How I Changed Everything So I Actually Work When I Work From Home

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Forget extra vacation days or free coffee at the office; The hottest new work benefit is the option to work remotely. Tons of people who move for a job still find themselves outside of the office. Yep, about 3.9 million U.S. employees are working from home at least half the time, according to reports.

And I’m one of them!

Don’t I look professional? Well, it wasn’t always that way. I recently left my corporate job to work on my small business, and let me just say, it has been quite the adjustment working from home.

I woke up on my first day of work and felt guilty when I wasn’t rushing around to get ready and run out the door to make the train. The first few weeks were a struggle with my new routine, and I found myself working 12 hour days, in my pajamas, with my laptop constantly in front of me. I was quickly on the road to burnout.

Whether you’re underworking, overworking or both, luckily I’ve figured out a smarter (and healthier) way to work from home. I did lots of research and implemented a few strategies into my routine, and I’m happy to report that I am now thriving with my new setup.

I still get dressed for the workday.

Remember the tale of me in my pajamas working like a maniac those first few weeks of my new routine? Yeah, that wasn’t the best look for me. My husband would return home from work at night, only to find me in the same pajamas I was in when he left 9 hours before. Yikes.

Now, I get up and dressed every morning. I don’t have to put on business casual clothing, just a fresh outfit for the day ahead. This makes me feel better about myself, keeps my hygiene on point, and makes me feel like a total #girlboss.

I don’t work on the couch anymore because I designed my own work area.

I’m guilty of working from bed or on the couch hunched over my laptop. This hasn’t been great on my back (or my productivity). So after reading some more about the problem, I decided to create a designated “office space” in our home, force myself to sit in a real chair, and get real work done.

Even though our small condo doesn’t have a separate room for an office, I just added a slim desk to a blank wall in our bedroom. This makeshift office has been crucial for me. When I sit down at my desk, I know it’s time to get to work and avoid the distractions from the rest of my home.

But if you have an extra room in your house that you can convert to an office, don’t think twice and just do it. That way, you can simply close the door at the end of the day and work mode will be over. If not, find a way to create a work zone in your home, so work isn’t creeping into rooms all over your house.

I go outside before I start to work (even if it’s freezing).

Sometimes there isn’t a reason for me to leave the house at any point during these Chicago winters … I’m totally fine with that! However, I’ve found that morning walks help set me up for success for the day. Just a 20-minute stroll around the block gives me some much-needed vitamin D and fresh air. When I return, I’m ready to sit down and get to work.

I’ve also added a weekly trip to the coffee shop into my routine, and it’s nice to head out for 20 minutes to get a cup of coffee in the neighborhood. Fresh air and fresh java? Yes, please!

I bought a big whiteboard so my daily goals are visualized and in front of me.

I’m a big list maker and absolutely love the satisfaction of crossing items off of a long to-do list. I recently added a large whiteboard to our home, and it has helped me tremendously. I split the board into six sections, one for each weekday and a column for the weekend. Now I look at my week as a whole and plan things out accordingly. I slot in appointments, meetings, conference calls, important tasks and even workouts onto my large whiteboard.

I make time to meet with friends during lunch so I’m not isolated.

Working from home has many perks, but it can also be incredibly isolating. You may be by yourself all day long, and it can get lonely. I’ve found that setting up weekly lunches has made a big difference in my overall morale. I set up lunch with a different friend one day per week, and it has kept me more social … plus, it breaks up the week! If I can’t find a friend who is free that week, I spend one afternoon a week working at a coffee shop. Working amongst other people can be rejuvenating and inspiring.

I write to my coworkers (very) often.

If you’re working remotely for a company, it’s important to communicate all the time. You’re not getting that same face-to-face interaction that your coworkers at the office are getting, so be sure to check-in frequently. Make yourself available via Slack or Google Chat, and make sure you’re responsive when it comes to calling and emails.

This also will show your coworkers and managers that you’re still reliable, even when you’re working from home.

Yeah, I’m really trying to avoid household distractions.

I’m still working on this strategy, but I think it’s so important to set boundaries. When you’re home all day long, it can be easy to get distracted by things that need to be done around the house. Laundry, cleaning, cooking … they can all take you away from getting your work done.

