FENG SHUI FOR LOVE: 9 Decorating Mistakes That Could Be Preventing Cupid From Coming To Your Home

Guest blog by Laura Forbes Carlin and Alison Forbes Sow

Wondering when Cupid is going to find his way to you?  Assess your situation and figure out what is detouring Cupid from visiting your home. Maybe your home is too cluttered with mementos of past loves and he can’t get in. Or perhaps you're sending him the wrong message by decorating for one! But by simply pulling out your iPhone and making some quick adjustments, you can have an enormous impact on whether or not Cupid strikes on that special date.

Feng Shui, an ancient Chinese approach to arranging our surroundings, shows us how our homes influence and shape all aspects of our life. In Feng Shui, there are nine areas of your life, including your love life, that are represented energetically in your home. Depending on what furniture and accessories you have in each spot, you could be helping or hurting the corresponding part of your life. So if your love area is where the bathroom is, it’s no wonder your relationships keep going down the drain! 

Ex-Files: Avoid filling your home with pictures, letters, and belongings from an ex. Letting go of photographs, letters, and mementos from past relationships can present a challenge. Sometimes spending time with intimate memories from your past can be a healing and empowering experience. However, if looking at these photographs and letters is not helping, or if they are keeping you tied to someone who is no longer in your life, then it’s time to let them go. Instead, surround yourself with things that reinforce who you are now and where you're headed.

Home For One: Many singles often have a bedroom set up for one person (i.e., one bedside table, one reading lamp, one pillow) or the long side of the bed is pushed up against a wall so only one person can enter the bed comfortably. While it is important to accept and embrace where you are now, it is also necessary to make some space for a partner. Create a room for two people — both symbolically and physically make space for your future partner. Set up your bedroom for two by adding the extra bedside table and lamp. Check the other rooms in your home as well. Is there a comfortable place for two to hang out? 

Immature Decorating: Rooms that look they are designed for girls and boys rather than men and women are a real turn-off. If you are a man, avoid the “college frat room look” or the “bachelor pad” (i.e. mattress on the floor, futons, shot glass collections, high school trophies, dirty dishes in the sink, clutter everywhere, etc.) If you are a woman, avoid a room or apartment that resembles your childhood room (i.e. doll collections, stuffed animals on the bed, too much lace or pink, sorority signs, baskets of dried flowers, furniture that looks like it is meant for teenagers not adults).

Solitary Items or Groupings of Three: Create a home that re-enforces the idea of togetherness and a couple by pairing objects in your home together. Lots of lone objects can represent loneliness and groups of three may represent one too many people involved in your relationship.

Excessive Pictures: An abundance of photos showing friends, family, and other people’s children, as well as too many pictures from one particular time in the past (such as college), can divert focus away from your own life and the present moment. Create space for new people in your life and a new “best time of your life” by creating room for new photos.

Unfinished or Temporary-looking Homes: Many people hold off on decorating or buying a home until they're married or living with someone. They don’t buy expensive or nice things because they want to wait until they have a “real” home (which, of course, is frequently associated with getting married, registering for gifts, and buying a house). By surrounding yourself with things you don’t love, are not in good condition, or that you feel are second-rate, you’re subconsciously telling yourself that you don’t deserve better. It’s important to invest in yourself now and embrace the present moment. By doing so you are sending a message to the universe, as well as yourself, that you are worthy. You are also accepting where you are now, which often leads to change.

A Television in the Bedroom: Ideally, the bedroom should serve only two purposes: rest and romance. Yet, because of laptops, televisions, and phones, bedrooms are often more like media rooms than sensual and peaceful retreats. Don’t let a television replace a partner in your life.

By implementing Feng Shui and enhancing these areas in your home, the corresponding area in your life will be enhanced as well. “A lot of people don’t believe it until they try it for themselves,” said Alison Forbes, one of the co-authors of the app. “Once you see your home through the eyes of Feng Shui, it changes everything, and it works! A few of our clients have even toasted Feng Shui at their weddings!” 

While Feng Shui in the past has meant hiring a consultant or doing a lot of in-depth reading, using Feng Shui For Love is as simple as moving your iPhone around a space — it shows you, live, which areas of the room are which – and the rest of the app gives you the perfect enhancements to make Cupid want to take up permanent residence in your home.

