Thursday, May 31, 2007

Birthday Gift Ideas: Experiences, not Objects

balloon with number 70

A recent question posed on Ask MetaFilter is, "What can I get my mother for her 70th birthday? I'm thinking a cultural/educational experience more than an object."

Ideas so far have included:
- a day at a spa
- a hot air balloon ride
- a ticket to a gardening workshop (his mother is an avid gardener)
- a weekend treat: a garden tour, a day at a museum, and a night at a B&B

It's another nice reminder that the best gifts are often experiences, not more stuff. (Organizers see way too many well-intentioned gifts that just become clutter.)

[Helium balloon picture from Auckland Flowers & Gifts]

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Know Your Colors & Clean Your Closet

fabric swatches for selecting clothes colors

An odd organizing tip: If your budget permits, have a personal color analysis done - so you know what color palette works best for you. I had my colors done about a year and a half ago by the talented Jennifer Butler, and I was thrilled with the results. (I'm an amber autumn.)

Now why is this an organizing tip?

1. It helps you declutter your closet. Mine was never all that cluttered - but when I got rid of (almost) everything not in my palette, it worked better than ever.

2. It saves time when shopping. I can go through a store much more quickly, knowing which garments are even worth a second look. If it's not in my palette, it's out of the question.

[photo: a few of my own color swatches]

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Get a Good Hole Punch

3-Hole Punch

For those of you who file papers in 3-ring binders, please invest in a good-quality hole punch. I've seen too many offices with wimpy hole punches that don't work well; you don't want to lose chunks of time to fighting with your tools.

My personal hole punch (which I've had for many years) is from Master Products and is labeled 3-25; I'm guessing its the same as the MAT325B, which punches up to 24 sheets of 20 lb. paper. There are also versions that handle 32 or 40 sheets.

I know - no gorgeous new design for you office supply fans. But sometimes you just need a tool that works reliably.

Related post: 3-Ring Binders: Now We are 12

Monday, May 28, 2007

Hiring Help for Household Jobs

cat on full laundry basket

Susan Sabo at Productivity Cafe has a great article on hiring out household tasks. One little snippet: Some of you are thinking, "I'm perfectly capable of trimming my bushes, painting the living room (and I always wanted to do faux finishing!), or doing my own laundry." And, I ask, "If you had a half-day without the responsibilities around home, would you be more refreshed to perform better at your job, as a life partner or spouse, as a parent, or as a member of your community? Or, would you maybe just have more fun or 'get a life'?"

More on this topic:

Jennifer Mulream at MSN Money has an article entitled Why it pays to hire help at home. Jennifer spoke with Kathy Fitzgerald Sherman, who wrote a book entitled A Housekeeper is Cheaper Than a Divorce: Why You Can Afford to Hire Help and How to Get It. Kathy recommends looking at your list of tasks not just with the question of how much it would cost to pay someone to do it for you, but also with these three questions in mind:
- What do I most hate doing?
- What requires the least amount of decision-making?
- What are the most time-consuming tasks?

A recent survey of Canadians shows that 29 per cent get help with housekeeping, while seven per cent hire out gardening and landscaping. Other tasks that get hired out include washing the car, cooking, household repairs, home renovations, pet care, household accounting, running errands, car repairs and the transportation of children to school, daycare or extracurricular activities.

And the readers of Real Simple hire out washing the car, heavy-duty cleaning, and mowing the lawn.

Personally, as I noted on Susan's blog, I hire out yard maintenance (which I dislike doing, so it tends to not get done if I don't hire it out) - as well as painting and landscape design (which maybe I could do - but certainly not as well as the pros - and it would take a huge amount of my time.) Getting someone else to do these few things has been a huge help to me.

[photo by qBaz / Adam Hirsch]

Sunday, May 27, 2007

The Lure of SkyMall

SkyMaul cover - parody catalog

Working as a professional organizer makes you super-sensitive to ill-considered purchases. And what catalog better captures the essence of such consumerism than SkyMall, the in flight catalog?

There seems to be an odd fascination with SkyMall. John Flinn wrote about SkyMall today, struggling to understand "who buys this stuff"? He also directs us to SkyMaul, the catalog parody. James Reichmuth, one of the authors of SkyMaul, says, "SkyMall is a ridiculous example of manic consumerism, but you've got to admit that it's fun."

