Posted in Blog

Creating Boundaries With Your Work Time

Over the years, I’ve developed a reputation at work of being professional about drawing boundaries around my availability. I definitely became better at this when I returned from maternity leave after Mr. 7 year old was born because I just didn’t have the energy to sneak in extra work hours outside of the office like I used to.

How have I done it? Here’s the gist.

Live Your Goals

First, you have to know your own professional development goals, those of your teams, and those of your projects/employers. (I’m a senior manager of training design and development teams for multiple clients, so there are many stakeholders to satisfy.) I recommend playing to your strengths when crafting goals. You’ll be more motivated to work on something you’re already good at, rather than try to improve a weakness that you could potentially outsource to someone else.

Once you have your goals, live by them. Get invited to a meeting that doesn’t align with your personal goals or those of your client? Politely decline. I’m not saying you can skip every boring meeting or work task, but you can be selective about how you spend your time. (Probably more so than you think!)

Decline with Grace

I swear tactfully pushing back is a large part of the art of “managing up.” I rarely say no to my clients and managers. I provide more information instead. For example, if I’m asked to move a deadline up that isn’t feasible, I’ll state that we can do that if X conditions or concessions are made.

If I’m asked to join a committee or project that I can’t make work, I say thank you for the opportunity but I’m regretfully not available. And, here’s the key, I also provide a recommended solution, whether that’s another team member who would be a good fit or a time in my schedule when I could take on the opportunity.

I am the messenger that provides the details to help us all make better decisions, while making sure the solution will work for me and my teams.

Diversify Your Happiness

Don’t let work be the most interesting thing about you. Find other things you enjoy and add them to your life. This can be hobbies, pets, family, fitness, or volunteer work. Not only will these interests help when you have a bad day at the office and need to reset your mood, but they can be used to get you out of the office and away from work at a reasonable hour. If you commit to a hobby, be that a 8:30am fitness class three days a week or tutoring high school kids every Wednesday at 6pm, then you can block your calendar and work around it. I swear I became 10 times more efficient at my work when I knew I needed to log off each day by 3:30 to get my kids off the bus. (Remember that time when kids used to go to school in person?! The good old days….) Work tends to expand to the amount of time available.

I admit that some of these tips are easy to say and harder to do. It’s taken me some time of exploration at work, being a part of multiple teams and projects, to learn my strengths, set meaningful goals, and be comfortable pushing back on leadership. However, I think it’s important to realize that we only have this one life to live, so we better enjoy it. It’s harkens back to my motto to reflect on what you want, plan how to make it happen, and then start living and, in the famous words of Captain Picard, make it so.

Photo by Harry Sandhu on Unsplash

Posted in Blog

Our Guest Room Makeover Reveal

I did it! Our guest room makeover has been 99% done for ages, but I finally got my act together this weekend and finished. (No, Mom, I wasn’t galavanting around town during a pandemic to procure everything noted in this post.)

Here is a before picture from when we moved in. It was a blank canvas. The previous owners said they had used the room as either an office or exercise area, but we wanted to make it a bedroom to give guests access to the private bath next door.

When we first moved in, we immediately changed out the pink carpet for a gray and changed out the brass doorknobs for brushed nickel. A couple of years ago we had all of the windows in the house replaced. Then, my husband replaced the contractor-grade light fixture and upgraded all of the electrical outlets. When we had the rest of the basement repainted, this room’s walls changed from a muddy beige to a light blue. Finally, it was my turn to decorate! Here’s the reveal.

We had the furniture already, so that was an easy addition. Here’s a rundown of where I found everything else.

  • Paisley Bedspread – Amazon
  • White throw blanket – Amazon
  • Relax pillow, lamps, and pictures – Kirkland’s (We actually had the pair of flower canvases from when we staged our townhouse for its sale. My husband was the genius who thought to put them here. Love! Of course, I bought all of this stuff so long ago that they don’t appear for sale online anymore.)
  • Pineapple – Amazon
  • Books – Our bookshelves 🙂
  • White rope baskets – At Home (Something similar to this)
  • Curtains – Target
  • Mirror – Walmart
  • Over-the-door hooks – Walmart
  • Alarm clock with USB charging ports – Costco (Something similar to this)
  • Wireless chargers – Amazon

I’m particularly fond how the far wall came out. You can see what we’re hiding with art and curtains. I saw the suggestion on HGTV years ago to use full-length curtains for small windows to make the room feel more balanced and taller. I love it here! Of course, it looks strange when you open the curtains, but that’s not often necessary in this room used mostly just to sleep in.

I particularly like the use of the art to hide the electrical panel. First, I like it’s message, especially since our parents use this room most often and are also responsible for this house full of people I love. Second, it is hung with command strips for easy removal whenever without worrying about punching nails in the wall near electrical lines. And last, the art alone wasn’t quite tall enough to cover the electrical panel, so I had to DIY extra pieces. Ages ago I picked up supplies from Michael’s to add the greenery and hand make a bow to finish the look.

The opposite wall has my photo collage – my final project to complete the room. I found these inexpensive 8×10 frames at Bed Bath and Beyond for $10-$15 for four frames months ago. Recently, one beautiful Spring day, Mr. 7 year old and I shot some photos outside our home. (My husband loves that I snuck in a photo of his car in the reflection of the bottom left corner image.) Costco printed these images for $2 per print. We finished it off with some art from each kid, and with a little math and measuring, TA DA!

This couch is from Ikea, and we were once looking to get rid of it thinking we didn’t have a place for it anymore. My strong desire not to carry is up the stairs landed it in the guest room where it fits nicely. It’s largely used for storing guest luggage. There is an empty wooden dresser beside the couch with a TV and jewelry holder.

There’s another plastic dresser hidden in the closet beside the bed that holds extra sheets, spare toiletries, and items our folks leave here between visits. Along with the extra dresser, the closet stores extra blankets, a laundry basket (that the kids have stolen for this picture so they can hide in it), and hangers.

And that’s it! Now I just need everyone to get and stay well so that we can have visitors again.

Posted in Blog

Our Deck Area Upgrade

Another one of our COVID projects was to update our deck. We’ve been needing to power wash and stain it for years, and there’s no excuse for ignoring it now! My husband had previously procured a power washer as well as a stain we liked, so we had everything we needed without having to step foot in a store.

Previously, our deck looked something like this. It was functional, with the grill and patio table and chairs, but it wasn’t giving off the homey vibe I was going for.

With some elbow grease, a bit of cash, and a few plants, we transformed the space.

“After” picture

Here’s how we got from the “before” to the “after.” Once we cleared everything off the deck and power washed, we let it dry before applying our stain. We used semi-transparent cedar colored stain from #1 Deck. Even the kids jumped in to help. Mr. 7 year old was really into it! Mr. 4 year old stuck to digging up the yard. It was actually a fun family project that only took us a couple of hours, which we luckily tackled in spring before it gets hot and humid by 9am.

Staining the deck

Afterwards, the boys left me to decorate however I wanted. First, I picked up this portable cabinet from Amazon when it was on huge sale. It’s plastic with a stainless steel top and tons of storage. We use the extra space to store dishes, napkins, and utensils that we’d like to use for entertaining outside so it’s always within reach. I also stashed some sunscreen and bug spray for quick application.

I then tried to reimagine the space. I didn’t want to ditch the table and chairs because we do eat outside fairly regularly in nice weather. They just didn’t need to take over the deck. Once I figured that it’s typically only the four of us eating out there, I took the front two chairs away and pushed the table closer to the railing. This opened up the back portion of the deck to make room for the portable cabinet.

Right by the house now is a two-person seating area using the unused chairs from the table. I shopped our basement and pulled up a vintage wine crate with bocce balls in it for an end table.

I added color to the deck with flowers and a huge container of herbs. I topped off the look with a set of smart colored lights from Costco that work with Alexa (a.k.a., the machine Mr. 4 year old sometimes calls mom). They have a bunch of pre-designed settings as well as the option for customized colors all set up on a timer.

We celebrated July 4 in style!

I thought of adding more accessories, like you see in the magazines, but I just don’t see them really holding up in our climate. I have visions of an outdoor carpet becoming moldy or damaging the base of the deck. I love the large iron lanterns that are often placed along stairs or on top of patio tables, but I haven’t seen any that will withstand hours of direct sun or sitting water after a rain.

In the end, I’m really happy with the look we have now. We’ve already had several family meals there, and I’ve sipped a few coffees in private in the early hours on the deck too. I’m looking forward to having friends and family enjoy it with us in the future.

Posted in Blog

Our Garage “Mudroom” Redo

The one thing I wish our home had but doesn’t is a mudroom. You enter the house from the garage right into the kitchen, and book bags and jackets are thrown on the floor in a heap. We had added some organization by building our command center in the kitchen and utilizing the front entry closet, but our shoes would still be left as a mess in the garage.

Here’s our “before” picture. The original owners moved their old kitchen cabinets to the garage, which was nice for the storage but made it difficult to exit the car without dinging the door. We eventually started shoving shoes into the drawers, but they didn’t always fit well.

With extra weekends at home, we finally had some time to create a drop zone / mudroom space in our garage. I knew I wanted a bench to sit on while putting on shoes, space for storage (for men-sized shoes because someday I’ll have three men in this house!!), and more hooks than I think we’ll need for jackets, book bags, and whatever else.

