Are you living in a household of one or two and feel it’s just not worth it to cook a whole dinner every night? 

Or may be you live alone and you would just rather grab some healthy (or unhealthy) snacks instead of nourishing yourself with a balanced supper?

Or are you managing a house full of people and by the time you have to start cooking, you are completely worn out?

I remember the time in our life when our kids were at home and things were just plain crazy. I usually set aside a cooking day once a week. It ensured that I would have some healthy dinners in my freezer during the week when we were typically running with the kids from one thing to another. And then, as they got older and left for college, I stopped the cooking days and, for years, forgot about their advantages. 

After working all day, I loathe coming home and having to cook for just my husband and me. My husband isn’t fussy, so it seems easier to have cheese and crackers or a salad for dinner. There is a hitch to that, though. When we eat like that, we will usually get hungry again and snack later on in the evening. And that’s why eating light at night doesn’t really work for us. We need healthy, filling meals for our supper! Recently, a friend reminded me that cooking days are a perfect way to eat healthy throughout the week. So, I started up again and I’m so glad I did.

It’s not as intimidating as it might sound. Sometimes it’s not a whole day; it might be half a day, or just a couple of hours, but it’s always worth the effort. You don’t have to do it once a week. You can set aside time every two weeks. Whatever you decide, just cook a few meals that you can refrigerate, or freeze, in serving size portions.

To give you an idea of my cooking day, I try to prepare one or two crockpot recipes (I borrow my sister’s crockpot so I can have two no-fuss meals slowly cooking at the same time). I also use the oven and/or stove top as needed.

To get started, there are a few things that will help make it easier:

  • The first time, try to plan a day or two ahead to make sure you have everything you need. 
  • Look at your easiest (or favorite – or hopefully, both) multi-serving recipes and write out a shopping list for all items not already in your pantry or fridge.
  • Make sure you have enough containers for all of the portions you’re going to make. If not, buy what you’re going to need. You can get inexpensive ones at dollar stores. If you want to use better quality containers, you can sometimes find a multi-pack on sale on amazon.com. My only suggestion would be that you get the same shaped containers; either all round ones or square, etc. That creates better space in your refrigerator or freezer
  • Try to grocery shop for your ingredients before the actual cooking day. That way, your first attempt won’t be so intimidating.
  • If you’re in the mood, you can do some of the chopping or prep work the day before, too. It will lighten the load for your actual cooking day.  

As you get used to these cooking days, it will become easier and will require less prep work.

And in an effort to help you get started, I thought I would share some of my most-requested make-ahead recipes.

Nana’s Pasta e Fagioli

This is my grandmother’s recipe for pasta e fagioli. It’s unlike any pasta e fagioli recipe I’ve ever seen here in the U.S.A., and I deduced that it’s from the region of Italy in which she lived before coming to America. Fair warning on this recipe – I don’t have exact measurements. But, the taste is amazing.

  • 3 (28 oz or 35 oz) cans of whole tomatoes
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • Olive oil
  • 2-3 stalks of celery, chopped
  • 3-4 cloves of garlic, sliced
  • Red pepper flakes, to taste
  • Dried basil, to taste
  • 1 lb. Ditalini pasta (or any small tubular pasta will do)
  • 2 cans of cannellini beans, drained
  • Reserved pasta water
  • Parmesan cheese

Chop 1 large onion and 2-3 stalks of celery. In a large pot, add enough olive oil to just about coat the bottom of the pot and heat on medium. Add the onions and celery and sweat on low heat until slightly tender, stirring occasionally. Add 3-4 cloves of sliced garlic, stirring occasionally. Make sure you watch the vegetables as you’re sautéing because you don’t want anything to brown, especially the garlic. Bitter garlic ruins recipes! Once the veggies are translucent, stir in red pepper flakes and a handful of dried basil. Add the tomatoes and simmer on low for about 1- 1/2 hours. Add the cannelini beans and simmer on low for about 1/2 hr. At this point, in a separate pot, start your pasta. Cook the pasta until noodles are still sort of hard, just before al dente. Before draining the pasta, dip a measuring cup in the water and save about a cup of the water. Throw the drained pasta and water in with the tomatoes. Let the flavors meld for a few minutes. Sprinkle some Parmesan on it. Done! This recipe makes a lot – enough for about 10 servings, so you can cut the recipe in half if that works for you. I do freeze it with the pasta and beans and it comes out of the freezer fine.  Serve with a salad (and maybe some crusty Italian bread) and you’ve got a complete meal!

