• Natural Cleaning Methods

    The smell of a clean house is something that should be associated with good things like cleanliness, health, and productivity.  Since I have come to discover the myriad of harmful chemicals contained in most store-bought cleaning products though, I now associate these smells with toxicity, respiratory problems and waste.  There are some wonderful ways to clean your house using all-natural non-toxic products you may already have in your kitchen.  Not only does this charge the house with a good clean energy, but it also is quite economical and resourceful.  I also love the ability to incorporate aromatherapy in to the cleaning.  Here are some of my favorite homemade cleaning products:

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    Counter: Simply mix up a mixture of distilled water (or boiled and cooled) and essential oils with antibacterial properties in a spray bottle.  I am always saving old spray bottles for this purpose.  My favorite mixture for the kitchen is water with tea tree, lemon and grapefruit.  I also like the mixture of peppermint and vanilla or of lemongrass and coriander.  The bonus to this cleaner is you don’t have to worry when spraying near food or on a surface that you might later make a sandwich on.

    Foaming Hand Soap: Using an old foaming hand soap dispenser, add about two tablespoon of castile soap and a teaspoon of oil (almond, olive or jojoba all work well) to distilled water.  Be sure to add the soap and oil after the water so it doesn’t get all bubbly.  Drop in about 15 drops of essential oil of your choice.  I initially bought foaming hand soaps at Whole Foods and used the bottles to make a homemade mixture once these ran out but you could also buy empty foaming soap dispensers.

    Floors (wood or tile): In a bucket mix a couple gallons of hot water with a generous squirt of Dr. Bronner’s (or any castile) soap, along with essential oils (about 30 drops) of your choice.  I really like to use the peppermint castile soap and change the essential oils depending on the season/mood.  One of my favorite mixtures is Dr. Bronner’s peppermint soap with tea tree, lemon, eucalyptus and cinnamon essentials oils added to the water.  If floors are greasy or you need to cut scum, ¼ cup of distilled white vinegar can be used instead of the castile soap but don’t do this too often or you may strip the wood floors of the wax or oils they are coated with.  And do not mix the castile soap with vinegar.  They will essentially cancel each other out.  You can read more about that here if you’re interested in the details.  A little bit of olive oil added to the floor washing will help seal and shine wood floors.  Sometimes I like to rotate cleaning with castile soap, then vinegar, then oil on different weeks.

    Disinfecting: Spray hydrogen peroxide (an effective bleach alternative) on surface .  It also whitens and helps remove stains, especially in grout.

    Mirrors/windows: Use a mixture of distilled white vinegar and water (approximately one quarter cup of vinegar to each gallon of water).  I keep one pre-mixed in a large household spray bottle.  Just spray and wipe.  I have found that using old newspaper or making use of the flyers that come in the mail in place of paper towels works really well for preventing streaks and reducing waste.

    Carpet deodorizer: Sprinkle baking soda on rugs and carpets before vacuuming.  The baking soda can be left on the rugs overnight for extra freshening.  This could also be used on cloth furniture to combat odors.

    Bathtub/shower/sink: Squirt a generous dollop of Dr. Bronner’s soap across the surfaces, and then sprinkle with baking soda.  Scour away.  The baking soda has a mild abrasive action.  The thing I like about this mixture is that these two things are often ingredients I put in homemade baths so if any gets left behind, it’s no problem at all.  If you have areas of mold or mildew growth, spray undiluted white vinegar on the areas and wipe after fifteen minutes or so.  Baking soda will help if you need scrubbing action.

    Toilets: To wipe the rims, I just use a simple mixture of peppermint and a generous amount of tea tree oil with distilled water.  My homemade disposable baby wipes actually do this job really well too in between cleanings.  For the basin, scrub with Dr. Bronner’s soap mixed in a small squirt bottle with distilled water and lots of tea tree oil.  Again, the added benefit here is if the cat ends up drinking from it later, she is safe.  Or at least only threatened by Chief’s disgust, hee hee.  I also like to put a few drops of a favorite essential oil inside the toilet paper tube to freshen the bathroom without chemicals.  The toilet could be sprayed with hydrogen peroxide and then wiped for further disinfecting.

    Litter box: Remove the litter and spray with the same solution used for toilets above (a mixture of peppermint and tea tree oil with distilled water).

    That pretty much covers all the surfaces in your house!  To summarize, I have created a shopping list below:

    • Distilled white vinegar
    • Castile soap
    • Hydrogen peroxide
    • Baking soda
    • Essential oils.  Refer to the aromatherapy post for a more detailed list but great, inexpensive ones to start with for cleaning are as follows: peppermint, tea tree, clove, lemon and eucalyptus
    • Household spray bottles
    • Oil (olive or almond)

     

     

  • Cloth Diapering: An Introduction

    There are a million blog posts about cloth diapering (and plenty of blogs devoted entirely to them) but I will add my two cents worth so that I can refer people to my post or in case I have an insight that has not been captured before.

    When most people think of cloth diapers, they think of the old-fashioned prefolds or flats. While those are still an option, cloth diapers have come a really long way and are as easy to use as disposables – no pins or wet pails needed.  I’ll give a feel for the flavor of the new cloth diapers and help you decide how to go about purchasing, caring for and troubleshooting possible problems with the diapers.

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    My reasons for cloth diapering

    I have found that with anything you do with parenting or life choices, you can justify it one way or another.  Many people will look at you like you’re crazy when you mention you are cloth diapering.  Like anything that is worthwhile or isn’t “convenient” or part of our throwaway culture, it requires you to put in a little bit of  time/mental investment up front but then quickly becomes part of your routine.  I promise it’s a lot easier than you think has the potential to leave you feeling good about your choice.  I don’t think anyone “feels good” about disposable diapers.

    I decided that I wanted to cloth diaper even before I knew I was pregnant. My reasons for wanting to do it were pretty simple.

    • Environmental impact.   I could look up a statistic that says how many pounds of diapers are thrown away in the average year or for the average baby and how long they take to decompose (500 years!!) but anyone who has used disposable diapers for a week is aware of this impact.  Besides the amount that ends up in landfills, there is also the amount that ends up in our weekly trash.   Which brings me to my next point…
    • Rubbish generated. We work hard to only create one tiny bag of trash in our house on a weekly basis by recycling, composting and trying to minimize our consumption.  It is a source of pride for us and I don’t want it to go away just because we had a baby.
    • Built to last.  I don’t like anything that is made for a one-time use. I like things that are well constructed and can be used over and over.  Most of today’s cloth diapers come with adjustable sizing and will fit a baby from 8-35 pounds (that’s from birth through to potty training!).
    • Economics.  Especially if you plan to have more than one child, the economics of cloth diapers wins.   There are many different options and I’m sure you can crunch the numbers yourself.  In our case, we purchased 24 cloth diapers to last the duration of our baby’s time in diapers.  We bought fairly “fancy” ones so our entire stash was about $500.  Detergent and electricity could be factored in but if a child goes through about 8 diapers per day and diapers cost an average of 30 cents each, that’s already nearly $1000 in the first year, not to mention wipes.  We do cloth wipes since we are doing the cloth diapers so we save money there too.
    • Less toxins and chemicals in contact with baby. The ingredients put in to disposable diapers (dioxins, VOC’s, sodium polyacrylate, fragrance) to absorb and wick and dye and advertise Disney and Sesame Street characters makes me a little nervous.
    • Eliminates errands.  I can’t stand shopping or running to places like Target, etc. It cuts in to my creative time or time that could be better spent with my baby.  I love that we never have to run out to pick up diapers or wipes in the middle of the night or on a nice day.  Avoiding these stores also means spending less money on stupid crap you don’t need that you never would have  bought if you hadn’t gone to the store.
    • Contain “blowouts” and smell.  The few times I have had to use disposable diapers I have noticed the baby becomes a lot stinkier after having a poo in the disposables and some of the poo gets dangerously close to exiting the diaper and getting all over the clothes.  I have never had a blowout in my cloth diapers.
    • Helps prevent diaper rash.  Anecdotally I have heard that cloth diapers can help with diaper rash issues and some people use them because of sensitivities their little ones have to the plethora of chemicals used in disposable diapers.  I have not really encountered diaper rash but also haven’t used disposables for an appreciable amount of time to determine if they happen more often in disposables.
    • Expedites potty training  I’ll update my thoughts on this when my baby gets older but I have heard that the child is more aware of the correlation between going to the bathroom and an uncomfortable wetness so can ask to use the toilet earlier.
    • They’re cute!  Today’s cloth diapers come in really fun patterns and colors and leave your babe with a really fluffy little mushroom butt.  For girls, cloth diapers can be used as little bloomers and both genders look cute in just their diapers, especially when the mercury rises or they saturate any shirt they wear in drool.
    • They hold their value  Believe it or not, cloth diapers actually fetch pretty good values on sites like Craigslist so if you are done with them, you can sell them or pass them on to a friend who is interested in trying cloth diapers.

    Decisions to make if you decide to cloth diaper

    • Brand  Of course you can make up a stash of all different types but I chose to go with all one brand – bumGenius by Cotton Babies.  I don’t have nearly the experience as these blogs devoted to cloth diapers and simply went with the recommendation of a few other mommas I had trusted to have done their research.
    • Type You can generally choose between All-in-One’s (or AOI’s as they’re often called) or those that require stuffing with an insert (pocket diapers). Today’s cloth diapers generally have a cover or outershell often in a poly blend (the cloth diaper lingo usually refers to this as calls it PUL for PolyUrethane Laminate) and then have absorbent inserts that catch the poos and wees.  The AOI’s have these inserts sewn in whereas the pocket diapers need to be stuffed with an insert.  If you go with the type that require stuffing, there are different types of inserts you can use (e.g. hemp, bamboo, cotton, microfiber terry).  Moms seem to be pretty divided about which one they are loyal to and I’m still not sure which one I prefer.  I have made a list of the pros and cons below if you are more interested in pursuing that.
    • How many  The more diapers you have, the less things seem like an emergency at times.  I bought 24 diapers which equates to diaper laundry every other day – the same that is recommended by the manufacturers.  At the newborn stage, babies can soil up to 12 diapers per day.  Now, at the 4-month mark she generally goes through about 8 diapers per day but the extra diapers allow for long drying times on particularly cold or damp days.  The diapers generally need to be line dried.  I would say to err on the side of too few as you start.  You can ease in to it and see what you like.  They also put out limited edition prints and you may want to acquire some of these and will feel less guilty about it if you need to add to your stash anyway.  I also didn’t know the gender of the baby prior to the birth so wanted to get some pink ones after I found out it was a girl!  I used disposables for the first month just because my baby was under 7 pounds and because I wanted diapers that had a cutout for the umbilical cord, not to mention the first month after a baby’s arrival is a bit overwhelming.  That gave me a chance to slowly build up to the cloth diapers and get used to them.

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    Pocket Diapers vs. All-in-One’s

    The bumGenius brand calls their All-in-Ones (AOI’s) their Freetime diaper.  These diapers have the insert sewn in and the beauty of these is they give a little bit of extra free time (as the name implies) since stuffing them is not required. There are a few drawbacks to them though. The first is drying time. I find they can sometimes take quite a bit of time to dry in cold or damp air which can be kind of frustrating. On a hot sunny summer day they will dry in a few hours though.   The pocket diapers (called 4.0 by bumGenius) can have their inserts tumble dried and the covers dry quite quickly.  The other drawback to the Freetimes is that they can be a bit difficult to clean. I have not experienced this too much myself yet since my baby is still exclusively on breast milk (which is water soluble and doesn’t require pre-rinsing). The final drawback is that you don’t have the option to stuff them with an insert other than the type sewn in which is a terry microfiber for bumGenius brand.  On days it’s hot and sunny and I’m short on time, I love my Freetimes.  On days it’s cold or damp or I really want to use my hemp or bamboo inserts, I love the 4.0’s.  There isn’t a clear winner to me.

    Caring for cloth diapers

    My routine for caring for the cloth diapers is pretty simple. When the diapers first arrive, you need to wash them a couple of times. Then, when the baby is just on breast milk, the diapers don’t require any rinsing. This will make you a little nervous at first but, trust me, it’s a blessing and enjoy this poop honeymoon.  Once the baby starts on solids or formula, they need to be rinsed before being put in to the washer machine.  BumGenius makes a really nice sprayer that can attach to the back of your toilet which makes this job a lot easier.  I also love the SprayPal for particularly messy ones.

    I put the dirty diapers in to a dry pail (i.e. don’t require soaking in a bucket like the old generation did).  I have a wet/dry bag from Planet Wise so I just keep that hanging next to the changing table and this can be thrown in to the washer machine with the diapers.  It’s also nice for daycare when you want to bring some clean, dry diapers in the front zippered pouch and then the soiled ones can be put in to the wet portion and be taken home to get washed.

    I do cloth diaper laundry every other day and then hang them to dry in the sun whenever possible.  We don’t have a clothesline so I just use a drying rack.  I use bumGenius detergent but Ecos Free and Clear can be acquired commercially and I have also heard good things about Charlie’s Soap and Rockin’ Green.  Each time you wash the diapers, they should first go through a prewash in cold water.  Then they need to be washed on a regular cycle in hot water with an extra rinse.

    Things about cloth diapers that they tell you but you may ignore. Don’t ignore them!

    I did have a couple stumbling blocks along the way so I’ll share those with you now…

    • Wash with one of the detergents specified by the manufacturer. I tried washing mine with what I thought was an “even better solution” with nice natural ingredients but even some of these “good” ingredients with oils, etc. can build up on the diaper and cause stink issues.  You will need a detergent with no enzymes, softeners, brighteners, fragrances, oils, etc.
    • Do not tumble dry them. Doing so may eventually lead to wear and tear issues in the PUL and cause leaking.  You can use a low heat in a pinch and sometimes I throw them in for a few minutes if they have been drying outside to make sure any debris or bugs are removed.
    • Do not use diaper creams. There are some that can be used with cloth diapers (or can be made). If you use commercial creams, they may build up on the diapers and cause stink issues or will cause the fabric to repel water and cause leaks.  I have tried making some of my own but am still tweaking the recipe.  California Baby brand seems to work pretty well and is considered “cloth diaper safe”.
    • Use sunshine to clean the diapers.  They will tell you to line dry them in the sun which you may read to simply line dry them.  Putting the diapers in the sun actually gets out the stains and sanitizes them though.  Apparently sun will bleach all organic stains.  You can almost see it happening in front of your eyes.
    • Strip the diapers if you develop stink or buildup issues.  The manufacturer will have very specific directions for how to do this.  In my case, I really hesitated because it was using Dawn detergent and that just seemed wrong in my little granola heart but that is what works.  Again, there are whole websites devoted to this kind of thing but you will find them if you run in to the issue.

