Five ideas for post-holiday organization

Good day, Unclutterers. We hope all of you who celebrate Christmas had a good one. Now is the time to enjoy the time off from work, the company of friends and family, and the leftovers from last night’s dinner.

Additionally, December 26 is the perfect time for a little post-holiday organization. Nothing too taxing, we want you to enjoy your holiday. With that in mind, here are five simple, effective things you can do today to stay on top of things.

  1. Prepare for ornament storage. It’s common to feel sentimental about the things we own. Holiday ornaments often fall into that category. Protect the decorations that mean something to you with safe, secure storage. A specialized bin like this one will do the job, but really you can make one nearly as effective with a plastic bin and some styrofoam cups. In either case, prepare your solution now so that it will be ready when you’re putting the decorations away.
  2. Organize a wrapping station. A gift-wrapping station will serve you well through the years. Perhaps you struggled a bit this season. If so, take an hour or so to sort that out . A hanging gift wrap organizer keeps things tidy and accessible. Take a quick inventory of the supplies you currently have. If required, take advantage of post-Christmas sales and pick up any supplies you may need.
  3. Figure out how you’ll store those lights. The coat hanger trick is a good one, as are storage reels. A piece of cardboard works perfectly for me.
  4. Unclutter unwanted items. For many, an influx of new toys will raise the question of what to do with the old ones. Here are many options, from donation to re-use.
  5. Make thank-you cards. If there are kids in the house, use scraps of colorful wrapping paper to make thank-you cards. Find pieces you like, cut into festive shapes and affix to plain thank-you cards. Grandma, grandpa, aunties, uncles, etc. will love to receive these.

When you put the decorations away should be based on your schedule or perhaps family tradition. Some do it right away while others may wait until January 6, the Christian celebration of Epiphany. In either case, a little preparation will make that process easier.

Origami Rack

The process of getting organized often requires buying a set of shelves. Like many other people wanting to get organized, I would go to a department store and buy a heavy, flat-pack shelving unit, haul it into my house, and unpack it. Then, I would have to wait for my husband or children to come home because it always required at least two people to assemble the unit with pegs, screws, and nails — if all of the parts were included in the package.

These MDF/pressboard shelves often warped with the weight of books or other heavy items. We’re a military family and move house about every three years and often these shelving units broke or fell apart during a move. We sometimes disassembled and re-assembled them, but it was time consuming and the re-assembled units were never as sturdy as they were before they were taken apart. We ended up replacing many of them over the years — expensive for us and not good for the environment!

Now, I have finally found a solution to my shelving problems and hopefully to yours as well — Origami Rack.

Just like the traditional art of paper folding, Origami Racks assemble/disassemble by folding and unfolding. There are no tools required! Watch the video to see the 4-tier Garage Shelf set up in ten seconds. It is made from steel and can hold 250 pounds (110kg) per shelf!

 

Origami Rack has other products that are great for inside your home. The Easy Organizer 12-Cube holds 5.5 pounds (2.5kg) per shelf and would be ideal for storing shoes, sweaters, toys, linens, and more. It simply pops open fully assembled.

The Origami Computer Desk would be ideal for people who travel for work perhaps setting up at trade shows, or for students who live in small apartments and dorm rooms.

The Deco Tiered Display Rack can be used in a bedroom or living area as a stylish organizing solution or in the office as a classy printer stand.

The other thing I really like about Origami Racks is most of the products can be fitted with wheels. You only need one person to assemble and disassemble and move these items.

If you have a mobile component to your lifestyle, and you have a desire to be organized and productive, make it easy on yourself and consider Origami Rack.

How to store uniforms

Each week my son and I don our Boy Scouts of America uniforms and head to a meeting. Shirt, pants and hat come out of the closet and join us for a week of adventures, be it a lesson during a meeting or a few days at the camp site. Since these aren’t every day clothes we take care in storing them when the fun is over, which got me thinking about the care an storage of uniforms in general.

Uniforms need special care, from those you need for work to the military uniforms worn by the men and women in the armed forces. What’s the best way to store them? Read on.

Military uniforms are a special case. If their owner is still active, they’re often stored in places (barrack boxes or rucksacks) in case of rapid deployment. That being said, there are seasonal variations in uniforms as well as uniforms for special occasions. The same storage and organizational rules apply here as for civilian clothing; have it laundered or dry cleaned right away, store the uniforms separately from civilian clothes and store uniform parts (tops/bottoms) together if possible.

