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Elieen Koff

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blog setting prioritiesOne of the most important questions I continually hear parents ask is “How can I manage all the demands of my time, now that my family is growing and life is overly complex? There never seems to be time to fit everything in, and by the end of the week, tempers flare and everyone is just worn out”.  The following story was first published in a book titled First Things First by Stephen R. Covey in the early ’90s.  I think it can be helpful to anyone at any stage of life.

Big Rocks

One day, an expert in time management was speaking to a group of business students and, to drive home a point, used an illustration those students will never forget.  As he stood in front of the group of high-powered overachievers he said, "Okay, time for a quiz" and he pulled out a one-gallon, wide-mouth mason jar and set it on the table in front of him.

He also produced about a dozen fist-sized rocks and carefully placed them, one at a time, into the jar. When the jar was filled to the top and no more rocks would fit inside, he asked, "Is this jar full?"

Everyone in the class yelled, "Yes."  The time management expert replied, "Really?"  He reached under the table and pulled out a bucket of gravel. He dumped some gravel in and shook the jar causing pieces of gravel to work themselves down into the spaces between the big rocks. He then asked the group once more, "Is the jar full?"

By this time the class was on to him.  "Probably not," one of them answered. "Good!" he replied.  He reached under the table and brought out a bucket of sand.  He started dumping the sand in the jar and it went into all of the spaces left between the rocks and the gravel. Once more he asked the question, "Is this jars full?"

"No!" the class shouted.  Once again he said, "Good."  Then he grabbed a pitcher of water and began to pour it in until the jar was filled to the brim. Then he looked at the class and asked, "What is the point of this illustration?"

One eager beaver raised his hand and said, "The point is, no matter how full your schedule is, if you try really hard you can always fit some more things in it!"  "No," the speaker replied, "that's not the point.

The truth this illustration teaches us is:

If you don't put the big rocks in first, you'll never get them in at all."

What are the 'big rocks' in your life, time with your loved ones, your faith, your education, your dreams, a worthy cause, teaching or mentoring others?  Remember to put these BIG ROCKS in first or you'll never get them in at all.

So, tonight, or in the morning, when you are reflecting on this short story, ask yourself this question: What are the 'big rocks' in my life?

Then, put those in your jar first.

My three boys are all men now …time flies… much too fast, especially when we are not paying attention. Take the time to slow down, look and be mindful of the love surrounding you. There are no guarantees life will remain constant. I sincerely hope that my organizing articles have helped in some small way to build a stronger family connection.

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crecreatingI’m not a veteran environmentalist, I’m a regular person that loves hot showers, not about to convert my wardrobe to hemp, and I’m not about to go a whole year without buying anything, but I have discovered that you can be responsible and go green without giving up what you love. And it’s easier than you think I’m reminded that when I was in college and that earth-day environmental style equated Birkenstock shoes…and don’t get me wrong, I’m not against those, but that definitely was not me…nor is it now.

So, how did this all begin? Several years back at a NAPO (National Association of Professional Organizers) conference there was talk about a new concept “Green or ECO” organizing. What I realized is that most organizers already embrace many of the green concepts unconsciously and that with a bit more attention, organizers can truly make a huge impact on our planet with our clients help.

Changes are so very hard…so I start by telling my clients that when we make any changes we must go slow and steady. To really own what you want to do, and, that everyone around you that is going to be affected agrees.  This is also true about going green.

But what’s so darn important about going green?

Is it because of global warming and weather changes? Is it because were tired of seeing hazard and chemical stories that affect future generations, like the drinking water in Flint Michigan? If you think that going green is only a fad, I hope that one day we no longer refer to this new awareness as “green” that green will just be like any other color, but that our conscious consumption and thoughts will be so integrated that it will just be the standard of living and that to me…. will be fabulous!

But in order for that to change we need to understand why. Simply put we are destroying our planet.  I know I don’t need to list off the concerns about CO2 emissions, glacier issues, flooding, hurricane and tornado issues, wildfires, global illnesses and the disappearance of bees….by changing our mindsets abut the way we live, seriously reducing our individual contributions and consumerism we will make a dramatic difference.

So that’s where being an organizer and specializing with a green consciousness comes in. This new mindset means acquiring less, and with less stuff you have less clutter and less mess and less stress!

Organizers introduces our clients to a life that is calmer, more relaxed and one that is physically more calming. Organizers also push limiting, cutting back and narrowing the universe of products that we use and things that we do. We also explain why we think this way is good for you and your family, community, and the planet. Having a mindset that having less is not about depriving is in many ways a weight loss program for the mind, and carried to the house, a weight loss program for your home.

Change is hard, but in just one fun, educational and interactive session with To The Next Level, I promise I can convert just 1 or 2 issues you are now living with and transform them into a greener, leaner more peaceful system. For example, I can teach you to:

1. Get your kitchen table back by developing a action oriented desk-top file system and teach you how to stop the junk mail.

2. Taking care of you. Did you know that everyday in the shower you pour on hazardous chemicals? I’ll teach you what’s in those personal products, help you get a “green” night sleep and teach you green housecleaning tips. 

3. China’s manufacturing has it out for our kids! I’ll educate you in just what’s going on with those recalls and give you alternatives for fun times with out the toy chaos.

This is just a sampling on how retraining the brain can reap joyous rewards, for yourself, your family, your community and for the planet.  Contrary to public opinion, it’s easy going “green.”

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nature forest trees path

I was incredibly excited to be presenting K.J. McCory’s, Eco-style Your Client’s Life, at the 2009 NAPO convention. I believe that the green/sustainable movement is such a natural fit for organizers and I knew I would learn a vast amount from this veteran eco-organizer. I believe, like many of us who tout a green philosophy within our business, that we are indeed still riding the “green” wave and that our tipping point is still to be realized.  When I saw that K.J. had been given the “large” conference room I assumed that many of my peers were just as interested in learning more about our green/eco organizing industry.

 

Sadly, I was dead wrong.

 

As the session started with only 25-30 in attendance, the room seemed disproportionate. Several of those attendees were from outside the United States. What seemed obvious to me, somehow seemed unobvious to the rest of the 800 or so attendees at conference.

 

And I’m curious to know why…and though I may not have the definitive reason, I think I have a good starting point to begin a conversation.

 

When you think of it, Professional Organizers have been on the front lines of “Green” concepts since the profession’s inception. After all, Reduce, Re-use and Recycle are hallmarks of the industry! Many organizers include the 3 R’s in their terminology, but have been hesitant to speak of it in “green” terms. Why?  Well, it appears that asking our clients to “Go Green” can create a bevy of misunderstood notions.

 

“It’s hard enough for my clients to just part with their stuff, and the mere mention of adding one more guilt trip because they are not recycling may undo any success to the project”, explained one organizer. Therefore, organizers keep mum on the mention of anything “Green,” for fear that it will create more anxiety, guilt and shame – and may sabotage the entire organizing process.  I totally agree; so, timing is everything. As an organizer who is also very “green” conscious, I know that part of my green enthusiasm will have to take a back seat until the appropriate moment. Sometimes that timing is immediate; sometimes it takes a few sessions to bring up. Understanding where a client is and working within a client’s abilities and expectations is what makes a successful organizer. We teach our clients that organizing is a systematic process that builds new habits, and that daily lifestyle changes occur when we feel good about what we are doing. Getting our clients to adopt a deeper level of responsibility by introducing green lifestyle changes can and does have direct global implications. This may not be the right approach for every client, but for those clients that resonate with the concept, it can bring about a greater respect for our industry.

 

For many organizers, adding one more tool into their kit may be too overwhelming. They may feel that they just want to stick with the basics of helping clients eliminate clutter and streamline their systems. Introducing a greener system may take additional research and investigation. I strongly believe however, as an eco-organizer, by conducting workshops and providing my peers with easy accessibility to the knowledge they need, we can begin to break down this mental barrier.

