Letting Go of Routines

As we squeeze the last few weeks out of summer, I am torn. I look forward to the routines that come with the fall. For one, I know where my children will be from 8 am to 4 pm – school.  And I know who will be watching them- the teachers. During the summer, things are much more day-to-day as I work with clients and my husband often works from home. Our time management usually consists of a Sunday night briefing of all that is going on, followed by daily updates communicated by scribbling on the family calendar and texting during the day. More than once I have gone to pick up my teenager from camp only to see a confused face and hear,”Why are you here? I have a ride.” Ahh the stress of changing schedules by the hour! I will be happy when that is over.

But I’m trying to stay in the spirit of the relaxed summer schedule and adopt my boys’ attitude. They wake up with no plan. If they’re hungry they eat. If they want to watch TV or play games they do. When they’re hot, they go swimming. It doesn’t matter what time of day it is. Ahh! to be young with no responsibilities. ..So I have on occasion been spontaneous this summer. If I did not have a client, I did my work early in the day and then said “Ok kids what do you want to do now?” Not a lot of enthusiasm as they’d rather I drive them to a friend’s than do something with them, but I have gotten them to see a few movies, go shopping and even go kayaking with me. These are the best moments of the summer.

Of course, the trick is to find balance because sometimes no routine means no work for mom and boredom for the kids. I have also heard, “What are we going to DO today?” And then I feel guilty if I’m working and they are bored at home.

I don’t have all the answers here. It is a constant struggle to balance work & family time, schedules and free time. But if you have flexibility with your work, take it! I tried to schedule all my clients this summer in the morning so I could be home for the boys in the afternoon. I could still be on the computer or phone but they could have friends over to swim. On my days off I tried to do something with them and on the rare weekend when we all were home and not scheduled, I try to do spontaneous family outings or at least meals together! I firmly believe one of the tricks to maintaining balance in your life is knowing when schedules are helpful and knowing when to let go. When you do, you also let go of stress and allow happy things to happen because you weren’t too busy to notice them.


What fun things have happened to you when you abandon your schedule?

Organize Your Basement Before you Remodel

At one time, basements were the last frontier with regard to sprucing up a home. They were often damp, gray and only used to do laundry and store things that couldn’t possibly fit in your living space.

Nowadays, basements are often the focal point of a family’s living space. Newer homes are built with the intention that at least some portion of the basement will be used for a living, play or work area, but it’s often up to the homeowner to make it that way. If you find yourself in the position of wanting to refinish your basement, you must first organize what’s down there before bringing in a remodeler to do the job.


The first step in any organizing project is sorting. That means looking at everything in your basement and putting it into a category. Depending on the amount of clutter in your basement, this could be an all day event, so engage the help of all family members.

Make sure you have big trash bags, empty boxes or plastic storage bins on hand to help you move things out of the basement. If you need to create some space to work, start with the biggest items first. For instance, you may have to make a decision about old furniture, exercise equipment, big tables, etc. Are you going to use them, donate them or sell them at a yard sale?

My rule of thumb for any cleaning-out project is to only keep what you use. If you’re not using it, someone else can. Take these big items and move them either outside or into the garage. Then continue to sort through all your other items, creating categories and purging as you go.

Don’t take too long on one item. If it’s obviously trash, then throw it out. If you have to think about it, put it into a category and move on. If there is paperwork in the basement, don’t get bogged down with reading every piece of paper. Put papers in their own category and go through them in detail at another time. The goal with the first step is to significantly organize, clear out trash and create space.

After moving out large items, clear out anything you have at the center of the basement floor. Next, sort through everything you have stored against the walls. To keep focused, pick a starting point and move clockwise around the room.

Typical categories of items found in basements include toys, laundry products, dry food, holiday decorations, tools, paint, big game tables, arts and craft supplies, memorabilia and old furniture. Everyone’s categories will differ, but make sure you label the box or area you are sorting into, so you don’t mix them up and have to redo the sorting. This is also helpful if several people are working together. What looks like a pile of toys to one person might actually be a donation pile.

When sorting, there are certain no-brainers you can throw out, such as expired food, games and toys that are broken or have missing pieces, broken furniture and anything that is moldy. Most people throw away more than half of the stuff they’ve been saving. It’s like the basement was a holding zone and these items were given one more chance to make it, but didn’t.


After you’ve sorted everything, it’s time to purge. That means remove everything from the basement that won’t belong in a newly-refinished basement.

One couple who refinished their basement said they could easily determine that everything they had stored down there was trash, so they simply rented a dumpster and that was the end of their organizing. If this is your situation, you can rent a small dumpster or 10-yard container which holds about three tons of trash from a place such as Accurate Recycling for about $375 a week. If you go over the tonnage, there is a $78 per ton charge.

Another alternative to getting rid of a lot of junk quickly is to try a junk hauler. My favorite is www.phillyjunk.com. These companies will pick up unwanted items and sort through them to donate what is usable and trash the rest for a fee. To calculate how much this will cost, first put all items in one spot and measure the cubic feet. Then go to the company’s website and calculate your charge. A full truck is about 400 cubic feet and will cost about $500-600.

This is a good option if you want to get rid of everything quickly or you can’t physically move all disposable items yourself.

 Where to purge:

For most of us, it’s not that simple. Trash and donations can also be broken down into categories. Here are some suggestions for disposing unwanted items:

Clothing and linens: Find a drop-off point in your area for Goodwill, St. Vincent DePaul Society, Leukemia Society or any charity. These usually look like dumpsters permanently placed in busy parking lots.

Arts and crafts materials: Donate to a retirement home, senior center, church, children’s hospital or school.

Big household items or furniture: Find a thrift store or consignment shop that offers pick-up.