Baked Rotini

  • 1 lb. ground beef
  • 1 med. onion, chopped
  • 1 green pepper, chopped
  • 28 oz.can whole tomatoes, undrained, cut up with a scissor
  • 1 (6 oz.) can tomato paste
  • 4-oz can sliced mushrooms, undrained (opt.)
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • ½ tsp. basil leaves
  • ½ tsp. oregano
  • ¼ tsp. garlic powder
  • ¼ tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
  • 8 oz. (1/2 lb.) rotini pasta
  • 2C (8oz.) shredded mozzarella, divided

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In medium skillet, combine beef, onion and green pepper. Stirring, cook until beef is browned and green pepper is tender; drain. Stir in everything except the rotini and mozzarella. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat. Simmer 20 minutes on low. In the meantime, cook the rotini according to package directions; drain. Combine Rotini and meat sauce; mix well. Layer ½ the mixture into a 3-quart baking dish; top with 1 cup (4oz.) mozzarella. Put in other ½ of the mixture and top with the remaining cheese. Bake in oven until hot, 20-30 minutes. Makes 6 – 8 servings. This freezes wonderfully! When you are ready to eat it, just add a salad (and Italian bread again – who can resist?).

Easy Pesto Spinach Artichoke Chicken Bake

https://www.thepinningmama.com/easy-pesto-spinach-artichoke-chicken-bake-recipe/

I made some changes to this recipe. I make this in a deeper casserole dish than indicated in the recipe. I also add a little more pesto and a lot more spinach than listed. And I use a 12 oz jar of marinated artichoke hearts. You can divide the chicken breasts and the rest of the yumminess into serving sizes and freeze.

Serve over rice the night you’re ready to eat this.

Crock Pot Chicken and Wild Rice Soup

https://iowagirleats.com/2015/10/07/crock-pot-chicken-and-wild-rice-soup/

Divide into serving sizes and freeze. This is filling enough to eat alone, or you can add a salad.

Crock Pot Chicken Taco Chili

http://redsie05.blogspot.com/2010/10/ww-crock-pot-chicken-taco-chili.html

Divide and serve over rice or pasta. This is also filling enough to eat alone, or you can add a salad.

I hope this post (and these recipes) have been a help. If you’re interested, I’ll add more recipes to the website. Just type “share more recipes” in the comments!

What is the first thought you have when going to your mailbox each day? Is it a feeling of dread? Curiosity? Eagerness? I’m going to guess that we all look at our mail and think something along the lines of: “Ugh, what kind of junk am I going to find in the mailbox today?” Right?

It was very different when I was growing up in the 1960s and 1970s. As a child, I was excited when the postal carrier came. I loved to grab the mail out of the box. Before bringing it inside, I would flip through the envelopes with anticipation, searching for any handwritten ones. They didn’t necessarily have to be addressed to me. I just loved that someone in another family had written a letter to someone in my family.

Today’s mail is different. Nowadays, most of our friends and family inform us of their personal lives via texts or e-mail. Therefore, it’s rare that we receive a letter. Today, it’s mainly bills, statements, advertisements, special offers and promotional mail. And there’s much more mail than there used to be. Many people say they receive no less than eight pieces of mail per day, most of which is just plain junk.

That’s why handling today’s mail can be a nuisance. For some, it’s hard to decide what to file, what to keep, and what to discard. So it piles up in baskets, on desks, on the floor, and sometimes even in bags.

Those bags! They’re the worst. Ask anyone who uses this sort of “filing system”. When visitors are on their way over, the bags end up all over your house as you stow them in closets, under furniture, or whichever room you declare the “closed door room”.

Two of my most recent clients had more than the usual amount of trouble keeping a handle on their mail. One had lost control of hers after a lengthy illness and was faced with several bins of new mail mixed in with older paperwork that a family member had pulled out of her files in order to figure out what bills needed to be paid in her absence. The other client had been afraid to dispose of mail for years, holding onto both opened and unopened envelopes spanning back almost fifteen years. It was overwhelming for both of them.

No matter the problem with your paperwork, it could potentially take over your home and cause you an inordinate amount of stress if you’re not handling it promptly.

So, let’s get to the good part! Below I’ve outlined five ways to better manage the mail madness in your life:

  1. The best way to handle mail is to do it as soon as you walk in the door with it. This literally takes three minutes or less. Every single one of us can and should take three minutes out of our day to simplify our lives… and for the sake of this article… starting with the mail. I suggest keeping a recycling container very close to whatever door you use to enter your house after gathering the mail. It can be any type of container. It can be inside your coat closet, in a basket, on a desk or on piece of furniture that is a multi-use piece. This is the recycling basket we use. It’s right near to the front door, it’s pretty and gets the job done:


  2. Next, turn to or walk right to your designated inbox container with the mail still in hand. We start the process of reviewing the mail right here at the end of each work day so we can dispose of the junk mail as soon as we enter our home and then proceed to our much deserved winding down. Rip open the offending envelopes and get right to it. You know all that extra crap that comes with your bills? Little inserts and advertisements? Immediately toss all those “ugly guts” right into your recycling box or basket. I promise you the first time you do it you’ll find yourself wondering how something so simple could feel so satisfying and, more curiously, why you waited so long to adopt this simple process.
  3.  You’ll want to handle everything you’re holding in your hands. When you open bills, look at the amount owed and due date, write that that info on the outside of the envelope, then put the paperwork back in the envelope. By noting this particular info on the outside of the envelope, you can quickly peruse your bills and know which ones to pay when. Keep all of these bills in a second, separate basket just for bills. There’s no other thinking needed. The recycling of the mail is done for the day, the bills are in one place and you even know when they’re due. You can even keep your checkbook in the bill basket. After all, if you’re good at budgeting, you’re going to need it to record your payments anyway… And if you’re no good at budgeting, or don’t even have a budget at all, well, Lighten Up has a blog for that too so stay tuned.
  4. The rest of the mail is probably going to be stuff that falls into one of two categories:
    • Stuff to shred. Yes! Invest in a shredder. You won’t regret it. You’ll want to shred any confidential or secure information that is extraneous so it doesn’t crowd your filing cabinet. We shred those “fake” checks for cash advances that come with our credit card bills and any type of “special offers” that might have our personal information on it.
    • Items you you might want to reconcile (bank statements, etc.), look into further, or file. So, keep another basket for this stuff if you think keeping it with your bills will be too confusing or stop your momentum when paying bills.
  5.  While I personally have yet to go paperless, I know the prospect of doing so is intriguing and many of my clients have expressed interested in making the switch. If you’re thinking of doing it, here are some articles we found with helpful tips that can help keep a paperless office neat, orderly and easy to manage:

http://time.com/3672824/go-paperless/
http://toolsandtoys.net/guides/the-tools-and-toys-paperless-guide/
http://www.pcworld.com/article/2036838/five-easy-steps-to-going-almost-paperless.html
https://filethis.com/going-paperless/
https://www.techlicious.com/tip/how-to-go-paperless-at-home/

Now, here’s the hard part. You have to train yourself to take care of all of this stuff once a week. Yep! Once a week! I know some of you are wincing. It’s okay. Remember, since you’ve gotten into the habit of purging daily, the weekly bill paying and filing is much more manageable and moves much more quickly. What once took an hour or more and was always put off because no one made the time to do it, now takes mere minutes since all the extraneous junk is out of the way and you can tend to just do the filing of a very small pile of manageable pieces. This is really less painful than you think once you get into a natural rhythm of doing this weekly. And if you have budgeted for your bills, another future blog post will be about budgeting and keeping accurate records, it will be easy to maintain this rhythm. So, once a week, pay your bills, reconcile statements and file it all.

If you need help with setting up a junk mail/recycling station, figuring out where your home office should be set up in your particular space, or creating a filing system, call Lighten Up! We’re pros at this!

It’s March!

Time for March Madness, Pi Day – complete with mathematical jokes, pi-reciting competitions, and fresh baked pie, and St Patrick’s Day, when the Chicago River turns green. It’s also when the Vernal Equinox, on March 20th, signals the start of Spring. The sun shines on the equator, giving us a near 50-50 split of day and night. In the mid-Atlantic states, the temperatures can still be frigid enough to get hit with a sudden spring snowstorm, but somehow it just doesn’t matter. It’s as if just the thought of leaving Winter behind for Spring is enough for us to believe it’s warming up already.

A lot of us are so restless for a change that we start our spring cleaning during March. Last year, in one of my March blog posts, I talked about how Spring Fever is Our Friend and how to go about spring cleaning in an orderly fashion:

I’d like to add something this year.

Declutter in degrees.

I’ve helped several clients with spring cleaning after they’ve already started the process, got themselves tied up in knots, and then called in the reinforcements. They usually call me for the same reason: they made a bigger mess than they planned… and it’s because they didn’t declutter first.

My advice is to march through March to a different tune this year. Start out your spring cleaning in a  bolder, more structured, empowered way.

  1. The first step in your mission is to schedule a pick up by a charitable organization for two weeks ahead. The motivating factor to smart decluttering is to know when the stuff you no longer need is going to leave your home. Don’t put it in your car and take it for rides for a couple of weeks only to drag it back into your home when you need the room in your car again. Decide on a pick-up-at-home charitable organization that resonates with you. For reasons very dear to my heart, my favorite is Vietnam Vets. One of my brothers-in-law died from exposure to Agent Orange and another brother-in-law is now undergoing treatment for a blood borne disease due to contact with the same chemicals. Also, Vietnam Vets is reliable and efficient. They find your house and pick up every time. You can schedule right online http://scheduleapickup.com/. Make sure you tape a piece of paper that says “VVA” on top of the pile so they can be sure they’re only picking up what you want to donate. How awesome is that?
  2. Decide how many bags or boxes you’ll be donating.  I always tell my clients to check off the box that says 4-15 bags. It’s propels you into a different cadence. Your journey suddenly becomes a marathon. You know you’re going to want to put out at least 4 bags and hopefully get to 14 or 15. Nailed it!
  3. Then decide where will you leave your donations? Try to pick a place that is covered. If you can’t, just make sure you have a tarp or old shower curtain liner to put over the pile so that nothing gets wet.

Be intrusive in your own home. Nay, ruthless I say! No matter which room you start in, open every drawer, search every cabinet and closet, look under every piece of furniture and decide what to do with what you find. Literally march if it helps to inspire you. Lift those legs and set a rhythm as you get going.