Most military uniforms have “accoutrements” that are worn with the clothing: pins, medals, name and rank badges and patches that can’t be laundered and will move from today’s uniform to tomorrow’s uniform. It’s best to have a small basket to corral these items either wherever you disrobe or in the laundry area. Accoutrements for special occasion uniforms should not be stored on the uniform (e.g. metal pins can rust and stain) so a small jewelry organizer tied to the clothes hanger (and easily shoved into a suitcase for traveling) is ideal.

Long term storage for military uniforms (insect proof bins, out of dampness etc) is the same as for civilian clothes.

Military members have lots of boots and shoes. For long term storage, stuffing boots with acid-free paper helps keep shape and prevents damage. Parade shoes (super-high gloss) should be stored in a zippered cloth bag.

Let’s move on from military uniforms and look at other sorts. There are general rules that apply to all sorts of uniforms:

  1. Avoid hangers for uniforms that will remain unused in long-term storage. The seams could stretch if left hanging for a year or more.
  2. 100% acid-free boxes are a good way to go. They protect uniforms efficiently, let you avoid hangers and allow air to circulate.
  3. Avoid vacuum-sealing uniforms as you could find permanent wrinkles have set in if left for a long time.
  4. Avoid putting them in the smallest space possible. Allowing air to flow will help prevent mold growth.

These tips will keep your uniforms looking good for years to come. Preserve their usefulness, significance and memories with ease. You’ll be glad you did.

Practical stocking stuffers

My sister’s Amazon wish list is among the dullest you’ll ever see. Here’s a small sampling:

  1. Sensible shoes
  2. A hat
  3. Raincoat

You get the idea. Every year it’s similar and every year I roll my eyes. Where’s the fun? Where’s the splurge? Where’s the total resignation to unbridled avarice? Her list is so…practical.

And that’s perfectly fine.

Today I recognize that frugality is a part of the uncluttered lifestyle. Flamboyant gifts have their place and are a lot of fun, but I shouldn’t knock level-headed, useful alternatives. I’ve always defined frugal as “nothing is wasted,” but it’s also got a good dash of “simple, plain and useful.” I’ve written about many products that suit that description here, and today I’ll continue the tradition with practical stocking stuffers. Here are some good ideas for the “practical” loved one on your list.

  1. The Coast HP1 Focusing 190 Lumen LED Flashlight. Hands down the best flashlight I’ve ever owned. Sturdy, reliable, well made and bright. Buy a few and and put one in your house, your car and your bag.
  2. The classic Victorinox Swiss Army Pocket Knife. I own two of these, and I keep one on the key chain of each of our cars. I use them several times per week, for everything from tightening loose screws to opening packages. And while you’re at it, why not add a pocket-sized sharpening stone?
  3. The Pocket Reference, 4th Edition. This little book contains just about everything you would ever want to know and it fits in your pocket. Plus you don’t need a full battery or a strong Wi-Fi signal to use it.
  4. The Accugage 60XGA Tire Gauge is one of the best in the industry. It is easy to read and reliable.
  5. A subscription to Dollar Shave Club or Harry’s. You’re going to buy razors and blades anyway, so just have them shipped to your house. I’ve been a happy Harry’s customer for years.
  6. Chargers, adapters and backup batteries. It’s no fun when a treasured gadget’s battery dies. An external battery pack like the Jackery Bolt will keep your devices running and running.
  7. Lastly, how about a magazine that speaks to the recipient’s interests or hobbies? Rolled up and tied with a bow, it’s a great addition to any stocking.

There you have it. Look beyond the extravagant to find the useful, practical gifts that people love. They’ll be glad you did.

Three small, useful tools

These three small, useful tools help me save time and be more productive.

Universal socket

20161209_universal_socketAfter living in Canada, England and now the United States, we have items that have been built with both SAE and metric-sized nuts and bolts. It is time-consuming, not to mention frustrating, going back and forth to the toolbox trying to figure out if the bolt is 12mm, 13mm or ½ inch-sized. The universal socket saves me time. I only have to grab this one socket for multiple jobs. It also works on nuts and bolts whose corners have been slightly ground-down causing ordinary wrenches to slip. It is also useful in fastening and detaching odd-shaped things like hooks and eyes. It won’t take the place of a heavy-duty socket set that a car mechanic might need but it is amazingly useful for all those jobs around the house.

