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Children and consumerism

- Author: Crystal

istock_000007655825xsmallSimple Mom wrote wonderful post called 9 Ways to Encourage Your Kids to Live Simply. I love the idea of our responsibility to pass on an attitude of simplicity to the next generation.

The author says this can be done by (1) Being hyper-selective about your toy selections, (2) Making your own toys, (3) Rotating those toys, (4) Letting your kids be involved in your shopping process, (5) Letting them purge with you, (6) Having them earn money for their treats, (7) Encouraging the right words, (8) Being selective about their friends, and (9) Sponsoring a child.

To this I would add a tenth: Consider limiting TV or doing away with it altogether. Some busy parents would argue that the television is a helpful tool, because it distracts and calms their unruly children for hours on end. However, television also succeeds in transferring marketing messages to children that lead to consumerism-centric behaviors, as evidenced by research published in 2006 in the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine. The study showed a significant correlation between number of hours a child watches TV and the frequency with which they request toys and junk food.

Readers, what do you think? Is it practical to limit children’s TV viewing, or is this an unreality?

For further reading, check out the Marketing and Consumerism Awareness Network. The site includes this helpful guide and other resources to help parents deal with marketing and challenge their children to be savvy consumers.

Thoughts on this? Other ideas? Post a comment, or write to Crystal and let her know!

No Comments - Categories: People and pets

Guide to clutter-free gift giving

- Author: Crystal


Sparkleize encourages sensible, sustainable gift buying that won’t lead to bulging closets and clogged attics.

Some favorite clutter-free gift ideas:

  1. One-year gift membership to Consumer Reports or Angie’s List. Both are useful and promote responsible consumer choices – gifts which keep on giving!
  2. Donate to a charity in honor of someone. So many hard-working organizations need your money way more than your relatives and friends need more junk! You’ll feel good about it, and so will the recipient.
  3. Passes or a membership to a museum in the recipient’s home town. This is a great gift for children.
  4. Theater or concert tickets. Awesome!
  5. Shopping for a busy mom? Get her a spa or massage gift certificate.
  6. Lessons or classes. Give the gift of cooking or pottery classes, or salsa dance lessons! Even better: take the class with them!
  7. Photos. Most people, especially family members, love receiving current photos of you and your loved ones. Studios in shopping malls and department stores offer quick, inexpensive photo shoots with lots of photo ordering options. Pair it with a nice frame, and you’ve got a one-of-a-kind gift that is truly meaningful.

Clutter-free gift giving in a nutshell:

  • Steer clear of material gifts. Consider presents which are consumables, services, charitable contributions, memberships, or those which involve your time and friendship – rather than material stuff that folks don’t need.
  • Create memories, not junk! The greatest gift you can give someone is the time you spend with them. Generate lasting memories by doing things together. Making plans which include talking, eating and/or walking is always a good start.
  • Beware of gift cards. Giving a gift card to a chain retail store seems a bit better than a material gift; however, these are not the necessarily the best choice either. Think of it this way: often people feel obligated to pick something out at a store – not necessarily because they need it but because they have a gift card in their wallet which someone gave them. Unnecessary spending is a big factor in clutter! However, if you must give a gift card, choose one from a local, independent store so that the money stays in the community.
  • Buy local. If you must buy stuff, shop locally. (Here’s my Guide to Shopping Locally in Durham.) For example, one of the best place to find unique, handmade/homegrown gifts is your local farmer’s market!

Have additional thoughts or ideas to share? Leave a comment, or write to Crystal and let her know!

No Comments - Categories: People and pets, Sustainable living

What to do before the dinner guests arrive

- Author: Crystal

You’ve put off cleaning, and the dinner guests will be here in less than an hour! Don’t panic. Here’s what to do to give your house an instant face lift:

