If you follow me on Facebook you’re probably aware that our theme for April is Earth Month. My original plan was to offer some gardening-related tips and advice in today’s blog post, but to anyone who knows me well, that notion is spit-out-your-coffee laughable. To say that I do not have a green thumb is the understatement of the year. My best gardening advice is to never trust me with your plants.
Having said that, just because I seem incapable of growing things myself doesn’t mean I don’t have a deep appreciation for the things other people grow. In fact, I probably appreciate them even more because of my gardening “disability”. I enjoy having fresh cut flowers in my home while they last and like to admire other people’s gardens. Anyone who finds themselves with an over-abundance of fresh herbs or vegetables to share from their garden will find a grateful and enthusiastic taker here. I do have some azalea bushes and a rhododendron in my front yard and hydrangeas in my backyard that make me smile, partly because they remind me of my mother and partly because they seem to find a way to bloom beautifully year after year despite the fact that they live in my yard.
In any case, faced with a dearth of ideas on what to write about in this week’s blog on the topic of gardening and having some unexpected space in my daily routine yesterday, I decided to take a walk in the hopes that some sort of inspiration would jump into my path while I was admiring the fruits of other people’s labors in my neighborhood. And I did something I almost never do when going out for a walk on my own: I left my music at home and allowed the sounds around me to accompany my walk instead. It was an eye- (and ear-) opening experience.
I never realized before how much listening to music on my walks distracted me from connecting with the world around me. It sounds silly, now that I think of it, that I never noticed until now how much my music drowned out my environment and forced my focus inward. In fact, the purpose of my walks in the past has typically been more about de-stressing and processing what’s in my head and heart, whereas yesterday’s intention was to connect with my surroundings and let them lead my thoughts. It was pretty powerful.
I frankly expected this walk to be a little bit boring with all that open space in my mind, but I soon discovered how wrong I was. As I walked along the sidewalk leading up to my kids’ elementary school, I was greeted with a flood of memories...reminders of the many times I had walked my two now-teens to school as young children, of the conversations we’d had, of their joyfulness at meeting some of their friends along the way, of the worries I had often mulled over on my way home after dropping them off. Then I was drawn further back to my own childhood memories of climbing the small overgrown hill across from our bus stop to taste the honeysuckle before racing back down to the corner when the designated lookout shouted “BUS!” As I passed neighbors dutifully pruning and watering their carefully-tended gardens, I recalled my mother weeding the three round flower beds in our backyard and how my sisters and I still chuckle about the time we spotted our next door neighbor tending her garden in a white dress and high heels on her way in from church, such was her commitment to it.
As I turned the corner, I noticed the dandelions that had already turned white and remembered how we’d blow on them as kids, even though our parents told us not to...something kids still do today, and just as they no-doubt have done for centuries. There’s a comfort in knowing that we are connected down through the ages by a shared fascination with creation. When I was young, my father would take us backpacking. We’d go days at a time without seeing another living soul. I didn’t like that feeling of isolation, of separateness, of space between us and the rest of the world. But then I would imagine that we were treading upon the same land, surrounded by the same woods that native peoples and pioneers had trod upon two hundred years before us, and it reminded me that we were part of something eternal, something difficult to explain yet comforting that filled the gap between me and the rest of humanity in those lonely moments/
I took some time to appreciate the textures of the trees, which brought a smile to my lips. My father was also an avid amateur photographer when I was growing up and there were (and I assume still are) lots and lots (and lots) of photos of tree bark taken using a variety of shutter speeds and apertures among his vast slide collection. Remembering how I once stood for what seemed like hours in the snow, holding an umbrella over him and his camera equipment so that he could capture the May snow atop the fully blooming forsythia hedge in our backyard brought back warm thoughts as I continued on my breezy walk yesterday.
All these memories carried with them a tidal wave of mixed emotions that quickly filled every space within my brain. I felt love for my family and joy at recalling scenes from both childhood and young motherhood; regret over having missed out on potentially thousands of similar walks I didn’t take over the years because I was too busy, too lazy or too wrapped up in my own thoughts to pay attention; agonizing grief over the loss of loved ones now gone, opportunities missed with my children, time wasted worrying about trivial things; gratitude at the gift of this beautiful creation through which we are all connected; humility at realizing that I am but a tiny speck in this grand, great universe, yet awe that I was created with the same loving attention to detail as the itty bitty budding pinecones I had just inspected.
As I sat down to process all of these feelings, I noticed a hawk gliding through the air above the trees that circled the chain link fence surrounding a tennis court. The lack of music on this walk made space for me to discern the dichotomy of sounds I was hearing...birds chirping in the trees as well as a distant lawn mower. I turned over in my head these examples of nature contrasted with the signs of modern development and technology, coexisting in the beautiful setting of our neighborhood park. I stood up and continued down the paved path that led through the woods. The asphalt made this shortcut through a lovely secluded spot more navigable for walkers and bike-riders alike, yet there was little traffic. Again, man-made convenience and natural beauty occupying the same space. I was struck by how all these contrasting elements made my walk feel richer and more interesting somehow.
