Use Summer as a Training Time For Those Kids

Posted by Melissa Schmalenberger on June 30, 2015 in Family, Food, life, Moms |

I read a blog post last week from a mom who was complaining about her kids during the summer. They never put anything away. They dropped their clothes everywhere. The mom had to drive them to their various activities. I kept waiting for the blogger to say how much she loves having her children around, but she never got to that. I don’t think she is ungrateful but rather she is overwhelmed and exhausted. I know many parents like that. But what if we took this time to work on the skills that we want our kids to have in life instead of enabling their behavior and blogging about it?


When I see an overwhelmed parent I notice one thing, they give in way too easy because of their exhaustion. I had three boys in five and a half years and I know one thing I learned very quickly was to have them learn how to help. Often it was much easier to tie their shoes for them so we could get out the door. But what happened was they were delayed in trying their shoes. I take the blame for this, because I was in a hurry and never took the time to teach them how to tie those laces.


This summer my middle son came back after his freshman year at college. I was thrilled to get him home. Yes, his room is messy as he moved all of his stuff from his dorm back in. I close the door so I don’t have to look at it. Yes, his dishes aren’t rinsed and loaded into the dishwasher right away. But he is home. Home where I have some more chances to influence him.


Here are some areas that we will be working on:


Grocery shopping: I sent my boys to the store for Father’s Day to find things to make their dad for his special day. I got numerous texts and phone calls asking questions. Finally my husband got on the phone and told them what to buy to make him. They returned over an hour later with the ingredients along with a big frosted sugar cookie and a Happy Birthday balloon.


I love grocery shopping so I never sent them to the store. Now is the summer where I am going to train them how to grocery shop.


My middle son had to buy ingredients for a work retreat last week. He had his list and he returned triumphant. He said he watched what other people were doing. People were weighing their produce, he weighed his produce. He saw someone put bananas in a plastic bag, he put his bananas in a plastic bag. He needed a zucchini, he bought a cucumber….oops!


Preparing a meal: Yes take out and frozen meals are convenient but what are we teaching our kids? I want my kids to learn how to make 5 meals that are made with real and fresh ingredients. No Hamburger Helper here. I really believe that if they can learn to make 5 things they will have the skills to make everything else. I know one child loves chicken parmesan. He will learn how to flatten a chicken breast so that he can use that skill when making other chicken dishes.


When I was first learning how to cook I hated the act of cutting chicken up. I still don’t enjoy it and I have luckily found a man who will do it for me. But learning how to cut a chicken is a good skill to have, if you are not a vegetarian. Also learning how to brown hamburger is important. My husband thinks it is done by turning the burner up to high. I shake my head. But if you think about it, when you read a recipe it never lists the steps on how to brown hamburger. I understand now why they don’t know.


Washing and cleaning a car: We have neighbors that wash and clean their cars every Sunday. It is like they are running a car detailing business in their driveway, but with their own cars. I personally don’t like a dirty car. My friends tease me that my car is always clean. It is. When I drive my husband’s car and it is dirty I will run it through the car wash before I return it. Meanwhile the car my boys share is full of treasures on the inside. The outside is full of dents and scratches due to parking in a high school parking lot. It is time to learn that when you walk into the house everything in your care comes in with you. The garbage goes in the garbage. The recycling goes in the bin conveniently located in the garage. Take some pride in what you drive. Know that when you give someone a ride that you don’t need to move the garbage aside. Instead have a spot in the car for your garbage and your paperwork.


So this summer instead of being frustrated with your children, hug them a little tighter and love them a little more. Decide that you are blessed that you are their teacher in how to do many things in life. Meanwhile if you see my kids out grocery shopping with a blank look, stand back and let them figure out how to ask an employee where the panko bread crumbs are kept.


To Joyful, Simplified Organizing,


MS. Simplicity


Serving the Fargo-Moorhead area as well as North Dakota, South Dakota and Minnesota. Also seeking new representatives for Clever Container in all areas of the country.

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Easy Summer Grilling Freezer Meals

Posted by Melissa Schmalenberger on June 23, 2015 in Family, Food, Moms |


Summer is the season that I fire up the grill on a daily basis. Our eating out decreases and our eating as a family around the patio table increases. It really is my favorite time of the year. But this does not mean that I am any less busy. I still need easy meals that everyone will eat.
I make my summer grilling freezer meals every summer but this summer I forgot until a friend posted reminding me of it. I used her trick an bought McCormick Grill Mates meat seasoning packets and was done from store to freezer in an hour. I did have my handy meat cuter husband assisting me. I mixed and labeled and he cut.

