Reader suggestion: Cleaning ornaments

It is a great idea to clean and dry ornaments before putting them away for the season. In most cases, a damp cloth will be enough to remove any dust that has accumulated during the season. For ornaments that can’t be washed with water, reader Kerry wrote to us with this tip for cleaning ornaments.

When I take the ornaments off the tree, I hang them on my indoor clothes drying rack which is placed over a towel. Then, I use compressed air to clean the ornaments so they are ready for next year!

Great idea, Kerry!

If you have any ornament cleaning tips you would like to share, let us know in the comments below.

 

This post has been updated since its original publication in 2008.

Displaying holiday greeting cards

My wife found an easy and creative way to display holiday cards using ribbon and a hole punch. In our current home, we don’t have mantle space for the cards we receive, so, rather than cluttering up a table or other flat surface, my wife decided to implement an idea she found in a magazine. (The picture to the right is the result.)

Apartment Therapy posted a question from one of their readers about displaying holiday cards. They feature a couple of options from Pottery Barn (no longer available) that cost $50! My wife’s solution cost under $6.

There are a few Christmas specific holiday card holders available at a relatively reasonable cost of about $20. If you have the space to store them, it could be an option. For those that are looking for something they can use all year-round, then consider a display that holds photographs most of the year and holiday cards during holiday seasons.

The option my wife implemented displays the cards while keeping them out of the way. It is also cheap and, most importantly, simple.

How do you display holiday cards in your home? Feel free to add your ideas in the comments.

 

This post has been updated since its original publication in 2008.

Keeping holiday decorations uncluttered

Decorating for the holidays? If so, you may want to look over some of the tips below to guard against over cluttered decorations. Adding seasonal decorations to your home can increase your home’s clutter if you don’t take steps to remove items in preparation of the decorations.

Explore the tips and feel free to add your own in the comments section:

  • Replace everyday items: When decorating your home make sure you remove everyday items that are being replaced by holiday decorations. It is a good idea to place your everyday items in the boxes that usually hold your decorations. That way you know right where they are and you can easily put them back when removing you decorations after the holidays.
  • Don’t put all the presents under the tree: If you have family or friends that don’t come to visit, you should probably keep their presents in a bag in storage. So when you go to visit them you can simply grab the bag and head out the door to play Santa.
  • Donate or discard unused or broken decorations: Reader John sent us this suggestion last year. If a decoration isn’t being used, then it shouldn’t be stored for another year.
  • Beware of over decorating: Decorating for the holidays can go a bit far. If you go too crazy, then the decorations will lose their appeal and clutter up your space. Sensory overload is not a good thing when it comes to decorating.

 

This post has been updated since its original publication in 2008.

Free pass to return or re-gift presents

Gift giving is an art. Some people have an amazing talent at picking out the perfect something. I, however, am not blessed with such a skill. Every now and again I’ll hit one out of the park, but those occasions are rare. I think that it’s my disdain for crowded shopping centers that fuels my ineptitude.

Regardless of the reason, my gifts are often received with a strange facial expression and the question, “What is it?” I’ll never forget the gift I got for my sister-in-law that drew the response, “This is such an interesting … uh … watering can?” It was a purse.

When I give a gift, I want the gift to be exactly what the recipient wants. I want it to be loved. I also want the gift to not end up as clutter or to cause stress. To avoid giving the imperfect gift or to cause stress, I’ve decided to follow David Seah’s suggestion in his post “Print Your Own ‘Re-Gift Receipts’” and create my own re-gift receipts to accompany my future gifts.

I’m not going to write mine up exactly like he has, but the principle is the same: a guilt-free return policy. It seems to be such a nice way to let people know that you will in no way be offended if they decide to return your gift.

Be sure to check out Seah’s template at the bottom of the post to save yourself time creating your re-gift receipts.

 

This post has been updated since its publication in 2008.

Unclutter your refrigerator before Thanksgiving

If you host Thanksgiving at your home, then now is the time to start making room for all of the dishes that need to be stored in your refrigerator. Use up the items that are currently taking up space. My wife calls the process of clearing out the ingredients available in the refrigerator as “creative cooking.” It consists of not shopping for groceries for a week while concocting dishes from the ingredients that remain in the refrigerator and cupboards. Creative cooking also takes place at our house prior to long vacations.

While you clear out the space in your refrigerator it is freeing up valuable real estate for the turkey along with the side dishes that will reside in there while they wait to be prepared. This also allows for room in your refrigerator for the all important leftovers.

With just a little more than a week to go, clear out your fridge and give it a good cleaning. Let us know about some of your favorite “creative cooking” recipes in the comments. One of my favorites is a good old fashion stew using up meat and savory vegetables.

 

This post has been updated since its original publication in 2008.

Family heirlooms: Give them away at milestone celebrations

The distribution of family heirlooms is a little creepy in my book: someone dies and I get a present. I like presents, don’t misunderstand, I just wish that a family member didn’t have to die for me to get it.