I found that I was constantly multi-tasking while working. This seemed okay at first, but I found that I wasn’t as efficient as I used to be. Now, I take those aforementioned breaks throughout the day to run an errand or do a chore around the house, but the other times I’m 100% devoted to work thanks to my routine.

Do I have the whole work from home routine perfected? I’ve definitely made huge strides after putting that research into pracitce, and I’ve gotta say, I’m loving it so far!

This Is How Easy It Is to Make Your Home Smell Like Christmas

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We love all of the amazing smells associated with this time of year … cookies in the oven, peppermint hot cocoa and fresh pine from a new Christmas tree. But because we’re holiday obsessed, we like to take things one step further. Yes, we have our own recipe for a potpourri to make your entire house smell like the holidays, and it works extremely well.

Plus, it’s a cinch.

Now we know what you’re thinking. Potpourri? Isn’t that the dried up stuff in my Grandma’s bathroom? Fear not, potpourri has made a comeback. And the potpourri we’re talking about is a mixture of fresh ingredients and spices that are warmed on the stovetop or in a slow cooker. Heating things up makes the concoction that much more fragrant, so it can fill your house with heavenly aromas!

Stovetop potpourri ingredients

  • 1 cup fresh cranberries
  • 1 orange (sliced)
  • 6 cinnamon sticks (break them in half)
  • 1 T. cloves
  • 1/2 t. nutmeg
  • 4 cups water

Instructions

Combine all ingredients in a small pot and simmer over low for as long as you want. If the water gets low, add more and toss in some more ingredients. There’s no exact science to it, so add more of anything that you like. Personally, we love adding a few extra cinnamon sticks to really let that smell permeate throughout our homes.

That’s honestly it!

Enjoy the holiday smells all day long.

If you don’t want to leave your stove on all day long, we highly suggest using a slow cooker! Just place all of the ingredients in the pot and put it on low for a couple of hours.

We actually did this when we put our Christmas decorations up this year. With Christmas tunes blaring, and this heavenly concoction in the slow cooker, our day of decorating was that much more enjoyable.

But it doesn’t just smell amazing, this concoction is also a feast for the eyes. The cranberries add such a beautiful pop of color, along with the orange slices.

If you’re hosting any holiday parties this year, we suggest you get this potpourri going a few hours before the party begins. When guests enter they’ll be greeted with the amazing aroma of the season. If that doesn’t get you the title of “hostess with the mostess”, we don’t know what will!

Cheers to a magical and fragrant holiday season!

If You Have Kids, Test Your Home for These Things Right Now

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I recently moved while pregnant and let me tell you, the struggle is real! Although there were some unexpected perks (it helps to have a literal built-in excuse not to have to do the heavy lifting), there were also a slew of concerns and precautionary steps I took to keep me and Baby Mac safe throughout the process. (In case you’re wondering, he’s due in February!)
I’m definitely not here to scare any future moms. We all know there’s plenty of material available that can do that. But I also didn’t want to go into my move blind to the potential hazards that a new house can pose to you or your baby’s health.
So as an expecting mom and a special education teacher who sees the effects of these household dangers far too often, I’m here to share important research so we can be diligent in taking the necessary steps to keep our babies safe.

You Need to Get Your New Home Tested for Lead

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Preventions (CDC), 1 in every 38 kids is impacted by lead poisoning. Exposure to lead at a young age can come from many things, but usually include these lead-based sources:
  • Lead paint
  • Lead in a tainted water supply
  • Lead fumes during construction
When a child is exposed to this dangerous toxin, they are at high risk of developing a learning disability, a lower IQ and/or damaged organs. In some extreme cases, it can even cause death.
We can all agree that we would never want to expose our babies or young children to lead, but the scary part is that sometimes we do so without even realizing it. That’s why with just a little research and the right tools, you can arm yourself with the resources you need to test for lead products. And often times, all you really need is yourself!

How to Test for Lead

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Large companies, such as 3M, sell DIY lead checking products (some for under $10!) that you can purchase and use to test the paint in your home. The directions will coach you on how to swipe the painted surface and almost instantly identify whether or not that paint is contaminated.
If you are an avid DIY-er like us, be sure to use these strips to test any furniture you may be giving a makeover for the new nursery, too. You definitely don’t want to sand down an old dresser that was previously painted with lead paint. That dust can be extremely dangerous when it becomes airborne. You also don’t want to paint over it since your little one could peel away that paint some day and ingest it. There are plenty of old dressers that need a lot of DIY love (so don’t ditch this creative idea entirely!), just be sure to choose one that doesn’t have a history with lead.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, 10-20 percent of our exposure to lead comes from water. This is especially dangerous because we may not even realize we are mixing lead-infused water in our baby’s formula and potentially causing serious damage in the process. To test the water in your new home, simply contact your water supplier and ask for it to be tested. If this is not a service they provide, the EPA has contact information for approved testing labs you can reference right here. Just click on your state and search your state government’s resources!

What to Do If Your Child Has Already Been Exposed to Lead

If you have little ones and are concerned that they may have already been exposed to lead (sometimes it can be inhaled through contaminated dust without you even realizing it), don’t freak out – you can often get their lead levels tested at your local pediatrician, just make the appointment today.
Take the precautionary steps to avoid this contamination, and you are your little one will be safe. Just be sure you use the resources available to confirm that your new home is clear of any risk before it’s too late. The bottom line is that lead poisoning is extremely dangerous and fetuses and small children are unfortunately at the highest risk of the side effects.

Get Your Home Tested for Radon

Who knew some old houses could have a dangerous build-up of radon lurking within? I had no idea until right before I moved into my new house and did some investigating. I’m definitely not a pro on the topic, but here’s all the info I found out through my moving experience.

Radon is a dangerous gas that radiates out of the soil over time and is more prominent in some areas of the country versus others. Those areas’ homes catch these gases, trapping them inside and increasing the levels of radon to a point that can be dangerous to live in over long periods of time. According to the American Lung Association, radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer … right behind smoking! I don’t want my baby exposed to second-hand smoke and I don’t want him exposed to high radon levels either.

How Do I Get a Radon Test? How Much Does it Cost?

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The great news is that high levels of radon in your home don’t need to be a deal breaker because there are solutions to lower the levels of gases. Each state’s EPA shares resources on which companies you can call to test your home for radon right here. This test costs a couple hundred bucks (depending on location, house size, etc.) and it takes a few days to complete. To test for it, a tracker is placed in your new home, usually in the basement. Note that the longer the tracker can stay in the home, the more accurate the read will be.

For reference, the average level of radon in households across America is 1.3 picocuries per liter and according to the EPA, you need to take action on reducing radon on or above 4.0 pCi/L. Talking to the company who tested your home will be the best resource to start identifying what specific steps you can take to decrease these radon levels now and eliminate them from rising in the future.

Other Harmful Chemicals to Consider

Okay, the two biggest chemicals that may lurk in your home prior to moving in are out-of-the-way, but we don’t want you to forget about the ones that may pop up throughout the moving or nesting process. Here’s a list of other common products that could be useful as you get settled in, but ones you need to take precaution so you are not exposed to:
  • Rodent/Insect pesticides
  • Landscaping pesticides or fertilizers
  • Paints with VOC
  • Polyurethane finishes for floors
  • Paint removing liquids
  • Spray paints (it’s better to roll/brush no-VOC paints if possible!)
  • Arsenic (which is a substance that a lot of outdoor decks or wood is treated with)

Especially if you’re pregnant like me and someone in your home needs to use these listed products, be sure to use proper ventilation, steer clear, or even see if you could stay at a friend’s place until the fumes are gone. It’s always better to be safe rather than sorry, right?

Overall, I went into my move feeling a lot more at ease about these potential dangers because I invested a little time and money into having my house tested for both lead paint and radon levels. Also diving into these topics a little deeper helped me identify how I can take steps later in my pregnancy (or in future pregnancies) to stay safe, which I’m very grateful for. If you’re looking to move while pregnant, I hope you too can find peace of mind by getting your home tested (and cleared!)

Lifehack: Get the Stuff Under the Kitchen Sink Organized With This $7 Tool

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We consider ourselves to be fairly organized people, but there are certain places in our homes that just don’t stand a chance against clutter. Underneath the kitchen sink is definitely one of those disorganized spaces. How can you own so many cleaning supplies, and yet the one place that stores them is never clean?

Check out that “before” photo. Supplies were everywhere, and finding the right spray bottle for a particular task was always an adventure.