 

Another hurdle to get past is the misguided notion that going green costs more and complicates one’s lifestyle. The greatest resistance we face as organizers is resistance to change. We can help our clients by explaining how to eliminating the excess, not only in terms of clutter but also by eliminating excess in electrical and water usage. Our clients can wrap their heads around “what’s in it for me” a lot more than why it’s good for future generations. Approaching going green from this angle will garner a lot more interest. Professional organizers may also begin to see the “light’ for their own lifestyle changes. It’s imperative we walk the talk.

 

As I said before, I do not have all the reasons why more organizers are not seeking this avenue of professional organizing. I remember many years ago at the Boston conference a handful or enthusiastic organizers huddled around a tabletop topic called ”simple and sustainable.”  After the session ended, these pioneering woman moved the conversation into the lobby. Out of this, a NAPO Yahoo Group emerged and from there, the NAPO ECO Special interest group was birthed. We have many more obstacles to overcome, but we are far from starting from scratch. For those of us forging this path, I hope to encourage and inspire my fellow organizers to adopt the greener path.  

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The Holidays are Almost Here…This Year I Have Hope

In the not to distant future or thoughts will turn toward the holidays and all the trappings, some good, but most nerve -racking.  My friends complain each year that the joy of he holidays seem to be overshadowed by the rush- rush and have-to out of tradition and guilt.

This year, I have hope. The Santa Claus image of material goodies tied to those who have been nice seem to be eroding from consumer consciousness. In its place, meaning and deepening experiences are replacing the tinsel laden trappings of material “have to buys”.

However, I still see a big question mark on many faces. My friends seem know what they want to do, they just don’t seem to know how to do it. Here are six tips to get you moving toward a more meaningful Holiday.

Tip #1.

Plan ahead. This is the perfect time of year to sit down with your family before the leaves begin to fall and discuss what you loved about last years holiday and what you did not. Not everyone will express his or her delight in visiting Aunt Martha.

There maybe a need for compromise. Get everyone’s opinion, and make this year one that everyone feels excited about.

Tip#2

Research the meaning behind your holidays. Why do we have Christmas trees? Give your family a task as to why you celebrate the way you do. Instead of doing things out of traditional habits, learn the reason for the season.

Tip #3

Avoid Debt

Make sure you have a budget before giving into the mindless consumerism onslaught at the mall. Make sure everyone understands the reason behind the budget and get creative. The best gifts I have received over the years didn’t cost a thing, only the time and talent of the giver.

Tip #4

Avoid stress. Add into your schedule time for the unexpected. The days will become shorter, both in terms of daylight and it seems in terms of minutes. Don’t sweat the small stuff, go with the flow and laugh more at the interruptions of the day. 

Tip#5

The gifts. Make a new tradition. Instead of many meaningless gifts under the tree, consider one gift that the person has wanted all year.  From my perspective, people don’t know what they want until they see a commercial or someone else’s toy. Start now and do some diligent research on each member of your family. Making it memorable both in time and gifts is what makes our memories pleasant.

Tip#6

New Traditions. Our family began a new tradition a couple of years ago. During the year, we sought out one charity that we felt we would like to contribute to. At Christmas each member gave to that charity and wrote a letter and put it on the tree inside an ornament explaining why that charity was important to them. Giving to those less fortunate is a great way to bring a new focus to the season.

There are as many ways to celebrate the holidays, as there are people. I hope this list will be a beginning to inspire you to take your holidays to the next level.  I’d love to hear how you celebrated simply and with meaning.

Eileen Koff CPO

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Green is Not Just a Crayola Color…

Teach Your Children Well

Children learn by what they see, not what we tell them. Okay…that was not meant to be a guilt trip; I just want your attention. You need to understand that our actions have a direct impact, not only on our daily lives, but also on future generations. For those who came before me, being green or eco-conscious would never have entered their minds; the concept didn’t exist. Science had not yet come up against overpopulation, carbon emissions and super storms. Our parents and grandparents believed that working hard and living the American dream was their only lot in life. But that’s all changed now. Like them, we must work hard to provide for our families; but now we are also held accountable for their future. How we spend our time and money, and how we present our environment, both in our homes and our surroundings are vitally important as part of the rearing of our children.

