Archives for Parties and Celebrations
Holiday parties, festivities, and gift giving can generate clutter. One of the ways to reduce the clutter build-up is to have effective clean up and disposal systems in place before the big holiday rush begins.
Parties and Festivities
At banquets in hotels and restaurants, they often have tables in the corners of the room on which guests can place their used dishes and cocktail napkins. Set up a similar system at your home party. You may choose to clear a section of kitchen counter near the sink or place a festive tray in each room. As a host, you can see when the trays are filling up and remove the dirty dishes quickly and easily.
Having a small garbage bin near the dirty dish collection point will allow your guests to drop in their soiled napkins. You may wish to have a separate bin for soda cans/bottles for recycling. Most guests are happy to put trash in its place if bins are accessible and clearly labeled.
If you decide you do not want to keep party decorations and holiday flowers, they could be donated to local hospitals and nursing homes if they are still in good condition. Please call ahead and see if they would appreciate your donations prior to dropping them off.
All of these tips could work for parties at any time during the year, too.
General Clutter-Busting Tips
This is the biggest shopping season of the year so more stuff than ever enters the house. Keeping donation boxes or bags in the closet or laundry room is a good idea to help you quickly get rid of any old stuff (like clothes) that will be replaced with new stuff. Once the donation bin is full, take it to your favourite drop-off location or arrange for pick-up from an appropriate charity.
Designate a place in the home for out-dated electronics. It could be a box or bin in your laundry area or office. If they are still functioning, you may be able to sell or donate them. Broken and non-functioning electronics can be sent to electronics recycling programs. Check your municipality’s website to see how electronics should be disposed.
Batteries are required for almost all electronics and many toys. But, many batteries contain materials that can leak into the environment when they are dumped into the trash. In order to protect the environment and keep dead batteries from cluttering up your home, consider creating “Dead Battery Bins.” Ideally there should be three small bins; one for alkaline batteries, one for button batteries, and one for rechargeable batteries. Used batteries may still have a bit of life left in them. Grouping used batteries together can bring these live batteries into contact with one another creating safety risks, so it is important not to accumulate a large amount of alkaline batteries. Small “dead battery bins” such as clean yogurt or margarine containers should minimize the risk and allow you to safely dispose of the batteries before you collect too many. Ensure the containers have tightly fitting lids and keep them out of reach of children and pets.
During the hustle and bustle of the holiday season sometimes the simplest things get forgotten, such as the day the waste bins need to be at the curb. Often municipalities will reschedule waste pickups so that they do not fall on statutory holidays. Check with your municipality to confirm the trash and recycling pickup dates and mark them on your calendar. If you need to have your bins out early in the morning, set a reminder for the day before.
We’ll celebrate Valentine’s Day in two days. Haven’t bought your loved ones anything yet? Don’t panic. OK, maybe a little panic. You’ve got 48 hours! The following are some nice gift ideas that will express your feelings and keep you out of the dog house, all without creating a pile of clutter that must be dealt with at some point:
- Create an unexpected playlist. Many Gen-X’ers out there remember the labor-intensive, excruciating process of creating a mix tape for a loved one. The careful selection of exactly the right songs, placed in precisely the proper order to create a crescendo of meaning and feeling. Only the right mix of sentiment, fun, humor, and truth would do. And it all had to fit perfectly on a 60-minute cassette. The harder you worked, the more your recipient meant to you.
Today, the process is less labor intensive (raise your hand if you remember holding a tape recorder up to the radio to capture a song), but just as meaningful. If your loved one has an Mp3 player like an iPod, sneak into his or her iTunes account and create a playlist of songs that speak to your relationship. Give it a fun name and sync the results to her device. Her commute to work, etc. just got that much more pleasant.
- Get the car detailed. My wife did this for me last year and I was elated. I keep my car tidy but I can’t get it anywhere near as nice-looking as a well-equipped professional can. Some detailers will even travel to you for on-site cleaning. While the kids did eventually track sand and Goldfish crackers into the car again, it was a nice few weeks before they did and extremely appreciated.
