Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Getting Organized: Products Come (Almost) Last

I bought all these things at The Container Store, but I'm still disorganized! -- a common lament

As much as I write about products, and believe that it's often important to use tools (address books, calendars, storage containers, etc.) that are well-suited to you, I also say this: Products don't solve all your organizing challenges. I've gone into many homes and offices littered with products that didn't work - or maybe never got used! And you can't make a good choice about containers until you know what you're going to contain - or choose time management tools until you know how you plan to use them.

In the last couple weeks I've been reading a number of other organizers stressing this same theme.

In her book Eliminate Chaos, Laura Leist provides a 10-step organizing process; "shop" is step 8.

Wendy Davie writes:
It never ceases to amaze me how obvious it is when a non Professional Organiser has written an article on "How to declutter". I have been doing a little surfing this evening and an amazed at how much interesting!!!! advice there is out there to help people become more organised and declutter.

A word of warning, if somewhere in the first 3 tips is the advice to "buy plastic boxes", "buy storage containers" or "get a storage unit" appears in any article you read about decluttering, you can rest assured it was probably not written by a PO (Professional Organiser).
And Margaret Lukens has a post entitled Habits, not Gadgets, where she says:
Sometimes we behave as though we could purchase greater efficiency in the form of a special planner, new software, or the latest technology. ...

What we need first and foremost is to establish the habits that will allow us to take full advantage of whatever methods we choose to use. ...

I’ve gone into some offices that have dozens of fancy boxes and containers, racks, sorters and memo boards of every description, but the owner of the office still feels (and is!) as disorganized as ever. In some cases, the containers themselves become another form of clutter.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Reader Question: Dog Toy Storage

two dog toy boxes, green and red, picture of a bone on the side

A reader asks: I wonder if you have seen any cute/functional/durable dog toy storage containers. We have a 10-month-old black Lab puppy, and I'd love to corral her toys in something cute/functional/durable. An added note, I have a farmhouse country decorating theme.

Oh, I love a challenge like this. While there's no reason you'd have to use a box designed specifically for dog toys, there sure are some nice options out there. The one above comes from Whitney Works Home.

white pet toy box

Pet Studio makes some pet toy boxes, in white and mahogany. These are available from a number of on-line stores. Update on Oct. 29, 2013: I'm no longer finding these toy boxes.

blue toy chest with painting of dogs on the front; says Dog Toys

This dog toy chest with the hand-painted front panel is also sold by a number of on-line stores. Update on Oct. 29, 2013: I'm no longer finding this toy chest.

breed toy box - picture of entire box, and close-up of Lab picture

Tails by the Lake makes toy boxes with pictures of different breeds, including Labs. Update on Oct. 29, 2013: I'm no longer finding these toy boxes.

ed pet toy chest, picture of dog, says TOYS

Lola & Penelope's Pet Boutique has this hand-made pet toy chest.

wooden toy box shaped like a bone

Little Shop of Terrors has toy boxes shaped like bones, in two sizes. Update on Oct. 29, 2013: I'm no longer finding these toy boxes.

wooden dog toy bin, full of toys

If you'd like something without a lid, this wooden dog toy bin might do. Update on Oct. 29, 2013: I'm no longer finding this toy bin.

pet toy box made from wine crate, full of toys

And while they may be the right thing for the reader posing the question, I just have to mention these pet toy boxes handcrafted from wine crates.

Garage Storage: Going Up

overhead ceiling storage racks in garage, loaded with stuff

How much wasted storage space do you have in your garage? Most people know about wall storage options (pegboards, slatwall systems, etc.) - but they might not think about using all the available ceiling space. Another option that's easy to overlook involves getting heavy items off the floor. Here are some of the options available to help use all your garage space.

Onrax sells overhead storage racks, as shown above. [photo from ProMAX Garage, which sells the Onrax products]

overhead ceiling storage racks in garage, loaded with stuff

MonsterRAX is another garage ceiling rack.

ceiling rack with matched plastic bins

And HyLoft also has ceiling racks.

rack holding two large plastic boxes in rafters

ToteTrac also makes use of ceiling space, but in a very different way.

four pictures of garage lift, where platform lowers and rises with a hand crank

Then there are the lifts. Racor sells the HeavyLift, which has a hand crank. Racor also has a bike and ladder lift.

The Loft-It storage lift system is motorized; the video shows it in action.

storage cabinets on ceiling over cars

Nu-Cab has the SkyPod elevating storage cabinet - yet another design. The web site has an animation to show how the product works. Update on May 10, 2010: I'm no longer finding Nu-Cab on the web.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Containers: Plastic vs. Alternatives

large plastic bin, blue

While I love beautiful storage containers, there are times when we just need something practical. And that often means plastics - unfortunately, given some of the environmental issues.

