Worth repeating: My love/hate relationship with homemade gifts

16 November 2017

I wrote this post four years ago after reading an article on homemade gifts in Martha Stewart Living. The link is still live, so I thought I’d run it again. Please think hard before giving non-perishable homemade gifts. The can be really hard for people to let go of.

I’m a little bit crafty. I love beautiful, handmade items. I knit as a hobby and especially appreciate hand knits.

But I almost never give an item I’ve knitted as a gift. And that’s because I’ve seen among my clients a real difficulty in giving up an item that was a gift. And it’s even harder to give up hand-made gifts, even if they’ve never been used or loved. Sometimes the gift recipient just doesn’t share the taste of the giver.

I hate to urge people not to give handmade gifts, because I think they can be so wonderful. (I do actually gift knitted items to people who have specifically asked for them.)

The current (December 2013) issue of Martha Stewart Living magazine has an article on creating hand-made gifts. The photos are scrumptious.

Bacon jam from Martha Stewart Living

This bacon jam looks delicious!

My big takeaway from the article is that there’s a wonderful middle ground between my reticence to give handmade gifts and my appreciation for the warmth and love behind handmade gifts. And that’s giving homemade edibles or other consumables. Gifts like homemade cookies, soap, condiments (bacon jam!), or the creative aromatics pictured below are fabulous ideas.

Aromatic extracts from Martha Stewart Living

Aromatic extracts: An unusual handmade gift

One year I gave away home-baked dog treats to my friends with dogs. (If that idea appeals to you, check out my dog-treat cookbook, You Bake ‘Em Dog Biscuits Cookbook). Another year I made and gave away biscotti. I remember the year my husband was in culinary school, he made gorgeous molded chocolates for gifts.

Making and giving a consumable gift is a great idea for those who feel the urge to make something for their loved ones. It’s a gift that will surely be appreciated. And one that won’t become clutter.

Photos by Maria Robledo. Courtesy of Martha Stewart Living. Copyright © 2013. For the instructions on making bacon jam and aromatic extracts (and other great things), see Love to Give: Handmade Holiday Gifts.

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The freedom of Inbox Zero

8 November 2017

I’ve posted here before about how I achieve Inbox Zero. For years, I had an Inbox Zero habit, so that at the end of the workday, there would be no emails in my inbox. I have to admit that this year I let it slide. In recent months, my goal was 20 emails in my inbox at the end of the day, rather than zero. That proved to be an unsatisfactory goal—it deprived me of the thrill of an empty inbox. Until recently.

Two weeks ago, I emptied my inbox. I made the decisions necessary to move or delete messages. I forwarded some emails to Evernote so I could create reminders and then archived the emails.

Almost without exception, at the end of each day since, I’ve had an empty inbox. (A couple of days I left one or two messages in there to act on in the morning.) This makes the beginning of the day so much easier, since most of the emails that come in before I get up are spam (many them in Italian, weirdly) or news sources I read with my coffee. It’s easy to delete the spam and read, then delete or archive, the news.

I’ve had people scoff when I mention Inbox Zero and how much I enjoy it. I’ve seen organizing experts I respect writing that it’s not an achievable or worthy goal. But I’m here to tell you, my life is so much easier when I maintain my Inbox Zero habit.

Here is why I love emptying my inbox at the end of the day:

  • It forces me to make decisions about the emails I receive: I either respond, archive, delete, or file each one. (I file very few emails; I archive most of those I want to keep and find them with a search.)
  • It prompts me to get rid of junk and unsubscribe from emails that don’t serve me.
  • It means that nothing gets lost in my email inbox.
  • It discourages procrastination—if I want to get the email out of my inbox, I need to act on it. So I’m a prompt responder to people who reach out to me. That’s good for business (and personal relationships).
  • It gives me visual peace and a feeling of accomplishment. Every day.

The best part is that when I have only one day’s email accumulation, it takes me less than five minutes to empty my inbox on a typical day.

I encourage you to give it a try. If you have a lot of emails in your inbox, here are some ideas for getting down to zero without too much angst.

  1. Sort your emails by sender and delete or file as many as you can.
  2. If emails remain in your inbox because they require action, consider putting those actions on your task list, rather than using your inbox as a task list.
  3. Use the tools at your disposal, like flags in your email client, or forwarding emails to Evernote and set a reminder or try Boomerang, if you use gmail, to help you keep track of emails without having to keep them in your inbox.
  4. Act on emails as you read them, rather than letting them languish and clutter up your inbox.
  5. Make ample use of the Archive feature of your email client to get emails that you want to keep but don’t require a reply or action out of your inbox.

