Organized Treasure: Blog
Katie McAllister, Professional Organizer
After Timmy was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes five years ago, we participated in Boscov’s Halloween Candy Trade In Program – they offered kids with juvenile diabetes the option to trade in a bag of candy for a modest gift card – it was about $10, which was enough to get a small toy. While T1D children can have carbs and sugar (they just need to count, and cover with insulin), it is better in moderation, so this was a really positive initiative, offering an incentive to reduce that carb load!
What a great idea!
In our house, Halloween candy (especially the less desirables) can stay around until Easter, tucked away in a drawer or corner of a closet. I have tried some options to discourage this candy hoard, but most have been “sticks” rather than carrots - whatever is not eaten by Thanksgiving comes down to the kitchen and is up for grabs for anyone. This seems fair, but is always met with groans, and since my kids stick pretty well to family guidelines for number of treats a day, it always seems to sneak up on them and is received as a NEGATIVE.
This year I’m trying the Halloween Buy Back – they will have 24 hours to set aside those items they really don’t want and get cold hard cash in return. This has been received positively – they can see the value of cash – and will incentivize letting go up front of those varieties that they just don’t love. This is a skill I want them to develop, and using incentives to instill good habits is useful for all of us!
I think we will go with 5 pieces of candy for $1 this year. You could make the buy back anything you want, but I think the sweet spot would end up between a dime and a quarter/candy. Stating it in terms of how many /dollar both makes it more valuable (A dollar still buys you something good) and gives you more flexibility in not having to land on an even number of cents (7/$1 makes more sense than 14c/candy). My kids love IceBreakers gum (me too!), and you don’t get a lot of good gum at Trick or Treat (maybe some Double Bubble here and there), so I know Megan is already mentally reminding herself that she is essentially trading for gum, which is what she would have chosen from a “Pick Two” bowl anyway!
Buy back candy can be shared with mom and dad, put out at a party, or donated (buyer’s choice).
I have heard of others who add in the mystery of the Halloween Fairy who accepts the donations and leaves toys or money in their place. That’s a fun twist as well!!
If your focus is to reduce carbs in your home, you may want to use a higher buy back.
If your focus is to encourage open hands and hearts, you may want to forego the money all together and take the time to “Reverse Trick or Treat” in an senior community that doesn’t get trick or treaters – dress up again, fill your bags with give away candy, and spend an afternoon opening the bags at each door for older residents to pick two of THEIR favorites!! Dressing up is half the fun, and what a surprise for a homeowner to open their door to your little cuties and their sweet offerings!!
May you find your own variations that help you reduce the sugar load and the secret stashes and encourage your kids to share from their abundance!! Have a safe and fun night of costumes, exercise, friends, and neighbors!
Fall is a great time to organize the garage, so in the month of October we'll offer some organizing and storage suggestion for the garage.
The first step is to decide what does NOT belong. That looks different for everyone. But if it is no longer in working order or is not something you have used in a year or is a household item you already decided to donate but now sits in the garage, waiting to make it to its final destination, you have some hauling to do. Don't let it continue to take up your valuable space and when possible, pass it on to someone who will actually use it!
Discard what is unusable (if you have more than you can discard in a weekly pick up, consider a run to the Solid Waste Authority (there is a $20 minimum, but I have never exceeded it even with a minivan filled to the brim) or a dumpster service like BinThereDumpThat.com)
Clean and donate any items that still have use - Toys, athletic equipment, tools and gardening items are often in high demand and can be donated to general centers or specialty places like Habitat for Humanity centers or YMCA. There are also consignment shops like Play It Again Sports and Kid To Kid for sports equipment and toys.
While you have the car out and the garage emptied and sorted - (trash, donate, move to another area of the house, keep in garage), take a little time for deep cleaning from top to bottom. With things as empty as they've been all year, vacuum and dust from ceiling to floor, clearing cobwebs and wiping down fridge and shelf units. Then focus on the floor: sweep out the leaves that have blown in, vacuum the mats, clear oil stains with cat litter, dish soap and a wire scrub brush. Use a slightly damp sponge mop to wipe down the walls and floors as well. If you have our Swiss Trax flooring installed, take this chance to vacuum the dust and residue that has collected in the channels in the last 6 months!
Consider your "high rent" real estate. The first level is the space you need to park, move, and function well in your garage. In the next level of "rent", keep the items you use regularly within easy reach and simple storage. Items that you only access once or twice a year should be stored out of the way in the lower rent districts of long term storage. Take time this week to see what rarely accessed items are being given PRIME locations, and see what you can do to maximize your storage space, getting them up and out of the way if possible!
