…clean eating pays off…

I feel amazing. No, not because I have a great job. Not because of my great husband or comfortable home. Not even because I live in a beautiful city, in a gorgeous province in – what I feel to be – the best country in the world. I feel amazing because I work hard to put into my body the fuel that it needs so that I have the energy and drive to enjoy all of the wonderful things I have in my life.

My husband and I strive to eat real, whole foods…also knowing as “clean eating.” While we were inspired primarily to create most things from scratch as a result of various food intolerances between us, it has become a real pleasure to know that what we’re putting in our bodies is helpful and good (and our bodies seem to agree!). If I need BBQ sauce, I make some. If we want pizza, it starts with starches and ends with some freshly grated cheese. I’m not bragging…it’s fact! Yes, it can take longer. Sure, it can be much less convenient…but it definitely tastes better and our bodies are able to use what we eat as fuel instead of working hard to get rid of it!

Alright so how do we manage clean eating on a busy schedule? Habits! It is much easier to develop a list of meal/snack ideas and work from them than it is to simply open the fridge and hope to find something inspiring. It’s also MUCH more economical to plan the snacks and meals for the week prior to shopping so that you buy only the two peppers you need instead of a bag of them only to let one wilt. Eating whole, natural foods is far easier than you might think! Here are some tips for clean eating:

  • Prep your veggies for the week (or a few days ahead) all at once: peel & chop carrots, slice cucumbers, de-string sugar snap peas…having your produce ready to grab/eat makes lunch/snack preparation a breeze through the busy week! Also, you can get the family/partner in on the event to make it that much quicker.
  • Salads for lunches are easy and don’t have to be boring! Just because you picture a tossed or ceasar salad doesn’t mean a salad at lunch has to be dull! Make your own dressing is as easy a tossing a few ingredients into a jar and shaking. Salad toppings can be delicious and quick! Today’s salad (below) was just throwing some romaine mix into a dish and topping with blueberries, raspberries, sliced apricots and some coconut. It MIGHT have taken me 4 minutes including making the dressing and putting all the ingredients away! In a future post I will share some great salad options so stay tuned!

  • My rice cooker saves a tonne of time, and it smells great to walk into the house at the end of the work day to the aroma of basmati or jasmine rice ready to eat! Quinoa also cooks great in a rice cooker!
  • Use frozen veggies when you don’t have time to chop. Most frozen vegetables are flash-frozen and so are able to retain the majority of their nutrients versus canned vegetables which have had many of their nutrients leeched away in the processing.
  • Invest in a good mandarin slicer to save valuable time in food preparation. Many (like the one from Pampered Chef) offer grating options as well as various thicknesses for slicing.
  • Cook your chicken ahead, cut up in bite-sized pieces and freeze in portions. This can save a great deal of meal preparation time as the chicken is already cooked and ready to be used in whatever recipe you’ve chosen for the meal. OR 2minutes in the microwave and it’s ready to eat in sandwiches/wraps or top on salads too!
  • Make your own snack packs. On Sunday I took 10 minutes and created snack packs for the week’s lunches: baggies of snack foods for hubby’s lunches, and snack sized baggies of 1 oz nuts (various types) and 1 oz cranberries or raisins each. In future I hope to use my plastic containers for these packs but I didn’t have the space organized for these ahead of time this week. Not only is it quick to grab and toss in a lunchbox, but it’s a snack without the added sugar/salt/preservatives of the consumer varieties available.
  • Make meals ahead. If time throughout the week is difficult to find, set aside a couple of hours on the weekend (or a lighter weeknight evening) and make two or three meals instead of just the one for that evening. Either store in the fridge until the next day, or freezer for days later in the week: this makes whole, healthy eating convenient when time is fleeting.
  • Slow cooking can be a great way to have a whole, healthy meal prepared for you when you arrive home! Many of us received a slow cooker as a wedding gift, or purchased one in a moment of inspiration: if you’re not using it, take it down and dust it off…it’s become a standard kitchen appliance for a good reason! You can also use it to roast meats ahead for the week for freezing into convenient portions (like the chicken, above).
  • Don’t chop fruit/veggies. Instead, just eat them au naturale! You can eat a green pepper like an apple: just poke your finger into the bottom and split in half, then tear off the seeded area in one by tearing around the stem (hmm that isn’t easy to describe!). You can peel a carrot and munch like Bugs! This saves time and is just the same amount of nutrients: in fact it makes foods MORE portable if you don’t need a plastic container for them!