    In a nutshell, cloth diapers are easy to use.  You can buy ones that function just like a disposable and simply wash them every other day with the right soap and line dry them.  You could potentially save thousands of dollars and keep your baby in a diaper you feel really good about.

  • Cloth Baby Wipes System

    I decided early in my pregnancy that I wanted to do cloth diapering.  Chief was very supportive of my plan, even though a few others looked at me like I was crazy.  That made me nervous, but after speaking to a few mommas that were cloth diapering and reading various blogs, the most common sentiment that I heard was that it was a lot easier than most people think.  Most moms who began cloth diapering after the first child or when their child was older only wish they would have started earlier.  I have been loving it thus far.  It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to do cloth diapering and then have wipes that need disposing of though, so here I have a recipe for cloth wipes that can just be thrown in the wet bag and washed with the diapers.

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    Even if you don’t cloth diaper, these wipes could also be used to wipe up a child’s face or body.  And, let’s be honest…I admit that sometimes a quick scrub to myself with these in the morning is the closest I get to a shower before I head out of the house!  I also like using these wipes to get in to the little rolls of chub that milk likes to get stuck in.

    I watched a number of YouTube videos and read a number of blogs and then did some trial and error to come up with my favorite method and recipe for these wipes.  I made my own video here.  As with all these kitchen beautician recipes, don’t become hung up on acquiring exactly what is listed but just jump in and do a few tests with whatever you have on hand and I promise you it will quickly become second nature and you’ll find your own tweaks that you’re happy with.

    Cloth wipes

    First of all, you will need wipes.  I ended up buying some unbleached organic cotton ones from OsoCozy.  A number of other moms just used cut up old t-shirts or receiving blankets so you could do that if you want to save money or if you are handier with a sewing machine than I am.  I usually fill the wipes warmer with about 30 wipes but you could do less depending on how often you need them.

    Solution

    There are a lot of recipes out there but my favorite mixture is below:

    • Boiled then cooled water (or distilled water)
    • 2 Tbsp. coconut oil
    • 1 Tbsp. castile soap (I use Dr. Bronner’s unscented)
    • 1 Tbsp. witch hazel
    • 1 Tbsp. aloe vera gel
    • 10 drops essential oils.  My favorite is a mixture of tea tree, lavender, and vanilla essential oils.  Other good options are chamomile or tangerine.  You could also make a big batch of chamomile tea with the boiled water to incorporate it that way.

    I think the water and oil are the two most crucial ingredients because they are what really clean and soften the skin, respectively.  Coconut oil could always be substituted with almond oil, grapeseed oil, olive oil, or whatever else you have on hand.  Go ahead and try a batch with just these two things if you need time to acquire the other items listed in the recipe.  The witch hazel adds astringent properties and the aloe vera gel soothes skin.  The essential oils provide a nice scent, allow for the incorporation of aromatherapy and many have antibacterial and antifungal properties.  Baby shampoo could be substituted for the castile soap.

    Method

    You could also use distilled water but I usually just boil a full teapot of water when making my tea or coffee in the morning and then set the unused water aside.  Boiling it will ensure you have killed any bacteria that could foster mold growth, etc.

    In a large bowl or casserole dish, I put in the oil, castile soap, witch hazel and aloe vera gel and then pour the warm water over it.  I then drop in the essential oils.

    On other blogs or videos I watched, moms rolled up their little cloth wipes.  Bless them but I really don’t have the time to spare.  I just fold mine in half and it takes about 1 extra minute for every load of laundry.

    I take the stacks of folded wipes and dip them in to the solution until they are saturated but then squeeze them out so they are wet but not dripping.  You generally don’t want them too wet or baby’s bottom will stay wet after wiping and could result in yeast, etc.

    I then place mine in a special wipes warmer made for cloth wipes and I really love it.  It is by Prince Lionheart*.  I know that wipes warmers aren’t really necessary but it’s kind of a nice treat and my little one loves having her diaper changed.  I like the way it opens up fully and the wipe doesn’t need to be pulled through an opening.  It’s very easy to do one handed.  I have heard of some other ones that work well for cloth wipes including the OXO brand, but haven’t tried it so I can’t speak to it.

    For travel, I place about 5 wipes in to a Buti-pod that I really like.  Again, as a mom it’s nice to have little emergency showers in your handbag!

    If there is any extra solution left in the dish you dunked the wipes in, you can set it aside and add it to the next bath.  Another option is to put it in to one of the perineal irrigation bottles you might have leftover from your delivery.  These things are the best for a number or purposes.  I sometimes use it to soak cotton balls that I use to clean in crevices or you can squirt the solution on to a dry cloth wipe and wipe baby up that way.

    That’s it!  It sounds like a lot but, as you can see from my video, each batch takes about three minutes to make once you get the hang of it.  It’s so nice not having to buy wipes and not even needing a rubbish bin in the nursery.

    * As far as cleaning your Prince Lionheart warmer, I wipe it out every time I change out the wipes.  I remove the Everfresh replacement pillow, rinse it and wring it out.  While it is removed, I spray the inside of the warmer with a vinegar and water solution and wipe it out.  The replacement pillow needs to be replaced once every three months.

  • Aromatherapy: An Introduction

    Aromatherapy is a way to incorporate essential oils to promote physical or psychological healing using our sense of smell.  Essential oils are the concentrated liquid portion of aromatic plants.  Aromatherapy can be used to inspire or maintain moods, aid in pain relief, correct conditions or influence performance and productivity.  In this post, I’ll give some ideas about some simple and versatile oils to buy if you’re just starting your collection and easy ways to use them.

    I think the sense of smell is one of the most underutilized senses.  Other animals rely upon it so heavily but humans tend to think of it more like an accessory.  Aromatherapy is a simple way for us to boost this sense.

    How Aromatherapy Works

    The sense of smell is special because it is so often associated with the formation of memories and can instantly transport us back to how we felt at a certain time and place.  The reason this happens is the same reason that aromatherapy works.  Our olfactory nerves are located very close to both the amygdala and the hippocampus in our brains.  The amygdala processes emotion and the hippocampus is the area of our brain responsible for associative learning.  Each time we smell something new (which happens the highest concentration of times in our childhood) we begin to associate that certain smell with a particular person, place, or memory.

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    There are many ways to incorporate aromatherapy in to your life.   Essential oils can simply be inhaled or massaged (diluted) in to the skin for their healing properties.   Other ideas are below.