I don’t know if it’s just the organizer in me, or if it’s simply part of human nature to want to label everything we experience and put it neatly into its designated spot, leaving no spaces empty lest something uncategorized creep in there. I thought about where I’d file this walk. Does it fit most neatly under love, joy, regret, sorrow, guilt, gratitude, or humility? The answer is it is all of the above. It certainly wasn't what I expected it to be. It simultaneously made me happy as well as sad. I both loved it and didn't. Perhaps I can just let it be something undefinable, I thought. Why does everything have to be simplified and labeled? After all, life is complex...we are complex. Sometimes complexity is messy, but therein lies its beauty. How often do we lose out to our need to neaten it up? We ignore one thought, idea or emotion in favor of another because we feel like we can’t process both, instead of just living in that uncomfortable-yet-fascinating space in-between them? We label people, institutions, ideas and experiences as friend or foe, ally or adversary, acceptable or unacceptable, positive or negative, when the reality is that most of what we encounter in life is a mixture of both and of everything in-between.
My simple nature walk reminded me that just as the beauty of the rainbow lies in the wide range of its colors, the beauty of life is experienced through our ability to detect and savor all the subtle nuances contained within our relationships, emotions and experiences and to value each and every shade. I can love someone who has made me angry, be disappointed at the choices my children make and still be proud of who they are, disagree profoundly with my friend and still grow from all she continues to teach me, or recognize some positive quality in a person I find generally loathesome. I can wish for time alone yet be comforted by those constantly surrounding me. I can feel gratitude for all my blessings while working to bring about change, just as I can desire challenge while craving rest. Life is most fully lived and meaningful when we allow ourselves to exist in and experience those spaces in-between our labels.
When I was a child, I didn’t get why grownups wouldn’t want dandelions growing in their lawns:
“Because they’re weeds”, was the answer I was given.
“So?” I’d say, “They make the yard look pretty.”
“But they’re weeds,” my parents insisted.
Now I understand. We were both right. Even weeds can be pretty and even pretty things can be unwanted.
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Whether you believe climate change is manmade or not, one truth is irrefutable: it is in our own best interest as a species to be good stewards of the earth and its resources.
Having grown up in the 70s and 80s, I can remember a time when our family of six generated so much garbage, that two large trash cans were not enough to accommodate it all in between our twice-weekly collection days. (I know this because I was one of the ones who was charged with carrying it all down to the end of our long driveway on trash days...and which a failure to do often resulted in me losing television privileges for a week or more!) When recycling was first introduced, it seemed onerous. Even just remembering not to throw cans and glass jars in the trash can was a hurdle we all had to overcome. Today it has become second nature, and I’m pleased to report that our family of four almost never fills up our one large garbage bin often enough to warrant putting it out for the second trash collection each week. (Much to my teenage son’s chagrin, though, there’s still plenty of recycling to put out...in which a failure to do often results in him losing his gaming privileges. The more things change, the more they stay the same, I guess.)
The point is that according to the EPA, landfilling of municipal solid waste (MSW) in the United States has decreased from 94% in 1960 to 50% in 2018 and composting and recycling rates have increased from 6% in 1960 to 32.1% in 2018...all due to society collectively adopting one new habit to make a difference over time. Just think what a big difference we could make over the next 58 years by becoming just a bit more intentional about how we consume.
Sometimes purchasing something new is necessary, and doing so helps to create jobs and has a positive impact on our economy. But embracing a philosophy of “less is more” can not only save you money and space (both highly-sought-after commodities in most American homes) but can also make you a more responsible consumer and steward of our natural resources. Next time you find yourself reaching for your phone or logging onto your computer to order something online, or drawn to an item on a store shelf, ask yourself these six questions first:
Every time you buy something new, you generate waste. When you order online, your purchase will arrive in boxes or bubble mailers, often with additional packaging materials enclosed, delivered in planes and trucks that consume fuel and pollute the air. Even if you purchase something from a brick and mortar store, you are consuming gasoline to get there and your item/s still arrived at the store in boxes with packaging on gas-powered, pollution-generating vehicles. You may even get a receipt generated on thermal paper (which cannot be recycled) and carry your items home in a plastic or paper bag. This is before we even get to what happens to the item you bought or the container it came in once you are done using it. Needless to say, cutting back even just a little bit on new purchases and learning how to minimize, dispose of, or reuse the waste they generate responsibly will make a huge difference over the remaining decades of your life. If each person makes even a small change in how they consume, this could add up to a major shift in our society’s impact upon our environment. And don't forget, there's the added bonus of having less stuff to manage in your home. Everything you buy has an overhead cost attached to it.
I know, I know, this can sound a bit overwhelming and like a lot of work to someone who is used to simply ordering whatever you need, whenever a new need arises. Just like any change, it requires adopting new habits, and that can feel intimidating at the start...just like recycling was for many of us back in the early days. It helps to develop three crucial tools you already have at your fingertips: your network, your imagination, and your knowledge. Some of these may be stronger than others, but with minimal effort and a bit of forethought, you can become an expert at wielding all three to help you achieve your goal of buying less.
Friends, family, co-workers, members of your faith community, neighbors (both those you already know in person and those you can connect with online) and professional service providers all constitute a vast network of available resources, but how often do you really utilize them in acquiring the goods you consume? Here are a few ways to tap into your network instead of filling up your Amazon shopping cart.