More information on the app is available at: http://www.inspiredeverydayliving.com/inspired-living-apps/!

Operation "Winter Renter" Nine Tips for Attracting Off-Season Guests to Your Vacation Home

Guest blog by  Christine Karpinski
Author of ow to Rent Vacation Properties by Owner Second Edition

Time to build crackling fires in the hearth, bundle up in your warmest sweaters, sip hot cocoa while you watch the snow—and start fretting over that unrented vacation home. That's right. T.S. Eliot may think that April is the cruelest month, but for many vacation property owners, any month between now and Memorial Day would qualify. That cabin or condo that renters clamor over all summer tends to sit depressingly (and expensively) empty all winter. If only there were something you could do to make your off-season not quite so, well, off. 

Actually, there are many things you can do, it's often the little touches that draw "winter renters," delight them, and keep them coming back for more.

"Obviously, more people vacation during peak season, that's why it's peak season! But there are still plenty of people who prefer to travel during the cooler months. Maybe they want to avoid the crowds, maybe they want to take advantage of the lower rates, or maybe they just want a break in the February doldrums. Your mission is to make your vacation home stand out from the many others that are available to potential renters. It's that simple. You have to go the proverbial extra mile." 

Here are some of tips for making your vacation property appealing to winter renters:

·First and foremost, "winterize" your marketing. It won't matter how perfect your place is for a mid-winter getaway if people don't know about it. Play up features like hot tubs and fireplaces. Sprinkle copy with words like warm, cozy, cocoon, snuggle, and cuddle. You might even paint an inviting verbal picture such as "Envision yourself gazing out the tall picture window, a cup of hot cocoa in hand, as fat snowflakes drift lazily through the pines." Finally, add a few "off-season" photos of your property to your website. Photos of the home framed in brilliant autumn leaves or dusted with snow will speak louder than a thousand poetic words.

·Consider off-season specials. Everyone loves a bargain, and in the winter, they expect one. "My favorite off-season booking magnet is 'rent three nights and get one free. Or, when you get a call from someone looking to book for next spring or summer, offer them a winter special—say, half-price off a weekend stay—so they can come check out the place early. That would be tough to resist." 

·Add "warm cozy" touches. Put thick, warm comforters on the bed and fleece throws on the sofa. Place a few spice-scented candles on tables or countertops. Leave savory winter treats in the kitchen: cocoa mix & marshmallows, spiced apple cider, ginger cookies, chili fixings, and a crock pot. (Ask the housekeeper to replenish edibles.) You might even consider leaving an extra coat or two in the closet, along with toboggans, gloves, and scarves—chances are they won't be used, but guests will appreciate the hospitality. 

Plan for snow! If guests should happen to get snowed in at your home, you want to make the experience as pleasant as possible. Make sure to have a snow shovel, ice melt, and a windshield ice scraper on the premises. The possibility of inclement weather is a good reason to have a selection of nonperishable foods on hand, as well as movies and books. You certainly don't want a houseful of hungry, stir-crazy, cranky renters who are cursing their vacation experience (and by association, you)! 

Consider adding a hot tub, sauna, or ventless gas fireplace. If your vacation property is a "summer home" with no winter appeal, such additions can make a world of difference. You may be thinking that these are pricey upgrades, but you'll be amazed at how fast they pay for themselves via increased off-season bookings. One caveat: if you install a ventless gas fireplace, be sure to get a carbon monoxide detector as well.

Make your home baby- and toddler-friendly. You've probably noticed that people with very young children are more likely to travel off-season. (After all, they're not constrained by school schedules.) Appeal to these people by including baby and toddler paraphernalia. A high chair and a porta crib should cost less than $150 combined, and can drastically increase your off-season bookings. 

·Accept pets. Vacation properties that accept pets increase their occupancy by 10 to 50 percent. When you accept pets, it's okay to take an additional $20 to $25/night or $140 to $175/week. This extra (which pet owners would have to spend anyway on boarding fees) is enough to pay for any carpet cleaning that needs to be done. "I spoke with a woman named Jennifer, who owned a nice cabin in the mountains of Colorado; she was within driving distance of three ski resorts, but not really close enough to any of them to advertise that her place was associated with any of them. She was booking her cabin only two or three weeks per year. I advised her to start accepting pets, and the minute she did, her bookings started to flow in. Two years later, she is booked for the whole ski season, three or four weeks during the summer to hikers, and she rents ten to twelve long weekends through the year. She has never been happier!" 

·If all else fails, offer a "customized" special to repeat guests. If you've tried everything and you still have lots of weeks unbooked, it's time to get creative (perhaps even a bit assertive). Consider calling or e-mailing prior "VIP" guests and offering them discounted off-season stays. You might even link the stay to a special event in their lives. For instance, if you know that John and Jane Smith have an anniversary in March—thanks to the detailed file you keep on them—call them and offer a special celebratory weekend at a reduced rate. When they accept, have a champagne gift basket waiting for them in the bedroom along with a handwritten "Happy Anniversary" note. 

Not sold on winter renting? Consider it "damage insurance." All of that said, some people actually prefer to lock up their place for the winter. Maybe they don't think renting is worth the effort, or maybe they make enough money during peak season to pay their mortgage for the year. If this is your mindset, reconsider—winter renting can ward off property damage. "I've heard stories of locked-up properties that have been ransacked by families of raccoons, and of broken furnaces that have led to burst pipes.  Houses that are empty for long stretches of time, especially in freezing weather, tend to have problems. If renters had periodically visited such homes, these issues could have been avoided or at least discovered early, before things worsened." 

A word of caution: exercise moderation.

"It's great to spend some money on things to attract winter renters. just don't go overboard. I knew a guy who would do tons of extra advertising and equip his place with all these bonuses for his off-season renters. Yes, he ended up booking the place for all of January through March—but his bottom line for all three months was only $500! My advice is this: a little effort goes a long way. Do one or two things on the list, not all of them. Otherwise, do a good job with the basics and be a friendly, hospitable host. As word gets around and your guests become 'regulars,' your off-season problem will solve itself." 

Sustaining Your Real Estate Over Time

Guest blog by Lisa Vander
Author of The Real Guide to Making Millions Through Real Estate: Start Your Portfolio With as Little as $3000

The number one problem I see with investors today is their unrealistic expectations of how real estate really functions. They are unfamiliar with the real estate market especially when it decreases in value and does not appreciate at the tremendous rates that have been seen recently in some parts of the country. 

People react to what they have most recently experienced. For the past several years, Southern California has experienced incredible market increases, sometimes 25% gains in property values in one year. It can not be emphasized enough how this is not standard and is not how long-term investors should be calculating their numbers. 

Long-term investors need to be realistic and conservative in how they approach maintaining and sustaining their investment portfolios in the good times, as well as the bad times. Real estate gains will be experienced for a period of time and then immediately followed by times of losses up to 20-30%. These gains have historically outperformed the losses, but investors who keep and sustain their properties during these cycles are those who win in the long run. When you are a long time investor, you will experience some of the wins in the market and some of the losses. 

Smart investors want to be able to learn to sustain the property in both markets. Here a few tips to help investors stay in the real estate during the changing markets:

1. Rental Rates will drop: Be prepared to sustain your properties with a rental rate decrease of about 10-15%. They will typically not decrease by anymore than that amount. Ask a local property management company that has been working in the area for at least ten years about what the historical trends have been when the market is depressed.

2. Prices and Value will drop: Most of the time real estate values for single family residences and condos will decrease no more than 20% to 30% in any market adjustment. Multiple unit properties and land have historically experienced greater drops in value, sometimes up to 40% to 50% decreases. Remember, however, that rents don’t decrease much, so you should only worry if you plan to sell your investment during this downturn of the market.

3. Increased Vacancy Rates: When real estate decreases in value, usually the whole economy is going through a rough time. This means that unemployment rates have increased and people are looking for work. When people are looking for work, they do not usually move around. They are more likely to stay where they are at or move in with family or relatives (i.e. leaving an existing home vacant). It is more common for children to stay in their parents’ homes for longer periods of time than they want due to financial constraints. Young families also feel the financial pinch and tend to stay in smaller housing units than is comfortable because money is tight. 

