Easy Paper Organizing: Deal With and Done Boxes

This clever idea comes from a friend who recently moved. She set up this new paper management system near where she opens mail and pays her bills.

Here's how the simple system works: she opens her mail, weeds out all the junk, and then puts the paper in the appropriate box. "Deal With" means just that = paper that needs to be acted upon (bill to pay, form to fill out) and "Done" = file. When Done is overstuffed, she knows it's time to file the papers she wants to save. 

This is a great system for people who need visual reminders, and helps combat the creation of piles. The boxes can also be quickly tucked away if needed. 

Recipe Organization: There's an App for That!

We all love to cook in my house, so we have a good-size collection of cookbooks and a few favorite cooking magazines. I also have lots of paper recipes I've saved from websites and torn out of of magazines. My recommended method for keeping paper recipes is a binder system.

If you have folders or boxes of recipes and want to get rid of the paper, consider digital options:

  • Pinterest: While I wouldn't trade all my paper recipes for electronic versions, I have come around to using Pinterest. I've got all kinds of recipes pinned and categorized. I love how easy it is to use, and so visual. 
  • Paprkia Recipe Manager: This app works on all your platforms, and includes cool tools like built-in timers and the ability to cross off ingredients as you use them.
  • All Recipes Dinner Spinner: I often find recipes for a specific ingredient on the All Recipes website , so it makes sense that they offer an app. The app includes shopping lists and you can sort by favorite recipes or type of food. 
  • Your phone's scanner: You can also use your phone to take photos or scan paper recipes you want to save.

Cool and Clear Spice Organization

 

Always searching in your cabinet for the right spice container? This cool product makes spotting the spice you need even easier. 

SpiceBands are like headbands for your spice containers! Put them around the edge of the lid so you don't have to pick up the jar and read the label. If you have to store your spices in a cabinet, I still recommend a tiered shelf for spices, like I use in my kitchen. The colors and clear printing on the SpiceBands also help with visibility. 

And for more ideas on spice organization, read my previous post on creative spice organization

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15 Minute Organizing: Kitchen Utensils

Here’s a quick organizing project to clear through some kitchen clutter: organize your utensils.

  • Pull out all the utensils and tools, and put similar kinds together. You may discover that you have 5 spatulas and no whisks.
  • Pare down and only keep those that you really love to use.
  • Get rid of anything that’s broken. Donate good utensils that you never use.
  • Find a large enough jar to store them on your counter, or designate a drawer.

I like to keep the tools I use all the time out on the counter in various containers so I can quickly grab them while cooking. Yes I may have more than you’d expect, but they really all get used.

I keep the small ones in a small, colorful vase so they don’t get lost in the bottom of the larger container or back of a drawer. All the utensils sit right next to the stove within easy reach.

Tea Cozy (Corner)

One mantra for staying organized is to “keep like things together.” This is a key rule for the kitchen. I’ve got drawers designated for my food storage containers, a cabinet for spices, and a spot for making tea. I’m a daily tea drinker so one small cabinet contains tea, honey and the sugar bowl. My most-used tea stays in a small bin (made for kitchen cabinets), which I can pull down to select which tea bag I want.

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This tea cabinet is next to a larger cabinet with all the mugs and more specialty teas. On the counter underneath is the electric kettle and the tea pot, sitting on my favorite plastic tray. By keeping items on the tray I can quickly move the tea pot and kettle to a different area if I need more room on the counter.

(Don’t worry, coffee gets it’s own place in the kitchen too. My husband is the coffee drinker and makes a pot almost every day. The coffee maker, grinder, filters and his thermos stay together on a tray in the pantry.)

Need help with your kitchen? We can weed through the clutter and create a space you’ll love. Contact me today to get started!

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.

The Secret to Clearing Kitchen Cabinet Clutter

Large kitchen cabinets are easy magnets for clutter. Items get lost in the back and it’s hard to see what you’ve got stored in there.

In my client’s kitchen, the base cabinet had to function as the pantry; there was no other space to store food items. It was a typical cabinet configuration with one shelf in the middle. Cereal boxes, canned goods and boxed items were jumbled and hard to retrieve.

Often I try to use items clients already have in their house for storage, but sometimes there is the perfect product to solve a problem. In this case, the solution was a stand-alone elfa drawer unit from The Container Store.