Interested in taking steps to cleaner, whole eating? A great resource is Clean Eating magazine!

Please feel free to leave a comment (there’s a link at the top of the post)!

…the psychology of a tidy home…

I don’t claim to have any special knowledge of psychology outside of a minor in university, but I’m certain that there is a great psychological effect of both a tidy home and an unkempt one (one decidedly more positive than the other).

Psychology can be defined as “the mental and emotional factors governing a situation or activity.” I interpret the use of the word “governing” implies a lack of control…therefore when our homes are in disarray, we can’t HELP but be negatively impacted mentally or emotionally (whether we realize it or not). Obviously the degree to how clean or tidy we prefer our living space to be will vary depending on innumerable factors (number of children, size of house, love or hate of clutter, etc.), however the fact that most of us are innately affected by disorder around us – in my experience – seems universal. Why?

…how we keep our living/working space mirrors how we feel (and vice versa!)…

Speaking from my own experience, when I’m exhausted, I often let things go around the house. Ironically, by allowing things to stay/continue to get untidy, I become even MORE exhausted when mentally approaching what will be required to deal with it! Not only does allowing things to become untidy in my home create more physically exhausting work, it also tends to make me feel down emotionally. Like the chicken and the egg, feeling unwell/tired emotionally, mentally and physically often leads to slacking in the home, and slacking in the home often leads to feeling discontent. Are you dizzy yet?!

I’ve been on vacation this week (at home), and I chose to get the tidying/cleaning done at the beginning of my vacation so that I could enjoy the rest of my days off. I’m a bit nutty in that I’m unable to relax in my home if things need doing as I’m unnecessarily hard on myself with regard to getting things (too many things) done. By having (and keeping) things in order in the house this week, I was able to walk by a room and not feel the pull of to-do items that otherwise would haunt me. I also feel more peaceful because there aren’t distractions from being allowed to sit down and relax, or do something just for fun/me.

…clean vs. tidy…

I’d like to stop and qualify what I mean by clean and tidy as I don’t want to imply that my home is magazine worthy (by ANY stretch), or suggest that I’m some homemaking super hero that always has a tidy home.

When I say tidy I mean that things are generally put away, out of the way, and in the correct room and/or space. I do NOT mean (necessarily) in labelled bins, arranged to the degree, and labels facing outward. Clothes aren’t on the couch, hammers aren’t lying on the kitchen table, and counters are generally clear of clutter: this is my idea of a tidy home…which I think is totally do-able despite your circumstances.

When I say clean I mean that surfaces are wiped down and/or swept up: I’m not talking about Q-tipping here! Keeping things generally free of debris and germs goes beyond appearance…we’re talking about health! No, I’m not a germ nut…but it takes all of 3 seconds to give the counters and table a quick wipe-down.

While I strive to have a clean home, I’m very content to have it simply be tidy.

…making tidy work in a busy day, EVERY day (vs. sabotaging Saturdays)…

I like my home to be both clean and tidy, but I do NOT enjoy sabotaging my weekends with a full day or two of cleaning (though it definitely happens). How do we manage and still have time to enjoy our clean and/or tidy home? Some tricks I use:

  • Take a cloth bag or basket around the house, hitting every room and removing any items that do not belong in that room. Make another circuit (either as you clean, or specifically for tidying) and put items back where they belong. If you have kids, a spouse or an extremely well-trained dog, get THEM to help put things back.
  • Set the timer for your “tornado of tidy.” If you allow yourself ONLY 10-15 minutes each day to tidy/clean, you will still be able to maintain a degree of order while not letting it eat away at your precious time resources.
  • Make your bed, every morning! I know, I sound like your mom…but a made bed can REALLY clean up the appearance of the bedroom and give a sense of order even if it exists nowhere else in the home. Also, it feels great to get into a fresh bed at the end of the day.
  • Keep the kitchen counter clean/uncluttered. Walking into a clean/tidy kitchen can be far more inspirational when it comes to cooking up a storm, and it helps to prevent being exhausted at the idea of preparing a meal before you even begin. Also, it’s sanitary!
  • Keep whatever space you enter your house from as tidy as possible. At the end of a long day, it can be frustrating to walk into a mess (even if it’s just shoes).
Check here for some extra tips from pros!
Free your mind and home from clutter and you can’t HELP but feel better! 🙂
What are your tips and tricks to tidying up or quick cleaning? How does it make you feel when things are in/out of order? 

