Ask Amanda: Clean House

A few months ago a loyal client asked me a tough question and it’s taken until now for me to figure out how to answer it.  She is a dedicated client; works her buns off in the gym and does her best to shop for and prepare healthy meals.

Her problem, though, is a common one: her family doesn’t eat clean – and doesn’t want to.

How hard is it to prepare a nice, clean meal of chicken breast and broccoli and have your kids begging for mac n’ cheese?  Or to stick with a piece of grilled fish and salad when the husband brings home a bag of deliciously greasy-smelling McDonalds?  Or spend your time putting together a big batch of quinoa pilaf for the whole fam and they turn up their noses?

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In my opinion, what happens at home is about 100 times more important than what happens in the gym, and more often than not, is also a better determinant of how successful you will be on your fitness program.  You can hit it hard on your exercise program but come home to a den of temptation – and once you’re in the comfort of your own home, it’s a lot easier to give in.

I used to be a huge fan of the TV reality show The Biggest Loser, and it used to kill me when you’d see episodes of the newly-health-conscious contestants going home to their families and seeing their entire program unravel because their partners and kids refused to support their new wellness routines.  Time and time again you’d watch these formerly-obese people return to the toxic environments that enabled them to become that way, and like a caged wolf released back into the wild, they’d slip right back into their “natural” habits.

So what do you do when you want to make a lifestyle change and the people around you don’t?

My first answer comes with a lot of tough love: find new people to be around.  Ok, so that’s easier said than done when it comes to family, sure – but if you are part of a group of friends that gets their kicks from sitting around eating junk food, hating on “skinny people” and lamenting how hard/unpleasant it is to get up and exercise, it may be time to surround yourself with some new, more positive influences.  Find a bootcamp of like-minded people.  Hire a personal trainer to be your fitness partner.  Recruit a lunch buddy at work that will go get salads with you when the entire office orders in a pizza.  You control who you let into your inner circle, and if you can find a tribe that supports you, you are more likely to find success.

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Now onto the family/home issue more specifically.  If you are serious about making a lifestyle change, especially if it’s a critical issue of health (you need to lose weight because of prediabetes, for example), you should be able to have an open and honest conversation with someone who truly loves you about why you need their support.

Don’t let anyone belittle or rationalize away your reasons for wanting to make a positive change; see if you can work together to create and post an actual, written action plan (i.e. “we cook dinner at home three nights per week” or “I take walks at lunch every weekday”) that you can point to whenever there is some tension about wanting to do/eat/add/eliminate something in your life.  Never be afraid or ashamed to ask for what you need from your partner, especially if it is something that matters to your long-term health and happiness.

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As for the “kids food” issue, this of course is a bigger philosophical discussion than I have room for in this little ol’ blog (and truth be told, as someone who is not yet a parent, I may as well stuff my foot in my mouth before I talk about how someone else should raise their kids).

But what I can say is this: children are children.  They will eat what they are provided or they will hold out until they’re truly hungry, but either way, you are the parent and you are in control of what goes on the plate.  If you don’t put mac n’ cheese in the house, there is no mac n’ cheese in the house.  If you demonstrate healthy habits by putting green vegetables on the table at dinnertime, even if they don’t touch them at first, they will still see the example of you making a commitment to healthier options at home (remember those somewhat-creepy “I learned it by watching you” anti-drug commercials in the 90s ?  Yeah, it applies here too).

It make take time, effort, and a few tears to make healthy changes happen in your household – but as they say, nothing worth having comes easy.  When it comes to your wellness goals, you’re the one in charge – and where there’s a will, there’s a way.  Pioneer the positive habits and attitudes you want to embrace, and one day, the people around you will want to do it without their hands being forced.  Be your own best example.

How do you deal with less-than-supportive peers when you’re working toward a goal?

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GOALvember Updates & Running Ragged

Party people, it’s still the great month of November which means that GOALvember is still very much in effect.  I am keeping my health and wellness goals strictly on point until I head back to the U.S. for the holiday season, at which point I will joyfully allow myself the American excesses of eggnog, cookies, and locally brewed craft beer.

Until then, I am plugging along on all ten (!) of my goals, though they’ve definitely morphed in form since first I wrote…

For example, running once a week in the death humidity, heat and haze of Singapore seemed like a pretty decent goal…in late September.  Fast forward to now when it’s beautiful blue skies, slightly cooler (I mean, it was only 75 at 6:20am this morning!), and oh yeah, I’m registered for a Ragnar Ultra Relay.

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What’s Ragnar Ultra, you ask?  Oh, nothing much.  Just a 200 mile (321+ kilometers for you overaseas readers) footrace for time with only 6 runners, one van, and no sleep.  And yep, believe it or not, this was MY great idea (of all things) to make the most of a trip back to the States in April.  Luckily I have the best team on Earth to train with, so even remotely I know we’ll keep each other on our game.

