Growing up many of us try to emulate our fathers – both sons and daughters. For me, that was especially true. I wore alligator shirts, didn’t wear socks from Memorial Day through Labor Day, and as for my shoes, well, I was prone to boat shoes. Pick a color.
So when my mother told me on the phone last Saturday that my father had his eye on a pair of blue Topsiders, the online bargain shopper (and pleaser) that I am, I went online to zappos.com to find them for less. But as my fingers darted across the keyboard, choosing size and color, I had an “aha” moment. Sure they were less money and it saved time (all positive aspects for an organizer), but for all the efficiency, something was lacking.
While presents are great, what makes them even better is when there’s a touch of creativity involved, i.e. a book with hidden Post It notes inside or a jewelry box containing a house key. I once gave a basketball as a shower present, knowing the bride and groom loved to play together. While the looks of the other women sent shock waves, (you can’t really “ooh” and “ahh” at a basketball like, say, a lacy bra or a Kitchen Aid appliance), my friend appreciated it.
Now I’d already sent my dad a Father’s Day card with a coupon inside for a personal trainer (me) to get his “winter tush into summer tush shape” on the bike this July, but here I had the opportunity to get him something he really wanted.
So I Googled the store on Cape Cod where the shoes were sold, called Puritan Cape Cod and spoke to the 90-year-old owner, a family acquaintance for over 35 years. After giving him my credit card number and telling him my dad would be in soon, I called my father.
“Hey Dad,” I said. “I got you blue shoes for Father’s Day. Go to Puritan’s and pick them up.”
“Really?” I could hear the excitement in his voice, like a little boy who was told he was getting a bicycle. “I’ll go right now.”
Were the shoes a little more money? Yes. Could my father have bought them for himself? Yes. But was it worth it so he could have fun walking into the store and picking out the shoes he wanted? Absolutely.
Turns out, my dad was so thrilled he left the store with the blue shoes on his feet. Sans socks of course.
My morning begins – as it does for many – by reaching for the cell phone. But before checking overnight texts or emails, I read my horoscope. Okay, I can hear your judgment seeping through the Internet, but hear me out. While I read about what the day has in store for Cancers, I do so with the belief that it contains about as much truth as a politician’s promise. But at least when it comes to your horoscope, there’s a silver lining.
Whether horoscopes are hogwash or not, isn’t it better to start your day with an encouraging message? In many cases, before we’ve even had that first sip of our Nutri Bullet smoothie, we’ve got bad news coming at us from the television, newspapers or those “Breaking News” alerts on our cellphones about the latest shooting spree, child-kidnapping, weather disaster or Washington scandal; there’s rarely a feel good story to be found. Do these negative messages have any impact on our days? Our lives? Our overall outlook on everything? Possibly.
By coating my brain first with a positive thought, such as, “Do whatever it takes to decompress, to maintain your sense of humor, and to stay centered and calm” or “Let go of an old grudge now, and you will find it much easier to stay inspired and to find new opportunities,” it may shield my brain from the negative messages that come later. Does it work? Some days I’ve forgotten what I’ve read by the time I hop into the shower, but other times I do remember.
Perfect example: the other morning this was my horoscope:
“If you make a conscious effort to not take it all too seriously, you will be fine…A Cancer leans toward solitary projects, jogging, reading…. Famous Cancers include … Henry David Thoreau. Who else but a Cancer would go out into the woods, live by themselves and write a book about their feelings?”
Then later that day my agent forwarded a rejection email from a publisher regarding my new book on organizing and living in 90 square feet. Having been “armed” that morning and knowing that “Chicken Soup For the Soul” was rejected 140 times before it went on to sell 80 million copies, I shrugged it off and continued writing.
The next time you’re reading the newspaper and “bad” news has you feeling low, skip ahead to the horoscope. It might not come true, but it may just turn that frown upside down.
“A ship in a harbor is safe, but that’s not what a ship is built for.”
And neither are we in our comfort zones.
