4 Tips for Holiday Shopping

Does holiday shopping stress you out? Do you feel like you spend time shopping in stores or online, but don’t get what you need? Here are four ideas for better holiday shopping:

  • Shop with a list: Use a list when you shop to help keep you focused. If you do the thinking/planning before heading to the store, you’ll save time and money. It can also help when you are online shopping!

  • Even if it’s on sale, if you don’t need it, it’s not a bargain.” I heard someone say this on the news this week, and it is great advice! Don’t buy something just because it’s on sale. Ask yourself: Do I need this? When will I use it? Do I know where I’ll keep it?

  • Shop at home first. Do you have a “gift” closet or bin (or lots of bins)? Do your shopping for gifts here before buying more. Be sure gifts for kids you are saving are for the right age. If not, donate them.

  • Don’t shop for things, shop for experiences. Experiences or memberships are some of my favorite gifts to get and to receive. Museum memberships, movie gift cards, classes, or a day out with the gift giver are gifts that anyone would enjoy receiving.

  • Bonus tips on list-making: Making an Effective List Add a Photo to Your Digital List

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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.

De-Clutter and Gift Idea: Kids Artwork

Looking for a last minute gift idea that also helps you de-clutter? Grab the latest pile of artwork from your kids and turn it into gifts! 

Here are a few ideas:

  • Turn art into placemats: print color copies and have them laminated at an office supply store. I got this idea from a place setting doodle my daughter colored in (and labeled all the foods on the plate). I made a placemat for us and one for each of the grandparents’ houses too.
  • Create personalized wrapping paper through Zazzle; you upload photos but could also do this with photos of your kids’ creations. (Wish I had found out about this earlier!)
  • Turn the creations into a photobook on Shutterfly or another similar service
  • Have your child select a few pieces and toss them into an envelope. Add a bow and you’ve got a gift every grandparent would love.

Saving Special Recipes

Many families have recipes that have been handed down through the generations. I love this idea to preserve a special recipe with a photo! Such an easy and fun way to hand down memories.

You could also display those heirloom family recipes in a simple frame, keep them in a special recipe box, or print them on dish towels. If you wanted to share the recipes with many family members, scan the recipes to your computer and then create an online book using Shutterfly or similar service.

Speaking of recipes, here’s how I organized mine a few years ago.  This post may need an update after the holidays: now I have to find a good way to keep track of all the recipes I’ve pinned on Pinterest!

Wishing you and your family a very Happy Thanksgiving!

Letting Clutter Go…for FREE

If you aren’t up for a tag sale to get rid of your unwanted stuff, how about giving it away? Your “trash” truly can be someone else’s treasure.

Here are some ideas for how to get things out for free:

  • I love Freecycle and it’s rare that I can’t get rid of something through my local Freecycle network. This is a real resource, and I’m continually amazed at what I can give away that others want: old magazines, blinds and curtains, and old filing cabinets for example.
  • The free section of Craigslist if you have one in your city.
  • Find or create a Free Table. While walking to dinner with a friend last week, she excitedly pulled me across the street to see the Free Table in her neighborhood. Well known in the neighborhood, the Free Table is a folding table that is always out front of one house, rain or shine. Locals come to drop off items and pick something up. It’s a great way to recycle and keep things out of the landfill.
  • Other friends had a similar idea when they were decluttering before a big move: they created a Treasure Bench. The bench was loaded with items they were ready to part with, and if you came to visit or attended the going away party, you had to leave with an item. I picked up some great kids books for my daughter, and a label maker…and I wasn’t even a Professional Organizer yet!
  • Finally, if you are on the busy street, don’t underestimate the power of leaving something on the curb with a “free” sign. I cleared out three working but un-needed air conditioners from my basement just by putting them out on the curb last summer.

Of course if you are the one shopping for free things, please be sure you really need the item. It’s easy to pick up something saying you’ll use it but if you don’t, it quickly becomes clutter. Donate it or pass it on.

Show you Care, not Clutter

With Teacher Appreciation Week, graduations, weddings, Mother’s Day and Father’s Day…you may have a long gift list this time of year.

Forget the mugs, ties, and crystal bowls. Give a gift that shows you care AND that doesn’t clutter the kitchen or end up in the attic.

