Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Holiday Prep: Shipping Strategies Part 1

1. Make a list of packages you need to ship
If you're like me, you have at least a few Christmas gift recipients on your list to whom you will need to ship gifts this holiday season. Now is a good time to figure out who those lucky people are so that you can plan accordingly.

2. Purchase Packing Tape
Buy an extra one, because you will run out of tape on the first roll when you are halfway through packing everything up. I haven't figured out a way to avoid paying for tape; it's the only thing I purchase other than the shipping label.
3. Assemble Free Shipping Supplies
I've been shipping a lot of items this year as I've been working on my declutter challenge, and I'm proud to say that I have my shipping strategies down to a science. (Mostly.) I'm pleased that by recycling packaging that I receive, and using the resources at the post office, I've avoided having to spend money on anything other than packing tape and the shipping label itself! There are two ways I collect free shipping supplies:
  • Save packaging when shipped items are delivered to your house. I set up a storage area for shipping supplies in my basement so that when a package arrives, I can stow the useful packaging (boxes, air bags, bubble wrap, foam wrap, etc.) until I am able to reuse it. I don't save packing peanuts because they tend to make a mess. My favorite shipping material to reuse is a heavy duty plastic envelope. Turn it inside out, pack, tape, and seal. Presto!

  • Order flat rate shipping supplies from You can order flat rate shipping boxes and envelopes online, and the post office will deliver them to you for free! The minimum number of boxes in an order is 10, so if you just need a few, it may make more sense for you to pick them up individually from your post office. It costs $4.90 to send a flat rate envelope or small box, and more for a medium  or large flat rate box. (I find that the flat rate envelope and small box are most cost effective, unless sending heavy items long distances, such as across the country.)

4. Schedule a Shipping Deadline
Look at the calendar and figure out when would make sense for you to ship your items. I like to strike a balance between shipping closer to Christmas (because my grandmother opens her stuff right away) yet early enough so that I can have it out of the way in time to focus on local preparations. Make it a priority to purchase/make/bake items to be shipped sooner rather than later so that you will be prepared to ship all of your items at once. Remember to schedule time to pack the boxes; this step always seems to take longer than I expected.

In early December, I will explain how I avoid going to the post office completely, as well as what I do if I absolutely have to go to the post office.

This is one way I am trying to get organized for the holidays. I hope it works for you!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Holiday Prep: Sending Holiday Cards before Christmas is Over

If you would like to send your Holiday Cards before the Holiday Season is over, it's best to do as much of the prep work as possible BEFORE Thanksgiving.

Step 1: Review and Revise your holiday card list. My criteria is this: if you don't feel like writing a personal message to the person/family, remove them from your list. Add any new friends/family members that you've connected with over the past year. This could include your new neighbors, or your husband's long lost cousin whom the family reunited with this year. Hunting down the addresses now will save your sanity next month. If it isn't already, quickly type up your list on the computer. Then you can update it next year more easily.

Step 2: Count up your list, and order your holiday stamps online. Right now! It only costs a dollar for the mail carrier to deliver them to your door. Before you order, check to see if you have holiday stamps left over from last year. Include extra  holiday stamps for your thank you notes if you are neurotic like me. :)

Step 3: Do you have return address labels? If not, save yourself some writing time and order some cute holiday return address labels--again, get enough to cover your thank you notes as well. You could print your own if you're so inclined.

Step 4: Determine what type of holiday card you plan to send, meaning a traditional folded card, or a photo card, or a traditional card with a photo holder? Or a newsletter? Design and/or purchase your cards now. I recommend 1/2 dozen extra if you want some on hand in case you forgot someone in Step 1. If you are sending a photo card, consider purchasing an acid-free scrapbooking pen so that you can write on the back of the cards (optional).