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Continuing my love/hate relationship with yoga, I tried two new studios this monthRealYoga at The Centrepoint (think “legit” Indian style bendy yoga with an instructor seemingly determined to tear me in half) and Wings to Wings near Chinatown, a studio I found on my newly obtained Guavapass membership (jury’s still out on the GP, by the way, since it doesn’t have an app and seems to have far fewer studio options than my beloved Passport).

Clean eating is going well also; it’s getting more habitual to grab a salad for lunch (although today I did break down and get some delicious vegetable spring rolls – still veggie servings, dammit), my new obsession with sous vide everything means I’m cooking at home pretty much every night, and those vicious Tim Tams have finally made their way OUT of my house (for good).

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Finally, in the spirit of renewal and self-betterment I even took the time to clean out my closet (a quarterly ritual for me back home; first time I’ve been able to do it here in six months of living) and put aside a dumpload of clothes for donation.

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As always, purging feels amazing – but I can’t wait to acquire some great new pieces during after-Christmas sales back in the good ol’ US of A.

Have you set monthly – or “before year end” goals for yourself?  How are you progressing toward your best self?

Lasting Lessons from the Organizing Pro

Remember my amazing organizer friend, Teresa?  I’ve written about her before.  And again.  And again.  And sadly, yesterday was my final session with her (at least for now) – because my house is finally – FINALLY! – all organized.

Let me give you a quick review of everything we did together, because in my opinion it was a lot:

Whew.

A full 24 hours (total) spent organizing my house, and what do I have to show for it?  Clean, neatly presented spaces with functional stations, ample storage (we have room to grow in nearly every space), and a feeling of contentment and peace you can only achieve by coming home to – and maintaining – an organized home.

So what did I learn in our final lesson?

First, she really hit home the concept of making “stations” for things we use regularly – in this closet, you’ll see our “supplies” station for paper towels and TP, our easy in/out stclosetation for the Amazon Fresh bags (since those are constantly  taken out and replaced), and a red bin that holds miscellaneous sports equipment (now contained and boxed so it’s not lying out everywhere).  Everything is visible, so we know when it’s time to restock, but also accessible without having to go in a drawer or box.

I should probably mention at this point that I forgot to take “before” pics on this particular visit – which shows you how much fun we were having drinking coffee and organizing to jolly Christmas music.  But had you seen those pictures, you would’ve seen a gigantic wire rack in the guest bathroom, taking up about half the space in there and containing basically nothing but towels and a few guest toiletries.  By cleaning out some space under the sink, we were able to get ALL of our guest towels and accouterments placed there, eliminating the need for an outside rack and making the entire space seem neater, cleaner, and larger.

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But worry not, wire rack fans: Teresa is a huge proponent (and master) of repurposing useful storage/household items – so we took that rack right over to where it was needed – the bar! – and created a stacking system for our empty bargrowlers, bar trays, towels, and mixers.  This freed up almost an entire person-size area behind the bar (you know, so someone could actually tend said bar) and made it look even more professional and functional, which I love, since I do have a huge bar in the middle of the living room.

And finally – not to be forgotten – our little laundry room.  It was noted that we were barely using the (massive) cabinets above the washer and dryer, yet we were cramming towels and other cleaning products under the guest bathroom sink (which, as you’ll note above, is now a minimalist haven of the bare necessities).  We were able to split up the cabinet areas into “laundry supplies” (over the laundrywasher) and cleaning supplies/spare towels (over the dryer) – meaning nothing is sitting on top of the washer/dryer anymore, the space itself is clear and open, and we will never be stuck looking for a dust rag again (they’re all contained in that cute little chevron bin, rather than a crappy pile of stained and dirty rags).

So again – what did I learn from the past two months of having a pro come in and work on my house?  In summary, the top five takeaways from this amazing experience:

  • A place for everything and everything in its place.  Nothing in your house should be put there at random – be intentional with where you store things, don’t let piles build up simply out of convenience, and make sure to always return items to their proper place as quickly as possible to maintain the order.
  • Use storage wisely.  Storage is not a place for junk and crap; rather, storage is a beautiful empty zone where you can put things you don’t want visibily cluttering up your home.  “Storage” is not a synonym for “donation pile” or “garbage,” and the latter two should be dealt with appropriately.
  • Repurpose, repurpose, repurpose.  I have a cookie tin full of coffee supplies.  I have two desk organizers on my bathroom countertop, and I have a mudroom shelf holding our towels.  Don’t get hung up on what pieces are “supposed” to be used for or what room they’re designed for; use the items you already have in the house in ways that are outside the box and you’ll find that even ugly things can be beautiful when used for a noble purpose (i.e., organization).
  • Make a to-do list and don’t move on until it’s done.  Each week, Teresa would leave me with a checklist of items for each area (get over-the-door hooks, organize the coats by length, put dresses in a garment bag) and we wouldn’t move on to the next room/area until we had completely finished the one before.  No projects went half-assed or sorta-done.  It took more time (and at times, more money – those velvet hangers ain’t cheap, people), but I was so much happier.
  • Let utility be your guide.  Do you keep your coffee maker in one corner of the kitchen?  Then your mugs, creamers, and filters should be there also.  Do you wash your clothes in the laundry room but fold them in the bedroom?  Keep a small table in your bedroom so you don’t have to throw clothes on the bed.  Think about your processes – logically and step-by-step – and organize your home to follow those steps as closely as possible.  It might not make sense to someone else, but if it works for you, it doesn’t matter – this is your home, after all!

