Organizing Summer Camp: The Kitchen

Posted By on July 1, 2011

This week’s Organizing Summer Camp is heading to the kitchen. Let’s see what’s cooking.

The kitchen is described as the hearth of the home, and it’s always interesting to see no matter how big or small a kitchen is, people always gather there.

I’ve had kitchens on the brain for the past year. I began renovating my kitchen in March 2010, and I was able to get it functional the day before Thanksgiving – just in time to cook dinner for my family. I still have to do the backsplash, lighting and a baseboard.

The old kitchen was not terribly functional, and most of my things didn’t fit in the cabinets and had to live on the countertop. So with the new kitchen, my goal was to make it uber-functional. But you don’t have to completely gut and remodel your kitchen to make it functional.

The Countertop. What can you take off the countertop? Limit what appliances and other items live on the countertop, especially in smaller kitchens. If you don’t use the blender very often, stash it away. Only keep items on the countertops that you use often, such as a knife block and electric can opener.

If mail lands on the countertop, create your command center there with a desktop sorter. You can find one that matches your kitchen décor. Have a slot for each member of the household.

Cabinet by Cabinet. Go shelf by shelf in your cabinets and see what you have. Eliminate duplicates and the things that have rusted or gotten cruddy. Be honest with yourself as you sort through each item. Have you used it? Will you use it? Do you cook?

Make sure what you are keeping can fit in the cabinets or drawers and that you can reach it easily. Items you use frequently should be stored within arm’s reach.

Clean Out the Frig. Clear the refrigerator and freezer of expired food.  Wipe down the shelves and drawers, and put everything back so you can see it and access it. For a list of how long to keep food in the freezer, check out the USDA’s site.

Recipes, Coupons and Other Things. Paper can become a problem in the kitchen although it’s not usually the biggest organizing issue.

  • Keep a grocery list either on paper or digitally. You can download a reusable grocery list at List PlanIt, and there are several grocery list apps available for your smartphone.
  • Only clip coupons if you’re going to use them.
  • Don’t clip coupons just because it’s a deal. If you don’t use it, it’s not a deal.
  • Put your coupons in an envelope or a holder and keep them where you will use them.
  • Use your coupons to plan meals for the week and to make your grocery list.
  • Keep your reusable grocery bags in the car.
  • If you have recipes cut out, tape them to a piece of paper, slip them into a plastic sheet and put them into a binder. Use tabs to create categories, and you have your own recipe book.
  • If creating your own recipe binder isn’t your thing, try Recipe Relish, a stylish box create to store your recipes.
  • Keep your favorite recipes on Allrecipe.com in their online “Recipe Box.”

Hope these ideas help you whip your kitchen into shape!

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Organizing Summer Camp: Closets

Posted By on June 24, 2011

Okay, Organizing Campers, this week we are going to tackle closets! Let’s get to it.

Think of closets as mini-rooms, and each one needs to have a purpose and function. As you go through each closet, sort out what you’re keeping, what’s being donated, and what’s being trashed.

Hall Closet. In apartments, hall closets are golden space. Use an over-the-door holder with clear pockets to carve out more space for things, such as batteries, flashlights, gloves, hats, vacuum cleaner bags, etc. You can even label the pockets.

If the closet is wedged with coats and jackets, it’s time to downsize. Donate or sell the ones kids have outgrown and ones you no longer wear. Most of us stash the vacuum cleaner in the hall closet so make sure you have enough room to slide it out with ease. Store items you don’t need to access often on the shelf, such as holiday decorations.

Home Office Closet. Older homes do not have dedicated space for an office so it winds up being housed in an extra bedroom. You can be more creative with a closet in an office since it serves a different purpose. You can convert the closet into the desk and office space, and then close the door when it’s not in use. This means you can still use the spare bedroom as a guest room or something else.

If you’re taking over the entire bedroom as your home office, put bookshelves into the closet and use it to organize your books, office supplies and other necessities. Store items you do not need frequent access to on the top shelf.

Linen Closet. In the land of sheets and towels, sort through them and assign them shelves. Yes, you can label the shelves so people know which sheets belong to which bed. To make it easier to keep bed sheets together, you can roll them up and place them inside a pillowcase. I haven’t tried this since I don’t have that many sheet sets.

If you keep extra personal care products in the linen closet, make sure they’re accessible and you can see what you have so you don’t overbuy.

Pantry. I’m including pantries since they are basically closets but for food. Same rules apply. Ditch the expired stuff, donate the stuff you don’t want to eat and organize the rest. Do not donate food that has expired or been opened.

