Things to do

Should You Laminate Your COVID-19 Vaccine Card?

According to experts, this isn't the best course of action.

By Jenn Sinrich , Martha Stewart, Health and Wellness

If you have already secured one or both of your COVID-19 vaccinations, you're probably feeling extra grateful for science. You're likely also feeling as if you are seeing the light at the end of the tunnel after a year filled with fear and countless unknowns. Needless to say, your vaccine card—which documents your coronavirus inoculation—is incredibly important, since it marks this moment, proves your vaccinated status, and may be your ticket to traveling internationally or attending large-scale events, like sports games and concerts, down the line. As such, you might be wondering if you should preserve your card to keep it in mint condition, and many people are even asking whether or not it's a good idea to laminate the card.

While Niket Sonpal, M.D., a New York City internist on faculty at the Touro College of Medicine, agrees that keeping the card safe is important, he feels that laminating it is not necessary at this point in time. "The card itself contains valuable information on your two doses, including date, timing, and vaccine name and information; however, the United States has not yet instituted vaccine passports for travel or attendance to gatherings," he tells us. "Additionally, we do not know which way the research will go. Will there be a need for booster shots? They would be placed on that original card." In short, Dr. Sonpal feels that, given data and the current state of the pandemic, permanently sealing your card is premature.

Sharon Nachman, chief of the division of Pediatric Infectious Diseases at Stony Brook Children's Hospital in Long Island, New York, agrees, suggesting instead that people put their vaccine cards in plastic folders or a sealable vinyl pouch and store them in a safe place at home. "I suspect that we may need to get booster shots in the future and will need to record them on the same document," she affirms. "Over time, we will want to look at any differences between the vaccines, including the timing of when the original was given and when a booster should be given." Having a card that is easily accessible and amendable will ensure that all information is stored in one place, she explains.

In the meantime, Dr. Nachman advises taking a picture of your vaccine card and saving it on your phone, so you have two copies of you what were given and when it was administered. "I like the redundancy and having these copies available to you at any time as a precaution to needing that information at the drop of a hat," she adds. In addition to storing your card in a plastic folder and keeping a digital iteration on your phone, Robert Hess III, a public health expert and the CEO of Hess III Communications, a company that advises health and human service providers, also recommends sending a copy of your card to your primary care physician, so that it is stored in your medical record. "This will also make sure it is fully protected and always accessible," he says. "Additionally, individuals can make a photocopy of their vaccine card—and laminate that one if they so choose."

 

Styling in Place

The design trends that will dominate in 2021 reflect the ways the COVID-19 pandemic has upended people’s lives, driving them to create a home that’s a safe place to relax, work, study, and socialize. 

By Barbara Ballinger

While the following three enhancements address practical needs, there are plenty of high aesthetics—and a healthy dose of joy—in these new visions for the lives people are living indoors and outdoors. These are the kinds of upgrades that may just have people choosing to stay put, even when it’s safe to venture out more freely.

1. Two-for-one “Layered” Kitchens

Even before the pandemic, some homeowners with an open floorplan found that increased exposure and family togetherness posed a downside in the kitchen work area: piles of dirty dishes, cluttered countertops, and other unsightly messes. Leave it to trendsetters to develop a solution for those with ample space and funds: two kitchens in one. Mick De Giulio of de Giulio Kitchen Design in Chicago calls it a “layered kitchen” with separate “work” and “living” zones. Cheryl Kees Clendenon of In Detail Interiors in Pensacola, Fla., refers to it as having a “prep and show kitchen.” In the work area, typically at the back and concealed by a door, wall, or hall, serious cooking and cleanup take place. The area may be part of a large laundry or utility room and might also be used by caterers (when entertaining returns with gusto), Clendenon says.

In contrast, the living or show kitchen at the front remains open, designed to display culinary creations in a clean, uncluttered way. It’s where a golden-brown turkey would come out of the oven before being carried to the back for carving. Some homeowners may also designate one kitchen for special-requirements cooking such as gluten-free prep, which a client of Clendenon’s requested. Or some may want to make space for a dedicated beverage center with a coffee station, refrigerated drawers, and a wine cooler to meet needs from morning to night, De Giulio says.

