Resolve to Reset

According to the dictionary, "reset" can mean to set anew, or to start again.

I like to apply this to getting organized because "being organized" is not a static state, as Kathy Waddill notes in The Organizing Sourcebook. Life events will inevitably cause our organizing systems to get off track. This includes major changes like moving, a new job, or having kids, and shorter-term events like coming home from vacation, feeling too busy, or getting over a cold. So in the course of living our lives, we can't help but flow from organization to disorganization. Being aware of the need to reset - to put things back in place or take time for regular tasks and start anew - is the secret that will help get you back to the state of "being organized."

This year, make a goal to regularly reset some area of your life that seems to be causing you distress. Here are some possible reset resolutions:

  • Clear your desk at the end of the workday
  • Pick up the toys (with the kids if they are old enough) at the end of every day
  • Take receipts out of your purse/wallet/bag each week
  • Fold and put away the laundry each time it is done
  • Unpack within 24 hours after returning from a trip
  • Put away the holiday decorations
  • File papers weekly or monthly
  • Process your mail every day
  • Purge your clothes each spring and fall, keeping only what you love to wear

What area in your life seems to be the most disorganized? Make a reset resolution and see what changes. Let me know how you do!

Resources

This post is adapted from an article that appeared in the January 2009 edition of the Neat Sheet. Sign up for organizing inspiration from the Neat Sheet here.

15 Minute Organizing: Kitchen Utensils

Here’s a quick organizing project to clear through some kitchen clutter: organize your utensils.

  • Pull out all the utensils and tools, and put similar kinds together. You may discover that you have 5 spatulas and no whisks.
  • Pare down and only keep those that you really love to use.
  • Get rid of anything that’s broken. Donate good utensils that you never use.
  • Find a large enough jar to store them on your counter, or designate a drawer.

I like to keep the tools I use all the time out on the counter in various containers so I can quickly grab them while cooking. Yes I may have more than you’d expect, but they really all get used.

I keep the small ones in a small, colorful vase so they don’t get lost in the bottom of the larger container or back of a drawer. All the utensils sit right next to the stove within easy reach.

Tea Cozy (Corner)

One mantra for staying organized is to “keep like things together.” This is a key rule for the kitchen. I’ve got drawers designated for my food storage containers, a cabinet for spices, and a spot for making tea. I’m a daily tea drinker so one small cabinet contains tea, honey and the sugar bowl. My most-used tea stays in a small bin (made for kitchen cabinets), which I can pull down to select which tea bag I want.

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This tea cabinet is next to a larger cabinet with all the mugs and more specialty teas. On the counter underneath is the electric kettle and the tea pot, sitting on my favorite plastic tray. By keeping items on the tray I can quickly move the tea pot and kettle to a different area if I need more room on the counter.

(Don’t worry, coffee gets it’s own place in the kitchen too. My husband is the coffee drinker and makes a pot almost every day. The coffee maker, grinder, filters and his thermos stay together on a tray in the pantry.)

Need help with your kitchen? We can weed through the clutter and create a space you’ll love. Contact me today to get started!

Keep Your Spices Organized

Like to cook? Then I’m sure you have a lot of spices. There’s a misconception that organized people must alphabetize their spices. While that’s one way to find what you need, another way is to use the organizing strategy: make it visible and easy to store. There are many ways to effortlessly store your spices. Some kitchens have special pull-out drawers or drawer inserts. In my kitchen, I use a tiered stand in my cabinet.

Other key tips: I also put spices I use more often in the front, and less used in the back.

I also only keep what I really need and use. When you can’t find what you want, clean out your spice area.

Here’s another great idea to make spices visible from one of my clients. She keeps her spices in a pantry/closet in her kitchen. The pantry is pretty deep, but she grouped her spices into a clear container. By keeping the top off, the container can easily slide out like a drawer. She can also pull out the whole bin when she’s cooking.

Since the client looks down at the drawer of spice, she printed round labels for the top of each spice container.

Don’t want to create you own labels? The Container Store has pre-printed ones ready to go!

Need more inspiration? Read this post on my Blog.

The Secret to Clearing Kitchen Cabinet Clutter

Large kitchen cabinets are easy magnets for clutter. Items get lost in the back and it’s hard to see what you’ve got stored in there.

In my client’s kitchen, the base cabinet had to function as the pantry; there was no other space to store food items. It was a typical cabinet configuration with one shelf in the middle. Cereal boxes, canned goods and boxed items were jumbled and hard to retrieve.

