At the Ready: Organization for Everyday Items

Recently a friend staying with me shared an observation about my home: when she needed a pen, there it was…or a pair of scissors, exactly where she needed them. Her remark made me realize that I had organized my home for the little every day items that we need.

Where do I keep paper and pen?

  • Near the phone

  • In the kitchen (where a small drawer is filled with paper pads, sticky notes, pens and pencils)

  • Next to my bed; read more about organizing your bedside table

  • In the bathroom, for all those great ideas that you get in the shower

Where to keep other important items:

  • Scissors on every floor, near the paper and pens (having duplicates comes in handy)

  • Essential tools, like small screwdrivers, tape measure, flashlight in the kitchen in my “junk drawer

  • Keys near the back door

  • Chargers in the kitchen

These are small items, but it can be frustrating when we can’t find them when we need them. Try to organize the essential everyday items in your home and feel more in control.

Recycle Holiday Lights


How to get rid of holiday lights? Older holiday lights can be fickle: one minute they work, the next they don’t. Or maybe you’ve replaced all your old Christmas lights with new LED versions.

If you have holiday lights to get rid of, don’t throw them out: take them to the Home Depot. According to their website, they “offer recycling programs for rechargeable batteries, CFL bulbs and old incandescent holiday light strings.”

With Home Depot locations all over, this seems like a great option for recycling lights.


4 Tips for Holiday Shopping

Does holiday shopping stress you out? Do you feel like you spend time shopping in stores or online, but don’t get what you need? Here are four ideas for better holiday shopping:

  • Shop with a list: Use a list when you shop to help keep you focused. If you do the thinking/planning before heading to the store, you’ll save time and money. It can also help when you are online shopping!

  • Even if it’s on sale, if you don’t need it, it’s not a bargain.” I heard someone say this on the news this week, and it is great advice! Don’t buy something just because it’s on sale. Ask yourself: Do I need this? When will I use it? Do I know where I’ll keep it?

  • Shop at home first. Do you have a “gift” closet or bin (or lots of bins)? Do your shopping for gifts here before buying more. Be sure gifts for kids you are saving are for the right age. If not, donate them.

  • Don’t shop for things, shop for experiences. Experiences or memberships are some of my favorite gifts to get and to receive. Museum memberships, movie gift cards, classes, or a day out with the gift giver are gifts that anyone would enjoy receiving.

  • Bonus tips on list-making: Making an Effective List Add a Photo to Your Digital List

gift box.jpg

Organize Your Kitchen Like Julia

Both my parents enjoyed cooking, and loved Julia Child’s “Mastering the Art of French Cooking.” I watched her cooking show on PBS, and made a point of seeing her kitchen in the Smithsonian. Julia was not only a master chef, but a master at organizing her kitchen.

One of my clients was very good friends with Julia and Paul Child, and I noticed that my client’s kitchen was set up and organized similarly to Julia’s (see photos).

Here’s how to set up your kitchen a la Julia:

  • Keep what you use the most easily accessible. Julia used pegboard in her kitchen, so did my parents, and this client. If you have the wall space to do this, it’s an excellent strategy, especially for people who lose track of items in cabinets or drawers.

  • Use the vertical space in your kitchen. The peg board accomplishes this, as do hooks (see photo), or a pot rack that hangs from the ceiling. Open shelving is very popular now, and can also help make the most of vertical space.

  • Consider labels. In photos I’ve seen of Julia’s kitchen, she has labels on her utensil crocks, and on her wall near her knives. I’ve used labels in my pantry and on small bins in cabinets. They can be helpful reminders of what goes where.

  • Function over form. Julia set up her kitchen to be functional, and customized it to fit her needs. Make sure your kitchen works for how you use it.

  • Create zones for key activities or similar items. Here’s a past post about how I set up a corner for my tea supplies.


Organize the Backpack

My #1 tip for keeping your student organized: reset the backpack weekly.

Every week, yes every week, make sure your student cleans out her backpack. Have your student take out all the projects and papers, and make sure there aren’t any completed assignments or forgotten HW crumpled in the bottom of the backpack.

Also clean out any gym clothes, food containers, or other items that have accumulated from the week.

Cleaning out or “resetting” the backpack is a simple - but critical - routine to keep your student organized for school.


