SPARK JOY MEETS THE SCIENCE OF HAPPINESS – PART​ 6

This is the final week of the happiness class I’ve been taking, an online course called the Science of Well-Being taught by Yale University. Although the format of the course has changed from 6 to10 weeks, the last 4 are for us to put what we’ve learned into practice on a regular basis. I and some of the students in the online community have found this part difficult because we are so stuck in our old ways of “mis-wanting” and not living in the moment. We tend to dwell on our past mistakes and regrets, or we worry and fear about the future. So it takes some real efforts to behave differently. And I can see why they added the 4 extra weeks to ensure our success in living a happier life. 

To summarize what was covered last week, the 5 things that can increase our level of long-lasting happiness are kindness, social connection, time affluence, mind control, and healthy practices. Most of these almost seem like common sense, however, these are the things we often don’t choose to do. So here are a few tips to make it easier for us to do more of the things that we know are good for us.

1. Situational Support
If we can change our situation, by either increasing the visibility or accessibility, it can increase our chances of building a new habit. This aligns with one of the main goals of my work, to help my clients organize their things so they are more visible and accessible. By finding the right place to store every item in your home, it’ll set you up for more success to return items to their designated spot instead of leaving them piled up or shoving them into the cabinet. A study to test this theory showed that when you fix a bad environment such as switching out a bowl of candy or a cookie jar to a basket of fruits will over time promote healthier snacking habits. 

2. Goal Setting
The more specific we can set our goals, the more likely it is that we will achieve it. This is especially true with tidying. If you start the process without imagining what the ideal outcome is when it’s complete, then you are less likely to be motivated to keep organizing. It’s important to also visualize the positive outcome as well as contrasting it to the negative outcome if you don’t reach your goal. In my client sessions, we always take before and after photos to see the dramatic change. Seeing it side by side really shocks our system, and it’s more likely the clients would not fall back to their old ways. 

3. Goal Visualization
It is also important to think about what obstacles you might encounter. The mental preparation will lessen the impact of any actual problems because you have anticipated it already. You’re more likely to have success if you know you can overcome even the worse case scenario.

4. Goal Planning
Implement an “if, then” plan. Once you visualize the possible obstacle, figure out what you can do to avoid it or fix it. Having an if-then plan takes the fear out of the process and get your closer to your goal a bit easier. When a client hires an organization consultant, they are guided through the process with a plan and the added experience of the professional organizer to help overcome any hurdles. 

Using these tips to help you increase happiness by doing acts of kindness for others, establish and maintain social connections, making time affluence a priority, practice mind control instead of mind wandering, and healthy practices such as goals for sleeping 8 hours and exercise regularly. And definitely use them to help you set your goal to tidy your home, visualize an organized space that supports what you love, prepare yourself for any setbacks along the way and how to overcome them. 

This concludes the 6-part series of my experience in learning and practicing scientifically proven ways to live a happier life. I’m currently reading the book The How of Happiness: A New Approach to Getting the Life You Want by Sonja Lyubomirsky which was referenced in my class lecture. The first chapter mentioned something that stayed in my mind, which the idea of the Pursuit of Happiness. The author says that it implies one as to chase or discover happiness, but she prefers the creation or construction of happiness. I totally agree that the power is in our hands. I’ve seen it over and over with my clients who experienced the life-changing magic of tidying up. Through their action of keeping what sparks joy, they realize the happiness was already in their possession. 

I hope you have enjoyed this journey with me. I highly recommend you taking the course to get more details about each lesson. And I wish all of you a happy joyful life. 

SPARK JOY MEETS THE SCIENCE OF HAPPINESS – PART​ 5

This is part 5 of the 6-week series of my experience learning the Science of Well-being from the Yale University class taught through Coursera.org. This week, we were given a lot of information on ways to switch to “better wanting” for things that have proven to help us feel happier. I’m going to highlight the key points and how they relate to the KonMari method and organizing. 

GROWTH VS FIXED MINDSET
You may have heard something called the Growth Mindset and Fixed Mindset. People who have a fixed mindset avoids challenges, gives up easily, and sees the effort as a negative, they ignore useful feedback and feel threatened by other’s success. When it comes to organizing, those with a fixed mindset tend to label themselves as lazy or just not someone who can keep things organized. They may start to declutter, but gets overwhelmed and think “what’s the point, it’ll get messy again.” 

A Growth minded person embraces challenges. They are motivated to put in the time and energy in mastering a skill, they learn from criticism, and persists in the face of obstacles. Clients who have the growth mindset tend to successfully complete their tidying and gain a lot of confidence. They are willing to put in the hard work to make a decision on every item. They are also willing to continue to practice the KonMari method in other aspects of their lives.

There are so many studies out there that have shown people with a growth mindset live a happier life. And I know from my clients who have successfully tidied their homes, that their perseverance and hard work has paid off in a more joyful life.

