Evolution Of The Family Meal

Posted by Melissa Schmalenberger on January 27, 2015 in Uncategorized |

When we bought our house we were intentional by not putting a television upstairs. People visit and comment on the fact that the television is missing. We had three young sons and we wanted to make sure that family meal time stayed sacred. We knew that a television would be stiff competition for our attention. Little did I know how quickly the television would no longer be considered our major struggle.


There was sports! Our meal time evolved once our boys were involved in sports. No longer was 6:00 our dinner hour, but rather anytime between 4:30 and 8:00 as the boys grew. Activities became the main rival for our time as a family. We still managed to sneak in a quick family meal with all five of us around the table, but it was rare. I had to learn to prepare a meal that could be prepared quickly or sit in a crock pot. I was usually running one kid to an activity while another one was at home doing homework waiting for me to come home so that I could run him to his activity.


I was the queen of the taxi service. I called my car an expensive garbage can on wheels as many nights I would take a boy through drive through and they would eat in-between activities.  My dad was amazed at how many miles I put on my car just from in town driving. The car became our dinner table. The car is where I would hear how the day went. The car is where I would hear about the issue with friends. I was with the boys actively listening and that was all that mattered.


But then my oldest got his driver’s license and we saw less and less of him. I was no longer driving him to activities. I was no longer driving him to school halfway across town. Gone were those conversations in the car. School activities and sports as well as a job kept him away from home most evenings at dinner time. We became a disjointed family trying to have dinner.


Then the middle son got his driver’s license and we began to see less and less of him. I still tried my hardest to make family dinner time a priority. I started cooking more interesting meals. I tried new cook books and recipes hoping that it would be the siren song back home. And in many ways it worked. When the boys began dating, the girls would often be at our house and our dinner table began to grow. And I loved it.


Soon my oldest left for college. Gone was my adventurous eater who could eat several helpings of food. It was no longer fun to cook as half of what I prepared was now leftovers. I began cooking the same things that I knew our other, fussier eaters would eat. Dinner time became mundane and routine. My middle son’s girlfriend would tease me when my oldest came home from college that now we were going to eat great food. But it was true. I knew that he would eat and be grateful for the meal so I would once again prepare elaborate meals.


As the time approached for my middle son to leave for college I realized that we were once again going to be in for a major life change. He too was active his last year of high school and we rarely saw him. But we waited until he got home as he was the last one to usually arrive. We would then eat at the same time. I knew that our meals were numbered and I made them count. My husband and I were busy working and usually nobody made dinner. So we would find ourselves eating at a restaurant, but that was ok as we were together and that was what mattered.


Now we have our youngest home. I now schedule meal time around his schedule. He tells me what time he is going to be home and we wait to eat with him. The first thing he says when he walks through the door is “what’s for dinner?” I know in a blink of an eye he too will be gone and it will just be my husband and I wondering where the time went and having conversations about why we don’t have a television upstairs.


So when families have issues with kids and adults being on their cell phones during the family meal, I beg of you, take those phones away! As that is the same issue we had with deciding to not put a television upstairs. Put a basket in the kitchen where everyone places their phones during dinner. You don’t want to miss out on the family meal time because that time is fleeting and magical. Let your kids be mad at you because when they are older they will remember the dinner table conversations not the latest topic on reddit!


To Joyful, Simplified Organizing,


MS. Simplicity


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



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Leaving A Life Of Simplicity

Posted by Melissa Schmalenberger on January 20, 2015 in Family, life, Moms |


This post is dedicated to all of you baby boomers out there who are struggling with all of your possessions as well as the possessions of your parents and your in-laws and maybe even that childless aunt or uncle. You have been entrusted as the family keeper of memories. You are not sure how you received this honor. But one day you woke up and your house was about to explode from things that don’t bring you joy but rather things you need to keep so that nobody becomes mad at you. And yes, the people that you are most worried about offending have now passed on.


But I am here to tell you, the people who have passed on do not want you to feel smothered by their possessions. I know that I don’t want to pass on the burden of “things” to my children and I hope I am leaving a legacy of experiences for them to remember me by.


One of the main reasons that I see my parent’s generation suffering so much is that they were raised by parents of the Depression era. These were people who when they bought a couch, they kept it for 50 years. These were the people who knew how to feed a family of 8 with a cup of flour and a few eggs. These were the people who mastered the art of hand me down clothes. So the baby boomers were raised by fiscally responsible and frugal parents. It was engrained in them to waste not want not.