2. Flexible, Prefabricated Sheds

Sheds, once used primarily to store sports equipment and garden paraphernalia, have evolved into a common home addition. Some homeowners use them as overflow storage instead of paying for an expensive off-site facility. Others seek larger and better outfitted models as accessory dwelling units for people because more municipalities are approving ADUs. They’ve become dwellings for returning adult children and short- and long-term renters, quiet work-from-home quarters, and escapes for recouping sanity—hence the new moniker “the sanity shed.”

Rather than have an architect or contractor design and build a shed from scratch—which can be pricey and time-consuming and which often requires a building permit—homeowners can find more affordable, off-the-shelf options on the market, some of which can be customized. Boulder, Colo.–based Studio Shed has experienced explosive growth during the pandemic. The company offers prefabricated, sustainable designs that vary by size (from 64 to 256 square feet), color, door and window placement, finishes, and price ($11,000 and up). Because of the increase in gardening during the pandemic, the company offers its “Studio Sprout” greenhouse ($14,250), while customers’ most popular choice is a functional home office (about $25,000). Some municipalities looking to spur affordable housing in a shorter time frame offer preapproved plans for expanded sheds that can serve as modest dwellings, says architect Brian O’Looney of Torti Gallas + Partners in Washington, D.C., in his new book, Increments of Neighborhood.

3. Outdoor Warming Features

As temperatures fell, homeowners wanted to extend safe, outdoor socializing with family and friends in the time of COVID-19. “Everybody wanted to turn their backyard into an oasis to be able to eat safely and talk,” says landscape architect Clara Batchelor of CBA Landscape Architects in Cambridge, Mass. Many, including residents of multifamily buildings with shared outdoor space, want to keep doing so throughout winter. Two features that make fresh-air living in chilly evening weather pleasant are fire pits and patio heaters. They offer warmth from infrared electric heat, propane, or real wood-burning fires.

Local authorities are revising codes and ordinances to ease requirements pertaining to fire features, says architect Gary Kane with The Architectural Team in Chelsea, Mass. While fire pits have been popular for years, they’ve become more stylish, now available in different shapes, sizes, materials, weights, and prices. One design that grabbed attention early in the pandemic was Solo Stove’s portable “Bonfire” pit that uses logs but is smokeless. Hybrid models use gas and burning logs, says landscape architect Marc Nissim of Harmony Design in Westfield, N.J. Patio heaters are a newer home addition, inspired by restaurants using them to coax diners to eat outdoors. Using a variety of heating fuels, some are designed to stand alone and others mount on a wall or ceiling, says landscape designer Michael Glassman of Michael Glassman & Associates in Sacramento, Calif.

Barbara Ballinger is a freelance writer and the author of several books on real estate, architecture, and remodeling

 

How to Get Your Papers Organized Before Tax Time

A professional organizer offers a manageable plan for tackling those paper piles now to make April a little easier.

As the new year rolls in, so do tax documents and year-end financial statements. What do you do with these documents? If you stack them along with other papers you’ve collected over the year — and vow to be more organized next tax season — you’re not alone. 

That said, now is a great time to start chipping away at your paper piles so it will be easier to find what you need when you’re ready to file. And then you can set up a system to make next year’s tax season less daunting.

By Patricia Lee, Houzz Contributor

Which Types of Papers to Recycle, Shred or Throw Away

I recommend that you keep three bins close by as you sort through your papers: trash, shred and recycle. You may want to check the guidelines of your city’s waste management company as they can vary, but as a general rule photo paper and thermal receipts cannot be recycled and should be considered trash. Similarly, any papers that have glitter, foil accents or plastic or wax coating cannot be recycled. 

Of course, papers with personal information such as your name, address, Social Security number and bank account or credit card numbers should be shredded to prevent fraud and identity theft. 

Most other papers can be safely recycled.

Easy Paper Categories to Tackle First

For most organizing projects, it’s usually easiest to start by decluttering the least important and least sentimental items before moving on to the most significant ones. Taking a first pass to eliminate papers that won’t require too much mental effort is a good warmup before you launch into harder decisions.

