Sunday, November 30, 2008

Christmas and Other Holidays: Consumable Gifts

Christmas chocolates

Chocolates, wine, fruit, cheeses, jams, tea, coffee beans - you probably already know these can make fine clutter-free gifts. And flowers are another time-honored gift in this category. So are things like nice soaps. Note: Even a consumable must be selected with care - not everyone wants more soaps, some people are trying to cut down on sweets, etc.

But if you'd like something a bit different in the way of consumables - ranging in price from about $5 to $2,995 - consider these.

reindeer licorice

1. Cinnamon licorice reindeer from Route 29. Update on Dec. 3, 2013: I'm no longer finding these available for purchase.

Grandma's Chicken Soup

2. Grandma's Chicken Soup

You can get just the soup - or you can get one of many gift packages, like the Intermarriage Holiday Special: soup (with matzo balls, if you wish), golden coin gift box, and tree truffles box. Update on Dec. 2, 2012: I'm no longer finding the Intermarriage Holiday Special.

sea salt

3. Gourmet Sea Salts

Home Chef Products sells 18 different salts; mine is a 3.5 ounce bottle. Update on Dec. 2, 2012: I'm no longer finding Home Chef products, but it's easy to find a wide range of salts now.

lobsterman with lobsters

4. Lobster: Adopt a lobster trap

As the web site says: "Enjoy the rewards of having your own personal lobstermen and lobster trap catching lobsters just for you. Your partnership provides you with a minimum of 13 gourmet lobster dinners delivered anywhere in the country with free shipping! (Over 52 1.5-lb. lobsters, clams, mussels, desserts, and more.) As a partner, you will be assigned a private lobsterman that will fish your trap all season."

There are less expensive options: a seasonal membership (lobster dinner for four, provided four times/year), a share of the catch - and simple orders for lobsters. [via Springwise]

Nudo - adopt an olive tree

5. Olive oil: adopt an olive tree

This costs much less than adopting a lobster trap! Five of the seven groves you can choose from are organic. Here's how it works: "Once you've chosen and adopted a tree, the first thing you'll receive is an adoption certificate, to make you official, and your tree information booklet. Then over the course of the year you'll receive two more packages, one in the spring and one in the autumn, containing all the produce from your tree.

We say your tree but we actually collect your tree’s harvest with about 50 of its neighbours – to give us enough olives to press in one go. Think of it as being about the society rather than the individual." [via ecosalon]

Breath Palette flavored toothpastes

6. Flavored toothpaste

I've been suggesting this for a while — ever since someone gave me a tube of iris toothpaste years ago.

You can also get flavored toothpaste from Breath Palette, which has many options (vanilla, bitter chocolate, white peach, pumpkin pudding, etc.) and also sells flavored mouthwash. Some of the flavors not shown on the Breath Palette web site seem to be available on other sites, such as Fred Flare. Update on Dec 2, 2010: Fred Flare no longer carries these toothpastes, but I'm seeing them at Japan Trend Shop and The Cure Shop.

Anther good source is Green People, which sells a fennel-flavored toothpaste.

black toilet paper on pedestal

7. Colored toilet paper

OK, this one is a bit odd - but some of you have friends who would like a quirky gift, right? Renova makes toilet paper in six colors; you can buy it from Charles & Marie. Update on Dec. 3, 2013: Charles and Marie no longer carries this product, but you can get it here.


8. Stationery

If you know people who still write letters, some really special stationery might be appreciated. The options here overwhelming; the one above comes from Turtle Papers on Etsy.

face paint sticks

9. For kids: craft supplies

One Sock at a Time provides an amazing list of all the toys her kids already have - making the point that they already have (more than) plenty. If you're going to get her children gifts, consumables are one of the things she suggests. "Like giant floor coloring books, craft kits, paint sets, markers and crayons, more face paints, poster board and construction paper. We go through those like crazy and have so much fun doing it. Non-craft consumable ideas: bubble bath or even bath paints."

Want more clutter-free gift ideas? You can find links to all articles in this gift-giving series here:
Christmas and Other Holidays: A Clutter-Free Gift Guide

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Christmas and Other Holidays: Donations as Gifts

While some people think that gifts of charity "aren't real gifts," others are thrilled with the idea. If you'd like to pursue this option, here are some examples of ways you might do it.

