simplify 101
Creative Organizing Blog

October 05, 2012

Kitchen Organizing Myths Busted

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The final session of my Organize Your Kitchen online video workshop for 2012 started yesterday (and there's still plenty of time to join). In anticipation, we’ve been talking about kitchen organizing on our Facebook page for the past couple of weeks. We asked our Facebook friends what they needed in order to have the organized kitchen of their dreams. While a few friends said they needed a miracle or an extreme home makeover, most of the responses revolved around the issues of time, money and space. While those can be real obstacles, they can also be myths that keep us from reaching our organizing goals.


If you want to get more organized—whether in the kitchen or elsewhere—and feel that time, money or lack of space is preventing you from reaching your goals, following are myth-busting ideas to help you.


Worth the Investment

Think of organizing in terms of investing. Yes, it takes time, effort, and sometimes even money up front, but once you’ve created an organizing system that works for you, that investment keeps paying you back time and again. This is especially true in the kitchen. Have you ever opted for take-out or costly convenience foods because you don’t enjoy being in your kitchen? Or, maybe you went out for dinner because you weren’t sure what was in the refrigerator and pantry, making it too cumbersome to pull a meal together. A disorganized kitchen makes it harder to do everything. And there really is a fine line between what’s simple enough to do that we do it consistently, and what feels just a notch too hard (so we opt for something easier.)


But consider this. A simple storage solution like a Lazy Susan can make it easier to keep track of the food in your pantry, cupboards and refrigerator. The 18" Lazy Susan's I use in my pantry (shown below) are currently $14.99 which is less than the price of Chinese take-out for my family of four. The take-out is gone in less than 20 minutes...but the Lazy Susan will keep making life easier for years and years to come. Bottom line:  when your kitchen is organized you can save money week after week because you’re more inclined to eat in and there’s less chance of food going bad in the back of the pantry, cabinets or refrigerator. 


Discovering Space

I am no stranger to small kitchens, so I fully understand that small spaces can be challenging. Sometimes it feels as if the only solution would be a bigger space. But through organizing my own kitchen, as well as helping countless clients, I have discovered you don’t always need more space to organize any area in your home—even the kitchen. You can make things better, just by rearranging where things go and by evaluating what things you need and use, and which things are just taking up precious space. If you have items in your kitchen that you use just once a year, these could be stored in another area of your home, freeing up valuable real-estate in your kitchen for things you use everyday. Plus, by utilizing simple storage solutions, you can maximize the space you have. Finally, small kitchens can be ultra-efficient when they’re organized to support how you use the space (another great time saver!)


Organized pantry

Motivation + Time

Getting motivated, staying motivated or coming up with enough time, energy or willpower was another kitchen organizing obstacle our friends shared on Facebook. It can be hard to muster up the time and energy to organize your entire kitchen in a single day, but if you tackle it one drawer, cabinet or shelf at a time—it’s very doable. With a bite sized approach, you can fit the project into even the busiest of schedules. In my online workshops I emphasize the idea of creating organized habits by making progress on your organizing projects for as little as fifteen minutes a day. This approach is effective because it is much easier to find fifteen minutes of time (and motivation!) to work on a project than it is hours or even days. Often, once you get started, organizing and decluttering feels so good you want to keep going! Often we wait for motivation to take action. But what if we try switching this around: Take action and the motivation will follow.


What are your obstacles to organizing your kitchen? Do the ones listed here resonate with you or is it something else altogether? Thanks for sharing!


September 05, 2012

5 Ways to Simplify Dinner During Busy Times

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Around simplify 101 you might say we have dinner on the brain. No, we're not sporting spaghetti on our heads or anything crazy like that. Instead we've been talking about dinner and cooking and meal planning and how to make the whole thing a few notches easier. Why all the talk about dinner? Well, tomorrow our new online "Easy Meal Planning" workshop is  starting up, and with the new school year in full swing, it's a good time to take a step back and simplify dinner. In the spirit of making dinner easier, in this post Jennifer shares five ideas to simplify getting dinner on the table. Hope you enjoy!  ~ Aby


Is it fair to say that back-to-school time can be a bit, uh... hectic? The transition to our “new normal” – complete with school days, homework, and after-school activities – takes a bit of getting used to in my family. This time of year can make simple things like getting dinner on the table seem anything but simple!


