Life Organized: The Blog

Tips & Tricks from Barbara

Organizing for Tweens and Teens

· Children / Teens

By Guest Blogger Rebecca Reich, Age 12

Growing up as the daughter of a professional organizer has its pros and cons. Since I’m extremely messy, my mom constantly nags me to put my stuff in the right place. Is it easy? No! But, there are definitely advantages to keeping things in order. Here are the tips I learned from the pro (my mom):

1. Put things away. If you leave your new necklace on your night table, you may not be able to find it when you want to wear it. When things aren’t put away, they get lost.

2. Keep similar items together. If you have headphones scattered about your room or the house, you’ll never be able to find them when you need them. You also might keep buying more because you think you don’t have any. Instead, have one place for them.

3. Label everything. That way, there’s never a question about where the tennis outfits belong and whose charger it is.

4. File loose papers. You’ll always know where your homework is and where to find the notes for the test that may be tomorrow.

5. Keep your room clean. When you have stuff all over the counters and the floor, your room can’t be cleaned properly. And living in a pigsty is just gross!

Bon Voyage! Tips for the Saavy Traveller

· Travel Tips

There are many things I love about springtime: the warmer weather, the blooms and buds on the trees, celebrating my birthday, and spring break!  After the cold, dreary winter, I always look forward to travelling somewhere fun with my family.  And while I used to dread the packing and unpacking, the planning and coordinating, I now have it down to a science.  Here are some of my best travel tips that can help you travel smart and travel well!  Bon Voyage!

  1. For airline travel, employ “the rule of fractions”. If there are four people in your family, pack a fourth of each person’s clothing in each piece of luggage.  If luggage is lost or stolen, everyone will have enough to wear until it’s found.
  2. Plan your wardrobe around three pairs of shoes (think metallic).  If you can pack one pair of shoes for all of your night time outfits, one pair of shoes for your day time wear, and one pair of sneakers, you have simplified and lightened your load.
  3. If you have clothes that are specific to a type of vacation (e.g., ski clothes), don’t integrate them into general clothing drawers.  By keeping this type of clothing separate, you free up room in your drawers, and you save time packing by only having to gather clothing for that vacation in one area.
  4. Beware of bedbugs!  Check the Bedbug Registry before you make any hotel reservations.  The Bedbug Registry is a free, public database of user-submitted bed bug reports from across the U.S. and Canada.
  5. Consider traveling with pop-up laundry hampers for your whites and colors.  Your hotel room will look much neater, and at the end of the vacation, pack the dirty laundry and fold up the hampers.
  6. Don’t be the only one not taking advantage of the “2 for 1 special”.  Do your research ahead of time.  Often there are coupons and discounts available for popular attractions and venues that can be found through a simple online search.
  7. Don’t get sold out:  make dinner, spa, and other reservations before you arrive.
  8. Carry prescription medicines, cameras, laptops, and any expensive jewelry onboard with you.
  9. Charge cameras before you leave home, make sure you know how to operate them, and that they are working properly. Bring extra batteries and memory cards if needed.
  10. Remember that all family members, even babies, need passports for travel outside the US.  Make copies of your passports and important documents, and keep them separate from the originals.
  11. Put a piece of hotel stationery in your children’s pockets.  Even older children and older travellers may forget where they’re staying if they get lost, particularly in a foreign country.
  12. When packing for a holiday vacation, think light.  Many airlines levy a charge for suitcases that weigh more than 50 pounds and most charge extra for more than one piece of luggage per person. If you’ve been accustomed to traveling with large, heavy pieces, invest in some lighter weight canvas/nylon carryalls.
  13. Delete unflattering, unfocused, and frivolous pictures on your camera as you take them.  You’ll save time when you return home and are downloading and editing your pictures.
  14. For longer trips, ship toiletries to your destination one week in advance through an online drugstore such as drugstore.com.  If you order enough, you may even qualify for free shipping.  You’d be surprised how much sunblock, diapers, and shampoo can weigh.
  15. Bring a jump rope.  You can always find a corner of the airport to let your child get rid of excess energy before boarding the plane.  And, you can use it to exercise if you can’t get to a gym.
  16. Bring balloons.  They’re light and can provide hours of entertainment when your children get tired of that jump rope!
  17. Strike a balance between packing too far in advance and not waiting until the night before the trip. I always recommend that the packing take place the weekend before the trip.  Generally, you’re calmer then, and if there are things you need, you’ll have time to purchase them.
  18. It’s always helpful to pack small items in individual Ziploc bags.  For example, undergarments and bathing suits can be stored in Ziploc bags, and then placed in the suitcase.
  19. Pack the suitcase in layers, and place heavier items on the bottom.  For example, shoes go on the bottom of the suitcase along with jeans and sweatshirts, which are heavier than a silk blouse you may want to lay on the very top.
  20. To prevent wrinkling, put layers of tissue paper between items of clothing.