Please note: I don't know much about the individual charities mentioned; you might want to do your own research before deciding where to give your money. Charity Navigator, Guidestar, and the American Institute of Philanthropy are some places to look for information.

charity gift cards

1. Gifts where the recipient picks the cause

With a card from TisBest, "recipients spend the Charity Gift Card by donating to a charity they believe in, with over 200 carefully selected and responsible 501(c)3 nonprofits listed." There are many different card designs to choose from, too. Other options include Charity Navigator's Good Card, JustGive and CharityChoice Gift Cards.

seal, up for adoption

2. Adopt-an-Animal Programs

At the Marine Mammal Center, you can adopt a seal - like the one shown above.

I once adopted a manatee on someone's behalf, and she loved that gift!

Then there's Safe Haven for Donkeys in the Holy Land.

And many zoos have adoption programs. Here are just some of the many options.

BEF promotion - gift of clean energy, carbon offsets

3. Carbon Offsets

BEF is just one place to buy carbon offsets. Here's a list of many more.

animal gifts - llama and water buffalo

4. Other causes

There are so many options here; you might select any cause the recipient cares about. I've mentioned before that I like Seva's Gifts of Service. Other nice options include Treegivers, Oxfam and Kiva. Instead of adopting an animal, you could adopt a library or a school.

Heifer International is a popular choice; you can see some of their options above. I love this story from Rita Emmett:
Bruce and I are in a family that has a grab bag at Christmas time. One month before the holiday, everyone is invited to send suggestions for what they would like to receive.

We both decided we really have all we need, so we asked for a contribution to one of our favorite charities, The Heifer Project. This is an organization where you can donate any amount of money and it goes towards providing a pair of animals to a poor family in a poverty-stricken country. ...

When it came time for everyone to open their grab bag gift on Christmas day, all 36 members of our family gathered. In their usual style, everyone opened their gifts at once, with lots of noise, ripping of paper, showing of gifts, shouting "Look what I got" and general pandemonium.

In the midst of the chaos, Bruce called out, "I got a water buffalo."

Want more clutter-free gift ideas? You can find links to all articles in this gift-giving series here:
Christmas and Other Holidays: A Clutter-Free Gift Guide

Friday, November 28, 2008

Christmas and Other Holidays: A Clutter-Free Gift Guide

cat with Christmas gift

Yet another holiday gift-giving guide? Well, for those who are so inclined, it makes sense to take a look at your gift-giving traditions and decide if you'd like to make any simplifications.

But many people will be giving gifts - and I'd like to see those gifts be something that won't wind up as clutter. So over the next few days I'll be listing gifts of consumables, gifts of experiences, gifts involving donations to good causes - and a few other ideas, too. And I'll bet I have ideas in each category that you never thought of before.

But to start us out, I thought I'd quote San Francisco Chronicle columnist Jon Carroll:
And there's Christmas. ... People are giving each other gifts to express love. How dopey is that? You want to express your love for me? Do my laundry. Invite me to a movie. Discuss the 49ers. Play the flute, assuming you play the flute.

And the stuff for kids, especially. We all know how much of that stuff actually gets played with enough to justify its cost. And we all know that even if the kid likes it, the kid will not miss it if he never gets it. You want to express your love? Go to parent-teacher conferences. Have a weekend outing. Just be happy at the end of the day - how's that?

We are in a malaise of materialism. I don't believe the way out is more materialism. The way out is to stop relying on stuff to make us happy. Buy less, America.
Or at least buy thoughtfully.

[photo by yogadad / Randy Dykhuis]

More of the gift-giving series:
Christmas and Other Holidays: Donations as Gifts
Christmas and Other Holidays: Consumable Gifts
Christmas and Other Holidays: Gifts of Experiences
Christmas and Other Holidays: Gifts of Time
Christmas and Other Holidays: Yet More Clutter-Free Gifts
Christmas and Other Holidays: Gift Cards
Christmas and Other Holidays: Consumable Gifts, Part 2
Christmas and Other Holidays: Wish Lists and Gift Registries
Christmas and Other Holidays: Gifts That Add to the Collection
Christmas and Other Holidays: Donations as Gifts, Part 2

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Thanksgiving Blog: Pie Safes

pie safe, punched tin doors

The pie safe seems like a perfect organizing idea for today - I don't know about you, but I'm happily contemplating the pumpkin pie I'll be eating later.