Here you can see the 4x8 overhead rack option at the top left, to maximize ceiling space above garage doors and parked cars. Monkey Bars shelving offers high storage for totes while still offering hooks, hanging baskets, shelves and specialized options for sports equipment. To the left is a wall mounted Monkey Bar, which allows for the same attachments flush to the wall. Lots of possibilities - consider what works in your space!
One Extra Tip: Sports Equipment can get smelly, especially when young athletes leave their items in their gear bags. Bacteria thrives in moist environments, so teach your kids to air it out after every game and practice! Wire baskets and netting bags offer convenient options to store your gear away from dusty, dirty and moist environments.
“In the childhood memories of every good cook, there's a large kitchen, a warm stove, a simmering pot and a mom. "
One of my very earliest memories involves the story of me, my dog Bridie, and the pudding. Now, this is one of those family stories that has been told and retold, so that you have to wonder whether I actually remember the event, or just being told it at an early age. But, I have this mental picture of a dawn kitchen, lights still out except the bulb in the fridge, in front of which I sat around the age of 3, on the floor with a large bowl of pudding my mom had prepared the night before. My dog is on the floor right next to me, keeping me company. Now, it turns out, in my parents retelling, the pudding was being eaten with one bite for me, and one bite for my partner in crime (eww!), they didn't even yell at me ("I mean, you were such a good kid in general, what was the big deal?"), and the story repeats itself at some point down the road with me, Bridie, and a bag full of Oreos!
But, really, our kitchens are the places of family meals, late night snacks, early morning cups of coffee. The work of meal planning can be the bane of our existence, but the feeling of serving a hot, healthy meal of comfort food on a cool evening as everyone gathers around hungry, enjoying the delicious smells, is one to cherish.
Kitchens have so much happening in them, it can be hard to keep up. But, in most kitchens, overflowing drawers and cabinets are doing us NO favors. Counters cluttered with kitchen appliances make meal prep and clean up even harder, and outside items are just in the way. So, here are categories you can organize in your kitchen today!
1. "Junk" Drawers:
I just reduced from THREE kitchen junk drawers down to two and it feels great! (See, organizers don't judge!!) The old junk drawer became the home for my caddy of herbal teas - it looks great in the drawer, just below our electric tea pot, and it is wonderful to have it off the counter!! All of my junk drawers have desk organizers and each contain their own general category, but they are still "catch-alls" for items that probably don't warrant the "high rent" space of my kitchen's top drawers. Junk drawer #2, I'm gunning for you next! How about you, do you have a drawer that should be in YOUR crosshairs?
2. Things that just don't belong in the kitchen:
Junk mail, laundry baskets, soccer balls, craft projects - sometimes our kitchen counters are the easy drop off point for all sorts of crazy stuff. Take a few weeks to get consistent with your family (AND YOURSELF!) and reinforce a new rule that outside items can't land in the kitchen!!
3. Rarely used kitchen items that aren't earning their high rent:
When you are cooking and cleaning, the important items need to be easy to grab - you don't have time to dig through overflowing drawers and cabinets.
The first question to ask is whether you really NEED these items if you haven't pulled them out in 1 year, 2 years, 5 years. If your friend borrowed this and lost it, would you be running to Amazon to replace this at full price? Or could you live without it?? If you would just live without it, is it really worth having to move it out of the way every time you need your favorite pot? Let these items GO - and if they are in good shape, let them find a new home where they will be used and enjoyed!!
But, there's a second category that we often find not earning high rent - the once or twice a year items. Maybe in the summer you make homemade popsicles with your kids, or ice cream, or fruit pies. Maybe each Christmas it is worth having 5 cookie sheets and cooling racks for a marathon session. Maybe you have a "birthday season" like we do here, and during those weeks cake decorating tips, cupcake carriers, and cake stands get used regularly. But maybe these seasonal items sit unused the other 45 weeks of the year. Don't give them prime cabinet space!! Put them in the basement, garage, the tippy top shelf of a closet that requires a chair to access. It's okay that they are hard to get to next season - enjoy having them out of the way while they aren't earning their keep!!
4. Items that seem to "reproduce":
Here are the top 3 in my kitchen: linen items, knives, and spoons/spatulas. These are the items in our home that need replaced most often I think... but when the new ones come in, the old ones get justified because, "You can always use an extra [knife, dishrag, wooden spoon].
For me, linen items includes washcloths, cute kitchen towels, potholders and aprons. I love these items fresh and new, but they each have their space and they can't exceed their limits. So, I'm getting pretty good at following the one in, one out rule and rotating my dish towels seasonally.
Knives - another organizer confession - I have TWO woodblocks on my counter right now. One was a wedding gift, but likely no longer contains ANY of the original knives (which I loved!) just a nice mix of individual replacements. The second was an attempt at a full replacement. I tried Chicago Cutlery and I HATE this set. Others in my family use it, but the first is still my go to when I am grabbing something for chopping. Putting on my organizer hat, there are easy solutions - I'm going to implement one in the next month and only keep the ones that "bring me joy"!