In organizing the pantry, keep like with like. I know several parents who keep healthy snacks for kids where they can reach. I like clear containers for food so you can see what’s inside. If you have opaque containers, label them.

Bedroom Closet. Ah, yes, industries have been created to deal with the infamous bedroom closet. It’s usually filled with clothes, shoes and accessories. The other closets are child’s play compared to the big, bad bedroom closet, but it’s not impossible to reign in.

Divide your closet into categories, such as shoes, accessories, short-sleeve shirts or jeans. Then tackle each area at a time. It’s much less stressful to sort and purge only the short-sleeve shirts instead of attempting to clean out the entire thing at once. Small baby steps are all progress.

As you sort through each section, decide what you’re keeping, what’s being donated or sold, and what’s being trashed. Remember, do not become a burden on charities by donating items that are well-worn or that have rips or stains.

There are no magic hangers out there, but I do prefer the Huggable Hangers® versus the plastic ones. The huggables take up less space than the plastic ones and give you more room in the closet. (No, don’t go and fill the space up again.) The huggables have flocking on them so flimsy garments don’t need special hangers.

Fancy closet organizing systems are very, very nice, and I dream of the day when I can afford to get a system in my master closet. Until we all hit the lottery, you can make do with less expensive options. The best way to expand space in your closet is to install a Closet Rod Expander to double the hanging space.

Have fun cleaning out your closets!

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If You Feel Stuck, What Can You Change?

Posted By on June 20, 2011

Woman who painted herself into a corner

Over a year ago, my friend Carolyn and I were talking about her recent trip to Colorado. Carolyn, who worked down the hall from me, had just returned from the trip to visit her best friend and said how she much she wanted to move there.

For more people, these ideas are generally shooed away with the “Yeah, buts” of life. Yeah, but I can’t just leave Houston for Colorado. Yeah, but I would need to find a job. Yeah, but I have a child in high school.

Carolyn, being a single mother, had to consider her son Rusty. He was beginning his junior year of high school but had expressed interest in going to college in Colorado. She thought about waiting to move after he graduated.

I suggested she look at the requirements colleges had for establishing in-state residence. Being considered an out-of-state resident would cost more in college tuition. We looked it up and saw the requirements. Reality determined action.

Setting out on my own adventure

Despite her mother’s objections about leaving Texas, Carolyn decided to move to Colorado. She and her son arrived yesterday to begin their new adventure.

So why am I writing about this? First of all, I will miss Carolyn’s smiling face at work. Secondly, I admire her for making such a big decision to change her life. It reminded me of the one I made about 21 years ago this summer.

After finishing college in Oklahoma, I landed a job in Galveston in 1990, and I moved 500 miles away from everything I knew. I was 22 and incredibly naïve about what I had done. I thought that’s what people do when they get a job. My parents were not happy about it, but I was stubborn and determined to go.

When people found out that I moved so far from home, they said I was brave, and I was puzzled by that. Isn’t that what people do? Don’t they find jobs and move away? Heck, didn’t the pioneers do the same thing by hopping into a wagon and heading west? Where would any of us be if our ancestors stayed put and didn’t seek opportunities?

I’ve met lots of people who did the same thing Carolyn and I did, and I’ve also met lots of people who stayed where they were. Such is life. Some of us leave, some of us stay behind.

Having the same complaint is a clue that you’re stuck

What really takes courage is purposefully changing your life. We all have heard people who constantly complain about their lives, their jobs, their relationships or their stuff. Listening to them becomes monotonous and depressing, and if they’re on Facebook, you really want to hide their profile to avoid reading about it.

For me, I can only listen so much before I burst out, “So what are you going to do about it?” I even have had to say this to myself on several occasions when I tire of my own complaining.

Take responsibility for your life: Make a change

There are times in our lives when we become stuck. It’s up to us – not anyone else – to unstick ourselves. Granted, we may need some guidance from a good friend, a therapist or a life coach to do it, but the end result is up to us. We are the ones who have to take action.

To make changes in your life takes courage. Packing up your life and moving to another state takes courage. Choosing to search for a new job takes courage. Deciding to leave a bad relationship takes courage. Choosing to reclaim your life by jettisoning clutter takes courage. To move a mountain takes courage.

And I know, my friends, that each of you has courage to move your own mountains. So I wish bon voyage to my friend Carolyn, who is beginning a new adventure.

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Organizing Summer Camp: Drawers

Posted By on June 17, 2011

It’s summer! So I am declaring it’s time for Organizing Summer Camp!

I’ve done this in the past for organizing clients at work. We would meet more often in the summer months to get a jump on the clutter that had built up for the past year. I’m devoting my Friday blog space to Organizing Summer Camp. Let’s jump in.

