Organized Home

Time, Place and Plan: Tips to Help With Homework

Back-to-School Countdown Day 14

Posted by Cynthia Ewer on August 21, 2014 tips to help kids with homework

The start of a new school year brings fresh supplies and new outfits ... and their less-welcome cousin, homework. How will you handle daily homework sessions in your organized home?

To stave off homework battles, it pays to make a plan. Creating a homework routine undercuts foot-dragging, while setting up a homework station keeps distractions to a minimum.

Ready to plan for homework? Try these tips to get it done swiftly, done right during the coming school year.

Rely On Routines

Expect a child to wing it with homework assignments, and you're likely to end up a turkey. Without the structure of a homework routine, procrastination rules the household, leading to nightly conflict. Instead, rely on the power of routine to get the job done on a regular basis.

Add a dedicated time for homework to the household's after-school routines. With an established progression of arrival home, after-school snack and a homework hour, you'll ensure that school-agers complete assignments in good time for enjoying a family evening.

Older children may require more flexibility, as their workload is both heavier and more diverse. Setting aside a no-television/no-media time after dinner will encourage teens to speed their work in order to relax afterward--and will make sure that parents are available if help is needed.

Establish A Homework Center

The old days of pencil-and-paper homework meant that students needed little more than a flat surface and a chair to complete assignments. Not anymore! The rise of technology has changed the face of homework from solitary struggle to multi-media effort. The old solution of "bedroom desk facing the wall" is no longer adequate or sufficient for today's pupils.

Search the household for an appropriate place to set up a homework center. Good lighting and a work area are the starting points, along with access to a computer/tablet and printer. Younger students tend to stay closer to parents as they work, while 'tweens and teens may distance themselves physically--or via headsets or music--so keep children's preferences in mind when you set up a homework center.

Let Your Child Lead

To make homework time more pleasant, go with your child's flow when it comes to getting the work done. A teen flopped on the floor or reclining on a sofa may not look like an adult's idea of a serious student, but as long as the work gets done on time, posture can be a non-issue. Some students find music an asset as they work, while others are distracted by it. Knowing your child's preferences helps craft a homework plan that the whole family can live with.

Plan For Accountability

Finally, give some thought to how you'll monitor homework assignments and track completion in the coming months.

Does your child use a student planner? By middle school, homework assignments are too numerous to be left to memory, so even if the school does not teach planner use, it's time to train your student to record each day's assignments and track their completion in writing.

Work with teachers to ensure good communication between home and school. Knowing assignments and due dates will help you keep children on track and accountable for their work--and arm you against childish foot-dragging.

Most of all, remember to step back and let the child work. Homework can teach responsibility and independence ... so once you cover the basics of when and where and how? Let them learn!

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Schoolday Solution: Win the Wardrobe Wars

Back-to-School Countdown Day 13

Posted by Cynthia Ewer on August 20, 2014 wardrobe wars

What to wear? For many families, this simple question is a daily flash-point for conflict on school mornings.

A budding fashionista throws a tantrum if a given outfit doesn't meet her standards, while another child insists on wearing one favorite shirt day after day--laundered or not. Younger children resist getting dressed at all, delaying the whole family's departure--and everyone's mood descends to the basement before the day has even begun.

Win the wardrobe wars! Try these ideas to get 'em up, dressed and off to school on time.

Plan Ahead

Wait until each morning to choose the day's clothing, and you've guaranteed a stressful start to the day. Instead, lay out children's outfits the night before--or use Sunday evening to set aside clothing for the coming week.

Group each day's outfit together on the closet rod, or sort a week's worth of folded clothing onto the shelves of a hanging sweater organizer.
Planning ahead ensures that "there's nothing to wear!" meltdowns and frenzied searches of the clothes dryer won't disrupt morning routines.

Harness The Power of Choice

Allowing children to choose turns down the volume in the struggle to get them dressed. Even younger children can choose whether to wear the red shirt or the striped one; school-agers can select each day's clothing from already-assembled outfits. Having a choice gives kids a buy-in to the transaction, and helps prevent power struggles.

Better, harness the power of structured choice. Have a kid who's inordinately fond of a single T-shirt? Ask them to choose which day they'll wear Old Favorite during the week. By pre-assembling outfits, and offering your child a choice between them, you can ensure that your little one is reasonably put together, while wearing items of their own choice.

Impose Consequences

Die-hard non-dressers can delay the whole family's morning routine--and make a parent sound like a skipping CD track, chanting "Go Get Dressed NOW!" at two-minute intervals.

Pull the sting by imposing logical consequences for a child who refuses to dress: when it's time to leave, hand them their clothing and take them to school in their pajamas. While you may want to alert school personnel to your efforts to teach independence and responsibility, peer pressure will solve the problem quickly. Whether the child scrambles into their clothing in the car on the way, or heads straight to the restroom to change, the consequences will teach the lesson: no dawdling!

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If morning clothing fits are a fixture in your home, take a good look at the causes of the conflict. Sure, you'll need to take a stand when a child wants to wear shorts and a tank top on a frosty day, but is it really necessary to go to that level when the disagreement centers on less important matters?

If over-strict sartorial standards are sparking disagreements, consider taking a step back.

Learning to choose clothing, coordinate outfits and develop a personal style are life-skills needed by every child. Invest in their learning curve by staying OUT of their decisions, even when you disagree. A child sporting black shoes with beige chinos may set your teeth on edge--but it's not worth the lost energy of a morning tussle. Let them learn and grow!

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Household Notebook: Planner for an Organized Home

Posted by Cynthia Ewer on July 16, 2014 home management binder

So you think businesspeople are the only folks who need a personal planner?

Think again: families need an organizer, too, to keep life moving smoothly on the home front!

A planner for the entire household allows anyone--child, visitor, babysitter--easy access to the information they need. It's a one-stop information center for busy families.

How will you use it? Whether it's a carpool schedule or a co-worker's phone number, the household notebook holds the information you need to check each day. Addresses. Phone numbers. Rosters for sports teams, prayer groups or civic organizations.

Ready for an evening out? Flip the Notebook open to the "Emergency Information" page, and the babysitter will always know where to find you.

Time for dinner? Menu planners, recipe organizers and shopping list make it easy to feed the family night after night.

Clean house fast with cleaning schedules, chore lists and seasonal checklists for home maintenance. Keeping tabs on children's activities, sports team phone numbers or emergency information is as easy as flipping a divider.

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Stay-at-home parents and homeschool families add calendar and scheduling features to the household notebook, while daily morning and evening checklists and family schedules make it easy to organize life in families with small children.

Empty-nesters corral take-out menus, service club rosters and medical information to make life flow smoothly.

Ready to create your own Household Notebook?

Click the links below for more information about making and using a Household Notebook ... to get organized at home.

Conquer Chaos in the Laundry Room

Posted by Cynthia Ewer on July 15, 2014 organize laundry systems

Nothing can streamline an organized home like a well-crafted set of household systems, and today, we focus on laundry and clothing systems.

What do they do? How do you develop them? What benefits will establishing laundry and clothing systems give to you and your family?

Chances are, you already have these systems in place. After all, a system is just a set of organized items, decisions or actions, designed to work together to achieve a common end.