1. Junk Mail

In this age of digital advertising, you’d think you would receive less junk mail. However, that doesn’t appear to be the case. 

The good news is that you can usually get rid of these papers without thinking too hard about them. I suggest you recycle unnecessary catalogs, coupons and ads. Shred any credit card offers or other junk mail that may contain personal information. 

If you wish to unsubscribe from unwanted snail mailings, you can contact most company customer service departments to opt out. Alternatively, there are various online services that help you remove your name and address from distribution lists.

2. Irrelevant Papers

Once relevant papers have become irrelevant, it’s time to get rid of them. Some examples would be old magazines and newspapers, unnecessary receipts, old school notes, outdated business cards, utility bills, bank statements and more. 

You may have good intentions to work your way through a backlog of magazines because you feel wasteful discarding them without reading them. But be realistic about what you can finish reading before the next delivery. 

Also, if you don’t need to save your utility bills and bank statements for tax or other purposes, you may be able to discard them after you’ve checked them for accuracy and reconciled them with your payments and bank accounts. 

And most receipts that don’t need to be kept for tax, insurance or resale purposes can be tossed after the return window has closed, the warranty has expired or you know you’ll be keeping the items (like groceries).

What to Do With Harder-to-Tackle Paper Categories

Once you’ve shaved off the first layer of nonessential papers and are ready to dive a little deeper, think about the main categories that cover what you may need to keep. These vary for each person, but some common categories include:

  • Taxes

  • Action items (bills to pay, cards to reply to)

  • School documents

  • Medical records

  • Property records

You may have additional categories that apply to you. Once you’ve determined your categories, sort remaining papers into them. The idea is to divide your paper organizing into smaller and more focused bites so it’s less overwhelming. Then you can further sort each category to determine what you need to keep and what you can let go. 

For this article, let’s focus on the category of taxes.

The Papers You Need to Keep for Taxes

The first step in organizing your tax-related papers is knowing what you need to keep. You don’t want to keep too few records and not be prepared for a potential audit. Nor do you want to keep excess, space-consuming documents. 

In the broadest of terms, calculating your income taxes requires determining all the income you’ve received during the year minus eligible deductions and credits. So do your due diligence to find out your specific, personal requirements for each part of this work. 

If you have a tax preparer, he or she should be able to provide you with a list of requirements. If not, you may be able to find some guidance on the IRS website, through online tax-preparation resources and in your previous year’s tax return. Here are some examples of information you may need regarding your income, deductions and credits (not an exhaustive list):

Income

  • Wages, salaries, bonuses and tips

  • Interest earned

  • Stock sales and dividend income

  • Rental income

  • Retirement account distributions

  • Unemployment benefits and disability payments

  • Advance commissions

  • Lottery payments


Deductions

  • Contributions to retirement accounts

  • Student loan interest

  • Capital losses

  • Mortgage interest

  • State or local taxes

  • Medical expenses

  • Charitable contributions


Credits

  • Recovery Rebate Credit

  • Child and dependent care credit

  • Adoption credit

  • Residential energy-efficient property credit

  • Health care credits

I recommend you create a checklist of the specific income, deductions and credits that pertain to your situation. 

My own list includes the forms (W-2s, 1099s, 1098s and so forth) and information (charitable contributions, medical expenses and so on) that I need to have for my tax filing. This checklist helps me stay organized each year. I would otherwise not be able to remember the detailed requirements of this once-a-year task, and I’d risk submitting an incomplete tax return. 

Keep in mind that tax requirements do occasionally change, either due to the IRS or personal situations, so it’s wise to update your checklist when that occurs.

6 Common Causes of Clutter and Their Cures

Storing Your Tax Documents

1. Current Tax Year Documents

There’s plenty to sort through at tax time, so the more you can eliminate searching for documents in April the better. To simplify, I recommend you keep all your current-year tax documents corralled in one place. 