My grandmother is aware of my aversion to these inheritance practices, and so gave me her set of silver as a wedding present. When she gave it to me, she told me the story about the silver and how she worked to make money to buy it, piece by piece, during the 1930s. Had she waited to give it to me after her death, I likely would have had another set already and would have never known the delightful story of how she purchased it. Now, when I use it, I think about her, that wonderful day, and her generous gift.

My advice is to give family heirlooms away at appropriate milestone celebrations. Grandfather’s college ring should be given to a grandchild on his or her graduation with a note about it and a photo of grandfather wearing it. The rocking chair you used in your daughter’s nursery should be passed on to her the day she brings her first child home. When you give her the chair, include a page from your diary when you talked about rocking her to sleep in it and a photo of her in your arms. Don’t hoard your treasured heirlooms, instead give them away at appropriate times with heart-felt explanations of why they are valued.

 

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

Avoiding children’s party clutter

As an adult, you can write “No Gifts Please” on birthday party invitations and guests usually respect these wishes. It doesn’t work this way for children’s parties, however, or for baby showers or even random trips to grandma’s house.

Children love gifts and people love giving children gifts. It’s the way of the world. Gifts, although well intentioned and truly appreciated, can still end up as clutter.

For example, my friend Kristine received 14 baby blankets at a shower her mother threw for her when she was pregnant with her second child. She ended up keeping a couple that were hand knit, one that was quilted, one that could easily be laundered, and then gave the other 10 to charity. She was extremely thankful for the generosity people showed toward her and her future child, but there was no way that she could store or ever use 14 baby blankets.

When having parties for children or baby showers for new parents, there are some things that you can do to help keep gifts from becoming clutter:

Baby Showers

  • Establish a baby registry. Amazon has an online registry where friends and family from across the country can purchase items for expecting parents. These lists help to focus gift giving toward things that new parents need. Yes, it is sterile and soul-less, but it also is considerate and useful.
  • Throw a “help the community” party. When my friends adopted a baby from China, they had a baby shower where people brought gifts for the Chinese orphanage. When the couple traveled to pick up their daughter in China, they took the blankets, books, and clothing to the other orphans in China still waiting to be placed with families.
  • Have a “pamper the parent” party. Before a baby arrives, mothers and fathers are often the last people on everyone’s minds. Remind the parents that you’re thinking of them, too, by having a day at the spa where guests can join the expecting parents in manicures, pedicures, and massages.

Children’s Parties

  • Have a theme party. On a child’s first birthday, have a “stock the library” party where attendees bring their favorite children’s book. If your child can’t get enough of trucks when he’s two, ask for attendees to bring truck gifts to his party. A focused theme helps to target gifts toward things that will be used, and also helps the gift buyer when trying to think of what to bring.
  • Have an adventure party. In lieu of gifts, let party attendees know that there will be a small fee (I’d try to keep it to $15 or less) to white-water raft or ride in a hot air balloon or be admitted to Six Flags. This is probably an approach best suited to older children. Other parents will thank you for not having to buy a gift and for taking their children off of their hands for a few hours. Plus, your child will remember the experience for a lifetime. Remember, too, that family members still will likely give gifts, so there will be presents for your child to unwrap at some point during the day.

Let’s hear from parents about other ideas for good gift-giving parties in the comments.

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

Making your resolutions a reality

On either the last day of the old year or the first day of the new year, many of us created lists of resolutions. If you’re like me, getting organized appeared in some fashion on this list. For example my specific resolution back in 2008 was to get my laundry mess under control.

Generating the resolution and committing it to paper or a hard drive is a terrific way to start the process. Unfortunately, though, the resolution won’t become a reality unless more work is done. (Wouldn’t it be great if just writing it down was really all it took?!)

If you don’t set a course of action and stick to it, then your resolution will be nothing more than words on paper. I want to walk through my process attack, which is loosely based on David Allen’s Getting Things Done method, to help you see how lofty goals can easily become experienced reality.

  1. Commit your resolution to writing. It doesn’t matter if you write your resolution on an index card, in a Moleskine notebook, or in an virtual Evernote notebook. Formulating your idea into concrete words helps you define your purpose and gets you started on your path to change.
  2. Reflect on your resolution and identify your motivation for change and where you see yourself once the resolution is complete. If you can’t see where you’re headed or why you want to get there, your resolution is pretty much destined for failure. There is no need to establish any other form of reward system, because you’ll see yourself succeeding! In my case, I need to imagine the calm I will have from not having piles of laundry cluttering up the floor of my laundry room.
  3. Brainstorm methods for completing your resolution. Even if the ideas seem ridiculous, write them down anyway. What are all of the ways that you could possibly reach your goal? What steps could you take? What is currently standing in your way? What resources could you obtain to help you get what you want? Empty all of your thoughts on the matter onto a piece of paper.
  4. Evaluate your brainstormed ideas and create what Allen calls “keys” to organization. “Identify the significant pieces. Sort by (one or more): components, sequences, priorities. Detail to the required degree.” This is the stage where you create your plan.
  5. Once your plan is set, make decisions as to the exact steps you will follow to achieve your goal. Without these concrete steps, you won’t know how to move forward. For my laundry resolution, my exact steps involve a lot of removing current barriers to success. (Buy light bulbs on Saturday morning at the grocery store to replace burned out bulbs in the laundry room.) If you’ve never written an exact step, or what Allen names “next actions,” you may want to read the entry on this topic on Merlin Mann’s 43 Folders GTDwiki here.
  6. Start!