    Ways to Incorporate Aromatherapy

    Aromatherapy diffuser: These come in a variety of forms but my favorite one is this one that dissipates the oil with a fine mist of water.  You can also find ones that you light a tea candle underneath.  These are nice but you have to watch them closely so they don’t boil over.  You can also diffuse the scent in to the room by using a lamp ring (works especially well if you’re studying or working at a desk) or by sprinkling some essential oil on logs before you light a fire.

    Household cleaning: Essential oils can be incorporated in to natural cleaning products to make your home smell good as you freshen and cleanse it.  I’m working on a post about natural cleaners, but essential oils can be mixed with water as a counter spray or dropped in to a bucket with the mopping water.

    Personal Care:

    Aromatherapy can be incorporated in to any personal beauty or maintenance product you use as you’ll notice in almost all my kitchen beautician recipes.

    • Skin moisturizer: Try mixing a few drops of essential oil with organic fragrance-free body lotion like I talked about in the travel post.
    • Face masks: Included on this site are kitchen beautician recipes with a little bit of essential oil including the hydrating oatmeal banana mask, and a pumpkin facial for glowing skin.
    • Body scrubs: I have a few body scrub recipes I love including the tropical vanilla hydrating scrub with vanilla and bergamot essential oil and the epsom salt and ginger scrub with lime and ginger essential oils.
    • Body powder: Check out this recipe to make your own body powder.
    • Baths: Most of the bath recipes I have on this site (like the rose petal, spirulina sea salt detox, oatmeal milk and honey, drunken red wine baths) contain some essential oils.  Be mindful that if you have sensitive skin, some oils might irritate it, especially in the bath.  I love oils of bergamot (and other citrus scents), cinnamon, and peppermint but have found that these are better inhaled as they can be irritating to the skin.
    • Facial cleanser: I really like incorporating a couple drops of essential oil in to the oil cleansing method or using a few drops with witch hazel or rose water as a toner.  Rose, vanilla, carrot seed, or geranium oils are good choices.  A little bit of tea tree oil can help acneic skin.
    • Facial steam: Steaming your face using a towel as a tent over your head with a few essential oils can really open up the pores or can help during times of congestion.  I talk about this in my post on eucalyptus oil.
    • Massage: If you would like to use it in massage, try mixing it with almond oil or coconut oil for a nourishing skin treatment.  Don’t forget that giving a massage to someone with aromatherapy will provide the same benefits for you!  I love giving my baby a massage with jojoba oil mixed with a few drops of vanilla after her bath.

    Wellness: Essential oils can help during times of sickness to alleviate symptoms and help you feel better.  Some of the oils like cajeput, peppermint, and ginger specifically work really well on sore muscles or a congested body.  Most essential oils are naturally antibacterial, antifungal, and antiviral and can help keep your skin and home healthy.  Try adding a few drops of eucalyptus oil in a humidifier if suffering from a cough or congestion.

    Aromatherapy Benefits

    If you are just starting out with aromatherapy, sometimes the decision about which oils to purchase can be overwhelming so I’ve listed some of the basics both by mood a person is trying to achieve or just a good starter kit to make a lot of different types of blends with fairly inexpensive oils.

    Uplifting: bergamot, tangerine, grapefruit, vanilla

    Activating: lemon, lime, rosemary

    Strengthening: cedarwood, rose

    Warming: clove, cinnamon, nutmeg

    Sensual: ylang ylang, geranium, vanilla, patchouli

    Replenishing: eucalyptus, peppermint, carrot seed

    Meditative: sandalwood, frankincense, clove

    Balancing: clary sage, ginger, rose, geranium

    Relaxing: lavender, geranium, wild chamomile

    Recommended Starter Kit:

    Included in this starter kit are a list of inexpensive (with the exception of chamomile and vanilla) essential oils that will allow you to incorporate all the different types of benefits and properties of essential oils.  The vanilla and the rose oils often come blended in a jojoba carrier so they can be applied directly to the skin but are quite expensive.  I have always liked the Aura Cacia brand and it is easy to find in most natural health or grocery stores or on Amazon.  I also really like Mountain Rose Herbs and is one of the only places I have been able to find undiluted rose and vanilla essential oils.

    • Peppermint
    • Eucalyptus
    • Lavender
    • Grapefruit
    • Tea tree
    • Lemon
    • Ylang ylang
    • Geranium
    • Tangerine
    • Vanilla
    • Rosemary
    • Cedarwood
    • Rose absolute
    • Chamomile

    References

    I really like the AuraCacia app that is available for iPad.  It gives lots of ideas for recipes, talks about the properties of many oils, and says what it mixes well with.

    The Mountain Rose Herbs website is great for listing the origin of essential oils, properties, uses, contradictions and indications on what blends well together.

  • Organization of Magazine Clippings Using Binders

    This is a post about what to do with all the recipes or ideas that you may have collected from magazines over the years.  People talk about how magazines have gone by the wayside with the advent of e-readers, etc. but magazines will never go away for me.  I love them for when I just want to completely shut my brain down, turn away from electricity, and relax on the couch, at the beach, or in the bath.  There are times it’s just not practical to hold an electronic device or when you want to give your eyes a break from glowing rectangles.  Seeing magazines arrive at my house in the mail amid the junk mail and bills is really exciting and the tactile sensation of turning the pages satisfies me.

    I can’t stand when old magazines pile up though because I can’t stand clutter and love organization, so this post is an idea about what I do with all the goodies like recipes, decorating, make-up or hair looks, fashion, etc. found inside them.  I never could quite figure out what to do with all these tidbits, but then I got the idea from my sister to put everything in to 3-ring binders.  She does this with her recipes.

    To organize everything, I created four different binders and divided them in to the following categories: 1) Recipes, 2) Beauty 3) Exercise and Spiritual  (e.g. meditation ideas and peace of mind ideas) and 4) Decorating and Fashion.  I insert each magazine item in to a document protector sleeve. Then I file it in its appropriate binder.  I group like things together and put a file divider in between the main categories.  For example, in my Recipes binder I have a section for entrees, breakfast, appetizers, desserts, drinks, party planning, etc.  In my Beauty binder, I have sections for kitchen beautician, hair, make-up and nail art, etc.

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    Now that I have a place for them, when I flip through catalogs, I earmark the pages of interest.  When I’ve gone through the entire magazine, I put the magazine in to a holder in the same closet that has all my filing stuff.  When the holder fills up, I spend an hour or two to go through them.  I tear each page out that I’ve earmarked and file them in to the binders. I usually do this when Chief selects a movie with lots of guns and car chases and I’m not particularly interested in watching but am trying to be social. When I’m finished tearing out the relevant pages, I either recycle the magazines or bring them with me to my nail salon, gym, or car wash or somewhere else that is happy to accept reading material.

    The reason I like this system is that it keeps the house free of clutter and has all of the stuff I found interesting quickly available.  I also really like the books for inspiration.  If I can’t think of anything to cook, or ideas on how to dress once the seasons change, or a hair or make-up look to try, I can pull out my binder and flip through it.  It’s kind of a soothing activity.  I also really like retaining all the things I read about for doing stuff like my Kitchen Beautician recipes.  It reminds me of what works well together and if I have something in the kitchen or harvested from the garden that I need to use up, I can get ideas about what to concoct with it in my binders.

