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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Even though my son is only in pre-school, we are already dealing with peer pressure. When I took him to the movie “The Princess and the Frog” in the theater, he loved it. When he went to school some of the boys in his class told him “Princesses are for girls.” All of a sudden he did not like it any more.

With both of our sons being so young it made me start to wonder, are there things that we could be doing now to help limit the influence of peer pressure as they grow older?

Mary O’Donohue has a thirteen year old son and an eight year old daughter and is also the author of “When You Say ‘Thank You’ Mean It… and 11 Other Lessons for Instilling Lifelong Values in Your Children”, which was just released this week. It is a month-by-month guide that helps parents teach their children values in a way that will stick with them.

Peer pressure is something Mary addresses specifically in her book because it seems to affect every child, and knowing how to deal with it can make all the difference in a child’s life.

Here are the questions about peer pressure that I asked Mary and her answers:

Karla: How can you let your child know that they can really come to you about anything and that you will not judge them?
Mary: The answer for me is consistency. If a child comes to Mom or Dad with something small that they have done, like accidentally breaking a glass, and their parent overreacted and gets upset, that sets a stage for them to be afraid to tell next time. But if we as parents give that consistent acceptance and love, I believe, and have seen with my own children, that it builds a trust between parent and child.

Karla: How can you nurture your child’s self-esteem and build a strong relationship with them?
Mary: It starts with self-respect, which I believe is different from self-esteem. There are so many things in our society that are meant to promote self-esteem in children – like all children who participate in a sport get some kind of trophy so no one will feel bad about themselves. This does not make a lot of sense to me because the kids know who won or lost the game, so does the trophy for last place mean anything to them? Self-respect on the other hand is about having a deep and abiding sense of who you are as a person, and accepting and honoring yourself. It does not matter if you bring home a trophy – it does not matter if you lose the game – what matters is that you love yourself and you show the same respect to yourself that you would show to another person. As parents, I think we often fall into the trap (I know I did) of telling our kids they are the best soccer player in the world, or the most talented artist, etc… But I have learned that it only puts pressure on kids – to think that they have to be the best or it is not good enough. So praise is important, but honest and supportive praise means more to a child than constantly telling them they are the “greatest, prettiest, or smartest.” I think this kind of loving encouragement really helps to build a strong relationship between parents and children.

Karla: What can you do if you think the friends your child has chosen will influence them negatively? How can you encourage friendships that you think are positive?
Mary:  I think as parents we have to prepare for situations like this by letting our kids know that influence can go in both directions – in other words, though the other child may do things like lying to the teacher in school, or stealing a classmate’s book, your child can be the positive influence on his friend by living his values in his everyday life. Values are powerful and you can let your child know that if he holds onto his values – like self-respect and integrity – he can show his friend that lying and stealing are things he is not comfortable with and will not be a part of. This will show the other child that in order to share a true friendship with your child, he might be the one to change his behavior. So peer pressure can work in a positive way too.

Karla: Should you talk to your kids about what peer pressure is? If so, what do you say and how young is okay to talk to them about it?
Mary: I talk to my kids about anything and everything I think they might encounter in their day-to-day lives. I have found with my own kids that five seemed to be the age when they started to understand situations like this. I think concepts like peer pressure can be very abstract to a child, especially a preschooler. I always try to find ways to make things like this more concrete for my children. I would suggest that you bring up situations where they might experience peer pressure. Maybe at recess, when the teacher is not looking, they might be encouraged to participate in taunting another child, or other children might suggest to your child that he write in a library book just “to be funny.” Then act out these situations so they get a chance to think about how they would feel and what they would do – in the same way an adult might rehearse for a presentation at work, trying to anticipate what questions might be asked, etc… Give the child a chance to “rehearse” what they would do so they will not be caught by surprise and give in to the peer pressure. I have a very effective exercise in my book in the Inner Strength chapter called “Three Reasons” where parents are encouraged to bring up specific situations where peer pressure is a factor – like being encouraged by a classmate to make fun of someone – and the child is asked to come up with three reasons why he or she would not want to participate.  A child might say “Number 1, that child being bullied is my friend. Number 2, I do not want to hurt that child’s feelings. And number 3, Bullying is just plain mean and I am not a mean person!” Doing this in advance of actually being in the situation gives the child power. They are prepared – so they are not as vulnerable to peer pressure.

Karla: How can you teach your child to stand up for what they believe in, especially when you are not particularly assertive yourself?
Mary: The antidotes to peer pressure are self-respect and inner strength. Kids (and adults) may be affected by what others think of them but they do not have to be influenced by the opinions of others. What matters most is what a child thinks of himself or herself. Also, having a source of inner strength to draw from – like knowing they have a loving family, can make all the difference.

Karla: Any other helpful tips you would like to share with us?
Mary: The thing I tell my children every day is that values are powerful and if you live your values, you can make a difference in the world.

Mary’s book is available on Amazon.com, in Borders stores and at Barnes and Nobles (online and in stores.)

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What would you give up to follow your passion?

Leigh Slingluff and her husband, Jonathan, live in a 250 square foot apartment in Philadelphia, Pennslyvania. They live there because they have a gallery (Slingluff Gallery, www.slingluffgallery.com) and they are living behind the gallery to make it affordable.

They started their gallery with no start up money and are doing what they need to do to make their dreams come true. Before now they had always lived in large homes big enough for four people. This is their first experience with living smaller. 

