Easy Paper Organizing: Deal With and Done Boxes

This clever idea comes from a friend who recently moved. She set up this new paper management system near where she opens mail and pays her bills.

Here's how the simple system works: she opens her mail, weeds out all the junk, and then puts the paper in the appropriate box. "Deal With" means just that = paper that needs to be acted upon (bill to pay, form to fill out) and "Done" = file. When Done is overstuffed, she knows it's time to file the papers she wants to save. 

This is a great system for people who need visual reminders, and helps combat the creation of piles. The boxes can also be quickly tucked away if needed. 

"Drawer Day" Organizing Strategy

Recently one of my clients announced that we were going to have "Drawer Day" at our appointment. She picked a few drawers that hadn't been touched in a while to clean out and organize. 

This "theme" for our organizing session made it more fun, and helped us focus on some neglected spots for quick organizational wins. We've organized drawers in the kitchen, dining room, and master bedroom. We've also used "Drawer Day" as a break from our larger organizing projects, especially when working on papers. 

This can also be a great project to start when you only have 15-30 minutes. 

Hidden Labels

Want to let everyone in your house know where things go, but don't like the look of everything labeled? 

Try putting the labels inside a drawer or cabinet. A client and I set up these useful labels all along the inside rim of her utility drawer. Now the whole family will know where to find what they are looking for.

Recipe Organization: There's an App for That!

We all love to cook in my house, so we have a good-size collection of cookbooks and a few favorite cooking magazines. I also have lots of paper recipes I've saved from websites and torn out of of magazines. My recommended method for keeping paper recipes is a binder system.

If you have folders or boxes of recipes and want to get rid of the paper, consider digital options:

  • Pinterest: While I wouldn't trade all my paper recipes for electronic versions, I have come around to using Pinterest. I've got all kinds of recipes pinned and categorized. I love how easy it is to use, and so visual. 
  • Paprkia Recipe Manager: This app works on all your platforms, and includes cool tools like built-in timers and the ability to cross off ingredients as you use them.
  • All Recipes Dinner Spinner: I often find recipes for a specific ingredient on the All Recipes website , so it makes sense that they offer an app. The app includes shopping lists and you can sort by favorite recipes or type of food. 
  • Your phone's scanner: You can also use your phone to take photos or scan paper recipes you want to save.

Getting Rid of Sentimental Items

My girl and her doll in South dakota

My girl and her doll in South dakota

My daughter has been cleaning out her room to make more space, and asked for my help to sell some of her American Girl things. I've sold doll clothing, furniture, and accessories (she's keeping her dolls). My daughter played for hours with her dolls, even taking them across country on some of our trips. 

While it was sad to see some of the items go (the cute little bed!), I'm excited that another set of kids will use and enjoy her doll things.

Often when we are clearing out sentimental items, the emotions and memories associated with the items hold us back from truly letting go.

Here's how I try to deal with things that hold a special sentimental attachment:

  • Can it go to a family member? Many sentimental items are inherited, and we hold on to things we never use, that are not our style, or don't fit in our home. For example, I had a small writing desk from my grandparents for many years, sitting in a hallway. It was nice to look at once in a while, but wasn't really used. However, my sister jumped at the chance to take it and turned it into a makeup table. It looks great in her home and is getting the love it deserves. 
  • Can it go to someone who can really use the item? If yes, then I try to focus on the benefits the item will have for it's new owner.
  • Can I get a tax deduction? If the item has a lot of life left in it and can be donated, sometimes the idea that it can be a tax deduction can help move it out of the house. 
  • Take a photo. Don't forget that you can always take a photo of your sentimental item before you pass it on.

What are you strategies for dealing with sentimental items you want to let go? 

Cool and Clear Spice Organization

 

Always searching in your cabinet for the right spice container? This cool product makes spotting the spice you need even easier. 

SpiceBands are like headbands for your spice containers! Put them around the edge of the lid so you don't have to pick up the jar and read the label. If you have to store your spices in a cabinet, I still recommend a tiered shelf for spices, like I use in my kitchen. The colors and clear printing on the SpiceBands also help with visibility. 

And for more ideas on spice organization, read my previous post on creative spice organization

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Secret Storage for an Organized Bedroom

Is your bedroom peaceful, calm and organized? If not, consider furniture with secret storage. 

