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March 30, 2012

From Zero to Four Kids in Thirty Seconds: a book review + giveaway!

If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, then you know that when I do book reviews they are typically on self improvement books, organizing books, or decorating books, as these are the kinds of books I most enjoy reading. On the rare occasion that I stray from my genre of choice, my next favorite type of book is humorous, non-fiction—a comedic recount of real life events—like Julie and Julia and Eat, Pray, Love. These two books, by the way, just so happen to be the only two non self-improvement and non-organizing books I’ve read since starting this blog. Well…until now.


I recently finished reading the book From Zero to Four Kids in Thirty Seconds, by Amy L. Peterson. This book is about “Amy a 30-year-old woman who spent many years polishing an unapproachable outer shell and maintaining a long list of reasons why not to have children. She keeps a canoe on her front porch, a mountain bike in her kitchen and a balance in her checking account.


Mark is an older, divorced man with four kids. He sleeps on an Army cot and eats out of pots and pans given to him by his therapist. He has a Ph.D. in stream ecology, a VW Rabbit with 285,000 miles on it and enough fishing tackle to sink a small boat.


Amy falls for Mark hook, line and hundreds of dollars in sinkers.


This is Amy’s humorous yet compelling story of becoming a stepmother. The book’s catchy chapter titles and over 70 tips make this a must read for stepmothers and future stepmothers. From Zero to Four Kids in Thirty Seconds is a fun ride that will convince women that with the right guy, being a stepmother can be rewarding, fun and full of surprises. Amy wouldn’t have had it any other way.”

From-zero-to-four-kids-in-thirty-secondsLike most of the other books I review on my blog, I was asked by the author’s “people” to read the book. In this case, however, the author’s people just so happen to be my people, too. You see, Amy, the author, is my sister and this is her story—a comical recount of how her life turned upside down when she fell in love with Mark, a man with four kids.


I can’t begin to tell you how fun it was to read this book—it was like spending the afternoon with my sister, which is a rare treat for me (since we live over eight hours apart from one another). Her writing is real and personal, as are the stories she shares on the pages of the book. And like the other memoirs I mentioned above, this book made me literally laugh out loud on several occasions. (And I don’t think this was simply because I personally know the entire cast of characters in the book.) Amy is, and has been for as long as I can remember, a gifted writer with an incredible sense of humor. (One book reviewer on Amazon compared her to Erma Bombeck. How cool is that, right?)


Aside from being a fun love story, the book also has 70 useful and humorous tips for step moms.  Like this one:


Tip #34:  If your man is like most men, he doesn’t fumble very often, so enjoy yourself.

This tip is from the part of the book where Mark asks my Dad (who is also Amy’s Dad, in case you are skimming) for Amy’s hand in marriage. My Dad probably saw this coming…but he didn’t use that as any reason to take it easy on poor Mark.


“So---,” Mark started, as he reached for his tie like he wanted to loosen it.

“So--,” my dad repeated. He looked at me kind of funny. I shrugged and tried to wipe the grin off my face. My Dad cleared his throat and wiped his mouth. Mark wiped his mouth for the third time.

Finally, Mark said, “So. Well. I’ve been trying to figure out something all during diner. How to ask you something.”

“Any particular kind of something?” my dad asked, sitting up straight now and looking cool and controlled.

“Well, as a matter of fact a pretty special something,” Mark said, and, then, in the same explosive breath added, “Like asking for your daughter’s hand in marriage.”


My father said nothing as he coolly removed a comb from his back pocket, combed his mustache and said, “Well, that is kind of a special something.” Then staring right at Mark he added, “So, why don’t you go ahead and ask me?”




Mark’s face turned beet red as he reached for his tie and fumbled with the knot. After swallowing loudly, he finally sat back and sighed loudly before admitting, “I wasn’t expecting that.” He laughed an odd little laugh. “Okay.” He cleared his throat. “Mister Peterson, would it be okay if I took your daughter’s hand in marriage?”

“Well now,” my dad began, “you really should take all of her, you know, not just her hand.”


“Lord,” I said.


My father broke into a smile and said, “Of course you can marry my daughter. I trust her judgment completely and if she says you’re the guy, then I’m all for it.”


So Mark, now glowing with perspiration, turned to me and asked almost plaintively, “Am I the guy?”