Damaged screw remover set

20161209_screw_remover_setWe’ve lived in rental housing most of our lives. To do small repairs, sometimes we need to remove screws that are rusty, damaged or covered with layers and layers of paint. The damaged screw remover set has been very useful. These bits fit easily into a multi-head screwdriver or power drill and remove all types of screws including slot, Philips, Robertson, hex and Torx. This little kit has saved us from a lot of heartache (and smashed fingers) and made repair jobs much easier.

Glass cutter

I originally purchased a glass cutter for a weekend craft course on stained glass windows. Since then, I’ve used the glass cutter several times and I’m really glad we have it. Almost every time we move, the glass in a picture frame or a mirror gets broken.20161209_glass_cutter
With the glass cutter (and leather gloves and safety glasses) I have been able to cut the glass down to smaller sizes so I can wrap it in cardboard (usually a cereal box) and safely dispose of it.

Do you have small tools like these that you just can’t live without? Please share your stories with our readers in the comments.

How to hire a professional organizer for the holidays

Holiday organizing sometimes means calling in a professional.

The winter holidays represent a busy time for many people. In addition to the day-to-day tasks of running a household, you may take on:

  • Traveling
  • Hosting visitors
  • Planning/hosting a party
  • Decorating the house
  • Shopping
  • Cooking

…and so on. Add to that the general cleaning, laundry, maintenance, homework, etc. of a typical month and it’s very easy to get stretched way too thin. When that happens you might consider hiring a professional organizer. This extra set of hands can be a real life-saver, if you approach it carefully. Here are a few tips for finding, hiring and getting the most out of a professional organizer around the holidays.

Find the right organizer for you

Hiring the right organizer for you isn’t as easy as firing up Google and contacting the top result. There’s a lot to consider, starting with trust. This is a person who will be working in your home, and potentially be working with stuff you don’t often share with strangers. The truth is just about anyone can call themselves a “professional organizer.” There are, however, a few steps you can take to find a trustworthy, qualified professional.

Your best option is to start with an industry association such as the National Association of Professional Organizers (NAPO). There are NAPO members all over the world however, many countries have their own associations. See the International Federation of Professional Organizing Associations (IFPOA) for an association in your country.

Most associations require their members to have a certain amount of training and carry insurance before they can be listed on the association website. Additionally, members must adhere to a strict Code of Ethics.

It is also a good idea to ask around. Perhaps a friend, relative or coworker has used an organizer successfully. Create a list of two or three likely candidates and then schedule interviews.

Spend twenty or thirty minutes to spend talking with each candidate. Many will offer this type of consultation for free. During this chat, you can get to know his or her personality, experience, credentials, history and organizational philosophy. Get even more specific by asking about:

  • How long have they been in business?
  • What type of organizing do they specialize in?
  • What do they charge and is there a written contract?
  • Do they prefer to work alone or with others?
  • Can they provide references?

Professional Organizers in Canada (POC) has a great list of Frequently Asked Questions about hiring an organizer that may be helpful.

Once you’re satisfied with that I think of as the “technical” aspect, move on to the tricker questions, like:

  • How do they deal with clients who have a strong sentimental attachment to items?
  • Can they remove items marked for donation?
  • Will they purchase organizing items like baskets and bins or is that my responsibility?

A consultation can help you get the kick-start you need, find the right person and most importantly, identify the person you’re going to get along with.

How much will an organizer cost?

Rates for a professional organizer can range from about $50 to $100 an hour, and most have a 2–3 hour minimum requirement. You’ll want to know if he or she charges by the hour or by the project. Rates may vary between geographical areas and travel charges may apply depending on your location. While it’s possible to find that person who will work for $20 per hour, that “bargain” might not deliver the results you’re looking for.

Other considerations

This one might sound silly, but ask if they have advertising on their car. Perhaps you don’t want the neighbors to know you’ve brought someone in. Most organizers have confidentiality agreements to protect your privacy. If the organizer doesn’t mention this, raise the subject with him/her.