In terms of an organized home, a clothing system, for example, would be a set of related decisions, actions or items, designed to work together to supply family members with an adequate supply of clean, well-fitting and appropriate clothes.

However, there are systems, and there are systems. In a disorganized home, systems springs up unassisted. There's no thought or planning underlying them, so they don't work particularly well. Most of the time, the steps of the system are only instituted when things break down: there are no clean clothes, so someone does the wash. Yes, clothing gets clean, eventually--but there's tremendous waste of time, money, resources and family harmony built into haphazard systems.

Does this scenario describe your household's laundry system?

  • It is the morning of a family outing with parent's in-laws.
  • Child appears at breakfast table in stained, torn clothing.
  • Parent orders child to change. Child replies that he has no clean clothes.
  • Parent charges up the stairs to child's room. The floor is layered with strata of clean and dirty laundry. Dresser drawers are stuffed with wadded clothes in various states of cleanliness and presentability.
  • Parent rummages through piles on floor, scrounges through dresser drawers, and locates a clean (or fairly clean) and presentable outfit.
  • Parent orders child to put on substitute outfit. Child complains. Parent raises voice. Child whines. Veins stand out on the parental neck.
  • Child complies. The ensemble is not a success. The trousers are the variety known as "high water pants." The T-shirt sports a cracked and peeling cartoon logo. Child rolls eyes and thinks, but does not say, "I told you so!" Parent receives child's message via telepathy. Parent winces but remains silent.
  • Co-parent arrives at breakfast table wearing wrinkled shirt from ironing basket and yesterday's trousers. Co-parent's tie does not match either shirt or trousers. Co-parent slips out the door to work over the din of family discord concerning child and child's outfit.
  • After breakfast, parent rifles through dryer, searching for presentable ensemble for self for outing. Must run dryer 10 minutes to remove heat-set wrinkles. Having only five minutes for this task, parent dons semi-wrinkled jeans and top. Hopes parents-in-law will forget their eyeglasses today.
  • The family is late to the outing. The in-laws, bless them, say nothing. Parent vows to do better . . . until next time.

Yes, this family has a system--but a spontaneous, haphazard one. Clothing is not washed on a regular schedule. Washing routines are interrupted, leaving clothes to sit in washer or dryer acquiring wrinkles and mildew. Clothes are neither consigned to laundry collection points when dirty, nor put in convenient storage once clean. Out-of-season, outgrown or outworn items crowd what storage is available, leaving little or no room to store garments currently in use. New clothing is purchased on an unplanned, impulse basis--and at a higher price than necessary. Because their system is so poorly planned and executed, this family loses time, money and harmony in the daily ritual of getting dressed.

It's these resources of time, money and harmony your family stands to gain when you develop household systems. How do you craft a system to handle your family's clothing needs?

Begin with the goal

A complete clothing system has this goal: the thrifty, efficient, and routine provision of clean, well-fitting and appropriate clothing for each family member each day.

In any household systems analysis, give some thought to your own family's goal, and write it down. Beginning with the end in sight is the best way to make sure you arrive there!

Break down the actions

List them all! For your goal, write down each thing that must be done, large or small. Here are the basic tasks, decisions and action for a household laundry system:

  • Dirty clothing is delivered to collection points each day
  • Dirty clothing is transferred to laundry area from collection points
  • Laundry area contains adequate supply of detergent, softener and stain treatments, as well as tools like washer, dryer, iron and ironing board, hangers and hanging area. Supplies are replenished before they are exhausted.
  • Dirty clothing is sorted, laundered, dried and folded
  • Necessary ironing is done or delegated
  • Dry cleaning or professional laundry is delivered and collected each cycle
  • Clean clothing is returned to storage areas
  • The cycle is repeated on a regular basis
Find the stickingpoints

You know what you want and where you're going--the goal. You've got a handle on what needs to be done to reach that goal--your task list. Now it's time to analyze your system for the breakdowns.

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Our example family has several common sticking points in their laundry system.

First, there's no clear "collection routine" for dirty laundry. Dirty clothes aren't placed in a hamper or basket, but are left around at random. The family member responsible for laundering the clothing has no set place to find dirty clothes, but must scour the house looking for them.

Second, laundry isn't done on a regular schedule. Instead of washing clothes before it is absolutely necessary, this family plays a brinkmanship game, waiting until the last possible moment to start the laundry cycle. Result: tension, disruption, family disharmony and no clean clothes.

Third, because the cycle isn't started regularly, it becomes a monstrous job, often left unfinished. Pants hung directly from the dryer need no ironing. Pants left to sit in the dryer for three days will require pressing at a minimum, re-washing at worst. By postponing the job, the family's workload mushrooms.

Fourth, the family's clothing storage areas are cluttered and inefficient. Because drawers are jammed, clean clothing ends up on floors and furniture. Clothes are washed more than necessary, wearing them out prematurely--not to mention the wear and tear on the family member who must try to climb the mountain that's formed in the laundry room.

What are your family's roadblocks to an efficient laundry system? Review the necessary tasks and decide what changes will make your own system function smoothly. Will you need to purchase additional laundry baskets or hampers? Has Mt. Washmore erupted in your laundry room, requiring a laundry marathon before you can institute your system? Your own situation will show a mix of new routines and one-time catch-up chores.

Here's an idea of our family's laundry system analysis. It has two parts--the system, organized by time period, and the list of work that will have to be completed to institute the system:

Household Clothing System: Daily:
  • Family members place all dirty clothing in basket or hamper
Twice Weekly:
  • Collect, wash, dry, fold and replace laundered clothing 
  • Remove clean items in need of mending to mending basket
Weekly:
  • Check supply of detergent and laundry products; purchase replacements before the supply is exhausted 
  • Deliver any dry cleaning or laundered items to cleaners and collect last week's dry cleaning or laundered items
Monthly:
  • Scan family calendar for events requiring special clothing 
  • For those events, check to make sure each family member has appropriate clothing 
  • Mend contents of mending basket
Seasonally:
  • Inventory each family member's clothing supply 
  • Cull clothing storage of worn out, outgrown or out-of-season garments 
  •  List needed items for each family member 
  • Purchase needed items, on sale
To Catch Up:
  • Purchase laundry basket or hamper for each family member 
  • Cull and organize each family member's clothing storage area, removing outworn, outgrown, and out-of-season clothing. 
  • Store out-of-season clothing, children's clothing suitable for handing down 
  • Marathon laundry session, extinguishing laundry mountain 
  • Hold family meeting to discuss new responsibilities, delegate tasks

Through their analysis, this family has overcome the "day late, dollar short" orientation that characterized their old clothing and laundry systems. Now, to implement the analysis!

Last step: get cracking!

You've set your goal, listed the components of a basic system, performed your analysis and planned your system. Now it's time to get to work. Enter all tasks, recurring or catch-up, in your planner, calendar or home management software.

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If these are the bones of a basic family clothing system, remember, the musculature of that system can be shaped to fit any given family's needs.

A laundry system for a household with two pre-schoolers and an infant will be vastly more rigorous and time-consuming than one for an empty-nest professional couple.

Growing children can, and should, be given an opportunity to learn these life-skills. Pre-schoolers can be trained to place dirty clothing where it belongs, and can fold and replace socks and towels. Elementary school children can operate the washer and dryer and do basic ironing chores with supervision. Teens can do all of the above, plus mending and more advanced ironing.

