Recycle Holiday Lights

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How to get rid of holiday lights? Older holiday lights can be fickle: one minute they work, the next they don’t. Or maybe you’ve replaced all your old Christmas lights with new LED versions.

If you have holiday lights to get rid of, don’t throw them out: take them to the Home Depot. According to their website, they “offer recycling programs for rechargeable batteries, CFL bulbs and old incandescent holiday light strings.”

With Home Depot locations all over, this seems like a great option for recycling lights.

 

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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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. 

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. 

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!




Keep Your Spices Organized

Like to cook? Then I’m sure you have a lot of spices. There’s a misconception that organized people must alphabetize their spices. While that’s one way to find what you need, another way is to use the organizing strategy: make it visible and easy to store. There are many ways to effortlessly store your spices. Some kitchens have special pull-out drawers or drawer inserts. In my kitchen, I use a tiered stand in my cabinet.

Other key tips: I also put spices I use more often in the front, and less used in the back.

I also only keep what I really need and use. When you can’t find what you want, clean out your spice area.

Here’s another great idea to make spices visible from one of my clients. She keeps her spices in a pantry/closet in her kitchen. The pantry is pretty deep, but she grouped her spices into a clear container. By keeping the top off, the container can easily slide out like a drawer. She can also pull out the whole bin when she’s cooking.

Since the client looks down at the drawer of spice, she printed round labels for the top of each spice container.

Don’t want to create you own labels? The Container Store has pre-printed ones ready to go!

Need more inspiration? Read this post on my Blog.

Quick Ways to Organize Memories

Have you started a baby book for your child, but never finished it? Or wanted to write a daily diary or journal, but only kept it up for a month?

Last week I gave an organizing talk to a Parents of Multiples group: all the moms in the room had twins, and many had additional kids. We started discussing how to preserve memories and several moms talked about how they had piles of notes and photos for baby books that were never done (and probably never would be done).

This lead to several moms sharing how they keep track of memories. Here are some great ideas:

 

  • My husband and I keep a shared Google doc of “Funny things” our daughter says. We both have added to the document over the years, and love to go back and read it. (We started this when our daughter was little, before the era of apps!)
  • Another mom said that instead of creating a baby book, she notes milestones and fun things on her wall calendar. She keeps the calendars and can quickly scan through to see the memories.
  • As an alternative to a traditional journal, try a one-sentence journal. It’s much less daunting to write one sentence a day than a whole entry.

What creative high or low tech ideas do you have to preserve memories?

7 Tips & Tricks to Organize your Gift Wrap Supplies

1. Want to get your gift wrap supplies in order?  The first step is to gather all the wrapping paper, bags, cards and other supplies you have in one place.  Once you have it all together, reduce it to at least half. Yes, half! In most cases you aren't going to need all those gift bags you've saved. And if you love gift bags, you probably don't need all those rolls of paper. 

2. Store the supplies you are keeping in one place. Here are some different ideas:

  • I use the Rubbermaid Wrap-n-Craft that fits into my closet
  • Stand up rolls in a wine crate or wire wastepaper basket
  • Store wrapping paper rolls in a hanging garment bag; I haven't tried this but it's a creative idea to get supplies off the floor
  • Try pantry shelving designed for the back of a door

3. Recycle the gift wrapping supplies you aren't using, pass them on to a friend, or even donate the wrapping paper. Goodwill may take it, as will some thrift stores or charities that wrap gifts to give at the holidays. (Here is one Boston charity that can use wrapping supplies.)

4. Simplify the whole gift wrapping process with a "signature" gift wrap: use just one kind of paper or gift bag for all gifts. You can personalize with fun cards or ribbon.

5. Reuse. Turn old maps into gift wrap. A client recently told me she saves maps of certain places, like London, Paris or Harvard Square, to use as wrapping paper. It's especially fun for graduation gifts. You probably don't navigate with your paper maps too often, so consider reusing some as gift wrap.

6. Get into the zone. If you are wrapping a lot of gifts at one time, set up a wrapping zone in your office or dining room.

7. Party; throw a gift-wrapping party that is. Each December a friend invites a group over to eat, drink and wrap. Everyone shares wrapping supplies. It's a fun way to get that chore done.

This article first appeared in the November / December 2014 edition of my newsletter, The Neat Sheet.

How Do I Get Rid of: Trophies

Soccer trophies. First place medals. Work recognition plaques. These tokens may be wonderful at the time we receive them, but years later they tend to be big dust collectors (aka clutter), sitting on shelves or packed away in boxes.

If you aren’t displaying them, then it may be time for them to go! (If you do want to display some, use a shadow box, hooks, clear case, or check out Pinterest for more creative ideas.)

First sort through all the awards. You may want to keep one or two, and that’s fine. You may want to toss them all, and that’s fine too.

How to get them out of your house:

  • Take a few photos of the awards as a keepsake; you can even create an online photo book
  • Consider calling a trophy shop near you to see if they could recycle or use the award
  • Mail them off to an organization that will re-use or recycle them - Awards Mall or Trophy Recycler are two choices
  • Goodwill and The Salvation Army may take them too

If you can’t give your awards away, see if you can break apart the materials to recycle the pieces. You also have my permission to toss them out!

How Do I Get Rid Of: American Flags

Do you have a torn or worn out American flag that’s been in your basement or garage for ages? In honor of Flag Day this month (June 14th), I’m sharing ideas for the proper disposal of the American flag.

