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!

Stylish Storage for Stuffed Animals: 4 new Options

I’m excited to see Target has a new line for kids’ rooms called Pillowfort, with super stylish bedding, furniture, and my favorite—storage.

Check out these awesome options for storing stuffed animals (or dolls, blankets, balls). The bins come in many different colors and shapes (tall, round, square).

And if you are ready to pare down and donate some stuffed animals, read this post from my blog series, “How Do I Get Rid of…”

Tray Chic

Trays are a great tool for organizing: they keep items together (think remotes on an ottoman) and make it easier to retrieve things from a deep cabinet or move items off the kitchen counter.

From Ballard Designs

From Ballard Designs

I use trays all over, and find they are especially useful near the door for holding the essential items that get dropped every day: keys, phone, wallet, glasses. Now this chic tray from Ballard Designs makes it even easier to see what goes where. 

Repurpose a Shoe Shelf

I have a beautiful original built-in china cabinet in my dining room, with storage on the bottom. I store place mats, some linens, vases, serving trays, and candles. It also functions as our bar cabinet. After the holidays I was putting away serving pieces and linens, and thought that my cabinet could use a little re-organization.

Things were piled up, and often fell over or got lost in the deep cabinet. I moved less-used linens to a dresser in our attic, and weeded out my vases, setting aside some for donation. As I was wishing I could have more shelves, I remembered that I had an old shoe shelf in the attic. After I re-did my closet, I didn't need the shelf but saved it thinking it might be useful at some point (yes, even professional organizers save things sometimes).

It was the perfect solution to add shelving in this cabinet! 

cabinet Before - Piles

cabinet Before - Piles

Cabinet After

Cabinet After

Cabinet after - shoe shelf adds storage!

Cabinet after - shoe shelf adds storage!

Holiday Decorations: Sort, Purge and Label

I love decorating for the holidays, but don't enjoy putting it all away. Here are 4 quick tips to make the process easier:

  • Sort: Keep categories of items together so it's easier to see what you have. I have separate bins for our outside lights, tree decorations, and holiday dishes/home decor. 
  • Purge: Only keep the holiday decorations that bring you joy and you love to use, year after year. Discard or donate items you don't use. If an item has sentimental value, consider taking a photo and then passing it on.
  • Use the right containers: My sturdy green bins work great for storing holiday items in the attic. Replace old flimsy boxes with plastic containers. You can also purchase a variety of storage containers made to hold holiday items. 
  • Label: While it was easy to get out the holiday decorations, I always had trouble figuring out what went in each bin to put it back. This year I decided to label the bins with a list of all the categories inside. This will really help next year!

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!


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.