KINDNESS
By simply being kind to others will bring us happiness. In one research, they found that our intuition is to think that spending money on ourselves will make us happy, but in reality, people are happier when they spend it on someone else. So by giving away or donating items to someone who can benefit from it, you relieve yourself from the guilt of feeling wasteful. Instead, you will feel good knowing that you’ve done something kind for another person in need. And by only spending money thoughtfully on things that bringing you joy, you may actually end up with extra money to give to charities you support or feel more generous to buy a cup of coffee for a friend. 

SOCIAL CONNECTION
It’s no news that spending time with people we like increases our happiness. Research has shown that just by eating a cookie next to a friend will make that cookie tastes better! And in my experience with organizing, those who start the process with a friend, or is part of a KonMari online group, have a much better experience compared to those doing it alone. Sharing brings more joy. 

TIME AFFLUENCE
When you have time to do the stuff you want to do, you are able to savor the moment. You will feel happier because you are not spending time and energy worrying about other stuff. Especially when we already know worrying is really a waste because it doesn’t change the outcome. 

When someone commits to tidying their entire home, they gain so much valuable time and energy because it’s easy to find the things they know they already love and use. I definitely experienced this after I completely decluttered my home. I started to spend more time taking care of myself and have time to cook more healthy meals for my family. To quote Benjamin Franklin, “For every minute spent in organizing, an hour is earned.”

MIND CONTROL
Studies show that 47% of the time our minds wander all over the place. That’s the default network part of our brain when a person is not involved in a task. And as it turns out, it’s the same part of our brain used when we are thinking about the past and the future or others. And generally, those are negative thoughts that bring anxiety, stress, and fear. 

To curb your mind from wandering, you can try to meditate and actively strengthen your brain tissue to focus. The effects don’t just affect you at the moment, but goes beyond after your meditation to keep you feeling calm and focused. 

As a creative person, I find my mind wanders a lot. I admit I don’t enjoy meditating. However, I have found that folding the KonMari way is a kind of meditation for me. I focus on the folding, and I infuse love and positive energy into the clothes I’m folding. So if you are like me, who has a hard time just sitting still. Try to “meditate” while you fold! 

HEALTHY PRACTICES
The last part of the lecture talks about this magic solution that can make you feel happier, stronger, more beautiful, and smarter. The best part is, it’s free! What is this magic? It’s…sleep and exercise! These healthy practices sound like common sense but most of us don’t make it a priority because we focus too much on the things that don’t bring us lasting happiness. (Making more money instead of making more time, focusing on better grades instead of promoting the love for learning.)

When we make the effort to exercise 3 times a week for 30 minutes at a time, you will have more energy, think more clearly, sleep better, and overall feel more positive. And sleeping at least 7-8 hours improves your overall health, as opposed to less than 5 hours which is considered sleep deprived, can lead to serious physical and mental health problems.

As mentioned earlier, being organized saves you a lot of time so you can use it by taking better care of yourself. How about clearing out space in your home for a treadmill? Or use the money from selling the stuff you don’t want to replace the old mattress or pillow to improve your sleep? 

I hope you will try some of these techniques to help improve your level of happiness. I’d love to hear how they work for you. 

Before&After: Pantry organization

In this week’s Before&After, I worked with a family of 4 to reorganize their pantry. We were excited to get started because she had to wait patiently to get through the first 3 KonMari categories before tackling this problem area.

With every new client, I work with them on creating their vision of the ideal lifestyle. And cooking with her family was high on the wishlist for this mom of two. Even though she found it overwhelming to tackle this project, we unpacked the pantry thoughtfully, creating different areas in the kitchen for the types of food she had. Please note that we didn’t work on the cookbooks with the other books because her home has multiple floors and it was physically too much to move everything to one place. So we are joy-checking the cookbooks with the pantry. And since she already had the practice, it was much easier to go through during this session.

BEFORE: Pantry

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This pantry is below a staircase. this is the right side of the pantry. The shelves are next to a curved wall.

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In her pantry, we found multiples of the same item, expired products, barely used grains and spices. She did feel wasteful to throw food away, and we did set aside ones she can give away. I asked if she felt less guilty getting rid of the food that already expired? Because if she came across food that she doesn’t enjoy eating or cooking, those items are just waiting to expire in her pantry. That’s a waste of space just to delay feeling guilty. We also made sure that all the edible part went into the compost bag which gave the food a new purpose, and the packaging went into the recycling. It also helps to empty out the food containers to take inventory of what you have, see if they also spark joy. And sometimes certain containers can move to a new home to be helpful elsewhere.

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In a family with young kids, it’s helpful to create areas where they can learn to be more independent. In this pantry, we created a shelf with breakfast foods. This not only allows the kids to serve themselves. It also promotes the family to make breakfast together in the morning if they all know where to get the pancake mix and syrup.