Old paint cans:Let latex paint dry up and harden first before you put it in the trash. Speed up the drying process with Waste Paint Hardener™.

Broken or outdated electronics:Contact your municipality’s solid waste authority for places to drop off these items. Some even hold drop-off events a couple of times a year. Select Goodwill locations will also recycle these items.


After you have purged all unwanted items, take a step back and look at what remains. It’s time to rearrange. Is there any category of items elsewhere in the house? For instance, tools and paint may move to the garage, holiday decorations to the attic and toys to bedrooms. Move those items and remember to keep like things together. Only keep things in the basement that will serve the new function of the room.

Temporary Storage

You’ll need to temporarily store items while refinishing takes place. I recommend plastic storage bins with lids that seal because they keep everything dry and dust-free and are easy to label. If you have a storage area built into your basement, you may be able to keep bins there and let the construction crew work around them.

If this is not possible, you may have to store these bins in a spare bedroom, attic or garage. Be careful not to put anything in the attic that will be damaged by extreme temperatures.

If your house is completely full, your last option is to rent a portable on demand storage (PODS®) container which will cost approximately $350 per month. This is a walk-in container, and although it’s not the most attractive thing to have in your yard, it will prevent basement items from cluttering up your whole house.

Once you have cleared and categorized your basement, you’re ready to start planning your new room. You can use the same process if you are remodeling a kitchen or really any room in your house.

Create Routines for a Successful School Year

Before the first day of school every family should have a plan for the new morning routine. Why? Because good routines help you remember all you have to do to keep life moving smoothly. All busy moms need them to keep the family running with efficiency. Routines also become second nature so you can practically do them in your sleep!  To establish one for your family, here’s what you have to do:

Start with the time that each family member needs to be out of the house in the morning and work backwards to establish what time you need to get up.  If your child likes to sleep until the last possible minute, then she will only have time every morning to do the essentials such as get dressed, make her bed, have breakfast, brush teeth and head out the door. If your child likes to take his/her time in the morning then you’ve got to establish an earlier wake up time to allow for that. Talk to your children about what they need or want to do each morning and you as parents have to estimate the time all that will take.

Once you have a list of “to do’s” for the morning, think about the most efficient way for your children to do them. You can do a physical prioritization like do everything upstairs first, then come down for breakfast. Or you can set up the routine by doing most important tasks first like eat breakfast, then get dressed & make your bed.

Once you have established the morning routine, you need to train your children to follow it. Here are several options.

  1.  Visual reminders. This could be a chart on your child’s bedroom door or mirror. Pictograms are the easiest to use. Either draw them yourself or download some clip art on your computer. Keep it simple: a bed, clothes, toothbrush and a healthy breakfast. That should tell them all the basics. Add other symbols as necessary.
  2. Another way to remind them visually is to lay things out like their clothes, library books or musical instruments as they need them for school. Put them in an obvious place so they can’t be missed.
  3. To remember their “special” classes,like gym or library, that may only happen once a week, you can post a chart in the kitchen. Get them in the habit of looking at it each day so they know what they need to bring or wear to school.
  4. For a very tactile approach, you can make up index cards for each chore and have the child flip them over or put them in a certain place after they have completed each task. For example the cards can be on their dresser in the morning and then brought downstairs when they have completed them.

Set up your routines a few weeks before school starts and hopefully in a month or so you may not need the visual reminders or the mom nagging to get everyone out the door, on time with all that they need for a successful day!

And don’t forget the evening routine. Designate a place for your kids papers, homework, backpacks & shoes. Talk to your kids about whether they can do homework right after school or after dinner. Do they need a quiet place like a desk in a bedroom or do they need to be in the kitchen or dining room near mom & dad? Set up the homework area and then hold them to the routine each night. Remember place for everything and everything in it’s place.

What routines do you have for the school year?


Re-Organizing a Child’s bedroom

view from door

Not long ago, I held an in-home training session and we not only had a great time but also a role reversal. My clients/readers actually helped me re-organize my son’s room. Now you may think that is a sneaky way to get free help, but it was meant to be a learning experience. I’m all about hands on learning!

The dilemma: The motivation for the re-organization was a problem with a growing number of trophies that were on top of a tiny shelf above his bed. Every night I would see this and think, “It’s only a matter of time before they fall.” So solution – new shelf.  Then the little bookshelf next to his bed was getting full so I thought I need something that can hold more books & trophies. I also noticed that the top of his drafting table & dresser were getting very cluttered with notebooks & display items.

The idea: I talked with him about re-arranging his room to make space for a new, taller bookshelf. We tossed around some ideas & decided we would move the bed to another corner and put it on an angle, freeing up some more wall space. I found a nice ladder shelf at BJ’s for about $90 and measured it. It was not as wide as the old bookshelf but much taller so it utilized more vertical space. This is always a good thing when organizing: go up when you run out of floor space.

The Project: The first thing I did was go through books with my son. He made Yes & No piles for what he wanted to keep & give away. This took 10 min.

The next day my class of women helped me box up display items, wall hangings & toys. We moved out a bean bag chair & stuffed animals that were not being used in the bedroom and began to re-arrange. This took about an hour. Without knowing our idea, one person suggested moving the bed on an angle & the art table in the other corner to balance. Great feng shui! The bed should face the door and the chair at a desk should face out.

When my son came home on Friday, he helped me place the wall hangings. The next day my husband & I put together the new ladder shelf, arranged the trophies, books & display items and voila! A bedroom re-organized. My son loved it. It only took a little over 2 hours and $90. That’s my kind of project.

new ladder bookshelf

What dilemma are you trying to solve in your home? Maybe there’s a quick inexpensive fix for that too.