Dinner organizing advice from 10 large families

Getting a nutritious, warm meal on the table each night for dinner can be stressful. Even though I plan our meals each week, I still look for ways to make the process easier and run more smoothly. For advice on how to reduce the stress, I decided to interview large families to see how they manage the chaos and keep their families full.

The families: I interviewed 10 families with three or more children. Four of the families have three children, three of the families have four children, two have six children, and one has eight children. Ages range from two weeks old to seniors in high school, but all the families have at least one or more children in elementary school. In half the families, both parents work or are in school full time. In the other half, the father has a full-time job outside the home and the mother manages the business of the house. These families live all across the U.S. and they are all two-parent families.

The interviews were surprising in many ways, but what caught me off guard was how often I heard similar responses. I was not expecting there to be as many trends in the answers as there were. There seems to be an art to feeding large families, and all of the families I interviewed are accomplished artists. The biggest trend I found is that mealtime is a focus of the day for these families and dinner is not something these families just want to get through. Dinner is a valued destination and is the one time each day when these families come together as a unit.

Trends

  • Eat together. In 8 of the 10 responses, the entire family eats together at the dining table at least six nights a week. In one family, dinner is at 4:00 p.m. so the family can eat together before the kids go off to practices and lessons. The father of this family goes to work at 6:00 in the morning so he can be home by 4:00 for the family meal. Another family gives kids high-protein snacks after school to keep them from attacking each other before dinnertime at 7:00 p.m., when everyone is finally home from work and after-school activities. Irrespective of when they eat, these families place a high priority on dinners together. Most sit down to dinner around 5:00 p.m. Six of the families reported sharing breakfast together, too.
  • Eat at home. The children eat at home, and they eat food made at home. One family said they do pizza delivery six times a year for their kids, but that was the only mention of restaurants in the entire survey.
  • Weekly meal planning. All families reported doing some type of meal planning. Whether it means they plan meals based on what the local butcher and stores have on sale (almost all subscribe to the weekend paper to get coupons and sale announcements), build meals on what the CSA delivers or what is in ample supply at the farmers market, scribble meal ideas on the back of grocery lists, or use a formal meal-planning chart — they rarely fly blind. None of the families do monthly meal planning.
  • Prepare ahead. The majority of respondents said that some meal preparation is completed earlier in the day. Vegetables might be chopped or casseroles are assembled or items are put in the slow cooker or meat is defrosted hours before dinnertime (usually while preparing breakfast). In three families, fathers make their lunches and their children’s lunches for the next day while the rest of the family cleans up after dinner.
  • Shopping at more than one location. Not only did families report wanting to get the best deals, but they also want to get the best food for their dollars. Almost all families reported to buying only hormone-and-antibiotic-free meat (when they eat meat), relying on farmers markets for produce during the summer, and eating as little commercially packaged food as possible. This meant that grocery shopping didn’t happen in one weekly trip to one store, but to many locations to get exactly what they want. All families reported that the majority of shopping is done on the same day each week, but that one or two “quick trips” are made to pick up additional items later in the week.
  • Very little meat. More than half of the families said they only eat meat a couple times a week. Although cost might be part of the reasoning for this decision, health concerns and freezer space were the reported motivations. None of the families interviewed is strictly vegetarian.
  • Everyone eats the same meal. None of the families make entirely separate meals for picky eaters. A few families said they make extra portions of favorite foods for picky eaters that they freeze so if one food at a meal is refused, there is an alternative on hand. However, the child is responsible for heating up this side dish on her own and can only do so if the leftover is available. In families with children with food allergies or intolerances, the whole family follows the special diet. One responder said she tries to incorporate two new main dishes into the meal plan each week. She does this to introduce her children to new foods and new flavors, but pairs the entrees with favorite side dishes in case the meal isn’t a hit.
  • Teaching opportunity. Seven of the families responded that mealtime is also a great time to teach life skills, like organizing. Their children are involved in cooking, planning, cleaning, and even creating a food budget and shopping. One mother occasionally changes the serving sizes on recipes to have her kids work the math problems.
  • Divide responsibilities. Again, 8 of the 10 families reported that all family members help in the mealtime process. A young child sets the table, an older one slices vegetables, a third child grates cheese, one sweeps the floor after dinner, one rinses the dishes, dad loads the dishwasher, etc. In only one family do children sit and do their homework while mom and dad prepare the meal. In this family, the children are responsible for cleaning up, however.
  • The head chef. Mom is usually in the role of head chef, but sometimes it is dad and sometimes it is an older child. Irrespective of who it is, the head chef is responsible for coordinating what responsibilities each person in the family has for that night’s dinner. This coordinator doesn’t do all the work, but rather makes sure all the work surrounding mealtime is completed. One family explained the head chef’s role as being similar to a conductor’s role in an orchestra. Who will be head chef for a night is determined during the meal planning stage.