vacation, lists and simplicity…

Mmmm vacation. I could do with a bit of sun, however the lack thereof was a motivator for really attacking the list of household items I wanted to take care of during my vacation (without killing my personal and fun time). When I sat down to make my list, I had an unexpected moment of what I’d like to think was sanity with regard to my expectations of myself. Here are some revelations from that fleeting moment.

1.) Vacations have rarely meant rest for me. If I have a day off (including a sick day!), a long weekend, or some actual vacation time, I tend to sabotage myself by insisting on dealing with responsibilities before resting or doing something for myself. Not only do I set up expectations based on what I would normally want to accomplish (sweeping the floor, doing the dishes, etc.) but I go a step further and pull out my long list of “if I ever had the time I would” items. These items often involve some organization, Q-tip cleaning, and wiping down of unnecessarily large surfaces (walls, baseboards, cupboards). What does this mean? I do not give myself permission to just BE.

So this time…I decided that whatever responsibility-related items I had must be accomplished inside of a deadline, and would be spread out over the week so that there would never be a day built for resentment (the kind where you crash, exhausted in bed and bitter that you “never get time to yourself”).

2.) Lists are rarely my friend. We need lists sometimes to help keep us on task…sure. I’ll agree that lists are a necessary evil in a busy world. HOWEVER lists that never seem to end – the kind that are filled with more items than a person could possibly accomplish in a day or week, or the kind that takes 30 minutes to create thus filling time that COULD have seen a task or two complete – are far more detrimental than beneficial. In my experience, I can put more energy into organizing my to-dos than actually getting to them. Lists have also served as tools of self-sabotage because I end up frustrated with myself for not meeting unrealistic expectations that I set. Many times in our relationship my husband has questioned what actually NEEDED to be done…and more often than not items that I allowed to eat away at my time did not *need* to be complete at that moment.

So this time…I made a long list of wants and needs for the week of vacation. I then chopped some of the less necessary directly from the “need” category and put them in a secondary category called “It would be nice if.” I then spent time dreaming up activities that would be special, enjoyable and different so that I could feel that – by the end of my staycation – I had actually had time to unwind.

3.) Clearing out the clutter feels good. One of the items I put on my “it would be nice if” list was purging unneeded, unused, and unwanted items from ALL areas of the home (kitchen utensils, pantry items, clothing, office supplies). There is just so much STUFF that we accumulate as North Americans that it’s no wonder we struggle to keep clean and tidy and RESTFUL homes. I realized that the junk was really making me feel unclean and unsettled. Did I really need to display dozens of books I hadn’t read for years or may NEVER read? Did I NEED to have 13 salad/chip bowls stacked the height of my pantry shelf? Did two people NEED 9 spatulas?

So this time…as part of my cleaning routine, I took a cloth bag around with me to each room. I spent time organizing cupboards and shelves and, as I did so, grabbing anything we didn’t/wouldn’t/hadn’t used and tossed them in the bag. Generally I didn’t even know we HAD the items so surely I won’t miss them! I am going to donate all of the saleable items to a charity yard sale, and the remainder I will offer to friends/family. Whatever anyone doesn’t need I will turf but I’ll try to find a home for these items as best I can.

With a clean house, I’m looking forward to the forecasted sun tomorrow and getting my garden in, planters planted, and long-time friends visited.

Looking for some tips on de-cluttering? Here are some great resources I found in my travels for decluttering from zen tips to a freer home to laundry room makeovers and geek-specific organization.

back soon…

Victoria Day weekend has stolen my attention but I’ll be back tomorrow!

going green, saving money…

Each and every one of us – in my opinion – are responsible for the state of our planet. This is not a crusade I’m on…I simply feel that I can and SHOULD do my part to limit the obscene amount of waste we North Americans tend to be prone to. We live in a throw-away capitalist economy that glorifies convenience at any cost. Unfortunately, the cost ends up being paid by the one planet we have to live on!