What is interesting is that once I have the main dish covered I then have the time and energy to put together a side dish or a dessert. There is something magical about pulling a meal out of the freezer the night before and thawing in the fridge for the next 24 hours. The meat becomes more tender and flavorful by the time it goes on the grill. There must be some pixie dust that is sprinkled on it!Here are the steps that I have used to better maximize my time:

  1. I spent 30 minutes on a Saturday morning on Pinterest finding what I wanted to make. I looked at all options, not just typical freezer meals. I tried to stay away from anything that wouldn’t freeze well. I also looked at food that I could turn into a kabob.
  2. Next I put my grocery list together along with what I was going to buy at Costco. I like to buy my meat at Costco and knowing that I was going to go through several pounds of beef, pork and chicken it made the most sense as I could save some money on these items.
  3. Made sure I had freezer bags to freeze the meals in {I have forgotten to check and then had to stop everything and run to the store}
  4. Started when my husband was home so that he could cube the meat for me while I mixed the marinades up.
  5. Labeled the bags as well as put any further instructions like basting with a sauce on the outside.


I usually don’t stick to hard and fast recipes when making my meals up. I find a few that I think are interesting and then I tweak them for my taste or what I have in the house. I usually don’t measure….just dump and scoop and shake and pour. So those of you who like step by step instructions my recipes will drive you crazy. The fact that I was even able to write them down is a miracle in and of itself! I also put my bag in a large bowl with the edges hanging over so I can fill the bags without fear of the liquid pouring out.

Find more here as well!

Spicy Pork Chops

1/4 cup orange juice
Squeeze from a lime
2 Tablespoons of minced garlic
2 Tablespoons of Sriracha sauce {found in the Asian food aisle}
2 Tablespoons soy sauce
2 Tablespoons brown sugar
Pork chops {use boneless ones so that the bones don’t puncture your freezer bag}

Beer Chops

Can of beer
1/4 ketchup {or a good squeeze}
2 Tablespoons of Sriracha sauce
Pork chops {use boneless ones so that the bones don’t puncture your freezer bag}

Chipotle Steak

2 Chipotle peppers, chopped {found in the Mexican food aisle canned with Adobo sauce}
2 Tablespoons of a good steak seasoning
1 lime squeezed and zested
3 Tablespoons olive oil
Cubed steak {use whatever fits into your budget}

Cilantro Chicken

1/4 Cup olive oil
6 Cloves of minced garlic
1 cup of chopped cilantro {fresh}
Cubed chicken
*As the chicken nears the end of grilling, have a sauce to baste at the end {we used General Tso’s found in the Asian food aisle}

Thai Chicken

3 Tablespoons soy sauce
2 Tablespoons honey
Juice from 1 lime squeezed
3 Cloves of minced garlic
1 Tablespoon of Siracha
Shake of red pepper flakes
1/4 cup of chopped fresh cilantro
Cubed chicken
*After the chicken was grilled I served it with a side of peanut dipping sauce {found in the Asian food aisle}

Coconut Chicken

1 Cup of canned coconut milk
1/4 Cup of orange juice
2 Tablespoons of olive oil
2 Tablespoons minced or grated fresh ginger {buy fresh as it adds so much flavor}
Shake of red pepper flakes
Cubed chicken

Kabob tips: For all of the kabob recipes I would put some vegetables on the kabobs before I put them on the grill. I do not marinate the meat on the sticks, I thread the meat with the vegetables before I put them on the grill. If you are using bamboo skewers, make sure that you soak them first. I have found some flexible wire skewers that we have been using for the past two summers and they work great and can be washed in the dishwasher. I do not marinate my vegetables. I have found that they get enough flavor being next to the meat as it is grilled. My favorite vegetables to grill are zucchini, different colored peppers and mushrooms. Put on your families favorites.

Freezer tips: I like to freeze the bags flat in the freezer in a horizontal. Once flat you can then put them in a vertical position so that it is easier to see what you have. When you put a meal in the freezer have a list on the side of your fridge/freezer telling you what meals are in there. Once a meal comes out, cross it off the list.

Remember I do not always measure and things turn out just fine. Our family likes spicy food so I usually add more heat to whatever recipe I am making. Marinades are very forgiving. I like to look for ones that have citrus in them {citrus helps to tenderize} and I also like to add some oil to help in the sticking of the meat to the grill. I am ready to repeat this lineup again this weekend and now I am going to double each of the recipes and make 12 instead of 6 meals. It would probably add about 30 minutes to the total project time. Time to get grilling!


To Joyful, Simplified Organizing,


MS. Simplicity


Serving the Fargo-Moorhead area as well as North Dakota, South Dakota and Minnesota. Also seeking new representatives for Clever Container in all areas of the country.