I sat back, looked him up and down and with a critical eye and said, “Well, now let me just think about this--.”


Throughout the book Amy shares that my Mom told her (over and over again) that she had no idea what she was getting herself into, marrying a man with four kids. And mom was certainly right. But from the sounds of the above, Mark didn’t really know what he was getting into either by marrying a Peterson. None the less, it turned out great for everyone. My sister went from living alone, with no T.V. (and truly a bicycle in her kitchen) to living with five people who loved to watch T.V. She went from living in an apartment with an oven she never turned on, to baking birthday cakes for kiddos four times a year. (It was when she started baking that I knew Mark had caught her hook, line and sinker.)


Amy truly never wanted kids—or at least that’s what she thought. What I know for sure is this:  Amy is and always has been an amazing sister, daughter, and wife, and I think she is a pretty incredible step Mom, too. She approached becoming a step mom with a sense of knowing that she really didn’t know what she was getting herself into, and with a willingness to do her best as she figured it out. Most of all, she went into her role of step mom with one of her very greatest gifts—her sense of humor. And this is exactly what she shares on the pages of From Zero to Four Kids in Thirty Seconds.


So here’s some really great news, Amy’s people ;) have arranged for me to giveaway a signed copy of her book. Woohoo!


To enter for your chance to win a signed copy of From Zero to Four Kids in Thirty Seconds:

1) Follow Amy on Twitter and then leave a comment here letting me know you did.

2) Like Amy on Facebook and leave a comment here letting me know you did.

3) Subscribe to Amy’s blog and leave a comment here letting me know you did.  And / or 

4) Share your thoughts on this question in the comments:  Do you think if you married a man with four kids that you would a) laugh to tell about, b) write a book to tell about it, or c)                                               (fill in the blank.)


Please leave a separate comment for each thing you do and post your comments by Monday, April 2 at 9 PM US CST. Winner will be selected at random and notified by email! Thanks for entering!


Have a great weekend!


**Comments are now closed! Thanks so much for entering. :)**

March 29, 2012

Organize a Sick Kit + a Free Printable Checklist

Every time one of my daughters gets sick, I find myself doing something like this. I go upstairs and find a sick kiddo. I suspect fever, so down to the master bathroom closet I go to get the thermometer. Back upstairs. I confirm the fever then head down to the kitchen for children’s pain reliever and a medicine dispenser. Back upstairs. The thermometer needs cleaning, so I go down to the master bath for alcohol and cotton balls. Next stop? The laundry room where I keep the cleaning products so I can grab some disinfectant wipes and begin battling the germs. Upstairs, downstairs, round and round the house I go.



But the last time we had illness at our house, I (finally!) hit on the idea of making a sick care kit. I got a small tote basket and put in the items we needed for this particular illness. It was easy for me or my husband to carry the kit upstairs, downstairs, and from room to room as we dealt with the patient at hand. And since what we had was influenza that quickly took down both of the children and me, this kit ended up being incredibly useful. Once we were all well again, I happily put the items back in the places where they are kept on a normal basis. I will definitely do this again, and obviously add in the items that make sense for the particular illness.


We made this handy printable checklist, too. (Sometimes when the mama has been up all night with a sick one or is ill herself, it can be hard to think of what to put in there!) And we left you some space to add your own sick kit necessities.



What sorts of things do you run around for when someone in your family is sick?


Stay well & happy organizing!

  Jens signature black

March 27, 2012

Freebie Friday Winner

Timemgmt-400x400Thanks to everyone for all the great responses to last week's Frog-Eating Freebie Friday! We felt super proud of all of you who so boldly revealed your frogs to us. And, to those of you who came back to report you'd eaten it, I was seriously smiling for you. Well done, everyone!


The winner of the It’s About Time: How to Have Fun and Get More Done workshop (chosen at random) is Diana, who wrote "My 'frog' is contacting the various medical places that we have statements from for our son's week long hospital stay. It is a big 'frog'!"


First off, Diana, we hope all is well with your son. Second, I know about this frog, too, and it's an especially slimey one to deal with when you are so desperate to get caught up on normal life. Third, big pats on the back because you came back to post that you did it. Hooray and congratulations!!