Not only did we want to get this cabinet organized, but we wanted to put a smart organizational method into place so it wouldn’t ever get back to that scary before photo.

Like every organization project we tackle, we started by clearing everything out of the cabinet, as shown below:

This is a great time to purge and ditch old items you rarely use. It’s also an opportune time to give the cabinet base a deep clean.

Once we were left with a clean cabinet and fewer items to store, we picked up a few organizational supplies. The first may confuse you…

…it’s a tension rod! Yep, a small tension rod just might be the key to your organizational problems. We found this rod for $7 on Amazon and placed it right under the kitchen sink.

This tension rod now holds the four cleaning supplies we use most often. When cleaning the counters or quickly wiping down a mirror, we can easily grab the right cleaning supply for the job.

It’s also a good spot to dry out wet gloves used from washing dishes. Who knew a tension rod could be so handy?!

We picked up a double-decker basket too. This maximizes the tall cabinet space under your kitchen cabinet because you can fit double the items in the same small footprint.

To take things up a notch, we used washi tape and a permanent marker to label the two bins.

A spot for your wet sponges is always a good idea. A small container with clear command strips fits perfectly on the inside of the door. Again, this uses the vertical space in the cabinet so not everything has to take up space on the cabinet floor.

Overall, this kitchen cabinet looks a heck of a lot better. All it took was a little bit of purging, some storage solutions, and a $7 tension rod to give this hardworking space a new life. Happy DIY-ing!

Take Two: House Movers Get Stuck in the Middle of the Road AGAIN

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The sequel is rarely as good as the original, but Austin Home Movers are giving it a shot.

Last October they got this house stuck among the trees and branches lining in the middle of a residential street in south Austin. Unable to get a permit to cut the trees, they decided to cut the house instead.

Now they’re back, blocking traffic just north of Austin in an all-new predicament.

Hauling a house around a sharp bend on a quiet two-lane road in the Austin suburb of Leander, the trailer being used apparently suffered a broken axle, causing a couple of wheels to come loose. From there it seems the house slid right off the side of the trailer, coming to rest partway on the grass along the left side of the road.

Let’s survey what they were up against: The home looks about 50 feet long. The tractor’s right tires are on the grass. The rear of the trailer is clear over on the left side of the road, early on along the curve, effectively blocking the entire road, though a look on Google Maps suggests there isn’t much traffic there on Rock Cliff Drive.

Predictably, it didn’t go so well. And it would take a lot of work – and some help from a nearby business with some heavy equipment – to get that damaged house up and moving again.

To add insult to injury, the damage from the incident was not limited to the outside of the house. It seems a certain amount of owner Jesse Husemann’s belonging inside the house was damaged in the mishap as well. This because, as Husemann explains, “everything that was in the center of the house where (the house mover) told me to put it ended up slamming into that wall.”

Wow. Anyone ever hear of loading a moving truck by piling everything up in the middle? 

Neighborhood resident John Sargent says he’s seen a few accidents along that curve and thinks that guard rails need to be installed to prevent more.

Meanwhile, city planners are busy installing guard rails along the entire route of Austin Home Movers’ next job. Probably, anyway.

Here’s What Happened to Me After One Month Inside a Smart Home

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Like most 90s kids, I watched every single Disney Channel Original Movie—and there was no DCOM I loved more than Smart House. I was fascinated by the idea of a house equipped with “Personal Applied Technology” (“PAT” for short) that could listen and respond to every request while providing accurate information on demand. I can’t tell you how badly I wanted a home that could make my favorite smoothie, project any movie or music video I could imagine onto any wall, then turn my bedroom into a virtual beach.

As an adult, I still love Smart House, but for more practical reasons, admittedly.

During the process of making my house “smart” in the modern age, I discovered two common misconceptions. First, building a smart home is expensive, and second, so many gadgets require you to have to automate everything

After doing some serious digging, it turns out that neither is true. In fact, it’s possible to start off with just a wifi signal and one or two smart devices. 

Here’s what happened in my first month of installing a bunch of new devices.

It’s True: I Became Really Accustomed to Talking Out Loud to No One, Like in the Commercials

I’ve been slow to adopt the “Hey Siri” function on my iPhone, but I am all about asking my Amazon Echo to launch my favorite playlist or tell me the weather. Alexa and Echo’s personalities are like a personal butler who has more than 1,000 specific skills. I’ve learned to ask mine for everything from calling an Uber to helping me manage my finances. I felt weird at first about giving commands to an empty room, but I quickly learned to love the hands-free, immediate feedback Alexa provides.