The reality is that we are now in a digital area where things are not built to last anymore. Our children are not going to want any of our possessions. Trust me they don’t want our stuff, just call them if you don’t believe me. I am dealing with my own clutter issues and trying to discard as much now and live a life of simplicity so as to not burden my children. Here are some common areas that I see my clients suffering from.


Furniture: Furniture comes in various shapes and sizes. Furniture is bulky and takes up space. Chances are you have a few pieces that have been passed down to you. My theory is unless it is serving some practical reason, get rid of it and let someone else enjoy it. My mom has the bed that my grandparents had when they got married. I have tried sleeping in it. I am almost five foot ten, I don’t fit in that bed unless I am diagonal. This would not be a practical piece of furniture for me to inherit. Now if I had a young daughter, it would be perfect and I would love it.


Make sure that the furniture serves a purpose in your current life, not a life in the future. If you are holding onto something for your children, ask them now if they even want it. Chances are you will hear the answer no. Remember to not have hurt feelings over this. Rejecting a possession is not rejection of you.


Knick Knacks: In my world if you have to dust it, I don’t want it. I like clear and open spaces. Take an honest look at each tchotchke and see what kind of feeling it invokes. And then see where you are displaying it. Is it on a crowded shelf where nobody can see it? Is it hidden in a box? Is it shoved in a cabinet? If it has meaning and it brings you JOY, it should be displayed in a place of honor. Display it our donate it, but don’t box it up for its fate to be decided by another generation.


Photos: This is a hard one for so many people. What to do with the photos. I tell you, take the time to sort through them now and see if you know who everyone is in the photos. If you don’t know who someone is, discard it. You can take the extra step and see if someone else remembers, but chances are they don’t either.


Right now on my desk is a picture of my dad when he was probably three with his blond curls and a dog next to him and my dad loves his dogs. Looking at this picture makes me happy. This is a picture I wont get rid of, however my kids might someday. But I am going to make it easier for them and make sure the picture is labeled so that they know that it is a picture of their grandfather.


This summer I came across the unicorn {rare} of all pictures when I was watching a video of my aunt’s and uncle’s wedding, I saw my mom in the video. I paused the movie and took a picture of the screen of my mom as a young girl. My mom doesn’t have many pictures of herself when she was young, so this picture is a treasure.


Go through your photos now and discard any that don’t bring you JOY, or you don’t know who is in the photo. Or perhaps it is scenery that means nothing to you. Chances are you can toss a large stack of photos.


Recipes and Letters: These mean a lot to me, especially the ones in my grandmother’s writing. My mom also made a cookbook with all of our family recipes in it. That is a treasure. Anything in my grandmother’s writing that is beyond my name written is also special. Cards with just a signature do not mean that much to me. However if someone takes the time to write a note as to why I am special I display that note and then it goes in my happy file. My happy file is where I place papers that bring me JOY.


What I hope you do this week is start walking through your home and look at the legacy that you are leaving. Are you leaving one of clutter and indecision or is your legacy one of simple elegance. Don’t burden your family but rather encourage your family to celebrate a life that is well lived.


To Joyful, Simplified Organizing,


MS. Simplicity



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


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An Organized Bon Voyage

Posted by Melissa Schmalenberger on January 13, 2015 in Family, life, Moms |


Travel for me is an easy thing to do…. when I am by myself. If things go wrong I just go with the flow and just brush it aside. But when I am planning a trip for many of us and spending lots of money it adds to the pressure, so I work really hard to make sure that I have every contingency taken into account. It might be that analytical lawyer side of me where I play worst case scenario and make sure that I am ready for anything. So in the process of planning a cruise for 6 of us I learned a few things along the way. I asked for advice from my Facebook friends and I used some travel advice from several well traveled friends and I think I have a comprehensive list.


1. Arrive to your destination a day before your cruise departs. With weather and plane delays you just never know what can happen. You are not in control and with so many elements at play, you will want the time buffer. In our case we flew on two different airlines and all of us were delayed for different mechanical and staffing issues causing all of us to come in 5 hours later.


