Category Archives: 31Days

Professional Organizer Tips To Simplify The Holidays

Hi all! I thought my 31 Days to Simplify the Holidays series I’d be in the spirit. Quite the opposite has happened…I’m sick of the holidays already! This 31 day series is turning into a 61 day series. Ack! I need to get my holiday mojo back. There’s nothing better to help me do that than to get some holiday help from some of my favorite organizers.

OrgTips PO

My friend, Geralin Thomas shared her Turkey Day Timeline on How to Prepare for Thanksgiving. She thought of everything! And, she has a printable checklist for those of you who love to check things off. And, who doesn’t?

Here’s one from my friend Janine Adams in St. Louis at Peace of Mind Organizing:

If you’re short on time, but want to send out cards, buy a supply of cards, envelopes and stamps, and send them to the people who have sent you cards this season, addressing a card the day you receive one from someone. This requires minimal planning and will allow you to at least reciprocate the cards others send you.

Also, check out her short & sweet post about regifting on her blog.

Helena Alkhas in San Diego, CA at gives some timely and pertinent postal tips:

The post office is infamous for its long holiday lines. It’s not uncommon to see dozens of people, carrying multiple large packages, all tapping their feet in irritation and becoming increasingly impatient. No one has any business being that stressed out so close to the holidays!

Skip the stress this year by sending your gifts early. Aim to have gifts wrapped and ready to ship via USPS, UPS or FedEx by the second week in December. If you won’t be ready by then, log on to and look for the Click-N-Ship option. You’ll be able to print your own mailing labels and postage from home and request free package pickup — which means you won’t have to spend a single minute in line at the post office.

Finally, mark your calendar with important shipping deadlines. According to the USPS, you’ll need to send your gifts prior to these dates in order to ensure they’ll arrive before the holidays.

  • December 10: Priority Mail Military
  • December 11: Express Mail International
  • December 14: Parcel Post
  • December 20: First-Class Mail
  • December 21: Priority Mail
  • December 22: Express Mail

Be sure to check out Helena’s 31 Days of Holiday Organizing Tips!

Last, but certainly not least, here’s a two-fer from Helene Segura of based in San Antonio, TX:
1. If you’ll be on the holiday party circuit, have a selection of thoughtful host/hostess gifts ready to grab from your gift station as you run out the door.
2. As you haul out your boxes, bags, and totes full of holiday cheer, take the time to do a little purging and planning. Discard anything that’s broken, melted, or so faded that you can’t tell what color it used to be. Donate decorations that you haven’t used in the past few years. Keep a running list of any replacement supplies for which to keep an eye out during the post-holiday sales.
 And, if you have a few minutes, invest them in watching the clip in this post with a valuable lesson from Helene about time (at :58-2:33). It’s a great reminder for this time of year!
I hope to do more roundup posts with my friends and colleagues. They have such great information to share, don’t they?!? If you have any tips to share, please don’t be shy. Let us know in the comments.
Ciao for now!

7 Ways to Avoid Giving The Gift of Clutter This Holiday

While I do enjoy giving gifts, as a professional organizer, I’m mindful about not wanting to give clutter. I work with so many people who have a difficult time getting their stuff under control. Only to have the added guilt of gifts from loved ones that they don’t love or are not useful.

Avoid GiftOfClutter

Here are 7 ways to avoid giving the gift of clutter this holiday:

  1. White Elephant with a spin- I think this type of gift exchange works well for groups of people with similar interests, such as sports teams, book club, etc. And, of course, I recommend creating a rule that the gift must be useful ;)
  2. Secret Santa- My husband and I have switched over to participating in a Secret Santa gift exchange with our siblings. It still allows us to get in the spirit of exchanging gifts but keeps the budget within reach for all of us, especially now that spouses, significant others and children are in the picture.
  3. Skip Gift Giving- This doesn’t mean you are a Grinch. Sometimes agreeing with a friend to skip the gift giving can relieve the stress. If you feel a bit uncomfortable, ask your friend to join you for a meal after the holidays. It will mean a lot more to spend time together.
  4. Carbon Copy Gifts- This works for hostess gifts, school teachers, parents of your kids friends and neighbors you are not that close with. Decide on a single type of gift: coffee, chocolates, cookies, bath salts, recipe in a jar and give everyone the same thing. Believe me, they will still feel recognized when they receive your gift. I know I do.
  5. Gift Cards- My husband refers to these as the gift that keeps on giving because the receiver opens the gift, then gets to go shopping for exactly what they want.
  6. Wish list- Encourage family and friends to make a Wish List. For my son’s 3rd birthday, we tried out the Amazon Wish List feature. I received a few questions because it was new to everyone. You can add things from Amazon or any website, or gift idea with a quantity. When someone makes a purchase through Amazon, it will get marked as such. If someone buys something through another site or outlet, they will have to mark it purchased on your list.
  7. Go Handmade- If you decide to make something yourself, make sure you plan well in advance. But there’s always the other option of having someone else make a gift. Shops like Etsy make it super-easy to get customized, handmade gifts from talented artisans and craft persons.

Bonus Tips: I always make sure that if I do buy an object that is intended to be useful, that I purchase it where it can be returned, provide the gift receipt and make it clear to the recipient that I WANT them to exchange it for something they love if need be.

3 Reasons to Avoid Buying Novelty Gifts This Year

Editors Note: I’m thrilled to welcome my friend, Brooke McAlary of, to the blog today. Brooke is a simple living advocate from Australia. She’s a fun, down to earth, practical gal and I’m entranced whenever I read something of hers. I wish I could write like that! Anyway, she’s here today to share her perspective on novelty gifts. I found myself reading this post, going “Yes!”, “yes!” and “Hell, yes!” and I hope you will, too!


A few weeks ago I noticed the pop-up Christmas store being set up at the local shopping centre. In August.

To me, that seems excessively early. In fact, to me, that seems excessive in general. But I think my opinion on the commercialisation of Christmas might be unpopular, so I will move on before I say anything more.

But it is inarguable. The holidays are coming. And with the holidays come gifts.

Gifts are a wonderful way of showing love and appreciation and generosity. Done right, gifts enrich the lives of the giver and the receiver and the producer. There is nothing better than giving a gift that is not only gratefully received, but used and used and used and loved and used and loved.

Those gifts are, unfortunately, few and far between. It’s more likely to happen when gifts are given between good friends, mothers and daughters, boyfriend and girlfriend, father and son – people who know and understand the other.

But what about the gift exchanges that are forced on us – at work? At extended family gatherings? At large acquaintance-filled parties? What about those, ugh, Secret Santa draws? What about all the times we need to give a gift to (or receive one from) someone who doesn’t know us very well? Or someone that doesn’t care very much?

In those cases people often resort to buying novelty gifts.

Talking fish. Boob aprons. Prank mugs. Tommy the Dancing and Talking Toilet Turd (it’s a real thing). Bacon flavoured toothpicks. Stylish pin moustaches for girls (7 styles!) Silly books no-one will read. T-shirts too embarrassing to wear in public.

Each of us has likely given and received one such gift. At least.

And I get it. There is pressure to fit in at work or with the in-laws. No-one wants to be the stick in the mud muttering about the environment and waste while everyone else is chuckling heartily at their new Farting Alarm Clock.

But everyone will have those same thoughts on waste when in January they pack up their boob aprons and farting alarm clocks and take them to the charity shop or throw them in the bin.

I don’t know about you, but when I give a gift to someone I want it to be good. I want it to be useful. I want it to be appreciated. But these novelty gifts, while occasionally and momentarily entertaining, are giving the receiver three things they almost certainly do not want.

