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Taxes Are Done – What Papers Do I Save?

What-Papers-Do-I-Save1-5Signing and sending off your tax returns can result in a huge sense of relief, but the paper trail that’s left behind can be almost as confusing as the actual tax forms! The fear of tossing out some document that you might need in the future, can result in unnecessary paper hoarding, and eat up tons of valuable storage space in our homes. Right after your 2013 returns are filed, is the perfect time to reduce your paper clutter and create a system to manage your financial files in the future.

Some people aren’t comfortable going entirely “paperless,” and there are some documents for which a hard copy should be kept, but chances are you’re holding onto a ton of paper that you no longer need. Get yourself a good quality shredder (skip the ribbon-cutting models and go for the confetti or cross-cut shredders for extra security), and use the following guidelines to lighten your paper burden and save a few trees in the process.

The IRS does not require paper copies of your receipts, so you can scan them to your computer and toss the originals. We personally use ShoeBoxed to scan our receipts each month and then we shred the receipt. They’re saved as a PDF on their website and can even be categorized if necessary. Here’s a link for a 30-day free trial. They can scan bank statements, too. Better yet, download statements from your bank or credit card company to save tons of time.

  • You are subject to random audits by the IRS for up to three years after you’ve filed a tax return, so supporting documents should be kept through that period. If a substantial error is found they can go back six years, so if like to cheat on your taxes or if you are unsure, save six years of supporting documentation. Some tax experts recommend holding on to the actual returns indefinitely, just in case your heirs require the information. You can choose to keep the hard copies, or scan it all to your computer. Mine are all scanned.

Everyone has an opinion of what papers you should keep (in paper or electronic format) and what documents you can get rid of sooner. Do you agree with the following recommended guidelines from financial guru Suze Orman?

Keep for one year

  • Pay stubs (can be shredded once you’ve received your W2 and yearly social security statement)
  • Utility Bills*
  • Cancelled checks*
  • Credit Card Receipts* 
  • Bank Statements* 
  • Quarterly Investment Statements (can be shredded once you receive your annual statement)

Keep for 3 – 6 years

  • Income Tax Returns
  • Medical Bills and Cancelled Insurance Policies
  • Records of Selling a House
  • Records of Selling a Stock
  • Receipts, Cancelled Checks and other Documents that Support Income or a Deduction on your Tax Return
  • Annual Investment Statement (keep for three years after investment is sold)

Keep for 7 years

  • Records of Satisfied Loans

Keep while active

  • Contracts
  • Insurance Documents
  • Stock Certificates
  • Property Records
  • Stock Records
  • Pension and Retirement Plan Records
  • Property Tax Records Disputed Bills (keep until the dispute is resolved)
  • Home Improvement Records (Keep for at least three years after the due date for the tax return that includes the income or loss on the asset when it’s sold)

Keep forever

  • Marriage Licenses
  • Birth Certificates
  • Wills
  • Adoption Papers
  • Death Certificates
  • Records of Paid Mortgages

For more information, you can visit Ms. Orman’s website.

* If you are self-employed and/or work from home, you should keep these items for three – six years. You can find information about proper record-keeping practices from the IRS.

Once you’ve scanned and shredded everything else, make sure you back up your newly digitized financial files on either an external hard drive or our preferred method, cloud-based storage option. We use Carbonite on all our computers. Hard drives are hard drives and they will eventually fail. Most people find that tackling paper piles isn’t nearly as difficult as they thought it would be, so schedule a few hours to get your files under control and you can face next tax season without fear! What do you plan to do to manage your financial clutter now and in the future? Please share your tips in the comments below.

Recommendations – Carbonite & ShoeBoxed.

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Menu Planning For A Month – Steps To Achieve Mealtime Bliss

Menu-Planning-for-a-Month-Made-Easy-NOVA-Professional-Organizer-3How often do you end up eating something for dinner that isn’t healthy, or that doesn’t even taste good, just because it’s the fastest, easiest option? Or maybe you feel guilty because you are so rushed at the end of a busy day, that you can’t prepare the balanced and delicious meals your family deserves. When you don’t plan ahead, you end up making poor decisions about what to eat for you and your family, but turning that around can be easier than you think.  There’s a bonus for readers at the end of this article! Keep reading.

