Archive for June, 2004

Organizing the Home Office

Thursday, June 24th, 2004

This is the hardest place in our house to keep up with because despite the fact that we spend hours and hours in this room, it just never makes the top of the priority list. When our office is in disarray I feel as though my life is in disarray because this is where I do my work.

Now let’s say, for example, that you went to go purchase an insurance policy in an office and you walked into a tornado of paperwork laying all over the floor in piles. Would you want to purchase a policy from this office? My guess would be that you would run out and take your business elsewhere. If you have trouble finding what is underneath all the papers on your desk, it is time to make this a place that you can be proud of and one that (if you had clients) they would want to retain their business with you.

Here are a few facts that you might not be aware of. By seeing these facts, I am sickened by how much of my life has been wasted due to my disinterest in keeping our home office organized.


  • The average disorganized person has 3,000 documents at home.
  • Clutter in the average home creates 40% more housework.
  • Americans waste one year of life looking for lost objects.
  • It can take from three hours to three days to organize a home office.

When I began researching this topic most of the web sites I looked to all had the same idea which was to file your papers. There are many ways you can go about doing this, but whatever your method, you want to make sure that it is simple to follow and easy to remember. Here are a few ideas for filing those piles of papers on your floor.

Assess the Damage:

Just how big are these piles you are working with? You want to make sure that you have enough space in your filing cabinet to keep all of these papers. Before you think about purchasing this, you need to make a list of the things you will need in order to make your home office a more livable space. A few things that you will want to have on your list would be filing folders, a few boxes for storing things that do not need to be kept in your office, a few expandable files, and a paper shredder for shredding papers that have confidential information on them.

Reading, Trashing, and Organizing:

It is time to whittle through these enormous piles. Bring in your recycle bin and have a box ready to put papers in that need to be shredded. Read all of the papers carefully and make sure that you are not tossing anything that is of importance to you. There is no need to hang onto every single phone bill you have gotten in the past year unless you use these for tax reporting purposes. Once your next statement has arrived from the phone company and you see that they have credited your account you can toss the previous months bill.

One way of tracking your bills is to keep three separate expandable folders. I label these: Receipts, ATM withdrawals/deposits, and Paid Bills. There is no need for me to hang on to these forever, but I do keep them for a year just for my own comfort. I often need to return things and knowing that my receipts are in one particular place makes hunting for these a lot easier for me. Many professional home organizers would say that there is no need for me to hang on to these things, but if it brings me comfort and doesn’t take up too much space, then I think that this is the system that works for me.

If you have receipts that you are hanging onto because there is a warranty on the product or appliance, be sure to attach the receipt to your user manual so that you have both the manual and the receipt together if you ever need to cash in onto the warranty.

Recycle the magazines that you are hanging onto and pull out just the articles that are of importance to you. You can have a separate expandable file for these articles using the alphabetized expandable file. You can use “C” for cooking, “G” for gardening, “B” for baby and so on. By just pulling out the articles of importance you will save a lot of space in your home.

If you keep a stack of take-out menus for places you frequently eat at- designate a place for these. You can attach these with a binder clip in the front of your phone book so that they are easily accessible or if you keep a lot of these you could use a folder to keep all of them in and put them near the phone book. That should eliminate another pile.

For everything else, create folders for each grouping. If you have file folders already in your box/cabinet, take the time to go through these and weed out all of those old papers. There is no need to overload your folders with out of date information so make sure you recycle/shred all of this old information. Here are some folders that we have in our filing cabinet: Bank Statements, Taxes (be sure to put the year on the label), Medical/Dental, Utilities, Pet Information, Furniture Receipts, Appliances, Auto, Health Insurance, Life Insurance, Auto Insurance, Student Loans, Credit Cards, and User Manuals/Guides. By looking through your own piles you will know what folders you personally need to create to organize these into appropriate folders. Make sure that you do NOT have a miscellaneous folder because that is way too broad and is yet another thing you will need to weed through when trying to find a particular document. Anything worth keeping should have a home.

Once you have everything categorized and papers shredded you will be able to see just how many organizers you are going to need. By waiting until the end of your weeding you have a much clearer idea of what you need and end up spending less money. Look for attractive wicker baskets for storing current magazines, a filing cabinet/box for your papers, expandable organizers for your magazine articles/bill folders, and look for shelving to store office supplies. Use your walls to hang more shelving for books- this is wasted space for where things can be organized.


Once you have everything organized and in its respective home you need to make sure you maintain this by keeping up with the papers instead of allowing them to pile up again. When you get your mail, sort it over a recycle bin and immediately toss out the trash and junk mail so that you don’t end up spending three hours sorting through it later. Then head straight to your filing cabinet and make sure that you file the rest of the items right away. By taking these three minutes a day to do this, you will save yourself a lot of time in the end. Make a promise to yourself that you will keep up with this and reap the rewards for not wasting hours of your day looking for important documents, and then pat yourself on the back for a job well done. Cheers!

More ideas for organizing:

Places to look for kitchen organizers:

Recommended Reading:

Home Comforts : The Art and Science of Keeping House
by Cherly Mendelson, Harry Bates
To me, this truly is the Bible for all the folk’s out there who aspire to be more organized.

Organizing from the Inside Out
by Julie Morgenstern
This woman has been featured on Oprah as a goddess for home organization. Reading her book will help you discover what type of organizer you are and how to tackle your trouble spots. Be amazed at the fantastic advice she offers.

Organizing for Dummies
by Eileen Roth and Elizabeth Miles
The title says it all. It is for those of us who are just starting on the road to organization.

Organizing the Kitchen

Thursday, June 24th, 2004

Look around your kitchen and make a list of your top complaints about the room. Is the room too small? Do you not have enough counter space? Do you have trouble finding or getting to the things you need to use when you are cooking? Once you have your list in front of you it is time to begin making your dream for a better kitchen into a reality.

Here are some helpful tips to accomplish your goals:

  • Take a look at your counter space. If you see items on it that you do not use often, relocate them to a different area in your kitchen or basement. This will free up some very valuable countertop space.
  • When you have removed the items that you do not use frequently, readjust the items that you have into groupings. For example, putting the toaster and coffeemaker next to each other would save you time in the mornings since both appliances that you use are together. You want to look for ways to organize things that will save you time and effort.
  • If you have all of your cooking utensils shoved in a drawer, chances are that you have trouble locating them when you are cooking something. Instead either use an old jar, pitcher, or purchase a utensil holder to store them in. Make sure you have the utensils facing the same direction and displayed in a way that they are easily identified. I had too many utensils to put all of them into one holder, so instead I broke them up into two. I put one underneath my sink area with the utensils I used infrequently, and displayed the ones that I used often next to the oven so that I could easily reach them. You may find a better system for yourself, or if you have some that you never use, consider giving them away to someone who could use them, put them in a box for a future garage sale, or store them in the basement if you feel there may be a time that you will use them.
  • If you have a spice rack, alphabetize your rack so that you can find your spices quickly. Another way to organize these would be to group them into groupings that are used frequently together. For example, I always use rosemary and thyme together so I could have them next to each other. If your spice rack is taking up too much space on your counter, here are a couple of alternatives to free up your counters:

    Find a shelf that you can install somewhere near your oven or where you prepare you food so that you can find your spices quickly. If you install the spices higher then eye-level, label the spices on the front instead of the tops so that you can easily find them.

    Another alternative is to purchase a container to store all of your spices in if you do not use them frequently. Place labels on the tops of the spices, alphabetize them, and store them in an easily accessible place. This will free up your counters and they will be quick to get to when you are cooking.

  • You know that junk drawer you have that you insist on keeping everything that doesn’t have a home in it? Well it is time to clean it out. Designate homes for these belongings and if by chance they are things you don’t use (this is a junk drawer, right?) then it is time to throw the stuff away. With this drawer freed up you can now put your dishtowels in there or your phone books or anything else that might be of use. Do not make it back into a drawer of junk though.
  • Some of the best and cheapest organizers in the world are dishpan tubs. Purchase a couple of these to help keep underneath your sink storage more organized. Group all of your cleaners together in one of these and use another one to keep all of your kitchen linens in. You can also keep your cleaners in a handled basket that you can grab to cart them around the house when doing your cleaning. Sometimes when things are more accessible, you will find yourself using them more often. This might be a great source of encouragement for accomplishing the cleaning you have been meaning to do.
  • Make sure that you have a message center somewhere in your kitchen. If you need ideas for how to put your message center together look on FlyLady for some great ideas on message centers, organizing, and cleaning your home. Make sure that you have this on or around your phone. It is a great way to keep track all of keys, bills, messages to your spouse, and to keep track of all of those mounting activities on your calendar. I don’t know what I would do without mine.
  • One of my least favorite chores in the kitchen is cleaning and organizing the refrigerator. I would rather go to the dentist then deal with this household chore, but unfortunately it is one of those things that need to be kept up with, otherwise, you could end up growing some really disgusting science experiments. Here are a few pointers on this nasty chore:

    Designate certain shelves in your refrigerator to operate as shelves for specific items. For example, use your bottom shelf for leftovers, top shelf for beverages, put produce in its drawer, meat in its respective drawer, and door of fridge for condiments. This will make it easier when you are cooking, but it is also a great way to keep track of those leftovers. No one wants to find a forgotten leftover that has been sitting in the fridge for a month. Designate one day of the week to clean out that shelf and make sure that you rotate the leftovers with the oldest in the front and the newest in the back. Take masking tape and write the date on the top so you know when these should be tossed. It will make tracking them much easier.