Also, know just what type of work you’re looking for. In this instance, you might want help with prepping for a party or organizing holiday decorations. Therefore, someone who specializes in bathrooms or kitchens might not be your best choice.

Pro organizer or personal assistant?

Perhaps you want to go in the other direction entirely. That is to say, hire someone to take care of the little errands while you stay home and organize the party, put the decorations away neatly and efficiently, etc. In this case, a personal assistant may be what you need. Websites like Care.com can help you find one.

In any case, best of luck with getting it all done. Hiring an organizer or assistant can be a great way to reach your goal and enjoy a more stress-free holiday. Let us know how it goes.

Unclutterer’s 2016 Holiday Gift Giving Guide: Gifts for clutter-prone rooms

2016 gift giving guideThe holidays are a time to gather with loved ones, feel a deep sense of gratitude, and receive presents! I kid of course…kind of. We all have a list of things we would love to have but we would never buy for ourselves. In this article, I’m going to point out several such items for the areas of the home that are very prone to clutter: the home office, the kitchen and the shed or garage. These items will delight the unclutterer on your list.

For the home office

There are many fantastic digital organization tools available. Still, there is nothing like a paper planner, and my favorite by far is the Hobonichi Techo. This Japanese brand day planner/notebook has been on my desk for years. It features thin yet remarkably durable paper that resists ink bleed-through. It can be used as a notebook, planner, journal or sketchbook. The spine features lay-flat binding, which I love, and it is sized for travel. There are cool covers available too, if you want to go all out.

field notes notebookJust like the Hobonichi Techo, I have a fierce loyalty to Field Notes notebooks. While the Techo sits on my desk, the Field Notes notebook is in my back pocket, all day, every day. It is a durable tool that’s ready for work. Anything I need to capture in the moment – an appointment, an idea, a request or a task to add to a project – is written in my notebook. At work, people simply say to me, “…put it in your notebook,” because they know that’s just what I’m going to do. Field Notes are stylish, sturdy, and small enough to fit in a shirt pocket. I’m literally never without one.

You’ll need a pen for all that writing, and you can’t go wrong with a Fisher Space Pen. (And yes, it did go into space.) This rugged, compact pen can write at any angle (for the times when the only flat surface is a vertical wall) and on almost any material – including wet paper! It’s the perfect companion to the Field Notes notebook.

For the kitchen

11212016_dishrackCan a dish rack be beautiful? If you’re thinking of the Polder KTH–615 Advantage Dish Rack, the answer is “yes.” The Polder is strong and stable with a small footprint. It’s also got a huge utensil rack that can hold an impressive collection of forks, knives and spoons without falling off. For those days when you’ve got more dishes than usual, the slide-out tray will accommodate them all.

The bakers on your list will love the Joseph Joseph 20085 Adjustable Rolling Pin. Here’s what’s really cool about this rolling pin: with a simple adjustment, you can ensure that you’re flattening your dough to a specific, uniform thickness. Baking demands precision and this tool lets you achieve just that. No more worrying if the dough is too thin.

For the garage/shed

11212016_toolboxNothing beats a good set of tools, except the container you use to store them all. While big metal toolboxes are nice, I love the Jobsite Work Box by Milwaukee. The great feature here is that the Jobsite Work Box stores tools vertically in slots, completely eliminating the jumbled pile of tools that nearly every other toolbox contains. It’s lightweight, portable and very durable. There are other boxes that offer vertical storage, and most are much more expensive than the Milwaukee.

There you have it. If you know someone that would like one of these items but wouldn’t go out and buy it him/herself, go ahead and purchase it for that person. Demonstrate what an insightful gift-giver you are this holiday season.

Feel welcome to explore our previous Gift Giving Guides for even more ideas: 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2015.

Organizing dresser drawers

Last week was Intimate Apparel Week in the United States, and I want to acknowledge the event with something that’s intensely personal: your dresser drawers.

I’m a 45-year-old man but I still organize my clothes according to how I was taught as a child. There’s really no logic in place, like perhaps frequently-worn items in the top drawers, etc. Yet to me, it makes perfect sense. In fact, this system is so deeply ingrained that I can’t even entertain the idea of doing it any other way. Here’s how I organize my dresser drawers. I’d love to know what your method is.

In the top drawer I place sleepwear, socks and underwear. There’s no question about the very top drawer. It has been and forever shall be “the pajamas, socks, and underwear drawer.” I roll up each of these items like a burrito to maximize space used.