If you've never heard of a pie safe, here's the explanation from Mother Earth News: "a cabinet with tight joints and close-fitting doors to exclude pests and retain enough humidity to keep pies moist, but also featuring tiny, ant and gnat excluding perforations in the door so air could circulate to prevent mold." I've seen some items sold as pie safes which don't seem to have the perforations, but all the ones I'm listed here do indeed have them.

pie safe with punched tin doors offers much more than Windsor chairs - including seven different versions of the pie safe.

pie safe

And Massie Furniture, a family-owned company in North Carolina, also makes a number of different pie safes.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Two Tales of Mailmen and Junk Mail

Junk Mail - return to send stickers

Tis the season, very soon, for holiday cards and newsletters - the kind of mail we like to get. And then there's the junk mail - which you can eliminate (or drastically reduce) by following these junk mail reduction suggestions.

But here are two tales of people who didn't get their junk mail because of actions taken by their mailmen.

Story #1 from North Carolina:
"Mailman Steve," as he's known to the children on his route, got 3 years probation yesterday for failing to deliver years worth of junk mail that was found stacked in his garage and buried in his backyard.

Some consider "Mailman Steve" an anti-junk mail superhero — but it seems that Mr. Padgett was just overwhelmed.
For more on this story, see the Los Angeles Times.
Padgett's efforts to spare the neighbors their junk mail were not much appreciated by the Direct Marketing Assn. The 3,400-member group considers such mail a boon for consumers seeking discounts and services and for small businesses seeking to target customers.

Eight of 10 people actually look at such mail, and a "large percentage" take advantage of coupons and discounts, said Sandy Cutts, the association's public affairs director.

And please don't call it "junk mail," Cutts said. "We don't use the 'J' word."

Story #2 from Hull in the U.K.:
When most people receive junk mail it goes straight in the bin.

But when postal worker Jamie Coult saw it piling up at Harpings Road sorting office in west Hull he decided to steal it and sell it on eBay.

The former postman stole the junk mail which included money off vouchers for Lurpak, Pampers, McCain chips and Wetherspoons.

Related Post:
What Kind of Junk Mail Recipient are You?
Junk Mail Management, Dutch Style

[Sticker from Stop Junk Mail in the U.K.]

Monday, November 24, 2008

Dry Cleaning Bags: Problems and Alternatives

dry cleaning

Are you storing your clothes in those thin plastic bags the dry cleaner uses? The expert advice is consistent: Don't do it! This is especially true for longer-term storage, and in areas with significant humidity.

1. From Classic Cleaners in Indiana:

Question: Should I store my clean garments in the plastic bag they are returned in?

Answer: No, the bags are provided by the cleaner to protect the garments until you get them home. It is best to store garments uncovered or in fabric garment bags.

2. From Orr Cleaners in Ontario:

Question: Can I store my cleaning in the clear plastic bags?

Answer: The clear plastic bags are called Poly Bags. Never store items in the Poly Bags as they can retain moisture resulting in stains. Remove the Poly Bags as soon as you get the garments home. Garments should be stored away from direct sunlight and moisture. A dry, dark closet is best.

3. From Meurice Garment Care in New York:

Question: Is it okay to leave my clothes in the plastic bags I get from my cleaners?

Answer: The short answer is this: only if you plan to wear them this season.

Plastic bags prevent the fabric from breathing. They can also promote mildew formation and cause fume fading. Fume fading yellows whites and discolors colored garments.

We recommend storing garments in cloth garment bags, which are breathable and offer some protection against damage from moths and other insects.

4. From Custom Dry Cleaners in South Australia:

Don't store your clothes in a plastic bag. The plastic bag your dry cleaner uses is only to protect your garments on your way home. The plastic causes humidity to condense in the bag, weakening the fibers.

reusable dry cleaning bag

So... what do you do with all those plastic bags - which you may or may not be able to recycle in your area? Well, you can try to avoid getting them in the first place.

Some dry cleaners are helping with this. For example, Paris Cleaners in Illinois provides reusable garment bags that convert to a tote bag.

And then there are companies pitching reusable bags to both the public and to dry cleaning businesses. One of these is Green Garmento, made of 100% biodegradable polypropylene. Another is Reuseniks, which provides a 100% cotton Clothesnik - that's a Clothesnik shown above. [via Springwise and Ideal Bite]

[photo by sfllaw / Simon Law]

If you enjoy this blog, please consider voting for it as best organizing website/blog on the 2009 Los Angeles Organizing Awards ballot.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

The Definitive Guide: 15 Ways to Store the Shoes

pile of shoes

Shoes piled up in the entranceway? Mudroom? Bedroom? Here's a pretty comprehensive list of the many ways of dealing with shoe storage - for those with just a few pairs, or quite a lot. In each category, I'm showing just some of the many options.

walnut shoe rack

1. Shoe racks

Here are a few alternatives to give you an idea of the range of options:
- Woodlore modular shoe rack
- Walnut wooden shoe rack (shown above)
- Cedar shoe racks
- Metro shoe racks
- Skohyllor (Swedish for shoe racks) from Mio in Sweden
- Shoe rack from Side by Side in Germany

shoe cubbies

2. Shoe Cubbies

These can be built into a closet system, or they can be freestanding. The picture above comes from Cubbies Unlimited; Organize-It sells seven different cubbies.

Update on Nov. 25, 2008: You can also get acrylic shoe divider cubbies from Custom Inserts.

stacked shoe boxes, one pulled out

3. Shoe boxes on a shelf (or the closet floor)

You could use the boxes your shoes came in, or in boxes from:
- Shoe Stör [via Mighty Goods]
- Shoebby
- KangaRoom / Great Useful Stuff
- Closet Fetish [via organizer Geralin Thomas]
- Gracienne (Cleary Glam boxes) [via OrganizingLA]
- The Container Store

NeatContainers sort of fits into this category, too.

Nov. 24 update: I should make this category shoe boxes and shoe drawers. As organizer Ilene Drexler said: "I think you missed my hands-down favorite: the men's size shoe drawers from The Container Store. They slide in & out with the greatest of ease, are crystal clear plastic & are roomy enough for all types of women's shoes. Expensive but worth every penny!"

Jan 2, 2014 update: The Closet Fetish website has disappeared.

shoes on slanted shelves in closet

4. Shelves, without the boxes

To see how one person used shelves for shoes, take a look at Apartment Therapy. (And here are more Apartment Therapy pictures.) Or you could use a bookcase, as shown in Domino. Charles & Marie point us to a shoe shelf from 659 Design. And shelves for shoes are a common option used in closet systems - such as the one from Econize Closets, shown above. Update on Jan. 20, 2012: 659 Design seems to have disappeared, as has Domino magazine.

paisley over door shoe tidy

5. Over-the-door shoe bags (or pocket organizers) - which could be hung other places, too.

The Container Store and Organize-It have a number of options. Room It Up has some for those who prefer patterns. In the UK, Cath Kidston has a pretty hanging shoe tidy, shown above. Update on May 23, 2011: The Cath Kidston web site is no longer showing this style of shoe tidy.

over door shoe rack

6. Over-the-door shoe racks

Organizer Ilene Drexler pointed me to the over-the-door shoe rack at, shown above.

shoe bag hanging from closet rod

7. Shoe bags (or racks) that hang from a closet rod

The Container Store has a number of these, including some made from bamboo or recycled materials. Lorie Greiner has a couple options, one for just shoes and one for shoes and sweaters. Tiny Living and Room It Up have colorful options. John Lewis is one source in the U.K. And the picture above shows a product sold by Hold N Storage.

Organize-It has a shorter version that works with double-hanging closet rods. [via Real Simple]

And Perfect Curve has a shoe rack that hangs from the rod - available at Organize-It and a number of other places. [via Harriet Schechter in the San Diego Union-Tribune]

Updates on Sept. 28, 2009, May 23, 2011, Jan. 29, 2012 and Sept. 13, 2012: Room It Up has disappeared. Lorie Greiner no longer sells this type of organizer, either. And, unfortunately, Tiny Living has closedThe Perfect Curve shoe rack is no longer available at Organize-It, but it can be found other places, such as hereYou can also find this style of shoe tidy at Cath Kidston.

under bed shoe storage

8. Under-bed shoe storage

Get Organized sells the under-bed shoe organizer shown above, as well as an under-bed shoe trolley. has an under-bed shoe storage bag. Update on Feb. 13, 2012: Get Organized no longer sells either of these products. However, you can find the pictured under-bed shoe organizer here

revolving shoe tree

9. Revolving shoe trees

The 4-tier revolving shoe tree above is made by Whitney Designs. Polder has 3-tier and 2-tier options. Update on Sept 29, 2009 and May 23, 2011: Products once sold by Whitney Designs are now sold by Household Essentials. Search for shoe to find these products on the Polder site.

tilt out shoe storage cabinet

10. Shoe cabinets, chests, cupboards and tansu

Tilt-out shoe storage cabinets like the one shown above are a space-saving option. But there are plenty of other options, including the Team7 hallway shoe cabinet, the many options from Homebase, the ottoman shoe chest, the shoe chest from Horchow, and the shoe storage tansu from Berkeley Mills.

shoe bench

11. Shoe benches

The lovely shoe bench above comes from NHWoodworking. Tilt-out shoe benches are another option. And other shoe benches have cubbies, like this bamboo bench. Update on Sept. 28, 2009: That bamboo bench (which was sold by Design Public) is no longer available. But I see I neglected to point to the beautiful shoe benches by Woodistry, which I've mentioned before.

elfa shoe rack

12. Elfa

If you're using an elfa system, you can include the Easy Hang shoe rack shown above, which is meant for shoes with heels. [via Apartment Therapy]

There's also the Hangmate shoe rack, which hangs on the side of any elfa drawer system.

13. Repurposed items: coat hooks, magazine racks and roll-out shelves

Apartment Therapy shows how a coat rack could be used for shoes. A wall-mounted magazine rack could also be used for shoes. And roll-out shelves like you often see in kitchens can store shoes, too.

14. Baskets and Trays

For some people (like Nancy Sabina and Mamacita), a simple basket works just fine. And for some, a tray works just fine.

shoe stacker

15. One-of-a-kind products

And then there are the products that defy classification. I've mentioned some of these before: the Rakku shoe wheel, the Hotel Box, the shoe storage built into a staircase, the flip-flop storage (and the stilettos hanging from a picture rail), the wall-mounted shoe racks from j-me and Charlotte Tangye Design and the Brookstone cubbies.

But the shoe stacker shown above is a new one for me - thanks to John Trosko at OrganizingLA. Update on Jan. 29, 2012: I'm no longer finding this product being sold.

OK, folks - did I miss anything?

Update: For more shoe storage ideas, see these later posts:
But How Do I Store the Boots?
Stashing the Shoes: Yet More Options
Fancy-Schmancy Shoe Storage for Your Closet
Storing Shoes of All Shapes and Sizes

[shoe pile photo from Dan Dickinson]

Friday, November 21, 2008

Two Unique Wine Cabinets

custom wine cabinet, wood

Maybe it's the holiday season that turns my mind to thoughts of wine. I know I just wrote about wine storage, but I seem to keep finding more amazing options. How could I not share this incredible wine cabinet - a custom piece - from Vermont Wood Studios?

British telephone booth (or box) wine cabinet, red

For another piece that would make quite a design statement, there's this telephone box wine cabinet. [via Retro to Go]

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

You STILL Need a Home Inventory

Collectify Home Inventory

Why go to the bother of creating a home inventory? To quote Real Simple, "Insurance, insurance, insurance." If you ever need to file a claim, it will be easier to both remember what you owned and document its value. An inventory can also help you understand if you have the right amount of insurance. All those little things can add up!

As a side benefit, creating a home inventory may also inspire some decluttering!

How do you create an inventory? There are three basic approaches.

1. Create a computerized home inventory.

I wrote about some software home inventory options two years ago, and those same products are still around and worth your consideration. Some other choices are:

- AnywhereVault, an online home inventory tool.
- Quicken Home Inventory Manager - but there's no version for Mac users.
- Collectify Home Inventory, which is also a Windows-only product. The picture above is from Collectify. [Thanks to organizer Jamie Novak for the pointer to this one.]