    Make sure that you clean the fridge periodically and I don’t mean cleaning around stuff. With either a water/vinegar solution (see my homemade cleaners section for more details) or any other all purpose cleaner really scrub the refrigerator down.

    Make sure you have an opened box of baking soda in the fridge to absorb all those nasty smells that have a tendency of popping up in this appliance.

  • Now take a look at your freezer. Make sure that you have items that you have packaged yourself clearly dated. Sort the meat by date so that you use the oldest the first. If you can fit in the freezer some plastic organizers, put these in here and separate the like items together. This will help make grabbing things out of here a lot easier when you are preparing dinner.
  • Nothing says an organized home like an organized pantry. If you do not currently have a pantry try to see if you can make somewhere in your home into a pantry. People with small apartments can purchase a utility cart and sort their canned good on there in their kitchen. If you have a closet that is just empty, take advantage of that and hang an organizer on the back of the door for cans and install shelving for your bake ware that you use frequently, but is currently taking up space in your cabinets. For those of you who are a novice to the stocking of a pantry here is a quick list of items that every good cook has on hand for meals:

    Baking Ingredients:
    baking soda, baking powder, brown sugar, white sugar, flour, powdered sugar, salt, quick cooking oats, cornmeal, cooking oil (olive, canola, and vegetable), vanilla extract, spices, chocolate (semisweet chips, unsweetened and semisweet baking chocolate, cocoa powder), cream of tartar, and cooking spray

    Canned Goods & Condiments:
    diced tomatoes, tomato sauce, pasta sauce, whole peeled tomates, mustard, ketchup, Worchestire sauce, soy sauce, pickles, relish, and mayonnaise.

    Freezer Goods:
    ground beef, chicken. vegetables, noodles, bread and hamburger/hotdog buns, cheese (which can be frozen for future use), and extra flour (which can be used later as well).

For further tips on organizing your kitchen please click on the links below for more creative ideas on making your kitchen your favorite room.

More ideas for organizing:

Places to look for kitchen organizers:

Recommended Reading:

Home Comforts : The Art and Science of Keeping House
by Cherly Mendelson, Harry Bates
To me, this truly is the Bible for all the folk’s out there who aspire to be more organized.

Organizing from the Inside Out
by Julie Morgenstern
This woman has been featured on Oprah as a goddess for home organization. Reading her book will help you discover what type of organizer you are and how to tackle your trouble spots. Be amazed at the fantastic advice she offers.

Organizing for Dummies
by Eileen Roth and Elizabeth Miles
The title says it all. It is for those of us who are just starting on the road to organization.

Organizing the Living Room

Thursday, June 24th, 2004

The living room is probably one of the places that you spend the most amount of your time. Our living room is a place for us to watch television, a place that we eat on occasion, and a playroom. I am sure that many of you make this room into a multifunctional one. With all of these uses for the room you will find how easy it is to accumulate clutter. I hope that this section will help to minimize this.

If you are in a pinch though with company on the way, have a laundry basket handy. Take all of the clutter and drop it in there, hiding this discreetly, until the guest’s leave. Don’t let this sit in a closet too long though. Once your guest’s have gone make sure that you put the belongings where they need to go. Hopefully, after reading this section, you will have nothing to even put in that laundry basket. Of course, that is wishful thinking, right?

  • Sort through all of your magazines, books, and newspapers that you have lying around in this room. Make sure that you dispose of the newspapers that aren’t current and if you have read the magazines, recycle those as well. One great place to take them is to the library or trade them with a friend who has a different subscription.

    If there are particular articles in them that you want to keep then tear them out. Take all of these articles and put them in an alphabetized expandable file. You can use “G” for gardening, “C” for cooking, and “B” for baby and so on. This will help reduce a lot of the clutter in your room. It will also make finding those special articles easier because you will know right where to look.

    If you have books that you no longer read you can also trade these with a friend, put them in a box marked “garage sale”, or ask your library if they have any programs where you can donate them for the organization. If all else fails, you can always take them to a Goodwill or Salvation Army. The idea is to rid yourself of clutter, not to accumulate more, so make sure you don’t stop and look while you are dropping them off.Take a look at your counter space. If you see items on it that you do not use often, relocate them to a different area in your kitchen or basement. This will free up some very valuable countertop space.

  • Buy baskets to sit underneath taller tables that you can put the magazines you do keep in them. This way they look a lot nicer then cluttering your coffee table with them and they are still easily accessible.
  • Take a look at your coffee table. Has this become the catch-all for all of your bills and papers? It is time to clear this table off so it can be used for what it is purposed. Make sure that you put all your bills into a basket designated for bills. Organize these by the ones that need to be paid the soonest on top and work your way back through the pile. Now take these upstairs and pay them- even if the due date is a long way off. In the corner where the stamp would be located, write the date for when the bill needs to be sent off and then set them all in your calendar station where you should have a slot for your bills to go. That takes care of a task that is completely unrelated to your living room, but might save you a bundle in late fees. Get rid of old advertisements and papers that are unnecessary clutter. If there are papers that you do need to save make sure you file them in your filing box/cabinet in the appropriate folder. Now that this table is clear, dust it off and make sure it stays clear.
  • Organize your movies and music. If you have a large music or movie collection this can be a little tedious. I have an enormous music collection and I kept them in compact disc organizers and got rid of the jewel cases for these discs. This eliminated a lot of clutter for us because the case is really what takes up the most space. If you have the time and patience you can alphabetize them and if you don’t simply group your music or movies into different genres. For movies, for example, you could have drama, horror, comedy, western, or children’s. With music you could have rock/alternative, classical, rap/hip hop, Broadway, and Movie Music. Whatever makes it easier for you to locate your movie/music should be the alternative you choose. If you find blank videos, tapes, or compact discs that don’t have a label on them, play them to figure out what they are. Once you have discovered this, clearly label them and that will solve another mystery in your house.
  • If you have a game or puzzle collection make sure that all the pieces are in the boxes. There is no point in keeping a puzzle or game if they have important pieces missing. This will reduce some of the clutter.
  • If your children have toys that are in your living room, get a storage box to put them in. I prefer the kind that are NOT clear because I can throw everything in there and not have to look at when it is put away. If your child is anything like mine they have lots of toys that have separate little pieces in them. Get small organizers that are clear with easily removable lids on them to put each item with all its pieces in it. You can give your child these one at a time and put each of them away when they are done with them eliminating the search for the missing pieces and all of the clutter at the bottom of the toy box.
  • There is no need to have every single item and doodad out on display on your tables. Pick a few well chosen items and put the rest of the stuff into storage. You can alternate them and eliminate a cluttered situation. It will also bring attention to the things that you do have on display.
  • If you have a lot of picture frames that are cluttering up your tables there are a couple of ways you can reduce this:

    They have lots of neat flip books that you can purchase that you could set all of the pictures in reducing the need for sixteen frames. You can also buy the small metal picture displayers that have clips to hold them where you could fan out several pictures for viewing.

    Purchase a photo box and put all of your pictures in there. If you have a particular photo you would like to share, you can just get out your photo box and share them that way rather then taking up your valuable space.

    Relocate them. Spread the pictures out into several rooms- use ledges, the bathroom, bedrooms, and kitchen for other areas to put them in. Many families display their picture collection in their hallway. By hanging them on the walls you reduce a lot of clutter.

Every living room is different for each person as well as what the room might function as. Try to look at your room with a friend or family member and ask them what they see in the room that needs organizing. Plan your attack based on their observations and look to books and friends for advice. The idea is to make this room livable and not a room that you dread spending time in.

More ideas for organizing:

Places to look for kitchen organizers:

Recommended Reading:

Home Comforts : The Art and Science of Keeping House
by Cherly Mendelson, Harry Bates
To me, this truly is the Bible for all the folk’s out there who aspire to be more organized.

Organizing from the Inside Out
by Julie Morgenstern
This woman has been featured on Oprah as a goddess for home organization. Reading her book will help you discover what type of organizer you are and how to tackle your trouble spots. Be amazed at the fantastic advice she offers.

Organizing for Dummies
by Eileen Roth and Elizabeth Miles
The title says it all. It is for those of us who are just starting on the road to organization.


Thursday, June 24th, 2004

When I was pregnant with my first child, friends and strangers alike often asked me questions. Some of these questions I was expecting: Do you know if it’s a boy or girl? What names have you picked? Some of these questions I was not expecting: How much weight have you gained (never a good question!) and Are you going to breastfeed?