Trust me, dealing with email is easier with a streamlined inbox. Inbox Zero is not only achievable, it can be easy to maintain when you commit to it. I’m so glad I’m back on track with it.

(Illustration by Haberdashery Badges via Flickr. Used under Creative Commons License.)

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Worth repeating: BookBub makes my Kindle even better

2 November 2017

I discovered BookBub, the site that notifies me of bargains on digital books, four years ago. I blogged about it then and I want to post it again because I love it even more now than I did then. I have many books on my Kindle and between BookBub and my library, I’ve paid very little for books in the almost five years I’ve had my Kindle. When my list of bargain books come in every day from BookBub, I almost always ignore the ones that aren’t free, to narrow down the choices. I keep track of my Kindle library in Evernote and between BookBub and my Evernote list, I feel such abundance (and no overwhelm) when it comes to reading material. If you like to read books on an e-reader, I encourage you to check out BookBub!

When I bought my Kindle Paperwhite e-reader in December, I worried that I’d be spending all kinds of money on books. Back when I was reading books printed on paper, I’d just borrow them from my library. While my library does offer Kindle books, the selection is somewhat limited.

But then I read in the New York Times about BookBub. This website is my new best friend. When I registered (which was free), I designated the genres of books I’m interested in and I chose the Kindle format. (It’s also available for Nook, Android Sony Reader, iPad and Kobo.) Now each day I receive an email with a list of Kindle books that are either very low cost (like $2.99) or free. They’re available that day only at that price.

So pretty much every day I download at least one book that I might want to read. It literally takes me two clicks. And now as soon as I finish a book, I have a bunch of new books to choose from. And I’m not cluttering up my bookshelves.

It’s heaven. It doesn’t cost me a dime. And I’m reading like crazy.

I love technology!

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Letterbox gives you a clutter-free way to keep your cards and letters

30 October 2017

Occasionally I see clients who hang onto all the cards (holiday or otherwise) they ever receive. Over the years that can pose a significant challenge if there isn’t room to store all of them. (And who has that kind of room?)

Personally, I toss the holiday cards I receive, probably a month after Christmas. I get a twinge every time I do it, but I don’t want to take up space in my home with anything but the most significant, precious handwritten items, like letters from my now-deceased grandmother.

I just learned about something that I think is a nice middle ground between these two extremes. Today I was contacted by Letterbox, a new app debuting on November 30 designed specifically to help people hang on to the cards they receive, digitally and clutter-free.

You could take pictures of all your cards with your phone but then what you do with those photos so that you can find and enjoy them later? Letterbox allows you to put photos of your cards (front and inside) all in one place, accessible in the app, and allows you to organize them by friend, occasion and date.

(And, of course, this would be great for letters and postcards as well as greeting cards.)

Here’s how it works:

  • From within the app (which at the moment is available for the iPhone only), you take high-resolution pictures of the front and inside of the card. It automatically focuses, snaps and crops the photos for you. (I love that.)
  • You designate who the card was from and the occasion.
  • Then you can see all your cards in a timeline (which reminds me a bit of Pinterest) and enjoy them with a single touch.

If your friends also have Letterbox, you can see when they cards you’ve sent, so you know they’ve been received. And you can synch addresses so that you know your friends’ addresses are up to date.

Check out the video:

I haven’t tried it yet because the app hasn’t been released. But on November 30, I’ll be downloading it—this year I’ll try putting my holiday cards into Letterbox, rather than the recycling bin.

Letterbox costs $6 per year. If you’re one of the first 10,000 to sign up before November 30, you can get it for $3 per year and you can sign up for up to 10 years at that rate. If you order from my sign-up page, I’ll get a small portion of your payment (no extra cost to you).

Handwritten items are among the very few things in our lives that are irreplaceable. I love that Letterbox is providing an easy and elegant to preserve them without adding clutter to our homes.

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Limiting your holiday gift giving

26 October 2017

I’m a big believer in not giving people clutter as gifts. In my clients’ homes, I often see how hard it is for them to let go of items they received as a gift, even if they don’t like or don’t use the item. As I’ve blogged about before I’m in favor of making the holiday season easier on gift givers by simplifying or limiting the gifts you give and receive.

