Category Archives: Organizing Tips

Cleaning Out the Clutter

Even the most orderly of homes has corners and nooks collecting clutter…even mine. I’ve talked a lot on this blog about getting rid of the clutter in our homes. And, for the most part, I’ve done a good job of practicing what I preach. If you could walk around my house, peeking in the closets and under the beds, chances are there is little you would see as unnecessary clutter. For the most part.

Even though I don’t have a lot of “clutter”, the fact is that I live with an excessive number of possessions. “Excess” is probably subjective. What one person views as excessive another views as inadequate. I get that. But for our family, we have excess. So, I’m going to do a little project to trim down the number of items we live with.

Each week I’m going to try to eliminate one item. It may be something I would truly consider to be clutter – something completely unnecessary for our lives. Or, it may be something that I just think is excessive – something we don’t need but perhaps someone else does.

This week, I found some clutter hiding high in the pantry. Mikayla has been sick and I finally got desperate enough to look for some medicine for her. What I found was this huge box that used to hold baby medicines (baby tylenol and baby motrin and baby gas medicine) but, since Mikayla is nearly 4, we’ve used all the medicine and all that remained in this huge box was a random assortment of used syringes. Clearly, this is unnecessary clutter.

I kept a couple of the still useable syringes/medicine spoons and threw away the ones with worn off numbers that you really shouldn’t use. For now, I let Mikayla have the box. She’s been carrying her toys around in it. I expect it to only last a few days as it is not nearly sturdy enough to survive “toddler treatment” for very long – at which point it will also be removed from our home.

I’m excited about this little project. I think this will be eye-opening for me. Excess is pretty easy to spot once you start looking for it. I think it will be interesting to see how my definition of the word changes – things that I see as necessary now may seem excessive six months down the road. And, I think it will be good for Mikayla too. The younger she learns to live with less the more appreciative she’ll be of those items she does have.

Question: What’s one item you can remove from your home today?

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Organizing Quick Tips: The Kitchen

Have you ever shopped for something simple like a spatula at Bed, Bath & Beyond? Were you overwhelmed by the spatula options? Metal. Plastic. Rubber. Wide. Narrow. With slits. With holes. With a hidden knife in the handle to use as a weapon in case a burglar sneaks in while you’re flipping pancakes. (So maybe I made up the last one, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it really exists.) There is an unlimited supply of tools for our kitchen. If you allow your “tools” to become “clutter” they aren’t working for you but against you. Follow the basic decluttering steps to make sure your kitchen is a useable, functional, efficient space.

1. Purge – Be ruthless as you separate your kitchen items into piles for Keep, Sell/Donate, Trash. I’d bet there are items hidden in your cabinets that you received as a wedding gift and still haven’t used. That ice cream sandwich maker sounded like the coolest thing ever until you tried to use it and it was just the messiest thing ever. Rolling pin – does anyone still use a rolling pin? Maybe if you’re a legit cook but for the average I-buy-pull-apart-cookies chef, you probably don’t need one. If you haven’t used something in a year and don’t have plans to use it in the future, get it out of your house.

2. Sort – As you discover items that don’t belong in the kitchen (I’m talking to you, Kitchen Junk Drawer) move them to another place in your home. Separate all your kitchen items into Often Use and Seldom Use piles. Seldom Use items should be stored in the most inconvenient places to leave the conveniently reached places open for items you use more often. Consider boxing up seasonal items and storing them with your decorations rather than keeping them in your kitchen all year long.

3. Store – There are tons of great storage options for your kitchen – stepped shelving to make items in the back of your cabinets visible, drawer dividers, hanging baskets, vertical racks for pans or lids, the list goes on and on. I would suggest identifying areas that are a nuisance to you and then searching for a specific solution to those problems. Here’s what I use to organize my food pantry…

Plastic tubs can be pulled out to make reaching the back easy. I use labels for breakfast, lunch, baking, pasta/sides, produce, snacks, stockpile and a basket for ingredients to be used this week (you should use labels that correspond to the food your family eats). This way, I know exactly where everything is located and can find things quickly. Hint: make sure you measure your cabinet space and the full outer width/length of tubs before you buy them – you want them to fit snuggly so you maximize your space without wasting any.

Regardless of what tools you use to organize your kitchen, the important thing is that it is clutter-free, functional and efficient for you.

Question: What’s the weirdest thing you received as a wedding gift and still keep stashed somewhere in the depths of your kitchen cabinets?

