Vacation season is kicking into full gear and so is the search for available house sitters. Whether you just need the house checked for security and the mail picked up or you need someone to care for the living things you leave behind (i.e. pets, house plants, and landscaping), knowing someone is handling things back home can make your vacation that much more relaxing.
I recently spent a week house, pet, & plant sitting for family. Thanks to their forethought and attention to detail, it was smooth for me, and I’d like to believe, fairly atraumatic for their three pets. Our pre-departure conversations gave me a clear picture of what they needed and the demand it would make on my own schedule. Detailed written lists made it easy for me to settle in and keep the pets in a routine.
Here are some considerations that will make your own house sitting experience better:
Clearly define the assistance needed and the estimated time investment up front. Let them know your expectations. Do you wish them to stop in every day or stay in your home? Will they be just checking mail, or tending to pets and plants, as well? If there’s a chance your travel time may be extended, mention it ahead of time. If the sitter will not be available, you may need a Plan B. Better to know now and set it up, before you leave town.
Should they stay or should they go? If you do wish them to stay, be sure to set boundaries on what is and is not available for them to use, take, or share. Let them know what bedroom and bath to use and set out towels and extra toilet paper. Clarify what food and beverages may be consumed. Clearly state whether the vehicles, pool, etc., may be used and if it’s okay to have friends over. Though it may not have any legal standing, putting this in writing and having the sitter sign off on it will further stress the rules.
Designate a place for mail and newspapers. Let them know when to expect newspapers and if there may be deliveries. If you need the trash put out while you are gone, list what (trash cans, recyclers, yard waste), when, and where (curb, front of garage, alley).
Be very specific about your pets and their needs and temperaments. Caring for Doogie the dog is very different from caring for Squeezer the boa constrictor. Write down where the food can be found, the feeding areas, frequency, and amounts. If medicine is administered, be sure to include the dosages and the process of how to administer it. What are the exercise routines and where are they allowed, both in the house and outside?
Leave watering details for plants. Not all of us have a green thumb. To avoid casualties, list location, frequency, and amount of water for the plants. It wouldn’t hurt to put an additional sticky note on each plant pot with the amount and frequency, as well. Let them know when to expect the automatic sprinkler system to kick on.
Give them any pertinent household and emergency information. This info includes: WiFi passwords, alarm codes, house and vehicle keys; phones numbers for local food delivery, veterinarians, a helpful neighbor or friend, etc. Leave an itinerary of flight schedules, driving routes, and the contact information for where you are staying. This is often overlooked because of the convenience of cell phones. But, cell phone coverage may be spotty or nonexistent where you are going and you may be unreachable in a true emergency. It will also be helpful if something should happen to you along your trip and you need to be found.
This is, by no means, an exhaustive list. But, it will give your house sitter the information needed to care for your home confidently and hopefully allow you to disconnect more completely.
Imagine relaxing in your home on a dreary afternoon. The weather is not encouraging outdoor activities. There's nowhere to go and no one to see. Restless and bored, you shuffle through the house looking for a distraction. As you glance out the living room window, your foot steps onto the magazines that had cascaded off the cluttered coffee table and down you go. You reach out to break your fall, but twist and miss, landing hard on your hip and shoulder and hitting your head. Now, imagine the fear and agony of lying there in extreme pain, confused, dehydrated, cold, and hungry for three days before a family member finds you. The worst part? You were wearing a safety alert pendant the whole time. But, due to the injuries, you weren’t thinking clearly enough to press it. You and your family and friends are now haunted by “what if's”.
Scenarios like this play out more than we would like to believe – and it’s not just older adults living alone. We all run the risk of falling hard and seriously injuring ourselves in our homes. Though we may not live alone, we could very well be alone when it happens. How many of us have tried to use the nearby rolling or rocking chair to quickly change a light bulb or kill a bug?
Research shows that most accidents happen at home and falls are the most common. Women are more likely to die of their injuries than men in the 65 and older age bracket. (www.rospa.com). According to the CDC, more than one out of every four older adults fall each year and falling once doubles your chance of falling again. One out of every five falls causes serious injuries, such as broken bones and head injuries. Even if you are not severely injured, it can cause fear and a loss of confidence that results in less activity which leads to weaker muscles and a higher probability of falling again. (www.cdc.gov/homeandrecreationalsafety ).
Here are nine suggestions to make our homes safer for ourselves and our guests:
1.Rearrange the furniture. If you have to maneuver an obstacle course to move through the house, rearrange or remove furniture to create open pathways. Fire and Rescue resources recommend that paths be at least 36 inches wide and clear of debris for safe and easy movement.
2.Pick up the debris. Keep things off the floor. Kids’ toys, pets’ toys, magazines, dvds, mail, etc, create an unanticipated minefield. Also, pay attention to how electrical cords run. Reroute them or tape down any that may be tripped over.
3.Mind the shoes. Shoes tend to pile up at the door, collect at the base of the stairs, hide halfway under beds, and spill out of closets creating highly effective ankle breakers. Use bins to keep them contained. If you like to walk in sock feet, consider getting socks with the non-skid sole, especially for little ones. For older adults, the shoe sole’s material can be too slippery or too “grippy” on floor surfaces, causing them to slip or trip.
4.Clear the throw rugs. Little rugs scattered around the house may seem like a great idea for added color or floor protection, but they are notorious for causing injury. Remove as many as you can. If you must have one, make sure it is non-slip and not too thick.
5.Make the bathroom safer. As above, secure bathroom rugs with rubber backing or carpet tape. Put a non-stick mat inside the tub/shower and possibly a shower chair. Grab bars in the tub/shower and beside the toilet are becoming commonplace and decorative.
6. Ensure you don’t take flight on your stairs. Solidly anchor the handrail. Have one on both sides, if possible. Fix loose or broken treads. Use thinner carpet on steps so your foot can feel the edge of the step. For those with vision issues, or in poorly lit areas, consider improving the lighting and putting a contrasting colored tape on the step edges so it easier to see. Use gates to keep young children and pets off the stairs.
7.Improve lighting everywhere. Think of lighting in layers, both in intensity and location. Clean, clear light makes tasks and reading easier. With low-level and dimmable lights, you can maintain your night vision and move about more safely in the dark.
8.Keep frequently used items in easy-to-reach storage. Move items down or up to where they are most easily accessible. Keep a sturdy step stool conveniently stored for those times you do need to reach. If you don’t feel comfortable using a step stool or your balance is not good, seek assistance.
9.Get your vision checked. This might sound like a joke, but it’s a serious issue. We often don’t realize how bad our vision has become until we “see” what we have been missing. Misadjusted glasses can cause depth perception issues that have us misjudging stairs, walking into doorjambs, or dropping items.
These are just a few areas to consider. As you begin to study your home with this perspective, you are sure to find many more. Use the comment section below to tell us about what you discovered in your home.
Thanks for reading,
Thanksgiving Day is around the corner so it seems appropriate to note that November 15th is “National Clean Out Your Refrigerator Day”.
Yes, really. Now is the time to purge all those unidentifiable artifacts taking up valuable space in your refrigerator and freezer to make room for your holiday favorites. (Oh, and it’s also “America Recycles Day”, so dispose appropriately.)
Cleaning out the fridge is something most of us only do when something explodes, starts cultivating other living organisms, or smells so bad we can no longer ignore it. We've all had the unfortunate experience of consuming something that “didn’t agree with” us. The Mayo Clinic advises that leftovers are only safe for 3-4 days. After that, the risk of food poisoning steadily increases.
Are you sure that to-go container is from Sunday? How long did it sit in your car or your bag before you got it into the fridge?
Get in the weekly habit of cleaning out the fridge the day before trash pick-up so the offenders can head straight to the curb. Grab the trash can, some clean rags and soapy water, and pen and paper. Work quickly. Pull everything out, wipe down and dry the interior, then return only what is not expired and you know you will use shortly. Make a list of items you need to replace.
As you return things to the fridge, group like things together. This saves time and money later by making meal prep easier, eliminating duplicate purchases, and reducing waste. Manufacturers detail the specific zones of your refrigerator in the manual. (If you can’t locate the manual, google your make and model.) Seriously,check out the manual.