This is why vacancy rates increase during market recessions. The number of people who stay in each rental units increases during these downturns in the real estate market. Vacancy rates do not increase over 10% to 15%, even in bad markets.

4. Increase in Mortgage Interest Rates: Be prepared for interest rates increasing. Look at the terms of the note that you signed with the bank when you originated the loan. In the terms are some parameters that will tell you the maximum the loan can adjust to and the amount per year it can increase in your mortgage payment. These numbers are essential for you to know so you can plan for the worst case scenarios when markets really adjust.

How To Be Prepared For Market Drops

There are several key action steps investors can make to help sustain their investment real estate during all real estate market adjustments and conditions. 

1. Take Out Equity Line on Primary Residence to help augment mortgage payments when the rental income decreases during declining markets. Set up an equity line when the market is healthy and you have a good paying job and good credit. Right now also happens to be a good time to establish low interest rates.

2. Alternatives For Profitability.  These alternatives are crucial when you have either lost your job or you are experiencing a loss of rental income by higher vacancies. Take some immediate actions to make the rental units more attractive to your tenants like new paint, carpet and landscaping. These improvements mean a lot to tenants and if they feel like they are treated fairly, they are less likely to move. It is also important to attend to repair items immediately. This decreases tenant complaints and increases their willingness to stay and encourage others to move into the property with them.

3. Decrease Rental Rates Slowly When Needed. If the local rental rates are dropping then you need to pay attention and drop your rental rates as well. But drop them slowly. You don’t need to drop your rates as aggressively if you keep your tenants happy. Work hard at pleasing your current tenants so that you will not have to drop the rates to attract new tenants. Smart investors sometimes offer incentives like grocery coupons to tenants if they have a friend or family member move into the complex. These gifts go far in saving you money in the long run.

Stage® Your Listings to Make More Money

How do we get sellers to prepare their property without offending them and encountering resistance? Educate the seller. Let the sellers know that this is part of the total service that you provide and a necessary part of the marketing process.

Begin this education process with your very first contact with potential sellers -on the phone or in person. A phrase that I find successful is, "Let me tell you how I work," followed by a quick recitation of the service I provide in the listing and marketing of their property. I let them know I want to see the property and get to know them.

Second, I put together a two-part listing presentation which included an exclusive marketing program with details on how their property fits into today's market in price and terms.
Then I add information on an extra-special free service. With permission, we go through the home together room by room, for staging recommendations.

By starting this dialogue with sellers as soon as you meet them, not only do they get an overview of your services, but they also know that staging their home and helping them prepare the property is an extra service that you provide for your sellers.

At the first visit, I always have the sellers show me through the property. At that time I start to see the property both through my eyes and through the potential buyer's eyes. I follow along as the sellers explain improvements they've made and special things they have enjoyed.
As we go through, I comment on each room and build rapport, while I mentally stage each room. I think about what I will ask the seller to move, repair, etc., when we do the staging after completing the exclusive listing agreement. Never stage the property the first time through. Complete the educational process and have the sellers' commitment in writing first.
It is important during the listing presentation to once again point out your special service. Get their commitment verbally to do this. Take all the time you need to explain to that seller how staging will help potential purchasers mentally move in, then ask the sellers point blank, "Do I have your commitment to help you stage your property after we complete the paperwork bringing you on the market?"

When I have educated the sellers about the importance of staging their home, they always agree.

With the paperwork finished, it's time for staging. The primary areas of concerns are the "three C's" -clean, color and clutter.

To ease into the process, say, "The way you live in a home and the way you market and sell your home are two different things. Now the public will be coming through."

Also explain that because they have entrusted you with representing them, they know you'll be selling their home. And since they will be moving as soon as the house is sold, you suggest that begin packing certain items early.

In each room, look for any extras that should be put away. You, the agent, are like a movie director setting the scene for the purchaser to view. As you direct you sellers to the items that need to be packed up and put away, have them make a pile in the middle of the room to be packed when you are gone. 

Remind sellers to always close their closets. The open closet will be the first thing a prospect will see, missing the rest of the room.

I take my foot and intentionally stub my toe on the little rug. I want the sellers to think of the safety of strangers touring their home. "What if someone falls?" I ask. The little rug is easily rolled up and left under the bed.