Favorite Valentine’s Day Products

· Shopping / Products, Valentine's Day

While it’s always nice to receive flowers and chocolate, here are some Valentine’s gifts you can buy yourself that will look great while helping you organize!

I love the red square lacquer tray from West Elm. Not only can it be used to serve cocktails and appetizers, but it can be used to corral remote controls, organize beauty products, or even hold a stack of reading material. http://www.westelm.com/products/square-lacquer-trays-c346/?pkey=chome-office-organization

The red Bisley® 5-Drawer Cabinet is ideal for organizing small items like pens, pencils, paper clips or small craft supplies. Each drawer has a label holder handle for marking the contents. Place it on a desktop or work surface for organization that’s chic and functional.
http://www.containerstore.com/shop/storage/drawers?productId=10000332

This red lacquered box is multi-purpose and super cute. It also comes in larger and smaller sizes, and even round boxes. Use this as a desk accessory, in a bedroom, living room or den to add storage that’s sleek and shiny.
http://www.containerstore.com/shop?productId=10031035&N=&Ntt=red+lacquer+boxes

Prop this red enamel bracket frame from Jonathan Adler in a spot where clutter typically gathers. This fun frame will prevent you from putting your piles where they don’t belong!
http://www.jonathanadler.com/Enamel-Brackets-Frames/?cat=773&initial=8131

This red magnetic magazine pocket can be mounted on the wall or propped on a desk. And, because it’s magnetic, it’s a great bulletin board too!
http://www.landofnod.com/kids-storage-$10-$25/kids-storage-and-shelving/magnificent-magnetic-magazine-pocket/f8307

Moving In Together

· Moving

As Valentines Day approaches, couples everywhere contemplate taking their relationship to the next level. In some cases, this means moving in together, a big step worthy of celebration…and logistical concerns. Whether you’re moving into a new place together, or, moving in with your partner, follow these guidelines, and cohabitation will be smooth as can be.

1. Adhere to the 60/40 rule. If there’s a male and female involved, the woman automatically gets at least 60% of the closet AND drawer space. I hate to be sexist, but if you want this move to go smoothly, do as I say.

2. Divvy up the drawers. Each adult needs at least three to four drawers in the bedroom. One for undergarments, one for socks, one for sleepwear, and possibly one for gym clothes/shorts/swimwear. Anything else can be folded on shelves.

3. Dump the duplicates. You don’t need two sets of dishes, two cheese graters, two sets of steak knives…You get the picture. Pick the best, give away the rest!

4. Expel what’s expired. Prior to the move, you both need to discard any medications, sun block, and prescriptions that have loitered past their expiration dates. This will free up space in the soon to be shared medicine cabinet.

5. Banish the books. Books are heavy to move; don’t move a book unless: it’s a favorite, it’s a good reference book, or it will look nice on a shelf or coffee table.

6. Limit the linens. You only need two sets of sheets per bed, and 4-5 towels per person. Discard any extra sheets that don’t fit a bed you’ll currently be using. This may be a good time to give away the sheets you used on your dorm bed in college.

