Sunday, September 30, 2012

Organizing My Halloween Treats: Books!

collection of picture books in a plastic bin

Come this Halloween, I won't be giving out candy. As I've done for the past few years, I'll be giving out books. I've got books for all ages; the ones above are the picture books.

collection of chapter books

And here are the chapter books. I've got board books, too. We don't get many kids trick-or-treating in my neighborhood, so the collections shown above are sufficient.

To answer some questions:

Q: What made you decide to do this?
A: I read about Books for Treats, and it just sounded like a great idea. I've always considered a good book to be quite a treat! And if you have children who have outgrown some of their books, it's a great way to declutter.

Q: How do the kids react?
A: They're surprised at first, and then they get into it. I let them select their own books — for the littlest ones, the parents select, or I'll just give them one.

Q: Where do you get the books?
A: Since gently used books are just fine, I got most of mine at used bookstores, where I already had credits from selling back books, as part of my own decluttering. I spent quite some time picking books I really liked. A few books came directly from my own bookshelves. Books for Treats has more ideas on where to get books at a reasonable cost.

All Hallow's Read poster

Another thought: You could combine this idea with that of All Hallow's Read, and specifically give away scary books.

Related Post:
Halloween: 2 Ideas for Avoiding the Candy Clutter

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Trick or Treat Buckets and Bags for a Beautifully Organized Halloween

paper mache Halloween candy bucket shaped like a raccoon's face

Trick or treat buckets don't have to be basic plastic pumpkins; they can be remarkable containers you'll be pleased to use for storage way beyond Halloween. Let's start with the paper mache candy buckets from Kathy Baggett of N2Hookin, including the raccoon shown above. Update on Oct. 10, 2014: I'm not seeing Kathy making any buckets this year.

Halloween bucket with witch, cat, pumpkins

Judy Skinner of Collectiques by Jubee sells this Halloween bucket; I was attracted by the cat, which seems to radiate attitude.

canvas trick or treat bag with spiders

This delightful canvas trick or treat bag comes from Judy of A Little Frayed. She has a few other designs, too.

Halloween trick or treat bag shaped like a monster, with open mouth for candy

The Candy Monster bags from Doves Nest Designs aren't as useful for home storage as the other items I've listed, but they can certainly be put to other uses during the year — and they were too wonderful not to share. [via Inhabitots]

Halloween trick or treat bucket designed like an owl

All the items I've listed up until now come from Etsy — but then there's Edward the Owl. I first found Edward on NeatoShop, but he's widely available. Update on Oct. 10, 2014: NeatoShop no longer carries this, but you can still find it elsewhere.

Related Post, with more good choices:
Organizing and Halloween: Trick or Treat Buckets

Thursday, September 20, 2012

The Simplified Wardrobe Has Some Famous Fans

President Obama, wearing a blue suit
Official White House Photo by Pete Souza; found on, where content is licensed under Creative Commons, unless otherwise noted.

Have you simplified your wardrobe, moving toward a personal uniform? That works well for some people — and if you're one of those people, you have some good company.

Everyone knows about the black turtleneck and the jeans that Steve Jobs always wore — but did you know that President Obama moved to a simpler wardrobe?

Here's what Michael Lewis wrote in Vanity Fair, quoting Obama regarding his wardrobe and why he chose to simplify it:
“You’ll see I wear only gray or blue suits,” he said. “I’m trying to pare down decisions. I don’t want to make decisions about what I’m eating or wearing. Because I have too many other decisions to make.” He mentioned research that shows the simple act of making decisions degrades one’s ability to make further decisions. It’s why shopping is so exhausting. “You need to focus your decision-making energy. You need to routinize yourself. You can’t be going through the day distracted by trivia.”

[via Ruth, commenting on an Unclutterer post]

And I just now saw the following video from Condé Nast Traveler about the wardrobe of New York Times columnist and Pulitzer Prize winner Nicholas Kristof; it literally had me laughing out loud.

Related Posts:
Wearing Black: The Benefits of a Simplified Wardrobe
A Personal Uniform Fights Clothing Clutter
A Personal Uniform Isn't For Everyone

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

How I Got Rid of 67 Postcards in 15 Minutes

5 postcards: cat, Paris, Picasso, etc.

Why did I have 79 envelopes, in a range of greeting-card sizes, that didn't match any of my to-be-sent greeting cards? And why did I have 67 postcards that were never going to be mailed to anyone?

The envelopes were left over from various packages of greeting cards — and I guess I thought they were still perfectly good. Useless to me — but perfectly good.

The postcards came home from various trips, when I bought more than I mailed out. (I used to mail many postcards to my mom, who loved getting them — and to other friends and family members.) But, of course, they just sat around once I got home.