If you spend a little time at the beginning of each month to plan a calendar of meals, you’ll save a lot of time, money, and probably a lot of wasted calories, too. Here are a few tips to get your menu sorted out for better health and time management:

There’s no right or wrong way to do it. As with any change in habit you’re trying to create, you have to find the method that works best for you, which means the method you can stick to. Most people start by perusing cookbooks, magazines or the Internet for appealing recipes. Check out Pinterest for pre-curated collections of recipes in any category from healthy to indulgent. Make sure that you’re choosing items that are within, or not too far out of, your cooking comfort zone.

When you sit down with the recipes you selected, it’s a good idea to have a calendar handy so you can lay out your menu according to your real-life schedule. You can find several meal planning tools online, but I like this simple PDF on my friend Erin’s blog unclutterer.com. It has room to list all your meals, as well as a section to the side where you can create your shopping lists.

Start each month by going through the calendar and crossing off dates where you know you’ll be dining out. Then, with an eye toward simplifying your weekly shopping, organize your collection of recipes by protein. This will save you from overbuying at the grocery, and bringing home more food than you could eat in a week. This is important because if you overstuff your fridge, you aren’t able to see what you have and you’re likely to have to toss much of it out when it goes bad. Stick to buying a reasonable amount of groceries – enough for a week or less – to save money and reduce waste.

Next, go through the calendar and mark off any pre-designated meals, like Friday Night Pizza or Tuesday Tacos. This may not be right for you if you thrive on variety, but the routine can be very helpful, especially if you have kids. Also note any days where the kids have evening activities, school plays, recitals, etc., and schedule an easier meal (less cooking/prep time) for those occasions.

Take your recipe list and start to fill in your calendar. Keep your shopping list off to the side as you go, and remember to factor in days when you’ll be lunching on leftovers. You can also repeat your favorite meals throughout the month. Once your shopping is done, make prep time easy by grouping together meals with the same protein. You can grill up all your boneless chicken breast, serve some with rice and veg for dinner, use the rest over greens for a healthy lunch later in the week, and stash another portion in the freezer. Think about how you can save time by preparing multiple meals at once, preferably enough for three or four days, and then you can freeze even more for later in the month. This way, there’s always something tasty on hand ready to be heated up and served when you’re short on time.

You already know that it’s not good to go food shopping when you’re hungry, and menu planning is just the same. Hunger fogs your brain and causes you to make poor decisions, so don’t wait until it’s already dinnertime to decide what to eat. A bit of smart planning will keep you, your family, your schedule and your wallet a whole lot healthier.

Now for the special offer. I’ve recently signed up for a service called Plated. They’re chef-designed recipes and fresh ingredients, delivered to your door! Everything is premeasured and absolutely fresh. Simply follow the menu card, prep and serve your gourmet meal without having to leave the house. Pricing ranges from $12 – $15 a plate, however if you want to try it absolutely free, use this link and get two free plates. In full transparency, this is a referral link. You get two plates free, and I earn the same thing. I wouldn’t recommend it to you if I didn’t think it was an awesome service. Let me know what you think.

What are your best menu-planning tips? Please comment below and let us know how you stay ahead of the cooking curve. Bon appétit!

10 Tips To Cure Paper Clutter

10-tips-to-cure-paper-clutter-Washington-DC-professional-organizer-3Just like laundry and dirty dishes, paper clutter is one thing you can be sure will always keep collecting in your home. But unlike a full sink or an overflowing hamper, your piles of paper can be much easier to ignore. With a little effort – and consistency – you can keep that paper clutter at bay. Here are our top ten tips on how to do it:

1. Schedule an appointment every week (or every other week) to sort through any papers that have accumulated on your desk, in the kitchen, etc. If you’re keeping up with it, this appointment should take no more than 10-20 minutes at most. Write it on your calendar so you’re sure to keep the date!

2. If you’re starting out with a massive collection of paper clutter, you’ll need more time for your first de-cluttering appointment. Schedule a few hours to sort through files, bins, drawers – basically anywhere that paper has collected – and get rid of anything you don’t need. This means notes you’ve written to yourself, but haven’t looked at in years, crumpled old ATM receipts, and the like. If you find a scrap of paper with an address or some other relevant bit of information, transfer it to a paperless storage option, like your laptop or your smartphone. If you’re unsure where it belongs, you can store and sort the info easily using Evernote.com.

