Thursday, April 29, 2010

Scenes From a Professional Organizer's Home: My Bathroom

Last week I gave you a peek at my kitchen. Bathrooms can also pose organizing challenges, often due to limited storage space, so I thought we'd focus on that this week. When we moved into our condo, our bathroom storage was limited to a small under-sink cabinet (pictured), a 3-door mirrored medicine cabinet and a single towel bar. To maximize storage space, I outfitted the under-sink cabinet with these mesh drawers from The Containers Store. They hold smaller items like travel toiletries and medicine/first aid items. Larger items like cleaning supplies can still fit alongside the drawers. We also installed a wall-mounted cabinet like this one (but with frosted doors) to hold less frequently used items and extra stock, while the most frequently used items are stored in the medicine cabinet - my items on the left, my husband's on the right and shared items in the middle. We added towel hooks and rings for everyday towels and I keep guest towels folded on top of the wall cabinet and extra TP in a decorative canister on the floor. If I had drawers in the bathroom - maybe you do - I would use simple drawer dividers and keep small items like Qtips, cotton balls, etc. in there. Our space is limited, so I've chosen to keep makeup and hair items out of the bathroom for the most part - I have plenty of space for these and a good mirror in our bedroom.

Here are my top tips for keeping your bathroom organized:

1) Know how much 'inventory' you can store, and don't buy more than that - even if it's on sale!! True story - when we first got our Costco membership, we made a classic rookie mistake and bought the 24 pack of toilet paper. No surprise, we really didn't have the room to store it - we had rolls everywhere - even in the bedroom TV cabinet. For me, the 'benefit' of not having to buy TP for a year did not outweigh the clutter it created in our small apartment - lesson learned!

2) Regularly weed out expired medicines, make-up and items you aren't using. Medicine cabinets and under-sink storage, while small spaces, have a way of becoming black holes for things like travel toiletries, hair products, product samples, etc. Don't let them take up valuable real estate in your bathroom.

3) Keep like items together for easy access. If your mornings are like mine, every minute counts! Streamline your getting ready routine by grouping similar items together. Or you could use my strategy of grouping items by 'user' - all of my items are on one side of the medicine cabinet so I don't have to open multiple cabinets to get what I need.

While bathrooms are typically a small part of your home, an organized bathroom can have a huge impact on your daily routine. Try out the above tips and tell us your ideas for making your bathroom an organized oasis!

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Benefits of Getting Organized

So what can getting organized, or at least working toward it, do for you? I recently came across this guest post on one of my favorite blogs that spells out Seven Benefits of Uncluttering. As a professional organizer, I definitely have a natural love of all things organized and the process of organizing, but that is not to say that my life hasn't had its pockets of clutter along the way. It really wasn't until I started to get serious about organizing a couple years ago that I became aware of several of the benefits described. The ones that really hit home for me are 1) Save Money, 4) Help Others, and 7) Reduce Stress.

Since catching the decluttering bug, I know my financial bottom line is better off. I was never a big spender, but I now have an increased awareness about my purchases that, for the most part, stops useless items from making their way into my home. My shopping filter is motivated both by the financial savings as well as the desire to keep clutter at bay - double defense! This doesn't mean I don't buy anything, but I'm careful about what and have noticed that I really enjoy/use/love what I do buy.

During the process of decluttering, most people generate significant amounts of stuff that's headed out the door. But where does it all go? Since I'm not big on throwing out items that others could use, trips to local donation centers have become part of my routine. It feels so much better to let someone else have the chance to use items I don't need, rather than have let them lie dormant in my closets.

But it is truly the last benefit - reducing stress - that has had the greatest impact for me. There is just something so 'freeing' about finishing unfinished projects, creating space by letting go of clutter, and getting systems in place that allow you to stay on top of it all. And as a bonus, less clutter means easier cleaning - now that's a powerful stress buster for me!

And while this hasn't been a driver for me, I also found number three - Get more space. Afford more house. - especially intriguing. As author Gregory Go puts it:

"What percentage of your home is used for clutter storage? You may be shocked to learn the percentage of your rent or mortgage payments being used to store that old TV, extra couch, and broken coffee maker."

Living in an expensive real estate market, I know I will be thinking about any remaining clutter with a different eye! What motivates you to get organized?

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Scenes From a Professional Organizer's Home: My Kitchen

Last week I promised to give you little glimpses into my home in addition to some tips along the way. One thing you may not know about me is that I'm also a registered dietitian and have transformed my canned corn and chicken parm-eating husband into a baby spinach and apple-loving fool! So I thought it would make sense to start in my kitchen.

So here you go, this is my flatware/utensil drawer. I chose this little space to show you because it makes me happy - in my eyes, it is a perfectly organized spot - it has the division it needs to keep like with like, we have plenty of what we need, but not too much more, and I can find everything quickly. My husband can even unload the dishwasher (which he does do) and all the forks and spoons end what where they're supposed to!

