Organize with Teacups

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I love Martha Stewart Living. It’s a beautiful magazine that’s a joy just to look at, even if I never do any of the crafts or cook any recipes. She also publishes organizing tips, most of which involve lots of labor and/or crafting. Being Martha, she’s not into quick and dirty solutions.Mallardms2807_468x397

Her recent "Organizing Tip of the Day," however, is a simple one, provided you already have the materials (this tip originated in the sadly departed Blueprint). The idea is to fill a shallow drawer with teacups and saucers that can be used to store jewelry. Lots of small containers makes for less tangling.

I’ve had many clients who’ve got lovely china, inherited or collected, that stays stashed away in cupboards most of its life. This is a charming way to use and see your gorgeous cups and saucers every day. Unless, of course, you’ve got lots of baby ducks to raise

Organizing kitchen spices

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I worked with a client unpacking and setting up her kitchen this week. I corralled and sorted all her spice containers; jars, plastic bags, paper bags, plastic boxes, fabric bags; and we saw that there were duplicates and even triplicates of some spices.

One problem is that spices don’t all come in the same kind of container and plastic bags don’t work well in a spice rack. That means that some spices end up packed into a larger container in the pantry, away from the jars in the rack.

They’re usually not very usable there because the bags are rolled up or not labelled clearly. In this case they were also pretty tightly packed together. When it’s hard to find one, it’s easier just to buy more and then you end up with doubles and triples.

With spices, that’s a waste of money because they don’t keep very long. Not many cooks need half a cup of turmeric on hand all the time. I like Spicely brand boxed spices because the quantity is small. So here’s what we did:

  1. We got rid of all the expired spices. Some were dated. Some we judged on their color and smell; lack of either means toss it.
  2. We got rid of extra spices. One average spice jar-full is plenty to keep. We tried to select the newest ones to keep judged as described above.
  3. We now had spare jars to wash and empty the bagged spices into. Even so, the jars aren’t exactly the same size. I recommended that the client either start buying one brand or buy her own jars. Uniform containers with uniform labels make it much easier to find what you need quickly.
  4. We used a labelled to identify the jars and put them in the rack in alphabetical order. Some cooks like to sort by type of cuisine, or by the spices they use most often; those methods are fine too. With alphabetical sorting, I put the blends in their own section at the end.

Other spicy notes:

Don’t keep spices above your stove. The heat will destroy the flavor.

Select a spice container based on your cooking style and preferences. If you have a drawer available, you can get handy inserts to keep the jars in place. To save space, attach a rack or two to the inside of a cabinet. If you like having them on the counter, use a tiered lazy Susan. A graduated riser shelf unit is great if you have cabinet space for one.

Photos courtesy of The Container Store

Cute Fruit Storage

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I guess I've got fruit on the brain. I came across this striking fruit holder on Declutter It! My first thought was that it looks like a toilet seat. But now I think it looks kind of like a life preserver. It's certainly unusual and would be a definite conversation piece.

Fruit ring
If your kitchen's horizontal spaces are full, this would be a great thing to have since it uses wall space (although I'm not clear on whether you can actually buy one or it's just a design). I suppose you could use it for other round-ish foods like onions or potatoes. Or put it in the bedroom and use it for balled up socks. Or in the bathroom for soap (that's a lot of soap, though).

How to Optimize Space

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Although I still have websites, the blog is the place where I put my new content. The websites are ridiculously hard to a not-too-computer savvy person like me to edit. The blog, by contrast, is easy as pie (thanks, Typepad!).

However, there’s some valuable content on the sites that people aren’t seeing as much because my traffic is coming here rather than there. So, today I’m sending you to an article I wrote about using your space.

If I rewrote that article today, I would add this bullet point:

  • Use Your Stuff as a Guide. Do you have an inbox on your desk that you never use? Some people don’t use their inboxes because putting things in there is like dropping them into a black hole in space (that’s a whole ‘nother subject). But others don’t use them because they just don’t work. A client of mine uses her desk for all kinds of tasks, only a few of which involve paper. So a standard 8.5 x 11 inch inbox doesn’t work for her. What she really can use is a big colorful basket next to the desk to accomodate stray pieces of clothing, oversize books, a bag of stuff to be returned to the store, a beach ball(!), children’s artwork, etc.

