A (Dressing) Room of One's Own

For apartment dwellers making the best of a single, cramped closet, the very idea of a extra space is but a mere fantasy. But for families living in large suburban homes, it's often a given. If you're lucky enough to have a spare, spare room or an empty sitting area, you might consider moving out of the shared master closet and creating a luxurious dressing room of your own.

In the client home below, we handed over the entire walk-in closet to Mr. and transformed this small guest room into a gorgeous space for Mrs. We brought down a desk and chest from the attic, purchased some easy-to-install Closet Maid products and hung jewelry pegs on the wall. Voila!

Vanity station for easy access to makeup and jewelry…with good lighting and a large mirror! Plenty of hanging space – long hang and double hang.

Shelving for folded items and bins. Plenty of slots for shoes and handbags.

Since my own home is 100 years old, I let my husband take over the master closet and used the adjacent sunroom as a dressing room - slash - sitting area. I enjoy having my own space where everything is visibly displayed and easily accessed. I also love the natural light coming through the windows and the music playing on the stereo in my bookshelves.

Hanging bags are my favorite shoe storage option. Obligatory shelving for jeans and handbags. And I still have space left over for a sitting area…I’m happy in my closet!



STOP: Scan and Deliver

So you've gone through the tedious but rewarding process of organizing your home. You've eliminated the clutter, chosen an appropriate place for everything and, for the moment, everything is in its place. Now, how to keep it that way?

If you're used to a messy house, you're probably accustomed to setting things down without much awareness. Your handbag rests where you dropped it in the foyer. Today's shoes are strewn in the garage and the water glass you carried from the kitchen to the den remains there long after you've departed. If you're going to maintain the order you've worked so hard to create, it's time to be more thoughtful about what you're doing with your belongings.

"STOP: scan and deliver" is a technique I use to ensure that each space in the home is properly organized. Each time you exit a room, take a moment to turn around and scan each area, each surface of the space for items that don't belong. Then deliver those items to their proper places.

To get started, consider printing out this sign and pasting it on the back of each door in your house. (Or buy the sticker). Soon you won't need the sign to remember to check your space before you leave it.

Save time: do LESS

In her August 2014 article "The Best Productivity Trick of All: Do Less," Alex Cavoulacos, Founder of career advice website The Muse, encourages us to be more productive at work by crossing unnecessary items off of our to-do lists. Her advice, in summary, is to:  Say no, delegate, eliminate the unnecessary, reassess the need for meetings, their format and length, and manage email more effectively.

Read Alex's article, which I discovered on WeWork Magazine, which features stories of entrepreneurs and first-hand resources that make your business more successful.

Similarly, there are several ways in which we can be more productive - and happier - at home by reevaluating the tasks we undertake and how we approach them. In fact, some of Alex's advice can be directly applied:

1. Say no  Saying no is just as hard for many of us in our personal lives as it is professionally - and it's at least as important to do so at home as it is at the office. Are you saying no to your kids enough? Doing so is good for your sanity and is a lesson in patience, discipline and moderation of your children.

Social "obligations," including dinner parties, babysitting and the PTA, are not mandatory.  They're choices. Make them wisely and selectively.

2. Delegate  There's no shame in delegating tasks to household members, including spouses and kids, as well as roommates or neighbors, or to hiring a professional to lighten your load.

3. Eliminate the unnecessary  Attending to extraneous tasks at work can reduce productivity but doing so at home can reduce happiness. By cutting the fat from our personal to-do list, we free up time and energy for the things that are most important to us, including family time, friendships, health and personal growth.

In my experience as a professional  organizer, there are two common causes of squandered time. The first is perfectionism. Women, in particular, are susceptible to societal messages that tell us we have to be super-people. If you're ironing your sheets because your neighbor does or home-making baby food because a magazine suggested that you do, consider letting these things go. Decide what's truly valuable in your life and eliminate the tasks that "others" are pressuring you to perform.

The second common cause of unnecessary to-do items is avoidance. Might you be artificially adding things to your list to avoid facing the really tough tasks? Instead of stocking up on cleaning supplies at the bulk store, sit down and start writing that book. Rather than reorganizing your shed this weekend, join your family for an outing. Dreading your first trip to the gym? Might as well face it now. It'll still be waiting for you after a wasted afternoon of unnecessary tasks. And if you are going to procrastinate, at least enjoy a good nap rather than wasting time on a made-up task.


Bread and Milk and Batteries...oh, my!