Everyone else, there's still time to score some savings! Buy your ticket for It’s About Time now, and save 15% with coupon code SIMPLIFY. (This offer does not apply to instant downloads, expires March 29, 2012, and cannot be combined with other coupon codes.) 


Happy Organizing!

Jens signature black

March 26, 2012

Storage Solution of the Week: Hinged-Lid Storage Box

What it is: This week’s storage solution of the week is a canvas, lidded box.

Where I got it: Walmart  

Why I love it: They make great clutter bins! 



I’ve been using clutter bins in my home for over a year now, with really great success. Both of my children have their own bins on the main level of our home, and as we encounter items that belong to them, we can put them in their clutter bins. Once or twice a week, they empty their bins and put all the items in their rightful homes.


The bins live on the lower shelf of a table near the stairs. Since the children’s bedrooms are upstairs, and since this table is centrally located in the house, it’s the ideal location. One thing that was NOT ideal was seeing full or overloaded bins full of clutter. Though it was an improvement over seeing their odds and ends all over the house, it still wasn’t quite the look we wanted for the hall table! To further complicate matters, our puppy discovered the clutter bins and mistook them for baskets full of chew toys. Keeping him out of their bins was impossible, so I had to find a new solution. I stumbled across these lidded boxes, and voila! They were just the solution I needed.



They are slightly bigger than the open baskets they replaced, so they are less likely to be filled to overflowing. The lid keeps all the kids junk, er, I mean, precious treasures, out of sight. And best yet, the puppy can’t raid the bins anymore. Oh, and did I mention they are stackable? Yet another reason to love them!


Do you use clutter bins in your home? Leave us a comment to tell us what you use to corral that clutter!


Happy Organizing,

Jens signature black

March 23, 2012

Eating Frogs + A Freebie Friday

The shirt I’m wearing is a black T with the words “eat your frog” embroidered in green on the front, and I chose it this morning in support of my daughter who had a seriously nasty frog to deal with today. Confused yet? OK, first, let me assure you that absolutely no amphibians were harmed in the making of this blog post!


Eat_frog-croppedA few years ago, one of my dearest girlfriends shared with me the idea of eating your frog, which comes from this saying: “If the first thing you do when you wake up each morning is eat a live frog, nothing worse can happen for the rest of the day.” This concept was popularized by the book “Eat That Frog!” by Brian Tracy.


So this morning, I held my daughter’s hand as we went in to school for her to deal with the frog that was on her plate. It seems that yesterday during the school book fair, she “found” some items on the floor and chose to take them home. Instead of handing them to her teacher or to the book fair volunteers or even to the lost-and-found table, she put them in her pocket. Zoinks.


She truly does know better, and so one of her consequences was to return the items and explain it to her principal. I am sure you will agree with me that this was an awfully large frog for a six-year-old. Knowing this was coming was tough – she had a hard time going to sleep last night and was rather anxious this morning. But by 9:30, she had dealt with it all and was able to go on (smiling and relaxed) with her day. Ah, what a relief for us both!


What happens when we don’t eat the frogs first? Don’t they niggle around inside our minds? Doesn’t it add a sense of dread to the whole day? Don’t we feel so stressed and maybe overwhelmed? But here is the cool thing… when we eat the frog first, something bigger happens. Yes, the day is freed from that distraction, dread, stress, and overwhelm, but there’s more! I find that I am seriously motivated and even in a better mood for the rest of the day! I feel empowered. As in, “I have eaten 3 frogs by 7 a.m. RAWRRRR, I can totally take this day!” LOL


If you don’t believe it, you really should give it a try. In fact, I’ll give you a little extra motivation to do so. Today, we have a spot in one of our most popular and impactful workshops—It’s About Time: How to Have Fun and Get More Done—that we will give away to one lucky winner! Of all the topics that fall under the organizing umbrella, time management is one we’re particularly passionate about. See, how you choose to spend your time is essentially how you choose to spend your life. It’s a topic that has far-reaching consequences. It is, in a word, important. But just because it’s important doesn’t mean we aren’t going to have some fun along the way, too. At simplify 101, we’re all about making things fun while getting things done. 


And, giveaways are always fun, so let’s get to it! To enter to win, simply leave a comment telling us what frog is on your plate right now. For a second chance to win, come back and leave another comment letting us know you ate that frog! This contest ends Monday, March 26, 2012 at 9:00 PM Central. The winner will be chosen at random and notified by email. Good luck!