Spoons/spatulas/scrapers - this category's problem is a mix of both - either we keep because "you can't have too many" OR because we just still like the old one better... even if the old spatula has a little tear in the silicone. But, again, get clear on the space allotted, and stay well within it!
What are your chronic reproducers? What limits can you set?
5. Food items:
I recommend a good system for those edible items that need to circulate. Maybe you like to give a mouse a cookie, so you go to the grocery store to shop for cookies. At the grocery store, you find a great sale, so you buy a WHOLE BUNCH of cookies. You bring the cookies home and try to put them away in your pantry. But your pantry is already full, because the grocery store had a great sale last month, too, and you also stocked up then. Because you really like giving cookies to mice. Your child is helping to put away groceries, so he stuffs them all into the front of the cabinet... Confusion, disorder, and food waste ensue! Don't be tempted to use your pantry as a grocery store - just buy what you need! For now, get things in order by date, and get rid of the expired items. Consider donating perishables you have too many of to a food bank - don't just let them sit in your cupboard going out of date!! And commit to not buying more until you open the next-to-last package of each item and it is actually on your grocery list!
Help your kitchen work for you! Streamline it - don't stuff it to the gills! Give yourself room to maneuver and enjoy your kitchen again!
I'm excited to have a small article published in York County Medicine on the topic of reducing stress by getting organized!
When our spaces and lives are disorganized, we are constantly behind and overwhelmed. It can seem so hard to regain control - but by building systems brick by brick, we can start to find the peace that comes from having good routines and having tidy spaces where we know where things are.
Some seasons of our lives can throw even the "naturally organized" for a major loop. These events make it really hard to keep up with things, much less get ahead of them. The illness of a loved one, a new baby, a change in marital status, a move... It is always okay to reach out for extra help, but if you find yourself in a season that has you stretched thin on time and emotional bandwidth, I really encourage you to be gentle with yourself, and consider bringing in some extra back up!
One of the places I consider myself to be "well-organized" is in my filing - I have always had a great system and kept good track of my paperwork. HOWEVER, I began to realize it had become an overly onerous task - as society becomes more and more "paperless", my system needed to catch up and get with the times. Although Generation X, I still receive most of my bills on paper when available - especially bills that vary month to month, that I want to read over and confirm everything is above board - credit card bills, bank statements, even my electric and gas bills where I compare month to month and usage compared to last year.
So, two problems: My "to file" box would pile up, and then, because the stack was looking fat, would pile up some more, until I would spend an hours-long marathon catching up and filing months of papers. Secondly, the files themselves get FAT, and needed culled - another marathon job - amid so many decisions (how many years of each item would I keep? What could be disposed from each file?). Although I LOVE creating order from chaos, this recurring, time-consuming task was no longer something I wanted to invest hours in!
Then I found Freedom Filer. Freedom Filer markets itself as "self-purging", and once I truly embraced the system, I will say, no more marathon purging sessions! Their website www.Freedomfiler.com is a great resource for the "how to" of your system - and you absolutely could build your own with the information they provide! But their color-coded, ready made tabs look great and were worth it to me!
Here are the basics: Green tabs are for rotating, monthly files - There is a tab for each month "Even Year" and "Odd Year". It is November 2018, so I have a big paperclip on that file right now, to make it even easier to locate, because every paper that needs temporarily retained drops straight in there this month - credit card bills, doctor visit paperwork, "silly" warranty info (to the under $70 items that, honestly, are not worth calling in the warranty terms unless they fail in the first few months), large receipts, maybe cards or other items that are not quite ready for the trash. These will be retained until November 2020 when that file goes "live" again. Then, I will discard it all (I peek through and get a little memory, personally - oh my, how hard November 2016 was with Jeremy's surgery and all that my dad was going through!). In December, I will discard 2016 and start filling with this year.
Blue tabs are for taxes (I think Freedom Filer breaks this down a little too far) - we are up to 3 tax files now: Current Year Taxes, Business Income and Expense Receipts, and Medical (This comes and goes, as some years we have HSA/FSAs that in theory we have to have records for... if it would ever be questioned). If you just have one Current Year Tax File, I think that is good enough for most families!! And most years, it will sit empty until January save for an itemized Charitable Contribution here and there! It also files by "Year ending" 0-9, so you are keeping one decade of tax forms. I opted that when it is time to discard the 10 year old, I discard all of the supporting paperwork and just keep the actual IRS forms for reference - this is just about 5 sheets of paper most years, in a "Second Decade" file. Anything older than TWENTY years, I am definitely free to discard each year!