Organizing the Linen Closet

Even if you are lucky enough to have a linen closet or two in your home, you know they can easily become a black hole of stuff! I wrote recently about how I updated my closet, here’s how to keep it organized:

  • To start, take everything out. Sort out what really belongs in the linen closet, and clear out all the things that can get stored elsewhere.

  • Put like with like: sheet sets together, bath towels together, pillows together…you get the idea. Do you have more than you need? Some say to keep only 2 sets of sheets per bed in your home, and 2 sets of towels per person.

  • If it’s challenging to keep your sheet sets from getting mixed up, try this trick: store the sheets in one of the set’s pillow cases. If you like to keep all your flat sheets together, pillow cases together, store them in canvas bins.

  • Put aside any linens you never use and donate them. Many pet shelters look for donated sheets and towels. There may also be places in your town to recycle textiles. Our town has fabric recycling bins at every elementary school.

  • If you have toiletries or cleaning items in the closet, get appropriate containers to corral the items. I have used clear shoe boxes for toiletries, and just got new reach-in white bins for my updated linen closet. My cleaning supplies are in a crate on the bottom of the closet, and can easily be pulled out when needed.

The linen closet is one of those spaces that needs a tune-up every few months to keep it organized.


Organizing for a Disaster

September is disaster preparedness month. While no one likes to think a disaster might occur in their area, it is important to be prepared. Here in New England we get blizzards, hurricanes, and flooding. This week I heard a volunteer from the local Red Cross speak about this topic and how families can be prepared.

Here are some simple steps every family should take:

  • Fires are the most common disaster in the home. Do you have a fire extinguisher and can you easily get it? Make sure it is it still has pressure, hasn’t been recalled, and is easily accessible.

  • Important documents: Do you have important papers in a safe place that you could easily grab if you needed to leave your home? I have helped many clients set up an “important papers” file or even better, fireproof box, to store vital documents such as titles, wills, and passports. If you are using a fireproof box you may also want to include some family mementos or irreplaceable jewelry.

  • Speaking of mementos, consider digitizing your photos so you have duplicates of your most important photos backed up to the cloud or offsite. Want o digitize them at home? Read my review of this gadget. I can also help you sort, organize and digitize your photos; I also have a great local resource for photo digitizing—no need to mail off precious photos!

  • Do you have a safe deposit box? Here’s my blog post on how to organize your vital documents.

  • Smoke/C02 detectors: Change your smoke detectors every 10 years. Be sure to change the batteries at least once a year. Do it when you change your clocks in the fall and spring, and they will always be up to date.

  • Don’t forget to make an emergency plan for your pets. Get ideas from the Red Cross.

For more ideas on how to prepare your home and family in case of a disaster, read more ideas from my blog here and here.

Updating my Linen Closet

Recently we had our bathroom completely updated. As part of the renovation, we took some space from a nearby linen closet. This meant the closet was demolished to the studs, and new walls installed. With a coat of fresh white paint, this storage space was getting a makeover.

It was so fun to design a closet from start to finish (yes, this is what professional organizers get excited about). I considered the shelf options, and decided again to install an Elfa system from The Container Store. I’ve written before about how I love this closet system for bedroom closets, I was now going to give it a try for my new linen closet.

The heavy wooden, immovable shelves were replaced with adjustable elfa solid shelving. In the former closet there was a lot of space between shelves. I kept lots of toiletries in plastic shoe boxes and had to stack them on top of each other to efficiently use the space, but it was a pain to have to move the top box to get what was in the bottom. With the new elfa configuration, we were able to add another shelf - no more stacking!

I could also set the height of the first shelf to be high enough over what I wanted to store on the bottom. Instead of having the heavy stuff on the top shelf in the old closet, they could sit safely on the bottom. The light linens are now on top. And if my needs change, the shelves can move up or down.

I also decided that my new closet deserved a new set of bins. These easy reach-in bins keep all our toiletry items corralled. I labelled each so my family would know what goes where. I’m sure it won’t stay this organized, but it will be a much easier closet to use.

Closet Before

Closet Before

New Walls, no shelves

New Walls, no shelves

elfa installed

elfa installed

finished closet

finished closet

Organizing a Renovation Project

After 12 years in our home, we finally had our main bathroom renovated. While we made a few improvements to the space when we moved in (good-bye lighthouse wallpaper border!), our 80s era bathroom was falling apart. It was a big, stressful project that felt completely overwhelming at times. Here’s what I did to try to stay organized:

  • I took before/after photos, and photos of the project in progress. Seeing the “before” photos reminded me how much progress had been made, even if it didn’t feel like much had changed.