  1. Clear the clutter (10 minutes). Grab hold of a laundry basket and “swoop” energetically around the house for 5 minutes, picking up everything that doesn’t belong. Now recirculate around the house one more time (5 additional minutes), delivering all the items in the hamper where they’re supposed to go. The key is not to stop to ponder things and/or get sidetracked!
  2. Wipe down all surfaces (10 minutes). With a soft damp rag, quickly wipe down any non-wood surfaces like counters and tables. Got grime? Use a spray bottle filled with 1/2 water, 1/2 distilled white vinegar. For wood surfaces, use a feather duster or a soft rag and a wood-friendly cleaner such as Pledge.
  3. Make the bathroom mirrors and toilets sparkle (10 minutes). A spray bottle filled with 1/2 water, 1/2 vinegar and some paper towels will work wonders on the mirrors. Use full strength vinegar and a toilet brush to make your bowls shine. Lastly, wipe down the lid and rims with paper towels and half vinegar solution. Don’t worry – once the surfaces are dry, the vinegar smell will disappear and be replaced with a fresh, clean scent!
  4. Give the floors a quick sweep and/or run the vacuum (5-7 minutes). Pay attention only to the dirtiest areas! Don’t bother with the rooms they’re not likely to see. Dimming the lights is going to help hide the dirt anyway.
  5. Use flowers to your advantage! (5-7 minutes). Guests are less likely to notice clutter if you’ve got flowers to distract them. One bouquet of flowers goes a long way to make the place feel fresh and classy. Place one or two stems in each bud vase (or whatever you’ve got) in bathrooms, dining room, living room and kitchen. Tip: A single type of flower makes the biggest impact.
  6. Finally, dim the lights, light the candles, and flip on the music (2 minutes). Scented candles are fine for the bathroom and living room, but keep them out of the kitchen and dining room. The perfume-y aroma can ruin your guests’ appetites.

Now don’t worry too much. If your friends really love you, they won’t care about mess or dust anyway. Good luck, and happy holidays!

Have more ideas to share? Post a comment or write to Crystal and let her know!

1 Comment - Categories: People and pets

Keeping cool for less

- Author: Crystal

Refreshing Iced TeaSummer is upon us down here in North Carolina – 90 degrees in the shade of the oak tree and the air as sticky as a pecan pie! If you’re like us, it’s awfully tempting to crank that thermostat down and feel the icy air of modern technology. Problem is, this can get expensive. I’ve put together a few of our secrets for staying cool without spending a lot of cash:

  • Go barefoot. We vent a great deal of heat through our feet.
  • Turn off the lights. Overhead lights actually do generate a bit of heat, while darkness gives you the perception of coolness.
  • Use a handfan. Buy it cheap or make one yourself. Don’t underestimate the power of moving air across your sweaty self. As you know, sweat cools us down when it evaporates!
  • Spend time at the public library. They have air conditioning you already pay taxes for, and you can share the cool air with your community while reading a book!
  • Sit on the porch sippin’ iced tea. Be sure you’re sitting on the side of the house that doesn’t get the sun at that time of day. Add some crushed mint leaves to your brew for extra coolness.
  • Take a quick cold shower right before you go to bed. This can temporarily lower your body temperature a degree or two.
  • Use Gold Bond Medicated Powder. I learned this from a buddy of mine in the Peace Corps when we were all living on the equator in Africa. When all else fails, strip down to your underwear, sprinkle on some Gold Bond in all your hot places, and lie down in front of an electric fan. The icy tingle of the powder combined with the breeze will make you think you’re getting air conditioned!

Thoughts on this? Other ideas? Post a comment, or write to Crystal and let her know!

No Comments - Categories: People and pets

Help for family and friends of compulsive hoarders

- Author: Crystal

I’m no expert by any means, but people ask me for advice about compulsive hoarding all the time. Through Internet research and exchanging experiences with others in the professional organizing community, I have compiled the following resources that may be helpful.

istock_000002655048xsmallCompulsive hoarding syndrome (also known as hoarding disease) is a psychiatric condition related to obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). A person with compulsive hoarding syndrome acquires worthless items and fails to discard them even when they appear (to others) to have no value.  People suffering from this syndrome have homes full of what normal people would consider “junk”. Many areas of their homes are unusable because junk takes up so much space.

Wondering whether you or someone you know is a compulsive hoarder? Here’s a 23-question survey to determine your rating on the hoarding scale. Read more at the International OCD Foundation website.

So why is compulsive hoarding a problem? As any friend or family member of a compulsive hoarder can tell you, the massive accumulation of items over time becomes unmanageable, unsanitary and sometimes even dangerous. It tends to put very difficult strain on relationships and can cause shame and embarrassment.