Organizing Quick Tips: The Closet

Closets (and I’m talking about the one you hang your clothes in) tend to collect clutter. From clothes you don’t wear to hidden Christmas presents to vacuums and linens. In some cases, a lack of storage space in other parts of the house means your clothes closet has to multitask. And, in some cases, we just forget about all that junk we’ve piled in there over the years. Either way, you can follow the basic decluttering steps to have an organized, clutter-free closet.

1. Purge – Use Keep, Sell/Donate, Trash piles to quickly sort your clothes into what you will keep and what will be removed from your home. If clothing is uncomfortable or doesn’t fit or is terribly out of style, get rid of it. If you haven’t worn an item in over a year (and can’t fathom an opportunity to wear it in the future) get rid of it. An example would be a bridesmaid dress or that hideous Christmas sweater you got at a gag gift exchange.

2. Sort – If there is anything in your closet that doesn’t belong (i.e. – your child’s outgrown clothes, a hammer, cleaning supplies) immediately move it to wherever it belongs. Typically in the Sort step we separate items into Seldom Used and Often Used piles. With clothing, this may not be practical. Instead sort clothes by how you will store them in step 3.

3. Store – There’s really not a “right” way to hang your clothes. Whatever organization works best for you is the way your clothes should hang. You could separate them by season (put summer clothing out of reach during the winter, etc.) or by kind (hang pants together, dresses together, shirts together) or by use (put work clothes together and lounge clothes together and church clothes together). Utilize drawers for small items rather than trying to hang them (like scarves or hosiery). Baskets also work well for grouping smaller items – gloves, hats and scarves could be tossed in a “winter” basket and stored on a high shelf or under hanging clothes.

4. Maintain – Since clothing comes and goes often, closets tend to re-accumulate clutter quickly. Set up regular maintenance routines to keep this from happening. At the end of each season, purge clothes that you didn’t wear – don’t wait until the next year because you’ll likely forget. Keep a donation basket in your closet so purging clothes simply means tossing it in the basket. When the basket is full, bag up wearable items and take them to a local charity.

Simple, right? Right. Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to pick out your clothes for the day without climbing over that paint bucket and stepping on your kid’s toys?

Question: What’s the most out of place item in your closet right now?

Invest in Meaningful Activities

January 2012 – the start of a whole new year. Resolutions and goals and projects…how do we fit all these new activities into our already busy lives? With only 24 hours in a day, no one can do “it all”. We each have to determine what we will spend our time doing and what we will simply choose not to do. Here are a few guidelines I follow to help me invest my time in activities that are meaningful and important.

1. Decide what activities you enjoy, what activities are meaningful to you. I, for example, love to read. Reading the latest young adult fiction book may seem petty to some, but it’s an activity that I thoroughly enjoy. It helps me relax and regain a bit of sanity. You may have more important or noble activities in which you invest time such as volunteering or exercising or making a phone call to a friend. Whatever hobbies or diversions or interests are important to you make sure you schedule time for them.

2. Determine what activities you must do, even if you don’t necessarily enjoy them. This could be cleaning the toilet or doing laundry or mowing the yard. See if there is a way to delegate these things (add them to your teens chore list or hire a cleaning service). If delegation isn’t possible, simplify these activities as much as you can. Make food preparation easier by planning simpler meals or precooking some foods. See if there are some household chores that you can do less often – can you dust every other week instead of every week, for example. Set up a neighborhood carpool so you don’t have to drive to school twice every day. Once you determine which activities you must do, make sure you schedule time for them.

3. Delete items from your to-do list that someone else can do. Did you delegate some items in step two? Mark them off your to-do list, you’re no longer responsible for them. Are there other activities you can remove from your list? Maybe your “volunteer plate” is too full and you need to resign a few responsibilities. Perhaps you have some unrealistic expectations for yourself and you need to rethink how many goals you are working on at one time.

4. Develop a “Don’t Do” list. Your Don’t Do list will keep you from losing focus on more important and meaningful activities. It will also free you from feelings of guilt or stress when someone asks you to do something that you are really not suited for. For instance, if you hate baking and your child’s teacher asks you to bring cupcakes for a party, say that you’d love to pick some up from the store but you wouldn’t be able to make them yourself. Or, perhaps it is very important for your family to set aside time on Saturday’s to spend together – put “anything on Saturday” on your Don’t Do list. Then when you are asked to volunteer at that luncheon you can easily say, “I’m sorry, I’m not available on Saturday’s.” I’m not saying you can’t be flexible, but your Don’t Do list should be made up of activities that you shouldn’t do – either because you aren’t qualified or because you really don’t enjoy them or because you are spending your time on more important activities.

The great thing about a new year is that it gives us a fresh start – a chance to make changes or break bad habits or finish goals. This year, spend your time and energy on opportunities and obligations that are meaningful and important. Invest in the best 2012 has to offer.

Question: What’s one item on your Don’t Do list? I’ll give my answer in the comments.

Organizing Quick Tips: Clutter Free Spaces

A couple months ago I wrote a post on Controlling Clutter. It was fairly broad… Let’s assume for a moment that you’ve read that post and are mentally and emotionally ready to declutter – you know what you want from your space, you’ve overcome all the (bad) excuses to keep unused stuff, you’ve determined to get rid of those things that make you feel guilty or stressed – now it’s time for the actual process of decluttering. Here are three easy steps to remove unwanted clutter and re-organize your space so that it suits your needs.

1. Purge – The very first step to having an efficient, organized, useful space is to get rid of all the clutter. Remember my definition of “clutter” from the previous post – clutter is anything that unnecessarily takes up space in your home. It may be a little space or a lot of space or even emotional space in the form of stress or guilt.

Quickly sort every item in your space (it may be an entire room or a closet or just a drawer) into three piles – Keep, Sell/Donate, Trash. Any item you use or love goes in the Keep pile. Any item that you no longer use or love goes in the Sell/Donate pile. Any item that is no longer useable by anyone needs to be put in the trash or recycled if possible. Have an item you don’t know what to do with? Just set it aside and take a second look once all your other items are sorted. If you’re still having trouble, use the “box it and forget it” technique – box up the items, write the date on the outside of the box, tape it up and store it somewhere out of sight. If in six months (or a year) you haven’t gone searching for items in that box, they are safe to donate or sell. You probably won’t even remember what’s in there.

Of your three piles, only one contains items that will go back into your space. Get rid of the trash immediately (as in, before you continue with your decluttering). Drop off items to donate as soon as possible (don’t continue storing them in your home). Plan a yard sale or list items online for sale in the very near future. Moving clutter from one space to another is not effective. You want the clutter completely removed from your home.

2. Sort – Take a look at your Keep pile. Are there any items that you need to keep but not necessarily in the current space? Go ahead and move them to a more appropriate home (no, seriously, go ahead and move them…before you continue sorting). For example, a screw driver should be kept wherever you store your tools and not in the silverware drawer in your kitchen.

Sort the remaining items into two piles – Often Used and Seldom Used. Seldom Used items should be put in the least convenient places – high shelves, boxes under the bed, the back corner of a cabinet, etc.

3. Store – You can’t keep all your stuff in piles in the middle of the floor. That’s not very efficient. It’s time to give your items a home. You’ve heard the phrase “a place for everything and everything in it’s place”? That’s the idea you want in your head as you put away your stuff. Remember to store Seldom Used items out of the way to leave room for those things you use often.

Depending on the space you are organizing and on your personal preferences, you can store items by kind or by use (or both). In a closet, store clothes by kind – short sleeve, long sleeve, pants, dresses, etc. In a kitchen, store items you use for cooking near the stove or store glasses near the refrigerator. In an office, all pens and pencils should be stored together. You get the idea.

Purge, Sort, Store – easy enough, right? You can declutter like a pro! Or, just email me if you need a helping hand – I love getting rid of clutter (especially someone else’s).

Question: What’s an area in your home that you’d like to declutter and re-organize for a better use?

Massive Amounts of Soapy Water

January seems like a good time to wash the house. I guess most people call it “spring cleaning” but why wait till spring. I felt like cleaning from top to bottom was a good way to start the new year, so for the past week and a half I’ve been washing the house. I mean… like… the whole house.

Vacuuming under the furniture

Washing windows and blinds

Scrubbing baseboards and door frames

Kitchen cabinets

Garage

Ceiling fans

And a whole bunch of other stuff that generally gets ignored.

I’ll be honest with you – since I talk about organization all the time – the last time I did most of these tasks was when I was pregnant with Mikayla. I knew it’d be a while before I would be able to do major cleaning again. Well, she turns 4 in April so, yeah, it was a while.

It feels good knowing that literally every surface of my house is clean. It also feels good to know I won’t have to do it again for “a while”. However long that may be.

Question: When was the last time you cleaned your baseboards? Do you have a spring cleaning routine each year?

