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:

 

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How to Clear the Corner Clutter?

Corners are magnets for clutter! Things seem to end up in the corners of our rooms, often in piles, bags, or boxes. If you really want to clear the clutter, take a look at what's hiding out in the corners.

Here’s how to get started:

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  1. Pick one corner to tackle. Set a timer for 30 minutes.
  2. Pull everything out. Toss and recycle what you can.
  3. Put items in categories, and put away what you can.
  4. Consider each item and why it ended up in the corner. Does it not have a place to go? Or is the place it goes over stuffed? Does the item require an action? Is it in transition to go somewhere else (to be donated, to a friend, to a family member)?
  5. Deal with each of the items. If they have to go into a space that is overstuffed, put it in the area and then schedule another time to declutter that space. You can also schedule time to follow up and make decisions or add the action items to your To Do list. If items are going out, put them near your door or in your car and resolve to pass them on within a week. 

Once you’ve been able to clear the clutter in your corners, enjoy your space! The room will feel more open and peaceful.

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? 

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.

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.

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:

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:

Designating Donation Bags

I was helping a client gather things going out of her house, and noticed her neat idea for keep track of what bags were going where: she labeled the paper bag handle.

It’s hard to see on the photo but this bag is labeled “donations,”

I often write on the side of the bag, but hadn’t thought of writing on the handle.

It was very convenient to quickly look down and read the handle as I dropped items going different places in different bags.

Clever idea!

How Do I Get Rid of: TVs & Computer Monitors

Older TVs and computer monitors can be heavy and bulky, and because they have cathode ray tubes, or CRTs, with toxic chemicals they can’t just go out with your trash. This means they end up in the corners of our homes gathering dust. I find often find them tucked under a chair or table in the family room, the office, or even the basement.

So how do you get these out of your house?

  • If you are getting a new TV delivered, many companies (like Best Buy) will remove and recycle the old one for you.
  • If you can’t take advantage of a take-away service, then check with your town to see if they offer a CRT recycling program. In my town you can bring your TV or monitor to the Department of Public Works and for a small fee, they will dispose of it for you. For a larger fee, the DPW will pick up the TV curbside in front of our homes, a few times a year.
  • Want to donate your old TV (especially if it still works) or computer monitor? The Salvation Army also accepts electronics/appliances, including TVs and computers, and many Goodwill locations are now taking computers.

You’ve got no excuses now to get your TVs and old computer monitors out of your house.

How Do I Get Rid of: Bicycles

Last year my daughter outgrew her bicycle. As I started to stash it away, I realized that we had 3 bicycles – all too small for her - taking up much-needed space in our basement. I had been hanging on to her first “real” bicycle for purely sentimental reasons, but it was finally time to let them all go.

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If you have old bikes that could use a new home, here are a few ways to pass them on:

  • Donate: The local organization, Bikes Not Bombs, comes to my town’s annual Community Collection Day and was very happy to receive our bicycles. Bikes Not Bombs collects used bikes and bike parts, and then sends them to countries overseas as part of economic development projects. If you are in the Boston area, this is a great way to feel good about passing on your bicycle.
  • Another organization to try is Bicycles for Humanity, which has a chapter in Boston and other chapters across the US. Also check out this website with organizations that may take used bikes.
  • Of course, you might know of a friend, neighbor or relative that could use your old bike.
  • Bike Swap: Recently a bike shop in my town held a bike swap event; the money raised went to support our local education foundation. I think “sellers” donated their used bikes for sale, and the funds from the purchase went to the foundation. It’s not exactly a bike swap, but is a creative idea. Check with your local bike shop to see if they have any programs to help sell or pass on used bicycles.
  • Sell: If your used bicycle is in good condition, consider selling it on Craigslist. Check out the Bicycle Blue Book website for their database of bicycle values.

How Do I Get Rid Of: Formal Wear & Wedding Dresses

Graduations, first communions, weddings, and prom—it’s the time of year for those special celebrations.

But what to do with all the special occasion dresses and suits that you (or your kids) no longer wear? It’s time to de-clutter your closet and regain that space.

Here’s how you can get rid of your unwanted formal wear:


If you want to save that special outfit for years to come read how to preserve your clothes by guest contributor, Gabby Burgman, an archivist, professional organizer and busy mom.

De-Clutter & Donate this Spring!

Are you spring cleaning and finding things that you don’t need anymore? There are many options for your unwanted goods to benefit others:

  • Cradles to Crayons: I’ve written before about this amazing organization that helps kids from infants to age 12.  My daughter and I volunteered there recently and learned that Cradles to Crayons is in most need of: kids sneakers, baby board books and infant items, girls clothing up to size 3T, and boys clothing size 2T-18. Please consider donating any items during their Spring Greening campaign! 
  • Got lots of baby and child items? Sell them at the LexFUN Annual Consignment sale this May 17th. Half the proceeds from every sale go to the Seller, and the other half to support LexFUN’s programming
  • We Sell Possible: This youth-development organization will take your unwanted designer clothes and handbags, electronics, and collectibles. Entrepreneurial students will sell them online with the funds going to support programming at The Possible Project.
  • Nave Gallery Flea Market: Support this volunteer-run gallery by donating your goods. More information here.