Using your creativity to identify possible alternative solutions to buying something new is a skill you can develop. Pinterest is my go-to place to start when I need to jumpstart my creative juices on just about anything. The more you peruse DIY magazines and sites, the easier it will be for you to recall ideas you’ve seen before. Again, ask your network to step in if you are stumped before you pull out your wallet and buy something new. Think of it as a challenge...a sort of game to make something out of nothing. Did you follow my 25 Days of Christmas Ornaments posts on Facebook back in December? All of the ornaments I made used materials from around my house. That was my rule for myself. Here are just a few ways to use your imagination to avoid making new purchases that will become second nature once you're in the habit of it:
Obviously knowing how to make what you need yourself out of items you already have is one way your knowledge can help minimize your purchasing of new goods, as does knowing how to grow your own vegetables and bake your own bread. But knowing how/where to recycle, what is safe to reuse or re-purpose, and when to replace something is equally important. Fortunately, most of these answers can be found on the internet just as easily as finding a new product to buy. Your knowledge will accumulate over time with enough curiosity. Here are some ways more knowledge can result in fewer swipes of your credit card:
With a smidgeon of knowledge and creativity, along with a little help from your friends, even becoming a more intentional consumer can be easy peasy.
“We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors...we borrow it from our children.”
-Native American Proverb
April 22 is Earth Day...the day we honor and celebrate our beautiful planet! I love Earth Day because this living, breathing, incredible home is the one thing all of us--regardless of race, culture, religion, political ideology, sexual orientation, nationality, or even species--share. This enduring world sustains us, and during the month of April, there are always endless opportunities to return the favor by nurturing nature, conserving and replenishing our natural resources, and cleaning up after ourselves.
And speaking of cleaning up after ourselves, one of the easiest ways we can show Planet Earth some love all year long is to reduce our dependence on harsh chemicals when cleaning our homes. In the early days of the Coronavirus pandemic, there was a heavy emphasis on sanitizing and disinfecting every surface, as fomite transmission was thought to be one way the virus was spread. Scientists have since learned that transmission of the virus through contaminated surfaces is relatively rare. Still, many of us are continuing to overuse chemicals because it makes us feel better. A more effective way to protect ourselves is by improving ventilation, wearing a mask when out in public, social distancing and frequent hand-washing. Definitely once you are vaccinated against SARS-CoV2, you might want to cut back a bit on the harsh disinfectants that can also harm your health and the environment.
“Green cleaning” our homes is also more convenient and easier on your wallet. With just a few versatile ingredients--most of which you probably already have on hand--you can mix up your own non-toxic cleaning solutions anytime you need them.
Compare the cost of a single batch of the commonly-used, chemical-laden cleaners below to the simple, everyday ingredients needed to make multiple batches of the environmentally-friendly versions:
Tilex - $3.99
Windex - $3.19
Comet - $.99
Fantastik - $4.99
Murphy's Oil Soap - $3.49
Windex Electronics Wipes - $2.99
Tide Liquid Laundry Detergent - $8.79
Shout Stain Remover - $2.97
Clorox Automatic Toilet Bowl Tablets - $4.99
Clorox Wipes - $4.99
Total Cost - $54.54
White Vinegar - $1.99
Water - FREE
Rubbing Alcohol - $.99
Dawn Dish washing Liquid - $2.50
Salt - $.89
Citric Acid - $2.97
Castile Soap with Tea Tree Oil - $6.69
Washing Soda - $3.97
Lemon Essential Oil - $6.99
Total cost - $32.97
Savings - $21.57 (That’s a 40% savings on just the first batch, plus you’ll have enough ingredients leftover to make additional batches for free!)
Cutting back on the chemicals in the cleaning solutions you use is just one way green cleaning helps the environment and saves you money. Consider the benefits of recycling as you clean. For example, instead of buying a new spray bottle of commercial glass cleaner or a jug of laundry detergent every month, refill your own spray bottle and jug with the homemade versions to reduce the amount of plastic your family consumes. Keep all those disposable disinfecting wipes out of the landfill by replacing them with reusable cleaning cloths. Recycle old newspapers for cleaning your windows. Heck, you can even put that old mateless sock to good use over and over again on your Swiffer in place of buying the disposable sweeper cloths. When your t shirts, towels, cloth napkins, and dish towels become worn and ratty, downgrade them to cleaning rags. I save the worst-looking ones that are truly nearing the end of their usefulness for washing the car or in place of paper towels for cleaning up the yuckiest messes before finally pitching them.
My family has been green cleaning for several years now and my house feels, looks and smells as fresh and germ-free as ever. I never have to worry about running out of cleaning supplies, and have saved a bundle of money! The best part is that the solutions we use are safe enough for my kids to help with the cleaning chores without the worry of exposing them to dangerous harsh chemicals. Now that’s a win!
Below are some of my favorite green cleaning "recipes". For best results, store them in glass containers whenever possible (especially if the recipe contains borax, which can weaken plastic over time and create leaks). Some ingredients may be harmful if ingested. Keep solutions away from pets and always supervise small children when using.
Hydrogen Peroxide (the king of green cleaners!)
You don't even need to mix up a solution for this one! This little miracle cleaner has anti-bacterial, anti-viral, anti-mold, anti-fungal and anti-mildew properties and is non-toxic and environmentally-friendly. Use it to:
3/4 c. vinegar
1/2 c. rubbing alcohol
1/2 c. water
5-6 drops Castile Soap w/essential oil
This is great for cleaning kitchens and bathrooms. May not be suitable for all surfaces. Mix all ingredients together in a spray bottle.
1 cup Dawn
1 cup white vinegar
Spray over soap scum-coated surfaces and allow to sit for about 20 minutes. Scrub and rinse clean. (This stuff can be difficult to breathe...be sure to turn on your exhaust fan and/or open a window when using.)
Glass & Chrome Cleaner
1 c. vinegar
1 c. water
Spray onto newspaper or slightly crumpled coffee filters and wipe onto windows, mirrors and chrome in a circular motion.
1 c. baking soda
1/2 c. salt
1/2 c. borax
Works well on kitchen and bathroom sinks and toilets. Sprinkle generously before scrubbing with a brush. Note: this is an abrasive substance and may scratch some surfaces. Do not use on wood.
3/4 c. baking soda
1/4 c. castile soap
1 T. vinegar
1 T. Borax
1 T. water
3-5 drops tea tree oil
Store paste in a small glass jar with tight-fitting lid. Dip clean dish brush into paste and scour porcelain or stainless steel sinks. Rinse clean.
Quick Counter Cleanup Rags
3 c. hot water
2 T. castile soap
1 T. borax
1 cup vinegar
8-12 folded rags
I keep a jar of these at the ready to wipe up everyday spills and crumbs from my kitchen counter and table. Layer half of the rags in a large glass mason jar with tight-fitting lid. Combine other ingredients in a large glass measuring cup or pitcher and pour half over the folded rags in the jar. Layer the remaining rags on top and pour remaining liquid over top, making sure all the rags are saturated. Keep closed and use within two weeks.
Laundry Stain Remover
2/3 cup Dawn
2/3 cup ammonia*
6 T. baking soda
2 cups warm water
*NEVER COMBINE AMMONIA WITH PRODUCTS THAT CONTAIN BLEACH!
Spray onto stain and gently rub (not too hard, or you may cause discoloration) before laundering as usual.
3 T. Dawn or Castile Soap
3 T. Borax
3 T. Washing Soda
4 cups warm water
Combine all ingredients in glass container. Shake before using. 1/4 cup per large load.
Electronics Screen Cleaner
1 part distilled water*
1 part distilled white vinegar
Lightly spray cleaner onto a microfiber cloth and gently rub screen to clean. Do not spray directly on device.
*Use only distilled water!
Wood Floor Cleaner
1 cup white vinegar
1 cup water
1 teaspoon olive oil
Combine ingredients into spray bottle. Spray onto wood floor and wipe clean with a dry cloth. Use no more than once/month. Use a simple solution of vinegar and water for weekly cleaning in between.
1/4 cup citric acid
1 cup baking soda
15 drops lemon essential oil
Combine all ingredients in large bowl and press into ice cube tray. Allow to dry completely overnight. Remove from tray and store in a large glass jar with tight-fitting lid. To use, drop tablet in toilet and let sit for 5-10 minutes; then scrub with toilet brush and flush. Clean back, base and seat of toilet with All-Purpose Cleaner.
With a few simple ingredients and the right attitude, even spring cleaning can be easy peasy!
Got an earth-friendly cleaning tip to share? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Have you ever tried to have a conversation amidst a lot of background noise? Read the paper with the TV blaring? Focus on work with your kids arguing around you? Or even worse, having someone yelling at you while you’re trying to concentrate on, well...anything? These situations leave most of us feeling stressed out and downright grumpy, not to mention unproductive.
But sound isn’t the only thing that makes noise. Stuff...clutter...mess create visual noise that can distract and stress us out just as easily. If you are surrounded by disorder and frequently feel yourself tensing up for seemingly no reason, it may be time to quiet your environment. It’s not as hard or time-consuming as you may think.
Obviously, the best way to maintain a visually quiet atmosphere is to purge your excess belongings, designate homes for everything you own, and then put things away as soon as you’re done using them, but getting that set up doesn't happen overnight. And if you have a spouse, roommate or kids, you know they excel at foiling those plans or at least at slowing your progress in reaching that noble goal. But regardless of your situation, there are still a few things you can do right now in just minutes to muffle the visual noise in your home until you have a chance to stifle it permanently. All it takes is regular (1-3 times daily) sweeps of the common areas where you spend the most time to do the following tasks:
Except in extreme circumstances, these tasks will only take 1-2 minutes each at most and the more frequently you sweep, the quicker it will be each time. After a while, it will become second nature and you won’t even have to think about doing it. I like to begin and end my day with a sweep of the main level and also do one before leaving the house. It rarely takes me more than 5 minutes. Doing everything on the list during your sweeps is ideal, but even just doing a few will make a big difference.
It won’t come as a surprise to those of you with little ones that kids are negatively impacted by too much visual noise, too. They often act out or have difficulty focusing in a cluttered environment. Get them to participate in the solution while they are still young enough to enjoy helping. This establishes in them the habit of regular and frequent tidying, underscores that home maintenance is everybody’s responsibility, and creates a baseline level of tidiness they will strive to maintain moving forward. If they are used to living in clutter, they will become desensitized to it (until it reaches an overwhelming or crippling level). If they are used to a more orderly environment, they will be more likely to maintain it.