2. Pack snacks. Nothing can calm a frustrated and tired person more than a good snack. Flights get long and time zones destroy your inner clock. I usually always have peanut m & m’s and some kind of protein bar with me. This time I took two shoe boxes full of snacks and I didn’t have to worry about the “hangries” {hungry + angry.}


3. Motion sickness meds can be your friend. I brought plenty of motion sickness meds, plus sea bands that apply pressure to points on your wrist to take away nausea. Add in some ginger flavored candy to help settle an upset tummy, and I was set!


4. Waterproof cell phone case or waterproof cameras. You will not want to miss what you are experiencing and having a camera at your disposal will be worth it. I used a waterproof pouch for my cell phone that allowed me to take my phone in the water with me. If I was smart I would have brought the cord with to hang it around my neck to have my sea pass in it as I needed that at all times and I didn’t have pockets in my swim suit.


5. Hanging toiletry bag for the bathroom. Space is limited on cruise ships and nowhere is that more clear than in the bathroom. Being able to hang my bag from a hook and grab everything as I needed it saved precious counter space.


6. Pens and post it notes. Because we were in two separate cabins and texting was not an option, being able to leave each other notes became a necessity. It was also great to leave reminders on the door in the morning so I remembered to grab the sunscreen.


7. Look for excursions that aren’t with your cruise line. As long as you find reputable businesses you can save money and often are able to do things in smaller groups. We booked one with our cruise line and the rest were with another travel site. I carefully read reviews and made our selections.


8. Bring a variety of sunscreens. My boys hate lotion, so I brought lots of the spray sunscreen. But what happened was it was so windy that little if any made it on their skin and the sunburns are the proof of that. I kept reapplying my lotion and only burned on my back, where I might add my husband was in charge of applying the sunscreen. My middle son told me that if I had told him how close to the equator we were he would have applied more sunscreen. Now he has funny patterns on his back where the hit and miss sun screen spray was applied. Lesson learned for him!


9. Bring a multi strip power cord. We found two plug ins in our room and while it worked for my husband and I it did not work for our kids. A multi strip would have allowed everyone to get a full charge before heading off the ship.


10. Nail clippers and small scissors. We had random things we needed to cut and a scissor is not usually something I travel with, it is now however! A nail clipper is something I always have and it was missing on this trip, and we needed it!


11. Travel water bottles and flavor packets. If you are not buying any of the expensive beverage packages you will want to make sure that you are drinking plenty of water. A travel water bottle that you can refill is the perfect fix. Even bring some flavored water packets along to flavor the water for some variety. Some cruise lines allow you to bring cases of water on board, check with yours ahead of time to see if this is allowed. But personally, I would not want to be hauling a case of water on to a ship with all of my other things.


12. Walkie talkies. We didn’t bring these and we wish we had. We saw other people using them. But what we did was use the good old fashioned face to face communication methods like, meet me at the dinning room at 4:00.


13. Well stocked first aid kit. I had every size of band aid, travel tissues, pain reliever, aloe with pain killer, aloe lotion and with the flu out there I had cold and flu remedies as well.  And yes we used everything.


14. Travel laundry items. I usually have a tide to go pen and a small container of liquid laundry detergent. All of which was used. Doing a quick soak and wash of the clothes in the bathroom sink was a way to save the day!


15. Swim shoes or sandals that can get wet. Your feet will thank you as you walk over rocks to get into the water. I still have a mark on the arch of my foot where I stepped on a rock.


16. Alarm clock. I didn’t need this so much for the alarm, as I used my phone for that. However, I did wake up and wonder what time it was. The only way I knew the time was to walk across the room and look at my phone.


17. Call your travel agent before you go and check on any price changes. Often if the price has dropped, you can receive on ship credit which in the case of my cousin saved her $1,000. We weren’t so lucky, but I did call and check just in case.


To Joyful, Simplified Organizing,

MS. Simplicity



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

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Keeping It Simple and Perfect

Posted by Melissa Schmalenberger on December 29, 2014 in Family, Food, Holidays, life, Moms |

Now that the dust, pine needles, sugar high, gift tearing frenzy is over I can take time to applaud myself and say that the holiday I designed this year was perfect for me. Did I just say it was for me? Yes that is right. We design holidays for other people and what we imagine they want, when what we really should be doing is creating the holiday of our dreams. I have had many years where I have been in tears in my room crying by myself because things just were not “perfect.” One year I even went so far as to check into a hotel for a few days just so I could feel relaxed as I was too overwhelmed with making the perfect holiday.