It was surprising to me just how interested people seemed to be in whether I was going to breast or bottle feed our baby. Even more surprising were their responses when I told them that yes, I planned to breastfeed. “Good!” my breastfeeding friends would say heartily. “That never worked for me,” my non-breastfeeding friends would say almost apologetically. I was puzzled by how emotional this topic seemed. I also was amazed by how many of my friends had problems breastfeeding. I had two sisters who had breastfed their babies – one breastfed seven children – and it seemed like the most natural thing in the world. I figured you had the baby, you put it to your breast, and the baby nursed. It seemed like it would be simple. Was I right? No! My experience breastfeeding was one of the most challenging yet rewarding aspects of being a new mother. It’s a story that’s fraught with as much emotion and tears as a Lifetime movie; and I’ve come to find out that my experience is not all that different from many women’s.

Last August, I was lying in bed, watching Regis and Kelly, when suddenly my water broke. This being my first child, I at first was unsure what was happening. Fluid was gushing out of me and yet my baby wasn’t due for another month and a half. I was terrified she was suddenly going to slip out of me in a rush of fluid. Little did I know it wouldn’t be until after another 23 hours of labor that our little Anne would make her appearance! Due to her early arrival Anne was whisked away to a larger hospital nearby to be in their NICU. My husband and I were left a bit dazed and shell-shocked. I had had many happy envisionings of Anne’s birth. I saw my husband cutting the cord, Anne being placed in my arms, a few pictures, and I had written in my birth plan: “I want to put my baby to breast immediately”. Instead I was felt like I’d been hit by a truck, my husband hadn’t slept and barely eaten in over 24 hours, our baby was in the next town in a large hospital and we hadn’t even been able to hold her.

Later that afternoon, I was lying in my hospital room, trying to think positive when the nurse came in to check my vitals.

“Are you pumping?” she said, somewhat suspiciously, eyeing me carefully.

“Pumping what?” I asked.

“Your breasts! You need to get your milk in!” she responded. She then left and quickly returned with a blue box on wheels. “I’m sending in the lactation consultant,” she explained.

A while later one of the lactation consultants arrived. Little did I know that she would be the first of 12 different nurses or consultants I would work with (all of whom had a different approach!). She hooked up some plastic tubing to the machine, then attached them to what looked like funnels.

“Put these over your breasts,” she ordered. I placed a funnel (technically called a “phalange”) over each nipple. She flipped the switch and I nearly jumped out of bed.

“Yikes!” I cried. “I feel like my breasts are being sucked into a vacuum cleaner!”

“That means it’s working,” she explained. “Now stay there for 25 minutes.”

Ten minutes later, I was near tears. This blue machine was killing me and nothing was coming out of my breasts. By 15 minutes I was in tears. I turned off the machine and called for the nurse. This time a different nurse and different consultant appeared. They tried to comfort me as I fretted over the lack of milk and the pain. What would they feed my baby if I had no milk? Why did this machine feel like a torture device? This consultant turned the machine down to a lower setting and told me “Only 10 minutes at a time, once every three hours”. I figured I would endure 10 minutes okay. They assured me that my nipples just needed to “toughen up”. Toughen up? What did that mean? I pictured my nipples looking some something that had been left on the beach too long. Would they “untoughen” later? How long did it take to toughen?

The next day I continued my pumping, though I had a great deal of pain. I would endure this, I thought. This is for my baby. She needs my milk! I looked down and noticed I was bleeding. I switched off the pump and called for the nurse.

“My nipples are bleeding.” I told her. I must admit I felt like an idiot. I had never heard of any of my friends or sisters nipples falling apart like this. Weren’t they supposed to “toughen up”? Why were my nipples so troublesome? And where was my milk?? I still hadn’t seen a drop. The nurse assured me that this was normal. My husband thought it didn’t seem to normal to expect bleeding, but I told him I‘d be okay. The hospital arranged for a pump to be brought to me to take with me when I left the hospital. Luckily, it was a kinder, gentler pump that the blue one I’d been using.

The next day I was discharged and we moved into a hotel near the hospital where Anne was. We finally got to hold our little girl! When the nurses in the NICU asked me if I was going to breastfeed I explained that I was trying to pump to get my milk in.

“Good!” they said enthusiastically. “We want the first thing to hit her stomach to be your milk. It’s liquid gold”.

Liquid gold? They explained that my body knew Anne had been born early, so the constitution of my milk had changed and it was just what Anne needed. You can imagine, after that pep talk I was geared up to pump (and even more stressed)! This time their consultant worked with me. The first thing she did was to get me new phalanges. The ones I had been using (the nipple-chewing ones) were actually too small for me. The new ones made a world of difference. She also taught my husband and I how to collect the colostrum with a syringe, using sterile water, and how to bottle it to bring to the NICU for Anne’s feedings. Fortunately for me, my husband is a scientist. He was quite comfortable collecting drops with syringes, sterilizing equipment, etc. The first time I lost a drop of milk from the syringe onto the floor I burst into tears. I’d worked hard for that drop! Anne needed it! He soon took over all collection activities. We called him “Pump Guy”. He also did the set-up and sterilizing of my pump parts for me, giving me time to get set up myself or to clean up. He even set the alarm and woke me every three hours during the night to pump.

Soon my milk came in, and it was cause for rejoicing! I pumped, more and more milk came, the baby had it through her feeding tube, and I felt like I was doing the one thing that only I could do for her. Then came the day that we learned to nurse.

I have to say “learned” to nurse, because I really thought nursing was going to be a reflex skill and it wasn’t. Anne was tiny and she had feeding issues. She couldn’t suck and swallow and breathe in a coordinated fashion. I wasn’t sure what to do except hold her close to my breast and worry that I was going to suffocate her. The first time she latched on and sucked (6 sucks it was) I burst into tears. We were going to do this! Anne was going to be okay! I had milk! Grab the camera! It was actually 2 and ½ months before Anne could normally and naturally nurse without issue and sustain herself, but those first four weeks were the hardest. She had a bad latch, a weak suck, and difficulty staying awake as the effort was too much for her. My nipples felt like they were on fire at times (thank goodness for lansinoh ointment!). We used a shield on and off for a while, too. But we made it. One way we made it was by doing what worked for us and what felt right. I appreciated all the people who tried to help me, and all the consultants who took the time to aid me, but I think it was my husband’s comment that really made the most sense. When I was still in the throws of despair and stressing over my milk coming in, he said that it seemed like the “trick” to lactation was that there was no trick to lactation! There was no one right answer. Everyone had to find out what was right for them, their body, and their baby. I really think he’s right. My sisters had no problems. They didn‘t even own a breast pump. I had lots of problems, but eventually met with success. Other friends of mine had so many problems that they couldn’t continue. While I think no one would argue that breastmilk is the healthiest and most natural choice for an infant, the adage “breast is best” can put undue pressure on women. What’s best should be what’s best for you and your baby. Women shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help (I found a wonderful nurse/consultant from the La Leche website after Anne came home). But for some people breastfeeding just doesn’t work out for them, even though they try.

Breastfeeding my daughter was one of the most wonderful experiences for me. I felt I gave her a gift to help her grow stronger while she was in the hospital. It was a beautiful bonding experience. But it wasn’t easy, and it certainly wasn’t what I was expecting. Fortunately, we were able to make it work.

Always the optimist, I was recently filling out my birth plan and once again I wrote “I would like to immediately put my baby to breast”. Who knows? Maybe this time it’ll be just like my sisters – the most natural thing in the world. At least now I know what to expect – and I know how to toughen my nipples!


Thursday, June 24th, 2004

In my mind before having a child, I had always envisioned myself breastfeeding. I had a picture of myself sitting in our rocker with my son to my breast and me looking down blissfully at this beautiful boy I created. I figured that I would feel a deep sense of satisfaction with myself because I was giving him the best thing I could give him-my milk.

In my last trimester, I had dinner with a good friend who had a child of her own. We somehow got on the subject of breastfeeding and she was sharing with me her own personal experience with it. Her child would not latch on, she was having postpartum depression, and she was sore, basically she was miserable. She told me that she decided to stop breastfeeding and that she and her daughter were much happier now. She leaned over and said to me, “Breastfeeding is not for everyone…” I thanked her for the information, but in my head I was still carrying around this beautiful image of Ethan and I sharing this special bonding moment together.

Two weeks before I had Ethan my husband lost his job. I had thought that we would quickly recover from this and he would find another great job without a lapse in pay. I couldn’t imagine him not working or being able to find a job, but that is exactly what happened for almost an entire year before he got his next job.

Being sick with worry over my husband’s job loss coupled with the extreme heat of the hot July sun, my son arrived into the world two weeks earlier than was expected. Ethan came so quickly into the world that the doctor jokingly offered to teach my husband how to do a home delivery for the next baby. Ethan was perfect in every way and I immediately put him to my breast as though this was the most natural thing a mother could do. My milk had not come in yet, but the nurses encouraged me to have him breastfeed because it would help stimulate my milk supply.