Area of Attack: Drawers!

What You Need: Trash bag, box for donations, Velcro squares or circles to fasten drawer organizers and drawer organizers (if you determine you need them). Shoe boxes make great drawer organizers.

The Big Tip: Once you determine what you’re keeping and what space you need, fasten any drawer organizers to the drawer with Velcro. This keeps the organizers from sliding around each time you open or close the drawer.

Plan of Attack: We are attacking the kitchen drawers, junk drawers, bathroom drawers, desk drawers, craft drawers and clothing drawers.

Tackle a drawer at a time. As you sort through the drawer, ask yourself: Do I use it or wear it? Do I need it? What is it? Is it in the right place?

Kitchen Drawers: Get rid of multiples. You may be surprised by how many you find once you go through all of the drawers. Put like items together – such all of the serving utensils, all of the bottle openers, and all of the knives.

Junk Drawers: We all need a place to put those things that don’t belong to a specific room. The key is to contain it, limit what you have and ditch the stuff that you don’t know what it is. Put like items together or contain them in plastic baggies.

Bathroom Drawers: Toss anything that’s expired, has changed in texture, smell or color, or was a tragic purchasing mistake. Any drawer organizers and the drawer may need to be cleaned because cosmetics and personal care items can leak and spill.

Clean make-up brushes with shampoo and warm water and lay them out to dry on a towel.

Desk Drawers: Deep-drawer organizers work very well in most modern desks. Group like items with like items by grouping office supplies with other office supplies and personal items with other personal items. Keep extra supplies that won’t fit in the drawer in a separate office supply area. Keep only what you need on hand in your drawer.

Donate extra boxes of staples, tacks, paper, cards and other supplies. Recycle outdated business cards.

Craft Drawers: Go through your crafting drawers and eliminate the things you no longer want or need. If you’re no longer pursuing a particular hobby, sell or donate those items. Group like items with like items, and, if you have two or more different interests, sort them by drawer. You don’t want jewelry beads mixed in with scrapbooking stickers.

Clothing Drawers: Toss anything that is stained, torn and heavily worn. Gently used items can be donated, but do NOT donate used underwear. That’s gross, and charities have to spend a bunch of money every year to toss the crappy, unsellable stuff. Don’t be part of the problem.

If you’re not into folding your underwear, that’s okay. If you have different types of undies (granny, bikini, thong, etc.), sort them into sections using drawer organizers or shoe boxes. This will help you quickly pick the underwear you want for the day.

If you have both navy and black socks, make sure you separate them by white socks or another color. It’s easier to see which ones are navy and black when they’re not sitting side-by-side. Again, using shoe boxes is a great way to keep your socks sorted.

Now all of the drawers at home should roll smoothly!

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My TedxHouston Recap

Posted By on June 13, 2011

Stock photo: Blue light bulb

On Saturday, I had the opportunity to attend the TedxHouston event. For those who aren’t familiar, TED features short talks on technology, entertainment and design, and their slogan is Ideas Worth Spreading.

TedxHouston LogoTED then makes these talks available for anyone around the world for free. Talks including “If I Should Have a Daughter” and “A Life Lesson from a Volunteer Firefighter” are a couple of my recent favorites. During Saturday’s event, clips also were shown of two speakers from the main TED event – Jessi Arington’s (“Wear Nothing New”) and Aimee Mullins, who is absolutely amazing. (See “Aimee Mullins and Her 12 Pair of Legs.”)

I walked out of Saturday’s event inspired, ready to take on the world and utterly exhausted. I could tell from the twitter stream that many of my fellow participants felt the same way.

The theme of the entire day was “Where Do We Go From Here?” and several major ideas flowed from the slate of speakers. The ideas centered around innovation and creativity, service, sustainability, speaking up and finding our place in the world.

Innovation and Creativity

Dr. Roberta Ness showed us that innovative thinking can be taught by breaking our “frames” of thinking. She encouraged us to “find the joy in coloring outside the lines.”

Constance Adams, a space architect, has designed space travel and habitat projects, including Virgin Galatica’s spaceship hangar. Adams spoke about what she calls the crisis for America’s intellectual capital. “How do democracies conceive, approve, enact and complete Great Projects?” she asked.

The last Great Project was the Race to the Moon. The launch of Sputnik woke us up as a nation, she pointed out. When we walked on the moon, 400,000 people worked for the space program. “What kills it now is politics,” Adams said. “We’re never going to get to Mars like this.”

The space race led to other innovations throughout the world – communication satellites, the Internet and things like Tang and Velcro. Adams posed the question: What will our Sputnik moment be?

