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.

Secret Storage & Fun Hooks

Inspired by my friend Casey’s blog post about cool decor on sale at Target (check out her interiors and inspiration at Loft & Cottage), I went to Target recently and found two new fun items to help keep your home organized.

  • Fun Hooks: Most kids won’t spend time hanging up their coat in a closet, and hooks are the way to go. These new character hooks could be a fun way to encourage your child to hang up their coat or backpack (check the hook weight limits). The characters make the hook more special than regular ones, and can help to distinguish where your child’s things need to go.




What deals have you found at Target lately?

Organizing LEGOs®

In 2008, in one of the first editions of The Neat Sheet, my email newsletter, I gave several ideas for organizing your LEGOs® in honor of the 50th anniversary of the amazing toy.

Parents ask me how to tame the LEGOs® all the time, so I'm sharing some new ideas. 

  • Drawers: The LEGO® Workstation offers a standing frame with a set of  6 cases that come out and can be carried around. The cases snap tightly to hold LEGOs®, and could be organized by project. This solution would help keep the little pieces or projects all in one area, and can be found at The Container Store, and other places online. Other shelving units like this could also be used for LEGO® storage.
  • Under the bed: Here's a creative DIY storage solution. This dad built  a rolling drawer, but the same thing could be created with a sturdy underbed container with shoeboxes inside as compartments. I love that a child can pull out the drawer and see all the LEGOs® in one spot. This makes it easy for the child to find what they want and put it away!  
  • Shelves: If your child likes to display LEGO® creations and you have some wall space, consider shelves. Here is a great playroom with display shelves and storage bins underneath.

And of course, there are tons of organization ideas on Pinterest. A word of caution: I think many of the solutions are too complicated for the typical child (and parent). 

The bottom line for LEGO® storage:

  • Keep it simple
  • Make it easy to access the LEGOs® and put them away
  • Watch how your kids play with LEGOs®, and get their input how to store/organize them - you might be surprised!

This article originally appeared in the March/April 2014 edition of The Neat Sheet.

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 and I can add the organization to the resource list.

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

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.

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 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!

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 your great ideas!

Favorite Container #9: Closet with Adjustable Shelving

A closet is one of my favorite containers for organizing the home. Whether it holds food, clothes, toys, games, party supplies, or winter coats, the closet is an important tool for keeping chaos at bay.

And I don’t mean because you can stuff things in and simply shut the door! A closet can provide a ton of storage. I’ve found that one of key elements to a functional closet is having shelving, and preferably, adjustable shelving.

I like adjustable shelving because it gives you the flexibility to move the shelves based on what you are storing. While fixed shelving (often in bedrooms) is better than no shelves at all, installing shelves that can move helps the closet adjust to whatever you decide to keep inside.

For example, the closet in my family room is filled with arts and crafts, photo albums, sewing items, and gift wrapping supplies. I was able to cut and install the shelving to fit perfectly around my Rubbermaid Wrap n’ Craft storage container.  But if I end up storing games or something else in here, I can lower the shelf height and use a longer shelf piece.

One of my favorite projects was converting our barely-useful hall closet into an awesome storage space. Originally this closet had the typical clothing bar and one high shelf, with a huge open space underneath. Suitcases, bags, the vacuum and my husbands work clothes ended up there, but there was a ton of unused space.

After installing adjustable shelves, this closet not only holds clothes, but also all our travel items, the beach towels and bags, and extra bedding. We picked the shelf height based on what we were going to store inside.

As soon as the cracked walls in my bedroom closet are fixed, I can’t wait to try out elfa shelving from The Container Store. Stay tuned for more on that project.

The bottom line: If you are creating a closet from scratch or re-doing an old closet, install adjustable shelving.

Kids Clothing Organizer

It’s back to school time! While I’m excited for the return to a more regular routine, it also means back to overseeing homework, packing lunches, and making sure the favorite shirt is clean.

One way to avoid arguments in the morning about what your child is wearing to school is to use an outfit sorter. It hangs from the rod in the closet and provides a slot for each day of the week. Your child chooses their outfits for the week ahead of time, maybe on Sunday (or the night before) and puts everything into the slot. Then in the morning it is so easy to grab the clothes and get dressed!

Not only does this pre-planning help alleviate some of the morning stress, it also teaches your child to be more independent.  It also helps you both find out if the favorite shirt is in the wash, avoiding last minute frustration.

Here are a few examples of clothing organizers:

For more on organizing your child’s room, check out my video from This Mom Needs Help!

Clearing Kids Room Clutter

Weed Constantly. To keep kids’ clutter at bay, I find “weeding” to be one of the most importantstrategies.

“Weed Constantly” is Strategy #3 in Kathy Waddill’s The Organizing Sourcebook: Nine Strategies for Simplifying Your Life (p. 85). This is one of my favorite organizing books because the ideas are accessible and really make sense.

I was reminded of the importance of weeding while working on my daughter’s room recently. Last week we came home with a few bags of new fall clothes for the start of school, but the dresser, closet and “clothes to grow into” bin were pretty full. Before putting the new things away, I started pulling out tops, skirts and pant from the dresser and asking her “does it still fit?”  There was some trying-on, but mostly we knew what had gotten small over the past few months. Not satisfied with the dresser, I also moved on to the closet – taking out the PJs, sweatshirts, dresses dance leotards, and soccer gear. And don’t forget about the shoes pushed way in the back of the closet, a sure sign that they no longer fit.

I was pretty shocked that even though we had sorted out the “too-small” clothes back in May, there were still a lot that now didn’t fit. I ended up with two bags of clothes, and happily took them to the my favorite local consignment store, The Little Fox Shop.

Since kids grow so quickly, weeding their clothes often is critical to maintaining an organized room. My rule is to get out clothes that don’t fit right away. Even if the clothes sit in your attic, garage or car for a bit before moving on to their next destination, getting them out of your child’s room is key.

Here’s another article on weeding kids rooms from my website.

Travel Tip: 4 Tips for an Organized Roadtrip

View detailsMore Travel Tips coming in from Neat Sheet readers!

These ideas come from my wonderful college roommate. Each summer she and her family take a multi-day roadtrip from their home in Oklahoma to see relatives in the southeast.

Here are some great ways she made the drive easier and reduced her car clutter during the roadtrip:

  • Pack a suitcase for the final destination, but use a smaller shoulder bag for the overnight stops. Just include the necessities – PJs, toiletries, and clothes for the next day. This means the bigger suitcase can stay packed in the car – and you don’t have to re-arrange everything each time you stop for a night.
  • Use a small laundry basket in the back seat to hold snacks and a trash bag. Contain the snacks and trash in the basket, making it easy to tidy up and keeping the rest of the car clean.
  • Designate one bag/backpack per child with their own books, games, DVD player, etc. When it’s time for an overnight stop, items go into the bag and can be carried to the hotel or camping site. Each child should be in charge of his/her own bag!
  • And here’s a tip for one you are home: Since my friend makes regular roadtrips, she decided to make one bin the “roadtrip box.” She put all the things she only uses on long car trips, such as the maps, picnic table cloth, travel cups, and car plugs for the electronics. Putting all these things in one place eliminates the chore of hunting it all down before the next trip.

I’m going to try out the small laundry basket idea and overnight bag on our next long road trip.  Happy travels!

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.

Entry Re-do: Small change, big impact

A few weeks ago a client and I had a breakthrough – we made a small change, but it had a big impact on her space.

This was a very small entry right after you open the front door, typical in many New England homes. On one side there was a closet, and on the other side there was an open area. In that open area the client had a row of hooks with a shelf above, and a bench with cubbies below.  That all made sense, and is often the set up I recommend to clients.

But this just never worked for her family of 5, including 3 boys. Why? The kids couldn’t really reach the hooks as they were too high, and the bench made it even harder to reach. The boys shoes would get jumbled in front of the cubbies, not often making it into the cubbies where they were supposed to be.

So after pulling everything out of the bench and off the hooks, we started to brainstorm ideas and the client said, what if we get rid of the bench?

We moved the bench and marveled at the amount of space that was left. Then we decided to take off the hooks and shelf, and lower it a few feet. Now the boys could easily reach the hooks – without the bench blocking the way – making it much easier for them to actually get their coats on the hooks! What a change!

And with the hooks down lower, the shelf was now at the right height to be a “landing pad” for the parents’ keys and phones, and also the basket of incoming mail.

While the bench went to another room, we kept the baskets from the cubbies and just put them on the floor – one for each child.  Now that they were open on the top, it was much more likely that the shoes would end up in the basket.

Now that this side of the entry was 100% more functional for the kids, we decided that the closet would be just for the parents. We cleaned it out and purged some items, but now parents’ coats, shoes and gear all had a home.

What a great transformation with a few small changes!

What Happens to Your Donated Clothes and Kids Toys?

Ever wonder what happens to the clothes and toys that you donate? Last week my daughter and I found out what happens with donated items at Cradles to Crayons. A Boston-based non-profit organization, Cradles to Crayons provides the essentials through donated clothes, shoes, toys and school supplies to homeless and disadvantaged children.

My daughter and I were very excited to work at Cradles to Crayons “Giving Factory,” the very creative name for their warehouse of donated goods. We arrived and immediately found lots of helpful staff and volunteer workers.  Once all the volunteer groups were assembled, we all had an introduction to the goals of Cradles to Crayons and saw the end product of the donations: a bag with a week’s worth of clothing, shoes, toys and school supplies for a child.

There are many steps that happen before that bag gets filled for a child. The first step is “Triage” – this is the first sort of donated items to be sure they meet Cradles to Crayons high standards.  Toys and school supplies go to one area, while clothes are then sorted by gender. 

Next the clothing is sorted. This is where my daughter and I worked. She loved sorting types of clothes – shirts, pants, dresses – into the appropriate size bins. We started with a large industrial-size laundry bin of a type of clothing. We looked to make sure each item met the quality standards and then sorted it by size. Working with other volunteers, over two hours we sorted at least for of the huge bins. Later we found out that our work at just the sorting station helped approximately 165 kids!

After the clothes are sorted by gender and size, they go to the Outfit area. Here volunteers put together clothing to make complete outfits. Cradles to Crayons strives to give a child a week’s worth of clothing.

Finally. other volunteers get to go “Shopping” where they pick out outfits, shoes, toys and school supplies from The Giving Factory shelves for a specific child. All they know is the child’s name, gender and age.

This was an extremely well-run volunteer experience, and I was so impressed with the work of this organization. My daughter and I can’t wait to go back.