Additional advice

  • One family doesn’t use formal serving dishes, just puts the pots and pans right on the table, to save on dishwashing later.
  • Once a week, one family eats off china dishes and pretends to be dining in a fine restaurant, complete with dress code. This isn’t really organizing related, but I found it interesting nonetheless.
  • In a family with six children, favorite meals are rotated into the plan at one a week, so it takes eight weeks but each family member gets their favorite meal six times a year. Favorite meals are tracked on the central family calendar.
  • One family makes double portions and freezes half for a meal they’ll eat in a week or two.
  • Surprisingly, the only two families that relied on make-ahead services like Dream Dinners were the two families that eat in shifts and not together. Both of these families also only have three children. My guess is that price is a factor in using these services, and that they are too expensive for very large families to use on a regular basis.
  • One mother writes what the family had for dinner on a family calendar and then reviews the calendar when meal planning to make sure one food doesn’t get into heavy rotation.
  • One family has a no complaining rule and anyone who complains about the meal has to wash all the dishes by hand even though they have a dishwasher. Again, this isn’t really organizing related, but I thought it was a fun rule.
  • Only one responder mentioned making dessert each night. Dessert doesn’t seem to be a regular part of large family meals, at least for the families I interviewed.
  • I didn’t ask this question, but six families reported mom and dad go out on a date night on the same night each week. On these nights, the children still typically eat a meal prepared at home, but they eat together with a sitter or grandparent.

The responder with eight children (her oldest is only 12) summed up her mealtime perspective with a nice catch phrase: “Keep the majors major and the minors minor.” For her, the major is sitting down to a meal with her family each night. The minors are missed ingredients and foods that didn’t turn out exactly right. I believe this perspective and the insights listed above can help all of us, regardless of family size, to reduce the stress surrounding mealtime.

Unclutterer interviews host of Clean House, Niecy Nash

I had the amazing pleasure to interview the beautiful, funny, and Emmy-award-winning Niecy Nash on Friday about the latest season of Clean House and the work she’s doing with Clorox and the World Toilet Organization’s Ode to the Commode campaign. She’s a woman who takes time management to a new level — she was on the Clean House set when we spoke — and had a great deal to share in just a few minutes of her time.

Here is the inside scoop she gave me about Clean House:

Clean House has been on the air since the fall of 2003, and the ninth season of the show started in July with The Nelson Family. When new episodes of the season air, they’re on Wednesday nights at 10:00 p.m. ET/9:00 p.m. CT on the Style Network. (I don’t believe there is a new episode this week, but there are numerous reruns. Next week looks to have a new episode with The Ryan Family.)

The crew will be at a house for a week, and cameras roll with Niecy typically three of those days. There are between 50 to 100 people responsible for producing a single episode — from writing scripts, lighting the rooms, filming, and helping with the uncluttering, garage sale, designing, decorating, and organizing.

I asked Niecy what is the most valuable thing she has learned while hosting the show. She said, “We have a responsibility to each other. I’ve learned that I’m my brother’s keeper.” When she said this, it was obvious that she takes her work on the show very seriously. Although she’s all laughs and smiles in front of the camera, she genuinely feels committed to helping the people who have been selected to appear on the show.

The inside scoop on her work with Dancing with the Stars:

In addition to her work on Clean House and her daily appearances on CBS’ The Insider, Niecy was also a contestant last season on Dancing with the Stars. She ended up in an impressive fifth place and said that dancing live in front of more than 20 million viewers while wearing a leotard was the hardest thing she’s ever done, “definitely harder than taking on the messiest homes in America.”

The inside scoop on her work with the World Toilet Organization:

Niecy is also the national spokesperson for Clorox’s Ode to the Commode campaign, which supports the World Toilet Organization. “Nearly 2 billion of the world’s population does not have access to clean toilets and basic sanitation,” Niecy said. She went on to explain that every day water-related diseases claim the lives of 5,000 children under the age of five.

She said that on Clean House she and the crew work to improve the lives of people who need help, but not the kind of severe help others in the world need. This campaign helps the WTO make toilets accessible and affordable for people who need basic and working sanitation.

Niecy said that you can help, too, by going online to OdetotheCommode.com and flush the virtual toilet for free. For every flush, Clorox donates $1.00 to the WTO.

The inside scoop on all things Niecy Nash:

As I was wrapping up the interview, I asked Niecy, who is also a mother of three, how she manages all of her commitments. She laughed, paused for a moment, and then recited the famous Warren Zevon line, “I’ll sleep when I’m dead.”

Assorted items for July 14, 2010

Some interesting things to share:

  • I’m recording an interview about uncluttering for Renew You that should be available this Friday through next Tuesday. Renew You 2010 was a conference that occurred earlier this summer, and every few weeks the organizer of the conference sends out links to new interviews to conference attendees and people who register for the mailing list. The interviews are targeted toward women, but the information I’ll be giving is applicable for anyone. The e-mail list is free, but there are pay-to-listen areas of the site that have some cost associated with them. You shouldn’t have to pay anything to hear my piece on uncluttering. The interview should be about an hour long, so sign up if you’re interested in hearing my talk.
  • TV business kisses HDMI goodbye” on the THINQ site leaves me with mixed feelings. I’m glad multiple manufacturers are coming together and establishing a standard cable, but it means we will all have to buy new cables. Not sure it’s simplifying anything.
  • Author Harlan Ellison decided to purge and auction off the majority of his book collection, including a signed birthday present from Neil Gaiman. The following link includes a profane word or two, but is still an interesting read about uncluttering your bookshelves: “The Great Ellison Book Purge” on the AV Club.
  • Have many errands to run at once? Lorie Marrero recommends the “optimal route planner” Route4me to determine the shortest route to take.
  • The website FreelanceSwitch offers terrific project management advice in its post “The Swiss Cheese Method of Project Scheduling.” The article is geared toward freelance programmers, but is applicable to anyone budgeting her time.

The reasons for lists

Italian author Umberto Eco was interviewed last week by the German publication Spiegel. The interview ‘We Like Lists Because We Don’t Want to Die’ discusses Eco’s recent involvement with curating an exhibition at the Louvre in Paris. The exhibition, as the title of the interview suggests, is all about lists.

I think that many unclutterers rely on lists — to-do lists, home inventories, calendars, project management timelines — to stay organized. Personally, lists keep me from worrying about forgetting things. I’d rather think about things I’m passionate about instead of having a constant stream of to-dos bouncing around in my brain.

Eco’s thoughts about lists are much more esoteric than mine. I found his interview on the subject matter to be thought-provoking and worth reading. From the interview:

Umberto Eco: The list is the origin of culture. It’s part of the history of art and literature. What does culture want? To make infinity comprehensible. It also wants to create order — not always, but often. And how, as a human being, does one face infinity? How does one attempt to grasp the incomprehensible? Through lists, through catalogs, through collections in museums and through encyclopedias and dictionaries. There is an allure to enumerating how many women Don Giovanni slept with: It was 2,063, at least according to Mozart’s librettist, Lorenzo da Ponte. We also have completely practical lists — the shopping list, the will, the menu — that are also cultural achievements in their own right.