- Gather favorite photos. I admit that I still like looking at paper photos more than their digital counterparts. Holding a picture in my hand is nicer than sitting in front of a screen or even holding a tablet or a smartphone. That might be a function of my age, but I suspect some of you feel that, too. It’s also nice to browse a well-ordered album, and there are several companies that produce great-looking photo books. Shutterfly does a great job, as does Apple, if you use its iPhoto software. I’ve ordered several photo books from Apple and they look great.
- Get a landscaping consultation. I love “fiddling in the yard” as I call it but I’ll admit that I don’t really know what I’m doing. Last summer, I spent about an hour talking with some folks at a local nursery and learned so much. Most landscaping companies offer free consultations, so consider that if your better half enjoys gardening or landscaping. Also, check with local colleges, universities, or adult education organizations for classes in landscaping or really anything that will encourage an interest or hobby.
- Re-live a first date. In 1986, I took my very first date to see Jumpin’ Jack Flash. I’m not eager to see that movie again, but I suspect it’d bring back some pleasant memories if I did. It’d be great fun to take your significant other back to the restaurant, theatre, hot dog stand (etc.) that marked the beginning of your relationship.
- Digitize home movies. This one will take some planning, but it’ll be worth it. Many people have boxes of 8mm movies sitting around or old VHS tapes. The simplest method of digitizing them is to set up the projector (many rental stores will have one if you don’t) and a digital camera. Roll the film, record with your digital camera and then import it into your computer.
When recording, keep these tips in mind. Make sure the room is as dark as possible. Position your digital camera on a tripod and keep it as close to the reel-to-reel projector as possible, so that the angle is nearly identical. Zoom into the projected image as closely as possible. Finally, manually set the camera’s focus, as the auto focus could have trouble in this scenario.
Happy (early) Valentine’s Day!
Over the last few weeks, we’ve shared holiday gift ideas (even last-minute ones) and now that there is just one more day until Christmas, today’s tips are geared toward safety. Whether you’re uncluttering or planning a holiday event, it’s important to unclutter potential hazards.
Unclutter decorations that are harmful to pets
Your pets will probably get included in the holiday fun, but there are some things that can be dangerous for them. In a recent interview, local D.C. veterinarian Dr. Katy Nelson mentioned that decorations like tinsel and curling ribbon (both are very attractive to cats), can be very problematic to a cat’s digestive tract. She also mentioned that the water your live Christmas tree sits in, though not toxic, can be upsetting to your pets, so make sure that they aren’t drinking it. For more information on ways you can keep your pet safe, check out the ASPCA’s holiday pet care tips and visit WTOP.com to hear the rest of Dr. Nelson’s safety suggestions.
Keep specific plants out of reach
There are several plants that can be harmful when consumed by pets and humans and one popular holiday plant, the Poinsettia, is on the list. Though you’ll probably only feel ill if you eat it, other plants like Mistletoe, Amaryllis, and Holly are seriously poisonous. If you have them in your home, keep them out of reach of children and your four-legged friends. And, since the needles from Christmas trees can also be choking hazards, try to keep little hands interested in other things. To see the full list of plants that can be harmful, read Poisonous Holiday Plants on About.com Chemistry.
Keep entryways clear
Just as you wouldn’t put your tree in front of a fireplace or near a portable heater (this is a fire risk), you’ll also want to keep your entryways accessible. Keep your decorations from blocking doors and hallways so that you can easily exit in the event of an emergency. This is a good, uncluttered idea for all times of the year, not just the holidays.
Attend to fireplaces, candles, and cooking
If you have a fireplace and intend to use it during your celebrations, remove any decor (like stockings) from around it before you light a fire. If you use candles, do not put lit candles on your tree and be sure to blow them out after using them. You’ll also want to keep them away from gifts and place them in an area where they cannot be easily knocked over. At the height of the festivities, you may forget that you have food simmering on the stove or in the oven. Consider designating someone to periodically check in on the kitchen if you can’t do it yourself. For other safety tips, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) has a guide that you might find helpful.
