Category Archives: Little Life Hacks

Processing Christmas

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I took my Christmas decorations down yesterday. It happened to be the day of Epiphany, or the twelfth day of Christmas, the day that commemorates the Wise Men (or Three Kings) coming to visit the baby Jesus. In Spain, Epiphany is the day when children receive toys and other gifts from the Three Kings, like how Santa Claus visits children in the US on the eve of Christmas Day.

Some people like to leave their holiday decorations out until after Epiphany, some like to take their decorations down the day after Christmas (unthinkable to me!), and some like to make sure everything is back to normal in the house before the new year strikes. Personally, I always keep my decorations up until New Year’s Day and then I take them down on any convenient day after.

I’m always sad to see our tree go and I especially loved our tree this year. It had a cute bulbous shape, round and heavy at the bottom, almost like a teardrop or squash. (My daughter called it “thiccc” with three C’s. Hah!) It was dangerous to keep in the house at this point, though. For some reason, it never took in much water, even though we had the stump freshly cut before we left the tree lot. By January, it had become so dry and brittle and even turned slightly brownish in spots.

I also became pretty dry and brittle by the end of the holiday season. I started off fresh and excited like I do every year, but I encountered so many changes and challenges this Christmas that I was just exhausted by the end of it and ready to move on, which was odd for me because I normally hate to see all the festivities end and the decorations come down.

One thing I like to do every Christmas is to jot down and keep three lists:

  • A list of the gifts I gave to each person
  • A list of the gifts I received from each person
  • A list of “lessons learned”

I start jotting these lists on my phone and/or in a notebook, then I type them up and save them on my computer, and then I print a copy of each and tape it into my journal. You could stop at the phone or paper notes, of course. I just like to have them in three places so I’m more likely to reencounter them again, plus something about the act of handwriting notes and then typing/formally writing them cements the information into my brain a bit better than using phone notes alone.

The two gift lists are handy from a practical and sentimental viewpoint. They serve as a reminder of what I’ve already purchased for someone so I won’t give the same thing twice, and they act as a little time capsule showing what each of us was interested in this year—so many gifts refer to current favorites in hobbies, movies, books, etc. Over the years, you’ll see your child’s gifts change from toys to things like makeup sets and Victoria’s Secret gift cards…and then, I’ve found, back to a few toys. As a high schooler, my daughter is past the middle-school embarrassment surrounding toys and is interested again in receiving a few toys and enjoying them in a quirky, playful way.

The lessons learned document is especially useful. Every good project management plan calls for the reflection and capture of what went well and what didn’t go so well during the project—and Christmas is definitely a project. I divide my lessons learned list into three categories: The good (what went well this year and what I particularly enjoyed), the bad (what caused some discomfort or friction, or what dampened my enjoyment a little bit), and the ugly (what caused serious stress and pain this year that I need to try to avoid next year).

This Christmas showed me that some traditions need to change, which is a bittersweet thought. We all grow and change over time…and then we start to decline and change over time, especially in regard to our health. My sisters and I, along with our families, always travel out-of-state to my parents’ house for Christmas each year. But my parents are getting older and cannot manage even the basics of all the holiday prep work—and there’s so much cleaning, shopping, planning, cooking, wrapping, and decorating to be done. We arrived to find very little ready to go, and with no prior notice, which triggered an avalanche of work and complicated emotions—anger, sadness, resentment, annoyance. We have also officially outgrown my childhood home—it’s tight squeeze with 9 adults, 3 bedrooms, and 1 bathroom—so we may need to stay in a hotel next year. It’s a sad thought not to wake up at home on Christmas morning, but we also need sufficient rest, space, and privacy to truly enjoy the holidays.

Christmas wasn’t all bad, of course. My sister and I started a new tradition in the vein of Iceland’s Jolabokaflod. We gave each other a new book from our wishlists and spent an entire evening in early December eating delicious snacks and reading by the glow of the Christmas tree. We also enjoy doing little crafts as a family each year—making ornaments or other bits of décor.

I hope you had a wonderful holiday season and are all rested, refreshed, and inspired for 2020. Happy New Year!