In Organize Your Home ... in No Time, Debbie Stanley writes:
In most cases, it's best to choose a container made of plastic. ... In general, plastic is the most versatile, long-lasting, and trouble-free material for storage purposes. Be sure to choose plastic containers that are well-made, not brittle or flimsy. Rubbermaid's products are excellent.
And indeed, plastic storage boxes can be extremely useful. Here's a quote from the book Saving Stuff:
Large rubber or plastic containers: used for the safe storing of most collectibles in hostile environments. With a little investigation and good consumerism you can identify good-quality, sealable storage containers made from polyethylene and polypropylene, two fairly stable synthetic materials. Rubbermaid and Tupperware are both made from the right types of plastics.
The major exception, where plastic containers may be a poor idea, seems to be clothing - and there isn't a clear consensus here.

Some people recommend air-tight plastic storage for clothes to protect them from bugs (see here and here and here) while other sources say it's a very bad idea because fabric needs to breath (see here and here and here and here and here).

Here's a quote from Real Simple:
Cloth garment bags are preferable to plastic for long-term storage and are essential for leathers and furs, which may crack or break off if kept in plastic. "Fabric needs to breathe," says Wayne Edelman, owner of New York's Meurice Garment Care. "If you don't have cloth bags, hang sheets over garments."
And here's another quote from Real Simple, which says the opposite.
Moth larvae can crawl through spaces as narrow as 0.1 millimeter (the diameter of sewing thread), so the containers you store clothing in must be tightly sealed. Choose plastic bins designed for home storage, plastic garment and sweater bags, or storage chests made of metal or cedar.
And here's a source that lists similar concerns regarding plastic tubs for fabrics kept for sewing - noting that some plastics are OK, but others are not, and suggesting alternatives.

Showcasing Your Child's Art: Five More Options

poster made from 9 drawings

I've written before (here, here, here and here) about ways to showcase your child's art: in custom-made books, on note cards, on web sites, on tote bags, etc.

But here's a new one: Have a poster made showing your child's best work. [via Cool Mom Picks]

pillow with imagine from child's drawing

Here's another option: Have a favorite work turned into a pillow. [via lilSugar]

five canvases with children's art

Pascoe Pop Art will put your child's drawing onto canvas. Update on September 7, 2011: Pascoe Pop Art doesn't seem to offer this service any more.

two books of child's art

Petite Picasso is another company that will create a book from your child's art; they also do framing. [via ThriftyFun]

drawing with rainbow and hear that says Dear Mom, I love you so much my heart muscles ache.

And then there's BlanketWorx, which will turn that drawing into a mini-throw, measuring approximately 43" x 54". [also via ThriftyFun]

Of course, you could also just put the best of the drawings in a scrapbook, an archival box, or some similar alternative. More on that sometime in the future.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Decorative Storage: Buckets and Pails

flowered pail

Inspired by organizer Aby Garvey's love of buckets - and organizer Suzanne Babb's enthusiasm, and Jennifer & Kitty O'Neil's endorsement - I decided to see what was available, beyond the basics.

Aby and Suzanne both pointed me to the wonderful Good Pails to Have, which you can also see on Etsy - that's one of theirs above. But there are other options.

copper colored pail

Bucket Outlet has solid color pails in a range of colors, holiday-themed pails, and other decorated pails. [via Apartment Therapy]

pastel blue and pink buckets

Here are some more solid color buckets, from the U.K.

pink and white bucket filled with lemons

The MacBeth Collection has buckets in a range of sizes and patterns.

white bucket, says laundry

Some buckets announce their purpose.

bucket with lid; painted with picture of birds

And some are intended for a specific purpose - such as this bird seed bucket - but could certainly be used in other ways.

colorful pail storing honey, labeled Le Grand Miel

You could get honey in a pail, and then use the pail for other things when the honey was gone.

bucket with fairies, perched on 2 other buckets

It's not surprising that there are some decorated pails over on Etsy. This one comes from cupcakes4breakfast.

flowered bucket holding toilet paper rolls

And this one comes form Etsy seller brodyandma.

John Deere bucket

For something totally different, how about a John Deere pail?

bucket with Florida Gators emblem

You can get pails with the logo of your favorite sports team; for those who don't recognize it, this one is the Florida Gators.

yellow happy face pail

And let's end with this one and a smile.

Related post: Easter-ish Storage: Beyond the Typical Easter Basket

Thursday, April 24, 2008

15 Kitchen Utensil Holders: Classic to Kitsch

bamboo utensil holder with wooden spoons and a wooden fork in it

Anyone who cooks much is likely to have a utensil holder sitting out with frequently used items such as wooden spoons. The options here are huge - let's look at just a few.

1. The utensil holder above is made from 100% certified organic bamboo.

white and red stoneware utensil holders; white one holds spatulas

2. This utensil holder from Le Creuset is a classic. Anther option along the same lines would be the Emile Henry utensil holder, in a range of colors).

stainless steel utensil holder with spoons, spatula, whisk

3. Another common look is stainless steel, nicely represented by this stainless steel utensil holder from simple human.

white enamel utensil holder, says kitchen utensils on it, holding scrub brushes

4. Enamel provides another classic look. Update of Feb. 22, 2012: I'm no longer finding this one.

chef rooster ceramic utensil holder

5. Too boring? The kitschy options are numerous - this was one of my favorites. Update on Feb. 22, 2012: I can no longer find this one, either.

white utensil holder, says everything but the kitchen sink

6. OK, maybe that last one was a bit over the top. Here's a nice option from the U.K. - other versions say "kitchen sink drams" and "stuff and nonsense."

blue and white utensil holder, landscape picture; says utensils

7. This utensil holder is made by Spode.

copper utensil jar with whisks and more

8.Here's a lovely copper utensil jar.

soapstone utensil jar holding wooden spoons, etc.

9. And here's a beautiful one made from soapstone.

marble utensil holder with a couple things inside

10. Marble is another option, shown above - and Corian is an option, too.

red utensil jar - says utensils

11. Here's a simple utensil jar, made from enameled steel.

cermaic utensilholder with rooster and more

12. And here's one from Deruta, Italy that's not simple at all. Seven patterns are available.

utensil holder, patterend, says cubiertos

13. This utensil holder was hand-painted in Spain.

Pot à ustensiles

14. This is a pot à ustensiles from France. Update on Feb. 22, 2012: I'm no longer finding this product.

wood utensil holder shaped like a dog

15. And let's end with one more unusual one, that made me smile; this dog was handcrafted in Canada. Cat and duck options are also available.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Tool Storage Locations Made Obvious

pegboard with tool outlines

To prevent misplaced tools, paint a silhouette of each tool on the pegboard, so it's obvious where it goes. I've read this suggestion many times: here and here and here, for example.

Domino magazine even shows doing the same thing with pegboard used for pots and pans. Update on May 10, 2010: Domino Magazine has folded, and its web site is gone.

(Of course, not everyone agrees - here's one who doesn't use tool outlines.)

But if you do want to use tool outlines on a pegboard, here's another alternative: use tool outline decals.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

How Much Are Those Boots Worth? Valuing Charitable Donations.

a bit of the cover of IRS publication 561 - Determining the Value of Donated Property

Alert: U.S.-specific post

Disclaimer: I am not a tax accountant; please consult with yours.

Yes, I know we just passed the tax filing date for 2007. But if you decide to clear out your clothes closet as part of your spring cleaning, you might want to track those donations and get them valued properly for tax purposes.

The IRS provide minimal guidance in this regard. In Publication 561, it says:
Used clothing and other personal items are usually worth far less than the price you paid for them. Valuation of items of clothing does not lend itself to fixed formulas or methods.

The price that buyers of used items actually pay in used clothing stores, such as consignment or thrift shops, is an indication of the value.

You cannot take a deduction for clothing donated after August 17, 2006, unless it is in good used condition or better.
OK, so that helped a lot, right?

Some organizations such as The Salvation Army and Goodwill provide some limited donation valuation information - but many people will want more guidance than that.

web page for ItsDeductible

Perhaps the most well-known option is ItsDeductible, the free on-line valuation program from Intuit that feeds into TurboTax. I just tried using it, and it seemed pretty easy. Valuations are based on data from resale stores across the United States and from eBay.

While it appeared, at first, that you could use this program without also using TurboTax, it seems that might not be true, given this statement from the web site:
ItsDeductible provides "old" values that can be used to "estimate" your item values throughout the year. These "estimated" item values will be updated automatically when you import and use them in TurboTax at tax time.
However, at the NAPO conference, I became aware of another option. To appreciate this other option, let's look at a bit of history regarding ItsDeductible.

ItsDeductible 2004

ItsDeductible used to come in a workbook form, but it no longer does.

ItsDeductible 2002

And before it became part of Intuit, it was written by William Lewis, and was titled ItsDeductible: Cash For Your Used Clothing.

Money For Your Used Clothing booklet cover

Now Mr. Lewis is publishing a book called Money for Your Used Clothing, which provides donation valuations for all sorts of clothing - and more. Valuations are based on annual surveys of consignment and thrift stores throughout the United States.

DeductionPro software box

And yet another option might be DeductionPro, from H&R Block. I found out about this from a good article in The Charleston Gazette that's well worth a read.