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Do You Have Enough?

Posted by Melissa Schmalenberger on June 16, 2015 in Family, life, Moms |

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At what point in our lives do we find ourselves completely satisfied? At what point do we have enough? If you watch the media we are never satisfied. Want to be thinner, buy this product! Want to be cooler, drive this car! Want to have your children love you more at Christmas, buy them this gift!


For me I am trying to get rid of items and not bring new ones in. I have visited with people who are living the minimalist lifestyle and I have noticed a sense of peace around them. They have the iPhone 5 not the 6 because the 5 still works for them. They are mindful of what they buy. They don’t just purchase on a whim. They think things through. They ask questions. Here are a few things to help you think about when deciding if you have enough.


Buy quality. I recently purchased a handcrafted belt for my son from a street vendor in San Francisco. I noticed that he went through belts every couple of months. I would keep buying him belts at big box stores and he would use them for less than six months. I bought my other son a similar handcrafted belt from a street vendor in Seattle two years ago and it is holding up and will probably last him his life. It is a solid piece of thick leather that will not rip or tear.


Ask does this have a place in my home? Don’t buy anything until you know where it is going. If your closets are overflowing you probably don’t need another item of clothing. Take the time to access what you have before you bring it home. I have limited hangers to keep me focused. If I buy something I know that something must leave.


Stay away from trendy. If you try to keep up with trends you will want to keep purchasing. Instead look at classic pieces. I have the same cream sweater that I wear everyday at home and I wear it as part of my outfits at least a few times a week. It is a classic piece that will never go out of style.


Ask is this filling a need? Many of us purchase to feel better about ourselves. We don’t realize it when it is happening. For some it is finding the bargain so they can boast about the savings. For some it is to make them feel loved or pretty.  We get little highs when we purchase, it is like taking a hit of a drug. It feels good….for the moment! Stop and take a breath before you make that purchase. Figure out why you are really wanting to purchase.


Ask is this for an immediate need? We get into trouble when we start to purchase things for some future event. Like buying holiday decorations on clearance. We buy more than we need in the excitement. Rarely do we really need as much as we purchase. I would rather pay full price for something I need right now rather than have too much that I got at a 50% savings. Because the math works out in my favor of waiting. I buy the one item instead of multiple that will just go into storage.


All this comes back to the question of do you have enough? Start asking yourself this week if you have enough. This is a different question and will grab you from your insides. Because suddenly the question goes from do I have enough to am I enough? And the answer should be a resounding YES!


To Joyful, Simplified Organizing,


MS. Simplicity


Serving the Fargo-Moorhead area as well as North Dakota, South Dakota and Minnesota. Also seeking new representatives for Clever Container in all areas of the country.

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The Art of Weeding Out Your Clutter

Posted by Melissa Schmalenberger on June 9, 2015 in Family, life |

I have been on a minimalism kick and challenging myself to see if I could live in a small space. However, what I want to remind people is this is a lifestyle and it is not made for everyone. When I talk about keeping things that bring me joy or that I find useful, I hear from friends that say everything around them brings them joy. I feel empathy for my friends and clients who want to live with less but don’t know where to start. I never force people to get rid of items.


A friend told me that my organizing style is like weeding. We take out what doesn’t belong and leave what does. I love this analogy as it really is what I want my style to be; working with my clients to figure out what works for them. So I got to thinking about the different types of landscaping styles and realized that they can be analogous to our organizing style as well. There are several types of landscapes out there so let’s discover what is your style.


Xeriscaping: This is a drought resistant form of landscaping. Having visited California recently, this is very evident. Lawns are being replaced with rocks and succulents. Little attention needs to be paid to these yards. For those of you who want xeriscaping homes, what would it look like? I wouldn’t see the need to dust very often. Everything would have its proper place. Cleaning would take minutes as the surfaces just need to be wiped down. Nothing needs to be moved or picked up. This is a home that has very little clutter in it. Everything has been pared down to the essentials. Everything has a purpose and nothing is brought into the home unless it can meet the strict drought tolerant needs of the style. Weeds simply don’t grow.


Wildflower Mix: This is the person who just has everything in all directions. Things are scattered everywhere. The weeds aren’t really noticed as there is no sense of order. The homework is on the kitchen table along with the mail. We are not really sure where anything is. My guess is most of us have a room or two like this.


The problem is we really don’t know how to separate the weeds out of the mix. We see lots of potential and lots of color and don’t know where to start, so we don’t. But what would happen if you pulled five “weeds” a day. Figure out what your number is so that you are pulling more than is being added. Try to stay ahead of that number. After a few days add a few more “weeds” to your total. Keep moving forward and your flowers will start to stand out and you will like what you see. It will motivate you to keep going.