My organizing colleague Leslie Tansey, of All About Organizing, had this to say about the reaction - namely to the rush on bread and milk - to today's forecast of an impending ice storm in our little southern town: "...If we get an ice storm and lose power, the LAST thing you want in your fridge is Milk and Eggs. Don't forget: Water, flashlights, batteries, candles, and anything in the grocery store that does not require refrigeration. This has been a public service announcement from yours truly. Be safe out there!!!"

Amen, Leslie!

By the way, who are these people who are less than 48 hours away from being out of toilet paper? I call that living on the edge. And, in my case, seeing as I subsist mainly on dairy, the same is true for milk.

While it's prudent to stock up on supplies and non-perishables in advance of a weather event, I have to think that many of the east-coasters bum-rushing the grocery stores today have a wealth of reserves already at home in their pantries. Save yourself time, stress and money: always check your inventory before shopping!

Closet Commandments

A recent Facebook post with a link to The 10 Commandments of Hanging, (see below) according to Melanie Charlton of Clos-ette, drew my immediate attention. I have a duty to my clients to  monitor widely-distributed organizing advice for accuracy so I carefully studied each of Ms. Charlton's "commandments." I'm pleased to report that she and I are in absolute agreement upon all but one of these. Take a look at #9:

"Thou shalt color-code. Organizing your clothes by color allows you to visualize an outfit by separates and helps you to mix and match combinations you might otherwise miss."

Color-coding works for some people. Artists and others who are very visual tend to enjoy and thrive off of this system and I'm happy to apply it in those cases. That said, I do not personally believe that organizing clothing by color usually makes sense. I prefer to separate tops, pants, skirts, dresses and other items by season, style,  texture or function. For instance, I wouldn't put two tops together simply because they're in the same color family. When I'm dressing, color is the last consideration after sleeve-length and weight, as well as level of formality. Sifting through red cotton t-shirts is a waste of time when I'm preparing for a business lunch.

My recommendation, once you've categorized tops, pants, skirts and dresses is to separate winter/fall items from spring/summer items. If you don't have a large closet, consider storing off-season clothing in a guest closet. Now, divide work pants from weekend pants, evening dresses from sundresses, etc. Next, order according to sleeve/pant length. If you've done all of this and you still have enough clothing in each section to order by color, be my guest, However, this is probably an indication that you have too many clothes! Choose your favorites and donate the rest.



The 10 Commandments of Hanging, according to Melanie Charlton of Clos-ette

-Thou shalt hang as much as possible in thy closet. Hang as much as you can with skinny hangers.

-Thou shalt not hang sweaters. Sweaters are best folded and stored on shelves or in drawers to maintain their shape.

-Thou shalt banish wire hangers from thy closet. They are weak, leave marks, and force your clothes to lose shape. Enough said?

-Thou shalt have matching hangers. A hodgepodge of hangers makes your closet look sloppy and prevents clothes from hanging properly.

-Thou shalt use appropriate hangers for appropriate garments. Coats on coat hangers keeps your topper in tip-top shape.

-Thou shalt not kill clothes with plastic. Those dry-cleaning bags are plastic traps for moisture, which can lead to mildew and mold growth, which can severely damage, discolor, and stain. Natural fibers like cotton, wool, silk, and linen need to breathe. Once you bring your duds home, free them!

-Honor the breathing room of thy clothing. Yes, you should hang as much as possible but you should also leave enough space between each garment so they’re not crammed together in your closet. Cramming causes wrinkling and makes you look like you slept in your best suit.

-Thou shalt not hang thy clothes with strangers. Put like with like and hang items facing in the same direction.

-Thou shalt color-code. Organizing your clothes by color allows you to visualize an outfit by separates and helps you to mix and match combinations you might otherwise miss.

-Honor thy pants and sweaters. Keep pants looking freshly pressed by hanging them along their creases or pleats to keep them sharp; always fold sweaters so that they don’t lose their shape.

You need a Professional Organizer when...

You’re afraid to open your closet for fear of bodily injury.

You enjoy cooking – just not in YOUR kitchen.

You can’t fit your car in your garage.

You can’t remember what’s in your attic.

You've spent thousands of dollars on a storage unit.

Your kids’ toys are taking over your house.

You keep buying things you already have.

You haven’t opened your mail in weeks.

You regularly pay late fees.

You never seem to get around to the really important things on your to-do list.

You’re moving, downsizing or putting your house up for sale.

Your parents are moving into assisted living and you’re sorting through their household.

Your business needs workflow streamlining.