Though your holiday plans are probably well underway, take a look around and and use today’s uncluttering tips to ensure that you will have fun and be safe this holiday season.
What do you do with your cards after the holidays have passed? Do you keep them on display for a while or put them away in a box? Do you throw them out? When the holiday season comes to a close, you may find it difficult to part with them. If you’re not quite ready to let them go or not sure what to do with them, they can easily clutter your space. Instead of them taking over the top of your dining table or whatever surface they’ve landed on, consider using them in different ways so that you an extend their usefulness.
Make digital copies
Digitizing your cards may be a nice option especially since you can use your favorites as desktop screen savers. You can scan them and continue to enjoy them long after the season has ended and not have to worry about them cluttering your home or office. And, when you decide that you no longer want them, uncluttering will just be a few, quick clicks away.
A fun idea I’ve seen linked to numerous times on Pinterest is to snap pictures of family photo cards you receive with your smart phone and link the images to your contacts so the appropriate picture appears when you get a call. Ashley Ann Photography has a tutorial on her site for how to do this project yourself (the tutorial begins halfway down the page, so you’ll need to scroll).
Donate your greeting cards
Did you know that you can donate new and used holiday cards? The St. Jude’s Ranch for Children accepts used all-occasion greeting cards year-round. Children who participate in St. Jude’s Kids’ Corp. program use your old cards to create new cards for sale. Also check with your local community and senior centers, schools, and after-school programs to find out if they have a need for writing and craft projects.
Make something new
Used holiday cards can be transformed into holiday postcards. Whether you’re sending your usual holiday greetings or participating in Holiday Mail for Heroes, you can host card-making parties and involve friends and family in the card-making process.
Last week, I mentioned that you can make something fun with orphaned socks. Well, you can do the same with holiday cards, too. Indulge your creative side and make gift tags (Instructables has a tutorial), paper ornaments, placemats, magnets (using photo cards), book marks, or game and puzzle pieces.
Frame your favorites
Why not frame the cards you love? Pick a spot on a table or wall to display your favorite ones. If you have several cards that are meaningful to you, consider using hinged frames (like the Easy Change Artwork Frame) so that you can easily rotate the cards you’d liked to display. Depending on the size of the frame you use, you may also be able to include multiple cards at one time.
No matter how you choose to repurpose the holiday cards you’ve received, remember that you can be creative with ways to get more enjoyment from them. Just be sure that they don’t end up cluttering your home or office. And, don’t forget, you can always trash and/or recycle them.
It’s the smallest of improvements that often make the biggest difference in my life. For example, Hallmark made mailing cards significantly easier in February with the release of their postage-paid envelopes.
My sister-in-law sent my son a card in one of these envelopes a few weeks ago and when I saw the envelope with that image printed on it, I actually cheered. (I’m weird, I know.) From Hallmark’s corporate website:
Hallmark Postage-Paid Greetings feature the U.S. Postal Service’s Intelligent Mail barcode on the front of the envelope. When the cards are processed at a Postal Service facility, the barcode automatically indicates to the Postal Service the postage is paid. The postage is treated like a Forever stamp, and its value will always be equal to the price of a standard First-Class stamp, regardless of when it’s mailed.
In the article “Birthday cards and reminder systems” from back in 2007, I wrote about how I buy all my cards for the year at a single time to be more efficient. I’ve also been buying enough Forever stamps to cover all the postage for those cards around the same time. These new pre-paid envelopes make it so I don’t have to worry about the second step in the process. Also, it saves time if I need to pick up a last-minute card at the store — I just sign the card and drop it into any mailbox without having to go to the post office (which, since I haven’t yet bought my supply of cards for the year, I’ve actually done twice in the last week). Hallmark saves me from having to run another errand, and I like not having to run errands.
These new envelopes might not be for everyone, especially if you never mail cards, but for someone like me who sends a lot of cards they’re extremely convenient.
What small improvements have made a big difference in your life recently? Share your finds in the comments.