Enough about my drawer, here are some of my 'organized dietitian' tips for a healthy, organized kitchen:

1) With busy schedules, being able to eat healthfully depends on a well-stocked and organized pantry and fridge. So get to know what's in there! Pull it out, get rid of expired foods, items your family doesn't use, and ditch foods that don't support your nutrition goals. When you put what's left back, group like items together so you can easily find what you need - put your healthy snack foods, like yogurt and fruit, in the same zone in your fridge so you have an easy 'grab and go' snack. If you need ways to maximize the storage space in your 'pantry', check out The Container Store's kitchen section for some ideas.

2) When it comes to pots, pans and kitchen gadgets, the key is to own just what you need and use. Avoid buying what refers to as 'unitaskers' - items that serve just a single purpose (they are often kitchen items). On the contrary, owning basic kitchen items, such as good knives, nesting bowls, and a basic set of cookware, and items that can multi-task, is the best way to avoid kitchen clutter.

3) Own a single good set of plastic food storage containers - I have a set of Rubbermaid's Easy Find Lid containers plus a few good Tupperware pieces. If you have an overflowing stock of plastic containers, go through them, keep the best and get rid of the rest! Trust me, this will make a world of difference in terms of kitchen storage space and your sanity when trying to find a matching set. And bringing dinner leftovers for lunch is a great way to save money and your waistline!

We'll come back around to the kitchen in a bit, but hopefully that's some food for thought (I couldn't resist) for this week! In the meantime, tell us about your kitchen successes and challenges...

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Weekend Inspiration: Organized Gifts

This week on our green blog, I wrote about making gift giving a little greener. But it occurred to me that you can also up the organizing ante when you give. One of my tips for staying green while giving is to stick to the gift registry unless you have another special idea. But if you find yourself batting registry clean up (i.e. scooping up the odds and ends left on the registry), which is a perfectly valid gift giving strategy, or simply have several smaller items to piece together, here's an idea to tie them all together.

You can make a really great looking and functional gift by buying a universally appealing organizing container to package your small items. Wrap each item in tissue paper, or even leave them exposed and just use a few bows and some tissue to 'nest' the items in. Here's a picture of such a gift I'm bringing to a baby shower tomorrow. Two recent gifts I've received came packaged in containers that I love and use daily!

Other ideas for organized giving...

Give a tote bag, car trunk organizer, travel toiletry case or another organizing 'tool.' Just be sure you know it will fill a need and will not be likely to end up as additional clutter.

I love to give Container Store, Home Depot or other gift cards, especially if the recipient is working on home projects. This way you are helping out but letting them choose their own 'tools.'

And last but not least, if you know someone is interested in organizing help, you can give gift certificates for home and office organizing services. We offer these at (shameless plug, but it's true).

What are your ideas for giving organized gifts?

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Weekly Feature: Scenes From a Professional Organizer’s Home

As a professional organizer, clients often ask me – “So what’s your home really like?” They want to know if it’s a case of…

a. I can do this for others but neglect my own space

b. My house looks like a Martha Stewart photo shoot or a Container Store catalog

c. Or some happy medium of a reasonably organized, real home

I hope you’re happy to know the answers is closest to C, which is not to say that I wouldn’t like B. The reality is busy schedules, multiple household members, and the challenges of modern life mean that to-do lists, unfinished projects, and room for improvement are always present. I don’t come home, kick off my organizing shoes and sit on my perfectly fluffed couch with my Real Simple magazine and a glass of wine (though that sounds pretty good and sometime happens). I do, however, have systems in place that usually keep our house in good shape. Over that past couple years, (we’ve been in our condo for 3), there have been a number of home improvement/organizing projects and lots of trips to the local Goodwill donation drop-off. We are pretty much down to having only what we need and love in our space, which is good considering the limited storage space we have.

Over the next couple months (or until you get bored or I run out of material), I will pick reasonably organized spots in my home to highlight in the hopes of not only giving you a ‘reality TV’ glimpse into a professional organizer’s home, but more importantly some ideas you can implement in your space. Who knows, I may even get brave and show you some of the ‘works in progress’ which might inspire me to get them done so I can show you the results! So stay tuned and feel free to make requests, ask questions, and share ideas and scenes from your own space.

Monday, April 12, 2010

How My iPhone Changed My Life

Ok, so that might be a bit dramatic, but my husband asked me that question the day I got my new ‘friend’ (just 2 days ago, but who’s counting) and I was a bit surprised to realize that I already had an answer. This is not meant to be a product endorsement, though after just 2 days, I can say that I would wholeheartedly recommend that anyone who has been thinking about switching should ‘just do it.’

To get to the point, my iPhone has already helped me better implement 2 organizing strategies…not bad for one little device in just 2 days. First, it has helped me downsize the amount of stuff that I need to take with me. Just like that, my paper calendar became obsolete. I know this is a personal choice, but it’s what I needed – a mobile, easy to use, easy to update calendar. I also used it today to store my grocery list – eliminating paper lists that are admittedly sometimes left on the kitchen counter (where they clearly do no good). It is so easy to access information in my email and online that there will be less of a need to jot down or take with me little bits of info like addresses, ideas, etc. I still carry a notebook that I use to jot down things when I’m with a client, but overall, I’m less weighed down heading out the door. Now if I can just figure out how to juggle the scan-as-you-go grocery scanner (another great and fun time-saving invention) and my iPhone, I’ll be in great shape!

