In honor of both Earth Day, and my own tree-hugging ways, I wanted to dedicate this week's Sip & Sort to the things we can reuse.
Rather than just blindly recycling your pasta, baby food, or jam jars, start thinking about where they could be reused elsewhere in your house. I personally reuse cute jars to hold things like pantry staples, q-tips, cotton swabs, our toothbrushes, and pens & pencils. The really pretty jars (and bottles!) I find, I reuse as drinking glasses and vases!
Are you eating more takeout than normal in order to support local businesses? Some places give reusable plastic containers. Can you re-purpose them in drawers to separate and contain small items?
As always, be intentional. Don't store things just to store them, but do try to think outside the box! If you realize you have more cool containers then you could ever use or need, consider giving them away to someone locally on a website like www.freecycle.org.
Listen to this week's mini episode on the podcast if you're interested in hearing about the 5 things I ditched in the name of tree huggers everywhere! Number 5 is my favorite.
The above Carrie Bradshaw quote is for all of you ladies (and gentlemen!) who love your clothes. Sure, my closet is fairly close to a capsule wardrobe at this point, but no, I would never tell you to purge a collection you adore. Below are my time-tested tips & tricks for maintaining an orderly closet no matter how many dresses you keep.
I was recently working with one of my very favorite clients when we came across a drawer in her dresser full of perfectly well organized, perfectly folded scrubs. With everything else we wanted to tackle before our time was up, I felt a bit of reassurance that this particular drawer was already good to go. I started to close it, when something dawned on me. Earlier in the session we had been working on organizing the clothes in her master closet. She mentioned that she really wanted to start fresh with a whole new wardrobe and that anything I was looking at that was actually folded, meant it never gets worn. I opened the drawer again and asked my client if she actually uses these scrubs. The answer, of course, was no. At first, it hadn't occurred to either of us that this perfectly organized drawer was actually clutter. This drawer actually did need our attention. When I left, I took all of the scrubs with me except for one pair. When I got home, I put them on all on FreeCycle for someone else to pick up and use.
The point is, if you're not using something or if it's not adding value to your life in one way or another, it's clutter. Even if it's visually appealing, it's clutter. Even if it's well organized, it's clutter. Stop organizing your belongings and start simplifying them!
Make room for who you are now.
I love a good reflection. While looking back at the most noteworthy moments of 2019 earlier today, I realized that it was a year of tremendous growth and new experiences for me. To be fair, I know that a lot of it can be attributed to 2018 being full of quite a bit of heartache. When you have a tough year emotionally, you're bound to become stronger. But a lot of it was also because we had slowly been setting the stage when we began making pretty drastic lifestyle changes in recent years.
Somewhere along the line, I discovered Dave Ramsey and his classic wisdom of paying off debt. His motto is to live like no one else, so that later you can live like no one else. Jared and I started our debt free journey after our time in Alaska, and it was by no means easy. We definitely had more naysayers than cheerleaders along the way. But when I look back at this past year and all the things we did, I am overcome with gratitude.
Because we had paid off all of our debt and built up an emergency fund, I was able to resign from my job as a teacher at the end of the school year in order to pursue this passion project called The Orderly Nest. This passion project would ultimately lead to a more flexible schedule, allowing me to make more time for my family during a time when I needed that more than anything. It would also allow me to help countless other people to free up space in their homes, their schedules, and their lives for what matters most to them as well.
Not only did becoming debt free allow me to switch career paths in 2019, it led to lots of (mostly stress-free) travel and fun. I spent a weekend in NYC with my mama. We stayed overnight in an amazing shipping container house in Hocking Hills. We rented a car, took our time, and drove 5,000 miles across the country. We saw the Red Rocks, Zion National Park, the Grand Canyon, the Hoover Dam, and countless other parks and monuments. We spent a long weekend in Vegas with some of our best friends. We traveled to Canada and spent the weekend at Niagara Falls for my 29th birthday.
I am not writing this to push a debt-free lifestyle on others... although I do highly recommend it. I am writing this to remind you that if you have goals, even if they seem impossible, push forward. Like they always say, the time is going to pass anyway. Set the stage for how you want to live your life. MAKE YOURSELF PROUD!