More than likely, there are items that haven’t been touched since you did your spring cleaning the year before. Last year, you saved them because you were going to need them someday and here you are a year later still staring at the irritating thing in the same place you left it.

How insulting to our own dignity! You didn’t use it. You still don’t need it.

Stop!

Don’t think anything else other than “I don’t use this. I don’t need this.” Then grab that item and put it straight into your donation box or bag before you have time to talk yourself out of it. If you find that you can’t do this, then follow Mel Robbins’ advice from her book, “The 5 Second Rule”, count to five and if at the end of five seconds you still can’t think of a reason to keep it, into the pile it goes. Be decisive. Don’t hesitate.

Continue on in this fashion throughout your whole house, always staying at an even pace, a good rhythm. Anything that you thought you needed a year ago that is covered in dust from non-use, is still in the same place you left it last year, looks like it’s seen better days, or just seems to scream at you, “Let me outta here,” trash it or donate it so it gets to someone who will need it, use it and appreciate it.

Remember you’re on a mission. No regrets. Keep marching through March!

Nobody Wants Our Parents’ Stuff

dsc03404This article is interesting. We are currently going through this with our aunt’s stuff as we try to sell her home.
My advice is to take some advice from this story.

Sorry, Nobody Wants Your Parents’ Stuff

 

This past fall when Facebook became too political for me, I backed off of it and joined Instagram. Instagram, for those of you who aren’t familiar with the app, enables users to take pictures and share them. It was much more fun to look at pictures of my friends and family than political rants. While on Instagram, I poked around a bit and found out I could also follow people I didn’t know, but with whom I shared similar interests.  

I was particularly attracted to photos from professional organizers in other areas of the country. I looked at the gorgeously stacked and fully labeled pantries, color coded play areas, funky arts and crafts containers, and beautifully beribboned linens storage. While I enjoyed the pictures, I found myself feeling rather ambivalent.

Wait! I’m a professional organizer! What was this about? I decided to have a good sit down with myself to find out what exactly was going on.

The great part of this introspection time was that I realized I take pleasure in working with all of different people on all of of the decluttering and organizing activities that are part of my profession.  On any given day, I could be working with a single person, a family, a couple, or a retired person or that I might be emptying a house for someone who is readying it for sale, or helping someone organize what they already have, or decluttering when there is just too much stuff to even start the organizing process. Yes, every job is different. Every client unique. Love all of it!

But, I also had an “Aha” moment. I became fully aware that my favorite part of this profession is helping people declutter. When I first meet with a new client, there is a marked difference between the one who needs to reorganize what they have and the one who can’t enjoy their home because they have too many things lying around. My potential organizing clients talk more casually about the work they are requesting. But, I can hear the stress behind the words my potential decluttering clients speak in our first conversation. 

The good thing is that once decluttering clients realize that I’m not the least bit judgmental and that I have more than likely seen far worse than whatever they’re showing me, they trust me. I bring a lighthearted approach to otherwise overwhelming tasks and circumstances, and they let their guard down. They start talking more about the way the clutter makes them feel and the restrained looks on their faces give in to what they’re really feeling: usually smothered in their clutter.

The best part is that they quickly understand that I’m only there to help them. In any way I can. That I’m willing to work on their schedule, not bothered by whether they make decisions quickly or not. I’m their cleaning buddy who is also there to help them make smart decisions and work in a productive, orderly manner.

As we declutter their home, working room by room, donating no-longer-needed items, and making new storage decisions, their demeanor visibly relaxes. They smile more. They find themselves working on little projects in between our meetings and are excited to show me what they’ve accomplished. They become proud of their home again. That’s key for them.

When we’re finally done a de-cluttering job, my clients are very different people. They’re more engaged in life. Why? Because they are more confident. They usually find extra time to enjoy activities they had stopped appreciating when their clutter began to weigh them down.

This! This is the part of my job that I love! I relish in helping my clients “find” their home – and themselves again. Watching them change as their house changes brings me such great pleasure. I love knowing they are walking in their front door each day with smiles on their faces. Do some of them call me back every month or every few months to help them bring their home back to order? Sure! Some clients find it hard to change habits. But, it’s all good. They’re happy to have me back and we’re happy to be working together again.

So, back to Instagram and my disinterest in all of the pictures of perfect organization, pretty containers and gorgeous pantries. I realized that, while that part of my profession is fun, it’s not the real “heart” work. There’s not much of a transformation in the client when we’ve completed jobs like that. Yes, they love their new space – and so do I. Looking at things in such perfect order is fun.

But, the faces of the clients who have worried they won’t be able to accomplish the job, who’ve slaved through their clutter and braved the decisions of donating or throwing out unneeded items with me? Those are the faces I see and the joy my heart feels when I close my eyes at night.

I see the client who was able to free herself of the many reams of sheet music now available on her iPad. I see the client who made the liberating decision to donate her former husband’s clothing. Or the client who finally admitted to himself and his wife that he was ready to say goodbye to his enormous compact disc collection and recycle two crates of old music magazines in their attic.

