Shaking Things Up

I tend to stick with things for a long time. I’ve been in my current job for over eight years (a really long time for a software developer). A few weeks ago, my husband and I celebrated our 22nd anniversary. We’ve lived in the same house for that long, too.

Those are all good things. But being in a good rut is still being in a rut, and both my husband and I have been feeling a need for a while to shake things up.

My family is a real blessing, so we don’t want to shake that up. And my job has been good–I’m blessed to work with and for nice people, in a relatively low-stress environment, and it pays decently. It’s not always challenging and interesting, but it is enough of the time that it’s good.

But neither of us has ever lived outside of southwest Ohio. My husband has never even lived in a different city. It’s been a good place to live, aside from some crappy winter weather and presidential campaign seasons. But we’re feeling a need for change, so we’re looking to move south. Not any time soon, but probably in 5 years or so. Just because we feel we need something different.

He’s actually been talking about this for a couple years. It took me a while to come around, but gradually, I did. Now that I have, it’s exciting to think about. This is one reason why I’ve been particularly inspired by Patricia’s story of leaving California and following her and her husband’s dream to Mississippi, where they bought a bed and breakfast (that I definitely hope to visit sometime!).

The main reason for our timeframe is that we want to get our daughter through college and pay off the remaining debt on our rental properties. The other reason is the massive amount of decluttering this house needs. It needs a lot of little nitpicky repairs too, but the clutter has to go first.

So I’ve gotten back into Flylady. I joined Flylady back in 2002 when I was laid off for a couple of years because there were no software jobs around here. I wanted to get my house in order, and learn how to keep it that way.

It took a while (I honestly don’t remember how long), but I did pretty well. The only thing I didn’t get to was completing the closets, and the basement. And when I went back to work, a lot of the Flylady habits fell by the wayside.

Some I’ve kept up. I do have a morning and evening routine, and I relegate my bill-paying and bookkeeping to Monday evenings. But I now have a lot more motivation to get back into decluttering.

I normally spend only 15 minutes a day on this, as Flylady suggests. And it’s already made a noticeable difference! For example, I have a huge built-in bookcase in my office/study that’s three feet high, by about twelve feet long. The top of it was completely full of clutter! I spent fifteen minutes putting stuff away and throwing trash out, and it was DONE (the top, not the contents. That will come later). We didn’t have anything suitable for the giveaway bag, though normally that’s a part of my decluttering, too. This bookcase top was just one of those things we think will take a long time, but if we just do it, it doesn’t. I did the same thing with an occasional table in the dining room that seemed to have a sole purpose as a home for junk. Fifteen minutes was all it took! I can’t believe I forgot this basic truth. Even things that took more than one fifteen minute session to declutter were easier than I thought.

Having the additional motivation is a big part of it, I’m sure. Now I not only think, “Do I use this? Do I love it?” I also think “Would I want to move this?” If the answer to all three is No, out it goes!

What I’ve been reading: In the midst of all the decluttering, of course I still have time to read! That’s even more so now that I’m trying to establish a habit of walking at least 15 minutes every day. If the weather’s nice, Isis gets another walk. If not, I walk on the treadmill–and read! Right now, I’m reading an advance reader copy of an exciting science fiction novel. I’m about halfway through it, so should finish by next week. I’ll discuss it then.

ROW80Logo175ROW80 Update: I finished the revisions based on my beta readers’ comments! Part of this is because I decided to stop dawdling over those from one reader, whose suggestions for changes were quite extensive. I initially agreed with her comments, but the more I dug into the book with them, the slower the revision went, and the more I balked at making the changes at all. I finally realized that this was because those changes weren’t right for the book–they either would have deviated from my vision for the story, or they would have made it different, but no better. I did work in her more overall suggestions, so it’s still a stronger story. Now I’m having them look it over again, along with a third reader, because I want to make sure the changes make sense. For this week, I really need to buckle down and get the book description to my publisher, plus a cover comp. I also need to complete another cover for a Mythical Press client.

What about you–have you ever felt the need to shake something up? What did you do? Has clutter taken over your home, or are you good at keeping it under control? Have you tried Flylady’s system? How are you doing on whatever goals you might have? Please share in the comments–I’d love to hear from you!

Jennette Marie Powell writes stories about ordinary people in ordinary places, who do extraordinary things and learn that those ordinary places are anything but. In her Saturn Society novels, unwilling time travelers do what they must to make things right... and change more than they expect. You can find her books at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Smashwords, Kobo, iTunes, and more.