Often I try to use items clients already have in their house for storage, but sometimes there is the perfect product to solve a problem. In this case, the solution was a stand-alone elfa drawer unit from The Container Store.

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Designed specifically to fit in the cabinet, two of these drawer units filled the space, providing new storage and ease of access. We labeled the handles to know what category  of food (baking, snacks, dinner) to store in each drawer. There was even space on one side for the tall cereal boxes. Perfect!

The other option for this kind of cabinet is to install pull-out drawers. However, my client rents his home and couldn’t install any permanent solution in the cabinet. And when my client moves, he knows he can find another spot to use these stand-alone drawers.

Not convinced about drawers? Read here for more on why I love drawers in kitchens.

A Simple Solution: Pull-Out Drawer

A simple pull-out drawer: that's all it took for my mom to be able to use her kitchen again.

Last winter my mom, who is in her 70s, hurt her back, and getting pots and bowls out of her kitchen cabinets became nearly impossible.  As she recovered, I helped re-organize her kitchen to make it easier to use. At one point she said "I wish there was a way to get to the way back of the shelf without having to get down on my hands and knees."  I had no idea what she had to go through to find items in the back and lift out heavy pots.

Right away I knew that adding simple pull-out drawers was the answer.

I measured her cabinets and in one trip to the Container Store for these metal shelves , I had everything we needed. My husband and I easily installed the drawers in her cabinets, and they were ready to use. The drawers glide out effortlessly, so my mom can access what is in the back, without having to get down on the floor. Each drawer has a locking mechanism so when it is pushed back in, it stays in place.

Pull-out drawers are made to solve the problem my mom faced in her kitchen.

If you want to make your kitchen more functional (as I've written about before), consider adding pull-out drawers. Drawer options include the metal ones I used and bamboo drawers from The Container Store, or custom designed drawers from the company Shelf Genie.

This article first appeared in the September/October 2014 edition of The Neat Sheet. Sign up to receive the Neat Sheet newsletter here!

Organizing Receipts, Warranties & User Guides

Recently we had a week where it seemed like everything was breaking: my car, the garage door, and our back door lock. While looking for the receipt for the door I realized that my house information was in too many different spots. I had the papers saved in some files and binders, but couldn’t quickly find what I had needed. Time for a new system.

First, I gathered all the information I could find into a pile.

Then I started to sort,making piles for the warranty/user guide information, for receipts, and for other bills related to home maintenance.

My pile turned into the following files:

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1. Owner Manuals file: this includes warranties and all the information that comes with a new device or appliance. 

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For large purchases, like a TV or washing machine, I recommend stapling the purchase receipt right to the user guide/warranty information. If something happens to break under warranty you’ll have all the information you need in one spot.

2. Home Maintenance and Improvements file: This is where the receipt for the door went, along with all the other work we’ve had done on the house such as window replacements, carpet installation, and painting. This file will help me recall who did the work and when, and also helps us to keep track of improvements we’ve made to our property.

3. Outside Improvements file: This is for any major outside projects, such as our fence installation and patio.

4. Important Receipts to Keep: This is a bit generic, but any purchase receipt that I want to archive goes here. This includes receipts for lighting, furniture, electronics, and a few sentimental receipts.

Each category is a hanging file in my file cabinet, right next to each other. If I’m looking for product information or an important receipt, it should be in this section of the file cabinet.

If you want to set up a similar system but don’t know how to get started, contact me today at 617-905-7762

Organizing for School Lunches

School starts next week in our town and I’ve already been hearing many mom friends lament that it will soon be time for the arduous task of making school lunches. For many this seems to be quite a chore, so here are 5 ways to streamline school lunch-making:

 

  • Have your fridge and pantry set up for easy lunch making. Here’s one idea for using clear bins in your fridge. I have a “snack” bin in our pantry; my daughter knows that she can select 1-2 items from the bin for her lunch.  Also have your containers and wraps easily accessible in your kitchen. Here’s my organized food container drawer, which makes it easy to find what we need.
  • Devise an easy “recipe” for school lunches. As I mentioned, we came up with a formula of 2 fruits, 1 veggie, 1-2 snack items + sandwich and a drink. Find a formula that works for your family. You may end up packing nearly the same thing every day and if your child likes it, great!
  • Empty lunchboxes when kids get home from school each afternoon. There is nothing worse than opening a lunchbox or container and finding the smelly remnants of a previous meal. If lunch boxes get emptied and cleaned every day (have your kids do this!) they will be ready for filling that evening or the next day.
  • Have your kids buy lunch at school. This plan saves many families, even if the kids buy lunch only 1-2 days a week. At my house I print out the monthly lunch calendar and my daughter looks ahead and circles the days she wants to buy lunch.
  • Finally, don’t forget to get input from your kids on what they want for lunch. Sometimes my daughter has asked for surprising lunch items based on what she’s seen friends eat at school.

