Hidden Labels

Want to let everyone in your house know where things go, but don't like the look of everything labeled? 

Try putting the labels inside a drawer or cabinet. A client and I set up these useful labels all along the inside rim of her utility drawer. Now the whole family will know where to find what they are looking for.

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? 

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!

Cool Closet Idea: Recycle a Record

At a flea market I noticed that a vendor had used an old 45rpm record as a way to divide garments for sale on a rack. I love how it was recycled into a divider!

I have a few 45s (yes, still in my attic) but don’t have any way to play them. I’m thinking of using them as dividers in my daughter’s new closet to separate out her dressy outfits from school clothes.

Would you try this?

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: TVs & Computer Monitors

Older TVs and computer monitors can be heavy and bulky, and because they have cathode ray tubes, or CRTs, with toxic chemicals they can’t just go out with your trash. This means they end up in the corners of our homes gathering dust. I find often find them tucked under a chair or table in the family room, the office, or even the basement.

So how do you get these out of your house?

  • If you are getting a new TV delivered, many companies (like Best Buy) will remove and recycle the old one for you.
  • If you can’t take advantage of a take-away service, then check with your town to see if they offer a CRT recycling program. In my town you can bring your TV or monitor to the Department of Public Works and for a small fee, they will dispose of it for you. For a larger fee, the DPW will pick up the TV curbside in front of our homes, a few times a year.
  • Want to donate your old TV (especially if it still works) or computer monitor? The Salvation Army also accepts electronics/appliances, including TVs and computers, and many Goodwill locations are now taking computers.

You’ve got no excuses now to get your TVs and old computer monitors out of your house.

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.

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.

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?

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 around...so 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!

One Thing Leads to Another

The time has come…we are having our kitchen remodeled!

Well, remodeled isn’t actually the best word since we don’t have much to remodel. I think of it as starting from scratch since we’ll be adding cabinets and counters, and modern conveniences like a dishwasher and disposal.

Since we won’t have use of the kitchen for many weeks, we will set up a temporary kitchen in our dining room with the fridge, microware, and crockpot. Of course, this meant that we’ve had to move things around in the dining room to make it function as a kitchen. We now have metal shelves set up, ready to hold our pantry supplies and some basic dishes. My daughter’s art table has been relocated upstairs, and the sideboard goes into the attic.

Ah, the attic. So to make room in the attic for the sideboard and all the boxes of kitchen things we won’t use during the remodel, we had to put away all those things that hadn’t found their way back to where they belong. Even though I go through things in the attic once or twice a year, they seem to multiply after I shut the door. So my other tactic has been to purge, purge, purge along the way.

And just so no floor in our house goes untouched, the kitchen project of course affects the basement, where the contractors will need to store things and come in and out. My husband has been amazing in this area, leaving no corner untouched. Screens that don’t match any of our windows – gone! Broken wood from our porch repair – gone!

I know firsthand that moving stuff from one room to another inevitably means something else gets moved or turned upside down.

If you are facing a big organization project (home remodel, turning an office into a baby’s room) don’t get discouraged. Make a plan and a list. Keep it in perspective. Work on one area at a time.  Get rid of as much stuff you don’t use as you can. And if you need help, call a friend for a few hours, or contact That’s Neat! Organizing.

Look for more tips on how I keep my sanity during the renovation project.

Time to Pause and Purge

My house was built in the 1890s and offers endless opportunities for “home improvement” projects…painting, plastering, replacing wiring, squeaky doors and floors…there is always something to fix.

I’ve realized that an unexpected benefit of home projects is the opportunity to reflect on our things. When things get moved around, it’s the perfect time to pause and purge.

For example, last year we upgraded our wiring, which meant that everything in my attic had to move so that the floor boards could come up, and wires and cables could be dropped down through the walls to the second floor. All my semi-organized things moved from one side of the attic to the other, or got piled up in another room.

Finally the wiring was complete and it was time to put everything back. Yikes, what a project! As I started in I was surprised to discover an old bent bed frame that was tucked in the attic corner when we moved in. Hmm, why were we keeping that?

Then I started to to take a closer look and realized other things could go. The waffle iron box for the waffle iron that broke three years ago? Gone. Several other empty boxes for things we no longer had—gone. Broken fans and carpet remnants—gone. Yes, that is part of what was in my attic, and I’m a professional organizer!

My next step was to group and sort the things we were putting back. A big revelation was to keep outgrown baby/child equipment together to go through at another point. We set aside some boxes of books to pare down later, and started a box of small items to donate.

This project was a reminder of how easy it is to stuff our stuff into storage spaces, only to be forgotten! So the next time you are forced to move things around—whether it is a closet or your entire attic—be sure to take the time to pause and purge.

More attic posts: