The Top Five Life Simplification Plans for 2014

The theme for this year’s Get A Grip project is “Don’t even tell me you don’t have time!”  But, what if you don’t?  What if you have so freaking much happening, so much new information coming in, so much noise and stuff and nonsense that you just don’t know where to even begin looking for 15 minutes every day to get something done?

My dear,quite simply, it is about simplification.

There are 46,000,000 ways to simplify your life according to The Google.  Similarly overwhelming results come up on Pinterest.  And they’re ridiculous.  “Five Hundred Ways To Simplify!”  Trust me, honey, five hundred of ANYTHING is not going to be simple.  Ever.  “A 365-Day Project for Simple Living”.  Um, I don’t know anyone who isn’t overwhelmed by the thought of committing to a 365 day project.

So I did some digging.  I think any list for simplifying that has more than about 15 things on it is missing the point.  I found some that I really like, though.  Check them out:

  1. Checklist:  Tips To Simplify Life  I love this one.  It’s all about setting boundaries–storage, time, and your personal commitments.  If you have lots of storage space, you’ll need lots of stuff with which to fill it.  If you have lots of junk mail coming in, you’ll find yourself surrounded by it or the stuff it leads you to buy.  If you’re in a group that makes you uncomfortable, you’ll spend time and energy trying to fit in with people you don’t even like.  Lose it.  Lose it all.  Unsubscribe from every last bit of it.
  2. 8 Ways to Simplify Life This one focuses on the stuff that we need to do and have, and looks at it from the perspective of simplifying processes.  Yes, you have a yard.  Does it have to be a complicated yard?  Yes, you have to eat.  Does everything have to be a 3 course extravaganza every night?  Yes, you need potions and pastes with which to make yourself presentable.  Do you need a hair style that takes 45 minutes every day?  Do and have what you need, but there’s no need to put on a show.
  3. 10 Tips To Start Living In The Present  This one is about how we feel about where we are in our lives.  It’s deep.  Only one of them is about stuff, and the other nine are about you.  I keep coming back to it–think  beyond old solutions to problems?  BOOM.  He’s talking about fixing from the inside out, because what’s going on inside of your head is likely reflected in your surroundings.  Ouch.
  4. Almost Amish:  10 Principles for a Slower, Simpler, More Sustainable Life I love me some Amish.  I love the quiet community of it.  I love quilts and barnraisings and buggies.  I like that this article includes the idea of knowing your neighbors and sustainability by shopping locally–money is important, and keeping it close to home and spending it wisely provide such peace of mind.  It also touches on God and faith, and while I’m not outwardly religious, I find great comfort in my concept of a higher power.
  5. 10 Ways To Simplify Life By Color Coding Those papers in your office that are just all over the place and you know what’s in there but finding any one thing involves messing all of it up?  Yeah, they go here.  Anything, any process can be color coded.  The first time I ever saw the true genius of color coding was in the movie “Yours, Mine & Ours”–the original with Henry Fonda and Lucille Ball.  Two people with 17 kids between them fall in love, and Henry Fonda comes up with a system that assigns them a bed and a bathroom schedule.  Holy crap, it was genius.  Color coding will revolutionize how the people in your home identify and use stuff.

BONUS:  Zen Manifesto:  72 Ideas To Simplify Your Life OK OK I know, 72 ways to be simple CANNOT by definition be simple.  But I like ZenHabits, and I like Leo Barbauta’s blog.  And this isn’t a list of 72 things to be done, at the end of which your life will be simple.  Pick five, ten things on the list that fit your life and go with them.

Simplifying your life is about setting boundaries.  Anything that adds stress to your world, and this includes people, should be subject to the boundaries you set.


Pauvre De Moi

I’m not so good with handling The Stress.

Seriously, is anyone good at absorbing 50 things that are happening all at once with increasing degrees of involvement required from them?  Without pharmaceutical assistance?  And I’m not talking about catastrophic Oklahoma Tornado kind of stuff.  I’m talking about normal life stuff, that ebbs and flows and usually you can just handle it because not all of it flows in at the same time.

In the past month, I’ve felt like the tide’s coming in, and it’s just kept coming.  And coming.  And holy crap still coming.  And usually it’s just “Eh, lots going on, it will slow down” but this time I couldn’t get a grip (HA!) on the “it will slow down” part.  I didn’t really let on that I was on edge about everything.  I figured that the old adage of “fake it till you make it” would apply and shit would just work itself out as it so often does.

So what did I do?  Well, I drank all the wine and ate all the carbs.  And that has helped me feel IMMENSELY more in control, because now everything that was freaking me out has paled in comparison to the fact that now I can’t fit into my pants.