Blinds should always be left open to flood the room with sunlight. The only exception is a window with an exceptionally bad view. In that case, the blinds should be open but slightly tipped down. There will be a light, but the view won't detract. Also, check the slats in the blinds. If some are bent, have the seller repair them.

Magazines should be quickly slipped under the bed to be accessible for evening reading but out of sight for tours.

Crucial rooms are the living room, the kitchen and the master bedroom, but take time to go through every single room in the house and stage it. Then move outside and go around the exterior.

I commit about an hour for staging. This is a small amount of time compared to the value both you and seller will receive in shorter listing time and larger selling price.

We owe it to our sellers to stage the properties, but we also owe it to ourselves. Your listings will look better than ever, sell faster, and be more profitable.
 

Open House Success

Guest blog by Barbara Kavovit
Author of Invest in Your Nest: Add Style, Comfort, and Value to Your Home

An open house creates excitement and lets a lot of people view the property at once. Even if your neighbors who have no intention of buying come by (and this will happen), they may have friends and friends of friends who are interested in buying a house -- and if they like what they see, they will spread the word. Make sure your open house is a success by:

  • Placing your house brochure in conspicuous locations around the house
  • Replacing light bulbs with bulbs of the highest wattage the fixtures will allow and turning on all the lights -- bright houses are more appealing than dark ones
  • Keeping draperies and window coverings open
  • Placing a bowl of fresh fruit such as apples or lemons and limes on the kitchen island or table
  • Making sure the bathroom towels are clean (or new), beautifully folded, and stacked or hung
  • Setting your dining room or kitchen table for a meal with your prettiest china and best linen napkins
  • Storing accumulated mail out of sight and tossing old newspapers and magazines
  • Cleaning out the fireplace and stacking new logs; if it's cold outside, build a fire
  • Turning off the TV and softly playing jazz or classical music
  • Grinding up a fresh lemon or orange in the garbage disposal or simmering some cinnamon and cloves in a pot of water on the stove
  • Locking up or securely storing small valuables
  • Keeping pets securely penned or contained so they don't frighten buyers or escape during a viewing

Know Your Credit Score

Guest blog by Barbara Kavovit
Author of Invest in Your Nest: Add Style, Comfort, and Value to Your Home

The most important part of qualifying for a mortgage isn't how much of a down payment you can make, it's how good your credit score is. The better your credit, the more easily you can secure a mortgage loan, even without a fat bank account or a high-paying job. The first and most important action you should take is to get your credit report from each of the three major credit bureaus, Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion. You have to get all three reports because the companies and utilities that extend you credit don't report to all three bureaus. The result is that each consumer has three credit reports with three different sets of information. You can access the reports for free at least once a year. If you find errors and report them (see below for details), you can get a revised report for free.

Your credit score is based on the information in the credit report. In the simplest terms, the score indicates how likely you will be to pay back a loan in full and on time. According to Steven Burman, president of Credit Advocates and an expert credit counselor, it reflects your credit history, how much debt you currently carry (called outstanding debt), how much debt you're already approved to carry in the future (add up the credit limits on your credit cards for the answer), how long your credit history is, and how timely you are in paying bills. The higher the number, the better your credit is, ranging from a low of 300 to a perfect score of 850. Do everything you can to improve your score -- it's even more important than saving money, in my opinion! Why? Because the higher your score, the better the interest rate you will get. If you have a very high score, you may even be able to buy a house with no money down.

Improve Your Credit Rating
Steve says that you have to take personal responsibility for your credit, and I agree. The first time many people see their credit reports is when they are about to purchase a home or a car. Because it can take about 3 months (and sometimes much longer) to change a credit score, if the score is wrong or low at that time, it could be too late to fix it. You could lose that fabulous apartment! Don't let that happen -- start changing your score today. Here are six proven ways to improve your score:

1. Check and correct your credit history
Thirty-five percent of your score comes from your credit history, according to Steve. Unfortunately, 70 percent of credit reports contain errors -- mistakes that can adversely impact your score! Mistakes range from the misspelling of names, to reporting wrong addresses or places of employment, to confusing the accounts of people with the same name, to including outdated information. You can and should report errors to each of the credit bureaus since they do not share information. You can file disputes by phone or by mail, but you may find that it is most convenient to dispute errors online. Once the credit bureaus receive a dispute, they have 30 days to investigate. If they cannot verify the information in that time, it is deleted or corrected by default. Once you dispute information, the onus is on them to prove it. If your payment was late once or twice and the creditor reported it to the credit bureau, you can ask the retailer or credit card company to issue a letter of correction. For example, many retail stores would prefer to keep your business by issuing a correction than lose it by refusing to. Always follow up on promised corrections by rechecking your credit report. If some of the accounts on your report are old and closed, tell the credit bureau that you don't recognize them. They will investigate, find that you are not a customer, and remove them. It's best if your credit report lists only active accounts. Even when some of the accounts are closed, having dozens of them may make lenders assume that you are not a stable credit risk.

2. Pay down high balances
The amounts you owe on revolving credit accounts are responsible for 30 percent of your score. Steve says the fastest way to improve your credit rating is to pay down balances. After he advised one client to use all of his available cash to pay down his credit card bills, the client's credit score went up by 100 points. Keep revolving credit accounts under 30 percent of the available limit. For example, if your credit card limit is $10,000, keep the balance under $3,000. High balances adversely affect credit ratings. Plus, credit card debt is expensive to carry. Some cards charge up to 24 percent interest on unpaid balances. Are the designer jeans and fur jacket really worth that? Pay off your credit cards! You can also negotiate with your credit card company to reduce or eliminate interest charges and sometimes even reduce what you owe.

3. Make history with your credit
It's good to have some activity and history on the account. "Many people think closing accounts will make their credit look better, but it depends," says Steve. "Look at the accounts you are closing and keep the oldest one. Length of credit history counts for 15 percent of your total score."

4. Think twice about new credit
When you open a new credit card account, the creditor makes an inquiry to one of the credit bureaus to evaluate your history. The number of recently opened accounts and credit inquiries accounts for 10 percent of your score. (Note that checking your own credit report doesn't count as an inquiry, however.) "If you start applying for loans at an auto dealership or a bank and each one does an inquiry, it's a negative," says Steve. When a store sends you a sales pitch saying you're preapproved for credit, resist the temptation to fill out the application form. One credit card is all you really need. At any rate, closing an account doesn't mean it automatically disappears from your credit report. You have to ask them to remove it. Better yet . . . 

5. Pay with cash
Using debit cards and cash are good ways to control your debt (and therefore maintain a great credit score).

6. Pay all your bills on time
Late payments can have a substantial negative impact on your score. For example, you can raise your score by as much as 20 points simply by paying bills on time for 1 month!

For more information on improving your credit rating, visit the Federal Trade Commission's credit repair page at www.ftc.gov/bcp/conline/pubs/credit/repair.htm. To dispute information in a credit report, here is how to contact the credit bureaus:

Equifax Information Services, LLC
Disclosure Department
PO Box 740241
Atlanta, GA 30374
800-685-1111
www.equifax.com

Experian
475 Anton Boulevard
Costa Mesa, CA 92626
or
955 American Lane
Schaumburg, IL 60173
888-397-3742
www.experian.com

TransUnion LLC
PO Box 1000
Chester, PA 19022
800-888-4213
www.transunion.com

Annual Credit Report Request Service
PO Box 105281
Atlanta, GA 30348-5281
877-322-8228
www.annualcreditreport.com

Annualcreditreport.com is the official site that helps consumers obtain the free credit reports they are entitled to annually, as required by law.

De-Cluttering Debunked

Guest blog by Brooke Stone
www.brookestonelifestylemanagement.com

Look around. Do you have stuff everywhere? Most people do, don't be embarrassed. Look around again, take it all in. Don't you deserve better? Isn't it time to live and work in spaces that support you, instead of inhibit you? Clutter is not just a mess, it stands directly in the way of personal productivity and peace of mind. And don't you deserve to be productive and have peace of mind?! Yes. Yes, you do. 

Now that we are in agreement, lets get one thing straight. Spring cleaning is a handy fad, but living clutter free is for every season and does not require a Container Store holiday to bring into focus. It all begins with understanding you deserve better for yourself, and internalizing the fact that a visually and practically organized space will afford you the calm you need to work or play. 