It is generally agreed that the doors are the warmest part of the appliance, so store the most shelf-stable things there, like salad dressing, bread, and condiments. If there are drawers marked “fruit” and “vegetable”, use them for those purposes and make sure their settings are correct. (Again, check the manual for recommended settings.) Place “drippy” items, like raw or thawing meat, on dishes or in bowls to avoid the contamination of items nearby or below. Doing this, will also expedite future weekly clean outs by reducing the need to wipe down every week.
Repeat the same actions for the freezer. Some people find it helpful to keep an inventory list on the freezer door that includes item, date, and serving size. It can be particularly helpful when you need a quick easy meal. Though technically frozen food will keep as long as it stays frozen, it is recommended to use within 3 months. Taste, texture, and color will be compromised with freezer burn. Trying to prove me wrong, a friend once cooked a steak that he had kept frozen for 4 years through 3 moves. Gray steak with a sawdust texture is NOT appetizing!
Conveniently, November 15th is also “National Raisin Bran Day” and “National Bundt (pan) Day”. So, while enjoying your raisin bran and searching for your Bundt pan, organize the food pantry, clean out the expired products, and make your inventory list for holiday baking and cooking. Again, group like things together: baking ingredients and spices ; boxed side dishes, rice, and pasta; canned vegetables, fresh potatoes, and onions; breakfast foods, etc.
You may now be looking at the trash can and feeling guilty about the amount of food you are throwing out. Forgive yourself and vow to do better in the future. Here are some tips to consider:
Thanks for reading,
Every year around this time I get inquiries about doing garage sales for people. They want everything done - from sorting and gathering to setting up, manning the sale, and cleaning up afterwards. The blunt response to this request is “You can’t afford me to do this…or any other Professional Organizer.”
Professional Organizers, or “POs”, are helpers and problem solvers by nature. It is hard to turn down business opportunities. But, the reality is, if we charge by the hour, you will end up owing us far more than your garage sale garnered. And, if we charge a percentage of sales, our rate becomes pennies per hour.
The harsh reality is that garage sales take a lot of work and effort and the results are not guaranteed. The proceeds are dependent on a number of variables:
Quality of goods
Quantity of goods
When these work together successfully, you make a nice chunk of change. When they don’t, you make numerous trips to charity drop-offs and the dump. What can you do to improve your chances of success?
Before the Sale:
Check your local laws. Some municipalities require a permit, police notification for traffic purposes, or limit/forbid signs. On the upside, you may find there is a scheduled community-wide garage sale guaranteeing increased publicity and traffic.
Inspect the quality of your goods and be realistic. If it is stained, torn, mildewed, moldy, smelly, or bug-infested, it is trash. If it is broken or missing pieces, consider trashing it. If you do decide to sell it for parts or think someone else can repair it, clearly mark the condition.
Clean your items. Wash them. Dust them. Vacuum them. Do whatever it takes to make them look presentable. It may take more time but will give a better overall impression and increase perceived value. How much would you pay for a dirty baby’s toy versus a clean one?
Price items clearly and realistically. You are not going to get back what you paid for them new. I will repeat that. You are not going to get back what you paid for the item new. It’s a garage sale! If you think you have something extremely rare, incredibly collectible, or very high end, find a more appropriate venue in which to sell them. The idea of a garage sale is to make a couple bucks off the stuff you have laying around and no longer want, need, or use. Ask yourself, “What would I reasonably pay for it at a garage sale?” and go from there.
During the Sale:
Arrange your items logically. Think “zones” like in a retail store – toys together, tools together, clothing together. Consider placing matching and complimentary furniture near each other. Small, easily stolen items should be closer to your or your “staff”. Yes, you need a staff. See below.
Have more than one person overseeing the garage sale. This is as much for safety as it is for convenience. To minimize theft of sale items or the cash box and make the event more enjoyable for everyone, recruit family or friends to assist in the sale. They can collect money, carry items to cars, and generally help keep an eye on things. Also, while we’re on safety, lock all exterior entries to your home. If someone needs the bathroom, escort them in and wait with them. Many homeowners have found their homes have been robbed while the garage sale was going on outside.