Bite-Size Decluttering Tasks

Out with the old…

Like many people, I get the decluttering bug after the excess of décor and gifts from Christmas. The idea of cleaning out a whole closet or garage or pantry is overwhelming to me right now, though—it’s dark and cold and I just want to snuggle on the couch!—but here are 31 ideas for mini decluttering sessions, one for every day of January!

  1. Christmas gifts you greatly appreciate but will not use
  2. Wallet
  3. Daily bag (purse, backpack, briefcase)
  4. Makeup bag or shaving kit
  5. Medicine cabinet
  6. First aid kit
  7. Shower/bathtub ledges
  8. Bedside table
  9. Jewelry box
  10. Top of dresser/bureau
  11. Sock drawer
  12. Undies drawer
  13. Refrigerator door (outside surface)
  14. Refrigerator door (inside cubbies)
  15. Coffee mugs and tea cups
  16. Drinking glasses
  17. Reusable travel mugs, water bottles, etc.
  18. Silverware drawer
  19. Canned goods
  20. Spare bags (plastic, paper)
  21. Laundry supplies
  22. Top of desk
  23. Pens and pencils
  24. Top desk drawer
  25. Gift wrap
  26. Pet toys
  27. Car: Glove compartment
  28. Car: Console and door pockets
  29. Car: Trunk
  30. Materials related to your hobby with the smallest stash/physical footprint
  31. Unfinished craft/hobby projects that no longer inspire excitement/interest

What did I forget?  Any other self-contained, manageable areas that you can think of?

–Angela

We List You a Merry Christmas!

“Booze” is on my shopping list as a noun and on my task list as a verb.

Christmas is almost here!  I’m wrapping up at work today for a short vacation at my parents’ house out-of-state, and I’m laughing at the number of lists tucked into my little pink planner (which is like the control center for my life).

Here’s a list of my current lists:

  • My list of tasks to do at work before I leave today
  • My list of tasks to do at home before I leave town
  • My list of things to pack for my trip
  • My list of things to remember to bring back from my trip
  • My list of things I’ve received as gifts this year
  • My list of tasks to do in January – personal
  • My list of tasks to do in January – work

There were many other lists earlier this month, too, that I’ve already worked through:

  • My list of people for whom I’d like to buy gifts
  • My list of gift ideas for the people for whom I’d like to buy gifts
  • My various lists of things to buy, by category and/or by location (groceries, stocking stuffers, gifts, special treats)
  • My list of gifts to wrap
  • My various lists of errands and tasks
  • My wish list to share with others if they ask for gift ideas for me

Does your Christmas celebration happen via a bazillion lists, too?  Or am I crazy?

Merry Christmas!

— Angela

Little Lanterns

QVC

I’ve noticed a trend this year in Christmas décor: tiny three-dimensional scenes displayed inside glass lanterns and jars. They are so cute and charming.

Here is an example from Valerie Parr Hill at QVC.com.  This lantern is available in three styles–“Cottage,” “Church,” and “Santa”–and they light up. They’re very cute but also overpriced, I think:

QVC

QVC

Here is a nightlight/air freshener version from Bath and Body Works. It’s sold out online and I’m kicking myself for not ordering one.  It looks so cute:

Bath and Body Works

Here is something similar, too, from Chip and Joanna Gaines’s Hearth and Hand line at Target:

Target

I decided to make my own version this year.  I have this IKEA lantern and I made a cozy scene with some mini bottlebrush trees, a barn ornament, some white tissue paper (for snow), and a string of lights behind.  Yay or nay?

My DIY lantern scene!

Did you DIY any decorations this year?  Have you noticed the little lantern trend?

–Angela

Tiny Christmas Treats

Illustration by Kanako Kuno.

