Physical clutter is mental clutter

The beginning of a new year brings light, hope and a clean slate for everyone. While I don’t believe in new years resolutions – every day is a new beginning – I do believe there is a certain clarity that comes with a new calendar year.

As many of my friends know, I have deep respect and admiration for Emily Ley (a.k.a. my “planner lady”). She is a mother of three from Florida who has created an empire based on simplicity. A devoted fan of her Simplified Planner (I’m in my fifth year of using these magical planners), it’s not just the beauty of the book that keeps me coming back to it. Its clean lines, white space, and simplistic layout lets you breathe easier while planning crazy days. It sounds wacky – how can a planner let you breathe easier – well it can, it does, and I will never stray from these books (and I’ll bring as many people on the Simplified Planner journey with me as possible!). Enough about planners…

There is a new Facebook group, Simplified Community, an extension of Emily Ley’s newest book A Simplified Life. While I love seeing all the comments and questions about organizing and simplifying, it has led me to the bigger realization that we all have too much stuff. I’m a big believer that everything in your home should tell a story. If it doesn’t tell a story, or if it’s not necessary/functional, then why have it. Walk around your home…how much of your stuff tells a story – not just “it was pretty and I bought it with so-and-so,” but a real story or memory.

Here’s a story about the Royal Doulton enamel box below. In 2005, my dad visited me in England, and we shared a very memorable day. Me in my flip flops and Dad in his, comfortable for a short-time, loafers embarked on an unplanned 8+ hour walk throughout London. We wandered up and down streets, saw palaces and churches, meandered through parks and eventually ended up at Kensington Palace where he bought me the enamel box. We finally made it back to our hotel with blisters on our feet, sweat on our brows, and so much joy in our hearts – it one of the most memorable days that we spent together, and looking at the this box makes my heart swell with love.

Be ruthless – donate, throw away, or sell the things that don’t bring you joy, don’t tell a story or don’t have a functional reason for being there. It will bring you peace, clarity and calm.

As Emily Ley says, “Physical clutter creates mental clutter.”

Here are three ways I close out every year to bring a little bit of calm and clarity to the new year…

  1. Back-up photos: at the end of (almost) every month, and especially at the end of the year, I transfer all my photos from my phone to my computer, and delete them, yes, delete them off my phone. I then back those photos up to Google Photos as a back-up to the back-up. The nice thing about having all my photos on Google Photos (make note of the privacy settings), is that through the app, they are still on my phone without taking up storage or cluttering up my camera roll!
  2. Replenish Kitchen Staples: an easy way to get a step ahead of the back-to-school madness is to replenish all the stapes in the kitchen we regularly go through. Trips to Costco, Bulk Barn and the grocery store may be painful during the holidays, but it is so nice to have the kitchen stocked before we head back to school and work. The best part about this type of re-stock is that it doesn’t take any thought – no menu planning, no going through recipe books – just restock the staples.
  3. Family Year-End Photo Book: my favourite end-of-year tradition is to create a yearbook for all the memories we have made throughout the past year. These books serve as great display pieces, and are constantly looked at throughout the year. K and I must look through the books at least once a month…she always asks me to tell her the stories behind the photos, which serves as a great memory piece for both of us. My favourite site to use is Shutterfly – great quality, quick turnaround, easy to use, and there are always amazing deals!

I hope to use this space to share a few of my organizing and simplifying tricks that have served me well – and I hope will help you during this time of new beginnings and clarity.

Sometimes you just need cake.

K may have turned 8 in April, but the part planning began in January with a lot of hours (and a secret board) on Pinterest—a baking birthday party was the chosen theme.

First came the checklists…date, location, friends to invite, invitations designed, et cetera, then came the details. We were heading south for two weeks in March, which meant it was a sprint to get as much done as I could before, as time was tight when we returned.

The invitations turned out better than I could have imagined—wrapped around a rolling pin and tied with bakers twine…it was the perfect taste for the baking birthday party. To ensure they would survive the trip to school and the handout—they were put into bags with fingers crossed.

While we were basking in the sunshine, we received confirmations from K’s friends—our excitement grew, and my impatience grew. When we returned home…it was baking time. Eight friends plus the birthday girl meant baking nine cakes (plus the cake for celebrating). Each girl would decorate their cakes, and then bring their cakes home to enjoy with their families. After baking the cakes, they were frozen (thank goodness for my mother’s chest freezer!)—this would make the cakes (much) easier for the girls to decorate.

Accent pieces were created (personalized aprons, tags, stickers, recipe cards, bingo cards), boxes were put together, and the buttercream was whipped.  We were ready for party-day.