Unclutter that table

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unclutter that table

I forgot my sunglasses this morning. What a drag! I hate when that happens.

As I was driving, I saw my front entry table in my mind’s eye and I knew what happened.

I had let it pile up with things, so the sunglasses didn’t call my attention. Usually, this table hold my purse, keys, sunglasses and a small box containing dog poop bags, extra keys, business cards and other occasional necessities.

This morning, there was a brochure I wanted to read, a handful of receipts to look over, some items I dumped out of a tote bag to put away and a handful of napkins from take out food. The sunglasses were under there somewhere. They weren’t even totally hidden, but in the visual chaos of the table, I didn’t see them.

Those extraneous items popped up in two days. That’s how fast a spot can get cluttered to the point where bad things happen, like forgetting your sunglasses. Or wasting time feeling around for the keys.

So, now you know! My front hall table isn’t always perfectly organized. The good news is that I can get it back in shape quickly.

Here’s how:

  1. Read the brochure. There’s something I want to research so I note it on my to do list. Then I toss the brochure
  2. Look at the receipts. They’re mostly from my trip to LA which was partly for business, so I’ll put them with my business receipts. The rest are for groceries and other purchases. They go in the recycling.
  3. The tote bag stuff is pens (to the container on my desk), a lipstick (to the box in my bathroom storage area), an empty keyring (to the table top box where I keep keys) and a handkerchief (to the laundry. I have a collection of vintage hankies; love them!)
  4. Handful of napkins: dirty ones go in the trash and the rest go into my glove compartment because, like everyone else I know, I eat in my car.

That took less than five minutes. You can spend more time than that just looking for your keys.

Shoe Box Storage Revisited

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The quest for the perfect storage container is never ending. Sometimes, you just want something Hotelbox new, something different to perk up your space. Of course, if the thing does more than one job, so much the better!

The Hotel Box is about the size of a shoe box and looks like a couple of milk cartons cobbled together. It comes in patterns or solids and you can add a plastic window to the opening to make it into a display box (or just keep your stuff from getting dusty). They’re on sale at

At $25 per box, it had better be superior to those old shoe boxes you’re currently using, and it is. Each one can hold 11 pounds. They can not only be stacked for storage but are strong enough to use as tables.

Although I think these items are a little too pricy, I think anything that makes putting stuff away fun, and makes the put-away stuff look cute, is a good idea.

Make Space in Your Garage

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Rubbermaid garage goodness

Thinking of spending the Fourth organizing your garage? Great!

These days, it’s common for people to use their garages as storage rooms rather than parking the car in there. But, think about it. What’s worth more, your car or the boxes of magazines you’re going to take to your dentist’s office?

My favorite garage organizing technique is to keep like things together. Here are some typical categories: workshop and tools, sporting goods, Costco bulk purchases, laundry center, camping gear, gardening supplies and holiday decorations.

Give each category its own set of shelves, depending on how much you have. Put things like holiday decor farthest from the door, and overstock food items closest to the door.

If you use opaque containers, label them! And put them on the shelf with the label side facing out. Yes, I have been in garages where the labels were dutifully applied but were useless because they were not visible.

What about all that miscellaneous stuff you’ve been stashing in there? Again, ask yourself, is the old microwave I’m saving so Kelly can take it to college in three years worth more than my car, or less?

Cars really do last longer when they’re garaged. If you make space to park it inside and do that regularly, it will prevent you from collecting more of that stuff.

Donations bag for easy decluttering

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Donation bagYou know that pile of clothes on a shelf in your closet that you’re going to give to the Goodwill? But it keeps staying on your shelf? It needs an easier, simpler way to get out of the house.

Here’s your tip: 

Keep a shopping bag in your closet, clearly labelled Goodwill or Donation. Every time you come across something you want to get rid of, drop it in the bag. When the bag is full, take it to the donation center. Voila.

