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My Journey to Clutter Free {2012 in Review}

This year marked the beginning of my journey to a clutter free home and life. I began this blog so that I could get my act together and figure out this thing called motherhood, moreover, stay at home motherhood. My life was happy and fulfilling, but it was also cluttered chaos. I'll take you through my journey from this year and launch us into a new year with hope and inspiration to face next year confidently head on!

Before I was Mommy...
I could go to sleep when I wanted.
I could dress up or down to go to the office.
I could shower every.single.day.
I could eat out and not give it a second thought.
I could spend an entire work week devoted to organizing a resource room {prego nesting bliss!}.
I could call every night "date night".

Now that I am Mommy...
There's hardly a minute I can call my own.
Showers are a privilege.
Laundry doesn't get sorted before going in the wash.
My body was used as a vehicle to a miracle.
Life is seen through fresh new eyes.
Playtime is quality time.

Motherhood is a funny thing. It changed my life for good. It brought out the best version of me and drives me to get my act together.

Remembering the Chaos
For those who are just tuning into this blog, this is the chaos that I found myself in just one year ago. It became my tactical mission, Operation Clean House.
That is why I needed to get my act together. I had a baby boy to take care of, a house to keep up, a family to help run, not to mention our life outside the walls of that house with family and friends. I was feeling my walls closing in on me, then I discovered blogworld. That single discovery has changed my life in such a way that bridged who I was before and after kids.

A Journey in Progress
Little by little I began to transform my home into what it was prior to my son's arrival. Take a quick journey into my humble beginnings.

The Pantry Palooza
The Bathroom Boom
The Drop Zone
From Closet to Office
Organizing Hand Me Down Clothes
When one space was finished, it motivated me to move on to the next space and before I knew it, I was blogging on a regular basis and the clutter in our house was subsiding. What do you think happened when nearly all my space got organized? We moved.

Now in a way I'm practically starting all over again, but I do have the many organized spaces from before to give me a firm foundation to move forward. My journey to being clutter free was well on its way, then something else happened that I didn't expect.

Getting my house in order was one thing, but taking on a project like blogging is something that most people aren't fully prepared for, myself included. I would organize, write, post and then read OPB {other people's blogs}. This went on for months. All along I knew this blog wasn't just for me, but in my very early months of blogging, I found my calling to develop others through this blog.

Sharing how I organize my house turned into sharing how I use technology to organize my life, which turned into sharing how I organize my blogging. Every step of my learning in these areas of my life has prompted me to gift it forward to you, my friends. If I can help make one person's life easier by sharing what I learned, then all this work is well worth the effort.

Today I can see the evolution of my blog heading in an even deeper level of self discovery. I've said here time and again that organizing comes from the inside out and I hope to give you that gift of self discovery in the year to come.

Coming Up Next
Although organizing comes naturally for me, it has been refined through the years by many different sources. I want you to feel like you can harness the same power within your self and use those gifts to serve your loved ones.

Some of the topics I have bubbling for the upcoming year include...
Discovering your strengths
A day in my shoes
Mapping out your time
Organizing the paper trail
More bloggy learnings
More organizing and techy awesomeness!
A clutter free house and life is an ongoing journey for us all. This year has been therapeutic, invigorating, challenging and amazing! I have all of you to thank for that. Thank you for allowing me to be me. Thank you for using my printables. Thank you for the gift of speaking into your life. One year into this journey and I feel as much inspiration to go on as I did when I began. Gift!

Tools for Becoming Organized

I have noticed that many love the idea of being organized, but lack the tools. One of the reasons why I began this blog was to provide you with the tools to organize your own home, and not just showcase my own organization. As the saying goes, "Give a man a fish and you will feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you will feed him for a lifetime." Let's go fishing for tools to become organized, and give you a head start on your New Year's resolution.

It all begins with a plan

In order for organization to have a lasting affect, it needs to come from the inside out. Having a plan is the best way to accomplish this. Whatever space you have that needs organizing, whether the trunk of your car or your entire garage, a plan will give you a better sense of purpose and get you to the end result. My Room Organization Planner can help you get a running start and is my gift to you!