This weekend, this Wine and Carbs Method of Handling It finally expired, and my stress manifested in a glorious eruption of hives and acne.  I saw my dermatologist today, because all things can be fixed with ointment.  He looked at me and said “Tell me about this stress…”

I’m so unusual, I know, with my Many Major Obligations.  I work full time!  I have a child!  My husband is also busy!  My relatives drive me nuts!  Yeah, I’m the only one sitting at that table, I know. I do have pharmaceutical assistance, and I’ll be the first to laud the merits of getting a little help in that manner.   I’m explaining this to my dermatologist and I just feel like an idiot, because you’d think by now at my age, I could handle my Suburban White Lady problems.

I now have some prescriptions (ointment! yay!) and a confirmation of something that I already knew, that perhaps Talking To Someone About It might help.  Oh lord.  Really?  Ugh.  I’m not a big believer in therapy, because I have a BA in Psychology so obviously I already know all about what they’re going to tell me.

Also?  I’m going to pay someone to listen to me talk about stuff that I’ve been talking to people about for the past 25 years?  The same stuff?  Has that stuff not been talked about ubi omnes recessit vinum?  Why is talking to someone who isn’t part of the problem going to help?  I can’t imagine.

And also again?  Have I discussed how Very Busy I am?  Because I am.  I have responsibilities and obligations, and I spend my days talking to people and then at the end of the day I’m tired of talking.  Why on earth do I want to actively seek out more opportunities to talk?  I’m an introvert.  Talking, especially about myself, is just an effort.  Pauvre de moi.

There are a ton of reasons why Talking To Someone About It just seems like a bad bad bad idea.  These reasons are overshadowed by the good reasons, though.  I’m setting a horrible example for Boo.  Do I want her to go on Oprah when she’s 30 (there will always be Oprah, I believe) to talk about how the coping skills she learned as a child include wine, carbs, and just letting the laundry simmer in the dryer for a week (true story…).  Well that’s just embarrassing.  I can’t have her telling Oprah that.

I also cannot have my husband telling whoever’s hosting Divorce Court (maybe someone fabulously flawed, like Lindsay Lohan) that he cannot take another day of my sad yoga pants and overall indifference that is only interrupted by the aforementioned hives and acne.

My house is organized, and I am a total mess.  This is my deepest darkest secret, and I’m putting it on the internets, and intentionally sharing the link with people who know me.

Get A Grip is going to go through some changes, because I’ve got to get my shit handled before I can say another word about how anyone else should handle theirs.

Living Like Nobody Else

This has been the year where Mr. Incredible and I decided to get our financial shit together.  Our accounting style has been kind of laissez-faire, and it was starting to catch up with us.  We weren’t living within our means–typical too much credit cards and frivolously spendy kind of stuff, and it was time to face up to it.  

Large steps have been taken.  One night we sat down, logged into the bank account, and did a budget in the Dave Ramsey workbook.  I like Dave Ramsey.  Sometimes he gets a little Thankful To Our Lord, but his system works.  Ask anyone.  It’s based on being honest about your resources, and living within them.  Putting on a show is expensive, you know?  Sure, keeping up with the Joneses is fun, but it makes keeping up with the mortgage a little tricky.  So before we went off a cliff, we assessed everything.  EVERYTHING.  To be honest, it’s quite a load off our minds.  

It was brutal. We’d already cancelled cable, scaled back on vacations and other extravagances.  It was time to tell the cleaning lady that we weren’t going to need her services anymore.  Sure, she was just coming every two weeks, but that was a chunk of change that could be better spent on other things.  Once we’re back in the black (I hit the sack, I’ve been too long I’m glad to be back…) we may start that back up (oh, it’s such a lovely time saver) but that just wasn’t something we considered to be essential.  Right now, it’s about essentials.

We had one car payment, and our other car was a charming little convertible that was 10 years old with 130,000 miles on it.  It was starting to need repairs that were just not going to be worth it the cost.  Selling it was our first hard choice.  



Seriously.  But it was time.  And to be honest, it wasn’t an accurate representation of the life we actually live.  I bought it when I turned 30, and I was single and it was awesome and then when I wasn’t single anymore it became kind of ridiculous.  Still awesome, but… yeah.  Ridiculous.

So we sold the BMW (whose name was Lilli Von Schtupp) and we have acquired a new (to us) car that should surprise pretty much everyone who knows me.

Meet Bessie.


I’ma take your grandpa’s style, I’ma take your grandpa’s style,
No for real – ask your grandpa – can I have his hand-me-downs?