Oh, they were beautifully organized, each collection in its own box inside the cabinet right next to my desk. But organized clutter is still clutter. When I found myself running short of space in the cabinet drawers, I looked at those postcards and those envelopes, and decided they needed to leave.

The postcards found two new homes, via Freecycle, within 15 minutes. I've got an offer out to someone else about the envelopes.

And I have an uncluttered space.

Friday, September 14, 2012

7 Storage Solutions for the Shoe Lover

pile of shoes

You know, I kept thinking I wasn't really a shoe person. And then I looked in my closet. And the other closet. And the basket under the bed. — Amber Naslund

If you're a "shoe person" who struggles with storage, I've got some ideas for you.

lazy susan for shoes

For something really out of the ordinary, take a look at the Lazy Shoezen. We know lazy Susans can be effective organizing tools for other items — why not for shoes? And Leonard says it will hold over 36 pairs of shoes.

If you cringe at the price and you're a do-it-yourselfer, you can buy plans from Leonard Parker rather than buying the finished product; Bob "The Builder" Willey also sells plans for a similar product.

red epoxy metal shoe rack for 10 pairs

For an eye-catching display of a smaller number of shoes, take a look at this epoxy metal shoe rack from Perigot. It's also available in black and in white.

eucalyptus shoe rack and shoe bench

Want something more conventional? This eucalyptus shoe rack and shoe bench both look quite nice.

portable shoe rack

I'm also intrigued by the Stepper portable shoe rack.

shoe storage ottoman

Another storage approach is the shoe ottoman; this one comes from Lilly Pulitzer Home. The 16 pockets can hold 8-16 pairs of shoes, depending on the style.

shoe tidy wood cabinet

At the higher end of the price spectrum, there's the gorgeous Wave shoe tidy by Tom Schneider.

breathable collapsible shoe boxes

And finally, let's remember the simple shoe box. The shoe boxes from Total Wardrobe Care have much to recommend them. They're made of breathable material. They're collapsible. And "there is a clear front panel at one end and a large clear pocket at the other end for a description card or photograph, so you can find what you are looking for with ease."  [via Sarah Harris at the New York Times; image consultant Michele Benza pointed me to that article]

Lead photo by little blue hen / Stacy, found on Flickr, licensed via Creative Commons

Related Posts:
The Definitive Guide: 15 Ways to Store the Shoes
Stashing the Shoes: Yet More Options
Fancy-Schmancy Shoe Storage for Your Closet
Storing Shoes of All Shapes and Sizes
7 Creative Ways to Store Your Shoes

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Clutter and Too-Small Spaces

blueprint of a home interior

Architects and organizers both deal with people's space concerns.

I was chatting with architect Edward Love a few days ago, and we noted that sometimes people might not need additions if they simply uncluttered their homes.

But does it ever make sense to remodel a home — or buy a new one — to accommodate your stuff? Sure.

Here are a few scenarios that come to mind:

1. You're a crafter.
Crafting is your hobby and your passion. You've already sorted through your supplies and found new homes for the ones you don't anticipate using. But you still have quite an array of supplies, and you also need work surfaces to do the crafting on. But there's no good place in your current home for all of this — and you're lusting for a craft room like the ones you see on Pinterest.

2. You're a collector.
You've got a carefully curated collection; you're going for quality, not quantity. But even if you do rotating displays — showing off only part of your collection, and changing the display every few months — there's not enough display space, and not enough storage space for the part of the collection that's not on display.

3. You're a homeschooler.
You need classroom space for all that school stuff: books, science project supplies, art supplies, etc.

4. You're someone whose furniture is a mismatch with the space you have.
You love big, overstuffed couches and chairs — and they just don't fit well in the living room you've got. Or you have massive storage pieces, perhaps family heirlooms, which overwhelm your space.

5. You need exercise space.
Unlike the many people whose exercise equipment becomes a clothes rack, you really do use yours. But you'd really prefer not to have the exercise equipment living in your bedroom.

So if you have stuff you use, but are struggling with finding space to store it and make the most of it, you may be one of those people whose clutter problems really are just a matter of inadequate space — and if you can afford it, a remodel may solve those problems. If not, then living in a space that's somewhat more cluttered than your ideal may have to be the answer — and that's OK, too.

Photo from dawniecakes / Dawn Peterson, found on Flickr, licensed under Creative Commons.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

No-Gift Birthday Parties: Making Them Work

Evite to a no-gifts birthday party
Sample invitation created in Evite.

Kids have more stuff than they could ever really use? Want to reign things in a bit? How about having no-gift birthday parties?

Since I know a mom with some experience in this arena, I wrote to her, saying: I know you're done please-no-gifts parties, and I thought most people cooperated. Am I remembering correctly? Do you have any insight into why your requests got honored, and other people have had no such luck?

Here's the message I got back, shared with her permission. 

