As a professional organizer, I use the word simplify in my daily vocabulary. We’ve all heard the mantra “reduce, reuse, recycle”. But what not everyone recognizes is that ‘simplify’ is just a more palatable synonym for ‘reduce’. I’m, quite frankly, in the business of reducing. It’s no mistake that ‘reduce’ comes first in the mantra. Our culture often obsesses about the end game, but recycling is actually the last step. The goal is to acquire less, creatively reuse what makes sense and recycle what you can. The good news is there are many resources locally and nationally to help!
Shop with the idea of ENOUGH in mind. When you know what ‘enough’ is, your inventory of possessions stays consistent. Whether it’s in your pantry or your closet, keeping a consistent inventory of items is key to staying organized. Take this mindset with you to the grocery store and the mall and watch how decision-making changes. Do I really need this? Where will I put it? And how will I pay for it? Are three questions that change the way things flow into your life. Thinking outside the box is made easy with great alternatives to purchasing new items. Instead of buying a new second car check out a car-share program. Instead of getting a new dress for a one-time event, try renting instead. It is as simple as using your local library or Netflix instead spending a beautiful inside organizing your books and DVDs.
One of the biggest barriers for people who are ready to simplify their lives is the idea that there needs to be infrastructure to accommodate an organized lifestyle. In reality a significant amount of change can be made without any fancy new bins, cubbies or built in storage. This is because everyone has things to get rid of, but many people try to find a place to put them instead. There are simple tricks to identify what is excess. One of my favorites is to hang all of my clothes in the ‘wrong direction’ at the start of a new season, then as I wear items, turn the hanger back to the ‘right direction’ when I hang them again. If by the end of the season I have not worn something, as proven by the hanger position, I get rid of it. You can adapt this trick to work with lots of aspects of your life: books, holiday decorations, cleaning supplies, files, dishes, and sports equipment. This is a way to prove to yourself that it is unused and ready to be let go.
It has never been easier to resell, repurpose and reuse items. With eBay, Craigslist and Freecycle at your disposal, and even services that sell your items for you, cashing in on clutter is painless. Pickups can now be scheduled online for the Vets, Salvation Army and Goodwill. These well-known locations are only the tip of the iceberg. Sites like Earth911 pull together multiple resources so its one stop shopping to find the best home for your items. These outlets coupled with the resurgence of the DIY trend, popular on sites like Pinterest and Etsy, make this a great time to give your unwanted stuff new life!
It is possible to get stuck if you don’t know what to do with the items that you have already decided to get rid of. No one wants their home to look like a recycling center because they are paralyzed by all the rules. A green organizer knows the rules and helps you check with your local municipality to see what can be recycled. They also have resources for collections of special items. Some companies like ours take items to a warehouse where they are delivered to or picked up by proper companies.
Green organizers not only help you decide what to get rid and how to do it responsibly, they set up systems that work as long term solutions. When you want to get organized, think green! Reach out to an expert that can help you in making the right decisions about your stuff, your space, and your planet.
Today I’m excited to have a guest post from our friends at EZ Storage. They have locations in Monroeville, Ross Township and Greentree as well as some great storage tips!
No matter what type of house you have, most people share the common wish for more storage space. But you don’t need to blow your budget to make it come true. You might be surprised at the extra space you can find by simply turning a creative eye on your home. Use these suggestions for creating added home storage and maximizing the use of your space.
Divide and Conquer
Room dividers are the multi-taskers of home furnishings. They provide plenty of storage space while also offering design flexibility by creating separate areas and nooks. An open divider allows for decorative displays, or you might prefer one that includes cupboards to keep the contents out of view.
Think Vertical, Not Horizontal
Walls might not seem to offer obvious potential, but they’re actually an ideal vehicle for adding storage without sacrificing floor space. Colorfully painted crates make an attractive grouping to hold a variety of items. Mount pegboard or hooks to hang anything from tools to jewelry. Don’t forget to consider ceilings also. Suspending a rack to hold pots and pans can make up for limited kitchen storage.
Look Out Below!
Many structural and furnishing elements have space underneath that can be nicely utilized for storage. Staircases offer a treasure trove of opportunities, from closets to oversized drawers to “trap doors” on landings. Kitchen islands can greatly increase storage in a room that’s always crying out for more. Look for pieces like ottomans and benches that double as containers.
