Holiday Organizing - and Some Old World Memories

Holiday Organizing - and Some Old World Memories

Snow crunching underfoot, houses outlined in sparkly lights, the smell of freshly baked cookies wafting out of the kitchen--the holidays are here again!

Christmas always takes me back to warm memories of my mother’s nanny, Molly. My grandmother died in 1948 and Molly came over from Denmark to LA to look after my mom and her two siblings. She was a true mother to those kids and a grandmother to me. She loved Christmas, and every year she covered coffee tins with contact paper and filled them with her famous Danish currant cookies to give as gifts. My mouth waters just remembering their buttery texture. But what really makes me think of Molly is when I take out my Christmas boxes and carefully unpack the handmade yarn Santas she gave to my mother before she died. These Old World Danish decorations bring the holiday spirit into my home like nothing else I own.

While I was decorating and remembering Molly this past week, I started thinking about holiday organizing and how beneficial a good system is. Let’s face it: by the end of the season we all feel the temptation to simply stuff everything in boxes as quickly as possible and get them out of sight for another year. But there are other ways to do this that lessen stress, free up time, and create some welcome ease. It just takes a little planning. Next year, when the season rolls around again, I’m always glad I did it.

I thought I’d share some tips and tricks that make my holidays a breeze:

  • The Container Store sells affordable, see-through boxes in different sizes that will accommodate small items like table decorations and ornaments or larger items like wrapping paper and garlands (or to save money, you can hang on to segmented wine boxes and cardboard egg cartons to store ornaments and breakable items)

  • Label all boxes in full capital letters for easy readability (I use a label maker but you can also print them or neatly hand-write them)

  • Designate “open first” boxes to streamline your decorating

  • If it’s broken, if you hate it, or if you never use it, give it away or properly dispose of it

  • Test light strings before putting them away to make sure you’re ready to go next year

  • Wind light strings around cardboard and stack them in a bin to save you from detangling a mess next year

  • Keep a stash of “neutral gifts” already wrapped to give to guests who show up with an unexpected gift for you; olive oil, chocolate, wine or candles

  • Keep a list for next year of items you know you’ll need, or shop the after-Christmas sales to get inexpensive lights and decorations to pack away 

When it comes to anything in my home, seasonal or otherwise, my philosophy is pretty simple. I ask myself: Do I use it, do I love it, do I appreciate it? Any item I have must clear at least one of these hurdles. It seems to me that the holidays are an especially good time to ask myself these questions as I get out things I don’t see that often.

You’ll be happy to know that Molly’s Santas received my highest rating--a thumbs-up in each category. They’re staying.

Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Happy Whatever Holiday You Celebrate, and, of course, Happy Organizing!

Written by: Sheryl Hadley, President & Founder

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Not Just Another Pretty Screen: Digital Desktop Tuneup

Since more than 75% of American adults use computers either at home or at work, it’s probably time we got better at learning how to clean and organize them. I recently saw a computer desktop that had hundreds of files scattered across it like a bad case of screen acne. It made me realize that a cluttered computer desktop has the same unbalancing effect as a cluttered desk surface in your home or office - it makes you feel chaotic and mildly out of control.

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Before we get into the nitty, let’s attack the gritty. Dr. James Francis, a British microbiologist, did a study a few years back in which he took samples from 33 office keyboards in London. He then compared these culture samples to swabs taken from toilet seats in the same buildings. Yup, you guessed it. The average office keyboard had germ levels up to five times higher than those commonly found on a toilet seat.

So what do you say we clean these germ factories up?

First power down everything. If you’re a stickler, you’ll want to go with purchased cleaners and cloths that are meant for computer use. If not, you can use common household items.

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Clean your screen with a microfiber cloth or a cotton bandanna, as paper towels can scratch. Spray the cloth, not the screen, with an equal mix of vinegar and water and wipe carefully.

Use a dry paintbrush to dust the keyboard. A Post-It note folded over will get out any stubborn crumbs or mysterious substances (or you can blow off the keyboard with an air compressor for the same result). A Q-tip lightly dipped in alcohol will clean between the keys--just make sure no liquid finds its way below decks.

Lastly, clean the desk or area your computer is on. Wrap and label cables and get them out of sight.

Now that the housing is cleaned up, let’s get to the interior of your system. I’ll just give broad advice, and you can adapt the general ideas accordingly depending on whether you use a Mac or a PC.

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First you need to decide which files can stay and which can go. Downloads you still haven’t referenced, large video files you’ll never watch again, rough drafts of reports long submitted...highlight all the ones you don’t even have to think about getting rid of and drag them en masse to the trash can. Don’t get into the micro details right now--just put any you’re not sure of into a Pending folder you can sort through over time. You should be left with only those files that are active and that you’re sure you want to keep.