There are the BIG Christmas efforts, of course (the tree, the meals, the events), but it’s fun to layer in tiny hints of Christmas in your life, too. Here are some ideas for little festive touches that are easy, inexpensive, and not too wasteful:

  1. Eat a candy cane. The taste and smell of peppermint reminds me of winter, Christmas, and my late grandmother, who always kept a well-stocked jar of hard candy in her den.
  2. Sprinkle cinnamon on your latte, oatmeal, or toast.
  3. Change the wallpaper on your phone, tablet, and computer screens to something festive.
  4. Hang some string lights on your desk at the office.
  5. Buy and load a seasonal Starbucks gift card to your app. Every time I open my app to pay, I see a cozy, wintry scene.
  6. Flag the Christmas chapters in your favorite books and display them in a basket for easy browsing.
  7. Do you have any Christmas (or Christmas-esque) jewelry? Find it, polish it, and wear it.
  8. Play a YouTube video of a crackling, popping fireplace on your smart TV.
  9. Gather and display pine cones.
  10. Use all of your “minty” or “piney” personal care items: lip balm, foot lotion, soap, shampoo, body wash, etc.
  11. Light and enjoy your candles. What are you saving them for?
  12. Wear your favorite perfume every day. Again, what are you saving it for? It’s a treat for you and for everyone you hug this season!
  13. Wear your coziest knit clothes. No thin, scratchy polyester allowed.
  14. Paint your nails a cheery red. Add sparkles.
  15. Feed the birds.
  16. Clean out your pantry and donate the good stuff to the food bank, or mail them a check.
  17. Take extra time with your makeup, grooming, and skincare. You’ll feel confident and ready for whatever the season will bring—unexpected guests, last-minute invitations and errands, etc.!
  18. Bundle up and take a walk in the brisk air. Enjoy your neighbors’ decorations.
  19. Use your very best things: china, silver, crystal, tablecloths, bath towels, etc.
  20. Turn off the TV.
  21. Buy and enjoy a special Christmas drink at home: apple cider, hot chocolate, flavored coffee or creamer, red wine, etc.
  22. Change your ring tone to something festive: church bells, harps, carols, etc.
  23. Choose a “signature” wrapping paper to use for all your gifts this year.
  24. Pull out your Scrabble game and use the tiles and holders to dot happy little words among your decorations, like family, gather, thankful, friends, merry, sparkle, twinkle, etc.
  25. Update your apps. Many games have free seasonal content, and many other apps will “decorate” their icons or interfaces for the season.

Baby Suits

Here is a fine example of a baby suit. Photo from www.BabiesRUs.com.

I have a new mantra:

Baby suits.

A busy October meant that I needed to be efficient and decisive to get everything done, and my new mantra helped tremendously.

It all started when I was shopping for my friend’s baby shower. She’s a big fan of Game of Thrones and I had a great idea for a gift. I found “Mother of Dragons” t-shirts on Etsy, along with “Baby Dragon” onesies. I planned to buy the shirt, the onesie, and a plush dragon toy and—tada! The perfect present! I imagined my friend opening my gift in front of everyone and marveling over the awesomeness.

But the problems crept in like a horde of white walkers. First, what shirt size would I buy for a very pregnant and soon-to-be postpartum woman? Is there any way not to offend? Even if I decided on a size, sizing on Etsy is notoriously variable and relative. (The last gift I purchased on Etsy for an adult woman—a workout tank top—arrived in miniature.) I’d also have to track down a stuffed dragon suitable for the GOT theme and an infant: smallish, generic, no small parts.

Time was ticking, though, and the GOT gambit was proving dicey, so I finally did something I dread: I bought my friend a gift from her registry.

Argh. I dislike buying from a registry. For some reason, buying from a registry or wish list feels like I’m cheating. Shouldn’t I make more of an effort to find a gift that’s more personal and creative? One that references my relationship with the recipient or a funny memory between the two of us? Or shouldn’t I give a fun surprise?

On the other hand, people like getting what they want. They also register for things they need—like, diapers and crib sheets and…baby suits.

That’s what I finally bought for my friend: Three fleece zip-up infant sleepers, or what I called “baby suits.” The suits were cute and useful and in my budget. Shipping was fast and free. I even used a gift bag for the wrapping, even though I usually like to give people a wrapped box for the fun of ripping it open.

I fretted over my mundane gift, but my sister assured me that the baby suits were a good gift, nicely presented, and procured with a minimum of effort, and thus “Baby suits!” was born as our rallying cry, a cheer to remind ourselves to just make a solidly good decision and move on.