Even very young children can share in the room-sweeping task before you leave to go play at the park. Assigning them a different “occupation” each day makes it sound more fun. Here are a few ideas:
If you’re not used to regular tidying, it can feel like a big chore to start. You may even try to convince yourself that it’s just a waste of time to put things away that you’ll be using again later. But remember that the purpose of keeping a tidy home is not to just have a tidy home...it’s to avoid feeling frustrated, stressed and anxious. When things are tidy, you will focus more easily, feel better about yourself, and relax knowing that you can find what you need. You’ll actually enjoy your surroundings more without your mess constantly yelling at you to clean it up!
With a quieter environment, life will become a whole lot easy peasier!
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I never used to be an anxious person, but parenthood and home ownership changed all that. And then Covid happened. Stress and anxiety seem to have set up a permanent residence in my life, but that doesn’t mean I have to allow them to make themselves comfortable here. Understanding what feeds them helps me keep them in check.
For me, it’s all about control (or a lack thereof), so it should come as no surprise that I’ve learned to use my organizational skills to my advantage. When my house is tidy, I can focus and I don’t lose things. When I have dinner already planned, it’s one less thing for me to worry about. Maintaining lists of all sorts (shopping, to-do, projects, etc.) ensures fewer things fall through the cracks, and keeping a strong grasp on my schedule means I am better able to control my time. I wasn’t always this organized...it happened gradually over many years as I realized how much better having everything in order made me feel.
Facing the unknown is another trigger. Worrying about how much a home or car repair will cost, fear of not knowing how to accomplish an important task, anxiety over what a future situation will look like so that I can be adequately prepared (especially when it comes to my kids) are the things that keep me tossing and turning in bed. Experience has taught me that research is my friend. The sooner I learn the answers to my many questions, the sooner I can relax. Sure, I can worry that I won’t be able to pay for a new air conditioner, but maybe I don’t actually need a new air conditioner. And if I do, I can research the various options for financing it until I find one that will work for me. Knowledge leads the way in finding workable solutions to the things we all worry about.
Background noise, distractions, and the physical aches and pains that accompany old age have also become bigger issues for me in recent years. I’m not able to do as much physical work in one stretch as I used to be able to do, and sometimes this creates stress, especially when time is of the essence. Finding ways to recharge my batteries, improve my focus and soothe my senses relieves tension and makes me more productive in the long run.
I’m learning that it takes a lot of energy and effort not to slide down the slippery slope into negative thinking. Focusing on the half of the glass that is full instead of the half that’s empty takes practice. How I talk to myself matters. Occasionally I need an injection of positivity from outside sources. Maintaining healthy, supportive relationships that build me up instead of tearing me down keeps me on a positive trajectory. I look for inspiration and motivation from the experiences of others. And a bit of humor goes a long way in reminding me not to take it all too seriously.
Realizing each of these triggers, I’ve identified four primary ways to quiet my stress and anxiety when they become too unruly:
Unexpected circumstances happen all the time and breed stress and anxiety in all of us. Sometimes just the realization that something will eventually arise to derail our best-laid plans makes us feel anxious. While you can’t plan for every contingency (you’ll drive yourself crazy if you try), there are many things you can do now to mitigate the stress and chaos that rear up when it does happen:
C’mon, you already knew I was going to say this, didn’t you? But it is true that organization makes you more nimble in a crisis. When your home is in order, you can locate necessities in a hurry, other people are better able to assist you, and repair people have easier access to areas requiring attention. Having a firm handle on your time and to-do list facilitates rearranging your schedule at the last minute and delegating responsibilities to others. Maintaining current contact info and keeping important documents at your fingertips also speed up everything when time is of the essence. Finally, planning meals in advance (including an emergency back-up dinner plan for those surprisingly hectic days) ensures you maintain your healthy eating plan and avoid the fast-food drive-thru, even on the busiest night.
Maintain an emergency fund
Home and car owners know that Murphy’s Law is real. Whatever can go wrong will go wrong at some point, guaranteed! Those unexpected repairs can cost beaucoup bucks in addition to the sheer inconvenience they bring. Setting aside money from each paycheck and keeping it in an easy-access account saves you from having to borrow (often at high interest rates) or worsening the damage by delaying a much-needed repair until you can afford it.
Assemble an emergency kit
Actually, make several. Gather you are likely to need in an emergency and store them in a convenient spot. Here are just some examples:
Back up electronic records
Technology is great...until it isn’t. Our heavy reliance on electronic storage of information comes at a disadvantage when we can’t access our usual tools due to a power outage or internet disruption. Keeping a written list of your passwords, account/policy numbers, prescription drug and other key medical info, and even your driver’s license and social security numbers in a safe and secure place can be a lifesaver in such circumstances. I once had a client whose husband lost all of his identification (passport, driver’s license, social security number and birth certificate). Replacing each lost document required having at least one of the others. It was a nightmare! Fortunately, his wife thought that maybe she remembered his driver’s license number...and she did! It saved the day!
Quick communication can make all the difference in an emergency. Keep your phone adequately charged (unlike my kids who run it all the way down before recharging). Make sure you have updated contact information handy at all times for the following:
Choose an “Emergency Buddy”
Identify someone reliable and trustworthy who lives locally but not with you and ask them to be your Emergency Buddy. Give them a copy of your home and car key/s, tell them where they will find your various kits, and grant them permission to pick up your children at school/daycare, if necessary. Add them to your list of emergency contacts and make sure they know how to reach other key members of your circle and vice versa. This way, they can assist if you are incapacitated or need help retrieving key items from your home during an emergency.