3. Control the incoming paper by converting all of your bills to electronic or paperless billing. Many utility providers and credit card companies will even credit you a few bucks toward your bill for choosing a paperless statement option.

4. Create a system to keep paper sorted as you go. Try keeping designated files handy to easily separate your paper into categories: To Do; To Pay; To Read; To File. Then designate a day each week or once a month to empty each file out.

5. Have a safe place for your vital records to be stored and protected. Don’t let your most important papers get tossed in with your To Do lists and other non-essentials. Scan your vital records (birth and marriage certificates, passports, original social security cards, wills, deeds, etc.) into your computer, and then keep the originals in a locked, fire safe box.

6. Trade in your desktop inbox for wall-hanging files. Unlike horizontal stacking files where papers get easily buried, a hanging system keeps things visible and top of mind. Also, it removes the clutter from your desktop, and makes staying on top of your tasks much more simple.

7. Maintain an expense folder for organizing receipts as you go. By filing your receipts weekly, you save yourself countless hours come tax time, and immediately reduce the amount of clutter on your desk, in your drawers and in your wallet. You can sort them by date, expense category, or account… just find a method that makes sense to you, so you’re more likely to stick to it.

8. Mail, catalogues and magazines make up the bulk of the paper that pours into your home on a daily basis. Make sure that unwanted junk mail and circulars get recycled immediately, and take five minutes each week to shred any incoming credit card applications or other financial papers that you don’t need. Keep magazines stacks from becoming unruly by stashing them neatly in a tray or basket. Then thin that basket out each week, when you do your routine paper clutter round up.

9. Click and store! Don’t forget how many uses your smartphone camera really has. Snap a picture of business cards, post-it, or other paper tidbits, and email them to yourself. You can file the email in each appropriate folder within your email client, and then toss that scrap for good.

10. Choose to lose the paper, and get to the bottom of the clutter once and for all. The true reason all that paper is piling up is because you’ve been avoiding tasks, either big or small. Make a decision to stop collecting it, and give yourself a deadline to deal with each task as it comes in. No scrap of paper should be sitting around for more than a week, so get it done, and toss it out!

Please share your ideas in the comments below about how to best manage the paper clutter in your home. Do you have a favorite tip or tool you’ve found to keep the paper under control?

Dyeing Easter Eggs – The Best Guide On The Web

20140403-Dyeing-Easter-Eggs-5Easter is upon us and bunnies abound. Whether you’re gathering the kids for the annual egg dyeing tradition, or you’re getting crafty with DIY decorations, we’ve got all the info you’re looking for to make and display gorgeous Easter eggs this year. Our favorite tips from around the web:

Practical Considerations

This is messy business, so start out by protecting your workspace with newspaper, a plastic drop cloth or an old sheet and break out the rubber gloves if you’re concerned about staining your hands. If you don’t already have what you need, REAL SIMPLE has your shopping list and the basic 1-2-3 of egg dyeing.

Hard-boiling your eggs is best for kids projects, so allow enough time for them to cool down before little fingers handle them. You don’t want to speed up the cooling process by dunking them in cold water, because you’ll end up with a lot of cracked shells.

To make longer lasting ornaments that can be displayed from year to year, take the time to blow the egg out of the shell before dyeing them, as demonstrated by Martha Stewart. The master also advises buying different types of eggs, from tiny quail eggs to giant ostrich eggs, for added visual interest when displaying them in groups.

We loved Frugal Living’s suggestion to skip the egg dyeing kits and make your own using items that you already have at home, like vinegar and food coloring. KIDSCOOKING offers the step-by-step project that you can share, so you can get creative AND impart some money-saving lessons, too! You’ll love these safe, easy to follow recipes for eleven different colors of homemade egg dye. Try using brown eggs for even more variations in color.

Creative Ideas

To create new patterns, follow these easy how-tos from Epicurious. Use tape or stickers, rubber bands, or wax to make beautiful and unexpected designs. Blend colors or try using different concentrations of the same dye and double dip for an ombre effect.

Even more techniques for painting eggs, including a very cool tissue paper method that results in a stained glass-like effect can be explored at Dyeing Easter Eggs for Dummies (it is that easy!). Try “pearlizing” your eggs with a special mica-infused substance for a truly elegant result.