From later in the interview:

Eco: … We have always been fascinated by infinite space, by the endless stars and by galaxies upon galaxies. How does a person feel when looking at the sky? He thinks that he doesn’t have enough tongues to describe what he sees. Nevertheless, people have never stopping describing the sky, simply listing what they see. Lovers are in the same position. They experience a deficiency of language, a lack of words to express their feelings. But do lovers ever stop trying to do so? They create lists: Your eyes are so beautiful, and so is your mouth, and your collarbone … One could go into great detail.

SPIEGEL: Why do we waste so much time trying to complete things that can’t be realistically completed?

Eco: We have a limit, a very discouraging, humiliating limit: death. That’s why we like all the things that we assume have no limits and, therefore, no end. It’s a way of escaping thoughts about death. We like lists because we don’t want to die.

What do you think of Eco’s thoughts on lists? Anyone else surprised by his statements or conclusions? Share your reactions in the comments.

(Thanks go to David Allen and Marginal Revolution for bringing this article to our attention. Image of Umberto Eco from the article.)

Unclog your commute

There’s nothing like entering a jam-packed freeway to add stress to your early morning. Catching a train is great — if you have one in your area. Although, even in places considered to have good public transportation (New York City, Paris, DC, San Francisco), the roads are still clogged with cars.

What can we do to take cars off the road and help unclog everyone’s commute? Private and public efforts are being made across the country to make our roads less cluttered spaces.

Last Thursday, I got the chance to talk to RideSpring founder, Paul McGrath. RideSpring is an online service that helps employees find ride share opportunities with other employees at the same company. We discussed McGrath’s journey from employee to entrepreneur, in his current pursuit to offer web-based alternative commute solutions.

He got the idea in the mid-1990s when he worked as an electrical engineer for a 200 person company in Scotts Valley, CA. He enjoyed an 8-mile bike ride up a narrow, snaky two-lane highway to and from work most days. On driving days, though, he wanted to ride share. “For the days I wasn’t biking,” says McGrath, “I thought it would be good to find a carpool partner.” Why not socialize with a co-worker during the ride and tread more lightly on the road and save a few dollars on fuel?

But, as many commuters know, finding a carpool buddy isn’t always easy. McGrath sought public carpoolings systems first. While he wouldn’t mind sharing his commute information within his company, he didn’t want to post it on public sites. “I looked for a product within companies but it didn’t exist.” This led him to search for (and eventually create) a solution.

He dove into market research and found that regional services attracted very few users, which dramatically limited good ride-matching opportunities. For example, in the San Francisco Bay Area, frought with highly congested highways, an organization called 511 exists for the public, but fewer than 1% of commuters have signed up for the system.

His research squashed a number of myths about commuters. “It’s a myth that people aren’t willing to leave their cars at home,” say McGrath.

What he discovered is “There’s a shortage of drivers willing to accept passengers, rather than the other way around.”

Another myth he his company is helping to debunk is the notion that carpooling doesn’t work. However, the US Census reports that carpooling for Americans remains the second most popular way to get to work. This is second only to driving alone to work.

After his data collecting, McGrath could see the need to develop an easy-to-use method for commuters.

Rides

McGrath wanted to get cars off the road and make commuting more enjoyable. With his technical background, he launched a web-based system through RideSpring targeted at companies of 500 people or more. When companies subscribe, co-workers can drive to the same company together. The RideSpring system searches possible ride matches through it’s web process that scans zip codes for people riding in their areas across the US.

The statistics are promising. Some of the companies that subscribe to RideSpring show a nearly 60% sign-up rate for the service. People are actually using it.