Reichmuth isn't alone in his take on SkyMall; Apartment Therapy: Los Angeles says, "There is no catalog filled with such utterly useless devices, doodads, and thing-a-ma-jigs that you absolutely must have (possibly due in part to the few drinks you might have had before boarding the plane) than the Sky Mall catalog."

Amazingly enough, SkyMall seems to have inspired at least two songs:

1. Skymall, by Jonathan Coulton, is pretty catchy.

2. Skymall, by the band Ramona the Pest, starts like this: "useless thing after useless thing, what useless thing will this new day bring . . ."

Want help fighting the allure of SkyMall? The New American Dream has a WalletBuddy (PDF) with a series of questions to ask yourself before making a purchase.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

The Not So Big Life

book cover - The Not So Big Life

I'm not so fond of The Not So Big Life, by Sarah Susanka. However, it did have a few words, phrases and sentences that really resonated with me - and they made it worth the read.

Sarah writes about "the life I had fallen into" and how it was "overstuffed." She goes on to say, "My life was so frenetic . . . that the pace of it was the single most salient quality."

As a way of improving this, she writes about doing a "life remodeling."

Regarding the stuff in our lives, she writes, "When we own stuff, we have to maintain it. We also have to earn enough money to procure it, house it, keep it clean, and insure it against theft or loss. So every purchase has strings attached. It will require a long-term commitment from you if you become its owner, and that in turn will keep you a little busier than you would otherwise have been."

A question: "What would happen if we stopped to consider the possibilities inherent in the word 'enough'?"

Regarding multi-tasking: "It is now normal practice to send instant messages during conference calls and meetings. . . . It's the adult version of exchanging notes during class in grade school."

Friday, May 25, 2007

Tackling the Toys

six Via toy boxes

Troubled by all the toy clutter? Here are two resources that might help.

1. Parent Hacks suggests that you create an in-home toy library. Here's the first little bit about that idea.

"To contend with the overflow of toys, without violating the principle of ownership (that is, the toys belong to them, not us), we instituted a toy library.

In the basement, we have a bunch of shelving units (Sears, plastic utility shelves), on which are large Rubbermaid bins. The bins are labeled with things like 'dressup' and 'vehicles'. This is the toy library.

Children may check toys out of the library in any quantity at any time, provided they check an equal number of toys back in at that time."

2. The blog in the trenches of motherhood has a collection of 7 tips for aesthetically pleasing, child friendly, practical toy storage - and they are all good. Just two tiny examples:

"If you find the toys overwhelming, so do your children. They can not decide what to play when there are too many choices. Then they do the dump and run. Dumping out toy after toy after toy until the room is a disaster and there is no way for them to clean it up."

"Get rid of the toybox as the dumping ground of all toys. Think of it this way if your cellphone, coffee cup, pocketbook contents, car keys, mail, pens, paper, hairbrush, etc were all dumped into a large box that you had to root through to find anything, how annoyed would you be?"

[via Parent Hacks]

Photo: Via Toy Box [via Apartment Therapy: The Nursery and Parent Hacks]

Thursday, May 24, 2007

10 Options for Colorful Storage

For those who'd like to jazz up their storage with some color, there are lots of options available now. Some of them are quite expensive - but there are also pieces for more modest budgets. In no particular order:

cabinet from Cappellini in red and orange

1. twentytwentyone has this cabinet from Cappellini. Update on Dec. 29, 2012: Twentytwentyone no longer has this cabinet, but it does have other colorful ones from Cappellini.

Vitra - Transphere cabinets in yellow, orange and green

2. Vitra has the Transphere product line. Update on Jan. 17, 2010: Vitra doesn't seem to carry this line any more, but some of the company's other storage furniture does use some color.

mobile drawers in green, red and blue from Kartell at Apartment Zero

3. Apartment Zero has mobile drawers from Kartell.

MShelving in green from Loadbearing

4. Loadbearing offers their MShelving in a variety of configurations. [via swissmiss]

Vintage retro lockers at Thistle & Crowe

5. Thistle & Crowe used to have these vintage retro lockers (updated on August 12, 2009); you can also get colorful lockers from Twenty Gauge.

Chests by Kettnaker in red, black, green and yellow at House of European Design

6. House Of European Design has these chests by Kettnaker. (They also have the Menos Chest by Behr International.)

Maine Cottage - blue bookshelf

7. Maine Cottage has a whole range of products.

Company Store - rainbow wall shelves

8. The Company Store has Rainbow Wall Shelves. [via Apartment Therapy: LA] Update on Jan. 17, 2010: These are no longer available.