In the morning, the nurse brought Ethan to me so that I could feed him. I was holding him rather awkwardly in my arms and trying to get him in just the right position so that he would be able to feed. The nurse suggested that I hold him “football style” because she thought it would be good to teach me a few different ways I could hold him. I am a very private person and having someone hovering over me and moving my breast made me nervous and more anxious then I had been before. The football position was more awkward for me and immediately after she left, I returned to holding him the way that was most comfortable for me and only then could I relax enough to actually feed Ethan.

When we brought our son home, I thought that I couldn’t have been more tired, but I was wrong. Ethan nursed with a passion and so frequently that I felt that I had nothing in my own body to nourish myself. He nursed for a half hour and then I would lay him down in his bed where he would proceed to scream his little head off and curl his entire body up in a ball. Twenty minutes later, I was feeding him again for another half hour and this routine proceeded through the entire night and the days of the first six weeks of his birth. I told my husband that I wasn’t even going to wear a shirt because I didn’t see any point in it. I was a human milk truck and every single time I got my shirt buttoned, my child was ready to feed again minutes later. He was colicky and extremely unhappy and his skin was broke out in a terrible rash.

After the first week, I brought him into the doctor and explained that I thought something was wrong. The doctor disagreed and said that his rash was typical of a newborn and that he would “grow out” of the colicky stage within the next three months. THREE MONTHS? THREE MONTHS? I wanted to sit down and bawl right along with Ethan.

Those first few weeks were extremely hard on us. I was sore and uncomfortable and with him feeding so frequently, there were few places that I could go to where I could feed him in private. The only place we went to was the mall. I remember sitting in the rest room as the door swung wide open and people walked through to use the restroom. At that moment I felt a great sense of embarrassment. Not because I was embarrassed that I was feeding my son, but because I was having trouble being discrete and also having trouble letting my milk down with such an audience. Ethan was screaming at me because no milk was coming out and I was near tears because he was in tears. Not exactly the blissful picture that I had created in my mind.

Encouraged by a talk with my mother, I decided to contact a Le Leche consultant on what the problem could be and she asked me what I had been eating. She said the very best thing I could do was to eliminate everything from my diet except for bread and water and gradually add things back into my diet to figure out what he was allergic to. Emotionally and physically drained, I decided to give this a try and see if it could help. I did this for about a week and my son was still screaming and crying at me. At a loss, I contacted the consultant again and she reassured me that I was doing the best thing I could do for my baby, but some foods (like dairy) take three weeks to fully get out of your system so that may have been partly to blame on why he was so colicky. THREE WEEKS? THREE WEEKS? Three weeks of bread and water and again, I sat down and bawled right along with Ethan. I felt such a sense of desperation and I knew that three weeks of this was three weeks longer than I could handle.

In the sixth week of his life, my parents came to visit us and to help me take care of the baby. My mom and dad sandwiched Ethan between them and looked down at him as he hollered with his rash-covered face and that is when my mother suggested formula. As soon as she said the word, I almost rejoiced. It was as though someone was giving me permission and telling me that I was not a bad mother just because I wanted to bottle-feed. I could not open a can of formula fast enough.

That day we started Ethan on soy formula and within one day his face had practically cleared up, he slept without being curled up in a ball, and I could rest. We brought him in for his six week check-up and I shared with the doctor the remarkable improvement we had seen with Ethan being on the formula. Only then, did the doctor disclose that some children do have an allergy to milk proteins. At that point, no explanation was needed because I had made peace with my decision to not breastfeed.

We are hoping to have another child in the near future and I am still planning to try again with breastfeeding. Just because this experience was not a positive one for us, does not mean that the next one will be as difficult. I do admit, however, that I am more open to bottle-feeding and that I am more realistic about my expectations of breastfeeding. It is hard, you are sore, and it is a big commitment, but it can be a wonderful experience for both the mother and the child. But just as my friend shared with me, I am sharing with you, breastfeeding just isn’t for everyone. A mother must do what makes her and her child happy and for Ethan and I, the answer was bottle-feeding.

Organize Your Week – Daily Tasks

Tuesday, June 22nd, 2004


I am a big fan of the Flylady website because I think they give such great tips on keeping up with your home. I wish that I could say that I follow them all and have a house that is in fantastic condition all of the time, but unfortunately I have not been that diligent about it. I do take basic principles from the site and try to apply them in my home, but I have worked out a system of cleaning that works for me. Maybe my system will not work for you, or maybe you can take ideas from it and make it your own.

I divide my system by days of the week, but I do have those chores that come up daily that need to be accomplished. If I can get these simple chores done and not even accomplish the day of the week chores, I am pretty pleased with myself. These are the things that I must get done in order for me to feel a sense of accomplishment for the day. You can really tell that I have a toddler because my list seems to get shorter and shorter as my son becomes more active. Here is my to-do list each day:

Amy’s Daily Routine List

1. Make the Bed

As soon as I get out of it and not a second later. If I wait any length of time on this chore, I can guarantee that it will not get done.

2. Do the Dishes & Wipe Down the Kitchen

This includes loading and unloading the dishwasher for the day. I try to unload the clean dishes by the end of the day because this helps me stay ahead of the game for the next day. I also do the dishes as I go when I am cooking and preparing our meals. By doing this, I end up with less dishes at the end of our meals. I wipe down the counters, stove, and appliances before I got to bed. I always have a clean sink at the end of the night as well as a clean dishtowel and washcloth to work with for the next morning.

3. Wipe Down the Bathroom

Now my routine may seem a little ridiculous, but it works for me. I wipe down the bathroom when I am getting ready to take my shower. While I have the water warming up and I am getting ready to hit the tub, I work on wiping down the bathroom instead of wasting that time. Each minute to me is invaluable and this is the perfect time for me to get this done. I wipe down the bathroom with a bathroom cleaner, pour the toilet bowl cleaner in the toilet, and empty the trash while waiting for the water to fill up. After my bath/shower, I then scrub the toilet, clean the tub out (this I only do once a week), and then dispose of the trash as well as the dirty towels. To save time on this chore I keep bags underneath my trash bag in use, that way I always have another bag ready to go when I empty the trash. I also keep household cleaners in each of my bathrooms and in the kitchen. I find that if I have a shelf of cleaners in the room with me, I am more inclined to use them more frequently and I have less of a chance of putting it off. I know this makes me sound like the laziest person in the world, but if those cleaners are not in the same room, then you can forget about me cleaning it. I have a basket of cleaners in almost every room of our house so that I can get my chores done.

4. Do the Bills

I do the bills as they come in because I don’t like to have them pile up on me and to have to do them all at once. As soon as I get the bill I put it together and get it ready to go minus the stamp. In the stamp spot, I write the date for when the bill is due. I put all of my bills in order with the bill that is due first on top. I also separate these bills into two piles with a post-it note. The reason for this is that my husband gets paid every two weeks. Since we are always written down to the last dime I save those bills until he gets paid and send out the first batch with his first check of the month and the second batch with the second check of the month. I have found that this system saves me from a lot of late fees and has enabled me to be on top of these bills. Some people save even more time and money by paying their bills either online or having them automatically withdrawn from their accounts. Personally, timing is everything for me and because we have to be so careful with our money, I don’t want to chance it with automatic withdrawals considering there are times that there just isn’t money in our account to cover the bills.

5. Make Dinner

This is one that I do almost every day with the exception of a meal out once in awhile. I try to do all the prep work in the morning so that I can save my time later in the day. I lay out any meat that needs defrosting, cut up any vegetables that are going in my dishes, and lay out the dishes I will need to prepare the dinner. By doing all of the prep work ahead of time, I find it much easier to accomplish a nice meal within a timely fashion. I have found that the crock-pot is a busy mom’s best friend as well. If I use this, I put everything in it the night before and stick the crock in the fridge. I then take it out in the morning and have it ready to go in plenty of time for the dinner hour.

So now that you know my everyday routine we can begin discussing how to break the other tasks down into more manageable chunks. Once again, you can make your daily tasks fit your daily life. Maybe you have obligations in the evening or during the day that would not allow you to accomplish what I get done. In this case, you feel free to change my schedule around to fit your needs.

Work at Home Ideas

Wednesday, June 9th, 2004

Start a Business

Right now the opportunities are endless for creating unique work-at-home positions along with some tried and true ideas for selling established products, hosting parties, or selling online.

Childcare Services

Since you are already at home with your own children, you could offer childcare for others in your area. Take out an advertisement in your local newspaper or offer to your friends, folks in your playgroup, or at your church. Make sure that you look into your state laws on how many children you can have in your care without being licensed. This is an especially profitable thing to offer around the holidays when parent’s need to get out to do a little Christmas shopping. They will be happy to know that their child is safe with an experienced mother and you can make a little extra cash when you probably need it the most.