Whether it’s back-to-school, a job change, holidays, or sports seasons, certain times of the year are simply more hectic than others. When you approach these seasons, think about what you can scale back on. Cooking dinner is an area that I try to put into auto-pilot at these times. While dining out and carry-out can work in a pinch, my family values home-cooked meals. Here are some things we do to simplify dinner time.


Simplify-dinner-salad simplify01

Salad can save the day. Not everyone feels that salad is satisfying enough, but I think with the right combination, it can be. First, you’ve got to go big. And second, you’ve got to include some protein in the form of cheese, beans, hard-boiled eggs, nuts, or even some grilled meat leftover from the night before. Third, pull out some crackers or crusty bread, and then even the carb-lovers are happy.


Slow down when you’re in a hurry. I like that bit of advice for life and meal-making! The slow cooker is my best friend this time of year, and I often prep it the night before or while I am making breakfast and packing lunches. This may be silly, but when I have prepared 3 meals for my family by 9 a.m., I feel like some sort of super hero. My latest favorite slow cooker recipe is Honey Sesame Chicken from 5 Dinners in One Hour. Oh, so good!

Honey-sesame-chicken copy

Slow Cooked Honey Sesame Chicken
5 chicken breasts
¾ C. honey
¼ C. light soy sauce
½ C. chopped onion
¼ C. ketchup
2 t minced garlic
¼ t red pepper flakes (optional)
2 t olive oil
4 t cornstarch
6 T water
Place chicken in slow cooker. Mix next 7 ingredients and add to cooker. Cook on low for 6-7 hours. Mix last 2 ingredients in a small container, adding to slow cooker the last 15 minutes of cook time. Stir to combine. Before serving, sprinkle chicken with 2 T sesame seeds. Serve over cooked rice with steamed broccoli.


Count on casseroles. I love casseroles during busy times, not just because of their ease but also because it’s often great comfort food. When I know we are heading into a busy season, I will double a few of our favorite casserole recipes — one for now and one to freeze for later. Keep in mind, though, that certain foods common to casseroles don’t freeze well. Avoid potatoes, sour cream, and cream cheese. Also, slightly under-cooking vegetables or pastas for casseroles will help them maintain a better texture during freezing, thawing and ultimately baking.


Bring on “brinner.” Breakfast for dinner gets raves at my house. In fact, my kids would love it if I served it once a week! Pancakes, waffles, fresh fruit, and yogurt are some of the staples for our brinner. Most recently, I served it up in the form of a DIY yogurt parfait bar with various types of yogurt, fruit and toppings. It doesn’t get any easier than that!


Yogurt-parfait-bar simplify101

Embrace a wrap. Why I don’t turn to sandwiches and wraps more often, I honestly don’t know! If I’m OK with serving breakfast food for dinner, why would I feel badly about lunch food at dinner? Really, serving up a sandwich — maybe even toasted or grilled — is a cinch. And as an added bonus, my kids are completely delighted with PB&Js and baby carrots for dinner. Score!


Soup is so simple. For that very reason, I think it can sometimes be overlooked. But, a hearty soup with bread makes for a very satisfying meal. I remember coming home from elementary school on fall days to the delicious aroma of homemade soup. My mother would make it while she had time in the afternoon and let it slowly simmer. Mmmm, this is making me anxious for cooler weather so I can make some of my favorite soups! My mom had a great idea to prepare it as she had time before we arrived home from school. Another option is to choose quick-cooking soups. Keeping broth, canned tomatoes, canned beans, frozen veggies or other favorite soup staples on hand allows you to whip up a soup super-fast! One of my favorite fast soups is a Tortellini Soup recipe I adapted from eMeals.