I recommend keeping this bag in your clothes closet because that’s where you’re going to encounter items to donate. Plus, you will see it everyday and not forget about it.

Important point: 

Label the bag! Remember that bag in the garage you had to look in three times because you kept forgetting it was stuff for the Goodwill? Or the one in your closet that you took to the dry cleaners, and then once you were there you realized it was full of clothes you were going to get rid of? Or worse, you realized it after you paid to have them cleaned.

Labeling is ultra important! Do eet!

Shoe Storage Ideas

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When you’re not wearing them, take care of them. That means putting them away. These boots may be made for walking, but they don’t do it on their own. The three keys to good shoe storage are: Easy to use, accessible and spacious.

Habits create ease. When a task is a habit, it’s automatically easier because you don’t have to think about it. Make putting your shoes away part of your current routine. When you come inside, you put your jacket and bag somewhere, right? And I don’t mean on the back of the sofa. Include shoe stowing in that routine. For example, jacket in front closet, bag on foyer table, shoes in bedroom closet.

If that’s too much work, create a daily dumping spot for your shoes; under the foyer table, under the coffee table, floor of the front closet, etc. The only way this works, though, is if you’re willing to do a daily or semi-weekly tidy up when you put the shoes back in your clothes closet. To keep them looking nice, select a spot where there’s room for a few pairs so shoes won’t get jumbled together and damaged.

The amount of work you have to do to put something away is inversely proportionate to the likelihood of you doing it. Clear plastic shoe boxes are orderly and keep your shoes clean and safe, but they are a pain in the neck to use, in my opinion. Taking a box off the shelf and opening it is two movements already! You want storage that’s accessible without reaching, bending, opening, shoving aside, etc.

Shoe shelves Uncrowded space is key to putting away almost anything. Just as your file drawers should never get more than 2/3 full, so you don’t have to use muscle power to wedge things in there, your shoe shelves, cubbies, etc., should be roomy enough so you can access them easily.

Roominess also helps prevent damage to your shoes. If you store 50 pairs of shoes in a space where only 30 will really fit, they’re going to be squashed together and get crushed and scratched. If this is your situation, you’ll have to get creative and realistic about your storage options.

Here are some ideas: Rail shoe storage

  • Move your shoes to the front hall closet if that’s where you hang your jackets.
  • Use shelves at the front door, Asian style.
  • Clear the floor of your clothes closet and let it be only for shoes. Then you can almost just kick them off!
  • Store off-season shoes away from those currently in use.
  • Double up or stack flip flops, slippers and other sturdy, compact shoes.
  • Keep special occasion shoes in boxes on a shelf and put a big photo of the shoes on the end of the box to remind you of what’s in there (this is a good trick if you’re worried you’ll forget shoes that you can’t see).

If you buy containers, make sure they will fit your shoes and your closet space

  • Shoe pockets Chunky heels, boots and platforms won’t fit into shoe pockets
  • Over the rail cubbies are great, if you can spare the rail space
  • Wire shelving not so good for stilettos; the heel sinks through and the shoes can get scraped
  • Baskets are only good for casual shoes that can be bashed up a bit. Best for canvas, plastic and very sturdy leather

My favorite shoe containers:

  • Over the door shoe pockets for low profile shoes
  • Over the rail cubbies for bulkier shoes and for doubling up flip flops and slippers
  • Three-shelf unit under my short hanging items for any size shoe and floppy boots
  • Floor space for rigid boots

Figure out what works for you!

My Video about Using Your Inbox

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I finally did it! I made a video and slapped it up on YouTube. For my first one, I think it turned out pretty well. There are lots of things I'll do differently next time (put the camera higher so I'm not talking down to people, project more, wear brighter clothes and make up), but I decided it was worth posting. Having the "play" arrow right over my nose makes me look a bit like Minnie Mouse!

I'd love to hear your comments! Is the material helpful? Are you eager to see the next installment? What topics should I cover? Thanks!!!