If cooking is your strong point, then maybe doing some baking or catering on the side might be a good option for you. They offer wonderful classes on cake decoration, candy making, and other baking courses for a relatively low fee at many of your local craft stores. Check into these and see if you can acquire a new skill. As mentioned under childcare services you will need to check into your local laws for what you can do within your own kitchen. If you are required to meet certain commercial kitchen standards, you could always go to the person’s home to prepare the baked goods, meals, or whatever type of food you might be offering.


This is a very hot and exciting time for people who are in the scrapbooking business. There are so many people who are enthralled with the hobby, but few who actually have the time to do it. You could start a business offering your expertise in scrapbooking to create the scrapbook of their dreams. Many people who do not have the time would pay for someone to put these together for them. They make wonderful anniversary, birthday, and wedding gifts as well. You would need to pay for start-up costs, but with enough people interested you could recover these costs quickly.

Errand Services

You have to run errands yourself, right? Might as well see if someone else might need errand services as well. Many elderly people or those without vehicles would benefit from these types of services and you could earn a little money doing what you were planning to do anyway.


Do you make beautiful wreaths? Are you creative with making holiday ornaments, gifts, or knick knacks? Maybe you could earn money selling these at craft shows, garage sales, or to friends/relatives.

Mystery Shop

Be sure to check out my mystery shopping section for more information. This is where you are sent out by a company to different shops in your location and you are responsible for completing a survey on behalf of the company. The mystery is that no one knows that you are working for a company; therefore they act as they normally would with their regular customers. Upon completing the survey the company either reimburses you for a purchase made or you receive a cash payment for your services. These can range from five bucks on up depending on the lengthiness of the survey and the effort that is involved. I have been doing mystery shopping for the past several months and have been very successful at it. It is important to know that you DO NOT have to pay anyone to become a mystery shopper- you do not need an e-book to explain how to do it and you do not necessarily need to be a member to any organization in order to do it.

Gift Baskets

There are many inexpensive ways to create beautiful gift baskets and many people pay top dollar to have gifts put together for them. You can find beautiful vintage baskets at garage sales and antique stores. Using these baskets you can fill them with gifts that all center around the same theme. For example, center a bridal shower gift all around pampering the bride. Fill the basket with pretty bath soaps, a cooling eye mask, pretty nail polishes, lotion, and a pretty loofah scrubber. Contact local businesses around the holidays and ask if they need help in creating unique gifts for their employees. Many higher ups don’t have time to devote towards making unique gifts, but they are looking for something special for their employees and your basket could be the ticket.

Selling on eBay

This is a very hot time for selling on eBay, and even Oprah is doing it for her charity. As the old saying goes, “One man’s junk is another man’s treasure” Begin by checking out books at the library on selling on eBay. Also think about a specific type of thing you might like to focus your selling on- fine china, old maps, dolls, or wherever your interest may lie. It is easier to begin with a passion you have already had because you won’t have to start from scratch with your knowledge. Once you have picked your item start watching the listings on eBay. I would suggest starting small when you are first starting out. The worst thing in the world would be to buy something at a huge cost, try to resell it, and then no one have an interest in your item. There are many great books that you can get at your local library that will provide the beginning tools you need to start on this business venture. People make incredible amounts on eBay- why can’t you?

Join a Business

Along with creating your own business, you could begin taking part in a business that has already been established. This can really work to your advantage because the products that you will be selling or the parties you will be hosting will already be recognized by individuals. Immediately an individual can tell you whether or not they like certain products or if they are too overpriced. The problem you run into is that people already have these preconceived notions and the market is very saturated with lots of people selling the same thing. Every market is competitive though, but with the right mindset and drive you can make your dreams possible in any of these home businesses.


Ding-Dong, Avon calling. See, all I said was the word and you are already thinking about a positive or a negative experience that you have had with the company. Let me begin by saying that Avon sells in over a hundred countries and they have over three million sale representatives all over the world. They are the world’s leading direct seller of beauty products and their line doesn’t stop at just make-up. Avon sells everything from jewelry to clothing to children’s toys- there really isn’t anything that you won’t find in an Avon catalog. Your income is determined by how much money in products you sell and it is completely commissioned based. The beauty of Avon, in my opinion, is that there really is no huge investment other than your time. You can begin selling Avon with only a ten dollar investment. These ten dollars get you started with your first two campaigns of catalogs, a training manual, and a bag full of goodies which include samples for customers, ordering booklets, and information on embarking on your career in Avon. If you are interested in selling Avon click here and I can get you started or answer any questions you might have.

Mary Kay

This is also one of the largest direct sellers of beauty products. Mary Kay offers a large line of face care products and make-up along with health supplements. Mary Kay was founded in 1963 by Mary Kay Ash. Consultants sell products by organizing home parties, selling door to door, and selling through their internet Mary Kay approved web sites. The starter costs for this company is a bit higher in that you need to invest a hundred dollars to get your starter kit. This kit includes all the sales materials and products you would need in order to get started. As an Independent Consultant you are also eligible for a fifty percent discount on your products. The company offers wonderful incentives to its top sellers including the ever famous pink Cadillac for the company high-rollers. If you are interested in selling Mary Kay products please call 800.MARY.KAY for more information on how to get started.

Pampered Chef

Pampered Chef is a direct seller of guaranteed, professional-quality kitchen tools and pantry items. These include cookware, preparations tools and gadgets like ice shavers and apple corers. The company was founded in 1980 by Doris Christopher and the majority of the money made by the company is made through the Kitchen Shows which are hosted by the Pampered Chef consultants. There are many different sizes of starter kits you can obtain to being as a consultant and there is a price to fit the range of each individual. The Pampered Chef’s Kitchen Consultants host shows or parties in homes to sell products. The company provides various incentives to their consultants including jewelry and vacation rewards for good sales. Call 800.266.5562 if you are interested in obtaining more information about Pampered Chef.

Southern Living

Southern Living magazine has been around for decades, but the latest and greatest addition to the Southern Living family is their home parties where you can buy and sell products that are featured in the Southern Living magazine. The products include food products, cookbooks, pottery, and other accessories. As a Southern Living at Home consultant, you will sell products primarily through home parties and catalog distribution. Southern Living at Home offers a basic starter kit, which includes business supplies and 20 products, for an investment of $199, plus sales tax. Consultants get a commission of 25 percent on each product sold and can buy company merchandise at a 25 to 40 percent discount. Most products in the Southern Living at Home catalog range in price from $7 to $100. The company also provides incentives such as free merchandise and annual trips. To get information in the mail, send a $10 check to receive the Fast Track Opportunity Pack (includes an informational video, application form, product previews and a current catalog) to:

Southern Living at Home
Fast Track Opportunity Pack Request
P.O. Box 830951
Birmingham, Alabama 35283-0951

Taking the Mystery Out of Mystery Shopping

Wednesday, June 9th, 2004


I have been doing mystery shopping for almost a year now and have found it to be a rewarding job for me to do financially. I remember the first time I heard the term mystery shopping, I thought immediately that it was a scam. Most people do, simply because there are people out there who are trying to charge others for information on mystery shopping. I am here to provide the information to you free of charge; of course I will not refuse any clicks on our advertisements as a way to help the site to continue growing strong!

Let’s begin with the information on what is involved as a mystery shopper and then I will provide the link to where you can begin to sign up for these types of jobs:

What is mystery shopping?

Mystery shopping is when you pose as a customer of a store and observe the employees, the premises, and the quality of the goods offered. Most mystery shopping jobs require that you keep your identity to yourself, thus it is a mystery that you are even there. Obviously, if employees knew that you were critiquing them, they would be on their best behavior and be performing for you rather than performing their normal day-to-day routine. Most companies will provide a scenario for you to use when posing as a customer. For example, if you went to a pet store, then they would tell you that you have a dog that is overweight and you are looking for the appropriate type of food to give to him. Some scenarios are very detailed, others lack detail, and some ask that you come prepared with a scenario that you have imagined yourself. You are usually given a window of time to complete the job. Some jobs will give you a week to complete, while others are more rushed and need to be completed within the next day or two. You are usually given a time to shop and many of these are performed during the daytime hours- perfect for stay-at-home moms. Each mystery job is different in what they expect from you. I have done a lot of different types of shops such as film development, food, checking promotional materials at stores, department stores and retail shopping, bowling alleys, cellular companies, and pizza delivery. There are lots of different jobs out there that you can do and once you become a more experienced shopper and are known for completing jobs in a timely fashion, then the companies will begin to contact you for more jobs and you will have to do less searching for them.

What am I reporting to the company?

