Reusable shopping bags

Reader Danielle sent us a suggestion for collapsible, reusable bags, and totes. These bags fold into handy carrying cases when not in use. Their small size makes storing them simple, and the bags keep you from collecting a seemingly endless supply of paper/plastic bags from the grocery store. And, since they’re reusable, they help the environment. There are a number of brands on the market, but these two look pretty nifty:

Both brands are made from rip-stop fabric and can hold a significant quantity of groceries. The bags are also machine-washable so it’s easy to clean up spills and leaks. They fold up into an attached pouch and, once folded, can fit inside a purse or pocket.

Thanks Danielle for your suggestion!

 

This post has been updated since its original publication in 2007.

What does it mean to ‘honor’ mementos?

beastieWe talk a great deal about “honoring” the mementos you chose to keep in your home. This exact word we picked up from Peter Walsh, but it’s a concept most everyone in the organization business has understood for years. In short, when we say that you should “honor” your mementos, we mean that if you’re going to the trouble of keeping something in your home, you should at least treat that item with respect. Being shoved in a messy closet, typically, is not honoring an object.

How you chose to honor something is a personal choice and full of seemingly endless possibilities. I thought that I would discuss one of my collections to give you an idea of how you could choose to honor something in your home. My example is concert posters.

When I was in journalism school working on my undergraduate degree, I was convinced I was going to be the next Cameron Crowe. I interviewed every band that came through town (Everclear, Jackopierce, mid-1990s groups) and every legend who set foot on campus (Allen Ginsberg, William S. Burroughs, Patty Smith, Debbie Harry). When I wasn’t in class, I worked as a disc jockey for the local commercial station and had an internship with the company that booked all of the shows at the region’s concert amphitheater. In my mind, there was nothing standing between me and being the next Editor-in-Chief of Rolling Stone.

I was exactly like most people in their early twenties. I was trying to figure out who I was and who I wanted to grow to become. I still love music, though, and it will always be a part of me. Plus, if I hadn’t gone through my Cameron Crowe-obsession stage in college, I wouldn’t be who I am today.

So, how do I respect those memories? I frame them. I put concert posters in ridiculously ornate frames and hang them in my hallway. They’re fun. They make me smile. And, most importantly, they’re treated with respect and honored in a way appropriate to their memory.

I don’t have concert posters from every show I’ve attended. I only have kept those that are the most important to me. The one in the photograph above is from a secret concert the Beastie Boys performed a number of years ago in DC. Bad weather delayed the band so they bought pizza for everyone who stuck around to hear them play. By the time they went on stage, only a hundred or so people were still at the venue. I saw the show with one of my closest friends and it felt like we were watching the band at a small house party. It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and I framed the poster from the show and hung it on my hallway wall in tribute to that night.

 

This post has been updated since its original publication in 2007.

Reader question: How store loose leaf teas?

Reader Jeni sent us the following question:

I was hoping you might have suggestions for storing loose-leaf teas. I’m a pretty avid collector and drinker of tea, and my collection has gotten to the point where it’s taken over my available pantry space. The traditional tins used for storing tea may keep it fresh, but they’re also big and add to the clutter. Any thoughts? Thanks!

As the weather turns cooler (at least in theory, we’ve had highs of 85 degrees in the Mid-Atlantic region all week), drinking a warm pot of tea is a terrific way to start a morning or settle in at night. Regardless of if you drink loose-leaf or pouch teas, storing the tea can be a cumbersome task.

To maintain its freshness, tea should be kept dry, at room temperature, away from direct light, and in an air-tight container. Additionally, tea should be stored away from other strong scents.

If you typically drink mild aroma teas, then my first suggestion for you is the following low-cost method. Start by moving all of your teas out of their tins and into appropriately sized Ziploc bags. Using a permanent magic marker, label the exterior of the bag with the name of the tea and its purchase date. Finally, put all of the teas into an opaque storage container of your choice. I use a decorative canister for my teas to hide the utilitarian design of the Ziploc-style bags.

If you tend to drink strong aroma teas, then my first suggestion isn’t going to work for you. If you put all of your teas together, their scents will infuse with each other and you’ll have bizarre flavored concoctions. In this situation, I suggest storing all of your mild aroma teas as described previously and then keeping your strong aroma teas in their supplied tins (as long as the supplied tins are air tight). My assumption is that you only have one or two strong aroma teas, so they will take up a limited space in your cupboard.

Another option is to use air-tight spice bottles and a spice rack of your preference. It isn’t as financially friendly, but it will certainly take up less space. You will need to store the spice rack in a dark pantry or drawer to keep the teas out of direct light, but the glass or metal will keep strong aromas from cross infusing.

Good luck, Jeni, with your endeavor to free up space in your pantry!