Sometimes it’s as simple as letting someone like Lighten Up in. Other times it’s as simple as gradually letting go. Often the most progress is made when a client allows a satisfying combination of both.

Our air conditioner’s condenser leaked and, since we hadn’t been down our basement in several days, the water spread across the basement and puddled on the far wall, the lowest point in the basement.

I called my husband, who told me to turn off the air conditioner. I don’t know why I called him really, because I kind of knew he was going to tell me that. It might have been mid-September, but it was a hot and muggy day. I wasn’t happy.

I moved everything away from the wall. Out came the shop-vac and the towels, and pretty quickly the puddles were gone. I turned the fans on the wet spots and left them on to dry. Luckily, the stuff that got wet wasn’t anything that water could ruin.

As we were moving things back, I started pulling things out to purge. I was struck again by the realization that de-cluttering is a constant in most people’s lives. I know it is in mine. And I witness it with others through my work.

We really do need to de-clutter several times a year to keep our homes balanced. For most of us, autumn de-cluttering is really about getting ready for the holiday season. We might as well clear out some of the old stuff because before we know it, we’ll be dragging out our holiday decorations. And if our basement (or other staging area) is already disorganized, then adding to the chaos with tubs of holiday stuff only makes most of us more anxious.

The same goes for readying the rest of the house for the holidays. If we have too much junk laying around in closets, it will be hard to use them as landings spots for our gift purchases, and later for the wrapped presents. If we are having house guests for the holidays, we have to make sure those rooms are clutter-free, too. Even our pantries get overloaded from the extra food and baking items we buy. Looking into already overflowing kitchen cabinets can create panic!

And who has the brainpower to orchestrate all of this while getting ready for the holiday season? Most of us don’t. And that’s why I’m pretty busy during the fall. I help a lot of people create both physical and mental space for the “most wonderful time of the year”.

Having a professional guide you through autumn de-cluttering takes an enormous load off of you and your family. You’ll be surprised how willingly you’ll purge with someone steering the boat. Most importantly, the end result is that it will afford you some semblance of peace before the hectic holiday season begins.

Give Lighten Up a call and we can talk about your particular needs for heading into the holidays on an even keel.

This summer was an emotional one for our entire family. Our aunt was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in 2015 and while we’ve done everything we can to keep her in her own home, she now faced a quality-of-life crisis.

Our aunt never married. Although she didn’t have children of her own, she has always treated my six siblings and me as her own. Since our mom – her sister – died in 1995, she has been the matriarch of our family and a mother figure to all of us. Her social life was very active. She has always been an active and fiercely independent woman. So, as you can imagine, this has been a rocky road for her.

My siblings all expressed a sincere interest in assisting with her care, yet their own family circumstances each presented a number of challenges, mainly to do with scheduling and availability. Since I’m the one with the most flexible schedule, I have, for the past year and a half, been our aunt’s part-time caregiver. This consists of driving from South Jersey to Center City, Philadelphia at least once per week to dispense and organize her medications, attend her doctor appointments, buy food, pay bills, oversee her part-time aide and manage any other needs that cropped up. I’ve spent countless hours on the telephone reassuring her that she hadn’t “completely lost her mind”, as she called it. Her short-term memory loss was frightening her and causing depression and anxiety.

Our family knew her diagnosis of Alzheimer’s meant that eventually she wouldn’t be able to live alone but my aunt, my husband and I had always assumed she would come to live in our home, a request she had made years ago while staying with us for a month as she recovered from heart surgery.

When we realized she needed more than part-time care, I presented this living arrangement to her team of doctors. I was shocked when they all staunchly opposed the idea. Although there were several factors that colored their decision, the biggest one was that she should move to her final home while she is still in the early stages of this horrible disease. The benefit to this is that she will be well acclimated to her residence by the time the disease is in its final phase. They didn’t want her to move in with us while experiencing moderate short-term memory loss and then have to move to a facility later when her memory was all but gone.

Several other problems factored in: I work variable hours so we would still have to hire a part-time aide for her. The doctors felt she needed to have a more regimented lifestyle. In addition, she has been a city girl her whole life. The doctors told us that if she happened to wander alone outside of our home in the suburbs, it could cause great traumatic distress when she not only realized she was lost, but also absorbed that the surroundings looked nothing like the type of neighborhood to which she was accustomed. The last problem was that since she had lost almost forty pounds in the past two years and had great trouble remembering if she took her medications. The doctors felt she would best thrive in a facility where her food intake and medications could be monitored by professionals.

It wasn’t easy for all of us (my siblings and their spouses were all involved in the discussion) to tell her we felt it was best for her to move into an assisted living facility. But, with a great amount of love and respect, we did it. When she got over the initial shock, she told us that she trusted all of us and knew that we always had her best interests at heart. We couldn’t ask for more than that.