    As I said, this is a really simple little life hack but one that brings me a lot of peace and happiness!

  • Travel: Carry-On Only Packing with Video

    There are many reasons that I try to travel with just a carry-on bag when flying.  They are listed below:

    Why??

    • Resourcefulness. I love any opportunity to have a MacGyver moment of my own.  Isn’t that what travel is all about…relying on just your wits and a small bag like Indiana Jones?  It’s about the experience, not the stuff.  People always need far less than they imagine they do and it’s nice not to be carrying around all that extra baggage (literally and figuratively).
    • Self-reliance.  You’re not at the mercy of others. You alone are responsible for your luggage and don’t have to rely on others to help you lift and hoist, etc.  There are no problems with airlines if your bag is lost.
    • Flexibility.  How many times have you realized you could have caught an earlier flight or changed your travel plans only to be stymied by having to wait for your bag to come on a different flight? I also love that there is no waiting at baggage claim after your flight lands.  This can sometimes add 30 to 40 minutes to a trip.  This is a big deal for me because I take a lot of quick jaunts.
    • Smart and efficient.  You don’t waste time worrying about which outfit to wear.  And It’s my view that light packers make a good impression.  Would you rather pick someone up that is lugging around a giant suitcase of crap or someone who is tidy and thoughtful about their packing?  I guess I’m just kind of an asshole that way.  It reminds me of a a study on the impression businesswomen make in relation to their handbag.  If she had to dig and waste time trying to find something, she was thought of as inept and disorganized.  I feel like it’s the same way with packing.

    Here are a few guidelines that I’ve realized on countless trips (I seem to fly about once a month):

    Simple Guidelines

    • It might be a little colder than you expect.  Keep yourself warm.  Bring a versatile garment (jacket) to keep you warm every day.
    • You don’t need as many pairs of shoes as you think you do.
    • If you’re going to overpack on something, do it on first layer shirts and underpants.  It’s always nice to have a fresh one of each of these things.
    • Bring something that is comfortable but can also be dressed up.  I have many times found myself wishing I wasn’t wearing something that was so obviously “traveling” clothes.  Americans seem to be particularly guilty of this.  Go on, you très continental globetrotter *said with a French accent*– play the part.
    • Accessories can go far.  Especially if they do double duty to protect you against weather or give you a way to cover up messed up or dirty hair, like a hat, scarf or head scarf.
    • You don’t need as many pairs of trousers/bottoms as you think you do.
    • Advice from my friend, Sarah, when I told her I could never decide what to pack.  “Really?  I always just bring all my very favorite things!”  Very sound advice!  After all, this is when pictures are going to be taken.
    • Often times you might want to shop or buy something that reminds you of a place so err on the light side and use this as an excuse to buy something local if you didn’t pack enough.  This works especially well with jewelry when you don’t have much space in your luggage.

    Suitcase

    If you know which airline you’re traveling on, check the limitations for carry-on baggage size.  I have two suitcases that I love (and show in my video) that easily fit in most overhead bins.  There is a 17” Brookstone hard case that is really light and maneuvers easily and a great Osprey Meridian convertible wheeled suitcase I have that works really well for doing a tour or “backpacking” type trips.

    How to Pack

    Please see my YouTube video for a more detailed description of these ideas.

    Depending on the type of trip I’m doing, I will pack one of two ways.  If it’s a trip where I’m going to be moving around a lot between hotels, houses, and/or it’s more a tour type trip, I will pack everything in plastic bags as described in my  video.  This method of packing groups all like things together.  That way when you want to find the thing you’re looking for, you can grab it out of a bag and then stuff everything back in without messing it all up.  It’s great if you’re not really able to unpack on your trip.

    If I’m going to be set up somewhere for a while and can kind of unpack, I will just skip the plastic bags.  In both cases, I will roll up all my clothes to save space.  I always bring a small bottle of detergent (shampoo or Dr. Bronner’s soap work fine too). That way I know I can do a quick wash in the sink and an overnight air dry if something is desperate for a wash.

    When I pack, I sort of do it from a body scan approach.  I pack the necessary shoes – usually one pair that can be dressed up, one simple flat that is comfortable that can go with jeans, shorts, or a dress (sometimes the same as my one that can be dressed up) and one pair that is athletic.  For women, I love the Patagonia Maha Breathe to do triple duty if it won’t be cold.  Then I make sure I have the necessary socks.  I usually only need a few pairs of trousers/skirts no matter how long the trips is. Then underpants.  Again, splurge here. Then short sleeve, tanks and shirts.  This again is where I splurge if I’m not going to stay somewhere people will be doing loads of laundry.  A dress or two.  Something warm for the plane.  A jacket.  Then accessories.  Maybe a scarf or belt and a couple pieces of jewelry that travel well and that you wouldn’t be devastated if you lost.  I try to stick with one color family on a trip so everything goes together, including jewelry.

    I cover packing for toiletries in another post.

  • Reducing Clutter

    “Since my house burnt down,
    I now own a better view
    Of the rising moon.”

    ~a haiku by Basho

    Living as a minimalist is a way of life.  There are many components of the lifestyle which Leo Babauta does a great succinct summary of here.  Everyone has their own reasons for subscribing to this philosophy but mine is for simplicity, and for letting the possessions and activities I love shine through instead of being cluttered with the stuff that doesn’t matter.  It’s also a way to make me feel like I’m making less of an impact on our planet.  Whether or not my efforts are just a drop in big nasty bucket doesn’t matter as much to me.  It’s about how it makes me feel like I’m doing my part.

    One component of a minimalist lifestyle is simply about not having too much stuff.  Because of the consumerist lifestyle that society pushes on us, usually the first step is to reduce clutter that we already have.  There are other components of the lifestyle that address how to limit acquiring future stuff that I look forward to addressing in later posts.

    What’s so bad about clutter? The obvious outward appeal to being a minimalist is that it is aesthetically pleasing.  Just take a look at a decorating magazine or one of those fancy modern homes.  No clutter, right?  And if that relatively shallow reason doesn’t appeal to you, there are other more profound reasons.

    Decluttering is an emotional process that helps people thrive.  You may be hanging on to clutter because there are times of your life you can’t let go of.  Sometimes, though, these past lives need to be released before a person can move forward to what is waiting for them.  What new hobbies might you pursue if you had the space to do it?  Which goals could you accomplish if you spent less time acquiring and maintaining your stuff?  How much more time could you spend with your family and friends if you weren’t so busy with material possessions?

    Clutter is a constant reminder of a scarcity mindset. A person who has too much stuff might feel like they can never have enough or are about to lose everything they have, so they overcompensate and try to insulate themselves for the possibility.  This scarcity mindset can set up limiting beliefs.  You need to believe you will have everything you need to succeed.