The Echo, Apple’s new HomePod, and Google Home all serve as central hubs for your newly connected home. If you’re still uncertain about smart home tech (or if you want to feel like you’re actually living in Smart House) I highly recommend starting off with one of these gadgets.

I Actually Started to Feel Safer (and Got Accustomed to the Convenience Quickly)

One key reason that people enter the smart house game is for improved home security. It’s possible to go big with wireless cameras, motion sensors, doorbells, smoke alarms and more, but I started with a smart lock after seeing the technology at a few Airbnb stays. You’ve probably used keypad entry locks, but did you know that you can now open your lock with your Bluetooth-enabled smartphone simply by approaching the door or with a single fingerprint? Yes, James Bond, it’s true!

I definitely feel safer living alone after installing a smart lock. The technology is notoriously difficult to “pick,” and there’s no risk of my keys falling into the wrong hands or of forgetting to lock the door when I leave. I can also remotely grant entry to my dog-walker. Finally, I’ve gone a whole month without dropping my groceries, gym bag, purse and lunchbox in a pile on my steps as I search for my keys.

I Slowly Stressed Less About Both Cooking and Cleaning

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Adulting is hard work, and I often struggle to find the time to prepare a wholesome meal and deep clean my home. I’ve long known about the magic of slow-cooking, but the Smart Crock-Pot takes it to the next level. I can control the device from my smartphone, which means I can adjust time, temperature, or power if I’m running late for dinner—no more relying on the appliance itself to switch over to warm or turn off.  

Similar to slow cookers, robot vacuums have been on the market for awhile, and now I’m wondering why I didn’t invest sooner. The Roomba is the most recognizable of the bunch, but there’s a wide range of options for cost and functionality—and most can be programmed and scheduled with your smart home hub. Sigh of relief over here as my robot vacuum takes over the burden of this unpleasant chore.

My Dog Got Hooked on the Automation Too

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Smart home tech also extends to pets. My dog likes to be fed on a schedule—he knows exactly when dinner is on its way and makes sure to remind me if I’m a minute behind. Like a smart slow cooker, a wifi-enabled smart dog feeder is a lifesaver if I’m working late or have other evening plans. My feeder allows me to set up mealtimes and portion sizes right from my phone. I’ve found that my dog is less likely to whine at my feet for food and treats because he knows to expect it regularly from his feeder. He’s even lost a little bit of extra weight since we started using this gadget, and I feel like a more responsible dog parent.

Disney was remarkably prescient about the future of home automation when it created Smart House. It may have seemed far-fetched back then, but it turns out you actually can live out that childhood dream of having your house do everything for you! 


Emily Long is a home safety and automation expert for SafeWise. She loves to geek out on new tech gadgets and home improvement projects. When she isn’t writing about smart home tech, she can be found teaching yoga, road tripping or hiking in the mountains.

Showing Your Home? These Are the First Impressions That Matter

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To us, staging your home to sell is similar to going on a first date.

You set up this date in hopes to meet your future spouse. You don’t know if that’ll be the case but there’s always the hope, right? If you’re hoping to land “the one”, chances are you’re going to put some effort into prepping for this first date. We feel the same is true when it comes to staging your home to sell.

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Prioritize These Things for Your Rental, They’ll Be Following You to Your Future Home

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We often get questions from readers who are renters and they’re ready to upgrade their hand-me-down furniture pieces for “grown-up” ones. They’re usually hesitant to spend too much money out of fear that it won’t fit or go with the look of their next home.

While we don’t suggest that everyone go out and buy a ginormous sectional, there really are pieces you can buy now! Here are home decor items that you can (and should) invest in now, because they’ll most likely be able to find a place in your next pad. (more…)

The Top 6 Home Trends of 2016

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2016 is officially coming to an end and soon we’ll be ringing in the new year! But before we break out the bubbly for 2017, we want to take a look back and review the top home trends of the year.

From Chip & Joanna’s favorite building material to a stone that the masses just can’t get enough of, we’re highlighting all that was “cool” in 2016. Let’s take the tour.

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