Like any organizational project, you have to occasionally use a tool to simplify the process. In this case: folders. Set up folders labeled with the same general categories you use in your paper filing system--Home, Finances, Work, etc. You can also set up subfolders within these categories, but beware of going too deep with these. Now reassign the remaining files on your screen into the proper folders and organize them into a row from your pull-down menu.

If you automatically save to your desktop, folders will now allow you to save directly into the correct one. How fabulous is that? When labeling, make sure you’re concise but detailed so you can access the file you want efficiently.

Files you don’t want to get rid of but also don’t need to access often (if at all) can go into an Archives folder.

With your screen looking a little more Zen, snazz it up with a new wallpaper, and now let’s make sure your operating system is in tip-top shape.

  • Get rid of apps you don’t want from your applications folder by using an uninstaller to capture the app plus all the associated files that can hang around and hog space.

  • Update your antivirus software and run a full scan.

  • Set your computer to use automatic updating to make sure your software is the latest and greatest. (Software obtained through these channels is trustworthy.)

  • Clear internet data. As you surf around on the internet, you drag along bits and pieces that eventually slow down your system.

  • If you’re trying to protect your privacy, you have to delete both text-based cookies and flash cookies. Different browsers use different methods. You can research them here.

  • Back up to the cloud or any external system that works for you.

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Sitting down with your cup of morning coffee to a sparkly clean and organized computer is a fabulous way to kick off your day. Set aside 15 minutes at the end of your work week to clean up folders, delete items, and make sure your screen is fresh-faced for the next week. Your Monday morning will thank you.

Happy Organizing!

Why “The Container Store” will always be “The Candy Store” to Me

Okay. It’s time for a true confession. It’s been a while since the last one when I revealed that I, the Maven of Minimum, have three ice-cream makers. I know--shockers! Well, here’s the next big reveal.

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The Container Store is my favorite place to shop.

I love it so much that, yes, my colleagues and I here at Org & Relo refer to it as The Candy Store. They have a sweet solution no matter what your taste, their service is impeccable, and their products cater to all design styles and tastes. Bottom line, if you shop there you simply can’t go wrong.

(You should know that I don’t get paid or perked for telling you this. I’m just a fan, spreading the word.)

Since I buy much and often here, I thought it might be fun to tell you about my five favorite candy store items. These are my go-to organizing top picks for almost any job I’m on.

Linus Drawer Organizers

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Linus clear organizers come in several shapes and sizes and are perfect for bathroom, kitchen (drawers, pantry, fridge), crafts, and anywhere that drawers or cupboards need to be whipped into shape. You can use the deep ones for kitchen junk drawers and bathroom cosmetics and the shallow ones for cutlery and utensils. All you need to do is take the inside measurements of the drawers you’re organizing, go to The Candy Store, and then map out the Linus products on the floor until you get the right config for your plan. It’s the best kind of puzzle! Make sure you consider in advance how you want to divide and store your items so that you get the sizes that work best, and use the same depth for each drawer for a consistent look. You can also use them on shelves or open surfaces--the non-slip rubber feet keep them solidly in place.

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Frosted Totes

These simple bins that come in small and large will work in many different areas of your home. I love them in the bathroom to corral larger bottles like moisturizer and mouthwash or under the sink for hairdryers and brushes. You can also use them in your child’s room for toys since they’re light and easy to grab, on the coat closet shelf for gloves and hats, or inside your entertainment center for DVDs. Put a couple small ones on a pantry shelf for loose granola bars, kids’ snacks, or random jars that always seem to be traveling around without warning.

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Chrome Cupboard Shelf

I use these to eliminate dead space in under-the-sink cabinets (in these areas often the plumbing can get in the way of shelving options) or any place where I need to make better use of vertical space. Take an overview of your kitchen and pantry cabinets and see how these can magically create more space, especially in a tiny kitchen. They also make taking down stacks of dishes easier when they’re separated instead of being piled in one gargantuan stack. One of the things I love best about The Candy Store is how much thought goes into the design of the products they carry: in this case, the wires are flat to hold items securely and the lip at the back stops things from sliding.

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Clear Storage Boxes

These inexpensive plastic boxes are transparent enough that you can easily see the contents on lower shelves, but it’s a good idea to label them when using them for storage. All kinds of random collections can go into them: gift wrap, winter wear, first aid items, fabric swatches, kids’ crafts, as well as what they are designed for: shoes, accessories, and sweaters. A smart move when storing shoes is to take a picture of each pair, affix it to the front of the box, and then stack the boxes with the photos facing out; makes it super easy to select your footwear.