Devise escape and meetup plans
Especially if you have young children, it is crucial to practice what to do in case of a fire, tornado or other emergency. Devise escape routes and designate a meeting spot in case you get separated. Help your children memorize your phone number and address and teach them when and with whom to share this information (and when not to). Make sure they know where to go for help if you get separated from them while away from home and when/how to call 911. Ensure that everyone in your household knows where to find the spare key and/or how to contact your Emergency Buddy.
With a little organization and advance planning, even reducing the stress and anxiety that accompanies life’s curveballs will be easy peasy.
“The gentleman at the next table has ordered you a large portion of unpleasantness. How would you like that served?”
“I’ll have it procrastination-style, please.”
“Ok, so on a bed of dread with a side of guilt then... served cold?”
If you really want to savor the bitter taste of tasks you wish you could avoid, procrastinate. Sounds yummy, no? Then take action to get them off your plate as soon as possible. The only thing worse than being faced with something you dread doing is prolonging the experience and adding to it feelings of guilt, inadequacy, stress and anxiety.
But first, it’s worth asking yourself why you are procrastinating in the first place in order to figure out how to stop doing it. There are many reasons you might put off doing things:
1. You find them unpleasant.
Figure out how to make them more pleasant, or at least less unpleasant. Work with a friend, listen to music while you work, make a game out of it, plan a reward for afterward, or break it into smaller, more manageable chunks.
2. You would rather do something else.
The quicker you get your task done, the sooner you get to focus on the things you enjoy. Not only that, you’ll actually revel in those activities more when you aren’t encumbered by a sense of dread and/or guilt at not tackling your unpleasant task first. By getting the awfulness out of the way, you won’t have to worry about having adequate time to complete it properly.
3. You think if you wait long enough you might not have to do them.
This might be correct, but if that turns out to be incorrect, the delay will shorten the time you have available to do it. This will increase your stress level and likely yield substandard results.
4. You aren't sure how to do them.
Your first step should be finding the information you need. See this experience as a chance to learn something new and feel accomplished. When you change your attitude and approach it as an opportunity instead of as a chore, you are less likely to dread it. The next time you’re faced with a similar situation, you’ll feel more confident in your ability to meet the challenge.
5. You don't know where to start.
Begin with a “preparation step”. Buy supplies you know you’ll need, line up help from a friend or family member, research some information, schedule an appointment, or ask someone else for advice on the best place to start. Once you take that first step, the next one will come easier. The worst thing that could happen is that you miss an important step and have to start over again. At least then you’ll know where to begin, right? And remember, not taking the first step will never get the job done. Where you start isn’t nearly as important as just starting somewhere.
6. You lack the resources you need.
Whether you need money, information, assistance, or time, identify and create a plan for acquiring the resources you need. Even if this means you have to wait awhile until you have them in order to begin the task, you can still make progress just by working on obtaining them.
7. You’re afraid of what you might discover.
Realize that uncovering a problem is always the first step in fixing it. If you’re avoiding a medical appointment, doing your taxes, or calling the plumber simply because you’re afraid your worst fears will be confirmed, putting it off won’t improve the situation. However, learning the truth sooner may. Perhaps your fears are unfounded (imagine the relief!), or maybe finding out about a problem now will mean fixing it before it gets even worse. At the very least, you’ll reduce your uncertainty and all the anxiety that comes with it.
Side note: I'm not usually one to procrastinate...anymore, but when I do, it's almost always because of 4 or 7. It requires lots of self-awareness and conscious effort to avoid falling back into the old habit of putting things off under these circumstances. But I realized a long time ago that it's worth the effort in order to avoid the anxiety-laden aftertaste of my self-indulgence.
Whatever your reason for it, procrastination definitely contributes to your level of stress and anxiety. The only remedy is action. Organization can help.
If you find yourself with a heaping plateful of tasks you’d rather avoid, season it with a generous blend of confidence, determination and just a sprinkle of organization, and then gobble it up before it gets cold.
Texans are suffering. People with Covid are suffering. Kids are suffering. First responders, healthcare workers, single parents, and minorities are all suffering. With so much suffering happening all around us, it’s easy to feel despondent, demoralized, depressed and anxious. There’s nothing easy peasy about this game called life. The only way to win is to ante up and play the hand you are dealt carefully. The only way to lose is to view the other players as opponents instead of as members of the same team. Our common opponent is suffering, not each other. You win this game by helping others win. So how do we do that when we have a less-than-stellar hand to play?
Let’s begin by dispelling a few myths:
You DON’T have to spend money to help others.
You DON’T have to spend a lot of time to help others.
You DON’T have to risk your health to help others.
You DO get more than you give by helping others.
To quote Ronald Reagan, “We can’t help everybody, but everybody can help somebody.” And I would assert that if everybody did help somebody then, collectively, yes we could help everybody.
Our theme for this month is unity. Whether you like it or not, we’re all in this game together. But there’s good news in that statement, because being in it together is precisely how we win. Every single one of us needs something we don’t have, and every single one of us has something we don’t need. Only by coming together do we make a winning team.