Tortellini Soup
4 cups chicken or vegetable broth
1 10-oz. package frozen tortellini
16-oz. package California blend frozen vegetables
14.5-oz. can fire roasted tomatoes
Bring broth to boil. Add vegetables and tortellini. Return to boil and boil gently for 5-7 minutes or until tortellini is cooked through and vegetables are tender. Stir in tomatoes. Serve with grated parmesan cheese, if desired.


What’s your favorite tactic for dishing up dinner during busy seasons? Feel free to share your recipes with us in the comments!

  Jens signature black

September 03, 2012

Organized Drop Zone Gives Stuff a Place to Land

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In last week’s Quick Tip email, I covered the concept of creating a drop zone in your home, which is an intentional landing spot for the items in our arms and hands when we come through the door of our home. Jennifer took action on this idea, and shares her story with us in today’s blog post.


We walk in the door and kick off our shoes. Right there. The kids slide out of their backpacks and lay them down. Right there. We put down the mail, keys and sunglasses. Where? Yep, right there. OK, your “right there” is probably different than ours, but maybe you have the same problem?


Backpack-shoes - simplify101

We come into the home with the stuff of the day – whatever supplies we needed for whatever we’ve just been doing. Even if that stuff has a more permanent home somewhere in the house, it was never practical for me to expect myself or anyone else in my family to take it directly there. I’m not going to walk directly to my bedroom closet to put away my bag and shoes, and then head downstairs to place bills in the office, all the while toting around a bag of groceries to put away in the kitchen. We all know that’s not real life!


So, items are placed in a more (hopefully) temporary spot in the meantime. Right? And for however long that meantime lasts, that can feel like some serious clutter around the house. But like Aby says, the easiest way to solve this problem isn’t to try to change the habit of dropping what’s in your arms, but rather, to create a drop zone for these everyday items. 


When I took a look at what needed a place to land, I recognized it was primarily the kids’ backpacks and coats or jackets, kids’ shoes, the mail, and my purse. I took a look at how we entered the house and our traffic pattern. (That was pretty easy to figure out… Just follow the trail of stuff!) Whether we came through the garage or front door, the hall closet was ideal.


But inside the closet, there was no good place for the kids’ backpacks. Plus, they can’t easily reach the hangers to hang their coats. So, we installed these double hooks right at their level for their bags and jackets. Inside the closet, there’s also a shoe rack. I also found this was an ideal place for important reminder notes. I scored these cute, dry-erase wall stickers at the dollar store. Perfect!


Drop zone - simplify101

For me, I needed a place to tuck my purse, so I generally use the over-the-door hook for that. I love having a central place to keep it where it’s out of the way but also convenient for all my comings and goings!


Just a few steps away from this closet, we have a hall table that is the most popular spot for our stuff to settle.  That actually makes a lot of sense because it’s centrally located. But obviously, I don’t love the look of a stuff-covered table just inside the front door! I put clutter bins on the bottom of the table to corral the kids’ belongings.



We also ran chargers into the drawers so that they have actually become charging stations for phones, mp3 players and such. And a decorative tray looks lovely when empty, but also contains the mail, keys, and other clutter for a bit.



I love these ideas, but I’ll be honest with you‑ good ideas don’t mean anything unless you put them into action. And like anything new, it definitely requires forming a new habit! We’ve been consistent, though, and I’m happy to report that this is really working for us.


What is the stuff you need to contain in a drop zone?

Jens signature black

Thanks for sharing, Jennifer! "Take action" is something I say a lot in my online workshops and instant downloads.  I couldn't agree more that good ideas are not helpful unless we act on them. In fact, great information and wonderful ideas can really just add to the clutter in our minds unless we act on them. So here's to "taking action!" 


August 09, 2012

10 Time Management Tips

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The lazy days of summer are about to fade away into the crazy days of fall. Whether fall has you heading back to school or simply back inside after a season of summer fun, now is a terrific time to give your time management strategies a tune up. Ahead are ten tips to help you make the most of your time any time of the year. 