There’s nothing wrong with staying in your comfort zone, but it’s essential to venture out every now and then. While my comfort zone is fairly wide-ranging, there’s one area I’m trying to bust out of that has to do with cycling. More specifically, cycling around people who don’t pay attention to their surroundings and wander into my path. This stems from losing my front teeth in a bike accident when I was nine. Hence why I ride in Westchester on weekends and the Cape Cod Canal during the summer, and never on the crowded path along the Hudson River during the week. Which turns out not to be enough cycling. It was time to step out of my comfort zone.
First I bought a more relaxed bike (yes, this makes two), hoping it would make me more relaxed. I took my pre-owned Raleigh Alysa to the Hudson River figuring I’d ride ten miles to get a feel for the path and the bike, even though I consider anything fewer than 25 miles to be a warm up.
Around mile three, the crowd thinned and by 125th Street, the path appeared to end. A fellow rider pointed out the connector and it required riding on the street amongst cars approaching the highway. I might have only been a few miles from home, but I was a million miles from my comfort zone. I fought off fear and forged ahead using every hand signal (and gesture!) I knew.
Back on the path, gliding under the highway, the Hudson River glistening to my left, the sound of traffic fading away, I forgot I was in the city. Another mile and I was beneath the George Washington Bridge where I came upon the Little Red Lighthouse, a landmark I’d only heard about. At this point I’d passed the five mile mark, but the path continued, so I did too. Seconds later I faced two steep inclines and was soon parallel to the Henry Hudson Parkway, swathed by trees. The path narrowed and curved, but my legs felt fresh and the sights, like the Roman columns I’d seen briefly from my car, egged me on. I got to the end, almost in the Bronx, and was about to head back when a woman got off her bike and started down the staircase.
“It’s a different path, but you have to go on the street first,” she said. “Want to join me?”
As we walked down the steps carrying our bikes, we exchanged names before mixing into the fold of honking cars. Soon Heidi, a singer and stuntwoman for Disney, (which explained her missing helmet), led me up a steep incline into Inwood Park where trees overtook us. A few miles later we returned to the original bike path, and pedaled back, talking the entire way.
At my exit, we exchanged phone numbers and I headed home with a smile on my face, 17 miles under my belt, and a new (non-Facebook) friend. Turns out, when we step outside our comfort zone, we’re not really going out of it at all, we’re just making it bigger.
Last week I had the opportunity to be on NPR’s “Talk of the Nation.” Waiting in the guest area, I hoped Terry Gross or Garrison Keillor would wander by and nod in passing. Of course those NPR royals don’t work out of New York City, but just knowing their voices passed through those office walls was comforting.
I was on the show with Jerilyn Perine, the Executive Director of the Citizens Housing Planning Council, the city’s organization responsible for implementing “Making Room,” the small apartment initiative launched last summer to create “small, efficient studios designed for single person households.”
The topic of the show was about the growing trend of living in small spaces. But it turns out there’s another growing trend: that of people living alone. Today 31 million people – about 1 out of 7 – live by themselves. In New York City, about a third of the housing units are single people living alone. Which is where the CHPC’s initiative comes in. They want to create safe, affordable units for this budding demographic.
During the show, which also discussed the pressure that mini multi-units can put on certain neighborhoods, specifically in Seattle, another topic came up: the importance of community. Case in point: during the show a call came from a soldier in Texas who returned home after serving in the Persian Gulf on the brink of suicide. Not sure what to do with his life, he rented a tiny room about three feet by eight feet (even smaller than my 90 square feet) that had a shared kitchen. He planned to stay only a few days, but something happened. Finding himself a part of a community made him feel better and ultimately saved his life.
I lived in my small space for almost five years for no other reason than I wanted to experience living in Manhattan. I had planned to stay for only one year. But during that time, as I came to love my lifestyle, I realized that it’s not about the size of your home that makes you happy, but rather the size of your community. Your family, friends, neighbors and even the deli guy who says, “The usual?” when you walk into his shop, make you feel a part of something. We may fool ourselves into thinking that being connected 24/7 through cell phones and iPads is sufficient, but don’t be fooled, that’s more of a disconnect.