Purge, Sort, Categorize

Digging into the mountain of clutter can be difficult, but once your plan has been set, it will motivate you to dive in! Now it's time to get your hands dirty. Have a large trash bag close by for purging, lots of space to work for sorting and paper and pen for categorizing sort piles. I recommend doing this as you empty the space that needs organizing, it will be more efficient that way.

The process of purging, sorting and categorizing can be therapeutic and addicting. Beware, this process can make your mess look worse than when you started, but it's all part of the process.

Contain What's Left

Your plan is in motion, your space is empty and clean, and you have everything sorted and categorized. This is the time to decide how to contain what's left. Many often do this step first and buy a random container that could suit their needs, which often leads to a job half done and still cluttered. Buy a container after you have determined what needs to be contained. It will save you time, money and frustration!

Labels are an Organizers Best Friend

When looking at an organized space, one of the first things I look for is labels. If your hubby or kids don't know where to find something, it's probably because it's not labeled. It's really not enough to have everything in beautiful baskets if you're the only one who knows what's inside. A label doesn't have to just be a white strip of paper with boring text. Make it fun, cute, and crafty if you like! This is where your creative side can blossom and will give your space the personalized warm touch of being yours.

Tying Up Loose Ends

Often in the purge, sort, categorize phase, there are loose ends or items that should never have ended up where they are. Once your space has been set, find a home for the loose ends that creep their way into each space. You may find that these items can be either dumped or donated. If there wasn't a space for it where you "thought" it should belong, maybe you don't "need" it after all.
I've had friends tell me that their space is a mess, and what I find when I get to that space is that it's not as bad as they perceive. Often, they just need some guidance as to how to organize the space. Sometimes furniture placement is off {creating wasted space}; other times, they bought random containers that just don't work together to suit their needs {created by a lack of planning}. I hope this has given you some practical tips and tools to get your organizing juices flowing.

Still need help? I'd love to take a look at your space and give you some inspiration on how to organize it! Your space could even be featured right here on the blog! Email me at GiftsWeUse{at}gmail{dot}com and tell me about the space that needs organizing and be sure to include a photo or two. Or you can visit my contact page and fill out the yellow help form! I will be sure to keep you as anonymous as you like.

It's My SITS Day!

Happy, happy, happy day! Today is my SITS day! For those of you who do not know, SITS is a blogger network of over 40,000 women that all support each other's blogs by way of comments, networking, forum discussions, and the SITS Bloggy Boot Camp Blog Conference held throughout the United States. They feature bloggers from their community everyday and today is my day! Heeeey SITStaahs!
About Me
On the outside, I'm a wife, mom and blogger. On the inside, I'm a planner, organizer and dreamer. Combined, I am a lethal weapon! {ha!}

Ten random facts about me {in no particular order}...
  1. Not crafty, but creatively techy.
  2. Love to organize, loathe to clean.
  3. Jesus loves me, this I know.
  4. Planning gets me motivated.
  5. Junk mail {via snail mail or email} is my enemy.
  6. Laundry continues to elude me.
  7. I could spend hours at The Container Store.
  8. There is a special place in my heart for my readers {that's you!}.
  9. I have an office supply fetish.
  10. I'm all thumbs when it comes to using scissors.
Here's our latest family photo for your enjoyment.
Why I Blog
Nearly one year ago, I was surrounded by a swirling mess of a house and a toddler whose needs were rapidly changing. I came to a breaking point and I needed to get organized! In my previous life, I was as organized as you can get without being deemed psychotic, but motherhood threw me for a loop! Discovering blogworld was the driving motivation to begin my journey to a clutter free house and life and I hope to inspire and encourage you to do the same as I blog about organizing, family life and my adventures in blogging.

To my SITStahs
I'd like to invite you to get to know me better, stay a while, and tour the blog. Likes and follows are also welcome. {wink}

I love that you came for a visit and want to gift it forward! If you'd like to be featured on my blog, tell me about the gifts you use to be considered for a guest post spot right here!
I am honored and humbled to be featured on SITS today, and it reminds how awesome the blogging community is. If you blog and don't have a supportive community, get one now! It will be the best thing you have ever done and will give your blogging fresh eyes and legs.
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What It's Like to be Critiqued

{and What I Learned in the Process}

Not many people enjoy being critiqued, and even less go around seeking it. I recently put my blog to the test and voluntarily had a pro dissect my About page. Melissa from MomComm critiqued my About Page. If you haven't read it, go there first, then come back. I'll wait.
Why I Chose to be Critiqued
As nerve racking as it can be, I did put this upon myself. Some would question why I would put myself through such scrutiny. The answer is simple. I want to know if I'm doing it right. I trust the person I have given my blog to and I genuinely want to know how it is perceived by someone besides my loved ones and myself.

Waiting is the hardest part. First, I don't want to look like an idiot. Second, I hope that my hard work is paying off {and that I'm paying attention to what I'm learning}. Pins and needles all over, all day, until I see the post go live. It's like waiting to see the test results of an exam you studied really really hard for.

Seeing my page elsewhere
I cannot tell you how exciting it is for me to be featured on a blog that I admire. It's honoring, it's humbling, it's stinkin' awesome! If you haven't felt the thrill of being featured via a guest post or other means, I highly recommend it. Take the risk and step out of your own blog bubble. It's totally worth it. You can even guest post right here!

Advice I took {and what I learned}
I didn't change the layout of my page at all, but what did make a difference are the few minor tweaks that Melissa suggested. I updated my photo, added a shot of my abode, then shortened and streamlined the content.

There is a very delicate balance when it comes to an About page. It's important to find that balance between too much and too little content and embellishments {like photos and links}. Giving the reader a visual "break" helps to balance my page visually and gets readers wanting to read more.
Next Steps
For now, my About page is pretty much set. Minor updates may happen to update my favorite posts and my features, but that's it. I recommend taking a tour of your blog every once in a while to see how a first timer might view it and tweak anything that clutters your blog.

Do you want to know how your blog measures up, but don't want to hand it off to anyone? Well you can! Melissa has released a successful ebook entitled Do It Yourself Blog Critique, so you can get your own copy right here! It will open your eyes and get your blog in the best shape it can be.
Putting myself out there for all to see was scary, but what I learned was much more valuable in the end. Getting critiqued has really given me a fresh perspective when looking at my own blog and I encourage you bloggers to do the same.

Did you learn anything from my About Page critique? Are you going to get the ebook and critique yourself? Let me know in the comments!
Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links.

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Next in the series, Blog Planner Weekly Goals >>>