2. Create a home inventory list (not on a computer).

You can get worksheets from Real Simple or the State of California; both of these are organized by room. Wells Fargo has an inventory list organized by type of item rather than by room. You might want to look at it just to see another approach.

3. Hire a home inventory service to create your inventory for you.

If you know you're unlikely to ever get around to doing this yourself, consider hiring help. The services vary tremendously in what they offer, so be sure you're getting the final products that you want. For example, I saw that one company offered a VHS tape, while others offer CDs and/or DVDs.

If you want an idea of the services that are out there, you can look at Redwood Home Inventory and Garrett's Home Inventory Service.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Tools for Readers: Book Journals

Jeri's book journal

As an avid reader, it's been extremely helpful to me to keep a list of books I want to read - or at least take a peek at, and see if they seem worth my time. And I also keep a journal of the books I have read, and how I felt about them.

You can certainly do both of these things without any specialized products - I do! I started keeping book journals back in the fall of 2002; those are some of my journal pages above. I've used various all-purpose journals; there are tons of lovely ones to choose from. Sometimes I write pages, sometimes just a few words - and I don't worry about being neat. (My books to read list is on the computer.) But if you'd like something designed especially for readers, there are quite a few choices.

(There are also all sort of computer-based tools, but that's another post for another day.)

Read, Remember, Recommend is subtitled a "reading journal for book lovers." It provides you with lists of award-winning and other notable books. There are author pages that "provide a convenient place to note an adored author and all of his/her works" as well as pages to track books your want to read, books you want to recommend, and books you've loaned out. And then, of course, there are the pages for you to note what you have read. The web site kindly provides good images of all the pages, so you can readily see if this is something that looks good for you. [via Organize Your Life]

A Book Lover's Diary, from Firefly Books, has a similar set of sections: books to read, books read and a personal review, books to buy, books loaned out or borrowed, favorite books, memorable passages, and addresses of libraries and book stores.

The Book Lust Journal from Sasquatch Books has simple pages with just a heading for date, author and title - and then a place for notes. Reviewers on have noted that there are separate sections for memorable lines and books loaned out - and some wish there were section dividers.

BookNotes: The Booklover's Organizer, comes from Jackson Creek Press. Besides the section for book notes - four books per page, according to the pictures on - there are sections for books on loan and for personal reflections.

Green Chair Press provides another reader's diary, in two different designs. (The other one features a cat.) This one would work for those who just want to rate the book, not take any kind of detailed notes.

Want even more journal options? There's Smart Women Read Between the Lines, the What I Read mini-journal, and the Lifestyle Notebook - Books from Design Within Reach.

A Life Well Read lets you record much of the same information as many book journals, but it uses a series of note cards organized in a keepsake box shaped like a book. The standard categories are My Books, My Favorites, Books I Want, Books On Loan, and Books To Give. You can also add personalized categories. I don't think it's a "perfect holiday gift" as the web site claims, since each person's preferred book-tracking tools will be different. But I'm sure some people will find it works perfectly for them! The folks at A Life Unplugged are kindly offering a 10% discount; enter the discount password DDALWR1 on the "Special Offers" page.

Monday, November 17, 2008

How It Feels to Declutter

Oprah - Messy House Tour logo

Peter Walsh is, once again, helping people to declutter and organize their homes. While I missed seeing the first episode of Oprah's Messy House Tour (no TV, and the person who was going to tape it for me ran into difficulties), I was delighted to read this quote from someone who was featured on the show - and to read Peter's comments, too.
Patty says her house has truly become a home. "Before, it was a collection of stuff in a box. Now, it is a place where we live together and enjoy each other and we have peace together," she says. "We're sleeping better. We're getting more time to spend together. It's just a much more pleasant, calming, peaceful, sweet place to be that embodies the soul of our family, our marriage and our relationship with each other."

Peter says anyone can create a home like Patty's. "We dressed that room, with almost no exception, with things that were already in the house," he says. "Your house has things that you love, but they are covered in all the clutter. Remove the clutter and then honor and respect those things that make your heart sing."

[Quote from Oprah's web site]