Why do we do this to ourselves? It really is of our own doing. Our families are not demanding to have the Currier and Ives Christmas. Most holiday movies are of dysfunctional families trying to cope during the holidays. Those movies are more like the real deal than the Folgers commercial of Kevin coming home in the middle of the night and his family being all weepy over a cup of coffee. Most of us have the relative that makes us uncomfortable because of his racist or homophobic or political rants. Most of us are just trying to keep it together to make it through the holidays. Some are newly divorced and don’t have their children with them. Some have family that is serving overseas in the military. Some are dealing with the death of a loved one. Some have family that are in the hospital or dealing with a health crisis. Some are dealing with crippling depression. We all have something that we are dealing with.


So this year I gave up control. I gave up the picture in my head and just focused on what mattered. First things first: my holiday baking. I baked too much again this year, but I scaled way back. The only thing that matters to my family are the peanut butter balls and the roll out sugar cookies for me. All the rest I could have skipped doing. I had a cookie exchange with friends so I had a nice variety of other cookies. Even though I did less baking this year I could do even less next year. In all honesty I finished the peanut butter balls and roll out sugar cookies on Christmas Eve and they were perfect!


Timing: We all have our traditions but as my sons bring people into their lives I have to let go of when our family holiday is celebrated. When I was a divorce lawyer I would remind my clients that Christmas is just a day. Kids are fine celebrating any day of the year and we should too. I had to give up our traditional time and just go with the flow as my middle son celebrated with his girlfriend’s family.


Christmas Eve meal: I usually do elaborate appetizers and cook way too much food that nobody eats and I am sad that I wasted the time and money. So instead I went to Costco the day before Christmas Eve and focused on what people would actually eat that was already prepared and I could heat and serve. {Honestly it helped that I was under the weather and just didn’t have the energy to create anything over the top.} Barbeque shredded chicken on Hawaiian rolls and scallops wrapped in bacon and some crab cakes. I made just two appetizers, a lovely dried apricot with goat cheese, almond, thyme and a drizzle of honey was one appetizer and lettuce wraps were the other. Nobody missed anything and clean up and leftovers were a snap.


Christmas Day: Gone are the days of my boys waking up early to see what Santa left them. This year Santa made his stop after we woke up as he knew that the boys would sleep until noon. Next year, Santa may even skip our house and that is ok. I didn’t cook an elaborate breakfast and have us all gather around the table. Instead I cooked some simple egg bakes and relaxed and told the boys they could eat them when they were hungry. My husband and I then headed to the movies. I didn’t force them all to go with us. Only those that wanted to go went, and so it was just the two of us. When we got done with the movies we headed out for Chinese food at our favorite spot and invited the boys to join us. It was a perfect day. I was relaxed and everyone was happy.


So as I take time to reflect back on my perfect holiday, I focus on what I enjoy. I love playing games and watching holiday movies with my family, all which I have done this holiday. Fondue night is coming up as that is a family favorite of trying not to get burned over a pot of hot oil! I love creating my holiday cards and I love to decorate my pots outside of my house with greenery. I decorated my house very quickly this year with only the decorations that brought be joy and it took about two hours. Everything has now been taken down and put away and it took about an hour. I even donated some things that we didn’t use this year and I know we are not going to use next year. I don’t need to hold onto these holiday decorations and I don’t need to hold onto the idea of perfect Christmas because it doesn’t exist. We get to decide what the perfect Christmas is for us and that is the perfect Christmas and don’t let any commercial tell you otherwise. It is about spending time with our family doing what we love, so I challenge you to be a little selfish next year and make it all about you and what you love! Chances are it is not cooking in a kitchen but rather playing a game with the grandkids or reading them a story.


To Joyful, Simplified Organizing,

MS. Simplicity



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


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New Year, New You?

Posted by Melissa Schmalenberger on December 22, 2014 in Holidays, life, Moms |

I have to admit that my favorite time of year is the end of the year. I always take time to reflect on how great the current year has been and what I can do to improve the incoming year. I tell people that New Year’s Eve is my favorite holiday as it is one of the holidays where we focus on ourselves being better. I like to set goals in my personal and business life. I like to choose a word of the year that covers both areas. It is fun to dream and focus on what is important.