  • Many beds come with storage drawers underneath. This is great for kids - and adults! The deep drawers are perfect for tucking away linens, or bulky clothing like sweaters and sweatshirts.
  • Want a clear dresser surface? This cool dresser (see photo) has a top that lifts up to reveal shallow storage perfect for jewelry.
  • Don't forget about ottomans with storage. They not only provide a place to sit, but do double-duty providing a space for blankets or clothing. 
Hidden jewelry storage

Hidden jewelry storage

Organizing for Homework

Does homework cause stress in your house? One way to help is to create a homework bin in your kitchen, or wherever your child does her homework. Making it easy for your student to find the supplies she needs will go a long way in reducing homework anxiety and stress.

When my daughter was little we had bins for arts and crafts supplies in the kitchen since that's where we tended to do crafts. Over time the bins evolved into a homework supplies bin. This week my daughter cleaned out her bin. 

Now she's got a bin with what a middle-schooler needs: pens, pencils, pencil sharpener, extra loose leaf paper, book covers, and the all-important index cards.

Help your student by identifying what supplies they need regularly to do their homework, and then find a spot to store them. Even a single bin or basket can help keep supplies contained. Keep the bin stocked so your student will be ready to tackle homework!

Sorting in process, lots in the recycle bag!

Sorting in process, lots in the recycle bag!

Finished bin

Finished bin

Create a Closet

Many houses don't have a large entry closet, and some may not even closet at all! During a home and garden tour last year, I noticed how one homeowner got really creative and created a closet with curtains. 

In a shallow alcove near the front door, a shelf went across the length of the space. A sturdy curtain rod was attached to the shelf, and two heavy curtains hid the "closet" behind it: rows of hooks for bags and coats. Open the curtains for easy access to the items, pull them shut to close the "closet door."  

With just the shelf and curtains, this nondescript corner became a closet. Don't overlook even small spaces in your home to help you get organized.

 

Receipt Organization: The Shredder Solution

While working with a client to de-clutter his bedroom, we discovered that one problem area was receipts. Like many men (my husband included) the client emptied his pockets in his bedroom, which meant that change, small papers and receipts ended up on the flat surfaces, stuffed into drawers, and all over the space. We brainstormed strategies to keep the surfaces clear, including bowls to hold change and receipts, a wastebasket, and even a shredder.

When I returned to this client's house I was thrilled to see that he had a low cabinet in place now, providing room for a charging station, a bowl for change, and a small sleek shredder! The Bonsaii Desktop Shredder is small enough to fit in the space, and its modern styling is a perfect fit for this client's decor.

This illustrates an important organizing concept: keep the tools you need (shredder, wastebasket) as close to where you use them, even if this means you have duplicates. The client had a shredder in a downstairs office, but the process of gathering receipts and taking them downstairs to shred was cumbersome and just didn't happen. The client was determined to keep his bedroom surfaces clear, and this receipt shredder is a perfect solution.

Organizing the Craft Closet

The sorting process

The sorting process

At the start of the new year my girl was busily weeding out the "kid stuff" from her room to make more space for new books and holiday gifts (I know, I'm lucky...she also likes to sell the things she outgrows, but that's another blog post). I took a cue from my daughter and decided to clean out our craft closet, a space that doesn't get used as much as it did a few years ago. It also holds our inflatable guest bed and wrapping paper, and had gotten a bit overstuffed.

I took everything out (even the hard to reach corners) and started to sort. As I sorted I asked myself, what did we use? what hadn't we touched? what craft kits or projects had my daughter outgrown?  I had a good pile of things to go away and a stack of containers to go back in. The stuff in the containers was fairly sorted, but I did a quick once over and got rid of some old construction paper, party decorations and used-up markers. 

Clearing the space meant there was more room on the shelves for the items I wanted to keep. I made sure they all had accurate labels to help everyone in the house know what was inside. I also had removed enough stuff from the floor that the inflatable bed fit better on the left side, and now I had easy access to my wrapping paper. 

All done!

All done!

The whole process took me about an hour. It was a closet I had avoided for months, but focusing on this one space meant I was able to accomplish the task. 

3 Quick Tips to De-Clutter Toys before the Holidays

If you have young kids, after the holidays there may be a lot of new toys coming into your home. Here's how to get ready and do a quick de-clutter your child's room or the playroom:

  1. Throw out any broken toys or toy parts that have been hanging around.*
  2. Are toys left out? Don't spent a lot of time, but see what you can put away. If there are toys that just need to go back on their shelf or in their container, do it. Put books back on their shelves. Games go back into their box. As you do this consider if you need better storage for toys and books. 
  3. Do a quick culling of toys. Donate or pass on any toys that your kids have outgrown, or they no longer enjoy playing with.

After the holidays you'l be happy you did this kind of de-clutter triage and it will be easier to integrate the new toys into your home. Your kids will be happy too!