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Huggable Hangers and Ultra-Slim Finger Clips

This seems like a small thing, but I assure you it’s not. You know how you used to buy all those different hangers for skirts and dress pants? Well, those days are over! Grab a few stacks of huggable hangers (great for maximizing space in your closet) and then add a couple boxes of clips. Now with two quick squeezes you can transform a shirt hanger into a skirt hanger--and then transform it back, any time you want. Plus the hangers match each other and give your closet a thoughtful, consistent look. A professional organizer’s dream!

Keep this in mind as you cruise the aisles of The Candy Store, looking to satisfy your personal cravings: 51% of anything is looks and 49% is function. I firmly believe that if you don’t think it looks good, it will not function for you. So make sure you buy what you love; then sit back and watch it work its magic!

Happy Organizing!

Back to School... Again! How to Save Money and Time by Shopping at Home First

One of my favorite things to do as a professional organizer and productivity consultant is introduce my clients to the concept of shopping at home. I know I’ve mentioned this before, but now that it’s back-to-school time, let’s dive into it with a little more depth.

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When things are in their place and we know where that is, we tend not to  become repeat buyers--as in purchasing things we already have. For example, when we buy dish soap we usually put it under the sink, right? When it’s gone we replace it, and so on. But when we’re buying items that don’t have an obvious place, sometimes they get stashed elsewhere and then we forget about them. How many times have you opened a low-rotation cupboard to find something you were looking for that you’ve maddeningly since replaced?

Getting ready for back to school is a perfect time to survey anything you may have tucked away “for later” and to shop at home in general. Before you head out with your kids to purchase all new stuff, do these few simple things to save your family time and money.

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  • Go through clothes--including shoes and coats--with your children to establish what needs to be donated, what should be tossed, and what can be passed on to a sibling or friend. Children grow so quickly that they often don’t have enough time in the saddle to truly wear clothes out, so hand-me-downs at younger ages tend to be less worn. Once you’ve done this and have a solid idea of what they have, you’ll have a better concept of what they need.

  • If you didn’t do this at the end of the school year, now is the time to empty, clean, and spruce up backpacks. Shake them out outside, and use a damp cloth to rid them of crumbs and other mystery items. Good quality backpacks are essential for kids since they have to carry several textbooks every day, so if your child is making a move from a kid pack to a more adult version, look at what your family has for day hikes that might be suitable and let them trade up that way.

  • Go through last year’s school stuff to see what can be salvaged in terms of binders, folders, lined paper, pencils, markers, pens. Get rid of anything that doesn’t need to limp along for another year and then sort through what’s left. You can divide the used items among your children and then round out their needs by purchasing a few new things for each of them.

  • If you’re someone who buys things when they’re on sale to be used down the line, check out the area where you stash that stuff (with luck you know where that is!) to make sure you didn’t tuck anything away that would work for back to school.

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  • Don’t head straight to department stores--see what you can find first in the world of discount retailers or thrift stores, especially for shoes and clothing. If your kids refuse to shop there, don’t hesitate to buy for them to try on at home; discount retailers all have super smooth return policies. (I have a friend whose middle-school daughter’s favorite jacket was a $3 thrift store buy. She just neglected to mention where she got it!)

 Getting your kids ready for another year at school doesn’t have to break the bank. By shopping at home to reuse and upcycle you can save time and money while teaching your children valuable life lessons in the process. How’s that for a win-win?

 Happy Organizing!

Storing Schoolwork, Artistic Masterpieces, and Precious Papers... Oh My!

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You know the drill. The school year ends and your kids come home with the special things they’ve kept in the classroom all year; paintings, drawings, maps, awards, reports, essays, and projects. The really young ones want their creations hung up for the world to admire, and you can’t help but marvel as the years pass at how they’ve learned to sign their names, capture a flower, or draw a torso wearing a shirt instead of just a belly button.

The question is: what to do with it all?

Since we’re all about systems at Org&Relo, I’m going to offer up two--one soft, one hard--that might work for you to keep the kids’ paper tornado from taking over your house, one smiling stick figure at a time.

Soft Copy System

This solution is by far the least labor intensive--as well as being a space saver. The art or schoolwork comes through the door, gets photographed, gets stored in a file on your computer, and the hard copy gets tossed. No fuss, no muss! But if throwing away your mini Picasso’s work breaks your heart, you might consider the next option.

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 Hard Copy System

  • Designate a Temporary Holding Station

You can use a magazine box, a file folder, or a clear plastic box with a lid--whatever you choose, assign one for each child. For larger artwork, we recommend the underbed drawer from The Container Store. Then as the papers arrive during the year, you can decide with your child what’s special enough to keep and store it inside. (A good rule of thumb is that if it’s deserving enough to be in a frame or photo album, it stays.) This helps them choose what is valuable to them and also helps them learn how to let go of things that don’t have a gold star in their eyes.

  • Date... Everything!

If items aren’t dated, take a moment to add a date on the back of each paper. This will keep a chronology of your child’s progress and will make the pile easier to sort when it comes time to create a more permanent home.