AFTER: Pantry

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Because they had snacks that came in boxes and some that came in bags, we dedicated one shelf for the boxed crackers and cookies to be filed like books by height (You can also file them by the type of snack if that’s what you prefer.). All the chip bags lined up helped them to stand upright. This tip shows that you don’t need any fancy containers to make a neatly organized pantry.

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The spices are on a stand that has 3 tiers. People tend to buy spices as needed and not pay attention to the brand. Unless you get a complete set or buy new containers to have a uniformed look, you can place the same brands next to each other and still have a very clean and organized set up. Other bottles of special spices and meat rubs were placed in a tray in order by height.

Always place heavier items on the lower shelves of the pantry both for safety and to give the feeling of anchoring the shelves. We’ve put the beverages and wines on there, grouping bottles of similar size or shape together (again, it’s your personal preference if you want to put them by order of type).

My client also had a large tea collection. (Second shelf from the top right) We repurposed 2 tin cookie containers to consolidate 6 opened boxes of teas. I always recommend taking the individual packed tea bags out of the box so you’ll always know when you are running low. It’s also easy to offer guests tea when they can select from a variety presented to them. The same idea goes for the children’s snacks to be taken out of the boxes and stored in a low bin. This allows easy access and a visual reminder when it’s time to replenish.

AFTER: Close-up

 

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The breakfast section, oils, vinegar, mustard, and other international flavors.

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These are new containers we got from IKEA (365+ series). We love the bamboo lids. They can work for dry food such as the nuts and dried fruits. But they can also work in the fridge to store fruits, veggies, leftovers, or even use to serve food. 

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We also got the clear plastic containers with white flip caps to hold the pasta and rice. They also work for opened snack containers, even liquids. 

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We also placed the extra bags of flour, sugar, bottles of salt, and extra drinks in the “dead corner” of the shelves. They are next to the category they belong to so they don’t get forgotten. And now the pantry isn’t so packed, they are still very visible and within reach.

My client was so pleased with the result, she wanted to hang out in her pantry! And I’m excited to check back with her to see how the organization has helped with her meal planning? If she’s inspired to cook any new dishes, or having that vision of her cooking with her family more come true? I hope you’ve enjoyed this Before&After. If you have any questions about what we’ve done, or about your own pantry. Feel free to comment.

 

Spark Joy Meets The Science of Happiness – Part 4

This is my week 4 of taking the course The Science of Well-being, or what I call my “happiness class”. (Search the archive for my posts from weeks 1-3 to learn how those lessons connect to organizing and decluttering.) Last week I learned about the annoying things that our brain does that affects our judgment on how positive or negative we think we’d feel about a certain event, action, or objects we obtain. So to help overcome those biases, there are some intentional strategies that will help switch our thinking to have longer lasting positive benefits.

One of the most important parts of the lesson is an advice I give to all of my clients: Invest in experience, not stuff. When we have a new life experience, a social connection, an adventure, even a hobby, the positive feelings from it stays in our memory. It is full of details gathered from every sense, and our brains have the power to recall that experience, again and again, to fills us with joy. (Like when you hear a song from your high school dance, or even a certain weather that reminds you of a trip you took) We can share them freely with others, which the act of sharing your experience can also brighten someone else’s day. The opposite is true with investing in stuff, which often becomes less exciting overtime and causes you to want a bigger, better, newer replacement. And the mere thought of wanting something ignites the feelings of impatience and anxiousness. 

So what can we do about the things we already spent money on and can’t let go for whatever reason? For items such as a pair of scissors that you feel are just practical and don’t bring you the kind of joy that a pair of cool sneaker does, the KonMari method would suggest you hold the scissors and recall when you used it. Perhaps it was to open a special package that held something you love. Maybe it was used to create a fun craft project with your child, or to cut the tag off a backpack you’ll use on a hike. These thoughts remind us that the scissors were the key to another joyous item or activity. Doesn’t the thought of that make you appreciate and love those scissors more? This is using the strategy of savoring, the act of stepping outside of an experience to review and appreciate it. You are intentionally looking at the object from a new and more joyful perspective.  The next time you use the scissors, will you savor that moment your “key” unlocks something you want or need?

One of the most annoying features of our brain that affects our happiness is Social Comparison. Our minds don’t automatically compare to reasonable options. Instead we almost always immediately think of some unrealistic standard, such as someone else who has a nicer home, better body, or more money. You can overcome this by first recognizing when that is happening and think to yourself “Stop!”. Then reset your reference point to a more realistic standard. For example, my clients often wish their homes looked like the organized spaces they see on Instagram or Pinterest, which most of them took hours to stage. They can serve as inspiration if they don’t make you feel bad about your own space. However, a more realistic comparison may be an organized home that belongs to another person who is similar to you (where you live, similar income, family size). 