Bonus: Only one reader will win this giveaway, but all of you can take advantage of this coupon code! Buy your ticket for It’s About Time now, and save 15% with coupon code SIMPLIFY. (This offer does not apply to instant downloads, expires March 29, 2012, and cannot be combined with other coupon codes.) 


Happy Organizing!

Jens signature black

Comments are now closed! Thanks for entering. 

March 21, 2012

10 Organizing Mantras

10 organizing mantras_edited-1

Do you have a favorite organizing mantra? I've pulled together 10 of the tops tips I’ve shared in my online workshops and quick tips. These mantras are designed to stick in your mind and help you cut clutter and get more done. Pull them out anytime you need an extra dose of motivation to take action!

Read all ten mantras and download a free printable here >>>

March 19, 2012

How to Choose a Label Maker

Poke around simplify 101 just a tiny bit, and you’ll quickly pick up on the fact that I’m a huge fan of labels. I even have labels in my fridge. I know it sounds a bit crazy, but it does make me happy and helps keep my refrigerator organized. 


Lazy susan 2-copyright simplify101

Before I had a label maker (years ago, as you can imagine) I wondered if it was really worth the investment. The label maker itself doesn’t have to break the bank, but the cost of label tape can add up quickly. I can tell you this—for me, the finished look a label maker label gives a space is well worth the investment. It gives your space a polished feel, which gives you an extra bit of motivation to keep your space organized going forward.


I’m often asked in my online workshops for my opinions on label makers. Which ones are the best? Which ones are most worth the investment? While I haven’t tried every label maker on the market, I have been using two models for years. The first is the DYMO Letra Tag 2000. This is an older model (they have newer ones on the market right now) but I like it. I have two of these—one I keep in my organizer bag that I take to clients and the other one is just inches away from where I sit at my desk so I can easily label file folders anytime I need one. 



This label maker has just one font (it looks like Arial) but you can print in a few different sizes. This means you can print small labels for binder tabs, and larger, bolder labels for storage bins or your refrigerator doors and shelves. The label tape is relatively inexpensive and available at office supply stores, Target and Wal-Mart. You can often find these label makers on sale during (or right after) back-to-school time. I love the portability of this labeler. It is small, lightweight and easy to use. 


My other labeler is a Brother P-touch PT-1230PC. This cute, little labeler plugs right into the USB port in your computer and instantly a screen pops up where you can type in your labels. It’s that simple. You plug it in. You type. You click print. And out comes your label! This labeler allows you to use any font on your computer to make your labels—which is super fun. And you can also add small graphics, wing dings or swirls, if that makes you happy. (Which if it does, believe me, I get it. I have labels in my fridge, remember?) One downside is that this labeler leaves a long trail of blank label tape before and after each label (which can make you a bit nutty), but you can solve that by printing several labels back to back, and then use scissors to separate them and save label tape. 



So, the Brother labeler offers more font and design options, but the DYMO is more portable and uses less expensive label tape. I love them both, and use them for different things. I use the Brother for labels I will see a lot (like the ones in my fridge) and where I want to use fun fonts. For file folders and client projects, I use the DYMO due to its portability and the affordability of the label tape.


There are many good label makers on the market today. Simply choose one that offers the functions you care most about at a price point that fits your budget. 


I’d love to hear your thoughts. Do you use a labeler or are you on the fence about getting one? And tell me about your refrigerator—labels or no labels? I’m dying to know. Thanks for sharing!



P.S. Quick + Simple Clutter Control begins tomorrow! Learn more today. :)

March 16, 2012

Finishing Touches for My Organized Closet + a Winner!

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To top off my recent closet reorganization project, I brought in a few extra touches to give it a more finished feeling. For one, I chose a bright green color for all my storage containers. They are various shapes, sizes and patterns, but the green unifies everything. Remember the old diaper box? Gone! I replaced it with this box from IKEA.




These archive boxes catch sweet keepsakes from my children and husband, and they look so much nicer than the shoe boxes they replaced!



My scarves are off the back of the door, thanks to this fabulous idea I found on Pinterest. And last but not least, I am super happy about my new jewelry/accessory corner! I hung a mirror to help me see what I’m choosing without trekking to the master bathroom. 