Granted, the depression she had already been experiencing did worsen once she realized she was moving, she steadfastly upheld her decision. In her own words: “If I give you a hard time about this, we’re all going to be miserable, and that doesn’t serve any of us.” God bless her!

She’s now been at the Masonic Village Assisted Living Facility in Burlington, New Jersey for a month and she likes it there. The staff is seasoned: most of them have been working there for over ten years, many for almost thirty years. She enjoys the other residents and, even though she’s a fussy eater, she is pleasantly surprised to find that she likes the food. She is happy with the staff members and is making a few new friends.

We love having her nearby and everyone in our family, including our dad and our children, visits her a lot. It’s a win-win situation.

While we were preparing her move, I jotted down a few thoughts. Make sure you go through your loved one’s paperwork before they move. You don’t want to throw away something that could potentially be important in the future. This is especially important if you know you will someday have to apply for Medicaid. What may seem like a pile of useless papers could actually hold the deed to their cemetery plot.

  1. In our case, we had no idea our aunt had been saving paperwork since she was 13-years-old. I would suggest that you divide paperwork into personal papers and life documents. Do yourself a favor and don’t spend your time reading the personal stuff while you’re onsite. You should bring those files home  and go through them there. We made better use of our time going through the official documents with our aunt at her condo. Her short term memory may be impaired but not her long term. She was able to help us quickly sort through everything to find what we needed.
  2. You’ll need to get new prescriptions from the doctors to bring to the facility. It’s something you wouldn’t think about but it can hold up the process if you don’t have new prescriptions in  hand when your loved one moves in. Luckily, our aunt’s doctor was attentive to our requests and we had what we needed in time.
  3. If your loved one is unable to make decisions about what furniture and decorations they want to bring with them, help them by taking the initiative. We walked through our aunt’s condo with her, pointing out all of the wall decorations and furniture. This helped her to become part of the decision making process and she was much clearer about what she wanted to take to the assisted living facility.
  4. Start out packing very little. We brought just the essentials and then figured out what else she needed after she moved in.
  5. Don’t forget to create a change of address online here: https://moversguide.usps.com/icoa/home/icoa-main-flow.do?execution=e1s1&_flowId=icoa-main-flow
  6. Have a will and living will in place before you move your loved one. Check out this website to explain how to make these decisions https://www.agingwithdignity.org/five-wishes/about-five-wishes . Here’s a sample of a Five Wishes document https://agingwithdignity.org/docs/default-source/default-document-library/product-samples/fwsample.pdf?sfvrsn=2

I hope this helps if you find yourself faced with the decision to move a loved one into a nursing care facility. Enjoy the rest of the summer!

 

“I kept this because he liked it on me”

This strong, smart, mindful woman was pulling clothes out of her closet, explaining why she had kept them. Although it wasn’t the first time I had heard something like this, it was shocking to hear from my otherwise extremely spirited, sensible client.

I asked her, “You kept it because he liked it on you? Do you like it?” She took a long time to answer me. Eventually, she confessed the answer was “no”. The reason she kept it? Because someone else had liked it long ago.

That someone else was her ex-husband. Long ago was nearly a decade now. So why did she keep it? She, herself, didn’t even know. And why did she also keep the clothes that he had left behind? His own clothes? There was the long t-shirt of his that she sometimes wore around the house. There were also the dress shirts and ties still hanging in another bedroom closet, intended for her son-in-law.

I make a sincere and conscientious effort not to push people too much, but this client happened to be my friend. She needed the push. I made the suggestion that she declare her independence once and for all and get rid of everything and anything that reminded her of that former, bleaker time in her life.

This stuff was holding negative energy everywhere in her home. It was in the clothes she had stored in her own bedroom; the very room she now treasures as a sanctuary. It was in the other bedroom closet. It was in the boxes in her basement, in the garage; remnants of a relationship that ended badly, memories of a man she no longer loved, mementos of a marriage gone wrong, literally hanging around all over the place. Neatly tucked away, perhaps, but hanging around nonetheless.

I asked her why she would want that kind of negative energy lying around, crowding out all of the joy? She thought for a moment and then replied, “I never thought of it that way.”

Immediately she sprang into action. She asked her son-in-law if he really wanted her ex-husband’s clothes. He didn’t. She pulled them out of the closet and piled them on the floor. Then she dumped them, and anything else she had been holding onto, into a big contractor bag along with some of the clothes she was donating.

I was elated to watch as she scurried next down to her basement and looked for boxes of items he had left behind. She knew they were probably valuable and good money could be made off of them. Even so, she grew visibly sick at the thought that she had been unconsciously holding onto things that he didn’t really care about. So, she got rid of some of them, sold some more of them, and donated the rest. Gone!

Later, she said she hadn’t realized that the energy in her home was so thick with negativity. She noted that after she had purged, she could literally feel the difference in the air. Her home felt lighter and brighter. She, herself felt empowered. She felt affirmed. She felt stronger. What a change it made in her life.