So what are the steps to help you make sure that you stay on track this year? Some steps you will find work for you and some may not. Focus on just a few and try not to get overwhelmed because when we get overwhelmed we just stop working towards them.


Find a partner: It is always easier to stick to your goals if you have an accountability partner. Certain diet programs are successful because you have to go in and weigh yourself every week. Knowing that you have to check in will make you work a little harder. Find a friend and share your goals and get going.


Schedule check in times: I have created reoccurring appointments on my phone for my weekly planning sessions. I usually don’t need more than 15 minutes a week to figure out what my big tasks are to accomplish. I have also scheduled monthly and quarterly time to work on my bigger goals.


Set realistic goals: Saying that you are going to lose 50 pounds can be overwhelming. But starting with baby steps like walking 10,000 steps a day or not eating sugar are both good starts that will help you in your overall goal without feeling defeated when you step on the scale and the number hasn’t moved.


Break the goal down into smaller pieces: If you goal is to organize your house it may be easier to say that you are going to organize for 10 minutes a day or to work for an hour a weekend. But if you don’t have it broken down, you will not know where to start.


Don’t beat yourself up: As long as you are moving in the right direction, that is all that matters. Don’t be mad at the number on the scale and go eat a snack to try to cope with it. That is just moving you backwards.


Reward yourself: Set up little rewards systems along the way. We all love to be acknowledged along the way. If we are privately working on our goals we need this more than ever. Be your own cheerleader and own it. It is ok to set up a massage or a night at the movies for all your hard work. Write down your rewards and focus on them.


I have been putting some focus this past week on how I am going to accomplish my goals. I know it is important to set up systems to help me now. The trick is to not make it so complex that you have slim chance of success. I remember my favorite question, “how do you eat an elephant?” One bite at a time. Start to figure out your bites and get going! Here is to a better you in your personal and business life!


To Joyful, Simplified Organizing,



MS. Simplicity



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


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Time, Time, Time

Posted by Melissa Schmalenberger on December 16, 2014 in Family, Holidays, life |

What does this time of year mean to you? We are told what it is suppose to look like when we watch television commercials or see advertising. It is a two parent family gathered around a tree overflowing with gifts. But what I have found is that for the majority of us that is not our reality. I have friends who are dealing with health issues of their own or loved ones. I have friends that are going through divorces. I have friends who are dealing with depression. All of these things take the glitter off of the holiday and rip it raw. I am left with what the real reason for the season is, and that is to spend time with the people who love and care for you. It is up to each one of us to make this holiday about love and less about gifts which often create clutter.


I am trying to do my part. When I texted a friend last week to set up a coffee date she replied back that she was ill. I could have replied with a “feel better soon” message, but that seemed impersonal. My intuition kicked in and I followed up with a “that sucks” message. Because that message is real and it opened the door for her to be real with me. I ended up going to her house with some magic wonton soup and I sat and visited with her for a couple of hours. Yes I was busy and had things to do, like we all do. But I stopped and made the time. What I found was the gift to me was greater than the gift of my time. I saw her start to feel better. We had some real conversations and it was perfect.


Yesterday I caught up with a friend who is going through a divorce and she told me how hard it is to not receive Christmas cards. Her ex is living in their house and he receives all the cards. It made her sad until a friend told her that she should send her own cards out this year. She worried that she didn’t have professional pictures. But it doesn’t matter. People are going to know that she is doing ok and that means something when you are ending a marriage.


I think this year I am more sensitive than ever to the gift of time as my husband went through a job loss when his position was eliminated after working at the same place for 22 years. Our world was rocked but we quickly learned what we were both made of. We didn’t have a pity party. We worked hard together to figure out our next path in life. I gave up working as an attorney to raise our boys when we first had children. I put my career on hold for his. His job loss was not only a rejection of him, but a rejection of me. We were in this together.


The advice that I had given to friends in the past came back to me as I started to give myself the advice. My favorite piece of advice was “don’t let this experience make you bitter, but let it make you better.” My husband and I focused on the positives. We found we were often cheering people up when they heard the news. We didn’t want people to be sad, we wanted them to rejoice in our ability to find a new adventure. Once people understood our mindset, they started cheering for us too.