You know what?  We paid cash for that bad girl.  It’s a pretty smooth ride (which is why the blue-hairs love them) and it’s in impeccable condition.  Bessie is the quintessential “little old lady drove it only on Sundays” car, and it’s all good.  We’ll put some better tires on her, and tint the windows because summer in Vegas is not for the faint of heart when you have a leather interior.

And this is where we are.  Bessie should give us a year, and then we will be in a position to get something nice for the long term that fits who and where we are.

Being Sick Sucks.

This week was a blur.  In the role required by my secret real identity, I work at a university and this was the first week of the spring term.  I saw more people this week than I like to see in a month.  It was crazy.  Their faces all ran together, and in my head they just exist as a singular talking head giving me reasons why they hadn’t registered for classes yet.

As an added bonus, I contracted some sort of plague that wasn’t severe enough to merit sick days (nor contagious with coughing or sneezing) but did call for OTC medication that put me in enough of a fog to make it feel like I was in an episode of Scooby Doo.  Thursday night I got home and crashed early enough to get rest for Friday, and Friday night I took some burly antihistimines that launched me into some funky dreams involving my childhood home and Jerry Lewis (?).  I slept most of yesterday.

Mr Incredible spent yesterday doing laundry.  Wash, dry, fold, put away.  He changed the sheets on Boo’s bed.  Can I get a round of applause for Mr Incredible?  Because he totally lived up to that name yesterday.

As an added bonus, it was raining, so there was no outside time at all.  Boo was largely left to her own devices. She watched more TV than we prefer under normal circumstances, but that’s how it goes sometimes.  At the end of the day, her playroom looked like a Barbie/Superhero Opium Den after a wild night of partying.


I blame Wonder Woman.

Yeah I don’t know why everybody has to be naked and face down, but apparently that’s the rule.  Lucky Strawberry Shortcake has her clothes permanently on or she’d be on the walk of shame too.

I’m better today.  It’s amazing what 20 hours of sleep in 2 days can do for one’s health.

This week we’re finishing the first month of the House Blast.  When I started it on January 1, I had no idea that anyone would pay attention.  I figured a few of my friends would humor me, and it would likely fizzle out (like most New Years’ resolutions do…) within a couple of weeks.  But it became a Thing, and there are 300 cleaner bathrooms in the world because of it.  The interwebs are amazing.

Next month we’re going to do the master bedroom.  I’ve been thinking about how I’m going to approach it.  It’s not like a bathroom, which is all about functionality.  Our bedrooms are where we land at the end of the day.  It’s the most personal space in the entire house, I think.  Without delving into HBO Late Night topics, it’s where we need to recharge and reconnect with ourselves and our spouses (as applicable…).  There needs to be room in the bedroom to allow for us to prepare for the upcoming day.

And that’s how I’m going to approach it.  Stay tuned.  The end result is going to be amazing.

Cleaning your shower doors: Two man enter, one man leave

OK.  Shower doors.  Let’s do this.

The crud on your shower doors is most likely a lovely mixture of soap/product scum and whatever minerals are in your water.  I live in the Desert Southwest, and our water practically has to be run through a sieve it’s got so much gunk in it. We regularly replace shower heads because they clog up from mineral deposits.   A good long term solution if you have hard water is a water softener, but I realize that may not be practical for everybody.  Look into it, though, and add it to your list of possibilities.  The LimeAway website has a great map that lists hard water areas across the country.

There are a ton of “best way ever!” methods on the interwebs to get shower doors clean.  You may have to experiment a little.  Here are the top two methods, using the least-possible caustic products:

  1. Abrasive:  Be careful here, because you don’t want to scratch the glass.  No SOS pads, no Comet or Ajax.  Get a non-abrasive sponge (I like these), use plenty of water, and try any or all of the following products.
    • Bar Keeper’s Friend–this is a fantastic cleanser.  It’s gentle and unless you’re taking out your aggression while you clean (it happens…) it’s unlikely to scratch the surface
    • Corn Starch mixed with water to form a paste, rub on door, gently scrub, then use a clean damp rag to wipe off the paste and then a third clean rag to “polish” .
    • Baking soda mixed with water to form a paste as above with corn starch.  Extra rinsing here.
    • Soft Scrub
    • Mr Clean Magic Erasers.  We all know them, most of us love them.  Personally, I don’t have time for these on any space bigger than about six inches square.  Give me a block the size of a shoebox made out of this stuff and we’ll talk.
    • Dryer sheets.  Seriously, yet another use for these.  Love it.  Get a dryer sheet really soaking wet, squeeze a little plain blue Dawn on it, scrub.  Rinse well.
  2. Sprays:  Sometimes, caustic is necessary.  I don’t like it either, but if it solves the problem well, then once or twice a year won’t be the end of the world.  These methods tend to be the Happy Fun Ball of homekeeping.  Get some gloves, open a window, and put the kids and the dogs outside when you do this.  Please follow all manufacturer instructions and recommendations, especially when they talk about “test it in an inconspicuous area”.
    • Lime A-Way.
    • CLR–this is my personal favorite.  I love this stuff.  CLR ain’t messing around.  It cleans the bejeezus out of a bathroom and leaves it all shiny.  A+.
    • Anything from the Scrubbing Bubbles product line.  This stuff is hit and miss for me but it’s worth a shot.  The automatic thing you hang in the shower that is supposed to magically clean it while you’re off living your life didn’t work, but the foaming cleaner is good for touch-up cleaning, rather than dealing with A Situation.