Helping someone else, even when--no, especially when--you feel you have nothing to give, is empowering. You become part of the collective. You get to participate, not just as a receiver, but as a giver. You get to contribute your unique talents toward making the world a better place for at least one other person. What better use is there for them than that? And when you experience the power of neighbor helping neighbor firsthand, you become less anxious and more confident that your community will also be there for you if and when you need it. Pay into the pot as much as you are able, whenever you are able, so that resources will be there for you when you need to take some out yourself. That’s how this game is played.
There are as many ways to help as there are needs to be fulfilled. You only have to look around you to identify a need and inward to identify a solution you have to offer. Everyone has at least one of the following necessary resources to contribute: Time, Money, Knowledge, Effort, Skills/Talents
If you lack time, contribute knowledge, effort, and/or money.
If you lack money, contribute time, skills and/or effort.
And so on…
If you’re looking for ideas on how to help during the pandemic, here are just a few ideas:
And don’t forget helping those closest to you. Sometimes we fail to notice a dire need in our own households because we aren’t paying enough attention. Put down your devices, turn off the TV, slow down and connect more to notice the holes you can fill right in your own backyard.
There’s nothing easy peasy about experiencing or witnessing suffering, but with some creativity, unity and a generous team spirit, finding a way to claim victory over it isn’t as hard as you think.
Like much of the country’s school-aged kids, my teenagers have been engaged in distance learning for nearly a year now. I’ve been amazed and impressed at the creativity of our educators in surmounting huge obstacles in order to continue providing at least some semblance of an education to their students during this challenging time. But the limitations of this arrangement came into stark view one day last quarter when my daughter came to me, panicked and crying, overtaken by anxiety at the realization that her team was unlikely to meet their deadline on a group project.
The conversation went something like this:
N (daughter): “I don’t think we’re ready!”
Me: “Well, what is left to do?”
N: “I don’t know.”
Me: “Then you should contact the other members to find out.”
N: “I can’t. I don’t have their emails or phone numbers.”
Me: “Well who’s the group leader?”
N: “We don’t have one.”
Me: “Ok, well have you at least completed your part of the project?”
N: “I’m not sure what my part is.”
Me: “Haven’t you had team meetings to discuss who’s responsible for doing what?”
N: “We’ve had meetings, but we never talked about any of that.”
Me: “What did you talk about then?”
N: “We didn’t talk about anything. Everyone just sat there. No one said anything.”
Me: [Thud as my head hits the table]
As unbelievable as it all sounded, it dawned on me that because their “meetings” occurred in online breakout sessions, outside the teacher’s view (unlike in a regular, in-person classroom), the teacher was unaware that this team was struggling to make an initial connection with one another and lacked pretty much all of the other key elements of effective teamwork. It was, however, a golden opportunity to teach my daughter some essential skills that will carry her through life. After all, wasn’t that supposed to be the point of all those dreaded group projects everybody hated in school? Usually one or two people on the team ended up doing all the work because it was easier for them to complete the project on time the way they thought it should be done than it was to figure out how to work effectively as a team. The end result may have been an “A”, but it was accompanied by feelings of frustration, resentment, confusion, and even more dread at the mere prospect of facing future group projects.
The old adage “many hands make light work” is true only when those hands are working together in sync. An effective team is more than just a collection of individuals working toward a common outcome. Real teamwork requires communication, organization, delegation/designation, evaluation, problem-solving, efficiency, and mutual respect. But what do those look like?
Communication - Completing a project without good communication is like trying to have a phone conversation without a signal. Solid communication means everyone is clear on the expectations and responsibilities of each team member, that the frequency and method of communicating works for everyone, and that there is agreement on not only the ultimate goal but also the plan to achieve it.
Organization - Once a communication framework has been laid out, determining an execution plan comes next. You wouldn’t build a doghouse without a blueprint. Tackling a group project of any sort without a plan will only lead to confusion, miscommunication, and wasted effort. Organizing your team begins with defining each team member’s role and responsibilities and selecting a leader (or leaders) to keep everyone on track. Prioritizing, creating a timeline and interim deadlines, facilitating communication, and evaluating progress along the way are all key components of keeping your team organized.
Delegation/Designation - Successful teamwork should flow like beautiful orchestral music, with each member’s perfectly-tuned instrument playing his notes in perfect time and harmony with those around him, always aware of the whole sound and attentive to the direction of his conductor. When each member plays to his own strengths while observing others to learn and improve upon individual areas of weakness, everyone comes away having learned something new. You wouldn’t ask the violinist to play the drums, but he will develop a keener sense of the rhythm by listening to the drummer. And as with any orchestra, your team needs a guiding force, a conductor. Select someone with natural leadership abilities to head the team. Remember that not everyone is suited to that role, and talented players to take his direction are equally important, lest the orchestra remain silent...or worse!
Evaluation - A few months ago, the scientists at Pfizer unveiled a remarkable achievement when they introduced a Covid vaccine developed in record time. Only after months of testing the vaccine on thousands of willing participants was it ready for widespread distribution to the public at large. Without meticulous evaluation of the vaccine’s effects along the way, the citizens of the world would have been at great risk of serious consequences or even death from receiving the vaccine! Waiting until hundreds of millions of doses had been administered to discover a major flaw in the vaccine’s efficacy would have been disastrous on so many levels. The long-term success of any project depends on careful evaluation of your team’s efforts all along the way so that it’s easier to back up and correct course when results are skewing in the wrong direction.. Consider up front what tools and methods you will use to evaluate your team’s performance? Who will determine the benchmarks used to measure your success? When will you measure? And how and at what intervals will the findings be communicated to the rest of the team?