Leigh let me ask her a few questions. Here are her answers:

Karla: What features does your home have – a closet, windows, kitchen, bathroom?  
Leigh: We basically have two rooms. One is our living room, pretty “spacious” with two windows and a door to the shared backyard. The other room houses our kitchen, bathroom, and loft. We have a small table in the kitchen for eating. We are still redesigning for storage. Our loft will eventually have a short closet, maybe three feet tall, so that we can hang up clothes.

Karla: What are some tips about designing a small space? Did you keep it simple with clean lines? Use one color palatte?
Leigh: Jonathan, my husband, had a lot to do with the layout, but so did the existing water pipes. Trying to make the layout efficient is the most important part of a small living space, if you have that option like we did. As far as a color palette, use the colors you love and do not be afraid of going for something bold. We play up the small of our space by giving it a cabin feel. Behind our sink, fridge, and stove we have wallpaper that looks like a fall scene in the woods. Jonathan also painted his signature diamond pattern on two walls in our small bathroom, I think the ceiling is only slightly over six feet. Most would not go for that in a large space let alone a tiny bathroom, but it works great.

Karla: As gallery owners, you must really appreciate great artwork. Are you able to fit artwork in your small space and if so, how?
Leigh: We both collected artwork before we were married and have our own paintings too. After we opened the gallery, we have even more. Luckily we have tall ceilings in the kitchen and cluster our collected artwork all the way up. It does make it feel a bit closed in, but the ceilings seem taller and we can actually enjoy the artwork too. 

Karla: What items do you love that are not necessarily practical, but you made room for them in your new space anyway?
Leigh: We have a basement so all of the non-practical items are down there. We are still sorting through and getting rid of duplicate pots and pans. Our main guilty pleasure is artwork and art books. Wall space is king in our house. We also have an old cigarette machine. We initially wanted to use it in the gallery for the pottery we sell, but now it is in our living room. Somehow it fits.
 
Karla: What is the hardest stuff to keep control of? Is there some clutter you have to work harder to contain on an on-going basis?
Leigh: Everything is clutter. Even food we can not fit in the one cabinet seems like clutter. Making sure everything has its place is the most challenging part.  

Karla: What pieces of furniture are you able to fit in your space? A bed, a couch, a small tv, a small fridge?
Leigh: We actually have a pretty big couch, ottoman, and love seat in our living room. One of our friends could not fit it into their spot, so we tried it and it fit. Philadelphia has a lot of old houses, with tiny doors and hallways. We are lucky we are on the first floor. We have a dorm sized fridge, but also have another one in the basement for our openings since we supply beer. We do not have a TV, but we could definitely fit one somewhere on the walls. We have a mattress that is in the loft. I do not know if it qualifies as a bed for most people, but it works for us.

Karla: With owning less, do you find yourself focusing more on good-quality things?
Leigh: Yes, definitely. I think everyone should live smaller…we do not need as much space as we think we do and we do not need as many material things either (other than art of course.) 

Karla: How have others like your friends and family reacted to your new living space?
Leigh: We have had a few of our featured artists say “Wow, you two must really love each other to live in this small space.” We also get a lot of “Where do you keep your clothes?” From others, I have definitely picked up on shock of the size but everyone agrees that it is a cool space. I am kind of shocked too.

Karla: How were you and your husband able to compromise on what was important to move into your small space?
Leigh: We did some purging before the move. We did not really talk about what we were moving to our living space, I think we both just knew to bring only what was necessary. The basement helps a lot with the gallery’s storage.

Karla: Do you have any tips to offer on space saving storage?
Leigh: Storage can be found in the most amazing places. Keep an open mind, and look around for ideas for that corner that is being wasted. We found a boxed out window when we exposed a brick wall in the gallery. So, Jonathan made a “floating” wall with enough room to fit behind it. We keep our bags for purchases, and other small items like tape and register paper in the discovered nook. Also, we love the website www.apartmenttherapy.com, they always have ideas on storage. Our favorite is making a drawer in the stairs, and storage in the hardwood floor. We will be trying one of those ideas soon. 

Karla: What is your best tip for moving into and living in a small space comfortably?
Leigh: Be prepared that most of your things will not fit. Cutting down and simplifying life before moving helps a lot. Realizing that you can survive with four mugs and four plates is a must. Do not buy in bulk, we can not even do that with food. Learn to can soups and pickles. It cuts down on cost, leaves fridge space for the necessities and it is fun too.

Are you ready to move into 250 square feet like Leigh and Jonathan? If not, I do not blame you. While inspirational, our family will not be moving into a home that small any time soon either. So if the size of the home you are living in starts feeling small, before you buy that larger house, what can you do to make your home feel larger? Try some do-it-yourself storage projects, finish the basement, or buy smaller furniture from stores like Habitat or Ikea.

Was Jonathan and Leigh’s sacrifice worth it? Most definitely. Their place, Slingluff Gallery, was just voted “Best Art Gallery in Philadelphia”. If you are ever in the area, you should check it out at 11 West Girard Avenue.

 

Any other tips on how to make a small home more comfortable? If so, please post in the comments.

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Cupcake

Image via Wikipedia

What do you remember most from when you were a child?

My most vivid memory is in the kitchen of our house in Framingham, Massachusetts (so I had to be younger than six) baking something with my mother. I think this is why I enjoy baking things with my son so much. 

A favorite memory I have with C is making cupcakes right after his little brother came home from the hospital five months ago. C said he wanted to make them in honor of S’s birthday.

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