Step 5: As your supplies start arriving, keep them all together in a bag or other container--I like to use a small-size handled gift bag--along with your address book. You know that you are ready to start writing your holiday cards when the bag contains the following items:
  • Checklist (print the list you wrote up in Step 1)
  • Stamps
  • Return Address Labels
  • Cards, photos (optional) and Envelopes
  • Pen (optional photo-safe pen)
  • Address Book/Printout
If you are really organized, you should have all of these items assembled before Thanksgiving. Before I had children, I would assemble my supplies in this way, and take them on the airplane with me when I went visit my grandparents over Thanksgiving weekend. I would work on them on the flight down as well as the flight back, and have more of them done and ready to mail by December 1st!

This has not occurred again since my kids came along. Instead of writing pleasant holiday messages on the airplane, I am corralling my dear children, who are actually pretty well behaved on flights, but not well-behaved enough for me to write holiday cards. I must admit that there have been numerous years when some of my holiday cards did not make it past Step 5.

This year, I am determined to have my supplies bag ready to tote along and work on whenever I have down time. The steps occurring at this point are as follows:

Step 6: Write a personal greeting and sign your name.
Step 7: Stuff, seal, address, stamp, send!

Your kids can participate in these two steps by:
  • Signing their name
  • Sealing the envelope
  • Attaching return address labels and stamps
This is one way I am trying to get prepared for the holidays.

Menu Plan Tuesday: November 16th

I am late writing this up, but I don't want to lose the opportunity to stay organized from now until Thanksgiving! By Wednesday, November 24th, I want to have significantly more space in my fridge and freezer so that I have plenty of space to work with during the holidays. I'm hoping that this plan will take me there:
  • Monday: Marinated Flank Steak (from the freezer, cooked on the grill, in the dark!), Cranberry Rice Pilaf, Sesame Baby Bok Choy (needed to use it up), and mixed steamed vegetables for the kids, who do not eat bok choy (more for me!)
  • Tuesday: Apple Sausage Risotto and steamed broccoli
  • Wednesday: Crunchy Crumbled Cod with Frozen Peas (sliding from Monday, which was a good grilling day to use up the flank steak)
  • Thursday: Leftovers (Daddy's Night Out)
  • Friday: Baked Chicken with some sides that I haven't decided yet.
  • Saturday: Pot Roast in the crockpot
  • Sunday: Leftovers (Mom's Night Out)
  • Monday: Spaghetti and Meatballs with steamed vegetable (Mom at a meeting)
  • Tuesday: Grilled Cheese with Minestrone (from the freezer)
And then we'll be gone until December 1st!

I also plan to bake, puree, and freeze at least 5 pumpkins this week. At least some of this puree will be traveling with me to be added to the pumpkin pie I'm making for Thanksgiving Dinner. My home kitchen will be closed, but I'll be cooking the entire meal at my grandmothers! I'll need to pack some kitchen supplies to take on the plane as well.

Find more meal planning inspiration at!

Monday, November 8, 2010

Menu Plan Monday: November 8th

Last night's dinner (kid portions): Salt and Pepper Chicken, Roasted Purple Potatoes, Steamed Broccoli

Things didn't work out exactly as planned last week due to me being sick for a couple days on top of the heater dying... the good news is that when you plan your meals around what's in your freezer, things don't go to waste when you don't get around to cooking them. :)
Find other meal plan ideas at!

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Holiday Prep: Review Last Year

Somehow I managed to schedule a pop-up reminder telling me to review the notes I made about Christmas 2009 back in January when I was clearing up Christmas. The notes are just a single page Word document with reviews of how things went, reminders for this upcoming year, and a few ideas of new things to try. It's like having a conversation with a past verson of myself to help jog my memory regarding various and sundry Christmas Stuff that I otherwise won't think of until it's too late.

I'm hoping this miscellaneous list will spare me a few emergency trips to the store and help me to plan a little better than last year; for instance, I need to recognize that gift wrapping will take 6-8 hours and it would be best to schedule time to get the wrapping done during the day rather than staying up all night one night, all the way past sunrise. (I had no idea it would take that long! And yes, I have a very big family and we do quite a bit of gift exchanging. And no, I am too neurotic to use gift bags in most cases.)

It's one way that I am trying to get prepared for the holidays.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

How to Feel More Organized: Keeping up with Kids

In addition to my attempts to keep myself organized, I've been implementing strategies to keep up with my kids as well.