  • The contractors gave us a project binder with all the key paperwork. As I collected furniture and fixture flyers, paint chips and swatches, I added those too.

  • I also kept a smaller plastic bin for tile samples, catalogs, and other items related to the project that wouldn’t fit in a binder. This was a temporary holding places, as most of the items weren’t needed once the project was complete.

  • My husband set up a shared folder on google. Our expense spreadsheet went there. We also uploaded any photos we took of fixtures at bath stores to the folder.

Organize Souvenirs in a Jar

Young kids love to collect rocks, sand, and shells while on vacation. When you return home, put those special objects in a jar. (Bonus tip: always tuck a few plastic bags into your suitcase when on vacation; the bags are helpful in many ways, and give you a place to stash those rocks and shells!)

I kept a few jars of shells and rocks on my daughter’s bookshelf. Now a teenager, she had the idea of using those jars as bookends. They are mementos and functional.



Organized Travel Apps

Folder for Vacataion Apps.jpg

This summer my family went on a spectacular cruise to Alaska! For this trip we were downloading several different apps to our smartphones.

My husband had the smart idea to organize them all into a single folder on his iPhone. He included our airline, rental car company, Airbnb, and a special app just for use on the Disney cruise, among others.

Having the key apps in one folder on the front page of his phone made it so easy to find what we needed right away.

While I still recommend bringing printed copies of your travel confirmations and information, having hotel, air, and car company apps on your phone can be a lifesaver in case of travel delays or cancellations.

Making a List Even More Effective: Add a Photo

I often use the Notes on my iPhone for lists of information - books to read, movies to see, and things to buy. Did you know you can add a photo to your notes? 

A client shared this helpful tip: when she creates a list of things she'd like to buy for her home, such as new kitchen stools or a rug for her living room, she snaps a photo of the space and saves it with the note. Then when she's out shopping not only does she have the note about what she needs, she has the photo of the space also. This visual is a great reminder for wall color, scale, and other patterns in a room. 

You can also add sketches to notes! If you are not sure how to do it, here's a great tutorial to get you started. 

Screenshot of a note with option to add photo

Screenshot of a note with option to add photo

From To Do to Done

TO Do pad.jpg

I'll admit it: I love lists. I enjoy checking off when things get done. Generally I keep an electronic list, but I use notepaper or sticky notes for my daily/weekly reminders. While at The Container Store recently, I was pleased to see this new To Do notepad from Poppin. The design and color make me happy...and maybe will help me want to do what's on the list!  (If we like a product, we tend to use it more.)

Tips on Making an Effective List

Getting your To Dos Done

Snowed in? Get Organized!

Home with a snow day today? Once the French toast is done, and the movies get old, try an organizing project to clear the clutter and make you feel better. 

Here are some of my favorite ideas to get you started:



Udpated Product to Organize your Kitchen, Pantry or Closet

I dislike the name, but a "lazy susan" can be a great organizing tool. Tall items, though, would often fall over when the turntable spins.

Now an updated version solves that issue. With taller sides and divided sections, this lazy susan keeps items standing in place. Bonus: it's clear so you can see exactly what it holds. 


This would be perfect for holding oils and vinegars on a kitchen counter or in a cabinet, or in the bathroom it can hold shampoo and other bottles. 

Perfectly Organized Pantry

What do you do when you go visit your best friend to see her new home? Organize her pantry of course!

The gorgeous customized pantry had deep shelves, which meant things got lost in the back. We took everything out, weeded out expired items, then grouped categories together on the shelves. After a quick trip to HomeGoods to purchase some baskets, we set up the new easy-to-use pantry.





Get Rid of the Front Door Shoe Pile

How do I deal with all the shoes? It's one of the top questions I hear from clients. If you have piles of shoes by your front door, here are some tips and products to try:

First, reduce the pile of shoes by the door. Keep only the pairs you wear regularly by the door, the rest need to go into your clothing closet or other area. This may mean keeping only 2-3 pairs per person in your house. 

Next, find the right storage solution:

  • Several clients have had good luck with the slim IKEA shoe cabinet. It's small enough to fit in even the narrowest of hallways. 
  • A shelf can be practical, but be sure it is sturdy wood or metal with at least two levels and that your shoes can fit the shelves. Don't get a shelf that snaps together as they tend to not hold up.
  • Try this modern rack for shoes and accessories, and can even accommodate heels 
  • For kids shoes, this caddy keeps 3 pairs upright, making it easier for any child to find the shoes they need.

Make it routine: If you have a new place for shoes, be sure to tell your family and help make using the new container routine. Here's a creative reminder a client used with her family. 

Colorful Filing

I often advise clients to use color when organizing if it makes them happy. While there have been colorful file folders for a while, I was so excited to see the bright and beautiful filing cabinets now available. Check out what I found at The Container Store. These happy colors could almost make anyone want to file!


The Strategy of 1


Many of my clients feel they never have time to organize, and I can sympathize. Next time you feel this way try the Strategy of 1: only de-clutter 1 drawer, 1 cabinet, or 1 space that is bothering you. 

Tonight I cleaned out my "junk drawer" in the kitchen. It took less than 15 minutes and now I know what's in there. How can the Strategy of 1 help you? 

  • Organize 1 drawer in the kitchen; if you do 1 per day you'll get through them in a week 
  • Weed out 1 filing drawer in your office
  • De-clutter 1 corner of your bedroom

I find that focusing on a single area can be much less overwhelming, and help you build motivation to do more. This month try the Strategy of 1.

Read about my recent project where I focused on one space on the That's Neat Blog.

This post first appeared in my newsletter, The Neat Sheet in January/February 2017. Sign up for The Neat Sheet here

Digitize and Organize your Photos - at home!

Do you have boxes of loose photos taking up space in a closet or shelf? Recently a friend of mine asked for help to reduce the amount of photos she had. We brainstormed some options, and developed a plan.

First, she got rid of blurry, boring, and duplicate photos, reducing her stash down by at least 2 photo boxes. Next, to reduce even more, she decided to digitize some of the oldest and most precious photos using a cool new machine, called the Wolverine Photo Digitizer. Here's what she says:

The Wolverine Photo Digitizer is available on Amazon for about $62. I got this product in the hopes that I could reduce the number of paper photos I had to store. They are nice memories and ones I don't want to lose but not photos really worthy of a book. I thought if I could digitize them, I could let go of the paper copy, free some space, and still have the digital copy available to me. 

You can see in the photo (right), you get the digitizer (approx 9"x9" and very lightweight), 3 photo size brackets, and a lint-free cloth. Not shown is the instruction book. They don't provide an SD card but the device can store up to 35-40 images without a card.  

It's simple to use and the process goes very quickly. I digitized over 1,000 photos in two sessions. Make sure you have a comfortable place to work that will be easy on your back. It's important to take breaks and stretch as well, because it's easy to get into a groove and just keep going without realizing what you're doing to your back.

Getting started: It's a good idea, if you have quite a few images to digitize, to separate them out by size. I had a variety of 3x5, 4x6, 5x7, and wallet sized photos. 

Digitize: Once you're ready to begin, insert your SD card then turn the machine on. Press the menu button until you see this symbol. Hit Enter, then arrow to the right or left to get to the size photo you want to digitize. Hit Enter to select it. 

I've started with the 5x7 photo. Place the photo size bracket into the upper left corner into the slots, and align your photo into that bracket corner. Close the lid and press Convert, then Enter. It takes approx 5-8 seconds for the photo to be digitized.

You can see the "progress wheel" turning on the screen. Repeat that process for the 4x6 photo making sure to change out the photo size bracket and to change the photo size in the menu.

And repeat the process once again for the 3x5 photo again making sure to change to the 3x5 photo size bracket and change the photo size in the menu.

Hints: I highly recommend you use an SD card for this if you have more than 35-40 photos to convert. There's a slot for it right in the front of the machine. 

Also, they really mean it when they recommend you clean the glass often. I have many photos with dust particles on them from not cleaning the glass often enough.  

Final Assessment: Overall, I'm pleased with the Wolverine Photo Digitizer. The quality of the digitized photos varied. Some were not as clear as the original, or the lighting was different, or they just looked like well done photos of the photos. For my purposes, to have a digital back-up of paper photos that don't require great quality, it worked really well. If I wanted a good quality digital copy of a special photo, I would still take it to a shop that specializes in that.

Wolverine and accessories

Wolverine and accessories

Photo size and crop

Photo size and crop

SD card

SD card

Select size of photos

Select size of photos

Progress bar while scanning

Progress bar while scanning

5x7 Photo on scanner

5x7 Photo on scanner