Archive for December, 2012

9 ways to cut the clutter

A common resolution at New Year’s — and throughout the year — is getting organized and cutting the clutter in our lives. It’s at the top of my list for 2013, and here are some tips we can all use:

Go paperless
There’s a wealth of technology to help you organize important documents, photos, etc. Scan and store files on your computer, replace pen and paper with a mobile device for note taking, and use apps like Key Ring, Slice, and Shoeboxed to store membership cards information, track purchases, and file receipts.

Stay ahead of the game
My mother, who kept a very neat house, always said pick up as you go, rather than wait for a major cleaning. She was right — it’s easier to stay ahead of the game than to play catch up.

Ask eBay
Have an old item that might be valuable? Check eBay. I often find that things I’ve been holding because of their perceived value are only worth a few dollars.

Focus on their mission
It’s easier to part with items if they’re going to a worthy cause, such as Goodwill or Salvation Army, which help people in your community.

One in, one out
Whenever I bring a new item into the house, I try to take one out. If I buy a new sweater, for example, the one stuffed in the back of the closet goes to Goodwill.

Throw a party
Having guests is perhaps the best motivator to clean and declutter.

Start small
Rather than tackle everything at once, start with a room, desk drawer, or shelf, then move to other areas when you’re done. This keeps your tasks manageable.

Phone a friend
If the task of decluttering seems overwhelming, ask a friend to lend a hand for an hour. They’ll bring an objective view (“Those pants need to go…”), and the companionship makes the time go by faster.

Get into the mood
I do my best cleaning when I’m in a bad mood. Perhaps I’m less attached emotionally to items, but regardless, it’s much easier to part with things when I’m grumpy. On the other hand, some do their best work when accompanied by upbeat, lively music. Find what works best for you.

Your turn. How do you manage your clutter?


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Christmas Trivia: Are you a Santa or a Scrooge?

You can sing the words to The 12 Days of Christmas, but how would you do in a real test of holiday trivia? Let’s find out. Answers and scoring are below:

  1. Who wrote A Christmas Carol?
  2. What was the first holiday cartoon on television?
  3. What year was The Night Before Christmas written?
  4. Who is Rudolph’s father?
  5. What gifts did the Wise Men bring to the manger?
  6. Who was Bing Crosby’s unlikely partner for a duet of The Little Drummer Boy?
  7. Who performed The Hanukkah Song?
  8. A co-star of the movie White Christmas was the aunt of one of today’s biggest celebrities. Name aunt and nephew.
  9. Who narrated How the Grinch Stole Christmas?
  10. Staying with the Grinch, the late Thurl Ravenscroft earned pop culture fame as the singer of the Grinch song. But what else is Mr. Ravenscroft known for?
  11. Which holiday song is considered the top-selling single of all time?
  12. What is the hottest holiday song today?
  13. What percent of the U.S. population is Christian?
  14. Which of Rocky Balboa’s fights took place on Christmas Day?
  15. Which popular song was actually written for Thanksgiving?
  16. What significant event happened on Christmas Day 1776?
  17. What crusty icon did Eddie Murphy play in a Saturday Night Live holiday skit?
  18. More than half of shoppers surveyed say they’ve bought which of the following gifts this year: toys, electronics, clothing, or gift cards?
  19. This Hollywood legend was born on December 25, 1899. Hint: the 1980s song Key Largo shares its name with one of his movies.
  20. In the 1990 hit movie Home Alone, where was the McCallister family planning to spend the holidays?


  1. Charles Dickens published A Christmas Carol in 1843.
  2. Mr. Magoo’s version of A Christmas Carol is believed to be the first televised holiday cartoon. It aired in 1962. The cartoon starred Jim Backus, best known as Thurston Howell III on Gilligan’s Island.
  3. The Night Before Christmas was first published in 1823.
  4. Rudolph’s father is Donner.
  5. The Wise Men brought gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
  6. David Bowie teamed with Bing Crosby to sing The Little Drummer Boy.
  7. Comedian Adam Sandler performed The Hanukkah Song.
  8. The late Rosemary Clooney, aunt of George Clooney, co-starred in White Christmas.
  9. Boris Karloff, best known for roles in horror movies, narrated How The Grinch Stole Christmas.
  10. In addition to the Grinch song, Mr. Ravenscroft was the voice of Kellogg’s Tony the Tiger, and also sang the Headless Horseman song in Disney’s The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.
  11. Bing Crosby’s 1942 version of White Christmas is considered by many to be the top-selling single of all time.
  12. According to Billboard, Mariah Carey’s All I Want for Christmas is currently the most popular holiday song.
  13. According to a Gallup poll,  78 percent of Americans say they are Christian.
  14. Rocky fought Soviet boxer Ivan Drago in on Christmas Day in 1985’s Rocky IV.
  15. Jingle Bells was written for a Thanksgiving event at a Georgia church.
  16. The Continental Army, let by George Washington, crossed the Delaware River on December 25, 1776 to attack Hessian troops in Trenton, New Jersey.
  17. Eddie Murphy played the Gumby in the SNL skit. This Gumby, however, was quite different from the character in the popular children’s show that ran from 1955 – 1989.
  18. According to the National Retail Federation, 53 percent of shoppers have purchased clothing and accessories to place under the three this year, making it the top category, followed by books/CDs/videos, and toys.
  19. Humphrey Bogart was born on Christmas Day, 1899.
  20. In Home Alone, the family was traveling to France.


15 – 20 Correct: Santa is saving a seat in his sleigh for you

10 – 14 Correct: Elf

5 – 9 Correct: Island of Misfit Toys

Less than 5: Scrooge

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The cream rises to the top during the holidays

Ah, the holiday season, a time that people frantically search for the perfect gift at the right price, while retailers hope a solid season puts them into the black for the year.

Although retailers may describe the shopping blitz as hectic, overwhelming, and stressful, it’s also a time to shine and earn customer loyalty. Just as the best athletes respond to pressure situations, leading companies excel during the holiday season.

My shopping is almost done and most presents have been shipped or delivered. These are unchartered waters for me, and that’s due largely to the outstanding service provided by several retail and mail order companies.

On the other hand, not all the companies I purchased from were as responsive, and that’s the nature of business. But going forward, I’ll simply shift my business from the underachievers to those that set the bar high.

Those outstanding organizations know several important things about shoppers:
Time is precious
People want an efficient shopping experience, whether it’s picking up a few things at the store or navigating a website for gifts.

Speed matters
Most of my online delivers came within a few days — and with free shipping. The stores I’ve visited in person have enough employees to provide quick checkouts.

Be clear
One email confirmation I received included only item numbers, with no names. When part of the shipment was cancelled, I had to dig to find out which item.

Ask what the customer wants 
I receive daily emails from two companies, and the information seems pretty much the same from day-to-day. As a result, I delete most of them. A couple a week would be fine and more likely to be read.

Be on Santa’s Nice List
I’ve encountered some of the nicest, most patient customer service people this year.  Good organizations undertand their value on the bottom line.

Look for Big George
Former heavyweight champ George Forman served as spokesperson for Meineke mufflers, ending each commercial with the phrase “I guarantee it.”  Standing behind your products goes a long way. Are you more likely to shop at a store that cheerfully refunds your money, or one that tells you, “Sorry, this has been opened …”?

Your turn. What have you observed during this holiday season?

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