I have a bad habit of wanting to make the very best possible decision in every arena of my life—in the big things (career, personal finance) and the smaller things (gift giving, clothes shopping). I want to turn over every stone and research every option and then choose the perfect thing…but that’s paralyzing, exhausting, and impossible. I’m trying to remember that something done satisfactorily, on time, and without an emotional meltdown is better than chasing after the perfect choice…which may never appear. (This is not a new problem. I once submitted a “the best paper in the class” in college…but it was several days late, so I got a low grade.)

So, my “baby suits” mantra is keeping me in check lately. When I needed to buy a new dress recently, I chose to visit one—and only one—department store, one known for its good selection of dresses, rather than visiting several stores spread all around town “to see what was out there” before making a purchase. I went to the single store and tried on a(n admittedly large) number of dresses, but I found a great dress that met my criteria, fell within my budget, and garnered lots of compliments. Baby suits!

And instead of buying new shoes to go with the new dress (another shopping trip), I wore shoes I already owned. They’re not very comfortable for long periods of standing, so I bought new gel inserts and threw a pair of black flats into my bag for backup. Baby suits!

And instead of trekking to a superstore to buy a few things I needed recently, I went to a pharmacy. I never do that because of the price difference. But yes, while I may pay more for mascara and cough drops at a pharmacy than I would at Target or Walmart, parking, shopping, and checking out is so much faster and easier. How much is my time and sanity worth?  Baby suits!

I’m looking forward to baby-suiting this holiday season, too. I plan to buy online even if I have to pay (reasonable) shipping costs, rather than venturing into the stores. I plan to dial back on the number of gifts I give. I plan to buy more pre-prepared foods. Baby suits!

Oh, and my preggo friend seemed to like and appreciate the baby suits. I suppose fleece baby suits can reference GOT, too. After all, WINTER IS COMING.

Make (or Restock) a Mini “Emergency” Kit

Ack! So cute! (Image from PinchProvisions.com)

Ack! So cute! (Image from PinchProvisions.com)

I love the “Minimergency” kits made by Pinch Provisions. (You know I love a good kit!)  The Minimergency kits are adorable little pouches that contain oodles of “just in case” health, beauty, and fashion items to keep in your purse, backpack, or diaper bag. Each little pouch fits in your palm but contains all of the following:

Image from PinchProvisions.com

Ready for (almost!) anything!  (Image from PinchProvisions.com)

Ready for (almost) anything! (Image from PinchProvisions.com)

Can’t tell what’s what?  Here’s another look.  (Image from PinchProvisions.com)

I own a Minimergency kit and I’ve bought several as gifts, but you could easily make a cute DIY version, too.  The nice thing about buying the Pinch Provisions version is that everything matches and is neatly labeled, but I hesitate to actually use anything because it’s all so cute–and that completely defeats the purpose!

Therefore, this post includes some ideas for building DIY kits or restocking one you already have.  Christmas will be here soon, and “emergency” kits like these would be great gifts or stocking stuffers for the ladies on your list!

Note:  The key to making or restocking your kit is to think tiny–even tinier than “travel size”!  Read on!

Step One.  Find a pouch. Look for a biggish coin purse, a small makeup bag, or a little pencil case.

Step Two.  Fill your pouch with the stuff you probably already own:

Two hair tie(s).
Four bobby pins.
Two neatly folded tissues.
Tweezers (standard tweezers are pretty small to begin with, but there are mini versions available, too).
Nail clippers (the kind with an attached nail file).
Applicator-free or compact tampon.
Two Band-Aids.
Breath freshener. Don’t forget to include a wrapped mint or stick of gum.
Lip balm. You can probably squeeze in a full-sized tube of lip balm. I’ve also seen mini bullets of lip balm sold in vending machines in movie theater restrooms. (I believe the brand is Lip Rageous and the balm comes in all kinds of fruity flavors.)

Step Three.  Get creative and see how many of the following goodies you can find and add, too!

Sewing kit. You just need a needle, lengths of black and white thread, a safety pin or two, and maybe a button. Wind the thread on a small piece of cardstock, and tape the needle to the back.

Individually packaged moist wipe. Snag extras the next time you order hot wings at a restaurant, or check for individually packaged Wet Wipes in the baby department at your favorite store.