How Do I Get Rid Of: Running Shoes

This month I’m thinking about running shoes. Not just because it’s Spring, but because here in Boston it will soon be Marathon Monday.

In 2013 I started running, and ran my first 5K. I kept signing up for 5K races, and kept on training. This new athletic activity means that I’m now buying and wearing out running shoes fairly regularly.

So what do I do when I’m done with a pair of running shoes? I discovered that the Greater Boston Running Company - Lexington has a handy bin to collect shoes for re-use in Africa. They also have other locations.

Soles4Souls is a non-profit organization that aims to fight poverty by distributing clothes and shoes, both in the US and globally. Some items go to micro-enterprise programs in developing countries (Haiti, Honduras, Tanzania) where participants recondition shoes and sell them locally. You can drop off shoes at locations here, or mail them to Soles4Souls.

Nike also offers a Reuse-A-Shoe program where shoes are truly  “recycled” into their basic components, and reused. The rubber from the soles, for example, is turned into rubberized surface used for playgrounds and running tracks. Find locations to drop off your shoes here.

How Do I Get Rid Of: Children’s Clothing

It’s a constant challenge to keep up with growing kids’ clothing. Pants that fit my daughter one week are suddenly too short the next. Sound familiar? 

As a parent it’s critical to have a place or two to pass on the outgrown clothes that you don’t want to keep. It prevents your attic or basement from getting filled with bins of clothing (like mine was for many years) and most importantly, your quality clothes can be used by someone else.

Here are some of my favorite resources:

  • Cradles to Crayons: This Boston-based organization helps kids in need (ages 2-12) with “kids packs” of clothing, shoes, toys, and books. My daughter and I enjoy volunteering in their Giving Factory, and now it’s our #1 place to bring her outgrown clothing. You can bring donations to their office or other locations, find drop off boxes, or set up a clothing drive.
  • The Little Fox Shop (Arlington): Donate your good quality clothing (and toys) to this re-sale shop and all proceeds will benefit the Fox Library. 
  • Goodwill: With many drop off locations, including a box in Arlington, it’s easy to donate to Goodwill.
  • If you want to try to sell your kids’ clothes, try consignment stores like Pink Dolly (Arlington) or Liena’s (Winchester). The Children’s Orchard (Locations include Billerica, Brookline, and Rowley) will also buy your high-quality, gently used clothing. And don’t forget about the LexFUN Annual Consignment Sale (Lexington) each May, with 50% of proceeds going to sellers and 50% to the LexFUN Preschool Scholarship Fund.

Need help organizing the kids clothing you’ve got? Check out my tips on the That’s Neat! Blog.

Sentimental About Stuffed Animals? Try This!

After reading my post, How Do I Get Rid of Stuffed Animals, a friend shared her creative idea for what to do with stuffed animals when you aren’t ready to let them go. She said she was too sentimental to part with any stuffed animals yet, but she also didn’t want them taking over her kids’ rooms.

Her solution was to purchase a bean bag cover (cover only, no filling), and then load up the inside with the entire stuffed animal collection! The bean bag sits near the books in the room, and if her boys really want one of the animals, it can come out. What a fun idea!

For a similar idea, Boon makes an Animal Bag, a cover specifically for stuffed animals, but with a window, so you can see what’s inside. Once it’s filled it makes a cozy seat.

There are also stuffed animal hammocks, but I really love the bean bag chair cover idea.

What are your ideas for keeping control of a stuffed animal collection?

How Do I Get Rid Of: Stuffed Animals

Last year I had fun with monthly posts in my “Favorite Container” series. For 2014, I’m staring a new monthly series, “How do I get rid of….”   Each month I will share tips and resources to help you get specific items out of your home; those hard-to-get-rid-of items that clients always ask me about.

This month I’m tackling a tough one: stuffed animals. Clients ask me all the time how to get rid of stuffed animals, since many of the organizations we typically donate to don’t accept stuffed animals.

Here are some local organizations and thrift stores that do take donations of stuffed animals:

  • Solutions At Work/Children’s Clothing Exchange – Cambridge, MA. This organization seeks to break the cycle of poverty and homelessness by providing business attire, computers, and children’s clothes and toys to those in need.
  • Global Thrift Store – Waltham, MA + drop off boxes.
  • Savers – various locations. This chain of thrift stores also works with non-profit community partners.
  • Urban Renewal Thrift Store – Allston, MA.
  • Project Smile – Hopedale, MA. This non-profit organization donates stuffed animals, coloring books/crayons, small toys and children's reading books to police and fire departments for police officers, fire fighters and paramedics to give to children involved in traumatic situations.
  • You can also ask your local shelter, fire station, or police department to see if they take donations of stuffed animals to give to children in emergencies.

