Thursday, January 1, 2009

Happy, uncluttered new year!

My name is Sherryl and I'm addicted to clutter! There, I've admitted it, in public, for anyone out there to see. I don't want to have piles of stuff sitting on most available surfaces in my house, but on the days when I really take a good long look around me, what I see is clutter.

Keep in mind, I come by this addiction naturally. My dad kept just about everything, in piles, on every available surface. It's taken me most of the ten years since his death to work my way through even some of those piles. I used to refer to his room as "the great black hole." I swear, things went in there never to be seen again. Sadly, though I joked about that with him, I've discovered some of his traits are in my DNA. I occasionally walk into my room in Virginia, look around and moan, "Oh, sweet heaven, I am exactly like my father."

So today, on January 1, 2009, I am decluttering. Really. Not that many hours into the new year, I have worked my way through one pile of papers. I've paid bills, written notes, tossed papers I will never need. I've shredded stuff, put away Christmas decorations, cleaned out the refrigerator -- that's a whole other issue -- and taken a drawer from a bathroom cabinet to my car to be tossed into a dumpster. That makes two drawers now in the trunk of a car. I hope I remember, so it doesn't become yet another refuge for my clutter. I have two more drawers to toss, but first I have to get rid of the accumulated cosmetics, most of which are old enough to pose a danger to anyone daring to use them. I currently have these junk drawers in the middle of the floor, because over the summer I had both of my bathrooms renovated and this is where the contractor left the old stuff. It is also where I left it when I arrived in Florida and immediately went into a deadline frenzy...and then straight into another one.

Today, however, I have a break and a renewed determination to start the new year by tossing things. Hauling bags to the trash room fills me with a sense of accomplishment. Hopefully this enthusiasm will last long enough to make a real dent in the clutter, but I have my doubts. After all, come Monday, I am going back on deadline to finish the next book and turn it in. I'll be listening to the whispers of characters, not the shouts of my conscience. And, as we all know too well, clutter multiplies when we're not looking. Surfaces disappear. Papers vanish into piles. And the process starts all over again.

Happy new year! Whatever your resolutions, whatever your best intentions, I hope they last. But if they don't, console yourself that you're just like the rest of us.

Sherryl Woods

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Sunday, December 30, 2007

Sherryl's tips for saving money in the new year

Yesterday I wrote about new year's resolutions, but one I didn't mention was the good intention we all have to save a few more dollars. With the economy uncertain, gas prices rising and all those holiday bills rolling in, now's the perfect time to think about your own personal savings plan for 2008.

But how on earth do you save anything with routine costs mounting? It's not easy, but I think back to when I was a kid. Both of my parents worked. As I recall, my mother was paid weekly, my father every two weeks. What I do remember clearly were the envelopes -- plain, old-fashioned white ones. Each of them was labeled for rent, phone, food, whatever. When checks were cashed, money went into the appropriate envelopes, assuring that the cash was there when the bills were due. As far as I know, no one ever slipped money out of those envelopes for other purposes.

That system seems antiquated today, when paychecks are often direct-deposited into checking accounts, but in reality it assured that money was set aside for necessities. Once it's in the general pot of a checking account, it's much easier to spend it on other things and suddenly come up short when the rent or mortgage payment is due.

I was reminded of my mom's system not too long ago when talking with a friend, who uses a similar system, not for paying the regular bills, but to save for special items. She has cans hidden away in her house with cash designated for the annual family vacation, new carpeting and, last year, for a surprise birthday party for her husband. Each week she stuffs a bit of cash into each of those cans. It's whatever she has leftover from her household spending money. Sometimes it's a set amount, sometimes loose change, sometimes it's the amount equal to what she spent for cigarettes before she quit smoking. For her it's somewhere between a game she plays with herself and a quest to build up those dollars. However she motivates herself, I do know she's been paying for a trip to North Carolina's Outer Banks each year for some time now by using this system. Her husband's party was a huge, catered backyard barbeque, all paid for by money saved in a can. And that new carpet has been installed without busting the family's monthly budget.