When I imagined the girls decorating the cakes, it was beautiful and calm and a normal amount of icing per cake.  Oh was I wrong.  It was astounding to see the creations they came up with. From layering frosting and sprinkles to make a lasagne-like decorated cake, to mounds and mounds of coloured frosting that mixed to be a not-so appetizing olive green colour. There were so many giggles and smiles, that outweighed their not-so-attractive cakes.  Each girl took home their cake all boxed up, with a warning to the parents!

Decorating cakes, pin the sprinkle on the cupcake, baking bingo, a trip to the playground, and enjoying some cake (with far less frosting then their concoctions) rounded out the rest of the party.

After the party was finished and everything was cleaned up (big shout out to Michelle and my mum!!), K and I sat down the next day to make the thank-you cards.  K said what she wanted to say, I transcribed onto the computer, and then we were able to hand them out later that week – a great way to extend the celebration and express our gratitude to all her friends who spent the afternoon with us.

It was a whirlwind day, but a wonderful one. It was so nice to see the girls interact, laugh, smile, help each other, and have fun.  One lowlight that turned into a highlight was when the big ‘8’ balloon flew away while they were at the playground.  K was quite upset, but her friends rallied around her and supported her. It was so heartwarming to see these seven and eight year-olds come together when a friend was sad, and be able to cheer her up. It gives me hope as these girls move forward at school together.

Those who don’t believe in magic will never find it

In our house we celebrate half birthdays…well only K’s half birthday. Some find it silly, some find it over the top, some find it wonderful.

I’m somewhere between the three.

We began two years ago when she “turned” six and a half.  My father had been in the hospital for almost two weeks, and a week before the “birthday” he had been moved to the ICU. In a week that was filled with hope then sorrow, happiness then sadness, and shock followed by emptiness, we had to find a little bit of joy.

K came home from ballet to a half cake and was surprised.  The smile across her face seemed to make everything else melt away for a few minutes.

The next day became the hardest day of my life. We said goodbye to the most thoughtful, loving, special man I’ve known.

A year later, similar feelings began creeping up again—happiness then sadness, shock followed by emptiness—and a little bit of light (and sugar) was found by celebrating K’s half birthday again.

Now two years later, and it still seems unbelievable. Another cake has been baked, the icing has been made, and a few tears have been shed (so far). Something that seems frivolous and a bit much, manages to bring a little bit of laughter, joy and distraction during a tough time.

After looking at the calendar and seeing “Miss You Papa” on tomorrow’s date, K turned to me and said this morning “I love today! I wish Papa was here for cake too.” Then she turns to the empty chair beside her and said “Oh, there you are, do you want a bite, Papa?” Breaks my heart and makes me smile at the same time.

Celebrate the little things.


American Buttercream
Recipe from Chelsweets

  • 2 cups unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 8 cups powdered sugar
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 tablespoons heavy cream
  • 3 teaspoons  vanilla

Beat the butter on a medium speed for 30 seconds with a paddle attachment, until smooth. Slowly add in the powdered sugar, 1 cup at a time. Alternate with small splashes of cream. Once fully mixed, add in the vanilla and salt, and beat on medium low until the ingredients are fully incorporated, and the desired consistency is reached. If the frosting is too thick, add in cream (1 teaspoon at a time). If the frosting is too thin, add in more powdered sugar (quarter of a cup at a time).

Don’t grow up. It’s a trap.

As milestones pass, I find myself wishing my (not-so) little girl will stop growing up so quickly—the first day of school, first lost tooth, first cartwheel, the list is endless. Well, it was finally time to add a little paint to her walls, and give her a “big girl” room.

When we moved into this house, we took a more modern route to her princess-esque room instead of the standard princess décor—black and white princess silhouettes, a dress form to hold her fancy dresses, and all stuffed animals corralled into a basket. While it served her well for a few years—she’s now moving into Grade 3, and ready for an updated room and look.

After being inspired by a friend, and by countless hours on Pinterest…the decision was made. Geometric shapes in shades of turquoise with a purple accent was to go up on the walls in the current guest room.  A few trips to Home Depot and a lot of tape later, the painting portion of the room was complete—three “splooshes” as I affectionally call them. The two pictured below and another by her door to add a little colour to the corner.

K knew about the room change, and the general idea of what was to come. She was away at the cottage while the makeover happened—only seeing a small portion of the paint to keep her (kind of) satisfied. New room, new colour, new furniture, new layout has totally transformed this space, and made it a place that she can grow with and into. My favourite part of the bedroom (aside from the accent walls), has to be the new labels on her dressers. Each drawer has its name and each item of clothing has its place.

The look on her face, and the squeals that escaped her when seeing the room for the first time were priceless, and well worth the wait.  There are still accents to come, but it’s a good start before K heads off to Grade 3!


Paint: Behr Marquee
Base colour: Fresh Day
Accent colours: Caribe, Bali Bliss, Tropical Waterfall, and Bohemianism