The second drawer is for t-shirts and only t-shirts. I have a lot of t-shirts, so many in fact, that my wife has issued several temporary buying freezes. I fold t-shirts in thirds lengthwise (arms and sides together) and then in half and in half again. This way I can fit several into a single drawer.

I only store short-sleeved shirts this way. Long-sleeved shirts are hung on hangers, as are my button-down shirts. I’ll admit that sweaters kind of exist in a no-man’s land for me. You can’t hang them as the hangers produce ugly “bumps” in the shoulders, and they’re too bulky to store in drawers. During sweater season, I usually place them on top of the dresser.

Drawer three is for jeans or shorts, depending on the season. Again, they’re folded up nice and small for efficient use of space. Finally, the last drawer is for what I call “dress pants.” I almost never go in this drawer (I can wear jeans to work), unless there’s a wedding, funeral or job interview I must attend.

Tangential items like belts and hats hang on nearby hooks.

Like I said, there’s no rhyme or reason here. I spend a lot of time organizing, uncluttering and making my systems work efficiently. But here’s an example of something that comes down to “…because I said so, that’s why.” It works for me, so why fix it?

Do you have a system for dresser drawers? Speak up.

How to store Halloween decorations and costumes

As Halloween ends, two tasks stand before us. We’ve mentioned what to do with all that candy and in this post we’ll discuss organizing and storing Halloween decorations and costumes. Careful planning will keep your favorites in good shape for years of reuse.

For me, holiday decorations symbolize more than festivities. Many of the pumpkins, ghosts and black cats that we display each October have been with me since childhood. There’s the plastic pumpkin from the 1970’s that I distinctly remember putting on display as a child, long ago. The “mummy” that frightened my 11-year-old when he was a toddler now elicits a laugh whenever we remember his request to turn it to face the wall.

Is it crazy to have a emotional connection to a plastic pumpkin? Maybe. But there it is.

Protect your memories and traditions by following these steps:

  1. Use a durable, clearly-labeled bin with a lid, like these 14-gallon totes. The label makes the decoration bin easy to find next year. The lid keeps out dust, moisture, insects, humidity, light, and critters: all threats to the decorations you love.
  2. Put a laminated list of contents on the lid. If you’ve got enough stuff to occupy more than one bin, type out a list of what is in each, laminate it, and use some Velcro strips to affix it to the lid.
  3. Wrap breakable items in bubble wrap. When I was young, people used old newspaper to protect fragile decorations that were going into storage. Often, the result was shattered shards neatly wrapped in newspaper. Get some bubble wrap from the post office or a packaging store for added protection.

Aside from the decorations, consider keeping some of those costumes. Yes, some can be donated, but others are great for dress-up or can be re-used as paint smocks and so on.

Younger trick-or-treaters love playing dress-up. Get your money’s worth out of that costume by adding it to their play bins. Find a bin to store them or install some hooks in the play area. Plastics masks might not last long, but cloth outfits will provide lots of fun pretend play.

Other costumes – kids or adults – that you want to reuse can be hung in a closet with other clothes. Rubber masks are easily popped in boxes and kept on a closet shelf away from light and humidity.

If you lack the closet space, consider a vacuum-sealed bag. Items that can’t lay flat can be wrapped up in acid-free tissue paper, as that will help them keep their shape. Just remember to launder costumes and wipe masks clean before putting them away.

Like many things, decorations and costumes represent an investment. For many of us, their value is beyond the monetary. Fortunately, it’s easy to keep them around for years.

Unclutter the bathroom with these clever tricks

If you were to ask me which room is hardest to keep tidy, I’d say the bathroom. It is home to lots of small items that are used too often to be tucked away. Even the most diligent unclutterer’s sink or vanity can become a mess in no time as an endless parade of toothpaste, brushes, deodorant, razors, and floss makes its way into your home.

Fortunately, there is hope.

I spent a lot of time searching the internet for the best bathroom organization solutions. I don’t mean cutesy stuff that’s more clever style than substance. Instead, I’ve tracked down several useful ideas that you’ll actually want to put in place.