Discuss and define negotiating policy ahead of time. Garage sales attract hagglers and the “Quarter Crew”. Most hagglers love the bargaining game and mean no disrespect. The Quarter Crew, on the other hand, will offer you a quarter no matter what the price is. Their attitude is that you are going to donate what doesn’t sell so you might as well give it to them now. Expect this and have a plan. Maybe have a designated negotiator. This stops customers from playing sellers against each other. Or, agree to respond with, “We’ve only been open ‘x’ minutes/hours. We will be negotiating the last 2 hours of sale.” Some may walk, but most won’t.
After the Sale:
Lock up the money. You can count it later. The immediate priority is to finish getting rid of stuff.
Load up the unsold items and get them to the charity drop-off ASAP. This is where many people sabotage all their hard work by letting the unsold items back into the house. You did not want them before. You do not need them now. Go! Go! Go!
Celebrate your accomplishment. Now that everything is gone, congratulate yourself on a job well-done. No matter what the profits were, you’ve gained open space, reduced clutter, and quite possibly, improved your suntan.
Thanks for reading and make it a great weekend,
Memorial Day Weekend is upon us. While it’s a time to honor those who have died serving in our armed forces, it has also become a time to remember all our deceased loved ones. While growing up, every Memorial Day Weekend we went to the cemetery as a family, often with our surviving grandmothers, to tidy up the plots, clean the gravestones, set flowers, and pay our respects once more. The names and connections would be explained to us again and, inevitably, the stories and memories would follow. We learned not only of their military service, but of their histories, personalities, talents, and, dare I say, exploits. They became real to us, though many of them passed before my siblings and I were born or when we were very, very young. It has given us all stronger roots and a better understanding of who we are, how we got here, and where we can go in this world. It’s interesting to learn from whom we may have picked up the musical talent, the mechanical knack, the love of driving, or the crazy hair.
This weekend, when gathering with friends and family, take the time to remember. Put down the electronics and really talk and connect. Thank our soldiers for their service and ask if they would mind talking about it. Chat up the older folks. Their memories and experiences are a gold mine of information that can enrich your sense of self. Record the stories. Take pictures. Share the laughter. I guarantee you will be surprised by all you learn.
To all our Service men and women who have paid the ultimate price, a prayer and a sincere "thank you".
One of the services we provide here at DPO is to assist seniors with their mail, bills, and home management. Recently, I was visiting a senior couple who have a professional caregiver through an agency that comes in daily to assist the physically handicapped husband. As the wife and I finished reviewing the bills, she realized it was past her husband's lunch time. (In the world of seniors, meals and meds go hand in hand. Late meals can mean late dosages.) As I gathered up the papers, she went to help her husband from his chair to the kitchen table. As I watched, I couldn't help but wonder why the caregiver had not made him lunch and was not helping him to the table. She was engrossed in her book. As they worked their way to the table, the wife made a casual comment to her husband about taking off his "outside shoes" and putting his slippers back on after lunch. Upon hearing this, the caregiver slammed her book shut, started muttering under her breath, and stomped to the bedroom to get the shoes. She stomped back into the kitchen, pulled the husband away from the table, and announced she was taking a break after she changed his shoes. She walked outside, slamming the door as she left.
It happened so quickly and was so unexpected that the three of us looked at each other in stunned silence for a long moment. "How long has this behavior been going on?", I asked. They shrugged and said in the beginning it had been rare and usually focused on the wife when she asked for assistance. Of late, it had become much more frequent and directed toward both of them. I asked why they hadn't said anything. They replied they didn't want to get her in trouble. She was having issues in her family life. And worst, they didn't want to be thought of as "difficult to care for" or "unreasonable". They worried no one else would want to help them. This made me wince.
I asked for examples of the assistance being requested. The wife asked for assistance with changing the table cloth. The caregiver informed her it was not in her job description. Assistance with carrying groceries in from the car? Not in her job description. Heat up soup or make a sandwich for the husband if the wife was not back from her doctor's appointment by lunch time? Not in her job description. Drive the husband to appointments? You guessed it, not in her job description!
I was livid. These are precisely the things that caregivers help with. Any home care agency will tell you this. This caregiver's behavior was completely unacceptable. No one should have to endure this in their own home, let alone pay to be treated this way! I urged the couple to call the agency, explain what was going on, and request that this caregiver be replaced.