Do delegate clothing selection and purchase to your teen! A clothing allowance teaches appearance-oriented teens to budget like no other learning experience. Don't rescue your teen when he blows his seasonal clothes allowance on that shoddy-but-fashionable logo jacket! As he shivers his way through the autumn, he will learn some home truths about value and durability, and do better next quarter.

In the end, establishing a household system--for laundry or any other home task--means embracing a simple but profound truth. Even if you ignore it, work does not go away.

Do any job efficiently and with forethought, and you'll be master of the task. To this end, a laundry system will serve you well, providing clean clothes on a regular basis, without those anguished vigils at the side of the humming dryer.

Ignore this reality, and the task will master you. You'll dance to the tune of your family's laundry needs, running the dryer at 5:30 a.m., or squirming as your children attend events in mismatched or outgrown clothes.

Who will be boss? Time to establish your household's clothing systems and scale the top of Mt. Washmore. Excelsior!

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Pardon Our Dust! Site Updates Underway

Posted by Cynthia Ewer on July 9, 2014

With back-to-school on the horizon--and autumn holidays close behind--it's time for site updates.

Please pardon our dust! As we work behind the scenes, there may be periods when the site is offline, or when certain features don't work correctly.

We appreciate your patience while we create a new, more organized home on the Web.

--Webmistress Cynthia

Sew A Clean Sweep Apron!

Posted by Cynthia Ewer on February 26, 2014

A cleaning apron? What, me?

Yes, you! Forget those '50's images of housewifely frou-frou and ruffles: a cleaning apron has a place in the modern home manager's toolkit.

A cleaning apron speeds cleaning chores. Spray bottles of cleaning solution hang ready for use. Apron pockets lined with plastic bags corral bits of trash. Cleaning tools live at the tips of the cleaner's fingers.

Stockpile a stack of cleaning cloths in one pocket, a cleaning sponge in another. With a cleaning apron, supplies, tools and materials are literally close to hand.

The pros know! Professional cleaners swear by cleaning aprons. Savvy home managers purchase cleaning aprons from mail order houses and janitorial supply stores to get the professional. edge on house cleaning.

But there's a small problem. Commercial cleaning aprons don't always accommodate real-world bodies. Designed flat for a straight and slender figure, these aprons sometimes buckle or shift when tied over feminine curves. Skinny string waistbands bite or sag under the weight of cleaning supplies.

Add the cost! Commercially available cleaning aprons run about $20, and don't forget the shipping, handling and sales tax. For many home managers, cleaning aprons may seem out of reach, for more than one reason.

We've got the solution: our Clean Sweep Apron. Designed by a woman for women, it features a generous apron. gathered to fall gently over womanly figures. An interfaced, wider waistband closes with adjustable Velcro brand hook-and-loop tape for instant comfort. Make it up in white cotton twill, and bleac. stains away in the washing machine.

Just for fun, we've included a decorative graphic. Use T-shirt transfer paper to add our graphic or use one of your favorites to decorate the Clean Sweep Apron.

Yes, you'll need to sew this apron yourself, but our Clean Sweep Apron requires minimal sewing skill. Innovative design methods reduce the number of pieces. Use your iron to crease-mark alignment guides for easy construction.

You won't need a full-featured sewing room for this project; you can make the Clean Sweep Apron with nothing more than a straight-stitch sewing machine, an iron and a few pins.

Ready? Let's get sewing!

Materials:
  • 1 1/2 yard cotton fabric (select medium-weight, tightly-woven, 100% cotton fabric for best washability and wear)
  • 1 1/2 yard waistband interfacing
  • 3 inches Velcro brand hook-and-loop fastener
  • thread
Tools:
  • sewing machine
  • cutting tools
  • iron and ironing board
  • pins
//--> Cutting instructions:

From the fabric, cut the following four pieces.

All pieces should be cut along the length-wise grain (longest direction of fabric):

  • for apron body/lower pocket, cut one rectangle, 19 1/4" by 48"
  • for upper pocket, cut one rectangle, 19 1/4" by 17"
  • for sprayer loops, cut one rectangle, 3" by 12"
  • for waistband, cut one rectangle along selvedge 3 5/8" by user's waist measurement plus 6" (for example, for 30-inch waist, 3 5/8" by 36", cut along the selvedge).
Sewing Instructions:

Note: This method uses ironed-in creases to serve as alignment guides. Press each crease sufficiently to mark the guide, but do not make a sharp crease.

Seam allowances are 5/8" throughout.

Pre-wash fabric in a washing machine, using the same water temperature and dryer settings that you will use to care for the completed apron.

Upper Pocket:
  1. Fold upper pocket piece in half, wrong sides together, . Press. Folded piece should measure 19 1/4" by 8 1/2".
  2. Press under one-half inch along the raw edge of the upper pocket rectangle.
  3. Fold apron body piece, right sides together. The fold should measure 12 inches down from short end. Press the fold to crease. Open apron body piece.
  4. Align upper pocket along the pressed crease on the apron body piece, with the folded edge upward and the pressed-under edge down and next to the apron body. The upper pocket should be placed 4 inches down from the top of the apron body.
  5. Stitch sides and bottoms of the upper pocket piece.
  6. Fold apron body/upper pocket assembly lengthwise, right sides together. Press the fold to crease. Open the apron body/upper pocket assembly.
  7. On left side, fold edge of the apron body/upper pocket assembly one-third of the way toward the center crease. Press. Fold again, touching the center crease. Press, and open the apron body/upper pocket assembly completely.
  8. Sew pocket divisions along the creased lines. Tip: to make it easy to find shorter tools, "step up" the bottom stitching on one or two of the smaller pockets.
sew a cleaning apron Lower Pocket:
  1. Fold apron body in half crosswise, wrong sides together. At the folded edge, fold up again, 8 inches wide, and press the fold to mark the crease. Unfold the second fold, but leave the apron body folded in half.
  2. Stitch along the crease to form the bottom pocket flap.
  3. Open the apron body. Fold the bottom pocket flap toward the upper pocket and the top of the apron. Fold the apron body in half lengthwise, right sides together. Press to crease.
  4. Open the apron body. Stitch bottom pocket sides to the apron body along seamlines.
sew a cleaning apron Sprayer Loops:
  1. Fold sprayer loop piece in half lengthwise, wrong sides together. Press to crease. Open.
  2. Fold both long edges of sprayer loop piece toward the creased line. Press.
  3. On right side, pin ends of sprayer loop pieces to apron body side just above upper pockets. Baste along seam line.
sew a cleaning apron Apron Body:
  1. Fold apron body in half crosswise, right sides together, over upper and lower pockets, and matching top and bottom.
  2. Stitch along both sides, over previously-stitched pockets and basted sprayer loops.
  3. Turn right side out. Snip excess fabric from seam allowances and press.
  4. Top-stitch along all finished edges, turning at bottom pocket and stitching bottom pocket division along central crease.
  5. Sew two lines of gathering stitches (longest stitch length) 3/8" and 3/4" from the upper, raw edge of apron body.
sew a cleaning apron Waistband and Finishing:
  1. Fuse waistband interfacing to waistband piece. Align wide side of interfacing along selvedge of waistband piece. Fuse according to interfacing directions.
  2. Fold waistband in half lengthwise. On the raw edge, mark the waistband center by snipping a small triangle from the seam allowance.
  3. On the raw edge of the waistband, measure 7" from either side of the snipped center marking. Mark the waistband on each side to mark placement for the apron body.
  4. Pin the right side of the waistband to the right side of the upper apron body, matching waistband center markings to central crease of the apron body.
  5. Pull the gathering threads gently, and gather the apron to meet the placement marks on the waistband. Pin each side.
  6. Stitch the apron body to the waistband between placement marks. Remove gathering stitching.
  7. Turn seam toward waistband center. Press up 5/8" along remainder of raw waistband seam. Press up 5/8" along waistband ends.
  8. Fold waistband in half, wrong sides together, along fold line of waistband interfacing. Top-stitch along all sides of the waistband, 1/8 inch from the edge.
  9. To apply Velcro brand hook and loop fastener, sew "hook" portion of fastener to the right side of one end ofthe waistband. Center the Velcro strip beginning 1/4 inch from the end of the waistband, and sew around all edges, backstitching when finished.
  10. Sew "loop" portion of Velcro fastener to the wrong side of remaining waistband end. Center the Velcro strip beginning 1/4 inch from the end of the waistband, and sew around all edges, backstitching when finished.
sew a cleaning apron Optional: Add A Graphic //-->

