It may be the most wonderful time of the year, but I often feel it’s the most hectic. In an effort to prepare myself for the whirlwind month ahead, I reached out to Kristin van Ogtrop, the Managing Editor of Real Simple—one of my favorite magazines and go-to source for organized living—for some expert advice on how to simplify my life, starting with the holidays. Read on for her (brilliant) words of wisdom…
Five Questions on How to Simplify My Life
Q: To stay healthy and keep my family happy, I cook a lot – but I find I’m always running to the store for that one item I forgot. Is there a better way to plan my shopping and coordinate with my cooking schedule for the week?
A: Oh, do I have the tool for you. Try this form, from realsimple.com.
Warning: this form requires that you actually *plan meals ahead of time,* which can be a real stumbling block for busy families (I am constantly falling down on the job there, and I’m supposed to be running an organizing magazine). So I’m afraid I can’t help you with that first step. But believe me, twenty minutes spent on Sunday thinking through the rest of the week, used with this magic form, will save you countless hours of end-of-day panic, staring at your fridge and wondering how to make dinner out of what you see inside.
Q: Between reviewing proposals from my creative team to tearing out pages of fashion magazines, I end up with a lot of papers in my bag. How can I organize them better?
A: Danielle Claro, editor at large here at Real Simple and the genius behind our home department coverage, swears by this product. Click HERE to shop.
According to Danielle, it weighs next to nothing and has soft edges. Bonus: it has a velcro closure. Meaning no attractive-but-weird stringy things you have to manipulate to keep it closed.
Q: Whether I’m at a luncheon or a local restaurant, I’m always bumping into people. I don’t always have a pen on hand, so I struggle with having a fool-proof way to get their contact information. Is there an app for this? Of course; isn’t there an app for everything?
A: If you have an iPhone, try CardMunch by LinkedIn; you use your phone to scan a business card and it automatically adds the person’s information to your contacts (and connects you via LinkedIn). It also works with the iPad2 (you need the camera). Does not yet work on Android or Blackberry, alas.
Q: I have lots to plan for the holidays – one of the most important being getting gifts for colleagues, friends, and family. How do I tackle this big project?
A: I make a Christmas file every year, and in it I record what I have gotten for everyone on my list that year. (I also use the file to store order forms, email confirmations, etc.) That way I can remember everything from just exactly what I got for, say, my parents/husband/kids, what size bonus I gave our babysitter, even how much I tipped the garbage man. Super low tech (seriously, it is just a paper file that I keep in a drawer), but it works every year. Of course, it’s also a great Annoy Your Husband tool, as I am constantly asking him for updates on things he’s bought for our kids during the month, so I can add them to my master list.
Q: My colleagues will be the first to tell you that I’m never short on ideas – I’m constantly thinking about new makeup products, new recipes I want to try, or a new book I want to read. How can I remember them all?
A: There are many ways to do this, from low- to high-tech. At the bottom end of the spectrum there’s what I call the “Post-It notes everywhere” approach, which I have tried and would not recommend. Let’s just say that that sticky stuff does not hold forever. Then there’s the old “leave yourself a message on your answering machine” trick, which works until your children are old enough to retrieve messages. All is lost from that point on, as you may know. Finally, there is the magical memo pad function on the Blackberry, which is what I have graduated to. Because I (psychotically) have my Blackberry with me nearly everywhere, I use that function to jot down all sorts of things, and I haven’t lost any notes to myself since.
Managing Editor of Real Simple, Kristin van Ogtrop