My husband is now at his new company but we took 10 weeks of together time and really learned what our marriage was made of. I would post pictures of us on Facebook with the hashtag 24/7 because for the most part we were together the entire time. We took a trip to look at the leaves on the east coast and we did some major home projects. We did things we knew we wouldn’t have done if he had been working. My husband began wanting to go back to a job where he used just his brain as we quickly realized that our bodies were not made for construction projects! That time we spent together was a gift that I will cherish forever. Now I see him for a few hours a day and I miss him but thankful that he is working. Now we make an effort to meet for lunch several times a week to keep that gift of time going.


So as this holiday season goes into full speed, I ask that you take some time and give it to a friend or family member. You don’t need to wrap it. You don’t have to worry about purchasing the perfect clutter free gift, as that hour or two is the perfect gift. And if that person is far away, there is this great thing called Skype or FaceTime that I have found is just about as good as the real thing. Take some time to have real conversations. Because you just never know what a few kind words can do. Pick up that phone. If you are waiting and wanting someone to call you, start to make the effort yourself. Start a movement of giving the gift of time.



To Joyful, Simplified Organizing,


MS. Simplicity



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


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Do You Hear What I Hear?

Posted by Melissa Schmalenberger on December 9, 2014 in Family, Holidays, life, Moms |

It is about this week every year that I start being asked the question, “are you done Christmas shopping?” I must admit that I am guilty of asking that question as well. It is as if it overtook the question of “cold enough?” But when I hear the same question over and over again the spirit of the season starts to shrink in me. I must admit I feel like the Grinch. It is not about the shopping, it is about our families, our friends and our faith.


I do like to find the perfect gift for my family but for the allure of Christmas is different for my children compared to when I was a child. When I was a kid, we received clothing twice a year, back to school shopping and maybe a sweater or two at Christmas. Unwrapping a gift was special because we never received things other times of the year. It is doubtful that my boys are going to be excited to unwrap a sweater.


What if we don’t make it about getting all our shopping done. I know what I am buying my husband as he emailed me the item he wants. He usually wants nothing, so this is a refreshing change. Truth be told, we are very blessed and we don’t need anything. Want yes, we all want things. But our needs are taken care of.


So I need to bring it back to the reason we are celebrating. I need to bring it back to spending time with our friends and family. Here are a few ideas that I am going to focus on.


  • Have coffee or lunch with friends. This time of year is not easy for everyone. I like having real conversations with my friends. I have things going on in my life that I need an ear to share it with. Want to sit down and have a good cry with someone, I am your girl!
  • Do random acts of kindness. I often think of the person who is dropping the rare coins into the Salvation Army bucket. I bet that person feels great each time a coin is dropped. I am inspired by my friend who goes and gives manicures to her local retirement home. What a gift. I have an idea of what I want to do this year in the spirit of giving and I challenge each of you to do the same! If we all just did something little, it would turn into something miraculous!
  • Have a cookie exchange with friends. It is a great way to get your holiday baking done. If all you do is make 8 dozen of one cookie, the cleanup is a breeze. Plus your family tries other new treats that you receive at the exchange!
  • Have a white elephant gift exchange. I hear of more and more families doing this every year. When we did it we had to buy the gift from a thrift store or a gas station, it had to be handmade or we could re-gift something, but we couldn’t spend more than $5. Some families focus on a shape, like the gift needs to be in the form of a circle. Or the focus is on a letter, like S for their last name. The price is always under $10 as the focus is on the creativity, not the cost.
  • Have a game night. We love playing games as a family. I like games that make me laugh. Nothing says family like spitting out your water because you are laughing so hard!
  • Keep it simple. Instead of being worried about what I was making for Christmas dinner last year we went out for Chinese food. So easy to clean up my kitchen! That way I didn’t miss out on playing any games!

So focus on keeping it simple and remember that chances are we aren’t going to remember what was wrapped under the tree from year to year, but we will remember spending time together. So if you see me out shopping ask me a different question, like “what brings you joy this time of year?” You may be surprised by my answer!


To Joyful, Simplified Organizing,

MS. Simplicity



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


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Having a Clutter Free Christmas

Posted by Melissa Schmalenberger on December 2, 2014 in Family, Holidays, life, money |

Soon bright shinny packages are going to be placed under our tree but before you place that package please do one thing, make sure there is room for the gift. Too often we give without thinking of where people are going to put the gift. We live in a society of excesses and our children are not learning how to de-clutter. This is not a game of accumulation and the kid with the most video games wins.