Here are two ways we can help our children become more eco-conscious and acquire a more sustainable mindset.

  1. Live by example:

 What matters to you will matter to your children. Make a decision to engage in at least one or two new green initiatives around the house. When you throw something away…away is a place. Have you ever gone to your local landfill and seen the difference recycling makes? Teach your children that each item sent to the dump has consequences for their future. Learning to donate, recycle and repurpose is a great game changer in the home. Even if this is all you do in 2015-16, that’s a huge start.

  1. Play Green

Play has long been associated with achieving higher IQs. But this sort of play is not watching TV or video games, but the kind that fosters creativity

The search for toys that are both environmentally safe and imaginative can be overwhelming, as very little advertisement money is spent on such toys. But if you do your research and seek out local toy stores, you'll find a treasure trove of new discoveries. In the meantime, let me tell you what may be lurking in the toys your children already have. Because once you understand such hidden evils, I’m betting you'll be more willing to seek out safer alternatives.

In February 2009, Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act adopted the ASTM F973-07 standard for allowable levels of antimony, arsenic, cadmium, mercury, lead, and chromium. Toy cars in particular can be laced with some or all of these dangerous metals. And even though the law passed, you can’t assume that all toys are now safe.  You see, the Act didn't incorporate the inclusion of Bisphenol-A or polyvinyl chloride (PVC).

Now you may be wondering: Why are these chemicals in toys in the first place?

Plastics, fabrics and paints often contain a variety of substances that allows them to be durable, flexible, colorful or flame resistant. Your local ACE and Home Depot hardware stores carry a lead detector kits for under $15.00 (A small price to ensure lead isn’t lurking in your toy’s paint.) Unfortunately, there are no detector kits for toys containing Bisphenol-A or PVC (such as teething rings and bath toys).

So how Do I Find Safer Toys?

 Ask yourself two questions.

  1. Where is it made?

Many toys are made in China. If you are looking for toys in a big box store, you'll be hard pressed NOT to find a toy not made in China! After the recent onslaught of recalls in toys a few years ago--and continuing recalls–we are all   are much more aware than we used to be.  And while not all toys made outside the US are bad, if you have the choice to buy local, our economy will thank you for keeping your dollars here. 

A perfect example of a good place to shop is HYPERLINK "http://www.greentoys.com/" Green Toys. All their toys are made in the U.S. from recycled milk jugs.   

  1. Who can you trust?

Online shopping makes it easy to find out which toys are safe and where they are made. Most "green" online shops are family run. As they would want no less for their own children and grandchildren, you can be sure their standards are as high as yours. Just be sure to investigate their standards and ask questions.  You will find the owners are more than happy to tell you what you need to know".

Here are some of my favorite sites:

TheGlassBabyBottle.com

moolka.com

ecomom.com

mightynest.com

oompa.com

greentoys.com

planethappytoys.com

mylittlegreenshop.com

So you may be asking yourself, what does all this have to do with organizing? Everything!

Organizing is not simply making your environment neat and stress free, it about adopting change. Changing the way you think about your daily habits and consumer choices going forward. As an “ECO” organizer, I find my clients are very receptive to adopt a greener or eco mindset as the session’s progress. Organizing shines a spotlight on your current habits and as you change, adopting greener choices enhances this process.

One day, Green will be just another color, and our lifestyles will reflect a more intentional and sustainable quality of life. But our children have to learn it from somewhere, and they are not going to retain these teachings taught in schools. Parents, like the old Crosby-Stills-Nash-Young song, you have an obligation to “teach your children well.”

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"It has been a year since I first heard you speak at my Church Mothers Group.

I instantly knew you could help me get out from under the paper prison I was in! I knew I needed extra help, so I attended your paper clutter seminar and armed with your easy to implement solutions, I went to work.

I now have a system that I still depend on a year later. I am moving in a month and so many times in these past months I have said "I know exactly where that is" and there it was. Receipts, appliance warranty's, the house deed, you showed me how to create place for everything.

Thank You for sharing your gift with the rest of us! I look forward to having your expertise as we set up my new home."


- Marybeth Ermmarino