A Moveable Feast
Moveable storage lets you bring items out when they’re needed and hide them away when they’re not. A rolling cart makes an ideal dry bar or office “assistant”. Use a shower caddy to stash reading books, knitting supplies or any hobby materials. Stylish wicker baskets make attractive magazine racks or towel holders.
Reuse and Recycle
Take a look at some household items and pretend you’re seeing them for the first time. If you didn’t have a preconceived notion of what they were, how would you use them? Envision a spice rack as a workroom organizer for nuts and bolts. Who says a wine rack has to hold beverage bottles? Put one in the bathroom for lotions, shampoos and bath salts. Plastic ice cube trays can store anything from coins to buttons to jewelry.
Let these ideas jump-start your imagination and before long you’ll be a pro at finding those “hidden” spaces.
- Paul Benjamin, District Manager, EZ Storage
We look forward to spring for many reasons; warmer weather, longer days, blooming trees and flowers, spring break, free Rita’s Italian Ice (for those of you Pittsburghers out there)… the list goes on. You might notice that the phenomenon of spring cleaning did not make that list. The human instinct to migrate outdoors to attend to our neglected homesteads as the weather gets warmer gets a bad rap, but as you might imagine, I am a fan of this time of year. I am here to tell you how you can make spring cleaning more fun and less stressful!
Once the snow melts and the ice thaws you might notice some areas of the house that need attention. It can be overwhelming! At my house we created a preventative maintenance schedule so that we can stay on track instead of waiting to address problems until they are hemorrhaging. There are good checklists on House Master if you do not already have one.
Changing seasons offer a great opportunity to downsize. Did not touch your skis all winter? Still have not worn that fur coat or those winter boots that you have been trying to for years? Have the kids become teens and grown out of their sleds or other winter equipment? Use the seasons as a test. If you went all winter without using something, you probably will not use it next winter either! You can apply this to things that are not seasonal. For example, go through your pantry, donate the staples that you never use.
Make it FUN!
I know, I know, you do not think ‘fun’ and ‘spring cleaning’ should be in the same sentence. I always had the most fun with spring cleaning when my children were younger and always excited to help with projects like painting or gardening because they were also learning along the way. Re-frame spring cleaning as family bonding time instead of chore time. Introduce incentives. My kids participated in everything from dusting races to competitions on who could pull a bigger pile of weeds!
However, if you have an empty nest like I do now, you can still spice up your spring cleaning. If you are tackling the whole house, tuning all of the radios in the house to your favorite station so that you sing along as you take trips up and down the stairs is always nice. It is also satisfying to stick with one room or area until it is finished. The size is more manageable so the satisfaction you get from completing that space reassures you that your punch list is doable.
At the Pittsburgh Home & Garden Show last week, one of the most popular aspects of our booth was the compact ironing board! You can see it this KDKA Pittsburgh Today Live segment. This was partially because it discretely folded up into a drawer and also because some of our visitors unsure what it was. This inspired me to do a little bit of research on ironing.
Turns out that Less than 29.7% of Americans still iron their clothes on a regular basis. This makes sense now that most fabrics have polyester and cotton components. This blend was created to reduce the need to iron and the term ‘permanent press’ was born. This switch towards ironless fabrics was somewhat commemorated by the game, Monopoly, getting rid of their iron token this year. It was a croundsourced decision hosted on facebook. Fans chose to replace the iron with a cat.
I also found a statistic that 40% of Americans who do iron, iron in their underwear. This makes perfect sense. It suggests that ironing is an afterthought and no longer a common household chore. However, most of us still dedicate valuable wall space to an ironing board hanger or mount.
If you are still ironing, why use valuable wall space for an unaesthetic ironing board? Check out some of our ideas for ironing board storage alternatives on Pinterest.
We often find clients who have too much spice in there lives! Oftentimes people want to cook more but are having trouble making time. They over-buy in case they ever get the opportunity there will not be any barriers, they will have everything they need. Some people identify providing with having everything they can possibly think of on hand. It is their way of showing their love. These people purchase spices (and other items) “just in case”. Others have inventory issues. Either, they do not know or cannot see what they have. This is a vicious cycle because spices tend to get lost behind other spices. No matter what the root of the problem is, keeping spices in an appropriate place and for the right amount of time can make a difference.