What are your clever solutions for school lunches?

Batch Your To Do’s

I’ve written before about how to chunk or batch your to do’s and errands. Today I took my own advice and got 5 bags of stuff out of my house, all in one hour.  I’m fortunate to have found great local resources to take my unwanted items:

  • Dropped off my daughter’s outgrown clothes and a few toys at my favorite place, The Little Fox Shop
  • Donated a big bag of books at The Book Rack
  • Brought more clothes and miscellaneous housewares to the Goodwill drop-off site at the grocery store

Once you’ve made the decision to donate or pass on something, try to get it out of your house as soon as you can. If you need help finding local resources, email me today.

How Do I Get Rid of: Dance Costumes

My daughter has been dancing (so far) for 8 years. 8 years = many, many dance costumes.

When she was little we recycled dance costumes into dress up outfits, and costumes for Halloween and parties. But after all these years, the little kid costumes aren’t going to fit anymore.

We decided to save a few (like one of her first outfits, pictured right) as keepsakes. We also donated a few costumes to a friend with two young girls for their dress up box at home.

Could we donate dance costumes? This year at my daughter’s dance school we learned about a great charity, Traveling Tutus, which donates dance wear to children overseas. Traveling Tutus partners with orphanages, children's homes, hospitals, foster care centers, and non-profit organizations in different countries. Their mission is “to provide gently used dance attire to children around the world to instill confidence, self-expression and joy through the gift of dance!”

After hearing about Traveling Tutus, I started to research a bit more and also found another organization, From Our Hearts to Your Toes, which aims to “Bring smiles, uplift spirits, and build confidence by collecting, donating, and distributing gently used costumes and shoes to dance programs serving children in challenging environments.”

I really love the idea of our outgrown costumes helping other children. Consider sharing your unwanted dance costumes with these organizations. If you find more options for donating, please let me know.

Game On: Organizing Board Games

My family loves games....and games aren’t just for kids anymore! Many of my friends have game night and have tons of board games. But finding the right game and all it's pieces from a jumbled pile is no fun. Here’s your game plan to organize your games:

Your first move: Make sure you still play the games you have. Kids (and adults) interests and tastes change - are all the games you have your favorites? Move less-used ones to another storage spot or consider donating.

Also pass on those games you never play. We keep these around thinking we’ll use them, but we don’t-so get rid of them. If your game has missing pieces, can you get replacement pieces or use something as a stand-in? If not, toss the game because no one can play a game without all the pieces intact.

Next move: Take a few moments to look at game boxes.  Triage torn boxes with clear packing tape. Plastic game saver boxes are also made to last. (See also the plastic drawer storage idea below.)

Move #3: Strategize your storage options.

  • My favorite way to store games is in a dedicated closet. While I don’t have this in my 1890s house (sigh), this is a possible solution in many newer homes. With adjustable shelving you can fit in a lot of games.
  • The next best spot if you don’t have a closet is to keep games in a cabinet.  Base cabinets for bookshelves in a living room or play room work really well.
  • Another option is to use a low bookshelf. Our living room has a built-in shelf and that's where our most-used games go. Small cubbies can work as well.
  • A storage ottoman also makes a great spot to keep games close, but out of sight. We love the IKEA Ektrop footstool.
  • This Mom suggests off-loading games into clear plastic drawers and other bins.  A fun idea if you have the space.

Final move for the win: Pull out a game to play and enjoy!

This article first appeared in the Summer 2015 edition of The Neat Sheet. Don’t get the Neat Sheet? Sign up here.

Laundry List: How to Un-stick Your Laundry Process

Confession: I don’t mind doing the laundry. I use it as a “background” task while I’m doing other things around the house. I also enjoy folding and putting it away.