*Bonus tip: If it seems that you have toys that you want to donate that have missing parts, start a "missing parts" bin. Put in the toy or random piece and see what you can collect. Put a note on your calendar to check the box in three months and see if you can match anything up. Leftover parts and unusable toys should be tossed in the trash. 

Hidden Storage with a File Ottoman

Today so many of us do our paperwork or bill paying from the kitchen table or the couch. I'm a big advocate for keeping the files we need near where we actually use them, and I've written before about my own hidden financial file storage.

There are some great options for "hidden" file storage in a file storage ottoman. You can find file ottomans online at Grandinroad or amazon, and in stores like Target and Costco. 

A friend happily showed me the ottoman she found below, which not only has room for lots of files but also a tray for office supplies. When closed it looks great an adds seating in her home office. 

So when you can't find your papers, think beyond the stuffed file cabinet and try a storage ottoman. 

Move over Forks: Organize with a Cutlery Tray

As I've written about before, I love my large kitchen drawer with a cutlery tray. I can quickly see and find everything I need. But a cutlery tray can be used to organize so much more in your home:

  • Use it to organize toiletries or cosmetics in your bathroom drawer (my mom has been doing this for years!)
  • Use a tray to keep your office supplies neat, in a drawer or even out in the open on a table or shelf
  • A tray can corral kids pens, markers and colored pencils
  • A wooden or metal cutlery tray can help you organize and display jewelry
  • Storage for small tools, like screw drivers or scissors
  • Use one to separate your batteries by type (AAA, AA, etc.)

Got Cookies?

As soon as the winter turns cooler I love to start baking. It's so much easier to bake and cook when your supplies are organized. Here are my favorite storage solutions:

  • Store supplies in a deep drawer. I've written before about my love of drawers for kitchen storage. It's easy to open and see what you have.
  • Keep like items together. All my baking spices are on the right hands side of the spice cabinet. In the same cabinet, the next shelf up contains other baking ingredients and the top shelf has all my cookie cutters and decorating supplies. 
  • Use containers that fit inside the cabinet to corral small items. On the top shelf of the cabinet I've got bins for cupcake decorating, birthday candles, and cookie cutters.   

Be Organized for an Emergency

While the recent hurricane spared New England, the warnings were an important reminder to not get caught unprepared for such an emergency.

Gather supplies. Know where you have your batteries, flashlights, candles and matches, water and non-perishable foods, and even back up power supply.

Stay informed. Sign up for notifications from local emergency management services and consider the FEMA app

Make a family communication plan. Get ideas and a template here

Collect important documents and contact numbers. Have a copy of your homeowners insurance declarations page handy too. 

For even more ideas, read Judith Kolberg's book, Organize for Disaster

Organizing Lessons from Europe

This past summer my family traveled with friends to England and France - it was an amazing trip! During our vacation I noticed a few things Europeans do to make life easier:

  • Streamline making the bed: every bed had a simple duvet cover, not a lot of sheets and blankets. It was perfect in the summer, and made making the bed super easy: pull up the duvet cover and go! This is a great strategy for kids so they can make their beds in no time.
  • Pack lighter....and pack smarter: Travelling with European friends made me realize that they pack much less than most Americans, and still look great. The lessons here are: a) bring less; and b) bring smart pieces that work well together. Before the trip I purchased a travel dress and a black sweater, both were made to wear and wash easily. I wore them all the time and no one noticed. (For more on the idea of wearing fewer items more often, see Project 333)
  • We can probably live with less. Smaller homes, smaller closets, even smaller washing machines made me consider how much stuff I tend to accumulate at home. A good reminder that we all can probably live with less. 

 

4 Ways to Use Technology to Make Travel Easier

This summer I traveled with my family and a group of friends to England and France. I hadn't been to Europe in 10 years, and it was the first time travelling with my daughter. 

I noticed a few ways that technology made our trip much easier and organized:

  • Plan and pre-order tickets: This wasn't available 10 years ago, but now if you plan ahead you can order your entrance tickets to museums and attractions (like the Eiffel Tower) online for a particular day and time. This saved us so much time, and we could keep copies of the tickets on our phone. (Low tech: I also brought printed copies of our tickets as back up.)
  • Google maps: While reading the paper map brings back fond memories of getting lost all over Europe, using Google maps on our phones helped us find the sites we wanted to see. 
  • Google translator: It's not perfect, but helped with signs and menus, especially for the kids in our group.
  • Backing up photos: All along our trip my husband was backing up the photos he had taken on his phone to the cloud, ensuring that even if the phone was lost or damaged, we'd still have the photo memories.

Have you found ways to use technology to make travel easier?