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

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? 

Easy Laundry Organization

Kids doing their laundry in college is often a rite of passage. I remember lugging my bright red laundry bag across the quad in college to wash and dry my clothes in the basement of another dorm. 

If only I had these cool laundry bags from PB Teen! They make laundry sorting easy, and some even include instructions right on the bag. 

Sometimes the right tool or container makes all the difference. 

Clever Phone Holder for Travel

Clients often ask me what to do with old cassette tapes, you know the kind we used to listen to music pre-CD? 

This week I was helping a client unpack and organize after a trip, and we came across an empty cassette tape holder in his bag. When I asked why he had it, he shared with me this great tip: open it up and flip it over...and it becomes a great stand for your smartphone. This is especially helpful when travelling and using the phone as an alarm clock or to watch a video.  

Get Organized to Grill

Our family loves to grill and eat outside on our patio. My husband is the grill master, and is super organized when it comes to his grill things. Here's how he does it:

  • Dedicated spot for grill things: We have one small shelf in a kitchen cabinet that holds skewers, trays, a cutting board, plus the BBQ sauces, seasonings and rubs. It's all in one place and easy to find.
  • Prep: My husband follows the culinary practice of "mise en place:" getting all ingredients prepped ahead of time, in a bowl, and ready to go. This is especially important since our grill is a flight of stairs down from our kitchen. Having everything in it's place helps avoid running up and down the stairs.
  • Smart storage: My husband has re-purposed a small metal rolling cart we used to have in our kitchen to hold all the grill things in the basement: tools hang from clips on the side, grill accessories are in the bin, and charcoal is in it's own special container on top. 

5 Tips for International Travel

International travel is a wonderful experience. Make it easy to enjoy your vacation by taking these 5 steps before your leave: 

  1. Inform your credit card companies that you will be travelling internationally, including the dates you are away and where you'll be, so that they don't mistake your charges as fraudulent.
  2. Check to see if your phone will work where you are travelling. Determining this can get complicated. Does your phone use the cellular technology of GSM or CDMA? Does your cell carrier allow you to use your phone out of their network? I found this article very helpful for navigating what to do. 
  3. Make sure a trusted friend or family member knows where your important documents are at home, including a copy of your passport and what you are carrying in your wallet (see below).
  4. Clean out your wallet! You won't need all those store and membership cards, so take them out. Make sure you are only taking the most important cards with you. Consider making a photocopy of everything that is in your wallet and leaving it at home. In case you lose anything it will be easier to recall which credit cards you had with you.
  5. Consider using the Mobile Passport App. This free app, approved by U.S. Customs, let's you skip the line at some U.S. airports. Fill out the questionnaire on your phone and then go into the "Mobile Passport Control" lane at the airport.  

De-Clutter & Donate

I had written before about donating dance costumes, and was very excited to finally send off our first box of donations to Travelling Tutus Inc!

My daughter has been dancing for nine years, and recently we sorted out her dance outfits. She had fun attempting to wear some of her very tiny dance costumes, and we did put a few favorites aside to keep.

Then we had a small pile of costumes she wanted to donate, to help other kids love dance as much as she does. We're so excited that Travelling Tutus will put them to good use!

A Colonial Closet

This spring my family and I enjoyed visiting the Hampton House, a national historic house outside Baltimore, MD and managed by the National Park Service. Built in the 1780s, this Georgian mansion was once one of the largest homes in the colonies.

As we toured the lovely home and were in awe of the period furnishings, I noticed something interesting (at least to an organizer) on the second floor. This very large hallway had five grand bedrooms leading off of it, and in between each bedroom in the hall were built-in closets!

Perhaps the first built-in closets! Each closet was quite narrow and had pegs instead of the typical closet rod we see today, but I bet they were very fashionable and ahead of their time in the 1800s. Could you imagine if all your clothes hung from a few pegs? 

Shoe Storage Color Coding


I was visiting a friend's house for the first time, and she said to me "You'll appreciate this...and we walked to her closet." She proudly showed me how she turned a small closet, the second one in the master bedroom, into a space for storing shoes. 

This shallow closet wouldn't be great for clothing, but made an excellent home for shoes. Not only did she have the shoes in clear bins, she had devised a color coding system to identify which shoes were for work, casual, or sports. She simply used the multi-color stickers sold for tag sales. What a great idea! The color coding makes getting ready even easier. Love this idea!

A Simple Shelf Solution for Gardening Tools

When I moved in to my house we set up a folding table in our basement and I unpacked my gardening things. I thought I'd use the table as a potting area, but nine years later, it was mainly used for storage. And not very good storage: tools and sprays were scattered around on top, while pots and soil bags were lost underneath.

One of my organizing matras for my clients is "use the vertical space," and I finally applied this to myself. The addition of a sturdy shelving unit (from Costco) made all the difference in organizing my gardening tools. With the shelving unit I gained more space, and it was less deep than the table, making it much easier to see what I had. Since the shelves are adjustable, I arranged them to fit my large bins on the bottom. My hand tools are out in a bucket at eye level so I can quickly grab what I need. 

These shelves provide excellent storage and I had used them in other areas in my basement. When you need to add storage, don't forget to think vertical shelves. Happy gardening!


Creative Door Mat Storage

It's Spring and a great time to freshen up your home. One of my clients likes to swap out her front and back door mats with the seasons. We had found some mats as we organized the basement, and were looking for a way to store them. 

My client came up with this clever solution: hang each mat from a plastic skirt hanger. This keeps the mats from getting bent and makes them very visible = easy to find! She can hang them in her basement and always be able to find the one she is looking for. 

It was also a good way to use those extra hangers. 

Travel Idea for Jewelry

Friends were preparing for a year-long move to Europe last summer, and I noticed that the older daughter had a genius idea for how to organize her jewelry for travel. She separated out her jewelry and sets into small plastic bags. She punched a whole in the bags and then essentially "filed" them in a three-hold binder. (I think clear sheet protectors could work as well).

Using this method meant that the daughter could easily bring the binder in her carry-on luggage. Love this idea!