Happy New Year! xoxo
The first time I "downsized" I went from living in a perfectly organized bedroom in my parents' house, to a decent sized three bedroom mobile home in Alaska. This doesn't exactly sound like downsizing, but it definitely was. In my parents' house, I had tons of stuff I wasn't using. I had wall to wall stuff. It LOOKED nice, and I knew where everything was, but there was a LOT of it. When we moved to Alaska, we took essentials. Knowing we would likely be back after the school year, we continued to only buy essentials during our time there. We are back in Ohio and living in a one bedroom apartment. It's cozy and we have what we need, but we still keep it pretty basic. Everything we own is something we actively use, or actually love. Below are some of my tips for "downsizing"... even if you're moving into a bigger home, or not moving at all.
1. Look through your kitchen items. Can you sell or donate things that are single purpose in exchange for keeping the items that you ALREADY own that are multi-purposeful? You probably don't need a rice cooker if your pressure cooker also cooks rice.
2. Stay in the kitchen for a minute. Do you have more dishes than you actually ever realistically use? Tupperware? Let some of it go. Seriously!
3. Be careful with stockpiling the pantry. If it's not necessary - rethink it. Stockpiling takes up a ton of space and honestly ends up leading to expired/wasted food pretty often.
4. Take things that are already opened and properly dispose of the packaging they came in. Your cleaning supplies, paper products, etc. all look better AND fit better after this is done. Bonus points if you're able to switch to more sustainable supplies that require less products and less waste in general!
5. Invest in some quality bamboo lazy Susan spinners for your kitchen cabinets. These are great for cleaning supplies under the sink, cooking oils, and spices.
6. Multipurpose furniture is where it's at! My TV stand is SUPER cute. It acts as decor, it holds our TV, and it has plenty of storage inside of it. All of our furniture serves the purpose of function and style. I'm not going to say everything has extra storage (we don't need that much storage), but because they're cute pieces, I feel the need for less decor in general.
7. Go through your paperwork. Are you holding on to things you don't need? I have a small file box with everything pertinent. It's great to digitize what you can and there are a lot of resources out there that can help with this.
8. Keep the clothes that make you feel good. If they don't make you feel good, or you just don't wear them, they don't deserve precious space in your closet.
9. Utilize the library. People hate this tip because people love their books. I love books too, and I think this tip is fantastic. Will you actually ever reread the books you're holding on to? Are you storing books that you've never read and don't have any desire to read? Let things go.
10. You can do the same thing with your movies. They can be donated or even sold to a local Exchange store. There are so many streaming services available nowadays that you probably don't need to store a huge movie collection within your home anymore.
11. Use what you have first. Don't ever go buy organizational supplies (bins & baskets) as your first step in finally getting organized. This almost always leads to more clutter, even if it's partially organized clutter. I have vowed to only keep what fits in my apartment and has it's own "home" within my home. If something doesn't fit or have a home, I have to rethink what I already own or how things are currently organized or being used.
12. Get used to the idea of multipurpose rooms. Can your guest room double as your office or craft space? Can your family room have a pullout couch? My TV stand doubles as storage space for my office supplies and my kitchen table currently doubles as my desk space when I need to work. When I don't, the laptop and other supplies go back in the TV cabinet. It's never an issue.
13. Ask your family and friends to start giving you the gift of experiences and time or even consumables like good chocolate or wine, rather than more stuff. Honestly... do the same for them! I don't think I know of anyone who needs more stuff.
14. Use the store to store stuff. Most of us live pretty close to a store that has most of the items we could ever want or need and we also have quick online access to Amazon, etc. We don't live in a time or place where we need to buy and/or keep a bunch of "just in case" items. What can you borrow? Can you buy that same item again fairly easily in the off chance that you absolutely need it and can't borrow it?
15. Be honest with yourself and question what you're used to. Who are you NOW? What are your interests NOW? Donate/sell what you can't or won't realistically use. You don't have to keep items just because you once loved them or because they cost a lot of money. You don't even have to keep something that was a gift. Find good places to sell or donate your old stuff so you can feel even better about letting things go.
Okay... hear me out.
Growing up, my extended family did a big Christmas party each year and I remember it being pretty much magical. My uncle who is a DJ would be in charge of the music and we would sing Karaoke. The hall we rented out of course had a dance floor. My cousins and I would run around and play cops & robbers (essentially tag - with a timeout spot). There was lots of food and presents. Then it faded out. We tried to bring it back when we were older by renting out a cabin mansion (in my mind) in Southern Ohio that slept 35 people. Again, there was lots of food and presents. Again, it was magical, but faded out for various reasons after a couple years. People moved, people started getting married and having families, traditions changed as they do.