Ready? Ok. The first step is to de-clutter your cluttered spaces one by one. Star with your desk, or your living room, it doesn’t matter where you start as long as you do start! Begin by organizing all of the clutter into piles of like items. Toys with toys, papers to file with papers to file, etc. Make a separate pile for things that go other places than the place you are organizing. Throw away all of the trash. 

Now, put away the piles of things that actually live in the space you are organizing, file away the papers, and put the things that go other places, in their other places. Rinse and repeat in each area of your home.

The bad news? This can take a while depending on what you are dealing with, but trust me, it's worth it. The good news? You only have to do this once if you can commit to the maintenance plan coming up next. 

Ok, so your house is now (almost) perfectly de-cluttered and organized. Now, all you have to do to remain committed to living clutter free (remember, you are so worth it!) is spare 10 minutes every night before bed and pick up the debris from the day. 

Do one room at a time, just like round one above. I usually start in the room farthest from my bedroom, and work down the hall with collapsing into bed being the prize for this daily diligence. Pick up the things. Put them where they go. It’s pretty simple, but requires a real dedication to those 10 minutes each night. You can do it though. You are very worth it. Waking up and making your coffee in a de-cluttered kitchen is all the thanks you will need, promise. 

Once you commit to this little plan, a crazy thing starts to happen, beside you being able to actually find the things you need. You begin holding others who use or live in your space more accountable. You know those 10 minutes each night could be 5 if your partner or kids learned to pick up after themselves. You start requiring them to do just that, and are setting a great example by modeling clutter free behaviors. 

Sooner or later, your 10 minutes becomes 5 and your clutter becomes a distant (bad) dream. And, just like most things that stick, building commitment to these new habits begins with the simple reminder that you deserve better and can make it happen for yourself. 

Grow The Space You Have

Guest blog by Barbara Kavovit
Author of Invest in Your Nest: Add Style, Comfort, and Value to Your Home

Transforing existing raw space into an extra bedroom, a playroom, or a guest or master suite is an affordable way to make your house bigger. You can also winterize an unheated sunroom or porch to transform a two- or three-season room into a year-round retreat. You can transform a two-bedroom, two-bath house into a "new" three-bedroom, three-bathroom house just by making your unused space livable!

Be Your Own Project Manager
Finishing the existing raw space in your home for livability requires the help of specialists in several trades: plumbing, carpentry, electrical, and others, including flooring and possibly stoneworking for tile work. So while it's not a do-it-yourself job, you can manage the project yourself and become your own general contractor. That way, you'll save money and choose and work with the tradespeople whom you really like. Managing the project gives you tremendous control over personnel, quality control, and finishes. You're the boss! Here are the basic steps you'll want to follow:

Set aside some time
Expect to spend from 1 to several hours a day for several months dealing with some aspect of the renovation. Managing the transformation of any space in your home does not require you to be on-site every minute, but you do have to check in often, inspect the work as it progresses, pay bills, consult with the tradespeople who are on the site, coordinate with and schedule the tradespeople who need to come in, make sure the site is organized safely and in a way that protects workers (and therefore your liability), monitor rubbish removal, and troubleshoot.

Determine your budget 
Every decision you make flows from your budget, from how much to spend on flooring to how fancy you want your bathroom fixtures to be.

Decide how you want to use the space 
Will it be an extra bedroom and bath, a family room, or a children's playroom? The function will help inform many of the finishes you choose. For example, a children's playroom may benefit from a hardwood floor partially covered by a large rug. How elaborate do you want the bathroom to be? If you are transforming a space into a master suite, the bathroom should have double vanities and a glass enclosure for the shower, which should have extra wall and overhead showerheads.

Gather the right professionals 
Several professionals are involved in an addition project. They include:

Architect
Carpenter and/or drywall contractor
Flooring contractor
Licensed electrician
HVAC specialist
Licensed plumber
Window supplier/installer

As project manager, you coordinate the work, schedule, and budget. Jobs need to be completed in a particular order. Follow this general timeline:

Prepare the floor
Check the condition of the existing subfloor and floor joists. If you are finishing a basement, you must inspect the condition of its floor. Most basements have poured concrete floors, and sometimes they slope steeply for drainage purposes. If that's the case, the floor must be leveled before proceeding with the work. A handyperson or contractor should pour a thin concrete overlay to level it. Be sure that access to any existing floor drains is maintained! Drains need to stay functional in case of basement flooding. Check with a plumber to find out if you will be required to periodically pour water in them to prevent sewer gas from building up.