This post is part of the Learn As I Blog series

Blog Planner Weekly Goals & Printable

I am thrilled to have seen much success with my Blog Planner printables since its release. As important as it is to stay ahead by planning blog posts with an editorial calendar and blog post worksheet, getting through other long and short term bloggy goals on an ongoing basis is important too. I'm here to share with you my newest method of prioritizing and planning blog tasks with my Blog Planner Weekly Goals!
Why Have Weekly Goals?
As I become more and more serious about blogging, I find that I need to be more structured in how I execute tasks to make the most of the time that I have to blog. Here are some reasons I decided to create weekly goals:
  • Because blogging entails so much. Whether you are a rookie or veteran blogger, there is a lot to do in order to run a blog. The reality is that the list never really gets shorter, in fact, it is just the opposite in most cases.
  • Because time is limited. Blogger is never the only "hat" we wear in life. As much as some would love to blog all day and night, time to get other things done competes with blog time, so time efficiency is key.
  • Because sometimes a month is too much. Having a monthly outlook is good, but I often find that monthly steps to bloggy goals is too steep and I need to break up my goals and tasks into manageable pieces and spread them out week by week.
How to use the Weekly Goals
Here is a peek at my weekly goals {I have greyed out the planner so you can see how I use it}.
Follow these steps when filling out the Weekly Goals:
  1. List out goals in each category {or carry over goals from a previous week}.
  2. Lay out blog posts on the weekly calendar.
  3. Decide which blog category{ies} to work on each day of the week.
  4. Optional: Designate a time limit to work on each category and set a timer for yourself.
  5. Whistle while you work, hum a merry tune or do whatever it is you do to increase productivity!
  • Week at a glance: Lay out posts and events for the week {in blue} to help plan next steps and create your workload. Then spread out your goal categories throughout your week {in pink}.
  • Plan: Consolidate your supply list for the week and get everything at once, or use this to brainstorm your next project.
  • Research: Shop for the best fabric, read up on that topic to reference in your next post and do whatever homework you need for an upcoming post.
  • Write: This may be a task that is repeating daily or done two or three times in a week depending on how productive and creative you are feeling. You may even get to write a whole week's worth of posts in one night! One can dream, right?! {wink}
  • Promote: Another category that can be done quickly each day or done all at once for the whole week. Do what works best for your work style.
  • Develop: This is your bloggy dream list to develop your blog into the best that it can be. There may be lots you want to do, or just one thing that you've been meaning to do for a while. List it here and finally get it done!
  • Network: A very important piece that often goes ignored or over used. I know that when I start socializing with my favorite blogs, I could easily spend two hours going from one facebook page to another tweet and then I've lost my whole plan for the day! Setting a specific time aside to network will hopefully keep the networking in check. Setting a timer for yourself will help too!
  • Support: This is another important piece that could also work to promote your own blog and network with other bloggers, but I felt it was important to call out because all bloggers need support from other bloggers by way of commenting, sharing other blogger's posts through your own social outlets, and maybe even email another blogger personally to encourage them {also networking!}.
  • Train: The most important for new bloggers is the self training piece! That has been the key to my learnings this year. But I spent a lot of time learning and researching, maybe too much. Spending too much time on the training piece can contribute to blogger burnout. Failing to make training a priority can leave you in the bloggy dust and behind on the latest and greatest tools and techniques.
The key to working with Weekly Goals is to have a set amount of time each day to accomplish your weekly goals and then choosing which goals work best with the way you work based on what your week looks like. I love the flexibility of this because I determine how much or how little my workload is, and each week will look different, but the goals are pretty much the same.

A Gift for You!
Now it's time to take your big bloggy dreams by the horns, break them apart and actually accomplish them by using the Blog Planner Weekly Goals printable! My gift to you.

Having trouble with the image? Click here to download your gift!
I'm a firm believer that planning is critical to success. Using the Weekly Goals, I hope that you are able to accomplish all the bloggy greatness that lies ahead of you. May this make your love for blogging a bit easier and more tangible so that you can use your gifts to bless others who need encouragement and inspiration.
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Gifts You Use {How to be Productive}

Today is another Gifts YOU Use day, and I am swapping blogs with Raquel from Organized Island! She will give you some inspirational gifts on productivity while I gift forward my techy tips on her blog. I hope you take the time to visit both blogs today and show some comment love! Welcome Raquel!
I am so excited to be here today! I recently got the chance to meet Ferly in person and it was so fun to talk about our reasons for blogging and our desire to help others through our blogs. I am so grateful for her having me here at Gifts We Use.

Do you feel overwhelmed by the things on your task list? Have you ever been on your computer only to notice that a couple of hours later that you are not able to cross a thing off of your list? We all have. Distractions and a desire to put off what we need to do often get in the way of us actually doing and causes stress.

We all procrastinate at times, I know I am guilty of it. There are a few things that you can do to help be more productive and I will share with you what has helped me when I have a lot going on at once.
  • Consolidate Your To Do Lists - If you have some items on a written list and some on your phone and more on a post it, you need to get a handle on all you have to do. Seeing the big picture will help you focus and gain control over your tasks. If an action item is going to take longer than 30 minutes, note the estimated completion time next to the activity. Now if something is not going to take but a few minutes, this would not be necessary. In fact, if it just takes a few minutes, you may just want to take care of it now and not have to list it.
  • Prioritize your list. This can be hard because we tend to waiver when we have things that seem so large. Break large projects into smaller segments. Start with the end result, then determine the steps/tasks needed to get there. Having trouble prioritizing? Think in terms of your goals and what must be done first. If it must be done today, it is a high priority. If it can wait a few days or even weeks, it is a lower priority.
  • Scale back your list. Look really hard at your list. Do you need to write that proposal yourself or can you delegate it? Do you really need to bake the homemade cupcakes with hand decorative toppings to the bake sale, or will a batch of brownies do? Do you have to go to that ____ (fill in the blank), or can you skip it this time? Take items off of your list that are not absolutely necessary to your (or your family's) health or well-being.
  • Schedule your to do items. Plan on only doing a handful of things each day. Do not start out trying to tackle a dozen things on your list at once or you will get discouraged. We all like to think we can multitask, but the truth is, unless some tasks do not require your immediate attention, it does not usually work. Schedule the activities that will take some time in your calendar. Be sure to allow time in between activities, because unexpected things happen and tasks can take longer.
  • Pace Yourself. Be sure to schedule a break or a fun activity. Reward yourself for checking off items on your To Do list. Life is more than just getting tasks done, it is about enjoying family and friends and taking care of yourself.
  • Start already. Finally, when you have a task you have been putting off, resign yourself to work on it for 10 minutes. Getting started is the hardest part. After you start it, it gets easier to make headway.
Thank you for allowing me to visit. I hope you will stop by my blog Organized Island. I am a former productivity manager and I blog about streamlined recipes, simple crafts, planning, organizing and time saving tips.
After graduating from CSUF with a Finance degree, Raquel spent several years as a productivity and operations manager.  She is a mother of two grown children and lives in Orange County, California.  She writes about streamlining activities, simple crafts, easy recipes, planning tips and organization methods at Organized Island.     

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The New Home Tour is Coming!

Hello friends! It has been far too long since my last post and I have missed you all. I wanted to drop by today to let you know that I am still here and I have lots of great things in the works. The biggest of which is a new home tour page. It won't be like other home tours, it will be my real not-ready-for-the-home-and-garden-magazine home. That means that as unfinished as it is, I will show you our humble abode and update the home tour page as needed.

I do have but one little teaser for you, and some of you may have already seen it on my updated about page. It's the exterior of our apartment home. Enjoy this taste of our home and be ready to see what I've managed to do with what we have.
I hesitated to do a home tour until the house was "ready", but with our budget the way it is, and for the sake of being real with you, I decided to show it in all it's simple glory. By doing that, I hope to be relatable to you and also walk you through our journey to making this new house a home. Regardless of budget, we have a roof over our heads and that is a gift in and of itself.

My Organized Bible & a Giveaway!

No job is tougher or more rewarding than that of a parent. Rookie and veteran moms alike often question whether they are raising their kids properly. Although every family is different, there is one source that has remained true and relevant even for today's moral dilemmas. The Bible. I use the Bible to get my priorities straight, gain an eternal perspective, and fill my mind and soul on a regular basis. My bible time fills me up so I can pour myself into my family. Because the Bible is a big part of my life, it is also a big part of my parenting. I'm going to share a wonderful resource that I use to organize my bible for parenting, and gift you with a chance to get one of your own!
Child Training Bible
What it is
The Child Training Bible is an excellent way to organize your bible for easy biblical reference of key areas parents battle daily. There is even one section dedicated to teaching about Jesus through the gospel. In the heat of the moment, we cannot often recall scripture that is applicable to teach our children. As parents, our first instinct is to squash the bad behavior immediately and leave it at that. It happens to me all the time!

How it works
Using the Child Training Bible, I can put my son in timeout {or whatever you call it in your home} while we're both still heated; then while he's taking a break, I can go to my bible, look up the area that needs to be addressed, and prepare for a teachable moment with my son. The Child Training Bible takes me straight to that area and points me to several passages that I can use to calmly talk and pray about with my son.