Today’s post will center around reducing waste: a green activity that very often saves MONEY and necessitates organization all at the same time! Tall order? I don’t think so. Here are some steps we’re taking to reduce waste.

reducing garbage ~

By forming these three habits, we have reduced our average bag total from 6 to 2 per WEEK!

  • Rinsing and reusing containers (yogurt, cottage cheese, glass jars, etc.) can cut down on a great deal of garbage can space and provide great containers for storing bulk food goods, for sending leftovers out (that don’t take your tupperware with them), and even for home storage for small items.
  • Composting removes paper, food (except dairy, meats and oils) from your can: this includes items that rot before you can use them…hopefully this doesn’t happen often! I will post at a later date on composting: I still have lots to learn!
  • Recycling removes cans, bottles, paper rolls, tissue boxes, thin plastic containers and more from your garbage can. If your city doesn’t offer curbside pick-up it may offer a depot for dropping off your unneeded but still valuable garbage.

local goods ~

While occasionally buying local can cost a tad more (as it is generally organic and the producers aren’t able to compete with mass farming), many times it is cheaper…especially if you visit the farm or the farmers’ market. Even better than supporting your local economy first, is the fact that buying local reduces environmental impact as the cost of transportation from Mexico, South Africa, and California drops to nearly zero!

getting creative with gift giving ~

  • Cut down on spending and waste by using reusable fabric bags or recycled gift bags instead of buying disposable paper bags or wrapping paper. Most stores offer reusable fabric bags, and dollar stores often have a great selection.
  • Instead of spending $3-5 each time a card is warranted, make your own card or skip a card entirely. The majority of people dispose of stacks of birthday and Christmas cards in time (if not immediately): this is wasted cardboard, production costs AND money!
  • For baby clothing that is rarely worn more than a few times, shop used clothing/consignment stores. My cousin recently held a baby shower and I was able to purchase a stack (approximately 15 items) of very sweet, very new-looking, brand name baby clothes for only $20! She loved them! Similarly, for children, books and lightly used toys can be as great as buying new!

go green even with your eating ~

  • Fresh fruits and vegetables are inexpensive – especially when in season – and are extremely good for you! By upping the amount of produce you eat over other foods (such a processed goods, meats, and dairy), the more you save and the more you GAIN in healthy eating!
  • Don’t buy more than you can eat, especially when just beginning to experiment with new varieties of produce (after all, iceburg lettuce, baby carrots and cucumbers can get really old, really quickly).
  • Use care with storage to prevent bruising/rotting. You won’t likely eat produce that browns or rots, and this is caused primarily by two things: suffocating in plastic produce bags and bruising. Some ideas are to use (and reuse) produce saver bags, produce baskets in the fridge for easily damaged produce and/or avoid stuffing the crisper drawers so full that damage can occur.
  • Pre-cut your vegetables to make them ready-to-eat before storing them in the fridge. This saves valuable lunch preparation time as well as makes a healthy go-to for a snack. I know I’ve thrown out a head of lettuce or a stalk of broccoli simply because I never got around to getting it ready to use.
  • Freeze almost-gone/on sale produce. This saves both waste AND money! Chop up peppers, onions and mushrooms and freeze for a great go-to for quick meals like omellettes, frittatas, fajitas and more!
  • Meal planning for a week or two at a time will not only reduce waste (as you have on hand what you’ll need), but also money as shopping to a menu planned list removes impulse buying and multiple trips to the store. It also helps to avoid eating out/ordering in which generally costs the average couple 60% more than making and eating food at home.
  • Check out this great resource to learn more about food and waste.

buy used items often ~

Almost always when I’m looking for an item for the house I head to kijiji.ca, freecycle sites (in the States ebay classifieds or craigslist). Why pay upwards of $50-75 on a cast iron frying pan when I can find one on kijiji for $10!? Many items and services are available on these community sites at MUCH lower prices. The only catch is that you have to pick it up on your own…however this avoids major disappointments compared to online auctions as you can simply say “no thanks” if it isn’t what you’re looking for.