Dr. Wade Adams, a scientist at Rice University, discussed the innovations that nanotechnology will bring us in medicine and energy. We will need incredible advances in medicine in the next 10 years.

Adams points out that we also have to solve the energy problem that’s facing the world. Renewable energy has to become 50% of our energy by 2050, and nanotechnology will be the means to distribute solar energy.

Service

Kurt R. Podeszwa, director of Camp 4 All, encouraged us to serve. He said the way to serve is to serve in your strength and interest areas, serve to learn something new, and serve with an open mind. The camp he runs is for children with illness, handicaps, burns and other issues. “I see kids who want to have fun,” he said. “Do something. People pay attention to what you do more than what you say.”

Sustainability

Michael Skelly told us about the increase usage of wind energy in Texas and said we need to continue to increase renewable energy sources, such as wind energy. He said we would need an area as big as New Jersey in order for the United States to be using 20% solar power by 2030.

Laura Spanjian, who is in charge of the City of Houston’s sustainability efforts, pointed the efforts being done in Houston. All of our traffic lights are LED, saving $3.6 million a year. LED lights are changed out every seven years instead of every year. The next effort is focusing on converting street lights.

Other City of Houston sustainability highlights:

  • Residents can have their homes evaluated for energy savings through a city program called REEP. Check out more information about it here.
  • The city will have 25 charging stations for electrical cars by the end of the year. Electric cars are being added to the city’s fleet.
  • Houston is the leader in the country for LEED certified office buildings. The next challenge is tackling the older office buildings.

Speaking Up

Nina Godiwalla, author of the book Suits: A Woman on Wall Street, shared her experience of being a minority woman on Wall Street and how she felt stripped of her identity because she had to leave her differences at the door. She was surprised by how people of all ages and races came up to her during her book tour to thank her for telling their story.

“It is our responsibility to speak up for those without power,” she said. “Step up and speak up especially when you have the power…You have the power to make changes.”

Angela Blanchard, president and CEO of Neighborhood Centers Inc., said we need to ask new questions. We usually focus on what’s broken with poor neighborhoods and the people who live there. “You can’t build on broken,” she said.

Instead, she suggested that we ask, “what works?” “What do you have?” “What’s strong?” “What’s right?” Blanchard said that when people in her organization ask those questions, they listen and find stories of “brave, passionate people.”

She told the story of how when they talked to evacuees from Katrina, they sat up straighter when they were asked about their assets and strengths and about what they could do. “We all have the imagination and capacity to live better,” she said. “When we help, we want to be part of the story.”

Blanchard points out if we can change a neighborhood, we can change a city. When we change a city, we can change the world.

Finding Our Place

Chris Seay, the Ecclesia Church pastor, urged us to speak with conviction and authority and to live in our own stories. Ironically, Seay said he hates religion since it brings the worst out in us and makes us look down on others.

Seay encouraged us to stop mimicking others and be ourselves. “Be you,” he said. Looking at our own family stories and understanding our past helps us go forward. By looking at our pasts, we will discover we have more in common with others than we have things that divide us.

TedxHouston

On Saturday, I had the opportunity to attend the TedxHouston event. For those who aren’t familiar, TED features short talks on technology, entertainment and design, and their slogan is Ideas Worth Spreading.

TED then makes these talks available for anyone around the world for free. A couple of my recent favorites are If I Should Have a Daughter and A Life Lesson from a Volunteer Firefighter. Saturday’s event also showed clips of two talks from the main TED event – Jessi Arington’s Wear Nothing New and Aimee Mullins who is absolutely amazing.

I walked out of Saturday’s event inspired, ready to take on the world, and utterly exhausted. I could tell from the twitter stream many of my fellow participants felt the same way.

The theme of the entire day was “Where Do We Go From Here?” and several major ideas flowed from the slate of speakers. The ideas centered around innovation and creativity, service, sustainability, speaking up, and finding our place in the world.

Innovation and Creativity

Dr. Roberta Ness showed us innovative thinking can be taught by breaking our “frames” of thinking. She encouraged us to “find the joy in coloring outside the lines.”

Constance Adams, a space architect, has designed space travel and habitat projects, including Virgin Galatica’s spaceship hangar. Adams spoke about what she calls the crisis for America’s intellectual capital. “How do democracies conceive, approve, enact and complete Great Projects?” she asked.

The last Great Project was the Race to the Moon. The launch of Sputnik woke us up as a nation, she pointed out. When we walked on the moon, 400,000 people worked for the space program. “What kills it now is politics,” Adams said. “We’re never going to get to Mars like this.”