Manicured Yard: This is the yard you will not find a weed anywhere. Every weed has been plucked or sprayed. Nobody is allowed to step foot on the grass. Over years fewer and fewer weeds appear. So if our home was manicured nothing would be out of place, ever. This home is full of items but may not have a function. In my world, this is not ideal. If you have children, this is not realistic. Nobody wants to live in a museum. I want my kids to run on the lawn and play in the family room. We have all been in “that” home where nobody sits in “that” room. There is a coffee table with books artfully arranged that nobody has read. They were selected for the color and size and nothing to do with the homeowners hobbies or interests. We don’t dare sit on the couch for fear of putting a wrinkle in it.


Garden Bed: There is a zone for everything. The carrots are grown here in this box. The peas are over in that one. It is easy to spot the weeds and pull them out. This is my way to organize. If you go into teachers’ classrooms, this is how they are organized. The art supplies are kept in a section. The books are over in the corner in the reading nook. When a book is in the art section, everyone knows where it should go, the book, aka “weed” is plucked and put back in the book section. A classroom has limited space and each space must be used with purpose. In our homes we could have a section where the unread mail goes. A baking section in our kitchen for all our baking supplies. Create different zones in your home for easy maintenance.


With each style, they overlaying theme is you still need to weed. You need to be careful when you bring things into your home. Will it be like a dandelion puff and when you blow it, the seeds are scattered everywhere leaving the potential for more weeds to grow. You also need to be mindful of what leaves your home. You want your home to be functional and show off the flowers.


To Joyful, Simplified Organizing,


MS. Simplicity

Serving the Fargo-Moorhead area as well as North Dakota, South Dakota and Minnesota. Also seeking new representatives for Clever Container in all areas of the country.

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Let’s Celebarte the Art of Clutter, Really?

Posted by Melissa Schmalenberger on June 2, 2015 in Family, life |

Recently an article was published in the New York Times celebrating clutter. As I read the article I found myself shaking my head in bewilderment. My son sent me the article and I looked at him and asked if this was meant to be a satirical piece? He didn’t think so but I am not sure. While I agree with some things, I disagree with many of the authors points.




I do think that organizing and de-cluttering is on every cover of every magazine these days, or so it seems. We are told to buy the books and magazines only to be told to throw them out later. I think that is why I have had a hard time publishing my book, I don’t want to create more clutter.


The act of becoming a minimalist is not a reality for most people. Even thinking about it for some makes their skin crawl. I for one look forward to the day that I can live a life with less items. However it does not mean I did not cherish the bookcases full of books that my children read. There is a time and a season for all.


The idea of clinging to possessions has never been attractive to me. I am an adventure girl. People give me a hard time for the amount of time that I travel, I am not escaping my life but rather living my life. It is a personal choice and I want to have adventures not things.


Yet some people do cling to possessions as if it is a safety net. I have never advised my clients to get rid of all of their possessions, just the ones that don’t bring them joy or add value in some way. Not every possession that we have brings us joy. Not every gift we receive must we embrace and hold onto for our entire life. As an organizer, the clutter I help people with is typically the day to day clutter of living; the pile of mail, the spare room that things get thrown in, the kitchen with no counter space or the tchotchke that they can’t find a home for. I usually am not brought in to help turn them into minimalists.


My parents have a lot of “stuff” but I have never seen it as clutter. It is artfully displayed and dusted and cared for. Everything has a home and shelves, closets and drawers are not overflowing. But the number of possessions is overwhelming to me. They have inherited things from their parents, collected art and books over the years and been given gifts from their well intentioned daughters. They have a full life. I would never expect them to get rid of all of their items and “de-clutter” as I don’t see it as clutter. I have however encouraged the getting rid of items that they no longer use, like the encyclopedia set from my childhood. My parents have no problem of getting rid of items, however what they do keep brings them joy.


But yet as we age don’t many of us turn into minimalists? Often through life’s events out of our control. We raise our children in large houses and then there comes a time to downsize to a smaller house, apartment or condo. We start to naturally get rid of bedroom sets and extra couches. We hold onto these things for when our children get their first “places.”


From that smaller house or condo we move into an assisted living facility, smaller still. We now have our possessions to the bare bones. Perhaps a favorite chair and some holiday decorations. The dishes and cooking gadgets are gone. The china hutch and coffee table have homes elsewhere. We suddenly find ourselves living with the few things that bring us joy.


Without warning we are minimalists.