Have a color printer? Using T-shirt transfer paper, apply a graphic to your Clean Sweep Apron. We've supplied one here, or use your own.

To copy this graphic to your hard drive in Internet Explorer, click the right mouse button anywhere on the graphic. Select the "Save Picture As" button, and save the graphic to your hard drive.

To copy this image in Netscape Navigator, click the right mouse button anywhere on the graphic. Select the "Save Image As" button, and save the graphic to your hard drive.

sew a cleaning apron - graphic

While we're not able to offer technical support for graphic transfers, here are some tips for successful graphic transfer:

  • Select transfer paper manufactured specifically for your printer. Not all ink/transfer paper combinations work well.
  • Follow the manufacturer's instructions for printing, trimming and applying your transfer. Pay special attention to temperature and cooling recommendations.
  • Set printers to high quality, and make sure that any special paper options are properly selected.
  • Remember to reverse graphics! Transfers will appear as a mirror image, so be sure to flip or rotate graphics before use.
  • More questions? Check the Web. Most printer manufacturers have web sites and discussion groups to share questions and ideas for using graphic transfer technologies.

Wipe Out! Make Your Own Cleaning Wipes

homemade cleaning wipesPosted by Cynthia Ewer on February 10, 2014

Who doesn't love commercial cleaning wipes?

They're wickedly convenient--but also wickedly expensive and often contain harsh chemicals.

The alternative: make your own refillable cleaning wipes!

Homemade cleaning wipes are easy to make, economical, and contain only those cleaning agents you select. Use them in the kitchen, the bathroom, or for cleaning windows.

Put homemade cleaning wipes to work for you in your organized home with our easy instructions and cleaning recipes.

Homemade Cleaning Wipes Materials and Equipment Needed:
  • cylindrical or tall square plastic food storage container, 10-cup capacity
  • extra-large roll of paper towels
  • cleaning agents of your choice (recipes follow)
  • electric drill with 1/2-inch drill bit
  • electric knife
  • liquid measuring cups
Instructions:

In the garage or workshop area, place a small block of wood beneath the plastic food storage container lid. Use electric drill to drill a 1/2-inch diameter hole in the center of the container lid.

For best results, select an extra-large roll of good quality paper towels for this project. Less-expensive towels fray or shred when pulled through the holder; thicker quilted towels have greater cleaning strength and withstand more scrubbing. Even at $1.39 per roll, cost for homemade wipes will be less than 75 cents, not including the storage container.

Without removing the paper towel wrapper, use the electric knife to cut the paper towel roll into two shorter rolls. Be patient! It may take up to two minutes to cut through the towel roll and cardboard tube inside.

Remove the wrapper, and place one short paper towel roll inside plastic food storage container. Save the second roll for a refill later.

Using a liquid measuring cup, gently pour one of the following cleaning solution recipes over the top of the paper towel roll.

Place the lid on the plastic food storage container, and allow paper towels to absorb cleaning solution for 4 hours to overnight.

Open the food storage container. Gently pull the wet cardboard tube from the center of the paper towel roll and discard.

Carefully pull the end of the paper towels from the inside, where the cardboard roll had been. Thread the end of the towels through the hole in the lid, and replace the lid.

Pull gently on the exposed end to separate the cleaning wipe.

Homemade Cleaning Wipes Recipes

You will need between 2 and 4 cups of cleaning solution to fill your homemade cleaning wipes container, depending on the size and absorbency of the paper towel product selected. These cleaning recipes make about three cups of solution; increase or decrease amounts if needed.

General Surface Cleaning Recipe:
  • 1 1/2 cups white vinegar
  • 1 1/2 cups water
Disinfectant Cleaning:
  • 1/4 to 1/2 cup pine cleaning solution such as Pine-Sol brand
  • 2 1/2 to 2 3/4 cup water
Window and Glass Cleaning:
  • 1/2 cup rubbing (isopropyl) alcohol
  • 2 1/2 cups water
  • 1 tablespoon white vinegar
Tips: //-->

As you use the wipes, they will begin to dry out, so add more water and/or cleaning solution as necessary. Allow wipes to stand overnight before continuing to use them after adding more solution.

You may vary the strength of the cleaning solutions as necessary for your household, using more cleaning agents for a stronger wipe, less solution and more water for a milder product.

Chill Out! Cut Energy Use In Refrigerator And Freezer

Posted by Cynthia Ewer on January 31, 2014

With food prices soaring and energy costs at record highs, it's time for an energy-saving tune up for your refrigerator and freezer.

Keeping food fresh--while conserving energy--can bring a helpful boost to the strained food budget.

Try these tips to minimize energy use and save money on groceries:

Fill the freezer, but give the fridge some air

The freezer works most efficiently when packed as full as possible. Need to fill in some space? Tuck extra ice for cold drinks or cold-packs for summer picnics into any empty space in the freezer.

A black-out bonus: full freezers keep food frozen longer if a power outage occurs.

The refrigerator is a different animal; it needs air circulation to keep food at an even temperature.

Packing a refrigerator too tightly means some foods become too cold--and may even freeze--while others aren't kept cold enough for proper storage. Let the refrigerator breathe to keep food fresh longer.

Match foods to the right microclimate

Since hot air rises and cold air sinks--and because every refrigerator has its own unique weather pattern of chilly breezes--be sure to assign foods to the right neighborhood inside the refrigerator.

A cold spot near the cold-air inlet makes a good home for meat or poultry, but will freeze and spoil a head of lettuce.

Keep produce cool, condiments cold and proteins downright chilly for longest food life.

Track temperatures

A thermometer can be a key to saving money in refrigerator or freezer. Too-cold temperatures waste energy, while too-warm temps lead to premature food spoilage.

Use a thermometer to monitor refrigerator temperatures; they should be set to between 36 and 38 degrees Fahrenheit. In the freezer, shoot for a temperature range between zero and 5 degrees Fahrenheit.

Be sure to pay attention when the seasons change; a temperature setting that works well for the winter months may need to be adjusted during hotter weather.