Rewards

There are intrinsic rewards that come from finding an alternative commute. You get to do your part for the environment, have a good conversation with a coworker, or even get some important work done. With the US Census reporting that 77% of American commuters drive alone, many companies offer financial and other rewards to encourage people to free up road capacity and reduce CO2 omissions. This allows employers to contribute to the environment, reduce the need for new parking lots, and make their employees happier.

McGrath summarizes RideSpring’s services by saying: “What we deliver is effectiveness. We show companies our proven approach to get people signed up. We make it fun and easy to use and employees will actually use it.”

What do you do to unclog your commute? Does your company offer incentives to commuters who carpool or use public transportation? If your company had (has) more than 500 employees, would you consider using a program like RideSpring? Why or why not? Do any of our readers already use this or a similar service?

Sue Brenner is a regular contributor to Unclutterer. She offers her own eZine at www.actionsymphony.com and if you want to hear her voice, she gives free, monthly goal-success tele-seminars.

Unclutterer on Carrie and Danielle’s Style Statement website

Online now is a fun interview I sat for with the lovely Danielle LaPorte, who is co-author of the book Style Statement: Live by Your Own Design. Danielle and her partner in all-things stylish, Carrie McCarthy, run a fantastic website that includes a daily question to their readership and interviews with people who they find inspiring. (I’m not sure how I made the list, but I’m truly honored they think so!)

The reason I’m linking to my interview and daily question on Unclutterer is two fold: 1.) The daily question I pose is all about clutter, and I know that many of you have great responses that you can share on their site, and 2.) I really appreciate their Style Statement philosophy. The idea is that the better you know yourself, the better choices you make. And, inevitably, you fill your life with less stuff and more meaning.

Feel welcome to head over there and check out the discussion about clutter. I’ll be following it through the day, and I hope to see you there!

Interview with organizing legend Julie Morgenstern

After reviewing Julie Morgenstern’s latest book in my column on Real Simple’s website, I asked her publicist if I might be able to do an interview with Julie here on Unclutterer. Schedules were lined up, and we had the opportunity to talk about many of the details from her insightful new book. Below is a transcript of that interview, and I hope that you enjoy it as much I did. Also, a special thank you to Julie Morgenstern for taking the time to speak with us!

Unclutterer: In your book When Organizing Isn’t Enough, SHED Your Stuff, Change Your Life, you define clutter as “any obsolete object, space, commitment or behavior that weighs you down, distracts you, or depletes your energy.” I believe that most of our readers will agree that objects and spaces are prone to being or collecting clutter, but commitments and behavior may not immediately come to mind as clutter. Can you explain how a behavior or a commitment could be cluttering up one’s life?

Julie: Commitment clutter takes the form of unfinished projects and to-dos, unfulfilled obligations, and cumbersome roles which bog you down, make you feel bad about yourself, de-energize and deplete you. They occupy space in your schedule that would be better used for something else. By behavior clutter, I am referring to bad habits such as perfectionism, procrastination, chronic lateness, mindless escapes, and workaholism. These habits drive us to mindlessly pad our schedules with activities that provide little or no value. Bad habits steal hours every day, not only from actual time lost watching endless hours of TV, or coming up with (yet another) excuse for being late for example, but the energy you spend beating yourself up over it. All of that self-flagellation is clutter too—expending energy, effort and time that could be freed up for something energizing, productive and useful.

Unclutterer: You identify times of transition (retirement, new baby, career change, loss of a parent, etc.) as being moments when the desire to SHED is strong. Do you believe that life transitions are an integral factor in wanting internal and external changes? Why do you think this is the case?

Julie: When we are in transition, we feel a loss of control—and SHEDing allows us to take control where we can—our homes, our stuff, our schedule, our own behavior. Also, we each have a certain amount of stuff and activity that anchors us. Transition, whether internally driven or externally imposed, is a time of movement, we feel the natural need to lighten up, and lift anchor so that we can move forward.