What you need
The Child Training Bible chart set comes with:
1 Child Training Bible Key
3 Scripture Tabbing Charts
Set of instructions
Open access to a video tutorial

Additional supplies needed:
9"x 6" Bible of your choice {I chose this one}
Post-it Flags Value Pack
Sharpie Accent Highlighter Set
9"x 6" piece of scrap paper
Paper towel/napkin

Putting it together
After receiving your CTB chart set and buying the additional supplies needed, read provided instructions carefully.

Lay out all supplies at arms reach and set aside time to concentrate on this task. I recommend at least two hours of uninterrupted time to complete.

Adhere CTB Key to the first page of your bible.

Using the tabbing charts, start with Anger and begin to look up, highlight and tab each verse listed. This is the bulk of the work.

Once all highlighting is completed, use a binder clip to keep tab charts, heart questions and sample prayers corralled at the back of your Bible.

Gaze and clap for your newly {and beautifully} organized Bible ready for the next teachable moment!

Introduce your family to the new bible and what it will be used for, then keep it in a central area of the house.

My Tips and Tricks
Tips for gathering supplies:
Choosing a Bible - I chose the NIV Textbook Bible for Students, but would also recommend this NIrV Beginner's Bible for younger readers.
Shopping for a Bible - Bring a 9"x 6" piece of scrap paper to ensure that the Bible you purchase in the store is the proper size for the CTB charts.

Tricks for putting it together:
Use a pencil to check off each verse on the tabber chart after highlighting it in your Bible to keep your place.
Pat each highlight dry with a paper towel to avoid getting light headed trying to blow each highlight dry. I learned this lesson quickly, you're welcome.
Highlights will overlap real quick, so use your pencil to write the applicable area in the margin of the corresponding verse. This will make it even quicker to find the verse you're looking for later on.
For younger readers {and myself}, I pencil in synonyms for some of the harder to understand words, so I'm not caught fumbling through the words of the Bible.

Getting Techy with it!
Having your bible at home is great, but what if a moment presents itself while you're out and about? In comes my techy tip! I highlighted the same verses using the same colors in the NIrV version of my Bible app on my iPhone! You can also take a photo of each of the tabber charts, heart questions, and sample prayers so you have them handy. I love a good techy gift, don't you?

What I love about it
It's organized! My obvious favorite thing about using the CTB is how organized this system is! It is clear that they put much thought into putting it all together. Another "why didn't I think of that" kind of product!

It's colorful! I love the use of colors in the whole system. The matching color tabs based on the key areas help to distinguish one thing from another and really brightens up the inside and outside of the Bible.

It's efficient! Using 3 sides of the Bible to place tabs is just brilliant!

It's thoughtful! I love that not only do you get scripture references, but you also get the tools to talk through moments with your child! Using heart questions to get to the root of issues and sample prayers, it walks you through teachable moments from top to bottom! Each time you go through it, you'll get more confident to discuss issues on your own and tailor it to your own child.

I learn at the same time! As often happens in parenting, I learned just as much putting it together as I'm sure my son will learn as teaching moments arise. Many verses were familiar to me, but others were a great reminder of key areas of life that I may struggle with myself!

A Gift Giveaway for You!

Now that you know how I organize my Bible, the creator of the Child Training Bible system {Mindy}, has graciously partnered with me to host a gift giveaway for you! This gift giveaway is open to residents of the US and Canda. The winner will be announced next week on my Facebook and Twitter pages. Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway
Gift it Forward
The Child Training Bible is a great resource for any Bible reading parent and makes a fantastic gift! Share it with your Bible study or mom group, and make a night of it by completing your CTB projects together! Gift others with a great way to organize their Bible for parenting!
Disclosure: The Child Training Bible System is a product I purchased on my own and offered to review. All opinions herein are my own. I did not receive any compensation for writing this post. This post contains affiliate links. Mindy of Child Training Bible has sponsored the giveaway open to residents of the US and Canada.
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