US Flag Code states that unserviceable American flags should be “burned in a dignified manner.” I’m not sure how often this is feasible (or allowed by local law), so here are several places to bring your unusable flag for appropriate disposal:

  • Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) post
  • American Legion post
  • Your local post office or police station
  • Boy Scout or Girl Scout troops may be able to help
  • This flag company will take your flag for proper disposal, and will give you 10% off the purchase of a new flag

And for more American flag etiquette, check out this site from the VFW.

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.

Organizing Holiday Lights

Do your holiday lights look like the tangled mess from the movie Christmas Vacation?

I’m always looking for new ideas to store lights and other holiday decorations – anything that helps make it even easier for the next year.

Here’s my run down of some ways to keep your lights organized for the next holiday season:

  • For a simple DIY solution, wrap strings of lights around empty round oatmeal containers.  My husband has been doing this with our Christmas tree lights and it works well. The light-wrapped containers go into a bin, cushioned by tissue paper.
  • Here’s the same idea in a light storage bin you can purchase from Amazon.com.
  • Another easy home-made option is to wrap lights around flat pieces of cardboard (See an example from Martha Stewart).
  • I just saw this storage bin from The Container Store and am intrigued with how it works. I like that the bin comes with removable cord wraps.
  • Or make your own similar container by inserting tension rods into a plastic bin (See example on Better Homes & Gardens).
  • I also like the idea of this product with large reels and a round container to stack the reels.  I find that similar reels work great for extension cords, so this may be a good solution for bigger outdoor lights.

From pre-made products to DIY ideas, there are many options to keep your lights tidy.

What are your tips for organizing holiday lights?

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!

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.

Great Tip for Grocery Shopping

In the recent edition of my email newsletter, The Neat Sheet, I presented some tips for grocery shopping. I got some great responses from readers about that article.

Here’s one idea that I just had to share: this mom gets her boys to do some of the shopping! Her boys are in elementary and middle school so they are able to read a list and find the items. She sends them to get an item that’s an aisle or two ahead of where she is.

The mom noted that “it keeps them busy, gives them a sense of ownership (we are shopping because they get hungry too), and keeps them from arguing too much.” 

I love this idea because it builds the boys’ independence and responsibility, and anything that can reducing the arguing is a good thing!

Thanks for the great tips.  Feel free to email elizabeth@thatsneatorganizing.com your great ideas!

The Party Closet

This week I helped a client clear a lot of post-vacation and post-party clutter that was in her living room, dining room and kitchen. One of the most fun projects (yes, I think organizing is fun!!!) was tidying up her Party Closet. 

This client is fortunate to have two large closets by her front door. One is used for coats, and the other stores party items—what I now call the Party Closet. 

The client told me she created this party storage area 15 years ago and it really works. It’s a brilliant idea if you have the space.

What makes this work?

  • It’s a great location. It is right outside the dining room and kitchen, where these items are used.
  • While some families may need the second closet for coats, this client has several kids and hosts all kinds of parties, at her home and at other venues. It’s a good use of space for her.
  • She uses every inch of space in the closet: her tablecloths are stored on hangers hung from the clothing bar. The party serving wear is stored on the top shelf. On the bottom are clear labeled bins filled with party napkins, paper plates, serving wear, and utensils.
  • Everything can be easily seen, removed and put away.

I was so inspired by her idea I had to share it!

Three Tips for an Organized Trip

Travel season is here! This week I helped two different clients get ready for upcoming summer trips. One client was preparing for a two-week special family trip to Europe, while the other client – who was retired – was getting ready to spend the summer at her vacation home.

Whether your vacation is a weekend, two weeks, or all summer, here are three tips to have a more organized trip:

  • Gather and stage your travel stuff.  One client used her guest room as a place to put everything she was collecting for her trip. This is a great idea if you have the space! For the other client, just getting a large shopping bag and labeling it “Bring With Me” gave her a place to drop in everything she found to take to her summer home.
  • Create and use lists for the routine tasks.  One client had a packing list (extra points to her) which we found and she started to use. We also brainstormed a list of things she needed to do prior to leaving (get dog sitter, neighbor to water plants, cancel mail, etc.). This would also be an important list to have.  For my client who goes to her summer vacation home each year, she could have a checklist of things to do before she left and to open her vacation home.
  • Deal with the important documents. Make sure you know where your passports are and leave copies at home. Keep copies of credit cards at home too, just in case they are lost or stolen while you are away. Be sure someone at home knows where to find these documents. Don’t forget to tell the credit card companies that you are travelling, and if you are going to be a way for an extended time be sure your bills are paid.

Now you are ready to relax and enjoy your vacation!

What’s your best travel organizing tip?

December Donations

When sorting papers or dealing with mail, my clients often put aside requests from non-profit organizations, arts groups, and schools to make an “end of the year gift.”  The folder or pile grows and grows.

Well, the end of the year is around the corner!  Now is the time to pull out that folder or get to that pile of requests, and make your decisions.

Here’s what to do:

  • Find your folder or stack of donation requests.
  • Grab your checkbook, or your laptop if you pay online.
  • Sort requests by organization/group, and throw out multiple requests from the same place.
  • If you write checks, keep a list with the organization’s name and the amount you gave this year.  Use this list to be sure you get all the acknowledgement letters.
  • If you pay online, you should receive an email confirmation. Set up a file in your email program and file all the confirmation emails here.

With a few simple steps you’ll make your donations and be ready for tax time.