Christmas: Prepare for Next Year

I hope everyone is preparing for a lovely Christmas celebration complete with friends, family and lots of stress-free holiday fun. Before you rip down all your Christmas decor on Sunday night, keep in mind that now is the best time to begin preparations for next year’s festivities. Here are four tips to get you started:

1. Take Note – Keep track of recipes you enjoyed. Make a note of things that worked (or didnʼt work). Take pictures of your house with all the decorations up – this way youʼll know exactly where things go next year.

2. Store Decorations Properly – Make sure your lights, garland, etc. are packed neatly to prevent damage and make unwinding them easy. Wrap breakables to keep them safe. Store ornaments in an ornament box with dividers (donʼt keep dozens of individual boxes). Label boxes clearly and be mindful of moisture, insects, etc. that may cause damage.

3. Update Address List – Make note of any addresses that changed. Remove/add names as needed.

4. Stock Up – Take advantage of after Christmas sales to replenish your wrapping supplies, purchase Christmas cards, maybe even a few gifts.

And, don’t forget about your Gift List. Learn more about using this year’s Gift List to make next year’s shopping easier – Gift Giving: The Easy Way.

Question: What are you most looking forward to this weekend?

Survival Guide: Day After Christmas Shopping

The day after Christmas is a great time to stock up on holiday supplies for next year – everything from wrapping paper to tree lights to home decorations. You can also find great deals on toys and electronics for future gifts (think birthdays or even next Christmas). And, while you’re stocking up on gifts, pick up some $5-10 holiday items at the 50% off price to use for Secret Santa gift exchanges and stocking stuffers the following year.

No doubt you will be called “crazy” for wanting to brave the early morning crowd. Maybe that’s true. But, with a little planning and a good attitude you can shop the sales like a pro and still get to the office on time…or perhaps enjoy a relaxing breakfast out with friends. Here are a few tips and tricks to surviving the early morning rush:

1. Preview the Sale Ads – Set aside a few moments on Christmas day to rest, appreciate the wonderful day, smile at your lovely children…and look through the sale ads. Check to see what times the stores open – some may open as early as 4:00 am, others not until 6:00 or even 7:00.

2. Must Have List – Use the ads to jot down a “must have” list. Of course you’re going to want to stock up on wrapping paper and bags and scotch tape, but if there’s anything special you want (say a new tree or giant inflatable snow man or light up flamingo) make a note of what stores will have those items on sale. Keep in mind that some stores may sell out quickly – its always a good idea to have a back up store in mind. You may also jot down any supplies you do NOT need – say you have 7 rolls of wrapping paper left over, you probably don’t want to buy any more.

3. Plan Your Route – This is especially important if you have somewhere to be later in the day – like work or a family event. Plan which stores you will visit first based on the times they open and on your “must have” list. Save less important stops for the end of the trip incase you run out of time. (Don’t overlook discount and/or craft stores like HomeGoods, TJ Maxx, Hobby Lobby, Michael’s. These stores often have fabulous home decor items as well as gift wrapping supplies at equally fabulous discount prices.)

4. Schedule for the Crowd – It will be busy. There will be lines…long…long lines. You will need to be mentally prepared to wait…PATIENTLY. Especially if you have somewhere to be, make sure you plan for delays.

5. Shop with a Friend – If you’re anything like me, getting up early is very low on your list of things you want to do the day after Christmas. Plan on meeting a friend so you have the motivation to get up and go. You’ll have more fun together. Plus, when you enter the Target Christmas section and realize you can’t get your buggy within 30 feet of the isle it will be nice to have a buddy to take turns with – she goes down the isle to shop, you stay with the buggy, swap.

6. Dress in Layers – It’s cold outside (especially if you arrive prior to opening time and have to wait outside the store) but when you’re in the store, elbow to elbow with 50 or so less-than-friendly shoppers crammed in the Christmas card isle it’s going to be a bit toasty.

7. Starbucks Stop – It’s early. You need coffee. Trust me. Maybe a snack too.

8. Don’t Take Your Kids – This really shouldn’t need explanation. But, even if you’re brave enough to tote your little ones along during the wee morning hours, for the sake of your fellow shoppers please leave the cranky little angles at home in their bed (with proper supervision, of course).

9. Enjoy Breakfast – If you don’t have anywhere to go, having breakfast at your favorite pancake house is a great reward after a few hours of deal finding.

10. Enjoy Your Savings – Next year when you unpack all your Christmas decorations it will be exciting to get out all of your “new” decor knowing you paid half price or less.

Above all, mentally prepare yourself to have a good experience. Plan to be kind and courteous to the other shoppers and store employees. It will be crowded, items will be out of stock, prices will ring up wrong, some lady will deliberately push your buggy out of the way and elbow you in the back to beat you to the last 7’ pre-lit tree. Don’t let the crankiness and frustrations of your fellow early morning shoppers affect how you feel and how you treat others. Decide ahead of time to have fun and enjoy the day regardless of those you may encounter.

When the shopping is over and your bounty stored away for next year, there’s only one thing left to do… take a nap.

For additional Holiday Organization tips, visit the Organizing Tools section.

Question: Do you plan to shop the day after Christmas sales? How early will you get out?

Maintain Focus (and Sanity!) During the Holiday Season

December is busy. Thereʼs no way around it. With kids home from school, parties to attend, gifts to buy – its very easy to get so distracted and caught up in the rush that we miss out on what Christmas is really about. Here are some tips to simplify this Christmas season so that you can reflect on Godʼs many gifts to us and appreciate the time shared with friends and family.

1. Perspective – Christmas isnʼt really about buying stuff, decorating trees and baking cookies. We enjoy those things and cherish the family traditions and memories that go along with them but we need to maintain a correct perspective on the true meaning of Christmas. Suggestions to help you with perspective: donate food to a shelter or food bank, volunteer at a soup kitchen or other non-profit, help children pick out toys to give away/donate, make extra effort to be kind to those you come in contact with, set aside time for intentional reflection on the birth of Jesus and the many blessings God has given.

2. Simplify Decorations – I love Christmas decor as much as anyone. I would love to walk into a Christmas wonderland each time I walked through the doors of my house. Realistically, I donʼt have the time or energy for that amount of decoration. Strive to decorate with pieces you love and enjoy. Make an effort to make your home special for your family. But keep in mind that your time and energy are extremely valuable. Time spent with your children is more important than pretty decorations. Donate what you donʼt use rather than keeping it in storage.

3. Share the Work – Ask guests to bring a dish to share when you invite them to your holiday gathering. Your friends wonʼt mind the little effort it takes to bring one dish and it will greatly lessen your responsibility. If you donʼt like surprises, you can specify the type of dish each guest brings so you donʼt end up with four plates of brownies.

4. Enjoy Gift Wrapping – Make a conscious decision to enjoy wrapping gifts. Set aside a couple hours of uninterrupted time. Turn on Christmas music. Make hot chocolate. Dance a little.

5. Family Traditions – Whether you have 17 rituals your family participates in each year or only two, realize the importance of observing those traditions and make sure they donʼt get lost in the holiday shuffle. If you donʼt have any family traditions, try to start one this year. Even something as simple as driving around to look at Christmas lights can create lasting memories for your family.

For additional Holiday Organization tips, visit the Organizing Tools section for tips on making Christmas less stressfuleasy gift giving, reducing holiday waste and surviving day after Christmas shopping trips.

Question: What’s your family’s favorite holiday tradition?

Reduce Holiday Waste

Let’s all just take a moment to admit that we have a problem – holiday waste. The very nature of many of our Christmas traditions are wasteful to some degree – Christmas cards get sent, received, trashed; wrapping paper is torn away and trashed; bows, tape, paper bags; left-over turkey and mashed potatoes; cut trees – the list could go on and on.

It would be difficult to completely eliminate the excess “stuff” at Christmastime without also doing away with cherished traditions. But, we can be mindful of our wastefulness and reduce it with a few easy changes:

1. Carry your own re-useable shopping bags when you’re out gift buying.

2. Plan gift giving in advance to avoid unnecessarily driving all over town.

3. Update your Christmas card list and only send a card to those who would truly love hearing from you.

4. Buy an artificial tree or get a real tree that can be planted after Christmas.

5. Send leftover food home with guests or donate excess food to food banks or shelters.

6. Purchase rechargeable batteries for electronic gifts.

7. Use energy efficient holiday lights – indoors and out.

8. Reuse wrapping paper, bags, bows whenever possible.

9. Reuse packaging boxes and materials when shipping gifts.

10. Vacation at home – save time, energy, gas and money plus help boost your local economy.

For additional Holiday Organization tips, visit the Organizing Tools section for tips on making Christmas less stressfuleasy gift giving and surviving day after Christmas shopping trips.