I spent a lot of time online looking for options and found items like this on Amazon. We had only 34 inches of space for the bench, so our choices were limited and often didn’t report being able to support an adult’s weight on the bench. We entertained the idea of building something custom, but then I remembered to check out IKEA. We ended up getting almost everything from there!

Here’s our new and improved “mudroom.”

The whiteboard/cork board combination was gifted to us. Here’s everything else we found at IKEA. I LOVE the dog’s hook and the idea to use the $1.29 trash can as an umbrella holder.

Overall, I’m thrilled with what we came up with (and the price tag). I look forward to seeing if my family can adopt its use and if the mudroom can handle all of our winter gear.

Posted in Blog

How to Design Your Family Command Center

This post isn’t about my command center. I walkthrough a reveal of ours in another post.

In this post, I’ll rundown the steps for crafting your own command center.

1. Make a list of what you want to organize and have on hand.

I found myself on Pinterest looking at others’ designs for inspiration. A Pinterest board isn’t enough though. Document what you want. You can pare it down to essentials later, based on space or other constraints. Right now, you’re brainstorming. Here are some uses to consider:

  • Inbox for mail 
  • Outbox for mail/paperwork
  • School paperwork
  • Calendars (yearly, monthly, weekly, or daily)
  • Grocery list
  • Meal plan
  • Kids’ backpacks and jackets
  • Keys
  • Wallets/sunglasses/etc.
  • Coupons
  • To do lists
  • Reward charts
  • Chore trackers
  • Important items (e.g., invitations, save the dates)
  • Clock
  • Supplies (e.g., markers, scissors)
  • Charging station
  • Decor

2. Assess your space for a viable location for your command center.

You’ll want to put your command center in a high-traffic location so you see it and use it. You’re not likely going to use your inbox for mail if you have to walk by your kitchen table or a counter to get to the command center. Like pasta sauce on a toddler’s clothes, your mail will be drawn to these flat surfaces instead of where it’s supposed to go. You don’t need a large blank wall for a command center though. Narrow or tall spaces can work too. 

3. You may find that you need to prioritize what to include in your command center.

I pretty much wanted everything in my brainstormed list in Step 1 for my command center, but I couldn’t make it all work. I wanted to include a charging station at my command center, but I didn’t have the depth available for a shelf or table. C’est la vie! My charging station moved closer to the family room instead (where we need it more anyhow). One space doesn’t have to do EVERYTHING.

I prioritized three uses. It was important to me that my command center include a monthly calendar, reward charts for the kids, and a spot for keys. I wanted more, but I wouldn’t compromise on these items.

Consider what’s most important to you and start there. Make sure you can meet those needs first.

4. Identify products to meet your needs.

My Virtual Plan

There’s a lot to this step, so here are some considerations. This step took a lot more time than I thought it would, which was probably exasperated by my small space.

Using your prioritized uses from Step 3, estimate how much space you want products to take up. I knew I wanted a large calendar to track everyone’s activities (using a designated color for each family member, of course), so I was willing to dedicate a lot of space to the calendar.

Measure, measure, measure! This is particularly important if your space is limited. I knew I was working with a narrow (but tall) space, so I had little room for error in my measurements. I went so far as to cut out paper templates of the products I was eyeing and taped them to the wall to make sure they’d all fit. I highly recommend doing the same.

Feel free to be creative when identifying products. There are tons of fancy command center products at Target, Walmart, Hobby Lobby, Amazon, and alike, but you aren’t limited to these choices. I used clipboards to store the kids’ paperwork (e.g., daycare contracts, school policies, etc.) and put a reward chart or chore list on top for the kids to reference. I’ve used poster frames to create “whiteboards” and framed printables like checklists or blank meal plan templates.

Pick a theme, color, or some other unifying characteristic. Okay, well, a theme is certainly optional. But, I knew I was putting my command center in my kitchen, so I didn’t want it to be an eyesore. I’ve seen command centers that are farmhouse themed, color coordinated, color coded by kid, you name it. Pick something that works for you. I searched online stores for products that would organize my three priority needs: a calendar, reward charts, and storage for keys. Once I found three products that provided the functionality I needed, were the right size, and looked like they went together, I declared black with sharp lines my theme.

5. Once you have the products you need, hang them up.

Here again, the paper templates were very helpful in making sure everything was hung in the right place. I also recommend considering using Command Strips to hang your products, particularly if you live in a rental. My command center is on the side of my kitchen cabinets, which I didn’t want to put holes in them. Instead, I overdid it using tons of high-strength command strips. It’s worked out well!

6. Enjoy the fruit of your labor!

Our current command center
Our current command center

We use our command center every day, asking the kids to check their list of what they need to do before school, grabbing our wallets as we head out the door, and reviewing the our family mantras (Spinapolices solve problems with words is a big one at the moment!).

What do you think of this list? Share your thoughts below.