Please, if you have caregivers in your own home, for you loved ones in their homes, or are considering bringing in outside help, thoroughly interview and investigate the companies. Be clear on what services they provide, what services you need, and what type of person/personality you prefer. Good home care companies make it a point to match the personalities of caregivers and clients. Keep trying each other out until you find a good match. Mutual respect and clear communication are key. Good caregivers are worth their weight in gold. They are underappreciated and underpaid but they have a calling to help others and compassion beyond measure. It will take a little time to get to know each other and develop a rhythm, but you'll know quickly if it will get that far. Keep in mind that caregivers try to be helpful without being intrusive, especially when there are other family members in the home. It is up to you to help them find this balance. Politely let them know if you wish to have some alone time or need assistance with something. They may be over-solicitous and hover at first, but they are just trying to anticipate the needs and ascertain the capabilities of their client. Be honest with them and their superiors about performance and behavior.
In this instance, the manager was appalled to hear what was happening. She had had no idea because the clients had never spoken up. Needless to say, the caregiver will not be returning. The couple is now working with a wonderful caregiver who is conscientious of the needs and struggles of both of them. It's brought peace of mind and comfort to the couple. Do not settle for anything less.
Here in the Miami Valley, there are only two air qualities: damp or humid. It changes quickly. We have known days where we run both the heat and the a/c. A miscalculation can leave you shivering or feeling like you dressed before drying off from your shower. As a result, seasonal changes are often challenging in the wardrobe department. Here are a few tips and tricks.
Gather all the truly wintery-looking pieces and all your "moth-munchable" fabrics. Most of us know about wool, but moth larvae also like hair, fur, feather, and felt, including those luxurious feeling cashmere and mohair sweaters.(entomology.ca.uky.edu/ef609) Don't forget the gloves, hats, scarves, socks, and blankets, as well. Examine everything for wear, tears, stains, broken zippers, missing buttons, and finally, fit. Be sure to check all the pockets and all your handbags. Nothing motivates like finding cash! For those items that pass physical inspection ask yourself, "Did I wear them this season? Why not?" If it truly was not worn because the weather didn't cooperate, then keep it another year. Otherwise, consider purging them. Winter clothes are bulky and there's no sense wasting perfectly good storage space on items that are not worthy of you. Keep a list of any key pieces you need to replace. (For more tips on moth-proofing, check out the following: www.marthastewart.com/264609/the-basics-of-mothproofing
and www.nytimes.com/2010/01/28/garden/28fix.html )
For the few winter items you decide to keep out until spring really sticks, keep them together in the closet and contained in one drawer. It will make it easier to do the final transition later. Do the same with your shoes and boots. Clean off the any salt and dirt, then polish before putting away. Purge the un-salvageable and add to your shopping list.
Pull out all the spring/summer stuff. Inspect and purge just as you did the winter stuff. Can't remember if you wore it last year? Try this trick. For drawers, fold the items and place them in backwards. As you wear them, you can fold and put them in normally. In the closet, hang the hangers backwards. Once worn, turn the hanger around.
Fold?! Hang?! Yes. Even if you're normally a "stuffer", just fold and hang for this initial step, please. At the end of the season, it'll be easier to tell what you have and have not worn.
Place any formal attire and the hot weather gear toward the back of the closet. You won't be needing it quite yet. As winter finally fades, you can pack up the remaining pieces or shift them to the back of the closet until sweater weather hits again.
What's the right way to organize your clothes? By color? By size? By event? By length? The answer is really personal preference. If you are sharing a closet with someone, then obviously it starts with splitting yours and theirs. If your work attire is completely different from your casual attire, consider separating them, then clustering suits together, pants together, skirts together, etc. It will save time when getting ready for work. You can take it a step further grouping black items together, navy items together, and so forth.
I discourage my clients from doing the whole closet strictly by gradation of color (i.e. the rainbow effect). It looks really cool...once. I have never met anyone who could maintain it and you WILL drive yourself crazy trying to figure out the chromatic order of your jeans.
Now that you can find something to wear, get outside and enjoy the earth's rejuvenation!
Thanks for reading,
Last week we celebrated National Procrastination Week. Now, onto the recovery plan and...Spring Cleaning!