Take the "dollar bill" test

Leaky door seals are a main culprit for energy loss in both refrigerator and freezer. Improperly-sealed doors let cold air escape, making the unit work harder and cutting food quality. 

Check door seals with the "dollar bill" test. Close the refrigerator or freezer door on a dollar bill. A well-sealed door will hold tight to the money; if the bill falls out, or can be slid around easily, it's time to clean or replace the door gasket.

Clean condenser coils

Condenser coils do the heavy lifting of creating cold air, but they can't radiate heat properly if their surface is coated with dust or grime. 

Use a coil brush or the vacuum cleaner's extension wand to clean the condenser coils behind or beneath the refrigerator. 

Clean coils cost less to operate, and because they work more quickly to chill the air, keeping them clean will extend the useful life of your appliance.

Find it fast with a freezer inventory //-->

Rummaging through a packed freezer in search of a pound of ground beef can waste a lot of power.

Keep visits to the freezer short, sweet and energy-efficient with a printable freezer inventory form.

It'll track what you have and let you find your frozen assets in record time--and let the freezer keep its cool for best energy savings.

Printables: 

Challenge Day 10: Clean Like A Pro

clean like a proPosted by Cynthia Ewer on January 14, 2014

This week's Cleaning Grand Plan Challenge assignment focuses on the entryway or foyer, but for the next 13 weeks, there'll be a whole lot of cleaning going on.

How to make cleaning chores fly? Learn to clean like a pro!

Brushing up on cleaning skills, fine-tuning your cleaning tote, and learning the ropes of efficient cleaning will make Challenge assignments easier.

Today's Assignment:
Take Tips from Professional Cleaners

This week sees us settle into the meat of the Cleaning Grand Plan Challenge. Moving furniture, washing walls and windows, and busting dust in the entryway can be a big job.

To stay the course, you'll want to make cleaning as easy as possible.

To do so, take a tip from the pros. Professional cleaners are masters of easy, efficient cleaning methods. They don't waste time hunting for supplies, re-doing work, or cleaning areas that aren't dirty.

Get our best round-up of tips from professional cleaners to speed your way on the Cleaning Grand Plan Challenge:

Speed-Clean Tips from Cleaning Pros

Challenge Day 7: Weekend Wrap-Up

Preview Week Wrap-UpPosted by Cynthia Ewer on January 11, 2014

The weekend's here! Time to take stock of the week's progress at the Cleaning Grand Plan Challenge.

Preview Week saw us store holiday decorations, and tidy up after last year's holiday season.

How have you fared on the Cleaning Grand Plan Challenge so far? Be sure to celebrate your progress today, as we wrap up Preview Week!

Today's Assignment:
Celebrate Your Progress

Writing to you from back here behind the monitor, I can hear what you may be thinking: "Oh no! Only one week, and I'm already behind!"

Sound familiar? Signing on to a get-organized plan like the Cleaning Grand Plan Challenge is a great way to springboard personal change ... if you can avoid some common pitfalls.

Chief among these: viewing the Challenge as a competition or a race. One with winners, losers, and a ticking stopwatch.

For many of us, the week's end brings a sinking feeling. Rather than focusing on the progress we've made, we zero in on our perceived shortfalls.

We tell ourselves that we didn't "finish". We didn't achieve as much as others. We're already "behind".

Hogwash! Repeat after me: "There is No Such Thing as 'Behind'!"

The Cleaning Grand Plan Challenge is meant to be a guideline, not a board game. Every step forward is, well, a step forward!

To keep motivation flowing, refocus your vision.

Taking stock of what you've achieved this week, not on what you've "failed" to do, is the key to making steady, forward progress.

Keep that viewpoint in mind, as we work together toward a clean and organized home, each one at his or her own pace!

Challenge Day 6: Update Address Books

Update Address BooksPosted by Cynthia Ewer on January 10, 2014

For many of us, it's the last evidence of Christmas Past: a piled-up heap of Christmas cards, letters and photos. Time to tuck away those holiday greetings.

Whether you'll read and recycle, or file cards and letters away, stop!

Before you consign Christmas cards and letters to their forever home, take advantage of this treasure trove of information about loved ones, friends, and neighbors.

Today's Assignment
Update Address Books

To stay in touch with loved ones throughout the year, schedule a post-holiday address book update.

Sit down with planner, smartphone or computer and that big box of holiday greetings.

You may read to your heart's content, but you must make note of new addresses.

Reassess the way you keep this important information. Still scribbling and scrawling in a battered old address book? Perhaps this is the year to move contacts to the smartphone or computer.

Already there on the tech side? Take this time to prune and correct your contacts, adding home addresses to phone numbers and e-mail addresses for a more robust contacts manager.

Note any names whose holiday cards that were returned because of an incorrect address.

During the year to come, be on the lookout for a new address. Friends are too important to lose for want of correct contact information

Double-check telephone numbers. E-mail addresses make it easy to keep in touch with far-flung friends --- so check and correct them where necessary.

Finally, make note of any changes in the lives of family and friends. A new baby? Add the full name to your address book, and you won't fumble when you ask for family updates next time you chat.

Challenge Day 5: Inventory Cleaning Products

inventory cleaning productsPosted by Cynthia Ewer on January 9, 2014

Cleaning products are your closest ally in the war against grime--but they can be expensive, and their effectiveness can fall all over the map.

What's in your cleaning cupboard? Are your cleaning partners up to the job ahead?

You'll want to choose cleaning products carefully to cut time spent on chores as we work our way through the Cleaning Grand Plan.

Today's Assignment
Inventory Cleaning Supplies

Deep-cleaning is nobody's idea of a great time, but we've got a lot of it ahead on the Cleaning Grand Plan Challenge.

To make your hard work count, it's time to consider cleaning supplies. Are those bottles and sprayers and cans doing their best for you?

Deep-cleaning chores are different from their everyday clean-up cousins.

Spray-and-wipe solutions work well for surface soil, but won't do the job when it comes to washing walls, cleaning and polishing furniture, or cleaning floors.

Enter our hard-working friends: specialty cleaning products for big jobs. Concentrated products, diluted and applied with cleaning cloth or sponge, make quick work of big jobs.

Even if you never stray from pop-up cleaning wipes for daily cleaning, you'll want to bring on the big guns for the Challenge cleaning assignments ahead.

Surprise! Hard-working cleaning products don't have to be expensive, and many of them are as close as your pantry.

Better, it's not necessary to buy out the cleaning aisle at the local supermarket. A short list of versatile cleaners will mop up most any assignment in the coming weeks.

Today, take inventory of cleaning products in your home.

While all of us will have slightly different challenges, most of us will want to have stocks of these cleaners on hand as we prepare for the Cleaning Grand Plan Challenge:

  • light-duty evaporating cleaner (glass cleaner or multi-surface cleaner)
  • heavy-duty degreasing cleaner
  • tile cleaner
  • powdered abrasive cleanser
  • furniture cleaner (oil soap)
  • furniture polish or wax

If your home includes specialty surfaces, such as stainless steel or marble, add appropriate specialized cleaners to your list.

Interested in making your own green cleaners? Try these recipes for homemade cleaning products:

Pantry Recipes for Homemade Cleaning Products

Challenge Day 4: Banish Those Boxes

Posted by Cynthia Ewer on January 8, 2014

For most of us, the holiday season brings a bumper crop ... of boxes!