Seven Day Challenge
If you want to find out which of your spices are actually active, try this trick. Turn all your spices upside down and go through a week of your normal cooking habits. When you use a spice, return it to the cabinet right side up and at the end of the week it will be easy to see what you actually use! Active spices can go on a more available shelf or in a spice drawer. A good rule of thumb is to keep the number of active spices to what can fit in the front row of your spice area.
As an professional organizer, I get this comment all the time. “You are so organized, you probably alphabetize your spices”. Truth be told, I have one shelf that is grab and go for active spices and then another shelf for less used favorites, which are sorted by size and are generally in alphabetical order. Alphabetizing the spices helps me because often times the labels are covered by other spices but when they are in order I have a better idea of where to reach. This is not necessarily for everyone but works well when not all of your spices can be fully displayed.
Stadium Seating Please
Keeping things visual is key. That is why I put all the small jars together, in front of the larger jars. It’s just easier to see. My husband measured and cut a small piece of scrap wood so I could elevate the back row and see it better. I do not recommend any of the shelf extenders that stack spices three deep because I find that I knock items off the shelf when I try to get to the back row. I will admit that I do get joy from buying the same brand when I can so the shelf looks tidy.
Keeping It Fresh
Spices last for a few years before they start to loose their kick, but they will never spoil. If your spices are on the outs, I buy smaller jars for things I use less of and resist the urge to buy large amounts to save money by thinking of quality first. Storage of large spice containers can be a problem. To increase their shelf life, do not store spices directly next to heat because they will lose their freshness faster.
Check out my Pinterest for ideas!
Shoeboxed (Free) The fastest way to turn a pile of receipts into digital data for effortless expense reporting, accounting, bookkeeping, and tax preparation. Snap a photo of your receipt and create an expense report on your phone that will sync with QuickBooks, Wave Accounting, Xero, Excel, FreshBooks Outright, Xero or dozens of other tools. Great for those little business expenses that used to get lost in the shuffle. Be aware that there can be some fees incorporated into the app if you start using it heavily. Free Runner Ups: PaperPhobic, Expensify & Skyclerk
MyFitnessPal (Free) First of all, it is not just fitness. Although it tracks that, most intriguing is it’s ability to read a bar-code on an item and add it’s nutritional information to what you’ve eaten. Many restaurants are getting on board to input their menus into it’s already massive database of over 2 million foods. Plus, you can add your own foods, like your famous chili, and it will remember it for next time. You can access your info from a computer as well but you do not need Internet to use the actual app and the social aspect of it is optional. The app even helps calculate how many calories you need to eat/burn to reach your weight goals.
My Gratitude Journal ($0.99) This is one of my personal favorites! Just write down five things you are grateful for each day. You can add photos, rate the day, record the weather and bookmark days. I have seen my attitude change by using this app. Even when I am not having a great day, it forces me to see the silver lining. Free Runner Ups: Gratitude Diary & iGratitude
Daily Tracker ($9.99) This app tracks just about anything. Whether you are organizing your notes or to-do lists, counting calories or pushups, tracking sleep or expenses, Daily Tracker can do it. If you’re feeling like you already have an app for everything this is the next step, because it allows you to track all of your information within one streamlined app. It also syncs with the cloud. It is definitely pricey, but has great ratings.
Period Plus (Free) Ladies, we have all been there. The doctor asks and you have no clue. You make a mental note to start writing it down but never get around to it. Period Plus knows can even predict your periods, fertile days and ovulation dates for the next 12 months so if you are hoping to get pregnant, this is also a handy tool. Plus you can also track breakouts, breast tenderness, cramp intensity, weight and more. Do not worry, there is a password too. Free Runner Ups: iPeriod, Period Tracker Lite, My Days, Pink Pad Period, Monthly Cycles & Period Diary
Stylebook ($3.99) A visual wardrobe organization and closet management tool that can make a cupboard sized closet seem more like a walk in! Whether you want to make sure you do not wear the same outfit to that second job interview, are packing for a getaway, or want to remember what the clothes you put in crawlspace look like, this is the app for you. It is fun to edit the background out of your pictures and design magazine style outfits. You can include accessories as well! Free Runner Ups: I Wear…, Closet Lite, My Fashion Closet & Stylish Girl & Cool Guy
Task Rabbit (Free) Always wishing you had time for that one last errand or another hand around the house? TaskRabbit can help. It connects you with friendly, reliable people right in your neighborhood who can help you get the items on your To-Do list done, and you set the price. Task Rabbits go through a thorough application process and a screening so you can be confident that they are trustworthy people.