    What does creating space give to you?  Well, couldn’t we all use more space?  We are crammed in to this world of 7 billion people, constantly surrounded by light and noise pollution, we’re bombarded with advertisements about what other stuff we should want (presented as though they’re things we actually need), our schedules are packed full to every last minute, not even leaving us enough time to sleep until we’re rested or take 10 minutes out of our day to meditate or journal and reflect on what the hell it is we want in life.  How many weekends are spent running to discount stores, electronic stores, having our cars taken care of, trying to figure out what to do with that crap in the garage that is collecting dust?

    We could all use some space to figure out what it is we really want in life.  When your house is relatively empty, it’s hard to escape yourself and your real needs and desires.  Reducing clutter gives us more space to create and to relax and to love.  We could all afford to feel a little less untethered to and ruled by our STUFF and more in touch with people and experiences.

    Your stuff does not make you who you are.  The guy that drives the orange Lamborghini around my neighborhood is still a prick even though he has an orange Lamborghini.  The acquaintance that buys oodles of designer handbags doesn’t suddenly become classy.  The person with the fancy house and garage full of toys doesn’t suddenly start being fun and interesting.  In fact, people often seem to become the opposite of the thing they are trying to possess.  It’s as though they are acquiring and showing off stuff in a desperate effort to get people to think of them in a certain way.

    Sentiment does not need to be in the form of stuff.  This often comes in the form of gifts or things that were handed down to us through the family.  We feel that keeping something is necessary for preserving evidence of a relationship or an existence.  In some cases, you may want a few mementos, definitely.  Sometimes, though, one teacup could remind you of the way Grandma would wrap her hand around it and chatter in her singsong way.  Maybe you don’t need every last piece of chipped dishware. Or instead of keeping that horrible sweater your mother-in-law gave you to prove you are a patient and tolerant person, could you just get one of her best recipes?   That would be a much better way to reminisce on her great qualities as you share the food with friends.

    If you decide reducing your clutter could help usher you toward a more minimalist lifestyle, try the following:

    Do a walk through of your habitat.
    The first step in minimalizing is to have a conversation with your stuff.  Remember, this is where you LIVE.  It’s not just a place to store your STUFF!  I will copy an example of the questions you could use verbatim out of a book I love called The Joy of Less:A Minimalist Guide to Living:

    ‘Ask yourself these questions: As you walk around your house, have a conversation with your stuff. Ask each item, “What are you and what do you do?” “How did you come into my life?” “Did I buy you, or were you given to me?” “How often do I use you?” “Would I replace you if you were lost or broken, or would I be relieved to be rid of you?” “Did I ever want you in the first place?” Be honest with your answers—you won’t hurt your stuff’s feelings.’

    You might be surprised at how many of your possessions kind of appall and annoy you.

    The best defense is a good offense.
    In other words, just don’t bring home crap you don’t need.  If it’s something that you are only going to need about once or twice a year, do you really need to buy a thing to maintain and to store?  Could you borrow a gravy boat from a neighbor or friend?  Could you rent a power washer from your local hardware store?  Could you decorate with seasonal foliage or fruit instead of buying disposable holiday decorations made in a Chinese factory?  In the case of gifts, could you express preferences for consumables or experiences or donations in your name?

    Decide what to keep instead of deciding what to toss out.
    It’s easier this way.  Only keep the stuff you love.  It’s pretty simple.  All moves or major life changes are great times to do this.  Often times moves come along with life changes.  If you don’t have a move in your future, try to choose one drawer or area per day or weekend and slowly chip away at it.

    Do not feel guilty about throwing away stuff you spent money on.
    Let this be a lesson to you that from now on, you aren’t going to buy something unless you love it or you absolutely need it.  If you don’t wear it or don’t use it, keeping it isn’t going to suddenly going to make it worth it to have purchased it.  Feel good about donating it, selling it on Craigslist, or using an organization like Freecycle.org to find someone who might be seeking the exact item(s) that  isn’t serving you anymore.

    Enjoy without owning.
    This was another great idea discussed in the Joy Of Less book.  It is essentially the theory that you don’t have to re-create the world around you inside your house.  Chief and I live in a small apartment with a lovely garden in a funky neighborhood near the center of town.  We have no garage, no attic, minimal closet space, no TV, one car.  We actively work at not acquiring and consuming.  It requires constant vigilance!  We don’t buy things we don’t need, we don’t try to impress anybody, and we work hard at the principle of enjoying without owning by spending out to our neighborhood.  For example, instead of buying an espresso machine with all the bells and whistles, we go drink an espresso out of a glass cup at our favorite shop three blocks away.  We don’t need a fancy wine fridge because we can go down the street to have a pint and meet our neighbors.  We don’t need a home theater because we can go out to the local theatre and take in blockbusters and local plays.

    Reducing clutter has allowed me so much space and light in my life.  It’s made me focus on what really matters and allowed my creativity to thrive.  I hope it can do the same for all of you.

     

     

  • Kitchen Beautician Shopping List

    Below I have listed some of my favorite natural beauty/health products that can be found at Whole Foods or ordered online if you don’t have access to a natural supermarket.  A lot of the items are components for many of the kitchen beautician recipes I have listed on this site.  Some of the items are useful to have in any kitchen too.

    Hyland’s Homeopathic Smile PRID Drawing Salve : I love this homeopathic drawing salve in the orange tin for two things: 1) first aid and 2) blemishes.  It’s an all-natural salve with sulfur for antibacterial properties.  It is great for applying to any scrapes or cuts.  It also works really well for healing blemishes or ingrown hairs because it helps draw anything out from below the surface of the skin.

    Vanilla Oil in Jojoba Oil – I love this for multi-tasking and always keep some in my travel bag.  It can be added to bathwater or you can add a few drops to a fragrance free moisturizer to scent it naturally.  This also works great to use as an eye cream at night.  The aromatherapeutic property of vanilla is uplifting.  It’s kind of a nice unisex smell that I think both genders find comforting and sexy.  You can even use it as a perfume, dabbing it on pulse points.  Because it comes in a jojoba oil carrier, you can also use it to remove eye make-up in a pinch but it might be too expensive to do that every day.

    Egyptian Magic Skin Cream – I love the ingredients in this skin cream – olive oil, beeswax, honey, bee pollen, propolis, and royal jelly.  It is an amazing night cream but also can be used as a body moisturizer, eye cream, or like a pomade to smooth flyaways or the ends of hair.  A little goes a long way.

    Body Brush – Body brushing feels so amazing and is great for your health and skin.  I have the details in this post.  I like to keep one next to my shower and also keep a small travel one in my toiletry bag.

    Sore No More – I was first introduced to this botanical formulation when a Jivamukti Yoga instructor applied it on our backs when we were in downward dog.  It really helps to ease sore muscles and brings a pleasant warming tingle to any particular area.  The menthol and camphor also really help to keep sinuses clear so this could be used as sort of an all-natural Vick’s Vapo Rub type of thing.  It’s a wonderful thing to give someone you love a quick rub on the shoulders and neck with.  It has capsaicin from peppers in it for the warming effect so do a test spot first to make sure your skin isn’t sensitive to it.

    Almond Oil – I use almond oil in a bunch of my kitchen beautician recipes including the pumpkin and honey mask and the rose petal bath.  You can also use it to wash your face if you are doing the oil cleansing method.  It’s also a great oil to make a quick scrub out of by combining it with sugar or sea salt and a couple drops of essential oil.