May is National Bike Month, but that’s not the reason I bought a new bike. I did so because it was time. For the last year and a half I’ve been itching for new wheels. Literally. If you can believe it, I physically outgrew my bike. The last time I did that I was ten. Apparently all the yoga I’ve done over the years has stretched out my body (or at least improved my posture). Regardless, after 12 years and 16,000 miles, it was time to say goodbye to my Trek.
But the search wasn’t easy. It took time and patience. And not only mine. Thanks to a former sword-swallowing, unicycle-riding juggler-turned-bike salesman, Joey helped me find the perfect ride: a Specialized Ruby Sport. And since my birthstone is ruby, it seemed fitting.
Finding the right bike can be a challenge, but the real challenge – especially for folks in cities – is bike storage. My building has a bike room, and there’s a waiting list, but for anyone who spends as much money on a bike as a fine piece of art (though it’s no nude oil painting of Bea Arthur) I don’t want to leave it out of my sight. As with any masterpiece, I want to show it off. The question is how?
As I sketch bike-hanging designs for my living room and look at Pinterest for ideas, New York City is in the midst of rolling out a bike share program and has begun installing stanchions throughout the city. While I’m the first to champion folks to get on bikes, these stanchions are taking up precious sidewalk and parking space. And this is before the bikes have been delivered. Once the bikes are added they’ll take up another five feet. As any city planner worth their degree knows, ground space is at a minimum and in order to live comfortably you need to go up.
Now, when a bike is vertical on one wheel with the other in the air, it takes up only three feet. Sure it’s still taking up space, but at least it’s less. The folks backpedaling in the Mayor’s office need a solution. I’ve got one. Currently the bike stanchions are rectangular posts that you slide the front wheel in to lock the bike. What if the bike stanchions were taller and held the bikes in a standing position? To avoid blocking sight vision, the stanchions would be lined up on side streets or adjacent to buildings.
My idea may not be the perfect solution, but it’s worth looking at alternative bike storage that takes up less space. If anyone knows how valuable every inch of space is, it’s someone who lived in 1,080 square inches (a.k.a. 90 square feet) of it.
As I drove home to Cape Cod last week, I called my mom from I-95 north. “What do you need?” I asked. After crossing the bridge, I hit Market Basket like a bat out of hell. Once home, the groceries put away, I finished the laundry and organized the kitchen pantry. That evening my mom and I prepared dinner together: fresh cod with roasted vegetables, and then my dad and I went to Par Tee Freeze and brought my mom back a Tiny Tot twist in a cup.
The next morning was gray when my folks and I met my sister Jackie and her two kids at the Heritage Museums & Gardens in Sandwich. For three hours we walked the exquisite landscape, toured old cars, and played in the children’s area, before going out for lunch. As soon as our sandwiches arrived in baskets, it started to pour and a slight sea breeze seeped through the open windows, tickling our skin through our raincoats.
Next up for mom were new sneakers. As someone who owns at least four pairs at all times, I explained that sneakers are to be kept in a rotation. The newest pair for the gym, a pair for long walks to the beach, another pair for walking on the beach, and the last for gardening, dump runs, etc. Not wanting to be left out, my dad also got himself a pair, despite my mother insisting his made him look like a hip-hop artist.
The rain stopped so the three of us went to Long Beach in Centerville. Walking along the shore, my mom, wearing her newly relegated “beach sneakers,” pointed to what looked like two enormous sandbags and said, “What’s that?” Upon closer inspection the “sandbags” turned out to be a freshly beached gray seal, his eyes already picked out by hungry gulls. There was a round hole on his side, about the size of a fist, where his guts were spilling out. As gross as it was, it looked a tad artistic.
Sunday morning, Mother’s Day, my mom, up early and en route to the kitchen to make her famous blueberry oatmeal muffins for me, stopped when I called out, “Happy Mother’s Day.” She came in and lay down next to me. We chatted awhile in the early dawn, talking about summer projects before she headed down to the kitchen, and I snuck into her bedroom to organize her closet.