Yes, I have successfully had no-gift parties for the kids since they were babies. I always send a note (on evite/email) saying that we really are having a no-gift party. I always say not to feel sorry for the birthday kid because we get them way too much stuff and they are in no way deprived of gifts. I do let immediate family give presents, but not at the party.

We just had my daughter's party and as usual there were a few people who brought gifts. In the past I have had a few people who brought gifts and they seemed very aggressive about giving them and so I relented. This year a few people brought gifts to her party but I think they just didn't pay attention to the invitation — so I just said, "Oh, didn't you read the invitation? I am so sorry for the confusion, but it's a no-gift party. You can just take that home and save it for the next birthday party." People seemed happy enough to take the present back. I suppose if they had embroidered a personalized pillow we would have had to accept it, but I think they were just generic birthday presents. My daughter didn't care. She just wanted friends at her party.

A couple of people asked if they could bring a small present and I said "No, why don't you just have your daughter/son make a nice card if you really want to bring something." She did get some cute homemade cards that I can put in a scrapbook.

A few years ago the kids asked if they could have gift parties and I said, "Well, you can either have your parents give you presents or your friends, but not both because it would be too many presents. And your friends are unlikely to get you a new bicycle or what you have written on your list." That pretty much satisfied the kids.

I did not have luck when I tried to have a toy donation instead of gifts. People really did not participate in that the way I would have thought. I realized then that "my cause is not your cause" so I just switched to no-gift parties.

I think there will always be one or two folks that will not honor the no-gift policy. But it is still a tradition I am committed to around here.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Have a Cluttered Home? Join the Crowd.

book cover - life at home in the twenty-first century

Want to see how other people really live? "Glossy architectural publications feature the ostentatious and professionally decorated houses of celebrities and the wealthy. ... The spaces are staged and tidied. This volume is the counterpoint to those images: an unflinching examination of actual homes amid all of the joys and messiness of real life."

And what a fascinating volume this book — Life at Home in the Twenty-First Century — is! It's capturing a slice of American homes: 32 households in the Los Angeles area, all of which self-identify as middle class, all two-parent households with at least one child ages 7-12. Both parents work at paid jobs at least 30 hours per week. The observations behind the book were made between 2001 and 2005, so some technology that would be ubiquitous today is missing from the study. But that doesn't matter too much; it's still enthralling.

Here are the themes I found most interesting:

1. We have an enormous amount of stuff.

The authors include some counts of the numbers of things in the various homes, but only included those in plain sight — not those in drawers, etc. But the photos tell the stories; the families have lots of stuff.

What kinds of stuff? Lots of kinds, including toys. "Several of the L.A. households have more than 250 visible dolls, plush toys, action figures, and other toys, and most have at least 100. Untold numbers of others are tucked in closets and under beds."

And here's a figure I'd not heard before: "The United States has 3.1 percent of the world's children, yet U.S. families annually purchase more than 40 percent of the total toys consumed globally."

2. The clutter is oppressive.

The authors speak of the "assemblages of goods burdening ordinary, lived-in homes" — and I found the word "burdening" to be illuminating. They say that "the Los Angeles parents experience real psychological stress associated with clutter and disarray."

And here's more: "Many find their accumulated possessions exhausting to contemplate, organize and clean. The visual busyness of hoards of objects can affect basic enjoyment of the home."

3. Garages really don't store cars any more.

Want some figures? "Cars have been banished from 75 percent of garages to make way for rejected furniture and cascading bins and boxes of mostly forgotten household goods."

And here's more: "The typical chaotic garage bursts at the seams with 300-650 boxes, plastic storage bins, and many spillover items from inside the house."

I'm wondering if the figures would have been different if the households had been in an area which gets bad winter weather, where a garage for the car might be considered more important. But I certainly see the "garage as storage facility" phenomena all around my part of the country.

The pictures in this section of the book tell the story well. You see how things have been placed in the garages helter-skelter, in all sorts of boxes and bins and bags.

4. Getting rid of stuff is hard for people.

This isn't really a theme — it's just mentioned in passing — but the words here really caught my attention. "U.S. families have trouble getting rid of their possessions. ... Whether they cannot break sentimental attachments to certain objects, do not have the time to sort through and make decisions, or believe objects have value and could be sold on eBay, most families struggle to cope with stored clutter."

5. Many possessions reflect our affiliations.

I guess I knew this, but I never actually put it into words. The authors note: "Quite a few parents in the Los Angeles study identify with a specific cultural heritage or religion, and they display material markers that signal their affiliations." Another affiliation noted was that with sports teams.

Of course, the organizer in me wants to note that anyone feeling overwhelmed by possessions, or anyone who'd like to reclaim that garage — or those having a tough time getting rid of things, even though they want to make a change — could consider working with a professional organizer. But it's not this book's job to suggest this; it's just presenting the results of an anthropological study, and it does that very well, indeed.