Red is for permanent - Freedom Filer made me much more picky about what is "permanent" - IMPORTANT medical records, school and employment records, the most personal cards, "real" warranties (with receipts), etc.
Orange is for "current contracts" and these papers get swapped out when the new one comes in - so, your insurance documents for the current year (discard prior year), apartment rental agreement, your SS Statement, even your will might fit into this category - only keep the current version!
Purple is for resource references - use sparingly! Maybe that vacation file or another file of accumulated research. Your family's ancestry documents or DNA tests. Most resource items anymore beg the question, "could you just look this up on the internet if you needed this information later?" But we all have those items we want at our fingertips, physically written right there in front of us when we need it!
Freedom Filer recommends HANGING FILES - I can't tell you how HUGELY transformative this part was for me. I was using the manila file folders. You adjust the metal bracket to the size of your files, but at first there is sliding room, and the files are leaning a little. As they fill up, you can't really stuff another page in without removing files or risking papercuts! So, you move the bracket, and they are slipping and sliding again. Hanging files hang straight and tall all the time! They slide easily, always staying upright - you open them, slip in pages and slide the door closed. If you already use hanging files you either understand my joy or are just thinking everyone knows it is the superior product. If you don't use them, they are WELL worth your investment. They can all be the cheapest green office color. They do not need to be color coded, but spend $10 on a drawer worth and decide if I'm wrong!! Seriously!
The combo of hanging file folders and rotating months means I do not have a to file box - items that I might need in the next 2 years get EASILY tossed in the current month's file - no fuss, no muss, no sorting type of bill or date, no removing an entire file so that I can force one page into a tight drawer. And it has eliminated the worst step: the purge step - bills and temporary items get discarded every 2 years. Taxes are automatically downsized or discarded each year.
Honestly, these are two items I recommend to every paperwork client who is struggling to keep up with filing or becoming overwhelmed! I think there are few who would struggle with the system. If you need help catching up on paperwork, or implementing a new system, reach out! It is a small time investment that will remove a huge weight from your shoulders!
June, 2015: The extended family has gathered at the Outer Banks for a great family vacation. The usual ingredients: sun, sand, and a great beach read are all involved, including that "controversial" tome, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo. Discussion ensues. Opinions become heated, shouts are heard, children scatter.
Don't worry, it ends okay, and it is super funny now, but that vacation will always be, in my mind, the one with the fight about Organizing.
Looking back, kind of an Aha moment for me - I feel passionately about... organizing! I also feel passionately that there is no one size fits all answer to the process. This is how I ended up both the one who started it (I questioned the requirement that you find EVERY. BOOK. IN. YOUR. HOUSE. In a pile. All at once.) AND the first one to turn tail and run when the whole discussion went south (I mean, if you can get through it in one go and that works for you, you do you, Marie Kondo!!).
So, what works for you? As an organizer it is my job to figure out what clients want, need, and what works for them!
*One space at a time or one type of item at a time?
*Is considering the "feelings" of your belongings helpful? Or how an item or space makes you feel? (Those items that trigger feelings of GUILT are the most toxic, and letting them go is a HUGE WIN!!) Maybe you are somewhere in the middle and use phrases like "That dishtowel looks tired." Work with that!!
*Does it bring you joy? This is my favorite question, because it drills past all the excuses and is often a pretty simple yes or no, but there are so many other questions out there and if nostalgia or fear of the possibility of future need are recurring hold ups, digging deeper into those concerns and getting to the root of those emotions is more important than flying past them to decide on each item!
*Folding vs. Hanging, Rainbow order, upward slope, etc. I DO believe a tidy drawer can make you SMILE and an organized closet helps you make decisions, saving time and stress! And maybe her shirts are "happier" folded... but maybe yours are "cooler" and like to "hang" out! HA! And if sorting color or length of clothes is the difference between laundry finding its home or staying in the basket, guess where I recommend sticking the rainbow? Find what works for you!!
*Only tidy once or you'll be tidying forever? (This does not mean you never "clean" again!!) I think decluttering (tidying) breeds decluttering, so I think there is definitely momentum to keep up the system. But I think most of us let go in stages (especially with emotional clutter) and are inspired with each purge to tidy more and to change our lifestyle to prevent our spaces from sliding back that direction! I believe in baby steps, and if that is what you can do today, and tomorrow you find out you hadn't actually finished tidying... tidy some more!!
And if you ever find an organizing guru causing strife on your family vacation, I recommend you all become professional organizers!!
The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up is an easy read and is sure to provide "tidying" inspiration! Available on Amazon
or as an Audiobook on Scribd.com. I love the all you can read monthly membership on Scribd! Click here for 2 months free!
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Embracing my love for organizing and the joy of encouraging others as we journey through the ups and downs together!
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