This wasn’t the first time I had heard about a client holding onto items from a negative relationship. Even you might also be holding onto items that are messing with the juju in your home. So, here’s what you can do:

  1. If you have pictures from a former marriage, your children might want them. Go through those photos and make sure you get rid of the ones you, yourself, never want to see again. Then take the rest and pack them up for your children.
  2. Are there scattered mementos from a negative relationship? Wrap up anything that makes you happy (not guilty, not sad, and certainly not angry). Put them away until such a time that you might want to display them later down the line or go ahead and give yourself permission to donate them. Keep a limit on the amount of items you keep. Just a few.
  3. If there are valuable items that have been left behind, get rid of them. Just remember, if this stuff was left behind, you don’t need to shelter them. It’s not your job anymore! If your ex didn’t think they were important enough to tote them along to their new life, they’re just not important. Period. You can sell them, donate them or trash them. If you make money from the sale, do something fun for yourself!

Does this resonate with you? Then get a professional or a trusted friend ━ someone who is grounded and sensible ━ to help you rid your life of the negative energy lurking around in your home. Go ahead. Empower yourself!

In 1999 my dad suffered his second heart attack followed by his second quadruple bypass. After a few months of recuperation at our house, he moved back to our childhood home, which once sheltered eleven people including me, my six siblings, my parents and my grandparents.

Dad quickly discovered the house was just too much for him to handle and decided it was time to move to a more manageable abode – a condo. So, he began the process of emptying our home of almost forty years of stuff. While his intentions were good, Dad’s always been sort of bulldozer. His idea is to get things done as fast as possible, excavating with heavy machinery – “To hell with a plan”

Any quality excavation job should start with a good plan. Dad started out with a strategy alright, to sift through everything and create piles for my siblings and me. But we soon discovered he had chosen entirely the wrong vehicle. He was ready and raring to put the pedal to the metal and navigate the long road ahead with a nice, reliable … dump truck.

Even with us helping, Dad soon felt burdened by the immenseness of it all. With no one in charge of the process, he burned out quickly. He started pushing us all out of the door and doing a lot of the cleaning out himself when no one else was around. He said he didn’t have time to make piles or to wait for us to help him. He wanted it done yesterday. And he had no one to guide him, pace him, help him make decisions. So, he dumped.

Unfortunately, along with trash, dozens and dozens of bags and boxes filled with nostalgic mementos went out to the curb. Some of us tried to intervene but in the end, what was left in the house, along with some family heirlooms, was simply a mountain of stuff. Dad, the packrat that he was, had bought numerous items at auctions and estate sales. While these pieces were certainly wonderful, they hadn’t actually belonged to our parents or grandparents, so they meant nothing to any of us. It was the missing photos and other items from our childhood that had been pitched in frantic haste that we really wanted.

Still, we understood that this wasn’t the first time our dad (and mom while she was alive) had tried to organize the remnants of a big family. We had tried to help them before and the process had always died for one reason or another. Because we also knew that Dad was physically unwell and emotionally overwhelmed; to him, the job must have looked like a long-distance trip cross country on a bicycle. There were no hard feelings.

This is how the process happens for a lot of people. We try to organize and reorganize our stuff. We move items around and buy gadgets, containers and shelving units to contain everything. Sometimes, we bag things and throw them in closets or even rent storage units. We do all of this with the intention that we will someday find the time to go through everything little by little.

Instead of reducing the clutter, we only amplify it. We go back to the task only to add more and more items to the piles. Then we hit the point where we can’t handle the project and have to stop thinking about it… until it once again affects our lifestyle. We repeatedly embark on the process of shifting and moving, organizing and reorganizing – each time beginning a sense of urgency and a desperation to see instantaneous change – and ultimately ending with a solemn forfeit that our plan didn’t work. And then the cycle starts all over.

All the while, we’re living with the disruptive chaos, we detect an underlying feeling of uneasiness, as if someone is tailgating, riding our bumper. It causes disagreements in our families, prevents us from living the life we want to live together. We just don’t want to let it get to the point where it’s too late. Before we know it, a dumpster is filled with all that we’ve ignored throughout the years.

At Lighten Up, we have watched as our clients have attempted to go through this process themselves. Their goal was always to see immediate results. We know first-hand that approach can be, and more often is, the very the downfall of such a project. It just doesn’t work that way.

When decluttering, it can make a world of difference to have a professional driving the vehicle. Here at Lighten Up, once we’ve had a sit down and helped the person talk through their concerns, we start the ignition and accelerate slowly as we help redefine their goals. We help them to stay within the speed limit and apply the brakes and steer more carefully when they’re traveling around a sharp curve.

Once we’ve gotten into a rhythm of shifting gears, we gain momentum. The drives we take suddenly encompasses more mileage. We can start to see the light at the end of the tunnel and realize that the destination is near.

This is when our clients begin to feel less encumbered and more excited. It’s when they realize it wasn’t as hard as it seemed, that the ride was worth the stops and starts. They forget the uphill climbs and, instead, delight in the downhill runs.