Usually the company requires that you complete a questionnaire on the service that you received. Each company is different on the length of these and the amount of details you are expected to provide. I usually weigh the length of the questionnaire against the amount paid to me if I really want to spend the time filling out a particularly long one. It is important that you read the questionnaire BEFORE you complete your assignment otherwise you will have no way of knowing what to be looking for. You can’t bring the questionnaire into the store because this usually alerts employees that you are performing a mystery shopping job so you either have to write a few discreet notes to yourself or have extremely good memory. Sometimes you are asked in these questionnaires to observe one particular thing. For example, I mystery shop a particular restaurant in our food court pretty regularly and I am usually looking for the exact same things- the quality of the food, the customer service, and the cleanliness factors. I do not have to memorize a large amount of information so I sign up pretty frequently for this one. If I got a job to survey the entire food court though, then I would have a lot more to memorize and this would create many more categories for me to have to observe and there is a greater chance of error. This is where good memory and note-taking would be needed. Most questionnaires can be completed online although I have mystery shopped for companies in the past that required that I mail in the questionnaire.

Costs and Payments

What’s this going to cost me?

This is important to know especially if you are on a budget like I am. Some of the jobs require that you make purchases and it is important to know the dollar amount associated with these purchases since it will be awhile before you are reimbursed. I usually pick jobs that don’t require me to spend anything over twenty dollars. There are always exceptions though depending on our finances, but I try to pick jobs were no purchase is required, or where the purchase is minimal.

How much do I get paid?

This is a tough question to answer because some jobs pay nothing except for reimbursement, while others pay anywhere between five and a hundred dollars depending upon the assignment. You are probably wondering why anyone would take these jobs and not get paid. Well, you are still getting paid, but it is going towards a purchase that you are required to make on behalf of the company. I have taken a few of these where I have wanted to eat dinner at a particular restaurant or wanted a particular item, but could not justify the cost for it. It is much easier to justify when the mystery shopping company is footing the bill for dinner or my retail purchase. Jobs that pay very little usually have shorter questionnaires, while the jobs that pay more offer up several departments to be checking or require much more detail.

When do I get paid?

This also depends on the company, but the earliest that I usually see is three weeks. Most companies take six to eight weeks to process your checks so this is also a factor that you need to weigh very carefully if you are on a budget. It is going to be awhile before you see any profit from this business venture and if the budget is tight in our family, then I chose jobs that require little or no cost.

Tips for Successful Shopping

Any tips for a novice mystery shopper?

Although this sounds like a particularly easy job, in actuality it is not. I have had friends accompany me on these jobs and they can’t believe some of the work that goes into preparing this information for the companies. This is a job even though it doesn’t sound like one and much is required from you as a shopper. They want people who can shop and accurately portray the service they receive. I would like to share with you a few of the things that I wish someone would have disclosed to me when I was mystery shopping.

You might not be able to bring your children with you on some of the assignments. Some companies do not want you bringing your children because children can be very distracting when you are supposed to be completing an assignment. Be clear about the terms of the company and the terms of each job because this is an important thing to know. Some of the jobs will allow children, but if it is a lengthy survey that needs to be completed or requires you to do a lot of interacting with the salespeople you may want to choose to leave your child at home so you can do a good job on your assignment. Quick surveys that require little detail or restaurants where you can bring your family are ideal for bringing your children.

You need to keep very good records especially if you are completing a lot of assignments for various companies. One of the files I keep has all of my passwords and user identifications for the mystery shop companies. I also include within this file a few other items that are frequently asked on applications for mystery shop assignments. When you apply to hundreds of companies, I find it easier to have the information typed up and saved in a file rather than trying to come up with a unique answer for each company. Some of the information I keep is what companies I have shopped for in the past (be sure to update this as you gain new assignments), zip codes and area codes where you are willing to shop, a description of your best shopping experience, and a description of your worst shopping experience. Almost every company requests this type of information so it is good to have all of this ready to go when filling out the applications.

The other file I keep is a spreadsheet of the jobs that I have completed. The information I plug into this is the name of the company I shopped, the date the shop was completed, the date I should be paid (based on their pay system), a brief description of what I did at the job (good to have if this is requested on a future application), the amount that I need to be reimbursed, the pay for the assignment, the contact person’s email/phone number (if this is applicable), and finally a field that requires a yes or no answer on whether this has been paid. By keeping good records, you can save yourself the time of having to track down the long forgotten email that had the information in it about the job. If this system does not work for you, you can devise your own system of record-keeping. This record is also handy if you need to report this information for tax-purposes.

Your answers could affect another person’s job. I realize that if the person is not performing well at their job that this is through no fault of your own, however, I would be very careful with the criticism that you offer. Everyone has bad days at work and their bad day may be the day that you walk in and assess their performance. If you are between the ages of 21-25, you may be asked to go into various restaurants and request an alcoholic beverage. Should the waiter not ask for your identification, they will be immediately be terminated from their job. Personally, I think that I would feel pretty lousy if I caused someone to lose their job just so I could get a free meal. I realize that this is important to know for the company, but in the past I have turned these assignments down, my conscience just will not allow it. I think it is important to be careful, but accurate in your criticism. Keep in mind that this is a person who makes mistakes on the job just like you and unfortunately you are there to critique. If someone makes a mistake on something that I ordered, for example, I always try to note how well they handled repairing the mistake they made. Did they apologize and immediately try to correct it? Did they offer the meal to me for free? Did they check to make sure that it was correct and that I was happy the second time? These are the types of things to look for, not that they made the original mistake.

You are not a critic, you are a reporter. Mystery shop companies are usually not looking for a detailed description of how you didn’t think the décor was that great in the restaurant, they are usually looking for factors like cleanliness, if you are greeted when you walk in, and if you receive service in a timely manner. Good reporters tell the accurate details of a newsworthy story, not their own feelings on it. Try to keep that in mind when you are doing your reporting.

Read the directions for completing the paperwork and then read them again. I know that this is time consuming, but if you do not report the exact way the company specifies then they can refuse to pay you for not completing everything the way that they requested.

Where to Start

The best place I have found to sign up for mystery shopping is Volition. Remember that this is the most time-consuming part of beginning your career in mystery shopping, but the more companies you sign-up with the more assignments you will have to choose from. Make sure that you have them notify you if they have jobs in your area through your email and then make sure you check your email frequently. If you live in an area where the shops are fewer and far between, they go very quickly so you want to be the first one to answer the email, and not the last.

I hope that this information will help you become more acquainted with the whole world of mystery shopping, and that you have lots of mystery shopping jobs in the horizon filled with free lunches and money to begin doing your own shopping.

Spotting Work at Home Scams

Wednesday, June 9th, 2004

Spotting Work at Home Scams

Where to Start

It would be wonderful if I could honestly tell you that I had not fallen victim to a work at home scam myself, but that would be untrue. When I was very desperate to find a job where I could make money from home I lost money in a couple of different work at home schemes which caused us both a small financial loss as well as being a disappointment that rather than making money for our family, I was losing money.

There is a variety of work at home scams that are listed on papers, sent to you through email, and posted on job boards. They claim that you can earn hundreds of dollars a day doing simple things like stuffing envelopes or data entry. Let’s face it folks, if it sounds too good to be true, you better believe it is.

Here are just a few of the scenarios you may run across and be tempted, in a moment of weakness, to respond to:

Nigerian Money Email

I have received emails and faxes for this scam countless times. The Better Business Bureau reports that this scam has been around for ages, however, with the dawn of email it has taken on a whole new life. The fund fraud transfers scams can come to you through email, fax, or even by personal mail. The sender, who claims to be a government official or member of a royal family, requests assistance in transferring millions of dollars of excess money out of Nigeria and promises to pay the person for his or her help. The message is always of an urgent, private nature. Although the country primarily listed is Nigeria, I have seen other countries listed with the same urgent news.

Those willing to assist are asked to provide their banking account number, Social Security number, birth date, and often times other personal information. Or they are asked to send money to the letter-sender for taxes and various fees. Victims will never see their money again and the con artist pockets the money.

You may think that there is no way that people could fall for such a ridiculous scam, but the FBI reports annual losses of millions of dollars to just these types of schemes. In fact, some victims have actually been lured to Nigeria, where they were imprisoned or much worse.

If you should receive an email of this nature, forward it to [email protected], then immediately delete the correspondence. If you have already, however, responded to this scam or know someone who has, please contact the U.S. Secret Service as soon as possible by phone (202.406.5572).

Assembly Work

This type of scheme is where you send a company money to send you supplies to put together different types of crafts, bows, or other type of small project. You send hundreds of dollars to the company for supplies who have claimed they will pay you “x” amount of dollars if you put the items together as instructed. You will invest hours of your time into putting these crafts together only to have the company tell you that you did not meet the “standards” for the work that they have sent. They will then send the materials back to you which you will be stuck with items and you will also be out a bunch of your own money which you had invested.

UPS & Federal Express Recovery

This is a scam that I have personally been victim to and spent $69 of our money only to discover that I was stuck with software that I could not use. Stupidly, when I think of a name such as UPS or Federal Express I automatically think that this has to be legitimate, right? Wrong!

The claim with this software is that companies that send out large amounts of shipments through Federal Express or UPS do not have the time to track these packages. If the packages are even one minute late with delivery, you are entitled to a full refund. With these “amazing” software packages, you will now be able to track all these parcels for the companies. You simply call on behalf of your clientele and they will get fifty percent of the refund while you pocked the other fifty percent. These people will agree to this because this is money that they wouldn’t have had otherwise. You can make $50-75 an hour and download the list of the packages while you are sitting in your robe and sipping your coffee. Doesn’t that sound wonderful?