Organizing is something kids need to be taught. Teachers model it in their classrooms. I learned by watching my mom and my kids have learned from me. But even if you are a good role model, sometimes the kids need a little help. There isn’t a class or a camp to sign a kid up for {genius business idea} so where do we as parents begin?


Clothing: Start with clothes that are too small, are in disrepair or the child never wears. Time to clear that out now. You may have spent a lot of money on a frilly dress for Susie only to realize that Susie hates how scratchy it is and she refuses to wear it. Right now my youngest son has a closet full of jeans all with holes in the same spot, boys! These are pants that are beyond repair and will be given to my mom for her jean quilt.


Toys: Kids outgrow toys and stop playing with them. Chances are they play with 20% of their toys 80% of the time. Figure out what the 20% is donate the other 80%. A good way of getting the younger children involved is to have them go through their toys and have them put them under the tree for Santa to take back to the North Pole to give out to kids. Or talk to them about donating them to local charities and shelters. I know when I find a charity that resonates with me, it is so easy to donate. That feel good moment is something that we want to pass on to our children.


Books: Being an English major I never believed that books could be clutter. I was an avid book buyer for most of my life. However there are few books that I would go back to and read again. Yes that “Little House on the Prairie” book series did change my love of reading. But the memory is with me and I don’t need the books to remember. I have a huge task ahead of me as I work through my kids books as I try to downsize. I will keep the ones that are near and dear to my heart as a mother, like the Harry Potter ones. But the chunky board books can now leave now that my youngest is 15. I will keep some sentimental ones, but the rest can find a home where another group of children can love them.


Crafts: Calling all glitter pens and pompoms and pipe cleaners! Crafts can be a bit overwhelming. My best tip for downsizing crafts is to have them in a limited space. Have a plastic tote that holds all the supplies or perhaps a shelf. When that space is full, it is time to downsize. I have found that religion teachers and classroom teachers are open to donations of craft supplies, but please ask. My son’s second grade teacher received my stamping supplies and it was a good match!


Oversized toys: My boys had a big plastic truck that they could ride in. One weekend I left with the boys to visit my parents with instructions to clean the garage. I came home and the big plastic truck was gone. Granted my boys were still young and played with the truck, but with my husband being overzealous I couldn’t fault him, he was just trying to help. I think we all wish at times someone would come in and get rid of these large toys for us. If you have any in your house, take a look and see if your kids use them. Think about getting rid of them now as they free up large amounts of space.


Experiences: Surprise, experiences aren’t clutter. Encourage the well intention family to focus on experiences that your children are wanting. Look at music or dance lessons. The gift could be some sheet music or dance shoes with the larger gift being the lessons. Maybe there is a concert or movie tickets to attend together.  Look at ways to create experiences and not clutter.


As the lines at stores get long and you start to stress about being over budget, just bring it back to being real. A few meaningful gifts are more important than a tree filled with gifts. A few homemade crafts sometimes are what is important. I saw a post of a friend who hung an ornament on her tree given to her by her now deceased sister in law. That ornament meant something to her and probably cost pennies. Gifts do not need to be large, expensive or plentiful to have meaning. I actually think the opposite is true. Ask your kids what gifts they remember, their answers may surprise you! For me, I would give anything for my grandmas cookies.


To Joyful, Simplified Organizing,


MS. Simplicity



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


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A Plea For Your RSVP

Posted by Melissa Schmalenberger on November 25, 2014 in Holidays, life, Moms |

I have seen an interesting thing happen over the last couple of years; the lack of giving an RSVP. We all know what it means. We all understand the purpose of it. Yet people fail to give a proper response. I am just as guilty of this as anyone else. Sometimes it slips my mind and I forget, but yet most of the time another culprit is at play. I call that culprit, “waiting for a better offer” or “can’t make up my mind.”


This time of the year, we are sent holiday party invites and offers to go caroling, bake cookies or volunteer at your child’s school. Our social calendar floweth over! We also have the added stress of trying to not gain weight. Seriously, I know carrot sticks are not the food I am going towards on the buffet table. Plus we have to get all the holiday shopping and baking done in our spare time and still be a valuable employee, spouse, parent, etc.