Your child is entering middle school and needs helps with time management and being prepared for daily activities.

You live in a dorm or apartment and need to make the most of a small space.

You realize your kids are picking up your bad organizational habits!

The occasional home office

Why go out shopping for expensive furniture and organizing products when so often we already have the perfect solution at home?!  

This wicker cabinet held a few kitchen odds and ends - mostly some seasonal table linens that found a new home in the kitchen cabinetry. We emptied out the piece and converted it into an "occasional" home office. Like an occasional chair that fills wall space until it's called upon to serve as extra seating for company, the cabinet appears decorative most of the time but easily opens up into a functional, standing office.

Family archive files are stored in Husband's home office along with his business papers; Wife's occasional office holds just the daily necessities for managing household paperwork and kids' schedules. Cork board backing displays invitations and coupons, and laminating paper turned the inside of the doors into wet-erase board for notes. When it's not being used, my client's laptop sits neatly in the cabinet. Files and office supplies are stored in the drawers below.

Now my client's supplies are located centrally in her home, where she can work side by side with her kids at the kitchen table, rather than hidden away in a "satellite" office away from the action. And when it's time for dinner, the clutter magically disappears into her lovely corner cabinet.

Office space

Many of us who devote care and attention to the spaces in our personal lives neglect to do the same in our professional space. Considering the time that we spend in our workplaces, it's worth a small investment of time and money to make them comfortable as well as functional. Plus, your office space speaks volumes to those who visit it. An organized, inviting and peaceful office with a few creative touches not only impresses your colleagues...it also draws them to you, creating a collegial working environment.

The first step toward an appealing and functional office is a clean desk with plenty of space to work. Organize your files in drawers or attractive containers, and keep loose paperwork to a minimum. As it is at home, too much visual clutter can create mental clutter and cause difficulty focusing.

An office with a proper door and natural light, of course, starts you off at an advantage. Whether you work in a corner office or a cubicle, consider bringing in outside light sources to create an atmosphere that's suited to your work. Sharp task lighting is great for detailed paperwork while soft, warm lighting is better for conversational spaces.

Bring color into your space by choosing coordinated folders and desk accessories. Use inexpensive fabric such as sheeting to cover cork boards. Highlight appropriate art pieces and photographs that make you feel comfortable and inspired in your office. Display a few awards or accolades of which you're proud. Just don't overdo it - you (normally) don't want to intimidate your visitors!

Natural elements such as plants go a long way to enliven your space. A bowl of fresh fruit is decorative and provides a healthy snack when you're having a hectic day.

Keeping track of coupons

It's more worthwhile now than ever to keep track of your coupons. In a down economy, savings are especially important. And with coupons, Groupons and other "social deals" available everywhere these days, you can afford to indulge in meals, spa services and even organizing services! The only catch: you have to remember to use the coupons before they expire and be able to find them when you're ready to do so.

Many of my clients ask me how I manage my own coupons and social deals, so I thought I'd share my solution here and show you how to set up a system just like it:

  • To start, gather all the coupons and social deals in your possession, discarding any already expired items.
  • On a fresh letter-sized envelope (if you're an avid coupon user you might consider using a larger envelope or container), list each coupon in order of expiration date (soonest to latest).
  • Place your coupons inside the envelope.
  • For coupons that aren't available in hard copy, make a note on your list. For example: Libra - organizing services - 2 hours - expires 12/31/11 *Tippr.com confirmation in my Gmail archives

Keep your coupon holder in your handbag, car, desk drawer or entryway table - wherever you are sure to see it frequently. I browse my list a couple of times a week to see if anything is expiring soon. I also check the list before I head to the store or out for dinner to see if I have anything I can use.

An additional safeguard to ensure that a coupon doesn't expire before you can use it is to set a reminder in your calendar, whether paper or electronic, that gives you a heads up a month, a week, even a day before the coupon expires. Whenever I receive a new coupon, I enter it on my envelope and calendar right away. Once I use a coupon, I cross it off right away.

Additional coupon tips: 

Although coupons can be extremely valuable when used properly, be sure to avoid pitfalls:

  • Groupons and social deals are a great new way to save money, and try out new products and services. As my grandfather used to say to my mother when she was a kid, however, "You're saving me so much money, you're breaking me!" Be selective about your deal purchases so that you stay within your monthly budget and allow yourself enough time to use them all before they expire.
  • Traditional coupons can save you hundreds on groceries each year - if you stick to using coupons for items you already planned to buy, or if you plan your meals around the items currently on sale. Don't use coupons as excuses to make too many impulse purchases. Since grocery coupons usually save you a dollar or less per item, the cost of extra, unnecessary purchases can add up very quickly.
  • Finally, coupons are meant to enhance your life - not to burden you. If you find yourself spending hours coupon clipping or sifting through piles of 30-cent scraps, maybe you need to re-prioritize. Unless you truly need to pinch every penny, it's probably worth paying full price on items in order to have more time for the things you enjoy.

