Breast cancer survivor and clutter clearing author learns to walk her talk

Clutter clearing cancer coping author and motivational speaker We can learn to live our priorities fully (and not just surviving or getting by on a day to day basis) by clearing out the distractions and focusing on what is important to each of us, our families, and our lives. Cancer Survivorship Coping Tools: We'll get you through this by Barbara Tako, two-time cancer survivor and published author and motivational speaker on the topic of clutter clearing. For updates on this new book, click here.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Winter Clutter Clearing Motivation

During the holidays when it is cold out and the snow may be piled high at the end of the driveway, it is a great time to get motivated to get rid of clutter and get organized. This can be an introspective time of year. As long as we are spending more time in our homes right now, why not make them as pleasant and nurturing for ourselves and our guests as possible?

One winter I found motivation in Donna Smallin's book Organizing Plain & Simple (Storey Publishing, North Adams, MA, 2002).  Her book motivated me to get back to the basics. A good way to get started is to read a new-to-you clutter clearing and home organizing book or reread a favorite. Donna Smallin's book is well organized and concise. You can work through your home with her room by room as you read each chapter. Or, you can use her Table of Contents or Index to quickly get ideas to tackle specific concerns like kids' rooms or home offices.

What helps to motivate clutter clearing besides books? Take a field trip to an organizing store. Seeing the products that are out there might motivate you to go home and deal with some of your clutter. Please don't buy anything, though, until you've gotten rid of the clutter and you know exactly what you need to organize the rest.

For another motivator, try a reward. Preferably not shopping to bring more clutter home to organize...But, how about a new organizing product, a movie, or a massage or pedicure? By taking care of your home, you are taking care of everyone else who lives there, so it is fair to reward yourself too.

Another way to motivate yourself is to plan a dinner or a party in your home. This creates a deadline for you to take care of that clutter. Some of us work better with a little pressure. If that is your style, go for it! If that isn't your style, skip the stress.

Getting help could also motivate you. Enlist children, spouse, partner, friend, or professional organizer ( is the website to find members of the National Association of Professional Organizers). If you know someone is coming to help you, you are going to be more likely to make some progress.

You could also try to motivate yourself with the "just do it" technique. Get rid of the perfectionism and procrastination. Set the timer for fifteen minutes and tackle something. Many tasks aren't as difficult as we make them in our heads, and they don't take as long to do as we think they will either. Every little step can help make your home more comfortable and free up your time and energy for other things.

Remember that clutter clearing and home organizing is a process--not a "once and done" activity. The contents of any home are a function of the season, your life stage, and your current hobbies and interests. It doesn't happen overnight, but it does get better little by little. You can do this! Be stubborn. Keep going even when mistakes happen or things backslide and back up on you. Who is going to win here? You or your stuff? You are, of course!

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Simplify Holiday Gift Giving

I come from the tradition of Christmas, but I believe these ideas can apply to many holiday traditions. If you have children, grandchildren, nieces, or nephews, is Christmas or other holidays a time of “giving” or “gimmes”? Do your children point excitedly to every toy commercial or compile long wish lists as they page through holiday toy catalogs and newspaper advertising circulars? Does your teenager yearn for an expensive article of clothing or maybe even a stereo or a computer?  How can we help our holidays mean more for our families and children than a brief, sometimes expensive, feeding frenzy of presents under the Christmas tree? Here are a few suggestions to help get children and adults get past the “seasonal gimmes.”

First, children and adults could draw family member names from a bowl and be a Secret Santa for someone for a few days just before Christmas. Once or twice a day they can come up with a simple gift or service to perform for this person. It can be anonymous or not. This thought process can dramatically change everyone’s mental focus because it requires them to think about how to give rather than to receive.

Provide some craft supplies and ideas so family members can make some gifts for others. These can be simple gifts from the heart: Decorate a plain picture frame, or make a decoupage plate. Apply glue and glitter to a plain glass ball Christmas ornament. Turn a small plain wooden box into a personalized jewelry box for someone by painting it and putting their name on the lid. Everyone will be more involved in giving a present if they have a personal investment of time and effort to make it.

Consider giving older children a small holiday allowance and take them holiday shopping. They can learn to plan and budget as they shop for others. It may be appropriate for them to spend a portion of their own savings too. Shopping this way is a good way for children to begin to learn money management skills.

Include children in any service projects you undertake as a family. Here are some ideas: Buy toys with the children to donate to families in need. Adopt a person or family in the community for the holidays. Find out what your family could bring to a nearby hospital or nursing home. Give gifts of time and help like errand running or meal preparations to someone who is homebound. Include someone who may be alone for the holidays in your own family’s day. Make it an annual tradition with this person!  If you decide to make monetary donations to a charity, children can participate proportionately too.

Give children and other family members tasks to help with holiday preparations. Perhaps they can help decorate, bake, clean house, wrap gifts, make phone calls, make place cards, or set the table. They will be more committed to making the holiday itself a success if they have been involved in the preparations.