Here are my favorite choices:

  • Consumables: I’ve written before about the benefits of consumable gifts. This is especially a good idea for teachers, moms and dads. (Of course, always check to be sure the recipient has any food allergies.) Even a wedding gift can include consumables if the couple loves to cook. Check out the Wedding Crate from Penzy’s Spices or the vinegars and oils from Williams Sonoma. Experiences: Ideas here include theater tickets, movie tickets, day at the spa, hot air balloon ride, cooking class, car detailing (my personal favorite for Mother’s Day), museum pass, or even a walk/hike together. Hand-made Artwork or other Craft: For teachers, parents or grandparents, a drawing or card from a child can be a keepsake. For wedding gifts, I’ve had friends who painted me a one-of-a-kind picture and made a quilt. These gifts are not only useful but meaningful.

What are you favorite non-clutter gift ideas?

An Organized Holiday: Gift Giving

I love finding the perfect gift for someone, but often gifts end up being just more stuff…stuff we may not really need or love. Here are some tips for thinking outside the gift box:

  • For consumables, think food! Wines, olives, candies, and cookies are a good start…or how about chocolate (or beer) of the month club?
  • If you can make some goodies, think of food that can be made in batches: each year my family makes a secret recipe of sweet + spicy nuts. Other friends have made granola or candies.
  • Turn it into a party! Some of my book club gals have started a tradition of Book club Baking Night. We meet at one friend’s house and each make a different treat. By the end of the night, we leave with several gift bags full of goodies. 
  • My other favorite gift is something that is an experience – tickets, museum membership, or going out for a special day with the gift giver. Each year my in-laws give us a family membership to a museum that we enjoy all year long.
  • Overwhelmed by gifts? See if you can do a gift swap (pick name out of a hat) or get a gift for the whole family like a museum membership.
  • If your family is really into gifts, why not ask others what they’d like? Or use online wish lists like amazon. 

Shed a Little in the Spring

It was a good spring for purging around my house. The last of the appreciated-but-still-unused wedding gifts went to a charity auction to support a local community organization.  Yes, it was hard to let the crystal bowls and vases go, but after much angst I did it! And I haven’t looked back: the gifts had been sitting in our attic for 15 years, so I hope they are on to a better home.

Last month my daughter also set aside no-longer-used toys for her school tag sale (fortunately she didn’t buy back any of her own items at the sale!).

And I’ve been “weeding” our garden AND our closets…which has resulted in several bags of clothes for Goodwill or the Vietnam Veterans of America (they pick up!). It’s amazing how much we can find that no longer fits or that we just don’t wear.

Why this urge to purge in the spring? It could be that the annual school tag sales, book sales, and charity auctions make me take a hard look at items we aren’t using, but that could benefit others. It could also be that after a long winter, I am tired of everything and need to pare down our living spaces.

Whatever the reason, spring has become my family’s time to shed some unwanted excess. It helps us to live a little lighter and enjoy the summer even more.

Now I’m off to weed the garden instead of our closet!

For more inspiration, read my article on spring weeding for children’s clothes.

Caution: Catalog Season

‘Tis the season for tons of catalogs arriving in your mailbox. Here are a few tips for controlling catalog clutter:

  • Use the 1 in/1 out rule: when a new catalog comes in, throw the old one out!
  • Better yet, recycle the catalogs you know you won’t read as soon as they come in the door.
  • Even better still, get yourself off the catalog lists! Call the company who sent the catalog, or check out the Direct Marketing Association to get off multiple lists.

And if you do order gifts from catalogs, think about the recipient and your budget. It’s easy to get excited about the latest cookware, electronic gadget, or new sweater on the glossy pages of a catalog. Is it really something the recipient wants, needs or would love to have?

12 Months Organized a Quarter at a Time

Read about my cousin Janna's great system for staying on top of projects all year long.

January is National Get Organized month….but I’ll bet you have something that needs to be taken care of every month of the year. By splitting the year into quarters, you can rest assured that you will make every monthly deadline and do it with ease.

For the past 15 years I have made the bulk of my living as a photostylist and producer for catalogs, magazines and advertising campaigns. So come January I’m actually thinking April, May and June. By Valentine’s Day I’ll be gearing up for July and summer-themed shoots. Come spring, I’m working on the holidays and spend most of my summer thinking ‘Winter Wonderland’ and by fall, it’s spring colors and ideas that cover my desk. The sheer nature of the business requires not only lots of organization and coordination, it requires me to think at least 3 or 6 months or even a whole year ahead!

So, years ago I started to organize not only my work calendar this way but also my personal one. By thinking ahead to what needs to be done at least three months ahead assures me that I will be prepared.

Starting in January I’m thinking about the second quarter of the year, April, May and June. The big item for all of us is taxes! So, right after I’ve wrapped and stowed the last of the ornaments, I’m up to the office with that April 15 deadline at the top of my “to do” list.