Showing gratitude has so many benefits. It is a way to help us go back and re-experience what something was like before you got used to it. For many of my clients who have found their once loved clothing that have gotten lost in their messy closet, they feel the same joy as if they had just bought something new. So you can intentionally create that experience again, which will thwart your desire to purchase a new one. For those who practices the KonMari method of letting go, we know that showing gratitude for items that no longer serve a purpose also gives us a sense of closure and respect, instead of guilt. 

Follow my blog to find out my thoughts on lesson 5 next week. I hope you’ll try these strategies and let me know if you experience any positive changes.

You can also follow me on Instagram for daily Simple Joy Tips. 

Spark Joy Meets The Science of Happiness – Part 3

This is the 3rd session of the 6-week happiness class I’ve been taking through Coursera.com taught by Yale University professor Laurie Santos. (To read the first article from week 1 click here, and here for week 2) The focus of the 3rd lecture is about the annoying things our brain does that make us mispredict what makes us happy.  This is an important lesson for those who have accumulated a lot of clutter because they often connect the habit of shopping and owning as something that would make them feel happier. When in reality, the positive feelings are brief, and in the long run, causes them more harm emotionally.

Researchers have found that our minds are built to think in “reference points”, which messes up our judgments. For example, in my work as an organizing consultant, many clients are influenced by images of the perfect closet systems and beautifully labeled containers they see in magazines as their reference point. They become victims of social comparison, which results in them feeling inadequate to get organized and think of themselves as a messy or lazy person.  Another example is if someone you know buys a new top and you use that as a reference point for your own wardrobe, you may start to feel you also need to shop for a new top. This causes you to unnecessarily spend money, and add more things to your closet that you may not otherwise purchase. Unfortunately, our minds are also built to get used to things. So pretty soon that new top you were excited about, and bought for the wrong reason, becomes less attractive over time, and the cycle repeats itself.

We are also affected by something called Impact Bias, which means that we overestimate how much happiness something will bring us, causing us to spend more money than we should. Or when it comes to decluttering, you may think getting rid of something will feel a lot worse than it really does. This ends up making us hold on to things to avoid any uncomfortable feelings of fears or guilt if we let it go. But on the positive, because our brain is built to get used to things you will eventually get over it. And if you switched your reference point and imagine someone else enjoying the item that you donated, then you’ll feel good about the choice to part with it.

For this week’s “rewirement” exercise, we are asked to increase our social connections and do more random acts of kindness. Both of these activities have shown to increase our level of happiness. So I helped a good friend with organizing her closet. We got to spend time together, took a break and had a nice lunch, and she really appreciated my help. Happiness level going up!

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“The best way to cheer yourself up is to try to cheer somebody else up.”

-Mark Twain

Before&After: Crafts/Games Closet

Craft supplies, board games, and holiday items accumulate very fast for families with young kids. In this week’s Before&After, I helped a family with 2 kids to put order back into their miscellaneous craft closet.

Using the KonMari Method, we discussed having a storage space where the children can easily access and return their games and markers. We also wanted to combine craft materials and other stationary supplies that are scattered in other closets throughout their home so there is one central location for these related items.

While emptying out the closet, we created subcategories in our workspace for board games, holiday items, drawing supplies, assorted craft papers, laminators, various cutting tools, ribbons, and stationary.

BEFORE: Games/Crafts Closet

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We took out the games that are no longer age appropriate, any arts and crafts supplies that don’t spark joy anymore, gathered all the holiday items to place in another closet, and began to put things back in a way that makes sense.

This is the order of items on each shelf in the after photo:

  1. Stationary in boxes
  2. Gift wrapping, scrapbooking supplies
  3. Gift boxes, ribbons, sewing supplies
  4. Ribbons separated by color
  5. Workstation with basic stationery and a space to write a quick note
  6. Colored paper, notebooks, laminating machine
  7. Markers, crayons, color pencils and stencils
  8. Kids’ craft supplies (knitting, painting, slime-making kit and an extra roll of paper)
  9. Boardgames and card games

AFTER: Games/Crafts Closet

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AFTER: Closet up

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I’m most proud of creating a new workspace for my client. This shelf holds the large roll of drawing paper, stapler, glues, tapes, calculator, rulers, scissors, post-its, pens/highlighter/pencils, paper clips, notecards, envelopes, a place to write a quick note, and put the mail to be sorted through.

We placed the boardgames and kids’ arts and crafts supplies on the lowest shelf for easy access for the kids. The game boxes with larger parts were filed like books, the ones with small pieces were stacked. The card games went in a plastic tub, also filed for easy identification and access.

Our time didn’t allow us to sort through every box of ribbons and craft supplies, but the homeowner plans to do that for homework. So I look forward to posting a follow up with more updated photos. However, in just 3.5 hours, we now have a closet that allows more fun, creativity, and productivity.

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Are you inspired by this article?  I’d love to hear your comments and questions. Or if you need help with your tidying project and live in the Brooklyn/Manhattan area, schedule your complimentary initial meeting today!schedule your complimentary initial meeting today!