Toothbrushes and toothpaste

Let’s start with several items that love to congregate on vanities everywhere: toothbrushes and toothpaste. A cutlery sorting tray can keep these items separated and out if sight. I suggest using a plastic tray that is easily removed, as you’ll want to clean and sanitize it periodically.

Bottles

These things amass themselves incredibly quickly. Spice racks mounted to the wall will hold hair spray, lotion, mouthwash and more that would otherwise clutter up the vanity.

Bobby pins, tweezers and other metal tools

It’s tempting to toss these into a drawer (or, if you’re my daughter, anywhere at all). Adhesive magnetic strips attached to the inside of a drawer or cabinet door will corral these small, easily lost items.

Hair dryers and other bulky items

Now we’ll move from small items to larger ones. Here’s a fantastic idea for storing bulky hair dryers and curling irons. Some PVC cut perfectly and stuck to the inside of a door keeps them out of site yet at hand.

Of course, there’s no “miracle fix” for bathroom clutter other than diligence. Hopefully one of these projects will inspire you to tacking a particular cluttered area.

Do you maintain a clutter preserve?

Earlier this week I was reading a nice series of posts at Organized Home on “Decluttering 101.” It’s always good to brush up on the basics. The author, Cynthia Ewer, shared some good advice, as well as a concept I found quite interesting: the “clutter preserve.” I’ll let her explain it.

“Accept reality by establishing dedicated clutter preserves. Like wildlife preserves, these are limited areas where clutter may live freely, so long as it stays within boundaries. In a bedroom, one chair becomes the clutter preserve. Clothing may be thrown with abandon, so long as it’s thrown on the chair.”

A part of me shivers when I read this. If I create a clutter preserve — even one that’s out of the way — I fear it will foster others. As if it is tacit permission to make a tiny, obscure stack here, an unobtrusive pile there, and so on.

I see the logic in it, too. As Cynthia says, no one is squeaky-clean all the time. “Even the tidiest among us tosses clothes on the floor from time to time.” I can even relate this to email processing. Sure, it would be amazing to read and respond to every message every day, but for many of us that is not possible.

Now I want to ask you: do you maintain a clutter preserve, or maybe more than one? If so, do you attack it on a regular basis or is it there to offer sanity-saving permission to not be 100% perfect? Sound off in the comments, I’m eager to read what you think.

Knowing when to change

150714-room2Our driveway turns in from the road, runs along the western side of our property and ends near the rear of the house. Upon exiting the car, the walk to the back door is shorter than the stroll to the front. As a result, all traffic — and in and out — happens through the back door.

This wasn’t always the case.

When we purchased the house in 2000, the driveway didn’t exist. Cars were parked in front, and I hung a series of hooks by the front door. It made perfect sense: walk in, hang your keys on the hook. That is, it made sense until we stopped using the front door.

I’m a real proponent of “A place for everything and everything in its place,” because my sieve-like brain will forget where I’ve placed the keys (or the wallet or the kids’ snacks…or the kids) if they’re not in their designated home. So I’ve been insisting that keys go on the front-door hooks like a stubborn mule.

I’d find keys on the butcher block, which is quite near the back door, and grumble to myself as I carried them across the house to the front door. Sometimes I’d find them on the kitchen table, an act that was loathsome to me. “Ugh, who put these here?” I’d cry, shaking my fist as if I’d witness an unimaginable injustice. “The keys go on the key hooks!”

The problem wasn’t people ignoring the “rule.” The problem was that the rule no longer made sense.

I learned to let go and succumb to what the situation was trying to tell me when we repurposed the back room. There’s now an old dresser by the back door, onto which I’ve placed a small leather box that is the new home of keys. We’ve regained the enter-and-drop ease of the old days and more importantly, I’ve learned to listen to the situation.

It’s possible to become blindly dedicated to an organizational system. I insisted that we employ a strategy that was no longer effective, simply because I was afraid I’d be lost — or more accurately, my keys would be lost if that system was abandoned. It wasn’t until I stepped back and observed how the situation had changed that I realized the solution should change too.

The point is to look around at the solutions you’re using at home and at work. Are they still the best, most effective answer to a clutter issue? Has a situation changed that should prompt a solution change as well? Perhaps that one thing that drives you crazy — a constantly cluttered kitchen counter, the jam-packed junk drawer, phones and tablets piling up to be charged — is simply a symptom of a broken system. Good luck and let me know how it goes.