More Holiday Stress-busters

We all have too much to do during the holidays. So much that, for many, a time that’s supposed to be filled with fun, friends, and laughter ends up being filled with tension, anger, and resentment – maybe even stress-induced illnesses. I remember my mom being sick on many a Christmas. Now I know that it was probably stress-induced – she has fibromyalgia, so would be even more susceptible to this than most people.

So how can we reduce the stress, while still having fun and making things meaningful for our loved ones? I touched on a couple of ways in my ROW80 update post, last Sunday. Here are a few other tricks I’ve tried:

Parties and other time-commitments
For many people, there are simply too many of them! Sometimes, they even conflict, forcing us to choose – and possibly disappoint someone. I can’t speak to that situation – it will be unique depending on you, and the others involved. But sometimes there are simply too many commitments and they’re keeping you from doing other important things – like spending time with your family, doing the job that pays the bills, and oh yeah, that shopping. So do you really need to go to every one of those parties? Ask yourself these questions about each one:

  • If I don’t go, will someone be disappointed or hurt?
  • Are there people there I care about, who won’t understand why I can’t make it?
  • If I don’t go, will it adversely impact me (for example, career or business issues)?
  • Are these people who don’t live nearby, and whom I don’t see at other times of the year?
  • Do I really want to go? (<- This one’s important!)

If you answered NO to these questions, then skip it!

Shipping Gifts

Just say no to waiting at the post office!

I am blessed to have my close family nearby, so I’m not as affected by this as many. But I do know if I was, I’d be planning ahead – and doing all I could to avoid the post office. There are never fewer than ten people in line at mine on any day, and near the holidays, the place is a madhouse! I think I’d almost rather go to the mall; it’s that bad. Of course, the number one key is to plan ahead and get things taken care of early. But aside from that, the good news is (at least for those in the U.S.), most of the time, you CAN avoid the post office! And I don’t mean paying the higher prices at a commercial shipper either. All you need is a computer, a good quality printer, label paper, a credit or debit card, and maybe a postal scale to take advantage of two AWESOME services provided by the US Postal Service: Click ‘n Ship, and Carrier Pickup. Just set up an account at, type in the address info, weight, etc. Enter your credit card, and the system will automatically generate a label with the proper bar codes, tracking info, etc. that you can print on single-sheet labels and stick on those packages. Use the free boxes the USPS provides for Priority Mail and Express Mail – go in and grab some after hours, or even if you brave the parking lot, you can at least skip the line. It gets better – after you print your label, you can schedule a pickup at your home for the day you ship your package – for free! The 13-ounce, must-hand-to-a-postal-employee rule doesn’t apply either: they have your info in their database, so they know you’re OK. You don’t even need to be home for them to pick up your packages. I’ve had them pick up 17 boxes at a time once – no problem! I haven’t been to the PO in months, if not longer; and then it’s only to check my PO box.

Let Shutterfly do those holiday cards!

Holiday Cards
Christmas cards are my bane. A lot of people just buy a box of cheapies from Wal-mart or wherever, sign them, and send them off. If you’re one of them, then you’re ahead of the game. The only way to speed up from that is to simply not send any. I do know people who don’t, and I’m envious. Yet I do send them, for a couple reasons. One, they help me keep in touch with people I might otherwise not, but want to; and two, they’re a Big Deal to my husband. Even though I don’t think he ever sent a Christmas card before we met. They are his opportunity to brag, and in years past, I used my Graphic Artist Skillz to design a custom card with our photos on it, print them up in our printer, print the envelopes up….  it was awful! I’m a good designer, but I don’t work fast, so this was a huge time-suck from the get-go. Then they would invariably be a pain in the butt to print, jam the printer every other card, run the printer out of ink or toner… you name it. Last year I said, no more! Instead, I asked my husband and daughter to pick out photos they wanted to include, and I purchased digital licensing for the photo we had taken of our dogs a few weeks ago, a free sitting at the PetWants store grand opening. I uploaded the bunch to Shutterfly, picked out a design, and click! Cards on the way. I got a lovely box of them in four days, and with coupons, they were under $1.00 a card. With the cost of card stock (not to mention the aggravation factor), the ones I did at home probably weren’t any cheaper. Instead of printing the envelopes, which always seem to jam, I’ll print labels. My husband can then sticker and stamp ’em, and they’ll be good to go. If you really have more money than time, Shutterfly will even address and mail them for you, but this wasn’t available with my coupons, so I’ll do that part myself.