So, if there's something you've been longing to do, but can't seem to find the money to do it or if there's a decorating project you'd like to do, a new big-screen TV you've been wanting, think about getting a couple of special piggy banks, cans or envelopes and tucking a few dollars each week or even each day into those. Make sure your kids have no idea those secret stashes exist or at least hide them where they're not readily accessible. I seem to recall a couple of episodes on "7th Heaven" when the kids got into mom's savings in the kitchen cupboard or their baby brothers' piggy banks.

Obviously these savings plans won't make up for not saving something on a regular basis for retirement or college or a rainy day, but they do work for the little things you really want, but have always assumed you couldn't afford. Even if you begin with the loose change that's been tossed on the dresser at night or been dumped into the bottom of your purse, it will eventually add up.

Get your kids started saving for their special desires, too. Nothing will help them to understand the value of money quicker than having to save up before they get that expensive toy or video game. If they receive an allowance or earn money cutting grass for the neighbors, encourage them to put a little aside so they can buy something they've been begging you to buy for them. Don't give in -- at least not always -- to the desire to make life better for your kids than you had it. The lessons you learned if you had to struggle a bit probably made you a better, more responsible adult when it comes to financial matters.

The bottom line as you head into the new year, though, is to resolve to save for the future. Maybe it will only be a bit of loose change at first, but when you see how that can add up to buy something special down the road, I bet you'll catch the savings "fever" and start stashing those little cans all over your house, too.

If you have a savings system that you swear by, please share it with us. Or if you have a story about how a secret stash bailed you out of a financial tight spot, let us know about that as well.

Sherryl Woods

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Saturday, December 29, 2007

This year I resolve . . . oh, why bother?

We've all done it. We've dutifully sat down with pen and paper, or maybe just made a mental note that when the clock strikes midnight on new year's eve we're going to change. Dieting is one of the most common resolutions and statistics suggest that it lasts about as long as it takes for someone to pass around the chips during a football bowl game on new year's day. I'm no better than any of the rest of you about this.

So, this year I'm here to offer a new approach. This year I resolve to be more AWARE of what I'm doing when it comes to diet and exercise, to be more ATTUNED to it when I let my tone turn judgmental. Those are the areas I most want to change in myself.

How are those resolutions any different from just resolving to lose 20 pounds or resolving to be nicer and more open-minded to my friends? I hope they're less likely to set me up for immediate failure. And we all know what happens once we've eaten that first forbidden slice of cheesecake or skipped a day at the gym. It gets a whole lot easier to do it again and again, until there's no longer any pretense of dieting or exercising.

My way, in theory, simply means that I'll pay closer attention to my food choices and try harder to make the right ones. I'll work in a bit more exercise every single day, not make promises I'll never keep. If I hear that judgmental tone creeping into my conversation -- or even into my head -- I'll remind myself to shut it down.

In theory, if this goes according to plan, I will lose weight -- maybe not at breakneck speed -- but the scale will tip down, not up. Bit by bit I'll become more fit by making the kind of small changes that are managable, not intimidating. For example, now that I have a brand new pedometer, hopefully I will add a few more steps into my everyday routine. By the end of 2008 that should add up to a lot more steps per day. I will climb a few more stairs, lift free weights more regularly than I currently do.

Why do we even bother with resolutions when they're so often doomed to failure? Because the start of a new year is a fresh beginning, a chance to become a little better than we were in whatever way we deem necessary.

Tell us your new year's resolutions, the ones you've made, the ones you've stuck to and the ones you haven't. If something's helped you stick to your resolutions, share that with us. Successes, failures, put them all on the table here. Maybe if we compare notes, we can make 2008 the year we all do just a little better.

Meantime, I hope 2008 is very good to you.

Sherryl Woods

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