Unclutterer: You address that clutter often comes from the past, but can it ever come from the future? Can unrealized goals or inaccurate self perceptions also be clutter?

Julie: Sure, but when you think about it, these are really connected to old beliefs from the past. They are beliefs or goals we adopted in the past, and which no longer fit.

Unclutterer: In your chapter “When Organizing Isn’t Enough,” you recommend that people set “treasure guidelines” for deciding which objects, behaviors, and activities should stay and which should go. I love the example you provide that likens selecting treasures to choosing photographs for a wedding album. How can a person set his or her specific treasure guidelines?

Julie: Before diving into the pile of clutter, picture your theme, and ask yourself, “If all of this were to go away, what are the one or two things I would want to keep? That really would serve me now and as a meaningful memento of the past?” It is essential to write your list of treasure guidelines on a post-it, or piece of paper, and lay it on top of the pile, or the box, or the folder so that when you actually go through the pile of stuff, you are simply evaluating every item based your list of treasure guidelines. If it’s on the list, you keep it, if it’s not, it goes. And, if it’s something you hadn’t even considered, you go back to your theme, and ask where and how this would serve you moving forward. SHEDing goes very fast once you have established and written out your treasure guidelines.

Unclutterer: At the end of the book, you describe the “30 percent slip” to define the sliding that can take place back into old habits and routines. I like the advice you give to start over again and reassess themes. Would this process also work if someone gets stuck halfway through the SHED process? What might a mid-SHED adjustment look like and how would you recommend the do-over?

Julie: A Mid-SHED feeling of being stuck is really what I refer to as the WALL OF PANIC, where, once you have heaved a bunch of obsolete stuff—you get a little panicked—who am I without that stuff? (Or that role? Or that habit?) The impulse when facing this sudden openness is to either reach back from what you got rid of, or lurch forward to fill the empty space with anything to fill the space—without taking the time to see if it is a fit for you. The solution is to find the courage to stay empty-handed. You need to give yourself a “decision-free” zone, a period of observation where you don’t do anything but get centered with yourself. The best thing you can do right now is take advantage of this unhampered moment to reconnect with the things that you make you, “you,” no matter what—your unique character, experience, strengths, resourcefulness, intelligence, and contribution. In the book, I provide a series of practical and introspective ways to uncover and hold fast to who you are. Your period of observation can last a few days to a few months, and is an exciting opportunity to study and strengthen your confidence, discipline and receptivity to find the best opportunities for yourself as you move forward.

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To learn more about the basics of the book, be sure to read my review of it on Real Simple’s website.

Interview on The Happiness Project

Yesterday, I was interviewed by the wonderful Gretchen Rubin who writes the inspiring blog The Happiness Project. Gretchen spent a year auditioning every major “principle, tip, theory, and scientific study [she] could find, whether from Aristotle or St. Therese or Martin Seligman or Oprah” to see which ones worked, which ones didn’t, and how she could use them to help her be happy. She has a book coming out in late 2009 chronicling the year she test-drove all of the theories, and her blog also details these experiences. You may recognize Gretchen’s blog because she also is a member of the LifeRemix network and writes a column for Real Simple’s Simply Stated community in the Life section.

When Gretchen asked if I would sit for an interview, I dropped everything to do it. The topic of the interview isn’t directly related to getting rid of physical clutter, but it definitely touches on the bigger-picture idea of mental clutter that can prohibit a person from being happy. Check out the article if you’re interested!

Bringing in a pro: What professional organizers really want you to know

I want to start by saying that we are on the verge of launching the Real Simple widget on our site so that we won’t have to write these notifications as separate posts any longer. Look for it to go live tomorrow or Thursday. The amazing community manager at Real Simple set up a personal RSS feed for my writing, which makes the programming a breeze now. Three cheers for Melissa! And, three cheers for the awesome programmers at Unclutterer who are creating the widget. Woo hoo!