So try these.  Any or all of them.  When you find the one that breaks down your specific mixture of solid shower grossness, please share it so we can all benefit from your experience.

NOW.  Once it’s clean, the hard part is over.  Maintenance is going to be critical here.

  1. Get a squeegee for each shower.  New rule in your house:  Anyone who takes a shower squeegees down the glass and the walls before they step out.  This means EVERYONE.  It takes less than 30 seconds.  No exceptions.  A squeegee in the shower will revolutionize how you clean a bathroom.
  2. Look into getting a water softener.  Yes, it’s an investment, but how many more times in your life do you want to spend a day scraping hard water off your shower?
  3. Take a good hard look at your personal products.  What  do you use to clean yourself?  Because that’s what makes up a lot of the stuff you just spent two hours dealing with.  I know we love our potions that make us look and smell pretty, but that stuff lingers, obviously.  Simplify.  Invest in greener products, because gentler products can be used to clean up after them.
  4. I’ve seen recommendations to spray your shower down with Rain-X once it’s super clean.  This is a good idea (it works on your car, right?) but be super careful about getting any on the shower floor.
  5. In the interest of full disclosure, this is my shower, unstaged (I may have folded the towel hanging on the door).

    This picture was taken through the shower door.  Yeah.  Who's bad?

    This picture was taken through the shower door. Yeah. Who’s bad?

That gets cleaned twice a month, but we wipe down the glass every day.  This is what I mean by maintenance.  Please note the squeegee, and trust me when I say that that is the tool that makes all the difference.

The Epitome of Letting Go

Yesterday was my daughter’s fourth birthday.We decided to have a simple birthday party at the house, with friends and family and a few of her friends from school.  And it was pretty simple. I asked her a while back what sort of party she wanted to have.  “Pink and purple and race cars”.


Also? Sugar. Sugar was our theme.

That bundt cake on the left was my own creation.  I thought, “I have fancy pans that can make a cake look like a rose!  How hard can it be?”  Then this happened.


If you squint, you can see how it looks like a rose.

Fortunately, we had a second box of mix.

When I say that we had a simple party, I really do mean it.  Our decorations were balloons and a plastic tablecloth.  The plates didn’t match the napkins, and neither matched the cups.  We used what we had, because the last thing we needed another year’s worth of leftover party supplies.

We didn’t have a bounce house or an organized activity.  No super awesome balloon animal guy (although we do know of one, and he can make ANYTHING out of balloons) or magician or science demonstration.  We served pizza, pizza rolls (best appetizer EVER), candy, chips and crackers and veggies with dips, and the cake and cupcakes came from the grocery store.  There was beer and wine, which I have decided are utterly acceptable at children’s birthday parties.

I usually wear myself out in the days before Boo’s birthday party, worrying about whether the day will be perfect, will everybody have a good time, will they think I’m lame, will their children destroy the house, and on and on.  I’m a classic, textbook introvert, and when too much is happening, I get overloaded.

This year, Mr Incredible actually commented on my lack of freaking out.  I was remarkably calm, to the point of even taking the time to get myself ready before people arrived (I’ve been known to be the one non-impeccable thing at events that we host, because I’m too worn out to fix myself).

I finally figured out what made this year different. This year, I didn’t try to put on a show.  Yesterday was, start to finish, quintessentially us.  We’re not fancy people.  But we’re a boatload of fun and freaking hilarious, and we have managed to surround ourselves with others who are also boatloads of fun and freaking hilarious.  And our kid?  Shoot, her friends and their families?  FUN AND HILARIOUS.  And that’s why yesterday was so awesome.  I let go of what I thought my daughter’s birthday party SHOULD be and I just let it happen.

There was this moment after the cake and presents had happened, when all of the adults were just hanging out and all of the kids were tearing up and down the stairs like maniacs (there was stair diving, which was at once exhilarating and terrifying to watch) and the boys started stomping on balloons and the girls were squealing, and I felt like Mary Steenburgen in Parenthood.