Two earring backs. Buy extras in the jewelry section of any store like Target or Walmart, or raid your jewelry box for old earrings you don’t wear. Sterilize the backs by soaking them in rubbing alcohol.

Colgate Wisp mini toothbrush, dental floss, and/or dental pick. My dentist gives me mini spools of dental floss each time I visit her.  You could just snap off a length from your regular spool, too.

Hairspray. Ask for an extra perfume sample spray vial the next time you’re at Sephora and you can fill it with (non-aerosol) hairspray. If you already have a few perfume sample vials that you’d like to use, try flushing them out with rubbing alcohol before adding hairspray.

New, sealed packet of two ibuprofen tablets. You can find these at convenience stores and in restroom vending machines. (Note: I do not recommend carrying or giving unmarked and unpackaged pills!)

Deodorant towelette. These can be tricky to find, but I bought some made by LA Fresh and sold from Birchbox.

Nail polish remover towelette. These are also tricky to find, but Birchbox sells some!

Fashion tape. Buy a pack of double-sided “fashion tape” for your kit(s). Try the Hollywood brand sold at Bed Bath and Beyond. (I tried a cheap version from Dollar Tree and it left adhesive on my clothes!)

Stain remover towelette.  I found a three-pack of Shout wipes in the dollar section at Target.

Clear nail polish. Clear nail polish is great for stopping runs in your tights or adding a little shine to your nails on the go. Finding a tiny bottle of clear nail polish is kinda tough, though. OPI and Essie often sell sets of mini polishes, but they’re colored.  Walmart sells tiny bottles of Bon Bons nail polish, but I’ve never seen one in clear.  Maybe you could buy a bottle of Bon Bon polish (a light color?), empty it, clean it out (fill with nail polish remover, close, and shake?), and then refill it with clear polish…but that sounds messy and tedious.  Thoughts?

Other ideas for your kit: Blotting paper, lotion, allergy medicine, eye drops, spare contact lens, comb, perfume sample, mirror, tiny Swiss Army knife

Yay for preparedness!  🙂

– Angela

My Favorite Things – A Personal Icon Set

Oh, the fascinating life I do lead!

Oh, the fascinating life I do lead!

So, I was inspired by Gloria of the blog Little White Whale to create my own icon set–and it was really fun to make. 🙂

Click on the image above for a better view!

 Target / Naps / Baths / Coffee Frappuccinos / My iPhone 6+ / Coca-Cola / Tuxedo cats / To do lists! / Tabby cats

I used Microsoft Visio to make these, but I bet Word could be used, too (just with more strife). I only resized, layered, and colored the stock shapes and symbols offered by Visio because I have absolutely no drawing or illustration skills. I think my icons turned out pretty cute, though–I like the thick lines and bright colors and simple shapes. They remind me of Hello Kitty and the PowerPuff Girls!

What would YOUR personal icon set include?

– Angela

Birthday Freebies!

Woot!  (Image from Sephora.com.)

Woot! (Image from Sephora.com.)

It’s finally June—my birthday month!

You know I love fun freebies, and MANY companies give away great birthday freebies and discounts! Just run a Google search for “birthday freebies” to find lists of the oodles of offers available from restaurants, retail stores, etc. You can get free appetizers/desserts/entrees, exclusive coupon codes, little gifts, etc. Most companies require that you join their rewards program well before your birthday to get the goodies, though, so start researching and signing up early.

A few tips on getting birthday freebies:

1. Sign up for the customer reward programs at least 60 days (2 months) in advance of your birthday.

2. Immediately log into your rewards account and confirm that your birthday is listed under your account details. If it’s not, find where to add it.

3. Confirm that the company has your correct email and home addresses.

4. Confirm that you are “opted in” to receive email and postal mailings.

5. Look for your goodies! Most come by email, but a few may arrive by postal mail.

I focus on getting the high-value, no-strings-attached birthday freebies. I don’t get jazzed about coupon codes that require a purchase, which appears to be the way many rewards programs are heading. Boo.

