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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Get Rid of the Front Door Shoe Pile

How do I deal with all the shoes? It's one of the top questions I hear from clients. If you have piles of shoes by your front door, here are some tips and products to try:

First, reduce the pile of shoes by the door. Keep only the pairs you wear regularly by the door, the rest need to go into your clothing closet or other area. This may mean keeping only 2-3 pairs per person in your house. 

Next, find the right storage solution:

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  • Several clients have had good luck with the slim IKEA shoe cabinet. It's small enough to fit in even the narrowest of hallways. 
  • A shelf can be practical, but be sure it is sturdy wood or metal with at least two levels and that your shoes can fit the shelves. Don't get a shelf that snaps together as they tend to not hold up.
  • Try this modern rack for shoes and accessories, and can even accommodate heels 
  • For kids shoes, this caddy keeps 3 pairs upright, making it easier for any child to find the shoes they need.

Make it routine: If you have a new place for shoes, be sure to tell your family and help make using the new container routine. Here's a creative reminder a client used with her family. 

Backpack Storage

Problem: Your child's backpack ends up all over the house...in the kitchen, in the living room, near the shoes, but never in the same spot. 

Solution: Give the backpack a "home," a set storage place where it goes every day once it is unpacked. Yes, every day. This is a routine even young elementary school students can master. Even if you don't have a dedicated mudroom, you can find a place for the backpack. 

Backpack storage ideas:

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  • Give it a "drop spot" by using a basket placed on the floor. My 8th grader has been using this basket for her backpack since Kindergarten. Even when we were in the midst of a long home renovation project and the basket was relocated to a new spot, it was a visual cue for where to put her backpack.
  • Use a hook, at the correct height for your child to reach. 
  • Stash it in a cubby. Many homes have built-in cubbies, but make sure your child can reach it.

Organized Travel: Packing Strategies for Every Kind of Trip

Want to try to be more organized while away? Here are a few strategies depending upon your trip:

  • Tour trip where you are in a different place nearly every night. For this kind of travel, you are packing and unpacking daily, which can mean in a few days your bag or suitcase is a jumble of clean and dirty clothing. Try this strategy: before you leave, create complete outfits for each day and put each outfit in a large 2 gallon clear plastic bag. Yes, this requires planning ahead of time, but it can completely streamline your morning routine while away. Take out the clothing for the day, and put in yesterday's dirty laundry. My in-laws recently were on this kind of trip and learned this idea from a fellow traveler. The woman who was using this strategy was considering finding a post office to mail several of her bags of dirty laundry home!
  • For a cruise or other vacation where you'll stay in a spot for several days in a row, you can unpack more into the room. Even when I unpack I like to keep clothing organized in these packing cubes, which I've posted about before. 
  • No matter where you go, choose clothing pieces that can mix and match easily, and bring layers. Don't over pack shoes (a common problem), bring a casual pair, a dressy pair, and sneakers or walking shoes. 
  • Don't forget to seek out laundry options along the way on your travels, so you don't have to take so many clothes. One family we often travel with likes to do laundry right near the end of the trip so they don't have to deal with all the laundry as soon as they are home. 
  • Read here for more tips to make the return to home easier. 

Happy travels!

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? 

Secret Storage for an Organized Bedroom

Is your bedroom peaceful, calm and organized? If not, consider furniture with secret storage. 

  • Many beds come with storage drawers underneath. This is great for kids - and adults! The deep drawers are perfect for tucking away linens, or bulky clothing like sweaters and sweatshirts.
  • Want a clear dresser surface? This cool dresser (see photo) has a top that lifts up to reveal shallow storage perfect for jewelry.
  • Don't forget about ottomans with storage. They not only provide a place to sit, but do double-duty providing a space for blankets or clothing. 
 Hidden jewelry storage

Hidden jewelry storage

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

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. 

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…”

Organizing for School Lunches

School starts next week in our town and I’ve already been hearing many mom friends lament that it will soon be time for the arduous task of making school lunches. For many this seems to be quite a chore, so here are 5 ways to streamline school lunch-making:

 

  • Have your fridge and pantry set up for easy lunch making. Here’s one idea for using clear bins in your fridge. I have a “snack” bin in our pantry; my daughter knows that she can select 1-2 items from the bin for her lunch.  Also have your containers and wraps easily accessible in your kitchen. Here’s my organized food container drawer, which makes it easy to find what we need.
  • Devise an easy “recipe” for school lunches. As I mentioned, we came up with a formula of 2 fruits, 1 veggie, 1-2 snack items + sandwich and a drink. Find a formula that works for your family. You may end up packing nearly the same thing every day and if your child likes it, great!
  • Empty lunchboxes when kids get home from school each afternoon. There is nothing worse than opening a lunchbox or container and finding the smelly remnants of a previous meal. If lunch boxes get emptied and cleaned every day (have your kids do this!) they will be ready for filling that evening or the next day.
  • Have your kids buy lunch at school. This plan saves many families, even if the kids buy lunch only 1-2 days a week. At my house I print out the monthly lunch calendar and my daughter looks ahead and circles the days she wants to buy lunch.
  • Finally, don’t forget to get input from your kids on what they want for lunch. Sometimes my daughter has asked for surprising lunch items based on what she’s seen friends eat at school.

What are your clever solutions for school lunches?

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.

Laundry List: How to Un-stick Your Laundry Process

Confession: I don’t mind doing the laundry. I use it as a “background” task while I’m doing other things around the house. I also enjoy folding and putting it away.

Most people don’t feel this way, and that often the laundry gets stuck at various points in the process. Here are some tips to keep it moving along:

  • Problem: Hate going into your laundry room? Solution: Clean it out, maybe even give it a fresh coat of paint. Read more in my laundry room essentials post.
  • Problem: A mountain of clean laundry that never gets put away. Solution: Is the problem where the laundry goes…are dressers and closets over stuffed? Clean them out and make room. Donate or give away those pieces you never, ever wear. Also, be sure you have dressers that open easily—especially critical for kids if you have any hope of them putting their clothes away.
  • Problem: Sorting laundry takes forever and never seems to end. Solution: Do laundry for each person on a different day. Many families find this works really well. If you are washing and drying one person’s laundry you also avoid the sorting step!  One mom I know uses mesh laundry bags and throws the whole bag into the washer. She uses a shout stain catcher so colors don’t mix.  Another idea: get others in your family to do their own laundry.
  • Problem: Socks without a mate. And the huge pile of socks to be matched.  Solution #1: Each person gets a zipper mesh bag just for socks. Put dirty socks in the bag, then put the whole bag into the washer. Solution #2: Buy all the same kind/color of sock. Trust me, this works. Solution #3: Try Sock-Locks to keep your socks together before they get washed.

If you can’t face your laundry room or want some new ideas on the process, contact me today. Email elizabeth@thatsneatorganizing.com.

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.

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?

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!

Product Review: Command Picture Strips – Display what you love!

I’m a big proponent of displaying kids artwork and family photos. A few months ago my hallway was painted and now my husband and I had to hang back up all our family photos.

Hanging anything in our old home is a challenge because nothing is straight or level, but we tried a new product that helped: Command™ Picture Strips. Like Command™ Hooks, you measure and adhere the strips to the wall first, and then put the other side of the strip on the frame.

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The Picture Strips worked so well, and the best part is that they won’t ruin our beautifully-painted walls if we decide to take the frames down.

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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.