Most people don’t feel this way, and that often the laundry gets stuck at various points in the process. Here are some tips to keep it moving along:

  • Problem: Hate going into your laundry room? Solution: Clean it out, maybe even give it a fresh coat of paint. Read more in my laundry room essentials post.
  • Problem: A mountain of clean laundry that never gets put away. Solution: Is the problem where the laundry goes…are dressers and closets over stuffed? Clean them out and make room. Donate or give away those pieces you never, ever wear. Also, be sure you have dressers that open easily—especially critical for kids if you have any hope of them putting their clothes away.
  • Problem: Sorting laundry takes forever and never seems to end. Solution: Do laundry for each person on a different day. Many families find this works really well. If you are washing and drying one person’s laundry you also avoid the sorting step!  One mom I know uses mesh laundry bags and throws the whole bag into the washer. She uses a shout stain catcher so colors don’t mix.  Another idea: get others in your family to do their own laundry.
  • Problem: Socks without a mate. And the huge pile of socks to be matched.  Solution #1: Each person gets a zipper mesh bag just for socks. Put dirty socks in the bag, then put the whole bag into the washer. Solution #2: Buy all the same kind/color of sock. Trust me, this works. Solution #3: Try Sock-Locks to keep your socks together before they get washed.

If you can’t face your laundry room or want some new ideas on the process, contact me today. Email elizabeth@thatsneatorganizing.com.

Creative Clutter Solutions: Race Mementos

I’ve only been running for three years and I’ve already amassed a collection of race bibs, medals, t-shirts and other finisher gifts. While some of the items (beer glass and t-shirts) are useful, some end up cluttering my closet.

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On a recent run I was chatting with my running gals about what they do with their mementos. Several said they toss out their race bibs and don’t always keep the shirts, which is definitely OK! For the first time I just donated a few of my early race shirts. But for some reason I’ve been holding on to all of the bibs and medals—so far.

This got me thinking and searching online for creative ways to use and display race mementos, so they aren’t simply more clutter in your home. Here are my favorite ideas:

  • Make your t-shirt collection into something else. My amazing and talented friend Barb Patrick at Bitty Birdie Design can turn shirts into a quilt or pillow.
  • The company Mile 22 can take your bibs and create a custom messenger bag, tote, or backpack. For crafty DIYers, there are also instructions for making a tote bag yourself on Pinterest.
  • Also on Pinterest I found ideas for turning medals into a wind chime!
  • You can also use medals as holiday ornaments.
  • For those who really want to organize their race bibs, put them in a scrapbook or use the  album.
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You can also donate your marathon, half-marathon, or triathlon medals to Medals 4 Mettle, a non-profit which gets earned race medals into the hands of others fighting life challenges, such as serious illness.

Laundry Room Essentials

Whether you have a laundry room that’s just a nook off the kitchen, a corner in the basement, or a dedicated room, here are essentials to keep it organized:

  • Trash can.
  • Bar or clothing line to hang clothes to air dry.
  • Storage shelf or bin for your detergent and stain removers. Be sure to use up nearly-empty containers, recycle the empties, and don’t over-buy on products.
  • Jar to collect all that loose change from pockets.
  • Space (table or counter) to fold or spread out clothes.

Remember to relocate all the things that don’t belong in the laundry room. Other items tend to creep into the laundry space, but don’t let them take over. .

Need more inspiration? Read my post about how I organized my laundry area and my favorite tools.  Bonus Tip: Refresh your space with white paint. My laundry “room” is in the basement, and wasn’t the most inviting area. The space was transformed when I painted the walls and shelves white (using a mixture of all the white paints we had leftover from other painting projects).

Getting Organized When There is a Death in the Family

Recently I’ve helped several clients and families who have lost loved ones. I’ve organized financial files, taken away car loads of donations and helped address envelopes for sympathy acknowledgement cards.

Losing a family member can be a very challenging time, and so much has to be done so quickly. We know that losing a loved one means you will need help with meals, arrangements, notifying relatives and friends, and general household help. But it also means that you need to manage an awful lot of documents and important papers. This has caused me to reflect on how being organized can help ease the stress during this time.

Ahead of time:

  • Organize your tax files and keep them in one place, easy to find. (I had one client who passed away, and her family was very grateful that we had financial papers in order.)
  • Keep your investment and IRA statements organized and easy to find. If they are all online be sure someone else can access them.
  • Be sure someone you trust has access to a copy of your will, your safe or safety deposit box (which should be organized) if you have one, and your passwords for key accounts.

After the loss of a loved one:

  • Keep all the important paperwork for funeral arrangements in one file.
  • Also keep one folder with the death certificate and keep a list of who has been notified, such as the bank, investment advisor, life insurance agent and social security.
  • Get a system in place for acknowledging the sympathy cards. Create a pre-printed “thank you” card, perhaps with a photo of the loved one, for your acknowledgements.
  • Get help from family, an organized friend or your professional organizer to keep the papers in order.