The author wants her children to store all of her possessions in offsite storage. Really? She wants her children’s home full of her stuff. I however do not want my children’s homes full of my stuff. I want my children to have their own sense of style. I don’t want them beholden to what I think is important.


I am thinking of what I own of my grandparents (my parents are still living) and I have perhaps 5 items of my grandmothers. Each one is cherished. However I don’t expect my children to want these items as they are special memories to me, not to them. They have their own memories.


My client’s have a hard time disposing of items that they think they should hold onto out of guilt. I would ask that we let go of the guilt and focus on the word joy.  Burdening our children is not fair to them or their families.


I find that people don’t even realize that they are doing it. I encourage my clients to call their adult children who they are holding onto stuff for. They snap a picture and send a text asking if their child wants the item they have been holding onto. Usually 90% of the time the child says they don’t want it. It is my job to then explain to them that just because they don’t want the item does not mean that their child doesn’t love them. We have a new generation of kids that don’t want clutter, my own included.


Let’s be honest and not put our emotional baggage onto our kids. Just because we loved something, or paid too much for something, or inherited it from our parents does not mean our children should have to dust it or store it for the rest of their lives.


To Joyful, Simplified Organizing,

MS. Simplicity


Serving the Fargo-Moorhead area as well as North Dakota, South Dakota and Minnesota. Also seeking new representatives for Clever Container in all areas of the country.

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The 90/90 Rule in Organizing

Posted by Melissa Schmalenberger on May 26, 2015 in Uncategorized |

Remember me, the rule follower? Well I have another good one for you to implement in your life; the 90/90 rule. This is another rule that I learned from The Minimalists when I heard them speak in LA at my annual organizers’ conference. For my clients to learn to shed excess items they need little nuggets to stick in their brain, kind of like an ear worm. The last organizing ear worm I gave was the 20/20 rule and it worked. I was stopped in coffee shops and told by readers that they have items ready to be donated. Well I think I love the 90/90 rule more than the 20/20 rule.


The rule is simple, If you have not used an item in the last 90 days and you do not plan on using it in the next 90 days, get rid of it. Sounds easy doesn’t it? Well it can be if you let go of all the preconceived notions that you have going on in your head.


Why this 90/90 rule works? I use to tell people that in the upper Midwest we have seasonal clothes and you really need to wait a full 9 months to see what you wear. I am no longer a believer in that. Truth be told, you may see me wear a maxi dress in the winter with boots and a sweater. The more organized my closet becomes the less seasonal I am.


Before I purchase items I look at pieces and see if they can be year round clothing. I must admit I am not a snowflake sweater wearing type of girl, so you wont find those types of clothes in my closet. But you will find many neutral cardigan type sweaters that I wear daily, even on cool summer days.


But I know that even my closet has things in it that I have not worn in 90 days and I am not sure if I will wear in another 90 days, unless I magically lose that 20 pounds.


A good way to chronicle what you wear in the 90 days is the good old fashioned hanger trick. Whenever I describe this trick people all sigh like they had a light bulb moment. Simply take all your clothes that are hanging up and turn the hangers so they are facing backwards on the rod. Here is a hint, if your clothes are dusty just pull those clothes out now!


Where else can you use the 90/90 rule?


Jewelry: Not sure what you wear? Purchase a jewelry organizer and as you wear the items put it away in the organizer. This will help you really determine what you are wearing on a daily basis. Try to remember what you wore in the last 90 days and put those items in there as well. After your 90 days is up, time to get rid of the excess.


Cooking items: For bigger items in your kitchen I like to put post it notes with the date on it. So I would write the date 90 days from now on the notes and place them on the kitchen items I have not used in the past 90 days. I now have 90 days to use this item or guess what? It goes in the donation box. If you didn’t use that gingerbread house mold last Christmas and you know you aren’t going to use it this holiday season, donate it now. True story, I had one and now I don’t.


Things you dust: Walk around and really “see” your items that you dust. Do you even see them anymore or have they become mindless tchotchkes taking up space. Walk around your house and really notice what you have on display. On the main floor of my house I now only display things that bring me joy. Seeing my husband’s patent cubes signifying the 10 patents he has makes me smile.


Things hanging on the walls:  Walk around your home and “see” what you have hanging on your walls. Do you even notice what is there? Do you have a collage of mismatched photos? Or how about a hodgepodge of random prints?  I now hang things on my wall because they make sense to me, not just to fill a space.  Ask yourself the question, would I buy this again? Look at your walls for the next 90 days and really see and appreciate what you have hanging on them. If you find yourself in 90 days not enjoying what is on the walls, then time to donate.