Install any necessary HVAC systems
Ductwork is cumbersome. In basements, where ceiling height is always a consideration, soffits may be required to cover up any vents running overhead, which can lower the ceiling. Basements are usually cool and may not require air-conditioning systems. They do require heating, however. Be sure the HVAC specialist locates supply ducts near outside walls. Install return air ducts on interior walls or ceilings away from the supply ducts. The idea is to "draw" air across the room. Particular attention must be paid to ventilating, heating, and cooling attic rooms.

Install plumbing
You can solve plumbing issues in other parts of your house at this time, too, if necessary. If the existing drain stacks in the house are made from PVC, they need to be wrapped with insulation to minimize sound transmission. Cold-water lines may need to be insulated if you have had problems in the past with condensation, because it may drip onto your new ceiling. Have the plumber rough in bathroom plumbing so he or she can come back later to install the fixtures. Rough plumbing is all the plumbing components that need to be installed before the finish tradespeople (drywall contractor, painter, and so on) come in to do their jobs, including the waste and supply water lines that are in the walls or framing of the building. Ask the plumber to use ½-inch or 1-inch lines instead of the more common ¼-inch lines in the bathroom for extra water pressure.

Have necessary electrical work done
All electrical work must be done in compliance with the National Electrical Code or the code adopted by your community. Don't skimp on the electrical system. Make a list of everything you intend to use in the room (appliances, light fixtures, electronic equipment, and so on) so the electrician can calculate the required load and make sure you have enough circuits. He or she can rough in wiring for ceiling fixtures at this time and come back to install the fixtures when the drywall or drop ceiling has been installed. Think ahead. Make sure you can access the main electrical service panel and telephone and cable TV termination points. Ask the electrician to install conduits through which additional wires can be run at a later date. Don't forget about wiring the space for surround sound.

Install cable and phone lines
Call your service companies and schedule a time for them to add new telephone, data, and cable wiring. Be sure to have them add extra phone and data lines now, even if you don't plan on using them all right away. Adding them later on is more expensive. 

Build and insulate the walls
A carpenter can install 2 x 4-inch studs if they aren't already there, as well as a variety of thermal insulation materials, from traditional soft batting to rigid foil-faced sheets to blown-in insulation. He or she should be able to advise you on what is recommended for your geographic region and application. 

Install walls
You can choose one of several types of wallboard or paneling. I prefer drywall because it gives you the most flexibility and doesn't scream "finished basement" the way paneling does. Plus, you can always apply bead-board wainscoting, faux finishes, wallpaper, or other treatments over drywall at a later date.

Install the ceiling
I prefer drywall ceilings, but I admit that the ubiquitous and industrial-looking acoustical tile or drop ceiling has come a long way. It now comes in a variety of styles, from bead board to decorative embossed styles that look like old-fashioned tin ceilings. The advantages of installing a drop ceiling are that it creates an accessible tray for ductwork and wiring and if one tile gets damaged, it's easy to replace (buy 10 percent more than you need for coverage). The disadvantages are that it lowers the ceiling height, which might be at a premium in your attic or basement. For drywall ceiling, the drywall contractor or carpenter builds soffits around any ductwork. That means that making a drywall ceiling takes extra work and is therefore somewhat more expensive than a drop ceiling, but the ceiling will be lower only in the areas where ductwork exists and headroom is maximized everywhere else.

Install the floor 
I love hardwood, as you know. If you happen to be finishing a basement-level room, however, think twice before choosing hardwood flooring. Hardwood flooring trade associations and manufacturers caution against using traditional hardwood below ground level, even in very dry basements. Instead, consider engineered hardwood click flooring, laminates, tile, or carpeting. If you are worried about wet floors or insect infestation, install treated or marine plywood as a subfloor before proceeding with the final finish.

Install final fixtures
Have the plumber and electrician return to install the permanent bathroom and electrical fixtures.

Paint trim and walls
Furnish your new rooms and enjoy them!