Several checklist are available online, such as these, to help with the important logistics and financial next steps:

The Saved Piece of Paper that Changed my Career

Recently I was going through my own files to shed excess papers and projects that no longer fit my goals. I came across an article and wondered why I had kept it, until I noticed a note I’d written at the top: “This is the article that inspired me to become a professional organizer.”

The article was from a 1998 American Way, the American Airlines inflight magazine. Back then I managed volunteer teaching programs in Africa and Latin America. I spent a lot of time traveling on American Airlines back and forth from Boston to Miami, and sometimes on to Costa Rica and Ecuador.

This article was the first time I heard the term, "profesional organizer" and learned that it was a growing field. Although I loved my job something in this article spoke to me at the time, so I pulled it out an threw it in my “career” file.

I found that file and article years later, when I was a Product Manager for a large education company and was ready to move on. The article mentioned NAPO, the National Association of Professional Organizers. I joined NAPO, took courses, and realized helping others get organized (and love their homes again) was my passion.

Sometimes it pays to keep a piece of paper—if you know why it’s important. If you have a document that’s important or a piece of memorabilia, jot down the significance. 

Spring Checklist

Today was a huge milestone: I took the ice scraper and other winter gear out of my car! After last winter the warmer spring weather is a very welcome change.

As the weather has improved I keep thinking of more to do’s: take ice scraper out of car, put out patio chairs, sweep porch, spring clean up in the yard, wash the windows. I must have spring fever. I started to write the ideas down on different post it notes around the house, but the notes were multiplying quickly. I then realized I should do what I’d tell my clients: make a checklist.

I created a document with all the Spring/Summer House To Do’s and will turn it into a Google doc to share with my husband (he needs to know what’s on the list, right?). Having a checklist means I don’t have to keep thinking about what to do. When I have time to work on the projects I can consult my handy list.

Do you have checklists for your home? I like creating my own, but if you want pre-made checklists, here are a few to try:

Quick Ways to Organize Memories

Have you started a baby book for your child, but never finished it? Or wanted to write a daily diary or journal, but only kept it up for a month?

Last week I gave an organizing talk to a Parents of Multiples group: all the moms in the room had twins, and many had additional kids. We started discussing how to preserve memories and several moms talked about how they had piles of notes and photos for baby books that were never done (and probably never would be done).

This lead to several moms sharing how they keep track of memories. Here are some great ideas:

 

  • My husband and I keep a shared Google doc of “Funny things” our daughter says. We both have added to the document over the years, and love to go back and read it. (We started this when our daughter was little, before the era of apps!)
  • Another mom said that instead of creating a baby book, she notes milestones and fun things on her wall calendar. She keeps the calendars and can quickly scan through to see the memories.
  • As an alternative to a traditional journal, try a one-sentence journal. It’s much less daunting to write one sentence a day than a whole entry.

What creative high or low tech ideas do you have to preserve memories?

Cool Closet Idea: Recycle a Record

At a flea market I noticed that a vendor had used an old 45rpm record as a way to divide garments for sale on a rack. I love how it was recycled into a divider!

I have a few 45s (yes, still in my attic) but don’t have any way to play them. I’m thinking of using them as dividers in my daughter’s new closet to separate out her dressy outfits from school clothes.

Would you try this?

Organizing Maps & Travel Brochures

Do you still keep paper maps and travel brochures? I have to admit that I do. I keep a few for sentimental reasons (Paris restaurants, Geneva map) but also keep selected maps and brochures from places that I plan to visit again.

During one of our many snow storms last month I was looking for something in the attic and found a box half-full of travel maps and brochures. I decided this would be a good blizzard organizing project. (I could also dream of warm summer vacations ahead…)

Here’s what I did:

  • First I dumped all the brochures our on my dining room table. A few were sorted by place so I kept those together.
  • I reviewed all the maps and brochures and recycled a good amount.
  • Then I sorted what I wanted to keep by location.
  • I was hoping to put the maps/brochures into a blue accordion file I had (see corner of photo) but there were too many for the file.
  • Next I the thought of keeping everything together by rubber bands, but some piles were too large.
  • Finally I decided to use one of my favorite organizing tools: gallon size plastic bags. Easy, and the bags had a spot for a label.
  • All the bags were “filed” into a plastic bin back into the attic, waiting until the next trip is planned.

What’s great about this system is that for our next trip to VT, I just have to pull out the bag labeled VT and enjoy looking at all our favorite places.

AFTER: Organized into bags and ready to go!