Even more importantly, my iPhone is also helping implement the idea that every little bit counts. As an organizer, I am out and about, not sitting at my desk for any stretch of time. Keeping up with email and to-do lists has been challenging with this on-the-go lifestyle. I would find myself spending way too much time on my computer in the evening because that’s the only time I felt I could tackle the accumulated email and follow up items. Even though I was already using a smart phone and getting email on the go, I never really felt inspired (or able) to do much with it other than preview it to deal with later. I am now happily using little blocks of free time on the go (not while driving of course) to whip through my email – deleting, responding, checking out links, you name it. You can get lots done in 10 minutes with such a user-friendly device.

This strategy can carry over to lots of things…the clean laundry spilling out of the basket, the stuffed full ‘to file’ folder, the piles of mail you’re afraid to look at. You may not have 2 hours to deal with an unfinished task, but you can make a dent if you commit to just 10 minutes on a regular basis. Just take the first item you see and deal with it – fold it, file it, shred it – whatever the case may be. Using these short bursts will also help you decide to decide – don’t put it aside any longer – if it takes the whole 10 minutes to deal with that one piece of paper, that’s fine, at least you’ve taken care of it (or begun the process). Little bits of progress still feel great and may just inspire you to keep going!

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Organizing Tips for Kids - Part III

Today's post is the last in a series this week designed to help you manage the mountains of stuff that many families accumulate. Check out the previous posts for tips 1-4 and 5-7. Today's tips focus on overall maintenance of big categories and hold true regardless of how much space you you have. The last tip is my favorite (and perhaps the most important) - hopefully it helps you remember to keep what can be a trying experience (keeping your family organized) positive - nagging may not work, but positive feedback just might!

8. If you have a small play space, keep some toys in storage and rotate them a couple times a year. When the toys come out from storage, it can be as exciting as having new things to play with. Once your child has completely outgrown a toy, take it out of circulation and donate it as soon as possible.

9. Routinely go through your children’s clothing and purge items that are not being used or do not fit. If they’re in good condition, another family can use them, and your child will have more space to work with.

10. Provide positive feedback! Reinforce your family’s organizational skills by rewarding kids for using the systems you’ve put in place together. This could be as simple as a high five for putting toys away or a sticker system with small rewards built in for achieving goals for the week.

As always, happy organizing and please share your thoughts with us!

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Organizing Tips for Kids - Part II

On Monday, I talked about setting up zones (think kindergarten classroom), encouraging kids to enjoy one activity at a time, and making things kid-friendly, including open top (i.e. not fussy) bins and picture labels, to store toys and activity supplies. See Monday's post for tips 1-4. Today I'll highlight a few more ideas to help simplify the kid zones in your home.

5. To avoid becoming cluttered with new toys, try to use the one in, one out rule. When your child gets a new toy, try to identify one that can be donated to a children’s charity or a family in need. This is especially important at birthdays and holidays when the influx of new items can easily become an overwhelming pile.

6. Get your kids involved in the process – everything from setting up the zones, choosing and labeling containers, to the daily retrieval and clean up of their toys. It’s never too early to teach kids how to take care of their possessions.

7. Create an art gallery! It is impossible to keep and store all of the artwork children create, nor is this a great idea for keeping your family and home organized. One solution is to create a rotating art gallery using simple frames, a wire and clips, or even just a designated place on the wall to hang a few creations at a time. When it’s time for items to come down, save a few favorites in a storage box if you have the space and let the others go so there’s room for the new creations that will keep coming in.

Stay tuned for a few more tips and tell us what works in your household. And yes, I am in today's picture...circa 1985.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Organizing Tips for Kids - Part I

As a professional organizer, I often work with families who are over-run with toys...they just seem to keep coming in (while rarely leaving) and quickly fill up every basket, bin, closet, and floor space in the house (and basement, and garage). Let's face it, kids come with a lot of stuff and if you're like most parents, it's not like you had plenty of extra space before the kid(s) arrived. Thus, parents are often faced not only with figuring out how to grow a happy, healthy child, but also the organizational challenges presented by all the cute, fun, and necessary accessories. This week's posts will be dedicated to providing tips to help parents - new and experienced - set their families on the road to organization. So check out today's tips and stay tuned for more throughout the week.

  1. Set Up Zones – Have a zone for each of your child’s activities (such as arts & crafts, toys, reading, etc.) and keep all of the items for that activity in its zone just like a kindergarten classroom.
  2. Encourage kids to do one activity at a time. If they want to switch, teach them to put away the supplies for the first activity before taking out the items for the new one. This minimizes the amount of stuff out at any given time, keeps kids focused, and prevents overwhelming end of the day clean up, which everyone will dread.
  3. Make it user-friendly! Use open, kid-friendly containers on low shelving so your child can take out and put things back with minimal or no assistance. This also applies to things like coats, accessories and back packs – use kid-height pegs and an open top basket.
  4. Label storage containers or drawers with pictures so kids know where things go. Creating the labels could even be an art or photography project that your kids can help with!

As with all things organized, keep in mind that it doesn't have to be perfect, it just has to work for you and your family.