If this resonates with you, if you’ve attempted to contain your clutter only to walk away from the project, remember this. It can be done! This project is not impossible. You can choose to go it alone… or trust the process to a professional who can chauffeur you around on the trip. Slow and steady wins the race.

In this day and age, with so many more responsibilities, and clocks that seem to spin faster and faster, how do you keep your house in order with while raising kids? I met with someone the other night for a free consultation. She is an intelligent, warmhearted woman, wife and mother of three. She has a lovely, older home filled with character and charm. She would tell you that her home is just “filled.”

As I stepped over the threshold I heard a child playing a piano and I was instantly hit with nostalgia. I remembered our children practicing the piano. I loved the sound of their little fingers plunking out chords, arpeggios, scales, and songs. I also remembered the struggle to find time in our busy schedule to get them to lessons and the even greater battle to get them to agree to practice.

Similar to ours, this home was filled with children’s artwork, imaginative crafts and fun toys. As we walked from room to room, I felt this woman’s angst and was transported back to our own parental struggles for balance. We sought to encourage free-thinking and imagination, like when we showed our kids how to hook up sheets and blankets to make multi-roomed “forts.” We advocated mixing sets of toys and games to create new and exciting stories, and we even allowed messes inside and outside the house. All this, while being the disciplinarian, housekeeper, girl scout leader, PTA mom, homework helper, chauffeur, laundress, and “chief-cook-and-bottle-washer”, as my father-in-law used to say. Did I leave anything out? Oh yeah, and wife. It was hard to find time to be alone with my spouse through all of this mayhem.

As the kids got older, it was in-the-car, out-of-the-car, in-the-car, out-of-the-car, a never-ending loop of motion that seemed like it would never stop. Each day, after getting the kids to bed, my husband (who was a huge help when he got home from work, assistant coaching and helping out with boy scouts and girl scouts) and I would drop onto the couch and stare at each other through glazed, bloodshot eyes.

I was blessed to be a mostly stay-at-home mom who worked during school hours. Still, it was hard to keep everything in order. Although my husband and I made sure the kids cleaned up everything at the end of each day, pieces of toys and games still migrated throughout the house. I used to blame it on living in a rancher. With no stairs to separate living and sleeping space, I swore that playthings silently crept around from room to room as we slept. If I’d had the stamina, I might have hooked up video cameras to prove it.

It took an immense amount of energy to periodically scrutinize the old crafts, outgrown toys and clothes. It sometimes took an entire weekend to get it under control, only to repeat the process in another three months or so. Even with the kids pitching in, it was one of our most dreaded chores. Back then, I would have appreciated having someone to keep us on track, to work with us and teach us a process that kept all the junk from accumulating again.

There is so much more involved than when our kids were little. Back then, we only had gaming systems that hooked up to our TV. Now there are games connected to the computer, the iPad, and the phone.  There are more sophisticated games, and although there are still Legos and Barbies, there are so many more pieces to corral. There are also more play dates and many more birthday parties and other celebrations than I remember attending. How do parents carve out time for self-care and home maintenance, let alone down time with all of this activity?

As we walked through the client’s home, I felt empathy for this mommy who wanted to balance the artistically-inspiring ambiance of her home with one that produced a more serene, orderly feel for her husband and herself, even for her kids. We discussed the potential use of each room, their ideas and wish lists. I asked a lot of questions and so did she. When we arrived at the last room – the basement – she admitted that this was the room that created the most stress for them.  We talked a bit longer while we were physically in that space to flesh out just how much strain she and her husband were feeling about the house. We came up with plans to make the transition to a leaner, more organized home a slow, easy process for her, starting in the dreaded basement where we stood. Starting where it hurts the most will produce the biggest bang and sense of accomplishment. Since she has limited alone time during the week, we came up with a tentative twice-weekly schedule.

Of course, this mother of three knows she really can straighten out the house on her own, but the idea of taking up the project each day during her limited alone time is enough to make her want to flop in front of the TV and turn on Netflix. Here’s the thing. Just because you can do it on your own, doesn’t mean you should. That’s why Lighten Up exists.

She mentioned that she needed someone to keep her on task while she decluttered, to assign her homework, to be held accountable. I told her that, although Lighten Up is many things to many people, most often that’s who we become to most of our clients: the one who motivates them to continue with the process when it’s difficult to persevere.

We show up on time, we pick up where we leave off, we sort through items, we help our clients make decisions about what to keep, what to bag up and then we haul it around to the trash or donation pile. We keep everything on track, making inquiries for storage solutions, trash removal and donation pick ups as needed. By taking care of tedious and time-consuming logistics, our clients are able to physically observe progress while riding the thrilling wave of momentum.

If a homeowner wants to move fast, then at the end of our allotted time we leave them with some homework to accomplish before our next visit. If someone can’t imagine spending any more time than what we spend together, we ask them not to focus on the lengthy process during their down time, but instead to just keep their eye on the prize.

The prize is a home with balance, one that all family members can enjoy. If you want to strike a balance so that your home can be a place for childlike exploration as well as a dwelling of restfulness, contact Lighten Up. It’s what we do.