  1. Clutter – They need to find somewhere to keep Tommy the Toilet Turd. Preferably somewhere guests can’t see him. They need to find storage space for that funny T-shirt, or room in the kitchen for that novelty mug. I don’t want to give people clutter, and no matter how well intentioned, I don’t want to receive it either.
  2. Waste – Typically only 1% of consumer goods are still in use 6 months after purchase, and I would assume that percentage would be even less when looking at novelty gifts. Buying them, while perhaps funny, is undoubtedly wasteful and putting needless additional strain on our already over-stretched resources. Not to mention the money that goes straight in to landfill come January.
  3. Stress – When given a gift, no matter how lightly, it comes with a weight. We understand that someone has taken a little time and a little money to purchase it, and that makes it more difficult to declutter. We worry that they will discover our dislike of the gift, or realise that we have thrown it out. So sometimes we keep it despite not wanting to, and sometimes we let it go.

So it turns out that funny little gift you thought would get a laugh at the office party is delivering a whole lot more than you expected.

Honestly, I think it’s time we simply stop with the novelty gifts all together. Give some movie tickets or a bottle of wine instead. Try a gourmet cheese or a massage voucher. Whatever you do, do not buy anyone Tommy the Talking Toilet Turd. Ever.

Clutter-Free Gift Ideas For the Holidays

I was prepared to do the research and write up an entire post on clutter-free gift ideas for the holidays. Clutter-free gifts can be consumable, experiences, memberships, and donating to charities, etc. When I stumbled on two fabulous resources full of great gift ideas, I figured why not just pass these posts on to you, dear reader.

Clutter-Free Gift Ideas

Simplify Your Holidays With Gifts That Are Not Stuff at

Occupy Christmas: Gifts That Give Back at

Ciao for now!






7 Simple Tips for Holiday Housecleaning

We could all use some help to simplify holiday housecleaning, right? Of course, you don’t need me to tell you that waiting until the day of your party is the most stressful (and common) way to do it. So, why do we do it? Sometimes our brain isn’t very good at reminding us to do something at the best time. I always remember something I forgot at the grocery store when I’m driving home. Please tell me this happens to you to! Sometimes you plan more than you can accomplish (not me, of course- ha!)


Anyway, here are 7 simple tips to get a head start on holiday housecleaning:

  1. Purchase a dollar-store tablecloth for your wrapping table. Then, gather it up and dump the wrapping paper clippings, ribbon and other debris into the trash.
  2. Use a lint roller for cleaning up bits and pieces: gift wrap clippings, ribbon, glitter, broken ornaments, lights, tinsel, pine needles (fresh or faux), etc.
  3. Get a head start by doing some deep cleaning now. I started with the entry closet and I’m picking a room every few days to do the oft neglected tasks of cleaning under furniture, uncluttering, etc.
  4. Now is a great time to clean out the fridge and freezer. Pick a day just before you go grocery shopping…maybe even challenge yourself to use up what’s left in the fridge, freezer and pantry. This will really show you what you can get rid of. Don’t forget to dust underneath.
  5. Clean the oven. It seems like baking soda and vinegar are the new miracle cleaners everybody is using to avoid chemicals and fumes from the auto-clean setting. Here’s a tutorial from Don’t forget crumbs in the cracks and under the stove.
  6. If you’re in a hurry, I’ve heard that you can use cola to clean the toilet. I’ll have to try it and let you know. If you have some stubborn stains, try a pumice stone. I purchased this one from Lowes and it works great.
  7. In my garage workshop, I generate a lot of sawdust. To clean it up, I use a 3″ wide paintbrush. I find that the “quick dusters” don’t work that well. While I’m not suggesting it replace your year-round dusting, a paint brush is a great dust remover for hard to reach nooks and crannies when unpacking your decorations. Try misting with a little water if there’s some stubborn dust.

Got anything to add? Please help us all out and share it in the comments.