With Christmas just a few days away, Hanukkah already in full swing, and New Year’s Eve a little more than a week away, this time of year can be stressful for everyone. A simple trip to the grocery store to buy milk and bread can easily become an hour-long affair as you navigate your way through hordes of turkey buyers. Need a new shirt? The mob at the mall will easily make that trip an anxiety-filled adventure. In addition to all the shoppers, people’s fuses are short and folks are ready for an argument. So much for holiday cheer …
To help keep your stress at bay this time of year, I strongly recommend employing the following three strategies:
- Keep perspective. If the present doesn’t arrive until after the holidays, the ornaments aren’t hung on the tree, or the gravy never makes it on the table — you will be okay. In fact, you’ll probably have a funny story to tell for years to come about the year you didn’t serve ham because it was frozen solid and Uncle Jerry broke his knife trying to cut it.
- Adopt a mantra. I’m not really one for mantras (especially after watching Annie Hall: “I forgot my mantra!”), but this time of year I’m willing to give any stress-reduction method a try. I like to repeat, “What is really important?” It helps to keep me focused on what matters instead of what doesn’t. Whatever positive saying works for you, use it. Often.
- Let it go. You are not a superhero. Perfection is unattainable. Buy a smoked turkey if you’re nervous about cooking the bird. Throw all your clutter into a closet and deal with it after the holidays when you’re more level-headed. Purchase a gift card instead of hunting for the exact gift you think you might discover at the last minute. A happy holiday celebrant is much more enjoyable to be around than someone who is miserable and curt with everyone around him.
Happy holidays from all of us at Unclutterer! We wish you and yours a stress-free and joyful season.
P.S. Check out our 2011 Unclutterer Holiday Gift Giving Guide for ideas if you still have shopping to do. There are many gifts on these lists you can get online and never have to set foot in a store.
Today’s post falls into the We Don’t Know What To Think category. Is it the perfect solution when one person in a relationship loves to organize and the other person doesn’t? Is this a procrastinator’s dream situation when he is head over heels in love with a non-procrastinator? Is it the worst idea we’ve ever encountered? Would we be incredibly angry if someone had done it to us? Or, would we have been incredibly relieved, the way the “I’ll get to it one day” guy in this video appears to be?
From the website RightThisMinute.com:
Is this the ultimate uncluttered wedding (at least for the unsuspecting groom)? Or, is it strange? Would you have responded as positively to it as the groom did? Would you be the organized one and spring it on your future spouse? We still don’t know what we think about it, so share your responses in the comments. One thing we do know is that the couple appears very happy, and that made us smile.
Reader Wendy submitted the following to Ask Unclutterer:
What do you do when you come from a culture where gifting is part of etiquette? For example, when my daughter turned one recently, my mother who happened to be visiting from our home country brought back TONS of clothing (whether the right size or not) and toys for my daughter. It was overwhelming. Most of the items are either not usable in the near future, or my daughter has no interest. I don’t have a problem going through and donating or re-gifting, but it takes so much of my time! Should I just talk to my mother although she may get upset? Thanks!
I know it can be frustrating to be bombarded with stuff you don’t need. And, the smaller your space, the larger that frustration can feel. As frustrated as you’re feeling, though, the last thing you should do is tell your mother that she can’t give your daughter gifts.
Showering grandchildren with gifts is one of the joys of being a grandparent. It is clear that your mother is thrilled to have your daughter in her life, and one of the ways she is expressing that is by giving her as many wonderful things as she can. As much as it feels to you like a burden, her generosity is a blessing. Not all kids have grandparents who show interest in them or give gifts or are alive.
Remember that it’s the act of gift giving that is important, not the gift itself. Tell your mother thank you for being so generous with your daughter. Accept the gifts, write her a note of appreciation (have your daughter do this when she learns to write), and then decide what you want to do with the items after your mom has returned home.