For now, my old jewelry box is still holding my earrings and some other pieces, but that will eventually go away completely. Ideally, I’d like to replace the two little tower cabinets in that corner with a small, vintage, chest of drawers. But, this certainly works until the day when I stumble upon just the right flea market find!


And the part I’m happiest about is the new necklace hanger I made from corks! (I knew I saved corks for all those years for a reason.) I also spray-painted a wooden hanger that I’d picked up from a garage sale to hang some of the heavier/bulkier necklaces.




AND, while we are on the subject of organizing jewelry, I first want to say thank you to everyone who submitted their jewelry organizing solutions for our challenge! It was a lot of fun to see your cool ideas. The winner (chosen at random) is Estelle N! Congratulations, Estelle, and watch your email so we can get you set up in the workshop of your choice.


Happy Organizing!

Jens signature black 

March 15, 2012

Storage Solution of the Week: Space-Saving Hangers

What it is: This week’s storage solution of the week are space-saving hangers.

Where I got them: I got mine at Deal’s. Now that they’ve gotten so popular, you can get them pretty much anywhere hangers are sold.

Why I love them: They've got such a sleek, smart design!




Upgrading to hangers made of a single color and/or material will give your closet a finished look and feel. So when I chose to swap out the mishmash of plastic hangers in my closet, I chose these. I love that clothes don’t slip off of them. It helps clothes retain their shapes (avoiding the shoulder bump thing!) They also take up less space than plastic or wooden hangers, which is great if you have a small closet or just want a little more breathing room on the clothes rack. And personally, I love the way they look, too.


What kind of hanger do you like best?


Happy Organizing,

Jens signature black

March 14, 2012

Tips for Staying Focused While Cleaning and Organizing

Today’s blog post is a question that was raised in a recent session of Organizing 101. Because this question comes up frequently and always gets a lot of response, I wanted to share my suggestions on the blog, too. I thought the timing was perfect because it is definitely spring cleaning time for me. How about you? Are you in spring cleaning mode now, too? 


IStock_000012982358XSmallOur workshop participant said: “I have a sticking point when it comes to maintaining what I have cleaned and organized. I am scattered when it comes to cleaning. I run a load of laundry, unload some dishes, then something needs to be put somewhere else, and oh look the dog is out of food… I could change and clean his water bowl, too, because after all I am cleaning today. The phone rings. When I finish the call I head back to the room where I started to clean, and the dryer says it’s done. I spend way too much time with the back and forth thing but can’t seem to stay on track! HELP!!”


Here was my reply:  "This is really common, especially with organizing, when you carry something to another room and then suddenly find yourself starting another project. In some ways, this can be necessary and maybe even beneficial. In other words, once we put in a load of laundry, it wouldn't make sense to sit there and wait for the washing machine to do its business. It does make sense to go and do something else and then come back when the laundry is done washing.

"'s when you get too many things started, and nothing finished, that this becomes a problem. One of the strategies I suggest for organizing is to first, define the project you're working on, and then, set a timer and work on that project for fifteen minutes at a time. (You can go longer...but fifteen minutes a day is a good minimum target. It helps you make progress on your projects and helps begin the creation of a daily organizing habit which will help you keep things organized.) 


"The timer really will help you stay focused. You'll find yourself racing against the clock to see how much you can get done before the timer dings. If the phone rings, you let it go to voice mail and call back in fifteen minutes when you're done. If you notice the dog bowl needs to be washed, you can write it down on a piece of paper to deal with after you're done organizing.


"This leads me to another idea. Carry a little notebook with you while you clean. (Or if you use a smart phone with a list app, that could work too.) When something catches your eye that needs to be done, capture it on your list to do later, instead of interrupting yourself now."


Are you scattered or focused while you clean and organize? Do you have other ideas for staying on task? We'd love to hear from you!


Happy Organizing!


P.S. By the way, if you're in spring cleaning mode, wouldn't it be more fun to do it with the support and encouragement of the simplify 101 community? We have lots of ways to help you get a handle on clutter, as well as daily spring cleaning prompts, in our Quick + Simple Clutter Control online workshop (which starts next week!) Hope to see you there! 

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