CardMunch (Free) You know when you get the business card of someone you really intend to follow up with, but then lose it? That does not have to happen anymore with CardMunch. Take a picture of the card, it will be converted into a contact entry that can be synced with your address book and if the person has a LinkedIn account, the app will ask if you want to connect.
It is that time of year. Holiday cards are stuffing your mailbox and overloading the systems you usually have in place. These cards are emotionally charged so it helps to establish some rules to handle the influx at this already busy time. Use the five D’s to keep from getting overwhelmed.
Designate a drop spot for the cards as they arrive. I like to use a pretty bowl or basket. I separate them from the other mail and do not open them until I have time to sit down and really enjoy them. This system ensures that none will be misplaced around the house.
When I open the cards I try to immediately make a decision about which I want to hold on to for display, reuse for crafts, archive, or leave in the bowl to save. Ask yourself these questions to help make your rules: Do you only want to keep cards from certain families? Only photo cards? Only cards from relatives? Only the top ten of the year? Only your own cards? (TIP: If you are keeping your own cards a good rule of thumb is to keep a copy for each child. If you have 5 children, keep 5 cards) Keeping all of your cards is just a way to not decide. Making decisions on this small batch of emotional items is good practice for bigger jobs – like your photos. If tackling holiday cards is difficult for you, photos are probably even more of a challenge.
Displaying is generally for current cards. There are many different ways to display holiday cards, from clothespins to mantles and garlands to wall sconces! I usually display cards of the people closest to my family and me. A bonus is that when those families join us for holiday celebrations it makes them happy to see their card on display. Check out our Pinterest for more ideas on displaying your cards, you can buy or DIY.
Take down your display at the end of the season and decide how you want to document/archive your cards. Most of what I choose to display each year is what I end up archiving and documenting later on. Once you decide which cards to keep from past years, think about how to save them. Is it okay to just put favorite cards in a shoebox or does it have to be something more aesthetic? I have found that a nice photo box works well for me. I like to save certain cards to look at each year when we pull out our decorations. Also, this year I will be making a scrapbook of my family’s cards over the last 25 years using Shutterfly. I will share my scrapbook link once the project is complete!
This last ‘D’ is an option if you want to get more out of the cards you are not displaying or documenting by reusing them. The front of non-photo cards make great thank you notes if you cleanly separate the front flap. Most people do not write in that area so the back should be blank. Now just find an envelope of the right size or use it as a postcard! My daughter is really great at this! These front flaps can also be cut into smaller pieces and used as gift tags. This is something my sister does. She often writes heartfelt notes on these and attaches them to a satin ribbon as gift wrapping. Whatever is left over can be recycled.
We have been getting so many calls about garages this month. The weather is getting colder and people want to put all their summer outdoor items away to keep them out of the elements. Making a garage work can be key to keeping other areas of your home uncluttered and running smoothly. After you have decided on zones for things, added shelving and hooks for frequently used items- LOOK UP! There is a gold mine of space in most garages that are underutilized. We love this Hyloft Storage product. It is affordable, easy to install and much easier than crawling up into your attic for seasonal and infrequently used items.
So call us to get ideas on how to get your garage ready for winter and to see if Hyloft is a solution for you.
Traditions change. Yes, it’s an oxymoron, but it’s true. If you think about it, year by year new traditions and expectations are added to our holiday celebrations. Relaxation and joy are sometimes replaced with guilt and stress while we try to keep up. Awareness is the first step to making a change.
If you want to make a change start by thinking about the details of your traditions and ask yourself these questions:
- Think back on how many family traditions got started.
- Think about the “why” behind each tradition.
- Is the tradition aligned with your family values?
- Is it something you “should” do or something you “want” to do?
- Try to think about the joy/stress ratio for each tradition and ask yourself if the stress is worth it?
Slimming down traditions by asking these questions or at asking these before connecting to new traditions might be a great way to add peace to your holiday season.