Anyway, off the top of my head (and according to some internet research), these are the best freebies I’m looking forward to this month:

SephoraNARS Mini Velvet Matte Lip Pencil in shade Cruella (a bright, matte red) and Mini Satin Lip Pencil in shade Rikugien (a shimmery mauve-y pink). Sephora has the best birthday freebie every year. It’s always a high-quality makeup item of some kind. To get this freebie, join Sephora’s free Beauty Insider rewards program and visit the store during the month of your birthday, or make an online purchase. (Sephora offers a men’s birthday freebie each year, too.)

Ulta – According to the interwebs, the Ulta birthday freebie will vary this year depending on the month in which you were born. Ladies who celebrated their birthdays in January through March received an Ulta-brand eyeshadow palette in neutral shades. I saw on Reddit.com that April through June birthday girls (that’s me!!!) will receive a travel-sized Urban Decay 24/7 Glide-On Eye Pencil in the shade Voodoo, a purple. Cool! To get this freebie, join Ulta’s ULTAmate Rewards program and visit the store after you get an email alert that your freebie is available.

BareMinerals – Last year I got a pot of loose eyeshadow in a taupe-y shade. I can’t find any details online about this year’s freebie, though. Hmm. To get the freebie, join the BareMinerals FAB rewards program and look for an email.

Sports Authority – I signed up for the company’s The League rewards program recently and automatically got a $5 reward to spend in the next couple of months, plus I’m expecting a $10 reward for my birthday! I’m not sporty but I’m sure I can find a way to spend $15 in the store–maybe a fancy water bottle, headband, pair of socks, etc. Yeah!

StarbucksFree drink or food item of your choice! To get this freebie, buy a gift card (online or in store) of at least $5.00 and register it in the Starbucks reward program. Spend the money but keep the registered card for a free drink!

Dunkin Donuts – Free drink! To get this freebie, buy a gift card (online or in store) of at least $2.00 and register it with the DD Perks rewards program. You’ll earn a free drink for joining *plus* a free birthday drink! Not bad for two bucks!

I hope there are a few other good surprises this month, too! Whoo-hoo!

– Angela

P.S. – I don’t carry all these loyalty cards and account numbers around with me. I use the CardStar app on my iPhone, along with the Starbucks app and the Dunkin Donuts app.

P.P.S. – In the good ol’ days, Vera Bradley would send a $20 reward, and World Market’s Explorer Program would send a $10 reward.  They both sent lame coupon codes this year, though (only 15% off, I think).  Aveda used to send vouchers for nice treats, so I’m curious to see if they still do that.

Going Green(er)

Bouge alert!  (Image from BrushWithBamboo.com.)

Bouge alert! (Image from BrushWithBamboo.com.)

I find myself frequently re-reading the blogs Zero Waste Home and Trash Is For Tossers, and I think the message is finally starting to sink in.

I’m not ready to make any big lifestyle changes right now, but I’m definitely interested in making some easy-but-effective modifications to my trashy life.

Here are the painless ways I’m going green(er):

– I’m trying to remember to refuse plastic bags whenever I can. It helps that I carry a big purse and can usually stow my purchases in there.

– I bought a set of reusable (and washable) cloth grocery bags and actually remembered to bring them to the store this past weekend! Woot!

– I brought my collected plastic bags to the store, too, and recycled them.

– I bought 100% recycled (60% post-consumer waste) toilet paper, and I’m on the lookout for a good paper towel option.

– I did the math and realized that I will use about 300 plastic toothbrushes in my lifetime (whoa). As recommended by multiple zero-wasters, I just ordered a set of biodegradable/compostable toothbrushes from the Brush With Bamboo company. The wooden handles and white bristles look so nice, too–very design-y and modern and Instagram-worthy.

– I plan to ask a seamstress to repair/tweak a couple of shirts that I already own (rather than replace them).

– And, as you know and are probably tired of hearing about, I launched my Junk Mail War (update 1 and update 2).

Huzzah! It feels good to make these small changes, especially because I create tons (literally) of other waste elsewhere in my life. I know these actions are only a drop in the bucket, but maybe one day I will be able to take things further.

– Angela

P.S. I’m also contemplating the purchase of a reusable silicone menstrual cup…TMI?