Spark Joy Meets the Science of Happiness – Part 2

Last week I started the Yale online class to learn ways to achieve lasting happiness through scientifically proven methods, a 6-week workshop on Coursera.com. I really enjoyed doing the assessment tests to find my happiness base level, and learn what my strongest character strengths are. This week, we learned about the misconceptions of things that we think makes us happy. 

Take a moment to think about what would make you happy. Is it having a good job? Making a lot of money? Having good relationships? And afford to buy nice things? The lecture went on to show studies done for each one of those goals, many of the tests span over 20 years to see how people’s feelings change for the better or worse. As it turns out, those things that we think will make us happier don’t have much effect on us. For example, you get your dream job, but you’re always stressed out and dread going to work. Or you get a big paycheck but have a lot of debt to pay off. Maybe you are in a solid relationship, but the honeymoon phase is over and you worry you can’t get that feeling back.

In my work, many clients suffer from the belief that owning certain belongings or having a larger home will make them happier. By the time they hire me, I think they have already come to the conclusion that that’s not the case. And studies have shown that those who have materialistic attitudes tend to feel less satisfied in life, and have more mental and health issues.

Some might think genetics has something to do with why we are still not happy when we reach our goals. Perhaps we’re born with a glass half full outlook? Or maybe life happens and it’s out of our control. But Sonja Lyubomirsky, author of The How of Happiness, did the research and found that 40% of our happiness is affected by our own thoughts and actions.

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I find that to be in direct correlation with the KonMari method: Choosing to keep only items that spark joy for us. By being mindful and surround ourselves with items that spark joy, and showing gratitude before discarding the ones that have served their purpose, our action and thoughtfulness result in a happiness that comes from within. All of my clients have shown more lasting positive feelings about their homes and with themselves after they tidied. By using their own intuition to make decisions, they are not influenced by others’ opinion, advertisements, guilt, or fear. To connect to one’s self (and our character strengths as discussed in lesson one), we can affect our own level of happiness.

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This week’s homework is to practice savoring. Savoring is to be present, to step outside and review the experience while it’s happening. And doing so can help keep our minds from wondering, increase our gratitude, and help us remember the good stuff in life. So whether you are drinking coffee, or playing games with your children. Savor those moments and see how it affects your happiness.

If you have any thoughts on this subject, I’d love to hear from you. Thanks for reading!

 

 

 

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Spark Joy Meets the Science of Happiness – Part 1

Do you know what’s Yale University’s most popular class ever? It’s one that teaches you scientifically proven ways to bring lasting happiness! The name of the class is called The Science of Well-Being, and it’s taught by Psychology Professor Laurie Santos. The course is being offered on Coursera.org, and anyone can take this 6-week workshop for free. I opted to pay a small fee for the certificate so I can take all the quizzes and do the practice assignments. I figure it can only help me improve my skills for a job that’s based on sparking joy. So for the next 6 weeks, I’ll be sharing with you my experience on this journey to learn about the misconceptions about happiness, why are expectations are so bad, what stuff really increases happiness, strategies to reset our expectations, and putting strategies into practice.

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Week one was more of an introduction and gathering of information. After reading a few short pages of the course we were asked to go to another website to take an online assessment to measure the baseline of our happiness level.  The test is called The Authentic Happiness Inventory, developed by Christopher Peterson at the University of Michigan. I love the name of it because, in my work, I can see people associating happiness and joy with the objects they choose to keep. It has to be authentic and true to their heart for them to physically feel a sense of joy from it. There are so many people out there who are always looking for the next bigger house, a better car, nicer clothes and think they’ll be happier. However, if they never connected to the deeper reasons why they have those desires, they’ll always be chasing after a newer version and still not feel satisfied.

I took the 24 question survey which in the end gave you a score between 1 and 5, and I got a 3.3 which seems pretty accurate. At the end of the 6 weeks, I’m supposed to take the survey again and see if my happiness level has improved.

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The second online test we needed to take was from the VIA Institute On Character website, used to identify our character strength. Research has classified 24 character strength and virtues. The test took about 15 minutes and based on my responses it ranked my characters.

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Their studies have shown that by using our character strengths more frequently, it can dramatically improve our level of happiness. Not only that, it can help us overcome problems more easily, improve relationships, and enhance health and overall well-being. When people who use many of their top character strengths at their work, more often they refer to it as their “calling” instead of a job. That’s the kind of job that doesn’t feel like work. It’s not just knowledge, experience or skills that make you good at the job. It’s how you use all of that plus the essence of who you are that makes the work feel so rewarding.