This year, we tried to bring back that magical feeling, but it was a total last second idea. Immediately, there was kickback about dates and various other details. It quickly turned into simply a cousin party, rather than a whole family party. Then there was question about whether it should happen at all when a family member unexpectedly ended up in the hospital.
The day of the party, everything that could go wrong, pretty much did. The host (my sister in law) wasn't even home when the party was scheduled to start and my brother ended up out of town for work. I was supposed to be in charge of waffles, and I forgot all the toppings at home including the syrup. I totally forgot it was supposed to be a pajama party as well. And lastly, I had told SOME of my cousins that there would be a white elephant gift exchange, but I didn't tell everyone. And, of course, to go along with the theme, even I forgot that I had said there would be a gift exchange. The professional organizer had thoroughly blown every detail. The irony was not lost on anyone.
You know what we did? We laughed really hard. As for the gift exchange, I instructed my young nephews to search their toy boxes for things they didn't want, and I instructed my cousins to search their cars for items they didn't need. Everyone found a way to wrap them and we played a hilarious version of White Elephant. My four year old nephew was OVER THE MOON excited when he opened his car trash gift - a magazine with campers on it and those cup holders that fast food restaurants give you. It was magical in it's own totally off-beat way.
There's several points here. One, we are brilliant for coming up with this eco-friendly version of White Elephant. Two, obviously people need a personal organizer for their cars too. Ha! And three, our lives are totally not about our stuff. They're about our people. We didn't need lots of food and presents. We just needed to laugh and enjoy each other.
I'm voting for Car Trash White Elephant next year too.
As you probably know, sometimes the hardest part about any project is just starting it. When it comes to your home, there can be tons of emotions that also come into play, making it even more difficult. For this reason, I often recommend starting in places that are very cut and dry when you are overwhelmed and feel like your whole house needs help.
One good place to start is the Medicine Cabinet - look through each and every bottle and package. I bet plenty of them are expired! The police station will take your old prescriptions to dispose of properly. Next, you might want to move on to the pantry or even your fridge. Chances are, you have plenty of expired food in here as well. Or maybe it isn't expired, but if you're being honest, it's never going to get eaten. It's always a good idea to donate non-perishable foods to a local food shelf. The next area you might try to declutter is your cleaning products. Usually, bottles can be consolidated or you realize that things are empty to begin with. In this area, I also always recommend to ditch the packaging if you bought a product in bulk and it's already been opened - trust me, it's a small thing that makes a big difference in the overall appearance of the space. Do this with your toilet paper and paper towels as well. Simple fixes, big payoffs!
*Additionally, for anyone looking to begin a less-toxic or just less-wasteful lifestyle, once these areas are decluttered, you can be much more mindful of the items you bring into your home in the future. These things are so easy to purge because there's just about zero sentimental value - most of it is stuff we picked up without really thinking in the first place (like when you buy Tylenol because you don't realize you already have it). The less stuff you have, the more intentional you tend to be with what you bring in - especially when you're paying more attention to ingredients and packaging and deciding to weed the icky stuff out.
I recently had a brand new client express how much guilt she felt for needing my help in her home, and it really made me think. We delegate so many things in our day to day lives without blinking. We hire plumbers, electricians, carpenters, babysitters, house-sitters, and dog-sitters. We go to a mechanic for our vehicles and an accountant for our taxes. We pay someone to cut our hair and many of us often pay someone to mow our lawn and plow our driveway. I know tons of people who hire someone to clean their house on a regular basis. Yet somehow, having help de-cluttering and organizing our belongings is still something that so many people are ashamed of doing.
This same client clued me in on what pushed her over the edge to decide to go with her gut and hire help - she knew that one of the best productivity hacks out there is delegating. So she did just that. In three short hours we were able to de-clutter and organize her living room, dining space, kitchen, and hall closet all while carrying on a great conversation and enjoying ourselves. After our session, I took a whole car load of donations to several different locations for her. She let SO much go!
My point? Don't be afraid to delegate ANYTHING that you're having trouble with doing. We are all on this planet to help each other out in some way or another, and that's a beautiful thing.
The word "simple" gets thrown around often enough, but I'm not sure how many people ever sit back and think about what this word actually means. The dictionary definition is easy enough - it means plain, basic, or uncomplicated in form, easily understood or done, or presenting no difficulty. But what does this mean for us and what does it mean for our lives?