Keep the things your daughter wants or that you think she can use in the near future. Donate to charity clothing that won’t ever work for your daughter. Re-gift toys that weren’t a hit with her. If your mother purchased items in the states, see if you can return the unwanted items for ones your daughter can use. It does take time, but not more than a few hours, and it won’t damage your relationship with your mother.
Although you can’t tell your mother what to buy for her granddaughter, you can suggest to her what your daughter needs and wants. Two months before the next gift-giving holiday, let it slip into conversation if your daughter needs or wants specific items like a new bed or new shoes (and what size) or a membership to the local zoo or dance lessons. If she’s computer savvy, create an Amazon wishlist and let her know about it to help her brainstorm gift ideas.
Don’t pressure your mom into buying things your daughter needs or wants. Don’t give her a guilt trip or hint in any way that you have been disappointed with gifts she has given in the past. Just let her know what your daughter could use, and then let it go. Whatever your mother decides to give is up to her, and her act of gift giving should be sincerely appreciated — irrespective of if you keep the gift or not.
As a final note, I want to point out that some of my son’s favorite things are gifts generous friends and family members gave to him that I never would have purchased or thought my son would have loved. Conversely, some things we put on his wishlist that we thought he would love, turned out to be total duds.
Thank you, Wendy, for submitting your question for our Ask Unclutterer column.
Do you have a question relating to organizing, cleaning, home and office projects, productivity, or any problems you think the Unclutterer team could help you solve? To submit your questions to Ask Unclutterer, go to our contact page and type your question in the content field. Please list the subject of your e-mail as “Ask Unclutterer.” If you feel comfortable sharing images of the spaces that trouble you, let us know about them. The more information we have about your specific issue, the better.
December is one of the most stressful times of year. If you don’t watch out, you could end up crying and in a terrible mess of anxiety. Here are five things you can do now to reduce the clutter and stress at the holidays:
- Make a list. Whether it’s a grocery list, gift shopping list, or list of things you need to do — write it down. Once it’s out of your head and onto a sheet of paper, you’ll stop cluttering up your mind with the items and stressing out about trying to remember it all.
- Check it twice … or as often as you need. Once you’ve made your lists, be sure to review them and/or bring them along with you. A list isn’t good to you if you don’t have it when you need it, where you need it. A to-do list should be reviewed regularly, until all items are completed.
- Find out what’s naughty. Walk around your home and/or office with a laundry basket or box and pick up any items that are out of place, and then put them away. Do you have a used glass on your desk that should be returned to the kitchen? Do you have shoes in the middle of the living room floor that belong in your closet? Reduce the stress caused by visual clutter by putting everything back in its place.
- Find out what’s nice. Take time each day to enjoy some down time. If you meditate, meditate. If you do yoga, do yoga. If you simply want to sit and drink your coffee in silence for 10 or 15 minutes, do that. Give your brain some much needed time off each day during this busy season.
- Get ready to travel out of town. If you’re traveling or even if you’re staying put, now is the time to confirm all of your reservations — travel, hotel, dinner, movie — or those of your guests. The less you leave up in the air, the less you’ll worry about your plans between now and then. RSVP to parties, find out what you’re supposed to bring to holiday dinners, or even learn which friends are coming into town you’ll want to see while they’re visiting their relatives. Get everything on the calendar and be ready for as much as you can.
With holiday card sending season on the horizon, my husband and I have been trying to decide what we want to send this year. While researching our options, I learned about the website Jack Cards, which is an incredibly helpful service for busy people. It’s more than a holiday card sending service, it’s a service to use throughout the year to remove the stress of buying cards and stamps. An explanation of their service from the website:
Jack Cards is designed for busy people who value sending a handwritten birthday, anniversary or ‘miss you’ card but find it hard to get to a card shop or post office on time.
Based in San Francisco, California, Jack Cards uniquely focuses on delivering pre-scheduled ready-to-go (stamped and addressed) greeting cards to the sender just in time to write their own personal message inside and drop it in the mailbox.
For busy people who like the art of sending handwritten cards, Jack Cards is a terrific service. If having someone else involved in the process isn’t for you, check out “Birthday cards and reminder systems” for tips on how to get cards out the door on time.