The space race led to other innovations throughout the world – communication satellites, the internet and things like Tang and Velcro. Adams posed the question: What will our Sputnik moment be?

Dr. Wade Adams, a scientist at Rice University, discussed the innovations nanotechnology will bring us in medicine and energy. We will need incredible advances in medicine in the next 10 years.

Adams points out that we also have to solve the energy problem that’s facing the world. Renewable energy has to become 50% of our energy by 2050, and nanotechnology will be the means to distribute solar energy.

Service

Kurt R. Podeszwa, director of Camp 4 All, encouraged us to serve. He said the way to serve is to serve in your strength and interest areas, serve to learn something new, and serve with an open mind. The camp he runs is for children with illness, handicaps, burns, and other issues. “I see kids who want to have fun,” he said. “Do something. People pay attention to what you do more than what you say.”

Sustainability

Michael Skelly told us about the increase usage of wind energy in Texas and said we need to continue to increase renewable energy sources, such as wind and energy. To get the country to using 20% solar power by 2030, it would take having the space of New Jersey.

Laura Spanjian, who is in charge of the City of Houston’s sustainability efforts, pointed the efforts being done in Houston. All of our traffic lights are LED, saving $3.6 million a year. LED lights are changed out every seven years instead of every year. The next effort is focusing on converting street lights.

· Residents can have their homes evaluated for energy savings through a city program called REEP. Check out more information about it here.

· The city will have 25 charging stations for electrical cars by the end of the year. Electric cars are being added to the city’s fleet.

· Houston is the leader in the country for LEED certified office buildings. The next challenge is tackling the older office buildings.

Speaking Up

Nina Godiwalla, author of the book Suits: A Woman on Wall Street, shared her experience of being a minority woman on Wall Street and how she felt stripped of her identity because she had to leave her differences at the door. She was surprised by how people of all ages and races came up to her during her book tour to thank her for telling their story.

“It is our responsibility to speak up for those without power,” she said. “Step up and speak up especially when you have the power…You have the power to make changes.”

Angela Blanchard, who works in poor neighborhoods, said we need to ask new questions. We usually focus on what’s broken with poor neighborhoods and the people who live there. “You can’t build on broken,” she said.

Instead, ask what works? What do you have? What’s strong? What’s right? Blanchard said when they ask those questions, they listen and find stories of “brave, passionate people.”

She told the story of how when they talked to evacuees from Katrina, they sat up straighter when they were asked about their assets and strengths and about what they could do. “We all have the imagination and capacity to live better,” she said. “When we help, we want to be part of the story.”

Blanchard points out if we can change a neighborhood, we can change a city. When we change a city, we can change the world.

Finding Our Place

Chris Seay, the Ecclesia Church pastor, urged us to speak with conviction and authority and to live in our own stories. Ironically, Seay said he hates religion since it brings the worst out in us and makes us look down on others.

Seay encouraged us to stop mimicking others and be ourselves. “Be you,” he said. Looking at our own family stories helps us go forward by understanding our past. By looking at our pasts, we will discover we have more in common with others than what divides us.

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5 Ways to Keep Cool from Clutter

Posted By on June 10, 2011

Dang, it has been bloody hot. Lots of people are probably more interested in keeping cool in the A/C than trying to clear out the clutter.

Here’s some ways to keep cool from clutter without breaking a sweat.

  1. Don’t let it in the house. Like the saying goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Stop the stuff at the door. If it’s junk mail, toss it in the recycling bin or shred it immediately. Limit shopping to essentials only, and less stuff automatically comes in.
  2. Go digital. If paper and receipts aren’t digital yet, scan them in. Have old school photos? Scan them in too.
  3. Clear out school papers. Since the school year has drawn to a close, time to clean out those backpacks and piles of school paper. Jettison the stuff you don’t need or want, and stash the keepers in a keepsake box. Each child should have one keepsake box for their things.
  4. Clean out the medicine cabinet. Take expired prescription drugs to the pharmacy for disposal, or put them into a plastic baggie in the trash. Do not flush drugs so they keep out of the water supply.
  5. Examine your seasonal wardrobe. As you transition from winter to summer duds, take a look at what you’re packing and unpacking. Toss anything with stains and tears beyond repair. Repair the stuff that needs to be repaired and donate anything you are no longer interested in wearing. Do not give charities heavily worn or heavily used clothing or items with stains and tears. Charities have to spend millions of dollars each year to toss items they cannot sell. Don’t be part of the problem.

Have a nice tall glass of ice tea by your side, and you’ll have summer clutter under control.

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