Ciao for now,



Wisdom Wednesday: The Love of Stuff…

Wisdom Wed LoveOfStuff

There is a generally accepted notion that minimalism defines stuff as the root of all evil. While that’s not necessarily the case, I wanted to share this quote from In Defense of Stuff on

For those of us trying to simplify, it’s all too easy to vilify stuff as silly or materialistic, or to feel guilty about wanting stuff we don’t necessarily need.

But just because we’re striving for Minimalist Holidays (or minimalist parenting in general) doesn’t mean we must foresake our love of stuff. It simply means clearing away the stuff we don’t love so there’s time and room to enjoy the the stuff we do.

‘Nuff said.

Ciao for now,






Q&A: Simple Ways to Avoid Holiday Weight Gain

I’m doing something a little bit different for today’s post. I’ve tapped into my favorite Registered Dietitian for a bit of advice on simple ways to avoid holiday weight gain. I figured with all of the party spreads, candy, flowing alcohol and chaotic schedules, we could all use a little bit of help, right?

I’m pleased to introduce my husband, Chris Halagarda. In addition to being the spouse of a professional organizer (poor thing) and fun-loving father of a very active 3-year old boy, he is also a talented and skilled sports performance dietitian. I asked him to drop some knowledge bombs on us today about nutrition and fitness through the holidays.

QA AvoidHolidayWeight

Q: After the holidays, many people will say they gained 10 pounds. Is that true? 

A: I think that gaining ten pounds of fat over the holiday season is an exaggeration. Weight gain is common during this time of year, but research shows that a lot of folks gain around 1-2 pounds of fat over the holidays. Unfortunately they keep that weight on, only to gain another 1-2 pounds next year and the year after that and so on. Remember also that the scale measures weight and not just fat. So if you weigh yourself after gorging on Thanksgiving dinner you might be 5-10 pounds heavier due to stored carbohydrate, water and fat.

Q: There is food everywhere I turn at the holidays. How do I avoid the temptation?

A: Well, food isn’t the enemy. So, if there are a good variety of foods available, do your best to fill up on the lean meats, vegetables and fruit. Then go for a short walk, strike up a conversation or drink a couple of cups of water before allowing yourself some of the fat and sugar laden foods. Adding short walks or conversation between trips to the buffet line allows some time for your appetite hormones to communicate to the brain that you’ve consumed enough food. Limiting your hunger is your best defense against unwanted eating.

Q: I was hoping to get a jump start on my New Year’s Resolution of losing 10 pounds. What should I do to get started?

A: I would recommend worrying less about losing weight and more about maintaining weight through the holidays. A simple strategy to help maintain your weight is to weigh yourself 1-2x/wk first thing in the morning. This awareness strategy is not to make you neurotic over a one pound weight change, but to be able to adjust your intake quickly before there’s a two or three pound change. It’s even more important to focus on making healthy food choices, getting 7-9 hours of sleep and getting physical activity in every day. Another effective strategy is to wear a pedometer and aim for 10,000 steps per day.  I’d also recommend that you get 2-3 days of resistance training every day. Resistance training adds lean mass which is the fountain of youth.  Most adults start losing muscle slowly but surely after the age of 30.

Q: Do you have any healthy food suggestions for a pot-luck?

A: A lean meat entree, vegetable crudité with hummus, mixed green and vegetable salad bowl, fruit bowl, pitchers of seltzer with cut up fruit, quinoa salad, part skim/low-fat cheese/lean cold-cut/cracker spread, deviled eggs, caprese (tomato-basil-fresh mozzarella) salad.

Q: My schedule is jam-packed! How do I possibly fit in workouts? 

A: Desperate times call for desperate measures. Just kidding! It’s important to realize a couple of things. First, you don’t have to work out for an hour to get health benefit. In fact, simple “fit breaks” are potentially more effective than a 1 hour workout with 23 sedentary hours. Some more obvious ways to get some activity are to go for 5-10 minute walks every hour. Tell your boss that you’re going out for a smoke. Smokers always seem to get a pass on hourly breaks. Try things like taking the stairs instead of the elevator, parking the car in the boondocks at work and when shopping so that you have to walk further, standing up while speaking on the phone or better yet, creating an elevated workstation so that you’re standing at your desk instead of sitting. Especially since sitting is the new smoking, it’s important to stand as much as possible.