Wikihow gives great directions for marbling, sponge-dipping, applying polka dots, and glitterizing your eggs. The page also offers practical advice, like keeping the egg cartons for drying, or better yet, placing them on a wire cookie racks for less smudging.

Dyeing eggs is a favorite Easter tradition, but the best part is how many different ways there are to do it. Do you have a favorite technique we didn’t uncover? And don’t forget to comment below and let us know what you like to do with your eggs once they’re all dressed up and ready for a very happy Easter!

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Top 10 Garage Organizing Tips – Just in Time For Spring

20140401-Garage-Org-Tips1-5As the temperatures are finally creeping up, it’s time to take our Spring cleaning and organizing campaign outside… to the garage. Make the most of this underappreciated space in your home and get it ready for smart storage and for working on your favorite projects. Even if you just want to just make room to finally move your car inside, remember these top tips for your best organizing results:

1. Designate separate spaces or zones in which to group like items together, such as sports gear, gardening tools, automotive supplies, house repair, etc. It makes finding things easy, clean up is simple, and overall a more functional workspace.

2. When it comes to storing off-season or occasional items in the garage, nothing beats stackable, clear plastic bins. Make sure they have tight sealing lids like the Rubbermaid Roughneck line, to protect your belongings from moisture and critters. Not everything needs to be in a bin with a lid, especially if you’re accessing the items frequently.

3. Pegboards are terrific for vertical storage and they come in a variety of sizes and materials. Useful for hanging everything from gardening tools or hand tools, pegboards are also versatile, so you can adjust them as your needs change. Choose a system that is sturdy enough to carry the weight you need. For a dressed-up look, check out this pegboard system.

4. Give yourself some room. If lack of space is keeping you from your list of DIY projects, make your garage more functional by adding the right workbench. Wall mounted versions like this fold-down model give you the surface you need without taking up any floor space. Add casters to any table to make your workstation mobile, and when you’re done, tuck it neatly out of the way again. Gladiator Garage works makes a handy, adjustable leg workbench I plan to have in my next garage.

5. Whenever possible, use open shelving instead of cabinets. Not only are they easier to install and less expensive, they also take up less room because you don’t need to allow for swinging doors. They also let you see everything you’ve got, increasing the space’s functionality. One exception would be a cabinet with doors that can be locked to store hazardous chemicals if you have small children, especially if the chemicals cannot be stored high out of reach.

6. The only way to keep organized is to keep an eye on what you have. One idea is to store the tiny tidbits on your tool shelves in clear spice jars, so you won’t have to hunt them down when you need them, or mount the jars under a shelf. I use a parts organizer like this for my spare hardware. If you have drawers, try painting them with chalkboard paint, so you can clearly label – and re-label – what’s inside.

7. Not everything is appropriate to store in your garage. If you think you’re saving money buying paper goods in bulk, you’ll be throwing that money away if you leave them out to become insect bait. Paint should also be moved inside, as it will be ruined by extreme weather if your garage isn’t climate controlled.

8. It may be easy to just lean a ladder up against the wall when not in use, but that can be an accident waiting to happen. Avoid having it tip over onto your car – or worse, on a person – by laying it down horizontally and pushing it against the wall. If possible, keep it off the floor entirely by storing your ladder on hooks.

9.  Repurpose wire closet shelving by screwing them into the ceiling joists in your garage. It creates a huge amount of storage for things you don’t need to get to regularly, and you can always see what’s overhead.

10. Once your garage is organized, for an even more streamlined look, install moisture resistant curtains to hide your storage and work spaces. You can also use it as an opportunity to add a pop of color to the typically stark surfaces of a garage. You could even consider laminating posters or your kids’ artwork to create some visual interest in the garage.

Share with us your dreams for your garage in the comments below. What would you use the space for if you could do anything with it, and more importantly… what’s stopping you?

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Passover Planning – Nothing To Get Stressed Over

20140327-Passover2-5The crocuses are barely pushing up outside and the first major holidays of the year are upon us. If thought of hosting your Passover seder has you stressing, trust me, bubaleh, it’s all going to be fine. We’re going to take care of everything… don’t you worry.