Problem-solving - The biggest test you will face as a team is your ability to regroup when the plan goes awry. First, agree not to panic. Seek input from each member and listen to all suggestions with an open mind . Think outside the box. Share past experiences. Perhaps you can adapt a previous problem’s solution to this situation.
Efficiency - Finding the sweet spot in balancing quality of output against the expenditure of time and effort is crucial to reaching objective by the deadline with satisfying results. An efficient team remains focused on the goal, omits the unnecessary, and stays attentive to the results of self-evaluation in order to correct course when needed. Avoiding conflicts or resolving them quickly minimizes disruption and keeps things humming along. A nimble team adapts and evolves, learning and perfecting as it goes.
Mutual Respect - Have you ever been surprised to learn that your favorite TV show cast members actually dislike each other in real life? Chances are if the show continued successfully for many seasons, it’s because they made a good team despite their personal feelings. Real teamwork doesn’t require friendship, but it does require enough mutual respect to be able to continue working together effectively...to communicate, organize, delegate/designate, evaluate, problem-solve and work efficiently despite your personality differences. Honesty, empathy and kindness, when used together, foster respect. Listen as much as you contribute and remain open to constructive criticism and willing to learn. Focusing on the talents and abilities each teammate brings to the table instead of on their individual quirks or annoyances can generate mutual respect, even between the most viscous of adversaries.
Whether you find yourself forced to work with others or voluntarily choose teamwork to lighten your load, making the time and effort to ensure these elements are in place first will yield better results and a more positive experience than rushing in headlong, pushing your own personal vision. Teamwork is a valuable tool...when it’s wielded correctly.
The title of this blog is only the first, better-known part of Maxwell’s quote. The rest is, “...but a vision becomes a nightmare when the leader has a big dream and a bad team.”
With these seven key elements joined by a spirit of unity, even building a dream team will be easy peasy.
There’s been a lot of talk about unity lately. President Biden made it the theme of his Inaugural address, and leaders in Congress on both sides of the aisle have emphasized a need for the country to come together to bridge the growing schism that divides our society. Regardless of your political or societal views, you cannot deny that division and discord yield stress and anxiety...neither of which contribute to easy peasy living. So our theme for the month of February is Unity...because reaching out for healing, sharing abundantly, working together, and meeting each others’ needs is really the only path to true peace and easy peasy living.
There’s a common misconception that unity requires you to suppress your own views, to stifle your voice, or to sacrifice your principles on the altar of communion. But none of that will bring about true and lasting peace, only simmering resentment. Only balance will yield genuine unity. Indeed, we say something profoundly important when we listen to another point of view. We teach how to be respectful of differing opinions by learning to model respectful behavior. We receive grace by giving it. It’s not about giving in, but rather about simply giving. Enough of us on both sides must be willing to invest ourselves in the effort if we are to restore this broken bridge.
The greatest tools we have at our disposal are knowledge, history. and facts. Only by sharing these with each other, can we build bridges that last. Only when we each embrace our dual roles of teacher and student with equal fervor can we bring about real change. Most of us lecture enthusiastically, but fail to take substantive notes on what the other side is preaching, much less to study the roots of their concerns. A dearth of background information leads us to view our fellow citizens as the other side instead of as merely another side of the same multi-faceted jewel.
They say knowledge is power, so if you want to wield power, you must first learn. Real knowledge is fact-based. We live in a time where all our scuffling has blurred the line between fact and opinion. Any attempt at unifying that doesn’t begin with finding and sharpening that line will fail. Your quest for knowledge must include a quest for truth. Check your sources. Do your homework. There is no such thing as my truth and your truth, only the truth.
Lectures, learning and homework all sound a bit drab and boring though, don’t they? Well, not necessarily, especially if you start with the fun stuff! Explore the factual histories, traditions, and beliefs of cultures other than your own. Discover how other ethnic or religious groups observe holidays. Experiment with recipes for traditional foods, listen to unfamiliar music genres, or visit museums and read books to learn more about the contributions of another culture’s heroes and icons. One thing all humans share is a love of good food, beautiful music, historical heroes, and strong traditions. Who said you have to stay in the same boring lane your whole life long?
Basic values like freedom, justice, hard work, faith, and love of family and pets offer additional common ground. While your vision of exactly what each of those things looks like may differ from someone else’s, merely acknowledging a shared reverence for them brings greater understanding of what motivates each of us. Try to identify the fears of your counterparts, not for the purpose of exploiting them, but rather to find ways of allaying them. Chances are they look very much like your own or may even be based on misinformation that you can correct. Use humor to diffuse tense situations and remind everyone that no matter how our viewpoints may differ, sharing laughter always feels better than slinging insults. Connecting on the most basic human level is the first step in repairing the bridge we share.
There’s a funny fact about bridges: You can only cross them if both sides meet in the middle.
Valerie Sheridan is a professional organizer, wife, mother of two, and Founder/Owner of EasyPeasy Living.