As I am a fan of The Minimalists and I think you would be a fan too I want to make you aware of a stop they are making in Fargo on May 30, 11:00 location is the Fargo Theater. You can see a viewing of the documentary they have been working on and they will be having a Q and A session as well.


To Joyful, Simplified Organizing,


MS. Simplicity


Serving the Fargo-Moorhead area as well as North Dakota, South Dakota and Minnesota. Also seeking new representatives for Clever Container in all areas of the country.

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What If?

Posted by Melissa Schmalenberger on May 19, 2015 in Family, life |

When I work with my client’s I find my time with them a learning experience for me and hopefully for them. But really it is about me. A few weeks ago I worked with a stage 4 breast cancer survivor and I learned so much about grace and dignity. This week my client was a person who had fire and caused them to be displaced for 9 months. It really makes my issues in life pale in comparison.


When I work with my clients we have long conversations for three hours. We get to the heart of their issues. I really discover who they are and what makes them want to keep some things and get rid of other things. But when you are affected by a fire, that really makes you sit back and take a minute to think. What I leaned is they had minutes to get out of their home. They didn’t get the time to think about what to grab. So being organized is key!


I remember being at a friend’s home when their neighbors house started on fire. The neighbor brought her kids over and went back in the home for the birds. I was shocked, I was sitting there trying to comfort the kids and I was taught you don’t go back into a burning building. Ask a firefighter and they will agree. Fires can be burning in the attic and you may not know that your roof is about to collapse. Let them do their job.


So I want you to imagine your house right now and think about the important things in your home. People and pets are at the top of the list and then probably photos and home videos would be next. But I learned some things about recovery from a fire as well as any natural disaster.


1. Have great insurance coverage. I am a firm believer in having a personal relationship with your insurance agent. I have had good luck in finding agents that care about me and my family {thanks Robin!} You don’t need to be a number, find an agent that knows you by name and can explain your policy in layman’s terms.


2. Take a video. Most of us have smartphones and how long would it take to walk around your house and take a video? Open drawers and closets. Walk around narrating as you go. What an easy way to take an inventory of your house and its contents. Update this after major purchases or once a year. The beauty of smart phones is you can sync your phone so your photos and videos is saved in the cloud. If you are someone who does not think you are comfortable doing this video, find someone who is. It isn’t hard and remember chances are nobody is going to see it. This is for your peace of mind!


3. Take pictures. Take that smartphone out and start taking photos of those important family photos that are irreplaceable. Of course scanning or saving in the cloud all of your photos is the ideal, but I am a realist. Take 30 minutes on the weekend and walk around your house and pull those important pictures and snap a good photo in good light. I do this for throw back Thursday (#tbt) where people post a photo from the past to social media. I am methodically working through my photos and sharing them on social media. I have found that taking the pictures in natural light is best. Take a photo by a window and try not to get a glare. You can now crop the photo and make it look like it was a jpg emailed to you.


4. Put irreplaceable documents in a fireproof/waterproof safe. I have all our passports and social security cards in ours. Perhaps my kids birth certificates are there. This is something I need to check. But I will tell you almost every client I work with does not have this simple item that costs under $100 yet creates priceless peace of mind! Believe me you will not be disappointed. Figure out what should go in this safe. This is an activity that will take you less than 30 minutes {I hope} to gather all those documents around your home!


Now this list is not to be all doom and gloom but rather to have you be proactive! Take action and let life happen knowing that you are prepared.


To Joyful, Simplified Organizing,


MS. Simplicity


Serving the Fargo-Moorhead area as well as North Dakota, South Dakota and Minnesota. Also seeking new representatives for Clever Container in all areas of the country.

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When You Have More Than a Junk Drawer

Posted by Melissa Schmalenberger on May 12, 2015 in Family, life |

While conversing with the gentleman on the plane seated next to me last week he recognized me and we began the discussion of his concern of his parents being possible hoarders. He read my article on hoarding and it reminded him of his parents. He described them as not having a junk drawer, but rather a junk room. This got me thinking as I am a recovered junk closet girl myself. How do we create the problem of  having more than a junk drawer?


I know how my junk closet started; company was coming over. I simply took everything on my kitchen counter and piled it, neatly, in my walk in closet in my bedroom. Company kept coming over and my piles grew larger and larger. Never did I take the time to go through the piles. It began to be an embarrassment. I could take three large steps in my closet. First step goes to the left about two feet in. Then I go with the right and turn my body slightly to keep balance. Finally I take the last step in to grab the pair of pants hanging at the back of the closet.