When I think of simple living, I think about getting back to basics. To me, it means whole foods, living a debt-free lifestyle, and being a conscious consumer. It also means having free space in my day to day schedule as well as in my home. However, in order to do these things, there's something else we have to do first. We have to choose. We have to choose our priorities in life. We have to decide what our values are. Sometimes we just have to know who we are or choose who we want to be.
When I tell a client that we need to simplify, or declutter, what I mean is that we have to choose. This looks different for everyone. When I was going through this process personally, I thought long and hard about my actual habits and tendencies. I had a whole bookshelf perfectly organized with all the books I had ever owned in my life. Most of them I had read and loved. Some were old textbooks from college that I was convinced I would need again at some point. A lot of the books had never been opened yet. I had chosen them once, but hadn't made time for them yet. Sometimes I looked at them and got a little anxious - silently in my head, those books I purchased at one point for the joy of it, were turning into items on my to-do list I needed to read and cross off. Why did I have so many unread books?
So, I simplified. I decluttered. I chose. I went through each and every book on that lovely, well-organized bookshelf. I looked through my textbooks and realized I had already gone through my first two years of teaching and never thought of any of these books once. If I needed something, I used the internet. Gone. I picked up all the books I had purchased, but never read. I listened to my gut. Did I even want to read it anymore? Most of them - gone. Then I did the hardest part. I went through my very favorite books that I had already read. I acknowledged the fact that only twice in my life had a I ever reread a book (The Bridges of Madison County by Robert James Waller & Summer Sisters by Judy Bloom, for the record). I got rid of these cherished books as well. I donated all of them to a local thrift store. I felt so free.
I think a lot of people hold on to old beloved items because they use them to help identify who they are. The issue is, for many of us, there just isn't SPACE. There isn't space in our homes, and there isn't even space in our lives. I'm not instructing you to go home tonight and purge all your books. I'm suggesting that you maybe question how you feel on a day to day basis... at home, in your car, in your work setting. Would it benefit you to simplify? To choose? Are you holding on to things that once identified who you were, without taking the time to consider who you are now, or who you want to be? Make space for present-day you. You'll be glad you did.
My tree-hugging tendencies are honestly fairly new-ish in nature. Two years ago I accepted a position teaching Science and Social Studies to students in Kindergarten through Third Grade. It was unexpected, but I absolutely loved teaching these subjects and honestly, it was crazy just how much it made me question myself and my own habits as a consumer. I didn't change these habits overnight, but I did certainly change them, and I don't think I could ever go back to my wasteful ways.
1. Paper Towels - This was where it first started for me. Prior to trying to reduce waste, we used paper towels constantly. When I was trying to cut them out altogether, I started by simply buying one roll at a time rather than a huge package. This alone made us extremely conscious of when we actually "needed" them and how much we were using. We stocked a drawer full of (dark colored) cotton dish towels instead. In the rare case of REALLY yucky stuff (uh, cat puke...) we still have toilet paper.
2. Body Wash - I've been able to cut back on buying so much plastic just by purchasing bar soap with very minimal (and recyclable) packaging from a local honeybee farm. Now, I realize that most plastic bottles can still be recycled, but why use it in the first place if it can be avoided?
3. Prepackaged Snacks - They're typically pretty unhealthy anyway. Now, we really don't have to worry about it. We still slip up every once in a while, but our staple snacks are typically fruits, vegetables, and nuts. I know those prepackaged snacks are super convenient when you have little ones, but man are they wasteful! Start slow.
4. Dental Floss - We did away with the average dental floss and dental picks, and now we are using Dental Lace. It comes in a refillable glass bottle and the actual floss can be composted when you're done. Hooray!
5. My Garbage Can - Yep, you heard that right. When I first had the inspiration for this, I read about a few very cool people who were able to stuff all their trash in just a mason jar for a whole year. I haven't gotten to this level yet, but I did totally clean out and donate my perfectly good, large trash can. I moved the small bathroom trash can to my kitchen instead, purchased a small kitchen compost bucket as well, and decided it was game on. Now we are VERY intentional with what we purchase because this tiny trash can has forced us to question every purchase.
The other perks to lessening your waste? Things that are low to no waste also tend to be healthier for us AND save us lots of money in the long run. Everyone is winning.