I keep two sets of tax documents: personal and business. Neither is exceptionally complicated or document-heavy, so for me two hanging folders (one for personal, one for business) works perfectly. 

Throughout the year, I put anything tax-related (charitable contribution receipts, business receipts) in its correct folder as soon as I receive it. For business expenses, I write the category and purpose (marketing, office supplies, meals and entertainment) on the back of the receipt right away to avoid the chance of forgetting it.

The method that works best for me is to collect all my tax documents in each folder all year and then sort more specifically when it’s time to prepare. But if your taxes are complicated and you must retain many papers, you may want to create smaller subfolders to keep categories sorted throughout the year. 

Whatever method you choose for collecting your tax documents, it will be successful only if you actually use it. Therefore, make sure your document storage is in a spot you can easily access. Otherwise, there will be a strong tendency for documents to pile up on a counter instead of being filed away appropriately.

2. Previous Years’ Tax Returns and Documents

Tax returns and documents that have already been filed with the IRS and state agencies need to be retained in case of an audit. Depending on your situation, the number of years you need to keep your tax documents can vary. 

At the time of this story’s publication, the IRS website stated that the period in which you can amend your tax return or the IRS can assess additional taxes ranges from three to seven years. The period of limitations in my state is four years. Therefore, out of a great abundance of caution, I keep my physical tax returns and documents for seven years.

Personally, I keep my past tax returns in a portable file box. I store the box in my office, but it doesn’t get a prime spot, since I take it out only once a year to add the newest set of documents and remove the oldest set. (I then relabel the empty folder from the oldest set for the following year’s tax documents.)

I also save digital copies of my tax returns, which I can keep indefinitely. Some recommend keeping tax returns and W-2s forever, in case the IRS ever claims you either didn’t file a return or filed a fraudulent one. I recommend you consult with a tax professional to confirm the safest route for you.

 

Patricia Lee, Houzz Contributor is a professional home organizer in the San Francisco Bay Area. 

Weekend Outdoor Activities 2/12 - 2/14/21

Looking for something fun to do outside this weekend?  Well, search no more, there's plenty of outdoor activities in the area for the whole family to enjoy!

Alton Bay Winter Carnival 2021

Although things will look a bit different this year, the fundraising cause remains the same. Due to the pandemic, the Alton Business Association (ABA) will not be able to host a large-scale winter carnival event in the way the group normally would. With that said, the ABA is committed to bringing some winter fun to the community. There will be smaller (in the interest of safety) sponsored events featuring an Ice Sculpture Walking Tour, Bob House Decorating Contest and the Virtual Fundraising RAFFLE. The Raffle includes amazing products, services and gift certificates donated from members of the surrounding businesses.

Ice Sculpture Walking Tour:

The generous businesses sponsors have enabled the ABA to hire Ice Designs by Jeff Day to carve three unique ice sculptures for the community to enjoy. The sculptures will be on display in Alton Bay at the land bandstand, gazebo and in front of the community center. Be sure to bundle up and go for a walk in the bay to check them out! If you take pictures with the ice sculptures, be sure to tag ABA @altonbusinessassociation and use #altonwintercarnival. The sculptures will be on display starting late afternoon February 12 thru February 14 or until they melt!

Bob House Decorating Contest:

Sponsored by Dockside Restaurant - email ABA at info@altonbusinessassociation.com to enter by February 12. They will post pictures of the bob houses on their Facebook page.

Winter Carnival Raffle:

The Virtual Fundraising Raffle is already underway and closes February 13th at 11:59 pm. They have amazing prizes donated from ABA members and local businesses. The list of sponsors is growing and the ABA lists thus far, Alton Circle Grocery, Alton Excavation, Alton Home & Lumber, Catchpenny, Gunstock Mountain Resort, Hannaford, Inspiration for Organization, Irwin Marine, K-9 Kreations, Katie's Kitchen, Northeast Security Agency, Lake Life Brand, Seacoast Spine & Sports Clinic, Shibley's at the Pier, Simple Beautiful Nails and the Little Christmas Cottage. Don't miss this opportunity to win prizes.  Head over to ABA's website, www.altonbusinessassociation.com where you can purchase tickets. Winners will be announced on the ICE, February 14 at 11 am!