How serious of a problem was my junk closet? Let’s just say I broke my toe in it. True story! I walked into a piece of office equipment used to punch two holes in the top of a document. I was a lawyer then and clearly it was a sign from the universe that this occupation was bad for my physical health! Heck it took a broken toe to get me to slow down, for a day.


One day my dear husband had enough with the junk closet and took everything out one pile at a time. He played the role of MS. Simplicity very well. He didn’t overwhelm me with everything at once. And he was there to support me and push me forward. It worked and the junk closet has stayed away….for the most part!


There are those out there who have junk rooms. I have seen them. It is the one room of the house where the door stays closed. The rest of the house is organized and looks like a picture out of a magazine. But behind that one door is chaos. Piles of gifts for the next holiday. Items that need to be returned to the store. Pictures that need to find a home. Clothes that no longer fit. Dishes for when Johnny moves into his first apartment. Box of memories of some long forgotten job. The guest room has been transformed into a junk room before our very eyes. It is like a magic trick! Nobody knows how it happens, but it just does.


So what do you do if you have more than a junk drawer? Do what I do with my clients with great success.


1. Set aside three hours. More than three hours is too much as it can get exhausting both emotionally and physically.


2. Make it a distraction free zone. Turn off the phone and turn up the music. Get rid of the kids and animals and perhaps the spouse.


3. Invite a helper. Often a family member is NOT a good idea. Family members can become too judgmental. A best friend who you are not embarrassed to show the mess to is best. Sometimes a glass of wine helps as you laugh over what you unearth.


4. Grab garbage bags: I use black ones for trash and white for donations. It helps keep it straight in my mind at the end as the bags leave the house. Sometime boxes are needed for fragile items.


5. Have the helper bring you one small pile at a time. If you were to look at the room all at once you become overwhelmed. Sit at a table or on the floor in another room and start sorting your items into like piles. Pictures go in one pile. Gifts go in another. Items that need to be returned to the store in another. You get the idea. I liken it to playing a game of cards, try to find the matches. Put like with like.


6. Have the helper start removing items and putting them away. Trash bags can be hauled to the garbage. Recycling can be put away. Donations can be loaded into the car. The items need to be cleared as you near the end of the three hours as you don’t want to spend another three hours putting everything away.


7. If it looks like you are keeping everything have the helper start giving you some tough love. I have been to client’s homes when all they wanted me to do was swirl their stuff around and make it neat. When you have too much stuff there is not magic to make it look less cluttered. The trick is to get rid of your stuff. A good rule of thumb is to get rid of half of it. Yes I said half. Remember this is a junk room where you are just putting stuff in that doesn’t have a home. What if the home for the stuff is in someone else’s home? Just have it leave yours.


8. Call in reinforcements. If you have done the steps as outlined above and it has not worked it may be time to call in for help. That is the point that you pick up the phone and give me a call. I become the helper and we laugh and have a good time and we talk about that time when I broke my toe.


Start to imagine the room being a useable space once again. Guests can sleep in it. The door can remain open. You can walk in and not break a toe! For those of you that don’t have a junk room, do you have a junk garage or perhaps a junk rental storage unit. I think it is a daily challenge to stay junk free, but once you get to the sweet spot you stay motivated to stay there. Keep moving forward with one bag leaving your home at a time!


To Joyful, Simplified Organizing,


MS. Simplicity


Serving the Fargo-Moorhead area as well as North Dakota, South Dakota and Minnesota. Also seeking new representatives for Clever Container in all areas of the country.

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The 20/20 Rule of Stuff

Posted by Melissa Schmalenberger on May 5, 2015 in life, Moms |

I am a rule follower and a rule breaker. None of this middle of the road for me! I am either all in or all out! So give me a rule to follow that resonates with my heart and I will run with it. When I heard the Minimalists speak at a conference I attended in Los Angles a few weeks ago, the cute one talked about his 20/20 rule he lives by. The rule is simple: if you can replace something for less than $20 in less than 20 minutes you can get rid of it.


Now why is this a simple rule? When I work with my clients they have baggage associated with so many of their items. They hold a book in their hand and can’t seem to part with it. They hold a kitchen utensil in their hand and it appears that they are making life and death decisions.


Now I know we all have things that we could apply this rule to. This rule is to help you get rid of just a few more items. Right away I am thinking of my spice cabinet. I have over 60 spices all neatly organized, and yes they are in alphabetical order! But some of them I know I have had past their expiration date. Have you ever tried to look at the expiration date on spices? I need special super power eye sight to decipher what it is. But I can honestly tell you in the last year I have added just four new spices, oregano, curry, pumpkin pie spice and red pepper flakes. All the rest I can be sure are past their prime. With this rule I can safely purge all my spices knowing that my local grocery store can provide them to me for under $20 and in less than 20 minutes.