Holiday Newsletters: These are an artifact from a time before email, Facebook, free long distance, and texting. Do most of the people you’d send a newsletter to already keep in touch via the above? Then give yourself permission to Just Say No!

Baking: just say no – or pick up something they’ll really like, like I mentioned in Sunday’s post.

Santa still wraps, but he uses gift bags, too!

Gift Wrapping: If it’s free at the store where you bought it, and the line is short (or you’ve got time), use it! A lot of malls and specialty stores have Girl Scouts or similar groups offering gift wrapping for a small donation. Another tip is to use gift bags! As Melinda VanLone commented on my Sunday post, they take only a few seconds – and they’re reusable! While I do wrap some presents, especially those that won’t fit well in a gift bag, I also use a lot of gift bags. I hardly ever buy them – almost all of mine once contained gifts to me, my husband, or our daughter. My brother has a weird habit of unwrapping presents by meticulously removing every piece of tape with as little damage to the paper as possible. It takes him at least a half hour to open one present, and it drives everyone nuts. From me, he gets all his presents in gift bags – a double benefit!

Online shopping: Avoid the crowds, lines, and craziness – and save time! Do it online. My favorite store is In many cases, you’ll also save money – their prices are tough to beat, there’s no sales tax (fair or no), and most things will ship for free if you spend over $25. It takes a little planning ahead, but otherwise, what’s not to like?

The best tip of all? Do as Flylady says: plan ahead, do a little bit every day, and BUDGET your money – that way you won’t be as stressed for the holidays now, and you won’t be stressed when the bills come later!

Got any more holiday stress-busters to share? As much as these make it look like I have a handle on things, there’s always some last minute gift I forgot, commitment I didn’t plan on, and extra stuff to do, so I’m always looking for more ways to make the holidays fun for everyone, and as stress-free as possible!

Time Management: Just Fifteen Minutes!

Time management has been a challenge for me for as long as I can remember. And keeping my house clean?

(Excuse me while I go have a good laugh)

Okay. Anyway, yes, the day job makes a convenient excuse. Not sayin’ it’s a good one, but it’s mine, and I’m sticking to it. Actually, I no longer worry about it, because now that my husband’s retired, he does a lot of it, and trades work with a friend to do some too (don’t hate me!). But when I was laid off a few years ago, I knew I had to step up.

Enter Flylady.

Before: My shoes were out of control!

Flylady’s website is full of tips to get your house (and other aspects of life) under control through routines. She sends out motivational emails every day, and sells products on her website that she’d personally used and determined to be the best value for what they do. She also has a lot of great sayings:

“Your house did not get messy in one day, it’s not going to get clean in one day!”

“You cannot organize clutter, you can only get rid of it!”

“Baby steps get the job done!”

“Just fifteen minutes!”

What a difference ten minutes makes!

Words to live by!

While I was out of work, I did a good job getting clutter under control, and I kept up with the house fairly well. But reining in clutter is an ongoing task, and I haven’t kept up with it since going back to work several years ago. Yesterday, I tripped over shoes in my walk-through closet and decided enough was enough. Surely it wouldn’t take that long to declutter my shoes, so I noted the time and figured I’d spend fifteen minutes on it and see what I could get done.

Buried in that junk, I found three pairs of boots I hadn’t worn in at least two years, and five pairs of shoes that were worn out (and I also hadn’t worn in a year).  Those went out. Behind them, way in the back of the closet, were a cleaning bucket I’d thought was lost, and a laptop I had from my first software development job, that I bought in 1997! Even if it could run modern software, the screen was just about shot the last time I fired it up. So I found a place that recycles computers for free, without using toxic chemicals or shipping it over to China, and I put the boots in a bag for the next AMVETS pickup.

Time? 10 minutes!

Okay, five more minutes. I decided to tackle my husband’s shoes, since his size-14s are even more of a tripping hazard than my shoes. He didn’t have any to throw out, but I did move a few he doesn’t wear often to the back, behind his slacks.

Fifteen minutes total, and I was done!

The rest of the closet awaits for my next fifteen minutes, some other day, maybe tomorrow!

Have you ever put off something because you thought it would take a long time – then when you finally jumped in and got to it, found that it didn’t take long at all? Have you found anything as ridiculous as a non-functional, 14-year-old laptop??? Got any decluttering tips? Please share!