 

This post has been updated since its original publication in October 2007.

Is everything in your home in its best place?

Imagine your kitchen for a moment. What is the one thing that you use most every time you’re in it? Your refrigerator? Your stove? Your trash can?

Most people don’t think about their trash can as being an integral aspect of their kitchens, but it is. During the course of preparing a meal, a trash can needs to be accessed numerous times. That is why I am always surprised when I walk into a kitchen and don’t immediately see one easily accessible from all aspects of the room. Even worse, I’m confused by kitchen designs where the trash can is behind a door, under the kitchen sink.

Yes, a trash can hidden behind a cabinet door looks clean, but it is completely impractical. You have to touch a cabinet nob, likely with dirty and full hands, to access it repeatedly. When it’s time to change the garbage bags, you have to strategically pull out the full canister without dropping anything inside the cabinet. A poorly placed trash can doesn’t help you in the kitchen, it hinders you. And, with the sexy, foot controlled, stand-alone models that are on the market, you shouldn’t feel that you need to hide this essential item.

I have a friend who hides her trash can under her sink and she says that she avoids the constant opening and closing of the door by keeping a large bowl on her countertop for trash while she’s cooking. (I think Rachel Ray promotes this idea on her show, too.) That makes some sense, but by doing this she dirties an extra bowl every time she cooks and adds steps to the cleaning process. An accessible trash can seems like the more efficient solution to me.

Think about the rest of your house. Are you creating extra, unnecessary steps for yourself because of poor organization? Are your pot holders in a drawer no where near your stove? Is your vacuum in a basement closet and not in a closet on the floor where it is used? Remember that good organization and design should be based on what you use and how you use it. I continue to support the idea that everything in your home should have a place to live, I just want you to think about if everything is living in its best place.

 

This post has been updated since its original publication in September 2007.

Organizing gift wrapping supplies

Tubes of gift wrap are cumbersome and always find a way to cause a mess. If you don’t already have a designated storage system for your gift wrap, then you may want to consider putting one together or purchasing a pre-made system.

I use the Gift Wrap Organizer (pictured), which has served me well over the years. I hang it in my office closet and only pull it out when I use it. I purchased tape and scissors specifically to be stored with the gift wrap so that everything is in one spot when I need it.

I keep five tubes of wrapping paper in the storage sleeves: One roll of heavy, plain white (for wedding and anniversary gifts), two rolls of holiday paper (one with a snowman print and the other a solid gold), a conservative stripe (for father’s day and male birthdays), and a neutral with polka dots (for mother’s day, female birthdays, and baby showers). If I had children, I would probably have a sixth tube of printed, youthful paper. In the front pockets I have stored bows, ribbons, and clear scotch tape. The side pocket holds a pair of scissors. The top back pocket holds white, cream, pink, and blue tissue paper. Finally, the bottom back pocket holds 10 gift bags in varying sizes (most of these are recycled from gifts people gave to me).

I found other pre-made systems that would work well, too:

Keep gift wrap from causing a mess in your home with a self-made or purchased organization system specifically designed for this purpose.

 

This post has been updated since its original publication in October 2007.

Simple solution for small packets in your kitchen pantry

Card FileHere’s a simple solution for packets of dry goods in your pantry: Store them together in an index card file.

I store packets of yeast in a 3×5 card file and larger packets of taco and stew seasonings in a 4×6 card file. These card files keep small packets from getting lost behind boxes of pasta and cereal and they make inventory simple when creating grocery lists.

An index card file is just a simple, inexpensive way to keep clutter at bay in your pantry!

 

This post has been updated since its original publication in October 2007.

Stair step baskets can help control clutter

I am not a basket person. I’ve never thought that a room in my home could be improved in some way by bowl shaped, woven wood with a handle. My mother, Queen of Baskets, disagrees with me strongly on this point. She believes that baskets make everything better. Everything.

In her home, if you want to blow your nose, you get your tissue from a basket. Toilet paper? Basket. Magazine? Basket. Silverware? Basket. Television remote? Basket. Flour? Sugar? Q-tip? That’s right, baskets. Her house is extremely organized, and its organization system revolves primarily around baskets.

As I said in the beginning, baskets are not my forte. However, amid all of my mother’s baskets, one of them makes complete sense to me: The stair step basket.

This basket sits on the bottom two steps in her house and throughout the day she fills it with items that belong upstairs. When she heads upstairs at some point, she takes it and returns the items in the basket to their proper places. Then, she sets the basket on the top two stairs and fills it with items that belong downstairs as she comes across them. The cycle repeats each time the basket is full. The basket collects out of place items and keeps them from creating clutter. Her system of using the basket is a brilliant clutter-busting and time-saving solution.