7. Set the table for two, and enjoy a romantic dinner!

There’s an App for That

· Digital Decluttering / Technology

My relationship with technology is like my relationship with my car.  I know how to drive it, but I have no interest in learning how to change the oil.  In other words, as long as I have the basic functions on my computer and phone, I don’t want to know how anything else works.  Yet, as a recent iPhone convert, I learn something new that can be done with the iPhone every day.  Stream movies? Check. Listen to music? Check. Take pictures, surf the web, check email? Check, check and of course, check.  But, did you your phone can be used to clear your clutter and get more organized?  Here are some of my top iPhone app suggestions that can help with your time management skills and efficiency:

  • Organizer – For all you multi-taskers out there, this is a three-in-one wonder app that includes To Do’s, Calendars, and Lists, so all your organizational tools are located in one convenient place. Cost: $1.99
  • Grocery IQ – Forget jotting down milk, eggs, bread and your other grocery items on just any old scrap of paper lying around. With this app, you can keep your list in one place, and even sync it with your family members’ phones to coordinate grocery shopping for the ultimate efficient supermarket trip. Cost: FREE
  • Bill Minder – Keeping track of which bills are due when won’t be such a headache anymore with this app. You can organize bills by amount, due date or by recording your payment submission. This app features both a calendar and list view so you can clearly see what’s past due. You can even set up a reminder to be sure you don’t miss a payment. Cost: $1.99
  • Things – Keep track of literally everything you have to do today, tomorrow and in the future so you can efficiently prioritize. Set due dates and create tags to filter to-do’s by “home,” “errands,” or “work” with this incredibly useful organizational app. The Things app also lets you create long-term projects, broken down into easy-to-manage tasks. A handy logbook keeps you posted on all the tasks you’ve already accomplished. Cost: $9.99
  • White Pages – Need to find a restaurant, store, or even your friend’s new address?  Simply type in the name of the person or place of business, search, and voila!  The listing appears along with the distance from where you currently are.  But, that’s not all.  With a tap of another button, you can get a map and directions, add the business to contacts, or share the listing.  Pretty amazing and FREE!

 

 

What are your favorite apps for organizing?  I’d love to hear from you!

 

 

You Are What You Eat

· Kitchen / Nutrition

Losing weight and getting organized are two of the most common New Year’s Resolutions. Yet, until recently, I didn’t extend my organizational tendencies to the food I ate. Because I had been naturally thin for most of my life, this wasn’t an issue until I turned 41. Then, it seemed to me, I gained weight overnight. My immediate reaction was that I had developed a thyroid problem, one that could be easily fixed with medication. Who doesn’t fantasize about taking a pill and losing weight? Unfortunately (or fortunately), a visit to my doctor confirmed both the weight gain, and the absence of a thyroid condition. So, I turned to plan B.

Plan B consisted of doing nothing. Instead, I spent the next two years complaining about my weight. And, because I had given up to some extent, I also started eating more and exercising less. In denial, I told myself that recent photos were just taken at an unflattering angle, and my clothes were tight because they were supposed to be. It wasn’t until my annual check up, when I stepped on a scale and saw a number I never thought I’d see post pregnancy, that I faced the facts and moved on to plan C.

Plan C consisted of four appointments with nutritionist extraordinaire, Lara Metz (www.nutritiouslife.com). After keeping a food log for a week, Lara summed up my problem in one sentence. For someone so organized, I was completely disorganized about food. I ate whatever was in front of me. I rarely sat down to eat. Instead, I ate breakfast while taking my children to school, lunch on my lap in a taxi between appointments, and dinner standing at the island in my kitchen while checking email…not exactly a recipe for healthy living. In fact, I needed a complete reorganization of my kitchen, the food I ate, and when I ate. Now, thanks to Lara, I feel more energetic, have lost those stubborn pounds, and have gained control of how I eat. I call it “organized eating”.

Here are five of Lara’s basic tips that may help make your New Year’s diet resolution become a reality:

1. Plan (and prepare) meals in advance. You only need to conceptualize six or seven meals that you can rotate for your family. If you really want to simplify things, have the same chicken every Monday, the same meat every Tuesday, and the same pasta every Wednesday.
2. Plan (and prepare) snacks in advance. Make sure healthy snacks are available both at home and when you’re on the go. Like meals, snacks should be planned and prepared in advance.
3. Eat Frequently. Not only do you need to three meals a day, but don’t go more than two to three hours without eating. Have a snack between breakfast and lunch and again between lunch and dinner.
4. Drink lots of water. Carry a water bottle with you at all times, and drink as much as you can. If you get bored, spruce up your water with lemon or cucumber.
5. Have balanced meals that are satisfying. Not only do you need to have lean proteins and healthy fats, but meals need to taste good. Instead of an omelet with vegetables, add a piece of cheese. Instead of plain cottage cheese, add cinnamon and almonds. When food tastes better, you’ll enjoy it more and eat less.

In addition to following these tips from Lara, I also re-organized my kitchen to reflect my healthier lifestyle. Here are my five tips for organizing your kitchen to support organized eating:

1. Prominently display healthy snacks.If the first thing you see is delicious and healthy food, that’s what you’ll be likely to eat.
2. Hide temptations. Bread and bagels can be stored in a stainless steel bread box on the counter. It looks sleek, and corrals those unsightly plastic bags. http://www.containerstore.com/shop?productId=10000733&N=&Ntt=chrome+bread+box
3. Use uniform plastic containers in your refrigerator. Cut vegetables and fruit into bite size pieces and store the snacks in matching containers. Having all the same container makes your refrigerator look neat and visually appealing. Try the Modular Mates set from Tupperware: http://order.tupperware.com/coe/app/tup_show_item.show_item_detail?fv_item_category_code=20000&fv_item_number=P10058361000
4. Store like foods together. You need to know what you have in your refrigerator and pantry. For example, by lining up yogurts front to back in the refrigerator, I can see when I’m running low. You don’t want to eat something unhealthy because you didn’t realize you had run out of a diet staple.
5. Store dry goods in see through canisters. Cereal, nuts, and fiber bars look positively inviting when displayed this way. I like the Oxo POP canisters: http://www.oxo.com/p-436-pop-container-big-square-55-quart.aspx

What have you done to organize the food you eat? Let me know; I’d love to hear from you!

When Organizing Meets Interior Design

· Home Improvement / Decor

Although we’d all love our homes to look like those pictured in magazines, not everyone has access to fancy decorators, spacious layouts, and expensive furniture.  Yet, there are many stylish solutions for your organizing dilemmas that are as practical as they are pretty.  Here are a few of my favorites…

Organizing Dilemma 1: My Bedroom Looks Cluttered

While I can’t comment on the piles of clothing, work projects, or toys you may have lying around, I can promise that white bedding will make any room feel more peaceful and calm.   Make your bed with white sheets and a white coverlet, and your room will instantly be transformed to a Zen oasis. To add pizzazz, use brightly colored pillows and a colorful throw folded along the bottom of the bed.  Keep in mind that you can change those pillows and throw blanket to get a different look any time you feel the urge.   Try dark colors and heavy fabrics like velvet and corduroy for the winter months and lighter fabrics and colors for the summer.

 

Organizing Dilemma 2: I Don’t Have Enough Storage Space

When you think you don’t have enough storage space, you’re probably correct.  The good news is that many manufacturers are designing pieces that look great and provide ample storage as well. So, say no to nightstands with nary a drawer or shelf.  Instead, look for nightstands that have multiple drawers, particularly if you’re a “collector” of stuff (see picture on the left).   The piece pictured on the right has flip down drawer fronts to accommodate a cable box or DVD player (or books as shown).

Design Studio of Somerville, 908-685-1921, design-sos.com

 

Organizing Dilemma 3:  I Have Piles of “Stuff” on My Counters

If you’re prone to piles of random stuff, corral your clutter with a beautiful tray.  Add a framed picture, candles, or a vase, and your remote controls, keys, spare change, and books become a fashion statement instead of a declaration of your mess.  Place these trays on your dresser, night table, or coffee table, or wherever you stash your stuff, so you’ve displaced the mess.  You’ll even have incentive to put items where they belong.

Design Studio of Somerville, 908-685-192 Iomoi.com

 

Organizing Dilemma 4:  There’s No Room on My Nightstands for a Tray

When your nightstands won’t accommodate anything other than a lamp, move the lighting onto the wall by installing sconces.  Purely practical, but sconces also provide an opportunity for a fashionable décor statement.

 

Organizing Dilemma 5: There’s No Room in My Kitchen for Large Pieces

Large serving pieces can make beautiful focal points for your kitchen.  Instead of storing a large bowl, fill it with fruit and center it on your kitchen table.  Instead of cramming that large pitcher in the bottom corner of your cupboard, put it out on display in a corner of your kitchen.

Do you have any ideas that merge organizing and decorating?  If so, I’d love to hear them!