    Aztec Secret Indian Healing Clay – This calcium bentonite clay is amazing for drawing out blackheads and just really refining the skin.  You can see how I’ve used it in the pumpkin and honey mask.  I also did an iteration of the same mask the other day when I didn’t have pumpkin at home.  I put in a little bit of vinegar instead and had amazing results with that too.

    Honey (or manuka honey) – Honey is awesome for its antibacterial and moisturizing properties.  I’ve mentioned using it in a milk and honey bath, in various masks, and mixing with vinegar if consuming for getting beautiful from the inside out.  I just keep a bottle next to my bath.  I’ll often just squirt some in to soften and moisturize my skin or smear it straight on my face as a mask on its own.  The bottle I have has become granulated which is kind of perfect because then it does a bit of exfoliation as well as moisturize the rest of the time I sit in the bath.

    Baking soda – I love baking soda for dumping in to the bath (for softness and detoxing) as well as using it as a really simple exfoliator as I described here.  It also works great to dump a bit on your toothbrush after you’ve put the paste on to help polish and whiten teeth.  I also occasionally use it to remove product build-up from hair.

    Vinegar – I’m sorry.  You all know my obsession with vinegar by this point.  It can be used as a hair rinse for shine and in the bath to neutralize pH’s.  I also like using it mixed with the Aztec clay for a clarifying mask or you can dilute it and use it as a toner.

    Sea Salt – I love sea salt for putting in the bath (like the red wine bath) as well as for making scrubs.  I will eventually add some more recipes in the beauty section of the blog for specific recipes but you can generally mix it with a little bit of oil (grape seed or almond) as well as essential oils for a good body scrub to do in the shower.

    Whole milk – Whole milk works great as a moisturizer and also has lactic acid, which helps to exfoliate.  I’ve mentioned using it for the milk and honey bath.  The other thing I really like to do with it is to soak cotton balls in milk and then place them over the eye area to restore moisture.  The coolness of the milk also helps to reduce puffiness.

    Coconut Oil – Coconut oil has wonderful benefits for both internal and external consumption.  It has antibacterial and antifungal properties.  It works great as a body moisturizer all on its own, especially after a day at the beach.  I also love using it as a hair mask.  I just apply it to my hair and then make a hair towel out of cling wrap and put a towel over that and add some heat with a blowdryer or the sun.  You can rinse it out after 20 minutes to an hour (or sleep in it with a shower cap on) and shampoo and condition as usual.  If you’re going to be beachy all day too, it’s kind of nice to apply it to the ends of hair and put it in a loose braid to keep everything hydrated.  It’s also a great natural personal lubricant.

    Rose Water – Rose water works as a toner for slightly dry skin and can also be used as described in the rose petal bath.  I like to keep it in the refrigerator and use it as a really refreshing mist on a hot day or after a good workout.  Orange water works great too and has more astringent properties.  The rose water can also be used in recipes.  The other day we mixed it with sugar to make a simple syrup and then made strawberry rose gimlets with muddled strawberries and gin.

     

  • Earthing

    Have you ever noticed how amazing you feel after walking barefoot on a beach or through dewy grass?  Have you experienced an indescribable peacefulness after swimming in the ocean or spending the weekend camping?  As a geologist, I’ve spent a fair number of days sprawled out on rocks soaking up the warmth while eating my lunch and basking in the great outdoors.  I was always aware of a connectedness and exhilaration that would come over me, but I just assumed it was the fresh air.  While being outdoors is the one common denominator in all these activities, I have recently discovered that there may be an additional explanation that is based on science and the electrical potential of the Earth.

    The Earth is basically a limitless reservoir of free mobile electrons.  What this means is that no matter what type of charge comes in to contact with it, the Earth can completely absorb the charge or send electrons to neutralize a positive charge.  This is the reason we have a ground in electricity.  If there were ever some power surge, the excess energy would dissipate in to the ground where it is neutralized.

    The desire to go barefoot or dip in to a body of water, therefore, may be a biological desire to neutralize electrical energy in our body and to tap in to the diurnal electrical rhythms of the Earth.  We all strive for balance and to be “grounded” and this might be exactly how this term evolved.

    It has been proposed in research over the last 30 years or so that almost every type of modern disease and psychological or physiological stressor can be attributed to an abundance or scarcity of electrons.   That may sound a little oversimplified but let me explain what I mean.

    Having positively charged free radicals in the body can wreak havoc on well-being.  Free radicals are basically just a molecule that have an unpaired valence electron, which leaves the atom or molecule unstable with a positive charge.  Presence of free radicals is otherwise known as something being oxidized (basically the same process as rusting).  That is why there has been an advent in understanding the benefit of consuming anti-oxidants or using them in skincare products.  Oxidants are what ultimately cause tissue damage, aging and degeneration because these positively charged free radicals go barraging through healthy tissue seeking electrons to become stable and harm the tissue from which they take electrons in the process.

    If our bodies are full of these free radicals from stress, environmental toxins or dietary toxins, coming in to contact with the Earth will basically allow the free electrons to flow in to the body and neutralize them before they cause damage. Chronic inflammation is thought to be associated with the damage caused by free radicals as the electrons are poached from the tissue.  Inflammation is associated with many of the diseases that plague our modern society including heart disease, chronic pain, diabetes and arthritis.

    In addition to reducing inflammation, coming in to contact with the Earth (otherwise known as Earthing), is hypothesized to improve stress levels, increase energy and decrease insomnia as a result of normalizing the diurnal electrical patterns in the body and equilibrating them to the natural pattern of the Earth.   Earthing can be a great thing to do once you have traveled across time zones for this reason.  Putting yourself in to contact with the Earth resets your daily clock and adjusts your circadian rhythm to the new time zone.

    It is such a simple thing, Earthing.  We obviously evolved as a mammal that was meant to be in contact with the Earth without insulating barriers.  Even early humans walked with conductive materials on their feet such as leather or skins and slept on the ground.  Have you ever noticed how often modern day humans are in electrical contact with the Earth?

    That’s right.  Almost never.  Take a look around and notice how many adults and children are walking around with shoes that put a rubber or plastic barrier between us and the Earth.  How many houses are completely removed from the Earth, covered in insulating materials such as wood, carpet and/or elevated and completely removed from any contact with the ground?  Almost every single one.

    How To Earth

    Earthing is really easy to do.  You can get the full benefits of coming in to electrical equilibrium with the Earth in about 15-20 minutes a day.  It’s as easy as being in contact with the earth or a conductive material that is in contact with it (rock, ceramic tile, or concrete like in a basement or on a sidewalk, etc.).  Walking in direct contact with the Earth works great, as well as just placing one’s feet or body on it.  If you like wading in the water, it can be accomplished there, especially saltwater, which has extra conductivity.