This morning, the house looked like Jake Ryan’s house in Sixteen Candles

It looked like a bomb had dropped.  Toys everywhere, kitchen counters piled two feet high, just chaos.  It took about 4 hours to get it back to normal.  Totally worth it.  As much pride as I take in having a nice clean house, I felt like the Champion Of All Mothers because my kid got to have a blast with her friends on her birthday.  There was no fussing about the mess, no “now now you’re getting too rambunctious, something’s going to get broken” (although we did calm them down occasionally for purely safety reasons).  Nothing broke.  There were a few bumps and bruises, as should be expected when you’re popping balloons with your bottom on a tile floor.  The kids and the adults had a good time, and so did I.

I’ve come to appreciate the value of just letting stuff happen.  Because stuff’s going to happen whether you bust yourself trying to orchestrate it or not.  I decided to enjoy the day, and that made it possible for everybody else to enjoy it as well.

Basking in the glow.

Basking in the glow.



House Blast 2013

On January 1, I got a wild hair and posted some crazy talk to the Get A Grip Facebook page.  I’d stepped back a little bit from organizing, mainly because it was starting to feel kind of contrived.  Declutter!  Take control!  Blah blah blah!  Whatever!  I needed to find a focal point.

I called it House Blast 2013, and the response has been astonishing (in a good way).  It’s a pretty simple concept:  in the course of this year, we’re going to do a guided, motivated, realistic overhaul of the stuff in your house.  Every day except Sunday (even God rested on Sunday) I’m going to post a task, a goal, an idea, a plan, SOMETHING that is going to lead you in the direction of getting organized, room by room.

I think it’s important to lay down some assumptions, so that we’re all on the same page.

  1. This isn’t your #1 priority.  You’re not anxiously anticipating my daily offering.  You’ve got other stuff going on, and my words, no matter how wise, are not going to dictate your life.  It’s cool.  My hope is that the One Extra Thing that I come up with for you to do is something you can fit into your day without it becoming one MORE thing, which is something else entirely.
  2. You have different rooms than I do.  One month, we may do “guest bedroom” which may translate into “extra room where junk goes to die” in your house (like it does in everybody’s house, seriously…).  We’ll need to trust each other, and adapt.  I’m open to feedback.  If the current month’s room doesn’t have a place in your floorplan, don’t panic.  There’s bound to be something close that will be applicable.  Stay with me.
  3. Not Everything Needs To Be Perfect.  For realsies.  Most of the time, good enough is good enough.  This is about living on the path of least resistance, and not having to dig through a mess just to get through the day.  I read this article on Lifehacker, about Clearing to Neutral.  That’s all we’re doing, just resetting the space and taking it back to the starting point.
  4. I will occasionally post pictures of my actual home, in the interest of Full Disclosure.  In these pictures you will see that my actual home is not perfect.  There are spots and stains and stuff on the counters and all the things that come from living in a home like a real person.  You will also see, hopefully, that when a home is organized, when the aforementioned detritus of daily life is dealt with on a regular basis, it becomes manageable.
  5. I am always going to be open to requests and suggestions.  I have a pretty good idea of how a bathroom gets piled up, but you may have something going on that I didn’t think of.  Tell me.

Five things.  I like that.

January is obviously the master bathroom, or whatever bathroom in your home in which you get yourself ready in the morning.  February is going to be the master bedroom.  Mid February, I’ll let you know what March’s room will be, and so on.  We’re going to focus on the rooms where you and your family/housemates/pets spend the most downtime, which means we’ll be creating your very own soft spot to land before we worry about fixing the “company” spaces.  Your home needs to be comfortable for you, and once it is, it will be more comfortable for anyone else who swings by.

For those of you who are new to Get A Grip, here’s a link to The First Post of the blog.  I started this as a sort of escape hatch from my actual day job, and it has become a lot of fun for me.  I write like I talk, which means there may be a little bit of cursing (you’re welcome to do so as well, but let’s keep it PG-13ish if we can…).  I understand that there’s nothing more personal than the contents of your home, and that some of the things we hang on to are kept for reasons other than utility.  We’ll talk about it here and on the Facebook page, and you can email me at anytime if you want to chat one on one.

If you like what you’re seeing, stick around and tell your friends.  We’re going to keep this nice and easy.  Again, this isn’t about making your home into a perfect palace, because that would be impossible to maintain.  This is about being able to sit down at the table to eat a meal, knowing what you have in your house and where you put it, and not panicking if someone calls you and says “Hey I’m in the neighborhood and I’ll be there in 10 minutes!”

We got this.