Flowers wilt, cards are recycled and dinners become digested, but the memories that come from experiences last a lifetime.
The elevator in the building where I work changes its message board regularly, announcing what each month brings. May appears to be the busiest. There are over 50 (50!) special interests to bring awareness to including Teen Self-Esteem, Better Sleep, Get Caught Reading, National Asparagus (not kidding!), National Photo, National Salad and even National Chocolate Custard Month to name a few.
While it’s no secret that National Bike Month is my favorite special interest (though I don’t need a specific month to get me on two wheels), one I wasn’t aware of was National Share A Story month. And in May, I’ve got four scheduled.
This morning I spoke at a private catholic school off Burnside Avenue in the Bronx. For those not familiar with the Bronx, this is an area some people may not feel comfortable walking in. I took two trains and walked a few blocks to the school, whose exterior has seen better days. After opening their doors 100 years ago, Holy Spirit will be closing them for good at the end of this semester.
I was escorted to the gymnasium, with its wooden floors and horrible acoustics. Folding chairs were arranged in a semi-circle around one of the baskets and I was to stand in the center of the key, a place I used to frequent in high school. The first group – 30 fourth and fifth graders – was inquisitive and well behaved, sitting with eyes wide as I shared the story of my grandfather’s life with them. When I was finished, hands shot up, many with two or three questions each.
After 45 minutes they left and the next group shuffled in. Sixth, seventh and eighth graders, about 60 of them, looked like larger versions of the first group, though their body language was completely different. They were just as well behaved, but when I finished speaking, there was silence. Not one question or comment. Over the last few years, having spoken to almost 3,000 people, many of them students, I’m used to the silence, the insecurity of raising one’s hand. However, before I let them go, I encouraged them to call their grandparents and ask them to share a story about their lives. “Our futures are based on our past,” I told them, and it is through the sharing of stories that we find out just where it is we are headed.
“A juicer,” I said, without hesitation. After using my parents’ juicer last summer, I wanted to start my mornings with a carrot, kale, and apple juice. They were great. Except for the clean up. Several parts (including sharp blades) to clean, and there was the leftover pulp. Gross. Plus, the juicer weighed a ton and was about the size of a Mini Cooper.
Now, with my kitchen complete, I ventured out for the perfect juicer. But they were either too large, too expensive or too much maintenance. I wasn’t going to be selling juice out of my apartment. Was it worth all that? So I came home empty-handed. I just couldn’t bite the bullet.
The Nutribullet. Now hold on, this isn’t a plug for the Nutribullet. At least it’s not intended to be. It’s about space saving with an added (nutritional) bonus. I have an aversion to kitchen appliances. They’re bulky, they take up precious room on your counters and inside cabinets, and they rarely get used, the coffee maker being the only exception. How many of you have a bread maker, quesadilla maker, waffle maker, ice cream maker or electric can opener (to name a few) taking up valuable real estate, not to mention collecting dust, in your cabinets?
For over four years in my tiny apartment I had one appliance: a toaster oven. This heated up and cooked meals, made toast, shrank my Shrinky Dink art, and when it wasn’t in use, stored bananas. It was a well-used appliance and I still use it. And now that I have a little more room, I wanted a juicer, one that wouldn’t take up half my cabinet space.
Which brings me back to the Nutribullet.
I was in Bed Bath and Beyond and the Nutribullet caught my eye. This little (big reason!) appliance broke down the whole food, not just extracted its juice. Which meant no waste and more nutrition (even bigger reason!). But more than that, it looked simple to clean. Plus it was cheaper than on TV. In the cart it went.
My first juice included kale, melon, strawberries, mango, carrots, avocado, frozen bananas, frozen strawberries, a few walnuts, some flax seeds, water, and an ice cube. I screwed on the cap, stuck it in the unit and gave it a twist. Twenty seconds later, done. The taste? Delicious. The clean up? Easy as pie. The benefits? The first week I slept like a baby.