As you shop for children in the family, consider how many gifts they may get, not just from parents, but also from grandparents, other relatives, and friends. If you are a parent, consider keeping track of what your children receive from others this year in your holiday notes folder. As you look back on your notes next year and see how much they received from others, it may help to prevent you from buying too much for them next year.

Following that line of thought, how many gifts “should” children get for holidays or birthdays?  This topic is a little like discussing our annual salary or our religion with people. We don’t talk about the quantity and expense of our gift giving behaviors with others very much. Maybe we could. I have heard of three modest approaches out there that I suspect aren’t typical.

One family I know simply gets each child one gift. They regularly exchange with large families on both sides, so they feel that more than one gift from parents is just too much. They do try to figure out the one gift each child most desires that year and, if possible, find that gift for her.

Another family limits themselves to three gifts per child. Each year they try to find a practical gift (clothing, an item for the child’s bedroom, or something that is a need rather than a want), a fun gift  (a toy or something else the child wants), and a spiritual gift (perhaps a spiritually oriented book, video, or tape).

A third family breaks their gifts into five skill or play categories. They might get each child one gift in the following categories:  a project that requires fine motor skills (like a modeling kit or a bead kit), a game that requires gross motor skills (a basket ball or ice skates), a “lovey” (a stuffed animal or a doll), an item for creativity (a craft kit or art supplies), and a book for reading skills and enjoyment.

Manage children’s expectations about their own gifts. Be up front with children about gift quantity or cost restrictions. One mom I know sets a dollar limit and advises their children that they can request one expensive thing or several smaller items within this amount. Help children to anticipate and to enjoy and yet also to be realistic. Remind them whose birthday it is. A fun family activity could be to make a birthday cake for Jesus.

I know the most important gift I can give to my children will never be found under the Christmas tree. It is the gift of time—time spent talking to them, reading with them, helping them with homework, and also playing with them with their new Christmas toys. Finally, my best gift of time to them is time spent showing them by my actions, not just my words, that it really is more important to give than to receive. Am I there yet?  No, but I am working on it!  Best wishes to you and your family for a simple and joyous holiday season.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Reclaim & Simplify Your Holiday Season

October sort of kicks off the holiday season. It can be a fun time, a busy time, even a stressful time. Author News: I turned in my author final draft of Cancer Survivorship Coping Tools: We’ll get you through this to my publisher! Now I am working on related materials to support the new book which I hope will be a helpful resource for people diagnosed with cancer.

Reclaim & Simplify Your Holiday Season

How is your fall? The start of the holiday season sort of begins in the fall with Halloween—followed rapidly by Thanksgiving, and Christmas/All traditions, and then New Years. Do you like the “busyness” or do you feel stressed for several months? If “busyness” is what it has turned into for you, try these thoughts to reclaim your holidays.

My holidays aren’t perfect. I wouldn’t know how to tell anybody else how to have the perfect Halloween, Thanksgiving or any other holiday. We all have different goals, desires, and abilities. We all are at different life stages and have different family situations. Sometimes a family consists not of people that are related but people who have adopted each other in life. To improve and simplify your holidays, I have a few general suggestions.

First, take holiday notes from year to year. Write down what you spent (yes, this is a sneaky way to say “budget”). Write down what you liked about what you did for the holiday, and write down what you would and wouldn’t do again (yes, this a sneaky way to say “goal setting” and to prevent repeating past things that didn’t work well). Keep a holiday folder with holiday notes from year to year.

For Halloween, I keep a count of the number of children who come by each year so that I don’t buy too much or too little candy. My waistline doesn’t need the leftovers! Let’s just call it what it is “body clutter.” I also use the same decorations from year to year because it is traditional and frugal for our family to do it this way.

Second, do what you want to do for each holiday based on what your talents are and aren’t. I am not a seamstress and I am frugal. Halloween costumes have been hand-me-downs, items purchased at garage sales, and household stuff that my children have applied their own creativity to use.

Next, develop traditions for the seasons and holidays that fit for you and your family. Each holiday is your holiday and your family’s. Talk to other family members. Ask what they like and don’t like about each holiday as it rolls around. Find out what aspects they look forward to enjoying and what aspects of each holiday that they dread. These will give you some good clues about how to simplify each holiday.

Finally, whatever you do for any upcoming holiday, do it because you want to do it. If you are doing things because you feel you “should” or because you “ought to” or because you need to keep up with the neighbors, these activities are not genuine and there will be little satisfaction from them for you or for your family.

Sometimes in our desire to get it perfect and do the right thing, we forget to have fun and we forget the reason for the holiday. It isn’t about the stuff. “Perfect” decorations and “perfect” food aren’t what make holidays special. We forget the meaning of the holidays.

Simplify all your holidays by taking and keeping notes for each one. Cut out what doesn’t work for you and your family. Create your holidays using the skills and abilities you and your family have, rather than beating yourself up for things you can’t or prefer not to do. By doing this, you can create simple holidays that fit joyfully for you and your family.