In general, the benefits of any tedious or time-consuming practice should far outweigh the costs. Don't let yourself be a slave to an unnecessary habit. Sometimes the best way to streamline your life is simply to let go!

Can you fit a baby into a one-bedroom apartment?

Yes, you can...for a time and if you really need to.  Just ask clients, Jen and Chris, who were able to stay in their one-bedroom even after their baby girl turned one.

Generally, it's best to have a nursery, even if it's a small one. But if moving isn't in the cards quite yet, you should be able to make do until your baby is at least 2 years old. Here's how:

Create a nursery space somewhere in your apartment but NOT in your bedroom. After the initial weeks and months, your baby needs to learn to sleep alone and you need your private space. Optimal spaces are small nooks - or even closets, which can be converted to small rooms by adding lights and removing/replacing doors. Dining areas sometimes work, if you can spare the space. In this case, we made use of an indented area on one end of the living room. By moving the desks and sofa to the other walls, we cleared out a space about 10 feet wide by 2 feet deep.

Mom and Dad have their bedroom to themselves and can put off moving until baby gets older. Baby girl loves her new space!

Mom and Dad have their bedroom to themselves and can put off moving until baby gets older. Baby girl loves her new space!

Of course, when you're short on space you must focus on having just the essentials in your nursery area. A small crib and a dresser is all you really need. For Jen and Chris, we placed the crib in the center and suspended curtain panels from the ceiling. The curtains are pulled around the crib at night and at nap time to block out light and other distractions. We had enough space to bring in a garment rack to hold all of baby's clothing. We also added decorative bins to store toys and linens. An under-bed container slides out from under the crib to store books. Finally, we filled the dresser with diapers and other changing supplies. A changing pad can be used on top of the dresser instead of having a separate changing table.

Tips for a seamless look: You can get as fancy as you wish with your nursery space, or keep it very simple and inexpensive. When your nursery is part of your main living space, it's best to decorate it in colors that blend with the style of your home. Instead of pink bunnies, for example, choose fabrics in bright but mature colors, with playful but sophisticated patterns. Incorporate artwork and light fixtures that coordinate with the rest of your decor.

Be green, be organized! How and why organizing is eco-friendly.

You might think that saving things rather than discarding them is good for the environment. Well, there are eco-friendly ways to make your home more functional, more fashionable! It's all about finding the right places for your existing belongings and making plans to reduce future consumption. Here are just a few ways that individuals and families can live simpler and greener...

Use technology to save space in your home, give to those in need and do better for the environment.

  • Invest in an electronic reader such as Amazon's Kindle or the Nook by Barnes & Noble. Yes, you'll miss the feel of the pages in your hands at first, but you'll soon get used to your reader. You'll save money on buying books and magazines, and you'll be able to travel with as many books as you wish with only the weight of your reader in your bag. Fewer hard copy books means more space in your home and less paper used for production. Think about donating your old books to local schools or libraries, where they can be enjoyed by those who can't otherwise access them.
  • Now that we can buy, manage and play music and videos online, think about selling or donating your old CDs and DVDs for someone who needs them.
  • Scan old photographs into your computer, where you can preserve them, and enjoy them more often and more easily.
  • Hire a digital conversion service to transfer old cassettes onto DVD. Your files will be better preserved and take up a lot less storage space.

Recycle, reuse, renew, repurpose your stuff

  • Items jammed into junk drawers, spilling from closets or - cringe! - rotting in storage spaces cost you time, energy, peace of mind and sometimes even money. They're also valuable resources being wasted in valuable space. By finding a new purpose for these items, even if it's someone else's use, you cut down on the need for future spending of money and natural resources.
  • Ever buy a brand new kitchen appliance only to discover later you already have one - or two - at home in a pile of old wedding gifts? When you have an organized system in place, you always have an accurate inventory and your resources are best put to use.

Involving children in organization projects is a great way to teach them about mindful consumption as well as instill personal organization skills, which will serve them well in school and later in life. It's also nice to have the help and the company while you work!