Her specific stair step basket is no longer made but it is very similar to this one. Honestly, though, any storage container that is easy to carry would work and could serve the same function. I think this is a wonderful idea for anyone in a multiple-storey home.

 

This post has been updated since its original publication in October 2007.

Establish a zone in a room with vinyl wall decals

Living in an apartment or dorm room can have some disadvantages. One of the biggest disadvantage, in my opinion, is that you have limited decorating options. Most landlords won’t allow you to paint the walls, and many won’t let you use nails to hang artwork.

This bleak canvas might be appealing to minimalists, but I think that most people enjoy looking at something other than plain, white walls. Additionally, visually identifying where a room begins and ends, or where a zone of a room exists, can help a space feel more put together and less cluttered.

Vinyl wall decals with low-tack adhesive are one way to create interest on a wall without having to pick up a paintbrush or hammer a nail. I also think that these are great solutions for children’s rooms where interests change quickly with age. (Dump trucks were so two weeks ago!) I’m considering using them in my three-story stairwell, and I even have the luxury of being able to paint my walls.

You could opt for wall-sized murals. Various quotations are available. You can even create your own decal with a favorite quote. Holiday themed decals allow you to change decor with ease. Glow-in-the-dark decals will allow you to shed a little bit of light in dark corners — ideal for keeping monsters away in a little one’s room.

A google search for vinyl wall decals or decorations will yield many links. I’ve collected a list of some of what I believe to be the most innovative producers:

  • Acte Deco has numerous designs based on nature and sports themes.
  • Domestic has many interesting cartoons and doilies from French designers (“Shall We Dance” is my favorite).
  • Apple Pie Design has many silhouette options.
  • Blik has Charles and Ray Eames decals that make my heart go pitter patter.

If you’re having trouble creating zones in your home, consider vinyl wall decals as a temporary or permanent option.

The slow cooker: Uncluttered kitchen cooking

As fall nears and the weather cools, I start looking forward to a good bowl of chili while watching my favorite football team play on a Sunday afternoon. My thoughts of chili then progress into musings of stews and soups and all the wonderful things that can be made in my slow cooker.

I like using a slow cooker because it means that I dirty it and no other pots or pans during meal preparation. There are a few exceptions when an additional pan is needed to brown or sear meat, but these instances are rare. After the meal has been served, cleanup is as simple as moving the empty crock from the slow cooker to the dishwasher. The slow cooker is definitely an uncluttered kitchen solution.

If you don’t currently own a slow cooker, there are really only two features that I see as essential components. The first necessary feature is a separate, removable inner crock. The second feature is a temperature indicator that has at least three settings: Off, Low, and High. I have never found use for any of the other slow cooker features currently on the market. A crock pot with these two features also has the benefit of usually costing less than $30 and will last you many years.

The majority of the recipes I make in my slow cooker are in my head. However, I took a trip recently to my local bookstore and saw that there are now dozens of slow cooker recipe books in publication for people seeking printed recipes. Also, an internet search for “slow cooker recipe” yielded thousands of recipes from online sources. If you’re looking for inspiration, here are some of the slow cooker cookbooks on the market:

Enjoy your uncluttered cooking experience!

 

This post has been updated since it was originally published in September 2007.

Words to keep you motivated

Listed below are the most common pieces of advice I give to people on the topic of uncluttering. With a three-day weekend on the horizon for those of us in the States, I thought that some encouragement might be appropriate. Have a great holiday, everyone!

  1. You don’t have to unclutter in one fell swoop. Many projects, spread out over weeks and months, will get you the same results as if you had tackled it all at once.
  2. Benefits of uncluttering can include being better organized, less stressed, and having fewer things to clean. When you walk into a room, you’re able to relax because there is a place for everything and everything is in its place.
  3. Your motivations and visions for your uncluttered life are your guiding star when taking on uncluttering projects. Keep your eyes on your goals and you’ll find that uncluttering has less to do about the stuff and more about the life you want to lead.
  4. You can do it!
  5. You don’t have to unclutter alone. Seek out friends, family, or organizational professionals to help with motivation and keep you focused on your uncluttering goals.
  6. Keep things in perspective. If you relapse and get bogged down, don’t become frustrated and beat yourself up over it. Start again tomorrow. This is home and office organization, it’s not brain surgery. There are worse things in the world than not succeeding your first time with an uncluttering project.
  7. The person with the most amount of stuff at the end of his or her life doesn’t win an award.
  8. The person with the least amount of stuff at the end of his or her life doesn’t win an award, either. Living an uncluttered life doesn’t mean that you have to live an ascetic life. Simple living is about getting rid of distractions that prevent you from enjoying a modern, luxurious life. It’s about smart consumption, not no consumption. To paraphrase Albert Einstein, “Things should be made as simple as possible, but not any simpler.”

What advice, motivations, or thoughts have helped you to be more organized? Let us know what has influenced you!