Blue chimney cabinet

9. Sundance has this chimney cabinet- and a number of other nice-looking pieces. Update on Feb. 25, 2012: Sundance no longer has this cabinet.

10. And Domino Magazine will teach you how to paint your own bookshelves. Update on Jan. 17, 2010: Domino Magazine is no longer being published, and the web site is gone.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

2 Clever Key Racks

Velcro key holder

I do appreciate a clever key rack - and the Clote Velcro Key Holder certainly fits that description. It comes with five color-coordinated key chains. [via uncrate] Update on July 2, 2009: This key rack doesn't seem to be available any more.

LEGO key holder

And equally clever is the LEGO key rack, which comes with two key chains. [via Apartment Therapy: the nursery] Update on Jan. 19, 2011: This one in no longer shown on the LEGO web site.

Related post: Safe Key-Ping

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Save Some of the Sentimental

vintage hankie embroidered with pink and white flowers

As I continue to read Organizing Solutions for People with Attention Deficit Disorder, by Susan Pinsky, I get more and more impressed. There's lots of good advice here - and the woman has a way with words.

Here is just some of her advice about deciding which sentimental items to keep, and which to discard:

"Hold on to Grandma's favorite hankie, but get rid of her sleeper sofa."

"Of your child's schoolwork, keep those items which are autobiographical--a drawing of 'My Family' and essays entitled 'What I'm going to do when I grow up,' 'My favorite things,' and 'My vacation.' Get rid of the report on President Lincoln even if it got an A+"

Related Entry: Sorting the Socks - Or Not

[Vintage hankie from Buenahelena's store on Etsy]

Monday, May 21, 2007

Knife Blocks Don't Have to be Boring

MIKOTO bamboo knife blocks

We all know about knife blocks, right? Big wooden things. Sort of clunky looking.

Well, now there's the MIKOTO bamboo knife block from Ekobo, designed by Martin Robitsch. His web site describes the knife block this way: "The free-form, skewer-filled bamboo box allows you to insert a number of knives in any formation, easily customizing the fit by removing (or re-adding) skewers." It's available in three sizes and five colors. Update on May 22, 2021: Ekobo doesn't have this product on its website any more.

Ekobo is a French company (but products are available around the world) which makes a variety of bamboo products in Vietnam, allowing artisans to stay in their villages and work locally. There's lots of interesting information about the company on its website.

[via Apartment Therapy]

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Souvenirs: Select with Caution

Panama Canal Museum T-shirt

The San Francisco Chronicle travel section today had a column entitled Show loved ones you care: Spare them from T-shirts, mugs, trinkets, by Eileen Mitchell.

Yes, yes, yes! If you happen upon something that you know is perfect for someone, and you are willing to schlep it around until you get home, then fine - I've certainly done this, and had it work out very well. But massive souvenir-buying probably means you're just adding to other people's clutter - and they might feel obligated to keep the item, even if they don't want it, to avoid hurting your feelings.

Just a little snippet from this well-written article: "When I caught my mother using her Panama Canal T-shirt as a dust cloth, I started wondering. My suspicions were confirmed when I discovered the hand-woven blanket I'd purchase in Quito being used as a blanket for the dog.

I'd spent an hour selecting that blanket, wanting to find just the right colors to match his den, and more time bartering on the price. The I hand-carried it all the way home because it wouldn't fit in my suitcase."

[photo: Panana Canal Museum]

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Brazen Careerist

Brazen Careerist book cover

I am so not the intended audience for this book. There's a chapter on managing a boomer boss - and if I were still in the corporate world, I could be that boomer boss. But I bought this career handbook directed at Generations X and Y because I enjoy Penelope Trunk's writing on the Brazen Careerist blog - and because there was a chapter entitled A Messy Desk Makes You Look Incompetent.

From that chapter: "... if your desk is a mess, you look overwhelmed and less competent. This isn't about what is happening in your head, it is about what is happening in your coworkers' heads, and they are judging you by the appearance of your desk."

More from that chapter: "The issue here isn't whether or not you are productive as a worker. The issue is whether you are productive as an image manager . . . Use your workspace to control how people perceive you. A side benefit of this project will be that you might actually become a little more productive once that filing system is in place."