Virtual events may be added, so stay tuned to the ABA Facebook Event Page @altonbusinessassociation and website.

Although Winter Carnival events may look different this year, it's a chance to embrace all the outdoor fun that winter season brings!

 

Wolfeboro Cross Country Ski Association 

Since 1972, The Nordic Skier and Wolfeboro XC have joined as partners in the pursuit of a top notch nordic ski center. Click here for more information.

   

 

The 2021 Great Meredith Rotary Ice Fishing Derby is this weekend!

February 13-14, 2021

Online ticket sales have ended. You can still purchase tickets at local retailers for the remainder of this week and at Derby Headquarters beginning tomorrow, Friday, February 12.

Vendors Selling Tickets

 Every ticket purchased (online or otherwise) is entered into each cash drawing throughout the weekend.
You can win over $5,000 without even baiting a hook!

Alton Circle Grocery
10 Main Street
Alton, NH 03809
603-875-2861

Bryant & Lawrence Hardware
270 Main Street
Tilton, NH 03276
603-286-4322

Case 'N Keg
5 Mill Street
Meredith, NH 03253
603-279-7443

Coyote Creek Outfitters
22 Farmington Road
Rochester, NH 03867
603-332-3270

Dive Winnipesaukee
4 N. Main Street
Wolfeboro, NH 03894
603-569-8080

E.M. Heath Hardware
318 Whittier Highway
Center Harbor, NH 03226
603-253-4381

Green's Corner Store (Formerly Murphy's Mobil)
246 Whittier Highway
Moultonborough, NH 03254
603-253-9300

Newfound Sales & Trading Post
381 Lake Street
Bristol NH 03222
603-744-8658

Skelley's Market
374 Gov. Wentworth Highway (Route 109
Moultonborough, NH 03254
603-476-8887

The Tackle Shack (formerly AJ's Bait and Tackle)
NOTE NEW LOCATION
54 NH Route 25, Unit C    
Meredith, NH 03253
(603) 279-3152

The Tackle Shack (Newbury) 
894 Route 103
Newbury, NH 03255
603-763-5508

Wildlife Taxidermy & Sports
2188 Candia Road
Manchester, NH 03109
603-625-9958

Winnisquam Country Store & Deli
1021 Laconia Road
Tilton, NH 03276
603-527-8110

For more information:

The Meredith Rotary Club
PO Box 1210, Meredith, NH 03253
603-279-7600 / info@meredithrotary.com

 

Small Business Day, presented by Bangor Savings Bank

Courtesy of Wolfeboro Chamber of Commerce

 

 

 

This online webinar will provide you, the small business owner, with critical information needed to thrive in the COVID-19 landscape. Small Business Day panels, featuring experts in their field, will focus on financing options for small businesses; tax implications of COVID-19 stimulus acts;  liability and other COVID-19 concerns for small businesses; and legislative issues affecting employers.

There is no fee to participate, but advance registration is required. For more information, please contact Lora McMahon at 603-224-5388 x101.

Event Item Name          Expires                   Pricing

Small Business Day        Feb 12, 2021             $0.00

Register

 

Bangor Savings Bank, Presenting Sponsor

  

McLane Middleton, Professional Association, Sponsor

Bigelow & Company, Partner

Maloney & Kennedy, Sponsor

Mason + Rich CPAs, Sponsor

Nathan Wechsler & Co., PA, Sponsor

Tufts Health Freedom Plan, Virtual Exhibitor

U.S. Small Business Administration, Virtual Exhibitor

NH Small Business Development Center, Partner

NH Small Business Development Center

 

Preliminary Agenda
8:00 am:  Legislative Leadership Panel
A special panel featuring legislative leaders who will identify top small business issues they’ll be addressing during the 2021 legislative session. Panelists include: Senate President Chuck Morse, Speaker of the House Sherman Packard, Senate Democratic Leader Donna Soucy, and House Democratic Leader Renny Cushing. This interactive session will allow you to get the latest information on key legislative proposals impacting the small business community.