Today on Real Simple is an insider’s look at hiring a professional organizer. I had the joy of interviewing some power houses in the professional organizing community for this piece, and was blown away by their advice. It is very educational and I recommend you give it a look:

Should You Hire a Professional Organizer?

photo: Tara Striano

Organized interior design advice from Decor8 editor Holly Becker

If you followed the link yesterday to the new Real Simple website, you saw that we have a partner in the Home and Organizing community. Holly Becker, author of the electrifying blog Decor8, writes about interior design and style on the days when we’re not discussing organizing. Since this is the month of sharing at Unclutterer and Decor8 is one of our favorite blogs, we asked Holly to share some of her gifted design advice with us on the topic of organization. Holly provides many incredible links in her interview, so be sure to follow them for artistic motivation. Our appreciation, too, goes to Holly for taking the time to talk with us!

Unclutterer: “Inspiring” is a word that often comes to mind when I read your site. The images and articles you present help me to imagine great things for my space. What are your favorite pieces of inspiration you’ve written about on your site?

Holly: I’m very curious and extroverted and I naturally enjoy meeting people, so I have to say interviewing creative men and women who are following their dreams (always inspiring!) along with shop and home tours of decor8 readers are the pieces I really enjoy writing. Mari Eriksson, YippieYeah, Enna, Nest Decorating, and Selina Lake are a few of my recent favorites. I also love to write random decor-related pieces, like Power Poufs, Doily Love, and I Dream of Cake. I like to mix things up, so I don’t adhere to strict schedules and run very few “regular columns” with the exception of Etsy: Take Five Tuesdays and Color Me Mondays. I don’t want to make things too formal, when I wake up in the morning it is then that I decide what I’ll write about. Very little is prepared in advance, it’s all on a whim just as I believe blogging for me should be – creative journaling. It’s a blog afterall, not a magazine.

Unclutterer: How can color be integrated into an organization system?

Holly: Through labeling! Adding fancy hang tags to storage boxes and labeling magazine files with colorful labels is pretty and helpful. (For fancy hang tags, shop Elfrida.) Some like to organize their book spines by color, not the best way to locate your books but it sure is pretty and all the rage right now! Use “day of the week” clips to organize your work, Susy Jack makes some great ones. You can also cover your boring corkboard with a favorite fabric or wrapping paper. Use canvas storage boxes with handles like these from Hable Construction for concealing and storing bottled water in the kitchen. Wire and clothes pegs help to organize photos and cards on a wall or add your favorite wallpaper to empty oatmeal containers to store odds and ends. Try chalkboard paint and colored chalk so you can write your schedule directly on the wall … The list goes on and on. Look at everything you own twice before you donate it to charity — see if it can be used for something other than what it was intended for.

Unclutterer: What is your favorite organization tool? (A tool can be anything that helps you to achieve a more organized life … it doesn’t have to be a tangible object.)

Holly: Finding a schedule that works for you and sticking with it. I am working on practicing what I preach! As fas as advice goes on getting organized, hire out for help if you’re in over your head. I’ve done this in the past and it saved me. Hire a cleaning lady or a personal organizer, even a decorator, if you need to clean the slate and start from scratch. Sometimes you just need another person to step into your space and give you some encouragement and advice. Once they leave, you can get started on maintaining things which, based on my own personal experience, is a lot easier than starting a project on your own.

Unclutterer: Images you post that are representations of the shabby chic even appear to be organized and purposefully dressed. Do you find that good design (of any style) and an uncluttered environment go hand-in-hand?

Holly: Not always, I have visited apartments in Paris that were over-the-top cluttered but somehow worked. I’ve also worked with some of the most brilliant executives in Boston who manage to work successfully despite the layers of endless paperwork and books in their office. They knew where everything was in their paper mountains and that’s all that seemed to matter! An uncluttered environment may not be for everyone, but it’s certainly the best for me. Shabby Chic, Eclectic Bohemian, Mid-Century Modern, Hollywood Regency, they are by no means minimalistic, but the key is that everything you see in photos from your favorite magazines is styled to perfection. All items are arranged well, so clutter isn’t termed clutter anymore if it’s pulled together according to a theme on a mantel or credenza. It’s only clutter if it’s thrown around without any thought put into its placement or has no practical reason for being there. Having less isn’t always the goal in some of these styles, having less clutter is.