Stacked and scattered through house, garage and storage areas, they've shipped gifts, contained new toys or encased electronics.

Now they're empty and taking up space; it's only a matter of time before they attract more clutter to join their ranks.

It's time to banish them to clear space in your organized home.

Today's Assignment:
March Mailing Boxes Out The Door

They're Ghosts of Christmas Past, but camouflaged and in disguise: the boxes and containers that came into your home over the holiday season.

Are they loitering in the corners or hanging out in the garage? Time to turf them to reclaim your space!

Recycle Mailing Boxes

Today, recycle mailing boxes left over from Christmas. Remove and salvage packing materials to empty the boxes.

Extra bubble wrap, packing peanuts and foam wrapping will come in handy throughout the year, so bag these items and store them in the wrap and mail center.

Once boxes are empty, use scissors or a box cutter to flatten empty boxes and add to the recycle bin, or drive them to a collection point.

Declutter with a Holiday Mailing Box Challenge

Recycling is a great option, but to supercharge the war on clutter? Take the Holiday Mailing Box Challenge!

Grab one, two or all of the empty mailing boxes floating around your home. Moving room to room, fill each one with items for donation, then deliver the lot to the nearest charity collection area.

Each item you declutter today means one less thing to deal with during the rest of the Challenge. You'll kill two clutter birds with one box!

Check out more ideas for cutting clutter after Christmas:

Post-Christmas Cleanup: Clutter-Cutting Ideas for Year's End

Do you have an organized location to wrap gifts and prepare boxes for mailing? Try this tip from sister site, Organized Christmas:

Set Up a Wrap and Mail Center

Challenge Day 3: Clean Out the Refrigerator!

New Year Refrigerator Clean-OutPosted by Cynthia Ewer on January 7, 2014

A week into January, it's easy to spot our New Year's resolutions going adrift. No matter how earnestly we make them, it's hard for resolutions to survive the rapids of daily life.

Time, money and energy seem in short supply in early January, so how to keep the progress going toward that new and more organized life?

Today, take 20 minutes to recharge most New Year's Resolutions: clean out the refrigerator.

Yes, I said, "Clean out the refrigerator!" Whether you've resolved to lose weight, adopt a more healthy lifestyle, or get organized at home, a refrigerator clean-out can help.

It's the perfect way to put resolutions on the road to reality. A New Year's refrigerator clean-out will escort the last remnants of holiday treats to the garbage can and clean away the grime left behind by all that seasonal cooking. Completing the exercise, you'll reorganize food storage areas to support a new, healthy lifestyle, learn from your past shopping mistakes, and get motivated to make better buying decisions in the future.

Ready? Kick off a great New Year with a new you ... in the kitchen!

Resolutions Rescue: Clean Out the Refrigerator

Challenge Day 2: Haul Away the Holidays

Posted by Cynthia Ewer on January 6, 2014

All good things must come to an end, and so it is with the holiday season.

Is the Ghost of Christmas Past still haunting your house?

Even if decorations have been boxed and banished until next year, holiday stragglers can still circle the house for weeks to come. We've got a tip to tame these last few holiday hold-outs!

It's time to haul off the holidays, and prepare for the new year on Day 2 of the Cleaning Grand Plan Challenge!

Today's Assignment:
Plan to Pack Away Christmas

If you haven't done so already, this week is the time to take down the tree, store holiday decorations, and tuck away the season for another year.

Today, find time during the week for a holiday tear-down. You'll want to kick off the Cleaning Grand Plan without the extra burden of seasonal decorations!

But even if you've already stored holiday decor, Ghosts of Christmas Past can still roam the house.

Whether it's linens in the laundry room, overlooked decorations, or clearance-aisle purchases for next year, do you have a plan for holiday stragglers?

Here's a simple solution to ensure that these last few items find a good home, fast--so they'll be easy to find next year:

Seasonal Storage Tip: Make a Holiday Stragglers Box

Challenge Day 1: It's Preview Week!

Cleaning Grand Plan ChallengePosted by Cynthia Ewer on January 5, 2014

Ready to clean house for the New Year? It's Preview Week at the 2014 Cleaning Grand Plan Challenge!

Our 14-week Challenge kicks off with a transitional week, designed to put the holidays to bed and prepare for the organizing and cleaning projects ahead.

During Preview Week, we'll get the Challenge rolling, banish the Ghost of Christmas Past, and review the basic elements of an organized life.

Be it resolved: in 2014, it's time to live clean and serene ... in an organized home!

Today's Assignment:
Calendars and Reminders Review the Challenge calendar

On this kick-off day, make a good start on your whole-house cleaning plan by reviewing the Challenge calendar. The Cleaning Grand Plan sets out a road map to a Spring-clean house, but is it the best path for you? Apartment dwellers scratch their heads when told to clean out storage in attic or basement. Multi-child families need two weeks, not one, to tackle children's bedrooms. Travel, vacations or holidays pop up to derail the week's assignments.

Here's the word from on high: that's fine! Be ready to alter the Challenge to suit your own individual circumstances. Crafting a custom plan that works for you and your household is the secret to success.

Today, review the Challenge calendar with an eye to your own needs. Be ready to alter, delete, combine or stretch the Cleaning Grand Plan to fit your preferences, your house, and your energy level.

Print the Challenge Calendars:

Cleaning Grand Plan Calendar 1
Cleaning Grand Plan Calendar 2

Choose how you'll receive reminders

In the glow of the New Year, it's easy to sign on for self-improvement programs like the Challenge. The hard part? Translating that commitment to day-to-day action.

That's where reminders come in. Each day, I'll publish a reminder message to help you stay on track.

In these daily messages, we'll talk about the basic components of an organized life, share tips on cutting clutter, and remind you of the week's goals. I'll share ideas from my newest book, The Complete Idiot's Guide to Getting Organized Fast-Track and clue you in on ways to speed cleaning chores and routines.

Today, decide how you'll receive daily reminder messages. Whether you bookmark the Cleaning Challenge home page, subscribe to e-mail reminders from Google's Feedburner service or follow us on the Cleaning Challenge Facebook page or Twitter, you'll keep up with the Challenge day-by-day.

Follow the 2014 Cleaning Grand Plan Challenge:

Printables: 

Get Organized: Tap the Power of Planners

Posted by Cynthia Ewer on January 2, 2014

Imagine a genie, a butler, a secret servant at your fingertips.

Someone who remembers everything: when your kindergartner got his last round of immunizations, the name and number of that other Mom in the soccer carpool, what your second cousin named her latest baby.

Every home manager needs this informational paragon, but no one has to scour deserted beaches for a jeweled bottle.

This secret servant is called a planner--and every home manager worth her gym socks needs to have one.

What is a planner? It's a collection of information, portable and accessible.

There are only two rules for planner use: use a single planner, and take it with you everywhere. No sticky notes, no stacks or scraps of paper, no notes on the back of the phone book. One planner, surgically attached to your body. Into it goes everything, every name, address, phone number, idea and list.

Form is not important. Some home managers use simple 3-ring notebooks with our printables, while others lay out big money for creamy leather binders and pretty pre-printed pages.