9:00 am:  Financing Options for Small Business
Learn about traditional and alternative (non-traditional) options for financing your small business from a panel of experts. Panelists: Amy Bassett, district director, NH Small Business Administration; Julie Glosner, Merrimack Valley regional director, NH SBDC; John Hamilton, acting president of economic opportunity, NH Community Loan Fund/Vested for Growth; and Mary Mattson, senior vice president, commercial banking team lead Manchester/Concord, Bangor Savings Bank. Moderated by Michael O’Reilly, senior vice president and commercial team lead, Bangor Savings Bank in NH.

10:00 am:  The Bottom Line: Tax Implications of COVID-19 Stimulus Acts
This will be an interactive presentation allowing you to get answers to your specific issues from three of New Hampshire’s top CPAs. Topics to be discussed will include PPP loan forgiveness, deductibility of expenses, payroll tax credits, how Main Street Relief funds will be treated and more. Panelists: Kevin Kennedy, CPA, CFE, Maloney & Kennedy; Marie McKay, CPA and principal, Bigelow & Company; Leslie Walker, CPA and director, Mason + Rich; and Steve Lawlor, principal, Nathan Wechsler. Moderated by Dave Juvet, senior vice president of public policy, BIA.

11:00 am:  Liability and other COVID-19 Concerns for Small Businesses
This panel will explore pressing issues the pandemic has raised for small businesses like legal liability, and changes to paid family leave and paid sick time in the recently passed federal COVID-19 stimulus legislation. Panelists: Patrick Closson, director and chair of Corporate Department and Healthcare Group, McLane Middleton; Steven Dutton, director, Litigation Department, McLane Middleton; and Jennifer Parent, director and chair of the Litigation Department, McLane Middleton. Moderated by David Creer, director of public policy, BIA.

Thank you to our promotional partners:

Cohase Chamber of Commerce
Exeter Area Chamber of Commerce
Franconia Notch Regional Chamber of Commerce
Greater Claremont Chamber of Commerce
Greater Dover Chamber of Commerce
Greater Hudson Chamber of Commerce
Greater Merrimack Souhegan Valley Chamber of Commerce
Greater Nashua Chamber of Commerce
Greater Ossipee Chamber of Commerce
Greater Keene and Peterborough Chamber of Commerce
Greater Salem Chamber of Commerce
Greater Rochester Chamber of Commerce
Hampton Area Chamber of Commerce
Lakes Region Chamber of Commerce
Lakes Region Tourism Association
Lake Sunapee Region Chamber of Commerce
Meredith Area Chamber of Commerce
Mt. Washington Valley Chamber of Commerce
NH Association of Insurance Agents
NH Dept. of Business & Economic Affairs
NH Lodging & Restaurant Association
NH Small Business Development Center (SBDC)
NH Automobile Dealers Association
North Country Chamber of Commerce
Ski New Hampshire
Upper Valley Business Alliance
U.S. Small Business Administration
Western White Mountains Chamber of Commerce
Wolfeboro Area Chamber of Commerce

 

 

Show Your Home a Little Love This Valentine's Day

Valentine's Day is a time to celebrate the ones we love, but this year, besides celebrating it with flowers, chocolates, and a candle-lit dinner, be sure to show your home a little love too.

By Christopher Kelly 

New Decorations

Adding some new decorative items, whether they’re temporary, like a bouquet of flowers on the dining room table, or more permanent, like a fresh coat of paint, are a great way to show your home a little love and help yourself fall in love with your home all over again. 

Clean Up

Get a head start on your spring cleaning by washing the windows, cleaning the carpets, and dusting the fans now. The fresh feeling you create is a great way to show your home some love.

Minor Renovations

Looking to save water? Consider a new showerhead. Want to upgrade the fixtures in your home? Consider something as simple as new outlet covers. Home renovations don’t have to be big and expensive; even small upgrades can have a big impact on your home.

Make Repairs

If you have a loose banister in the stairwell, need to replace caulk in your bathroom, or a light switch that doesn’t work, go ahead and repair it yourself or bring someone in to repair those items.

 

Christopher Kelly, RE/MAX Bayside

 

 

Watching the big game this Sunday? Host a watch party with friends!

Watching the Super Bowl might look different this year thanks to the pandemic, with football fans opting for virtual celebrations instead of houses packed with guests chowing down on snacks. 

There's still time to plan a fun game day event -- even if it's virtual. The big game between Kansas City Chiefs and Tampa Bay Buccaneers is this Sunday, Feb. 7 at 6:30 p.m. ET at the Raymond James Stadium in Tampa. A sparse 22,000 fans will be in the stands, including 7,500 vaccinated health care workers. But just because you can't gather around the same TV together eating wings doesn't mean you can't watch the Bucs versus the Chiefs -- or, for some, the commercials and halftime show -- alongside friends and family in a virtual space. Super Bowl Sunday can still be fun, even if you're hanging out with your friends virtually or in a socially distanced fashion.

Here are a few ways for you to safely see your fellow football fans virtually!

Host a watch party 

What app you choose to use depends on how you and your virtual friends and family plan on watching the game, which is streaming free on CBSSports.com. You can watch the game virtually with friends using Sling TV or by using the Chrome extension Teleparty -- you might also know it as Netflix Party, its former name. While you can't watch the game on Netflix, Hulu Plus with Live TV will air the game and Hulu supports Teleparty. Find out more about how to host a watch party with Teleparty here. Or...

We've all had time to get used to socializing on Zoom over the last year. If you're planning to gather the gang on a Zoom call there are a lot of options for a good time.

Big Game Bingo:

Here's a fun game idea that would definitely help spice up a watch party. Use these free printable Super Bowl commercial bingo cards for fun during the biggest game of the year! Print a card, find the items during the commercials, and win – a fun Super Bowl bingo game for everyone! 

The bingo cards have the names of brands and celebrities that are scheduled to appear in the 2021 Super Bowl commercials. Everything on the cards has been confirmed as of publish date on this post but if someone pulls out last minute, sorry!

There are about 35 different commercial options that could be on each card so that the chances of people getting bingo at the exact same time are low!

Click here to download the 2021 Big Game Commercial Bingo

Food, food, food

There's nothing like the food that crowds a counter at a party for the big game. Create a makeshift potluck if you're planning on hosting a watch party, dialing in with your group on Zoom or whatever app you choose to participate.

Even if you're planning on watching the game solo, why not share the couch with great food? Perhaps some Buffalo chicken dip?

A socially distanced in-person party

This should be for those folks who live in warmer areas -- given the wintery conditions, gathering outside would be a bit uncomfortable. If you're hosting or attending an outdoor watch party the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have guidelines for staying safe, including wearing masks and standing at least six feet apart. If you're planning on watching the big game indoors, try to keep it limited to those in your household.

Have fun and be safe!

 

6 Common Causes of Clutter and Their Cures

If you have clutter in your home, you’re certainly not alone. Most of us hang on to unneeded things and struggle to keep our homes clutter-free. But if we could identify the root causes of the clutter, could we make it go away? Identifying the cause of clutter is definitely a great first step. Clutter may have one of several root causes. 

Life changes, decision avoidance and a lack of efficient systems can be contributing factors.

By Jeanne Taylor

1. Your Life Circumstances Have Changed

A change in life circumstances — a new baby or job, a move to a new home, an illness or injury — can be stressful and lead to a typically tidy home becoming cluttered. Eventually, this type of clutter resolves when the baby starts sleeping through the night or the moving boxes are unpacked. The question is how long adjusting will take and how much your clutter will bother you in the interim. 

If you’re frustrated by your chaos and you lack time or bandwidth to address it, you may want to seek help from family, friends or a professional home organizer to get you through this stressful phase. 

2. You Lack Habits for Keeping Your Home Tidy

Some people are not in the practice of hanging up their jackets or putting away their beauty supplies. Patterns like these can cause a state of disarray at home. But it’s not impossible to establish new habits. 