A Clothes Box in Every Closet
This is a place in each of my kids' closets where I can quickly stow outgrown, damaged, or disliked clothing until I am ready to deal with it. I repurposed a pretty Piperlime box for my daughter's closet.I also have a box in the laundry room to store items after they are cleaned, but it's nice to have a storage spot right where the kids get dressed so that I can separate the items right away--sometimes outgrown clothes get reintegrated with the regular laundry en route to the basement, and they don't quite make it to the Consignment box. (Of course, I don't consign an item unless it meet my criteria.)

This way I can take a larger amount of clothing to the basement all at once when I have time to think about what I am doing, reducing the chances of the clothes ending back up in the drawers!

A Toothbrush in Every Bathroom
I don't know how other kids are, but my kids are highly distractable when we are trying to focus on leaving the house. If I send them upstairs to brush teeth, it takes forever for them to reappear, mostly because they got lost on the way! I finally got the message and put toothbrushes, floss, and toothpaste in every bathroom. Now, whether we are preparing to leave the house, preparing to go to bed, or someone just has bad breath, dental hygiene supplies belonging to my kids are close by.

I included supplies for the master bathroom because I've made the habit of preparing a toothbrush for any kid who joins me in the bathroom while *I* am brushing my teeth. I need a few extra toothbrushes for this strategy; I've found the sample size toothpaste and floss from the dentist works well in lesser-used bathrooms. I'm finding that it is well worth it to help my kids avoid skipping brushing, especially since both kids have tooth issues that increase their vulnerability to cavities.

A Spot for Every Lunch Box
My son takes his lunch to school every day. My daughter uses her lunchbox 3 days per week. What this used to mean was that my son's lunchbox was sitting on the countertop when the weekend arrived, and my daughter's was taking up space in the kitchen every day! I realized that even items that are used nearly every day need a 'put away' spot. Now that I designated a spot in a cabinet to store them, our lunch boxes spend much less time cluttering up the kitchen counters, and I always know exactly where to find them when we DO need them.

This is what works for me, I hope it works for you, too!

Fitness Goals Update: October

I skipped my goals update last month, but I have been keeping up with working out pretty well. I'm trying to work out 5 or 6 days a week rather than the paltry 2 or 3 I had been managing. This doesn't mean that I work out at Jazzercise each day (necessarily) but that I'm doing something fitness related most days.

One thing that has made working out a little more intruiging is my recent purchase of a heart rate monitor watch. (I found mine new on Ebay.) The watch communicates with a sensor I wear around my ribcage and records my heartbeats per minute. Combined with data I've entered about my age/weight, it calculates how many calories I burn while working out. It also give me an idea of how much time I was working out in the Fitness Zone (higher than 70% of max BPM) versus the Fat Burn Zone (approx. 50-70% of max BPM).

I learned pretty quickly that I don't burn much fat at Jazzercise--it's an intense workout where I spend the vast majority of time in the fitness zone. If I'm not late for class (argh!) I tend to burn 450-500 calories per session.

As a result of these findings, I've been trying to add more fat-burning activities into the mix (walking and low-impact dance workouts on streaming Netflix.) I've thought about wearing the monitor while doing intense housework, just to find out what I'm burning, but I haven't actually hooked up the monitor to find out yet.

Anyway. I'm still working towards my fitness goal for the year, and there is a chance I will make it, although I'll have to focus and work hard.

Total for 2010 as of October 31: 120 classes

This means that I have two months to attend 30 classes, which breaks down to 15 classes per month. This is doable, but I'd hoped to be more ahead by this point, as there are exactly 15 days in November when I expect to have time to attend class. I see some early morning workouts in my future!

Monday, November 1, 2010

Declutter Challenge October Update: Successes and Failures

I am really glad that I jumped on the declutter wagon again this month and moved additional items out of the house, but it is really hard to keep up with my declutter challenge when there is so much other stuff going on!