First off, forget about getting it perfect. It’s never going to be the same meal you remember from your childhood seders, nor should it be. Make the holiday your own by choosing your favorite traditions and letting go of the rest. Although Passover is one of the most religious of the Jewish holidays, families practice its rituals to widely varying degrees, with this in common: the coming together of family and friends to celebrate the freedom from slavery of their ancestral tribe… and to have a feast!

In more religious households, Passover prep can start weeks before with meticulous cleaning of the kitchen, and other areas of the house. In this way, the most relevant task to prep for Passover is the clearing of the fridge and pantry of any <–bad-LINK–> non-Passover food items. Too squelch any guilt you may have about wasting food, plan your meals leading up to the holiday to make use of anything in the freezer that would have to be tossed. Have a box handy to collect whatever you can donate to a local church or food bank.

A few days before the seder, pull out your Passover dishes, cookware and utensils and move the regular sets into another room. Set aside 30 minutes to clean the Passover set, and get them ready for use.

Make your shopping list according to each market you’ll have to visit, to gather groceries and specialty items for your seder plate. Divide your list by grocery store, farmer’s market, kosher market, etc. Be sure to save your lists on your computer for next year, to make shopping that much easier. We recommend Evernote for keeping track of these lists (and much more).

If you’re still feeling overwhelmed, remember it’s okay to delegate. Have suggestions ready for when guests ask what they could bring. Or take the lead and reach out to family for help before you get too stressed to enjoy yourself.

With big meals like a seder, it’s helpful to create a timeline by working backwards from the time you want sit down. Post your timelines along with your lists of all that needs to get done, in easy to see block print on the back of your cabinet doors. It will make it easy for anyone to step in and help, and you can enjoy the satisfaction of crossing each item off as you complete them.

Give some thought to how you could make the holiday meaningful for you and your family. Remember, your guests will follow your lead, so if you relax and don’t stress out, neither will they. We’d love to hear what holiday traditions you keep each year at your Passover table, or one you plan to start this year. Chag sameach!

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Closet Changeover Magic – How To Make It Easier

20140325-Closet-Change1-5Think you’ve got nothing to wear? Before you rush out and spend a bundle on new clothes, try getting your closet organized for Spring. I bet you’ll uncover the wardrobe that you already have… it’s probably hiding from you in plain sight!

Cleaning out your overstuffed armoire or cramped closet isn’t really something to dread. It’s not as difficult as you think, and the rewards are huge and immediate. Carve out a few hours this weekend, crank your favorite tunes to keep your energy up, and follow these simple steps to get your closet organized in no time:

Move it out! As with any organizational project, you have to start with a clean slate, so begin by emptying everything out of your closet. Gather it into categories as you remove it all: shoes; sweaters; jeans; dresses and skirts; bags, belts and hats; etc. Then wipe down all the surfaces and sweep or vacuum thoroughly.

Thin it out. Move as quickly as you can through each pile and decisively remove any items you no longer wear. Designate what is to be donated, tossed, repurposed, or even sold on eBay, and bag it up and remove it from the staging area. Remember, anything that you didn’t wear this year, you are even less likely to wear next year, so don’t give up precious space storing them. Let it go sooner not later.

Pack it up and put it away. Prepare your clothes for storage by washing or dry cleaning everything. Then pack them in the appropriate totes to protect them from moisture and bugs. I prefer something with a natural fiber so the clothing is able to breath. If your containers aren’t sufficiently transparent, list what you’re putting into each of them, and tape the list to the outside for easy retrieval throughout the year.  Also, store your beachwear or resort clothes separately, so you’re always ready to pack for an impromptu weekend getaway.

Ideally, you could store things as you use them and hanging items would remain hung, but if your storage space doesn’t allow for that, then try to lay your hanging items flat, rather than folding them, to eliminate the need for excessive pressing when they come out of storage. Delicate items should be folded, not hung, to avoid stretching, sagging and pulling of knits. If you don’t have any extra closet space, ask your dry cleaner about storage options – many will hold onto your off-season clothes free of charge, after you’ve paid for their dry cleaning services.

Put it back. Do not start returning your Spring and Summer items to your closet without a plan! Think about your dressing habits and organize accordingly: separate workday from weekend, or if your work clothes are less corporate, try distinguishing dressy from casual. Go a step further, and make sub-arrangements by length and color.