The second thing to realize is that you don’t need to be soaked in sweat after every workout.  Don’t get me wrong, there’s a place for sprinting and metabolic type training, but you’ll also benefit greatly from long walks or many short walks and heavy weight lifting days without a lot of huffing and puffing. And by lifting weights I mean use your own body weight, resistance bands, dumbbells, barbells, kettle bells, suspension straps or any household items. Even kids are great to lift in a pinch.

Q: What foods should I avoid?

A: There is no easy answer to this question.  I’d usually say something very registered dietitian-like that sounds like eat everything in moderation….but not many people know what moderation means when you’re looking at a tray of fudge on a holiday party buffet table. When it comes to buffets, most mortals like to sample a bunch of things and then get more of what they liked.  Try to avoid food triggers.  They are your kryptonite- the foods that make you lose self-control.  For many people pizza and chocolate are food triggers that lead to more and more. I’ve worked with many folks who can easily avoid chocolate but once they have a bite, they eat most of the package. Pizza has this effect too.  I can’t eat just 1-2 slices, it’s more like if I eat 1 slice, I will probably eat 4+ slices.

The other food to be aware of is a liquid. Alcohol pretty much leads to a loss of self-control….a job too, if you drink too much at a work party. But joking aside, alcohol leads to poor eating habits and then poor sleep quality. Even if you pass out for 12 hours, you’re not hitting a deep REM, which means you’re not getting a good release of human growth hormone and testosterone which are 2 important hormones for tissue repair and maintaining lean muscle. Sleep is also when cortisol (stress hormones) go down which will help the body lose the stubborn fat around the belly. And obviously, if you wake up feeling awful, you’ll probably make poor food choices because your appetite hormones are out of whack and you’re probably not going to be motivated to get some physical activity.

Q: If I do pack on the pounds during the holidays, how do I lose it?

A: Slowly. Crash diets are great at losing weight, but they are not sustainable and they end up decreasing your lean muscle mass. Higher lean muscle mass keeps your metabolism higher.  When you lose lean muscle mass, you’ll experience a decrease in metabolism.  When you give up on the crash diet, the weight you put on will most likely be all fat, leading to the dreaded yo-yo dieting. By slowly I mean shave 300-500 calories from your diet, prioritizing the healthiest calories you can eat from lean proteins and meats, nuts, seeds, olive and canola oil, whole grains and lots of fruits and vegetables. Then make sure you’re walking at least 10,000+ steps per day and weight training 2-3x/wk. I’d like to say to throw away the scale too. Weight doesn’t mean healthy or fit. Take circumference measurements of your waist, hips, chest, upper leg and upper arm to evaluate your changes. Also, take note of the difference you feel in how your clothing fits. Before and after pictures are helpful, too.

I hope this info is helpful! Have a healthy, happy holiday season!

Ciao for now,






Create Clutter-Free Holiday Decor: Fall Y’All

Instead of decorating for Halloween and Thanksgiving, why not just simplify your decorating plan with fall decor? Is it because retailers, magazine editors and social media pressure us into it? Forget the Joneses- they’ve got nothing on the multi-million dollar product industries.

Clutter-Free Fall Decor

Believe me, I’m not completely devoid of feeling and desire to have a beautiful, magazine-ready look to my home. But I also know that it comes at a cost, whether that’s financial, stress, time or energy. Additionally, I don’t let the retail industry dictate where I should focus my attention. I’d rather decorate for fewer holidays and focus my time and energy on creating memories with my friends and family.