Obviously this rule is not to be applied to everything. I want you to think about applying this rule to things that you don’t use on a daily basis. Here are some areas that I could be tackled rather easily.


Books: Some of us love our books more than our children and we will not part with them. While others are ready to start parting with them. Remember we have great resources like public libraries and swapping with friends to meet our 20/20 rule. Knowing that these free resources are nearby can give comfort in the shedding of the books.


Cleaning supplies: I am a one trick pony with cleaning supplies, but if you looked under my sink you wouldn’t think so. Keep the ones you use and donate the ones that you are no longer using. Am I really going to use that Murphy’s Oil Soap on my cabinets this year? Probably not and it is safe to go and the 20/20 rule applies.


Makeup: I try to keep my makeup collection pared down to the basics, but every once in awhile a shocking shade of pink lipstick finds its way in. I recently put this certain lipstick on and my friend looked at me and said “no” rather firmly. So I guess a woman of a certain age can’t pull it off. I remember thinking how much I paid for that lipstick. The cost is not going to make it look better on my lips. People are not going to look at me and say, “Wow she must be wearing some expensive lipstick!” More likely they are going to think, “Wow that is obnoxious!” Thank you, as I can buy a cheaper lipstick that looks better on me.


Garage bits and pieces: I know when I go looking in the garage for something I am often shocked at what I find. My husband holds onto the oddest things. But he recently did a huge garage purge and there is nothing much left in it. He would save the leftover screws from the deck that he built six years ago. I didn’t know why he was holding onto these things and neither did he. Luckily I am married to a man who is ready to part with these things.


This week take a walk around your house searching for the items you are no longer using that can work with the 20/20 rule. Have fun looking at your items with a fresh set of lenses!


To Joyful, Simplified Organizing,


MS. Simplicity


Serving the Fargo-Moorhead area as well as North Dakota, South Dakota and Minnesota. Also seeking new representatives for Clever Container in all areas of the country.

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Do You Love It Enough To Dust It?

Posted by Melissa Schmalenberger on April 29, 2015 in Family, life, Moms |

Spring cleaning is in the air and I have the measuring stick to prove it, more and more people are coming up to me and telling me that they are sick of all the clutter in their homes and are ready for action. As I was leaving a coffee shop last week someone came up to me and proudly told me how many car loads of stuff she donated. She also didn’t stop with her own stuff but went to her sisters as well! She said she asked her sister one simple question over and over again, “do you love it enough to dust it?”


Our home is filled with these so called tchotchkes, knickknacks and trinkets. Some were gifts and some were souvenirs we bought on vacation. Some may have been from a time when we collected certain objects….like that “I love clowns” phase of the 1970’s. You are past the phase but some people are not aware and you are still receiving clown related items as gifts.


When the time to dust comes around {some never dust} we are mindless in the exercise and just pick it up and dust, without questioning our love of the object.


Not everyone is ready to attack their homes with a ruthless minimalist attitude. Many are stuck in that place called procrastination. Many are stuck in that place of perfectionism. But what we all have in common is we need that little push to get us started.


So this week the push is walking around your house asking “do I love it enough to dust it?” Just to be clear, this does not mean people in your home.


Certain areas of our home are where the act of dusting are focused. The living room, family room and bedrooms seem to attract the most clutter. These are the places where dusting is king. Walk around picking up each object and ask if you love it enough to dust it. Have a box with you as you walk around.


The key is to pick up each object and handle it. Roll it around in your hand. Look at it closely. Does it spark joy? If not, place it in the box.


Don’t forget plants, both living and fake. I can’t tell you how many dusty plants I have seen. These too need to be dusted. Do you love them enough to dust them? If not, find a better home for them.


What about the furniture? Do you move your furniture away from the wall and vacuum up the dust underneath it? That heavy oak grandfather clock that hasn’t worked since 1962. If you don’t love it enough to dust it, it is ok to get rid of it.


Oh and that piano that nobody plays? Yes you can get rid of it. I thought for a minute about my future grandchildren coming to visit me and play the piano for me. I thought for two minutes about my family gathered around the piano singing Christmas carols, yeah that wasn’t going to happen in this lifetime. It was easy to get rid of it once I put myself back into reality.


Give yourself 30 minutes this week to start the process of asking the question. You may surprise yourself and soon have a carload and be searching for me in a local coffee shop to tell me your success!


To Joyful, Simplified Organizing,

MS. Simplicity

Serving the Fargo-Moorhead area as well as North Dakota, South Dakota and Minnesota. Also seeking new representatives for Clever Container in all areas of the country.


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