Listen to Mommy Dearest and get rid of the wire hangers. Invest in hangers that will help preserve your wardrobe: sturdy wooden hangers for heavier coats, padded hanger for your delicates, and non-slip hangers for those silky tops. Once you’ve taken stock of how many you need, you can find a great selection of hangers online or at your favorite home store.

A well organized closet is a beautiful sight, and it not only saves you money by reminding you what you already own, it makes getting dressed a whole lot easier! Please comment below and let us know what you LOVE about your closet, and one way you plan to make it even better this Spring.

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Organizing Your Car – The Essential Spring Cleaning Guide

20140320-Car-Organizing-3So many of us feel like we “live in our cars,” yet we don’t pay nearly as much attention to maintaining them as we do our homes. Now that spring is finally in sight, it’s time to wash all signs of winter off our vehicles. You can get your car organized, too, with these tips for bringing the fresh start of spring-cleaning outside to your ride.

If you’re a person who enjoys getting in some outdoor physical activity and saving a few bucks at the same time, then you may be familiar with the DIY carwash routine. Whether you do it yourself or bring your car to the pros, once you’ve got the outside washed and the paintjob shining, follow these easy steps to get an organized interior to match:

Gather a few baskets or bins for inside your car, and a few more for the trunk; small individual containers with lids work best. And you’ll need a visor-clipped CD holder (if that’s how you roll). Next, remove everything from the interior or the car that isn’t tied down and throw away all garbage. Go through whatever is left, and determine what needs to be kept in your car, and what should be stored elsewhere. Use the bins to carry those items inside your home or office, returning them back to their original storage location.

Sort and group everything that is to be returned to your car into the following suggested categories:

  • Emergency roadside supplies: first-aid kit, jumper cables, flashlight, etc.
  • Sports gear for your regular gym visits or scheduled games
  • CDs, kids’ toys
  • Occasional items: a blanket, umbrella, reusable grocery bags
  • Essential items: pens, paper, tissues, hand sanitizer, vital records (registration, insurance)

Start by organizing the prime real estate that is your glove compartment. This space should be reserved for your most important items, and kept clear of clutter, so you never have to dig for the following items when you need them:

  • Proof of insurance and car registration
  • Car’s owners manual
  • Garage door opener
  • Mobile phone charger
  • Small flashlight
  • Pen and paper

If you have a center console, you can use it to stash personal items such as tissues, hand sanitizer, gum, and a coin purse with loose change. Use one of the lidded container or a zipped pouch to organize smaller items, so they don’t migrate into cracks and crevices.

There’s a fine line between having what you need on hand and getting overrun by STUFF! Keep clutter at bay by setting boundaries: allow your kids two items (OK, maybe three) each and store them in a designated tote, seat back or door pocket, where they can be easily accessed. Similarly, set limits on your non-essential items, and put a cap on the number of CDs you carry in the car at any given time. Better yet, just use your mobile phone to play music and ditch the CDs all together.

Items that can be stowed neatly in a bin or basket that will be returned to the interior of your car include occasional items like an extra baseball hat or umbrella, and a collection of reusable grocery bags for any impromptu shopping trips. Use the remaining bins to keep your trunk in order, separating roadside assistance and emergency items like jumper cables and flares from gym bags and sports gear.

As with any area of your home that you wish to keep organized, the best way to maintain a newly organized space is a little at a time. Each time you stop for gas, take a few minutes while the pump is on to gather any collected trash and toss it! Then make it a habit to spend five minutes at the end of the week to remove any items that don’t belong in your car and put them away in their proper place. Make sure whatever remains has a designated bin or bag it belongs in.

Extending your spring organizing efforts to your vehicle will help you get jump on the season. If you have any tips for keeping your car clutter under control, please share them in the comments below.

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Sleeping More Is Key To Better Productivity & Health

20140318-Sleep-3Everyone knows that sleep is critical to good health, but did you know that skipping sleep to pack in an extra hour or two of work done is actually counterproductive? If you want to get more done during the day, you can start by getting more shut-eye at night.

Poor sleep habits can reduce your productivity in many ways. It robs the brain of the time it needs to do its most crucial restorative work, which translates to poorer memory function, concentration, and diminished learning capacity, all of which reduce your productivity.