Here’s how I begin to organize my year:  I start with the givens and put them at the top of my monthly list. Next, I add things that I want to accomplish by the end of every month, along with family obligations, vacations etc. And, like you I have my daily schedule. As a freelancer, it changes a lot so being flexible and prioritizing is key.

For example:

QUARTER 1:

January = April EASTER (4th), TAXES (15th)

  • Organize, file and prepare for tax season
  • Plus:
  • Organize linen closet
  • Clean out clothes closet
  • Look for gifts for April birthdays (2)

February = May MOTHER’S DAY(9th), MEMORIAL DAY (31st)

  • Find Mother’s Day gifts (3)
  • Plus:
  • Valentine’s Day dinner
  • President’s Day Weekend
  • Clean and organize kitchen pantry
  • Buy May birthday cards/gifts (2)

March = June FATHER’S DAY (20th)

  • Find Father’s Day gift
  • Plus:
  • Spring cleaning/ kitchen
  • Buy June birthday gifts and cards (3)

QUARTER 2:

April = July INDEPENDENCE DAY

  • Plus:
  • 3 family birthdays (buy gifts)
  • Clean and reorganize garage
  • Garden clean-up

May = August BEACH VACATION!

  • Make reservations
  • Plus:
  • 1 birthday (look for gift)
  • Pick up daughter from college
  • Plant containers and window boxes

June = September ANNUAL LABOR DAY RODEO

  • Make reservations/buy tickets
  • Plus:
  • 2 birthdays (buy gifts)
  • Garden!

You get the picture by now I’m sure. I’ll also add these items to accomplish monthly to my third and fourth quarters;

July: Think about back to school

August: Decide on and organize holiday make ahead gifts

September: Garden clean-up, organize shed

October: Organize for the upcoming holidays

November: Finish holiday shopping, work on cards

December:

  • Week 1: Assemble “quick gifts”
  • Week 2: Mail gifts and cards
  • Weeks 3 – 4: Sit back, relax and enjoy

All too soon another year will be gone. If you adapt a quarterly calendar system and organize month-to-month by this time next year none of your “to-do” list will be undone.

-Janna

Holiday Tips….2010??

Great post by guest blogger, Janna Lufkin. 

Yep, I’m already thinking about next year and nope, I didn’t roll out of bed at 4am December 26th to get to the post holiday sales by 5am. I can’t think of anything I’d rather not do! I think about December 2010 now, because I refuse to buy into the holiday hype and self-induced stresses many of us experience come the day after Thanksgiving.

But those old habits die hard. Often after the holiday hubbub is over, all we really want to do is ditch the tree, toss the lights in a box, stash the ornaments and slam the lid closed.

However, if you take a little time to organize your holiday collections, think about what you really need (should you have a burning desire to shop) and carefully put things away, come December 2010, you’ll have more time to enjoy the season and most importantly, each other.

Here are a few ideas to get you started…

• Ornaments: They add up don’t they? Many of them have special emotional meaning. But just as many come through ornament exchange parties, tied to the tops of treat plates, etc. My advice: hang onto the ones you and your family have special memories attached to; give away or donate the rest. When storing ornaments, wrap each in tissue (I’ve re-used the same tissue for years) and carefully pack them in a sturdy flip top box. Tip: If you have kids, wrap their special treasures in tissue and store inside their stockings. That way, next year when the kids are dying to decorate and help, you can hand them their stocking and keep them busy while you get the tree in the door.

• Lights: Roll each strand up like a ball of yarn starting with the female plug end and store in a sturdy flip top box. You’ll find that putting lights on your tree will be a lot easier by passing a ball of lights around the branches instead of a messy, tangled strand.

• Gift Wraps, Ribbons and Trims: I know, I know, there are some amazing deals out there. 50% – 75% off or more. Resist the urge. Instead, purge! Sort and store the wraps, cards and trims you have with your holiday decorations. Come 2010 if you need more paper, buy simple brown kraft paper and/or white butchers paper. It never goes out of style, can be used throughout the year, and it’s recyclable. With bits and pieces of the patterned wraps and ribbons you already have, plus a bit of creativity, you can have very simple yet stylish gifts under your tree.

• Gifts for next year: While it’s always a good idea to be on the lookout for special, meaningful holiday gifts, I’ve found shopping the sales right after the holidays may not yield that perfect gift. Often, by the time next year rolls around, tastes and interests shift and change and a good portion of the gifts I had purchased (because they were a good deal) are often not as relevant as they might have once been. Keep in mind that just because it was a good deal, doesn’t mean it’s the ideal gift.