Tech-minded home managers tote a smart phone in a shirt pocket or rely on cloud-synced computers to keep them on track. All of these are planners--and all will serve as a stabilizing rudder in the maelstrom of a home manager's life.

What's in a planner? Every home manager has different needs, but these are the basic components of a planner:

Calendars

Calendars are the backbone of a planner. Most crucial is the date book or appointment calendar. Whether a month, a week, or a day at a time, the date book component gets you where you're going, and on time, too.

Note work schedules, children's activities, doctor appointments, class meetings, social events and the arrival of the dreaded workmen in the appointment calendar. One glance will tell you whether you can chaperone a field trip, or whether you'll be home waiting for the cable installer that day.

Annual calendars record recurring information. Birthdays, anniversaries and holidays can be recorded once and remembered forever.

Annual calendars prevent scheduling disasters. Church deacons won't schedule the annual meeting for Superbowl Sunday and Cub Scout den leaders won't hold the Blue-and-Gold Banquet during Ski Week if they create and carry an annual calendar.

Finally, planning calendars track projects and guide goals. An ambitious home redecorating plan becomes possible when broken down into weekly goals and noted on the planning calendar.

Planning calendars prepare for vacation, carry out fall cleaning, and get ready for the holidays. It's a tool to track emphasis and direction at any one time.

To-Do Lists

If the calendars are the bones of a planner, to-do lists form the muscles: they get the work done. There are two kinds of to-do lists: a daily/weekly list, and a master to-do list.

Start with the master to-do list. This is a section in the planner devoted to slaying mind flies. Does your head ring with mind flies, those pesky little gotta-do thoughts? Kill them by writing them down on the master to-do list.

Order and priority aren't the issue; the function of the master to-do list is to get those buzzing thoughts pinned down where they can be dealt with.

A nifty side effect: once fixed in the master to-do list, mind flies no longer infest the brain. Peace and quiet rule the mental domain.

A sample master to-do list might look like this:

  • Get a new drivers' license
  • Make appointment for eye exam
  • Redecorate home office
  • Order new mattress
  • Wash car
  • Sign up for landscape design class
  • Learn French
  • Deliver computer donations to computer recyclers
  • Return serving trays to Jackie and Betty

A good master to-do list is a mix of goals and aspirations, errands and minutia. It's Mind Fly Central, a place to put those buzzing reminders into concrete form--the first step toward reaching those goals!

Don't worry if your list stretches for pages and pages. You're killing flies! As time passes, you'll have a record of the good work you've accomplished. Looking back at all the crossed-off items boosts motivation like nothing else can.

From the master to-do list comes daily or weekly to-do lists. Frequency depends on the complexity of your life. Mothers of young children may find frequent interruptions and the demands of child care mandate a flexible weekly list. A working mom with teen children may need the more intense tracking of a daily list.

Either way, the method is the same. Use the planner's list section to record each daily or weekly list. Each list should contain the day's recurring chores--cleaning, shopping, errands--and one or more items from the Master To-Do List.

Check the master to-do list regularly, and try to slay one or more mind flies each day--and because homemaking can drown aspirations and goals, be sure to add one "next step to a goal" item to the day's list. Achieving progress toward goals can reassure that there is more to life than carpools and clean-ups!

Address Book

Next-most-useful tool of a planner is the address book component. Don't stop with mere names, addresses and phone numbers! Add personal information like babies' names, birthdays, and e-mail addresses.

Computerized planner users can print Christmas card lists and mailing labels, too--but all planner users have the sweet relief of being able to remember what Susan named her new baby. Think of the brownie points for asking an old friend, "And how is little Sarah? She must be close to 18 months old by now!"

Create a special section in the planner for personal Yellow Pages forms. Unless your family name is Young, the XYZ page is a natural for these entries. Make it a rule: each time you look up a number for pizza, plumbers or party supplies, write it down in the planner's yellow pages. Next time the Senior Girl Scout sleepover is at your house, you'll be glad to know exactly which pizza parlor delivers to your neighborhood.

Journal

Whether you journal for fun, for self-development or as a spiritual tool, the planner's journal section is for you. Tracking the days of your life can be fun--and most commercial planners incorporate a journal feature.

Information Pages

A home manager's planner can be a Mother Lode of information, pun intended. If you need to know it, "it" needs a planner page. Some sample pages might include:

  • Master shopping list
  • Menu planner
  • Family health record
  • Phone roster of volunteer organization
  • Babysitters' names and numbers
  • Home dec planner, with measurements and sketches
  • Travel packing checklist
  • Checkbook register
  • Party planning pages
  • Homeschool records
  • List of sewing patterns or floss numbers
  • Christmas card and gift lists
  • Online account usernames and passwords
  • Book lists
  • Videos to rent

Information pages can--and should--be highly individualistic. A mother of young children will have party ideas, play date planners, library book lists and sports informations in her planner. An empty-nest working grandmother could include book club schedules, industry contacts, or decor ideas.

Make your planner reflect you in all your individual glory!The goal is to have that magic genie at your fingertips. What information should travel with you wherever you go?

It's all grist for the planner--and the planner is the secret weapon of every organized home manager.

Whatever the form, savvy home managers harness the power of planners. After all, we have better things to do, like rear our children, love our husbands, and do our life's work.

A planner is the closest thing on earth to a magic genie. It does the dirty work, so we can focus on the important things: our families and our lives.

Don't leave home without one!

New Year, New You: Tips to Keep New Year's Resolutions

Posted by Cynthia Ewer on December 30, 2013

It's the magic night: a new decade dawns at midnight! 

Along with the balloons and streamers come the New Years' Resolutions--it's as much a part of the celebration as the noisemakers! Will you resolve to get organized, lose weight, bring order to your home? 

This year, resolve to keep those resolutions, not just make them! Try these tips from sister site Organized Christmas to make New Years' Resolutions a vehicle for real personal change: 

New Year, New You: Keeping New Years' Resolutions

Don't miss the free printable New Years' Resolutions tracker:

New Years' Resolutions Tracker

Topics: Seasonal Spin

Party Time: Four Steps To Easy Entertaining

planning tips for holiday partiesPosted by Cynthia Ewer on December 16, 2013

Shhh! Don't look now, but the holidays are right around the corner. Will you be ready to offer hospitality in your home?

Busy home managers have many reasons to dread entertaining, whether it's drop-in visitors or a large party. Entertaining can be costly, in time and in money. Our homes may not measure up to the standard touted in glossy furniture store ads. Often, we're unsure of ourselves in the role of hostess. Many of us didn't learn the knack at Mother's knee-yet we still measure ourselves against her yardstick.

Take heart! Changing times have brought changing ideas and standards. Entertaining doesn't need to be stressful. With an attitude adjustment and some advance planning, even the busiest home manager can entertain with ease.

Step One: Change Your Mind

The biggest obstacle to easy entertaining? Us! Too often, we have strict notions about what constitutes hospitality. We think "dinner party" and fret about whether the towels match the shower curtain-and we miss the whole point of the effort.

What does "entertaining" mean to you? Take a moment, and think of what springs to mind. Do you worry about your lack of fine china and polished silver? Do you fret about the furniture? Do you thumb frantically through cookbooks and food magazines, looking for just the right recipes? Do you vow to bar the door to guests until you've cleaned the house from attic to cellar? Time for an attitude adjustment! All these concerns are irrelevant to true hospitality.