  • Sort with Your Child’s Help

Once the end of the school year arrives and you’ve gathered the full nine months of your child’s precious papers, sit down with him or her and go through what you’ve kept during the year. Sometimes it’s easier to purge when the entire collection is in one place. Encourage your child to think about what’s important to keep and what he or she won’t miss if it’s added to the recycle bin.

  • Use a Binder and Sheet Protectors

Assign a large binder and insert the art into sheet protectors. Use tabs to label by year or semester. Since binders are bulky and take up valuable storage, you only want to have one per child (which also helps in the winnowing process). I’m not usually a fan of binders; some people like to jam them with random papers they don’t want to go through and then use them as an excuse to look organized. (You know who you are!)Keep in mind that this won’t be something that just gets shoved away in a dark closet. They are keepsakes that kids revisit to examine their growth and progress.

Once you’ve created this system, it’s easy to add to it as the papers arrive home. If that works, you could give up the holding station and just keep the binder stacked with empty sheet protectors.  You can create the same hard-copy system using a file box with folders for each child, but it doesn’t make it as easy for them to pull out and examine like a photo album.

Neither of these systems accounts for the inevitable 3-D artwork made from clay, papier-maché, or other mystery substances. Professional Organizer Peter Walsh has views on those: “If you or your child really want to hold on to the piece, make sure that it is displayed in a way that not only honors its importance but also protects it from dust and damage.  If a piece is not honored and respected then it has no place in your home--whether it's a science project or a family heirloom.”

Touché! I couldn’t agree more.

Happy Organizing!

One Barbie at a Time: Organizing Your Kids’ Rooms (with Their Help)

Some kids are convinced that a room is clean if everything is shoved in the closet and out of sight; others think that as long as they keep their door closed, no one will be the wiser. We adults know better.

Now that another school year is filed away and the kids are home during the day, it’s a perfect time to take on organizing their rooms. Incorporating your child into the process is the only way to go; if (usually in a fit of “I can’t stand it any more!”) you do it yourself, you’ll end up always doing it yourself and you won’t empower your children toward their own independence.

Julie Morgenstern, author of Organizing from the Inside Out, recommends that you be an “organizing consultant” to your children. Sit down with them and make a list of what they want in their bedrooms, along with what’s working and what’s not. Do they want an art headquarters? How important is an easily set up sleepover zone for friends? Are they bookworms or dress-up queens? What’s most important to them?

Once you’ve come up with a list that accurately represents what they want, set aside a couple of days that work for them and for you, get all hands on deck, and start the transformation.

Linda, one of Org&Relo Boulder’s Professional Organizers and mother to two teenagers, says that kids respond to structure. “Our job as parents is to impose structure, and their job as kids is to push back against it. Even though they may say they don’t like it, their actions say otherwise. Over and over again I saw how much more my kids relaxed when they knew what was expected, what their parameters were, and what was next.”

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Start by simplifying, sorting, and storing. Simplify things by inviting your kids to help choose which outgrown toys and clothes can be passed on to other children. It’s never too early to introduce them to the concept of passing on well-loved items to others in need! Show them how to sort like toys with like, and delegate those with small parts--legos, doll clothes, blocks--into piles that they can corral in clear plastic boxes with lids. Label these using a large font or even with picture labels if your children are pre-readers, and store them on shelves they can access.

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Make sure the solutions fit the child. Take their height into consideration, and organize from the ground up. If you’re working with a younger age group, you want cubbies they can reach, lower shelves, step stools for light switches or higher shelves, and kid-size hangers in the closet. Let them choose what goes where. Think about hooks for hoodies and backpacks and hanging organizers or large baskets for action figures or stuffed animals. For the younger set you might want to organize and keep art supplies out of reach until you are sure they can use them unsupervised--high shelves that aren’t reachable with that step stool are perfect.

Maria Montessori, the Italian physician and educator who developed the Montessori system of education in the early 19th century, used a simple system in her classroom to keep her students engaged. She would display only so many materials for them to work with at a time on the shelves, and others would be packed away. Then she would remove the old ones and display the new ones. Adapt this logic in your younger children’s rooms. Instead of having everything out all at once, keep some toys and books sequestered and rotate things in and out on a bi-monthly basis. You’ll be amazed how fewer things can hold a young child’s attention for longer!

Implementing an organizing routine at a young age will make everyone’s life easier in the long run. Assign tasks that give your kids a sense of empowerment. Making their beds in the morning, picking up books and toys in the afternoon, and straightening the desk or dresser before bed helps them understand that even a little order can be a beautiful thing. Everyone sleeps better. Just a few minutes a day here and there gets them used to--and, with luck, desirous of!--a clean space to play and entertain their friends.

Happy Organizing!