  1. Know your priorities. The first step to gaining control of your time is to know your priorities. When you know what’s most important to you, you'll become more deliberate about how you spend your time. What matters most to you? Take a few minutes now to jot down your answer to this question.
  2. Get your appointments and to-dos out of your head. Keeping to-dos and appointments in your head only adds to your stress. And it makes it much harder to prioritize your activities. Use a calendar, to-do list, planner, smart phone or tablet to track these obligations, and then, use your brain power for getting them done. 
  3. Choose your yeses carefully. When you say “yes” to one activity or task, you’re ultimately saying “no” to something else. Use your priorities as a filter to decide which tasks and activities to say yes to and which ones to say no to. When you choose your yeses (and no’s) wisely you’ll spend your time more purposefully and create a life you love.
  4. Know how to say no. Say things like "Thank you for the offer, but I'll have to pass this time." Or "Thank you, but that doesn't fit in my schedule or priorities at this time." Having some pre-rehearsed, friendly ways of saying "no" will help you muster the courage to decline offers graciously when that’s the best decision for you.
  5. Make sure you have some fun-stuff on your to-do list. Are you aware of how the tasks on your to-do list make you feel? If your to-do list is like most, some of the tasks deplete your energy, while others energize you. The terrific thing about those energizing tasks is that they act like little productivity power pills—they give you more energy and enthusiasm to tackle the other items on your list. So, to make the most of your time, make sure your to-do list has activities that you find fun and that energize you!
  6. Give yourself permission to quit. Just as it makes sense to stop eating when you’re full, it makes sense to stop projects when they’re no longer satisfying to you. Reevaluate any project that has been lingering on your to-do list in a state of partial completion. Ask yourself this question: Given what I know today, if I hadn’t already started this project, would I choose to start it again? If the answer is no—give yourself permission to quit. You’ll free up your time for more important projects and activities.
  7. Tap into the power of completion. Completing a lingering project or task fuels your energy and gives you motivation to tackle the other items on your to-do list. The endorphin rush that comes from checking something of your to-do list is real—so pick a project that’s near completion, and make it a point to finish it ASAP.
  8. Minimize the little time wasters. Little time wasters are like little impulse purchases—over time they add up to a lot of time and a lot of money! Five minutes on Facebook, ten minutes spent procrastinating on an important task, and a few minutes (several times a day) checking email instead of handling it—adds up to a lot of wasted time! Become aware of your little time wasters, and then minimize them. For example, if you currently check your email every fifteen minutes, see if you can cut this back to checking every twenty minutes. Assuming you work an eight hour day, this step alone would equate to eight fewer interruptions—and time leaks in your day! Just think what you could get done in that amount of time!
  9. Tackle your highest priority task first. Deal with your most important task when your energy is the highest. You’ll get the task done more quickly and getting it done will boost your confidence for handling the rest.
  10. Understand what time management really is. Time management isn't about filling every moment of your day with productive activity. Instead, time management is about feeling good and using your time purposefully. It’s about feeling energized and in control of your day. It’s about being able to relax and enjoying the moment, instead of being distracted or worried about the items on your to-do list. It’s about creating time in your schedule and your life for the people and activities that matter most to you.

In the end, how we spend out time is how we spend out lives. Are you making the very most of your time?


Happy Organizing,



August 03, 2012

Let’s Get Organized for the Weekend

(Back to our regularly scheduled program…)

It’s time for Finish It Friday. It’s time to get ourselves organized and prioritized for a fun and productive weekend. What’s on your to-do list this weekend? Here’s what’s on tap for me:


  • Boot camp. I have to tell you, this is soooo therapeutic for me right now. I love boot camp. :)
  • Watch the Olympics.


  • Get ready for back-to-school. Yikes! I still have quite a bit to do. (This back-to-school checklist will definitely come in handy!)
  • Laundry.
  • Clean.
  • Plan meals for the week ahead.


That’s all I have planned so far. But I’ll let you know what else made the list on Monday. I hope you have a great weekend! Thanks for joining me for another Finish It Friday.


July 30, 2012

Monday Morning Check-In

Good morning! I hope you had a great weekend. Mine was…relaxing. Exactly what I needed. I did pretty well with my to-do list and even got a few bonus things done. But mostly, I watched the Olympics and read. The best part of the whole weekend was waking up on Sunday morning to RAIN! It is so dry here and even though we didn’t get a ton of rain, it was nice to get some rain. It restored my faith that it won’t stay hot and dry like this forever. Alright…here’s the run down on my list…


  • Boot camp. Check! It wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be—hooray! I’m sore but I have been much, much worse before. Yay.
  • Read. I finished my book. I’m so glad I read it. Cute, fun, funny. (Note to self: read more just for fun books!)
  • Movie night with friends. Check! We watched Crazy Stupid Love. I’m no movie critic…but I enjoyed it. 


  • Laundry. Hello, how did I go from in good shape on Friday to three loads to do on Sunday? Seriously? How does that happen? I haven’t a clue…but the good news is…it’s all done again.
  • Plan next week’s meals. (And shop.) Check and check. And here's the new dish we're trying this week: Gazpacho. Hope it's yummy. 
  • Clean. Check! But I ran into a little snag with the shower cleaner thing. (I didn’t have the dish soap. So that is on my errands list for the week. I haven’t given up that this is the thing that will simplify my least favorite cleaning job.)
  • Start and finish an important writing project. Okay…so I was doing well until I got here. There is no set deadline for this project at this point. I definitely need to be in the right frame of mind to do it…so I will wait and do it when the timing is right. No worries.


Add On To-Dos

  • Declutter my command central binder. This is crazy but true: my kids start school two weeks from Wednesday! In preparation, I cleaned out our home reference binder to create space for the new papers that will be coming home from school very soon. 
  • List new workshop for sale! Hooray! Want to know what it is? Here you go...



So that’s my check in! How was your weekend? Thanks for sharing your updates and thanks for your support about my challenging situation. I really appreciate it. And thank you for joining me for Finish It Friday. It definitely helps keep me motivated and focused on having fun while getting things done over the weekends. I hope you have a great week! 


P.S. One more thing for my scrapbooking buddies. Lain has put together a special offer on my two True Scrap Videos. If you were kicking yourself for not getting in on Trues Scrap I or True Scrap II's your chance to get in on my classes (for a really great price!). Click here to view more details.

July 27, 2012

It’s Time for Finish It Friday

Hello friends. It’s hard to believe that its Friday again already, isn’t it? And it’s hard to believe I haven’t blogged a bit since Monday. I intend to get back into the “regular” blogging groove again here soon. There’s been lots going on around here this summer. There’s been some really good and exciting stuff…like a new workshop (that I’ll be announcing very soon) as well as some other exciting changes we’ve been hard at work making happen. And there’s also been some challenging things I’ve been dealing with this summer. These haven’t been fun or exciting at all. Both of these things…the good stuff and the bad stuff…have kept my creative juices tied up in other places. So, this explains the rather lackluster blogging as of late.


But, I will be back.


I’m really excited to let you in on the exciting stuff that’s been going on…and I think I’m almost ready to give you some insight into the challenging stuff as well. But for now…it’s time to share our weekend to-do lists.


Thanks for hanging in there with me during this blogging dry-spell. And thanks for joining me in Finish It Friday. I think now, as much as ever, I'm in need of the friendly accountability I get from Finish It Friday. So thank you, thank you. :)’s what’s on tap for me…



  • Boot camp. Oh dear, I haven’t been to boot camp in two weeks. I’m scared. Really. Scared. ;) Wish me luck.
  • Movie night with friends.



  • Laundry. I’m in good shape here. And I love starting the weekend in good shape laundry-wise. Don't you?
  • Plan next week’s meals. (And shop.) By the way, the two meals I tried last week (which are here and here) were both great. I’m planning to try a couple more new meals again this week.
  • Clean. Ugh. So not fun, right? Organizing, yes please. Cleaning, no thank you. But I’m going to try this for one of my least favorite cleaning tasks…cleaning the shower. Hope it works great and simplifies that task for me. That would be nice.
  • Start and finish an important writing project.