Unclutterer: A lot of our readers are parents who are looking for ways to keep their kid clutter at bay, but still make their homes a place where their children feel comfortable. Do you have any suggestions for these readers?

Holly: I’m not a mother but I am a daughter and from experience as a child — please parents let the kids be kids. I can’t stress how important it is to allow them the space needed to be creative and explore their inner artist. It’s also important to train them to be organized, but not to be so concerned with perfection that it stomps out their creativity. Carve out spaces in the home where the kids can make a mess – a play area in a living room, a nook in the kitchen, or if you have space, an entire playroom. Of course, their bedroom should be where they play, so most of their toys and such should be kept in their bedroom. Make clean-up time fun — have mini contests (see who can clean up first), or create charts with chores and boxes where they can check off what they’ve done that week — the end of week the chart is reviewed and if all the chores were taken care of then the child is awarded with a trip to the zoo, park, or something else where the parent can spend time with them. When it was time to clean in my house, my mother made it fun. She’d play music and sing – just like Cinderella! It was so cute but it motivated me to get involved.

Unclutterer: Of all of the jobs that you could have, why have you chosen to blog about interior design? What is it you love about this subject?

Holly: I didn’t select blogging as a job, I think it selected me! I started blogging before design blogs were running ads and became a source of income or a hot new business. When I started blogging, I only knew about a few blogs (3 total) and that was it. It was an exciting way for me to catalog the finds I sourced for my design clients back then, and it grew into being a source for design aficionados all over the world to tap into. It’s exciting and though I earn a living through blogging now, I don’t consider it a job. It’s still my creative outlet where I can be myself and enjoy the company of other creative types online and for me, that’s all that matters.

Transforming inherited jewelry

I’m currently doing research for an upcoming series of posts on inherited clutter. Constantly thinking about the passing of loved ones is emotionally draining, however, and I’ve been seeking out frequent diversions from my serious research.

One of my diversions has been to look for creative ways to use old things in new ways. For example, I’ve discovered an artist who takes old costume jewelry that people never wear, modernizes and reworks it, and creates stylish, fashionable, new pieces of jewelry. Since outdated, costume jewelry is the majority of what I inherited when my maternal grandmother passed away, I find this process brilliant.

I wanted to learn more, so I contacted Sara Bradstreet, the artist I discovered who most deeply captivated my attention, for an interview. Thank you, Sara, for talking with me. (The necklace pictured on the right is a broach she trasnformed.)

Unclutterer: What inspired you to become an artist who brings new life to old jewelry?

Sara: I wanted to create art with little waste and satisfy my desire to sniff out the diamond in the rough. With jewelry, there is little waste. I use most elements of the piece. Sometimes, I will buy a not-so-attractive necklace just for the clasp, or a bag of buttons for the few rhinestone buttons at the bottom–even things as random as old silverwear find their way into my collection. I find much beauty and integrity in old things and hate to see beautiful gems in a dumpster.

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A man in uniform

MacUser points us to an article by design academic Steven Heller in the AIGA journal about Steve Job’s wardrobe. Heller imagines a fictional interview with the Apple iCon in which he only has one question:

Heller: Mr. Jobs, it’s not easy to get you to sit for an interview, so I’ll make this short. Why do you always wear blue jeans and a black turtleneck?

The question’s never answered in the “interview,” but in the comments Heller suggests that Jobs understands that he is part of the Apple brand and therefore brands himself consistently whenever he’s acting officially. I think that might well be part of it, but here’s a recent photo of Jobs at one of his kids’ soccer matches — he’s wearing jeans, a mock turtleneck, and presumably white New Balance shoes. So it seems he always dresses like that.

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