I was pleasantly surprised that my top 5 strengths are:

  1. Creativity
    Thinking of novel and productive ways to conceptualize and do things; includes artistic achievement but is not limited to it.
  2. Love
    Valuing close relations with others, in particular, those in which sharing & caring are reciprocated; being close to people.
  3. Judgment
    Thinking things through and examining them from all sides; not jumping to conclusions; being able to change one’s mind in light of evidence; weighing all evidence fairly.
  4. Perspective
    Being able to provide wise counsel to others; having ways of looking at the world that make sense to oneself/others.
  5. Kindness
    Doing favors and good deeds for others; helping them; taking care of them.

I know I’ve said that I was meant to be a professional organizer, but now it has also been scientifically proven I am using all of my top 5 character strengths being a KonMari consultant! I do feel like it’s my calling and now I understand why.

So for this week’s “Rewirement” assignment, we were asked to use our signature strength in a new way every day. So far I’ve taken my mother-in-law to the movies (Love), I came up with a clever storage solution working with a client (creative/perspective), and talked to a girlfriend who needed a heart-to-heart (Kindness/Love/Perspective). Happiness meter going up!

Stayed tuned for next week’s happiness adventure!

Tidy Up Your Diet: Family Edition

What happens after you have tidied your kitchen using the KonMari method? Often my clients are excited to make a home-cooked meal inspired by their newly organized space. Many of them have revived their love for baking or started to put more effort into healthy eating. These examples just show that your surroundings can affect your behavior, and you can receive unexpected benefits from tidying up.

Unfortunately, the images of families cooking a meal and sit together for dinner are becoming more of an ideal scene from the movies instead of reality. Picking eating, too much processed foods, skipping meals, eating too late or too fast, are all symptoms of not making nourishing our bodies a priority. Poor diet leads to poor sleep, lower productivity, more anxiety, and eventually illnesses.

This past year our family has experienced many elderly members suffering from various diseases, each taking turns to the hospital. It made me take a look closer at what I’m feeding my family and how our diet is affecting our long-term health. The documentaries I’ve watched and articles or books I’ve read only left me more confused. There is so much information out there all claiming to be the solution to keep you healthy. However, for each one there’s a contradicting point of view. How can one source tell you to eat more fruits and another says no fruits at all? The plant-based diet is great but there’s also a long list of “nightshade vegetables” that are said to cause you harm. The mostly meat and natural fat diet makes sense on paper but feels wrong in practice. So how does one decide?

Just like many other areas in my life, I turn to the KonMari method for help. I started out with a vision: I picture the type of food I want to see on my plate that I consider healthy. I see fresh, colorful food in dishes and bowls that I love. Simple meals that are easy to prep and easy to clean up. Ideally, I’d like to make one meal that the whole family can enjoy instead of being a short order cook. I want my kids to try new natural foods and less processed ones. I’d like to be able to prep food in advance so I have more time to be with my family, or involve them in the cooking process.

Because our family doesn’t have any dietary restrictions, I set some basic criteria I wanted to meet:

  • Drastically reduce our sugar intake
  • Reduce our carbs
  • Reduce our meats to the minimal and replace with fish and eggs from responsible sources
  • Reduce our dairy to a minimal
  • Increase fresh fruits and vegetables with every meal, choosing organic when possible
  • Switch snacks to healthy, little to no processed choices

Once I have a focus, I decluttering our pantry and fridge and removed anything that didn’t align with my vision and the basic requirements listed above. Some of the food that we once stock up on but now removed are yogurt, string cheese, granola bars, applesauce, regular pasta, deli meats, sugary cereal and packaged sweets. These were convenient and the kids love it, but they provided little nutritional value and very high in sugar, salt, and carbs.

I also made some changes to where I shop and how I prepare food for my family to replace some of our old favorites. Online shopping for our pantry allows me to manage my time, and make more educated choices by comparing labels. Some websites have the ability to keep a list of the items we love or has auto-ship settings to help save us time and stay in budget.

Here’s how we’ve transformed our meals:

Breakfast

We bought a cold press juicer and started making juices for breakfast. Since we compost too (we freeze the scraps and empty it in the compost trashcan once a week), any vegetables such as broccoli stalks and ends of the asparagus are saved and put in the juicer before it goes to the compost. I always add a lemon with the skin on, a piece of fresh ginger, and only use a little bit of fruit to add some sweetness. The juices are delicious and usually keep me full until 10:30.

Some mornings I’ll make a breakfast wraps.  I scrambled the eggs with some riced cauliflower which makes the eggs more fluffy and it’s another added vegetable. A tiny bit of cheddar, a handful of spinach, wrapped in a whole wheat tortilla. These are super quick and easy, also very portable if there’s not enough time to eat it right away.

For my boys, they like to eat their cereal dry. So I have found some low sugar options that they can serve themselves before I get out of bed. Then they’ll either have homemade mini chocolate pancakes or waffles using the Bob’s Red Mill 10-Grain mix or muffins which we make a big batch on Sundays. I keep them in the freezer and toast them before serving. I also include a piece a fruit with their breakfast. I often will find simple recipes and alter it slightly to use mini chocolate chips and no added sugar.