Treasures You Don’t Want to Toss

· Purging


You know the saying, “Out with the old, in with the new?” Well, it doesn’t always apply, especially when it comes to household appliances. It’s tough enough to keep up with the latest high-tech versions of everything from your television to your toothbrush, but sometimes, the vintage pieces you’ve had since you moved into your first home turn out to be the ones that are most useful. While I’m often a little ruthless in my quest for clean counters and a clutter-free home, here are a few items I’d suggest you treasure, not toss.

Pencil Sharpener
You might be tempted to give in to a shiny, sleek electric sharpener, but I find that a manual sharpener is generally your best bet to give #2 pencils a crisp point. Timeless and reliable, old-fashioned pencil sharpeners also lend aesthetic appeal to your desk, imparting a charming, vintage feel to your office.

Coffee Pot
Sure, the latest Nespresso commercials feature actors who are tall, dark and handsome, but that shouldn’t be incentive enough to toss your trusty old coffee pot. The best brews often come from your reliable, no-frills Mr. Coffee machine, and all that high-tech gadgetry just can’t cut it when it comes to delivering a classic cup of joe that’s good to the last drop.

Toaster
Today’s multi-tasking toasters are just trying too hard. Make a pizza, roast a turkey – they claim to do everything with delicious results. But what about when you want a simple piece of perfectly-toasted bread for breakfast?  These new toasters have so many buttons, dials, and knobs, that it’s unclear what to press when you just want toast.  That’s why you ‘ll be happy to have your simple, two-slot, pop-up toaster. When you hear that familiar sounding “ding,” you can be sure you’re about to enjoy a tasty treat.

Blender
Just like the toaster, today’s blenders have gone too far.  I don’t need my blender to bake cookies  or prep a meal.  I just need it to make smoothies and milk shakes.  A few years ago, I decided my very old blender that blended to perfection no longer looked cool on my counter.  Big mistake.  I still haven’t found a blender that looks good that’s worthy of the space it occupies.

So, readers, what old products do you still own?  Let me know: I’d love to hear from you!

 

Move on Over, Milk! How to Store Thanksgiving Leftovers

· Holiday

You’ve been to the grocery store too many times to count, cooked for a small army, made small talk with the relatives, and you’re still standing!  The problem is…now you’re standing in your kitchen, looking at your leftovers, and wondering how they will all fit in your refrigerator.  Entertaining is fun, but, if you’re anything like me, you’d rather have too much food than too little food.  So, inevitably, that means that when I entertain I have a ton of leftovers.  And while my best strategy is to send as much as possible home with my guests, here are some of my favorite food storage products for what remains.

 

Pyrex, Bake-Serve’N Store Containers

The PYREX® Bake-Serve ‘N Store containers with glass and plastic lids may be the most versatile item in your kitchen. Use the glass lid for baking, reheating and serving.  Then, when it’s time to store your leftovers, place the plastic lid on top and it’s ready for the refrigerator, the freezer, or to take on the go.  This glass is microwave, dishwasher, oven, refrigerator, and freezer safe.   I love that the containers nest, and rectangular and square containers take up less room than round ones. It just doesn’t get any better than this!  As Pyrex says, “One dish, two lids, and so many uses.”

http://www.pyrexware.com/index.asp?pageId=14&CatID=380&SubCatID=400

 

Tupperwear Vent’N Serve Containers

Tupperware’s containers have a unique venting system that allows steam to escape when reheating foods in the microwave. Like Pyrex, these containers also go from microwave to the refrigerator or freezer, just not the oven.  And, the Tupperware plastic stays cool to the touch when being removed from the microwave.

http://order.tupperware.com/coe/app/tup_show_item.show_item_detail?fv_item_category_code=4000&fv_item_number=P10059651000

 

OXO POP Containers

For dry goods, I love the POP containers. “They’re airtight, stackable and space-efficient, so your dry foods stay fresh and your kitchen stays organized. The Containers have a unique push-button mechanism that creates an airtight seal with just one touch. The button also serves as a handle to lift off the lid. The containers are designed for modular stacking so that you can efficiently organize your countertop and pantry. In addition, with their square and rectangular shapes, the POP Containers make the most of any storage space, while their corners allow for easy pouring. The POP Containers are available in 12 different sizes to meet your dry food storage needs.  All POP Containers are BPA-free”.