First of all, neither Federal Express nor UPS is affiliated with any of these software programs. They also have every right to refuse the refund to you, a third-party who did not pay for the shipping in the first place. UPS online tracking system can only be used by the sender of the package or by the recipient. Besides, information obtained through the tracking system can only be used to monitor one’s shipment and not for someone’s commercial gain unless UPS openly authorizes it. To top it off, UPS prohibits any uses of automated software to access its online shipping-related systems. Therefore, the software you would be using would be deemed illegal.

I guess I had been under the assumption that they would be providing a list of people to contact that would be interested in these services. What they did provide was a list of general types of companies to target like the health industry, industrial services, or retail companies. Through this list you are supposed to come up with a list of people you think would be interested in your services, try to obtain the name and email address of the correct person who should be targeted, and send them this letter that the company has so kindly supplied for you. Then you just sit back and watch people chomping at the bit to get this amazing service. Who in the world would ever give out any of this private tracking information on their packages to a complete stranger? The answer to that, of course, would be no one in their right mind.

Envelope Stuffing

This is also a very old scam, however, people continue to fall for it. This scam informs you that you can earn hundreds of dollars by simply stuffing envelopes for companies. What you end up doing is paying someone to get information about stuffing envelopes and instead you get information on how to place the same advertisement for other people to become suckered in just as you have. Today everything is so automated that there is no reason that a company would outsource for envelope stuffing.

Data Entry

This is another scam that I fell head over heels for when searching for a work at home job. I saw an advertisement for a position doing data entry. All I needed to do was pay ten dollars for my “training packet” and they would send to me all of my training materials. For this particular company, I emailed the person in charge to request more information. The person that emailed me back seemed so sweet and told me how much money she was making doing this, sent me an application, (here was the clincher for me) signed it “God Bless.” Well, I figured this woman had a little God in her life so she wouldn’t be scamming me….right? Wrong again! Upon filling out my application I received within two seconds an email explaining that all I had to do was send the same advertisement out to other unsuspecting people along with an application for employment, review the application (for what reason, I do not know) and send them the congratulatory letter that there employment has been approved. I would then get half of the money and the other half would go to the person who recruited me. Believe me when I say that I got my money back for these training materials. I will explain more on what to do if you become a victim at the end of this article and how to try to salvage your money.

Medical Transcriptions

There are tons of phony advertisements out there for this job. While knowing medical transcription is great in a traditional work place, unless you personally know the company and they check out with the Better Business Bureau, be very wary of these types of job listings. The typical scenario usually plays out with the company telling you that you can make hundreds of dollars working from home and all you will need is the CD Rom which will have everything you need to know about medical transcription and at the end of their course you will officially be certified and people will be dying to hire you because of your qualifications. After purchasing your software and the computer system needed in order to link with the central computer system for “training purposes” you will have spent thousands of dollars with absolutely little or nothing to show for it. There will be no job and no clients with an amazing certification from Jon Doe’s Medical Transcription Online Schooling Company and you will have wasted both your time and money into yet another fruitless cause.

Tips for Spotting a Scam

These are just a few of the many scams that you will find on the internet and could become a potential victim to. These advertisers are looking for desperate people especially stay-at-home moms who are dying to continue staying home with their children or are in a difficult financial position. It is important for you to be an informed mother and know what to look for in a work-at-home scheme. Here are a few red flags that should help make a work-at-home scam more apparent:

  • The advertiser is using ALL CAPITAL LETTERS with lots of exclamation points!!!!!!!!!!!!!! IT WOULD LOOK SOMETHING LIKE THIS!!!!!!!!! AREN’T YOU LUCKY TO BE SCAMMED????
  • They claim that you can make hundreds or thousands of dollars a day with no experience needed and minimal effort is needed in order to achieve this financial miracle.
  • There is a fee in order for you to apply. This fee is for training materials, a membership into a work-at-home club or for a transaction fee and it is an obscure company that you have never heard of. If there is a fee involved, chances are that you are being scammed. If you are applying for jobs in your neighborhood you are not charged transaction fees in order to submit your resume to a job so you shouldn’t be charged for one for a work-at-home job.
  • The advertisement lists no company or any information that you can check into. They don’t give you any contact information other than a first name and a number where you can leave a message. A job listing shouldn’t be a mysterious advertisement unless there is something to hide. Be very leery of these types of advertisements.
  • Look the company up on the Better Business Bureau’s web site. If they do not check out on this web site, chances are that this company is trying to scam you. The Better Business Bureau is a wonderful tool for you if you are trying to spot a scam. Their web site is full of helpful information and tips along with consumer alerts on new scams that are taking place.

What to Do if You’ve Been Scammed

Okay, so you are asking, “What if I have already been scammed?” How do I get my money back and who do I report the scam to. As I said before, I had been victim to the “data entry” position and so when I found out that instead of doing data entry I was typing the same dirty little ads out to other unsuspecting victims, I simply sent the company an email and asked for an immediate refund. I received an email back stating that I should have known what I was getting myself into and that they were sorry, but they wouldn’t be refunding my money. That is when I looked on the Better Business Bureau’s web site to find out how they suggested I get my money back. There web site states the following:

If you become a victim of a work-at-home scheme, ask the company for a refund. If they refuse or give you an evasive response, tell them you plan to notify law enforcement officials.

Keep careful records of everything you do to recover your money. Document your phone calls, keep copies of all paperwork such as letters and receipts, and record all costs involved, including the time you spend. If the company refuses to refund your investment, contact:

All it took for me to have my money refunded was to tell the company that I was planning to contact law enforcement. Hopefully, if you are victim of a scam you will not have to go through these steps, but it is good information to have just in case. Please see my Work-At-Home Ideas to give you more ways to make money from home.

Organized Move

Wednesday, June 9th, 2004

Here is a true story of a move from hell.  My husband was offered a job in Indiana, which would require us to make a cross-country move from Massachusetts to the Midwest so we were then faced with the daunting task of moving our belongings. Being in the insurance field, I realized that there were a few important things I needed to do in order to make sure my belongings would make it to our new home without any mishaps.

I researched moving companies and priced them out to make sure that I was receiving the best deal, I asked for my estimate to be made to me in writing, I checked the company with the Better Business Bureau, requested a binder of insurance, and added extra coverage to our homeowner’s policy to cover our contents while we were transitioning into our new home. Doesn’t that sound like an educated consumer?

Well, we were in for the shock of our life when the move actually took place. The cost of the move was about four thousand higher than the original estimate, all of our furniture was ruined (many of which was irreplaceable), and the movers kept on telling us that they were going to move our belongings, but then would not show up on the days that were promised.  To say it was a nightmare would be putting it mildly. So how does an educated consumer avoid living a horror story like mine? The honest truth is that sometimes these scenarios are unavoidable, but it never hurts to be educated and to know what precautions to take to avoid becoming victim of your own move from hell.

Moving Stress

Let it first be said that most of us are going to have to move at least once. In fact, the average American moves between seven and eleven times in their lifetime (depending on your source for statistics) so it will probably hold true that you are going to have to do this a few more times then you realize.  Moving stress is inevitable and even the most organized person is going to be stressed out by the time moving day comes around. Psychiatrists list moving as one of the top trauma-creating circumstances right after death and divorce. With as many times as we move in our lifetime it should come as no surprise that the moving industry generates seven billion dollars a year in revenues. Moving is taxing physically, emotionally, and financially…. so take a deep breath and let’s begin the steps towards an organized move.

Choosing Your Mover

Before you can begin thinking about moving you need to be thinking of whom you are going to hire to accomplish this task or if you are going to try and move yourself.  Obviously, ideally you would like to hire someone else to take care of this for you, but many of us cannot afford the luxury or there are those of us who just don’t trust anyone else with our belongings. Although, financially speaking, you may think that moving yourself is in your best interest, you really must weigh your time, the gas for the vehicle, the rental of the vehicle, the mileage on the car, and the loading and unloading, versus the amount paid for someone else to do it.

Dave Ramsey, who wrote, “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Smart Moving” came up with his own Unreal Formula for Pricing the Do-It-Yourself Move.”

His formula for this was:

Miles x cubic feet x days on the road x current price of a Big Mac Meal + distance between your location and Puckerbrush, Nevada + distance required to avoid driving by Aunt Martha’s / rental fee for videos in your new hometown. Reverse the formula if you cross a longitudinal line during your move. Margin for error: 100%.

Of course this formula was just a joke, but as with all moving expenses, it is very hard to gauge the true cost of the move.

Should you decide to hire a mover, you have to begin researching companies to find out which mover is going to provide the best service for you as well as the best price.  A good resource for you when choosing a mover is your friends who have experienced first-hand what a move with a particular company is like. Upon getting a few referrals, then you will want to check with the Better Business Bureau to make sure that the company does not have any claims against them.  You really want to research the company well and request references from each of the companies to receive other first-hand accounts on the mover.