I think others are catching on, too. Reader Valerie commented on a post recently:

“Thank you, thank you, thank you! I always feel like such a slacker for not decorating more, but this just makes a whole lot of practical sense to me….I like the idea of having fewer decorations but keeping them up for longer. It’s easier to justify devoting storage space to something that gets used for three months of the year instead of for just a few days, not to mention justifying the cost of buying them or the time to make them in the first place.”

Why not DIY Fall-focused multipurpose decorations like these?

Fall Banner/Bunting

DIY Happy Fall Y'All Banner from
DIY Happy Fall Y’All Banner from

Reusable Leaf Garland

Fabric Leaf Garland from
Fabric Leaf Garland from

Fall Fabric Wreath

Fall Fabric Wreath by
Fall Fabric Wreath by

Mumkin Centerpiece

Mumkin Centerpiece from
Mumkin Centerpiece from

The bonus is that Mum’s (Chrysanthemum) are perennials. Which means that they will bloom again year after year, as long as they get the right care. Here are some tips from for Mum planting and care.

Check back to see more clutter-free holiday decor ideas soon!

Ciao for now!





Time Management Tips To Simplify The Holidays

There is a ton of advice on the internet on Time Management to Simplify the Holidays. In this post, I tried to gather some different ideas that you won’t find in every. single. article.
Time Management Tips- Simplify the Holidays
  1. Add Some White Space To Your Calendar– Grab your calendar now (don’t wait until it’s completely filled) and add a week or at least several consecutive days of down time into your calendar. You’ll thank me later. I promise.
  2. Be Selective About Saying Yes– Decline invitations to parties you don’t want to attend. If you always feel awkward or guilty and tend to over-explain, study up on this great resource for saying no.
  3. Hire Help– In this day and age, you can hire someone to help with just about any task: hire someone to run errands, cook or serve a meal, clean the house, do laundry, shop, walk the dog, help with holiday cards, organize holiday storage, etc.
  4. Pare Down Your Expectations– Doesn’t “pare down” sound much better than “lower”? I understand why “lowering your expectations” has a negative meaning behind it but it can also be a positive shift. William Shakespeare said “Expectation is the root of all heartache.” (Or maybe he didn’t.) Regardless of who said it, it holds a lot of truth. I’m not recommending you throw all of your expectations out the window. I’m simply suggesting that asking yourself what is ideal as well as what is good enough can help when you’re in a time crunch. Rather than having a specific mark for success, define a range of what would be acceptable.
  5. Decide on host/ess gifts in advance– Even better, use the same gift. No, don’t re-gift the same exact one. You don’t need to customize for each host or hostess. It can be icebox cookies, recipe in a jar, chocolates, infused liquor, artisan cheese, artisan soap, etc.
  6. Call ahead before getting into the car– Instead of driving from store to store, call ahead to see if they have what you’re looking for in stock.
  7. Make it a family affair– Most jobs can be made more fun by having help and turning on the tunes. Many hands make light work. Holiday decorating, cleaning, party prep, gift wrapping, etc.

I hope these time management tips will help you simplify the holidays in your home so you can put the joy back into the season.

Ciao for now!





Wisdom Wednesday: Success

Hi there! In case you haven’t noticed, yes, I have fallen off the wagon with my 31 Days to Simplify the Holidays series. Both my 3 year old and I have had some upper respiratory stuff going on and my sister was in town visiting.

Wisdom Wed SuccessThis is to say that life happens. Sometimes there are more important things to take care of…and that’s OK. I try to practice what I preach. My family will always come first.

I thought today was the perfect opportunity to share this quote with you (and for myself):

“You don’t drown by falling in the water; you drown by staying there.” – Edwin Louis Cole

We all fall. But it’s what you do after the fall that matters. You don’t fail by cheating on your healthy diet, missing the gym, letting your papers pile up, etc. You fail when you choose to give up. Success is often achieved simply by not giving up.

Stop beating yourself up and, instead, use that energy to dust yourself off and focus your eye on the prize. In the spirit of doing just that, I’m going to continue on my 31 Days writing journey even if it takes me twice as long.

Ciao for now,