But how much sleep is enough? If you’re thinking the six hours you snagged last night was sufficient, think again. The National Institutes of Health reports that although sleep requirements do vary for everyone, the average adult needs 7.5 to 9 hours to bring their A-game during the day, so chances are you’re used to operating at less than full throttle.

You may not recognize the subtle signs of chronic sleep deprivation, but if you answer “yes” to any of the following questions, then you’re probably not getting enough sack-time:

  • Do you fall asleep as soon as your head hits the pillow?
  • Is it impossible for you to wake up without an alarm?
  • Do you hit your snooze button every morning?
  • Do you feel sleepy during your afternoon activities?
  • Do you feel the need to nap after meals?
  • Do you get sleepy when you’re driving?
  • Do you look forward to the weekends so you can “catch up” on sleep?
  • Do you fall asleep in front of the television or at the movies?

You may experience any number of symptoms if you’re suffering from chronic sleep deprivation, such as fatigue, irritability, reduced creativity, inability to cope with stress, weight gain, indecisiveness and increased susceptibility to colds or infections. All of these will reduce your productivity as well as your quality of life.

If you have trouble sleeping, it is advised that you keep a sleep journal to track your patterns and habits. They can be very helpful in determining which behaviors are the most disruptive, and how you can adjust them to ensure better sleep and increased productivity. Of course, now there are plenty of online tools to help you track your sleep. Check out this comparison of apps to find one that works for you.

As you begin to take control of your sleeping habits, you can start to reduce the effects of too little sleep by scheduling afternoon power naps… the longer, the better! Sleep researchers at the University of California determined that napping for an hour to an hour and a half improved memory function as much as a full eight hours of sleep. Even grabbing a 20-minute catnap in the afternoon is more of a boost than staying in bed for an extra 20 minutes in the morning. Skip the snooze button and put naptime on your calendar instead, preferably about 8 hours after you wake up, when most people experience a significant dip in energy.

Recognizing, understanding and reversing your chronic sleep deprivation will boost your mood and help you get more done in less time, because you’ll be functioning at maximum efficiency both mentally and physically. Leave a comment below and tell us what do you find to be the greatest obstacle to a good night’s sleep, and how you plan to overcome it.

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Spring Decorating: Accents to Push The Season

meadowMost of us were done with winter by January, but apparently Mother Nature didn’t get the memo. With a few more weeks before spring finally arrives, regardless of what’s happening outside, a few quick decorating tricks can push the season inside your home and bring on a serious case of spring fever!

Color is key in setting the mood in a room, so changing or adding color is the easiest way to transform it. If you don’t want to repaint, you can change the feel of a room by introducing spring colors into your rugs and fabrics. This is a great way to make a big impact, without committing to a complete makeover. Think about the colors you already have in your décor when choosing what colors to add. Use lighter shades of the existing color palette, or find the most complimentary spring shades to accent them. Balance the new colors across your space by repeating them at least three times. This gives a feeling of continuity instead of randomness.

Opt for lighter fabrics, by replacing velvet slipcovers with cotton twills, and heavy drapery with sheer panels. Carefully store the off-season fabrics to protect them from dust and moisture. Toss a couple of throw rugs in sunny citrus hues… or if you’re feeling crafty, you can crochet your own patch of grass to bring some of the green of spring indoors!

White accents around your room, in groupings of picture frames or a freshly painted pair of side tables instantly elevate the mood and infuse an airier quality to your décor. If you prefer a more dressed up space, display objects in symmetrical patterns; leave them slightly askew for a less formal vibe. If you have a collection of frames or an old piece of furniture that you’d like to give a seasonal facelift, follow these tips from Martha for the best whitewashing results.

Like a garden ripe for picking, abundant fruit bowls and fresh flowers bring life to your kitchen and living spaces. Spread some around to add color and vibrancy to darker spaces. In the bathroom, treat yourself and your space to a few fresh towels. Relegate any dingy hand towels to the B-list or donate to your local animal shelter, and choose fluffy, new towels in bright white for an instant update to the bath… and your mood!

Add spring topiaries and a room spray that infuses the sweet smell of fresh linen to help the final few weeks of winter pass painlessly. No matter how cold it is today, we can be (relatively) certain that spring IS coming, so tell us about your favorite room accents or accessories that bring a little spring into your home.

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