The best advice I can offer is to check the company and then check the company again. I think George E. Bennett put it best at the American Movers Conference when he said, “You have people wanting to move all their earthly possessions, and they just look in the Yellow Pages and call somebody. It’s amazing. The truck pulls over; they take everything and drive away. That’s fantastic faith in your fellow human beings. A lot of people just don’t do enough checking.

Getting Your Estimate

I find this to be one of the trickiest parts of moving because it is so hard to estimate what you have especially when nothing is in boxes and you are supposed to estimate how many boxes you anticipate having along with the estimates for furniture and all that you have in storage.

The most important thing you need to know is that you must get your estimate in writing- this is a must. If a company will not put the estimate in writing, then this is not a company that you want to work with. The most reliable estimate you can get is if they send a representative to your home to come out to do the estimate. The reasoning for this, of course, is that they will be able to provide a very accurate estimate and usually are held within a certain percentage limitation for how high they can raise the price.  Many movers, in fact will guarantee their estimate if they compete a home survey.

If you are unable to get a home estimate, you will have to tally up everything as best as you can.  Go from room to room making a list of all appliances and belongings. Make rough estimates on the amount of boxes that you think you will have and I think it is always better to overestimate rather than underestimate because you probably have more than you think you have. Use this list as a guideline for the moving company to come up with their estimate. Don’t forget to include things like bicycles, exercise equipment, large screen televisions, and stereo equipment.

There are two types of estimates that you can request- a binding or a nonbinding estimate. A binding estimate is a guaranteed final price estimate. Most companies charge you extra to have this type of estimate, but Consumer Reports magazine recommends going with this type of estimate “even though they can run slightly higher than nonbinding ones.” A nonbinding estimate is just an estimate with no guarantees. The final cost is then determined primarily by the actual weight of the shipment multiplied by the distance traveled.

Once you have received your estimates and you have chosen your mover after thoroughly checking them, it is time to begin gathering up some paperwork you will need to protect your belongings.

Insurance Not Just For You

Many people do not think to contact their own insurance agency, let alone their mover’s insurance agency to make sure that they are carrying the proper coverage. This is one of the most important steps in your move because if you do not have the proper insurance coverage and something happens to your belongings, you will be kicking yourself later.

First, contact the mover’s insurance agency and request that they send you an Insurance Binder, which will show what type of coverage they have. Usually this type of coverage is minimal at best. Usually it will say that it will insure something like fifty cents per pound. What does this mean? Well, let’s say that your stereo system weighs ten pounds, then their insurance will pay you five dollars if it becomes damaged. This insurance is not going to truly protect you if your belongings are ruined so that is when you call your own insurance agent and find out if there is any special coverage endorsement that can be added to your own policy to make sure that your belongings are safe. This endorsement is usually very expensive, but worth it when you have thousands of dollars of belongings on a truck that could not make it through the move.

Packing Up

You can save yourself a lot of money if you pack your belongings yourself. Be creative in your packing to save money. Here are a few ideas for frugal ways that you can pack your belongings.

  1. Use all of your dishtowels, bathroom towels, and linens to help pack up precious stereo equipment and other electronic equipment.
  2. Another frugal wrapping material is newspaper.  If you do not have a lot of newspapers on hand, ask your friends and family to save their papers for you. You can also check your neighbor’s recycling boxes on recycle day and ask if you can take their newspapers from them to meet your packing needs. Finally, another place to check for newspaper is with your local newspaper’s office. Many times they offer newspaper that has not been printed on to the general public if you ask.
  3. Call around to your local hardware and grocery stores to see what day they receive their shipment and ask if you can take some boxes off of their hands. Be careful to not overload these boxes and make sure that they are made of very sturdy cardboard when loading with heavier items.
  4. Use all of your baskets, hampers, and suitcases to fill with clothing and linens.

When packing your belongings, it is always good to have a system that identifies the box clearly to both the movers and yourself when you are unloading the truck. On the outside of the box (both on the top and the side) write the room and place a sticker next to the label to color-code it to a room. When you arrive, hang a matching balloon outside of the room or other easily identifiable color-coded object that will direct the mover to the room that you want the box placed. Nothing is more frustrating than to have tons of “mystery” boxes that you have no idea where they go or what to do with them. This is especially true when the “mystery” box weighs about five hundred pounds. It really does pay to clearly label your boxes.

Payment and Delivery

The mover is contractually bound to pick up and deliver your shipment on the terms set in the bill of lading. Usually your mover will provide a range of dates of when they expect to deliver your belongings.  The mover is required to notify you by telephone, telegram, or in person if pickup or delivery will not be on schedule. You want to make sure that you are always available to the mover by providing numbers of cell phones or where you are planning to stay so that your belongings do not end up in storage and they force you to foot the bill for them being put there.

Make sure that you hang on to all your bills during this time that way if you are claiming the move for taxes you will have all of the paperwork you need to complete them. They will also come in handy if you have to incur any costs because of your belongings not being delivered on time that may have to be recovered from the moving company’s insurance policy.

Payment, like the estimate, is another tricky part of moving when dealing with a moving company. Most movers will require your payment before they unload the truck and it is important to know that they will not accept any personal checks. Most will accept payments that are made by cash, certified checks, money orders, travelers checks, and sometimes through a credit card.

If you chose to go with a nonbonding estimate and the mover asks for more than the estimate you are responsible for paying ONLY the estimate plus ten percent before unloading, and the remaining balance is to be paid within thirty days. You are also responsible for any services not included in the estimate. I wish that we would have known this when we had made our move, so I hope this helps a future new homeowner from making the mistake of feeling forced to come up with payment the day that you have received your belongings, especially when the estimate is four thousand dollars shy of what was originally quoted.

Another important thing that I wish we had been aware of is to NEVER sign a receipt or delivery paper until you have checked to make sure that all of your belongings are intact and have survived the trip to your new home. If you discover damage to any of your belongings, make sure that you make a note of it on both your paperwork and the mover’s paperwork. If you discover damage after your mover has left, leave everything in the box and contact the moving company immediately to find out how to proceed. I think a red-flag should have went up when the mover unloaded and left without helping to put any of our furniture together or checking to see if all of our belongings were okay…it seemed as though they didn’t want to see our horrified faces when we opened up our boxes of broken goods and caught glimpse of our ruined furniture.

Recovering From a Bad Move

Let’s say that you end up having a bad move- what is the next step to take in order to recover financially and whom do you report this information to?  If your move does result in the loss of or damage to any of your property, you have every right to file a claim against the mover to recover money for the loss or damage.

The first step that you will want to do is make note of any damages to your furniture or belongings. A good thing to have on hand in order to back up any of your claims is a digital camera. Take several pictures of everything and write down very clearly what exactly has been damaged and where it was damaged. Keep all of this information together and then contact your moving company. You will want to call them as soon as you find the damage and send them copies of the documents and pictures that you took of the damage. All movers are supposed to respond promptly to complaints or inquiries from customers. They have thirty days to address your claim. Should they not address your complaint, then you need to work your way up the corporate ladder and ask to speak with the person in charge of the moving company. If they decided not to address your complaint, then you need to move up to a bigger organization.

First, contact your homeowner’s insurance agency and explain to them what happened. If you carried a special coverage endorsement as was recommended by MomAdvice, then you should be able to have your insurance company handle the claim. Send your insurance company the documentation, and allow them the dirty work of trying to get the money from the moving company.

If you did not carry this insurance as was recommended and your mover is not addressing your claim or has denied the claim, then you have sixty days from the date of your move to write to the American Movers Conference and request arbitration.  Their website is and you can fill out a form online. If your dispute meets their guidelines, they will notify the mover and send you the forms to fill out. This method of getting what is owed to you does not come without a price tag, however, and you will need to know that in order to do this that you will be responsible for half of the cost of the arbitration proceedings (total cost $150). The arbitrator will review your paperwork and evidence that you have and then reach a decision within sixty days.

Dan Ramsey explains it best in his book (“The Complete Idiots Guide to Smart Moving”) in how to figure out what is applicable and what is not for arbitration.  “The arbitrator’s decision is legally binding on you and the mover.  However, the arbitrator has jurisdiction only over claims for loss or damage to the household goods, and their transport. The arbitrator can’t rule on claims such as loss of wages, punitive damages, or violation of law. In addition, the amount of any award probably won’t exceed the carrier’s liability noted in the bill of lading.”

In the meantime, you can also contact the Better Business Bureau to process a complaint with them. It is important to do this not only for yourself, but to help protect other people from living the nightmare that you have just lived through. Many times, companies are more apt to work with you if their reputation is on the line and they realize that they have the potential to lose business by not processing your claim.

In the case of a bad move, it truly pays to be diligent.


Moving is never going to be easy, but I hope by arming you with some of this great information, that your move will go much smoother and that you will know what to do in the case of a bad move.