If you are affected by someone else’s compulsive hoarding, here are a few things to try:

Don’t clean out their house. According to the International OCD Foundatioin, while cleaning out a hoarder’s home may seem appealing (why not just cart out the junk and be done with it, right?), it has been shown that attempts to “clean out” the homes of individuals with compulsive hoarding without treating the underlying problem usually fail. Additionally, several people I’ve spoken with report very hostile behavior from the compulsive hoarder when they tried to clean out their homes. It is probably best to focus your energy elsewhere.

Read up on it.

Join an online support group. Geralin Thomas is a local professional organizer in Cary, NC and owner of Metropolitan Organizing. She has lots of experience working with hoarders and advises folks affected by compulsive hoarding to join an online support group for people with this disease and their families. An online group can give you the means to feel supported by others dealing with similar situations and the ability to share and ask questions anonymously. Here are a few:

Seek out professional help for yourself. Geralin says that it is very difficult to help hoarders unless they recognize their problem and realize that they need help. She recommends that someone affected by another person’s hoarding disease should consider seeing a counselor or psychologist for their own sake.

If you’re new to counselors and psychologists and need help finding one, here are three suggestions:

  1. Go to Psychology Today and search by zip code and specialty; or
  2. Ask a trusted friend or colleague for a recommendation; or
  3. If you have health insurance, check your insurer’s Web site for a directory of in-network mental health providers.

Finally, if you’re in the local Triangle area of North Carolina, Dr. Reid Wilson is a UNC professor and specialist in compulsive hoarding behaviors. He’s a good starting point for therapist recommendations and connection to other resources:

Dr. R. Reid Wilson
3011 Jones Ferry Road
Chapel Hill,NC 27516
Phone: (919) 942-0700

Thoughts on this? Suggestions? Post a comment, or write to Crystal and let her know!

2 Comments - Categories: People and pets

How to organize your purse

- Author: Crystal

A neat and well-stocked purse can actually keep you more organized, not to mention cool, calm and prepared.

Here’s what I recommend:

  • Empty out the contents. Yep, dump it out.
  • Divide up the space. In the large section of the purse, things just get jumbled up together with lint, crumbs and hair – ew! Instead, use clear zippered pouches to divvy up your purse’s contents by type (health, beauty, office supplies, etc.)
  • Reserve one section of your wallet exclusively for coupons and gift cards so you can find them quickly and avoid angering the people in line behind you.
  • Punch some holes. Spare your already-packed wallet by putting your membership cards on a ring.
  • Get a notebook for notes and lists. Choose a durable notebook that will stand up to being knocked around in your bag. I use this one which has an elastic band closure so the pages are protected. What to do with it? Rather than writing stuff on random bits of paper which will get lost and clutter up your purse, jot them all into your notebook instead. Bonus secret sanity saver: Put TODAY’S DATE and a TITLE on your notes (Examples: “Things to ask the doctor” and “Meal planning ideas“), so you won’t have to think too hard to remember what the note is about!
  • Pimp out your keys with this pull-apart key ring, which allows you to detach the house keys from the car keys with ease.
  • Deal with receipts. Keep purse clutter to a minimum by sorting out your receipts as soon as you get home each day. Recycle receipts you no longer need and file the ones you need to keep.
  • Keep your purse stocked by replenishing as soon as you run out of something.

What’s in Crystal’s wallet right now?

  • Keys on a pull-apart key ring (car keys on one side, house keys on the other)
  • iPhone (doubles as camera, planner, calculator, MP3 player)
  • Wallet/checkbook
  • Membership cards on a ring
  • Prescription sunglasses in a hard case
  • Notebook for jotting thoughts, lists, etc.
  • 2 pens, 2 Sharpie markers
  • Gum
  • Lip balm (qty 2)
  • Small tube of SPF 55 sunscreen
  • Hand cream
  • Comb, travel-size hairspray, hair barrettes and headband
  • Lipstick and lipgloss
  • Powder compact
  • Pill box like this containing Ibuprofen, acetaminophen, Pepto Bismol
  • Cough drops, Bandaids, pocket tissues
  • Dental floss
  • Eye drops and cleaning cloth for eyeglasses
  • Feminine supplies
  • Reusable Chico grocery bag that folds up teeny tiny
  • Cuticle nippers, nail clippers, cuticle cream, nail file
  • Luna bars for hunger emergencies

Thoughts on this? Other ideas? Post a comment, or write to Crystal and let her know!

No Comments - Categories: People and pets

Buying wrapping paper after Christmas

- Author: Crystal

I know you don’t feel like doing this right now, but you’ll be really glad you did when the holidays come around again: Now is the time to go to your local drug store and buy holiday wrapping paper that is on sale. Sometimes you can find it for up to 75% off. You’ll never want to buy it full price again!

Have more ideas to share? Post a comment or write to Crystal and let her know!

1 Comment - Categories: People and pets

Nine must-haves for hosting holiday events

- Author: Crystal
According to this article from the Washington Post, here are the nine household essentials you should have on hand if you plan to do any holiday entertaining in your home:

  1. Folding chairs
  2. All-purpose wine glasses
  3. Cocktail napkins
  4. Place mats and runners
  5. Candles
  6. Flowers
  7. Cake plates and plate stands
  8. Platters
  9. Bar basics
Do you agree? Have more ideas to share? Post a comment or write to Crystal and let her know!

No Comments - Categories: People and pets

Holiday guests on their way?

- Author: Crystal

Yikes! The holidays are quickly approaching, and family and friends on their way in from out of town. No need to panic! Check out Crystal’s helpful article on Preparing the Home for Guests.

No Comments - Categories: People and pets

How to (finally) complete those projects around the house!

- Author: Crystal

We all have long lists of tasks we need to do around the house which we continue to put off. Am I right?

Case in point: I had been meaning to clean the first floor windows of my house (screens, panes and sills) for many, many months. But I just could NOT seem to get motivated to do it! Many of the tasks on my list seemed too time-consuming, too challenging, too overwhelming, and/or too boring. Most times I couldn’t seem to get my husband to help me either…

SOLUTION: A home task “co-op”!

A home task co-op is a simply group of friends who pitch in to help each other – one day at one person’s house, another day at another person’s house, and so on. The group works as a team to get things done at each person’s house!

It is both motivating and fun to have friends come over and lend a hand with your task list! It’s very gratifying to turn around and help your friends with their home projects too. Together you can get the job done faster, better and with more fun and laughter than you can alone!


Here’s how to start:

  1. Suggest the idea of a home task co-op to your friends. You’ll be surprised at the enthusiastic response! People generally tend to be shy or reluctant to ask for help, but most people are relieved at the thought of receiving a helping hand! Isn’t the thought itself comforting!?
  2. Propose a date and time for the first work session. I suggest starting with your own house so you can lead by example. 2-4 hours is a reasonable amount of time to schedule for one work session.
  3. Determine which tasks or projects the group will complete at your house. Let them know what they will be working on.
  4. Gather RSVPs for the work session.
  5. Identify the tools, hardware and supplies (e.g., ladder, paint trays, drop cloth) that you’ll need for the tasks. Borrow these items from your fellow home task co-op members whenever possible!
  6. Consider having light refreshments on hand, such as iced tea and snacks.
  7. Divide friends up into teams (if necessary) when they arrive. Ensure that everyone has something to do.
  8. Take frequent breaks, and don’t feel the need to accomplish it ALL in one sitting. No sense in overworking your friends!
  9. Celebrate your accomplishments!
  10. Decide whose house is next! Encourage that person to start thinking about the tasks he/she needs to get done around the house.

Last weekend, despite the summer heat and humidity, four friends agreed to assist me with a short list of home tasks. They arrived in their old tennis shoes and yard-working clothes. Tasks included cleaning the first floor windows, screens and sills; trimming all my overgrown bushes, hauling the clippings to the woods behind the house; and scrubbing the railings, boards and ceiling of my big wooden front porch.

It took just four hours for five people to do what would have taken me three days to complete by myself! Best of all, we laughed, talked and shared home repair tips as we worked!!  I now have a great looking front yard, porch and windows!

Next weekend, the co-op will resume at my friend Julia’s house to paint her guest room and turn her weed patch into a vegetable garden.

Have more ideas? Post a comment, or write to Crystal and let her know!

No Comments - Categories: Inspiration, Organizing 101, People and pets