First, I have to talk about my failures: I didn't get around to selling anything on Craigslist as I had planned. I find Craigslist overwhelming to deal with. You post your item for sale, and then you have to comb through your email to find the responses. Typically at least one response is from someone who is talking about something you aren't selling (ex. someone was interested in my stove once when I was offering some free tickets to a consignment sale...????). It's difficult to determine who is really interested vs. someone who isn't serious. Some people want to meet you at a location in between, and then they don't show up, or want to meet at a strange time, such as early in the morning (horror stories from friends).

I haven't figured out a smooth way to deal with Craigslist Chaos, so I'm reluctant to do a lot with it. If I am going to sell something on Craigslist before the end of the year, it will have to be this upcoming weekend. Stay tuned next month to find out if I get motivated...or not!

I had an opportunity to sell items at a friend's yard sale over the holiday weekend, which would have been a great way to move the items I am dreading posting on Craigslist. Unfortunately, I had too much going on that weekend and I had to bypass the opportunity. I love that people are getting together and sharing yard sale opportunities, though, and I look forward to participating next time!

I had a steady, tiny stream of book sales on this month. I am going to count only the transaction that I already received payment for, and count the 3 other sales for November, which means that my total is $7.75.

I also pushed myself to consign approximately 100 items, and sold over 60 of them, with the rest being donated by the consignment sale to several different organizations. (You can read here about how I track what I sold/didn't sell without picking up the unsold itemsSince most items were small and I priced them to sell, I earned just $121.13, significantly less than the big earnings I saw at the spring sale, but better than nothing!

I scraped up 11 items to sell on Ebay, including a few seasonal items I had put aside earlier in the year, thinking they would sell better in the fall. The list included a few Halloween costumes, NFL Football kids' clothes (Steelers stuff, if you care to know), and some little baby shoes, in addition to my newborn cloth diapers, which were so cute and so little they were hard to let go, but sell them I did.

10 of 11 items sold (a couple for only 99 cents, but at least I found someone who wanted and could use the item!) and I made a total of $107.45 after shipping and fees. I have another short list of items for Ebay to sell in November, because so far I find it to be the most convenient way to connect nicer items to people who want them and can use them.

All of these totals added together bring me to $236.33 for the month of October. Two more months to go, and I can tell already that December is not going to be a big month. :) It's time to shift gears and get organized for the holidays!

Check out additional declutter reports at The Finer Things in Life!

Menu Plan Monday: November 1st

The smaller pumpkin on the right is from our garden!

I'm happy to report that I used up the produce that persists on growing in the garden despite the fact that it is now NOVEMBER. Happy Halloween, by the way!
  • Monday: (parents possibly going out) Leftovers
  • Tuesday: Apple Sausage Risotto that we haven't made yet--it's a good thing that apples keep well!, with steamed broccoli
  • Wednesday: Marinated Flank Steak (from the freezer) with cranberry rice pilaf and steamed green beans
  • Thursday: (parents out) Creamy Enchilada Casserole with steamed mixed vegetables
  • Friday: Eating out
  • Saturday: Minestrone soup (from the freezer) and Grilled Cheese
  • Sunday: Lemon Chicken (pre cut chicken from the freezer) with Carrot Orzo
  • Monday: Whole Wheat Spaghetti and Turkey Meatballs (not eaten on Halloween) with a vegetable
Find additional meal planning inspiration at!

Holiday Prep: A Series

I have a rule about Christmas. The rule is that Christmas must be contained to the month of December. This means that any and all Christmas decorations must not go up until after my birthday (Dec 9th), and must come down during as soon as possible after New Years Day. Christmas Shopping and Shipping are properly done in December. Holiday Photos are taken in December, holiday cards are written and mailed in December...

I really like this rule because it makes me prioritize and limit Christmas Activities. I enjoy the holiday season, but one month's worth is plenty for me. At the same time, it seems like there is more and more to do to get ready for the holidays each year. As our family grows, and I volunteer to help at school, AND I entertain more around the holidays, I've found that I must be very organized and cheat bend the rules as much as possible if I want to get ANY sleep at all during the month of December!

I am going to share a few of my Holiday Preparation tips during the upcoming weeks in the hopes that they will be as helpful to others as they have been for me.