(Pictured card by Bumble Ink, available through Jack Cards.)
One of the things I discovered during my uncluttering process is that silver wrapping paper works for every gift-giving occasion — weddings, anniversaries, birthdays, baby showers, housewarming, etc. — and when you only have a few tubes of wrapping paper to store, it takes up very little space in a closet. A simple wrapping storage solution can easily handle all of our paper and supplies.
Before using silver paper, I’d been trying to use brown butcher paper for all my wrapping. However, I felt the brown paper was too casual for some occasions, like weddings and anniversaries. I ended up buying small batches of wrapping paper whenever a more formal gift-giving experience arose. The same was true for using fabric bags, and fabric puts a storage burden on the person receiving the gift. I also like the idea of reusable gift bags, but these only work on gifts that coordinate in size to the bags, so you have to store multiple sizes of bags for all different types of situations. Plus, reusable gift bags can be significantly more expensive than wrapping paper and after a couple uses start to show signs of wear. Silver wrapping paper doesn’t have any of these disadvantages — it’s inexpensive, always appropriate, fits all different sizes of gifts, can be recycled, and it doesn’t put a storage burden on the gift recipient or the gift giver.
Silver wrapping paper is in stores in abundance this time of year, and is when I typically stock up my wrapping supplies for the next 12 months. (For some reason, silver paper is much more difficult to find at other times of the year.) Before children, my husband and I could usually survive on two tubes of silver wrapping paper a year. Now that we have a son, we’ve decided to pump that number up to four.
The best deal we’ve found this year is at Ikea. Their SNÖVITA gift wrap (available only in stores) is just $1.99 a roll for 2 ¼ yards:
If you can’t find silver wrapping in your area, a white or a gold wrapping paper might also be a signature wrapping that could work in all situations the way silver does. Whatever style you decide to use, consider a method that will help to keep your wrapping paper clutter to a minimum in your home.
Next week is my son’s first birthday. To celebrate this event, I’m making him a Dinosaur Train cake and some homemade orange popsicle flavored ice cream, both treats my husband and I plan to consume in significantly larger quantities than what my son will. (He’ll likely wear a good portion of his servings.) We’re not having a traditional party, but we’ll video chat with grandparents and cousins when he opens (rather, when we open) the gifts they generously sent to him. We might go to a park or the zoo if the weather is nice.
My expectation is that his second birthday celebration will be similar to this and he won’t start having parties with friends until he’s at least three, four, or five years old — whenever he requests a more standard party. Until then, we’re keeping things as low key as possible.
Before I became a mom, I never understood the lavish parties parents in my area throw for their kids. I’ve heard of some events that easily cost parents thousands of dollars, and guests to the party end up leaving with bags of goodies more valuable than the toys they brought for the guest of honor. I know I won’t ever throw a party like this for my son (sorry, kiddo!), but I’m at least starting to understand why parents do.
As a parent, you want the world for your kid. You want your child to be liked by his classmates, you want your child to be happy, and you want to celebrate his life. A basic swimming party with hamburgers can easily cost a hundred dollars — spending 10 times more once a year on a birthday party wouldn’t seem like such a big deal, especially if you’ve got the disposable income to do it. Research even shows that experiences make you happier than physical possessions.
My parenting philosophy and budget don’t include renting elephants, night clubs, and cruise ships for my son and 100 of his acquaintances, though. I’m more interested in teaching him to appreciate adventures than extravagance. I want him to respect people more than glamor and glitz. And, I hope he learns that the things that matter most in life don’t usually come wrapped in shiny paper with bows.
I don’t judge the parents who go all out for their child’s birthdays — for all I know, they’re teaching their children the same values I’m hoping to teach mine, just with the addition of a really great party once a year. A simple party is what works for our family, however, and I hope my son won’t be an outcast or disappointed by our decision when he’s old enough to know what a party is. If we stay in this area of the country, his birthday might regularly fall on the last day of school, which he might even see as party enough.