That said, after-Christmas sales are a good time to pick up a few hostess gifts and small items to keep on hand for kids parties, etc. I store mine in a designated “gift drawer”. Whenever I need a quick something, I usually have it on hand.

December 2010 will sneak up fast. If you get organized now you’ll enjoy the season not stress about it.

-Janna

Holiday Help: Planning and Preparation Tips

Here are some of my favorite tips to help you have a more organized holiday.

  • Holiday card list: Many families love to send an annual holiday card. Instead of going through your address book or saving envelope labels, create a list of recipients on your computer. The list can be a simple MS Excel spreadsheet of names and addresses. Alternatively, addresses can be input as a set of labels using the mail merge in MS Word. Keeping your card list electronically will save you time next year, and allows for easy edits in case someone’s address has changed.
  • Gift list: Creating a list of gift recipients can help you stay organized and avoid  the last minute gift rush. Pick a date each year, such as the day after Thanksgiving or December 1st as the time to start working on your gift list. In addition to names and gift ideas, you may want to include a budget item next to each recipient. Ideally, create your list as a spreadsheet so you can easily update it. You can also keep a rolling tally of how much you have spent. With an electronic list you will have the template from year to year, and can also keep a list of what you give each year; this avoids the situation of giving Uncle Kevin the same tie or CD each year.
  • Gift center: You bought the toy your child wanted when it was on sale in October, and a special gift for your mom during summer vacation, but where are they now? If you purchase gifts during the year, or can’t find gifts you know you bought, establish a dedicated “home” for gifts. Use a clear box, such as the Sterilite ClearView boxes as your gift center. Keep your gift center in a closet or attic, and each time you purchase a gift, add it to the box. When it’s time to think about holiday gifts, open the gift center and see what you have – you may discover that you already have gifts for several people on your list!
  • Wrapping center: Wrapping gifts involves many different supplies such as wrapping paper, tissue paper, bows, gift tags, tape, and scissors. Searching for these items or purchasing duplicates can waste time and money. Keep all needed supplies in a wrapping center – a box, bin, or wrapping paper holder, such as the Rubbermaid Wrap N’Craft. If you like to buy wrapping paper or bows on sale after the holidays, having a dedicated wrapping center can help you avoid purchasing three rolls of the same kind of paper, but not having any gift tags.
  • Holiday recipes: Many families like to make special recipes for the holidays. In my family it’s gingerbread cookies, spiced nuts, and fruitcake. To easily find your holiday recipes each year, keep them in a dedicated spot: a colored folder, special section of your recipe file, or in clear sheet protectors in a binder. Keep the recipes in a place that makes sense to you: with your regular cookbooks, or with your holiday decorations for example. If you also make special food gifts each year, keep these recipes together in a separate file. If you find a recipe for a candy or cookies in a magazine in September that you’d like to make, cut or print the recipe out and place it in your file. When you're ready to get cooking, you'll be all set.

Happy (Organized) Holidays

Enjoy these holiday tips by my super-organized cousin, Janna Lufkin. Check out her great holiday products at Raw Materials Design

By the first week in December, I like to have a stockpile of small gifts packaged up and ready to go. I use them for hostess gifts as well as give them out when unexpected guests drop by. I pick an idea, and make them all ahead of time (often Thanksgiving weekend). I’ve got a jump on the holiday gift list and I'm ready for the season to begin.

This year I’m making homemade granola, packaged up in food safe bags then slipped into cute, inexpensive burlap bags. I’ll embellish the bags with a personalized gift tag and a sprig of fresh cedar from my yard. I stack my ready-to-go gifts in a container by my back door and grab one when I need it.

If you want to make some too, here’s what you will need:

  • A recipe. Here’s the Better Homes and Gardens recipe site - they have a variety of great granola recipes
  • Burlap bags and clear food safe bags
  • Transparent tape or decorative stickers
  • Gift tags (if you have time, make your own or have your kids help)
  • Ribbon and fresh greenery

Here’s how to make them:

  • Gather granola ingredients and make up as many batches as you think you’ll need
  • Once granola has completely cooled, place at least two cups (more if you like) into a food safe bag and seal with tape or sticker
  • Insert granola into a burlap bag (you could add the recipe if you like)
  • Tie with twine or embellish with a colorful ribbon
  • Tie on a tag and slip in some fresh greenery

It’s that easy.

A project done early gets you in the mood for the festivities ahead. It helps to eliminate some of the stress and it’s fun too.