After some recent weight loss I was short of clothing. For $70 at Value Village I was able to replace most of my wardrobe including some accessories to match the new outfits…AND I was able to help out the community at the same time! Even at the local Walmart I couldn’t have gotten more than 3 or 4 shirts and a pair of pants (with NO accessories) for that price!

organization ~

For some pre-made home-binder resources including cupboard inventories (so that you know what you have/need), menu planning, shopping lists and more visit here! This is where the organization comes in, but it ultimately saves time and money if you’re willing to step up! Knowing what you have means you’re less likely to go over budget, buy items not on your list and – ultimately – waste!

What are your tricks for avoiding waste and/or saving money?

photo credit

making it organized, and saying “no”…

While I’m not one to subscribe to the intense over-organizing that I have seen people fall prey to, I do know that in my life it helps to have a place for things. That said, getting organized means so much more than having stacked bins, tidy closets and a label-maker! For help with organizing your house, check out this great resource. Here are some tips I use to organization as a general aid in LIFE!

  • Multi-task: Similar to yesterday’s post, by combining activities/tasks you can cut down on the amount of time required for both and even run the “risk” of having fun while at it! Exercise while listening to an audio book or watching TV, or sew the hem of your pants while watching your child have their bath.
  • Kitchen Scissors: One of my new favorite kitchen tools is a pair of scissors: I can cut meat or vegetables in a fraction of the time as compared to using a knife.
  • Scheduling Tech Time: One of the greatest drains on time both at home and the office is the obsessive checking of email and social media networks. While both have an important place in my day, the lack of focused time affects the successful completion of other projects/activities. Setting a timer for tasks or scheduling in time to check email/Twitter allows me to be uninterrupted otherwise!
  • Bedtime Prep: Preparing lunches and laying out/ironing clothes the night before can save precious time in the morning. If you’re like me, dragging yourself out of bed can be a chore at times…this can help to prevent running late due to smacking the snooze.
  • Tidying En Masse: Before you begin to tidy/clean, grab a bag or clothes basket and go around your home collecting items that are not where they belong. As you make your second tour (when you’re ready to clean), simply deposit items to their proper location. This spares needless wandering back and forth.
Here are some more (and similar) tips for getting organized.
What are some of YOUR tips for getting organized?

…saying “no”

Perhaps I’m lacking in boundaries…or maybe I’m just a people pleaser…but I have had a hard time saying “no” to requests made of me. Babysit for my niece? “Sure!” Drive you to your appointment? “No problem!” Host an event in my home? “I’ll even provide dinner…you can just show up!” Sound familiar? One of the greatest  enemies of the already busy schedule is the inability to draw a line and stand up for ourselves when we’re asked to do more than we are truly able to. I don’t leave it there, however…I take it a step further and throw in a meal!

Outside of the financial and time strain, not saying “no” when we really ought to means that we’re being dishonest: with ourselves and the person that is asking of us! What’s the solution?

Just say “No!”

You don’t have to be a jerk about it…there are many ways to say “no” in a non-offensive way. Ultimately it is YOU (and potentially your family/friends) that suffer when you don’t draw that important line. It does get easier, and is more than worth it!

Do you struggle with saying no?

making time for life and love…

Just the other day I was remarking with my husband about how full my recently pared-down schedule had become already…the next day I had made plans to do a regular workout with a friend. I’m not sure how I figured that an already busy schedule had another busy evening available…but it seems to be the fallacy I fall prey to most often. In fact, a year ago I purchased a book on how to become less busy. While I enjoyed what I read, and the author’s approach it fell by the wayside after about 8 days because I got too BUSY!

So how do we do it? How do we manage to fit all of the responsibilities, leisure and – if you’re as lucky as me – quality time with a partner into each short week? I’ve been mulling this over and I think I have something worth trying: A budget.

Recently I have been motivated by Gail Vaz-Oxlade ‘ s show ‘Till Debt Do Us Part. Using her money management and debt repayment tips, our household budget is in a very comfortable place: one less thing to worry about!

So, then, if you can budget your money…why not budget your time?

Unlike money, time is limited. You can’t get a credit extension, pick up extra shifts, or win a time lottery: there is only 24 hours available to us 7 times each week, 365 times each year. As a finite resource – and a precious one – we can’t afford to waste it!

hammering out a budget…

First, consider how much time we have to budget WITH. We do not, in fact, have 24 hours to work with each day…unless you’re a robot that doesn’t need to sleep! Considering that between 7 and 8 hours each day we sleep (not including new parents of course) and generally between 7 and 10 hours we are working/in transit, 13 to 18 hours of our day can be eaten up before we have time to fill them!