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Lunch

I usually have lunch by myself. If I have time, I’ll make a vegetable soup. Or a quick salad with avocado and lots of greens. I often use hummus as my dressing or a simple dressing made with olive oil and balsamic vinegar. A sprinkle of chopped nuts gives the salad a nice crunch. To make it more filling, I might add some roasted sweet potato with some rosemary and olive oil.

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For the kids, bread is something I know they’ll always eat and easy to pack. The store bought bread concerns me because of the preservatives, so I started making bread at home. There are some easy recipes including a no-knead dough. Or if you have a bread machine, you can just add the ingredients and let it do all the work. As you become more experimental, you can try mixing in flax and chia seeds for added nutrition.  Also, instead of always making a loaf, you can use the bread machine to prepare the dough and then shape the batch into dinner rolls, bagels, or flatbread. Bake them, let them cool, then freeze to use throughout the week. This is also something I enjoy doing with the boys to make the bread into any shape they want. If making your own bread seems like a hassle, try to buy bread made from a bakery instead of the packaged ones. The key here is portion size. Dinner rolls are good for sliders instead of a whole burger. Mini Bagels are good for making little cheese pizzas.

I also will mix cooked quinoa into my ground beef. It absorbs the flavor and keeps the meatballs moist. I’ll mix a batch, cook some into mini patties and some into meatballs. Let them cool then freeze half of it. This reduced the amount of red meat we are eating dramatically, but you don’t feel like you are giving up on anything. I’ll add the meatballs to pasta (I only get pasta with whole wheat, with added vegetable, or made from chickpeas or reduced carb options), I add meatballs to salads, and vegetable soups. The kids will eat them on their own. And one batch can last 4-6 meals.

Dinner

When we are not having bread with our meal, I will make tacos using romaine lettuce for the shell.

We still eat meat, but I only “sprinkle” diced chicken or shredded beef over salads or pasta.

I also like to drizzle some Bragg’s amino acid over salmon and bake it in the oven. It’s quick, so delicious, and the whole family loves it.

I try to maintain 70-80% of the meal with vegetables on the plate. If that seem difficult for your children, start with increasing what vegetable they already eat. For example, my boys love baby carrots. I started with baby carrots and some fruits. I then introduce them to cucumbers with a tiny bit of salt or salad dressing. Start with a little piece the size of a quarter. They may surprise you and happy to try more. If not, it’s not too much stress on them to try a new food. Once they develop a taste for it, reduce the portion of the fruit to have more carrots and cucumber. Keep introducing new vegetables one at a time and reduce the fruit. It’s a slow process, but my 9 and 4 year olds now will eat kale, asparagus, celery, bell pepper, and we have a big salad at least 5 nights of the week.

Panko crust (Japanese bread crumbs) on vegetables has made it easier for my kids to try new greens. Panko on Asparagus is one of their favorites now. Cauliflower and broccoli, green beans work well too. It takes a little bit extra work to make because you need to first cover it with an egg mixture, or I personally like to use mayonnaise (Primal Kitchen makes a healthier option with avocado oil and organic herbs) then coat it with Panko. We will sprinkle a little bit of grated parmesan cheese too. These are always baked and the kids always ask for seconds.

A little squeeze of lemon juice over kale or broccoli sautéd with garlic gives the flavor enough kick that even my picky eaters love.

Dessert and snacks

It’s hard to avoid the craving for snacks. It may take a couple taste testing to find the right kind of snacks to replace the Doritos and potato chips. But healthier options are out there. I try to always include some baby carrots or cucumber slices next to some chips or pretzels. And for dessert, homemade popsicles are great. Try puree some beets with berries to make a frozen pop or chocolate pudding pop made from blended avocado and cocoa.

Any baked dessert that’s homemade and substituted with natural sugar or sweet alternatives like dates or bananas are fun to make and better than anything from a package.

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Here are some organizational tips to help support healthy eating:

  • Don’t pack up your pantry and fridge. The easier you can see and access the food you have, the more likely you will cook something yourself and have control over what you put in your body.IMG_9135
  • Use glass containers with airtight lids to store your food. This will preserve the freshness of your food, you can reheat it easily right from the container and not have another dish to wash. Since they are stackable, your fridge will be more organized.
  • Use dishes you love to hold your food. A nice presentation will make your meal even more enjoyable.
  • Put your vegetables in water! They’ll look like beautiful bouquets and stay fresh longer.
  • Cut away the covers the fruits or egg containers so you can easily access the contents.

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To save time, stay on budget, and have a lot of information about the food I’m buying, here are a few of my favorite online stores to order food from:

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Thrivemarket.com has a wide selection of organic, non-GMO brands you love at great prices. We fill up our pantry using their monthly auto-ship program. We’ve replaced all of our snacks to more natural, low sodium, low sugar options. Some of our favorites are organic quinoa elbow pasta, rice chips in fiesta lime, and Rosemary Naan Chips. They have also started selling farmer’s market meat or seafood boxes which I’m interested to try.