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Designed specifically to fit in the cabinet, two of these drawer units filled the space, providing new storage and ease of access. We labeled the handles to know what category  of food (baking, snacks, dinner) to store in each drawer. There was even space on one side for the tall cereal boxes. Perfect!

The other option for this kind of cabinet is to install pull-out drawers. However, my client rents his home and couldn’t install any permanent solution in the cabinet. And when my client moves, he knows he can find another spot to use these stand-alone drawers.

Not convinced about drawers? Read here for more on why I love drawers in kitchens.

A Simple Solution: Pull-Out Drawer

A simple pull-out drawer: that's all it took for my mom to be able to use her kitchen again.

Last winter my mom, who is in her 70s, hurt her back, and getting pots and bowls out of her kitchen cabinets became nearly impossible.  As she recovered, I helped re-organize her kitchen to make it easier to use. At one point she said "I wish there was a way to get to the way back of the shelf without having to get down on my hands and knees."  I had no idea what she had to go through to find items in the back and lift out heavy pots.

Right away I knew that adding simple pull-out drawers was the answer.

I measured her cabinets and in one trip to the Container Store for these metal shelves , I had everything we needed. My husband and I easily installed the drawers in her cabinets, and they were ready to use. The drawers glide out effortlessly, so my mom can access what is in the back, without having to get down on the floor. Each drawer has a locking mechanism so when it is pushed back in, it stays in place.

Pull-out drawers are made to solve the problem my mom faced in her kitchen.

If you want to make your kitchen more functional (as I've written about before), consider adding pull-out drawers. Drawer options include the metal ones I used and bamboo drawers from The Container Store, or custom designed drawers from the company Shelf Genie.

This article first appeared in the September/October 2014 edition of The Neat Sheet. Sign up to receive the Neat Sheet newsletter here!

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?

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:

What’s in your Freezer?

Do you know what’s in your freezer? August is the time to get it cleaned out and organized. If you’ve been travelling a lot this summer, or just out having fun, you may have forgotten what’s sitting way in the back. And as an added bonus, when it’s hot outside you’ll appreciate a few minutes in the cold!

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To get started, read my blog post on organizing your freezer.

If you have a second fridge or freezer in the basement, a professional organizer friend had a simple way to keep track of what’s inside: she uses a magnetic white board on the outside of the freezer and keeps a running list. You don’t even have to open the freezer to know that you have chicken and sausages inside.

Here’s another option from my cousin Janna (organizer/photo stylist/maker-of-amazing linens): she keeps a freezer inventory in a three ring binder. Read more in her previous blog post here.

Since I often get freebie magnetic boards I’m going to try out that idea and see how it works.

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!

Favorite Container #11: Food Storage Container Drawer

“What do I do with my Tupperware®/food storage containers?” is one of the top questions I hear from clients when organizing their kitchen.

And with Thanksgiving around the corner (= leftovers), I thought it would be appropriate to focus on the food storage container drawer in my kitchen for this month’s post in My Favorite Container series.

Yes, a drawer can be a “container.” I’ve already highlighted my kitchen’s flatware organizer drawer…and another favorite part of my kitchen is the deep drawer where I keep my food storage containers.

Here are my tips for keeping your food storage containers organized:

  • Store in a drawer. A drawer is the best spot for food storage containers. It’s so simple to open the drawer and then see what you have. (Much better than having stacks of containers tipping on cabinet shelves.) Just make sure you can easily access the drawer.
  • Purge the containers you have. Do you really need stacks of leftover delivery containers? Do all your containers have a matching lid? Keep only the containers you use all the time.
  • Find a kind you like, whether glass or plastic, and then if you need to buy some new ones, buy similar shaped containers. Squares stack and fit well in a drawer, but as you can see, I also have some round containers as well.
  • Stack containers by shape. You can see my stacks of containers in the drawer. Makes it pretty easy to see what goes where. On the right side of the drawer are the smallest containers for my daughter’s lunch box.
  • Corral the lids in one container. Then it’s easy to see what you have. Or use the kind of containers where thelids stick to the bottom. You can also use drawer dividersto section off the lids in the drawer.

Wishing you many happy leftovers!

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!

Favorite Container #8: Desktop File

This month, August, I’m back to thinking about papers as the start of school approaches. I’ve been filling out school-related forms, signing my daughter up for after-school activities, and receiving lots of information from her new teams and groups.