As I write this, most of the country is recovering from Winter Storm Stella - either the snow overload or the information overload. Because of this recent event, it may be hard to think about Spring cleaning and transitioning to the warmer side of outdoor life. With the crazy temperature changes we have been experiencing the last few weeks, most of us have had at least one attack of Spring Fever, and probably more attacks of allergies and sinusitis. For me, as the warmer weather hits, I become increasingly intolerant of my indoor living space. It's stuffy from the stale, dry air. It seems more drab since the holiday decorations came down. The furnace and fireplace constantly re-coat every flat surface with dust. (Mom, if you're reading this, yes, I dust regularly....at least once a month. Swear.) And, let's not even start about the grimy windows!
Last week, while I was procrastinating over a cup of coffee and mentally listing everything that needed to be done around the house, I began to wonder about who came up with the idea of Spring Cleaning. So, in the true procrastinating spirit, I gave up on the chore list and did a little research instead.
Apparently, the concept of Spring Cleaning actually goes back thousands of years and is both culturally and religiously inspired. The Persians, Chinese, Jews, and Christians, among others, have rituals and practices encouraging an annual cleaning. (http://home.howstuffworks.com/home-improvement/household-hints-tips/cleaning-organizing/spring-clean-in-spring1.htm). In more recent times, after a winter of candle soot, coal dust, wood ash, and difficult laundry and bathing conditions, the home required a complete scrub down, including walls, floors, carpets, windows, and bedding. (mentalfloss.com/article/78273/get-swept-away-these-8-facts-about-spring-cleaning)
Add two centuries of continual marketing and advertising that infers critical failure as a wife, mother, and human being if the effort does not cause physical exhaustion and mental collapse and we have the ingrained practice of Spring cleaning.
But, in today's rushed lifestyle, we don't always have the time, or the servants, to do as our ancestors did. Sometimes, we're lucky to get the Christmas tree down by Easter. I have friends who adamantly insist that the red and green of Christmas stays applicable for both Valentine's Day and St. Patrick's Day so there is no need to hurry. As a Professional Organizer (and a friend), I do not judge. I will, however, offer the following few suggestions for minimal Spring cleaning:
Thanks for reading,
National Procrastination Week
Did you know the first full week of March is National Procrastination Week? Yes, it's a thing. Seriously. To celebrate, I am now posting the blog I was supposed to do the first week of January. Kidding...sorta.
We all suffer from procrastination at one time or another. Some of us embrace procrastination like a cherished friend. We welcome it into our lives, indulge in it, and make excuses for ignoring our other obligations. After awhile, like the house guest that has overstayed his welcome, we look around and realize the party cannot continue and he needs to disappear. We are behind schedule, have forgotten appointments, and missed opportunities we may not be able to get back. It was fun while it lasted, but there's a mess to clean up and you're feeling guilty and completely overwhelmed. Now what?
There's a saying that the best way to finish something is to start. Begin by defining why you wish to accomplish something. It sounds simple, but many of us start with a list of things that need to be done. This list grows and becomes so long and discouraging that we invite procrastination for another visit. By defining the "why " of it all, the list of "what" you wish to accomplish has more value. It's a reminder of your goal when you get distracted or feel lazy. Once you know why you want to do something, then list what needs to be done to accomplish your goal. Think small steps. Some people like to break them into teeny steps and find it helpful to note the estimated amount of time it will take to complete. When you find yourself with some spare time, check the list and see what you can knock off.
For example, as Spring approaches we begin to look at the winter-ravaged yard awaiting our attention. It's an ugly brown/grey wet mess with soooo much to be done and not a lot of daylight after work. There are beds to be cleaned out, late winter pruning, debris on the lawn to be raked or picked up. Seek the opportunity to do a little each day. If you're standing outside waiting on the dog to finish, pluck a few young weeds or clip a bush or two. If your dog loves sticks, try to get him to collect them. Get the kids outside for a little fresh air. Little kids love to be helpful. And an added bonus: if you turn it into a game for them, you may become their favorite grown-up. Just 15-20 minutes a day during the week, will give you a much better chance at free time over the weekend.
So, as you indulge in celebrating National Procrastination Week, begin to formulate your recovery plan. The warmer months will be full of the potential for fun and relaxation. Get things done now. If you find you need a little assistance, contact Druffner Professional Organizing. We'd be happy to help.