I recommend trying an approach called “the habit loop,” from the bestselling book The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business, by Charles Duhigg, which I outlined in this story. Essentially, it involves three steps: cue, routine and reward. The cue is a reminder that initiates a new behavior. The routine is the behavior itself. The reward is the benefit you get from doing the new behavior. It’s a method that has worked well for me as well as for some of my organizing clients.

3. You Lack Systems for Handling Your Stuff

Not having systems in place to handle items we touch every day can lead to a lot of clutter buildup. Here are a few of the big culprits.

  • Paper and mail are the No. 1 source of clutter in many homes. If you’re unsure how long to keep old bank statements, bills, tax returns and other records, or if you lack an efficient system for handling pending paperwork such as unpaid bills, the mess tends to mount. The good news is that you can take some simple, straightforward steps to address your paper pile and create a system for sorting mail. If you need help sorting the old items and setting up a new system, I recommend scheduling an appointment with a professional home organizer.

  • Cellphones, keys, glasses, wallets and laptops. Lacking a designated location to store these items can lead not only to clutter but to endless frustration. The solution is to simply designate a location so that you don’t have to search for these items every time you leave the house. A kitchen drawer with a charging station is ideal, but if you don’t have one, then simply corral these items in a small basket near an electrical outlet where you can easily grab them when you leave the house.

  • Purses, computer bags, backpacks, sports bags and outerwear. Closets and coat racks can fill up quickly with these bulky items, with extras ending up on the backs of chairs or draped over bannisters. Often, there are just too many of these items, so consider winnowing your collection. For example, if your child receives a new backpack each year, consider donating the old one. Sort through coats and donate any that no longer fit or you no longer use. Hang everyday bags and outerwear on a coat rack or in a closet near the front door. Store ski jackets and special-occasion purses in a different location.

  • Children’s art supplies, toys and homework. Children generate a large amount of clutter, with the most intense period of disarray beginning in babyhood and continuing through elementary school. Taming this mess can be challenging for even the most organized person — especially when it comes to toys that pile up as friends and family members offer gifts. If your child will agree, consider donating some toys to a charity to cut down on the mess.

As for the rest of children’s belongings, because young children like to be near their parents, you’d be wise to set up storage in or near the spaces where the family is most likely to spend time. Typically, this is the kitchen or great room.

4. You Own Too Many Items Used for the Same Purpose

I commonly help clients who have collected an overabundance of pens, pencils, reusable grocery bags, notepads, serving bowls and platters, kitchen tools, sunscreen, binders and coffee mugs. Fortunately, this is a relatively straightforward decluttering challenge. Simply reduce your collection of these items to an amount that will reasonably fit into your storage space and that you will realistically be able to use. Going forward, consider what you already own before buying. Be realistic about whether you have room to store a new item.

5. You Avoid Making Decisions About Your Things

Some people avoid deciding what to do with their clutter by placing items in a basement, garage or closet not visible from the main living spaces. This is a common tactic when quickly cleaning up before a party. However, this type of clutter weighs on people’s minds because they know it has to be dealt with sometime.

I often work with clients to sort through boxes and bags of stashed belongings that have been left in place for years. Usually the contents end up in the recycling bin or the landfill. If you know you have such boxes lurking, consider enlisting the help of a friend or a professional to help you sort through them and get them out of your life.

6. Your Health Gets in the Way 

A long-term health problem can sometimes result in household clutter as schedules are upset by medical appointments and free time becomes scarce. In these circumstances, a person may lack energy or mobility. Similarly, clutter can accumulate as we age and lose energy, balance or mental capacity for making decisions.

In such cases, it may be necessary to get outside help. A family member might need to attend to the clutter once a week. A professional organizer may need to create systems to more easily keep the home tidy.

On the other hand, extreme clutter or hoarding is usually caused by underlying issues that may require the help of a psychologist or other professional.

For most of us, clutter is simply a part of modern life. If you struggle with it, you’re certainly not alone. But take heart: With determination and a little help — whether moral support from friends or the guidance of a professional — you can overcome it and live a more organized life.

Jeanne Taylor, Houzz Contributor, is a home organizer in the San Francisco Bay Area.