Another organizing-related tidbit: "Do you keep e-mails in your in-box to remind you to do something? Get a real to-do list. Your e-mail box is not a to-do list. Well, for some of you maybe it is, but it shouldn't be."

I thoroughly enjoyed the whole book; my only (tiny) gripe is that I really don't like the cover image. Take a look at the Brazen Careerist blog; if you like that, you'll probably like the book, too.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Letting Go of the Magazines

6 magazine covers

If you have stacks of magazines that you're having trouble parting with - even though part of you wants to let go - try reading the comments from the readers of Apartment Therapy: New York in response to the question "How can I let go of my mags?" There's lots of good insight from fellow magazinoholics and recovered/recovering magazinoholics.

While most Apartment Therapy readers have design-related magazines, Daniel Rinehart has a nice post about technology magazines - and how quickly the information gets out of date.

Related posts:
- Managing the Magazines
- 15 End-of-the-Year Tasks to Handle Now
(#11: Review Your Professional Magazine Subscriptions)

[Photos from]

Thursday, May 17, 2007

The Organized Life

The Organized Life by Stephanie Denton - book cover

Stephanie Denton is a past president of the National Association of Professional Organizers - so you'd expect a book by her to be good. And I certainly enjoyed The Organized Life: Secrets of an Expert Organizer.

Some of my favorite tidbits:

"Consider your garbage can, recycling bin and donation box your top organizing tools. The larger they are, the more likely you are to use them."

"Create a donation directory to encourage quick disposal of excess items. List your favorite local charities and include phone number, hours of operation, articles accepted and the drop off / pickup policy."

"Getting organized is not about getting rid of your memories. It's about making them more accessible."

There's great advice here about organizing clothes, photos, kids' art work, and much more.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Breaking the Rules

Two basic organizing guidelines are:

1. Store like with like - all the vases, all the craft supplies, all the snack foods, all the garden tools, etc.

2. Eliminate duplicates. If you bought a great new can opener, get rid of the old annoying one. If you have ten pairs of black slacks, are three of them your favorites while the others never get worn? If so, let those unworn pairs find a new home.

But sometimes these two guidelines are trumped by another one: store frequently-used items where they will be used.

Gretchen at The Happiness Project writes about the perils of over-consolidating:

"I was always slightly annoyed by my need to run around the apartment getting this or that — a screwdriver, a pair of scissors, some Advil. Finally, light dawned, and I realized that as an expression of my love of clearing clutter, I was an over-consolidator.

I’d consolidated all the tools in the toolbox, all the scissors in the office-supply drawer, all the medicine in the medicine cabinet. Not a good idea. Some items SHOULD be spread around.

I put a screwdriver, a pair of scissors, and a bottle of Advil in the kitchen. I scattered scissors throughout the apartment. Etc."

My favorite personal example: I realized at one point that I needed two label makers - one for my office, and one for the car to take to client sites. Anything else made it too cumbersome to create my own files, or to be prepared for client visits. So I bought a second labeler, just like my first one. I've never regretted it.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Julia Good 1926-2007

Julia Good - Jeri Dansky's mother

I'll be a bit light on posting for a few days; my dear mom just died this afternoon.

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Stunning Storage from Atlas Industries

modular furniture - wall mounted desk, bookshelves, storage

The as4 modular furniture system from Atlas Industries looks gorgeous! This is handmade furniture from solid hardwood and solid steel bar. There's quite a range of standard components, and they'll gladly make custom ones, too - everything from diaper-changing platforms to benches to Murphy beds. There's a nice photo album on the web site.

And lucky me - I live in one of the parts of the country where you can see this furniture in person, and where installation service is available.

[via Apartment Therapy: New York]

Monday, May 7, 2007

What Do You Do with a Broken iPod?

iPod Nano

I've got a new iPod nano; I finally bought one because it's the only way I can make myself go out and do my cardio.

But if you have one that's old or broken, you might want to know about:

2. Podswap - allows you to buy, sell or upgrade, and accepts broken iPods, too
3. and

All of which sound like much better options than letting the thing just sit around your home or office, unused.

[via Springwise]

Sunday, May 6, 2007

Store the Bottle Opener Near the Bottles

refrigerator magnet / bottle opener

One of the basic principles of organizing is to store things near where they will be used. This refrigerator magnet/bottle opener sure meets that requirement!