The average North American adult has only 6 to 10 hours per day left to “play” with.

With so little time left to us each day to fit in childrens’ activities, homemaking, cooking, eating, showering (and the list goes on), how on earth do we still get to have a LIFE?!

Here’s what I’m trying:

  1. Using a pie chart or percentages, determine how much of your time you would like to spend on: family, romance, responsibility and fun/personal.
  2. Using your sleep and work schedules (including transit to and from work), determine how much time you have allotted to you each day of the week.
  3. Using a calendar (or paper with days of the week), make a list of ALL of the recurring activities (including the mundane like housework, cooking, errands, etc.) for each day of the week. Don’t include special events.
  4. For each activity listed, assign the reasonable amount of time you feel it requires (remember transit time!) Keep in mind that, just as with budgeting money, certain activities require a greater percentage of your time while others can stand to be pared down. Feel free to determine only current activities OR work in activities you’d LIKE to be included alongside the current ones.
  5. Subtract the amount of time you spend on the above activities from the time you have allotted each day. Don’t forget to credit yourself whatever breaks you have during the day: reading while eating lunch can be a great way to sneak in personal time!
  6. Categorize each activity using the categories family, romance, responsibility, fun/personal.
  7. Tally the time for each category over the course of the week.
  8. Crunch the numbers. Using the total available time for each day found in step two, add up your total available time for the week.  Divide the total for each category by the total time for the week.  This will give you the percentage of time you are actually allotting to each category.
  9. Compare to the idea division of time you determined in step 1.

now what?

Does how you’re spending your time match up reasonably well according to how you’d *like* your time to be divided? If not, some tweaking might be needed.
Combining activities might be the best way to meet both your needs and wants. Some examples might include…
  • Getting the kids or your partner to join in on preparing dinner can give quality time while still accomplishing food preparation.
  • Similarly, there’s no reason every member of the house can’t help with the homemaking in some small way: anything that is done by someone else removes some responsibility time from YOUR time budget!
  • Time in the car can become personal time! If you enjoy singing, belt one out! If you are a reader but don’t have time to pick up a book, purchase or borrow an audio book or download a podcast that you might not otherwise have time for.
  • While the pasta is simmering or the casserole is baking, tag-team food preparation and cleaning and knock off a cleaning task or three depending on the time available. Be careful that you don’t leave unsafe food items unattended.
  • Remember, just because “family” and “fun” are listed as two categories doesn’t mean they don’t go together! One way to help your time budget balance is to realize that often categories will overlap and it’s a great way to ensure that deficits in one may be made up in activities from another.
  • Similarly, by throwing on a podcast or audiobook while doing housework, you can sneak in some personal time while still taking care of your responsibilities.

Another quick tip: budgeting your time can be easier if you set limits. For example, set the kitchen timer for 10 or 20 minutes and turn on the tornado of clean during that time…but then STOP when the time is up. This ensures that the inevitable adding of one or two tasks as you see they need to be done doesn’t happen.

what about the love?

  • The number one way I ensure quality time with my husband is setting aside a “date night” (for us it’s Friday nights, but you may need to float it around based on scheduling). This night is sacred. I no longer answer the phone, spend time cleaning or sneak in errands (even quick trips). By having a time that is set aside for time with your partner (and this can include time with them AND friends if you choose or time is limited), it ensures that despite the craziness of the week you will be certain to avoid neglecting each other entirely.
  • Another way to sneak in some romance is to combine it with other activities. While sharing a kitchen can be hard for some of us (I’m really terrible at dealing with people in my kitchen), preparing a meal together can become some great quality time! Sharing the meal together further extends your “romance” time!
  • Even easier, if you both enjoy reading head to bed early and rest together while reading. You may not necessarily be interacting but you’re together, alone, and restful. Who knows…heading to bed early might leave a little extra time for…knitting 😉
Ultimately, attitude is what matters most. If you choose to view housework as a chore, it will be. You can choose to be positive and see your “fun” category melt into your responsibilities, family and romance!

coming up: making it organized, and saying “no”…