How about stopping giving gifts altogether?

It’s late October. As you’re thinking about your Christmas or Hanukkah gift list this year do you think you could approach some of the adults on the list and propose that you not exchange gifts at all? Think of the benefits:

  • Less time spent shopping
  • Less time spent wrapping
  • Less money spent on gifts
  • Less emotion spent angsting over the perfect gift
  • No worry about adding clutter to your loved one’s home

You don’t have to eschew the exchange of gifts altogether (though I think that’s a great idea). You could replace a physical gift with an event you could attend together. Or a spa day. Or a meal. Or you could agree to make a donation to a charity on the other person’s behalf.

I exchange very few gifts in December and I have the easiest holiday season of anyone I know. (I do send out holiday cards, but I really enjoy doing that.)

How would it feel to let go of buying so many gifts (and also receive fewer gifts)? If the prospect of limiting your gift giving gives you a sense of ease, I suggest you try contacting one person on your gift list and see how s/he would feel about not exchanging gifts this year. I wouldn’t be surprised if your suggestion was met with great enthusiasm. Taking away the pressure to give might be a gift in itself.

Then approach someone else. And another person. If you whittle down your list of people you have to shop for, your holiday season might become less stressful and more celebratory. Doesn’t that sound nice?

Photo by Piviso.com via Flickr. Used under Creative Commons License.

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Worth repeating: I heart West Elm's dip bowls

23 October 2017

Four years ago, I wrote this post about how much I love the little dip bowls from West Elm. My love for them has not diminished over time. And, amazingly, West Elm is still selling these little beauties, so I thought I’d repeat this post. I now actually use them for dip on occasion! But I like them for all sorts of things, including looking pretty.

While on a trip, I wandered into a West Elm store and was immediately entranced by these beautiful little Textured Dip Bowls. I don’t serve a lot of dip, but I immediately saw the potential for using them to store little stuff. (My friend Aby Garvey is rubbing off on me after all these years.)

West Elm's Textured Dip Bowls can hold much more than dip

So I bought one. At first I thought I might use it for office supplies. Wouldn’t it be nice on a desk holding paper clips?

But then I saw an immediate need in my medicine cabinet. I had several different sizes of fingernail and toenail clippers rattling around in there and now they’re beautifully contained.

Soon, I bought two more for my other medicine cabinet (for clippers and our collection of dental floss).

Then I decided I needed some for use at clients’ homes, so I went online and bought the rainbow of bowls pictured above.

The potential seems endless. Right now all five of my extra are sitting on my window sill, in the sun, making me happy every time I look at them.

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Taking time out for fun

19 October 2017

I love doing genealogy research. (If you’d like to know more about that, check out my blog Organize Your Family History.) I’ve actually created a habit of doing research every day, first thing in the morning. I haven’t missed a day since August 1—which especially pleases me because I took a week-long trip during that time.

I research frequently, but not typically at length. I try to research for at least 30 minutes a day. Occasionally the research session is shorter than that and sometimes it’s longer. For example, I spent most of the day researching with a friend last month at the St. Louis County Library’s Genealogy Room.

I was hoping to take a research trip to Kentucky this month, but decided it wasn’t a prudent way to spend my time and money. My consolation prize is that I’m going to spend all day today and tomorrow on my research. After I get a couple of work-related tasks out of the way, I’m going to focus on my research, with the intention of visiting the St. Louis Public Library’s Genealogy Room and perhaps making my way back to the County library. Getting away from my desk and its distractions will be really helpful.

Why am I writing about that here? Because I think it’s so easy for us to let the responsibilities and tasks of home and work life get in the way of pursuing our passions and having fun. It feels like I could spend all day every day running my business and keeping my house organized. But that’s not the life I want to lead.

For me, genealogy is the passion I want to explore more. For you it might be a yoga practice or a craft. Whatever it is, I encourage you to try making time to do it. I can assure you, the other stuff will wait.

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About Janine

Janine Adams

Hello! I’m Janine Adams — a certified professional organizer based in St. Louis, and the creator of Peace of Mind Organizing®.

I love order, harmony + beauty, but I believe that the way that you feel about yourself and your home is what truly matters.

If you’re ready to de­clutter with a purpose and add more ease to your life, you’ve found the right blog — and you’ve found the right gal.

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