I’m going to leave my list at this and see what inspires me into action…or relaxation. How about you? Do you have a busy weekend planned? Thanks for sharing your to-do list! Have a great weekend.


July 20, 2012

Let’s Get Organized for the Weekend

Happy Friday to you! I hope you had a fantastic week. I woke up this morning all ready to write my Finish It Friday post…and then went on and did other things on my to-do list! A few minutes ago I gasped and said “It’s Friday! It's Finish It Friday! Oh no!” So…here is the post—and my to-do list—a bit later than intended. Sorry about that! 


  • Spend time with my family. It seems like we have been running around like crazy this summer. Some nights I go to bed and literally have to remind myself who is home and how is away! But this weekend we will all be together – hooray! So I’m going to keep the to-do list very light and enjoy this. Summer is flying by. Time to slow down just a bit. 



  • Laundry.
  • Plan weekly meals.
  • Organize some papers in my office. And end the week with a nice, clean slate. 


As I said, I'm keeping my list simple this weekend. How about you? What’s on your to-do list this weekend? Thanks for sharing. Hope you have a great one!


July 19, 2012

Guest Post: After You Declutter It’s Time to Change Your Habits

Today's blog post is a sample of my weekly Quick Tip newsletter, which (this week) is brought to you by Janine Adams—my friend, expert organizer, and the instructor of the popular online workshop Simplify Your Life with Habits + Routines. Today we’re kicking off the final session of this workshop for 2012. So if your life is feeling a bit too complicated, join Janine and learn how to create habits and routines that will simplify your life and free up your time and energy! (By the way, for the first time ever, we’ve made it possible for you to sample the first lesson on us absolutely risk-free. Want in on the free sample? Click this link now to gain access!)


After You Declutter: Change Your Habits

By Janine Adams

I love helping clients declutter and organize their spaces. As challenging as it can be to go through belongings and let go of unloved and unused items, this is actually just the first step. The truth of the matter is that, for most people, there’s another big step: changing your habits surrounding your stuff. Without new habits, that newly created order will not stick.


Sometimes houses get messy and cluttered because of some less than beneficial habits. For example:

  • Shopping for the thrill of the hunt
  • Not taking the time to weed out belongings periodically
  • Storing things in an inconvenient place, so it’s hard to put them away
  • Letting disorder build to a breaking point before putting stuff away


So once you’ve taken time to declutter and get organized, it’s important to focus on how you can turn the habits that contribute to clutter into good ones that keep clutter at bay. Examples of some great habits that will support maintaining order include:

  • Shopping mindfully and considering where you’ll store any new purchases
  • Weeding out storage areas on a regular basis
  • Putting away items after you use them
  • Doing a clean sweep of public living areas before bed, putting away ay items that remain out
  • Running the dishwasher at night and emptying it in the morning, so the kitchen counters stay clear


Great habits are the foundation for maintaining order and for living an easier life. And creating new habits can be easier than you think. When you link new habits with existing ones, you end up doing things automatically, which can dramatically decrease the stress—and clutter—in your life.

Janines signature001

P.S. Don’t forget, Janine’s workshop begins today! Join the workshop now, or go here to try the first lesson for free!


July 13, 2012

Let’s Get Organized for the Weekend

Happy Friday! I hope you had a wonderful week. Are you up for another round of Finish It Friday? I am! Let’s do this…


  • Pick up Kailea!
  • Dinner out.



  • Laundry.  I’m in good shape at the moment which is good, because that first bullet point is going to create a lot of laundry for me. :)
  • Plan weekly meals + grocery shop.


And that’s all I’ve figured out so far. I’m having a hard time thinking past that first bullet point. ;)


What’s on your Finish It Friday list this week? If you’d like to join in the fun…simply post your weekend to-do list here in the comments. And then, check back in on Monday to report your progress! It’s a form of friendly accountability to help you…have more fun and get more done.


Enjoy your weekend!


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