Be sure the stuffed animals you are donating are in great condition and clean.

Have I missed someplace? Email me at elizabeth@thatsneatorganizing.com and I can add the organization to the resource list.

Thanks to my colleagues in NAPO-New England for their suggestions.

De-clutter & Donate: Household Goods Recycling of MA

As part of my ongoing project to clean out my attic, today I donated our old crib mattress to Household Goods Recycling of Massachusetts (HGRM).

The mattress was in good shape and could definitely benefit someone else, so I was thrilled when I found out HGRM accepts mattresses. The non-profit organization collects used goods and distributes them to families in need; families are referred by social service or government agencies.

Donating to HGRM is easy. Read their donation guidelines.  They accept a lot of household items that other organizations don’t, like mattresses, toddler beds, TVs and air conditioners.

To donate:

  • Drop off items at their warehouse in Acton. Just drive up to the doors around the back and there will be a crew of people helping to unload your items and issuing you a receipt on the spot. I was done in less than 10 minutes!
  • Call HGRM to pick up your large furniture or appliances, but read the guidelines first.

10 Strategies for Organizing your Attic (or any space you've been avoiding)

This article originally appeared in the November/December 2013 edition of The Neat Sheet.

"This is the year the attic is getting cleaned out!"  While I seem to utter those words to myself every year*, I was determined that in 2013 I really would get the attic cleaned and organized.

Recently we updated my daughter's room, and the attic slowly got stuffed with her old furniture, plus outgrown toys and clothes. That was combined with the usual boxes, papers and other random items that get "stored" in the attic. Finally, there wasn't room for anything more!  So for the past month I have been diligently working on my own organizing job, and it's almost done.

Here's what I've learned along the way:

  • Make a date to start your organizing project. I scheduled an organizing session with myself - even put it on my calendar. It really helped me get started.
  • Gather supplies. My supplies included: paper and pen for notes; sticky notes to quickly mark boxes or items; gallon-size plastic bags for storing small things; empty trash bags; empty boxes and bags for donations; and my smartphone to look up donation guidelines from several organizations.
  • Take stock of what you are storing. For my first attic session, I looked around to see what had accumulated, and got a sense of what needed to be done. This was more of an assessment and planning session.
  • Break the project down into smaller steps; maybe make a list. After I took stock I made a list of smaller projects that I could do in short time periods. My attic projects included making decisions, selling items, sorting and purging boxes, moving some of the furniture we had stored in the attic around, and giving away items. I was as specific as possible so I'd remember what needed to be done the next time I worked on my project.
  • Purge the easy stuff first, the "low hanging fruit" as some of my clients like to say. After taking stock and making my list, I went through and did the easy stuff first: threw out trash, pulled out boxes we had been storing and recycled them, and started putting the items to sell in a pile.
  • Keep making dates to work on your project. I kept going by working on my attic in whatever downtime I had during the week, and even on the weekend while my daughter was at some of her activities.
  • "Decide to Decide" as Kathy Waddill notes in her book, The Organizing Sourcebook: Nine Strategies for Simplifying Your Life. There were many things in limbo, waiting for decisions. Well, my husband and I made the choices for what to do with all things! Some were sold, others given away, and a lot donated.
  • Once you've made the choice to get rid of items, get them out fast! Although I shed a few tears for some of the baby things that were getting sold and donated, I tried to get the items out of my house as quickly as possible.
  • Keep similar things together and create zones for what you are storing. Some of the zones in my attic are: off-season clothes, furniture, travel bags, holiday decorations, kid stuff (clothes, dolls, toys, and books in separate boxes), and  work-related books and products.
  • Check in on your newly-organized space at least once a year. Life happens, and even if your attic is organized now, it may not always be that way! If you've put in all the work to get it cleaned out, be sure to revisit what's in there at least once a year.

Have you tackled organizing your attic? What worked for you? I'd love to hear your ideas!

*The attic has been an ongoing organizing project of mine for the past 5 years. First, I organized 4 years of my daughter's artwork just before she started Kindergarten. The following year we had to have some re-wiring done in the attic, which meant every single thing was moved around...so I took a little time to clean some of the "stuff" out. Then 2 years ago I purged the 6 bins of clothes I had saved from my daughter. I also started to clean out baby toys, but never finished. I'm happy to be on my way to having it done in 2013!

De-Clutter & Donate: Anton’s Cleaners Coats for Kids

It’s that time again – time to go into the back of your closet and see what coats you can donate to Anton’s Cleaners Coats for Kids program. I know my daughter outgrew her winter coat last year, so I’m ready to pass it on.

This year Coats for Kids will be collecting coats from October 14th through January 11th. Coats will be cleaned and then partner organizations will distribute them to families in need throughout the Greater Boston area.