Don’t forget – my wonderful organizing pro (and friend!) is SoCal local – she works all over the L.A. area – so if you want her info, just send me a message on my FB page and I’ll put you in touch!

Have you ever reorganized your home?  What are your favorite cleaning/organizing tips?

More Lessons From the Organizing Pro

Guys, remember when I had a professional organizer come to my house last week?  Well, turns out I’m becoming a regular customer.  Having Teresa in my house is like working through a zen meditation with a mindfulness master; when she leaves you feel calmer, more in control, and somehow like a better person than before.

That said, our project yesterday was a toughie (not the toughest to come – but perhaps toughest so far).  We worked on my bedroom shelving unit and living room bookcase.  Simple-sounding, perhaps, but you should know this: my (dear, lovely) fiance is a bit of a packrat, and moreover, has a hard time letting go of things (even objectively stupid things, like a cigarette-shaped figurine smoking an even tinier cigarette.  Nope, not kidding.).

Add to that the fact that those stupid IKEA Expedit shelving units are a hoarder’s dream, with nooks and crannies aplenty just taunting you, begging you to cram your crap deep in its dark, shadowy shelves, never to be seen or dealt with again.  Until yesterday.

photo 2We started with a 4×4 (16 “squares”) shelving unit, which seems like a lot of room until you realize it was spilling over onto our fireplace, in front of the unit, and even squished in the little side-panel area between the shelf and patio doors.

No bueno.  

There were mismatched cardboard boxes, some plastic tubs (with and without fitting lids), a useless “file box,” and all sorts of muddled attempts at organizing the square behemoth (pencil cups, Tupperware, file folders in piles) that had, ultimately, failed.  Teresa took one look at it and said this:

We gotta take it all out.

And she was right.  Because the first step in organizing a unit like this, where there are sensitive documents among sentimental collectibles amid actual trash, is to see exactly what you’ve got and create functional piles.  So we did.  We went cube by cube, throwing away trash as necessary and organizing into distinct piles: office, party & wrapping, documents, cards & stationery, tools/hardware, and gifts.

photo 3 (1)Once the piles were made (and the trash ousted), we moved anything that didn’t fit in a separate area (for example, large pieces of framed artwork that weren’t yet hanging on a wall, stacks of misplaced books, very old tax and important documents) into the living room as the go-elsewhere pile – knowing full well that we had to put those things into their proper “elsewheres” before the project was over.  Don’t be afraid to create a temporary messy pile. These things still had a nice, organized home in the end – it just wasn’t my cube shelf.

Finally, we organized the piles into workable little “stations” using cube-sized sturdy baskets, and placed the stations back into the cube where they could be easily accessed, but not visible.  Now I know when I need to wrap a gift, I have wrap, tape, ribbons, and cards all within easy reach – one little basket – yet I don’t have to see those items spilling out over my bookcase.photo 4

Finally, we addressed the go-elsewhere pile, reorganized the living room bookcase (a crazy mess in itself – we got rid of 4 boxes of books plus have some room left over for new acquisitions) and made a plan for next time – this way, I can prep my Container Store and Overstock.com runs to maximize the time we need for our next big project (da-da-daaaa): THE CLOSETS.  God help me.

For now?  A quick peek into the next stage of our organizing project and an overview of my “shopping list” for max household efficiency:

  • those amazing little velvet hangers, so everything in your closet looks uniform, and thin straps and silky shirts actually stay put on hangers
  • clear sheet protectors for the recipe cards I am already accumulating from our recent foray into Blue Apron (full post coming soon!)
  • one of those nifty greeting card storage boxes with the individual categories
  • a storage ottoman so when we unmake the bed, we aren’t creating a veritable moat of pillows and throws around the bed
  • a new minimalist desk so I don’t have to work from the freaking kitchen table; and
  • shelf separators so my piles of workout pants and tops don’t collapse all over each other

What is on your shopping list for your well-organized home?  What tips do you use to stay tidy around the house?