My all-time favorite container for organizing papers and projects is a desktop file box. Here are the details:

What:  A box that is designed to hold hanging folders and files, and can sit on your desk or kitchen counter.

When to use it: Use this kind of box for your key files – files that you need to see all the time, and for current projects. My desktop file box always has these folders in it:

  • Camp Ideas (for my daughter)
  • Activities (for my daughter – things she may want to try)
  • To Buy
  • Family Meeting (any papers that my husband and I need to discuss)
  • Current Projects – Home (colors for a bedroom, estimates from the painter) Current Projects – Work

How to use it: Create hanging file folders for the key papers you tend to hold on to – not for every one, but what are the general categories of papers that end up on your counter or desk? Once you have the categories set, you can use individual manila file folders to separate papers inside the hanging folder if needed. Note: The categories may change over time as you see what kinds of papers you have, so don’t be afraid to change the folders.  No system is perfect at the beginning – you need to live with it and use it for a while to see what works.

Why to use it: A desktop file box helps move your papers from piles to vertical files, making them much easier to see! When you can see your papers, you can actually take them out and use them…and have a place to put them away.

Where to purchase: Basic desktop file boxes can be found at Staples and Office Max. Look on Amazon.com and The Container Store for file boxes in fun designs and natural materials.

See how a client set up her own Desktop File box in this blog post. For an idea on how to organize your financial papers, check out this recent Favorite Container post.

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!

Organizing from a Child’s Perspective

This week I helped a mom of two – with twins on the way – get through a few organizing projects. One of the goals was to organize items in a way that her children could access them on their own, because this mom is going to be busy when her new babies arrive!

One of the projects we tackled in the kitchen was to sort and organize the kids plastic plates, bowls, cups and utensils. They had been stashed in a few spots in the kitchen, so we gathered them up, sorted through to keep the best, and then relocated everything to a new home. We were able to claim a whole drawer that was now the designated “kids drawer.” Everything they’d need for meals was in there, and they could easily reach it. This client reported that her kids loved that they had their own space in the kitchen.

The other project was to get a closet filled with games, craft supplies and other items in better order. It was pretty well sorted and organized, but we brainstormed how to make it work even better. With the addition of the clear plastic drawers, the arts and crafts items now each had a storage spot – all labeled.  Many of the supplies had been stored in stacked plastic bins which is OK, but the drawers brought the items down to where the kids could easily see and access what they’d need.

Just a few changes should have a big impact on this family.

Favorite Container #1: Kitchen Drawer with Flatware Organizer

My first favorite container is: this drawer in my kitchen. Yes, a drawer! Drawers are often under-utilized containers in our homes. This organized drawer is one of the things I really and truly enjoy about the new kitchen.

I love that this drawer glides effortlessly open and close – unlike our old kitchen which had only two heavy old drawers that would fall out on your foot if you pulled them open too far.

I also love that this drawer is large enough and allows me to see everything at once.  The flatware organizer is a good size, plus it expands on either side so it can fit various drawer sizes. It’s similar to this one from The Container Store.

On the left side of the drawer I added another white container that I had from my old kitchen. It holds the less-used tools, and keeps them from becoming a jumble when the drawer is opened.

If you are re-doing your kitchen, I strongly recommend that you incorporate drawers for storage. From flatware, to food storage containers, to pantry staples and cooking pots, drawers are a great container for the kitchen.

If you have old drawers that don’t work well, get them fixed! We learn to live with a lot but fixing a few of these nagging problems around the home can give you a whole new outlook on your space. And don’t overstuff the drawers with things you don’t use.

For more kitchen storage tips, purchase my 12 Months of Organizing: Kitchen Storage Solutions 2013 Desk Calendar today!

Kitchen Storage Solutions: The 2013 Calendar is Available!

Happy New Year! Need inspiration to organize your kitchen?

Order my 12 Months of Organizing2013 Kitchen Storage Solutions Desk Calendar today.

This year’s calendar is filled with creative solutions for the most important room in your home: the kitchen! Co-created with my cousin, we share 12 of our favorite ideas to help you make your kitchen an efficient space. When your kitchen is simplified and organized, it’s easy to keep it looking good while working hard.

Hurry, supplies are limited. Order yours today!