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ButcherBox.com delivers humanely raised meat with no antibiotics or hormones to your door. They offer monthly plans for either customized or curated box that can make 24-30 servings. Each serving comes individually wrapped and frozen. I find this very convenient so I only have to thaw what I want to cook. Usually, I’ll move the package to the fridge the day before, marinated it after it’s thawed, and cook it for dinner. You can taste that it’s quality meat and all of their packagings is recyclable.

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Instacart.com depending on your area can deliver food from Whole Foods, CVS, Petco, and even Costco to your door. I use this service for getting organic fruits and vegetable from Costco. We eat a lot of salads now and the boys don’t go a day without eating a handfuls of baby carrots. We always get a large container of organic spinach, bag of avocado, lemons, asparagus, and fancy mixed nuts. I also love their single serve of organic hummus.

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The kitchen is where the magic happens in our home. We turn simple ingredients into amazing dishes that nourishes our body.  We find joy in the experience of cooking, and conversations we have during meal times. Even baking with our children can become families traditions. I hope you’ll try some of the tips I’ve shared in this post and be inspired to tidy up your diet for a joyful and healthy life. Bon Appetit!

Before & After: Weekday/Weekend Wardrobes

People say don’t mix business with pleasure. This can also apply to how you organize your closet! If you are someone with a job that requires you to dress in a more formal attire, it may save you time getting ready in the morning by keeping your business outfits separate from your leisure ones.

In this Before & After, my client happens to have 2 side-by-side hanging closets. She has a great sense of style, with clothes in many fun colors and patterns. However, her work in the corporate world requires a more monochromatic wardrobe.

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After an initial interview and learning about how she envisions her ideal lifestyle, we began to tackle the first category using the KonMari method: clothing. Using her bed as the staging area, we created a pile of clothes by removing them from the hangers. This step may seem tedious, but it allowed my client to touch each piece and see if it sparks joy. It also gave us a chance to separate any mismatched hangers.

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As she came across pieces she no longer wanted to keep, we paused to give gratitude for those items that taught her why it was time to let them go. Whether they were the wrong color, the fabric, or no longer fit her current lifestyle, nothing was removed without first understanding why.

BEFORE: 2 more dressers of folded clothes

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The photo above is a drawer that holds t-shirts, sweatshirts and some heavy socks that didn’t fit in the sock drawer. The photo underneath is clothes for exercise and some swimsuits and coverups.

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AFTER: Work Clothes for the weekdays

Since the client has 2 closets side-by-side, it made sense to separate her work clothes from her weekend wear. Take a look at the after photos, I feel like the clothes are happier too!

Not seeing here are the shoes and boots we placed back in the closet. The ones worn more frequently were placed on the floor, and the occasional ones were put away on the top shelf.

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AFTER: Leisure Clothes for the weekends

This closet holds dresses for evenings, jackets and long sleeves blouses. The only hangers my client had for skirts were the ones that you can hang 3 pieces from one hanger. So those are temporarily hung on the far right. I recommended getting individual hangers so it doesn’t create a bulky space.

Not Photographed: We stood the suitcase up and made room for her iron, detergent, and other laundry related items to store on the top shelf. The air conditioning unit on the floor has to stay there during the winter seasons, but it made a good spot to put her laundry basket.

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T-shirts and tank tops

One simple way to differentiate the tank tops from the t-shirts was by switching them to a different direction. You can also use a small box to create visual boundaries between clothes that fall into different subcategories. (Simple Joy Tip: Fold your t-shirts so they end up about the size of a clutch purse. And fold your tanks and camisoles so they are about the size of a men’s wallet.)

Use your drawers to increase the power of joy with a personal touch. Here we added a spark of joy with a little stuffed penguin poking out. (orange beak near the upper right corner).

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Our favorite drawer: a cardigan rainbow!

You can’t help but smile when you see a drawer like this. It only takes ONE TIME to put your clothes away in a color gradient. After that, you just put them back where they belong.

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A Denim “Library”

This deep cabinet with shelves was probably a media cabinet and not designed for holding clothes. So it’s more visually pleasing to keep the jeans “standing” and see the “spines” rather than too many lines from all the folds.

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The lower shelf holds a few shorts and long sleeves that didn’t fit into other categories. My client later bought some baskets that she likes so they can be more contained and feel like little drawers.

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All together we filled out 2.5 trash bags of clothes to be donated. We reorganized 2 closets, 4 drawers, and 2 shelves in under 5 hours. Her clothes now have room to breathe and everything is easily accessible and visible. My client was able to see more clearly the style of clothing, their shapes, and textures that she loves. And getting ready for work and for leisure has become easier and more fun! This makeover definitely sparks joy!

Did these tips help you with your closet organization? I’d love to hear from you. Please share, follow, and comment!