    In the book Earthing: The Most Important Health Discovery Ever? I checked out after I had an interest in this subject, the book’s author, Clint Ober, talks about grounding devices (such as bedsheets, pads for forearms or feet at the computer, etc.) that can be connected to an outdoor grounding device.  I also just stumbled across a resource for Earthing devices that sells products and has a great video that summarizes this post.  I haven’t had a chance to try them yet, but am thinking about ordering one of the products.  It sounds as though the effects of sleeping grounded are profound.

    But just walking around barefoot or lazing with as much skin as possible touching the Earth is pretty easy to do!  The feet work particularly well because of the vast amount of nerve endings, whose tissue is supposed to be especially conductive.  It has the added benefit of stimulating the feet, as in reflexology.  I find it interesting that our feet evolved to be such reflex points at the same time we were always making contact with the Earth with them.

    Next time you’re working in your garden, walking on a beach, working in your concrete floor basement, or attending your child’s sports match, try removing your shoes and see if you feel any different after about 15 minutes.  Note your pain, energy and stress levels, happiness, and sleeping patterns.  This is something so simple to try and really you have nothing to lose.  It seems like a pretty easy thing to convince kids to do too!  This simple act has brought a lot of healing energy in to my life.

  • Filing System To Simplify Life

    Many years passed during which I fantasized about the perfect filing system.  One day I acted upon my deepest latent desires and made my OCD wishes come true.  For more background, the zenhabits website has a great post about how a filing system can simplify your life and increase productivity.  For my system, I got inspiration from Jean Chatzky’s book called Make Money, Not Excuses and followed a system she outlined.  The steps are below:

    Step 1: Get a small file box with a carry-handle.  These are available at any office supply store, Target or any other sort of discount retailer.  Or… if you’re feeling fancy or need an excuse to get organized…The Container Store! That’s right, I just gave you an excuse to go there.   The reason you want a filing box with a handle is this is basically going to be your portable, frequently updated, current file cabinet.  You can bring it out to the dining table to make quick adjustments or bring it to your tax person or CPA when necessary.

    Step 2: Get all supplies necessary for organizing and filing bills.  I like to keep mine in a sturdy fabric box near my other filing equipment.  I’m sure a craftier person than I could have fun making one, but I purchased mine.  I have modified the list from Jean Chatzky’s book and it is listed below:

    • Hanging folders.  Decide early on if you are going to commit to letter or legal-sized for your box and folders.  Be sure you have the filing tabs that go along with the folders.
    • Sharpie markers.  The fine point ones are especially useful.  But… what is even better than sharpie markers is… (cue flashing lights and dramatic removal of a velvet curtain)…a label maker.  Jean suggests getting one if you have poor handwriting, but I suggest getting one if you really want your filing to be something you get excited about! **
    • Manila folders (again, decide letter or legal)
    • Stamps and envelopes
    • Letter opener
    • Stapler (red Swingline if you’re an Office Space fan 😉 )
    • Calculator (I love my trusty old TI-83 from high school maths)
    • Pens and pencils
    • Paper clipsIMG_3614

    Step 3: Neatly label your hanging folders. (Sweet joy, it’s time to play with the label maker!!!**)  I like to use the following categories:

    • Banking
    • Brokerage Accounts
    • Taxes
    • Home (or Apartment)
    • Benefits/Compensation
    • Auto
    • Credit Cards
    • Health Care
    • Legal
    • Children

    Other ideas for main folders (with subfolders):

    • Pet(s)
    • Travel
    • Mom and Dad (or anyone else you’re helping to take care of)
    • Lifestyle (examples below)
      • Goals
      • Ideas
      • Well-Being
      • Hobby (for example, I have one folder for writing and one for yoga)

    Step 4: Populate your hanging folders with manila folders for specific areas.
    In each of these main hanging folders, you will want to put a manila file folder for each separate entity of the main category.   As an example, for credit cards, I have a manila file for Chase card and a manila file for CitiCard.  For Home/Apartment, I have one folder for homeowner’s insurance and one for utilities and so on.  Each one gets labeled with the year because when the year is completed, you will move this folder out of your pristine carry-handle box in to a non-portable file drawer.  Eventually it will become obvious which large categories you need and which manila folders you need.

    P1010304

    Jean recommends having different color folders depending on if it is yours, your spouses, or shared.  Right now Chief and I have all our accounts separate so I have made a portable filing cabinet just for him.  I color code by whether things help me become financially abundant.  All my credit card or auto things are in a red folder (bad!), brokerage and banking in green (money, good!), and neutral things like home or hobbies in yellow or purple.

    In Chief’s filing box, I have a folder entitled “Children” and a manila folder for each of his kids.   In those manila folders, you can save things like important milestones, report cards, and some of the best or most meaningful artwork.  It will then always be organized by year.

    Step 5: Once a year, transfer the previous year’s manila folders from the portable box to the non-portable drawers.
    When the end of the year comes, I then change over my whole file system and throw away anything that can be dumped.  For all the main categories, I have a matching hanging folder in a larger non-portable wooden file cabinet.  Once I’ve filed my taxes, I throw out anything in the main file cabinet from the previous calendar year that I no longer need.  I then move the recently completed year’s manila folders in to their hanging folder in the floor cabinet.  Next is producing new folders for the new calendar year. (Label Maker Time!**)   As an example, as I changed over a couple weeks ago once all my taxes were submitted, I shredded all the Chase credit card 2011 statements I had been storing, moved the Chase 2012 manila folder in to its hanging folder in the main file cabinet, and created a Chase 2013 manila folder in my portable system.  Some of your hanging folders will have multiple manila folders from previous years.  As an example, your taxes hanging folder will probably have seven previous year’s worth of tax returns in it.

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    I leave the stuff I don’t need for everyday in my main file cabinet (e.g.  old tax statements, medical records, art and furnishings paperwork, divorce papers, and miscellaneous invoices and receipts).

    It sounds like a lot of work and initially it was.  Now that I have my system up and running though, the switcheroo only takes me about 3-4 hours once/year.  I usually do it as I watch mindless movies over Netflix on my computer.

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    Staying on top of this requires short bursts of weekly or monthly maintenance and one committed evening of annual maintenance but the peace of mind it brings in having organization and knowledge of all your important records is immeasurable.

    In regards to which things you should keep and which things you should toss, I have a list of guidelines that I have taped underneath the top of my portable filing cabinet  I typed up the list based on the guidelines in Ms. Chatzky’s book.  The link to download the PDF file is below.  I do recommend checking out her book if you want to become more financially savvy.  She has some great advice on how to divvy things up whether you are a one or two-income family,  some basics on investing and planning, and how to get more control over your finances if this is an area you feel insecure or worried.

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    ** For those who get excited about things like label makers, read on:

    There is endless fun to be had with label makers and it brings such a sense of peace and organization to my life.  One thing I will mention is that you want to be sure you get label tape that isn’t clear (in case you need to cover old writing up) and stock up on the label tapes while at the office supply store because it’s really annoying when you run out at the wrong time.  I keep a photo of the kind I like on my phone as well as a photo of the printer cartridges I need because I can never remember when I am at the store.  The label tape is expensive so this part is really kind of extravagant and is to get you excited about filing more than anything!  My label maker even has a key to make a cat face which was a real bonus.  Though it’s possible others don’t get quite the thrill out of label makers as I do??