My aim isn’t to tell you to buy one for the nutritional benefits (though I told my sister to and now her kids drink smoothies with veggies without even knowing), but it’s about space. This little machine also makes hummus, peanut butter and even ice cream which means you can say “Buh-bye” to a few other appliances. Plus it takes up minimal room inside a cabinet. Now if only I could get it to make toast.
Last night I went for a walk in my neighborhood and passed a young woman standing on the corner of West End Avenue and 71st Street. She was standing behind a card table covered with personal belongings. Was she moving and waiting for a ride? As I got closer I saw a piece of paper with the words “Yard Sale” taped to the front of the table, flapping in the wind. I got about a half a block past when I turned around and went back.
“Have you been selling stuff?” I asked her.
“Yes. I’ve been here every night after work for the last three nights from six to seven. It’s stuff I don’t need anymore.”
And have people been buying stuff?
“Oh, yes. Every night. Most of it.”
I looked over her wares. A few pairs of shoes, a foam roller for exercising, and some stationary. While the New Yorker in me knew it was only a matter of time until someone approached her asking for a permit, I had to give her credit. She was not only spring cleaning, she was cleaning up.
Even after my huge spring cleaning a month ago, I’ve been slowly and continuously saying “Buh Bye” to more. Some when my mom visited a few weeks ago, and then when my sister came. Just when I thought I got rid of everything, a fresh pair of eyes asking, “Do you really need this?” was all the push I needed to get rid of more. As a professional organizer, I’m the one usually doing the pushing, but being on the other end of the push was great.
While many of you have (hopefully) by this time done a bit of spring cleaning, do you think it’s possible to get rid of more? In my quest to try another 30-day challenge, I propose this one: Get rid of one thing every day for 30 days. Okay, I can hear you moaning. Just hear me out. The items can be clothes (a sock with a hole or missing a partner), a blouse that hasn’t been in fashion since 1984, a Tupperware without a top, a worn out spatula, your “I Love Lucy” video collection, a paperclip, anything. One thing for 30 days. Think you can do it?
The stuff you get rid of you can donate, re-gift, sell, recycle, whatever you want, but it must leave your home. Keep a list, track your progress. At the end of the thirty days, let me know how you’ve done.
I got a pet. Okay, before anyone runs screaming to my Co-op Board (pets are strictly forbidden) please hear me out. My pet cleans up after itself. And unlike me, he doesn’t shed. That’s why I named him Harry. I only got him out of necessity. Some people own dogs to eat the food that drops on the floor while others let their cats take care of their “mouse” issues. As for my reason, let’s just say the dust balls that grow in my home pass like tumbleweeds on the prairie.
I had all sorts of pets growing up. A golden retriever named Candy, Willie the Maltese, a few goldfish, a bird (which came and went with an ex), and in my micro studio I had Fred the Cockroach. (Every new cockroach, even though I killed the previous one, I named Fred.) Pets can be wonderful companions. They cheer you up and are always happy to see you when you get home.
Like Harry. He’s loyal, friendly and though I’ve only had him a few days, we bonded immediately. He doesn’t come when I call, but that’s okay, he’ll learn. Plus, he’s not too loud, which again, is good considering my Co-Op rules.
“He’s adorable!” a friend said when she met him. “Is he high maintenance?”
“Not at all,” I told her. “He’s quiet, sleeps through the night, and oh does he purr.”
Which is one of the reasons I got him. You see Harry is an O-Duster. And while I love my hardwood floors as they warm the apartment and the color is spectacular, they collect dust. With the combination of the sun streaming in and my long curly hair, well, the dust balls can be downright frightening.
But not to Harry.
When I’m working at home I turn him on and he skittles around the furniture, playfully sneaking up under my feet, slipping into places I could reach, but choose to ignore. The best part, he’s not afraid to venture under the bed, which is where he does his best work, leaving me time to do mine.