The first step to easy entertaining is to put the focus where it belongs: on the guests. It's helpful to redefine your terms. Do you "entertain" or do you offer hospitality?

Those who entertain take aim on material things: house, food, dishes, decorations. They view each dinner party as a production that must be scheduled, coordinated and directed to perfection. The event takes place in a stage set of polished furniture, cleaned carpet and precisely-set tables. Too often, the "entertainer" is so stressed and exhausted by all the preparation that she doesn't enjoy her own party! With this mindset, entertaining is a chore, to be done as infrequently as possible.

One who offers hospitality has a different focus: her guests. To her, hospitality is about sharing. Her hospitable home welcomes visitors and draws them into the warm family circle as treasured guests. Her values put people before floral centerpieces and ironed napkins. She may engage in as much preparation as the "entertainer," but she knows that when a guest feels truly welcome, the state of the floors is unimportant.

Start by changing your mind. Will you offer hospitality this holiday season? Or will you stage an entertainment? Resolve to put first things--your guests--first on your list. Armed with this mindset, you'll avoid the perfectionist traps that stand ready to snare the entertainer.

Step Two: Prepare For The Unexpected

Do-ahead preparations will take the stress out of drop-in visitors, and free you to enjoy visits from unexpected guests. Purchase or prepare hospitality supplies: crackers, some good cheese (the smellier the better to deter grazing children) frozen cookies or slices of cake. Child-proof the latter by wrapping aluminum foil and labeling as "liver and onions" before you freeze!

Keep a stock of good tea bags and coffee on hand, and assemble a teapot, sugar bowl and creamer, and several good teacups in one spot. Invite your guests to join you in the kitchen as you swish about efficiently, assembling a welcoming snack!


Step Three: Be A Smart Party Planner

When it comes to parties, nothing beats the power of planning. For holiday parties, that principle is twice true.

If you're going to throw a holiday party, begin early. The busy holiday season is the very last time you want to experience pre-party chaos.

Try this 10-point holiday party game plan:

  1. Set the date. Be creative! Holiday parties don't necessarily have to take place on the two Saturdays before Christmas, or even during the busy pre-holiday period. Our familoy celebrates Twelfth Night, holding our annual holiday bash the first weekend after January 1. Our friend Marianne has carved out the Tuesday evening between Christmas and New Years Day for her special dinner party. CEO's Mom throws an annual Texas New Year's party on New Year's Day. All three functions have become institutions, parties that guests look forward to attending year after year. Schedule your party around a less-traditional date, and guests are much more likely to be able to attend.
  2. Make a Master Guest List. The single most important piece of paper for party planning is the guest list. List guests, and record acceptances and regrets. A party planner must know who and how many will be attending. Print Party Planning Forms from the Organized Christmas Forms Library, including a party budget, guest list and. party planner form.
  3. Get the word out early. The holiday season is a busy time. Make sure your guests know about your party in time to attend. Send invitations at least 4 weeks early for holiday parties.
  4. Plan food and drink. What refreshments will be offered at your party? Start a party menu list. One important bit of information is to plan serving sizes. How many of each appetizer should you include for each guest? In CEO's experience, this quantity will vary depending on where you live. Folks on the West Coast tend to take only a nibble of everything, but in the South, food is much more important. As a general rule? Plan for ten total appetizers per guest, but be prepared to ratchet that number up or down depending on where you live. Same principle applies to beverages.
  5. Rehearse your recipes! Would-be hostesses can be seduced by the power of print. Don't be caught trying new recipes from holiday cooking magazines on party day! If you're going to serve a recipe you've never made before, be sure you test it before the party. Better, keep things simple, using tried-and-true favorites. A holiday party is no time to debut fancy recipes. What's hum-drum to you will be new and interesting to your guests.
  6. Map the party. Decide where you'll set up beverages, food, and decorations. Try to space food and drink so that guests don't knot up around one table or in one room. Spread things out, and everyone will be more comfortable. If you need to rearrange or remove furniture, make a note now so you can delegate the job on Party Day.
  7. Make your house party-friendly. Too many times, party-givers succumb to a frenzy of cleaning and home improvements. Instead, clean only the public areas of the house, and forget about overkill like cleaning carpets and drapes. Only exception? Bathrooms. Make sure bathrooms are sparkling, as this is the area where guests will get a close look at your home. Have a coat closet or hanging rack available for outerwear and handbags. Store delicate bric-a-brac that could be broken if bumped or jostled. Provide lots of napkins and coasters. Make it easy for guests to have fun!
  8. Smooth the path to Party Night with a countdown plan. Counting back from the time of the party, plan how you'll get the work done. Think through everything you'll need to do to prepare for the party and schedule each chore. Set aside time for shopping, to prepare appetizers, do any final cleaning, and set up beverage centers. Look hard at your list, and DOUBLE the time allotted to each chore. On Party Day, you'll be glad you built in extra time for yourself.
  9. Enjoy your party! Once the doorbell rings, resolve to let go of logistics and enjoy your guests. Wherever you are in the preparation process, stop right there and let the party happen. Don't fuss around doing the last bits of this and that. Your guests would rather visit with you than eat that one last tray of baked hors d'oeuvres.
  10. Handle mishaps with grace. Every hostess in the world has had disasters, large or small, mar a party. How you respond to problems determines whether your guests are made comfortable or are embarrassed. Someone spills red wine on a white carpet? A hospitable hostess smiles as she quickly dumps salt on the stain, reassures her guest and moves on. Somebody who grabs towels and carpet cleaner and fusses and moans makes everyone uncomfortable.

Step Four: Practice Holiday Hospitality

This year, resolve to add the joys of hospitality to your holiday celebration. Practiced properly, hospitality is an art and a ministry-and it gives more to the giver than the recipient.

During the holidays, stretch a little. Reach out to the people around you, and move outside your comfort zone. Invite the new neighbors to a pick-up dinner with your family. After church, introduce yourself to the older couple you don't know well. Encourage your teens to bring their friends home for a cookie bake, and enjoy a noisy evening getting to know your children's friends.

Hospitality isn't about house, food or furniture. It's about heart. This holiday season, open the door to your heart, just a crack. You will be blessed, indeed!

Freezer Cooking Guide: How To Cook Once, Eat For A Month

Posted by Cynthia Ewer on November 11, 2013

Are you ready to cook once, eat for a month? Time to try freezer cooking!

The concept of freezer cooking goes by many names. Once-a-month cooking. Frozen assets. OAMC. Meal assembly. Each describes the practice of assembling partially-prepared entrees in bulk for freezer storage.

Made in multiple and needing only reheating or final preparations, freezer meals are an easy way to feed the family fast ... and cheap.

Because you make several meals at once, economies of scale speed cooking chores. Buying in bulk saves money. Home preparation fosters better nutrition.

Better still, options like "meal assembly franchises" help home cooks build frozen assets quickly.

While pricier than home-prepared freezer meals, a cooking session at a franchise like Dream Dinners® or Super Suppers® can stock the freezer and teach freezer cooking methods to be used at home.

Whether you cook once and eat for a month, sneak up on freezer cooking, or fill the freezer from the meal assembly franchise, get ready to feed the family--fast!---with our complete guide to freezer cooking.

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