 

This post was originally published in August 2007.

An idea for inherited china

Since the 1880s, when a woman in my family has raised her children and finds herself getting along in years she has picked up a small paint brush and signed her full name and birth date to the bottom of her china’s tea cups and saucers. Then, as she sees fit, she distributes the tea cups and matching saucers to her family and friends.

My mother has a collection of seven tea cups and saucers on a shelf in her dining room’s china cabinet. As a child, I would ask about the tea cups and my mother would pull them out and tell me the stories of the people to whom they had belonged. Not all of the tea cups and saucers were signed, those had come from my paternal line where signing the china hadn’t been the tradition. My mother had collected the unsigned pieces from my father’s family members so that when she one day passes on the collection to me that I will have a set including pieces from more than her family.

It seems a bit cluttered to collect seven different tea cups and saucers to store on a shelf of a china cabinet, but in comparison to keeping seven complete sets of china it is quite uncluttered. Also, with the sentimentality of past generations being passed on in tea cups, it means that other, more clutter-prone objects, are eliminated guilt-free from the inheritance process.

 

This post was originally published in August 2007.

Reader question: How should I store my fabric stash?

Reader Zora sent us the following question:

I sew my own clothing; I also quilt, make lace, crochet, etc. I have a 20 year accumulation of cloth, scraps, and supplies that is exquisitely organized (labeled boxes, labeled plastic drawers). If I had a dedicated sewing room, it would all fit nicely there. But I don’t. It’s all neatly stacked in the spare room, which I must clear out so I can rent it. Advice for fabriholics?

Zora, I understand the stash and hopefully can provide you with some help on this matter. I, too, sew and have a fabric stash. Fabric, yarn, fiber, thread, and canvas hoarding, along with pattern and supply accumulation is a common problem among fiber artists. (The most unbelievable stash I’ve ever seen photographed is showcased here. It’s a yarn stash, but the hoarding concept is the same.) The advice that I’m giving can be applied to anyone wanting to get his or her stash in order.

Mindset: There is not a limited supply of fabric in the world. Plants continue to produce cotton, worms spin silk, sheep have wool, and there are fabric manufacturers and retailers willing to produce and sell you gorgeous fabrics. If any of these processes cease to exist, you will have larger concerns than obtaining fabric.

That being said, it is ridiculous to assume that a serious artist will have no stash. A friend may appear at your door with a batik fabric from a trip to India. If you can’t think of a project to start immediately, you now have a stash on your hands.

Therefore, I suggest that your stash be a limited size. Determine the size of your stash based on two factors: 1. How much you can sew in a set time period (I suggest having no more than six months or a year of projects), and 2. How much you can carry in one load. If you cannot carry the whole of your stash, then it is too big. You would never be able to save it in an emergency if you couldn’t carry it, so why have more than you could reasonably save?

Future buying: Buy fabric for specific projects. Don’t buy fabric unless you know the exact length, style, and type that you need for a project that you will make in the next six months or year. I carry a list of my fabric and supply needs in a small moleskine notebook in my purse with me at all times. Resist all other types of personal fabric purchases. This is the hardest step in the process.

Organizing your stash: When I bring new fabric into my home, I immediately put it into a large Ziploc Storage bag. The pattern, thread, and all other necessary supplies for the project go into the bag, as well. I write the name of the project and the date the fabric was purchased on the exterior of the bag with a permanent black marker.

I measure fabric that is given to me as a gift and then put it into a Ziploc bag. On the bag’s exterior, I label the size of the fabric, its fiber content, who gave me the fabric, where it was purchased, and the date of the gift. I then actively seek out projects for that fabric.

Organizing your non-fabric supplies: I have two additional storage containers in addition to my fabric stash. The first is a thread organizer and the second is a tackle box for all of my other sewing supplies. I keep manuals and pattern books on my bookshelf and my cutting mat leans against the back wall of my office closet.

Getting rid of fabric: If you haven’t sewn a project in a year, evaluate if you’re actually going to make the project. If the answer is yes, it goes back in the bin with a re-evaluation date written on the bag. If the answer is no, get rid of the project in full.

After a project is complete, immediately get rid of scraps. You don’t have to throw the scraps in the trash (you may have more than a yard of scraps), but you need to get them out of your house. Scraps are clutter.

Here are suggestions for ways to de-stash projects, scraps, or large amounts of fabric–

  • Set up a Pay Pal account and sell it on your blog
  • List it on Craigslist or Ebay
  • Have a yard sale where you specifically mention that you’re getting rid of fabric
  • Freecycle it
  • Contact your local high school and see if the Home Economics department could use it
  • Donate it to charity
  • Let your sewing friends go through it and take what they want

 

This post has been updated since its original publication in August 2007.