and then deal with it. Start early so you do not have the stress from having to do everything last-minute. Assign tasks to other people. If you have an eight year old, have them help you wrap rather than locking yourself in a room and wrapping all night. Take a hard look at your finances and do not feel guilty about it. If your kids are used to more packages, split things up. For example if you have bought your child an outfit with pants and a shirt put the pants in one box and the shirt in another. Make a game out of it. Put different pieces of their gift in different spots and give them clues where to find them. Instead of a material thing, wrap up something symbolic of what you are going to do. For example, wrap up a picture of a bike if you are going to take them on a bike trip to a mountain five miles away.

Karla: How should you handle competing traditions; those both parents grew up with versus new ones you would like to start with your own children?
Dr. Judy: My belief is that parents should teach their children both traditions. As long as both you and your partner care about passing them on, you should. For example, if one parent is Catholic and one parent is Jewish you should have both a Christmas tree and a menorah. By having both, you are enriching your child’s life. Never let your traditions compete.

Karla: I often say that the holidays are all about the kids. Do you have any advice on how to make the season as joyous as possible for children?
Dr. Judy: Kids need to understand that they are loved and cherished every day. When you say things like, “This is going to be the best time of year,” it really sets up expectations. Try to tone down that kind of speak and spread the goodies out over the entire year.

Karla: As a family, how do you decide what is important to you and kindly decline your other invitations?
Dr. Judy: Decide together about whose needs are the greatest; also about where they want to go and why. One little boy really wanted to go to the zoo and his little sister did not understand why they had to go. It was a great learning experience for her about why it is important to do things that are really important to others.

Karla: When the baking, cooking, decorating, shopping, wrapping, and house cleaning feels completely overwhelming, what do you suggest we do to manage the stress?
Dr. Judy: Cut back. Too many people go overboard this time of year. You do not have to do everything. Things have gotten too complicated. It does not mean you love your family less. Ask family members to help. Negotiate with them about what they can bring, such as a dessert. Tell them if they would be willing to bring a dish, it would be instead of a gift.

Karla: How can you teach your children about the spirit of the holidays rather than let them focus on the material side?
Dr. Judy: Read stories and watch videos about the spirit of the holidays and discuss them afterwards. Ask your children what their expectations are and have a real conversation with them about what they are thinking and feeling. You might be surprised by what their favorite parts of the season really are.

For more advice from Dr. Judy on this topic and many others, please see her website at www.DrJudy.com.