[via Mighty Goods]

Saturday, May 5, 2007

Creative Containers: Apothecary Jars

3 apothecary jars in various shapes, clear glass

As a professional organizer, I'm always on the lookout for neat containers.

Real Simple writes about using apothecary jars in the bathroom. They can be found in all prices ranges from a large number of sellers, from eBay to antique dealers. The ones shown above come from Touchstone.

3 antique apothecary jars, porcelain with pictures of hot air balloons

I love the simplicity of those Touchstone jars, but I also love these stunning Parisian porcelain apothecary jars from the late 19th century, from Phisick. These are from a private collection of antique medical items - take just a moment to poke around, it's a fascinating site, very well designed - but maybe with some searching you could find beautiful antiques yourself.

[photo used with permission]

Friday, May 4, 2007

Letting Go of the Lipsticks


“Too much choice can be a bad, time-consuming thing. No one needs 17 lipsticks.”
-- Francine Gumkowski, Real Simple, May 2007

[photo from Jürgen Fauth, found on Flickr]

Thursday, May 3, 2007

Sorting the Socks - Or Not

many colored socks in drawers - one just tossed in, one using drawer dividers

Does the picture of these drawer dividers, with the little compartments for each pair of socks, make you want to buy them NOW? (If so, just follow the link.)

Or do you look at something like that and think, "Never in a million years would I use something like that?"

If you're in the second category, you may like the somewhat radical suggestion provided by Susan Pinsky in her book Organizing Solutions for People with Attention Deficit Disorder. Susan suggests you "throw out all of your socks. Identify a style of medium-weight sock that you can wear daily and buy a couple dozen of that style in two colors (for example, white and black). Voila! No more tedious matching issues - if you see another black sock in your drawer, you know you have a pair."

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Organizing for Medical Emergencies

My mom's pretty sick right now; I'm spending a lot of time with doctors and at hospitals. One thing that helps is that for a few years now my brother and I have been maintaining lists of all her medications (including any bad reactions she's had in the past), all her doctors, and her medical history. When you're sitting in the emergency room at 9:00 pm, you don't want to be trying to remember when your mom had her heart surgery, or what medication made her sick the last time she took it.

So I was glad to see this list of Aging Parents: 10 Things to Know For An Emergency, from the Mayo Clinic. [via Dumb Little Man]

And I've also noticed the hospital is amazed when I walk in with copies of my mom's advance health care directive and medical power of attorney. Apparently very few people have done these - or think to bring them in, if they have. Please, everyone, make sure you and those you care about have the legal forms in place to deal with a medical emergency.

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

May 2007 Organizing Tips and More

My May Newsletter is now available.

Tip of the Month: 11 Ideas for Organizing in Smaller Spaces

Update of the Month: GreenDimes Available in Canada

Product of the Month: Fujitsu ScanSnap

Donation/Recycling Idea of the Month: Send used stuffed animals and toys to children in Iraq.

4 More Beds for the Storage-Challenged

zanotta caveau bed - mattress lifts up to provide storage

Earlier today I wrote about beds that provide under-bed storage with drawers, shelves, etc.

But there are also beds that provide storage in a more unusual way. I'm not sure I'd like using any of these, but it's worth knowing they are out there.

1. Unica Home in the USA provides the zanotta caveau bed by Emaf Progetti, shown above.

2. At Bonbon Trading in the UK you'll find the Haiti storage bed.

3. EQ3, with galleries in nine countries, has the BOSSA platform bed with storage mechanism. [via Apartment Therapy: Chicago]

4. From Italy, we have the Flou Bold Bed. [via Uncrate]

4 Beds for the Storage-Challenged

Platone Bunk Bed

Combining beds and storage is a common technique - and very useful in small spaces. Many beds have built-in drawers, and others just allow you to slide storage boxes underneath. But some beds provide storage with particular style.

1. I love the picture of the Platone Bunk Bed shown above. Not only does this incorporate storage - it always illustrates the small-space principle of "making good use of wall space." [via Babygadget]

2. Crate Designs provides the mix-and-match components to create a whole collection of space-saving beds, with under-bed storage and/or a trundle bed.

VIA bed with storage underneath
3. The VIA bed isn't available quite yet, but looks like it will be another fun option. [via Apartment Therapy: Nursery] Update on September 2, 2009: The bed has now been available for some time.

built-in daybed
4. And this built-in daybed from Woodshanti is made from responsibly-harvested lumber.