http://www.oxo.com/p-436-pop-container-big-square-55-quart.aspx


Bread Box

Instead of piling up your breads and bagels on the kitchen counter, a bread box is a stylish way of containing your carb clutter.  This one from The Container Store is sufficiently large, and the chrome is sufficiently neutral to look great in most kitchens.

http://www.containerstore.com/shop?productId=10000733&N=&Ntt=chrome+bread+box

 

Fridge Binz, Stackable Storage for the Refrigerator

If your refrigerator lacks enough separate drawers and shelves, you’ll love Fridge Binz.  By stacking them in your refrigerator, you maximize the storage space that you have.  When your refrigerator is organized, you won’t stand around with the refrigerator door open while you’re looking for that special snack.

http://www.containerstore.com/shop?productId=10027634&N=&Ntt=Fridge+Binz

 

Let’s Hold Service Providers Accountable…For Service

· Lifestyle, Time Management

How many times has this happened to you?

You find yourself with the phone tucked between your ear and shoulder, on hold for an eternity, multi-tasking while you wait, and think: There must be a more efficient way to get what I want.

Well, there is. It’s called cracking down on service providers who aren’t providing service.

I recently called a local caterer to order a holiday dinner. I was calling about their business during business hours. I was told they would have to call me back. Ok, maybe they were busy at that moment, but I would have expected a call back within 24 hours. The next afternoon, I realized I hadn’t heard back, so I called a second time. Again, I was told that they would have to call me back. I asked if they could just look up my order from last year (and the previous four years). I was told that wasn’t possible, but I could order online. I replied that I was happy to order online, but I had a quick question. They were very sorry, but the only person with the answer would have to call me back. I’m sorry, is this high school? Is the caterer playing hard to get? Are they joking? I was done. When they finally called me back the next day, I had already found another caterer.

Here’s the bottom line: my time is valuable, and I have too little of it to spend it chasing down service providers. This month I have resolved to eliminate any service provider that requires more than one phone call, who wastes my time, or is otherwise not providing service.

Here are just a few infuriating service provider snafus I’ve experienced recently.

The Four Hour Window
Remember the last time you were given a FOUR HOUR “window of time” for a repair person? When I make appointments, I don’t tell someone that I’ll be there between 12:00 and 4:00; I give them a specific time. And to add insult to injury, often these so called service people are either early or late. If a service provider offers a window of time, is it not common courtesy to show up at some point in the window? That’s how a window works. You can’t come an hour early—I’m not home! The window is closed! The same goes for showing up late—in both cases you have to reschedule, and that, my friends, is another phone call. Eliminate that service provider!

Waiting When You Have a Reservation
What about when you go to a restaurant with a reservation, and they tell you your table isn’t ready? Isn’t the whole point of a reservation that you will get to the restaurant at the appointed time and NOT wait? There are lots of great restaurants that do honor reservations, so don’t stand for the ones that don’t!

Your Doctor’s Waiting Room
One of the most frustrating and prevalent misuses of time occurs in the dreaded waiting room at doctors’ offices. I refuse to wait in the Waiting Room. If I wanted to read Highlights Magazine and listen to Lite.fm I could do it on my own time. It is so unacceptable to be left waiting when you have an appointment. I understand that doctors, unlike most other service providers, actually have real emergencies. Yet, shouldn’t the doctor’s office call you if s/he is running more than a few minutes late? My strategy is to schedule the first or last appointment of the day. The first appointment is guaranteed to be on time, and by the last appointment, your doctor wants to go home. If you still find yourself in the waiting room for too long, find another doctor!

Taxi Cab Drivers That Take You Out of Your Way
Isn’t it the responsibility of the taxi cab driver to take you to your destination the most direct way possible? How many times have you been in a taxi, fully immersed in your phone/email, when you look up to find you’ve been taken out of your way? It’s infuriating. And, it’s impossible to know whether the driver did this intentionally or just didn’t hear you (even though you repeated the address at least three times). The solution…tell the driver to stop the meter, and do NOT give a tip!

What’s the most annoying service provider snafu you’ve encountered? Let me know…I’d love to hear from you!