I am writing this post at an exhausted point in my day. We decided to do a major house remodel in one week….paint and replace the flooring in three rooms. Who does this? Someone who has lofty goals! We are in the home stretch and coming in on time, but I am tired. I still have the Thanksgiving holiday to plan & cook and two of my boys are coming home from college. I am pushing through my exhausted state as I see the finish line.


But because I am tired, I am really careful about what I say “yes” to. I am one of those people when I commit to going, I go. I try to give the RSVP early as I know what it takes to plan an event. You owe it to the event planner to let them know as soon as possible your intentions about going.


Here are some tips to make sure that you don’t say “Yes” to things you really want to say “No” to.


  • Do a gut check. Does it fell right to be going or should you just say no? My gut is always right. If there is a nagging feeling that you shouldn’t be going, then don’t go.


  • Will it put you over budget? Some events you need to buy an expensive ticket or buy a special outfit. If these things take you out of your budget, then don’t go.


  • Can you give an answer right now? If you can answer “yes” or “no” right now, that is a good clue if you really want to go to the event.


  • Do you have the time? If you are already over scheduled, don’t add another thing to your list. Keep your calendar under control in order to keep your sanity.


  • Will you feel guilty? We all know that if we say “yes” to something we often are saying “no” to something else. Figure out what that is ahead of time so that you can deal with it.


  • Are you saying “yes” so you just don’t miss a potential good time? That is the wrong reason to say “yes.” You should be going for other reasons, like spending time with friends or family. If you are that person that doesn’t want to ever miss a good time, you are going to exhaust yourself before too long and start missing events.

So as those holiday invites start to come in, take control of your calendar and make sure that you do not over extend yourself. Let the event planner know quickly what your intentions are. And if you say “yes” to an event, make sure that you go. It is very disheartening to prepare for 30 and only 15 attend. Be respectful of your time and the time of the person who invited you.



To Joyful, Simplified Organizing,


MS. Simplicity


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

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Don’t Guilt People Into People Keeping Your Clutter

Posted by Melissa Schmalenberger on November 18, 2014 in Family, life |


I pride myself as being a fairly organized person. I take my advice most of the time. But once in awhile, I slip up and hear myself going down the road of clutter. When I work with my clients, I will challenge them when they want to keep something for someone to actually take a picture of the object and text it to the person and see if they want it. I had a “very nice” [insert guilt word here] travel bag that I thought my son’s girlfriend would want. I texted her the picture and I got the reply that she didn’t like the pattern on the bag. But then I caught myself in mid text with a reply of…but “it is perfect” [insert guilt word here] for what she needs! If I would have guilted her into keeping it, she would have taken it and never used it. The bag would add to her clutter.


So to avoid having the problem of going down the guilt trip road here are some tips:


  • Ask if this is something they would buy. If the answer is no, then you know that this will just be clutter in their lives. We do not want to enable clutter.
  • Is this something that you know that they like. If you know the person well, you will probably know their style. Perhaps they have a collection and you are adding to their collection.
  • Don’t start with guilt words. Words like “this was your grandmas” or “I loved this as a child” are meant to start the trip down guilt road. I think twice if something was my grandmas. I feel that maybe I should hold onto it for sentimental reasons.
  • Don’t be attached to the outcome. Be okay with whatever answer you receive. The person may not want to hurt your feelings, but be prepared if they do. Remember, it isn’t you they are rejecting, it is the object that they don’t have a connection to.
  • Start with open words in your dialogue. Letting them know from the start that you are fine with whatever their answer is, starts the conversation in a way so that you know that they are not keeping the object out of guilt.
  • Have a back up plan. Know that whatever the possession is, there is someone out there that it will bring joy to. For me it was knowing that I could take this bag to a women’s shelter and they would find a home for it gave me a sense of peace.
  • Have someone donate the items for you. I sometimes feel guilty with knowing that I am discarding sentimental items. My husband however is not sentimental, so he does the donating.
  • Don’t guilt yourself into keeping the clutter. Have the item leave your house as soon as possible. If you have the item pulled aside and you keep on looking at it, you may decide to keep it after you guilt yourself!

Remember that this is a journey to live a simpler life. We are fighting the voices in our head telling us to keep things. You can start to live a clutter free life by discarding possessions, but just because the saying of “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure” isn’t necessarily true. Sometimes trash {clutter} is just trash {clutter}. And sometimes our friends and family don’t want to deal with it either.



To Joyful, Simplified Organizing,


MS. Simplicity



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


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