Some people grow up in a family; I grew up in a clan. Both of my parents came from families with ten children, born during the Great Depression or WWII. That makes for a big pack of aunts and uncles who beget 72 first cousins. Now that my generation has children, we can no longer find a place big enough to hold family reunions.
Growing up in a big family is part of the reason I was initially drawn to the organizing profession. Our family get togethers were large events requiring major logistics. I remember when we rented a summer cottage with two of Mom's sisters. I have two sisters, one aunt had 7 children and the other had 5. In one single cottage that summer 6 grown ups and 15 elementary school aged children shared accommodations and ate three meals a day together. It was a very hectic, but full of healthy, happy fun.
Growing up in a clan I learned the art of hospitality and event planning. Family wasn't the only clan; there was a neighbourhood clan of families who lived on our street in Scarborough for over 43 years. Every year we celebrated birthdays, anniversaries and best of all Canada Day and New Year's Eve. My best friend's family came from England and our extended families quickly became one big happy family.
The main thing I remember growing up is that everything wasn't perfect, but it was perfectly pleasant. We were sometimes squished around the dining room table sitting on phone books so we could reach the table. But we had family and we had traditions and most of all we shared memories of wonderful times.
The members of my clan had some weird and wonderful contingency plans to overcome every conceivable obstacle when entertaining large crowds. In a pinch, a laundry tub full of ice makes a great beer station! A couple of bags of ice in the bottom of the washing machine will keep bagged lettuce crisp until dinner time so there will be room for other meal contributions in the fridge. Once the main dish is ready it can be kept warm on the BBQ until the side dishes are cycled through the oven or microwave. Finally a Rubbermaid container in the garage in the winter will keep baked goods fresh or slightly frozen until party time.
I married into another clan; a bustling Italian extended family who came to Canada as refugees after the war. Until very recently, the nucleus of this family shared two halves of a semi-detached house in Weston. There were three kids in one house and four next door; add in the parents, Nona and Nonno and the grand total came to 13 wandering back and forth between the two homes. The sense of family felt very familiar, with food at the centre of most events, so I felt comfortable right from the start.
Not all of the clients in my organizing practice are lucky enough to have grown up in a clan. Too often I meet families who suffer from what organizers refer to as C.H.A.O.S. (Can't Have Anybody Over Syndrome) which originated with books from The Sidetracked Home Executives. These families are ashamed of the way their home is decorated or their poor housekeeping methods or their inability to whip up a meal made from scratch. What a shame! These families and their children are missing out on so much spontaneous fun.
I believe that organizing is an essential life skill and it is never too late to learn. With summer vacation time right around the corner, let go of expectations of perfection and open your home and your hearth to family. The recipe is simple: eat, drink and be merry all summer long.
Dedicated with love to Brenda, Babe, Trea, Marg, Jean, Renee, Anne, Flo and in memory of Helen and Jeannette; I learned from the best.
Tree and Decorating Tips
Click here for a tree decorating demonstration and some quick holiday tips.
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9 second version!
Photography and video courtesy of Alan Sencich
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Tackle it Now Tip
Pack and Go
Now that winter is winding down, many families are planning a spring get away. The key to a relaxing get away is to pack effectively. A personal packing list simplifies the packing process.
- Buy sturdy, lightweight suitcases on wheels, ones that nest together for easy storage.
- Invest in luggage straps to securely strap smaller luggage onto bigger rolling pieces.
- Pack only what you can comfortably carry and lift by yourself.
- There is lots of walking through airports, so wear your most comfortable shoes (remember that you'll have to take them off to go through security).
- Dress in layers for comfort on the plane.
- Plastic compression bags are the best new invention for compact packing. Vacuum pack or roll wrinkle-proof items like underwear, bathing suits, bulky sweaters or socks. Coming home, use the bags to compress dirty laundry to make room to pack souvenirs.
- Pack a roomy, waterproof tote or backpack for necessary carry on items, ID, tickets and mini sized cosmetics. You can use it again as a beach bag or when sightseeing.
- Carry personal prescriptions with you at all times. Include motion sickness remedies available in pills, patch or a magnetic bracelet.
- Remember that you can only carry on a total of 100 ml. of liquids, stored in a see through zip lock baggie. Obtain current international luggage restrictions regarding carrying fluids at www.tc.gc.ca . Also check with your airline for their specific baggage weight regulations and charges since the rules frequently change.
- Have a friend or family member drive you to the airport so you can leave winter wear in the car until you return from the sun. No sense lugging the extra weight of bulky coats.
SAFETY & SECURITY
- Label identification tags using a work address and cell phone number in case luggage is misplaced. (For security reasons never use your home address.)
- On bus tours and cruises luggage is often left unsupervised, so invest in good quality locks.
- Will a safe be available in your room? This may determine whether you travel with real or costume jewellery.
- Don't take a bulky wallet, instead pare down to the essentials: license, health card, ATM and charge cards.
- Code your cell phone with an ICE number (In Case of Emergency contact)
- Pack a flashlight or nightlight to navigate in dark, unfamiliar places
- Check if your destination or cruise ship has a dress code in effect requiring dress jackets and ties for men. When sightseeing find out if there are clothing restrictions, i.e. shorts may not be appropriate in some locations and women may have to cover their heads to enter a church. Be prepared with a pashmina that can double as a scarf or evening shawl.
- Begin with the "Classic Packing Rule of Nine"
- 3 bottoms (skirts, slacks or shorts)
- 4 tops (shirt, blouse, T-shirt, shell or tank top)
- 2 jackets (one weatherproof windbreaker and a jacket, blazer or cardigan)
- Mix and match outfits starting with coordinating classic colours: black, navy, white, and then add bright contrasts. Accessorize to glamorize using belts, scarves, or shawls for a burst of colour. A dressy cardigan with a bit of glitter can dress up any outfit for evening.
- Plan double duty items - an oversize shirt can double as a bathing suit cover or a housecoat.
- Pack one pair of dressy, low heeled sandals
- Pack flip flops instead of slippers and tuck them into your backpack for comfortable sightseeing when your feet tire of walking shoes.
Professional Organizer Karen Sencich is owner of Havoc to Harmony. www.havoctoharmony.com