Good luck to everyone with their organization resolutions! Feel welcome to tell us about your process for success in the comments section to this post.

 

This post has been updated since its original publication in 2008.

What to do with holiday cards? Recycle!

Two of our readers provided creative suggestions for how to recycle holiday cards in the comments section of our Holiday gifts: Out with the old in with the new post. Not wanting to have them lost in the shuffle, I wanted to pull them out to everyone’s attention.

From Jan:

I recycle my Christmas cards. They arrive in the mail, I read them, I cut the writing off the back, I turn them into a Christmas post card with a friend’s address, stamp and short message and repost immediately.

From Kate:

Once the holidays are over, I “massacre” [cards] into gift tags for next year using a pair of pinking shears.

For even more great ideas, check out the comments below and our other post on uncluttering holiday greeting cards.

 

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

Uncluttered holiday decorations

If you decorate your home with holiday decorations, you probably have everything up already. But, if the decorating bug hasn’t yet hit, and you’d like to try and decorate without cluttering up your home, try to choose decorations that do not have to be stored away for eleven months of the year. Here are a few things to consider:

Buy real: Instead of buying an artificial wreath, tree, or garland, go for the real thing. When the holidays are over you can dispose of them instead of using up storage space. Conifers can be easily added to your compost pile.

Poinsettias: This traditional holiday plant can brighten up any room and needs zero storage space after the holidays.

Go easy on the knick-knacks: Don’t make the holidays an excuse to litter your home with dancing snowmen or an elf on every shelf. The holidays do not make it alright to clutter every inch of clear space. Instead, play holiday music when guests come into your home to set the mood.

Handmade: If you have children, take time to create some homemade edibles. Spending time with you children and creating something together is a good idea any time of year.

To achieve a comfortable balance during the holidays, try and keep your decorating to a minimum. If you do decorate to the fullest extent, you may spend most of your holiday season worrying about your decorations and how you will store them the rest of the year, and not enough time celebrating with loved ones.

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.

Using wedding registries to avoid gift-related clutter

I have mixed emotions about wedding registries. On one hand, I tend to agree with Miss Manners, who recently wrote:

Registries are never proper, not for weddings, not for baby showers and not for birthdays. Not for christenings, bar mitzvahs, quinceañeras, sweet sixteens, graduations, engagements, coming out, announcing gender, changing gender, getting a job, losing a job, buying a house, divorcing, retiring or dying.

It is simply never polite to ask someone to buy you a present. Everyone is just going to have to go through life’s milestones without the explicit intention of reaping material rewards.

However, the practical part of me knows people are going to create registries, and they do help avoid couples getting gifts that get shoved to the back of a closet. If you’re going to create a wedding registry on Amazon or elsewhere, consider the following to help ensure the gifts you receive won’t become clutter.

You won’t develop a whole new personality after the wedding.

If you’re an introvert and throwing a fancy dinner party for 12 makes you shudder, it won’t suddenly sound appealing after you get married. If you tend to eat take-out meals and easy-to-prepare foods, you’re unlikely to become interested in gourmet cooking in the near future. So select items that match the person you actually are, not the person the registry checklists might presume you are. If your tastes and interests evolve later — as they certainly can, in unpredictable ways — you can get what you need for future-you when that time comes.

Consider the other members of your household.

I have cats who eat cut flowers, so vases would never go on my list. And any quilts and other such bedding needs to be machine washable, because hairballs happen. Consider what items may or not be appropriate given your specific family members. Do you need to avoid easily broken items? Are there medical conditions to take into account?

You still need to store the stuff.

Make sure everything you’re asking for will have an appropriate storage place in your home. And if you’re considering things you’d use once or twice a year — sports gear, Thanksgiving dinner kitchenware, etc. — consider whether or not you’d be better off renting or borrowing these items rather than owning them.

Consider items beyond the traditional housewares.

Your registry can incorporate consumables (such as wine) and experiences (such as museum memberships). Another option: Ask for donations to a charity of your choice. Rather than looking for cash donations, some couples have created registries of things they will turn around and give to local homeless shelters or other nonprofit organizations — making it clear to the gift-givers that this is their intention.

Add items to your registry as carefully as you would choose them if you were buying them yourself.

Are the items on your list things that you’ll love having in your space? Alternatively, are they just really practical items you need to have? (I once got a couple the paper shredder that was on their registry.) If not, consider whether they really belong on your list.